Christians Avoiding the Pitfalls of Political Polarisation

I get it, our society isn’t just polarised, it’s being torn apart by tribalism, divisions, and unbending ideologues. It’s hard enough being an average Aussie let alone one who believes Jesus is Lord. What are we meant to do when we disagree with the Government? How should we respond when we don’t like what a Government says or decides?

Thankfully God hasn’t left us walking in the darkness. In his wisdom, God gives us clear instructions and principles in his word. Just like me who can feel heated by some of the political debates going on and therefore needs to be reminded of these words, I suspect many of us do.

I’m not intending to pull out every nugget in every verse that I quote below. My aim is simply to draw our attention to the main imperative or principle that is mentioned in each of these Bible passages.

 

photo-1555848962-6e79363ec58f

Pray

Take, for example, 1 Timothy 2:1-3

”I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)

We are commanded to pray for those in authority. The imperative isn’t conditioned by our political preferences or by the decisions made in our favour. Keep in mind that Paul was writing at a time where there were no democratic societies and where there was little toleration of Christians.

We pray for our Governments and political representatives, not because we always agree with them, but they have a God given responsibility for society.

Indeed, Governments, politicians, and bureaucrats need our prayers. Not every authority is conscious of this or a would accept this proposition. They nonetheless carry significant responsibility and work long stressful and often thankless hours.  When I’ve messaged an MP and asked how I can pray for them, the response has rarely been, “no, don’t pray for me”.

Listen to what verse 3 says, “this is good and pleases God our Savior”.

 

Be subject to

What about Romans 13?

”Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” (Romans 13:1-3)

We are not only to pray for governing authorities but also to submit to and obey those in authority. Why? These authorities have been established by God, for the good order of society and to punish wrongdoing.

Submit

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people”. (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Listening to, honouring, and obeying the Government is God’s will for every Christian. It is one of the ways we do good and it serves to silence some of the ridiculous criticisms aimed at Christians. I am surprised (perhaps not) at how our readiness to adhere to Governments often depends on who is in power. It is amazing to see how much our political preferences shape our rhetoric and responses to a Government.

Also this, it is sometimes assumed that we will make a clearer statement for the Gospel by standing apart from the authorities, but that isn’t the argument given here in 1 Peter nor in Romans 13. We can bear faithful witness to Christ by submitting to authority.

Another issue relates to trust. Do we trust the words and decisions being made by those in Spring St and in Canberra? I understand the trust issues as much as any Australian. It may also be the case that those making decisions have a fuller perspective and better understanding of the issue than I. I’m not a medical doctor or a lawyer or an economist, and so I want to tread very carefully when issues relate to those subjects and countless others. I’m blessed to have members at my church and among my friendship networks who are professionals in these areas and whom I can go to with my questions and seek understanding. My point is, submitting to authorities is not only right, following expert advice is usually the wise course of action.

 

Appeal

In Acts ch.25 the Apostle Paul, having been arrested,  is interrogated by the Roman Governor of Judea.

Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

On this occasion, Paul uses his right as a citizen to appeal to Caesar. During his ministry, Paul was arrested and imprisoned on multiple occasions and he didn’t always make this legal case in his defence. He does however on this occasion.

When we disagree or hold a legitimate concern, we ought to follow due process. Not every citizen in every society has the opportunity or even the political right to address concerns to their governing authorities. One of God’s graces to us is that we do have this kind of freedom in Australia. We can write to our local MP. We can arrange meetings and even present our positions to Ministers of the Government. If that fails, every few years we have the democrat privilege of voting for (or against) our political representatives.

Christians have a choice, we can join in the fray and take sides on every single issue, and so add to the anger and cultural fragmentation. Or, we can choose the more difficult path. We can watch our tone carefully. We can choose to keep our words to ourselves.  When we open our mouths we should begin with prayer for those in authority. When we speak we can find good things to affirm and not only criticise the contemptible.

We don’t all have to be John Knox all the time and in every situation. Not every issue is a Martin Luther, ‘Here I stand’ moment. Life is far more complex. Even among Bible-believing Christians, we will sometimes come to different conclusions about the gravity of a subject and how Christians ought to respond.

I can’t help but wonder whether some of our Christian voice stems from a mistaken eschatology. In our protestations are we trying to make heaven out of earth? Do we conflate the nation state with the kingdom of God? Or, in speaking up are we appealing to the common good and love for neighbour, and upholding the tradition of religious toleration, defending for all people freedom of conscience and freedom of speech and religion?

There are times for civil disobedience but those occasions ought to be rare and for extraordinary reasons. There are first order issues and situations where a Christian must say no because it would be paramount to sinning against God, but that is not every matter. I can foresee a time where churches in Victoria will be forced to choose between Christ and the State, especially on issues surrounding sexuality. We may be pushed into the insane position of deciding whether we will teach God’s view on human sexuality or comply with Government regulation. When that day comes, the stand we take will look feeble and sound reminiscent of the boy who cried wolf. We need to be careful about using up all our capital now on lesser matters.

This is a good time for Christians to press closer to what God says in his word about Church and State. Begin with prayer, assume submission and obedience, do good, and choose our battles carefully. “This is good and pleases God”.

