Archives For politics

I’ve tried to move away from talking about politics in a partisan way here – for a few reasons.

Firstly, I’ve moved away from thinking about politics in a particularly partisan way, I’m one of those people who feels largely disenfranchised by our adversarial political system (at least as our media reports it). Secondly, the differences between our major parties are greatly exaggerated – they’ll both do a reasonable job at the majority of policy setting in our country – and both have hugely problematic approaches to big issues that mean neither gets the “Christian vote” automatically. Thirdly, there’s a tired old trope I’m prone to reacting against that says something like “Real Christians should vote conservative, so must therefore eschew the Labor Party (and can’t possibly think the Greens are anything other than extreme).” But what is conservative anymore? And this seems to place some sort of odd moral issues on a pedestal above stuff like looking after the poor, and the marginalised, and the people that our so-called “left” focuses its energy on. I think the suggestion that to be Christian is to vote a particular way is patently ridiculous.

I’m also not all that concerned that our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is an atheist. She’s either up for the job of governing, or she isn’t. Governing a secular democracy with a relatively nominal attachment to a “Judeo-Christian heritage” doesn’t take a theologically orthodox Christian. In fact, in a democracy, Christians might be forced to compromise their views to a degree where standing apart from the political sphere is a better way to contribute to society and love people than being elected to represent a swathe of people they fundamentally disagree with.

I’m especially not concerned that our Prime Minister is a woman. I know there are some from my complementarian camp of Christianity who have problems with women in leadership roles. But I think that any “submission/authority” relationship dynamics happening in the context of Christian relationships (marriage, church, or otherwise) are to be voluntary from both parties, and only really make sense if your thinking is being shaped by the relationship dynamics modelled in the Trinity and some notion that they’re created by God. Women might feel otherwise – but I have grown up without any major awareness of different capabilities of men and women when it comes to the corporate, business, or political sphere (I’d rather watch men’s sport – but that’s because part of the watching sport is the vicarious “I’d like to be out there” thing). I was taught predominantly by women at primary school, and high school, and there was probably a 50-50 split in the classes I bothered going to at uni. My first CEO in my professional job was a woman, as was my line manager (and my managers in my part time jobs while I was at uni were women too). Most of my colleagues were women.

I don’t feel particularly enlightened on the basis of these aspects of my history – I think they’re pretty normal for people my age. I wrote a speech last year for a young professional (about my age) for a women’s function she was speaking at, and she said this was pretty consistent with her experience in the business/corporate world too. I’m not saying it’s universal. It’s probably a generational thing. I hope. I love that my wife has the same opportunities to study that I have, I hope that we’ll continue to make decisions that allow her to use her gifts and abilities to serve others. I hope my daughter grows up in a world where she has the freedom to make choices about her life, where her gender isn’t really a factor. I pray that she’ll grow up as a follower of Jesus, and be prepared to make sacrifices of some of her freedoms for the sake of others – but I want those sacrifices to be voluntary and driven by love, and her convictions about the world God has created and the way he created people – not chosen for her.

Which is why the rhetoric in Julia Gillard’s speech during question time today plays into a world I wish we could just leave behind a bit. Here are the words she said today that are echoing around the media, as I’m sure they were intended to…

“Let me say very clearly to the Leader of the Opposition – it will be a contest, counter intuitive to those believing in gender stereotypes, but a contest between a strong, feisty woman and a policy-weak man and I’ll win it.”

I’m still trying to parse this statement. I’ve been staring at it for quite a while. She has a go at people who believe in gender stereotypes while reinforcing gender stereotypes by making gender an issue (she also called Abbott a misogynist again).  I think there’s a real danger that despite her intentions to the contrary – this sort of frontending of gender is perpetuating a dangerous form of cultural misandry. In rejecting one stereotype, the Prime Minister is creating, or buying into another.

She may as well label Tony Abbott the dumb/incompetent/bumbling man we’re familiar with thanks to so many TV sitcoms and advertisements (more here). Here’s what TV Tropes says about this cultural meme:

Often used as an enabler of several Double Standards. Sometimes, on the rare occasions that a mom does something dumb, she’s cut more slack than she otherwise would be, since the Bumbling Dad is there to make her look better by comparison. On the other hand, if everyone just gets used to tolerating Dad’s incompetence, they might still hold Mom to the standards of a competent adult – in fact, she may end up being held responsible for fixing his screw-ups. After all, somebody’s got to be the grownup in a family, and you can’t hold Dad accountable for not acting like one if he’s just an idiot. The frustrating and stagnant sexual roles enforced by this trope are often pointed to by feminists as a sign of how sexism hurts men as well as women.

This trope is still mostly seen in sitcoms and cartoons, along with many commercials, especially ones aimed at kids. In anime, this type of character is taken more respectfully, since it usually consists of a goofier dad, more involved with his family than the stereotypical Salaryman. This is even more common when his children have no visiblemother.

This is an example of how a Subverted Trope can end up becoming the norm. Back in the day, fathers were assumed to be wise and in charge, and the Bumbling Dad was something fresh and unusual. Today, sitcoms have made Bumbling Dad an Undead Horse Trope, and consistently competent fathers are a comparative rarity.

In the political sphere this guy would be the “policy weak” man. Which makes Gillard and Abbott a pretty odd couple. If politics is a comedy. There’s the related “Man can’t keep house” trope…

“It doesn’t matter if a male character is a globe-trotting super-spy, a hyperintelligent genius, or a Millionaire Playboy — according to this trope, any male who’s responsible for maintaining a home, apartment, or regeneration pod will inevitably fail in the most spectacular way possible.”

You could add “country” to the list of domestic situations a man can’t possibly be responsible for and you’re, I think, tapping into the kind of image Gillard is trying to paint for us.

I have no doubt our Prime Minister is a capable and articulate woman – and I’ve got no doubt she has fought through barriers created by her gender so her feelings on this issue are genuine.

