Gay marriage, ethics and economics

The issue of gay marriage is probably going to raise its head again in the next term of government. It’s been on the periphery of this campaign, though the Greens and Family First are doing their best to bring it front and center. One of my friends emailed me yesterday saying:

“The fact we live in a country that doesn’t allow gays to marry I find completely baffling.”

He suggested any opposition is due to either homophobia or a belief in arbitrary rules.

I responded. I actually don’t have a problem with the government allowing gay marriage (what are they doing defining marriage anyway?). My concern is that churches be able to legally conduct marriages for Christians without having to also conduct gay marriages in order to keep their marriage licenses. I think there is actually a pretty sound economic argument for the government positively discriminating for stable heterosexual relationships. It turned into a bit of an email discussion – here are my points.

Why shouldn’t governments protect, incentivise, and legislate benefits for relationships that can produce children. Stable families with parental input from both genders are the “ideal” condition for raising children. Why shouldn’t positive legislation exist to promote that ideal? Economically speaking. After all, as Houston, W, says: the children are our future.

If the government moved away from defining marriage at all – and let anybody call themselves married – but maintained the benefits they provide for families and couples with children – then I wonder if that would defuse the situation? If they framed it not as “banning gay marriage” but as the provision of tax incentives for reproduction for heterosexual families.

It’s discriminatory and a restriction of the kind of freedom Christians should be advocating for to deny gay couples “partnership” rights when it comes to health and estate benefits.

I think the whole debate is framed really unhelpfully because the government has taken on more than its fair share of responsibility.

What the government should be doing is not discriminating against gay relationships, but discriminating for stable heterosexual families.

It’s comparable to indigenous benefits – I was not born indigenous, I had no say in being born non-indigenous. But I, mostly, have no problems with the government trying to incentivise better health and future outcomes for indigenous people by recognising a problem and providing financial incentives for education (Abstudy).

positive discrimination for a subset of the community is not necessarily the same as discrimination against another subset of the community. And governments do it all the time (abstudy and the other examples I mentioned before). Any policy adopted by governments comes at a cost to other proposals.

For example, the “Building Education Revolution” could be said to have discriminated against any public service that wasn’t an educational institute. A hospital couldn’t have a school hall funded under the program – because a hospital isn’t a school. It serves an important purpose and deserves government funding, but the funding will meet different needs because of the different nature of the buildings.

Equally, the program has been shown to be a lemon, because some schools (or education departments) have abused it. This abuse doesn’t mean that the program was bad for the schools that weren’t abusing it, nor does it make it a bad program (in the same way that some bad parents collect government funding). It was a policy designed to maximise the positive of schools having halls.

I also have no problem with the government positively discriminating for mothers (who receive family payments), retirees, the sick and disabled… one could argue that they should also incentivise being gay because gay couples are likely to both work, and generally1 take less time off to look after their children, and thus pay more taxes.

1I understand that some gay couples have children. I don’t think this is child abuse, but I also think different genders have different input into the lives of their children.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

60 thoughts on “Gay marriage, ethics and economics”

  1. Some comments on the fly.
    The government define marriage because it is a legally recognised arrangement that those who are part of one believe provides them with certain rights. If people didn’t want legal rights (and responsibilities) attached to their relationships the government wouldn’t have to be bothered.
    A Christian point of view would probably understand that marriage is a socially created construct. I believe that it was created and instituted by God, and He defines what constitutes one.
    But even those who contend it is a socially created and defined construct place ideology above reason when they seek to dismiss a historic definition of a relationship simply on the basis of feeling.
    Should marriage no longer be understood as involving one woman and one man, but any two humans, does any ground remain for the number ‘two’ or the qualification ‘human’ to be considered integral to the compact.
    If the government want to register and give equivalent legal recognition to relationships of two people of the same gender (which is their current position, I think) then a secular society may endorse that position, and probably will.
    Contending that marriage can be arbitrarily redefined to mean something that it has never meant before is really a distinct issue.

    1. Hey Gary,

      Your comment ended up in spam for some reason.
      “The gov­ern­ment define mar­riage because it is a legally recog­nised arrange­ment that those who are part of one believe pro­vides them with cer­tain rights.”
      Indeed. I think though it’s more a matter of providing those who carry certain responsibilities (like parenting) with some protections. I can’t think of any right that a straight couple gets, outside of child raising, that I don’t think any other “couple” shouldn’t get in the interest of a fair and just society.

      “I believe that it was cre­ated and insti­tuted by God, and He defines what con­sti­tutes one.”

      I agree. But we’re not living in a theocracy.

      “But even those who con­tend it is a socially cre­ated and defined con­struct place ide­ol­ogy above rea­son when they seek to dis­miss a his­toric def­i­n­i­tion of a rela­tion­ship sim­ply on the basis of feel­ing.”

      That’s a narrow understanding of “historic” that’s pretty much limited to western culture. It’s not even an international definition of marriage. Polygamy is one example. Nero was apparently married to two men during his reign.

      I agree with the slippery slope problems you identify. They are problems. But this isn’t a hill I think we should be fighting and dying (or even campaigning for office) on.

  2. Rescued from the spam bin. Story of my life.
    I think we’re one all on that count now.

    I think at some stage Christian churches will find themselves in a situation where all unions will be registered civilly and where some of those with civilly registered unions will come to churches and be married.
    In the meantime there is a broader discussion about the definition of marriage that Christians, as part of society are entitled to be involved in.
    Your ‘general equity’ arguements are an example of this. I suppose it’s somewhat similar to those who are committed to being part of the state run education system.
    Your observations about the limits of ‘historic’ seem to note exceptions and oddities as more prevalent than I think is true. The ‘western’ concept of marriage did more for the status of women and children than any other reform of culture. All cultures are fallen, but not all cultures are morally equivalent. (And I know you haven’t suggested that.)

  3. Hi Nathan,

    I think I fundamentally disagree with almost everything you’re saying here, and most of what you said on the other related post about Family First. I’ll try and spell out the issues a bit:

    I actually don’t have a problem with the government allowing gay marriage (what are they doing defining marriage anyway?).

    Why do governments define anything? ‘Child’, ‘citizen’, whether or not a certain kind of sexual behaviour is a crime or not. Defining ‘marriage’ is part of defining ‘family’ which is part of protecting ‘children’. Decide that anyone can be married who wants to use that word and the state isn’t interested in the question, then means that the state removes all laws associated with ‘marriage’ as well. And a whole new definition of ‘family’ is needed that has nothing to do with marriage.

    Given that marriage stabilizes adult heterosexual relationships and encourages their permanence, the effect of your argument here would be, I think, to increase the move to single parent and blended families. And that’s not good for children. To invoke The Incredibles: “When everyone is special, then no-one is.” If anyone is ‘married’ then it won’t really mean much at all.

    My concern is that churches be able to legally con duct marriages for Christians without having to also conduct gay marriages in order to keep their marriage licenses.

    If the state has no interest in the definition of marriage then there’s no such thing as marriage licenses. You don’t license something where anybody who wants the word can attribute it to themselves and which has no relevance to the state’s laws.

    But if the state does have an interest in what marriage is and continues to use ‘marriage’ as a category in its laws, then I can’t see why religious groups should have the right to be licensed by the state and not have to treat all eligible citizens equally. Anyone who can should be able to get married, and marriage celebrants shouldn’t be able to discriminate against a whole category of person. Exception might be made if churches only married card carrying members of their religion. But that would be a significant restriction on current religious liberty at that point.

    If the government moved away from defining marriage at all — and let anybody call themselves married — but maintained the benefits they provide for families and couples with children — then I won der if that would defuse the situation?

    If all homosexuals want is the word ‘marriage’ then possibly. But evidence so far, I would suggest, indicates that homosexual marriage is a means to put homosexual relationships on an even footing with heterosexual relationships.

    I don’t think the judge in the Prop 8 case in California, or the New York Times are wild eyed radicals here. They are expressing what the homosexual lobby is looking for – recognition that homosexuality is just as valid and life-affirming for human beings as heterosexuality. They consider it a matter of fact that religious teaching that says otherwise (let alone any practices that encode a preference) harms homosexuals.

    It’s discriminatory and a restriction of the kind of freedom Christians should be advocating for to deny gay couples “partnership” rights when it comes to health and estate benefits.

    I’m not so sure. I’m happy to extend them for the reasons you articulate in the other post – politics being the art of compromise.

    But am I discriminatory to restrict a couple cheating on their spouses from ‘partnership’ rights when it comes to health and estate benefits? To restrict a polygamous group? To restrict a mother and her son who want to be partners? To restrict a guy and his dolphin? To restrict a guy, a girl and a traffic light? To restrict two guys and the number eight? What if I’m a single person and what to be ‘married’ should I be discriminated against? Or can I be ‘married’ too?

    You kind of beg the question here (not a criticism – it’s a blog post, not an article). Does our anthropology mean we recognise a homosexual coupling as having any reality to it? That’s the question. Is it, in any sense, a genuine relationship that is ‘good’ in God’s eyes – not just, is it less than optimal, but does God recognise it at all? I think Christians have always said ‘no’. I’m not sure how you could get a different answer out of the Bible – at least not without overturning an awful lot of Christian thinking in the associated ethical area.

    Picking up a point from the other post:

    Is it better for a child to have loving gay parents than no parents? Probably. As soon as you concede that point you’re on the back foot.

    Indeed, if you concede that point. Let me put to you a scenario in light of where I think you’re coming from:

    A gay couple with a couple of kids that they’ve been raising since infancy come to your church. They’re great parents, and the kids are doing pretty well, but they’re still young, for a bunch of reasons are a bit fragile, and any disruption to the family life is likely to have very serious negative repercussions.

    Both fathers become Christians (or to be really diabolical, only one does – the one who is the submissive in the relationship, and so sees himself as a bit more like a ‘wife’, and under the authority of the other. But we’ll leave that one…) . What do you counsel in that situation?

    It’s a real marriage – it mightn’t be the Christian ideal but it’s real. Even if it’s not a ‘marriage’, I think you’d see it as a real family – two loving parents and children. Do you have the right to break-up a loving family that are raising their kids well? Especially if all the evidence points to it being a trainwreck of a decision for the kids?

    I suspect (and I’ll be interested to see what you say) that you’d be inclined to keep the family intact but call the dads to celibacy. You probably wouldn’t counsel them getting a divorce (why should they? They’re either legitimately married, or, on your view they were never really married anyway so a divorce would be a bit pointless). And then the next problem will come when they find that celibacy is impossible when they’re living together as a family…

    That is, I think your fairly liberal social view (possibly libertarian) here is likely to have significant pastoral implications as well. If it’s a real family, and the children are better off, is it Christian to break up a family that, isn’t ideal, but still captures some of the good that God wants?

    And I would second Gary Ware’s complaint about this statement:

    That’s a nar row under stand ing of “his toric” that’s pretty much lim¬ited to west ern cul ture. It’s not even an inter na tional def i n i tion of mar riage. Polygamy is one exam ple. Nero was appar ently mar ried to two men dur ing his reign.

    It’s one reason why I like this article:

    http://weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/533narty.asp?pg=1

    so much. Having briefly interacted online with the author, he’s clearly an anthropologist with a wide ranging knowledge of the field. And the strength of his argument is how he shows that the homosexual marriage case actually rests on a very parochially Western notion of marriage, and then articulates the broader principles that are ubiquitous even if, as you do, one can find some interesting exceptions here and there.

    1. “They are express­ing what the homo­sex­ual lobby is look­ing for – recog­ni­tion that homo­sex­u­al­ity is just as valid and life-affirming for human beings as het­ero­sex­u­al­ity. They con­sider it a mat­ter of fact that reli­gious teach­ing that says oth­er­wise (let alone any prac­tices that encode a pref­er­ence) harms homosexuals.”

      Three responses to this:
      1. if marriage is all that we argue it is at this point – why isn’t the church fighting harder against de facto relationships, divorce, and promiscuity. It seems a little arbitrary to draw the line here.
      2. I think most humanity, especially humanity that is unregenerate, will be death-affirming, not life-affirming. I have no problem wiht sinners deciding to live as sinners for themselves. So long as the church’s witness isn’t threatened.
      3. The Bible clearly says otherwise. But, as much as you might like it to be otherwise, the Bible only governs believers. I don’t think Christians should be trying to legislate the morality that comes wrong anymore. It’s much more important for us to be fighting for Christianity to maintain the ability to discriminate, than for us to be campaigning for secular law to discriminate.

      Further, I think we should almost be approaching legislation as though the Bible might actually be wrong. We’re both pretty convinced it isn’t – but we’re not the majority. We’re not even close to the majority. I think, for our non-Christian friends, we need to be making the case that the Bible is the word of God within our relationships, and we should be staunchly defending it as such in the public sphere and in our churches. But I would draw the line at trying to legislate it as such for non-Christians. There are plenty within “Christendom” who think the Bible is wrong. How can we make the argument that our view of the world should determine the actions and beliefs of others? Put the boot on the other foot. Put a rabid gay atheist in power. Put a Muslim in power. We are post-Christendom, multicultural and secular. In all things I think we need to be fighting for rigid separation of church and state. Not trying to blur the lines. This is my problem with Family First. They have no interest in governing for everybody. They only want to legislate their pretty narrow view of morality.

      I think part of the difference in our approaches is that you seem to be pushing to legislate for our ideal – whereas I think we should be legislating for the common denominator and putting our ministry efforts into achieving the ideal. Which actually seems to be a reverse of our position on the education system.

      “Does our anthro­pol­ogy mean we recog­nise a homo­sex­ual cou­pling as hav­ing any real­ity to it? That’s the ques­tion. Is it, in any sense, a gen­uine rela­tion­ship that is ‘good’ in God’s eyes – not just, is it less than opti­mal, but does God recog­nise it at all?”

      I too would say that God does not recognise a homosexual marriage as a marriage – but the question here is not what God recognises, but what the secular state recognises. They’ve almost always been different things. Except in Israel. And Calvin’s Geneva. And dare I say, I think Calvin was right about most things, but he was well and truly off the reservation when it came to politics.

      “A gay cou­ple with a cou­ple of kids that they’ve been rais­ing since infancy come to your church. They’re great par­ents, and the kids are doing pretty well, but they’re still young, for a bunch of rea­sons are a bit frag­ile, and any dis­rup­tion to the fam­ily life is likely to have very seri­ous neg­a­tive repercussions.”

      I don’t think we need to make any apologies for the gospel disrupting sin. But we need to warn them immediately of that disruption. It’s the cost of converting.

      “That is, I think your fairly lib­eral social view (pos­si­bly lib­er­tar­ian) here is likely to have sig­nif­i­cant pas­toral impli­ca­tions as well. If it’s a real fam­ily, and the chil­dren are bet­ter off, is it Chris­t­ian to break up a fam­ily that, isn’t ideal, but still cap­tures some of the good that God wants?”

      I would say I’m libertarian, but not liberal. I think there’s a pretty big difference that sometimes critics of the libertarian position miss. I don’t want the government overreaching – because I want Christian freedom protected. I think when we see that freedom being encroached elsewhere we should fight to protect freedom. Because I want to be able to tell gay people that they are sinners and not risk prison.

      I think we’ve got to come to terms with the idea that gay marriage will be legal in this country and be thinking about how we should be positioning ourselves in the light of that. I don’t want to be aligned with the people who say “gay marriage is child abuse” I want to be the people saying – “this is a triumph for freedom, and I am glad our society allows me to disagree with the decision without fear of persecution.” So, my question is, what are you going to do when it happens? The questions you’ve raised are relevant for both of us, I at least think my position will lead to a consistent gospel witness, and the ability to say to that gay couple when they first arrive at church, warning them that if they do convert they will need to think through the ramifications of having to split their family up into two single parent families. And I should be able to do that without fear of legal ramifications. A gay family can not be part of the church as a gay family, but they can be part of secular society. It happens anyway. You’re shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

      “But am I dis­crim­i­na­tory to restrict a cou­ple cheat­ing on their spouses from ‘part­ner­ship’ rights when it comes to health and estate ben­e­fits? To restrict a polyg­a­mous group? To restrict a mother and her son who want to be part­ners? To restrict a guy and his dol­phin? To restrict a guy, a girl and a traf­fic light? To restrict two guys and the num­ber eight? What if I’m a sin­gle per­son and what to be ‘mar­ried’ should I be dis­crim­i­nated against? Or can I be ‘mar­ried’ too?”

      I don’t think any of these options are morally right. But if you read the post again, I’m suggesting that the government should positively discriminate for the raising of children in stable heterosexual relationships, and in all other cases take a “hands off” approach. The guy with his dolphin is probably already calling himself married anyway.

  4. Hi Nathan,

    I don’t think that the choice of either ‘fight for our rights’ or ‘legislate Christian morals’ really capture the way we should approach our society and government.

    That is,

    I think our disposition towards our society is one of love, that is to seek and promote their good – good that is real and wired into creation even if they don’t see it that way. Therefore I will seek to promote (encourage, model, support, etc) marriage in our society because I am seeking their good. Ironically if I only speak up to i) promote my message or ii) protect my rights, I will communicate that I am only concerned for my ‘party’, just like every other group in the nation.

    I will seek to encourage the Government to promote marriage (in legislation and in other means) because I think it is a significant enough issue to warrant their attention. That is I don’t think Governments can and should legislate for everything – that would be tyranny, but I think what marriage is, and whether it is promoted or attacked is one which has a big enough effect on the whole society, and particularly the vulnerable to warrant their attention.

    I realize this still leaves (at least) three questions unanswered, namely

    i) Why is this issue significant enough?

    ii) What if you are pretty sure that you are going to lose?

    iii) What will you do if and when you lose?

    But I’ll leave at here for now.

    Tim

    1. Hi Tim,

      I agree with you that it’s not a choice between the two, and I apologise if I gave the impression that it’s a dichotomy.

      I also am not suggesting chucking out the baby with the bathwater on marriage. I am questioning why we think the government should be defining marriage anyway.

      “Therefore I will seek to promote (encourage, model, support, etc) marriage in our society because I am seeking their good.”

      I agree. This is, I think, the role of the church. It’s a role we should be taking seriously not just when it comes to stopping gay people marrying, but also when it comes to encouraging people to stay married. Or to commit to marriage.

