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Protestant Profiles #1-25 Index

This week, The Lion & Phoenix brought you our 26th Protestant Profile (on Charles Spurgeon) as part of our series leading up to the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We’re bringing you 31 of these biographical features of notable Protestant Christians in the 31 weeks leading up to the 31st October.

That means we only have 5 left to go!

If you missed any of the profiles in our series and would like to catch up on reading about the lives of any of these significant figures from our theological and spiritual heritage, you can find a list of those we’ve published below.

Prequels

0 Faithful Fightin’ FathersIrenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine
00 “Protestant before it was Cool”: Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

Protestant Profiles

1 Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
2 Ulrich Zwingli (1484 – 1531)
3 Jean Calvin (1509 – 1564)
4 Philip Melancthon (1497 – 1560)
5 Heinrich Bullinger (1504 – 1575)
6 Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605)
7 William Tyndale (1494-1536)
8 John Knox (1513 – 1572)
9 John Bradford (1510–1555)
10 Queen Jane of England (c. 1537 – 1554)
11 William Perkins (1558–1602)
12 John Owen (1616–1683)
13 Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
14 John Bunyan (1628 – 1688)
15 Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758)
16 John Wesley (1703 – 1791)
17 Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707 – 1791)
18 George Whitefield (1714 – 1770)
19 Granville Sharp & co. (1735 – 1813)
20 William Carey (1761–1834)
21 Adoniram Judson (1788 – 1850)
22 David Livingstone (1813 – 1873)
23 J.C. Ryle (1815-1900)
24 Fanny J. Crosby (1820 – 1915)
25 Hudson Taylor (1832 – 1905)

Any guesses who will feature in #27-31? You won’t have to wait long to find out!

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Protestant Profiles #25: Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor (1832 – 1905)

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Born: Barnsley, Yorkshire, England
Role: pioneer inland missionary; founder of China Inland Mission (later OMF International); author & speaker
Emphases: the faithfulness and sovereign provision of God; reaching unreached and neglected people groups with the gospel; contextual mission and close identification with indigenous people through their customs and culture
Protested against: culturally inflexible approaches to Christian ministry

That we know James Hudson Taylor today as one of history’s most notable missionaries is a remarkable fact in itself when we consider the very rough start to his ministry. Taylor arrived in China as a 21 year old and would remain there until illness forced his return to England in 1860, aged 28. This period was invaluable for his personal formation as a missionary and he was able to share the gospel with many Chinese during this stint. He also met and married his wife Maria during this time – which naturally had a great impact upon the rest of his life and ministry.

But Taylor had a series of difficulties with his original sending agency, the Chinese Evangelistic Society and this led to him resigning midway through his first term of service and operating more independently for the remainder of the period until his return to England. Difficulties with one’s sending agency, operating independently and returning home due to illness are all factors with the potential to render a missionary ineffective or see them permanently leave the field. But this was not to be the case with Taylor.

While back in England he became increasingly determined to found a new kind of missions organisation that would operate on the principles of trusting in God’s provision (rather than borrowing money and going into debt); focus on reaching the neglected inland population of China with the gospel and approach mission in a different way to many of the existing European sending agencies.

In 1866, Hudson and his family, along with sixteen other missionaries, travelled to China aboard the Lammermuir. This was the beginning of the China Inland Mission’s operations within the country. The early days were not rosy. There was conflict amongst the CIM team, dangers and difficulties connected to travelling where Europeans were not previously present and the constant threat of disease – which claimed the lives of 3 of the Taylor’s children between 1867 and 1870, with Maria herself succumbing to cholera in 1870. But the mission did continue to grow and Chinese were being steadily reached with the gospel.

Hudson returned to England in 1871 and remarried before returning the following year. His second wife Jennie would live and work with him until her death, which occurred less than twelve months before Hudson’s own. They did however spend extended periods of time apart on occasions when Hudson travelled to China from England without her.

A decade after the Taylors and CIM missionaries arrived on the Lammermuir, the organisation had grown to have 52 missionaries. John Piper relates how incredible the growth was in the subsequent three decades until Taylor’s death in 1905.

At the time of Hudson Taylor’s death, the China Inland Mission was an international body with 825 missionaries living in all eighteen provinces of China with more than 300 mission stations, more than 500 local Chinese helpers, and 25,000 Christian converts.

This is a demonstration of how Taylor’s vision to see the inland regions of China reached with gospel was used by God to mobilise many believers into action. In turn, God used the labours of these hundreds of faithful men and women to bring rural and regional Chinese to Himself through the gospel of Jesus.

