Tag: culture war

On Christian Terrorism

“If you don’t defend yourself against these devils and demons, you’re a coward.”

That’s a line from a video the shooters in an act of domestic terrorism posted (since deleted) during their meticulously planned ambush of police officers attending their rural property. In a press conference summarising police investigations of the attack, Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Tracy Linford described the fortifications of the property and the conclusion police had reached that the shooters had been waiting for this moment for some time.

In this same press conference, Deputy Commissioner Linford revealed that the investigation had concluded that this was an act of Christian terrorism; that the shooters were motivated by a particular religious belief — a Christian eschatology (a view of the ‘end times’ called pre-millenialism)— where they truly believed the officers from the police service visiting their homes were demons.

“From all the material we can see different statements made by the Train family members; whether that be in texts, whether that be in emails, whether that be in diary entries, comments on calendars, we can see they do see the police as monsters and demons. We don’t believe this attack was random or spontaneous. It was an attack directed at police.”

Now. Not all people who hold to a pre-millenial eschatology will believe that police are demons, or that violence is the way to achieve the return of Jesus for his thousand year reign. That goes without saying. Because we can simply observe that there are lots of people who hold this eschatology (I don’t) who do not build bunkers and trenches and escape hatches in their properties or shoot police officers in cold blood.

I think it’s also important — in the first few hundred words of this post — to point out the obvious. The Queensland Police Service is likely to be taking this investigation quite personally; they lost two members of their community, while others were injured; if there’s a widespread movement that sees police as demons to be shot it’s in their interest (and the interest of the community at large) to get to the bottom of things; and to articulate as clearly as they can the motives of the shooters. If you were going to comment on this story, and their investigation, I think it would be pretty important not to be presenting the police as anti-Christian demonic type pawns of an evil empire. I think it would be important to understand their motives in releasing, in as close as possible to the words used by the attackers, the motives behind their attack.

It would also be, I think, wise, to acknowledge our limited access to the material examined in the police investigation when assessing the accuracy of the claims. In the media release accompanying the press conference, Deputy Commissioner Linford said “specialist teams have analysed an extensive amount of evidential material including diaries, books and notes located at the scene, phone messages, emails, social media posts, witness statements and body-worn camera footage.” That’s a lot of material we are not privy to regarding the frame of mind of the attackers; and a lot to summarise in a single sentence digestible by the public.

The result of this investigation is the conclusion contained in the media release that:

We now know that the offenders executed a religiously motivated terrorist attack.

“They were motivated by a Christian extremist ideology and subscribed to the broad Christian fundamentalist belief system known as Pre-Millennialism.”

Now. There have been some mistakes made in accurately describing an eschatological system that can sound crazy even to theologically informed Christians who hold to different eschatologies; there is no singular expression of pre-millenial thought. And, rather than saying “hey, the Police are in ongoing danger from Christian extremists,” the release minimises that fear — it concludes “there has been no evidence to suggest anyone else was involved in executing the attack in Australia or that there is any ongoing specific threat.

If I was a serving officer in the Queensland Police Service, or a member of the Australian public, I think my fears would be put to rest knowing that this was an act of Christian terrorism from a very fringe expression (fundamentalist) of a reasonably fringe eschatology (premillenialist).

If I were a Christian in Australia (which I am) I’d be wanting to reassure others not only that this was not an act consistent with the character of Jesus or our expectations of his return (which it isn’t), but also that the police are not demons but are in fact the God-appointed agents of the government; those who ‘wield the sword’ to uphold justice. There’s a thing responsible (white) parents do (in Australia) where they teach their kids that police are friendly and approachable and that you should smile and wave when you see them, that you shouldn’t feel anxious and run. Our Police Service isn’t perfect; there’ve been chapters of corruption, and systemic problems around women, First Nations people, and sexual minorities that’ve been subject to investigations and inquiries; I’m not suggesting we be naive. The Police Service, like any human institution, is made up of humans whose natures are a mix of the image of God, sin, idolatry, and perhaps even the influence of the powers and principalities — but it is not demonic, and human police officers are not demons; they are our neighbours, families, and friends bound by oath to protect and serve us. The Oath that Queensland Police swear as they are admitted to the service says:

“‘I, ___, swear by almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second and Her Heirs and Successors according to law in the office of constable or in such other capacity as I may be hereafter appointed, promoted, or may be reduced, without favour or affection, malice or ill-will, from this date and until I am legally discharged; that I will cause Her Majesty’s peace to be kept and preserved; that I will prevent to the best of my power all offences against the same; and that while I shall continue to be a member of the Queensland Police Service I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties legally imposed upon me faithfully and according to law. So help me God.’.

Were I a Christian commentator I think I would be expressing grief, as a fellow human, about the lives of those officers killed in the line of duty; upholding that oath (or the alternative affirmation provided by the legislation). I certainly wouldn’t be centering my own feeling of being a victim of a culture war because the police media statement was not as precise about the motives of the shooters as I’d have liked.

And yet.

We live in strange times.

I’m going to try to tread quite carefully here. Because the last time I suggested that commentators from what I would call the “Christian hard right” were using rhetoric that might produce violence, an editor of one of those prominent publications threatened to sue me, and Eternity News, while also writing to my denomination accusing me of bullying. In that piece — once deleted from both here and Eternity (that I’m going to restore on this page), I suggested that the irresponsible use of violent metaphors and language in a ‘culture war’ would legitimise violent actions from culture warriors who believed they were acting in some sort of holy war.

I suggested we should focus our energies on loving our enemies; and the way of the cross. In a subsequent conversation with one of the blokes I named in my piece I made the case that Jesus’ call to “take up our cross” gives us a paradigm for bearing faithful witness; and that when Revelation (the book of the Bible that premillenial eschatology comes from) describes Christian engagement in the public square as witnesses; those witnesses are put to death by the rulers and powers — they don’t go in with their swords drawn; but that this vindicates our testimony to the king whose kingdom is not of this world, who triumphs through death and resurrection. Our call is to martyrdom; martyrdom is not necessarily death and suffering at the hands of a violent state (should the God-appointed sword unjustly turn against us); martyrdom literally means “witness” — the Greek word for witness is martyr.