      I don’t think the best vehicle for promoting this is through the state (and I take your points on board about why they are a potential vehicle), but rather through the church. The question at the heart of my post is – why are we so keen for the state to define marriage when the Bible already defines marriage? We should expect our definition to be different to the definition arrived at by the type of people described in Romans 1 (not gay people per say, but the sinners given over to a depraved mind).

      My solution to this is to aim to see more people encountering the gospel and being changed by the Spirit. I think we do this by promoting our definition of marriage and showing that it is actually a better way. I don’t think there needs to be a law in place that agrees with our definition in order for us to make that kind of statement.

      And I think those last two questions are where we’re at in our society with the majority of people, in a democracy, supporting gay marriage and the Greens determined to make us a “more loving” society.

      I think knowing what the ideal is is important for framing how we approach ethics, and politics, but I don’t think operating as though the ideal is achievable outside of the new creation (which I think is a caricature of Mark’s position) is the pragmatic way to do things. And I like pragmatism, I think this approach to politics that I posted the other day might also be a good way to go about things.

  5. Hi Nathan,

    I agree that our main efforts in promoting marriage should be outside the sphere of legislation.

    So why would I care if a government recognized marriage or not.

    Firstly some thoughts about Government:

    i) They should only get involved in things that matter

    ii) They promote good, rather than create good, so there role isn’t so much to ‘define’ marriage (or any other good) as to ‘recognize good.

    iii) And while I don’t think governments can do much I think they can do some things. And while we won’t have perfect solutions this side of the new creation we can sometimes have good ones.

    So to marriage:

    At the most basic I think it is hard to promote and protect, and easy to harm, what you don’t recognize, even if inadvertently. And marriage is a pretty big thing not to recognize. It is the key human relationship and – a cliche I know the building block of society. I can’t predict what negative consequences there might be, perhaps none immediately, but bad ethics derives from bad descriptions (an Oliver O’Donovan observation) – describe something poorly, and soon enough evil will follow.

    Consider just one example:

    Lets say the government proposed to eliminate any distinction between types of immigrants to Australia – so no distinction between family reunion, temporary expat, asylum seeker and so on – everyone just immigrants with the same privileges and responsibilities. It is not hard to imagine that in such a scenario, eventually, the vulnerable would pay.

    I don’t know the history of the legislation, but it seems the recognition of de facto marriages by the state is an example of an attempt to recognize something in order to then provide appropriate protection for it’s participants.

    Anyway – it’s fun to chat, I’m away for the weekend, so I’ll check in again on Monday.

    Tim

  6. Hi Nathan,
    Wow, there’s a lot here. I’ll try and pick off a few:
    1. I’m not sure how your championing of compulsory schooling, let alone your happiness about the state providing schools in the first place, and what seemed to be a view that the state should be reasonably interventionist into families – parenting isn’t a right, the state has the responsibility for the welfare of its citizens (i.e. the child’s relationship to the state trumps its relationship to its parents). Is libertarian. If you had grudgingly tolerated what I think libertarians would usually call ‘socialist education’ as a strictly temporary measure because we aren’t in a libertarian state yet, I could see it. But I can’t see how the two mesh at the moment. Can you help me out?

    2. When you say

    I think most humanity, especially humanity that is unregenerate, will be death-affirming, not life-affirming. I have no problem wiht sinners deciding to live as sinners for themselves.

    I find it hard to see how that fits with your accusing me of paranoia because I think that elites in society might be ‘death-affirming’ and that we need to not just give them a blank cheque in light of that. Given you seem to be almost going for absolute depravity, and not just total depravity here, I would have expected you to be the one saying “Danger, danger, don’t trust elites ‘cause they’ll always choose be death-affirming!” and me having to pull you back. But you said, “They’ve done the research, they know their stuff, we should trust them.”

    Again, can you help me see how your position here and there fit together? What else is going on that make these work consistently? Because I can’t see it yet and I suspect it’s going to be important. Is it that you think people are almost absolutely depraved morally but there’s little noetic effect of sin?

    3.

    The Bible clearly says otherwise. But, as much as you might like it to be otherwise, the Bible only governs believers. I don’t think Christians should be trying to legislate the morality that comes wrong any more. It’s much more important for us to be fighting for Christianity to maintain the ability to discriminate, than for us to be campaigning for secular law to discriminate.
    Further, I think we should almost be approaching legislation as though the Bible might actually be wrong

    .

    Okay, my thoughts here are:

    First, the Reformed position includes the second use of the law. The law of God is meant to restrain sinners who have no inherent desire for righteousness. It’s not just house rules for believers, it’s life and death for everyone. And where possible, it’s an act of love to work towards laws that enshrine the good that it points to. Christian morality is good for everyone, even sinners. I don’t think your view here is in any way consistent with that. I’m not sure where you go in the Bible to get the idea that Christians should, in their dealings with the state, act as though the Bible might be wrong. That, I think is the big counter to your argument that seeking Christian morality is fighting for just Christians and not everyone. We actually believe that God is right and is good. Why should we act as though we think that might be wrong?

    Second, why should we seek to maintain the right for Christian distinctiveness? Isn’t that smuggling in a conviction we have because of theological convictions and trying to embed it in our society? How is that principle the lowest denominator?

    Surveys fairly consistently show that the majority of people think that just thinking someone else is wrong is intolerant, and that intolerance is a danger to society. What do you do when it becomes clear that the lowest denominator position is that there should be no right for Christians to discriminate?

    Third, you might keep the right to discriminate in your church service and even in your wedding services. But what about the Christian social worker or relationship counsellor who has to act as though homosexual activity is life-affirming? The Christian who will only be allowed to adopt if they will affirm the child if that child develops homosexual tendencies? The Christian church required to have nonChristians whose lives contradict the gospel in clear public ways in every role except where it’s clearly all about teaching and liturgy (the current law in the UK now – church secretary, school teachers, social arm, possibly even youth workers all included)?

    Why is it right that they should be allowed to discriminate if the state’s declared that homosexuality is as valid as heterosexuality? We don’t allow racists to do that, even when they’ve got religious reasons for it.

    4.

    if marriage is all that we argue it is at this point — why isn’t the church fighting harder against de facto relationships, divorce, and promiscuity. It seems a little arbitrary to draw the line here.

    The church did fight harder, it fought every inch of ground. You’d have to have no historical awareness at all to seriously think otherwise. The church didn’t do what you want – just shrug its shoulders and say, “Let the sinners legislate for sin.” We have no idea what kind of world we would be living in if it hadn’t fought, even though it lost continually.

    But the fight moves on. You don’t fight for something small when something bigger comes along. Politics means you fight the fight before you, not the fight you might fight if you win this fight.

    And arbitrary to draw the line here? So, you won’t be saying that the government shouldn’t be locking up asylum seekers then. I mean there’s lot of things that the church isn’t fighting for, most Aussies are clearly okay with locking up children if they come here on boats, so you’d be pushing ‘your narrow view of morality’ on the majority and not seeking to rule for everyone. And it’d be arbitrary to pick that one issue out.

    5.

    And dare I say, I think Calvin was right about most things, but he was well and truly off the reservation when it came to politics.

    He had a city of people who all claimed to be Christians and who thought they wanted to live as a Christian community. If you think what he did in that situation was ‘off the reservation’ then there’s something missing in your grasp of the situation. Hand that scenario to most of the Christian leaders who are considered the mainstream leaders – the church fathers, the Reformers, the post-Reformation church leaders, and they would do the same. The details would change, but the strategy would look similar. They all shared a conviction about the common good, and the goodness of God’s morality for human life, and the fact that it really is binding on everyone, that you don’t seem to share. I think your libertarian approach is far more off the reservation as far as the Christian tradition goes then Calvin’s is.

    What Calvin would do in our situation is an interesting question. But Geneva represents the culmination of a Christian aspiration that the nations, and not just a voluntary group inside (like the Anabaptists went for) would follow Jesus. That aspiration goes as far back as the 2nd century Apologists – and so predates Christendom.

    6.

    I think we’ve got to come to terms with the idea that gay marriage will be legal in this country and be thinking about how we should be positioning ourselves in the light of that. I don’t want to be aligned with the people who say “gay marriage is child abuse” I want to be the people saying — “this is a triumph for freedom, and I am glad our society allows me to dis agree with the decision with¬out fear of persecution.”

    Why do we have to come to terms with that? Who says it is inevitable? It’s inevitable if we don’t make a half-decent stand, sure. But when is that the right way to approach an important moral issue?

    I’m again scratching my head about your view here and Wilberforce, let alone the Confessing Christians in Germany. Were they likely to win? No, no-one would have bet on Wilberforce ending slavery, and the Confessing Christians lost and the Nazis won.

    Were they reflecting the common denominator? No. They were reflecting, in your wonderful description of Family First, a ‘narrow view of morality’. Why do you think what they did was okay? Shouldn’t they have said, “sinners will have slaves and send Jews to the gas chambers”. If we legislate against it, it won’t be ruling on behalf of everyone, so we should just fight for the right to not own slaves ourselves and not send any Jews to the gas chambers ourselves as a formal act of the Church.” We want to be able to say, “It’s great that people have the right to own slaves and gas Jews. And it’s great that we can disagree with this without fear of persecution.”

    Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. Sometimes it doesn’t matter all that much how you play the game. Sometimes all that matters is that you did play the game, and when your name was called you answered the call.

    7. Your position on the homosexual family scenario wasn’t what I was expecting. That’s what makes these discussions so much fun. So you think that having two parents is genuinely good for the child, and that God requires something that is genuinely bad for the child – that they split up into two single parent families, cutting off the children from one parent, and from each other?

    That means that the gay parents have a choice – they can love God or they can love their children. They can be a follower of Jesus and a bad parent, or they can be a good parent if they don’t follow Jesus. Because, on your view, God is calling them to do something genuinely harmful to the children – break up a family that is genuinely good for the children as it is, and better than two single parent families.

  7. First, to Tim.

    I broadly agree with your definition of the function of government (recognising rather than defining good). And I think that’s what I’ve argued for in my post.

    Most people instinctively recognise that a stable heterosexual relationship is the ideal setting for the production and raising of children.

    I think it is right for the government to be positively discriminating for, and recognising, that sort of relationship.

    I just don’t think they necessarily need to use the word “marriage” to do that. Basically, I’m offering to cede the word marriage but not the benefits that families enjoy.

    I know that the Bible defines marriage as the one flesh union between man and woman. And that is my definition.

    But if two men want to use the label to describe their relationship then that’s ok with me. It’s just a word. And they, in a democracy, should enjoy the same protections for their relationship with regards to superannuation and the like – that we do in ours.

    “At the most basic I think it is hard to pro mote and pro tect, and easy to harm, what you don’t recognize, even if inad ver tently. And marriage is a pretty big thing not to recognize. It is the key human relationship and — a cliche I know the building block of society.”

    It’s important. I agree. And it’s a building block of society. But I’m suggesting that legal gay marriage is inevitable in our democracy and we need to recognise the future consequences that Mark points out and start the fight against them now. Not be taken by surprise.

  8. Now to Mark,

    1. I didn’t really address the comment from the anonymous person who told us that homeschooling is illegal – but I agree with your response to that. That’s my libertarian streak. You should be free to wreck your child’s education.

    The education discussion was about what’s best for Christians to do within the current system, and why the current system doesn’t need to be abolished. This discussion is about what the state should and shouldn’t be doing.

    I guess, my take home thing from the education discussion has been that if the system really is broken we should ponder how it could be improved and how we could bring about those improvements.

    2. I think I hold in balance the idea that government is a form of common grace, and that ultimately it has a role to play in protecting our freedoms, and the idea that it governs for people along the Romans 1 depravity scale. I read that as a progression from temptation to absolute depravity.

    “What else is going on that make these work con­sistently?”

    I guess the question “what’s best for the freedom of the church to proclaim the gospel?”…

    3. “The law of God is meant to restrain sinners who have no inher­ent desire for righteousness. It’s not just house rules for believ­ers, it’s life and death for everyone. ”

    Agreed. But I don’t think the Law of God is the Law of Australia.

    “I’m not sure where you go in the Bible to get the idea that Christians should, in their dealings with the state, act as though the Bible might be wrong.”

    I admit, I don’t get that idea from the Bible. I get that idea from my understanding of democracy – and the realisation that any belief system, being a product of human minds, might be wrong and that Christianity is taken on faith and our presuppositions that a creator is responsible for the world.

    “That, I think is the big counter to your argument that seeking Christian morality is fighting for just Christians and not every one.”

    I am all for fighting for Christian morality. But I think we do that by preaching it as an alternative. Not by imposing it on everybody through the law.

    I think we need to show people that Christian morality is best by example, not impose it on them.

    “We actually believe that God is right and is good. Why should we act as though we think that might be wrong?”

    Because we’re not living in a theocracy and we are governing, and being governed by, a secular state.

    “why should we seek to maintain the right for Christian distinctiveness? Isn’t that smuggling in a conviction we have because of theological convictions and trying to embed it in our society? How is that principle the lowest denominator?”

    I guess because my fundamental goal for government is that they should provide a framework for liberty, not legislate one particular point of view. While that pursuit of liberty is no doubt born from a Christian anthropology, I think we should limit the role government plays in defining morality lest the atheists or muslims rise to power and put the boot firmly on the other foot.

    “The church did fight harder, it fought every inch of ground. ”

    And then stopped.

  9. “He had a city of people who all claimed to be Christians and who thought they wanted to live as a Christian community. If you think what he did in that situation was ‘off the reservation’ then there’s some thing missing in your grasp of the situation. ”

    Servetus might suggest he was a little heavy handed in his approach.

    “But Geneva represents the culmination of a Christian aspiration that the nations, and not just a voluntary group inside (like the Anabaptists went for) would follow Jesus.”

    So does Zionism. I think this aspiration often suffers from an over-realised eschatology.

    “Why do we have to come to terms with that? Who says it is inevitable? It’s inevitable if we don’t make a half-decent stand, sure.”

    I’d say recent experience in the US, where the opposition was probably stronger than we’re likely to be able to resource anywhere here, suggests that it’s inevitable.

    We, in Australia, being so many years behind the US and UK on this one have the ability to learn from their mistakes in how we manage the aftermath of the decision.

    Being the PR person that I am (or was) I think we need to be on message now, rather than coming up with the “we should be free to discriminate” line after the fact. I think we should say “they should be free to do what they want, so long as that freedom is applied consistently.”

    “I’m again scratching my head about your view here and Wilberforce, let alone the Confessing Christians in Germany. Were they likely to win? No, no-one would have bet on Wilberforce ending slavery, and the Confessing Christians lost and the Nazis won.”

    Are you familiar with Godwin’s Law? I think comparing allowing gay people to describe pre-existing relationships with a word that has traditionally been defined otherwise, with comparing approving of the holocaust, is probably a prime example of why its seen to automatically lose an argument.

    The difference in these situations is the victims. The victims – the two consenting adults – of a gay marriage are different to the victims – the non-consenting Jews, or the non-consenting slaves, or the non-consenting unborn. If you want to consider the plight of the child who doesn’t consent to having gay parents equal with the plight of the child who doesn’t consent to being aborted, or the Jew who doesn’t consent to being gassed, or the slave who doesn’t consent to being worked to death in horrible conditions, or dying on a ship, then I think you’re going to have a hard time justifying that position using logic.

    I’m not sold on allowing gay parents the right to adopt – I don’t see that as a natural corollary to gay marriage – because homosexuals can already have children by surrogate (in Queensland) and can, I think, already adopt. There are plenty of gay parents in Australia already, who enjoy legal rights as parents.

    I’m all for changing the common denominator. I just think, as I’ve said before, we use the gospel and the Holy Spirit as the vehicle for change, not the laws of the land. That’s not what the laws are there for.

    “We want to be able to say, “It’s great that people have the right to own slaves and gas Jews.””

    I think you’ll understand from what I’ve said above that I think what we want is for the slaves and Jews to enjoy the same distribution of rights from the government that we do.

    “Sometimes all that matters is that you did play the game, and when your name was called you answered the call.”

    I think I’m actually playing the bigger game here.

    “So you think that having two parents is genuinely good for the child, and that God requires some thing that is gen­uinely bad for the child”

    What would your answer to this hypothetical be?

    I don’t think that it is genuinely good for the child – I just don’t think calling it “child abuse” is right. Unless you’re prepared to also call single parenting “child abuse.” If the premise is that a child needs a mother and a father for their parenting not to constitute child abuse then I think that premise is demonstrably faulty.

    I think God requires a radical realigning of our identities upon conversion.

    I think being part of a church family will be of benefit to the child, I think the “it takes a village to raise a child” concept is of some merit, and I think the benefits to the child of being part of a church, knowing that both dads (or mums) love the child, and have decided that they also love God, and knowing that they have put their relationship with God above all else – while still loving their child(ren) will speak volumes to the child about the power of the gospel.

    “That means that the gay parents have a choice – they can love God or they can love their children. They can be a follower of Jesus and a bad parent, or they can be a good parent if they don’t follow Jesus.”

    I think I’ve shown above why I think your initial premise here is faulty, and thus the next couple of steps are also faulty. I think they become better parents by becoming followers of Jesus. Not worse.

    But I think that their parenting of an adopted child is better than no parenting at all. Especially if the alternative is abortion.

    I’ve said somewhere in my archives that I think we should be, as the church, promoting adoption over abortion. Lobbying for changes to Australia’s laws to make adoption a real alternative.

    Are you saying it’s better the child not exist than the child exist in a homosexual family?

  10. “i.e the child’s relationship to the state trumps its relationship to its parents”

    I think I’d nuance my views a little more than that. You basically argued that the state has no place in making decisions about the education of its citizens.

    I argued that the state has an interest. It will be the state’s job to pay for mental health care for the children who aren’t equipped by their parents to cope with life. I don’t think I argued that the state’s interest was primary. I think we need to hold the two interests in balance. And I hope we’d both agree that the state’s interest in the education of children is a necessary evil in the face of parents who aren’t interested or equipped when it comes to the education of their children.

    In fact, I constantly affirmed parenting as the primary method of educating children. I think parents need to be keeping tabs on what the state is trying to teach their children and correcting it where possible. I think parents need to be inspiring their children to be inquisitive and to ponder significant questions… I think we should assume that the state isn’t going to love our children like we love our children.

    But I think the decision about how to educate our children, like the decision how to vote, like any decision, needs to be a decision focused also on the other. On the outsider. On the poor. On the weak. And on the lost.

