Tag Archives: Peter Jensen

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Famously good last words from Peter Jensen

Peter Jensen is leaving some pretty big shoes to fill in the Sydney diocese. His final speech to synod as Archbishop is a cracker – it’s a model of engaging with the problems of our world, and presenting Jesus as the solution.

“If the gospel contrasts so favourably with individualism in community, family and death, why is evangelism hard? Precisely because it is a spiritual matter and human individualism is the love of self which it takes the Holy Spirit to make us abandon. Our society is even more in the grip of a malign individualism than ever before and its resistance to all relationships and especially an all demanding relationship with God is powerful indeed. But there us another side to this. I think that many people are tiring of the fruit of individualism and want to know the God who brings order and family and acceptance and relationship into the community.”

“I have never had such good opportunities in speaking to people about Jesus as in the last few three or four years. Our theory of Connect 09 is true – there are people everywhere who would like to know the gospel and will want us to befriend them. In particular lay people are ideally placed to quietly but confidently share Christ and show what a difference he makes. It may be that the evils of individualism will become so apparent that the world will be more open to the gospel, especially a gospel which stresses love in the face of community and family breakdown and hope in the face of death. In the meantime we preach a gospel which offers a radically different view of the world. After all this Lord did seize another communications revolution and turn it to good. He did hear Tyndale’s last Prayer and he did open the King of England’s eyes and so we have our English Bible and so here we are tonight.”

I think this bit is especially nice.

“I see the gospel becoming visible in the media. We will engage with the ideas of this generation and refuse to accept the censorship which is so easily imposed on Christianity. We must find ways of putting our case for Christ and making it natural to speak about God in the general community. The large mail I received after the recent QandA program showed me that once the gospel is visible, Christians in the workplace can and will make use of opportunities.”

I still have some questions about why Sydney needs as many incredibly trained people for its mission, if it is the place where 1/5 of all Australians live, it’d be nice to see some sort of proportional approach to the distribution of reformed evangelical workers in Australia where the other 4/5 live (let alone globally) – but I realise that this isn’t how denominations, particularly Anglicanism, work.

Here are two pertinent comments:

“We have proliferated workers. Many denominations are declining in workers, with people becoming part time and being older. For us the reverse is happening. The biggest expansion of workers has been amongst the ordained clergy where the numbers have advanced by an astonishing increase of 26% from 480 to 604. Our workers are better trained and higher quality in gifts than ever before. Most parishes are now using teams of workers, including a very significant number of women.”

“Furthermore we have started to move forward in creating new parishes. For years we have been gently stagnating at around 260 parishes, quietly amalgamating the dying ones, leaving suburbs unpastored and letting buildings go. We have now begun to go forward, refusing to close parishes or amalgamate them without the hope of re-opening them in the future, finding new congregations and uses for buildings and doing what we had forgotten to do – inaugurate new parishes. This changed mind-set must be permanent.”

I’d say there’s an inefficiency at play here, and it might be based on the “small church in every suburb” mentality that appears to underpin some of the visions of the future, I’m not sure that this model of thinking about and doing church (ecclesiology) is necessarily the best fit for how modern Australians will meet Jesus (missiology), which the Archbishop suggests is his goal. I’m sympathetic for the need for small churches for the people who want small churches, but there’s a reason that corner stores are making way for big shopping centres. There’s something to be said for an “incarnational” approach to church – where being part of a suburb is how we minister to it, but I don’t think it follows that if a suburb doesn’t have a building with open doors operating in it that the church isn’t part of the suburb – especially if you’ve also got an incredibly able laity (which the Archbishop notes in his piece). This seems to deny most of the realities of life in modern Australia – we work, rest, play, and live in very different locations every day of the week.

I’m not sure that if every Christian in Australia adopted a completely fluid commitment to their time, resources, and approach to Christian community, in the interest of the gospel, that the current lay of the land would be what we’d produce – in terms of how we think about what we do on a Sunday, who does what, and where it’s done. I’m certain there are essential aspects of our ecclesiology that don’t make way for “contextualisation” – like clear articulations of the gospel in everything that we do, and some space for the sacraments, but I’m not sure that reproducing more of the same is the best response to the changing Australian landscape. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

In the last 15 years I’ve been part of a small and very faithful suburban church, a small and faithful rural church, a medium sized church in a regional centre, and two bigger and equally faithful churches seeking to reach bigger pockets of a city – and while God works through his gospel amongst all this faithfulness, and we should prayerfully expect him to, the economies of scale in the bigger churches create opportunities that were less than a dream in those smaller ones.

