Victoria about to legalise euthanasia

It has been another sad day in Victoria. Victoria is set to become the first State in Australia to legalise euthanasia. We used to say how we were better than NSW in everything, but in recent times we have demonstrably shown ourselves to be less safe, less caring, and less reasonable.

In contrast to the NSW Parliament who last week knocked down a euthanasia bill in its early stages, this afternoon the Victorian Legislative Council vote 22-18 in favour of the euthanasia bill. There were several amendments, but none take away the basic design of the legislation. The bill will soon return to the Lower House for final ratification, and becoming law. However, euthanasia won’t be permitted until June 2019, which ironically gives Australians from other States sufficient to move to Victoria and begin making plans (one has to be a resident in for Victoria for 12 months in order to have access to this law).

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If there is one comment from today that sums up this legislation, it comes from Upper House Labor member, Jaclyn Symes. Liberal member, Craig Ondarchie, had asked for an amendment, which would have made it lawful for Doctors to name the cause of death on the death certificate, namely, assisted suicide by the administration of xyz drug. The amendment was an important one,  because under the proposed law,  doctors won’t cite the cause of death, instead they would record the illness with which the patient was suffering.  The amendment failed to find sufficient support. Anyway, Ms Symes said in response to the amendment (to paraphrase),

“Mr Ondarchie, your amendment is cruel and lacks empathy.”

Think about it –  if writing down the true cause of death is cruel and lacks empathy and can’t be recorded, what does that tell us about euthanasia?

A short time ago our Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced to the media, “This is Victoria at its best.”

No, the State sanctioning the killing of human life is not our best, it is our worst.  We should commend our Governments when they do good and serve our communities well, but this is not one of those days. Hundreds of medical professionals urged the Parliament not to accept this legislation, but instead to give proper funding to palliative care. Others encouraged the Parliament to understand the moral line they would cross, should they legalise euthanasia. There were indeed many from within Parliament, and across party lines, who spoke against this bill, but to no avail.

Tonight, it seems as though Victoria is taking glory in our shame. Our Premier and others are  taking pride in a law that is designed to kill people, and that should frighten Victorians and sadden us.

I’m reminded of Proverbs which says,

“Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:17-19)

It is better to stand for what is right and good, and to lose, than to stand and share in the glory of dreadful and immoral lawmaking.  This does mean though, Churches must ready themselves to love and support families who have loved ones who’ve made the decision to take their own life, and we must be ready to offer gentle and wise counsel to people who are considering the path of taking their own life.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others, must ready themselves for how they will address patients who come to them and asking drugs in which to take their life.

Over the course of the debate several members of Parliament and staffers have indicated to me that we should expect the parameters of the euthanasia law to be broadened, in the next 5-10 years. In other words, don’t think that this issue is a done deal.

As the debate continued today in Spring Street, I was preparing a sermon for this Sunday at Mentone Baptist, our passage is Matthew 9:18-34. In this portion of Scripture we find Christ who has come to restore all that is wrong and broken and hurting and sinful. People in the darkest times, who had lost all hope and for whom others could no longer assist, in Jesus they found God who loves and who one day will restore all things.

In that passage there are two blind men who come to Jesus, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” That is a great response for Christians today. As our State further dehumanises its citizens, and demonises those who oppose their agenda, let us cry out to God for his mercy, not only for ourselves but also for those who voted ‘yes’ today, and for those in our community who are struggling with the realisation that death is not far away.

As the song of Isaiah promised,

“Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

 

 

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Victorian Schools to help children transition without parental consent

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

As parents, Susan and I are regularly signing forms that have been sent home from school: there is an excursion to the zoo next Friday, please sign. The school camp is next month, please sign. Your child has been selected in the school’s athletics team and we need your permission for them to compete. Your child was absent yesterday, please notify us as to the reason.

Three months ago I received a call from school, “your son has been hurt while playing rugby. It looks as though he’s broken his arm, can you come to the school and take him to the hospital…”

While no one enjoys paperwork (perhaps with exception to accountants!), both schools and parents understand the importance of these forms. Parents are the primary carers and even educators for their own children, teaching them life skills, morality, religion.  It is the parents joy and responsibility to love their children and to see that they safe and healthy and maturing in life. It is one of the few innate truths that our society still holds, or so I thought.