  11. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for the expansion on the libertarian and common grace issues, that clears up a couple of mysteries for me.

    Reflecting on the previous conversation, I think your theory about government as common grace and Romans 1 is in the same ballpark as mine.

    Your practice in being so gung ho to trust a Christian Education Minister, or specialists who have done the research in the area and defer to them about fundamental questions is a different outworking of that theory than it is for me, so I suspect that there’s either something else going on as well, or your ‘blank cheque’ approach was just a lack of nuancing at the time. But it’s enough to move forward without mixed signals at the moment, I think.

    As to your thinking about whether the education system is “broken” – here’s another bit of food for thought that I’m chewing over. It’s not about whether it’s broken or not, it’s about a different issue. It’s not making a point in an argument, it’s trying to get a handle on what compulsory schooling actually is:

    Where in society do we think something is important and so make attendance at a licensed institution compulsory? I can only think of things like being an engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc. In all these cases attendance isn’t enough. A central body defines what needs to happen for someone to be licensed. People have to actually achieve on more-or-less standardised tests. Even something like driving doesn’t even have the attendance requirement – it just requires proof of competency on a standardised test.

    And where an institution is licensed to teach a profession, it loses that license if it consistently produces too many people who don’t cut the mustard – too many fail out, or they pass but the passes aren’t really worth it. There’s consequences for the students and the institution when we think it matters and so make things compulsory.

    It seems to me that what we’re doing with schooling is saying, “Citizenship needs some skills, some social and values formation, and some knowledge.” It never used to need that – you just were a citizen by virtue of birth and surviving to adulthood and growing up, to use your term, “in a village”. But now we think citizenship involves a bit more than that.

    But we don’t require proof of competency, just require attendance while the curriculum is taught. And even non-compliance with that requirement doesn’t have any ultimate consequences for the child – they’re still a citizen. (And no, I’m not ‘off the reservation’ – I can see full well how bad it would be to have people fail a citizenship test and so not be citizens in their own country. That’s not a future I want at all.)

    I can’t see any analogy for compulsory schooling in today’s society. That’s what I mean when I say it’s ‘weird’ and ‘doesn’t add up’. What we say we’re doing and the reasons we give for it just doesn’t fit with what we do elsewhere in what seem to be similar (not the same) situations.

    We know that the underclasses passively resist attempts by compulsion to interfere in their lives, and that the working and middle classes cooperate as part of being ‘aspirational voters’. So the whole ‘it’s for the sake of the poor’ just doesn’t ring true to me as the explanation. If you care about the poor you don’t going compelling them to be part of something that’s going to ‘better their lot’ – that’s just calculated to ensure they’ll never participate properly. (Now, I’m not going conspiracy there – stupidity is sufficient answer for me.)

    But I can see one analogy. At this stage, it’s the only one I can see. Back in Christendom the State used to require people to attend Church. No outcomes were required, they just had to be there while the priest taught his body of knowledge. It was thought that the State needed its citizens to be formed a certain way, and that it needed partnership with another institution that could do that for it. So it required attendance – as it had an interest in its citizens being formed properly. The Church did something that the State couldn’t, but that the State needed done for a democracy to work.

    But when you have a secular democracy you can’t be in partnership with the Church/es that way. So my question at the moment is, “Is compulsory education the ‘Church’ for a secular State?”

    It’s what the State looks to provide it with properly formed citizens – which means that there is something after all in all that ultra-conservative fear of schools indoctrinating students. Schooling isn’t really about teaching skills and knowledge at all. It’s about citizenship formation for a secular democracy. Hence the battle for what goes into the curriculum – more’s at stake there than just a child’s education.

    That could all be wrong. But working out why it’s wrong should shed light on what compulsory education is and that should help work out how it should work properly.

    My guess is that if the above kind of thinking is wrong it’s because we think child education is so radically different from adult that a completely different set of rules apply.

    But then my question will be – if that’s the case why isn’t the basic structure of schooling changing radically as our grasp of child development is rewriting the text books at the moment?

    None of that is to start the debate again – merely that if you’re a bit like me, that’s the kind of thought exercises I do to try and get my head around things. And it’s one aspect of where I’m up to on the issue. I’ll grab the issues on this thread next time around.

    1. I agree almost entirely with your musings on education. My point has always been, that given the choices facing parents on how to educate their children these days, I think the decision needs to be made on the basis of “how do I best care for the other”…

      It’s what the State looks to pro vide it with prop erly formed cit i zens – which means that there is some thing after all in all that ultra-conservative fear of schools indoc tri nat ing stu dents. School ing isn’t really about teach ing skills and knowl edge at all. It’s about cit i­zen ship for ma tion for a sec u lar democ racy. Hence the bat tle for what goes into the cur ricu lum — more’s at stake there than just a child’s education.

      I don’t doubt that schools are trying to indoctrinate their pupils as roving advocates of a secular democracy with a framework of scientific naturalism. I would even go so far as to posit a conspiracy theory that the only reason RE is still allowed in schools is that there’s an assumption it will be taught badly and thus turn people off religion. I share the ultra-conservative fear. I just don’t think keeping my child from engaging with the ideas and guiding them in that process is a better idea than letting them turn into an adult, having them discover those views, and not having the same influence a parent has over a younger mind.

      But then my ques tion will be – if that’s the case why isn’t the basic struc ture of school ing chang ing rad i cally as our grasp of child devel op ment is rewrit ing the text books at the moment?

      I think you’ll find that while the external appearances are the same, much of what goes on in the classroom is the product of constant evolution.

  12. I’ve really enjoyed this post as well as the comments. Can’t agree with your indifference to gay marriage, though.

    I’d contend that for marriage to be defined as a relationship between one man & one woman doesn’t require us to be living in a theocracy, it only requires that you be created by God. The Law of God, whilst being a universal standard of right & wrong for everyone, was given by God to define the covenant community that He created. On the other hand, marriage between a man & a woman, the principle of all people being equal, and the principle that there is more to being a human than productivity, function and reputation (ie. sabbath) are three “things” that are part of the gospel that we proclaim – arguably, foundational to it: that there is a personal God who loves us and has gone to extraordinary lengths to save us because He created us to be in right relationship with Himself & with one another.

    1. Hi Damien,

      “Can’t agree with your indifference to gay marriage, though.”

      Let me set the record straight lest this come back to bite me at a later date. I am thoroughly and staunchly opposed to gay marriage. Should I, as a voter, have the chance to vote against it I probably would.

      BUT. I don’t think the government, whose job it is to represent the electorate, including those who didn’t vote for them, and including those of different beliefs, should be playing in this area. I’d much rather a situation where the church defined marriage for Christians, and gay people wanting to get “married” could run off an start their own institution.

      I’m much more interested in the approach to politics taken by the government, and the approach we, the church, advocate. I would love the church not to be seen as a special interest lobby group who think that our agenda should trump everybody else’s just because we’ve got a solid bloc of voters.

  13. So in seeking what is good for society according to the knowledge of where we come from as human beings and what we are created to be, the challenge is finding reasonable arguments for those things that are good. Marriage is a universal feature of human culture. How many cultural universals are there? I am not an anthropologist, but I am unaware of any culture that has recognised marriage as anything but heterosexual – even if poly -gynous/androus. I don’t think Nero is a very reasonable example of homosexual marriage in history – after Augustus Rome had very strict laws about marriage and infidelity. I will stand corrected if someone can point to a time before 2000ad when a homosexual relationship was regarded as marriage. Along those lines, marriage in all cultures (I will happily shut up if there is even one exception) has been and is governed by and protected by strict and often complex legislation or social mores. You can get jail time for bigamy in Australia.

    The state has a massive interest in the wellbeing of the family unit because it forms the basic building block for society. I would argue that this is a sufficient basis for legally defining marriage, since marriage (and “after the fact” marriage) is the basis for the family.

    I see a difference between that and Theonomy.

    1. “The state has a mas sive inter est in the well be ing of the fam ily unit because it forms the basic build ing block for soci ety. I would argue that this is a suf fi cient basis for legally defin ing mar riage, since mar riage (and “after the fact” mar riage) is the basis for the family.”

      I agree with the first statement, and I agree with the idea that stable heterosexual relationships are the basis for family. Which is actually what I’ve advocated in the post. That the state has a role to play in incentivising heterosexual relationships with economic benefits.

  14. Picking up some issues again:

    1.

    Most people instinctively recognise that a stable heterosexual relationship is the ideal setting for the production and raising of children.

    I think it is right for the government to be positively discriminating for, and recognising, that sort of relationship.

    I just don’t think they necessarily need to use the word “marriage” to do that. Basically, I’m offering to cede the word marriage but not the benefits that families enjoy.

    Okay, that’s a consistent position. And, here I’d defend you against Damien Carson, you’re clearly trying to find another way to preserve the same conviction about marriage – give the word away as a gift, but find another path to preserve the reality that the name traditionally captures.

    I get that, I like it – it’s my kind of screwy overly complex way of getting from A to B by going through, not just C, but the rest of the alphabet, a couple of numbers, and the alphabets of a few other languages.

    My problem is that I think your first sentence is mistaken.

    And here again I go back to the Judge with the Prop 8 decision. He found as a finding of fact (not just law) that a stable heterosexual relationship is not the ideal setting for the raising of children. There is no benefit to being raised by your biological parents, there is no difference to the structure of the family – all that matters is the qualities of the parents: love, wisdom etc. There is even some evidence that being raised by two women is superior to a heterosexual environment (digest that for a bit, in light of your argument above for positive discrimination on the grounds that stable heterosexual relationship are ideal).

    He found as a finding of fact that any teaching otherwise harms gays (just the teaching of the view, not even putting it into practice in the positive discrimination you want government to do).

    The mainstream media, of which The New York Times is quite rightly the Gold Standard and who led the pack on this, cheered the decision as right and a blow for truth. The judge was articulating the conviction, not of the majority, but of the majority of the relevant elites – those who read the New York Times, the law fraternity, the therapy professions, journalists and the like. While they are in a minority, they hold disproportional power to their numbers and don’t agree at all with your first sentence. I doubt the situation is radically different in Oz among those really fired up about this issue.

    My question is, if I’m right about that, does that change your position? If they don’t just want the word ‘marriage’ but want the benefits that families enjoy, want recognition that stable heterosexual relationships are not the ideal setting for the production and raising of children and that’s an important part of this fight does that change your position?

    That’s a very real question from me, I’m keen to hear a substantial answer as to yes/no/maybe, here are the factors involved etc. Because it seems to me that your whole strategy hinges on this assumption. I think, in terms of your suggestion in the post this is the key issue, the rest below are important more generally. So I think a fuller answer here would push things further.

    1. Re 1.

      I’ve only just discovered Bill Muehlenberg – but he wrote this piece on the traditional family structure and gay adoption that included references to two studies. This is the kind of approach I suggest we should be taking to the issue.

      “One American study of 19,000 young people conducted by the Bowling Green State University (Ohio) found that teens fare best when living with two married biological parents: “Adolescents in married, two-biological-parent families generally fare better than children in any of the family types examined here, including single-mother, cohabiting stepfather, and married stepfather families. The advantage of marriage appears to exist primarily when the child is the biological offspring of both parents. Our findings are consistent with previous work, which demonstrates children in cohabiting stepparent families fare worse than children living with two married, biological parents.”

      Another large-scale American study found that there are “overall disadvantages” in not living with both biological parents. The author concludes, “My analyses have clearly demonstrated some overall disadvantages of living with neither parent. Among adolescents from all six family types, those in non-biological-parent appear to rank the lowest in academic performance, educational aspiration, and locus of control. Further, they appear to fare less well in the remaining outcome areas (self-esteem, behavior problems, and cigarette smoking).””

      Correct me if I’m wrong – but wasn’t that judge in the Prop 8 case gay? In which case it’s a bit like fruit from a poisonous tree.

      “My ques tion is, if I’m right about that, does that change your posi tion? If they don’t just want the word ‘mar riage’ but want the ben e­fits that fam i lies enjoy, want recog ni tion that sta ble het ero sex ual rela tion ships are not the ideal set ting for the pro duc tion and rais­ing of chil dren and that’s an impor tant part of this fight does that change your position?”

      Apologies for any weird spacing in that quote. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on there.

      If you’re right, if both issues come together (which isn’t the way they are being approached in Australia) then I would oppose it. Because, using my “victim” approach – I think somebody has to think of the children. And I think you can make a case for that using science and economics. I think cases made using theology are weak. Because it is possible (though I don’t think probable) that the new atheists are correct. So let me turn this question back at you – do you think, if the new atheists are correct, that these laws are just and right?

  15. 2. About the law and the Law of God:

    I guess because my fundamental goal for government is that they should provide a framework for liberty, not legislate one particular point of view. While that pursuit of liberty is no doubt born from a Christian anthropology, I think we should limit the role government plays in defining morality lest the atheists or muslims rise to power and put the boot firmly on the other foot.

    Here’s a few thoughts in no particular order:

    a) You don’t have to try and make the law of Australia the law of God to try and make it shaped by the law of God. Really, you don’t. There’s a range of options between theonomy and libertarian, we don’t have to move to the extremes here.

    b) Your view here doesn’t seem democratic. It seems more, I don’t know what the term is, ‘postmodern democratic’. The point of a modern democracy originally (I would suggest) is that everyone has the right and freedom to make their case based on whatever they wanted to put in the public square. And people then, by voting for representatives, elected people who would make laws more or less reflecting what the populace believed in. Atheists, muslims, Christians, anyone could put up a law that reflected their views about the world and argue for it. Even if they lost, they could often move the course of the debate (consider the impact of One Nation on politics even though it never won office). The whole point was that people could argue for their ‘narrow view of morality’.

    What they couldn’t do, was try and wipe the other side out. No religion got preferential treatment. But if it got support for its laws, then they’re law.

    What you’re advocating seems close to what the New Atheists want. They want one religion to be the state religion – secularism, a practicing atheism. Only laws consistent with that are anything other than ‘imposing a narrow view of morality’.

    And I say, no. Christians have as much right as anyone to speak up and try and influence things. We don’t have to just go, “Isn’t it great that this country has the freedom to have gay marriages/internet pornography/abortions (add whatever other thing you want) and I have the freedom to not agree.” We have a democratic right and responsibility to be more involved in that. We can’t seek to make the Church the state religion. But we can advocate that laws should be right and just and argue why our take on that should be accepted by others.

    c) For a lot of laws you can’t not be involved in questions of morality. Romans 12:3-5:

    For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

    The ruler is there to do you good, not just provide the structure for liberty. And he is to punish the wrongdoer, not just the person who doesn’t play by the rules. Dominion in the world that God has made is a moral activity. We can’t cut that Gordion knot by trying to restrict government from staying out of moral questions.

    d) I’m a little bit perturbed that your whole philosophy of how to engage a democracy is not something that is derived from the Bible. It seems to me that when a field of life (and government is a field of life, it’s not something like astronomy or medicine) is considered to be governed by a set of norms other than the Word of God you tend to move in a liberal kind of direction. If the Christian thing is to not be Christian when governing but just to preserve the ability for Christians to be different, then I think there’s a real problem. “You can tell I’m a Christian by the way it doesn’t affect how I try and legislate.” We’re back to a pietist kind of ‘my Christianity affects my personal morality only’ thing.

    e) I don’t think that Christians are just meant to live differently from the world. Yes we are to do that. But that’s not all. The prophets when they indited the nations around them wouldn’t have gone, “Wait a moment! You can’t do that!” if the nations repented and changed their behaviour in the areas they were rebuked. John the Baptist rebuking Herod, Paul in some of his interactions with some authorities – all seem to be doing more than preaching Jesus and living differently. What you’re advocating here is Anabaptist and pietist. I don’t think it has much purchase in the Reformed or even Lutheran traditions.

  16. 3.

    “The church did fight harder, it fought every inch of ground. ”
    And then stopped.

    This makes me grumpy, Nathan. And that makes dialogue harder between us. That sentence was part of bigger argument I made and you responded to the whole thing with a one-liner that gives me nothing to work with to take the argument further. I have no idea what your bigger response is. I doubt it was your intention, but it looks like a cheap shot. If it’s not worth the time (and I’m fine with that) just don’t engage it at all. That’s cool too.

    4. That terrible indian Calvin who has left the reservation.

    Servetus might suggest he was a little heavy handed in his approach.

    Grumpy again, but different reasons, and not at you as such.

    Servetus was a Dead Man Walking everywhere in Europe, with possibly one or two really unusual exceptions. You didn’t get to be a baptised Christian and deny the deity of Christ in print and live to tell the tale. I think that’s wrong, really wrong. But that was law everywhere.

    Calvin was criticised for that episode by his contemporaries, not for being heavy handed, but for being too lenient – for trying (unsuccessfully) to commute the burning to a beheading.

    It happens all the time, but it’s not good history to take someone on the liberal end of his society in his era, justifiably fail him by contemporary moral judgements and then speak about him as though he was a nutter even by the standards of his day. Get him on other things if you want to make that point. But not Servetus. Not Christendom’s finest hour, but it doesn’t do what you want here with regards Calvin.

    So does Zionism. I think this aspiration often suffers from an over-realised eschatology.

    It can, yes. But ‘often’ is a bit of a stretch. Here I think some solid reading of Steve Ozment is in order. The Reformers (like Calvin) were utterly opposed to any attempt to creating heaven on earth. They considered utopian thinking to be dangerous for humans. Geneva was not an attempt to be Heaven. It was an attempt to run a city as though everyone was a Christian, and recognising that in some the fire of grace burned very dimly indeed and great care had to be made accordingly. Interest on loans, oaths, Christians taking each other to court, military service, communion far less often than Calvin would prefer – all signs that this has nothing to do with an over-realised eschatology.

    It was the Anabaptists with their voluntary pure Church made up only of the righteous, and having nothing to do with the State, that were the over-realised eschatology champions.

    It really is important to get that one. Christendom for all its faults (and they were many) was not overrealised eschatology. And the Reformers certainly weren’t. Usually it was the critics of Christendom who were because it involved such compromise for the Church to make it work.

    1. Mark,
      Sticking with your numbering (albeit with a piecemeal approach).
      2. a) “You don’t have to try and make the law of Aus tralia the law of God to try and make it shaped by the law of God. Really, you don’t. There’s a range of options between theon omy and lib er tar ian, we don’t have to move to the extremes here.”

