Common sense prevails

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leah says:

I dunno. I wouldn’t actively support it, but at the same time I don’t think it’s that bad an idea. Christians aren’t simply of the opinion pornography is bad; it’s proven to be destructive to relationships and marriages. And the above suggestion isn’t banning it- people can still opt in to receive that sort of content. It’s better than K-Rudd’s original blacklist idea, yeah?

Dave Walker says:

I think Nathan’s right: broader society will do a much better job of working out what’s right and just and fair if Christians don’t complicate things with their contributions….

Nathan says:

Sarcasm alert… for those of you who missed it Dave was disagreeing with me by seeming to agree with me…

I think Christians will do better at being salt and light if we look different to all the people around us. That was kind of the point of the OT law wasn’t it?

So, the further society strays from Christian conduct the better I say – as far as being a witness to the work God is doing in us.

Dave says:

Sorry if my sarcasm was a little too obtuse! Thanks for clarifying Nathan.

You wrote: “the further society strays from Christian conduct the better I say – as far as being a witness to the work God is doing in us.”

Perhaps, but is that the sole criteria you want to use in determining Christian conduct in the world?
Is there no role for speaking the truth towards misuse of power?
Doesn’t the bible itself have something to say about the role of government?

The point of the law was so that Israel could be a ‘holy nation, a royal priesthood’ – i.e. precisely so the unholy notions could watch and learn!

Nathan says:

So I’d suggest we’re to be a holy nation within a non-holy nation. I would suggest when the bible talks about government it’s to suggest that we shouldn’t expect the government to act in a Christian way but should render to the government that which is their’s. I’m not absolutely convinced on this, but I am convinced the clean feed as was originally proposed with a secret government black list.

Dave says:

(Not sure what your last sentence means …..)

It depends what you mean by expecting the government to ‘act in a Christian way’. If you mean, ‘be Christian’ in the sense that a local church should ‘be Christian’, then obviously that’s correct: the government is not Christian.

But part of a doctrine of creation (which is oddly anaemic in your posts – perhaps it’s your AFES background (sarcasm)), means that whether society acknowledges God or not, the ‘order of the creation’ is still there operative in society. The government is not ‘Christian’ but it is operating in a world created by God.

Being Christian does not give you a monopoly on the knowledge of what is good and right in this world, but it does give you something to ‘say’.

_Why_ say it? Not b/c we are trying to (or want to) take over the place, but b/c people are harmed less when they live well. It’s not a political takeover – it’s love.

I think it taps into broader questions of what the role of the government is. Liberalism says the role of the government is to provide as far as possible for the liberty of its citizens and should interfere as little as possible with the choices citizens make. This depends on a shift from ‘government’ to ‘individual’ as the centre of moral decision making.

This is deeply attractive to a lot of people, and works well with your view of society as simply ‘those given over to sinful desires’ (your original post). The west has abandoned the idea of any meaningful meta-ethic, and I’m not under the illusion that a Christian meta-ethic will be coming back anytime soon.

But I think the Bible _expects_ government, even of the most pagan kind, to operate with some functional definition of good and evil. “For he is God’s servant to do you good. … He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Government is there not simply to bring freedom to the individual, but also to bring order to the society as a whole.

Why do I think Jim Wallace is doing the right thing? Not b/c I want the government to be Christian, but b/c of all the things you listed: pornography is a blight on society, whether you’re Christian or not.

Nathan says:

Apologies for not being clearer in my last comment – it was written on my iphone which means it’s much slower than I’d like.

I was trying to bring the discussion back to the original post… the clean feed started as a filter for any website on a secret list, with an arbitrary selection criteria – it was a worrying form of censorship that in trials included an anti-abortion website and a dentist’s home page.

This back flip is welcome for that reason – it now seeks to prevent Australians accessing illegal material. The debate about the legality of pornography is separate – and would require a significant bar raising of our classification system. I’m not sure that’s a battle we (as Christians) want to fight. It’s likely to be vastly unpopular (and I’m not suggesting that’s a reason not to tackle things) and will cheapen our stance on issues that really matter (say abortion). I guess I’m suggesting it’s a matter of picking battles – do we try to make homosexuality illegal again? Do we ban “fornication”? I would suggest a much more productive use of our time would be getting Christians to live like Christians rather than worrying about getting non-Christians to live like Christians.

