Category Archives: Social issues

God and refugees

At Albury Bible Church, we hosted a meal with discussion – called Serious Eating – on the topic of God and Refugees.

The format included a short talk, about five minutes, as a thought-starter. Then, on each table, there was a menu for further discussion. For a lighter conversation, you would choose the entree. For more depth and difficulty, go for the main course.

I had a request to write up what I said. So here it is, expended from my brief written notes to make some sense on its own.

There’s a refugee problem right now. For example, quoting last week’s news, 10,000 people every day are fleeing Mosul. The stories we hear on the news are heart-breaking.

We care because of our common humanity. Common humanity is a biblical idea, but now so widely accepted we do not think of it as a ‘God idea’. But that’s OK, because there’s more to say about God and refugees.

When he was a child, Jesus became a refugee. In Matthew 2:12-15 we hear about the real risk to Jesus’ life. Herod then murdered of Bethlehem’s boys, and Matthew 2:18 could describe the TV shot of any modern refugee mothers in grief.

Furthermore, the Bible’s confronting message is that we all are refugees – though of another kind. We are refugees from God, running away not because he is bad but because we are. The way people respond to modern refugees does show positive humanity in compassion, but it also demonstrates our dark and evil side. As individuals and as a nation, we are far from perfect.

The real mind flip about God and refugees brings together these two points, about Jesus and about us. Jesus became a refugee to save refugees. We see this on the cross.

Jesus died as a Jewish man executed by the Roman empire – typical political oppression. Jesus’ death was also spiritually oppressive: his own national leaders abandoned him, as did the empire, and his disciples. Even God the Father was silent when Jesus called.

In his death, Jesus became the most excluded man in history. He said this was in order to include us with God. Jesus became the oppressed outsider to welcome outsiders to God. Romans 5:6 fits the idea that Jesus became a refugee to welcome refugees.

So to understand God and refugees, we need to take seriously God’s works to offer us salvation. Do we know and trust Jesus? All refugees have basic needs. Forgiveness is our basic need before God!

Within this huge overarching good news story, it’s clear also that God is all for refugee care. By looking at Jesus’ own cross-shaped love, we see the principles for refugee care – it is service that’s difficult, costly, patient, and not selfish.

What does that mean for you and me? I don’t think there are direct biblical political policies to apply to the world. I don’t see there’s a ‘Christian politics’ – but there should be action. Inaction and apathy just don’t fit what we see of God’s passionate love for the helpless.

Egalitarian ways to hurt women

Mere Orthodoxy has a long, worthwhile read, Why We Should Jettison the “Strong Female Character”. The topic is, simply, female characters in movies. Less simply, and more accurately, it’s about how today we publicly talk about men and women.

The piece nudged me into writing this much shorter post about a thought I’ve had for a while – that ‘egalitarian’ moves to help women often undermine women.

Taking the lead from Mere Orthodoxy, we can see this at work in movies and TV shows. Modern video drama has to have dynamic, active female leads. Any category of film needs such women – be it kids’ flicks, teen stories, or adult drama.

These women will, often, be aggressive, rebellious, problem-solvers, sometimes reckless, gifted in combat … winners on all fronts. And they help women, it seems, by breaking the stereotype.

Except that they don’t break type at all.

Look at that list above. It’s as stereotyped as they come – it’s the (formerly) male pattern of dramatic behaviour. That is, for women to have success, they need to become more manly. How does that free women from oppression?

The supposed sin is in thinking there are two ways of being human, male and female. It’s beyond thought now to suggest that men and women are are different enough to be distinct. But the new orthodoxy suggests there is but one way of being a successful human –  and it’s the manly way.

The Mere Orthodoxy piece notes the change in Disney Princesses.

Within the kickass princess trope lurks the implication that, to prove equality of dignity, worth, agency, and significance as a character, all of a woman’s resolve, wisdom, courage, love, kindness, self-sacrifice, and other traits simply aren’t enough—she must be capable of putting men in their place by outmatching them in endeavors and strengths that naturally favor them, or otherwise making them look weak or foolish.

If equality means its not enough to be a woman, then equality has a problem, don’t you think?

And it’s not just the movies. Consider the sexual revolution. As a generalisation, the sexual revolution has produced an ethic that promotes wide-ranging experimentation and minimal commitment. Men play that sexual game, and women are ’empowered’ to do the same.

