Everyday Justice in Conversation (3)

Eight Ways to Ask: So What Should the Actual Question Be?

Apologies again, but my last post brought forward news that there was some disillusionment within the ranks of the Liberal Party’s Christian “faction”. This does not surprise us but Nurturing Justice realises that there are many, perhaps some among our readers, who are feeling “under the pump” about the political allegiances they have hitherto maintained. It is with such readers in mind that we continue to ask for forbearance of other readers who may well think enough has been said on this matter. And so we continue with  our “Everyday Justice in Political Conversation” series. Here we summarise some of the things we have been saying – yes, again and again – since launching NJ in 2006. We might say that our aim, at this point, is focused upon encouraging ongoing Christian political conversation.

We have identified the problematic facing the Federal Parliament in relation to the ongoing political debate concerning the western liberal/libertarian demand that same-sex couples who want to consider themselves as “married” be recognised as such within the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. We have also pointed out that such legislation whenever it comes – whether there be a plebiscite, a voluntary postal vote, or whatever political arrangement to suit the demands of the major parties in Federal Parliament – will not be the end of the matter.

Here we list a series of questions that might assist readers in their efforts to engage their fellows in political discussion, whether formal or informal, in everyday situations, whether it be of a plebiscite or a postal vote (a Government-sponsored poll), or about the impending legislative mistake.

1. First Possible Point for Lunch Room Discussion: Given the competent analysis of Parkinson and Aroney concerning the current highly confused state of the administration of marriage law across the Commonwealth, shouldn’t public debate begin with the major parties – the Liberal and National coalition parties and the Labor party – conceding publicly to us, citizens, from whom they gain their place in our political life, that it is THEY who have created this contentious public situation by a concerted decades-long political avoidance of coherent public policies on marriage, family, household and friendship as part of our public life. They need to be confronted by this political fact of their making because they did not want to lose votes (i.e. this is not fake news and the major mass media in its self-serving “balanced” approach is also complicit in this) and so they have persistently neglected to adequately connect to voters on these vital matters, matters central to our national stewardship and political-economy. Politics is about these matters; politics can never avoid them and to try to do so, as they have consistently tried to do, means our entire system of public governance has become rife with the problems that are now so complex that they will not go away with short-term plebiscites, nomenclature changes in Marriage Acts nor from the results of opinion polls.  Such honest admission of political failure (if not of their “side’s” electoral cowardice) might breathe new life into what is now a confused, confusing contentious political situation. And then, when that fact of political negligence sinks in, we might be in a better place to discuss this matter.

2. Second Possible Point for Discussion over the Back Fence: A principled issue that should be aired in a plebiscite or a postal vote on “marriage equality” is this: should marriage be a civil right? Should Australia take a case to the UN to add marriage the rights listed in the UDHR (and ICCPR)? This way, when the UDHR is amended by the UN, the Federal Parliament can legislate to include this amendment in our own polity’s affirmation of the UDHR.

3. Third Possible Point for Casual Conversation in the Street: Given the possible situation in which the Marriage Act will be amended to allow same-sex relationships to be defined as “marriage” how should the union currently defined as marriage (i.e the union for life of a man to a woman to the exclusion of all others) be justly and appropriately recognised in public law for what it is i.e. in legislation, public policy and in all the dimensions of the administration of public justice? How is public policy going to avoid the implied suggestion that such “conventional marriage” will henceforth be viewed merely as a variation on whatever it is that a same-sex relationship may claim to be?

4. Fourth Possible Point for Dinner Table Discussion:  Are the citizens of this country sufficiently educated in law and in public policy to know what they are suggesting when they vote one way or the other that the Marriage Act should or should not be changed?

5. Fifth Possible Point for Quiet Discussion on Public Transport: Is it the task of Government to determine how words are defined? Is the proposed change in the Marriage Act merely a debate about Government determining terminology?

6. Sixth Possible Point When You Discuss This Issue With Your Electorate’s MP: What is your policy and your party’s policy of the well-publicised view of the Masha Gessen, held by many in this country as well, that a vote for same-sex marriage can only make sense if it is one step on the way toward the abolition of marriage itself. And in this context not only questions are raised about justice for children,  and just procreation, but about what those who have steadily pushed this change world-wide  – that is not just the views of citizens who may have to vote in a plebiscite or a postal vote – have in mind with this intended global change of universal scope? We are not just talking about Chicken Licken’s impending failed prophecy. Masha Gessen has it in mind that marriage be abolished and there are supporters of “marriage equality” who believe likewise. So let’s hear what the political parties have to say about this. When are they going to develop comprehensive policies about marriage, family, household for the consideration of electors. When, in other words, are they going to start being political parties (again)?

7. Seventh Point as One Sits There Looking Out Over the Horizon and at Prayer:  How should I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, respect marriage in adherence to his teaching, and not lose my nerve as the proposed changes to this nation’s public governance are implemented? How do I remain a faithful member of his church when Christian leaders the world over are too frequently showing themselves to be in love with public affirmation rather than seeking the approval of the God they claim to serve? (John 12:43; Galatians 1:10). How then does a Christian respond to fellow Christians who are losing their way in relation to this vexing issue that is not going away?

Enough for this moment … where is the 8th? you ask. That’s for you to think about.

