10 Reasons why I won’t be voting in the postal plebiscite (or telling people in my congregation how to vote)

So we have a plebiscite. A non-binding postal plebiscite where MPs will still ultimately get to vote based on conscience. And I don’t know about you, but my newsfeed and email inbox has gone nuts. It feels like D-Day has arrived on the same sex marriage thing in Australia, and that there’s a certain inevitability to the outcome of the postal vote. Cue the hand wringing from Christian leaders (and Tony Abbott) trying to get out the vote for the no case.

The moderator of our own denomination sent out an email to all ministers which included this paragraph:

“It’s important to urge every Presbyterian Christian to engage in the process and vote, and to vote “NO” to change. We ask every attendee at church to both register and vote, and then seek to persuade as many as possible of their family and friends to do likewise.”

I won’t be doing this; I’ll be doing the opposite (hence this blog post). And here’s some reasons why:

  1. I believe the Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you) isn’t just a nice idea, but an important command for Christians to pursue as we live together with neighbours who disagree with us.
  2. I believe the Christianity we see in the New Testament assumes a society and moral order that is fundamentally different in outlook to the way of being in the world produced by the Gospel, and it’s not our job to police sexual morality outside the church (1 Corinthians 5).
  3. I believe the best version of a liberal, secular, democracy is pluralistic; that our life together as citizens of Australia works best when we allow for and accommodate a diversity of views on what a good or flourishing human life looks like. If I want my definition of marriage recognised by law, and it comes from my convictions, as a Christian, about what God says a good and flourishing life looks like, then I should be prepared (because of the Golden Rule) to make space for others to have their definition of marriage recognised by law.
  4. I believe that religious freedom is a big part of pluralism, and that all people are worshippers, whether they worship God, or something like sex and marriage; that worship is about our primary love and our vision of the good or flourishing life. That’s part of our humanity. This means everybody defines marriage through the prism of their worship, or love, or vision of the good life (Romans 1 seems to make a connection between what we choose to worship (creator or created things) and how we live in the world. I believe that if I, as a Christian, want the legal freedom to define marriage as God defines it within our church community, and as a Christian in the community, then I should allow my neighbours to have their definition of marriage receive the same legal freedom within the context of a liberal, secular, democracy.
  5. I believe the plebiscite is a bad idea (and poorly executed); that democracy is not about populism and ‘majority rules’ but about balancing competing and different visions of the good life, and making space at the table for all views to be protected and represented in our life together. I think Christians should be particularly concerned about how minority groups in our society are treated both while we have power (because of the Golden Rule), but because I’m not sure we’ll have that power for much longer.
  6. I’d much rather encourage people in my congregation to love their neighbours, regardless of their religion or sexuality, because it’s in our Christ shaped love for those who are different (our following of the Golden Rule), that the message of the Gospel as the ultimate account of human flourishing actually has sense. I don’t want to fight for Christian morals apart from the Gospel, because seeing the world God’s way and living in it as those being transformed into the image of Jesus actually requires his Spirit (Romans 8).
  7. I believe that our current public posture (as the ‘institution’ of the church in Australia, or the political arm of Christendom) is damaging the Gospel by, amongst other things, failing to take points 1-6 into account. I want to be a different voice to those voices (also by failing to speak the Gospel at all, a Crikey essay on the ACL I read this week claims they deliberately avoid religious language in their lobbying).
  8. I have big problems with any ‘Christian’ activity that feels coercive or manipulative, or like an attempt to apply our power or clout to the lives of others outside the church. I don’t think coercion is consistent with the Gospel of the crucified king who ultimately renounced human power and influence; and I believe the Cross is the power and wisdom of God, not the sword (or the democratic equivalent). I think lobbying and special interest groups distort the operation of democracy.
  9. I don’t want to talk to my gay friends and neighbours about why the church doesn’t want them to enjoy what they understand as a basic human right in the context of telling people how to vote in the plebiscite, I want to talk to them about the goodness of Jesus, and the (I believe objectively) better life that is produced if we worship the God who is love, and created us to love, rather than what’s wrong with their ‘worship’… I believe, like the old preacher Thomas Chalmers, that what is required for people’s loves to be changed is ‘the expulsive power’ of new loves, not the creating of a vacuum.
  10. I don’t want to bind people’s consciences to follow my lead, or my vote, because I recognise that within my church community, and denomination, there are many different views on the last 7 points, and coercing or manipulating people to act according to my understanding of the world fails the Golden Rule too.

 

That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but why not vote yes, instead of abstaining? This one’s complicated. I am broadly in favour of same sex marriage for religious freedom reasons, as I’ve said above and elsewhere, but I also do believe that God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman is the best path to human flourishing not just for individuals, but for communities. I totally get that others disagree and think those disagreements should be accommodated, but I also recognise that if I was to advocate voting for same sex marriage I’d be causing many brothers and sisters who hold deep convictions about marriage to stumble, and Paul talks about this in the context of eating food sacrificed to idols (and whether first century Christians should do it or not), because I believe how we view marriage is a product of worship, it’s in the same ball park of what the Bible says about idolatry (worshipping a created thing instead of God), and so I think similar principles apply.

As a leader in church community, and someone with a little bit of a say in how our denomination engages in the public sphere (through some committees I’m on at a state and federal level), I don’t want to be telling people how to vote on much at all or doing anything that appears coercive; so now that I’ve taken a public stance, the abstinence approach to same sex marriage seems the best way to not appear to be binding another to follow my lead.

 

80 Comments 10 Reasons why I won’t be voting in the postal plebiscite (or telling people in my congregation how to vote)

  1. Susan

    Thank you for your candid and honest opinion. I enjoyed reading your point of view and I will consider your points. I will give them much thought as i relate them to my own decisions and opinions. I am currently formulating them.

    Reply
  2. David Palmer

    Nathan, you say, “I am broadly in favour of same sex marriage for religious freedom reasons”.

    Despite what you say advocates of same sex marriage argue the case on religious freedom grounds.

    When I couple your statement above with this one, “I also do believe that God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman is the best path to human flourishing not just for individuals”, I think you have really stepped beyond orthodoxy. Our Lord Jesus never gave any encouragement to same sex couples, he certainly spoke of marriage being between a man and a woman. I miss anywhere in what you have written any engagement with the appropriate passages in Romans 1:18f, 1 Cor 6:9, never mind the OT texts.

    In writing “God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman is the best path to human flourishing”, you leave a lot unsaid. Are you not prepared to say that God’s design for human sexual coupling is that between a man and a woman and not between two me or two women? (We can add the other bits later about voluntarily, and so on.) But can you affirm at least this?

    Personally, I can’t see why we shouldn’t vote. We are citizens with a right to an opinion, in our case as Christians, with minds and conscience hopefully informed by the Word of God.

    (Our Moderator General went a little far. It is sufficient we make the No case and leave it to the conscience of our people how they vote.)

    Reply
    1. Jon

      David,
      I tend to agree; didn’t God establish marriage ? There is an awful lot of reasoning going on in Nathan’s analysis, which to me is bordering on theorising about arguments that in the end, lead back to really what is an individual choice. And that choice, when you get down to it, is about what your own conscience, your inner voice, apart from the multitude of opinion out there. I would think as a Christian, very hopefully that voice is hearing the still small voice of God, and that voice will also bring a sense of inner peace about your decision.

      Reply
  3. David Palmer

    Mmmm. My second para should read:

    Despite what you say advocates of same sex marriage don’t argue the case on religious freedom grounds.

    Reply
    1. Pip Taylor

      Hi David. Perhaps you haven’t encountered advocates of marriage equality arguing on religious freedom grounds, but I assure you that I and others do. It’s not the only aspect I find important, but as a heterosexual non-Christian it’s definitely up there for me!

      Reply
    2. Nathan Campbell

      Hi David,

      I think you’ve missed the point, sorry.

      I know they don’t argue for same sex marriage on religious freedom grounds. I’m arguing their push for same sex marriage is a product of idolatry (though it isn’t a recognised religion) and so we should recognise that there’s either an analogy or a direct link to our arguments for religious freedom (especially if we’re then going to turn around and ask for religious freedom).

      “I also do believe that God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman is the best path to human flourishing not just for individuals”, I think you have really stepped beyond orthodoxy. Our Lord Jesus never gave any encouragement to same sex couples, he certainly spoke of marriage being between a man and a woman. I miss anywhere in what you have written any engagement with the appropriate passages in Romans 1:18f, 1 Cor 6:9, never mind the OT texts.”

      I’m really confused about what you think I’m saying here? I’m not affirming same sex relationships? I’m saying they’re idolatrous. I think idolatry is a big deal, because the Bible does.

      I’m saying marriage as God designed it is what is best for people. The ‘not just for individuals’ sentence makes no sense without ‘but for communities’ — I’m saying I believe this definition of marriage is best for the community at large (or groups of families). I don’t think I’m moving beyond orthodoxy at all here.

      But then I’m saying that I believe all this because I worship the God of the Bible and trust his revealed will, and my loves and relationships are ordered by this ultimate love; whereas my neighbour’s loves are disordered around whatever they have chosen to worship. Because I think ‘treat others as you would have them treat you’ is a good principle, I think I’d like my neighbours to be able to choose what to worship (and thus how to define marriage), while I enjoy that same freedom. I’m saying, like Romans 1 does, that for those who worship a created thing rather than the creator, God has ‘given them over to a depraved mind so that they do what ought not to be done’… and that this is a result of God giving people the fruit of their idolatry.

