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.

Ridley College explains its position on marriage

A good news story has come out of Melbourne evangelicalism this week. In what may be a first, an Australian theological College has produced a formal statement about their position on marriage.

 

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Ridley College in Melbourne has released a letter in which they affirm the biblical (or ‘traditional’) understanding of marriage. They explain the reason behind the decision to articulate the College’s position,

“Our purpose in writing this brief letter is to support our fellow Anglicans in wrestling with this issue by offering a summary of the scholarly discussion over what the Bible teaches on homosexuality, and an explanation for why we believe the traditional path on marriage and sexuality is the one that Christ is calling us to take.”

Ridley’s influence extends beyond the Anglican communion, touching denominations across Melbourne and indeed around Australia. Accordingly, this letter is an encouragement not only to Anglicans, but also to Baptists, Charismatics, Presbyterians, and others.

The document goes onto outline 3 primary views on marriage that are held by various people under the Christian umbrella. They explain why Ridley College rejects both the revisionist and the progressive view on marriage, and instead why they affirm the belief that “Bible teaches that sex is designed for marriage between a man and a woman, and that we should do what the Bible says”.

You can read the full letter here:

Two weeks ago I wrote about the mounting pressure on Christian organisations to either capitulate or accommodate to the current sexual morality. Many other denominations and leaders have chosen to defer or kick the can down the street, so to speak, as though avoiding the issue is dealing with the issue. Ridley College has chosen the third and only proper Christian option, faithfulness.

As the letter makes clear, Gospel fidelity doesn’t stand in opposition to love and grace, rather it is a rightly ordered expression of these virtues. Adhering to the classical understanding of marriage doesn’t diminish the beauty of the Gospel, but is a God-given reflection of the good news of Jesus Christ.

“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 letter opens by acknowledging that this no mere academic exercise for these scholars,

“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.”

The letter also rightly points out the wonderful example in our churches of same sex attracted believers, who have chosen fidelity and godliness over and above the narrative that is being fed to us in almost every part of the culture, and which is sadly becoming normalised within some of our churches and institutions. 

As I read this sentence, “The traditional path may be a hard one to travel, but it is the one we are called to take”, I was reminded of the College’s namesake, Bishop Nicholas Ridley. Almost 500 years ago, Nicholas Ridley taught against erring doctrine and practised what he believed was in line with Biblical Christianity. He did so in the face of severe opposition, which ultimately cost him his life. His famous example reminds the Churches that holding onto biblical truths rarely garners popular adulation, but it does prepare the soil for a Gospel harvest.

God honours faithfulness. I suspect that there will be some backlash as a result of this letter but isn’t that what the Lord Jesus taught us to expect as we follow him in this world? Faithfulness is almost always hard, and it may create some difficulties for us in the days ahead, but faithfulness never fails in the end.

 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 3-4)

I am thankful to God for Ridley College’s public testimony in this letter. We can pray that other Christian colleges and institutions have the courage to follow suit.

A Corinthian Tale

Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” 

(2 Corinthians 11:11)


There are growing signs that the ecclesial weather is changing and our churches are not prepared.

As the broader culture becomes more insistent about its moral narrative, Churches have become less certain. Universities, media personalities, and political representatives vocalise a secular righteousness with increasing confidence, while ecclesial leaders pray that kicking the can down the street will do the trick.

 

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Last Sunday I preached on 2 Corinthians ch.10 at Mentone. The Church in Corinth was known as an ‘inclusive’ community: they had welcomed ‘false apostles’ into their midst and they had accepted members who followed the sexual ethics of the city. The Apostle Paul responded by pointing out that their accommodation didn’t strengthen Christian unity and witness, but rather they had caused significant harm to both these things. As he later exclaims, “you put up with it easily enough” (11:5).

The Apostle takes a very different posture to the one we are seeing many clergy adopt in the current climate. Instead of moral silence, Paul speaks up. Instead of accommodating heterodox ideas, Paul tackles them. He also explains his motivation for speaking up and calling out bad ideas; he wants to see the church built up (v.8) and the Gospel grow out (vv.15-16). He isn’t driven by bigotry and narrow mindedness,  it is love that galvanises him into action. Paul loves the Corinthians too much to simply hand her over to divisive and destructive ideas. For the Apostle, such de facto fellowship contradicts the identity of the local church,

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)


Over the past month, there have been developments regarding how Christian Churches in Australia are handling the issue of same-sex marriages. While the outcomes are yet to be determined, the signs are ominous and Christian denominations across the nation must discuss and decide how they are going to respond.

