Safe Schools unravelling

The Safe Schools program has always had more than a few lose threads, and more than a few people have pointed them out and suggested we start again. We are not against an anti-bullying program in our schools, after all, programs already exist and are doing an excellent job. But there is always room for improvement.

One of the main issues with Safe Schools is that it is less about bullying and more about educating children to adhere to a very set paradigm of human sexuality, a perspective that is not held by millions of Australians.  In addition, there is growing consensus in the medical and scientific community that some of the theories presented in Safe Schools (as fact) are in fact wrong and dangerous to children’s health (cf. sexual orientation and gender identity).

While it shouldn’t need to be said again, but because certain politicians have chosen to ignore it, the chief architect of Safe Schools, Roz Ward, has explained the agenda behind the program,

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation…Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordin­arily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

Up until now it has been easy to pretend Roz Ward misspoke, and even easier to dismiss community concerns, especially from those who acknowledge a Christian faith: just call them bigots and homophobes, and it’s game over. Why would the public consider the views of a bigot? I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to do so.

However, the game isn’t over. The Safe Schools agenda has this week been further exposed. A petition of more than 17,000 signatures from the NSW Chinese community has been tabled in the News Wales Parliament, asking for the program to be removed from schools. And today, The Australian newspaper is reporting that the Indian community in Melbourne share these concerns.

Anti-Safe-Schools-Petition-p1-normal

letter from the Australian Chinese community of NSW

How will the Victorian Government and certain lobby groups response to these ethnic groups? I sincerely hope they don’t resort to  the kinds of ad hominem attacks that they haven been relying on for quietening  other groups.

Let’s be honest, in the name of religion there are some crazies out there, and there are bigots and homophobic individuals. But for the most part, the concerns we have heard articulated are reasoned and genuine, expressing concerns for children who have questions over their sexual identity. No body wants to see any children being bullied for any reason, and it is good for our schools to provide tools to assist students in understanding and caring for one another.

It is time for Governments across Australia to give ear to the concerns of the public over Safe Schools. We can do better for our children.

Dangerous Suggestion: Plebiscite will incite suicide

I was deeply concerned to read The Age publishing this article today, Marriage equality plebiscite proposal fulfilling expectations of frustration’, written by Rodney Croome.

There is a serious question as to whether it is ethical for a major newspaper to publish an article that uses suicide as ammunition to stop public debate.

1471843570770

Photo from SMH. Louie Davis

Croome said,

“If a plebiscite occurs, and when the first young gay person dies at their own hand, I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could to stop it.”

“I also urge them to consider how they will feel when the first gay teen dies because of the hate they voted to unleash.”

Where do such comments leave us?

Using suicide is the trump card, whether the allegation is true or not. It leaves everyone speechless, because even to question Croome’s rhetoric will be interpreted as heartless and bigoted.

I am no stranger to the issue of suicide, having conducted funerals, counselled grieving families, and listened to people considering ending their life. In my view it is dangerous and irresponsible to ‘prophesy’ that a person will kill themselves should a plebiscite proceed. Suicide is not an issue to be treated lightly; not that I think Croome is doing so. Rather he is using the language as a storm cloud to overwhelm any possibility of civil conversation on this issue of marriage.

Before accepting Croome’s argument, it is fair to ask which studies he is depending on for his assertion? In Ireland, USA, UK, can he please point to those studies which substantiate a formal link between discussing marriage and the suicide of LGBTI youth?  Studies conducted in Canada and Denmark suggest that the suicide rate among gay men has, at best, only marginally shifted since SSM was made legal, although in some Canadian Provinces it has increased. I am not dismissing the reality of mental health issues and suicide among LBGTI people, for which we must strive to provide love and care, but Croome is claiming that a plebiscite on marriage will lead to young gay person killing themselves.

No matter where people stand on marriage, we do not want anyone being harmed. And I will repeat what I have now oft-said, I will gladly stand alongside LGBTI people against voices who would wish them ill. I don’t have to agree with someone in order to want their good and see them flourishing.

Would it not be more constructive for everyone if Rodney Croome followed the example of other public voices and encourage Australians to speak with both conviction and civility, with reason and respect? For example, Tim Wilson, who supports same sex marriage, recently spoke at a Symposium where he argued we “need a lived culture of open discussion.”

The debate in Ireland was cordial, as has been the case in many of the countries who have gone down this path. But for some reason, here in Australia, one of the most stable democracies in the world, we are being told that we cannot trust the people to even talk about issue, let alone vote in a plebiscite.

It may well be the case that marriage is what it has been for millennia, between a man and a woman. And it may well be that arguments for change don’t stack up, despite the emotive language being attached. It may well be that the gay and lesbian people who only believe in heterosexual marriage, are in fact right. The problem is, some, not all, but some advocates for change are trying every avenue to silence due debate.

