Everyday Justice in Conversation (4)

Here We Go Again – Confusion Reigns

“Under the Government’s plan, a postal vote asking if the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry will be sent out to everyone on the electoral roll.” (ABC web site 9 August 2017).

This is so naive and so ignorant of the public-legal matter itself, and of the way in which our elected Parliaments have a major player in misshaping public understanding for so long. It is politically embarrassing.

It is wilfully ignorant of the way people are currently using the term “marriage” in their every-day discussions. This is a pragmatic device fraught with deep contradictions. And these contradictions are not going to go away, whatever the outcome of “letting-the-people-have-their-say”. It is a kite-strategy, we recall, initially flown a couple of weeks ago, by the newly installed “multi-department” Minister for Home Affairs.

Nurturing Justice is certainly not commending this latest populist initiative. It is more an attempt to hold a political coalition together than it is about finding just policies in relation to a problem generated by a populist surge that is not going to go away any time soon.

Yesterday, we identified the initial step that is being avoided by “both sides” as they continue to avoid elaborating their political vision for how marriage, family, and household matters, if not also friendship, contribute to our national life.

This unprecedented (voluntary) initiative confirms that the Liberal-National “side” of politics is no longer a coalition of parties, as it bends itself backwards on its public-relations path to shore up electoral support for elected members of its “side” as the next election beckons. Such political self-interest at the expense of the national interest can only confirm the political and legal misunderstanding of the current state of affairs. And meanwhile deep factionalism still tears it apart. Genuine public discussion about marriage, if not of the institution itself, is made hostage to this political mob’s fortune.

We will say it one more time (not for the last time): read what two competent jurists say about the complex legal situation we currently confront in the administration of marriage law across the Commonwealth, Ask yourself whether a citizens free postal vote is going to do anything more than confuse a confused situation. Ask the couple who have moved in next door or your own adult children who have entered into permanent living arrangements how they see their relationship and their entitlements and how their relationship functions in relation to legal requirements).

As it stands the key phrase in the news report – “[whether] the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry” – is so fully ambiguous it may well provoke many to opt out. The wording strongly suggests that the current state of affairs in everyday life is being ignored. The formulation assumes that somehow the current legislation prevents freedom of speech, if not freedom of association. And it does no such thing. When has the definition of lawful marriage ever prevented same-sex couples from saying they are married, from referring to each other as marriage partners as thousands of de facto (“hetero” if not same-sex) couples have done for decades?

Moreover, whichever way this search for a legislative path goes, the presumption of those initiating this ballot is that the nation’s view on this matter can be properly gauged by it. It cannot. The issue presupposes a gross falsehood, namely that the political parties – via their receipt of public funding for elections – have educated the electorate already about the state of affairs governed by the Marriage Act. That is the offensiveness of this initiative, Mr Dutton. To send this out to all registered voters is to assume that the voters are competent to make a judgement in public-legal terms, when in fact they have to a large degree rendered incompetent by the studied self-interested negligence of our major political parties since at least 2004 (we’ll only refer to the mass media en passant here).

The above formulation assumes that the State by law prevents same-sex couples from asserting their belief that they are married.

The above formulation does nothing to challenge the implicit Statism in the populist view that marriage is a creature of Government. It is a confirmation that Parliament does not now know how to politically answer the accusation that the definition of lawful marriage in the Marriage Act, which both sides endorsed in Marriage Act amendments from 2004,  is an implicit violation of the human rights of same-sex couples. Some imply that such a definition of lawful in the Act is implicitly homophobic. Parliament has long since given up the task of defending the bi-partisan changes “both sides” endorsed in 2004 to the Marriage Act. If they are now no longer wanting to support that bi-partisanship, why aren’t they busy explaining themselves? The answer is: they are too busy “running for cover”. Mr Shorten’s current anger at the Government with predictions of an efflorescence of hate speech are merely a political cover-up of his own party’s contribution to public confusion. When has his party ever explained its pragmatic U-Turn on this matter, let alone his “side’s” failure to have the matter properly and publicly debated?

Do you believe that the current definition of lawful marriage as contained in the Marriage Act represents a violation of human rights?

We have suggested that this is the question that needs to be asked of this matter. But Labor as much as the Liberal-National coalition simply do not trust the electorate on this matter to raise it in these terms. For it part the electorate gives many signs that it is paying them back in like manner. These parties in their elevated privilege continue production of “both sides” core and non-core electoral agitprop. And they are so eager, so very eager, to display their post-modern credentials even as the “absolutes” of their respective “sides” dissolve in their rhetoric (ref the definition of post-modernity according to Jean-Francois Lyotard as incredulity to all meta-narratives). Labor’s absolutes are now “civil rights”; for the Liberal Coalition it is their tattered banner of “Vox Populi Vox Dei”.

