Victoria about to Pull the Plug on Religious Freedom

“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt.”

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Victoria has moved one step closer to undoing one of Australia’s most basic doctrines, that the State will not interfere with or control religious organisations. In a series political moves that may well remind us of a Henry VIII or Vladimir Putin, Daniel Andrews has decided to pull the plug on religious freedom.

Yesterday, a Bill was presented to the Legislative Assembly for debate: an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, making it unlawful for religious organisations to not employ persons on account of them holding to different religious views to those believed by the organisation.

Mr Andrews has said, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

Should the State force Churches and religious organisations to employ persons who don’t subscribe to their values and vision? Of course not, but then again, Henry VIII shouldn’t have pronounced himself the head of the English Church and Julius Caesar probably shouldn’t stuck his nose into Gaul, but they did.

Schools, Churches, Synagogues, Temples, and hundreds of organisations, will be required to pass a test, demonstrating to the Government that advertised positions inherently require an employee to affirm the beliefs and practices of that institution. The tribunal will then have authority to decide what is religious and what is not, and which roles require a person to hold to the beliefs of the organisation and not; a pontifex maximus for Victoria!

Soon there will be all manner of religious organisations lining up outside a brick Government building, waiting to prove that their employees ought to be on the same page as their school or charity.

Yes, I know, all this sounds like one crazy dream built on an evening of Roquefort and Sauternes, or perhaps the plot line for a whacky comedy. But no, this is real and it is serious.

Victorians who conform to Labor’s strict interpretation of religion and sexuality have nothing to fear, but for 100,000s of Victorians who send their children to religious schools, attend churches, and who support religious organisations, there is genuine reason for concern.

The Bill will be voted on this afternoon (15/9) and is guaranteed to pass the Lower House, given that the Government has the numbers. The final outcome will then depend on the Legislative Council. Common sense ought to prevail, but then common sense would have ensured this Bill had never left cabinet room.

Concerned Victorians should contact their local members of Parliament. We can also pray that common sense will be followed and this Bill rejected.


For further details read:

https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/06/letters-for-members-of-the-victorian-parliament-re-inherent-requirement-test/

https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/04/petition-to-uphold-freedom-of-association-and-freedom-of-belief-in-victoria/

The Secularized Erastianism of the Daniel Andrews Government in Victoria

The Primate is right, but don’t twist his meaning

Like many Australians I appreciated Philip Freier’s letter, and there is much to like about his message and the tone in which it was written. There is little with which I disagree.

In relation to the potential fallout from altering the Marriage Act , I suspect Freier’s optimism is misplaced; not that I want to dampen his hope, but there is substantial evidence pointing to the likelihood of decreased religious freedoms in event of the law changing. One only has to look at Canada and the UK to see the growing mountain of legal, political, and social disarray created by legalising same-sex marriage. Indeed, look at the State of Victoria, my own home state, to see a Government using sexuality issues to restrict public conscience and religious freedom.

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My attention here, however, is to point out the way this letter is being interpreted by some folk. For example, the headline for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reads, “Religious shift on same-sex marriage.” The underpinning logic is, Archbishop says follow your conscience, rather than the Bible.

The Archbishop is following a long tradition in esteeming the human conscience. *Evangelical Christians have long held that the conscience is an important part of the human psyche, and it should not be easily ignored and contravened.

Perhaps the most famous example from history is that of Martin Luther. As he stood before the council at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther is reputed to have said,

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”

This conviction about the importance of the conscience goes back to the Scriptures itself:

Speaking of people who had not been raised with the Mosaic Law, the Apostle Paul writes,

‘They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.’ (Romans 2:5)

Elsewhere Paul says, ‘My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.’ (1 Corinthians 4:4)

‘One of the requirements for Church leaders is that they, ‘must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.’ (Titus 3:9)

It can be sinful and dishonest to act against the conscience, but this doesn’t mean that the conscience is morally neutral or always right. The conscience is corruptible as is every part of the human being:

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22)

In the volume, Conscience in the New Testament, C.A Pierce notes that the conscience does not provide a set of moral norms for the person, as much as it functions as an alarm, alerting a person to their moral oversteps.

All this together means that the conscience is a subjective guide but not the ultimate guide for determining moral and spiritual truth. Of course I don’t expect my non Christian friends to agree with this point, but rather I am explaining a Christian perspective of the conscience. This is important, because while Christians affirm the the role of the conscience, we do not place it above or on par with the Scriptures.

To place the conscience on par with Scripture is to subvert the authority of the Bible and inevitably place the human mind over the Bible. Throughout life there are decisions to make where one must decide, do I accept what the Bible says or what my conscience is saying? Neither is it the case of having two equal but different axiomatic authorities, but when the conscience contradicts Scripture, it ought to be corrected and reshaped according to those words of God.

Philip Freier is right to encourage people not to act against their conscience, but it would be misleading to therefore conclude there are  multiple valid Christian positions on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Archbishop’s words are being celebrated today as a shift in Christian thinking about homosexuality. That is not the case, even as Philip Freier indicated, the Anglican Church is holding to its understanding of marriage; this is true of all major Christian denominations in Australia.

