Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care

In our previous three posts on local government, we have developed a critical analysis of a political problem that derives from the recent 2016 LGA council election for the Borough of Queenscliffe. We began this discussion about local government last year with a post that responded to the political ambiguity and instability that had come about as a result of that election. The erosion of trust is very serious. Deceit on the hustings cannot be talked away. Our analysis has identified a variety of failures in the political context of mutually interlocking social responsibilities; each of these failures contribute to the “crisis”:

the flaw (the lack of truthfulness) in the conduct of the election; the failure of Candidates to disclose their political party affiliation; the conduct of the Local Government Authority and its elected Council; the negligence of the political parties in political education; the failure of the Victorian Electoral Commission to address to electoral deceit; the State Government’s policies with respect to police officers being available to stand for election to LGA Councils; the Victoria Police’s silence with respect to the question mark now placed against the application of the code of conduct for police officers.

This is a gridlocked ethos of political irresponsibility. It illustrates a political unwillingness to view this state of affairs as a serious political problem that needs to be solved. Our system of public governance is being weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Nurturing Justice is contributing to a political debate in which many commentators are suggesting similar things about the brokenness of our political system; try here and here. Our particular contribution to this debate in this post is to identify some important local indications of this widespread brokenness.

As Australian electors, those to whom elected representatives are nominally accountable for the way we are governed, we have learned too well how to avoid long and complex political argument; as a polity we are allergic to extended discussion about complex political history. The political controversy we instinctively avoid may even be about what happened last week, or even, as we have been saying, about the LGA election in 2016, but we electors in this polity – in the BoQ and anywhere else – have learned too well the art of political avoidance. It was precisely electors with that reduced and a-historical mind-set that gave a full quota of first round votes (1/5th of 3000 electors = 600) to the candidate who announced:

I am not a politician!

Some readers may have been attracted to this post because I have added “Community Health Care” to its title. And they may well be interested to read what NJ has to say about “Community Health Care”. So let us first frame our reflection with this question: what has health care provision in our community got to do with our political responsibilities let alone with any crisis we might have with political irresponsibility at the LGA level?

One needs to follow closely because as well as the “legitimation crisis” in the BoQ there is also an ongoing political battle going on about the way Bellarine Community Health is conducting its affairs and contributing to “Health Care” provision in this local community. There is, of course, much more that can be commented upon, that what is contained in one post.

In The Queenscliffe Herald, the local monthly newspaper, readers can read “Verbal Stoush Continues Over BCH” (p.3). This latest chapter in that ongoing BCH saga not only concerns the disagreement between the State Government and Bellarine Community Health over the BCH’s recent appointment of a new CEO, but we also read an article there by 4 members of BCH Ltd making public their concerns about BCH management. They have serious criticisms about the conduct of the Company’s affairs. Consider the following statement:

The BCH Board made a decision to exit Residential Aged Care and divest themselves of these community assets without community or member consultation.

This is a serious accusation. But how is this statement to be evaluated? What kind of criteria are appropriate for evaluating the actions of BCH Ltd, a company limited by guarantee?

Part of the Board’s self-inflicted political problem is their unwillingness (or is it inability?) to draw attention to the reason they had to exit from Residential Aged Care provision. For some years before the closure of Coorabin, Government funding policy for aged care had been redesigned in order to provide services that assisted elderly people to stay in their own homes.

As a consequence of changes in aged-care funding from Canberra, decisions were made at the State Government level to re-configure the constitutions of community associations that had, up to that point, exercised oversight responsibility for aged-care facilities like Coorabin. If aged-care facilities were to remain viable in an era where government funding was to be dispersed with the aim of keeping elderly people in their own homes, and that funding for aged-care facilities was only going to be for those with special needs who could not any longer stay at home, then Coorabin would need to be run on business lines and that meant that the Queenscliffe Community Health Association would have to change its constitution to become a profit-based operation, a company limited by guarantee. That was the policy decision made by the State Government’s Department of Health and it meant changes to community health associations across the state. The Queenscliff Community Health Association was not exempt from this.  

So when Coorabin ceased operating as a residential aged care facility, four years ago, it was also at a time when the ongoing funding for aged-care was dispersed with the presumption that Residential Aged Care would have to operate on for-profit business terms. Facilities would have to be upgraded to cater for the less mobile and more needy clientele. And this change in orientation for Coorabin was already prefigured by the change in the constitution, a change that made it’s founding association into a company, and that meant a basic change in what it meant to be a member of a community health body like BCH Ltd, the successor to QCHA, as a change to its name – no longer Queenscliff but Bellarine. When that changeover took place, the constitution of the new body replaced the old constitutional provisions by which the Board had to be elected by, and was accountable to, the members of the Association for the conduct of the Association’s affairs. The changeover meant that the Board of BCH Ltd, a “company limited by guarantee”, was not elected by, nor accountable to, members in the way that the Board of the previous association had been. What had changed was the nature of membership and the structure of public accountability as this was spelled out in both constitutions.

It is a remarkable and continuing feature of this “stoush” that these constitutional changes are regularly absent from the debate as it now rages back and forth. The recent history of public policy and government decision-making simply doesn’t make it into this public controversy. As a result the public debate is gridlocked in disappointment from one-side and self-justification from the other. And these are the flow on effects to the local community life that came about from changes to Federal and State funding for aged-care.

Meanwhile the community’s corporate responsibility for aged-care seems to have evaporated. For many, I suspect, it is a mystery, but it is a mystery that can only be overcome if people are willing to think about their own responsibilities for aged-care in public-legal, historical and political terms. Sadly the major political parties are on another planet as far as rendering assistance to overcome this deficit in public understanding. 

But by having their appeal broadcast, these four BCH members have made a public their appeal to the BCH Board. It is a significant political statement. From reading it carefully our attention with be drawn to the fact that the BCH Board lacks the kind of constituted accountability to its members and to the community that the four writers believe it should have and which was a central feature of the Board’s relationship to members in the predecessor body as a community association. BCH Ltd is a “company limited by guarantee” and so it is subject to different constitutional requirements. To criticise BCH Ltd by appeal to the former constitutional criteria misses the point and simply draws attention to “the world we have lost”. The public debate as it rages on all sides manifests a serious declension from comprehensive political debate.

This ongoing “stoush” is also what remains of an incomplete political debate about the closure of Coorabin, about the appropriate public policies for the provision of aged-care. Nurturing Justice is about the seeking of public-legal wisdom in situations of political gridlock such as these..

We have been discussing how a local community’s corporate sense of responsibility for the provision of aged-care, having set up an association that would, in time, allow local residents access to their own “retirement home” in their own locale, a residence for which they already been responsible. And so, what we are discussing is such a possibility that has been lost. 

Some say, and not without good reason, that the local community’s involvement in aged-care has been vandalised. But to use the term vandalised when criticising new developments in public life, is to remind ourselves of the way public facilities and buildings left in a derelict state, with inadequate maintenance, invite vandalism. To use the term politically requires us to turn the critical light upon ourselves: could we as association members or as citizens have brought this state of affairs upon  ourselves? Could we have facilitated the vandalism – not by what we actually did but by what we failed to do? That is certainly a question that residents of the Borough of Queenscliffe need to ask themselves, particularly if they are prone to lament the decline of our community life. 

