Howzat? Ollie Robinson is given out!

Another public figure has found themselves given the finger by today’s moral umpires. 

Ollie Robinson is, or rather was, England’s newest Test cricketer. The 27 year old fast bowler made his international Test debut during the week against New Zealand. Despite a promising match with the ball, Robinson was caught out. In fact, he is now suspended from all international cricket until a disciplinary investigation has been completed.

It wasn’t Robinson’s on field performance that led to this very public humiliation, but a series of tweets that he posted as a teenager back in 2012/13. I’ve read Robinson’s tweets and they’re not great. They are inappropriate, tasteless, and at times crude. Despite issuing an apology, the England and Wales Cricket Board, have cancelled his next Test appearance and his future in cricket is now far from certain. 

Ollie Robinson is the latest of what is becoming a very crowded space of people who have had their careers and even lives ruined because of past transgressions on social media. 

Do I think his sins deserve suspension? No. I think an apology was appropriate and hopefully he will learn and grow, but should stupid words from childhood serve as cause to lose his place in the nation’s cricket team? The England and Wales Cricket Board certainly believe so, and I suspect the same would occur in many sporting codes today.

In our culture’s obsession with finding hidden skeletons, there is little nuance or attempt to understand. If you break the rules, you’re damned to hell. This is problematic for several reasons. First of all, these rules are constantly moving about like Warnie bowling to Gatting. One moment you’re safe and the next the rules have shifted and you’re stumped! There is no scale for measuring wrongdoing. A person who misspeaks someone’s preferred pronoun can as easily lose their job as someone who bullies a colleague. A Christian may pray with a person and find themselves facing a prison term that’s longer than a real criminal who inflicts bodily harm on another. Another issue is that the rules we’re all meant to follow are often made by the mob and with authorities bowing before whoever is appealing the loudest.

For a few recalcitrants, there is a way out of hades; sure, you’ll lose your soul but you just might be allowed to return to your sport or place of work. All you have to do is fully endorse and join groupthink. Just carry around around your Twitter handle a placard of shame, and then nod and repeat everything that our culture’s new bishops tell us to say, think, and feel.

In the case of Ollie Robinson, did he make comments that were bordering on sexist and racist? Yes. Was he a teenager at the time? Yes. Was it malicious? I doubt it. Foolish? Certainly. I also suspect that if the trolls and governing authorities dig deep enough, every single player in the English team will find themselves suspended for one transgression or another. And let’s not forget the Aussies either! 

We all have done dumb things in our past and said things that we’ve later regretted. We are masters at stuffing up, and with maturity we realise our hopeless inability to erase the past. As the Bible reminds us, “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)

As a society we are moving well beyond anything the Bible envisages. We are creating a hyper moralistic, self righteous, and legalistic culture where there is easy rage, much finger pointing and very little forgiveness.

Where is the forgiveness? Do we even believe in forgiveness any longer? I don’t mean for us personally, but offering forgiveness to others. 

We are living in strange times. I remember a time not so long ago when Christians were portrayed as hyper moralistic and judgemental. Christians were supposedly the crowd who went around condemning every moral failing and sinful shift in society. Sure there is a touch of truth in that. More so, Christians are known for experiencing Divine forgiveness and forgiving others. The whole fabric of the Christian faith is about knowing the forgiveness of a loving and holy God and how this good news transforms our lives. 

There are still moments when I’m horrified at the thought that God knows my entire past; every sinful deed and thought. Of course, God’s measurement for right and wrong isn’t defined by the latest social theory or groupthink, it’s shaped by his unchanging character and purposes. However, my distress finds great comfort through knowing the Lord Jesus died for all my transgressions. The God who sees my true failings has in love offered forgiveness and reconciliation.

The thing is, as societies like the UK and Australia turn our backs on the Christian faith it shouldn’t surprise us that we are becoming less tolerant and more fractious. It really is the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone that can hold together justice and mercy, righteousness and forgiveness.

The England and Wales Cricket Board are simply echoing the cries of a failing society that is bent of bowling bouncers and little else. We are seeing lots of shots being pulled in anger, but surely we are desperate to find grace and mercy. If we are not going find forgiveness in our decaying culture, then perhaps we can revisit those communities that are founded upon Divine forgiveness and who are learning to live in the light of the goodness.

