The Political Tipping Point of Public Governance

Liberalism’s Limits:

Beyond Individualism’s Parliamentary Dead-End

Out of this current political mess – will there be a plebiscite? will there be a voluntary postal vote? will parliament have a conscience vote? – Australia’s polity is faced with its now perpetual inner weakness. Our system of public governance is in trouble. It is not so much the Commonwealth Constitution and it is not only what we have inherited in our system of parliamentary democracy as that has been morphed into its current neo-liberal mould since the 1970s.

The Constitution has to some extent served pretty well to maintain a workable federal system of antipodean representative democracy since the Colonial Governments federated in 1901. The subsequent life of the Commonwealth of Australia has witnessed a viable experiment in co-ordinated, federated state-crafting of these far-flung British Colonies have come together politically on this massive , ancient desert island continent, with Tasmania and other islands too. Yes, it took far too long to extend justice political rights to the descendants of those who have peopled this turf for thousands of years. And there is still cumulative injustice built into the structures of our polity requiring continued legislative redress. Australia is a regional power although, despite the Mabo judgement of 1992, still a long way from proper political acknowledgement of our South West Pacific location as a polity that is also Melanesian! We rarely think of that even as the Torres Strait Islander flag has flown officially, also from local council offices across the nation, for 25 years!

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Council Offices of the City of Greater Geelong

Yes, there is the emerging question of whether the mentality of “white Australia” has somehow reappeared, morphed into a mythic nationalist “society”, as loud and belligerent defenders of “Aussie values” find difficulty in explaining what those values are and fail to explain in cogent political terms how our system of government should respond to our political community’s amazing kaleidscopic diversity. There is continued “home affairs” nonsense about the need for migrants to be fluent in English even as most of us continue our day-to-day lives in blithe ignorance of the first Australians who speak in many different languages, and some of whom would not pass an English test. The anomalies can stack up once we go looking for them.

But now? As we wrote yesterday, one initial step to genuine political reform is for those who have aligned with the two major political “sides” to face up to the political reality they have given us. The  Parliamentary difficulties we now face are due to a continued failure of the Liberal and National coalition and Labor parties to justly form public debate in the public interest. Their failure makes genuine Australian state-crafting from here on problematic. We are increasingly susceptible to what may well be a populist demagoguery. These parties of the “two sides” are broken cisterns that no longer hold water to slake the political thirst of citizens on a political landscape that has been subjected to their self-interest “scorched-earth”, winner-takes-all politics.

But it can’t just be the “coming out” of individual members of these “electoral machines” or those who vote for these elite public relations firms, publicizing their dissent, crossing the floor, quitting to form new micro-parties or whatever it may be. It is the parties themselves, as political associations, that need to reform themselves by stepping back from their ongoing misshaping of our polity. How are they to do this? How are they to enact an ordinance of political self-denial and stop pretending that the future of this country’s parliaments is in the direction that they continue to set, from their politically privileged position, even as they career along, taking the country with them into … ?

The first political step of these parties is to reckon with the fact that the Commonwealth of Australia does not actually need their political machines as they continue their false claims to represent all Australians. (This first step is actually reminiscent of the difficult task of bringing genuine reformation to a thoroughly compromised Christian church! Not so very different – similar difficulty with dogmatic religiosity.) This first step will need further explanation, which subsequent posts will explore and then set out further possible steps.

Suffice to say that it is a political step requiring courage and the sad thing is that there is every indication from the Parliamentary leadership of both sides that such a step is unthinkable, simply not on their horizons at the present time. They present themselves to their electors as two fellows who are simply unable to see what is happening to them. Theirs is a politics of obsession that Australia “needs” them, that somehow their public lives will be gross failure if they change course.

 The children’s story “Bill and Ben” has more coherence than the joint sounds of the aria being sung by “Both Sides of Politics”, with lead singing from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men of “both sides”, with now a middle-ground competition to see who can displace Weed – Will it be Greens, One Nation, Xenophon or others? – growing up between them.

It will not be an easy for the political parties to take such a step since they identify themselves so rigidly with this “both sides” dogmatism. They need to be reminded that “both sides” are not mentioned in the Constitution. Nor are their parties. But once the step is taken and the political shambles faced – to the mess that they too have brought us to as a polity – then we can begin to address the deep political issues that confront us.

This will mean discussing politically the significance of other political views diametrically opposed to our own. It will mean examining the detail of well-elaborated legislative programmes that arise from the diversity of political perspectives, those that arise from our political opponents, and finding ways to reckon with their just points and dissenting carefully and forcibly when we are convinced they are wrong.

It will thus mean a recalibration of what it means to embark upon political compromise in legislation, taking seriously the ways of life that differ from our own and the ways of understanding political responsibility that are antithetical to our own understanding. It will  include, we hope, a coherent Christian political option that seeks a legislative programme of justice for all. It may take decades but this then would be what Nurturing Justice has in mind for a Christian political option among the various political options that are evidently present in our polity today. With such an approach to our political responsibilities we can hope to then set about the task of reforming our system of parliamentary representation in order to extend due respect to all citizens. We need to refresh our commitment to a thorough and fair system of proportional representation in parliamentary representation.

Unfortunately, our state-crafting responsibilities are now hostage to the perceived electoral fortunes of “two sides” dogmatically incapable of reckoning with other ways of organising Parliamentary representation and the making of laws. They have effectively given up the task of state-crafting and instead have assumed that they are the ones to possess sufficient elasticity of political principles to speak for everyone (which they obviously cannot). And do they not present themselves with an arrogance to the citizens who elect them, that we should only ever give form to our part in the God-given state-crafting task when either of them are in control of the Commonwealth’s legislative apparatus. This view needs to be dispensed with.

