When talking about hell…

When I went to sleep last Thursday I didn’t expect to wake and find that the topic of hell had become a national conversation piece. While we cannot control the public conversation with all its warts, snidery, and well-meaning contributions, we can take responsibility for how we speak about what is a grave issue; the eternal state of people.

With a sense of humour reminiscent of Nero plucking his harp while Rome burned, columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden, wrote,

“Folau’s version of hell, surrounded by drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters, actually sounds like good fun – especially if it excludes narrow-minded sporting identities.”

I don’t know anyone who enjoys talking about hell. It is a truly horrific subject. This doesn’t mean that we avoid or downplay what the Bible teaches, it does, however, necessitate that approach the topic of hell with great care and earnestness.

Unbelievers are poking fun at Israel Folau’s comments on hell with hackneyed jokes and Memes. There are Christians squirming uncomfortably as though a cactus needle were stuck erect in their chair. Hell makes people angry and dismissive, generating a range of negative reactions. So, how should Christians approach the subject of hell?

 

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Here are 4 words of advice for talking about hell

1. Be biblical

Hell is a Christian doctrine. Hell (or Gehenna) is taught and affirmed in the Bible as a real place of eternal judgment. This notion of a final judgment is included in the historical Christian Creeds and Catechisms, as well as in doctrinal statements for Christian churches throughout the ages. Such as …

He will come to judge the living and the dead. (Apostles Creed)

What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 19)

The resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment of all people by the Lord Jesus Christ. (article 8, Baptist Union of Victoria Doctrinal Basis)

Jesus taught about hell frequently, and as others have observed, the topic was on Jesus’ lips more than anyone else in the Bible. In his own words …

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:38)

“But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:12)

 “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41,46)

While Bible writers, Jesus in particular, use various metaphors and analogies to convey the awfulness of hell, they do so, not to obscure its reality, but to communicate the finality and dreadful realism of what hell signifies. There is no benefit in Christians downplaying the Bible’s teaching on hell or concentrating on speculations and theories of what hell may or may not be: the Christian’s responsibility is to be biblical. By that I mean, read, understand, and communicate what the Bible teaches about hell. In talking about hell, use the range of words and reasoning that is offered to us in the Scriptures—not ignoring the contexts and arguments in which the concept appears. Such diligence will aid us in speaking of hell accurately and helpfully.

Indeed, it is difficult to explain the Christian Gospel without reference to judgment, given that the Gospel is about redemption from Divine judgment. Whereas we tend to view the Gospel through the lens on anthropological needs and problems, the Bible also views salvation in light of Divine categories (justice and the right satisfaction of God’s righteousness). We obscure God’s glory and we diminish the human condition when we ignore or downplay this doctrine, like a Doctor talking of a patient’s terminal cancer as though it was a bruised knee.

2. Be loving and earnest

Speak about hell with soberness and with tears. Talking about hell isn’t judgmental; it is an act of love. Of course, people can speak about hell in a judgmental and unhelpful way, but people can also explain the Bible’s teaching on hell with sincerity and clarity because they love their friends and neighbours.

 

3. Appeal to notions of ultimate justice

The Bible doesn’t present hell as a Russian gulag; unjust, mean, cruel, and unnecessary. It is, rather, a just outcome and the place where people prefer to be. The natural consequence of life lived for self. While Greg Growden and others might joke about Folau’s list of transgressions and how many they have broken, the reality of such things is far from funny. Marital unfaithfulness destroys lives and families. Lying breaks the bond of friendship. Theft is a betrayal of trust and leaves victims frightened, and at times, financially destitute.

Our nation, for all its blessings, is filled with extraordinary pain and sorrow caused by the greed and hate of its citizens. We are governed by thousands of laws because we don’t trust one another and because we feel the necessity to guard ourselves against each other. Our judicial system, for which we should be thankful, is not beyond making mistakes and many who perpetrate crimes escape justice, and many of the deepest wounds are not the result of criminal activity but moral and personal assault. Where is the justice for such?

Our nation, for all its blessings, is filled with extraordinary pain and sorrow caused by the greed and hate of its citizens. We are governed by thousands of laws because we don’t trust one another and because we feel the necessity to guard ourselves against each other

Do we not long for a justice that is altogether right and comprehensive? Do Australians not hope that no evil will escape the attention of justice? I suspect that there are very few Australians (no matter what their religious beliefs) who do not (at least on some scale) believe or wish they could believe that hell exists for some people. One of the things the Bible does is to show us that the problem is not only external and persistent in society, but it derives from hearts that seek to define life without God: the problem lies within each of us. In other words, we may desire justice when others are guilty, but we long for mercy we realise our own guilt.

The point is, God offers justice, the kind of justice the world is ultimately looking for, and yet paradoxically does not wish to be true.