      Obviously, I accept that my LGBTI neighbours, or just my non-religious neighbours, will think this is all ridiculous, and I can accept that as the price of doing life in a pluralistic society. But that they think it is ridiculous also has to be taken into account in a pluralistic society.

      Reply
  4. Daniel Saunders

    Hey Nathan,
    Thanks for putting your thoughts out there. This has got me thinking, and I always enjoy that.
    One of the helpful things this post has put its finger on is that the question of defining marriage isn't simply a issue of sexual ethics but of political theology as well. The way Christians are responding to the question doesn't merely reflect their understanding and trust in the Bible's teaching about sex and marriage, but also their understanding of the Bible's teaching on Church and State. And it's the second question where the trickiness comes in.
    I’ve found the approach of thinking through sexuality and marriage through the worship/idolatry paradigm helpful. It helps clarify why repentance and faith in Christ leads to obedience; if you turn from sin to call Christ ‘Lord’; then other idols cannot also be Lord. It also makes really clear that whatever the answer is to the SSM question, the answer isn’t Christendom. The mission of the church isn’t to make people conform to a Judeo-Christian ethic (whatever that means), but to proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord, that people might turn and find new life in him.
    However, I wonder if a weakness of this paradigm is every issue in the public sphere becomes a freedom of religion issue For example if the parliament decided to poll citizens regarding refugees. They mailed out a yes/no survey on whether Australia should have a more open-border policy, or indefinitely detain people seeking refuge off-shore. Would the freedom of religion paradigm mean a Christian would abstain from responding to this poll because voting/speaking impose upon the religious freedom of other citizens? Ultimately those citizens who want to restrict immigration do so because they worship greed or race or the nation-state, and those who want more open-borders worship globalism/multi-culturalism (struggling with the idolatry of this view…but you get the drift), and Christians views on the question come from worshipping Jesus as Lord.
    I'm very much in the thinking things through stage…so keen to hear your thoughts!

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      It’s a good question Dan, and it comes back, as you say, to a political theology… and I’m still nutting mine out exactly, because I want a framework for a political theology to equip Christians in North Korea, and ancient Rome, and Christendom, as much as in Australia, and then be built from the ground up according to our context.

      I think my political theology currently has these poles in it (which I’d then apply to different issues):

      1. An anthropology that sees us as worshippers, and the ‘chief end of man’ being to glorify (worship) God and enjoy him forever. Not just because the WCF says this, but because of what I think it means to be made in the image of God and how that is connected to our telos/flourishing. From this I derive the principle that the ultimate passage to human flourishing is connected to freedom to worship/pursue this telos. Because I think everybody worships, not just Christians, I do think it’s important that our politics — our shared life — is built from the assumption that people worshipping what they choose, without coercion, is a good thing.

      2. And then there are questions of how you stop worship causing coercion or harm, which is where both ‘secular’ and ‘pluralist’ kick in as political goods in a fallen world. That we don’t enshrine one religious belief and punish people for not sharing it (ie Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel), and that we allow space, as much as possible, for religious beliefs alongside one another, with good opportunities for the exchange of ideas/persuasion. I think Paul in Athens is a good picture of how this can work in a democracy.

      3. The distorting power of false worship/idolatry on human flourishing and what the answer is to that distorting power. I reckon Augustine’s (dis)ordered loves are an amazingly powerful anthropological insight, and think a properly Christian political theology will recognise that the re-ordering of human loves happens best when loves are ordered around Jesus, if we just push people to love one created thing (marriage) more than another created thing (sex) we’re not actually necessarily enabling human flourishing (or preventing harm), those decisions about flourishing v harm depend on what standards you use to measure them and which sins you want to measure.

      4. The Gospel of Jesus crucified isn’t just the power for salvation, and the means by which we get the Spirit. It is, in itself, a political theology; the proclamation that Jesus is king of the world and that he is building his kingdom as people join it. It has political implications because it creates an alternative polis; a community of worshippers. So a political theology recognises the corporate/communal life of people apart from ‘citizenship’ in a particular nation and sees these communities as a source of flourishing.

      5. As a political theology the Gospel provides not just a message, but a manner. A properly Christian political theology is one of weakness, not glory. We should expect crucifixion to be on the table as an option from those who play ‘glory’ politics; but also trust that in our crucifixion God is at work for our good and the good of others. A theology of weakness should also shape our priorities — we should side with the poor, the oppressed, and the weak, and use whatever strength we have to speak on their behalf. Inasmuch as we have political strength and clout it should not be used to serve our own interests, but the interests of others (Philippians 2).

      I don’t buy the modern ‘intersectionality’ thing heaps, but I think the question of who the weak is, and what strength in weakness is, is an interesting one that shapes my position on lots of political issues. In the SSM debate there are competing marginalised groups — the LGBTIQ community, ‘commoditised’ kids who won’t have access to a biological mum or dad, and arguably, the church. I’ve landed where I have on SSM because I think the kids thing is quite apart from this debate (in that it already happens), that the idea of ideal families is a furphy (all parents mangle their kids in different ways, through good intentions and even ‘good’ actions), and because the church’s vulnerability is, I think, best addressed through the application of a political theology that calls for and models a generous pluralism and focuses on the building of strong communities within the broader community that makes point 3 plausible and allows people to discover their purpose according to 1.

      So this means I don’t think it’s ever enough for us to just speak up about issues like refugees, we should also have skin in the game and offer to be part of the solution. Which is what I’ve done in posts on the issue, and letters to government, and in our church community (with our ministry to Iranian asylum seekers).

      Reply
  5. David Palmer

    Well, we can debate whether I missed your point or not. However, despite Pip’s comment to the contrary, I’m not aware of Homosexuals linking same sex marriage to their expression of religious freedom and I have been a reasonably close observer of this space the past 10-15 years. I think we have to respect the LGBT lobby’s stated reasons for same sex marriage, rather than formulating our view of their reasons in order to satisfy our own particular take on why things are as they are.

    Regarding whether you have left Biblical orthodoxy (here I’m thinking of our ordination vows) or not, my concern is really with your statement of being “broadly in favour of same sex marriage”. In your response to me I don’t see any sense of God’s rejection of, judgment upon homosexual activity that in fact such actions, activities are already and will in future incur the wrath of God. How terrible an indictment is vv24, 26 of Romans 1! Can we not feel it, sense the horror of it? To say you are “broadly in favour of same sex marriage” seems so out of kilter with how God in His Word views the matter and so destructive of those who so engage, if not in this world, then on the Day of judgement.

    Nathan, I’m not across all your writing. I’ve just flown in. I was deeply disturbed by the decision of the GAA to reject the advice of its own C&N Committee on the appropriate response of the church to legalisation of same sex marriage (my own response will be to give up my license to marry should such legalisation occur), and then I find that you are writing that you are broadly in favour of same sex marriage – perhaps your “for religious reason” is a bit of an escape clause to ameliorate your statement. But, as I have explained, I don’t think the qualification has merit.

    I think you have this admirable desire for generous conversation, which I hope I have also practiced with opponents, but I’m afraid it doesn’t cut the mustard if you think your own religious freedom will be respected. There is just so much evidence the other way, and until you are willing to engage with it, your argument lacks weight – it appears naïve at best. Paul Kelly has an interesting article in The Australian today I suggest you read. Also, I recommend Carl Truemen’s Moore College lectures this week which have been livestreamed and available on Moore’s website. Carl certainly has credentials when it comes to reading present day culture and how we are to respond as those committed to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus as preachers and teachers.

    If I am too abrupt, I apologise, but I am concerned for you as I see you on a trajectory that I fear is antithetical to Biblical, confessional Christianity. Perhaps I’m overstating it. Time will tell.

    Cheers for now

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi again David,

      Lots to respond to here. I’ll try to do things numerically.

      1. “I think we have to respect the LGBT lobby’s stated reasons for same sex marriage, rather than formulating our view of their reasons in order to satisfy our own particular take on why things are as they are.”

      I disagree. I think the way forward as a democracy in a fragmenting world (the sort described in Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age) is a generous pluralism. I don’t think we need to rely on other people to come up with a solution for us, particularly because in other countries we’ve seen precisely the reverse happening; both sides playing the ‘political’ game as a zero sum game and seeking to destroy the other. I don’t think there’s a future in the public sphere for the Gospel apart from figuring out how we allow people to disagree with us/how to disagree without seeking to have our views prevail. Quite apart from what the lobby groups and cultural marxists do, we should be putting forward our own vision for life together in this world. That’s what I’m trying to do here.

      2. “I don’t see any sense of God’s rejection of, judgment upon homosexual activity that in fact such actions, activities are already and will in future incur the wrath of God.”

