Archives For Australian Christian Lobby

This is probably the most important post in my recent series of ACL related posts – it’s the one objection that keeps cropping up when these posts start doing the rounds on Facebook – and I think it’s reasonably important ground to cover.

It’s probably the longest post I’ve ever written. It’s over 5,000 words long, plus a picture containing more words. I’d split it, but I don’t want to extend this series any further than it needs to be… in sum, to save you reading…

I start by clearing up some of the issues people have raised in response to my previous posts – in the comments here, and on Facebook.

Then I provide my rationale for making my criticisms public, alongside a framework I try to operate in (though I acknowledge that I fail in this area). My points are:

  1. It’s a gospel issue.
  2. The damage is public.
  3. To equip others.
  4. Because disagreement, and the ability to disagree, in public, should not put “Christian unity” at risk.

I want to make a few important points to begin with…

1. I am sure that the people involved in the ACL are Christians who love Jesus. From what I know of their ministries outside of the ACL – particularly Jim Wallace and Wendy Francis – they are concerned that people know Jesus. My problem is that they seem unwilling to see this translate into the positions they adopt in public discourse under the auspices of the ACL.

2. It is only really the public presence of the ACL, especially in the media, that bothers me – I have no idea what they do behind closed doors as they meet with politicians – which is doubtless where they see their main contribution in the political process. Like it, or loathe it, much lobbying now takes place via the media – and it is in the media where they are presented as the voice of Australian Christians – whether the ACL thinks of themselves that way or not. Their website makes this claim:

“The ACL does not seek to be the peak political voice for the church, but to be a professional witness to Christ in the Australian Parliaments which allows for the voice of the church and individual Christians to be more respectfully received in the public square.”

If parliament is where they want to do their work then they should say no to media appearances. Or be careful when they take on such media appearances not to speak beyond their remit, or be represented as the voice of Christianity in Australia. They are treading a fine line when it comes to their stated aim regarding the impact they have on the voice of the church and individual Christians in the public square if they are squeezing those Christians out of the public square.

3. I’m not suggesting the ACL should only talk about Jesus. That’s clearly not their function. I do have issues with their function – but I recognise their right to exist in a democracy. Rather, I’m suggesting they should start by, and possibly end by, talking about Jesus as the foundation of any moral position, and a relationship with Jesus (not legislation) being the true answer to any brokenness they identify in society. Even if this is edited out by journalists who are only interested in controversy (and I don’t think most journalists are like that, in my experience) – at least we could point to their work and say “context is important” – at the moment there is no real context for the moral proclamations the ACL makes except “this is what the law in Australia has always been like thanks to our Christian heritage”… this means, conversely, that I will not as one person suggested shut up about the ACL and just talk about Jesus – tackling issues from a gospel framework is important for our witness to the world. I will always talk about Jesus as I point out the shortcomings of how Christianity is represented in the public square. I can’t see any of my posts about the ACL where I haven’t done that.

4. I’m also not suggesting that evangelism is the ACL’s function. Nor that the ACL is “the Church.” It is not the ACL’s job to evangelise, but it is the ACL’s job to think about how what they say helps or hinders this job for others. I’d also say that when the ACL is in the public sphere representing Christians – they also need to be representing Jesus, and presenting their activities in the context of the gospel message. I am suggesting that when the exercise of their function is damaging to evangelism and the work of the church they’re not fulfilling their charter as a parachurch organisation – and when they “go rogue” like this it is the church’s job to call them out for it. If the damage is done in public – to the church’s witness to Jesus – then the response needs to be public to undo such damage.

5. Christian unity is in Christ – not in a conservative political position or our “Christian heritage” – one of the constant criticisms when my posts hit the interwebs is that Christian disunity is unattractive to non-Christians. And there is a fundamental truth there that I agree wholeheartedly with. It would be much better for our witness if we all just got along – but if there’s one thing church history shows us – it’s that it’s unlikely we’re all going to get along, and it’s especially unlikely when people stop being united on the main thing – Jesus, and the next main thing – loving one another as a testimony to our relationship with Jesus (John 13:35). This is part of the reason Paul tells Christians not to sue each other in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6). I’m going to argue below that this is not the only passage that has any bearing on public disagreements between Christians, because it’s not really saying “don’t argue with each other in public” – though it provides an ethical paradigm to work from, which does value unity.

6. I do believe that Matthew 18:15-17 is relevant here, though not as relevant as some suggest. I think raising a disagreement with the party involved is a valuable exercise – though I don’t think these verses are directly applicable (I flesh this out more below). I have discussed my problem with the ACL with them directly, and at some length, without fruit. I will always give them an opportunity to respond to what I write, and notify them when I have written about them. I’m not sure if I think the ACL is “sinning by omission” but I think they’re doing public relations, and public Christianity, in an unhelpful way.

I think that 1 Peter 3:15 is probably as important – I suspect the gentleness and respect that we’re to show to outsiders should be typical of our dialogue with each other. I need to be better at speaking in love when directing my writing at Christians, there is a remarkable difference in tone between my posts to Christians, and those aimed at non-Christians. Though perhaps this is the difference between “rebuke” and evangelism.  2 Timothy 2 is also particularly pertinent (but note that it doesn’t say “don’t disagree” or anything about the context of the disagreement (be it public or private)…

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

I will say that I do not think this is a foolish or stupid argument, but a wildly important one.

“23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Ephesians 4 is also relevant… but again, maintaining unity doesn’t mean avoiding criticism. Criticism doesn’t equal disunity except in the most modern adversarial approaches to life. I’ve bolded the bits I think are relevant to this post.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord,one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

I find it hard to think of truthfully telling other Christians to talk more about the foundational truth of Jesus -who changes our approach to morality –  as something that doesn’t build them up, or something that grieves the Spirit.

7. I am predominantly driven by concern for my non-Christian friends with what I write here. I hope my posts are helpful for other Christians in clarifying issues, and providing a framework for thinking about how public relations, evangelism, ethics and Christianity fit together. I am really only claiming to be anything like an expert on the public relations side of things, and I claim that reluctantly and mostly on the basis that people still pay me a fair amount of money in that field. I write these posts, and I share them as widely as possible, because I want any non-Christian friends who I hope to be a witness to through what I speak about, how I speak about it, and how I live, to know that I don’t think the gospel looks or sounds like it does when the ACL gets on a platform and whether intentionally or otherwise, makes unhelpful comparisons between things to further a political agenda that I do not always share.

8. I think it is really important not to water down sin, but I think it’s more important not to water down the gospel into “don’t sin”… I’m pretty careful when I’m writing not to suggest that the moral issues at the heart of the ACL’s campaigns aren’t moral issues (though I do think there’s a profoundly important difference between homosexual temptation and homosexual practice when it comes to sin). I’m not saying that Christians should never speak about morality – I’m just saying when we do it should always be in the context of what Jesus has done, and who Jesus is. And my preference would be to lead with that, then talk about sin, then talk about Jesus again – who Jesus is in relationship to the world makes what the Bible says about morality important, here’s what the Bible says about this moral issue, the good news is that even though we all fail morally, Jesus died in our place, taking our punishment – and he offers a restored relationship with God freely.

It’s not really that hard. You simply say: As Christians we follow Jesus, who we believe is Lord of all, and restores our relationship with the God who created everything. We believe God created the world in a way that makes this behaviour wrong, and while a case can be made from nature, we base our opinion on what he has revealed in his word, the Bible, which shaped our legislation in this country historically, and we think a better case needs to be made for moving away from this foundation. We believe that people are broken – including us – by a desire to not live this way, but God sent Jesus as a first step towards fixing us, and now works through his Spirit to help Christians live his way.”

Obviously I’ve argued elsewhere that because the Spirit is only active in regenerating Christians the case for legislating Christian morals with the expectation that people will keep them is fairly weak, but others have different opinions regarding the uses and efficacy of God’s law.

That’s a rather long preamble, and it has touched on the points I’m going to make below. But this is important stuff to think through well – because it’s important for how the gospel is presented and understood by the people we live, work, study, and play with…

Why I will criticise the ACL in Public: It’s a Gospel issue

If I didn’t think that failing to even mention Jesus when you’re talking about the brokenness of humanity and the solutions that human rights provide was a problem, I wouldn’t be critical. But if people think this is what the church thinks is the solution to a broken world – we have a problem. The solution to the problem of sin, at a social level, and for the individual, is for people to know Jesus as Lord.

