The public bullying of those expressing personal views is increasingly troublesome. Last week, Australian tennis great, Margaret Court, was pilloried for sharing an opinion, despite attacking no-one. It seems that the honour of individuals is becoming dependent on behaving in a manner dictated by others. It has become clear that freedom of speech is only acceptable for those who give the right speech. This incident highlights the need to consider how we, too, might respond when similarly attacked by the whims of the political correctness brigade.
Court was not the first to raise eyebrows over the decision of our national carrier, QANTAS, to weigh into the gay marriage debate, the issue in question here. QANTAS is a business and its chief executive spoke on same-sex marriage in his official capacity, not as an individual. Predictably, many supported him and there is little doubt that he would never have been so vocal if there was any substantial risk of a public backlash.
Now, though, Margaret Court has received one. As a high-profile former tennis star turned pastor, she is sadly an easy target in the media who regard her, at best, as the ageing product of an antiquated values system and, at worst, as a bigoted religious zealot.
Nevertheless, a mere three out of twenty-two letters to the editor published in a major daily newspaper on Saturday on this issue actually opposed her stance. It seems that many are growing similarly frustrated over being dictated to by those who vehemently oppose one objective truth while creating another of their own.
Here’s a few thoughts, then, on how to best respond to verbal assaults similar to those endured by Margaret Court.
1. Show Grace Under Fire
Margaret Court has not committed a crime. She has not been intolerant. She simply stated: “I am disappointed that Qantas has become an active promoter for same-sex marriage. I believe in marriage as a union between a man and woman as stated in the Bible. Your statement leaves me no option but to use other airlines where possible for my extensive travelling.”
Some now call her judgemental and want the eponymous Margaret Court arena to be re-named. Really? She simply inferred, as have others, that QANTAS exceeded its charter in taking a stance on a public moral issue, that this disappoints her due to her personal views, and that there will be times where she chooses to fly with other airlines as a result.
Her grace in merely clarifying issues since and in not resorting to attack as a form of defence (or to excessive self-justification) offers us a salient lesson. Our emotions can provoke responses with some heat of our own when the blowtorch is applied by others (who are often similarly emotional). Calm rationality is not always easy, but it is important in avoiding having our key focus compromised by any personal attacks on individuals.
Grace is key virtue in a well-positioned response to people that stays factual, objective and unemotional (as in required in Colossians 4:6).
Court’s own stance reflects Christ’s in this regard; He left us an example to follow that there would be no deceit and that we would not “revile in return” when harshly attacked by others (1 Peter 2:20-23, Matthew 5:11).
Many suggest that grace or love are attributes of God that Christians should reflect non-judgmentally. This is understandable, but depends on what is meant. Any permissive stance that contradicts other requirements of the Bible due to self-determined preferences is a form of ‘scissoring-to-suit.’
Selective use of the Bible usually disregards context and also the fact that God’s perfect love does not override His other attributes or His requirements of us. In the gay marriage debate, what is often lost is that He opposes any sex outside heterosexual marriage. Many people are selectively opposed to homosexuality (and show little grace in the process), while hypocritically and conveniently avoiding others prohibitions. These are, however, established in loving consideration of our best interests by a God who created sex in the first place.
2. Elevate the Jesus of Relationship
Of course, many companies are now expressing their support of gay marriage, including Tennis Australia and other Australian airlines. It is difficult to find any business brave enough to take an active contrary stand. (Where were the outspoken CEOs a generation ago, when society as a whole felt differently?)
Sometimes, therefore, a different approach to boycotting is needed in framing issues of concern, albeit with the acceptance that attacks will still come from people defending their own position.
It is helpful to shift our focus from better presenting issues to better presenting Jesus. This doesn’t negate the need to present issues, but presenting issues often engages the head whereas knowing Christ can engage the heart.
This doesn’t mean glibly offering a God-loves-you-anyway cop out from discussing issues. It just means that unless people encounter the person of Christ, they seldom have any basis for seeing things the way a Christian does. Jesus said that being a Christian was about being born again, and this spiritual connection is not won at the intellectual level.
We live in a society that doesn’t politely engage in rational discussion. It appears to have little problem with its inconsistencies such as accusing people of intolerance intolerantly, customising a spirituality based on contradictory beliefs, or even adapting the Bible selectively in reinforcing personal bias.
That’s why promoting the message of Christ and what He was for and not just against, takes the focus away from the shaky terrain of debate, given that debates are seldom easy to win, regardless of which position is taken on any issue. This is not to say that I don’t see a place for commentary on social concerns, of course, but this is less likely to shape people’s spirituality than better encountering the one who can make them spiritual.
Knowing Jesus personally tends to create a radical shift in people’s views and priorities, anyway.
3. Get or Give Objective Commentary
It seems that many believe it is just a matter of time before gay marriage becomes law in Australia, despite the fact that marriage is, in and of itself, heterosexual in nature. It is an institution that cannot logically be given just any chosen definition; to do so misunderstands what it is and what it is not.
That its origins are biblical means that citing Scripture is not a matter of religious preference, but of historical validation of the current legal definition of marriage in terms of being between a man and a woman, voluntarily entered into for life.
Responding to attacks about biblically-related issues then, needs a better understanding of the Bible. Ridiculous assertions that following the Bible means stoning people to death for homosexuality just take verses out of context. Telling Margaret Court that the Bible says women should be silent in church does the same. When defending the Bible, I will answer genuine questions, but prefer people to try and understand that the Bible is read in light of the New Testament perspective and appreciating what is clearly historically bound rather than applicable to any generation.
We may sometimes need help to best consider an unemotional and informed defence of marriage that others unwittingly undermine when they redefine it. Accordingly, we also need help to better ‘do marriage’ well.
After all, problems that seemingly compromise the ideal of traditional marriage do not actually invalidate it. Divorce rates, for example, may be suggestive of difficulties in marriage but are irrelevant in determining the nature of marriage.
Marriage would better be celebrated and honoured if more help was pursued (or offered) to improve it.
Marriage is an exclusive and covenantal bond that people enter with intentions that are no less valid in the tough times. If it was worth the work, is it ever not worth the work? Cars that are bogged need bigger vehicles to rescue them, just as we all need support in areas of life that are valuable even when they are hard.
One Hollywood actress recently felt that it was unnatural to remain both monogamous and committed to something so difficult as marriage. She would sure not have condoned her own husband cheating on her at the times she was most committed to him!
Of course, tennis players need coaches and hard work to achieve the greatness they consider worthy of their best efforts. Without this, they remain mere journeymen. Marriage will likely fall short of its ideal heights, too, when we expect it to succeed by itself.
To be clear, it is in seeking to stay with the main game, we can always look to improve the odds of success.
Whether that’s in marriage, in living out our faith, or in articulating an opinion, we can stay focused on that success when, to borrow from another sport, we ‘play the ball and not the man.’