I hope to see Ollie Robinson playing in the upcoming Ashes series…and watching the Aussies make lots of runs!

Kanishka Raffel, the weeping Archbishop

“I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands. They are desolate and untraveled, and the lowing of cattle is not heard. The birds have all fled and the animals are gone.” (Jeremiah 9:10)

Kanishka Raffel was tonight installed as the new Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. It is indeed a significant position not only for Sydney Anglicans but for Australian Christianity. 

Much as been said about Kanishka in recent weeks, his Sri Lankan heritage, his background in law, his gifts of teaching and preaching, his intellect, and his commitment to indigenous reconciliation. There is something else I have noticed. It’s something I first saw in him some years ago and it has come to fore this month at Synod, during an ABC radio interview with Richard Glover, and again tonight while Kanishka was preaching; Kanishka Raffel is the weeping Archbishop. 

Jeremiah is famously known as the weeping prophet. He saw the hardened hearts of the people and the coming judgment of God. He didn’t preach with enthusiasm or vitriol, but with tears. “If you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the Lord’s flock will be taken captive” (Jer 13:17).

Even more staggering is what we learn from the shortest verse in all the Bible,  “Jesus wept”. Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazurus. He shed tears not only because his friend had died, because of course Jesus was about to raise him from the dead. Jesus wept because he more than anyone understands the depths of human sin and the horror of death. It is of course the reason why the Son of God came: to die in the place of sinners and to give new life.

The reason for Kanishka’s tears is, I believe, his deep deep gratitude to God for Jesus Christ and his longing for others to know Him. It’s not difficult to see that Kanishka has never gotten over how amazing God’s grace is and how wonderful it is to know Divine forgiveness. I have been with him and others, when tears were flowing down his face as he prayed.  Tonight at St Andrew’s Cathedral as he spoke of the beauty and power of the cross of Christ, it was again evident how much the Gospel means to him.

As he concluded his sermon tonight , Kanishka said, 

“At the foot of the cross which is all the world to me, I am nothing more than a grateful and forgiven sinner”.

When we strip away all the costume and plastic that covers everyday living and that consumes our affections and effort, we are naked sinners before a holy God. When we remove our hubris and dependence upon health, intelligence, and ingenuity, we really are frail and broken human beings. We can maintain the charade for a while, but not forever. When the Apostle Paul considered his own people, he exclaimed, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people.” Oh, that we would feel a tenth of that anguish for our neighbours, friends, and work colleagues. 

Tonight Kashiska spoke about the cross of Jesus Christ. Why? This is the Christian message. It doesn’t take much to realise that the cross is often derided and shamed in today’s Australia. The cross represents a part of Australian life that is weak and irrelevant to most. It’s a symbol of oppression and religious idiocy. But of course, the cross held those connotations in the First Century too. It was in this weakened man crucified, that God displayed his glory and love. It is by the cross God saves. Yes, the cross of Christ is everything. It is the centre of the Christian faith, the reason for life and hope. 

Tears of joy and tears of sorrow are familiar companions for pastors. As I once again see Kanishka’s gratitude to God for the Gospel overflow, I too am thankful and am reminded of how wonderful is God’s good news. May we never get over this grace. May we never forget how deep is the Father’s love. May this grace fill us with longing and tears for those who don’t know Christ, so that we might have courage and love to tell them of what the Lord has done for them. 

I’m no Anglican, but I’m a Christian brother who is thankful for this weeping Archbishop, and I’ll be praying for him as he leads the Sydney Diocese into the future. 

Dangers to Christianity are coming from left and right and inside

“They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.” (Jude 12b)

When I learnt to walk across the road as a young child, like all parents, mine taught me to look both right and left. It’s one thing to look right, but what if there’s a truck hurtling down the road from my left? Or, I might notice the truck to my left and be oblivious to the SUV that’s roaring toward me on my right. In this current season threats to Christian orthodoxy and life are coming to us from the left and the right.

‘Everyone did as they saw fit’ has become the Christian mantra for today. But of course, the book of Judges wasn’t offering us an invitation to change the Christian message, it was the stark assessment of God’s people who hard hardened their hearts.