BCW 9.8.17

  

 

 

Twittering Plebiscites and the Sending of Messages (3)

CELEBRITY TWEETS AND THE TRUMPING OF OPEN DEBATE

In the first post in this series we raised a question about the way Australia’s federal parliament was constrained to be “sensitive” to the vulnerable people who have decided that their personal future hangs on the “marriage equality” political project. Those who argued in this way to block legislation for a plebiscite, were implicitly presupposing that we now live in a public arena in which political discourse is deeply unreliable, in which political debate is already seriously distorted. They do not seem to have been alive to the fact that they were actually criticising themselves and their parties for the alleged inability of the nation to engage in such a civic public discussion. 

And as this “marriage fiasco” has rolled on, into its current phase, we are none the wiser of why the nomenclature has also changed. First it was “gay marriage”; then it was “same-sex marriage”; and now confirming the post-structuralist attempt to reconfigure human identity by language manipulation it is “marriage equality” and even more sentimentalistic “equal love”, a presumed equality between what are presumed already to be different kinds of marriage. The basis for this? Well it is no longer a matter of human identity as the bible teaches, for instance, made in the imageo Dei, male and female; it is now no longer male and female but homo- and hetero-. Find your sexual self on the spectrum … That is the sand on which the “marriage equality” project is now positioning itself. 

But more than that: our politicians blunder on, seemingly oblivious to the blindingly obvious fact of political life that legislatures and courts can make mistakes that, in time, are going to have to be corrected because they are wrong, because such changes fly in the face of a normative reality. Yes, we now the sky is not going to fall in. But we also know the injustices that can follow when Governments make faulty legislation. The American experiment in its constitutional beginnings was wrong dead wrong about the humanity of the slaves imported from Africa. The Australian constitution in our Federal beginnings allowed for an ongoing national ignorance of the peoples who had peopled this continent and adjacent islands for millennia! The Bolsheviks in abolishing marriage were soon to discover they had made a truly dreadful mistake and in a matter of months reversed their revolutionary decree to insist that marriage was in fact a duty of all paid up and loyal members of the party! Need I go on?

So what is going to happen to all the sensitive souls who are being protected from a harsh and cruel plebiscite when after laws are legislated, purportedly to bring about marriage equality, and it is then discovered – by someone here, another there, that a marriage between a man and a woman, faithfully contracted for life between them, is not the same as a same-sex friendship that wants to be perpetual, that wants to engage in regular mutual sexual play? What then?   

The other side of the all too convenient avoidance of a plebiscite – and New Zealand had rejected a change to its flag; UK had voted Brexit; and of course we know about the disaster on the other side of the North Atlantic – was that for all the concern for civic virtue and compassionate conversation, the blockers of the Liberal-National plebiscite legislation ignored the fact that we were then having and continue to have a media obsessed with what is Twittered. And so celebrity Tweets are now news and if you are on the wrong side of the Tweets, let alone of the net, you may be told in classic blocking and pompous blogging fashion:“enough is enough!” 

Game set and match! Except all that “victory” tells us is that such a celebrity is simply alerting us to the fact that there won’t be any discussion. Well we knew that already with the 140 character limit. But face it: Twitter is effectively proclaiming itself as a kind of plebiscite! And it has failed! Consider the so-called Arab Spring.

And where now is the follow up to the rationale appealed to when the plebiscite was blocked? Where is the publication of a detailed policy platform that would address the manifold distorting influences of “social media”? Where is the political call for citizens to insist that political conversation on “social media” be developed solely in just and respectful ways? Where are the political parties that are championing genuine opened-up political discussion, instead of this reduced and mindless emphasis upon “what is trending”?

Are our elected representatives able to avoid playing the populist game that involves tapping out silly and superficial messages of ersatz solidarity with voters on their whatever-it-is accounts to address some or other question? And so, those who are judged to be political opponents, who have courage to speak out, will be targeted – the message will be: don’t listen to them! They will be subjected to “hit ‘n run” crowd-criticism, and the other word for this is group bullying, sending all the wrong messages, and to a younger generation to boot.

And when social media is about elected representatives trying to maintain a facade of accountability with electors, there may well be an element of increased transparency via such “feeds”. But in this polity, where is the political alternative to Twitter politics, to such Tweeting blockers stepping into a political vacuum created by decades of political neglect by parties. The parties have failed to use their publicly funded political resources to assist the State-crafting education citizens at a local grass-roots level desperately need. Where is the comprehensive political education going on around this country? Can political discourse get any more superficial than what we have today? And we are not going to get an analysis of this problematic via Twitter Tweets.

If readers have been paying attention here – as I have struggled my way through this blog series – they will note that I have been suggesting that there is good reason to suggest that an intuitive “phobia” is dominant in “social media”. The “phobia” is also evident in the techniques of those too quick to fire off their tweets with terms “homophobe” or “Islamophobe” to type-cast political opponents. What is to be made of the “phobe” suffix? What’s going on here?

In brief those typed as “homophobe” or “Islamophobe” are subjects of a psycho-political diagnosis – it is implied that they are suffering from an irrational fear. This person is under surveillance because they hold an opposing political view. This person is not to be engaged in discussion but it is broadcast that this person’s views indicate that they are possessed by a groundless fear, a phobia. They are being told that their public statements against homosexuality or against Jihadist Islam are merely statements of their own “fear” and as such are a repression of the true (inner or essential) state of affairs.The  diagnosis of this phobia is to be bounced off a wider audience in order to play of a person’s fears, to indirectly suggest that the person displaying “homophobic” tendencies is actually afraid of his or her own “homosexual” tendencies. In like fashion someone who displays “Islamophobic” tendencies is somehow repressing an inner “spirituality” that would embrace Muslims but cannot because they an inner spiritual desire denies the attraction of Islam to this person.