But surely the time has come for gender not to be part of the public conversation like this. It feels like a political trope “pandering to a constituency on the basis of what you are not what you stand for” that is ultimately unfulfilling.

Making the election a contest between a “feisty leader” and a “policy-weak leader” regardless of the gender of the leaders involved is doing a disservice to the electorate. If its an amuse bouche for the election campaign that’s about to be forced down our throats then I’m kind of hoping the media regulation legislation gets amended to provide some politics free zones in our media or I’m going into some sort of self-imposed media blackout.

Gender is a huge issue for us to think through. Not just in the church – where how we think of gender as created by God, and the implications we see that having for how we structure our church community as a testimony to that created order – but in society where there’s a push to do away with gender distinctions altogether. The big question in both cases is whether or not the genders (and gender identity) are “essentially” different, not just constructed differently by different cultural forces (be it our culture, or the culture operating when the relevant bits of the Bible were produced). This is a huge, defining, landmark, watershed, pivotal, and important discussion that flows through to myriad social issues from marriage, to abortion, to education, to defence, to toymaking, to sport, to how we do democracy, and most importantly to how we conceive of what it means to be human…

Gender issues are still big issues – I’m not trying to play down the way women are mistreated by certain people in society – there are all sorts of industries where glass ceilings exist. There are serious policy questions surrounding gender, just as there are serious theological questions about gender for the church to continue answering well. There are serious cultural imbalances to be addressed – we see that as we speak up against violence against women (perpetrated by men), or when we recognise that an Oscars host has been incredibly unhelpful in his objectification of women and identify an ugly sub-culture that underpins that, or when TV reporters talk about a sexual assault in a way that blames the victim or tries to sympathise with the perpetrators (there’s a significant trigger warning on that article)… All of these are issues – big issues – gender issues. But they’re not the sort of gender issues that Julia Gillard is using to whack Tony Abbott with – I don’t think he’s blameless here, I’d say there’s merit to more than half of the criticism she levelled at him in her famous misogyny speech. The “gender issue” at play there is that there seems to be genuine antipathy between Abbott and Gillard, which has unfortunately, at times, involved terms that have been a little loaded when it comes to gender (but seriously – have you heard many men describe themselves as “feisty”?).

It’s great that we have a woman as Prime Minister. It’ll be greater still when we don’t really care what gender our Prime Minister is, when that’s completely unremarkable. It’s a tragedy, I think, that gender is being used to score cheap political points. It saddens me that her legacy, gender wise, will be making an election campaign about gender stereotypes, using her gender in such a cheap way for cheap votes.

That is all.

Marcus Tullius Cicero is one of my heroes. He was also pretty influential on Augustine, in my favourite primary source text from my time at college (outside the Bible) - On Christian Teaching, and, I’d argue, on Paul’s approach to preaching and rhetoric in Corinth.

cicero change poster

Image Credit: Cicero, Change, made with ObamiconMe

He was a pretty interesting guy – rising from relatively common stock to be one of the most powerful men in the Roman Republic. He was elected Consul in 64BC. During the campaign his younger brother wrote him a little handbook for electoral success called Commentariolum Petitionis. It’s been translated into a nice little book called How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians. It had some timeless tips for political success that election watchers will recognise have played out in elections since the dawn of democracy.

One of the most accurate maxims in the little treatise is: “This shows that people are moved more by appearances than reality, though I realize this course is difficult to for someone like you who is a follower of the philosopher Plato.”

Here are ten tips Cicero’s younger brother sends to help Cicero clarify his thoughts about the campaign at hand.

1. Build a wide base of vocal ambassadors…

Cicero was a lawyer who won lots of cases, it’s suggested he remind his clients what they owe him, find people who like you, find people who will advocate for you – get them to talk about you. This is first century BC political advertising.

Don’t forget about all the people you have successfully defended in court, clients from a wide variety of social backgrounds. And, of course, remember the special interest groups that back you. Finally, make good use of the young people who admire you and want to learn from you, in addition to all the faithful friends who are daily at your side.”

“Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company. But don’t neglect those who are your friends in the traditional sense through family ties or social connection. These you must continue to carefully cultivate.”

Ambassadors and advocates to blow your trumpet for you are increasingly vital in the web 2.0 world, and in a world that is increasingly cynical about the things people say about themselves.

“You must always think about publicity. I’ve been talking about this throughout my whole letter, but it is vital that you use all of your assets to spread the word about your campaign to the widest possible audience. Your ability as a public speaker is key, as is the support of the business community and those who carry out public contracts.”

“You should work with diligence to secure supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

“Seek out men everywhere who will represent you as if they themselves where running for office.”

“It will help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.”

“Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go”

“You need to win these voters to your side so that you can fill your house with supporters every morning, hold them to you by promises of your protection, and send them away more enthusiastic about your cause than when they came so that more and more people hear good things about you.”

2. Communicate well. Always

Cicero had built his reputation as a speaker, and his brother told him to use every speaking opportunity as though his career depended on it – because it did.

“It is your unmatched skill as a speaker that draws the Roman people to you and keeps them on your side.”

“Since you are such an excellent communicator and your reputation has been built on this fact, you should approach every speaking engagement as if your entire future depended on that single event.”

This is especially true in the era of campaigning where every slip of the tongue hits YouTube, or becomes a meme.

Communicating clearly, and relevantly, will help win people over.

“The third class of supporters are those who show goodwill because of a personal attachment they believe they have made with you. Encourage this by adapting your message to fit the particular circumstances of each and showing abundant goodwill to them in return. Show them that the more they work for your election the closer your bond to them will be.”

3. Promise everything to anybody (but don’t worry about keeping them)

We can blame the Ciceros, or perhaps Cotta, for “core promises” and “non-core promises”…

“Remember Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said that he would promise everything to anyone, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him.

He seldom refused anyone, for he said that often a person he made a promise to would end up not needing him or that he himself would have more time available than he thought he would to help.

