The Hair of the Dog that Bit The Bible Society

So you open your eyes and groan as the sunlight streams through the gaps in the blinds.  You try to pull the rug back over you as you slump on the couch.  It’s no use.  Your throat feels like sandpaper, your head like someone is banging pots and pans inside it.  You struggle to make sense of what happened last night.

And then you remember.  You remember how it all started so well and ended so badly.  You feel your stomach turn slightly.  You slide off the couch, stagger unevenly to the fridge and reach for the last bottle of Coopers Premium Light, and knock down the hair of the dog that bit you.


So, here’s a rather seedy, morning after assessment of the Coopers/Bible Society debacle from where I sit in my post-apocalyptic haze.

1.The Bible Society Needs to Learn How to Be Culturally Savvy

The Bible Society is probably waking up this morning wondering “What were we thinking?”  It would seem to be PR Studies 101 to ask an organisation such as Coopers who were promoting your cause, whether such a fraught topic as same sex marriage could be piggy backed onto their goodwill.

In a culture in which the best tool the hard progressives have is to shout you down and flood your message with a tsunami to drown it out, this was always going to fare badly.  It would seem that the Bible Society presumes a neutrality in the culture that is no longer there, at least it is not there among the cultural gatekeepers who control the narrative.

But really, on the most obvious level this is clearly a video that the Bible Society should have cleared with Coopers.  And clearly,  Coopers would have said “no”. Clearly. to it.  At a PR level the Bible Society over-reached its mandate.  The 200 years campaign promoted by Coopers is well and truly buried, along with all that goodwill.

2. The Price of Free Speech is Rising

I have read a good article by Murray Campbell that says that this shows that truly free speech is dead in Australia. I would nuance that a bit though.  Free speech is not free in Australia – it simply costs a lot, and the cost is rising.

If you want to debate or raise an issue that the cultural gatekeepers have either decided has only one correct answer or has been decided already, then prepare to pay an enormous cost.  The hard secular progressive ideology won’t shut you up because they won’t have to, you will shut yourself up.

They will so scorn you and shout you down in the public square and pour all sorts of faux truth in your direction (Donald Trump learned his fake news technique from the Left), that you will self-censor and silence yourself.  You will learn such a hard lesson the first time you get shot down that you will be hesitant to raise your head above the parapet again.

Read this interesting article from The New York Times, in which liberal writers are themselves nervous about those who espouse liberal values, but push them in illiberal ways.

3. The Church Is Not Obsessed with Sex, the Culture Is

On a Facebook thread about this topic, Morling College academic Michael Frost argued that the poorly thought out campaign by the Bible Society simply proves to the culture that the church is obsessed with sex.  I disagree.  In fact it is the culture is completely obsessed with sex and the proof is all around. The church is simply responding to this obsession. Indeed the culture – insofar as the media culture reflects it – is completely obsessed with same sex marriage being a very public matter.  Michael argues, however, that to bring this issue into the public square is going against the very privacy that people are demanding for their sexual preferences.

That flies in the face of the evidence.  My Facebook feed the last two weeks has been constantly filled with Holden car ads and ANZ bank ads promoting Mardi Gras and same sex relationships.  Holden, apparently, won’t be happy until we can hold hands with whoever we wish to hold hands with walking down the street, presumably as long as they are old enough to have a drivers’ licence that is.  Sexual autonomy is front and centre in our culture because we are told that we primarily identify as sexual beings.  Sex has become the foundation of who we are and that is not the doing of the church.

Over the past few years we’ve had double page spread ads from fifty or so of the biggest companies in Australia promoting their position on SSM.  Every Christian who gets onto QandA has their credentials tested against the acceptable position on SSM, and you cannot go a day, not a day, on the ABC without a program or interview highlighting the matter. For something so private it has inundated the public square, completely inundated it.  When one of the primary icons of Western influence, the White House, emblazons itself with the rainbow colours, any indignation that the church is illegitimately raising this issue in the public square is unfounded.

4. Civil Discourse Is A Thing of the Past

Which brings me to the nub of the matter that the Bible Society failed to see, civil discourse is pretty much a thing of the past.

