Manly

Somewhere over the rainbow

Image credit: Nordacius

I was speaking to a friend yesterday who is both gay, and Christian (and who, for clarity’s sake, is committed to what we would both see as the Biblical sexual ethic). I had the overwhelming sense that this image summed up how he’s felt this week — even as he’s read my own forays into writing about the unfolding story at my beloved Sea Eagles.

My friend pointed out that it’s uncomfortable for him to both have the corporate world co-opt a symbol that used to indicate a degree of relational safety when someone voluntarily chose to present themselves as safe, and to have straight blokes like me might declare open season on ‘subverting the meaning of the rainbow’. I note, also, that TGC ran a piece today basically saying Christians should never embrace the rainbow. So. Whatever. If you want to weaken your conscience you should go read that.

But, given my friend’s response to my previous post, I thought it’d be worth unpacking a little more what I mean when I talk about “subverting the rainbow.”

What I actually have in mind here is not the idea that straight white men should appropriate the symbol of the rainbow to make it mean something entirely different to its meaning; that wouldn’t be subversive so much as aggressively colonial or something; what I have in mind is an amalgam of the African Bishop Augustine’s idea that we should “spoil Egypt, and preach Christ” — that we should take good and true things from the world and show how their goodness and truth is actually oriented towards the divine Logos, the word made flesh — Jesus, and that we should recognise that our moral intuitions around inclusion are, I trust, intuitions for the good refracted towards merely human ends, that can and should be oriented towards our human telos. I’ll put a disclaimer here that I’ll pick up below to say it’s probably not straight men who are best positioned to do the creative subversion required to make the re-orientation happen. It could actually be quite subversive for us just to listen for a bit (and I’m well aware of the irony of my writing about listening as a straight bloke).

I also have in mind the way the early Christians, operating from a very minority position, joined God’s movement in the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and essentially subverted not only the divine titles used already to declare the absolute majesty of Caesar, or the word Gospel — a word used to announce the good news of either Caesar’s enthronement, or victory in battle — but the cross itself; that was a powerful symbol of Roman power and the subjugation of its enemies; the Christians, operating first from the margins, utterly upended what those words and that symbol meant such that we still have crosses on public buildings in Australia.

When I picture subversion of the rainbow symbol — or its orientation towards the good — I’m not picturing me appropriating, co-opting, or redirecting the meaning of the symbol; nor am I thinking about reclaiming its symbolic meaning from Genesis after the flood (where, my same friend pointed out, the shape — like a war bow — is fundamental to its symbolism, not just the colours). What I’m picturing is the way gay Christians who’re committed to a traditional sexual ethic use the rainbow in various ways, publicly, to express solidarity with the minority experiences of other LGBTIQA+ people, while asking for that solidarity to be recognised under the rainbow umbrella.

This usage necessarily subverts the idea that the rainbow is always and only a celebration of gay sex — or, as the TGC article described its inherent meaning: “It is, and will always be, a symbol of gay pride. It represents being proud of and celebrating sexual diversity outside of heterosexual desire and sexual activity. And “pride” is the word that is specifically used to reject any sense of shame or guilt or sin associated with homosexual sex.”

Well. Someone ought to tell, say, Wesley Hill, who describing his experience at the first Revoice Conference — a conference for LGBTIQA+ Christians committed to not having homosexual sex, said: “Rainbow bracelets and body piercings abounded (one friend of mine sported rainbow-colored shoelaces to match the rainbow Ichthus pendant on his lapel).” Here the rainbow was functioning as a sort of coding of one’s experience as an LGBTIQA+ Christian while definitively not carrying the meaning that the TGC piece insists the symbol “always” will have. Hill’s piece is about how he, a Celibate Gay Christian, needed to have the conversation in church circles shift from “you can’t be that” or “you can’t do that” to “here is your vocation” — a move from always hearing “no” to hearing a “yes” — Yes. God loves you. Yes. God calls you. Yes. God has a design for your life. Yes. God is good.

I believe we all need to hear this — not just our LGBTIQA+ brothers and sisters, or neighbours — we don’t just need to be told to mortify sin, but what vivified life in a Spirit-filled body looks like.

To me the debate around the rainbow symbol is very much like the debate around the use of the word gay. It’s driven from the same circles (often, but not always, driven by straight men), it offers a prescriptive meaning for words and symbols (committing the etymological fallacy), and a fairly rigid and inflexible approach to communication where all that needs to happen for Christians to stop talking is for Egypt to start using the words or symbols we want to use.

The subversion I have in mind is not driven by straight white men reclaiming the rainbow to be about something other than the inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people, but rather to point to the truth that ultimate inclusion of all people — including LGBTIQA+ is found in the inclusive love of Jesus. It’s a subversion where the symbols and intuitions behind them are used to point us to Jesus. And this shouldn’t come at the expense of efforts — using the rainbow — to make LGBTIQA+ people feel included in the life of a pluralist culture and its public spaces (even if the woke-capitalist highjacking of the rainbow symbol threatens to make all spaces ‘non-spaces’ rather than clearly safe for minority groups).

The subversion I was attempting to articulate is a subversion both in the minds of the Christian and the Gay person; both of whom seem confounded by the existence of celibate gay Christians who’re committed to following Jesus so much that they commit to using their bodies, and stewarding their desires accordingly.