      Indeed, which is why just four days ago I urged Christians of all stripes to join the party they share their political ideology with and try to make a difference on policies. I think being part of the process of debate, rather than being a special interest group, is the future of Christian interaction with politics. I’ll get to that when I get to Wilberforce.

      2. b) Your definition of democracy sounds a lot like “majority rules” rather than “everybody has an equal voice”… I think our approach to democracy should be couched in the latter, not the former. If it’s a case of majority rules then the gay marriage debate, according to opinion polls, is already over. I think what we need to be doing as Christians engaging in the process is clarifying what we want in the case that the law gets changed. The thing I’d add to your list of “isn’t this greats” is “isn’t it great that this country allows minority voices to clearly speak their minds, and isn’t it great that Christians are free to make the case for the gospel while clearly being different from the surrounding nations”…

      Actually, that might be something I haven’t touched on yet…

      Part of my approach to the issue, grounded in my “gospel utilitarianism” is that I think the gospel is at its best when the contrast is starkest. So I kind of want the government to legislate against Christian morals so that our salt is saltier and our light brighter.

      2 c)

      “The ruler is there to do you good, not just pro vide the struc ture for lib erty. And he is to pun ish the wrong doer, not just the per son who doesn’t play by the rules. Domin ion in the world that God has made is a moral activ ity. We can’t cut that Gor dion knot by try ing to restrict gov ern ment from stay ing out of moral questions.”

      I think the ruler is there to commend us for doing good, and to tacitly allow it – I don’t think allowing the doing of good has anything to do with what’s codified. There’s an example from Rome which I’m sure you’re aware of, but others can google, where a Roman emperor, hostile to Christianity, acknowledged that the church wasn’t just caring for their own sick “but for ours as well” – here was a hostile government recognising the church’s good deeds.

      I’m not suggesting that the church abdicate morality. I’m suggesting that the church take a different approach to morality. I think morality by legislation is the wrong way.

      3.

      “This makes me grumpy, Nathan. And that makes dia logue harder between us. That sen tence was part of big ger argu ment I made and you responded to the whole thing with a one-liner that gives me noth ing to work with to take the argu ment fur ther.”

      I ran out of time, and thought I had bigger fish to fry. But my point is, so far as the political scene is concerned, we’ve given up the ghost on divorce. We haven’t campaigned for any significant reforms to deal with the problem – and the problem of divorce is as big in the church as it is in the state.

    2. 4. Re: Calvin and his politics.

      I am a great admirer of much of what Calvin did in the political sphere – but I think he an Wilberforce, and he and Bonhoeffer, had different approaches. It would be an oversimplification to simply caricature the approaches they took as running the state, working within the state, and working against the state – but if I was going with such a simplification I would suggest that my preferred approach is a mixture of all three – and is governed by what (I think) is best for the spread of the gospel. We’re talking “my approach” here – I’m not suggesting this should be everybody’s approach.

      Sure, Calvin’s approach was ok for a city of Christians. But. I don’t think that was a “Christian approach to government” because I don’t think we should biblically be expecting entire cities to be Christians. I don’t think we see a precedent of that anywhere in the Bible – even Jerusalem is home to outsiders.

      I think his approach was a little naive because it meant he could do nothing else to Servetus. I’ve written a little bit about Calvin and politics, twice in fact, and Calvin and Servetus before. There have been a lot of good things to come out of Calvin’s political reforms – I’d be the first to cede that, but I think when it came to governing for both Christians and non-Christians, and even for Christians and theologians he didn’t agree with, that Calvin’s approach has been significantly improved on and developed since.

      “It hap pens all the time, but it’s not good his tory to take some one on the lib eral end of his soci ety in his era, jus ti fi ably fail him by con tem po rary moral judge ments and then speak about him as though he was a nut ter even by the stan dards of his day. Get him on other things if you want to make that point. But not Serve tus. Not Christendom’s finest hour, but it doesn’t do what you want here with regards Calvin.”

      Agreed. But I think Calvin’s approach also failed by biblical standards at that point. A whole lot more “he who is without sin should cast the first stone” might have helped (though I’m not, in principle, against governments employing the death penalty). Basically I think that sort of standard probably created an incredible increase in nominalism, and probably (I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for sure) inhibited the work of evangelism because everybody said they were Christians.

      “all signs that this has nothing to do with an over-realised eschatology.”

      I would argue that any assumption that a whole city would be filled with Christians and should be governed as such is guilty of such an eschatology. I’d argue that America is still suffering from the same identity crisis borne from the same assumptions. The really extreme versions of this eschatological framework – zionism, American messianism (equating the President with the messiah, and/or the state with the Kingdom of God), and Mormonism – are based on similar attempts to have the new created order be normative for the current created order. I think the order of the new creation is the ideal – but I think we need to approach ethical and political questions grounded in this world and informed by where things ought to be.

      I’d say that the anabaptists are the other side of the same coin. It’s like people who choose to send their kids to a Christian run school v people who want to home school their kids. Both make the decision from the same motivation, but take different approaches.

  17. 5. The hopelessness of the cause:

    I’d say recent experience in the US, where the opposition was probably stronger than we’re likely to be able to resource any¬where here, suggests that it’s inevitable.
    We, in Australia, being so many years behind the US and UK on this one have the ability to learn from their mistakes in how we manage the aftermath of the decision.

    I think you’re throwing in the towel on the U.S. far too early. Prop 8 was a pretty smart piece of legal manoeuvring by one side, but there’s a good chance that it would get knocked in a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court. And if that happened, it might need a 2/3 majority to amend the constitution to get it through.

    The media is a player in this game and so they have to be read with a grain of salt – they tend to give an impression that it’s inevitable because they think it is, it’s ‘progress’.

    But most states have done something to prevent gay marriage in that state. The only wins have been in the courts, and only in those courts that believe that there’s no fixed meaning to words. The issue has lost every time it comes up for a vote. Even in California, as a gay activist indicated when he looked at the results for Prop 8 after the fact, half a million people mistakenly voted for the gay side when they meant to vote against because of how it was worded (far, far more than the reverse mistake). His conclusion was that the vote was actually 52-48, a big margin to turn around.

    Because the U.S., like Oz, is a federalist system, the longer the gay marriage experiment is kept to certain states and doesn’t just sweep through, the actual impact will be seen. And it won’t be child abuse (as you say and I agree) but it will have some bad effects – as I’ve suggested some are clear from Massachusetts already. That could turn the tide for a country which is majority centre right.

    But the UK is the other example. Virtually no Christian opposition, an attempt to do what you suggest – have the cake, but let us eat our Christian difference. And it really isn’t looking good here, I have to say, for that kind of strategy. Rowan Williams is seen as a bigot for asking for that freedom for Christians (you’ve really got to sit with that to let it sink in. He’s actually pro-gay.).

    I think people have more chance of having something at the end if they fight for what they really want and then get bid down to something. Compromise on both sides. Make your first offer your last offer, and you’ll probably get an awful lot less than what you actually need out of the deal. Bid high, and get negotiated down is usually the better strategy. Then you’re really reasonable for having given away so much in the interests of compromise and peace.

    6. The nasty example:

    What would your answer to this hypothetical be?

    Good question. I’d love to hear some ethicists on it – maybe Tim might chime in (wave to Tim – great to ‘meet’ up again here in cyberspace mate).

    My take on it is that you can’t have two parents who are the same gender. It’s simply impossible. You can have one parent of either gender. You could even be adopted by a single person. They could be in a relationship with someone else – even someone of the same gender. But only one of those two would be the parent in reality. The other would be like an uncle, or a maiden aunt who lives with the family, or Barth’s special lady friend who was such a special friend that Marcus Barth apparently said that at times as he was growing up he didn’t know who was his real mum, or even a family friend who lives with a family and does a lot of the raising of the kids.

    So in the example it’s either a one parent family with a lover, or two one parent families who are living together. It’d be hard for anyone other than God to work out how the relational lines work precisely, and it’s a bit counter-intuitive, but sometimes life is like that. Sometimes the earth goes around the sun even though it looks like the opposite.

    In such a situation, it’s good, and good for everyone involved, to act in line with the reality not the appearance. Even if the loss of a surrogate father figure and people who were like family to you kinghits you. Truth is always better than a lie, or even an error.

    But I think you think the children have two parents, not one like me. So I don’t think your solution works. On your view God is causing real harm to the children by requiring the family to be split, and he is ripping them from a loving parent. If being raised by two loving parents isn’t child abuse (and I’d tend to agree in the fairly bad way that’s been set up). I’d suggest that cutting off a child from a loving parent, and possibly some siblings, is getting into that kind of territory. It’s not an act of love.

    7. A bad invocation of an overused law:

    Are you famil iar with Godwin’s Law? I think com par ing allow ing gay peo ple to describe pre-existing rela tion ships with a word that has tra di tion ally been defined oth er wise, with com par ing approv ing of the holo caust, is prob a bly a prime exam ple of why its seen to auto mat i cally lose an argument.

    Yes, I am. And I didn’t do what you’re suggesting. You put up a philosophy of engagement with the state. And you called Family First to the mat over it. I put up two test cases to test your philosophy of engagement and pointed out it didn’t work. That’s got nothing to do with Godwin’s Law, even though Nazis and gas chambers happened to be involved in one example. I made no analogy between those cases and this. I tested your theory and suggested it couldn’t account for the cases.

    Further, I find your solution to that utterly unconvincing, and I think you should too. “The difference is the victims.” I agree. I agree with every way in which you indicated they are different from our scenario.

    So what? There’s no analogy here anyway. Let me put it to you again:

    If all we are doing is preserving our right to be different by example. And if we can only commend Christian morality by preaching and not by legislation. How can you justify Wilberforce? He doesn’t fit your model of engagement at all.

    Let me put it this way:

    Explain to me how Wilberforce is a libertarian who acted as though the Bible might be wrong in his opposition of slavery.

    Not a rhetorical question there, take me through the steps because I can’t see it yet. I know he didn’t see himself that way, but show me how he actually was even though he didn’t realise it. Because that’s what needs to be the case for him not to be brought into the Family First hall of shame.

    1. 5.

      “The media is a player in this game and so they have to be read with a grain of salt – they tend to give an impression that it’s inevitable because they think it is, it’s ‘progress’.”

      I think, from a democratic point of view, that it probably is progress, as would be defined by the secular press. I think it’s even progress as Romans 1 describes the progress of people’s thinking being overtaken by sin until they can’t tell the difference.

      I just think our response shouldn’t be the Rowan Williams response. It should be the gospel response. It should go something like this…

      The Bible clearly says homosexuality is a sin. It’s black and white. Those pursuing homosexual relationships are doing so at their eternal peril. The Bible warns against this course. The Bible is the word of God. Homosexuality is no worse than other sins, like adultery, or lying, or stealing. And homosexuality is a genetic predisposition. All sin is a genetic predisposition. And all people struggle with sin. We, the church, will continue to argue that homosexuality is a life choice that is not pleasing to God – and making that life choice is a clear sign that you are not repenting of all sin, and are that you are living a life that is not pleasing to God. This, however, is your choice. And we will not oppose your right to call your relationships “marriage,” provided we, the church, can continue to define marriage as God does. As between one man, and one woman. We recognise that our views on this matter are governed by a faith not shared by all, and understanding that there are many views on this matter operating in our society we simply wish to be afforded the freedom to hold our views which are grounded in two thousand years of tradition. For us, as followers of the God who reveals himself through the Bible, there are two choices for those born with homosexual tendencies – they can embrace their sinful flesh or they can live by the Spirit choosing to submit their lives, and their flesh, to the Lordship of Jesus. The Bible says you can’t have both, we the church say you can’t have both. Our democracy, founded as it is, on the view that all people are created equal, protects our right to express the idea that homosexuality is a sinful practice, just as it protects the rights of gay people to seek to determine their own lives. Our wish, for these gay people, whom we love as our neighbours, not as our enemies, is that they come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and submit their lives to him, and find their identities in him rather than their sexual orientation. The Bible speaks of minds being renewed by that decision.

      That’s what I think we should be fighting for. I don’t think it’s having the cake and eating it too – I think it’s recognising the function of democratic government which isn’t “majority rules” but everybody has an equal vote, and equal rights (you could argue that gay people currently enjoy the same rights as straight people (and I have) in that they too can currently marry somebody of the opposite gender – if I was running the PR campaign for the anti-gay marriage lobby that would be my line). I’d be fine with Christian lobby groups pushing this line, alongside research like the stuff cited regarding the best approach to parenting being stable heterosexual relationships involving the biological parents of the child wherever possible. But I haven’t found any that do. There are no moderate Christian lobby groups. And when our so called Christian voice speaks and says, on the record, that gay marriage is child abuse (which a Family First candidate did, and she was backed by the party) and that Australia is a Christian nation and should be governed by Christian principles a little bit of me dies inside. We can’t legislate the Holy Spirit and its effects. We can seek to be a positive influence on society. But if we’re convinced that our approach is the best, because it is the approach ordained by God, we should be able to back that up with evidence.

      “I think people have more chance of having some thing at the end if they fight for what they really want and then get bid down to some thing.”

      I have more faith in the process of putting forward arguments with integrity and sympathy for the views of the other side as the first move. I think the combative approach to “negotiation” is in the process of being seen to have had its day.

      Re: 6. I agree pretty much with your approach. I wouldn’t see two gay people as “parents” of a child, I would see them as having taken on the role of “parents,” or perhaps being “parent-like” and my understanding and treatment of the issue would be more in line with seeing it as “a household” than “a family” providing love and care for a child. I think the concept of family involves genetics. Though I think people can be “adopted in” to such families. I think while the household may self-identify as a family that identity will need to change as a result of the gospel.

      “On your view God is causing real harm to the children by requiring the family to be split”

      Only if the killing off of your fleshly/sinful identity is ever definable as “causing real harm” – I would say it causes pain but not harm. I don’t see the two as synonyms.

    2. “Explain to me how Wilberforce is a libertarian who acted as though the Bible might be wrong in his opposition of slavery.”

      Ok. Here goes.

      I think Wilberforce is the prime example of the approach to politics I advocated in my other post – if you’re a Christian who wants to have an impact on politics then join the system. Be part of the system. Work for change. Argue for change. Realise that change is going to be a slow and frustrating process.

      Contra Family First, Wilberforce didn’t seek government on a Christian platform (that would have been difficult, since he became a Christian after he entered parliament). And when in government he supported cases on their merits.

      I would say that the approach he took to slavery was “libertarian” in the classic sense of the word because he was arguing that slaves, as humans, should have the same rights to liberty that the rest of us enjoy.

      I would say his approach to abolition is consistent to “acting as though the Bible might be wrong” in that he didn’t just argue that the Christians in parliament had to oppose slavery on Christian grounds, but rather he used his Christian convictions about the sanctity of life, and his concerns for the humanity of the slaves, to drive his criticisms of the industry on humanitarian grounds. He thoroughly researched slavery before supporting the abolition movement, he encouraged studies of the slave trade and the conditions slaves were kept in, he won over other members of parliament through personal relationships, the passion of his convictions and the strength of his arguments (have you ever seen Steve Fielding do anything like that?). Using the conditions on slave ships, and the broader treatment of slaves to argue that slavery went against natural justice and morality. He made a natural law case for what was a theological conviction. I think that’s the approach we need to take in our interactions with a secular government who govern a state of secular thinkers. Even if we’re 100% sure of our faith (and for me personally, at times, my conviction is much lower than 100%) we need to remember that others don’t share it at all. We’re talking about putting forward our views, taken on faith, over and above the views of others – who don’t share our faith. I can’t see how that can possibly have positive outcomes for the gospel, or how it fits in a democratic system.

      He also fought the fight pragmatically – looking for loopholes wherever available to make the slave trade difficult rather than just arguing for abolition. This strikes me as being uncompromising (in a good way) but being so within the confines of government – so his moves to ban British subjects from aiding the slave trade to French colonies, which in the Biopic Amazing Grace was basically a ploy to prevent ships sailing under different flags…

      Basically I would suggest that Wilberforce (and Bonhoeffer) fought for their convictions about human life with whatever means possible. I would say, somewhat tongue in cheek, that rather than being libertarians they were gospel utilitarians.

      So, he doesn’t fit in the Family First hall of shame because he didn’t run on an “I’m a Christian, elect me to govern for Christians” platform, he didn’t answer questions about morality with “I think this is the best course of action solely because the Bible says it’s the best course of action” and he wasn’t a right wing fundamentalist. He even sided with the other side of the floor when he thought they had good ideas, and he was responsible for such proposals as being nice to animals and he was so vexed by the question as to how his new faith should determine his politics that he almost left office, rather than wanting to stay in.

      Wikipedia, citing a couple of biographies, describes his approach to politics, post conversion, as:

      “Thereafter, his political views were informed by his faith and by his desire to promote Christianity and Christian ethics in private and public life. His views were often deeply conservative, opposed to radical changes in a God-given political and social order, and focused on issues such as the observance of the Sabbath and the eradication of immorality through education and reform”

      I’m sure we’ll both read this paragraph in support of our own arguments – I’ll agree that Wilberforce sought to legislate for Christian morality if you agree that he did it wanting to see Christianity spread and by building a case using evidence and natural law rather than just saying “the Bible says”… Despite appearances in this discussion I am actually fairly politically conservative. But I think liberty trumps morality when it comes to defining law. Simply because I am sure that the boot of politics will one day be on the non-Christian foot, and I think we need to be trying to ensure the kick it gives us isn’t the kind of kick that sends the gospel underground (though I have no doubt the gospel would flourish in that situation).

      Another interesting paragraph from the Wikipedia article (I thought using Wikipedia’s biography might be more balanced than using Amazing Grace (both in book and movie form)…

      “Wilberforce’s involvement in the abolition movement was motivated by a desire to put his Christian principles into action and to serve God in public life. He and other Evangelicals were horrified by what they perceived was a depraved and unchristian trade, and the greed and avarice of the owners and traders. Wilberforce sensed a call from God, writing in a journal entry in 1787 that “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [moral values]”. The conspicuous involvement of Evangelicals in the highly popular anti-slavery movement served to improve the status of a group otherwise associated with the less popular campaigns against vice and immorality.”