Wangaratta Anglicans 

The initial incident relates to the Anglican Diocese of Wangaratta. The Anglican Communion in Australia formally holds to the classical understanding of marriage. There are, however, some who wish to navigate around this by instituting ‘blessing ceremonies’ for same sex couples. In August, the Wangaratta synod voted to permit same sex blessing ceremonies for couples who have been married (67 in favour, 18 against, and one abstention). Retiring Bishop John Parkes led the way in calling for his Diocese to support the practice.

The Primate, Archbishop Philip Frier, responded to concerns raised among numerous Anglicans across Australia by referring the matter to the Appellate Tribunal. It is believed that this process may take many months, and the outcome is less than certain. Archbishop Frier asked that Wangaratta refrain from using their newly adopted service until after the Tribunal has looked into the case. Bishop Parkes subsequently agreed to delay, although I believe some kind of ceremony still proceeded over the weekend, following the very public wedding of two male Anglican priests.

Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral and member of GAFCON Council, Australia, Rev Kanishka Raffel, referred to the move in Wangaratta as apostasy, the formal walking away from the faith. He asked, how can one bless (in God’s name) something God does not bless? Indeed, how can one invoke the name of Jesus for a union that Christ opposes?

The Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, noted parallels with the situation in Canada which gave rise to the breaking of the global Anglican Communion,

“The circumstances of this event are reminiscent of the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada in 2003. It is now universally acknowledged that those events were the beginning of the ‘tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion’. Moreover, to claim the authority of our Church to carry out a service of blessing contrary to the biblical view of marriage and the doctrine of our Church will certainly fracture the Anglican Church of Australia.”

What will Churches decide?

We need to appreciate that this is not a merely theoretical or hypothetical question. No Christian denomination or Church in Australia can afford to play dodge ball with the marriage issue. As far as I can see, there are only three options available for churches and denominations: choose capitulation, accommodation, or faithfulness.

Most Christian associations will reject the first option. The second, however, is finding traction among some associations. For example, this was the approach adopted by the Uniting Church. But of course, accommodation is in reality just a politically correct and ultimately dishonest way of capitulating to the new sexual narrative. It demonstrates that either we don’t know what the biblical understanding of marriage is or that we don’t believe it’s so important that agreement is necessary for Christian fellowship and unity. It is this disingenuous compromise position that some Anglicans are also advocating.

Doing nothing is not a solution. To ultimately decide on inaction is a form of accommodation. In Victoria, at least one same sex wedding has already been conducted in a Baptist Union Church. There are at least a few Baptist Churches that have either already sanctioned same sex blessing services or are considering them. Further, recent events have once again demonstrated that there are clergy and churches who have no intention of giving up their cause. Davidould.net last week revealed the public stance of yet another Church, St John’s Toorak, 

“We deeply regret that at the present time, it is not legally possible for Anglican clergy to conduct marriage services for couples of the same sex. We look forward to the day when we will be able to do so. Until this legal problem is addressed, however, the clergy of St. John’s would be pleased to welcome any couple, including couples of the same sex, to have a service for the blessing of their marriage, including a renewal of vows, following a legal marriage conducted by a celebrant licensed to do so.”

Over the weekend the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle Dr Peter Stuart publicised intent to begin practising same-sex blessings, following approval by the Synod. In his letter he explained,

“Conversations about human sexuality

There is no doubt that these ‘Private Members’ Bills will cause anguish to some in the Diocesan community as well as being a cause of celebration for others. In a real way the debate that has being underway in the Anglican Communion for over 20 years, and is a very current debate in the Anglican Church of Australia, will be a live debate in the formal processes of our Diocese. Our engagement with and response to LGBTIQ+ Anglicans has been actively discussed for some time.

The Doctrine Commission of the General Synod has published a series of essays as part of this conversation (https://anglican.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Marriage-Doctrine-Essays-Final.pdf)

I shared with the clergy recently a summary of the main standpoints of Anglicans that has been workshopped by Bishops Stephen Pickard and Michael Stead –

1. The church should exclude those with LGB identity because it is a sin

2.The church should encourage a person to repent of LGB identity and seek to live as a heterosexual

3.The church should fully and unreservedly welcome people who are LGB, but expect them to live in singleness and abstinence

4. The church should fully and unreservedly welcome LGB couples who live a celibate life

5.The church should fully and unreservedly welcome LGB couples who live in a legally

recognised civil relationship/same-sex marriage

6. The church should endorse a liturgy to bless the marriage/relationship of LGB couples

7. The church should solemnise LBG marriages as a religious marriage

All of these views are expressed within our Diocesan family and will be present within the Synod.I have written previously to the Synod about my experience of the National Meeting of Bishops. I am looking forward to Bishop Pickard assisting the Synod frame this significant conversation.