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Taylor later in his life in Chinese dress

Hudson Taylor’s approach to missions was always bold and often controversial. Many other missionaries and their agencies disagreed with his policies of operating by faith without guaranteed salaries for workers; sending single women into the interior to evangelise and adopting Chinese dress and customs to the greatest extent possible (as summed up in his famous saying “Let us in everything not sinful become like the Chinese, that by all means we may save some”). His headstrong personality could be perceived as either tenacity essential for the role he was carrying out, or overpowering stubbornness – depending on who was giving the assessment. He was without a doubt the strong leader the CIM needed to be effective and grow in the early stages of its existence, but his insistence on some of his personal perspectives was jarring to some of his co-workers who found it difficult to operate under his leadership.

But it can be stated with certainty that whatever his flaws, God used Taylor – directly and indirectly – to bring the gospel to countless Chinese who otherwise may have never had a chance to hear it. One of the mottoes of the Protestant Reformation is Post tenebras lux – “after darkness – light.” Our commitment to the treasures of the gospel recovered from the darkness of perverted medieval Catholicism by Luther, Calvin and others is only as good as our desire to see that same light come to places that have lain in the darkness of paganism for centuries on end.

Taylor is one of history’s greatest models of someone who was not content for that light to remain on show in the comfortable Christian existence of the English parish church, nor even in the European trading settlements along the Chinese coastline. He saw a vast region full of millions of souls lying in undisturbed darkness and he never stopped pushing himself and others to take the light of the gospel deeper and deeper into the unreached country. 150 years on from Taylor and 500 since the Reformation, those with evangelical convictions cannot afford to hide them under a basket when there remains millions around the world that need the gospel clearly presented to them – that they too may have salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Below is a great video overview of OMF International’s history – detailing Hudson Taylor’s founding of the CIM through to the organisation’s activities in the present day.

 

Sources

“James Hudson Taylor” Wikipedia

John Piper, “The Ministry of Hudson Taylor as Life in Christ”

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-ministry-of-hudson-taylor-as-life-in-christ

“Hudson Taylor: Faith Missionary to China”
http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/missionaries/hudson-taylor.html

 

 

Is it (really) OK to vote YES? (Pt. 2)

Is it really OK to vote YES in the government’s same-sex marriage postal survey? Do the motivations some Christians have for ticking YES stack up? And are they good enough to justify a YES when the proposed legal changes could have some drastic consequences for marriage, families and our freedoms of speech, conscience and religion in Australia?

Previously, I looked at one reason Aussies who identify as Christians might be inclined to support the proposed changes to the Marriage Act. My aim in this post is to tackle another…

Motivation #2.

Christians should promote a vision of society where people are free to pursue whatever they understand to be necessary to living “the good life,” without being constrained, compelled or coerced by Christian beliefs about virtue and morality.

While our previous motivation/justification was concerned with the issues of how we understand law and human rights, this one is more about the intersection between theology, philosophy and politics (with our approach to changing or maintaining laws, like the Marriage Act, being determined by these considerations).

Understanding this motivation for voting YES

Christians who adopt the above stance are positively saying that God’s people should seek a society where every citizen has maximal freedom to pursue what they believe to be essential for happiness and human flourishing (the usual proviso being that this pursuit does not cause significant harm to others or infringe their rights to do the same). Freedom to define and practice marriage in accordance with one’s personal convictions falls within this framework.

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This motivation is driven by a commitment to liberty…

Negatively, Christians who hold this position are saying that it is not our role to engage in politics in such a way that restricts our fellow citizens from pursuing their understanding of “the good life,” if our desire to restrict is based on Christian notions of morality, rather than concerns over harm being caused to others.

Some concrete examples of this position

Creek Road Presbyterian Church in Brisbane is intentionally refraining from telling Christians how (or even whether) to vote, but they have suggested the following reasoning a Christian might use to vote YES:

A believer in the Gospel of Jesus might vote yes in the survey because we enjoy the freedom to practice our faith, and uphold our own Christian definition of marriage within the broader community, and we believe it is right to extend that freedom to others. This might keep preserving our freedom, and it does treat others as we would have them treat us.

Lee Herridge, an Australian political libertarian and self-identifying “conservative, evangelical, Protestant” has written in the Spectator Australia that Christians cannot be consistent if we refuse to tolerate same-sex marriage, while tolerating the legality of others things we think are harmful to society.  If we are willing to extend freedom of speech and religion to heresy and non-Christian religions – when these things are harmful to people’s souls – why not accept that our gay and lesbian neighbours are free to have their understanding of marriage legally recognised?

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If we tolerate “false religions” why not other understandings of marriage?[1]

It is important to recognise that both examples I’ve cited equate the freedom of same-sex marriage advocates to change the definition of marriage with religious freedom.