Take for example, Christian Nationalism. This is a dangerous and anti-Christian movement. Christian nationalism has found many expressions in history, and many of us probably assumed that with the close of the 20th Century, such appalling abuse of the Gospel would have ceased. Sadly, that is not the case. Christian Nationalism attempts to fuse the Christian message and hope with the political and cultural ambitions of a particular nation or people group. In the end, the Gospel becomes a tool of nationalism, serving not to proclaim the Lordship of Christ to the nations but to preserve a way of life draped in Stars and Stripes (or whichever country it happens to be). 

The rise of Christian Nationalism has produced a new product which is now being marketed across the USA. A ‘new’ Bible was been launched: the God Bless the USA Bible. What makes this edition blasphemous is not changes made to the actual words of Scripture (I’m not aware of any such alterations), but the name given to the Bible and the compendium that is added.  The name, God Bless the USA Bible is a dead give away; it is unequivocally nationalist is meaning and tone. The Stars and Stripes motif that covers the book is another indicator that something is seriously wrong. There’s more, when the book is opened not only can you read God’s Holy Word, but included is a handwritten chorus to God Bless The USA , The US Constitution, The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and The Pledge of Allegiance. 

This publication is blasphemous and offensive to Christians across the world. I hope you also find this troubling and problematic. This abduction is an attack on the message, nature and sufficiency of Scripture. Indeed, it is an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ which does not belong to any single nation or culture. It’s interesting to observe that while friends on the left may see the follow of this attempt to nationalise the Bible, they too are guilty of similar offense. So much of the discourse surrounding ‘redeeming society’ and ‘saving the world’ has the effect of minimising things like conversion and the central purpose of the Church, and instead encourages things like cultural engagement through social and political means.

If the Bible you use cannot cross borders without losing its significance, then you should probably change the Bible you are reading. Indeed, the God Bless the USA Bible is proving divisive even within the United States

In another story, a bishop from the Lutheran denomination in the United States has announced that they are changing the teaching of the Nicean Council so that it conforms to transgender ideology. The Nicene Creed is one the most important documents written in the history of the Church, and it remains foundational in explaining and summarising essential Christian doctrines to this day. Many of our churches probably recite the Nicene Creed (if not, perhaps we should).

The new elected bishop, Megan Rohrer, identifies as transgender. This alone should ring alarm bells for a Christian Church, but sadly adherence to the latest versions of the sexual revolution is often deemed more important than fidelity to Scripture. 

She announced, 

“The first council of Nicaea’s first action was to try to limit the leadership roles of trans pastors and bishops.  I’m grateful the Lutherans of the @sps_elca are beginning to dismantle this and some of the the other hurdles BIPOC and LGBTQ pastor’s encounter.”

In other words, Christian teaching that doesn’t fit with personal identity or agenda needs either revising or removal.  

You may be familiar with old saying, ‘the stinking rich’. The stench from those wealthy people buried beneath ecclesiastical buildings is nothing compared to the smell of dying people listening to the putrescine odour expiring from the mouths of these ‘progressive’ preachers. But of course, these things are not only happening across the Pacific Ocean, but such thinking and attitudes are taking shape here among Christian denominations in Australia. These conversations are difficult and we want to be mindful of individuals who are genuinely struggling with their sexuality and gender; the Gospel is a big enough stumbling block without us making more. However, I take it that when Jude urged his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people,” he really meant it. Too often, I suspect we’ve replaced Jude’s urging with a screwed up sloganing of Judge’s assessment.

The examples that I’ve mentioned are but two of what is becoming a crowded space. Here’s are some further examples, 

The State of Victoria has banned Bible conversations and prayers on a range of anthropological topics (ie. sex and gender).

The Chinese Communist Government published their own version of the Bible which has removed all the bits that might be interpreted as unfavourable toward the State.

I remember the former principal of Whitley College giving an address in 2016 where he bemoaned the language of God as Father. To know and call God Father is the greatest of privileges and graces. This is the Divine invitation made possible through Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father’. Instead, this baptist academic encouraged his listeners to use feminine pronouns for God. He asserted, 

“We have gone backwards on gender inclusive language in many of our official events. These elements include a resurgence of emphasis on God as Father, without any balancing awareness of other ways of naming God.”

His point was not that we cannot speak of God as Father, but that such language is biased and ‘narrow’. This was an exercise for justifying a feminist critique of Christianity and criticising what he saw as a return to normal and biblical speech about God.