Now this is attempted brainwashing, subtle indoctrination, by cunning use of language. How is it to be countered? We could turn the tables and simply say that those who use the ****phobe stereotype are simply exposing their fear of political debate. But my suggestion is that instead we should begin by considering the question: what’s the big deal about “fear” anyway?

Why shouldn’t a person be afraid when tempted to adopt a truth-distorting self-definition? Why shouldn’t a young Christian be afraid of straying from the ways of the Lord God? Simply by asking that question, we encounter a different perspective? The Sermon on the Mount gives us many instances of Jesus’ careful teaching that assists his disciples in examining their lives and avoiding paths that will take them away from the ways of the Lord, the way of God’s Kingdom.

Why indeed shouldn’t we be afraid of being brainwashed by mass media, by the subtle and cunning use of deviously tweaked criticisms as outlined above? 

Moreover, as we have noted we have every right to be afraid of people who, by their action, have told us that we are under their interdict, that we are simply those not (yet) killed. And in inter-personal conversation, let alone in discussing the political dimensions of any responsible response to Jihadist Islam, a person is are not suffering from a phobia simply because they have been threatened with the sword.

The “social media” – especially with its character limits – certainly encourages the use of formulaic terms and short cuts. And apart from anything else, what the decades long assertion about “gay marriage” has affirmed has been a deep fear, on the part of those advocating homosexuality as a lifestyle, an avoidance of encouraging public discussion about marriage law. We have pointed out how the submissions on behalf of those demanding repeal of laws that criminalised homosexual practise in the late 1970s asserted that a homosexual relationship should not be evaluated in marriage terms. But somehow things have changed and we haven’t exactly been told why. Anyone advocating “marriage equality” in this polity who has not appraised themselves of the matters contained in the Parkinson and Aroney assessment, The Territory of Marriage, may simply be spouting political ignorance about the current benighted state of Australia’s marriage law. And that wouldn’t be surprising because for decades the two major political blocks have persistently stood in the way of the political education of the electorate, of their own electors.

At this point in our discussion we have come to the view that the power of “social media”, and in particular the hit ‘n run style of Twitter communication, derives in large part from an ongoing failure of our political system to assist citizens in maintaining their responsibility for forming the state, for contributing via political associations (driven by political convictions) to the complex task of “State-crafting”. And so we are presented, daily, time and again, with news media giving inordinate place to the “trumping of genuine political debate”. Political discussion needs to side-step the self-serving elite who seek to have their public standing validated by their celebrity status, whether Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, AFL headquarters, Wimbledon or the BBC.

BCW

31.5.17.

A

 

 

Twittering Plebiscites and the Sending of Messages (2)

INTRODUCTION

In our previous post we posited two questions for Christian readers to ask themselves as they reflect upon the way “social media” has, in but a short decade, seemingly transformed our political debates, or at least appeared to do so. We have linked this discussion to our previous posts that have sought to cast doubt upon the esteemed dogma, regularly put forward as an unassailable fact, that this is a “secular age” and that Christian citizens ought to unhinge their citizenship from their faith in Jesus Christ.

So, here Nurturing Justice continues to make my suggestions to readers, particularly those who are fellow Christians, but anyone else of other faith, uncertain faith or no-faith who is reading this is welcome to join in. At this point we are assuming that there is a Christian way of life and we want to clarify how that way of life should be coming to expression in the midst of public debate that is increasingly fomented if not malformed by what we now call “social media”.

And so, we have to limit ourselves and confine our observations to two topics – homosexuality and Jihadist Islam. When these topics are raised in public debate, and in social media in particular, questions about the Christian way of life are unavoidable. And so if we are wanting to find the path of authentic discipleship we may find it excruciatingly difficult – we may well be suffering from a kind of “media fatigue”, a sense that our faith has been under attack for so long that really we simply want to retire to “smell the roses”, spend time walking along the coast, reading children’s stories and simply avoiding the contentious new, newspapers and the ridiculous tweets of the totally out-of-his-depth American President.

There are of course many other issues which require Christian citizens to engage in ongoing political conversation if we are to develop a Christian political perspective. But we single out these two in particular; they have been with us for decades, are not going away and to raise them yet again is to have us asking ourselves whether we are making any headway..

So in the former post I referred to two issue, the questions of which I now edit.

MARRIAGE AND THE IMAGE OF GOD.

1. How is the pagan mythology of “sexual identity” (and with it the attempt to misrepresent the human condition by appeal to a bogus “heterosexuality”) to be adequately refuted within and among Christians and their churches to make good the claim to be the disciples of Jesus Christ?

Another way of saying that is to acknowledge that we are called to live with an enriching recognition that the Imageo Dei is male and female as the scriptures confirm and that the glory of God is unfolded as males and females serve their creator in all of our life including marriage. Marriage is the inaugural God-endowed institution for the generation-to-generation nurturing and cultivation of creation’s stewards by God’s image-bearers.

With the teaching of Jesus and the apostles as the Christian basis for marriage, we turn again to Jesus’ teaching and discover the definitive proscription of violating the other person by a covetousness (the 10th commandment) that would render any person, any of God’s image bearers, into a sexual object and thereby violate that person’s standing before God (as with the 5th as well – Matthew 5:27-32; Genesis 1:27-31; 2:15-25; Exodus 20:12,17). This gives sufficient ground to such an exclusive view of marriage. Christians are called to receive the teaching that humankind has been created male and female and this is quite other than the pagan presumption that humanity simply has to be allowed to form various kinds of homo-hetero balance for cosmic harmony. And as difficult as this may be for some people, this biblical teaching yet calls us to fully respect the unmarried and the widow and widower.

