Month: June 2016

How do Christians decide who to vote for? (A political triage proposal) Pt. 2

This is the second post in a two-part piece on how Christians might approach voting – you can read part 1 here.

Secondary issues of considerable importance

Secondary issues are those that are significant in nature and should have an impact upon your decision as to who you should vote for. Given that, if you accept my previous outline of the fundamental issues, there will likely be some candidates and parties who will be excluded from your consideration altogether – thinking through some of these secondary issues should help you decide who the best candidate or party is out of the remaining options.

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While these issues are not necessarily questions of fundamental principles, their importance is largely derived from the fact that they have a significant impact on the well-being of real people. The Christian’s imperative to love her neighbour as herself should affect how she votes to a large degree.

Sometimes a party’s position on an issue that would normally fall in this category could be so bad that it violates one of the fundamental principles I discussed in the last post. This would naturally mean you need to consider it one of those “single issues” that disqualifies a candidate from your consideration. However, as a general rule the following policy areas are quite complex and require something of a balancing act to get right. Therefore parties and candidates who address these issues can easily elevate one set of principles that are important to them at the expense of other important factors when articulating their position. Amongst Christians, there would be a great deal of unity on some of the important, basic principles a party’s platform should cover in these areas, but many of us will have different ideas about how exactly the policies should be fleshed out in practice to bring about the best outcomes.

Here are some examples:

Immigration/Border Protection and Refugees

The issue many Christians will feel most strongly about from this category, has been an issue at virtually every federal election since 2001. How the federal government manages immigration, controls Australia’s borders and treats asylum seekers is an incredibly complex policy area and is one of the most vexed issues in Australian society.

I recognise that for some Christians, how a party treats asylum seekers easily becomes a “single issue” for them and they will choose not to vote for a party with harsh policies in this area. I understand and respect that – however I believe this issue should not be one of the primary issues that determines how Christians vote at this election (or future federal polls). This is because:
a) I believe the issues discussed in the first section are of more fundamental importance and should be considered before getting to this one.
b) Opposing a party’s policy on this issue is not necessarily the same as having a viable alternative.
c) The two major parties have equally hard-line approaches and thus the election must be decided on other matters.

Let me focus on point b) for a moment. Many Christians in Australia are rightly concerned with current government policies related to the processing of asylum seekers in offshore detention. The problem is, many of our responses are simplistic and do not take seriously the range of complex issues at hand. If you have an alternative it must provide appropriate preventative measures to stop deaths at sea and halt people smuggling. It must also address the processing inequality that arises from giving any priority to the claims of asylum seekers who arrive by boat over those who languish for years in UN refugee camps while they wait to hear whether countries like Australia will take them in.

I hate the way that politicians and the media use the lives of asylum seekers as a cheap campaign token or sensational news story. I wholeheartedly agree that they all need to be held to account for the way they handle these vulnerable human beings. I believe there is considerable goodwill towards asylum seekers and refugees amongst Christians and that we should keep encouraging the government to increase the national annual refugee intake significantly and ensure asylum seekers are well treated. But I fear there is no easy solution to this issue and we are potentially playing into the hands of the opportunists if we treat it as an election-deciding issue in any significant way.

Social Welfare

For the Christian voter, social welfare isn’t about propping up dole bludgers and wasting government resources through careless spending. How the party or candidate you vote for proposes to treat the disadvantaged, disabled and disempowered in society will impact the lives of many real people. We will never all agree on the nitty gritty of who gets what payment under what conditions, nor whether everyone is getting the support who needs it vs. too many people getting benefits they don’t really need. But any party or candidate that shows a lack of concern for struggling Australians – like the homeless, the destitute, the poorly educated, the mentally ill, the children affected by gambling, drug and alcohol addiction or domestic violence – should have a proportionate lack of our support.

Health

Healthcare will always be a significant issue in every election. Like the above, we should recognise that the quality of health services in Australia affects the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people every year. We should think particularly of our elderly neighbours and those in regional or neglected areas that may be severely impacted by a lack of relevant funding. Again, there will likely be disagreement on the various details of any proposed health program, but a party’s commitment to improving health services may lift its standing in our considerations.

Education

How a party approaches education is not usually a life and death issue, but education does play an enormous part in determining the life opportunities of our young and future generations. Christian voters should want Australian children from wealthy, “average,” or economically disadvantaged families to at least have access to the educational opportunities we ourselves have received.
We should want to see educational opportunities that equip young people to enter society and the workforce as well-informed, civic-minded adults with the skills to contribute positively to the community.

How a party prioritises education funding is important, but so is its ideological vision for education. At this election, federal support for the “Safe Schools” program is rightly an issue of concern, as are any other attempts by one brand of politics to indoctrinate the young people of Australia with a slanted social perspective. Christians should take an interest in what parties propose to teach the nation’s children and what the desired outcomes of these programs are.

