Tag: back to the future

Marty mcflies and ACL goes back to the future

Martyn Iles is no longer the CEO of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Now. You’ll know I have form for criticising both the ACL and Martyn; but this all feels like a world gone mad.

Martyn, for all his faults, has done a commendable job articulating how his politics is a product of his faith.

Martyn and I have different political priorities, and, often, it seems our faith falls along different poles within a set of Christian convictions. I think this table I made a while back still holds up, which is to say I suspect we have different anthropologies, eschatologies and emphasis when it comes to the Gospel itself. This means I often find myself not agreeing with his theological statements or his political positions, or the manner in which he presents these positions.

Martyn did a good job articulating his understanding of the Gospel, under fire, while playing with the card deck he’d built (and inherited) when he fronted up on Q&A. I went along to last year’s Church and State conference, where Martyn spoke about Babylon (ahead of a sellout national tour), where I thought his sermon was actually quite good (and reasonably similar to what I might say about Babylon; except most of his ideological enemies were on the Left, rather than the neo-liberal order driving late capitalism that underpins both left and right).

I’ve been very critical of Martyn’s apparent ‘theology of glory‘ — and its application to his political strategy; including a pragmatism that saw him endorse One Nation, his excitement about Kanye (and celebrities/platforms in general), and his cosying up to Israel Folau at the expense of being both pastoral and correct when talking about how God views gay people (not what obedience to Jesus for gay people will look like) and at caring about the Trinity. He’s also been included in articles I’ve written here and elsewhere expressing concern about how the culture war metaphor legitimises violence.

If you want a eulogy of Martyn’s performance you can read Stephen McAlpine’s glowing review; he makes the point that people talking about Martyn always seem to want to disclaim how different they are to Martyn — and I’m no different — Stephen plonks himself a whole lot closer to Martyn in politics, theology, and fashion than I do (jeans and an untucked t-shirt from K-Mart will do for me).

And here’s a potential rub — Martyn has been a great ally for people like Stephen, and for people who share his politics. He absolutely would courageously back Stephen if Stephen were to come under fire for his beliefs, and he’d back a variety of people he disagreed with, I’m sure. But there are limits. He’ll have coffee with Stephen, but he’ll block those who publicly criticise or question his theology or politics.

Martyn was prepared to cop flack from the more radical element of his support over his stance on Putin and the Ukraine. But, on the whole, his public courage has predictably aligned with his increasingly large constituency; it’s easy to have courage when you’re selling out stadium shows (even if those are being cancelled by venues); it’s harder to stand with courage when staring down your base, or your own community.

This’s where I’m not sure Stephen’s waxing lyrical (and I’m sure he was also dressed beautifully as he wrote) fully captures the dynamic; it’s easy to criticise flat track bullies for being bold on home turf when you’ve got a bunch of people who’ll back you. Try being a same sex attracted Christian in a conservative setting raising concerns about the knee-jerk support Folau received for a post that appeared to condemn them to hell, or someone listening to those voices and speaking up in various institutional settings.

It actually takes more courage — and fortitude — to stand up for the people who won’t build your personality cult within the Christian community, who also get smashed by the world, than it does to stand up against the world while gathering a loyal following (read the outpouring of grief around Martyn’s departure on the various conservative social media channels).

Martyn was a great ally for Israel Folau, while he was posting anti-gay material from a U.S hate group — a meme he shared as a millionaire footballer that conveniently dropped greed from the list of sins that lead to hell. He also leveraged the Israel (Folau) situation to significantly boost the coffers and reach of the ACL, like a good U.S zionist has always leveraged Israel for its coffers. The ACL came out ahead from its advocacy of a heterodox millionaire’s hate speech simply because that speech aligned with a traditional Biblical sexual ethic, and a culture war narrative.

The catch is, Martyn wasn’t a great ally for the sections of the church who dared criticise his work or threaten his personality cult; regularly deleting critical engagements on social media and blocking people (including deleting a series of questions from John Dickson at one point).

He wasn’t a great ally for concerned mums of Wallabies with Pacific Island heritage who went to great lengths to demonstrate Folau’s heterodoxy, and who sought on several occasions to raise her concerns directly with Martyn (only to be dismissed, by him, as being on the payroll of Australian Rugby).

