Last Monday, as part of Australia’s national election campaign, our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd went on a popular television forum, Q&A. When asked about same-sex marriage, Rudd dismissed the question by accusing the Bible of being pro-slavery as well.
Christians were deeply offended by that ridiculous accusation, and several excellent refutations have already been written elsewhere.i But what concerns me more is the Q&A audience’s response to Rudd’s accusation: passionate applause. That applause was part of a growing trend among those representing the atheist-left in Australian media, as well as elsewhere in the Western world. I think the wider atheist-left can be concerned about their “representatives” acting that way. I’d consider myself both a rather conservative Christian and pretty left-wing, and so I want to suggest both Christians, and my atheist-left friends, need to remember one thing: here, Christians are a minority.
First, this has implications for Christians. We are not the majority here, and thus cannot expect everyone to live by our values. Homosexuality is actually a good example. As I have frequently stated, I think the key Biblical text on this issue is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which includes these words: “9 Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” But that is only relevant to those who want to inherit the Kingdom of the Christian God. For those who don’t want to, we must respect their choice. For those of us who are Biblical Christians, my view is we have to at least wrestle with any unbiblical urges we may have, including the ones that seem fun, socially acceptable, or that “just feel right”. I wrestle with plenty. All of us do. That’s costly discipleship.
But it’s impossible and unfair to expect the wider society to live by those parameters – even if we think that God’s Kingdom has universal implications, or that it might be helpful for them to know about it, or they might appreciate a facet of it (as many societies often have). Just as we wouldn’t like to have another religious minority’s sacred text forced upon us, we have to respect that the atheist-left don’t want ours forced on them, either. I learn this principle from Paul, who in 1 Corinthians 5:12, not long before the verse I quoted before, said: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” Paul said those words, because Christianity was a minority in Roman society. We are a minority now. And historically, we do our best stuff when we are.
But secondly, this has implications for the atheist-left. Name one other minority where you would applaud, if Rudd spoke to them the way he did to a Christian on Q&A.ii I suspect you’d be furious if any self-professed “representative” of your position insulted a Muslim, or an aboriginal, or a lesbian, with that same tone. Because one of the atheist-left’s most admirable principles is that minorities – including their own quirky distinctives – need to be respected.
So why do the atheist-left’s “representatives” in the media think it is okay to speak like that to conservative Christians, when they’d never speak to another minority in that way?
Is it okay, because the Bible restricts people’s lifestyles? But every religion has things like that, without it becoming a justification for vilification. Are Sikhs to be vilified because they expect believers to not cut their hair? Are Muslims and Jews to be vilified, because they expect believers to not eat pork? Are Hare-Krishnas to be vilified, because they expect believers to not eat meat at all? How “narrow minded” of them! But the atheist-left’s own principles demand respect of the distinctive, even restrictive, beliefs of those minorities. Why would Christians be exempt from this?
Is it okay, because Christians used to be the majority, and this is “payback” now that the “tables have turned”? Long into the future, I hardly think the wider atheist-left really want “vengeful” to be part of their worldview’s epitaph in posterity.
Is it okay, because of the Christian view of the afterlife: that we believe all humanity is choosing between that Kingdom of God (what many would call “heaven”) and a rather nasty alternative? But most of the atheist-left’s “representatives” in the media seem to liken our belief in heaven and hell to believing in faeries, so what danger is that belief to them? Besides, the atheist-left also believe in a universal kind of afterlife – namely, that there isn’t one, even if some people want to go there. In fact, it’s just as ridiculous to go on TV and say Christians “send” people to hell, as it would be to say the atheist-left “keep” people out of heaven. Both our worldviews have universal implications – that’s the price of having worldviews.But it is inconsistent with the atheist-left worldview (and actually, ours, too) to use that as a justification for vilifying a minority.
Finally, is it okay, because we evangelise our worldview? But most Christians seem very respectful, even cautious, in evangelism. Surely my friends among the wider atheist-left are upset that those “representing” you on television do not show similar levels of respect. Surely such people don’t represent you at all. Instead, they represent the very thing you despise: bigotry.
Bigotry goes through several stages. It begins when people stop respecting a minority, and instead start moving through a process of:
- misunderstanding them
- misrepresenting them (that is, saying nasty stuff about the minority behind their back)
- ridiculing them (when the majority feel “brave” enough to say the nasty stuff to their face instead)
- silencing them (telling them to shut up)
- oppressing them (punishing them when they don’t shut up); culminating in
- killing them (to shut them up for good).