There’s more to be said. For instance, what role does a Government have in relation to language? Can definitions of terms be legislated? Will some read the ballot question in terms of whether it is Government that can determine the meaning of the words we use? [While the Christian church has no mandate to depart from the teaching of Jesus about marriage, what it is, see here the wise words of N T Wright on the political danger of asking Government to legislate to define the meaning of words.] Further posts on how and why the reform of political parties is necessary for our ongoing state-crafting will follow. It is and will continue to be an important part of our everyday conversation about justice.

BCW 11.8.17

 

 

Politics as Business – Business as Success!

THE POLITICAL-MASS MEDIA CULT OF SELF PROMOTION:

“SPIN AND SUPERFICIALITY”

Yesterday, we noted how the fashion of posting innocent “selfies” to a Facebook page has come about in the aftermath of a world-wide effort to transform universities into enterprises of intellectual self-promotion. My intention is not to identify in mechanical terms some “causal link” – the 1980s reform to Australia’s university system > the 21st century’s unleashing of unbridled narcissism – but rather it is to draw attention to how genuine political education has been made more complex by the impact of neo-liberal managerialism upon science and scholarship.

But it is true that our lives will continue to be filled with inner tension and outer turmoil when public life is dominated by the mercantile foolishness that presumes “success” must be any person’s “chief end”. We do not need a PhD thesis in psychology to be able to see that for the recently elected President of the United States of America, personal “success” is his chief end. It is about orchestrating things by making demands, and to keep on doing so, until he gets his own way. His Twitter tweets are also warnings to those standing in his way now that he has reached the top. (Consider his Tweet this week to the sacked FBI Director. I would have thought that was a “bullying threat” but I haven’t seen Twitter cancel his subscription, at least not yet.) The current aim of the incumbent of the White House is to supersede any threats to his “success” by his “success” and his tweets are made with that in view. The road to “success” and then, having achieved his goal, the path he is on demands that he put into action the plans he has already devised for dealing with competitors, those who, by their “success”, stand in the way of his getting his way.

Still, when all of life is characterised by “success” then one will become aware of a reality that has to be mastered by making many steps, each requiring a mini-success along the way – large and all-embracing goals are achieved by many small and limited successes that accumulate as one’s life goal is attained. In all this, the important thing is to gain one’s self-respect, and to do in a way that ascribes status to oneself by achieving one successful project after another …  and so by mastering the Facebook subscription and launching a first “selfie” one is simply taking the first small step on the path of self-promotion, artfully cutting a deal for oneself, incessantly demonstrating that one is successful and not to be messed with. A public ethic of “success first for me” is also inevitably to announce a threat to any who might “get in the way”. It is also a personal self (if not selfie) discipline.

Consider how the respectful and respected youthful Barack Obama gained “top job” after his “game changing” method of connecting his bid for the Presidency to what is now known as “crowdfunding”, support gained by an appeal for funding, an initiative launched from “social media”. The man who wanted to take his place once Obama’s time had expired, watched all this very carefully and decided he knew how he could gain “top job” by successfully learning the lesson and taking social media one step further … the trick was to develop a technique that would not just gain sufficient support to gain office but one that would enable him, so he thinks, to maintain support once he gained what he decided he had to have. The “top job”, he concluded, was there for the taking, and surely the country needed him to take it – and so he proceeded via his Twitter account to send out that message.

 The ambiguities begin to pile up. Is this an approach to political life that can be sustained? Now that the US President has endorsed a particular use of Twitter, going one-step further than Barack Obama’s “crowdfunding” technique, to garner public support, what is the next step? Where is this development taking us? We may need to think long and hard about this and also reflect upon the uncertainty we have about the answer to that question – if we have one. Does it not remind us of the crisis in which western democracy is now floundering? Does it not confirm to those besotted with Twittered politics that we no longer have a clear idea about the political party’s task?

And of course the US President is by no means the only politician using Twitter.

 

All of life, it would seem, becomes caught up in ways of speaking “in a world where spin and superficiality has far too much to say” (to quote the PM’s valedictory tweet on the death of Mark Colvin). Well yes. And the question is not whether but how spin and superficiality are to be overcome with genuine political discourse and political education. These timely words come back to haunt the Australian Prime Minister in a political context this is not only dominated by spin and superficiality, but by his own recent political “success” when he met the US President. How is it that he and the US leader can get away with mouthing the view that the US with their Australian military associates actually WON the war in Vietnam? How did this view ever escape exposure as “spin and superficiality”? How is it that this “fake news” wasn’t blown out of the water? Spin and superficiality indeed, Prime Minister! The Prime Minister’s Personal Assistants need to stop trying to make the Twitter page so pretty and instead concentrate on giving historically accurate and truthful advice!

