October 6, 2016

Does Your Christian Public Ethic Pass the Coin Toss Test?


The true test of whether you are truly operating in a gospel ethical framework in the public square, or merely hitching your Christian wagon to either the progressive Left or the conservative Right, is the coin toss test.

Let me explain by using two polarised, and polarising, examples; refugees and abortion.

So you look on your Google calendar one day, and behold, Google has done evil (again) not good, by double booking two events you were planning to attend.  One was the pro-refugee rally and speech at the town hall, at which several Christian leaders, a Muslim community leader and a Greens MP are speaking.

The other was the prayer vigil being held on the steps of Parliament house as our MPS debate a third-trimester abortion bill. The prayers include nuns from the local convent, a unplanned pregnancy assistance group that encourages mums to keep their babies and houses those who do, and a team from a Christian lobby group.

Which do you choose?  You’re torn.  Your commitment to the central theological truth of  Imago Dei means that both issues are vitally important, especially to the One in whose image all of these persons – born and unborn – are made.

You have trained yourself to see past the “yes but” arguments from either side. So when someone says “Yes but you only care about humans until they are born” you can point to your commitment to  all life being sacred in God’s eyes.

And when someone says “Yes but unless they take on all our ways they should never get in to this country”, you are able to respond that freedom of conscience and association were borne out of Christian framework.

So what do you do?  The clock is ticking.  You are torn.  You have to leave in five minutes. Both events require a half hour drive. They are at opposite sides of town.  They both start at two pm. It is now one thirty pm.  You take out a coin from your pocket.

Heads it’s the refugee rally.

Tails it’s the prayer vigil at Parliament.

You flip the coin. You stretch out your hand to catch it. Slap!  You lift your other hand to see which side is facing up on your palm.  And it’s….

Oh, and by the way, you’ll know whether your commitment to each of these is spurred solely by gospel convictions about God’s commitment to the dignity, value and worth of every human being, when you refuse to go “best of three”, or even “best of five” at this point.

…It’s heads.  The prayer vigil will have to go on without you. You get in the car and head off to the town council, praying for a good hearing and a good spirit to attend both events.

Okay, okay, so it’s an unlikely scenario.  But maybe that is just it.  Even this week I saw several blogs and articles calling for more Christian protest about refugees, and one that said young people should stop doing short term mission trips to Africa and get on the climate change protest movement.  There’s a certain progressive agenda being pushed there, that automatically gets pushback from those on the conservative side, who ask, rightly so, why pro-life protests never make the cut, because of, like you know, Imago Dei and all that.

And doubtless I can find – have found – plenty of other articles which stridently call for Christians to claim their rights a little more and push harder on the abortion issue, all the while dismissing concern for refugees as a leftie chattering classes agenda for ABC an Fairfax media loving types.

Christians – evangelicals in the West especially – have allowed themselves to be defined by Left and Right.  And they feel stuck. Often in fear of leaning against their general proclivities, they go silent on the issues that their political/cultural opponents champion, rather than be seen to be giving any ground. After all, it’s increasingly a zero sum game out there.  Besides there’s a whole iceberg under the tip of that other issue, an iceberg I have no intention of sinking myself on. That’s how we think at least.

But that’s where Christians need to throw caution to the wind, especially in the face of the Risen, Reigning Christ and his imminent appearing.  Christians who are natural progressives (they exist) need to toughen up in the face of an elite culture that will shower them with praise in the media when you get arrested outside the Foreign Minister’s office, but who will heap opprobrium on them should they speak up for the unborn.

And Christians who are natural conservatives (they too exist) need to soften up, and not speak so harshly so often about refugees whose “crime” in coming here is more than outweighed by the crimes committed against them.  Besides if you’re an evangelistically minded conservative, then God’s bringing people to us who need to hear about the love of Jesus.

None of this even raises the need for us to marry our complex public Christian ethic with a commitment to publicly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus as both a “repent and believe” message and as a “I have come that you may have life” message.   That Jesus is Ruler over all of life; a Good King who will bring peace and justice, but who will bring it his way, not our way, is our central message.  Without that central message, our public ethics floats off into zero gravity.

Again it’s all too easy to leave out one or either of these facets – or indeed both of them. And yes, my barb is probably directed a little more at the progressives at this point, because the gospel proclamation is seen in secular progressive circles as part of the problem, not part of the solution. You won’t get a cheer from QandA for a ministry that has proclamatory evangelism (is there another kind?) at its centre.

That digression aside, Christians should be an enigma to the traditional Left and Right. They should be the weird people who are the only ones capable of holding two increasingly polarised positions in tension. They should be the salt in a decaying political landscape.  They should be the light on the hill that the Parliament seems increasingly incapable of being.  And the fact is, praise be to God, many of are in so many little, uncelebrated, un-Facebooked ways.

So do the test.  Get out a coin.  Make up a Left/Right scenario. And then toss that coin.

And remember:  No “best of three”.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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