Can a Christian support same sex marriage?

Many of you will have clicked on this article because for you, this question is a no brainer. For some, the answer will be “Of course!” For others, “Of course not!” Such is the controversial nature of this debate.

My hope is that other readers will have found the title of this post appealing because they are genuinely not sure of the answer, either as Christians (of any sexual orientation) working through their own views, or as members of the LGBTIQ community who don’t profess a faith but would like to know whether they have the support and acceptance of people of faith.

While the answer to this fraught question could just as easily be ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or anything in between, depending on who you ask, after writing looooong comments on many Christian posts regarding this issue, I have decided to put some thoughts together on my answer.

This is not a comprehensive manifesto explaining why I, as a Christian, support same sex marriage – that should probably be another article in itself. Rather, I simply want to challenge the idea that Christians must subscribe to the dominant public position of many church leaders for their view to be legitimately ‘Christian.’

When it comes to the question, ‘Can a Christian support same sex marriage?’ I am firmly of the ‘Yes’ camp. Firstly, because I myself am Exhibit A: a Christian who supports same sex marriage. When I express this view to some Christians, an assumption follows that I am simply subscribing to a liberal agenda based on feelings and have not done due diligence considering the question through the lens of my faith. This is incorrect and rather offensive. In fact, I grappled with my position on same sex marriage over many years, prayerfully, in light of Scripture and in consultation with trusted peers on both ends of the spectrum. For me, supporting same sex marriage and posting about it here are a result of my Christian faith, not in conflict with it.

Any judgement about what a Christian ‘can or cannot’ support in relation to social issues should not be answered within a theological vacuum. Regardless of your interpretation of Scripture, if there are genuine, heartfelt Christians who have arrived at their position as a result of their faith, engaging in prayer and with Scripture, who is anyone to say they ‘can’t’ hold this view? So yes, Christians can support same sex marriage – first of all, because many do. Even most, depending on how you define ‘Christian’, and if you believe the results of the recent Galaxy poll on this topic or consider the trends reflected in the recently released finding of the rigorous national HILDA survey.

A second reason I would answer ‘yes’ to the question posed in this article is that I believe that marriage is essentially a civil and legal concept. This does NOT mean that, as a Christian, I do not see the institution of marriage as God-ordrained. I am simply not convinced by the frequent argument that marriage is essentially a religious institution. Of course, it may be for those within faith communities. However, for years now ABS data has indicated that the majority of Australian marriages have taken place outside of a religious context. Further, marriage exists – and is differently defined – throughout history and culture. I am no ancient historian, but I think I can safely assume that it pre-dates the birth of Judeo-Christian culture. Christian marriage as we practice it today differs vastly according to culture and denomination, and looks very different to what it did in biblical times as a result. This is not to say that there is not a place for a religious definition of marriage; to the contrary. I just do not believe that ‘place’ is in the legislation and civil procedures of a nation that necessarily separates church and state.

I don’t believe that those who subscribe to a religious conception of marriage should assume that this is the only definition of marriage, especially when, in our society, even religious marriages must be authorised by the state according to law. In my opinion, separating religious and civil marriage ceremonies completely, as they do in France and some other countries, would make this whole discussion a lot easier. To impose a religiously defined concept of marriage on people who do not share one’s religious views makes no sense to me.

I have many more thoughts on this matter, but I trust that the points I have put forward here will already result in enough opposition from my Christian readers to respond to in a given week!

More than anything else, I hope it has acted as food for thought and leaves you with the impression that Christians CAN reasonably support same sex marriage, even if certain Christians disagree with their conclusion.

The Handmaid’s Tale: A timely indictment of conservative religion

(Originally published by Ethos Engage.Mail)

When I heard The Handmaid’s Tale was headed for the small screen, I dived afresh into the novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, which I had first attempted to read in high school but never finished. Probably not the wisest decision just months out from the launch of the series, which, like all literary adaptations, was bound to suffer from comparison.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Offred (Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men) is a handmaid, a glorified sex slave in the dystopian, totalitarian theocracy of Gilead. Handmaids are captive mothers, forcibly separated from their families and ‘re-educated’ to become subservient vessels of reproduction for the infertile ruling class. They are robbed of their identities and freedoms and brutalised in the name of God.