      I suspect this is because you’re not looking for it. When I quote Romans 1, I’m quoting Romans 1. All of it. I believe God’s judgment for idolatry starts with him giving people over to a wrong way of seeing the world. We’re actually working against God’s judgment via the laws of the (non-religious) state here. I think idolatry is the ultimate sin, the Old Testament makes it a really big deal; we were made to bear the image of God but instead become what we behold, dead, breathless, images of our idols. The way out of this is the Gospel and our stony hearts being replaced with living, circumcised, hearts by the Spirit, which allow us to imitate Jesus as we’re transformed into the image of his son. How do you understand the bits in Romans 1 and Romans 8 that talk about God giving people over to a depraved mind, and the mind governed by the flesh being unable to please God? How do these passages inform your political theology?

      3. Re my ‘in favour of same sex marriage’ — can I be clear, again, that I’m talking about in the lives of non-believers. How do you apply 1 Corinthians 5 to this debate (and others)? Specifically:

      “9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

      12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”

      4. “I’m afraid it doesn’t cut the mustard if you think your own religious freedom will be respected. There is just so much evidence the other way, and until you are willing to engage with it, your argument lacks weight”

      I’m afraid that deciding how to act because of how I’ll be wrongly treated fails a basic reading of the Golden Rule. Our job is to do the right thing, to be crucified by the authorities and rejected by the world for doing the right thing; not for fighting political fire with political fire and failing. I am very aware of the evidence that cuts the other way, but I’m yet to see many Christians modelling this generous pluralism thing (there’s a good book called Confident Pluralism by John Inazu, an American). My fear is it’ll all be too late, the current generation of Christian leaders won’t practice what we preach, we’ll push for victory in a culture war, and we’ll lose and be destroyed, and it will set the church’s witness and presence in the community back a long time when there are alternative models of faithfulness we could be adopting. If we’re crucified for being generous, how much more is that a credit to our witness to the crucified king?

      Here’s an exchange I had with the gay activist who was pursuing board members of the ACL and the Lachlan Macquarie institute where I asked him if they’d keep pursuing these people if we adopted a more pluralistic approach to public life. It’s an interesting read.

      Reply
      1. David Palmer

        Nathan, I think it is dawning on me where you are, theologically speaking (at least to a degree).

        Romans 1 is describing the unfolding judgment (wrath) of God upon ungodly men and women, with the terrible statement of both men and women giving up natural for unnatural (i.e. homosexual) relationships, and that is just the start of it as the third “God gave them up” demonstrates.

        In a sense as Christians, we can step aside and say to the ungodly, “well just get on with it, fulfil your destiny!”. This position is how I’m reading you. Similarly, with your quote from 1 Cor 5, although I don’t think you are saying that you won’t associate with anyone who is, inter alia, sexual immoral. You actually want to have gracious conversations with them, presumably, so that such people might pass over from death to life (John 5:24), Well, I’m with you there, but it is not all that can be said.

        We live in a certain time and place, with historical antecedents. There is apparently a changing of the guard going on as far as the broader society is concerned. This proposal for same sex marriage falls into this category.

        It is very close to resolution, but not quite. The question is as a citizen, is the proposed change in the law for the benefit of the citizens and broader society as a whole?

        Will same sex marriage benefit our society, including the welfare of children? Has God (not “our god”, but that Exodus 15 God) expressed His mind on the matter, and if so, should we not at least allow our fellow citizens know what God says about homosexuality amongst other equally bad things (1 Cor 6:9,10), including His response of wrath? (Interestingly enough, times of revival have always been accompanied by healthy doses of the reality of God’s wrath upon unrepentant sinners)

        So here we have an opportunity to declare our hand out of love for fellow Australians facing the wrath of God. In this context, I don’t believe it is appropriate for a Christian leader to say that they are “broadly in favour of same sex marriage”. While we will probably have to live with same sex marriage, we certainly don’t need to favour it. In the meantime, we have a God given opportunity to declare our hand with reasons against same sex marriage, as our Moderator General, bless him, has done. It is not a time to stay silent, go quietist. It is a time to get a grip.

        As far as your last paragraph is concerned, it just misses the point that if same sex marriage is legalised under any of the current models, then Christians and others, and their institutions will face grave difficulties. Personally, I think something along the lines of Dreher’s The Benedict Option is where we will be, and that will be no bad thing at all.

        Nathan, for me, my key texts, which inform my thinking on just about everything, are Mark 8:34 and 1 Peter 2:20f. I commend Calvin’s fourfold teaching on the Christian life – it’s in Book 3 of the Institutes.

        Cheers for now. I trust you have a blessed Lord’s Day, and can forget about these matters, for a while at least.

        Reply
        1. Nathan Campbell

          Hey David,

          We’re getting closer.

          1. “In a sense as Christians, we can step aside and say to the ungodly, “well just get on with it, fulfil your destiny!”. This position is how I’m reading you. ”

          No. What I’m saying is: stepping aside is ungodly, but the solution Paul gives us to the judgment of God facing unbelievers is the same that pulled us out of this judgment. It’s the Gospel and the Spirit (Romans 1:16, Romans 8). I’m saying our answer is not civil law in a non-Christian government for a non-Christian nation. It’s the Gospel. Proclaimed. Modelled. In thick communities (the church), showing the goodness and beauty of Biblical marriage as we live faithfully as Christians in a pluralist society. Even when that society wants to persecute us.

          2. “While we will probably have to live with same sex marriage, we certainly don’t need to favour it.”

          I think you’re putting way to much weight on the word favour here. I don’t think same sex marriage is a moral right, in God’s eyes. I think it is a right and appropriate thing for a secular government to do as it seeks to balance the interests and freedoms of its citizens. In this sphere I think it is a good thing for the government to do, and thus, something I don’t think we have to oppose. I think our strategy with speaking to the government/in public on same sex marriage should be about the same as our response to atheism or islam. I think it’s to faithfully present the Gospel and the life (including marriages and families) that flows out of the lordship of Jesus as a compelling public good that people should investigate (though also think it’s a work of the Spirit that enables such investigation).

          3. I am very open to grave difficulties for the church. My assumption is that if we’re not experiencing some sense of being crucified by the world we’ve probably conformed to its patterns already; and I think it’s odd that we make such a big deal about sex when we’ve already (mostly) sold our souls to other idols like comfort, career, education and wealth. The Bible also calls greed idolatry. We’re far too comfortable in Australia.

          Reply
          1. David Palmer

            I think I should leave this discussion. It is one thing to understand one another (a good thing), another thing to agree sufficiently to reach some sort of resolution over differences. Nailing common ground the differences has been part of the issue. I apologise for not spending time quantifying our common ground; it was some of your conclusions I felt it necessary to protest and warn against.

            I think you are escaping from accepting a legitimate role for Christians as citizens of the State, (still) free to express their opinions on proposed legislation, opinions open to the Word of God and expressive of love for our fellow citizens (whether or not they see it that way!).

            I think your equating of what our response should be to the State with our response to atheism and Islam is a significant category error, quite unhelpful.

            But let’s depart in peace for another day, another occasion. My wife and I are joining Wes Redgen’s tour of Greece and Turkey later this year and I look forward to some fellowship and talk with I presume mainly QTC students.

            I think you have given a lot of thought to your position without convincing me on the State Christian citizen intersection. I really think you would benefit from some 2 kingdom theology which the guys at Westminster West have made their own, or Kuyper

            Cheers for now, God bless

          2. David Palmer

            My sentence, “Nailing common ground the differences has been part of the issue.” should read “Nailing the differences while determining common ground has been part of the issue.”

  6. Pip Taylor

    My main comment from yesterday seemed to disappear for some reason, so here goes again…

    I’m a non-Christian married to a Christian, and my wife and I almost invariably find that despite our very different starting points, we arrive at the same conclusions on moral and ethical questions.

    So I’m very grateful for your demonstration that this isn’t simply a product of marriage-induced groupthink! Although I’d express it in a different way, I concur with most of what you say, and for many similar reasons (apart from the bits about accepting Jesus of course, which I’ve done my best to remain open to the possibility of, but have so far remained barren ground).

    My wife hasn’t fully formed her views on the plebiscite yet, but found your comments interesting and thought-provoking.

    My apologies if having the support of a non-Christian alienates any of your primarily Christian readership!

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi Pip,
      I’m not sure where your comment from yesterday went (other than the short one). I’ve got no record of it in my system. Sorry. Thanks for commenting though.

      What do you reckon it is that stops you accepting Jesus? Is it a logical thing? History? Emotion? Do debates like this one make it harder for you? I’m interested cause of the conversation going on around this one and how little Christians seem to understand that we almost talk a totally different language to the people around us these days…

      Reply
      1. Pip Taylor

        I suspect my comment went missing somewhere in the interface between Facebook (via which I was originally sent a link to your blog) and the rest of the interwebs. So not really anyone’s fault.

        But on your question, there are lots of reasons, but probably two main ones.

        First, I’m a great believer in William of Occam’s advice not to multiply assumptions unnecessarily when hypothesising about the causes of things. And to me there are fewer assumptions needed to explain the complexity of the universe if I adopt the explanation that things started with a bunch of basic particles interacting together over an immensely long time, than the one involving a supreme all-powerful being.

        The other is a more emotional, or possibly spiritual, reason. I just don’t have a Jesus-shaped hole in my heart. To put it another way, he’s the answer to a question that doesn’t arise for me, or at least it hasn’t yet.

