On Being For and Against

A good friend in Christ recently told me he does not like to use the word “against” and concentrates on what we are for instead. His point was that we are often known for what we oppose instead of what we favour. I of course agree for the most part.

The context of this discussion was homosexual marriage, and I had mentioned a piece I had written on it called “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage”. He said he wanted to be on the offensive, and promote what we are for, and what are the good things we can champion.

He is not alone in sharing such concerns. I have had many people saying the same things over the years. They want us to be on the front foot, leading the way instead of just responding and just defending territory. They argue that we have to be on the offensive, not just the defensive.

I of course know what they mean and I certainly concur – at least to a fair degree! Yes we should try more to emphasise what we are for, and try to let our voices be heard in a more positive light. But of course no matter how hard we try to avoid the negative, or play down what we are against, it really is unavoidable to speak of that which we oppose.

It is pretty much impossible to fully proclaim what you are for without at the same time proclaiming what you are against. The two almost always go together – of necessity. To favour something means you are not favouring that which is opposite to it. The examples of this of course are legion.

If I am for my wife (which I am) then of necessity I am against all other women – at least in terms of them being off limits as a marriage partner. To choose my wife has meant choosing against every other woman on the planet. To favour the one means to not favour all the others.

We of course do this all the time in sports. We favour one team, which means we oppose the other teams, at least when they are playing our favourite side. If you are a diehard Geelong fan then you are opposed to all their opponents. Your loyalty to just one side means disloyalty to all the others.

To favour vanilla ice cream means you are against, or not favouring, chocolate ice cream, at least on that occasion. Your choice for the one means you have not chosen the other. Of course in many areas to choose something does not mean you are against the others.

If I have a latte today that does not mean I will never have a cappuccino tomorrow. But on important things which you declare your allegiance to, those things which are opposed to that become things you are opposed to. Thus almost all important choices involve being for something and against other things.

And in the culture wars, there really is no way of getting around this. If you are for heterosexual marriage, you have to be of course against those things warring against it, such as homosexual marriage. The two are incompatible, and to favour the one means you reject the other.

Not to oppose homosexual marriage means you really do not care very much about the institutions of marriage and family. Indifference allows for an anything goes attitude. But those supporting things such as the institution of marriage must of course be against those things which are warring against it.

And this works out more generally as well. Consider the Ten Commandments. Most of them are against something (“Thou shalt not…”). Only two are for something, or stated in a positive fashion (the Fourth and Fifth Commandments).

Some folks might argue that Yahweh should have had a marketing guru to help present his case with a much more positive spin. After all, we don’t want to be known for what we are against now do we? Of course my friendly critics are not saying such things, but sadly many other Christians are in effect.

They are so against anything “negative” that they dump on you any time you are not positively affirming something. They think it is wrong for believers to concentrate on what is wrong with the world, and that we should just ‘accentuate the positive’. Well, the old 1944 hit tune by Johnny Mercer by that same name may have been appropriate back then, but biblically speaking it is only partially true.

The Bible is full of negative statements. If we only wanted to have the positive and uplifting stuff, we would have to cut out large slabs of Scripture. But I have written elsewhere about such matters: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/11/04/on-being-negative-or-positive/

Again, I am with my friends here. We need to think of finding creative and positive ways in which to make our case, especially in the culture wars. These folks are right to suggest that we should be known more for what we champion than what we resist. But in most of these contentious issues of the day, to be for something means automatically that we are against something else.

It seems that is the nature of the beast, and there is no getting around it. So yes, by all means, let us try to think up proactive strategies and aim for promoting that which is good. But to do so will always entail resisting that which is evil. Even Scripture constantly offers us these fixed pairs, as in Romans 12:9: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good”.

Oh, and by the way, in addition to having written articles with titles such as “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage”, I have also written pieces with titles like this: “The Case for Marriage”. So I seek to do both where possible. That may be all any of us can do in these battles.

