Harmony Day & a vision for belonging

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 to make another speech. One doesn’t want to be caught out by not wearing the right uniform of the day!

This Tuesday schools are celebrating Harmony Day. While the day is actually March 21, as the date fell on the weekend, schools are commemorating Harmony today. 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, 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 Tuesday 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 2021, 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. We can be thankful for the ‘harmony’ that is experienced in Australia and we can continue to strive to do better.

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.

The book of Acts in the Bible gives an  account of Christianity’s growth in the First Century AD. One of the book’s chief concerns is demonstrating 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 only days 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 haven’t celebrated a single day of ‘Harmony’, 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 Columbia, Chile and the USA, to China, India and the Middle East.

VCAT Given New Powers to Investigate Christians for Praying

Which society is the following report depicting?

“human rights commission intends to use the full range of its new powers to investigate church groups and other organisations engaged in gay conversion practices, including seizing documents and pursuing them in court if they do not comply with orders.

The Andrews government gave the commission wide-ranging powers as part of its ban on gay conversion practices earlier this month, and Ms Hilton said the commission would not be shy about using them….”

“…Under the reforms, anyone can make a report to the commission about change and suppression practices from any member of the community.

“The commission can then investigate that complaint, but it also has significant power to conduct “own-motion” investigations where there is indication of serious or systemic problems.

This could involve forcing a person or organisation to take, or refrain from taking, certain actions to comply with the Equal Opportunity Act. Such undertakings and notices will be enforceable at VCAT. The commission will also have the power to compel documents and other information, and will educate the community to prevent such practices from occurring.”

If I had removed references to Victoria and Daniel Andrews, one could be forgiven for thinking the report was describing an authoritarian State like China or Iran. Surely this story in The Age  isn’t talking about a free and democratic society where the people have the right to discuss, debate, persuade, and even to help one another; sadly, this is Victoria. 

Sinicization is not only an agenda being forced upon the Chinese people by an authoritarian regime. We now have our own version here in Victoria as the State now subjects its citizens to new invasive and extreme laws that will strip people of basic freedoms of conscience, speech and association. Perhaps we should call it, Victorianization.  

The Victorian Parliament last month passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

Under this Act, criminal charges can be laid and convicted persons may face up to 10 years imprisonment and fines of $200,000. There is also a civil avenue for people wishing to make complaints against fellow Victorians, and it’s these new powers given to VCAT that are the focus of The Age’s story. 

An anonymous complaint is a sufficient reason for VCAT to open an investigation, compel you to produce personal documents and information, and force you to attend reeducation programs that will teach you what to believe about sexuality and gender. 

Dishonesty and misinformation have sadly controlled much of the recent debate. First of all, Government reports glaringly avoided the historical reality of how conversion therapy came from mainstream psychology and not from religious groups. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that aversion therapies were taught at a university here in Melbourne and practiced by doctors. Second, contrary to rhetoric offered by the Government and activist groups, conversion practices (ie aversion therapy) were always rare and unusual in religious settings. These are groups who blindly followed what was considered mainstream science at the time.

However, instead of  limiting legislation to banning an archaic practice that everyone agrees is wrong, the Parliament has outlawed praying and even talking with another person about sexuality and gender. People are free to discuss, pray, and counsel so long as their view of sexuality and gender conforms to the current set of theories being preached by activists. One problem is that these theories are so fluid, that even activists can’t keep up with the latest moral rights and wrongs.  It is worth highlighting that gays and lesbians and feminists have all expressed concerned that these new laws will prevent people from seeking the care and support that they have every right to find. 

What would Jesus do? How were early Christians encouraged to respond to questions about sexuality? Certainly with grace and kindness, to love and serve others, and to affirm the pattern given by God in Scripture. Indeed, all these factors belong together.

For example, on one occasion Jesus was asked a question about marriage and divorce. Jesus engaged in a discussion and responded to the questioner by affirming how marriage is between a man and a woman. Jesus says all other sexual activity is immoral.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19)

The Apostle Paul wrote a personal letter to a group of people. He cited their sexual behaviour and called for change.

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mennor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”. (1 Corinthians 6:10-11, 18-19)

One of the assumptions attached to today’s sexual ethics is that orientation ought to be expressed sexually. If you feel a certain way, it ought to be affirmed and lived. For Christians, the Bible suggests an alternative choice and a more fulfilling identity. The Bible describes Jesus Christ as the most complete human being to ever live and he never had sex with anyone. To encourage a person to follow Jesus’ example is now anathema and yes, even illegal in Victoria. 

Should people be free to talk about sexuality and gender, even encouraging a Christian view, without fear of the State hauling them before a tribunal?

Should churches have the freedom to encourage their members to live in accord with Christian beliefs on marriage, sex, and gender? 

In case readers assume that these laws are only targeting clergy, anyone can be investigated and anyone charged.

The Government told The Age that they are willing to have one discussion with the faith community. Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton holds out an olive branch (poison ivy, to be accurate), 

“We’ll be working with survivor groups but will also be working with faith leaders because it’s an opportunity to create an understanding…”

“Kristen Hilton told The Age her office also wanted to educate faith leaders and the broader community about the harm caused to LGBTI people by suggesting there is something wrong with homosexuality.”

The State, with all its spiritual insight and theological astuteness, is going to educate Churches about what we can and cannot say and pray? I don’t think so. Can we not coexist as good neighbours despite holding onto a different worldview? The State is not God, the Premier is not Archbishop, and VCAT is not the board of Elders. Let the reader understand, we are not talking about the law prohibiting invasive and harmful treatments that doctors were once trained to deliver, we are talking about banning consensual conversations and praying with people who are wanting to engage.

Activists have lobbied for Victorian society to be radically rewired and the Government has done their bidding. The average Victorian ought to be familiar with this imposition and overreach. Religious Victorians are now faced with a decision, will we obey Caesar or will follow God? This is not a choice that should ever be forced on people’s but it is the position in which many Victorians now find themselves. 

It’s not ‘gestational parent’, she’s a mother

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words?  (from 1984)

If you believe words like mum and dad, or brother and sister, or wife and husband speak to a normal state of affairs and reflect relations that are good and healthy, one might be forgiven for being surprised when your employer pulls you up for being discriminatory and even bigoted. 

Calls to de-gender persons and relationships are taking off around the globe. In the United States House Democrats recently declared their intentions to avoid speaking of mothers. A maternity ward in a UK hospital announced that instead of talking about ‘breastfeeding’, staff would use the term, ‘chest feeding’ and instead of ‘pregnant women’ doctors and nurses will refer to ‘pregnant person’. 

The ANU (Australian National University) doesn’t want to be left behind. The Daily Telegraph reports,

“Academics at the nation’s top university have told staff to stop using the word “mother’’ and replace it with “gestational parent”, while a “father’’ should now be referred to as a “non-birthing parent” in order to deliver gender-inclusive education.

