Monday, 18 May 2009

The danger of public theology

There's lots of talk about Public Theology. But it gets a whole lot harder when you actually have to do it in public. This morning Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby was on Sunrise with "Mel and Kochie" talking about gay marriage. On the other side were Peter Furness from Australian Marriage Equality and his long term partner Theo Phillip. You can watch the video here.

Jim began with the argument that this could be extended to allow someone to marry their cat. That seemed like bad move. First of all it is a reductio ad absurdum, and that is usually a weak argument. More importantly it sounded as if he was saying that homosexuality was equivalent to beastiality: and that didn't seem a great opening line! His next argument was that the gay lobby was trying to make the lifestyle of 1.2% of the population to be 'normative'. I don't think this worked, since they are not trying to make gay marriage 'normative' but allowable. Finally he argued that heterosexual marriages are more stable and therefore better for children (I think that was the argument it got a bit messy at this point). That was a complicated argument to run on breakfast TV, and Kochie thought he was saying that homosexual couples would abuse children (or least that's what he said he thought Jim was saying, which raised the temperature of the debate nicely!)

So Jim's argument seemed thin. Not suprisingly so since he had to argue about consequences, when the real difference between the two views is a view of what is according to nature, and what role nature (i.e. created order) has in deciding how we should act. Jim raised that issue slightly, talking about what was "natural", but the argument was not clear.

Jim's best argument was that our society regularly restricts the rights of some people (e.g. smokers). But that doesn't explain to people why the right to marry should be restricted to heterosexual couples.

The interchange showed how hard it is for Christians to make positive arguments in the public square. That doesn't mean we shouldn't work at it. I don't know what I would have said if I was in Jim's role. I know that I don't want Australia to have legal gay marriages and I know why I don't want that. The reasons don't make sense apart from my Christian commitments. Conclusion - more worked needed on this issue from ACL and any other Christians who want to try the argument in the media.

There is a blog on the Chanel Seven site with lots of comments.


Michael F. Bird said...

I first met Jim Wallace when he was a Brigadier in the Army and he visited our office in Townsville on an inspection. Interesting guy! But I agree, he could have handled this better.

John McClean said...

I agree. I think Jim and ACL are pretty impressive and are doing a good job in a very tough environment. Taking on gay marriage on breakfast TV is a tough call. My post was not meant to have a go at him, but to say how tough it is.

Dave said...

Interesting post John! I struggle in this area because I do not see any reason why a person without my religious beliefs would adopt my views on the matter. For me to jump up and down shows me to be controlling and judgemental. I do wonder though if these issues become a distraction. This is not to say that homosexuality is ok or not an 'issue', but it just seems that developing relationships with homosexuals and becoming their friends without judging them will be a more effective way of touching the hearts of homosexuals than breakfast tv. One thing Jim had to overcome in doing what he agreed to do was the prejudice against the 'church' that has come about through the church appearing (and often being) judgemental in the past. Jim was running the risk of simply cementing these pre-conceived ideas. Perhaps I have over simplified it?

John McClean said...

Dave, you point out a further challenge. Even when we do articulate the Christian opposition to gay marriage in a way that makes sense to secular Australia, we still will likely distance our homosexual neighbours. Yet I wouldn't want Christians to say nothing on the issue.

A further problem is that we can look like single issue party (or two issues abortion and homosexuality). ACL tries not to do that, but it is hard to avoid.