In the first example, the freedom of our gay neighbours (and their “straight allies”) to legally redefine marriage to match their convictions about the goodness of committed, long-term male-male and female-female relationships is the same kind of freedom Christians currently have to define and practice marriage according to the Bible.

In the second example, extending the freedom to gay and lesbian couples to practice “marriage” on their terms is the same kind of freedom as allowing our Muslim and Hindu neighbours to practice “worship” on their terms.

In sum, to adopt this kind of motivation for voting YES, it would seem that it is necessary to understand the freedom to marry according to your convictions as being analogous to the freedom to worship according to your convictions. Christians shouldn’t legally interfere with the former, because we don’t legally interfere with the latter. And because we wouldn’t want someone who disagreed with our understanding of marriage/sexuality or worship to prevent us from practicing our convictions freely, we shouldn’t restrict those who we disagree with.

 

Responding to this motivation

There are a few reasons that I believe this motivation/justification doesn’t really make it OK for Christians to vote YES in the survey.

1. The equation of the right to define marriage according to one’s personal convictions with the right to freely practice one’s religion is dubious. 

Religious freedom allows Australians of all faiths to worship God according to their understanding, freely practice the tenets of their religion (to the extent that it does not harm others, cause public disorder or infringe upon others’ right to religious freedom) and teach/propagate the doctrines they hold to be true. This is a precious freedom in and of itself and those who enjoy it should be wary of anything that might muddy the waters concerning the nature of this fundamental liberty. This would include treating the rights being claimed in the SSM debate as analogous or equivalent to freedom of religion.

Even if we grant that unbiblical sexual practices and understandings of marriage are by-products of idolatry (i.e. they proceed out of absolutising/worshipping something other than God/Jesus), saying YES to the legal recognition of marriage is less like an acknowledgement of the freedom to be idolatrous and more like an acknowledgement of an idol as true.

Christians have the freedom to practice their religion, but not the entitlement to compel others to treat our religion as though it is true. You can’t stop me from proclaiming “Jesus is Lord,” but I can’t force you to acknowledge that he is. A Catholic can call their priest “Father,” but a Protestant isn’t legally obliged to do so.

Nor can we force others to redefine their religious institutions to accommodate our convictions or demands. A Pentecostal church that ordains women as ministers can’t force a Presbyterian church to recognise Pastor Sue as a pastor or elder. And an atheist can’t demand a Muslim recognise a pork sandwich as halal. 

Marriage under Australian law is not about freedom to do whatever you believe with the person you love and leave others to do what they want. It comes with the expectation that all Australians will recognise anyone married under the Marriage Act as validly married. Religious freedom does not (and indeed cannot) compel the citizen who says “Jesus is Lord” to also confess “Muhammed is the Prophet” (or vice versa). But people who believe marriage is a divinely-instituted union between one man and one woman will be expected to acknowledge SSM with declarations that gay and lesbian couples are validly married.

2. Endorsing a change to the legal status of marriage that is incompatible with one’s own biblical beliefs is not necessary for the promotion of maximal freedom of religion/worship.

Some Christian groups (notably Baptists & other Independent/Free church movements) have had a theological commitment to freedom of religion and separation of church and state from the early days of their movement. Western societies adopted this kind of approach as part of a recognition that while most people in their society had a religion – there were significant disagreements over a range of issues. The religious toleration we now take for granted only gained universal acceptance in the West after ugly conflicts and oppression arising from religious intolerance.

While many Christians who believe in the principle of religious freedom are averse to the idea of coercing non-Christians to live like Christians, through legislative measures – it does not follow that one must promote alterations to the law where it reflects what one sincerely believes to be the best for society.

Many, perhaps most, Christians who have been deeply committed to religious freedom in the period since the seventeenth century have not adopted a neutral or indifferent stance to public shifts away from values or institutions that are biblically attested to as good. Seeking to preserve God’s good and gracious gifts to our society is not the same as seeking to impose our morality on an unwilling populace.

As brighter Christian minds than mine have pointed out, all laws are coercive to some degree (the legal consequences for illegal activity compel obedience) and all certainly proceed from and promote a real moral framework (i.e. every law reflects a belief about what is good/bad or right/wrong and commends this understanding to the public). It is not a stretch to see the proposed changes to the Marriage Act as the state declaring that it is wrong to withhold recognition from some gay relationships as “marriages,” because such unions are a recognised public good with full equivalency to that of heterosexual marriages. And it is not unreasonable to anticipate wide-ranging legal penalties for those who disagree with the “goodness” or “rightness” of these “marriages.”

It seems paradoxical for Christians to vote YES in the name of principled non-coercion, when doing so will hand the government and sexual revolutionaries a means to coerce dissenting Christians and non-Christians alike to accept an unbiblical view of marriage and sexuality.