4. Don’t forget the gospel

Our message isn’t merely hell, our message is the good news of Jesus Christ, which includes salvation from hell, and the forgiveness of sins and the gift of justification, regeneration, adoption, and eternal life. The Gospel is good news because what is deserved is taken from us and what is undeserved is given to us by God as his gracious and loving gift

We will never turn to God and seek his mercy unless we first appreciate our personal culpability and accountability before a holy God. There is no genuine turning to Christ without a manifest awareness of guilt. The gospel tells us both the bad news of our sin and judgment; and the glorious antidote to that judgment in Christ. As the writer of Hebrews summarises things:

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)

Or, as Luther puts it in his earthy and practical way:

When the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” (Martin Luther)

Was Israel Folau guilt of hate speech, as many are arguing? He may be guilty of breaking his word by continuing to post such comments. But are his comments bigoted? If connecting a list of sins with hell is akin to hate speech, it doesn’t take much imagination to work out how our society would view Jesus Christ. Connecting sex outside of heterosexual marriage with the language of sin and hell is not inherently anti-social and anti-people; it comes from the conviction that not every action and not every attitude is good or right. Australia’s problem is that we’re suffering from Judges syndrome, everyone wants to “do what’s right in their own eyes.” Such attitudes have become mainstream platitudes. And now we want to send Izzy into the eternal Rugby exclusion zone for daring to suggest that it might lead to disaster.

The danger for most Christians today isn’t that we make too much of hell, but that we think too little of the Bible’s teaching on hell. We may not have a conversation about hell every week, but if we never talk about it, our friends would be right to wonder, do these Christians even believe what Jesus says?

Israel Folau Charged with Social Blasphemy

Israel Folau is in trouble once again for espousing views that are in line with 2,000 years of orthodox Christianity. This is not the first time that he garnered the fury of the cultural watchdogs and has found himself reported to the governing authorities of Rugby Australia.

Yesterday, Folau posted 2 comments on Instagram which garnered immediate anger and disappointment, such that it is the subject of newspaper articles and television reporting today.

 

Israel Folau is one of the great rugby players that Australia has produced in the past 20 years. His reputation on the field has excited spectators, and off the field, he has defied cultural messaging and created national consternation: what to do with a national sporting star when he won’t conform to the moral narrative of today’s Australia?

Here are 5 thoughts:

1. Social media is a problematic medium.

I am increasingly convinced that social media is not a particularly constructive medium for conveying important messages. Pithy statements are too often misunderstood and taken out of context. On this occasion, the issue isn’t that people are misreading Folau, but that he hasn’t said enough. A photo on Instagram or a 240 character tweet often doesn’t suffice. I don’t offer an answer for resolving this perpetual problem with social media, but I am observing that it does exist, and it is a problem not only for people we agree with but also among those with whom we disagree.

Perhaps one forward step would be to ask for clarification; what do you mean by that tweet? Can you elaborate and tell me more so that I can understand where you are coming from?

2. Both content and manner matter

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. (Colossians 4:6)

“in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

I am not about to lambast Israel Folau for not being as irenic as perhaps we might prefer. He certainly has more courage to speak Bible truths than do many of our Bishops and Christian leaders across the country.

What we say matters enormously. The content of our speech either reflects our deeply held beliefs or it betrays them. How we speak also communicates volumes to those who are listening. I don’t know Israel Folau nor his heart and motivation. I appreciate why some people might read his comments as coming from a frustrated or even angry man. Of course, he may well be expressing heartfelt concern and earnestness for his fellow Australians. If Israel reads this blog post, I would gently suggest that his comments could be improved if they reminded his followers of his own need and thankfulness for God’s mercy to him; Christians don’t want to give the impression that we are somehow morally or intellectually superior to anyone else. While quoting Galatians 5:19-21 Folau could also have mentioned some of the wonders and goodness that comes from knowing the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul describes in Galatians 5. For example,

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The good news of Jesus Christ is salvation from hell and it is salvation to a new and better life. The Gospel is the greatest story ever told and it is one that can become my own as I accept God’s assessment of me and trust God’s answer for me.

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3. Don’t expect the culture to endorse the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This shouldn’t surprise because it is, after all, the Bible’s own presentation of humanity. People don’t accept God on God’s terms. Instead, humanity has a very long history of showing intent to redefine and deconstruct God’s righteousness in order to justify their own moral proclivities. The Apostle Paul’s words remain true today,

“To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:16)

The Christian message is both compelling and repellent, attractive and offensive. We should present the good news of Jesus Christ with clarity and kindness and with unction, and still, there will be people who object and are even angered. Remember the greatest Christian preacher and apologist of all time, Jesus Christ. No one spoke a more compelling story than Jesus and yet the social elite could not tolerate him, not least because he would not abide by the sexual ethics of the day.

The media are particularly upset by Folau including homosexuality in his list of sins. Had he limited his list to adultery, lying, and stealing, people might have laughed but we wouldn’t see the kind of reaction that we’re observing today. Folau’s heresy is that he doesn’t fully and without qualification, affirm LGBTIQ lifestyles. He contravened the moral law of the land and no one, not even a sporting great, is allowed to get away with such blasphemy.