A question for Mr Croome, are there any terms on which opposition to SSM can be put in a civil way? Or is opposition to SSM itself hate speech?

I agree with some of what Rodney Croome has written. For example, I understand his dissatisfaction with the process. When a Prime Minister says he will act, I don’t think we are expecting too much that he keep his word. At the same time, could it be that Malcolm Turnbull fully intended to hold the plebiscite this year, and only recently the AEC informed him that logistically it’s not possible. Could fault lay with them?

I feel some of Croome’s frustration, and I don’t take issue with Croome arguing for a free vote in Parliament. My preference is for the plebiscite, but I appreciate there are good reasons for and against both avenues. His question about how a marriage plebiscite might set a precedence for future issues is also worth asking.

This being said, publishers, as well as social commentators, have responsibility to set the tone of public conversation. In my opinion, The Age, has acted irresponsibly by publishing Croome’s piece, for sadly such comments can become self fulfilling prophecies; and that is the last thing we want.

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au

The Most Christian Olympics Ever?

First things first, there is no such thing as a Christian Olympics, just as Christian-science and Christian-music are not things. There can of course be Christians who participate in the Olympics, as there are athletes who adhere to all manner of world views.

The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece certainly took on a religious shape, and even many of the modern games have included various spiritualities as part of their opening and closing ceremonies. The Olympics however is not given to a particular view of God, and yet some athletes take the opportunity to express their belief in God.

As I’ve watched the Games each day, I haven’t sifted the channels to find those athletes waving the Jesus flag, and one hasn’t needed to, for there seems to be a greater boldness among Christian Olympians in Rio to express their faith in Jesus Christ.

There is no way of knowing how many athletes adhere to various religions; for every athlete we see acknowledging God, there are probably another 100 whose prayers and praises we do not see.

Among the Olympians who profess a faith in Jesus Christ are Allyson Felix, Simone Manuel, the Fiji Rugby 7s, Anna van der Breggen, and Usain Bolt.

In the women’s 5000m qualifier, we witnessed one of the Olympics special moments; not with a gold medal or world record, but when and Nikki Hamblin (NZ)and Abbey D’Agostino (USA) tripped and fell. D’Agostino stood up quickly but instead of continuing the race she turned to Hamblin and helped her to her feet, and only then did they complete the race together, despite D’Agostino being injured in the fall.

In an interview with NBC Sports, she said,

“Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way,”

“This whole time here, he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”

“I know there’s often criticism of athletes praying before a competition, or thanking God for their victory. I like to think this is why we should pray before a sporting event. Not that God will favor us with victory, but that we will be aware of His presence and have the Grace do what He would have us do.”

It is interesting listening to commentators as they respond to this talk about God: sometimes it is met with silence, or explained away as ‘ritual’, and other times the media leave out the Christian testimony altogether.

The Olympics is the ultimate test and glory for many of the world’s sportspeople, and to reach this goal they have sacrificed in ways most of us, including myself, do not comprehend. And yet, on this world stage we have heard many athletes declaring that there is greater glory, and that belongs to God.

Giving thanks to God for athletic ability and success is indeed honouring to God. Of course many non Christians also achieve Olympic success, and we watch their skill and strength with awe; the difference is, some athletes attribute their gifting to God.

Perhaps the best summary of a Christian perspective on the Olympics, comes from the American duo, Steele Johnson and David Boudia, who won silver in the synchronised diving:

“When my mind is on this and I’m thinking I’m defined by this, my mind goes crazy, but we both know that our identities are in Christ.” (Baudia)

“Knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not in the competition, whatever the result might be, I can just enjoy the experience.” (Johnson)

 

3703D89700000578-3730247-Boudia_and_Johnson_both_NCAA_champions_have_become_as_close_and_-a-70_1470689875209

dailymail.co.uk

 

Making the Olympic team is an amazing feat. Winning an Olympic medal is a dream only a few of the world’s best athletes will ever reach. Knowing Christ is greater again. Now, that is a perspective of reality which is truly worth contemplating.

Baptist Courage of the 17th Century

 

17th Century England was not a promising environment for serious discourse on theological matters. Indeed, discussing theology in public could lead to loss of employment, imprisonment, exile, and on rare occasions, death.

Pressure to conform to the prevailing winds was enormous, with both governmental and ecclesial bodies (the two often working in tandem) interpreting difference as hostility and something to be silenced.