It’s a subversion already being led by those at the intersection of Christianity and the gay experience. I’m just asking us straightees to shut up for a bit and watch how our brothers and sisters are already navigating this space; rather than policing them. And then to find ways to join in that aren’t just another form of woke-capitalism but in a church market. I’ve mentioned the rainbow cake in our church family in the past, and the furore that created when I voiced my encouragement about what that cake had represented to the people who had the cake and ate it too. It’s significant to me that I, as a straight bloke, didn’t bake the cake; I didn’t put up a rainbow banner on our fence; I didn’t even have a coherent picture of what a rainbow might mean at the time; but I listened, I reflected, and I offered my support to those in my community who’re taking up the challenge — and risk — of publicly navigating this space caught between the church, and those outside it who share their experiences navigating life as an LGBTIQA+ person. And then I shared being whacked by (more) conservative (than me) folks who were offended by the use of what they considered to be an immutably idolatrous symbol.

Folks from the Side B community have been using rainbows, symbolically and publicly, for quite a while now. I’m not sure it’s for me to tell them what they mean, but, as a straight Christian if/when asked to wear a rainbow, I think I’d be wanting to wear it in ways that make my support clear to those brothers and sisters, and that encourage any definition of ‘inclusivity’ in shared public spaces to include LGBTIQA+ people across the spectrum, including the Christian ones, and even including Christian people (and muslims) who won’t wear the rainbow because of their own take on what it means.

One of the stranger parts of the discussion around the jersey has been those who want to insist that symbols are immutable; that the rainbow can only ever mean the thing it originally meant. I want to give a few little bits of pushback on this idea.

First. Back in the Israel Folau saga I did some digging and established that Folau’s symbolic act; the meme he shared (memes are literally transmitted symbols); came from a hate group in the United States. When I shared this it was (more) conservative (than me) white men who argued that the origin of that meme was not determinative of what Folau meant when he used it; I tend to agree, but my argument is that if you want to use that meme it has a context, and it’s on you to make clear how you’re not representing that original meaning because the reasonable assumption is that you are; and yet, it must be possible in the minds of these folks for Folau to’ve escaped being a hateful bigot such that his meme was just “quoting the Bible” (it was also misquoting the Bible).

Second. This is a bit like when those same (more) conservative (than me) folks criticise celibate gay Chrisitans for using the word “gay” because it always means what they say it means, and Christians should never identify as gay because that’s adopting a sinful identity and our identity is in Christ; these same Christians are totally unconvinced when one mounts an etymological and social account of the way the word identity has emerged as a feature of modern western expressive individualism. Apparently the meaning of the word identity is flexible, while the meaning of the word gay is not.

Third. The rainbow flag itself is argued to have an immutable meaning — ala the TGC piece — where it inevitably represents a prideful celebration of sin; according to the people who are said to have given it the meaning, and the (more) conservative (than me) men who want to only ever interpret its semiotic function according to that usage. What’s also odd is that the people arguing for this particular function (affirmation of sin) are particularly vexed because of the way not embracing the symbol also has an immutable meaning. In the words of one person on Facebook; to not embrace the rainbow is to express hatred for the LGBTIQA+ community; this, too, is now an immutable symbol being weaponised against our consciences to create a moral dilemma.

I put it to you that this is no dilemma at all.

Mostly, because symbols aren’t immutable — and we all employ words and symbols to make meaning in the context of our lives as individuals, and in communities — we have lots of opportunities to make our use, or non-use, of the rainbow meaningful in ways that are oriented towards the flourishing of the person through their full inclusion in the life of Jesus (ie union with Christ). It just requires imagination and lives that are credibly communicating what our use of words and symbols will also communicate.

But also, I put it to you if you are faced with a choice between communicating, on the one hand, some sort of affirmation and inclusion of the dignity of an LGBTIQA+ person, and their full inclusion in public spaces that are demonstrably meant to be plural rather than sectarian (like a football team), there is ample opportunity to communicate God’s desire to embrace such people in the love he reveals to the world in Jesus, and God’s views of what our bodies are for and where sex fits in that picture; and you, as a Christian person, should be living the sort of life that makes that message understandable, and communicating, on the other hand, that you hate your neighbour… and if these symbols are immutable (as we keep being told they are). Well. Then. I think we’re not in the area of conscience, but in an area where there’s a clear principle to be upheld in such a moment…

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.“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. — Matt 5:21-22, 38-45

Given the option between a symbolic act that communicates love, albeit imperfectly, and one that communicates hate, albeit imperfectly — I’m not sure we’re just in the realm of the conscience — I’m not sure we can conscientiously choose to act in a way that immutably means we hate LGBTIQA+ people, in their eyes and the eyes of the world, and call that obedience. How can it be obedient to knowingly communicate hatred to a neighbour? Even if there’re forces at work seeking to treat us Christians as their enemies, maybe we should not just give our cloaks (in a game of shirts v skins), but take the jersey and trust that God knows our hearts, and that we can use many other symbols and words to communicate his heart clearly.

Why are we happy to advocate choosing a message that says “I hate you” — the apparently immutable symbolic meaning of not donning the rainbow — for the sake of our conscience, rather than a message that says “you are loved”, maybe at the expense of our conscience a little?

Giving my cloak to a robber would surely offend my conscience and my convictions around the nature of personal property, and yet, sometimes embodying the way of the crucified king involves a willing violation of myself out of love for God, and for my neighbour.

