Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 1

This is the first post in a week-long series on Christian voting and the NSW election. Given that you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re one of two types of people:

Person A is the Christian political apatharge (to coin a term). But the week before an election their conscience is pricked and they realise they’ve been like a day-dreaming kid in class. So they dive for Google to get easily digestible information in order to sate their pricked conscience, vote in a way someone else told them to, and then go back to watching Biggest Loser.

Person B is a Christian political Kerry O’Brien – across the Australian political landscape and able to quote obscure legislation like a modern-day Rainman. But more than this – they’re familiar with all the dominant schools of thought on Church-State relations; they’ve decided that Augustine and Aquinas, Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas are all morons; they’ve determined their own path forward on political-theological-ethical engagement and they’re here just to ‘check up’ on me.

In these posts, I’m mainly going to be writing for the A types (sorry Kerry). B’ers are most welcome but I’m not going to be pitching things to you. Of course I should note before I continue you might be in a C or D category – not Christians but interested in or apathetic to politics. Welcome – I hope you too find some interesting food for thought and that I can help to debunk some of the hideous stereotypes surrounding Christians in the political sphere.

But while we’re on the topic of Christians working in the realm of politics I want to dedicate my entire first post to just that topic. What we’re going to look at is a tale of two political organisations – the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and the Australian Christian Values Institute (ACVI). I’ve written elsewhere about these two in the national arena but I want to write again about their foray into state politics.

These two organisations have taken two different approaches to educating the public about what the political parties think and believe. The ACL has released the website NSW Votes, where they surveyed a number of the parties standing for the NSW election and asked them to give short answers to 22 questions. The website is clear – easy to navigate and, above all, the parties are the ones answering the questions. I’ll return to the content of the questions later.

The ACVI on the other hand has, once again, released a Christian Values Checklist, a tick-a-box how-to-vote sheet with 21 questions.

I want to illustrate the problems with using the checklist method of explaining complex ideas by running my own checklist. In it I’m going to compare the survey styles of the ACL and the ACVI.

Now as you can see, I’ve asked questions here that, in general, favour the ACL’s survey over the ACVI. But there are obvious problems with my survey:

  • It doesn’t demonstrate that a positive answer is more “Christian” than a negative.
  • It switches between questions framed in the negative or the affirmative.
  • It doesn’t recognise that “support” has a wide definitional range and so telling us that the survey uses the word is pretty useless.
  • It ultimately doesn’t give the surveyed organisations a chance to answer for themselves.

Here we find the major flaws in the ACVI checklist. It reduces Christianity down to a set of “values” (by which I think it means things that make us grumpy). The questions are framed in a way that favours parties that sit on the right-of-centre. It seems to suggest that all parties “[s]upport greater care of God’s environment” without acknowledging the massive rifts between them on how we actually pull that off. And of course, it relies on source material that may not reflect a party’s current stance on issues.

Aside from anything else, there are clear errors on the ACVI checklist. The Liberal party has publicly announced they have no intention of repealing the school ethics legislation – for example.

Now in saying this, I don’t mean to convey that the ACL website is perfect and should be the source of all your information about what to do next Saturday. This site, doesn’t have a single question about the environment, adoption law and the Community Services department or the provision of public education. I think these are massive blind-spots on topics that all spring from our doctrinal convictions (our creation mandate, our theology of adoption and our commitment to the understood Word). It’s these topics that I’ll be addressing this week, along with a few other things you need to know about how to vote in a state election.

I’m looking forward to your comments, if there’s anything you want clarification on or anything that you desperately want me to cover before Saturday, let me know.

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Heckles at NTE

I’m writing this post on the slimmest of chances that it gets to its intended reader.

I’ve recently arrived home from the recent National Training Event run by the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES). I have nothing but unreserved praise for the conference (it was my 9th and I don’t think I’m alone in saying it was the best ever – and not just because Don Carson was speaking). It was really great to celebrate what God is doing among the 1500 students who were all there.

One thing that did annoy me though was at the end of one of the evening sessions we finished with Amazing Grace (the new, hip Chris Tomlin arrangement).

Chris Tomlin’s version finishes with the verse:

The Earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God who called me here below
Shall be forever mine.