Economic Policy

Managing the economy is important, because the health of the economy affects millions of people for better or worse. I personally don’t think Christian voters should be wed to the neo-liberal, free-market, economic rationalism of the Liberal Party or the naïve, ideological socialism held by some on the Left of politics. Instead, out of the options available to us, we should cast a vote for a party or candidate that will manage the economy responsibly while seeking the best interests of all Australians. No party, major or minor has a perfect economic philosophy, so this will mean weighing up how a particular party’s policies might affect people positively or negatively (both short-term and long-term). Contrary to popular presentation, the particulars of economic policy should not be at the top of your list when deciding who to vote for!

Indigenous policy

Last, but definitely not least, Christian voters ought to take the welfare of Indigenous Australians seriously and it may be necessary to listen closely for where this fits into someone’s political priorities. Indigenous affairs is an area almost as controversial as immigration policy, so I would expect a degree of disagreement between Christian voters as to what policies and approaches are appropriate and which are unhelpful. But I know many of my brothers and sisters will agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must not be neglected, marginalised or denied opportunities that many of us take for granted. Initiatives such as Closing the Gap and addressing areas of indigenous disadvantage are things we should be behind.

Tertiary issues of lesser importance

These issues are not necessarily unimportant – some of them relate directly to things that affect our daily lives and benefit our communities. But in keeping with a triage model, I think there are a range of policies and promises that shouldn’t affect how we vote at an election, unless you’re down to an evenly balanced shortlist of otherwise good candidates and one of them is better than the others when it comes to some of these areas. There are areas in politics that have a considerably lower negative impact on people if someone gets them wrong and which don’t significantly improve people’s quality of life if the issues in the above section are insufficiently addressed.

Here are some examples on things that should be lower on the list of priorities when it comes to determining your vote as a Christian.

Infrastructure (eg; NBN, stadiums, roads, bridges etc;)

We need government to be on the ball when it comes to infrastructure projects. The country would be a mess if successive governments neglected important infrastructure like roads, telecommunications and public facilities.
But when it comes to a party’s promise to deliver faster internet speeds, road upgrades, new sports stadiums etc; there are just so many factors we should be considering before these ones. The NBN issue is the classic example at this election. It does matter if Australians get the best possible internet speeds in the coming years, because reliable and fast broadband does affect things like business and education. But the difference between two party’s policies on this issue pales in comparison to many of the issues highlighted above.

Arts, Sport and Entertainment

At the risk of inviting the criticism that I’m reinforcing the tendency for Christians to under-appreciate the arts – I’m more than happy to defend including this policy area in the category of third-order issues. It’s nice when parties find a way to fund arts, sport and entertainment for the enjoyment of the community, as they each have the capacity to contribute to the flourishing of society. But none of them are essential in comparison to other matters and should therefore be pretty low on our list of determining criteria.

Conclusion

I hope that even if readers have some different ideas about how to approach some of these issues, the triage model will lead to fruitful considerations of party policies this election. What I’ve written isn’t comprehensive, but hopefully I’ve surveyed enough of the issues to be of some help.

[1] Douglas Miller ballot_box_1.jpg (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

 

 

 

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How do Christians decide who to vote for? (A political triage proposal)

Some time ago, the well-known American evangelical leader Al Mohler proposed a model for determining the importance of particular doctrines, which many Christians have found helpful. Drawing on the medical principle of “triage”, where patients are categorised according to the seriousness of their condition and then treated in order of priority – Mohler devised what he called a “theological triage.” Mohler proposed three levels of seriousness with respect to theological truths, which would help Christians identify how critical any particular doctrine is to the Christian faith and what response should occur when a primary doctrine is being challenged, as opposed to a truth of tertiary significance.

To summarise, first-order doctrines are the essential truths of the faith, such as the death, resurrection and deity of Christ; the Trinity and justification by faith. To deny any one of these is to depart from biblical Christianity and create a serious theological problem. For Mohler, second-order doctrines are those that are not fundamental to the faith but are serious enough to divide Christians who have differences on them into different denominations (eg; credobaptism vs. paedobaptism; Calvinism vs. Arminianism; Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism). Third-order doctrines are those which are even less central to Christian faith and practice than those mentioned above and while they are not insignificant, they should not necessitate any division between believers at the local church level (eg; many debates about eschatology).

The triage is helpful because if accepted, it helps Christians see that a debate about whether or not Jesus is divine is much more serious than the question over whether infants should be baptised. Likewise, the question of whether or not women should be pastors would be seen as substantially more significant than a debate over the details of the Millennium in Revelation 20.

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As Australia prepares to vote this weekend for Representatives and Senators who will form the next Federal Parliament, there are a range of issues that Christian voters find themselves concerned about and for many the question of how to decide between principles, policies, parties and political candidates is fraught with difficulty. What do I do if Party X supports something I feel passionate about, but also wants to make changes I really disagree with? What should I do if Parties X, Y & Z all have aspects of their policy that I find very problematic?

While this post won’t resolve all of those questions, I want to suggest that a “political triage” from a biblical perspective might be quite helpful for working through these issues in the dying days of the election campaign.

