Let’s speak about, not shout about abortion

“Heaven is filled with boys and girls, who though unwanted by their earthly parents, have been welcomed by a Father who is committed to their eternal good and joy.”

Every year in Australia 10,000s of children are aborted, a practice that is not only supported by the law in some states, but it is something celebrated by many Australians.

Over the weekend Jane Caro has come out to defend and publicise abortion. Caro begins by sharing her own story of having an abortion, and then calls on other women to shun the guilt associated with abortion.

She writes,

“Abortion and the fear of unwanted pregnancy, frankly, is a normal — if not very pleasant — part of many women’s lives.”

“Shout out about your abortion any way you see fit — if the subject comes up in conversation, perhaps, or there is a story about it in the news.”

“If you have had an abortion, do not be ashamed of it. You are in good company. Shout it out and help lift the shame for all the other women who have also decided that every child should be a wanted child.”

I may need to clear the air in relation to one obvious point, which in the eyes of some readers will automatically preclude me from having anything to say on the issue. Yes, I am a male, and because of this anatomical and psychological fact, I understand some women will straightaway invalidate any comment I wish to make. We are all familiar with the mantras, ‘it’s the woman’s right to choose’, and, ‘women have the right to control their body’.

I suspect though, many on the pro-abortion side would be quite happy to have men speaking in support of abortion. Indeed, only a few short months ago Queensland MP, Rob Pyne, introduced legislation to relax abortion laws in that State; we didn’t hear many women protesting his public voice.

Not only that, it is a simple point of biology that men are involved in the process of women becoming pregnant. Should a father be involved only in the act of procreation, and be excluded from happens next? This is not about being controlling or patriarchal, it is about being a responsible parent and participating in an relationship. Sadly though, many men are irresponsible and uncaring, a problem which continues to cause frightful harm in so many of our homes.

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Morten Liebach, Steenaire (inset); flickr

While abortion has remained a hot political issue in the United States, in Australia it had largely shifted out of public discourse, becoming a forgotten shadow twisting through our cities, towns, and homes. But now, all of a sudden, partly due to the recent American Presidential election and also because of a Queensland Parliamentary vote, abortion is being talked about once more.

Jane Caro is writing though in response to last week’s announcement by Pope Francis, who has given priests ‘permission’ to forgive Roman Catholic women for having an abortion,

“I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.”

Caro responds,

“Given the Catholic Church’s attitude to contraception and its behaviour towards vulnerable children the world over, I simply cannot take anything this institution has to say about sex and reproduction seriously.”

Her criticism has some warrant, and I certainly understand her blanket mistrust of Roman Catholicism in light of its dreadful  history of sexual abuse. I am also critical of the Pope, for it is not the Pope’s place, nor the role of any priest to forgive anyone their sins. Priests may find permission in a papal edict and in their Church dogmatics, but such authority is not found in the the Bible, and as Christians that’s what counts. Priests are imperfect men who need their own sins forgiven by God, and as the Bible affirms, 

“there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim 2:5)

One of the reasons for writing today is because of a sadness that overcame me when I read Caro’s call to view abortion as ‘normal’. It is not normal. Abortion is never something to be celebrated or normalised. On rare occasions, when a mother’s life is genuinely at risk, I understand it is permissible, but to consider killing unborn children as okay is not okay.

A society that sanctions, and even celebrates the killing of unborn children is one denying its own humanity.

If one surveys global societies that have embraced a culture of abortion, one notes China with its population suppression policy. There are also numerous religious cultures who denigrate women and frequently force abortions when the baby is female.  And there is our western secularism with its excessive commitment to individualism. When we value the self above the good of others, we create an atmosphere of self-indulgence and not sacrifice, of self-worship rather than selflessness.

The very nature of loving community is that it requires the unexpected and difficult, and rather than eliminating those surprises, we alter our life expectations in order to to see their lives flourish.

Jesus once said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. Indeed, how great a love it is to sacrifice our hopes and plans for children who enter our lives unplanned.

In my role as a Christian Minister, over the years women have shared with me their stories of having an abortion, and without exception there is a shame attached. Reasons are multifarious: when a woman is raped,the fear of giving birth to children with a disability, when the mother’s life is at risk, and when the child is unwanted due to the mum not feeling ready or not wanting the responsibility or wanting children to impact their lifestyle or career. The reality is, only a tiny portion of abortions occur on medical grounds that the mother’s life is in danger. Many more abortions occur because of the child’s gender, or because the child may carry a disability, and many other children are killed because of lifestyle choices. For many many women this decision has left a wound that has not healed.