But just as we had finished singing this verse someone sitting near me decided to shout out a heckle! They called out “One more verse, the gospel is for eternity”. The mood of the room turned and people shuffled out annoyed. What I gather (this person made a similar heckle last year when they shouted out “one more verse”) that they are disappointed that the Chris Tomlin arrangement doesn’t include the verse referring to being there for ten thousand years. Two points:

– The verse that they were concerned wasn’t being sung isn’t original to the song. I own a copy of Olney Hymns, which is a collection of the three hymnbooks penned by Newton and Cowper. In the Amazing Grace entry, it contains 6 verses (one of which I had never heard of) but none of them were the verse being heckled about.

– Putting historical gripes and humanist demands for ad fontes aside – the last two lines of the actual last verse do communicate the eternal nature of our relationship with God.

It was a pretty disappointing display by this heckler. It was disappointing that he was willing to make his personal preference the focus of the night. The talk, the video, the performance, the music were all meant to be drawing our attention to the task of gospel proclamation. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m struggling to remember a single line of Don’s talk that night but I can sure remember the heckle! I imagine I’m not alone.

It was disappointing because he knew that his protest wouldn’t actually achieve anything (the tech guys can’t just whip up a new verse and the musicians just play it).

But mostly I’m disappointed because if indeed the heckler feels any remorse over his actions he can’t possibly apologise to the 1499 people he annoyed.

Were you there? What did you think?

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The unexpected outcome of a little boycott

First ever post by Anna on the Boxpop!

Yesterday, Steve wandered down to the overpriced Franklins on King St and bought a new deodorant.

Whoop-de-do, I hear you say.  Well, let me tell you that this, as it turns out, is a big deal.  All day yesterday I felt like there was a different man in our house.  It’s not that Steve’s old deodorant was anything that amazing, but it was just what he wore.  What he’s worn for longer than I’ve known him and longer than we’ve been married (which is nearly six years).

You see, it wasn’t that the old can ran out and Steve just didn’t get the normal one to replace it.  Steve’s old deodorant was made by Rexona (try reading that and not saying “it won’t let you down” in your head), which is owned by Unilever.

Unilever own heaps of companies, one of them being Lynx.  You may have noticed that for many years Lynx has employed a particularly feral style of advertising relating to women, and have consistently refused to change their ways.  With the recent launch of their campaign for the Lynx Lodge, we thought it was high time that we took our enviable Austudy income and undertake a boycott of Unilver products.  They own a lot of companies; Lipton, Dove, Bertolli, Sunsilk, Vaseline, Pond’s, TIGI, OMO, Surf, and Domestos to name a few.

Suffice to say, this little change is weirding me out.  Steve just smells different.  As it turns out this is one boycott that will take some getting used to.  I think I’ll have to accompany him next time he goes deodorant shopping.

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A win against Unilever

Another small victory I thought I’d share. I recently wrote the the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore about a Lynx promotion staged at Martin Place. I won’t go into the details of the Lynx promotion, but suffice to say that if I worked in an office on Martin Place, went down to the street, took a photo of what was happening and then set that photo as my computer wall paper, I would be in serious danger of a sexual harassment case. We don’t put up with the sexualisation of women in the workplace so why should we put up with it on the walkway?

So here’s the email I sent (it took me 5 minutes) and below is a link to her office’s response.

Hi Clover

My name is Steve Boxwell, I’m a student living in Newtown.

I’m writing to you about the recent Lynx “pop up spa” campaign staged in Martin Place. I’m growing increasingly concerned that women are being objectified in our society. If you didn’t catch the recent opinion piece about this on the ABC you can find it here.

I’d like to know what you as Lord Mayor of Sydney plan to do to curb this kind of blatant sexualisation of women for advertising.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Steve Boxwell
9 Little Queen St Newtown.

Her office’s response is here.

– the good news is that Sydney Council is going probably going to be a bit more vigilant in how it allows companies to use public space.

– the bad news is that the action taken was to write to the Australian Association of National Advertisers. These guys are the Advertising industry’s self-regulation unit. The trouble with self-regulation is that it’s akin to asking a puppy not to eat the cupcake on the plate in front of them and then walking out of the room – it’s unlikely to work.

So, consider writing to the Australian Association of National Advertisers here to ask them to extend the guidelines to cover outdoor promotions.