The Australian National University’s Gender Institute Handbook instructs tutors and lecturers to use terms like “chestfeeding’’ instead of breastfeeding and “human or parent’s milk’’ instead of the phrase “mother’s milk’’.

“Do not worry if you make a mistake, simply acknowledge it and correct yourself,’’ the handbook instructs.

“Language habits take practice to overcome, and students respect the efforts you make to be inclusive.”

While the directives are a guide and not mandatory, it doesn’t require much imagination to realise that guidelines soon enough become rules and requirements. 

Universities were once exciting places of discovery and inquiry. The sciences studied the world to gain knowledge of what is true. The arts encouraged creativity and exploration of the imagination. Sadly, the university of today can ill afford to value scientific fact or applaud freedom of expression. Today, a university education is more concerned with social engineering and training the next generation to think and live in conformity to the new groupthink. In case anyone assumes that what happens at uni stay at uni, think again. What is taught at university soon becomes adopted throughout the rest of society. 

In the Daily Telegraph article, they interviewed language academic, Dr Neil James. He pointed out,

“It is very powerful, the way you describe a term can have a loading and can have that social engineering purpose…Choosing particular terms will steer community attitudes.”

Of course, this is the precise point. Language means control. Redefining words is about changing the way people think and the way we live. The aim is to create a new reality. 

This isn’t new. Language has been used to control and influence people since the world’s first lie. What is new is the way we are being made to feel psychologically unstable and even ashamed for believing in some of life’s basic truths. This madness didn’t begin yesterday; the horse bolted decades ago. Marriage was redefined and children in the womb reclassified. What we are facing today is simply the latest chapter of the revolution to reinvent sex and gender. Man and woman have become virtually meaningless words, representative of the bad old phobic days. The modern priests of orthodoxy kindly inform us that meaning pivots on the self and ones personal impulses. To impose names beyond the individual is to cause harm and create an unfair society. Hence, we must no longer speak of mother’s feeding their babies breast milk, but of person’s offering chest milk. 

Sex and gender are politicised. Nothing is to interfere with the project of modern self realisation. Traditional understandings, as essential and commonsense as they may be, must be eradicated in the name of expressive individualism. It can be observed with more than a dose of irony that the most committed individualists are among the most insistent on imposing new meanings and new words on everybody else.  

Does it matter?

First of all, effective communication is becoming harder. We can no longer trust our eyes and our senses to make reasonable conclusions. We stumble over our words as we try to find the accepted doublespeak. How is the new mother, sorry, the ‘gestational parent’? Are you the non ‘birthing parent’? Apart from sounding like idiots, the problem is, the rules around language are constantly changing. There is always potential that employees will be publicly shamed simply because they are not up to date with the latest metamorphosization of words. 

To misspeak can cost you your reputation and career. The process begins with an announcement of what is deemed acceptable speech. Self appointed hermeneutists then provide new definitions and education materials to instruct us how to repent of our ways and to use the right words. This leads to fear and to submission, for who wants to be singled out as a social heretic and bigoted person?

Second, the project that is designed to bring about equality and human dignity is in fact dehumanising. The distinctive, beautiful, and irreplaceable role of motherhood is taken away. Women’s sport will soon be a thing of the past. To refer to God as Father is now ridiculed by theologians and pastors who want to remain in the good pleasures of society’s bishops. Belief that only a biological woman can be a mother now contradicts ANU’s speech guidelines, despite the fact that this is a fact. Mothers and fathers are being erased from the culture’s new book of life, and inscribing a baby”s gender at birth is now controversial and potentially an infringement on the baby’s rights.

However, to call a mother, mother, and a father, father is not to diminish the personhood of those who are not. Rather, it is recognising and honouring a social good and social necessity. 

We will do well to also recognise that there are people who genuinely feel as though they are living in the wrong body or who struggle to reconcile gender and sex. The answer is not to take man and woman and mum and dad to the deconstuctors. A society that ignores biology and the most basic of relational entities is not progressive, it becomes oppressive. This is a sign of a culture in trouble. We are not witnessing a new age of enlightenment, but a culture that is exhausted and declining. If we can no longer recognise and name mum and dad, or boy and girl, we have become like the painter who can no longer identify colour or shape, or the musician who no longer recognises pitch or rhythm. Everything is dismantled and becomes unrecognisable.

For the Christian, it will not do for us to simply hold onto patterns that even a short while ago were assumed by society as a moral good. Christians affirm categories of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother (as do many others who share a different worldview). Yet, Christians also look above and ground our worth in another category. Christians ground the value of personhood in the Bible’s affirmation of the imago dei. This thinking is quite unique to Judeo-Christianity and it is wonderfully liberating. All people are made in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth and dignity. Not everyone is a man or a woman or a mother or a father, but all share the imago dei

The Christian view pushes even further. The man Jesus Christ is described as the representative for all people and the perfect substitute for all humanity. The Son of God became incarnate. In the person of Jesus Christ we find God who understands and empathises with human struggles and one who redeems. I suspect Hebrews ch.2 won’t find a place in a university’s guidebook any time soon, but I reckon these words are far more affirming and loving and good.

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?

You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor

and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,“I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Victoria Bans Conversion Practices Despite Significant Flaws in the Bill

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)

What do we do when good is defined as bad? What is a godly reaction to a society that formally deems Christian beliefs as wrong. How can we respond when a Government makes illegal practices that have been part of Christian religion since the beginning of the Church and have their foundation in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ? 

To be very clear, I am not talking about aversion practices and nonconsensual activity that stems from pseudo-science and bad theology. Church leaders including myself have repeatedly spoken against such things and believe they have no place in our churches. I am talking about prayer and conversation. What happens when people of faith are prohibited by law from praying and speaking in line with our Christian beliefs, even when people come to us for help and ask? If someone is offended, I can be reported to VCAT. If someone alleges ‘harm’, the criminal charges can be laid.

The Victorian Parliament last night adopted the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. None of the reasonable amendments offered by different Legislative Council members were accepted. I believe there will now be a 12 month implementation period before the Acts come into law.

Amongst other things, the Conversion Practices Bill criminalises prayer and conversation where one person aims to persuade another that pursuing certain sexual activity or change is not the best course of action. A prayer for sexual abstinence can be considered ‘suppression’ and therefore illegal. Sermons are not targeted in this Bill, although the recently resigned Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, explained in the Parliament that sermons may be included at a later date. 

Under this Act, if Jesus shared his views with an individual or prayed with someone who came to him because they were struggling with their sexual or gender identity, Jesus could face criminal charges and time in prison. Why? Jesus taught that all sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman are immoral (cf Matthew 19). Of course Jesus’ view, which upholds the teaching of the Bible, form the beliefs that Christians carry today and that shape our lives.

During tonight’s debate, on member of the Legislative Council asked the Attorney General, 

‘How will the Government up-skill ministers and pastors so that they know where the line in what they can and cannot say to people about sexual orientation and gender identity?’ (my paraphrase of the question) 

What a revealing question! The Attorney General indicated that education materials will be made available. In other words, religious people must defer to the Government’s doctrine.