As minorities go, Christians have experienced all those levels of bigotry in our history. Right now in Australia, those on TV who “represent” the atheist-left are subjecting Christians to 4. But they will be truly representing the wider atheist-left, when they’re not even subjecting us to 1. Let’s all hope they do that, fast.
That’s something that I hope we all would applaud.
i For example, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-03/grant-how-could-a-christian-pm-call-the-bible-pro-slavery/4932422 .
iiI recognise Kevin Rudd is not from the atheist-left, but claims to be Christian. However, his remarks indicate he is not a Biblical Christian, in the sense of being someone who wrestles with the Biblical text, rather than finding ways to dismiss it.
This is a very interesting article, Matt. But I think that many would disagree with your claim that “we [Christians] are the minority,” simply by pointing to the Census data (61% identifying as Christian in 2011, 22% as “no religion”).
I find it interesting that people form both sides seem to want to claim the minority position. Rather than being a powerful and potentially bigoted (or perceived as being bigoted) mainstream, atheists and Christians want to be seen as the underdogs, subversive, fighting for the truth against an unjust and/or deluded majority. I guess my question is: who is the majority?
Possibly Christians only seem to be the minority as they don’t shout the loudest – perhaps if we stood up to be counted more than we do the perception would change.
Your final footnoted caveat seems to be the lynchpin of your argument, and undermines the integrity of the rest of your piece. You work from the premise that—despite his own self-understanding—Rudd cannot be a Christian, and then conclude that (real?) Christians are in a minority. There’s very little difference between the premise and the conclusion in your argument and the premise (a narrowed definition of who counts as a Christian) is certainly questionable.
Further, it’s both statistically and culturally disingenuous to claim that Christians are a minority in Australia (or the UK, or the US) insofar as statistically more people self-identify as Christians than any other religious affiliation, and culturally Christianity is certainly the most pervasive “religious” influence on the mainstream culture—even if that influence ends up taking syncretistic, watered-down, and strange forms. There is still a Christian majority, even if that majority is quite a lot fuzzier than you’d like.
I think your piece is putting forth an argument for what ought to count as Christian identity—-and that is a real, important, and ongoing conversation/argument, a negotiation in process. Defining one side out of the conversation from the start is counterproductive because it presumes that your opponents are arguing in bad faith (finding ways to dismiss the biblical text rather than wrestling with it) and because it shortcuts the conversation. Is it really accurate to presume that all those in the audience who applauded, or who have shared the video since, are a part of the “atheist-left”? Might there be some Christians there too?
There were a few localised factors that are relevant to your concerns – unfortunately, I didn’t have space to really discuss them here (this article was far longer than usual WF articles as it is! :) ).
Essentially, you have three concerns: about my description of Rudd, how many Christians there are in Australia, and whether the atheist-left were dominating the audience.
Firstly, let’s talk about the audience: Q&A is famously dominated by the atheist-left (and since I usually agree with them on most things, that’s one of the reasons I like that show!). In fact, it’s an atheist-left show on a famously atheist-left broadcaster, the ABC. It’s a very common identifier of the national broadcaster here – conservative politicians hate it, more left-leaning politicians love it. :) My assumption is built on a national assumption, but you weren’t to know that.
Secondly, Rudd. There’s so much I could say about him. Rudd went on Q&A in a desperate attempt to snatch some votes in a doomed election campaign. He was desperately playing to the crowds in his answer – which further shows the views of the audience. One of the reasons he lost, was because of his inconsistency and lack of honesty/authenticity. The pastor could have chosen a dozen examples of him compromising some pretty important Christian values – including on refugees and foreign aid (which, given the audience, would probably have been safer examples!). Rudd has left a lot of Christians (from across the left-right spectrum) in Australia deeply, deeply disenchanted.
Finally, about Christians being a majority. Based on any reasonable qualifier, other than ticking a box in a census, we aren’t a majority: regular church attendance, for example, would indicate that emphatically. The census numbers are heavily weighted by nominals who are 50yo+: “I think I was baptised in a Baptist church when I was a baby” kinda stuff. Definitely, the national consciousness here is more like Canada (a context you and I both know well, Eric!): devout, active Christians are definitely a minority. Actually, the atheist-left aren’t really a majority either – the majority is a kind of ambivalent-agnosticism. This is actually further proven by Rudd – if conservative Christians WERE the majority, he would never have said what he did in the way he did, because it would have cost him votes by that majority, and he couldn’t afford that, at all.