Are we prepared to walk away, for sake of Christ?

Israel Folau has come out and explained his recent remark on Instagram that has led to huge public controversy, and has involved Rugby Australia and their chief sponsors. It seems as though everyone has an opinion, and so it has been helpful to hear Israel speak for himself.

I appreciate his honesty and his humility. It made me think of the Apostle Paul’s words,

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life”. (1 Timothy 1:14-16)

I appreciate Folau’s clarification about what believes. I appreciate his unswerving faith in Jesus Christ and his trust that the Bible is true and good,

“I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness.”

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He has indicated that should Rugby Australia find his views to be untenable he would resign,

“After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”

At this point in time, no decision has been made by either Folau or Rugby Australia. Last week, Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, admitted the difficulty she is facing,

“This is a difficult issue when you think you are trying to combine religious beliefs, freedom of speech and inclusion, respect and the use of social media,” 

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We want athletes in our code who are prepared to do that and that’s really important.

“But at the same time, Rugby Australia’s got a policy and position of inclusion and using social media with respect.

“So that’s where we shared stories, shared ideas and shared positions and both of us recognise that what we want is a situation where we use our social media platforms in a respectful and positive way.”

I think Castle helpfully summarises some of the tensions that now exist in the broader community. As a nation we are struggling to cope with societal pluralism. Sexuality has now been defined in such strong terms, that alternative views, as reasonable and loving as they may be expressed, are now perceived as evil and unacceptable. It’s reached the point that sporting codes are now making theological commentary, and assuming a position on hell. Unfolding before us is another test for Australian society. Are we serious about religious freedoms and freedom of speech, or does the rhetoric only apply when beliefs fall into line with the new sexual morality? Do we accept that millions of Australians don’t subscribe to the now popular view on marriage and sexuality, and that these Australians have a right to express their opinions? While politicians and company CEOS and sporting organisations wrangle over a position on religious freedom, it is even more important for Australian Christians to be thinking through these issues. What do we really believe? How can we best communicated what we believe? What are prepared to lose for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?

Even though Folau’s sporting future remains uncertain, his testimony presents a healthy challenge to the rest of us Aussies who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Would we be prepared to walk away from job security? Would we be willing to give up a lucrative income? Are we ready to embrace public abuse?

I hope no one is thinking, Israel Folau can afford to make a decision to leave because he’s already earned millions of dollars and he has options in front of him to return to Rugby League. First of all, those who have more often find it exponentially harder to give it up. It is relatively easy to keep our beliefs quiet and to ourselves, and the pressure to compromise can be immense. Second, in standing by his Christian convictions, Folau is likely to face further public backlash. Third, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, has made it clear that Folau’s belief in hell would be unacceptable in their code, meaning that there is far from any guarantee that he could return to Rugby League.

When Jesus spoke about taking up a cross and giving up the world’s offerings, he wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Perhaps it is time for us to ponder his words and examine our own hearts and ambitions,

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8)

Public Speech: the New Code of Conduct

Last week the national crisis was cricket, this week it’s Rugby. The cricket story concerned 3 members of the national side who were caught cheating; the rugby headlines concern an individual player who has made a statement on instagram about his religious convictions.

I don’t follow Rugby Union; I’ve grown up with AFL, the game Israel Folau once tried to play. However, one doesn’t need to understand the rules of Rugby, to grasp that the rules for public speaking have changed in Australia. Governments are yet to determine what laws and codes of conduct will be written to support the recent amendment to the Marriage Act, but sporting codes and iconic companies are making it clear where they want lines to be drawn.

 

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On his instagram account, Israel Folau responded to a question about “gods plan for gay people” by saying, “Hell…unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.

First up, did Israel Folau say anything untrue?

Did he suggest anything that is out of sync with the Christian faith? No.

Could he have said it in a better way? I think so. Folau could have said something like, “Homosexual practices are one example of many ways in which we ignore God’s purposes. All of us, including myself, are guilty of living without regard for God and because of that we deserve hell. God  is holy and he also merciful, and that’s why Jesus came and died on the cross. The amazing thing is, by trusting in Jesus we are forgiven and the direction for life changes for the better, and we are promised a future that we don’t deserve but is God’s incredible gift to us.”

