Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Table hospitality

If you are a Christian can you help me with a thought experiment? Pretend you have invited your non-christian unmarried mate over for dinner and you said that he can bring a +1. What would you do, or feel when he turns up with:
  1. the girl he has been living with for the last four years
  2. a new girlfriend who is significantly younger than him
  3. an escort
  4. a guy who he is in a relationship with
Would you react differently to any of these options? Might I suggest to you that you should still welcome your mate in, regardless of who he is sleeping with. Hopefully that statement wasn't too controversial, now stay with me... 

What I don't understand is why we have a different attitude on a national level - where most of us really don't operate. I am talking about the big hoo-ha over gay marriages in this country. I started writing this post in October and though maybe I shouldn't because it was too current and may upset some people, but the issues still in the news.

I am glad that we have religious freedoms in this country, but these freedoms don't mean we enforce our standards onto those who do not share the same religious conviction. Instead these freedoms are there so we can practice our religion without fear of discrimination. Already de facto relationships have legal standings in this country, it is only discriminatory to prejudiced same sex couples in the eye of our secular law. Christian, don't get me wrong, I personally don't practice de facto relationships, heck I don't even like the idea of no fault divorce, but why should I expect everyone in this great country to hold the same values as me? 

The Christendom ear is over (thankfully) and enforced morality has never really worked; just ask anyone who ten years ago attended an Anglican or Catholic school how regularly they now attend church. Most people I ask reply: "I did my time back in school."

Before I am called a liberal, I have some Bible verses to back up my stance:
[9] I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—[10] not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. [11] But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. [12] For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? [13] God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)
Paul is clarifying something he has previously said to the Corinthian church. He implores them to live a certain way free from sexual immorality, greed, drunkenness, idolatry, swindling etc... but not to cut themselves off from the world where people do not live by their own standards. Paul even says in verse 12 that judging the world is beyond his domain- it's not his job to do that. I wonder why the Church today feels that it can...

What am I missing?


  1. I think loving God and others must be the ultimate motivation for a Christian. Love, however, is different to affirmation. My belief which I happen to hold as a Christian (though it's not necessarily a Christian belief) is that marriage is good for human flourishing and that redefining it to include same-sex unions would serve to change its nature and purpose. Therefore I participate in our democratic system to encourage the government to retain the current definition of marriage because I believe that by doing so it will most promote human flourishing. At the same time I show hospitality to individual people and couples as an act of Christian love, even if I believe their actions are sinful.
    - James

  2. Agreed in part mate
    But where we live in a democratic society where people are allowed to put forward their views, so too Christians are able to espouse their worldview to those in power over them.
    Accepting people is one thing, but where we have an opportunity to share our worldview which we believe as Christians is the best and most coherent worldview, then we are free to express that view in the public forum.
    The problem is that people dont think of the Christian faith as a worldview, but as a tack-on to life which buys you a ticket to heaven and has nothing whatsoever to say in this world in which we live. That is wrong and we need to change our mind on this. A Christian becomes a Christian not only for salvation, but also for this life through the acceptance of God's way of viewing the world.
    Persuasion and the sharing of worldviews is not only the place of the secular in a modern democratic society. All are able to share freely, and at the end of the day, the powers that be will make their decisions on it.

  3. Hopefully we would react like Jesus and not the Pharisees. Annointed by a prostitute and He loved her for it while the church of the day condemned Jesus' actions. Jesus talked to a woman and a Samaritan, dined with outcasts of society, his own disciples in trouble because they feasted instead of fasted, He healed and worked on the wrong day.
    We are to be salt and light - public and private. I agree that the verse in Corinthians is for the church - they were in trouble.
    Freedom of expression is gift to be used wisely and in Australia there is freedom to still partake. Paul definitely argued in the public place (Mars Hill is just a big rock!)and was a great apologist for the attributes of God.
    We can discuss our differences but enforcement doesn't work and can prove later to be so wrong.

  4. Hi Guys,

    Thanks all for commenting. I thought I would have got hammered with the connection I drew at the end where I pretty much said judging is equal to legislating... I think there is probably a leap in logic there...

    I do agree that as Christians in a free country we can speak to our representatives and tell them our world view. But the reason we are empowered to do that is not because we are Christians, but because we are citizens of Australia. We are allowed to and we can. But so can everyone else who doesn't share our position (this is true secularism, and I think we have the Christians to thank for this as each denomination didn't want any other to be treated over and above the other).

    What I don't get is when "The (Representative) Church" speaks into matters that Paul here is saying is out of its domain... Again is judging the same as legislating against something?

  5. Thats fair enough logic, but naive at the same time.

    Christians enter the public forum the same way as others do, as individuals who can, if they wish, have their voice heard by banding together to make a louder noise for a common cause.