When our language of God sounds like it’s inspired by the Shack or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the alarm is ringing and someone needs turn off the microphone. Instead, too often we quietly let these thoughts simmer away without correction,  which of course means that they later on become part of the vocabulary in our churches.

Attacks on biblical orthodoxy are wide and coming from many different directions. Despite their differences they do share this in common: they cast doubt on and even deny the truthfulness, goodness, and sufficiency of Scripture. They find God revealed in Scripture as objectionable and needing to be recast in the image of their particular inclinations and agendas.

If your church takes a lackadaisical approach to theology, don’t be surprised when all manner of weird and whacky ideas jump out from the pulpit. We need our eyes and ears alert to influences and ideas coming from all directions, whether it’s left or right. It seems pretty clear that the Apostle Paul didn’t want Timothy to be caught napping, 

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:1-4)

This task is important for all believers, and especially it is a responsibility given to entrusted in overseeing the local Church. Paul said to the Ephesian Elders, 

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)

That’s serious advice. At the end of the day however, the foremost issue isn’t left or right, it’s internal. Maybe you are higher up on the holy scale than me, but I reckon we have a propensity to latch onto new ideas because they validate a priori affections which are lurking around inside us.  We need to guard our pulpits, doctrinal statement and leadership qualifications, but we must also tend to the heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Such careful evaluation requires a posture of humility, a confidence in Scripture, and also the gentle and loving community of the local church. 

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col 3:16)

This internal examination requires us to soak our lives with the Gospel and as Colossians 3:16 explains, this is only made more beneficial when done in community,  with the church together teaching and admonishing. 

Let’s be watchful of what’s coming toward us from left and right, and above all, let us be mindful of the dangers that arise from our own hearts.


The original version included a reference to the Bible Society which was incorrect and I have subsequently corrected it

Scott Morrison does Christian stuff?

Fairfax have published their latest exposé on Prime Minister Scott Morrisons’ Christianity. PM says social media being used by ‘evil one’, gives rare insight into Pentecostal faithis a strange and sophomoric non-story. I think it illustrates how shallow our grasp of Christianity is in Australia. I suspect it’s another attempted subterfuge to undermine the credibility of the  Prime Minister. 

As I read Daniela White’s piece, it felt like an Aussie version of those famed letters by Pliny the Younger. Pliny was a magistrate in first century Rome. He who felt obliged to tell the Roman Emperor Trajan about those weird Christians who practice a “depraved, excessive superstition”. According to Pliny the Younger, these Christians drink human blood and practice cannibalism, they call each other brothers and sisters, they let women oversee programs and they do really nice things for other people!

There are plenty of issues worthy of reporting in relation to the Federal Government: among them, the painfully slow roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines and the mistreatment of women in Parliament. With a stale and predictable breathe, like waking up every morning, readers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have been given another dose of Scott Morrison’s faith. 

Daniella White explains that the Prime Minister participates in, “the Pentecostal practice of laying on of hands”.

Okay…well, so what? The practice of ‘laying on hands’ is not just a pentecostal thing, it harkens back to New Testament times and it is practised by pretty much all Christians churches to this day. It’s a physical symbol representing a spiritual committal (ie praying for an individual).

That is not all. Readers are reminded of this vital piece of evidence, 

“Mr Morrison was photographed raising his hands in a church service during the 2019 election”.

This is indeed disturbing behaviour by a Christian! Seriously, this is as silly as reporting, ‘a football fan was photographed raising her hands during Saturday’s game at the MCG”. 

One of the Prime Minister’s words that caught Daniela White’s attention was him talking to a Christian audience about the dangers of social media. He said, 

“It is going to take our young people… it’s going to take their hope, it’s going to steal their hope”.

“Sure, social media has its virtues and its values and enables us to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before, terrific, terrific, but those weapons can also be used by the evil one and we need to call that out.”

Does anyone think social media is never used to promote dangerous ideas and to harm people?  You may not believe in a real and personal devil as do Christians (and remember, so did Jesus), but you probably believe in a devil in some metaphoric way while to trying to explain the sheer volume of evil that is promoted and bullied on social media platforms. 

The article amounts to the revelation: Scott Morrison, a self confessing Christian, engages in normal Christian practices and beliefs. Wow. Big news!