But then even with such basic viewpoint, a veritable tsunami of historical questions will flood our consciousness: how are we to live in a way that faces up to the long-tradition of generation-by-generation mis-education about marriage, of adulterous living, about the practical denigration (including what seems to have been a secretive riot of sexual license within the closets of the Christian church and its organisations itself) in which God’s image-bearers male-and-female have been cruelly violated and Christians have cruelly and violently abused themselves and their public trust in the process? And how does the Christian community, the Body of Christ, reckon with the way in which Christian profession has been used as a cover for all kinds of degrading and hypocritical practise?

Seeking to face up to this Biblical teaching certainly calls upon us to seek wisdom as we make any contribution to public policy, let alone with respect to pastoral care that is required within church communities. Why shouldn’t two women in seeking to develop a stable household for their respective children, having fled abusive and violent partners, set up house together and seek, as best they can, to provide a stable home with the kind of legal entitlements granted to other households?

And as indicated above there is the need to exercise discernment in the way in which a Christian view of sexuality is discussed when putting forward a public view of why marriage cannot be homosexual. And that view will have to be put forward with ongoing integrity what legislatures and courts decide. Governments make mistakes; marriage equality advocates are making a massive mistake when they assume that the matter will be finally resolved with legislation. Not at all.

Marriage presupposes a sensitivity that husband and wife are called by God to nurture between themselves, with all their own distinctive personal characteristics in a permanent life-long bond. And Christians in nurturing their children are going to have to learn how to maintain unashamed adherence to the teaching of Jesus.

Such a perspective can hardly be suggested with 140 characters of a Tweet. And if we Christians haven’t found a way to discuss human sexuality among ourselves – and given some of the scandalous revelations that are before us who can blame anyone for being hang-dog about the topic? – we are hardly ready to launch forth with a well elaborated comprehensive political viewpoint about marriage, family life, households and so on. But we do have to take up our political responsibilities as Christian citizens to love our neighbour by seeking public justice for all.

THE NEW TESTAMENT’S TEACHING ABOUT JESUS CHRIST CONFRONTS ISLAM

2. How are we Christians, to resolutely take seriously the New Testament’s teaching about the anti-Christ (2 John 1:7-11) and clearly take distance from all such teaching and ways of life whether modern, post-modern, ancient or archaic?

Again this is not a matter to be taken lightly and it is certainly not something that should be reduced to a 140 character Tweet. But if we Christians are true to our profession then that means we cannot avoid responding to Islam and that religion’s teaching about Jesus Christ.

In September we will be 16 years on from the intensification of Islamic Jihadism that was signalled by the 11th of September 2001 attacks on Manhattan Island.

Now consider the Muslim viewpoints from these two links:

Here is a link a Sufi friend and colleague sent to me. He is continually concerned with the way in which Jihadist Islam is causing havoc in Muslim communities here in Australia. He is concerned to develop what he calls the cosmopolitan Australian Islam that has inspired him since before Yugoslavia fell apart into ethnic violence in the 1990s. It was from that disintegration that he and his wife fled. And yet, he is also of the historical  view that despite what Sheikh Tawhidi affirms, he believes that to a large Islam advanced peacefully – Islam he affirms is religion and insofar as it is religion, a matter of faith, its advance is always peaceful not the military subjugation of an empire. So already as the television announcer said, seemingly with great surprise, there is deep disagreement, deep public disagreement, among Muslims with respect to their own religion. Sheikh Tawhidi in the midst of that profound religious confrontation claims that Islam needs to move away from its “scriptures of war”, its books that are used to teach young people to go and behead the infidel.

Here’s another viewpoint, this time about the annual feast of Ramadan and developed by someone who is said to be an Emirati pop-star.

How are we to enter into political discussion with Muslim fellow citizens? The discussion can not only be about the murderous activities of the Islamic Jihadists? And the political discussion will have to broach the New Testament teaching at some point but it is also going to have to do so in a political where other religious commitments, anti-Christian messianic motives are at work. In doing so we are going to have to find a way to do justice to all these religious viewpoints including the various kinds of Muslim contributions we have noted above.

And though “social media” discussion of such antitheses cannot be avoided, for our part Christian citizens are going to have to learn how to account for the inner conflicts  within other religions and ideologies, including within Islam? To address the kinds of issues and disagreement that are raised about the atrocities of Islamic Jihadists we will have to have some idea of how they are each claiming to give expression to a Muslim “way of life”? And the difficult part of this is that the Islamic Jihadists are also claiming to be giving authentic expression to a Muslim “way of life”.

PROVISIONAL CONCLUSION:

There is indeed an urgent need for a Christian political option conversation world-wide – today. And in this and further posts we have wanted to consider some of the problems that “social media” – “information technology” – presents to us as we seek to form this vital conversation. The content of these posts should not only look at what should be the content of our posts, but at the emergent and taken-for-granted “hit ‘n run” structuring of social media conversations – Twitter and the like, with what are in fact conversation suppressing character limits, promotes unprecedented possibilities for the generating of fear, for manipulating and making fellow citizens scared – and all the while “contributions” are being made which carefully and persistently avoid sustained argument. Consider only what comes from the US White House, but then also ask your friend, the harried parent whose son has been the subject of continued barrage of vitriol from a former friend. The possibility of political irrationalities gaining a hold are increased and all the while there is the ongoing threat of Muslim Jihadism that is telling us that, as far as these psychotic murderers are concerned, we are simply the ones they haven’t yet reached with their emissaries of death.

