does popularity matter?

Earlier this week, Raj Gupta posted Helping Husbands be Husbands on

It’s the latest instalment on the submission saga (dare I say submissiongate?) from earlier this year. For those of you who missed it, I’ll quickly get you up to speed. It’s to do with the Sydney Anglican Sydnod’s proposal to introduce the option of vowing to submit to your husband at your wedding.


I’ve been reading through 1 Corinthians with a student recently and what’s really surprised me is Paul’s extreme pragmatism, even populism. It seems that everything about him is up for grabs, everything he does, even what he says, except for preaching Christ crucified.

So , Raj Gupta’s piece got me thinking. Gupta writes:

The argument to remove [the submission clause] was twofold and, I believe, flawed. The first argument was that the issue was making us unpopular in our society. There is no doubt it is, as we have experienced in recent times. However, unpopularity is part of being Christian.

To Gupta, neither popularity or unpopularity means anything. It sounds fair enough given Jesus’ words ‘Don’t be surprised when people hate you because of me’ said Jesus, even ‘blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of man.’

But then, what do we do with Paul’s pragmatism?

1 Corinthians 19

22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 10

32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Paul’s trying to please everyone in every way! It doesn’t sound very ‘Christian’ (what happened to trying to please God and not people?), but he’s doing it so that they might be saved.

1 Corinthians 14

23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

That is, try not to sound like nutters. It seems like Christians over the centuries haven’t changed, we’ve always had a problem with sounding just a little bit crazy.

1 Thessalonians 4

You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Timothy 3

7[Elders] must also have a good reputation with outsiders.

 Titus 2

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

Paul explains that we should act in our households in a way which garners respect, so that our message of Jesus is attractive. It’s about how we appear to outsiders so that they will hear the gospel without distractions.

‘Ah, but what about, ‘the foolishness of the cross’ earlier in 1 Corinthians?’ I hear you ask. Exactly. It’s the foolishness of the message of the cross, not our foolishness.

Where does this lead us? We’re told to expect to be hated, but also to try and be liked and respected and, most of all, try not to sound crazy.

Is this a contradiction?

No. Paul’s not craving affirmation, he doesn’t need to be loved.

Rather, he wants nothing, not our behaviour, our speech or even our teaching to stand in the way of others hearing about Jesus. This is why everything is up for grabs, he’ll change, do anything, be anyone to make the Jesus known.

So I disagree with Gupta, Christians should be concerned about PR. We need to think how we come across to outsiders, whether we’re respectable or easily dismissed as a crackpot fringe group, stuck in the dinosaur age. We need to be concerned, not for our pride, but for the sake of winning others to Jesus. It’s not a good thing if people think we’re ridiculous!

But, don’t be surprised that when, despite our best appeals, Jesus is rejected.

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school attendance makes no difference

School attendance in remote indigenous schools is only very loosely related to reading outcomes. It’s an irrelevant factor.

That was according to John Guenther from Flinders university who I heard speak today. He’s the principal researcher in the Remote Education Systems Project through The Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation.

He’s looked at the stats, done the maths and there’s no correlation, barely any relationship at all. Attendance does not equal educational outcomes.

This means that strategies used to increase school attendance won’t improve kids’ NAPLAN scores. It’s just ‘flogging a dead horse’, as he said. So while a community bus which gets kids to school is great, it’s not the answer.

Even worse, current punitive measures to get kids in school like the SEAM (where the government threatens to cut off families’ centrelink payments if their kids wag school) are a waste of time.

The SEAM disrupts already disadvantaged families – cutting off the family income for a teenager’s bad behaviour is hardly going to improve the teenager’s relationship with relatives. It alienates parents from schools – what parent is going to trust teachers if they’re they ones reporting them to centrelink? Not only this, but the objective (school attendance) is useless. If kids don’t want to be there, they’re not going to learn. The kid who’s been rounded up by the police and sent to school is hardly going to be receptive to learning that day.

