The Cultural Mandate and the Blogosphere

Does the “blogosphere” exist? Are we consider it a genuine domain of creation that is as much worthy of attention as anything else that comes within the ambit of our cultural mandate (Genesis 1: 28) responsibilities? Yes, blogging in the “blogosphere” is a God-given creational domain for the extension and formation of human dominion, a part of “all the world” into which the disciples of Christ Jesus are to take and live the Good News  (Matthew28:16-20). Well, if we assume it is not – perhaps by assuming it is simply a means of self-actualisation in a hyper-individualised world – we are already living out of a deep contradiction. We’ve been working away with this technology haven’t we? Isn’t it a domain of our personal publication? So why on earth would we doubt its existence?

Sometimes our posts decisively break through any blogged isolationism and even elicit a response from somewhere or other. This morning, yesterday’s blog brought this email from this young woman to my intray.

The Angry Feminist

Her email said she thought Everyday Justice in Conversation (2) was pretty awesome and so I was directed to her blog. Well, I could have ditched the email and justify that by assuming it was simply a matter of WordPress robotics. But why not take it at face value?

Actually “blogosphere” activity has to take things at face value – I assume that unlike my own ghosted literary “personality” Henrietta Dubb, this Biblically-inspired youthful and energetic blogger is the Christian woman who has posted a photo of herself at “Beauty Beyond Bones” (I think she wrote somewhere that she is from New York city).

And so I judge that her “hello” at least deserves my reciprocal greeting. Let me put it in the terms we have been dealing with of late: Nurturing Justice on the “blogosphere” also reckons with the responsibility to cultivate good “blogospherical” (!!!) conduct, to develop sensitive manners, to express politeness, offer reciprocation, extend gratitude, be friendly. It doesn’t have to be overdone, and if it is it will soon become evident. It is certainly not narcissistic ingratiation to be friendly, to be open to friendship. The aim is not to increase one’s “points”, “likes” or a statistical count, or even to extend one’s niche. It may bring in more e-traffic to your email’s in-tray, but it is simply a matter of respect for those encountered in the domain where one is active.

So yes, the blogosphere is a domain in which justice needs nurturing if a blog is to be engaged in Nurturing Justice. How else?

BCW 8.8.17

 

Everyday Justice in Conversation (2)

The “Oh no. Not Again!” Factor in Everyday Conversation

Here are some more points to consider for those seeking a Christian political option in everyday conversation. Of course, it does not need saying that the premier example of “politically correct speech” these days is related to the ongoing, decades-long advocacy of homosexual marriage. The demands for legislation include, as many wise observers have noted, that it is a movement seeking to “re-correct political speech” about marriage so that reference to the male-female exclusive-for-life bond no longer casts aspersions on those same-sex couples wanting their relationship to be viewed as marriage. And hence the movement through various redactions, as to its nomenclature that has now morphed into “marriage equality”. Many are obviously annoyed with this long-drawn-out seemingly unresolved matter. And, I guess, some readers of this blog will sigh and say, “Oh not again!”

What Nurturing Justice has always sought to show, and I hope will continue to demonstrate, is that in “everyday conversation” there are always various discussion routes that one can take to emphasise political principles. Keeping our eye on the command to love God above all and our neighbour as ourselves means that our discussions don’t have to be obsessively oriented to affirm public justice every time we open our mouths after our neighbour asks us to clarify our views.

That being said, let’s engage in a thought experiment. Let’s imagine ourselves in everyday conversation after the proposed change to the definition of lawful marriage has passed the Federal Parliament. Let’s give ourselves the liberty of taking seriously the views of the proponents of this change as they have given their views in the media today or recently.

There is in public reports a continual effort to link advocacy of “marriage equality” to a subsidiary argument. Proponents feel the need to link their rhetoric to a claim that implies such an urgency that the issue needs to be resolved NOW once and for all. That is how they have continued to advocate this revolution for over a decade. That is how they continue to make the claim today:

We have been discussing this for so long and it has been unresolved for so long; let’s get it off the agenda now once and for all and we can get back to what we are supposed to be doing!

Why does this mantra need to be affixed to the claim? It is as if we are being told that the Parliament has been diverted and will be put back on track when they succeed with the legislative change they are demanding. Even so, they fail to tell us exactly what it is that will be changed and what the consequences in terms of public administration will be. The most is usually the “chicken licken option” that the sky will not fall in.

But then to address the question politically instead of sentimentally would mean going back and clarifying what they have been saying and really they present themselves as not really wanting to do that. What is now needed, they say, is to get it off Parliament’s agenda as if the question itself is a hurdle that has to be overcome. And so, they say, this proposed legislation will free Parliament from this pesky and needlessly drawn out debate and, in the words of one articulate Liberal Parliamentarian, get back to considering how Parliament can legislate “to get electricity prices down for ordinary Australians.”

This kind of argument, even if it is framed in terms of the Liberal Party’s now thoroughly discredited respect for voters, ignores the fact that the “political charge” associated with marriage, family, household and friendship will not be turned off simply because Parliament takes this route. But if we take the tired rhetoric (i.e. of Mr Tim Wilson, or of Opposition Leader Mr Bill Shorten) seriously, the question they should be asking their political opponents after the law has been changed is this:

Why do you still consider it a political issue that same-sex marriage is not marriage even now after Parliament has legislated to alter definition of lawful marriage that be enshrined in all legislation? Why do you refuse to accept that the issue is now closed political once and for all?