Our subsequent posts will speculate on further steps that these two “sides” should take. The political reality staring them in the face is evident in their lack of comprehensive legislative programmes and policies to put to electors. They both need to appreciate that their future contribution is not in winning elections but in showing the way to genuine political contribution for political parties and for justice for all.

BCW 10.8.17

 

 

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

Discussing and Dissenting From Legislated Mistakes

There is an article about the Australian Football League that can be found on the New York Times web-site – it raises serious questions about how the homosexual identity of footballers. The article seems to want to suggest that there might be many who have not yet “come out”. The problem with the article is that it assumes that such shyness will be overcome if the AFL publicly affirms the validity of homosexuality as part of this sport. The argument goes that AFL (what we and our mums used to proudly call “Aussie Rules”) should now become part of the seamless moral rainbow carpet under all the nooks and crannies of public life in all domains of popular and corporate culture is to be lived out … Not only should the executive of the AFL condemn “homophobia” they should now be following the lead of Qantas and publicly affirm the absolute necessity of a change in the definition of marriage to ensure “marriage equality”. Equality is the current trump card.

The article is interesting for the journalist’s deft ability to bring together the previous effort to oppose racism as a forerunner to this latter-day extension of human rights that would make this change because marriage is considered to be a human right (even if it is not yet listed among those rights in the UDHR or other such documents).

We can expect that the international commentariat with strong links, to the media in this country, have been happy to see this NYT article published. In it one advocate of marriage equality put his views in these terms:

“If the A.F.L. was a parliament, we’d have marriage equality now,” said Clint McGilvray, who works with the Equality Campaign, a national effort to expand Australia’s marriage laws. “We wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Presumably this means that male footballers who would like to be known as husbands of their husbands should be able to “come out” with the full backing and support of the AFL – the family-football competition! The article itself may be worth reading if only to confirm just how systematically human relating is thoroughly blurred by this “rainbow ideology”.

But on the face of it this kind of throw away comment is deeply problematic. Is not this suggesting that the purpose of legislation is to ensure that discussion is no longer necessary because … well why wouldn’t we have a discussion about the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage if legislation changes the Marriage Act to put marriage within the reach of same-sex couples? Will such a change be the end of discussion? Has it been the end of discussion about the proper meaning of marriage (let alone the proper boundaries of family, household and friendship) in jurisdictions where “marriage equality” laws have been legislated? Of course not.

Will legislation put an end to the discussion about what it means to be human? Of course not.

Did legislation that presumed that aboriginal people should not be counted among Australia’s official population stop all discussion about the injustices inflicted upon the descendants of those who have lived in this land for thousands of years? Thankfully not.

Admittedly, Mr. McGilvray was being quoted, but his comment even if we don’t have the full statement, or his own elaborated account, still suggests a serious misunderstanding about the duty of citizens who believe the law is wrong, to maintain their stand even if that means for decades or longer. Ironically Mr. McGilvray in reflecting upon his own championing this cause may claim that that is what he has been doing. Well in that case he ought to know that just like he wishes to expand marriage law to include the legal possibility for same-sex couples to marry, so there will be those who will believe that any such expansion that denies what marriage is will continue to be discussed in ways of life that will resist the Government’s legislated mistake! The populist rhetoric of Mr. McGilvray, like the nonsensical Liberal Party “let’s legislate to get this matter off the agenda”, is cause and consequence of a deeply flawed political way of life.

But Mr. McGilvray, as much as the “rising star” of the Liberal Party we featured in our recent post, as much as the makers of the election television advertisement that warned those who did not agree with same-sex marriage to “get out of the way”, should reflect upon the fact that the current legislated definition of lawful marriage has not put an end to discussion. 

As we continue to say, the fraught issues of “human body politics” cannot be avoided; they will be discussed in everyday life and when government gets it wrong in legislation that too will be under discussion.

But now, the major political parties have locked themselves out of responsibility to shape public political debate. For decades both sides have scrupulously avoided comprehensive policies with respect to these issues in order to avoid losing votes, and parliamentary seats. Now they are simply incapable of giving leadership in public debate about such vital matters. They may speak out on these issues but in a furtive way, when they sense it is safe to do so. And if they propose to follow the rhetorical direction suggested by Mr. McGilvray they should understand that they are ignoring the need to legislatively protect parents who will discuss the matter with their children even when they teach them to avoid the mistakes that are made by Government legislation.

Elected public servants, parliamentarians, have a task to frame laws and form policies that promote constructive public discussion, that protect those minorities who in their discussions may have to formulate dissent from what is presupposed in legislation. Nurturing Justice is not the first to have observed that the rhetoric of “marriage equality” advocates too often fudges and blurs the need for opened up discussion.

These are matters about our future on this planet because they have everything to do with procreation and bringing a new generation of children into the world and giving appropriate attention to our human nurturing responsibilities.

The way in which the “marriage equality” movement makes its political claims, ascribed with the media-endorsed aura of populist power it now commands, has had everything to do with the inability of the political parties that dominate our parliamentary landscape to develop comprehensive policies of “human body politics”. We might also say that a fundamental shift has occurred in the public sphere with respect to how ethical and moral debate is now shaped.

The term “LGBTI community” is common parlance. The media regularly refers to this community giving prominence to those claiming to be its spokespersons and with reference to this community’s members. But to ask: “What are we to understand by the use of this term ‘community’?” will, in all likelihood, be viewed as an avoidance strategy, an obscurantism that is blind to what is assumed to be self-evident.