After all, if a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends. Events are always happening that you didn’t expect or not happening that you did expect. Broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal.”

4. Keep your friends close, and try to get your enemies closer

Cicero’s little brother reminds him that most trouble – especially damaging rumours, begin at home. So tells him to be on his guard. Then he gives him some advice for winning over his critics.

“Do not overlook your family and those closely connected with you. Make sure they all are behind you and want you to succeed. This includes your tribe, your neighbors, your clients, your former slaves, and even your servants. For almost every destructive rumor that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends.”

“There are three kinds of people who will stand against you: those you have harmed, those who dislike you for no good reason, and those who are close friends of your opponents.

For those you have harmed by standing up for a friend against them, be gracious and apologetic, reminding them you were only defending someone you had strong ties to and that you would do the same for them if they were your friend. For those who don’t like you without good cause, try to win them over by being kind to them or doing them a favor or by showing concern for them. As for the last group who are friends of your rivals, you can use the same techniques, proving your benevolence even to those who are your enemies.”

“I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.”

5. Remember what the goal is

“Always remember what city this is, what office it is you seek, and who you are. Every day as you go down to the Forum, you should say to yourself: “I am an outsider. I want to be a consul. This is Rome.”"

This serves as a good reminder of what you’re doing – but also a nice principle for keeping focused, saying no to things, and framing your narrative.

6. Be valuable to people: Give of yourself. To everybody. And listen.

People will vote for you if they think you’re interested in their well being, and if you are giving them something of value. This remains the foundational premise of any positive political advertising.

“Work to maintain the goodwill of these groups by giving them helpful advice and asking them for their counsel in return.”

“Another way to show you are generous is to be available day and night to those who need you. Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.”

7. Remember names. Remember people. Actually care

Remembering names won’t guarantee that people will like you – but it’s part of showing you care.

“…nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces.”

“Look at Antonius—how can the man establish friendships when he can’t even remember anyone’s name? Can there be anything sillier than for a candidate to think a person he doesn’t know will support him?”

“Small-town men and country folk will want to be your friends if you take the trouble to learn their names—but they are not fools. They will only support you if they believe they have something to gain.

But with any class of people, it isn’t enough that you merely call them by name and develop a superficial friendship. You must actually be their friend.”

8. Say nice things about people… except your opponent

Saying nice things about people, in a winsome way, wins them over.

“You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but you can be rather stiff at times. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery—a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.”

What you say about people when they’re out of earshot counts too… here’s what he says about powerful people who drop in to visit each morning (but might visit other people).

“Mention your gratitude for their visit whenever you see them and tell their friends that you noticed their presence as well, for the friends will repeat your words to them.”

Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show. Dignified, yes, but full of the color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.”

9. Maintain your integrity (or the appearance of integrity)

This comes back to ethos – which is one of the areas I think Paul borrows from Cicero. Character counts (though apparently broken promises are irrelevant to character).

“Our city is a cesspool of humanity, a place of deceit, plots, and vice of every imaginable kind. Anywhere you turn you will see arrogance, stubbornness, malevolence, pride, and hatred. Amid such a swirl of evil, it takes a remarkable man with sound judgment and great skill to avoid stumbling, gossip, and betrayal. How many men could maintain their integrity while adapting themselves to various ways of behaving, speaking, and feeling? In such a chaotic world, you must stick to the path you have chosen.”

10. Give people hope..

This comes down to framing a narrative not about you, not about the people who are voting for you, but about the future – yours, and theirs, together.

“The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment…As for those who you have inspired with hope—a zealous and devoted group—you must make them to believe that you will always be there to help them. Let them know that you are grateful for their loyalty and that you are keenly aware of and appreciate what each of them is doing for you.”

I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.

There you have it. 10 tips from almost 2,100 years ago that were just as relevant for the 2012 US Presidential race as they were back then.


Credit: Boat People Infographic from Crikey providing numerical perspective on the current situation (I’m not suggesting that people’s anxiety on the issue is fully captured by this picture.)

Wow. Tony Abbott. Here’s a pearler of a quote from a radio interview yesterday, where admittedly, Abbott was responding to a gibe about his asylum seeker policies being “unChristian”…

“Look I don’t think it is a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door.”

Now. Before we get into the myriad problems with this statement coming from a politician in a heated policy debate, I want to be a little sympathetic to what he’s trying to say… it’s a tragedy that genuine asylum seekers waiting in camps around the world obeying due process are missing out because some people engage in dangerous and expensive people smuggling. In an ideal world there’d be no need for people to seek refuge, but in our fallen world where bad stuff happens this sort of displacement is nothing new – it’s been happening since at least Exodus.

Whoops. I started on the theological problems already.

Every aspect of Abbott’s statement is problematic. He would have been better off copping the gibe on the chin or talking about the people trying to obey due process without even mentioning the people jumping on boats.

UPDATE: Here’s the fuller context of Abbott’s quote, lest you feel I’m misrepresenting the interview…

“And I’m all in favour of Australia having a healthy and compassionate refugee and humanitarian intake program.

“I think that’s a good thing. But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way.

“If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

This makes a complex ethical question into an absolute question of morality – I’m not sure you can argue that genuine asylum seekers have done the wrong thing by seeking asylum, and 97% of people who seek asylum in Australia, after arriving by boat, are found to be genuine refugees… (END UPDATE).

But ignoring the elephant in the room, that most boat people are coming from countries that aren’t exactly known for fostering significant Christian populations (though some refugees are Christians fleeing persecution) – and thus the idea that the boat people should be Christian is perhaps patently ridiculous… let’s consider for a moment that God’s people, since the very beginning, and Jesus himself, have essentially been refugees. Here are some more useful facts about boat people (PDF from the Australian Government).

Abraham left his father’s land and sought asylum in various foreign kingdoms as he headed off to the promised land.

Joseph was a refugee to Egypt.