1. FIRST ANSWER: One answer to that is this: legislation does not close, and never has closed, political debate once and for all. This minor point now helps us identify the implicit statism involved in the marriage equality movement blurred as it might be by a dogma of public sentimentalism. Marriage is not and never has been a department of State. Such ideologues (including current Liberal Parliamentarians) ought to learn from what happened to the Bolshevik abolition of marriage early in the 20th century. Moreover, where do we hear about the distinctive separation of State and Marriage in this “marriage equality” argument. There may well have been an implicit Liberal civil religious be statism in their defence of the previous definition, but what do these “marriage equality” advocates now with the new definition of marriage on the law books (with the marriage institution assumed to be a fundamental human right) intend to do about resisting state totalitarianism? 

2. SECOND ANSWER: Can not Parliament make a mistake? Why should those who now believe the current Marriage Act contains a mistaken view of marriage -and hence have maintained their campaign for the recognition of homosexuality as a valid way of life – believe that those who disagree with them are going to be persuaded otherwise simply because the Parliament joins in making the egregious error of the “marriage equality” movement? Why should political errors only ever be made on this matter to have prevented “marriage equality” justice as they demanded it?

Of course a brief answer in terms of Australian law may simply be: consult Parkinson and Aroney for an understanding of the deep ambiguities that are already at work with the administration of Marriage Law across our Commonwealth. Their  and it will become readily apparent that the “marriage equality” debate is a charade seeking merely a legislative expression of symbolic flag-waving that will, nevertheless have ongoing [i.e. not “once and for all”] administrative and political consequences at home and abroad.

The statement “once and for all” is rhetorical nonsense. Is it not the implicit view of those who will not rest until the Marriage Act is changed to comply with their latter-day homosexual rights agenda, that they must keep up the argument so that justice be done? Why should they speak as if their opponents on this matter are now to be politically shut out of public debate since the legislation is passed? From where do they derive that view? Or is it that it is they who have actually run out of arguments against a view that they do not know how to comprehensively reject and thus had no idea at all how to argue the case for the previous (now current) Marriage Act definition of marriage in order to show where it was in error? In other words, they really do not know in legal terms what they are arguing against? And as much as they have a deficient jurisprudence, they also do not have comprehensive political grounds for arguing for public justice for all including all households. [This would involve the need to distinguish between same-sex households and same-sex homosexual households – why of same-sex households should homosexuals be given notional privilege of being ascribed marriage status? This a distinction rarely, if ever, emerging in this ideologically shaped debate world-wide.]

 

3. THIRD ANSWER: When the argument was given back in the 1970s that same-sex,  permanent relationships were not defective forms of marriage and should not be evaluated in terms of marriage criteria, such an argument was accepted as valid and homosexuality was decriminalised. But of recent decades in the various phases of this ongoing social movement (homosexual rights > gay-rights > gay-marriage> gay and lesbian rights> same-sex marriage> marriage equality) marriage has no longer been viewed as a male-female bond but that relationship as endorsed by law is interpreted as a potential homophobic institution. Hence marriage needs to be de-homophobised and the way to do so is via changing the definition of lawful marriage in the Marriage Act (a view that implicitly will be nothing but a magical wish in its purported operation) that will then mean changing all manner of other public activities, social welfare programmes, health-care, aged-care, education and schooling. And, of course, the idea that the advocacy of “marriage equality” is based on such a subliminal stereotype (hate speech perhaps?) of what is falsely and gratuitously called called “heterosexual marriage” can never get a proper airing in this environment.

4. FOURTH ANSWER: A Christian political option is, with reference to the definitive teaching of Jesus, committed to His view of marriage. Human identity is revealed to us as male and female created “in the image of God”. The question of “sexual orientation” is a pastoral issue and does not cancel Biblical teaching, nor does it over-ride Jesus’ proscription concerning “sizing up” another image bearer of the Creator – whether in marriage or not – in order to vent one’s covetous desires as a path in violation of the Commandment (Matthew 5:27-28). A Christian political option must involve a Biblically-directed view of how marriage, along with family and household relationships of all kinds, should be respected in public-law.

Yes this discussion I guess will be long with us.

Apologies to all those readers who find it tiresome. Can a Christian political option arise from a Christian reformation of the way in which marriage, family and household and friendship functions as part of “seeking first God’s Kingdom” and His righteousness? Why not? Will not all these other things (including the coherent and humble publicly advocacy of a Christian political option of justice for all) be then granted to us?

BCW 7.8.17

 

Everyday Justice in Conversation (1)

Readers will note that Nurturing Justice has giving a lot of its attention to how a Christian political option may become a reality. And so a lot of the discussion is about hurdles to such an option that are implicit in our contemporary early 21st way of “doing politics”.

But politics is not only what “they” (i.e the politicians) do. Our everyday conversation can easily slip into that seemingly “common sense” view of politics we will confront every day. But politics is also about what citizens, members of the polity, do – how they are represented, how they vote when required to do so and what they support.