What this really actually communicates, like the arguments over the meaning of words like “gay” and “identity” is that this whole position around the prescriptive immutable meaning of words and symbols is a nonsense. This nonsense won’t just give the devil all the good music, but all our ability to intelligibly say good and true things about God as well. If Egypt or Babylon take up a symbol, or give meaning to a word (like Gospel, or the Cross) we’d just let ’em have it; and yet, the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. And he made us so that we might seek him and perhaps find him — and even our idolatrous altars are an expression of that search (Acts 17). If all that the Devil needs to do to convince the world that we’re racist is have Babylon say “black lives matter,” so that we won’t say it too, then we’re in a lot of trouble — and it’s the same with our ability to speak about love and inclusion for LGBTIQA+ people, whether that’s in the life of the Babylonian City around us, or the City of God — the church. And if we were seen to be advocating for the former, we might adopt an invitational posture that invites people to find their citizenship in the latter.

We are actually free, as communicating creatures made in the image of the communicating God and worshipping the incarnating word, to communicate about God as creatures embedded in the world, in the hope that by doing so we might ‘win some’.

In the meantime, I’m going to take heed of my friends advice, and stop kicking this political football, at the risk of kicking beloved bearers of the image of God, and instead have a mood-dampened weekend after watching a third string Manly side get belted tonight.

Everyone in (a) League (of their own)

Stephen McAlpine — an Irish sandgroper — has chimed in on the controversy engulfing Rugby League this week. Before I respond to his piece (and its interaction with my piece), I’m keen to make a point made by Paul Gallen — that it’s a travesty that in a week devoted to Women in League, across the NRL, Manly has — like a blokey think piece on International Women’s Day — change the conversation and the focus. If we were playing the sort of round ball game most at home in Ireland (football, or Gaelic, Stephen will have to let me know), this in itself would be an own goal.

Stephen’s a little critical of my conflation of the two issues — greed and homosexuality — being represented on the Manly jersey tomorrow night. He says:

“It is a false dichotomy to declare that the seven Manly players who are refusing to wear the Pride jersey this week for their National Rugby League match (thereby scrubbing them from playing), are being hypocritical because they have had no problems wearing betting and alcohol logos on the same jersey.”

Others have pushed back on my article arguing that gambling, in itself, is not a sin. I thought I might address both these points briefly before moving on to the more interesting critique of my position in Stephen’s article.

I made the point that the gambling industry — as it exists in Australia — is insidiously greedy; it is predatory — in fact, I’d go so far as to say that gambling itself is not greed — you can have a bet with mates to raise the stakes or whatever, or budget a certain amount of dollars for a bet; it might not be great stewardship, and maybe you should spend that money on something better to get your thrills, but yeah, no specific prescription exists to put gambling in the ‘always immoral’ category. But I want to make two analogies for how poorly we think about sin, and how instinctively we western Christians look to individual actions when asking a question about sin, rather than systems of predatory (beastly) evil.

Owning assault rifles is not a sin. The Bible says nothing to condemn owning assault rifles; or swords. I think most Australians would look across the world to the U.S and see what assault rifles now do to people, and what they symbolise, and reach the conclusion that there is an idolatry caught up in the ownership of assault rifles that would make us a little uncomfortable about the predatory manufacturers of weapons who put them in the hands of a culture who’ve got a chronically unhealthy idolatrous relationship with the gun.

Sex is not a sin. It’s an amazing gift from God that is meant to teach us about love, and oneness, and the ‘divine nature and character of God.’ And yet, the pornography industry has commercialised sex, and, in the process, desecrated image bearers and co-opted their images for the lusting eyes and hearts of people around the world.

The gambling industry in Australia is to guns what the weapons industry is in America; a purveyor of idols designed to make money no matter the cost in lives. And sure. Guns can be fun, and they can be useful. But the whole nature of the gun lobby in the U.S is corrupted by an idolatry. Gambling isn’t prohibited in the Bible, but do you think it’s a coincidence that as Jesus is executed, the same crew who’ve pierced his hands, and who’re going to stab his side with a spear, are also gambling for his clothes beneath the cross; there is something beastly about what is being described there, rather than prescribed, that should give us pause before we give the gambling industry a free pass, and treat it like something different to, say, the porn industry.

Because greed is idolatry. Idolatry is a pretty big deal in the Bible; in the New Testament it’s actually idolatry that produces sexual activity contrary to God’s design — the decision to worship and serve created things, rather than the creator — to make gods in our own image, or in the image of our desires, and turn to them in ways that desecrate our humanity and our function as bearers of the divine image.

And the thing is — it’s not a weird dichotomy to say we should treat greed the same way those who take the Bible seriously treat homosexual sex; find me a list in the New Testament that when it lists homosexual sex doesn’t include both?

Romans 1, for example, says: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” (Rom 1:29), 1 Corinthians 6 says “nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” right after it talks about men who have sex with men. 1 Timothy talks about “the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine” in chapter 1, and then famously declares “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Greed and homosexuality are not so easy to thematically separate in the New Testament — they might look like a ‘false dichotomy’ to a western Christian whose bought the mantra that ‘greed is good’ long ago; so we don’t look much different at all to our neighbours when it comes to our love of money and material things; but the link is that greed, like homosexuality, is idolatry — and the way Christians stand, or kneel, or fall when it comes to idolatry is a big deal.