I’m very thankful for the Archbishop’s faithful and gospel centred approach to his work in the last ten years, he’s going to be incredibly hard to replace – his performance on Q&A recently is fairly typical of the way he’s discharged his responsibilities with the great gifts God has given, and he’s certainly (along with a couple of others) the model I look to, and point to, when it comes to engaging our culture with the gospel… but as an outsider looking in (albeit with incredible vestigial, substantial, and direct and indirect ties to the work of the diocese in the past, and the Jensens and others in particular) – I’d love to see the Sydney Diocese think a little bigger, and a little differently about the work of the gospel in Australia.

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Peter Jensen on #qanda

Wow. Just wow. Look, Peter Jensen said tonight on Q&A that he supports the ACL – I’m going to write to him and ask him to support them with some PR advice. Just wow.

While every word he spoke was seized on and ridiculed by Catherine Deveny, Peter Jensen winsomely, faithfully, and articulately, presented the gospel and called for a more respectful public discourse about serious issues.

The Transcript is now online.

Let me just start by articulating, lest there be confusion, why I think Peter Jensen did a good job while saying substantially the same thing as the ACL.

He talked clearly and winsomely about Jesus and how the gospel impacts our social position. Not on all issues – Jesus was almost absent on his treatment of Asylum seekers – though his love for others wasn’t – and he said that it wasn’t “unChristian” to seek asylum”… he also talked about things in a measured way and talked about wanting to improve the tone of conversation around these issues – I don’t think the ACL models this well, and they certainly talk about Jesus much less than Jensen did, and does. A friend suggested that my favourable response to Jensen, when he not only endorsed the ACL, but took the same position as them, was possibly a result of bias, or that it would be perceived to be the case. But let’s walk through last night’s program and see how the Archbishop did (this friend didn’t actually watch until the end, and I thought it got better as it went along).

On Asylum Seekers

I think this was where what I am guessing was a strategy that Archbishop Jensen employed to demonstrate that careful engagement isn’t the order of the day on Q&A – he has been, perhaps rightly, criticised for being a little waffly – but I think he may have been inviting people to interrupt. He’s typically incredibly well briefed and sensitive to different mediums. There’s also this:

Which is interesting. So I think he’s subverting the medium to make a point about public discourse.

ROSS GRENFELL: Archbishop Jensen, do you agree with Tony Abbott’s comment that good Christians would not use the back door in relation to asylum seekers using boats? After all, weren’t Mary, Joseph and Jesus undocumented asylum seekers when they fled to Egypt to escape Herod.

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?

PETER JENSEN: No, I don’t agree with it and I do agree they were refugees and Christians ought to be extraordinarily sensitive to refugees and their needs. I agree with all those things. Can I go on?

TONY JONES: Yes, of course.

PETER JENSEN: I thought you might allow me. I do think, in terms of our political discourse, I’m sorry we can’t let the Government change its mind and get away with it because, after all, when new facts come in we’ve got to have people to change their minds.

In the light of my recent posts on asylum seekers I will say, that apart from tone, in the black and white form of the transcript, Catherine Deveny made some solid points, given extra credibility off the back of her recent Go Back To Where You Came From appearances.

Catherine Deveny: …This is very easy. This is not about stopping the boats, this is about starting the planes. This is about processing in Indonesia and in Malaysia. There is no deterrent that you can set up in Nauru or Manus Island or Christmas Island that is going to stop those people getting on boats. They say to me – every single one of them has said to me, “I would be happy to be swallowed up by the ocean than go back to where we’ve came from.” You have no idea what these people are facing. It is extraordinary that we’re not doing our basic obligations as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. We shouldn’t just be doing what the UN suggests we should be doing, we should be doing so much more. We have so much to give. This is a country that has been built on boat people, as they call them. I don’t see boat people. I just see people.

There was a nice moment where Peter Jensen promised to hold the government to account on its treatment of asylum seekers according to a recent report – which he had read, and could engage with.

CHRIS EVANS: Well, as I say, you can’t put a length of time on it. We don’t honestly know but in implementing the whole package one would hope that the deterrent value would start to see a change in behaviour. It’s one of the reasons why I think the…

TONY JONES: All right. So, no, just having elicited that answer I just want to hear from Peter Jensen. Are you satisfied with that, no time limits?

PETER JENSEN: Yes, well, I’ve had a look at the report. The spirit of the report is saying something a bit different, I think, Chris, and I trust that as you implement it you will be there’s nothing like hopelessness.

CHRIS EVANS: No.

PETER JENSEN: And to have arrived at Nauru and to have Australian protection in that sense, I know it’s an independent country, but to have no timeframe will breed the hopelessness that leads to self-destruction and to depression. So I would be looking for something better than that if possible, I have to say, and I think that’s the spirit of the Aristotle-Houston report.

I actually thought Chris Evans was worse to listen to than Catherine Deveny.

The Archbishop’s gospel contribution began in earnest on the question of the Sydney Anglican’s alternate marriage vows.