    Isnt that what the union movement is? Or the gay lobby itself? We are just playing by its rules as well. This is, as you say, true secularism.

    And there is a jump in logic, becasue while disagreement does equal judgement, it is no more or less judgemental than our disagreement here and now. Our world has taught us that to disagree is to be bigoted and opinions are to be kept to oneself when they interfere with personal choice. We cant wade into that pool.

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for replying.

    We are just playing by its rules as well.
    As citizens we are empowered and entitled to do this, again this is from a secular view point. As Christians should we? Sometimes forgoing our own rights and entitlements might be helpful in the longer run. Historically, enforcing morality has never gone down so well in long run.

    Our world has taught us that to disagree is to be bigoted and opinions are to be kept to oneself when they interfere with personal choice. We cant wade into that pool.
    When you say "We cant wade into that pool", how does that work with 1 Cor 5:12-13? Paul is saying that we are not to judge (the personal choice of) those outside of the church. We can (and probably do) disagree with those outside the church, but I am not sure how helpful it is to be consistently pointing this out to those we disagree with and also appealing to our government to align with our own standard.

  7. For what it's worth, I agree with you.

  8. Really interesting post and comments. Thanks for writing this.

    I agree with you, that Christendom is over, and Australia is a secular society. For this reason I don't see the purpose of legislating.

    I think that passage is useful in that I believe our relationships with non-Christians would be severely hampered if we are a person who actively pursues anti-marriage legislation. How can I get a non-Christian, homosexual or otherwise, to believe I genuinely love and want to serve my homosexual fellow-man, and want to see them saved, when I'm simultaneously trying to deny their sense of validation, which nobody actually believes has any Christian connection these days except perhaps an historical one.

    I think James' point is interesting, and an argument against homosexuality. I don't think it's an argument for legislation though. Probably because I agree with you Andrew, that legislation is too tied up with judgment. In fact, its intimately connected. Someone who disobeys legislation faces judgment. The role of the judge is simply to determine whether the legislation has been transgressed, the right-and-wrong judgment has already been carried out by the legislators and their proponents. I think the connection is cogent.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  9. Hey Andrew. This is a good discussion you've brought up. Let me offer a counterpoint to what you've said (without calling you a liberal!).

    I don't find your use of 1 Corinthians 5 convincing as applied to this issue. I also think that a far more sympathetic reading of the older Christendom model is truer to the facts than you've presented - it actually wasn't a bad thing and a big part of modernity has been trying to take all the good stuff from Christendom whilst labelling Christendom as unambiguously 'bad' - but let's stick to the point at hand.

    The verses you quote are about acting to distinguish those who are inside and outside of the church through the exercise of church discipline. The act of judgement Paul speaks of is one of refusing association to hypocrites who claim to be within the sphere of God's family and yet reject the way of life that corresponds to that. He is saying that it is not his job to try to enact disciplinary action on unbelievers (who don't even claim to be insiders), but to use it to expose so-called 'insiders' who contradict God's ethical standards. This is done to protect the purity of the church and hopefully to save the offender on the last day.

    The 'judgement' Paul speaks of isn't about labelling something as morally right or wrong. He is very clear about labelling the world as immoral in all sorts of specific ways - both here and elsewhere (read Romans 1). There are two types of judgement here, one Paul does and one that he doesn't:

    (1) Paul 'judges' immorality - in the sense of labelling it rightly as wrong - by clearly and unambiguously speaking about it, whether it is by believer or unbeliever. People don't opt into ethical standards. Sexual immorality (for example) is wrong for believers and unbelievers alike.
    (2) Paul will not enact 'judgement' - in the sense of exercising disciplinary action - on unbelievers who have yet to be converted. God will enact this kind of judgement on them on the last day.

    I think there is some confounding of these two senses of judgement in this discussion. This text has no direct claims to make about national laws or how Christian morality ought to feed into public discussion. It is not - emphatically "not" - saying that Christians oughtn't speak into ethical matters in the public sphere. Nor is it about how a Christian ruler, or a government with Christian input, should or shouldn't use their Christian morality in the act of ruling. The job of rulers is precisely to enact judgement (Romans 13) and the question of how a Christian in the position of a ruler (or of participant in democratic rule) ought to do this is a separate question that needs to be thought through carefully (try Oliver O'Donovan, The Desire of the Nations). 1 Corinthians 5 is about the practice of disciplinary action in church. The applications of (a) not labelling things as right and wrong for unbelievers, or (b) of excluding distinctly Christian voices from participation in democratic processes are entirely inappropriate uses of this text.

