When Prime Ministers Attack: Faith under (friendly) fire

What can we learn from the Australian Prime Minister throwing his own faith under the bus to win political points?

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 2.51.11 PMIn case you haven’t already heard, the Australian election campaign took an interesting turn this week when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appeared on Q & A (a current affairs interview program in Australia) and was asked a question about ‘same-sex marriage’. Rudd went into full flight, launching a passionate defence of the change of heart that has seen him become a vocal proponent of what he calls ‘marriage equality’.

It was a powerful moment, and one for which Mr. Rudd received a loud, sustained ovation. But the audience’s warm response covered over the fact that this was a bizarre, even unpleasant moment. For here was the nation’s leader publicly berating a fellow citizen for holding the very position that he had held himself until a few months ago. Perhaps more importantly, here was a very public Christian trashing the Bible – distorting its message and dragging its reputation through the mud to score political points – and being enthusiastically applauded for doing so.

The next day on the campaign trail, the Prime Minister was asked whether he was concerned that he may have alienated Christian voters. He didn’t just hold the line taken on Q&A, but deepened the attack (as we’ll see below).

There is much to learn from this – not just for Australian voters, but also for anyone interested in how faith and politics intersect, and how Christianity is viewed in western society. For all those reasons, the importance of this incident stretches far beyond the current Australian election, and it’s worth a couple of comments.

I don’t need to repeat the excellent critiques already offered. In particular, Sandy Grant has masterfully demonstrated why Rudd’s assessment of the Bible’s teaching on slavery is way off. David Ould has shown just how bizarre it is to omit the Lordship of Jesus Christ when explaining the ‘fundamental principle’ of the New Testament. And Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies has entered the fray with these piercing insights into how to read the Bible, and why Rudd should have known much better.

But there are a couple more issues worth raising. Let me start by addressing two particular topics, before some big picture reflections.

The Science of Sexual Orientation
When answering the question on Q&A, Mr. Rudd started the ball rolling by addressing the ‘science’ of homosexuality. Here’s what he said: “I do not believe people, when they are born, choose their sexuality. They are gay if they are born gay. You don’t decide at some later stage in life to be one thing or the other. It is – it is how people are built and, therefore, the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that. I think that is just a completely ill-founded view.”

And later: “If you think homosexuality is an unnatural condition then, frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science.”

I’ll be honest: I’m a little scared to even raise this issue. But at the risk of being written off for going there, can I ask two questions:

1. Can we please have calm, rational, intelligent discussion about what the science actually shows in this area?

I am currently in the process of editing a terrific book on homosexuality – a book that includes an entire chapter analysing what the most current, reliable science actually says about the ‘gay gene’ and homosexual orientation. Without giving away all the details of a book awaiting publication, the least we can say is that the jury is still out on this issue. The existence of a ‘gay gene’ is far from proven, as is the claim that people are born with their sexual inclination. It’s just one example, but SATC star Cynthia Nixon is clear that, for her, homosexuality is a choice.

But that’s not my main point. To even ask the question these days is seen, in most circles, as tantamount to declaring yourself an intolerant homophobe. I’d love to see a greater willingness (on all sides) to engage in meaningful, substantial discussion without the hurtful rhetoric and ad hominem attacks.

But my second question is probably more important.

2. Can we please have some serious discussion about whether or not a genetic predisposition to a certain behaviour makes that behaviour right?

In recent years, researchers have suggested genetic predispositions to things like alcoholism, violent behaviour, addiction, laziness and religious belief. But are we really comfortable saying that a genetic predisposition to a certain behavior is enough to tell us that this behaviour is right, moral, and something that should be affirmed and encouraged? Don’t we need to apply other categories of thought?

Let me be clear: I am not equating homosexuality with alcoholism, violent behaviour, addiction or laziness. I am simply saying that, in each of these cases, we believe a genetic predisposition is something to be overcome (not something to be encouraged) because we have made a separate value judgment about the behaviour in question. Are we even allowed to have a similar discussion about homosexual activity (not attraction or inclination, but activity)?

This is somewhat (not entirely, but somewhat) analogous to people who cite homosexuality in the animal world as evidence that homosexuality among human beings is normal, natural and good (I’ve heard this argument many times, both publicly and privately). But on its own, how does this prove anything? Do we really want to take moral direction from the animal world? I mean, some animals eat their own young. Female Praying Mantises kill and eat their mate after sex. Some animals abandon the young who are born weak and infirm and are therefore unwanted. (Actually, forget I mentioned that last one.)

My point is this: Don’t we need moral categories outside genetics, outside science, and outside the animal world, to tell us whether a behaviour is moral, good and right? What am I missing here?

And don’t we need to show the kind of patience and respect that would allow this discussion to take place – without Christians having to fear that simply raising these questions means they’ll be labeled as homophobic jerks? Or as Peter Jensen put it on Q&A, “When do we get to the point where we can talk about this without shouting at each other and hurting each other?”