I am tempted to mock the article because it is inane and it’s a classic example of a non-story being whipped up into what still amounts to a non-story.

Nevertheless, the piece does reveal something important. It illustrates what is a common thread in Australia today: people don’t understand Christianity. Most Aussies have little or no idea what the church is about. It is normal today for children to grow up and not even know who Jesus is, and that the cross and resurrection of Christ is the central pivot of all human history. 

It is not only the key teachings of Christianity that are being distanced in our communities, there is gaping hole in our understanding of how Christianity has positively shaped the society in which we live and benefit. Christian residue remains attached to our culture and provides foundational material without which our society would crumble. 

The British historian Tom Holland made a similar observation earlier this week when discussing the topic of culture wars. Holland explains how (in the West) many of our cultural and moral leanings arise from Christian theology, it’s just that we no longer see the connections. For example, he suggests, 

“The anxieties around statutes today are bred of deeply Christian ideas, just that the people campaigning against it don’t recognise it as Christian…this is drawing on the assumption that making a profit from slaves and conquering vast reaches of territory and killing people while doing so is not something deserving of praise, and these are assumptions  that are bred of the great heritage of Christian history….They’ve escaped the moorings of Christian doctrine and they now just kind of percolate in the air and people breathe them in and take them for granted.”

“Culture wars…are arguments about theology that do not recognise themselves as being arguments about theology”.

We don’t even realise that our moral impulses to fight against racism stem from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. Scott Morrison’s statement that was reported is exactly right, 

“It’s so important that we continue to reach out and let every Australian know that they are important, that they are significant.

“Because we believe that they are created in the image of God.”

A friend of mine made a comment last night about a different story, one that relates to a local high school. His point nonetheless translates well,

“As far as I can see, Christianity is the best chance we have of creating an equitable society. It teaches that all humans are made in the image of God and thus to be valued. All people have a problem with meeting their own standards of goodness and thus require forgiveness and patience. Love for God and neighbour is the greatest good. The West was built on these principles and yet we’ve still fallen horribly short.

How much worse will we be living under an ideology which demonises those who disagree, peddles a view of ‘goodness’ which is constantly changing and hard to define, and believes in inescapable guilt upon those born with the wrong skin colour and sex?”

Of course, Christianity is far more than a system of beliefs and values that provide a framework for civil society and cultural progress; Christianity is about a person. Christianity is about God sending his son into the world to atone for sin that we might be reconciled to the living God. That is sublime news that remains as good today as it was in the days of Pliny the Younger. 

Christianity cannot be reduced to a game of knowledge  but it certainly necessitates knowledge. For Christians, surely we don’t want to mislead or confuse people as to the reality of the Christian message, either by our teaching or by our actions.

All Christians across churches and denominational brandings have opportunity and responsibility before God and in love for our neighbour to try and correct the misnomers and myths that are tossed about on a regular basis. The fault lays less with journalists, we need to realise that we’re not always upfront or clear about the great news of Christ. The task is hamstrung  when ‘Christians’ perpetrate evil acts against other people. The Gospel of Christ is betrayed when our own lives contradict the message. The cause isn’t helped when so many church leaders today spit out garbage from the pulpit. My advise is, go and find a church that believes and teaches what the Apostles Paul says is ‘sound doctrine’. 

Even if we become the clearest, most winsome and most Jesus like people to have ever lived, plenty of people will still conclude that Christianity is not for them. There will be people who think you stink like the stench of death. Isn’t that how the Pharisees and crowds responded when they saw and heard the incarnate Son of God?  Others though will conclude, ‘yes I believe this Jesus is the son of God.’

The Australian Prime Minister is again trending on Twitter because of another ‘Christians are weird’ article. Let’s turn it around , maybe it’s opportunity and one you might like to take. If you don’t really know what Christianity is about and are interested even for the reason for discovering why you like or don’t like Scott Morrison, go check out a church sometime or open a Bible and start to read it. The Gospel of Luke is a great place to begin an investigation. 

A Royal Funeral with a message for everyone

Kings, Queens and Princes, the great and the small, the young and old, will all meet death and face the judge of the earth. As the writer to the Hebrews explains, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

The grave is a great divider for it tears people apart and it separates the living from the dead, and the soul from the body. 