#1 The Fundamental Issues

The first-order political issues for Christians in this (and every) election should be based on the following considerations: a) What is the essential role of governments according to the Bible?
b) What does the Bible encourage Christians to pray for our government and society?
c) What other essential principles should we consider when supporting candidates for election to parliament?

a) What is the essential role of governments according to the Bible?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
(Romans 13:1-7, ESV)

Time and space do not permit a thorough exegetical analysis of Romans 13, but there are some helpful principles that can be deduced from the above passage. If governments are instituted by God for the good of societies, for the administration of justice and maintenance of law and order and bear some kind of economic responsibility through their receipt of taxes – then it follows that only a candidate that can positively contribute to these essential functions of government should ever be endorsed by Christians in a democratic election. If you have good grounds to suspect that a party or candidate will substantially compromise the delivery of justice, the rule of law or national security – you should not vote for them. Similarly, if you have grounds to believe they will behave illegally, use public money in corrupt ways or plunge the nation into bankruptcy, they should automatically be disqualified from receiving your vote.

These principles are not supposed to be a gateway to careless nitpicking. A party that wants to change one law you don’t think should change isn’t necessarily corrupting justice in the nation. A party’s track-record of questionable economic management is not the same as one who poses a lethal risk to the economy etc; But if you sincerely believe someone cannot perform the essential functions of government outlined in the Bible, you shouldn’t vote for them.

b) What does the Bible encourage Christians to pray for our government and society?

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4, ESV).

We’re called here to pray for a political situation where we can be leading peaceful, quiet, godly and dignified lives and where the gospel can advance unhindered and bring salvation to many. I suggest that what we’re told to pray for is also what we should aim to vote for. This passage reinforces the idea that our prime criteria for governments is their facilitation of a stable and peaceful society – but it adds another important element. Christians should pray for and vote for leaders who will enable us to freely carry out the vital work of gospel ministry. Practically speaking, this means that you should only vote for a candidate or party that is serious about maintaining freedom of religious expression in Australia. Any party or person who wishes to restrict the capacity of Christians to freely worship God, live consistently with Christ’s teachings and freely spread the good news should never receive a Christian’s vote at any election.

c) What other essential principles should we consider when supporting candidates for election?

“Single issue voting” is where you refuse to vote for a particular candidate based on a critically unacceptable position they hold. In light of the above, a single issue that determines who you don’t vote for might be something like:
“I won’t vote for any candidate that compromises the rule of law in Australia” or “I won’t vote for any candidate that wants to restrict essential freedoms, like freedom of religion, association or speech.”

There are a range of additional issues that relate to Christian ethics or fundamental liberties that might cause a Christian voter to reject a candidate or party based on their policy position. The most important one is the most fundamental right of all: the right of all innocent people to have their lives protected by the law. Christians should refuse to support parties and candidates that advocate the acceptability of abortion or euthanasia – both of which wrongly destroy innocent lives.

The legally sanctioned, systematic extermination of helpless, unborn, human life is one of the worst things going on in country today. While ending abortion will never be the church’s primary mission (and in fact, only the faithful proclamation of the gospel will see any lasting transformation in this area), neither should Christians support those who would happily see this abhorrent practice continued indefinitely. Likewise, love for our elderly neighbours should make us gravely concerned about the dangers of legal euthanasia and withhold our support from candidates who wish to make it a reality.

Beyond these essential issues of life, essential liberties and a just, functioning legal system, it can be difficult to determine precisely what other issues might be serious enough to automatically disqualify a candidate from receiving your vote. I personally see the definition of marriage as an issue of enough weight to lead me to refuse to vote for any candidate that openly supports a redefinition. I neither wish to vote in support of something that I regard as false and immoral, nor do I consider it loving towards my neighbour to support something I honestly don’t believe is in their best interest.

Likewise, if a candidate or party promotes racism (as many sadly have in recent years), I would consider it improper to give them my support. A person’s ethnicity should not make them subject to vilification or mistreatment under the law.

So you see, establishing what the fundamentals are, is useful for disqualifying a range of parties and candidates from your consideration (which itself is a helpful first step). But how do we approach other issues that remain undiscussed and pick between those parties and candidates that remain contenders for our vote?

I’ll talk more about that in part 2.

[1] Michael Dawes “Parliament House” (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr.

Pontification, Equivocation and Evasion: PM Turnbull on religion, sexuality and the unborn

Two recent incidents involving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should raise questions for Christian voters about what kind of leader he is and how he will use his powers and prerogatives if re-elected as Prime Minister of Australia in less than a fortnight.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pose for a photo together at Pentagon on Jan. 18, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)(Released)                        [1]

 

Last week, Malcolm Turnbull expressed his regrets at the invitation of Shady Al Suleiman, Head of the National Imams Council  to his Iftar dinner held last Thursday – following revelations of the sheikh making statements against homosexuality in a YouTube video published three years ago.

In his message, Suleiman spoke of “terrible diseases” coming as a result of sexual activity between unclean and clean people and suggested that homosexuality spread such diseases. He criticised the identification of homosexuality with freedom and suggested that homosexual sex is an “evil action that brings evil outcomes to our society.”