But that game is the stereotypical dream of the faithless male roué: easy and frequent sex, with no cost. The sexual revolution makes it easier for men to fulfil that dream, and tells women that it’s wonderful that they can be the same.

Welcome to the glory of freedom, where your equality is defined and measured by being a user, a Lady Casanova!

So we see a double insistence that women copy men: positive and negative. Movies urge the more positive characteristics, and the bedroom is where to copy the negative and selfish.

This places some expressions of egalitarianism in a mixed-up place: a good aim (honour women), with a poor method (be more like a man), based on a wrong idea (men and women are the same).

What should a Christian do? I’d say we should hold firmly to the right idea, and let methods and aims flow from that.

So, for instance, the biblical teaching honours the complementarity of male and female. There is difference, without separation. Male and female in Genesis 2 are both required, and not interchangeable – a reality that the Bible never abandons. The idea matters, because truth matters. As to a method of living out this reality … well, I promised a short piece – so that’s for another day!


 

Quick review: Captured by a better vision

Captured By A Better Vision: Living Porn FreeCaptured By A Better Vision: Living Porn Free by Tim Chester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prevalence of pornography in our electronic age is an important matter for the whole of society, and even more so for Christians who know that sexuality is a wonderful gift from God that can be awfully twisted into ugliness.

Chester is not all about ‘a technique’ to stop porn in one’s life. But he does not mock techniques, either, but places them in a better whole-of-life context. Use the skills (like accountability software, etc), but use them as tools in the bigger picture of life with Christ.

Chester’s five broad topics are, in my words: hate porn, love God, trust God, actively avoid porn, get help. As is clear, there are reasons why, and there are tips how. And both are important.

Chester quotes extensively from people who completed an on-line survey for him, and this illustrates his points nicely while introducing a chatty feel to parts of the book. This complements the parts which are more solid sections of thoughtful argument.

I have a few criticisms, but none of them are major.

    • Though a shortish book, about 160 pages, I think it could have been edited a bit more. The chapters seem to have long introductions before getting to the major point. And those intros don’t always really tightly connect to the main point, in my view.

 

    • Chester acknowledges that porn is a problem for both men and women, and can be expressed in ‘non-porn’ ways (like romance novels, or underwear junk mail). But I certainly had the sense this book was more about blokes with porn problems. If there was some editing out (above), then the book could edit in more on women’s experiences of porn.

 

  • Chester takes the line of Genesis 2:18 – that it was not good for the man to be alone – to mean he was lonely, needing companionship. That’s a tempting preaching point, believe me!, but is probably not the point of the text.

 

But to finish with negatives would be way off – this is a good book, on an important topic, written with gospel-shaped truth, which shows love to all touched by the damaging scourge of pornography.

View all my reviews

 


 

Non sequitur

This article from my local paper is about the Labor candidate for the federal seal of Indi. It’s a political free swing for the candidate, because it’s on same sex marriage (SSM), where opposition is forbidden.

The candidate’s opponents might be grumpy about the easy run he gets, but I am more interested in the incoherent argument. The conclusion in no way matches the points made: a classic non sequitur. It runs like this:

  • Eric (the candidate) has two mums. These mums have been together since 1980
  • One mum, Roslyn, was turned away from IVF in the early 1990s
  • Consequently, Roslyn went to Canberra for IVF, having to lie to get in. She had twin boys
  • The family was nervous about schooling, but “right through school there was never any issue”
  • Nowadays, things have changed and same-sex couples do get into IVF locally
  • The two mums don’t want to marry
  • THEREFORE Eric thinks the campaign for SSM very important

One of these points is not like the others.

The whole article makes it clear that the situation today, as understood by this lesbian couple, is accepting. Medicine, school, and society provide the safety they need. They are not in danger, nor excluded, but fit in well.

So, I would expect, the conclusion is that there is no need for changes in marriage law. Redefinition of marriage – which I argue is a great risk – is simply unnecessary.

But no.

On the basis of everything being fine, legal change is necessary. Couldn’t there be just one question from the journalist testing the strength of argument? Obviously not.

 


 

 

Not all desires are equal

Not all desires are the same.

Kind of obvious? Yes! But important in a world whose ethical arguments depend so much on desire. What rights rule today, in the western world? The right to self-determination, to self-expression, and to self-definition. Desire is all-knowing.