The Bible and Sexual Discrimination
But back to Mr. Rudd, who wasn’t finished yet. The day after Q&A, he not only repeated his claims about the Bible and slavery, but made this silly, far-fetched claim about the Bible’s view of women and gender: “To all of you who are women, it says in the New Testament according to St. Paul that wives should be submissive to their husbands. So just bear all that in mind, cause it’s in the Bible. In fact, if we took it that seriously, do you know what? We may as well repeal, also, the Sex Discrimination Act because that creates a different set of circumstances. Let’s get real about this.”

First of all, why would Mr. Rudd assume that, if his account of the Bible’s teaching is correct, men would be any less affronted and outraged than women? Why single out ‘all of you who are women’ when making these comments?

More importantly, Mr. Rudd is correct to say that the Bible speaks about wives submitting to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18). But again, he is way off the mark in his ability to actually understand and interpret what’s really being said. Mr. Rudd claims that taking Paul’s words seriously would lead to the Sex Discrimination Act (1984) being repealed. But it’s a ridiculous claim.

I read the Act (it’s online here), and I struggled to find the part about how wives may or may not freely choose to respond to the love of their husbands. I searched in vain for the section of the Act where a woman is forbidden to willingly submit herself to the loving leadership of a man who has promised to spend a lifetime loving and serving her, making every decision in her best interests – even to the point of literally laying down his life for her, if necessary. So maybe it would have helped if Kevin had also read Ephesians 5:25-33 and Colossians 3:19. (And who knows, it just might have helped him with the ‘same-sex marriage’ question, too.)

I’m left thinking that the Prime Minister was simply grasping at straws, trying to score cheap, easy points, and perhaps cashing in on the biblical illiteracy of his audience and the prevailing mood of the times. As with his comments on slavery, it was a very disappointing performance from one claiming to act in ‘Christian conscience’.

Biblical ignorance revealed
Despite all that, what I found most interesting about Kevin Rudd’s performance this week was not the specific issues, but what it tells about the secular West’s attitude to the Bible. Put simply, this whole affair has revealed both a profound level of biblical ignorance, and a deep hostility towards the Bible and evangelical Christians.

I am increasingly convinced that the average person in western society has not rejected the Bible’s message; the average person is utterly ignorant of the Bible’s message. Biblical Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; biblical Christianity has simply not been tried. And yet for all its ignorance of the Bible’s teaching, our society still permits open antagonism towards those that believe and treasure the Bible.

What other explanation could there be for the Australian Prime Minister trotting out tired old criticisms of the Bible (criticisms that have been thoroughly disproven this week, and many times before) and being lauded as an enlightened thinker? What else could explain the SMH’s ‘Rudd delivers same-sex smackdown’ headline (the report called it ‘the answer of the century’), rather than my somewhat wordy but more accurate alternative: ‘Rudd distorts Bible and throws his own faith under the bus to win political approval’?

Christians will have long sensed it, and will have seen multiple small examples to confirm it – but this week’s events have provided some of the strongest proof yet: we live in a society that is utterly ignorant of the Bible’s teaching, and is hostile to those who take the Bible (and all its teaching) seriously.

How could Christians respond to this? The answer is not a siege mentality, burying our heads in the sand, or becoming hostile and aggressive in the face of opposition. On the contrary, as Jesus taught, Christians need to love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:44). It means that in sharing our faith, we’ll need to start a lot further back, assuming nothing, and be prepared to patiently answer misguided objections. It means we need to steel ourselves, encourage one another and pray for God’s help, because the temptation to be ashamed of Jesus and his words (Mark 8:38) is surely on the rise.

Finally, we’ll need to beware of arrogance. Don’t do to our neighbours what Mr. Rudd did to his Q&A interlocutor: Don’t despise someone for holding a worldview or a belief that you used to hold.

It can be easy to look down on our neighbours for their biblical illiteracy. It will be easy to feel superior because we believe we have ‘the answers’. But it is only by God’s grace that any of us have even a sliver of understanding when it comes to his ways and his will. There is no room for boasting or superiority. Let’s come alongside our neighbours in genuine love, rather than in judgmentalism. After all, how can we expect anything less than ignorance of the Bible and hostility towards it when a nation’s Prime Minister leads the charge?

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10 thoughts on “When Prime Ministers Attack: Faith under (friendly) fire

  1. Hi Geoff,

    To your first question, I am not a genetic biologist, but there was an interesting “Fact Check” on “the conversation” that may be of interest – http://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-are-people-born-gay-17765

    As to your 2nd question, it is the ‘appeal to nature’ fallacy at work – X is natural therefore X is good – as you have illustrated. Unfortunately, as can be seen in political discourse and advertising, most people fall for logical fallacies such as this all the time. I would love to see an outbreak of serious, respectful and informed debate on the matter, amongst others.