Citizens are also responsible for what is happening in public legal terms in their locality. We have a strange bifurcation in Australian politics – a dimension of our public governance is assumed to be “a-political”. I am referring to local government. The idea that Local Government is not about politics is seemingly confirmed by the fact that it is not actually recognised as a level of government in our Commonwealth Constitution. And so, when Nurturing Justice puts forward the view that Christians who are eager to serve in public office should also be cutting their teeth on “local government” issues, or by standing at the next local council election, an implicit ambiguity is raised already about our way of “doing politics”.

Nevertheless local issues as much as local conversations about political issues at local, State and Federal level, will continue. And in this context (i.e a context in which we assume that to be a responsible citizen also means a responsibility to talk about political issues with our household, our neighbours, our community) it might prove useful if some easy to understand examples of possible face-to-face political conversation were given.

Let’s do so with 4 simple and straight forward examples:

  1. FLAGS AND RAINBOWS: The local council has been requested by local people who are sympathetic to “the LGTBIQ community” to fly the “rainbow flag” as a symbol of solidarity with these fellow citizens who, it is presumed, are being excluded from full participation in our polity because of the current definition of lawful marriage. I can imagine that some Christians opposed to “marriage equality” might want to complain about the fact that the rainbow is not firstly and exclusively a possession of the LGTBIQ lobby. What about public governance’s responsibility to protect those who may wish to wear rainbow lapel pins, or dress in rainbow colours, as signs of Christian hope? Why should they be viewed as supporters of a measure to which they are opposed? In this context Nurturing Justice would simply suggest to such rainbow lapel-pin wearing Christians that they wear the pin, and dress colourfully,  and when asked why they are doing so, they should say, politely and quietly, that they are wanting to align with God’s love and mercy, just as Noah was informed after the flood. Of course such an action might not catch on among Christians but there is an issue here of whether Government, at whatever level, should fly such a flag from such a specially constructed flag-pole that has been erected from rates of all ratepayers. It’s a possible issue for conversation. And Christians do live under the teaching of Jesus who said that God sends rain and sunshine on just and unjust alike!
  2. SEXUAL IDENTITY: When Jesus gave the definitive exposition of the meaning of the 6th Commandment: “You have heard that it was said to you, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” he makes the statement that the adulterer is “whosoever sizes up a woman with covetous intent”. That “whosoever” is actually all inclusive. Husbands are included and Jesus does not, as 21st century moralistic readings are still prone to do, insert the word “another” as in “another woman”. The proscription against covetousness in relation to the marriage relationship confirms marriage as a male-female bond with a God-given integrity that is to be preserved. The mythic notion that “sexual identity” is discovered by self-analysis of who one desires – whether male or female – is already in violation of Jesus’ definitive exposition of the commandment.
  3. PLACE NAMES AND PUBLIC JUSTICE:  Communities, villages, towns and cities have names, and from that name the residents gain a geographic identity. The are people at a place, their place. When such place names, by which people identity themselves in their communities, are used for marketing purposes by real estate companies then an injustice is being perpetrated no matter how many road signs, no matter how much fudging, ducking and weaving by those who have engaged in place name theft. Just because local government, state or federal government has not stood up to this place name theft does not mean that an injustice has not been perpetrated. Moreover for such real estate firms to use the placename as the URL for their web-site: http://www.placename.com.au is, in fact, place name theft.  [Nurturing Justice has been drawing attention to this for some years and in the context of a public governance “blind eye” at all levels, the advice now is to simply refer to this, quietly and politely, when appropriate in conversation.]
  4. DISABILITY MANAGEMENT: Currently, Australia is experiencing the early stages of the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It shows every indication that significant changes will be brought to the way in which care for disabled persons is managed. Many telling “points” could be made – we will return to this in subsequent posts “Everyday Justice in Conversation” posts. For starters we would simply insist that the just management of those who are seriously disabled and who have progressive conditions cannot be adequately achieved if worker-continuity with those they serve is not properly safeguarded. Such intense care between the Personal Care Attendant and the disabled person will often  develop into deep friendships. Great wisdom will be needed in the management of such services. The claim is that NDIS will ensure that the disabled person, and her/his family, will have greater say over how the care is to be managed. But in such situations many obvious matters can too easily fall through the cracks. Insightful advocacy will be needed more than ever before.

Four for starters.

BCW 6.8.17

When Do We Want It? Now!

The recent BBC report detailing latest survey results on Australian opinion about marriage and parenting is an effective endorsement of the observations made in our blog yesterday. In this instance the report simply gives yet another example of the prevailing neo-liberal modus operandi that dominates reporting the mass media by claiming simply to give the “facts” of what is “trending”. The presumed ethical imperative of the report is that since there is now a new “middle ground” of support for “marriage equality” all parliamentary opposition should simply fall away and it won’t be long before the Australian Parliament will “join the club” of polities and embrace such a “progressive” recognition.

Go back and look at the survey that has now been referred to in the article. It is a discussion of the The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia report delivered by Professor Roger Wilkins of Melbourne University. From what the BBC reveals of the “facts” and “what is trending” (note not only the heading but also the sentimentalist photograph of those who are obviously excluded by a cruel fate), it might just as easily be concluded that the “facts”, and the “facts of the trends” as reported, tell us that the Australian citizenry is now no longer qualified nor capable of a coherent  public legal understanding of what is at stake in “marriage equality”.  The survey as reported by the BBC has as much credibility as a survey on whether public ice-cream should be made available for all primary schools. Yes, the BBC is an integral part of the political crisis we face.