ELIZABETH ANNE SMITH: As a young woman and feminist living in the 21st century, where everyone is entitled to equal rights, I would like to know what valid reason the Church has to request a wife submit to her husband in marriage.

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen, let’s start with you since you started this debate.

PETER JENSEN: I thought it might be me. Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you for the question. Really I mean that, because at long last we’re beginning to have a conversation which sounds as though it’s going to be a rational and serious conversation about the nature of marriage and I have to say, from my point of view and perhaps some others as well, the whole question of marriage and family is one in our community that needs careful thought. Now, when I say the Church, by the way, we have put forward a possible service for use. It’s not mandatory. It’s an alternative. Let me say that. What we’re seeing, I think, is a clash of world views between what I’d call individualism and what you may call family or, in a sense, community. It’s a clash of world views which is going on all around us and it has drastic consequences one way or another. If you agree with me that a man is a man and a woman is a woman and although they are we are absolutely equal, equal in the sight of God, both made in the image of God, both with the same destiny, both with the same value, all those things are inherent in the Christian gospel and they must remain in the Christian gospel, agree with that and yet, on the other hand, I would say there are differences between men and women which both sides bring to a marriage and we have not been good recently at working out what it is that men bring to marriage and women bring to marriage.

A word search even for the word “gospel” doesn’t produce a whole lot of substance on the ACL’s website.

This was perhaps my favourite moment of the night, Tony Jones treats his guests with thinly veiled contempt a little too often…

TONY JONES: Okay. Let’s just get to the heart of the matter and to the question. Now, you’ve said biblical teaching is that the bride can make a voluntary promise to submit to her husband. So what exactly does the word “submit” mean to you.

PETER JENSEN: Well, it is a biblical word.

TONY JONES: Well, it’s an English word, actually. It would have been in Hebrew in the Bible.

PETER JENSEN: I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but it was Greek actually, if that’s all right but don’t worry

Then there was this:

PETER JENSEN: If submission is in view, it is because a husband has made certain key promises. This is more about men than it is about women and it is about a concern that men are not being men in the community. What men bring to marriage, what men bring to anything, is that sort of physical strength, if you like, a certain degree of arrogance, a certain degree of determination to be bossy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What men are being asked – they were asked something before the women say anything. What men are being asked is will you live towards your wife like Jesus Christ who gave his life for his bride. Will you do that? And if the man says yes to that and only then, otherwise I would not recommend it, if a man says yes to that and so commits himself, then I believe it’s right for a woman, if she chooses to, to say I submit to that in the sense that I recognise it, I respect it, and I’m going to give you space in our marriage – I’m going to give you space in our marriage to be a man.

As Tony Jones turned to Catherine Deveny in response to this Peter Jensen showed he had been briefed, with a reference to a tweet she put out a week ago.

PETER JENSEN: Now, you believe in marriage.

CATHERINE DEVENY: No, I don’t.

PETER JENSEN: That’s an important first point.

CATHERINE DEVENY: I don’t believe in marriage.

PETER JENSEN: You don’t believe in marriage.

CATHERINE DEVENY: I’ve never been married but I’m a very big supporter of same-sex marriage because I believe that marriage is a mistake that everyone has the right to make. I have never been married but I would like to congratulate you on your decision to proudly fly the misogynist and medieval colours of your religion and I do support your right to discriminate within your religion. And what I think is great is that you can choose to go to Las Vegas and be married by an Elvis or now you can choose to go to the Anglican Church and be married in a museum by a dinosaur….

So I think it’s interesting that you guys are going for a niche market there. I mean you guys could have gone for the Gloria Jeans, the corporate rock, the Hillsong, the ‘Be awesome for Jesus’ but you’re going, ‘No. No. Men are in charge because of the mumbo jumbo.’ So congratulations.

TONY JONES: I think you ought to be able to respond to that but briefly I just want to hear the…

PETER JENSEN: Where would you start to respond to that? I’m looking for a respectful and serious discussion of very important issues.

CATHERINE DEVENY: That is respectful.

PETER JENSEN: And we get dinosaurs and this sort of stuff. Interestingly, in the churches for years now we have not been using this language and we’ve gone down to 30% of the market.

CATHERINE DEVENY: Mm, the market.

PETER JENSEN: I’m saying, no, I think there’s a clash of – I think it was your word. I think it’s a clash of cultures here, very important. I may be wrong about all this. I’m only human. I think it’s important.

That my friends is epistemic humility. It’s disarming.

BRONWYN FRASER: Hi. I work with Christian cultures – women in Christian cultures overseas who do have this biblical wife submission approach to marriage and they also report some of the highest levels of domestic violence and sexually-based violence. Up to 60% of the women have experienced this. Could it be that this sort of inequality in marriage can lead to domestic and sexually-based violence and, as a Christian, how does this actually represent what Jesus stood for?

