Another Australian cricket captain has been sent to the pavilion. Sandgate has given way to a sexting scandal. News reported this week that in 2017, Tim Paine sent lewd text messages to a female colleague. The following year Tim Paine took over Australia’s second most important job, following Steve Smith’s disgrace.
The various criticisms of Paine and even the decision to stand down tell us something about sex and our culture: we no longer know what to think about sex.
The reactions have been revealing. Almost everyone agrees that Tim Paine’s messages were wrong (in some sense), and certainly foolish. No doubt, this near-universal pronouncement is being made while many quietly put on an innocent face. The various criticisms of Paine and even the decision to stand down tell us something about sex and our culture: we no longer know what to think about sex.
One of the big questions concerns whether these text messages were mutually consensual or not. Some people are suggesting they were not—and it appears that the woman did make a complaint to Cricket Australia regarding what she says was an “unwelcome and unsolicited” photo of Paine’s genitalia.
Cricket Australia investigated the incidents back in 2018 and they exonerated Paine of any wrongdoing. Cricket Tasmania yesterday released a statement in which they state:
The Cricket Tasmania Board reaffirmed its view that Paine should not have been put in a position where he felt the need to resign over an incident that was determined by an independent inquiry at the time to not be a breach of the code of conduct and was a consensual and private exchange that occurred between two mature adults and was not repeated.
Obviously, I’m not privy to what really went on, and so I want to tread very carefully here and not allege what hasn’t been proven. Even if the messaging was consensual (as Cricket Tasmania have stated), we live at a time where women have found a voice and told us blokes that they are sick and tired of being used as sexual pawns rather than as human beings. Fair enough! Interestingly, what this tells us is that sex is more than consent. Mutual agreement isn’t adequate grounds for engaging in a sexual act, even where there is no physical contact. Tim Paine has stood down from the Captain’s role, not because he sent a woman (non) consensual pics of his privates, but for not treating a woman with the respect she deserves.
It’ll be no surprise that I think Tim Paine has done the wrong thing. Not only is there a question of consent, but why on earth did a married man think it was okay to send sexually explicit messages to a woman who is not his wife and who is also married? Paine’s wife is now having to relive the hurt caused by her husband. I suspect we all feel for her and instinctively know that she has been wronged by her husband.
Tim Paine isn’t guilty of breaking the rules of sex, he is guilty of following them.
But here lies the problem, these feelings of moral disgust and disappointment cut against the grain of our culture’s view of sex. Tim Paine isn’t guilty of breaking the rules of sex, he is guilty of following them.
It’s difficult enough to know all the rules for cricket; we certainly no longer understand the rules for sex. Indeed, the sexual revolution aimed at erasing all the rules, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that we find ourselves in this sea of ambiguity. We know there are boundaries. Even our instincts tell us that there is a moral line when it comes to sex but the problem is, for the last 60 years, that line has been repeatedly erased and redrawn, and even today the lines are only drawn in pencil.
Since the 1960s the culture has consciously derided traditional sexual ethics and has intentionally revised what we might describe as normative patterns for sexual behaviour. By law and belief, we decided that marriage is no longer intended for life. By inclination, medicine, and law, we determined that sex without babies is a moral right.
By way of an analogy, think of sex as a 4 legged chair. What we have done is effectively cut off 3 of the legs: covenant (marriage), telos/purpose (making babies), and fidelity. The only leg left standing is consent but that isn’t enough. As essential and nonnegotiable as consent is, it is not enough to sustain a healthy view of sex. To be sure, ethicists, activists and lawmakers are trying to fix the problem but the new sexual virtues are like match sticks; they can’t bear the weight that sex demands.
In his important book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, Carl Trueman traces the rise of the expressive individual:
The expressive individual is now the sexually expressive individual. And education and socialization are to be marked not by the cultivation of traditional sexual interdicts and taboos but rather by the abolition of such and the enabling of pansexual expression even among children. One might regard this change as obnoxious, but it reflects the logic of expressive individualism in the sexualized world that is the progeny of the consummation of the Marx-Freud nuptials …
While sex may be presented today as little more than a recreational activity, sexuality is presented as that which lies at the very heart of what it means to be an authentic person.
Along with consent, the new pillars for sexuality today are expressive individualism, celebration, and affirmation. Not only is someone free to determine their own sexual preferences and practices, we are to celebrate their choices and we are to affirm their choices. Disproval and disagreement with another person’s sexuality and practice is paramount to the greatest sin we can commit. Celebration and affirmation are now so incumbent on sexual ethics that school children are required to wear purple ribbons and rainbow ribbons, and to write essays agreeing with all manner of queer theory. Workers are forced to become “allies”, that is, if they wish to keep their job. And even churches can no longer hold conversations with people about sex and gender, for it is illegal (as of February 2022) and offences may result in a hefty fine and even imprisonment.
