Levels of agreement with fellow Christians on political matters

It's tricky when Christians speak up in public, especially if they experience opposition... because I want to stand side by side with my fellow believers. My instinct is to stand with them, even if I don't fully agree with them, rather than throw them under the bus for not saying things quite the way I would. But then again, I often DON'T agree with what they are saying or how they are saying it.

So I try to filter the different levels of agreement and disagreement I might have with fellow believers. This helps me in my thinking and my explaining. And allows me to stand with my brothers and sisters without compromising my own convictions on secondary matters:

  1. Spiritually, I agree with my brothers and sisters in Christ on our faith in Christ. I can accept someone as a fellow believer, even if I disagree with them quite strongly on their actions and opinions in other ways.
  2. Ethically, I usually agree with them on the moral principals in God's Word. There are some points where fellow Christians may see something as a black and white moral issue, but I perceive it to be an area of conscience and wisdom. This is especially the case when we are extrapolating from the explicit words of Scripture.
  3. When it comes to political theory, we might disagree on the best form of government. Of course some believers are very strongly convinced that a small government free market democratic approach to politics is grounded in the Bible, so that it is really a matter of ethics. But then again others have a higher view of monarchy or socialism. Personally I am not convinced by those who advocate fiercely for one politicl theory as necesarily Christian.
  4. Even if I DO agree broadly with the political theory of my fellow believer, we may not agree on a particular public policy. Public policies are almost always the combination of ethical principles and practical considerations. This means that we might dial in our ethical ideals at various points. Almost always public policies will have positive and harmful direct and indirect effects. This leads to a range of different possible views amongst Christians.
  5. Which priority we give to various ethical and policy issues is a matter of strategic agreement. Our reading of what the burning issue of the moment is, and what is the gateway issue, or front line of battle is influenced by many complex factors. As a result we may differ on this reading, and differ on our person sense of responsibility to rally to a particular issue.
  6. This then leads on to the particular part we see ourselves as playing in the broader public discusission. This is a matter of role agreement. Often Christians speak about 'What WE should be emphasising right now', as if there is only one possible conversation that can be had at any one time. This is a very simplistic way of looking at things: a narrowly public relations journalistic/political view. The reality is that there are a range of different roles and perspectives and levels of conversation that all going on concurrently and in a complementary manner. For example, a lobbyist speaks more bluntly and polemically than a social worker.
  7. I may agree with a fellow believer on all of the above maters, but not like the way they say things. There is a matter of rhetorical agreement: "You're not WRONG... you're just being RUDE" might be our thought.

It's tricky isn't it? And what's especially tricky is when the critic of Christianity OR the zealous Christian activist blurs these all together:

"If you stand for the gospel, you will hold to these ethical issues, which means you will have this political outlook, agree with these public policies, and their current importance and so you will speak for them in this particular way"

Hardly.



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Should Christian Unions Be More Holistic in Engaging with the University?

Arthur Davis sent me a link to a really intriguing article he wrote about the future of campus ministry, that we then read as a staff meeting here in Hobart.

It spells out ways that we can round out our campus ministries to be more effective in all four of the following modes:

1. Evangelism

2. Piety

3. Apologetics and

4. Dialgoue

Historically here in Australia, Arthur says, we are strong on the first three, but not so much on the fourth—unless it is a debate or a ‘dialogue meeting’, where the focus remains maining apologetics and evangelism. He is pushing in this article for us to think more about how we can genuinely contrbute to the life of the university, not merely as outsider missionaries coming in to train and to preach, but as citizens of the community, seeking to enrich the whole academic endeavour and formation of university students.

Arthur sees the ministry of the Simeon Network in Australia, connecting Christian academics to think deeply about how their faith informs their research as an example of this.

What I like

I like the desire for holism. Evangelism should be more than the thin, fundamentalist type of preaching. Discipleship should be more than being accountable about pornography use and daily quiet times. Training should be more than how to share you faith and run a Bible study.

