It’s common to refer to contemporary Australian society as post-Christian, and while shifting moral values, church attendance, as well as the lack of interest in statements by church authorities, would bear that out, it’s not like some switch got pulled at the turn of the century converting us from “Christian” to post-Christian. Neither should post-Christian be equated with non-Christian or even anti-Christian.
At Christmastime, two very public Australian Christians made ham-fisted statements about their faith and both were taken to task for it. But interestingly, the reactions of journalists and social commentators to those statements showed the range of understanding of the Christian faith in our so-called post-Christian society.
The first case was the admittedly awkward Christmas greeting by the conservative National Party politician, Bob Katter. He was captured on film by Channel 7 News wishing the people of Queensland a happy Christmas and finished his greeting by saying, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. And we don’t have to die. That’s the important message.”
Now, to the ears of churchgoers that sounds like a pretty standard salutation. Nothing too odd about it. Aside from Bob Katter’s usual ineptitude as a communicator.
But the social media boffins at Channel 7 posted it online as “Bob Katter’s bizarre Christmas message – complete and uncut”.
Oh, you mean that line about how we don’t have to die?
When you think about it, I guess that would seem a bit strange to a journalist or social commentator with no real understanding of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith. If you have no frame of reference for the public statements of Christian leaders or politicians, I guess you’re going to find a Christmas greeting celebrating salvation in Christ to be bizarre.
But then there are times when journalists and social commentators appear to know more about the Christian faith than those promoting it.
The second example is even more awkward than the first. Head of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton tweeted this snarky line about secular Christmas celebrations: “Once you have abolished religion and consumerism, and made a concerted attempt to kill off the traditional family, what do you celebrate as you sit around the table.”
To which Triple J journalist Shalailah Medhora retorted, “You celebrate consumerism? Doesn’t it stand contrary to Jesus’ teachings?”
What made this interesting to me was the fact that Medhora is from a Zoroastrian background. She’s not a Christian at all. She has admitted her Christmas celebrations are definitely of the secular variety. But her response to Shelton was right on. Jesus did teach against greed and materialism. So why is one of the leading Christian voices in the country suggesting Christmas should be a celebration of consumerism?
Shelton demurred in his reply, “Yes, good point… But I do think Jesus is ok with a little consumerism in moderation…”
This was too much for writer and columnist, Van Badham, who fired back with, “That time we discovered Lyle Shelton had not actually read the bible… Maybe start here, you massive, massive dinghy: Matthew 19:21-24 John 2:13-16 Luke 3:11 1 Timothy 6:10”.
I’ve never been called a massive, massive dinghy myself, but it doesn’t really count as one of the worst insults you could sling. More important was Badham’s appeal to scripture. While no conservative or evangelical Christian herself, all her references are pertinent.
To save you having to look them all up, the Matthew passage refers to Jesus’ telling a rich man to sell his possessions and give to the poor, including his aphorism, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The John passage is about Jesus clearing the Temple Courts of money changers. Luke 3:11 refers to John the Baptist’s teaching, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
And 1 Timothy 6:10 is that famous, and often incorrectly quoted, verse, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”.
The Bible certainly does not teach that Jesus is okay with a little consumerism in moderation.
And here lies the challenge for those Christians who try to make public statements about their faith. We have to communicate plainly and powerfully in a way that those with literally no background knowledge of the faith can understand (take note, Bob Katter), while at the same time being as accurate and specific as possible (are you listening, Lyle Shelton?).
The range of understanding of Christianity in the community is that broad. While someone at Channel 7 has no clue about the faith, people like Shalailah Medhora and Van Badham know their Bibles enough to know when we’re wrong. We can’t expect to tweet something bemoaning the abolition of consumerism in Jesus’ name, and expect to get away with it. Especially if we presume to speak for all Christians as the Australian Christian Lobby seems to.
When our culture doesn’t get Christianity and we use jargon and in-phrases we look “bizarre” to them. But when it does understand something of our faith and we misrepresent Jesus we look even worse.