political Christianity

Let me open with an if/then statement.  If Christianity is anything more than B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), and I heartily believe it is, then it necessarily has to do with how the wholeness of life is played out in the here and now.  This means Christianity necessarily has a political component to it.  And here’s a yes/but statement.  Yes, there is vastly more to Christianity than politics, but it is not apolitical.

The sweeping Story of Scripture presents a Gospel that cannot be contained by any single political party, even a ‘Christian’ political party.  Indeed, the values and imperatives of Scripture cover pretty much the entire political spectrum.

The ‘right’ end of the spectrum will find its emphasis on personal responsibility affirmed and strengthened by Scripture.  Consider Proverbs 6:6-11 as motivation to as right-wing folk will say, “get off your rear and work as much as you can, and stop relying on the government.”

The left end of the political spectrum, with its convictions about basic rights and freedoms, will find just as much support from Scripture; from the golden rule of treating your neighbour as yourself, through to the more sharp and radical command to love your enemies.  Everything from social welfare, ecological preservation and non-violent pacifism have direct links to Scripture.

Even a controversial issue such as same-gender relationships finds the whole spectrum covered by Scripture.  Conservatives will find their convictions about sex, marriage and gender affirmed by passages which echo through in both the Old and New Testaments.  Progressives will find abundant biblical support for their passionate concern for the protection of the person-hood and identity of all regardless of any of their personal characteristics.

In addition to offering support all along the political spectrum, Scripture also offers subversion and opposition at all points as well.  To the arrogant ‘conservatives’ wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus the ‘liberal’ steps in to defend her basic freedoms with non-condemning, patient love, whilst at the same time pointing a stinging finger at the hypocrisy of those who are more interested in shaming someone else for their sin than they are at humbly acknowledging their own.  To any and all at the progressive ‘left’ who slide into complacent and compromised affirmation of things that go against Scripture, Jesus represents someone who held to the authority of Scripture, even as he sought to direct people past erring traditional interpretations of it.  Jesus was not interested in building a theocracy to manipulate people into obedience, nor was there any ‘moving on’ from fundamental Jewish convictions to make the faith palatable.

In other words, the Gospel of Scripture is always big enough to offer both comfort and challenge to everyone.

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.

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.