Scott Morrison does Christian stuff?

Fairfax have published their latest exposé on Prime Minister Scott Morrisons’ Christianity. PM says social media being used by ‘evil one’, gives rare insight into Pentecostal faithis a strange and sophomoric non-story. I think it illustrates how shallow our grasp of Christianity is in Australia. I suspect it’s another attempted subterfuge to undermine the credibility of the  Prime Minister. 

As I read Daniela White’s piece, it felt like an Aussie version of those famed letters by Pliny the Younger. Pliny was a magistrate in first century Rome. He who felt obliged to tell the Roman Emperor Trajan about those weird Christians who practice a “depraved, excessive superstition”. According to Pliny the Younger, these Christians drink human blood and practice cannibalism, they call each other brothers and sisters, they let women oversee programs and they do really nice things for other people!

There are plenty of issues worthy of reporting in relation to the Federal Government: among them, the painfully slow roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines and the mistreatment of women in Parliament. With a stale and predictable breathe, like waking up every morning, readers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have been given another dose of Scott Morrison’s faith. 

Daniella White explains that the Prime Minister participates in, “the Pentecostal practice of laying on of hands”.

Okay…well, so what? The practice of ‘laying on hands’ is not just a pentecostal thing, it harkens back to New Testament times and it is practised by pretty much all Christians churches to this day. It’s a physical symbol representing a spiritual committal (ie praying for an individual).

That is not all. Readers are reminded of this vital piece of evidence, 

“Mr Morrison was photographed raising his hands in a church service during the 2019 election”.

This is indeed disturbing behaviour by a Christian! Seriously, this is as silly as reporting, ‘a football fan was photographed raising her hands during Saturday’s game at the MCG”. 

One of the Prime Minister’s words that caught Daniela White’s attention was him talking to a Christian audience about the dangers of social media. He said, 

“It is going to take our young people… it’s going to take their hope, it’s going to steal their hope”.

“Sure, social media has its virtues and its values and enables us to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before, terrific, terrific, but those weapons can also be used by the evil one and we need to call that out.”

Does anyone think social media is never used to promote dangerous ideas and to harm people?  You may not believe in a real and personal devil as do Christians (and remember, so did Jesus), but you probably believe in a devil in some metaphoric way while to trying to explain the sheer volume of evil that is promoted and bullied on social media platforms. 

The article amounts to the revelation: Scott Morrison, a self confessing Christian, engages in normal Christian practices and beliefs. Wow. Big news!

I am tempted to mock the article because it is inane and it’s a classic example of a non-story being whipped up into what still amounts to a non-story.

Nevertheless, the piece does reveal something important. It illustrates what is a common thread in Australia today: people don’t understand Christianity. Most Aussies have little or no idea what the church is about. It is normal today for children to grow up and not even know who Jesus is, and that the cross and resurrection of Christ is the central pivot of all human history. 

It is not only the key teachings of Christianity that are being distanced in our communities, there is gaping hole in our understanding of how Christianity has positively shaped the society in which we live and benefit. Christian residue remains attached to our culture and provides foundational material without which our society would crumble. 

The British historian Tom Holland made a similar observation earlier this week when discussing the topic of culture wars. Holland explains how (in the West) many of our cultural and moral leanings arise from Christian theology, it’s just that we no longer see the connections. For example, he suggests, 

“The anxieties around statutes today are bred of deeply Christian ideas, just that the people campaigning against it don’t recognise it as Christian…this is drawing on the assumption that making a profit from slaves and conquering vast reaches of territory and killing people while doing so is not something deserving of praise, and these are assumptions  that are bred of the great heritage of Christian history….They’ve escaped the moorings of Christian doctrine and they now just kind of percolate in the air and people breathe them in and take them for granted.”

“Culture wars…are arguments about theology that do not recognise themselves as being arguments about theology”.

We don’t even realise that our moral impulses to fight against racism stem from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. Scott Morrison’s statement that was reported is exactly right, 

“It’s so important that we continue to reach out and let every Australian know that they are important, that they are significant.

“Because we believe that they are created in the image of God.”

A friend of mine made a comment last night about a different story, one that relates to a local high school. His point nonetheless translates well,

“As far as I can see, Christianity is the best chance we have of creating an equitable society. It teaches that all humans are made in the image of God and thus to be valued. All people have a problem with meeting their own standards of goodness and thus require forgiveness and patience. Love for God and neighbour is the greatest good. The West was built on these principles and yet we’ve still fallen horribly short.

How much worse will we be living under an ideology which demonises those who disagree, peddles a view of ‘goodness’ which is constantly changing and hard to define, and believes in inescapable guilt upon those born with the wrong skin colour and sex?”

Of course, Christianity is far more than a system of beliefs and values that provide a framework for civil society and cultural progress; Christianity is about a person. Christianity is about God sending his son into the world to atone for sin that we might be reconciled to the living God. That is sublime news that remains as good today as it was in the days of Pliny the Younger. 

Christianity cannot be reduced to a game of knowledge  but it certainly necessitates knowledge. For Christians, surely we don’t want to mislead or confuse people as to the reality of the Christian message, either by our teaching or by our actions.

All Christians across churches and denominational brandings have opportunity and responsibility before God and in love for our neighbour to try and correct the misnomers and myths that are tossed about on a regular basis. The fault lays less with journalists, we need to realise that we’re not always upfront or clear about the great news of Christ. The task is hamstrung  when ‘Christians’ perpetrate evil acts against other people. The Gospel of Christ is betrayed when our own lives contradict the message. The cause isn’t helped when so many church leaders today spit out garbage from the pulpit. My advise is, go and find a church that believes and teaches what the Apostles Paul says is ‘sound doctrine’. 

Even if we become the clearest, most winsome and most Jesus like people to have ever lived, plenty of people will still conclude that Christianity is not for them. There will be people who think you stink like the stench of death. Isn’t that how the Pharisees and crowds responded when they saw and heard the incarnate Son of God?  Others though will conclude, ‘yes I believe this Jesus is the son of God.’

The Australian Prime Minister is again trending on Twitter because of another ‘Christians are weird’ article. Let’s turn it around , maybe it’s opportunity and one you might like to take. If you don’t really know what Christianity is about and are interested even for the reason for discovering why you like or don’t like Scott Morrison, go check out a church sometime or open a Bible and start to read it. The Gospel of Luke is a great place to begin an investigation. 

Boys at local High School targeted

The local high school in my suburb made the news yesterday. I have friends with children at this school and know many families with children attending Parkdale Secondary College.

Several Victorian schools have made headlines this year as students engage in inappropriate and even abusive behaviour. On this occasion, it wasn’t the students who did anything wrong, rather they were subjected to a demeaning and abusive tirade.

