The Government here are entering into a period of consultation on marriage. The Prime Minister is understood to support a widening of marriage to cover same sex couples. I am not sure what I think of this; but I am supportive of civil partnerships. It seems to me that whether you view homosexuality as ‘wrong’ or not, to leave long term partnerships in a situation where they cannot enjoy legal protection is somewhat oppressive.
I also think they should be permitted on church premises; I think this should be left up to the same conscience clause as marriage of divorcees (some opt out of this; I have conducted the marriage of divorcees that others have refused to do). But marriage? I guess I will just listen for a while.
What I am sure of is the strident tone that some Christian organisations have adopted to’fight’ against this proposal. I am growing weary of Christian organisations whose sole public pronouncements seem to be on a narrow range of personal morality issues. I am also cautious of the imagined presumption that we are a ‘Christian nation’. Although Judaeo Christian values have permeated our laws largely to the good (think welfare state for example), we have never been a ‘Christian nation’ and I think the term is an oxymoron. To use state compulsion in the name of Jesus seems, well ‘wrong’ and a hinderance to a way of life that was always intended to pursued on the fringe of Empire but not as Empire.
As I was clearing my in box, I came on this, from an American perspective and from an Australian voice that speaks to me http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/january-online-only/secularculture.html :-
What advice do you have for church leaders in America about how to engage the broader culture effectively?
I think the very first thing is to do is adopt a stance of mission instead of admonition toward the world. Here’s an example. In the Australian context, there are church leaders who remember the glory days when about 20 percent of the nation went to church. They look at how Australia is secularized today, and their stance toward the world is basically admonition, the way you would talk to a backsliding Christian. How dare you slide away? How dare you legislate against Christian morality? I call that the admonition paradigm.
What’s wrong with this approach?
I reckon that’s how you kill your mission, because if you speak with a sense of entitlement, you won’t be flexible, you won’t be humble, and you won’t take hits and just bear it. You’ll want to strike back. And people will think you’re arrogant. Quite rightly, probably.
What do you recommend instead?
When you move out of admonition into mission, you realize Australia is no longer Jerusalem; it’s Athens. Then you instantly adopt a humbler approach to non-Christians. You don’t expect them to live Christian lives if they don’t confess Christ. You don’t expect Parliament to pass Christian-specific laws. But as a leader, you try to persuade the nation with winsomeness, with gentleness and respect, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15.
What does this mean for Christians who want to influence legislation?
Don’t say, “This is our right” or “You ought to live this way.” We can say we think God’s way is best for all of us and invite others to follow God’s path. But then we just live as an alternative community that embodies the things we claim to be true. And don’t worry about the loss of power.
I’ve often said to my Christian friends here in America, please do not confuse loss of legislative power with loss of gospel opportunity. The early church, of course, had no legislative power and they did amazing things. In China today, they have no legislative power, and a third of all Bibles are sold in China. This is not to say don’t go into politics, don’t speak up. But do it in mission mode, not admonition.
So how do you know you’re making progress?
Sometimes what looks like a win is actually a loss. I’ll give you a very recent example in Australia.
We have had Scripture teaching in State schools, because all education in Australia was conducted by churches until about a hundred years ago. When the government took over schooling, the churches said, “You can take over schooling, as long as you just leave us an hour a week to teach religious studies.” So for the last hundred years we’ve had little old ladies volunteering from the local churches to teach Scripture for one hour a week in schools. This is how I got converted, having never been inside a church.
There’s now a move to get rid of Scripture or, at least, to introduce an ethics class for kids whose parents don’t want them to go to the Scripture-teaching classes. Now a Christian politician in Australia has said to the government he will not support key industrial relations policies unless they overturn the people being allowed to teach ethics in the classroom. And the government cowed to him because he had the casting vote in the House.
How has the public responded to this situation?
The media around this is shocking. This politician thinks it’s a win for Christianity. The reality is, it is a huge loss for Christianity, because people think Christians reckon they have a right over everyone else. They reckon they can keep even non-Christian kids from a normal ethics. This politician has actually, in my view, hastened the secularizing process by what he thinks is a win. A real win, I think, would have been if this politician had made a case for Scripture in schools and refused to use his vote to bully the nation into doing it. If he had been able to make that case, I think it would have been a win for the gospel.
I think this bloke has nailed it….