The adaptation

Diehard Atwood fans may be disappointed at how much creative licence is taken with regard to the plot. Whole episodes diverge almost completely from the novel, mostly to flesh out the experiences of key characters whose fates were previously shrouded in mystery. While I was initially frustrated by these new storylines, they do serve to update the original 80s narrative for a contemporary audience. Unlike the book, the screen interpretation features a number of African-American characters and a deeper exploration of the plight of the so-called ‘gender traitors’.

The expansion of these characters’ journeys also makes the series more thrilling and dramatic, a necessity for the audio-visual format. The solitary unknowing and inner drama of the novel would perhaps not have translated so well to screen. To their credit, the creators have compensated for this loss with an expert rendering of the ‘feel’ of the novel; the bleak colouring, sombre soundtrack and use of slow motion faithfully portray the sense of chronic terror and despair that underlies the narrative.

What I found most compelling about the series, however, was its message. Some viewers have labelled it ‘anti-Christian’ or ‘anti-religious’, but I don’t think this is the case at all. I think the series – like the novel – is an insightful, prophetic warning about the dangers of taking conservative doctrines too far. The Handmaid’s Tale series warns against three key dangers for the church: graceless religion, tolerating abuse and engaging in moral hypocrisy.

Graceless religion

Convinced that a major fertility crisis is the result of immorality, the Sons of Jacob seize control of the United States in order to enforce a return to ‘traditional’ values. They set up a rigid, hierarchical class system and use Biblical language and references to justify control, harsh punishment and ritualised rape. Gilead is an extreme case, however it is a stark example of the dangers of Old Testament-inspired legalism.

The training and treatment of Offred and the other handmaids is strongly reminiscent of the strict discipline, emphasis on modesty and conformity, and harsh punishment often associated with religious boarding schools and other institutions. People who are subject to such conditions often walk away from God because the experience makes faith seem so unappealing. Many wind up scarred for life.

Rules-based forms of Christianity bind adherents to an endless cycle of striving, guilt and inadequacy, leaving no room for error or even individuality. They give people a warped view of God, such that they may never truly experience his unconditional love and acceptance.

Tolerating abuse

Many Christians are quick to point the finger at Muslims for oppressing women and promoting violence. However, few Christians will admit that Christianity has the propensity to be misused in this way. We need only look at history to see countless examples of Christian individuals, groups and institutions perpetrating oppression and violence in God’s name.

Recent revelations about Christian doctrines being used by perpetrators to justify domestic violence, and the legacy of shame unearthed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, are two pertinent, local examples of Christian principles being misapplied to bring about considerable harm.

In his book, Less than Human, David Livingstone Smith argues that dehumanisation is usually a precursor to unjust treatment and atrocity. In the Handmaid’s Tale, fertile women are reduced to walking wombs and are treated cruelly as a result. Infidels who cannot bear children – such as doctors performing abortions and people of other Christian denominations and religions – are dehumanised completely and often put to death. As the Commander says, ‘Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.’

Engaging in moral hypocrisy

One of the most concerning things for Christians opposed to Donald Trump has been the religious right’s willingness to overlook his many indiscretions regarding women in favour of their ‘pro-life’ agenda. The propensity for religious conservatives to tolerate private moral indiscretions, especially of the sexual variety, is explored in the Handmaid’s Tale, where the moralistic leadership is more than happy to remove someone’s limb for committing adultery, later to be found cavorting with prostitutes in a secret and illegal bar.

This kind of hypocrisy is reminiscent of the kind of religion peddled by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness… You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!…You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (Matthew 23:23-28)

Where to from here?

The Handmaid’s Tale is a stark and bitter-tasting portrayal of bad religion, the kind that lurks in the shadows of our own hearts and histories and that can insidiously pollute our churches and communities. How will we respond when we see graceless religion being taught and practiced, oppression and violence being tolerated, and leaders engaging in moral hypocrisy?