A youth worker from the local city council was invited to give a presentation as part of  a ‘diversity and inclusion’ program. According to eyewitness accounts, year 11 boys were “ordered to stand up in class”. What followed was anything but diverse and inclusive. 

The Herald Sun reports that the boys were then “slammed by a council youth worker for being white, male and Christian ­“oppressors”.

“If the students were “ if they were “white”, “male” and “Christian”, they were made to stand and face public humiliation as this youth worker  “ told them they were responsible for being “privileged” and “oppressors”.”

A 16 year old students spoke to the Herald Sun, 

“It was so messed up, we thought for a moment it was a joke, but then we realised it wasn’t and we were so upset and angry by it all,” the 16-year-old said.

“She basically said straight, white, Christian males were oppressors and they held all the power and privilege in ­society.”

She said the male students had felt “ashamed” and “targeted” during the presentation.

“We were shocked but it was quite difficult to say anything because she was also talking about LGBTQI+ and if you spoke out against that you feared you’d be called homophobic,” she said.”

Students were understandably shaken by this unjustifiable shaming by an individual who knows nothing about the personal lives of these boys. Parents are understandably angered. Thankfully the school is also disappointed and has complained to Kingston city council. Also pleasing is how Kingston Council has apologised and began an investigation. Kingston City Council chief executive, Tim Tamlin, said,

“It is never council’s intention to enter into identity politics … we are carefully reviewing the youth services program and will take measures to ensure this can never happen again.” 

Well done to both the school and the Council for these positive responses.

On this occasion, the intolerant attitudes attached to identity politics were met with rebuke. This is often no longer the case as academic institutions and workplaces assume these ideologies and compel faculty members and employees to subscribe without question. The kind of thinking presented to these school students is now flowing mainstream in our culture This story at Parkdale secondary College further highlights how this ideology is no longer kept inside the shadows of a lecturer’s study or limited to the next Netflix series; there is a confidence in these self appointed truth-tellers to publicly shame students in school. Again, these boys were not judged guilty for doing any wrong, but simply on account of their skin colour, their gender, and their potential affiliation with the Christian religion. 

It’s hard to overlook the fact that in Victoria a person can face imprisonment if they pray or speak with someone about sexuality in line with Christian beliefs, but school children can be subjected to racial or gender abuse by a council employee. Again, thankfully this school has spoken up but how many other schools are teaching this nonsense? We know that this is not the only school to have this situation; boys at a Warrnambool school faced a similar attack only a couple of weeks ago. I look forward to the Victorian Education Minister responding to the incident.

We don’t fix one problem by introducing another

There are real issues of gender based abuse in our society and issues of racism. we have been reminded of these around the country this year. Burying our heads in the sand is not going to help anyone. However replacing one problematic attitude with another is no solution. Destroying one culture by introducing one that is worse will not benefit our children. The rules of wokeology are unscientific and immoral. Propagating this kind of harmful teaching will not solve the issues society is wrestling with, it will only produce a new wave of trouble and end with moral and social disillusionment. Let the reader understand, this is the very design and goal of today’s social educators. I’m sure many people jump on board some of these ideas because of attractive rhetoric and out of desire to make a better society, but words have meaning and purpose. Let us be clear, authors of today’s anthropological story have quite adamant ambitions: the eradication of Christianity, the removal of the family unit, and the disintegration of gender is the aim. In 2017,  Roz Ward, a chief architect of safe schools , admitted the underlying political agenda but the government of the time chose to ignore the confession. Doubters should read Carl Truman’s latest volume, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.

Wilhelm Reich may have written, The Sexual Revolution in 1936, but Trueman explains Reich’s influence on today’s culture, 

“Reich also believes that the state must be used to coerce families and, where necessary, actively punish those who dissent from the sexual liberation being proposed. In short, the state has the right to intervene in family matters because the family is potentially the primary opponent of political liberation through its cultivation and policing of traditional sexual codes. … What is significant in Reich’s comment is not so much the principle of state intervention to stop abuse but the underlying definition of abuse with which he is operating. It is a psychological one, specifically one rooted in a highly sexualized psychology. … The importance of Reich’s point here can scarcely be overestimated. It has had a decisive influence on Western political thought, most obviously for the Left but, as it connects to the rise of a psychological conception of victimhood, for Western society in general. When oppression comes to be thought of as primarily psychological, then victimhood becomes a potentially much broader—and much more subjective—category. This affects everything…”

Trueman then explores how,

“The sexual education of the child is simply of too much social and political consequence to be left to the parents. After all, it is the parents as those in authority who actually constitute the problem. The family as traditionally understood needs to be dismantled.”

Attitudes and ideas deriding boys and heterosexuality and Christianity are not in their infancy in Victorian schools. Much of this is already present and taught. For example, Safe Schools and Healthy Relationships are now part of the curriculum in every Government school and many private schools. These programs describe heterosexuality in negative ways. To assume heterosexuality is considered a form of sexism and bigotry. Our children are taught to doubt their biological bodies and encouraged to experiment sexually. Despite the volume of material on offer, almost none discuss marriage. Where marriage does appear, it is usually held up as a negative illustration. Safe schools has been deemed so dangerous that the Federal Government banned the material a few years ago, although the State of Victoria responded with loud enthusiasm.

What is new is the unabashed confidence among some who are now teaching our children.

Parents, talk to your your school

Parents, ask questions to your school about what your children are being taught and told on important social issues. You may discover that even the schools are unaware of the some of the content being fed to students.

Parents, take responsibility as the primary carers and educators of your children. As a father of two boys and a girl, I understand the pressures, failures and struggles like other parents. Let’s not however rescind our roles and hand them over to schools and to the Government. I’m not saying schools have no role to play but they are not meant to be our children’s father and mother.

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction

    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

They are a garland to grace your head

    and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9)

“Start children off on the way they should go,

    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

An alternative vision of inclusion

Down the road from Parkdale Secondary School is Mentone Baptist Church, where I serve as a pastor. While no church is perfect for we are all a work in progress, we do experience a very real glimpse of what it means to a multiethnic and multigenerational community where people find love and community and identity in God. We don’t ignore or condone the sins of our society. We ourselves don’t pretend to be without fault. We confess our own sinfulness and look to Jesus Christ who graciously forgives and atones for all our wrongdoing. Instead of standing in shame, we stand together on Sundays to worship God and celebrate who we are in Christ Jesus: men and women, married and single, young and old, white, yellow and brown, professionals and tradies, together finding friendship and enjoying God.