The ACL is pushing a Christendom styled solution to a post-Christendom society. While 62% of Australians culturally identify as Christians, less than 20% are churchgoers – which I would suggest is a much better measure of Australia’s commitment to Christianity. Of that 20% there’s an incredible diversity of political affiliation and even a diversity of understanding of what the gospel is, who Jesus is, and what sin is. The “Christian constituency” is a myth.

Why I will criticise the ACL in Public: They are operating in public, the damage they do is public

I don’t think of myself as an ACL watchdog. Or watchblog. I’m not waiting for them to stuff up so that I can criticise them. There are more than 5,000 posts on this blog, and probably 15 of them are about the ACL. I could count – but you can check it out yourself. I often blog about other Christians in the public sphere, and how to do PR stuff without mentioning the ACL. I want that to be clear. Some people only pay attention when I pick on the ACL… but they’re not a particular “bee in my bonnet”…

I try very hard to abide by the principles of publicly criticising people that Tim Keller posted here, because I think they’re really useful guidelines (and part 2 – which is part 3 of a bigger series).

1. Carson’s RuleYou don’t have to follow Matthew 18 before publishing polemics.

Don Carson wrote an Editorial on Abusing Matthew 18 in which he addresses the often-made argument that a Christian should not publicly write criticism of other Christians’ theological views without going to them first, privately, citing Matthew 18. But Carson points out that this passage is talking about two people in the same church, or at least in the same ecclesiastical connection, since if the two parties disagree the whole matter can be taken to “the church,” meaning the congregation and its leaders…

…In short, if someone is publicly presenting theological views that are opposed to sound doctrine, and you are not in the same ecclesiastical body with this person (that is, there is no body of elders over you both, as when, for example, both of you are ministers in the same denomination,) then you may indeed publicly oppose those without going privately to the author of them. Carson does add a qualifier, but that comes under the next rule.

2. Murray’s RuleYou must take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of someone’s views.

If someone can demonstrate that I have misrepresented them I will retract, edit, and apologise for such a misrepresentation.

“Don Carson says that if you have strong concerns about Mr A’s views, and you are considering publishing a critique, it may be wise to go to Mr A first, but “not out of obedience to Matthew 18, which really does not pertain, but to determine just what the views of the [other person] really are.”…

… This is very sobering. In our internet age we are very quick to dash off a response because we think Mr A promotes X. And when someone points out that Mr A didn’t mean X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize, or maybe we don’t even do that. John Murray’s principle means that polemics must never be “dashed off.” Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr A believes and promotes before you publish.”

I slightly diverge from Carson and Keller here – because I think being able to provide an immediate response to the perceived position of Mr A is vital for limiting some of the damage, and it’s the nature of blogging or reporting to be producing content as quickly as possible or you miss the moment. It’s PR 101. But I am pretty careful to read closely, as sympathetically as possible, and to update posts where necessary. Sometimes I’m not as sympathetic to the ACL as I should be – and I apologise. I’m always happy to rewrite sentences that impugn someone’s character or motives if they’re pointed out. I think my responsibility is to be mindful of the potential of misrepresenting others.

3. Alexander’s RuleNever attribute an opinion to your opponent that he himself does not own.

They were to “strive for truth, not victory” and they were to “know when to put a stop to controversy. It is a great evil in keeping it up” unnecessarily. He also urged them to not go public with criticism unless the error was very dangerous and important. Like Lloyd-Jones and (as we will see) John Calvin, Alexander taught that the ultimate purpose of controversy was to persuade and win over people in error. Therefore we must “avoid whatever is apt to create prejudice in opponents or auditors.” In other words, we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views.

These other principles are similar:

4. Gillespie’s Rule A – Take your opponents’ views in total, not selectively.

5. Gillespie’s Rule B – Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.

I do try to avoid guess work regarding the motives of certain people, and wherever possible, my understanding of the ACL comes from their own website, publications, and media releases – rather than the mainstream media. However, I think, when it comes to the public sphere – that it’s just as important to understand the public perception of the people you’re engaging with. The ACL may not seem to be the “peak body” – but it is certainly the “go to” organisation on public policy debates so far as the media is concerned, and as long as their annual report says:

“… the regular mentions of ACL in the media demonstrate that ACL is continuing to mature as a player in the Australian political landscape. It has become the go to organisation for Christian commentary on so many of the major issues facing Australia…”

I’ll be questioning whether their commentary is essentially “Christian”… which I think means it has to contain the gospel.

I’ll be dealing with this last principle substantively in the last point.

6. Calvin’s Rule – Seek to persuade, not antagonize, but watch your motives!

“In short, it is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of a self-centeredness, rather than a God-centeredness. We may do it to be popular. On the other hand, it is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we should be sure our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.”

7. Everybody’s Rule: Only God sees the heart—so remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology.

I’ve probably fallen foul of this one  a couple of times – in part because I think the very act of lobbying is counter to the gospel - in part because at times I have been critical of people alongside being critical of what they’ve said. But I will say again, as I have said above, and in previous posts – I do not doubt that the ACL is an organisation of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I agree with some of the criticism that has accused me of resorting to ad hominems on occasion – and I’ll strive to do that less, and to apologise more. And I’ll also be taking some principles from John Newton, cited in Keller’s third post on the rules (and fourth post in the series).

“But no one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton, in his well-known“Letter on Controversy.” Newton says that first, before you begin to write a single word against an opponent, “and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.” This practice will stir up love for him and “such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” Later in the letter Newton says, “Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who ‘when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.’ ”

Why I will criticise the ACL in Public: To equip others

Because I believe that Christianity, and especially Jesus, has an essential place at the table in public discussion, I want other people who want to participate in public discussion to have resources for thinking about how they might do that. I do have a certain level of expertise in this area that I haven’t really seen demonstrated elsewhere in the evangelical scene in Australia – and I’m constantly reaching out to other Christian experts in this field, or even secular experts, for feedback on these posts. People have told me that previous posts have been helpful for them, people like Mike O’Connor, in Rockhampton, who had this piece published in the Rockhampton paper this week (you can read a little more about where the paper slightly exaggerated his position here (though I’m not sure if you need to be his friend to read it)):

Mike O'Connor Facebook

Why I will criticise the ACL in Public: Because we need to grow up and move past the bizarre idea that robust criticism necessarily indicates disunity

I’m fairly certain that apart from one unfortunate moment when I referred to the ACL as pharisees, I’ve never actually suggested they weren’t Christians. I apologised for saying that, and even at that point I didn’t think that the ACL weren’t Christians, just that they were in danger of misrepresenting the gospel in a manner consistent with the Pharisees’ understanding of how to relate to God.

Paul pretty publicly criticises people in his writings (Paul affirms Peter’s apostolic authority (Gal 2:6-8) but also records, in writing, in the most public book of the last 2,000 years, that he “opposed Peter to his face” (Gal 3:1-19) because a moral position he has adopted is inconsistent with Christian unity in the gospel of Jesus, and he’s doing their witness to the Gentiles a disservice. His words, I think are both pertinent and paradigmatic for this discussion:

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners,doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Paul also pretty publicly names Euodia and Syntyche, in the midst of trying to correct them, in a public document that was to be read in the context of the church gathering where there would be presumed to be a mix of Christians and non-Christians (cf 1 Corinthians 14:24-25)… urging them to be united in Christ – and he still regards them as co-workers in the gospel (Phil 4:2-3).

There’s nothing to suggest that when the Bible suggests people aren’t doing a great job at representing the gospel that they’re not Christians (I’m thinking particularly of Acts 15:36-41 which records a sharp disagreement about John Mark’s approach to ministry). It seems that calling one another out, in public isn’t a threat to Christian unity. I’m not saying I wouldn’t sit down and have a cuppa with people from the ACL, nor that I don’t think they are Christians, simply that when they speak they are not speaking for me, because I don’t think they’re speaking the gospel.

This isn’t a lawsuit between believers. I’m not taking the ACL to court to shut them up. I’m not launching any official action against them for falsely representing me as some Christians did with a political party calling itself Australian Christians, when they wrote to the Victorian Electoral Commission. And I don’t think that’s really the point Paul is making in 1 Corinthians. Corinth had a culture of vexatious litigation being used as a status booster where people would sue people for the boost in status a victory would bring – this was a problem because it denied the reality of who they were, in Jesus.