If I will it then it is OK. (The usual illogical caveat that follows is as long as it hurts no one.) And more than OK, if I will it then it’s morally required. Desires reign.

Proverbs 6 shows how false that is. The back end of the chapter warns at length about giving in to the desire for illicit sex: don’t go to the strange woman, the adulteress, your neighbour’s wife.

But in the flow of the argument, there’s comment about stealing food. Why? Have a look at these verses (29-32).

So [burned] is he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife;
    none who touches her will go unpunished.
People do not despise a thief if he steals
    to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
    he will give all the goods of his house.
He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.

In the middle of warning against adultery, here is a hungry thief. He steals out of poverty and hunger. His desire for food is reasonable. We understand, and we don’t despise him for his crime. But we still punish him.

Theft remains theft, even when driven by the understandable desire for food.

But the point is not that the thief will still receive punishment. Not ‘the thief gets punishment, so too will the adulterer’.

The point is this: theft driven by hunger (though wrong) makes sense, but adultery is just plain stupid. Adultery is always self-harm.

He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.

Proverbs compares two desires here – the desire for food, the desire for sex. The comparison is in the realm of wrongdoing (stealing and adultery). And the comparison tells us to treat different desires differently.

Now there are lots of ways we need to heed this point. It’s pretty plain that there’s a trendiness in pushing for same-sex marriage. And it would be easy for me to go there (‘just because two people desire sex with each other does not mean it is good, or needs state validation’).

But I’d prefer us to see that ethical difference between desires applies all over the place. Perhaps I – and maybe you too? – need to consider where I err in this matter?

We might think of:

  • Any sexual desire outside of committed, life-long marriage
  • The desire to enjoy alcohol
  • Longing to see more of the world
  • The desire to succeed in your chosen employment
  • The longing for a successful ministry
  • A desire to be well thought-of
  • The desire for physical or mental health, for self or a loved one

And on and on we could go. Again and again, I believe, our desires take us. Then our reasons and arguments follow along to justify what we want.

So let’s remember that our desires can take us into error. Even the good desire for food can go feral. Jesus (in the final verse quoted below) said to desire first what is truly first – God’s kingdom.

The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked in wrath. (Proverbs 11:23)

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

 


 

Violence, Christianity, & a local paper

For my own interest, here’s a small interaction of letters in my local paper, The Border Mail. Make of the exchange what you will. Yet we see that there’s easy opportunity to speak up and contribute. I was tempted to just dismiss the initial letter, but decided to spend a few minutes putting together a short response. I am glad for the openness to be printed, and I am glad that I said something.

And remember, someone will certainly get to speak – even if their arguments are laughably wrong.

May 18, 2015

Religion sows seeds of violence
DESPITE all the political facades and double talk, there is no legislation dealing with domestic violence.

In reality, the perpetrators of violent acts within the home are protected through a lack of law.

Let the point be clear, our politicians, our legal system has failed to take domestic violence seriously enough to legislate against it!

Why? Our Christian belief system says God is a male and white, man was made in the image of God, woman was extracted from the rib of man and must be subservient to him.

The apostles were all male and women have until recently been banned from higher order positions in the church; the Pope is male and always will be.

A man had the right to control his wife and even beat her up.

Surely this is where the seeds of domestic violence are sown.

For our politicians to legislate against domestic violence is virtually a breach of God’s words and orders of things as laid down through the Bible.

All contemporary religious institutions in effect support domestic violence through practised ideals that man is superior and in charge of woman.

In reality women are often treated badly in law when they speak out against domestic violence.

— ALAN J. LAPPIN,
Boorhaman North

May 21, 2015

Some in church still in denial
ALAN Lappin (The Border Mail, May 18) is right. Religion, including Christianity, contributes to the scourge of domestic violence.

The teaching of female submission to males, the promotion of male headship in church, home and society, has contributed to violence against women.

The church, finally, is starting to acknowledge this issue.

Many men who uphold this traditional teaching are as appalled as any that it is misused to justify violence, but it is indisputable that views which disempower women and elevate male authority contribute to this problem.

Yet, Mr Lappin demonstrates a simplistic understanding of the Bible’s teaching on male-female relationships.

The Genesis creation story affirms that humanity was created in God’s image, stating “male and female he (God) created them”.

