Repulsed or Nonplussed: the problem with the No campaign

Repulsed or Nonplussed: the problem with the No campaign

I was chastised some time ago when I questioned whether Australians could have a civil and constructive debate about SSM. People assured me that we are capable of debating the issue without allowing the discussion to become hateful or deceptive or aggressive. Then these despicable posters started appearing telling us that 92% of children raised by gay parents are abused, 51% have depression, and 72% are obese. The poster cites a study that has been thoroughly discredited. The hateful tone of the image needs no explanation. It’s clear for all to see. While the Australian Christian Lobby has distanced itself from the posters (I readily acknowledge the ACL had nothing to do with their production), earlier in the campaign they hosted a series of lectures by Millie Fontana, in which she explains how negative her experience of being raised by a same sex couple has been. I’ve seen a number of other sites explaining how detrimental being raised in a non-traditional household is. Not as repulsive, but still in poor taste, some No advocates have been posting a 20 year old quote by Paul Keating, taken completely out of context from his election debate with John Howard in 1996, reframed to make it look like he is campaigning against SSM today (presumably to appeal to lefty ALP Yes voters). I’ve

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Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

In 2005 Australia had its own version of Charlottesville when race riots and mob violence broke out in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla. It happened on a hot Sunday in summer when around 5000 people gathered to protest the presence of Middle Easterners in their predominantly white beachside neighborhood. It began ominously with white Australians chanting that they wanted Middle Easterners, particularly those of Lebanese descent from a nearby suburb, out of their town and off their beaches. When a Middle Eastern man happened into the middle of the crowd he was surrounded and attacked. The police intervened and all hell broke loose. Other assaults and retaliatory attacks combusted across the southern parts of Sydney, resulting in 26 serious injuries, including two stabbings, and attacks on paramedics and police. A local man, Eiad Diyab was quoted as saying, “We knew always there was racism, but we never knew it was to this extent.” It was as shameful to Australia as Charlottesville has become for the USA. The Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but refused to acknowledge racism was at the heart of it. “I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country,” Mr Howard said, “I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.” Nonetheless, many other politicians, police, local

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It’s the white supremacists you can’t see that you’ve gotta worry about

It’s the white supremacists you can’t see that you’ve gotta worry about

Some years ago I was on a speaking tour in North Carolina. A local pastor was driving me to my various engagements, and one day he casually asked me, “What do you guys do about your black problem down there in Australia?” “Our black problem?” I enquired. “Oh, you mean our indigenous community? Oh, we’ve treated them shamefully…” “No, no,” he cut me off, “I don’t mean Aborigines. I mean African Americans. What do you do about them?” It possibly hadn’t occurred to him that any Africans who live in Australia wouldn’t be referred to as African Americans, but I wasn’t going to quibble at that stage. I already had an ominous feeling about this conversation. I informed him that Australia has a very small African community. “You’ve got no blacks down there?” he asked incredulously, “Wow. Do you want some?” I felt ill. This man was the pastor of a church. He wore a blue blazer with gold buttons. His hair was immaculately coiffed. He had a doctorate in Christian ministry. And he was a racist. When racists wear black shirts, helmets, and boots they’re easy to spot. When they cheer the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and raise their arms in Nazi salutes, you’re under no illusions about their beliefs. When they march through the University of

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It is morally wrong to possess nuclear weapons and Christians should say so

It is morally wrong to possess nuclear weapons and Christians should say so

“The existence of nuclear weapons in the world is a grave threat to peace and we need to abolish them.” ~ Archbishop Joseph Takami of Nagasaki   As the world teeters yet again on the precipice of nuclear war, it has astounded me to hear that one Christian leader has granted God’s blessing to Donald Trump to “take out” Kim Jong-Un. Whether this emboldened the US president to tweet that he was ready to rain down “fire and fury” on the North Korean leader we don’t know. But it raises the question for me about whether it is ever possible for the church to give its blessing to a policy of nuclear deterrence? I would say it is not. In fact, I would agree with scholars and leaders from across most Christian denominations, and many other religious traditions, in saying that nuclear weapons have no legitimate use for deterrence or in conflict, and it is wrong for any nation to possess them. In addition to their obvious danger, they pose an inherent moral contradiction. On the one hand, our faith affirms the ultimate value of each human life and indeed calls us to respect all life, while on the other nuclear weapons threaten indiscriminate death to massive numbers of people, including innocent non-combatants, as well as threatening the ecosystem. In fact,