Perhaps he could have ignored the questioner who was clearly trying to trigger a response. Sometimes the wise thing to do is to say nothing. However, Israel Folau chose to speak up, and good on him for doing so. I wish he had been more gentle and nuanced with his answer, but his words were not wrong.

Christian beliefs are grounded in the Bible, and the Bible’s message about sexuality is clear and consistent.  As the Bible itself teaches, there is a trajectory within its story line, and so we are meant to read and interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, and to apply meaning through the lens of Jesus Christ. That means there are Bible verses which were spoken for a particular people and time, and no longer directly applicable to us. It also means that parts of the Bible are describing events to us us rather than prescribing specific norms for today. Nonetheless, the Bible’s teaching about human sexuality, including homosexuality and of marriage, retains a moral goodness and integrity from Genesis to Revelation.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has stated, “Israel’s comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby…We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby’s inclusion policy.”

There are two clear problems with Castle’s comments: First, Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy theoretically includes ‘religion’, and yet all the talk is about excluding Folau and his religious convictions, and these are beliefs which are in line with orthodox, historic Christianity and which are believed by thousands of Christian Australian who are playing sport at every level in this country. Second, there is a massive assumption being made here, that is, Folau’s comment is “homophobic”.

The policy states, “There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this”.

Here lies the problem. It is now taken as fact, certainly by Alan Joyce and others, that affirming the Bible’s view on sexuality is homophobic. If you agree with the Bible, you are a bigot. This is simply untrue. For example, Jesus spoke many words of disagreement to people around him, but was his motivation fear and hatred, or was it love and kindness? Did Jesus insist on calling sin, sin, because he wanted to crush people or because he wanted to save people? Sadly, there are individuals who are hateful toward people in the LGBTI community, and it is awful, and without excuse, and we Christians need to stand with you against any tirade of abuse.

Jesus once said, “the truth will set you free.” He didn’t say, the truth will agree with you, for he goes on to say, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This goes to the very heart of Christianity, which is God who disagrees with us, and yet became incarnate, speaking and living truth, dying and rising from the dead to redeem sinners. This message may not be popular in Australia of 2018, but then again, history shows us that the Gospel has rarely been a social media success, and yet it is too good and too important for silence. There is no other God who is honest with us like Jesus, and there is no one else who loved us to the extent of suffering crucifixion for our eternal joy and good.

It is not homophobic to hold to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. That’s not to say, people should listen to or accept this message, but calling it hate speech is false. Should Israel Folau be sanctioned for his comment? Is Qantas right to threaten Rugby Australia with their sponsorship?

I don’t agree with Alan Joyce’s views on sexuality, and I don’t like the way he has rebranded QANTAS as a gay pride flag flying company. Have I boycotted Qantas? No, in fact I’m flying with them tomorrow! What we are seeing is a major Australian company pressuring a sport to exclude a player who professes Christian beliefs. I think it would be unwise, but they might. I would ask,  is this the Australia we want to call home?

The Coopers Beer saga of last year served as a watershed (or should that be, beershed?!) moment in Australian social history, indicating that there would be a social and economic cost to anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the new morality. The art of toleration in Australia is being scrubbed out by a vocal priesthood of humanistic secularists who are intent on reframing the Australian identity and conscience. It is not only anti-Christian, it is an anti-freedom movement and is serving to diminish both religious and public non-conformity. Israel Folau is but another inevitable target of what will become many more in months and years to come.

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Late this afternoon at a press conference, RA chief executive Raelene Castle has said,

““This is a difficult issue when you think you are trying to combine religious beliefs, freedom of speech and inclusion, respect and the use of social media,” Castle said.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We want athletes in our code who are prepared to do that and that’s really important.

“But at the same time, Rugby Australia’s got a policy and position of inclusion and using social media with respect.

“So that’s where we shared stories, shared ideas and shared positions and both of us recognise that what we want is a situation where we use our social media platforms in a respectful and positive way.”

There are some positives here and it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds over the next few days, especially as to whether Qantas will turn down their rhetoric. Also interesting is Castle’s recognition of a now existing ‘tension’. Perhaps this is an opportunity for good listeners and reasonable minds to sit down and begin talking about how we can regain the art of disagreement in public discourse.

