SBS and the not so inclusive “exclusive”

On the weekend it snowed on the outskirts of Melbourne, and it appears as though some of that snow fell on the Central Coast of NSW and clouded the vision of one SBS reporter.

snow

An article was published on the SBS website late this afternoon, aiming to discredit a group of FIEC churches on the Central Coast. These Churches use facilities in local schools after school hours, especially for Sunday services

Journalist, Robert Burton-Bradley, has accused the Churches of promoting a ‘homophobic’ message, and he then proceeds to prove his case by providing a list of quotes from various sermons. Unfortunately, his evidence looks more like a JFK conspiracy theory than material fit for publication on a respected Australian media website.

To begin with, the headline states, “Claims evangelical Christian churches preach gay hate in public schools” and has the accompanying tag line, “Exclusive: Serious allegations have emerged that gay hate messages are being preached inside public schools by evangelical groups.” It sounds truly outrageous and, these headings are sufficiently vague to lead readers to believe that the following ideas are being taught in these schools, which is not the case. The content of these sermons is for a church, not for children in the classroom.

Secondly, in light of the evil mass murder in Orlando, the media have reported various Muslim leaders who believe homosexuals should be executed. In the midst of these  stories, it appears as though Burton-Bradley is portraying these Christian Churches  as if they are preaching a similar hate message. He writes,

“One recording of a sermon on homosexuality and the Bible’s book of Leviticus from the Lakes Christian Church, based inside the Berkeley Vale Public school on the NSW Central Coast, includes references to the “death penalty” as a punishment for the “sin” of homosexuality.”

Taking words from their intended setting could potentially be seen as slanderous, which leads to a third point,

The article quotes statements from various sermons with no regard for the context in which they were spoken.

Anyone can cut and past a few words from a sermon, and give readers all manner of impressions. I once said in a sermon, ‘sex is good’; I guess one can only assume I’m a member of the sex party. I’ve also declared my dislike of cats, perhaps someone ought to report me to the RSPCA for possible future animal cruelty!

Not only does the article ignore context in which words were spoken, there is no understanding here of biblical theology, by which I mean, how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament, of how God’s holiness and love relate, and of the way the cross of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding Christianity and Christian thought and attitudes toward other people. Nowhere does Robert Burton-Bradley bring his readers to the conclusions that are offered in the sermons.

Christians do not hate homosexuals, and from what I know of the Churches in question, neither do they.  If I may repeat words that I wrote last week in a piece relating to Jason Ball,

“A Christian cannot hate because we have been on the other side, we have belonged to the crowd who have hurt others and thrown stones of hate, pride, and greed. Christians, if they are Christian, confess their spiritual and moral destitution, and yet we have come to experience the undeserving and loving grace of God who forgives our trespasses through Jesus. Once the human heart has experienced Divine forgiveness, we can not walk back into old attitudes of disdain for other people, nor hold onto some cold and languid acquiescence toward popular moral thought. When God replaces hate with love, it is a commitment to affirm what is good as defined by God. Can not love lead us to disagree with fellow human beings? Can a desire to see people flourish not include aspects of nonconcurrence, as we find in the life of Jesus Christ?”

What lessons should Churches be learning from such reporting?

First of all, be mindful that our sermons and websites are available to whoever is interested, including whacky atheists, angry secularists, and agenda driven journalists. In fact, this example is a helpful reminder for preachers and pastors. How do our sermons  come across to unbelieving Australia? Indeed, how is skeptical Australia reading our blogs!?

Secondly, be mindful of the fact that uncritical and biased reporting is a reality, not always, but it is common place. Such impropriety ought to disappoint us but not surprise us.

I’m not a fan of media bashing, and so I’m pleased to be able to say that on most occasions when I have dealt with the media, the experience has been positive. One time, a major newspaper even revised a headline to more accurately reflect my argument, and I remember the time when  Derryn Hinch stepped off his bandwagon to publicly acknowledge he had misunderstood something I’d said. Sadly though,  I think we can expect more fractious reporting in future days, as our society closes the door on fair and civil public discourse.

This is extremely poor journalism; no wonder the schools and churches didn’t feel obliged to speak to SBS. I hope SBS’s editorial team will have the common sense and decency to remove the piece and apologise to the parties involved.


UPDATE: I believe SBS have taken down the article from their website. Thank you to SBS for their wise deliberation and response. (June 30)

I do not hate you

7518580-3x2-700x467

ABC photo of commemoration at Federation Square

Following the terrible mass murder in Orlando, Jason Ball, Greens candidate for the seat of Higgins, has criticised those who offered prayers for the victims and their families,

“This week, media commentators who have previously vilified us, leapt on the unspeakable atrocities in Orlando and used our grief as a battering ram to prosecute their own agenda against another minority.

