Tag Archives: gospel

Some thoughts on racism, listening, and the gospel

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in Australia for the last week or so, you’ve been hearing about Adam Goodes and the issue of racism in sport/society. So much has already been said, I wasn’t sure if I had anything to add. But a few things have really challenged me and got me thinking about racism, listening to the voices of the “other” and how this all connects to the gospel.

The first is how easy it is for white Australians to make simplistic pronouncements about what is and isn’t racist. Here’s what I think: if you are a member of a majority group that has historically been responsible for the mistreatment, oppression and belittling of another group of people, and a member of that group is telling you that your actions are hurting them by perpetuating some of those attitudes and feelings, then you don’t get to tell them that they are “playing the victim card.” You don’t get to decide whether how they feel is valid. You don’t get to define what is going on. Your job is to listen. Not to rush to make statements or excuses or minimisations or give your perspective. To really listen. To hear what they are saying. And then to ask yourself how you are going to respond.

As appalled as I have been by some of the comments I have read and heard from white Australians this week, I’m hopeful that this is a moment in our history when we might finally be starting to listen. Listening to the voices of our indigenous Australians and realising there is something we need to really hear. That we have not yet dealt with the ongoing consequences of our shared history.

And so as well as appreciating the insights and responses of people like Charlie Pickering or Mia Freedman or this incisive outsider view from an ex-pat American, this week I have actively sought out the voices of indigenous Australians who are speaking about this issue. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to listen.

If you haven’t heard these voices, here are some you might want to take some time to listen to.

Stan Grant’s article in the Guardian: “Estranged in the land of our ancestors, living on the fringes of a rich society – parse your words, but we see only race in the attacks on AFL player Adam Goodes.”

Dickie Bedford’s opinion piece in the Australian: “It reinforces our scepticism that while Australia — a country we all love deeply — pretends to embrace us, it fails miserably when it comes to taking real and significant steps towards truly understanding our culture, our lore and our traditions.”

Charlie King’s excellent question to Andrew Bolt: “How would you feel if you sat in that position and looked at the world through the eyes of Aboriginal people?”

Warren Mundine on the Drum sharing his personal experience with racism in Australia: “This week has been a really dreadful week for me because it has brought up so many memories … This is what it [racism] does to people. It actually cripples you within your life and stops you from doing things and being able to function as a human being.”

* And this blog post from an indigenous man which takes the opposite view to the others and made me feel quite uncomfortable, but was an important reminder of the subtle racism I can easily fall into of assuming that all indigenous Australians share the same opinion or a single story: “For an urban blackfella like me, I hate the fact that all of a sudden my opinion is relevant … If someone is genuinely looking for a discussion, they are easy to tell, but most people just want me to be the token black who validates their own feelings on the matter.”

As a Christian, I’ve also been continuing to reflect more widely on how we can better listen to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. The family of churches I am part of recently welcomed an indigenous church into our (overwhelmingly white) association. The pastor spoke to our gathering and his key message was for us to listen. To hear and understand what a big thing it was for them to join us, given our shared history. To hear the questions and fears and concerns they have about maintaining their identity even as they participate as part of our group. To walk a journey of listening to them rather than too quickly jumping in with our “help” or “solutions”.

Then a few weeks ago I had the opportunity at a dinner with some ministry friends to ask an indigenous friend if he would share with the rest of us some of what he thought we needed to hear from indigenous Australian Christians. With some good-natured joking about his role as spokesman for “all Aboriginal people everywhere,” we had a really amazing hour just listening to him. One of the most profound things he said, that has been challenging and inspiring me ever since, was this:

As Christians, we believe that the gospel becomes “enculturated” – that is, as the gospel is lived out in every people group throughout the world and throughout history, we see different aspects of it and we realise more of who Jesus is. So what do you have to learn about the gospel, about Jesus, from your Aboriginal brothers and sisters?

For people who believe that every tribe and tongue is part of God’s incredible vision for the future in Christ, what a great question. And I know that trying to answer it is going to take a lot more listening on my part.