Foreign Aid and Australia’s Disappearing Generosity


“Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” (Proverbs 11:28)

““Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;  in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.” (Psalm 39:6)

 

The Age yesterday reported that not only is Australia’s Foreign Aid on the decline, Australians in general are giving less to charitable causes.

  • In 1994 Australia was ranked 9th on the international league table of overseas aid donors (measured by the share of gross national income devoted to overseas development assistance). In 2018, we have dropped to 17th.
  • In 1994, Australia gave 34 cents for every $100 of national income to foreign aid (0.34%). In 2018, the contribution is now 22 cents for every $100 (0.22%).
  • Foreign Aid spending has decreased in the ministry of 7 of our last 10 Foreign Ministers.
  • “Even on the current budget numbers Australia’s aid spending is expected to slump to just 0.20 per cent of gross national income by 2021.”

According to the research raised by Matt Wade,

“The National Australia Bank’s Charitable Giving Index, which tracks donations made through online channels, shows giving to “humanitarian service” organisations like World Vision, Red Cross and Oxfam has declined as a share of all charitable giving over the past three years. In 2015 the humanitarian services sector received 35 per cent of all donations but that had fallen to 32 per cent by last year. The average donation to the sector was also down.

That fall came despite a plethora of international humanitarian crises…the public response in Australia was strangely muted.”

Depending on which research one uses, somewhere between 65-80% of Australians contribute to charitable causes, both within the country and to NGO’s. Again depending on which study we rely on, per capita contributions equate to between $200-300 per annum, which works out to be approximately 0.25-0.3% of the median household income in Australia.

I have three theories as to why we are seeing this trajectory:

  1. Foreign Aid doesn’t win votes. I’m sure it is a factor for Christians and for some conscientious Australians from other backgrounds, but the reality is, Foreign Aid is not a political game changer.
  2. Most Australians base their charitable giving from their disposable income, rather than regularly setting aside an amount from the total income. We are spontaneous givers, not planned givers.
  3. Uncertain times create caution, and thus a reluctance to give money to various causes. There are certainly many geo-political tensions in the world today, and these may well mute our responses. There are also domestic economic issues that again call into question what we feel able to contribute beyond our own immediate concerns. Then again, is this not always the case? Are there not always socio-economic question marks and pressures? When has there ever been an ideal time to given generously to those without? And as Matt Wade exclaimed, Australia today has never been more rich, and yet we are moving from modest giving to miserly.

 

It is easy to stand in the public gallery and shout out advice to Governments. But perhaps we should be aiming the megaphone at ourselves. Whether we like it or not, Governments are, at least in liberal democracies, a mirror of the dominant society. Government policies to a very great extent reflect the attitudes and priorities of the general community. Is it of coincidence that the slide in Foreign Aid is tracking at a similar level to the average charitable giving by Australians?

Before we tear down the Government for another moral failing, there are several important caveats and consideration.

First, the social and economic priorities of a Government should depend, at least in part, on what one believes the responsibility of Government to be. I think we make a lot of assumptions about the role of Government. Our list of expectations seems to be growing, and the end result is that we are creating bigger Governments, and I’m not so sure that that is particularly healthy for our society. Have we become too reliant on Governments? For example, once a upon a time, a family would care for their own elderly parents and for their own young children, but now, do we too readily call upon the State to assist?

How Government spends money, largely reflects the values and the priorities of voters. The relationship is even more complex, for there are times when we want Government to do the kinds of things we should be doing ourselves. We wish to alleviate ourselves of responsibility by loading governments with even more.

Second, the priorities of a government should primarily focus on its own people, and yet we also belong to a global community, so surely it is right for us to share some of our bounty with communities across the world who are struggling at this time? If the shoe was on the other foot, would we not hope that someone would see our plight and have compassion on us?

Third, if we want our government to change perhaps we need to start with ourselves. If we are serious about changing Foreign Aid to levels that a more akin to those in 1996, what will we voluntarily give up? Are we willing to ask for a cut in sport or in the arts? What about infrastructure, Defence, social services, and a thousand other areas of expenditure? Does not the very definition of generosity imply a cost and sacrifice? What are we prepared to give up?