I’d feel convicted by this passage if my attacks on the ACL were in any way simply an attempt to boost traffic here by picking on an easy and unpopular target. But I feel sick to the stomach when the ACL makes it harder for people to know Jesus – and that’s my motivation. I truly want the ACL to do a better job of talking about Jesus – if that wasn’t the case I’d stop making that the substance of my criticism.

Further, upping your status at the expense of other believers – which Paul again deals with when he’s talking about idol food in 1 Cor 8-11 – is bad because they distract people from the true basis of their unity – Christ. So from 1 Corinthians 8:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

He concludes this argument in chapter 10.
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

My argument from these passages, and the whole of Corinthians, is that we’re to be united around Christ, for the purpose of winning people over – and reading the conclusion of Paul’s argument about how the Corinthians are living in the world back into chapter 6, I’m arguing that the problem with lawsuits amongst believers is that they ruin the testimony of what Christ is doing in our lives. My problem with the way the ACL approaches the public sphere is that they run the risk of ruining our testimony about Christ. That’s why I don’t think this passage applies.

I think it’s possible to robustly criticise each other, in the public sphere, so that non-Christians know we take the gospel seriously. That we are prepared to be robust with each other, while in fellowship, because we want to get the gospel right. The idea that we should hide our divisions behind closed doors will lead to the conclusion that we don’t actually care about this stuff enough to speak about our differences.

It’s a product of our immature approach to politics in our country – where opposition is loud, adversarial, and dramatic – to think that any disagreement is bad and unhelpful. This plays out in all sorts of really harmful ways in society and leaves us with anaemic, politically correct, solutions to issues because nobody is passionate enough to come to improved resolutions through conflict. If we run away and bury our heads in the sand, say that criticism itself is wrong by nature of being public, or refuse to be sharpened through discourse then we’re going to end up with a fairly weak presence in the public sphere anyway.

UPDATE: Also – a few other people have suggested that we should just be thankful the ACL does the hard work that the church isn’t doing, and wear the cost of the gospel being obscured, or use the controversy they generate as opportunities for “conversations”… the main theme of these comments is that we should let God work through the bad teaching, or the imperfect vessel…

I’d say this is a little unhelpful, and short sighted – if you want the ACL to continue surely you want it to be getting ready as it responds to, and engages, with criticism from Christians as well as non-Christians. Plus part of the “conversations” it generates are conversations where we have to distance ourselves from the ACL anyway – if we want to be properly representing and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. So this is, in a sense, exactly what posts like this are doing – they’re continuing the conversation.

Letting such “imperfect vessels” go uncorrected is pretty dangerous and will lead to a weak, confused, and potentially liberal presentation of the gospel. Better to robustly and lovingly offer correction – whether in public (so that you’re loving the audience of these “vessels” as well), or in private.

UPDATE 2 (update 1 is at the bottom of the post) – I have edited the post for clarity in a couple of places. The original paragraphs are at the bottom of the post.

It’s been a while since I last felt the need to write anything about how disappointed I am in the way the Australian Christian Lobby claims to represent Christians, and Jesus, in the Australian public square. This should be understood as a sign that they were being less offensive than usual – because it’s not as if I didn’t keep checking their media releases… But today’s clanger will take some undoing.

Jim Wallace, in a public debate with Greens leader Christine Milne, in question time, compared the health burden caused by the homosexual lifestyle with the health burden caused by cigarette smoking to essentially suggest that the government should be treating homosexuality like it treats smoking. He didn’t say that specifically. But read this:

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years.”

“The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”

Even if this is true – and the health stats are pretty popular with organisations like the ACL, and he attributes them to the homosexual community’s own research, so one expects they’re based on some sort of research, and at least alluding to the spectre of HIV/AIDS – even if this is absolute fact – it’s incredibly wrong headed and harmful for three reasons.

First. Smoking is a behavioural choice in a way that homosexual orientation is not – it is either environmentally (probably) or biologically (possibly) wired into the psyche. Comparisons between the two simply because they come with a health cost are a bit misleading on that front.

EDIT: This is not to say that those who experience unwanted same sex attraction as an orientation are unable to move towards heterosexuality, nor to say that homosexuality is never a choice. Sexual orientation is best understood on a sliding scale and is, to a degree, malleable – with the amount of change possible an individual issue END EDIT.

Second. The health issues associated with homosexuality are, at least in part (EDIT: neither as big a part as public perception suggests, nor so small as to be statistically meaningless END EDIT), the result of the posture and approach that members of the church, aspects of Christian doctrine, and unnuanced statements by people like Jim Wallace (in this instance), and those claiming to speak for all Christians have assumed with regards to this issue.

These health issues are not necessarily linked to homosexuality. But I would suggest that homosexuality is involved in a causal chain – both internatlly and externally driven – that can lead to situational depression, which can lead to drug use and suicide, I suspect the way the church has at times pushed guaranteed “solutions” to unwanted same sex attraction” in the form of conversion to heterosexuality can probably lead to an unhealthy amount of guilt associated with temptation – not even with homosexual practice. While these are possible for some individuals – at times an end point of a celibate struggle with natural orientation may be the more realistic, and Biblical, goal – see my Eunuchs for the Kingdom essay for more of my thinking, and research, in this area.
Want to make someone feel bad for what they are naturally inclined to do – tell the world that schools should be educating kids not to do it. I’m not interested in arguing that homosexual practice is good for one’s health, or for one’s standing before God – but the mental health issues associated with homosexuality are, so far as public perception and the accounts of members of the gay community, related to the way homosexuality is spoken about and treated, and the church has had a role in this by not carefully and pastorally dealing with the issue and by perpetuating, or not speaking out against bigotry conducted in the name of Jesus.

Third. Where is Jesus in all of this? This is my perennial criticism of the ACL. It’s possible to talk about Jesus when you’re talking about homosexuality. Look. Other people managed it on national television here. I did it here. And here. Before you get to defending marriage. If the ACL is more interested in banging on about the traditional definition of marriage at every turn, especially in the midst of a conversation about the tragedy of shortened life spans through drugs and suicide in the homosexual community, then it needs to CHANGE ITS NAME. Call yourself the Australian Traditional Marriage Lobby. Or the Traditional Relationships And Marriage Party (TRAMP). Get the word “Christian” out of articles like this.

It didn’t get any better outside the heat of debate, when Wallace had a chance to nuance his statements.

“But what I’m saying is we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems and … normalising the lifestyle by the attribution of marriage, for instance, has to be considered in what it does encouraging people into it.”

He’s perpetuating the idea that people will suddenly want to be gay – that’s such a small percentage of people in studies of the etiology (origins) of homosexuality that it’s practically an outlier. Then. He gets worse…

“I am very sorry for that. My heart goes out to those people. But it is a fact.”

Those people? I can’t help but interpret this as a bit of otherising. They aren’t “those” people, as though a new category. We are people. It seems to me that it’s only possible to capitalise on tragedy like this if you’re prepared to make some sort of distinction between you and them.

Here’s how the ACL promoted the debate on its website:

“Only in cutting through claim and counter claim to truth, can the rights of not just the loudest or the most powerful be guaranteed but the disenfranchised, the most marginalised, those without a voice. In this debate on same sex marriage there is such a voice – it is the voice of the child.”

They could call themselves the Australian Children’s Lobby without even changing their web address.

You don’t re-enfranchise the disenfranchised and marginalised by marginalising others, and once again, you don’t get yardage in the public debate by capitalising on human tragedy. This is a lesson the ACL needs to learn. Suicide is not a pawn in the chess game of Australian marriage legislation. You don’t offer hope with a defence of traditional marriage – you offer hope with Jesus and the opportunity of a long term identity defining relationship with him.

UPDATE – Jim Wallace’s actual speech from the debate is here. It’s marginally better – because it doesn’t you know, suggest that we should apologise to smokers for not taking the health risk of homosexuality seriously… But it’s still bad. The only time he mentions Jesus is to establish the value of children…

And not just that, but a mother and father that as much as the law is able to encourage, will love that child and sacrifice for its best interests as willingly as it biological parents should or would have.

Now unfortunately even with the best intent we have done this imperfectly – to the great detriment of children. Those who Jesus put on His knee and said it would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a stone around your neck than to harm one of these.

But this gay activists’ agenda now means that we do it imperfectly intentionally.”

