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

  

 

 

Family Life, The Good News and Resisting Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary says to Jesus:

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

He replies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCW 5.4.17

How to View a Disastrous Presidential Election

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

BCW 10.1.2017

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The Trump Presidency: Everything Up for Grabs

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

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

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

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

Unprepared and Unqualified for the Office

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

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

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

Reality Can Bite

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

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

Repealing and Replacing Obamacare –

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

The Wall, Jobs, and Globalisation –

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

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

Environment and Climate Change –

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

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

The Russian Oddity –

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

The Need for Wisdom and Sound Judgement

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

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

James W. Skillen  and James R. Skillen.

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

A Christian Political Option’s Response to the Failings of our Democratic Governance

Roger Henderson’s reply to my most recent post prompted me to reply in these terms:

I am hoping my post will help readers remain hopeful about their political task. Our responsibility to seek public justice locally, regionally, nationally, globally is not taken away from us just because of a coup, unjust governance or unfair election results.

My posts here are as part of a suggestion, specifically to fellow Christian citizens, to develop our Christian (i.e. biblically-directed) political thinking about what has happened and why – including reflection on Brexit – as a pre-requisite for ongoing efforts to give effect to our commitment to a Christian political option.

Yes, here in Australia we experience the result as a shock and it raises deep fears and forebodings. It brings to cogent expression a deep suspicion that our own political aspirations are somehow at odds with our what our systems of public governance can deliver. My post is launched from here in the South West Pacific. We are actually a non-US polity, although our political leaders seem to have forgotten that. But the best critics of the US political system are not Crocodile Dundees – with our laconic “Do you call that a political critique? This is a political critique!” – but Americans themselves. Americans may also be the worst and most dogmatically closed minded about their own “city on a hill”, “progressive civil rights enhancing” polity but there are those within that polity who have as good an understanding of the incoherence of the US presidential election system.

See http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/electoral-college-system-ever-change/

The remarkable “thing” for me is that this constitutional “matter” raised by Josh Tucker at New York University – and it was basic “stuff” that helps us understand the election process – only seems to come into political discussion after the election rather than during it, or even when the President, the losing candidate and the winning candidate make their initial post-election comments. If they were perhaps assuming that all Americans actually knew and understood the constitutional framework of the election they didn’t seem to be too eager to say so. Mr Trump may default to a ends-justifies-the-means explanation and refusal to retract his pre-election bombast, but the President and the losing candidate did not do much in what they have said to challenge the populist mythology of “winner takes all”.

Thus my question is this: in this situation, so widely felt as a serious turn of events, why is it still so difficult to challenge the “winner take all” presupposition of the Trump election “victory”. And if we, in this part of the world, were to begin to do that then it would not only mean criticism of the Liberal-Coalition, Labor  and Greens and anyone else operating on such presumptive political assumptions – it would mean that we would see good political sense in heeding Jesus’ own teaching for its applicability to our own political viewpoint. We would first reflect upon how we might begin to harvest the forest of political hypocrisy in own political perspective, rather than identifying the “politically correct” capitulations of those with whom we politically disagree.

My suggestion for our own political life is therefore aimed toward a twofold outcome:

1. political parties need to come to see themselves as necessarily involved in genuine political education of the entire electorate seeking to attract voters who share their political beliefs by giving a comprehensive view of how they see legislation and its consequences in all areas of our social life – SO HOW CAN THAT HAPPEN?

2. political parties should be advocating the establishment of more viable political parties so that all (or most and not just 51% of) electors with their political beliefs can be appropriately represented in parliaments and congresses at all levels. This they cannot do as long as they assume they can represent the “common good”, the “national interest” of all electors, even the ones who have political beliefs divergent from their own while also committing themselves to political campaigns that are predicated on a “winner takes all” (half of electors plus one) basis. SO HOW CAN THIS TAKE HOLD POLITICALLY?

3. Perhaps what our system of public governance needs is a genuine political competition to determine which party can promote and begin to develop a truly just system of political representation for all. How can that happen without a party stepping forward with a resolute commitment to a coherent system of proportional representation?

Paul Keating makes some sane recommendations on how Australia’s Government should see our regional role, but one cannot but ask how such a stance can ever be put to the Australian polity without adequate political education and indeed reform of our entire attitude to political responsibility.

The recommendations we put forward in this post are, admittedly, recommendations for a reform of political parties, for their “root and branch” reformation so that ongoing electoral “discourse” will be enhanced instead of narrowed to serve one or other party’s agendas. Our political parties need to be made accountable for the policies they are not putting forward concerning the necessary reform of parliamentary representation. And Christian citizens need to become accountable for the Christian democratic contribution they are not vigorously putting forward.

Those who in this country claim their spiritual roots in the protestant reformation have hardly begun to consider taking steps toward the authentic reformation of genuine political parties let alone of the reformation of elections and public governance. If that path were to be followed – would we not in Biblical terms be constrained to refer to it as the path of political repentance? – could it not help our polities get out of the “winner take all” mindset? Could it enable us to begin talking with our political opponents (instead of talking at them) and move toward a way of “doing politics” that does not destroy parties as associations committed to the public interest.

The lack of genuine accountability of elected representatives to electors needs to be addressed in a wholehearted political sense. And we can’t stand back and allow those we elect to take the blame, either. And we certainly shouldn’t be waiting for the “other guy” to step forward before we do with the courage to promote genuine reformation of political life. Public justice for all is what we should be promoting.

BCW

15 November 2016 (amended 17.11.16)

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!

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)