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Wheeling out the bioethicists.

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like every now and again we have a huge flurry of discussion about bioethics in the news and then it dies down again. I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff going on everyday that remains unreported, but it’s incredible that when issues of life and death enter the public discourse, there’s something about us that makes us want to go further than discussing individual issues (e.g. Abortion, Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem-Cell Research) in connection.

I have a feeling it’s because there’s more going on in these discussions than the case studies – what we see in the media every six months or so is a few skirmishes that add up to a war of world-views. Bioethicists (or in their absence people in white coats who speak about ethical issues) are wheeled out, given a guernsey on the opinion pages, the news blogs, the chat programmes. They have a swing, score a few against the other team and are wheeled away again until the next tide of news coverage is due to come.

While there are a plethora of opinions, the Australian media is generally a lazy beast. Two monolithic world-views are given predominance – the consequentialists and the Christian theists.

 

Have a read of these articles (and the comments that follow) and as you’re reading, ask yourself who the authors are portraying the goodies and who are the baddies?

Euthanasia 1 & 2

Abortion 1 & 2

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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Community Service Announcement 2 for 2010

Hi all

It’s been a while between community service announcements so I thought I’d show you something I’ve been getting into recently. Fake 8-bit video games. I whiled away many an hour playing these sorts of games when I was younger and so it’s been fun to see crafty animators having fun with the genre.

I’d like to draw 2 to your attention, the first is an 8-bit videogame of Jos Weadon’s “Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long blog”. It’s in several parts but here’s the first installment.

The second is for all you Twilight fans (or whatever the opposite of fan is). It’s a Twilight 8-bit game but in Choose-your-own-adventure form.

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Godspell

Phew, well I’ve taken a short Sabbatical while the country got itself in order (I mainly just didn’t blog about the Australian election because I, like every other commentator had no idea what was going to happen!). But now for something completely different

Last night Anna and I went on a date to go see the St. Stephens Newtown production of Godspell. It was a great night out and if you’re in Sydney you should definitely get tickets as there’s only four more shows and the pre-booked tickets are way better than the at-the-door ones.

Here’s what I loved about it:

– It was great fun. The costumes, the energy of the cast, the band, it all added up to a really great night out. To put what I’m saying in context I should note that I hate musicals and I still had a good time. I mean I haven’t seen the Sound of Music or Grease and I STILL had a good time. Kudos to Megan Hanger for having her hair in a beehive (what were they thinking in the 60s ad 70s?) and to Andrew Ford (playing Jesus) who donned an army crew cut.

– I loved the first Act in particular. I loved the “tower of Babble” prologue. For those of you who haven’t seen Godspell before, the prologue begins with the philosophies of various philosophers (I couldn’t pick all of them but I did recognise Socrates, Jean-Paul Satre, Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps Thomas Aquinas) in song, first individually and then in a cacophony. This is sliced through with the piercing clarity of the declaration that God was entering the world. Beautiful, powerful. I also loved that it was packed with Jesus teaching and when you are confronted with it in it’s shocking simplicity you can’t help but be drawn to it. 

Here’s what I found… interesting… about the script

Now I don’t want to seem like a nitpicker but there was one little thing that bugged me. There was only a muted sense that Jesus death achieved anything. It was hard to understand exactly why Jesus had to die. The Bible doesn’t leave us in the dark about this one. Sure, Jesus in part died because his teaching and miracles got up the nose of the establishment. But mostly he died to restore relationship shattered by the sin of humanity.

How does a person’s death restore relationship? Well to understand that you have to understand the nature of what broke our relationship with God in the first place. Sin in the Bible is not just a litigious issue, it’s also deeply relational. We tell God, the giver of life, that we want to be cut off from him and so God gives us what we ask for. But God isn’t satisfied with this being our end. He deals with our guilt on the cross (kinda but not exactly like this). With his anger and our guilt dealt with on the cross we can now have right relationship with God again. This is part of what the cross achieved. But the script doesn’t give this sense as strongly as it could have.

Having said that though, this is really a minor hang up (there’s only so much you can say in a musical). All in all though I thought it was excellent, I’ve got a nasty case of the covets (I don’t think that my church couldn’t pull it off) and I’m thrilled to see the old Godspell script dusted off. Beehives and all.

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