And here’s the thing: the launch of the PM’s “selfie” with the US President, and the management of his Twitter account was the goal at one point and its “success” simply meant anything and everything else had to be of subsidiary importance. Did Rupert Murdoch’s Australian-wide tabloid  The Australian feature this “fake news” as news? Is anyone going to inform the thousands of Vietnamese boat people who came to these shores that they were mistaken, that the war had been won by the US and its allies? Did it have to take a former and much respected diplomat, the one-time Australian Ambassador to the United Nations (1992-1997), to tell the PM of his egregious error of fact? And dare we ask whether the record been corrected with the Americans? Are we to conclude that it would simply be spin and superficiality if it were corrected? (Alternative facts, Prime Minister?)

It is certainly not just the Trump administration that has deep troubles with itself. There is indeed much here that requires ongoing and sustained analysis. In closing I list three matter that Nurturing Justice should seek to discuss in upcoming posts.

  • The success ethic, social media communication, schooling and the political education of children!
  • How has political representation been transformed by the “success” ethic? How should Parliamentary representation, as work, be viewed in relation to “careers”? What has the tendency in Parliamentary democracies to make elected representation into a career, meant for careers in the public service and for the diplomatic service in particular?
  • How has the “reinvention of Government” according to neo-liberal criteria since the 1980s and the privatisation of State services meant for the State crafting development and the respect for citizenship as an integral part of accountability of public governance.

To repeat: has not the US President endorsed a use of Twitter to suggest that political “success” is within the reach of any aspiring citizen – whatever the goal may be? What goals may these be?

BCW 18.5.17

UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY – Part One

Faith: Is it all about the language we choose to use?

Consider the following rumination I have constructed as an attempt to put into words the kinds of uncomfortable reflections that we older “baby boomer” Christians living in Australia in 2017 may well be putting to ourselves as we advance into senior citizen status, that is if we haven’t done so already:
I look back and remember how as a young member of a local church at age 14, I resolutely answered “Yes!” to the questions put to me at Confirmation by the Archbishop. Am I now to be provoked, 50+ years later, to wonder why I still say “Yes!” to those same questions? I may have developed some serious questions about the liturgical form in which that affirmative answer came from my lips. But am I to conclude that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ today simply because I chose to be his disciple the day before yesterday? Is that how faith works? Am I to say that I am a Christian today because I refuse to deny what I affirmed yesterday? Is Christian faith merely a choice to now hold onto what I chose to do in the past, standing by what I chose to do yesterday or the day before? Am I merely being headstrong and dogmatic about some propositions that arose from what I was taught and came to believe in Sunday School, and Catechism Class, while also choosing to be selectively critical about other matters that have since come to my notice after having taken on such prior Christian responsibility that I couldn’t avoid, during and after my “scientific education”?
The question arises: how am I to maintain the authenticity of my most basic choices now, today? And to entertain this question is to raise other ones: Am I being unfaithful before God to engage in such reflection? Do I believe today and maintain my affirmative answer because the “religious choice” I made yesterday has had certain life-shaping consequences, and to now choose otherwise would simply make my life too problematic? To now choose otherwise would bring on too many new questions for which I might not know the answers; too many problems would be created for which I have no desire or even competence to solve. Is that why I stick to being a Christian? Is it really an aversion to creating more problems for myself because basically I don’t want to see myself as a problem solver?
Now I may not want to adopt such a line of “self inquisition”, but whether I ask such questions of myself or not, it is nevertheless the kind of accusation that jumps out at me from the way our post-modern, consumerist life is lived. What I am trying to say is this: it is such a way of construing any person’s “religion” that is featured if not promoted repeatedly and incessantly by all the power-houses of the mass media. To follow that line of questioning is to believe that people like myself are “religious” because we have made a peculiar choice, because of a habit from attending a peculiar market-place, if not a latter-day religious Megamart, then why not a post-reformation supermarket or even merely a pious independent “corner store” that tries valiantly to deal in the “goods” of a particular tradition.  Most religious people are those who have decided not to undo their “religious decisions” and “spiritual choices” despite the fact that we, in Australia, like the UK, “no longer live in a Christian country”. To live these days is to move on; can’t keep on doing those same old boring things because, after all, they no longer hold out the attraction their “goods” once had. But for those who wish to do so, the arms of the old churches, and old-time religion, are there for them to make their retrospective sacrifices!
Could it be that my faith is what I am continually told it is, just another commodity, even if it be one that I have manufactured by my own “Christian” choices to live within a “Christian” story? And have I not grown accustomed to the label of those who persist in seeing me as a person with some kind of retro-spirituality? And besides, have I not grown older and become wiser so that I can even now ask such questions and with fearless retrospectivity face up to their challenging consequences? Will I not look again and ask myself whether marriage, for instance, is actually a God-given institution of a life-long commitment between a man and a woman, as I have hitherto believed and which, at the time I was prepared to publicly affirm for myself when my wife and I tied the knot? Is not my praying, in which I am actually talking to no-one else but myself, what has allowed me to create the fanciful notion that God in Heaven, whom Jesus taught his disciples to call “Father”, is actually listening to me? Would I truly be leaving the faith were I to now concede that as I have grown older I have grown wiser as a consequence of my own well-trained and educated choices based on my well-honed problem solving abilities, and so as a consequence I will need to concede that any “faith commitment” must always be to what we now know must be unknowable and uncertain? Don’t I now know that to be a Christian in this post-Christian context requires me to be clear-headed and courageous about such a self-evident fact? Reality is created by the decisions I make. Don’t I now have to “move on” to the next step of enlightened democratic inclusiveness and embrace the fact that people not only make their own spiritual identities but they are the ones who alone can create themselves? Isn’t that what the church should now be concerned with in order to make its contribution? Have I not, as a mature adult, chosen God even while as an enthusiastic youth I may have gotten all carried away with the delightful prospect that God had chosen me? Should I not now move beyond such presumptuous arrogance of youth?