The “stoush” goes on, but unfortunately, those in charge of BCH Ltd are not drawing attention to the constitutional framework in which the company is required to do its work, and for which the Board of Directors are responsible. Somewhere in the midst of this confused situation, the accountability of BCH Ltd to the “Bellarine community” needs to be rediscovered. But to do so they would then have to face up to the fact that successive governments have redrawn public-legal the map and hence changed the prospects for local associations exercising civic responsibility for aged-care.

“Both sides” of parliamentary politics seem content to allow BCH Ltd to shoulder all  or most of the public disquiet for the resultant confusion. These privileged election machines, as Nurturing Justice regularly refers to them, are not showing any keenness to foster insightful political understanding about these community changing changes to legislation and public policy. They are merely acting as the political children of TINA – There Is No Alternative.

But there is always more to be said and the former members of the former association that had fostered Coorabin, the former aged-care facility that was a focus for local community’s sense of responsibility for the elderly, need to look carefully again at the way in which our God-given public responsibilities to care for our neighbours is an integral part of our everyday life. We stand in need of deepened political wisdom that respects our history as well as the public-legal dimensions of our neighbourhoodedness.  

BCW 15.6.17

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

Proportionality and (Local Government) Politics (1)

This post is a continuation of material first raised on the 8th December 2016 “Electoral Mayhem on our Front Doorstep”.

My general reflection on political responsibility has had to confront a strange anomaly. So many of the people I talk to have said, quite openly, that they no longer want to discuss politics – they usually mean by this that they have given up listening to news bulletins or reading the newspapers – and yet at the same time there is this general sense of a growing nationalist political sentiment at home as much as elsewhere around the globe. My concern is with what will happen when some of the root causes of this serious political malaise are laid bear and made public. Does not the act of making the results of this analysis public through this blog (yes this blog too!) simply add fuel to the nationalist fire?

Below readers can find my initial effort to identify an intractable problem that has emerged in the local government of the tiny Queenscliffe Borough where I live. The more I reflect upon the problems that have emerged, the more the ambiguities and contradictions stand out. We seem politically incapable of rejecting political deceit when it is staring us in the face.

I am therefore wondering about how this contribution should be made to properly and justly open up this political problem as it needs to be discussed. This series of posts is oriented by the “principle of proportionality”. I have come to consider this principle even though it is usually referred to as part of arguments setting forth criteria that need to be scrupulously adhered to for the waging of a “just war”. To rephrase the conventional wording of that criterion would read:

   … the principle of proportionality applied to just political debate would mean observing the principle that the costs of exposing deep and complex structural issues do not exceed the good that is intended and that the means employed in argument are consistent with the end being sought.

I shall explain further why I have deferred to this “proportionality principle” as my analysis is unfurled below. But to put the issue succinctly: can a just political exposé of the deceit perpetrated during the last council election (see 8th December blog linked above) and its consequences be set forth which points the way to appropriate resolution?

The serious issues raised in the December 8th post have still not been publicly addressed by the Borough Council. In fact, the Council’s silence on the matter in no way allays concerns of electors that the electoral process has been seriously compromised. The legitimacy of the Council itself is now in doubt. There is a serious, erosion of public trust in the Council, and this is made all the more difficult by the fact that the integrity of local government across the State, if not across the entire nation, is under a serious cloud. And it is more than likely that the confusion that reigns in the minds of electors is also to be found among the Borough’s councillors.

To recap: in the Borough of Queenscliffe election of 2017 the candidate who subsequently received most first preference votes and became Mayor failed to disclose his political affiliation during the election campaign. His political affiliation became evident a week after being sworn in as Mayor when it was revealed that he had been elected as the Chairman of the Bellarine Liberal Party. The announcement of his Chairmanship was in terms of him being the best person to lead the Liberal campaign to challenge and defeat the sitting Labor member at the next election. The fact that the sitting State member of Parliament for this state electorate is also Police Minister adds further complexity to this issue. And we must not avoid mentioning that this person who holds the positions of Mayor and Chairman of the regional Liberal Party is also a senior police officer with the important task of heading up a police task force to investigate the serious drug usage (ice) among the region’s youth. On top of this he is the proprietor of a local restaurant and is regularly seen on site running the operation.

This post, as a follow-up to the previous post, has been provoked by a Council request for submissions on a proposed pay rise for the Mayor. This increase has already been endorsed by the Council.

A local media report on the question of the pay rise deepens the problem faced by Council and the Borough’s electors. The article quotes the Mayor as saying that the pay rise is justified because of his own personal loss of  earnings. The incumbent’s personal financial situation cannot justify the pay rise. His personal loss of earnings from his police work are not actually germane to the issue under discussion: how should a Mayor be justly remunerated? The fact that he has not been able to work in his restaurant and has had to put on staff is likewise a non sequitur. If he did not know about these constraints upon his earning ability before becoming a candidate, let alone after being asked to assume the Mayoral office by the vote of his fellow councillors, then one can justifiably ask whether he has the appropriate level of understanding necessary to properly carry out the demands of the position as it is currently constituted. If a public office needs structural reform the time to say so is before and during an election campaign, not after one has been successful in winning office. There is, among electors the considered view that the Mayoral task requires the incumbent to work at it in a full-time capacity. But our system of local governance is still beholden to a complex and demanding way of operating that assumes it is a part-time job at best, and that the payment for services is actually more like an honorarium than a salary.

But how are electors to respond to such a meeting? Council has effectively put a question mark against its own legitimacy by failing to address the election deceit. Electors – citizens and residents – would be quite within their rights if they refused to attend since the meeting is not being held to discuss the deceit but a matter that is made all the more complex because of the deceit.

This is why such a meeting in this context is highly problematic. The Borough of Queenscliffe is already too tiny to justify more than a part-time Council, let alone a full-time Mayor. The proposed new Mayoral pay-rate is $61,642 a rise of $7000 well above CPI increases. But the underlying assumption here, is that people who are elected to the Council should expect to be able to maintain the wealthy life-style to which they have become accustomed and therefore we have the bland assumption that this Mayor can hold onto and fulfil his Council responsibilities while deriving an income from his restaurant, as well being paid at Senior Officer rates for his work in the police force. And at the back of all this is his Chairmanship of the Bellarine Liberal Party that apparently sees no problem with such conduct of local government affairs.

Moreover, the Liberal Party would seem to endorse the view that it is quite appropriate for its members to refrain to acknowledging their membership of the party when they stand for public office at the Local Government level.

Well then, this gives some context for the ongoing unwillingness of the Council to publicly address the other, more basic problem. To convene a meeting to discuss the Mayor’s salary is simply a further avoidance of the issue. There is every indication that any discussion that focuses on the Mayoral payment will “keep to the topic” and avoid looking carefully at the the erosion in the public trust which this and every other local council requires for effective representative governance. But the problematic facing the Council has everything to do with the conduct of the last election, the conduct of the candidate who received the highest number of first preference votes, and the council’s own election of this person to the Mayoral Office.