One of the disappointments in the surrounding debate is how Victorians have been told that this Bill will not intrude on religious freedoms. Even in the Legislative Council today, members simply denounced concerns as though anyone daring to raise issues is either barking mad or of evil intent. This public display has turned out to be one of the great gaslighting projects in the State’s history. There is so much gaslighting going on that the whole of Melbourne could create a new energy supply, only like coal and it’ll have side effects that outlast Climate Change. 

For example, Victoria’s new Attorney General last night claimed on Twitter that the Bill does not ban prayer. The problem is, the Bill expressively prohibits prayer. Illegal practices include, “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice” (5.3B). 

If someone asks for prayer, that they might live a sexual life in accord with Biblical principles, and I then pray in accord with this request, I will be breaking the law and I can face criminal charges. 

Another example appeared on the ABC today. Nathan Despott of the Brave Network, said of the Bill,

“It [the Bill] is precise and nuanced. It targets harm where it occurs, it does not stop conversations”.

The Bill doesn’t stop conversation? Let’s take a look at the Explantory Memorandum that accompanies the Bill,

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.” (Bold is my emphasis)

Religious freedom issues are only some of the concerns that have been raised about this Bill. Feminist and LGB groups are concerned that the Bill will send vulnerable children down are dangerous path, as has been demonstrated in the UK’s recent High Court Case, Bell vs Tavistock. The Government ignored legitimate and reasonable concerns articulated by some of Australia’s pre-eminent legal minds and medical experts. Dr Philip Morris, President the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists, has explained how this Bill may prevent doctors from offering due patient care. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have expressed concerns. The list continues.

Health Minister Martin Foley flicked these concerns away as though they were the rumours of ignorant people. The Australian reported yesterday,

“Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley has dismissed concerns from the Australian Medical ­Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists regarding the ­Andrews government’s gay conversion therapy bill, describing them as “misplaced”.

To those who have called for amendments, especially when it is religious Victorians speaking, Government members have had the gaul to respond with insult. Those who dare question the Bill are referred to as ‘bigots’ and ‘quacks’. 

Premier Daniel Andrews has said,

“it is cruel. To wrap that bigotry in faith is an insult all of its own … in this debate some faith leaders have been critical of these provisions, critical of a law to ban the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable. This is not kindness and love or the protection of the vulnerable and persecuted. This is not something to be proud of.”

When a Government ignores the concerns of leading medical and legal experts and resorts to slandering concerned citizens, it is understandable that people feel uneasy. 

Just in case we’re thinking that the only objection is to a few practices, think again. This Victorian Government made clear that the Christian view of sexuality is an underlying problem. 

Jill Hennessy said in the Parliament, “These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria.”

The Government’s LGBTIQ Commissioner explained,

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

Yes, churches sometimes get things wrong. Yes, in the past a few religious organisations acted foolishly and wrongly; no one is pretending otherwise. Yes, there are awful stories of people being mistreated because of their sexuality, and where wrong was done repentance ought to come. But this Parliamentary Act is no fair handed solution. In short, in order to catch a rat this Government proposed that the State blow up the whole building. 

The Victorian Parliament has adopted the harshest laws anywhere in the world and with the heaviest possible penalties.

Victoria’s Premier may exhibit the ego of Apollo but he isn’t God. The Victorian Parliament is not the ultimate arbiter of righteousness. Christians are called by God to submit to Governing authorities, to pray for them and to obey them. We should continue to do so. What happens though when a Government oversteps its jurisdiction and demands greater allegiance than is given them?

Churches and religious organisations now need to prepare their people to understand the many implications of the new laws. Pastors, Principals, and parents should educate their congregations, employees, and families to discern how they will live faithfully in this new environment.

Take note, this Bill is not the end of the story. Expect the further steps to limit religious freedoms in Victoria. This is not fear mongering or hyperbole; this is taking on board the words of Government ministers. Even before the Bill was voted, the Government indicated that the list of prohibitions may be extended after 12 months, even to include sermons. Plan for some very difficult days to come.

And continue to do good. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians whom he refers to as ‘exiles’. They were exiles because the Apostles knew that this world isn’t our home. Our current place of residence is temporary. We love being Aussies and living in Melbourne. We appreciate and value the life that’s enjoyed in Victoria. We serve our fellow Victorians and desire good for them. We are part of local communities who share life with Victorians from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. However, this isn’t the ultimately it. Perhaps we need to learn the lesson that so many believers have understood in other parts of the world: hold less tight to the things on earth and turn our attention to that which Christ directs our affections and hope.

Peter wrote this sentence which is perfectly apt for Victorian Christians today, 

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

A few verses later Peter directs our attention to Jesus,

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”.

Let us not give up doing good. Should people stop loving others because of unjust laws? If that were the case, many erroneous movements in history would have succeeded.

I pray that the new context in which Victoria now finds itself will be used of God to refine our own hearts and to reform our ways as churches. I pray that LGBT Victorians will be protected from harm and that despite these unjust laws, the good news of Jesus Christ will continue to be heard and embraced like never before in our State.

No doubt many people will celebrate tonight’s decision, and those who voted for the Bill will believe they have done right. Triumphalism fades in the morning. One day our consciences will stir and the reality of the poor decision will strike home. In the meantime, the very law that is aimed at preventing harm will in fact inflict State sanctioned harm on vulnerable people and against religious people who have simply answered questions and prayed a prayer.

When Victoria Becomes Babylon

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” (Daniel 6)

When the State wants to control prayer

A few short years ago almost everyone would be shocked to learn that praying for a person who asks for prayer would be considered illegal activity and lead to 10 years in prison.

That is the situation facing Victorians.

This is not hyperbole. This isn’t exaggeration. Next week the Victorian Legislative Council will vote on one of the most extraordinary pieces of law ever proposed in our nation’s history.

Imagine an Australia where two people are having a conversation about life issues and they are trying to encourage and persuade one another. The police are called, one person is taken away and charged because they sought to persuade the other with the Bible’s view of sexuality.

As we become more aware that treatment for children with gender dysphoria is often led by ideology and not by best medical practice, the Victorian government is instead deciding to further enforce ideology at the expense of medical professionalism and the rights of parents to love and raise the children. Can you imagine an Australia where children are taken away from mum and dad because they’re convinced that changing their child’s gender at a young age is not wise or healthy.

In a country where there are already thousands of laws that can lead to fines of $100s and even $1000s, people found on the wrong side of Victoria’s new Conversion or Suppression Practices Act may face fines of up to $200,000.

Sadly this isn’t a dystopian fantasy. Unless the Legislative Council wisely sends the Government’s Bill to committee for significant revision and amendment, this will soon become law in my state of Victoria.