The question of whether Christians should speak out on “moral issues” is a different kettle of fish. I don’t think society has ever been the whitewashed picture the ACL paints – it’s not like the 60s were the first decade that humanity discovered human depravity – greek culture at the time of the early church was equally, if not more morally bankrupt. Did Paul comment on society around him? No, his concern was for the church – that their conduct be different. Which I would suggest is a similar intention to that expressed by God in the law. The Jews were to be a people set apart in order that they might bear witness to the nations around them.

“But I think the Bible _expects_ government, even of the most pagan kind, to operate with some functional definition of good and evil.”

Yeah? Tell that to Christians under Nero, or in fact anyone living in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, etc… I don’t think that’s the Biblical expectation – the expectation in my reading is that Christians should expect there to be a tension between temporal authorities and eternal authorities.

I’m not disputing that God will at times use governments of agents of wrath, punishment etc – but it seems to be a misrepresentation of any doctrine of suffering to suggest the people of Pol Pot’s Cambodia were more deserving of punishment than the rest of us.

It’s a beautiful Utopian picture of government you paint – and it would be nice were the government given the authority to do “what is in people’s best interest” rather than “what people want”… What government has ever made “moral” decisions for people? The rule of law has always been to protect the rights of the individual from infringement from others.

By all means – Christians should be saying things. The Australian Christian Lobby should be calling on all Christians to install internet filters in their homes. That would be useful. We should be calling on Christians to be holy. And calling on non-Christians to be Christian. That’s the best way to tackle the blight of pornography… surely.

Dave says:

By the way, I’d be interested in hearing what you think the role of government is …. perhaps next time you’re commenting on something political you could write a bit on it?

Nathan, from my (quick) reading of the SMH article I can’t see what’s changed.

The difference seems to be that the optional part of the filter (the bit that blocked R18+ and X material) is now ‘opt-in’ rather than ‘opt-out’, but the ‘refused classification’ part is still mandatory and based on a secret list.

Nathan says:

The Refused Classification list is different to the ACMA blacklist – at least in my understanding. The Refused Classification category is based on an open and transparent assessment methodology – while the ACMA blacklist was completely arbitrary and secret.

That’s what I see as the difference. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Dave says:

I agree on the ‘picking battles’ approach to Christian involvement in the public life – although I’m not on the coal face of political engagement enough to know which battles are worth picking and which aren’t. Perhaps Jim Wallace is right to pick this one or perhaps not. (Although stating a position is not the same as starting a battle.)

However, you are saying much more than ‘picking battles’ in your post. You’re suggesting ‘no battles’: “Why should we expect those given over to sinful desires to conform to a Christian standard of living?” Sounds like you don’t want to say anything in the political sphere lest it be foisting Christian morals on an unreceptive polity.

Which brings me back to the point I made earlier (in different words): Christians lobbying in the public sphere is not the same as lobbying for a Christian public sphere (or “worrying about getting non-Christians to live like Christians”) in your words. It’s lobbying for a just and right and fair public sphere, as Christians have done for centuries.

What would Wilberforce have done if he had adopted your post? Absolutely nothing! He would have said, “Well the slave trader is just like that b/c he’s not Christian. Oh well, at least it makes me look good!”
(how do I insert paragraph breaks?)
On the issue of the role of government, why is it utopian to expect government to function with a definition of good and evil? Your bad examples (double entendre intended!) don’t prove any more about government than bad husbands prove about marriage — the fact that you have some category to judge them indicates there is a standard against which you measure them!
Romans 13 calls the government ‘God’s servant’ – it is a very illustrious title, used only for Moses, and Jeremiah and one or two others in the Bible. That (and the rest of the passage in Romans 13) is giving government a little more credit, or at least theological definition, than you are suggesting.
The best way of tackling evil anywhere is to change the heart through the gospel. Yes. But even God doesn’t, in reductionist fashion, leave it at that. Government, Romans 13 style, is God’s broader gift to society, to restrain evil. It doesn’t (and can’t) restrain all evil. Yes there will always be a tension between temporal and eternal powers. But in most cases I’d much rather have it than not. And I’d much rather it have good definitions of right and wrong than bad. And so I think Christians should speak up wisely and sensibly on public issues.
The odd thing is, I know you agree! You’re the one that keeps advocating people ringing up call back shows and other things in the public sphere to give a Christian viewpoint on things. Why do you object to someone doing it on an organised scale at a federal level.