Just as the the role of Borough Councillor is different from that of members of the Ice Task Force convened by Victoria Police! And are we to simply allow the role of a Borough Councillor, let alone that of the Mayor, to merge with the Liberal Party’s electoral programme for the next state election?

We here are considering the public conduct of a senior police officer. He did not disclose his political party affiliation in his election campaigning. After being elected it took the public announcement by the Bellarine Liberal Party that he had been appointed its Chairman to alert electors to the fact that he was a member of this political party.

So what did those police senior to this officer in Victoria Police have to say about this? Does this not reflect poorly on the ethical standards that are to be upheld by those entrusted with the State’s law enforcement?

And what are we to say about the Liberal Party’s seeming turning a blind eye to its new Chairman’s failure to disclose his party membership to electors during the election campaign? Have they simply flagged through that as a deceit that was necessary to ensure election? He got away with it and attracted the highest number of first preferences, so is not this the kind of political candidate Liberal Party supports and applauds? Apparently the Liberal Party by its silence on its Chairman public conduct wants the country’s citizens to believe that success, however achieved, is basic to its political philosophy!

Then there is the failure of the other (4) elected Councillors, their unwillingness to object to his election, let alone raising objections to his remaining in the Mayoral office when a week later the Bellarine Liberal Party made its appointment. Does not the Council’s unwillingness to object to this councillor’s election leave electors in doubt as to the legitimacy of the Council itself?

The political question is: how do we NOW raise such questions since to do so is also to call into question

  1. police standards concerned with policemen working two jobs – let alone that of a high-ranking police officer mandated with a crucial public interest issue across the Bellarine i.e. ice usage, let alone him being chairman of a political party and taking aim at the Crown’s Police Minister;

  2. police standards with respect to scrupulous maintenance of public rectitude in the face of an elected councillor who is also a policemen who deceived the electorate;

  3. policy development under the supervision of the Police Minister in the State Parliament (we need public discussion of how this state of affairs in which one public officer is allowed to occupy a variety of public and political responsibilities at the same time in understood by the act of Parliament that governs such public service including the police force);

  4. the failure of other political parties to make good their public standing in order to raise questions about the modus operandi of their Liberal Party opponents;

  5. the Liberal Party’s flagging through such a declension from the high standards of scrupulous rectitude demanded for public office hitherto associated with Alfred Deakin (see attached speech pp.29-31).

  6. the manner in which the Victorian Electoral Commission does its work and oversees such matters and why it has failed to act on the matter that has been public knowledge for months.

  7. the fitness for office of all councillors along with all those employed to advise them.

And all of those questions can be asked and should be asked to avoid any too easy narrowing of blame upon Council for its particular contribution to this erosion of public trust in its work – sure Council has been seriously neglectful of its public trust duty but it is a neglectfulness that functions in a context of public governance and a political context much wider than the Borough of Queenscliffe.

Perhaps it is not just the lack of Council action that has seriously undermined itself but to raise such questions as I have done is to put a serious questions against the future of the Borough of Queenscliffe as an LGA in its own right. Once again the Liberal Party reveals itself as the dogged opponent of genuine and principled public justice, the harbinger of a revolution of self-interest. But then of course, its major Tweedledee opponent is not so far behind and is in constant catch-up mode.

This matter is not going to go away. it will not be easily resolved. The discussion will continue in subsequent posts.

Bruce C Wearne
Point Lonsdale
7.3.17

Long time passing… where have all the political parties gone?

As I indicate below, there is some wisdom to be heeded in Barack Obama’s advice to young citizens.
And from Paul Kelly’s song of reconciliation “From little things big things grow”.
Coming to expression now – in BIG terms world-wide – are fruits (we might say bitter fruits) from seed sown 40 or 50 years ago. In political debate these days, I regularly hear echoes of “visions” I initially heard in the Student Union debates of the Monash Association of Students in 1970-1971. The nihilistic and utterly self-indulged world-view that may cause us to cringe when we confront it – even on the bus trip we make – did not merely fall out of the sky.
And that suggests that along with the attempted diagnosis of our consternation I give in this post, we should respect, even treasure and welcome the everyday contacts we have to share our hopes and our visions …

The ongoing erosion of a commitment by political parties to do all in their power as parties to ensure just representation of all citizens is, I judge, at the root of the political consternation widely felt with the election of Mr Trump. Our Nurturing Justice view is that the election of this “Lone Ranger” as US President needs evaluation in the context of the world-wide decline, if not complete destruction, of political parties as associations of political conviction.

President Obama’s post-election encouragement to young citizens that they involve themselves in politics with hope is well taken. “Sometimes” he says “you lose an election”. It is not the end. And in political terms, that was a wise word in season. What he didn’t go on to say is that one needs to enter politics with a clear understanding that a party may need to lose in order to hold on to its principles, its commitments. Here is the piece de resistance of political party integrity.

What was remarkable with media coverage of the US Presidential election was the persistent assumption that his “movement” running against the Republican Party was merely a side issue. And all the while he was painted in RED while his opponent was in BLUE as if Republican and Democratic parties are effective and coherent associations of political belief.

As we have suggested previously, political parties no longer know how to lose in order to maintain the clarity and cohesion of their policies; these days they act more as advertising agencies, public poll driven public relations firms seeking to safeguard the political self-interests (careers) that has transformed parliamentary representation into a system where each tries to increase their share of governance at the expense of the other(s). And in the meantime, what happens to the electors whom the elected parliamentarians are expected to “represent” (even those who voted for other unsuccessful candidates)?

And so, the organisations that call themselves political parties simply feed the serious declension in commitment among electors to political parties. They become useful to garner support for lone ranger candidates who then as part of the deal wave convenient party banners at election time.

But to return to Trump’s election: What is more lamentable: the election of this lone ranger or the line of one obsequious national political leader after another offering “congratulations”? What an implicit endorsement of US mayhem! These congratulations seem part of a global farce!

Here in the South West Pacific we have our own politically ignorant and populist demagogues and they are very much in the ascendant in our Parliaments at all levels.

From where we sit in the South West Pacific, we should by now have a heightened sense of alarm at Indonesia’s neo-colonial aspirations as “father of all nesias”. Jakarta’s dogmatic refusal to reckon with the injustices meted out to West Papua’s Melanesians was confirmed last week. The Indonesian defence minister made the outrageous and inflammatory request that the Australian Government use its power to suppress Solomon Islands and Vanuatu criticism of human rights violations in West Papua by the now well discredited Indonesian military. And here we are fixated on the US election in a region where China’s ambitions are roiling our oceans.

And in the midst of this heightened international tension, we now have before our Federal Parliament legislation that qualifies as our own special “down under” equivalent to Trump’s Mexican Wall! The political conundrum we face is similar to what those seeking public justice for migrants face in the US.

Here, we have to figure out whether such a legislated life-time ban on some asylum seekers, those now housed on Manus Island or Nauru, from ever, ever setting forth on Australian soil is a genuine effort by seriously misled politicians or whether it is just another example of using Parliament for kite-flying, a convenient opportunity to dog-whistle the masses into giving support to dodgy policies or to parties tat can no longer enunciate their political principles in a party manifesto when election time comes.