The Victorian State Government last year presented a Bill that will dramatically change the relationship between Church and State. The ‘Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020’ aims to outlaw practices that do not fully and without question, affirm the current popular view of sexuality and gender. This includes consensual prayers with individuals and conversations with individuals. Breaking this law may result in up to 10 years imprisonment and finds of up to $200,000. The Bill received majority vote in the Legislative Assembly late 2020, and it will be debated and voted on next week in the Legislative Council.

To be clear, as I and others have said a 1000 times, everyone agrees that in a few fringe groups there used to be dreadful practices used on people who were asking for help. No one takes issue with opposing aversion practice. However, this Bill extends far beyond the banning of these few and archaic practices. The Victorian Government aims to outlaw what are basic, historical, and Biblical Christian views and practices.

Associate Professor Neil Foster is among those in the legal fraternity issuing significant concerns about this Governmental overreach, 

“The scope of this legislation goes well beyond the specific ‘injury’ offences that are created (while these are problematic enough),” comments Neil Foster, Associate Professor in law at the University of Newcastle. “The bill creates a powerful set of bureaucratic mechanisms by which religious groups presenting the classic teachings of their faith may be subject to investigation and ‘re-education’ by human rights officers.

“It arguably makes the presentation of some aspects of Biblical teaching unlawful if the aim of that teaching is to encourage someone to follow that teaching in their own life. Despite the appearance of addressing horrific and oppressive quasi-psychological procedures inflicted on young people, the bill goes well beyond this laudable goal, and will make it unlawful to provide assistance in obeying the Bible to those who explicitly and with full understanding request such help. Enactment of this legislation would be a serious mistake.”

There are legitimate concerns being raised not only by lawyers, but also feminist groups, LGBT people, and religious leaders. Instead of tackling a rare issue with precision, the Government is bring out the flame thrower and setting the entire bush of fire. And then, when reasonable minds challenge the Premier, he unfortunately responds with sledging and accusing fellow Victorians as being bigoted and hateful. Instead of civil conversations on important issues, we face insult and slander. 

Returning to Daniel for a moment (the Bible man not the Premier). In that famed story about the lion’s den we should note that Daniel wasn’t praying to God in front of the royal court. He wasn’t running down mainstream Babylon with placards and praying with a megaphone. He wasn’t pining anyone against the wall and praying without their consent. He was in his own home, praying in accord with his convictions. For Babylon’s cultural police, who didn’t wait 2400 years for the invention of Big Brother, they sent in their spies and informants to catch out those who dare defied the religious orders of the Government. This will soon be Victoria. Churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, and homes will need to begin planning for this kind of eventuality. 

Parents are targeted in this Bill

It is not only religious groups who are being threatened, this Bill impacts health professionals and even parents. 

Assoc Prof Foster details how the Bill poses genuine threats to personal conversations and relationships, 

“I see nothing in the bill to say it might not apply to conversations within a family context or just between friends. In section 9 of my latest blog, I refer to the deliberately obscure ‘example’ that is put into the Family Violence legislation involving a child critiquing a parent for their same-sex attraction. [This is part of the legislative package with the conversion bill] The example is there, I think, to make it clear that –

    • The Family Violence law can be extended to the obviously analogous case of a parent urging a child not to engage in same-sex activity; but also
    • To illustrate the fact that the sort of behaviour caught by the bill can happen between family members! Now the amending provision itself only operates for the FV Act, but as it is part of a “package” of amendments, I think it sends a signal that conversion or suppression practices (CSP) can be carried out by family members.
    • I do say in Section 1 [of the blog] that the relevant exception protecting health practitioners ‘does not apply to counselling or advice given by pastors or fellow congregation members or teachers or parents’.”

“In short, a CSP can be ‘conduct’ (a one-off incident), under section 5 it is not limited to being carried out by any organisational office holder, and under section 9 we see that ‘a person’ contravenes the Act if ‘the person’ carries out a CSP.

“So, yes, the prohibitions will apply to someone who is a family member or a friend.”

Victoria in Danger of losing secular status.

A secular society is no longer secular once it interferes with church and religion, to the staggering extent that this Bill will orchestrate. Instead of the State and Churches working together as partners for the good of society, the State is now assuming the role of Archbishop and laying down dictates as to what religious people may and may not believe teach and practice.

We are witnessing the erosion of the healthy distinction between state and church. The hypocrisy is all the more egregious when we recall how mainstream media and social commentators damned Scott Morrison to hell for offering a prayer during the bushfire crisis last season. But when Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, spoke in Parliament and decried religious ‘bigots’ (that is, those who actually believe the Bible) the Premier was praised.

While we must be concerned about the recent rise of Christian nationalism in some parts of the world, we should also be concerned with the rise of civic religion. The current Victorian Government has made past overtures to take control of religious groups, this latest attempt looks as though it will be successful. Do secular Victorians really want Government dictating religious prayers and conversations? 

A healthy and pluralistic society shouldn’t want to prescribe laws banning prayer or religious conversations on issues like sexuality and gender. But such is the situation now facing Victoria. Those who in 2017 preached that same sex marriage will never lead to religious discrimination have proven to be false prophets. 

Daniel (again, the Bible man not the Victorian politician!) faced this dilemma in Babylon. Would he follow an outrageous law of an authoritarian figure or will he continue to trust and obey the God he loves? Would he pray in line with Governmental directives or will pray in accord with his convictions? Yes, it seems so insanely ridiculous to even pose the question; but that’s Victoria in 2021. Of course, there have been many Governments since Babylon who’ve tried to control the prayers of the people. Does anyone remember Henry VIII, bloody Mary, and James 1? History teaches us that in the long run, it doesn’t bode well for Government or society to tell people of faith how to pray or preach or counsel.

No Victorian is being thrown into a lions den, but years of imprisonment and enormous fines are on the offering for those who hold to their religious convictions and seek to share the good news with others. Parents face having children taken from them. If criminal charges don’t stick, there is a civil tribunal waiting for us. Should a complaint be made, even anonymously, that is enough for Government bureaucrats to kick into gear and have religious people and parents dragged before a tribunal and even forced to attend reeducation courses. 

I am calling on members of Victoria’s Legislative Council to delay vote on this highly contentious Bill, and to receive amendments. 

I commend these sensible amendments that are being proposed by Mark Sneddon, Executive Director, Institute for Civil Society here in Melbourne.

Proposed Amendments to the Bill

  • The Bill should only ban “conversion practices” directed to a child or to a person with impaired capacity, but not to an adult who has consented to the practice.
  • The bill should not ban conduct by family and community members but restrict the ban to  conduct by health services providers
  • The bill should protect conduct by health service providers which in their reasonable professional judgment is clinically appropriate
  • The provisions dealing with change or suppression of gender identity should be removed because they are incoherent and they will push clinicians into an uncritical affirmation approach to gender transition
  • The bill should permit communication of religious beliefs to all people and permit religious counselling, pastoral care and prayer for people over 16 with informed consent and the right to leave
  • VEOHRC’S powers under the bill should be the same as under the equal opportunity act in dealing with discrimination and exclude new compulsory powers and issuing enforcement notices

4 Considerations for Christians wanting to engage in political activism

The below article was originally written for 9Marks Journal (Autumn 2020). In light of the events transpiring in Washington DC and the disturbing images of ‘Christians’ using Jesus’ name and even raising a large wooden cross outside the Capitol Hill building, I wonder if people may find this of some help for traversing the pitfalls of religion and politics.