The response in the media and by Rugby Australia’s need to have the matter investigated once again highlights our society’s view of Christianity. Effectively what Israel Folau has done is quote the Bible and summarise part of the Gospel message. Are we really at the stage in Australian society where Australians are to be publicly castigated for quoting the Bible? Are we prepared to enter that ominous space where nations like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China, already belong, namely to prohibit Bible verses and Christian messaging? Are beliefs consistent with 2000 years of Christian faith now to be defined as hate speech?

The reality is, the only version of Christianity our society is willing to accept is a Christianity that has all its edges cut and its heart and skeleton removed. The only acceptable Christianity is a dead Christianity, where Jesus is no longer Lord and where he doesn’t need to save because we are without sin. Jesus is nothing more than the candyman, handing out spiritual tips to people who haven’t yet grown up and realised that the world is without ultimate meaning and design.

 

4. Society wants to control religious speech

The word on the street today is less about Israel Folau holding his beliefs or not everyone is saying that he shouldn’t have freedom to speak his views. The message being proclaimed by commentators including Peter FitzSimons is  that Folau’s contract must be terminated,

“His contract will be suspended or terminated on the grounds of having breached either rugby’s social media policy or his contract.

Rugby Australia simply has no choice.”

In other words, you have the freedom to speak but should your words fail the test of modern secularist orthodoxy, your words will cost you.

The headline in today’s Fairfax newspapers is telling,

“Until Folau repents, Australia has no choice but to let him go”.

This is only the latest of a growing number of examples of Aussie Christians facing job loss and financial cost for choosing Jesus. There is no tolerance, no accepting of religious opinion that deviates from the proscribed agenda. There is only space for the dogmatic preaching of conformity to the storyline of authoritarian secularists.

 

5. Jesus was serious when he spoke about taking up a cross and following him

Notice the deathly silence from Christian leaders once again, as we squirm with the uncomfortable knowledge that we agree with Izzy even if we would say things a little differently. This is another awkward day for Aussie Christians because one of our own has let the cat out of the bag, and if we’re being honest, we’d prefer if he hadn’t. I wonder, what does this say about us?

At the time when Israel Folau was the subject of similar controversy last year, I wrote

“As a nation we are struggling to cope with societal pluralism. Sexuality has now been defined in such strong terms, that alternative views, as reasonable and loving as they may be expressed, are now perceived as evil and unacceptable. It’s reached the point that sporting codes are now making theological commentary, and assuming a position on hell. Unfolding before us is another test for Australian society. Are we serious about religious freedoms and freedom of speech, or does the rhetoric only apply when beliefs fall into line with the new sexual morality? Do we accept that millions of Australians don’t subscribe to the now popular view on marriage and sexuality, and that these Australians have a right to express their opinions? While politicians and company CEOS and sporting organisations wrangle over a position on religious freedom, it is even more important for Australian Christians to be thinking through these issues. What do we really believe? How can we best communicated what we believe? What are prepared to lose for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?”

Even though Folau’s sporting future remains uncertain, his testimony presents a challenge to the rest of us Aussies who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Would we be prepared to walk away from job security? Would we be willing to give up a lucrative income? Are we ready to embrace public abuse?

Our Bible text for this Sunday at Mentone Baptist Church is Matthew 16:13-28. Following Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus began to explain that he must suffer and die. When Peter rebuffed Jesus for suggesting such a crazy idea, Jesus then explained,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Do we love our sport more than we love Jesus? Is our pursuit for social acceptance more important to us than loving our neighbours as Christ has loved us? 

When Jesus spoke about taking up a cross and giving up the world’s offerings, he wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Perhaps it is time for Christians in Australia to begin pondering his words and examine our own hearts and ambitions.

 


Update: Rugby Australia have announced that they are terminating their contract with Israel Folau (April 11th, 6:30pm)

 


Update April 14th

It’s important to relay important information when it comes to light so that I’m not misrepresenting the facts

  • Rugby Australia remain intent to sack Folau, however, the argument is being made by legal experts that this may not be possible as RA haven’t followed their own code of conduct when it comes to disciplining players
  • More important, someone has brought to my attention that Folau seems, at the very least, to be confused by the Christian teaching of the Trinity. His comments on the Trinity that have been shared with me are troubling, to say the least. This doesn’t negate the 5 points made in this post, but it may cause us to reevaluate Folau’s understanding of Christianity.  I suspect that many Christians, in explaining God, fall into one Trinitarian heresy or another, simply because they haven’t been taught the Scriptures well. Perhaps he needs a Christian brother to get alongside him and disciple him with a Bible in hand (don’t we all?). The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is too important, too central to the Christian faith, for us to ignore.
  • A few voices are now suggesting that Folau made a verbal agreement with Rugby Australia not to post such comments again on social media (I don’t know whether this is accurate or not). If that is true, then he has acted dishonestly and it is appropriate for Rugby Australia to sanction him. It also remains the case that it is inappropriate for RA to make such religious demands of its players, especially given there are examples where other players have publicly commented on similar issues, albeit for a different point of view to Izzy. 

