Archives For church and state

Kevin Rudd’s assault on the New Testament and “biblicism” continues.

“In my response to ahh that fella last night, when people start hurling Biblical quotes at me, I know a bit about my New Testament as well. And as I said last night if you’re going to be serious Biblicist about these questions, we’d still be supporting slavery in the New Testament, and by the way, to all of you who are women, it says in the New Testament, according to St Paul, that wives should be submissive to their husbands, so just bear that in mind because it’s in the Bible. If we in fact, took that seriously, then do you know what? We may as well repeal also the Sex Discrimination act, because that creates a different set of circumstances. Let’s get real about this. The core principles are those I outlined last night, and what happens with any civilised country over time is that they apply those to different sets of circumstances.”

He just doesn’t get it.

We aren’t called to change the Bible to meet our times to love people better. The Bible changes us to meet our times so that we love people better.

He misses the point – the social structures in the Bible aren’t for every person – they are for every person who would follow Jesus in a path of voluntary sacrifice. Those who would follow Jesus and die to self. Those who are serious about taking up their cross.

The Bible calls those who would follow Jesus to submit their sexuality to his Lordship.

The Bible calls those who would follow Jesus to demonstrate submission, as a picture of the incarnation, within their marriages. This isn’t about womens’ rights.

The Bible calls those who were slaves to model the gospel in their situation, again, as a picture of the sacrifice involved in the gospel.

It doesn’t affirm slavery. It doesn’t trump the rights of women. It doesn’t restrict the sexual expression of those outside the church. It holds out an ideal for Christians to adopt.

That’s why the Bible doesn’t work as a legislative text book in Australia. But if Rudd wants to seriously tackle the question of gay marriage as a theologian, his answer is better grounded in providing individual freedoms – especially in the long term for churches – to form their own opinions and act in good conscience on these questions.

His answer is not found in adapting the meaning of the Bible to meet his own political agenda.

In 2006 the shadow minister for Foreign Affairs, who would soon become opposition leader suggested the following relationship between God and politics:

God is not partisan: God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for their political agendas, they make a terrible mistake. The best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable nor loyally partisan.”

This was Kevin Rudd. Sadly, his shambolic coercion of the New Testament in the last couple of days is one of the worst examples of co-opting God for an agenda that I think I have seen from an Australian politician in a major party.

Rudd claims to “know his New Testament pretty well”… but he disagrees with the vast majority of church going people in Australia and sits with the liberal interpretive fringes, significantly undermining any divine voice that may be present in the text.

But ultimately it’s not his confusion about the function of the New Testament that bothers me – it’s his vision of what the Bible does for the individual that continues to blow me away. If all the Bible does is liberate us from present oppression – if it does nothing but establish a trajectory from which we tackle the injustice of our time – then where is the cost of the Gospel for those who would take up their cross and follow a crucified king?

Rudd loves Bonhoeffer. Or so he claims. Bonhoeffer was great on political ethics – and through his writing, he still is. But he’s only great on political ethics because he understood the Gospel.

Here’s a quote from The Cost of Discipleship.

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

So long as Rudd emphasises abstract love and a trajectory of social change while ignoring the heart of the Gospel, his claims to “know his New Testament” demonstrate a clear lack of understanding of what the New Testament is about.

His approach, through his own interpretive lens, without sensitivity to the meaning or purpose of a text, is essentially the same as the fundamentalists he is shouting down.

I have never been more disillusioned about politics in Australia. There are policies I like from all the parties, but policies I abhor more from each platform. Navigating this election is going to be tough.

Here’s what I’m thinking through, personally, as I try to cast my very valuable vote – let’s not forget that being able to take part in the political process where you’re choosing between least bad options is an incredible privilege, globally and historically speaking.

One of the things I’ve become convinced of as I’ve developed and tried to articulate what I think is a Christian approach to the political world here on this blog is that a Christian approach to politics is an approach to politics that is framed by the gospel and that presents the gospel. How you vote is part of how you live as a Christian – how you vocalise your participation in the democratic process on Facebook or at the water cooler is part of your communication of the gospel (provided people know you are a Christian).

So here’s my snapshot to how to vote as a Christian:

Have your vote shaped by Jesus’ actions at the cross, and use your vote to testify to Jesus as the true king.

Can you do this by voting for any or every Australian political party? On the one hand, no. Sadly, I don’t feel like there’s a party platform that ticks all the boxes, so it really is a matter of picking what your policy priorities are. But can you in good conscience pick any major party in the Australian election, or many of the minor parties, and articulate why you’re voting for that party in a way that demonstrates that you belong to Jesus? I think you can.

I’ll explain a little more.

The Bible Stuff

There are, I think, four passages that shape my approach to thinking about this election.

This passage from Matthew 22 is something of a “purple passage” for Christians when it comes to politics. It’s one I’ve turned to time and time again to push for a strong separation between church and state, it’s led me to be pretty libertarian, pushing for a government that doesn’t intervene in private affairs. And while I think there’s validity to that thinking, I think there’s something even more profound at play that has changed how I think about our participation in the political process as Christians.

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

I think Jesus is making a huge claim here, based on Genesis 1.

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Jesus isn’t just saying obey Caesar – he’s claiming ownership over those who are made in God’s image. If you wanted to speculate a little further you might make a link between “inscription” and the law being written on the hearts of those who have the Holy Spirit. But that’s a pretty interesting jump to attempt.

If you can be bothered reading my thesis you’ll see that I think our capacity as image bearers is functional – it describes how God made people to function. As images that point people to him (there’s a pretty convincing argument that Eden is a temple, images in temples represented and manifested the God who made them – there’s a cool jump from that to Jesus being “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1). So part of this political theology, I’d argue is participating in the church-state relationship in a way that shows that we are images of God. It’s not just the temple thing – coins, with images, functioned as political communication tools – every transaction in Rome, and the value of the coin, was guaranteed by the emperor’s head, and the other images and inscriptions celebrated and communicated the emperor’s achievements.

So how do we function as images of Jesus in the political process in modern Australia? That’s what I reckon is the big question to answer when deciding how to vote.

I’d say, as Christians, we’re not just images of God where that’s an abstract thing and we have to guess at what we were created to be based on the first two chapters of Genesis – as Christians we have something more concrete to shape our lives around. Jesus.

Here’s passage 2… Romans 8:28-30.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

And not just Jesus. But the incarnate and crucified Jesus. The Jesus who became a human – observable and touchable, and who spoke out against the problems with broken political systems by claiming to be God’s promised king. But who was also put to death by the hostile state – a nice combined effort from the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman political machine. I’d suggest that “taking up your cross” or “imitating Paul as he imitates Christ” is part of what it means to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

So the question then, is how do we vote, as Christians, in a way that takes up our cross – where our decision in the voting booth is shaped a desire to bear the image of God through self-sacrifice for the sake of others (and who is the other?).

Here, I think, is Paul’s paradigmatic account of the “image of Jesus”  I think this based on verses 1 and 5 – I think our union with Christ is a big part of our image bearing function. and the Christian life based on the cross, from Philippians 2. This is how you show that you belong to Jesus.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

So I’d say voting as a Christian means putting aside your own interests – maybe your own economic comfortability or security – your own upwards progression in the world, your own interests for the sake of others.

Shaped by the way Jesus did that when he  lowered himself to become human and die on the cross. Humiliated.

Here’s what Cicero, a Roman statesman, said about crucifixion.

“The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed, not only from the Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears… the mere mention of such a thing is shameful to a Roman citizen and a free man.” Cicero, Pro Rabiro

The cross involved giving up a huge amount of status – being humiliated – for the sake of others. How do we vote like that?

I think Paul uses the Philippians 2 framework in Romans 12, and throughout his letters to the Corinthians. I think Romans pivots on chapter 8. Up to chapter 8 Paul establishes what it means to be human in the light of the gospel (I think Romans 7 describes being a sinner made in God’s image with the capacity and desire to do good, but inability to do it). In the following chapters he deals with what it looks like to live a life transformed by the Gospel. He works through the ethical (and political) implications of the cross and the transformed minds that come through being united with Jesus.

Transformed minds must necessarily lead to transformed votes.

In Romans 12 he seems to be echoing Philippians 2 (especially when it comes to life in the church) – but I’d say it also means thinking about how to live visibly, as God’s image bearers shaped by the cross…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this worldbut be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you…

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Christian living – and a Christian approach to politics – then involves sacrificial living. It involves being counter-cultural – deliberately. And it involves using our transformed minds to “test and approve” God’s will. But, we get a pretty good clue for what living according to God’s will looks like in the verse before, and the verses after… the sacrificial love for others.

Just for a little bit more pushing this image of God/death of Jesus thing – check out 2 Corinthians 4…

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Peter has some pretty good stuff to contribute too. Check out 1 Peter 2 and 3.

2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

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

3:13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

 

Implications for voting (or politicking) as a Christian

Here are some of the implications that I’ve drawn from the above Biblical data (and some other bits) – they’re not the only relevant bits of thinking. We’ve also got to figure out how we participate in the process in a post-Christian world that will be increasingly hostile to the gospel. And part of my thinking is drawn from a commitment to the idea that not only is the way we live (ethos) part of our testimony, but the way we speak about how we live and why (logos), is also part of the narrative we weave while bearing God’s image – so I’m in favour of talking about the political process. I’m also keen not to alienate people who disagree with the particular stance I take, and keen to love and respect those who are willing to enter public office.