And so, the international mass media, led by the NYT and the BBC, are adding their agitprop to the aether to get the Australian Federal Parliament to …. what? To endorse their longer-term agitprop for “progressive legislation”? We can begin to see how this crisis is upon us in ways that have been hitherto hidden and hence unexpected.

But just for the record consider the following “profound shifts” that have historically preceded the BBC’s “profound shift” in Australian views. Let’s try and list a few of these earlier shifts simply to identify how this chant:

“What do we want? Equal love! When do we want it? Now!”

sends echoes of a serious historical lack of awareness.

1.  When the Australian Parliament finally decriminalised homosexuality in the 1970s it was on the back of a Royal Commission that examined human relationships in toto. Crucial to the material considered by that Royal Commission was the submission by the leading “gay rights” organisation Campaign Against Moral Persecution that same-sex relationships were not to be judged as illicit de facto marriages but relationships of their own family and household character.

2. Since the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1970s, the two major “sides” in the nation’s parliaments (Labor and Liberal-National) have repeatedly and concertedly tried to safe-guard their own share of electoral support by the effective privatisation of (what Nurturing Justice continues to refer to as) “Marriage, Family, Household” the central and most productive sector of the national (and international) economy – even as it carries, as it must, an unpriceable market value. More and more the political parties have simply avoided losing votes because of what are seen as potentially unpopular policies and policy-frameworks. And so we have seen the increasing reliance upon “conscience vote” which might safeguard, in some distorted sense, the integrity of an individual Parliamentarian, but which further unhinges and disconnects that elected representative from his/her electors. Across all electorates therefore a persistent political fact that a significant sector of the citizens who have a non-libertarian way of life are effectively wedged out of political debate (ironically, even when the individual voter him/herself may have voted for the “winning” candidate).

3. There has been for a century “popular culture” and philosophical views that have systematically denigrated the marriage institution. One popular expression of this since 1978 has been the Sydney Mardi Gras. Presumably, even with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the “marriage institution” and in particular, those advocating public-legal respect for marriage, was “fair game” for public ridicule and has been ever since. And now despite what has in retrospect become merely an initial “ambit claim” that same-sex relationships were not to be considered as marriages, we have a persistent claim that they are marriages anyway and need to be recognised by a legislated “equalising” redefinition of the institution itself. And so when the Leader of the Opposition refused to support a plebiscite (quite apart from the fear of “marriage equality” supporters that such a vote would not obtain the necessary votes, given Donald Trump’s election, the Brexit vote and New Zealand’s failure to change its flag) we had the highly selective moral outrage of Mr Shorten and his crew that sensitive young people would be put at risk by such a publicly funded plebiscite. So where is the moral outrage at the persistent denigration of the marriage institution that has been regularly endorsed by the now ritual attendance of wind-vane politicians.

4. Nurturing Justice has been persistent in observing the ongoing consequences of the former Liberal Prime Minister’s failure to abide by his pre-election guarantee to his electors in Bennelong that he was opposed to embryonic stem-cell research. Since that time in Australia, and in fact from before that time, human seed and human eggs have become “commodities” for pseudo-Messianic bio-medical and pharmaceutical research. The consequence of Mr Howard’s failure on this matter – he should have resigned his seat, allowing his deputy to take over, and gone back to his electors to be re-elected. He didn’t and, as we have pointed out repeatedly, the Liberal Party has since become merely a public relations firm that now Mr Turnbull is trying to hold together but cannot do so even on his own terms that party unity must prevail because to take a policy stand will be to split the conservative forces and allow Labor to take the reins of Government.

5. The idea that marriage is a right is basic to this chant. However, the global movement for “marriage equality”, with its “When do we want it? NOW!” mantras does not address the question of why first the UN hasn’t been petitioned to amend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or even International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Could it be that that way of proceeding simply would not pass in any vote? Moreover, would it not demonstrate, and bring to the fore just how much this movement is a neo-colonial moral crusade?  Australia, as a leading polity in this region, has an international obligation to its neighbours but that matter is never raised.

6. Finally, with all the restrictions imposed by the alternative public relations firms (political machines) upon the public dissemination (sic!) of coherent public policies for marriage, family and household, we face a situation in which (read the above BBC article again carefully with respect to child-bearing) human seed (sperm and ova) is simply consider a de-regulated commodity. What are we to say about the new emergent forms of human slavery that have to be considered in this context?

The Melbourne University report has, as we have suggested, a wholly unintended consequence: its results can just as easily be read to conclude that the Australian public is now neither qualified nor capable of making a public-legal judgment upon legislation that would have a direct bearing upon the public and legal definition of the structures of “marriage, family and household”.

And Nurturing Justice is suggesting to the Australian Christian Lobby that its extra-parliamentary efforts to have a petition presented to the Senate to allow a plebiscite on same-sex marriage as per the Liberal Party’s election platform, is now politically misconceived. Giving Christians an opportunity to “vent” by saying “No” in such a petition is fair enough; but a plebiscite whatever its outcome puts off until another day the need for political parties to actually reform themselves and hence re-jig their own view of what a party is. And that task means finding a way to properly represent in our parliaments those electors across the Commonwealth who will never agree to what is implied in this misconceived, historically ignorant, mass movement for “marriage equality”.