The answer to sexism, abuse, racism, and a host of other evils is not current progressive and neither is it old school conservatism. It is found in local churches like Mentone Baptist (and countless others around Melbourne). It is ironic and even predictable, that the very idea that these local high school students were told is oppressive is in fact God’s freeing vision of reconciliation, healing, and dignity for every human being: namely the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

A Royal Funeral with a message for everyone

Kings, Queens and Princes, the great and the small, the young and old, will all meet death and face the judge of the earth. As the writer to the Hebrews explains, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

The grave is a great divider for it tears people apart and it separates the living from the dead, and the soul from the body. 

Shakespeare’s Calpurnia was wrong when she assumed before Caesar, “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

It is Ecclesiastes which faithfully records our own foreordained end,  “For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! (2:16)

Susan and I stayed up to watch the funeral service for His Royal Highness, Prince Philip. It was midnight here in Melbourne but one should not overlook momentous occasions such as this. The funeral was orchestrated with solemnity, with military procession and precision, marching in step to Beethoven’s funeral march. It was also obviously deeply personal, to reflect Prince Philip’s life and the devotion of a grieving wife.

The constraints of a global pandemic were evident, with only 30 guests permitted to attend the service inside St George’s Chapel, compulsory mask wearing for Princes and Princesses. Much of the Chapel was deserted as a choir of 4 sang in an empty space. The simplicity and scarcity did not however detract from the dignity and import of the event. If anything, the sight of Her Majesty sitting alone during the service brought to bear the awful reality of grief.

The television presenters spoke of Prince Philip’s ‘faith’. For a moment, one commemorator referred to Duke of Edinburgh’s ‘Christian faith’, but quickly corrected his social faux pas by returning to the vague universal category of ‘faith’. 

As we viewed the royal funeral from our sofa, absorbing the sight of the ceremonial and the personal, the figure of a Queen in mourning and the sound of stunningly beautiful music, the common face death struck a note.

Yes, the world lost a remarkable man, but a woman lost her husband and children their father.

We are divided by death and united in death: Duke, accountant, teacher and boilermaker alike. Behind the awe inspiring grandeur of this yet simple royal funeral, probably overlooked by many and yet very present, a word of hope was offered. It is a wonderful hope and it is offered to those mourning in St George’s Chapel and to the 100s millions like Susan and I who were watching from our homes.  

The word spoken promises a breakthrough from the grave and the undoing of death. I have no idea whether Prince Philip personally believed this good news and entrusted his life to the Sovereign care of his Redeemer, but the message resounded throughout the service for all to hear: for royals and commoners alike, from the cook to the chorister, the private soldier to the Field Marshall: One who is greater than all Queens and Princes has conquered death and he gives certain hope of resurrection to all who receive him. 

This is the portion of Scripture that was read,

 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

The leveller of life is not only death, it is our critical need for a God who forgives sinners and who can gift eternal life. No matter our status or reputation, even Princes need a saviour. 

Christians don’t believe in an afterlife, Jesus holds that there will be an event of far greater consequence and reality: resurrection. Our physical remains share the maggots and soil for a time, only to be resurrected on the last day and to participate in a new creation where there will be no disruption or ending of joy and happiness and life. Jesus identifies the one through whom this gift is made possible: He is the resurrection and the life. 

As Jesus asked Martha we may ask ourselves, ‘Do we believe this?’

We will all walk through the shadow of death. Our bodies grow weak and sick and tired. They will all exhaust, beaten down by transgressions and life in a corrupted world. Death will result for those we love and those we despise, and it will also swallow us. This great defeater has itself been defeated.  The Messiah came and announced the very news that last night rang true, as it is true for every funeral I have conducted over the years, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” 

Jesus’ words are no hollow gesture. Following his conversation with Martha Jesus approached the tomb where his friend Lazarus lay. In what is the shortest verse in all the Bible we read, “Jesus wept”. This God is not unmoved by the awfulness of death. Even more, to prove the worth of his word this same Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead on the third day. He was physically and really alive, and never to die again. It is this resurrection that is the guarantee of our resurrection. As the Apostle Paul explains, 

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)

Whether it is a royal funeral or the deaths of 3 million people to COVID-19 or our own eventual dying, we need hope that holds fast beyond grief and surpasses our own strength. Thank God for his Son and for the hope of resurrection that is ours in Him. 

Harmony Day & a vision for belonging

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 to make another speech. One doesn’t want to be caught out by not wearing the right uniform of the day!

This Tuesday schools are celebrating Harmony Day. While the day is actually March 21, as the date fell on the weekend, schools are commemorating Harmony today. 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, 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 Tuesday 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 2021, 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. We can be thankful for the ‘harmony’ that is experienced in Australia and we can continue to strive to do better.

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.

The book of Acts in the Bible gives an  account of Christianity’s growth in the First Century AD. One of the book’s chief concerns is demonstrating 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 only days 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 haven’t celebrated a single day of ‘Harmony’, 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 Columbia, Chile and the USA, to China, India and the Middle East.

VCAT Given New Powers to Investigate Christians for Praying

Which society is the following report depicting?

“human rights commission intends to use the full range of its new powers to investigate church groups and other organisations engaged in gay conversion practices, including seizing documents and pursuing them in court if they do not comply with orders.

The Andrews government gave the commission wide-ranging powers as part of its ban on gay conversion practices earlier this month, and Ms Hilton said the commission would not be shy about using them….”

“…Under the reforms, anyone can make a report to the commission about change and suppression practices from any member of the community.

“The commission can then investigate that complaint, but it also has significant power to conduct “own-motion” investigations where there is indication of serious or systemic problems.

This could involve forcing a person or organisation to take, or refrain from taking, certain actions to comply with the Equal Opportunity Act. Such undertakings and notices will be enforceable at VCAT. The commission will also have the power to compel documents and other information, and will educate the community to prevent such practices from occurring.”

If I had removed references to Victoria and Daniel Andrews, one could be forgiven for thinking the report was describing an authoritarian State like China or Iran. Surely this story in The Age  isn’t talking about a free and democratic society where the people have the right to discuss, debate, persuade, and even to help one another; sadly, this is Victoria. 

Sinicization is not only an agenda being forced upon the Chinese people by an authoritarian regime. We now have our own version here in Victoria as the State now subjects its citizens to new invasive and extreme laws that will strip people of basic freedoms of conscience, speech and association. Perhaps we should call it, Victorianization.  

The Victorian Parliament last month passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

Under this Act, criminal charges can be laid and convicted persons may face up to 10 years imprisonment and fines of $200,000. There is also a civil avenue for people wishing to make complaints against fellow Victorians, and it’s these new powers given to VCAT that are the focus of The Age’s story. 

An anonymous complaint is a sufficient reason for VCAT to open an investigation, compel you to produce personal documents and information, and force you to attend reeducation programs that will teach you what to believe about sexuality and gender. 