Moses led Israel out of Egypt as asylum seeing refugees. Israel was called to care for asylum seekers/the aliens in their midst, as God does, as a result of Israel’s experience as refugees. So Deuteronomy 10:

“18 He [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Their failure to care for the foreigner is listed as part of the reason they’re booted out and forced into exile again in Ezekiel 22…

“‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.”

Now, I know Australia isn’t the promised land, and isn’t meaningfully able to be spoken of as a Christian nation, but if the leader of the opposition brings Christianity into the debate, then it should at least be represented fairly… It’s not unChristian to seek asylum – it is the most Christian thing in the world as we’ve had to seek refuge for ourselves in Jesus. It’s arguable, though I don’t think we should really make anything of this, that Jesus’ family sought asylum when Herod was out to get them in Matthew 2.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

And I think a fair case can be made that Jesus replaces the cities of refuge that OT people were to flee to (Joshua 20), and that turning to Jesus, as all Christians have, is the ultimate expression of seeking asylum. It’s certainly the ultimate expression of seeking citizenship somewhere better where we’re not truly entitled to on our own merit (especially for Gentiles). So this big quote from Ephesians 2…

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

 

Now the comparison isn’t exact, and the issues here are referring to something different because Australia isn’t the kingdom of God – but there are two principles here that make it hard to justify the claim that urgently seeking asylum without regard to due process is unchristian. Firstly, Christians are asylum seekers, and secondly, the idea, for Christians, that our earthly citizenship of an earthly nation is something to be protected at the expense of being united with other people in Christ doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Christians in the early church framed their understanding of citizenship, a particularly significant concept when it came to the Roman Empire, around being aliens in the empire – sojourners, who loved other outsiders accordingly – loving foreigners wasn’t exclusive to Israel when they occupied the physical kingdom of Israel with some power. We seem to have lost that vibe a little bit as Christianity became a dominant socio-political force – but now we’re starting to be part of a post-Christian society we need to start being informed by this as a category again, and caring for our fellow aliens.

If we’re taking a “Christian” approach to the chance to show love to the poor and oppressed people who don’t know Jesus then we’re going to want to welcome and love them. That’d be my thinking anyway…

The onus isn’t really on the asylum seekers to act as Christians when they’re approaching a country – unless they’re claiming to be Christians, in which case the decision to jump the queue is something they’ll have to wrestle with personally – the onus is on the country receiving them, if they claim in any sense to be Christian (which Abbott does), to be receiving the refugees in a Christian way. This is where Abbott went really wrong. The question was legitimate. Because caring for refugees, or any oppressed people, or any people, is a definite outworking of following Jesus.

Interestingly, Jesus echoes the Deuteronomic principle that people who are trying to be like God should be caring for the oppressed, he framed his understanding of his mission this way (quoting Isaiah):

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
So. You might be thinking. It’s all well and good for Jesus to say this and apply it to his own ministry, if he is this refuge for the oppressed – but it doesn’t follow that it is “Christian” to love refugees.

You would be wrong.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Luke 11 on the basis that they care for their religiosity but not for the poor.

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Then, when he’s talking about how people who want to follow him should approach social conventions and the hosting of status building banquets, he makes it clear that his concern is on provision for the poor (Luke 14)…

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Then, when he’s talking about how his followers, Christians, will be distinguished from people not following him (unchristians?), he makes it clear that this is one of the markers of a Christian, someone whose thinking has been truly transformed by the Spirit as they follow Jesus.

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.’”

James follows suit.

27 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.”

It’s pretty hard to maintain anything that looks like the policies of either of Australia’s major parties on “boat people” if you’re trying to take a Christian approach – the justification for taking a Christian approach is obviously quesitonable for the same reason that introducing any policy into a secular democracy for solely theological reasons is questionable. But we have every right to speak in the democratic process, and you’d hope such contributions would be framed by our theological reality, more than by political expediency, you’d hope we’d be the most compassionate voice out there, and call for something more than what our major parties are happy to settle for… and yet, when given the opportunity to make a statement following Abbott’s theological faux pas, here’s what Lyle Shelton from the ACL says:

“It is unfortunate that the term ‘Christian’ has been co-opted in the debate… I don’t want to say what is Christian and what is not, but it is important that our policies give people languishing in camps a fair go. We have to stop the people smugglers’ business model. We have to stop people perishing at sea.”

 

Could this organisation stoop any lower in its bid to represent as broad a church as possible? How bout defining Christian as “somebody who follows Jesus and holds to something representing the historic confessions of the church”? It’s not that hard. And this sort of waftiness is precisely why the ACL can’t claim to speak for anybody in particular. It’s also an issue that needs the  voice of Christians to offer some compassionate clarity.

It’s unfortunate Christianity has been misrepresented in the debate, but it’s more unfortunate we had to be co-opted, and haven’t been on the front line from the beginning (which notable exceptions have been – like Melbourne’s Crossway Church, which offered to care for unaccompanied minors who were at risk of being deported).

People who follow Jesus are refugees. People who follow Jesus are to love the oppressed, including refugees. This has to be the basis of a “Christian” response to the tragedy that leads people to flee their countries, and the tragedy that many of those people are turning to criminals and jumping on dangerous boats.

There are times when people do really dumb stuff in the name of PR. And it’s clearly been orchestrated. Those are times that the PR people behind the ideas need to take responsibility. Prepping your minister, the Minister for Trade, to do a bad parody song on a TV interview – and it was a carefully prepared stunt, he even had permission from the band – is a bad idea. See just how bad here…

Somehow I think the message that Tony Abbott’s policy is a joke is going to get a bit lost here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pray Away the Gay” was a heading the Brisbane Times used to describe a prayer meeting that some Christians held in the centre of Brisbane yesterday (here’s a follow up). A bunch of young Brisbanites turned out to protest against the prayer meeting on the basis that it was promoting a message of hate and intolerance. And I tend to agree with the protestors – though it didn’t help that the Brisbane Times sensationalised the story with a horrible headline more at home in the Republican primaries in America.