In today’s Australia, infidelity is praised. If a man decides to divorce his wife because he now feels that he is a woman, he (or she) will be lauded for courage. Consideration for the wife and children is lost in the praise for this self-discovery. Casual sex remains a moral good, affirmed by every second Netflix show—and let’s not get started with all those hotted-up dating shows on television. Running parallel are ‘serious’ articles explaining the benefits of ‘open relationships’, as did the ABC recently. Then take a look at what our kids are learning with sex-ed curriculums in our schools, where experimentation and living out your inner desires are validated signs of authenticity. It was only two months ago that I attended a meeting where three officials from the Victorian Government explained without equivocation that no person’s sexuality was broken, and suggesting so is morally unacceptable. I wonder, what they would call sending graphic messages to someone who isn’t your spouse?
It was only two months ago that I attend a meeting where three officials from the Victorian Government explained without equivocation that no person’s sexuality was broken.
We’ve been told a lie about sex. All the promises of sexual liberation and the breaking of norms isn’t producing safer and better sex. It’s breeding confusion, hurt, and shame. Even if Cricket Australia absolved Tim Paine of wrongdoing, Tim Paine knew that his actions were wrong, as his own messages to the woman indicated. What is it about sex that demands more than consent and notions of being true to oneself? Ironically, in the pursuit for self realisation, rather than finding freedom, we are slowly turning society into some neo-puritan culture, where signed consent forms must be filled out and where we must undergo strict training to learn how to use a pronoun, and where Governments see an increasing need for new laws to protect us around sex.
The story around Tim Paine not only concerns his moral failing, but also the sentence he has received. He has been forced to resign from the most prestigious job in Australia. But how does this public shaming and judgment square with what is continually lauded on TV and taught in our HR programs?
In what was an inane attack on the Federal Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, David Marr (without reading the Bill) wrote a piece where he suggested society is improving and freer because of the diminishing influence of Christianity:
Shame is the business of these churches. Shame and forgiveness. But first there has to be shame … The problem for the business model of the churches isn’t freedom of belief but the dwindling of shame. Not so long ago, shame was everywhere and so were the churches.
But of course, the testimony of recent years suggests that the opposite is true. Tim Paine is but one example of an extended list of people who face execution in the secular space because of their sexual actions. In our sexular age, guilt, shame, and humiliation for wrongful deeds or perceived wrongful deeds, often lead to the loss of reputation and work and the church has nothing to do with it. I can’t remember a time where our society has been so enraged and unforgiving.
I can’t remember a time where our society has been so enraged and unforgiving.
The new sexual zeitgeist can’t deliver on what it promises. On the one hand, our culture is demanding the celebration of all manner of sexual “idiosyncrasies” let’s call them (or “sin” as the Bible describes them), and yet there is an expectation that our leaders and respectables will adhere to norms that no longer exist according to our cultural preachers. The situation is as farcical as the French revolutionaries crying “equality” while bloodying the guillotine with the necks of all who oppose them.
Not only does a Christian view of sex hold more common sense than we are probably prepared to acknowledge, but churches are fast becoming the few places left in society where forgiveness can be found. I understand that churches have lost their voice partly because of our own wrongdoing. We all know the horrendous stories of priests and parishioners who’ve perpetrated or hidden incalculable evil. They are guilty, not of living out Christian teaching on sex, but of breaking it in the most horrific ways. They are not most churches.
The very core of Christianity is not a message of moral virtue, but one of divine mercy for sinners. At the heart of Christianity is God’s message of undeserved forgiveness and reconciliation. The Gospel of Mark records an incident where the nation’s leaders were appalled by Jesus’ interactions with people who had been cancelled:
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’ words angered the cultural adjudicators of his day, and no doubt they will spiral people into fits of rage today. But the thing is, expressive individualism isn’t a road to freedom and happiness. Just like free-falling from a plane, it’s an amazing feeling for a while but at some point, you’re going to hit the ground.
After a 3 year DRS Review, Tim Paine has been given out. Even Tim Paine knew at the time he was doing the wrong thing, maybe not for breaking some code of conduct, but he failed to love his wife and he failed to respect the woman he was messaging. In a moment of honest evaluation, I suspect most of us know that we too should be given out. Whether that day comes sooner or later, our cancelling culture has little appetite for forgiveness and it’s hungry for shaming. Please remember, when that day comes for you, there is still one person where we turn, and his name is Jesus.