Anglican Minister asks Bill Shorten a question

Following a Church service in Canberra this morning, as part of the commencement of the new Parliament, Anglican Minister, Ian Powell, asked Bill Shorten a question about his use of language in describing opponents of same-sex marriage.

Mr Shorten was clearly not prepared for this conversation, and to be honest, I felt some sympathy toward Mr Shorten as I know I’d feel taken back by a surprise question.  The scene looked a little awkward for both men, with Mr Shorten being curt in his responses, and Ian Powell sounding nervous. Then again, politicians are used to street QandA, and an opportunity presented itself for a member of the public to ask a valid question to one of our nation’s leading political figures.

Bill-Shorten1

It should be said,  the man who  approached the Opposition Leader isn’t a right wing liberal leaning conservative, but someone  who likes Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. He was respectful of Mr Shorten and gently spoken in his tone.

Rev Powell said, “You described people who weren’t in favour of changing the definition of marriage as ‘haters who come out from under rock’. Can I ask you not to speak like that?”

Mr Shorten has made such remarks. Following the horrific massacre in Orlando, he said,

“We’ve seen two terrible events in the last week have shown that hate and terrorism does exist in modern societies.”

“I don’t want to give haters a chance to come out from under the rock and make life harder for LGBTI people or their families, to somehow question the legitimacy of their relationship.”

Bill Shorten initially responded by suggesting he was being taken out of context, and then he qualified himself again by saying,

“People of faith can be opposed to marriage equality, but some people who object to marriage equality do have homophobic attitudes,” he said.

I think it is only fair to take Mr Shorten’s comment at face value, and assume he genuinely believes that not everyone who opposes SSM is hateful. That is pleasing to hear, mainly because it’s true; indeed, probably the overwhelming majority are not phobic. Unfortunately, however, and Ian Powell is picking up on this theme, the rhetoric that the Australian public is hearing from Mr Shorten (and others) overwhelming insinuates that any and all discussion about marriage will lead to hate and bigotry.

Mr Shorten has previously used lines including,

“When I see people hiding behind the bible to insult and demonise people on the basis of who they love, I cannot stay silent. I do not agree.”

And of the plebiscite, ‘it will just be “a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia”.

I don’t think Ian Powell’s request is so outrageous. Is it too much to ask our national leaders to tone down their rhetoric on the marriage debate? Bill Shorten has been mild compared to some other politicians and public figures, but nonetheless, it is simply counter productive to continually insert the words ‘hate’ and ‘phobia’ into every public statement about marriage.

Leaders have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to set the tone of public discourse, demonstrating that Australians are capable of debating even the most sensitive issues and yet remain friends. Instead of jumping into the mud with those who are truly derogatory, could we not instead aspire to that line from The West Wing, spoken by the President’s Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry?

“We’re gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.”

Advertisements

Marriage Plebiscite crumbling under light weight arguments!

In an interview on ABC’s Lateline, Friday night, Michael Kirby (former Justice of the High Court) was interviewed on the topic of the marriage plebiscite. During an engaging interview, Justice Kirby articulated his concerns over the broad debate on marriage, including his reasoning for not supporting a plebiscite.

I was immediately struck by one of his arguments, of how the plebiscite may set a “very bad precedent”. It is important to think through the ramifications for future decision making processes, and what we are communicating about our democracy by setting this path of a public vote. I was persuaded, until I discovered that plebiscites and referendums are not as rare in our history as we might think.

Since Federation in 1901, at the Federal level Australia has held 44 referendums and 3 plebiscites. The States however, have conducted many more plebiscites, covering a wide range of issues including the establishment of Wrest Point Casino (Tas, 1986), closing hours for alcohol selling establishments, extending shopping hours (WA, 2005), and daylight savings.

In other words, on no fewer than 60 occasions, Australian Governments have taken an issue to the people and asked for their opinion. That is one referendum or plebiscite every two years; meaning we’re overdue.

In 1977 a plebiscite was conducted to decide our national anthem. Now, maybe I’m not as patriotic as other Aussies, but in my view, marriage is significantly more important than choosing to sing ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

So, the bad precedent argument doesn’t work. What of Michael Kirby’s other compelling argument against the plebiscite?

“I don’t think we should draw any inferences about what would happen in a plebiscite, especially a plebiscite of compulsory voting in this country. I think we would draw better inferences from our history on constitutional referendums: and on that matter, we have a record of 44 proposals that have been put to the people at a referendum and only eight have succeeded. Australians vote “no” when they get a chance.”

Did Michael Kirby suggest that we shouldn’t hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because Australians will probably vote against it?