We began this post by reflecting upon the place of “social media” in our lives. We have identified two “hot topics” and suggested that our Christian contribution has to be disciplined by heading Biblical teaching. In Biblical terms everything that exists is subject to the Creator’s creation order and that includes all possible “ways of life” that have unfolded in human history. The important issue, I think, from this post is that these diverse “ways of life” and their various, competing even antagonistic contributions can be found reflected and disclosed within the framework of “social media”. Next time we will try to get some further insight into “social media” in creational terms, but even then we won’t be able to properly assess its true value if we ignore the ways in which it degrades and denigrates.

But then we are certainly not going to consign “social media” to the trash heap. This is because computer, I-pad and mobile phone are all given to us and retain their value because Christ Jesus as our Redeemer retains his sovereign claim upon these creatures and the entirety of creation.

BCW

30.5.17

 

 

 

 

UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY – Part Five

An Appeal to my Fellow Confirmation Candidates of 1965?

Let us briefly recap:

In the second post in this series I wrote this: What I am seeking to develop here is a discussion about some of the ways the contemporary and taken-for-granted secularised identity (i.e. personal identity) is generated. I am suggesting it was from the standpoint of the Christian way of life that I began, however blurred my vision, to perceive the dominance of this “other” way. And at the same time that the Christian way of life became the self-evident path on which I was walking, I started to suspect that this “other” way in which I had been nurtured, claiming to be Christian, was a heritage forming the institutions of public life in this country and to do so in a way that encouraged people to publicly form a way of life that is a radical alternative to its own Christian “background”. In such a context, churches, Christian schools and Christian associations simply seemed to be committing themselves, their teachings, and their social involvement and public status to various ways in which they, as church organisations, congregations, denominations, church councils, bible study circles, schools to resolve their own problematic standing because they/we had already been lulled into viewing the Christian way of life as a problem to be solved. This was a Christian life committed to an incessant effort to identify and solve problems relying not upon “your heavenly Father who knows all you need” but upon the superior rational capacity we would get from advancing our educational qualifications.

I have greatly enjoyed writing this series and have even ruminated on why that may be. In fact the above statement is a re-write of what I initially wrote. Being someone who also writes, I find myself re-writing and polishing my prose. And as I do so I find myself asking, why should I do this and, in this instance when I seem to have achieved more than 50 hits in four days, who am I really aiming at!

Should this series be re-titled: An Appeal to my Fellow Confirmation Candidates of 1965? The only “data” I have about the 15 or so other candidates who joined in that service at The Anglican Church of St Edward the Confessor, Edinburgh Road, South Blackburn, back on 25th August 1965, is the vague sense from the months and years thereafter that for many it simply began process by which in time they would stop coming to church. Was it also the beginning of mere nominal allegiance, confirmed by a church ceremony, that they didn’t know have to confront? A passing out parade, perhaps? Maybe. Who knows? I went on as a young student to university and did so as a Christian. There I didn’t study for a job but to get a social perspective – at least that is what I said I wanted when I was asked at the time. And I studied sociology that, as I have tried to point out has since claimed itself to be the harbinger of an educated generation who understood that:

  • religious belief is still important and takes its place in “the background”.

  • religion  is no longer front and centre and to assume so is to excuse oneself from secular society.

So, my question to myself is: might this discussion be helpful, even to my fellow confirmation candidates, let alone fellow members of St Edwards Youth Fellowship (we invented the acronym: SEDYOF) so many moons ago? Well why not? 

So, now to return to the manner in which university sociology was taught in those late 1960s early 1970s: as I have suggested, what frustrated me deeply was the inability of our 2nd and 3rd year tutorials and lectures to deal with such dissonances that were integral to our everyday “religious” experience. These kinds of experiences were all too self-evident to some of us who were not about to pretend to deny our “religious” backgrounds. We sat there in sociology lectures taking it all in and hearing, in effect, why “religion was no longer the central and defining feature of post-industrial social life” or, more stridently, why “religion was well and truly on the way out”. Yet with all this theory, our lecturers were perhaps just a little too polite in pedagogical practise. And perhaps their politeness rubbed off too much on us because we didn’t broach these difficult questions that had already arisen for us in various “religious” contexts.

Let me mention a difficult question that is very much a part of my political sociological reflection these days: what are we to say about solemn religious vows? How can they be properly understood – even in the context of allegedly “neutral” sociological analysis – without reckoning with the unavoidability of pre-scientific assumptions that give direction and coherence, let alone meaning, to the theoretical endeavour that studies any social setting, no matter how sacred or profane, no matter how religious or secular? This is why my previous public affirmation of Christian faith, in a church, before a congregation, said reverently before God, only becomes problematic to the sociological analysis thereof if sociological analysis has already imbibed the way of life that asserts that human problem solving is its front and centre leading characteristic! To put it another way a Christian may study with “To the Greater Glory of God” (ad majorem Dei gloriam – AMDG) on her lips or even written on the top of every new page of her notebook, but those of the problem-solving way of life are no less confessing some comparable religious allegiance even if they are oblivious of the fact as they tap out their essays or put pen to paper.

But what was the consequence of “secularisation theory” for generations of sociology students, and in particular Christian sociology students who approached their studies in ways to accommodate the “problem-solving way of life”. The consequence was that such a public vow – made in church – had to be referred to in sociological coursework – not as something intensely related to a student’s pre-scientific assumptions – but as a private attitude that is best left, and best respected, in private. Well, consider now how sociology qua discipline considers other vows and think about the manner in which our legal system has inherited a system of legally enforceable promises. What are we doing about such taken-for-granted aspects of our way of life when marriage, family life and the formation of the post-modern utterly commodified household are being reinterpreted for a younger generation? See this insightful prod of two jurists to reassess the taken-for-granted rights talk that is held on most sides of our political debate.