I suggested that should our rhetoric continue to fuel a culture war, and continue to legitimise violence, that we would see versions of the Capitol Hill Riots — where armed protestors stormed a government building carrying firearms and other weapons; oh, and Christian placards.

Evidently, not all people who read a website like the Caldron Pool are motivated to commit violent acts by the culture war language, just as not all premillenialists do. That’s important to acknowledge; and it is also important to acknowledge the horror the editor of the Caldron Pool felt when I suggested that his writing, and his platform, would legitimise violence. I want to be clear that this is not his intent as a communicator; but I also want to clearly say that this is an implication of the language that he, and others, use that becomes part of what you might call ‘the social imaginary’ of the sort of person who does see the police as a demonic expression of a satanic state, and so understands their duty to be to take up the sword (or the firearm).

I know that there’ll be those who think that I am not the right person to say this; that I am a bad faith critic of the Caldron Pool (and others). I did, afterall, register caldronpool.com.au at one point and call them names. But consider, for a moment, that I might be a canary in the coal mine — just the first hyper-sensitive reader to chirp up and say: “hey. This is a problem.” It’s very possible that this is motivated by antipathy towards Ben Davis, the Caldron Pool editor, on the basis of interactions I had with him in the cesspit that was a Facebook group known as the Unofficial Presbyterian. But I’d love to urge Ben — and others — to use this moment to reconsider the language they use — even when talking about this very story. Because we communicators do bear a certain responsibility for the worlds and possibilities enabled by our words. This isn’t to say that the Train family wasn’t fully responsible for its actions — but, I’d certainly want my conscience to be free from even having to consider that my writing was amongst the material the police had to encounter when investigating why members of their own community were heinously gunned down while upholding their oath — one that concludes with a prayer, “so help me God”…

You’d hope that someone so sensitive to criticism that his writing might enable violence would do two things when violence linked to Christian extremism (of a hard right variety) occurred. You’d hope that such a person would immediately distance Christianity from the attack; robbing such actions of any legitimacy connected to their words and platform, and perhaps you’d hope for a degree of self-reflection and a commitment to not further demonising the institution (or the government). I’d personally hope that this sort of event be one where we don’t play the victim, or use the events as grist for the culture war mill.

Ben Davis (editor) and his site Caldron Pool have managed one of three; joining other prominent commentators from the hard right accusing the police service of being part of a government vendetta against Christians. It’s clear that none of the commentators I’m about to quote believe that Christianity legitimises this sort of violence; or that it can be at all Christian. The issue is that the police have carried out an investigation that concluded these three individuals — Nathaniel, Gareth, and Stacey Train say they were motivated by a particular view of the world, its end, and the role the police play in a cosmic conflict (as demons). The police are working with the words of the shooters, and may have been clumsy in their presentation of the facts when it comes to what premillenialism is; one statement said it was a 1,000 day reign of Jesus, when it is years — but, the way numbers should be interpreted in the Bible is hotly debated, a day is a thousand years and a thousand years is a day, so maybe give them a break, and most Christians couldn’t articulate their neighbour’s version of premillenialism and its political implications anyway.

In Ben Davis’ article, the first article of four published by Caldron Pool about the media conference and the findings in the investigation, he said:

“What the Deputy Police Commissioner fails to understand is that Christianity (and Premillennialism) is not responsible for any injustice orchestrated by professing Christians, because every injustice is carried out contrary to Christianity.”

This sounds a lot like a no True Scotsman fallacy; and, while I’m reasonably hopeful that the Trains weren’t members of the invisible church; those who are marked by God as his through the gift of his Spirit — their words (and reputation before the event) suggest that they were professing Christians and that their actions were a result of their beliefs about what Christianity is; this, then, is an in house matter for us Christians — we have a responsibility to rightly teach and discern God’s word. I would suggest the police — as an expression of “the sword” (those appointed by God to wield temporal power) — aren’t meant to figure out who is, and isn’t, legitimately a Christian (part of the invisible church), but to deal with the visible.

Ben says some good words to make it clear this attack was reprehensible.

“So, let’s be absolutely clear: All horrors and injustices bear witness, not to the cruelty of Christianity, but to the cruelty of humanity when they deviate from Jesus’ command to love even your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”

But then Ben pivots — he starts to look elsewhere for someone to blame — or something to blame — anybody but the broader Christian church, and its splinter communities, who were part of forming the Train’s imaginations.

“Christian ideology” can’t lead to terrorism until it deviates from Christianity. If anyone is to give an account for violent extremism, it’s not Christianity which demands strict observance of Christian instruction, but those who dismissed the Bible and attempt to operate outside the bounds and authority of God’s inspired Word.”

Before I go on to some other commentators, there are some images I’d like to share to help paint a picture. The first is a post from Caldron Pool’s Facebook page when it seemed the shooting was motivated by vaccine mandates. The second is a highlighted quote, in one of the early news articles about the attack, quoting something Gareth Train had posted on a conspiracy site, and the third is a hard right figure mentioned by Train retweeting a Caldron Pool photo critical of Police (and government) for what you might summarise as “operating outside the bounds and authority” established for government in God’s inspired word (at least in the opinion of Caldron Pool). Now. I want to be clear — I don’t think Caldron Pool is responsible for the shooting — but I do think their language, articles, and culture war narrative fuel a vision of the world that is part of a potential motivation for Christian violence (albeit a crazy one).

“We can see they do see the police as monsters and demons” — Deputy Commissioner Linford.

“If you don’t defend yourself against these devils and demons, you’re a coward.” — The Train family.

