Bible 101: 1 Peter 3:14-16

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

As I write this, I have just  returned from visiting an elderly  member of my congregation in hospital. She was doing okay, but she’s not getting any younger, nor getting any healthier. In fact, she is preparing not just for death but also for suffering. However, these are preparations she feels confident to make because (as she pointed out to me) Jesus, time and time again, warns his disciples of the persecution and suffering that is likely to accompany their confession of him. The apostles continue that theme—in word and deed!—and Peter, in his first letter, gives it great and careful attention.

The suffering in which Peter is most interested is Jesus’ suffering. The apostle, earlier in his letter, writes that the sufferings of Christ are to do with the salvation of the souls of those who hope in him (1 Pet 1:3911), a purpose he returns to when he declares “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24).

Jesus’ sufferings are also an encouragement for Christians as they suffer in the many possible ways life brings. However, one of the ways they are notto suffer is for their own disobedience. Peter has very little sympathy for such criminals. But when Christians suffer because they “do good” and are “mindful of God”, such suffering, he writes, is a “gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Pet 2:18-21)!

It is so gracious a thing that Peter can hardly even imagine anyone wanting to harm those who are “zealous for what is good” (1 Pet 3:13). And yet he knows Christians will indeed “suffer for righteousness’ sake” and he calls such suffering a blessing (1 Pet 3:14). Peter has already written about how suffering and trials test one’s faith, that it may be proven genuine at the final revelation of Christ, and that Christians therefore should rejoice in suffering, difficult as that may be (1 Pet 1:6-7). But in 1 Peter 3:14-16, Christians are given another reason to rejoice in suffering. The assumption here is that their hope—that is, the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” to which we have been born again (1 Pet 1:3)—will be evident in their suffering and, for those of us not currently suffering, evident in our lives. And that being the case, Peter envisages opportunities to defend and proclaim and speak the truth about the gospel of the one we are to regard in our hearts as holy, Christ the Lord.

Christians hold different views as to whether or not we are all called to be evangelists. But there can be no disagreement about this: all Christians have the responsibility and the divine commission to know what they believe and why they believe it, so that, when asked, they might give a clear and faithful account of the hope they have in Christ. Our responsibility to witness in this way is regardless of whether or not we are suffering, regardless of whether or not we are ‘in ministry’, regardless of whether or not we have formal theological or biblical training.

Peter does, however, add one caveat. Our defence of the Christian faith is to be done with “gentleness and respect” and out of “a good conscience”. The way we conduct our evangelism, answer questions, and interact with unbelievers… these things are not the gospel. But they must be done gently, respectfully, politely, kindly, truthfully and in a Christ-like manner, so that the gracious gospel of God is not contradicted by the ungraciousness of his people.

As I prayed with my dear friend in hospital today, this was her only prayer: that through her sufferings, and in every aspect of her life, she would have opportunities—and take opportunities—to speak clearly about the hope she has in Christ, doing this in such a way that honours him, even when she is slandered, and that she would consider this a blessing, being neither fearful nor troubled. That is a prayer all Christians should pray, and one that I need to pray before I next speak to a non-Christian.

This article first published in the Briefing magazine on 30 January 2013.

Nanny Knows Best in the Country of Her Birth

I’ve had a few people refer me to an article in Friday’s National Times, wherein one Ben Jellis – whose qualification is that he’s a lawyer and that he lived in the UK two years – opines that England has gone safety mad. I think he means the United Kingdom. But geographical precision aside, is this guy for real? The article even says that it took him six month to work it out!

The United Kingdom is known internationally as being ruled by OH & S despots, and certainly all Britons recognise this. How could anyone there, even a tourist of only a few days, not realise, as their every move is watched and scrutinised via CCTV?

And surely as a visitor to London gazes upon the sea of fluorescent vests on any major intersection they realise they are not in Kansas anymore. The ones that really stand out in the UK these days are those not so brightly attired!

Mind you, Australia is not much better when it comes to high visability! The latest craze sees all bus drivers so dressed. These are the same bus drivers prohibited – by force of a sticker affixed to every driver-side window – from entering the bus by way of said window.

But I digress.

The archetype of Britain’s fixation with health and safety used to be the ominously named Health & Safety Executive. This quango makes Australia’s various Workcover authorities look like like toothless tigers and bastions of libertarian thought and deed. But the new archetype is actually the curious (and tragic) case of Simon Burgess (I have written about it here) which cast a pall of shame across Britain, and rightly so. Burgess drowned in three feet of still water as hundreds of people – among them dozens of police officers, firefighters and paramedics – all refused to assist. The civilians had the excuse that they were not sworn officers, and the sworn officers could not possibly enter such a treacherous body of water on pain of official sanction by – you guessed it – the Health & Safety Executive. “More than my job’s worth…” and all that!

If it took the National Times‘ intrepid correspondent six months of English living to detect some health and safety madness, one wonders how long it took him to link this national obsession with the security arrangements for the Olympic Games. But in any case, he has made an erroneous – even a ridiculous – link.

The Health and Safety Industrial Complex that Jellis decries is one of the more ghastly outcomes of the broader nanny state that exists in Australia, as well as Britain. The nanny state – the term was coined by British MP Iain Macleod in 1965 – is that social and political environment in which personal responsibility is minimized so that the government is able to fulfill its role as a nanny – caring for the every need of those in its charge.