Bear Jesus’ image and take up your cross with your vote and in how you talk about it

I want people to know that I’m weighing up the issues involved in this election based on a “transformed mind” – but ultimately based on the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf, even though I was his enemy. And I really want to actually authentically be doing that – not just putting it on. Self sacrifice is paradigmatic for me. I’m keen to not look to my interests, but the interests of others – especially those who can’t vote.

Love others and “do good” with your vote

Love for others is the motivation behind Jesus becoming flesh, and the motivation for Christian living. Loving others and “doing good” is also part of how we bear witness to Jesus, and bear his image.

Be “Incarnate” as foreigners…

Jesus became part of the world. Join a political party. Participate in the process. Meet candidates. Call talk back radio. Blog. Discuss policy on Facebook. Become human. Get a sense for why the people you’ve grown up not voting for prioritise the things they do. Remember that as a Christian you’re a citizen of a different kingdom that transcends national borders and patriotism, but that you live in Australia so loving Australians is a good place to start.

Be wise with your vote (be informed)

Voting is an amazing privilege. And an amazing opportunity to live out the gospel in front of others – but it’s complicated. Life is complicated. It’s going to involve compromise. It’s going to involve self-sacrifice. It’s inevitably going to involve choosing a least bad option – and that will look different for different people. There is no party with a monopoly on the Christian vote or the voice of God. Not even Family First.

The Bible Society has put together a nice (though limited) guide to the election and the ABC’s political compass is worth having a go at to weigh up your priorities and see where that leaves you.

Go beyond doing your duty to Caesar to do good

I think this is part of the tension Jesus articulates with the taxes thing – we are called to be good and dutiful citizens and to obey the law and vote and stuff. But our vote is not where our contribution to public life ends. If refugees are your thing – join a refugee group, get to know some people who have arrived by boat (or even by plane – it’s more likely you’ll come across them). If the environment is your thing then figure out how you can make a positive contribution to the environment that goes beyond the political process. It can be pretty easy to think our government and its policy limits what we can do in particular areas, and to outsource that sort of care. But this relates back to the incarnation thing.

Witness to office bearers (and other people who are interested in politics

I love this bit in Acts 26, where Paul is appearing in front of Roman authorities, on trial – and he tells his story and the Gospel – and gets this response:

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

I hope that in any political discussion be it with office bearers in the capacity of advocacy (I’m on a committee for the Pressy church that does this stuff, but I’m thinking about the letters/emails I send to politicians in my personal capacity as well) that there’s a real chance that the gospel will be clearly seen in the positions I’m advocating. That’s why I think it’s almost untenable for Christians not to be pro welcoming asylum seekers – you can’t tell the story of the gospel while saying we should close the doors to paradise because people might be evil or we might be full, or they might be taking something of ours…

Honour current, future and potential office bearers

Romans 13 is a pretty good place to go on this one – I reckon one of the differences between empire and democracy is that the people you slam today might be your leaders tomorrow, so it pays to respect anyone in office, and anyone running for office. Because they are willing to give their time to governing.

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I suspect real damage has been done for the Christian voice through immoderate speech about those who have been characterised as political opponents – I can’t imagine, for example, the Greens viewing Christian voices with much charity if they hold the balance of power in the senate. But this no doubt works on a local level with your local member, as much as it does on the party level.

There is of course the tension that some rulers are doing things that don’t honour God or carry out his will. But that’s not a new dilemma.

Pray for current, future, and potential office bearers

So I’d say the answer here is 1 Timothy 2. We should pray for those in authority. It seems the prayer is linked to the above.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 

At the end of the day – whatever the outcome in the election – the sky isn’t going to fall in. Christians will still be free to live good lives, freely, among the pagans as a witness to Jesus. God will still be in control, and prayer will still work. Perspective is important.

My reflections on the Australian political landscape and this election

I mentioned above that I’ve never been more disillusioned with the political scene. And it’s true.

If I was voting out of economic self-interest I’d vote for the LNP. I think they tend to produce prosperity better. Or I’d vote for Labor – fast internet for the rest of my life is something that excites me, and the Coalition is just asinine on broadband policy.

But I’m asking what it means to vote for others – what it means to vote for the vulnerable. The voiceless. The future generations. It’s a complicated balancing act – do I prioritise abortion – and lives lost there (probably the Coalition, definitely not Labor)? Do I prioritise Asylum Seekers (the Greens, definitely not the Coalition or Labor)? Do I vote on indigenous issues? Foreign Aid? Economic management or environmental management – for the sake of future Australians?

It’s hard. It takes wisdom. It takes prayer. And it takes speaking out and participating in the public discussion from a renewed mind shaped by the cross.

Or joining a party. The only way for Christians, who are serious about the cross, to become less disenfranchised with the the political process is to speak into the policy making process. Joining a party won’t be for everybody – I’m not sure it’s all that healthy for people who want to speak apolitically to all parties, and lovingly to other Christians who are strongly affiliated to a party to join a party, but it’d be very healthy for the parties to have a Christian voice speaking out during the process.

My vote and articulating why I vote on issues like Asylum Seekers – or abortion – are opportunities to demonstrate the transforming of my mind, and my priorities. I’ve had a go at articulating this in previous posts – but check out David Ould’s attempt to show how the gospel shapes his thinking on Asylum Seekers.

Imagine a country which operates a radical asylum seeker policy. Instead of waiting for people to arrive on airplanes or even on boats as they do in Australia, this imaginary country charters boats and planes at great expense and sends them to countries where they know there is a desperate need for people to be rescued…

But that’s the gospel pure and simple. God the Father sends the Lord Jesus Christ into a world which opposes Him (John 1:103:16). Jesus willingly dies for those who are His enemies (Col. 1:21Rom. 5:8). This is the amazing, and dare I say it, ludicrous nature of the good news of what Jesus came to do.

 

It feels like a long time since I’ve written about gay marriage. It feels like a long time since I’ve written about Kevin Rudd. It feels like a long time since I’ve written about the ACL. It feels like a long time since I’ve written about anything much. But here goes…

The “Current” Background

The gay marriage debate is firing up again because the Australian Greens are going to introduce a bill to parliament. The bill is, at this point, destined to fail, because while the Labor party has given its members a conscience vote, the opposition is keeping their members in lock-step with their pre-election commitments on marriage. Kevin Rudd, a Christian politician, has decided to vote in favour of an amendment to the marriage act. The Australian Christian Lobby has said something dumb and inflammatory in response.

The Background on K-Rudd

Kevin Rudd is Australia’s former Prime Minister. He was knifed and unceremoniously dumped from the job by his deputy and a bunch of “faceless men”… Though he sits on the political left he’s been something of a darling to the Christian Right, because he is a politician who takes his faith seriously. Read his Bonhoeffer Essay published in Australia’s high brow “intellectual” mag, The Monthly in October 2006. Before he was Prime Minister.

I’m not a huge fan of Rudd’s. He often seems robotic and calculated. But I respect him – his approach to political campaigning was positive and refreshing, and he is a man of principle – sticking to his word in a recent leadership coup even though it cost him hugely. But I do like the thoughtfulness he applies to the question of the relationship between church and state. This is from the Bonhoeffer essay linked above:

“For its first three centuries, Christianity had represented an active counterculture, but what was to be Christianity’s message in a new age in which the church had become culturally dominant? This became the continuing challenge of Christianity in the Christian West for the subsequent 1500 years.

Over the last 200 years, however, we have seen an entirely different debate arise, as Christianity has sought to come to terms with a rising and increasingly rampant secularism. The impact of independent scientific enquiry, the increasing impact of secular humanism itself, combined with the pervasive influence of modernism and postmodernism, have had the cumulative effect of undermining the influence of the mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches across the West.

Where this will lead, as Christianity enters its third millennium, remains to be seen. But there are signs of Christianity seeing itself, and being seen by others, as a counterculture operating within what some have called a post-Christian world. In some respects, therefore, Christianity, at least within the West, may be returning to the minority position it occupied in the earliest centuries of its existence. But whether or not we conclude that Christianity holds a minority or a majority position within Western societies, that still leaves unanswered the question of how any informed individual Christian (or Christians combined in the form of an organised church) should relate to the state.”

Here’s Rudd’s conclusion for how Christians should engage in the political process:

“I argue that a core, continuing principle shaping this engagement should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer’s critique in the ’30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed.”

He says, a bit later:

“The function of the church in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state: to give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse where otherwise there are no natural advocates.”

He identifies five approaches that Christians take to politics.

1. Vote for me because I’m a Christian.

“This is the model that is most repugnant. It is the model which says that, simply on the basis of my external profession of the Christian faith, those of similar persuasion should vote for me.”

2. Vote for me because I’m a morally conservative Christian and tick the right boxes on your sexual morality tests.

These tests tend to emphasise questions of sexuality and sexual behaviour. I see very little evidence that this pre-occupation with sexual morality is consistent with the spirit and content of the Gospels. For example, there is no evidence of Jesus of Nazareth expressly preaching against homosexuality. In contrast, there is considerable evidence of the Nazarene preaching against poverty and the indifference of the rich.

3. Vote for me because I’m a morally conservative Christian and I’m into family values.

4. Combine all of these, but then respond negatively when someone suggests there might be a political position to be taken on economic policy, not just moral policy.