There is no moment in the Ben Davis article, or subsequent Caldron Pool articles, that attempts to read the Police media statement charitably, or see the conclusions of their investigation as a legitimate summary of the evidence. Instead, subsequent articles serve to paint the finding as part of a deeper anti-Christian agenda in the corridors of power.

The next Caldron Pool article, chronologically, is by Tom Foord — the local Brisbane pastor who made a hate video about me and other namby pamby “take up your cross” Christians who won’t jump in boots and all to the culture war. Foord, in his piercing cultural analysis, says:

“If you’re surprised that the Aussie government would risk alienating all Premillennialists in their broad stroke of idiocy, (which includes many Baptists, most Pentecostals, and plenty of non-denominationals), you haven’t been paying attention. They don’t mind calling any historic Christian doctrine “conspiratorial”.

Let’s be clear — this is reducing an investigation digging into the expressed motivations of three cop killers into a “broad stroke of idiocy” while expanding the Deputy Commissioner of the police into a narrative that includes “the Aussie government” — it’s a move that paints a classic culture war “us v them” narrative positioning the state against the church, and painting the state as exactly the sort of institution a pre-millenialist fundamentalist might begin to see as demonic. And his last line in this piece of “thought leadership” — and remember this is still a story about a situation where four police officers were gunned down, where two of them, and a member of the public, died — “Who cares what the coppers think, anyway.”

Let me repeat that so it doesn’t get lost in that big block of text:

“Who cares what the coppers think, anyway.”

“Who cares what the coppers think, anyway.”

“Who cares what the coppers think, anyway.”

This is from a man who presumes to be a teacher of God’s people — and also to criticise other pastors for daring to suggest that the commands and example of Jesus ought to shape the way we present our faith and engage in politics.

But it’s also from a platform that has spent much of the last two years de-legitimising government authority and painting them in spiritual warfare terms overlaid with culture war rhetoric.

“We can see they do see the police as monsters and demons” — Deputy Commissioner Linford.

“If you don’t defend yourself against these devils and demons, you’re a coward.” — The Train family.

The third article on Caldron Pool’s from a bloke named Bill Muehlenberg.

He opens:

They Really Are Sinking to a New Low in Their Anti-christian Bigotry

A strange title, admittedly, at least to non-Australians. But those who live here probably know what I am referring to. It has to do with some wild, reckless and defamatory comments made by some officials in the Queensland Police Department, and the mainstream media.”

We’ve shifted now so that we Christians are the victims of a slur by the police as part of some agenda; rather than the police being victims of an attack motivated by a bastardised Christianity. It’s almost like they deserved it; it’s almost DARVO — a classic abuser move where you flip the victim and perpetrator; only, like the others, Bill does not believe violence is Christian — it’s not clear that he doesn’t think the state and its officers (who swear an oath to serve the people, of our western nation, with God’s help) are demons.

In fact. He says:

“Whenever you have the police and the media wading into the deep waters of theology, you know we are going to have a real hatchet job – and a confused and malevolent one at that.”

Just to be clear the word “malevolent,” it means evil.

And, to complete the Caldron Pool two step (or three step) to turn this police shooting into a culture war call to arms, Bill concludes:

“And just wait for more attempts to classify Christianity as a whole as a terror group that needs to be closely monitored if not shut down altogether. That is in fact the end game for many of these Christophobes.”

The Government is out to get us folks; and the police are on the front lines because they’re Christophobes who might call us terrorists.

“We can see they do see the police as monsters and demons” — Deputy Commissioner Linford.

“If you don’t defend yourself against these devils and demons, you’re a coward.” — The Train family.

Where on earth did they get these ideas? The shooters?

This is dangerous nonsense. There is a spiritual war — theologically speaking — it’s the war between the way of Jesus and the way of the world; the self-denying way of life-sacrificing love for one’s enemies — even if they are out to get us, and those who would take up the weapons of this world — whether physical weapons or tools of power and manipulation, and culture warriors are not faithful witnesses to Christ — those prepared to lose everyting; even their lives, while turning the other cheek; they are pugilistic and demonic voices inside the church. The sorts of voices that lead others to violent rejection of the way of Jesus. I don’t believe Ben, Bill, or Tom are at all interested in leading people that way; I hope they are interested in leading people to Jesus — and so I’m prayerfully asking them — and others to stop. To think about the impact of their words — to consider the way they are framing events like this in their own minds and the minds of others.

Dave Pellowe, another who I named in my deleted Eternity post, runs the Good Sauce (and the Church and State Conference). Dave took up my invitation to the table (in that deleted article). We ate together. It was his show I was on where I suggested my issue is that I think our public Christianity should be informed by a theology of the cross.

Dave’s article sensationally declares that this media release is pretty much a declaration of war against all Christians. “Queensland Police just called all Christians “terrorists,” his headline reads — now. They didn’t call me a terrorist because I am not a premillenialist fundamentalist; but apparently all Christians are that…

Dave won’t like this reading of his headline; but I think it’s about as charitable and coherent as his understanding of the QPS statement. Like the others I’m quoting, Dave thinks the shooting was abominable. It’s just, like the others, he thinks the Queensland Police are abominable too holding “hatefully bigoted” views about (almost all) Christians.

This week the Queensland Police labelled the majority doctrine of Christians throughout the world as “a broad Christian fundamentalist belief system known as premillennialism” which, in their hatefully bigoted view, motivated the heinous crime which resulted in two police officers and a neighbour being murdered.

He goes on to use one of his favourite epithets while whipping his favourite whipping boys.

“There is more basis for prepper terrorism in the climate alarmism dogma preached by leftists, globalists and elitists than such orthodox Christian doctrine as premillenialism, so why isn’t the lying harlot media (LHM) blamed for this tragedy?”