This establishes the unity and equality of men and women as image-bearers of God. Jesus’ remarkable acceptance of women and even St Paul’s writings, where he exhorts husbands to love their wives self-sacrificially, and his missionary partnership with various women, sowed the seeds for women’s full participation and equal status in both church and home.

Sadly, the seeds have taken too long to sprout and many church traditionalists continual in denial and discrimination. Male headship and female subordination make no sense in contemporary society.

They are outmoded, oppressive and harmful.

— REV PETER McKEAGUE,
Anglican parish, Northern Albury

May 21, 2015

Alan, you are so far off track
ALAN Lappin’s letter (The Border Mail, May 18) on domestic violence is disturbingly wrong.

He first claims that there is no legislation for domestic violence. Please don’t believe him. Though we should improve laws, there is legal protection.

Then Alan goes on a bizarre tirade against Christianity.

In all the fine social groups I have been part of — education, sport, service, and church — churches are where I have heard greatest efforts to address domestic violence.

Christians follow Jesus, who gave his life to serve the lost and powerless. So protection of those in danger is natural topic to raise.

— CHRIS LITTLE,
East Albury

May 23, 2015

Christ preached love for women
I AM writing in response to the letter of Alan J Lappin (The Border Mail, May 18) who laid the blame for domestic violence on the Christian belief system.

Christ was compassionate and respectful to the women he met and changed their lives for the better like no one else could.

Jesus accepted women when his society had cast them out.

Christianity does not teach that a man has the “right to control his wife and even beat her up” but, instead, a man is commanded to “love his wife as he loves himself” (Ephesians 5:33).

Christianity aims to uphold the rights of a woman and family relationships.

Domestic violence is a corruption of this and is condemned by Christians and Christianity.

— NANCY MASSEY,
West Wodonga


 

Death and the state

The execution of eight people in Indonesia today, including Australians Chan and Sukumaran, makes us all ask about capital punishment.

The question is straightforward : Is it right for a nation to kill people?

The answer is less easy. Here are some of my thoughts.

We agree with state death
Firstly, we have to acknowledge that we all agree with state-authorised death. Even in Australia, with no judicial death penalty, we train police and defence forces in use of lethal weapons. Therefore we say that these guns can have legitimate use.

This reflect what Paul wrote about the authorities having good reason to bear ‘a sword’ (Romans 13:4). Romans 13 shows that state authority is real, even to the point of death.

Capital punishment for sin
Romans 13 also indicates the reason that would justify capital punishment: doing evil. God’s appointment of rulers (even when they do not acknowledge him) is to punish wrongdoers (see also 1 Peter 2:13-14). Thus, even if a ruler abhors the term ‘sin’, that ruler’s task is to punish sin.

This is a significant matter: there’s no room for killing in the name of political expedience, or execution for minor offence. If capital punishment is in place, it can only be justified by being a punishment for significant evil. Genesis 9:5-6 indicate that murder, for instance, is such an offence because of its double attack: on a person, and on God because that person is God’s image.

Capital punishment as sin
But a danger with state authority is that it also is stained with sin. The apparatus of justice and death are affected. The people involved in writing and practising law are sinful. So there is the great danger of injustice or of incompetence.

We recognise the injustice of Naboth’s execution because it’s too familiar from our world. In 1 Kings 21 Ahab ‘legally’ stole Naboth’s vineyard when two witnesses (the right amount) accused Naboth of treason (a serious crime) – but it was an atrocious injustice which provoked strong words of judgement from God.

Capital punishment can so easily be sin, rather than be against sin.

Sin and mercy
For the Christian, also, there is constant awareness of experiencing mercy. We who rebelled against the giver of life deserve to have life removed from us – we’ve earned death (Romans 6:23). But we were given life!

Although the state is not church, or a Christian institution, I think that Christians have every reason to make mercy appear in the way our states run. Especially in rich nations like Australia we have opportunity, I believe, to endure some extra financial burden as we mercifully refrain from executions.

My conclusion
I dislike the one-word summary people often use for their position on the death penalty: FOR/AGAINST. One word, either way, seems to over-simplify. So I have these concluding points for what I (currently) think, I hope you will engage to help me think even better!