Will we be like the Commander and his wife, who started off as dynamic idealists but were sucked into a brutal system that left them joyless, harsh and hypocritical? Will we be like Aunt Lydia, so convinced of her black and white doctrine that she is willing to harm others in its name? Will we be like Offred, who sees the system for what it is and risks her life to fight for freedom? Or will we be like Christine, the nun we meet briefly in episode seven, who dedicates her life to freeing others as part of the resistance?

The choice is ours.

In defence of millennials

Millennials get a pretty bad rap.

We’re accused of being lazy, narcissistic, non-committal clicktivists with short attention spans and a tendency to stay at home leeching off our parents FOR EVER.

While any commentary about generations involves massive, unsubstantiated generalisation (spoilers: this one included!) I find this assessment of myself and my peers offensive and plain wrong. Yes, I know a handful of people in my age group who tick all of those boxes, but hey. There are deadbeats in every generation.

It’s high time we balanced out the endless criticism of millennials with some positive generalisations. So here’s my attempt.

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT MILLENNIALS (Millennial pop culture reference to boot!)

1. We are tech savvy

My generation was the first to grow up with personal computing built into our curriculum from an early age. The first generation to have mobile phones in high school. The first to set up embarrassing email addresses and spend every weekday afternoon instant messaging their friends. In short, the first to have the Internet, one of the most revolutionary technological advancements in modern history.

This lifetime of tech-familiarity has enabled us digital natives to develop two important skills that preceding generations generally lack: cynicism about what we read online and an intuitive ability to find our way around new software and digital devices.

When we were at school, we had to learn about which sources of online information were reliable and which were not. In this era of clickbait, fake news and Dr Google, my generation is best placed to choose which ‘facts’ to laugh at and ignore.

Our brains basically ARE computers; our devices an extension of ourselves. Most of us can pick up a smart phone of a completely different brand and model to our own and work it out in under five minutes. Software tutorials? We don’t need those. If we click around enough, we’ll have it sorted in no time. Or we’ll have Googled the answer and identified a reliable solution before you can say the words “tech support”.

2. We are health conscious

Now I don’t mean to say that we are the first or only generation to care about fitness and healthy eating. But you’d have to agree that we have more access than anyone ever before about what’s happening inside our bodies and what food and exercise can achieve. With activewear-clad yogis and paleo food-porn filling our social media feeds, it has never been so fashionable to have a healthy lifestyle.

What is your average millennial eating of a weekend? Likely an overpriced, gluten free superfood concoction for brunch, accompanied by a hot beverage containing ‘milk’ (or ‘mylk’) from any other source than a cow. I’m not necessarily condoning these as healthier choices (I also think my generation has much to answer for in the area of fad diets) but health is without doubt a foremost factor in our eating decisions. Of all the stereotypes about millennials, the smashed avo toast one is probably the most accurate (although this does NOT signify that we are bad with money).

3. We are innovative

Other generations may not understand just how difficult it is for millennials to get a job in their chosen field. With Baby Boomers refusing to retire, a glut of university graduates digested and spat out by greedy institutions, an impossibly competitive recruitment culture and a rapidly casualising workforce, we have to be creative about making money.

Practically every millennial I know has a side business, or is thinking about developing one. We love our hobbies, we millennials, and are clever at turning them into moneymakers with the help of the cyber marketplace. In addition to our main job (or jobs….) we sell stuff on gumtree, write freelance, sell arts and crafts on Etsy, drive for Uber on the weekends, join skincare pyramid schemes, work as personal trainers, offer life coaching – all manner of entrepreneurial wonders. Why? Because we can. And because we have to.

4. We are adaptable

As well as being innovative, we are adaptable. The insecure private rental market and pipe dream of owning a home mean that we have to move often. So we get used to new environments. In this, we are also helped by our propensity to travel overseas – a lot. Most of us have worked or studied outside of Australia, done a gap year, or taken a few months off work to see the world. We have a lifelong mobility that our predecessors only dreamed of. As a result, we are less afraid of change than other generations. Bring it on.