This sort of language that paints the media as beastly (in Revelation’s language of the harlot, who rides on the back of the beast) is the sort of language that fuels a view that the police (and media) are demonic forces who should be shot — even if Dave is quick to point out that the kingdom of Jesus is a peaceful kingdom; there is no peace in the way he speaks about these enemies — including the police. He also calls the police christophobes. He says:

Church And State events around Australia are “arming Christians to influence culture”, not with swords or guns, hate or violence; but with clear preaching of the Gospel and Jesus Christ’s will and ways, the Kingdom of God: for the betterment of all humanity, maximal human flourishing and freedom.

It is up to right thinking believers who love their neighbours and nation to understand the times and not sit the culture war out.

Just about every one of these articles quotes a Martyn Iles Facebook post in response to the Queensland Police. He too, in that post, made the point that true Christianity has no place for physical violence; but he, too, offers more fodder for the culture war.

We’re living in clown world.

In Ancient Rome, the authorities blamed Christianity for the evils of their day because they either hated it, or were totally ignorant concerning it.

I call on Deputy Commissioner Linford to point out where in premillennialism there is any authority given whatsoever for a person to use premeditated violence.

She can’t, because there isn’t.

This is the same Martyn Iles who, on the platform at one of Dave Pellowe’s events, joked — and I’m happy to concede he was joking — in a conversation reported by the Herald:

Mr Iles joked that his father often said “we need a good war” to sort this out and “there’s a little bit of truth in that”, because society would not be so concerned about climate change or gender identity if we were at war with China.

Mr Pellowe then interjected: “We’re not advocating violence or revolution … today.”

Mr Iles added: “Not yet, that’s down the line.”

I’ll make my point as briefly as I can.

  1. All these commentators are accusing the institutions of this world — the government and the police — of a beastly agenda against Christians; of being something like the Roman regime at various points in its history, engaged in an evil anti-Christian (dare I say ‘demonic’) campaign.
  2. All these commentators are suggesting we have been badly misunderstood if people think faith can lead to violence.
  3. All of these commentators are advocating a culture war while knowing that our words might be misunderstood or misrepresented by those who are not Christians.
  4. All of these commentators are saying the shooters were not Christians. And the violence is never ok for Christians.

I think it is very likely that these not-Christians were fuelled by the sorts of ideas in point 1 — that this is consistent with their words and actions (the evidence gathered by police).

I think it is very likely that these not-Christians were connected to thought leaders swimming within the same ideological ponds as these Christian commentators and that the stuff about demonic agendas (including around the covid vaccines) rang louder and truer than anything said about violence before the shooting. Caldron Pool had ample time between the Eternity article and now to distance themselves from violent warrior language publicly, rather than trying to sue me privately; the condemnations of violence come pretty late in the piece.

I think it is very likely that these not-Christian perpetrators were as confused around language of culture war and demonic opposition as the general public — whether from these sources or others, or just their own reading of Scripture. And that this was part of legitimising their actions. And if you’re going to be a Christian commentator; you have to consider what might occur if you paint the police service as demonic.

So my plea to these commentators is to find a better (and more Biblical) category for public Christianity than culture war.

Find a better way to talk about those who might oppose the Gospel than we are.

Understand the human feelings and motivations behind public statements like this one from the police.

Here’s an idea. The way of the cross.


Teach people to turn the other cheek. To love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. To die at the hands of those wielding the sword unjustly rather than take up the sword. Lose the narratives that even let you joke about violence.

This is not the way of the coward — to not shoot a police officer on your property is not cowardice, and nor is it cowardice to turn the other cheek and not fight back with the political weapons of this world.

Remember that your fellow humans might become deformed images through idolatry, but that they are made by their creator to bear his image and that the Gospel, and finding life in a kingdom not of this world — expressed in the church and its Spirit-filled communities — is the path to their liberation.

Stop demonising your political and religious opponents and start humanising them by responding to any hateful agenda (or innocent misrepresentation) with love.

Start caring about what the coppers think.

Start trying to understand their words the way you would like to be understood.

Four police officers and a member of the public were shot, and three were killed,

Those people are the victims of the Trains decision to shoot — not the church because of how their motives are reported.

They were killed by three people who thought they were serving Jesus and shooting demons as they pulled the trigger.

Those thoughts didn’t come from nowhere.

Stop risking turning up in a police investigation next time around; stop calling for culture war and start calling for martyrdom. That’s how Jesus — the dying and resurrecting king — will be vindicated.

In our bodies we carry around the death of Jesus, so that by our lives his life might be made known.

A big table and the paradox of tolerance

There’s a popular meme that circulates on social media from time to time; one of those sort of epigrams for our age — “when you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence” — it’s always struck me as an interesting quote as someone whose denomination talks of my role in administering the sacraments as involving “fencing the table,” and it strikes me too that much commentary around the direction of Eternity News playing out on social media is grappling with whether Eternity should be a big table, or whether it should erect some fences.

I have massive sympathy for what Eternity News is trying to achieve in its opinion section, and while it pains me to see the culture wars fought out in a publication I love, and one that I’ve invested time, energy, and words into contributing to and promoting over the years, and to have been part of the war of words, I do believe Eternity’s vision to provide a forum for conversations for those who’ll share eternity together is good and necessary, and that it requires a diversity of political and theological positions to be gathered around one table.

This week Eternity ran a pro-Israel Folau/ACL campaign piece by David Pellowe, and then, for balance, ran a piece critical of that campaign. I do fear John Sandeman’s approach of pursuing ‘balance’ in the opinion section by posing opposing views rather than views that seek to discern the truth (ie classic news/feature writing) ends up fuelling the division rather than bridging the gap — especially because of how the Caldron Pool reacted to the two part series in this piece by Mark Powell (that seems to have no sense of the existence of the Pellowe piece). There’s also an irony here in that Mark Powell, in a 2019 interview with the then Bible Society CEO, asked a question that implied correct views on the Trinity should be a deal breaker for their platform, but he and his mates are quite keen to promote Israel Folau’s orthodoxy.