Now I do not want readers to misunderstand these “ruminations”. What I have tried to formulate is actually not what I believe. It is what I believe to be the incessant challenge of the way of life we (i.e. who claim to be followers of Christ Jesus) confront in this country, probably every day – a way of life dominated by a pragmatic view that assumes that human life is best viewed as problem solving, as the ver precarious construction(s) we put together to make our lives meaningful. (Here also is the base-line liberal conviction that is propelling the ongoing demand not just for individuality respect, but for identity rights).

You may well ask: How did I become aware of this “way of life” and its impact upon me? That question is not so easy to answer. “Looking back” can always, to a greater or lesser degree, become victim to self-deception. (There have been those who constituted a very strong “line” in university education in Australia that “looking back” is the equivalent of self deception – we will come to in subsequent posts). But after careful consideration I believe I began to sense the challenge of this pragmatic world-view sometime between the ages of 10 and 15 (1961 and 1966). If I were now to take seriously the thoroughly superficial way in which the mass-media deals in terminology, and reinterpret my life in these terms, they would be the years when I allowed myself to be enticed by evangelical religion, by fundamentalism. Need it be said to be something quite different from the mind-deading nonsense of Fox, Murdoch, Fairfax and even the ABC (Have you be paying attention? Recall how we drew attention to the manner in which ABC’s presenter joined this mind-deadening “Drum-beat” by effectively using the show to demonstrate the presenter’s view with a well-prepared journalistic hi-jacking of invited Christian guest). But these were the years when I initially began to read and as I did to so to read study the Bible, to be challenged by the New Testament teaching of Jesus Christ:

If any person would come after me, let him deny himself and every day again take up his cross, and follow after me … For whoever would gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what is the profit for a man when he lists [into his account] the whole world [as a credit] while losing himself and is thus written off (Luke 9:23-5).

I began to appreciate that to do so was to take up an alternative to the way of life that was taken-for-granted around me. And looking back, these were the years when the underlying trust in the human ability to formulate and resolve problems was increasingly making itself felt as the basic idea guiding the curriculum of those providing my schooling, the leitmotif that they assumed held it all together. To succeed I would need to learn how reason confronts reality, formulates the problem to be solved and proceeds to solve it.

But now, to suggest that this “problem-solving” pedagogy increasingly characterised my schooling, is to say that my schooling was in opposition to the way of life I had begun to follow in earnest. And to say this means it is no peripheral confrontation. In fact, a question arises that seems to stand there preventing any resolution, or at least any Christian resolution: is not this the confrontation merely a problem that can be solved by use of reason, and so has to be resolved by a Christian problem solving methodology?

To assert that this prevailing pedagogy was and is indicative of a distinctive way of life, is to begin to face up to its shaping power not only of myself but of my fellow school and university students both before and after my studies. This problem-solving spirit presents itself in education as a dominant way of life with generational consequences. To identify the leading idea of the schooling in which I had been trained – possibly all the way from kindergarten, through primary school, high school and then on to university – is not merely to say that it is important to reckon with it by respecting the values that motivated my teachers. To identify the leitmotif of education is not merely a rough working hypothesis to help explain why the personal values of one teacher diverged from those of another who doesn’t share those values to the same extent.

No, we are talking more about our attempt to reckon with how a way of life characterizes itself to itself, by those living it, confirming it to themselves and anyone else who may be attending. To repeat: we are concerned here not so much with the way “others” see this way of life and its adherents, but with the way those involved in it see themselves. The leitmotif I am talking about is what is taken-for-granted in a school, by the teachers, by the parents who send their children, by the public education authorities and then increasingly by the children nurtured within this way of life. The way of life we are referring to is about everyday confident conduct that is self-evident to those living out this way of life. We might say its self-evidence is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe.