Nathan says:

My initial opposition to the clean feed wasn’t anything to do with pornography – it was about secret government censorship.

My throwaway comment on the end of this post was more to do with the fact that I see the pornography fight as pretty futile. It’s already legal and available in newsagents – the ACL is 40 years too late on this fight. That horse has bolted.

“Which brings me back to the point I made earlier (in different words): Christians lobbying in the public sphere is not the same as lobbying for a Christian public sphere (or “worrying about getting non-Christians to live like Christians”) in your words. It’s lobbying for a just and right and fair public sphere, as Christians have done for centuries.”

Agreed – not sure that the ACL would agree with you. I suspect they’re trying to instate a form of Christendom (as an underlying agenda) rather than just speaking for Christians – that may be unfair, but it seems to be the case here.

I agree fundamentally that Christian morality is the best form of morality. I just don’t see coming out and trying to ban pornography as a vote winner. So don’t see it as a particularly feasible goal. The ACL goes a step further than saying “pornography is bad” – they say “pornography should be banned” – I wonder where to draw the line on what we support and what we ban?

Again, in principle I think banning pornography would be a helpful thing for society. I just don’t see it happening. I think Christians should speak out against immorality, but I am not sure this is the way to do it.

I don’t equate calling talk back radio with lobbying – but with evangelism. If you can evangelistically come out against pornography in a coherent way then that’s great – but I don’t see the ACL’s stance helping the cause of the gospel… Maybe I’m just pessimistic about their value.

Wilberforce? I don’t know. What about Jesus? I’m pretty sure he’d be hanging out with the sex workers and lovingly calling them to repentance. Slavery had a more obvious human cost, and more obvious victims – it’s more equatable to abortion than to pornography – but I am not suggesting the latter is victimless…

Paragraph breaks are traditionally inserted with the enter key…

It’s utopian because it’s a naive ideal – governments are made up of sinful people often seeking power out of selfish ambition (though occasionally a man such as the aforementioned Wilberforce, or others ordained by God may arise to point things back in the right direction). Can you give me an example of good governments? Mine were extreme examples of bad governments – but I’d suggest government has been on a downhill trajectory since King David, and even he was an adulterous murderer… I think God using government’s as instruments of justice/judgment is a different matter – because in many cases it’s through the sinful ambition of governments that these judgments are realised (eg the exiles, hardening Pharoah’s heart, perhaps even causing Pilate to free Barabas and crucify Jesus). I suggest I’m using Jesus as the measuring stick… him being “good” and all… Though no-one can possibly compare favourably to that standard.

While government may be God’s strategic restraint for people – sin is a strategic punishment. Romans 1 being before Romans 13 in the order of things must surely make it more credible… (I jest)… but it’s prescient.

” 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

Surely the only real solution to this sort of internal corruption is Jesus? To expect law and order to do anything but drive the depravity to the underground is again probably, in my opinion, naively optimistic. Will banning pornography do anything to alter the hearts of those lusting after it?

I’ve already addressed your last paragraph earlier – but wanted to conclude by making a distinction between lobbying government and evangelism. I’m all for the gospel being part of public discourse. My objection isn’t to evangelism at the Federal level, I’d love the ACL to change tact and have a concern for preaching the gospel and protecting the freedom we enjoy to do that – rather than trying to impose Christian standards of living on non-Christians due to the misguided notion that we’re a Christian nation living under a Judeo Christian inspired government…

Dave says:

Arrgggh. You write too many words. You keep flipping between issues, mid paragraph. I can’t keep up….

The only solution to corruption in society is the return of Jesus. Sure. Agreed on that one.

Government is not a solution, it’s a God given means of restraining evil, and rewarding good. As a temporary and imperfect measure. That’s Romans 13. If you think it’s a naive utopian ideal, then take up your issue with Paul rather than me.

The pornography fight may well be futile, but in your original post, you threw out the baby with the bath water and dismissed Christian lobbying _as such_, non issue specific. But now it seems your opposition to lobbying is pragmatic (i.e. the pornography horse has bolted) rather than principled – so which is to be?

Good governments? What about the Australian one? Sure you can wax lyrical about the failures of the government, but if it’s a choice between Sudan and Australia, I know where I’d rather live. And again, do you want to say that b/c there’s no husband like Jesus, therefore all husbands are _only_ evil.