It certainly sounded so. Emma Alberici certainly thought so, because she followed up with this question, “Because you firmly believe it would be defeated? The “no” vote would win?”

Justice Kirby obviously had a change of mind, for this time he said, “No, I don’t think it would be defeated. I think it may well be passed. But this is a bad way of going about it. It’s not the Australian way.”

By the ‘Australian way’, Kirby then repeated his argument about setting a bad precedent.

Interestingly, on Insiders today, it was revealed that the Labor Party Room has been briefed by pollsters who are saying the plebiscite won’t succeed, and thus adding weight to Labor backing away from supporting a plebiscite.

Malcolm Turnbull responded,

“the worst argument, the absolutely worst argument against a plebiscite is to say that it wouldn’t be passed. So if Labor is seriously saying that, if they are saying, ‘Don’t consult the Australian people because they won’t give you the answer you want,’ it is the most anti-democratic argument.”

I don’t always agree with the Prime Minister, but I think he has a valid point.

© www.timbauerphoto.com

I am not questioning Michael Kirby’s commitment to the LGBTI community, nor his convictions about marriage. Neither am I arguing for the plebiscite here,  but I am simply making the point, if you don’t want a plebiscite, you need to make a case with more substantive reasons than these.

Even Aaron Sorkin makes mistakes with words

The follow advertisement for a screenwriting Master Class with Aaron Sorkin appeared on my Facebook page this evening. One can only assume Facebook is giving me a gentle hint about my writing talent, or lack thereof.

When it comes to contemporary screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin is among the world’s finest. The West Wing is arguably the greatest television series ever written, and Sorkin is the creative wordsmith behind movies such as A Few Good Men, Moneyball, and The Social Network.

During the 60 second promotional video, Sorkin remarked, “you should be evangelical about Aristotle’s poetics.”

Word fail!

The word he meant to use is ‘evangelistic’, not ‘evangelical’. Both words share the common Greek, εὐαγγέλιον, which means Gospel or good news. However they are nonetheless not interchangeable. Evangelism is the activity whereby one speaks the Gospel in order to persuade another. Evangelical, on the other hand, is the set of beliefs that derive from the Gospel. The latter is a noun (and sometimes an adjective), the former is a verb.

We all get Sorkin’s point, be persuasive, compelling, and passionate about Aristotle’s Poetics. Well, who isn’t!? But he has fallen for what is becoming an all to common blooper. Perhaps, one shouldn’t be too hard on Aaron Sorkin though, given so many Christians confuse the two words. And I wouldn’t have concerned myself to pick up on the mistake, after all who am I to judge a literary genius, however this presents an opportunity to ask my Christian friends, please use the right word.

Are you talking about explaining the good news of Jesus Christ? That’s evangelism.

Are you talking about the body of Christian doctrine which we believe? You mean evangelical.

Thanks Aaron

Safe Schools unravelling

The Safe Schools program has always had more than a few lose threads, and more than a few people have pointed them out and suggested we start again. We are not against an anti-bullying program in our schools, after all, programs already exist and are doing an excellent job. But there is always room for improvement.

One of the main issues with Safe Schools is that it is less about bullying and more about educating children to adhere to a very set paradigm of human sexuality, a perspective that is not held by millions of Australians.  In addition, there is growing consensus in the medical and scientific community that some of the theories presented in Safe Schools (as fact) are in fact wrong and dangerous to children’s health (cf. sexual orientation and gender identity).

While it shouldn’t need to be said again, but because certain politicians have chosen to ignore it, the chief architect of Safe Schools, Roz Ward, has explained the agenda behind the program,

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation…Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordin­arily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

Up until now it has been easy to pretend Roz Ward misspoke, and even easier to dismiss community concerns, especially from those who acknowledge a Christian faith: just call them bigots and homophobes, and it’s game over. Why would the public consider the views of a bigot? I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to do so.

However, the game isn’t over. The Safe Schools agenda has this week been further exposed. A petition of more than 17,000 signatures from the NSW Chinese community has been tabled in the News South Wales Parliament, asking for the program to be removed from schools. And today, The Australian newspaper is reporting that the Indian community in Melbourne share these concerns.

Anti-Safe-Schools-Petition-p1-normal

letter from the Australian Chinese community of NSW

How will the Victorian Government and certain lobby groups respond to these ethnic groups? I sincerely hope they don’t resort to  the kinds of ad hominem attacks that they haven been relying on for quietening  other groups.

Let’s be honest, in the name of religion there are some crazies out there, and there are bigots and homophobic individuals. But for the most part, the concerns we have heard articulated are reasoned and genuine, expressing concerns for children who have questions over their sexual identity. No body wants to see any children being bullied for any reason, and it is good for our schools to provide tools to assist students in understanding and caring for one another.