 


Let the reader note, in this piece I’m not addressing specific stories that have come out this week, but  I am thinking more generally.

Australia is Changing and Churches are unprepared

Note from today (December 7):

During the course of today, several MPs have offered amendments to the Parliament in order to ensure that religious freedoms and freedom of conscience will continue without threat, once the Marriage Act changes to legalise same sex marriage. As in the Senate, every single motion has failed to win sufficient support in the House of Representatives. No one is surprised by this. What has surprise me was when the member of Canning, Andrew Hastie, sought to table correspondence from religious leaders across the country and was denied. He was not even permitted to table the concerns from many of the nation’s most respected religious leaders.

The constant response to proposed amendments has been, fears of limiting religious freedoms are “baseless”, and they have ironically insisted upon this while the choir sitting in the public gallery have all day applauded and cheered when any MP has suggested religious freedom will be reduced.

One thing we can guarantee once the law passes, a point that I raised a couple of weeks ago, “As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture.”

——————————

Since I was a child, Governments have promised to deliver a high speed train, to service Melbourne to Sydney. Last night, the Senate in Canberra began to deliver. The sexual revolution was offered a free upgrade which will ensure that it can accelerate toward its unaccommodating vision for Australia.

high_speed_rail_1920x1005

Social progressives have declared their agenda for many years now, but other progressives felt the need to either downplay or ignore their voices, at least in public. Their dream for Australia seemed too bold, too audacious, too big to swallow all at once. 

The Australian public was reassured that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with freedom of religion, although social commentators and even politicians, dedicated an awful lots of words to insist that opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to be silenced. Indeed, within minutes of the marriage survey results being announced, Fairfax had published an article calling for Parliament to ignore the of religious freedoms,

“So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.”

Even prior to the marriage survey’s announcement, there was a chorus of public voices explaining how the debate on marriage was connected to religion, and that marriage is the instrument of choice to erase religion from public life altogether.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

We should not forget, that only last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff who subscribe with their values. By values, the Government was targeting beliefs that didn’t fall into line with the sexual revolution. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Remember all the assurances given to Australians during the same-sex marriage campaign, of how very little will change? Only a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister assured the nation that,

“I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom…”

Last night in Canberra, we were given assurances that much will change. So what was decided in the Senate last night? In short, there will be no safety net for any person or organisation who oppose same sex marriage, except for clergy when it comes to performing weddings and perhaps also for official ‘church’ buildings (although, the ABC is reporting that religious institutions will not be able to refuse to hire out church halls for same-sex weddings).

Stephen McAlpine gives this helpful summary of the main points thus far (based on reporting from The Australian):

  • Protect Civil Celebrants refusing to marry gay couples
  • Create two definitions of marriage – one as between a man and a woman and the other as between two people
  • protect “relevant beliefs’ around marriage
  • prevent governments and agencies from taking action against people with a traditional view of marriage
  • Allow parents to remove their children from classes if they believe material taught is inconsistent with their view of marriage

McAlpine is spot on,

“I totally get points one, two…I didn’t expect anything different on those, and can’t really see an argument around them.  But to refuse protection around “relevant beliefs” about marriage?  That opens the door to all sorts of activism, and it will cost religious groups dearly.

But it’s that idea that the Parliament does not see fit to protect people with a traditional view of marriage from having action taken against them by governments and other agencies that is particularly unfortunate.  You can hear the knives sharpening already, can’t you?”

The prophets of the sexual revolution don’t appear so crazy this morning; they were right and they’ve won the social and political battle. This debate was never about equality, but always about social conformity with the new sexual milieu. There are certainly Australians who still believe that all this is solely about equality and human rights, but they are pawns being played for a much bigger game.

Social pluralism is on the way out, and adherence to the new gods of sexuality is obligatory. Pluralism in Australian could only continue so long as those in authority encouraged alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. The Senate has taken the next step to ensure that such freedoms will decline. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

It’s not too late for the Parliament to deliver sensible legislation, but slowing down the train will be interpreted as a betrayal, and will likely have you thrown off. I’m not suggesting that Parliament puts on the brakes in relation to changing the Marriage Act. I’ve stated elsewhere that Parliament should not unnecessarily delay this process. However, it is incongruous to not fully address, the broader issues which are in fact the main issues.

It is important to remind ourselves that the future of the Gospel in Australia doesn’t ultimately need political assurances from the Government, for it is too good and too true. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

The Parliament is however, setting up the scene whereby being a Christian will carry more cost than it has in the past. It is time for Aussie Christians to take  their cross from under the bed, give it a good dusting, and start following Jesus.

Those who identify as progressive of course have nothing to fear from any legislation, because they eagerly jumped on board and abandoned the Gospel 6 stations ago. It doesn’t matter that their churches are dying,  they are happy to pay the price for a seat in business class.

I also suspect that many more Christians will go on pretending as though nothing has changed, until such time that they too have their convictions forced out of them and are then left vulnerable, having their dreams of a prosperous life derailed. When will we wake up and realise Jesus was telling us the truth all along?