Turnbull had every right to distance himself from such comments, question their factuality and disagree with the perspective that they are coming from. But his condemnation of Suleiman’s remarks, accompanied by his suggestion he would not have been invited for what he said deserve serious attention. Because what seems to be going on here is the Prime Minister determining who’s  a legitimate representative of a religious community and who isn’t. Suleiman’s position means he indisputably represents a wide range of Sunni Muslims in Australia. The council of which he is president is responsible for selecting the Grand Mufti of Australia!

I have a problem with this because the Prime Minister is equivocating on whether or not he is getting involved in adjudicating matters of theology. I’m also concerned because it isn’t hard to see him and his successors doing similar things, in relation to the positions of other religious leaders or groups (on this issue or others).

Pontification and Equivocation

Turnbull is guilty of equivocation on his interference with religious/theological matters for the following three reasons (taken together as a package).

a) He condemned a fairly standard Islamic view of homosexuality and painted it as unacceptable and unAustralian.

b) He made his own statements about God, godliness and love as a religious value

c) He told broadcaster Neil Mitchell he didn’t “want to buy into a theological debate” when asked if this was symptomatic of a wider problem within Islam.

Looking at them in order:

a) The Prime Minister is free to reject or criticise any tenet of Islam he finds unpalatable, just as he is free to deny or question elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism or any other religion. But all Australians of faith should be concerned when the leader of our country uses his political leverage to adjudicate moral or theological issues that relate to a religion or faith tradition he has no part in.

The PM’s comments appear to me to be a denunciation of the Sheik’s views on homosexuality, which imply that they are not acceptable for any religious leader to hold. The problem is that homosexuality is not viewed positively by Islam in general and many Muslims would agree that it is “evil”, harms society and is worthy of punishment. If the sheik’s views are not representative of the widespread sentiment in his community, it is a matter for the Muslims of Australia to replace him as President of the National Council of Imams. But if they are representative, Malcolm Turnbull is in dangerous territory when his comments or actions imply that a non-Muslim like him can adjudicate who is an authentic Muslim and who isn’t and associate only with the representatives that get the Malcolm tick of approval.

This concerns me, because it could be applied to any religious community on any issue. As a Christian, I don’t want the Prime Minister telling me who accurately represents my faith in the public sphere and which views are acceptable or unacceptable for me to hold as a Christian. I want to make those decisions for myself and wear the consequences that may go along with them.

It also concerns me with respect to the issue at hand. Because, while I hope Christian leaders would be more careful and nuanced than the sheik was when commenting about homosexuality – some of the statements he made were in line with biblical teaching. Biblically faithful Christians would agree that homosexual sex is “evil” (though we may use other words to describe it); the promotion of it is connected to a distorted notion of freedom; promotion of homosexuality has a harmful effect on society and as a sinful practice it warrants divine punishment. [Although the assertion that homosexuality is spreading all the terrifying sexually transmitted diseases in society should be challenged on medical and ethical grounds, sexual promiscuity of all kinds – heterosexual and homosexual – certainly does result in horrid infections and illnesses].  Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies was invited to the iftar (which was apparently designed to be a multi-faith event) and one wonders if someone like him, with a biblical perspective on sexuality, would also be excluded under a more probing Malcolm-test?

b) Malcolm Turnbull made his own religiously charged statement when he said:
At the foundation of our success is mutual respect and as I said last night, at the core of that mutual respect is love, love for our fellow humanity.That is when we are closest to God. That is the most godly thing, is love and that is, that is the foundation of that mutual respect – a love for our fellow man and woman.”

To be “godly” has no meaning when isolated from a religious context. Turnbull seems to be saying that loving respect lies at the heart of both what it means to be a good, civic-minded Australian and what it means to be “godly.” When someone “loves” and “respects” their fellow humans (such as members of the LGBTI and Islamic communities) they’re quintessentially Aussie and godly according to the PM. Turnbull is in line with theological and social liberalism in making this nebulous and vacuous concept of what “love” and “respect” mean into a moral and social absolute. He isn’t saying he’s not religious at this point, he’s pontificating. Muslims, Christians and whoever else need to accept his theologically liberal notion of loving others – even if that means a denial of other moral precepts and obligations that come from their religious texts or traditions.

c) Thus, when Neil Mitchell asked Mr Turnbull about whether there was a wider problem with Islam that Muslims needed to address in relation to these issues, the PM is equivocating when he says he doesn’t want to buy into a theological debate. The PM is happy to marginalise and deny the validity of Islamic voices* that are opposed to homosexual practice. They’re homophobic and they don’t deserve a place at the table with other Muslim leaders. He’s happy to say what he thinks is the most important religious quality for all people to possess: the liberal version of love. So claiming that he wants to stay clear of theological debates is either inconsistent or dishonest.

Evasion

The second issue we’d do well to take note of is how Mr Turnbull handled the question of abortion on Q&A last night.
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4463065.htm

Brisbane medical student Ashley Leong asked the PM the following question:

Twenty seven babies aged five months gestation or more survived late term abortions in Queensland hospitals last year: the highest number of survivals following attempted terminations in 10 years. But each of these 27 babies were not rendered care and allowed to die. As a medical student, who has seen many deliveries and loving care of premature babies, nothing is quite as horrifying as letting a baby perish in a clinic. Is it not the federal government’s onus to protect all citizens, especially those who cannot speak for themselves?”