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10 Replies to “On Being For and Against”

  1. These WFJ (Wimps For Jesus) critics don’t realize the hypocrisy: dumping on you is negative in itself.

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  2. The word anti-Christ has a few different meanings. Most people think of “against Christ” but the Greek indicates that it can also and perhaps more accurately means “instead of Christ”. Moreover in the Greek the word for the lamb (or as we know from elsewhere in scripture a young fully mature 1 year old ram) and the word for the wild beast in Revelation sound similar. Again and again we are confronted with the choice of the Lamb or the Wild Beast.

    If it was good enough for Jesus and the apostles to speak about both what they are for and against then in many cases it will be appropriate to tell others both of what we are for and against on important issues of the day.

    Obviously on some occasions such as weddings one would expect to focus only on the positives (which is a reason why we should consider the subject of marriage at other times so we can consider the things about marriage in the Bible that are less pleasant).

    Matt Vinay

  3. A prophet is never recognised in his own house…love your work mate (specially ‘Undomesticted Jesus’!) Press on

    Richard Dabrow

  4. Bill had this published in the Hamilton Spectator (26 Oct);

    The push to get same sex marriage through the ACT Parliament, in Canberra, is a reminder of the long term threat of its proponents, that they would force us to accept such an arrangement.
    It needs to be remembered that marriage is the pinnacle of God’s creation – specifically demonstrating a relationship between a man and a woman. By creating the woman from the man’s rib God also demonstrated, in the physical sense, the relationship that exists between the man and the woman following their marriage vows – they are part of one another-as equals.
    Their expression of love is to be the source of new life.
    By sending ‘man and woman’ out to ‘fill the earth’ (New American Standard Version (1995) God charged them, and their descendants, with the responsibility of continuing His ‘creation’ and ruling the earth.

    Pat Healy

  5. Bill, I wish more people would understand the power in the concept of positive discrimination. It would give us more confidence when we are bombarded with all these emotive accusations of “discrimination”.
    However, it would also be extremely helpful for the witness of the kingdom of God if more Christian marriages would show forth the joy, peace and contentment every human being instinctively and often very unconsciously longs for. If we could through the teaching of our churches reduce the number of Christian divorces, increase the obedience of children and thereby the harmony of family life and show proudly our lack of STIs, we would then successfully show that we put our money, our effort and exercise of godliness where our mouth is. Sadly, people need to hear as well as see what we try to convince them of. Jesus makes that allowance for human nature and the early church received its growth through the operation of the Holy Spirit foremost, but His work was fortified through the disciples, bold words and actions, both miracles and martyrdom.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  6. I think I’m going to side with your friend. I fully agree, for example, that to be “for” your wife means to be “against” all others. But to highlight the against without also championing the for doesn’t tell the whole story. Similarly, we are not merely “against” homosexual marriage, but are “for” something much better.

    Now, there are some who wish to be “for” but not “against”, and you are right to suggest that this is a nonsense. But to be “against” without clearly being “for” the alternative fails to be a call for transformation, and becomes merely a criticism.

    In a legal context this is tricky, because it’s much easier to legislate against something – the “for” is usually covered in the preamble or implicit (which can become “forgotten”). But on the political stage, IMO it is better to make the good your banner and from there rebuke the bad.

    Andrew White, NSW

  7. Yes, Bill, absolutely agree. By definitiion, if we stand *for* something then we stand *against* something else. Sure, we can present the positive argument first if you like (though God didn’t in most of the commandments), nor did most of the prophets, but either way, our position needs to be unambiguous. What I find in much of modern Christendom is a desire to preach the positives and make light of the negative (or even ignore it). We can’t preach heaven only, we must also preach hell. We can’t preach forgiveness only, we must preach repentance and holiness. Likewise we can’t preach heterosexuality and monogamy, without also preaching against the alternatives.

    Maybe this argument would be mute if we simply followed Jesus as the model. Even he quoted scripture, and if we did so more often in the pubic square then it is not our word against others but God’s Word being declared. And we know that when that goes forth it does not return void.

    This is something I need to continually remind myself of, and be prepared for, to a greater extent than I currently am.

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