November 30, 2015

Taking the “Dia” out of Dialogue

I am speaking on a seminar this weekend entitled Same Sex Marriage and the Church of the Future.

Timely, in all sorts of ways, isn’t it? And a little nerve-wracking in some other ways. Especially so since it is an event that has been fairly widely publicised here in Perth.  So when my daughter came home exclaiming that a couple of her friends heard on the radio that her dad was speaking on this particular topic, I immediately changed our names by deed poll and sold the house (again) – though got less for it this time around due to a softening market. I hope the new owners understand.

It’s kinda sad that it’s gotten to that.  Gotten to what?   Gotten to the point that I feel somewhat nervous about speaking on this topic here in our Western context.  Mind you, my particular talk is entitled Church and Culture, so maybe I can skirt the really difficult stuff, right?

Of course not.  The reason many in the church are unsure how to broach the topic of sexuality, and in particular the traditional Christian understanding of it, is that there is a strong strain in the culture that would shut down, drown out and vilify the church’s perspective on this, in what is shaping up to be the year in which Australia holds a plebiscite on the definition of marriage.

And to be honest I don’t think the signs look good for a robust, healthy, democratic discussion. And this is not just because of this one topic, but rather this one topic is exposing an animosity towards the Christian framework by many of those who control the flow of conversation in the secular marketplace.

As I have said before, many Christians have prepared themselves for an Athenian Apologetics, and are ending up with a Babylonian Bashing. Just at the very time we will require a level playing field to have the discussion, the level playing field is shrinking to roughly the size of a piece of roll-on-turf, and it’s becoming increasingly crowded.

And this is not simply something that the church is observing and commenting on.  A series of opinion pieces in The Australian over the weekend, from senior and well respected Australian journalists highlighted that the same sex marriage debate is about much more than that. As Paul Kelly called it in his incisive article “it [marriage equality] is a contest over power, ideas and law.”   

Kelly goes on to observe:

“…marriage equality is a powerful ideology and ideologies rarely stop short of complete victory. Can state recognition of same-sex marriage be reconciled with religious freedom or is the erosion of freedom of religious conscience an integral step on this journey.”

One does wonder what complete victory looks like.  In the past, the recent past, we have been assured that freedom of conscience, freedom of religious expression won’t be imposed upon, that somehow we’ll still be able to hold our opinions if they differ from what the consensus becomes legally.

The problem with that of course is that the word “opinion” in our modern West is classified as the opposite of the word “fact”. We’re entitled to opinions.  I am glad to hear that.  But why are we entitled to opinions? Because opinions are private, unverifiable and must be subjugated to fact in the public square. We are not entitled to challenge the facts. And facts are for public consumption whilst opinions are to be kept to oneself or the cloister. Make no mistake, this is a battle over facts, not opinions.

Now I know that we cannot ignore how all too often certain arms of the the church down the centuries have abused the three things Kelly mentions, power, ideas and law, to its own advantage, and that is precisely why, for many who were marginalised by this, it is payback time.  Many within the SSM equality lobby are in no mood to take prisoners now.

And let’s not ignore the fact that when US President Barak Obama last week appealed to “universal human values” when speaking about another equally vexing topic, that of Islamic extremism, he was speaking of something that does not actually exist.  No entity known as “universal human values” actually exists or ever has done.

Leaving natural law and its implications aside, clearly values are not universal, otherwise they would be held universally, and clearly they are not.  That’s part of the problem we are facing.  Universal indicates “uni” or  “one” perspective.   Hence, in coming back to the SSM matter, there is no universal value that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are to be upheld in any given context.  These are historically NOT universal values – anecdotal evidence would clearly demonstrate that at the very least -, but are, rather, the fruit of a Christian framework that took root in the West over an extended period of time. And the modern West has enjoyed this fruit for many years, whilst ironically, and suicidally, laying the axe to the trunk of the tree with increasingly vigorous swings.

Hence as our culture moves away from its Christian underpinnings “universal human values” are going to be crushed by ideology every time , In a non-consensual world “multiversal” human values – or ideologies – are all we have left.  And multiversal values – aka ideologies – take no prisoners in their quest to conquer and become “universal”.

In light of this shift to ideology, comments such as this in regards to the Catholic Church’s recent booklet on marriage, from Australian Marriage Equality national Director, Rodney Croome, demonstrate that clearly those who are worried about how this will all pan out should be:

“The Catholic Church has every right to express its views from the pulpit but it is completely inappropriate to enlist young people as the couriers of its prejudice. Any principal or teacher who exposes vulnerable children to such damaging messages not only violates their duty of care, but is a danger to students.”

Two things stand out to me on this:

First, if there is going to be any enlisting of young people to a particular view of sexuality, we’re going to make sure it is not the church. Those days are over.

Second, if you’re a teacher or principal of any school who challenges the SSM message then look out, you’re not simply neglectful, you’re dangerous to young minds.

No room there for alternate moral communities there in that statement is there?  No room for “why can’t we all just get along?”  No room for difference.  No room, indeed, for a value of allowing liberty of conscience. Because marriage equality is being fought in a post-universal values world, an ideological world in which there can, ironically, be only “one”. There are no differences of opinion, there are “damaging violators” or there is us.

Which kinda takes the “dia” out of “dialogue” and replaces it with a “mono”, doesn’t it?  No space to allow for difference, never mind celebrate, which is the great irony of it all.

Well no space for difference that ideologues don’t agree with anyway. And one does wonder if parents exposing their children to anything but the marriage equality viewpoint would also be considered neglectful and dangerous?

I’d love Mr Croome to tell us what he believes the parameters of the coming public debate might indeed be.  What will be acceptable? What will not be? Because from where we stand now, the middle ground has been completely burned over by his statement.

Interesting times ahead.

Oh, and with my new deed poll identity I managed to get a middle name.  My parents never gave me a middle name. I intend to sue them for the hurt that this has caused me down the years, especially when signing paperwork and having to deal with the almost scornful response, “You don’t have a middle name?”  Good thing our new location is Tasmania, I may be able to take it to the tribunal.







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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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