10 August 2017

Hey Christians, Watch Out for the Plebiscite

So the plebiscite is coming. It’s not the one we were told we’d be having (then told we were not having) but it is still a chance for us to make our opinion on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised known. Now that it has been decided that it’s happening, lobby groups and people with opinions all over the country are gearing up for a fight. For those of us who are Christians, how we engage with this is important; we can either help the cause of Jesus or hinder it. So here are four ideas for Christians about how we can do this plebiscite well.

Don’t say horrible things about other humans

No matter where you stand, there’s a very good chance that all of us are going to be tempted to say mean things about other people – whether they identify as LGBTQI, as a conservative Christian, a progressive Christian, a politician, a combination of these, or something else entirely. Facebook is already full of people debating the value, or lack thereof, of this plebiscite. All the people you interact with, and speak about, whether in broad generalisations or in very specific terms, are made in the image of God, they are loved by him, and Jesus died for them. Treat them for who they are. They are God’s and he will take your treatment of them personally.

Particularly watch how you speak about people from the LGBTQI community, especially if, like me, you’re a Christian who is not from this community yourself and therefore may not know what you’re talking about and probably cannot speak on their behalf. You may say something deeply hurtful out of ignorance more than malice, but whatever your motives or intentions, you are still responsible for your words. Be careful. How should you be careful? I’ll show you a most excellent way…

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry

In case you’re wondering, that’s a quote from James 1:19. What if our first response to someone who disagrees with us either online or IRL was “Tell me more”, “I don’t know enough about this, help me understand”, or “Thank you, I hadn’t thought of things that way.” Chances are whatever you want to say has already been said, so you probably don’t need to say it again, they’ve heard it before. But what if you were known as someone who listened, someone who was thoughtful, and someone who was not easily baited. That’s probably better than being known as someone who thinks they’re right, and tells everyone else why they’re right, and how everyone can be right like them.

If you’re going to vote, don’t be proud of how you are going to vote

You may be tempted to be proud of how progressive and accepting you are because you are choosing to vote for same-sex marriage. You may be tempted to be pleased with yourself for standing firm in the face of negative public opinion because you will choose to vote against same-sex marriage. But there is no place for pride in the life of a Christian. Your value is not found in your moral values or your political or social opinion. You are no better or worse a person in the eyes of God because you vote “Yes” or “No”. Boast only in Christ, approach everything else with the humility of someone who knows your righteousness is not found in your actions but in his.

If it won’t help the Gospel, stop

My biggest concern with any discussion about this plebiscite is that we get distracted by things that are less important than the gospel [...]


20 July 2017

A right to speak? On ‘standing’ and public debate

Flinders Street, Melbourne, February 2017, The Australian

Flinders Street, Melbourne, February 2017, The Australian

This year I have been organising around proposed changes to City of Melbourne by-laws that, if passed, would ban rough sleeping. I am horrified by this possibility. However, my activity has caused me to think hard about my right to use my voice on this issue – especially since I have never experienced homelessness before.

There is a legal principle known as ‘standing’, that I think is useful there. ‘Standing’ is essentially the right to commence legal proceedings. Basically, if you want to take someone to court, you have to have something to lose. The issue arises most often in administrative law (that is, the laws that govern the activities of government agencies). For example, if someone seeking asylum wants to challenge a decision made about their right to stay in the country, their standing is generally fairly apparent since they will be materially affected by the decision. If a public interest group wanted to challenge the issue, however, they would likely have more trouble establishing they have a private right or a special interest to be protected, and probably would not be granted standing.

I am currently thinking about what it means to extrapolate this legal principle of standing from the world of law to the realm of public debate. What if I publically assert my opinion as to what is right and wrong only when I am able to show that I am affected by the issue at stake? Otherwise, if I weigh in on a debate on some topic that doesn’t actually impact me, it raises important questions as to what my motives might be. They may, in fact, not actually be aligned with the interests of those who are actually or most affected.

The way the law of standing is played out in the courts is strict and individualistic, and I don’t mean to say that we should adopt the same tough tests when it comes to giving people a voice in public debate. After all, the court room and the public stage are two different spaces. But I do think the concept of thinking carefully about who has a right to contribute their voice – and who does not – is a useful one.

It is imperative that struggles for positive social change are led by those who are most oppressed by the system being challenged. It is these people who understand most intimately the nature of the oppression, and can articulate an alternative that does not simply perpetuate more injustice. People seeking asylum should lead debates about justice for asylum seekers. The voices of people with lived experience of homelessness should be centre stage as our community grapples with how to engage with homelessness. These groups have the most direct ‘standing’ in the issue at hand, because they really do have something to lose or gain, based on the outcome of the public debate.

“Nothing about us without us” pretty much sums this up: a slogan taken up powerfully by the disability rights movement, who refused the patronising voices of others speaking on their behalf. What they did instead was turn up the volume on their own voices. It is their voices, after all, that are most relevant and insightful when it comes to disability rights.

As for those of us less affected, but concerned nonetheless? We need to think carefully about how issues we care about affect us personally. That way, if we choose to be allies to others who are more directly impacted, we do so in genuine, fully-embodied solidarity, not intellectual paternalism. And then we move over to make sure the right people are taking up the air time.

As Murri artist, activist and academic Lilla Watson challenges us:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time [...]


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