He hasn’t been a great ally to Christians whose politics are left of a hard right who seem to just want the freedom to kick out gay students and sack gay teachers — even if those teachers uphold a traditional sexual ethic and can sign off on a belief statement (and yes, those teachers do exist, it’s not just teachers departing from orthodoxy who find themselves booted by Christian schools).

I haven’t seen the HRLC (the ACL’s legal arm, that Martyn started out with) taking up the cause of celibate gay Christians losing their employment with Christian employers, or non-binary students working out their faith in Christian schools; he’s been a voice for establishment (conservative) values in the face of progressive change. I haven’t seen the compassionate or pastoral tone Martyn might have when engaging with individuals for whom these are lived experiences translating into a political stance. Early on in my blogging about public Christianity, I wanted public Christianity to be evangelistic with its use of the Gospel — and Martyn ticked that box — over time I’ve evolved (partly through doing more pastoral work with the people affected by our public positions) to a position where I think public Christianity needs to be both evangelistic and pastoral with its use of the Gospel. It’s hard to be pastoral when you’re fighting a culture war that seems to be pitted against the very individuals you’re talking about.

And that’s fine — that was the job — as Martyn understood it; to champion a certain political vision, and he did that well. It just turns out it wasn’t to the satisfaction of his organisation’s board, or the direction they want to head. They do seem to want to leave Marty behind, grab their Delorean (there’s maybe a podcast they could listen to on the way, right Stephen), and head back to the future.

My criticism of the ACL predates Martyn. For years prior to Martyn taking the centre stage my criticism of the ACL was that there was nothing particularly Christian about their politics; there was nothing explicitly Christian in the cases they made for the causes they pursued. There’s something self-indulgent about all these links to my own writing; I get that — but one of the bonuses of maintaining a blog like this for so long is that you can use it to track bits of the online conversation I was tapping into, and there is something interesting here, because if there’s one thing I’ve managed to do over the years with my writing, it’s get under the skin of the ACL and those who champion its approach.

In 2011 I made this word cloud using ACL press releases, pleading for them to make it clear how the Gospel shaped their politics.

It will be a tragedy to a public Christian witness if we land back with the most prominent voice for Australian Christianity in the political realm speaking like Focus on the Family.

In 2012 I wrote one piece outlining a series of problems I had with the ACL’s public relations strategy, and another piece suggesting advocacy can be Christian, while lobbying buys into a certain sort of power game — and that the ACL should change every part of its name.

In 2017, I suggested this sort of strategy, making politics secular, would only enforce the secular frame we’re operating in, and that we should be overtly religious and ask for our convictions to be accommodated in a pluralist secular democracy.

My point is this — my criticism of the past, and now maybe the future, version of the ACL was that they embraced a strategy of not talking about Jesus.

And criticising the ACL back then went down with the ACL’s constituency about as well as criticising Martyn does now. People who were fans of the ACL before Martyn, who became bigger fans of Martyn, were very critical of this criticism; the ACL, I was told, were meant to be politically successful and to introduce theology into the mix would be inappropriate. There’s a culture within the supporters of these organisations and their leaders that tends to fall in line with, and not question, the strategy, and to see questions as a threat.

Those same people are now saying that Martyn’s introduction of Christian language and rationale — the Gospel even (as he understands it) into the ACL’s platform has been a masterstroke.

That’s pretty fickle.

Martyn did bring a deliberate change in direction; a longform interview on Eternity unpacked some of his thinking. The change in direction was palpable, in a post about the way they were now explicitly talking about the Gospel with their politics from 2018, I wrote:

There’s been a regime change at the ACL, with longtime director Lyle Shelton taking a step that I think had a particular sort of integrity — making it clear that his platform and concerns align with conservatism, not just Christianity — by jumping to the Australian Conservatives. A new director, Martyn Iles, has emerged in his place and there has been a subtle, but significant, tone change in his approach to politics and Christianity… he keeps writing about Jesus.

“For years it felt like Jesus was ‘he who should not be named’ in ACL publications, but in blog after blog, Iles is grappling with how the Gospel shapes his politics. Now, I’m not sure I land on the same positions on most things having done that grappling, and doing this runs the risk of co-opting Jesus to a political agenda rather than having Jesus set the political agenda… but it is refreshing (and the Christian Left in Australia could learn something from this).”

