the church caught conducting a SSM

(a ‘targum’ of John 8:3-11)

3 The representatives of a group of churches brought in one of their churches which was caught in the act of blessing a same sex marriage. They made it stand before Jesus 4 and said to him, “Teacher, this church was caught in the act of blessing a same sex marriage. 5 In our understanding of our denominational processes, we have authority to discipline this church. We have spent two years drafting propositions to this effect, and some dare to want to edit our propositions.  What then, do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to ensure that the gathered assembly kept their original wording exactly intact, not a jot and tittle amended or softened, lest anyone suspect them of being soft on sin.

But Jesus walked past the microphone and sat down next to the pastor and gay delegate from the accused church. 7 When they kept on asking him to speak, he walked to the microphone and said to them, “Let any church which has never blessed any other kinds of sin be the first to kick this church out of your union.” 8 Then again he sat down next to the pastor and gay delegate from the accused church.

9 At this, those who heard began to lay down their voting papers one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the pastor and gay delegate from the accused church sitting next to him. 10 Jesus motioned to the empty room and asked them, “Church, where are they? Has no one kicked you out of their group of churches?”

11 “No one, sir,” they said.

“Then neither do I shame you, condemn you, or kick you out of my family,” Jesus declared. “But now, go and no longer bless what is sinful.”

just do it – a lot

All is/ought distinctions and naturalistic fallacies aside, whilst monogamy does occur in some non-human species, apparently humans have a evolutionary and biological predisposition of sorts to polygamy.

But is this really newsworthy?  Even the most prudish of “just lay there and think of the queen” conservatives would admit off the record to the fact that being married to one person doesn’t remove all attraction to all other potential mating partners.  Yet again, science is giving us technical and detailed accounts of what we already knew.  We like sex.  We like sex a lot.  We like a lot of sex.  Which is good news for the pornography and prostitution industries, though perhaps not for monogamy.

If both the above science and near-universal human experience is correct, then monogamy necessarily always involves a kind of saying ‘no’ to a desire that is as natural and normative as it gets.  There are two interesting points of relevance here for the current global discussion of same-sex marriage.

1) Legal same-sex marriage and legal multi-marriage are logically related.  It is hardly ‘scaremongering’ to point out that polygamy is the next step in the current progression, if not one of the next steps.  There is no shortage of online pro-polygamy groups which have been arguing for its legality for years (and plenty of challenging of other ‘no-marriage-for-you’ lines un-challenged in the currently proposed legislation).  Methinks that those pushing for the law change don’t want to talk for too long on this point, so they play the ‘scaremongering’ (or religious ‘fear’) card as quickly as possible.

2) Saying no to sexual desires may not be so inhumane after all.  If indeed the natural tendency toward polygamy is there in the vast majority of humans, then the widespread monogamous habit of routinely dousing of the flames of desire for multiple sex-partners is infinitely more backwards and sexually repressive in scope and number than expecting a relatively small percentage of the population to do the same with (homosexual) desires which are arguably just as natural, though incredibly less common.

But of course I do not think that sexual self-control is repressive or backwards.  Neither do I think that sexual expression (or marriage for that matter) is some kind of thing that makes you human – and therefore is a ‘right’.  All this goes directly against messages both implicit and explicit in movies, media and advertising whose suggestion is hardly a gentle one: namely that to err is virgin, and to get it on is divine.

And the church doesn’t help much either.  Marriage is on such a pedestal that single people feel like unfortunate, illegitimate, inconvenient accessories accompanying we normal married folk.  We need to affirm those who are both single and celibate as being just as human as any other.

on the word ‘marriage’

All over the world, the word ‘marriage’ is being redefined.  Here in NZ it’s a peaking issue.  A friend of mine just shared a status that threatened de-friending if they didn’t act according to their views.  And when people threaten to de-friend, you know it’s huge…  So I wanted to take a post to clarify what I think and believe about not just the word ‘marriage’, but what it describes – or has up until recently.   But first, a mamby-pamby, wishy-washy, soft liberal (MPWWSL) comment about my take on politics.