Here’s what the group, led by Christian Democrat Candidate, Peter Madden, from Sydney, said about the meeting (I’m trying to be as sympathetic to my fellow Christians as possible here.

“It is vital that we pray that God will have His way in Queensland in this election against the wickedness proposed by Anna Bligh and others, (who have pushed hard for the evil agenda of homosexual marriage in Queensland, clearly aimed at Australian children and families).

Please pray that God would raise up righteous leaders and remove the ungodly from power would send a clear message to the ALP Federally and in every state in Australia that they must not change the Marriage Act! That they might realise their foolishness and change their party policy back to the way it has always been!”

Now. This isn’t exactly “praying away the gay”… the Brisbane Times headline wasn’t particularly accurate there. I thought this may have been a slogan on the truck. But it wasn’t. This was what the truck, which the Brisbane Times articles suggested was hateful, featured…

Now. These aren’t nice. They’re emotive, and it’s a bit of a moral scare campaign. But they aren’t linking homosexuality to pedophilia, like the spokespeople for the LGBT lobby suggested in the Brisbane Times article. It seems Madden and his ilk are worried about sex ed classes promoting homosexuality as normal.

I’m actually more worried about the language Madden uses in the media release than about the posters.

I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating political quietism, where Christians never speak out on issues, nor do I want to present some sort of trite “Jesus wouldn’t have been interested in homosexuality” approaches to this issue. Neither is particularly compelling for either side of the debate. Both are cop outs. And both fail to comprehend the complexity of governing for myriad competing world views. This post is getting too long as it is, so I’ll try to wrap this up pretty quickly.

I’m fairly convinced that Jesus would have been interested in this debate – following Jesus means ditching your previous identity, and submitting your life to him. That’s pretty much the nature of being a Christian. This means submitting one’s sexual identity to his authority. Which means, if you’re going to take the Bible seriously, fighting against your sexual orientation. Just as if you’re going to take the Bible seriously you need to submit your heterosexual orientation to Jesus. One of my ethics essays last semester pretty much involved exactly this question – feel free to read it here.

So I think that line is a cop out. But it does not follow that because Jesus would have been interested in the issue, we should legislate according to what Jesus thinks, or what we think. If that were the case, for starters, Jesus would have spent a bit more time as a political lobbyist, or revolutionary – rather than calling for people to turn to the kingdom of God and find their identity in him. Here are a couple of problems with the idea that we should be praying for the demise of the Labor party, or the “wicked Anna Bligh”…

1. Homosexual attraction is not (necessarily, or even in most cases) a deliberate or conscious “choice” – this was a big part of the essay I linked to above – attraction is complex, there are all sorts of factors that can influence attraction, potentially including biology. One does not choose one’s orientation in the same way that one chooses their identity – in Christ or otherwise (nor does sexual orientation necessarily lead to identity – this is a bizarre modern western assumption).

2. It follows, that if one has not chosen Christianity, than there is no good case to be made for “praying away the gay” or seeing homosexuality as anything other than normal. The gay community has every right to contribute to a democracy, as do the Christians. Elected officials have a responsibility not just to the special interest group that brought them to power, but to every member of their electorate.

3. It is not “evil” to try to look after the interests of all members of society – especially those who are marginalised, bullied, and at greater risk of suicide or mental illness.

4. Nor is it evil, or “homophobic,” to believe that a particular human lifestyle is contrary to the intentions of God. That something appears “natural” is not a reason to say that this is how things ought to be. That is called the “naturalistic” or “is/ought” fallacy.

5. While the case regarding abortion, that it involves protecting children, is obvious, and potentially democratically legitimate, this doesn’t seem to be obviously the case in the question of gay marriage (no matter what the Christian Democrats might say), unless somebody is forcing children to choose to be gay, so the issue of gay marriage doesn’t really appear to be a political issue. It’s a moral issue, or theological issue, and not one that should necessarily be the subject of political debate.

6. The idea that Jesus would be more concerned about “the gay” than about “the adultery” or “the fornication” is bizarre. I don’t recall any sex ed class I ever went to advocating marriage as the only place for sex. We do ourselves, and the message of the gospel, a disservice if we focus on a particular sin.

7. Because homosexuality, and particularly gay rights and the question of marriage, is a hot-button issue, and a point at which the Christian message is in conflict with the way the world thinks, we’re always going to get hammered when we speak about homosexuality, and any attempt to be gracious is going to be lost in a negative headline. This means we need to be careful to only speak graciously, and not even attempt to talk about morality outside of talking about the gospel.

8. Nowhere, so far as I can see, are Christians called on to pray against the government. The Roman Empire was more opposed to the Christian message than any western government prior to the 20th century. And Christians were called to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-3).

9. The idea that Jesus loved sinners, and that we’re all sinners who need Jesus, gets lost if we keeping banging on about particular sins. And we oversimplify life, and politics in a democracy in particular, if talk as if life is a binary case of good and evil. While this may be true – most Christian theology, in most mainstream denominations (I want to say “all”), begin with the foundation that all people – not just those with same sex attraction, or a homosexual identity – are sinful. Life is complex, and messy, and driving slogan laden trucks around in protest about something is always going to be reductionist, hurtful, and interpreted as hateful.

10. Wouldn’t we be better off focusing our energy on clearly articulating the gospel – on spreading a message of hope for all, rather than anything that could be interpreted as hate for some? I don’t get why anybody would book out a public space in Brisbane to pray against our politicians rather than to meet people and tell them about Jesus in a way that listens to, empathises with, and cares for, the people of Brisbane where they’re at.

So tomorrow is election day. After a year of ridiculousness we finally get to put the longest and most annoying election campaign in history to bed.

This campaign involved both parties, but particularly the ALP, sinking to new lows and treating the electorate with an incredible degree of contempt. We are not stupid.