Mark Dever encourages Melbourne Churches

In Melbourne last week The Gospel Coalition of Australia (Victorian chapter), organised a day gathering for pastors and lay leaders. There are 2-3 similar gatherings held each year. The purpose of these meetings is to encourage men and women through faithful expository preaching, by praying for Victoria and for each other’s ministries, and to facilitate networking and building of relationships between churches and between Christian leaders.

 

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In a city that is notoriously tribal, whether it’s football or even Christianity, TGCA is proving to build bridges amongst many of the Churches and parachurch groups. Last Wednesday around 250 men and women attended, representing over 100 churches and parachurch organisations, from across many denominations. Such gatherings are unusual in Melbourne, but they are certainly a beautiful sign of God’s grace and of the power of the Gospel to draw people together. It is a joy to see TGCA serving as a means for bringing evangelicals together from around Victoria. 

Mark Dever (the Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC and President of 9Marks) was visiting Australia and speaking at a number of events across our major cities (and Sydney), and he graciously agreed to speak at the Victorian gathering. Without repeating everything that was said and discussed throughout the day, here are 4 things that stood out to me, which I would like to share with you.

 

1. Ministry isn’t performance

The venue hosts (to whom we are greatly thankful for their generosity and hospitality), were setting up the auditorium’s lighting and sound when Mark requested that the lights be turned up. Why? Christian ministry isn’t a show with the spotlight shining on the preacher and where he can’t see the faces of the congregation/audience. Christian ministry, including the public teaching of God’s word, is not an exercise of spiritual manipulation or creating chasms between the ‘expert’ preacher and the congregation. Mark wanted to see and engage with the people present. For example, during question time, he would ask for peoples’ names and the church they belong too. 

Observing this short interaction just prior to the event beginning reminded me of this salient point; ministry isn’t performance. It isn’t about the preacher or whoever is standing on the stage. Sometimes we complicate ministry by adding unnecessary elements which can create unhelpful theological and pastoral barriers. In public teaching or certainly for Sunday church, are we relying upon or utilising special effects in order to create the moment or to elucidate a response from the congregation? Does our architecture, our stage managing, and our use of multimedia support our ecclesiology and our trust in the power of the Gospel and the sufficiency of Scripture, or are we undermining these things?

The topic of church music came up during question time: Does our music encourage the saints to sing, to encourage each other and to glorify God, or are they passive bystanders watching, admiring or criticising the band? Does the band function as an edifying accompaniment or as the main act? As someone who used to earn a living from playing music, I appreciate fine musicianship. I enjoy listening to a full & loud sound from a band. Even more, I love hearing the congregation sing. Let’s not interfere with or discourage the sounds of the congregation. The point is so simple and yet we sometimes miss it.  I am less seeking to answer these questions here, but to raise them for others to wrestle with them in their own context.

 

2. Ministry is foremost about remembering old things, not searching for new things

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” (1 Corinthians 15:1)

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9)

A comment that I heard repeated throughout the day was that people were not always learning new things, but they were being reminded of truths which they already new and believed, and were thankful to God for these reminders. This is not to say that we cannot learn new things in theology and in how we go about doing ministry; far from it. We want to be humble students of the Word and also to learn the culture in which we are serving. We can expect God to teach us things that we have previously misunderstood or not thought about. Ministry, however, is far more about practicing consistently what we know to be true rather than looking for new ideas to ground and to direct our Churches. Paul didn’t teach the church in Ephesus to move onto neoteric ideas, but to remain rooted in what they had come to believe. But remaining in God’s word growth would inevitably come (Eph 4:11-16).

Pastors are not immune to being enticed by new ideas and by promises of success in building large churches and gaining peer recognition. There’s a reason why books that unveil the ‘secret’ to growth are so popular; pastors and churches get sucked in and buy them. It is perhaps one reason for the popularity of some Christian conferences; we pay and listen to buy the formula which will save and grow our Churches… and then, after trialing and failing we then move on to the next faddish book and ministry. 

With an air of unoriginality and yet wonderfully refreshing, Mark spoke about the role of preaching and the ministry of prayer and about discipling others in the faith and of the God-given grace of patient perseverance. Again, it was simple, and yet our fidgety minds are sometimes too eager to complicate and move from these basic principles of pastoral ministry.

As Mark said, “faithfulness is the yardstick for success”.

3. Membership really matters

The subject of church membership was addressed in Mark’s presentations and it was again raised during question time and in the panel discussion.