5. We are socially conscious

Despite our reputation as chronic whingers, narcissistic social media posters, selfie-addicts and shallow clicktivists, I personally think millennials are the most socially aware generation since the Baby Boomers. We were kids or teenagers when 9/11 happened, we’ve seen Australia’s harsh asylum seeker policies develop before our eyes, we have personally witnessed climate change develop from a theory to a reality, and we have more instantaneous access to international news than anyone ever before.

Sure, we tend to be across a lot of issues, rather than dedicating our lives to one, but we are constantly signing online petitions, donating to causes, commenting on news articles and sharing content we are passionate about. We too, want to change the world. And you know what? We probably will.

6. We are inclusive

We Millennials will be the first to tell you that many of our parents and grandparents are racist. Sure, some of them have their reasons – many of our grandparents, for example, watched with baited breath as Japan almost invaded our nation. One thing we certainly have on previous generations is our comfort with difference. Be it ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, sexuality – we are surrounded by diversity, and we love it. We simply don’t understand how our elders can be so bigoted.

Our generation is at the forefront of the marriage equality movement, the new wave of feminism, the disability rights movement. We are the least likely to buy into Islamophobia and anti-migration sentiments. Our children will grow up with the conviction that all people are equally valuable and deserve to be treated as such. What a proud legacy that will be.

7. We are friendly

I am constantly struck by the manner with which millennial salespeople interact with me. They are chatty and informal, we share a laugh, use slang, make pop culture references. The other day I complained to my bank about receiving 18 letters in place of one, and the guy I spoke to described a similar scene from Harry Potter. The same day, I bought something at my local pharmacy, and a girl I’d never met danced crazily to the song that was playing, that we both loved. This would NEVER happen in other age groups.

In the workplace, we are direct yet colloquial, we treat people as friends, and yet remain professional. We are used to expanding our networks through Facebook, so are open to friendship with everyone we meet. We see no need for stuffy language and titles. We see ourselves as equal to our superiors. This can be perceived as cocky, but I think it can take us far.

8. We are connected

This year most of us are celebrating ten years on Facebook. Social media enables us to keep up with friends and family overseas, and keep up to date with the engagements, weddings and babies of our school friends. We can share with our network our passions, our joys and our heartaches. Within moments we can chat, Skype or share photos with anyone, anywhere.

This connection makes us stronger. If you ever studied sociology like me, you will probably be familiar with the concepts of bridging and bonding social capital. While insular communities (producing bonding capital) can be comfortingly tight-knit and loyal, they can also be suffocating. Broad rather than deep connections (producing bridging capital) may be shallower but strengthen unity and connectedness within the wider community. In a time of increasing fear of difference, bridging capital is exactly what we need more of.

9. We are good communicators

Millennials are used to multiple lines of communication. Each mode and context brings its own social rules, and usually its own language. Older generations often miss these nuances, causing us to roll our eyes and have and patronising giggle. We can be blunt and succinct via text, express an array of emotions without words via emojis online, represent our feelings clearly in a pithy meme or well timed photo on Instagram or Snap Chat. We can express our disagreement or solidarity in the click of a button.

Every generation has its lingo, but online platforms for common interest communities have brought on more linguistic diversity than in any previous generations. The captions on dog and cat memes literally have their own complex linguistic structure and consistent vocabulary.  Acronyms are so much a part of our lives that we sometimes accidentally say them out loud (or is that just me?) OMG, LOL, embarrassing AF. We have expression down to a fine art. And our language is inclusive in that, if we don’t understand it, we can just ask Google. Or Siri.

10. We are self aware

Some may say TOO self aware. We are constantly sharing our lives and our faces with the world. We definitely see ourselves at the centre. And while this brings definite problems, it also means we are hyper aware of our issues. I would be willing to bet that more of us would be open to counselling and self-help literature than any other generation. We do personality tests and online quizzes, share memes and watch TED talks about our traits, and devour self-help articles.

