What’s that smell? Burning books, or burning martyr?

bannedA couple of brief thoughts from afar on the book ‘banning’ debacle unfolding in NSW, for what they are worth…

First, it’s kind of amusing but not insignificant that one of the three books is misnamed. It seems like they meant to ban either this one or this one, and it’s genuinely hard to work out which one is intended. (Everyone seems to be forging ahead on the basis that it’s John Dickson’s book.) It makes the DEC’s directive look amateurish, and leaves the impression that the whole thing was hastily cobbled together rather than carefully considered. If I were banning a book, I’d want to at least be clear on the name of the book.

But second, on quite a different note, a brief comment on how Christians should react. Specifically, I want to suggest that maybe some Christians just need to chill out a bit as they respond to all this.

I don’t mean to suggest this is not a big deal. It is. In many ways, it’s terrible. And if you’ve been observing the landscape of our secularized and secularizing society for a while, it’s clear that this fits into a bigger picture. Some people have an agenda to remove any kind of Christian teaching (no matter how carefully and respectfully it’s delivered) from the public square. So Christians should absolutely respond by clearly laying out their objections and concerns.

But in the midst of all the right responses, I want to suggest that a small handful of the more frenzied comments are becoming unhelpful. I mean, a number of Christian commenters and bloggers have invoked book burning (ie: Nazism). Really?! Book burning? Are we there yet? A few others haven’t gone quite so far, but (and I acknowledge that this is a fairly subjective observation) their tone has sometimes crossed a line and become aggressive, entitled, overly negative – perhaps even showing a strange kind of enjoyment in being ‘persecuted’.

Moreover, people are speculating about why these books have been banned. Is it because they teach sexual abstinence before marriage? Is it because they teach monogamy? Is it because they teach biblical patterns of male headship and female submission within marriage? It seems like no one knows, but these (and other) teachings from the three suspended books have all been mentioned as the reason for the government ban. Yes, a lot of the uncertainty falls on the DEC for their failure to explain why these books cause them concern. But I still think Christians should be careful about speculating and about claiming that everything these books teach is being attacked. Go to the source, insist on more information, and then engage in an informed debate about the issues.

Please understand, I’m not saying these aren’t big issues, or that Christians should remain silent. We should absolutely point out the folly of what’s happened here, and that our society is being taken one step further down an already slippery slope. But we can do that respectfully and calmly, without sounding shrill – still less without giving off the smell of burning martyr or making onlookers think we take a perverse pleasure in being persecuted. People already think that conservative evangelical Christians are nutters, so please don’t give them any extra reason to believe such nonsense. I appreciate the overall approach taken by one of the banned authors in this interview.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17-21)

If handled well, this could all be a wonderful opportunity to help people see the danger and the folly of where unfettered secularism will take us. It might also be a chance to help people (at least those willing to listen) understand that the Christian view of sex and marriage is not cruel, dangerous and repressive, but is in fact positive, beautiful and life-giving.

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