        The second issue is probably the more relevant to your issue of separate languages, as a lot of the Christians I meet seem to start from the assumption that we all feel a need for something, and that non-Christians just haven’t yet realised that the something is Jesus.

        But I’m not sure it’s very helpful as I don’t know what it would take for that need or question to arise for me, or indeed how readily I’d recognise it if it did!

        Reply
  7. Brad

    Apologies if this was covered in a previous comment and I missed it. What was the process by which the Moderator decided to send out that message? Was it simply his decision or was there some decision made by a group that it would be the PCQ’s position?

    For the record, I plan to vote Yes. I don’t think there are many legitimate “Christian” reasons for voting No (I certainly don’t see any legitimate reasons in any of the comments above), and I struggle with a position of non-engagement.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      On the non-engagement thing; it’s a stupid non-binding poll designed to give the hard right a chance to fight a culture war, why do you feel obliged to engage in any direction?

      It’s a Presbyterian Church of Australia (not Queensland) decision from the last General Assembly. I think it’s minuted somewhere public, I could dig it up.

      Reply
      1. Brad

        Thanks. Not really interested in the minutes or anything, more just interested whether it was an actual position or just one person’s opinion.

        Re: non-engagement. Yeah it’s a dumb opinion poll but it’s what we’ve got. I think anyone with an opinion ought to make it heard. The more “votes” they get, the stronger its result will be (stronger in a statistical sense).

        This whole issue is so damaging for the church, because too many Christians say such ignorant and stupid things, that it would be best if we could all just move it along. Not that that’s my reason for voting Yes.

        Reply
  8. James Chandler

    While I can agree with much of what you say and you seem to have your hands busy defending your position I think you also need to consider the historical precedents of states rejecting God’s natural order. Because they did X, God did Y, lots of times. While we aren’t the chosen race (And that’s not even a requirement to receive this judgement) I have a belief/suspicion that God has done this often enough with many more recent empires. Geneva is an example where civil authorities actually twigged to the benefit of Christian values and sought out Calvin.

    What kind of nation / society are we leaving for your kids and mine when we don’t support God’s standard for family. I guess if we want to raise the standard of our nation we need to breed out this kind of thinking by raising LOTS of Christian children. That’s one path the self absorbed society we see today won’t be willing to follow.

    Heck call gay marriage garriage if the civil authorities want to recognise it. I think christians should be working to demonstrate and promote a higher standard.

    James

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi James,

      “Because they did X, God did Y, lots of times”

      Absolutely. This is also absolutely how I understand the logic of Romans 1. What do you think the response to God doing Y is, for faithful Christians? I think it’s something very much like Israel in exile (Daniel, for example). And something very much like Jesus, under Roman rule (being executed by the state for faithful difference)… and I think the response to God doing Y is the Gospel, so public Christianity should be the church proclaiming the Gospel (not the law). I’ve argued for this in this post here.

      What kind of society am I leaving my kids? Hopefully one where vibrant communities are able to live and be distinct; rather than having those distinctions eroded by big governments who like to overreach in pursuit of everybody thinking the same thing. Hopefully one where the church takes the task of evangelism and pastoring more seriously than it takes political posturing to protect our interests and some ideals that our neighbours have left behind some time ago.

      ” I think christians should be working to demonstrate and promote a higher standard.”

      This is entirely my point. That’s what church is; a community of people demonstrating and promoting a higher standard. I don’t think we do this by seeking to make that higher standard the law for people with fundamentally different standards.

      Reply
  9. Sarah

    We see in the Old Testament a clear principle: those who keep the law a blessed.

    When Israel destroyed all its idols etc god blessed it.

    We can’t expect god’s blessings on our nation when we encourage Idol worship, protect the religions that encourage violence.

    When our churches aren’t unified.. When they encourage men to beat their wives

    When they don’t show that they take god seriously when he says things like he abhors all sexual immorality..

    I can see amongst Christians.. More than ever.. “those poor people who were born gay, they should be allowed to be who they were born to ve”…

    Sorry.. The Bible says we are born with sin. It may be a trial for us.. But it is still sin..

    As soon as we start pretending sin is not sin.. Then we are in dangerous ground.

    It doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge that the whole world struggles with sin.. And for some the show of this sin is sexual immortality.. In whatever form it takes..

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi Sarah.

      I’m really unsure what your point is here. Is Australia the same as Old Testament Israel?

      Reply
      1. Sarah

        I am suggesting that god gave us the Old Testament as a blue print. It shows us how god wanted a nation to be run. And the sort of laws god wanted, and how he wanted them punished.

        In its essence our laws were originally based on this example.

        God blesses those who keep the law. We know that. Both the old and New Testament tell us that. (salvation is separate to blessing)

        So, absolutely we need to be loving to those who struggle with sin. As all of us do.

        To encourage Christians to vote for the legalization of something which is actually making sin acceptable, isn’t what god is calling us to.

        This gives the message that enables sin. We do not want to enable any sin. Lying, drunkenness, disorder, foul talk, prostitution..

        We are to be the salt or the earth… If salt loses its saltiness, wherewith shall it be salted.

        Reply
        1. Brad

          This is really badly thought out theology. OT Israel (a theocracy under God) is very different from a post-Jesus secular nation. How much did Jesus o his disciples of the apostles spend time trying to influence the laws of the Roman empire?

          Reply
  10. Telicia

    I don’t know that a truly pluralistic society is possible, especially if the values of different groups are too different to one another. It would only be possible if everyone strove to uphold the golden rule, but I think it falls down the list for many people, AND no-one is perfect. At the end of the day, I think there will always be a dominating voice.
    We have to accept that even if we are loving our neighbour the way we would want to be loved – we won’t always be treated back in a loving way.
    But this whole point in #2 has really made me think. And thankyou for the reminder in #8 about the cross being the power and wisdom of God.
    Just, where do we draw the line between what we believe being for ourselves, and influencing how we interact with society?

    Reply
  11. Ross

    Are you proposing a scenario in which church sanctioned marriages are restricted to opposite sex couples, just as they are now, and civil marriages, which are open to same sex couples? Surely this is unworkable.

    Reply
  12. Andrew Clarke

    Nathan, I love you in the Lord. There is no other fellow-minister more often on my heart and mind than you. I write this prayerfully, only desiring good for you and your readers.

    Biblical orthodoxy is clear and consistent, and doesn’t need so many conditions and qualifications.

    David Palmer, with decades of experience as a deeply engaged ethicist of the Presbyterian Church, found it difficult to get your point as a newcomer to your blog. I have to sympathise with him.

    I’ve been reading it for some time, and I respectfully disagree with your essential framework. I find that what you mean when you speak about idolatry as “disordered loves” and marriage as the “best way” (rather than the only way) and “human flourishing” as the paradigm for the gospel, etc, etc, you are not using the same Reformed framework as the Westminster Confession. I suggest the only way we could come to any agreement about that, though, would be if we sat down together regularly and read through Calvin’s Institutes, which I would be very happy to do. (I know I need it.)

    Here is my very ordinary explanation of the Bible’s teaching on the issue at hand. Homosexual behaviour is wilful and wicked (like all sin, yet in some respects particularly so). It is offensive to God and harmful to people. We should be doing everything we possibly can to point that out.

    If I see a person pushing someone in front of a truck, I am not contradicting the gospel by yelling out, “Stop!” Indeed, it is an expression of love for all concerned that has ultimate gospel goals, just like my voice of “No!” in the postal vote.

    I am sincerely grateful for the Moderator General’s letter that I read to the congregation where I preached this morning. I will be doing so again at another congregation next week. I do this as a gospel service to everyone inside and outside the church.

    I want people to know that we take sin, including sexual sin, very seriously. It is so serious that nothing less than hell is its justice and the cross of Christ its atonement. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, paedophilia, beastiality, and everything else that is contrary to God’s moral law is nothing less than defiance and hatred against Him. May we love people enough to tell them so. And by His grace may they flee such things to find refuge in His love for sinners in Christ. If He is merciful enough to save me, He will receive them gladly.

    Reply
    1. Brad

      Do you also think, then, that homosexual acts should be recriminalised? What is your framework for deciding how far our laws should go in promoting/enforcing Christian morality?

      Reply
    2. Nathan Campbell

      Hi Andrew.

      I also really appreciate the gentleness of your tone and the warmth of your convictions. This bit is important:

      “I’ve been reading it for some time, and I respectfully disagree with your essential framework. I find that what you mean when you speak about idolatry as “disordered loves” and marriage as the “best way” (rather than the only way) and “human flourishing” as the paradigm for the gospel, etc, etc, you are not using the same Reformed framework as the Westminster Confession. I suggest the only way we could come to any agreement about that, though, would be if we sat down together regularly and read through Calvin’s Institutes, which I would be very happy to do. (I know I need it.)”

      I don’t believe orthodoxy begins or ends with the Reformers (though they certainly are orthodox). I’ve probably read more Augustine than Calvin, because I like to read the thinkers the Reformers relied so heavily upon. It’s Augustine where I get the category of disordered loves from; and it’s the Old Testament where I get my understanding of humans as ‘worshippers’ from (and the first question of the catechism!). When I say ‘flourishing’ I’m entering a conversation beyond the church, but really what I mean is ‘fruitful’, and I think we can both agree that’s a consistent metaphor in the Bible for living the full human life (eg the fruit of the Spirit, the great commission, the cultural mandate); I see it as something connected to our telos, purpose, or chief end.