The implicit take home message – though clearly unintentional – is that Jesus, like the ACL, only cares about children – there’s nothing said about how a relationship with Jesus might help anybody else.

He mentions God once too.

“But thanks to politics, the support of parties scrambling in this unholy game we’ve turned the great idea of democracy into, politicians have decided to play God and deny a child its natural right and succumb to this selfish and increasingly vitriolic voice of gay activism.”

Perhaps the worst part is that he starts, in his opening gambit, with the fall. And its impact on human society.

“Of course though we don’t live in a perfect world – it’s what Christians instead call a fallen world.  It’s this imperfect state that the Church has wrestled with against tyranny and injustice, man’s inhumanity to man in slavery and the civil rights movement, abuse of power even within the Church and today daily on its streets and overseas against poverty and injustice.”

 AND THEN SAYS NOTHING ABOUT JESUS AS THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF THE FALLEN WORLD.

Let me say that again. He talks about the problem of sin – and offers no solution – except to make sure children live with their parents.

The only answer he provides is completely secular.

“In a secular world we have to ensure that everyone has justice and particularly that everyone’s human rights are protected.”

What’s the point of being a “Christian” Lobby if all you’re doing is claiming to protect human rights?

UPDATE 2 – the original paragraphs that have been edited above so that the comments below make sense…

First. Smoking is a behavioural choice in a way that homosexual orientation is not…

“The health issues associated with homosexuality are, at least in part, the result of the posture and approach people like Jim Wallace have assumed with regards to this issue. Want to make someone feel bad for what they are naturally inclined to do – tell the world that schools should be educating kids not to do it. I’m not interested in arguing that homosexual practice is good for one’s health, or for one’s standing before God – but the mental health issues associated with homosexuality are demonstrably related to the way homosexuality is spoken about and treated, and the church has had a role in this by not carefully and pastorally dealing with the issue and by perpetuating, or not speaking out against bigotry conducted in the name of Jesus.”

“Those people? How’s that for a bit of otherising. They’re not a special category of people. They are people. We are people. It’s only possible to capitalise on tragedy like this if you’re prepared to make some sort of distinction between you and them.”

 

A little while back somebody on Facebook suggested that I seemed to not like the Australian Christian Lobby but not say why. I thought that was odd, because I thought it was self evident. I don’t like the Australian Christian Lobby because by not talking about Jesus and talking about issues, they are presenting a message that is not the good news of grace, but the bad news of law and morality.

But that challenge got me thinking, as did a question raised on my last Christian/politics rant, asking whether I’m suggesting there’s no place for Christian lobbying. Other people have previously also suggested it seems by being opposed to the ACL, careful when it comes to trying to “protect marriage” by legislation, and wary of government funding for school chaplaincy, that I’m advocating some sort of political quietism. My answer to this suggestion has always been that I’m not pushing for quietism, but that I think we need to be careful with how we raise issues. I think our priority, in any public “Christian” statements, should be to be Christian. To be clear about the gospel, and not making the gospel unclear by adding layers of morality. As it stands, most Christian contributions to public debate are incoherent because of several fatal methodological and philosophical/theological flaws.

First, the ACL seems to me to be a modernist organisation speaking to a post-modern world. They’ve got no sense of needing to use narrative or stories, rather than proclamation of absolutes, in order to change people’s thinking. This is why it appears that the gay marriage issue is splitting a generation in the US, and in Australia. This is also where I think the ACL ultimately fails on the communication front – their proclamations of right and wrong are too abstracted from real life, they never show the human face of what they’re talking about, but rather engage in high fallutin logical arguments about where society will head if changes are made. People want to know how an issue will change life for them. The pro gay marriage lobby has made the issue all about real couples who are wanting their real love recognised by the government. We haven’t been able to combat that because our arguments are just “this is wrong therefore don’t do it,” or perhaps worse “(the) God (you don’t believe in) says this is wrong.” This is why I’ve argued elsewhere that not only is it important to show how a moral stance relates to the gospel, because that keeps the gospel clear, it’s also important to show how the moral stance comes from a cohesive and legitimate worldview. Otherwise we’re just playing politics like it’s a numbers game, and the numbers are going to change (I’ll get to this below).

Second, the ACL comes from a pseudo ecumenical standpoint, aiming to speak for all Christians. Which is problematic because while Christians might broadly agree about moral issues, they’ll have some pretty fundamental disagreements about the root cause, and how to fix it. So, for example, reformed Christians believe that all people are totally sinful, that sin is natural, and that choosing to follow God requires divine intervention, while Catholics have a much higher anthropology where people are essentially a blank slate, and can naturally choose to follow God. There’s no way we’re going to articulate the gospel the same way when we’re talking about issues – as we saw from George Pell’s appearance on Q&A. If the ACL’s stakeholders can’t actually agree on what the gospel, or the Christian message on moral issues is, then the so-called “Christian” case is never going to be clearly presented.

While most theists, even Muslims, will agree on issues of the sanctity of life, and sexual morality, once you chuck Christian in your name you’d want to start speaking from the points of common ground for all creedal churches, which means sticking to Jesus. The fact that Catholics and protestants, and even types of protestants (so your Liberals, your Arminians who have a slightly more Catholic understanding of human nature, your fundamentalists who want to enshrine Old Testament Laws) disagree so completely on what it means to be a human, and what it means to have a relationship to God, or to live as one of his people (ie a Christian), means anything beyond this common ground is going to become incredibly difficult to articulate in a convincing, cohesive and winsome manner. If the Australian Christian Lobby isn’t speaking about Jesus then they can’t really claim to be speaking for Australian Christians, after that point we’re a very broad church, so broad that even speaking about Jesus doesn’t necessarily represent those who claim the moniker. This the fundamental reason I don’t think an ecumenical approach to social action works – but I can see that in order to mount a convincing political argument in this poll driven iteration of politics, that suggesting you’ve got a big bunch of voters who vote in a block standing behind your statements is politically expedient and a good strategy for lobbying. Which again leads me to my next point…

Thirdly. I don’t think Christians should be lobbying. The role of special interest groups in distorting the political landscape, where better organised and funded activists produce non democratic results, is a blight on the modern system, no matter how well intentioned the lobbyists are. Decisions should be made on what is the right thing to do, on the strength of an argument, whether there is one voice behind it, or a thousand. By participating in lobbying we’re not speaking against a broken system, but using it for our own gains. We’re perpetuating the broken, market driven, approach to democracy, a system the social tide is slowly turning against. And it’s seriously going to come back to bite us – either if “lobbying” becomes vastly unpopular quickly, or if a well organised anti-Christian lobby led by people of my generation as they come into positions of power run a cleansing campaign to finally remove Christianity from public life in Australia.

The idea that Christians should somehow be using political clout, obtained through numbers, to enshrine our worldview, might seem appealing in the short term, but, given the two objections outlined above – namely that there’s a whole generation of people who are watching how the church does politics, and being turned off church, and a whole generation of people listening to what the Christian voice is saying, and not hearing the gospel, we should probably be rethinking how we do political engagement anyway.

I’d argue that employing the language of “lobbying” presents a really harmful message for the non-Christian. We don’t like the tobacco lobby. We don’t like the gun lobby. We don’t like the gay lobby. We don’t like the climate lobby. We don’t like people putting special interests ahead of the common good – which is exactly what “lobbying” implies, it speaks to a strategic organising of people to push their own agenda. It speaks of an unhelpful approach to power and the state which I don’t think is really consistent with the counter-cultural message of the gospel. Particularly for those in my camp, the reformed evangelical types, who think that human nature has been broken by sin, where sin is the natural state of affairs for all people, and the Holy Spirit is required for real change of behaviour, we’re never going to be starting from the same presuppositions as other people in society, and we’ve got to work harder at defending that worldview before legislating from it.

Lobbying isn’t adopting the old Christian maxim of speaking truth to power. It’s trying to speak power to power. It’s playing a numbers game, enforcing the idea that might makes right, that somehow a majority view is what should determine how legislation gets passed. How does this work when the numbers aren’t in our favour? Though the dictionary definitions are almost identical, I wonder why the ACL didn’t choose advocacy as a definition of its work, advocacy at the very least is free of some of the special interest baggage. Especially if our advocacy is framed as protecting the innocent (which we tried with gay marriage after the horse had bolted by arguing about children needing a mother and father – this was a good argument far too late, and on the wrong legislation). Advocacy would free us up to work a bit better with people we disagree with broadly but agree with on specific issues, because it’d be more issue driven than based on arguing for some mythical cross-denominational Christian unity. Scott Stephens, the editor of the ABC’s Religion and Christian Ethics page, gave a really insightful critique of this distinction, as it relates to the gay marriage debate, in a conversation with Steve Austin on mornings last week. I don’t think the answer he puts forward to how Christians should participate in public life is on the money, it’s a little too wishy-washy, and doesn’t start with Jesus, but his diagnosis of the problems in this debate are spot on.