“Both sides” continue to operate as if it is better to do everything on the run but after getting elected. And so their eyes are forever on the opinion polls (despite now being Trumped and Brexited). Anything else is just too difficult (i.e. especially when moral questions are involved) and so some issues get consigned to the “conscience vote” category as a point of principle allowing the party to avoid scrutiny on these issues … and so all effort is directed to enable sovereign individuals to be autonomous. And the political parties present themselves as the willing victims of this further dimension of “neo-liberalism”. Here is a de facto disenfranchisement of electors even when, as voters, they are required to place their filled in ballot into the ballot box come election time?

The justification for this “never ever set foot here” legislation is precisely what Trump uses to support his Mexican wall. The target apparently is the “business model” of people smugglers. But the business model hermeneutic is flawed – these fleeing people have not fled because they have a business model, because they have a “plan” to take “our” jobs and avail themselves of “our” social welfare, let alone get themselves a house in “our” ridiculously over-priced housing market that our Prime Minister (with his many properties) lauds as key to “our” nation’s future prosperity! The complexity of people fleeing for their lives – exploited as they have been by business rogues – is reduced to mere covetous self-interest by such a business-model calculus.

But then we have been told, again and again, that the way ahead is for Government to transform itself even further into merely a procedural system that enhances business and industrial opportunities; Government is viewed as simply another kind of business at a national level that has the task of respecting the “social capital”, the desires of “the people” in order to unleash their potential. And so the little word “justice” will also be wheeled into political discussion; but is it not a cover for a basic acquisitiveness, a bias in favour of commercial interests presenting as nationalistic, if not xenophobic, flag waving idolatry. Thus goes the populist demagoguery.

So in our view, any “seriously destructive” impact of a Trump presidency is already here.

In the last few years “we” (in the West) have experienced a decisive political shift mediated by a rampant, commercialized, twittered and facebooked individualism. We now confront, on all sides, a spiritual-cultural pressure to capitulate to the view that norms are only ever what is “politically correct”. Elections, presumably, as the means for determining what is “normal”, what as been decided as “politically correct”. (The Liberal Coalition has joined Labor and the Greens by absorbing this ideology into its fragmented politicised view of marriage).

We even see “political correctness” triumphant in Trump’s so-called conciliatory victory speech – a few days ago it was “Lock her up”*; now after victory it is replaced by polite applause for his opponent’s commitment to public service blah blah blah – thus Trump undermines himself totally as he calls for “hard work” to build bigger barns (Luke 12:13-21) …

To be grateful to the Lord God for the work public servants and other elected persons have done and continue to do to ensure just public governance is from a completely different menu from this Trump tripe.

BCW

10.11.16

* In Australia we recall the political inability of the former Leader of the Opposition to distance himself and his party (coalition) from similar kinds of hounding of Australia’s female Prime Minister!

Some Observations; Some Persistent Questions.

I

As irksome as it might seem, we need to cross-examine our language. Let us think about how our common usage is part and parcel of the mythology that is persistently set forth about “Marriage Equality” and “Equal Love”. So even if it be a difficult and frustrating exercise, let us consider our strange usage of language. In our advanced, enlightened, progressive English-speaking world these days it seems we tend to avoid using the term “sexual intercourse” and instead we find ourselves immersed in discourse about those who are “having sex” or who have “had sex” or of those who desire to “have sex”.

The verb “to have” might suggests that “sex” is something to be consumed, like an ice-cream. Even so, at the back of our minds we are aware of the activity that our language is seeking to capture.

I am suggesting that it is here, in our everyday language, that we can begin to pinpoint what lies behind the intense and persistent demand that the Marriage Act use generic terms and uphold “Marriage Equality” and “Equal Love”. We are confronted by a claim that justice will be served if the Act designates “persons”, rather than specifically identifying “man” and “woman”, as those who constitute and bind themselves by marriage. By deferring instead to “two persons” (who then presumably “have sex” or get married because of a wish to do so) we are supposed to be supporting a view of marriage that isn’t “sexist”, that affirms “Equal Love”, that is more consistently democratic..

II

It seems that in our taken-for-granted language there is an anticipatory moment of this “Marriage Equality” trend. The assumption is that it is in and from our language that “sexist” views are generated. What is needed, it is suggested, is a “non-sexist” view of marriage as a “public good” and for this we must not rely upon “stereotypes” of “male” and “female”. And so emerges the view that marriage legislation does not need to view marriage as an institution that presupposes “husband” and “wife” (until death parts them), and thus neither do we have need any longer of the definition of lawful marriage which looks forward with exclusivistic anticipation to a new generation in which “fathers” and “mothers” enjoy exclusivist privileges based in public law. So then the problem that needs to be resolved is that “marriage” as hitherto conceived (and in the full sense of that term) is not only viewed legally but more importantly normatively as the source for (the institution of) the “family”. And it is that presumption of normativity which then fuels the “Marriage Equality” demand that this is a restriction that has been oppressive, nothing but a legislative attempt to impose a viewpoint found to be alien to many in the population. Are there not various other possibilities by which “families” are formed, and will not a change to the Marriage Act help to correct such a factual error from our public discourse? Would it not be much better and simpler (Occam’s Razor) to avoid all male-female exclusivism and simply embrace “Equal Love”.

There is indeed a profound issue here. And when we think about it we are confronted with the accusation – arising from within a neo-liberal world-view – that to retain Marriage as a male-female bond is not only to endorse terminology that is cause and consequence of a structural “exclusion” of those who do not “fit” such stereotypes. It is to provide a basis in law for the arrogance that heterosexuality is normative for humans. Moreover, it would seem that many with senior legal standing in our polity have actually gone further and endorsed the view that the Marriage Act, as it now stands, is a consequence and cause of an internalised “homophobia” in our population, a deep-seated self-hatred found in those who do not fit the dominant “sexist” stereotypes. The Marriage Act in this view gives legislators grounds for further regulations that imply that one form of sexual orientation is legitimate and another is not.

III

How then is Nurturing Justice to develop a comprehensive Christian public policy response to the “Marriage Equality” movement with its “Equal Love” epithet? We have written much about the public policy absence – reaching back decades – of a coherent public policy framework of “marriage, family and household” due to the entrenched and populist Lib-Lab cowardice. But how are we to actually contribute without confirming the reactionary stereotypes that are being artfully composed (by journalists in the ABC, The Age and The Australian to name a few prominent sources) that suggest that any “Christian political option” is simply another reactionary attempt of conservatives who want to live in the past and lobby for the special treatment in law of “Christian views”.

The first thing we have to do is to rightly understand the perspective that is being presented by Marriage Equality and Equal Love advocates. That’s why I have penned what I have above in “I” and “II”.

As we have said previously, we are involved in a local political manifestation of a global initiative that persists in parts of the world that claim to be advanced, enlightened and progressive. We, in Australia, are already fully part of this political movement. Rather than being “behind”, as some advocates of “Marriage Equality” suggest, I suspect that our public debate may actually be is extending the application of the neo-liberal humanistic world-view further than what has been achieved elsewhere. One only has to look at how State legislatures are busily adjusting legislation and regulations to accommodate the demands of this wide-ranging, well-funded, corporation-backed political movement. It may be a movement that relies upon superficial discourse but in many respects its deconstructionist applications are deeply rooted in our culture. Yes it is a movement that has been generated from within, and presupposes commitment to a liberal-humanistic way of life. But such a way of life is not countered by the mere recognition that humanism has arisen from within a Christian cultural heritage. It will not be harnessed by appeal to Christian dogma. Indeed it has arisen because, and its political power has been buttressed by, Christian citizens and parliamentarians – of all denominations – claiming that it is their private faith that provokes them to give it their public support.