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When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

It’s tempting sometimes to fall into the habit of thinking that God only hears the prayers of those who have achieved some level of holiness above the average. Have you ever found yourself asking your pastor or priest to pray for something as if their prayers are likely to ring louder in the ears of God than yours? We’re taught, Jesus won’t hear your prayers if your motives are selfish. And, Jesus won’t answer you if you don’t believe the right things about him. Really? Because in the Bible we find Jesus not just answering, but honoring, the request of a woman made out of selfish motives and based on an entirely false assumption about him. The nameless woman’s story appears in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, Luke 8:43–48) and it’s one of Jesus’ strangest and yet most touching miracles. In all three accounts, the healing of the bleeding woman is presented as an interruption to a larger story – Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jairus, a synagogue leader has approached Jesus, asking him to heal his dying child, and the two of them, together with the disciples, are making their way through a dense crowd of onlookers and supplicants toward Jairus’ house. En route, the nameless woman approaches Jesus in secret, blending in with

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People from Somewhere vs People from Anywhere

People from Somewhere vs People from Anywhere

Are you a Somewhere or an Anywhere? Last years Brexit vote stunned many pundits and social commentators, who struggled to explain how it could have happened. But one of them, author David Goodhart has come up with an intriguing explanation for the deep divisions in British society. It’s all about “people from Somewhere versus people from Anywhere.” I think this fascinating idea helps make sense not only of Brexit, but the emergence of conservative nationalism in Europe and Australia, and the election of US President Donald Trump. Let me explain. In his book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, David Goodhart says society can be broken into two large groups. First, there’s the Somewheres. These are people whose identity is shaped by a sense of place and attachment to a group. In Britain, they could be a Scottish farmer, a working-class Geordie, or a Cornish housewife. The equivalent in the US might be an Appalachian car mechanic or Oklahoman farmer or Alabaman home-schooler. They come from somewhere. They feel a deep attachment to their community, to a likeminded cohort, with a strong sense of where they’re from, sometimes with roots going back generations. According to Goodhart, Somewheres have an ascribed identity. That is, an identity ascribed by the community and the place to which they

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Two dead Australians, but we only care about one of them

Two dead Australians, but we only care about one of them

Look at the two faces in the picture above. They are both dead Australians. But we only care about one of them. The picture on the left is Justine Damond, a beautiful white Australian woman who was senselessly gunned down by a Minneapolis police officer responding to her 911 call about what sounded like an assault happening in the alley behind her house. Justine was unarmed and in her pajamas at the time she was killed. The Australian media went nuts. The story was carried by every major news source. Analysis about what happened and why it happened was everywhere. Australian Journalists descended on Minneapolis. The subsequent street march, the resignation of the police chief, the protests against the mayor, were all reported on at length. Pictures of the blond victim appeared on TV, in newspapers and media sites for days.  Reports about her family, her boyfriend, and plans to bring her body home to Australia were filed. It was a big news story. The picture on the right is Elijah Doughty, a 14-year-old boy from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. During exactly the same week the Justine Damond story was front and center in our newscasts, the man who chased, ran down and killed the Aboriginal teenager was given a paltry three-year sentence and the media barely reported it. There was just

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Evangelicals and the Left are as bad as each other

Evangelicals and the Left are as bad as each other

Usually placed at polar opposites of the political spectrum, Evangelicals and the Left aren’t actually so different from each other really. They both want to change the world. They both believe they have a vision for a fair, equitable world of peace and harmony. And they both intensely dislike collaborating with anyone who disagrees with them on the slightest thing. Both Evangelicals and the Left demand that all comers embrace their doctrine right down to the most minute detail or else face excommunication and disdain. In other words, they are equally idealistic and puritanical. And no one can collaborate with an idealist and a purist. Well-known and much-loved (until last week) writer and pastor, Eugene Peterson discovered this when he was eviscerated by the Evangelical community for a series of confusing and contradictory statements he made about same-sex marriage. Never mind that he’s 84 and by his own admission not up to public speaking or giving interviews. Never mind that he’s written some of the great classics of pastoral theology and paraphrased the whole Bible in his highly successful, The Message. Because he said he was in favor of same-sex marriage in a recent interview, the wheels of expulsion began grinding. His later retraction only worsened things. Evangelical commentator, Russell Moore, wrote an article entitled, Should We Still Read Eugene Peterson? 