Which brings me to the more interesting substance of Stephen’s critique (and one shared by others). He says:

And I disagree with Nathan that somehow to wear the Pride jersey would be a sign of solidarity with others for the sake of winning them to the gospel. Here’s the problem with that: the Pride jersey is promoting a gospel already. Slipping it over your head is not conceding that “Yes, alcohol can wreck lives and yes, betting can cause financial ruin and family damage”, it’s saying ‘I believe in this. In fact I’m proud of it”.

I want to say straight up that the rainbow symbol, as used by plenty of people, is a symbol of idolatry every bit as desecrating of the human as the gun, or the trappings of the gambling industry. Our culture, as Stephen likes to put it, has embraced the worship of self, pleasure, and sex (the “sexular age” he calls it, very clever). I don’t disagree. I disagree with treating one idolater or idolatry as though it is substantially worse than others; especially when there is no observable difference between our behaviour with money, or our behaviour with sex (except the sex or gender of who we’d like to be sexular with). We’re not so different from the western world when it comes to sex either; purity culture is just the flip side of porn culture, designed to treat and view women as objects of male desire, and we have a pretty sketchy and idolatrous view of marriage and sex in terms of personal pleasure and fulfilment; I reckon. It’s just the LGBTIQA+ community we seem to want to substantially differentiate ourselves from; and that is hypocrisy. Absolutely. I’ll call it how I see it.

The rainbow can absolutely be a symbol of an idolatrous vision of the human; in fact, it doesn’t take a mind deeply schooled in the Bible to know that pride, itself, is a form of idolatry of the self, and so even to somehow turn pride into a virtue is a problematic part of our modern schema. It can also be a picture of liberation from a certain sort of persecution (not just limited to the west) that has not only been aimed at ‘those who practice homosexuality’ but anybody who experiences non-straight sexual desire. It can be a statement that someone does share a degree of experiential solidarity with others who have experienced the marginalisation, exclusion, and pain that comes from a minority experience in a world where we don’t always love our neighbours as we love our selves. It can represent a whole host of things — and not — as some of my friendly critics from within broader Aussie Presbyterianism might say be “always an idolatrous celebration of gay sex” — it certainly includes people who have gay sex under that umbrella, but there are plenty of gay Christians committed to a traditional sexual ethic, while navigating relationships of solidarity within the LGBTIQA+ community who’ll tell you the rainbow means something to them as well. The idea that symbols are prescriptive in meaning puts a fascinating and inconsistent amount of weight on us all to navigate the construction of our personhood from forces way outside ourselves, rather than liberating us to act with personal integrity and enter into friendships (or sporting teams) with people who’re different to us. It’s quite similar to the arguments around Halal certified chocolate; the sort of stance we take on these issues is going to impact whose hospitality we can enjoy, and who we can receive as guests, which for Paul is a pretty big part of eating idol meat freely.

I also believe that idolatrous symbols can be subverted, or, if you make it clear what your engagement with an idolatrous world does and doesn’t mean, can be participated in for the sake of the Gospel; consider, for example, food sacrificed to idols in the New Testament world; Paul doesn’t want believers to ask questions about the meaning of the meat they buy in the market; the meat could be an idol symbol, and most naturally is probably assumed to be one — but he says “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” basically, and says “eat it,” and “eat it with your neighbour for the sake of the Gospel” unless your neighbour assume the act of eating it is an act of idolatrous solidarity where you share their gods. Now. If only there was a way for a Christian to wear a pride jersey and make it clear what they believe, and how much they love their image bearing neighbours, and what it is that is driving them to both wear the jersey and differentiate themselves. If only there were some sort of media platform where a player could say “hey guys, I’m a Christian, I believe the Bible says this, but I love my gay neighbour so much and I recognise that they still face so much exclusion from families, from sports with a blokey culture like League, and in the form of stigma that adversely effects their mental health outcomes that I just want to show my love for them.”

You might say “but Folau tried this and look where it got him” — he didn’t. Firstly, he didn’t believe in the Trinity (no idea if he does now). He wasn’t a Christian. Secondly. He said hell awaits homosexuals, and shared a meme from a hate group in the U.S that deliberately excluded greed from the list of sins. Thirdly, he didn’t do it in the context where he was being asked to wear a rainbow striped jersey, he just did it.

There’s another precedent for how people in the Bible can co-exist in idolatrous systems while maintaining their integrity (and knowing and guarding their own hearts). Sometimes it’s going to mean not taking the knee, or wearing the jersey. If there was no avenue for these players to explain what the wearing of the jersey actually represents, if it was all given to them by the powers that be, and they were just compelled to kneel, then, we’re in Daniel territory. Stand up. Be counted. Daniel was, however, an office bearer in a pretty idolatrous regime. He was keen to maintain his integrity in a kingdom that worshipped Marduk and a whole pantheon of violent gods, while keeping the trains running on time (so to speak) as a faithful presence.

But there’s maybe a better example for us in all this; I do think it’s a slight category error to jump straight from Jewish characters in the Old Testament to the modern Christian experience; like we want to be David, and never imagine ourselves as those liberated from having lined up behind Goliath by the grace of God extended to gentiles. Navigating life as a citizen of Israel in Babylon is not the same as navigating life in Babylon as a Babylonian worshipper of Yahweh. I’ve already touched on how a gentile citizen of Corinth might navigate idolatrous Corinth as a Corinthian Christian, but as he is wont to do, Stephen’s piece is about life in modern Babylon.