IV

Recently a weakness has emerged for “Marriage Equality”/”Equal Love” in its profoundly undifferentiated demand for human rights. Because of its attempt to redesign human identity according to an abstract theoretical commitment to human rights, this political movement finds itself helpless before, and unable to resist, the exploitation of childhood for its political purposes. And so we have heard about the deconstructionist vision of childhood sexualisation. Ideologues have proudly presented their goals for the re-sexualisation of childhood (and of course of childhood nurturing) by appeal to “fluidity” and a spectral analysis of sexuality “options”.

It’s prominent advocates argue for action that would distribute “Equal Love” though they seem to have ignored the question of the rights of those who have responsibility for the oversight of childhood and human maturation. Those caught up in support of “Marriage Equality” find it very difficult to resist the deconstruction of childhood by a dogmatic acquiescence in what is a totalising abstraction that presumes that a longing for sexual pleasure, for the fulfilment of sexual desire, is basic to human identity. Such a longing must be given priority; parental nurture must capitulate in the face of what is, in fact, an abstract wish buttressed by the theories of a pseudo-science. Marriage, as we have hitherto received it, has simply been set of “choices” shaping human identity in its entirety, “choices” which are entirely contingent and which, due to their totalising character, present themselves as innate and defining instincts. The claim of “Marriage Equality” is that these are not innate and therefore the way to social justice is to deny the oppression that stems from their constriction of human choices. (Here is the precept implicit in the current libertarian view of “sexuality” that a person who should only ever obey a rule that s/he makes for her/himself.) “Sexuality” is viewed as a modality of a person’s identity to be made by the sovereign individual. The “choice” of sexuality is a vital ingredient to this identity and of course also relates the person to the “other person”, the one with whom one choses / wishes to “have sex” (We are yet to hear about the “M” sexuality – the monosexuals). “Having sex” may involve a desire to “have children” but the law must recognise the essential (sic!) equality of all desires implied in the search to “have sex” across the entire polity (at least “sex” that is not unlawful), and hence must not exclude a “same-sex” desire to “having sex”. Was not homosexuality de-criminalised back in 1981? Moreover, those with such a “same-sex” desire should not be excluded by implication from the population of those who want to “have children” just because of accidental biological impedimenta.

V

Let us carefully take note of this expansive viewpoint that has arisen from within the liberal-humanistic world-view, and which dispenses with its former accommodation to a Christian or biblically-directed view of the marriage institution.

As we do so, let us reconsider what our Christian response to this should be. How should we be understanding the teaching of Jesus and the apostles for ourselves and for our way of life. Perhaps we have been travelling done a compromised Christian-liberal path. Perhaps, in discussing the politics of sexuality, we will come across our own sins, our own sexual compromises. We should not rule out the likelihood that our latter-day response to “Equal Love” has as much to do with that compromise we have made in our own way of life, from our own hearts. We must engage in self-examination, and not allow the “legal error based on an empirical mistake” made by our political opponents to be a convenient distraction from our own need for repentance.

By positing human rights as the defining criterion to assess the value and meaning of public governance, the liberal humanistic viewpoint has confront various problems. One concerns the persistence of a Christian way of life in the society in which it proposes to unfurl its flag of freedom. How is liberalism to accommodate a Biblically-directed, Christian view of life and of marriage? How was this accommodation previously achieved?

Let us look again at the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and ask: Could the accommodation have been made by a specific interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28?

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (ESV)

Think about it. For a married man to look with “lustful intent” after “another woman” is adultery; but the proscription is much wider. Jesus is teaching that adultery is much more than a married man looking lustfully at “another woman”. Jesus has broadened and deepened the way His disciples will read Exodus 20:14 by a viewpoint that proscribes the wilful directing of lust at any woman. He goes on to say that to adopt such a view of the co-image-bearer of the Lord is as good as gouging out one’s eye, of cutting off one’s hand (see vv.29-30). For anyone to look with lustful intent at a woman is to diminish the full character of human bodily life in God’s Kingdom.

And so, if what Jesus is teaching here implies a way of life, rather than merely a narrowed down definition of adultery in order to accommodate Biblical teaching to a liberal-humanistic political view, an entirely different direction is suggested. Legalised marriage is viewed, or rather skewered, as a God-given necessity after the fall in order to counter an innate sexual depravity that would go after “another woman”. But there is no mention of “another woman” in Jesus’ widening and deepening of the Commandment. Moreover, the compromised view will simply assert that adultery is simply countered by both the man and the woman in marriage looking at each other with equal (lustful) intent. Is this not a Christian view that wants to affirm that this worthwhile and valuable social institution for civilising the next generation has been given by God “on account of sin”? Think about how this comment has a bearing upon a Christian’s understanding of courtship? Is courtship simply a matter of “waiting until after the wedding”, entertaining a mutual sexual lust until one can be married as if chastity is simply not “having sex”? Are these indicative of the misleading paths of a Christian-liberal accommodation? Are these not the kind of compromises in world-view terms in relation to which Christians – also those seeking to promote a Christian political option for marriage – should repent?

The Christian community world-wide may need to rediscover the teaching of Jesus with respect to marriage as a genuine liberation from bondage to (sexuality idols) and we will discover that such a way of married life is simply not compatible with what has been taken-for-granted in attempts to accommodate Jesus’ teaching to liberalism.

VI

In this 21st century political context, when we read of Jesus’ definitive “You have heard it said … but I say unto you …” rendition of the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” we may note, to our hyper-sexualised consternation that though he is reported to have spoken in terms of a “man” (although the text actually has “everyone” [PAS]) and a “woman”, and not in terms of “one person” and an “other”, the principle has a surprising consequence particularly if we are wanting to follow his teaching today.

Think about it. Violation of God’s law can occur within marriage, within an act in which the “woman” has become an object of lust, we might say a locus of sexual satisfaction. After all, would not 21st century intuition (particularly one that had been subjected to repeated depictions and innuendo about “having sex” in “popular culture”, Hollywood, Bollywood, Maddison Avenue, Foxtel, let alone supermarket advertising, not to ignore rampant pornography and sex slavery etc etc), instinctively take this to mean that “sexual satisfaction” is rendered impossible. How can one have “sexual satisfaction” if one does not desire “it” (ref here to “I” above and our discussion of “having sex” as an ice-cream) or allow oneself to be induced into desiring “it”?

PS. Are we only to consider the denunciation of Nathan the Prophet in his scathing rebuke of King David? What about the provocation of the bathing Bathsheba in view of King David’s window? What of her complicity in the battle-field murder of her husband? Surely David was not the sole guilty party of that adulterous union?  