We should be constant in prayer that in time, the Lord God in His mercy, will enable us to see more clearly what is being dissolved in the structure of our citizenship and how this impacts marriage, family, household and friendship. Can we face up to the worrying fact that we are preventing ourselves from seeing politically what is now staring us in the face? Yes it is persistently obscured and befogged by a thoroughly compromised mass media. And “marriage equality” is indeed one prominent issue that is turning Parliamentary Democracy away from just representation and a public justice mentality for public governance. It has capitulated to the results of what are now “winner take all” public opinion surveys. Parliamentary accountability to electors needs to be rediscovered and that will also have to be part of  the difficult task of working toward a genuine Christian political option over the next decades.

BCW 3 August 2017

The Mass Media’s Balancing of Our Political Crisis

The difficulty we face in confronting the political crisis that has gripped the West (and perhaps we would have to say it is a crisis that has been running with foot flat to the boards for well over a century) is also manifest in an ongoingly corrosive way in the mass media.

   Like Alan Storkey, readers will appreciate the desire of “post-academic” and “retired” bloggers to be perpetually provoked by “local” contexts. And so, dear reader, you have Nurturing Justice. Thanks for your toleration.

   In yesterday’s post I tried to identify the deep problem of the neo-neutralist journalism of the major mass media outlets. It is a post-postmodern view of “millennials” who find themselves employed in jobs that require them to maintain “balanced reporting” in what they write (as well as trying to dispense with the former “essentialist” critique of objectivity).

   What we now experience is a persistent reliance in media analysis upon a presumption that “balance” in reporting means finding an “objective middle ground” among all the competing (subjective) opinions so that fairness can be ascribed to all views. And then what happens as we read the reports? What is ascribed as the normative subjective standard for “balanced”, “professional” journalism by the journalist, actually finds its way into the analysis by the dogma that public governance is actually and always subject to a similar balancing act (i.e. in the sphere of politics rather than the sphere of “just reporting” on politics). And we might say the rest is … ideology. We get what we receive – the “news” is all about how public governance is now, as ever, subject to the major agents of political machination who, all in their own ways, either seek to find middle ground or, presumably rejecting “balance”, claim to recast the entire polity by careering ahead with their own marginal agendas, and regular Tweets. And hence the “extremists” are classified as those dispensing with “balance”, except the people concern counter by saying they are dispensing with what “powerful interests” merely say is “balanced”.

   The “extremists” are very often in deep reaction to the “balancing act” of those seeking to capture the “middle ground” which they say is nothing other than self-interest. And they, for their part, from the “extremes” claim to be claiming to create a new middle ground. And so journalism that gives a “balanced account of the political crisis” from its own presumed “middle” needs to maintain credibility by continuing to construe alternatives in terms of extremes, and balance alternative balancing acts.

   And from there appeals to a normative standard of public justice are reduced to merely subjective appeals by those with opinions – so, the important thing for assessing opinions is that they be rightly “centred”, located on the middle ground, in other words “balanced”. And how is this middle ground discovered? Principle is whatever is “emergent”, whatever will give a new angle, or ensure a new cache of votes; at least it can be said to be a principle until the next election.

   In this context elections have become a kind of nation-wide mandated public opinion survey. Presumably they are necessary to ensuring our ongoing role as citizens. What we have to worry about politically is whatever is “emergent” in the revelations of popular opinion in response to a left-right (mythic) cosmological principle, and opinion polling is now in please to measure and orchestrate social and public issues because it is by changing people’s opinions that reality is restructured according to human demands.

   But as much as we can see this at work in the “mainstream”, it is a view that is present, and almost impossible to shake, whenever we engage in informal political discussion with our neighbours. It is not just the mercenary and greedy mass media. The appeal to what is “immanent” in public opinion is widely considered to be the true route to human fulfilment on the corporate scale. Such an appeal is also present in a recent Christianity Today analysis claiming to assist reader “understanding” of trends among post-Trump evangelical millennial women.

   Whatever normative maybe, what is measured as normal becomes the principle for how public governance in all of its dimensions is going to unfold. An earlier form of this “immanence” was that political parties by their electoral majorities determined what is normative for public governance – election winners had the permission of political sentiment to “transcend” mere opinion and elevate their platform into (hopefully timeless) legislation. The hope was that it time it would become the norm for normal, balanced life.

   With the corrosion of political parties we see the transformation of the rule of the myth of the “centre”, the “fulcrum” from which “balance” (and hence public justice) is to be discerned. This says: market research rules! Political parties, and Christian-evangelical reflection that runs on these same tracks, is headed toward a populist obeisance to little more than the advertising of public relations firms that have produced “results” for their “political side” (or in CT’s case their journal’s market niche) in a competition to bring right worship to the idol of “balance”. (And then after this blog was posted we read the latest “market research” on people’s opinions about marriage and parenting and the results are that the “middle ground” is now certainly in favour of SSM – and now it is the BBC that lends its hand to maintain the balance …).

   Could it be that we are currently experiencing the judgment of the Almighty which, in the words of Alan Storkey, comes not from God’s vindictiveness, but “because we get things wrong and face the consequences of our false normativity”? Is not that error stalking the earth at this time?