Presumably, in this world-view, Government is given to us so we can make laws for ourselves that allow us to do what we want to do, so long as we are not hurting anyone by doing so. And so the media ascribes hero status to two elderly gentlemen who want to be considered as lawfully married before they die. They become a sentimental point of reference, as the ABC and other news outlets give expression to the extent to which neo-liberal libertarianism dominates the romantic mentality of its journalists. We tend to forget that an earlier generation of such couples sought acceptance on the ground that they were not a marriage and put their claim that they shouldn’t be rejected as if that was what they were wanting to be. Somehow such historical facts get lost in a later generation’s enthusiasm for what is popular and fashionable. Those kinds of anomalies are rife in the history of the movement and we have identified some of these on other occasions.

In terms of developing a Christian political option, there is only limited value in focusing attention upon such anomalies in the history of the movement for “gay rights”. What NJ should be trying to do instead is to give wise advice to Christian parents and school teachers concerning their nurturing of a new generation.

What we have unfolding before us is not so much the start of something, but the cumulative consequence of a cultural movement that began in earnest perhaps 50 years ago with what we now call “sexual liberation”. [Revd. Gavin Ashenden in his response to the recent capitulation of the Church of England synod to a neopagan view of sexuality has discussed this as an historical outcome of pastoral care formed by the psycho-therapy of Carl Rogers and C G Jung. See here]. We now confront the elaboration of a philosophical viewpoint in which sexual identity is assumed to be discovered by self-examination – it is not only assumed that human sexuality is an autonomous power. Hence: young adolescents, on their way to adult maturity, are being induced to ask themselves: “Who do I really prefer to have sex with?” In other words we are dealing with a subtle propaganda campaign that arises when consideration is no longer given to the definitive exposition Israel’s Messiah gave of the 6th commandment:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks covetously at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Christians make a big mistake if they insert the word “another” into their reading of this. And, I dare say that in our post 1960s mentality, shaped as it has been by popular culture and the increasingly subtle camera techniques of film and advertising that feed off sexual instincts, proclaiming this as “natural”, we find it very hard to understand how adultery could be committed within monogamous “heterosexual” marriage. But when Jesus says “but I say unto you” he suggests that the law as God’s good provision is violated if marriage partners treat each other, or allow themselves to be treated, as sexual objects for gratification (i.e. also violating the 10th commandment along the way; covetousness that is mutual does not cancel itself out). The positive side of Jesus’ teaching is that he affirms that it is within marriage where a husband and a wife seek Divine approval to disclose the “sexual identity” of the other. This is not gender-bending or anything so perverse; it is simply suggesting that what Jesus taught was in line with what Genesis 1 taught. Our human identity, male and female, is what we have been created to be and to disclose in our Creator and Redeemer’s image. We are those who carry in our bodies the distinctive signs of membership in God’s own family.

 

BCW 27.7.17

 

Confronting Unanticipated Consequences – Overcoming Political Superficiality.

In our most recent post we observed how the Liberal Party’s latest “rising star”, the member for Dickson (Qld.), has confirmed the Liberal Party’s well-established tactic of “getting legislation through” – by whatever means – in order to close ranks and thereby close down public debate that is an ongoing threat to party unity.

Mr Dutton seems oblivious of the fact that he, and the rest of his party, is in ongoing historical retreat from framing a comprehensive policy platform concerned with the most important economic nexus in the Australian polity. I am referring to the most productive institution in the Australian economy – the family household. Presumably he and a good number of his parliamentary fellows on “both sides” assume that offering a clear and unequivocal policy framework to ensure justice for marriage, family and household is simply too contentious to be discussed and debated openly. The Liberal Party in recent times has floated the idea of keeping such discussion behind closed party-room doors. And there is an another instance in which they are oblivious of what they are actually doing to starve electors from active participation in what is in fact debate that is vitally concerned with our own lives. He and his colleagues, and his opponents, regularly confirm the fact that their way of “doing politics” is now all washed up.

And this may be one symptom of our “crisis” in the West, but their failure to openly address it is a cause and consequence of our ongoing national political instability. And this too is why his party is suffering ongoing disunity. Disunity is to be expected when a political party strives to stay in power by transforming itself into a public relations firm.

Mr Dutton says that he believes that legislation for “same-sex marriage”/ “marriage equality” is inevitable. he thinks his side should get amongst the action to ensure that they stay in control of the consequential policy debate. In other words his entire approach is not about justice for “marriage, family and household” but primarily about defeating Labor at the next election. It is superficial nonsense. It deserves repudiation.

What we do have, it seems, is bi-partisan political cowardice. In all the parliamentary efforts to wave rainbow flags, we do not hear of the full gamut of consequential legislative initiatives that will follow the proposed change to the definition of lawful marriage. We are left without any idea of how SSM advocates anticipate dealing with the wide-ranging public and legal consequences of such a change; there is no clear explanation of how “marriage equality” will contribute to the overall policy direction embarked upon by the Australian Federal Parliament.

When critics of “marriage equality” ask about these consequences, the ritual answer is made in terms of an appeal to the children’s story “Chicken Licken”,

… in other jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been legislated, the sky hasn’t fallen to earth!

Such a response amounts to a lamentable suggestion that opponents ought to allow the experiment to proceed, just as it has been engineered in other polities. IOW: let’s see where it goes? (Should I refer to Foxy Loxy in the Chicken Licken story perhaps?)

Yet for many of this generation’s citizens and politicians the idea that Australia might now be out of step with the rest of the “progressive” West on “marriage equality” is cause for deep embarrassment. Maybe this is what Peter Dutton is referring to when he says that, despite being opposed, he expects “same sex marriage is inevitable”. But the question is: what does he propose politically to do in response to this anticipated state of affairs? That question he needs to answer in conversation with his electors. But his party simply ducks for cover on this matter at every opportunity.