Which brings us to the next point.

3. It is unloving and irresponsible to grant a legal freedom to one group in society that will be feasibly claimed as an inherent right and used to interfere with the genuine rights of others. 

Our previous post established that SSM is not a human right, nor is denying it to people an act of legal discrimination. The key verb in the postal survey is “allow.” In this case “allow” means granting a freedom and legal entitlement to citizens that do not have an inalienable right to what is being granted. Australian law may grant such a freedom/entitlement, but there is no violation of rights if this does not occur.

International evidence strongly suggests that if SSM is granted as a legal entitlement in Australia, it will be used by some members of the political faction lobbying for marriage redefinition to infringe upon actual, fundamental rights belonging to citizens who conscientiously object to the “truth” of SSM. A Christian who votes YES for the sake of extending freedom to their gay neighbours must recognise that they are gambling the rights to freedom of speech and religion of a wide range of other neighbours by taking such action.

Evangelical Christians may be willing to suffer persecution for their fidelity to biblical beliefs about marriage if faced with legal coercion to go against our consciences. But is it really loving our neighbours if we are inviting legal ramifications or violation of conscience upon Australians from outside our religion? Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, members of smaller religious minorities and even people with traditional cultural beliefs about marriage that aren’t terribly religious – will all face potential problems if the law compels them to recognise gay partnerships as marriage, against their beliefs.

4. This approach removes any grounds for Christians to seek to preserve any other aspects of the present, legal definition of marriage in the future. 

If Christians should not oppose marriage being redefined to change the gender requirement of one man and one woman – we have no basis to oppose the abolition of any of the other requirements that determine what a marriage is. By the above reasoning, as long as we can continue to practice marriage according to our own convictions, we should not express opposition to marriage being redefined to include an indefinite number of people or an incestuous union between consenting adults.

If we are to positively “vote in” the freedom of same-sex couples to “marry,” we in effect admit that it is something we should have been advocating for all along. Therefore, Christians should be at the forefront of encouraging those Muslims whose vision of the “good life” includes polygamous marriage to push for their rights in society – even though we don’t agree with their understanding of marriage.

Further, we all know people whose life seems to revolve around a pet or an inanimate possession. Are we so detached from the general, societal definition of marriage that we should hypothetically support the right of Australians who idolise their cat or absolutise their sports car to redefine marriage according to what they regard as the most meaningful “relationship” in their lives?

There are of course real differences between the above examples and same-sex relationships and it may be unlikely that these hypothetical marriage redefinitions ever receive the same kind of public push as SSM. I’m merely seeking to point out that Christians who adopt the above position don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing any such redefinitions.

 

At the time of publication it is unclear to the author as to whether online communications shared on personal blogs fall under the legal purview of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017. Should that prove to be the case, the author acknowledges that this piece attempts to persuade Australians entitled to vote in the survey to do so in a certain manner and that this has been done in good faith without any intention to vilify, intimidate or threaten to cause harm. Should the Act require it, this communication is authorised by Y. Johnston, Brisbane. 

 

[1] Michael Coghlan Adelaide Mosque flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Protestant Profiles #22: David Livingstone

David Livingstone (1813 – 1873)

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Born: Blantyre, Scotland
Role: Missionary to Africa; Explorer; Scientist
Emphases: Reform of Africa through the spread of the gospel and benevolent British trade and colonisation
Protested against: Oppression of Africans through slavery

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” – the question posed by American reporter Henry Morton Stanley upon discovering a long-lost British missionary deep within the African continent – has become a well-known phrase throughout the western world. It encapsulates some of the public fascination, in Britain and America, with the fate of the famous explorer David Livingstone in the mid 19th century.

David Livingstone was a unique figure in the history of Christian missions and of the British Empire. He traveled to Africa with his family as a missionary while still a young man in 1840-41. He made an enormous impact upon the continent and its religious future – but is only connected to one convert directly.

Over time he would turn his efforts to other endeavours, such as inland exploration and scientific expeditions, which he saw as complementary to the advancement of God’s Kingdom in Africa. From 1858 until his death in 1873, he was not a missionary as such, yet he regarded his pursuits as pivotal for opening Africa up to further Christian influence and combating the pernicious exploitation and human trafficking of Africans by Arabic and European merchants.

The early years of his time in Africa were dedicated to mission work on the frontiers – moving progressively inland and away from European settlements. During these years, Livingstone baptised an African chief named Sechele, who despite his questionable personal conversion, went on to have an enormous impact on the religious outlook of his fellow tribesmen. When missionaries came to the area many years after Livingstone had been there, they found the locals practicing a form of Christian worship initiated by the Christianised chief.