And so, what has transpired with such a view of vows – the empirical circumstances of which have been implicitly avoided by those claiming to be guided by sociology’s grand theories – has been that were assumed to be a problematic of “secular society” and so it was their presumed problematic character rather than the vow itself that had to be theorised with secularising nonchalance. Here, as we have hitherto pointed out, again and again, is a very important issue that simply will not go away when the libertarian tide finally claims its high water mark in this country and the legislated definition of “marriage” becomes a weapon for those wanting public governance for their attempts to redefine their non-marital relations as marriage, with the perhaps unintended consequence, of ignoring a basic feature of such solemn oaths made by its citizens when they were wed. It was a solemn oath that included respect for marriage as a monogamous and life-long institution that was inherently and exclusively male-female.

Marriage as an institution is no longer is viewed in terms of an oath by man and woman to each other before God, even if such a marriage oath as they did take was previously in a church ceremony. The oath is viewed as a contract, a publicly binding something (what? a legal fiction perhaps?) that has been created by civil authority. And so, in the interests of equity and public fairness marriage gets its redefinition in terms of different kinds of dyads, composed of completely a-sexual autonomous gender choosing individuals, who freely have their desire to carry the name (if not stereotype) together endorsed, so that they can be publicly respected as such. As respected as what? The former enforced dyadic union that excluded gender-fluidity from its definition?

In such a development, the former marriage vows of a man and a woman from an entire generation – who took on a church ceremony because they believed that it would be just too difficult not to do so, and hence accommodated puritan grandmother, or unmarried Methodist aunts – are now on the cusp of being reconfigured in “public discourse”. This was simply what was done in the “olden times” before enlightenment took hold, when people actually were still under the impression that a wedding ceremony in a church was truly coram Deo.

Well, we also know, about the way solemn marriages vows in ceremonies conducted in churches have subsequently been abjured by the parties themselves. What about the solemn vows made by those of my generation who submitted to “confirmation”? Both of these were said at the time they were made as being solemn vows before God. And perhaps sociology, and its proud adherence to “secularisation theory” has played some part in this?

1. In the Anglican Church of which I became a full member at the age of 15, I affirmed with a solemn vow my baptism as a child and publicly acknowledged that I was bound before God and that congregation to live henceforth as a Christian. I’m not suggesting that the service as I now re-read it is without deep and perplexing ambiguities. To the contrary. But I’m left to wonder why our sociology classes left us with no discussion about this, let alone given any suggestions as to how such ambiguities could be resolved other than the implied one that such ceremonies were (and are) merely the persistence of a way of life that has long since been superseded. Had I not been told, again and again that:
“You shouldn’t be taking this religious stuff too seriously you know. Why have you become a Christian? What’s in it for you?”
But what was a young confirmation class graduate to say? Maybe he had submitted to this ceremony, gone along with the confirmation crowd because of an overwhelming sense of being overawed by what the Bible had taught about Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah. The human race has been met face-to-face with God Himself, God with us. And the point is that when “secularisation theory” met the “everyday secularisation” of Christian high school graduates in those days – no matter what was said – the sociology tutorial class we interpret it in secularised terms because the tutorial class was assumed to be the realm of merely secular opinion sharing. religion was on the way out and sociology of religion was giving us a theoretical explanation of why it wasn’t present in the university class-room.
The problem that this raises is not just that it is an intellectual endorsement of the privatisation of the student’s faith; but as intellectual attitude it simply “goes with the flow” of a problem solving way of life. The problem is in the dogmatic assumption that will not be brought to light in order to have it justified. It is the view that any profession of Christian faith arises in a person by an autonomous act that “constructs” the “new” reality, whether the promises of the Lord God can be relied upon or not. In other words this is a deep problem – a logical contradiction is the pre-theoretical commitment, the way of life in which “secularisation” theory as it has been promulgated is embedded.
2. The second issue of vows and oaths concerns the vows and oaths made by marriage partners, man and woman, in Christian marriage ceremonies. These ceremonies, seeking to be obedient to the teaching about marriage and family life that has been set forth in the New Testament by Jesus and the Apostles, have hitherto been acknowledged and endorsed as public vows concerning the married couple’s genuine intentions. The libertarian agitation for “same sex marriage” has for decades now, joined by Christian leaders and many other prominent Christian scholars claiming Biblical justification for their change of view as well, now advocate legislation and church practise that implies a view of public justice, let alone of view of Christian political action, that assumes that government should legislate a “base-line” definition of marriage that is not only privatised by secularised, that is making problematic marriage vows claiming to be made in the presence of God.

We were were not encouraged to openly reflect upon our experiences of catechism, confirmation, Sunday School, baptism, RI classes in State Schools, let alone our schooling if we had been at various church or parish schools. It might now be worthwhile to revisit the 1960s “enlightened” view of marriage and family.

I do recall, how one scholar was endorsed in lectures claiming that the basic sociological classification for family was a mother and child – and hence taking on a general sociological theory that implicitly assumed that a fathering is problematic. To our discredit we did not follow through and examine this in social philosophical terms, but then of course when philosophical assumptions were raised in sociology at that time, we were directed down two flight stairs to the ninth floor and the philosophy department and so would confront its reigning logical empiricism and linguistic analysis.