One of a series of paintings by an indigenous Christian artist telling the story of the gospel
One of a series of paintings by an indigenous Christian artist telling the story of the gospel
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Subtly objectifying women in the church … and “subjectifying” men?

Last week I blogged some of my thoughts about whether I should call myself a feminist and what that means to me as a Christian. In my church experience, issues of gender inequality are usually subtle rather than overt, and therefore easier to dismiss as trivial. But they are still reasonably commonplace.

I wanted to follow up with a couple of specific examples. These are not necessarily the strongest or best (worst?) examples I’ve seen, just two things I’ve come across recently in my own experience as well as read other people’s blogs about. What I’m noticing is that sometimes the Christian leaders who speak out against harms in our culture are still operating from some of the same underlying assumptions, probably without even realising it.

The first example is a trend of usually young, male pastors making comments about their “smoking hot wife.” (See this great post by Jayson Bradley).

This is said publicly, either from the platform in church or on social media. I understand that it is intended as a compliment to their wives, one I would have no problem with them making to her privately. But when said publicly it makes me wince. Because to the women listening, it reinforces the idea that they are valuable primarily for their sexual desirability … and not much else.

I also wonder what message it is intended to send to the men listening. It could be heard as a boast, “Look at me, how good must I be to have ‘scored’ a wife this sexy?” Does that really have anything to do with your credibility as a minister of the gospel? Or worse, it could be heard as an invitation, “Check out my wife!” Really? You want all the teenage boys in your church to be thinking about how sexy your wife is? Is that helpful for anyone?

The second, more concerning, trend is the refusal of some male pastors (again, usually young) to mentor or counsel women. Any women. Ever. (See this great post by Jenny Rae Armstrong).

Again, I can understand something of the intention. They want to avoid being put in a compromising situation; they want to be “above reproach.” But again, the message they are sending to women is that we are all temptresses. That the only thing that matters about our personhood is our sexuality, and that we can’t be trusted with it.

Simultaneously, it sounds like they are suggesting that men can’t control themselves. That they are incapable of viewing a woman as anything other than a potential sex partner. (Now maybe that’s true of some of the teenage boys posting on the internet, but godly Christian pastors? Really?) In no other profession would it be acceptable to have a blanket rule refusing to meet with people because of their gender.

If these pastors do genuinely have a sex addition or are struggling with lust in a particular case then they absolutely need to get some help. But this should never be a rule which then becomes an excuse as to why women can’t be taught, mentored or encouraged, or even serve on church staff or boards. (Unfortunately, that still happens.) I’d want I remind them that Jesus didn’t say, “If a woman causes you to look at her lustfully, remove her from your sight.” He said, “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out.” (Matt 5:29) He placed the responsibility exactly where it should be!

In both of these situations, silly or well-intentioned as they might sometimes be, what I see happening is an underlying assumption which objectifies women. Let me explain. When women are “objectified,” they are treated as though they are objects. An object, basic English grammar tell us, does not act but is only ever acted upon. This term is usually used in the context of sexual objectification, meaning women are viewed or valued purely for their sexual desirability to the male subject. This means all the other things that make up an individual human being – their intellect, their dreams, their character, their will – are irrelevant. Women are thus treated as less than human; less than who they actually are. That’s not the good news of the gospel and it’s certainly not how Jesus treated women. That’s a problem.

But here’s my other question to those pastors. Aren’t they also “subjectifying” men, if I can make up a word? Aren’t they making men only sexual subjects, who can do nothing else but view women sexually, lust, or be tempted? Aren’t they then also reducing men to one thing, ignoring their character, intelligence, decision-making ability, self-control, wisdom and integrity? By implying that men “can’t help themselves” or are just “boys being boys,” aren’t we then reducing them to a caricature of the full humanity they too were created with? And doesn’t that also run the risk of contributing to the problems we face in our culture rather than addressing them?