Religious Freedom and Civil Speech: the insane, the fair, and the good

Narrative is important. In 2018, the winning argument doesn’t rely on facts and accurate information but depends upon telling a story which will garner the outrage of one’s constituents. Anger is power. Anger is persuasion. Truth-telling has become optional; useful when it supports one’s thesis, and redundant when it does not.

In this current age of rage and rhetorical bashing (which both progressives and conservatives are utilising), alternative narratives are often not presented with accuracy and fairness. It is proving increasingly difficult, and at times, near impossible to engage in civil discourse, because the climate is reaching temperature levels that resist reasoned and gentle speech.

The test case was the now infamous 2017 conversation promoted by the Bible Society and featuring Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that it is possible to conduct a civil conversation over a beer while disagreeing on same-sex marriage.  Apparently, the very notion that Australians could enjoy polite disagreement on SSM was too much, as beer drinkers all over the nation raged and smashed bottles of Coopers’ Beer in protest. Coopers’ was threatened with boycotts to the point that they were forced to recant and join those waving rainbow flags (despite the fact that they were never sponsoring the video in the first place). Sadly, this response is now normal in Australia today.

One month ago, most journalists in the country were saying very little about the Ruddock inquiry into religious freedom…until a Christian became Prime Minister. Since then there has been an almost absurd flurry of attention given to this review in which the Government is still yet to release its decisions. Don’t get me wrong, there is a legitimate story here as to why the Government has been so slow in releasing its findings from the Ruddock review, but instead of waiting to find out what the Government’s position will be, media outlets began hypothesising and arguing points based on speculation, and when a summary of the Ruddock report was leaked to the media, everyone went nuts.

In the first few days, Fairfax published no fewer than 19 articles, in which they argued that the Government was taking steps to give religious schools freedom to expel gay students.

It soon became apparent that this was not a measure that the Government was considering, in fact, this provision already existed and it was introduced by the Labour Government in 2013. More importantly,  Christian schools across the country came out, saying that they were not aware of this policy and they certainly did not support or practice it. Eternity newspaper made inquiries around the nation and found the whopping sum total of schools who were expelling gay students to be zero. The other day I asked a teacher who works at a Christian school in Melbourne and they were stunned that the media would argue that this was a practice inside Christian schools.

In other words, the whole story was a beat up. But it hasn’t stopped anti-Christian hysteria, with numerous social commentators and now members of Parliament attacking this dangerous practice that doesn’t exist.

ABCs Media Watch presented an excellent summary of this sloppy journalism.

To be fair, since publishing the first 19 articles, Fairfax has now allowed two pieces which finally offer an alternate perspective. Both articles are indeed excellent and worth reading.

Come this morning, I wake up and the top of my Twitter feed is sprucing another article, with this title, “Sydney Anglicans set to ban gay weddings and pro-LGBTI advocacy on church property

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The problem with this piece is that it is neither new news nor is it news at all. The Sydney Anglican Diocese, like other Anglican Dioceses around Australia, already have a position on marriage and their clergy and property is already constrained to practice weddings that conform to their definition of marriage. I realise that journalists are under growing pressure to write articles that are provocative and opinionated because such writing can increase audience reach and circulation, but this does not cultivate better public conversation. 

Deep into the article, after readers have already been won over to once again tut tut these  incredulous Christians, Michael Koziol, adds this important detail, one which in fact completely debunks that click-bait headline,

“Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead, the senior clergyman who authored the proposal, told Fairfax Media that the use of church property had “always been governed by various regulations” and the new policy merely sought to consolidate those into a single document.

“The new policy doesn’t represent a change in our position and I wouldn’t expect it to have an effect on any activities currently occurring on church trust property,” he said.

“Because the federal government has changed its definition of marriage, the policy makes clear the church’s doctrine of marriage has not changed and that property use scenarios relate only to man/woman marriage.”

Is it so shocking that a Christian denomination should reaffirm their already stated beliefs? Is it so outrageous that Christians should practice what they preach? How dare Christians believe what Christians have always believed and practiced!

