Collisions and pitch battles between TGCA and Caldron Pool are not particularly surprising to me, both are representative of two differing groups and their, perhaps, vastly different visions as to how Christian-Cultural engagement ought to appear. The former represents a broader stream of Australian, (little r)eformed, evangelicalism, whereas the latter provides a generally much more – specifically cultural – conservative worldview. The Ezekiel Declaration and its response, perhaps, reflected the particular lines that have been drawn.
However, the most recent TGCA/Caldron Pool dust-up, specifically that surrounding Amy Isham’s article “Love Across the Divide”, has left me both troubled and perplexed. Being both a friend to Amy’s husband, Luke, as well as an infrequent contributor to Caldron Pool for several years, I cannot help but be saddened by these recent events, particularly as while an opportunity for a constructive, thoughtful, and useful engagement with Amy’s initial piece could’ve been had and was, subsequently, missed – it went simply beyond that. It was crumpled up, jettisoned into a heaping pile of garbage, and set ablaze.
As someone who has both written and spoken on LGBTIQ matters, particularly as it involves transgenderism, and had, as a result, been protested by a university student body, I read Amy’s article with keen interest. Her evident, heartfelt, desire for wanting to minister to this particular subset of people, which had a historic tendency to be maligned was laudable. After all, there has been varying approaches in dealing with topics such as homosexuality within the church, and a number of which had failed to walk well with the affected individuals while also calling them to repentance.
It cannot be understated that there easily exists for many a challenge of ministering to those who are different from us. Difference can bring discomfort. It is easy to talk about, as opposed to talk to. So, I appreciated Amy’s intentionality of engagement and the thoughtfulness of how it could potentially look.
Yet, I also believe that there existed several faults within Amy’s article. First, being that it unintentionally, no doubt, frames an unnecessary dichotomy – putting an undue appearance upon an either/or as opposed to a both/and approach. Namely, regarding the focus upon speaking about LGBTIQ+ individuals instead of speaking to them. The reality should always, hopefully, be both. We need to speak about both the cultural shift regarding this topic as well as God’s truth on the very same, yet such speaking about should lead to a ministering to. It ought to be the case that we instruct and speak about such things in order to equip individuals so as for them to be better equipped to do the speaking to. Not just in the case of the conversations to be had, but the theological and social context, and trajectories, which undergird the differing worldviews that are being engaged.
Personally, I also thought that Amy’s argument was not qualified enough on what is very much a theological minefield. Her principles were not particularly wrong, but there was probably an overfocus as to man’s, God-derived, worthwhile also not providing enough attention to the real need of repentance that needs to be conveyed (Of course, there are articles which do the complete opposite.) While Christ’s own willingness to speak to those who were on social fringe ought to be modelled, we must also equally remember that such individuals (i.e., prostitutes and tax collectors) were completely aware of their position and were more attuned to their need (Luke 5:31-32 c.f. Matt. 21:31). This is not precisely the same as the society where we’re currently in where this is an acceptance, normalisation, and affirmation of the group of which we are currently speaking (we have, after all, just commenced ‘pride month’ as of yesterday.) It must also be touched upon that Christ, himself, also spoke about groups (i.e., the Pharisees and Jewish leaders) as much as he spoke to them.
I also considerably disagree with Amy’s thoughts of the employment of preferred, or negotiated, pronouns. I believe that while it is okay to use neutral identifiers, such as third-party – ‘they’, ‘them’, and so forth, which is generally used anyway in common vernacular when referring to people regardless of gender. I think that we need to be incredibly careful not to affirm delusion, but instead to confirm their God-given identity.
I say all this as a brief critique of Amy’s article to visibly demonstrate that I do think there is inherent weakness in her piece. Had I more time, I would probably try to be more detailed in my objections, but this is not the main reason as to why I am writing this post. I am writing this to emphasize that there is a way to constructively engage with another person’s article, even if there are clear issues that need to be addressed, because there also ought to be recognition about where Amy is attempting to write from. Namely, she’s writing as a theological conservative wanting to engage the world with the gospel well. Is her approach to the LGBTIQ+ community the right approach? Possibly, and arguably, not, but it ought to have proper engagement as to why.
