Obadiah Slope: On not being political


The blokey Bible myth: I grew up thinking that Jesus and disciples were some sort of footy team, all blokes playing some 13 a side code, travelling around together on some Mid-east version of the team bus. Do the 13 players make Jesus a Rugby League supporter? It certainly makes me a misogynist reader of the Scriptures if scholar Margaret Mowczko is right.

She makes the case that there were women disciples too. Not just a few, but many. She cites Matthew 27:55-56 and Mark 15:41 and points out that in following Jesus, they met the description of a disciple in leaving all to follow him.

Obadiah Slope

This column is named “Obadiah Slope”, which the elect will recognise as the name of the “odious evangelical” in the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope’s six-part Chronicles of Barsetshire …

* * *

On not being political: Here’s a thought bubble (and this column is the place for them): as we voyage through an election campaign, here’s to the church not being political.

Take my local church as an example. We have three priorities:
• Reaching the lost
• Discipling the young
• Growing believers

For a while – actually, a long time – I wondered if we should have a fourth priority, say, “doing good for our community.”

But I have swung against it. It’s not that I have changed my mind regarding doing good for our community. I profoundly think that churches need to pass our version of the pub test – would the community miss us if we were gone? Would they miss the playgroup that has served chiefly non-churchgoers, often new arrivals? Would they miss support for women in coercive control relationships (albeit a silent ministry)?

But the three priorities I mention list what church staff and congregation all do together, and their focus echoes Jesus’ final words.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)

Then there is what we as individuals or groups do that’s not officially “church”, of being salt and light.

So Letitia Shelton, please continue to campaign for a city free of porn.
Mick Pope, please continue to campaign on climate change.
Tim Costello, please continue to campaign against the betting-industrial complex and advocate for refugees along with many other Christians.
And Wendy Francis, please continue to police the ad industry, especially outdoor posters.

Now I don’t know for sure, but it occurs to me that Mick, Letitia, Tim and Wendy may not vote in precisely the same way. Even a cursory glance will reveal there are issues where they disagree with one another.

But Slope does not find it hard to see all of them as sincere Christians seeking to make a big difference in our nation. This columnist, as a newshound, talked to leaders of all four factions in the Christian Democratic Party, which dissolved recently. Christians can form political parties, just like any other group of voters. But Slope will be disappointed if a particular party is endorsed from the pulpit, lectern or stage at church.

It has been common for churches to perceive a push from the Left, but currently, pressure groups are active from the Right.

Issues that make it to the pulpit, such as abortion and euthanasia, tend to be those for a conscience vote in our political system. At the South Australian election, the Australian Christian Lobby campaigned for voters to support politicians who opposed a late-term abortion law. That included Peter Malinauskas, the new Labor premier, but not Stephen Marshall, the Liberal Premier defeated at the poll.

Sometimes politics wants to invade the Church. There are Christians who believe the Church should have a position on vaccination mandates; for example, they believe churches actively sin by not opposing rules that some occupations require workers to be vaccinated.

It has been common for churches to perceive a push from the Left, but currently, pressure groups are active from the Right.

I think it’s great that we have churches that keep out of politics in that party political sense for all these reasons. You can probably think of some countries where Christians are firmly welded to one party. Australia had a bout of that in the 1950s, especially in Victoria, where “the Movement” had Catholic priests led by their Archbishop recruiting (mostly) men to get involved in union politics and later the Democratic Labour Party.

Several people at my local church would have to plead guilty to putting up corflute signs during an election campaign. That’s great. Just remember to take them down afterwards. In some states, there’s a hefty fine for leaving them up more than 24 hours after election day.

* * *

Slippery Slope: The pretentious name for this column is explained here. Readers are encouraged to place bets on whether I can keep this thing going. Apologies, Tim Costello; I really should not promote wagering, should I?

* * *

Feedback: Regular reader Peter Cooper gave us a free translation of a theme in the Psalms – which Mr Slope believes deserves to be called the Paul Keating translation. Cooper wrote. “I am stunned again and again by the Psalms,” Cooper writes, “I have been handed a @#$% sandwich. Yet will I praise Him.”

* * *

De-mister-fied: News that my alma mater, the Nine papers, have got around to dropping honorifics (Ms, Mr, etc.) just confirms what a progressive bunch we are at Eternity. We dropped them at the start, although they tend to be like weeds because some people really are attached to them.

But actually, we dropped them out of fear – or incompetence. Christian journalism hits an honorific minefield. Churches vary their use, and it is frustratingly complex. Is it Rev, Rev(dot), Rev’d, the Rev’d? Each church thinks they have it right. And the title Pastor does not give us calm waters: is it Ps or Pr? We gave up long ago.