My multiple return key paragraph breaks don’t transfer as multiples.

I’m going to bed!

Nathan says:

“Arrgggh. You write too many words. You keep flipping between issues, mid paragraph. I can’t keep up…. ”

I was simply addressing your points in chronological order.

Does Romans 13 apply to those in Sudan? Does Romans 13 apply when government is legislating in a manner contrary to scripture?

I respect the office of government, and generally speaking the people elected.

I’m happy for Christians to voice their individual moral concerns to politicians.

I’m not happy for the ACL to speak for me as a Christian. Have they taken a referendum on the issues they deem to speak for?

I have probably not clearly articulated my thinking on this matter – or not as clearly as I would like. All I know is that the ACL’s stance (and existence) makes my stomach churn. I’m trying to put my finger on why.

SydAng’s Jeremy Halcrow does a much better job of addressing the issue in this piece…

Dave says:

“I was simply addressing your points in chronological order.”
You arguments flipped between your ‘in principle’ opposition to ACL, and your ‘pragmatic’ opposition to their stance on the pornography filter. They are two very different issues.
Can you see a useful distinction between a Christian lobby group and a Christian political party? The lobby group, strictly speaking, is not doing any of the things you suggest they are trying to do — i.e. they are not trying to run the place. They simply ‘speak’. Greg Clarke has a very terrific piece on this at If you can come up with a better way to ‘speak’ than ACL, then great! In fact, I imagine you probably could.
Romans 13 does apply to those in Sudan — it tells them, this is not what a government is meant to be. You have avoided commenting on the comparison with marriage: the presence (even predominance) of poor marriages does not lead me to abandon the idea of marriage, nor the idea of reforming marriage. The bible itself has lots to say about godless government (most of Daniel and Revelation to start with), but not b/c government is only evil — it is a good gift from God fractured by sin.
“SydAng’s Jeremy Halcrow does a much better job of addressing the issue in this piece…”
Yes, b/c he doesn’t throw into question the whole existence of Christians speaking to the government, just b/c one organisation happened to muff it on this occasion. Babes and bathwater.

Nathan says:

“Many thanks for your support and we look forward to working with you to bring an effective influence to bear on our parliaments in 2009 and thereby engendering an increasingly moral, just and caring society.”

That’s from the Chairman’s message on the ACL website. I suggest it fits into category 1 rather than category 3. The idea that politicians should act a certain way because Christians will vote for them – not because it’s the right or wrong way to act – is wrong. That’s the way I see the ACL pushing their barrows.

I don’t share Greg Clarke’s issues with point two – because I think the separation is something we should be affirming – though not at the extent of not having a voice.

I don’t know how we can argue a moral imperative “God says pornography is bad” with people who don’t believe it is. While it is bad, and it is bad because God said it is, that isn’t the way democracy works.

I don’t think marriage works as an analogy. I could for instance suggest that I didn’t take any vow to be one with my government, so I can separate from them whenever I like (and we even hold performance appraisals every so often).

I don’t see how my point is in anyway contrary to Romans 13 – I’m not suggesting that we don’t submit to Government, or view them as a control mechanism – I’m suggesting that purposefully lobbying to make the rest of the country have to act like Christians is counterproductive. Particularly if we’re to be observably different from those around us.

Dave says:

Marriage is the perfect analogy: it is a gift that exists within the creation which you don’t abandon simply b/c sinful people have got a hold of it. You can find lots of points of difference between the two if you like, b/c they’re not exactly the same at every point. Just that one point.

“make the rest of the country have to act like Christians”. Law is not about making people act like anything anyway. It’s about a common agreement of what is right and good. Why shouldn’t Christians be in the public sphere arguing for their definition of good — isn’t that precisely what democracy is about?

Nathan says:

That’s a pretty disfunctional definition of law. Common agreement? By who? Which people? And what about the pro-porn lobby (if it exists? – perhaps it’s Joe Public based on the dollar value of the industry)? Don’t their views count in a democracy? This is my point. The ACL is trying to impose the morality of the few on the many. And that’s not democracy, nor is it biblical.

Extending the few is biblical. We should not be expecting those without the Spirit to be acting as though they have it. Does “common grace” extend to helping non-Christians to sexual purity? I say no. The sinful desires God has given them over to are direct punishment for their rejection of him.

