Two Misnomers about Free Speech, Coopers, Qantas, and Gay Marriage

After a day or two, most news items have disappeared into Google’s search engine, which is telling, because the furore over the Bible Society and Coopers Brewery is still being reported, 1 week on. For anyone still thinking this story is a bit of froth, think again.

As with any contentious issue, emotions are high, misinformation is blended with facts, and various sides argue against caricatures, create straw men, and second guess peoples’ motives.

I have already offered an analysis of these events, and how Christians can respond, but two misnomers abound and need correcting. The first concerns the way some Christians are reading the situation, and the second relate to society more generally.

The first mistake concerns conflating a shift in the nature of public speech with progress of the Gospel or the future of Christianity. The two are not the same, and latter does not depend on the former, although they can work well together.

If Australians wish to be a pluralist society, which we are, then it is important that Australians pursue keeping this space open and available. Sadly, the events of the past week have demonstrated that this is no longer the case. There is free speech for some, but if you don’t fall into line with particular secularist agendas, watch out, because speaking up comes with a cost. The cost is nothing like it is for citizens in many other nations (think North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc), but neither is it diminutive, and this week have shown that the stakes are increasing. How many people feel comfortable to share their belief in heterosexual only marriage in the workplace? How many Australian companies will sense the liberty next week to publicly align with classical marriage? The pressure to say nothing or to conform with the self-determined moral elite has increased several degrees over the past 7 days.

Let’s be clear, a pluralist society is not the be all and end all, and neither is free speech. It does however offer a societal paradigm for respecting not only those with whom you agree but also those with whom you disagree. Christians have an interest in upholding this privilege, in part because we have somethin to say, but also because one cannot force a person to become of follower of Jesus Christ. We persuade and urge people by articulating, teaching, and reasoning with the words of God. Freedom of speech makes sense to us because honest conversation matters, truth matters, life matters, and we want people to believe for themselves, not because of compulsion.

History however demonstrates that the Gospel can advance regardless of the contemporary socio-politico milieu. Did not the Gospel grow rapidly in the first centuries when Christianity was held with suspicion and even banned for seasons? And where does the Bible ever promise that Christianity will be perennially embraced by a society? The hope of the world is not liberal democracy and our own Areopaguses, but Jesus Christ.

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A second misnomer has appeared over the last 48 hours, and while it is not immediately connected to the Bible Society video, its relevance is clear enough.

The Australian newspaper has detailed a letter that is being prepared for the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. 20 CEOs of some of Australia’s largest businesses have written a letter to the Prime Minister. They are trying to pressure the Prime Minister into breaking his election promise, which is to hold a plebiscite on marriage.

The issue is not that these 20 CEOs have expressed a view, or that they have written this letter to Mr Turnbull. Should they not be free to do so, despite the protestations of some? Indeed, it could be seen as hypocritical for one to defend the Bible Society and Coopers, and not these corporate leaders.

There are two qualifications worth considering first of all:

First, the CEOs letter is trying to accomplish a different goal to that  set out in the Bible Society video. The videoed dialogue between Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie was demonstrating how Australians can speak civilly about same sex marriage while disagreeing, whereas this letter is pushing a specific position on marriage, namely advocating for the law to change.

The Australian reports, “The same-sex marriage lobby hit back, saying all Australians should be free to voice their views and lobby politicians, including business leaders.

National campaigner for just.equal, Ivan Hinton-Teoh said many CEOs recognised the importance of equality for their employees and customers and had a right to represent that to law-makers.

“It’s not appropriate for a government minister to attempt to shut down views he doesn’t agree with,” he said.

In other words, it would be immoral for anyone to shut down these business people as they agitate for same-sex marriage.

Second, notice the irony. Unintended I’m sure, but these words drip with more irony than an upside down jar of honey oozing all over the floor, “Australians should be free to voice their views and lobby politicians, including business leaders”? Clearly someone has been flying in transit all week, because one Australian company, Coopers Brewery, were subject to a torrent of abuse, and so was the Bible Society, not because they were arguing the classic definition of marriage but because they were seen to sponsor a conversation where two politicians civilly disagreed with each other about marriage. Where were these executives defending Coopers Brewery? Did any speak up for them?