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?

PETER JENSEN: Yep. I believe this, again, gets to the heart of issues that are very important and can I say I utterly abominate the whole idea of domestic violence. I think it’s a wicked thing and any person – particularly any man who lays his hand on his wife is, to my mind, committing a grave sin. So that is what I believe. Now, is my view contributing to that end? I trust not because, properly understood, my view is saying that no man could ever do that, that it’s really he is to behave towards his wife as Jesus Christ behaved towards the Church.

He was again humble and open to discussion on gay marriage.

“PETER JENSEN: Yeah. Yeah. And again there’s an argument for this and it’s one that we ought to conduct in the right spirit, I believe, and with give and take and listening to the whole matter. I do…

TONY JONES: So you have an open mind about gay marriage?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I have the same open mind most people have about most things. Namely, with a good argument you may change your mind but for the moment you keep going down one track.”

Then it got really interesting, for me, anyway, given the last week… I take some solace from the bolded bits…

PETER KEEGAN: The Australian Christian Lobby has again made the headlines for offensive remarks made by its director, Jim Wallace. As a Christian, I continually find that the ACL does not speak for me and does not represent the kind of faith that I see reflected in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Archbishop, will you publically say that contributions like those we heard from the ACL pose a greater risk to the health of our public discourse and the integrity of our faith than the presence of lifestyles or beliefs that may differ from our own?

PETER JENSEN: Again, thanks for the question. No, I won’t say that. I am generally supportive of ACL, I have to say. I don’t support everything that’s said by its leaders.

TONY JONES: What about this very specific statement where Jim Wallace suggests that homosexuality poses the same kind of health risk to the community as smoking does?

PETER JENSEN: It needs to be observed that he has been somewhat quoted out of context in some reports. I’m not sure about that one but in some reports he’s been somewhat quoted out of context. But what he has done for us, rightly or wrongly, what he has done is given us an opportunity to talk about something significant, namely the question of health risks. Now, I think it is true to say – I think it is true to say – it’s very hard to get all the facts here because we don’t want to talk about it and in this country censorship is alive and well, believe me…

In response to a gay teenager, brought up in a Christian home who explicitly cited the rejection from his Christian community as the reason for his suicide attempt, the Archbishop had this to say… I loved the last bit, because it’s what I’ve been arguing our response should be.

ALISTAIR CORNELL: My question is for Peter Jensen. I was born and bred Anglican but at the age of 15 I tried to take my own life. What advice would he give to a 15 year old suffering almost to the point of death from the rejection of his community about being gay?

PETER JENSEN: Thank you and thank you for the courage of coming on and telling us that story. You see, one of the difficulties is to get that story, to get it to someone like me and to give me the chance to assess it for what it is…

PETER JENSEN: Well a 15 year old sorry, I need to be careful here. We don’t want to talk about this particular young man with his courage. But clearly a teenager is going through a period in their lives, exciting as it is, in which they’re seeking to find themselves. A person who feels in themselves same-sex attraction and I might add, a lot of such folk have talked to me over the years, is seeking, I think, to find themselves, to find an identity and in our sort of society, with its emphasis on sexual activity as an identity finding activity, there is therefore the opportunity to think that that is the way to do things and yet here you have this frowned upon same-sex feeling.

TONY JONES: Okay, I’ve just to interrupt because we do need to hear other panellists on this subject but put simply are you saying or repeating, in a way, or making, you know, a sort of more complex argument about what Jim Wallace said, which is homosexuality is bad for your health? Are you seriously trying to make that argument tonight?

PETER JENSEN: I would like to know see, people tell me that it is and they produce literature on the subject. I can’t get a discussion going on this because it’s a forbidden subject. Now, I’m open on this. I hope it’s not true, Tony. I don’t want to see my friends dying and I’ve seen my friends dying. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to hear stories like that. But, dear friends, sorry, when do we get to the point where we can talk about this without shouting at each other and hurting each other?

This bit was helpful too…

TONY JONES: Well, can I just ask, presumably you’ve looked at some of the science around the health statistics, have you actually looked at the science about the gay gene which suggests that it is intrinsic in a person their sexuality and if you’ve looked at that, I would ask you this: if God actually created homosexuals, would you not then have to turn around and change your mind on all of these issues?

PETER JENSEN: Thank you, Tony. God did create homosexuals. I don’t need the gene to tell me that. God created homosexuals. God created every person and loves every person, without doubt.

TONY JONES: No, I mean he created if there is a gay gene, would you say the creator was responsible for creating that?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I would say that that that may be the case but we’re not talking about same-sex attraction, we’re talking about the acting out of same-sex attraction. We’re talking about well, I realise that we’re living in a very, very different world from the one I’m talking about but I’m living in a world where a number of my friends have life long committed themselves to no sexual relations.