5. Believe the gospel is both a political and social gospel.

In other words, the Gospel is as much concerned with the decisions I make about my own life as it is with the way I act in society. It is therefore also concerned with how in turn I should act, and react, in relation to the state’s power. This view derives from the simple principle that the Gospel which tells humankind that they must be born again is the same Gospel which says that at the time of the Great Judgement, Christians will be asked not how pious they have been but instead whether they helped to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the lonely. In this respect, the Gospel is an exhortation to social action. Does this mean that the fundamental ethical principles provide us with an automatic mathematical formula for determining every item of social, economic, environmental, national-security and international-relations policy before government? Of course not. What it means is that these matters should be debated by Christians within an informed Christian ethical framework.

K-Rudd and I share a vehement rejection of approaches 1-4. We both think there’s a roll for Christians to play in advocating for the voiceless, not lobbying for our own special interests. There’s a pretty obvious dig at the approach the Australian Christian Lobby (not to be confused with the Australian Cat Ladies) takes to politics in this article.

But fundamentally, though I will agree with our former Prime Minister on the wide ranging implications for the gospel on how we conceive of politics, ethics, and society, I don’t think he’s really grasped the magnitude of how the Gospel’s content –  the crucified Lord who calls us to take up our cross, follow him, and die to self – the qualities he so admires in Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the gospel at a social and political level – applies to the moral and sexual sphere of the Christian life. Jesus is Lord over sexual morality, just as he is Lord over workplace relations policy.

Which leads me to the current situation…

Kevin Rudd’s changing opinion on Gay Marriage

Kevin Rudd has applied this rubric for the relationship between church and state to the question of gay marriage, and arrived at this conclusion (posted on his blog overnight):

I have come to the conclusion that church and state can have different positions and practices on the question of same sex marriage. I believe the secular Australian state should be able to recognise same sex marriage. I also believe that this change should legally exempt religious institutions from any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. For me, this change in position has come about as a result of a lot of reflection, over a long period of time, including conversations with good people grappling with deep questions of life, sexuality and faith.

I’ve suggested in the past that this is, I think, the way forward in a secular democracy (short of the government simply legislating civil unions for everybody). I’m sure there are good natural arguments (ie non-Christian arguments) against gay marriage. I’m not sure those arguments are “marriage is for making children”… That would seem to rule out a greater purpose for marriage for people who know they are infertile, or people who are elderly. Which will, no doubt, bring me to the ACL. Shortly.

Lets parse the problems with Rudd’s statement from the Christian side of the ledger – rather than the political side. He’s making a potentially correct political decision, given the system he operates in, from incorrect theology. Incorrect theology that is there in the Bonhoeffer thing. If Jesus can’t make claims over our sexuality – our “natural” state – then he’s no Lord at all. He calls us to come and die in every area of our life. Including our natural, hard-wired, sexual urges.

Here’s Rudd’s narrative.

“One Saturday morning in Canberra, some weeks ago, a former political staffer asked to have a coffee. This bloke, who shall remain nameless, is one of those rare finds among political staffers who combines intelligence, integrity, a prodigious work ethic, and, importantly, an unfailing sense of humour in the various positions he has worked in around Parliament House. Necessary in contemporary politics, otherwise you simply go stark raving mad.

And like myself, this bloke is a bit of a god-botherer (aka Christian). Although a little unlike myself, he is more of a capital G God-Botherer. In fact, he’s long been active in his local Pentecostal Church.

Over coffee, and after the mandatory depressing discussion about the state of politics, he tells me that he’s gay, he’s told his pastor (who he says is pretty cool with it all, although the same cannot be said of the rest of the church leadership team) and he then tells me that one day he’d like to get married to another bloke. And by the way, “had my views on same sex marriage changed?”.”

So, to recap, for those who skip over quotes, a staffer Rudd respects, a Christian, is gay and wants to marry a man. So Rudd has had a rethink on his opposition to gay marriage.

Very few things surprise me in life and politics anymore. But I must confess the Pentecostal staffer guy threw me a bit. And so the re-think began, once again taking me back to first principles. First, given that I profess to be a Christian (albeit not a particularly virtuous one) and given that this belief informs a number of my basic views; and given that I am given a conscience vote on these issues; then what constitutes for me a credible Christian view of same sex marriage, and is such a view amenable to change? Second, irrespective of what that view might be, do such views have a proper place in a secular state, in a secular definition of marriage, or in a country where the census tells us that while 70% of the population profess a religious belief, some 70% of marriages no longer occur in religious institutions, Christian or otherwise.

These are the two questions.

He starts to move the goalposts a little on the “Christian view” thing by playing the “literalist” card. Now. I’m a Biblical Literalist. I do not think it means what Rudd think it means, or what many extreme Biblical Literalists think it means. I think Biblical literalism means reading a text in its context, trying to understand what the author literally meant, and in part that comes from understanding what the original audience would understand something to literally mean.

“In fact if we were today to adhere to a literalist rendition of the Christian scriptures, the 21st century would be a deeply troubling place, and the list of legitimized social oppressions would be disturbingly long.”

This is a purely speculative begged question – and it ignores the contribution to the 21st century made by Bonhoeffer’s contribution to the 20th century. He also throws Wilberforce under a bus. It’ll surprise Wilberforce to one day learn that people considered he was ignoring the plain meaning of the Bible when he opposed slavery.

Here’s Rudd’s guide to reading the Bible.

The Bible also teaches us that people should be stoned to death for adultery (which would lead to a veritable boom in the quarrying industry were that still the practice today). The same for homosexuals. And the biblical conditions for divorce are so strict that a woman could be beaten within an inch of her life and still not be allowed to legally separate.

The point is that nobody in the mainstream Christian Church today would argue any of these propositions. A hundred years ago, that was not necessarily the case. In other words, the definition of Christian ethics is subject to change, based on analysis of the historical context into which the biblical writers were speaking at the time, and separating historical context from timeless moral principles, such as the injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

Nobody in the mainstream church has argued for stoning adulterers, with any credibility, since Jesus stopped the angry mob stoning an adulteress, or since Jesus met a divorced, adulterous, Samaritan woman at the well. The very model of the oppressed whom Bonhoeffer says we should be looking out for – and Jesus claims to be the promised king of the Old Testament and doesn’t stone her. Clearly the plain reading of the Old Testament, so far as Jesus was concerned – and he’s better positioned to read it than we are, as a Jew, and as God.

Christian ethics aren’t subject to change. Christian ethics are the ethics of the cross. It’s not just “love your neighbour” – Christian ethics are a call to deny yourself and to love your enemy.

Rudd presents such an anaemic view of Christian ethics here that it’s not surprising his conclusion is theologically incoherent.

The call for all people who follow Jesus is that we die to self, die to our desire to base our identity on our sexual orientation – gay, straight, bi, or otherwise – there is no unbroken sexual orientation – and if we do want to pursue sexual intimacy, regardless of orientation, Jesus affirms the traditional view of marriage.

Here’s a thing Jesus says when he also shows that K-Rudd is wrong about divorce.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Some people won’t have sex because being part of the Kingdom of God calls them to that. We’re really bad at acknowledging that category, culturally, and in our church.  I suspect singleness would be much easier if we were better at looking out for those who are single. So that it’s not a cross they bear alone.

Anyway.

It’s hard not to read this following bit in the light of his conversation with his friend – and suspect that it underpins his theological move.

“Which brings us back to same sex marriage. I for one have never accepted the argument from some Christians that homosexuality is an abnormality. People do not choose to be gay. The near universal findings of biological and psychological research for most of the post war period is that irrespective of race, religion or culture, a certain proportion of the community is born gay, whether they like it or not. Given this relatively uncontested scientific fact, then the following question that arises is should our brothers and sisters who happen to be gay be fully embraced as full members of our wider society? The answer to that is unequivocally yes, given that the suppression of a person’s sexuality inevitably creates far greater social and behavioural abnormalities, as opposed to its free and lawful expression. “

Rudd’s statement would be heaps better if he just said: “We are a secular democracy, and people in our secular democracy desire something, and the only good reason not to appears to come from a religious understanding of the thing.” By trying to play theologian he has left himself a little open to criticism.

The Bible says that humanity is born sinful. That we’re born with a natural propensity to sin. It shouldn’t be a huge jump for Christian theology to acknowledge that homosexuality is natural – it’s only a problem if we think our nature is a pristine, untainted, God honouring canvas. The image we bear of God in Genesis 1 is broken in Genesis 3.

Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15), and calls people to come and die. Like he did. But if you’re not coming and dying then I am not so sure you can be called not to base your identity on anything you want – including your sexuality. Including defining your relationships using the word “marriage.” That’s why Rudd should have left the theology alone and just gone with the politics. He’s better at that.

Rudd moves from the theological point to the argument from nature about children needing a mother and father. I believe that in the ideal circumstances this is true (though I’m sympathetic to the idea that an emotionally healthy child needs much more than just a mother and a father – who love them sacrificially, they need a “village”). But I also, like Rudd, believe that we’re a long way from the ideal.