I should point out at the start that I am reflecting and writing as an Australian who is pastoring a Church in Melbourne. That is to say, my context is different to that of Manhattan, Memphis, and Miami. Accordingly, some of my comments may need recalibration or will look a little different in another cultural setting. Whether our location is the Great Southland or some other part of the globe, one thing is certain, conversation about religion and politics is thwarted with pitfalls and precipices. While recognising the potential dangers, I do believe there is a place for Christian activism in the political sphere.

I want to offer 4 theological and pastoral suggestions in considering why and how Christians can be political activists. 

1. Be clear who you are serving: Jesus is Lord of all

“In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12:21)

Jesus is Lord both over creation and over the Church, “All things were made by him and for him”. There is no domain over which he does not rule and which we are not held accountable. Is there a blade of grass or family home or hall of power where the Lordship of Christ has no jurisdiction?

“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

Authoritarian secularism is on the rise in Australia, especially in my State of Victoria. Aussies have traditionally had a laissez faire relationship with churches, respecting their role and voice in the public square, even it they often chose to ignore it. This has been effectively dismantled over the past decade. Where churches were once politely acknowledged in society, Christianity is now considered by many as a danger that needs to be silenced, or at the very least, controlled. There exist few constitutional and legal protections for religious institutions in Australia. Somewhat ironic, accompanying this growing social mood to push religion out of the public square is a growing agenda to increase Governmental control over religious freedoms, even to influence what religious organisations may and may not teach on controversial issues, including marriage and human sexuality. 

Should Christians listen to these calls and abandon the public square and remove themselves from the world of politics? I certainly understand why many Christian feel like withdrawing, and there are fair arguments for doing so. However, I want to contend that if Jesus is Lord over all and if God’s ways remain good and if Governments are put in place by God for the wellbeing of society,  Christians (at least some) should remain active in politics and societal engagement.

2. Be clear about the domain into which you are speaking: the distinction between church and state

Jesus is Lord of all but not everything is church and the kingdom of God. On the one hand, we want to avoid the hardline secularist division of public and private religion, and we also need to avoid conflating church with State and civil society with God’s Kingdom. Too often I have seen Christians fuse Christianity with nationalism and the Christian message with a brand of politics; the results of this can be catastrophic.

The distinction however is not absolute. For example, Churches are commanded by God to pray for the Government (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Churches practising public prayers for Government serves as a powerful testimony to the broader society. The imperative isn’t conditioned by our political preferences or by the decisions made in our favour. It’s good to remind ourselves that Paul was writing at a time where there were no democratic societies and where there was little toleration of Christians, and yet he says to the church in Ephesus, pray.

Scripture also calls us to submit to and obey governing authorities, not because we necessarily agree with their policies but because God has put them in place and also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-6). It is also the case that on one occasion the Apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to appeal to the Emperor. In other words, there is a relationship between church and state, but they are nonetheless two separate domains with different purposes and aims.

For this reason, the church mustn’t give the impression that they belong to or represent or campaign for any given political party. The Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to the Liberal or Labour Party (Australia’s two major political parties). A Christian may choose to join a political party, but a church should not. The pulpit shouldn’t be used to influence peoples’ vote or to unduly bind the conscience. When a church does this, we confuse both Christians and non Christians alike about our message and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Instead of providing an alternative to our increasingly polarised world and being the one place where true unity can be found and expressed, churches can end up adding to the problem and reinforcing misconceptions about Christianity. Trying to squeeze Jesus under any socio-political umbrella is wrong; maybe he would prefer to stand out in the rain!

For example, at Mentone Baptist, we never hand out political material, and we are disinclined to promote petitions and marches. However, we understand that individual Christians may choose to be involved in politics or to engage in social issues. While each member of the church supports and joins in the church’s mission, it is also the case that believers have God given opportunities to serve Christ in other ways that are outside the church: among these is involvement in political activity. 

3. What’s your message? Understanding the distinction between gospel and common grace

As an Australian citizen, I share the same set of rights and responsibilities as other Australians. I have the opportunity to voice concerns about social policy and moral issues. However, not everything is the Gospel and not every political cause is directly related to the mission of the church.

I would counsel Christians who are interested in engaging in the public square to understand what the Gospel is and isn’t, and what should be defined as God’s common grace to society. I appreciate that this task isn’t always straightforward. Defining the issue theologically is a help when it comes assessing zeal, time, and effort. It provides the necessary framework for understanding political concerns and to weighing up its importance. Is this an issue of righteousness or of conscience or is it a disputable matter?

4. Know the reason for engaging in political activism: it’s about loving your neighbour

For the Christian, political activism ought to be about loving your neighbour. Just as a doctor treats the sick and a school teacher educates children, politics should be about serving the common good of the community. Of all people, Christians have reason to speak on behalf of the vulnerable, to advocate for the weak and to address injustices that are faced in our society. God has revealed his righteousness and his grace to us in the Lord Jesus. As he has loved us, so we now love others with his love. We are eager to see other people doing well, especially their eternal salvation but also their everyday needs and dignity and worth.

When Christians choose to become involved in politics, do so but without sinning and being self serving, without conflating church and state, confusing Gospel with common grace, and avoid hamstringing the consciences of others.

How do I know if my political advocacy is unwise and even ungodly?

Here are 5 warning signs:

  1. I spend more time signing petitions than I do praying.
  2. I only ever criticise one side of politics.
  3. People have the impression that belonging to my church means aligning with a certain political party.
  4. I am more passionate about politics than I am about my local church and their mission.
  5. I am putting my hope for society in political elections or leaders or platforms, rather than in the Gospel of Christ.

You are worth more than your ATAR

2020 has proven to be a troublesome and challenging mountain to climb. Not least of all, the year proved inordinately difficult for school students who were completing their studies and aiming to prepare or life post-school. VCE is difficult enough in normal circumstances, but 2020 compounded the normal with pandemic and lockdown. With months without onsite learning, the troubles associated with virtual classes, unable to complete practical assessments, and sensing the surrounding stresses facing families and society, it is a wonder that students completed their final year.

Close to 47,000 teenagers from around Victoria are today finding out the results from their VCE. Thousands of year 12 students also chose not to receive an ATAR this year. Just finishing year 12 in a year of pandemic was challenging enough. Many students will be pleased, many others disappointed. Some will be relieved while others will be anxious.