“I pretty much think the ACL should change every word in their name to something else.”

So there, in three nutshells, is why I “don’t like the Australian Christian Lobby” and why, when well meaning members of the ACL (and they are all well meaning, and generally lovely people, who are generally interested in serving God and his kingdom) tell me that I should join the ACL and help them do better, I answer that I’d rather stand apart from them and do my bit to speak truth to the power they’re trying to wield. Basically their policies aren’t good for Australia in the long run, because they’re going to damage the church and the understanding of the gospel for the average Australian, and they’re employing a political methodology that I think is fundamentally antithetical to Christian witness. So I pretty much think the ACL should change every word in their name to something else.

If we are going to do social engagement well, and, as history demonstrates, I think Christians have an incredible role to play in the public sphere, then perhaps we should learn from our successful forbears, who relied on the strength of their argument, building support for change from the ground up, not relying on some powerful numbers play (Wilberforce), and relied on demonstrating a better way rather than simply telling people they were wrong (so the early Christians who cared for abandoned children, and the sick, in a way that made the empire feel guilty), who participated in the process of policy making from within the system rather than holding out the carrot and stick of a voting block (Wilberforce again). Or perhaps we should sacrificially seek out the minority groups who already feel vulnerable, showing that we love them, in a way that opens us up to persecution from the government rather than expects the government to bow to our whims (like, say, Jesus), rather than shouting from our lofty perches in a way that further alienates them from Jesus, who came to make broken people whole, by grace, and only through the Spirit, not by law and holding out the false hope that a moral life, other than the perfectly moral life of Jesus, counts for anything.

Well. I wrote a piece for eternity on some of the stuff I’ve posted about lately in response to Guy Mason’s piece on Sunrise, but the nature of news is that it needs to be new and it wasn’t new by the time the new Eternity came out. So rather than letting this good gear go to waste, I’m going to post it here. In three posts. Firstly, this post, is the article I sent (a slightly extended edition), and in the follow up posts I’ll share the interviews with Guy Mason from City On A Hill church in Melbourne, and Mike O’Connor from Rockhampton Pressy. Two sharp guys who are grappling with what it means to use the media as a platform for the gospel.

Here’s the article.

Being on message for Jesus in Public Relations

Religion and the church are on the nose, but Jesus is still pretty popular with the average Aussie. So said the research behind last year’s Jesus All About Life campaign. Gruen Transfer panelist Todd Sampson summed the findings up as “Jesus is cool,” but the church “is letting the brand down.”

One of the foundational principles of public relations is to stay on message, to keep answers relevant to the brand. For Christians this means talking about Jesus, and our response to moral issues should be based on our relationship with him.

Guy Mason, pastor of Melbourne’s City on a Hill church has a background in public relations, his recent appearance on Sunrise to discuss a series of sculptures depicting Jesus as a transvestite, a cross dresser, and an indigenous man, is an example of staying on message.

The segment was billed as a “religious controversy,” the artist essentially accused anybody offended by his work of bigotry, while Guy defused the situation and invited people to consider Jesus’ death in the place of sinners. He says his aim when given a media platform is to talk clearly about Jesus.

“I love the gospel and I want as many people as possible to hear the good news of Jesus. If opportunities open doors for the gospel than I’m happy to get involved,” Guy said.

“I am aware that on shows like Sunrise you only get soundbite opportunities to speak. Thus, with a very complicated and heavily loaded segment, I wanted to be clear, concise and point people to Jesus.”

Modern newsrooms are time poor and under-resourced, a 2010 study found that half the stories we consume originate with public relations, which means churches can be proactive about getting the gospel a hearing in the public sphere.

Guy Mason doesn’t pursue media coverage like he did as a public relations consultant, he picks and chooses opportunities, but he is aware of the benefits of establishing a rapport with the media.

“The first person I met when planting a church in Melbourne was the local news editor. I asked him to tell me about the area, his perception of church, and also how we ‘the church’ could serve him. I have learned, and continue to learn, a lot from this friendship.”

“Jesus said we’re a city on a hill, a light to the nations. We shouldn’t hide that light and disconnect from culture, but rather be in the world living radically counter-cultural gospel lives that both display and demonstrate the glory of Christ.”

Former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello told a recent gathering of Anglican Clergy in Melbourne to beware the false idol of positive media coverage. He urged Christian commentary on issues to stick to the gospel and expect not to be popular.

“If the Church is going to speak on the issues of the day, it should be a distinctive contribution,” he said.

“The historic message of the Church, the Gospel, is a timeless message. It’s for every age. It does not have its relevance defined by what preoccupies us for the moment.”

Public Relations can be a blessing for regional churches looking to engage with their community.

Rockhampton Presbyterian Church Minister Mike O’Connor has built a relationship with the local media in his three years in regional Queensland. He’s had media coverage across a range of issues, from pizza shops to the recent Queensland floods.

“I wonder if there is still a ghetto mentality amongst Christians when it comes to the media. I think a more helpful way of viewing the media is seeing it as a platform where we can reach people with the message of Jesus. We have the message, they have the medium.”

It was this approach that led to a feature article in the local paper after Mike scoffed at suggestions that Christians should boycott the Hell Pizza chain if it set up shop in his city.

“I made a comment on an online article saying that it was just a Pizza shop and if they opened in Rockhampton, I would take my church youth group there. The local paper contacted me the next day and asked me if I would do an interview or write an article as a follow up to the story and if they could send a photographer around to my office.”

“I told the photographer that he needed to put his trust in Jesus and this was the point of the article I wrote. That while Hell is a real place – this was just a pizza shop and that church needs to be talking about Jesus and not what people can and can’t do.”

Dear Jim Wallace,

I know. I’ve said some stuff in the past. Less than flattering stuff. About your place in the Australian political scene, and your place in the Australian Christian scene. I don’t doubt that your motives are wonderful, we’d both like to see more people know Jesus, and less sin means a better society for all of us. And we agree that Christianity should be fairly represented and protected in our society. Just like all minorities, it’s important that we Christians have a voice speaking to our nation’s decision makers… I would like you to talk more about Jesus. I’ve covered that. And I would like you to do more than just represent the conservative Australian voice. But I’m not opposed to your very existence. I don’t want you to disappear.

Jim, I notice that the media releases on your website currently deal with really important issues. Like gay marriage and video game classification. These are obviously issues that are important to the people who fund you. There isn’t a lot of funding in speaking out for refugees, or the homeless, or against more complex “sins” like greed. The climate change deniers who are already firmly in the ACL camp are watching their dollars because they are busy funding scare campaigns. I appreciate that you have to pick and choose. That’s the nature of lobbying. You’ve only got one voice, and you’ve got limited opportunities to speak to the politicians on your rounds. And you have a hard enough time getting media coverage (unless you’re saying dumb stuff about gays and Anzac Day, or making bizarrely offensive claims about child abuse).

I apologise for the sarcastic tone of this missive. I really do. But you’ve pushed me a bridge too far. Jim. You’ve made me grumpy. I know you’re a busy man. You may not even be aware of what people have posted on your website in your name. That was the story when a former Family First Candidate (now ACL staffer) tweeted a regrettable message during an election campaign. It’s possible you’re unaware of what you’ve putatively said. But let me draw your attention to this, because it’s bad. And if it’s a mistake you’ll want to sack somebody, or something. Because whoever posted this is doing a bad job for your cause.

I may need to give you a little bit of background. On Saturday, tragically, a gunman identifying himself as a “cultural Christian,” a right wing fundamentalist, caused havoc in Norway. Now some people might want to make comparisons between his ideology and yours, Jim. But not me. What he did was horrific and not consistent with the ideology of any normal person. He’s a sociopath. That’s clear. So linking his conduct to the actions of normal people isn’t really logical. But people will. They’ll start to draw links. Make connections. He killed a lot of people, Jim, singlehandedly. Callously. And since then there’s been a bit of a PR problem for Christianity because it turned out this terrorist claimed to be one of us. I think we’d agree that what he did couldn’t have been motivated by his Christianity. The guy is crazy. It would be wrong to make such a connection between something harmless and his actions. Be it his Christian beliefs, or the fact that he played Modern Warfare, a war game enjoyed by millions around the world. Because he’s not normal.