But this change has become part of his undoing.

Just as Lyle Shelton had the integrity to lead the Australian Conservative Lobby to join the Australian Conservatives, Martyn has recognised that his desire is to preach the Gospel as his political posture, so it seems the ACL board has terminated Martyn’s employment in order to pursue a change in strategic direction.

Under Martyn’s leadership the ACL has become massively more popular with the Christian constituency they represent but massively less popular (by reports I’ve heard from those engaged in other lobbying work in Canberra) with the politicians whose doors are now closed to the ACL. To borrow Stephen’s analogy, but flip it — Martyn’s great at bowling in home conditions, but he’s not taking wickets where it counts for the ACL; legislative change on the issues the ACL board cares about. I actually suspect that the problem isn’t the explicitly Christian stuff, but the shift in focus from the corridors of power to being a populist movement holding rallies and marches attempting to put pressure on politicians with no relationship building.

This has always been the truth about the ACL — they are not the Christian Lobby — they are an Australian Christian Lobby, for a very narrow Christian morality on the basis of their own theological and political framework. The church is broader than the ACL’s policy agenda.

I absolutely believe Martyn operates from his convictions, and so do the board members of the ACL.

My issue is the degree to which someone with very particular convictions — or an organisation with those convictions — can claim to represent a very broad Christian church, and I believe the questions facing us all at this point are not “team Martyn or team ACL” — which of these two options is the correct strategy; that’s to accept a false binary.

Now’s a time to ask some bigger questions about our public Christianity.

We could ask how could we create a public facing organisation that acknowledges the breadth of views in Christian institutions — that fosters collaboration, rather than alienation. We could ask how could we train and equip institutional church voices (a constituency Martyn, with his anarchic brethren tendencies, seemed to deliberately work around (and sometimes against) to collaborate in gaining a hearing as legislation that affects us, and our neighbours, is framed.

We could we encourage all Christians to integrate their faith and politics as we participate in public — not just those conservative youth interested in the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, or The Download — programs that fired up a right-wing Christian base as the only option — and we could maybe work at reducing polarisation and finding common cause across the Christian right and left.

We could maybe ask what would it look like for Christians to be known what we’re for, in public, not just what we’re against (or that we’re ‘for’ ourselves); what it would look like to pursue progress towards a good future, not just conserve the bits of the past we can cling to. To that end, I’d recommend following Publica, an emerging expression of public Christianity aiming to do that.

It’d be great if that was ‘how to be pastoral and evangelistic’; but it won’t be. That’s not how this constituency seems to roll. It’s not where the money and power is. But for rank and file Christians — even conservatives — maybe we could imagine a new future — one where we don’t need a time machine.

Back to the Future got it wrong

There are many things I am disappointed about with regards to the vision of the future presented by Back to the Future 2. I don’t have a hoverboard for one… but Michael J Fox has better cause to feel hard done by.

Via here.

I am glad the two tie look didn’t take off. What were you disappointed by?

Lost in space (and time)

Time travel is tricky business – especially if you’re a movie producer. I imagine that you don’t want your character catching up with Marty McFly in some bizarro alternate universe. That would be bad for your plot. And you certainly want some consistency in the rendering of both past and future so that your industry looks intelligent… which is why this space travel infographic is a must have for all movie producers considering a time travel plot device.

There’s a bigger version here – and I found it here.

The other thing producers need to take careful note of is calculating length and distances both for actual travel and in order to calculate the time it’ll take for their protagonist to go on a time travelling mission to Mars. Consistency is not all that important if you have a time machine that will erase the travel time… but some geeks viewers are pretty pedantic about that sort of thing – especially when it comes to sci fi.

So here’s another vital infographic (from here). EDIT – apologies to XKCD, the original source of this graphic.

I <3 infographics.

Shirt of the Day: Time Travel Instructions

Say you invent a time machine. And accidentally send yourself back in time – and it breaks. And Doc isn’t there to fix it for you. And you need to get modern science happening quicksmart so that you can send yourself back home. You better be wearing this shirt when it happens…