“Which brings us to what for some time has been the sole remaining obstacle in my mind on same sex marriage – namely any unforeseen consequences for children who would be brought up by parents in a same sex married relationship, as against those brought up by parents in married or de-facto heterosexual relationships, by single parents, or by adoptive or foster parents, or other legally recognised parent or guardian relationships. The care, nurture and protection of children in loving relationships must be our fundamental concern. And this question cannot be clinically detached from questions of marriage – same sex or opposite sex. The truth is that in modern Australia approximately 43 per cent of marriages end in divorce, 27 per cent of Australian children are raised in one parent, blended or step-family situations, and in 2011-12 nearly 50,000 cases of child abuse were substantiated by the authorities of more than 250,000 notifications registered. In other words, we have a few problems out there.

That does not mean, by some automatic corollary, that children raised in same sex relationships are destined to experience some sort of nirvana by comparison. But scientific surveys offer important indications. One of the most comprehensive surveys of children raised in same sex relationships is the US National Longitudinal Survey conducted since 1986 – 1992 (and still ongoing) on adolescents raised by same sex partners. This survey, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics in 2010, concluded that there were no Child Behaviour Checklist differences for these kids as against the rest of the country”

These longitudinal studies are interesting. I do wonder what the results would look like if you reverse engineered the ideal parenting situation from the outcome of parenting. If you asked a bunch of successful and emotionally healthy adults about their background – if you didn’t take a broad cross section to measure against the average, but selected some sort of high achievement criterion. Maybe that study is out there somewhere. But anyway, Rudd makes the point that the horse has already bolted on this front…

“Either as a result of previous opposite-sex relationships, or through existing state and territory laws making assisted reproduction, surrogacy, adoption and fostering legally possible for same sex couples or individuals in the majority of Australian states and territories. Furthermore, Commonwealth legislation has already recognised the legal rights of children being brought up in such relationships under the terms of Australian family law.”

One thing I do appreciate is the tone Rudd has brought to the debate – he acknowledges that this is his opinion, and that people, like Julia Gillard, will use their own consciences and reasons to develop their own convictions. This is what life in a democracy is about.

So good on him for that.

Which brings me to the ACL.

The ACL is apparently indignant that a back bench MP would dare exercise his right to conscience. They’ve taken a leaf from the Greens, their political nemesis, in comparing this policy decision to the stolen generation.

Here’s Christine Milne’s impassioned statement about a recent asylum seeker decision.

“In 10, 15, 20 years when there is a national apology to the children detained indefinitely in detention for the sole, supposed crime of seeking a better life in our country because they are running away for persecution with their families, not one of you will be able to stand up and say “Oh we didn’t, oh, it was the culture of the period.”

That’s a nice piece of rhetoric – but it’ll only take so long before this becomes the Australian equivalent of Godwin’s Law. The ACL is working on it…

Here’s the title of their Media Release.

Rudd’s change on marriage sets up a new stolen generation

Really?

Do go on.

The Prime Minister who rightly gave an apology to the stolen generation has sadly not thought through the fact that his new position on redefining marriage will create another.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said Kevin Rudd’s overnight change of mind on redefining marriage ignored the consequence of robbing children of their biological identity through same-sex surrogacy and other assisted reproductive technologies.

“What Kevin Rudd has failed to consider is that marriage is a compound right to form a family. Marriage is not just an affectionate relationship between two people regardless of gender.

I’m sympathetic to this argument. I’m just not sure it’s a particularly Christian argument. It’s a politically conservative argument based on concepts of personhood that admittedly come from the Christian tradition. But it doesn’t seem particularly informed by the person of Jesus. The Jews could own this position.

This is a nice call to take the question of the raising of children away from selfishness:

“What Mr Rudd has not considered is whether or not it is right for children to be taken through technology from their biological parent so that ‘married’ same-sex couples can fulfil their desires.”

This objection is just weird. I would hope that given the sexual health issues in the homosexual community we would want some sort of education to happen to prevent these issues (oh wait, the ACL has form in this area on sexual health billboards, and with those smoking claims).

Mr Shelton said Mr Rudd had also ignored the fact that this inevitably means parents will have their children taught the mechanics of homosexual sex in school sex education classes, something that would surely follow the redefinition of marriage.

Here’s a little case of adopting the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mantra while trying to have one’s cake and eat it too. Read the heading of this media release again, and then read this rebuke…

“The so-called ‘marriage equality’ debate has been conducted by slogans without proper consideration of the consequences. Kevin Rudd is the latest to fall victim to shallow thinking on this issue,” Mr Shelton said.

The ACL is disappointed in Rudd – not primarily because his theological account of sexuality misrepresents the Gospel. But because. Umm. Marriage.

“Mr Rudd’s announcement that he supports same sex marriage will be a huge disappointment for Christians and leaves their hopes for the preservation of marriage clearly with the Coalition and Christian-based minor parties.

Oh. And because it’s bad politics because it doesn’t protect the bigger minority from the smaller…

“No government has the right to create these vulnerabilities for the church-going twenty per cent of the population in order to allow the point two per cent who will take advantage of this to redefine marriage,” he said.

And now Christians won’t vote for him. Because the ACL speaks for Christians.

“Mr Rudd seems intent on burning bridges not only with colleagues, but with a constituency which had long given him the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Shelton said.

Something is either true and demands our support, or not. The truth doesn’t change with popular opinion, to which he is now saying he seems to be responding.”

“If this is an attempt to wedge Julia Gillard, it will cost Mr Rudd the last of his following in the Christian Constituency,” Mr Shelton said.

And finally. When it comes to the question of the theological stuff, where you might expect something related to the gospel, we get another statement that the Australian Sharia Law Lobby would be happy to sign up to if we changed “Christian teaching” to “God’s Law”.

His views on homosexuality and changing the definition of marriage are not in line with orthodox Christian teaching.

“All major Australian church denominations officially oppose same sex marriage and over 50 of Australia’s most prominent church and denominational leaders signed a statement against it in August 2011.”

The ACL is playing the game that K-Rudd pointed out is a problematic game for Christians in his Monthly article. Jesus calls us to come and die. He calls us to die to our sexual desires in order to submit to his Lordship. That’s where Kevin goes wrong. The ACL goes wrong not because they think Jesus is only interested in our sexuality – they’re trying to speak out for children too. Clearly. Or they wouldn’t use such dumb headings. They go wrong when they try to make Jesus the Lord of petty politics. On the one hand the ACL’s Lyle Shelton says “things are either true or they aren’t” and on the other he argues against certain courses of action because the political numbers are bad. Their whole model is broken.

Christians don’t take up our cross by railing against the political empire from a position of power – for starters, the political empire put Jesus to death. Or by playing the political game as though might makes right. There’s not much of a theology of the cross being displayed in the ACL’s statement.

K-Rudd should have left the theology and focused on the politics. The ACL should have left out the politics and focused on the theology (Jesus). Church and state should listen to each other. Especially when everyone is claiming they’re trying to follow Jesus. If you want to do politics like Jesus you’ve got to do politics shaped by the cross. If you want to speak theology about politics you’ve got to show how your theology relates to the cross. If you want to speak as Christians about politics why would you not speak of politics in the light of the cross?

Jesus’ pitch is the same for everybody. It’s not just about the poor, or about social justice – we’re all oppressed. We’re all broken. We all need intervention.

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matt 16).

Child abuse is bad. In any form. But the sexual abuse of children is especially heinous. It is, I think, the worst form, and example, of sexual brokenness in humanity. And the idea that any Christian institution could not just be complicit in covering this sort thing up, but actively and systematically prevent wrongdoers facing justice for crimes they commit, siding with the perpetrator at the expense of the victim – whether explicitly, or implicitly – makes me sick. It makes me angry.

The obvious answer then – when it comes to the question in the heading – is that we should not just welcome the Royal Commission. We should champion it. We should celebrate it. It’s fantastic. It’s the state doing what the state should do. Pursuing justice. For victims.

But for some reason it doesn’t seem that simple. For some reason the Catholic Church appears, if reports are accurate, to be hedging their bets on this front.

It’s an area of public opinion – and justice and morality – where there’s no room for covering up what’s happening.

Getting caught in a cover up, in a sensitive area like this, is a PR disaster. It doesn’t even do that which it attempts to do – protect your brand. It trashes it. And anybody loosely associated with you, because, say, they have “church” in their name.

It’s not just a PR disaster. It’s a moral disaster. It’s wrong. It’s the wrong way to approach wrongdoing. It compounds it, not just by enabling future abuse, but especially if/when you get caught. The tragedy for Christians is that while the Reformation was a pretty major historical event around 500 years ago, there’s still a little bit of confusion around the traps when it comes to the church – and the difference between Catholics and Protestants. It’d be really easy, and its very tempting, to distance ourselves from the Catholics theologically – to throw them under the bus on this one – but some of those nuances get lost on the public, and you’ve got to figure out what your denomination does when you end up hiring a sinner who sins…

It’s better to deal with the underlying issues as openly and honestly as you can. Partly so that you can be consistent when things go pear shaped at your end, but mostly so that the gospel of Jesus is pretty clear.

And that means saying: “people do wrong. All the time. We all need forgiveness. We all crave justice. And real justice and forgiveness are found in Jesus.”

This isn’t trite. It’s the profoundly uncomfortable truth of the gospel.

It’d be pretty easy to turn child sex offenders into some special category of unforgivable person – and in many ways I wish this were true. I actually think if we’re honest about the Gospel, this is almost a harder sell than Hell. I reckon some of the people who don’t like the idea of Hell would be for it – if it was somewhere reserved for Hitler and child abusers.