But he claimed to be a Christian. He wasn’t a Muslim. So you’d think that Christians wanting to articulate a position on this would be, you know, talking about how what he did was in no way representative of the teachings of Jesus. Wouldn’t you? If you were going to say anything at all. That would be the key message to be getting out, if you were going to speak on the issue. We certainly wouldn’t want to see any vulture hijacking this event to further their own policy agenda would we? It always looks so cynical when people do that. When they take a horrible tragedy. Still fresh. And rebrand it, even if it’s a possibly legitimate link, in order to score political points. Usually it’s nice to wait until the furore has died down, till the grieving families have identified their loved ones and laid them to rest. That’s the classy way to capitalise on tragedy. If you must. But not the ACL, Jim. Not the Australian Christian Lobby. In the Australian Christian Lobby’s infinite wisdom, and with a bit of media savvy that belies days of experience, the Australian Christian Lobby has published a media release with the following headline:

Norwegian Tragedy Highlights Impact of Violent Video Games… why no partner release highlighting how drugs killed Amy Winehouse. At least the link there is directly plausible. Why not an acknowledgment that twisted and evil people do twisted and evil things because we live in a world tainted by sin, where we, as humans, are fallen and inclined to do wrong? That would be a Christian response to tragedy. Why not offer a clear condemnation of this man who claimed to be acting as a Christian?

“If there are even a few deranged minds that can be taken over the edge by an obsession with violent games it is in every Australians interest that we ban them.

“The studied indifference of this killer to the suffering he was inflicting, his obvious dehumanising of his victims and the evil methodical nature of the killings have all the marks of games scenarios.”

Do you see how the sophisticated arguments you’ve employed in this statement could be used against the man’s religious affiliation? Do you not see the inconsistency in your position? The guy was a deranged, evil, lunatic. He committed abhorrent acts. In the name of abhorrent beliefs. That could not possibly be born from Christian theology. And you’re trying to capitalise on it for political gain. That’s disgusting. It’s cheap point scoring. It’s tacky. People see right through it. You’re not convincing anybody of anything except the idea that Christians are out-of-touch and only interested in protecting ourselves.

UPDATE: This excellent piece from Tim Challies is a much better response to the tragedy from a Christian point of view, as is this piece from Mitchelton Presbyterian Church

UPDATE 2: See this interview with the editor of Kotaku (who also linked to this post), and Jim Wallace, on Sunrise…

I’ll keep flogging this dead horse for just a little bit longer. So bear with me. As I think about how I’d frame a media release regarding the Christian view of the gay marriage debate (as promised in a previous post) here are the guiding assumptions I’m bringing to the task. I’d love to know what you think.

1. The primary message of any Christian foray into the public sphere should be based on the gospel of Jesus, and his place in society

He is our interpretive key for reality. It should take into account his approach to the government of his day (he let them crucify him), his method of rule (the cross), his commands to love our neighbours (and especially the poor and the sick), the resurrection (his and ours), and its implications for life now.

2. The secondary message of any Christian foray into the public sphere should be based on our position with regards to Jesus, and our place in society.

We are sinners, saved by grace, whose ideas on morality and governance are framed by the Holy Spirit and the Bible. Ideas that Christianity should be the dominant paradigm for legislation are relatively culturally out of date, and largely unbiblical. We have an obligation to speak the truth with love. Not just speak the truth to win.

3. The first two points should function as a Media Release checklist.

Is what I’m saying consistent with these points? Have I ticked these boxes? That’s our brand guideline. Our corporate style guide. If it’s not on message. Don’t say it. You’ll clutter the brand message. If you need a new brand, start one. The church isn’t Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. We have one product. Morality is part of the user experience, not a product of its own. If we sell morality without Jesus we’re selling a cheap knock-off that will fall apart in days. And damage the brand. Marketing people talk about selling the sizzle and not the sausage. That’s one of the differences between marketing and PR. PR requires substance. If our substance is not Jesus, but a bi-product, we’re in danger of selling the health benefits of sausages rather than sausage or sizzle (ok, that analogy breaks down).

4. Jesus’ lordship of the world means we have something to say about morality based on revelation.

Both the Bible, and natural law. But especially the revelation that came in the form of the life of Jesus.

5. There’s an increasingly good chance, in our post-Christian secular context, that our message won’t win issues.

So there’s no excuse to not try to use our message to win souls. Especially if we’re getting our message in front of a national audience. This doesn’t mean not speaking on issues, it means making sure our position on issues speaks to the truths about Jesus, and about us.

6. Everything a Christian says as a Christian representative in the public sphere has implications for Christians everywhere.

Even those who disagree with particular political or theological decisions. We should exercise such a role with care. While today’s paper is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping, the essence of a story will last and shape public perception of the brand involved. Stories, in the Internet age, are more permanent than ever before and more linked and interwoven than ever before.

7. So we might as well talk about Jesus rather than filtering him out hoping for a more palatable message.

8. Blaming the media is too easy.

We say the media is hostile – but they’re not really any more or less hostile than the rest of society. The media is a mirror of society, sometimes like a circus mirror that distorts its source according to its natural bias. Most people consume content from outlets that confirm their existing bias. Few people take that into account. Know the bias of the outlet you’re talking to and frame your approach to take that bias into account. PR is like lawn bowls. You’ll get closer to your target message if you factor the conditions into your delivery.

9. It is overly pessimistic and paranoid to speak of a media agenda against the gospel – as though the media is different to the rest of society.

Journalists, on the whole, are pretty nice people trying to do the right thing by contributing to society. They, like all of us, have personal presuppositions and biases, but they are professionally obliged to seek objectivity.

10. This presents interesting conflicts of interest for Christian journalists.

We shouldn’t use and abuse Christians in the media, but Christians in the media conversely shouldn’t edit out their bias any more than others in the media.

11. Media coverage, positive or negative, is largely about relationships.

It’s hard to slam somebody who looks nice and behaves winsomely, even when you disagree with them. It’s even harder to slam somebody you like. Journalists are human.

12. You will get slammed in the press if you say stupid stuff.

One example of saying stuff is giving the conclusions of your position without stating your working out. It’s like a math exam. You get marks for cohesive thinking, not just the right answer.

13. Articulating your framework is the journalist’s job. So you need to make sure they understand it.

The reality of media coverage is that in the average story you’ll get two sentences of direct quotes if you’re lucky. And a whole media release verbatim if you’re very good.

14. Journalists can’t say you’ve said something you haven’t said, and are limited to saying things you have said.

So when you say something, make sure it’s on message. Don’t give fuel to the fire.

15. The bigger the media outlet the more likely it is that the journalist will be playing you off against a rival point of view in some sort of Hegelian dialectic, as though this ticks the “objectivity box.”

Bigger outlets have more resources to throw at stories. This means they’ll talk to more people. The smaller the outlet the more likely they are to run your Media Release word for word, especially if it appears balanced. And not as a graceless polemic justifying your position.

16. There is no excuse for not being on message in your Media Releases.

In conversations with the ACL they’ve suggested their approach is to provide the conclusions of a worldview and that they are motivated by the fear of not getting coverage if they’re too preachy or nice. This is not an excuse not to be preachy or nice.

17. Media Releases aren’t just a statement of your position on an issue, with some quotes.

They’re articulating the basis of your position because they are the starting point of research for the journalist. The aim of a release is to do as much of the work for your position in the argument as possible for the benefit of a journalist.

18. Media releases are also a largely public domain document.

This is especially true in the day and age of the Internet where most people put their releases online. They show where an organisation stands for anybody researching an organisation. Our audience isn’t just the media, and our purpose isn’t just securing coverage.

Tired of hearing the Christian message mangled in the media, or not hearing Christian voices speak out on some issues? Well. Kel Richards makes a point in the latest Social Issues Executive that you can be the change you want to see in the media world by calling talk back radio programs. He includes some practical tips for calling talk-back (or open line) radio on an issue.