There is a profound issue here for any principled Christian political option and it now means that Christian state-crafting cannot avoid such matters since it is also the healthy nurturing of children that is in the balance. That also means that Christian political reflection will have to take place in a context where Christian citizens are also thinking about how family and household-life can preserve and protect the integrity of courtship and a chaste lifestyle. The question then is: how can such matters be referred to in any elaborated Christian political option without taking the misstep that a Christian way of life requires Government to give it civil-religious preference in the polity’s legal system?

VII

Nor is there any attempt to respect Jesus’ teaching in the latest secularised redaction of the liberal rights view of marriage. For a clear exposition of this juristic “Equal Love” viewpoint see the personal blog of Brian Walters SC which begins with the affirmation: “Marriage is a public commitment between two people to a life-long relationship”. (It is a 2010 blog and I am assuming that it is still his considered view. It would be worthwhile to hear his response to what I have penned above.)

As we have suggested in previous posts, the debate about “Marriage Equality” – with or without a plebiscite – has already put its advocates on notice to explain why they are disposed, as they certainly seem to be, to bypass parental oversight of childhood and advance the ideological sexualisation of childhood. Are we not being told (by some) that school children should be taught to view each other as the objects of their own sexual desires? Just who do these educators think they are?

Here again is a major political issue. It confirms just how politically problematic it is for State Governments to legislate as if State School practice – however that is negotiated by principals, teachers in active consultation with the parents in their school communities – can be the prevailing norm for how schools relate to the parents of the children committed to their charge.

There is of course much more to be said. The above is my summary of what I have concluded about the current state of the debate generated by the “Marriage Equality/Equal Love” movement.

BCW

24.10.16 (revised 25.10)

He Grew Up as a Tender Plant

Reflections on Luke’s Account of Jesus’ Childhood

“Why have you been hunting all over for me? Did you not realise I must be busy in the things of my Father?”

The reply of the young man Jesus to His parents is well known. But when Mary and Joseph discovered that the young twelve year-old in their charge was not travelling home with them, what were they to do? Were they to continue on and trust that God would take care of him? Did they not receive their responsibility, as parents from the Almighty One, who had somewhat inconveniently brought this first-born into their lives? Were they not accountable to God for his nurture and his safety?

From Luke’s account we hear what the young precocious twelve year-old said in his reply. He thereby tells us, presumably having also told the teachers in whose midst he was sitting, that he was eager to take the initiative and learn more about the Law and Prophets, about Israel’s expectations concerning their Messiah. And though he had already heard about this from his parents back home in Nazareth, it would also be to his benefit to hear how those teaching in the Temple understood God’s promises to His people. Wasn’t that, after all, part of the purpose of this yearly trip up to Jerusalem?

And here again Luke, like the other Gospel writers, depicts for us a situation in which Jesus Christ was on his own “learning curve”. Sure it was important to hear how these teachers understood Holy Scripture, and no doubt he had already been introduced to the teaching of the Torah and the prophets by his diligent and faithful parents. But here Luke tells us of how the twelve year-old Jesus confronted what we might call the “intersection” of family and Temple, how that contributed to Israel’s and his own way of life. This was an important moment, Luke tells us, when Jesus’ appreciation of the “intersection” between himself as a child of his parents, and  himself as a child of God was clarified to some degree. But then he accepted his earthly parents’ care and nurture and

 … returned with them to Nazareth, living obediently to them. But his mother carefully stored all these things in her heart.  And thus Jesus  developed wisdom, years and favour before and man (Luke 2:51-52).

This account is not mere “shavings on the floor” of the Nazareth carpenter’s shop. Luke is not trying to fill up space on parchment in a narrative which would otherwise go on to more important things. This too is a vital element in the story of the Incarnation, of God’s tabernacling with us. Could Luke have recounted more of his investigations about Jesus’ childhood? At this point we might reflect upon what can be gleaned about children in the Gospels and we’ll soon come to note that Luke doesn’t tell us much about John’s childhood either. The little girl who was raised in Jairus’ household does not have a name and neither does the son of the widow of Nain. Clearly (as with speculation about Mark’s involvement in Jesus’ Galilean ministry) there were children in the crowds that followed Jesus, but it seems that the Gospel writers – let alone the writers of the other New Testament documents – were satisfied in telling us unequivocally that Jesus surely welcomed children. And that’s about it! “Honour your father and your mother, that the days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you!”

What we as readers of the sacred documents need to be told is that Jesus was a child in the full sense of the term, that he was on his own learning curve, that he was respectful of his earthly parents and understood that the One he referred to as his Heavenly Father had given him to them and them to him for his nurture and his benefit.

Is there something here from which we can learn not just about Luke’s silence, but also about the character of the years in which a child is nurtured within a family circle? Luke is emphatic: the story of Jesus’ childhood was kept as a treasure by his mother. We know of her confrontation with the angel who announced her conception; we also know how that story is woven into the story of the conception of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, the one who, in adult life, would announce Jesus as “God’s own lamb for the taking away of sin!” John would also be cruelly executed by a mad tyrant. And by the time Luke takes up his pen, to inform Theophilus but also, presumably, to assist Paul and others in their ministry, such information was known and such stories would be told. How would Luke be able to say that Mary kept these stories in her heart if he hadn’t heard them? But Luke, in his Gospel, in telling us of this visit to Jerusalem, tells us what we need to know about Jesus’ childhood. Yes there was ongoing and intense political tension that dominated their everyday life, in terms of which they had to form their many-sided responsibilities.

What we have in the Gospels are accounts of Jesus’ adult ministry. We might say that what we have are accounts of the way he went about fulfilling his vocation as the Anointed One, in his preaching, teaching and healing. Jesus decisively instructed his disciples to give their unstinting attention to being like children of their Heavenly Father, to keep children in mind as they lived their lives following him, to sit on the mat in the creche when their Rabbi decided that that was where he would teach God’s Kingly Rule that day.

But this nowhere gives any suggestion that the everyday details of children’s lives are to be broadcast far and wide. In fact, it would seem that those composing the Gospels, as well as the other New Testament writers, are united in respecting the tender plant of young people, of encouraging those “grown up” to take on a Christ-like patience to give them time for the public blossoming of God’s gifts in their lives, without presuming upon them. Children are not to be made into objects for adult gratification. Their everyday details may be there to delight those who witness them, but they are not there for public distribution. Nurture is very much a matter of what happens “in house” and open-air and public discipleship needs to be disciplined by the knowledge that parenthood is a calling from God to witness how He is also busily at work in family life. That amazing fact is what we can think about when considering Luke’s apparent silence about the details of Jesus nurture in Nazareth (Luke 4:16).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

