When it comes to reporting on religion, Julia Baird is a great example of what is wrong with the ABC, as well as the rest of the mainstream media, at the present time. Both are, quite frankly, biblically illiterate and therefore ideologically opposed to traditional Christianity. And their bias shows.
Baird recently published an article in The Sydney Morning Herald sanctimoniously savaging conservative Christians in general and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) in particular for having the temerity to defend their historic doctrinal standards regarding marriage. Baird seems especially aggrieved that the ACL should be viewed “as the voice of Christianity in this country” when they are “dominated by Baptist and Pentecostals.” I don’t know why she thinks that’s necessarily a bad thing, because as a Presbyterian I don’t have a problem with it, and nor do all the Roman Catholics associated with ACL that I know. Unless Baird has a problem with different denominations working well together…?
While Anglican minister, Rev Dr John Dickson has graciously discredited her basic argument, he really didn’t go far enough. For her entire thesis is fundamentally flawed. Baird concludes her piece as follows:
For those confused about the place of Christianity in the public square now this vote has passed, it might be time to get back to that old thing, what is it again, that book…the Bible, in which there are more than 2000 references to poverty and a scant handful to sexuality.
What intrigued me about this statement is that no one has seemed willing to question it even though it is patently false. For instance, a quick concordance–word–search of the Bible reveals that in the Old Testament the Hebrew common term for “poor, afflicted” (עָנָו, anav) occurs only twenty times. There are also a number of other Hebrew words used to refer to a similar idea: “lean” (דַּ֣ל, dal) 47 times; “in want, needy, poor” (אֶבְיוֹן, ebyon) 61 times; “afflicted, humble” (אָ֫נִי, ani) 77 times; and finally, “to be in want, poor” (רוּשׁ,rush) 24 times. In the New Testament, the Greek term for “poor” (πτωχός, ptochos) occurs thirty-one times. This gives us a total of 260 references.
What’s more, all of these terms often don’t just refer to the materially poor but to the spiritually humble as well. Regardless, where Baird gets the statistical figure of two thousand Scriptural references to poverty I have no idea. She seems to have inadvertently added a zero to her findings. As Rev. Dr Mark Durie and myself have noted before, Baird’s research skills leave a lot to be desired, to say the least.
Alternatively, the Hebrew (OT) term for “nakedness” (עֶרְוָה, ervah), which is used when referring to sexual intercourse, occurs 54 times. The term “to fornicate” (זָנָה, zanah) also occurs a further 93 times. In the Greek (NT) term for “sexual immorality” (πορνεία, porneia) 25 times. All of which is to say that, based on a simple word study, the subject of “poverty” and “sexuality” are given approximately the same weight and importance in the Biblical canon. Thus, when Baird patronisingly suggests that “it might be time to get back to that old thing, what is again, that book…the Bible,” she might do well to take the log out of her own eye first before she starts instructing everyone else about their splinters (see Matthew 7:3-5).
Even more bizarre is Baird’s question – which quickly becomes an accusation – as to who, and who does not, speak for God. For Baird, those who voted ‘Yes’ in the plebiscite are those who truly “know Jesus.” But for “narrow and controlling” clergy such as the Rev. Dr Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, he is one of “the pious Church leaders” (i.e. Pharisees) characterised by “greed, selfishness, lack of love,” whom the Lord Jesus Christ would have definitely opposed.
According to Baird though, “Yes” voting Liberal Senator Dean Smith, whose only confession of faith is that he’s proud to be an Anglican, is on the side of the angels – even if his stance is completely at odds with the Scriptures. Unperturbed, Baird calls on the greatest theological authority of all, Gogglebox. Yep, you heard me. Professional television watchers and armchair social commentators now have, according to Baird, more biblical and theological insight than one of Australia’s leading church leaders and one of the leading Anglican theologians of the world, not to mention well trained Christian clergy in local parishes around the country.
However, Baird’s most serious error is suggesting to her readers that Jesus only rebuked false shepherds and that ‘love’ is more important than morality. First, if she knew her Bible as well as she suggests that others should, then she’d realise that Christ also rebuked women, like the prophetess Jezebel, who he says, “by her teaching misleads my servants into sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:20). The term for ‘sexual immorality’ (porneia) here is significant because it is a catch-all phrase that encompasses fornication, adultery, rape, incest, and even homosexuality.
Second, this is an incredibly serious issue to Jesus and hence, to everyone who follows Him. Because Jesus himself says that unless Jezebel repents then he “will cast her on a bed of suffering and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely.” (Revelation 2:22) You may not be a Christian yourself, but it’s important to realise that those who are, believe that how we act sexually is something that we’ll be held accountable for. And that is why Jesus concludes by saying, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29)
Ultimately, what Baird fails to understand is that ‘love’ cannot be divorced–pun intended – from the ethical content of God’s Word. Otherwise ‘love’ is whatever we subjectively, and selfishly, desire it to be. For example, the apostle John writes, “I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 5-6)
As someone with a national platform, especially on spiritual issues, Baird needs to take responsibility for representing a particular religion’s beliefs properly. I just get the feeling that she bares a real grudge for some reason against evangelical Christian men. I’m not sure what it is but it’s palpable, and it seems to skew all her research and commentary.
In the end, it is just not good enough that our national broadcaster allows one of their senior journalists to continually get away with such sloppy and unprofessional research.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Cartoon: Ben R Davis.
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