There’s a bloke in the Old Testament from Aram — that’s Syria, the other nation that ultimately takes Israel (the northern kingdom) into captivity. His name is Naaman. Like Daniel, he’s an official in the empire; unlike Daniel, he’s a native to that empire. He’s a gentile. He has a skin disease. His Israelite slave suggests he should visit Israel and seek healing from her God; he goes. Some interesting stuff goes down where his whole view of the world is challenged, and, having been healed, he makes a request on his departure, he says:

“Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

Naaman is going to, in certain moments in the Temple of Rimmon, look a whole lot like he is giving his body, and his heart, to the gods of Assyria; but he has promised his heart — like any Christian has too — to the Lord of Israel. He’s so committed to worshipping God that he’s carting dirt from Israel to set up his own little embassy space in the heart of Assyria; I wonder if he carried the earth in his pockets into that temple to keep reminding himself to worship Yahweh with integrity.

If we’re not going to object to the symbolism of Pointsbet, which is part of an insidious idolatrous industry that destroys lives in the name of greed, then, it is hypocritical to object to the symbolism of the rainbow. If we can reconcile wearing a Pointsbet jersey (and I own one) with ‘not endorsing or celebrating greed’ and can differentiate ourselves by speaking out, such that we maintain our integrity — why is that not possible with a rainbow? Especially if there’s such an obvious path to loving hospitality that might win some to Jesus in doing so?

If we make the wearing of the jersey mean whatever we’ve decided others make it mean, we actually bypass the heart, and the integrity of the individuals involved. We set up an impossible rule where we cannot participate at all in a sexually immoral world and its systems — we will not be able to wear clothes from any company that uses sex to sell a product, or any brand that exploits its workers, without being seen to endorse exactly what we’re told that symbol represents by some agent external to us; like meat in the marketplace. We will lose our ability to subversively and creatively take created things and not worship them, but turn them towards the faithful worship of the creator, or use them as connections between the desires of the human heart and the God who made our hearts who wants us to direct them to him. I think there’s a path to do that for Christians invited to mark pride month, or “wear it purple,” or eat a rainbow cake as an expression of love and solidarity with our human neighbours, and an act of faithfulness to God, with more than a piece of Israel in our pockets; because we have the peace of the Spirit of God dwelling in our hearts.

Proud Manly men

I have been a die hard supporter of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles for longer than I have been just about anything in my life. I’ve been through some glorious moments (the mid 90s), some dark days (the Northern Beagles), and loved to love the team that others love to hate. The Sea Eagles played a do or die semi-final on my wedding night; and you’d better believe that our honeymoon location had a television (they did lose a crushing grand final a week later only to vanquish the hated Melbourne Storm the following year). My passion — my pride — for that particular maroon and white jersey runs deep (much deeper than my passion for either blue, or green and gold). My mood rises and falls with the fate of my team every weekend.

My passion for my team has been tempered in recent years; not because success on the field has been a little slower than in previous decades — but because my Spiritual home ground, Brookvale Oval, was sacrilegiously renamed “Lottoland,” and those beautiful priestly garments blazoned with the word “Pointsbet” in a shocking testament to gambling greed (which is idolatry). I detest the way the gambling industry has infiltrated the game I love.

I was less than impressed, also, with our roster management and a series of decisions where it was clear we Sea Eagles believed in the power of redemption so much that we were prepared not to enforce the ‘no d***heads’ policy that other teams have embrace to ensure a positive culture; instead choosing to sign, and keep signed, various players with domestic violence convictions.

Where, I wonder, is the line at which I would withdraw my love and my loyalty; my devotion? Where would I respect a player choosing not to don the jersey in principled protest (or worse, where would I respect a decision by someone to flee the Eagles nest and trod the now well-worn path to the Parramatta Eels (honestly, Choc Watmough)).

It turns out the line for up to seven of our players is the decision by the club to be the first team to introduce a Pride Jersey.

Oh how I wish we Christians were consistent.

How I wish it’d been the promotion of unfettered greed — that adorns the jersey on a weekly basis, or the renaming of the stadium — that had pricked the conscience of these players. Pointsbet. No thanks.

But also how I wish we would grapple with just how complex inclusion actually is; and the extent to which genuine inclusion requires people to be able to take the field in brotherhood or mateship as an expression of unity across various things that might otherwise tear us apart; and yet I fear this will not go well. And the story will be told as archaic Christian types having an issue with the LGBTIQA+ community, rather than questions being asked about just how far a modern sporting industry will go in a world of ‘woke capitalism’ to earn a dollar by taking a stand.

My two favourite players in the mid 90s were Steve ‘Beaver’ Menzies, and the tough as nails Ian Roberts. Roberts was the first (and to date only) publicly gay NRL footballer. Manly has modelled inclusion in ways that matter, but this token gesture now runs the risk of exclusion of others. I would love more Christians to ask questions about what it would look like to be so loving to our LGBTIQA+ neighbours or teammates that token gestures are unnecessary. I would love us to take a principled stand against areas the Bible calls sin — like the love of money, or those who take money from the poor to feed the rich — I would love us to not give a free pass to perpetrators of family violence. I would love there to be a line on those ethical issues; but we have so capitulated to capitalism that we look identical to those standing with us in any given scrum.

It’s now over a year since the Moderator General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia sent out an email to members of church communities around the country referring to my decision to celebrate someone in my congregation publicly coming out as gay (and Christian, and committed to a traditional sexual ethic). The email started with the statement that “heresies do not appear as mushrooms overnight,” and spoke about “cakes… flaunting self-dramatisation… rainbows,” it was pretty pointed.

