Victoria to Outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 2)

In this second post, I am turning to the question of definition. How is conversion practice being defined and what should we think about it?

The definition which the Victorian Government is suggesting is the same as that offered by the HCC report. However, before offering a comment on the definition it is worthwhile highlighting this salient point which comes from the Government’s own website for the rather Orwellian sounding, “Department of Justice and Community Safety”.

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The Government justifies limiting religious freedom

The Government has admitted that it is prepared to further limit religious freedom.

“Both the HCC and HRLC Reports highlight that many modern LGBT conversion practices are religious rather than medical in nature in that they involve, or consist entirely of, pastoral and prayer activities. Manifestation of religious belief through religious practice is protected by the right to freedom of religion. This right to manifest is not absolute and a number of commentators argue that it is not clear that it extends to practices that seriously harm others. The impact of a ban of conversion practices on the right to freedom of religion may be justified given the nature and extent of the harm described in the HCC and HRLC Reports. Legislation to implement the government announced ban on conversion practices needs to demonstrate that it is necessary, effective, and proportionate to protect LGBT individuals from harm.”

To be clear, the Victorian Government is targeting religion, and specifically, the primary focus is on Christian churches, organisations, and denominations, as the material in the 2 reports exemplifies.

The intention is also clear: without any philosophical working, the Government has assumed that sexual rights are more important than religious rights. It is, of course, a false binary, for a person’s understanding of sexual morality is always attached to religious presuppositions. Sexual expression is an expression of one’s deepest convictions about God, the world, and the individual. Having said that, we mustn’t ignore the suggestion of harm, for the wellbeing of these Victorians is important. 

 

Classical Christian teaching defined as harmful

The Government is using the argument of harm in order to limit the freedom of religious groups. Certainly, we do not want any Victorians, including LGBTI Victorians, being harmed. It is important to hear that I am not disputing that some Victorians have been subjected to practices that have caused them all manner of distress and damage. It seems as though these have come about through good intentions, but funnelled through misleading understandings of Christian faith and psychology. The definition of harm, however (as expounded in the HCC and HRLC Reports) extends beyond certain practices which are found on the margins among some religious organisations. For example,

The HCC report includes under its understanding of harm,

“Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’”

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

Notice the attention given to Church teachings (as opposed to other religions who also identify homosexual practices as sinful). In other words, classical Christian teaching about sexuality is deemed to be harmful. According to the HCC, an exposition of Romans ch.1 or 1 Corinthians ch.6 would fall under the umbrella of harm. If a Church organises a marriage enrichment day where the Bible’s presentation of marriage is affirmed, this event could fall foul of harm. From weddings to Sunday sermons, from Bible study groups to counselling sessions, in contexts where sex outside of heterosexual marriage is spoken of as sinful or broken, the Health Complaints Commissioner identifies all of the above as harmful and therefore the State can justify limiting religious freedom.

I don’t know of anyone who would argue against protecting people from genuine harm. But dragging traditional Christian teaching and ethics into the ‘harm’ category diminishes the real harm that has been done to some Victorians. Is the Health Complaints Commissioner really proposing that the Government step in to control and redefine Christian belief and practice?

The Proposed Definition of Conversion Practice

Here is the suggested definition of conversion practice:

“(i) any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,

(ii) including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.”

The Government acknowledges that there are narrow and broad definitions available and that they have chosen to accept the broader definition that has been supplied by the HCC. It is important for the Government to explain why they are preferencing a broad definition rather than a narrow one. Also, why are they seeking to expand the definition even beyond the few international jurisdictions that have proceeded to ban conversion therapy?

Let’s be clear, the proposed definition of Conversion Practice is so broad that it includes more than a psychologist’s clinic or a counselling room.

The HRLC report wants included under the umbrella of conversion practice,

“pastoral care which includes (or claims to include) ‘counselling’, ‘healing’, claims about ‘curing’, ‘changing’ or ‘repairing’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or claims about improving a person’s mental or physical health, would likely still be classified as a health service, and the above regulations would apply.”

Indeed, the definition is so expansive that it may include sermons, Bible Studies, marriage courses, counselling, and prayer. Before a Government spokesman denies this is the case, let’s turn to the reports themselves.

Under the heading of, “RELIGIOUS CONVERSION THERAPY IN AUSTRALIA TODAY”,  the HRLC report refers to new forms of conversion practice, which include promoting self-control and abstinence.

“Instead, they are beginning to promote activities designed to help same-sex attracted people live chaste and celibate lives, in accordance with the sexual ethics of their religious traditions.”

As one academic in the field of gender studies has said to me in private, according to the above assertion, “self control is conversion therapy”. In one foul stroke, significant portions of the Bible would have to be removed.