  10. However, Andrew I strongly agree with one of the points you made in a comment: we ought to work out whether using or foregoing our democratic rights is the best thing in the long run. Of course this is very difficult to foresee. However, one issue that I think is important - both for a society built on the foundation of meaningful discourse, and also for the good of the gospel - is that we seek that our government enforce terminology that naturally distinguishes different things without necessitating endless qualifications. It is going to be incredibly difficult for us to have meaningful discussion about what marriage is in the day-to-day if the same word is expected to describe an increasingly number of *different* kinds of relationship. Make legislation that enables difference in society to exist alongside each other without demanding that everyone have the same label for their intimate relationships! If everyone is expected to disagree and fight for the same word as a meaningful description of their lifestyle then everyone will fight. Besides I want to have clear words with which to respectfully disagree with my neighbour whilst continuing to exist alongside them (tolerance), and which will help me to clearly warn people that God will judge those outside for their immorality, and so they should repent and turn to Jesus.

    1. Hi Matt (sorry for the delay, I was away on holidays),

      Thanks for not calling me a liberal :)

      I do think I need to put some more work into defining what judgement is and working out the differences between judgement within the church and state judgement. As some else said above, perhaps I am just naive.

      On the terminology issue, I agree with you, but again not from a Christian stance. I have issues with the Government re-defining dictionary definitions of words, but this is a semantic and epistemological argument, not a Christian one. I mentioned this to some of my lawyer friends and they said Governments redefine words all the time to make laws, so from that angle, this already happens all the time.

      Perhaps a secular argument against same sex marriage is a better way to go in our secular society... but then again, perhaps Christians shouldn't be silent in all areas of life, as hopefully Christianity affects all areas of life. As you can see I am a bit schizophrenic on this issue.

    2. Hey Andrew - no probs, I knew you were on holiday. Looked like fun! Thanks for continuing the discussion. I hear your tension too - I'm not resolved on all aspects of these issues. Here's some more for discussion if you're up for it...

      I think semantics and epistemology can be Christian arguments in substance. Redefining words is fine - Christians theologians do it all the time too! - but words function to point to extra-linguistic realities. If words are being redefined such that they are no longer able to be used to refer to reality in a clear way then it is a deeply Christian impulse to respond. God gave us the gift of speech to serve the expression of truth and social order. If society wants to change words in a way that threatens my ability to clearly delineate meaning and disagree with my neighbour then I reckon it's a Christian response to oppose that.

      I don't think much of using secular arguments as our bread and butter in public discourse. That's buying into the other side's worldview as true before anyone's even opened their mouths, and on that foundation it is pretty hard to resist secular conclusions. Instead we should insist that the other side own their ideology as an ideology, and that we listen to each other as people with different worldviews. Secularism isn't neutral ground, and insisting that everybody live their public lives as practical secularists prohibits genuine democratic participation. Why can't Christians simply say what they believe and give Christian reasons, whilst insisting that the secularists own their own ideological foundations? It doesn't help anyone to pretend that we have a common philosophical foundation on which to move forward.

      There is an extremely substantial philosophical issue that lurks deep in the background of all this that would need to be made explicit at some point. Our society is profoundly philosophically voluntaristic. That is, we tend to define the nature of existence itself as merely an expression of the will, and as having no reality or meaning apart from our will. The world, and even people, are simply raw material for doing whatever we want with. According to voluntarism people are basically choosing machines and the world is whatever I choose to make it into. Of course in this worldview there can be no right and wrong at all - it's just your opinion vs. mine. It's only some half-remembered cultural values of right and wrong inherited from Christianity that stop the horrible logical conclusions of the secularist worldview gaining real traction. (But it's only a matter of time and incremental change, and it's happened before).

      In contrast, a Christian worldview insists that God made the world, and gave it shape and order which is built into our very beings. Freedom is conformity to that order - conformity to what we are - and is the opposite of using our wills to choose in defiance of what we are. As creatures we can't opt out of what God has made us. God made marriage for a man and a woman for the purposes of union, children, etc. People opt into marriage, but they don't opt into the pattern; they can only opt-out of it in defiance of what they are. Voluntarism is people willingly failing to be true to themselves.

      Redefining marriage according to how society thinks of it today isn't a freedom we have as Christians. It's buying into secular voluntarism in defiance of God. Arguments like the one you cited have their place, but in a voluntaristic society I fear that these will ultimately be unconvincing. People will chose to do what they want to do, feel justified in it by their western voluntaristic imagination, and find deeply justifications later if and when they need them. Without being embedded in an alternative worldview, reasons like these will simply crumble with time. I think that using other peoples' worldviews can be apologetically useful in skirmishes, but ultimately worldviews win wars.

  11. Great post Andrew. I've been thinking a lot about this lately and I'm still not sure where I stand on it all. I want to make some kind of distinction here that I'm not sure I should.

    I firstly agree with Matt that what we need is different terminology. My marriage isn't like any non-Christian marriage as it's a binding covenant relationship entered into with my wife, before God in acordance with His will. I don't like that non-Christians have the same word for their marriages which are not what I have with my wife.