It is quite probable that we might not have enjoyed the experience had we been encouraged to discuss in sociology classes how the Christian way of life had become problematic even in these formal “religious settings”. The “secularism” that dominated sociology classes at this time was one that had resolutely turned to a “religionless” future but it wasn’t particularly hostile to students with religious outlooks. It was more a positivist expectation that religious commitment and experience was dying out and was in the realm of private values which had been already been superseded – and did not need to be tested against our own experience. The more militant might assert that religion was for “old ladies and little kids” who didn’t know any better who clung to religious belief because they were scared not to, but presumably some of our lecturers were struggling with the secularist air we were all breathing and their own privatised faith problems.

Some years later, Australia’s premier critical economist Hugh Stretton (1924-2015) described these years in terms of a deeply intellectual vandalism in these words:

A specially destructive effect of positivist professionalization was to cut people off from likely sources of self-criticism… In the disciplines which embraced this sort of positivism, … [s]tudents were taught that their values and their moralities were almost literally childish…. non-rational beliefs acquired at home or at church by faith or authority.

This experienced and well-respected academic’s 1987 statement continues:

Students come to university at an age when they are most vulnerable to suggestions that they are immature, that it is time to let go of the apron strings and toughen up and grow up. It was at that psychological moment that their positivist teachers and textbooks told them, as many economics teachers and textbooks still do, that valuing thought has no place in science. They must leave all their soft, childish, subjective values outside the classroom. If they don’t, they can’t hope to see facts, or to think for themselves as adults and scientists. In short they were told to throw away what were in fact the only rational guides to a lot of their scientific work, including many quite technical parts of it. They were taught to sneer at valuing thought as stupid and unscientific. ‘But that’s nothing but a value-judgment’ has stopped countless social-scientific discussions at the point where serious discussion ought to have begun. (“Political effects of positive social science” in Hugh Stretton Political Essays Georgian House 1987 pp.167-174 at pp.170 & 172-3.)

Stretton’s essay is recommended and throws a shining light on the emergence of a cruel managerialism – that has, we must concede also become a sine qua non of denominational businesses seemingly seeking to maintain a niche in the “spiritual market place”.

What I am suggesting is that a good percentage of the students sitting there in lecture theatres had, ten years before that, been regular pupils in Sunday Schools or had attended Catholic Parish schools. And of course there were those from elite Church Schools. Many of these late 1960s students had been “done”, or baptised, confirmed, or professed faith in their early teenage years. But these “everyday facts” were not opened-up and they do not seem to have been considered as a valid let alone vital part of our social lives for class-room (sociological) discussion. In other words, what was missing in those classes considered the “sociology of religion” and “secularisation theory” was any acknowledgement of our own secularising experience in those increasingly secularised “religious settings” (or at least in those settings which from the predominant sociological theoretical standpoint whether functionalist or Marxist saw the impact of “secularisation”. And because we were not encouraged to respect our own past experiences we Christian students were, I guess, encouraged to reinterpret ourselves in ways that downplayed or ignored our faith; did we not then see our faith as indistinguishable from the faith of our peers who had embraced the secularisation, and “left God behind”, who could only say they saw no need for faith. Were not our minds being cultivated to accept what Hugh Stretton identifies as the longer-term results of positivism?

… to sneer at valuing thought as stupid and unscientific. ‘But that’s nothing but a value-judgment’ has stopped countless social-scientific discussions at the point where serious discussion ought to have begun.

[As an aside at this point: my good friend Peter Gibilisco in his account of Hugh Stretton’s life at Scotch College suggests that Stretton’s own encouragement of critical reflection on social context was stimulated by a Plymouth Brother who taught him history: “a miracle of liberality”. Certainly not a Christian who could ever be a scholar according to some secularised stereotypes sometimes rife in sociology! see Peter Gibilisco Hugh Stretton and the Social Sciences MA Dissertation, Monash University  1999 p.17 – his public policy writings are collected here].

[to be continued]

PUBLIC EMOTIONS AND JUST DEBATE (2)

Nurturing Justice 2006 3 November

In this issue, I want to extend our discussion of the calls for “gay marriage” from the Greens and Judge Michael Kirby by setting forth the beginnings of a Christian strategy to discuss this contentious and problematic issue. By this stage we should not be under any illusions. The possibility that “gay marriage” will be given legal sanction in this country is by no means remote. Perhaps, as time goes on, the likelihood even increases. Mark Shields of the NewsHour recently gave this opinion: “I mean, the tide has turned on this issue. I mean, the next generation is just immeasurably, profoundly more tolerant of gay relationships than are their grandparents. And there’s a movement that’s inevitable” (October 27. 2006). He is speaking of the US. Are we in Australia about to follow the US down this path? It wouldn’t be the first time.

In introducing this topic last time, I drew attention to the emotional aspect of this debate and emphasized the importance of developing an overview of political life. To make a positive and constructive Christian political contribution to all political debates, not just about marriage law and related issues, a lot of careful analysis will be required. We will have to sort through issues self-critically and certainly not hide from the possibility that our presentation of the Christian message has failed to provide any clear alternative to the so-called sexual revolution. The public confusion about sex, sexuality and marriage is all around us. It is a confusion that has to be addressed. With something like 80,000 abortions per year and many, many marriages falling apart, there simply is no ground for Christian triumphalism.

In our reflection on this issue we must question ourselves as to whether we are rightly understanding the problems confronting us.

So to start. The question before us is: should a homosexual relationship be granted the legal status of marriage? “No!”, all on it’s own, doesn’t get very far. If “No!” is to express a genuine political concern for public justice its needs to be followed by an elaboration of the political view of marriage that has brought us to this conclusion. Can we do that?

We have to explain what our “No!” means politically? OK then let us first explore what “No!” shouldn’t mean. Remember, our aim is to develop political argument to meet the arguments of those whose answer to the question is “Yes!”