As I have composed the above, I have recalled the way we and our legislators – our Parliamentary representatives at both State and Federal levels – have been somewhat incapable of mounting adequate political resistance to the sexualisation of childhood. It would seem that the inability of political parties to argue a coherent public policy case about “marriage, family and household” has weakened our public ability, via the parliaments, to resist the gratuitous commercial exploitation of children in advertising. But more than that. That policy failure now leaves us all exposed to an ideological maelstrom fanned by the consequences of “Marriage Equality” sentimentalism. We are now involved in the political sexualisation of childhood even if advocates of “Marriage Equality” have not realised that this is what it is.
One only has to think about the way , in recent times, “rights appeals” have been made to draw attention to the demand that the sexual identity of children be respected.  It is, as if, parents have been somewhat negligent in what is only a marginal role (after a “begetting phase”) in the formation of a child’s character. It would seem that their responsibility is to stand to attention and salute when these supposed (“essentialist”) rights are trumpeted. The military metaphor is entirely apt. This is the view that children are to be viewed primarily as members of the political community, functionaries of the all-powerful state.
The problem is that under legislation, and the rationale that is given for it, we are seeing the fermentation of an ethos that naively presumes that the way of human rights is actually to interrupt efforts to shield children because of their “tender plant” status from social forces that would encourage them to view themselves and others as sources of sexual gratification.
Are we to presume that Jesus’ definitive version of “Thou shalt not commit adultery” in the Sermon on the Mount has nothing to say to a political discourse in which it is blithely assumed that all people are engaged in sorting out their identity by viewing themselves and others as sexual objects?
We are confronted with a “political discourse” that is running blind to the fact that children are not “adult citizens” and is discounting, if not explicitly denigrating, their dependence and vulnerability upon their parents and upon the way in which the state should be honouring and protecting the distinctive integrity of their parent’s parental responsibilities. Watch out for the bogus “equality” provisions now to be legislated to have an impact upon schools and other “religious” bodies. By carefully orchestrated appeal to children’s sexuality, adults are assuming that it is simply part of our human condition to imagine sexual relations with an “other”.
Let me put this in philosophical terms: the deconstructionist, post-structural philosophical justification (sometimes misleadingly equated with “post-modern relativism”) gives emphasis to the individual child’s right to “self-identification” in terms of a (chosen) “sexuality”. If we were to simply focus attention upon the ubiquitous influence of advertising, popular culture and political debate, then it is difficult to conclude other than that the issue has been already decided. The presumption is that the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act is already in violation of Article 28 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that proclaims the right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation. In other words the entire effort to legislate a change to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act is due to the juristic perception that the Act itself (albeit unintentionally as far as those who initially framed it were concerned) condones homophobia, that it gives a license to legislators to imply by the laws they bring down “that one form of sexual orientation is legitimate while another is not.” In principle this interpretation suggests that we really should no longer have a Marriage Act at all, since marriage (whatever it is) is merely a function of a more basic sexuality self-identification, and marriage law thereby becomes merely a matter of equalising rights between those dyadic couples who claim marriage as their “entitlement”. The naïveté of this view may be breath-taking but it is a deeply and widely held view.
Drill down into this concatenation of assertions and you will find that it is dogmatically mired in a reductionist view of human life in which a child should be first and foremost respected in political terms, as a member of the State political community. And these implications are not just inferences by analysts or by opponents of “Marriage Equality”. They are spelled out and are publicly available.
In the midst of this fraught debate is there any room to pause and recall that such “intentionality”, as is presumed to be part of a person’s nominated “sexuality”, cannot really develop without having an “other” person in view. And without an account of the normative structural context in which a young person’s sexual identity comes to expression, in a way of life that is carefully and sensitively nurtured, we are simply left high and dry. (Quite apart from the deeply offensive and authoritarian usurpation of parental nurturing responsibility by those insisting upon an ideological demand that “gender fluidity” and “cross-dressing” be included in the pre-school curriculum!) And so we have the thoroughly ambiguous and antinomian state of affairs in which “professional authority figures” are demanding a social ethos in which their libertarian views are to be given free reign – see for example the view of the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau: “I have never been able to accept any discipline except that which I imposed upon myself” (Federalism and the French Canadians, 1968, p. xxi). Liberty for libertarians are imposed by law! Children are to be instructed that they have the liberty to chose their sexual orientation(s). This is freedom! What it means in practise is that we are simply left with a theory in which an isolated individual’s demand becomes a transcending normative prescription.
Gardeners, bus drivers and those in charge of distributing meals at a school are just as much a part of the school community as teachers of maths, history, biology and social science. The understanding of human reproduction is and should be integral to any school’s curriculum. But the State has no mandate to disallow parents from insisting that schools maintain their own distinctive integrity, nor should legislation make it more difficult for schools to do so. A school whose purpose is to nurture the “tender plant” of youth should not be harassed or lectured or threatened with industrial action because it is set up in the belief that schooling is about diligent pedagogic protection of the children in its care.

BCW

21.1.0.16

Red Herrings Rampant

So, let us pause and consider what has persistently been given as arguments for “Marriage Equality”.

As I write this I’m wondering if I have missed anything. Have I been so oblivious to an argument that has seemingly captured the “enlightened” world?

The first and primary question that shall frame our examination here is this:

what is the argued justification for the assertion that a same-sex permanent union is itself marriage?

Is it anything more than an assertion?

Have we heard anything that explains why a same-sex permanent union always has been a form of marriage and now, when the law is changed, will be a legally recognised form of marriage? Have we heard anything other than that marriage must be redefined by the State to include same-sex permanent unions? Are we to say that the argument comes down to this: “a same-sex permanent union should be viewed as, and will be legally recognised as, marriage when the law says that it is”?

When we put it in these terms we realise that we have been led on by arguments that repeatedly and persistently avoid the issue:

  1. With respect to the appeal to human rights we confront two prevalent but regularly unjustified assertions:
  • the first is that marriage is itself a civil right. Our reply to that is that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman based upon a solemn vow made and maintained publicly together and to each other.

But if marriage is a civil right, as some proponents claim, then they should first have raised the need for an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and hence propose that marriage be included in the list of fundamental freedoms and at the same provide a reformulation of Article 16 which has to do with the marriage institution itself. Such an appeal to marriage as a human right seems to allow itself to be circumscribed by the so-called inviolable principle of national sovereignty, although as we shall see below this circumscribed advocacy of “Marriage Equality” raises no qualms in its appeal to what has been done by “progressive and enlightened nations” even if a majority of United Nations members do not subscribe (have not yet subscribed) to the proposed legislative deconstruction of marriage to make it compatible with enlightened liberal opinion.

  • the second is that it is a denial of human rights for the Marriage Act to have a definition of marriage which is “exclusive” in the sense of excluding relationships of couples who want their relationship to be called marriage but who cannot be said to be “lawfully married” in the terms of the Marriage Act as it now stands because they are of the same sex. In this sense the purpose for which the Marriage Act and its definition of lawful marriage was drafted is completely forgotten. The definition of marriage as contained in the Marriage Act is indeed to recognise lawful marriage and to exclude forms of marriage which do not comply with the Marriage Act’s definition. It’s aim is not to establish one kind of interpretation of a dyadic (male-female) relationship by excluding other kinds of dyadic (same-sex) relationships.

2. There is also an extremely naive assertion that Australia needs Marriage Equality legislation because we are the last English-speaking advanced country not to allow same-sex marriage (Peter van Onselen September 24th The Australian). This is more of a cringe than an argument. Those who wish to defend “Marriage Equality” by such an appeal have not explained why this polity should follow on this path and explain why they have not made a legislative or judicial error based on an empirical mistake.