While you may or may not agree with the strengths I have described, I hope this post goes some way to show that millennials aren’t all bad. In fact, we have a lot to offer. And TBH, anyone that complains about us can only blame themselves; they shaped our world and raised us this way!

And personally, I think they did a pretty good job.


Post script: Some of my readers have questioned whether they fall into the millennial category. Of all generation labels, millennials is perhaps the most vague and contested. However in common usage it generally includes anyone born in the early to mid 80s onward.

Yassmin’s story holds a sinister message for young women of faith

Earlier this week, controversial Australian activist and writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied announced her move to London. Although she cited the move as ‘partaking in an Aussie rite of passage’, one wouldn’t blame her for wanting to get out of the country for a while.

In an article published by the Guardian Australia today, Abdel-Magied referred to the daily abuse and harassment she has experienced since her now infamous Anzac Day post. No human being should be subject to such horrific treatment; at times these days I feel ashamed to call myself an Australian.

Rather than delve into what she said when, or anything about her cultural background or religion, I want to focus on Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s experience as a young woman of faith with a message to share, and what this experience conveys to other young women who match that description, myself included.

Despite having a different faith, cultural background and skin colour, as I see it, I have more in common with Yassmin Abdel-Magied than most of her critics. I, too, am a young woman of faith who wants to challenge the dominant discourse associated with her religion and advocate for social justice through the medium of writing.

What Abdel-Magied’s treatment says to me, and the many other young, intelligent women who want to change the world, inspired by their faith, is this:

“Be silent.

Don’t dare speak up about injustice or you will cop abuse.

Continue letting old men speak on your behalf, even if you disagree with them.

Tow the line or your personal integrity will be questioned.

If you offend people, you deserve vitriol and violence. Suffer silently.

How dare you have a voice!”

Many young women receiving this message from current events will be intimidated. They will stay quiet, they will tow the line. And public life will miss out on their valuable insight.

Is this the future we want for our daughters?

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, you are much maligned, but you are also our pioneer. May the voices of young women of faith remain strong.

God is our refuge, we are theirs

(Originally published by Common Grace.)

In the fifteen years since the sinking of the SIEV X, known as the ‘children overboard’ incident, people smugglers have facilitated the unauthorised arrival in Australia by boat of tens of thousands of asylum seekers. Phrases like ‘stop the boats’, ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘deaths at sea’ have become a fixture of the political cycle, with human rights reports, whistleblower leaks and increasingly tough ‘border protection’ policies regularly dominating electoral campaigns and political media coverage.

While ‘boat people’ are not a new phenomenon in Australia, the concurrent international rise of Islamic terrorism since 9/11, coupled with an increase in displaced persons from wars in the Middle East, has brought a new edge of fear and loathing to the public perception of asylum seekers. This unease has been expressed in increasingly harsh policy responses, from temporary protection visas and mandatory detention, to offshore processing, and more recently, an arbitrary deadline for the lodgement of protection claims.

All this despite overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of asylum seekers are genuine refugees, that Australia’s number of unauthorised maritime arrivals is significantly lower than the influx overseas, and that our country’s policy approach is in violation of human rights.

Concerningly, many of the politicians known for their hard-line stance on asylum seekers identify as Christians, including John Howard, Philip Ruddock, and more recently Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison. This trend brings into question what a Christian response to asylum seekers should be, and to what extent this should influence both our political views and our practice of faith.

As we celebrate Refugee Week this week, let us reflect on what the Bible and church history can teach us about offering refuge and welcoming foreigners.

Looking to the Scriptures

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)

The theme of refuge runs richly throughout the Old Testament. The word ‘refuge’ is used in the Psalms alone more than forty times, with David continually characterising God as a refuge from his foes, pursuers and oppressors (e.g. Psalm 7:1-2; 9:9; 17:7; 46:1; 61:3; 62:8). As children of God, shouldn’t our Father’s compassion inform our own response to those who seek refuge from war, famine and political and religious persecution?