I also agree that we want Christian groups that exist as part of the larger university community and are good and engaged citizens of that community. This is why I favour Christian Unions over uni churches doing evangelism to uni students. A Christian Union is able to be more deliberately and demonstrably committed to the university. They exist for the sake of the uni, whereas uni churches can sometimes seem to have a slightly more mercenary relationship: we are merely coming on to campus to save souls and scoop up potential congregation members.

I like the outlook that sees graduates as a third part of campus ministry. Graduates from Chrsitian Unions should not simply be seen as a recruiting ground for apprenticeships and a support raising base. Christian Unions are well positioned to keep investing at that high university-educated level into the gradutes from the ministry as they go into their working lives. Even if we can't do heaps in this area, it seems fitting that we should do something... or work closely with groups like City Bible Forum and Simeon Network who can pick up where we left off.

What I’m cautious about

1. There is a limiation to how many events and programs we can run: the reality is, there are only so many events we can fit into our calendar, only so many things we can organise, promote, run, and follow up. Given the limited time and energy we have, I am convinced that the main focus for Christian groups should be evangelism and leadership training, rather than holistic worldview interaction. It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to do this, but just that it can’t be our main emphasis.

2. You don’t need a new event, program or publication for every distinct thing: the lazy way to fix a perceived lack is to start something new—a new conference, event or website that will focus on the lacking area. And so it might seem like the positive response to Arthur’s article is to start new events that facilitate more of the dialogic engagemenet with the university. And the risk is that this takes too much time and energy to be sustainable.

However there are two other solutions which I try to work out in our local ministry and which are more efficient:

a) Weave holistic integration into the existing programs: Chrsitian Union meetings, missions, debates and dinners are all contributions to the life of the university. They are all para-univeristy structures, just like the Philosophy Club or the Alumi Keynote or the Residential College Tutorial Program. The best Christian Union evangelism and discipleship is academically deep and stimulating and so ticks all 4 boxes.

b) Encourage Christians to engage with the structures of the university itself: we don’t need new programs, new lectures, new publications. We can keep encouraging journalist students to be invovled with the student newspaper, politics students to weigh into student politics, high achievers to engage in various Dean’s List programs, residential students to connect with that community.

3. There is a limitation to how open Australian academics are to new networks: I am also delighted to see the growth of the Simeon Network, and hopeful that it will go from strength to strength. But my limited experience of interacting with Chrsitian academics, as well as the bits and pieces I hear from other campus pastors, is that they don’t all have the energy of inclination to invest in a new program.

These are busy people with lots of commitments. And some of them go to thoughtful churches that serve them well in their efforts to integrate their research with their faith. They are engaged in ministry through their local church or other networks they are engaged in. Not all academics are necessarily interested in taking on a new commitment to meet, write and present to a Christian academic forum, nor to mentor young Christians in their field.

Perhaps in places like Tanzania, where Arthur is, where there are a higher percentage of Christians in the universities faculties, there will be larger numbers overall that make this kind of stuff bigger and more vibrant. But as with other cautions in this post, I don’t want to tie holistic Christianity to ‘programs, events and publications committed to holistic Christianity’.

4. Participation and Dialogue is Massively Time Consuming and Minimally Effective

In so many areas, it is true that more time talking, listening, eating and laughing woudl build connection and respect and understanding. This is true for families, staff teams, neighbourhoods, members of different political factions, staff and students, different nationalities, different religious groups. We could spend all our free time building rapport and connecting and understanding. It’s a nice idea. But it doesn’t in the end achieve much. And it takes heaps of time and resources to organise. It’s idealistic and after a while, exhausting.

Surely there’s a better way? Surely we can weave a stance of relationship building into productive activities. Can we take the time to listen and connect and love as we go about our business?

  • Rather than set up staff-and-student morning teas, take the time to chit chat before and after class?
  • Rather than set up getting-to-know-you meetings with other student societies, go and talk to them when they have stalls set up around the campus, and be friendly with those posted near you at O Week markets.
  • Rather than hosting inter-religious dialogues, ask for their input when you are going to prepare teaching and training on topics related to their beliefs, or listen to members of those religions when they attend your events.


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Mirrors 11th August 2017

You know what? I don't think I've done a Mirrors roundup post for 2 months! Sorry about that!