It is staggering to see how many churches don’t practice church membership, and those which do, often think little of it. Church membership is biblical, and it is also sensical and pastorally helpful. No doubt, membership cuts against the grain of our individualistic culture, where we join and leave workplaces, clubs, courses, and relationships, more regularly than any previous generation. We are a noncommittal generation, wanting to try and taste without any meaningful responsibility. Our yes is yes until there is a moment’s disagreement or patch of discomfort and then we turn our yes into a no.  This pursuit of individualism and a lack of emphasis on biblical church membership hamstrings long term Church health and unity. I’m reminded of something Murray Capill once wrote about Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians,

“The letter shows, somewhat plainly, that church life is not always happy, relationships are often complicated, our best attempts are easily misunderstood, the gospel and the church is constantly under attack, divisions easily occur, mistrust can develop, and even great pastors can come unstuck.”

Church membership is one of the forgotten branches of Christian spirituality. Membership is amazing and arduous. I am praying that one of the outcomes from last week will be pastors and lay leaders going away and thinking more deeply about this all-important topic of membership. Without it, we are working against the spiritual vitality of each believer under our care and against the wellbeing of our Churches.

 

4. Let us not neglect the love of God

“Love is not an optional part of Christianity”. Mark Dever

In the evening session, Mark expounded 1 John 4:7-21, reminding us of the extraordinary love of God in Christ Jesus. Christian ministry must be ground in God’s love, a cross-centered love, which frees us to love God and to love each other. Indeed, it was a great place for ending an encouraging day

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

 

I was encouraged by the teaching and by meeting and praying with many other believers from across Melbourne and Victoria. If you are interested to find out about future events, please visit this link and sign up – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org.au/victoria/

 

Australians turning to the USA to find the ideal baby

Australian couples are turning to the United States to help them find the ideal child.

Among all the questions that Susan and I talked about and thought over as we considered having children, not once did we ask, ‘what coloured eyes would we prefer our children to have?’  Such contemplation would not find entry into the top 1000 questions that we asked ourselves about the children we hoped to have the privilege of raising and loving.

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An article published by the Herald Sun over the weekend revealed that hundreds of Australian couples are paying up to $20,000 for ‘designer babies’.   Australian couples are utilising the services made available at Fertility Clinics across the United States, to siphon out babies who don’t fit with their dream baby. Most common, parents are screening for gender, deciding whether they wish to have a girl or boy. There are also cases where parents are selecting their child’s eye colour; in fact, there is now an 18-month waiting list for this screening test.

Journalist Natasha Bita reported that “Controversially, it claims that Australian medicos are co-operating with the offshore clinic…The NHMRC yesterday warned it would be illegal for Australian doctors to co-­operate with foreign clinics offering selection for gender or eye colour.”

Brisbane geneticist Professor David Coman is right when he said, this is a case of “eugenics” and it is “grossly inappropriate in the Australian culture”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines eugenics as, “the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.”

What these “desirable heritable characteristics” are, will vary depending on the culture and the dominant moral narrative of the day. Eugenics has been advocated and practiced in many cultures, perhaps most infamously in Nazi Germany during the 1930s-40s. One difference today is the greater wealth of scientific knowledge made available to medical experts for identifying all kinds of details pertaining to an individual human being from its earliest moments of life in the womb (or petrie dish as it may be). Technology is a useful servant, and it can create greater destruction than the hammer of Thor. Too often, what is discerned as possible through science, soon afterward becomes a moral commitment; we can therefore let us do.

Thank God that many forms of eugenics are currently banned in Australia, and yet the door has already swung wide open as doctors test for all manner of ailments and give parents permission to keep or to kill, based on whether they wish to have a child with a potential illness. No doubt some parents use this information to help prepare them for parenthood, while others use diagnoses to determine whether they will keep the pregnancy or not.

What happens to those embryos who don’t fit the parents’ requirements, whether it is the ‘right’ gender or even the ‘right’ coloured eyes? Are these little ones given another chance or are they discarded into a rubbish bin, like we would with a piece of fruit that is past is best used by date?

Are children to be loved unconditionally or should they be viewed as a valuable commodity, selected and loved like the family pet. Should a parent’s love for their children be measured by gender or by disability or by how many fingers or toes are counted? Is a child to be more or less valued because of their DNA or potential chromosomal abnormality? Should we really take into account the colour of a baby’s eyes? Australian culture is drifting far from the worldview of Psalm 139.

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”

Our society has moved a long way from holding fast to these ancient words, words which delight in the life of every image-bearer of God. It is liberating Psalm, for the dignity of each person is not contingent upon the value attributed by another person or social opinion, but by the fact of ontology.

Popular threads on social media and in the news will downplay the wonder of Psalm 139 and instead elevate the freedom of others to choose life or death. The practice is revealing uncomfortable truths that can’t be denied, despite clamorous noises trying to ignore and/or downplay:

  • The majority of babies aborted are girls
  • Babies diagnosed with possible physical abnormalities are many times more likely to be aborted than those without
  • In parts of America, such as New York State, the number of African-American babies being aborted is greater than those who are born.
  • Most late-term abortions are not performed because the baby’s or mother’s life is at risk.

