Archives For separation of church and state

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

The “Current” Background

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

The Background on K-Rudd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says, a bit later:

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

He identifies five approaches that Christians take to politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads me to the current situation…

Kevin Rudd’s changing opinion on Gay Marriage

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

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

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

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

Here’s Rudd’s narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

These are the two questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So good on him for that.

Which brings me to the ACL.

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

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

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

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

Here’s the title of their Media Release.

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

Really?

Do go on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From James 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is all.

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

Reading some O’Donovan

Robyn and I are the proud owners of one of the new Amazon Kindles. It is going to keep us company on the plane for our trip. It’s also given me the chance to tackle some Oliver O’Donovan (just so I can be better equipped to argue with Stuart and Mark). The Kindle is exciting and should make blogging book reviews a breeze. You should check out the continuing discussion with Mark on a Christian approach to ethics, politics and gay marriage. We’ve almost written a book.

In the meantime, here are a couple of quotes to ponder from an essay by O’Donovan.

“Democracy and human rights are not identical things, so it is necessary to ask whether they can coexist. It seems that the answer depends on two contingent factors: how the democratic societies conduct themselves, and what rights human beings assert. You cannot champion “democracy and human rights” without quite quickly having to decide which takes precedence between them; and since either of those terms, and not just one of them, may from time to time be used as a cloak for self–interest and tyranny, there is no universally correct answer. That is the underlying problem of coherence in contemporary Western ideology.”

“The legal tradition needs correction. The obligation of the courts to maintain self–consistency makes them reluctant to innovate. But innovation may be required, and that for two causes: first, where tradition has deviated from natural right; secondly, where it is ill–adapted to the practical possibilities within society. These two concerns are often confused, yet they are in principle quite different, moving, as it were, in opposite directions: bringing law closer to the moral norm on the one hand, further from it on the other. Some reforms are idealistic, attempting to correct our vices; some are compromises, making some kind of settlement with them. Either kind of reform may be necessary at one or another juncture, since acts of judgment have to be both truthful and effective. Every change in law aims to squeeze out, as it were, the maximum yield of public truthfulness available within the practical constraints of the times. Sometimes it does it by attempting more, sometimes by attempting less.”

Biblical Sightations

A weapons manufacturer for the U.S military has come under fire for including inscriptions that cite Bible passages on their sights.

A separation of powers spokesperson said the following:

“It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they’re being shot by Jesus rifles.”

Jesus did say he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword – although I suspect this misses the figurative sense he was speaking in…

Traffic jam

It seems I’m not alone in being inundated with traffic. Over at City on a Hill Jeff asked if Christians should be defending marriage – ie the traditional definition of marriage. I thought it was an interesting question, so I threw in my two cents and left. Unfortunately I left before the fun started.

Jeff was featured on the WordPress.com homepage and he got quite few comments. They make for interesting reading… one American guy suggested doing away with the separation of church and state.

You should read Jeff’s blog – his posts are bite sized, like meals at a fine restaurant.

Benny on religion

by: Benny

In these initial posts I thought I would continue the Christian themes that are abundant on this blog, so I thought I would comment not on why/why not I believe certain Christian beliefs, but rather my opinion of religions as a whole.

A little background, I think it would be awesome if there is a God, and it would be almost as awesome if people were born believing in God and this never changed. This would be good as everyone could just live out this life, and then move onto the next one. It would be one big spring break. I also think that this would probably make the world a much less stressful place, and everyone would treat each other better. There would be no need for selfishness, no reason to feel sad if anyone was lost, this world would be only temporary.

However, moving away from the crazy perfect dream, in the actual world it is difficult to tell if religion has more beneficial points than bad points.

Nathan and I have had the discussion of the origin of morals before, which I firmly established my belief that morals aren’t a derivative of the Christian faith. Still, I accept the role of religion in developing many people values, morals and ethics, and I think for the most part Christianity does instil people with a certain standard of goodness. From this perspective, if the Christian faith was more dominant, maybe we would have a better moral grounding, however it is hard to tell. It is possible that morals developed to an extent through general life experience. Maybe religion helps people developed these attributes at a greater rate. This seems likely.

