a church with two iles

Same church, different Iles

Monday 27 February 2023 8:17 AM

I want to ask a genuine, if raw and provocative, question to which responses are welcome. In fact not just welcome, I want to listen and understand. To gather information in other words.

The Australian Christian news story that broke a few days ago and has trended since, that of the parting between the Australian Christian Lobby and it's now-former MD Martyn Iles has surely set the proverbial cat amongst the church pigeons, if it's done nothing else. The one shared opinion might be that Iles' five years at the helm has been a phenomenon. What's certainly not shared in common is what kind of phenomenon. It's quite a split as I read it. And that's just why "phenomenon" is my descriptive noun. Let me elaborate.

A striking number of Iles' political (Christian) fellow travellers, in curious concert with quite a few of his political detractors as well, rate him as a valued and gifted evangelist and apologist of our time, a Jesus-first kind of guy, a man who has restored the gospel of Christ to the centre of public national conversation, and all in a way which is gracious toward those who disagree. To them, as I think  I understand it  (?), he is not primarily into political commentary or lobbying; he's just into Jesus.

That's the one sizeable Christian grouping. The other is ..., well pretty much everything the former is not. To them, he and his public style and persona have been the very opposite of the Jesus way, and have served the very opposite of commending Christ to post-Christian Australia. To that constituency, Iles has distinguished himself chiefly by waging an American Christian-Right style culture war in the name of Jesus and Christianity, complete with anti-science libertarian conspiracy theories presented as fact. As for his being "gracious" with opponents, a large number of this second grouping testify to having been blocked from Iles' Facebook page after just one or two (clearly unwelcome) comments.

I belong to the latter of the two groupings, as will be plain to any who may have seen comments of mine on a few other comment threads. But my purpose in writing here and now is not to advocate that position. Rather it is to seek dialogue for the sake of understanding. As another Christian blogger Nathan Campbell has put it, this surprising moment of parting between Iles and ACL may just afford an opportunity for a reset, for the Australian Christian community to find a fresh and less polarised way to engage public Australia. I'm not in the same league as Nathan or several other Christian commenters who come to mind. But I do hope in my small corner to contribute something to that endeavour.

So here it's over to you (and Facebook's robot who shall decide how many people even see this post). Comments are also welcome here below on my blog, using the Disqus comment / discussion engine. Comments from others in the second grouping are welcome in the mix. But that said, they are not my primary interest. What I'd really like to hear is the considered thoughts of those in the former group. Here at least, I want primarily to understand. I'd like you to unpack for me how it is that you judge Martyn to be an evangelist or apologist for Jesus. What are some specific ways you've heard or observed him in such vein? What have I and others missed? How, where or when have you found him a gracious opponent? Can you recount examples of unbelievers who've been brought near to Jesus through his ministry? I'd sincerely like to hear some of all of that, and anything else you feel is relevant.

For the rest of us - I'm happy for there to be discussion ensuing. But to the best of my ability I will moderate with a big stick, deleting any comments that on my assessment don't honour Christ and his gospel. The floor is open ...