      I added the emphasis. For me, I’m not going to spend energy fighting for personal morality to be legislated (since I think real change in morality is driven by a change in heart and mind), I’d rather Christians approached the political realm making positive changes to the world on behalf of the poor and the unrepresented so that Romans 13 style, we’ll be recognised for the good we do. That’s a much better witness.

      I see a distinction between always being prepared to suggest that gay “marriages” are wrong, and counselling against them (which I am), and saying “you’re not allowed to have one because the God you don’t believe in says you can’t”… And I see a distinction in roles for church and state. I think being a Christian politician is more complex than just trying to vote the way you think God would want you to vote – I think it also involves voting in a way that will help people meet God, and voting in a way that serves the long term goal of gospel proclamation, not the bandaid solution of making sin illegal. Prohibition is a shining example of the way legislating against a particular view of morality doesn’t actually stop the problem, but rather sends it underground.

  18. Hi Nathan,

    Two thoughts about the ‘give-up-the-word-but-still-protect-the-reality-approach’

    i) I think those that want to broaden the definition of marriage won’t be happy. I don’t think they are after the ‘word’ per se, but after indistinguishable treatment. In other words we will be left in exactly the same position of asking whether or not the government should be in the business of recognizing and defining ‘the-institution-formerly-known-as-marriage’

    ii) And here I don’t think you can have your cake and eat it. I don’t think you can say that you are against the government defining and protecting marriage when it’s called marriage, but OK for defining and defending it when it’s called something else.

    More to say, but unlike Mark (hi Mark) I just can’t write that quickly.

    Tim

  19. Hi Tim,

    An equally brief response (which I must say is a slight relief).

    I’m not just suggesting we cede the word (that would be a relatively empty and transparent move) – but the word and all the status that includes legally – short of the benefits that the government provides to specifically incentivise raising children in the best possible situation – namely, a legally recognised heterosexual union entered into with the intention of a lifelong partnership for the raising of children and mutual support of one another.

    Basically I’m saying let gay people call their unions “marriages,” let them enjoy the same financial benefits from their relationship with one another that other partnerships enjoy, and draw a line at parenting on the basis that its demonstrably less than optimum for children to be raised in that context, and that it’s abhorrent to use children as a political football in order to justify your own decisions.

    We need to separate the marriage debate from the parenting of a child debate. Some may see that as impossible, but I think they’re different issues because you can make a scientific and sociological case for one distinction, but not necessarily the other. Which means you can make a political case for one, and not the other.

  20. I often get emails of petitions against gay marriage, abortion and in favour of G-rated advertising ect but rarely see a clear articulation of the gospel. What if instead/as well as sending around petitions against particular groups we sent a ‘call’ to the groups calling them to respond to the gospel? Perhaps people could sign their name in support of it like a petition.

  21. Well, been away from virtuality for a while – conference, and then recovery. I think I’m ready to try and dive in again.

    I don’t doubt that schools are trying to indoctrinate their pupils as roving advocates of a secular democracy with a framework of scientific naturalism. I would even go so far as to posit a conspiracy theory that the only reason RE is still allowed in schools is that there’s an assumption it will be taught badly and thus turn people off religion. I share the ultra-conservative fear. I just don’t think keeping my child from engaging with the ideas and guiding them in that process is a better idea than letting them turn into an adult, having them discover those views, and not having the same influence a parent has over a younger mind.

    Okay, but if you think that compulsory schooling is somewhat to do with enculturation and placing children into it is fine, then the next logical step, it seems to me, would be to be happy with pastors getting their theological training under atheists, liberals, catholics etc where the whole structure of theological education was designed to result in people ending up as non-evangelical. As far as I can see, evidence seems to suggest that, while some evangelicals can survive and even toughen up in such contexts, far more get their faith subverted. In the Anglican context it seems that liberals have grasped that, long term, if they can shape the theological education of the future Global South leaders, they will probably win. And if that’s the case with Christian leaders who are adults, why are you quite this confident about its benign effects on children?

    It seems to me there is some kind of difference between exposing children to a range of views, and entrusting the core of their development to an institution with a different set of goals.

    I think you’ll find that while the external appearances are the same, much of what goes on in the classroom is the product of constant evolution.

    Constant change, probably. I doubt it’s evolution. I was thinking about more fundamental issues: 9 to 3 day, homework, 5 day week, a range of subjects taught for one or two periods a couple of times spread over a week, each subject usually taught in the same classroom.

    As far as how the teaching takes place, I’m inclined to a fairly laid off approach – I think most teachers teach differently from each other, and teaching is a very teacher driven approach, like most forms of communication. Some skills are transferrable, but many qualities of good education are teacher-specific.

  22. Your definition of democracy sounds a lot like “majority rules” rather than “everybody has an equal voice”… I think our approach to democracy should be couched in the latter, not the former. If it’s a case of majority rules then the gay marriage debate, according to opinion polls, is already over. I think what we need to be doing as Christians engaging in the process is clarifying what we want in the case that the law gets changed. The thing I’d add to your list of “isn’t this greats” is “isn’t it great that this country allows minority voices to clearly speak their minds, and isn’t it great that Christians are free to make the case for the gospel while clearly being different from the surrounding nations”…

    Actually, my view of democracy is both positions you outline. Everybody has an equal voice (at least in law, in reality it’s different – some voices get privileges that others don’t – wealthy people, celebrities, populist intellectuals, journalists – and that too is a product of a legal commitment to free speech). But when laws are passed they will necessarily encode either what the majority desires, or what the majority’s representatives desire (and that latter can often conflict with the former). Democracy isn’t just a talking chamber with no outcomes. It is a way whereby debate and reasoned argument has a chance to persuade the majority and so be encoded as law. It’s debate that really matters – that’s what makes it so potentially explosive. So everyone has a chance to persuade, and the majority rules based on who did the persuading. That’s democracy.

    Part of my approach to the issue, grounded in my “gospel utilitarianism” is that I think the gospel is at its best when the contrast is starkest. So I kind of want the government to legislate against Christian morals so that our salt is saltier and our light brighter.

    Should we sin so that grace may abound? Is it a good thing when the government encodes evil and opposes what is good? I think you’re probably allowing a bad understanding of justification by grace through faith and its relationship to the law to lead you in a view of faith that is getting close to a kind of pietism. – a purely private choice for a group of religiously inclined enthusiasts that has no claim on the human race universally.
    When God’s messengers criticised evil doing, and not just unbelief and idolatry, I don’t think they were doing so hoping that no-one would repent as a result. I think God prefers a country that doesn’t abort its children to one that does – even if the practice of abortion in society makes the distinctiveness of Christians all the more clear. I think God prefers a country that doesn’t have endemic domestic violence or drunkenness to one that does. For the Church to speak out against such evils, while secretly hoping that no-one will legislate that kind of morality, is, in my view, undemocratic. It is to speak but to hope to have no impact on the political process by doing so – merely protect one’s right to be vocal about one’s private opinion. That’s why I say, ‘have cake and eat it too’. My complaint isn’t about what you say about homosexuality – it’s about the whole stance that aims only for the right to be distinctive, and does not seek the good of the city beyond the household of faith.

    1. But when laws are passed they will necessarily encode either what the majority desires, or what the majority’s representatives desire (and that latter can often conflict with the former). Democracy isn’t just a talking chamber with no outcomes. It is a way whereby debate and reasoned argument has a chance to persuade the majority and so be encoded as law. It’s debate that really matters – that’s what makes it so potentially explo sive. So every one has a chance to persuade, and the majority rules based on who did the persuading. That’s democracy.

      That’s not democracy, that’s the tyranny of the majority. Where do civil liberties fit in this picture of democracy? Where do “unalienable rights” or things like equality, free speech, freedom of religion, or due process fit in if the majority decide they don’t want certain subsets of the community (minorities) to enjoy such benefits?

      Is it a good thing when the government encodes evil and opposes what is good?

      No, and I’ve never said it is. All I’m arguing is that the landscape is shifting and we, Christians, need to shift to a retrieval approach with regards to gay marriage, and an approach to legislating morality that looks more like preaching the gospel than assuming that everybody in the nation signs up for the gospel, and that what we really need to do if we don’t want legislation to go through is mount an economic and natural law case for not pursuing it – not trying to impose Christian morality on a secular nation simply because “God says”… I’m not suggesting that’s your approach to legislation – but it is the approach taken by groups like the ACL, Family First, and Fred Nile’s mob – certainly in their public statements (did you hear the one about the Family First candidate who publicly called gay marriage child abuse?)…

      We need to learn a little from Calvin, a little from Wilberforce and a little from Bonhoeffer in how we approach politics, but my guiding principle will be “what is best for the spread of the gospel” not “how will I make people live like Jesus even if they don’t know Jesus.” I don’t think the answer is to present ourselves as people who hate freedom. I don’t think we should be positioning ourselves as the moral police.

      “For the Church to speak out against such evils, while secretly hoping that no-one will legislate that kind of morality, is, in my view, undemocratic. It is to speak but to hope to have no impact on the political process by doing so – merely protect one’s right to be vocal about one’s private opinion.”

      I don’t see how homosexuality is on par with such evils. And you’ve created a nifty little strawman here, or path of strawmen. I agree that the church needs to speak out and lobby for legislation against abortion, and against domestic violence, and against drunkenness. And I don’t necessarily think my argument has ever implied that the state shouldn’t legislate morality, or that the church shouldn’t lobby for morality. The church in Australia hasn’t done that well in recent times. I have argued, all along, that we should be comfortable with the assumption that natural law cases can be made to support Biblical morality – if it is God’s world and God’s word is to be trusted about that world then we should expect to be able to produce credible research to support the case that we are arguing for, and we should make our arguments aware of the bigger picture. We’ve seen “enlightened” nations elsewhere taking steps like banning the Burqa (see France today)… how long until we’re fighting that fight again in Australia to ensure we actually enjoy the right to criticise the beliefs and practices of others?

      There are bigger issues at play here than whether the two guys down the street can call their relationship a “marriage” or not, and the marriage issue, as we’ve seen in NSW, is separate to the issue of adopting children. You’ll note my original post wants to treat them separately, ceding one but not the other.

      “That’s why I say, ‘have cake and eat it too’. My com­plaint isn’t about what you say about homosexuality – it’s about the whole stance that aims only for the right to be distinctive, and does not seek the good of the city beyond the household of faith.”

      I disagree with a couple of your underlying assumptions here. Firstly, to suggest that my whole stance aims only for the right to be distinctive is a misrepresentation of the original post and many of the following comments – I’ve argued, from the beginning, that we need to make the case for morality, but that it needs to be with more than just “the Bible says…” because we’re not legislating in a theocracy. I certainly think aiming for the right to be distinctive is the priority, and possibly the most achievable outcome in the current philosophical climate. I also question how trying to ensure the gospel can be preached to the city (especially to those outside the household of faith, is doing anything but seeking the good of the city. Augustine was probably onto something, I think, when he suggested the highest good was a life lived in communion with God – if that is the highest good, then ultimately seeking the good of the city must contain some element of thinking about how to meet the city with the gospel. Which, for me, means prioritising an approach to the state that provides such freedom. I’m not suggesting we abdicate the need for good actions tied to civil life – I think 1 Peter 2 suggests our good deeds should be such that the government notices and commends them. But I have a hard time identifying opposing gay marriage with opposing abortion, or with feeding the poor and hungry.

      “Biblically speaking, you can’t have legislation any other way than morality by legislation.”

      I agree, but you can have morality by means other than through legislation. All legislation might be moral/amoral – but not all morality is legislated. I think the church would be better served preaching the gospel faithfully – and calling for repentance from immorality and praying for the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who hear than calling for those given over to the depravity of the sinful nature who can’t even recognise their actions as sinful to live counter to their desires.

      “Your vision of the role of the ruler is, I’d suggest, like most libertarians, only half of the story of how the Bible speaks of their calling.”

      I’m really only a libertarian so far as I want the freedom to preach the gospel, and expect that wanting that freedom means allowing others certain similar freedoms. I think I’m simply trying to navigate the tension between democracy and human rights. I would fight for both if they were threatened, even when one threatens the other… but your position seems to be either throw out human rights for the sake of democracy, or throw out democracy for the sake of theocracy. The majority of Australians want marriage to be a human right, and the majority of Australians want homosexual unions to be recognised as marriage – so either way, be it a right, or a law, as Christians we need to figure out how to maintain our legal freedom to discriminate, and we need to get better at navigating the Charybis of rights, and Scylla of democracy, in order to promote the gospel and our freedom to seek the welfare of the city (which I truly believe involves the preaching and living of the gospel (because I think gospel is broader than “accept Jesus and be saved,” and that it’s rather “submit to Jesus Lordship, be saved, and then love your neighbour”) – I think 1 Peter 2 supports me on this front:

      “9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

      11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

      13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”

  23. I think the ruler is there to commend us for doing good, and to tacitly allow it — I don’t think allowing the doing of good has anything to do with what’s codified. There’s an example from Rome which I’m sure you’re aware of, but others can google, where a Roman emperor, hostile to Christianity, acknowledged that the church wasn’t just caring for their own sick “but for ours as well” — here was a hostile government recognising the church’s good deeds.

    Again, Paul talks in terms of both-and, not either-or, the way you’re tending to. The ruler approves the person who does good, and is a minister of God to you for good in v4. They don’t just disapprove the evildoer, they punish them with the sword – and an active coercive stance against wrongdoing is an important element of codifying the doing of good.
    Your vision of the role of the ruler is, I’d suggest, like most libertarians, only half of the story of how the Bible speaks of their calling. And that’s here in the next quote:

    I’m not suggesting that the church abdicate morality. I’m suggesting that the church take a different approach to morality. I think morality by legislation is the wrong way.

    Biblically speaking, you can’t have legislation any other way than morality by legislation. There is no such thing as an amoral legislation. All legislation in some sense is either moral or immoral, encodes what is right or what is wrong for the society that it governs. How much micromanagement there should be is, I think, a very fair question. But legislation is always going to be morality by legislation – anyone claiming something different is smuggling their morality in by pretending its value neutral.

    But my point is, so far as the political scene is concerned, we’ve given up the ghost on divorce. We haven’t campaigned for any significant reforms to deal with the problem — and the problem of divorce is as big in the church as it is in the state.

    Yes, we’ve given up on blasphemy laws, consumption laws, laws for excessive dress, adultery laws, lots of laws that we once had. Partly that’s because you just don’t waste time on some laws – the horse has bolted, and a lot would need to happen before such a law would have sufficient support from people to make it a constructive element in society. But to say, “We aren’t fighting for a law on x, therefore it’s hypocritical to fight for issue y” is just daft. It’s the kind of political idealism that means that one only has two choices – fight for everything equally right now and accept either everything or nothing as the outcome, or throw our hands up and not even try. It’s the choice of the Anabaptist that’ll either have their Munster or will give up on politics altogether. Politics is about starting where you are, and trying to move things forward from there. It’s not about reaching for the stars and trying to create heaven on earth. So divorce is, currently, a lost cause. That doesn’t mean we have to throw over marriage as well and get it redefined as including two people of the same gender who (usually) have an open, and not monogamous, relationship even by aspiration.

  24. Sure, Calvin’s approach was ok for a city of Christians. But. I don’t think that was a “Christian approach to government” because I don’t think we should biblically be expecting entire cities to be Christians. I don’t think we see a precedent of that anywhere in the Bible — even Jerusalem is home to outsiders.

    Agreed. But I think Calvin’s approach also failed by biblical standards at that point. A whole lot more “he who is without sin should cast the first stone” might have helped (though I’m not, in principle, against governments employing the death penalty). Basically I think that sort of standard probably created an incredible increase in nominalism, and probably (I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for sure) inhibited the work of evangelism because everybody said they were Christians.

    I would argue that any assumption that a whole city would be filled with Christians and should be governed as such is guilty of such an eschatology.

    Grump, grump. The historian in me is having conniptions.

    Romans 10:9 says that being a Christian (more than that, being saved, but let’s just leave it as ‘being a Christian’) is to confess that Jesus is Lord and to believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead.

    You could not find someone (without an awful lot of effort) in 16th Century Europe who was not a Jew and who would not pass the Romans 10:9 test. Everyone was a Christian by any reasonable test you care to use. There was ‘no increase in nominalism’ by legislating as though communities were self-consciously Christian. It’s what everyone expected, try to legislate on a different basis and people themselves would have revolted. No-one wanted a secular state. And whatever you might think the Bible leads you to expect, you could not have found anyone who did not see themselves as a Christian, who hadn’t been baptised, and who would not pass the basic confessional tests the Bible lays out for such tests. Calvin didn’t expect that Geneva would be full of Christians, it simply was. It had been for centuries, as had most of Europe.

    You make the constant culturally parochial mistake that I see all the time. You take the link between ‘Christian’ and ‘saved’ (or ‘regenerate’) as though they are the same thing, when it’s a relationship that only exists when someone chooses to become a Christian in a context where there are other serious options. In our context becoming a Christian is probably also an indicator that someone is saved.

    But in other eras they were very conscious that everyone was a Christian, but that a lot of those Christians were going to Hell. They were aware that social institutions (like the Church) were self-consciously Christian, but that they were ‘unreformed’. Luther, Calvin and the others weren’t evangelists. There was no need to persuade people of the truth of the facts of the gospel – almost everyone believed them. Truly, genuinely believed them. But it was clear that man/most Christians did not have the hallmarks of new life, and that institutions themselves didn’t run the way they should in light of the gospel. And so they were reformers – reforming Christians, reforming society, moving Christians on from just belief to trust and then a life of love.

    Unless you want to stick your hand up and say that you think the Anabaptists were right and Christians (you know, the ‘true believers’ who could tell they were saved and all the other Christians weren’t) shouldn’t be involved in politics, then I’m not sure that the Reformers were anything like as guilty of an over-realised eschatology as you claim. They didn’t assume that all Christians were saved – they just assumed that Christians and communities who claimed to be Christian should live as such. That’s hardly an overrealised eschatology.

    1. Another drive by response…

      “Grump, grump. The historian in me is having conniptions.”

      “You could not find some one (with out an awful lot of effort) in 16th Century Europe who was not a Jew and who would not pass the Romans 10:9 test.”

      But many would no doubt fail the Matthew 7 test. When church attendance is legally mandated and excommunicated people really excommunicated it’s not hugely difficult to find people not willing to be excommunicated and thus confessing the Lordship of Christ.