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.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

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.” (Matthew 6)

The notions of liberal democracy and social liberalism lost some shape last night, and before this journey is over, we will have a nation that is less tolerant and less free. Christianity will survive because it is not defined by these terms, but we can no longer afford a cost free faith. Christians though are not the only ones who are likely to pay; eventually we will see people wanting to get off the train, and churches need to be there and ready to minister to the injured and hurting.

Are we ready?

 

 

 


An earlier report had suggest that Defence Chaplains were not given exemption. That was incorrect and have since made the correction here

“The Island of Despair”

1476739700903

“When a child expresses that want to kill themselves in that environment, we believe them.”  (Gabby Sutherland, Former Specialist teacher on Nauru Island)

If it came to my attention that there were children in my local community who were self-harming, being locked-up, being denied access to clean drinking water and sanitation, would I speak up? Would it not be unethical and iniquitous of me to remain silent?

I don’t know all that is happening in Nauru and Manus Island. We hear conflicting reports, but it is difficult to ignore two recent published reports, one by the United Nations and the other by Amnesty International. It is also difficult to ignore the stories that were shared last night on Four Corners by former teaching staff on Nauru, and by children themselves, whose words had to be recorded in secret.

In today’s The Age, I read,

“Anna Neistat, Amnesty’s senior director of research who travelled to Nauru, said the report provided direct evidence of Australia’s responsibility for day-to-day decision-making, and that Australia should be held accountable for breaching the Convention Against Torture – with a remote possibility that individual government officials could be prosecuted under international law.

“It’s the intentional nature of it,” she told Fairfax Media. “The Australian government is not even hiding the fact that the key purpose of this policy is deterrence. When you set up a system that inflicts deliberate harm as a deterrence, it’s really hard to find another name for it other than torture.”

Dr Neistat, a 15-year veteran of crisis work in Syria, Yemen and Chechnya, said the Nauruan regime was particularly galling because people’s suffering was “absolutely unnecessary” and shrouded in “shocking” secrecy. “I was not prepared for what I saw, and definitely not prepared for what I heard,” she said.

Torture is a loaded word and one not to be used lightly,  sadly the growing mountain of evidence suggests there is warrant for its usage in the case of our nation’s policies towards asylum seekers.

Off shore detention was introduced by the Howard Government in 2001, and has been continued by Labor and Coalition Governments since. According to the report released yesterday by Amnesty International, there are currently there are 1,159 asylum-seekers and refugees on Nauru: 410 people reside in the Refugee Processing Centre; 749 refugees live outside of the centre. Among this number are many children who have been in detention for over 3 years.

I’m not going to pretend that I have a detailed knowledge of what is transpiring in these detention centres, and I’m not going to naively suggest I have the answers. But one thing is clear to me, we have principles given by God as to how we ought to consider the refugee, and we would do well to use these as as a starting point for framing reasonable and humanitarian policies.

I realise most Australians are quick to ditch the Bible, especially the Old Testament for in it they perceive a God who is vindictive and harsh. Yes, there are hard words spoken in the Old Testament, and also in the New Testament. The fact is, some of the most difficult words ever spoken came from the lips of Jesus Christ. Instead of shunning these words, perhaps we Aussies ought to listen to them because clearly our hearts are calloused toward many of the world’s most vulnerable people.

In the Old Testament we read,

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing”. (Deuteronomy 10:18)

In the New Testament we read,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

If God is concerned for the world’s refugees and we are not, what does that say about us?

As Australia’s off-shore policies were developed, were there genuine concerns about people smugglers and the safety of refugees fleeing onboard unseaworthy boats? Yes.

Is there also an inherent selfishness among Australians, not wanting to share our plenty with those who have lost their homeland? Yes.

Is there a stain of racism that makes Australians apathetic towards refugees? Yes.

The first issue cannot be ignored and finding a fair solution is not without complication. But it seems to me as though there is an core problem with the way Australians look at the world. We live and work and care when we find net value for ourselves, but the notion of loving our neighbour as ourselves is being lost, and polluted by rampant individualism and self service. Maybe you may think I’m sounding just a little cynical, but is not the evidence before us?

Perhaps it is pride that’s preventing our Government from changing its policies toward asylum seekers. I don’t know the answer to that, although it seems plausible, and alternative explanations are far less laudable. Political pride is ugly, but we can no more blame our Parliamentary representatives than ourselves, for they are a reflection of Australia, and of the values and ambitions we cherish.

We did not create the conditions that led to so many people seeking refuge in our country, but we can be part of the answer and give these human beings hope and a safe place to live. Are we not the most prosperous and liveable nations on earth? Do we not have more to share than most other countries can even imagine? Are we not able to sacrifice a little for thousands who have lost so much?

Reports of poor conditions, deteriorating mental health among children, and abuses by detention officers are not new, but today we will be damning our consciences if we close eyes and hearts to these latest reports.

Would we ever intentionally put our own children in an unsafe environment, or permit the Government to do so? And should we be made aware that this is so, would we not get them out of there straight away? Is this not common sense, let alone the caring thing to do?