What I am seeking to develop here is a discussion about the way the contemporary and taken-for-granted secularised identity (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, that this way in which I had been nurtured, claiming to be Christian, was a heritage forming the institutions of public life in this country 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, their social involvement to various ways in which they, as church organisations, congregations, denominations, church councils, bible study circles, has sought to resolve because they/we have been lulled into viewing the Christian way of life as a problem to be solved, the Christian life as an incessant effort to identify and solve problems relying not upon “your heavenly Father who knows all you need”, but instead upon a presumed our superior rational capacity.

And so to face up to the power and allure of the above line of self-questioning is to begin think about questions that are indiscriminately raised as a challenge to the Christian way of life. To engage in reflection at this level is not, however, to endorse this taken-for-granted “other” way of life. Rather it is simply to reckon with and seek to understand the dominance it has manifested in all areas of our social, cultural and public life, even as it is currently in yet another of its deep crises. Even so, from a Christian standpoint it may well be “other”, but that does not mean we should ignore the widespread presumption that it is the dominant power shaping cultural life in all dimensions.

We might call it pragmatism. We might give it the name of liberal-humanism. It is a way of life that, these days, seems to be characterised by its own crises which it then tries to hide. For liberal humanism to concede that it may be in crisis of generation-to-generation proportions would be tantamount to say that the problem solving way of life has become problematic beyond the ability of human problem-solvers to understand, diagnose and solve. But if a Christian way of life is to be lived as a way of life in the context of such crisis about problem solving the way ahead on a Christian’s path should not be to adjust pragmatically, to incorporate humanism’s problems in the Christian way of life, but to offer a way out by living an integral alternative. The positive bequest of having done so may means it will be decades to come to expression. But where is it said in Holy Scripture that the impact of following the Anointed Servant of the Lord, the Elected Ruler of the princes of this earth must follow immediately upon our responding to His call?

Christianity in our so-called Western world faces deep challenges. What are the means by which the Christian way of life has been weakened by accommodating pragmatism, by acquiescing in the way of life that in our schooling and education has been characterised by an idolatrous reliance upon our human problem-solving capacities?

BCW

11.5.17 (Amended 14.5.17).

What Belongs to God? Tricky Tax Question Answered.

Luke 20: 19-26

And so they watched and waited sending [their] spies who were to pretend to be genuine so that they could catch him out if by one word [he might slip up] to hand him over to the leadership, to those in [civil] authority. And [in this way] they questioned him:
“Teacher, we know you teach [according to] what is [orthodox] received, and you do not regard a person’s social standing, insisting upon truthfully teaching God’s way. So, tell us, is it lawful for us to give tribute [pay taxes] to Caesar or not?”
And perceiving [face to face] their play-acting, he answered them in this way:
“Show me a denarius. Of whom has it an image; what does the superscription tell you?”
And they said:
“It is of Caesar!”
And he then said to them: “Well then, hand back to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God.”

And so, they were just unable to catch him out with [even] one statement in the presence of the people who were marvelling at the answer he gave and [all] were silent.
The scribes and the Chief Priests in their opposition to Jesus found themselves in a tight place. Things were rather precarious for them. They had the Roman authorities to think about and they also had to conjure with the crowds, particularly those visiting the temple, that they sought to control. They dared not make their move to arrest Jesus because they were well aware of how he had caught the attention of many people; his teaching had commanded their attention. And that was further reason why

… they were in fear of the people.

So how were they to orchestrate a confrontation? How could they challenge the crowd’s attentiveness to Jesus’ teaching. That, Luke tells us, is the problem that occupied these religious leaders once he began teaching within the temple precincts.
In the aftermath of his clearing out the traders from the court where the Gentiles were invited to come and consider Israel’s Lord, Jesus’ had already raised the question of John’s ministry. That proclamation of God’s kingdom included advice to tax-collectors, and Zacchaeus had begun to put that into effect after the Jesus’ visit to Jericho, just before his arrival in Jerusalem.

So here was a public issue that had an important connection to the people of the land and they were wondering whether they might gain some advantage by a further airing of the issue. Could a discussion about taxation play to their advantage? Could they stir the pot on taxation and land Jesus in trouble with the occupying authorities?

Luke tells us that they did not themselves come forward but sent mealy-mouthed “spies”, feigning pious intent, with over-egged compliments. To us it reads as throughly over-done. I guess these “spies” thought they were being pretty smart, and we have already heard from Luke just how deep the opposition went, and how determined they were to get him. Luke tells us that Jesus saw through them straight away, and turned their attention to how the public order they endured, their buying and their selling, was all related to the provision of legal tender – they dealt in coins and with coins their taxes would be paid:

Bring me a coin, one you use in daily life, show it to me!