 

BCW 2.8.17

 

 
 

Party Unity and Winning Elections

Those advocating a Christian political option need to assess what is going on in “the news”. To appreciate the distance between our system of public governance, and parliament’s place and contribution therein, and what is presupposed by our constitution, we only need to listen carefully to the “best and most” reliable, the “educated” news sources (e.g. those that avoid the ranting of the shockjocks – in Victoria ABC 621, 774 and News Radio). It will not take long before we notice how even publicly funded broadcasting is thoroughly embedded in the political crisis that our major parties are presuming to make their own. It is the character of this inner crisis that all too often is all too conveniently ignored in the reporting of “news”. All appeals to “but we are committed to balanced reporting of both sides” simply fall away in such critical circumstances.

The reliable reporting is apparently all about “balance”; and so to report normatively on an ongoing crisis might then tip the balance and become “unbalanced”. Why does this appeal to “balance” hinder genuine normative judgment? The actual and factual (not fake news) political crisis is being played out in the reports that “mainline news reports” continue to present. Take as an example what we will call the current “Twittered rumour” from Liberal Party back-benchers that they are threatening to cross the floor in order to have same-sex marriage legislated by this Parliament before the end of its term in office. It is a good example of the ABC (and others) capitulating to agitprop; the demand is made in the context of the Liberal Party’s fear of losing the next election and some in marginal seats have their hearts set on a political “career” – a parliamentarian’s “career” is a notion somewhat foreign to the underlying presuppositions of our Federal constitution’s understanding of parliamentary representation and was certainly abhorent Alfred Deakin. These “Liberals” obviously believe that the other “side” has captured the SSM vote. Further, they feel stranded by the platform commitment last time that got them elected – their own side’s attempt to resolve the issue Tony Abbott’s way via a plebiscite – and so with insufficient members in the Senate to pass the enabling legislation it has had to lapse even as it is still said (by some) to be policy.

And so, when we hear this report we hear that these Parliamentarians have said that there must be legislation in this Parliament. What are we hearing here? Is it Parliamentarians of the Liberal Party addressing the Parliament? Is it Liberal Party members addressing the Government? Is it Liberal Party members addressing their own party, requiring the party to demolish its own platform upon which these parliamentarians were elected on the Government side of the house? The fact is that these questions are completely ignored by “balanced” and “factual” reporting and that fact confirms that we are mid-stream in a crisis – not only of public governance but of public reporting. And clearly, in terms of Australia’s system of Government, as presupposed by our Constitution, these back-bench parliamentarians are reducing government to what is convenient to their party’s prospects at the next election.

In these probes, these thoroughly opportunistic politicians completely disregard the platform upon which they were elected – they are obviously agitating for their own election next time, seeking already a share of the SSM vote – and so are forgetting the many who voted for their party precisely because of its platform.

Here we note that an ethic of parliamentary accountability has been lost. It needs to be re-discovered. These parliamentarians and those who voted for them – like the rest of their parliamentary colleagues on all sides – need to understand that politics involves waiting, waiting until next election before one gets elected on a new platform. Just because Julia Gillard as PM received approval from the Federal Labor Conference to change her party’s uranium export policy, so that she then could come  back to the parliament with enabling legislation to send the stuff to India (was Mr Tony Abbott MP in his role of Leader of the Opposition leading criticism of that decision – ha!) is no constitutional basis for Labor’s opponents to jump on the populist bandwagon. And just because it was mineral exports doesn’t mean it wasn’t a populist sidestep of due process. And, by the way, it is the Liberal Party agitators and not just their opponents who need to remind themselves that the Constitution does not recognise the Federal Labor Conference as a part of our system of public governance.

I’m not – as I have said previously – indulging in cynicism but it is very difficult to avoid that accusation when you point to the embedded cynicism that is confirmed by our “news media’s” failure to reckon with the departure from what is presupposed in our Constitution by parliamentary democracy. If it weren’t enough to have the imposition upon the nation of ongoing political traditions by which the two major “sides” continue to dominate, cramp and misconstrue in their own interest our system of public governance. Our citizenship responsibility which, we thought, was about the accountability of those making the laws to those who have elected them (ha!), is simply being nulled by these careering careerists. Our system of public governance is a train wreck that hasn’t understood that it is already running off the rails.

But what is indicative of the depth of our political crisis is the persistent lack of normative judgement by the “reliable media” when it comes to instances of agitprop like this recent one. The inner tensions between party unity on the basis of a party platform and efforts to maintain party unity by changing the grounds of a party’s parliamentary representation in order to win the next election are presumed to be the normal and normative way of politics.

Donald Trump, as David Brooks of the NYT has opined, has seemingly been good for NYT’s subscriptions. But to travel down this path by silence and failure to comment openly about naked populism, eschewing judgment because it is merely a “fact” means “news” which avoids editorial censure, an attempt to dodge ongoing responsibility. And  in fact such a view is destructive of our system of parliamentary representation, and continues to deepen the crisis in its own journalistic way. It simply dispenses with all ordinances of self-denial in order to report upon the dispensing of political self-denial as if the latter is simply to be expected. And hence we see a further wedge driven into our failing system of parliamentary democracy, and parliamentarian’s accountability to the electorate is dissolved in public opinion surveys by vested interests.

We are in deep trouble.

The non-fake news is that the failure of the ABC and other allegedly “reputable” news sources and media is fully part of our political crisis.

The emergent political strategy in this agitprop is obviously aimed to get the matter off the political agenda. It will no longer be an issue such advocates assume because if the law says so therefore it must be right and true, therefore it must be “normal” therefore it will no longer be an issue. Presumably we will then “get on with the rest of our lives”. This means little more than concentrating on making sure our materialist and individualist (if not narcissistic) success ideology gets front and centre attention by our parliaments so that the people of this country can get on with their lives in terms of their goals for success.