  • Listen (for a little while at least) to the program you want to get on to.
  • Think about your message – have a clear reason for calling.
  • Don’t write out a script of what you want to say.
  • Do jot down a few bullet points to help you remember what you want
  • to say.
  • Can you summarise your message in a slogan? If you can, jot it down –
  • repeat it several times during your call.
  • Be gracious to the producer – and explain what you want to say briefly
  • and clearly.
  • Be gracious to the presenter – and get straight to the point

Brilliant. And in a day and age where we can’t expect our self-appointed Christian voice on issues to talk about Jesus (realistically or otherwise), it’s a chance to get the gospel on the airwaves. If more of us did this, and people understood the gospel better, it wouldn’t be such a problem that a Christian lobby group doesn’t talk about morality. Because that’s part of establishing the framework that anything Christians say about morality comes from. Great stuff from Kel and Andrew Cameron.

It’s something I’ve previously described as “Guerilla Evangelism” (it’s also a good PR strategy if you have a relevant special interest or business).

My answer to the question posed above is “yes”… what’s yours?

Following on from my so called “open letter” about school chaplaincy funding from last week,* I’d like to address one of the comments that made its way back to me via a third party. I won’t name names, lest I betray any confidences…

“[I] wondered if he was too hasty in ruling out involvement of Christians in public discourse in an arena like education”

This isn’t what I’m trying to do at all. I’m actually trying to open a more helpful variety of engaging with the political realm, and those in opposition to Christianity, by hearing their criticisms and concerns, and weighing them up against these five starting assumptions. I’m not advocating that Christians acquiesce to any change in the law that will bring us one step closer to the lion’s den. I don’t have a martyr complex, figuratively or literally.

I don’t know if people have followed along on any of the now quite numerous debates I’ve had online regarding a Christian stance on gay marriage. There have been a few. Here, and elsewhere, and again

Much smarter people than I have disagreed with my position on the relationship between church and state in each of those threads. But because I tend to see my own position in overwhelming clarity, while at least imagining that I have a good grasp of my interlocutor’s arguments, I still haven’t budged.

I think I’d describe my approach to politics as revolving around five poles, or starting assumptions. Perhaps you don’t share them. But at least you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

1. Jesus is the true ruler of the world (Philippians 2). Governments are appointed by God (Romans 13). As Christians our job is to proclaim the gospel to people (Matthew 28), and live such lives among the pagans that our proclamation has some appeal (1 Peter 2).

2. While the earth is the Lord’s, and while he has established guidelines for living lives pleasing to him, and while what the Bible says is sin is sinful… We can not seek to impose Christian morality onto people who don’t have the Holy Spirit, nor should we necessarily try to do that, it is ultimately a bandaid solution if point 1 is not taken into account.

3. Separation of church and state is a good thing, that should be upheld by both church and state – for the sake of clarity on both sides.

4. The nature of a democracy is such that all members of society have equal say about how society is governed, and ultimately it means that the will of the majority will become the law of the land. All parties in a democracy have the right to speak out in favour of their positions, but from a government’s perspective, elected representatives are elected to represent their constituency not to be the puppet of special interest groups (including Christian special interest groups). Special interest groups, or organised lobby groups, aren’t necessarily a bad thing, unless their clout outweighs their supporter base through graft, corruption, or manipulation.

5. Liberal democracies are also focused on providing individual liberties – which are valuable for Christians, especially as they pertain to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of public assembly.

Given those points, if you want to speak out like Danny Naliah, Family First, Australian Christian Lobby, or even somebody more moderate – that’s great. You can’t necessarily claim to be speaking for God, or for Christians, though – you’re simply participating in the democratic process. And arguments starting with “The Bible says” or “God says” in a secular society aren’t going to get a long way when we’re increasingly not just secular, but non-religious. But you should feel free to do it. I’m not, in the words of No Doubt, saying “don’t speak” – it’s not my place to suggest that. I’d just love to see Christians thinking before they speak – about why we feel entitled to be able to impose our views on the majority.

I’d love more Christians to be entering into political discourse – even if they disagree with me, perhaps especially then. I don’t think that means starting our own party, or putting together an Australian Christian Lobby that acts just like any other self-interest group with a powerful supporters base. I’d love more Christians to join real parties (and even better, The Greens). That would be a great witness to our love for the world, and would help out with point 1 from above.

I’d especially love more Christians to be speaking out in favour of 3, recognising 2, and being wary of falling foul of point 4. Which is the approach I’m trying to advocate when it comes to both gay marriage and school chaplaincy, and indeed, politics in general.

I’m not saying “don’t say anything” – I don’t know where the notion that I was suggesting this in the chaplaincy post comes from. I’m not about acquiescence – I’d actually rather hear Christians speaking out against government handouts (which was the position I was trying to articulate) rather than just speaking out in favour of them. The truth, so far as I can figure it out, in the chaplaincy debate – is that we don’t really want the government’s money if it means compromising our position in the schools (where we enjoy the ability to teach children about Christianity). We also don’t want chaplains and religious education lumped together so they can be thrown out together. But even if both are, all is not lost. I haven’t really heard many people saying that in this debate – certainly not on Facebook.

Is it possible that our most positive witness is if we argue that God has given us all an amount of liberty (see point 5), but that we hope people use that liberty to live lives pleasing to him, through submitting to the lordship of Jesus? But if they don’t, we don’t want to force them. We don’t want to spoil the time they have on this earth. And we want the right to disagree with them, respectfully, in honouring our own beliefs and traditions.

Is there a danger of losing more than we’re bargaining for because of the way we’re so dogmatically trying to shoehorn everybody into Christian behaviour by organising lobby groups and political parties and not engaging with the world? Family First is never going to be a legitimate political force in Australia. They’re simply a mouthpiece for people who may not admit it but would like to legislate Christian values, or the Danny Naliah types.

The more we appear to be on the fringes, the more we appear to be relying on some sort of special pleading for our own personal point of view in an increasingly diverse nation, and the more we appear to be condemning other people’s exercising of liberties based on our “imaginary friend” and our “2000 year old book”, the less appealing Jesus is… why not let God, through the Holy Spirit, and the Bible, convict people of their sin, and then judge them accordingly – rather than trying to play judge, jury, and executioner ourselves (or at least legislature, judiciary, and executive…).

I’m going to spend the next few days reading through Andrew Cameron’s material (alongside K-Rudd and John Anderson’s material) from the 2005 New College Lectures on Church & State.

*Where, if you care to, you can read how I engage with a couple of atheist Facebook commenters from the platform I’ve outlined above…

My WebSalt article about the Greens is now up. You should go over there, read it, and argue it out with me in the comments… It’s much more balanced than my regular blogging fodder because it’s not polemic – it’s balanced… I hope.

“But there is much in their policy platform to celebrate – an Australian Christian Lobby media release issued prior to the 2008 election praised the Greens for their strong stance on climate change, refugees, overseas aid, work life balance and poverty. These are important issues – and should be serious concerns for biblical Christians.” “The criteria that determine an individual’s political preference will come down to personal convictions – that’s the fundamental freedom offered by a liberal democracy. So voters need to decide for themselves whether caring for the poor should be the government’s concern or the church’s? Or whether we should impose a Christian ethical framework on non-believers? Can we vote for a party that purposefully pursues an easing of restrictions in the circumstances surrounding the termination of the lives of unborn children? Just how much of a concern is the environment?”

The ISP filter has been scaled back from any black listed items to just Refused Classification content – which some people have argued was their policy all along (particularly one debate on Craig’s blog. It may well have been – but that was poorly communicated. Here’s the SMH story.

“Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has long said his policy would introduce compulsory ISP-level filters of the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s blacklist of prohibited websites.

But he has since backtracked, saying the mandatory filters would only block content that has been “refused classification” (RC) – a subset of the ACMA blacklist – amid widespread concerns that ACMA’s list contains a slew of R18+ and X18+ sites, such as regular gay and straight pornography and other legal content.”

I’m a lot less worried about that – it seems to be much more transparent than the previously stated policy. I’m sure my freedom loving friends will still have problems, as do the Australian Christian Lobby. Nice work guys…

“The lobby’s managing director, Jim Wallace, wants the Government to introduce legislation forcing internet providers to block adult and pornography material on a mandatory basis, in addition to illegal content. Australians would then have to opt in to receive legal adult material.”