Turnbull asked for clarification, appeared somewhat concerned by the question, but effectively fobbed responsibility off to the Qld State Government. While this response was predictable, it highlights the fact that the Prime Minister is not prepared to act on such a serious issue as Australian babies being left to die in hospital rooms. Mr Turnbull did describe the cases as “shocking”, but was not prepared to make any commitments or take any action.

While it is true that the QLD government bears full responsibility for the law related to abortion in this state, the federal government is an accomplice to the murder of these innocent children if it provides any Medicare funding for such procedures. But Mr Turnbull confessed he lacked awareness of the issue and the legal arrangements in Queensland, while steering clear of the issue itself, along with any commitments to investigate or act. He seems content to lead a government that is ignorant or apathetic when it comes to whether or not they bankrolled the deaths of these 27 children.

Thus, we have a leader who pontificates on religious and moral issues when it suits him; equivocates on his willingness to participate in debates on such issues when it suits him and evades any commitment to investigate or act in relation to a serious ethical and social issue (with theological implications) like abortion when it suits him.

While self-imposed restraints on length will prevent me from looking at Mr Shorten on these same kinds of issues in this post, I will say this: I’m concerned by the fact that whether Mr Turnbull or Mr Shorten becomes PM on July 2, we’ll have a leader that’s prepared to throw their weight around when it comes to issues like freedom of religion and state-sanctioned sexual morality, but who is silent, limp, indifferent or even malevolent when it comes to the rights of the most vulnerable group in Australia.

 

*Please note that I do not in any way support the statements or beliefs of Sheik Suleiman as a preacher of Islam. I am merely questioning the right of the Prime Minister to decide who is a proper representative of a particular religious community.

[1]  DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, visiting the Pentagon on 18 January 2016.CC BY 2.0

Why Election 2016 is not The Matrix

In the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster, The Matrix, the protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) is offered a life-changing choice by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). He is told that his future will be forever affected by whether he picks and swallows the blue pill (which will let him go back to an ordinary life of blissful ignorance) or the red pill (a gateway to a confronting, difficult and dangerous “reality”). Two choices: blue or red. Each with consequences. No turning back from either.

Red_and_blue_pill[1]

When it comes to voting, many Australians believe that our political “reality” dictates a similar choice. A simple choice between blue or red. Liberal or Labor. Without pushing the analogy too far, some of us feel that this choice does have enormous, potentially life-changing ramifications. And some may even feel it’s a choice between comfort and blissful ignorance and dealing with the hardships and realities of everyday Australian life.

But the choice is between the two. Only Blue (Liberal) or Red (Labor) can realistically form government, so voting becomes about swallowing the pill that is likely to lead to better outcomes for me, my family and perhaps a set of causes I’m passionate about.

What if I told you there was another way to vote?

Yes the next government will be led by either Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten. That is virtually impossible to change. But the duopoly between the Coalition and Labor will continue forever unless Australians stop seeing their vote as a choice between the blue pill and the red pill.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pose for a photo together at Pentagon on Jan. 18, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)(Released)
[2]
Bill_Shorten_DSC_3004[3]

 

People need to wake up from the cleverly crafted, illusory narrative that says you should automatically vote for one or the other, because you have no other real choice. The major parties want us to think this way, because having one major opponent to defeat makes life easier for them. It’s easier to poke holes in one, main rival’s vision and plan for the nation that to have half a dozen or more to compete with.

At a time when the leadership of both major parties is incredibly lacklustre and uninspiring, there’s no better election to send them a message and start to curb their control of public life than this one. Because if the Coalition and Labor go unpunished for their choices of leader and their nebulous principles and policies, things are only going to get worse from here on in.

If you’re a Christian voter you may feel (as I do) as though the choice between the major parties is a choice between bad and worse – or two equally unpalatable options. Malcolm Turnbull represents the worst aspects of his party – the harsh economic rationalism of free-market neo-liberalism and the “progressive” social liberalism held by a minority (but growing force) of his colleagues. Bill Shorten and Labor hold positions that are increasingly disturbing if you approach social issues from a Christian standpoint.

So how should we actually vote, if we don’t want to treat the two majors as our only options? I’ve noticed Christians are already chatting about this, directly or indirectly, on social media. Articles like: “Should Christians vote for a Christian party?” and “Can a Christian vote for those godless Greens?” have been doing the rounds lately.

While my short answer to the former question is: “Possibly, but not necessarily” and “Not in good conscience” to the latter – those issues themselves will have to wait for another day.

I’m encouraging people to vote for the best candidate or party available to them – placing them ahead of the major party candidates when they fail to fall into that category.