But then our concern here is this: what does Nurturing Justice propose politically to be done about this state of affairs? It’s a good question. Given the state of our political system, and the studied isolation by Christian citizens, I’m not sure there is anything specific that NJ can do apart from encouraging opened up discussion about a Biblically faithful understanding of “marriage, family and household” issues. But to do so will also mean that the full gamut of “body politics” issues (abortion, IVF, euthanasia, medical science and much more) have to be dealt with. But the focus upon “marriage, family and household” has everything to do developing a comprehensive political understanding of human birth, growth, maturation and decline. It  involves a full and elaborated view of how new human life is given to be nurtured by parents, how social life should aid and contribute to genuine maturation. And much more.

It is within that Biblical view of marriage, and all our other responsibilities, that Christians will have to develop a “way of life” that decisively side-steps the snares of mythic sexual self-liberation. And it will be from such a “way of life” that honours and respects the way God has made us that a Christian political option will arise. It will come in time. But when it does, it will also have to rely upon a sound and emancipatory Christian educational option.

In the meantime we remain at work in public policy and ethical research concerned with forming a comprehensive sociological understanding of marriage, family and household – not forgetting friendship in its authentic rainbow-rich variety.

What NJ should be trying to do, I guess, is to give wise advice to Christian parents and school teachers concerning their nurturing of a new generation. But to do so effectively we will also need a coherent and cogent historical account of what has transpired in the last 50 years.

In his response to the recent capitulation of the Church of England synod in England to a neopagan view of sexuality Revd. Gavin Ashenden discusses the malformation of pastoral care that arose from the psycho-therapy of Carl Rogers and C G Jung. See here.

BCW 25.7.17

 

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Family Life, The Good News and Resisting Invasion

As we have written in this blog, again and again, Nurturing Justice is seeking to promote a Christian political option. And any reader who has followed what I have been trying to formulate over the years will be aware of my conviction that a Christian political option stands in need of a deeper and living reading of Biblical teaching by Christian citizens.

So in this blog, I’m reporting on something that I have begun to think about from considering what the Gospel tell us about the early years of Jesus, as well as what the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament tell us about the marriage of Mary and Joseph and their family life. And yet there is deep, deep denial of the Gospel record that Mary had other children in some prominent quarters of Christendom. The Gospels do in fact speak about Jesus’ siblings (Luke 8:19-21; Mt 12:46-50; Mt 13:55; Mk 3:31-35; Acts 1:14). I am suggesting that such denial is unhelpful in many ways, and has led to many misunderstandings and wrong paths. And that means problems for developing a Christian political option as well. A Christian political option needs to talk about the human task given by God, generation to generation, of raising and nurturing children to maturity. Jesus’ coming also has much to say about that intensely meaningful part of human responsibility coram Deo.

But Luke also tells us that in the years of their nurturing Mary’s first-born, Joseph and Jesus’ mother had only a vague glimpse of what Jesus’ coming into their lives meant. So as we read Luke’s Gospel, and keep in mind that he is reporting what he has uncovered in his investigations for Theophilus, we need to be alert to what we can learn from what is implied by Luke’s approach to how the child Jesus was nurtured within his family circle. And it’s not so much what we “hear”, it’s more like what we “overhear” as we attend to what is written. And for that we need careful, but at the same time, bold discussion to arise among those who wish to seek public justice in Jesus’ name.

From Luke’s account we hear that the story of Jesus’ childhood was kept as a family treasure by his mother. And just at the point in text where we might think we are being invited to view the family’s photo-album, we discover Luke telling us that what he has written is all we will get to know and, presumably, all that he knows too.

Just because this was the childhood of the One who would be resurrected and ascended to God’s right hand, does not mean that we have to know the full family history of these years. We do not find ourselves diminished in any way by not knowing Jesus’ family’s history.

We do know from Luke and Matthew of Jesus’ conception, we know of his birth, we hear of his presentation to the temple and we know of the event that occurred when the family crowd “went up” to Jerusalem when he was twelve. Luke and Matthew also help us understand something of the political context in which the lad was raised.

But what we mainly have are accounts of Jesus’ adult ministry, his works and teaching as the Anointed of the Lord. He was a poor Galilean preacher, teacher and healer.

Similarly, we do not have any accounts of the childhood of Jesus’ cousin, John, and there are only indirect inferences we can make about the experience of children from the reports of events that took place when, years later, Jesus’ ministry took him around Judaea, Galilee and Samaria. And I have noted that there may be something similar at work here when Jairus and his wife, and with them Peter, James and John, were instructed by Jesus not to tell the story of the little girl’s raising – there would be no internet site, no selfies of Jairus’ daughter put up on that synagogue’s web-site. Wasn’t the little girl’s ongoing health in view when Jesus gave that instruction?

And yet, Jesus instructed his disciples to give their full attention to children. This did not mean that the details of their young lives, their particular stories, were to be proclaimed as so much free information for whomever may have wanted to know about such details. And that is why I am saying that there is indeed something here for us to attend to. Particularly today with the epidemic of undifferentiated “data” being strewn around. We need to respect the tender plant which is a child’s life, to wait, and not presume upon its public blossoming. There are delicate facets of parent-child relationships that are just not for public distribution. Celebration and treasuring in one’s heart are not without a context of God-given human responsibility. And this is not just a matter to be respected after family life goes pear-shaped and falls into tragedy, or violence or break-up of marriages.

The coming of the Saviour of the world, did not mean that he left behind a family scrap-book or photo-album or diary for his followers to get all sentimental about and leaf through when they didn’t have anything else to do. In fact what he left them was a meal, a meal reminiscent of a broken body and a bloody execution – until he comes again. And it is a meal to which all family members who love him are all invited

 Jesus seems to have assumed that his followers would have their own family traditions and stories to tell, even when his command also required them to leave that all behind in order to follow him.