      “You make the constant culturally parochial mistake that I see all the time. You take the link between ‘Christian’ and ‘saved’ (or ‘regenerate’) as though they are the same thing, when it’s a relationship that only exists when some one chooses to become a Christ­ian in a context where there are other serious options. In our con text becoming a Christian is probably also an indicator that some­one is saved.”

      I don’t think it’s a mistake to define the word Christian the way the word Christian has always been defined. To suggest it means anything other than being a citizen of the kingdom of Christ (if we’re talking “identity” Christians are to Christ what Australians are to Australia) opens up some pretty serious semantic problems and fallacies. If we don’t define the word biblically (and I recognise that it was originally an insult from opponents of Christianity) then we suffer from a reverse “no true Scotsman” fallacy where everybody who calls themselves a Christian must be treated as such even if they are clearly unregenerate. I think that’s incredibly unhelpful when it comes to approaching the political realm – and I suspect this is part of our different approaches – perhaps even the crux of the difference.

      I think probably less than 10% of Australia are Christians even though 75% claim to be culturally Christian. We approach evangelism that way – why not politics? I think the discernment that you write off as an anabaptist trait is not completely without merit.

      I think you’re missing my point about how Christians should be involved in politics too. I just think our arguments need to be more sophisticated than “you, who don’t believe in God, need to live as though you do, because the God you don’t believe in says so.”

      If we can’t manage anything more substantial than that then I despair over the state of the modern church. That’s not democracy, it’s not the Biblical model of engaging with politics (when Paul meets with governors and kings his first step is to preach Christ), and it’s not a great witness for the gospel.

  25. have you ever seen Steve Fielding do anything like that?

    No, but I have heard that, of all people, Rev Fred Niles did. He was mocked publicly, but often sought to be chairman of a wide range of parliamentary committees because he worked hard on any issue before parliament and brought a good mind to the issues involved.

    About Wilberforce:

    He made a natural law case for what was a theological conviction. I think that’s the approach we need to take in our interactions with a secular government who govern a state of secular thinkers. Even if we’re 100% sure of our faith (and for me personally, at times, my conviction is much lower than 100%) we need to remember that others don’t share it at all. We’re talking about putting forward our views, taken on faith, over and above the views of others — who don’t share our faith. I can’t see how that can possibly have positive outcomes for the gospel, or how it fits in a democratic system

    I agree with this whole paragraph. I’m not advocating a simple, “The Bible says it” view. But I don’t want a simple “Natural theology/ethics” approach either. I want Christians to argue both in the public sphere. Persuasion usually works from common ground that already exists. So to win specific arguments you need to look at what you share with those around you. And despite what presuppositionalists and cultural war veterans will claim, you have an awful lot in common with other people because you all live in the real world. So appeal to that has to do most of the work.

    But if that’s all you do, people will still suspect you of really holding your position for religious reasons and will suspect your common ground appeal. And you concede to the secularists that laws can only be based on secular reasons. You also aren’t using the opportunity as a way of proclaiming the gospel. You need to also include the Christian basis of the stance – it defuses suspicion by clearly demarcating which arguments by coming from which sources, it makes faith part of the public sphere conversation so that we don’t function as atheists there, and it enables people to see that God isn’t just interested in religiosity but in the welfare of the whole human person. Minority movements have to speak from their value system if they want to change the whole structure of public rationality and so make their arguments more plausible in the long term. Feminists, post-colonials, deconstructionalists, all were crazy-talk but changed the rules by saying sensible things to those who didn’t share their beliefs and linking it to their ideologies. So again, I agree with what you’re saying, but disagree with what you’re attacking. It’s not either-or, it’s both-and.

  26. Hi Mark,

    Welcome back. I’m on college mission this week then a tour of Greece and Turkey for the next two weeks. My opportunities to reply substantively in this next few weeks is somewhat restricted. But I will eventually. Hang tight.

  27. Missed this one, hidden up in the thread:

    Correct me if I’m wrong — but wasn’t that judge in the Prop 8 case gay? In which case it’s a bit like fruit from a poisonous tree.

    Oh for shame! The elites are to be trusted! Just because he’s gay doesn’t mean he can’t be a just judge on the question of homosexual marriage! (and we have newspapers saying he is, and liberals on comment threads saying he isn’t. who knows?) That’s like saying a heterosexual judge can’t be just on the same question!

    Ahem. It may be the case that one might be able to find a pattern in this judge’s rulings that suggest some biases. But that might have less to do with his sexual behaviour than his judicial and political philosophies.

    I think my point though, wasn’t that he was right. It’s that he’s articulating the views that dominate in certain sections of the elites – the media, the judiciary, the therapies. My point is that large majorities in those very small but incredibly powerful sections of society believe what he has classified as a ‘finding of fact’. I agree with you about the need to cast the net widely and show the studies that demonstrate differently. I also think that such things will be countered by clear, unambiguous statements to the contrary by professional bodies who give their expert opinion as a licensing body on the issue, and that the law fraternity will find the latter more plausible than the former in approaching legal questions.

    If you’re right, if both issues come together (which isn’t the way they are being approached in Australia) then I would oppose it. Because, using my “victim” approach — I think somebody has to think of the children.

    Okay, but Oz is a bit more conservative than many other countries I think – more conservative than England, and doesn’t have the same cultural war as the U.S. with very polarised extremes. So that difference could mean that people are fighting for what they can win now. Get gay marriage up and are Australians really going to find it easy in a few years to say – you’re a family, but you can’t have all the rights of a family. And will the courts accept that?
    It’s worth considering whether it is the same goals, being approached in strategies fit for the countries involved.

    And I think you can make a case for that using science and economics. I think cases made using theology are weak. Because it is possible (though I don’t think probable) that the new atheists are correct. So let me turn this question back at you — do you think, if the new atheists are correct, that these laws are just and right?

    It’s a hard question for me to answer – that’s quite a different question than the one I gave you. If there is no God, if the universe ‘just is’ and there is no inherent morality or purpose coded into reality – they’re just functions of human consciousness that are important to being human, but have no existence apart from that – that’s a whole different world for me, it’s not just a difference in assessing what’s a stake in a single ethical question.
    I suspect that if the new atheists are right, no laws are just and right, at least as those terms have been traditionally understood. They’re arbitrary guidelines for a race that needs to come up with arbitrary rules for it’s own health, but whose rules change dramatically over time and location and for which there’s no privileged position to choose one rule over the other. So if the new atheists are right, I think my position would be – laws have nothing to do with justice or rightness. The important thing is just to make a stand, it doesn’t really matter what the stand itself is – ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are sociological functions. Some mixture of existentialism and absurdism is probably the right philosophy – like what Joss Whedon runs with. I don’t know if that’s what I would think if I became a new atheist – that’s a huge fundamental change. But that’s how it looks to me now.

  28. Mark,

    I’ve got a very small amount of time and internet today – so I’m going to cherry pick a little. I’ll try to come back on the rest of the points eventually, but I’m happy for this conversation to keep moving… so here are a few answers to your objections.

    “…then the next logical step, it seems to me, would be to be happy with pastors getting their theological training under atheists, liberals, catholics etc where the whole structure of theological education was designed to result in people ending up as non-evangelical.”

    Broadly speaking, I am happy for that to be the case (with a caveat) I want ministers to be put through the rigours of engaging with other ideas and being able to critique them. I don’t want the final outcome you’ve suggested, but the process you’ve described looks a lot like a robust education.

    “It seems to me there is some kind of difference between expos­ing children to a range of views, and entrusting the core of their development to an institution with a different set of goals.”

    Yeah, and I’ve never advocated the latter – if the “core of their development” is happening at school rather than with the parents then I think that’s a problem. I’ve said that consistently.

    Democracy isn’t just a talking chamber with no outcomes. It is a way whereby debate and reasoned argument has a chance to persuade the majority and so be encoded as law.

    But it also has to protect the minorities, and provide freedom for minorities to not conform to the majority’s definition of morality (within certain parameters). What happens when Christians (and I actually think we already are) are seen to be a minority?

    “When God’s messengers criticised evil doing, and not just unbelief and idolatry, I don’t think they were doing so hoping that no-one would repent as a result.”

    I think you’re either misunderstanding or misrepresenting my views here. I’m not suggesting the church should speaking out against immorality – I’m suggesting we actually fight for the right to continue to do so, even when the laws move away a Christian position. I want the church to proclaim the gospel unhindered – in its fullness – including being able to disagree with community consensus and being able to call sin sin, and being free to call people to repent from behaviour that is legal but sinful. I think my approach is the best for the proclamation of the gospel.

    Again, Paul talks in terms of both-and, not either-or, the way you’re tend ing to.

    I’m really not pushing “either-or” but rather a “both-and” with an emphasis on freedom for the gospel.

    I’m happy for Christians to politically oppose moral issues – but I think we need to do so first by not trying to impose Christian morality on the world expecting people to act with a Holy Spirit they don’t have, second by prioritising the proclamation of the gospel (I’d rather we say “Christians can not support homosexual marriage because God created and affirms heterosexual marriage as the best place to raise children but we recognise that others do not share our beliefs and would like their freedoms protected and recognised”), I want to be able to call homosexuality a sin from the pulpit without fear of criminal charges.

    I’ll get to the rest as soon as I can.

  29. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for the response, especially while on mission. I’m more than happy for you to hold things over for a couple of weeks, but obviously you’re in a better position to know what’s the best choices in your situation.

    About education:

    Broadly speaking, I am happy for that to be the case (with a caveat) I want ministers to be put through the rigours of engaging with other ideas and being able to critique them. I don’t want the final outcome you’ve suggested, but the process you’ve described looks a lot like a robust education.

    Well, the whole point I’m putting forward is that there is a difference between a liberal arts education where the whole point is to expose people to a wide range of views and even to be taught by a whole range of views, and a confessional education where the point is to be thoroughly catechised in the truth – a truth that is already considered to be known. I’m suggesting that children’s education and ministerial formation are not done well (for most people, there are always outliers) on a liberal arts model – and I’m saying that as someone who personally thrives on the liberal arts model.

    If you think that ministers would have a better education being taught theology by people with widely disagreeing views, then I’m not sure why you’d be happy with Scripture in schools – I think the more natural position would be to favour some kind of Studies in Comparative Religion course that either has a specially trained teacher put forward a wide range of beliefs and philosophies fairly neutrally, or that has a representative from each position come in and teach their own position.

    I’m not really sure why you wouldn’t think it wouldn’t be better education to have church and Sunday School with a range of views taught by proponents of those views, instead of having the pulpit controlled by a specially authorised leader and teacher and focused on expounding Scripture.

    Yeah, and I’ve never advocated the latter — if the “core of their development” is happening at school rather than with the parents then I think that’s a problem. I’ve said that consistently.

    Yes, you have. But you’ve also said that you’re fairly sure that compulsory education exists to form citizens for a secular democratic state. That’s not education as a primary goal – that’s education as a means to a great end, and end that could be described as using schools as ‘the core of their development’.

    You might want a different choice of words to get at what I’m talking about, but I think the concept is something that we (earlier in the thread) agreed on – the schooling institution exists to form citizens in a way roughly analogous to how church forms Christians. That’s a big developmental thing. To the degree that’s in the mix, I can’t see why you’re so happy with compulsory schooling when it’s got that bigger agenda at work, given the other things you’ve said.

    It’s not really interested in educating children, but in ‘citizening’ them. I think that’s why there’s often tensions between the state school system and aspirational parents. The parents want education for their children and are willing for them be formed. The schooling system wants to form them and is willing to educate them as a means to that end. The push towards private and church based schooling has a lot to do with that tension, I think.

  30. But it [Democracy] also has to protect the minorities, and provide freedom for minorities to not conform to the majority’s definition of morality (within certain parameters). What happens when Christians (and I actually think we already are) are seen to be a minority?

    No, it doesn’t have to do that, and never has really done that. Mormons, like all other polygamists, were forced to adopt monogamy as the basis of marriage. In Australia, religions (in the 19th C particularly the Catholic Church) weren’t allowed to declare certain days religious festivals and get privileges for their adherents to not work on those days. The state decided what days were holy-days and for what reasons. Human and animal sacrifice are not permitted. Burning of widows on their husband’s piers tends not to be allowed. Binding the feet of young girls is considered abuse. Killing someone for dishonouring the family is out.

    Minorities are required to adhere to the values of the majority, and are not given the freedom to dissent from those laws, or to impose a different set of values coercively on their own adherents. Muslims can’t kill an apostate Muslim.

    The whole structure of our laws were based on Judeo-Christian convictions, with an interesting rejection of the concept of the common good to make a secular democracy kind of work. The naked public square was, and is, a myth – one hidden because secularists tended to think that their Christian cultural heritage was a product of the ‘necessary truths of reason’.

    So what happens when Christians are a minority? I think there’ll be conflict – not necessarily violent, but conflict. The outcome of that can’t be known in advance, and may vary from location to location. But I think your ‘small target’ approach of only fighting for freedom to differentiate is based on a misunderstanding of the problem.

    Morality, by its very nature, makes universal claims. There can be very little freedom given to do something that society considers to be genuinely evil. Freedoms are only given in places where society considers the behaviour to not be truly evil or destructive of people/society. If we want the freedom to ‘discriminate against’ gays, we need to win the argument that it’s not really evil to do that. Lose that argument, and that freedom will not be granted.

    I think you’re either misunderstanding or misrepresenting my views here. I’m not suggesting the church should speaking out against immorality — I’m suggesting we actually fight for the right to continue to do so, even when the laws move away a Christian position. I want the church to proclaim the gospel unhindered — in its fullness — including being able to disagree with community consensus and being able to call sin sin, and being free to call people to repent from behaviour that is legal but sinful. I think my approach is the best for the proclamation of the gospel.

    Possibly, although I was alluding back to the point I made earlier in the thread in the bit you quoted – I agree that you and I both want the Church to speak out about a range of issues. But my bigger point was, the prophets and apostles would have been delighted if the laws changed as a result of their preaching. They weren’t just interested in changing individuals.

    How interested they were in the getting laws changed is an interesting question, but I’m saying that that was in view, and the thrust of your approach is to sideline it. I don’t think I’m misrepresenting you at that point – not when you say you’d be happy if the government legislated what was wrong to bring out Christian distinctiveness more.

    I have no problem with fighting for the right to have free speech. But I don’t think we put all the eggs there.

    One of the ways one upholds free speech is to use it – to actually say, “We shouldn’t have homosexual marriage.” Free speech exists because it is thought that it is better for society to hear views that are in a minority. So the minority needs to speak up and say, “This is wrong. Really wrong.” Don’t do it, and it’s more likely that free speech will be defined so as to exclude that issue from within its gambit.

  31. I’m really not pushing “either-or” but rather a “both-and” with an emphasis on freedom for the gospel.

    I’m happy for Christians to politically oppose moral issues — but I think we need to do so first by not trying to impose Christian morality on the world expecting people to act with a Holy Spirit they don’t have, second by prioritising the proclamation of the gospel (I’d rather we say “Christians can not support homosexual marriage because God created and affirms heterosexual marriage as the best place to raise children but we recognise that others do not share our beliefs and would like their freedoms protected and recognised”), I want to be able to call homosexuality a sin from the pulpit without fear of criminal charges.

    I can’t see how this is ‘both-and’. Unless there’s another paragraph there that is in your head where you spell out how Christians are going to politically oppose moral issue without trying to impose Christian morality on the world.

    As it stands with what you’ve given us here, this is another statement of ‘either-or’. Don’t impose Christian morality, but preach from the pulpit.

    The only way I can see how you could see this as ‘both-and’ is if you have some view that morality based on natural law is not ‘Christian morality’ and so we can base laws on that without ‘imposing’ Christian morality on the world.

    But that’s a strange view of ethics. ‘Do not murder’ when based upon creation is okay as a law, and we can rightly expect people to keep it even if they don’t have the Holy Spirit. But ‘do not murder’ as a command given by the voice of God is not okay as a law. It’s ‘imposing Christian morality on the world’ and we shouldn’t expect ‘people to act with a Holy Spirit they don’t have’.

    God expects everyone to do what is right. When judgement day comes, God won’t say, “You didn’t have the Holy Spirit, so you couldn’t be expected to do what is good.” Nor will God say, “The world doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, so the laws the nations create shouldn’t express what is good – it should protect their freedoms and beliefs to do what is evil.”

    God won’t be angry with a nation that, say, tries to eliminate abortion for trampling on minorities’ freedoms to kill their children because they don’t believe that their children are human beings, and be pleased with a country that enshrines abortion as a fundamental right to be exercised as the mother considers appropriate.

    Will sinners be sinners? Sure. Does that mean that we should then try and find some way to establish laws that bypass morality and the whole problem of sin? No. By their very nature, laws impose a morality upon everyone on the society.

    The second use of the law is not just to do with proclamation, but with actual law. Evildoers are restrained by the law. There are less murders when ‘do not law’ is effectively enforced than when order breaks down and that law is not enforced. And that’s good for people, and for society.

    Total depravity does not mean absolute depravity – there is what the Reformers called a public righteousness that does have merit before God but which does matter and sinners are capable of and which makes social life possible.

    I want anyone, regardless of their sexual behaviour, to have the right to think that homosexuality is okay, and to say that publicly. But that does not mean I have to stand up for the right for people to act upon those beliefs. It’s not good for them, it’s not good for the next generation of children, it’s not good for society as a whole. A commitment to freedom of speech is not the same thing as a commitment to freedom of action – something you seem to be constantly confusing.

  32. Total deprav­ity does not mean absolute deprav­ity – there is what the Reform­ers called a pub­lic right­eous­ness that does have merit before God but which does mat­ter and sin­ners are capa­ble of and which makes social life possible.

    Sigh. I can let most of my grammatical and misspelling infelecities go, they just make me look a bit daft and cause my good wife to wince, but that paragraph is inverted in its meaning. Replace it with:

    Total deprav­ity does not mean absolute deprav­ity – there is what the Reform­ers called a pub­lic right­eous­ness that does not have merit before God but which does mat­ter and sin­ners are capa­ble of and which makes social life possible.

    The ‘not’ is pretty darn important theologically there.

  33. Heh, history moves on. I think, if this report is reasonably accurate, your strategy of dividing off marriage from family and fighting for the latter has well and truly hit Oz too. NSW has passed legislation allowing homosexual couples to adopt, and has not (as far as I’m aware) passed legislation for gay marriage.

