So now that Scott Morrison is safely ensconced in The Lodge, Christians on Facebook and Twitter are calling for our new Pentecostal Prime Minister to act Christianly, especially in the public square in regards to asylum seekers.
But is that what they really want him to do? To act as a Christian Prime Minister?
I suspect not.
Now I, for one, do want a humane solution to Nauru that would involve on-shore processing and treating people with kindness. It’s punishment enough to fail in your asylum bid and be sent back, so why punish people with cruelty prior to that?
But in light of the number of social media comments calling on the new PM, Scott Morrison, to show the courage of his Christian convictions in this regard I find it intriguing.
It sounds to me like we want our cake and to eat it also.
After all, it was because of his religious convictions that Tony Abbott pushed hard against Same Sex Marriage, and tried to engineer a Liberal Party room that would not vote for it.
For his efforts he was rewarded with scorn, hatred and plenty of “Mad Monk” comments. Yet it’s clear that it was his religious convictions that pushed him to that point. He was trying to make a Christian decision.
And it’s clear too that many a religious conviction about abortion, euthanasia and the like is held by Christian – and other faith – politicians.
Yet if such views were espoused publicly, those same politicians would be called out in the public square, and by many in the church, to pull in their religious heads.
What I think people are actually calling for, although they probably don’t articulate it very well, is for Scott Morrison to make a “human rights” decision on the issue of asylum seekers, rather than a Christian decision.
What’s the difference between these two things?
A human rights decision is based upon a Christian worldview, a worldview that now has all but ceded from the “public imaginary”, as Charles Taylor would put it.
A Christian worldview bases its human rights framework, and hence its decisions, on the truth of Imago Dei – that we are all made in God’s image and have intrinsic, not extrinsic, dignity, value and worth.
Yet what human rights has morphed into in a post-Christian setting is a human rights framework based on human rights themselves, with the Imago Dei conviction shorn off.
The idea that God is the Cosmic Conveyor of human rights is not-understood, not known, and not liked. In fact many within the human rights advocacy community are hostile to it. They are squatters living on land they do not own, and failing to acknowledge the important landmarks within it.
The idea of Imago Dei challenges huge swathes of our post-Christian human rights frameworks, especially in its championing of the individual as a discrete unit outside the realm of either God or other human beings, when it comes to decision making. This idea of the human as individual is safeguarded in the Christian view of human rights by the presence of God.
What we are left with now is the ghost, the shadow of the Christian worldview. This allows us to cherry pick human rights according to our new understanding of the individual devoid of God.
Yet this is rarely acknowledged.
It’s as if the truths about humanity are self-evident from observation about humans themselves, which – of course – they’re not. They’re evident from the study of who God is and how God works in his world, especially through Christ.
So if we look at the nations that have legalised and promoted same sex marriage they are without fail all nations that once had a Christian majority viewpoint. Without fail. That’s a human rights issue right there, but one untethered from the Christian frame.
At no point at all in Australia was the concept of Imago Dei legitimised in the public square as a concern when it came to same sex marriage.
The dignity, value and worth of the individual in the sight of God is no longer a public option, requirement, or even a public desire when it comes to the decisions we make.
This plays out in interesting, and contested, ways.
The self-confessed Christian politician is called upon to release asylum seekers on the basis of their Christianity, but required to ignore or privatise their Christian faith’s conviction in the public square when it comes to other human rights matters related to Imago-Dei, such as abortion or euthanasia.
And it’s worth saying, that I note the term Imago Dei has dropped off the radar in the public pronouncements of many Christian activists in this area. Perhaps because it raises too many uncomfortable questions. Perhaps because it bleeds over into other areas of human rights that they either do not agree with, or have no wish to poke the grumpy, secular bear about.
Non-revisionist Christians in the public square are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. And many of them are realists too.
We don’t expect Scott Morrison to have the courage of his political convictions and de-legalise same sex marriage. And nor do those, who like me, think same sex marriage is not marriage, and indeed runs counter to what a healthy society needs as a family framework into the future.
At that level all I can do is stay true, publicly and privately to my conviction about the matter and, just as importantly, help create Christian communities that stay true to their own stated convictions about marriage in their own marriages. The church is the true nation of God, of which our own nations are a pale, and often poor reflection. We need to get our eschatology right.
Let’s treat our unborn and our old differently to those in the world. Let that be something that sets us apart, and let’s not be ashamed to say it and work towards other people having those same convictions.
And let’s treat with grace any young woman who has an unwanted pregnancy. Little point shaming a young Christian woman who is having a baby out of wedlock, and then shaming her for having an abortion as well. Show some so grace for Goodness sake!
But what about abortion as a public issue? What about euthanasia? That’s where Christians are having to play smarter in the public square and focus on the post-Christian human rights framework as an ally.
There’s precious little traction arguing in the public square from Imago Dei in this area either at the moment. It just doesn’t cut through. Without God in the framework all decisions become possible for the individual, and all will, I can assure you. We haven’t reached rock bottom yet.
But if you want to see an excellent rebuttal of euthanasia from a secular framework, then have a look at former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald. He does a great job at sharply (was he ever anything other than sharp?) and compassionately, exposing the grimacing skull behind the smiling face of the modern day push for assisted suicide.
And perhaps, just perhaps, that’s as good as we are going to get it in the public square in our increasingly hostile post-Christian age.
I believe there are complexities about asylum seekers that neither extreme wishes to acknowledge, but for goodness sake, how about we treat people with dignity, value and worth regardless of whether we are people of faith or not.
Let’s not be churlish enough to trot out the idea that if you won’t value my take on human rights, I won’t value yours.
I think some Christians – often on the Left – need to be braver, and tell the human rights advocates “Sorry, this is where we part ways.” when it comes to abortion or euthanasia,
Let the cards land where they fall. If you’re unfriended from a Facebook for doing that, so what. You’re committed to Imago Dei no matter the cost, right?
And if some Christians on the Right, contrary to a secular conservative frame, come out and say “Actually, more boats arriving is a risk I am willing to take in order to value the Imago Dei in those who will turn up in increasing numbers if I do.” then so be it.
And in light of how complex this all is proving to be, and will increasingly be, for us as private citizens; and in light of those who are going to jump down my throat for challenging their Left or Right shibboleths, perhaps you might spare a thought and a prayer for a Christian Prime Minister living very publicly in a secular space.