There is literally no point in publishing this article on the Anglican Synod, other than trying to add weight to the narrative that’s being spun, namely that conservative Christians in general, and especially Sydney Anglicans, are awful people who are intolerant, and who are fighting a rearguard action against the inevitable tide of sexual and moral progressiveness. Just so readers come away believing that Sydney Anglicans are really out of step, Koziol finds a few quotes to suggest that most Christians (certainly Anglicans) don’t support this out of touch view of marriage. Readers are told that Sydney Anglicans are just playing power games of ‘privilege’.

There you have it; it doesn’t matter what’s true or not, just insert one of those key intersectionality words, like ‘privilege’, and the story is complete; Sydney Anglicans are bad!

I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with a Fairfax journalist not so long ago. They shared with me how most journalists have little understanding of religion, in general, let alone comprehending Christianity. Of course, sometimes Christians add to the confusion by doing and saying things that are not true of Christianity. This kind if misinformation happened in the time of the New Testament Church. Take, for example, Alexander the metalworker whom Paul mentions as having “done him a great deal of harm”.

There are many fine journalists around Australia, some are Christians, many are not. I wonder though, how can we reach out to journalists and help educate them as to what it is Christians do and don’t believe?

Regardless of what one’s personal suppositions and moral inclinations are, Australian society needs to find ways to reduce the dangerous and at times disingenuous reporting and commentary that is taking over the public square. It would be great if our politicians would show the way, and societal conversations would certainly be strengthened if media outlets stepped away from speculative and sensationalised reporting.

Regardless of how others decide to debate ethical and political issues, Christians must follow the guidelines that are set out by the very Scriptures which our society deems as foolish and immoral.

Early this week I was reminded of this timely words written to Timothy by his friend and mentor, Paul,

 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

That’s not a bad place for us to begin.

The ongoing offence of the Gospel and of Sydney Anglican Diocese

My brothers and sisters in the Sydney Anglican diocese have donated $1 million to aid the ‘no’ vote on the marriage campaign. The almost instantaneous public backlash following the announcement was as surprising as hay fever in Spring. Critics jumped on board to advise the Diocese as to how they should be using their money.

A balanced media report would have explained how the Diocese uses all its funds, including the near million dollars raised to help Syrian refugees, the huge sums invested into Anglicare, and the even larger sums that are raised annually within churches for many different projects. Naturally, there is more to the story than social media is sharing, but examining the fuller picture isn’t what critics do best. Fairfax once again performed valiantly as they lifted a facebook comment by one Sydney Minister, cutting and pasting his opinion with the surgical skill of my 3 year old pet dog.

I am not saying that I finally agree with their decision (Baptist blood runs thick!), it was not my decision to make and I am not privy to conversations inside the Standing Committee. I am grateful though that the Sydney Diocese is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and they are prepared to back up their words with action and money. Archbishop Glenn Davies is correct in his analysis of the current debate and of the consequences that will inevitably follow should marriage be redefined.

“I believe that a change in the definition of marriage is unwarranted, not just because it is in opposition to the teaching of Scripture and our Lord himself in Matthew 19, but because I believe marriage, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman, is a positive good for our society, where marriage and the procreation of children are bound together as the foundational fabric of our society, notwithstanding the sad reality that not all married couples are able to conceive. Moreover, I consider the consequences of removing gender from the marriage construct will have irreparable consequences for our society, for our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It is disingenuous to think otherwise, given the evidence to the contrary in Canada, the US and the UK.”

Same-sex marriage is about redefining society. It is about degendering  the family unit, and removing the rights of  children to be raised by their biological mother and father.  Numerous social activists are telling us how marriage is only the next stage of the much larger agenda to remove gender altogether and remove religion from public society.

Mauvre Marsden wrote 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 argued 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.”

If the same-sex marriage activists are telling us the truth about their aims, surely we are loving our neighbours by trying to speak up about the good of marriage.

