Stephen McAlpine

Christian Word of the Year: Winsome

Is the word defined by the “winsomer” or the “winsomee”? And Christians, well-meaning Christians, who want to be viewed as winsome in the public square, and are reading through their notes carefully before they go up to the public podium, are finding that their problem is not in their delivery, it’s not in their word choice, it’s not even in their body language. No, it’s in their actual beliefs. The problem is that the Christian perspective on marriage is viewed as hateful. And our winsomeness is being viewed as a mask, a get-out-of-jail-free card for ideas that should be banged up in solitary confinement.
 
So here’s me choosing my Christian Word Of The Year.
Drum roll please, “The Christian word of the year is WINSOME!” Taa-dah!
That’s right, winsome! It’s everywhere you look at the moment. So please step forward “winsome” and take a bow. You’ve been over-used, over-realised, under-appreciated, over-stated, undered and overed, and whatever else can happen to a poor old lonesome winsome word in these topsy turvy times.
The big take away for 2022 is how Christians can engage in the public square in a way that is winsome. And if that is even possible. And of course the big question: Is winsome a strategy or a stance? We haven’t decided yet. We haven’t decided what winsome actually means. Does it mean speaking the truth in love? And when we’re told that certain truths that Christians hold can’t be loving in the first place, then we’re being told that we’re masking hate in love language. Where does winsome land in all of that?
As the culture wars roll on, (and on and on) and Christians find themselves in the firing line on ethical matters, is winsome is our ticket out of this? That’s a great question to ask, if only we could decide what winsome actually looks like.
So exhibit A was a great article I read in the New York Times last week by an orthodox Anglican priest in the US, Tish Harrison Warren, who called for respect from both sides of the marriage debate in the US. It was a thoughtful piece from a woman who is very clear about her view that marriage is between a man and a woman, God ordained, and unchangeable in bedrock definition irrespective of government intervention.
Yet at the same time she explored that because the law of the land has changed the definition of marriage legally, then both sides in this issue must find a way to get along with living side by side and respect each other’s differences. Without that ability then it’s going to be tricky to live in the same nation, let alone suburb, with those we deeply disagree with.
She told the story of her gay friend and his “husband” and her hope that he would support her religious school’s right to promote its view of marriage without fear of funding loss, just as she recognised but did not agree with him. He laughed and said, yes. I thought it was a useful article given the times we live in.
Tish Harrison Warren seems an impressive woman. As an egalitarian in the church she even recognises and affirms complementarians and refuses the trope (sadly even found increasingly among brothers and sisters in Christ) that it’s simply a mask for patriarchy. She states this:
Pluralism is not the same as relativism — we don’t have to pretend that there is no right or wrong or that beliefs don’t matter. It is instead a commitment to form a society where individuals and groups who hold profoundly different and mutually opposed beliefs are welcome at the table of public life. It is rooted in love of neighbour and asks us to extend the same freedoms to others that we ourselves want to enjoy. Without a commitment to pluralism, we are left with a society that either forces conformity or splinters and falls apart.
It was a totally winsome article from a woman who holds to a biblical orthodox view of marriage, but who is not looking for some sort of Christian nationalism that will enforce that view on everyone else. She’s nothing if not a realist. And nothing if not winsome.
And what was the response in the comments section of The New York Times? She was shredded. Absolutely shredded. Here I was thinking, “Wow, that’s the type of response we should be able to articulate, and that’s the way we should articulate it” and the general tenor of the comments was along the lines of “bigot, hypocrite, liar, abuser”, etc, etc, etc, including “equivalent of Jim Crow racist”.
Now granted it is The New York Times, which wouldn’t recognised a Hunter Biden laptop if it tripped over it. But winsome went right to the source, with a piece that was as Winsome McWinsomeface as you could get, and still the vast bulk of well over one thousand comments were in the “shred” category.
Which is all a way of saying, if we’re going to have a conversation around winsome (and something tells me it may well be word of the year for Christians in 2023, cos this debate is only getting started), then we’d better have a clear understanding of what we mean by winsome. And by that I mean determining who gets to define whether we are being winsome or not.
That’s the point isn’t it? Is the word defined by the “winsomer” or the “winsomee”? And Christians, well-meaning Christians, who want to be viewed as winsome in the public square, and are reading through their notes carefully before they go up to the public podium, are finding that their problem is not in their delivery, it’s not in their word choice, it’s not even in their body language. No, it’s in their actual beliefs.
The problem is that the Christian perspective on marriage is viewed as hateful. And our winsomeness is being viewed as a mask, a get-out-of-jail-free card for ideas that should be banged up in solitary confinement. That’s the problem right there. And the more words you say, words like “love”, “tolerance”, “acceptance”, “pluralism” are simply seen as special pleading. They are being used by the losers in the culture war to try and carve out a city of refuge to which they can flee for safety.
Read More
Related Posts:

Eight Short Lessons From the Essendon CEO Saga

There’s a naive optimism that somehow if we just keep to our patch as Christians, and maintain the line between the public square and our lives, that we will be okay.

It’s been a breathless 24 hours. Essendon CEO, Andrew Thorburn was barely in the job a day and then he resigned. And lots of media and social media flurry around it all. I’ve obviously had a bit to say on it, but while the virtual ink is still a bit damp on my previous posts, here are eight lessons (so far) that we can take away from this whole saga. Not definitive, but worth thinking about.
1. We Are No Longer a Society Committed to Genuine Pluralism.
Issues like the one Essendon and Thorburn faced shows that for all our declared love of an open, diverse society, Australia is no longer genuinely pluralistic. The number of caveats around what that means in the public square is large and increasing. This will be looked back upon as a drawing of a line in the sand.
2. Sexual Freedom is the Public Religion.
Any organisation or person who puts a limit on what that means (and eventually that will be all limits, given how even the language around paedophilia is being shaped towards “attracted to minors), is going to face problems. The holy days in our calendars are increasingly painted purple.
3. Don’t Expect a Level Playing Field.
There’s a naive optimism that somehow if we just keep to our patch as Christians, and maintain the line between the public square and our lives, that we will be okay. That if we honour this new secular frame, and pay homage to it, we will be free to get on with our own set of values within our own ethical communities. Wrong. This is already clear from how Christian schools are being squeezed on sexuality matters, and state governments such as those in Victoria and WA are already pushing hard to ensure schools cannot employ according to their own standards. This is not about funding. If Christian schools were fully self-funded, accreditation would be on the table on these issues.
Read More
Related Posts:

One Last Magnificent Porous Day

In this final passive act, the Queen called us to acknowledge not our inner selves, or our felt selves, or our authentic selves, or whatever the latest psychobabble bon mot is that describes incurvatus in se, (the self curved in on itself) – but God Himself above. Her commitment to transcendence – God’s transcendence meant that down here she lived a life lived outwardly and upwardly. 

For one brief day the world was porous again.
For one brief day we recognised that the invisible world still leaks into the visible.
For one brief day – perhaps one final day – transcendence was admitted into the public square in the modern Western world, and we all stood and acknowledged it.
For one brief day the immanent frame of our secular imaginary was peeled back, and we were given a vision, albeit in shadow form, of what true majesty might look like.
And for one brief day the nation, indeed billions around the world, watched as a Queen, whose every fibre acknowledged that transcendence, was honoured and laid to rest.
And for an even briefer two minutes – the whole nation fell silent, and the shockwaves of that silence spread to us as well. No phones, no blips, no bleeps, no pings. Silence.
In this final passive act, the Queen called us to acknowledge not our inner selves, or our felt selves, or our authentic selves, or whatever the latest psychobabble bon mot is that describes incurvatus in se, (the self curved in on itself) – but God Himself above.
Her commitment to transcendence – God’s transcendence meant that down here she lived a life lived outwardly and upwardly. That Archbishop Justin Welby acknowledged that very fact as he opened his homily is worth noting.
I read in The Times just prior to the funeral that the word was that French President Emmanuel Macron would throw “a hissy fit” if he were not right up the front. Which of course makes sense coming from that most secular of countries in which the immanent frame is a public virtue. The desire for transcendence never leaves us, it is merely transferred. Perhaps he is aptly named Emmanuel.
Tony Blair’s senior advisor famously said that the British Government doesn’t “do God”. And, my, how it has shown over the decades since.
Perhaps, if I may be patriotic, a special thank you to our new Prime Minister in Australia, Anthony Albanese, whose grace, wisdom and manner has been exemplary for our nation at this time. Not too heavy, not too light. Just right. But then again, as he himself said, the Catholic Church is one of the great shapers of his own life. He knows transcendence when he sees it.
The Queen, however, was the ultimate counter to all the immanent politics. Her funeral was a breath-taking acknowledgement of the reality of heaven above us, hell below us.
The fact that seating arrangements were such as to ensure warring nations were kept apart, and ancient enmities acknowledged, shows how porous reality is. Hell has leaked upwards. It may be around for some time yet.
And the whole ceremony was a counter to the dreadful opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics – the high point of immanence in our public life – in which John Lennon’s Imagine was the opening hymn. Right in the midst of a pandemic we were told to look within ourselves and be happy. Imagine that indeed.
Imagine too if the Queen had died during the pandemic. We would have not witnessed what we did. Perhaps this was a gift from God to us, to give us one last look at something that publicly pointed to something – to Someone – beyond itself and beyond herself. Am I over-egging the cake?
Read More
Related Posts:

Greedy for Gain

There are actually people who think that the prize for being godly is money. The goal of declaring the gospel is gold. Christian leadership is a byproduct to their true heart’s desire: wealth and influence among those who are wealthy and influential. Such leaders “demand the food allowance of the governor” because they see themselves as special, and because they have lost sight of the Saviour. Let’s be careful therefore that we do not fall into the trap of seeking entitlement because we can. It truly is the canary in the mineshaft of where are hearts are when it comes to love of God or love of money. 

There’s something ugly, something character revealing, about the politician who squeezes absolutely every inch out of their entitlements. Those who make sure that every dollar of those things that they can technically claim is used up, and who spend the time to do so.
Every few years there are outcries about some entitlement scandal in which a politician has to resign or pay back money in light of their, shall we say, creative attempt to prove that the holiday they had on the Gold Coast was for “research purposes”, or that the apartment they rented in the city was actually their regular abode when they were working in Parliament, even though they owned a home nearby.
It was indeed these “second home” expenses that brought down many a politician and resulted in jail terms for some during the 2009 expenses scandal in the UK. There was outrage among members of the public when they discovered the manner in which so much tax payers money was being used to fund profligate lifestyles of those who were already on a good financial wicket.
For many of the UK’s best known politicians it was either embarrassing, or career-ending. It was clear that these politicians who were elected to serve had forgotten that, and had become self-serving instead. Technically they appeared not to be breaking any of the rules, but in reality they were exploiting loopholes in exactly the way the self-righteous leaders of Israel exploited moral loopholes in Jesus’ day, whilst still adhering to the letter of the law.
And perhaps too – indeed most likely – these pollies had grown a sense of entitlement. I mean, it’s a tough job being a national MP, right? Late nights, lots of travel, trying to keep constituents happy. And then there’s the press! Oh my goodness, the press!
You can see how they got there. Increment by increment.
Contrast that behaviour with that of Nehemiah in the book that bears his name. He was the Old Testament leader of Israel who returned to the burnt out, broken down capital city Jerusalem to rebuild it after the exiles had started to trickle back from the Persian Empire. Nehemiah was used to living near luxury, as chapter one tells us his job was cup-bearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes.
Having returned with the king’s blessing to rebuild the city, and having been made governor, Nehemiah sets about the task in the face of opposition without and within. There is external opposition from neighbouring nations who threaten to kill the rebuilders. And worse than that, there is still a persistent sin in Israel, with internal opposition in the form of political intrigue by those opposed to his national/spiritual building program.
But to make matters worse the wealthier people of the land have started to fall back into the practices injustice and oppression that was part of the reason Israel ended up in exile in the first place. We read in Nehemiah 5 how Israelites were selling themselves into slavery to pay their debts to their Jewish brothers, and how the wealthy were hoovering up all of the land and vineyards, which according to the Law was not permitted, as the LORD had allotted inheritances to each family, and that it could not be permanently sold on or acquired. Nehemiah puts a stop to it all.
But more than that. Nehemiah does not call for a standard he is not willing to maintain himself. As the governor of the nation he had the right, like many of the political leaders of our day, to draw from the allowance of the governorship to feed himself and his entourage. In other words, not to be out of pocket, and with the always present temptation to line those pockets, with taxpayers money.
Read More

