How To Play As The ‘Away’ Team Before A Hostile Crowd – Reflections From the Recent ‘Navigate’ Conference

There’s no doubt Australia has changed.

To use a sporting analogy, Christians used to be the ‘home team’,  playing in front of a friendly home crowd. The home crowd—the wider culture—saw Christians as the ‘good guys’ even if they weren’t fully engaged with us.

But now, we’re the ‘away team’, playing in front of a hostile crowd. They don’t just mock us, but increasingly want to ban us from playing in public.

How do we live faithfully in such a (post-SSM) culture?

The recent Navigate conference—held in partnership with The Gospel Coalition Australia and the Gospel Society & Culture committee of the NSW Presbyterian Church—explored this issue.

Speakers included Rosaria Butterfield, Dan Strange (from Oak Hill college) and Peter Jensen.

Here are 5 of the many take-aways from the conference:

1. Whilst laws and public policy don’t save people, they do shape people.

Laws, like technology, shape behaviour, and shape our thinking.

Laws are coercive—they punish people who disobey them. But they can also shape people’s morality, and indeed, empower and advance the morality undergirding the law. For example, now that SSM is legal, institutions like ABC children’s television celebrated the Mardi Gras– something that would have been almost unthinkable in pre-SSM Australia. [1]

And so, bad laws shape society in negative and unjust ways. Whereas good laws can shape society in just and positive ways.

Of course, laws can’t save anyone—only the gospel can do that—but should we care if our neighbour is being affected by unjust laws?

I think so.

And at our best, Christians have stood up against unjust laws. Whether an MLK against Jim Crow, a Wilberforce against slavery, or advocacy for the unborn—Christians at their best have tried to influence society—and in particular, laws, for the good of all.

2. We need to raise up people who will influence the public square.

Just like we aim to raise up pastors and evangelists.

It’s not easy for a reformed evangelical like me to say this. But in our cultural context, we need more than evangelism—at least if we’re going to love our neighbour well.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying we ditch evangelism—far from it. But we need to complement it with a winsome public witness. Namely people who will influence the public square –and thus influence culture and public policy.

Love for our (non-Christian) neighbour demands it.

Yes, evangelism is the best way to love our neighbour, as eternal priorities take precedence over temporal priorities (cf. Matt 10:28; 2 Cor 4:18). But evangelism isn’t the only way to love our neighbour. In times like ours, love will also consist of working towards just laws and policies—due to their powerful impact on our neighbour.

Evangelism is the best way to love our neighbour. But it isn’t the only way

And so, we need to be thinking about raising up Christians who will be our spokespeople, thought leaders, not to mention institutional influencers—people who will influence public policy and culture in a just and Christian direction.

Journalists, academics, lawyers, politicians, policy analysts—you name it—we need people who can speak Christian truth in a way that influences culture.

And we also need artists, writers, TV producers—the very people who shape popular culture in a way that is upstream of politics. We need a Christian version of ‘Modern family’; Christian novels that show the goodness and plausibility of a Christian sexuality, and versions of anti-bullying programs (if they don’t already exist).

3. Develop a 15-year plan, for influencing culture.

If we want to raise up cultural influencers, then we need a plan. A long(ish) game plan. The gay rights movement had their plan—‘After the ball’. And we need ours. Yes, different methods (and objectives!).But the same idea: a plan to increase our voice, to influence culture—and in our case, for the good of society as a whole.

No doubt there are churches, denominations and other organisations able to think about this as it relates to their own ‘patch’. But this also needs to be done at a national level, because the challenges are coming at us nationally. Different groups would—ideally –  come to the same table, and think about it together. Else something this big wouldn’t happen as effectively as it could.

4. Be ‘constructively offensive’—not just reactionary—toward our culture

The gospel both confronts and connects with culture.

When the world sets our agenda, or frames a debate, bad things happen. When the debate over marriage was framed as one of ‘equality’, we lost. When Safe Schools position themselves as an inclusive ‘anti-bullying’ program, we’re on the back foot.

In that sort of framing, anyone who disagrees is seen as the bully, the bigot, the bad guy—and so we need to work hard at taking the conversations ‘upstream’, and reframing, or more to the point, ‘right-framing’ the debates.

Whether it be asking the hard questions, or exposing underlying inconsistencies, we need to be engaged. (And of course, do it lovingly and gently—the ‘velvet sledgehammer’ should be our modus operandi.)

We need to be engaged lovingly and gently—the ‘velvet sledgehammer’ should be our modus operandi.

And if we do it well, not only will we be able to persuade many of our contemporaries, we’ll also open up gospel opportunities. We’ll understand the underlying yearnings that drive people toward particular ideologies (connecting with culture). And yet we’ll show people exactly how the gospel is a better answer—the answer—to these yearnings.

I’m not talking about endless aggressive culture wars. No, we need to listen to, understand, and love those opposed to us. Instead, I’m talking about confronting the false gods and ideologies that drive so much of our culture, and increasingly, our laws.

5. Get better at telling the compelling story of the gospel

People engage more with stories, than they do with logical propositions.

Let’s face it: reformed evangelicals like me are comfortable discussing issues in an abstract way (just check out the other posts on my blog). But we’re less capable at conveying truth through art—whether story or otherwise—than others, such as Hollywood.

While some on the secular Left might complain about the influence big businesses have on politics, that is literally nothing compared to the influence Hollywood and the entertainment industry has on culture.

As cultural commentator Ben Shapiro points out:

Vice President Joe Biden was right when he said that Will & Grace had a major impact on how Americans think about same-sex marriage. Before the hit NBC show, though most Americans had a live-and-let-live attitude toward private sexual behavior, few supported the idea of men marrying men or women marrying women.

He concludes:

But seeing the charming and funny Will Truman live his life week after week paved the way for a much wider acceptance of same-sex marriage.’

Just like Hollywood productions made SSM and the moral revolution plausible, so Christian art, including stories, can make  the gospel plausible.

(And  especially for the under 35’s especially, something needs to be plausible—seen to work in practice –  before it’s accepted as ‘true’.)

Playing ‘Away’, But With The Best Coach Ever

We’re in a post SSM environment. In one sense, nothing has changed: Jesus is still Lord, and we’re still opposed by the flesh, the world, and the devil. He’s our coach, our King, our Saviour.

And yet, things have changed.

Much of wider culture no longer sees us as good.  Many—especially among the secular elite –  see us as bad (and dangerous). Those are new times for us in the West.

And so God’s people will need to respond in new ways, if we’re to share the gospel well, and influence culture for the good of our neighbour.


Photos: Piotr Drabik, flickr

 

[1] My primary school aged old daughter was shown the Mardi Gras video as part of her compulsory weekly ‘Behind the News‘ segment in her NSW public school.

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