Livingstone’s ‘discovery’ of Lake Ngami (a fascinating body of water which is prone to disappearing completely and then reappearing for decades at a time) in 1849 appears to have been a significant event that paved the way for Livingstone to turn to more and more expeditionary activities. His quests to chart and locate water courses and sources served as the central element in his strategy to see Africa gospelised and the inhumane enslavement of Africans gradually eradicated.

His aim of Christian control over the Zambezi River would enable non-slave free enterprise in the inland regions of Africa to severely diminish the profitability of the trade routes used by slave owners and traders. Furthermore Livingstone sought the personal acclamation that would come if he could locate the source of the Nile, which he intended to use as social capital to mobilise the British Empire against the slavers. Thus he became a sort of heroic explorer, not as an end in itself, but with the constant goal of seeing the soul and societies of Africa reformed through the gospel of Jesus and the benevolent actions of the empire.

Livingstone’s lifestyle was very hard on the health and well-being of his family and some have suggested that his minimalising of the harsh realities of life in Africa contributed to an unpreparedness that resulted in the deaths of other missionaries. Like so many frontier missionaries from this period, his determination is admirable (He famously said “I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward”), but his methodology and practice are questionable. Without a certain amount of stubbornness, tenacity and perseverance there is certainly no way he could have functioned in 19th century Africa to the extent that he managed.

Livingstone remains one of the greatest British explorers of the Victorian era and was voted one of the 100 Greatest Britons (in history) in a 2002 BBC survey. He has a wide range of places and institutions named or founded in his honour around the world.

But Livingstone is better remembered by his fellow Protestant Christians as someone who attempted to look at the big picture and strive for the African continent to be transformed by Christianity and its derivative blessings. He was by no means a typical missionary, nor an ordinary explorer, but a man who endured great hardship and suffering while seeking the spiritual, physical and social welfare of the African peoples – whose humanity and dignity he recognised and defended.

 

Sources

T.J. Thompson, “LIVINGSTONE, David” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals

“David Livingstone,” wikipedia.org

Protestant Profiles #21: Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson (1788 – 1850)

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Born: Malden, Massachusetts, USA
Role: Missionary to Burma; Bible Translator; Author
Emphases: non-coercive, indigenised propagation of the gospel; optimistic postmillennial outlook on mission; credobaptism; self-denial

Adoniram Judson’s early twenties saw several incredible changes take place in his life. He experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity at age 20, leaving behind the deism of his late-teenage years for the truth of the gospel. Over the next few years he became active in his family’s church, applied to serve as a missionary in Asia, married his first wife Ann, had a theological shift from Congregationalism to a Baptist position and began his ministry in Burma just before his 25th birthday.

The Judsons were the first Baptist missionaries to set out from America – indeed they were some of the very first American overseas missionaries. Adoniram was also the most significant figure in the early history of Christianity in Burma. Over a number of years he strove to learn Burmese well enough to communicate the gospel effectively and from 1819 he began a preaching and teaching ministry, with a Burmese zayat or meeting place in Rangoon (now Yangon) as his base.

Judson saw his first converts relatively early and during his years in Burma the Christian population went from non-existent to around 8000 believers. He worked hard to ensure that the Scriptures were available in the local languages and that Burmese Christians were trained as gospel workers to effectively reach their own people in subsequent generations.

He suffered greatly as an innocent man caught up in the First Anglo-Burmese war  (1824-26), being subjected to imprisonment and torture under the misapprehension of the Burmese that he was a foreign spy.

Piper describes his mistreatment in his biography of Judson:

His feet were fettered and at night a long horizontal bamboo pole was lowered and passed between the fettered legs and hoisted up till only the shoulder and heads of the prisoners rested on the ground.

He lost his first wife to illness a few months after his release and his young daughter also succumbed to illness six months later. This led to a period of great personal isolation, grief and spiritual depression. Though this looked like it could have easily been the end for the overwhelmed missionary, God had other plans. Judson experienced a resurgence in the early 1830s and gradually saw more fruit from the gospel work.

Judson would not marry again for another seven years, but he wed a fellow missionary, Sarah Boardman in 1834. They would be married for just over a decade before she too succumbed to illness. The loss of his two wives and seven of his thirteen children are a testimony to the extreme hardship of missionary life in 19th century Burma.

He met and married his third wife, Emily, while in the United States following the voyage upon which Sarah had died. They returned to Burma in 1846, where Judson would have just four more years of ministry before his own death at 61.

Adoniram Judson’s impact on Christianity among the Burmese and Karen people has endured for the many years since his death. Piper again:

[T]oday there are close to about 3,700 congregations of Baptists in Myanmar who trace their origin to this man’s labors of love.