This will mean a few things practically:

1) Not being a lazy voter

Australians are renowned for apathy – particularly in the political sphere. And while we are prone to frequent complaining about the quality of our politicians, many of us are too lazy to do anything about changing the system – or even to find out what parties and candidates stand for, beyond slogans, soundbites and smiles. To vote for the best candidate or party you actually need to know which one is the best! That means doing at least a little bit of research as to what the substance of their values and policies are. With the internet, that’s much easier to do now than it once was. I hope to look at some of the key issues for Christians and Australians in the remaining two weeks of the election campaign and where the parties stand on them, as a way of helping people think through the options beyond blue and red.

2) Understanding the new Senate voting rules and maximising your Senate vote

The Senate ballot is the best and easiest way for you to vote for a party that better represents your values and objectives than the major parties. Queensland voters will have a choice of candidates from 37 different parties, along with around 20 independent candidates. That’s way more choice than blue or red!!! The new Senate voting rules mean you number at least 6 boxes above the line (party group tickets) OR at least 12 boxes for individual candidates of your choice below the line. While you don’t need to know the ins and outs of every single party and candidate, you have plenty of options to explore if you’re dissatisfied with the major parties. Each of us should be able to find at least one or two parties or candidates that better represent our views and values than the usual suspects.
The new senate rules do make it more difficult for minor parties and independents to get elected – but some probably will, and it’s down to our vote to decide which ones will be successful.

Sample Senate Ballot (2)

The role of the Upper House in reviewing legislation means that your vote for a distinct voice there is an important one. Better senators means better scrutiny and evaluation of every bill that comes before parliament. Your senate vote can make a difference.

3) Putting the Coalition or Labor further down your House of Representatives ballot than a better candidate (assuming there is one)               

On your green ballot paper you need to number every box in descending order of preference. In the vast majority of seats, a candidate from the major parties will end up winning and your preferences will go towards the winner or runner-up. However, if enough dissatisfied people vote for a different candidate, things can turn out quite differently. These hiccups send a powerful message to whoever forms government in Canberra. Likewise, even if your first preference candidate doesn’t get elected and your second preference goes towards the winning candidate – nothing provokes soul-searching for parties and candidates than a significant decrease in their first preference votes.

Sample House of Reps Ballot (2)

Despite what the major parties would have you believe, a principled vote or even a protest vote is not a reckless or wasted vote. It’s a declaration that you don’t feel Blue or Red is worthy of your primary vote. Even if they benefit from your preferences, you’ve told them that you’d really prefer someone other than them to represent you.

It’s time to change the political reality of Australia for the better by voting for something better. Yes we’ll still get a blue or red government for the next 3 years – but you and I have the power to choose to weaken their control of parliament and the direction of society, instead of strengthening it.

To stick with the false dichotomy of blue or red is to choose a bad future with two power-players that think they can continue to have a turn at sitting in the good seat in parliament every few years – despite continuously under-delivering on policy and leadership. Let’s find a better option and vote for a better future.

[1] W Carter “A Red pill and a Blue pill” CC-BY-SA 4.0 wikimedia commons
[2]  DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, visiting the Pentagon on 18 January 2016.CC BY 2.0
[3] Peter Campbell “Bill Shorten MP” CC BY-SA 3.0

More convinced by hell (than you or I)

In my last post I suggested that you and I are probably less convinced by hell, than many of our Christian forbears were (as demonstrated by their life, preaching and ministry). In this follow-up I’m sharing some examples of what some significant Christian ministers have expressed with regard to the realness of hell and how it affected their outlook. Of course, what is provided below by no means establishes how much of an emphasis these men put on hell across their life and ministry (that would be too enormous a task) – but it does give us a taste of how generations before us have regarded the truth of hell, which will be useful for comparison with our own emphasis or lack thereof.

Biblical

Our Lord Jesus was more convinced by the reality of hell than we are:

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:43-48, ESV)

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”  (Luke 12:4-5, ESV)

Paul was convinced enough by hell to use it as an encouragement for those suffering persecution:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

Peter convinced enough by hell to warn Christians that false teachers were headed there:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction…
Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world…if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority
…(2 Peter 2:1-10)

John was convinced by hell because God showed him a vision of what it would be like:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15)

Early Church 

Early Christian bishop and martyr Polycarp was convinced enough by hell to tell his persecutors how much worse it would be than anything they could do to him:

You threaten me with fire that burns for one hour and then cools, not knowing the judgment to come, nor the perpetual torment of eternal fire to the ungodly.”

Tertullian was convinced of eternal punishment for the unrepentant:

But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending, and they shall have from the very nature of this fire, divine as it were, a supply of incorruptibility.

Augustine was so convinced by the reality of hell, he thought it should make us shudder:

“So then what God by His prophet has said of the everlasting punishment of the damned shall come to pass—shall without fail come to pass,—“their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched…”  [Jesus] did not shrink from using the[se] same words three times over in one passage.  And who is not terrified by this repetition, and by the threat of that punishment uttered so vehemently by the lips of the Lord Himself?”

Likewise Chrysostom, who thought it was better to tremble at the thought of hell than end up there through lack of due consideration:

For indeed my heart is troubled and throbs, and the more I see the account of hell confirmed, the more do I tremble and shrink through fear, but it is necessary to say these things, lest we fall into hell.”