((Begin MPWWSL comment: The kingdom of God, as taught (and inaugurated) by Jesus, is not merely a personal/private ‘kingdom in my heart’.  It is also political in scope.  Having said this, Jesus didn’t lead marches against Rome to get them to change their laws. ((Though, for example, Jews of the day would have been happy to edit the Pax Romana if they’d been given the chance))  Being ‘conservative’ (as I am on many issues) doesn’t mean that you automatically want to force your religion upon others via legislation.  Having said that, the slogan “You can’t legislate morality!” rings hollow, for everything is moral.  Show me an area of law that is amoral.  The point is that, whatever you are aiming for, social transformation a) takes time and patience, and b) happens at a level deeper than law.  So whilst you will find (below) a blog post on my (relatively conservative) views of marriage, you’ll not find me marching down a street against same-sex marriage.  And you will also find me opposing any marginalisation or persecution of gay individuals, who are paradoxically some of the most popular and at the same time most ostracised people in modern western society.  End MPWWSL comment))

So here are my thoughts on the word ‘marriage’:

Firstly, however defined, it should be obvious that whilst it is obviously one of the most basic and important human institutions, being married is not what makes a person human.  Non-married people are just as human as married people.  This, to me, makes it hard to frame ‘gay marriage’ as a human rights issue.  Whilst I can appreciate the strong desire (and hurt feelings) of those who want to legally call their relationship a ‘marriage’, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about the definition and use of a word here, not a withholding of fundamental rights that denies anyone their humanity.

Secondly, the word ‘discrimination’ is used a lot, and all I’ll say is that let’s remember that in all kinds of decisions we make in life, ‘discrimination’ is both a good and bad thing.  Strictly related to marriage, we rightly ‘discriminate against’ people wanting to marry who are too closely related or not of what we deem (rightly or wrongly) to be a sufficient age, or want to marry multiple people, etc.  It is not scare-mongering to ask the question: “Why not polygamy?”  If the only requirement for getting married is consent, then it seems a perfectly valid question.

Thirdly, all agree marriage is a ‘union’.  Vague enough for mass agreement.  Tick.  All (except zoophiliacs) agree between two people. Tick. But now the debate is over whether it must be only between a ‘man and a woman’.  The key shift here, which is almost never stated, is that the ‘marriage union’ referred to a conjugal (‘with-joined’) and ‘consummated’ (‘with-completed’) relational state.  Indeed, whilst this is not an argument in itself, in some places, marriages that are not completed via ‘consummation’, that is, sexual intercourse, or coitus, can be annulled on this basis.  This signals the bond (pun intended) between marriage and intercourse.  To state the obvious, whatever ‘sexual’ activity they engage in, same sex couples  are  not naturally equipped for the specific, singular, consummating, conjugal, and thus ‘marrying’ act of sexual intercourse.  This observation is hardly ‘discrimination’ in the pejorative sense.  It’s merely an observation that two humans of the same sex cannot – biologically – have a conjugal, consummated union.  This is why you will sometimes see quote-marks around the word marriage when it follows same-sex (i.e. same-sex ‘marriage’).  It is a (perhaps unhelpfully?) short-hand way of summarising the view that same-sex conjugal unions are not physically possible. Interestingly, this sense of the word ‘union’ would also have relevance for ‘civil unions’ as well.  Nonetheless, the issues here are inescapably semantic, so patience is called for.  However much I (or others who make these points) might empathise with those whose semantic desire is to use the word ‘marriage’ of their same-sex relationships, I cannot pretend that I’m not aware of the above. ((This is a helpful and detailed and conservative treatment: http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/GeorgeFinal.pdf))

Finally, there is the question of adoption, and I agree it is very much a part of the discussion.  A very clued-up gay friend of mine recently related to me over coffee his summation of research on best parenting combinations for children, that biological parents provide the most stable child-rearing environment, of course including that committed gay couples were better than (it would seem obvious to me?) a single parent with little community support.  But again, it seems uncontroversial to me that biological parents are best. ((someone can critique the sources cited in the bibliography here: http://www.acpeds.org/Homosexual-Parenting-Is-It-Time-For-Change.html))  Now, I don’t know what this spectrum from best to worst means for legislation.  Honestly.  I have no problem saying that a committed, socially stable gay couple would do a better job parenting than an uncommitted, criminal couple, whether gay or straight.  It does seem helpful, however, to delineate these qualifiers, though.  Committed is better than uncommitted.  Socially stable is preferable to criminal.  And biological parents are to be desired over a gay couple.  I think my gay friend would agree to these last few sentences.  The question remains, which qualifiers should be enough to lawfully un-qualify a couple for adoption rights?  A criminal record? Obviously.  Being gay?  Hardly obvious.  A useful solution might be for the birth mother (if possible – or the closest kin) to decide – which I think might be the current law in NZ.

So that’s quite enough words from me on the word ‘marriage’.  I’m a relatively conservative Christian, but with a liberal heart for real people with real emotions and feelings and desires, and most of all I want to see people discuss it patiently and honestly.  And frankly, I see more heat and aggression coming from the pro-gay-marriage side than the other side.  Certainly that was the case this morning on Breakfast when Labour MP Louisa Wall got more than a little incensed at Family First’s Bob McCoskrie.  Social justice does warrant bringing heat.  But again, over the definition and use of a word?  I’m not convinced the heat is necessary here?

