Public Speech: the New Code of Conduct

Last week the national crisis was cricket, this week it’s Rugby. The cricket story concerned 3 members of the national side who were caught cheating; the rugby headlines concern an individual player who has made a statement on instagram about his religious convictions.

I don’t follow Rugby Union; I’ve grown up with AFL, the game Israel Folau once tried to play. However, one doesn’t need to understand the rules of Rugby, to grasp that the rules for public speaking have changed in Australia. Governments are yet to determine what laws and codes of conduct will be written to support the recent amendment to the Marriage Act, but sporting codes and iconic companies are making it clear where they want lines to be drawn.

 

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On his instagram account, Israel Folau responded to a question about “gods plan for gay people” by saying, “Hell…unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.

First up, did Israel Folau say anything untrue?

Did he suggest anything that is out of sync with the Christian faith? No.

Could he have said it in a better way? I think so. Folau could have said something like, “Homosexual practices are one example of many ways in which we ignore God’s purposes. All of us, including myself, are guilty of living without regard for God and because of that we deserve hell. God  is holy and he also merciful, and that’s why Jesus came and died on the cross. The amazing thing is, by trusting in Jesus we are forgiven and the direction for life changes for the better, and we are promised a future that we don’t deserve but is God’s incredible gift to us.”

Perhaps he could have ignored the questioner who was clearly trying to trigger a response. Sometimes the wise thing to do is to say nothing. However, Israel Folau chose to speak up, and good on him for doing so. I wish he had been more gentle and nuanced with his answer, but his words were not wrong.

Christian beliefs are grounded in the Bible, and the Bible’s message about sexuality is clear and consistent.  As the Bible itself teaches, there is a trajectory within its story line, and so we are meant to read and interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, and to apply meaning through the lens of Jesus Christ. That means there are Bible verses which were spoken for a particular people and time, and no longer directly applicable to us. It also means that parts of the Bible are describing events to us us rather than prescribing specific norms for today. Nonetheless, the Bible’s teaching about human sexuality, including homosexuality and of marriage, retains a moral goodness and integrity from Genesis to Revelation.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has stated, “Israel’s comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby…We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby’s inclusion policy.”

There are two clear problems with Castle’s comments: First, Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy theoretically includes ‘religion’, and yet all the talk is about excluding Folau and his religious convictions, and these are beliefs which are in line with orthodox, historic Christianity and which are believed by thousands of Christian Australian who are playing sport at every level in this country. Second, there is a massive assumption being made here, that is, Folau’s comment is “homophobic”.

The policy states, “There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this”.

Here lies the problem. It is now taken as fact, certainly by Alan Joyce and others, that affirming the Bible’s view on sexuality is homophobic. If you agree with the Bible, you are a bigot. This is simply untrue. For example, Jesus spoke many words of disagreement to people around him, but was his motivation fear and hatred, or was it love and kindness? Did Jesus insist on calling sin, sin, because he wanted to crush people or because he wanted to save people? Sadly, there are individuals who are hateful toward people in the LGBTI community, and it is awful, and without excuse, and we Christians need to stand with you against any tirade of abuse.

Jesus once said, “the truth will set you free.” He didn’t say, the truth will agree with you, for he goes on to say, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This goes to the very heart of Christianity, which is God who disagrees with us, and yet became incarnate, speaking and living truth, dying and rising from the dead to redeem sinners. This message may not be popular in Australia of 2018, but then again, history shows us that the Gospel has rarely been a social media success, and yet it is too good and too important for silence. There is no other God who is honest with us like Jesus, and there is no one else who loved us to the extent of suffering crucifixion for our eternal joy and good.

It is not homophobic to hold to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. That’s not to say, people should listen to or accept this message, but calling it hate speech is false. Should Israel Folau be sanctioned for his comment? Is Qantas right to threaten Rugby Australia with their sponsorship?

I don’t agree with Alan Joyce’s views on sexuality, and I don’t like the way he has rebranded QANTAS as a gay pride flag flying company. Have I boycotted Qantas? No, in fact I’m flying with them tomorrow! What we are seeing is a major Australian company pressuring a sport to exclude a player who professes Christian beliefs. I think it would be unwise, but they might. I would ask,  is this the Australia we want to call home?

The Coopers Beer saga of last year served as a watershed (or should that be, beershed?!) moment in Australian social history, indicating that there would be a social and economic cost to anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the new morality. The art of toleration in Australia is being scrubbed out by a vocal priesthood of humanistic secularists who are intent on reframing the Australian identity and conscience. It is not only anti-Christian, it is an anti-freedom movement and is serving to diminish both religious and public non-conformity. Israel Folau is but another inevitable target of what will become many more in months and years to come.

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Late this afternoon at a press conference, RA chief executive Raelene Castle has said,

““This is a difficult issue when you think you are trying to combine religious beliefs, freedom of speech and inclusion, respect and the use of social media,” Castle said.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We want athletes in our code who are prepared to do that and that’s really important.

“But at the same time, Rugby Australia’s got a policy and position of inclusion and using social media with respect.

“So that’s where we shared stories, shared ideas and shared positions and both of us recognise that what we want is a situation where we use our social media platforms in a respectful and positive way.”

There are some positives here and it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds over the next few days, especially as to whether Qantas will turn down their rhetoric. Also interesting is Castle’s recognition of a now existing ‘tension’. Perhaps this is an opportunity for good listeners and reasonable minds to sit down and begin talking about how we can regain the art of disagreement in public discourse.

Federal Court Judge judges marriage

In the space of a few short years, we have created a new narrative in Australia, and it is one that our culture by in large assumes to be true and indisputable: do not judge another person’s sexuality.

When I took my 2 boys to the cinema last week to watch ‘Black Panther’, a new film was previewed, ’Love, Simon’, a story of a teenager who discovers he’s gay and falls in love with a classmate. Following this was Apple’s new advertisement celebrating same sex marriage. The new morality is clear and insistent,

“what you feel is who you are”.

“Don’t change. You cannot change. It is determined from birth.”

The weakness with this logic is that some people do change, as a Federal Court Judge has recently determined. A woman who entered Australia on a student visa, married a Lebanese man who is living here on a protection visa.

From the report in the Sydney Morning Herald,

“According to the AAT, the woman’s husband had been granted a protection visa on the basis of his homosexuality and feared persecution in Lebanon.

The tribunal wrote to the woman in January last year and said it was “difficult to see how the sponsor can have a commitment to his marriage to you when he has not told you about his claimed homosexuality”.

The woman’s lawyers wrote to the tribunal and said it was “not irrational or unreasonable for a former homosexual man to undergo a radical change in his sexual desires and now be fully in love and dedicated to his wife and family”.

The woman’s lawyers urged the AAT to consider the “cogent evidence” before it pointing to a genuine relationship, including the fact that the couple had a baby daughter.

But the tribunal found the couple were not credible witnesses. It said “the gay rights movement has, for decades, fought for the acceptance of homosexuality as a sexual orientation from birth, not something that … is a matter of choice or will or accident”.

The tribunal said it did not accept “the generalised argument that it is not unknown for a previously heterosexual man who has been married and has children, to enter into a homosexual relationship”.

“Without wishing to continue to generalise, it is most likely that such homosexual men have always been homosexual and have married and had children to comply with what were considered societal norms,” the AAT said.

The tribunal said it did not “disagree that it may well be the case that some heterosexual men have homosexual desires, or vice versa, or that some people are genuinely bisexual” but this was not what the husband had claimed.”

Maybe this marriage is legitimate and maybe it’s not; I don’t know the hearts of this couple,  but I certainly wish them the very best in their marriage. It is interesting though, the one thing we have been told incessantly over the past year is that we cannot deny other peoples love, and to deny them marriage is phobic. Indeed, who are we to even define love for them? And yet, here is a case of a marriage that doesn’t fall into line with the new morality’s code of ethics, and because of that it must be bogus. Really?

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Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot was correct to dispute the Tribunal’s conclusions about sexual orientation. The notion that a person’s homosexuality is determined at birth has no scientific support and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that demonstrated that some people do change. It is quite possible that there are genetic and biological factors which influence a person’s sexual orientation, and that there are also environmental and social reasons. The fact remains, some people do experience change in their sexual orientation.

This is one of the presenting dangers with the transgender issue. Young children are being taught in our schools that if they feel as though they identify with a particular gender they must be that gender and should now start transitioning into that gender. But as the research shows, the overwhelming majority of children who experience some form a gender dysphoria will grow out of it by the time they are adults.

It would be wrong and pastorally irresponsible to ever say to someone that they can or must change their sexual orientation. No doubt there are horrific stories about well-meaning people who have inflicted all kinds of mental scarring on people because they’ve tried to force a change. This is of course, precisely the kind of conversion therapy that is now being practised in Australia, and even within our schools, with impressionable children being led down paths that will create all manner of trauma for them in the future.

It is notable that a Federal Court Judge has exposed a popular narrative, although it’s unlikely to make any serious dent in the public conversation, because facts and non conformist stories are often not taken seriously. While many Australians who identify as LGBTIQ will hold onto that identity throughout their lives, others won’t. Some people do change, and others again will continue to struggle with their gender identity or sexual inclinations, but are convinced that they should live within the sexual framework outlined in the Bible. Sadly, such diversity of personal stories rarely reach our televisions, films, and education curriculum, because they don’t fit into the narrow narrative of the new Australian myth.

There is another story worth hearing, a better story, a more certain and freeing story. It brings clarity to a culture that is becoming increasingly confused, and brings hope to people who discover that the sexual revolution doesn’t deliver on its promises. The Christian message isn’t, ‘be straight and get married’, it is far greater and extends far deeper.

I am reminded of Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony,

“when I came to Christ, I experienced what nineteenth-century Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” At the time of my conversion, my lesbian identity and feelings did not vanish. As my union with Christ grew, the sanctification that it birthed put a wedge between my old self and my new one. In time, this contradiction exploded, and I was able to claim identity in Christ alone.”

While Butterfield’s sexual orientation did change and she is now married with children, this is not the experience of everyone who has same sex attraction. Indeed, there are many Christian men and women who remain single, same sex attracted, and living fulfilled and celibate lives. This can only mean that there is something more integral and sustaining and satisfying which is found in an identity that becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

Charlotte Elliot says it so well. Her hymn, ‘Just as I am”, was made famous by Billy Graham. Even two centuries after she penned these words, they tell us of a wonderful story that can become our story,

Just as I am – and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,

To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,

Fightings and fears within, without,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind,

Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because Thy promise I believe,

-O Lamb of God, I come!

Billy Graham and Melbourne’s record

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is one of the great sporting stadiums of the world. First built in 1853, it is the home of Australian Rules Football. For 6 months of the year, 10,000s of football fans descend onto the G each weekend, to watch their teams play. The MCG has also been the scene of many memorable Cricket Tests, where on Boxing Day, 90,000 Melbournians take their seats to watch 590 balls bowled to terrified or dumbfounded batsmen.

During the Second World War, thousands of American Marines and GIs camped under the stands. In 1956, Ron Clarke lit the Olympic cauldron at the top of MCG, during opening ceremony of the Melbourne Olympics Games.

Every Australian knows the MCG, and almost every Melbourne family has taken a seat to watch the cricket or footy. It has become a family tradition of ours, to enjoy Carlton beating Essendon on a winters day, and in the summer heat, to cheer on the Aussie cricket team. We still talk about the times when our eldest son was given the opportunity to train at the G (and ran out on the pitch when no one was looking!)

The Melbourne Cricket Ground is symbolic of Australians favourite past-time, sport. We idolise anything that involves running, and kicking or hitting a ball. It’s how we spend our weekends, playing and watching sport.

 

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This temple of Melbourne once bore witness to a very different stage. There were no footballs or cricket bats present, no athletes running around, and no one paying for admission. Instead, 140,000 men and women crammed the stands and spilled onto that famous turf, to hear Billy Graham preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 1959, the Billy Graham crusade had already run several meetings at another stunning venue, the Myer Music Bowl. But because of the large crowds, it was decided to move the final crusade to the MCG. Even then, no one would have predicted how many people would come, and the mark it would leave on Melbourne’s history.

I love this surprising fact about my city: Melbourne who is so proud of its prosperity, Melbourne who worships sport, Melbourne who is clambering to make herself one of the world’s most progressive and secular cities. In our most loved place, the record highest attendance is for an evangelistic sermon.

Our MCG has witnessed many celebrated moments, but the one which has left a mark for eternity was that day in 1959, when  Billy Graham came and opened the Bible, and preached the good news of Jesus Christ. In the kindness of God, and perhaps with a degree of irony, God replaced the idols of Melbourne with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, and lives were transformed.

Melbourne in the 1950s could be described as conservative, and having a strong Christian culture. It was not however Christian. For hundreds of people that day though, Christian influenced habits became a living faith. Today, our society may still hold onto many strands of Christianity but it has long forgotten their significance, and with moral certainty we are one by one cutting these ties. Perhaps in His mercy and love, God might again reveal his grace and power in Melbourne. Not that we are looking for a repeat of a Billy Graham crusade, but rather we look to the one whom Billy Graham preached and lived.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

Rachael Denhollander and her extraordinary speech

“blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Jesus Christ)

 

Today I had the privilege, along with millions around the world, to watch one of the most extraordinary speeches I have ever heard.

Child sexual abuse is one of the great sins of this age. It is an ancient evil, as well as modern one, but until recent times so much was covered up and victims were so often not believed. Today, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was jailed for 175 years, having sexually abused countless number of girls under his care.

 

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These stories are far too common, as we also know here in Australia, and we should not be surprised to hear of many more similar cases coming to the fore in days and years to come. The crime is now sadly a familiar one, but in the midst of harrowing testimonies there came a message of purity, goodness, and astonishment.

Rachael Denhollander was the first victim to publicly come forward with allegations against Nassar, and she was final of 156 survivors to speak in court. 24 hours ago I had never heard of Rachael Denhollander, but today I encourage people to listen to her voice and to hear her message.

We live in a world filled with the stench of evil, and that evil resides in the hearts of humankind. It was not so long ago that we all had friends who doubted the existence of evil, certainly in an intellectual or objective sense. At yet, as doors open and as people find courage to speak, we discover that evil abounds and it is more prevalent and real and darker than we believed.

In her address, Rachael Denhollander speaks candidly of the pernicious and devastating behaviour of Larry Nassar upon so many girls, including herself.

“Larry is a hardened and determined sexual predator. I know this first-hand. At age 15, when I suffered from chronic back pain, Larry sexually assaulted me repeatedly under the guise of medical treatment for nearly a year. He did this with my own mother in the room, carefully and perfectly obstructing her view so she would not know what he was doing. His ability to gain my trust and the trust of my parents, his grooming and carefully calculated brazen sexual assault was the result of deliberate, premeditated, intentional and methodological patterns of abuse — patterns that were rehearsed long before I walked through Larry’s exam room door and which continue to be perpetrated I believe on a daily basis for 16 more years, until I filed the police report.”

She spoke of why justice must be meted out.

“Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected? And I could not do that ,but we are here now and today that message can be sent with the sentence you hand down you can communicate to all these little girls and to every predator to every little girl or young woman who is watching how much a little girl is worth.

I am asking that we leave this courtroom we leave knowing that when Larry was sexually aroused and gratified by our violation, when he enjoyed our suffering and took pleasure in our abuse, that it was evil and wrong.

I ask that you hand down a sentence that tells us that what was done to us matters, that we are known, we are worth everything, worth the greatest protection the law can offer, the greatest measure of justice available.”

She also spoke of an idea, a message and desire that is shared less often in Western societies today, less believed and more rarely practiced. Rachael Denhollander spoke of Divine judgment and mercy. She affirmed her belief in the God of the Bible as one who rightly punishes evil, and yet who lovingly offers mercy.

While addressing Larry Nassar, Rachael Denhollander said,

“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

Rachel Denholander’s words are the Christian message. The God whom she spoke about is not ignorant of, or complicit with, or powerless to judge sin; he hates it more than us. She is right, no supply of good works can erase the evil Nassar perpetrated and which arose from a heart that is more putrid than his actions. But Rachel Denhollander did not end with a message of condemnation, but she pointed her abuser to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

The cross of Jesus Christ highlights our sins more vividly than we wish, and it reveals the justice of God more holy and fierce than we imagine, and the cross is God pouring out his love and grace more wonderfully and abundantly than any could ever conceive.

 We should not be so quick to dismiss the efficacy and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ today. In a court of law, and in circumstances addressing the ugliest of human affairs, a woman spoke with quiet dignity, sharing her pain, calling for justice on behalf of countless girls, and speaking grace to a man who deserves none. Rare? possibly. Contrary to human wisdom? Yes. Attractive and causes us to ponder? Absolutely.

Abortion, Canada, and the relentless wave of Authoritarian Secularism

I love taking Claude (family greyhound) for an early morning walk through the streets of Parkdale and Mentone, and to listen to the Bible as we go. Today in the Psalms, I was struck by Psalm 8:2, which says,

“Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Afterward, I was catching up on the news and heard a report about a recent announcement by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Organisations applying for Government funding for the Canadian Summer Jobs program, must now sign an attestation that they support abortion. The Government had tried previously to prevent funding to pro-life groups but there were legal hurdles that couldn’t be jumped. Instead, they have now built a wall to keep out organisations they won’t subscribe to the extreme social secularism that is being enforced on Canadians by the Trudeau Government.

 

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The form states,

“CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians. Canada Summer Jobs 2018 4 The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies. The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

According to information stated on the application form, the rationale for this change is twofold:

-to prevent the Canadian Government from funding projects that don’t endorse abortion and LGBTQI rights,

-and to protect minors being “exposed” to these anti-social views.

Among the organisations that are unable to sign the attestation are Christian groups, many who previously were part of the program and providing work for Canadian youth.

Attention to this new policy came to fore last week when Justin Trudeau was asked a question about free speech during a Town hall meeting at McMaster University, Hamilton. He answered,

“In this country, we defend each other’s rights, even when they’re unpopular, as we’ve seen a couple of times. At the same time, we need to know that there is a difference between freedom of expression and acting on those expressions and beliefs. A great example that I was wondering whether you’d bring up is the current kerfuffle around the Canada Summer Jobs program, and expecting that any organization that gets funding to bring young people through the Summer Jobs program – which hundreds of thousands of young people go through – will respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now, that doesn’t mean that religious groups and faith groups can’t apply for that. On the contrary, so many of the great community organizations that we have working incredibly hard are faith-based across this country and it’s an important and wonderful part of our society. It does, however, mean – and this is where we get to the crux of the matter – that an organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

The fact the Mr Trudeau felt liberty to use the Summer Jobs Program as his example in answering a question on free speech, says something about his confidence for advancing his social agenda.

Trudeau’s comments are sadly not unusual, but are indicative of much western civilisation today. He is saying to Canadian Christians, ‘we’ll let you hold your believes in private, and perhaps within the confide of your association, but these views are no longer permitted publicly’. This means that organisations will either have to bury their convictions, hide their conscience, and sign the document, or accept that they are no longer Canadians of equal footing and thus lose their funding.

Of course, this is Canada, not Australia. However, we are not so different. Our culture, our history, and our system of Government, is more closely aligned to Canada than it is the United States. The same authoritarian secularism that is sweeping the the land of the maple leaf is also at work here in the south.

It is a perfect illustration of where Western secularism is moving; the gods of the sexual revolution don’t take prisoners. Indeed they will sacrifice the unborn and will trample on the living dissidents. We have already seen a similar move undertaken in Australia. In 2016, the Victorian State Government attempted to legislate that all religious groups must conform to a proposed ‘inherent requirements test”. In short, this would removed freedom from churches and organisations to employ persons based on the theological convictions of the group. The legislation was finally defeated in the Upper House by a single vote. The point is, a State Government in Australia felt as though the sway of society had moved such that they could put forward such Erastian law.

It should also be noted that in addition to the new restriction, Canadian groups are calling for  “anti-abortion” agencies to lose their charitable status altogether.

Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 

“No anti-abortion agency should be registered as a charity…The mission and activities of anti-choice groups are inherently political and biased, which should disqualify them from charitable status. They work to stigmatize abortion, constrain individuals’ access to it, and ultimately to re-criminalize it.”

In light of the recent introduction of same sex marriage in Australia, the hot issue has become religious freedom and freedom of conscience. These issues have been highlighted by some in the Federal Parliament, and mocked by others. In response to what is probably a combination of reasoned argument and political pressure, a panel has been established to review Australia’s religious freedoms.

As Australians talk about religious freedoms and submit reports to the Ruddock Inquiry, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some who look to this latest Canadian example and use it as ammunition to further squeeze religious freedoms here in Australia.

Jane Caro is a representative of the vanguard of socio-politico thinking in Australia. Two days before Christmas she wrote an article for The Saturday Paper, in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools. In the wake of same sex marriage, Caro has strong views about schools and other organisations whose views differ to the newly redefined Marriage Act.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

 

It is easy for people to say, “the answer is straightforward, stop applying for Government funding.” The issue is less about the money, but the attack of religious freedom and freedom of speech. This is yet another example of a western nation shedding principles of a liberal democracy. Where citizens lose the freedom to express a point of view (indeed, a viewpoint that was until recent times morally accepted and valued) and are threatened with defunding for holding that position, we are witnessing societies letting go of principles that made possible the creation of the modern democratic State.

Authoritarian secularism may employ the language of progress, equality and fairness, but the reality is very different to their sloganeering. This is about changing how people think and live, this is about redefining truth and morality, and forcing everyone to worship at the feet of our modern manifestations of Moloch and Venus. Aussie Christians need to get used to the fact that the country has changed. We are no longer nominally Christian, and that means that many of the structures and moral frames which built this wonderful nation are being removed. There will be social stigma, there will be financial cost.

How different was my morning reading from Psalm 8. The God of the Bible reveals his glory in his creation, and most wonderfully in humanity. He affirms the praises and song of children and of infants; they are wonderfully made. How different is the view of children that Canada now promotes.

The Lord is majestic in all the earth, both in his stunning acts of creation and in his wondrous act of redemption.

The Psalmist asks,

“what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?”

The answer given is that God give human kind unique glory and honour, and has placed them uniquely in all the universe to rule. God’s image bearers all fall, failing to rule with care, justice, and kindness.  In love God’s only Son descended to the grave, having being killed in the place of sinners. He was raised to life on the third day, to defeat not only death, but to prove the efficacy of his death for sin.

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Volunteering makes the world a better place

2018 may only be 5 days old, but we already have a contender for the most stupid article of year award.

For a moment, I thought all Fairfax Editors had vacated the building for summer holidays and had given the keys to an 18 year old work experience student who’s started the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as the next Prime Minister of Australia.

Fairfax has published a piece with the title, Volunteering doesn’t make the world a better place.

As the headline suggests, the article is an attack on the indispensable practice of voluntary work in Australia.

Catherine Walsh is calling on Australians to “stop volunteering”.

Why? She sees volunteering as a faux help, not resolving societal issues but aggravating them. Walsh arrives at her conclusion by arguing that voluntarism is inefficient, is unvalued, and is exploited by organisations who are disinterested in solving problems.

Walsh’s solution seems to be, get rid of voluntarism and instead let’s create a bigger government and remunerate people for all their work. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s handball even more communal opportunity and responsibility over to Government, and let’s suck out the tiny bit of oxygen that keeps Australian philanthropy alive. Instead of donating time and money to causes that we think highly of, let’s give Government permission to charge even higher taxes to pay for the programs that it subscribes as morally relevant.

 

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Apart from her less than satisfactory alternative to voluntarism, there are several important flaws in Walsh’s presentation of volunteering that require response.

Firstly, Walsh largely equates volunteering with virtual signalling. She says,

“Being a volunteer, or fundraising, or working for a charity, signals that you are a good person.”

“If volunteering was valued we would have a separate resume for it, at parties people would ask each other about their volunteering, and hours worked would contribute to superannuation.”

I have no doubt that there are persons involved in voluntary work because it gives them a drug free high. They feel good about themselves, and they enjoy the praise they receive from people around them. That is certainly not the Christian motivation for doing good. We give because we know the joy of what it is to receive. Those who have been loved, want to love others.

According to Walsh, if Australians truly value volunteering, we would be congratulating one another. But why should people boast about their volunteering and donating? Doing so undercuts the very nature of the work, that is, it is being done for the good of others, not for oneself. Is it not possible that Australians happily give time and effort to serve others without demanding compensation, let alone, superannuation? Where is the ideal of sacrificial giving? Indeed, as soon as we strip these Christian foundations for society, we fast become bereft of moral structures that we need for building a healthy society.

And BTW, people can and do include volunteer work on their resumes!

Not only does Catherine Walsh paint volunteerism as egotism, she secondly alleges that voluntary work is inefficient.

“A lot of the volunteering we do is inefficient. Schools ask that parents bake cakes to be sold to the children of other parents who have baked cakes. Most school events involve sausages on white bread and fizzy drinks, which is not recommended as a healthy diet. Chocolates are sold in staffrooms to raise money for the children’s hospital. Rubber wristbands are sold by charities to raise awareness of illnesses. A fundraiser for the environment can sell unhealthy food one week, and a fundraiser for health can damage the environment the next. This is inefficient. Any effort to help one system should not be feeding into the brokenness of another. In order to be helpful we need to factor in all systems at once.”

I do agree with one small point here  – her examples about about cake stalls and chocolate drives; these are often self-defeating exercises given that the very people designed help are the ones buying the sugary treats. We shouldn’t need incentive in order to give generously to a cause that we value. Volunteering though is not donating: voluntarism isn’t donating $5 at a school fete and receiving a chocolate bar in return.  Voluntarism is work without pay; it is giving time, energy, skills, and productivity for a cause without expecting any reimbursement.

Is voluntary work always efficient? No. But then, is paid work always more efficient? Is Government the very epitome of efficiency? And why is efficiency the only measure worthwhile considering?

Much of life is not efficient. Relationships are often complex and messy, and they require time and patience and perseverance. The reality is, not all of life’s brokenness can be fixed with a signed policy statement and a grant dispersed by Government bureaucrats.

Matt Perman explores this myth about work in the book, What’s Best Next?. He writes,

“While efficiency is important, it is secondary. More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. Efficiency doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong things in the first place.”

It is also important to broaden the view of worthwhile work which is suggested by Walsh. For example, Tim Keller defines work as, ‘rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.”

Dorothy L. Sayers asks the poignant question, “We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?” She argues, “the habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolution change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitudes of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgements about things and people”

In other words, while we shouldn’t ignore inefficiency, there are bigger and more important questions that need asking about our work, and indeed why we should value unpaid work. At its root, Walsh advocates a consumerist and individualist paradigm which inevitably squashes the greater love, which requires selfless giving for another’s good.

Thirdly, Walsh presents a narrow understanding of voluntarism.

In her article, Catherine Walsh is targeting organisational volunteerism, however much voluntary work and giving in our local communities is informal.

I think of my local cricket club which depends upon the generosity of volunteers who love the game and who want to encourage children in the game. I think of the local athletics club where my daughter runs, and how they depend on the voluntary time giving by families.  

Thinking of my own local church, where people lovingly pour 1000s of hours into giving, serving, caring, and organising. What they achieve is more than running a few programs, they are building and belonging to community, and including others in this endeavour. Societal cohesion and growth cannot be left to Government, but requires spontaneous and informal contributions from the grassroots up. It’s about loving our neighbour as ourself.

Walsh soon enlightens us as to where her real criticism lays – it is with religious organisations and churches. She says, 

“Many government services are now outsourced to church-run charities, which win contracts due to their tax concessions and tax donation status – and rely on the work of volunteers. They are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It is not in their interest to solve problems.”

“It is not in their interest to solve problems”?

Wow. One can only assume Walsh has never visited a church, nor observed religious charities at work, nor considered the data which elucidates the extraordinary work being achieved by religious groups in this country. Of course there are always going to be a few bad eggs in any system, but is she being serious? Is this a moment of hyperbole? I know of countless people who have found financial restitution through the generosity of others, of mums who can go back to work because friends are helping to baby sit, of marriages being healed because of counselling provided, of people offering beds for those without, of finding hope and forgiveness where society offered none.

A healthy society can only exist where the people contribute to the wellbeing of others without seeking personal benefit. Do we want to be taking away further personal responsibility and opportunity, and therefore assume that big Government will take care of it? If anything, this will produce more cracks and more people going without.

Imagine Australian society with Surf Life Savers, the CFA and SES, without locally run sporting clubs and playgroups. Consider the billions of dollars that we would be required to pay to Government, should churches and religious organisations (yes, primarily Christian) were abandoned of free serving and giving volunteers?

I’m reminded of the words by the Apostle Paul, who said of Christians,

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”

The Apostle doesn’t call us to dump everything on Government, or to assume someone else will do it, or to demand reimbursement for services completed. He writes in the context of Christian freedom, for we work in light of an eternal future that has been made secure by a God who worked by grace for our good.

Australian Generosity at Christmas

Caitlin Fitzsimmons has called for Australians to be more generous, and to give to charity outside the Christmas period. She offer some sage advice for all of us, and her points about generosity also got me thinking.

She writes,

“Before we dive into the prolonged festival of consumerism that is the summer sales or turn our thoughts to the new year, let’s pause to reflect on the season of giving.

December is the third-biggest month for charitable giving behind May and June, the two months before the end of the financial year when people are trying to maximise their tax deductions, according to Commonwealth Bank figures.”

Fitzsimmons helpfully points out,

“The lead-up to Christmas is when many charities give a big marketing push to drum up donations. It’s also a time of greater need, especially for organisations that help disadvantaged families in Australia or rescue abandoned pets, for example. But no matter the cause, the need doesn’t disappear in January.”

Fitzsimmons doesn’t want us thinking that we’re a nation of Scrooge’s. She proclaims that,

“The good news is that Aussies are generous year-round”.

So how generous are we?

According to research cited in the article, 2/3rds of Australians give to charity, totalling $4.2 billion. That’s not an insignificant sum, although it in fact equates to approximately $300 per Aussie. Hmmm. Generous? I’m beginning to wonder if Scrooge was an Australian.

Fitzsimmons goes on to offer some helpful practical advice about how to give to charity, and why it’s important for organisations to have knowledge of regular giving rather than one off guilt driven contributions.

It would be interesting to know what the average regular Church attender gives per annum. Based on many years of experience, working for and being a member of several Churches, I reckon that a conservative estimation would place Christian giving at 10 times the national average, and Christians often give without any tax benefits.

According to NCLS research (a national survey across Christian denominations, which involved 10,000s of participants), 66% give regularly, with 20% of attendees regularly giving over 10% of their income. It is important to note that these figures only include financial contributions to the local church, and does not include all the charitable giving beyond. Again, this is consistent with my experience of Christians and Churches.

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The question is, why is the gap between general Australia and Christian Australia so great? I’m sure that some Christians give out of a sense of obligation (although they should not), and others give because of a dubious understanding of Divine blessing (ie the prosperity Gospel). But those two reasons cannot explain the giving that continues in evangelical Churches across the country.

So what is the reason?

My hypothesis is a simple one, and it comes from the Bible: Grace changes peoples’ hearts.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

When you have come to experience the sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus, and how the Lord of the universe gave up everything, even his life on the cross, this good news changes you inside and it reorients the way you view your income and the way you look at other people. I’m not suggesting that Christians are better people; Christians are ordinary citizens who face the same financial responsibilities as other Aussies. I am however proposing that there is a difference, and that difference turns on belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The extraordinary gift of forgiveness that is found in Jesus, not only frees people to give generously but installs a joy in giving to others.

I happily join Caitlin Fitzsimmons in encouraging Australians to think about generosity in 2018, and we do so, I also encourage us to consider the greatest act of compassion and sacrifice the world has ever known.