This article comes off as having personalised Amy’s critique of those “conservative Christian websites, blogs and forums” that publish “panic porn” as an attack against that platform on which it is published and lashed out accordingly. This is not to say I completely agree with Amy’s article, I do not. I think there is a place for articles which express concerns about social trends and challenges that are confronting the church and the world – and calling it “panic porn” is, I believe, unfair. However, even if the article was specifically targeting Caldron Pool – which it does not particularly name nor does Amy limit her thoughts to necessary Australian sites – it is highly questionable as to whether this is the right method of response.
Instead of critiquing the argument that Amy raises, the article by Anna Llewellyn, instead, seemingly seeks to attack the rationale as to why it was written and the author for having had written it. It appears to take umbrage and then proceeds to unleash at Amy with a smattering of exaggeration, false dichotomies, and veiled (and not so veiled) ad hominems. It is with a significant degree of irony that Llewellyn writes:
“Firstly, in lieu of evidence for her claims, Isham offers her interpretations of social media interactions. Apparently, from the vantage point behind her computer screen, Isham can detect this cohort of Christians, ‘identify’ them as ‘conservative’, ‘perceive’ their motivations, pinpoint their theological errors and perhaps most amazingly, describe (and condemn) their offline behaviour!”
How, of course, Llewellyn “from the vantage point behind her computer screen” can know the full extent of Amy’s work in this area – enough to write the above paragraph – makes me wonder. She critiques Amy’s article for not addressing, or mentioning, the issues regarding trans ideology, wherein Llewellyn makes comments such that “[Amy] failed to even mention the massive international backlash against trans-ideology coming from within the LGBTQ+ community.” But is this the point of Amy’s article? Is it intended to be an overarching and comprehensive thesis on the social and theological challenges of the LGBTIQ+ movement and how to engage it? Or is it a reasonably short piece urging individuals to ensure they engage well with sinners? There’s a setting up here of an external criterion in which Amy’s article was never specifically written to address nor do I personally believe that one has to raise all things before speaking to a specific subject. Thus, the constant questioning as to the so-called “Isham model of love” is also, frankly, unhelpful. It again subjects Amy’s article to questions that it wasn’t intended to cover and aren’t, even, necessarily a direct implication of her article – again, it’s just trying to encourage better engagement!
The reality is that one can be fully aware of these issues – and many issues Llewellyn raises are, in fact, genuine issues – and still advocate for a model of engagement that is thoughtful, loving, and gentle. LGBTIQ+ ideology may be an enemy to the gospel, but its adherents need to be a recipient of the gospel (that is, in the sense of being hearers.).
While Llewellyn takes aim at Amy’s supposed generalisation of Christians as supposedly doing a woeful job of ministering to individuals within this community, likewise Llewellyn makes the same mistake of suggesting that they all do. Neither are talking in absolute terms concerning all Christians. Not all Christians struggle in this area of ministering to this community but some do. Perhaps, Amy is speaking to the latter, whereas Llewellyn is speaking about the former?
The reality is that for all the weaknesses of Amy’s article, it ought never justify such a response whereby there is a haughty dismissive attitude with no substantial engagement with the points that Amy raises. Engagement, especially an inter-tribal one, ought always to be done with care, thoughtfulness, charity, and actual engagement. Comments such as “Rather than promoting love or bridging any divides, Isham’s article was a thinly veiled attempt to demonise Christians whom she clearly knows nothing about, and yet deeply disdains.” are bewilderingly unprofitable. They’re not constructive, they’re not profitable, comments like these serve only to attack and asperse motive.
The way we engage in discourse matters and, rather than mirroring the increasing polarisation that is occurring within the society we live, we should – nay, need to – go the extra mile to ensure that our engagement is profitable, productive, and, ultimately, God-glorifying. Tearing into the body in such a manner is unbecoming of the conduct to which we’ve been called to (John 13:35).