The latest in this cascading, nay, spiralling, cycle of stupidity comes in the form of Anna Bligh’s early concession advertisements – which plead with voters not to punish her party too harshly on the basis that Campbell Newman will have “unfettered” power if he wins a significant majority. This is an interesting pitch. In some sense it’s an improvement on the horrible ad hominem negativity Labor relied on for the first 11 months of this election campaign. If this is plan B, plan C must be terribad. This line of argument is incredibly stupid. For two reasons. Essentially, so far as “power” is concerned – there is no difference between a one seat majority, and a fifty seat majority in the Queensland parliament – especially as there is no senate. The argument also strikes me as being a little hypocritical, given that back in 2004 the Labor party had a 63-20 majority. And they weren’t complaining about the damage this did to democracy then.

Anyway. As Christians, who are more than just your “tick a box on census day” Christians, there’s all sorts of pressure that different people attempt to pile on to us to sway our votes. If it’s not the ACL telling you where everybody stands on the “important moral issues” it’s Family First telling you that their stance on all those moral issues is, to quote the musician Beck, where it’s at. I listened to a panel discussion on 96.5 (a Christian radio station in Brisbane – for those of you reading outside of south east Queensland) last weekend, featuring a good and very reasonably minded friend of mine, and the implicit, if not occasionally explicit message from the show was that a Christian can’t really, in good conscience, vote anything other than conservative. Which, quite frankly, is ridiculous. While we should be mindful of employing a historical fallacy – that how things used to be, or how things were in the beginning, is equal to how they are now – both Labor and the Coalition parties were established to promote, or protect “Christian” values. And both historical party platforms have important messages in particular times and places. Thankfully, modern Australia isn’t really that place – the parties essentially agree on almost all the major issues. We have it pretty good in Australia – and our politicians, while approaching issues from different philosophical frameworks, are essentially just putting different window dressing on the same shops.

The problem with most Christian “how to vote” cards, policy trackers, and any sort of suggestion that God endorses the policy platform of any party, is that life is complex, and democratic politics involves complexity and compromise. It’s be great to be able to force everybody to do what we want, but not so great when the boot is on the other foot.

So here, before I go any further, is “how to vote” tomorrow. As a Christian. Or as anybody.

Vote with your head.

That’s it. You can stop reading now. If that’s all you were after. Participating in a democratic process is an incredible privilege, and abusing it is a sure-fire way to end up with a bad government, and a lowest common denominator form of political campaigning.

Here’s my handy “how to vote” card for any Australian election – it was prepared for the last Federal Election, but is still relevant for tomorrow.

This may be an over simplification, because we have to acknowledge that there are hot-button issues for Christian voters. Some of us feel so strongly about a Christian moral framework that we only want Christians governing the country. And we want the country governed using a Christian worldview. We like to appeal to Australia’s so called “Christian heritage” to justify lording it over our heathen neighbours, who on the whole, just want to eat, drink, and be merry – without us interfering. The Christian heritage assumption is based on a pretty questionable interpretation of some historical data, I’m not going to argue that our system of laws isn’t based on Judea-Christian values – because they are – but I doubt that Christianity was ever practiced by the majority of Australians in any meaningful way (church attendance has consistently been much lower than those who nominate as Christian in the census). If you want you can read my Australian Church History essay on this question.

I posted on abortion recently – and it’s an issue many people feel pretty strongly about. Strongly enough that it might influence their vote. And possibly With good reason. Abortion, to my mind, involves speaking out on behalf of the voiceless (the unborn) and attempting to protect and uphold life. But, the reality is that Labor and the LNP are in a two horse race to be the decision makers for the state (Katter’s Australia Party, the Greens, and Family First might compete in each electorate – but their policy platforms aren’t big enough for them to be treated as worthy of a vote). And their positions on the issue of abortion are almost impossible to tell apart. So, Campbell Newman, refused to outline his party’s position on the issue. There’s no real choice here anyway – and the way forward on this issue is something I discussed in the post linked above.

This isn’t really anything I haven’t said before. But a couple of people have asked me if I was going to post about the election. And now I have. There’s a second post following this one very shortly.

At this point, in terms of my own vote, the similarity of the major parties, and the craziness of the fringes, means that my vote is coming down to a question of style rather than substance. I feel inclined to punish Labor for their horrible campaign. Relentless negativity based on spurious accusations, directed at an individual, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t possibly vote for the Labor party after their campaign.

K-Rudd looks set to have another tilt at the lodge. Which, for non-Australians, is where the Prime Minister of Australia lives.

I’d rather the Labor party just install Bill Shorten. He seems eloquent and clever. Or Tanya Plibersek. I think I’d consider voting Labor if there was a Shorten/Plibersek ticket.

K-Rudd was a control freak, and just as power hungry as Gillard. And he eats ear wax… it’s the result of some bizarre hagiographic redaction, and the sour taste his public knifing left in our mouth, that gives him his position in the polls. Partly I think the electorate relishes the chance to turf him out democratically.

J-Gill is just awful. A political experiment gone wrong. She can’t get anything right, and clearly moves in whatever direction is popular on the issues she doesn’t care about – so she’s strong on climate change and education, but is about to change her position on the definition of marriage (if the papers today are anything to go by).

Here’s what I think he should do when he inevitably loses his challenge next week, or whenever it happens. Instead of moving to the backbenches, he should move to the cross benches, with whatever Labor supporters feel strongly enough about ousting Gillard. He should do a Katter, and start his own party. And he should trigger a double dissolution. Leave the party in a huff. And write his memoirs.

He can’t win from here. His party hates him. He doesn’t seem to have the requisite support. If he resigns his seat there’s every chance the power grabbers in the Labor party will find some way to hold on in a messy hung parliament. So crossing the floor seems like his best option for making waves for Julia, who he clearly dislikes.