First of all, congratulations on completing the VCE. It is no small feat. Even though I finished the VCE last century, I remember it well, both the highs and lows, and mostly the lows. I stuffed up big time! My original plans went cascading down the mountain with such momentum that I was never going to stop that fall. However, I am so grateful for the way God used my mistakes and shortcomings to redirect life down the path where I find myself today, now 25 years after finishing school. It didn’t take me 25 years to grasp this; within a year of finishing VCE I became captivated by the way God began to orient my life along a new and more exciting road. I was still somewhat embarrassed by the way my school and friends were aghast at my performance but I was thankful for the new turn toward the future.

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An ATAR is something but it is far from everything. Your ATAR isn’t the end of the story. To be blunt, a place in the top 1% doesn’t secure anything in life, except the first day of a university course. 

To those students who are happy and content, well done. You are being rewarded for two years of hard work.

To those students who are dissatisfied, or even despondent now, life is so much more than study and school, and university and even work. Yes, it opens doors that can lead to amazing experiences, but the likelihood is that the dreams and pursuits you now hold onto will change significantly from those you will have when you are 25.  Indeed, many of the happiest and most content people I know didn’t knock their VCE out of the park. Some were clean bowled and others didn’t get onto the pitch at all.

A word to parents, chill. Don’t measure your children by this result for they are worth more than a thousand top ranking ATAR scores and scholarships to university. Remind them,  they are worth more than their 99.95 or 75 or 35 or whatever score they achieve.

For both parents and kids the Lord Jesus has spoken a word that befits a day like this, whether we are feeling pumped or deflated.

Jesus gently warns us, 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Following, Jesus encourages us, 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Melbourne 2020: the year that undid our hubris

The Victorian Government gave the infamous hotel quarantine program the code name, Operation Soteria. In light of the disastrous outcomes from the program, ‘goddess of rescue’ is hardly a suitable name. Eris seems far more appropriate. 

Melbourne is slowly emerging from the worst disaster in her 185 year history. The past nine months have revealed Melbourne’s heart and the diagnosis is not altogether positive. Good has been uncovered and also much that should concern anyone who knows that a malfunctioning heart is likely to cause future grief. 

The Covid 19 pandemic in Victoria has thus far resulted in over 20,000 cases and 781 deaths. In terms of global statistics, these numbers are relatively small, but of course, in June the State was approaching almost zero cases, following a small first wave. Something like 90% of all Victoria’s COVID-19 cases and almost all the deaths occurred in the second wave. Since July 100,000s of Victorians have lost their jobs, 1000s of businesses may never reopen, the economy is bleeding a $1 billion every week. The impact on individual lives can scarcely be measured. The pandemic has compounded mental health issues, children’s education impacted, churches closed.

The pandemic has revealed our human nature in ways that we may find uncomfortable. Once the second wave has left our shores, I imagine millions of Melbournians wanting to move on and to leave behind 2020 as we would an awful nightmare. Relief is a powerful medicine, albeit a placebo. Yet, 2020 has exposed realities about our societal health that we would do well to carefully and humble examine.

1. Self Preservation or Self Sacrifice?

The pandemic began with hoards of people rushing to supermarkets and emptying shelves of essential goods. The situation deteriorated to the point that supermarkets set aside the first hour of each day for our senior citizens so that they would not go without because of the surge of people fighting over toilet paper and grabbing the final bag of rice or pasta.

We became a state of dobbers. In May alone, Victorian police received 80,000 calls from Victorians who were reporting on their fellow citizens for allegedly breaking restrictions in one way or another. I am not excusing those who foolishly think they can live in disregard for the law. Yes, there were cases of people being ignorant of the rules, but more often this exposed a selfish impulse. However, the fact we have accumulated 100,000s of complaints over the course, and that the Government urged us to betray our neighbours, is quite telling. 

In the meantime, many other Victorians worked tirelessly to fight the virus and keep people alive. Working long hours and putting themselves at risk to care for the sick and for those who are most vulnerable. 

There is a telling disparity between those who preference self-preservation and those who choose self-sacrifice.

2. Fear or Love?

Whether we like it or not, the base motivator that has been used to control behaviour during the pandemic is fear. Government press conferences and public commentary were primed with scaring people into submission. 

Let it said, it is foolish to think COVID-19 is not a serious and deadly disease. It is no Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague, but the virus is nonetheless highly contagious and is life threatening for the elderly and people with preexisting medical conditions. Without diminishing these facts, it has been interesting to watch the narrative used to force compliance. There is little talk about loving our neighbour, instead, many threats have been made and cataclysmic proclamations given to funnel the population into ‘doing the right thing’. 

Fear can be a useful tool. We should not discount it altogether. Even the Bible speaks of fear as being the correct response to particular scenarios. However, what does this prevalent public narrative say about our society? What kind of city are we living in and raising our children in where the threat of punishment rather than compassion has become the normal modus operandi?

3. Suspicion or Trust?

This leads to a third observation, who do we trust. On the one hand, reactions to the Government’s position on COVID-19 soon fell into political partisanship, and conspiracy theorists didn’t let this opportunity slide either. Yet overall, Victorians followed the rules. This may be a sign that we trust the Government or that we’re afraid(I suspect the truth is a mix of both). 

The speed at which Victorians gave up basics freedoms was interesting to watch. The willingness in which we have filed away the State’s Human Rights Charter probably speaks to a combination of self-sacrifice and fear. Once upon a time, we would look at the world’s most authoritarian regimes, perplexed at how people give up freedoms to the State. A question for Victorians is, for what other reasons are we prepared to accept rigid limitations on personal liberty? Are there other scenarios in which we would lay down our freedoms to associate, work, play, and live? While Australia was built on certain myths, these are more fiction than fact, and among them is our belief in independence and self making. 

This is an uncomfortable truth, Victoria’s COVID-19 response was built on the premise of trust, but rather that of suspicion. The Government anticipated that people won’t follow the best medical advice and that people won’t follow reasonable measures. Their suspicions had warrant. 

Suspicion can be a powerful delusion and for others, it is a source for angry repose. In some circumstances, it can also serve as a wise friend. Unfortunately, our suspicious minds have led to an ‘all or nothing’ dichotomy. This absolutism has controlled much of the rhetoric causing needless divisions in the community and had the effect of pushing aside reasonable and respected voices from the medical fraternity and from the Melbourne world of law, business, and economics.

The Victorian people deserve to know the truth of what happened in Melbourne hotels, and yet it seems increasingly likely that we will remain in the dark. 

A few have fallen on their sword while also being stabbed in the back. Apologies have been offered, blame shifted, and still no one seems to be at fault. It is quite extraordinary that in the case of the worst disaster in our State’s history no one is taking responsibility. How can the State expect its people to behave with integrity when its leaders play blame games in order to save their own political skin? 

This has been a difficult year for everyone. For those who have lost loved ones, the pain is excruciating. For those who face financial ruin, the road ahead is long and uncertain. If anything, 2020 is a rehearsal for times that are yet ahead, and challenges that will shake our city to the very foundations. 

