An open letter to the Australian Christian Lobby: Please don’t use tragedy for political gain

Dear Jim Wallace,

I know. I’ve said some stuff in the past. Less than flattering stuff. About your place in the Australian political scene, and your place in the Australian Christian scene. I don’t doubt that your motives are wonderful, we’d both like to see more people know Jesus, and less sin means a better society for all of us. And we agree that Christianity should be fairly represented and protected in our society. Just like all minorities, it’s important that we Christians have a voice speaking to our nation’s decision makers… I would like you to talk more about Jesus. I’ve covered that. And I would like you to do more than just represent the conservative Australian voice. But I’m not opposed to your very existence. I don’t want you to disappear.

Jim, I notice that the media releases on your website currently deal with really important issues. Like gay marriage and video game classification. These are obviously issues that are important to the people who fund you. There isn’t a lot of funding in speaking out for refugees, or the homeless, or against more complex “sins” like greed. The climate change deniers who are already firmly in the ACL camp are watching their dollars because they are busy funding scare campaigns. I appreciate that you have to pick and choose. That’s the nature of lobbying. You’ve only got one voice, and you’ve got limited opportunities to speak to the politicians on your rounds. And you have a hard enough time getting media coverage (unless you’re saying dumb stuff about gays and Anzac Day, or making bizarrely offensive claims about child abuse).

I apologise for the sarcastic tone of this missive. I really do. But you’ve pushed me a bridge too far. Jim. You’ve made me grumpy. I know you’re a busy man. You may not even be aware of what people have posted on your website in your name. That was the story when a former Family First Candidate (now ACL staffer) tweeted a regrettable message during an election campaign. It’s possible you’re unaware of what you’ve putatively said. But let me draw your attention to this, because it’s bad. And if it’s a mistake you’ll want to sack somebody, or something. Because whoever posted this is doing a bad job for your cause.

I may need to give you a little bit of background. On Saturday, tragically, a gunman identifying himself as a “cultural Christian,” a right wing fundamentalist, caused havoc in Norway. Now some people might want to make comparisons between his ideology and yours, Jim. But not me. What he did was horrific and not consistent with the ideology of any normal person. He’s a sociopath. That’s clear. So linking his conduct to the actions of normal people isn’t really logical. But people will. They’ll start to draw links. Make connections. He killed a lot of people, Jim, singlehandedly. Callously. And since then there’s been a bit of a PR problem for Christianity because it turned out this terrorist claimed to be one of us. I think we’d agree that what he did couldn’t have been motivated by his Christianity. The guy is crazy. It would be wrong to make such a connection between something harmless and his actions. Be it his Christian beliefs, or the fact that he played Modern Warfare, a war game enjoyed by millions around the world. Because he’s not normal.

But he claimed to be a Christian. He wasn’t a Muslim. So you’d think that Christians wanting to articulate a position on this would be, you know, talking about how what he did was in no way representative of the teachings of Jesus. Wouldn’t you? If you were going to say anything at all. That would be the key message to be getting out, if you were going to speak on the issue. We certainly wouldn’t want to see any vulture hijacking this event to further their own policy agenda would we? It always looks so cynical when people do that. When they take a horrible tragedy. Still fresh. And rebrand it, even if it’s a possibly legitimate link, in order to score political points. Usually it’s nice to wait until the furore has died down, till the grieving families have identified their loved ones and laid them to rest. That’s the classy way to capitalise on tragedy. If you must. But not the ACL, Jim. Not the Australian Christian Lobby. In the Australian Christian Lobby’s infinite wisdom, and with a bit of media savvy that belies days of experience, the Australian Christian Lobby has published a media release with the following headline:

Norwegian Tragedy Highlights Impact of Violent Video Games… why no partner release highlighting how drugs killed Amy Winehouse. At least the link there is directly plausible. Why not an acknowledgment that twisted and evil people do twisted and evil things because we live in a world tainted by sin, where we, as humans, are fallen and inclined to do wrong? That would be a Christian response to tragedy. Why not offer a clear condemnation of this man who claimed to be acting as a Christian?

“If there are even a few deranged minds that can be taken over the edge by an obsession with violent games it is in every Australians interest that we ban them.

“The studied indifference of this killer to the suffering he was inflicting, his obvious dehumanising of his victims and the evil methodical nature of the killings have all the marks of games scenarios.”

Do you see how the sophisticated arguments you’ve employed in this statement could be used against the man’s religious affiliation? Do you not see the inconsistency in your position? The guy was a deranged, evil, lunatic. He committed abhorrent acts. In the name of abhorrent beliefs. That could not possibly be born from Christian theology. And you’re trying to capitalise on it for political gain. That’s disgusting. It’s cheap point scoring. It’s tacky. People see right through it. You’re not convincing anybody of anything except the idea that Christians are out-of-touch and only interested in protecting ourselves.