The Primate has already referred a similar regulation to

Blessing of Persons Married According to the Marriage Act Regulation 2019 from the Diocese of Wangaratta to the Appellate Tribunal. Should our Synod pass this regulation and/or the Clergy Discipline Ordinance of 1966 Amending

Ordinance 2019 it is likely, and to be welcomed, that the Primate would refer them also to the Appellate Tribunal. The combined processes of Diocesan Synods, the General Synod and the Appellate Tribunal over the next two years will fashion what is lawful in the Anglican Church of Australia and what approaches Diocese’s will take.”

It is clear how Peter Stuart wishes to proceed. The argument is simple, effective, and completely misses the point of Christian praxis. To summarise,  the suggestion is,  given the diverse opinions within a denomination it is only appropriate that freedom is given to clergy and churches to practice whichever position they see fit. It’s as though Peter Stuart read Judges 17:6 and mistook it to be an endorsement!

“Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The longer Christian associations kick the can down the road, the harder it will be to pick it up. The Church should never be treated in such a reckless way. She is precious and holy to God. Delaying or wishing away difficult decisions will only result in further confusion and harm. Not only this, these matters relate to real people who are made in God’s image; to offer them misleading hope and blessing amounts to a grave betrayal of trust and truth. By following the Gospel, our churches ought to be safe and welcoming communities for people who don’t identify as heterosexual. As people who have ourselves experienced sexual brokenness and sin, and have come to know God’s love and mercy in Christ Jesus, how can we not embrace others? But blessing that which God does not bless is not loving our neighbour but is performing the worse kind of misrepresentation.

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.

If a pastor or Church no longer subscribes to the theological convictions of the Church/denomination surely it is a matter of integrity that they resign and leave the Church and/or denomination. If they refuse, surely it is the responsibility of the broader fellowship to call them to repentance, and should they persist in their views, they ought to be disaffiliated. 

To borrow Paul’s analogy in Ephesians ch.4, our associations are becoming like ships without a rudder, being blown and tossed about by whatever cultural wave is currently landings on the shore. The difficulty is, in the face of intense cultural conditions and fears of losing people and especially money, many leaders don’t want to touch the rudder. In the meantime, the ship is getting beaten up and the Sirens of Sirenum scopuli are luring churches closer to the rocky shoreline.

Will not God honour the faithfulness of his Church? Will God be displeased if we choose his good design? Choosing faithfulness is unlikely to win over many fans among the cultural elites but why should we allow their agenda to determine our actions? It may be counter-intuitive in today’s climate, but remember, Christian sexual ethics was also foreign to First Century Corinth. Paul makes the very point to the Church in Corinth that trusting and living out Christian sexual ethics will not detract from Christian unity and Gospel growth; the opposite is the case. The Church will be built up and the Gospel will grow out (2 Cor 10:8; 15-16).

Will our churches choose faithfulness over accommodation. Do we desire Gospel unity over religious diversity? We can’t predict how everyone will respond, whether those inside our churches or in the community at large, but we can be assured that God will honour the faithfulness of his people. 

We harvest what we sow

A sensational photo is blowing chaff all over twittersphere. The tweet sent out by Union Seminary in Manhattan, pictures students praying to plants. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. The caption reads,

“Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.

What do you confess to the plants in your life?”

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To be honest, I often ignore the plants in my life. In fact, I didn’t know I had plants in my life! Sometimes I step outside to admire a flower. I do enjoy the scent of springtime blossom and flowers. I mow the front lawn every other week. We have parsley, thyme, and mint growing in the back which we use for cooking. And I know how much our dog loves to wee on any plant he sniffs. But praying to a plant and begging for its forgiveness? I may not be the world’s greatest horticulturalist, but neither am I a fool.