The examples don’t end there. According to the same report, affirming the historical and biblical definition of marriage is also considered a form of conversion therapy,

“This ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture equates to a more sophisticated version of the old evangelical adage, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. LGBT conversion therapy is not prominently promoted. However, LGBT people worshipping in communities that present cisgendered heterosexual marriage as the only valid form of gender and sexual expression are positioned to repress and reject their LGBT characteristics and to seek reorientation.”

Without significant revision and clarification, the Government’s plan to outlaw Conversion Practices will be used by some to impede what are normal and deeply held convictions among our religious communities.

It should also be said that religious institutions have a responsibility to prevent practices/therapies that are genuinely harmful and wrong. While I cannot speak for other religions, I know that the aim of Christianity is not to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender. I’m reminded of the testimony given by Sam Allberry,

“I am same-sex attracted and have been my entire life. By that, I mean that I have sexual, romantic and deep emotional attractions to people of the same sex. I choose to describe myself this way because sexuality is not a matter of identity for me, and that has become good news,”

“My primary sense of worth and fulfillment as a human being is not contingent on being romantically or sexually fulfilled, and this is liberating,”

“The most fully human and compete person was Jesus Christ. He never married, was never in a romantic relationship, and never had sex. If we say these things are intrinsic to human fulfilment, we are calling our saviour subhuman. “

“I have met literally hundreds of Christians in my situation, and know of thousands more, who are same-sex attracted, and who joyfully affirm the traditional understanding of marriage being between a man and a woman, and the only Godly context for sex. If you do not hear from more of us, it is because it is really hard to stand up and describe ourselves in this way…”

The Bible calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices should remain within the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. I say all this while I can without fear of being pulled up before a tribunal or court for espousing ‘conversion therapy’!

The fact is, some people over time do change. It is not a Christian teaching that homosexuals ought to become heterosexuals or that transgender people will conform to their biological sex, but it does sometimes happen, and for these reports to ignore this fact is curious, to say the least.

Conversion by coercion or conversion by choice?

As it stands, the Government’s proposal is nothing short of forced conversion. Without significant revisions, this looks like an attempt to control and redefine what religious organisations believe and teach about human sexuality and flourishing.

It is difficult not to see the Government’s grandstanding as somewhat duplicitous, given their proclivity to legislate in favour of gender and sex changes. On the one hand, the Government’s position here is that a person’s sexual orientation and gender cannot change, and supporting someone who wants to change is immoral and should be banned. On the other hand, only a few months ago the Victorian Parliament passed a Bill from the Government that gives Victorians permission to change the sex on their birth certificate, once every 12 months. And of growing concern to many people are Government policies which encourage children to transition their gender, something that State permits without parental permission and knowledge. There is growing consensus and concern amongst medical experts that these kinds of practices are indeed harmful and detrimental to the long-term physical and mental health of Victorian children.

Victoria is witnessing a fundamental clash of worldviews, one supports a healthy pluralism in our society and the other believes in conforming to a narrow and uncompromising agenda.

The Government’s current position on conversion practice is about pressuring religious groups to change their views on sexuality. If the definitions were limited to those rare, extreme, and dangerous practices that some peoples have been subjected to, there is warrant for discussion. What we are seeing thus far from the Government is unnecessary and contravenes those basic distinctions between Church and State.

Christians don’t believe in forced conversions. We believe in persuading others of a message that is good and attractive. Christianity is by definition a conversion religion. No one is born a Christian. People become Christians as they are convinced by the truthfulness and goodness of Christianity’s message, the Gospel of Jesus of Christ.

As Jesus once said to a notable leader,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Christianity posits conversion as a result of personal conviction and choice, whereas the Government’s position seems to be, convert by coercion. Indeed, placing this conversation on conversion under the “Department of Justice and Community Safety” is probably not meant to be prophetic, but the irony is certainly not be missed.

All Victorians should be concerned by the Government’s plan to ban conversion practices. Let me reiterate, the Government is indicating more than simply banning practices that have proven harmful to some individuals, they are proposing to force-convert religious organisations and churches to the theological convictions of the new secular sexual milieu.

In the future, will Churches and religious organisations in Victoria have freedom to preach, teach, and counsel and pray in line with their religious convictions? Without significant revisions to the proposed definition, the answer is probably no.

Marat’s Assassination on QandA

I’m not an anti-ABC Aussie, but sometimes I suspect they are trying to convert me.

One program I gave up on long ago is Monday night’s QandA. I wouldn’t have known about last night’s program except The Age’s Neil McMahon was praising it, and there was this one segment from the program that kept appearing and reappearing on my twitter feed all day, like a fly buzzing around the dining table in summer.

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An audience member by the name of Murray (not this Murray!) asked the question,

“When trying to bring about significant change, when is aggression and violence a better option than assertiveness, strong arguments and modelling the behaviour you expect of others?”