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Megachurches are not churches?

Megachurches are not churches?

I think the thing that’s most disturbing is the megachurch because megachurches are not churches. ~ Eugene Peterson   Some years ago, my car was broken into and my satchel containing my diary and computer was stolen. It was right on the eve of me going to the UK on a speaking tour and the loss of my diary and the notes that I stored in my laptop had a strange effect on me. I felt part of me had been lost. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was as if I had stored not only notes and ideas on the computer, but my very thoughts. Part of me. And it really threw me. I felt a real loss of confidence going into the various events at which I was making presentations. Even though I’d presented those talks before and didn’t need the notes anyway, their loss tripped me up. I felt unsteady. It was as if I was in a light fog the whole time, and not just because I was in dreary England. We store information on screens. We’re storing everything we need to know in apps, files, online diaries, websites and other screen-based ways. So the loss of our screens evokes in us an existential reaction. I’ve seen a friend have a complete meltdown at an airport

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Is it Christian to love your country?

Is it Christian to love your country?

I don’t love my country. There, I said it. I’m a citizen of Australia, a relatively peaceful, prosperous, liberal democracy with a pleasant climate, kangaroos, beautiful beaches and an impressive opera house. I’m grateful for the considerable benefits my citizenship brings. I’d rather be Australian than Syrian or North Korean or South Sudanese. I cheer enthusiastically for our national rugby team and politely explain to Americans how Australia and New Zealand are different countries and why being Australian is better. But I don’t love my country. (I don’t even really think it’s better to be an Australian than a New Zealander). In fact, whenever I allow myself to give into those tribal inclinations to defend my country as better than any other I can’t sense the Holy Spirit behind that at all. It’s tribalism. It’s factionalism. It’s divisiveness and superiority. It deceives me into overlooking the racism and injustice perpetrated in my country’s name and to focus on flimsy and ill-defined definitions of my national “character”. And yet so many Christians appear to equate national loyalty with faithfulness to God. Billy Sunday, the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century, once wrote, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.” It’s a trap, surely, to confuse the Christian

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Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

There’s been some general disquiet about the First Baptist Dallas choir performing a song entitled Make America Great Again as an ode to President Trump at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington. The rally, held on July 1, was sponsored by the megachurch’s pastor Robert Jeffress, and it gave the President an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to traditional Christian values (as he sees them), as well as reminding the audience of America’s Christian heritage. Mr Trump referred to God bestowing the gift of freedom on the USA, while praising the military’s defense of that freedom. “Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator,” he said. “Our rights are given to us by God and no earthly force can ever take those rights away.” “Our religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights,” he continued. “The American founders invoked our creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer. Inscribed on our currency are the words: ‘In God We Trust’.” When the First Baptist Dallas choir fired up with a rendition of a song based on Mr Trump’s campaign slogan the fusion of religion and politics

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The monumental importance of being permanently present

The monumental importance of being permanently present

It started with the sparking of a faulty fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor flat. But the speed with which the fire consumed the 124 apartments was breathtaking. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we watched it on our screens. The inferno that erupted in the 24-story Grenfell Tower in west London quickly incinerated the whole building and all we could do was watch gape-jawed with horror. Families appeared at their windows screaming for help. Some people tied bedsheets into a makeshift rope to escape the furnace. Some leaped to the ground below. It was all too horrible. We know now that nearly 80 people lost their lives and many others were injured. Hundreds were displaced, escaping the flames with nothing but their lives and the pajamas they had been sleeping in. We also know that the community response to this tragedy was incredible. The outpouring of generosity and kindness was heartwarming. But it began in an interesting way. At 3.00am the night of the fire, Rev Alan Everett, the vicar of the nearby St Clements Church of England, was woken by a call from a fellow priest who lived in Grenfell Tower. The priest had called to alert Everett that he had a national disaster unfolding almost literally on his doorstep. Alan Everett ran to the church and turned the lights

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