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Today, someone brought to my attention the updated School Advisory Policy Guide for School Principals and Administrators (updated July 2017). Under the section titled, Gender Diversity, Principals are given the following instruction by the Victorian Education Department:

“Schools must work with students transitioning or affirming their gender identity to prepare and implement a student support plan.”

First of all, schools are not given the discretion to counsel against students transitioning from one gender to another, they are required to affirm the student’s chosen identity, and to prepare and implement a support plan.

“The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible, and should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the needs of the student at the different stages of their transition, and at the different stages of their education.”

Notice the qualification? “The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible.”

Surely, the Government is not giving schools permission to help children change their gender identity and even their name, without parental involvement and consent?

Let’s keep reading. Under the following section, titled, Parental Consent, we read,

“There may be circumstances in which students wish or need to undertake gender transition without the consent of their parent/s (or carer/s), and/or without consulting medical practitioners.

If no agreement can be reached between the student and the parent/s regarding the student’s gender identity, or if the parent/s will not consent to the contents of a student support plan, it will be necessary for the school to consider whether the student is a mature minor.

If a student is considered a mature minor they can make decisions for themselves without parental consent and should be affirmed in their gender identity at school. Department policy addresses situations in which students, though under the age of 18 years, may be sufficiently mature to make their own decisions, see Decision Making by Mature Minors

How old does a child need to be in order to be defined as mature? Luckily the Department don’t leave us in limbo. They explain,

“there is no specific age when a young person may be deemed sufficiently mature and capable of making his or her own decision”

In other words, school aged children, both secondary and primary, can decide to change their gender, and the school must support this transition and the school does not need to inform or gain parental consent. The policy is written in such a way as though parental consent is advantageous, but it is not necessary. If this is not sufficiently worrying, the school is also not required to gain professional medical advice prior to implementing a plan for gender transition for a child.

This is insane; a school cannot let my child attend a fun excursion without my consent, but they can prepare my child to change their gender and identity?

No one wants these children being bullied or sidelined and left to struggle alone. They are image bearers of God and therefore to be loved and protected. It is not however, the right of a Government or a school to proceed to change a child’s identity without the parents knowledge, consent, and without due medical and psychological assessments. We all understand that there is the rare situation where parents don’t act in the best interests of their children, but these guidelines don’t carefully limit parental exclusion for that specific scenario.

Children do not belong to the Government, and schools are but temporary caretakers who have the permission of the family to teach writing, reading, and counting. What we are again seeing in Victoria, is a Government forcing families to cross into a new world where Government takes control from loving parents, and gives schools freedom to navigate even critical decisions for a child.

Does the State love our children more than us? Do schools, even with their fantastic staff who care for our kids, do they understand them more than parents? This school policy is dangerous, and it will lead to damaging the lives of children and of their families. Not only that, this will create impossible scenarios for schools and their principals, whom I can imagine are rarely adept to make such decisions, and will feel incredibly concerned about about leaving parents in the cold and not enquiring from medical professionals, which is surely a sensible course of action.

Even then, research shows that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it in their adolescence or early adulthood, thus delayed action is normally preferred. Research also indicates that transitioning does not necessarily alleviate the stresses associated with gender dysphoria. 

Victorian parents need to be aware of these policies, and others. If you are concerned concerned, please read the policy for yourselves, contact your local State member and share your concerns, graciously and clearly.

Australia’s Pharisees

John Dickson has this afternoon written a helpful response to Julia Baird’s column, “Same-sex marriage result was a defeat for only one type of Christianity – and a triumph for the grassroots sitting in church pews”.

He has corrected important mistakes made by Baird about the nature of grace and the love of Christ. For instance, while the current secular definition of love insists upon agreement, the love God displayed toward in Christ Jesus is premised on the fact that God does not agree with us.

John also challenged Baird’s unsubstantiated claim, that the majority of people in the pews support same sex marriage. With great certainty, Baird proclaimed,

“Who speaks for God?”

The answer according to Julia Baird is, the silent majority in Church pews who support same sex marriage.

“It was… a defeat for a certain brand of public, conservative Christianity, one that has focused on sexuality, morality and traditional views of men and women…

And a triumph for the grassroots, those in the pews who – as polls repeatedly showed – quietly tolerated but did not share the views of their church leaders.”

