We’ve arrived at a mad, mad moment in Australian politics.

Thousands of years ago the army of Gilead fought against the army of Ephraim…

Judges 12:5-6 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ”

If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.

It was a simple test but the consequences were profound. The ability to say one word correctly was the difference between life and death. Since that day the term “shibboleth” has come to represent such a moment of testing, with the implication that it is often arbitrary or outmoded and certainly unnecessary and disproportionate.

Unnecessary and disproportionate are fitting words to describe the new shibboleth of Australian (and indeed much Western) public life. There is one topic, one question, that if you get wrong will land you in a whole heap of trouble. And the question is this:

Do you approve of gay sex?

Now it’s never asked that crudely but that’s the question. That’s the shibboleth.

I realise that’s quite a claim so let me prove it to you.

First, consider the uproar over the Israel Folau Instagram post. Here’s the full post, image and text, to remind you.

Now please note the full smorgasbord of things that people could get upset about in Izzy’s post. On the buffet menu of potential shibboleths there is drunkenness and alcoholism, adultery, lying and perjury, heterosexual sex outside marriage, theft, atheism, idolatry, lasciviousness, witchcraft, hatred, anger, heresy, envy and jealousy, violence and murder and a whole heap more.

And yet only one thing raised the ire of Rugby Australia. Gay Sex.

Yes, I know there is a difference between homosexual attraction and activity. I also know that the word “homosexuality” that Izzy used doesn’t make that distinction. But let’s face it, most of the world out there doesn’t make the distinction either.

The world out there doesn’t really care, either, whether it’s an exact quote from the Bible or not. My point here isn’t whether or not Izzy could have done it better. I’m not interested in that particular shibboleth (yes, I’m making a point there, Christians). I’m just putting out there the simple truth that this is the one issue that made everyone lose their minds.

Where was the concern for the mental wellbeing of those struggling with alcoholism? Where the care for those who find themselves to be compulsive kleptomaniacs? Where the solidarity with the oft-oppressed pagan priestesses and their much-misunderstood covens? They all faded into the background when Izzy pressed the Gay button and a segment of Australia broke into a hysteria not seen since the streets of Pyongyang at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral.

As we take all this in, let’s stop for a moment and consider the offence that Folau is meant to have committed, a “high level breach of the Code of Conduct“. Here’s the particular section he is charged under:

1.3  Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.

Now I may have a bias but I’m finding it hard to see exactly how this was breached. First, the requirement to “treat everyone fairly” – well, Israel didn’t pick out one particular group. You might not like what he said but he spread the comment very widely as we’ve already seen above. This is an important point: Folau didn’t single out homosexuals, Rugby Australia did.

It’s Rugby Australia that are making this about Gay Sex. They’re the ones obsessed with it. Folau mentions homosexuals as part of a long list but it triggered something in Rugby Australia and the supporting crowds and they demanded Folau’s head. You can call alcoholics all sorts of names and still get a pass, you can brand witches as immoral and still be allowed to cross the river, but don’t you dare speak out against the gay because that’s the shibboleth.

Folau hardly discriminated. If anything, the opposite was true; he cast the net far and wide. Nor did he “bully” or “harass”. He issued a warning (look again at the graphic) and told people clearly that Jesus loved them and he wanted them to avoid a terrible outcome. He didn’t tell anyone to treat people badly, instead he urged many to flee to Jesus for rescue from the coming wrath (1Thes. 1:10). He was Bondi rescue, not the shark prowling in the Bay.

Others have recently observed (quite rightly) that what is first a cultural norm will rapidly become legislated and this shibboleth is no exception. The attempts by the Federal Opposition to push this particular issue have already been well documented and it’s a surprise that it hasn’t fully come up in the election campaign until the last couple of days.

Yesterday, Morrison (the leader of the governing Liberal party) finally answered a direct question on whether he thought “homosexuals were going to hell”. Now of course it’s a set-up, it’s designed to trick him. If you want to know how to answer such a question then here’s an excellent suggestion (read the whole thread to get the full argument)…

Morrison finally issued a release that sought to settle things down. I’ll let the Sydney Morning Herald pick up the story from this point….

Mr Shorten [Leader of the Opposition] made an unprompted response to those remarks on Tuesday when campaigning in Tasmania. “I cannot believe in this election that there is a discussion even under way that gay people will go to hell,” Mr Shorten said.

So far so good. Shorten is telling Australia that this is a silly thing to be asking questions about and everyone should ignore the nonsense and get on to more serious issues.

Oh wait…

“I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell.”

Or, in other words, “Morrison failed the test and I want everyone to know that he did.” Shorten, given the chance to dissipate the issue, instead affirms the shibboleth and waves it in front of the media. He made it an election issue. Never mind that section 116 of the Constitution says that there ought to be no religious test for public office. The shibboleth trumps the Constitution.

I don’t think much more needs to be said here. We ought not to be surprised that there are many who think that this is a serious issue with deep ramifications. Christian Schools are rightly worried about their freedom to educate children in a manner consistent with their parents’ wishes and every employee in the land can look to the Folau case as a precursor of what they too can expect to face if they express their religious (or non-religious) point of view away from their workplace.

Christians, in particular, have every right to be concerned. The gospel by it’s very nature cannot and will not be confined to our homes and churches. It is a message to be spoken to the world, including the warning that those who do not respond are in very real danger.