Among the 5 female panellists, there was no-one suggesting that we turn the other cheek or love our enemies. There wasn’t any air of justice either, just simple revenge-seeking, fear-mongering and hate.

Mona Eltahawy said,

“I have an answer for this that a lot of people do not like. I want patriarchy to fear feminism. And there is a chapter in my book on violence. There is a chapter in my book about white women who voted for Trump and white women who accept crumbs from patriarchy because they allow their whiteness to trump their gender. I’m fully aware of this. But at the end of the day, even those white women have to recognise that nothing protects them from patriarchy.

Nothing. For me, as a feminist the most important thing is to destroy patriarchy. And all of this talk about how, if you talk about violence, you’re just becoming like the men. So, your question is a really important one but I’m going to answer it with another question. How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us, to stop beating us and to stop raping us? How many rapists must we kill? Not the state, because I disagree with the death penalty and I want to get rid of incarceration and I’m with you on the police. So I want women themselves… As a woman I’m asking, how many rapists must we kill until men stop raping us?”

Fran Kelly then asked Murray what he thought of the answer. Murray (who sounds way too sensible for this program) suggested,

“if you think about bullying, bullying begets bullies, so, violence begets violence is what I’m seeing.”

Jess Hill then joined the growing chorus,

“Well, you know, it’s interesting. I think if anyone is shocked by what Mona is suggesting, you just have to look back to history and a certain faction of the suffragettes in the earlier 20th century. They used violence. They thought what they were fighting was a civil war between the sexes. They smashed windows. One suffragette actually went up to a young Winston Churchill in 1909 and whipped him with a horse whip at a railway station”. 

Reminiscent of the knitting ladies watching the guillotine in Paris during the French Revolution,  not one of the 5 women on the panel came out in opposition, instead, there was broad support for the use of mob like violence. Apparently, it is okay to assault people if you don’t like their moral or political views. In fact, it is even okay to murder them. Yep, their words are astonishing and incredibly reckless, but that’s the game of social politics today.

For a few moments, I did wonder, perhaps one or more of the panellists have experienced personal violence against them or against their family at some point. If that is the case, one can understand and even sympathise with some of the anger. I even understand the notion of self defence. But these were not just angry words, this speech was advocating violence.

In all the spittle that was landing on the studio floor last night, none of it bared any semblance of originality of thought or constructive commentary. It just sounded like the kind of neo-Trotskyism that has captivated so many parts of the Western world at this time. It has very little to do with justice and righteousness, and a lot to do self-aggrandisement.  It is a brand of social speech that’s turned into a competition to out shock your opponents. Over the last 2 years ‘cancel culture’ has become a thing: if you disagree with someone you destroy their reputation. These women have decided that cancel culture doesn’t go far enough. In the fine tradition of both the extreme left and right groups, to achieve goals we need to commit acts of violence. It’s pretty daft and it’s also dangerous.

Imagine if a male panellist advocated for violence on the program last night? It doesn’t require much imagination to know what the reaction would be if a conservative had even vaguely implied the possibility of non-State-sanctioned violence. After all, QandA’s history is littered with reasonable men and women supported ideas that even 10 years ago were considered commonsense, but today it’s considered heresy, and so they have been on the receiving end of grotesques verbal reprisals.

To justify the use of violence and murder, Mona Eltahawy claimed that,

“It’s throughout history, no-one has ever gotten their right or their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of their oppressor.”

No one? It didn’t take me long to think of someone. As I cringed through the 5 minutes clip from QandA, I remembered another video I watched, only a couple of weeks ago. It featured a young man speaking in a courtroom and addressing the woman who had murdered his older brother. Brandt Jean looked at Amber Guyger and told her that he loved her. He spoke of a God who forgives. He then asked the Judge if he could approach Guyger and give her a hug.

Which message is better? Which message is more likely to bring about a beneficial and positive outcome? What message gives hope to both the oppressed and the oppressor? The answer is pretty obvious.

The one to whom Brandt Jean pointed Amber Guyger, was the man called Christ. The records show that he was brutalised and murdered by the cancel culture crowd of first-century Judea. The astonishing thing is,  he had the position and power to avoid that outcome but he chose to undergo this ignominious suffering for the sake of those who hated him. It is, what the Bible calls, propitiation (Romans 3:25). For God so loved those who did not love him nor treat him as we ought. Perhaps next time on QandA we can have panellists sharing and advocating that kind of good news message.

Victoria to outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 1)

This is the first of a series of articles that I’m aiming to write on the topic of Gay Conversion Therapy. The Victorian Government has announced that it will introduce legislation in 2020 to ban Conversion Practice (Therapy) in Victoria. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism.