The other mob across the floor aren’t much better, Tony Abbott is a walking cliche/soundbite/bad visual pun. We should probably just draft Peter Costello or Paul Keating back into the top job. At least those guys had a bit of character and some sense of an ideology beyond the endless pursuit of staying in power and beating the other guys.

That is all.

Republican Clowns

Nathan Campbell —  November 21, 2011

The photoshopping in this Flickr collection is pretty amazing. The only downside is that there’s no Democrat equivalent. Bipartisan clowns would be awesome.

Michelle Bachmann.

Sarah Palin

Ron Paul

George W. Bush

Rupert Murdoch

Rick Perry

Gold. Jerry. Gold.

The other day in the NSW parliament the Greens played a game that either was an incredible waste of tax payers money and a deliberate attempt to undermine democracy, or a brilliant piece of gamesmanship.

A Green spoke for almost 6 hours. Straight. One speech. He talked about dragons. He was hoping time would run out on a decision, or that the government would have to cut off debate so that they could then accuse the government of being undemocratic.

It’s called a filibuster. Which is a cool word. It’s a bit like a losing football (soccer) team keeping the ball to waste time when the score is 4-0. Trying to minimise damage.

The government put a halt to things. I would too if I had to listen to any politician talk for longer than an hour.

So this morning’s letter was pretty sad. I thought I’d balance it with this one – a letter from a little girl to a then clean faced Abraham Lincoln who was just embarking on his presidential campaign.

“My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

And he replied.



“I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters— I have three sons— one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age— They, with their mother, constitute my whole family—

As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?”

He grew a beard though. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Again, via Letters of Note.

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).

Oliver O’Donovan was interviewed about the American elections, democracy, and the Christian. He said some good stuff (which you can read here, or summarised here at Between Two Worlds).

The essential political duties we owe to our neighbours are those of living together with them peacefully under the law, and of giving proper support to the institutions of government that uphold the law. It is very unglamorous, and very necessary. To this essential basis a democratic polity has added the specific responsibility of voting in elections. To perform that democratic task well is quite difficult. It means listening carefully to political debates and sifting the true from the false in a self-questioning way, aware of the subtle influences of prejudice upon ourselves as well as upon others. It means to be open to persuasion, ready to change one’s mind. It means achieving a clear sense of the difference between what we can and must decide and what we cannot and should not try to decide.

Then he said this. Which I’m not sure I agree with:

“The “average American in the pew” seems not uncommonly to be told (or so it appears to us as we listen in across the Atlantic Ocean) that she or he has much larger political responsibilities than this: to make the Gospel heard in public life, to bring in the Kingdom of God and to make a better world, and so on.”

These can be problematic if you think making the gospel heard and bringing in the kingdom means stamping Christianity on the forehead of those who aren’t Christians. Which some do. But they do also, to me, sound like a fair summary of our role as Christians living in society (depending on how you think you bring about the Kingdom).

Some of these tasks are indeed tasks of the Church, which all Christians share, but not distinctively political. Some are political, but not tasks of the Church so much as promises of the work of the Spirit of God, for which we must pray and wait—while fulfilling our mission and doing the work that comes to our hand—humbly and without pompous pretensions.

Hang on. What? How are these two statements mutually exclusive in the way he frames them? How are some of those things he lists “political” but not tasks of the church? Or the other way around? How is “doing the work that comes to hand” not the same as making the gospel heard, bringing in the kingdom of God and making a better world? I would have thought that was exactly what the work that comes to our hand was… How are they not both political and the task of the church through the work of the Spirit which we pray and wait for… while also acting.

I might be getting this all wrong, but it often seems that this corrective of the old thinking has chucked out baby and bath water by insisting on the same dichotomy from the other side of the spectrum. People used to say “preach the gospel, preach the gospel, preach the gospel” and good works and loving people kind of got pushed to the side so far as the church is concerned. And that’s bad. But the answer isn’t to say “do good works, do good works, do good works.” Isn’t “do good works while preaching the gospel/preach the gospel while doing good works” a better way forward.

Maybe the real distinction between my thinking and O’Donovan’s here is how the Spirit works – I don’t necessarily think we sit and wait for the spirit to move, I think we move, praying and trusting that the Spirit will work through our actions. I don’t see “doing the work before us” as distinct from waiting on the Spirit.

Finally, he offers some worthwhile thoughts on how to talk about politics from the pulpit, which I’ve summarised below.

