It’s not cricket: “Crucify him”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They could be crucifying him”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Barabbas,” they answered.

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

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Algorithm of Facebook

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

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

 

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

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

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

Peter Hatcher wrote for The Age,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Address at the Victorian Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harmony Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Court Judge judges marriage

In the space of a few short years, we have created a new narrative in Australia, and it is one that our culture by in large assumes to be true and indisputable: do not judge another person’s sexuality.

When I took my 2 boys to the cinema last week to watch ‘Black Panther’, a new film was previewed, ’Love, Simon’, a story of a teenager who discovers he’s gay and falls in love with a classmate. Following this was Apple’s new advertisement celebrating same sex marriage. The new morality is clear and insistent,

“what you feel is who you are”.

“Don’t change. You cannot change. It is determined from birth.”

The weakness with this logic is that some people do change, as a Federal Court Judge has recently determined. A woman who entered Australia on a student visa, married a Lebanese man who is living here on a protection visa.

From the report in the Sydney Morning Herald,

“According to the AAT, the woman’s husband had been granted a protection visa on the basis of his homosexuality and feared persecution in Lebanon.

The tribunal wrote to the woman in January last year and said it was “difficult to see how the sponsor can have a commitment to his marriage to you when he has not told you about his claimed homosexuality”.

The woman’s lawyers wrote to the tribunal and said it was “not irrational or unreasonable for a former homosexual man to undergo a radical change in his sexual desires and now be fully in love and dedicated to his wife and family”.

The woman’s lawyers urged the AAT to consider the “cogent evidence” before it pointing to a genuine relationship, including the fact that the couple had a baby daughter.

But the tribunal found the couple were not credible witnesses. It said “the gay rights movement has, for decades, fought for the acceptance of homosexuality as a sexual orientation from birth, not something that … is a matter of choice or will or accident”.

The tribunal said it did not accept “the generalised argument that it is not unknown for a previously heterosexual man who has been married and has children, to enter into a homosexual relationship”.

“Without wishing to continue to generalise, it is most likely that such homosexual men have always been homosexual and have married and had children to comply with what were considered societal norms,” the AAT said.

The tribunal said it did not “disagree that it may well be the case that some heterosexual men have homosexual desires, or vice versa, or that some people are genuinely bisexual” but this was not what the husband had claimed.”

Maybe this marriage is legitimate and maybe it’s not; I don’t know the hearts of this couple,  but I certainly wish them the very best in their marriage. It is interesting though, the one thing we have been told incessantly over the past year is that we cannot deny other peoples love, and to deny them marriage is phobic. Indeed, who are we to even define love for them? And yet, here is a case of a marriage that doesn’t fall into line with the new morality’s code of ethics, and because of that it must be bogus. Really?

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Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot was correct to dispute the Tribunal’s conclusions about sexual orientation. The notion that a person’s homosexuality is determined at birth has no scientific support and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that demonstrated that some people do change. It is quite possible that there are genetic and biological factors which influence a person’s sexual orientation, and that there are also environmental and social reasons. The fact remains, some people do experience change in their sexual orientation.

This is one of the presenting dangers with the transgender issue. Young children are being taught in our schools that if they feel as though they identify with a particular gender they must be that gender and should now start transitioning into that gender. But as the research shows, the overwhelming majority of children who experience some form a gender dysphoria will grow out of it by the time they are adults.

It would be wrong and pastorally irresponsible to ever say to someone that they can or must change their sexual orientation. No doubt there are horrific stories about well-meaning people who have inflicted all kinds of mental scarring on people because they’ve tried to force a change. This is of course, precisely the kind of conversion therapy that is now being practised in Australia, and even within our schools, with impressionable children being led down paths that will create all manner of trauma for them in the future.

It is notable that a Federal Court Judge has exposed a popular narrative, although it’s unlikely to make any serious dent in the public conversation, because facts and non conformist stories are often not taken seriously. While many Australians who identify as LGBTIQ will hold onto that identity throughout their lives, others won’t. Some people do change, and others again will continue to struggle with their gender identity or sexual inclinations, but are convinced that they should live within the sexual framework outlined in the Bible. Sadly, such diversity of personal stories rarely reach our televisions, films, and education curriculum, because they don’t fit into the narrow narrative of the new Australian myth.

There is another story worth hearing, a better story, a more certain and freeing story. It brings clarity to a culture that is becoming increasingly confused, and brings hope to people who discover that the sexual revolution doesn’t deliver on its promises. The Christian message isn’t, ‘be straight and get married’, it is far greater and extends far deeper.

I am reminded of Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony,

“when I came to Christ, I experienced what nineteenth-century Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” At the time of my conversion, my lesbian identity and feelings did not vanish. As my union with Christ grew, the sanctification that it birthed put a wedge between my old self and my new one. In time, this contradiction exploded, and I was able to claim identity in Christ alone.”

While Butterfield’s sexual orientation did change and she is now married with children, this is not the experience of everyone who has same sex attraction. Indeed, there are many Christian men and women who remain single, same sex attracted, and living fulfilled and celibate lives. This can only mean that there is something more integral and sustaining and satisfying which is found in an identity that becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

Charlotte Elliot says it so well. Her hymn, ‘Just as I am”, was made famous by Billy Graham. Even two centuries after she penned these words, they tell us of a wonderful story that can become our story,

Just as I am – and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,

To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,

Fightings and fears within, without,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind,

Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because Thy promise I believe,

-O Lamb of God, I come!