In other words, no Australian should ignore their conscience when deciding their view on marriage, but as far as Christians are concerned, it is the Bible not our subjective consciences, that defines the Christian view of marriage.

Finally, I agree with the Archbishop in that Australian Christians ought to respect the decision made by the Australian public. It may well be that the majority decide to retain the current definition of marriage, but in the event of change, we should respect the democratic process. One question remains, however, will dissenters be permitted freedom of conscience to continue teaching, officiating, and practicing the Christian view of marriage, without fear of litigation?

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* Evangelicalism has nothing to do with right wing American politics. That is a recent sociological phemenemon, which has stripped the word of its theological and historical roots. The word means, euangelion, the Gospel. Evangelicals are Christians who believe & live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ (which of course, by definition is foundational for all genuine Christianity)

Labor Party Proposal Deserves Attention

This afternoon news broke that the Federal Labor Party are considering agreeing to the marriage plebiscite, so long as this set of conditions are applied:

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  • plebiscite is self executing or binding
  • No public funding for either side
  • Voting is compulsory
  • question is fair and reasonable

In my opinion these are reasonable requests and deserve due consideration from Malcolm Turnbull and the Cabinet. The Age is reporting that ‘Christian groups’ will be angered by list, but I don’t see any reason for objecting.

Of course, the big question is, what will the question be, and it is understandable that people will wait for this announcement before making a final call on support for the plebiscite; I don’t envy those who are responsible for framing the question.

My only qualification to Labor’s suggestion is that it is unreasonable to expect MPs to vote against their conscience, that is, should the Australian public vote to change the law. If the majority of Australians vote to change the Marriage Act, I don’t think MPs should vote otherwise, but should their conscience not permit them to support same sex marriage they should have freedom to abstain from voting. Therefore, a self executing  plebiscite is preferable (I’m not a lawyer, and so I don’t know whether this is possible and how this would work).

There is one vital  matter that has not arisen, either today or in most public discussions on the issue, and that is how redefining marriage will impact many other aspects of Australian law and life. Changing the Marriage Act is not so simple,  as though all we are doing is removing a couple of words. Rather there will be a significant ripple effect throughout  many areas of law, including discrimination laws, family law, and property and finance laws. For example, when the U.K introduced same-sex marriage, they produced a 62 page document outlining many of the laws that would require reworking in light of the change. The point is a simple one, we mustn’t think that should we vote to change marriage, the discussions are over. It is only fair that in the lead up to the plebiscite, the Government outline to Australians, details of the many implications that will arise from altering marriage.

Letters for Members of the Victorian Parliament: RE ‘inherent requirement’ test

If you are interested in writing to your local State MP to express concerns about the amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, here are some salient points that you might include when drafting a letter of your own

 

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Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express concerns over the proposed ‘inherent requirement’ test, that is being re-introduced by the Andrews Government.

Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy that are esteemed by Australians. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions.

The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 will cross that line, with the Victorian Government taking a role in supervising whom religious organisations may employ.

First of all, why is this legislation targeting religious groups?

The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act will not impact any social or political groups, only religious ones.

As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. For example, it would be unfair to force the Greens to employ a climate-change skeptic, or to expect the local Football Club to appoint a groundsman who was intent on converting the oval into a swimming pool.

It is therefore reasonable to ask, what is the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?

Indeed, this amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act is but the latest of a growing list of anti-religious measures that have been introduced by the Government over the last 2 years. I appreciate that some policy changes are being presented as fighting equality for LBGTI people, and some of this is laudable. However other policies are completely unrelated to sexuality issues, and are simply attacks on religious freedoms: removing SRI lessons from schools is one such example. And the legislation itself says its scope is not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extends to ‘differing religious beliefs’. In other words, it is no longer permissible for a church or school to reject an applicant on the basis of them adhering to a different religion. Such an idea would be laughable, except it may soon become law.

Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumes that the Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ.

This test is a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.

Mr Andrews has stated, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This move counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and is setting up the situation whereby  a Government impose impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who do not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.

Thirdly, the test assumes that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, has the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”

But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?

The legislation assumes that some jobs in a church,  or mosque, or religious school can be considered ‘religious’ and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?

It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or  theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God. 

As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?

Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

I believe this legislation is unnecessary, and will set a dangerous precedent for our future as Victorians.

I am asking that you consider voting against this legislation. I am very happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns

Yours Kindly,

Murray Campbell

Mother Teresa, Sainthood, and the Saints

Mother Teresa was today declared a saint by Pope Francis. Her many decades of work among India’s poorest in Calcutta, left an indelible mark on the 20th Century. In front of  10,000s of people at a special Vatican ceremony, Pope Francis has canonised Mother Teresa, and there are special masses being conducted in India also.

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Pope Francis proclaimed,  “After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint and we enrol her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”

One nun, working in the same mission where Mother Teresa once served, said, “We are blessed with this canonization because we know mother is in heaven and she will pray for us and she will bless us”

Sainthood is a prestigious club in the Roman Church, although no one knows exactly how many members there are, with some estimating there being as many as 10,000 Saints. This number may seem rather large, but when one takes into account that there are over 1 billion Catholics in the world today, we begin to sense exceptional character of sainthood club.

