Most people are shocked and dismayed by Martyn Iles parting ways with the Australian Christian Lobby, and are trying to make sense of it. I’m going to go into some detail in analysing it, but here’s the very short version of where we should land on this.
It’s another day ending in /y/ where brethren will follow the same Lord with the same faithfulness to His calling on different paths, so let’s all just calm down.
There’s been some people, way too many with more keystrokes than Christian maturity sadly, who have taken what Martyn wrote in his announcement, and fabricated things neither said nor in evidence.
One theory sizzling on screens is comparisons of the ACL board to the coup at Project Veritas against James O’Keefe. That’s contemptible imagineering with no valid equivalence. James O’Keefe is Project Veritas. It is his vision, his initiative, his life’s work, his mission.
Martyn Iles is at least the third Managing Director of ACL, and has for five years had the privilege of stewarding someone else’s vision and corporate mission. It’s a natural course of events with two precedents that this season has run its course for the person holding it.
To take the entirely separate events and conclude some kind of corporate corruption of ACL’s governance because O’Keefe’s dumping followed his investigations into big pharma is the vilest of unsubstantiated accusations. The vanity of some Christians to link unrelated facts, like the anonymity of ACL board members, and conclude corruption is something God describes as an abomination.
ACL board members are not safe from the public because of the very real threat they present to the evil in our public square. Five years ago it was reported that one director of ACL’s sister organisation LMI had been successfully persecuted by a fundamentalist gay activist and lost his career as a managing partner at IBM for nothing more than association with the Christian lobbyist.
Clearly, it is not only pagans who have no respect for any facts inconvenient to their preferred narrative. The ACL board’s anonymity does not confirm the wicked gossip that ACL has been corrupted.
Next, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the Australian Christian Lobby is primarily focused on being lobbyists. It’s been in the name for decades!
Perhaps the most destructive lie being peddled by uninformed observers is that ACL is in some way abandoning, neglecting or sacrificing the Gospel in favour of political agendas. This is problematically simplistic, and is akin to condemning a Christian hospital for wanting to focus on medicine over evangelism. There’s a balance to be struck with core mission and universal commission, and if the board feels the balance is not right, but the managing director feels it should go further, it’s uncontroversially time to part ways.
It’s understandable and inevitable for someone to disagree. But we must understand it’s not a “yes” or “no” question of evangelism or politics. Martyn himself chose the words, “…the revised strategy …focuses more primarily on political tactics, less on the gospel.“
Para-Church ministries do not diminish the Gospel by focusing “more primarily” on their God-given mission. They fulfill it by bringing the Kingdom of God to public policy, or teaching kids, or running legal clinics, or op shops, or university education or a myriad of other ways Christian charity towards our neighbours needs to be practically expressed. Alternatively, we let the government usurp the roles we vacate by demanding everyone be an evangelist.
It’s a question of precise balance, and far too far in any direction is the role of the board to steward. It’s not my call, and they won’t answer to God for my conscience, just theirs. The tyranny of Covid policies boils down to one group of people presuming the ability and right to impose their conscience on others. What short memories some of the new critics of ACL have, who maybe yesterday were demanding freedom of conscience.
Finally, and I say this as an unconditional friend and supporter of Martyn Iles — we’ve only heard from Martyn. More than most of you, he has been a frequent guest in my home and at my table over the past 6 years, since before he was ACL’s managing director. He has and continues to enjoy free use of my ministry’s video studio whenever he needs one in Brisbane, thanks to my supporters. I have zero reservations about his integrity or honesty, and yet it is mature to admit we all are captives to our own perspective and memories of things said and felt.
The Bible instructs us that “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” It does not say a matter can be established by the testimony of a single person when you really love and admire them.
It’s unreasonable to demand ACL make a statement if doing so would in anyway contradict Martyn’s memory of events and thus further sensationalise the story and give God’s enemies further ammunition. Their silence says nothing. What matters is their mission, and they remain the most important Christian lobby group in Australia.
The Bible also reveals that God calls it an abomination He hates when someone lies and bears false witness, and “sows discord among brethren.”
So be very careful when you judge hearts and motives and say negative things about fellow believers you don’t know certainly to be true, even if based in the single testimony of someone you respect. To be clear, Martyn has not done, said or implied those things. It’s a common response I’ve been very concerned to see.
I believe those of us not privy to the private conversations between the ACL board and our much loved Martyn over the last five years would incline to think there surely must have been a way the right balance could have been struck that allowed the wonderful preaching to continue with a correction in direction to the board’s satisfaction.
Clearly, Martyn felt he needed to go further into his calling as an evangelist. Clearly, the board felt ACL needed to go further into its calling as a lobbyist. This scenario is as old as the Church itself, and only as controversial as the gossip stirred up by believers indulging in immaturity.
One of the things I witness in my role is how easily so many of us become discouraged and how quickly we lose heart. But Paul exhorted us, “Let us not be weary in doing good.” It may be a sign our faith was in human efforts instead of God’s might and will if we are so easily discouraged by what perspective will reveal to be bumps in the road ordained. We can fix that with a quality decision.
This is yet another day where brethren will follow the same Lord with the same faithfulness to His calling on different paths, so let’s all just calm down, cover each other’s imperfections in Christian love, and press in to Jesus Christ our Peace and Leader.
Dave Pellowe is a Christian writer & commentator, founder of The Good Sauce, convener of the annual Australian Church And State Summit and host of Good Sauce's weekly The Church And State Show, also syndicated on ADH TV. Since 2016 Dave has undertaken the mission of arming Christians to influence culture through events from Perth to Auckland, videos, podcasts and articles published in multiple journals across Australia and New Zealand. [more]
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