Taiwan Struggles with Same-sex Marriage

On Saturday, November 24th, Taiwanese citizens will vote on five referendums related to same sex marriage. The discussion began in May 2017 when the Taiwanese Constitutional Court struck downthe country’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. This set Taiwan on course to become the first Asian country to allow homosexual marriage. 

Following the court ruling, significant opposition arose in Taiwan. Those opposed to redefining marriage have put three referendums on the upcoming ballot this Saturday. If passed, these referendums will voice public dissent to the constitutional court, prevent teaching about homosexuality in public schools and will provide a legally binding refusal of homosexual marriage. 

The remaining two referendums were put in place by gay marriage advocates in a move to counter conservative opposition.

As Taiwan faces these challenges, the China Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) wants to speak the truth of God’s Word to their fellow Taiwanese. 

The CELC invited the Rev. Dr. Matthew Rueger, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Hubbard, Iowa, and second vice president of the Iowa East District, to come to Taiwan and teach on the issue. 

In 2016, Rueger wrote Sexual Morality in a Christless World. The book grew out of a lecture he was invited to give during a philosophy course at Iowa State University. 

Sexual Morality in a Christless World was written to help people sort through issues of sexual morality using God’s Word,” Rueger notes. “It was written especially for college age Christian students who find themselves at the heart of debates about homosexual rights and practices.”

His experience teaching and his study of sexuality morality, however, became a great benefit to the CELC as well. 

As Taiwan geared up for elections and voting in October, Rueger traveled to Taiwan to hold a series of lectures. 

Over the course of a week, Rueger taught at four locations: China Lutheran Seminary in Hsinchu, Holy Grace Lutheran Church in Taichung, Salvation Lutheran Church in Chiayi and Blessed Grace Lutheran Church in Tainan. 

Each day, Rueger taught from 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The all-day lecture consisted of four topics: 

  1. Early church context in Roman culture
  2. The early church context in Jewish culture
  3. The church’s care for those struggling with same-sex attraction
  4. The Christian family and church’s response to secular sex education

In the lectures, Rueger strove to provide a Law and Gospel view of the church’s response to homosexual issues. “Often, churches fail to teach the whole Word of God when it comes to sexual matters,” Rueger explained. “They tend to focus exclusively on God’s law.” 

The church must also focus on what the Gospel says about this sin as well: “The Gospel sets us apart from the world. It makes us pure with Christ’s own purity,” he said. “The Gospel has redefined us and shaped us in the image of our Savior.” 

Dr. Rueger (left) lectures while Dr. Paul (right) translates.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Paul, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Taiwan, provided support for the lectures including translation. “I think the most important part of the presentations,” he said, “was that Dr. Rueger continually referred people to: ‘What does God say in Scripture about this?’” 

The majority of attendees were not from a Lutheran background. They especially appreciated Rueger’s emphasis on turning to Scripture for answers to this question. 

Paul reported that Rueger would ask: “What does God’s Word say about how the church responds to those suffering from same sex attraction?” And again: “And how does the distinction between Law and Gospel help us understand this issue?” 

“The participants gain more understanding for the stand of Scriptures,” Dr. Joseph Lu, the CELC director of missions and the China Lutheran Seminary Director of Mission Center, said. “[Taiwan Christians] know how to respond to this issue with supporters of same sex marriage from a Christian perspective.”

Rueger lectures while Paul translates.

These type of lecture courses are extremely valuable for the CELC in Taiwan. Paul notes that it “is so valuable to have Dr. Rueger come. It’s extremely helpful for the CELC, not only to have someone like Rueger teach on sexual morality, but as a confessional Lutheran to answer other questions as well.” The influence, once again, extends beyond the CELC to include the entire church in Taiwan. 

Lu believes the lectures will help Taiwanese Christians: “These lectures also will encourage Christians to actively vote in accord with their civil calling,” he noted, referring to the upcoming referendum. 

He anticipates that Rueger’s lectures will continue influencing the church in Taiwan. The CELC has decided to translate and publish Rueger’s book in Mandarin. The work has already begun; they hope to publish the book by the middle of next year. 

I would encourage all Christians to take to heart Dr. Lu’s closing request: “Please pray for our election on November 24th.” 

Roy S. Askins

The Rev. Roy S. Askins now serves as managing editor for The Lutheran Witness the official publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.