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I wrote on this topic twice last year, and on both occasions, I expressed concerns with conversation therapies. It is important for readers to hear that I am not supportive of certain practices. I have explained

“To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.”

Having said this, and without taking anything away from Victorians who have been subject to dangerous and unethical practices, there are serious questions here and concerns that must be adequately addressed by the Government before considering any legislation.

The Government has invited Victorians to give feedback on the issue, although the process appears to be a furphy. In the same opening remarks that invite Victorians to offer their views, the Government also makes it clear that they intend to ban conversion practices.

“In February 2019 the Victorian Government committed to prohibiting harmful LGBT conversion practices.

Conversion practices are any practices or treatments that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re asking Victorians to have their say. We want to know how you think the law can prevent the harm caused by LGBT conversion practices and protect and support LGBT Victorians.

The feedback you give us will inform the way the government approaches the ban and help shape the law.

The commitment to the ban follows the Health Complaints Commissioner Inquiry into Conversion Therapy report (HCC Report) which recommended the introduction of legislation to ban the practices in Victoria.”

Despite this Government exercise sounding awfully like a case of confirmation bias, I intend to proceed, for like I said above, “the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.” In addition, there are also very real and relevant issues here relating to religious freedom. I will address these in a later post.

In this post, I want to draw your attention to the Report, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justicewhich forms a basis for the forthcoming legislation. The Report was a joint exercise between 3 organisations, the Human Rights Law Centre, La Trobe University,  and the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

One might expect that an academic report of this importance would be thorough and broad, encompassing different perspectives and listening to a breadth of experiences, from those who have undergone conversion practices to those who have been practitioners and with others who have advocated against them.

Surely the researchers interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Surely dozens of organisations were included in the process for comment, both religious and secular groups. Did they interview anyone who practices conversion therapy? The answer seems to be, no. The report upon which the Victorian Government is building its case to ban conversion practice depends largely on the stories of 15 individuals who each allege a negative experience of gay conversion practices.

The report,

“reveals the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people who have struggled to reconcile their sexuality and transgender identities with the beliefs and practices of their religious community.”

“Nine participants identified as male and gay, two as female and lesbian, two as transgender, one as female and bisexual and one as non-binary. Thirteen participants were from Christian backgrounds, one from a Jewish background and one from a Buddhist background.”

Surely 15 individuals is an inadequate pool size from which to draw substantive conclusions. More importantly, the research appears to be guilty of sampling bias. The recruitment process was limited to a narrow range of networks, which inevitably biased the sampling group that would be chosen.

“Participants were recruited through social media, LGBTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks. Participants were selected, using theoretical sampling, to be broadly representative of religious and LGBT demographics in Australia, and were screened for their psychological capacity to undertake an in-depth life interview about potentially traumatic personal histories.”

Significantly, no persons from Muslim, Hindu, or irreligious backgrounds were interviewed, and only persons who were negatively impacted are included in the report. While the 15 participants are Australians, it is not known how many were recipients of conversion practices in Victoria, which I would have thought is important for the given context.

It is also important to note that the report was co-written by an LGBTI advocacy group and by La Trobe University (which is famously responsible for orchestrating the Safe Schools curriculum). The credibility of the research is further weakened by the fact that the project steering committee consisted of representatives from LGBT lobby groups and progressive religious groups. To my knowledge, not one of the advisors represents a faith group that holds to the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. Why is that so? 

In other words, from beginning to end, this report is skewed. Even before one word was written, the trajectory was obvious. In my opinion, the report is biased, narrow in its engagement with relevant parties, and relies on a selected group of advisors who are predisposed to criticise beliefs and practices that don’t fully support LGBTIQ ideologies and lifestyles.

Once again, I am not arguing against the experiences of the 15 people and neither am I advocating for the kinds of therapies mentioned in the report. Pseudo-psychological and or spiritual practices aimed at altering a person’s sexuality can be harmful.  However, the Government’s adoption of the HRLC report is no way to put together public policy, let alone for establishing Government legislation. The HRLC  report may be used as a position paper but little more.

Victorians have been given the impression that Conversion Practices are widespread across the country and endemic within religious organisations, especially among Christians. The report states that, “Nonetheless, the ideology of the conversion therapy movement has become mainstreamed in many conservative Christian communities.” The reality is very different, and despite comments like in the previous sentence, the report evidences that the practice is marginal at most.

When a journalist from the ABC contacted me back in 2017, to ask what I thought about gay conversion therapy, I answered, 

“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want  anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone  who has been.”

If these conversion therapies are not a widespread and common practice throughout Victoria, one begins to ask, why is the Government making this into such a significant public issue, even warranting laws to prohibit practices that are voluntarily undertaken by people? I suspect part of the answer lays in the proposed definition of conversion practice, which will be the subject of my next post.