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)

Offering refuge to those fleeing hardship abroad is not only modelled by God, but expected of his people. The Israelites were given numerous stern warnings not to marginalise or oppress foreigners. God’s reasoning? His people should remember what it felt like to be mistreated in an unfamiliar land (Ex 22:21, 23:9; Deut 10:19, 24:17; 27:19). From Abraham to Egypt, exile in Babylon to Roman occupation, the nation of Israel was repeatedly in this position, as were the early church, who were frequently harassed and persecuted for their difference.

Peter even refers to Christians as foreigners by nature, living only temporarily in a hostile world (1 Pet 1:17, 2:11). And while those of us living in English speaking countries like Australia have enjoyed a few hundred years of relative peace and cultural dominance, we are increasingly becoming a maligned minority due to declining religious affiliation and the church’s controversial stance on various moral and social issues. Of course, our brothers and sisters in other nations of the world have experienced oppression much more keenly; the cultural unease Christians are currently feeling in Australia is just the tip of the iceberg. Shouldn’t this undeniable legacy of exclusion cause us to empathise with other marginalised groups facing mistreatment at home and abroad?

Looking to church history

I was a stranger and you invited me in…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:35,40)

Our Christian forebears were by no means perfect at translating their faith to action. Christians have sadly been responsible for a range of atrocities against people of different nationalities, cultures and religions. However, there are many examples throughout church history of Christians taking Jesus at his word when he identified with the stranger to whom we show hospitality (Matt 25:35,40).

All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ (Rule of Saint Benedict 53:1)

For centuries, Benedictine monasteries have been known as places of physical and spiritual sanctuary, offering hospitality to all manner of travellers, no questions asked. The Scriptures indicate that the practice of sharing resources with the needy was also a strong feature of the early church (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9), which we know included people of many cultural and religious backgrounds.Calvin and Luther were also strong proponents of being hospitable to persecuted Christians during the Reformation period. These examples reflect a strong legacy of compassion towards the unfamiliar and bereft.

These principles were never more strongly demonstrated than during the Holocaust, when many Christian families and communities were compelled to harbour Jews whose very lives were in danger. Although Christians were not the only ‘righteous Gentiles’ of this period, the stories of Christians who were involved in this social resistance indicate that their actions were a direct outcome of their faith.

For example, famous Christian author Corrie Ten Boom’s family provided sanctuary and practical assistance to many of their Jewish brothers and sisters in their own home, later paying the ultimate price for their compassion. They were so convinced of God’s love for these people that they risked their own lives to act out their faith. Another lesser known instance of Christian hospitality during this period is that of the French Huguenot community in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Well acquainted with religious persecution, this community worked tirelessly to provide shelter and safe passage to more than 3,000 Jews.

These poignant examples of sacrificial hospitality to strangers show how physical and spiritual refuge can be a powerful witness of God’s love to the persecuted. The fact that our nation’s current policies regarding asylum seekers are so opposite in spirit to these compassionate responses should be very concerning to Australian Christians.

The church today

Thankfully, many Christian individuals, churches and communities are taking decisive action to welcome refugees in spite of the hostile policy environment. Media articles, letter writing campaigns, petitions, rallies and protests have often been used by Australian Christians to raise awareness of the injustices experienced by asylum seekers in Australia, and to call for policy change. Grassroots movements have also been at the forefront of offering accommodation, financial help and practical support to refugees and asylum seekers in the community and in detention. Common Grace, Love Makes A Way, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce and Christian NGOs such as Anglicare and the St Vincent de Paul Society are just some of the many initiatives putting Christian faith into practice in this area.

This Refugee Week, let us reflect on the practical actions we can take in our own lives to welcome those in our midst, and offshore, who are seeking shelter and support in our peaceful and prosperous nation. Whether through prayer, social media, hospitality or advocacy, we can all do our part to welcome our Lord through helping a stranger.

The new Wonder Woman: a force to be reckoned with

(Originally published on Ethos Blog)

After repeated attempts to bring Batman and Superman to the big screen, DC Comics queen and 1940s feminist icon, Wonder Woman, has finally taken the lead in a live action feature film. Directed by Patty Jenkins (of Charlize Theron’s award-winning Monster) and starring breakthrough Israeli actress Gal Gadot, the new Wonder Woman movie is a force to be reckoned with, breaking box office records as the highest grossing film by a female director and outperforming rival superhero franchises.

