Julia Baird defends John Dickson…sort of

“It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree.” (Leo McKern)

Like an episode of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, Julia Baird yesterday came to the defence of John Dickson, although in a somewhat less convincing performance.

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One week ago Rev Dr John Dickson raised a question on his personal Facebook page, concerning the manner in which the same sex marriage debate is being conducted in Australia. Within hours the post was taken down by Facebook, and then reinstated one day later with a somewhat fuzzy apology attached.

In yesterday’s The Age, Julia Baird came out swinging, first of all using testimony from Prince and then proceeding to argue, ‘Dickson’s questioning should not be slammed but aired, and he is right to argue conservative viewpoints should not be so rapidly shut down or dismissed as hate. It was very odd of Facebook to delete this post.’

At the same time, Baird didn’t hold back in offering her own view on Dickson’s comments,

‘This is a massive, inadvertently inflammatory call and one I do not agree with. Surely acceptance, tolerance and absence of judgment about difference would make LGBTI youth feel better. But, isn’t it up to them, to say what makes them feel better? It is also highly provocative to accuse those who either belong to, or are allies of the LGBTI+ community of augmenting the very hatred they have spent their lives trying to fight and diminish.’

The fact that a journalist in Australia has freedom to speak her mind and to disagree with another Australian, and to do so in the most direct manner, is a sign of a healthy society. Would we want our sitz im leben to be less than this? 

In her closing statement, rather than reiterating Dickson’s right to offer an opinion, it seems as though Baird crossed the floor to the prosecutor’s table, and it is these remarks that I find most odd.

Baird finishes by quoting another Facebook post, that of Sydney Chaplain, Garry Lee Lindsay,

I can’t see how this helps anything. Please don’t try to convince me that it is intellectual debate or you are approaching the subject with an open mind and a loving heart. You might be, but why do you have to say it? And why is it so important to make comment about other people’s lifestyle or culture on Facebook? Just go out and make friends with people because they are people, made in the image of the Creator, inseparable from God’s love.

“What about calling people to prayer for those poor people in Japan and Ecuador that lost their lives and family in the earthquakes? To start with!!! What about we stop writing posts like this one, make some soup and sandwiches, go and hand it out to the hundreds of rough sleepers on our streets every night and give them some company? Why don’t I? Because I’d rather whinge about the terrible people that aren’t like me, don’t think like me, don’t live like me. And do it from a distance, because then at least I know I’m OK. What a wretched man I am? Who will save me? Thanks be to God.”

First of all, Lee-Lindsay (and presumably Baird, given she is appealing to the quote) dismisses the importance of people offering comments about lifestyle and culture matters on Facebook. Although I wonder, does  Lee-Lindsay realise that he is guilty of the very thing he is accusing of others of doing? ‘Others mustn’t use Facebook to express opinions about sexuality issues, like I am doing right now…!’

Do Lee-Lindsay and Baird not realise that these issues of marriage and of transgenderism are very much public issues? Marriage may be a personal relationship, but it is also a societal one. If it were not, why are wedding ceremonies held in the presence of witnesses, and why does Government have a role and why do we have a national marriage registry?  Similarly, recent discussions on transgenderism demonstrates it is not merely a private issue: should boys be allowed to use girls toilets in schools? How is society to relate to people who don’t wish to identify with their biological sex? It is incongruous to suggest these issues cannot be discussed in public forums; these matters effect families, schools, communities and Governments. And if they are discussed, are only agreeable voices to be allowed?

Second, the quote implies that Christians such as John Dickson are whinging as they make public statements about SSM, when what they should be doing is ‘making friends with people’ and helping people where they are at. This is not only a very smug caricature of Christians, it is hugely presumptuous. How do they know we are not providing food for the hungry, and not praying for victims of those earthquakes?

Can we not do both? John Newton was a preacher and an anti-slavery campaigner. John Wesley preached more sermons than most and he started orphanages. Jesus preached, taught and addressed all manner of social and spiritual issues, and even daring to question the political realms, and he cared for the poor and broken. Christians I know are committed both to speaking and sharing, preaching and praying, and I have no doubt John Dickson does likewise.

Despite initially supporting John Dickson’s right to post on Facebook, Baird lands on what is becoming an all to common place; while John Dickson technically has the right to freedom of speech, he really shouldn’t say anything unless he is offering unqualified support for those who wish to pursue non-heterosexual lifestyles. In fact, Christians should stick to helping people and leave public discourse to others.

Ultimately, Julia Baird falls for the false antithesis: disagreement equals hate. Why is Baird propagating such poor logic? The latter may be an expression of the former, but not necessarily. For example, as a parent there are occasions when I disagree with my children’s choices, and yet I still love them. Indeed, love necessitates that I sometimes disagree with them. More than that, Jesus Christ lived and spoke constant love, and yet this love sometimes manifested itself by offering correction to people, even rebuke.

If Christians are to be anything like Jesus we will continue to trust and graciously speak his words, the gospel, and seek to love others as Christ has loved us. As far as John Dickson has tried to emulate his Lord and Saviour, he given us a worthwhile example to follow. It is clearly unpopular, but popularity is often a poor test for what is truly good and right.

What did John Dickson say? Facebook outrage

What was so shocking about a John Dickson post that Facebook found it necessary to delete it? What vindictive or vilifying comment did Rev Dr John Dickson make? What disgusting accusation did he write?