 

 


There was a typo earlier, which read HCC report, not HRLC. I am since fixed this

Churches need to be more like the world?

I’ve just read Nikki Gemmell’s latest contribution to The Weekend Australian, “Why the Anglican church must evolve or die”. At first, I assumed this must be satire, for the essence of her argument is that for Churches to succeed they need to become more like majority culture!

“the majority of Australians do support same-sex marriage. It feels like the archbishop is damaging his church and Jesus’s teachings of tolerance, gentleness and inclusivity. “

“The church has been on the wrong side of public opinion recently on abortion as well as same-sex marriage. It’s slowly killing itself by refusing to open its heart to others.”

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Without question, Gemmell’s call to the Anglican Church sounds almost identical to what Jesus says, in a dysutopian Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy kind of way.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18)

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36)

It’s almost as though Jesus is saying the precise opposite of Nikki Gemmell. Jesus doesn’t think the world is always the best measure for what is good and true. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that Jesus is telling us that the world’s understanding of life is frequently at odds with God.

The wonderful paradox that is Christianity is that while the world’s beliefs oppose those of God in his word, and while God stands in judgment over a world that subverts his creational purposes, God still loves. “For God so loved the world”. This love is not a sign of moral alignment with our culture, far from it.

“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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. (John 3:16-19)

To be like Jesus isn’t to support same-sex marriage, abortion,  and a myriad of other popular moral messaging, but it does involve loving those who are different and to desire their good despite vehement disagreement.

Gemmell’s offering is such a silly argument. Only the majority are ever naive enough to believe that majority equals right. Majority opinion or minority opinion doesn’t establish a position as right or wrong, just popular or unpopular. In addition, being in opposition to majority opinion doesn’t make one’s own position any more correct. It could be the case that both groups are advocating stupid ideas. What makes Christian belief, well, Christian, is that it conforms to the Christian Bible, as rightly understood through the lens of Jesus Christ. In the case of Glenn Davies’ recent comments to Anglican Bishops, they may be uncomfortable and even sound intolerant, but Jesus and the Apostles also used pretty strong language toward leaders who attempted to subvert his Church with erring ideas. That’s the point, the Sydney Anglican Archbishop was calling out fellow bishops who have abandoned Christian doctrine in favour of popular culture.

Not only does Gemmell equate Church success with supporting what the majority of Australians believe, but she also makes another blunder by lumping everything she doesn’t like about Churches under the same umbrella of ‘bigotry’.  This is poor theology and it is misleading sociology. For example, the Sydney Anglican Diocese believes strongly in mandatory reporting, whereas the Catholic Church does not support it.  However, the former is an expression of Christian concern that arises from biblical principles, the latter is the result of longstanding tradition but not Biblical principles. Apples and Pineapples may share the same name but they are hardly the same fruit. As an Anglican, Gemmell should know better.

To be sure, Christians sometimes espouse Christianity with a distasteful tone. That is disappointing and dishonours the good news that is our message.

Nikki, Gemmell is correct about one point, and that is when she notes how Australians are confused about Churches and Christianity.

“The public image: a riven and confused church that doesn’t quite know what it stands for but is pushing people away in the process. Not only members of the congregation but non-churchgoing parents with children in Anglican schools.”

Yes, there is confusion. The average Aussie is confused because there are Churches leaders taking her advice and diluting the Christian message with the dominant moral posturing of Aussies. They are confused because there are ‘Christians’ redefining Jesus into their own image in order to support all manner of popular sexual revisionism. The answer, however, isn’t for Churches to give up Biblical Christianity and to adopt more of society’s moral inclinations. We need our Churches to be more biblical, not less. We need our Churches to be more like the Lord Jesus, not less.  For what have we offer Australian society if all we are doing is preaching the society’s values back to itself? Could it not be the case, that Christian Churches are convinced that God’s design for human life is better and more satisfying than some of the alternatives that have currently captured the imagination of pop culture?

To quote one famous Anglican Bishop, who facing the unpopularity of 16th Century England, stood firm and found himself in a public firestorm, “Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” 

The major problem with Gemmell’s presentation is that she equates Christian gentleness and tolerance with agreement of current cultural norms. For Gemmell, to be the Church of Jesus Christ is to say yes to what the majority of Australian want in regard to sexuality and abortion. What a puerile thing to say.

Does she not realise from history that Churches who align with the values of majority culture are those most likely to witness decline? While Churches who believe, teach, and practice good old fashioned Christianity are more likely to experience growth. It is a demonstrable fact of history that people have been persuaded by the truth and goodness of Jesus Christ because Churches have stood out as distinct from the surrounding culture.

I’m still not convinced that Nikki Gemmell’s piece isn’t satire. If it is,  I’m just slow to see the humour, then I apologise for my sluggishness; it is Saturday morning after all.