Then we were on the home stretch – atheism and proof of God’s existence.

“CATHERINE DEVENY: For me, I mean, you can took about proof and there’s no proof. I mean one of the things that I always think about is like if God exists why doesn’t he show himself? But when you actually look at the Bible, which is – that’s the only text that I’m – like, religious text that I’m really familiar with, it is basically social engineering embedded in fairytales and horror stories which is just chock full of homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division and most people haven’t even read it. It has been written by 44 – you know, 60 people, I think, 44 chapters, you know, three different languages over thousands of years, thousands of different interpretations and despite all of those different interpretations, the only thing they can all agree on is homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division. So, I’m sorry, the way that I see it, it’s just been a very, very handy way to keep people in their place, particularly women, homosexuals and people who don’t believe what they believe.”

Then there was this. Pure gold. Christ centred gospel in the face of the chatter of Catherine Deveny who couldn’t resist scoring cheap points with angry soundbites. This is why I’m so very happy with last night. I know most people agree with Catherine Deveny’s assessment that the church is out of touch on social issues – you only have to look at the comments on this post that went up when it was just my tweets… but that’s not the point. Winsomely, and gently, responding to criticism and seeking a conversation where you can get to this point – having argued your position on social issues on the basis of Jesus and the gospel all the way through – that’s why this man is an example for how to, as John Dickson says, do public Christianity.

PETER JENSEN: Okay. Has God shown himself? Yes, I believe he has and I believe he’s shown himself in Jesus Christ. I believe if you want to know examine his life, examine what he said, examine his miracles and that’s where the big issue is. Come back to Jesus Christ and examine his life, examine what he said, examine what’s around him. I have to say that Catherine’s account of the Bible is as fanciful as a tooth fairy. It’s got no bearing on the reality of the Bible.

CATHERINE DEVENY: You mustn’t have read it.

PETER JENSEN: Yeah, I’ve read it a bit. And really the big look, I tell you what, the big story of the Bible is just as simple as anything. Jesus Christ came into the world to save us and he is God amongst us. What more could we ask? I tell you what, it’s the most gracious I’m so sorry you’ve got your view of it.

CATHERINE DEVENY: You said, “What more could we ask?” Equality, that would be good.

PETER JENSEN: Well, we’ve got it because every man and woman…

CATHERINE DEVENY: I’m sorry, a white middle class man like you does have it. Try being disabled, try being an asylum seeker, try being gay, try being a woman, you’ll find it’s not there.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right, Catherine. No. No. No. No. Okay. All right. Sorry, I said we’d give him the last word. I didn’t mean…

CATHERINE DEVENY: Yeah, I think he said plenty of words.

PETER JENSEN: Well, the last word is that in Jesus Christ we have that equality and in Jesus Christ was have that salvation and all I can say is the most wonder that the love of God for everyone, no matter who they are, no matter how they’ve lived or whatever, is the greatest reality in the world.

Gold.

Here are my tweets from during the show.

I’m disappointed this is the summary from the SMH.

David Ould was in the audience last night and had this to say.

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Gay Marriage, Christians, and Sunrise: A better way

This morning Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, Jim Wallace, and Bishop Julian Porteous were interviewed about Gay Marriage on Sunrise. It wasn’t a train wreck. For which we can all be thankful. Sunrise should stick to this balanced format rather than stoking the fires of controversy with stupid debates featuring people who are clearly intellectually outmatched. Having an informed presenter who is (though slightly misguided when it came to polygamy and the Bible) asking the right sort of questions is also helpful. And by the right sort of questions I mean questions that get to the heart of Christian objections, rather than questions intended to be confrontational and stupid.

The Catholic guy hits the nail on the head in the way Jim Wallace doesn’t. Peter Jensen completely agrees. They talk about Jesus. They talk about the Bible. They talk about marriage being a worthwhile institution. They do it in a much more coherent way than the host, and in a much more winsome way than Jim Wallace did earlier in the week, and than he does today.

They argue that this issue is simply an issue of definition, and redefining marriage.

I like Peter Jensen’s “God has a great deal of interest in what goes on in the community” response to the idea that marriage is a “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s argument.” And his distinction between respecting the law and being forced to take part in conducting gay marriages.

And they do a good job of suggesting that their arguments are natural law arguments. It would’ve been nice to see something about how following Jesus means transforming your views on sex and sexuality as part of the argument about protecting Christianity from having to teach positive things about homosexuality. But you can’t win them all. And this is simply a much better Christian showing than the disaster from this week.

I love that Andrew O’Keefe called out the number of form letters (rather than thought out letters), and vitriolic letters, they’re getting from ACL supporters. And Jim’s funny “no true Christian” response:

“We have people coming onto our website and posing as Christians and proving themselves not, usually by the language.”