The Caldron Pool piece was, predictably, shared by the union of figures I’d named in my now deleted article. They don’t like that Eternity will feature voices critical of their political theology and practice. Curiously, the editor of Caldron Pool, who’ll write pieces against cancel culture, will, without irony, seek legal advice and complain to church courts if anyone has the temerity to criticise his publication in public. The Caldron Pool is not a ‘broad table’ — it has, clearly, different aims to Eternity, though its unclear who they believe will share the eternal table with them. One might ask at what point their accusations of ‘wolflike’ behaviour for those ‘woke pastors’ and woke platforms represent an act of discernment that these people fall outside the kingdom?

The table is such a profound and powerful Christian image; for many Christian traditions the table is the centre of the church gathering — around communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharistic meal (depending on one’s theology or tradition). At the table we Bible believing Christians do the work Paul calls us to in 1 Corinthians 11 of ‘discerning the body.’ Now, part of this is surely to do with how one understands the presence of Jesus in the sacrament, but, in the context of 1 Corinthians 12, and the bad table manners Paul is correcting in 1 Corinthians 11, this act of discernment includes recognising that our union with Christ and the church, by the one Spirit, draws together people from all corners of society to this one ‘gathering’ (what ‘the church’ is) as one body.

Jesus spent lots of time at the table in the Gospels; sometimes these were tables managed by religious leaders who were out to get him, often he ate with sinners and tax collectors; some of the most beautiful moments are when he brings the judgmental religious people to the table with those people searching for the kingdom who were on the margins of society to reveal something of the character of God and his love for the outsider. Jesus didn’t stop eating with the people who were out to get him — right up until the Last Supper he’s eating at a table in the presence of his enemies. In that meal, as he gave us the model for our meals together that Paul draws on in 1 Corinthians, Jesus speaks about the eternal table; the heavenly banquet, such that his act of hospitality as he breaks bread and pours out the wine is not just a picture of his coming death, but of eternity.

In Luke’s account, Jesus talks about the nature of his kingdom — that the table won’t run in his kingdom like it does in the kingdom of the Gentiles, where rulers lord it over others and the seats at the table are allocated in some sort of status game (that’s the Corinthian problem), instead, he says he is at the table as “one who serves” and greatness, or indeed “the kingdom” is defined differently for those who Jesus says will “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.”

Earlier in Luke, Jesus also talked about how people in this kingdom should participate in other tables — not as fence builders or power grabbers, but as guests. Guests who do not seek the places of honour, or to have their status boosted and their voices heard by all at the table, but as those who sit in the lowly places, he says “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” and then pivots to providing hospitality advice for when we run tables around the same ethic. He says don’t just invite the powerful; the high status — those who’ll make you look good and give you a boost in the world. That’s the gentile power-game. Instead make space for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

This advice should guide how those of us who’ll spend Eternity together might use our tables — whether those are literal, in our churches and homes – or metaphorical, our digital places of hospitality and dialogue. It’s not that such spaces should exclude the powerful necessarily, Jesus eats with Pharisees and religious leaders, as well as sinners and tax collectors, it’s just that we Christians should recognise the dynamics here (and our own tendency to act more like Pharisees and religious leaders than sinners, tax collectors, or “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” When Eternity is at its best it is sharing stories — making space at the table — for the outsiders in our church communities; when it is at its worst it has religious leaders like me sparring with others in the opinion section. My own contributions have ranged from lofty heights — working beside marginalised voices in the broader church, to the lows — writing a piece so inflammatory it was pulled after an outpouring of anger, and some legal posturing.

While I, and other church leaders, often bear a responsibility to administer a table as we lead our communities in the sacraments, and while this might mean ‘discerning the body’ and ‘fencing the table’ from some we believe fall outside the kingdom based on our doctrine and practice, Eternity is a deliberately broad table, crossing denominational and local boundaries. Those of us who run narrower tables — in denominations, or local tables — in local churches — need such ‘broad tables’ to remind us that the kingdom of God and the body of Christ exist outside our particular tribes and communities. Eternity invites us to sit at the table, discern the body, and enter conversation and perhaps even communion with those saints we will join with for Eternity. We need voices from outside our local bubbles or theological grids to offer gentle critique, encouragement, and opportunities to listen to other ideas as we humbly remember that all our human institutions are the product of humans who are simultaneously justified and sinful (at least for Protestants that’s part of the package). Institutions like Eternity, and their big table, remind us of our union with Christ unites us with loads of people who think and live differently to us (and might encourage us to practice hospitality when it comes to how the tables in our churches or homes operate).

After my controversial anti-culture war piece (that became a culture war piece) — one that ended with a call for peace-making across very real divides, David Pellowe, host of the Good Sauce, convener of the Church and State Summit, and now, it seems, Eternity columnist, who I’d specifically named in my piece, reached out across the divide and invited me to break bread with him, and subsequently, he invited me onto his YouTube program, Pellowe Talk, where I sat at the table (or desk) in his studio and we had a conversation. I’m reasonably convinced that David Pellowe thinks we’ll be spending Eternity together, even if his most recent piece describes positions I hold — positions on core, orthodox Christian doctrine (like the Trinity being foundational) as making me a “progressive believer.” If that’s progressive, count me in. David’s hospitality and this act of peacemaking helped both of us ‘discern the body’ in such a way that while I still believe his politics, and those shared by others on the Christian Right are dangerous to both the church and society, I would not ‘fence the table’ if he attended our church gathering, nor would I keep him from my dining table; I’m not, by extension, concerned that Eternity makes space for him at the table of public discourse. I do recognise that it creates a genuine expression of ‘the paradox of tolerance.’