As much as Jane Caro wishes women to wash away their shame for having abortions, many women cannot, and no Pope or priest can achieve that either. But in the person of Jesus Christ we find a God who is willing and able, and who is more merciful and wonderful than any of us can ever imagine.

As distressing a topic as abortion is, it is good to hear people talking once again. I don’t want to silence women who have had an abortion. Claire Smith has last week written an article encouraging people to speak more about abortion, and I wish to echo her words. And to a certain extent I also repeat Jane Caro’s words, that of urging women not to keep silent. But the speech we need is different, words that don’t speak affirming  destroying young life, but words that enable conversation, and ears that will listen to these stories.

Post-Truth is not so new

Post-truth has been declared word of the year, by the Oxford Dictionary.

I have to confess, I can’t recall ever hearing of the word prior to the announcement, but rarely have I been confused with owning hip, cool, and trendy oratory. I have no doubt though, our cultural frontline linguists know what they are talking about!

The Dons of the Oxford Dictionary define post-truth as, ‘an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.’

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Oxford Dictionary website

There is a drop of irony here, post-truth’s rise to the top coincided with Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election. Apparently, the  Presidential campaigns were responsible for a spike in world-wide usage of post-truth, as was the Brexit campaign earlier in the year.

According to the official website, post-truth first appeared in 1992, in an essay written by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich. In 2016 there has been an observed 2000% increase in its usage, thus warranting the title of Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year.

The word may be new, but the concept has had a long run through history.

In the 4th Century BC Aristotle pre-empted post-truth when he spoke of the tripartite art of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Jesus Christ spoke of post-truth. In the parable Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus makes the point, that should a man rise from dead, people will not believe the evidence if they are not also prepared to believe God at his word. In other words, empirical demonstration is important but it is not suffice to persuade a person of what is true and good.

Accordingly, the Bible adds a fourth category to Aristotle’s tripartite art of persuasion: pnevmatikós (or spiritual). Ardent rationalists may scoff at this notion, but perhaps it is the case that their post-truth commitment to naturalism denies them the reasonable conclusion of accepting the reality of Christ, including the overwhelming evidence of his resurrection from the dead.

Post-truth is a word that carries with it an air of elitism and superiority. It is used to denigrate those whom we deem are less rational and intelligent.

In a documentary series marking a trip across the United States, Stephen Fry visited Los Alamos, the place where the first hydrogen bomb was developed. While exploring this once secret location, Fry made this remark,

“some people would think this is a grizzly place, a place of death, but to me I see nothing but optimism, and that’s because I believe in science. Many people today don’t.”

Stephen Fry is an example of a generation who credit science and rationalism as being security for human progress. Indeed, in the recent election a wave political experts and pollsters proclaimed the moral high ground on the basis of their education and they decried the uneducated who followed Donald Trump.

Whether we believe ourselves intelligent or not, and whether we have letters running after our name or not, we have always been post-truth, at least part-time.

The reality is we all need facts and truth to live well, and we adhere to these when these thing conform to our likes and wants. But rarely, are our ethical positions and personal decisions determined solely or even primarily because of what is true.

Today I was reminded of a classic post-truth moment in Victoria this year. Roz Ward has found herself in the media’s eye once again, with a photograph capturing the Safe Schools architect bullying a bystander during an anti-Trump demonstration in Melbourne yesterday. As I saw the photograph I was reminded of Roz Ward’s now infamous declaration, that the Safe Schools program is not primarily about creating Safe Schools but is designed to teach children Marxist values. Despite the repeated admission by this key designer of the curriculum, many politicians and social commentators have glued blue tac to their ears, and pretended the truth had never been leaked. Why? Political and social ideology trumps a confession.

Post-truth is not a 2016 problem, it is a human problem. Our word of the year communicates something about the proclivity of the human heart. Searching for truth is a noble task; as Jesus himself said, ‘the truth will set you free’. But knowing what is true and listening to it requires more than simple assent to objective facts. It requires a posture of humility, whereby we allow truth, especially God’s truth, to penetrate and challenge and restore.

Saying No to a Registry for Muslims

According to media reports, political advisors close to Donald Trump are exploring the establishment of a registry for Muslim immigrants to the United States. The policy may extend as far as requiring all Muslim Americans to be signed up to a Government register.