Just like we have people going on TV and making stupid and ignorant comparisons to the Nazi regime.

I don’t understand the ACL’s objection to Sunrise openly being part of the campaign – surely they’re better off being open about their bias than pretending to be objective and favouring the cause.

I do like the tone in this interview – it’s much more productive than the debate format where people are yelling at each other and trying to score cheap points. But good on the two churchmen for showing how some winsome, Christ-centred, public engagement works.

While I’m on the subject – it would be remiss, and somewhat non even-handed of me not to gently rebuke this offering on the Sydney Anglican’s website this week. Andrew Cameron does a much better job of essentially presenting the “children” argument Jim Wallace used earlier this week in a winsome, engaging, and empathetic way. And its context is different to the Sunrise interview in that it’s on a denominational website, and for Christians, rather than a nationally televised program. But a good article would have been a better article for sharing with non-Christians if it started with the same argument used by Archbishop Jensen and Bishop Porteous. Christian objections to same sex marriage are ultimately based on Jesus’ affirmation of marriage and the created order, and subsequently Paul’s use of the same argument in Romans 1-2. If Jesus had overturned the created order in his ministry then the “love wins” debate would have merit, but he didn’t. He affirmed it. It’d be nice if more of our arguments started with the centrality of Jesus to Christian belief on social issues – it’d also do away with people who want to raise the eating of shellfish and tattoos as other issues that Leviticus forbids, as though we’re being selective.

I like these paragraphs from Andrew’s piece:

“What we’ve seen is a shift in our society’s ‘common objects of love’ – those matters a society gathers itself to defend, and which help to make it a society. What matters about marriage has shifted over the decades. Our society now loves the idea of love; it loves freedom of expression; it loves eradicating differences. It doesn’t love permanence; it’s ambivalent about children; it’s less convinced that biological parenthood is significant to children; it abhors any notion that each gender might offer something particular and different to the other, and to children. These changes-of-loves are what make it seem that marriage can be renegotiated.

In the middle of these changing loves, Christians can ask helpful questions (there’s not much point being polemical when so little thought has been given to the nature of marriage). We can ask our neighbours: ‘Are you sure that you are not missing something? Do you really want to abandon those older loves? Will that actually help us as a community?’.”

I probably should make it clearer, lest people have questions, that I completely agree with both Peter Jensen and Andrew Cameron – that marriage between a man and a woman is good for society, and better for children, because it matches God’s intention. What I think we need to figure out is how we continue to present that in a way that affirms that Jesus is better for people than marriage (which might mean not getting married in certain cases), and protects our ability to keep saying that once the legislative horse bolts. I think basing the argument on Jesus, the created order, and questioning why it is that we think sexuality is the defining characteristic of human identity is a better way than encouraging our supporters to spam media outlets and politicians, and then comparing them to the Nazis when they disagree with us.

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Easter, Q&A, Dawkins, and Jesus

Did you hear the one about the Cardinal and the Evolutionary biologist? Or at least watch Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, George Pell, take on Richard Dawkins on the ABC’s flagship “new media” panel program Q&A, on Monday night in an Easter extravaganza?

You can watch it in full here…

It was a train wreck. Talking too much about where Pell went wrong wouldn’t be conducive to keeping my promise not to debate atheists online, at least atheists I don’t know personally. But Pell was awful. In my humble opinion. The only saving grace of the night was that Dawkins wasn’t much better, and my conversations with non-Christian friends afterwards, both on Facebook and in the real world, confirm that his brand of intolerant fundamentalism is every bit as on the nose as Christianity.

Despite giving up visiting atheist blogs and forums to engage in what I would like to call “winsome trolling” – where you keep a conversation going, but as pleasantly as possible, as “tolerant” as possible, as genuinely inquisitive as possible, and as focused on Jesus as possible – I have some experience arguing with people who adhere closely to Mr Dawkins views, with a more than liberal smattering of those advocated by the late Mr Hitchens, and messers Dennett and Harris. By my calculation I’ve spend hundreds of hours engaged in such debates, either at the keyboard, posting here, speaking to others in person, or ruminating about the conversation I’m currently engaged in while I go about my daily business. I’m a fairly experienced amateur. But I’m an amateur no less. Pell. Arguably. Is a professional. At least that’s why he was presented to us on Monday night. And yet. Almost immediately. He became tangled in several follies of, well, any form of argument/debate, let alone an argument or debate that is televised to a national audience.