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mug shot of the accused

Here is the full gross hate-filled speech that has caused Facebook to act with swift justice, resurrected from the hidden vaults of a computer’s history:

“I might be wrong, but I think I detect a pattern of argumentation over same-sex marriage that potentially harms LGBTI youth and, yet, is partly the fault of those advocating for gay marriage.

It is true that demeaning insults were once part of the stock language against the LGBTI community in the public square. I can only imagine the damage that did to young (and old) people wrestling with their sexuality. It is a terrible part of our recent history. God, forgive us!

But I haven’t seen many demeaning insults directed at the LGBTI community in the public square in the last few years. Whether on The Project or ABC’s Q&A, it seems that all or most of the intemperate language and spiteful tone comes from advocates of gay marriage, while defenders of classical marriage—even if they are wrong and loopy—seem to have learned to engage in this contest of ideas with respect and civility.

But here is the thing that intrigues me most. At the climax of many of these public debates, as advocates of gay marriage raise their voices and deliver their insults, they frequently declare with unnoticed irony something like, “And this is precisely why we shouldn’t have a national Plebiscite on gay marriage: the discussion is so negative and hate-filled, and it can only reinforce feelings of rejection among LGBTI youth.” They sometimes cite a recent surge in calls to LGBTI helplines to prove it.

But my fear is that by heightening the tone of the debate and reiterating the hatred which classical marriage advocates allegedly have for the LGBTI community, it is advocates of gay marriage themselves who are unwittingly entrenching in young gay and lesbian men and women the sense that there is something wrong with them, that there is a whole segment of Australian society that despises them and sees them as second-class citizens. In short, isn’t it possible that the LGBTI community’s frequent claims of being a despised minority are exacerbating feelings of being hated among LGBTI youth?

But imagine an alternative scenario. If gay marriage advocates chose tomorrow to emphasise in public debate that it’s entirely possible to disagree with same-sex marriage and be deeply respectful of LGBTI people, isn’t it possible that young gays and lesbians listening in would be spared some of the harm this debate could cause? If calm and civil discussion was the order of the day, instead of tribalism and slurs, wouldn’t LGBTI youth feel better about who they are and less ‘under attack’ from other segments of society?

I realise I see all this through the lenses of classical Christian convictions and centuries of social power. I have tried to assess my motives and look at it from the perspective of others. But I am left wondering if gay marriage advocates bear as much responsibility as traditional marriage advocates for ensuring that LGBTI youth are not harmed in the lead up to the Plebiscite.”

The offence is as easy to spot as a Facebook algorithm…well, no, it’s not.

Facebook stipulates that,

“We remove content, disable accounts and work with law enforcement when we believe that there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. Learn more about how Facebook handles abusive content.”

Fair enough, but where are any of those things in John’s post? Perhaps someone wrote a comment in the thread, so appalling that it required the entire discussion to be erased? Unfortunately the entire discussion has been deleted and so we cannot verify, although I did read many of the comments while the thread was still available and I only read civil dialogue, even when disagreement was proffered.

No one is surprised by the fact that Facebook contains millions of appalling groups, pages, comments, and images; things that are truly sickening and derogatory, toward all kinds of peoples. If Facebook was genuinely concerned with bullish, defamatory and hateful speech, perhaps they might consider visiting the pages of some football clubs, or ABC’s QandA, or The Age newspaper (I’m referring to comments posted by members of the public).

Let us be clear, John has raised a reasonable question, one based on valid observations about current conversations on LGBT issues. He was not preaching a message; he offered an opinion and then asked what other people thought. He was respectful, and called for  ‘calm and civil discussion’. He made it clear (at the end of his original post) that he would delete any harmful comments. As anyone can see for themselves, John expresses concern for LGBT people, and bemoans the fact that too often debate on SSM resorts to insults.

And yet, Facebook determined to have this respectful conversation taken down. Why? At this point in time Facebook have not responded to John’s enquiry, nor that of others who have written and asked questions.

The famous American Chef, Anthony Bourdain once said, “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”

It appears as though Facebook is joining the league of those who haven’t read Bourdain’s recipe!

Disallowing serious and legitimate discourse is not a sign of a mature society, but of a regressive culture that has become enslaved to an absolutist and oppressive ideolog. This is increasingly the case in Western societies as we see politicians,  media personalities, and entertainers insist the population adhere to their self-defined and unprovable moral truths. The fact that their definitions frequently change doesn’t get in the way of them demanding unquestionable allegiance. Under such a system it is irrelevant whether one speaks with compassion and clarity, and with evidence and grace; it is enough that the secularist’s sexual proclivity has been questioned.

We are somewhat stunned by Facebook’s actions, but let’s remember, this is nothing new. During his life Athanasius found himself exiled 5 times for speaking his views. William Tyndale was burnt alive for giving the English people the Bible in their own language, and John Bunyan had freedom of speech snatched from him and a prison cell given instead. This is not the first time in history when sensible speech has been censored, and it won’t be the last. Yes, it is irrational and intolerant, but such was the experience of the gentlest, most loving, rational, gracious man to have ever walked the earth, Jesus Christ.  The full beauty of glory of God dwells in Him, and yet the world disdained his talk of peace and love, and people despised the fact that he showed grace toward people, even those with him he strongly disagreed.

With perspective, last night’s actions by Facebook are pretty small, but they are certainly symptomatic of a broader issue that ought to concern not only Christians but all people who believe in fair, truth-seeking, and respectful debate.