In a nutshell, this paradox, coined by Karl Popper, says that for a tolerant society — or table — to operate, it has to be intolerant of intolerance. Or, as my friend Cameron puts it “you can’t invite people to the table if their express goal is to set the table on fire.” The trick here is that even if fellows like Pellowe, and other new Eternity columnists are committed to a ‘broad table’ — and even if Eternity itself is — at some point a broad table becomes unsafe, and not just for the ‘leftists’ or whoever the target of intolerance is.

Quite a few of my Eternity columnist stablemates have been in conversation over the rightward lurch in the opinion section, concerned about this new direction, in part because it seems to us that some of these new writers are not interested in tolerance, or pluralism (and indeed, many from the Christian Right turned to language of boycotts and cancellation when Eternity ran pieces critical of the hard right), the catch is, some of the gentler voices in the Eternity stable are also grappling with the goodness or wisdom of sharing a table with the intolerant. Meanwhile, John Sandeman, Eternity’s editor has been doing the rounds of conservative Christian media outlets (including Pellowe’s show, and Jonathan Cole’s The Political Animals) to cast his vision for a broad table as an invitational act of peacemaking (in part managing the fallout from my piece, and one of his own), and to court the addition of gentler conservative contributions.

I am not inclined to boycott Eternity, or its opinion section, because of these new voices being included. I love Eternity, and I find John’s vision compelling — but this is, perhaps, a product of my privilege and my place at the table.

I don’t want the answer to be fencing the table from conservative religious leaders with significant status, but, at the same time, it is true that sometimes particularly aggressive sheep can bite like wolves and be a danger to the flock, and just as my role in our church community — with other elders and leaders in our church — is to shepherd the flock in the way of the good shepherd, Eternity, as a “Christian institution,” even a broad table, has some pastoral responsibility here too. One that might look like a firmer editorial hand, or clearer parameters around acceptable voice or tone that defines the sort of conversation one might be invited to enter at the table; some agreed upon Eternity table manners. I was the first to admit that my pulled article was ill-mannered (that, rather than ‘untruth’ was why it was pulled). Eternity did not ‘cancel me’ or my piece, though some people I wrote about did — and are continuing to push for my cancellation in other spheres I operate in, in response to the piece. John and I made the call in consultation, and John’s hand was forced into that consultation because I publicly apologised for the tone of my piece and distanced myself from that tone, while Eternity was still expected to host it. I’m seeking to learn from that experience as a contributor, but I wonder if there is space for Eternity to apply some learnings from that piece and the fallout across the board, beyond just that it’s hard to be a place where iron sharpens iron. Sometimes sharp iron, and flecks of iron thrown off in the process can do real damage to people.

My concern about the current editorial direction of Eternity is not only that seeking loud mouth institutional voices (like mine) to engage in traffic driving ‘iron-sharpens-iron’ tit-for-tats in the opinion section, and the comments on Eternity’s Facebook page drowns out the experience of the lost, the last, and the least — the sinner and tax collector, or “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” — those we should be hosting at our tables, but also that some recent articles are inhospitable to those we should be including.

Want to find a community of ‘sinners and tax collectors’ or the downtrodden and oppressed, who need Jesus in our modern western world — there are plenty of candidates, from members of the LGBTIQA+ community, to those whose experiences sit outside the ‘male, middle class, and white’ norm of Australian institutions (like the church), including women (whose voices were drowned out in Eternity’s own stories on International Women’s Day by a boisterous boys club push-and-shove).

The catch is that for many in those communities — if you pay attention to the comments on social media, these new voices introduced to the comments section are pictures of intolerance and exclusion of their own voices and experience, not only by virtue of arguments, but because of trauma responses because religious institutions, and their tables, have not always been shaped by the way of Jesus.

Some of these more recent opinion pieces have an intolerant tone — not a tone that is hospitable to “the other,” but that is dangerous to those who’ve been hurt by wolves or biting sheep in the past. Even if these writers are fellow guests; fellow sheep; fellow members of the body — such words, and the way they are spoken, can produce an atmosphere of condemnation, or produce traumatic responses in the vulnerable or hurting, or can lead to others feeling unwelcome not only at Eternity’s table, but at God’s eternal table. Some, believe this new tone — and also the words being said — have made Eternity a less hospitable table. This is not the case for bull-headed people like me who are prepared to go charging into any conversation without fear for my own safety. This lack of hospitality is not something I tend to feel in the ‘Christian bubble’ as a religious leader with status, education, and a degree of wealth, status, and security. It’s precisely people like me who should be challenged by the words of Jesus about his table — and how Christian spaces operate, and precisely those others — who feel a sense of inhospitality — who Jesus called his kingdom to be hospitable to. It’s this change that others who have been part of the Eternity stable but are feeling uncomfortable are reacting to. Eternity has become a hospitable place for religious leaders to play power and status games, and an inhospitable place for those who are, or have been, outsiders and victims in those games.

I’d love to see their vision of a big heavenly table involve a broadening of the voices (including perspectives, practices and experiences) they platform, and correspondingly, some of us prominent blokes with institutional power dialling down our participation in culture war bunfights to make space for that — for the richness of the body of Christ to be on display we must decrease so they might increase.

I’d love to see the ethics of that heavenly table shape the tone of voice Eternity allows at its table, not just the broad spectrum of political views invited to speak.

The paradox of tolerance is real, it is impossible to run a broad table when some of your guests are telling others they aren’t welcome, and while this might go both ways, the way of Jesus is clear — the religious leaders who believed they were the righteous ones, who had power and status, and were used to running the table — they were able to stick around so long as they were listening to the Lord of hosts, through his chosen king, even when he spoke pointedly to condemn them, and the lost, the last, and the least — those were the people who have priority at the tables of the kingdom. It’s possible that creating safe tables for those others — whether through calling for change in existing institutions (like churches and publications), or starting new ones is the work of the kingdom here; and it’s possible that such pressure might be applied by refusing to share a table with those trying to burn down your table, or who want to build big fences.