 

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Sydney Anglican Media

There is one particular criticism over the Diocesan donation that I wish to comment on, and it is coming from a few Christians who are suggesting that this will make evangelism more difficult. I understand the point, but I don’t buy it.

People will always be offended by the Gospel and by Christians expressing God’s righteousness.

Society has its own grid for defining moral rights and wrongs, and this isn’t always in tune with God’s righteousness. Sometimes when the culture says I’m a hypocrite, I am acting like a hypocrite. Other times, society just doesn’t like the fact that I’m not agreeing with them. Believing something different to the culture doesn’t make me hypocritical.

As Christians we want to be wise and not glibly explain away offences people may take at us, for it may well be that we ourselves have been blinded by our own sins and it takes an unbeliever to point it out to us. The reality is, the Sydney Diocese has a positive track record of acknowledging wrongdoing and seeking restitution. Last night’s domestic violence policy is the latest testimony to this. I even suspect that Sydney Anglicans are doing a better job than most in serving society’s vulnerable and needy. This may be partly due to the means available to them, but it’s partly because they’re living out what they preach and believe. It is however foolish to suggest that any current social milieu holds truth captive and is the arbiter of moral axioms, and that’s precisely the problem here – the Diocese isn’t conforming to the controlling pattern of our culture.

Same sex marriage was only one of several important social issues being addressed at Synod, including their important policy dealing with domestic abuse. This news story has received some media attention, but pales in comparison to the $1 million donation. Why? Because Sydney Anglicans gave the money to the “wrong” side. Alan Joyce’s $1 million donation and the free advertising given by the NRL are lauded because they conform to the set narrative. I guarantee that if a Christian denomination had donated money to the ‘yes’ campaign, the media would be praising them for their love and boldness.

I don’t believe Sydney’s donation will make evangelism harder, it simply affirms how hard it already is. Who knows, instead of fearing that critics and heretics will take another swing at the Church, perhaps in God’s kindness, this may create new  Gospel opportunities as people in our community see that someone has the guts to stand and be counted.

My caution to Christians is this, be very careful about defining our decisions by public opinion. I’m not saying that the beliefs and ideas of people around us don’t matter to us, but it’s the wrong starting question. We ought to first ask, how we can faithfully and wisely apply what we believe to be true and good in God’s word. We won’t always get this right, but I am thankful for those Churches and denominations who are trying.

 

 

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.

Anglican Yoga?

A story about yoga and the use of Church facilities broke today in the media. It seems as though much of the public are as confused about the issue as people are about the meaning of the cobalt blue rooster! There is however good reason behind the decision among Sydney Anglicans.IMG_2455

The Bishop of South Sydney, Michael Stead, has explained that yoga is incompatible with Christian belief and practice, and therefore should classes should not be offered within Church precincts. I tend to agree with my friends from the north.

Here’s a post from a few years ago, which although not touching on yoga classes on Church property,  does highlight relevant points to the discussion:

“There are many Churches that organise yoga classes and many more Christians who use yoga at home. Even to ask this question may seem rather banal to many Christians today, but let me begin by explaining something that happened yesterday.

One of my sons came home after school and told us that they had taken a yoga class that day. Apart from the issue that parents were not made aware that this was happening (a mistake I’m sure that school won’t repeat[1]), I suspect the school was not aware of what took place during this session. The children were taught a number of different postures and to speak aloud various names. It is difficult to ascertain whether the children were simply being encouraged to learn the names of the different postures or whether they were being taught particular chants that can accompany the postures. My concerns were heightened when my 6 year old son produced a ‘magic stone’, given to him and one to every student by the instructor. Two pamphlets came home with him, one asking him to sign up to an after school yoga program, and the other explaining the value of the ‘magic stone’, to quote, “ask your magical stone to take away any of your worries, so you can sleep better at night. Or ask your magical stone to give you special powers”.

Yes, that’s right, without parental permission a stranger handed out little idols to the class (that’s what they are) and is encouraging them to pray to these stones for help and special power’!

Thankfully my son thought the whole exercise was, to use his word, ‘ridiculous’. But nonetheless he came home confused about what he had heard and been taught.