They can only comply, even if some ultra-pious member of the crowd said to himself:

How did that get in here?

But the question stood.

Whose likeness is this? Whose image is it? What says the words engraved on the coin?

Of course the Commandments had proscribed the making of a graven image. But then the superscription on the coin would also say something which any believer in Israel’s God would have to baulk at. The image was enough perhaps but quite likely, it read:

Tiberius Caesar Augustus; son of the divine Augustus.

Luke doesn’t record if anyone read it out. A silent reading of the idolatrous superscription is still dealing with idolatry. And this is the temple no less!

Jesus draws attention to this “state of affairs”, these “things” in Jerusalem’s “sacred space”, their temple for worship and sacrifice.

Well, we can observe that he was only doing so in answer to a question raised by those questioning him. He saw their trickiness. And his well-known answer reminds those listening of what they are doing everyday, whether paying taxes or buying and selling. His answer,

Therefore give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give back to God what is God’s.

is the definitive declaration that all things, including public governance and taxation are to be laid before the God of Israel who has made known his demands for justice.

This answer distinguishes respect for the civil authority, even if in Caesar’s case he errs mightily by ascribing divinity to himself, from the complete devotion called for from the One who made, judges and redeems, the Lord who demands the service of our entire life.

With this answer Jesus affirmed that Caesar is indeed subject to the God of Israel and that it is out of His great mercy for the world that this is indeed Good News. It can be proclaimed in all of life and not only within the temple’s precincts where the Chief Priests and scribes have stewardship over how this worship is to be encouraged. This Good News to Caesar flies in the face of the denarius proclamation that Caesar should be worshipped because it announces the nonsense that he is on the path to divinity, just like his father Augustus.

Jesus announced a principle the Chief Priests and scribes would never dare to put on their lips. They were so busy with preserving their own place under the sun – which they implicitly viewed as Caesar’s rule – that would not know how to defend themselves.

In saying so, Jesus not only completely overthrows Caesar’s claim to total earthly allegiance or god-head, but deftly reminds the crowd, and these furtive religious leaders, that the reign of the Saviour of Israel is over all that he has made, from Jerusalem to Rome, from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth.

If the Chief Priests and the scribes thought that by their trickiness Jesus could be forced to play to the crowd, and thus (as we might say) score points by skating on thin ice, they were completely mistaken.

All were amazed; all were silent.

Later on, it seems, Luke suggests that the crowd was much more amenable to their manipulations as “they” clamoured for Jesus’ execution with the release of Barabbas (compare 20:16 and 23:19-25). But in the meantime Jesus’ teaching commanded respect.Were the scribes and Chief Priests serious? Did they really want to be given an answer to their question? Did they really want to hear that God was demanding their obedience even as they paid their taxes?

BCW

30.1.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCW

10.11.16

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

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

Consequences

 

What more is there to say?

We are faced with the consequences of the dogmatic privatisation of political beliefs about marriage, family and household. Such privatisation is a dominant presupposition in our national political discourse. It is maintained, in the main, by our major, and also some minor, political parties. The mass media follow limply along in this destructive trend.

As a nation we daily witness our moral impoverishment on many fronts, and so we stand in need of a better appreciation of the intimate interface of marriage, family and household with the public legal order as the key institutions of our national economy. The renewal of our nation’s life will not arise without a rediscovery of the great value in reaching out with hospitality – from our households, from our communities and from our homeland – to those beyond, to neighbours up the street, to people elsewhere in our region and across the country, to those beyond our shores.

The fact is that we may find it very difficult to see any connection between the way we understand marriage, family and household life and the plight of the asylum seekers cruelly housed on Manus Island and on Nauru. But political understanding has everything to do with the way we treat our neighbours, all of them, with justice. Our political perspective must include our acts of outreach, our attempts as families, as organisations, as a nation to reach out. And our outreach as a nation to the married couples, the families, the households among those housed in those off-shore detention centres is, despite the attempt of the Government to deny it, our outreach, and it is characterised by a cruel lack of welcome and hospitality. 

Consider what would happen if a car travelling to Point Lonsdale was hijacked on the Westgate Bridge and the thieves dropped the family off on my doorstep at Point Lonsdale (100km away). The family knocks on my door and I say – “I’m sorry you can’t come in. If I look after you this might encourage further Westgate bridge hi-jacking. But I’ll ring the police and you can spend the night in the local gaol.”

What we are dealing with on Manus and Nauru, as John Menadue indicates, is a profound national scandal, aided and abetted by political parties that no longer have the moral backbone to do otherwise. They no longer know how to advocate for justice in regards to marriage, family and household. It sadly confirms our national guilt, and it confirms our thesis that our political parties have failed in an important phase of national leadership. And the failure is our own as well and it has depths we will find very difficult to face.