  1. Josh "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" Harris is doing a documentary on what went wrong with this book and its effects.
  2. The Da Vinci Code, Feminist theology, art history and Opus Dei: 3 fun lectures from University of Calgary
  3. As a matter of fact this University of Calgary Centre for Christian Thought has heaps of great stuff
  4. "Big shoutout to Tom Pugh" for giving Stephen McAlpine's blog a makeover.
  5. I don't agree w/ Moody's (or even author Atwood's) reading of the story. It's best as a critique of the Taliban IMO. 
  6. This article sees the connections between the Handmaid's Tale and Saudi Arabia.
  7. I  don’t 100% agree with everything here but I like @nm_campbell’s dismantling of the wacky end of anti-ABC sentiment
  8. Key to being President of the USA? George Dubya says 'humility'. Great convo between Clinton and Bush Jnr.
  9. Super helpful series of articles on how to make the church safer for victims of domestic and family violence
  10. I listened to this a bit getting in the zone for @CBS_NSW mission Have You Found Truth? I acutally spoke at this week.
  11. New series of @HomecomingShow by @Gimletmedia off to an amazing start!!! Nice to hear Colin getting a taste of his own medicine...
  12. Church order, persecution, heresy and mission. my first sermon-lecture in our Origins: History of Christianity series.
  13. Deeeep thoughts on both Harry Potter and the iPhone. When Mohler is good, he's really good.


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Learning How and Why Well Meaning People Get Things Wrong

The Julia Baird article and susequent discussions about Domestic Violence and how they can manifest in Christian relationships and poorly dealth with in Christian circles has been a distressing but welcome thing. It shows how the Bible can be twisted and misunderstood and so it helps us think more carefully how we explain and apply the Bible. It also shows how people can be listened to poorly and given extremely bad advice. And these failures can have disastrous effects.

A difficulty I have in reading about these things is that I can’t easily see myself or my church communities in the descriptions. I am told that it happens and that churches are often doing a bad job in this area… but I sometimes struggle to see how it ends up happening and how churches do a bad job in a way that I can easily relate to and improve on.

This is where I have found it super helpful to hear the ways in which friends, family and church leaders get things wrong. It is really enlightening and troubling to hear what they thought they were doing and why they got things so wrong, even when they meant well. Then I see how I could make the exact same mistakes. As long as I think church leaders "Out There" are heartless sexists who are somehow eager to promote domestic violence, I won’t know if there’s anything I can do better. Becuase if I sincerely seek to be compassionate, respectful of women and if I am eager to stop domestic violence. It remains a problem for someone else Out There, not for me.

But I have found it eye-opening to hear what kinds of misunderstandings can lead even very well-intentioned family, friends and church leaders to give terrible advice and accidentally protect abusers and make victims feel unsupported, trapped and even blamed.

Some of the things I am learning:

  • It is so important to understand how charming and persuasive abusers can appear to those outside of the privacy of the family home. There might be other tell-tale signs of the possibility of abuse, but they are subtle unless we know what to look for.
  • The abuse can make the victim unsure of themselves, and so we might not perceive them to be reliable. In fact the abusive partner may even do things to enhance this perception.
  • The victim might have doubts about whether or not they are being abused, and worried about whether they’ll be believed, and so they might actually downlplay the severity of the problem.
  • A vicitm of abuse is often isolated by their partner, and so the kind of continuity of contact that we normally rely on to build trust and facilitate support and counselling might be lacking. We might need to be more proactive than we are used to being.
  • The way we teach in putblic and talk and counsel in informal settings can easily be misheard. Things we might mean in a ‘softer’ way, may have a ‘harder’ meaning within the rhetoric of abuse.

In part this underscores the fact that we need to hear many different types of stories: both the stories of victims and the stories of those who have failed to support victims and are honestly repenting and seeking to do better.