What does it mean to love our neighbour as ourselves? This is a principle taught by Jesus Christ, although I realise Christianity has nothing worth saying in the public square and we should never permit Christian values to influence public policy; perish the thought!

Thankfully it was a journalist from a progressive newspaper that reported this story. Can you imagine if a Christian minister had suggested that Australians are becoming less generous and more like Scrooge incarnate? The response would be unsurprising,

“here’s another example of judgmentalism and moral condescension from our Churches.”

Perhaps this 20 year trend is more revealing than we want it to be. Is it because our personal wealth has diminished over the years? No, the opposite is true. Is it because there are greater economic uncertainties today than 20 years ago? Again, the answer is no. Is it because there are fewer global opportunities to assist the poor and disadvantaged? Global poverty is thankfully in decline, but there is never a shortage of need. Is there perhaps a connection between society’s move away from Christianity and our decreasing generosity toward those in need? I don’t know of any research that has examined such a hypothesis,  but I would not be surprised if it were so. Juxtaposed to declining charitable giving across Australia, evidence suggests that Christians continue to give many times more than the national average.

 

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According to NCLS research (a national survey across Christian denominations, which involved 10,000s of participants), 66%  of church attenders give regularly, with 20% of attendees regularly giving over 10% of their income. It is important to note that these figures only include financial contributions to the local church, and does not include all the charitable giving beyond. It should also be pointed out that these financial contributions are not tax deductible.

The question is, why is the gap between general Australia and Christian Australia so great? I’m sure that some Christians give out of a sense of obligation (although they should not), and others give because of a dubious understanding of Divine blessing (ie the prosperity Gospel). But those two reasons cannot explain the giving that continues in evangelical Churches across the country.

So what is the reason?

My hypothesis is a simple one, and it comes from the Bible: Grace changes peoples’ hearts.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

This is not to say that people from other religions and with no religion cannot also show generosity with their finances, but the difference between the average Australian and the practicing Christian is staggering. Please don’t mistake my point, in no way am I talking up Christians, rather I am talking up Jesus Christ.

When one has come to experience the sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus, and how the Lord of the universe gave up everything, even his life on the cross, this good news changes you inside and it reorients the way you view your income and the way you look at other people. I’m not suggesting that Christians are better people; Christians are ordinary citizens who face the same financial responsibilities as other Aussies. I am however proposing that there is a difference, and that difference turns on belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The extraordinary gift of forgiveness that is found in Jesus, not only frees people to give generously but installs a joy in giving to others.

If Australians are concerned about Foreign Aid and the downward direction of our generosity, we need to look beyond Government and to our own hearts. What kind of people do we want to be? What type of nation do we wish to be? I am reminded of what Jesus once said, ‘you can try and gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul. Where is the gain in that?’ (Mark 8:36)

It’s not cricket: “Crucify him”

In the wake of one of the most controversial weeks in Australian sporting history, Shane Warne was out in the press today and bowling this delivery,

“You shouldn’t crucify someone unless they deserve to be crucified.”

By this, Shane Warne is suggesting that the punishment being hand out to the guilty players is excessive.

“We are all so hurt and angry and maybe we weren’t so sure how to react. We’d just never seen it before.

But the jump to hysteria is something that has elevated the offence beyond what they actually did, and maybe we’re at a point where the punishment just might not fit the crime.”

I actually think Warnie has written a thoughtful piece. He doesn’t minimise the actions of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, and he is asking for Australians not to over react.

“I am still trying to wrestle with what I think the punishment should be. They have to be harsh, but if they are rubbed out for a year, the punishment does not fit the crime.

Let’s take the emotion out of it. We are all feeling angry and embarrassed. But you need a level head and you shouldn’t destroy someone unless they deserve to be destroyed.

Their actions were indefendable, and they need to be severely punished. But I don’t think a one-year ban is the answer.

My punishment would have been to miss the fourth Test match, a huge fine, and be sacked as captain and vice-captain.”

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It seems though that Shane Warne has a thing for the word, ‘crucified’. In the lead up to the 2013 Ashes series he called for English batsman, Joe Root, to be crucified,

“They could be crucifying him”.