Is this a serious tweet? Surely, this is a student-led prank? A fantastic imitation of Babylon Bee? Or, as someone suggested, had these students stolen a few of those green leaves for a pre chapel smoking ceremony? Are we meant to be following suit, and head down to Bunnings after work to buy a tree for prayer? Which tree? What kind of plant? Does it matter? Do the plants communicate with each other and pass on my deepest regrets? What about the tree that I cut down last year with an axe? Did I kill the Divine in a moment of nietzschean madness?

There is plenty of mockery being aimed at Union Seminary today. Some of it makes you laugh, for if we didn’t, one would likely weep. The absurdity of the original message is being matched by the Seminary today as they double down and attempt to explain why praying to your indoor garden is a great idea:

“So, if you’re poking fun, we’d ask only that you also spend a couple moments asking:

Do I treat plants and animals as divinely created beings?

What harm do I cause without thinking?

How can I enter into new relationship with the natural world?”

When Robin Wall Kimmerer spoke at Union last year, she concluded her lecture by tasking us—and all faith communities—to develop new liturgies by which to mourn, grieve, heal and change in response to our climate emergency.

We couldn’t be prouder to participate in this work.

And here’s the thing: At first, this work will seem weird. It won’t feel normal. It won’t look like how we’re used to worship looking and sounding.

And that’s exactly the point. We don’t just need new wine, we need new wineskins.

But it’s also important to note that this isn’t, really, that radical a break from tradition. Many faiths and denoms have liturgy through which we express and atone for the harm we’ve caused. No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other.

What’s different (and the source of so much derision) is that we’re treating plants as fully created beings, divine Creation in its own right—not just something to be consumed.

Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them?”

“At first this work will seem weird”? You think? True to form, this theological progressive Seminary then rips a Bible phrase out of context and fills it with whatever nonsense it pleases. They then justify this practice by saying, ‘but many faiths do what we are now doing’. I guess they didn’t read those bits of the Bible were God warns his people, “Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you” (c.f Deuteronomy 6:4).

Given the reaction to Union Seminary, I suspect there are a few people in Australia today who are hiding behind a tree or bush, hoping no one notices that they too have a habit of talking to the environment, as though God is somehow radiating through the leaves and wind and the soaring pollen count on a Melbourne Spring morning. That’s the sad reality, there are people who believe in communing with nature, even believing that God somehow exists as part of the creation.

The Union Seminary website states

“Progressive theology has long taken shape at Union, where faith and scholarship walk together to be a moral force in the world. Grounded in the Christian tradition and responsive to the needs of God’s creation, a Union education prepares its students for committed lives of service to the church, academy, and society. A Union education develops practices of mind and body that foster intellectual and academic excellence, social justice, and compassionate wisdom.”

When an institution which identifies as being Christian allows weeds to grow, should anyone be surprised if they eventually begin to worship those weeds?

The Apostle Paul was familiar with pagan religions who turned the creation into objects of spiritual connection and worship.

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:24)

Progressive theology not only follows the trajectory of Romans ch.1, it embraces the trip with pride and staggering delusion. The tweet is imbecilic because false religion is asinine. It tries to grow around it an air of intellectual cogency and spiritual authenticity, but it’s nothing more than rose-scented air-freshener in a can that’s trying to conceal the pungent smell of the toilet.

We are all worshippers. All people worship someone or something. If we turn our backs of the God of the Bible we are required to created alternate spiritual objects to provide purpose and meaning in life. We would do well to revisit Romans 1, for just as western culture is returning to the sexual ethics of the ancient world, we are reconstructing theologies that belong to old time paganism. There is nothing progressive about liberal theology, it is filling a field with toxic weeds.

The theological principle is simple: you harvest what you sow.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

Union Seminary’s journey into spiritual paganism has been gradual. I don’t think the faculty and students woke up one morning and decided that instead of worshipping Jesus, let’s pray to these plants. This is the result of decades of pruning back evangelical teaching and digging up orthodox doctrine. This is the outcome of appointing teachers who don’t really believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. This is the result of generations of theological experimentation and pining for cultural relevance.

While we may rightly ridicule Union Seminary, there is a serious warning here. If we don’t want our churches turning into prayer halls to shrubs and plants, and if we don’t want our children crafting idols out of creation, we need to make sure that we are doing the job of a faithful gardener. We need to ensure that our Bible Colleges have suitable gardeners who are using the right tools. There is only seed God gives, that is his word. There is only one seed which produces life, that is the Gospel of his Jesus Christ. Union Seminary deserved to be mocked, but are being diligent in our own fields?