      I think idolatry is the deadly sin. It’s the sin that kicks off the decalogue; it’s the sin Moses frames as ‘life or death’ in Deuteronomy; it’s the sin that obsesses the prophets. It’s no small thing to speak of sin as idolatry; I’m not dismissing it, but wanting to understand the hearts that create it, and the way back from idolatry (true worship).

      The sermon I come back to often is Thomas Chalmers Expulsive Power of a New Affection; he’s a good Presbyterian. I think his insight that you don’t help people love God by creating a vacuum in their hearts but by replacing false loves with the true one is what drives a lot of the language I use and the way I drive at this stuff. I take sin very seriously because I believe it is deadly, and destructive now.

      I don’t just want people to understand the ugliness of the sinful life, but the beauty of the life of Jesus, and the life he offers. I think that needs to be a bigger part of our message than sin, and if I had to pick one part (which I think is pretty reductionist), I’d pick the goodness of God to proclaim, rather than the badness of us. I believe the idolatry framework allows me to do both. I understand you’re not convinced.

      Reply
  13. Jordan

    Hi Nathan! I don’t believe I’ve met you, but expect I will sometime down the track, as I’m a candidate for Prezzy ministry hailing from Victoria. A friend on Facebook linked to this post of yours, and I’ve had quite a read following all the discussion! I think this is proving to be a very helpful forum for refining ideas for all those who may be reading along…for any who persevere through it all… :P (I have to admit I didn’t read all the Facebook discussion, please excuse.)

    I think I substantially agree with you in most of your convictions, diverging only on some less foundational matters, which then sends us in different directions. I find myself quite in alignment with Andrew Clarke who’s posted above, but would like to explore an untouched root.

    I love the way you prioritise the gospel far above moral issues like homosexuality, and desire to proclaim the gospel with no unnecessary stumbling blocks. But my question is this: should our gospel proclamation be accompanied by deeds of love? If so, are there some deeds of love that should be off-limits?

    I’m not just asking that as a rhetorical device, I know there are theological schools which say no to the first question, that we should just proclaim the gospel, full stop. I believe, however, our proclamation should be accompanied by loving deeds, because we’re commanded to love everybody and that’s what makes our profession and proclamation credible. Let me know where you diverge from me in my line of reasoning in this
    post—whether here or later.

    You’ve affirmed God’s view on homosexual behaviour, both its eternal and temporal consequences (if I read you rightly), so doesn’t love require speaking out as a loving voice of caution/warning, and using our privilege as voters in this democracy to discourage affirmation of this behaviour?

    Elsewhere you have affirmed (again, if I read you rightly, sorry I didn’t take notes while reading all of this!) that we need to call sinners to repent (though emphasising God’s goodness above human sinfulness—agreed), and you’ve certainly affirmed that being given over to homosexual behaviour is a judgement from God. How can we express ‘favour’ for same sex marriage whether for ‘freedom of religion reasons’ or otherwise, and then turn around and call people to repent of that? Is that not sending an inconsistent message? Imagine that on the basis of our favour for same sex marriage, or due to our abstention from speaking against it, someone entered into a same-sex marriage, and was later converted. If we then told this person their same-sex marriage was sinful, wouldn’t that person feel betrayed that we had not spoken up to warn them earlier? We would look hypocritical. Even to those looking on it would be a bad witness, placing stumbling blocks rather than removing one, if our public rhetoric and private teaching appeared at odds in this way.

    As for the ‘off limits’ question, I think of the opposition of Christians to slavery, foot-binding, widow-burning, cannibalism and innumerable other practices. If the Christians hadn’t spoken against these things out of love for unbelievers while proclaiming the gospel, wouldn’t the later converts and societies have felt betrayed, when they discovered the Christians ‘knew it all along’ but had not loved them as well as they could have?

    Basically, I appreciate your desire not to muddy the church’s witness or ‘force’ your views onto someone else (as in cultural imperialism). But your approach here strikes me as a failure to humbly love. Am I missing something?

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hey Jordan.

      I have some time now. Here’s a two part response (because of the character limit).

      “But my question is this: should our gospel proclamation be accompanied by deeds of love? If so, are there some deeds of love that should be off-limits?”

      Yes. Absolutely. In fact, the Gospel is (humanly speaking) most effectively persuasive when it is. I think there’s a couple of ways this works; the active deeds of love we conduct as the body of Christ in the world, loving one another as Christ loved us, loving our neighbours, loving our enemies, and turning the other cheek. That bit’s vital. Because I see this as a form of turning the other cheek. Turning the other cheek, at least in the Sermon On The Mount, seems to me to involve the enabling of sin (if your enemy demands your cloak, give him your shirt as well). I think there’s a sense in which our job is not to stop people doing evil, but to love them as they do it and gently (cruciformly) call them back to the love of the one who called out ‘father forgive them’ even as people were mocking and executing him.

      “You’ve affirmed God’s view on homosexual behaviour, both its eternal and temporal consequences (if I read you rightly), so doesn’t love require speaking out as a loving voice of caution/warning…”

      Yes. I absolutely think our contributions to this conversation (and mine) in the lead up to the plebiscite (and beyond) should do this.

      “and using our privilege as voters in this democracy to discourage affirmation of this behaviour?”

      No. Here’s where we diverge. I think we can faithfully say ‘this is wrong, and bad, and not God’s design and will earn judgment,’ but still vote (or not vote) in a way that allows the person the liberty to pursue what they believe are their rights and the ‘good life’, without ‘affirming’ the behaviour any more than God does when he gives them over to that behaviour. I think God does this out of love; I think his love is present in his judgment because he is giving us the desires of our hearts; the telos of our worship. We become what we behold. There’s a respect for our personhood and dignity caught up in Romans 1, even if it leads us to really bad places and it’s a really bad decision for us to make, freely, as individuals (a bit like the father in the story of the Prodigal son). I think God is also loving in judgment in that there’s a proportionality, or ‘justice’ involved.

      I’m not sure our responsibility in a secular democracy is to declare what we believe is good (in our vote), or seek to define good by our vote. I think our job is to do good (and participation in a democracy goes a long way beyond voting and involves building strong commmunities/relationships etc). I don’t think that’s what God does as he acts in love towards sinners where he upholds their freedom and personhood, while making the negative implications of the choice to reject him (and the positive implications of choosing life his way) clear.

      I think the chief good of a human is connected to our chief end; it’s to do with allowing people freedom to decide what to worship (and what to be conformed by, and so what we ‘represent’ or ‘glorify’ in our lives). So I would say freedom of religion/worship is a greater common good than marriage. And I see them in conflict in this plebiscite and in the fallout.

      “How can we express ‘favour’ for same sex marriage whether for ‘freedom of religion reasons’ or otherwise, and then turn around and call people to repent of that?”

      In the same way the father in the Prodigal son gives his child his inheritance as he wishes him dead; or that God ‘gives people over’ to the way of life their idolatry produces. And then welcomes them home; that’s what I think a call to repentance is, an invitation home.

      “Imagine that on the basis of our favour for same sex marriage, or due to our abstention from speaking against it, someone entered into a same-sex marriage, and was later converted. If we then told this person their same-sex marriage was sinful, wouldn’t that person feel betrayed that we had not spoken up to warn them earlier? ”

      I’m not, in any way, advocating that we say same sex marriage is good while favouring it in a secular democracy. I think a helpful way to think of it is this: the plebiscite is not asking ‘what do I think marriage is’ but ‘how should the secular government of Australia define marriage for its citizens’. I think it’s possible to see those as different questions with different answers. I think when it comes to the same sex married couples with children who I hope will come to my church, and meet Jesus, through my witness to them, will know that our church is ready to work through the complexity of life following Jesus with them. I will say the Bible prohibits same sex sex, but not co-raising kids together in a celibate household, and I think the much more interesting work for the church is figuring out how to answer these questions. I’ve done significantly more thinking about this than about the politics.

      I don’t think our public rhetoric and private teaching should be different. I think our job is to recognise the limits of our ‘private’ teaching in the public sphere — Christians (1 Corinthians 5:9-13), but still to proclaim our teaching publicly.

      “If the Christians hadn’t spoken against these things out of love for unbelievers while proclaiming the gospel, wouldn’t the later converts and societies have felt betrayed, when they discovered the Christians ‘knew it all along’ but had not loved them as well as they could have?”

      To be clear, in case it isn’t already. I don’t believe abstaining from voting is the same thing as committing myself to not speaking in the debate; or not speaking out for Christian values. I think there’s much more effective and long lasting ways to be public Christians in the area of marriage than this vote; the best thing we can do is be the church, build strong marriages, build communities where our acts of love make belief plausible for same sex attracted couples, and be an alternative kingdom in such a way that the beauty and truth of the Gospel, in our community and marriages, becomes clear to our neighbours. If marriage really is a ‘pre-political’ institution (as it is called), let’s recapture that, and work at building other institutions apart from the government as our understanding of what ‘Christian politics’ looks like.

      Reply
      1. Jordan

        Thanks for the reply, Nathan. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I think I understand what you’re saying, and your position is a highly reasoned one. I just want to pick up on two things.