Most of these examples are forms of eugenics. We may avoid the language due to its historical associations, but it is nonetheless the practice of controlling breeding in order to increase desired social outcomes.

Psalm 139  reveals a complex anthropology. For while the Psalmist glorifies God for the wonder of life in the womb, he also calls for God to intervene against those who shed blood. It is as though those who destroy human life are hypocrites, denying their own humanity as they refuse it in others.

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!

They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.” (verses 19-22)

The Psalmist, however, does not end with this view of retribution but turns to his own situation and asks God to make known to him things that are unacceptable and unbecoming in his own life.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting”. (verses 23-23)

The point is this, we are quick to judge nations around us for their discrimination and violence, but we are slow to acknowledge our own participation in the dehumanisation project. Instead, we have resolved to justifying ourselves in manipulating and even taking life. We allege that “it’s an act of mercy…the cost would be too great…the parents may not cope”.

Even we Christians who speak to the dignity of every human life, ever for us, especially us, we must ask of God, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”. When this process of Divine examination begins, we remember that our own faults and offences are great, so hideous that they demanded a bloody cross to bring redemption and peace. In other words, the Psalmist’s anger, although justified, leads to personal reflection and repentance; not only damning culture but offering a better paradigm. With this in mind, Christians have something worth offering. Just as Christians once challenged the Roman practice of infanticide by quietly loving and saving the unwanted, let us consider how we can counter the growing and dreadful practice of eugenics.

Melbourne and the rest

Perhaps I should preface this self-congratulatory post by acknowledging that it may contain grains of hubris and slices of hyperbole and possible inflation of reality, but this is Melbourne and this is what we do.

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No other Australian city has the MCG!

This following list was compiled a few years ago, but in honour of some friends of mine who are currently touring around Australia and are seemingly confused about Australia’s great city and the provincial cousins, here is the true picture; unembellished and free from facts.

This is how Melbournians relate to the rest of Australia:

  • We like Tasmanians because they’re like a younger sibling to us and they are so lucky to have as an older brother.
  • We laugh at Queenslanders because they are slow and talk funny.
  • We don’t like Adelaide because they want to prove themselves to be our equal and we know they’re not.
  • We have an eternal grudge match against Sydney. We dislike Sydney so much that our newspapers have a mandatory editorial published every month about why Melbourne is better than Sydney (this sentence is one of the few in this post that’s actually true!). We know we’re superior to Sydney, if only the world we recognize that fact. What makes this rivalry almost unbearable is that when a Melbournian meets a Sydney-sider, this northern neighbor is usually oblivious to the fact that the two cities are meant to be at war. Most foreigners think that Sydney is the capital of Australia. When we’ve stopped laughing at this ludicrous conceit, we take it as a personal insult.
  • We would also take issue with Perth but Perth is so remote we can’t be bothered to yawn at their cultural insignificance…although we happily shared from their billions coming the mining industry boom.

 

I hear what some critics suggest and that Melbourne’s weather is somewhat unpredictable,  and not always as sunny and as warm as Brisbane and Perth. Melbourne retorts, who wants sunny every day? The fact that snow and sun and heat and cold will share the 24-hour weather cycle gives birth to the artistry and complex cultural diversity that continues to define Melbourne as the world’s greatest metropolis. We have grabbed hold of these slings and arrows of climate to create cafes and sporting events and parklands to envy galleries all over the globe. Why else do we care that our airport is so ugly and inconvenient? Because once you’re here, you’ll never need to go back to the airport. 

Put it this way. In 2018, 119,000 people left their homes from all over Australia and from across the world, and made Melbourne their new home. On average 100,000 people move here each year to drink our coffee and to play our footy (and possibly for one or two other reasons also). Indeed, Melbourne will soon outshine Sydney altogether as she loses her final vestige of dominance over us, the awe-inspiring and pointless statistic: Australia’s largest city.

 And what about the rest of the world? Every year we pump ourselves up with self-adoration and we award ourselves with medals for competitions that don’t exist…because we are best! Melbourne’s “National” Art Gallery recently showed off an exhibit about, you guessed it, Melbourne and why Melbourne beats the rest.

If anyone is still left with a smidgeon of doubt, remember this, the rest of the world continues to vote Melbourne as the most liveable city in the world. No-one quite knows what “liveable” means, but that’s beside the point.*

 

*yes, Melbourne has recently lost the title to Vienna but one can’t allow such details to interrupt my narrative

Raising the stakes on sex

Jane Caro and John Dickson have been exchanging thought tweets over the past couple of weeks.  It has been an interesting and helpful dialogue. I think it’s important for us to listen to each other in order to understand what makes each person ticks and to find out why we believe what we believe. 

Over the weekend Jane Caro made a comment which appears (Jane can correct me if I’m wrong) to have been written as a way of closing down this conversation. Caro said,

“Dear right-to-life men, if u have sex without wearing a condom u have no right 2stand on any kind of moral high ground & compel a woman 2carry your stray sperm 2fruition. In fact, if u ever have sex without being fully prepared to raise any child who may result u are a fraud”.