I’m pretty sure Joe Root wasn’t guilt of ball tampering. In fact, Warnie was simply doing what Aussie cricketers have a habit of doing, and that is, tossing a googly into the head of an opposition player: If I suggest that Root is vulnerable to our fast bowlers, then he might begin to think it also.

Warnie’s analogy couldn’t be more fitting, because this weekend happens to be Easter. On the very same day, on the Thursday, crowds had gathered at a courtroom in Jerusalem, and there they denounced an innocent man, and called for his crucifixion. The Roman Governor acknowledged the man’s innocence, and he tried to bargain with the mob.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.”

The plan backfired and Pontius Pilate was forced to release Barabbas and instead sentence the innocent man to death on a cross.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Matthew 27)

When we Australians found out what our nation’s cricketers had done, we were angry and disappointed. They had not only broken the rules of our national game, they had failed us as a country, and made Australian sport a mockery around the globe. I’ve also noticed how this sad affair has driven to the fore of the nation’s consciousness the fact that there is a thing called right and wrong, and that right and wrong matters, and such a distinction exists even on the cricket pitch.

Easter is all about the innocent been crucified in the place of the guilty. What is right? No, and yes. The crowds persuaded Pilate to kill Jesus because they were vindictive and couldn’t tolerate what Jesus stood for. The idea that Jesus claimed to be God gave them an insatiable desire for blood. At the same time, God ordained the cross because he is loving and merciful. For you see, God made the world with purpose and design. There are rules, and everyday we break them. Should there not be consequences?

Easter demonstrated to the world that there is consequence and it is weightier than a 12 month suspension. But the God who exists is not only utterly holy and hates those who bend and break the rules, he also loves the very same people.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit”. (1 Peter 3:18)

Shane Warne was right, we shouldn’t crucify someone who is undeserving, and yet that is exactly what Jesus volunteered to do.  Next time we talk about crucifying someone, perhaps we should also remember the One who was crucified for us.

The Changing Algorithm of Facebook

“Stay away from a fool,
for you will not find knowledge on their lips.

 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
but the folly of fools is deception”. (Proverbs 14:7-8)

 

Facebook has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism this week. It has been revealed that analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, went digging around Facebook and used the uncovered gold dust to help the 2016 Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. It’s being reported that as many as 50 million Americans had their private facebook information accessed and used.

I don’t like data-mining; it’s intrusive, a virtual version of a garage sale, except someone is selling your information without your knowledge and permission.  I may not like it, but I do however assume that marketing companies are doing this all the time. Is it really a coincidence that after researching a vacation online, within minutes I find advertisements appearing for airlines and accommodation?

People are so incensed by Facebook’s negligence, that shares have dropped in value and people have begun closing their accounts. Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla had deleted their facebook page.

Peter Hatcher wrote for The Age,

“America’s Big Tech firms have had a free run for a long time now. The normal standards were suspended for them. The soft power of their image gave them worldwide licence to evade tax, break laws, abuse customers’ trust and exploit workers.

“The personal information of some 50 million Facebook users was misused by a political consultancy to help Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign target voters. The consultancy, now notorious, is called Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook shrugged off the scandal and stonewalled the public and the US Congress for the first five days. It responded not to its angry customers or concerned Congress members but only to its falling share price. Facebook founder and major shareholder Mark Zuckerberg decided that it was serious only after he had lost $US9 billion in personal wealth.

“So this was a major breach of trust and I’m really sorry that this happened,” were Zuckerberg’s first words in a CNN interview this week. “So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

This is nothing new. When the Obama campaign used data-mining in the 2012 campaign, it was hailed as a technological masterstroke and use of innovation.

As an another example, the Brisbane Times reported during the week that Gold Coast City had planned to use data-mining during the upcoming Commonwealth Games, but have now decided against the idea.

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While everyone seems to be outraged by the latest facebook scandal, in January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg made an announced that few media outlets reported or expressed concern over. In introducing algorithm changes, Zuckerberg said that Facebook would reduce certain content on peoples’ feeds, and keep traffic clear for updates from friends, liked groups, and “trusted sources” for news. 

It has since come out that “trusted sources” doesn’t mean news and information sites that we have personally follow, but which Facebook had deemed newsworthy for us.