        You refer to God giving people over (Rom 1) and the Father in the Prodigal Son as reasons for us to love sinners by handing them over to the consequences of their sin. In the former case clearly, and in the latter case by the analogy that the Father is God, these are acts are divine judgement. You refer to it this way when you say, “I think God is also loving in judgment in that there’s a proportionality, or ‘justice’ involved.” But judgement is the prerogative of God alone. Handing people over to judgement for their sins is something only he has the right to do. Christians are commanded not to judge in this way. Matt 7:1–2 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Surely it is playing God to step back and say, ‘I will use/decline my rights as a voting citizen in a way that means you receive God’s judgement now.’ When and if God desires, he hands sinners over to the next step of judgement, but his revealed will for his people is to be salt, light, truth-speakers, not judges of unbelievers.

        The second point is connected: even though God hands people over to judgement, he defends the voiceless, the oppressed. In this situation we have voiceless children involved, and are we to hand them over to judgement too? I don’t see how that’s loving.

        Reply
        1. Matt Purnell

          Hi Nathan, replying to an old comment here, so maybe you won’t see it. I think my comments are similar to those of Jordan, which you didn’t respond to. If I’m reading you rightly, I think you’re saying that a Christian who thinks homosexual behaviour is wrong, but who votes “Yes” in the postal plebiscite, could be acting in a way analogous to God when “he handed them over” (Romans 1). I don’t think this is analogous for two reasons. Firstly, God’s “handing them over” has an aspect of biblical “mystery” to it, insofar that somehow the moral responsibility of humans is not diminished despite God “handing them over”. That is, this is an example where God’s ways are higher than our ways. Secondly, we are not invited by the NT to “hand over” non-Christians to things that will harm them. On the contrary, we are called, for example, to “do good unto all people” (Gal 6:10). Voting “yes” in the plebiscite is “to hand over” people to something that will harm them (meaning society at large).

          Reply
        2. Nathan Campbell

          Hi Jordan (and Matt),

          I’m trying to articulate my position a little more clearly; I’m not trying to suggest we should join God in handing people over to judgment, or leave people in it.

          Let’s imagine that the person caught up in sin is a person in a ditch and that there’d be a way of seeing being stuck in the ditch as being the punishment of God, or the result of the curse.

          I’m not saying ‘because God put them there we should leave them there’…

          It’s a little more nuanced than that (I hope), but rather that because their seeing of the world (and marriage) is a result of their idolatry and God’s judgment for it the way back is not the proclamation of God’s law, or via secular law legislating for God’s ideals, the law condemns. That’s Paul’s argument in Romans.

          Trying to get a person out of the ditch of idolatry with the law is more like jumping on their heads, or filling the ditch and burying them.

          Same sex marriage is perhaps a law to make the ditch less harmful for those who choose to stay there (so perhaps they don’t harm themselves rather than living in the ditch, and so that perhaps any children they have while in the ditch are better cared for).

          The method God has given us for pulling people out of the ditch created by God’s judgment is not the law; but the Gospel (Romans 1:16). That’s what I’m saying; I think short of the Gospel it’s possible to think that it’s better to do as much as possible to make the ditch less dangerous and to maximise the person’s chances of hearing the Gospel well (by not trying to bury them). The analogy probably breaks down… but it’s the best I’ve goe.

          Re point 2.

          Same sex families already have kids. How should the government legislate to provide the best possible care and environment for them? I don’t see same sex marriage as handing them over to judgment but retrieving whatever good we can in the midst of judgment, short of the Gospel.

          Reply
          1. Matt Purnell

            Hi Nathan,

            Not sure I’m fully understanding you, but to test I am, I’ve turned your reply into a syllogism. Here goes…

            Premise 1. Non-Christians are in a “ditch” as a result of their sin / idolatry (It’s not clear what the ditch is. Also you attribute it to both sin and idolatry).
            Premise 2. Christians should make it easier for non-Christians to hear the gospel by alleviating the effects of the ditch.
            Premise 3. One way to alleviate the effects of the ditch for non-Christians who happen to be same-sex couples is to legalise same-sex marriage.
            Argument. Christians should support the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

            WRT Premise 1, what is the “ditch”, and what causes it?

            WRT Premise 2. If same-sex couples are in a “ditch”, how is doing them harm, going to alleviate the effects of the ditch? For I contend that same-sex relationships are not good for people, so how would encouraging people into them (by supporting SSM) be alleviating the effects of the ditch? It would do harm, not good. I see you’re arguing for a recovery ethic, but I don’t what good there is to recover here.

            Also, it sounds as if you perhaps think Christians should alleviate the effects of the ditch in order to share the gospel? If so, where do we see that in the NT? Granted we do see Christians doing good (= alleviating effects of the “ditch”?) but I would argue that this is not in order to get a hearing for the gospel (although it does commend the gospel). For example in Acts 28 on Malta, Paul apparently cannot share the gospel due to a lack of shared language (the natives were non-Greek speakers – v.5), yet he heals people (vv.8-9). Christians do good because that’s what Christians do (as people forgiven and transformed by God).

            WRT Premise 3. We seem to differ as to what goods to prioritise. For you it’s: A) Greater stability for same-sex couples (which I argue above is not actually a good) and care for any children they are raising (yes, I do think that is a legitimate good). But for me it’s: B) Children being raised in an environment that will, statistically speaking, give them the best care. I think that good B) should be given priority over A), and so Christians should vote against legalising SSM. This is because the legalisation of SSM will not, statistically speaking, give future children raised in same-sex households the best care.

            As an aside, I think it’s interesting that SSM proponents are not chiefly arguing for the second good you suggest (i.e. care of and environment for children). They are actually on the back-foot in the face of B) above, because their argument boils down to individual freedom over and against what’s best for society as a whole (including any children involved).

  14. Pingback: Responding to a Christian leader’s 10 Reasons for abstaining from the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage – The Lion & Phoenix

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  16. Rev Guido Kettniss

    To love my neighbour and not to compromise the Gospel, I want the best for my neighbour. And same sex union is not the best for the indivuduals, marriage, the family or society (as God Word clearly teaches). So out of love for God and out of love for my neighbour, I will encourage one and all to oppose same sex union.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi Guido,

      Thanks for commenting.

      “And same sex union is not the best for the indivuduals, marriage, the family or society (as God Word clearly teaches).”

      I agree. It’s not the best. I say that too.

      But I think the best is life in Jesus, and that end is furthered best by strong religious freedoms. And I see this as a potential choice between the two for us based on how we respond to those we disagree with and how much ground (in a secular space) we are prepared to compromise for the sake of living together as Australians.

      Reply
  17. David Palmer

    Hi Nathan,

    I’ve been sucked in again, partly by your non-answer, if not evasion to Guido’s post, sorry to be blunt, but that’s the way it came across.

    You obviously hit a bit of a raw nerve with this post.

    I’ve gone back to your original post that caused all the excitement.

    You took exception to our Moderator’s call in an email dated Aug 11, that requested every Presbyterian minister and elder to urge their congregations to vote No in the upcoming postal vote. He wrote earlier, Aug 1, setting out reasons for voting No. His posts can be viewed here: https://www.presbyterian.org.au/index.php/resources/moderator-s-comments. The Aug 11 version posted on the website is little more nuanced, though the message remains the same.

    In writing as he did, he was simply following the instruction given by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia meeting September 2016.

    That same Assembly issued a call which applies to all office bearers of the Presbyterian Church including you and I, and every other office bearer who has weighed in, as follows:

    the Assembly calls on:
    (i) all governments in Australia to refrain from any legislation to introduce so called “same-sex marriage”
    (ii) all members to oppose the introduction of any legislation for so called “same-sex marriage”

    A large part of the reason why you (Nathan) have received so much adverse comment to this post of yours is that you have gone directly against the call of the General Assembly. We can debate how binding that “call” is upon our individual consciences, but it can hardly be surprising for those of us who wish to honour the decision of the General Assembly and do so for conscience sake and the perceived welfare of our nation and its citizens, to take exception to both your bald statement,

    “I am broadly in favour of same sex marriage for religious freedom reasons”.

    and the reasons you have provided in support of it.

    Reply
    1. Nathan

      Hi David,

      Not requested. Urged. I heard his urging and said no. I believe his urging was competent. I believe the definition of marriage approved by the GAA is the correct one (I drafted the Queensland motion regarding the Marriage Act, which included the wording adopted).

      I believe that marriage is what we say it is. If the plebiscite question was “do you agree with the current definition of marriage” I would say yes. But that is not the question. The question is what the definition of marriage should be in a democracy, when people disagree and genuinely believe their rights and wellbeing depends on the definition changing. I believe they’re wrong. I believe their wellbeing depends on submitting to Jesus as Lord and putting their love for God above their love of sex and romantic intimacy. But for me, believing somebody is wrong in a democracy, and even that their wrongness is harmful, is not grounds to limit their desires.