None of the above, has touched (directly) the related issue of the morality of homosexual behaviour. My intent is that the above is stated in a way such that a homosexual – or homosexuality affirming – person could agree, and that therefore any discussion below will focus on the issue of the definition of marriage, and not on the ethics of homosexuality.

adversarial self-righteousness

((What I’m about to describe happens not all the time, but enough to notice it…))

Christians are not only against things, we are also for things.  (Indeed, for everything you are for, you are therefore against anything that hinders what you are for!)  Nonetheless, because of the Christian conviction that the Creator is for wise, loving, creative order in the cration, for two-millenia, Christians have been against all manner of things they see in the world, which they see as falling short of the order that God designs and desires to be brought to bear upon the creation: violence, slavery, abortion, unjust pay for workers, various kinds of sexual behaviour (sex with those who are: too related [incest], too young [paedophilia], too similar in bodily sex [homosexuality], not willing [rape], etc.), cruelty to animals, pollution, anarchy (and it’s equal opposite evil, oppressive dictatorships), greed, sloth, etc., etc.

In the old back-and-forth between the Church and State (‘the World’), there have been two main areas of BOTH disagreement AND agreement:

a) ethics: what is right and wrong (i.e. what we should be for, and therefore also against)

b) politics: how to wisely govern and order society (including how to promote/legislate in ways that promote this)

Sometimes the Church & State agree happily, and ‘religion in public’ is not a problem to most.  Other times, the clash drives people to try to force religion into private life.  And it’s different in different times.  William Wilberforce fought the slave trade against much opposition.  Now both Church and State oppose it happily.  Church opposition to drunkenness is often met with groans against self-righteousness, etc.  Recently (certainly in NZ as seen in various mainstream media), however, ‘problem’ or ‘binge’ drinking has a level of opposition that is very high.  Sometimes it goes the other way.  The list of times, places and issues could go on.

My main observation here is that it is not only the Christians who (at times) look down their nose at ‘the World’ in self-righteous moral superiority.  The ‘world’ often repays them in kind.  Whatever one’s views on sexuality and marriage are, it is not hard to see, at present, a posture of more-moral-than-thou, more-modern-and-progressive-than-thou directed from (much of) ‘the world’ to (most of) the Church.  Whether it is Facebook interaction or a survey of MPs, there is a ‘name and shame’ methodology that seeks to identify and villainise anyone who disagrees with popular cultural leanings on this topic.

This posture of adversarial self-righteousness, whether in Christians or otherwise,never helps when it comes to a) discussing an issue, or b) making a difference in society.  ‘Nuff said.

domain of discourse (of fear)

I’ve obviously changed a lot since moving to NZ.  I hate how tooting-my-own-horn this sounds, but I like the changes.  Both my theological and political views have been sharpened.

I used to be a cookie-cutter, conservative, two-issue-voter (you know which ones), republican-Christian.  Now I’m a liberal-conservative (in a centred,  rather than fence-sitting way), wide-screen voter (because all issues are ‘moral’, not just two), moderate Christian.

What was involved in the change?  Well, I think I had to breathe different cultural air than I was breathing back in the buckle of the Bible-belt.  Only people without lungs are truly affected by trying to breathe underwater.  You only react to daylight when you suddenly step outside with eyes that have adjusted to the pitch black room you’ve been in.  You can see a lot better where you’ve been when you’re no longer there, but are somewhere along the trail looking back.

I think I was so regularly exposed to certain domains of discourse that I didn’t learn to critique the view I held.  This air I was breathing was hot with fear.   My wife and I tasted the tang of this fear when we visited the US a few years back and ‘ObamaCare’ was being discussed… no… damned… on Christian radio.  Now, I’m under no illusion that Obama or ObamaCare are without fault, but the simplistic and fear-inducing way in which both were demonised was just crazy to hear with fresh ears – having stepped outside the darkroom for a while, the pitch black was startling.  I’m opposed to abortion (save to save the mother, which isn’t really abortion), and wouldn’t like my tax  dollars funding one, but that seemed to be the crack in the system they were clinging to.   That, and the general paranoia about government getting too involved in our lives.  As many other countries can attest to (not least here in NZ), public healthcare can work quite well, and until the age to come, no system will ever be ethically and fiscally perfect.

And ‘government control’ also comes into the current gun control discussion.  It’s another discourse of fear.  I’m amazed at the paranoia of the countless imaginary people who these people have to defend themselves against.