The shocking bad news of the Gospel

The bad news of the gospel is that all people – child abusers, and me, and nicer people like you, are broken, and need help. At times it feels like the worst part of the bad news is that help is available to people we wish it wasn’t. The other part of the bad news is you’re just like the child abuser. Naturally. You’re just lucky that you probably aren’t as messed up as them by the life you’ve lived, or the crossed wires in your head. Psychologists are great at making excuses for criminals – and they’re kind of right – most people who do terrible stuff do it because they’ve experienced terrible stuff. But the excuse shouldn’t actually function to stop consequences following actions. It should give us, especially if you’re a Christian, a bit of sympathy for the perpetrator of a crime (though you should have a lot more sympathy for the victim – and we should especially want to protect vulnerable victims).

But we’re all in the same boat – or perhaps in a better metaphor – we’re all lost in the same sea, needing to be rescued.

We’re all pretty messed up, we all hurt people, we’re all wired to be selfish, it’s in our genes, because we’re human – some of us just have different opportunities to express our brokenness, or different generational baggage, different circumstances that make us angry, or deviant, in different ways – because we’ve felt the residual effects of sin from the people who’ve shaped us, and the people who’ve shaped them… We’re all broken, we all inflict our brokenness on others. Some people inflict their brokenness on people whose brokenness hasn’t really had time to develop – children – and that’s abhorrent.

It’s not just abhorrent. It’s criminal. And that’s where this Royal Commission is important, and where the Catholic Church is smashing the Christian brand when it covers up crimes and seems to care more for the people committing them, than for the victims. When people commit crimes – the state should rightly be free to punish those people. Even if they’ve been forgiven by God. That’s why we have governments, and again, if the church is getting in the way of the government because it thinks it operates on a higher plane – then I’d argue its missed that the Biblical truth that Governments are appointed by God to do a job. That the material costs of sin need to be paid (in the absence of forgiveness of the victim), as well as the spiritual.

God judges people, and does so justly, but he also appoints governments (Romans 13:1):

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

And he appoints them to do a job.

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

The authorities, rightly, say that the sexual abuse of children is criminal, and deserving of punishment. It blows my mind that anybody thinks it’s a helpful thing for the gospel to be seen helping people avoid that punishment. No matter what the theological agenda you’re running is – if you’re preventing people meeting Jesus because you, or your theology, is getting in the way of the gospel, you probably need to rethink your theology.

Helping people avoid that punishment by suggesting that the confession of a sin, which may (though I believe it doesn’t), solve the spiritual aspect of a crime, so they shouldn’t be punished by the state (which is what I think is the perception of what’s going on) is bad. It’s no better if we grasp the nuances of the Catholic position – they’re saying that if Confession is not kept sacrosanct, such that what is said in the confession booth no longer stays in the confession booth, criminals won’t confess, and they’ll have no Spiritual way out, so they’ll get Hell for their crimes, not just the justice of the state. This kind of misses the point. The justice of the state is something God institutes.

There’s an easy theological solution here – realise that confession only really counts when it’s done to God, begging for mercy on the basis of the blood of Jesus – the whole confession to a priest thing is a theological non-starter…

Anyway. The bad news of the gospel is that when it comes to the judgment we deserve for our brokenness, from God, who requires perfection, nobody meets the standards. Not you. Not me. Not a child abuser. There’s no special category of sinner, though we don’t all deserve jail for our sins.

The shocking good news of the gospel

But the good news of the gospel (which is kind of a tautology when you know that gospel means good news) is perhaps more shocking – Jesus forgives child abusers. Like he forgives me. Like he can, or has, forgiven you – depending on what you think of him, and his good news. This is shocking, and horribly unfair.

Mercy is not justice. It’s not fair. It’s something better.

Jesus tells a couple of parables to explain how God’s approach to mercy, rewarding all those who follow Jesus equally no matter what they’ve done, and even forgiving people who have been more sinful than others, isn’t fair, but that in its unfairness it’s kind of wonderful – especially when you realise that you’ve been dealt a pretty good hand, that’s not what you deserve either.

That’s why Jesus says the lost being found should be something joyful. That’s why mercy shown to us should lead us not just to forgive people when they wrong us, but to extend the offer of mercy to others.

Paul says something about the sort of confession that counts for something in Romans 10.

9 …because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… 

13 …For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Everyone is pretty universal – it doesn’t say “everyone except those nasty sorts of sinners we don’t like.

It’s interesting that this is just a little bit before Paul talks about the role of government in bringing justice to wrongdoers  – he doesn’t feel the need to qualify this by saying “everybody except those people the state will punish will be saved.”

The response to knowing that everyone who turns to Jesus will be saved isn’t “don’t tell some people” – it’s tell people. The “they” in this verse are part of the “everyone” in the one before:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

It’s a tough balance. Here are some of the factors I think need to be in the mix for our response to things like this Royal Commission.

  • As Christians we want to make children welcome, and better than that – safe from harm – when they come to know Jesus, or come to our church stuff to find out about him. That’s got to be our top priority.
  • We want to allow the state to be the state. Crimes should be punished. Justice should be served. Church and state are separate and we want to affirm the state’s ability to do its job. And comply with it. Fully. Transparently. Accountably. As we do good for people.
  • We also want to be accountable and transparent with how we deal with children, and who we let into situations where children are present.
  • We also want to distance ourselves from other people who call themselves Christians but, at times, don’t seem to do the first two of these things in a satisfactory way, but not in a way that damages the gospel – or prevents us from treating those people who, if they call on the name of Jesus, will be saved, and are part of the family of God, as something less than brothers.
  • We want to create that distance so that the gospel is protected from the damage that people who claim the name of Jesus can do to it when their actions don’t match their words.
  • We want to make sure that the good news of the gospel is available to people who do bad and horrible things.

What this looks like in practice – A Media Release/Public Statement Template

This is a pretty long post already, but here’s a sample media release I wrote that tries to bring this stuff together. This is an issue that I think requires a long release, that should be published quite publicly on your website, along with relevant links to any child safety information you can provide.

Church/Denomination X welcomes Royal Commission, offers hope of Jesus to victims and perpetrators

CHURCH NAME unequivocally welcomes the announcement of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse within Australian institutions, including church run institutions.

CHURCH NAME takes child protection seriously. Children must feel safe, and especially have no reason to fear abuse, when participating in activities sanctioned by the church, including its Sunday services, kids programs, and camps.

CHURCH NAME complies with relevant child protection legislation, and recognised best practice for the provision of services to children, in its operations. All CHURCH NAME representatives and volunteers who work with children are blue card accredited (A QUEENSLAND THING?), and we ensure adequate training is provided to our team through NAME OF TRAINING PROGRAM.

While much of the emphasis of this Royal Commission will rightly focus on the inappropriate treatment of children within church run institutions, CHURCH NAME welcomes the shining of light into this darkness, and the genuine chance this represents to bring justice to victims, closure to families, and punishment for wrongdoers, because the name of Jesus is tarnished when crimes go unpunished, or are hidden behind a curtain of religiosity and secrecy.

CHURCH NAME spokesperson X, says church and state are separate, and the state has a responsibility to carry out justice and punish wrongdoers, which the church must prayerfully support, without getting in the way.

“We believe in the separation of church and state,  that this rightly follows the teaching of Jesus when he said “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” and that governments are elected by the people, but appointed by God to carry out justice and protect the vulnerable. People who break the law of the land should bear the cost of breaking the law.”

“Our job is to focus on the spiritual cost of breaking God’s law. His judgment. And the free and shocking mercy and forgiveness he offers to all people in Jesus.”

“God takes loving and protecting children, and any poor, weak, or vulnerable members of our society very seriously. He will punish wrongdoers – both via the government, and in judgment. But his mercy triumphs over his judgment when a wrongdoer confesses, truly repents, and throws themselves at his feet.”

“The mercy and forgiveness of God must never prevent the government carrying out its role in society. The separation of church and state means there’s a bit of a spiritual double jeopardy happening – those forgiven by God, through the shocking truth of the gospel of Jesus, must still face punishment for their crimes.”

“The shocking news of the gospel is that while Jesus loves and values children, and the kingdom he began with his death on the cross and his resurrection, is a kingdom that loves, values, and includes, children. The shocking news of the gospel is that the love and forgiveness found in Jesus offers hope for those broken by sexual abuse, both the victims, and truly repentant perpetrators.”

“The church can be quick to demonise sinners, and while we crave justice, and long for a day when no child will be endangered by the brokenness of human nature, we must continue to offer this shocking hope to the lowest of the low, recognising that we too were low in God’s sight before he offered his mercy to us.”

CHURCH NAME will fully comply with any aspects of the Royal Commission that involves its services or ministries, and continue submit to the authority of the government, and adopting best practice methods for protecting children within its care. Our pastoral team are also available for pastoral care and counselling for any victims of sexual abuse, or parties affected by the long term consequences of such abuse in our community.

For more information on CHURCH NAME and our child protection policies, visit WEBSITE.

ENDS

So. Over to you. What would you put in/leave out in a statement like this?

On the surface this reads like an angry council being spurred on by some angry residents to persecute an Australian church…

Scarborough Baptist Church, in Western Australia, has been ordered to cease almost all its activities because their church property is only technically allowed to conduct religious services and childcare. Their media release says:

“On 18 September 2012 Scarborough Baptist Church received notification from the City of Stirling requiring the Church to cease all activities (including feeding the needy and running craft and pre-school dance classes) not defined by the City as “religious activities”. The penalty for not complying is an immediate fine of $1,000,000 plus $125,000 per day that the Church fails to comply.

