November 5, 2018

Analogue Christianity in A Digital Public Square

The recent response from 34 Anglican School principals in Sydney concerning the religious freedom debate in Australia demonstrates once again that when it comes to commenting in the public square, Christianity operates in analogue.

And the public square is digital.

When I first read the letter, which outlined a clear, irenic and concise concern about the direction that the freedom discussion was headed, my first response was to sigh.

Not because of what the response was going to be. I knew what the response was going to be.  But because they didn’t know what the response was going to be.  They couldn’t pick it at all. If they had they might not have published it in the first place.

Those 34 principals were thinking analogue. It’s as if they assumed they would get a fair hearing in the public square.  It’s as if they simply thought that this would be the first step in a necessary conversation.  It’s as if they assumed that somehow their opponents would take a step back and say “Gosh, they’ve got a point you know, let’s converse!”

I sighed because that sort of thinking is analogue thinking in a digital public square.  And by that I don’t mean that they wrote a letter in the age of Twitter, or some such.

I mean that they assumed a right to a fair hearing on the matter.  They wrote a letter, full of valid concern, and it was picked up in the digital public square and shredded by their opponents, as we shall see.

But first have a read of the letter yourself:

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Think that is stock, standard fare? Think that’s a good letter, gentle and peaceable, but showing a valid concern?  Then you’re thinking analogue too.

Have a look at the ensuing “outrage”:

This from a former student who attended one of the signatory schools, who wrote a withering and heartfelt response published on the ABC website:

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And this from The Guardian:

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And this from The Sydney Morning Herald, which has thrown off any pretence of even-handedness a long time ago when it comes to debating this matter, and is going hell for leather in activist mode:

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Which of course, prompted some analogue scrambling from the Archbishop of Sydney:

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“misinterpreted as being homophobic”?

The Archbishop needs to know that in the digital public square there is no non-homophobic option left when it comes to perceptions about discrimination. That  ship sailed twelve months ago.

12 months after the vote on same sex marriage it was clear that any perspective put into the public square that does not admit full acceptance of homosexuality across all factors of life, including it now seems, the church is by definition homophobic.

Through clever activism and social media, proponents of change are keen, nimble, responsive, and, thanks to the overwhelming support of a progressive mainstream media, able to tap into a victim story at will.

And a victim story, or an outrage story from a young woman who says “Not My School!” will emotionally destroy in a single paragraph a carefully crafted letter written by 34 school principals.

34 school principals from well-heeled, orthodox Christian schools on the North Shore of Sydney who somehow believed that a well-thought out rational argument that walks a fine line between rights would somehow get oxygen.

Who somehow thought that the matter was still open for debate, and that a public letter put into the public square might clear things up.  Who somehow believed that the public square views religious freedom as an inalienable right, not as a begrudging concession that dare not step on the toes of other more visibly obvious rights.

That’s analogue thinking right there.  And, as they have found out, we live in a digital public square.

And in a great example of handing it to your opponents on a silver plate, the letter’s wording is being highlighted by several former students as evidence that the government should end the right for such discrimination.

As reported in Fairfax media today:

St Luke’s Grammar School graduate Max Loomes, who started the petition opposing the church’s letter, said it is telling that thousands of people read the letter as being discriminatory.

“Something that seems incongruous with what they’re saying is that the Anglican Diocese donated $1 million to the “no” campaign before the same-sex marriage plebiscite,” Mr Loomes said.

Well that decision didn’t come back to bite them in the bum, did it?

Of course none of this is to say that what the letter is saying is wrong.  I agree one hundred per cent with it.  But we’re past the point of no return on this one.

Public opinion is being shaped in the public square digitally. and all of the arguments being proffered by proponents of religious freedom are sliding off like Teflon.

They look clunky, desperate and reactionary.  They’re analogue, and they make for easy pickings in a digital public square.

We’re going to have to smarten up on this sort of stuff.  Of course it’s probably too late to smarten up this time around.  Chalk this one up as another loss for orthodox Christian influence in the public square.  The era of funding for schools that discriminate on grounds of sexual practice are probably over.

I don’t know what the next big issue will be, but some young, nimble, smart, godly Christians who know how to subvert the digital public square using its own devices is going to be needed.

I wonder who and where they are.


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