      My reason being that I imagine a plebiscite, or similar debate, about Christianity on the basis that teaching kids about sin and hell is harmful and abusive; and a vote being held to decide if our beliefs should be legal, or if the state should intervene and take our children from us (or force us to have them educated in state schools). I imagine the way I hope my gay neighbours will vote when that time comes and it shapes the way I think voting might happen in this plebiscite. I also see the problems with a plebiscite being the mechanism for this decision, because I believe our democracy is a representative democracy precisely to put people in a position to weigh up competing visions of the good (rather than populism). So I don’t think participating in a plebiscite of any sort is a way to love, or advocating a plebiscite, is a good thing for Christians to do (but again, I recognise that other people have different views).

      Feel free to contact my session clerk and take matters further if you believe I’m in breach of my vows, or heterodox, on this basis. If I genuinely am no longer Presbyterian, I’d rather know sooner than later, and officially, rather than by being treated with suspicion by people I regard as brothers in Christ and partners in the Gospel.

      Reply
    2. Nathan

      I also believe that those Assembly decisions, if they were worded more strongly, would be an interesting polity nightmare when it comes to the role of the GAA; and that they would bind my conscience on an area of liberty, because I’m not disagreeing with the doctrine of the church, just how it is best applied in our political context.

      Reply
  18. Rev Guido Kettniss

    Nathan you argue in circles simply to prove a point you cannot prove. Of course life in Jesus is the only option, but our witness to this is to love our neighbour in Christ and work very hard at showing that. To leave him ignorant on how loving my neighbour works out in practice is to fail in loving God. In this case it is to work for the best of society by opposing same sex union, so that we will have the freedom to preach the Gospel, and our neighbour will be free to hear the Gospel. And while you may not agree with the Moderator’s Statement, I trust that you will not withhold that statement from your people. They have a right to know where the Presbyterian Church of Australia stands on the issue.
    For the sake of the Gospel,

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi again Guido,

      I don’t disagree with any of this.
      I do disagree with assemblies attempting to bind the conscience of members of the assembly, and beyond that, of our churches via statements that assume there is only one way to hold our doctrinal position and ‘skin the cat’… So like many other Presbyterian ministers in Queensland I won’t be passing on the moderator general’s statement.

      Reply
        1. Nathan Campbell

          Hi Barry,

          These were my vows:

          QUESTIONS FOR THE MINISTER-ELECT
          The congregation assenting, the following questions are put to the Minister-elect:
          (i) Do you believe the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to be the only rule of faith and practice?
          (ii) Do you own and accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, and read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union adopted by this Church on the 24th day of July, 1901, as an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of your faith; and do you engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power to assert, maintain and defend the same?
          (iii) Do you own and accept the purity of worship as practised in this Church?
          (iv) Do you own the Presbyterian form of government to be founded on the Word of God and agreeable thereto; and do you promise that through the grace of God, you will firmly and constantly adhere to, and to the utmost of your power, in your station, assert, maintain and defend the same?
          (v) Are zeal for the glory of God, love to the Lord Jesus Christ, and a desire to save souls, and not worldly interests or expectations (so far as you know your own heart), your great motives and chief inducements to the work of the Holy Ministry?
          (vi) Do you accept this Call, and promise through grace to perform all the duties of a faithful minister of the Gospel among this people?
          (vii) Do you promise to give conscientious attendance upon the Courts of the Church, and to direct your best attention to the business thereof, doing all in the spirit of faithfulness, brotherly kindness, and charity?
          (viii) Do you promise, in the strength of Divine Grace, to lead a holy and circumspect life, to rule well your own house, and faithfully, diligently, and cheerfully to perform all the parts of the ministerial work to the edifying of the body of Christ in love?
          (ix) All these things you profess and promise through grace, as you shall be answerable at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ?
          The General Assembly of 1933 declared that an ordained and inducted Minister is responsible to his Presbytery, and not to his Session, for the discharge of all the duties of his office. (B.B. 1933 Min. 161).

          Where do you think I am in breach?

          Where, in the Code, is the GAA actually responsible for this area? How the federal government defines marriage is not a doctrinal issue for the PCA, how we do within the church is.

          Reply
          1. Barry

            The problem is not one of legal nitpicking – it is of the heart:

            – I am a Presbyterian minister
            – I was involved in a GAA discussion, put my views, a different position was taken
            – I now actively promote a different position to that voted on at the GAA (don’t vote / abstain vs encourage support of a no vote)
            – I don’t let my Presbyterian church know that there was such a GAA position.

            If you are in the Pres church – and have argued for a position and there was a different outcome then you need to make it known even if you disagree with it.

            That’s what the Presbyterian governance means. Not – I pick and choose what I tell my congregation. That would be a Baptist or your own independent church.

  19. Pingback: A political theology (outlined): Or ‘why I’m not advocating Christians say nothing about politics’ | St. Eutychus

  20. Nick A

    One of the most acute liberal thinkers of our time, Joseph Raz, said this some decades ago about the ramifications of changes in social attitudes and legal definitions concerning marriage:

    “Consider the change in the Western attitude to marriage which accompanied the change from pre‐arranged marriages being the norm, to the general convention that the married should choose each other. The change has gone so far that any action by a parent which might be seen as an attempt to influence the choice of a spouse is frowned upon, however innocent it may be. Parents have to be very careful before introducing to their children anyone who is of suitable age and status to be a candidate for marriage. The move away from pre‐arranged marriages affects in a profound way the nature of the marriage bond. The free choice of partners is a major element determining the expectations spouses have of each other and the conventions which determine what is expected of their relations. The change to marriage as a self‐chosen partnership increased personal autonomy. But it did so not by superimposing an external ideal of free choice on an otherwise unchanged relationship. It did so by substituting a relationship which allows much greater room for individual choice in determining the character of the relationship for one which restricted its scope.

    More recent changes and tendencies in many countries legitimate not only choice of partner in marriage, but also choice whether to marry at all, cohabit without marriage, etc. These changes are uncertain and incomplete. Some tendencies, e.g. to communal families, or open marriages, may wither away. Others, e.g. homosexual families, may be here to stay. It is too early to have a clear view of the consequences of these developments. But one thing can be said with certainty. They will not be confined to adding new options to the familiar heterosexual monogamous family. They will change the character of that family. If these changes take root in our culture then the familiar marriage relations will disappear. They will not disappear suddenly. Rather they will be transformed into a somewhat different social form, which responds to the fact that it is one of several forms of bonding, and that bonding itself is much more easily and commonly dissoluble. All these factors are already working their way into the constitutive conventions which determine what is appropriate and expected within a conventional marriage and transforming its significance.”

    Joseph Raz, “The Morality of Freedom” (Oxford University Press, 1988), pp 392-4.

    Reply
  21. David Palmer

    Nathan,

    You say, “But for me, believing somebody is wrong in a democracy, and even that their wrongness is harmful, is not grounds to limit their desires.”

    That is a ridiculous statement. Desires and actions go hand in hand.

    We (i.e the nation) might as well disband the police force, let children do whatever they like, and so on. You diminish yourself saying something like this.

    I could go on, you offer so much fodder.

    I note you invite me to contact your Session Clerk. Actually, Presbytery polity would require me to contact your Presbytery. It is Presbytery that deals with such matters concerning ministers.

    I do think your support for same sex marriage contra the decision of last year’s Assembly, as I’ve laid the matter out in my previous post, does call your ordination vows into question. However, I, living outside Queensland, will not seek to test that proposition, it is for your colleagues in Queensland.

    I don’t know how it goes in Queensland, but down here in Victoria, we take our ordination vows seriously. In the context of our discussion here, the relevant questions that we are required to answer are:

    • Do you own and accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union adopted by this church on the 24th day of July, 1901, as an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scriptures and as a confession of your faith; and do you engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power to maintain and defend the same?
    • Do you own the Presbyterian form of government to be founded on the Word of God and agreeable thereto; and do you promise that, through the grace of God, you will firmly and constantly adhere to, and to the utmost of your power, in your station, assert, maintain and defend the same?
    • Do you promise to give conscientious attendance upon the courts of this church, and to direct your best attention to the business thereof, doing all in the spirit of faithfulness, brotherly kindness and charity?

    You (I and every other Presbyterian minister) were called upon by the General Assembly of Australia, to “to oppose the introduction of any legislation for so called same-sex marriage”; our Moderator General urged EVERY Presbyterian minister and elder … make the following announcement to your congregation on Sunday and then distribute widely in your church …” Yet, you say you won’t. You go further in your opposition. You say, “I am broadly in favour of same sex marriage for religious freedom reasons”.

    Well, yes, you do have liberty of conscience, but I want to put it to you, that it may reasonably be put to you that you are in breach of your ordination vows. A liberty of conscience, sincerely held, may lead you to conclude that you can no longer uphold your ordination vows.

    I also remind you that our liberty of opinion allowed on “matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine therein taught” is in fact a strictly limited liberty. Samuel Angus, the noted liberal in the PC(NSW) during the 1920s and 1930 spoke derisively of its value. Further, it is a liberty of opinion, not of expression.

    Reply
    1. Nathan

      Sorry. I miss typed. I was picturing my Presbytery clerk in my head as I wrote.