Shakespeare’s Calpurnia was wrong when she assumed before Caesar, “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

It is Ecclesiastes which faithfully records our own foreordained end,  “For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! (2:16)

Susan and I stayed up to watch the funeral service for His Royal Highness, Prince Philip. It was midnight here in Melbourne but one should not overlook momentous occasions such as this. The funeral was orchestrated with solemnity, with military procession and precision, marching in step to Beethoven’s funeral march. It was also obviously deeply personal, to reflect Prince Philip’s life and the devotion of a grieving wife.

The constraints of a global pandemic were evident, with only 30 guests permitted to attend the service inside St George’s Chapel, compulsory mask wearing for Princes and Princesses. Much of the Chapel was deserted as a choir of 4 sang in an empty space. The simplicity and scarcity did not however detract from the dignity and import of the event. If anything, the sight of Her Majesty sitting alone during the service brought to bear the awful reality of grief.

The television presenters spoke of Prince Philip’s ‘faith’. For a moment, one commemorator referred to Duke of Edinburgh’s ‘Christian faith’, but quickly corrected his social faux pas by returning to the vague universal category of ‘faith’. 

As we viewed the royal funeral from our sofa, absorbing the sight of the ceremonial and the personal, the figure of a Queen in mourning and the sound of stunningly beautiful music, the common face death struck a note.

Yes, the world lost a remarkable man, but a woman lost her husband and children their father.

We are divided by death and united in death: Duke, accountant, teacher and boilermaker alike. Behind the awe inspiring grandeur of this yet simple royal funeral, probably overlooked by many and yet very present, a word of hope was offered. It is a wonderful hope and it is offered to those mourning in St George’s Chapel and to the 100s millions like Susan and I who were watching from our homes.  

The word spoken promises a breakthrough from the grave and the undoing of death. I have no idea whether Prince Philip personally believed this good news and entrusted his life to the Sovereign care of his Redeemer, but the message resounded throughout the service for all to hear: for royals and commoners alike, from the cook to the chorister, the private soldier to the Field Marshall: One who is greater than all Queens and Princes has conquered death and he gives certain hope of resurrection to all who receive him. 

This is the portion of Scripture that was read,

 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

The leveller of life is not only death, it is our critical need for a God who forgives sinners and who can gift eternal life. No matter our status or reputation, even Princes need a saviour. 

Christians don’t believe in an afterlife, Jesus holds that there will be an event of far greater consequence and reality: resurrection. Our physical remains share the maggots and soil for a time, only to be resurrected on the last day and to participate in a new creation where there will be no disruption or ending of joy and happiness and life. Jesus identifies the one through whom this gift is made possible: He is the resurrection and the life. 

As Jesus asked Martha we may ask ourselves, ‘Do we believe this?’

We will all walk through the shadow of death. Our bodies grow weak and sick and tired. They will all exhaust, beaten down by transgressions and life in a corrupted world. Death will result for those we love and those we despise, and it will also swallow us. This great defeater has itself been defeated.  The Messiah came and announced the very news that last night rang true, as it is true for every funeral I have conducted over the years, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” 

Jesus’ words are no hollow gesture. Following his conversation with Martha Jesus approached the tomb where his friend Lazarus lay. In what is the shortest verse in all the Bible we read, “Jesus wept”. This God is not unmoved by the awfulness of death. Even more, to prove the worth of his word this same Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead on the third day. He was physically and really alive, and never to die again. It is this resurrection that is the guarantee of our resurrection. As the Apostle Paul explains, 

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)

Whether it is a royal funeral or the deaths of 3 million people to COVID-19 or our own eventual dying, we need hope that holds fast beyond grief and surpasses our own strength. Thank God for his Son and for the hope of resurrection that is ours in Him. 

Harmony Day & a vision for belonging

The national diary appears to be heading on a collision course with the Gregorian calendar as we squeeze more and more special days into the week. It’s like every other day we are being encouraged to wear a ribbon or a coloured item of clothing, to hashtag a slogan and to make another speech. One doesn’t want to be caught out by not wearing the right uniform of the day!

This Tuesday schools are celebrating Harmony Day. While the day is actually March 21, as the date fell on the weekend, schools are commemorating Harmony today. What is Harmony Day, you ask? According to the official website,

“Our diversity makes Australia a great place to live. Harmony Day is a celebration of our cultural diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.