Many of these activities are central to the Church’s pastoral role within the community, and have been operating in the church for years; the craft group, for example, has been holding weekly craft meetings for 35 years, and the evening service and community meal has now been running for nearly a decade.

The City of Stirling has failed to provide any evidence that Scarborough Baptist Church has contravened any local by-laws. Through this Direction, the City has taken upon itself the right to define what constitutes a religious activity. According to the City’s correspondence, religious activities exclude, among others: funerals, weddings, Easter services, youth groups, quiz nights to raise funds for local schools, fêtes and fairs to raise funds for world aid, and the provision of meals and services to the community.

It is the position of Scarborough Baptist Church, in accordance with the separation of Church and State, that local government officials not take it upon themselves to define what a religious activity is, be it in the context of a church, mosque, temple, synagogue, or other place of worship.”

I’m not a big fan of that last paragraph – I mean I understand where they’re coming from, but I think they assume a “separation of church and state” that might not actually exist in the form that they’re suggesting it does. However, the idea that local government officials shouldn’t be defining what a religious activity is is pretty sound.

There’s also some nice bits of the Bible to support what Scarborough Baptist are defining as religious activities – especially the bolded bits above:

From James 1:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

And Mark 10, where Jesus is talking to a young rich guy.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.””

Jesus makes it a pretty big deal towards the end of Matthew too, in chapter 25…

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Now. I don’t live in Western Australia, so I’m not exactly sure what’s going down here – but this seems to be a bit of a PR nightmare for the council, and a great opportunity for the church. Perhaps they should move their activities to a park or something while this gets sorted out… but at the very least they’ll be able to talk a bit about what it means to be a Christian – and how these activities relate to what Jesus taught.

The story is getting some coverage, and I guess we can expect to see more of it in coming days… here’s one of the fairly sympathetic stories from a West Australian outlet… where the plot thickens a bit… with two things:

The complaints were apparently initiated by the church’s neighbours… for what some might consider a legitimate reason.

“The council said it was obliged to investigate after receiving complaints from residents over late-night noise and antisocial behaviour such as urination in public…

… Health and compliance manager Peter Morrison said the council has told the church that it would consider changes to allow many of the activities if the church lodged the necessary applications and showed how it would address neighbourhood concerns.

“The church has refused to make any such application,” he said. “Any organisation, church or not, needs to make an application to their local government authority to conduct activities on premises.”

And the council is prepared to allow the church “conduct worship” if it fills out some paperwork.

Here’s what I’d be doing if I were the church in question.

1. Reach out to the neighbourhood. Mending bridges. Apologising. Offering the same love to the immediate neighbours that they seem pretty good at offering to the community at large. Deliberately.

2. Put together a teaching series on what “religion that God accepts” looks like – putting these on the website, and issuing a media release inviting the community along to experience “true religion”… even if they have to do it in a park. This gets the church’s position into the public domain as quickly, clearly, and proactively as possible.

3. Submit to the requests of the government and fill out the paperwork – and see what activities the council deems inappropriate.

4. Write an open letter to the mayor, sent to the local paper, outlining the church’s commitment to praying faithfully for, and serving the city, especially by lovingly pointing people to Jesus, and caring for them as he requires, with no request for special treatment, but a promise to keep on using whatever resources the church has to love and serve the community, out of the hope that they will see their need for Jesus through the love of his people, with a concluding statement that even one day’s worth of the fine will put the church out of business.

Obviously I’m not that church, and they have a much better idea of what’s going on on the ground, with their neighbours, with their finances, and how essential their activities are to their presence in the community. But it’s interesting to work from a non-hypothetical dilemma.

There’s an interesting take on the situation from a guy named Stephen McAlpine here, he suggests a couple of different solutions…

This could be a big deal, or it could be a small deal, either way – it raises some interesting questions about how to be the church in Australia and what it means to have a physical presence in a community.

UPDATE: There’s another good story from a couple of days ago that’s worth a read. I especially like these last lines:

Pastors and church members are adamant that they should be allowed to serve food under their licence to operate as a church, because feeding the needy is part of a religious service.

Seven-year-member Colin Rowecliffe says: “We are a church, and inherent in that is the approval to be a church and act like a church.”

We want to be a church that is community minded, that not only has bible studies and prayers but also does things in the community”.

“We don’t just try to do talk about what Jesus does, we try to do what Jesus did.”

Also, in the comments, RodeoClown shared a response that Scarborough Baptist issued after that first article. It’s worth a read in full… but some highlights:

“Peter Morrison’s comments regarding Scarborough Baptist Church gives the wrong impression that the church is being deliberately intransigent and seeks to put itself above the law. Up to now the church has had no evidence presented to us to indicate that we have breached any by-laws of the City of Stirling or laws of the state. Mr. Morrison refers to complaints about late night activities by the church. Our Sunday evening meal finishes at 8pm. with all the people dispersed by 8.15pm. at the latest. Once or twice a year we may have a meeting up to ten at night – which hardly constitute ‘late nights’. The complaints can thus not refer to the church’s activities and should have been dismissed.”…

…We have always sought permission for activities conducted outside our church buildings that may impact on the community. Furthermore, officials of the City of Stirling trained us on how to provide meals in line with health regulations at our Sunday fellowship and outreach services.

I miss Peter Costello, and it seems being out of politics has freed him up a little bit in terms of speaking about his faith and dishing out advice to church leaders. This talk he gave to Anglican Ministers in Melbourne last week looks like a cracker.

He’s still funny.

“If I had been to church 40 weeks a year, I have probably listened to 1000 sermons and tonight could be payback time.”

Here’s the substance from a story with the Melbourne Anglican

“You only get a good media coverage if you agree with the media’s views.”

“The media has its own view of the world… and if you fall in with that, you will get a good press but if you want to promote the Christian Gospel, you will not.”

“The first thing I would say to the Church is, don’t measure your relevance by the amount of media coverage you get.”

“I actually think that media and celebrity is one of the great false idols of the modern age.”

“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.”

“My message to you is that you have a wonderful calling and a timeless message and we look to you to keep us in faith.

“Don’t ever overlook the fact that no matter how high you are in Australia, you still need nourishment for your soul.”

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 Facebook newsfeed is jammed full of articles, cause invites and petitions suggesting that the Christian sky will fall down if I don’t voice my support for the government funding of school chaplains.

For some background – the Australian government provides some funding for schools to employ chaplains (after consultation with the P&C and support from the local community (which means churches). This funding is generous and has allowed for many chaplains to be hired around the country. In Queensland these services are generally provided through Scripture Union (SU) who are an umbrella body, and a Christian organisation. Chaplains roles are limited because they offer services to people of all faiths, beliefs, lack of faiths, etc. An atheist from Toowoomba doesn’t like that government money is going to what is arguably a religious service, that arguably enshrines Christianity as a state religion (though the legislation is all very clear that chaplains don’t have to be Christian). This is the website for the High Court Challenge. Here’s a few paragraphs from a news story from September last year:

“Mr Williams said that while the rules of the program prohibited chaplains from proselytising, the Queensland provider, the biblical literalist Scripture Union, has as its aim ”to encourage people of all ages to meet God daily through the Bible and prayer”.

”It’s absolutely, totally out of control here. You can’t prevent your children being exposed to chaplaincy,” Mr Williams said.

In Victoria, state school chaplains are employed by ACCESS Ministries, the same group that provides non-compulsory religious education. Chaplains in Victoria are better qualified than in other states, and are required to have at least one degree in teaching, theology or counselling, as well as further training in another of those fields.”

I won’t be joining said causes, signing said petitions, (though I will read the articles).

I think government funding for chaplains is actually borderline a bad thing, for a number of reasons. I wrote something along these lines back in 2006 when federal funding was first announced, and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind.

In case you’re sitting there thinking “oh no, all the chaplains I know are lovely people, and should totally keep their jobs” – I agree. Entirely. One of my best friends really is a chaplain, several other close friends are too. Chaplains, on the whole, have had an incredibly positive impact on the lives of children at school – and somebody in the school community should be doing the job they’re doing, I’m glad the people currently doing the job are Christians. I really am.

I have a couple of problems with the scaremongering going on around this issue.

1. There’s an assumption that government funding of chaplains is a good thing.
2. There’s an assumption that this money is free.
3. There’s an assumption that chaplains would disappear if the funding was pulled.
4. There’s an assumption that chaplaincy, in its present form, is good for the spread of the gospel.

I’d challenge the first three, and suggest that in the case of the third this is no axiom, but reflects the exception, not the rule (indeed, I’d say for chaplains to be spreading the gospel they’d have to be putting their federal funding and positions in danger).

It’s this kind of approach to the interaction with church and state that I think characterises much of what is wrong with the church – we assume we have some sort of entitlement to special access.

Around the same time in 2006 that I wrote that post linked above, I wrote another post, suggesting that because of Christianity’s place in Australia’s heritage we do have a place in the educational spectrum. Particularly in modern history. And I think RE is appropriate – because all students have equal access to religious instruction, and religion is a huge part of life outside of school, and I recognise that there is a spiritual aspect to one’s development as a person that is rightly addressed in an RE program.