In addition to the evidence John has produced, is research conducted by NCLS in 2016. This data is more substantive than the few straw polls that have elsewhere been conducted, for the simple reason, NCLS was asking the question to people in Churches, as opposed to the general population.  Other polling failed to differentiate between nominal Christians & practicing Christians. NCLS is at least polling people who are attending Church (the demographic that Baird alleges  are in majority supportive of same sex marriage). NCLS data reveals:

73% of church attenders did not support same sex marriage

14% were unsure, 

13% were in favour.

Having said that, even if the majority of people in our pews support same sex marriage, does that make it the voice of God, as Baird purports? Of course not. Christianity is defined by Jesus Christ in the Scripture, not by ecclesial consensus or popular vote. It’s one of the great dangers when we turn to popularism rather than biblical truth for our theological and moral convictions.

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In this post I wish to add to the conversation, a comment about Julia Baird’s use of the word, Pharisee. In her article she compares Christians who don’t support same sex marriage with Pharisees, whereas those who truly speak for God are the masses inside the nation’s churches who are letting out a great  “Amen” to same sex marriage.

Name calling is a particularly unhelpful by-product of the current social climate, and even we Christians are sometimes guilty of joining in.  It is easy to call a group of Christians, Pharisee, but is it the right label? Or as Stephen McAlpine asked yesterday, is this the new Godwin’s Law?

Everyone knows the name of the most famous group of bad guys in the story on Jesus, the Pharisees. But who were the Pharisees, and has Julia Baird got it right? I reckon she is mostly wrong and little bit right.

Pharisees were a class of social and political elites who greatly influenced and controlled much of Jewish society in the century before Christ and into first century A.D. Very few Pharisees belonged to the priesthood (they were not clergy), although they held considerable religious sway. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, their influence eventually diminished due to a series of sharp disagreements between themselves and the official Jewish clergy in the First Century.

Pharisees are most remembered for their opposition to the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. In the historical records we learn of the Pharisees’ persistent harassment of Jesus, protesting his preaching, criticising his good deeds, condemning his beliefs, and plotting his downfall. They didn’t stop at expressing disagreement, but resorted to all the tactics available at their disposal in order to have Jesus silenced.

We need to keep in mind that while the name Pharisee is today a pejorative term, this was not the case at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry; they were greatly esteemed and respected in local communities, and having the ear of the ruling authorities of the day. The New Testament reveals another side to the Pharisees, namely their intolerance toward those in society who didn’t live up to their standards. They couldn’t stomach Jesus’ commitment to the poor and outcast.

It is also important to understand that the problem with Pharisees was not that they held God’s law and righteousness too highly, but that they were self-righteous. They took pride in their self-perceived ability to follow the Mosaic law, and given that they were governed by pride, they managed to find loop holes and extensions to the law in order to satiate their wants. They added hundreds of stipulations that had no grounding in the Jewish Scriptures. For example, whereas the law commanded fasting once a year, on the day of atonement, Pharisees fasted twice a week. This new social norm was not followed by Jesus and he was criticised for not adhering to it.

Important to the topic at hand, it was not Jesus who taught a progressive view of marriage, it was the Pharisees. Jesus consistently and repeatedly affirmed the Genesis paradigm for marriage (which continues to be held by Christians today). Pharisees, on the other hand, had deconstructed and reframed marriage in order to justify their sexual proclivities, and they challenged Jesus for not supporting their progressive views. So, if we are wanting to follow Jesus (accepting his view of marriage and to love and show grace), it is paramount that we resist the current modelling in many Western cultures.

By the way, I am not suggesting that there are no Pharisees within Australian Churches, either among clergy or congregation. Of course there are, but the insult kinda falls flat when the word is misappropriated. Nevertheless, there is something in Baird’s criticism that is worth being reminded of, and to humbly check before God – while Pharisaism is incompatible with the Lord Jesus and therefore with Christianity, are there not occasions when we dip into self-righteousness and are tempted to measure others by our own standards? 

The root of self-justification is unbelief and pride, and pride inherently sets the self against others, belittling those who don’t meet your standard and envying those who out do you. Self-Justification in all its guises is ugly and self-defeating, which is perhaps why Jesus dedicates so many words to exposing the Pharisees.