It was soon clarified that the brewery was not sponsoring the video, but that was not enough to end the abuse. Only when they completely distanced themselves from the Bible Society and break their agreement with them,  and signed on the dotted line to the same sex-marriage campaign, was all forgiven and people once again happy to drink Coopers beer.

I haven’t heard anyone calling to boycott Qantas, CBA, or ANZ, nor have I read any bitter herbs being tossed around on social media. There is a Government minister making some unusual comments (it appears as though there is politics at play between the Government and these organisations which I am not across. Nonetheless, I did find Mr Dutton’s comments odd).

There is an ethical question relating to the role of a company CEO speaking to moral issues when their name is attached to a company. For each of the signatories, does the coinciding Board affirm their view? Do their shareholders share and support the position with which the company name is now attached? Are employees permitted to dissent with this view? The same questions can of course be asked of Coopers.

These are questions, not answers, and none points to these CEOs keeping their views on marriage quiet; Except in the case where speaking directly contradicts the values of the company, I  would have thought executives can speak publicly as with any citizen of the country. The trouble is, one company did speak out (well, everyone thought that had for a few hours) and they were condemned in the strongest language, obscene language, and with smashed bottles and pubs boycotting.  Before the dust has settled 20 corporate executives have publicly aligned themselves with same-sex marriage, and the same vitriolic public are now applauding with tremendous approval.

Let’s be clear, I am not criticising these executives for speaking out, but our social hypocrisy reeks.

A Qantas spokesman today said on the ABC,

“The freedom to discuss issues of public concern is a freedom we all hold dear.”

This is true…so long as one doesn’t subscribe to the heresy of believing marriage is only between a man and woman. So yes, the nature of public speech has changed in Australia. It’s ok to be saddened by this, because our nation is losing a cherished ideal, but we do not despair for as the Apostle Paul wrote,

‘We do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.’ (2 Corinthians 4:1-12)

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4 thoughts on “Two Misnomers about Free Speech, Coopers, Qantas, and Gay Marriage

  1. Thanks for your thoughts Murray, in a pluralistic society generally all citizens are treated with respect and are considered equal.

    Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I can accept that you wish to get married under the terms of your faith, I want to get married as a citizen under the same act as you. Surely there’s room for both. I note that mostly the objection to equality under the law comes from people who have an issue with their faith, and think that theirs is the way to go.

    If I can accept people of faith have the right to marry who they like, then in this pluralistic society, the people of faith should accept my right to marry who I like.

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    • Hi Gregory,

      great to hear from you.

      I agree about treating people with respect. We have shared conversations on other occasions even though our views are markedly different, and it’s important that we can have these kinds of important discussions.

      The question with the issue at hand is, what is marriage? Is marriage a relationship with set definition and boundary, or is it a malleable one that can be defined in a multitude of ways? If marriage has a set meaning, it only makes sense that people wish to retain the definition as is, and therefore it is not an issue of inequality. We only have an issue of inequality if marriage has been wrongly defined. If it is wrong, what then is marriage and how does one reach that conclusion? That is a crucial question which advocates for change (in my opinion) have yet to convincingly demonstrate. I’m not even talking about using theological categories but even when restricting argument to sociological ones. I explore some of those problems here – https://murraycampbell.net/2017/02/21/how-would-you-define-marriage/

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      • For over 13 years I have been having this discussion. I think you err in saying it isn’t about theological categories, that’s all it is. Your definition of marriage is based on early biblical verses.

        I’m quite frankly sick of trying to have a discussion on basic ethical and human rights. I’m sick of not being able to met this rather pathetic request to demonstrate to your satisfaction as to why I should have the ‘right’ to get married. You’re simply putting ‘clever’ obstacles in my way and like to think that they are reasonable requests. You then wonder why people get shouty. You’re not listening. This is really quite simple

        I’m human, I want to engage in the same rights that you enjoy because you’re an openly heterosexual man.

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      • Marriage is defined in the Marriage Act. Acts of Parliament can be changed. Therefore the definition of marriage can be changed.

        I am married to Gregory. It is a legal marriage. If you want to know what marriage is, we are an example of it.

        No one is harmed by our marriage, more than they are harmed by anyone else’s marriage.

        If you want me to respect your marriage, I kindly ask you respect mine.

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