No doubt such a decision will find many supporters, even among some Australians. It is likely that Trump policies may give greater voice to certain groups in Australia, and so as a way of pre-empting such conversations here, let me give 4 reasons why a Muslim registry is a really bad idea.

1. Lessons from history

When a Government decides to impose itself on a religious minority, hatred and intolerance is incited and people suffer. Is this not one of the plagues of the Islamic State? Indeed, in many Islamic nations non-muslim citizens are marked out and carry the burden of having to pay the Jizya.

Some commentators have already raised the example of Nazi Germany. On the one hand, I find it somewhat duplicitous  that ‘left’ leaning journalists are outraged when conservative commentators cite the example of Nazism, and yet they seem to have little qualm in using the analogy when it suits them. In this instance though, while being careful not to overdo the comparison, the question is not completely absurd.

2. Most Muslims are not terrorists

It would be foolish to deny a connection between Islamic beliefs and current terrorist activity across the globe. Whether it is IS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and many others, one of the common threads is Islamic religion.

It is also the case that many nation states adhere to strict forms of Islam, and while we exchange trade and business with these countries, internally they impose a religion on their citizens that is often harsh, and where women are mistreated and non believers denied rights.

Without ignoring real ideological issues that are often found in cultures where Islam is dominant, this does not mean that the populations living in those countries are content with the status quo, or that they are potential insurgents laying in waiting. The reality is, millions of people are fleeing these countries in order to find a new life, a  better life.

Muslim people have been living in Australia since the 19th Century, and for the most part they are hard working contributors to our country. They are friendly, kind, and are important members of our diverse and pluralist society.

Should the many suffer indignity because of a few? Indeed, those few persons who are of concern to the Government, are they not already highlighted? If so, what is the point of another register which will require all Muslim people to be participants?

3. The hypocrisy

There is a hidden hypocrisy at work here, both in the political and religious arenas.

Over the last decade across Western Governments we have witnessed increased intolerance towards people whose religious convictions don’t conform to the secular humanist worldview, especially when it comes to the issues of sexuality and marriage. This has been evident both in the USA and Canada, and my own State of Victoria is among the leading examples of this Erastian movement. Those who have been working to remove Christian ethics in the public square may well cry foul over this proposed registry, but they do so from a position of illegitimacy.

This works both ways. So when Christians speak up and seek to defend their freedom of religious thought, speech and life, do we deny it for others?

It will be of no surprise to readers that I disagree with Islam, mormonism, atheism, and many other belief systems. These theologies hold a view of God that contradicts the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, and yet nation states are not Churches, they are (in our modern history) secular and pluralist institutions. As such, a functioning and maturity society will find ways for this diversity to cohere, and encourage public spaces for people to disagree and to debate with fervour and respect.

4. Threats of a registry creates fear and makes people vulnerable.

Would I like my own family to live in fear and with uncertainty, not knowing how the Government may act toward us, given our race or religion?

I know for a fact, many Victorian Christians have felt apprehension as our Government continues to pressure our children out of public schools, and we are experiencing uncertainty as legislation is introduced to control Christian Churches and organisations. Would we wish that on another minority group?

One American Muslim has written this,

“This is what it feels like to me now that the republican nominee is now the president elect.

He is the abuser. We are trapped. We are circling the wagons, trying to mitigate the damage by finding allies and waiting for the abusive behavior that we know is coming. We are sharing strategies on how to parent our children now that our president elect has taught them that being a racist, sexist, fear mongering, money hungry bully will get you the highest office in the nation.

We are trying to find the way to rebuild the inroads amongst ourselves while finding the strength and power to strategize how we can get free.

This is a far different place than I thought our nation would be today. I saw hope, I saw people of color being treated fairly. I saw refugees and immigrants being embraced for their unique potential; I envisioned a path towards unity. I live and breathe the mantra, Stronger Together every day.

Now I look out my door and wonder, which one of my neighbors thought it was a good idea to elect a president who wants to implement a Muslim registry. A database of anyone who practices Islam, so they can be watched and rounded up whenever he believes we need to be put in check.”

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Christians must speak up for our Muslim neighbours, not because we agree with their religion, but because they should not be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. They are citizens of our countries, and they are human beings who ought to be treated with dignity and kindness.