I went for a photo shoot last night alone, and walked down some very dark and a bit spooky pathways.  For whatever reasons, I carry some of my childhood fear of the dark.  I imagine that someone could be laying in wait, under my car, ready to chop my legs off as I approach… etc.  You get the drift.  I caught myself planning out my response to this imaginary attacker.  “Take a camera stand to the face buddy!”  Now, I know that this precise form of attack has actually happened to some unfortunate souls.  But I want to make a point.

There will always be someone who is either more prepared or more equipped or has bigger or more guns or body armour than you.  If you spend your life in fear, ever-preparing yourself for what someone might do to you, then there’s a word for that: paranoia.

Now, some people in some places and times have more reason to be prepared for self-defense than others.  And that is one reason why I’m not for a total ban on all guns for all people.  But whilst a hand gun is a simple, relatively safe way for most to protect themselves, and whilst you can surprise an approaching attacker by pulling out a concealed weapon on them, you only have the element of surprise if you see them first!  Bottom line: as we develop our technology (including guns), the power will always be found in the hand of both criminals and non-criminals, and it often comes down to the element of surprise.  Which is why the whole thing is not about guns, but about paranoia, constant suspicion and fear.

a different zion(ism)

Stephen Sizer is in NZ.  He preached this past Sunday at our church, and is doing a seminar called “7 Biblical Responses to Popular Zionist Assumptions” tomorrow night.  It’s been good revisiting the whole Zionism issue again, and refreshing my understanding of the issue.

The Zionists are concerned to demonstrate that God will not ‘forget his people Israel’, and that we should not either. For them, God’s faithfulness to Israel (including his modern day restoration of them back to their ancestral land) should be accompanied by our support of Israel – theologically, financially & politically.  My understanding, however, is that the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus exceeds and eclipses all (not some) aspects of the Old Covenant.  The types and shadows of Israelite religion (prophet, priest and king, law, land/’inheritance’ and temple) reach their climax and fulfillment in Jesus, who is the final Prophet, the High Priest, the King of kings; and in the Law of Christ (‘love’), the Inheritance of the entire Earth, and in Christ the new Temple.  In short: God keeps God’s promises in God’s way, and he has chosen to keep them in and through Christ.  God has been faithful to his own purposes for humanity (including Israel) and creation in and through his self-giving, self-donating, loving act in and through Christ.  Nothing more is needed for God to demonstrate his faithfulness.  Christ is enough.  As Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:20), “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.”

There is one response I want to address, and it is the complaint of ‘over-spiritualising’ God’s promises.  These people are unhappy with an understanding in which all of the tangible, here-and-now promises of God are ‘spiritualised away’.  Here, I’d want to point out that it is Christ and his people, the Church which fulfill the promises.  It’s just that the aspects (prophet, priest, etc.) are lower-case, post-Christ versions of their ultimate fulfillment in and through Him.  There are prophets in the Church, and we still have a priestly calling to the world, to bring his kingdom.  We are the ‘living stones’ of the new Temple.  And the law of Love is quite literally the most down-to-earth thing you could imagine, to be lived out in the entire earth.  Only in a radical dualistic framework would ‘spiritualising’ something make it less relevant for physical, ‘earthy’ things.

rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.

finished

Well, it’s been a good little while since I’ve posted, because I’ve been finishing my undergrad degree :)  I’ve turned in my last essay just this Sunday, which was one of two larger (6,000 word) research projects.  I attach links to the PDFs below.

Upon graduation in March, I will officially have three qualifications, one related to building houses, and two related to ‘building up’ people :)

AAS (Associate of Applied Science: Building Materials Merchandising)
DipPL (Diploma of Pastoral Leadership)
BappTheol (Bachelor of Applied Theology)

I’m not sure what my posting regularity or content will be like.  Time will tell.  But anyway, here are those PDFs.

  • orientation –disorientation –reorientation(PDF) a thematic integrative research project on homosexuality –Myk Habets, supervisor
  • alternative currency: An Economic Contrast of the Harlot & Bride in John’s Apocalypse & Implications for Alternative Ecclesiology in Consumptive Culture(PDF) theological research paper –Andrew Picard, supervisor

prophecy & politics

…funny how most (not all!) American Christians are happy to ‘get political’ when it comes to abortion and gay marriage (‘Oh yes, let’s fight for godly legislation!’), but scream ‘socialism’ when it comes to issues like benefits for poor, out of work, or infirm people – or (shock, horror) free health care…

Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—
Laws that make misery for the poor,
that rob my destitute people of dignity,
exploiting defenseless widows,
taking advantage of homeless children.

What will you have to say on Judgment Day,
when Doomsday arrives out of the blue?
Who will you get to help you?
What good will your money do you?

Isaiah 10:1-3 (The Message)