According to the DailyWire, ”Those “trusted sources,” however, are not necessarily going to be the same pages and news sites that users follow; rather, they are sources that Facebook designates as “trusted” through what it says will be rankings produced by “a diverse and representative” sample of Facebook users (see full post below). Which sources are “trusted sources” and which are not, is unclear. Sources not deemed “trusted” — even those you choose to follow — will get buried or de-emphasized in your newsfeed.”

The effect of this has been a marked decrease of readership for many conservative sites, and an increase for numbers left leaning and “progressive” media outlets. According to one study, “The 12 most conservative sites lost an average of 27.06 percent of their traffic from Facebook”, while more liberal sites saw either significant growth in traffic from facebook or remained the same.

The point is, Facebook is skewing the type of news and information that they want users to find and read.

It appears as though it is not only major news outlets that are experiencing this negative change. Since February I have noticed a significant drop on this blog, both in terms the total number of referrals from Facebook and in the percentage of total reads that would normally result from Facebook referrals. Like any website, visitor numbers change depending on numerous factors, including the frequency of posting new material, and the ‘interest factor’. Not everything I write flies with success, but the difference has been pretty clear. Not only has the facebook readership been declining, for the first time ever, twitter referrals are out performing facebook.

I have asked other prominent Australian Christian bloggers about this, and they are noticing similar trends.


I’m not suggesting that Facebook is targeting Christians sites, but I suspect that are conflating Christianity with conservative, and the latter is certainly being affected. It is somewhat ridiculous though because Christian and conservative are not the same. This is a gross error that is often made in politics and media, and apparently also by social media. While Christians and conservatives may share some commonalities, on other issues Christians finds themselves in a very different place, because our identity and beliefs are shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not by any single political philosophy. Nevertheless, algorithms don’t lie!

Apparently, facebook users can take steps to partially rectify this bias. Go to and follow the steps: https://www.dailywire.com/news/26203/facebook-changing-your-newsfeed-heres-how-make-james-barrett

More importantly, let’s learn that neutrality is often alleged and is rarely true. It would be nice if platforms like Facebook and Google worked without prejudice, but this is the real world. It is perhaps too early for giving up social media, but let’s not think that the virtual world is any more impartial than the physical world.

As the Proverb says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” And perhaps we should add,’ lean not on our social media.’

Address at the Victorian Parliament

Below is a transcript of a short address that I gave this afternoon at the Victorian Parliament, at a Parliamentary Update meeting for Faith Communities.

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Thank you to those who have organised this afternoon’s Parliamentary Update. Your time is appreciated.

Of the many issues which deserve attention I wish to raise 3 at this time: 1. religious freedom, 2. safe schools, and 3. freedom for unborn children to live.

In many ways Victoria is a great place to live, it is not however a safe State for unborn children. We talk about the right to choose,  but we rarely talk about our responsibility toward society’s most vulnerable. A 16 week old baby in the womb can be moved by the music of Mozart and Bach, and yet we permit that child’s death.

And Victoria is not always a safe State for school children who are now compelled to participate in and to affirm theories about sexuality that contradict many sound beliefs. While Respectful Relationships and Safe Schools may contain some useful tools, they are deeply flawed and ideologically driven. Safe Schools has been exposed by two independent inquiries. To quote Professor Patrick Parkinson, Safe Schools is “dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.”

This will damage many vulnerable children who are wrestling with their sexuality. In addition, many Victorian families now believe that they are no longer welcome in public schools. Alternative arrangements come at a tremendous cost to families, and sometimes parents don’t have the option of enrolling their children into a Christian or private school.

Finally, I am concerned by the fact that this Parliament has introduced ill conceived legislations that would reduce religious freedoms in Victoria and compromise freedom of conscience. For example, the currently proposed Charities Amendment Bill, and the Inherent Requirement Test legislation from 2016. The latter example specifically targeted religious groups, and would have given the Government power to intervene in churches and religious organisations during the process of hiring employees. Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

Such overreach threatens our liberal democracy, for freedom of association and freedom of religion are foundational. We are meant to be a pluralist society and yet such legislative agendas work against it.

I reminded of when the Apostle Paul visited the city of Corinth; he challenged the status quo but not by silencing them but by discussion and reasoning.

When a legislative agenda aims reduce religious freedoms all Victorians should be concerned, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because a healthy society needs this. We learn and mature through debate and discussion.