The Harm Gap

That narrative still has some unfolding to do, but in the meantime we can prepare ourselves for its eventualities, first by deeply understanding the claims it is making, second by living blameless lives among our colleagues and friends, and third, by constantly showcasing Jesus as the one who did no harm to anyone.  And fourthly, and perhaps most confronting, by wearing the scorn and shame in the way he did, even though he did no harm. 

So you finally convince your work colleague Ethan to come to an apologetics talk on Friday night. You’ve been friends for a while, and you’ve had the chance to chat about spiritual matters. He’s at a bit of a loose end, having been through a relationship break-up. Following a coffee after work one evening, you strike up the courage to ask him along. People are often open after difficult times, right? Besides you’d love for Ethan to hear about how Christianity is still plausible in this modern age. After all, he’s familiar with the visiting speaker, who is a well-known apologist, because you’ve shared some Youtube clips with him that were great conversation starters across the cubicle.
So on the night you introduce Ethan to some friends, grab a quick bite beforehand with them all (they clicked well with Ethan, from what you could see), then you head to the talk.
The lecture title is “Can you be happy without God?” It’s sharp, punchy, funny and emotionally on the money. You glance sideways from time to time and Ethan seems to be laughing at all the right spots.
The QandA after is a bit more intense and at one stage the speaker is quizzed about homosexuality, with a questioner pushing hard on why God is even bothered about who we sleep with. The speaker handles it well, giving a big picture answer, using Romans 1 as a launch pad. He gets a round of applause from some in the crowd, which seems a little strange, and one brave, lonesome cat-call. The moment passes, and afterwards you try to pick how Ethan might have felt about the talk, but he says he isn’t up for going out for coffee with the group, and heads home early. Oh well, you can speak on Monday at work.
On Monday at work, however, things seem strained. More than strained. Ethan brushes off your approaches to talk about the event. In fact he seems distracted and somewhat distant. It’s only on Tuesday that things heat up. Turns out he’s asked to shift desks, to the other side of the office. He avoids eye contact, and is too busy to hang out at lunch. You notice the HR representative chatting with him later that afternoon. You go home wondering what has happened.
It’s only on Wednesday, when you are called into the HR department, and your supervisor is sitting there that it clicks. After exchanging pleasantries the supervisor starts the real conversation:
“We just wanted to have a chat with you, to get your side of what might have happened.”
 “Happened? About what?”
 “Just some concerns we have about how you and Ethan might be able to continue working on the same project as we move forward.”
“Why wouldn’t we?  Is there something wrong with our work? Has Ethan got a problem with the way I work?”
 “Well not exactly about the way you work. He’s come to us requesting he move teams. He’s a bit upset about that Christian meeting you took him along to on Friday night. I know it’s in your own time, but we’re committed to making the work space a safe place for everyone, whatever their views and opinions. We want to discuss with you whether it was appropriate to ask a work colleague to an event like that.”
 “Really. Ethan hasn’t said to me. Besides that’s not a work issue, it was a private event.”
 “Well it’s become a work issue now, and we have to resolve it for the sake of good relationships in the office. Perhaps it would be helpful if you began by explaining why you invited Ethan to something that he found a little bit triggering.”
 You can see where this conversation is going. And if you think that could never happen, then you’re actually behind the eight ball already. Companies and civil service departments across the Western world are already taking measures to ensure that work colleagues cannot put other work colleagues in so called “harm’s way” when it comes to non-working hours functions. And in our current climate harm includes any event or public that could appear coercive around matters of sexuality, or that speaks of sexual diversity as something less than positive.
Read More

Scroll to top