Then they wring their hands and offer us their ‘prayers and sympathy’ whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that acts of hate and violence are the logical conclusion to a public ‘debate’ that maintains we are abnormal and not worthy of the same rights and respect as our fellow citizens.”

Like many people I gloss over most words that I read online, but Mr Ball’s comments stood out and made me put on the brakes. As a reflected on his words, I found several different threads of thought running through my mind, some conflicting:

Does genuine grief depend upon agreement? The thing is, I do feel great sadness for those who have been personally affected by the Orlando massacre. It was a display of evil for which there is no justification. Am I being hypocritical for thinking this?

On the one hand, the Muslim community has been criticised for their lack of public outrage over the attack, and yet Christians offering prayers for those affected are being told to keep quiet? It feels as though we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Is it true that the logical outcome of not supporting same-sex marriage is hate and violence?

Is it right to pray for a group of people if they ask us to desist?

Should we only pray for those with whom we have congruity of thought? Is our common humanity not enough?

What can Christians do to overcome the view that not supporting SSM does not equal hating LGBTI people?

The same article reported how Mr Ball has had campaign material smeared with hateful words, ‘fag’, and so understandably he is skeptical of certain peoples’ words of support for the victims in Orlando. More so, it takes a callous person to dismiss the fears and grief many LGBTI people are experiencing in the wake of Orlando.

A question I am wrestling with is this, as a Christian, how should I respond? Should I remain quiet? Do I ‘repent’ of my understanding of marriage, as one commentator has argued Christians must do? Are our only options, conformity to or exile from the public sphere?

The fact that you are reading these words probably gives away my answer, although I have taken several days to ponder the question before writing. The reason for writing this piece is to try and communicate, albeit somewhat clumsily, that Christians do care and are concerned for the LGBTI community. It is not hate that drives us to speak and pray.

Jason Ball may be right, there are people using Orlando, ‘as a battering ram to prosecute their own agenda against another minority’. In fact, I’m pretty sure he is right. This horrendous event is being utilitarianised by several public figures to silence all manner of minority voices. There are haters in our community, including individuals who detest LGBTI people, and we stand with you against them.

Hate and violence derives from commitment to a worldview that cannot tolerate difference. This worldview may be of a religious orchestration; its shape may be that of secular humanism.

Jesus once said that it’s relatively easy to love those whom you like; it takes grace to love those with whom you disagree. We all fall short of this ideal, which would well leave us hopeless, except there is one who lived the ideal without ever misstepping.

“After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-31)

Jesus calls those who would follow him, to be like him.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

A Christian cannot hate because we have been on the other side, we have belonged to the crowd who have hurt others and thrown stones of hate, pride, and greed. Christians, if they are Christian, confess their spiritual and moral destitution, and yet we have come to experience the undeserving and loving grace of God who forgives our trespasses through Jesus. Once the human heart has experienced Divine forgiveness, we can not walk back into old attitudes of disdain for other people, nor hold onto some cold and languid acquiescence toward popular moral thought. When God replaces hate with love, it is a commitment to affirm what is good as defined by God. Can not love lead us to disagree with fellow human beings? Can a desire to see people flourish not include aspects of nonconcurrence, as we find in the life of Jesus Christ?

I do not hate you. I would willingly stand alongside you against those who have insulted you and graffitied your campaign posters. Clearly though, we have much work to do. I don’t know if Jason Ball will read this piece, and if he does, what his response would be. But I hope and pray he and others hear, and not only hear, but come to experience that Christians do not hate them. We must do more to love others as Christ has loved us.

I’ll finish with two examples that I have come across of where a Christian voice is trying to speak into the awfulness of what took place just over a week ago.

The American chain restaurant, Chick-Fil-A, is known for its conservative values and for not opening on Sundays out of observance for the Sabbath. Following the shooting, they broke their rules and opened on the Sunday to serve their community. They gave food to firefighters, police and volunteers, and they handed out sandwiches to those donating blood.

Last week, a service was held at the Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, and in his address Archbishop Glenn Davies said,

“As Australians, we abhor violence in all its forms—domestic violence, street violence, xenophobic violence, religiously motivated violence, and especially violence against members of the LGBTI community. As the leader of the Anglican Church in Sydney I want to affirm my stance against all such outbreaks of violence, and if any members of our churches have participated in such acts of violence against women, against young people, against ethnic minorities, against religious minorities or against those from the LGBTI community I offer my heartfelt apology.” 

“Yet we must all search own hearts, as evil resides in each one of us. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us are without fault. Words of derision, mockery and exclusion so frequently fall from our lips when directed against persons who are different from us. This is especially the case for members of the LGBTI community, who have suffered the verbal abuse that so deeply cuts into a person’s soul. Where we have been guilty of such words, I also offer my apology on behalf of the Anglican Church in Sydney.”