Despite a poll published today showing that the majority of people support the freedom to express contrary views, the Labor party are determined to push through legislated enforcement of the shibboleth. Don’t be fooled; they’re going to put this one on the statute books and we won’t be allowed to cross the river safely anymore. We’ll be effectively cut down.

Far be it from me to tell you how to vote or at least how not to vote, but I think the answer to that question is becoming increasingly clear. The exercise of democracy in 2019 really is about freedom or the shibboleth.

image: Doris Salcedo “Shibboleth” photographed by ArtWithAPurpose

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9 comments on “Democracy, Freedom and the Shibboleth of Gay Sex

  1. Yes, I know there is a difference between homosexual attraction and activity<<

    Read Matthew 5:27-28 and then answer me this: Are you willing to differentiate between homosexual attraction and homosexual activity when a heterosexual married male can’t have a lasting glance at his neighbour’s wife? Careful how you answer as you risk throwing some under the bus.

    • Oh, I have no problem with the argument that you’re making – that desire itself is a sinful desire.

      I’m simply making the point about the language of “homosexual” – it’s fraught with confusion. There are some wonderful Christian “homosexual” men and women who seek to live godly lives. The description is used by them too, although they also affirm that homosexual desire is a sinful desire.

  2. Matthew 5:27-28 is not necessarily a blight on all heterosexual men with an eye for female beauty, it is a prompt for all people, sinners by nature, to repent and believe the gospel as Jesus expressed it in its most basic form (see Mark 1:15 and similar verses). Izzy Folau’s “offence” was simply to draw people’s attention to that gospel. It seems he, as a Christian believer and forgiven sinner, was trying to encourage others to accept the gospel too. That is an act of love for his fellow men and women, yet those who would pervert his words construe it as hate speech.

    That is what this argument is really about. On one side are forgiven sinners who know God’s grace and the power of His love, and want others to enjoy those things too, and on the other side are those whose hearts are devoted to sinful behaviours from which they are reluctant to repent. The point is the same whether those sinful behaviours are homosexual activity, heterosexual adultery, alcoholic excess, theft, lying or whatever. What is at stake is the right of Christians to express their love for non-Christians and to share the good news of the gospel with them.

    One can only wonder why active homosexuals in particular are apparently so offended by the gospel or why an organisation like Rugby Australia seems to be prepared to put the attitude of a major sponsor above its own code “to treat everyone fairly”, or indeed why one political leader would choose to try to make this a political issue.

  3. In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus gives the definitive edition of the law that proscribing adultery and more besides. My question: isn’t the absence of the word “another” (as in “another woman”) pertinent? Making one’s wife into an object to satisfy a (covetous/possessive) sexual desire is hereby forbidden and it is effected by linking the 7th to the 10 commandments. Quite apart from the 10th commandment’s warning to the non-married not to covet the status of marriage for their own friendships, we also note that Jesus has here put husbands on notice concerning their relationship with their wives under Heaven.

    Much of this tortuous sexuality debate hangs on the mistaken premise that there is a “basic choice” (essential perhaps? – see below) to be made between whether one desires in a hetero- or homo- way, Matthew 5:27-30 cuts the ground from beneath such pagan presumption.

    Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108 and 109 (What is God’s Will for us in the 7th Commandment?; Does God in this Commandment forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?) puts the emphasis upon God’s will for us in “decent and chaste lives”, forbidding “everything which incites unchastity”.

    Debate about human sexuality was part of my own professional engagement in academic sociology in universities of this country and New Zealand in the 1970s to the late 1990s.That meant wrestling with post-structuralist philosophy and its critique of “essentialism”. The post-enlightenment view of sexuality has dismissed the notion that a person is to be defined in terms of one or other “essential functions”. The critique of prevailing (traditional) views proceeded by focusing upon what people said was the “essential core” of their identity to then proceed to demonstrate (deconstruct) that “essence” to show it was no such thing but had been “socially/culturally/historically constructed”. In other words, if I am a traditional or conventional male then I have been socialised to view myself in terms of a sexuality emerging in processes (family – patriarchal values; church providing protestant bourgeois ethics and school that prepared me for capitalist society) telling me my normal sexual desire is for females. And hence a male’s “heterosexual” identity was not “essential” at all but “constructed” a mere reflection of the powers within the society in which that person lives. Freedom, it is presumed, is found only by resisting the construction-processes – pushing against the normalisation processes to discover one’s own “identity” … instead of “essential core” we now have to deal with the weasel-worded construct: “identity”. Is this not the old “essence” in new lingual garb….

  4. Mike: I too am glad to be part of this trenchant discussion provoked by David that issues the warning that many church leaders have been ducking and weaving in order to avoid: “Don’t be fooled; they’re going to put this one on the statute books and we won’t be allowed to cross the river safely anymore. We’ll be effectively cut down.” As Christian citizens, adhering to the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles concerning marriage, we will have to develop a political explanation in public justice terms why Parliament’s 2017 Marriage Act is a serious legislative mistake. There’s no getting around that. Trying to duck and weave around that will only result (to change the football code metaphor) in an “own goal”, as has been suggested by “Someone in cyberspace”. Keep up the good work David!

  5. I agree with Bruce on one thing – Christian church leaders have ducked & weaved for seventeen months around the obvious question raised for them by Parliament’s 2017 decision to change the legal, the temporal, definition of marriage to “the union of 2 people”. The obvious question is do we stay involved in administering a Marriage Act containing that definition?

    The longer they prevaricate the more they encourage today’s Gileadites to legislate further shibboleths for Australian Christians to stumble over.

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