Can the subject of ‘equality’ stay in the public discourse?
I hope I’m wrong.
However, I don’t think we’ll see a social and political movement quite like what we’ve seen over the last couple of months again.
And that’s a sad statement to be making.
Over the last number of months, Ireland has witnessed a referendum that has captured, for whatever reason, the hearts and minds of the entire country.
More column inches, more radio segments, more television minutes, more news bulletins and more general public discourse has been devoted to the same-sex marriage debate than any other I can remember. Speaking to people from older generations, they also can’t remember anything like it.
Media outlets in countries including the US, UK, Australia, India and Pakistan have been reporting on the Irish debate with fervour. Australian people have just taken to their streets in their thousands to demand movement on the same-sex marriage issue in their country.
And the banner under which all of this debate has happened; the banner under which the ‘Yes’ side built the foundation of their campaign, was the banner of ‘equality’.
Equality is a noble cause. It’s also a cause that is at Jesus’ heart, and one that He would fight for. There is no doubt He saw all as equal.
He spoke to a Samaritan woman when no other Jewish teacher would’ve done so (John 4).
He said things like “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).
In arguably Jesus’ most famous line, he said God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not die by have eternal life. ‘Whoever’. No discrimination. Anyone can be saved, and all are saved the same way.
Whatever you think of the debate over the last while, we should take it as a positive that ‘equality’ has been on the public agenda. Nobody should be forgotten. Everyone’s voices should be heard.
What would be better though, is if society does not believe that ‘equality’ has now been achieved as a result of one vote on one issue. I’ve seen same-sex marriage described as the ‘biggest human rights issue of our time’. It’s not. It’s something that absolutely needed to be addressed. It’s something the Government needed to put to the people and make a decision on. After years of being vilified in Irish society, it could be strongly argued that the LGBTQ community deserved a referendum like this, whatever you think of the outcome. All of this is eminently true. But it doesn’t define the issue of equality.
137,000 children in Ireland live in poverty, or 12% of all our children.
Just this month, we’ve heard that the number of families seeking shelter in Dublin has doubled in the last 12 months.
The gap between the earnings of the top 10% and the rest is widening.
In many of Ireland’s towns and cities, immigrants are being treated with disdain, and being met with anger and racist abuse.
This doesn’t even touch on all the people in this country with mental health issues that aren’t being addressed.
It doesn’t touch on all the children who have severe physical and emotional needs who cannot get the services they need. It doesn’t touch on the parents who cry themselves to sleep, wondering whether their children are going to get the help they need to go further in life, or whether they will just be forgotten about.
Will our Government, and will Irish society, address these issues with even half the passion, articulation, fervour and sense of purpose that we’ve seen when it comes to marriage equality? Honestly, will we? And if not, why not?
In a sense, by the time the marriage equality debate came to a head in recent weeks, it became relatively easy for many to jump on it and shout equality to the masses, because the hard work had already been done. People who had been beaten in this country because of their sexuality, people who had spoken up for LGBTQ when it was completely unacceptable to do so, they are the ones who made the difficult choices over many years. This generation has seen the results of that work. Who are the unpopular people that need to spoken on behalf of now, in this day?
As followers of Jesus, I believe we have a duty to bring issues of inequality and unfairness to the forefront of public discourse. We have a duty to not only address the issues, but also, in doing so, offer Jesus as the light. Jesus does not accept hurt. He does not accept oppression. He does not accept division.
Will the Gospel message compel us to try and make a difference?
Will it inspire us to make the world look more like how Jesus wants it to look; how He meant it to be all along?
Will we make the difficult choices, and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, just like our master Jesus did?
Let’s not let this world set the equality agenda. Jesus is the hope for the world. Nobody else.