However, what I think is more beneficial to the development of good societal morals and ethics is the community group that religion often fosters. Church groups bring people together, teach the group the expected standards of behaviour, and the younger generations learn how to behave form the older. This almost tribal oversight on the development of younger people I would think would result in them developing better behaviour principles. I would think that belonging to a community group would benefit the morals of people almost as much as being within an organised educational institution and even a strong family unit.

Where clashes occur is across religious boundaries. It seems religions aren’t good at being friends. And some religions aren’t even good at liking their own members if they aren’t religious enough. This is a major mark against religions, and causes divides within the larger community. This concept is one of the prime reasons I do not like any religious divisions in schools. There are enough artificial lines drawn in other areas of society along religious boundaries. I strongly believe that if anything we should be trying to get schools as culturally diverse and free from any types of potentially dividing lines as possible. This means removing all religious-focused educational institutions, and trying to ensure that we preserve this one institution where developing children interact with children from other cultures and religious backgrounds. I understand that many will feel this somewhat impacts on their religious choice and ability to make decisions for their children, however from a whole-of-society standpoint, I think this aids in developing a more inclusive, open society.

Further, religions, relevantly the Christian religions, are not tolerant. Some say they are, but they are not. To some extent I think Nathan has both become less tolerant and more acknowledging of the fact the Christian religion is not tolerant. I think it is important not to get confused between the recognition that different views exist, the tolerance of different views such that there is a willingness to allow those different views to be incorporated into society alongside your own.

This is not the case with many religions, well at least western religions anyway (but I’m not overly familiar with the religions of the world, so I am likely unfairly stereotyping far too many religions into this broad religion umbrella). In the grand scheme of things, it has to be said that rarely do religious ideals greatly impact on non-religious day-to-day choices or lifestyles for the most part.

However, the laws that religion has spurned, as well as the societal stigma’s and opinions in created still remain, and often it is certain minority or misfortunate groups that they have the most impact on. I find it absolutely infuriating at the thought of gay people being beaten or discriminated against on religious basis. Nathan seems to have an issue with same sex marriage due to the potential impacts it could have on family units. There are arguments on either side of this, many difficult to truly validate (such as studies that tells me that traditional families are better/worse than a different family type), but at least if they are approached logically and rationally, I am willing to think through them, and come to a conclusion. I like rational arguments and evidence. What I find more difficult is arguments based on religious grounds. I accept that religious people developed personal values around their religious beliefs and values. However, I find it unfair and unjust to regulate the lives of others based on such groundings.

I am also becoming concerned that Christians have a certain superiority complex that extends further than their belief they have the correct theological choice. As already mentioned, it includes Christian’s belief in their superior moral compass, but I think it also may extend to thoughts that Christians may be just generally more enlightened in all contexts. However, Christians probably make this argument against non-Christians.

There is also a tear within myself to an extent. While I want to preserve everyone’s right to choose and practice their own religion, I also realise that the way in which religions impede upon each other, it is not realistic to believe all these different views could live contently side by side. I think this source of conflict has a negative impact on society.

Finally, I don’t mind being preached to. while I think a lot of non-Christians are bothered by this, I think most of my religious friends understand certain boundaries, and for the most part in Australia it is quite easy for Christian and non-Christian groupings to get along quite easily. In fact, the way smiley puts it, if my Christian friends didn’t try to drag me in once in a while, they are probably not being a good Christian in trying to save their friends. That said, the extent some people have gone to spread the word I think has been somewhat unacceptable. Organisations that organised for missionaries to enter countries where Christianity was not welcome is a grey area I find somewhat difficult to vindicate. They may be heroes of the religion, but again it shows an element of elitism that exists within a group that is willing to do this. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but in the big picture, being so direct may have done more instances of harm than good. And it unlikely caused further tension between already strained international ties.

So to be a true Christian, you seemingly have to take the good attributes with the bad. And, from the requirements of Christianity of spreading the word and living by the bibles teachings, it seems that there is no solution for the incompatibility between the Christian v non-Christian world.

Peter Costello has a piece in the SMH on proposed changes to the discrimination laws, he chooses to focus particularly on the ramifications of changing this legislation for Christian schools.

“At present, discrimination statutes don’t apply to religious bodies and their schools on the grounds of freedom of religion. So a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.”