Given the combination of a lack of respect for electors with a lack of coherence in platform policies concerning marriage, family and household (the full bio-politics kaboodle), it will probably be not too far off before legislation for “marriage equality” is passed. But will such legislation be mainly a symbolic parliamentary endorsement, a point in our nation’s legislative history that can be pointed to in order to advocate further “progressive” measures?

A Christian political option needs to avoid getting caught up in flag-waving exercises, and those wanting to see public justice will need to engage in a truly root and branch rethink of Government’s relation to marriage, family, household and friendship. The task of forming public policy takes decades and to now promote genuine public respect from the perspective of a Christian political option will not be easy. It will have to be long-term.

But the way will not be found by accommodation to the populist inner tension now so evident in the mass media’s reports of “both sides” of politics. The maintenance of a political party’s unity is assumed to be the same as gaining electoral success. Such a dialectic needs to be scrupulously avoided; it is merely an endorsement of the crisis we are now going through.

BCW 1.8.17

Matthew’s Treasure Old and New

Matthew’s entire discussion about Jesus’ parable-teaching is worth our close attention. Earlier on, as Jesus was just beginning his ministry – in the wake of John’s arrest and incarceration, he went a short way up a mountain, sat down, and “opened his mouth” in teaching. The phrase “opened his mouth” is given its Old Testament anchorage by Matthew (13:34-35) in connection with Psalm 78:2 – and in this sense the law and the prophet were indeed coming to fulfilment in Jesus’ parables, his proverbs, his wise teaching. Indeed, that is what he had said: he had come to fulfil the law and the prophets (5:17-20).

We can even go so far as to say that Matthew 5-7 (coupled together, perhaps, with the Epistle of James) is the New Testament’s updating of the Proverbs of Solomon, the definitive version as given by the True Son of David.

Matthew’s discussion of what we have come to call “the parables of Jesus” gives every indication that he understood that this teaching is the definitive fulfilment of the so-called Old Testament Wisdom Literature. Therefore we should not approach them as if they are something of an altogether different literary classification from the Psalms and Proverbs. The Hebrew term for The Proverbs of Solomon [מָשָׁ֣לי] is translated in the Septuagint rendering of Psalm 78 as “parable” [παραβολαῖς].

We note that he not only “sat down” to teach from a boat, when convening a meeting of his open sea-side synagogue, but the passage from Isaiah (6:9-10) that Matthew quotes (13:14-16):

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

is a Messianic passage. It concludes with a reminder that though the tree of God’s people have proved to be so barren, the “holy seed” is yet the stump of this seeming fruitless tree (Isaiah 6:13).

And that raises the question: why does our reading of Matthew at the point where Jesus replies to the question of his “inner circle” suggest such a harsh judgment upon the multitudes in comparison with the elevation Jesus ascribes to his closest disciples? The disciples came asking:

Why do you keep on teaching them parables? (13:10)

He answered this by saying:

This is because the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven have been given to you, but to them it has not been given (11). 

So, as we consider the parables that are presented here (in Matthew 13), we are made privy to the questions of the twelve about Jesus’ teaching and of the answers Jesus gave. The sower parable expounded indiscriminately to the multitude – like the seed of this sower – becomes a means by which Jesus explains to his “inner circle disciples” – those he has specifically subjected to his eye-ball to eye-ball nurture – that they are the prepared ground who are therefore expected to bring forth 100, 60 and 30 fold. This implies their responsibility for the ongoing education of the multitude to continue what Jesus has begun.

So here there is further parabolic subtlety in Jesus’ “close up” explanation to his “inner circle”, presumably Matthew is referring to “the twelve”. They too are still view when Matthew recounts the application of Isaiah 6 (and God’s perpetual faithfulness to the “holy seed”) and then also of Psalm 78 (13:34-35). The disciples are portrayed as construing the parables for “them” (i.e. the crowds) and yet they are those who are having their ears unblocked and their eyes opened.

To us, Matthew depicts Jesus the teacher implicitly suggesting to the twelve that they have a task to think about the parable and to work it out for themselves in terms of the work that he has already commissioned them to undertake (10:1). This is not a “free-for-all” where any retelling of the parable is as good as any other. It is a call to discipled circumspection, to corporate consideration and discussion – to listen and to digest. To heed the word of the Lord and to do it.

But then Matthew tells us that the work of interpreting what is conveyed by the parable of the sower should not be allowed to distract those learning about the Kingdom of Heaven from the “the state of the world”, and how we are called to understand it.

Now, says Jesus, I have given you a parable to think about all the dimensions of the work I have been engaged upon in sowing the seed here in this setting and thus all the work that you will undertake in following after me. Here I am as a sower … but what is the Kingdom of God like?

And he then proceeds to tell the crowds how the rule of the Lord God makes itself manifest in this world, creation. Matthew tells us that it was concerning the first of these three parables (of Wheat and Weeds) that when the “inner circle” were alone with Jesus they asked him to explain it further. Keep in mind that their initial question, as Matthew records it after the parable of the sower, was not about the content of the parable but why Jesus taught “them” in parables. Jesus then went on to explain the parable in detail. But here, with Wheat and Weeds, the disciples have decided to come and ask Jesus for his explanation.