  • States have authority, even to cause death
  • We need to understand capital punishment in relation to sin: the sin of criminal activity, and sin in the process of punishment
  • I believe every state should aspire to be a place of increasing mercy. We should long to have no capital punishment, while never downplaying the seriousness of crime

 


 

Don’t do good

If you find something good to do, please do not do it. It could be an awful mistake.

I’ll give you an example: would you stand up to protect someone’s privacy, especially their medical privacy? I certainly consider medical privacy a good thing!

But try out this report:

Dr Mourik said he would not invite the protesters [to a forum] because “they are not interested in women’s privacy”.

“They believe protection of the baby’s life is worth invading people’s privacy over,” he said.

Mourik wants to move protesters away from the Albury clinic that completes abortions, to protect privacy. Those protesters, without breaking any law, believe something as petty as protection of the baby’s life. How foolish!

If we automatically move to protect privacy we might thereby support killing babies in the womb. To support one good can destroy another good. Which one would you choose?

There are plenty of cases when good things compete, and only one good can succeed. Freedom is good, but we judge some crimes require imprisonment. Opioid drugs are powerfully helpful, but we agree that their distribution needs strong restriction. Speech creates culture, but we know the need for anti-libel laws. Good versus good, and the best should prevail.

There’s a second place in which good is a bad idea, and this is much more common. We shouldn’t do good when we can do better. This is not when good competes, but when goods compare.

For example, you find two charities working in a famine zone, but which do you choose? If their main difference is how much goes on administration and advertising (25% versus 10%), I’d say go for the latter. They’re both good, and they don’t cancel one another out, but one is better.

Comparison and choice of the better seems to be behind Paul not taking Mark on mission with him (Acts 15:38). The choice of what is best time management is every Christians’ duty (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5). And doing the better thing, even when painful, is fatherly – for both human and divine parents (Hebrews 12:10).

Tragically, so many fellow citizens frantically chase a good that is far from the best. And Christians are as affected as any other group!

Instead of peace with God and love for neighbour we choose: comfortable housing, a career path, educational or sporting ‘success’ as our kids’ priority, travel, and all the temporary things of this world.

So here’s my advice: When you find a good, do not do it, but consider instead what is best. Make best use of the time, because the days are evil.


 

 

Death of a cricketer

wpid-20141129_093621.jpg

#PutOutYourBats

In this week’s news, a woman died in a local car crash and Phillip Hughes died after a cricketing accident.

Both deaths are immeasurably sad, but it’s Hughes who has grabbed attention around the world. His death has captured my emotions – like those of many others – and I think there’s good reason.

Cricket is a game. And like all the best games, cricket is entirely made up. Athletics and target shooting have skills similar to those needed for chasing food in the wild (or running away from danger). But cricket is weird: stumps of three sticks plus two; bowl without throwing; strike a leather ball; run back and forth on a small strip in a huge paddock.

Cricket is an imaginary game to play and watch, and that’s part of its appeal. We don’t want ‘work’ all the time, because we’re not made by God as simple work units. Humans work, that’s part of God’s creation. But we’re made for so much more: we’re made for rest (the goal of Genesis 1); we’re made for joy; we’re made for freedom in Jesus; we’re made to find that purpose is not intrinsic to our own frantic activity.

Cricket, however lightly, touches on these bigger purposes by ignoring practicality and making up rules with no connection to the business of business.

Yet death through cricket crudely slashes at the face of beautiful imagination. It’s all so real now for those who knew or watched Hughes, and for the bowler involved, Sean Abbott.

I do not claim that cricket is escapism. I’m claiming much more: that cricket is reality. Cricket hints at the so-much-more that is embedded in God’s creation. Hughes’ death shows us that the so-much-more remains tantalising, beyond our capacity and beyond our guarantees.

Though Christians know that creation will fulfil its purpose, in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), we share honestly with the on-going pain of our home (Romans 8:18-25).

To paraphrase someone who really could write: Ask not who was struck by the bouncer – it struck us all.

 


 

 

The value of work

A good question, from the early sixteenth century (from Thomas More’s Utopia):

what justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, that either does nothing at all, or, at best, is employed in the things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendour upon what is so ill acquired, and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a ploughman, that works harder even than the beasts themselves, and is employed in labours so necessary, that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs?

I don’t propose compulsory rearrangement of pay scales (not necessarily, anyway!), but how foolish it is to value people by the measure of their salary.