As we look to this year’s election, these are I believe 3 critical issues for our State.

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Harmony Day

The national diary appears to be heading on a collision course with the Gregorian calendar, as we squeeze more and more special days into the week. It’s like every other day we are being encouraged to wear a ribbon or a coloured item of clothing, to hashtag a slogan and make another speech.

This Wednesday is Harmony Day, not that I would have known except that I read about it in last week’s school newsletter. What is Harmony Day, you ask? According to the official website,

“Our diversity makes Australia a great place to live. Harmony Day is a celebration of our cultural diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.

Held every year on 21 March. The Day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The message of Harmony Day is ‘everyone belongs’, the Day aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster sense of belonging for everyone.

Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.”

As a way of celebrating Harmony Day, people are encouraged to wear the colour orange. Leaving aside the fact that orange also represents a fruit, a cleaning detergent, one of the world’s most exclusive fashion labels, Hermes, and most ironic of all, a sectarian Protestant movement in Northern Ireland…other than these orange icons, apparently the colour “traditionally…signifies social communication and meaningful conversations.” Clearly someone forget to pass on that message to Northern Ireland!

 

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It’s refreshing to find a ‘day’ that I can happily support, and where I don’t need to sit down and have one of those “this is why we don’t celebrate xyz” conversations with my children.  Perhaps there is some deeper and not so positive agenda behind Harmony Day, but from what I know, it sounds like Wednesday should be orange day (that is, if I had anything orange to wear!).

The cultural experiences in Australia are not the norm across the world. There are few places on earth that have witnessed more positive cultural assimilation and multi-ethnic embracement.Our children’s school has students from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds, and our surrounding suburbs are home to thousands of migrants from all over the world.

This is not to say that racism is only an historical problem in Australia, its ugliness remains with us in 2018, and is probably more prevalent than many would like to admit. Racism is abhorrent. To undermine or deny a person’s humanity and dignity because of their skin colour or language is beyond reprehensible. I do think though that some societal discord is less about racism and is more about the fear of the unknown and the sense of losing cultural norms and habits; the political correctness police can be too quick to judge. It is also important that we can freely note and criticise another culture’s moral sins and shortcomings, so long as we understand the many transgressions marking our own society today.

Harmony Day is a day that I can say to my children, “this is worthwhile celebrating”. It not only reflects an Australian value that is good, it also intimates a significance beyond a nation’s identity.

In 2018, at Mentone Baptist we are preaching through the book of Acts. In this account of Christianity’s growth in the First Century AD, one of the book’s chief concerns is to demonstrate that not only did the Gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate different cultures and people groups, this new born unifying agent was of Divine purpose. Following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. God is concerned for the nations, and his good news message is for people from all nations and races and places.

Throughout Acts we read about thousands of Jewish people become followers of Jesus Christ, and also of Samaritans, an Ethiopian, Greeks and Romans, and many others throughout the world. The Gospel not only found home across ethnicities and languages, but it cut across cultural barriers among rich and poor, men and women, leaders and servants, all now worshiping God together and living out of love for each other. The Gospel call is higher than toleration, it even exceeds the idea of friendship; the Gospel unites otherwise disparate people together in Christ, and creates relationships as close as family. 2,000 years on, this story is continuing, even in Australia.

This year Harmony Day falls one week before another public celebratory day, Good Friday. Good Friday is a day when Christians remember the extent of God’s love for the world,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That day Jesus didn’t wear the colour orange, his accusers dressed him in a purple robe and imbedded a crown of thorns into his head. He carried a wooden cross to a place called Golgotha, where nails were driven through his hands and feet, and where he was hung  until death. This was the cost Jesus bore so that God might reconcile the nations to himself.

Good Friday creates Churches and communities of such depth and peace and love that it makes the United Nations’ best attempts seem rickety and faint. At Mentone Baptist we don’t celebrate Harmony Day, because we are living it every day; perhaps not perfectly but certainly with genuine joy and gratitude. Like thousands of Churches all over the country, we are a big family made up of many different nationalities and cultures: from Uganda and the United Kingdom, to Russia and Malaysia, from Brazil and the USA, to China, India and the Middle East.