Our Government is very quick to make concessions by appeal to the principle of state sovereignty when dealing with the militarist oppression that is implicit in Fiji’s parliamentary democracy as well as with Indonesia’s colonial rule in West Papua (ominously at the other end of the Melanesian crescent). But there is simply a merciless fanaticism involved in the way in which we Australians, via successive Governments in Canberra, want to suggest about these people at Manus and Nauru who have been desperately seeking social space to live their lives and grow their families and form their households. We are saying to them that since they allowed themselves to be duped by illegal people-smugglers then they need to take responsibility for their actions and now go away.

It is as much for the well being of these so shabbily treated people, that we need a serious political change in the way in which we understand all human relations. This situation involving 1700 persons on Manus Island and Nauru occurs at a time when there are millions desperately seeking a place of safety where God’s gifts of life can be enjoyed. This state of affairs is another confirmation that we desperately need renewal in marriage, in family life and in hospitable house holding.

What it means is that we need an altogether completely new kind of national politics in which genuine political parties play their indispensable but limited part. This would mean crafting a parliamentary politics that gives due respect to the various ways of life of electors without requiring them to resile from their deepest commitments. As it is the “two sides” allow themselves to force all citizens to choose between them and so keep them in the political comfort to which they have become complacently accustomed. It is a style of politics that is hollowing out our political convictions.

Instead we require a new appreciation of political life and our part in it. This will be a viewpoint in which legislation will have to embody sufficient parliamentary compromise even if these compromises are to be made by the representatives of irreconcilable political viewpoints.

But that is at this point only a hope for the future. Now, the parties, though willingly allowing themselves to be financed from the public funding of election campaigns, have long retreated from the difficult task of reaching out to local communities in genuine political education. Just as we do not now know what Labor and Liberal stand for in terms of any coherent political philosophy, so also we have little idea what their underlying political beliefs mean for these key institutional loci of our economy. By embracing the neo-liberal ideology, they have embraced their own wilful ignorance about what they stand for. And conscience votes are simply another phase of this neo-liberal privatisation.

As a nation we no longer know why these parties exist, and what their long-term programme is apart from their own self-preservation. They are now practical nihilists. We are fed slogans parading as policies that read more like bids at an auction. If we bother to follow media reports about what is happening in our parliaments or councils we may catch glimpses of some far off longer-term legislative agendas that are in the minds of some of the members of these parties. But as parties they seem to have stopped talking about such things long ago. They have perfected the art of furtively bringing bills into the parliament that they know will be controversial. The Victorian Labor Government is notorious for these kinds of tactics. But they do not have it on their own. Parliament these days bespeaks a statist libertarian view. All sides, especially “both sides”, engage in these tactics and give ample proof of their public education failures by the material they leave in our letter-boxes at election time.

One only has to consider the activities of local branches of political parties in one’s own suburb – if they exist. When have they ever used their considerable resources to convene public lectures or seminars to which all are invited so that citizens have an opportunity to appreciate their political vision? One would have thought that as privileged players in our public governance, these parties would be eager to receive face-to-face feedback from those of other political beliefs. Consider: when did you last have a knock on the door from a party member conducting a survey of political attitudes in your street?

So, where, exactly, are citizens to learn about the challenges and problems of public governance? The answer seems to be that the parties have given up on this task. And would we be wrong in suggesting that it appears that their main objective now is to use their considerable power to hold onto power, despite the widespread public incredulity, by preventing voices and opinions that ask difficult questions and expose their all-too evident political weaknesses?

Take the prospect of a plebiscite on “marriage equality” as a case in point? Why are so many running scared about a plebiscite? It would have been a classic “no-brainer” had the parties been engaged in forming civic discourse for decades as they should have been doing. But they run scared precisely because of their inability to promote and maintain public justice for marriage, family and households and their failure to engage their electors in discussion about such policies! I am not talking about a legislative agenda, although that is important. I am simply pointing out that after years of ongoing public agitation about “same sex marriage” the two major political blocks have come up with no clear policy framework to put to the Australian people, nor have they been able to develop a platform for coherent reform of the Marriage Act. Nor have they used their resources to form the kind of debating environment that they now think we can simply form ex nihilo!

As it is they still haven’t explained why they have now changed course from the path mapped out by reforms they legislated in 2004. Labor says it will make SSM a part of the party platform from 2019; we have argued that the Liberal Party (and some Nationals) now concede that marriage qua institution is always a matter of whatever is deemed “politically correct” at any particular time. But why? Why do they believe that justice to same-sex couples and their households is going to be further advanced by yet another  legislative change to the Marriage Act? Are we really to believe that Parliamentarians should be freed now to change the Marriage Act in order to assist some young people to avoid the heartache and disappointment they may experience when, with same-sex attractions, they are told that their relationship, whatever else it may be, is not a marriage? Are we to simply flag through a change to the definition of lawful marriage as if the purpose of the Marriage Act is to ensure some kind of therapy to those who now feel a 21st century kind of exclusion because of an understanding of marriage that has been with the human race for thousands of years and which is still maintained by an overwhelming majority of the earth’s peoples?