I hear some friends saying, ‘Murray that’s terrible but yoga doesn’t have to taught that way. It’s okay to do yoga’.

Can Christians practice yoga? I know some Christians who believe that yoga is demonic and should never be touched, and I know Christians who believe that yoga is fine and can be easily practiced without any pagan connotations.

I would like to offer these thoughts:

1. Yoga comes from ancient Indian religions.

Yoga’s precise origins are ambiguous. What we know is that it comes from India and has been practiced for centuries, and is intimately tied to paganism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

2. Yoga is not simply physical exercise.

The purpose of yoga is to attain union with the soul and therefore peace. It involves physical, mental and spiritual dimensions.

As Christians we do not want to delve into practices that are idolatrous and could introduce us to ideas/practices that undermine the beauty, sufficiency and truthfulness of Jesus Christ. But I know some Christians who will practice yoga and believe that they can adopt the physical exercises while keeping out the spiritual aspects that regularly accompanies yoga. I don’t use yoga, but I can appreciate how relaxation exercises can be useful, and perhaps it is possible to redeem these exercises from yoga’s pagan roots. But let’s be aware of the following:

It is often said that the yoga is practiced in ways that are divorced from Hinduism. One local yoga instructor in Mentone offers ‘Hatha yoga’. ‘Hatha yoga’ deals with, to quote, focuses mainly on the physical body as opposed to more spiritual yoga styles.’ Sounds ok. But further on the same web site says this,

‘Yoga develops all aspects of one’s being – body, mind and spirit. The body becomes stronger, more flexible, more relaxed and generally much healthier. See each class as an opportunity to nurture yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.

And this,

‘Turn your mind inwards and focus on your own practice.’

‘Be kind and loving to yourself by accepting where you are. Remember to practise with a sense of ‘honouring and exploring’. Honour yourself and what you are capable of and explore where your body can take you. It is important to listen to your body and recognise your limits so that you do not injure yourself.’

So, spiritual free yoga is nonetheless designed to help you spiritually!

The Yoga Australia website explains.

‘Today, the most popular of these more recent approaches is generally known as a form of Hatha Yoga, and is considered to be the beginning or early stages of the process towards fullness of what Yoga offers.’

In other words, ordinary yoga is designed to be an initiation into real yoga.

3. Yoga is bad theology. Even when we leave out all religious connotations, yoga teaches us to look inside ourselves for peace, whereas the Bible clearly teaches us that we need to  look away from ourselves and to Christ. Peace doesn’t come to us from meditation and looking inward, but it comes from God and is given to us freely through the cross of Christ. Yoga simply repeats the same old problem, but with hip pseudo-spiritual language. The Gospel of Jesus Christ exposes the folly of seeking peace from within and points us to the only true God who is able and willing to forgive and restore and bring peace.

Something that yoga gets right is that we are not purely physical beings, but the physical, mental and spiritual interrelate. But it calls us to seek peace from within and it calls us to pay homage to nature and to false gods in order to empower us to achieve this self-seeking harmony.

We are physical beings, and therefore physical exercise, even relaxation exercise, can be useful. While it is theoretically possible to empty these exercises of all their religious content and replace it with godliness, the dangers are many and often subtle. When there are so many great alternatives available to us, why bother at all? Take up a sport, go swimming, go for a walk, get a massage!

 

Skullduggery in the Church?

Descending onto Melbourne yesterday wasn’t the gale force winds sweeping across from South Australia, but another tirade against Sydney Anglicans. I’m not sure why The Age even bothered to reproduce the article, given it has little relevance to Melbourne, but why should Sydney keep all the sensationalism to themselves?

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It is always disappointing to read of anyone being misrepresented in the media. We all know it happens, and we know it ought not, but it does. It doesn’t matter who is being misrepresented, slander is slander regardless of who is in the firing line.  In this case, it is the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. 

Author and Columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly, is careful to paint a vivid portrait of Sydney Anglicans. The language is suitably chosen to support her thesis:

“skullduggery in the church”

“What if the Pharisees are back in charge?”