  2. An excellent response, thanks. I also read Sandy’s articles at The Briefing which, somewhat ironically, first drew my attention to the matter! I am new here (so pleased to find Aussie Christians writing about important stuff!!), so I hope my comments are welcome.

    Firstly, I commend you for raising the issue of whether being born a certain way excuses a behaviour that God has deemed sinful. This is indeed a fundamental (ooh, there’s that word again) question Christians need to be asking.

    The example I sometimes use, which has helped me better understand this whole issue, is that some of us are born (blessed?!!) with ADHD…a pervasive, neurological disorder that affects cognition and emotional regulation. Some people deny it exists. I assure you (as do my kids), it is real, very real. Its impact can be devastating, and certainly was in my case as it went undiagnosed for most of my life. It, and my sinful nature (which I was also born with) led me into a lot of destructive stuff. Yet, when we ADHD’ers sin it is simply that…sin. An offense to a holy and just God.

    My ADHD is a part of how I was born, and it is no less a powerful influence than anything related to sexuality. However, as born-again believers in Christ, we die to our old selves and so whatever we are ‘born’ with becomes less and less a part of our ‘identity’ as we surrender our lives to Christ. I have found the Lord to be most faithful in helping overcome the challenges of ADHD, and leading me to live a life within the bounds of my abilities and limitations. It is still a struggle at times, as ADHD does come with genuine neurological sensitivities and cognitive challenges. But never are they an excuse to sin.

    Given the extraordinary corruption of true observational science, I think Christians should be particularly leery of accepting any future ‘proof’ of being ‘born gay’. regardless, I truly fail to see how even the earliest tendencies towards homosexuality lets Christians off the hook when God has declared it a sin. Truly regenerate people hate their sin, are distressed by it and seek for it to be excised from them, no matter how painful the process. Therefore, if someone is caught in grave sin and does not hate that sin, I think we need to treat them as unbelievers and preach the gospel to them. I believe that is the clear message Christians have to deliver, in Christ’s love and with compassion, to the lost and the saved alike.

    Again, I point to the fruit of a regenerate heart and can confirm in joyful chorus with my fellow saints that only such a heart, blessed by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, can understand anything from the Word of God. I therefore fail to see how Kevin Rudd is a true believer in Jesus Christ. Biblical illiteracy is not the same thing as an unregenerate heart and spiritual blindness. I have never met a true believer who hates the Word of God, or who would seek to degrade it in the way Rudd has. I meet many unsaved people however, who feel they can (and do) say the most appalling things about God and his holy Word.

    This event should be a sober reminder to Christians that there are perhaps more pragmatically nominal ‘Christians’ than ever before in history, Rudd clearly being one of them. I make no comment on the eternal desitny of his soul, partly because he is still breathing and therefore has time to repent. But let’s be honest. Right now, he is denying Christ. And therefore, he is against God. Which is the only way you could be voted into governement here in Australia. So if we get him as PM (or Tony, for that matter), it would seem that God is delivering up the very ‘king’ the people have asked for. Which is exactly what he did for his first people, who also did evil in the eyes of the Lord. And like the Israelites, let us cry out for our perfect redeemer King to return, and for many to be saved!

    Right, so that was more than a couple of thoughts. It wasn’t me, it was my ADHD! 🙂 I welcome loving correction on anything I have written here. Blessings in Christ, Sherryn

  3. Reblogged this on The Narrowing Path and commented:
    This is an excellent response to Mr Rudd’s recent comments on the Bible. I do wonder why any Christian would be surprised at this. I believe it heralds yet another step in the ever-forward march towards what some have seen coming for a long time, and that is the of persecution of Western Christians.

  4. And Rudd claims Bonhoeffer as his hero.

    Yet if he were around today he’d be dismayed at everything Rudd declared.

    What is also astonishing is that Gillard was always polite to those who disagreed with her. How ironic that an unwed atheist demonstrated greater tolerance of other people’s beliefs than our Christian PM.

    As someone said this week, if there is such a thing as a “Christian vote” Rudd has well and truly lost it.

  5. Part of me wonders if claiming to be a christian suited Rudd in the election against Howard where he was linked with Julia who was an atheist and so covered both camps. Now it doesn’t work for him anymore?

  6. Maybe he just has a different interpretation of Christianity than you.
    Shockingly, maybe it’s a matter for each individual. Maybe you know no better than he does, and while entitled to your opinion, have no right to claim a greater understanding of Christianity or the bible than Kevin Rudd does.

    • Hi Jon, thanks for your comment. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that I am completely right, and Kevin Rudd is completely wrong. At least that’s my interpretation of what you wrote – and I’m sure it’s a perfectly valid interpretation.

      Sorry for being cheeky, but I hope you take my point.

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