Reformers

Luther was convinced that hell was an unending experience of God’s judgement:

The fiery oven is ignited merely by the unbearable appearance of God and endures eternally. For the Day of Judgment will not last for a moment only but will stand throughout eternity and will thereafter never come to an end. Constantly the damned will be judged, constantly they will suffer pain, and constantly they will be a fiery oven, that is, they will be tortured within by supreme distress and tribulation.”

Calvin was convinced that hell was absolutely necessary if we have a right understanding of God and sin:

“…but then the majesty of God, and also the justice which they have violated by their sins, are eternal. Justly, therefore, the memory of their iniquity does not perish. But in this way the punishment will exceed the measure of the fault. It is intolerable blasphemy to hold the majesty of God in so little estimation, as not to regard the contempt of it as of greater consequence than the destruction of a single soul.”
Puritans

John Owen was convinced that hell would be intensified for those who have been offered forgiveness and yet rejected it:

…of this sure I am, that none shall have their portion so low in the nethermost hell, none shall drink so deep of the cup of God’s indignation, as they who have refused Christ in the gospel. Men will curse the day to all eternity wherein the blessed name of Jesus Christ was made known unto them, if they continue to despise it. He that abuseth the choicest of mercies, shall have judgment without mercy.”

Thomas Watson was convinced by the sheer incomprehensibility of the eternal nature of hell:

“The fire of hell is such, as multitudes of tears will not quench it, length of time will not finish it; the vial of God’s wrath will be always dropping upon a sinner. As long as God is eternal, He lives to be avenged upon the wicked. Oh eternity! eternity! who can fathom it? Mariners have their plummets to measure the depths of the sea; but what line or plummet shall we use to fathom the depth of eternity? The breath of the Lord kindles the infernal lake, (Isa. 30:33), and where shall we have engines or buckets to quench that fire?” 

Evangelical Evangelists, Missionaries and Preachers

Wesley was convinced by the terrible miseries of hell:

There is no grandeur in the infernal regions; there is nothing beautiful in those dark abodes; no light but that of livid flames. And nothing new, but one unvaried scene of horror upon horror! There is no music but that of groans and shrieks; of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; of curses and blasphemies against God, or cutting reproaches of one another. Nor is there anything to gratify the sense of honour: No; they are the heirs of shame and everlasting contempt.”

Whitefield was convinced that anyone confronted with hell as it really is, should scarcely need persuading to avoid anything that would lead them there:

You have heard, brethren, the eternity of hell-torments plainly proved, from the express declarations of holy scriptures, and consequences naturally drawn from them. And now there seems to need no great art of rhetoric to persuade any understanding person to avoid and abhor those sins, which without repentance will certainly plunge him into this eternal gulf.”

Jonathan Edwards was convinced that the eternal destruction of those who refused to trust in Christ was so certain that they might as well already be in hell:

Yea God is a great deal more angry with great Numbers that are now on Earth, yea doubtless with many that are now in this Congregation, that it may be are at Ease and Quiet – than he is with many of those that are now in the Flames of Hell. So that it is not because God is unmindful of their Wickedness, and don’t resent it, that he don’t let loose his Hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, tho’ they may imagine him to be so. The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.

Hudson Taylor was convinced that a right perspective on hell would motivate us to seek the salvation of others without rest:

Would that God would make hell so real to us that we cannot rest; heaven so real that we must have men there; Christ so real that our supreme motive and aim shall be to make the Man of Sorrows the Man of Joy by the conversion to Him of many concerning whom He prayed, “Father, I long that those whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory.””

Spurgeon was convinced of hell and urged his students not to allow themselves to be less convinced of its terrible nature:

Meditate with deep solemnity upon the fate of the lost sinner, and, like Abraham, when you get up early to go to the place where you commune with God, cast an eye towards Sodom and see the smoke thereof going up like the smoke of a furnace. Shun all views of future punishment which would make it appear less terrible, and so take off the edge of your anxiety to save immortals from the quenchless flame. If men are indeed only a nobler kind of ape, and expire as the beasts, you may well enough let them die unpitied; but if their creation in the image of God involves immortality, and there is any fear that through their unbelief they will bring upon themselves endless woe, arouse yourselves to the agonies of the occasion, and be ashamed at the bare suspicion of unconcern.”

J.C. Ryle was convinced that hell was part of God’s revelation, which he must urge others to think properly about:

 Who would desire to speak of hell-fire if God has not spoken of it? When God has spoken of it so plainly, who can safely hold his peace? I dare not shut my eyes to the fact, that a deep rooted infidelity lurks in men’s minds on the subject of hell. I see it oozing out in the utter apathy of some: they eat, and drink, and sleep, as if there was no wrath to come. I see it creeping forth in the coldness others about their neighbor’s souls: they show little anxiety to awaken the unconverted, and pluck brands from the fire.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was convinced by hell – to the point that it shaped the goal and approach of his preaching and pastoral ministry:

“We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin! I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end; but a man with a healthy body and a distressed soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face eternity in Hell.”

