November 12, 2018

The Precipice One Year On

This is the headline in The Conversation online journal today:

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Much to be done eh?  One assumes that there are wedding plans to be pencilled in, flowers to buy, cakes to order (from reputable sources of course), venues to hire and suits and gowns to be tailored.

After all as the article by la Trobe University academic, Timothy Jones, states; in the six months after the legislation, about 100 same sex weddings were conducted per week.

But of course, as those who could see it coming kept saying pre-Nov 15 2017, this was never only about gay marriage.  Never about “why can’t we all just get along?”

Turns out, the “much to be done” is less to do with vows and cakes and your first dance as a married same sex couple, and more to do with ensuring religion is no longer allowed to get away with its refusal to sign up to the Sexual Revolution.   Clearly that is where attention has been turned in the past twelve months.  Clearly.

Because of course this was always a precipitous matter, never a slippery slope.  And the naysayers, even among the progressive Christian crew, have gone strangely silent on how wrong they have proven to be in their much vaunted public refutation of this.

Or maybe they were not mistaken at all, but merely so desperate for it to go through that they were willing to fog the eyes of those who were wary of where it all might lead if the marriage trigger was pulled.  Or perhaps they are completely committed to dismantling the orthodox Christian framework on sexuality in toto, in line with Jones’ desire.

Well the trigger has well and truly been pulled, and now, nearly twelve months on we’re in the throes of all sorts of confusion and counterclaims as to what that vote actually meant.  Just as many of us said would be the case.

I certainly remember one acquaintance from a progressive theological position saying to me on a public forum “Let’s get this sorted and we can work that out later.” 

Well, later is now, and from how I read his ongoing Facebook feed, it would seem as if the matter of religious freedom in this area is of no consequence, in fact it reads like the issue did not even exist and hasn’t even been mentioned in the media.

And that rings true for many a progressive Christian I’ve been following.  Not on the agenda at all.  I’ve held back from sending my original interlocutor a private FB message that simply says  “How much later did you actually mean?

You see it was always about “Now, what’s next?”  And given what has blown up in our faces these past few months in regards to religious freedom issues, it’s clear where this is headed.

Now what is intriguing about Timothy Jones, is his la Trobe bio, which states:

I am a cultural historian with research interests in the intersections of gender, sexuality and religion.

Why is that so intriguing?  Because of how shallow his understanding of religion actually is in the article he writes in The Conversation.  Take this humdinger for example:

Religious communities might need to reflect on why they are so obsessed with sex.  Sexual values are not present in any of the founding creeds of Australia’s major religions.

Two things.  Religious communities obsessed with sex?  The porn industry in the USA makes more money than the sports codes combined.  The culture is obsessed with sex.  And that’s not mentioning Safe Schools or Drag Queens conducting reading programs in schools for six year olds.  Gimme a break Timothy!

But secondly, and perhaps more disconcertingly for someone who, in his own bio, claims to have an academic interesting in religion, how does he make the link between the brief, concise, to-the-point creeds of a faith that were written for a specific context, and all ethical teaching that springs from those creeds, and indeed leads up to them?

When pushed on this outlandish claim in the online comments section of The Conversation, Jones’ only response was that the Nicene Creed said nothing about sex!

The Nicene Creed says nothing about loving your neighbour, feeding the poor and hungry or not murdering either, so I suppose those things are not central to the faith either?  Gimme a break!  Where is the academic rigour, so baldly and boldly announced by The Conversation in its masthead in such a deceptive statement?

The Nicene Creed does say something about the resurrection of the body though, both Jesus’ and ours.  And that central truth in Christianity made all the difference in the face of a dualistic world view back in the day.

And it makes all the difference in the face of a dualistic world view in our day too, when even Christian school leaders, when faced with the threat of loss of funding, claim that the Christian ethos has nothing to say about one’s sexuality.

And how about this?:

… there is no consistent view in any religion regarding teachings about gender and sexuality.

One of the foremost authorities on sexuality in the Biblical texts, both Jewish and Christian, is Murdoch University’s Bill Loader.  He clearly shows that the ordering of sexual practices is integral to the ethical monotheism of both these faiths.  The fact that he disagrees with the Bible’s conclusions is neither here nor there.  But that the texts themselves are plain?  No argument from Loader whatsoever.

Another of Jones’ misunderstandings is how, if religion could just sign up to where everything is headed, then it might just start to claw back its influence or reach:

A recent study on Faith and Belief in Australia showed only 20% of Australians are actively involved in religion. It also found the biggest block (31%) to Australians engaging with Christianity was the churches’ teaching and stance on homosexuality.

Only 20 per cent?  I thought that might be, all things considered, a large enough majority to take into careful consideration.  Maybe it’s too big.  Maybe a cohort needs to be around two to three per cent these days to be considered a minority in need of clear air to indulge its practices.

The biggest block to Christianity may be its stance on homosexuality, but it’s not the only block.   Other blocks include the exclusive claims orthodox Christianity makes about how one relates to God through Christ alone, and other matters around the so called “scandal of particularity.” And of course that pesky “non-scientific” notion of bodily resurrection, which so many in the modern world  – like their ancient counterparts – object to.

What Jones’ doesn’t mention, of course, is the total demographic collapse of those Christian denominations that have both signed up to the Sexual Revolution, and that have rejected the exclusivity claims of Christianity in relation to salvation, or its commitment to an actual resurrection.  Declining, ageing congregations is the norm across the mainlines who sign up for these.

If changing, or downgrading these three matters of sexuality, exclusivity, and resurrection, were somehow the spearhead of a campaign by the mainlines across the West to reinvigorate and revitalise the church, then they have failed dismally. In fact they have fuelled the collapse.

Who knows: Perhaps one day cleaners will find some yellowing butcher’s paper locked away in a United Reformed Unitarian diocese office somewhere in Pennsylvania that are the original thoughts and scribblings of the working group that led to such disastrous policies.  Ad fontes takes on a whole new meaning!

And perhaps it is the case, that as Jones’ say the Church’s teaching and stance on sexuality is the biggest block to people joining.

Perhaps it is. For now.

But “for now” has never been a good enough reason for the church to throw its theology or practice out the window.

Give “for now” some time.  Give it enough time, perhaps decades or even a century, until the revolution has finally run out of steam, can no longer hide the mess it has created, and its refugees are crying out for meaning in life beyond sexual identity.  For it doesn’t matter how you wish to shape a culture, there’s always a point where the honeymoon  ends.

We are in precipitous times.  And these are the times in which we should not blink. and certainly not now.

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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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