And yet this period of English history also witnessed tremendous Gospel growth, and playing a significant role in the missio Angliae were the early Baptists.

john-bunyan

Perhaps no group in England made more use of public disputations than did Baptists. Between 1641 and 1700 at least 109 such public debars involving Baptists were held in England, with 79 of these between 1641 and 1660. These debates pitted one or more Baptist champions against opponents from Anglican, Quaker, Independent, or sometimes, Roman Catholic groups. Baptists welcomed these occasions, for they gave opportunity for declaring the gospel to large crowds, helped defend Baptists against unjust slanders, and often led to numerous conversions and the planting of new Baptist Churches. Many leading Baptists of that time were converted at public disputations.” (Leon McBeth, ‘The Baptist Heritage’, p64)

The Scriptures encourage Christians to live quiet, peaceful and productive lives. We are to pray for all, including those who Govern over us, and to submit to their authority with humility and obedience. At the same time, we are to live courageous lives, choosing godliness and faithfulness over compromise and indifference.

Of course, we do not need to choose between 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 4:2-5, or between Ephesians 4:1-6 and Galatians 1:6-9. All are applicable to our circumstances and they are driven by the desire to see God saving people and bringing them to a knowledge of the truth.

Challenging the norms of society is no easy task; it requires grace and wisdom the size of the outback.

A century of ecumenical murkiness makes the Rio Olympic pool smell and look like pure H2O. Indeed, one might forgiven for thinking the only heterodoxy left is the view that still believes that there is a line separating orthodoxy and other.

As we look at the enormous social and spiritual challenges before us, both in terms of engaging in the public square and in the ecclesial circle, there is encouragement to be found from among our Baptist grandparents. They didn’t permit a culture of fear to win the day. Instead, taking their confidence in the power, truth, and beauty of the Gospel, they sought to persuade all. Not all were convinced, but many were and thus begun one of the great church planting movements in Western history. 

I wonder what might happen if we in Melbourne (and Australia) adopted this kind of Gospel determination?

Do we want a Maverick Baptist College?

Simon Carey Holt has written a blog piece where he speaks favourably of the current climate of Whitley College. Simon is currently the Senior Pastor at Collins Street Baptist, and for many years he taught at Whitley.

whitley-lr-112

It is good to hear Simon’s perspective. There is much that can be said in response, but here are four thoughts for now.

First, it is important to understand the role Simon attributes to the college.

For example, he states, “Theological educators must be prepared to stand on the sidelines of the church and call it to account. Like those pesky prophets of old, courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo.

While putting it in a rather gentle way, Simon is essentially saying, the College’s role is to speak down on the churches, telling us what we are doing wrong.

Yes, we need a theological college with academic rigour, where students are encouraged to think deeply and engage with a broad spectrum of theological persuasions. We also need a college that is anchored to the ‘faith once for all delivered’.

The question is, is it the role of the college to “call churches to account”, or does the college exist to serve the churches? When a former lecturer portrays the college as a maverick with a stick, he only reinforces concerns and exemplifies how out of touch they are with the Baptist community (and with Baptist polity!).

Second, Simon believes the college listens to the churches, but is that the case? I have no doubt that a few churches are listened too, but if the College was truly listening to the broader churches, we would not be hearing concerned voices from a growing number of churches and pastors.

Which leads to a third point,

Simon suggests, “As a priestly community, the theological college is one that nurtures and enables the local church”.

This is a noble desire, one which is worth pursuing, but as I mentioned last week,  many of our churches do not have confidence in the College to train and teach the next generation of Gospel ministers. This is demonstrated by the fact that churches continue to send their people to alternative theological colleges in Melbourne and interstate.

Fourth, Simon said,

In my experience, criticisms like these often hold a kernel of truth mixed with a good dose of ignorance and clichéd hyperbole. Too often such criticisms are leveled by those who have never sat in a class, never pursued a sustained conversation with a teacher, and never read anything of substance written by those they deride. Sadly though, when mud is thrown it sticks, deserved or not.”

This may be a fitting description for some scenario somewhere, but here it is nothing more than a straw man. The reality is, some of the concerned baptists have sat in classes, they have conversed with teachers, and they have read publications. And many who made the decision to study at other theological institutions, have engaged with Whitley College in other ways over the years.

I notice that Simon does not deny the theological discord between the College and Churches; indeed he admits Whitley promotes ideas and teachings that are incongruent with those of the churches. His rationale is, the College is  a prophetic voice speaking to the BUV, “like those pesky prophets of old, courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo”.

I guess Hananiah was a prophet of sorts! Should not prophets contend for faith, rather than contravene the faith? In fact, professionalising prophecy was the error of the kings of Israel and Judah. While God may use a voice from the college in a ‘prophetic’ way, assuming assuming the mantle of prophecy is dangerous, and is certainly not the role ascribed to it by the BUV.

In conclusion, we want to see a faithful and growing Baptist College in Victoria, which is able to serve our Churches well. I agree with Simon in that a change of leadership is opportunity to ask hard questions. Hard questions have been asked this year. What remains to be seen is how they will be answered.