“God’s love knows no bounds. He extends his love to all without distinction and without prejudice. Therefore when one, let alone 49, bearers of the image of God are murdered, God grieves. When a further 53 are injured and hospitalised, God grieves. For our God is a God of compassion and grace, and in the depth of our sorrow and pain, he offers to carry us ‘through the valley of the shadow of death.’”

A sling, an arrow, and the Gospel

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them?”

Cleisthenes

From the Delphic hamlet that is The Australian, Greg Sheridan has given Australian Churches an oracle.

According to Sheridan,

Australia’s Christian churches are in crisis, on the brink of complete strategic irrelevance. It’s not clear they recognise the mortal depth of their problems.

The churches need a new approach to their interaction with politics and the public debate, and to keeping themselves relevant in a post-Christian Australian society.

The churches cannot recognise and come to grips with their strategic circumstances. They behave as though they still represent a living social consensus.

The Christian churches now need to reconceive of themselves as representing a distinct and not all that big minority (of practising Christians). They should conduct themselves as a self-confident minority, seeking to win conversion through example and persuasion and not to defend endlessly legal protections and enforcements that are increasingly untenable or meaningless.

In my opinion Greg Sheridan offers a lucid critique of many Churches who are failing to grapple with the rise of secularism, although I wonder if he adequately understands the nature of the Church’s mission and therefore how success and relevance are defined.

Sheridan is right to point out the gross sins of abuse within the Catholic Church (and other denominations as well), and the way this has greatly damaged community perceptions of Churches.

There is urgent need for Churches to practice repentance. Dressed in clerical collars and reciting liturgy, great evil has been perpetrated, especially in the area of sexual abuse. Joe Smith and Lisa Jones can see it, but there remain clergy in some institutions that still don’t get it. The fact that their deeds expose them to be frauds of faith does not diminish the impact on the community. Real, transparent, and deep repentance is required.

Sheridan is also spot on in observing the naivety of some Christians who believe they still belong to the centre of Australian life. We defer to census figures that prove the majority of Aussies believe in God and who identify as Christian, but surely we know better. The reality is, Churches have never belonged comfortably at the centre of Australian society; they have played a significant role in shaping culture, alongside many other voices, but it is more a case of Churches being tolerated rather than celebrated and embraced.

This tolerance is eroding, rapidly so. This year alone we have seen various groups slamming the foot on the accelerator, such that we are fast approaching an intersection called ‘free speech’, and the direction Australians will take remains unclear.

Several political groups have declared their hand:

The Greens have decided their way forward by calling for religious organisations to lose their exemptions for discrimination laws.

Federal Labor have made clear: “Labor believes that no faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion, and condemning anyone, discriminating against anyone, vilifying anyone is a violation of the values we all share, a violation which can never be justified by anyone’s faith or belief. Accordingly, Labor will review national anti-discrimination laws to ensure that exemptions do not place Australians in a position where they cannot access essential social services.”

Bill Shorten has since stepped back from this position, but there are no guarantees he won’t step forward again.

And the Victorian Government, singing from their autocratic hymnal, has determined to insult and silence anyone who challenges their hermeneutic of life.

Should churches fight to keep a voice in the public arena?

We must concede that Churches no longer occupy a position in the middle, but we don’t want to evacuate the public space altogether. I want to argue that it is worth fighting for a voice in public discourse, but we do so with the belief that the Gospel does not depend upon it. So why should we defend notions of ‘freedom of speech’.

First of all, we have something to say. We have good news to speak and show our neighbours, and so why would we walk away from secular principles that give us freedom for speaking and contributing?

Secondly, we should defend the right to speak for the sake of those who speak against us. Is this not a way in which we love our neighbour?  Is it also not a sign of a mature society, one that is big enough to allow a plurality of voices, and to say ‘I disagree with you, but let’s hear you out and then talk it through’.

A great example of this happened last week when Christians came to the support of Roz Ward, a professing Marxist and co-founder of the controversial curriculum, Safe Schools. Ward was forced to resign from a Government role and was suspended from La Trobe University after a comment she made in regard to the Australian flag. While her views may be disagreeable to many, she has the right to express them, and to find herself being ousted from an academic institution on account them was extreme. Subsequently, a number of Christian leaders noted this hypocrisy and sided with those who called for her reinstatement.

Thirdly, we are members of a democratic society, which in principle gives permission for Christians and atheists alike to speak and offer their opinion.

As a liberal democracy, Australia is governed by these 4 principles:

“A belief in the individual: since the individual is believed to be both moral and rational;

A belief in reason and progress: based on the belief that growth and development is the natural condition of mankind and politics the art of compromise;

A belief in a society that is consensual: based on a desire for order and co-operation not disorder and conflict;

A belief in shared power: based on a suspicion of concentrated power (whether by individuals, groups or governments).”