I’m less convinced by hell (and you probably are too)

Is there really such a thing as hell? A reality/state/place where people experience eternal, conscious torment as a result of their rebellion against the God who gave them life? Are there millions of rebels already experiencing some form of unrelenting suffering, while they await final judgement for their sins before being consigned to an inextinguishable lake of fire? Are there many more millions headed there, who will most certainly perish and endure eternal death, unless they turn from their sins and put their trust in Jesus to save them?

Do you really believe in this stuff?

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Surely we want a Christianity that’s more about God’s love and less about “fire and brimstone”? Surely we’ve moved on from “hellfire preaching”? Don’t we want preaching that focuses on how good Jesus is and how full of grace the gospel is? Surely preaching too much about eternal punishment reinforces the negative stereotypes of Christianity and God: it’s just a bunch of rules and He’s a nasty tyrant ready to mete out punishment to anyone who He doesn’t like.

I think I’m less convinced by hell than a lot of Christians from years gone by. At different periods in church history, it has not been uncommon to find people terrified by pictures of eternal judgement and believers who were plagued for many years by fears concerning their eternal destination.

Often preachers and churches were all-too-eager to warn people that they were about to face the fiery reality of God’s wrath. They thundered their “turn or burn” style message at everyone – the kind of thing that makes many of us cringe today. Hell was a major component of their message. Many have come to the conclusion that it was too much of a focus and it was the main thing sinners heard.

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^Scenes like this make many Christians uneasy [2]

Now many of us have taken quite a different approach. We may speak about sin and it’s visible effects in our broken world and mention that God is just and will judge evil – but perhaps because we assume people know we mean “hell” when we say “judgement”, we’re quick to move onto the gospel: the death and resurrection of Jesus. By ensuring we focus on Jesus, we are making sure our message comes across as Christ-centered, or gospel-centered – not about a woeful, fiery nether region.

I’m all for making sure Jesus is the explicit centre of everything we say and do. But I have a problem.
When I say I’m less convinced by hell than many Christians who lived before me – I say it as a shameful confession – not as a proud declaration. You see I know hell is real – but I wonder why it makes so little impact on my life and the lives of many Christians around me. I say I’m less convinced by hell, because the reality of eternal punishment doesn’t seem to have much of an effect upon how I live a typical day. I say you’re probably less convinced by hell too, because generally speaking I don’t see a widespread appreciation of how serious it is amongst the Christians I know.

We may eschew hellfire preaching – I don’t dispute that it’s been done pretty badly over the years. But I would contend that spelling out what God’s judgement is like, does have its place in our proclamation of a Christ-centered message. I agree that if our focus is on how bad hell is and that Jesus is just a divine lasso to pull us to safety, or a fire escape door to run through – we’ve magnified hell at the expense of the pre-eminence and wonder of our Great God and Saviour. But on the other hand, the more we make hell something that is out of mind, out of sight – the less we and others will appreciate how great a salvation we have. Because the gospel is always meant to be awesome goodness on the backdrop of awful badness. Without the juxtaposition, we lose something vital.
Without understanding hell, the Cross itself loses its context.

The message of hell

Hell is itself a message; a kind of sermon; an eternal object lesson. And it’s the failure of the 21st Century church in developed societies to truly appreciate the components of this message that explains why we may be prone to minimising hell. So what’s the message? It’s very simple.

Hell is a declaration that:

1) God’s holiness is absolute, paramount and inviolable.

2) Any sin or rebellion against God is an indescribably severe and evil insult to God’s supreme dignity and a provocation of his wrath against ungodliness.

3) God’s justice administers a punishment against such sin – the severity of which reflects the severity of the transgression committed against Him.

When we as a church lack a proper appreciation of God’s awesome majesty and what it really means for Him to be holy (i.e. He alone has a claim to being truly sacred, unique, distinguished in kind and value from all other things and regarded with an esteem and gravity that reflects who He is) we will find ourselves agreeing with our non-Christian neighbours – that hell seems an extreme punishment for people who have basically lived a good life but committed some petty wrongdoings along the way. We are less convinced by hell, when we’re less moved by God’s holiness. We are less convinced by hell when we don’t recognise sin for how serious it is.

Now I’m not saying we should spend all of our time thinking and speaking about hell. But I am saying we should spend some time thinking and speaking about it. Because hell declares a message about God, sin and justice that our generation desperately needs to hear. I don’t want people coming to church just because they want a ticket out of hell. But nor do I want the church to be lethargic about the fact that people around us are going to hell if they reject Jesus (and it’s not wrong to make that part of the conversation we have with them). Want I do want is a church that knows hell is real and is prepared to make it clear to people what they’re choosing over eternal life in Jesus if they reject God’s offer of forgiveness. And I want to see converts who know how great the grace they’ve received is, because they’ve recognised how holy God is, how deeply they’ve wronged Him and how great a punishment Jesus took on their behalf to grant them life.

I hope to do a follow up post, featuring the way some of the great Christian pastors, preachers, authors and others leaders have spoken about hell and how it fit into their understanding of the Christian life.

 

 

[1] Nathan Reading “Inferno” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr
[2] Erik Bishoff “Hate” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr