Jerusalem and Gaza, the home for many

As Jerusalem makes headline news across the world today, as so often is the case, my mind turned to a letter written by a friend a couple of years ago. At the time, with his permission, I posted it on the Mentone Baptist Church blog. Again with his permission I’m publishing the letter here, because it brings to the fore an often forgotten group of people who are living in that most beautiful yet tumultuous land. His letter doesn’t concern Jerusalem per se, but it does bring a nuance, and timely theological reflection, to a context which is too often misunderstood in binary ways. It was written in 2014.

 

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G. Athas (2017)

Editor’s note: due to the sensitivity of the issues I have withheld the author’s name. It is written by a Christian friend from Palestine who now lives in Melbourne. I am publishing, with their consent, part of an email correspondence from last week that came about after I learnt that members of their family have been killed in Gaza in recent days. 

 

“It is a sad reality…our loss is for my dad’s cousin, and 2 of my second cousins.  My dad is somewhat bitter about the events dominating the land since 1948 and the gradual ethnic cleansing since, and his family (and my mothers) experienced much sorrow seeing Christians flee – taking with them the true heritage of the land. 

Over the years, we have experienced losses that are hard to understand.  Another of my first cousins was shot in the hip, though is alive, and cannot walk around properly.  He has 2 daughters that he struggles to feed because he cannot work.  Therefore my dad and I have supported him somewhat – including his extended family.  This particular incident happened a few years ago in the previous incursion.  He’s a believer and knows that the Lord has a plan – but he struggles.  They live day by day.  His daughter, my niece, did not really know that bananas were yellow, because she had never seen one in real life.  Another of my cousins died late last year because he was unable to obtain medical treatment, and he was my age, and had 3 children.  The family is in great pain knowing that he may have been saved, but was not.

In Australia and much of the west it is very easy to take essential provisions for granted.  Food, water, warmth, basic amenities, and the freedom to worship as a Church or body of Christian believers.  Such rights as voting, police protection, medical and health cover, or a simple roof over your head do not exist to many in Palestine.  Freedom to move around from suburb to suburb within the nation do not exist.  There is no right to external travel, and no right of return.  

 We pray for Christians to be strengthened during this time.  We pray that they will not lose hope, and that they will not blame God, or Christ for the suffering and anguish they endure at the hand of politics, greed and selfishness – the inherent heart of man!  I know they have not got the answers they so desperately seek and they yearn for understanding and adequate explanation.  It is most undoubtedly a difficult time for them (and us being somewhat helpless here), and it seems like there is no real end in sight.  Every day passes by without offering a hint of improvement.  Another day of this life passes by and it cannot ever be reversed.  I know that this eats away at them because they feel they cannot even enjoy the simplest of lives with their children and families.  Uncertainty and persecution is everywhere.  Many fall in despair and suggest God is only a God of the Jews, and hater of the Palestinians.  They consider God hated Ishmael – whereas instead God saved him in the wilderness, and blessed him bringing into his line 12 princes.  The pain distorts their view on God’s true love and equitable justice.  God is not the racist they often time feel He is portrayed as.

So we do sincerely appreciate your prayer, and love in action.  Nothing else helps.  Earnest and fervent petition to our Lord to hear the voice of His people (Christians), whom He loves.  To incline His ear and see their affliction, and turn and answer them and heal their pain – bringing them closer to Himself.  And while doing so, to bring many more others to His Name that were once lost that they too may worship the One True God.  Selah. Amen. 

 As believers, we know that Jews can’t bring true peace.  Muslims can’t bring true peace.  But the Lord of the Bible can.

 I pray this is the Lord’s will for that land.  But I fear more trouble comes first.”

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Australia is Changing and Churches are unprepared

Note from today (December 7):

During the course of today, several MPs have offered amendments to the Parliament in order to ensure that religious freedoms and freedom of conscience will continue without threat, once the Marriage Act changes to legalise same sex marriage. As in the Senate, every single motion has failed to win sufficient support in the House of Representatives. No one is surprised by this. What has surprise me was when the member of Canning, Andrew Hastie, sought to table correspondence from religious leaders across the country and was denied. He was not even permitted to table the concerns from many of the nation’s most respected religious leaders.

The constant response to proposed amendments has been, fears of limiting religious freedoms are “baseless”, and they have ironically insisted upon this while the choir sitting in the public gallery have all day applauded and cheered when any MP has suggested religious freedom will be reduced.

One thing we can guarantee once the law passes, a point that I raised a couple of weeks ago, “As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture.”

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Since I was a child, Governments have promised to deliver a high speed train, to service Melbourne to Sydney. Last night, the Senate in Canberra began to deliver. The sexual revolution was offered a free upgrade which will ensure that it can accelerate toward its unaccommodating vision for Australia.

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Social progressives have declared their agenda for many years now, but other progressives felt the need to either downplay or ignore their voices, at least in public. Their dream for Australia seemed too bold, too audacious, too big to swallow all at once. 

The Australian public was reassured that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with freedom of religion, although social commentators and even politicians, dedicated an awful lots of words to insist that opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to be silenced. Indeed, within minutes of the marriage survey results being announced, Fairfax had published an article calling for Parliament to ignore the of religious freedoms,

“So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.”

Even prior to the marriage survey’s announcement, there was a chorus of public voices explaining how the debate on marriage was connected to religion, and that marriage is the instrument of choice to erase religion from public life altogether.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

We should not forget, that only last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff who subscribe with their values. By values, the Government was targeting beliefs that didn’t fall into line with the sexual revolution. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Remember all the assurances given to Australians during the same-sex marriage campaign, of how very little will change? Only a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister assured the nation that,

“I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom…”

Last night in Canberra, we were given assurances that much will change. So what was decided in the Senate last night? In short, there will be no safety net for any person or organisation who oppose same sex marriage, except for clergy when it comes to performing weddings and perhaps also for official ‘church’ buildings (although, the ABC is reporting that religious institutions will not be able to refuse to hire out church halls for same-sex weddings).

Stephen McAlpine gives this helpful summary of the main points thus far (based on reporting from The Australian):

  • Protect Civil Celebrants refusing to marry gay couples
  • Create two definitions of marriage – one as between a man and a woman and the other as between two people
  • protect “relevant beliefs’ around marriage
  • prevent governments and agencies from taking action against people with a traditional view of marriage
  • Allow parents to remove their children from classes if they believe material taught is inconsistent with their view of marriage

McAlpine is spot on,

“I totally get points one, two…I didn’t expect anything different on those, and can’t really see an argument around them.  But to refuse protection around “relevant beliefs” about marriage?  That opens the door to all sorts of activism, and it will cost religious groups dearly.

But it’s that idea that the Parliament does not see fit to protect people with a traditional view of marriage from having action taken against them by governments and other agencies that is particularly unfortunate.  You can hear the knives sharpening already, can’t you?”

The prophets of the sexual revolution don’t appear so crazy this morning; they were right and they’ve won the social and political battle. This debate was never about equality, but always about social conformity with the new sexual milieu. There are certainly Australians who still believe that all this is solely about equality and human rights, but they are pawns being played for a much bigger game.

Social pluralism is on the way out, and adherence to the new gods of sexuality is obligatory. Pluralism in Australian could only continue so long as those in authority encouraged alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. The Senate has taken the next step to ensure that such freedoms will decline. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

It’s not too late for the Parliament to deliver sensible legislation, but slowing down the train will be interpreted as a betrayal, and will likely have you thrown off. I’m not suggesting that Parliament puts on the brakes in relation to changing the Marriage Act. I’ve stated elsewhere that Parliament should not unnecessarily delay this process. However, it is incongruous to not fully address, the broader issues which are in fact the main issues.

It is important to remind ourselves that the future of the Gospel in Australia doesn’t ultimately need political assurances from the Government, for it is too good and too true. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

The Parliament is however, setting up the scene whereby being a Christian will carry more cost than it has in the past. It is time for Aussie Christians to take  their cross from under the bed, give it a good dusting, and start following Jesus.

Those who identify as progressive of course have nothing to fear from any legislation, because they eagerly jumped on board and abandoned the Gospel 6 stations ago. It doesn’t matter that their churches are dying,  they are happy to pay the price for a seat in business class.

I also suspect that many more Christians will go on pretending as though nothing has changed, until such time that they too have their convictions forced out of them and are then left vulnerable, having their dreams of a prosperous life derailed. When will we wake up and realise Jesus was telling us the truth all along?

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

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6)

The notions of liberal democracy and social liberalism lost some shape last night, and before this journey is over, we will have a nation that is less tolerant and less free. Christianity will survive because it is not defined by these terms, but we can no longer afford a cost free faith. Christians though are not the only ones who are likely to pay; eventually we will see people wanting to get off the train, and churches need to be there and ready to minister to the injured and hurting.

Are we ready?

 

 

 


An earlier report had suggest that Defence Chaplains were not given exemption. That was incorrect and have since made the correction here

Australia chooses to change marriage, and perhaps much more

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released the result of the marriage survey.

The question given to the Australian people was,

Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?

12.7 million people voted (79.5% of registered voters in the nation).

61.6% said yes, while 38.4% said no.

What does this mean? I wish to address two areas of impending decision making, the political and the Christian.

Political decisions

In terms of the politics, a private members Bill will be tabled this afternoon in the Senate, for debate and deliberation (the Dean Smith bill).

Several members of the Government have already indicated that the Smith bill will be used as the blue print, but they are open to amendments. The intention though is to pass legislation and the thus legalise same sex marriage before Christmas.

We do not know what shape the bill will finally take. Senator James Paterson (who supports SSM), has proposed a Draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill. This bill provides significantly more protections for Australians than the Smith bill, although Senior Government Ministers have already suggested that this is a non starter. 

We need to keep in mind that legislation is more complicated than simply replacing a couple of words in the Marriage Act. When same sex marriage was introduced in the United Kingdom (2014), hundreds of pieces of law required change, and all manner of issues relating to religious freedoms have appeared since. Indeed, the very notion of religious freedom is now more under threat in the UK than in any time since the reign of Charles II in the 17th Century.

Here in Australia, even prior to the law changing, we have witnessed preachers in Tasmania being brought before a tribunal for explaining the Bible’s view of marriage, and a Catholic Archbishop who wrote a leaflet for fellow Catholics, outlining their position on marriage.

If proper protections are not provided, we can expect an erosion of personal freedoms for anyone not subscribing to the new morality. Indeed, if, upon changing the law, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience is lessened from what we enjoy today, November 15th, this country will have taken one giant leap into a shark tank.

Associate Professor Neil Foster has written a helpful summary of the pros and cons of both the Smith and Paterson bills.

I doubt if many people are shocked by today’s announcement; disappointed and concerned, but not surprised. The compass has been pointing in this direction for 50 years, and we have not yet journeyed to the final destination. There is now the important question of how the Federal Parliament will now deal with the issue. Given the support for same sex marriage as expressed by the Australian public, I think it is only right that Parliament respect this democratic process. For those in Parliament who cannot, for conscience, support marriage redefinition, might I propose that you abstain rather than vote against. Doing so enables you to respect the decision of Australians without marring your conscience.

Even prior to any marriage changing, numerous threats have been made against individuals and organisations, for not coming out in support of same sex marriage. Some of these groups had simply made the decision not to become embroiled in the debate. Neutrality, however, is not enough for many same sex marriage advocates; total alliance is the only acceptable option.

This is a test for Australia and whether we truly wish to embrace cultural pluralism and liberal democracy, or whether we will heed the war drums of social progressives and thus move toward a poor replica. We must understand that this is not mere hyperbole, for even the favoured Smith bill will expose many Australians to threats of litigation and reduced freedoms

Former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, said on the weekend,

“West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bill guarantees only “the right of clergy and religious institutions” to decline participation in same-sex marriage services and celebrations. There is by omission no recognition of the likelihood of damage to the freedom of conscience for ordinary citizens and their businesses. Smith and many of his colleagues seem unmoved by the encroachments on freedom of speech and conscience already demonstrated in Australia.

Smith’s exemptions approach arguably does more harm than good, for it assumes freedom of conscience is of worth only to professional religionists and not to all Australians. This weakens even further the standing of this important democratic right and makes it an easy target for those who would lobby to erase this exemption and similar exemptions that may remain in state legislation.”

Why is this a problem? Because 4.83 million Australians have said that they do not support same sex marriage. Millions of  Australians potentially face loss of income, employment, and facing tribunals for adhering to a view that will no longer be supported by the law.

Will Australians be guaranteed freedom to continue teaching and explaining the classical view of marriage and sexuality, not only in a Church but also in public places including universities?

Will religious schools maintain freedom to teach and affirm the classical view of marriage?

Unless the Government ensure thorough and principled protections, we can anticipate the promises of many advocates being enacted onto our society.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.

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Decisions for Christians

Today is not a day for outrage, but for mourning. We must learn to weep like Jeremiah, and we must learn to live as Daniel. We must learn to accept injustice as did the Psalmists, and we must come to terms with the truth of Jesus’ words, ‘take up your cross and follow him’.

This is a good day for thankfulness and to remind ourselves of the hope that does not disappoint or fade.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

We are mistaken if we define God’s faithfulness by cultural or political successes, rather than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christian hope doesn’t diminish, depending on societal norms and laws. Rather it carries us through whatever transpires in life; this makes us the freest people on earth.

1. Stick with Jesus

Christian hope frees us to hang onto what we have become convinced is true and good.

It is not worth giving up God’s ways for the sake of social acceptance, and we are ultimately not serving them well or God, should we adopt the new moral horizon.

For a set of practical steps for Christians moving forward, please read https://murraycampbell.net/2017/11/14/gearing-up-for-the-marriage-survey-outcome/

2. Love your neighbours

While there are very important questions relating to the impact this change will bring for religious and societal freedoms, we should be less concerned about ourselves, and more concerned for the future of our children, and for the good of our fellow Australians.

We have opposed same sex marriage, not because we hate people but because we  love God and we love people, even our gay and lesbian neighbours, and we truly want them living well. Today’s announcement is no licence for changing either our view of marriage or God’s call to love our neighbours. I trust and pray that our resolve to be the best of friends, and the kindest of people, will increase from today onward. Did not God treat us with even greater love?

Today many Australians are celebrating, and many sensing relief. We are not among that number, but neither are we jealous or vindictive. Our hope remains unaltered, and as Russel Moore aptly noted following the Supreme Court decision in the United States to legalise same sex marriage, let’s be ready to embrace and welcome the many refugees who will come through this sexual revolution.

We must prepare today, to keep living out God’s good news tomorrow.

“I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly”. (Psalm 40:10)

“I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws”. (Psalm 119:30)

Does Australian Christianity need a Nashville Statement?

Today, The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW) announced the Nashville Statement, a manifesto designed to bring clarity to the Christian view of human sexuality.

Evangelical leaders from across the USA and the UK are signatories, with many more names being added, from across churches and different denominations. They share in common a belief in the truth and goodness of God’s word and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are also expressing concern over  the culture’s reconstruction of sexuality, and are calling Churches back to the Bible and to trust God’s purposes.

The Preamble states,

“Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.”

 

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In recent days we have seen a number of Christian leaders in Australia reject the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, and doing so with the intent of persuading the public, both Christian and non Christian, that God supports sexual unions that are not within covenant union of marriage between a man and a woman. One can understand why so many Australians and even Australian Christians are confused on these issues when recognised Bible teachers come out with their hermeneutical trickery. Other Christians feel unable to speak to these issues, not because they lack conviction, but out of fear of being ostracised.

It is the case that almost every major Christian denomination in the country has a formal position on marriage, one that reflects the Bible’s presentation. However, these are often unaccompanied with adequate theological and pastoral reflection, and they don’t speak to other matters of sexuality.

In our current climate, could we do with our own Nashville Statement? How could it be helpful for Churches? Obviously we would need to change the name to something more Aussie: perhaps Bourke or Newcastle, or Frankston! Which of the 14 articles would need recalibration for our context, if any?

There may be reasonable objections to putting together a nation wide Christian oracle, and it would be helpful to hear and consider these. One thing though has become increasingly clear in recent weeks, and that this is not a season for Aussie Christians to become unclear about or lacking confidence in God’s good purposes, and in the beauty of the Gospel.

Pursuing Public Conversation on Marriage

We live in strange days: When a Government breaks an election promise, the public is rightly critical and opposition Parties are justified to call them out. Even if we disagree with their political choices, there is an issue of integrity that the populace expect of our politicians.

Last night however, social commentators and some members of Parliament were outraged (again) that a Government has determined to keep its promise to electorate: to bring a plebiscite question on marriage to the Australian people. Is it not somewhat disingenuous to call Governments to account for broken promises one day, and then call them names the next day because they’re keeping their word?

 

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I personally think there are arguments for and against a plebiscite. The pathway is a decision that needs to be made by the Government of the day.

There is precedence for a plebiscite

Since Federation in 1901, at the Federal level Australia has held 44 referendums and 3 plebiscites. The States however, have conducted many more plebiscites, covering a wide range of issues including the establishment of Wrest Point Casino (Tas, 1986), closing hours for alcohol selling establishments, extending shopping hours (WA, 2005), and daylight savings.

In other words, on no fewer than 60 occasions, Australian Governments have taken an issue to the people and asked for their opinion. That is one referendum or plebiscite every two years; meaning we’re overdue.

In 1977 a plebiscite was conducted to decide our national anthem. Now, maybe I’m not as patriotic as other Aussies, but in my view, marriage is significantly more important than choosing to sing ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

The issue warrants Australia’s input

While 94% of the Australian population don’t see this issue as very important, I am persuaded that it is of grave significance.

We are not talking about a tiny amendment to the law, but the radical and complete alteration of society’s most basic building block: from marriage comes the family unit, and from family communities are formed, and with communities a society and nation is shaped. Marriage is not everything, but it is an important thing and it is one which has held an almost universally accepted definition since history began. Until recently very few societies would even consider the question, and today the vast majority of nations remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Let us understand that no one is quibbling over a few words, at stake is rebooting the very notion of marriage. There are already community voices arguing that this rewrite is simply a steppingstone to further changes and even the eradication of marriage altogether:

In 2015, Simon Copland, a columnist with the Sydney Star Observer, argued that equal marriage might unfortunately limit expressions of sexuality, saying that ‘while monogamous marriage still works for many, our society is increasingly questioning whether it should remain as the only option’.

At the 2012 Sydney Writers’ festival, Dennis Altman, was among a number of speakers who declared their hope that the Marriage Act would be eventually repealed altogether.

The point is, it is not hyperbole to suggest that should marriage redefinition take place, it will be considered a watershed event in Australia’s history, one which will have inevitable and enormous repercussions for society.

Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage.

While the primary issue relates to what is marriage, there are significant corollary issues that Australians need to be made aware of. There are real consequences relating to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and there are genuine questions relating to the rights of children having a mum and dad, and to the issue of surrogacy and assisted reproduction. It is simply naive for us Australians to assume that nothing will change.

One of the largest problems facing is that, as soon as the law changes, anyone opposing the law will find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and thus exposing themselves to all manner of litigation. Law Associate Professor Neil Foster has written an important article outlining the very real threats to individual and organisation freedoms, should same-sex marriage become law in Australia.

How to conduct ourselves through this national debate

One of the 6 Liberal MPs who forwarded the proposed legislation last night, is a local member for many members of my church. I have a lot of respect for Tim Wilson, and I think it’s positive that members of the Liberal Party were able to bring forward an idea to their colleagues and to discuss its merits, even though it turned out that something like 80-90% of the caucus were not in agreement with them.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a plebiscite or not. It is doubtful that a free vote in Parliament would have the numbers for changing the Marriage Act, and it is also likely that the numbers among the Australian public are tighter than polling suggests. Whichever steps are taken in coming weeks, I am asking the Christian community to be wise and gracious in our speech. Most Christians don’t need reminding, but there are always a few who ignore the words of the Bible.

Public discussion on this issue does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act. Throwing bile at another human being is detestable, whether it is done in person or on twitter.

Indeed, the essence of Christianity is Jesus Christ showing kindness to a world that had no room for his beliefs,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Bible gives us very clear instruction on how to treat people around us, even those who disagree with us.

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

 

As important as this national conversation is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is how we conduct ourselves. Predictably although sadly, already this morning social media is alight with unhelpful and untrue rhetoric from politicians and television presenters, making assumptions about ‘equality’ and imputing all manner of malevolent motives on those who believe in classical marriage. To them, I say, please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly with gay marriage is not hate, and to claim such risks undermining the foundations of democracy and a free society.

Is there persecution in Australia?

I don’t know if anyone has done the numbers, and I’m not old enough to know what Australian media was like before the mid1990s. I may be wrong, but my sense is that media is reporting more stories about Christians and Christianity than even 5 or 10 years ago. Many of the stories are negative (sometimes with good reason), while some are supportive of Christianity. There are stories and op-eds being written about Christianity and culture by Christians, and by agnostics, atheists, and Muslims; even sporting journalists are getting in on the act.

A good deal of what we read skews what Christians believe and practice, but why should we be surprised by that? Even some of the sympathetic journalism is unhelpful because it paints Christianity in ways other than through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On the upside, all the flurry of Christian attention is opening all kinds of opportunities to have conversations with people. On the downside, I am noting how many Christians are running too quickly to the poles, and not sticking with Jesus and letting his word shape our words and actions. As soon as another story about Christianity hits the news, responses are often tailored more by notions of progressive or conservative identities, and that’s a problem. When Christians too readily identify with left or right issues, we often can’t admit that there’s any problem unless it’s on the ‘right’ foot. The myopia is made worse by the fact that everyone has their preferred sources for news. The ABC is a friend…or foe. Are we Murdoch readers or Fairfax subscribers? And which journalist best represents our socio-political proclivities?

Last week’s story about children evangelising in Queensland school grounds is a classic example of this ridiculous Christian ping pong. On the one hand some Christian leaders ran to Andrew Bolt’s side, while other’s waved the Education Minister’s statement as proof that the entire story was a beat up. Both were wrong. The prohibition is real enough, and the Minister’s denial, while welcome, does not resolve the issue. Neither, though, is the Queensland Government the anti-Christ, as some silly people were suggesting.

Another example of this inane and insane polarisation took place today when Andrew Bolt jumped on the story of a Hobart Presbyterian Minister, Campbell Markham, who’s been notified of complaints made against his teaching by an upset atheist. As soon as people began to share the story on social media, it’s as though the Red Sea parted, with some going to the right in praise of Bolt’s defence, and others moving left to distance themselves from the Herald Sun columnist and all those shallow allegations of persecution in Australia.

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We would be mistaken if we defer to Andrew Bolt as some pseudo-Bishop for Aussie Christianity. After all, he does tell us that he is not a Christian. We are also mistaken if we close our eyes and claim that there’s nothing to see, and that any suggestion of persecution is simply overreach and unhelpful hyperbole.

Let’s take a look at the Bible’s language of persecution. The Biblical words convey a broad sense of opposition. The primary word, dioko, means to pursue, chase, or drive away. The aim of persecution is to drive away the Gospel, Jesus, and those who follow him.

Persecution can take on many shapes and sizes.

Persecution can be intense and severe: you may be marked out in your community and lose privileges that others enjoy. You may lose your job, be imprisoned, be forced to flee and seek asylum in another country. You may be killed. This is the experience of many millions of our brothers and sisters today in different parts of the world.

On other occasions, the Bible gives examples of ‘softer’ persecution. For example, in the Beatitudes Jesus says,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.”

We must be careful not to conflate our circumstances with those faced by many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Disagreement for example is not persecution.

We must also be careful not to minimise real threats that have been  made again some Christians in Australia. To argue that there is no persecution is ignorant and even callous.  Sure, persecution in Australia is unusual, but it’s not unknown. Indeed, more than a few members of my church have been subjected to bullying by parents and by spouses because they have chosen to follow Jesus. This includes disownment and disinheritance, should they persist in being baptised and joining a local church.

Across Bass Strait, Campbell Markham and David Gee are the latest Tasmanian preachers to have formal complaints made against them for their Bible teaching. Being brought before a State’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, because someone took offence at your preaching, is a form of thlipsis.

Just because there is no tsunami doesn’t mean that the tide isn’t changing, and neither does the changing tide mean that there’s a gigantic wave about hit the shore.

At Mentone Baptist we are currently preaching through Romans ch.12-16, and our text yesterday was 12:14-21. No matter the direction of the tide, it is a posture to have continually define our response,

“9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”