We need a better rescue plan

“Operation Soteria” proved to be an ironic and even sardonic name. 

To be fair, what COVID-19 reveals about Melbourne did not begin with the pandemic, rather it shone a light on our preexisting condition. To build relationships on trust, to do right out of love, and to self sacrifice: these are noble virtues and they are far too rare and absent in our city.

During the inquiry into the hotel quarantine, the Bible was held aloft, and yet sadly its message is all too often ignored. Instead of making promises on the Bible perhaps we should open its pages, then read and follow what it says. On the sacred page is a story of the original and best, Operation Soteria. It’s not another Greek myth or Melbourne fiction, but the account of the Son of God whose trust triumphed over worldly suspicion, whose love conquers all fear, and who laid down his life for the sake of his enemies. 

Melbourne has long turned its gaze away from the person of Jesus Christ. As we seek to recover surely it’s time to revisit him and to discover the One who truly rescues. As our city has faced the pandemic our foundations have been proven frail. I suspect that as Summer arrives and in our desperation for normalcy we’ll try to forget the year that has been. I understand the sentiment, but there are harder and deeper lessons to learn, ones which require us to look beyond even health and economic issues and into the very soul of our city. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ,

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

    or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

 He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt

    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”

(Isaiah 9:1-5)


This article is a revised version of a post from September

The Christmas Peace of 1914

Christmas 2018 my family visited the famed ground of the 1914 Christmas truce near Ypres.

Here’s a short excerpt from ‘Symphony from the Great War’, where I consider this paradoxical moment in time,

“The field today doesn’t look much like a place for sport. Then again, neither did it in 1914. While the ground is still soggy and uneven, in 1914 it was also filled with shell holes, barbed wire, unexploded bombs, and human body parts. War is an ironic and awfully sardonic affair. “Silent night” hovered over a battlefield. The message of “peace on earth” found a temporary home on that violent soil of Flanders.

The unofficial Christmas armistice lasted for one day, although along some other sectors of the Front, troops were reluctant to fire their weapons for several days. It required officers to threaten their men with disciplinary action, should they not repent of fraternising with the enemy. A snippet of grace amid continual bloodletting. A single day of peace during four years of unspeakable suffering. But like the sudden alarm clock that arrests a serene night’s sleep, peace evaporated with the inevitable, although probably reluctant, first shot fired.

This famous soccer pitch can be visited today, as we did two days before Christmas in 2018. Two markers note what took place on the field on Christmas Day 1914. One is located on the very edge of the ground, placed by the famed khaki chums (an organisation of army enthusiasts). Across the road, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) unveiled a humble yet befitting memorial on the centenary of that game with a modest sculpture. Lying in front is a box filled with soccer balls of all colours, although now faded and deflated with the seasons. Standing behind is a fir tree decorated for Christmas.

What makes this field pertinent for Campbell history is that this is where the 35th Battalion ascended on the morning of the battle of Messines. That morning when the whistles blew, it wasn’t to start a football match, but to announce the launch of an attack; what General Monash referred to as his Magnus Opus.”

Government Commissioner Confirms Church Leaders Concerns

A spokesperson for the Victorian Government has made a series of admissions that confirm the concerns religious leaders are expressing over the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.

Eternity newspaper sent questions to the office of the Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet. Commissioner, Ro Allen, has responded.

The article was published on the Eternity website two days ago (Dec 17th). Within the hour the Government contacted Eternity and asked for the article to be taken down. This request is quite astonishing and one can imagine media outlets expressing concern over a Government asking media to delete an already published article, especially where the Government representative freely gave written comments on the record. There are a couple of significant changes between the two versions of the interview.

Before I offer comment on Ro Allen’s answers, it is worthwhile reiterating how wide societal concerns over over the Bill.

There is broad and growing concern over the Bill

The LGB alliance have expressed grave concerns with the Bill.

Feminists are speaking against the Bill. University of Melbourne’s Feminist Philosopher, Holly Lawford-Smith, has said,

”The Keira Bell verdict [UK High Court landmark case- see below] establishes that children are unlikely to be competent to consent to puberty blockers, which establishes that an ‘affirmation-only’ approach is the wrong approach where it is likely to involve medicalisation. Yet Victoria is heading in the opposite direction, with a new bill about to criminalise any individual who fails to ‘affirm’ or support a child’s claim about her gender identity.”

Men and women who have detransitioned are voicing grave concerns about how this bill will harm not help Victorians who are wrestling with their gender identity.

Legal experts believe the Bill poses needless and extraordinary infringements on religious freedoms. As one example (among many that can be mentioned),

“In the most aggressive action ever taken by an Australian government to attack freedom of religion, the Labor Government in Victoria proposes to make it a criminal offence, punishable by several years’ imprisonment, for a person to pray with another person about issues they are having concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity. It will not be a defence that the person actually wanted prayer.”

Barney Zwartz wrote earlier in the week that ,

“Most Victorian churches are concerned about the conversion bill”.

The Bill itself clearly denotes that the prohibitions are not limited to the few and awful practices that were once engaged in by a small number of religious groups. The Bill includes a ban on ‘prayer’. The Explanatory memorandum states that conversation with a faith leader can be considered conversion practice and therefore subject to prosecution. 

The Premier and the now Former Attorney General have each made their case. They oppose not only those rare and dreadful conversion practices, but they are pitching to remove the beliefs from Victoria.

“Cruel and bigoted practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will soon be stamped out across Victoria, thanks to new laws introduced to Parliament today.       

The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”

Attorney-General Jill Hennssey said,

“We’re sending a clear message: no one is ‘broken’ because of their sexuality or gender identity,” 

“These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”

 La Trobe University’s Dr Timothy W. Jones wrote a report for the Government on the topic. Despite claiming churches have nothing to fear about the Bill he then proceeded to tell churches  change their beliefs and instead do what LGBT activists tell them to do. In his report he refers to “insidious development”. By this he is speaking of Christians who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality (the very teaching that forms the foundations for our society). 

All those comments should be suffice to convince people that the Government is not limiting its intent to outlawing extreme practices. They are consciously legislating against religious Victorians who hold legitimate practices, even those doctrines that are as ancient and good for society as the Christian Bible. 

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Now to offer comment in response to the interview with the Victorian Commissioner.

The question of sermons

Are there any limits on what can be prosecuted? Yes, but these lines are often blurry and as both Jill Hennessy and Ro Allen admit, these boundaries may well expand over time to include even more religious practices.

For example, the one activity the Government is clear on is the sermon. Under the current provisions contained in this Bill preaching a sermon will not be prohibited. However, Jill Hennessy told the Parliament that the Government may later reconsider this activity, “such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

The issue of sermons doesn’t go away.

Eternity asked,

“Will the educational role of the Commission act to discourage the general teaching that the Bible says homosexual sex is wrong?