The challenge for committed pluralists like me is to take up invitations to be a guest at hostile tables, to provide hospitality through the tables I serve at, especially to those we’re called to love and serve by Jesus

On my Eternity News story being pulled

It is difficult to draw attention to the culture wars, and the danger they present, without being drawn into the culture wars as a combatant. I have watched in horror this week as the conversations about my piece spiralled further and further away from its conclusion; entrenching division rather than bringing people to the table in peace.

John and I have listened to the concerns raised by those I spoke about, and in the comments at Eternity, and around social media, and sought to clarify the link I attempted to draw between jokes about violence and potential acts of violence. In further consultation we have come to the position that this piece was simply best retracted, so that a slower, gentler conversation might take place about the significant issues here.

I accept that Dave Pellowe and Martyn Iles were joking and do not want to see a violent revolution (and have never doubted this), but I believe jokes and language about conflict and violence normalise conflict and violence, and worse, normalise seeing the ‘other’ as an opponent, not a neighbour.

I believe there is a link that can be drawn between jokes about violence, ‘war language,’ and potential acts of violence — a link that is clearly attested to in the United States. Many commentators in America — including conservatives Rod Dreher and David French made exactly these links around the January 6. 

It has saddened me to see this piece close off the opportunity for conversation with those advocating a ‘culture war’ agenda, and I must own that this is my responsibility for how I presented the piece — both in not being clear around the issues I took with the joke, not being clear to distinguish the point being made about the Church and State Summit, and the people on the platform at the summit who have a history of using such terminology, and not moderating my own ‘jokes’ that were lost in print. I must also own that there is a context in which my own words are interpreted, and that I have been critical of this approach to politics, and the engagement of the Australian Christian Lobby in particular for some time. My description of Martyn Iles as a golden-haired boy was a reference to the idiom of a figure, in a community, who can do no wrong. I bear Martyn no malice, and do not doubt the sincerity of his faith, or the faith of others mentioned.

My piece, though it spoke of Church and State, was prompted more by James Macpherson’s recent article and the heightened culture war posture and rhetoric of the site Caldron Pool. The Church and State Summit, and the reported comments, occurred against this background, with parallels to the CPAC conference held coincidentally in the United States.

One ‘good’ thing to have come from the conversation sparked by my post was fellow Brisbane resident Dave Pellowe taking up the challenge of my piece’s conclusion, and reaching across the divide to form a friendship and to have face to face conversation. We met yesterday and hope to publish further reflections on our meeting soon. After I met with Dave, and heard how my comment about Martyn (which are part of a pattern of my comments about Martyn when writing about his public persona) was received, and how it undermined my piece, I posted a public apology yesterday on my own Facebook profile. I make that apology again here, and now. Not for the overall substance of my piece, but for the way I spoke jokingly, or idiomatically, about a brother in Christ. I will endeavour to do better, while maintaining my conviction that pragmatism, or a utilitarian approach to power-based politics, when coupled with a hard-right agenda and a ‘culture war’ narrative is dangerous to both society, and our witness as the church.

In the meantime, I am happy for my piece to be pulled from Eternity’s pages in order to encourage more peace and reconciliation within the body of Christ, and more robust conversations about genuine political convictions, and the dangers of warlike metaphors in more relational environments where tone is not lost, and the humanity of the other is inescapable. Eternity will be publishing its own statement shortly.

When Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers” he didn’t exclude the “Culture War”

The New Testament pictures life in this world, for Christians, as a spiritual war, and it also tells us how followers of Jesus should participate in that war.

When Paul writes about ‘the armour of God’ in Ephesians he says “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6).

Some part of this spiritual war is played out in the realm of worldly politics. When John writes Revelation he pictures the beastly Roman empire, in league with Satan, going to war with the church on Satan’s behalf. Culture wars, like other wars, can be expressions of this spiritual warfare. I’ve really enjoyed Richard Bauckham’s work on Revelation and Michael Heiser’s work on the Unseen Realm and thinking about the overlap of politics and the ‘powers and principalities’ in the heavenly realms, and how nations outside of Israel might have been given to these other members of the divine court.

In The Unseen Realm, Heiser unpacks Deuteronomy 4 and 32 (and a disputed translation in 32, where english versions choose either ‘sons of God’ or ‘sons of Israel’), to suggest:

“As odd as it sounds, the rest of the nations were placed under the authority of members of Yahweh’s divine council. The other nations were assigned to lesser elohim as a judgment from the Most High, Yahweh.”

Heiser’s work here is fascinating; and, I think, lines up with something Paul says about the church; and the coming together of Jew and gentile in Christ, and what that means not just in earth, but also in the heavenly realm, where he says:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Ephesians 3:10-11

The ‘spiritual war’ playing out in the Bible is a war for our fidelity, as humans, a war for our worship; being fought out by cosmic beings — God, the creator, other ‘gods’ who are given people other than God’s own people to rule, and the sinister figure of Satan pulling the strings behind human empires set up in opposition to God — he’s there in the background in Ephesians, and in Revelation, and is the figure who is the opponent in the spiritual war the Bible describes from Genesis to Revelation; he is the enemy who holds us in sin, death, and destruction — as Paul puts it:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” — Ephesians 2:1-2

It would be naive to suggest Christianity does not involve a war; and that this war doesn’t impact politics. The Bible explicitly links worldly regimes like Egypt, Babylon, and Rome to spiritual forces aligned against the kingdom of God (and has Israel jump on board with each of these regimes at various times, and in various ways).