And if only Jellis’ all-seeing eye of CCTV was where the nanny-ing stopped. In one sense I don’t really care if a government agent (or more likely a contracted security guard with a one week course under his belt) watches me on the number 12 bus. The objection to the nanny state is founded on what it precludes, rather than on what it sees.

But security, policing and defence are legitimate functions of the state. Of course, they can be taken too far but a free society needs strong defence and police forces to protect that freedom.

Is positioning anti-aircraft missiles on apartment rooftops going too far? Maybe, but I wouldn’t know.

But the protection of athletes, tourists and citizens in London is exactly what the government should be focusing on in the lead-up to the Olympics this July and August, and within reason, some erring on the side of caution is appropriate and understandable.

In any case, Jellis makes a serious category mistake to conflate defence/police/security and OH & S. The former is what the state must be involved in because, on an individual level, we cannot. The latter is about personal responsibility, personal choice, individual decisions and individual freedom, things which the British sacrificed a long time ago, and which, sadly, it takes about two days to realise.

This article first published in On Line Opinion on 8 May 2012.

A Real States’ House

After the indigenous shenanigans of Australia Day, and after further developments as to who said what, prime ministerial talk of a referendum has been put on hold. This week’s Closing the Gap statement to parliament, however, is perhaps seen as a gentle way of easing the electorate back into that discussion, guided as it now is by the recommendations of the so-called Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Any referendum in the terms of the expert panel’s report is guaranteed to fail, regardless of whether or not it has bipartisan support – substituting one racistrace provision for a meaningless race provision will not be seen by the voting public as a good reason to bugger around with a document that has served Australia well. And that was the consensus before what happened on Australia Day!

Of course the now infamous sections 25 and 51 (xxvi) of the Constitution should be repealed. In fact they should never have been enacted. Just as the proposed sections 51A, 116A and 127A should never be enacted. I suppose I could be wrong on the outcome of such a referendum, but I comfort in the hope that I’m right.

But allow me to suggest a constitutional change that even hope could not help, but one that actually would actually go a long way to “secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” ensuring democracy and freedom for them, as well as for run-of-the-mill Aussies like me.

What it will take to do this is a change to the Australian Senate. There is, of course, an equal number of senators for each of the unequally populated states, the point being to represent the states, protecting their rights, and limiting the power of the Commonwealth. In fact, that aspect of the federal system is designed to, according to the Senate’s website, provide “an additional safeguard against misuse of government powers.”

But of course it does nothing of the sort. When 18 of the 31 Labor senators are either government ministers or parliamentary secretaries, the chance of the Senate providing any real sort of oversight or safeguard against the misuse of federal powers is nil. And with the further expansion of federal powers, every Labor and coalition senator is a potential minister, utterly compromising the Senate’s function of limiting the federal executive government to protect the states. And because we do have minister-senators (and I’m not against that practice per se), we need an unelected senate even more than the United States. To be sure there are some Australian senators who believe in small government and state rights, but they are few and far between.

And if you’re unconvinced about the federal takeover of state powers, look no further than the recent debate about poker machines. Until Andrew Wilkie got “wilkied” by Julia Gillard, it had been a deal and a promise made between the government and an independent member of parliament. And just so we’re clear, Wilkie is a federal member of parliament – a member of the parliament that, according to section 51 of the Constitution, has no power to make laws regarding poker machines, or gambling generally, or the registering and licensing of pubs and clubs. I mean, the commonwealth can legislate for the coinage that the pokies gobble up (subsection xii), the registration of the banks that provide the ATMs in question (xiii), and, currently at least, even banning Aborigines (or Poms and Kiwis, for that matter) from using pokies (xxvi). But not the way the machines work, or how much can be dispensed by the adjacent ATM. The current (at least theoretical) state supremacy in this issue can be most clearly seen in Western Australia where pokies are confined to the casino, not as part of a federal agenda, but as a result of rightly-made, constitutionally sound, state legislation.

So here’s the plan. Let’s amend the Constitution such that senators are not elected but rather appointed by their respective state (and territory) parliaments. I admit that this may seem like a bizarre arrangement and, on the face of it, a throwback to a less democratic age. But consider two things:

Firstly, this arrangement is actually how the United States Constitution was originally intended. The “Connecticut Compromise” of 1787 dictated that all states would be equally represented in the upper house, and that senators would be elected by the state legislature, ensuring that they defended the rights of state governments to legislate on state matters. Of course anyone who follows the U.S. midterm elections knows that this arrangement is no longer in operation, the current system being but a recent innovation, coming into force with the 17th Amendment in 1913. The American result: an expansionist federal government. Who’d have thought?

Secondly, although an elected senate results in greater representation – and particularly if you live in Tasmania – it never guarantees greater democracy. But it does guarantee an erosion of state powers, rendering impotent both the Constitution, and the democratic process at that more local level.

My proposal, however, like that of the expert panel, is guaranteed to fail. But in this instance, it is not because it wouldn’t produce real, tangible benefits for states and those who live in them, but because the allure of “greater representation” trumps “real democracy” every time.

This article first published in On Line Opinion on 17 February 2012.