But chaplains aren’t even allowed to teach RE. What’s the point of having a Christian voice in a school if they’re not allowed to teach Christian things?

“While exercising their roles from within a Christian framework and promoting positive Christian values, SU Qld Chaplains will be sensitive to and respectful of people who hold beliefs and values different from their own. SU Qld Chaplains will be available to all students, staff and parents within their schools, regardless of religious affiliation.” – From the SU Chaplaincy site

The Queensland Government’s position on Religious Education in schools is quite clearly articulated here.

As is their position on what chaplains can do as part of their role

Whilst personally modeling and owning their own faith positions or belief, chaplains avoid any implications that any one religion, denomination or other set of beliefs is advantageous or superior to any other denomination, religion or belief.

Chaplaincy programs are compatible with policies and practices that apply to delivery of any service in a multi-faith and multicultural state school community. A chaplaincy program is inclusive of and shows respect for all religious and non-religious beliefs and other stances represented in the school community. All activities and events provided within a chaplaincy program are non-discriminatory and equitably available to students of all beliefs who choose to participate.

That earlier link spells this out a little further when it comes to the subject of teaching RE…

Teachers and chaplains are not to teach religious instruction. It is not part of their work duties. However, if a chaplain or a teacher works part-time, they may choose to teach religious instruction in their own time, outside of work hours.

Accepting government money, in a nation where church and state are separate (which is a good thing), creates a relationship of dependency and shifts the power dynamic in this separation to the person giving the money (I suspect this will eventually become a problem with regards to the tax benefits churches enjoy).

The “Save Our Chaplains” campaign is making this a do or die issue for school chaplaincy (and if you disagree with me, go there and sign the pledge – this post then becomes “awareness raising” so everybody wins). I think we can all acknowledge some truth to this campaign, an overturning of the federal funding may well see a bunch of chaplains out of a job – which is not the outcome we want. But if the church, as a whole, believes chaplains are worth keeping – then we should be paying for them ourselves. It’s great that the government wants to recognise the role that these guys play – but as soon as we take their money, they take control. And suddenly there’s a bunch of truths we can’t speak. Can a chaplain, funded by the government, be known to believe that homosexuality is a sin? Can a chaplain explain to a troubled child that Jesus is the only way to God? Can we make any claim that offends any other taxpayer? I don’t know. I’m not a chaplain – but I’ve been to a couple of SU Supporters nights and noticed that it’s all about “having positive impacts on children’s lives” and “being there” – and there’s almost never a mention of God at these nights at all. I once offered to pay $100 per year for every mention of God at one of these dinners, and it didn’t cost me a cent. And this is when they’re preaching to the converted. It’s not even “Scripture Union” anymore. It’s SU. Which is one of those branding decisions that’s made when you’ve moved away from the core product but want to keep your history… SU’s aims and working principles document is still thoroughly Christian, and commendable.

The guy launching the court action against government funding seems to be a bit of a jerk. But he’s a jerk with principles that are actually based in reality – church and state are separate. And we want them to be. Because we can’t afford to have the government controlling our message – look what happens to state churches in European (especially Scandinavian) countries. For a perspective on the issue from the other side (the atheist side) of the equation read this article – it’s long, and it makes some sound points, and some points from a “religious teaching is child abuse” kind of perspective.

Figuring out how to maintain the distinction between being on school grounds teaching Christianity as part of a religious education program and government funded positions for religious workers who can’t teach religions is tricky. One of the other spin-offs of this court challenge against chaplaincy in schools, and the introduction of ethics classes in NSW, and a host of other campaigns being driven by opponents of the gospel who conflate the two into one issue, is this attack on the teaching of RE in schools, or CRE, or RI, or whatever “scripture lessons” are called in your states. This is a period of time allocated for volunteers to come into a school to preach. There’s a campaign on Facebook that wants to keep RE taught in Victorian schools, which is a cause I’d support (not least because the guy running the Facebook cause is a friend of mine).

I won’t be signing anything to keep chaplaincy in its current guise in schools. I love my chaplain friends dearly. And I’d love to continue financially supporting them in the future so that they can get into schools and preach the gospel to kids without the shackles of government funding tying them down.

That is all.

Say what you will about Mark Driscoll – but the man is sharpest (I think) when he’s talking about how the church should interact with the surrounding culture. I like this video because we are almost completely in agreement.

Christianity, society and politics from CPX on Vimeo.

He talks about how we can learn from Calvin’s approach to Christianity and Politics, avoiding anachronistically suggesting that any imposition of Christian government is wrong, and suggesting that it’s not appropriate today because you’d need everybody in a country to be Christian in order for that to be appropriate.

“Change often times comes from the bottom up. And I think one of the great myths is that politics changes culture. Politics doesn’t change culture, it represents culture. Politics represents the views of the constituency.”

“My efforts particularly in our city have not been politically active, I’m quite frankly not, I mean, we don’t talk about politicians or issues, much, I mean as I’m teaching through the Bible there might be some corollary between a social issue and a biblical teaching, but for the most part our goal is to love and serve people, to serve the city, to be people who really do love and are committed to our city and want to see the benefit to all people in the city, not just the Christians, and I believe that as more people share that ethic that will help to turn the culture of the city over and that will lead to political change.”

Watch it. It’s good.

This is the sort of post that is eventually going to migrate to Venn Theology (in fact, it’s cross posted there).

You know you’re on a good thing if you’re preparing for an exam and the lecturer’s pet topics share the title of his books… Bruce wrote a book called “Seek the Welfare of the City” where he picks up that the New Testament picks up Jeremiah 29:7 “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile, Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers you too will prosper.” No. Bruce doesn’t pull one of those eisegetical fallacies and suggest that urban ministry is the only way to go – he suggests Christians have certain responsibilities when it comes to the welfare of their fellow citizens.

For the purposes of this exam it pays to be aware of this theme as it presents in 1 Peter, and in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. There’s a chapter in his aforementioned book Seek the Welfare of the City drawn from 1 and 2 Thessalonians and a journal article called The Public Hnouring of Christian Benefactors on 1 Peter and Romans 13. It’s on Ebsco’s journal article collection.

1 Peter

1 Peter 1:1 addresses the “elect sojourners of the dispersion” – a theological, rather than social description, and an allusion to the Jeremiah passage. One of Peter’s big arguments is that Christians weren’t saved to just keep doing what they were doing. Salvation involves a change of heart, and a change of heart involves a change of action. And the change of action is a change to loving those around you… and that change will be noticed by others. Which is kind of the logic in 1 Peter 2:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 1617 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

Bruce uses evidence of the first century practice of epigraphically honouring benefactors to show that the government did indeed make a practice of recognising the good deeds of civilians, and that this result was essentially guaranteed, as Paul also suggests in Romans 13:

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

I’m using the NIV here, because the ESV has a bunch of footnotes and they’re annoying to delete. But the ESV translates will be commended as “you will receive his approval” and many have commented on the certainty these two passages demonstrate in terms of the reward for being good.

We have some evidence that a Christian did indeed step up in this way – Erastus the Aedile of Corinth is mentioned in Romans 16, and an extant inscription in Corinth to such an Erastus has been a matter of some scholarly dispute. Mainly because some scholars are idiots and believe that all the Christians in Corinth were paupers (despite Paul saying “not many of you were of noble birth… etc” they read that as “none of you were…”

When we were in Corinth, Bruce said that being a benefactor, and the commands in Romans, referred to indi­vid­u­als act­ing in what­ever capac­ity they had to serve the city. He says this looked like mak­ing a finan­cial bene­fac­tion for a project, or run­ning for office.

Peo­ple who ran for office had to promise bene­fac­tions, and this foot­path inscrip­tion says that it was pro­duced under the Aedile­ship of Erastus.

Bruce asks:

Given these non-literary sources as well as the literary evidence of authorities praising benefactors, and the reference to this same activity in the New Testament passages, what conclusions can now be drawn about the New Testament meaning of the terms which promised to evoke this official response?

The Greek words used to describe good deeds in Rom. 13.3-4 and 1 Peter 2 are used in inscriptions to refer to a public benefaction.

Would the congregations, however, have understood the terms to refer to a public benefaction? Apart from the political context of both New Testament passages, which would have readily suggested the meaning of benefaction because of the praising by rulers, Paul in Rom. 5.7 refers to ‘the good’ man. His argument is that for a righteous man one would hardly be prepared to lay down his life, “although perhaps for a good man one will even dare to die’. The order is firstly διακαιος, and then αγαθος. Paul believes that the latter is a greater possibility because of obligations established through the receiving of a benefaction. This has been rightly taken to refer to one’s benefactor.

So Bruce concludes that these imperatives to act as benefactors in 1 Peter are indicative of at least the presence of some people of means within the church. Being a benefactor didn’t come cheap. His argument is also that the rulers of a city were hardly likely to notice small good deeds, so the implicit guarantee must be something bigger.

The cost of a benefaction was very considerable and would be beyond the ability of some, if not most, members of the church. However, there must have been Christians of very considerable means to warrant Paul’s imperative in v. 3 and also that of 1 Pet. 2.15.37 This further supports the view that there were some members of significant social status and wealth in the early church.