That sounds nice. It really does. Pornography is a blight on society. And it would be nice to protect vulnerable people (particularly vulnerable Christians) from its insidiousness. But. It isn’t really up to Christians to make the laws in a country where we are in the minority (despite the number of people ticking the Christian box on the census). Why should we expect those given over to sinful desires (which is surely how the Bible describes the state of non-Christians) to conform to a Christian standard of living?

Black spot on clean feed

Nathan Campbell —  January 24, 2009

I’ve said it once. And I’ll say it again. The clean feed is bad for anyone who believes in freedom of speech. I think it’s especially important for Christians – who are one of the driving forces behind the clean feed concept – to know what it is they’re supporting in the case of this policy.

The government’s internet watchdog – ACMA (the Australian Communications and Media Authority) can blacklist whatever they want. It doesn’t have to be “objectionable” content (read child abuse material) – unless the government definition of “child” now extends to an unborn fetus – which would have grand implications for the abortion debate. You see an abortion protest site has just been added to the blacklist – as reported by Crikey. 

This content is hosted outside Australia, outside ACMA’s jurisdiction, so they can’t demand it be taken down or guarded by an age-verification mechanism. They can only add it to the blacklist – and under Conroy’s plan, everything on the blacklist is blocked, secretly, for all Australians. No choice.

“The Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech,” says Senator Conroy.”

No, of course not. As the government has pointed out, it’s about preventing the exploitation of children. A noble cause. It’s when the government refuses to allow criticism on the policy on the basis that anyone objecting is tacitly approving of the child abuse that the discussion breaks down.

“”Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content.” Conroy said here

Well yes there has Senator – that’s been the grounds of all the rational objections to your stupid, and technologically flawed, legislation (well that and the fact that it’s unlikely to work and it’s just going to punish everyday users of the Internet… ). 

The abortion site is pretty nasty. While I agree that abortion is one of the great moral debates of our time, I wouldn’t recommend going there. I did. It wasn’t pretty. But that’s not the point. Once “objectionable” includes “things we disagree with” the Liberal Party better make sure their policies are consistent with Labor’s, or they’ll be banned.

Tanner’s hide

Nathan Campbell —  November 24, 2008

Finance and Deregulation Minister Lindsay Tanner is Web 2.0 enabled with a blog over at the SMH. Today’s post is all about the government’s new Web 2.0 based thinking – they’re probably going to use blogs in some upcoming community consultation. Ironic really, given that the same government is advocating restrictions to the internet that would put us on par with China. Perhaps comments they don’t agree with in the consultative process will be blocked? Or the IP address taken down and the perpetraitor (sic) silently removed from their homes and literally excommunicated (possibly a removal of Internet privileges).

Here’s Tanner’s rather convoluted description of what he thinks about Web 2.0…

“This new mode of production is known in the academic literature as peer production, but is more commonly referred to as Web 2.0. It is a trend that applies to much more than the creation of cultural goods, although these goods, such as the innumerable YouTube video mashups which poke fun at politicians, are acting as the harbingers of change.”

“Peer production empowers every citizen to be creator and critic, as well as consumer, of information. It is a mode of production that is enabled by two key factors. The first is the collapse of cost barriers to producing information – computers are now widely accessible in western society. The second is the removal of logistical and functional barriers to collaboration through new internet based networks.”

“The glue that binds peer production together is the ethic of collaboration it inculcates among groups. People contribute their time to peer production because they find communities with a passion for making their adopted content niche the best it can be.”

“This environment also creates efficiencies by allowing skilled amateurs to allocate their intellectual capital to the content niche about which they are most passionate. This is significant when you consider the quality and value of work done by people for love and not money.”

All in all, his article is a pretty garbled way of saying the Government is down with the Internets and all that.

“These changes are not easy for government to process. Our Westminster bureaucracy has optimised its policy production processes over centuries. Adaptation to the new information environment will be neither quick nor easy.”

I guess that’s something Obama can relate to.
Here’s his obligatory dig at the Howard Government:

“The Australian Government should be leading the way in adapting our old processes of consultation, policy making and regulation to the connected world. Yet we lag behind other nations in both the scale and pace of reform, a situation largely attributable to the culture of secrecy, spin and apathy of the Howard years.”

“I am taking steps to reinvigorate the Commonwealth’s efforts in this area. For example, early in the new year the Government will run a number of trial online consultations using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools”

You know what would be brilliantly ironic – if all this consultation got blocked by the Government’s proposed clean feed (a very bad idea – putting us on par with China in terms of restrictions) with it’s invisible blacklist of sites. My disdain for the Australian Christian Lobby is growing – I think they miss the point on so many issues when dealing with a secular government and trying to impose Christian values on the general public – who generally aren’t Christians. I acknowledge that as Christians we believe our way of life is better – and more in line with God’s expectations – but it’s not for us to impose our code of conduct on the rest of society. I also acknowledge that increased consumption of pornography has some links to increases in sexual violence and is socially undesirable. But I don’t think this is the way to tackle it – and I don’t think – as Jim Wallace so tactlessly put it that opposing this plan is tantamount to supporting the evils that lurk in the dark corners of the internet. Here’s the quote from the ACL Media Release.

“Obviously the Internet industry is going to continue to fight this important initiative

but the interests of children must be placed first.”

“The need to prevent access to illegal hard-core material and child pornography must

be placed above the industry’s desire for unfettered access.”

Censorship is bad. Particularly for the church. Once you start advocating censorship what happens if a militant anti-Christian or Islamic party gets in and adds all the Christian sites to the black list? Have you thought about that ACL? Have you? Christians who are serious about Christianity’s real agenda – which is the proclamation of the gospel can not be supportive of Government intervention into the minds and beliefs of the general public.
By all means, if you’re a Christian then take part in the political process – but don’t pretend to speak for all of us – and do so to raise your opinion on a matter – not to demand legislation be based on a Christian world view. That is not in the spirit of democracy – that’s a theocracy.
Oh, and if you want to voice your opinion on this matter through the press (or the Government’s upcoming Web 2.0 consultancy process) – the ACL has a handy letters to the editor writing guide.
I’m going to do some work now.

Evening the scores

Nathan Campbell —  August 22, 2007

Well humble reader it has been some time since I’ve posted here – some would say too long – others would not have noticed the gap. I’ve been posting with growing irregularity since being burdened with an extra workload at work – and an extra load of work outside of work.

Those of you who are now my Facebook “friends” – as if that somehow gives you more status than my real life friends – will know that I haven’t been idle when it comes to maintaining an online presence. And I’m happy to report I now have more than 100 fb buddies… it seems I came to that party pretty late.

The extended gap between posts means that I now actually have some news to report. Last Saturday we were approved for a lease on a nice little 3 bedroom townhouse in Pimlico – it’s pretty functional and has its own access gate to the shared pool.

This followed a hectic week of house drive bys, inspections and robust discussions. Our favourite place – at first – was a nice, modern Queenslander. We both inspected this house prior to applying and even bumped into the owner as he did his gardening – we were confident that we’d get the nod. However, we were looking for a 12 month lease – and the owner was only really prepared to give 6 months. He was also planning to build in underneath the house in that period. This house was advertised as having two garages – which would have disappeared within weeks due to a money hungry landlord who basically wanted to fund his rennovations via tenant. We were offered the house yesterday and turned it down. Stupid real estate agents.

So K-Rudd got down and dirty in New York on the tax payer’s dime. Farbeit from me to let an opportunity to dig the boot in to either side of politics – particularly on such a public indiscretion. I won’t tear strip(er)s off Kevin Rudd for his nocturnal dalliance – I note the Australian Christian Lobby was also eager to affirm the fact that we all are in fact fallen and sinful. I will however point out that the media’s eagerness to feed off the situation – whether it be Glenn Milne’s initial condemnation or the chorus of defenders who surfaced on the left’s side of the debate – perfectly demonstrates the point Jim Wallace from ACL made. On one side you’ve got stone throwers eager to beat K-Rudd down in a hail of self-righteous rage – on the other you’ve got those overly eager to associate themselves with whatever wrongdoings possible in order to diminish the perception of misconduct everywhere. Paradoxically, when it comes to commenting on this situation you’re damned if you do – and damned if you don’t.

Personally, I think when it comes to elected represenatives we’re probably entitled to throw a few stones. At that point we’re not judging the man himself – but his ability to do that which he was elected to do – that is present the country in the best light possible. Evidently not something he’s achieved here, or here.