His ongoing significance is also felt in the development of American Christianity – with the Baptist churches who joined together to support the Judsons effectively constituting the first national Baptist denomination in North America. “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions” was pivotal in mobilising American Baptists for global missions and the largest denomination in the US today, the Southern Baptist Convention, is an offshoot of this original convention.

Judson is another wonderful example of a man whose life was radically transformed by the gospel and who took great pains to ensure that the Word of God was made available to those who lacked access to it – that they might receive life in Christ through its testimony. His life will no doubt continue to inspire many to follow his footsteps in taking the good news of Jesus to the unreached parts of the world.

You can read John Piper’s account of Judson’s life here.

Other sources consulted

K.P. Mobley, “JUDSON, Adoniram” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“Adoniram Judson” wikipedia.

For Goodness’ Sake, Vote NO

Recently I posted my thoughts on why a postal plebiscite may be the best way to resolve the same-sex “marriage” issue politically. Now it seems we’re having one (barring the government’s proposal being struck down by the High Court of Australia). But I’m worried that there will be a number of Australians who understand marriage to be an exclusive, lifelong, legal, social, sexual and domestic union between one man and one woman – but fail to express their convictions by voting NO in the upcoming plebiscite.

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One of my points in favour of holding a postal plebiscite in the current political climate was: “A postal plebiscite will see the side that can best mobilise people to vote for their convictions win.” And so I feel a burden and responsibility to encourage people who believe in marriage (as presently defined) to participate in this process, in order to achieve what is now the best chance we have at preserving the proper definition of marriage in this country.

A while back, I would have taken it as a given that almost all of my Christian friends would vote NO in a public vote like the one we’re anticipating will be held over the next few months. But I’ve realised recently that the mood amongst Christians in Australia has shifted a bit, not only in terms of how we think through relating to those who identify themselves according to their sexuality (LGBTI&c), but how we respond to their totemic issues (including “marriage equality”).

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will decline to participate in the plebiscite out of fear they will have to give an answer to their gay, lesbian and pro-SSM friends, colleagues and family members – and that confessing that they voted NO will be an alienating element in those relationships.

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will take their cues on this issue from online pieces by Christian leaders advocating non-participation in the plebiscite – as the balanced approach after taking all things into consideration – such as this recent post by one of Queensland’s most prominent Christian bloggers.

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will decline to vote because they can’t be bothered participating in the potential resolution of such a vexed and drawn-out social issue. And I’m even concerned that some will vote YES because they don’t want to be guilty of any kind of discrimination or oppression against sexual minorities and see the plebiscite as a matter relating to fundamental human rights.

I’m not out to coerce or intimidate anyone into voting or voting a certain way – but I do think it’s really important that as many people as possible vote NO, so I am out to persuade you to a particular course of action. To that end, I want to do my best to tackle some of objections and alternatives to voting NO, while encouraging anyone who’ll listen to vote NO for the best possible reasons, without unnecessary fear or guilt about doing so.

REASONS TO VOTE NO

For this initial post, I hope to briefly outline reasons I believe Christians in Australia should actively reject any proposed changes to the Marriage Act, by using the postal plebiscite to express their objections to the redefinition of marriage. My aim will be to write further on some of these points, as time permits, in the coming days and weeks. I’d also like to address genuine concerns people might have about the plebiscite and the consequences of voting NO, in the hope of removing barriers to them taking what I strongly believe is the best course of action in this situation.

1. The Christian voice can be legitimately expressed on social and moral issues in a pluralistic democracy

There is nothing inherently wrong with Christians (or indeed others) participating in a pluralistic democracy by expressing their deep convictions about the goodness of marriage. In fact such involvement can be very good! This includes voting to reject proposals for legal changes to the Marriage Act when we are unconvinced of their capacity to promote the common good in our society.

2. The language of the Marriage Act represents a true understanding of marriage.

The definition of marriage that currently exists in the Marriage Act appropriately describes what marriage is in reality and should not be altered to make marriage mean something other than what it is. Redefining marriage is endorsing a lie about the fundamental distinctions between heterosexual marriages and committed, long-term same-sex relationships.

3. Only the present definition of marriage has close to unanimous, voluntary recognition in the Australian population. 

The establishment of an exclusive, legally-contracted, social, sexual and domestic union between a (consenting and biologically unrelated) single adult male and a single adult female is socially and philosophically recognised by almost all Australians as a marriage.

The same cannot be said of relationships that do not meet the above criteria, which creates problems as to why recognition of a widely unaccepted definition should ever be legally enforceable. Voting NO is about rejecting forced recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages, by people who sincerely believe they’re not marriages.

4. To vote NO is to reject bad legislation that could forseeably lead to encroachments upon fundamental civil liberties and human rights.