The film recounts Wonder Woman’s origin story, which takes place between an island paradise (the women-only Themyscira) and the chaos of First World War Europe. Wonder Woman is raised as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, sculpted from the clay and brought to life by Zeus. Her destiny is to bring an end to the tyranny of Ares, god of war.

Trained in combat by General Antiope (Robyn Wright, the formidable Claire Underwood from House of Cards), Diana grows in strength and conviction until, one day, a chance encounter with an American spy (Chris Pine from the recent Star Trek film series) catalyses her transformation from princess into superhero.

My husband just loves DC and Marvel movies, and, although they are not always my cup of tea, I have sat through the vast majority of recent films in the superhero genre (I draw the line at Guardians of the Galaxy, much to his dismay; the talking raccoon is just too much for me). Of the many instalments of the tried and true cheesy, nationalistic, white-world-saviour trope, Wonder Woman is by far the most enjoyable, in my opinion, and not just because of the female lead. The film was far more philosophical than I expected, and provided a number of interesting insights into our modern world.

War as a symptom of a greater evil

As a demigod sheltered from the realities of human existence, Diana’s view of war is refreshingly simple. Though naïve about the complex factors at play in the endless, bloody slaughters of the Western Front, her conviction that a malevolent spiritual force is behind it all is certainly food for thought. There will only be peace, in her mind, if she destroys the source of this evil, the god Ares.

Although an unarmed woman boldly breaching the front lines of battle in a leather swimsuit and magical bracelets is not exactly historical, the scenes throughout the film of miserable trenches, desperate dashes across No Man’s Land and the development of deadly chemical weapons confront us with the needless devastation of war, as well as humankind’s attempts to bring meaning to such massive loss.

As a Christian, the film also spoke to me of the relentless, insurmountable human evil behind war, and the need for supernatural intervention to fix our brokenness.

Investing in the development of strong women

Diana’s militaristic, female-only homeland, Themyscira, with origins in Greek mythology and 20th Century feminist utopian literature, has often created controversy. The film does not shy away from these feminist overtones, provoking misogynistic trolls with a cheeky yet accurate quip that men are necessary for procreation but not for pleasure.

But before you write it off as pagan-inspired feminist propaganda, consider the empowering message this film has for today’s girls and young women: you can be a force for good in this world, the power is within you.

There’s no man-hating in this film, in fact it’s Diana’s love of collective ‘man’, and later an individual man, that in the end empower her to fulfil her destiny and make a difference. She is compelled by her own moral conviction, not the people-pleasing, co-dependency and social expectations that so often constrain women from reaching their potential.

While I would hesitate to bring a little girl to see this film (it’s pretty violent in places), this is certainly a message I would be more than happy to share with my daughter, if I had one. I also think it carries an important reminder for those of us raising, educating and mentoring the girls and young women in our lives.

Despite spending most of my home life with males, I had an amazing role model of a mother who taught me nearly everything I know, and was lucky enough to attend prestigious girls schools that were intent on helping young women realise their full potential. Looking back, I realise just how important the intentional investment of strong women in my life was in helping me become the woman I am today.

Women need a safe place where other women can impart their wisdom and strength, building confidence for life. This is what Themyscira represents. It doesn’t mean we don’t need men in our lives, just that strong female role models are very important.

Lessons for the church

The church often recognises the importance of sowing into women, creating women’s groups, events and ministries designed to train, support and equip. Let us ensure that these settings not only impart godliness, but also the confidence and skill to boldly release God’s goodness into the world. Let us better model and encourage strong female leadership and convey to girls and women their immeasurable value.

Some would say that a female saviour figure is a corruption of the message of Christ, but I think this film has the power to leave viewers with a sense of hope that evil can be conquered through sacrificial love, and that all of us, women included, can play a part. As Diana herself asserts, ‘Only love will truly save the world’.