That friend marked their coming out with a rainbow cake. And, despite this objection from “the Moderator’s Desk”, I believe this sort of gesture towards inclusivity can be important, and doesn’t necessarily mean a Christian has to violate their personal integrity or commitment to an alternative vision of sex, sexuality, and identity. Inclusivity might require taking the sporting field, or working in an office, or being in a family, or even a church community, with people you disagree with so you might, together, pursue a goal — whether that’s the truth about God, and humanity, or sporting success. It would be a shame if an expression of that sort of desire was enough for Christians to ‘take a knee’ or not enter the field.

And yet, it would be a shame if a push for one sort of inclusivity excluded others. This is now well-trodden territory; it’s the Israel Folau saga making its way into the ethnically and religiously diverse minefield that is modern professional sports. It’ll be a test for the game’s decision makers at a club and competition level and will no doubt see angst voiced, and think pieces churned out. I offer my thoughts here tentatively, having nailed my colours to the mast — I am proudly a Manly man; if I could bleed maroon and white I would.

A few weeks ago the National Rugby League competition paused for Representative Round. In that round we didn’t just enjoy a standalone Sunday State of Origin match, we enjoyed games between Tonga and New Zealand, Samoa and the Cook Islands, and Papua New Guinea and Fiji. It was a bit of a triumph for the development of the game in these Pacific Island nations; as I suggested as the Folau situation was really gathering speed, there was a clash of cultures going on in that event where players from these Island nations are operating with different religious convictions to us Aussies, and unless we grapple with those convictions we’re not actually asking real questions about inclusivity. At the time I wrote about how we couldn’t both celebrate the incredible hymn the Fijian national team sang at the Rugby League World Cup while asking those players to leave their religious convictions behind at other times. For the record, after the Fiji v PNG game in the representative round, both teams joined in a haunting on field hymn and prayer session.

We have overcome; they sang.

As a Christian, and a proud Manly man, I hope my fellow Christians might overcome their thoughts of not taking the field this week and seek a sort of inclusivity that points their teammates to the hope that we have in Jesus; who took the field with sinners in order to transform us all — or that they might continue drawing the line, and not take the field next weekend as well so we might finally send Pointsbet the way of Lottoland.

Channel 9’s awful gamble, broken lives, and betting on Jesus

I love Rugby League. I love the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. Say what you will – but League is faster, more exhilarating, and more straightforward than the boot-strapped game of chess and stoppages that is Rugby Union.

I love league. I hate the gambling industry. It’s an awful, poisonous industry that wrecks lives – financially and spiritually. I want to make a distinction here between small stakes poker, a casual bet on the outcome of a grudge match between two friends, raffles, Melbourne Cup sweeps at lunch, and perhaps even gambling as a form of entertainment, free of greed (if that’s possible), and the industry that has set itself up on the back of our love for a punt that makes huge profits by destroying lives. I do some of those things from time to time, but mostly avoid them as a wisdom issue, rather than a moral issue. But the gambling industry thrives on creating addicts and sustaining their addictions. It takes money from people and offers nothing tangible in return. It’s a parasite.

I’m not suggesting the individuals who get lured in and caught up in the web of the gambling industry are devoid of responsibility in their decision to gamble – but if gambling stops them meeting their other responsibilities – like feeding their families, then the gambling industry, the sporting industry, and the viewing audience, have the responsibility to stop enabling that sort of destruction. Responsible gambling is an oxymoron. The nature of a gamble is that it involves risk. The nature of an industry that generates that sort of profits by taking other people’s money, and giving them nothing in return (except a cheap, momentary, thrill) is “irresponsible,” not “responsible.

What makes me saddest is that the gambling industry is all about greed – and greed is an example of the rejection of God that the Bible calls idolatry.

So now I have a dilemma. Because the game I love is in bed with this industry that I hate.

Tom Waterhouse is a bookmaker who has signed a multi-million dollar deal with the NRL and Channel 9 to be a broadcast partner of the National Rugby League. That’s $50 million, and $15 million, that Waterhouse’s company has ripped out of the pockets of Australians – a fraction of their profits, and presumably a fraction of the money they stand to make from the arrangement.

Somehow this deal earned him a seat at the table when it came to 9’s coverage – he became a commentator, and his contribution was helping gamblers understand the various implications of Friday night’s game between the Brisbane Broncos and the mighty Sea Eagles (who won, in a thrilling second half comeback).

I didn’t catch the Tom Waterhouse Show on Friday night because I was at the game. Live. With my daughter.

It was her first game of football – and I’m very much looking forward to indoctrinating teaching her about the game, and how to appreciate it (even if Robyn wants her to love that other code).

Sadly, I won’t be able to do that using Channel 9’s coverage. There’s a bigger question about whether or not I’ll be able to teach her about any professional sport if the continued enmeshment of sport and gambling goes unchecked, that’s a deeper issue that needs a resolution, but the “in your face” nature of the coverage is an immediate concern.

The gambling industry preys on broken people and guarantees ongoing failure. Jesus offers restoration to broken people and a secure future.

I’m not into censoring too much when it comes to parenting – I’m happy to sit down with my daughter – and her yet to be born sibling(s) – and talk about what we watch together. I’ll do that with all sorts of cultural texts, because I want my kids to learn about the world we live in, and to be able to critically engage with the arts.