We are not presenting a truthful or attractive Gospel if we parade the streets of Melbourne in saintly masks and garb; self-righteousness doesn’t fool anyone. And yet, a Christianity that modulates with the changing currents of the culture, is almost certainly one that has drifted from the anchor that is the Gospel. It is no wonder that progressive theology in Australia always leads to declining churches, moral confusion, and the praise of society. If our version of Christianity consistently reflects popular sexual ethics, might I suggest that there is something amiss with our understanding of Christianity. Our nation and our churches don’t need any more Pharisees, whether appear as social conservatives or social progressives. Australia needs Christians who walk with grace and conviction, love and faithfulness, not exuding self confidence and avoiding cultural-pleasing.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4).

 


Julia has since attempted to qualify her article on social media, explaining that she is not calling all conservatives, Pharisees.  In response to John’s article, she said, “NB: I wasn’t calling parish priests or conservatives Pharisees! I was referring to church leaders w. skewed priorities.”

This qualification however doesn’t diminish the charge she makes in the original piece.

 

 

 

 

Suggested letter for MPs regarding changing Marriage laws and the future of free speech in Australia

Here is a draft letter that I’m writing for local MPs. I’m sure others can improve on it. I thought I would post it here, should it be helpful for other Australians who wish to express concerns to Canberra.

 

Dear ….

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Following the results of the national marriage survey, I believe our Federal Parliament has two responsibilities, both which are necessary for maintaining the liberal democracy that we value in Australia.

First of all, while I do not support same sex marriage, there is a clear mandate from the people for the Parliament to redefine the Marriage Act; I believe that the Parliament should respect this.

Second, we need to ensure that freedom of speech, religion, and conscience, continue in our great country.

While, 7.8 million people voted for change, almost 5 million Australians voted against same sex marriage. Indeed, over 30,000 people in the electorate of Isaacs voted to retain the current definition of marriage.

The Dean Smith bill may provide protections for clergy who perform weddings, but as I’m sure you will agree, marriage is much more than a wedding. It must also be noted that the overwhelming majority of the 5 million Australians who voted against same sex marriage are not clergy, and therefore are beyond the scope of this bill’s limited protections.

As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture. I am not advocating that we shield homophobia, for we all want to see those days gone, but affirming classical marriage does not equate to hating fellow Australians.

Here are three examples of concerns that I am hearing being asked,

Will Australians be guaranteed freedom to continue teaching and explaining the classical view of marriage and sexuality, not only in a Church setting but also in public places, including our universities?

Will religious schools maintain the freedom to teach and affirm the classical view of marriage?

Will our children in state schools have liberty to express, without bullying, a Christian view of marriage? Will parents have freedom to opt-out children from lessons that advocate views of marriage and sexuality that contravene their religious convictions?

It is worth noting that there are already matters of conscience that the State does not enforce upon all its citizens. For example, while abortion is legal, doctors who have a moral objection are not required to perform this action. The Voluntary Assisted Dying bill that is currently before the Victorian Parliament, will not require doctors to sign and participate, should euthanasia contradict their beliefs.

The issue of redefining marriage is a  significant test for Australia, and whether we truly wish to embrace cultural pluralism and liberal democratic freedom. If sensible protections are not provided, we can expect an erosion of personal freedoms for persons not subscribing to the new morality. Indeed, if, upon changing the law, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience is lessened from what we had on November 15th 2017, we will have cut away part of this country’s foundations, which are responsible for the prosperity, security, and freedom we enjoy.

Thank you for your hard work in serving our Electorate and the people of Australia. I wish you well in pursuing the good for all Australians.

Kinds Regards,

Murray Campbell

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Australia chooses to change marriage, and perhaps much more

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released the result of the marriage survey.

The question given to the Australian people was,

Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?

12.7 million people voted (79.5% of registered voters in the nation).

61.6% said yes, while 38.4% said no.

What does this mean? I wish to address two areas of impending decision making, the political and the Christian.

Political decisions

In terms of the politics, a private members Bill will be tabled this afternoon in the Senate, for debate and deliberation (the Dean Smith bill).