So what were the parents, Mary and Joseph, to do when they could not find their son among their fellow-travellers on their trip home? Did they not, as parents, have responsibilities for which they were accountable to God? What we have here is but one little excerpt, one corner or one page from what was, no doubt, a rather full  family scrapbook.

The young Jesus, in his reply to his parents, tells those who were present (and, via Luke’s account, us as well so many, many years later) that he was taking the initiative in learning more about the teaching of the Law and the Prophets, and doing so alongside his own family and extended family network. He took the opportunity of the Jerusalem temple visit at Passover time to do so. Was not a twelve year-old’s education part of that trip up to Jerusalem celebrating the Passover, the deliverance from Egypt? Family life is so important for nurture; but there is also life beyond the strict limits of the family network and household. Young people mature and become adults. Jesus was on the path to adult maturity, even as, as Luke tells us here, he was still submissive to his parents.

So Luke tells Theophilus – and he will repeat it later on as well – that Jesus was indeed on his own learning curve. This learning curve involved coming to an appreciation of the intersection between himself as a child of God – and as a child, conceived as no other child had ever been conceived – and the household in which he was called by His Father in Heaven to learn the way of life of his parents, subject to their care and nurture.

Luke might have recounted more of his investigations about Jesus’ childhood, although, as we have said, he doesn’t tell us anything about John’s childhood except the occasion of his naming when Zacharias had to confirm Elisabeth’s choice of “John” as name their son.

There is the implication here that a family “outsider” (like Luke, like Theophilus, like ourselves) needs to develop respect when confronting the public record of a neighbour’s family and its members. Even if that family is the one from which the Son of God came to us, an “outsider” is to remain respectful of what is kept “within the family”, of what is considered that family’s business. This what is beyond the responsibility (and gaze) of “outsiders” like ourselves, no matter how aligned we as “outsiders” may be with the person concerned, is beyond our gaze. Full stop.

So let us ask: when exactly did Jesus make this response to his mother?

Why have you been hunting for me, mother? Did you not know that I must be busy in the things of my Father?

Are we not hearing the the young man Jesus, saying to his mother:

but haven’t you been telling me all these years of how it was that God my Heavenly Father gave me to you?

When Luke says that Joseph and Mary did not really understand what Jesus meant by his reply, he has given us a brief hint, a merest glimpse of what had to be managed within that household.

Mary says to Jesus:

Your father (πατὴρ) and I have been searching for you …

He replies:

I would have thought that you of all people mother would have understood I have to be busy with the things of my father (πατρὸς).

Luke is (presumably) writing in Greek; we believe on good authority the language in which Mary and Joseph was not Greek but that they conversed with in Aramaic. Here we have just a glimpse and Luke reassures us that, likewise, Joseph and Mary too had a mere glimpse of what all this meant. They too would have to be patient. The young man in their care would grow into an adult and perform a ministry that was unlike anything anyone else had ever undertaken. Just like their son, they too were on steep learning curves.

When earlier we have read of Mary’s compliance with the angel’s news –

“Take note please. I am the maid-servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me. Just as you have said it would.” (Luke 1:38)

we are not wrong to read it as the expression of pious obedience by a young woman to the revealed will of the Lord. But it indeed became the “signature tune” of her entire life, and she would in time have to deal with the enormous emotional roller-coaster of the betrayal of her first-born, his trial and crucifixion and then his resurrection and ascension. And we are not wrong in seeing this as the onset of a life-long “event”, we might say that it is a learning curve, and one unprecendented among all the sons and daughters of Adam. And the comments of Simeon and the affirmation of Anna at the temple in Jerusalem must have been a profound pastoral support, preparing Mary and Joseph for their work as parents as they took on the task of nurturing this boy and the other children of their family and household.

With the four Gospels at our disposal, we now reflect upon how this part of Jesus’ story became clarified for his mother with his crucifixion and resurrection. Was it only later on that the real significance of the angel’s message, and of the prophecies of Simeon and Anna (let alone the Jordan River announcements of John the Baptist) would begin to make sense? It seems so.

And as we reflect upon these events, with the profound mind re-directing questions that inevitably arise, we might note the quiet respect of Luke, patently evident also from all other New Testament writers as well, for this faithful woman and her husband, and their family. We keep in mind that apart from Luke’s report of Jesus’ birth, and what he recounts about two visits to Jerusalem’s temple (Luke 2:21-40, and 2:41-52), that there are only very slight references to the life of Jesus’ familial household.

From pondering this “absence” we seek a wisdom to better understand what God is doing by having met with us in Jesus Christ. What God has done with Mary and Joseph and their family and household was presumably left by Luke for them to work out between themselves and God! We are left outside of it. Why? We have our own family stuff and family background and grandchildren (if we have any) to work with, to work and serve those God has given us, and to do so personally, intimately as members of God’s family and kingdom.

And as with Jairus and his wife and household having their “inside story”, so all other families have theirs and ours. And so I am suggesting that as we develop a Christian political option, in the context of a Christian way of life, that is something vitally important for us to think about. It refers to the peculiar nurturing that God in his creational wisdom is pleased to see develop in our lives – first between ourselves and our parents, then between ourselves and our siblings (if there are any), then between us a married person (whether a husband or a wife (if we get married), between us as parents and children. And from decree of glory to another.