This statement was made in the original interview

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

In other words, a sermon may not lead to charges and 10 years imprisonment, but a sermon may be reported and the preacher compelled to attend a reeducation camp. Victorians should appreciate the authoritarian and Caesar like approach this Government has told religious freedom. If a Christians upholds the Christian view of sexuality and persuades others of this view, you may be forced to attend the Andrews school of ethics and be told that Christianity is bigotry and that queer theory is right. What makes Allen’s admission even more startling are the changes made in the new Government approved version of the interview.

The response becomes,

“If general prayer in c) is reported to the Commission, the Commission would not be required or empowered to do anything as this is not a change or suppression practice. The Commission would decline to consider the report.

There will be a 12-month period before the law starts, in order to allow important implementation work to be completed. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will lead this and consult widely with Victorians.”

Which version of the answer expresses the Government’s position? The former is a clear threat to Churches, while the latter communicates, ‘we’re not going to tell you what will happen should you preach, teach, or counsel in line with your church’s doctrine. Wait and see!’

There is a further significant revision made in Allen’s answer. Eternity referred to stories of individuals who allege harm at the hands of churches who prayed for them and whose churches disproved of non heterosexual marriage. “These activities may or may not have been targeted at the individual person in each case.” The question was then asked,

“Will there be experiences regarded as harmful by LGBTQ persons not covered by the bill?”

In the original interview Allen answered by saying,

“Under the current law, such practices are not covered. This law will be reviewed in two years. If the advice coming to the government is that these practices do indeed cause harm in the same way, then the government may have to revisit the law.”

In the new version of the interview, Allen takes a step back, offering a response that is more vague.

“This is unclear and may be determined when such a case is raised. If, for example, a religious leader was providing lessons to LGBTIQ people to “pray the gay away”,  it could possibly be captured under this law as inducing a person to try and change their sexual identity or gender identity.”

While the revised answer sounds less threatening, the point remain: this unnecessary law is likely to grow fatter with time. This is a further indication that the current Government has not finished its strategy to, “stamp out across Victoria” any view of sexuality and gender that does not fully embrace (and without questioning it), the current expression of queer theory. 

Allen also reinforces the Bill’s own statement about how the list of prohibited activities are only ‘examples’. It is not an exhaustive list at all.

“These religious practices given as examples are among those known to cause the most harm to people. Other religious practices that will be covered by the law will be any religious practice that is directed at an individual person to try to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the Explanatory Memorandum goes on to say, the bill “is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.’”

 

Targeting ministry to individuals rather than groups

The Government’s Commissioner notes the Government’s aim is to distinguish between what takes place in a general setting and what occurs with individuals. Sermons are ok (for now) because they are teachings addressed to a group of people. He explains, 

“Some sermons may express beliefs that seem contrary to the aim of this bill, which affirms that people of faith have the right to express their views, but not to force them upon other people. The law becomes triggered when it is aimed at changing or suppressing an individual.”

It is reasonable to ask in response to this comment, for how long will a Government permit ‘sermons’ given that they supposedly “express beliefs that seem contrary to the aim of this bill”?

For now, the issue for churches relates to ministry that focuses on individuals. This includes praying with people, and exhorting people to live in accord with Biblical ethics.

Rev Dr John Dickson said on Eternity’s Facebook page, 

“advising an LGBT person to be celibate for life (because traditional marriage isn’t an option) seems to be described here as an outlawed practice.”

He is correct.

Personal prayer and conversation forms a regular part of clergy ministry. It is also not uncommon for a lay believer to meet with another person for prayer and bible study. These are normal activities. However, should the topic of sex and gender arise, the government may charge individuals with encouraging abstinence and moral godliness. Refraining from sex outside of heterosexual marriage has been normative for the entire history of the church.

The Government is forcing religious Victorians into an impossible position: do we remain faithful to our convictions and continue to love people by sharing our faith, or do we submit to these scandalous demands of a Government? 

Here is a further important scenario that may fall foul of this law. Christians churches require potential members to affirm the doctrinal convictions of the church. For example, Churches regularly require members to refrain from sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman. Members who sin in this way (to use the Bible’s own language) are usually asked to repent and discipline can take place (which may include being asked to refrain from taking Communion or even being removed from membership).  Given that these normal practices relate to individual persons, will the church’s actions be prohibited under this Bill?

The Government has chosen to attack churches rather than work with them

Premier Daniel Andrews last week directed an attack against church in leaders during a speech in the Parliament. 

“Some faith leaders have been critical of these provisions, critical of a law to ban the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable.

“This is not kindness and love, or the protection of the vulnerable and persecuted. This is not something to be proud of. This is not what I pray for.”

His words are unfortunate. The Premier has dismissed the legitimate concerns that are being expressed and which Allen has now validated. Instead, Mr Andrews implied that teaching and praying for the Christian view of human sexuality is the “worst form of bigoted quakery imaginable?” But surely the Premier was only referring to those awful practices such as aversion therapy? But no faith leader is supporting such a thing. They are they are calling on the Government to amend a Bill so we may continue to practice of faith without the undue intrusion of the State. Allen’s words have given further substance to these concerns.

There are members of the Government who are privately expressing concerns about the Bill’s overreach. I trust they will find their voice and speak with the new Attorney General.

I also understand how some members of the community are praising the Government’s Bill, and that some are already demanding that it be extended to include a greater range of religious activities.  Are not the beliefs that have carried and formed and blessed our societies for 2000 years no longer welcome?

It remains a disappointment that the Government didn’t follow the example of Queensland and write a Bill that focuses on the few, rare, and genuine harmful practices that once existed. Religious leaders could have partnered with the Government to make this Bill work. Instead, the Premier labels us bigots and quacks.

I appreciate how fellow Christians have approached this Bill with grace and gentleness, assuming the Government’s good intentions. Grace and gentleness should exude from us, but there is nothing virtuous about gullibility. Playing nice sometimes slides into naïveté. The Government’s spokesperson has reaffirmed concerns that many have raised over the past month.

Since the times of the Caesars Christians have prayed for Governments, honoured them, and submitted to their authority.  We will continue to do so. There is however a line that Christians will not cross, and this State Government is drawing that line thick in the black ink of law. It is bullying people of faith into either submission or having a criminal record with a stint at a reeducation camp. Does this sound like healthy pluralism? Does this bode well for a free and democratic society? Does this continue centuries of strong partnership between Church and State?

Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox are among the many groups who are voicing legitimate concerns over this Bill. It is time for others to join. At the end of the day these voices may not persuade the Parliament to fix this Bill, but at least we can say that in this day of trouble we stood with Christ, with our churches and for our people.  One day we can look back and know that didn’t throw our congregations to the lions, we instead chose to remain with them. 


A correction. The original Eternity article spelled the Commissioner’s surname as Allan. They have informed me that they were incorrect and it is Allen. I have subsequently changed the spelling.