Held every year on 21 March. The Day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The message of Harmony Day is ‘everyone belongs’, the Day aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster sense of belonging for everyone.

Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.”

As a way of celebrating Harmony Day people are encouraged to wear the colour orange. Leaving aside the fact that orange also represents a fruit, a cleaning detergent, one of the world’s most exclusive fashion labels, and most ironic of all, a sectarian Protestant movement in Northern Ireland…other than these orange icons, apparently the colour “traditionally…signifies social communication and meaningful conversations.” Clearly someone forget to pass on that message to Northern Ireland!

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It’s refreshing to find a ‘day’ that I can happily support and where I don’t need to sit down and have one of those “this is why we don’t celebrate xyz” conversations with my children.  Perhaps there is some deeper and not so positive agenda behind Harmony Day, but from what I know, it sounds like Tuesday should be orange day (that is, if I had anything orange to wear!).

The cultural experiences in Australia are not the norm across the world. There are few places on earth that have witnessed more positive cultural assimilation and multi-ethnic embracement. Our children’s school has students from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds, and our surrounding suburbs are home to thousands of migrants from all over the world.

This is not to say that racism is only an historical problem in Australia, its ugliness remains with us in 2021, and is probably more prevalent than many would like to admit. Racism is abhorrent. To undermine or deny a person’s humanity and dignity because of their skin colour or language is beyond reprehensible. I do think though that some societal discord is less about racism and is more about the fear of the unknown and the sense of losing cultural norms and habits. We can be thankful for the ‘harmony’ that is experienced in Australia and we can continue to strive to do better.

Harmony Day is a day that I can say to my children, “this is worthwhile celebrating”. It not only reflects an Australian value that is good, it also intimates a significance beyond a nation’s identity.

The book of Acts in the Bible gives an  account of Christianity’s growth in the First Century AD. One of the book’s chief concerns is demonstrating that not only did the Gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate different cultures and people groups, this new born unifying agent was of Divine purpose. Following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. God is concerned for the nations and his good news message is for people from all nations and races and places.

Throughout Acts we read about thousands of Jewish people become followers of Jesus Christ, and also of Samaritans, an Ethiopian, Greeks and Romans, and many others throughout the world. The Gospel not only found home across ethnicities and languages, but it cut across cultural barriers among rich and poor, men and women, leaders and servants, all now worshiping God together and living out of love for each other. The Gospel call is higher than toleration, it even exceeds the idea of friendship; the Gospel unites otherwise disparate people together in Christ, and creates relationships as close as family. 2,000 years on, this story is continuing, even in Australia.

This year Harmony Day falls only days before another public celebratory day: Good Friday. Good Friday is a day when Christians remember the extent of God’s love for the world,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That day Jesus didn’t wear the colour orange, his accusers dressed him in a purple robe and imbedded a crown of thorns into his head. He carried a wooden cross to a place called Golgotha, where nails were driven through his hands and feet, and where he was hung  until death. This was the cost Jesus bore so that God might reconcile the nations to himself.

Good Friday creates Churches and communities of such depth and peace and love that it makes the United Nations’ best attempts seem rickety and faint. At Mentone Baptist we haven’t celebrated a single day of ‘Harmony’, because we are living it every day; perhaps not perfectly but certainly with genuine joy and gratitude. Like thousands of Churches all over the country, we are a big family made up of many different nationalities and cultures: from Uganda and the United Kingdom, to Russia and Malaysia, from Columbia, Chile and the USA, to China, India and the Middle East.

VCAT Given New Powers to Investigate Christians for Praying

Which society is the following report depicting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Victoria Becomes Babylon

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

When the State wants to control prayer

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

That is the situation facing Victorians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents are targeted in this Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria in Danger of losing secular status.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposed Amendments to the Bill

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

4 Considerations for Christians wanting to engage in political activism

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 5 warning signs:

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

Melbourne 2020: the year that undid our hubris

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

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

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

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

1. Self Preservation or Self Sacrifice?

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

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

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

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

2. Fear or Love?

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

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

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

3. Suspicion or Trust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a better rescue plan

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

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

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

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

The prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ,

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

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

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

    or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

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

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

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

Righteousness will be his belt

    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”

(Isaiah 9:1-5)


This article is a revised version of a post from September