Michael Frost made a worthy suggestion in the ongoing debate that perhaps the Bible Society should have tackled less inflammatory issues to highlight that we can have “light” debate in the public square.  This, thought Michael, would have taken the heat off the Bible Society, and Coopers immediately.  But, and this is not to pick on Michael in particular, his two alternate suggestions, climate change and immigration, would merely end in the same depressing result.  I know this because they have already.

Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg (a gay man who ticks many of the progressive boxes), who although in broad agreement with how climate change is happening, challenges the accepted methods for dealing with it , was all set to have a department established for him at the University of Western Australia, until the same shouty types who shouted down Coopers, shouted him down.

Or more to the point, they made life intolerable enough for the university that the university itself pulled the plug on Blomberg in yet another act of self-censorship to keep the peace.  And when the dust had settled the university’s student guild made this memorable claim: Some ideas are too unsettling and dangerous for its students to have to deal with.

Simply put, there is no non-inflammatory issue in the public square any longer.  On any issue at any time there are an army of placard painting trolls just ready to swamp the public debate with noise, anger, extreme statements and threats.  And all, apparently, for the sake of safety.  Pick your public square topic, there is an army ready to march against you.

In the New York Times article I link above, Democrat commentator, Van Jones, is quoted speaking to students at the University of Chicago:

“You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless, but obnoxious and dangerous. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset, and then to learn how to speak back. Because that is what we need from you.”

He’s right.  All we will be left with in the public square is obnoxious and dangerous cry bullies who have been cosseted all of their privileged lives from their Montesorri schools to their Ivy League universities.  Then, when the real world hits them, all they can do is rage. It would be pathetic if it were not, in Van Jones words, so obnoxious and dangerous.

The Christian worldview gave freedom and conscience and freedom of speech to the West, and the much vaunted progressive move away from this is bearing bitter and angry fruit that cannot cope with true difference.  Diversity today celebrates outward difference, but rigid implacable uniformity philosophically.  It is a Clayton’s diversity with less oomph than even a Coopers Premium Light.

4. The Church Will Flourish Regardless

I have been writing about this stuff over the past couple of years, and I always seem to end at this point: the church will carry on being a witness to the Kingship of Jesus, regardless. I am not particularly a cultural optimist.  The Greek empire went to seed and the presenting malaise was its sexual depravity.  The early Roman empire scorned the Greek empire for its sexual laxness, yet when the Roman empire went into decline that’s the very indicator that presented itself.  So too our culture.  The West is in decline and sex is in the ascendency as proof.  China and India – and to some extent Russia – are looking on and watching us sexually amuse ourselves to death.

But I am a kingdom optimist.  Not because the church in the West has got itself sorted out, but because we worship and serve the risen Jesus.  The fractured, broken image of the kingdom we see in the church will one day be fully restored at the Parousia.  Until then we have the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us from the identities we would place upon ourselves, or have imposed on us by others.  I have no hope for my own children in this perverse world save for the fact that the Spirit of God can enable them to live in it without being of it.  They will find a world much harsher and opposed to God’s wisdom than I found my world, but God can and will keep them.  But in the end it will be the world, not that church, that wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, and the dawning of that new day will be bright and welcome to God’s people, whatever way it plays out in the coming decades.



  1. A great piece, Stephen. I agree with most of it, and need to think through your point about whether or not the church is (also) obsessed with sex. Thanks for penning this.

  2. “watching us sexually amuse ourselves to death”

    Sorry, how do you figure that treating LGBTI people equally under the law undermines our country?

    We discriminate against LGBTI people NOW, and our civilization is struggling.

    Maybe it’s vicious right-wing economics, which make the rich richer and the poor poorer, which destroy public services, infrastructure and civil society, that have a more direct impact on the social challenges we’re facing?

    Maybe a church obsessed with fighting abortion and LGBTI people turns out to be woeful at advocating for a world of justice and kindness and social strength. Maybe the fixation on stuff that Jesus never mentioned is undermining any impact christians could have on the stuff he did…

    1. Well I pastor a church and I have never offered a sermon on either abortion or SSM. Never. The issues of Imago Dei and of God’s design for sexuality do come up, but obsessed with it? Never. And to tar churches as if that is all they do is neither fair nor honest. Most of the churches I know rarely if ever preach these topics and most are keen to obsess from the front about Jesus.