John Dickson noted the pro-life position that Caro has unwittingly outlined, not only for men but also for women. He said,

“I agree with this. But I wonder if you do! You wrote: “In fact, if u ever have sex without being fully prepared to raise any child who may result u are a fraud.” Does that apply to women, too?”

He later responded to someone who objected to his question by saying,

“All of that is true. None of it negates the question: Shouldn’t both sexes be willing to take full responsibility for any life that is created by having sex? I say: yes! Is it really plausible to suggest this principle only applies to men?”

Again, it’s a fair question.

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I’ve noticed amidst recent commentary on abortion that there’s another piece of logic and ethics that has, in my opinion, gone astray. The logic goes like this,

  1. Leading up to and during sex, a man needs to take responsibility for his actions.
  2. If the woman falls pregnant, it is her decision alone whether she keeps or aborts the child
  3. Upon giving the birth the man ought to share responsibility for raising and supporting the child

I suspect almost everyone agrees with points 1 and 3. We need to acknowledge that there are some men who fail miserably on points 1 and or 3. The Proverb is true of them,

“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)”.

While I have met such men, I know many more who behave very differently, and with great love, care, and responsibility. Notice, however, that this chain of responsibility has been cut in the middle?

Last week I was reminded in very adamant terms that men shouldn’t talk to the topic of abortion. The argument presented was that men don’t experience pregnancy and so they should simply shut up. The baby is nor forming inside the man, and so his views are not required….except for those men who publicly and without qualification support the course of abortion! Yes, men do not and cannot understand what it is like to be pregnant, with all its joys and fears, expectations and uncertainties, but that does not mean that most men do not care and that we have no sense of responsibility to protect and nurture young life. I began to wonder, should the ALP present their newly announced abortion platform to the Parliament, will male MPs be asked to sit out of any debate on abortion and will they be asked to refrain from voting? Will men who work on hospital boards be requested to abstain from commenting should the Labor position become law? What of male doctors and nurses who are faced with the ethical dilemma of abortion? What about the fathers of these children? 

Let me repeat, along with John Dickson, that I agree with Jane Caro’s comment. In fact, I suspect there is broad consensus in the community that men must take responsibility for points 1 and 3.  However, the logic that is today commonly espoused in our culture excises men during stage 2. Again, I appreciate that mothers have a peculiar relationship with their child in the womb that no man can fully understand. It is also true that fathers share a special bond with their children, even while the infant is growing inside the womb. To insist upon responsibility at the start and at the end, but not in the middle, is surely a moral mistake? This is not about men demanding anything, but it is a couple who have committed to the good of each other, giving and receiving in love. 

I would take it one step further and suggest that point 2 shouldn’t exist at all. The very notion that we are discussing whether to kill a baby or not is morally insane. But for argument sake, let’s assume the moral posture that Australian culture has adopted, can we not still see the problem with premise no.2?

It’s almost as though the very nature of sex communicates that it is not suited for the uncommitted and unloving. It is not a casual transaction. It is not without design and purpose. Sex is of such intimate and personal giving of oneself to another human being that it requires deep commitment and trust; dare I suggest, sex needs marriage. Yes, marriages can breakdown. Both men and women can fail in keeping their covenantal promises of marriage. Sadly, some marriages become like hell. But have the alternatives done better? We are suffering from myopia if we fail to acknowledge that when marriage is working (which it most often does), it offers the best framework to resolve the tensions and mistrust and fears that are involved in these issues surrounding raising children.

Jane Caro has made an important point. She hasn’t gone far enough, but it is a start. Men take responsibility for your actions. If you are unable to commit to raising a family and to do so with the character and longevity that is required, it is better for everyone that you practice some good old fashioned and virtuous self-control.

“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”(Psalm 32:9)

ALP Abortion Policy won’t make for a better Australia

“There is a way that appears to be right,

    but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

 

This week, Tanya Plibersek announced Labor’s plan to further support the widespread practice of abortion in this country. The  ALP is proposing that abortions should be more easily available, funded by the taxpayer, and that this should include late-term abortions, and that Federal funding to hospitals will depend on them providing abortion services.

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By Thennicke – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The media is reporting support for this policy initiative from across the country, but many other Australian women and men are saddened that our society is so determined to dehumanise the most vulnerable.

What is remarkable about this announcement is that it follows the recent dreadful revelations that have been made public in the United State regarding abortion. Different State legislatures have proposed Bills that make it easier for babies to be aborted up to birth, and now, even post birth.

In January, a stomach-churning video went viral. In the State of Virginia, House Democrats were advocating a Bill that would legalise late-term abortion, just days after New York State adopted similar legislation. Kathy Tran, a Democrat delegate, responded to questions by admitting that the Bill will permit abortion even as late as when a woman has entered labor.

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow abortion up to 40 weeks.”

Todd Gilbert: “Where it’s obvious a woman is about to give birth…would that be a point at which she could still request an abortion?”