UPDATE: This excellent piece from Tim Challies is a much better response to the tragedy from a Christian point of view, as is this piece from Mitchelton Presbyterian Church

UPDATE 2: See this interview with the editor of Kotaku (who also linked to this post), and Jim Wallace, on Sunrise…


Peter says:

Couldn’t agree more: how’s this for a response to the ACL release:
“You only have to watch attempts by the various right wing and ultra-conservative elements within the media trying to blame what happened on him playing video games whilst brushing aside the manifesto he wrote and his fundamentalist Christian and Right Wing leanings to realise that Australia is ignoring the potential dangers posed by these groups.”
By not clearly denouncing the act, AND bringing in (almost) completely unrelated issues, the ACL ends up looking like it supports Breivik in some sense. Besides not looking good for the Christian cause, I find that deplorable.

Peter says:

Sorry, should have made it clear: that quote was someone’s comment on the article, not the article itself. Just serving as an example of what people have made of the ACL’s release.

[…] Queensland Theological College – and Christian – who wrote an intelligent, well written open letter to Jim Wallace about his treatment of video games in the wake of the Oslo […]

Brad says:

As usual I agree with most of this.

I don’t like this though: “I apologise for the sarcastic tone of this missive. I really do.”

Either be sarcastic or don’t, rather than doing one and pretending to apologise for it. Seems a bit silly typing sorry for publishing it before you’ve even clicked the “publish” button.

Have you had any contact from ACL?

Nathan Campbell says:

Hi Brad,

There’s a truism that says that in communication anything before a but is pretty much irrelevant, and another one that says that you should deal with possible objections somebody might raise in your piece, rather than waiting for their rebuttal, which in this case would be “the message was sarcastic so we’ll ignore it…”

I guess I also write my posts a bit stream of consciousness. It’s part of my “voice”… I don’t go back and edit, and I don’t necessarily write to a structure or a plan. So I was unlikely to go back and edit when I thought “wow, this is a bit sarcastic.”

I have had an email from the ACL tonight. It was a good email. I’ll summarise it in another post, but last time they were reluctant to have direct quotes pulled out of the email.

Brad says:

Funny that they’ll explain things to you but are reluctant for you to pass those explanations on to others who agree with you.

Fair enough about the stream of consciousness thing. But I reckon if they were going to dismiss your message because of sarcasm, they would have done it before they got that far in anyway, and if they did get that far, that an empty apology wouldn’t really change their minds.

Matt Purnell says:

Hmmm…I dunno Nathan. I don’t like the sarcasm either. I do suggest that the ACL change it’s name to the JWL, though

Nathan Campbell says:

So my question then is does sarcasm have a place in the rhetorical arsenal of the Christian ? Because I would suggest that it does, and that this is an appropriate setting for it. Precisely because my goal (though I’ve contacted them) isn’t to reach the ACL but to reach those who think the ACL speaks for Christianity.

Brad says:

Well, even the good Apostle Paul used sarcasm. If the NIV is to be trusted.

Matt Purnell says:

I’ve thought about how Jesus let the Pharisees have it with both barrels. And Brad’s right about Paul and the Corinthians. So, good to use sarcasm when rebuking false “Christians”/grossly immoral Christians?

But is specifically and personally targeting a Christian who is not false not grossly immoral OK? (If that is in fact what’s happened here in Campbell vs Wallace)

Having said all of that, I love the satire of John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on ABC TV and “Jack the Insider” on 612 ABC Brisbane.

Is there a diff between sarcasm and satire?

Brad says:

Ain’t nothing wrong with sarcasm, it’s just a style or method or whatever of communication. It’s what you do with it that can come into questions. This post has a tone of antagonism which I don’t think I’d like except that it’s borne (/born?) of an obvious and unsderstandable frustration.

Nikki says:

I feel that this reeks of aggression under the guise of sarcasm in the name of Christianity…

Nathan Campbell says:

Hi Nikki,

Well. I was definitely angry when I wrote. So that’s quite possible true. It makes me angry when people speak out as Christians in a way that damages our witness. So I’d argue that the post was warranted, or perhaps deserved.

I guess the questions a couple of days after the fact (I wrote this two nights ago) are was my anger justified, and is it ok to write an angry open letter on a blog, employing sarcasm?

I’m pretty comfortable, looking back over the post, and considering the responses I’ve received (mostly from non-Christians), with the content of what I’ve written. I did acknowledge, in my emailed response to the ACL, that my post was angry and possibly over sarcastic. So I’m happy to cop that criticism.

Jess Mair says:

Hi Nathan,
I’m an atheist so I’m no big fan of the ACL to begin with but while I don’t share your beliefs I felt your response was eloquent and well thought-out. Well done for being a voice of reason and respect in your creed.

[…] to exploit the Norwegian massacre to advance its agenda to censor violent video games.  As one Christian blogger wrote: “… you’re trying to capitalise on [this tragedy] for political gain. That’s […]

[…] An open letter to the ACL: Please don’t use tragedy for political gain […]