It would be naive, even, to suggest that the war the Bible describes, being predominantly played out around objects of worship, and the cultures created by these empires to make different gods alluring, or desirable, is not a ‘culture war.’ The ‘cultures’ — or ‘cultic groups’ at war in the Bible are the culture of lesser gods and their glory, and the culture of God’s kingdom; the culture of the nations surrounding Israel — especially what Walter Wink called “domination systems” — cultures driven by the proud, the sword wielding, and the idolatrous seeking their own glory and the culture of a kingdom whose God “opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble,” or “and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour.” The Kingdom of God has a ‘culture’ built on the character of God as revealed in the king of God’s kingdom — the crucified Jesus. And, so, the ‘culture war’ we fight is not fought with worldly weapons; or by playing ‘power games’ in a domination system; seeking dominance for our own interests. The ‘culture war’ we fight is with the armour of God; or in weakness and ‘cruciformity’ (living lives shaped by the ethic of the cross). Or, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians, after saying his approach to proclaiming God’s kingdom involves ‘renouncing underhanded’ and worldly ways:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” — 2 Corinthians 4:7-12


“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

We do not wage culture wars as the world does either. We do not fight culture wars with the weapons of this world. Paul goes on to describe his approach, again, as involving weakness; his scars and floggings and broken body are an embodiment of his message; the message of the cross; where God won his victory over sin, and death, and Satan, or, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

The real ‘culture war’ is a ‘worship war’ — it’s a battle for the love, loyalty, and eternal security of people — a fight to join God’s kingdom and its mission to win people from the clutches of Satan, and the depths of darkness, into the kingdom of light, the presence of God, and union with Jesus via the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life so that they are raised with Jesus and seated with him in the heavenly realms as not just his inheritance, but as God’s heirs.

Christian culture warriors who want you to join a political battle and “fight furiously” using domination system games, or the tools of worldly empire, even if they see the spiritual reality behind the culture wars, are signing you up for a mugs game, and potentially to pay a game that leads straight into the enemy’s camp; not as prisoners of war, or infiltrators, but as people who think they’re on the side of the angels but who are actually participating in a kingdom other than the kingdom of God.

Christian culture warriors who see weakness as failure, and not as God’s strength, or wisdom, are not wise. They are worldly. The cross is the wisdom and power of God; not political campaigns, numbers games, lobbying, aggressive arguments, or hit pieces published on propaganda websites.

Christian culture warriors who want to dominate and go to war with ‘the other’ — be they ‘Christian social justice warriors’ or soldiers on the ‘Christian right’ — or the ‘political left’ or the ‘political right’ — are adopting the weapons of this world and so picking an armour or weapon, that does not come from God, or serve God. This is true even if one grants that the empires built by the left, or the right are demonic, idolatrous, domination systems harnessing a variety of dark spiritual forces. The catch is, when we take up worldly weapons and fight in worldly ways — when we play ‘culture warrior’ rather than ‘peace maker,’ we are actively joining the spiritual battle on the wrong side.

And life when the church — or the ‘city of God’ is at work as God’s ‘faithful presence’ in the world, and shaping ‘cities of man’; on both the right and the left; this is complex and variegated. What isn’t complex is the decision about how Christians should participate in the culture war, or the Spiritual battle we find ourselves in that plays out in our politics.

Because Jesus, not the Caldron Pool, gives us our marching orders. And he doesn’t tell us to fight. He tells us to turn the other cheek. He tells us, ultimately, to take up our cross and follow him.

He does not say ‘blessed are the culture warriors, who dominate the other, for they will bring the kingdom of God.’ He doesn’t even say ‘blessed are those who use the Gospel as a worldly power play and try to build a Christian state.’ He doesn’t say “blessed are you when the government makes it easy for you to be a citizen of two kingdoms, so fight for that right,” or even “evangelise for that purpose.” He doesn’t say the government will use ‘the sword’ to protect us, or what’s good — in fact, he seems to expect the government will use a sword to arrest him, and a cross to crucify him, and we are called to take up our cross and follow (by Jesus), and to “submit” to the same crucifying empire by Paul.

Jesus does say “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:9-11), and then he goes to make peace between God, and us — though we were enemies in a culture war — by laying down his life on a cross (a symbol of the Roman domination system).

When Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers” — he didn’t just mean for his disciples to remember this when the leaders of Israel, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, see Jesus as their enemy in a ‘culture war,’ or when Roman soldiers come to arrest him with swords drawn to crucify him, or later when the same regimes conspire to arrest them and crucify them upside down (Peter), or the same Jewish leaders turn on them, and try to put them to death (like Paul in Acts). He didn’t just mean ‘the church shouldn’t go to war against other religious or culture groups’ with swords to secure ‘holy territory’ like in the Crusades, or Christendom… He meant ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ in our culture war, because this is how the spiritual war is fought and won. He meant that love, and giving up our rights, and blessing in response to persecution were the hallmarks of the Kingdom, and the ‘weapons’ God uses to bring an end to enmity between people and himself as they embody the message of the cross.

When Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ he was talking about how we, the people of his kingdom, take part in the Culture WarTM — or rather, how we refuse to… When your enemy declares a culture war on you, “do not resist an evil person,” (Jesus, in Matthew 5:39), or as Paul puts it “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” (Romans 12:17-18). When your ‘enemy’ — some ‘other’ — “slaps you on the right cheek,” or tweets about you, “turn to them the other cheek also,” or if they take want to trap you in some legal situation where you have to insist on your rights to fight some good fight, if they sue you for your shirt, “hand over your coat as well” (Matthew 5:40). He said ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” (Matthew 5:43-45). When your enemy declares themselves an enemy; love them, “treat others as you would have them treat you.”

He didn’t say ‘use the court system, or political power, to eradicate anybody who does not hold your opinion, or to make laws that destroy worldly kingdoms in opposition to your own. He didn’t say ‘vote for rulers who promise you a seat at the table and political power’ or ‘ask rulers to do things for you in exchange for votes (or give up your birthright for a bowl of soup). He did say “what good is it to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit your soul” right after he says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-26). Paul does say we demolish those strongholds with the Gospel, and that we should proclaim the Gospel by ‘carrying the death of Jesus in our bodies’ as ambassadors for Christ.