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow that, yes”.

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, later added at a media conference that the life of a newborn child can be legitimately ended if that is the wish of the mother and attending physician.

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”.

Within days, the US Senate debated a Bill to ban infanticide and thus require medical practitioners to provide medical care for infants born alive post a botched abortion. Yes, this happens, and yes, the Bill was blocked.

Labor’s policy would include public funding to cover late-term abortions, as exercised by some Australian States. Over the weekend I once again heard the suggestion that late-term abortions only occur when the mother’s life is at risk or in cases where the babies’ health is severely compromised. Let us be clear, this is not the argument used by legislators in the United States this year. The argument is, it is the mother’s right to choose abortion, even at the point of giving birth; nothing about baby or mother suffering from physical or psychological trauma.

Moreso, the data doesn’t support the hypothesis that late-term abortions are restricted to life-threatening situations. In my home State of Victoria, the Government’s own data states that 14.9% of all perinatal deaths in Victoria were accounted by abortions for “maternal psychosocial indications” (children aborted prior to 20 weeks are not included in the data). 40.32% of all late-term abortions (from 20 weeks) are for “psychosocial” reasons, meaning there is nothing wrong with the baby or physical health of the mother.  Please note, these numbers include terminations that occurred in hospitals and does not include abortions that take place in clinics (which is where the majority of abortions happen).

On January 29th I wrote,

“What makes our society even more culpable than past societies is that we are committing the same sins but with greater knowledge and with greater ability. Modern knowledge reveals truths about how babies are formed in the womb, things that were once believed but could not be seen until the invention of ultrasounds. We can see the heartbeat of a baby in the earliest weeks. We can delight at a child’s fingers and toes growing at 6 weeks. We now know that babies can hear and respond to music by 16 weeks; the next Mozart is already learning to feel and marvel at the beauty of sound.

Medical advancements give us unparalleled ability to care for both mother and child, to even perform surgery on a baby while it is in the womb. When these little ones surprise us by coming into the world early we have the know-how to save the lives of these children as young as 22 weeks.

This is a grotesque reality in which we live: despite superior knowledge of human life in the womb and superior medical technology to save life, our commitment to destroying life has also increased.

I suspect some readers will respond with partial agreement; you dislike late-term abortions, but you don’t have a problem with ending a pregnancy during the first trimester. This is not an uncommon position to hold.

May I respond by asking you this question, at what point can we draw an absolute moral line? At what point can we justify the moral shift from being okay with killing the child to believing it is not okay?  Is the moral threshold when the baby begins to feel pain? Is it the moment cognitive awareness starts? Is it the week when their limbs have formed? Is it the moment the heart begins to beat? There is no ontological moment during a pregnancy at which we can argue, at this stage, it is okay to abort a child.”

Instead of the news from the United States making Australian politicians reluctant, one of Australia’s major political parties announces that they will to push ahead with liberalising abortion. Indeed, the ALP is going so far as to tie funding for hospitals to abortion. Are we as a society now prepared to blackmail medical institutions into contravening conscience and to performing a procedure that is specifically aimed at killing a human life? Where else in a civilised society does a Government compel another body or institution to take the life of a human being? Is it not ethically dubious to the say least?

I have no interest in the politicising of this issue; when should a human life be determined by a vote in Parliament?   I urge Tanya Plibersek and the Australian Labor Party to reconsider this policy. Included in the platform is money to support women who wish to have readier access to contraceptive methods. Great. There are viable and ethically sound alternatives to abortion. There are organisations who exist to help mums struggling with pregnancy. There are communities willing and able to assist. There is no sound reason to pursue the current course, except in the extremely rare circumstance where the mother’s life is genuinely at risk.
What a messed up society we’re creating. Scientific truth and biological facts are shunned in order to promote social agendas. We can openly and freely refuse a person’s humanity. We can end human life in the name of autonomy and personal liberation. We justify killing a generation of children in the name of genetic purification. It is truly insidious. It is all the more topsy-turvy as public policy undermines itself because it refuses to see the hypocrisy in its own sloganeering. A society cannot truly claim to believe in the equality of women while persisting in a practice that leads to the deaths of 1000s of young girls each year. The Federal Parliament has recently moved to begin a Royal Commission into the abuse of disabled people, but will they front the ideology responsible for killing 1000s of disabled Australians every year?

“Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.” (Proverbs 27:20)

Should the day come and we realise the ignominious nature of this dehumanisation project, we will look for a God who might dare forgive us, and remove the guilt that we cannot rid ourselves. The Bible speaks of such a merciful God. He is compassionate and patient, but his patience is not without end.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near ” (Isaiah 55:6)


According to reporting in The Age tonight (March 7th 7pm), Labor has reevaluated one of its major points and will now no longer expect Catholic hospitals to comply with legislation that requires all public hospitals to become providers of abortion. If correct, this is positive news but it doesn’t overturn other significant concerns