Is Matthew drawing attention to the fact that of all the parables Jesus gave out to the crowds, this one intrigued the most? They were keen to get the “inside” teaching about its meaning. This one, along with the third in a set of three subsequent parables listed by Matthew – the Kingdom of God is Like a Big Fishing Drag-net (13:47-50) –

the other two are: The Field with Hidden Treasure (13:44) and The Pearl of Great Price (13:45-46)

refers to the separation between the good and the bad fish, the faithful and the faithless, the obedient and the disobedient.

In the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, the Kingdom of Heaven involves workers in the field of the Landowner who has sown the good seed who are the children of the Kingdom. Will the workers then proceed to pull up the weeds that have been sown by the Landowner’s enemy? Is that what his servants are called to do? Not at all. It is a parable about worker obedience in the shadow of the Landowner’s patience. He is patient in his waiting for harvest at the right time and his workers should image him in this. Activistic impatience can only proceed in the shadow of his enemy, who is bent on avoiding judgment. And thus the parable is given to Jesus’ disciples – are they going to be the faithful servants of the Landowner who image their employer by maintaining due patience? Are they going to ensure that they do all they can to bring the good seed, the children of the Kingdom, to maturity and hence to the harvest?

And then there is the Mustard Seed parable, which tells of the manner in which the Kingdom of God grows, under rules that God has been pleased to ensure that his creation prospers. And the same goes for the Mixed Yeast parable. The yeast also works according to its own creaturely character but it needs to be patiently and thoroughly “mixed” if its bounty is to be properly enjoyed as it is destined to be, at the right time, the time when the loaf is fully cooked and ready to be taken out of the oven.

Mustard Seed tells of the wisdom of the Lord. How did this man actually plant this mustard seed? (We are told that it is the smallest of all seeds 13:32). We are not told. Luke’s account of a similar parable has the man throwing it into his garden – on the occasion that that version was taught we might have asked whether it was thrown out with the household dust, growing through a self-seeding action. Here Matthew might seem to give us a picture of a man reverently carrying this tiniest of all seeds and painstakingly digging a hole for it, gently placing it within, and presumably watering it. In comparison to the seed that can only be seen by squinting at it, the man is a colossus.And yet in doing this, and in respecting the tiniest of seeds, he takes his place in a process that decisively adds to the life of the birds which live and sing within the tree.

Mixed Yeast is a picture of a competent cooking technique. That too is part of what is called forth in the Kingdom of Heaven. The mustard seed germinates according to the creator’s timetable; the yeast in the dough takes time to work but then the action of mixing it thoroughly by a human agent is a necessary pre-requisite for the finished product.

In this context, where the Kingdom of Heaven is depicted in terms of a peculiar kind of patience, Matthew seems to be suggesting that the “inner circle” were being taught to think again about the ethnic instincts that somehow God stands in need of their assistance for his Kingdom to come and his will to be down on earth as it is in heaven. But Jesus may appeal to zealots, but discipleship is drawn in terms of a persistent, God-imaging ethic of patience and mercy.

And then, as if for good measure, Matthew adds three more parables – The Treasure in the Field, The Pearl of Great Price – what is the Kingdom of Heaven to those who are entering into its realm? – and The Fisherman’s Net. Our understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven can gain clarity by looking carefully at what fisherman need to do when they are confronted with a big catch. The good and the bad will indeed be sorted. It is not going to be an end of age when good and bad are merged, but rather when they are to be finally separated. This too was the message of the Wheat and the Weeds.

In the Fisherman’s Catch, the final parable Matthew lists for us here, we are reminded again of the political context in which Jesus was teaching, because John the Baptist, then in prison, had also taught by parable about the final judgment that is to be inaugurated by the coming of the Son of Man. The trees that do not bear fruit according to their purpose are for the chop (3:10); the chaff will be separated from the wheat and will be consumed by fire (3:12). And here Jesus shifts the metaphor to the fishing industry – it is the same message. A big and final sorting is on the way. Matthew suggests here that Jesus continues to teach in a line developed by John. We are reminded what he has suggested earlier about Jesus’ ministry of mercy to those suffering grief and anxiety now that John had been imprisoned – now that the life of “the voice crying in the wilderness” hangs by a thread. It is in that context that Matthew tells us that Jesus’ developed his ministry of parables to the multitudes and to his “inner circle”.

Matthew tells us what Jesus had to say his “close-up” or “inner-circle” disciples. These were proverbial stories, cracking good tales to get them thinking about what’s what in the Kingdom of Heaven. We have what Matthew has recounted of this “learning and teaching” phase of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 13. The passage begins with the famous parable of the sower but includes others as well as well as the discussion provoked “up close” by the disciples. So, Matthew recounts that when he asked them whether they understood his parables, they were eager to tell him they were indeed following every word. He held their attention. He was their good teacher.

“Sure thing! We’re on the same page as you are, Lord!” (13:51)

And Jesus’ reply was this:

Therefore every scribe [we might say story-telling journalist] who is well schooled in the Kingdom of Heaven is himself like a living parable, just like the householder who puts her treasure on display from all she has, old and new (see Matthew 13:52).

As we have suggested, this seems to have described how Matthew came to understand his Gospel-writing vocation.

BCW 30.7.17