But I’ve said that before. I think we both agree that porn is bad, that the ACL is unlikely to stop it, and that Christians should say porn is bad – but I don’t think telling the government to make the assumption that people are Christians in their morality is the right move. It’s not right to say that the ACL is proposing to make legal porn illegal anyway, they’re proposing an opt-out filtering system.

Really, at some point in this I kept disagreeing just for the sake of it.

Though I am mightily glad that the ACL lost the first part of the filter debate. I don’t really care about this part because I don’t think it will make any functional difference for anybody.

Dave says:

But is ACL “telling the government to make the assumption that people are Christians in their morality”? Or are they saying, pornography is bad?
“Really, at some point in this I kept disagreeing just for the sake of it.”
Really? I never would have guessed. (I don’t think that needs a sarcasm alert).

Nathan says:

You’re quite dotty. you could try an angular bracket followed by a br or p followed by closing the angular bracket.

I would say they are doing the former. I would say their existence is based on the former. In fact I have said that before. Nothing in this discussion (or story) has changed my mind. They’re all about maintaining some guise of Christendom. Or so it would seem. And we’re living in arguably the most secular country in the world.

To make my point clearer – which is better for the kingdom – the way the Sydney Anglican Diocese engage with the media to lovingly promote the gospel, with empathy – or the ACL who label anybody disagreeing with their stance on pornography as a supporter of child exploitation or something equally histrionic.

Amy says:

Just want to throw something in here, as a side topic.

It is an interesting point to acknowledge that the pornography industry is the main driving factor in improvements to media delivery – ie video/dvd and the internet.

Odd that something that many see (including me) as very negative is in fact responsible for something (many people see as) positive.

Leah says:

Regarding “holy nation within unholy nation” stuff… you could just go so far as to say we shouldn’t bother evangelising the unholy nation as it will create a more distinct difference between us… *removes tongue from cheek*

Nathan says:

You could. But I’m not sure that fits with anybody’s argument.

Leah says:

For the most part, I like what the ACL does. They do what most Christians are too lazy to do. They vocalise and argue what many Christians are too uneducated to vocalise/argue.

I also don’t mind the idea of a Christian political party. They’re not forcing opinions/morals onto anyone until they’re voted into office- and in that case, is that not the same as any political party voted into office? Also, in that case, would their policies not be the opinion of the majority, rather than minority? I’ve never voted 1 for a Christian party but I don’t have an issue with their efforts to be elected.

All that to say “I don’t really care, good on them for doing what they’re doing, I’m not against it.”

Nathan says:

Would you have a problem with an Islamic Party running? Or an atheist party?

The idea of separation of church and state is something that creates freedom for Christians rather than being an inhibitor – this is what the ACL doesn’t seem to grasp.

We don’t get special privileges because our state historically based its laws on Christian morality – we’re a secular country with a Christian heritage.

Enshrining a separation of church and state, and the free operation of both, should protect us from the future possibility of either having our beliefs banned by an alternate belief or all beliefs banned.

So to all of that I say “I do care. What they’re doing is misguided and largely unhelpful for the cause of the Gospel.”

I also look at the type of people (present company excluded) supporting the ACL and think they’re the type of people who wants everybody living like Christians without actually wanting them to be Christians – they’d rather a moral country to help protect their children from the evils of the world than actually seeing unbelievers converted. When I look at denominations around the country the ones I feel an affinity towards aren’t going out of their way to become politicians or to lobby them with a goal to moving the country in a more moral direction (though morality should be possible outside of Christianity) they’re going out of their way to preach the gospel.

There are people who do this in the political sphere – like John Anderson – but they’re a rarity.

Leah says:

I was just pointing out we shouldn’t not try to influence our governments just to make ourselves more different.

Oh and Nathan, I’m horrified… “but should render to the government that which is there’s.” Seriously?

Nathan says:

You care far too much about the 0.0001% error rate.

Amy says:

You could also point out that countries that don’t have separation between church and state are those like Iran. And I don’t see that that is a good thing.

Amy says:

And second that – that is the second there/their/they’re error you’ve made in the last two days. I’m appalled.

Nathan says:

Where is the other one?

Amy says:

On your disclaimer post… (not the disclaimer, but the post talking about your disclaimer).

Which I now can’t find, because your older posts link doesn’t work.