Reconciliation: the family business

(Originally published in Engage.Mail)

This week is National Reconciliation Week, which commemorates two key events in Australian history: the 1967 referendum, where among other things over 90% of Australians voted to include Indigenous people in the Census, and the Mabo decision, which ultimately established the concept of native title within Australian law. It is a week to humbly recognise the many injustices perpetrated against our First Peoples and take steps together towards a fairer future.

I do not claim to be any kind of expert on this topic. I do not have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background. I am simply someone who is increasingly realising the importance of reconciliation in the Christian narrative, and why reconciliation with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters should be more of a priority for the church.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which I live, the Wallumedegal people of the Eora nation. I recognise their rich history and culture, as well as the considerable dispossession and injustice they have experienced – and continue to experience – since the arrival of Europeans. I wish to pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and to any First Australians readers. If anything I write is inaccurate or offends you, I ask for your forgiveness and would love to hear your perspective, as I am eager to learn.

Ministers of reconciliation

As Christians, we ought to be experts at reconciliation. The very centrepiece of Christianity – the cross – represents the ultimate reconciliation between rebellious humankind and a loving God. The motif of reconciliation appears again and again throughout the Bible; indeed its overarching theme is one of broken relationship being restored.

In my experience, the church is well acquainted with the importance of an individual’s right standing with God through faith in the gospel. It also does a decent job of the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5), interpreted strictly as the bringing of the gospel to others, so that they, too, might be reconciled to God. Some churches even model a genuine interpersonal culture of reconciliation, where recognition of wrongdoing, repentance and forgiveness are practiced regularly by the congregation.

But what I have seen much less of in my 30 years as a Christian is a commitment by the church to corporate reconciliation – recognising wrongdoing done by the church to other groups within society, accompanied by repentance, forgiveness, and restored relationship. In a time where instances of child sexual abuse within church institutions are exposed almost daily, and where an increasingly heated debate is driving an almost insurmountable wedge between Christianity and the LGBTIQ rights movement, this kind of reconciliation is sorely needed.

Surely, if God is concerned with individual sin, he is concerned with corporate sin. Indeed, we see God’s anger at injustice and defense of the oppressed throughout the Bible. We can therefore assume that in our day and age, injustice and oppression, especially when perpetrated by the church, should be a priority for us.

Towards reconciliation

The word reconcile comes from the Latin for “bring back together”, which implies both a separation and an original reality, or intention, of togetherness. So in order to truly reconcile with someone there must first be an expectation of unity prior to the reality of broken relationship. There must also be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

Some Australians resist acknowledging the injustices experienced by our First Peoples because they do not consider themselves culpable: Perhaps it was their distant ancestors, what has that to do with them? Or if they or their relatives arrived in Australia at a later time, or were not even of European descent, perhaps it has nothing to do with them at all.

Others see the injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as confined to the past, something to get over, or move on from. This fails to recognise both the ongoing effects of trauma and dispossession, and the very real disadvantage experienced by these communities today. Some Australians even blame this disadvantage on the communities with the communities themselves: ‘Why can’t they just get a job? They should just get off the booze and they’d be alright’, or see them as somehow more advantaged than other Australians.

If you fall into any of the above categories, I would respectfully recommend that you do some further investigation into this issue. Common Grace has some developed some great resources from a Christian perspective, including a series of articles for National Reconciliation Week. SBS: First Contact also has plentiful information about the broader historical and social issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

While the church does not by any means have sole responsibility for the injustice, dispossession and disadvantage experienced by our First Peoples, much of it has been perpetrated by individuals and institutions that identified as Christian or claimed to be doing God’s work. We need to recognise this and ask for forgiveness, seeking to embody God’s heart of love and healing to the hurting.

Making things right

Acknowledging wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness must also be accompanied by a genuine effort to make things right, to restore connection. Where to start? Brooke Prentis has put forward a range of actions for churches to consider. Another option that my church is currently looking into is developing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) with Reconciliation Australia, which supports your organisation to develop a tailored, practical plan to develop and progress your vision for reconciliation. Sadly, few churches are listed as having RAPs – what if yours could help lead the way?