There are questions like these – difficult questions; questions that are hard to ask and even harder to answer – that the political parties should have been working on at least since 1981 when homosexuality was decriminalised across the Commonwealth. To be sure the political parties are not the only actors to have failed. But they have, as privileged associations of those elected to Parliament, neglected the task of providing well elaborated political perspectives on human relationships that should have followed the Royal Commission on Human Relationships 1975-1977. And such socio-political perspectives should have become an upfront part of their respective party political articulations. We now inherit the consequences of this monumental failure. As I have said, it is not just the political parties. But it certainly is their responsibility. We won’t get out of this mess without the political parties in this country undergoing reform, root and branch.

Moreover, Nurturing Justice is responding to our ongoing Christian community responsibility to love our neighbours with public justice. Given our Christian failure to develop a coherent political programme at federal, state and local levels there is no grounds whatsoever for complacent self-righteousness. The problems are our problems, in the roots and the branches of our hopelessly dispersed and feeble expressions of political concern.

And so the political parties are already exposed by the public-legal ignorance of citizens concerning the full political implications and consequences of such a change. Oh yes these Johnny-cum-latelies will put themselves forward as those who can prepare the nation for the change and they are obviously keen to extract as much credibility and kudos from the crisis, and its impending tensions, to shore up their depleted reputations. But these tensions are not now something that can be easily side-stepped or dismissed. The crisis in marriage and family and household is not going to go away with “marriage equality” legislation. The consequences will have to be confronted and it is not going to be all sweetness and light.

There has been no explanation of the implications of this proposed change for Australia’s adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in particular of Article 16. See also the 1966 ICCPR). There has been no discussion of how this nation is being corralled into joining a neo-colonial offensive by the self-defining “advanced” and “progressive” nations – and their over-rich corporations and global initiative foundations – against the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions that do not subscribe to this deconstruction of marriage. This is just for starters. There is also too little discussion about how this might inflame those – within our national community and those outside of it – who are prone to “radicalisation”, those who may be disposed to interpret such a change as yet another example of western decadence.

And so, if we haven’t noticed already:

Neither a plebiscite nor a parliamentary vote is the way to go. What is required is a new political perspective. If Christians truly believe that marriage, family and household life are gifts from God then they should also become aware that their calling as citizens is also part of their discipleship. A Christian political option is not the secret of some gnostic sect, nor is it a task for some self-proclaimed spiritual elite. It is simply a facet of our lives, made meaningful in our lives by the ministry and rule of Jesus Himself, in service to God and neighbour.

In this country, what is needed, in truth, is a new “political settlement”. That will require a a new understanding of what parliamentary democracy requires of us and that will require study and persistent effort to appreciate the normative demands of public justice. We need to work in the understanding that as a nation we have work to do if we are to become mature in our understanding of public justice.

It will require all sides (and not just “both sides”) to rediscover that parliamentarians are representatives of electors not delegates commissioned to act on their own initiative by party headquarters. An election promise is an agreement – it should be kept: pacta sunt servanda.

It will require a disciplined parliamentary philosophy by which elected members stay true to their election platforms – no core and non-core promise flapdoodle –  but then that means that an election platform needs to finds its character in the context of a political party’s clearly formulated political beliefs that are publicly known: what is public governance? what is citizenship? what is parliamentary representation? what are our current pressing political needs? A party must be prepared to lose public support if it is to maintain its commitment.

It will require us to look again at how citizens can best be represented in our parliaments and that means changes in how we elect parliamentarians for this federated commonwealth. We need to look again at how we “do politics” in a comprehensive way. How should our Federal Parliament be structured? How should we understand the positive role of political parties? A renewal in our system of proportional representation is called for at all levels.

It will require this nation to grow up. Political maturity takes seriously the need to keep on talking with our civic neighbours with whom we have the deepest disagreements. A healthy polity requires that. But it is not just about “talk”. It is also important that we work for a system of public governance in which all citizens are justly represented, and the deficit we have in this regard at this time certainly needs to be overcome. More state-crafting is needed if our parliaments are to justly represent the people who, it is claimed, are represented by it. We need to be weaned off our devotion to “two sides” politics, to forsake the “winner takes all” notion of parliamentary representation.

If we are to ascribe the respect they deserve to marriage, family and household by adherence to a way of life that is thankful to God for His many gifts, then we are confronted with a political task of great consequence.

 

BCW

16.10.16