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/could-this-be-the-year-of-the-modern-family-20100913-15826.html

    If it’s right, I think it strongly firms up my position on this question – what’s on view in this seems far more what I’m claiming, from the end of the article:

    It seems that 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the modern family. In May, NSW introduced a scheme to allow same-sex couples to register their relationship. While no substitute for marriage, the register provided an administrative mechanism for couples to access a range of state and commonwealth rights and entitlements as a couple.

    Now that the Adoption Amendment (Same-Sex Couples) Bill will pass into law, same-sex couples will also be eligible to adopt children in NSW. Discrimination, however, does not end with legislative inequality – it must also involve changing our cultural attitudes.

    In this sense, it is important to recognise that the law plays an instrumental role not only in delineating rights and entitlements, but also signifying to society what is legitimate or worthwhile. As a result of the recent changes to adoption, we will hopefully see a shift in social, as well as legal, stigmas attached to same-sex families.

    The law plays an important role in signifying to society what is legitimate and worthwhile. The next step is to change cultural attitudes and social stigmas attached to same-sex families. I suggest that there’s not much room there for allowing anyone the freedom to differentiate themselves from what the law is signifying is legitimate and worthwhile.

  34. Have no idea what happened with that quote. Only the last two paragraphs were supposed to come over in the copy and paste. Apologies for that.

  35. Fixed it.

    Thank you muchly, kind sir. Great improvement.

    But many would no doubt fail the Matthew 7 test. When church attendance is legally mandated and excommunicated people really excommunicated it’s not hugely difficult to find people not willing to be excommunicated and thus confessing the Lordship of Christ.

    Yes, but does failing the Matthew 7 test mean that you are not a Christian? What are you then – a Hindu, an atheist, an agnostic, an 18th Century deist?

    Seriously, Nathan, if you’re going to say that most Europeans in the 16th Century weren’t Christians in any substantial sense – that it’s as simple as all Christians go to Heaven and anyone who doesn’t go to Heaven isn’t a Christian – then what term are you going to use to describe them?

    ‘Non-Christian’ is too broad – what do you call people who genuinely believe the facts of the gospel but whose lives leave much to be desired? I assume this means that you say that Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers aren’t Christians either?

    At the moment, it seems to me that you seem to be claiming that you can know who is regenerate and who isn’t – that the visible and invisible Church are identical. That’s certainly Anabaptist, but I don’t think it’s Reformed.

    To say that most of Europe was just itching to say, “I’m not a Christian!” and were held in check by threat of force doesn’t fit with the primary source evidence at all. People were utterly convinced that they were Christians, that was their self-identity. They were generally utterly intolerant of anything that they considered unchristian. That’s not nominalism as we’ve come to define it. Nor is it a reluctant pretence forced upon someone.

    I don’t think it’s a mistake to define the word Christian the way the word Christian has always been defined.

    Heh. We agree on that at least.

    To suggest it means anything other than being a citizen of the kingdom of Christ (if we’re talking “identity” Christians are to Christ what Australians are to Australia) opens up some pretty serious semantic problems and fallacies. If we don’t define the word biblically (and I recognise that it was originally an insult from opponents of Christianity) then we suffer from a reverse “no true Scotsman” fallacy where everybody who calls themselves a Christian must be treated as such even if they are clearly unregenerate. I think that’s incredibly unhelpful when it comes to approaching the political realm — and I suspect this is part of our different approaches — perhaps even the crux of the difference.

    Okay, so let’s see. We have to define the word ‘Christian’ the way it has always been defined. And we have to define it ‘biblically’ as ‘being a citizen of the kingdom of Christ’ (which, given that you suggest that you can’t be Christian and unregenerate, means that the person needs to be among the elect).

    Do you really think that over 2000 years of the history of the Church the word ‘Christian’ has meant – someone who looks like they’re going to be in Heaven on Judgement Day? That the early church, the middle ages, the Catholic and Orthodox churches all share your belief that assurance of salvation is part of the esse of faith?

    Or when you say, ‘as it has always been defined’ and then say ‘but not everyone who claims to be a Christian can be taken to be one’ – is that just a way of saying, “Catholics, Orthodox, Middle Ages, Early Church, what’s left…hmmmnn, let’s see….okay everyone before modern Evangelicalism isn’t a Christian in any sense, so their use of the term is null and void, so, yep, the ‘Biblical’ use is the ‘way it’s always been used’”?

    Your view as to the definition of Christian is confessional – it depends upon justification by grace through faith and a belief that we can know now the outcome of the future judgement. It’s a Protestant definition, and a definition that only works once Protestants abandoned the idea that everyone in a geographical area was a Christian – after the era of the state churches.

    Feel free to champion that as ‘biblical’ – which I think is a hard task, because ‘Christian’ is not a term the Bible uses to define those who are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. But don’t claim that it is in any sense how the word has ‘always been used’. It’s not even how Luther and Calvin used the term, in my opinion – if it had been they would have joined the Anabaptists rather than killing them.

    It’s how one group of Christians use the term in a post-Enlightenment context. It can be justified on theological grounds, but it’s not how the term is normally used in the primary sources over 2000 years, nor is it how most historians use the term.

    You’re arguing for a use of the term that does, as you ironically suggest against my definition, open up semantic difficulties and fallacies when one has to engage with the broader world outside our confessional circle. You take what has generally been referred to as ‘a true Christian’ (i.e. ideal Christian) and have reduced it down to only those who are true Christians are really Christians at all.

  36. I think probably less than 10% of Australia are Christians even though 75% claim to be culturally Christian. We approach evangelism that way — why not politics? I think the discernment that you write off as an anabaptist trait is not completely without merit.

    That’s fine, I have no disagreements here. I think 10% wildly optimistic, personally. Our context isn’t 16th C Europe, and their approaches won’t work for us. I’m not suggesting they would. I’m only saying that you should stop trying to fail them for not using methods that are only appropriate for our context.

    I think you’re missing my point about how Christians should be involved in politics too. I just think our arguments need to be more sophisticated than “you, who don’t believe in God, need to live as though you do, because the God you don’t believe in says so.”

    If we can’t manage anything more substantial than that then I despair over the state of the modern church. That’s not democracy, it’s not the Biblical model of engaging with politics (when Paul meets with governors and kings his first step is to preach Christ), and it’s not a great witness for the gospel.

    Nathan, where I have I said that that ‘you who don’t believe in God need to live as though you do because God says so’ is all we should say? I’ve said that that is part of what we should say – that we need to link the arguments that we run on natural theology grounds to our bigger theological convictions. The former will persuade, the latter will proclaim, so that we seek to persuade and seek to do so as Christians.

    Feel free to explain why that position that I actually put forward misses your point about how Christians should be involved in politics and isn’t sufficiently substantial to stave off your incipient despair.

    As far as saying ‘You need to do this because God says so’ – that is actually democratic, it could be a great witness for the gospel, and could be entirely biblical if modern democracies were substantially Christian in composition and intent. It’s no different from how Christians work whenever they are together, in a social institution that seeks to bow the knee to Christ. The rhetoric of Oz ‘being a Christian country’ is linked to the method that you don’t like.

    There’s nothing wrong about the method in the absolute terms you seem to be suggesting, unless you really want to say that you can’t get a large bunch of Christians together in the one social institution – which might make your view of Church interesting if you really held that.

    It’s completely wrong in our context – it misunderstands the reality before us, and so is a wrong (and culpably wrong) approach now. Australia is not full of Christians, it isn’t a Christian country, and so ‘do it because God says so’ isn’t a sufficient way to seek the peace of the city. In our context the approach is everything you say, but that assessment is, I’d suggest, context specific.

  37. That’s not democracy, that’s the tyranny of the majority. Where do civil liberties fit in this picture of democracy? Where do “unalienable rights” or things like equality, free speech, freedom of religion, or due process fit in if the majority decide they don’t want certain subsets of the community (minorities) to enjoy such benefits?

    Well, I think we have a whole bunch of myths about democracy – it’s nowhere near as inherently virtuous as we seem to assume. I’m a strong believer in the ‘unalienable rights’ that you mention. I just don’t think they have much to do with democracy. Unless we think that democracy is the One True Way To Govern Society and all other ways are invalid, then inalienable rights transcend democracy and I am right to criticise other countries for not respecting those rights even when they aren’t democratic.

    In practice, our modern democracies have committed themselves to certain rights that form the framework for how democracy functions. So it still is ‘tyranny of the majority’ – it’s just a constitutional tyranny. The ‘tyranny’ is held in check by constitutional limits as interpreted by the judiciary. But most democracies have mechanisms whereby those limits could be removed by a large enough majority – if people wanted to, in many countries they could amend the constitution to remove the right to freedom of speech, for example, even when it is explicitly enshrined. Or the judiciary or legislature could (and in some contexts is) significantly reduce freedom of speech and religion by use of equality and hate speech legislation/principles and interpret the constitutional inalienable rights accordingly.

    So when I say something (such as persuading people to pass a law on purely religious grounds) is ‘democratic’, I’m not necessarily saying it’s ‘good’. I’m just trying to be clear minded about what our democratic government system does and doesn’t do. It does a lot of good things. But it isn’t the embodiment of goodness. It’s another form of ‘tyranny’ with restraints. That’s government.

    No, and I’ve never said it is. All I’m arguing is that the landscape is shifting and we, Christians, need to shift to a retrieval approach with regards to gay marriage, and an approach to legislating morality that looks more like preaching the gospel than assuming that everybody in the nation signs up for the gospel, and that what we really need to do if we don’t want legislation to go through is mount an economic and natural law case for not pursuing it — not trying to impose Christian morality on a secular nation simply because “God says”… I’m not suggesting that’s your approach to legislation — but it is the approach taken by groups like the ACL, Family First, and Fred Nile’s mob — certainly in their public statements (did you hear the one about the Family First candidate who publicly called gay marriage child abuse?)…

    We agree on the diagnosis, but disagree on the way forward. I agree that in the current context we need to run economic and natural law arguments to persuade on specific issues. But if that’s all we run, than that becomes the basis of public morality, and speech in the public square. Religion will be privatised then, and society will be functionally atheistic.

    You seem so concerned about Family First’s approach of imposing morality on others, that you’re happy to sign up to imposing a New Atheist worldview on the public square. I’m saying, somewhere in between the two approaches is the way to go – both/and. Speak something clearly and distinctly Christian and explicitly grounded in Christian convictions and say something that many/most people can recognise as sane even if they disagree with those convictions.

    And I think you’ve got to factor in the dynamics for successful minority parties in a democracy with your criticisms of Family First and the Festival of Light. Minority parties succeed by playing to the extremes – the ideological niche that shares their convictions. Trying a sophisticated approach of holding to those convictions but making compromises and seeking a retrieval ethic would mean that they received almost no support from Christian conservatives – those conservatives wouldn’t hear the noises they wanted to hear, that it’s a Christian country and should govern based on the Bible.

    Big tent parties like the Coalition and Labour tend to gravitate to the centre, especially when there’s compulsory voting like Oz. But minority parties have to be ideologically pure and fairly unreasonable if they are going to get the support they need to have an impact. Family First is more like the Greens party. They’re supposed to be unreasonable and ideological. Their supporters vote for them because they want everything or nothing.

    And, that’s also a legitimate democratic strategy – it’s not only the pragmatic, polls driven big parties that reflect a democratic approach.

    Not saying I like that approach, but I think you’ve got to see how Darwinian evolution (heh) functions in the political sphere.

  38. We need to learn a little from Calvin, a little from Wilberforce and a little from Bonhoeffer in how we approach politics, but my guiding principle will be “what is best for the spread of the gospel” not “how will I make people live like Jesus even if they don’t know Jesus.” I don’t think the answer is to present ourselves as people who hate freedom. I don’t think we should be positioning ourselves as the moral police.

    “hate freedom”, ‘moral police’. If we’re doing our job properly we are always going to be the ‘moral police’ because we’ll be saying stuff that people want to do is wrong.

    Evangelicalism has always been noxious because it has held to a higher moral standard and done so in a way that says that others should as well. So if the ‘freedom’ you’re championing is the freedom to sin, and not simply the freedoms traditionally considered inalienable, then yep, we need to be enemies of ‘freedom’. Sin is not freedom, sin is slavery.

    I think you’re whole position here is predicated on the next quote:

    I don’t see how homosexuality is on par with such evils.

    Of course you don’t, if you did, your whole argument would (I hope) fall – it is predicated on the idea that homosexuality is a misdemeanour, not a felony. The ‘other evils’ I mentioned that you refer to in the immediate context were abortion, domestic violence, and drunkenness.

    So you tell me, when you read the Bible, does the Bible say: abortion, domestic violence, and drunkenness – they’re really evil, while homosexuality, that’s not good, but it’s hardly on a par with such evils?

    The OT stoned people for homosexuality. Sodom and Gomorrah involves homosexuality quite prominently (not exclusively, I’ll grant you) in the matrix of the behaviour that led to a typological example of eternal judgement by fire. Is anything like this associated with drunkenness or even domestic violence?

    Homosexuality is singled out as the prototypical example of sin’s sinfulness in Romans 1. Exchanging the natural function of the opposite gender is a window into how wrong it is to exchange the glory of God for the glory of creatures. If homosexuality is not ‘on a par with such evils’ – if it ranks less than drunkenness – then you’ve certainly taken some of the oompf out of Romans 1. If homosexuality isn’t that big a deal, then heterosexual sexual immorality isn’t all that serious either – so there weakens the whole theme of patterning the relationship between God and his people on marriage and the attack on spiritual adultery. Homosexuality fits into much bigger theological concerns that aren’t acknowledged when you “can’t see how homosexuality is on a par with such evils.”

    Do you think it might be possible that your take on homosexuality might just be a reflection of our current context? It’s an evaluation of a sexually debauched society that doesn’t think sex is a particularly moral issue. Two teenagers fooling around in the back of a car isn’t as important a moral issue as drunkenness, nor is cheating on one’s spouse.

    I think you’ll find it hard to find much in 2000 years of Christian reflection on the topic that would say that homosexuality ranks less than abortion, domestic violence and drunkenness in its seriousness.

    And you’ve created a nifty little strawman here, or path of strawmen. I agree that the church needs to speak out and lobby for legislation against abortion, and against domestic violence, and against drunkenness. And I don’t necessarily think my argument has ever implied that the state shouldn’t legislate morality, or that the church shouldn’t lobby for morality.

    Ah, so when you say, “we shouldn’t be seen to be enemies of freedom, and shouldn’t be setting ourselves up as the moral police” That’s consistent with opposing abortion, domestic violence, and drunkenness, is it? I can see how you might argue that with domestic violence, but I think you’re going to struggle to argue that you aren’t trying to impose morality on people and so restrict their freedom to act by opposing abortion and drunkenness.

    I think my straw mens are being created out of straw of your making. You’re either being confused – arguing that you are both for legislating for morality, and saying that we shouldn’t but should uphold freedom and not be moral police. Or you’re saying that we should fight for freedom when the action is ‘not on a par with such evils’ and so because you think homosexuality is less serious than drunkenness in God’s eyes that we should champion freedom there but be moral police on drunkenness. If I’m creating straw men of your views here, I think it’s because I’m trying to make sense of what seems to be contradictory things you’re saying.

  39. We’ve seen “enlightened” nations elsewhere taking steps like banning the Burqa (see France today)… how long until we’re fighting that fight again in Australia to ensure we actually enjoy the right to criticise the beliefs and practices of others?

    Well, it depends a lot on which way society goes. At the moment the ‘right’ has little concept of a common good, while the ‘left’ has a strong sense of one, but is predicated on convictions antithetical to Christianity. To go in the direction you’re suggesting Australia would have to reject a lot of its own judicial and legal traditions.

    We’ve seen hints of that, like Victoria’s hate speech legislation, but I think it’s a way off yet. But at the moment it’ll probably move that way whenever the Greens party has political influence on the major parties (usually Labour – hard to see much common ground with the Conservatives).

    For it to happen, Australia has to reject its commitments to certain rights. That’s clearly what the Left wants (at the moment, from which side of the political fence that danger comes from can change over time) in its goal to create a socially progressive society. But that’d be a big change – Australia is no France, or even Canada.

    My point is, you want the right to be offensive – which is what you’re saying when you say ‘differentiate yourself’ (not that you want to be offensive for its own sake) – then you need to be offensive in the public square. You need to argue seriously, not for the right of people to do what you disagree with, but for them not to have that right. You need to, by your actions, remind people of what ‘freedom of speech’ really means. You need to use the right that you are worried might go into desuetude.

    There are bigger issues at play here than whether the two guys down the street can call their relationship a “marriage” or not, and the marriage issue, as we’ve seen in NSW, is separate to the issue of adopting children. You’ll note my original post wants to treat them separately, ceding one but not the other.

    Yes, there certainly are bigger issues here. But the homosexual side, and the anti-marriage side, can both see that the marriage issue is pretty darn big. Get homosexual marriage up and you remove the idea that marriage involves sexual exclusivity even by aspiration, and any connection between marriage and reproduction. And when those are in place, you’ve opened up the ground for a whole new legal basis for family and sexual relationships.

    The marriage issue is much bigger than I think you’re giving it credit even though we agree there are some even bigger issues still that are in play as well.

    And your strategy of treating the two separately was on the basis that possibly adoption of children for heterosexual couples exclusively could be preserved if marriage was conceded. You said that if what they really wanted was both, then your strategy was ill-advised and you’d also oppose gay marriage as well.

    Well, I think the fact that adoption of children has come first knocks your whole original post out of the water. What the lobby is looking for is recognition that they are families on a par with heterosexual families and everything that goes with that. Conceding marriage doesn’t stop that, it just makes the task even harder.

    I disagree with a couple of your underlying assumptions here. Firstly, to suggest that my whole stance aims only for the right to be distinctive is a misrepresentation of the original post and many of the following comments — I’ve argued, from the beginning, that we need to make the case for morality, but that it needs to be with more than just “the Bible says…” because we’re not legislating in a theocracy.

    Yes, and on that point we agree. But then you add in all this stuff about ‘not opposing freedom’ ‘not being moral police’, ‘homosexuality not being on a par with these evils’ and that seems to send a whole different bunch of signals.

