What Do You Want?


What’s on your mind?

Facebook asks me this question every time I log on.  As I scroll down my timeline I feel encouraged to give my thoughts on topics religious, political, and just about everything in between.

“What do I think about this?” I wonder.

Over the last few years, however, two books have made me think twice (ironically) about whether what’s going on is quite so simple as that.

In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, uses the metaphor of an elephant and a rider. The elephant represents our subconscious world: our emotions, intuitions, and flash reactions (disgust, attraction, etc). The rider is our intellect and reasoning.

Through much research, Haidt’s conclusion is this: elephant’s rule. We have an intuitive response to almost everything, and our minds then work to justify that response. We think we’ve arrived there by “thinking”, but actually we’re far less rational then that. Haidt puts it like this… Continue reading


Here’s something I’ve been pondering…

I am a Baptist by conviction. My denomination isn’t perfect, but I feel a sense of belonging and I believe in core Baptist principles like the priesthood of all believers and baptism by immersion.

But imagine for a second that through reading and prayer, I came to the conclusion that God was calling me to baptise infants. Perhaps I met a couple who sincerely believed in infant baptism, who asked if I would baptise their child, and that led me on a journey to where I decided that I wanted to affirm and practice the baptism of infants.

Perhaps then, I discussed this with my elders, then my congregation (let’s go with Sunnybrook Baptist, since – I hope – it doesn’t exist), and they agreed with me.

Of course, an issue would be that we had now taken a stance that would be hard to argue as “Baptist”. Would we be the first Baptist church in history to embrace and teach infant baptism? Possibly. Almost certainly if we only considered New Zealand Baptists.

What then?

I guess there would be two possible paths.

First, we could – as gracefully and graciously as possible – inform the Baptist Union that through a sincere and thorough process, we’d moved outside of historic Baptist tradition. Attempting to keep relationships intact, we’d still have to own the fact that we’d embraced a position that wasn’t a Baptist one. Maybe we’d change our church’s name to Sunnybrook Community Church. Or maybe we’d look to join with a denomination who shared the theological position we’d recently come to. This would be a necessarily sad process, but it would also be one we’d make with integrity.

The other path is more complicated.

We could, I suppose, argue that our unity as a denomination is more important than what our church teaches about baptism. We could argue that instead of just one view of baptism that is acceptable to the whole Baptist movement, the Baptist Union should be wide enough to include different views on baptism. That there should be space for you to hold to your conviction about baptism and for me to hold to mine. Not to mention, the Christian Church has always grown and changed. Maybe baptism by immersion is no longer as essential as it used to be.

…Option one is sad and difficult, but it seems to me that it would be the path of integrity. If the above actually happened, I don’t think many pastors would opt for the second path. After all, it would render our union kind of meaningless, or at the very least pretty shallow. As well as that, most theologically trained pastors would know that if we wanted to make a compelling case for calling ourselves “Baptist” while at the same time embracing a position that has never been taken by Baptists historically, we’d have to come up with a more convincing argument than, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I think you could exchange the issue but the above imaginary story would play out the same. Maybe Sunnybrook Baptist decides that they love me as their pastor so much, that they want to do away with congregational governance and ordain me as their priest. Whatever.

If the above were to actually occur, I don’t think many Baptists would be convinced that Sunnybrook was still a legitimate Baptist church. I don’t think Sunnybrook would think of itself as a legitimate Baptist church.

…This weekend at the Baptist Gathering, delegates (of which I’m one) are going to be voting on whether to affirm two proposals:

 1. That Baptist pastors do not conduct same sex marriages.

 2. That Baptist property is not used for the holding of same sex marriage ceremonies. Continue reading

Oppressed & Oppressors

I’ve read three things recently which have made me mad. Three things which seem to me to highlight humanity’s sad inclination to oppress the most vulnerable.

First, I’ve been reading about the American drone program. This is an increasingly frighting remote control arms race which the Obama administration has been pursuing. Drone strikes often ignore  international law and national borders, and they turn war into a distant video game for “pilots” who sit at computers back in Arizona. But more than that, the psychological cost is huge, especially for civilians in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, who live in fear of random missiles raining from the sky. These are simply the latest in a long line of people who experience oppression under the boot of the empire.

Second, I’ve been reading about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor who was just convicted of murdering three babies who were born alive. This case has brought the topic of abortion to attention in the public sphere again. It’s an emotive topic, and I admit to feeling real anger as a Christian for the millions of babies who never get to have a voice. Can there be a more stark example of oppression than this? I also know that the factors which lead to abortion are complicated, and education is such a high need. I feel anger on behalf of the women who live in poverty because of the oppressive decisions of governments or local city councils, and who see abortion as their only option. It’s hugely sad and hugely complicated.

Third, I’ve been reading about my own governments decision to effectively add to Auckland’s gambling problem as payment for their own glittering idol. So, Auckland gets a $402 million convention centre, funded by SkyCity, and SkyCity gets, among other things, 230 pokie extra machines, 40 extra gambling tables, and (from the article) “gets its licence extended to 2048 and until then, if any future Government changes gambling laws and affects the profits the company gets from its new concessions, the taxpayer will have to pay compensation.” This is a deal with the devil paid for off the back of problem gamblers. It is oppressive legislation, both to people caught up in gambling and to every New Zealander for the next 35 years. Continue reading

Christian Political Posture

Increasingly, in the Western world, the Christian voice is not a welcome one in the marketplace of ideas.

This video (which my friend Cameron sent my way) unpacks this quite well, focusing on the debate around same-sex marriage; it’s almost as if the moral worldviews of secularism and Christianity are now so far apart that it’s impossible to do anything except talk past one another.

To put it simply, we’re living in a post-Christian culture.

That in mind, the de-registration of Family First as a charity this week got me thinking.

Not thinking so much about whether it was fair or not. As long as the law is applied consistently, I don’t feel it’s outrageous that a political lobby group shouldn’t have charitable status. Besides, to be honest, while I respect the fact that Family First does represent a healthy chunk of Christians on many issues, I’ve generally found their approach a bit shrill for my liking.

No, what I’ve been thinking about is how Jesus would have us Christians respond to our shrinking influence and political capital.
Continue reading

Marriage Equality

Dear ___________,

Last night the Marriage Equality Bill passed into law. I know you’re pretty excited about that.

As a Christian and a pastor, throughout the process I’ve wondered if there is anything I should do or say. I’ve considered making theological arguments, stating my “position” on a social networking site, and a couple of other things. In the end though, I reckon that I’m just going to write you this letter, because I want to convey how I feel, as well as what I think.

I’m not really a fan of apologising on behalf of others, but I do want to acknowledge at the beginning that there have been some pretty tactless and sometimes dumb things said and posted by Christians about this bill. I’ve read some of it and cringed. I do believe that constructive political engagement is possible for Christians (there’s an Anglican named Tom Wright who has written quite well about this) but in the world of “us vs. them” politics I’m not sure what that looks like. I haven’t particularly liked most of what I’ve seen when it comes to Christians engaging politically in any area, but I don’t exactly have any answers either.

I also realise that for the people who supported the Marriage Equality Bill this is a historic time. Socially and culturally I think I get that. I realise that in this environment, Christians who oppose gay couples getting married come off as killjoys, or if you’re really enthusiastic, bigots. I don’t think many of us enjoy our position on this issue, and sometimes – if I’m honest – it feels a little bit embarrassing. This is the world we live in, after all.

Having said that, I’d like to take a shot at explaining why I land where I do.   Continue reading