Dishonesty and misinformation have sadly controlled much of the recent debate. First of all, Government reports glaringly avoided the historical reality of how conversion therapy came from mainstream psychology and not from religious groups. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that aversion therapies were taught at a university here in Melbourne and practiced by doctors. Second, contrary to rhetoric offered by the Government and activist groups, conversion practices (ie aversion therapy) were always rare and unusual in religious settings. These are groups who blindly followed what was considered mainstream science at the time.

However, instead of  limiting legislation to banning an archaic practice that everyone agrees is wrong, the Parliament has outlawed praying and even talking with another person about sexuality and gender. People are free to discuss, pray, and counsel so long as their view of sexuality and gender conforms to the current set of theories being preached by activists. One problem is that these theories are so fluid, that even activists can’t keep up with the latest moral rights and wrongs.  It is worth highlighting that gays and lesbians and feminists have all expressed concerned that these new laws will prevent people from seeking the care and support that they have every right to find. 

What would Jesus do? How were early Christians encouraged to respond to questions about sexuality? Certainly with grace and kindness, to love and serve others, and to affirm the pattern given by God in Scripture. Indeed, all these factors belong together.

For example, on one occasion Jesus was asked a question about marriage and divorce. Jesus engaged in a discussion and responded to the questioner by affirming how marriage is between a man and a woman. Jesus says all other sexual activity is immoral.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19)

The Apostle Paul wrote a personal letter to a group of people. He cited their sexual behaviour and called for change.

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mennor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”. (1 Corinthians 6:10-11, 18-19)

One of the assumptions attached to today’s sexual ethics is that orientation ought to be expressed sexually. If you feel a certain way, it ought to be affirmed and lived. For Christians, the Bible suggests an alternative choice and a more fulfilling identity. The Bible describes Jesus Christ as the most complete human being to ever live and he never had sex with anyone. To encourage a person to follow Jesus’ example is now anathema and yes, even illegal in Victoria. 

Should people be free to talk about sexuality and gender, even encouraging a Christian view, without fear of the State hauling them before a tribunal?

Should churches have the freedom to encourage their members to live in accord with Christian beliefs on marriage, sex, and gender? 

In case readers assume that these laws are only targeting clergy, anyone can be investigated and anyone charged.

The Government told The Age that they are willing to have one discussion with the faith community. Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton holds out an olive branch (poison ivy, to be accurate), 

“We’ll be working with survivor groups but will also be working with faith leaders because it’s an opportunity to create an understanding…”

“Kristen Hilton told The Age her office also wanted to educate faith leaders and the broader community about the harm caused to LGBTI people by suggesting there is something wrong with homosexuality.”

The State, with all its spiritual insight and theological astuteness, is going to educate Churches about what we can and cannot say and pray? I don’t think so. Can we not coexist as good neighbours despite holding onto a different worldview? The State is not God, the Premier is not Archbishop, and VCAT is not the board of Elders. Let the reader understand, we are not talking about the law prohibiting invasive and harmful treatments that doctors were once trained to deliver, we are talking about banning consensual conversations and praying with people who are wanting to engage.

Activists have lobbied for Victorian society to be radically rewired and the Government has done their bidding. The average Victorian ought to be familiar with this imposition and overreach. Religious Victorians are now faced with a decision, will we obey Caesar or will follow God? This is not a choice that should ever be forced on people’s but it is the position in which many Victorians now find themselves. 

It’s not ‘gestational parent’, she’s a mother

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words?  (from 1984)

If you believe words like mum and dad, or brother and sister, or wife and husband speak to a normal state of affairs and reflect relations that are good and healthy, one might be forgiven for being surprised when your employer pulls you up for being discriminatory and even bigoted. 

Calls to de-gender persons and relationships are taking off around the globe. In the United States House Democrats recently declared their intentions to avoid speaking of mothers. A maternity ward in a UK hospital announced that instead of talking about ‘breastfeeding’, staff would use the term, ‘chest feeding’ and instead of ‘pregnant women’ doctors and nurses will refer to ‘pregnant person’. 

The ANU (Australian National University) doesn’t want to be left behind. The Daily Telegraph reports,

“Academics at the nation’s top university have told staff to stop using the word “mother’’ and replace it with “gestational parent”, while a “father’’ should now be referred to as a “non-birthing parent” in order to deliver gender-inclusive education.

The Australian National University’s Gender Institute Handbook instructs tutors and lecturers to use terms like “chestfeeding’’ instead of breastfeeding and “human or parent’s milk’’ instead of the phrase “mother’s milk’’.

“Do not worry if you make a mistake, simply acknowledge it and correct yourself,’’ the handbook instructs.

“Language habits take practice to overcome, and students respect the efforts you make to be inclusive.”

While the directives are a guide and not mandatory, it doesn’t require much imagination to realise that guidelines soon enough become rules and requirements. 

Universities were once exciting places of discovery and inquiry. The sciences studied the world to gain knowledge of what is true. The arts encouraged creativity and exploration of the imagination. Sadly, the university of today can ill afford to value scientific fact or applaud freedom of expression. Today, a university education is more concerned with social engineering and training the next generation to think and live in conformity to the new groupthink. In case anyone assumes that what happens at uni stay at uni, think again. What is taught at university soon becomes adopted throughout the rest of society. 

In the Daily Telegraph article, they interviewed language academic, Dr Neil James. He pointed out,

“It is very powerful, the way you describe a term can have a loading and can have that social engineering purpose…Choosing particular terms will steer community attitudes.”

Of course, this is the precise point. Language means control. Redefining words is about changing the way people think and the way we live. The aim is to create a new reality. 

This isn’t new. Language has been used to control and influence people since the world’s first lie. What is new is the way we are being made to feel psychologically unstable and even ashamed for believing in some of life’s basic truths. This madness didn’t begin yesterday; the horse bolted decades ago. Marriage was redefined and children in the womb reclassified. What we are facing today is simply the latest chapter of the revolution to reinvent sex and gender. Man and woman have become virtually meaningless words, representative of the bad old phobic days. The modern priests of orthodoxy kindly inform us that meaning pivots on the self and ones personal impulses. To impose names beyond the individual is to cause harm and create an unfair society. Hence, we must no longer speak of mother’s feeding their babies breast milk, but of person’s offering chest milk. 

Sex and gender are politicised. Nothing is to interfere with the project of modern self realisation. Traditional understandings, as essential and commonsense as they may be, must be eradicated in the name of expressive individualism. It can be observed with more than a dose of irony that the most committed individualists are among the most insistent on imposing new meanings and new words on everybody else.  

Does it matter?