    Having said that, I think that there are political spheres that Christians are called to be involved in and those that they should stay out of.

    Part of my problem with the homosexual debate going on within Christian circles is that I think that its importance is overinflated and that the effort going into it is misdirected.

    In terms of public involvement by Christians in comdemning immorality and unethical practices, we are called to be active. The question is, on what are we called to speak up and on what aren't we? Proverbs 31:8 says "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." I think that the importance of Christians doing this can't be overstated. Over and over again the Bible calls Christians to look after and protect the poor, the weak, the needy.

    Firstly, then, in relation to this I'm wondering whether or not Christians are actually oppressing homosexual people by demanding that they not be allowed to share legal rights totally separated from the church. It seems like we're trying to extend our reach further than is appropriate. I would be all for Christians abandoning the word 'marriage' and comngup with something else to describe what we do, because, really, it's already different.

    1. Secondly, though, and what I am 100% sure of is that this whole debate has confirmed to me how far we are, collectively, from the heart of God. On this issue I have been asked to sign at least 3 petitions, I've had to read and listen to several communications from our diocesan arch bishop on the matter and heard much talk about the issue in church and in Christian circles.
      In the last few years we've had no other videos made by our arch bishop to play in churches about the other injustices going on in Australia at the moment. We've received no special communications from him to put into church bulletins. When I try to engage many Christians in conversation about the horrendous treatment of refugees and the like to say that I receive luke warm response is generous.
      Last year a woman in Australia was advised by her doctors to abort one of her twin babies at 37 weeks as they had a heart defect. The woman had a needle injected into her belly and into one of her babies to kill him. They killed the wrong baby. Then when the sick baby was born live the doctors killed him too. Those twins were murdered in our country. They have no voice. They were oppressed. We should be speaking up for them and against murdering children. We should be petitioning constantly for fairer treatment of refugees. We treat them like animals and there's no excuse for it. At the moment there is a woman who is being detained in Villawood detention Centre who came to Australia as a refugee. She was detained, eventually given refugee status and allowed to live in Australia. She had seen her husband murdered in Pakistan and had come to Australia with her 2 sons. She since married another man in Australia and was living in Melbourne. She's back in Villawood because ASIO received an allegation against her to make them concerned that she's a security threat to Australia. No one, including this woman or her husband knows what that allegation is. She never has to be told. She and her 2 sons can be detained in Australia for the rest of their lives without having a charge laid against them and that's legal in our country. This woman is prevented by our government from having a voice. SHe is needy and oppressed. Our God calls us to stand up and speak for her and her family.
      I've not heard any urgent pleas from the Anglican church or any other church on this. I think that we're taking up so much time talikng about homosexual marriage when there are these much bigger fish to fry is a total disgrace.

    2. Graham,

      Thanks for you comments. I think your sentiment here is exactly how I felt when I wrote this post. Some church leaders in the media and in the Churches in Australia are acting like this one issue is the defining, all important issue that is facing Australian society.

      Don't get me wrong, I think re-defining marriage is a big deal, but also the welfare of refugees are. Heaven forbid if the Churches ever align themselves with the Greens and their policy of process everyone on shore in a timely manner at a greater expense to the public...

  12. I don't want to set those two things in opposition. I think both of these issues (the goods of marriage and justice in our society) are close to the heart of God. That either is attacked or transgressed are perversions of how he made us to live and he takes both very seriously and very personally. I agree that we are collectively far from the heart of God, but in that in that we aren't working hard at both of these things. I believe there are good reasons to work hard at the marriage issue, but I think it's disgusting that it is done in the place of helping people who need someone pleading for justice on their behalf.

    Graham, I share your upset that we haven't been actively signing petitions and talking and lobbying about issues of severe injustice like what you highlight here. Both at a diocesan level and the local level. We need to pray that it will change and keep on speaking out about it ourselves.

    The specific situation you described of the woman in Villawood isn't one that I've heard of, but I want to do something about it. Could you share where you got your info? Any ideas on how we can go about helping her in a real way?

    1. I don't think I want to set the two things in opposition either. I'm still not sure that we should be condemning homosexuality by opposing homosexual marriage, though. Maybe we should, I don't know. I know that we should be opposed to homosexuality, but I'm not sure that opposing homosexual marriage at the government level is the same thing.
      I guess that what I do think is that the two are of a different category and it seems like our church culture has chosen to oppose homosexual marriage, but to stay silent on matters that we are specifically told to oppose in the Bible.

      Like I said, I still don't know what to think about it. I signed a petition against homosexual marriage because I'm against homosexual marriage. I think that our system of government is such that this is appropriate. I'm not sure that much more is appropriate, though. Maybe I'm being inconsistent, I don't know.