Well, to think that I almost didn’t write yesterday’s post, because my relatively few friends on Facebook had said it all… Since then I’ve trawled through over a total of 700 comments (and counting), between this blog, the Drum (on ABC) and various friends’ FB links. Today I am going to attempt a few follow ups.
Firstly, thank you for commenting – whether for or against my views. Mostly people have been frank, direct, and only a minority rude or abusive. Freedom of speech belongs to us all, and that means my defending it for those who disagree with me.
Now to one of the follow up issues. Here and elsewhere, some commenters have suggested I misunderstood (or maybe even deliberately misconstrued) what Mr Rudd meant to say/imply in response to the pastor’s question.
I take that question seriously, and have thought carefully about the objection overnight.
My honest reaction was dismay at what I perceived to be Mr Rudd’s misrepresentation of the book I love, the Bible. My honest intention was to indicate the slavery issue was far more complex, and – if one is inclined to examine charitably – far less negative than the way I heard him construing the Scriptures – even if just to make his point.
Of course, none of us can know Mr Rudd’s intentions for sure, without him telling us openly. I also know it is impossible to read body language and tone perfectly. Though I don’t think his reference to the pastor as “Well mate” twice was done in a genuinely matey way!
But who can plumb the depths of one’s own heart fully for sure? I am sometimes a bundle of mixed motives!
Still I am not persuaded that I’ve mis-read or misrepresented Mr Rudd.
Firstly, Mr Rudd is a experienced politician, clever in working the crowd and well prepared before going on shows like Q&A for such questions. On the balance of probabilities, I don’t think he was caught off guard for such a question.
Now here again is what he said,
“Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.”
And the context: he was responding to a pastor, asking for Mr Rudd’s views, as a public Christian, in response to concerns from the Christian community. Now the pastor had cited the explicit teaching of Jesus on marriage in the Bible to indicate it was between a man and a woman. I agree the pastor could have cited that teaching more precisely. But his question focused on whether Mr Rudd as a Christian should be believing the teaching of Christ on marriage.
That was “that view” to which Mr Rudd replied – the approach of citing the words of Jesus for one’s definition of marriage. After all, Christianity is fundamentally about following Christ – the pioneer and perfecter of our faith!
So in the context the view Mr Rudd seemed (to me) to be repudiating is that one can quote the Bible – especially the words of Jesus – to help establish a Christian view on an ethical topic.
To illustrate why he thought that was bad, Mr Rudd suggested (a) the Bible also said slavery is a natural condition, and then himself (b) cited, quite closely, Paul’s words from Ephesians/Colossians.
A fair implication is that he thought (a) the perspective on slavery he perceived in Scripture was self-evidently false and (b) the citation was sufficient to establish his claim that the view “slavery is natural” was in the Bible.
Personally, I said yesterday, that I think (a) is an unsympathetic and totally incomplete reading of Paul in the context of the whole Bible from creation, through sin and redemption, to new creation. In regards to (b) citing one verse falls far short of proof of his contention.
But the objectors might be right that (c) Mr Rudd was also or instead making the point that it’s dangerous to quote single verses out of context.
In that case, apart from his quote (b) not establishing the point he alleged Scripture made (a), I don’t think his example was comparing apples with apples.
In fact, I think it was ungenerous of Mr Rudd if he was implying (c) the pastor’s quote was a narrow, out-of-context Bible citation.
Here’s why… Because Mr Rudd is also a regular churchgoer, who has claimed some familiarity with the Scriptures. And he has made a point of letting this be known and seen, in public, in print and so on.
So I would expect he knows from experience that those words of Jesus (Matthew 19:4-6) are central to the liturgies of most Christian denominations wedding services. I myself have read those words in conducting weddings well over 150 times. Most of us, churchgoer or not, have attended such ceremonies, many of them over the years.
Not only that, but for one as informed as Mr Rudd, I would hope he knows those words of Jesus, referred to by the pastor, are quoting the creation accounts of Genesis.
So the words – about “male and female” becoming “one flesh” in marriage – are spoken and reaffirmed in two different times and somewhat different cultural settings.
And given their original context on the creation story, they are presented as trans-cultural in significance. That is, in the Bible’s unfolding presentation, they are are set up as normative for all humans in creation (not just for Israel).
This is a view which Jesus endorses by quoting and joining the words from Genesis 1 and 2 and applying to the question on marriage he faced.
The pastor may not have expressed himself eloquently. And I don’t expect his citation of the Bible to convince those who reject its relevance. But I do hope an educated Christian like Mr Rudd would know it was not an out-of-context reference to a conception of marriage that is only marginal in Scripture.
Rather male and female becoming one flesh in marriage is a central concept that is expressed, reaffirmed, and reapplied in many different places in Scripture.
And I hope thoughtful non-Christians are interested in understanding how Christians have typically construed the Bible. A step towards greater understanding is listening carefully to those with whom you disagree.
As an addendum, may I say that nowhere have I suggested that my objection to Mr Rudd’s use of the Bible should make Christians refuse to vote for him. Obviously it may have an influence as one factor Christians consider. I am aware of that. But I would never presume to direct how Christians must vote.
There are many issues of concern to Christians that we must weigh up. For example, to take just one I have spoken out about repeatedly, problem gambling on the pokies is one that concerns me deeply and both major sides have failed on, though the conservatives appear worse to me.
In addition, can I counsel those who claim to follow Christ to be very cautious before calling Mr Rudd an “abomination” or “pathological liar” (terms I have seen used in comments). Such pejoratives are in almost all circumstances unadvisable and unbecoming of a follower of Christ. Many politicians have broken promises and changed their minds. That may affect how we evaluate their suitability to represent us. But I do not believe we are right to pass judgment on Mr Rudd in such terms.