First of all, effective communication is becoming harder. We can no longer trust our eyes and our senses to make reasonable conclusions. We stumble over our words as we try to find the accepted doublespeak. How is the new mother, sorry, the ‘gestational parent’? Are you the non ‘birthing parent’? Apart from sounding like idiots, the problem is, the rules around language are constantly changing. There is always potential that employees will be publicly shamed simply because they are not up to date with the latest metamorphosization of words. 

To misspeak can cost you your reputation and career. The process begins with an announcement of what is deemed acceptable speech. Self appointed hermeneutists then provide new definitions and education materials to instruct us how to repent of our ways and to use the right words. This leads to fear and to submission, for who wants to be singled out as a social heretic and bigoted person?

Second, the project that is designed to bring about equality and human dignity is in fact dehumanising. The distinctive, beautiful, and irreplaceable role of motherhood is taken away. Women’s sport will soon be a thing of the past. To refer to God as Father is now ridiculed by theologians and pastors who want to remain in the good pleasures of society’s bishops. Belief that only a biological woman can be a mother now contradicts ANU’s speech guidelines, despite the fact that this is a fact. Mothers and fathers are being erased from the culture’s new book of life, and inscribing a baby”s gender at birth is now controversial and potentially an infringement on the baby’s rights.

However, to call a mother, mother, and a father, father is not to diminish the personhood of those who are not. Rather, it is recognising and honouring a social good and social necessity. 

We will do well to also recognise that there are people who genuinely feel as though they are living in the wrong body or who struggle to reconcile gender and sex. The answer is not to take man and woman and mum and dad to the deconstuctors. A society that ignores biology and the most basic of relational entities is not progressive, it becomes oppressive. This is a sign of a culture in trouble. We are not witnessing a new age of enlightenment, but a culture that is exhausted and declining. If we can no longer recognise and name mum and dad, or boy and girl, we have become like the painter who can no longer identify colour or shape, or the musician who no longer recognises pitch or rhythm. Everything is dismantled and becomes unrecognisable.

For the Christian, it will not do for us to simply hold onto patterns that even a short while ago were assumed by society as a moral good. Christians affirm categories of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother (as do many others who share a different worldview). Yet, Christians also look above and ground our worth in another category. Christians ground the value of personhood in the Bible’s affirmation of the imago dei. This thinking is quite unique to Judeo-Christianity and it is wonderfully liberating. All people are made in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth and dignity. Not everyone is a man or a woman or a mother or a father, but all share the imago dei

The Christian view pushes even further. The man Jesus Christ is described as the representative for all people and the perfect substitute for all humanity. The Son of God became incarnate. In the person of Jesus Christ we find God who understands and empathises with human struggles and one who redeems. I suspect Hebrews ch.2 won’t find a place in a university’s guidebook any time soon, but I reckon these words are far more affirming and loving and good.

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?

You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor

and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,“I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Victoria Bans Conversion Practices Despite Significant Flaws in the Bill

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)

What do we do when good is defined as bad? What is a godly reaction to a society that formally deems Christian beliefs as wrong. How can we respond when a Government makes illegal practices that have been part of Christian religion since the beginning of the Church and have their foundation in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ? 

To be very clear, I am not talking about aversion practices and nonconsensual activity that stems from pseudo-science and bad theology. Church leaders including myself have repeatedly spoken against such things and believe they have no place in our churches. I am talking about prayer and conversation. What happens when people of faith are prohibited by law from praying and speaking in line with our Christian beliefs, even when people come to us for help and ask? If someone is offended, I can be reported to VCAT. If someone alleges ‘harm’, the criminal charges can be laid.

The Victorian Parliament last night adopted the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. None of the reasonable amendments offered by different Legislative Council members were accepted. I believe there will now be a 12 month implementation period before the Acts come into law.

Amongst other things, the Conversion Practices Bill criminalises prayer and conversation where one person aims to persuade another that pursuing certain sexual activity or change is not the best course of action. A prayer for sexual abstinence can be considered ‘suppression’ and therefore illegal. Sermons are not targeted in this Bill, although the recently resigned Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, explained in the Parliament that sermons may be included at a later date. 

Under this Act, if Jesus shared his views with an individual or prayed with someone who came to him because they were struggling with their sexual or gender identity, Jesus could face criminal charges and time in prison. Why? Jesus taught that all sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman are immoral (cf Matthew 19). Of course Jesus’ view, which upholds the teaching of the Bible, form the beliefs that Christians carry today and that shape our lives.

During tonight’s debate, on member of the Legislative Council asked the Attorney General, 

‘How will the Government up-skill ministers and pastors so that they know where the line in what they can and cannot say to people about sexual orientation and gender identity?’ (my paraphrase of the question) 

What a revealing question! The Attorney General indicated that education materials will be made available. In other words, religious people must defer to the Government’s doctrine.

One of the disappointments in the surrounding debate is how Victorians have been told that this Bill will not intrude on religious freedoms. Even in the Legislative Council today, members simply denounced concerns as though anyone daring to raise issues is either barking mad or of evil intent. This public display has turned out to be one of the great gaslighting projects in the State’s history. There is so much gaslighting going on that the whole of Melbourne could create a new energy supply, only like coal and it’ll have side effects that outlast Climate Change. 

For example, Victoria’s new Attorney General last night claimed on Twitter that the Bill does not ban prayer. The problem is, the Bill expressively prohibits prayer. Illegal practices include, “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice” (5.3B). 

If someone asks for prayer, that they might live a sexual life in accord with Biblical principles, and I then pray in accord with this request, I will be breaking the law and I can face criminal charges. 

Another example appeared on the ABC today. Nathan Despott of the Brave Network, said of the Bill,

“It [the Bill] is precise and nuanced. It targets harm where it occurs, it does not stop conversations”.

The Bill doesn’t stop conversation? Let’s take a look at the Explantory Memorandum that accompanies the Bill,

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.” (Bold is my emphasis)

Religious freedom issues are only some of the concerns that have been raised about this Bill. Feminist and LGB groups are concerned that the Bill will send vulnerable children down are dangerous path, as has been demonstrated in the UK’s recent High Court Case, Bell vs Tavistock. The Government ignored legitimate and reasonable concerns articulated by some of Australia’s pre-eminent legal minds and medical experts. Dr Philip Morris, President the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists, has explained how this Bill may prevent doctors from offering due patient care. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have expressed concerns. The list continues.

Health Minister Martin Foley flicked these concerns away as though they were the rumours of ignorant people. The Australian reported yesterday,

“Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley has dismissed concerns from the Australian Medical ­Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists regarding the ­Andrews government’s gay conversion therapy bill, describing them as “misplaced”.

To those who have called for amendments, especially when it is religious Victorians speaking, Government members have had the gaul to respond with insult. Those who dare question the Bill are referred to as ‘bigots’ and ‘quacks’. 