Let’s not forget what Jesus says about those who sow weeds that congest and confuse, and that try to starve wheat of nutrience.

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13)

Which Story of Children will our Society Esteem?

The way our society treats its children is a reflection of the gods we make and worship. The gods of Sepharvaim had an insatiable appetite in Ancient Babylon, requiring the sacrifice of the young. The Valley of Benn Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem, was a place of liberation in the Eighth Century BC. Children were offered up to the gods as a means to find personal freedoms and prosperity.  More revealing, the mistreatment of children is a sign of decaying society and failing religion.

Will we never learn the lessons from the past?

Two stunning revelations have been made over the weekend and yet neither are being reported by most Australian media. Truth and moral good ought to be relevant to our television news producers and newspaper editors but some truths are inconvenient to the prescribed narrative.

First of all, an interview went viral on social media with a BBC journalist being visibly shaken by the confessions of an abortion doctor in the United States. Not only did DR Leroy Carhart freely admit that the babies he kills are children, but he also explained how he refers to them as children in front of his patients. There is no hiding behind the disingenuous rhetoric of babies being a clump of cells or foetuses. When pressed about late term abortions, ‘does he perform abortions up until 38 weeks…39 weeks…’, he refused to answer.

Second, one of Australia’s major providers of abortion has acknowledged that they have no issue with gender-specific abortion. Phillip Goldstone, who is the Director of Marie Stopes, stated in a submission to the NSW Government’s inquiry into abortion,

“We do not support the inclusion of gender selection in the Bill and we strongly caution against amendments to the legislation as the issue of gender selection and termination of pregnancy is not grounded in evidence.

Further public debate or amendments on this issue has the potential to discriminate against multicultural and diverse communities in Australia and would unfairly target people who already face barriers in accessing abortion care.”

The narrative that our newspapers are presenting is that abortion is:

  1. The very difficult decision being made by courageous women
  2. Late term abortions are rare
  3. Gender selective abortion isn’t an issue

The problem with points 2 and 3 is that they are simply not true. What constitutes rare? 500 babies per annum? 300…200…100? Does rare constitute unimportant? I certainly hope not.

After the Bill passed the Legislative Assembly last week, Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, spoke up on the issue of gender selective abortion, suggesting,  “Everybody regards that as an abhorrent practice.”

Her words echo about the chamber that has just refused an amendment that would have prohibited gender selective abortion. The Assembly refused to protect vulnerable girls in the face of not only a moral imperative and commonsense but did so with evidence coming from Victoria that reveals gender based abortion is a fact in Australia. In Victoria, girls are more likely to be aborted than boys. And as Phillip Goldstone has made clear, this should be a viable option for women. The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Dr Goldstone last week but failed to ask him about why he refuses to back amendments that would ban gender selective abortion. 

It is astonishing to see that as the facts surrounding abortion come to light, notable social commentators and reporters, and even politicians, simply suppress or explain away and even ignore what is true. The truth is ghastly. It is truly horrendous. It is the determined killing of children with full knowledge of what is happening. What is more telling about a society’s soul than the way it treats children?

There is one truth that the media have conveyed, and that is how for many women, abortion is a moral dilemma. Circumstances surrounding pregnancy can be extremely difficult. We can empathise and we can help write a better story that shows good coming from choosing the harder road. There are organisations whose sole purpose is to care for and support women through unplanned or difficult pregnancies. There are many local churches who already support women through such situations, and gladly so. Australia has its Ahazes but also its Boazes and Josephs.

We ought to recognise and speak of the life supporting options and good that is found in local communities. The media’s commitment to facts, or lack thereof, reflects what they believe the public wants to hear. The media’s choice of storytelling reveals something of our society’s heart. Our politicians’ decisions speak back to us our own moral inclinations. What does our behaviour toward children suggest?

As a Christian, I like to give God the last word. In the 8th Century BC when the Valley of Benn Hinnom (known in the New Testament as Gehenna) was the scene of continual fire and burning of baby’s bodies, the righteous judge offered an extraordinary word of mercy. Even as I write I’m aware that some readers are going to ridicule these words with all manner of interesting and colourful language, but there is always someone for whom the crap in popular rhetoric doesn’t sway. Imagine a God who sees our choices and understands them and is appalled by them and yet offers redemption?

“I have made you, you are my servant;

    Israel, I will not forget you.

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,

    your sins like the morning mist.

…Return to me,

    for I have redeemed you.”“This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself, (Isaiah 44: 21b-22;24)