Advertising: Principal of Whitley College

The Baptist theological college in Victoria, Whitley College, is looking for a new principal.

whitley-lr-112

This is an exciting opportunity for the Baptist community in Victoria, as well as for one auspicious applicant.

There is an elephant standing a few blocks from the famous Melbourne Zoo, and one which can’t be ignored: The name ‘Whitley College’ conjures up a long history of theological liberalism, and with good reason. The sad reality is, there are very few statements in the Baptist doctrinal basis that are not rejected by one or more of Whitley’s faculty and adjunct teachers. One cannot assume that penal substitution or the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessarily affirmed or taught as Bible truth. Ideas such as universalism, modalism, affirming homosexual practices, are all to be found in teachings among the faculty.

I understand there are some Victorian Baptists who have a positive relationship with the College, but there is no escaping the fact that many churches (perhaps the majority) will not currently send their people to Whitley, because of radical deconstruction of the evangelical and baptist faith that swirls around its Colosseum looking building. 

For two generations, Evangelicals have overwhelmingly stayed away from Whitley (except for ordination studies), and have trained at other Bible Colleges in Melbourne, and even interstate.

That being said, there is a growing desire to see reform, and to see our college move forward.

Letters from various Whitley Board members have been circulating this year, aghast at the idea that Baptists are expressing concerns over the college’s orthodoxy, but the reality is, these concerns have been present for decades. For the most part people have been afraid to speak up, and when they have, no one has been listening, until now. In several public forums this year, including May’s Gathering, a cacophony of concerns have been raised regarding the teaching and training emanating from Whitley, communicating that the Churches want change.

whitley

Please refer to the formal job description. In addition, I can speak for some Victorian Baptists who are keen to see the following attributes in the College Principal:

  • We are looking for a Principal with strong Evangelical convictions and who affirms the doctrinal basis of the BUV.
  • We are looking for a Principal with a pastoral heart.
  • A strong leader and visionary for the future of training Gospel ministers.
  • A character that fits with the qualifications described in 1 Timothy 2 and Titus ch.1
  • A Principal who can effectively engage with Victorian Baptist Churches

The College Principal is an important position, and provides a significant opportunity for the future of not only the College, but also for the Baptist Union of Victoria. 

Perhaps you would like to join with many of us in praying for this process. Anyone interested in applying should follow the above link (applications close August 22nd)

Daniel Andrews’ plebiscite letter to Malcolm Turnbull

I’m beginning to suspect that our Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, needs a new media advisor, someone who can help him tone down the rhetoric he is continually spraying at millions of fellow Australians.

In an open letter address to Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Andrews has called for Government to drop the plebiscite on marriage, and instead present a bi-partisan Bill to Parliament within the next 100 days.

AndrewsDaniel58250

In the letter, he writes,

“It will legitimise a hateful debate which will subject LGBTI Australians to publicly-funded slurs and denigration.”

“In Victoria equality is not negotiable. On behalf of my state, I urge you to accept there is no need for a costly and divisive plebiscite and agree to produce a bipartisan Bill to amend the Marriage Act within the next 100 days.”

And apparently members of Parliament who don’t share Mr Andrews’ views, “do not represent a fair and modern country.”

Clearly, the Victorian Premier doesn’t trust the Australian people to conduct a civilised discussion on marriage, and he is also fearful of the possibility that Australians will not support change to the Marriage Act.

I believe there are arguments for and against this plebiscite, and it is undoubtedly an unusual course of action, but it is a valid democratic pathway, and one that was determined months ago.

Given this fact, would it not be wise for our political leaders to encourage Australians to discuss this issue with grace and respect, rather than the unhelpful name-calling Mr Andrews’ seems unable to avoid? This letter is certainly not as offensive as many of his comments which usually include the words, bigot and homophobe, but it still derogatory.  

Let us not pretend otherwise, changing the definition of marriage is no small thing. Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage. Does not the significance of this issue deserve the voice of the Australian people?

As someone who has a voice in the community, albeit a small one, I will gladly stand alongside Mr Andrews’ and affirm that hateful speech and actions against LGBTI people is unacceptable. A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act, nor toward those who believe the Act should remain unaltered.

As important as this plebiscite is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is the good of others. I have no desire to sacrifice people for the sake of a vote. I do not wish harm on any homosexual and lesbian Aussies. But please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly is not to hate, and by thinking as such Mr Andrews’ risks undermining the foundation of democracy.

It is possible, indeed desirable, to show kindness in disagreement. I realise that kindness like marriage is a disappearing norm in Australia today, but showing gentleness and respect toward those with whom there is a different view ought to be basic to our humanity. Is this not one of the reasons why Donald Trump leaves us shuddering?

Mr Andrews’, I appreciate your concerns about the plebiscite, but rather than demeaning those Australians who have a different opinion, will you stand with us in modelling and encouraging a constructive conversation about marriage?