Guenther suggested that governments start considering learning that goes on outside school, learning which is connected with what kids need to survive in their own community. If kids aren’t attending school, it doesn’t mean they’re not learning; they’re learning something different. As long as we’re equating attendance with performance we’ll ignore what kids learn outside the classroom and neglect to improve what goes on inside the classroom.

He reckons we need to re-think the whole rhetoric around remote indigenous disadvantage. We need to celebrate things that NAPLAN doesn’t test – art, music, initiative, ability to cooperate (us Westerners are obsessed with testing the individual), traditional knowledge, practical skills (he actually met the bush mechanics fixing their Toyota by the side of the road during his research, you can’t learn that stuff at school).

So what can we change so that showing up to school does make a difference? And how can we celebrate learning outside the classroom? Those are the next questions.


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maxine from the trenches

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Maxine McKew. I was a Kevin07 tragic ever since he published that magical article in the Monthly about faith in politics. When she danced after her triumph over Howard, I was dancing too. It was beautiful.


I love a bit of political drama too. So when Tales from the Political Trenches came out on Saturday, I bought a copy. I wanted to hear all the gory detail, every sordid incident, a blow by blow account of the Rudd assassination.

tales from the political trenches

I commented to Phil on the way to the bookshop, ‘is this any different to a Hollywood gossip magazine?’

‘No. Politicians actually do things, they actually matter.’

So I could buy it with a clear conscience.

It was a pretty good book. Admittedly all the juiciest bits had already made their way into the news in advance, there wasn’t much intrigue actually left in the book (for you political junkies they’re here and here) but it was nice to get to know McKew and reminisce about the glory days.

McKew has mixed feelings about Rudd. But Paul Keating she adores (even commenting that every woman wanted to ‘take him home and do him slowly’). She writes like he’s the sage old Gandalf of the Labor party. He was the one who encouraged her into politics.

As a younger journalist, fresh from a posting in North America and newly installed as a member of the Canberra press gallery I was in the room at the National Press Club on the night of 7 December 1990 when Paul Keating delivered his famous Placido Domingo speech…

What I remember most vividly from that night was the final exhortation.

“There are two types in this world – voyeurs and players.” Keating paused and I swear he looked straight at me as he issued his challenge. “And who wants to be a voyeur?”

Who wants to be a voyeur? Keating’s words stuck with me as I read McKew’s story. It was like he was talking to me too! I was a voyeur! That’s why I’d bought the book, it was a piece of political gossip to entertain me on my weekend. Just some cheap entertainment. I whinge and whinge about the state of politics, but I’m a voyeur. I was so – let’s use a Christian term – convicted that by the end of the book I was on the verge of heading down to my local branch and signing up for party membership.

But then, if even McKew, a so-called ‘player’ and hardened journalist was sucked into the great machine of politics, chewed up and spat out the other end, frustrated and disappointed, if McKew can’t hack it, what hope does someone like me have of working within the system and surviving?

Perhaps Keating’s player/voyeur dichotomy isnt’t so true of Christians. We’re all players, but we’re playing a different game. In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul calls the apostles ‘co-workers’ with God. We are players, working with God, but we know the real game is not Aussie politics, that’s not where the fate of the world (or even Australia) lies. And the ‘system’ that threatens to chew us up and spit us out, those ‘powers and principalities’ – they’re fighting a losing battle, so can’t threaten us, even if the ‘system’ appears to have got the better of us.

So I’m still thinking of getting involved in politics, but I don’t want to get distracted and start believing that politics holds the answers and a party holds my alliegiance. I want to play, but remember I’m playing a different game.


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a prayer for the blog


Use this blog to bless your people.

I don’t want to delight in evil, but to rejoice with the truth;

So protect me from gossip, cheap-shots and cruel jokes.

Don’t let it become an excuse for  my pride,

or for my insecurities.

I want joy, refreshment, creativity,

ideas, delight even disagreement,

discussion and growth.

Keep us humble, keep us learning.

Use this blog to teach us many things.

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