Premier Daniel Andrews has said,

“it is cruel. To wrap that bigotry in faith is an insult all of its own … in this debate some faith leaders have been critical of these provisions, critical of a law to ban the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable. This is not kindness and love or the protection of the vulnerable and persecuted. This is not something to be proud of.”

When a Government ignores the concerns of leading medical and legal experts and resorts to slandering concerned citizens, it is understandable that people feel uneasy. 

Just in case we’re thinking that the only objection is to a few practices, think again. This Victorian Government made clear that the Christian view of sexuality is an underlying problem. 

Jill Hennessy said in the Parliament, “These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria.”

The Government’s LGBTIQ Commissioner explained,

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

Yes, churches sometimes get things wrong. Yes, in the past a few religious organisations acted foolishly and wrongly; no one is pretending otherwise. Yes, there are awful stories of people being mistreated because of their sexuality, and where wrong was done repentance ought to come. But this Parliamentary Act is no fair handed solution. In short, in order to catch a rat this Government proposed that the State blow up the whole building. 

The Victorian Parliament has adopted the harshest laws anywhere in the world and with the heaviest possible penalties.

Victoria’s Premier may exhibit the ego of Apollo but he isn’t God. The Victorian Parliament is not the ultimate arbiter of righteousness. Christians are called by God to submit to Governing authorities, to pray for them and to obey them. We should continue to do so. What happens though when a Government oversteps its jurisdiction and demands greater allegiance than is given them?

Churches and religious organisations now need to prepare their people to understand the many implications of the new laws. Pastors, Principals, and parents should educate their congregations, employees, and families to discern how they will live faithfully in this new environment.

Take note, this Bill is not the end of the story. Expect the further steps to limit religious freedoms in Victoria. This is not fear mongering or hyperbole; this is taking on board the words of Government ministers. Even before the Bill was voted, the Government indicated that the list of prohibitions may be extended after 12 months, even to include sermons. Plan for some very difficult days to come.

And continue to do good. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians whom he refers to as ‘exiles’. They were exiles because the Apostles knew that this world isn’t our home. Our current place of residence is temporary. We love being Aussies and living in Melbourne. We appreciate and value the life that’s enjoyed in Victoria. We serve our fellow Victorians and desire good for them. We are part of local communities who share life with Victorians from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. However, this isn’t the ultimately it. Perhaps we need to learn the lesson that so many believers have understood in other parts of the world: hold less tight to the things on earth and turn our attention to that which Christ directs our affections and hope.

Peter wrote this sentence which is perfectly apt for Victorian Christians today, 

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

A few verses later Peter directs our attention to Jesus,

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”.

Let us not give up doing good. Should people stop loving others because of unjust laws? If that were the case, many erroneous movements in history would have succeeded.

I pray that the new context in which Victoria now finds itself will be used of God to refine our own hearts and to reform our ways as churches. I pray that LGBT Victorians will be protected from harm and that despite these unjust laws, the good news of Jesus Christ will continue to be heard and embraced like never before in our State.

No doubt many people will celebrate tonight’s decision, and those who voted for the Bill will believe they have done right. Triumphalism fades in the morning. One day our consciences will stir and the reality of the poor decision will strike home. In the meantime, the very law that is aimed at preventing harm will in fact inflict State sanctioned harm on vulnerable people and against religious people who have simply answered questions and prayed a prayer.

When Victoria Becomes Babylon

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” (Daniel 6)

When the State wants to control prayer

A few short years ago almost everyone would be shocked to learn that praying for a person who asks for prayer would be considered illegal activity and lead to 10 years in prison.

That is the situation facing Victorians.

This is not hyperbole. This isn’t exaggeration. Next week the Victorian Legislative Council will vote on one of the most extraordinary pieces of law ever proposed in our nation’s history.

Imagine an Australia where two people are having a conversation about life issues and they are trying to encourage and persuade one another. The police are called, one person is taken away and charged because they sought to persuade the other with the Bible’s view of sexuality.

As we become more aware that treatment for children with gender dysphoria is often led by ideology and not by best medical practice, the Victorian government is instead deciding to further enforce ideology at the expense of medical professionalism and the rights of parents to love and raise the children. Can you imagine an Australia where children are taken away from mum and dad because they’re convinced that changing their child’s gender at a young age is not wise or healthy.

In a country where there are already thousands of laws that can lead to fines of $100s and even $1000s, people found on the wrong side of Victoria’s new Conversion or Suppression Practices Act may face fines of up to $200,000.

Sadly this isn’t a dystopian fantasy. Unless the Legislative Council wisely sends the Government’s Bill to committee for significant revision and amendment, this will soon become law in my state of Victoria.

The Victorian State Government last year presented a Bill that will dramatically change the relationship between Church and State. The ‘Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020’ aims to outlaw practices that do not fully and without question, affirm the current popular view of sexuality and gender. This includes consensual prayers with individuals and conversations with individuals. Breaking this law may result in up to 10 years imprisonment and finds of up to $200,000. The Bill received majority vote in the Legislative Assembly late 2020, and it will be debated and voted on next week in the Legislative Council.

To be clear, as I and others have said a 1000 times, everyone agrees that in a few fringe groups there used to be dreadful practices used on people who were asking for help. No one takes issue with opposing aversion practice. However, this Bill extends far beyond the banning of these few and archaic practices. The Victorian Government aims to outlaw what are basic, historical, and Biblical Christian views and practices.

Associate Professor Neil Foster is among those in the legal fraternity issuing significant concerns about this Governmental overreach, 

“The scope of this legislation goes well beyond the specific ‘injury’ offences that are created (while these are problematic enough),” comments Neil Foster, Associate Professor in law at the University of Newcastle. “The bill creates a powerful set of bureaucratic mechanisms by which religious groups presenting the classic teachings of their faith may be subject to investigation and ‘re-education’ by human rights officers.

“It arguably makes the presentation of some aspects of Biblical teaching unlawful if the aim of that teaching is to encourage someone to follow that teaching in their own life. Despite the appearance of addressing horrific and oppressive quasi-psychological procedures inflicted on young people, the bill goes well beyond this laudable goal, and will make it unlawful to provide assistance in obeying the Bible to those who explicitly and with full understanding request such help. Enactment of this legislation would be a serious mistake.”

There are legitimate concerns being raised not only by lawyers, but also feminist groups, LGBT people, and religious leaders. Instead of tackling a rare issue with precision, the Government is bring out the flame thrower and setting the entire bush of fire. And then, when reasonable minds challenge the Premier, he unfortunately responds with sledging and accusing fellow Victorians as being bigoted and hateful. Instead of civil conversations on important issues, we face insult and slander. 