Several members of the Government have already indicated that the Smith bill will be used as the blue print, but they are open to amendments. The intention though is to pass legislation and the thus legalise same sex marriage before Christmas.

We do not know what shape the bill will finally take. Senator James Paterson (who supports SSM), has proposed a Draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill. This bill provides significantly more protections for Australians than the Smith bill, although Senior Government Ministers have already suggested that this is a non starter. 

We need to keep in mind that legislation is more complicated than simply replacing a couple of words in the Marriage Act. When same sex marriage was introduced in the United Kingdom (2014), hundreds of pieces of law required change, and all manner of issues relating to religious freedoms have appeared since. Indeed, the very notion of religious freedom is now more under threat in the UK than in any time since the reign of Charles II in the 17th Century.

Here in Australia, even prior to the law changing, we have witnessed preachers in Tasmania being brought before a tribunal for explaining the Bible’s view of marriage, and a Catholic Archbishop who wrote a leaflet for fellow Catholics, outlining their position on marriage.

If proper protections are not provided, we can expect an erosion of personal freedoms for anyone not subscribing to the new morality. Indeed, if, upon changing the law, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience is lessened from what we enjoy today, November 15th, this country will have taken one giant leap into a shark tank.

Associate Professor Neil Foster has written a helpful summary of the pros and cons of both the Smith and Paterson bills.

I doubt if many people are shocked by today’s announcement; disappointed and concerned, but not surprised. The compass has been pointing in this direction for 50 years, and we have not yet journeyed to the final destination. There is now the important question of how the Federal Parliament will now deal with the issue. Given the support for same sex marriage as expressed by the Australian public, I think it is only right that Parliament respect this democratic process. For those in Parliament who cannot, for conscience, support marriage redefinition, might I propose that you abstain rather than vote against. Doing so enables you to respect the decision of Australians without marring your conscience.

Even prior to any marriage changing, numerous threats have been made against individuals and organisations, for not coming out in support of same sex marriage. Some of these groups had simply made the decision not to become embroiled in the debate. Neutrality, however, is not enough for many same sex marriage advocates; total alliance is the only acceptable option.

This is a test for Australia and whether we truly wish to embrace cultural pluralism and liberal democracy, or whether we will heed the war drums of social progressives and thus move toward a poor replica. We must understand that this is not mere hyperbole, for even the favoured Smith bill will expose many Australians to threats of litigation and reduced freedoms

Former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, said on the weekend,

“West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bill guarantees only “the right of clergy and religious institutions” to decline participation in same-sex marriage services and celebrations. There is by omission no recognition of the likelihood of damage to the freedom of conscience for ordinary citizens and their businesses. Smith and many of his colleagues seem unmoved by the encroachments on freedom of speech and conscience already demonstrated in Australia.

Smith’s exemptions approach arguably does more harm than good, for it assumes freedom of conscience is of worth only to professional religionists and not to all Australians. This weakens even further the standing of this important democratic right and makes it an easy target for those who would lobby to erase this exemption and similar exemptions that may remain in state legislation.”

Why is this a problem? Because 4.83 million Australians have said that they do not support same sex marriage. Millions of  Australians potentially face loss of income, employment, and facing tribunals for adhering to a view that will no longer be supported by the law.

Will Australians be guaranteed freedom to continue teaching and explaining the classical view of marriage and sexuality, not only in a Church but also in public places including universities?

Will religious schools maintain freedom to teach and affirm the classical view of marriage?

Unless the Government ensure thorough and principled protections, we can anticipate the promises of many advocates being enacted onto our society.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.

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Decisions for Christians

Today is not a day for outrage, but for mourning. We must learn to weep like Jeremiah, and we must learn to live as Daniel. We must learn to accept injustice as did the Psalmists, and we must come to terms with the truth of Jesus’ words, ‘take up your cross and follow him’.

This is a good day for thankfulness and to remind ourselves of the hope that does not disappoint or fade.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

We are mistaken if we define God’s faithfulness by cultural or political successes, rather than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christian hope doesn’t diminish, depending on societal norms and laws. Rather it carries us through whatever transpires in life; this makes us the freest people on earth.

1. Stick with Jesus

Christian hope frees us to hang onto what we have become convinced is true and good.

It is not worth giving up God’s ways for the sake of social acceptance, and we are ultimately not serving them well or God, should we adopt the new moral horizon.