That’s something I’m really looking forward to – I want my kids to be able to parse cultural texts for meaning, and I want them to be able to use culture to reach people with the gospel.

Sadly, thanks to Channel 9’s decision to get in bed with an industry that destroys lives without remorse, their coverage of the Rugby League will now be one of those things I keep away from my kids until they’re in their teens. And by then it might be too late. By then they’ll probably love Rugby Union or some other inferior product.

I can appreciate that some parents prefer to keep harmful ideas away from their children. But that’s not my style. Obviously there are certain things that I want to introduce them to at certain points of maturity – and I think the secular classification board does a pretty good job at picking what is appropriate for different ages, and we’ll probably err on the side of caution.

But that’s not really what’s behind my thinking.

I’m not shielding my kids from gambling – I hope they’ll be sensible enough to understand how to approach concepts like “responsibility” and “greed”… But I don’t think I can be a responsible participant in society if I teach my kids that it’s ok to benefit from exploiting others.

I don’t mind talking to my kids about gambling, money and greed from the moment they’re born – I don’t even mind the casual bet with a couple of mates about the outcome of football games – but I refuse to take part, as a viewer, in enabling the destruction of lives. And I don’t want to model any sort of support for this selling out of others for my own entertainment or financial gain to my kids. Turning 9’s coverage off is one of the ways I’m going to make a stand.

Gambling is poisonous. It trashes lives. It tears families apart. Plenty of people have pointed out that the head of 9’s commentary team is a recovering gambling addict, and the face of the NRL – one of the game’s most scintillating players, has just checked in to a facility to deal with his gambling addiction which has left his life, and his family’s life, in tatters.

This decision by Channel 9 to throw people under the bus for the sake of their crumbling bottom line is a horribly tangible example of how broken our world is. They’ve taken a great thing – sport – a gift from God. And trashed it. And used it to trash lives. For their own gain.

I love sport because it teaches us good things about life. Individual sport teaches us about pursuing goals, working hard, and the value of discipline. Team sport teaches us about teamwork, selflessness, the value of a common cause, and camaraderie.

There’s a reason Paul uses sporting language to describe life following Jesus.

Here’s what he says in 1 Corinthians 9…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Sport is good – Paul says physical exercise is of some value – but what really counts in life is your spiritual health (1 Timothy 4:8). The real tragedy of Channel 9’s awful decision to enable problem gambling is that they’re taking something good, and not only not keeping it in perspective with eternal, spiritual matters – but they’re using it to destroy lives both physically (as families fall into poverty) and spiritually, as people get trapped in a cycle of greed that leaves them rejecting the God who made us, and sport – to serve the pursuit of money through a system that is rigged against them, and only works if people lose more than they win.

Greed is a horrible thing – not just because it involves trashing other people for your own gain, and ultimately trashing yourself in the relentless pursuit of more, but because it involves putting the pursuit of wealth in the place God should occupy. Paul calls this idolatry (in Ephesians 5:5).

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Jesus puts it a little more clearly – using slightly less theologically loaded language in Matthew chapter 6.

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

He says this off the back of saying that storing up wealth now – pursuing wealth – is stupid because it’s not going to last. And that’s the real stupidity at the heart of gambling – it’s about taking huge risks for long odds on short term rewards. Even if you win now – the one certainty is that when you die, your winnings aren’t going with you.

Gambling is hopeless. It comes out of brokenness and leads to more brokenness.

Without Jesus, not gambling is a good idea for your personal finances – but it ultimately leaves us less poor,  still broken, and still losing at the end, when we die.

Jesus gives hope. And his life offers a real solution to brokenness. And a safe investment.

From Matthew 6 again…

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I love this Colin Buchanan song about the real hope Jesus offers (on Spotify) (or YouTube).

“I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
The one who died a real death for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
Throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope my Saviour won for me”

I hate the gambling industry. I hate that it preys on the weak and vulnerable with almost Darwinian antipathy leaving the weak weaker, and the poor poorer, and I hate that its insidious poison can turn functional and successful people into train wrecks who wreak havoc on the lives of those who love them. So there’s no way I’ll be able to watch Channel 9 destroy lives each week.

Here’s an ad from GetUp exposing some of the rhetoric the pro-gambling types use to justify the destruction of lives for financial gain after the NRL sided with the pokie industry when the Australian Government wanted to do something to make gambling more difficult.

Until Channel 9 extracts itself from this situation where its participating in the destruction of Australian families, undermining everything that’s great about sport, I’ll be listening on the radio or signing up for Foxtel. It’d be nice if the NRL stood up too and separated itself from the poison that threatens so many of those involved in the game – and the people who watch it and look up to its stars – rather than buying into the same greed that fuels that brokenness and perpetuating the problem.

Those Mormon ads, and how to kill a high profile media campaign…

I just saw the first Mormon ad to feature high profile league player, and grand final winner with the mighty Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, Will Hopoate. Sharp. They’re a great ad for Manly. And, like all the ads in this campaign, are visually appealing and tightly produced.

There was a higher profile League star than Hopoate – Dizzy Izzy Folau. Israel has been out of the spotlight in the last year because he made a big money switch to AFL. To a team that doesn’t exist yet.

Luckily the Mormons didn’t feature Israel in their ads. Because he recently turned his back on the cult, publicly, during this campaign.

And here’s what he had to say… and that, friends, is how to harpoon a campaign.

“I had a personal experience with the holy spirit touching my heart,” Folau told AAP.