It is time for Governments across Australia to give ear to the concerns of the public over Safe Schools. We can do better for our children.

Dangerous Suggestion: Plebiscite will incite suicide

I was deeply concerned to read The Age publishing this article today, Marriage equality plebiscite proposal fulfilling expectations of frustration’, written by Rodney Croome.

There is a serious question as to whether it is ethical for a major newspaper to publish an article that uses suicide as ammunition to stop public debate.

1471843570770

Photo from SMH. Louie Davis

Croome said,

“If a plebiscite occurs, and when the first young gay person dies at their own hand, I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could to stop it.”

“I also urge them to consider how they will feel when the first gay teen dies because of the hate they voted to unleash.”

Where do such comments leave us?

Using suicide is the trump card, whether the allegation is true or not. It leaves everyone speechless, because even to question Croome’s rhetoric will be interpreted as heartless and bigoted.

I am no stranger to the issue of suicide, having conducted funerals, counselled grieving families, and listened to people considering ending their life. In my view it is dangerous and irresponsible to ‘prophesy’ that a person will kill themselves should a plebiscite proceed. Suicide is not an issue to be treated lightly; not that I think Croome is doing so. Rather he is using the language as a storm cloud to overwhelm any possibility of civil conversation on this issue of marriage.

Before accepting Croome’s argument, it is fair to ask which studies he is depending on for his assertion? In Ireland, USA, UK, can he please point to those studies which substantiate a formal link between discussing marriage and the suicide of LGBTI youth?  Studies conducted in Canada and Denmark suggest that the suicide rate among gay men has, at best, only marginally shifted since SSM was made legal, although in some Canadian Provinces it has increased. I am not dismissing the reality of mental health issues and suicide among LBGTI people, for which we must strive to provide love and care, but Croome is claiming that a plebiscite on marriage will lead to young gay person killing themselves.

No matter where people stand on marriage, we do not want anyone being harmed. And I will repeat what I have now oft-said, I will gladly stand alongside LGBTI people against voices who would wish them ill. I don’t have to agree with someone in order to want their good and see them flourishing.

Would it not be more constructive for everyone if Rodney Croome followed the example of other public voices and encourage Australians to speak with both conviction and civility, with reason and respect? For example, Tim Wilson, who supports same sex marriage, recently spoke at a Symposium where he argued we “need a lived culture of open discussion.”

The debate in Ireland was cordial, as has been the case in many of the countries who have gone down this path. But for some reason, here in Australia, one of the most stable democracies in the world, we are being told that we cannot trust the people to even talk about issue, let alone vote in a plebiscite.

It may well be the case that marriage is what it has been for millennia, between a man and a woman. And it may well be that arguments for change don’t stack up, despite the emotive language being attached. It may well be that the gay and lesbian people who only believe in heterosexual marriage, are in fact right. The problem is, some, not all, but some advocates for change are trying every avenue to silence due debate.

A question for Mr Croome, are there any terms on which opposition to SSM can be put in a civil way? Or is opposition to SSM itself hate speech?

I agree with some of what Rodney Croome has written. For example, I understand his dissatisfaction with the process. When a Prime Minister says he will act, I don’t think we are expecting too much that he keep his word. At the same time, could it be that Malcolm Turnbull fully intended to hold the plebiscite this year, and only recently the AEC informed him that logistically it’s not possible. Could fault lay with them?

I feel some of Croome’s frustration, and I don’t take issue with Croome arguing for a free vote in Parliament. My preference is for the plebiscite, but I appreciate there are good reasons for and against both avenues. His question about how a marriage plebiscite might set a precedence for future issues is also worth asking.

This being said, publishers, as well as social commentators, have responsibility to set the tone of public conversation. In my opinion, The Age, has acted irresponsibly by publishing Croome’s piece, for sadly such comments can become self fulfilling prophecies; and that is the last thing we want.

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au

The Most Christian Olympics Ever?

First things first, there is no such thing as a Christian Olympics, just as Christian-science and Christian-music are not things. There can of course be Christians who participate in the Olympics, as there are athletes who adhere to all manner of world views.

The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece certainly took on a religious shape, and even many of the modern games have included various spiritualities as part of their opening and closing ceremonies. The Olympics however is not given to a particular view of God, and yet some athletes take the opportunity to express their belief in God.

As I’ve watched the Games each day, I haven’t sifted the channels to find those athletes waving the Jesus flag, and one hasn’t needed to, for there seems to be a greater boldness among Christian Olympians in Rio to express their faith in Jesus Christ.

There is no way of knowing how many athletes adhere to various religions; for every athlete we see acknowledging God, there are probably another 100 whose prayers and praises we do not see.