Kanye West’s new music language

Apart from those who’ve been culturally cryogenized throughout 2019, you’ve probably heard the rumours about Kanye West’s conversion to Christianity. Following a series of stops and starts, his newest album is now released, with the unambiguous title, Jesus is King. If it is anything to go by, the rumours seem to be true.

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The album consists of 11 songs which repeat a before and after picture of Kanye West’s life, with the dividing line being the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

West opens up about past decisions and struggles and the effect it’s had on people around him,

A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those

And in my arrogance, took a camera pose

Without any of the cultural subtleties that we’ve come to expect from public religious figures, Kanye switches on the spot light and points it directly at the person of Jesus.

I bow down to the King upon the throne

My life is His, I’m no longer my own

Shai Linne tweeted out today how Jesus is King,

“exposes the notion of hiding Jesus to reach the culture for the foolish philosophy that it is. It also exposes hearts like mine- tempted to grow complacent & lack the zeal we once had as new converts, before we had all our theological i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

So true. Where Christians so often feel like they’re as wanted as a possum in a Melbourne suburban street, Kanye West has blown open the roof. At a time when Christians have convinced themselves to tiptoe around the topic of Jesus, Kanye West has walked into the room and announced Jesus is King. For this reason, the album is a breath of fresh air. It’s like a warm weather front has hit the town to dethaw hearts that have been frozen with fear by the surrounding culture. 

It’ll be obvious to anyone who knows me, even a little, that rap is hardly my music of choice (and neither is Kenny G!). Ask me about Bach, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff and we can have a conversation. Ask me about ‘Christian’ music, and I’ll most likely roll my eyes down the corridor. Ask me about rap, and I’ll have to turn to my son for help. I know the name Kanye West. I have some vague awareness of his mega-stardom in pop culture, but like many things circa 2000, I defer to my kids to point out who is what in the world of pop music.

That means I had better leave the critical evaluation of the music to others. Maybe Jesus is King will be praised or perhaps it’ll be thrown into a box tagged ‘musical heresy’; I don’t know. I have asked my drummer playing son for his thoughts about his album, for he sees something in this musical genre that has clearly evaded my imagination.

What I do love about this album is that even though the musical style is foreign to me, I sure understand the lyrics. Isn’t a Gospel truth that the Gospel both transcends culture and language and that it can also speak into any culture with precision and power?  The musical language may not be in my lane, but the theological language is familiar and exciting and encouraging.

Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Contemplating an answer, and despite declaring Jesus to be innocent of any wrongdoing, Pilate then proceeded to have Jesus crucified. In that rejection, God revealed the answer, yes Jesus is the King and he is the saving King. Ever since that day, generations have asked the same question, Is Jesus the King, often asking and hoping that the answer is no. Through a musical language that is understandable to millions, Kanye West is declaring that the answer is yes. I hope and pray that these songs will reach a generation of Aussies and Americans, and encourage them to consider this great and momentous question.

Let me leave you with these great lyrics from the song God is,

Everything that I felt, praise theLord

Worship Christ with the best of your portions

I know I won’t forget all He’s done

He’s the strength in this race that I run

Every time I look up, I see God’s faithfulness

And it shows just how much He is miraculous

I can’t keep it to myself, I can’t sit here and be still

Everybody, I will tell ’til the whole world is healed

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, all the things He has in store

From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door

You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name

Listen to the words I’m sayin’, Jesus saved me, now I’m sane

And I know, I know God is the force that picked me up

I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup

I know God is alive, yeah

He has opened up my vision

Giving me a revelation

This ain’t ’bout a damn religion

Jesus brought a revolution

All the captives are forgiven

Time to break down all the prisons

Every man, every woman

There is freedom from addiction

Jesus, You have my soul

Sunday Service on a roll

All my idols, let ’em go

All the demons, let ’em know

This a mission, not a show

This is my eternal soul

This my kids, this the crib

This my wife, this my life

This my God-given right

Thank you, Jesus, won the fight

Anger at Archbishop Glenn Davies for saying Anglicans should believe what Anglicans believe

Outrage is one of the few certainties of our age. At times there is a good reason for anger, sometimes it’s misguided, and sometimes it’s a rhetorical weapon used for avoiding sensible discourse and argument. And yes, for third parties watching on it can be difficult to discern what is what.

Predictable parts of the media and progressive Christians are today fuming at Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop because he believes Anglicans should be Anglican.

The line that has particularly infuriated people is this,

“My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of Scripture. Please leave us.

“We have far too much work to do in evangelising Australia to be distracted by the constant pressure to change our doctrine in order to satisfy the lusts and pleasures of the world.”

 

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Robyn Whitaker of Pilgrim Theological College tweeted in response,

There’s a redefinition of “Anglican” here that is terrifying and must be utterly rejected. Christianity has always tolerated a range of views. What is being advocated by @abpdavies is a fundamentalist cult.