In some moments he was sneering, in others pompous, in others snide, in others confused, in others doddery, in others he danced around a question without going near providing an answer, and every five minutes he trotted out a reference to Hitler. In short he was neither convincing or winsome. His theology was jelly-nailed-to-mast stuff. One minute he said he hoped hell existed because Hitler’s evil required it, on the other hand he said he hoped nobody was there, then he said that atheists would end up in heaven if they did good – thus defeating himself. Why would one sign up for a life of self denial if the outcome is unchanged. Pell said himself (and I agree) that an atheist can do good. What he didn’t say was that any “good” act is the result of humanity being created in the image of God, and that none of it has any merit so far as our relationship with God is concerned (the former is consistent with a Catholic understanding of human nature, the latter is pretty much the root cause of the Reformation and non-Catholic Christianity).

I wasn’t expecting to agree with much of what Pell said theologically – but I was hoping that as a guy wearing our colours, and claiming to own Christ, he’d at the very least be loving and winsome, and treat his opponent with respect. Instead, he spend time strawmanning Dawkins, engaging in logical fallacies, playing the man not the argument, misunderstanding the science he was claiming to promote, and generally not talking about Jesus – except after he’d confused everybody by talking about ancient Greek metaphysics (particularly Platonism), while trying to explain what goes on with the wafers when Catholics take communion (transubstantiation).

At one point, when Tony Jones asked him where he’d draw a line on what is “myth” and what is “truth” in the Bible, or rather historical truth, citing the example of God writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, Pell flat out denied that the Bible says God wrote the commandments down.

Here’s a little bit from the transcript:

“TONY JONES: So are you talking about a kind of Garden of Eden scenario with an actual Adam and Eve?

GEORGE PELL: Well, Adam and Eve are terms – what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account. It’s not science but it’s there to tell us two or three things. First of all that God created the world and the universe. Secondly, that the key to the whole of universe, the really significant thing, are humans and, thirdly, it is a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and suffering in the world.

TONY JONES: But it isn’t a literal truth. You shouldn’t see it in any way as being an historical or literal truth?

GEORGE PELL: It’s certainly not a scientific truth and it’s a religious story told for religious purposes.

TONY JONES: Just quickly, because the Old Testament in particular is full of these kind of stories, I mean is there a point where you distinguish between metaphor and reality? For example, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments inscribed directly by God on a mountain?

GEORGE PELL: I’m not sure that the Old Testament says that God inscribed the Ten Commandments but leaving that aside it’s difficult to know how exactly that worked but Moses was a great man. There was a great encounter with the divine. Actually, with Moses we get the key that enables us to come together with the Greeks with reason because Moses said who will I tell the Egyptians and he tell that my name is “I am who I am”.”

Perhaps he’s not familiar with chapters 31-34 of Exodus…

Exodus 31:18 When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God…

32:15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”

The other thing he kept doing, that really irked me, was presenting the Catholic theological position as the “Christian” position, rather than the position of his own tradition.

MATTHEW THOMPSON: I am an atheist. What do you think will happen when I die and how do you know?

TONY JONES: George Pell, we’ll start with you? You ought to be an authority on this, I imagine?

GEORGE PELL: Well, I know from the Christian point of view, God loves everybody but every genuine motion towards the truth is a motion towards God and when an atheist dies, like everybody else, they will be judged on the extent to which they have moved towards goodness and truth and beauty but in the Christian view, God loves everyone except those who turn his back turn their back on him through evil acts.

Sadly that is not the “Christian” point of view, but a disputed point where Catholics and Protestants disagree.

It was. In short. A train wreck.

Here are some of my favourite tweets from/in response to the night that pretty much sum up what I’m thinking…

Jesus got 8 mentions in the program, by name, he was obliquely referred to in a couple of Pell’s quotes. One was from a questioner, one was from Tony Jones, three were from Dawkins.

Here’s the best description of the gospel from the night.

“…the fundamental idea of New Testament Christianity, which is that Jesus is the son of God who is redeeming humanity from original sin, the idea that we are born in sin and the only way we can be redeemed from sin is through the death of Jesus…”

And it’s from Richard Dawkins. Who is dismissing it. Dawkins is clearer on the gospel he’s rejecting than Pell is on the gospel he’s promoting.

Two mentions were in a segment where Pell suggested that the Jews were culturally inferior to the other civilisations of their time.

“TONY JONES: I’m sorry, can I just interrupt? Are you including Jesus in that, who was obviously Jewish and was of that community?

GEORGE PELL: Exactly.

TONY JONES: So intellectually not up to it?

GEORGE PELL: Well, that’s a nice try, Tony. The people, in terms of sophistication, the psalms are remarkable in terms of their buildings and that sort of thing. They don’t compare with the great powers. But Jesus came not as a philosopher to the elite. He came to the poor and the battlers and for some reason he choose a very difficult but actually they are now an intellectually elite because over the centuries they have been pushed out of every other form of work. They’re a – I mean Jesus, I think, is the greatest the son of God but, leaving that aside, the greatest man that ever live so I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don’t need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days.”