Would it not be just as cogent to say that Australia is now the first English-speaking polity to recognise that a serious legal mistake has been made by other polities when they have tried in vain to advance homosexual rights by joining in the neo-liberal global experiment that would engineer social change by legislation, by seeking to reconstitute a central social institution by legislating a new generic definition of marriage.

3. Likewise, an appeal to all the surveys that have revealed that “most Australians support same-sex marriage”, is similarly disingenuous. Irrespective of what the numbers are one will still have to ask what such signalled “support” means. After all “support” can simply mean allowing people to refer to themselves as a married couple (freedom of speech affirmed). “Support” can mean allowing people of the same-sex to contract to live permanently together (freedom of association affirmed). “Support” can mean being friendly and sympathetic.

And in recent times it is commonly said: “Let’s pass the Marriage Equality legislation so we can get on with the rest of our lives.” In other words – “let’s get it out of the way!””Support” in a survey thus might well mean a deep-seated desire to de-politicise public discussion about marriage. Again, an appeal to surveys does not, of itself, constitute an argument. If anything it highlights the need for genuine political discussion about marriage, family and household and how these are to be properly respected in our administration of public affairs. How are we to have public justice for marriage, family-life and household hospitality when there is such a judicial muddle with respect to these matters as identified so cogently by two senior academic jurists?

Australian law on relationships is currently in a complete muddle. In various places around the country, there are marriages, civil partnerships or civil unions, registered de facto relationships, and unregistered de facto relationships, all of which end up being treated in almost exactly the same way as marriages at least once certain thresholds are met (and subject to proof if the existence of the relationship is contested). (Patrick Parkinson and Nicholas Aroney “The Territory of Marriage: Constitutional law, marriage law and family policy in the ACT Same Sex Marriage Case” 2014, pp.38-9.)

4. More recently, the Liberal-National Coalition Government has attempted to maintain their parliamentary unity, and the unity of their respective parties, by stitching up a deal to hold a plebiscite on “Marriage Equality”. This was part of the negotiated change of leadership from Mr Abbott to Mr Turnbull. And so the underlying view on that side of the Parliament has conceded that whatever definition of marriage is contained in the Marriage Act it will only ever be what is deemed to be “politically correct” by the powers that be. (We are not aware of any political commentators who have joined Nurturing Justice in reckoning with this shift in the Liberal-National view of the public-legal dimensions of the marriage institution – but that is now the base-line commitment of the Liberal-National Coalition). This brings us to the view held by the Treasurer, Mr Morrison, who has happily let it be known that he would vote “Yes” for “same-sex marriage” legislation even if his vote in the plebiscite was “No”. In other words, his is a view, again not argued, that marriage is whatever is ordained by the vox populi. Presumably, Mr Morrison the Christian believes we live at present with a Marriage Act endorsed by a Christian vox populi.

5.   We have repeatedly pointed out that one of our persistent problems with political debates in this nation is a tendency to replace considered argument with elaborate appeals that are simply expressions of sentiment. Nurturing Justice would not suggest that it is, and remains, completely free from such a tendency. In fact we have pointed out that Christian contributions to this political debate have traditionally hamstrung themselves by assuming that discussion about marriage has only marginal relevance for our political life as citizens. And so it is still widely felt that a political argument about marriage – what it is and how it should be lawfully recognised – is to have already given the game away. The prevalent view is that Marriage and Family belong in private, and are to be safeguarded by our religious spirituality. Politics is public, and therefore secular. In this respect Nurturing Justice, in its “rear-guard” advocacy of a Christian way of life cannot ignore the problem that Christian negligence has prepared the ground for the “marriage equality” harvest in an allegedly “religiously neutral” sphere.

But now the devoted defenders of equality with democratic sentiments have become advocates of “Marriage Equality”. It is, they now claim, “love” that motivates their advocacy of this much needed change. We might still be waiting for an explanation of the strategic change in the movement from the former attempts to argue for “same sex marriage legislation” by appeal to “civil rights” to “marriage equality” based on “love” and “spreading the love around”. But even while such advocacy appears deeply rooted in a seemingly unshakeable appeal to sentiment, democratic sentiment, we are still to hear a political argument that explains how a same-sex life-long union is a marriage.

Are we to conclude that a same-sex life-long committed union is a marriage simply because legislation will say that it is so?

We face a problem here. How can the emotional state of the sentimentalist advocating “marriage equality” be given due respect? The common view will be that by subjecting his or her position, as it has been emotionally expressed, to “rigorous examination” is hardly fair. Is this not “attacking the person”? Recently a new Parliamentarian in her maiden speech said that she had entered the House of Representatives carrying a sense of disillusionment about the nation’s laws that treat the love of one of her sons as inferior to that of his brothers. That, she revealed, was why she was opposed to a plebiscite and presumably she would also give her vote for “Marriage Equality” legislation.

The difficulties we have in answering such sentiments are obvious. How to fairly respond to this MP’s view of the law? But now these sentiments have entered into political debate. How does one proceed to argue against such assertions? It is as if such assertions transcend political argument even while they are formed very decidedly to contribute to the public justification for a change in the Marriage Act. Would it not be unseemly and unfair to take these as arguments? If that is where we have reached we may well have come to a point from which there seems to be no turning back. This is not just a psychological point but it has a kind of coherence with the logic of our system of parliamentary politics that has been seriously malformed under neo-liberal individualism. We now struggle to actually develop genuine political debate!

To take another example: how does one now tell the former Human Rights Commissioner, whose advocacy of “Marriage Equality” and his political career are so inextricably linked to his “engagement”, that his support for such legislation is wholly misconceived. It is like telling him that his entire way of life is wrong. To now suggest to him that this is a debate about the role of the Marriage Act in our system of public governance will seem to him, and those in this debate who are swayed by his commitment to his way of life, to be somewhat obscurantist, “out of date”, if not completely irrelevant, or even an attack upon his person.

But to make that judgement about the limitations of this debate, one would have to first accept the validity of the “way of life” that is presupposed by such advocacy.

CONCLUSION

The way ahead for a Christian political option, it would seem, is not by trying to divert the current libertarian stampede; instead, those committed to a Christian way of life -which includes a biblically-directed understanding of marriage, family-life and household stewardship – need to embark on a long-term political self-examination. That has been the persistent suggestion of Nurturing Justice since we began intense political reflection on this matter.

In the meantime, in the face of our dominant cultural patterns, those seeking to promote a Christian political option are going to have find a way of re-discovering the meaning of “Noe” in many other ways as well. That will be part of a concerted effort to preserve and enhance a healthy respect for the God-given integrity of marital responsibility, responsibility of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband, and for their mutual respect for the marriage institution itself. By saying “Aye” to marriage, as it is directed and endorsed by Jesus’ teaching, means one is also talking about commitment to a way of life that has no qualms about quietly saying “Noe” to some or other conduct (whether by diaphragm, pharmaceuticals or condom) in order to affirm chaste pre-marital living and to endorse in deed the honourable and undefiled character of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). When such Biblical teachings eventually become part of a way of life then any proposed political “Noe” may also look forward to the prospect of a Christian political option, repentant from the heart, that is not compromised by its own furtive duplicity.

BCW

19.10.16 (slight revision 1.11.16)