And so here too, with a deepened sense of responsibility coram Deo we can, helped so gently by God’s Spirit, understand our own family’s distinctive integrity and  resist all invasive intrusions forcing themselves upon us, whenever and however they attack. And at the same commit ourselves to the service of our neighbour in Jesus name, to all, in our family networks and beyond to the whole world in the knowledge of the grace and goodness of the Lord.

BCW 5.4.17

TEN YEARS ON:

How should we characterise the last decade of political life?

In this series of Nurturing Justice I want to reflect briefly upon Nurturing Justice‘s ongoing exposé of the Liberal Party, and \perhaps one of our major political contributions.

We have recently commented upon of the Liberal Party’s deceitful practises, bordering on a profound and deep-rooted corruption, in local government. I am not sure whether, in former time, such a political failure at a local level would have become a national scandal. Maybe it wouldn’t have. But it certainly deserves to be made so these days. According to Nurturing Justice, the ongoing crisis in the Liberal Party is not as the mainstream Murdoch and Fairfax media, and the ABC, and construe it as merely the irritating “deplorable” conservative tail wagging the progressive dog. None of them, as far as I can tell, link its ongoing parliamentary problems with its notorious failure as a party to develop a comprehensive policy framework by which it could, from its own party’s corporate political reflection from its grass-roots, to make its case for being a party of candidates pledged to represent electors. The declension from being a political association that actually facilitated just representation of electors, as is presupposed by the Australian Constitution, a sine qua non dimension of our own nation’s parliamentary democracy under the Crown, was made virtually irrevocable when the former PM justified his own. and his party’s willingness to play with electors, by a specious plea to a pragmatic distinction between “core” and “non-core” policies. But then of course this was a distinction that was made after the electorate had been conned by such an understanding of platform promises.

Nurturing Justice has traced this to the Liberal Party’s own constitutional crisis of 1974-5 and to the consequences that flowed for the party as a parliamentary party of political principle when in 2001 the former Member for Bennelong, as Prime Minister in the Federal Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, found he could not hold to his pre-election promise to his electors concerning scientific research on human embryos.

And so, since 2006, Nurturing Justice has sought to explain how that persistent declension from ensuring genuine political representation in the country’s Parliaments (and now also local councils) needs to be taken into account if the beginnings of, the groundwork for, a coherent Christian political option is ever to be initiated in this context.

And no one, to my knowledge, is actually drawing attention to the inner connection between the Liberal Party’s accommodation to Faustian principles and its shift toward libertarian politics, by the Party’s on-ging endorsement (despite some token “conscience vote” opposition) when the former PM, having won the election, reneged on that 2001 pre-election promise to his electors. Since then the device of a “conscience vote” has been the pragmatic means to preserve the party’s unity, holding back members elected on its platform from splitting into various competing factions. (And the Labor Party too has played this game). And so, now it is “same sex marriage” that cannot be resolved by a conscience vote in Parliament because of an agreement to hold to the election promise of a national plebiscite.

 Well, I find I am in mortal danger of simply writing in ways that parade my qualifications as a curmudgeon, challenging the two resident “old geezers” watching whatever was going on “below” in Sesame Street.

But Nurturing Justice has actually been devised as a project to challenge any merely curmudgeonly tendency that might arise in my or anyone else’s political attitude for that matter, as I/we become “more mature”. But as a political temptation it is one to which many capitulate in the media and other facets of public life. It is not so easy to avoid the ironic curmudgeonly approach to politics. Besides, it often holds out the prospect of “light relief”. It then simply becomes a dimension of public theatre. Yet, there is a counter-tendency – equally superficial in a political sense and perhaps even more politically destructive – when powerful persons seek to maintain their niche in the media by announcing their “change of attitude”, bending to the whims of (alleged) majority opinion.

The next two posts Public Emotions and Debating Justice (1) and Public Emotions and Debating Justice (2) are republications of posts written 10 years ago.

Nurturing Justice is posted as a way of encouraging a Christian political option. And we therefore seek to deepen our understanding of what happens politically when humans imagine themselves to be autonomous. The claim to human autonomy is as alive now as it was ten years ago. In fact it was an entrenched part of Western political life and thought even before 1788, let alone 1901.

BCW 31.3.17

How to View a Disastrous Presidential Election

The following article has appeared at the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics site. The Kirby Laing Institute is located at Cambridge, UK.
It appears at http://klice.co.uk
It is an important statement that identifies the deep political problem at the heart of the Trump presidency. The accession of Donald Trump to the presidential office raises important questions about the future path we will have to walk as those advocating a Christian political option. We certainly avoid the obsequious accommodation of those so-called Christian leaders who have been mentioned in this article who see Trump’s presidency merely as confirmation of the sinfulness of public governance per se.
KLICE Comment is written by James W. Skillen is founder and former President of the Center for Public Justice(Washington, DC) and James R. Skillen is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Calvin College (MI).

BCW 10.1.2017

______________________________

 

The Trump Presidency: Everything Up for Grabs

As Donald Trump begins his presidency, very little is clear about the course it will take. Dominant characterisations are ‘unpredictable’, ‘confusing’, ‘divisive’. That is true not only for Americans and foreign observers but also for the president’s own cabinet secretaries and members of Congress.[1] As House Speaker Paul Ryan keeps saying, Trump was an unconventional candidate, and he is an unconventional president.

During the long election campaign, anti-establishment populists heard in Mr. Trump’s demagoguery and outlandish promises the voice of a leader they were ready to follow – a strongman from outside Washington who would smash barriers that have held them back from fulfilling their dreams. That strongman confidence was on full display in his inaugural address and it continues to mark his tweets and executive orders. The people he admires, including himself, are great, smart people, the ones who get things done by not bending to the status quo. The creative dealmaker is one who leaps over losers and pushes doubters aside as he charges forward, singlehandedly if necessary, to make America great again.