Pell finally got on message at the last gasp, in his best answer of the night, answering the last question which essentially suggested a modified Pascal’s Wager, where people should become Christians because life is better for Christians, particularly health wise. Pell thought that was a bad idea.

GEORGE PELL: So am I. It’s a question of truth. Christians don’t present God as, like Santa Claus, something that a myth that’s useful for children and believing in God and being a Christian cuts both ways. More people were killed for their Christian belief in the last century than any other century, probably than all the other centuries combined. They died on principle to be faithful to Jesus so we might get some benefits. You know we mightn’t get ulcers, we might live a bit longer, that might have much more to do with our heredity but we follow Christ because we believe it’s the truth. I think it does bring a peace of mind. It does help us but sometimes it gets us into my life would be much simpler and much easier if I didn’t have to go to bat for a number of Christian principles.

The one thing the transcript doesn’t capture is tone. Pell was snarling. Sarcastic. Snide. He didn’t miss an opportunity to take a cheap shot. Dawkins wasn’t any better. But the tone of this discussion was what really disappointed me. I am overjoyed that we live in a country where the national broadcaster hosts discussions like this, without any fear of repercussions or persecution from the government, or any fear of censorship. But surely Christian spokespeople should be using these opportunities to talk about Jesus, not get cheap laughs and applause from a crowd for mocking their opponents.

So that was Q&A’s Easter special. It made me angry. Why couldn’t someone like Peter Jensen have been invited onto the panel instead. He’s so much more winsome, and able to stay on message about what Christianity is really about (hint – Jesus). Check out the raw footage from this interview he did with SBS.

That’s heaps better than the turkeys who used their Easter media opportunities to slam the banks (though they may deserve it), and even those who try to turn the attention onto the upper middle class (which was social justice champion Father Bob Macguire’s approach). I was pretty thrilled that the ministers asked to comment on the meaning of Good Friday in the Townsville Bulletin all talked about Jesus (with varying degrees of clarity and plain english).

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Peter Jensen on politics

This interview with Peter Jensen on the current election is worth a listen. I’m surprised it hasn’t been spoken about more in the blogosphere this week. Perhaps it’s not controversial enough. It’s from Sunday night.

Q: Do Christians necessarily vote from the viewpoint of faith, do you think?
A: Yes we do. And fortunately in Australia it’s perfectly possible, even across the range of options, to vote from faith and to vote differently. You can not say to a Christian in Australia “you must vote for such and such a person. It’s a matter of balance. You’ll work out which way you want to go.”

He discusses Gillard’s atheism and its impact on Christian voters frankly. He discusses Abbott’s faith and its impact on voters with equal frankness.

Dead set legend?

I mentioned the ABC radio’s unique take on the stats released by the Centre for Public Christianity yesterday. Dan has helpfully shared a link to the ABC Radio transcript of the story I was listening to on the world today.

The reaction to the statistics has been somewhat amusing. On the one hand 55% of the “non born again” community don’t believe in the resurrection. Which should be comforting to atheists, Muslims and the liberal church.

The Uniting Church in New South Wales was one of the first organisations to put its own spin on the findings – claiming most of the 45% of (non “born again”) people who believe in the resurrection only believe it in a metaphorical sense.

Many Australians, although certainly not a majority, would see Jesus as metaphorically real, or his resurrection as metaphorically real, but would expect that the bones of Jesus would be found in Palestine.

And that’s my own position.

But I think that the resurrection of Jesus is principally about the continuing reality of Jesus of Nazareth in this world. – Ian Pearson from the Pitt Street Uniting Church…

Hmm, interesting take on things. You’ve got to wonder why this guy is still a “Christian” minister if this is what he thinks. If they found the bones of Jesus in Palestine I’d throw in the Christian towel. Immediately. If it’s all just a metaphor you’ve got to ask “why bother at all?” – Exactly the point Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen raised…

If he just rose metaphorically, well, it’s Alice in Wonderland sort of stuff, and is not worth worrying about.

I wouldn’t be a Christian if I thought that. Just wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

But that’s not what the New Testament says; that’s not what the evidence says.

The evidence is really talking about a real resurrection from the dead.

The atheists on the other hand. Well. They still kind of miss the point of serving God if you believe in him – which many clearly still do… talk about imposing your value judgments on others…

The world needs to get away from this dependence on an imaginary super person in the sky, and start looking at the problems that we’re encountering in real terms – David Nichols, the president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia

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No no offence

“They make for a strange trio of bedfellows, Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, David Marr, the journalist, and Janet Albrechtsen, the columnist – public figures whose views on politics, society and religion could not be more different.”

There’s an interesting debate taking place tonight. It’ll be online. It’s about freedom to offend (protecting freedom of speech). The above is the team for the affirmative… details are here.

It’ll screen here.