      BUT Are you saying Jesus never mentioned sexuality? Is that what you are saying? Because that’s patently not the case. In fact he was pretty up front about his perspective on it, and it echoed the OT teaching on it. Happy for you to argue your case. But an obsession with sex was central to Graeco-Roman culture and the church preached a different sexual approach to life, just as it does to our sex steeped culture today in which sexual identity IS our identity. Since the church does not believe that to be the case, and since it’s a counter narrative to the culture, then the cultural push back sometimes does need to be addressed.

      1. Where did Jesus mention LGBTI people? Chapter and verse, please.

        And if the churches aren’t obsessed about LGBTI people and abortion, then perhaps they should be calling out the ACL a bit more.

  3. Really Laura? I let your comment through because you had the commitment to write. But there are more straw men in your argument than in a Scarecrow Convention – it’s full of “this is always the case” and “Jesus never” etc. That’s neither intellectually robust or honest.

    Matthew 19 and Mark 10 are more than adequate places that show that Jesus upheld completely the Jewish understanding of marriage and sexuality, plus his complete commitment to upholding the Law, which he said he did on all matters, whether they be to do with the Law as it pertained to sexuality or to greed. The rest of the NT letters show this to be the case – unless of course you are going to differentiate between the words of Jesus and the rest of the NT as qualitatively from a different source and thereby holding different weight.

    Come to think of it, Jesus never mentioned right wing extreme economics either, although he did mention greed. St Paul said that BOTH those who are sexually immoral (St Paul like Jesus viewed that as anything outside the Genesis 1 mandate) and greedy will not inherit the kingdom.

    So, in the manner of good biblical exegesis, it is pretty clear that financial greed and rapaciously stealing from the poor is as much a sin in Jesus eyes – and the eyes of the other NT writers as “porneia” was. I have no beef with that at all.

    The gospel point is that people aren’t going to be finally cut off from God because they are greedy or sexually immoral. They are sexually immoral and greedy because they are separated and cut off from God already. That’s why we proclaim Christ as the only way for those things to be dealt with. Jesus offers life, but his call is that you hand him a blank cheque and allow him to fill it in – and the cost is high whatever your idolatry is – sexual autonomy or greed.

    You can PM on FB if you wish to continue the discussion.

  4. Thanks Stephen. I find it hard to shake the feeling that a line has been crossed with regards to the public culture of “There is no discussion to be had and by the way you’re a bigot” (as a friend put it). Especially now Coopers has responded by cancelling its cans commemorating the Bible Society.
    I’m curious to know how you see this. Does this situation represent any significant shift (which obviously was a long time coming)? Or is this stuff happening often and I haven’t realized it? Or is my imagined “line” an arbitrary point on a smooth spectrum?

    1. Good points there. I actually think the “there is no debate to be had and you’re a bigot” is the standard line and get used to it. Forget the “Yes, buts…”, it’s over baby! It doesn’t represent a significant shift in people’s thinking, it simply reflects the fact that when the house of cards falls it falls quickly. All of the hostility towards open discussion was there, it just didn’t have a completely flammable subject to attach itself to and now it has. And it will only embolden that approach from those hostile to the Christian world-practice in general because they can see how successful it is. I wrote two years ago about the exile issue and the flaying in the public square we would get dare we raise our heads above the parapet, and nothing so far has made me conclude otherwise, indeed it is confirming it. The Bible Society just didn’t read the culture all that well.

  5. Perhaps civil discourse is a bygone now, but do we need to let “the other side” dictate the terms on which we engage nonetheless? Why can’t we get two blokes who disagree with each other to sit down and have a beer and a chat and who cares about the consequences? The response to it is so ludicrous and overblown that why don’t we give the sexual fundamentalists a bit more ammo to wail and yell some more and show how ridiculous and unattractive is their position while we have another beer and enjoy ourselves. BO 101 – and I’m not talking about the smell under your arms, but the Benedict Option.