These wealthy Christians had a special role to play in earning some PR air miles for the early church:

The writer of 1 Peter, as does Paul, endorses public benefactions per se but in 1 Peter there may have been a need to press home the importance of ethical conduct expressed in high-profile good works. This could well have been because of the natural tendency to withdraw from them in the face of possible persecution… The New Testament stance is clear that their light was so to shine in this arena also that men would see their good works.

This interpretation also raises the question of “living quietly” as advocated by 1 Thessalonians 4.

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Yep, Bruce is aware of the apparent contradiction.

The conclusion of this paper also runs counter to the view that Paul encouraged his converts ‘to stand aloof from public life’, an argument based on a possible parallel thought in 1 Thess. 4.11 and the Epicurean stance of withdrawal from society.

Before we get on to resolving what 1 Thessalonians 4 means, Bruce makes this point about the function of benefaction:

“It was done to bring good to the life of the citizens in terms of their physical and environmental needs. This teaching is in keeping with the highly important theme of the Christian lifestyle, expressing itself in the doing of good in all aspects of life. Verses 14-15 are set within such a context in 1 Pet. 2.11-3.17…There is no suggestion that the Christian endorsement of this socio-political convention in the city was done in order to maintain the status quo but because it brought good to the life of the city… The committing of one’s soul to a faithful Creator is accomplished by doing good and this again reflects the strong encouragement given to Christians to make positive contributions to the everyday life of others. “

These good deeds were done to the dual end of silencing unwarranted criticisms of Christians (particularly those who thought Christian conversion meant withdrawing from society).

The public acknowledgment of a generous Christian benefactor by crowning him as a noble person, and the permanent reminder of the benefaction on an inscription would be the means of refuting unfounded rumours against Christians as being men of ill-will, subversive to the peace and well-being of a city.

1 Peter 2:12 gives another reason for doing said good works:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God”

If you’ve been reading my thoughts on the election (particularly in the build up) you’ll know I’m no fan of Family First. And you’ll mostly know why – but in a nutshell, I think their policies tend to be myopic, theocratic, lack nuance and their existence can be harmful for the cause of evangelism. I think the perpetuating the idea that God is a social conservative who wants you to vote for one party is harmful for the cause of politics and the liberty of the church.

But I hate the idea of being a person who offers criticisms with no solutions. I think Christians should be actively engaged in the political process. I’d love to see more convicted Christians running for office. Just not on a “God Party” platform.

So here’s my solution, dear reader. Tomorrow. Go out and join a political party. Any political party. Preferably one that you feel philosophically aligned to – but if you’re feeling particularly adventurous join one that needs some Christian perspective on their policies.

Join a party. Go to branch meetings. Become active in policy discussions. If we all did this we’d have an active role in forming policies before elections rather than having to select the lesser of two evils.

Lets stage our own Greenslide. If every member of your church joined the Greens and advocated for the environment, for social justice, and for a less rabidly anti-Christian platform we’d have the makings of a fantastic party. You might even get preselected to run for office somewhere. Put your hand up and go for it. Don’t turn the government into a theocracy. Be prepared to be in a position where you have to compromise. But such is life. The process will be better for having Christian voices heard the whole way along, our parties also run democratically – just like the government. Just remember Australia is a pretty secular country and you have to govern for Muslims too.

I’m calling for a retranslation of Matthew 24:6. We’re living in strange times. With strange people. Here are some media stories about public Christianity that have grabbed my attention in the last few weeks.

A UK judge ruled that a Christian sex therapist could not refuse his services to a gay couple.

‘Law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified. It is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective. But it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary.’

‘We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs.

‘The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other.

‘If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens, and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.’

‘The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments.

‘The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”

I didn’t know the English had a consitutional right to sex therapy. Forcing people to act against their conscience in the interest of “freedom” seems pretty odd to me.

But England is pretty messed up, just days later a Christian street preacher was arrested for privately telling (according to the reports) an off duty (gay atheist) police liaison officer that he believed homosexuality was a sin.

Whether or not homosexuality is a sin (I believe it is) is not the point here – whether or not we can voice opinions over things we disagree with is a much more important issue. I’m not sure why an atheist (which the complainant claims to be) would be offended that a God they don’t believe in thinks their conduct is sinful – especially when he defines every person as sinful, and every sin as essentially genetic (an inherited trait).

Things aren’t much better in the US – where a judge just ruled that the cross is a symbol for everybody – not just Christians. Much to the chagrin of atheists and Americans of other religions… here’s a section of the transcript.

MR. ELIASBERG: It doesn’t say that, but a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins, and I believe that’s why the Jewish war veterans —

JUSTICE SCALIA: It’s erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It’s the — the cross is the — is the most common symbol of — of — of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn’t seem to me — what would you have them erect? A cross — some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.

(Laughter.)

MR. ELIASBERG: So it is the most common symbol to honor Christians.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, my — the point of my — point here is to say that there is a reason the Jewish war veterans came in and said we don’t feel honored by this cross. This cross can’t honor us because it is a religious symbol of another religion.

Closer to home, a Geelong church had an Easter publicity stunt closed by police because it was offensive. They were trying to re-enact the crucifixion in a public space. Who thought that would be a good idea? Seriously. I know the crucifixion is important – but in terms of scarring (and scaring) little children in a public place the only way you could create more shock would be to crucify the Easter Bunny and tell them they aren’t getting any eggs.

I know the message of the cross is offensive – that doesn’t mean we have to go out of our way to offend people with it. Like this:

The minister of the church responsible, Sarah Keneally, said:

“When the police stopped it I looked behind me and there were about eight children … watching it and none of them looked distressed,” she said.

“I think it was pretty sad that a Christian group couldn’t express what Easter was truly about for one hour – it wasn’t like we were trying to take over the city or tell everyone they were going to hell.”

She said the group did not get a chance to talk with police before the display was shut down.

“They didn’t talk to us first, they just came and yanked the cord out of our amp and said we had to stop,” she said.

“We got through 40 minutes of Jesus hanging on the cross with two women mourning and instrumental music. I was a bit disappointed we weren’t allowed to have a one-hour demonstration.’

The Bible tells us to go and tell the world about Jesus.

“It doesn’t say to stay in a church and hope that everyone will turn up there because they won’t.”

Ms Kenneally said if the church conducts the same re-enactment next year it would consider cutting out the fake blood element.

“We would probably modify that a bit,” she said.

“We don’t want to, but if that’s what the public are saying, we would if we needed to.”

There’s a big difference between telling the world about Jesus and shoving a gory picture of his crucifixion in their faces.

Re: RE

Mmm, minimalism is the new black. I was tossing up using the word antidisestablishmentarianism in today’s heading – and it would have been in context too.

I noticed Dan posted some stuff on the RE debate the other day. Matt spends his time posting on Sweden’s dominance of the Ice Hockey world and his lack of success with getting attractive girls to talk to (or marry) him. What’s wrong with all the attractive girls out there?

There’s been a lot of stuff in the newspapers lately talking about a proposal to open up Religious Education in schools to any group who wish to be involved. The move is being driven by a group of secular humanists with heavily chipped shoulders. First of all, before I rant about why it’s such a stupid argument to be having, I’d like to ask the humanists why they don’t care about the opinions and emotional security of all the Christians they attack with their tolerant and open stance? Then I’d like to ask them what hurt they’ve experienced at the hands of genuine Christians. If you’re smart enough to kick up a stink like they are – you’re smart enough to do some research into the teachings of Christianity – any problems they have are more likely to be with the religious institution than with Christianity itself. They took another step in their battle to strike Christianity with the recent moves to remove Gideons bibles from hospitals because they might carry diseases or something. I think that pretty much sums up their position – they believe Christianity is a disease of the mind.

Now. My rant about why Christian education should be taught in schools begins here. Constitutionally Australia has no official religion (I think it’s article 16, but I’m pulling that out of nowhere so chances are I’m actually wrong – I could look it up but I can’t be bothered). The Westminster political system is built on the philosophy of the separation of powers (the people who make laws shouldn’t be the ones to enforce them because this would invariably lead to corruption). So our government is divided into the legislative, the judicial and the executive arms (the parliament, the court, the Queen (Governer General)). Because the under riding theory is that power ultimately corrupts the more separations we can create the better – so we have the upper and lower houses and federal, state, and local governments. Historically the church played a major, some would say overbearing, role in politics. This caused problems where one church group would try to kill another church group (like the Crusades or inquisitions or the protestant reformation or the current feud between the Bappos and Pressies). Political movers and shakers decided the church should be stripped of its influential position within the decision making process. In a democracy this makes sense – one interest group or belief system can’t philosophically force their will on another (unless they’re the majority). I’m all for the separation of powers and I’m all for the separation of church and state. What I’m not for is the rewriting of Australia’s history on a postmodern whim. If their argument was simply that public schools shouldn’t be using public funding to turn children into Christians that might have some merit. But it’s not. It’s stupid. Christianity, regardless of its veracity, plays a huge role in shaping our culture. It deserves a place in the educational spectrum (or curriculum) on that basis alone. One of the first things you’re taught when you study law – and I know this because I listened in first year – is that our legal system is based on a Judea-Christian model. Both our major political parties have historical ties to the church. Christian men and women played a huge part in bringing our society to the point its at today and these secular humanists want to spit on that legacy. The only reason they can legitimately take the stance they are today is because of the system they operate in – because it was created by Christians. Try going to a system based on Sharia law and see how far your secular humanism gets you. Some people are stupid.