If we accept these principles, surely Christians have freedom to articulate their views in public discourse? This doesn’t mean people have to like or affirm these beliefs (nor those of any worldview), but it does mean there is freedom to speak. Unfortunately though, it seems as though these values are becoming museum pieces, relics from a golden age of democracy when the Cleisthenes’ of Australia stood tall. After all, no fair democracy has ever endured the ages. And yet, while Australia formally holds to these democratic convictions, there is a place for Christians to speak without fear of law or litigation.

Our democratic liberties give Christians a platform and context for doing public ministry, and we are thankful for this, but the Gospel is not curtailed by the limitations or freedoms of liberal democracy. Indeed, history demonstrates that Churches have often flourished where they have been most resented. More importantly, Jesus Christ taught a theology of the world which lives in opposition to God and which hates those who follow Jesus. Why should we assume Australia is any different?

How should Churches view ‘success’?

Are, as Greg Sheridan suggests, ‘churches in crisis now on all fronts’? It depends on how one defines the mission and role of the church.

Our aim is to love others, whether our convictions are affirmed by others or not.

Our goal is not relevance, for the Gospel we believe is not defined by a popularist epistemological current, but by the word of the cross, which is foolishness to the wise and powerful of this world. Instead, our purpose is to preach this foolishness for through it God works to redeem and heal.

Our mission is not to set up power structures at the centre of society, but to speak the Gospel and to love others no matter where we find ourselves situated in relation to broader society.

Freedom of speech has become the gordian knot of our day. Politicians, lawyers, and academics will ponder and debate and try to find a way to navigate through the many layers of twisted and knotted rope, and while their answers will have implications for Christian speech and life in public, our hope does not lay with them, but in the Gospel, a word that is sharper than a two edged sword. Our hope rests in the Christ who has promised that he will build his church and not even Hades can stand against it.

Sadly many Christians have sold their soul in order to buy a place at the centre of public life, and they are now being marshalled into following the lead of the social progressives, and others are instead holding tight to their conservative neuroses. There are however exceptions; across the land there are churches growing and people are becoming Christians, and there are Bible colleges in Australian cites who are training more men and women than in the previous generation. There are Christians serving in Parliament, teaching in universities, and working in a thousand different jobs. And to these men and women, keep preaching and living the Gospel, loudly from the centre or whispering it from the edge, and through it God will keep working his grace and growing his Kingdom.

The rain washed away Church

Today in Sydney it is raining, it is pouring.

As I took a morning glance at my Facebook thread I noticed several northern Pastors drawing a link between the weather and church attendance, and encouraging their people to not stay away on account of rain.

One friend posted,

“Dear churchgoers of Sydney… it is only water.”

raining

Keep in mind, we have coats to wear and umbrellas to hold, and most people also have cars to drive to church, and so the reality is, most of us won’t get that wet traveling to church.

Nonetheless, pastors far and wide are aware that as their congregation members peers out the window today and see the water running down the glass, it is a signal to them to stay indoors.

I suspect we won’t make similar excuses when driving to work tomorrow morning. And I’m pretty certain a storm won’t prevent us from attending the family party or going to the movies later today.

A little rain keeps us away. In contrast, I have been reading Steve Kryger’s reflections on his recent trip to Iraq, where he and a few others were visiting Christian communities who have been subject to ISIS terror. The problem Iraqi Christians are facing is not rain but bullets, and yet these Aussies have been profoundly challenged and rebuked by the openness and faithfulness of these brothers and sisters.

“let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

God know’s what he is talking about. We mustn’t not treat church with the sentiment of a trip to the cinema or appointment at the optometrist. Rather, remind ourselves of the reality of Church in God’s eyes:

  • God purchased the church with his blood (Acts 20:28)
  • It is his church that Jesus has promised to build (Matthew 16:18)
  • It is through his church, that God has chosen to ‘reveal his manifold wisdom’ (Ephesians 3:10)

It’s also raining in Melbourne today. I am looking forward to church, and many are. Through the seemingly ordinariness of Christians meeting, God is present and working to grow the splendorous sight the world will ever know. Church is more wonderful and significant than even we pastors realise. Let us heed Hebrews 10:24-25

Christians supporting Roz Ward

I was thinking of writing a piece in relation to the growing saga over Roz Ward, Safe Schools, and the red flag, but David Ould has beaten me to it and written a great piece. I highly recommend – http://davidould.net/genderqueer-australian-flags-trump-pots-kettles/

“I find myself in the extraordinary position of wanting to defend Ward, and defend her vigorously.”