It is entirely feasible that forced recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages will lead to the Marriage Act and anti-Discrimination laws being weaponised against people who sincerely hold a different belief about marriage. It has been noted that there are completely insufficient protections for religious freedom and freedom of conscience to protect Australian citizens under current legal arrangements, should the definition of marriage change and politicians appear negligent in addressing these issues.

5. Invented rights should not be allowed to trump fundamental ones.

The right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of speech are genuine, fundamental human rights and it is dangerous for any government to impinge upon them. The right to legally compel your fellow citizen to recognise your relationship as a marriage against their conscience or will is an invented right which is dangerous to the free exercise of the aforementioned genuine, fundamental rights.

To Vote NO is to assert that contrived rights relating to sexuality are not equally or more important than internationally recognised rights to freely practice religion and express personal convictions. It’s important that everyone’s most basic rights are protected before invented ones are enshrined.

6. Christians fundamentally disagree with SSM-proponents about the capacity for homosexual activity and relationships to bring good and happiness to those who pursue these things.

From a Christian perspective, homosexual activity itself contributes nothing positive to anyone in Australian society – including for those who embrace it as a core part of their identity and lifestyle.

This is not the same as saying that people who identify as homosexual contribute nothing positive to society or to the lives of their friends and relatives, or even the children they may have in their care – that would be grotesquely untrue. But proponents of SSM and Christians fundamentally disagree over whether homosexual activity is itself positive and fulfilling or negative and destructive – and this leads to diametrically opposed ideas of its relationship to human flourishing (see Romans 1:24-27).

Christians should take an absolute stance against the promotion of homosexuality. From a biblical perspective acting out on same-sex attraction is not a matter of pride or something to be celebrated.
But I’d suggest it is also important to resist pushes to further normalise it as a positive lifestyle or conflate gay relationships with the concept of heterosexual marriage.

Voting NO in a plebiscite is saying no to the further normalisation of something we sincerely believe brings no good, in and of itself, to any affected parties.

7. There are genuine concerns about the impact that enshrining SSM in law will have upon future generations of Australians 

The more entrenched in law the supposed goodness of same-sex relationships and their equivalence to heterosexual ones (especially marriage) becomes, the more pressure there will be on institutions (especially government ones) to promote a certain understanding of sexuality.

We don’t believe its beneficial to children for them to be indoctrinated from a young age by systematic untruths about human sexuality (as they are being through government education systems already in some parts of the country).

And irrespective of whether the laws of some states already allow for homosexual couples to adopt children or undergo surrogacy processes – we have grave concerns about the impact upon children if our society continues to move in a direction that says we no longer recognise the importance of a child being brought up by a mother and father wherever possible (and most preferably their own biological parents).

8. Loving our neighbours means seeking what we honestly believe to be good – for everyone involved.

Following points 6 & 7 directly above, I believe that voting NO in the plebiscite is a means of loving our neighbour through political engagement. Some may be motivated to vote against same-sex marriage by hatred for gay and lesbian people. I’m advocating the opposite.

Voting NO says, “I sincerely don’t believe that affirming your relationship as the equivalent of a heterosexual marriage is something I can do if I’m truly seeking your good as a person. I don’t want to come across as arrogant or paternalistic, but I believe God has shown us what is best for human sexuality and relationships and that anything other than sexual fidelity between a man and woman in an exclusive, lifelong relationship is not conducive to happiness. And I believe the law should reflect the special role of committed, heterosexual marriages as the overall, best environment to produce and raise the next generation of Australian children.”

You’re free to disagree and keep pushing for recognition if you wish, but I express my NO out of sincerity and love.”

8. In conclusion, voting NO in the plebiscite is an important means for Christians to express their sincere beliefs about the goodness of divinely-ordained marriage and sexuality for the benefit of Australian society. 

Australia isn’t a Christian nation. And so, if we were promoting a certain ideal of marriage under the reasoning that it was the way Christians should behave in a Christian society – our approach would be flawed. But Australia is a society in which the culture, traditional values, social institutions and legal system have all been significantly impacted by Christian ideas and in which Christians continue to have a legitimate role in the democratic process.

Voting NO in this plebiscite is not about attempting to initiate a Christian Raj over an unwilling, non-Christian populace. It isn’t about requiring non-Christians to obey Christian moral teaching. It isn’t about coercing political opponents to bow down before us against their will, nor is it about denying human rights to a small sector of the population and promoting ongoing discrimination against them.

Voting NO is part of promoting goodness in Australian society: seeking what we believe is best for the nation as a whole – even when it proves unpopular. It is entirely consistent with the biblical concept of seeking the welfare of the city (Jer 29:7) and with the political ideal of a commonwealth – where law and governance reflects the common, public good to the greatest extent possible.