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Odd chapter and verse divisions in the Bible: I wish this WAS how it happened

[Stephanus’] fourth edition (1551) is possibly even more significant as it is the first edition of the Greek New Testament that divides the text into verses. Until then, the text has been printed all toegether, with no indication of verse division. There’s an amusing anecdote associated with how Stephanus did his work for this edition. His son later reported that Stephanus had decided on hius verse divisions (most of which are retained for us in our English translations) while making a journey on horseback. Undoubtedly he meant that his father was ‘working on the road’—that is, that he entered verse numbers in the evenings at the inns in which he was staying. But since his son literally says that Stephanus made these changes ‘while on horseback’, some wry observers have suggested that he actually did his work in transit, so that whenever his horse hit an unexpected bump, Stephanus’s pen jumped, accounting for some rather odd verse placements that we still find in our English translations of the New Testament

Bart Ehrmann, isquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 80.



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The evolution of Modern Islamic views on The Crusades

I've been reading The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 2006) by modern mediaeval expert Thomas F. Madden. It's a very readable, popular-level book, drawing on his expertise in this area.

His final chapter and conclusion are fascinating, how the remembering and retelling of history changes over time... and in the process distorts history.

For a long time the Western world saw the Crusades and a good thing

Until the last 70 years or so, much of the reflection of the Crusades was positive. It was a noble and glorious cause. As a result, 'crusade' had the overtones of a "grand and glorious campaign for a morally just goal" (215).

Bringing civilisation through the process of colonialisation and the Great War were both portrayed as glorious Crusades. In fact the the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after Wolrd War I was seen as the final chapter of the Crusades.

The Western, anti-religious and anti-colonial revisions of the Crusades

From the Enlightenment into the 19th Century, the Crusades began to be seen by some intellectuals as a horrible example of senseless, intolerant religious war. Saladin was portrayed as a wonderfully chivalrous leader whose sophisticated civilisation was brutalised by the Crusaders. 

Marxism likewise provided a new lense through which to examine the Crusades: they were simply an early, imperialistic land-grab.

The historical evidence, as weighed by Madden, do not justify either of these secularist readings of the motivations of the Crusaders or the cultural realities of the Crusades. They are more anachronistic re-readings than accurate, contextual explanations.

The Crusades were not an important thing for the Muslim world until the 19th and 20th centuries

The simple fact is that the crusades were virtually unknown in the Muslim world even a century ago.... Westerners may be surprised to learn that Muslims int he Middle East have only recently learned of the crusades.... It must be remembered that although the crusades were of momumental important to Europeans, they were a very minor, largely insignificant thin to the Muslim world. (217–218)

It seems that knowledge of the Crusades was introduced to the Middle East by colonialism, to show how Western imperialism was a good thing for the Middle East... and that kind of backfired :-P

Once the Western world began to critique colonialism and revise and critique the history of the Crusades in the second half of the 20th Century:


 Arab nationalists and Islamists agreed fully with this interpretation of the crusades. Poverty, corruption and violence in the Middle East were said to be the lingering effects of the crusades and subsequent European imperialism. The Muslim world had failed to keep up with the West because it had been dealt a debilitating blow by the crusaders, a blow that was repeated by their European descendents in the nineteenth century. (220)

 

The reality of the Crusades vs the modern re-tellings

But Madden asserts that this just does not reflect the historical reality:

Scholars have long argued that the crusades had no beneficial effect on Europe's economy. Indeed, they constituted a massive drain on resources. The rise of population and wealth in Europe predated the crusades, indeed allowed them to happen at all. Rather than decadent or 'assaulted on all sides' the Muslim world was growing to ever new heights of power and prosperity after the destruction of the crusader states in 1291. It was the Muslim world, under the rule of the Ottoman sultans, that would invade western Europe, seriousyl threatening the survival of the last remnant of Christendom. The crusades contributed nothing to the decline of the Muslim world. Indeed, they are evidence of the decline of the Christian West, which was forced to mount these desparate expeditions to defend against ever expanding Muslim empires. (221–222)

And in reflection on the use of the Crusades in some modern Muslim rhetoric:

It is not the crusades, then, that led to the attacked of September 11, but the artificial memory of the crusades constructed by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists and Islamists. They stripped the medieval expeditions of every aspect of their age and dressed them up instead in the tattered rags of nineteenth-century imperialism. As such, they have become an icon for modern agendas that medieval Christians and Muslims could scarcely have understood, let alone condoned. (222)



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