    I certainly think aiming for the right to be distinctive is the priority, and possibly the most achievable outcome in the current philosophical climate. I also question how trying to ensure the gospel can be preached to the city (especially to those outside the household of faith, is doing anything but seeking the good of the city. Augustine was probably onto something, I think, when he suggested the highest good was a life lived in communion with God — if that is the highest good, then ultimately seeking the good of the city must contain some element of thinking about how to meet the city with the gospel. Which, for me, means prioritising an approach to the state that provides such freedom. I’m not suggesting we abdicate the need for good actions tied to civil life — I think 1 Peter 2 suggests our good deeds should be such that the government notices and commends them. But I have a hard time identifying opposing gay marriage with opposing abortion, or with feeding the poor and hungry.

    I agree with your take on Augustine.

    I agree with your priority on maintaining our freedom to be distinctive. I disagree with your approach. You get the right to be distinctive by being distinctive and doing so in public and people realising that the world doesn’t end when that happens so it’s a freedom that can be allowed even though they don’t like it.

    When the winds of tyranny start to blow, you need to stand up wisely and early and not take the strategy of ‘how much can we give away before we have to have a fight.’ Be out and proud and in the face and space will be conceded, however grudgingly. It’s worked for most of our noble opponents.

    I agree, but you can have morality by means other than through legislation. All legislation might be moral/amoral — but not all morality is legislated. I think the church would be better served preaching the gospel faithfully — and calling for repentance from immorality and praying for the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who hear than calling for those given over to the depravity of the sinful nature who can’t even recognise their actions as sinful to live counter to their desires.

    When you ask questions like, “Where have I ever said the Church shouldn’t be involved in legislating morality?” It’s places like this. We agree on this point – unless you think this point is an alternative to legislating morality and that’s what you’re really saying here.

    I’ve never said that the Church shouldn’t be preaching morality, nor that the standards it preaches and practices shouldn’t be higher than what it aims in legislation. So the fact you keep stressing this point, that seems fairly obvious to me, makes me think that it expresses some alternative to legislating morality. I’m not sure why you keep rising the point otherwise.

    I’m really only a libertarian so far as I want the freedom to preach the gospel, and expect that wanting that freedom means allowing others certain similar freedoms. I think I’m simply trying to navigate the tension between democracy and human rights. I would fight for both if they were threatened, even when one threatens the other… but your position seems to be either throw out human rights for the sake of democracy, or throw out democracy for the sake of theocracy.

    Heh. Description isn’t prescription. I describe what I see, and try and do so with a minimum of straw men. That rarely gives any indication of my stance towards what I’m describing. When I describe I’m pure realist.

    My descriptions have been grounded on the view that democracy and human rights are not synonymous, so your continual complaint that ‘this approach isn’t democratic’ is just plain wrong – arguing on purely religious grounds is entirely democratic, and the majority passing any law at all, which does not overturn a constitutionally recognised inalienable right, is entirely democratic even if it imposes something on a minority. Democracy simply can’t function unless the majority imposes things on the minority. ‘Rights’ exist to delineate the areas where the majority’s authority to do that is demarcated.

    As far as throwing out democracy for the sake of theocracy, it’s not a goal. It’s just an observation of what happens under certain conditions. When the majority of people in a democracy see themselves as Christians and vote accordingly then laws will be passed for Christian reasons. The laws will tend to correlate to a Christian value system. That’s entirely democratic. It’s actually undemocratic for that not to happen.

    Democracy doesn’t create some kind of paradise. It creates a system where laws reflect the views of the majority and (in good democracies) there are checks and balances to protect the minorities. When the majority are of some other persuasion than Christian, then a democracy will mean those views are reflected in the governments and laws – and again, Christians can only shift that through persuasion, and by the degree to which rights designed to protect minorities are upheld by the courts.

    If you want to have a debate about what democracy should be, that’s a different thing. I thought we were discussing what to do in the circumstances we actually find ourselves in.

  40. Well, I’m back, and over jetlag. I think. But excuse any incoherence here on that basis.

    Well, I think we have a whole bunch of myths about democracy – it’s nowhere near as inherently virtuous as we seem to assume.

    A C.S Lewis quote I posted in the interim for my thoughts on democracy and why I think it’s the best system going (I’d prefer a benevolent dictatorship with me in power, but I’m all for retrieval ethics).

    I’m a strong believer in the ‘unalienable rights’ that you mention. I just don’t think they have much to do with democracy.

    I think democracy is the system (short of a benevolent dictatorship, or altruistic communism) that flows from such a position. That’s how they’re related – so a liberal democracy then seeks to uphold such rights for both minority and majority.

    So it still is ‘tyranny of the majority’ – it’s just a constitutional tyranny. The ‘tyranny’ is held in check by constitutional limits as interpreted by the judiciary.

    Mmm, I agree. But people are, largely, free to flee political systems they feel are oppressing them and impinging on said rights. Except that our government doesn’t like it when those people arrive by boat.

    Or the judiciary or legislature could (and in some contexts is) significantly reduce freedom of speech and religion by use of equality and hate speech legislation/principles and interpret the constitutional inalienable rights accordingly.

    I agree. But I’m not sold on joining the mob by trying to push our minority position on the majority, or even trying to push majority positions on the minority just because we can and we think it’s right. Misuse does not remove right use and all that. Just because some groups abuse the system for their own ends doesn’t mean we have to.

    I’m all for persuading people with sound arguments and good public relations. Though I think we may be at cross purposes a little here.

    So when I say something (such as persuading people to pass a law on purely religious grounds) is ‘democratic’, I’m not necessarily saying it’s ‘good’.

    I’m saying that as democracy in our context is borne out of a belief in such things as unalienable rights and particularly a high price being placed on freedom, I don’t think we can necessarily impose, or seek to impose things, on the basis of our religious beliefs alone and be proud of the way we’re acting because it’s democratic.

    We agree on the diagnosis, but disagree on the way forward. I agree that in the current context we need to run economic and natural law arguments to persuade on specific issues. But if that’s all we run, than that becomes the basis of public morality, and speech in the public square. Religion will be privatised then, and society will be functionally atheistic.

    I’ve never said that’s all we should run – simply that the politically active Christians are perceived as only running the case on the basis that God says so… which, true as it is, is unconvincing for a society that either doesn’t believe in the same god, or doesn’t believe in any god at all.

    You seem so concerned about Family First’s approach of imposing morality on others, that you’re happy to sign up to imposing a New Atheist worldview on the public square.

    Here’s the strawman again. I’ve never said the public square should be devoid of religion. Simply that our participation in it can’t, in our pluralistic and secular society, be purely religious with any hope of success.

    I’m saying, somewhere in between the two approaches is the way to go – both/and. Speak something clearly and distinctly Christian and explicitly grounded in Christian convictions and say something that many/most people can recognise as sane even if they disagree with those convictions.

    I would suggest that my sample position statements on the issue in this comment thread pretty much ticks all those boxes.

    And I think you’ve got to factor in the dynamics for successful minority parties in a democracy with your criticisms of Family First and the Festival of Light. Minority parties succeed by playing to the extremes – the ideological niche that shares their convictions.

    Most minority parties are a joke. I don’t see why Christians should be seeking to be a joke in the public sphere deliberately – we’ll get there quickly enough just by preaching the foolishness of the cross. Funnily, most blogs do the same thing. Make outlandish statements as a corrective… you know. Just to try to get people thinking. But that’s not a great way to reach the vast majority of more moderate people. And I hate spending my time trying to distinguish the gospel from what these people preach in the eyes of my Christian friends, and I don’t like the way I feel about these wayward brothers when they open their mouths and say dumb stuff. It’s bad for the proclamation of the gospel.

    Trying a sophisticated approach of holding to those convictions but making compromises and seeking a retrieval ethic would mean that they received almost no support from Christian conservatives – those conservatives wouldn’t hear the noises they wanted to hear, that it’s a Christian country and should govern based on the Bible.

    Good. But they might actually be listened to by non-Christians, assuming they’re given the same media platform (and Family First only gets a media platform by making outlandish statements and debating parties that are actually admittedly a joke. I watched the debate with the Sex Party and couldn’t remember which party was a joke and which was serious.

    But minority parties have to be ideologically pure and fairly unreasonable if they are going to get the support they need to have an impact.

    Which is why Christian minor parties are bad for the cause of the gospel, and bad for any attempts to maintain moral standards. Because when they open their mouths Australia laughs. The Greens have moved away from being completely outlandish. And they’ve picked up seats.

    And, that’s also a legitimate democratic strategy – it’s not only the pragmatic, polls driven big parties that reflect a democratic approach.

    I think you sell the goings on in the party room a little short here. Sure, they come to a consensus decision, but minority voices get heard in the party room. Which is why it’s much more fruitful for Christians to get elected in a party that may have the potential to do something, and influence the debate. And then there’s the independents…

    “hate freedom”, ‘moral police’. If we’re doing our job properly we are always going to be the ‘moral police’ because we’ll be saying stuff that people want to do is wrong.

    We differ on this slightly I think, largely because I’m as yet unconvinced by O’Donovan’s view (and probably others) where even non-Christians should be living as though the Kingdom of God is fully realised now. That’s a simplification, and I’ve only read a few chapters of a few books so far… but I think what we’re saying, when we preach the gospel, is that people have the freedom to do the wrong thing, but they face the consequences of their autonomy, and that Jesus has taken the punishment for their desire for freedom provided they repent and believe. There’s a difference between saying that something is wrong and telling people they can’t do it. I’d like the church’s public presence to be based on the former, and the church’s teaching for believers to be based on the latter.

    Of course you don’t, if you did, your whole argument would (I hope) fall – it is predicated on the idea that homosexuality is a misdemeanour, not a felony. The ‘other evils’ I mentioned that you refer to in the immediate context were abortion, domestic violence, and drunkenness.

    I’d say that it’s just as sinful as the others, and just as harmful for those conducting the actions – but that it doesn’t have the same impact on the victim – the aborted baby, the battered spouse, or the drink driving victim.

    So you tell me, when you read the Bible, does the Bible say: abortion, domestic violence, and drunkenness – they’re really evil, while homosexuality, that’s not good, but it’s hardly on a par with such evils?

    I may be out on a limb here – but I’d suggest that while all sins are worthy of death, some actions involve more than one sin. Inherently. When someone gets drunk and runs over somebody, killing them, they not only get drunk, they not only commit murder, they also rob the family of the victim of that person’s presence (stealing perhaps?). Murder isn’t just murder, it’s also stealing. Domestic violence isn’t just violence, it’s also breaking one’s wedding vows (in a marriage context).

    I’m not saying that the residents of Sodom didn’t deserve the consequences, nor those stoned. We aren’t a theocracy, and if God wants to come down and smite homosexuals who call themselves married now, as well as judging them for their behaviour, then I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not saying homosexuality is not wrong. I’m just saying I don’t feel as compelled to speak out for the unempowered victims as I am in the other cases you mention.

    Homosexuality is singled out as the prototypical example of sin’s sinfulness in Romans 1.

    I think Romans 1 is using homosexuality as a good example of the clouding of the mind rather than “the prototypical example” it simply has the characteristics of all other pervasive, insidious and addictive sin where our minds are rewired to think that wrong is right.

    Romans 1 starts with homosexuality and ends with envy, deceit, malice and gossip. I haven’t seen many Christians campaigning against gossip. Or envy.

    For me the Romans 1 logical progression goes: God is angry, because God has made things clear, but even though we knew God we rejected him, so our thinking became futile and we turned to idols, then God gave us over to the desire of our hearts which is sexual impurity – then it’s shameful lusts – where Paul introduces a homosexual case study – then it’s a depraved mind. Homosexuality isn’t so much the prototypical sin, as a step in the process of this degrading of the mind.

    If homosexuality isn’t that big a deal, then heterosexual sexual immorality isn’t all that serious either – so there weakens the whole theme of patterning the relationship between God and his people on marriage and the attack on spiritual adultery.

    I don’t think I’ve said it’s not a big deal. Romans 1 says it’s worthy of death. I don’t think that death comes at the hand of the state though, but rather the judgment of God. Your position, as it stands, sounds worryingly like the position in Nigeria (or whichever country it was who last year wanted to execute homosexuals). Tell me why that’s wrong?

    Homosexuality fits into much bigger theological concerns that aren’t acknowledged when you “can’t see how homosexuality is on a par with such evils.”

    Nope. Disagree. I might see it as on par with drunkenness, not as on par with killing or maiming somebody while drunk driving. It’s a sin. Deserving of death. But abortion is a sin worthy of death and punishment by the upholders of the law. So too domestic violence. I don’t read you hear as campaigning to make homosexuality illegal – and I think once that position is ceded it becomes much harder to deny them the ability to have their relationships recognised by a secular government.

    Do you think it might be possible that your take on homosexuality might just be a reflection of our current context?

    No, I don’t. Because I actually think our positions on homosexuality are pretty much identical. My point is simply that holding that position doesn’t lead me to try to bandaid up other people’s struggles with legislation – but rather it leads me to want to tell them about Jesus.

    Two teenagers fooling around in the back of a car isn’t as important a moral issue as drunkenness, nor is cheating on one’s spouse.

    Those are morally on par. They’re also legally on par. I’m not sure what you’re doing here. I think I’m equating seriousness, in this discussion, with “worthy of being reasonably prohibited by the state” – given I think the state is founded on preserving the liberty of its citizens I’d like to see that liberty protected when it comes to the victims of domestic violence, injuries caused by third party drunkenness, and restitution for wronged spouses. I’d like to see it upheld when it comes to protecting the aborted fetus. I think you’ll find, with the exception of the abortion example, that most people in our society share those sentiments anyway.

    That’s very different to saying that these things are ok with God. And you’ll find a hard time finding me saying anything like that.

    I think you’ll find it hard to find much in 2000 years of Christian reflection on the topic that would say that homosexuality ranks less than abortion, domestic violence and drunkenness in its seriousness.

    That’s very different to saying that these things are ok with God. And you’ll find a hard time finding me saying anything like that. I think we might be at cross-purposes here, or you are bringing in some terminology without properly defining it where it doesn’t really fit within the parameters of the discussion.

    I think you’ll find it hard, in that period, to find many secular democracies too. This is pretty new ground.

    Let me unequivocally say that I think homosexual behaviour (not tendencies) is a sin, and as such, is worthy of death in and of itself. As are all the other sins mentioned. But I think it’s clearly a different from those other behaviours, and I think the impact on the victim is a legitimate concern – and adds gravity to the sin in a way that I think should be prohibited by legislation, and in a way that I think it is appropriate for Christians to speak out against. This is also true for gay adoption. I think there’s a legitimate concern for the children.

    I can see how you might argue that with domestic violence, but I think you’re going to struggle to argue that you aren’t trying to impose morality on people and so restrict their freedom to act by opposing abortion and drunkenness.

    I think these have been answered adequately. Drunkenness per say, is not illegal. Drunkenness in public, and drunkenness behind the wheel are. So I simply presumed that’s what you were talking about when you introduced it. Either way – it’s the potential loss of life, liberty, or freedom (or any other basic human right you can think of) that makes this not a case of legislating for morality, but rather legislating for freedom. Because I consider a fetus a human I’m happy to extend the same principle to abortion.

    Or you’re saying that we should fight for freedom when the action is ‘not on a par with such evils’ and so because you think homosexuality is less serious than drunkenness in God’s eyes that we should champion freedom there but be moral police on drunkenness. If I’m creating straw men of your views here, I think it’s because I’m trying to make sense of what seems to be contradictory things you’re saying.

    Perhaps I’ve better articulated my position above. I guess we’ve been operating with different ideas of what we were talking about on the drunkenness front.

    My point is, you want the right to be offensive – which is what you’re saying when you say ‘differentiate yourself’ (not that you want to be offensive for its own sake) – then you need to be offensive in the public square. You need to argue seriously, not for the right of people to do what you disagree with, but for them not to have that right. You need to, by your actions, remind people of what ‘freedom of speech’ really means. You need to use the right that you are worried might go into desuetude.

    I completely disagree with the pragmatics underpinning this idea. You don’t win by becoming a caricature. When was the last time you saw a caricature win? You win by convincing people of the merit of your case and using the best communication tools available to do that. If you truly believed this model to be the best way to win then you’d be on the street corners preaching turn or burn sermons every weekend. I don’t think that’s the case. Politics and evangelism are both about being salt and light, being winsome, and having consistency in faith and doctrine. It’s when people in the public square fail in those areas that they fail.

    What the lobby is looking for is recognition that they are families on a par with heterosexual families and everything that goes with that. Conceding marriage doesn’t stop that, it just makes the task even harder.

    Yes. But conceding marriage while at the same time preventing the latter, bundling allowing marriage with preventing adoption, using natural law arguments (economics, social science etc) would have been much more effective, in my opinion, then calling gay marriage child abuse in the election cycle where it was guaranteed to be picked up and presented as the Christian view of the topic in the public mindset.

    I agree with your priority on maintaining our freedom to be distinctive. I disagree with your approach. You get the right to be distinctive by being distinctive and doing so in public and people realising that the world doesn’t end when that happens so it’s a freedom that can be allowed even though they don’t like it.

    So suicide bombers have a place in the PR strategy of Islam? You get freedom while being distinctive and allowing others to be distinctive too – not by being distinctive while suggesting that others not be allowed that right. It’s like the atheist bus ads. Heaps of Christians complained about the ads labeling them offensive. So many that in many places around the world the ads were pulled. Which sets a dangerous precedent for next time any Christian organisation wants to run an advertising campaign.

    Be out and proud and in the face and space will be conceded, however grudgingly. It’s worked for most of our noble opponents.

    The difference is that they were all perceived to be operating from a position of persecuted weakness. I don’t think we’re in a position where we can claim that yet – and we just look like bullies if we seem to be in the majority and doing that. It’s unappealing. It’s also not loving. And it’s not really the way Jesus took on the Roman state is it? It’s how he took on the religious establishment though… And is that really the position you want the church to occupy in society? Operating because we’ve been begrudgingly given space? If you want to get away with that we need to work harder at doing away with nominalism and getting the underdog status for Christianity.

    Hopefully I’ve adequately covered off all the points you’ve raised so far in this behemoth.

  41. If you still used intensedebate, you’d be able to edit that and close those blockquote tags properly! (actually YOU probably can edit them, even if we can’t)

  42. In response this this post, and in accordance with your most recent, “It is spelled Y-E-S”, yes.

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