Yet Mr. Trump is ignorantly self-confident and without apology. Not long ago he explained that others ‘are surprised by how quickly I make big decisions, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts and not to overthink things . . . . The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience’.[2] One investigative journalist offered the following summary after interviewing a range of Trump Organization executives: Mr. Trump ‘is not “magisterial and decisive”, as advertised, but erratic and often ill-informed. His slapdash decision-making and short attention span are not a management style so much as a pathology . . . .’ [3] It is difficult to convey in standard prose the new president’s character, egophanic energy, and limited store of knowledge. His actions and speeches make one think of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values’ and Joseph Schumpeter’s description of capitalism as ‘creative destruction’.

This president requires no history lessons, can do without regular intelligence reports, and believes he knows what the majority of Americans want. All of this was particularly evident in his order on January 27 to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. In drawing up and announcing the order, he bypassed almost every official and congressional leader that should have been consulted about it beforehand. The order lacked clarity, was illegal on several counts, and caused chaos at many airports. Though arguing that he was acting to protect Americans, he offered no argument or evidence for how the order would do that. Many officials and commentators argued, to the contrary, that the president’s impulsive action is almost entirely counterproductive.[4]

Unprepared and Unqualified for the Office

What we are witnessing in these first weeks is the presidency of an officeholder who has little or no regard for the office. He recognises few if any boundaries between any of the offices he holds – as father, businessman, citizen, and now president. They are all simply means – his tools – for making better deals all around. This is a man who refuses to acknowledge any conflicts of interest between his responsibility as president and his continuing business involvements. Why should the Constitution’s ‘emolument clause’ inhibit him – a man who can get America ‘winning again, winning like never before’? And why should he consult with agency experts on immigration and national security who would likely provide more accurate and nuanced accounts of security threats? He promised in his inaugural speech to ‘eradicate [Islamic terrorism] completely from the face of the Earth’, and he acts as if bureaucratic processes will only slow or undermine progress toward that absolute victory. Perhaps this is why, as of February 1, forty-one law suits had already been filed against him, primarily in response to his executive order on immigration and his conflicts of interest.

Mr. Trump’s complete lack of government experience and blindness to the distinct types of responsibility that belong to government, business, family, and more, help to explain why he has chosen so many people to head cabinet posts and other top positions who are as politically inexperienced as he is. Many of them were chosen to undermine the very purpose of the departments they will lead if approved by the Senate. Many of them have come from Wall Street, large corporations, or the military. A disproportionately large number of them are billionaires. As a consequence, business, finance, and military experience will most likely supply the norms by which they make judgements about affairs of state, when what is desperately needed is commitment to norms of public justice for the sake of the common good.

Nowhere is this problem more evident than in Mr. Trump’s dependence on Steve Bannon, a senior White House adviser to the president who has now been appointed to a seat on the National Security Council. His relevant expertise? He served in the Navy many years ago. Most recently he led the Breitbart news organisation that promoted white nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim causes. At least two other former Breitbart employees have also been pulled into the White House. Bannon appears to be the driving force behind the president’s rapid-fire delivery of executive orders and multiple untruthful statements that are causing so much chaos and confusion.

Reality Can Bite

Despite all that President Trump imagines and declares, and regardless of how often he and his staff insist on ‘alternative facts’, we believe there are limits that already constrain, and will increasingly constrain, him in office. The question is whether he will come to recognise those limits, which include the Constitution, members of Congress, federal and state judiciaries, state governments, the decisions of other countries, and public opinion. That is, will he take his office seriously and become a wiser, more transparent, and constitutionally bounded leader? Or will he continue to strain and push from within his own well-entrenched habits and instincts to act in ways that could very likely cause great harm to this country and many others. Consider the following limits and constraints.

Quick Action – President Trump’s flurry of executive orders and tweets in the early days of his presidency purport to fulfill his campaign promises, many of them ‘on day one’. Yet most of his executive orders (excepting the immigration ban) are directives that require the action of Congress and/or executive agencies and will be slow to produce results. He and the Congress may have much less time than they imagine to produce results before disappointment and anger begin to grip ‘the people’ whom Trump declared to be America’s rulers. The sprawling federal bureaucracies, with over two million employees, are not like one of Mr. Trump’s businesses. They resist sudden, wholesale shifts in operation and culture. When almost 1,000 Foreign Service and other officers of the state department signed a letter criticising the president’s immigration ban, Sean Spicer said simply, ‘They should either get with the program or they can go’.[5] But that is not the president’s call, and we hope he will learn that he does not control the executive branch as a business venture.

Repealing and Replacing Obamacare –

President Trump and congressional Republicans have long promised an immediate repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), which has provided health insurance to more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans. Yet as of this writing, the president has not shared with the relevant congressional leaders and cabinet members his own replacement plan, and congressional Republicans can’t agree on a replacement plan or on how many steps to take and how quickly to take them to repeal and replace Obamacare. In fact, some congressional Republicans are now using the word ‘repair’, which sounds very much like they are already backsliding.

The Wall, Jobs, and Globalisation –

President Trump’s hateful demagoguery during the campaign against illegal Mexican immigrants and the ‘disaster’ of NAFTA for American workers was regularly accompanied by the promise to build a solid Wall that would help restore American sovereignty and prosperity. But The Wall will add little to the protection of Americans from criminals and terrorists. Moreover, trade with Mexico supports more American jobs than it has displaced. The loss of American manufacturing jobs is due more to the rapidly expanding use of robotics and other technologies in workplaces than to the outsourcing of jobs. And Mexico’s president has stated firmly and repeatedly that his country will not pay for The Wall or cooperate on Mr. Trump’s terms in trade talks and on other issues.