There is no doubt, Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency has sent many social progressives into cardiac arrest. What many thought was an inevitable social engineering quest from the left has become not so assured. Perhaps the rise of Trump will only prove to be a temporary swing of the pendulum, but for now, the shift is real and no one yet knows how far it will move.

Many Christians will be thankful that they may find some reprieve after years of pushing and shoving from social progressives, but I don’t believe we should be rejoicing at the prospect of a Trump Presidency.

As calls are made for a Muslim registry, Christians would do well to remember people like Naaman, the Samaritan woman, and the jailor in Philippi. Ask ourselves, how do we love our neighbours? Should we cause them to fear, or should we protect them? I reckon we would do well to reread Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan,

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

(Luke 10:25-37)

American evangelicals have harmed Evangelicalism

“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” (Psalm 2:7)

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Eleven months ago a good friend sat on the lounge in my home and told me that the Presidential race would be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump…and that Trump would win!

I looked at him as though he had had a lobotomy. But over the course of the year my friend’s projection has been rattling in the deep recesses of my mind where I try to leave all the crazy thoughts.

Like the majority of Australians I feel as though I’m floating in a hypnagogic state. How many of us really thought that Trump would trump America?!

According to the latest figures, it appears the main reason for Hillary Clinton’s loss is because Democrats stayed home: 5 million fewer democrats voted yesterday than in 2012; that’s a lot of people. The Republican turn out was also slightly down, which is unsurprising given the candidate.

I have no doubt that there are numerous reasons behind Trump’s win, and I am no expert to decode all these, and neither is it my purpose to explore them here.

After surveying this morning’s twitter sphere, it revealed though how mainstream media, Hollywood, and the self acclaimed intelligentsia still don’t get it; the progressive moral and social agenda is repugnant to many Americans, and also to many Australians.

More concerning, American “evangelicals” don’t get it. I am hearing reports suggesting that as many as 85% of “evangelicals” voted for Donald Trump. Whatever the actual number, it will be a substantial percentage. I appreciate why Christians could not vote for Hillary Clinton; for example, her position toward unborn children is paramount to evil, but so is Trump’s posture toward women and refugees.

I want to reiterate a concern that I have raised in recent weeks, and that is how the evangelical cause will be weakened as a result of a Trump Presidency. The reason is obvious, “evangelicals” have so closely aligned themselves with Donald Trump that in the public eye the two have been aligned.

While there were multiple groups investing in the campaign, “Evangelicals” are at least partly responsible for Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the American Presidency. That’s right, without their endorsements, the Republican nominee may well have been a Jed Bush or Marco Rubio.

You will notice my proclivity to use the inverted comma when referring to evangelicals, and that’s because the word has been regularly misappropriated by not only political pundits but also by Americans themselves. True evangelicalism has little to do with the political aspirations of right wing America, and everything to do with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Authentic evangelicalism is defined by this Gospel as presented in the Bible, not by the political right or left, not with Democrats or Republicans, and for the Australian context, neither Liberal nor Labor.

While never wishing for a Clinton victory, I do think that scenario would have at least given “evangelicals” an opportunity to break with Donald Trump and start afresh, to repent of foolish associations and  to rethink how Christians should engage in the political space. Unfortunately, “evangelical” America supported the winner, and have been tarnished for doing so. I cannot see how this association will advance the cause of Jesus Christ. If anything, the word may become irretrievably immeshed in a cause that is not the Gospel.

I am thankful for the many evangelicals who have stood up to Donald Trump and have copped flack for doing so: Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Al Mohler among them. In Australia, the general public will not be informed of these voices, and instead Australians will time and time again hear how “evangelicals” assisted Donald Trump to the White House. At least in the Australian public square, the 2016 Presidential election will tarnish Christian witness and further perpetrate myths about Christianity. It is for this reason I am calling on my American friends to return to their evangelical roots and think carefully about how they associate politically.

It is one thing to be part of a Presidential win, but it is quite another to one day stand before the Judge of the earth and give an account of how or lives have adorned or maligned the Gospel of Christ.

This final point is not only true for American Christians but also Australian Christians, when will Christians learn not to place undue hope in Government? The election has exposed a messed up eschatology and misplaced soteriology, which will not only disappoint, but will prevent people from seeing Christ. How ever Donald Trump decides to build his wall along the Mexican border, it is nothing compared to the wall evangelicals have built in this election that will block out the wonder of the Gospel. How will true Evangelicals work to dismantle this false gospel? What will we do publicly and in our Churches to redress the damage caused by this political misalignment?