Among the Olympians who profess a faith in Jesus Christ are Allyson Felix, Simone Manuel, the Fiji Rugby 7s, Anna van der Breggen, and Usain Bolt.

In the women’s 5000m qualifier, we witnessed one of the Olympics special moments; not with a gold medal or world record, but when and Nikki Hamblin (NZ)and Abbey D’Agostino (USA) tripped and fell. D’Agostino stood up quickly but instead of continuing the race she turned to Hamblin and helped her to her feet, and only then did they complete the race together, despite D’Agostino being injured in the fall.

In an interview with NBC Sports, she said,

“Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way,”

“This whole time here, he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”

“I know there’s often criticism of athletes praying before a competition, or thanking God for their victory. I like to think this is why we should pray before a sporting event. Not that God will favor us with victory, but that we will be aware of His presence and have the Grace do what He would have us do.”

It is interesting listening to commentators as they respond to this talk about God: sometimes it is met with silence, or explained away as ‘ritual’, and other times the media leave out the Christian testimony altogether.

The Olympics is the ultimate test and glory for many of the world’s sportspeople, and to reach this goal they have sacrificed in ways most of us, including myself, do not comprehend. And yet, on this world stage we have heard many athletes declaring that there is greater glory, and that belongs to God.

Giving thanks to God for athletic ability and success is indeed honouring to God. Of course many non Christians also achieve Olympic success, and we watch their skill and strength with awe; the difference is, some athletes attribute their gifting to God.

Perhaps the best summary of a Christian perspective on the Olympics, comes from the American duo, Steele Johnson and David Boudia, who won silver in the synchronised diving:

“When my mind is on this and I’m thinking I’m defined by this, my mind goes crazy, but we both know that our identities are in Christ.” (Baudia)

“Knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not in the competition, whatever the result might be, I can just enjoy the experience.” (Johnson)

 

3703D89700000578-3730247-Boudia_and_Johnson_both_NCAA_champions_have_become_as_close_and_-a-70_1470689875209

dailymail.co.uk

 

Making the Olympic team is an amazing feat. Winning an Olympic medal is a dream only a few of the world’s best athletes will ever reach. Knowing Christ is greater again. Now, that is a perspective of reality which is truly worth contemplating.

Baptist Courage of the 17th Century

 

17th Century England was not a promising environment for serious discourse on theological matters. Indeed, discussing theology in public could lead to loss of employment, imprisonment, exile, and on rare occasions, death.

Pressure to conform to the prevailing winds was enormous, with both governmental and ecclesial bodies (the two often working in tandem) interpreting difference as hostility and something to be silenced.

And yet this period of English history also witnessed tremendous Gospel growth, and playing a significant role in the missio Angliae were the early Baptists.

john-bunyan

Perhaps no group in England made more use of public disputations than did Baptists. Between 1641 and 1700 at least 109 such public debars involving Baptists were held in England, with 79 of these between 1641 and 1660. These debates pitted one or more Baptist champions against opponents from Anglican, Quaker, Independent, or sometimes, Roman Catholic groups. Baptists welcomed these occasions, for they gave opportunity for declaring the gospel to large crowds, helped defend Baptists against unjust slanders, and often led to numerous conversions and the planting of new Baptist Churches. Many leading Baptists of that time were converted at public disputations.” (Leon McBeth, ‘The Baptist Heritage’, p64)

The Scriptures encourage Christians to live quiet, peaceful and productive lives. We are to pray for all, including those who Govern over us, and to submit to their authority with humility and obedience. At the same time, we are to live courageous lives, choosing godliness and faithfulness over compromise and indifference.

Of course, we do not need to choose between 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 4:2-5, or between Ephesians 4:1-6 and Galatians 1:6-9. All are applicable to our circumstances and they are driven by the desire to see God saving people and bringing them to a knowledge of the truth.

Challenging the norms of society is no easy task; it requires grace and wisdom the size of the outback.

A century of ecumenical murkiness makes the Rio Olympic pool smell and look like pure H2O. Indeed, one might forgiven for thinking the only heterodoxy left is the view that still believes that there is a line separating orthodoxy and other.

As we look at the enormous social and spiritual challenges before us, both in terms of engaging in the public square and in the ecclesial circle, there is encouragement to be found from among our Baptist grandparents. They didn’t permit a culture of fear to win the day. Instead, taking their confidence in the power, truth, and beauty of the Gospel, they sought to persuade all. Not all were convinced, but many were and thus begun one of the great church planting movements in Western history. 

I wonder what might happen if we in Melbourne (and Australia) adopted this kind of Gospel determination?