This interview was published in Esperanto on 5/4/2011

The Australian Christian Lobby is one of the most powerful political lobby groups in Australia. They have used their clout to campaign against euthanasia, vigorously supported the mandatory internet filter, and are currently among the most prominent voices opposed to same-sex marriage legislation. David Heslin speaks to the organisation’s State Director for Victoria, Rob Ward.

It seems as if sex is one of the most pressing concerns for the Australian Christian Lobby in the 21st century. What is it about sex, and, in particular, the way our culture treats it, that makes it such an important topic?

It’s not our choice. The issues that we discuss today, including prostitution, the same-sex marriage issue and others, aren’t matters that are raised by the ACL; they’re responses to political or other actions that are being taken. It it were me, I’d be looking for ways to improve our society and help people in need, to respond more effectively to refugees, to help the homeless, to improve our services in mental health. All these things are important to us as well, but when the government moves in a certain direction on an issue that we feel is important, we need to respond to it. So, the fact that those issues are there is not at our request.

Do you think this state of affairs reflects cultural trends?

Human sexuality is much more out there than it’s ever been in recent history. If you’re a student of long-term history, you’ll see cases of some societies becoming obsessed with sex, corrupting themselves and then dying; the Roman Empire is the classic case, and to some extent the Greeks as well. So, if you were to stand back — not even looking at this from any kind of Christian perspective, but a historical one — you would have to say that a society that becomes obsessed with sexuality and narcissism is headed for trouble. So, it’s an interesting place we’re in right now, where these issues are certainly out there. I think it’s good to move away from what we once called the Victorian approach to sexuality — I don’t think sexuality is meant to be hidden, I think it’s a gift from God — but the fact that it’s so much in your face today is an interesting place to be.

What would you change if you had the power to, say, alter the prominence of sex in advertising?

I think the central plank in anything I would say would have to be built around respect — respect for women is a key issue for me. I think we’re over-sexualising our young people. The sexualisation in advertising is rampant. It’s an old line, but sex sells — which is fair enough, because we’re all interested in it, but I would probably want to come back to a position of respect and, maybe, old-fashioned words like modesty and decency. A long time ago, I was on business in the Netherlands with a bunch of fellow businesspeople, and we visited the notorious red-light district in Amsterdam. Every time I looked in one of those windows, I thought to myself, “That’s somebody’s sister; that’s somebody’s daughter,” and I found the objectification of women very, very sad. I’m all for openness and freedom, but I just wonder whether we’ve over-sexualised our culture.

Do you think Christian views on sex and sexual decency have changed over the last two millennia?

I think it’s a lot more out there. A long time ago I led a young adults’ group at a church and we decided we would discuss sexuality. One of the topics that came up was masturbation, and one of them said to me later, “I’ve never heard a Christian use that word”. It’s talked about a little more openly now. It’s a good thing that there’s openness and transparency, and I think Christians are more open to recognising that sexuality is not in of itself sinful; that, in fact, both the pleasurable and procreative aspects of sexuality are gifts from God, and designed to be appreciated in that sense.

What are your views on masturbation?

If there’s an issue with it at all, I think it would come down to visualisation — what you’re thinking about; who you’re thinking about. If a married man is thinking of his wife because she’s ill and can’t have sex, is that a bad thing? Possibly not. If an unmarried man is thinking about his next-door neighbour — that’s probably a little problematic, because you’re getting into the lust issue. I’ve seen people get pretty trapped into replacing a healthy sexual appetite with an unhealthy one. Sex is a pretty strong drive, and it can, unchecked and unmanaged, have a really negative impact on people’s lives. It is also incredibly beautiful and powerful. I’m a married man with three kids and five grandchildren, so, yes, I’ve had sex, and enjoy it, but I wouldn’t want it to be the controlling factor in my life.

I guess we hear a lot about Christian stances on premarital sex and improper sexual activity, but what are your views on sexual behaviour within marriage? Does anything go? Are there certain boundaries that ought to be adhered to? What about, for example, sex toys or BDSM?

My view comes back to that word, respect. That which takes place in a marital relationship ought to be by mutual consent, and one person’s pleasure should not be at the expense of another person’s pain. If you respect the person that you’re married to, you’re not going to ask them to do anything that they’re not comfortable with. That’s the guiding principle that I would follow and would recommend.

So within those limits, then, these things would be acceptable, even from a Christian perspective?

I think anything taken to extremes is a problem: you have the Victorian extreme, where sex was forbidden; and the opposite, or what was once referred to as licentious behaviour, as another extreme. The way the human body is designed is to give pleasure. If you substitute something else — say, a sex toy or a pill — to take the place of the normal, natural functions, then you’re probably at risk of supplanting the normal desire with something else. I guess I’m not a great student on this, but the little bit of reading I’ve done tends to indicate that if you embark on a pattern of alternative sexual practices, it becomes a trend in which you need more and more and more. It’s the same with pornography: you start off with basic pornography and then it gets worse and worse and worse. So, I think that there’s a risk here. For me, it’s a matter of starting from a position of respect, starting from a position of the purpose and design in sexuality. The purpose and design of our bodies is pretty clear: part A fits in part B. I don’t know that we need to go much further than that.