Some Don’ts

  1. Don’t act as if you are a well informed pundit with inside knowledge just because you’re a preacher: “Political discernment is not a gift of the Spirit promised to an ordained minister with the laying on of hands. It is more than probable that a congregation will contain some who are better informed and have better judgment than their clergy.
  2. Know what to focus on, and what to ignore: “Not every wave of political enthusiasm deserves the attention of the church in its liturgy. Judging when political questions merit prophetic commentary requires a cool head and a theological sense of priorities.”
  3. Don’t buy into the idolatry of modern politics: “The worship that the principalities and powers seek to exact from mankind is a kind of feverish excitement. The first business of the church is to refuse them that worship. There are many times – and surely a major Election is one of them – when the most pointed political criticism imaginable is to talk about something else.”
  4. Don’t talk without knowing what the terms you’re using mean in both the Christian and secular political realms: “Few Christian interventions into political debate display any kind of conceptual sophistication. They sound naïve – not in the sense of being too idealistic, but simply by using words without appreciating their meaning. Every political term carries a complex freight: “rights”, “democracy”, “freedom”, “equality”, “the state”, “law”, and so on. Such an elementary blunder as using “democratic” to mean “fair” betrays a level of incompetence that disqualifies the speaker as a guide to others.”
  5. Don’t introduce concepts with baggage without knowing how those concepts relate to others: No preacher can introduce such ideas effectively without a basic sense of their relation to each other and to the Gospel: how does civil freedom relate to evangelical freedom? how do human rights relate to the righteousness of God? Nothing is contributed if the church merely echoes the current buzz-words…
  6. Don’t preach politics like a politician, do it ethically: “One should not go on as though one were a statesman oneself, trying to get a certain decision taken, using every argument in its favour, good or bad, that might appeal to somebody.”
  7. Don’t be partisan: Don’t pick a side just for the sake of picking a side: “The notion that political deliberation is basically about the rival claims of competing parties is one which the church must do everything it can to challenge. Political deliberation is about understanding our situation truthfully.”
  8. Don’t not be partisan: Sometimes the question of truth is an obvious distinction between the parties.
  9. Don’t avoid choosing a position to avoid offending people: there is no reason to be alarmed if, on any occasion, the concern of the church opens into a critical perspective on secular political events. “To convince of sin, righteousness and judgment” is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), which must sometimes, surely, take the form of defining a position in relation to such evils as abortion, nuclear deterrence, unemployment, North-South inequities and so on.
  10. Don’t avoid controversy for the sake of avoiding controversy: We would be less than faithful preachers of the Gospel if we made our minds never to venture onto such terrain. But to do it usefully we have to risk controversy. We will be of little use to the Holy Spirit if we save our denunciations for those evils on which we can be sure there will be little difference of opinion among our hearers.
  11. Don’t be controversial just for the sake of presenting your opinions: “Controversy may be healthy or unhealthy. It will be unhealthy if we announce our conclusions and declare, “Take them or leave them!” It will be healthy if we lead the church through the task of Christian deliberation from first principles, so helping those who differ to find the Christian ground on which they stand and building up the church’s unity in the Gospel.

Some Dos

  1. Rather than pretending you’re a pundit help equip the church to think through what is known about a situation.
  2. Don’t mix messages: The pulpit may only rightly be used for addressing the church’s own concerns. Those concerns are the truth of the Gospel and all that follows from it for Christian action.
  3. Preach politics for the purpose of fostering engaged Christian thinking and action: The justification for preaching on politics is exactly the same as that for preaching on the family or on money or on any secular concern: it assists Christians to bring an evangelical mind to bear on their responsibilities… How one speaks will be determined by what is in view, which is to assist authentic Christian deliberation.
  4. Preach politics understanding why it’s important in a democratic setting: “Political deliberation is a responsibility of the members of the church inasmuch as they participate in a political society.”
  5. Don’t preach to persuade to your point of view, preach to demonstrate the Biblical position on an issue: “…the argument should be a Christian one that commends itself to any Christian conscience. It is less important that those who hear you should concur in your conclusions than that they should respond positively to the principles from which you reason.
  6. Preach Politics from the Bible: When I address political questions I almost always adopt an exegetical form of sermon-structure, follow my text and the argument that arises from it, until it points irresistibly to some theologico-political principle. Then, in the lightest way possible, I give concreteness to the principle by showing how it bears on the public issue in question.
  7. Keep yourself out of it (mostly): “it [your own view] will be evident enough from the argument. If anyone disagrees with me, I hope that person will have been helped to articulate a more authentically Christian response, one which will take seriously the issues of principle I have raised.”
  8. Preach to the Christian conscience: “Everyone needs to come out with a clearer sense of what is unnegotiable for Christian conscience, and what, by contrst, is merely a matter of differing emphasis or differing interpretation of a given situation.”
  9. Aim to present the Gospel of Christ in the context of each political issue: In that way the judgment of the Spirit proves itself authentic, drawing the line between the Gospel and despair, between belief and unbelief, obedience and rebellion, and lighting the way for the confession of Christ in the centre of each new situation

Here’s a hint. If you’re an ex-professional sports star, particularly an incredibly well paid member of one of the most lucrative sports in the world, say the NBA, and you’ve made millions from being an oversized white, anglo-saxon, possibly protestant male – that doesn’t entitle you to claim minority status if you’re in the running to be governor of your state. Being tall also doesn’t qualify you for “minority” status in a way that helps you empathise with the marginalised and downtrodden.

“When Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Dudley addressed the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs’ monthly “Coffee & Issues” breakfast on Sept. 24, he reprised a comment he’d made at an earlier interview with the Urban League of Portland.

“I heard him say he ‘understood what it was like to be a minority because he had played in the NBA.”

Yeah, even if he meant it as a joke it’s a pretty stupid joke to be making when you’re running for office. Basically, if what you say as a joke kicks up a media controversy and turns significant portions of the community against you, it’s a campaign no go zone.

Especially if your “minority” is one that millions strive to become and never achieve rather than being a quirk of your birth (though being ridiculously tall probably falls in that category).

Al Mohler is a largely impressive figure. If you haven’t heard of him you should read his blog. You should also read this profile piece (H/T Gary). And especially, I think, these paragraphs about his approach to getting his opinions heard and engaging in the political sphere:

“Mohler is not so much an intellectual or theologian as he is an articulate controversialist, a popularizer and spokesman who has branded himself as one who speaks to and for evangelicals. His multimedia finesse makes Francis Schaeffer appear amateur. His books (one is titled He Is Not Silent, a nod to Schaeffer) rehearse familiar arguments about the importance of maintaining a biblical worldview, and offer little in the way of original analysis—though Mohler is capable of nuanced scholarship, such as the dissection of Barth in his dissertation. Ivory-tower discourse is simply not his primary calling.

Rather, his vocation is to redefine the notion of “culture warrior.” Mohler rejects the clich of infiltrating Washington to take dominion in Christ’s name. “I don’t invest a lot of hope in the political sphere,” he says. “I believe in Niebuhr’s analysis, and then some—evangelicals invest too much confidence in a political recovery that Scripture doesn’t prescribe.” Mohler prefers instead to offer a stream of commentary on a diverse range of subjects, provide the secular media with a consistent evangelical viewpoint, and give constituents talking points to defend the biblical worldview on any subject that might come their way—all while running a seminary and serving the SBC.”