“It’s not just the ongoing nightmare of institutionalised child-sex abuse and the decades-long connivance that implies. Nor even the antediluvian opposition to women preachers and same-sex marriage. Exacerbating all that is an increasingly aggressive stamping out of dissent.”

“These are voices the church now works to destroy.”

“Sydney Anglicanism’s now “cultish” atmosphere”

And on it goes.

Everyone warms to Friar Tuck and the Vicar of Dibley, and we all like to boo Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, the Bishop of Hereford, and John Ballard. Elizabeth Farrelly wants to leave readers in no doubt as to which group of clergy the Diocese of Sydney belongs.

Farrelly’s language is selected carefully in order build a case of Pharisaism against Sydney Anglicans, and to portray Keith Mascord and others as victims who lay in their wake. It is of little consequence that the allegations are as thin as the slimmest slice of swiss cheese; cheese smells.

Especially worrying is the way Farrelly so easily draws in the issue of child abuse. With such an incredibly  sensitive and serious matter, it is disingenuous and even dangerous to clump it with the topic she is primarily addressing. For example, to introduce the situation with child sexual abuses in the Newcastle Diocese as evidence of hypocrisy among Sydney Anglican is misleading and paramount to libel. Farrelly’s gotcha moment is a quote from Sydney pastor, Rev David Ould…except that his actual quote says the opposite of what she claims. He has subsequently written this response to the misquote.

It is also important to note this crucial factual error, which Farrelly’s case depend on: depends on for her chief criticism of the Diocese: contrary to what Farrelly writes, Keith Mascord was not delicensed as a priest last week. He has not been licensed since 2013. Not only that, he was recently offered a licence to minister in his local parish, but Keith declined as he was unwilling to follow his ordination vows.

When evidence is not to be found, Farrelly resorts to conjecture in order to further her case:

She says, “You might think an institution of diminishing influence would engage its internal questioners in eager debate. You might expect the church, having been built around a rocker-of-boats and tipper-of-apple carts, to know that comfortable words pattered out over tea are not the only ones to hear.”

Anyone who has studied at Moore College or attended Diocesan Synods will know that Sydney Anglicans are more willing to debate issues and have those difficult conversations than any other Christian denomination I know of in Australia. The issue is not whether the Diocese is open to serious debate, but that they have not landed in a place that Farrelly would approve of.

Also this,

“The tellers of uncomfortable truths are those we most need. People whose truths come at significant cost to themselves, whose truths are wrenched from them; they’re the heroes, the soothsayers, the prophets. But these are voices the church now works to destroy.”

Farrelly doesn’t define what she means by truth; all we know is that the Sydney Diocese don’t have it, and the dissenting voices whom she supports do have it.

In the case of Keith Mascord, we are not seeing any example of Pharisaism, but of common sense. If a builder confessed that he no longer accepted the building code, and that he would proceed to break it at several points, it would be reasonable for his licence not be renewed. Similarly, when a Christian minister explains that he can no longer abide by the beliefs of the Denomination he is licensed to, it is appropriate that he not continue.

Are Sydney Anglicans perfect? Of course not, and I suspect nearly all Sydney Anglicans would gladly put up their hand in agreement. That’s what Christians do, we confess our sins.

I’m not a Sydney-sider nor am I an Anglican, but the impression I am left with is that Elizabeth Farrelly is no supporter of the Sydney Anglicans! I don’t think anyone  is insisting that Elizabeth Farrelly like or approve of their teaching, but when it comes to reporting a story, readers deserve to be presented with the facts.


A Statement from the Sydney Diocese regarding Keith Mascord’s license can be read here 

Lessons in how to disagree with popular opinion

When children speak in favour of atheism or secularism or GLBTI issues, they are praised and receive vocal public support.