First, “No!” doesn’t mean a desire to avoid political debate by merely expounding moral and ethical precepts. The question needs to be taken in its political-legal sense and our “No!” needs to be a political-legal “No!”. It needs more than moral elaboration.

Second. “No!” doesn’t mean that we are making an argument for legally restricting the use of the word “marriage” so that committed couples who might want to refer to themselves in this way are legally forbidden to do so on pain of penalty. That would not be a positive development. If any couple are living together and want to refer to themselves as married, we might have our own views on that, and if asked for our views, we might tell them that they are not really married until they have “gone through” a marriage ceremony to make it public. But on that level of inter-personal interaction our “No!” to gay marriage is not to suggest that the law be changed to restrict the way people use the word in public or in private communication. To expand the powers of government to control the way the word “marriage” is used (or any other word for that matter) would be to take a path that wanders far from the limits of public justice. And anyway there are many male and female “partnerships” that refer to themselves as married. Conventionally they were referred to as “common law marriages”.

Third, to say “No!” doesn’t mean that homosexual couples are being singled out for special negative treatment. The demand for “gay marriage” is often couched in terms of civil rights. Though any “No!” is based on the view that marriage is not a civil right, it is not to suggest that homosexual couples have in some way forfeited their civil rights. Any view that a homosexual couple living together is not a marriage needs to be explained in terms of a wider view of law and human relationships. The law doesn’t usually regulate friendships and nor should it. Here are some other dimensions of the issue.

If a mother and son want to be legally recognised as a marriage, the law already says “No!”, and so it should. Likewise for a brother and sister who might want to make the same claim. Moreover, in this jurisdiction, polygamous and polyandrous arrangements are not accepted as lawful forms of marriage, even though our legal restrictions do not deny that these arrangements are marriages. What the law says in this instance is that polygamy is not a recognized form of marriage in this jurisdiction.

So, “No!” in our case means: a homosexual relationship is something other than a marriage and therefore should not qualify as a lawful marriage. Our “No!” means that we will still not accept that it is a marriage even if marriage law is changed to include homosexual relationships within the legal definition of lawful marriage. Our “No!” in that instance will expand to saying “No!” to the lawful definition even when the lawmakers who are redefining marriage in the way proposed go ahead . Our “No1” will mean that in our view a legal error based upon an empirical mistake is not corrected simply by legislation that incorporates the mistake into its erroneous definition.

As so our “No!” also means that Governments sometimes make mistakes on the basis of erroneous legal judgments. And there is a wider question here about how we should then live as citizens in the context of error.

In this instance, should a legal judgment decide that homosexual relationships should qualify as “marriage”, it would not only misidentify the committed non-marital relationship that may or may not want to be legally recognised as a marriage, but it would also mean that marriage had been redefined because the law would henceforth consider something that previously was not marriage as marriage. What isn’t being addressed is the underlying dogma that it is the law itself that makes marriage. “No!” in this case means a rejection of the idea that the law makes marriage marriage.

To legally redefine homosexual relationships as “marriage” on the basis of an assumption that the law makes marriage would certainly challenge the widely held view that marriage law is about the legal recognition of marriage. What is ignored here is marriage’s ascribed institutional character, having an authority that is established outside the competence of the political community. It seems that advocates of such law assume that marriage is a human creation and so assume that what humans have made they can un-make and re-make.

“No!” here also doubts whether the just support and regulation of committed, long-term relationships will be enhanced by legally re- defining those relationships (including homosexual relationships) as “marriages”. “No!” views two friends who are living together, committed to supporting each other, without any sexual bonding, as a friendship, not a marriage and for exactly the same reason considers a homosexual relationship to be a friendship. In our complex society there are indeed multiplying ways in which people can live together in supportive and loving relationships. But love does not equal sexual love, and ongoing complaint on behalf of “same-sex marriage” about “equal love” is not only blurred, it is blurring.

Such diversity of relationships should evoke our (civic) respect and honour and at points there will be need for changes in laws to ensure justice. But justice is not served by calling a relationship marriage just because the parties to that relationship want to have their relationship re-made in those terms. More can be said here about the “social constructionist” and “consumerist” assumptions that are strongly evident in our commercialised and post-modern way of “doing politics”.

Fourth, to say “No!” doesn’t mean that only heterosexual lawfully married couples should qualify in law for benefits that are already available for people living in committed (household) relationships. “No!” in this case does not mean any criticism of such provisions like “paid carer’s leave” or hospital visiting rights, superannuation entitlements, and so on. Moreover, it may indeed be a matter of justice that laws governing such allowances and access, as well as many financial and contractual relationships (health benefits, superannuation, inheritance), be changed in order not to discriminate against non-married supportive couples. And it would in fact be discriminatory to single out one kind of non-marital relationship for a privilege usually granted to marriage partners while denying that privilege to other kinds of enduring partnerships and committed friends.

Politics is about open debate. We citizens may disagree with each other. At this point in time those arguing for and against “gay marriage” are certainly going to disagree. But the important point is to find ways by which political debate is developed as we disagree and as we find just pathways for policies and laws. We need to avoid the tendency of treating fellow citizens as of no account because they disagree with us on contentious issues, and certainly we should not exclude their voice from our attention because they are committed to other political causes. We should seek to tell the prominent public advocates of “gay marriage” why we disagree and why we think the campaign for “gay marriage” is misconceived. But we also keep alert to the clash of assumptions that will come when public policy is debated.

BCW 31.3.17 Edited version of 3rd November 2006.

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

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)