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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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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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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When tempted to choose sides, look inside

When tempted to choose sides, look inside

In a recent New York Times piece, Emily Badger and Niraj Chokshi revealed the following curious fact: “In 1960, just 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. In 2008… 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said they would be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very upset’ by that prospect. By 2010, that share had jumped to half of Republicans and a third of Democrats.” Get ready for a remake of the Sidney Poitier classic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which a kindly and patrician couple of Republicans are shocked to discover their daughter is engaged to a (gulp) Bernie Sanders supporter. But seriously, what is going on?? By most people’s reckoning, the 2016 Presidential campaign was one of the most divisive in American history. The vitriol and animosity expressed by supporters of one candidate toward supporters of another was astonishing. Even those of us who are non-partisan and who refused to support any particular candidate found ourselves abused on social media if we posted anything critical of a candidate. And I mean any candidate. But according to Badger and Chokshi this gulf of fury and self-righteousness wasn’t a new thing in 2016. It had been building for many years. Back in

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Go ahead, Stephen Fry, take your best blaspheming shot

Go ahead, Stephen Fry, take your best blaspheming shot

In 2015, British comic and television personality, Stephen Fry appeared on an Irish chat show and referred to God as ‘capricious, mean-minded and stupid’. You might have seen it being shared on social media. The host Gay Byrne asked Fry what he would say to God after he died and appeared at the pearly gates. Stephen Fry replied that he’d tell the Almighty, ‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery. It’s not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil’. Things went sour this month when a complaint was made to the Irish police that Fry had broken the country’s Defamation Act of 2009, which makes it illegal to publish or utter blasphemous material. That’s right. It’s 2017 and a famous television personality was being charged with blasphemy.   It turns out everyone in Ireland is embarrassed by their blasphemy law, so much so there are calls to repeal it, including from the church. No one has ever actually had to face criminal prosecution for breaking the law and it’s assumed Mr Fry won’t either. That didn’t stop the publicity hungry atheist Richard Dawkins, in a show of solidarity with Mr Fry, from announcing he’d be giving a public lecture in Dublin in June and would “be available for arrest on a charge of blasphemy.” He

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The good ship “No Worries” is sinking

The good ship “No Worries” is sinking

I live in Australia where it’s usually assumed we’re all largely apathetic about traditional religion in general and the Christian church in particular. Maybe that’s because we’ve never had a civil war, or fought off an enemy land invasion, or suffered from a violent sectarian uprising (unless you count the enemy land invasion perpetrated by British colonists upon indigenous Australians, which we should). Nevertheless, we’re pretty chill about everything. I mean, we proudly gave the world one of our favorite sayings – “No worries”. Our struggle isn’t warring religious viewpoints. It’s getting people interested in religion at all. A new study has just been released asking Australians what kinds of things are likely to pique their interest in religious faith. The results are fascinating. They found, “Observing people with genuine faith is the greatest attraction to investigating spirituality. Second is experiencing personal trauma or a significant life change.” That’s not the most fascinating part to me, but I’ll come back to it later. More interesting were the things that turned people off being interested in religion. They hate apologetic discussions and debates. And “the top repellent to Australians investigating is public figures or celebrities who are examples of that faith. This is followed by miraculous stories of healings or supernatural occurrences.” Wait, what? They hate combative apologetic presentations designed win arguments, testimonies from

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Forget Capitol Hill, we change culture from the ground up

Forget Capitol Hill, we change culture from the ground up

There has been a plethora of books in recent years about how Christians can change the world. Many of them urge us to engage society, mobilize our forces and win the culture wars. But let’s face it — whenever the church tries to rule the world it never goes well for us. Indeed, most of the criticisms leveled at the church by its detractors relate to the church’s abuse of temporal power. It’s nice to imagine the church as an ancient remedy that brings healing and repair to a diseased system, but increasingly, people have spoken of the church more in terms of a virus than a tonic. Journalist Christopher Hitchens wasn’t one to pull punches. In his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he said, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” Adopting this same line is John Loftus, a former Christian minister and now an atheist. In 2014, he published the anthology Christianity Is Not Great, in which a group of scholars focused on what they perceived to be the damage done by the church throughout history covering everything from the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition

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It’s perfectly natural, not perfectly biblical, to desire the death penalty

It’s perfectly natural, not perfectly biblical, to desire the death penalty

You’re probably gonna tell me to stop reading Charisma News when you hear I was stunned to come across their recent lead article, Executing 8 Murderers Isn’t ‘Unchristian’ by Bryan Fischer. Fischer is a broadcaster with American Family Radio. His article was originally published on their website. In it, he offers the usual reasons why capital punishment is necessary, sprinkling his commentary with various Old Testament references and then detailing the crimes of the eight men about to be executed by the state of Arkansas (one of them, Ledell Lee, has already been put to death by lethal injection). But his outrage isn’t entirely directed toward the men on death row. It’s also directed at Christians who have the temerity to oppose the death penalty. Grousing about a Christian Today article entitled Christian campaigners horrified by Arkansas execution, Fischer takes the site and the article’s author to task for daring to imply that the Christian position on capital punishment is to oppose it. Wrong, wrong, wrong, he says. “This headline is written as if that is the only acceptable ‘Christian’ position to take,” Fischer bemoans. In fact, he goes on to say, “It would be unbiblical and unChristian not to carry out the death penalty for cold-blooded murder.” Bryan Fischer then quotes Martin Luther King, as if to imply that

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One of the most powerful weapons of privilege is the refusal to listen

One of the most powerful weapons of privilege is the refusal to listen

In Australia same-sex marriage is still illegal. But the movement for marriage equality is on a roll. Buoyed by victories in similar countries like Great Britain, Ireland, the USA, Canada and New Zealand, they can smell imminent success, and they want no further debate. They want an act of parliament. Now! They believe they are on the side of history, so have no patience for hearing the case for traditional marriage any more. And this has led some of their more strident activists to try to silence conservative voices. They routinely refer to advocates of retaining traditional marriage as homophobes or bigots. They exert public pressure on businesses to sign on with the marriage equality movement. They cast aspersions on anyone for having had ties to conservative Christian organizations. They’re particularly aggressive in their attacks on the Australian Christian Lobby, who felt forced to gain permission to keep its board members’ names secret on the grounds of “public safety” after sustained abuse. All this has led many Christians to speak of the death of free speech and to refer to those who aren’t interested in their views on marriage equality as bullies. The Anglican archbishop of Sydney recently referred to the same-sex marriage campaign as “narrow-minded, freedom-restricting carping.” “People are beginning to wake up and take notice,” he continued. “They are

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