Returning to Daniel for a moment (the Bible man not the Premier). In that famed story about the lion’s den we should note that Daniel wasn’t praying to God in front of the royal court. He wasn’t running down mainstream Babylon with placards and praying with a megaphone. He wasn’t pining anyone against the wall and praying without their consent. He was in his own home, praying in accord with his convictions. For Babylon’s cultural police, who didn’t wait 2400 years for the invention of Big Brother, they sent in their spies and informants to catch out those who dare defied the religious orders of the Government. This will soon be Victoria. Churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, and homes will need to begin planning for this kind of eventuality. 

Parents are targeted in this Bill

It is not only religious groups who are being threatened, this Bill impacts health professionals and even parents. 

Assoc Prof Foster details how the Bill poses genuine threats to personal conversations and relationships, 

“I see nothing in the bill to say it might not apply to conversations within a family context or just between friends. In section 9 of my latest blog, I refer to the deliberately obscure ‘example’ that is put into the Family Violence legislation involving a child critiquing a parent for their same-sex attraction. [This is part of the legislative package with the conversion bill] The example is there, I think, to make it clear that –

    • The Family Violence law can be extended to the obviously analogous case of a parent urging a child not to engage in same-sex activity; but also
    • To illustrate the fact that the sort of behaviour caught by the bill can happen between family members! Now the amending provision itself only operates for the FV Act, but as it is part of a “package” of amendments, I think it sends a signal that conversion or suppression practices (CSP) can be carried out by family members.
    • I do say in Section 1 [of the blog] that the relevant exception protecting health practitioners ‘does not apply to counselling or advice given by pastors or fellow congregation members or teachers or parents’.”

“In short, a CSP can be ‘conduct’ (a one-off incident), under section 5 it is not limited to being carried out by any organisational office holder, and under section 9 we see that ‘a person’ contravenes the Act if ‘the person’ carries out a CSP.

“So, yes, the prohibitions will apply to someone who is a family member or a friend.”

Victoria in Danger of losing secular status.

A secular society is no longer secular once it interferes with church and religion, to the staggering extent that this Bill will orchestrate. Instead of the State and Churches working together as partners for the good of society, the State is now assuming the role of Archbishop and laying down dictates as to what religious people may and may not believe teach and practice.

We are witnessing the erosion of the healthy distinction between state and church. The hypocrisy is all the more egregious when we recall how mainstream media and social commentators damned Scott Morrison to hell for offering a prayer during the bushfire crisis last season. But when Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, spoke in Parliament and decried religious ‘bigots’ (that is, those who actually believe the Bible) the Premier was praised.

While we must be concerned about the recent rise of Christian nationalism in some parts of the world, we should also be concerned with the rise of civic religion. The current Victorian Government has made past overtures to take control of religious groups, this latest attempt looks as though it will be successful. Do secular Victorians really want Government dictating religious prayers and conversations? 

A healthy and pluralistic society shouldn’t want to prescribe laws banning prayer or religious conversations on issues like sexuality and gender. But such is the situation now facing Victoria. Those who in 2017 preached that same sex marriage will never lead to religious discrimination have proven to be false prophets. 

Daniel (again, the Bible man not the Victorian politician!) faced this dilemma in Babylon. Would he follow an outrageous law of an authoritarian figure or will he continue to trust and obey the God he loves? Would he pray in line with Governmental directives or will pray in accord with his convictions? Yes, it seems so insanely ridiculous to even pose the question; but that’s Victoria in 2021. Of course, there have been many Governments since Babylon who’ve tried to control the prayers of the people. Does anyone remember Henry VIII, bloody Mary, and James 1? History teaches us that in the long run, it doesn’t bode well for Government or society to tell people of faith how to pray or preach or counsel.

No Victorian is being thrown into a lions den, but years of imprisonment and enormous fines are on the offering for those who hold to their religious convictions and seek to share the good news with others. Parents face having children taken from them. If criminal charges don’t stick, there is a civil tribunal waiting for us. Should a complaint be made, even anonymously, that is enough for Government bureaucrats to kick into gear and have religious people and parents dragged before a tribunal and even forced to attend reeducation courses. 

I am calling on members of Victoria’s Legislative Council to delay vote on this highly contentious Bill, and to receive amendments. 

I commend these sensible amendments that are being proposed by Mark Sneddon, Executive Director, Institute for Civil Society here in Melbourne.

Proposed Amendments to the Bill

  • The Bill should only ban “conversion practices” directed to a child or to a person with impaired capacity, but not to an adult who has consented to the practice.
  • The bill should not ban conduct by family and community members but restrict the ban to  conduct by health services providers
  • The bill should protect conduct by health service providers which in their reasonable professional judgment is clinically appropriate
  • The provisions dealing with change or suppression of gender identity should be removed because they are incoherent and they will push clinicians into an uncritical affirmation approach to gender transition
  • The bill should permit communication of religious beliefs to all people and permit religious counselling, pastoral care and prayer for people over 16 with informed consent and the right to leave
  • VEOHRC’S powers under the bill should be the same as under the equal opportunity act in dealing with discrimination and exclude new compulsory powers and issuing enforcement notices

4 Considerations for Christians wanting to engage in political activism

The below article was originally written for 9Marks Journal (Autumn 2020). In light of the events transpiring in Washington DC and the disturbing images of ‘Christians’ using Jesus’ name and even raising a large wooden cross outside the Capitol Hill building, I wonder if people may find this of some help for traversing the pitfalls of religion and politics.


I should point out at the start that I am reflecting and writing as an Australian who is pastoring a Church in Melbourne. That is to say, my context is different to that of Manhattan, Memphis, and Miami. Accordingly, some of my comments may need recalibration or will look a little different in another cultural setting. Whether our location is the Great Southland or some other part of the globe, one thing is certain, conversation about religion and politics is thwarted with pitfalls and precipices. While recognising the potential dangers, I do believe there is a place for Christian activism in the political sphere.

I want to offer 4 theological and pastoral suggestions in considering why and how Christians can be political activists. 

1. Be clear who you are serving: Jesus is Lord of all

“In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12:21)

Jesus is Lord both over creation and over the Church, “All things were made by him and for him”. There is no domain over which he does not rule and which we are not held accountable. Is there a blade of grass or family home or hall of power where the Lordship of Christ has no jurisdiction?

“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

Authoritarian secularism is on the rise in Australia, especially in my State of Victoria. Aussies have traditionally had a laissez faire relationship with churches, respecting their role and voice in the public square, even it they often chose to ignore it. This has been effectively dismantled over the past decade. Where churches were once politely acknowledged in society, Christianity is now considered by many as a danger that needs to be silenced, or at the very least, controlled. There exist few constitutional and legal protections for religious institutions in Australia. Somewhat ironic, accompanying this growing social mood to push religion out of the public square is a growing agenda to increase Governmental control over religious freedoms, even to influence what religious organisations may and may not teach on controversial issues, including marriage and human sexuality. 