For a set of practical steps for Christians moving forward, please read https://murraycampbell.net/2017/11/14/gearing-up-for-the-marriage-survey-outcome/

2. Love your neighbours

While there are very important questions relating to the impact this change will bring for religious and societal freedoms, we should be less concerned about ourselves, and more concerned for the future of our children, and for the good of our fellow Australians.

We have opposed same sex marriage, not because we hate people but because we  love God and we love people, even our gay and lesbian neighbours, and we truly want them living well. Today’s announcement is no licence for changing either our view of marriage or God’s call to love our neighbours. I trust and pray that our resolve to be the best of friends, and the kindest of people, will increase from today onward. Did not God treat us with even greater love?

Today many Australians are celebrating, and many sensing relief. We are not among that number, but neither are we jealous or vindictive. Our hope remains unaltered, and as Russel Moore aptly noted following the Supreme Court decision in the United States to legalise same sex marriage, let’s be ready to embrace and welcome the many refugees who will come through this sexual revolution.

We must prepare today, to keep living out God’s good news tomorrow.

“I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly”. (Psalm 40:10)

“I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws”. (Psalm 119:30)

Gearing up for the Marriage Survey Outcome

Tomorrow morning, the results of the national marriage survey will be announced. While I suspect many Australians are moderately interested, many others are waiting with much anticipation and anxiety.

I was thinking through the book of Daniel this morning and realised again how instructive it is for us. So, ahead of tomorrow’s results I wish to suggest, for Christians, some lessons worth learning from this Old Testament book.

1. Choice when there is no choice.

Daniel did not choose the time in which he lived, nor did he decide to leave his homeland for Babylon, where he was forced into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. He did however have choices as to how he would live in this place of exile.

2. Ask permission

Soon after his move to Babylon, Daniel made the decision to refuse food that would defile him (i.e. cause him to disobey God’s food laws). While he was firm in his conviction, Daniel nonetheless asked permission from his supervisor to eat an alternative. He even proposed a trial period, to see whether it was beneficial for the broader group.

Daniel was strong in his views but he did not push this on everyone else. Rather, he did encouraged a better way via presenting clear requests to those in charge.

3. Seek the wellbeing of society

Daniel find himself living in a very different culture to where he had been raised and understood. He was now living in a city that had destroyed his own city, and had removed all that was common to and valued by God’s people. He was living in a place which showed little regard for the God of Israel and his purposes. Despite all this, throughout the entire book, Daniel uses his wisdom for the good of Babylon, even the Kings of Babylon: he gave regular counsel, and his 3 friends became administrators over Babylonian Provinces.

4. Work for mercy

One one occasion when Nebuchadnezzar became fed up with his advisors and threatened to have them executed, Daniel mediated on their behalf. Despite the irreconcilable worldview being propagated by these figures and the damage inflicted by their whacky views, Daniel called for mercy. 

This is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer Australian society. In our culture that is becoming sharply polarised, and where disagreeable ideas are quickly associated with ‘extreme’ and hateful ideologies, Christians can resist this behavior. “Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus. Seek the good of those who do not tolerate Christianity, be generous in our attitudes toward fellow Australians who have no time for Christian speech and ideas in the public square.

5. Faithfulness is always better than freedom

Daniel and his friends repeatedly risked their security and position, choosing to honour God over obeying wrongful laws. From this we shouldn’t surmise that Daniel was not a loud voice or angry voice or hateful voice. He was courageous, not stupid.

When a law was introduced, forbidding prayers to anyone except the King, Daniel continued in praying only to God. He didn’t make a song and dance out of it, but quietly maintained his practice.

Daniel didn’t abandon or avoid what he believed was right and good, and when asked to give an account, he spoke truthfully, with clarity and courage. Of what value is societal freedom if we have to sell the soul and give up God?  

For Daniel, faithfulness to God would at times result in threats, and other times, especially when God’s word was demonstrably proven true, Daniel was vindicated. Vindication normally follows faithfulness, not the other way round, and the only vindication promised to Christians in Scripture, will come about when the Lord Jesus appears on the last day.

6. Whose word is our hope?

Unlike Melbourne’s much loved Elm trees that are sadly facing extinction, no matter tomorrow’s marriage survey outcome, the good news of Jesus Christ will remain true and good.

