American author and speaker Eric Metaxas has defended himself after an Australian newspaper has labelled him an ‘anti-gay extremist’.
Metaxas, an outspoken conservative voice in America on moral issues, is in Australia this week for a number of gatherings hosted by the Australian Christian Lobby.
On Saturday, he spoke at the ACL’s national conference in Sydney alongside Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison, on whether faith still has a role to play in public life, and he spent Friday on the Gold Coast speaking at the Christian Media Australia conference.
The SMH stories referenced a 2011 American radio interview, in which Metaxas compared the silence of the modern church on moral issues like gay marriage, to the Lutheran Church’s silence during the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany.
Metaxas told Hope 103.2 that he was “horrified” to be portrayed as an anti-gay extremist.
“No-one interviewed me for the article, they took something I said and twisted it far out of context,” he said, “and suddenly it becomes ‘published fact’ and people are attacking me for it, and I never said it.”
The 2011 Interview That Put Metaxas In The Spotlight
The interview that Australian journalists have latched onto, is a 2011 segment of Generations Radio with the right-wing US Christian broadcaster Kevin Swanson. In the interview, Metaxas criticises some elements of the church in America for “failing to teach Biblical Orthodoxy, failing to teach the Bible as the word of God”.
He referenced the 1930s Germany situation, because he was primarily being interviewed about his biography on the Christian activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“I think that right now in much of the American church we’re coasting along and it’s very similar to the German situation in that you can be spiritually prideful and it can lead to having blind spots,” he said in the Generations interview.
“There are issues of theological liberalism where you have the authority of scripture being undermined. We see that obviously happening on issues of sexuality, not just the authority of scripture.
“How can you say that most mainline denominations in America today are profoundly Christian when they have ‘given up the ghost’ on all these fundamentals of the faith? You had the same thing happening in Germany.”
Metaxas Says He’s Been Misunderstood
Metaxas denies that his views have equated gay rights with Nazism, and told Hope 103.2’s Dwayne Jeffries that that he simply believes the church must maintain its right to hold to its values.
“When I wrote my book on Bonhoeffer, I realised that when the state becomes powerful it often bullies the church,” he said. “That’s what happened in Germany. They weren’t prepared for it. The Nazis saw the church as an obstacle. They said ‘we cannot allow it to flourish as an independent voice, so we need to crush it’ and they were very clever about how they did it.
“Bonhoeffer understood that this is wrong. He saw that the state, for the first time in German history, was trying to take over the church and said ‘this is not healthy, the church must have the freedom to speak out against the abuses of the state’.”
The Church Must Stand On Its Values
He said a similar thing is happening in the context of today’s church in the West.
“The parallel I see in the West is, for the first time in the United States the government was doing what we call ‘the establishment of a religion’ – taking positions on these big issues, against the traditional church,” he said. “And they begin pushing hard and saying ‘if you have these values, we’re going to push you out of the mainstream, and label you a bigot and fine you, if you don’t go along with us’.
“To my mind it has to be the role of the church to say ‘no you cannot do that, we are the church, we have absolute freedom to exercise our faith. You cannot force us to accept this view of sexuality when for 2000 years we’ve believed this. That’s not right. You should at least give us a hearing and we should have a civil conversation about it’.”
“You cannot force us to accept this view…You should at least give us a hearing and we should have a civil conversation.” – Eric Metaxas
He said he sees the media and the government taking this stance towards the church not only in the USA but also in Australia and Europe.
“They say, ‘we’re not interested in having a conversation, you’re a bigot, shutup, get out of the way’,” he said. “And I think that’s what happened in Germany in the ‘30s. You had half the church saying ‘we don’t want to argue, that’s outside the realm of our faith’.”
Why ‘People Of Conscience Must Be Involved Politically’
Eric Metaxas believes leaders with a conscience should be involved politically, and that the church should not be “in bed with the state”, but must be “the conscience of the state”.
“When [William] Wilberforce saw the evil of the slave trade it was because of his faith in Jesus and the God of the Bible that he spoke and acted against the slave trade, and tons of people in his day despised him for bringing his faith into the public square.
“And he said, ‘The God of the Bible says I’m supposed to treat other human beings with love, civility and justice, therefore the slave trade is an abomination and I will stand against it’. Similarly, Bonhoeffer faced that in his day where many pastors said, ‘you shouldn’t get involved politically, it’s not your business. Just pray and teach your colleagues to pray and don’t do anything about it.
“When I’m told to shut up, that’s the sign that the other side is really afraid of an actual conversation.” – Eric Metaxas
“I think we’re in the same position. It doesn’t need to be compared to the slave trade or the death camps, but the principle is the same: that when people tell the church to shut up, suddenly I say ‘something’s going on here and I will not shut up’.
“And I will exhort the church not to shut up and to stand up for what it believes in. And if people don’t like it, they have never liked it, because it threatens something that they feel very strongly about. But it’s the job of the church to speak up and we must speak up.
“When I’m told to shut up, that’s the sign that the other side is really afraid of an actual conversation.”
Christians Debate On Q&A Over Metaxas Comments
On Monday night’s edition of the ABC show Q & A, an all-Christian panel discussed the issue of Church and State, and an audience member asked Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby whether Metaxas’s views were acceptable ‘in a tolerant society’.
Shelton responded by saying Metaxas “didn’t have an anti-gay bone in his body”, and thought his point on church complicity with the state was “a good one”.
“There’s not an anti-gay bone in his body. He’s not anti anyone.” – Lyle Shelton
“I would agree in terms of the Church being silent about certain cultural trends and going along with things which are contrary to the teachings of the Church, whether it’s on [gay] marriage or something like that, and that’s the context in which Eric was making that point,” he said. “I think it’s a good point, because I’m very concerned that the Church isn’t speaking up enough on this issue. It’s a big social justice issue, it’s a big public policy issue, and it has implications for the future of society, for freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and particularly for the freedom of children to be allowed, wherever possible, to know their mother and father.”
“It’s disrespectful to make that sort of analogy.” – Julie McCrossin
But fellow Q&A panelist Julie McCrossin, an ABC broadcaster known for both her stance in support of gay rights and her Christian faith as an elder in the Uniting Church, felt Metaxas’s 2011 comments were out of place.
“Even if the intent is to criticise churches for not speaking up on something that you consider important, inevitably there’s a sense that the possibility of homosexuals having the opportunity to marry is, in some way, comparable to the threat of Nazism,” she said. “I come from a family deeply involved in the Second World War, I’ve grown up hearing about what Nazism was really like and, to me, it’s disrespectful to make that sort of analogy in a completely different context.”
Metaxas Show Emphasises Acceptance, Kindness And Civility
At the Gold Coast conference, Metaxas, whose New York radio show is known for its welcoming, non-combative tone, spoke about the importance of kindness and civility.
“We don’t need to draw battle lines,” he told his Christian audience.
He also spoke with a tone of compassion about the complexities of same-sex attraction, gender confusion, and the pain the gay community have endured in a society where they haven’t always been accepted.