Bibles, beer and blindness

OK. I’ve been listening to this debate raging among Christians as well as in the general community – all without actually watching the video clip – until now. I’ve just watched it. And I think in this case I’m glad I’ve done it in that order. I’ve watched it with an eye to both (all?) sides of the debate, and I think I can see totally valid points in defense of both the Bible Society-Coopers ‘deal’ and the production of the video. But I can also see very compelling arguments by Christians and non-Christians alike, pointing the other way, suggesting that parts or all of it have been at best ill-judged or at worst a disaster of, umm, ‘biblical’ proportions.

I’ve chosen the words ‘valid’ and ‘compelling’ very deliberately. The central observation many of my fellow ‘conservative’ (relative and over-simple term) Christian friends are making is entirely intellectually valid. The hotly contentious video clip does indeed feature a civil discussion between two protagonists, who differ significantly on a few substantial criteria. It is indeed a cause for sadness that such an event could elicit public anger, opprobrium and even vitriol. It ‘ought’ to be otherwise; it ought to be celebrated rather than condemned.

But what I’m finding increasingly compelling is the metanarrative others are pointing to. I’ll mention two elements in reverse order of significance, as I perceive them. First, a political misjudgement. If Christians want to engage the public in useful dialogue on whatever issue, it’s a good idea to be astute about perception. It’s unfortunately not a good look that the two interlocutors chosen are not only both MPs, but also of the same party – and to wit the party currently in government, and the one most closely aligned with the ‘traditional’ position. We, the Christian community, could seriously do without a public perception that we’re aligned with one (doesn’t matter which one) side of politics. The danger is that that becomes a distraction from the issue itself, or worse – it actually becomes the issue.

And so to the second and I think most compelling metanarrative point. We the Christian community have not covered ourselves in glory when it comes to demonstrating God’s love for LGBT+ people. Plenty has been written and spoken on this point, so I won’t elaborate it in detail. But briefly, we’re fighting a clear public perception, forged over decades, that Christians don’t like gays – as people. Many of us are now working hard to reverse that perception. But as it took decades to establish, it’ll likely take decades to dismantle.

That, as several folk are telling me, is the big metanarrative. Thus when LGBT+ people or their advocates see a Christian organisation having a public discussion on a subject they hold very dear – and on which the general orthodox Christian position is both well known and unfavourable, the metanarrative carries the day. The civility or otherwise of the featured discussion is simply invisible beneath the torrent of long-established distrust of Christians.

That’s how it’s looking to me, anyway.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Cakes, weddings and Jesus

I’d like to raise a question I haven’t raised before anywhere. I’m thinking aloud, so this isn’t a ‘position’ in any sense. More an exploratory question …

To date I’ve shared common Christian concerns for Christian bakers, photographers, etc as we anticipate an altered social and legislative landscape with ‘same-sex marriage’. And I do want to see religious freedom appropriately enshrined in our democracy. Among other things, I want our’s to be a society where the bakers and the rest are able, should they so choose, to make socially unpopular decisions according to religious conscience, without fear of prosecution.

But all that said I’m just wondering whether our approach to the matter needs a rethink, at least in part. It’s one thing to want the protections I’ve just referred to, to be in place. It’s another to recommend that such stands as those taken by the now proverbial bakers, necessarily be taken.

I’m thinking about where we are now socially, versus maybe 50 years ago, re de facto marriages and single parenting. Back then (ok, so I was only 7) it wasn’t uncommon for clergy to insist that a non-church couple living together separate and/or cease intimate relations as a condition of a ‘church wedding’. Likewise some would refuse (politely or otherwise) to consider baptising a child whose parents weren’t married. People living in de facto relationships and unwed mothers had good reason to feel uncomfortable in churches. They commonly felt they were being gossiped about and judged; and they were probably right very often. Similar observations could have been made in the wider community among professionals such as teachers, doctors or even shopkeepers; the more so if the service providers were evangelical Christians, but not them only.

To relate the matter more closely to the subject at hand, I’m wondering how a Christian baker in 1950 might have taken a request for a ‘Christening’ cake for a child whose parents weren’t married. Yes, it’s a hypothetical; people didn’t have parties and cut work-of-art cakes every 5 minutes back then. But if such a thing did happen, my guess is an awkward transaction at the very least, and maybe even a decline.

The picture nowadays is I think rather different. It’s not that evangelical pastors, churches or people have watered down our moral convictions about godly living according to Scripture. We still teach and disciple our church members by the same standards as our forebears did. But what has happened, as I perceive it, is a realisation that we ain’t living in Christendom. We don’t expect regenerate lives and behaviour from unregenerate people. We haven’t decided that de facto marriages and single parenting are perfectly ‘ok’ now. But at a pastoral level we’re inclined to live with some moral ambiguities, even if only as means to the end of people being among us long enough to see Jesus’ lovely character in us, and of us having an opportunity to invite them to receive salvation in him.

So my question is for the Christian community generally, as we anticipate the altered landscape that’s likely ahead – and that won’t be a passing phase. I ask it of Christian providers of goods or services to the general public, and I ask it of my fellow pastors – we who will counsel, disciple and encourage the former among us. Will it be biblical and best serve the cause of the Gospel, for Christian providers of goods and services, particularly but not only in the ‘wedding industry’, to decline service to same-sex couples or families on grounds of conscience? Or might we rather serve graciously and generously, regardless of our vastly differing moral convictions, so as to be able to serve the Gospel? I submit that we’ve largely adopted the latter perspective with de facto couples and single parents, and rightly, in my view. Is it not likely that the same will become our approach to same-sex couples and the children they raise, in a world where – failing an extraordinary work of revival – we will be increasingly peripheral?

Technorati Tags: ,

A bigger vision

Australian Marriage Equality convener, Alex Greenwich (The Age, 5/1), needs to listen a little more to religious community concerns on gay marriage. Proposed legislation “assur(ing) churches they would not be forced to marry gay couples” may offer some consolation. (Although overseas experience suggests such protection may be temporary anyway.) However for those people of faith who oppose the redefinition of marriage, the central concerns are broader and deeper than the impact of gay marriage on the church itself or it’s ministers. We believe such a change would be to the profound detriment of future generations and of our whole society, not just ourselves. Others are fully entitled to disagree with our worldview. But any serious discussion of this vexed subject must reckon with the scope of our unease, which will not be assuaged by some self-directed political deal.

Generally speaking, the more profound the proposed cultural change the longer and more patient the debate required, if trust is not to be a casualty. This national conversation has barely begun. Now is not the time for legislative haste.

Technorati Tags: , ,