Sainthood is rare in the Roman Church, partly because the process is arduous and only a few hold the right kind of resume to even proceed.

Canonisation (the final process of becoming a saint) begins with death. Sainthood is only given to men or women posthumously, and generally with at least 5 years separating their death from the commencement of the process.

The process begins usually with the Diocesan Bishop opening an investigation into the life of the departed person, whereby they try to ascertain if they have lived a life that is adequately holy and deserving of sainthood. In other words, if we think you’ve been good enough, as testified to by various witnesses and documents. If this all goes well, a higher authority, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, examines the holiness, deeds, and miracles of the deceased. Following this is beatification, where evidence of a miracle must be verified, of someone who has experience miraculous healing by praying to the deceased person. If all goes well, the Pope will finally canonise or declare the dead person to be a saint.

For Catholics, Saints play an active role in peoples’ lives, this side of heaven. Millions of Catholics venerate (honour and even worship) saint, praying to saints, and allegedly experience healing, guidance, and help from these saints.

In contrast, when we read the Bible we don’t find different classes of Christian, depending on levels of holiness or miraculous deeds. Rather, every Christian is known as a saint. The word itself comes from the Greek verb, meaning, to set apart or to be holy. It is a designation that is true for every Christian, indeed the Christian life is contingent upon this work of the Holy Spirit.

“To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” (Romans 1:7)

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Note that the Saints are not leading churches, but a normal congregation members.

Does it really matter? Yes, it matters because it is fudging the teaching of the Bible, and it matters because it creates  false classes of Christians, and it matters because it empties the Gospel of its power by leading many people to believe in merited salvation. In the Scriptures from which Christianity forms its beliefs,  we find that saints are not spectacular Christians who should be awarded special honours; saints are the only Christians to be found in heaven or on earth.

There is no gold or platinum level club in heaven, and there ought to be no elitism in our churches. The Christian message is about God’s undeserved grace and kindness to us, and everyone has equal standing before God in Christ.

We can thank God for the multitude of ways various Christian brethren have served Christ, the Church, and the world. We would be foolish and ungrateful if we didn’t remember and give thanks for lives devoted to the service of the poor, lives spent in the service of the gospel, lives laid down in martyrdom for the name of Jesus. We may (and we must) celebrate good deeds done in love, and remember the stories of lives worthy of imitation. But “sainthood” is not the category for these stories, apart from how the Bible defines sainthood – those who know God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And should anyone be wondering, should I or can I pray to someone who is not God? Is it ok to pray to a saint? If I may respond by asking another question,  why would we want to pray to a saint? Even if we leave aside the fact that the Roman category of sainthood is erroneous, the extraordinary good news of Christianity is that Jesus Christ has opened the way to God the Father. If this is true, that we have freedom to enter the presence of God through trusting Jesus; we have no need of knocking on empty doors.

As the Bible tell us,

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Petition to Uphold Freedom of Association and Freedom of Belief in Victoria

I’m not usually one for signing petitions, but if you are concerned for religious freedoms in Victoria, please consider signing this petition

 

“The petition of citizens of the State of Victoria and Australia draws to the attention of the Victorian Parliament our objection to the moves by the Victorian Government under the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 to remove or restrict the freedom of faith-based schools and other organisations to employ staff who uphold the values of the organisation and to force faith-based organisations to hire staff who are fundamentally opposed to what the organisation stands for, thereby:-

(i) denying those organisations the freedom to operate in accordance with their beliefs and principles;

(ii) denying parents the ability to choose to send their children to schools that are able to give them the values based education their parents are looking for; and

(iii) undermining Victoria’s diverse, pluralist, multicultural society, which supports the right of people of many different faiths to establish institutions in accordance with their faith.”

Click on the link to sign the petition:

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/petition-to-uphold-freedom-of-association-and-freedom-of-belief-in-victoria.html

Happy Birthday!

On the way to 100 million reads! (hyperbole intended)

It’s one year since I began this blog. Blogging is a work in progress; not unlike learning to the play piano. You have to practice regularly, and as you do one discovers that there is yet more improvement to be had. 

From the vault, here are the 10 most read articles that I’ve written thus far (I’m not including pieces published in the media and other sites). A couple from the previous blog have snuck in as they continue to be read.

This list shouldn’t be  confused as being synonymous with the most significant articles from the blog, but those which have attracted the highest readership.

Also interesting is how social issues dominate the list, rather than posts which focused on theological and church matters. I suspect this is due to the fact that ethical questions have broader interest than issues facing a Christian denomination, amongst others things.

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1. 2 Straight men marry 

2. What did John Dickson say?

3. New anti-religious legislation to impact Victoria

4. Please don’t call Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian 

5. What does Bible say about Asylum Seekers? 

6. The End of Tribalism (Gospel Coalition of Australia)

7.The trouble of disagreeing with homosexuality 

9. Observations & Questions about Safe Schools 

10. Lessons in how to disagree with popular opinion