Should Christians listen to these calls and abandon the public square and remove themselves from the world of politics? I certainly understand why many Christian feel like withdrawing, and there are fair arguments for doing so. However, I want to contend that if Jesus is Lord over all and if God’s ways remain good and if Governments are put in place by God for the wellbeing of society,  Christians (at least some) should remain active in politics and societal engagement.

2. Be clear about the domain into which you are speaking: the distinction between church and state

Jesus is Lord of all but not everything is church and the kingdom of God. On the one hand, we want to avoid the hardline secularist division of public and private religion, and we also need to avoid conflating church with State and civil society with God’s Kingdom. Too often I have seen Christians fuse Christianity with nationalism and the Christian message with a brand of politics; the results of this can be catastrophic.

The distinction however is not absolute. For example, Churches are commanded by God to pray for the Government (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Churches practising public prayers for Government serves as a powerful testimony to the broader society. The imperative isn’t conditioned by our political preferences or by the decisions made in our favour. It’s good to remind ourselves that Paul was writing at a time where there were no democratic societies and where there was little toleration of Christians, and yet he says to the church in Ephesus, pray.

Scripture also calls us to submit to and obey governing authorities, not because we necessarily agree with their policies but because God has put them in place and also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-6). It is also the case that on one occasion the Apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to appeal to the Emperor. In other words, there is a relationship between church and state, but they are nonetheless two separate domains with different purposes and aims.

For this reason, the church mustn’t give the impression that they belong to or represent or campaign for any given political party. The Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to the Liberal or Labour Party (Australia’s two major political parties). A Christian may choose to join a political party, but a church should not. The pulpit shouldn’t be used to influence peoples’ vote or to unduly bind the conscience. When a church does this, we confuse both Christians and non Christians alike about our message and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Instead of providing an alternative to our increasingly polarised world and being the one place where true unity can be found and expressed, churches can end up adding to the problem and reinforcing misconceptions about Christianity. Trying to squeeze Jesus under any socio-political umbrella is wrong; maybe he would prefer to stand out in the rain!

For example, at Mentone Baptist, we never hand out political material, and we are disinclined to promote petitions and marches. However, we understand that individual Christians may choose to be involved in politics or to engage in social issues. While each member of the church supports and joins in the church’s mission, it is also the case that believers have God given opportunities to serve Christ in other ways that are outside the church: among these is involvement in political activity. 

3. What’s your message? Understanding the distinction between gospel and common grace

As an Australian citizen, I share the same set of rights and responsibilities as other Australians. I have the opportunity to voice concerns about social policy and moral issues. However, not everything is the Gospel and not every political cause is directly related to the mission of the church.

I would counsel Christians who are interested in engaging in the public square to understand what the Gospel is and isn’t, and what should be defined as God’s common grace to society. I appreciate that this task isn’t always straightforward. Defining the issue theologically is a help when it comes assessing zeal, time, and effort. It provides the necessary framework for understanding political concerns and to weighing up its importance. Is this an issue of righteousness or of conscience or is it a disputable matter?

4. Know the reason for engaging in political activism: it’s about loving your neighbour

For the Christian, political activism ought to be about loving your neighbour. Just as a doctor treats the sick and a school teacher educates children, politics should be about serving the common good of the community. Of all people, Christians have reason to speak on behalf of the vulnerable, to advocate for the weak and to address injustices that are faced in our society. God has revealed his righteousness and his grace to us in the Lord Jesus. As he has loved us, so we now love others with his love. We are eager to see other people doing well, especially their eternal salvation but also their everyday needs and dignity and worth.

When Christians choose to become involved in politics, do so but without sinning and being self serving, without conflating church and state, confusing Gospel with common grace, and avoid hamstringing the consciences of others.

How do I know if my political advocacy is unwise and even ungodly?

Here are 5 warning signs:

  1. I spend more time signing petitions than I do praying.
  2. I only ever criticise one side of politics.
  3. People have the impression that belonging to my church means aligning with a certain political party.
  4. I am more passionate about politics than I am about my local church and their mission.
  5. I am putting my hope for society in political elections or leaders or platforms, rather than in the Gospel of Christ.

You are worth more than your ATAR

2020 has proven to be a troublesome and challenging mountain to climb. Not least of all, the year proved inordinately difficult for school students who were completing their studies and aiming to prepare or life post-school. VCE is difficult enough in normal circumstances, but 2020 compounded the normal with pandemic and lockdown. With months without onsite learning, the troubles associated with virtual classes, unable to complete practical assessments, and sensing the surrounding stresses facing families and society, it is a wonder that students completed their final year.

Close to 47,000 teenagers from around Victoria are today finding out the results from their VCE. Thousands of year 12 students also chose not to receive an ATAR this year. Just finishing year 12 in a year of pandemic was challenging enough. Many students will be pleased, many others disappointed. Some will be relieved while others will be anxious.

First of all, congratulations on completing the VCE. It is no small feat. Even though I finished the VCE last century, I remember it well, both the highs and lows, and mostly the lows. I stuffed up big time! My original plans went cascading down the mountain with such momentum that I was never going to stop that fall. However, I am so grateful for the way God used my mistakes and shortcomings to redirect life down the path where I find myself today, now 25 years after finishing school. It didn’t take me 25 years to grasp this; within a year of finishing VCE I became captivated by the way God began to orient my life along a new and more exciting road. I was still somewhat embarrassed by the way my school and friends were aghast at my performance but I was thankful for the new turn toward the future.

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An ATAR is something but it is far from everything. Your ATAR isn’t the end of the story. To be blunt, a place in the top 1% doesn’t secure anything in life, except the first day of a university course. 

To those students who are happy and content, well done. You are being rewarded for two years of hard work.

To those students who are dissatisfied, or even despondent now, life is so much more than study and school, and university and even work. Yes, it opens doors that can lead to amazing experiences, but the likelihood is that the dreams and pursuits you now hold onto will change significantly from those you will have when you are 25.  Indeed, many of the happiest and most content people I know didn’t knock their VCE out of the park. Some were clean bowled and others didn’t get onto the pitch at all.

A word to parents, chill. Don’t measure your children by this result for they are worth more than a thousand top ranking ATAR scores and scholarships to university. Remind them,  they are worth more than their 99.95 or 75 or 35 or whatever score they achieve.

For both parents and kids the Lord Jesus has spoken a word that befits a day like this, whether we are feeling pumped or deflated.

Jesus gently warns us, 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Following, Jesus encourages us, 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”