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Last week, several anonymous female school students received wide public backing when they expressed to the ABC, “shock and frustration” by the “outdated” ideas Archbishop Davies promoted.  Archbishop Glenn Davies had spoken at the annual service for Anglican School Leaders, and as part of his address he made comments about gender equality; nothing radical, he affirmed the historic Christian understanding.

But when a teenage girl spoke out on Friday in favour of the Bible and the Bible’s teaching about marriage, the story was sadly very different. Paige Katay wrote a piece for The Drum, and was also interviewed by Julia Baird for The Drum’s evening television program.

To be fair, and probably in view that a 17 year old school girl was speaking, many people dampened their rhetoric from some of the usual delights. It should also be noted that  a significant number of people encouraged Paige for her courage, clarity and conviction. However, underlying many the comments was a streak of condescension, with frequent references to ‘brain-washing’  and ‘indoctrination’.

Here are some examples from the comments section on ABC’s The Drum:

“Good that this poor child is having her washed brain questioned by @cassandragoldie who knows what happens when men rule”

“Spirited defence, but I suppose a girls Anglican school has to rationalise like this in order to stop the girls smelling a rat when the law of the land says they are equal to their brother….”

“Your “belief” that males and females have different gender based roles in society and relationships is incredibly sexist. This type of “belief” ALWAYS results in *MEN* occupying the primary positions of societal authority and power, whereas you interpret it as “a beautiful kind of harmony”. Yep, you’ve been very effectively and thoroughly brainwashed by your religion.

Yes, the Archbishop has you thoroughly controlled and brainwashed. After all, nearly 2,000 years of brutal Christianity has shown it’s all about domination and control of others. Luckily, old style violent Christianity has been slowly defeated over the past several hundred years by secularism ….. by secular morals, secular freedom, secular democracy and secular decency. Hopefully Christianity will never return to it’s bad old days.”

And among the responses on twitter (some tweets are sadly unrepeatable):

“Poor brainwashed indoctrinated Child.”

“Paige Katay believes in invisible men in the sky & has been indoctrinated from age zero. Her opinions are worthless.”

“I had been mightily impressed with how today’s young people seem so progressive and socially aware. Then along came Paige Katay.”

As I observe Australians debating important issues, I can see three main approaches:

The first approach (and most common) is where there is no engagement with an opposing view with reasoned argument or questions, just ridicule and bullish tactics.

This has become all to common when discussions use the word ‘gender’ or ‘marriage’. 

I had believed that bullying was a reprehensible act, and the public outraged at any whiff of children being intimidated, but apparently it is okay if the person in question is a Christian teenage girl affirming her beliefs. 

The second approach is somewhat better, although far from ideal. Here, there is no engagement with the views actually presented, but loaded with assumptions about what we ‘think’ the person has said or should be saying, a critique is offered. But arguing against a caricatured position is hardly fair and it does little to progress debate.

This was evident on Friday’s episode of The Drum, when Tom Allard was asked a question about Paige Katay’s views. He began by rebutting an idea that Paige never articulated, and when Julia Baird corrected him, he then spoke against a view of the Bible that no Christian that I know of, believes or teaches.

The third approach is where each party listens carefully to the others, and can repeat accurately the views you disagree with, and then offer a respectful critique, and finally outline your own position. It requires humility, honesty, and kindness, even when you feel strongly about the issue.

As Australians talk to polemical social and moral issues, I am not surprised that many are choosing to interact in the first two ways,  although I am nonetheless disappointed and saddened, especially when politicians and ‘leaders’ resort to these machiavellian tactics. Here, I want to encourage people, especially Christians to work hard at exemplifying the third way. Paige Katay has given us a wonderful example, as have many other Christians in the public space. Indeed, non-Christians such as the now former Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, also give us an example.

I remember watching a short video conversation on the Gospel Coalition website between Tim Keller, Matt Chandler and Michael Horton, where they agree that we want to be in the place where we can express the views of our opponents better than they, such that they can see that we understand them.

Meekness may not be easy, but Jesus certainly thinks it is the way to go. Let’s resist hateful speech, false representations, and parodies, and insist upon words and a way of communicating that reflect the Lord Jesus.