First of all, Glenn Davies hasn’t redefined Anglican. He is doing what he’s supposed to do, namely upholding Anglican doctrine and practice, and calling out those who are creating fracture by introducing unAnglican ideas. Indeed, it is worth noting that at the very same event where Archbishop Davies gave this address, the Synod prayed for Jay Behan, a newly appointed Bishop over a new group of churches in New Zealand who have been forced to leave the Anglican Church of NZ because it has turned away from Anglican doctrine.

Whitaker’s use of language here is designed to paint Sydney Anglicans into a religious box where all fanatics and right-wing dangerous religious people belong. The reality is very different. Sydney Anglicans belong to mainstream and historic Christian faith which is practised by many other denominations in this country and across the world. You may not like or agree with the Sydney Anglican Diocese but calling them a cult is intellectually and morally disingenuous.  Whitaker suggests “Christianity has always tolerated a range of views.”. No, and yes. Christians throughout history have agreed on some things being tertiary, but many other beliefs and practices are primary, and agree on these is necessary for continued unity and fellowship. Despite her implication, Anglicanism (as with Christianity) isn’t an endless spectrum of alternate theologies, as though I can believe whatever I want about God and call myself Anglican. Anglicanism consists of concrete beliefs and practices, which include the 39 Articles, and more important, beliefs and practices that are grounded in the Bible. As Melbourne’s Ridley College (an Anglican college) recently, stated,

“We are convinced that the biblical vision for human sexuality is clear. We also believe that it is beautiful, and that God’s commands are for our good as well as for his glory. The traditional path may be a hard one to travel, but it is the one we are called to take.”

It is interesting to note in light of her tweet that Whitaker’s own denomination (the Uniting Church), is squeezing out evangelicals who hold to the classical view of marriage. An example of this was reported in The Australian last week.

Jarrod McKenna also tweeted,

“It’s Jesus’ church. You don’t get to ask those you disagree with to leave”

Yes, it is Jesus’ Church, and that’s the point. The Lord Jesus Christ establishes and defines the Church, not us. So when people come along and declare that they no longer agree with Jesus, it is incumbent upon Churches to point this out and call them to repent. Should they decline and persist in holding to erring ideas, they ought to leave. Glenn Davies is simply acknowledging the Bible’s own processes on this matter, and it also makes sense. I should add, there is a difference between someone wrestling with the Bible’s teaching and someone who rejects the Bible’s teaching. There is an important distinction between someone struggling with doubt as they come to terms with biblical ethics and someone with knowledge deciding to say no. There is a difference between a person who is exploring the faith and a leader who has decided that no longer adhere to church doctrine.*

For example, if a member of a sporting club decides that they no longer hold to the values of the club, it is a matter of integrity that they move elsewhere. If a member of a cricket club insists that they no longer want to play cricket, but instead want to redefine the club as a lacrosse society, the right thing to do is for them to move to a sporting club that plays lacrosse.

Last month I wrote the growing schism in the Anglican Communion and argued at the time, “Of what use is a doctrinal statement if churches can freely ignore or reject articles without consequence? Of what benefit is a definition of marriage if churches and pastors can circumvent the rules and pursue alternate avenues without disciplinary procedures both defined and enacted? These clergy and churches have either broken fellowship or they have not.”

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney is acting with pastoral awareness of the churches and is using commonsense.

If an Anglican no longer holds to Anglican beliefs and practices, they can no longer be described as Anglican in any meaningful way and so it’s a matter of integrity that one stops pretending to be so. If a football player changes clubs, it is inappropriate for them to wear the jumper of their previous club. Be honest about it and go support the team you’re now playing for.

I understand why some people don’t like what Glenn Davies has said. Some people may not agree with his views, but he is being consistent with the teaching and practice of Anglicanism (and indeed with that of Christian denominations around the world). As a leader of that Diocese, he has the responsibility under God to “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9), “to contend for the faith” (Jude 3), and “to keep watch over the flock” (Acts 20).

What especially grieves me amidst this ongoing issue is not only the way progressives publicly misconstrue the true nature of mainstream Christian Churches but the fact that they also misconstrue to everyday Aussies the good news of Jesus Christ. The Gospel doesn’t affirm 21st Century sexual ethics, it is offers something better, more astonishing and good.

If I may defer to Ridley College once more,

“We acknowledge that homosexuality is a difficult topic to discuss. This is not because the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is especially unclear, but because its implications are so deeply personal. We are Bible scholars, but we are also people. All of us have wrestled with God’s teaching on marriage on a personal level as it relates to those we love –  our children, our friends, those we pastor  –  and indeed to our own lives.