  6. Thanks Stephen, well thought out. Scary to see you put what we are all thinking into words, but it needs to be said. I have noticed that Christians approaching the marriage debate often do so from arguments like we saw in the video, “it’s not good for children”, “traditional marriage pre-dates the state”. I think that strategy ultimately presumes an environment of open and honest dialog where people might be willing to examine the evidence about families, children, and history. But as you have pointed we are kidding ourselves. Whatever facts there are are immediately drowned out by the cries of intolerance and bigotry. So our words are wasted and the arguments are futile. We have under-estimated the poverty of our ability to reason as a society. And we should not be surprised, this is after all an act of God’s judgement and it has been a long time coming in Western Society. I am shocked to see the change in attitudes in just the last 25 years. What I have been saying for some time is that it seems to me that the only strategy worth using in every day contact with people on this issue of Marriage is the gospel itself. The plain and simple truth that we are accountable to God, and that Jesus Christ died for sinners, and that he offers salvation through faith and repentance in his name. Whilst this strategy does not have a hope in hell of saving traditional marriage (at least in terms of law) for our country, it does have the benefit of being able to save some people who God is pleased to transfer from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son. So as every day Christians I think its time to stop depressing over the sad state that is our corrupt culture and get back to basics. The words of the apostle in Philippians 1 will serve us especially well in the culture we now live in… “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ….stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:27-29)

  7. I wonder if you’ve ever spoken to folks who lived through a time where their relationships were compared to those who wanted to have sex with animals or to pedophiles. Can you give me an example of something the “extreme left” has ever said about Christians that approaches comparing their intimate relationships to having sex with dogs, or to raping children?

    Where was the outrage then? Was Australia 20 years ago worse or better than it is now? Why were Christians not in the forefront of this “imago dei” philosophy you propose? Where were the Christians who stepped out and said – “No, you will not say this about my gay and lesbian friends”?

    I remember all the nasty things spoken by Christians over the decades to me (some very harsh) and when I read a post like yours, I can’t help but think that people like you are participating in weak whining. What’s the equivalent of being a called a faggot in the Christian sense? After so many years, the memory still hurts. Have you ever been bullied in school because you were Christian? I was for being gay. Have you ever got taunted walking down the street holding hands with your partner for being Christian? Well, I have.

    I agree with you that the outrage is sometimes a little loud and perhaps unnecessary, but nothing that you have described so far amounts even to a fraction of the pain, suffering and persecution that I and other gay friends have experienced over the decades. So if this is all that you mean by persecution, I would have liked for you to live my life for a day.

  8. I just wanted to add that this expectation of mutual respect sounds a little rich coming from an institution – Christianity – that had decades, if not centuries, to extend the same basic respect to gay people but never did.

    I’m not even talking about same-sex marriage. It was never on my mental landscape growing up. I’m talking about very basic things here. I wanted to be able to bring my boyfriend home without being chased away by my evangelical father. I wanted to be able to speak honestly about dating a man in the jobs I’ve been in without being forced to lie and invent fake stories about how I spent my weekend. I wanted to be able to advance professionally without fearing discrimination due to my sexual orientation. I think if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that most Christians have not, until recently, been kind or generous to gay people.

    You simply do not understand what it was like for a gay man to live in an Australian society that for so long was thoroughly and completely dominated by Christian morality that gay people had to censor everything that mattered to them. Nothing that you are experiencing now compares.

    Had gay folks been treated differently in the past, I genuinely believe that we would not now still feel the anger that never seems to go away.

    1. Hey Tom, thanks for your two comments. A question: If I combined these comments and published them without editoralising (other than a heading and one line intro), would you be willing to have them published as a public blog post rather than a behind the front page comment?

  9. Thanks Steve, you have highlighted some excellent points and I completely agree. It’s still hard to believe all the hoorah over such an innocuous video, but I hope more media of this type gets produced. Did you know YouTube has restricted it with an inappropriate content warning! Big surprise, I know… I found the video refreshing, and the intolerant reaction and fake outrage has proved it’s premise – there is a lack of virtue in our society and an unwillingness to listen to dissenting views. Wake up Australia!

  10. Hi Steve, I’ve seen a few of your blogs now and again and got linked to this on Facebook. They always seem very worthwhile. I think reasoning aloud cohesively and inclusively over current controversial subjects is a nearly dead art, but you’re one of the few keeping it alive

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