Relative to international commerce, China has also made clear that it has no intention of negotiating with the USA on Trump’s terms. Not everything is ‘negotiable’ for China as it apparently is for the new president. European leaders are also quickly reacting to the US president with warnings and criticisms. And at home, important Republicans in Congress are already indicating that they will not support a bill to authorise funding of The Wall. Furthermore, outside the bubble in which the president seems to live, most people recognise that the expanding global networks created by technological advances, climate change, trade, terrorist organisations, and failed states will not be reversed by Trumpian bluster, although there is reason to worry that his decisions could spark trade wars and even real wars with unknown consequences.

Environment and Climate Change –

Based on President Trump’s rhetoric, one would think that the only obstacle, beside bad trade agreements, to 4 percent economic growth in the USA is government regulation in general and environmental regulation in particular. In his early barrage of executive orders, Mr. Trump instructed federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new one introduced, and he has begun to roll back environmental regulations, such as those protecting streams from mining activities. Reducing regulations, the president promises, will jumpstart vital American energy production, especially coal and oil shale development. When Chris Wallace asked him in a television interview who would protect the environment after drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Trump answered, ‘We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses’.[6] Viewers were left wondering whether the president meant that he would leave a little bit of regulation or a little bit of the environment.

Clearly, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric ignores the nature of the complex, global economy. The decline of coal production was driven in large part by rising competition from natural gas, and reduced regulation isn’t going to reduce that source of competition. The push to reduce carbon emissions was certainly reflected in things like President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but it was not something caused by that set of regulations. Pressure for carbon emissions reductions is coming from the grass roots in many states and continues unabated in international negotiations. In short, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans are going to find that regulation is not the only variable in economical productivity, and reducing regulation will not have the direct, inverse relationship with economic growth that they promise. What is more, in their haste to trample all things regulatory, they are likely to discover that Americans do value some level of federal regulation to protect their health, safety, and recreation.

The Russian Oddity –

Seemingly disconnected from all that the president has thus far said and done is his opaque relationship with Vladimir Putin. The brash and confrontational American president who hurls caustic epithets at the press, who speaks and acts like a bully toward anyone who offends him, and who has repeatedly attacked the American intelligence community as untrustworthy (until he declared his 1,000 percent support for them the day after his inauguration), has persistently and obsequiously spoken generously of the Russian president. Indeed, on February 5, Trump repeated his admiration for Putin in an interview with Bill O’Reilly. When O’Reilly protested that Putin is ‘a killer,’ Trump quickly relativised this immoral behavior by saying, ‘There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?’ How odd is that? So odd, in fact, that it is highly suspect. What don’t we know here? What has Mr. Putin promised or threatened Mr. Trump with? Did Mr. Putin help fund Trump’s reelection campaign as well as interfere in it on his behalf? Will FBI and CIA investigations soon unveil the truth? How will the president react to any revelations that expose him as duplicitous or perhaps even traitorous? These questions will not go away until the air is cleared, and congressional Republicans are losing their will to defend the president in this area.

The Need for Wisdom and Sound Judgement

Those of us who are conscience-bound to live as Christians in the exercise of all our vocations and responsibilities should desire to gain the kind of wisdom expressed by Job when he spoke of his work as a public official – a judge and counselor in the public square (29:1-25). He put on righteousness and justice as his clothing and received thankful praise from those he served. Political life is not simply a means to the end of economic prosperity, or military might, or national pride. It is not, as the president seems to believe, a matter of ‘winning’ in contests for wealth and power. The greatness of any nation will be found in the just ordering of life for all who are part of it. Just governance requires the fair and equitable distribution of public rights, benefits, and penalties for all citizens. To the extent that President Trump tries to negotiate ‘deals’ without reference to these overarching norms of justice and equity, he will all but ensure unjust outcomes between winners and losers time after time.

It is of course a sad fact that Americans, including American Christians, are not in agreement on what just governance for our republic means. Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress in Dallas, Texas, for example, has repeatedly indicated that the model Jesus provided has no place in government and that parables like the Good Samaritan have nothing to say about government responsibility. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, insisted that the Bible is not relevant to Mr. Trump’s ban on immigrants. These views, which carve out a vast chasm between the life of Christian faith, on one side, and the ‘profane’ work of government, on the other, are unfounded biblically and potentially dangerous for America and the world. To be sure, the Bible does not provide a policy guide to immigration policies for contemporary states, but it provides manifold witness to principles and practices of justice, to which Christians should be attuned when making judgments about the work of their governments.[7] At this moment in American public life these concerns should be at the forefront of our attention and in our prayers for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

James W. Skillen  and James R. Skillen.

[1] See Kurt Eichenwald, ‘America’s Grand Experiment in Government by Twitter Begins January 20’, Newsweek, January 13, 2017, and David J. Lynch, ‘Trump’s Unpredictability on Foreign Policy Keeps the World Guessing’, Financial Times, January 19, 2017.
[2] Quoted by Evan Osnos in ‘President Trump’s First Term’, The New Yorker, September 26, 2016.
[3] Jeff Shesol, quoting from Michael Kruse of Politico in, ‘Will Trump be Reaganesque in All the Wrong Ways?’ The New Yorker, December 22, 2016.
[4] See David Gardner’s fine commentary, ‘Donald Trump’s Travel Ban is a Gift to Jihadis’, Financial Times, January 31, 2017.
[5] The Washington Post, January 30, 2017.
[6] CNN, December 8, 2016.
[7] See M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Brazos 2013); and on justice more broadly, James W. Skillen, The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Baker Academic 2014); David McIlroy, A Biblical View of Law and Justice (Paternoster 2004).