And many Christians have come to the conclusion that it’s in the greatest interest of society as a whole for marriage to remain defined as it currently stands in Australia.

So I urge, and will continue to urge my friends to vote NO – for goodness’ sake.

I have written a postscript dealing with the 10 points listed by Nathan Campbell as his justification for abstaining from the postal plebiscite, but decided to post it separately to this piece. You can find it at this link.  

[1] duncan c No (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr. 

Protestant Profiles #20: William Carey

William Carey (1761–1834)

William_Carey

Born: Paulerspery, Northamptonshire, England
Role: “Father of Modern Missions,” Bible translator, educator, social reformer, founder of Baptist Missionary Society, author
Emphases: The urgency of mission to unreached people of the world; translation of the Bible into local languages; role of God’s Spirit in missions
Protested against: Anti-missionary Hypercalvinism; barbaric Indian customs;

While other Protestant groups – such as the Moravians – deserve credit for their earlier involvement in pioneering world missions, William Carey’s life and ministry in many ways represent a turning point in the history of missions in English Christianity and Baptist churches in particular (pun intended).

Following his marriage just shy of his 20th birthday, the third decade of Carey’s life was full of eventful developments. In his early twenties he became a Baptist, receiving believer’s baptism in 1783. A couple of years later he was pastoring a Baptist church and at around 30 he was ordained as a minister of this movement of churches.

Somewhere during this time he also became interested in the plight of unevangelised peoples around the world. He steadily became more and more convinced of the urgent need for European Christians and well-established churches to bring the gospel to regions that lacked the saving news of Jesus. He was moved to compose his famous pamphlet An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, published in 1792, to urge his fellow Christians to take the appropriate actions in response to the gospel needs around the world.

The lore around Carey suggests he faced strong opposition from Baptists of a more ‘high’ or ‘hyper’ Calvinist bent when making these initial appeals in favour of world mission. A well-respected Particular Baptist minister is reported to have told Carey a few years earlier at a minister’s meeting:
“”Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”

Despite this attitude, Carey pressed on with his convictions and eventually won over many prominent Baptists for the cause of world missions, including the man who is accused of making the above remark. The “Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen” was founded by Carey and others a few months after the publication of his Enquiry. It later became the Baptist Missionary Society and continues to work around the world to this day.

Around a year later, Carey himself went to India with a view to sharing the gospel to the unevangelised peoples of that region. He needed to find ways to be financially self-supporting, while mastering the local languages and beginning to evangelise and translate the Bible. He lived and ministered in a colonial settlement named Serampore, which was under the control of the Danish government. More than three decades of ministry in Serampore (without ever returning to England) saw far less converts than Carey had hoped for (around 700 Indians, but about the same number again of mixed race or European converts), but he had managed to translate the Bible into six Indian languages (and made partial translations into nearly thirty more local languages).

Carey’s time in India made a number of positive contributions to Indian society – encouraging a blossoming of Bengali literature; establishing educational institutions and using his influence with the British East India Company to push for the outlawing of child sacrifices and sati (the Hindu practice of burning widows alive with their husband’s corpse on a funeral pyre).

He experienced a great deal of personal suffering during this period too. He lost two wives and several children in India and at one point lost a considerable amount of his literary work due to a fire accident. He also had to struggle with the slowness of the evangelistic work and conflict he experienced with the missionary society back in England.

Carey died in Serampore in 1834, aged 72. His contribution to world missions and to Christianity in India was enormous and his motto “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God” has been an inspiration to many to follow his example of faith. His heart to reach the unreached with the gospel of Jesus was a natural outworking of the principles of the Reformation.

The Methodists and revivalists we have looked at over the last month emphasised the need for widespread evangelism – Carey and the other 19th century missionaries we’ll look at in coming weeks understood the need to go beyond evangelising their immediate neighbours and countrymen.

Some have questioned the impact of Carey’s ministry choices on his family life (see for instance), a subject that often arises when considering the lives of missionaries from this period. There is no profitability in attempting to remove the warts from the portraits of our Christian heroes and the men and women heading into such uncharted territory were bound to make mistakes (including some serious ones). But as we grapple with the enormous challenge of world evangelisation and international church planting that lies before the 21st century church, a life such as Carey provides us with a great opportunity to both learn from his example and evaluate his approach in light of Scripture and the lessons learned from subsequent missions history.

While we must carefully consider a range of factors when it comes to the impact of our ministry decisions, at the end of the day, we need more daring evangelicals who are willing to “expect great things from God and attempt great things from God” like William Carey, rather than less.

You can read his “Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens” here.

Sources:

“William Carey” wikipedia

B. Stanley, “CAREY, William” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.