“the grass withers and the flowers fall,  but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24b-25a)

Daniel didn’t view exile as the end of his story, nor that of the people of God. Through the word of God, Daniel was often reminded about the faithfulness of God’s promises and appeals to Him.

15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (Daniel 9:15-19)

7. Conscious about confessing sin

Daniel was not ignorant of Israel’s history of covenantal unfaithfulness, and nor did he try to cover it up. Chapter 9 records a prayer of confession, and a request for Divine mercy in light of the multitude of sin,

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong.We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets.11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.”

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I’ll have more to say tomorrow, once the results have been published, but dear Christian, as we wait let us guard our hearts and check our motives and think carefully about our words.

We pray as did Daniel, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”

Thinking Through Creation: A review

I am often asked to read and review books for this blog, and I rarely do so; not because I’m uninterested but time doesn’t often permit. In this instance, I haven’t been asked to offer a review, but this book is too important and useful to keep to myself. I want to encourage everyone to read Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique, Christians and non-Christians alike.

One of the great false dichotomies in Western culture today is the separation between secular and spiritual,  state and religion. It is readily assumed that these things are not only different, but that they are necessarily and irretrievably distinct and to be kept separate. This has meant that God-talk has been left on the side-line in many pursuits, whether it be in politics, science, or education. Scholars and social commentators hold tightly to the Nietzschean war cry, ‘God is dead’, and they do so with great passion and with little empirical proof.

There are of course many Bible believing Christians teaching in Australian universities, and across the full spectrum of academic study, contributing in the fields of science, law, medicine, and education, and economics. Their work does not, for the most part, require overt theological statements and Bible verses. There is however, significant pressure on many fine scholars to assume a God-free zone when contributing to their fields of expertise, as though the marketplace of ideas belongs to atheology and atheism.

Dr Chris Watkin is one Australian academic who is challenging the status quo. He is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, teaching French Studies. He has authored several books, focusing his attention on philosophy, and French post-modern philosophy in particular.

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In his latest contribution, Thinking Through Creation, Chris is encouraging readers not to ignore the Bible, nor to stop at simply thinking about the Bible, but to think through the Bible.

“We read the Bible not only as a set of ideas and stories to think about, but also as a set of patterns and disputes through which we can think about everything and through which we live the whole of life.”

His thesis is that the Bible gives us a more comprehensive and more attractive grid for understanding the world than the alternatives. Using Genesis chs 1 and 2, he builds a philosophy for understanding the world around us. In particular, Chris grounds reality in the unique Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr Watkin introduces into the world of ideas, the word, diagonalization. Where much contemporary philosophy leaves us having to choose sides between two seemingly opposing and yet important ideas, Chris argues through the Bible, showing how many of these in fact belong together. For example, the one and the many, impersonal structure and unstructured person, functionality and beauty, facts and values, and many more.

It is a short book, only 145 pages, and yet it contains ideas which have significant implications for understanding the world.  He has the rare ability to write about monumental concepts with great care and clarity. In an age where nuance often loses out to polarisation and false dichotomies go unchallenged, Chris offers a humble yet rigorous critique of culture through the lens of the Bible.

At a time when Australian culture assumes that doing away with the Bible is the moral course of action, in this book, we find one of the nation’s emerging philosophical minds calling us to revisit those ancient words of Genesis chapters 1 and 2, and to reconsider them in order that we may better understand the world and ourselves.

Professor John Frame has written the Forward for Thinking Through Creation. I smiled when I read this sentence, “Watkin is a surprise: a well-trained philosopher who is also a clear and helpful writer”.

He adds, “I hope that through the publication of this volume, his will become much better known in America and that he will become a major player in our discussions of Christian philosophy”.

That is no small commendation!

I trust that Chris’ work will become much better known in Australia, through our secular academic institutions as well as in our theological colleges. This is first rate theology written by a fine Australian philosopher.

Finally, I need to add that I have known Chris for several years, as his Pastor and as a friend. I have valued the way his thinking has developed and sharpened, and more so, that he is living a life congruent with the ideas he articulates. For what worth does great thinking have if one can’t use it in life?

I highly recommend this volume for all who are keen students of the world