John Anderson AO served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia from July 1999 to July 2005. John is also a devout Evangelical Christian, and I caught up with him last year to discuss the challenges facing Christians in a post-Christian West.
Akos Balogh (AB): John, what are some of the main challenges facing Western Christians in the near future?
1) The Erasing of Our Christian Heritage
John Anderson (JA):
Western Christians face challenges on multiple fronts.
First, we have faced an unbelievably aggressive push against Christianity from the intellectual and media elite. And this has been aided by the extraordinary way in which the same people (but not only the same people) have been able to strip away any real understanding of our cultural roots.
Winston Churchill wrote that any society that doesn’t hand its history on – specifically referring to its religious beliefs and heroes – is a culture that effectively condemns its cultural roots, and moves away from them. He went on to say this leads young people open to Karl Marx’s dictum, that a people who do not know their history are very easily led.
I would cite one simple example.
The greatest human rights movement of all time – the banning of the European slave trade – wasn’t led by Enlightenment figures, who regarded slavery as the natural order of things. (They also regarded woman as inferior beings. Extrordinarily, that’s not known either.)
It was the Evangelicals who saw that every individual had worth and dignity, and that slavery, far from being justified by the Bible, had to be abolished. The White man couldn’t look down on another man simply because he wasn’t white, let alone own him as slaves. But all that’s been expunged from the historical narrative.
Instead, we have another narrative that says the Christians have been anti-science, have been anti-intellectuals, they’ve justified keeping slaves, keeping people in oppression, and treating women as second class citizens. None of this narrative stands up to close scrutiny.
What does that mean for the church?
Well, it means we’re increasingly facing an environment that is quite hostile.
What do we do about it?
We’re to be conscious that it’s rarely been easy for believers in any culture. And perhaps things are just normalising for us. On the other hand, given that the West is unlikely to arrest its serious social and economic decline, I suspect there’ll be many decent Australians starting to say ‘Well, the secularists have hardly managed to build a better world for us, so perhaps we shouldn’t pay so much attention to them.’
And this might open up opportunities for Christians to make our case – if we use those opportunities responsibly.
AB: So as the average Aussie sees where the secularist worldview is taking us, they might reject it, providing natural opportunities for Christians to make their case.
2) Challenges to Freedom of Speech
To give an example, research shows that many people are now worried about freedom of speech. Many of them must see the way Christians are stigmatised as homophobic and bigoted – and not just Christians, but anybody who happens to maintain the thousands-of-years-old-view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The totalitarian edge that you pick up now, especially amongst the younger generation, frightens many people. It’s certainly frightening to immigrants that have seen totalitarianism and its first tendency, which is to silence those who disagree.
3) The Same Sex Marriage Debate
AB: John, you were in Parliament in 2004 when the marriage act was amended to specifically cite that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I understand that it had bipartisan support at the time from Labor?
JA: It did.
AB: And twelve years later, which is a blink of an eye in human history, Labor is now saying that they won’t allow people in their party who believe that marriage is only between one man and one woman. Why this radical change in their view on marriage?
We’re disconnected from our roots. We’re a cut flower society. We no longer have any idea of where we came from, what made us great, who wrote the rule book on freedom, and so we leap all over the place on popular social movements.
When I was young, when I was at university, the predominant view on marriage amongst progressives was that it was an outdated institution, because it was the oppression of women, and legalised prostitution. And now they’ve smashed marriage, we know it’s in disarray, it’s massively weakened.
But now it’s suddenly such an incredibly valued thing that everyone should have access to it, even though, in one sense, [same-sex marriage] fails the test of logic: how can it be the same? Equality, by the way, is not ‘same’ – it doesn’t mean ‘the same’. So how can it be the same?
AB: So there are some real challenges here.
4) A Christian approach to Public Debate
Now the other point I want to make, though, is that the way we respond becomes incredibly important. We need to lift our understanding of what’s happening. And we need to lift the way in which we debate and argue the case. We shouldn’t be offside with genuine enquiry and deep analysis.
We believe in a God of order, and of justice, and of mercy who has infinite wisdom and knowledge. We were given brains to think with, and we should also understand the need to be very humble and self-effacing, taking ourselves lightly at the same time as we take the big issues of the day and other people’s concerns seriously.
AB: What do you mean by ‘taking ourselves lightly’?
We should not be proud. We need to remember that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. I know that I’m sinful. I know that I’m a deeply flawed human being. I need to be very careful lest I sound judgemental. Because I have a terrible inclination to be judgmental of those with whom I disagree with.
AB: So you’re saying we should understand the culture, in terms of what the concerns are, and in terms of where it’s headed. And then being able to speak winsomely so as to address people’s concerns?
Yes, that’s right. Furthermore, in our cultural climate, we need to be arguing the case for the most basic human right of all: freedom of conscience.
(Part 2 of 3 will be continued next week. We’ll be discussing freedom of conscience; the lie at the heart of modern culture; speaking up for others, and persecution.)