“We rejoice with the many gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted men and women in our churches who love Jesus and are quietly committed to following him on this path, trusting him with their whole lives even, and perhaps especially, with their sex lives. The church as a whole can learn much from their example about what following Jesus looks like as we await his return. Jesus calls us to give up our lives, take up our cross, and follow him no matter the cost. If, for some of us, life has become a little too comfortable, a little too much like the world, incurring too little a cost, then we might look to these celibate gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted saints whose lives can serve as a living, breathing sermon, an example to follow, and a reminder not only of the cost of following Jesus but also that he is worth giving up anything to follow.“

 

 


*It should be noted that the Archbishop’s comments were directed toward bishops and clergy of the Anglican Church. This is a distinction that the media is overlooking

Ellen DeGeneres is told to change her friends

According to The Age columnist, Robert Moran, progressives will now choose our friends. We don’t have to worry about making friends any longer because they have stepped in and will select suitable friends for each of us, that is, if you deserve a friend.

Ellen DeGeneres and I share little in common. For one thing, I’d prefer to watch the hands of a clock rotate around for an hour overviewing daytime television with Hollywood celebrities salivating over each other under the guise of ‘interview’. However, Ellen DeGeneres did and said something that I thought was refreshing and encouraging to hear, as did millions of other people.

DeGeneres was spotted sitting with President Bush at an NFL game last week. If that was bad enough, the two appeared to be enjoying each other’s company. Within a nano second, social media begun to meltdown again as left handed trolls shook their fists with rage.

The fact that Ellen DeGeneres is Hollywood and that she cuts a significant slice of the intersectional pyramid, wasn’t enough to save her from this social heresy. She has apparently betrayed her own, not just because she was caught being nice to a conservative politician, but she then had the gall to suggest it’s ok to be friends with people who don’t agree with you.

“Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush…In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.”

Writing for The Age, Robert Moran has joined the screechy chorus against Ellen Degeneres’ choice of friends.  Amidst the  air of superiority in which progressives hover over the rest of us mortals, Moran didn’t even bother to disguise his condescension toward those who differ from him,

“We all have that polite, otherwise lovable, friend or acquaintance who at some point mutters some off-colour remark about abortion rights, or immigration, or Soundcloud rap”.

I don’t even know what Soundcloud rap is. Is it that bad?

On the other hand, Moran wants to tell us about “Hollywood good guy, Mark Ruffalo”.

Moran counts the Incredible Hulk as a more suitable friend in life because lashed out at DeGeneres’ choice of friends. Ruffalo tweeted,

“Sorry, until George W. Bush is brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War, (including American-lead torture, Iraqi deaths & displacement, and the deep scars—emotional & otherwise—inflicted on our military that served his folly), we can’t even begin to talk about kindness.”

Doesn’t Gruffalo, sorry, Ruffalo realise that he isn’t a member of the intersectional pyramid, with all his whiteness and maleness and wealth? How can he forget rule no.1 in today’s society: he’s not allowed to question someone on the intersectional pyramid, even if he is as angry as the Incredible Hulk. Or does his eerie ability to turn green elevate him up a few spots?!  What is clear, both Hollywood and the media are a forgiving bunch, because Ruffalo’s object of disdain involved a Bush. The double standards and hypocrisy stand out more than an oversized green man smashing cars through downtown Manhattan.

This entertainment reporter  informs his readers that,

“Ellen needs new friends and, specifically, regular types”

“I’ve found Ellen’s uncomfortable misstep offers a useful reminder: not to “be kind to everyone”, but to be a Mark Ruffalo.”

Think about it. Surely, it is a sad state of affairs when journalists begin telling us whom we can and can’t be friends with. This is further evidence of how our culture has drifted far away from civility and sanity.

Thank you, Robert Moran, for telling a woman what kind of friends she ought to have. And it is so kind of you to remind us all “not to “be kind to everyone””! Upon short reflection I think I’ll take my cue from someone else.

One of the greatest privileges I have each week is to open the Bible and to tell people about Jesus Christ. Jesus expressed kindness to people who were unlike him. Jesus chose to be friends with people whom the cultural elites thought were unworthy of friendship. Jesus loved those who were unlikable, regardless of their station in life: a national leader or a wealthy businessman, a child, or a prostitute. As Jesus did so, his detractors retorted with similar moronic style, “‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ They believed they were mocking Jesus, but how mistaken they were. Isn’t this the type of kindness we need more of as a society?

The Bible reminds me to “be kind to everyone”. Ellen DeGeneres has taken a note from this book (whether she realises this or not, I don’t know). Kindness is more powerful and more beautiful than the Hulk like impressions that clog up our newspapers and twitter feeds. Well done Ellen DeGeneres. Thank you for looking outside the glass pyramid and for sticking with friends who are unlike you.