February 2, 2021

When your Ethos makes you the bad guy

My book is out. I am not.

My book Being the Bad Guys was released yesterday, Feb 1st, while ironically everyone in Perth where I live was placed into lockdown due to a huge outbreak of COVID (one person).

We have a treadmill so I can still run, but we get an hour outside, so I can crank out 15km if I feel like running at pace, all masked up with my beard sticking out of the bottom of my former 2XU lycra shorts, which my wife cut up and sewed into a mask (works well!).

But COVID aside, I have been fairly encouraged by the interest and reactions to my book so far, and am doing the thing I kinda don’t like – the promotion stuff – which always feels a bit strange, but apparently necessary.

As is the book, from how I see it. Even this past week there was one particularly good guy in Australia, who heads up ETHOS a well thought out, centrist think-tank who found himself cast as the bad guy. And boy did he cop it on Facebook.

ETHOS describes itself thus:

Ethos is the Evangelical Alliance’s Centre for Christianity and Society. Ethos helps the scattered people of God to profess their faith in their public and professional life, going beyond an ethics of dilemmas, decisions and doing to one of character, culture and community, centred in Jesus Christ.

And it does a great job of walking the increasingly difficult line of faithfulness and non-partisanship.

But my fear is that all of that goodwill has been swept aside by something that ETHOS has just done. The crime? Well the board of ETHOS signed a letter calling on the Victorian State Government to revisit its deeply problematic Bill that bans conversion therapy.

The Bill is so hopelessly sourced, and – despite its claims to be targeting what is ostensibly a unicorn, – namely pseudo-spiritual conversion therapy techniques that are rare and indeed extinct – is intended to fire a shot across the bows of churches that take a traditional and orthodox line when it comes to sexuality matters.

Make no mistake this is a radically progressive state government that is hostile to any take on sexual matters that is not aligned with the sexular culture. It is not for turning. The Bill goes to the second chamber of Parliament today, having passed the first.

ETHOS has often taken flak from conservatives (unjustly so in my opinion) for stances it takes on social issues, but I have seen nothing quite like the pile on that happened to the editor this past week.

The vitriol, scorn, anger, unveiled threats of “you’re looking for a fight” etc dumped on the Facebook page – and aimed the director, have been appalling. And that’s just from those INSIDE the church.

That’s before the word has even gotten to those outside. Sadly I think there are plenty of these revisionist church goers who would only be too happy to throw ETHOS and its editor to the wolves.

And it’s clear from the responses that the issue is less to do with conversion therapy and more to do with the theology around sex that orthodox Christianity espouses.

Revisionists are not content with churches being welcoming. Nor for churches to apologise for cack-handedness when it comes to relating to Christians with same-sex-attraction. No. They MUST be affirming. They MUST! And the reason for that is clear. As in the culture so too in the revisionist theology – sexual identity is the gospel, the good news. Any take on sexuality that does not affirm is in the firing line. As the director of ETHOS found out. And he is being kicked the curb for being a heretic.

Which simply confirms what Mark Sayers states in his book Disappearing Church:

You can reach levels of blistering hipness, gain position within a key industry, hold an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular culture, throw yourself into the great justice causes of the day, and still your belief in the second culture values of faith will see you viewed as beyond the pale.

By “second culture” Sayers is using Philip Rieff’s terminology, meaning Judea-Christian culture, as opposed to “third culture” which Rieff posits is the the increasing post-Christian experience we are in.

In practical terms what that has meant for ETHOS is that all of the good work calling out the church on both sides of the political and cultural divide, and calling it back to Jesus, is – in the eyes of the sexual revisionists in the church – for naught. On one issue in one day. ETHOS is now beyond the pale, and its staff and board are fair game for a fight.

ETHOS has take nuanced and considered stances on how to deal with sexuality matters in the church, and has taken a far amount of criticism from conservatives. But as I said, that counts for naught now because it cannot sign off on this new and counterfeit gospel of sexuality. Beyond the pale indeed.

I hope ETHOS can pick its way through this one. We surely need a sane voice in the public square. But I do wonder. Once you are cast as the bad guy in this setting it’s often hard to pull yourself back.

And I didn’t write this to publicise the issue and make life difficult for ETHOS, I wrote it because as I read the pile-on, here is what I saw. A few, but very few, dissenting voices against the trend. Very few comments backing him.

Perhaps people were scared to say anything for fear of being shredded just like the director was. I know that is the case in other settings.

But I don’t think we should let that happen.I don’t think we should try to explain it all away, in the manner of some erstwhile conservatives who think that if they are just nice about it all, it won’t come down their street looking for them one day. I don’t think that orthodox Christians should, like the herd of wildebeest who escaped the lion, leave the one who didn’t escape to his fate. Cos sooner or later a lion might come for you.

If all I do by pointing this out is to say “Well done ETHOS, a whole bunch of us have got your back and if there is a fight, we are happy to back you up publicly for taking a stance against what is a rotten piece of legislation, we will“, then that’s enough. Cowardice is considered a sin after all.

No one likes a fight, but as I learned last year in the context of fighting a bully who eventually was exposed as such, I rarely lose too much sleep doing the right thing.

Let’s face it, as with most conflicts, you’re going to have the conflict with the person or group of people who are opposing you, or you’re going to have it at three in the morning with the ceiling, as you go through in your head what you should have said, but didn’t, in order to avoid a conflict that will inevitably come your way anyway.

Ignoring where this is headed in our culture, or assuming you can “out-smile” the confrontation it is bringing with it, is naive. And this issue of sexuality in our culture is become increasingly hostile. If even the advocates of the revisionist position in the church are aping the secular activists in terms of their implacability and rage, you can be sure that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

There is no middle ground, and those advocating for it while find themselves slack-jawed and discombobulated when their apparently irenic largesse and accomodation to the sexular culture is called out and hunted down.

None of which is to say that we need to be boorish culture warriors. Leave that to others. We can be brave and godly and winsome. I make that point time and time again in my book.

There is no future in fighting anger with anger. The church is called to a flavoursome, and yes welcoming, stance, even while it harbours no illusions that the world understands why the church believes what it believes, and even while the world seeks ways to get the church to – once again – conform to a worldly pattern of living. Those issues have come up all the time – power, money being prime examples -, and now, sexuality. So we need to be winsome.

But let’s remember this too: the most winsome of wildebeests is still a wildebeest in the eyes of a hungry lion. And this particular gospel wildebeest isn’t content to be silent as a fellow traveller is taken down by the pride.

If you want to purchase a copy of my book, you can do so here:




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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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