We need much prayer. We need much repentance.

As the political shape of America turns, may Christians return to our true hope:

“For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 Of the greatness of his government and peace

    there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

    and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

    with justice and righteousness

    from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

    will accomplish this.”

(Isaiah 9:5-7)

Our Rubicon River

Should a cricket club have freedom to appoint persons who share the values of their club?

Should a political party have liberty to pre-select individuals who support and will promote their policies?

Should not a corporation employ professionals who will abide by the values and vision of that institution?

For most of our nation’s history Churches and Governments have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship; understanding their distinct roles while together serving for the good of society. Both have had their failings as well as making enormous contributions to building our society, but Australians have always been careful not to confuse the two.  Tomorrow (Tuesday 8th November) this judicious relationship may come to an end as the Victorian Government proposes a hostile takeover of all religious organisations.

The Victorian Legislative Council will tomorrow debate and vote on the proposed Inherent Requirements test. The purpose of this amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act is to require religious organisations to demonstrate that their employees must necessarily subscribe to the beliefs and values of that church, school, or charity. 

Religious organisations currently have freedom to employ persons who affirm the beliefs and practices shared by that organisation; this is only sensible. Should this legislation pass, a tribunal will be appointed by the Government who will determine what constitutes inherent requirements for all religions across the State. In other words, the Government is posturing itself as a teacher and arbiter of theology, with power to inform Churches, Synagogues, and religious schools whom they are to employ.

The Government has presented the amendment as a natural extension in the fight for equality, but the reality is quite different. Labor wants sameness not equality. This Bill will inevitably work against a pluralist and diverse society, and instead demand that Victorians fall into line with a rigid and historically dubious view of secularism.

Dr Michael Bird was right when he called out the inherent requirement test as an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice.

I can imagine some secularists will be ecstatic at hearing the Government’s plan to further diminish religious freedom in Victoria, but is there not an air of hypocrisy in all this? Do atheistic humanists really want the Government functioning as bishops over churches, religious schools, and charities? Do nonbelievers genuinely think they have the academic credentials, expertise, and the right to define the theological parameters for synagogues and churches, explicating what is inherently required of that religion or not?

As Dr Bird notes, the problem is that “demonstrate a necessary connection” between beliefs and roles is notoriously subjective. There are no objective criteria here since beliefs and roles will vary from religion to religion and from organization to organization. So who is going to decide when a “necessary connection” exists between beliefs and roles and exactly how they will decide?’

The ‘inherent requirement’ test is all the more ironic, given how the Andrews’ Government has spent the last two years introducing several policies designed to push out Christian involvement from the public square, and now they are intent on invading religious spaces.

I cannot speak for all religious organisations, but when it comes to Christian Churches they are, for the most part, welcoming of anyone from any cultural, religious, sexual orientation background. I am not denying that there are appropriate rules and requirements for those who would serve in a formal capacity, and neither am I ignoring that associations can sometimes get it wrong. But the Christian Gospel is all about welcoming men and women who have no rights on God, no inherent claims on him, and yet in Jesus Christ we are lovingly forgiven and welcomed. This conviction has forged a tradition throughout the world of Christians starting not only churches, but also schools and hospitals and aged-care facilities, without which both our Government and society would collapse.

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Former Victorian Crown Counsel, Mark Sneddon, recently offered this caution against the Bill,

“The proposed bill amending the Equal Opportunity Act will not encourage Victorians to get along with each other. It won’t enable Victorians to live and let live. In fact, it is more likely to exacerbate division by creating legal weapons for forcing some voluntary associations to host or endorse views with which they deeply disagree.

Deep differences of moral vision will not be resolved by trying to legislate one view to supremacy and squashing others. Rather, we should accept that there are different views, and defend each other’s rights to hold and live out different views. Importantly, we should also commit to respectful communication so we can understand each other and agree how to live together peacefully with our differences.”

All the good that this Government may achieve is being swallowed up by their rigid and aggressive social agenda. This legislation is not only nonsensical, it is dangerous; they have reached the Rubicon and are intent on crossing it, and Victorians have no assurances that the Government will stop there.

As our representatives vote, I trust common sense will prevail and that freedom of association and religion will remain after November 8.