I’m not apologist for Christian schools – they can create unhelpful monocultural microcosms that can cause problems for people engaging with the world later in life. On the flipside, they are really helpful institutions where children receive a better than average education at the hands of teachers who actually care about their development…

Forcing religious schools to make employment decisions free from preference to religion sounds equitable – but there’s no way a Christian School would hire an atheist teacher – they’d find other reasons to not hire them. It’s almost impossible to police. So it’s not a concern.

It is dumb though. And it’s the reason that Christians should push for a clear separation of church and state. It cuts both ways.

Calvin is famous for his slightly misattributed and grossly misunderstood “five points of Calvinism” – I’ve got a reputation for being “not a five point Calvinist” mostly because I don’t like hyper-Calvinism. Calvin was mostly terrific – having done some research though I can’t say I’m fully on board with his philosophy of government.

Here are some things I learned about Calvin this week that I thought were interesting.

  1. Calvin wrote some stuff under a pen name to avoid persecution from the established Catholic church – including Charles d’Es-perville, Martianus Lucanius, Carolus Passelius, Alcuin, Depercan, and Calpurnius – these would be good names to consider for your children or characters in a novel if you’re staunchly, but secretly, reformed.
  2. Calvin was, by nature, incredibly humble – he wanted a life of quiet scholarship. He requested an unmarked grave. He was pastorally sacrificial. He submitted all things to the sovereignty of God. He championed a doctrine that made human agency incredibly small. He instituted a political system in the city whose church he lead removing power and authority from the church and putting it in the hands of the people. The idea of having a theological movement named after him would have been an anathema. It seems to me that this aspect of his character is in stark contrast to the pillars of the “new Calvinism”.
  3. Calvin was, by nature, incredibly arrogant. He was so incredibly confident in his personal views on scripture and Government – and did not particularly like opposition. God seems to prefer to work through guys who are an incredible paradox of confidence and humility – I’m not sure that humility and arrogance are the polar opposites people suggest. They seem to be two separate characteristics with related distinctives.
  4. Calvin was politically savvy enough to know when not to be political. This greatly enhanced his influence on the political sphere.  

    He was expelled from Geneva the first time round because he wouldn’t pander to the rich and powerful (by serving them communion). He was brought back to reform the political structure of the city a few years later. But he didn’t use this as an opportunity to grandstand or point score (at least from the pulpit)… To quote the helpful biography of Calvin I linked to the other day:
     

    When Calvin returned to St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1541, he unceremoniously but symbolically resumed his pulpit activity by expounding the Scriptures at the exact verse where he left off prior to his exile.

    Several days earlier, Calvin had consulted with the Small Council, the real political powerhouse of the day, and encouraged them to make important reforms. They were so willing to help him in the Reformation of Geneva that they not only approved his proposals to revise the protocols for church order, but they also appointed him to a committee to design a constitution for the Republic of Geneva.

  5. Calvin’s post-reformation political realignment of Geneva pioneered the separation of church and state, and the separation of powers. His restructuring of Geneva’s government removed power from the head of the church to a church council, and to a separately elected government in the city. These groups functioned as checks and balances. He separated government of the city from the church to protect the church from the interference of the government and the wealthy – not the other way around.

    He was, however, not a fan of government being “secular” – his philosophy of government, or theology of government, revolved around the government acting in a Christian manner. Again, a couple of insightful quotes from that biography…

    Calvin practiced what he preached. A consistency of ideals, both in church and state, permeated his thought and action. He was prudent enough to realize that the best way to reform the culture was an indirect one, i.e., to first reform the church.

    ”With the publication of the Ordinances, Geneva created a unique Christian commonwealth whereby church and state cooperated in preserving religion as the key to their new identity.”

Political Calvinist

Calvin is best known in Christian circles as the predestination guy. But I think he should perhaps be best recognised as the political guy. He was a champion of the separation of church and state – this came from the church first, not the state… and was big on the separation of powers with a system of checks and balances.

This fascinating biography of Calvin includes some great insights into how he interacted with the (still nominally Christian) government of the day…

“Calvin’s preaching was at times direct, confrontational, and “politically informed.” One 1552 sermon so irritated the Council that they inquired just why it was that he spoke of the Senators and other civil rulers in a particular sermon as “arguing against God,” “mocking him,” “rejecting all the Holy Scriptures [to] vomit forth their blasphemies as supreme decrees,” and as “gargoyle monkeys [who] have become so proud Calvin’s rhetoric was certainly not so academic or technical as to elude his audience.”