“I’ve never felt that before while I was involved in the Mormon church – until I came to the AOG church and accepted Christ.

“It’s been an amazing experience for me personally and I know a lot of people on the outside have been saying stuff about why we left.

“And some people (are) assuming that we left because of money, and all that sort of stuff.

“I know for myself that it wasn’t.

“But I guess at the moment, the people on the outside don’t really know the main reason why we left.”

The 22-year-old instigated the change himself after researching the history of Mormonism, and said the move was easy to make.

Folau’s friends have been understanding and supportive for the most part, but he admits it has been hard on a few of them.

God will play a large role in Folau’s life as he attempts to secure a berth in the Giants’ side for their season opener against Sydney.

An ode to Laurie Daley’s extraordinarily bad tipping abilities

Some people make hating Manly into an art form, some people have turned on field success into career longevity in the form of punditry and off field roles. Few have done both the way Laurie Daley has.

Laurie Daley is an idiot. Here is his season prediction for Manly this year: 13th. They’re now in the Grand Final.

He was a selector for the NSW State of Origin team for five years, and while I don’t condone filling wikipedia with biased misinformation the blurb has it about right:

“He was the first person from the disgraced and shamed New South Wales administration to quit after five consecutive series defeats”

Mr Daley tipped the Roosters, the Raiders, and the Titans to make the top six this year, they came 11th, 15th, and 16th. His pre-season predictions were abysmal – the teams that finished the regular season in positions 1 and 2 were tipped to come 11th and 13th respectively.

He spent last week death-riding Manly, suggesting the Broncos were specials to knock off Manly.

The man is an idiot.

Manly should take out next Sunday’s Grand Final, which will be sensational…

Seven Things I’m Looking Forward to in Sydney

In no particular order…

1. Catching up with friends (including Izaac and Sarah whose blogs I can’t be bothered linking to but you all read them anyway. Right.)
2. Taronga Zoo.
3. Manly play the Sharks on Saturday night
4. Church by the Bridge (5pm service on Sunday is my plan)
5. Coffee at AIR, Alchemy, Bean Drinking and Mecca. Those are my plans.
6. Gould Books..
7. The wedding we’re actually coming down for.

Storm in teacup

So the Melbourne Storm were cheating the salary cap. Hands up who was shocked by the news that a team boasting so many representative players was rorting the salary cap…

No hands?

Didn’t think so.

I guess this makes the Might Manly Warringah Sea Eagles back-to-back champions.

Also…

On a subject vaguely related to “commentary” – I watched the football tonight.

I can not come to terms with Manly’s reversal of fortune and or ability after last year’s Grand Final.

I refuse to put it all down to Brett Stewart. Instead I blame the following three players, who I would drop immediately were I the coach:

  1. Michael Bani – ok in attack, rubbish in defense.
  2. Chris Bailey – why was he signed? What does he do? He’s great in attack provided he doesn’t have to pass or think creatively. But he’s a 5/8th. They need to put Lyon back at pivot.
  3. Shane Rodney or Glenn Hall – they are nothing players. Who do nothing. At all. Cuthbertson should be in the run on side. 

Also, I find Billy Slater intolerably annoying. He’s far too good. And he has a face that makes me want to lash out in violent anger. I’d like him to play for a team that I like – but that is unlikely so he is like, unlikeable.

Oh well, at least Manchester United beat Arsenal.

Eagles and jet engines

I am annoyed. Here’s a recipe for being annoyed.

  1. My beloved Sea Eagles are zero and three after three rounds.
  2. Tonight they went down 12-10 to Penrith.
  3. They can’t win/score points without Brett Stewart or David Williams.
  4. I spent the second half listening to Phil Gould gloating about the Eagle’s plight. For someone who relied on the Sea Eagle’s money to keep the ARL alive during the Super League war he’s sure got a bad mid term memory.

Oh well, at least the Raiders are worse.

Manlyness

It’s obviously a pretty difficult time to be a Manly supporter – what with guys who punch fathers of attractive girls who dare to interfere in their advances and alleged sexual assaulters named to turn out for the team on Friday.

The NRL has just suspended Stewart for five rounds.

It makes me feel sick.

I don’t even want to trot out the “innocent until proven guilty” line in their defense. Or mention that the Gold Coast Titans played a player all year who was facing a charge for the same offence.

What’s worse than the media circus surrounding the upcoming court case is the fact that everyone feels compelled to weigh in on the debate. The NRL has forced a club not to play a player (for ruining their ad campaign bringing the game into disrepute, a former test rugby player and SMH columnist wants them to sack him, a group of prominent women associated with the club have come out saying the player is a gentleman, and a former League player from another club is now calling on Manly to drop the player for this weekend. Then all the politicians had to have their say on the issue.

Calling on a player to stand down while the charge is investigated is fair enough – or would be if the investigation took only a matter of weeks – but they often don’t. The Titans player mentioned previously played a whole season before being found not guilty. If he’d been forced to sit out that would have cost him a year’s wages in case where he was found innocent.

Fox Sports subbed by monkey

Can you spot the problem with the following sentence from this story?

“Rumoured to of signed a four-year $450,000-a-year deal with the Sea Eagles back in 2005, Orford would likely have to take a pay cut to remain on the northern beaches with the club battling to reward last year’s premiers and remain under the salary cap.”

If yes, please apply for a job sub-editing Fox Sports Online. The story was from AAP so if you want to be a journalist go get a job there.

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