      I am confident that I am upholding my vows, upholding the definition of marriage from the Bible and the WCF, and respecting the wording of the motions from the 2016 GAA. I think WCF 20 is important here, and the declaratory statement when it comes to figuring out exactly how much our political context might have been envisaged by the Westminster Divines (or, for example, life in North Korea). I am happy to acknowledge that they have done their best to express Romans 13, but I think they perhaps read it in the context of a friendly government in a churched society, I am comfortable that the chapter on the magistrate is not the sort of doctrine the declaratory statement seeks to confine us to, but is why we still have a Supreme standard.

      On the matters I believe are ‘doctrinal’ not reflective of the culture of the divines’ day, I am able to uphold the WCF.

      I will never conduct a same sex marriage and have no desire to as I believe they fall outside God’s design for marriage; a design we must uphold within the church and promote to our society; again I see a distinction between promoting and voting; and I can’t stress how much I think a plebiscite is a destructive and immoral form of government; we know what happened when Pilate handed over a decision to the mob.

      Reply
      1. Nathan

        I can’t see how opinion and expression are distinct in this case; the GAA does not, so far as I’m aware, have the capacity to limit expression without a change to the formula, or an overture with barrier act procedure? My expressions, I believe, are consistent with having been urged.

        Please also note the limited sphere of my advice (or lack of) in my title; my congregation (and the pulpit I’ve been delegated within our charge under the authority of its moderator), just because this is online does not mean you are its audience.

        Reply
  22. David Palmer

    I like this statement of yours, Nathan.

    I will never conduct a same sex marriage and have no desire to as I believe they fall outside God’s design for marriage; a design we must uphold within the church and promote to our society.”

    Now just go a step further, unbend a little and do what our Moderator has asked you to do.

    Reply
  23. Phil Carter

    A few random thoughts and comments.

    I have a problem when the church’s theology is driven by opinion polls. Historically, it’s usually been the other way around – the church striving to change public opinion and influence society. Appeasement usually doesn’t work. Some may think that the churches which embrace SSM will attract people back into the church and the churches which oppose gay marriage will shrink. One quote I found says “Every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization on sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.” Yes, numbers may be declining across the board but it’s the fastest in these churches.

    If, as some argue, God has no problem with homosexuality and has no problem with SSM, then where are the homosexuals in the Bible? If homosexuals are 1-2% of the population, then why aren’t 1-2% of the characters in the Bible gay? Where are the gay marriages? We believe God has inspired the Bible, so why would He censor out any reference to the 1-2% of his people who were gay?

    Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian on Aug 12 2017 how both Liberals and Labor have given no thought to what follows if SSM is legalised. Yes, ministers of religion will be exempted from performing gay marriages but there’s been no thought to protecting those who object to SSM, whether for religious, racial, cultural or ethical reasons. Witness Sweden where ministers have been exempt – but not anymore. The Swedish Prime Minister was quoted as saying “I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife, [you] must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else. It is the same for priests who do not want to conduct same-sex weddings.” So much for the separation of church and state. Once the principle has been established it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the exceptions.

    Will schools be required to teach sexual orientation and gender re-assignment? The Jewish “Vishnitz Girls School” in the UK is about to be closed down because they refuse to. What of the employer who objects to their employee’s views on SSM? IBM Australia recently forced their executive Mark Allaby to resign his membership of a body perceived to oppose SSM if he wanted to keep his job.

    Will the Christian baker be prosecuted for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-homosexual message he deems offensive? And if the answer is “yes”, will the gay baker be prosecuted for refusing to bake a cake with an anti-homosexual message he deems offensive?

    In Bristol, UK, a street preacher was arrested for simply quoting the Bible and, in particular, its verses on homosexuality. How long before the Bible is hate speech?

    The Church of Scotland recently voted to allow the ordination of gay priests. They didn’t even bother trying to explain away what the Bible says about homosexuality. They agreed the Bible’s teaching is against homosexuality but it’s all cultural, they said, so doesn’t apply to us anymore.

    Most Christians would agree that homosexuality is a core issue. We’re not debating the colour of the carpets in the vestry. Google “Denny Burk” and find his article “Are evangelicals becoming more open to gay marriage?” If I can try to summarize, he makes the point that when churches and individuals steer away from the core issues they are more likely to continue that pattern with other core issues and eventually steer themselves right out of the church. He cites Rob Bell as an example. In fact, Burk doesn’t seem too fazed by the SSM debate arguing that God from time to time uses issues like this as a winnowing to sort out the wheat from the chaff in His church.

    Finally, have a look at John Anderson’s interview with Chris Uhlmann on Aug 8 2017. He says is “It’s a bit glib to say, as some do, all that will happen is that 23,000 Australians, that’s the rough estimate made, will have a new-found freedom, that it won’t affect anyone else. In fact, people at both ends of the spectrum, if you listen carefully to what they’re saying, are saying that profound changes are much further reaching than you might realise.”

    Reply
    1. Nathan Campbell

      I agree that the outcomes you are describing are quite possible. I’ve written about them extensively in other posts, I do think us ‘doing unto others’ is not in a bid to secure right treatment, but to show what that right treatment of others looks like, and that if we do it we’ve got a better chance of a hearing to explain how a secular/sacred divide doesn’t work for Christians (it’s not just about ministers); and it means that if we are treated unjustly we can still say ‘well, this isn’t how we treated you, given the chance’.

      “The Swedish Prime Minister was quoted as saying “I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife, [you] must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else. It is the same for priests who do not want to conduct same-sex weddings.” So much for the separation of church and state.”

      I’m reasonably sure Sweden has a state church, rather than separation of church and state.

      Can I be clear that I’m in no way wanting us to steer clear of a faithful and Biblical understanding of marriage as citizens of the kingdom of God living as exiles in Australia? I am not seeking to change to a more liberal position, but to hold the traditional position in an increasingly liberal society as a point of radical difference from the world.

      Reply
  24. Malcolm Davey

    Hi Nathan

    Wondering if you were going to follow up on your part 2 reply to Jordan?

    Specifically around the bit where he said
    “… I think of the opposition of Christians to slavery, foot-binding, widow-burning, cannibalism and innumerable other practices.”

    Or “What would Wilberforce do?”

    Reply
  25. Pingback: How (not what) to vote in the plebiscite in 11 (not easy) steps | St. Eutychus

    1. Nathan

      Are you aware of the controversy this has created amongst celibate same sex attracted Christians who are trying to subvert the ‘gay’ label in order to share the Gospel with the LGBT community?

      Reply
        1. Barry

          Jesus didn’t run a PR campaign when it came to sin – he called it what it was and told people he was the solution. How can the solution make sense without a clear delineation of what sin is?

          Reply
      1. Malcolm Davey

        I think this isn’t straight forward – what to do about gay “identity” in relation to “celibate gay” Christians. I’ve seen for example David Bennett’s discussions. For example, as David Ould has mentioned, does using the term “gay” caused problems for the “weaker brother”.

        Reply
          1. Barry

            What I can’t figure out is how you got to your position and hide away the holiness of God in a stated desire to not compromise the gospel. And…to a much lesser extent, publicly reject (“I” will not…..) stated PCA and PCQ positions. Is it that

            1. You love intellectual analysis and this has been a fascinating thought experiment
            2. You enjoy the attention your analyses bring
            3. You have some connections with a SSA person and feel obliged to soften the discussion
            4. Your PR experience gives you a lens that is seeing this as a campaign
            5. You are worried about a public backlash if you say aloud what the Bible says?

            Have any of these factors been in play?

          2. Nathan Campbell

            “Have any of these factors been in play?”

            As much as I know my own heart.
            1. Maybe. Do you mean ‘thought experiment’ pejoratively, or ‘here’s how what you genuinely believe being applied to the current debate’?

            I do try to think about things analytically, carefully, and imaginatively (and to challenge assumptions to see if they’re coherent).

            2. No. This has been the worst and most costly attention I’ve ever received; worse than when of one of the world’s angriest atheist bloggers sent hundreds of his minions to attack me. I have posted thousands of things on this blog, and consistently post very long things with the goal of not getting widespread attention but articulating and developing my understanding of the world.

            3. Well yes, in that I think all political Christianity needs to be first pastoral Christianity and evangelistic Christianity and I have same sex attracted people, and a same sex parent in my church, and in my family, and I have same sex attracted friends who aren’t Christians; but ‘no’ because I don’t think calling something idolatry softens it; it just explains it in language that I think better accounts for the departure from God’s design at the heart of this debate, and that better opens up conversations using categories people share.

            4. Probably.

            5. No. I genuinely think that what I’m saying is consistent with what the Bible says; I think to say anything of God’s law, without Jesus, misrepresents God because Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law. So I’m saying public proclamations on an issue that is produced by idolatry, without the Gospel, are not how we should approach things, and that this particular public conversation, if viewed through the lens of idolatry, becomes an issue of religious freedom in both directions.

            I wrote my latest post, in part, as a response to some of your questions Barry: http://st-eutychus.com/2017/why-calling-something-idolatry-is-not-soft-pedalling-on-sin-and-how-idolatry-is-breath-takingly-dangerous/

  26. Malcolm Davey

    HI Nathan

    Still looking forward to your thoughts on Wilberforce, and how/when we should shouldn’t do what he did (as Jordan’s comment pointed to)

    Cheers,

    Reply
  27. Pingback: Why calling something idolatry is not ‘soft-pedalling’ on sin; and how idolatry is breath-takingly dangerous | St. Eutychus

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