Why it is becoming harder for Christians to gain a fair hearing in society

I think it’s helpful to learn and hear how others perceive Christians when we argue for religious freedom issues. It may be increasingly difficult for Christians to get a fair hearing, but there is value in us learning about the fears, concerns, and attitudes the unbelieving society is expressing.

A piece in Saturday’s The Age attempted to draw together several issues including the State Liberal leadership, proposed legislation targeting Christian Schools and the Conversion Practices Bill which passed earlier this year.

I know nothing about alleged promises made between Michael O’Brien and the ACL and these things are not my interest here.

As I read, I noticed that one of quotations came from me, although it wasn’t attributed to me (from The Age 5/12). I mentioned this to the reporter (who by the way has been doing excellent reporting on the pandemic in Victoria) as well as a brief summary of why Christians are rightly concerned by the  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 . I noted how Churches agreed with aspect of the Bill while explaining how other aspects are overreach and misguided. 

With the same degree of surprise as someone jumping into sea and expecting to get wet, the Twitter community bandied together to object to what I said. Their objections were telling. For instance,  one person used the issue of child sexual abuse in churches to argue Christians have no right to engage in conversation and dialogue,

“Christian faith had no right to use prayer institutions to groom, abuse, assault, persuade and then cover up child sexual abuse for decades either. Stay out of people’s sexual choices. You lot lost any moral right to have anything to do with persuading (bullying) people.”

While I disagree with how they conflate issues that are very separate, it’s worth listening to the comment. The harm caused by evil people who worked their way inside some churches is truly insidious. Though their abuse may have taken place many years ago, it will have an ongoing effect for many years to come, and possibly for generations. In the first place, the damage inflicted on victims of these crimes is both real and abhorrent. Second, the damage these actions has caused to the reputation of Christ and churches is real. We may say, as I have myself have pointed out, churches are overwhelmingly safe and that such behaviour contradicts every fibre of Christian faith. Indeed, the Bible warns us how people with evil intent will worm their way into churches and cause harm both by their words and by their actions. And of course, issues of sexual abuse are widespread throughout every part of society. Nonetheless, we need to understand how these sins and the manner in which some churches at times overlooked abuse, has understandably marred peoples’ view of Christianity.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Second, there are members of the community who genuinely believe Christians have no right to speak and practice our religion publicly. These voices range from the anonymous Twitter account through to high-profile social commentators and one can mount the case that this is becoming an adopted view inside the current Victorian government.

For example, a few responses to my tweet stated that Christians have no right to persuade anyone,

“In this context, those “offers” are unquestionably acts of psychological abuse, deliberately inflicted on vulnerable people. That you would defend this as your “right” is a damning indictment. Disgraceful. You’re not a victim, stop pretending otherwise.”

The problem is one of framing. I mentioned this issue last week in relation to the Victorian Attorney General’s announcement of forthcoming legislation that is targeting faith-based schools. Instead of supporting the rights of religious organisations to employ people who affirm their values, the Government, using it’s own theological priorities, is seeking to insert its own preferences onto faith-based schools and other organisations. 

Similarly, the Conversion Practices Act attempts to remove what are common sense and essential aspects of Christian faith; namely the freedom to persuade and to pray. The lead up to the debate on conversion practices was framed according to a narrow and at times misleading narrative. The Government told stories of so called Christian practices that are horrible (and these are horrible especially to Christian ears).  The problem was, these practices were either only ever practised by a small number of marginal religious groups many years ago, or never at all. Instead, what happened is that a straw man was built out of thousands of plastic straws and with a couple of strands a genuine hay. This  predominantly false presentation was used to justify making illegal activities that are not only congruent with 2000 years of Christian history, but also congruent with a civilised and pluralistic society that encourages persuasion and conversation and prayer. Does the government have any right to tell me who I can pray for and what I can pray for? It somewhat bemusing to hear ardent secularists approve of political means to step into the religious realm and legislate against prayer and conversation. In the name of equality, Victoria is again moving to diminish freedom and equality and tolerance. 

I have been saying for many years that society and sometimes churches have not always treated gay and lesbian neighbours in love and with the respect due them. Every Christian who is a born again Christian is aware of the fact that we only come to know God‘s wonderful forgiveness and the gift of reconciliation because of His undeserved grace and love towards us in Christ. This grace doesn’t motivate hatred toward others, but desires to see people doing well. Of course, the narrative that now controls much public discourse is that you cannot love another person and uphold the Christian view of marriage. It is said that one cannot hold to a Christian view of sexuality and truly want the best for others. The megaphone may be loud, constant, and popular, but it is no more true than those who claim the earth is flat or those who argue that the climate is not warming. 

One thing Christians in Victoria need to realise is that we no longer hold a place of respect or authority in our society. Of course, that is a generalisation, for there many Victorians (even among unbelievers) who still value the contributions of Christians and who believe in healthy pluralism. Nonetheless, we need to comes to terms with the fact that culture is shifting The answer isn’t for Christians to pine for yesterday. The answer isn’t to ‘reclaim’ our political or social position. These attempts not only usually fail, they often lead to further polarisation and to muddying the Christian message. There is a place to contest unfair laws and unjust governmental intrusion, but these avenues should be pursued by reasonable minds not by angry activists. Rather, Christians need to be doing what Christians have always done at their best and that is, humbly walk before God, and being persuaded by the Bible keep living out God’s good ways, and with patience, grace and clarity, keep speaking God’s good news, and keep loving our neighbours no matter who they happen to be. 

Victorian Government to Discriminate against Faith-Based Schools

The past 18 months have proven difficult for all Victorians. During this time 100,000s of Victorians rely on and are grateful for the support, care, and education provided by religious organisations: from schools to counselling services, and more. Churches have continued to minster to people and offer hope where disease and lockdowns have darkened the lives of so many. During this same period, the Victorian Government has moved again and again to reduce the freedoms of religious organisations for the simple reasons: for holding beliefs and practices that align with the historical convictions of their religion. 

In February this year, the Government introduced and adopted the  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.  While Churches agreed with aspects of the Bill, the Government took the unnecessary approach (breaking with jurisdictions around the world) and defined conversion practices as broad as possible, such that normal Christian activities are now prohibited. The Act makes it illegal for Christians (and others) to pray with or speak with another person about sexuality and gender with the aim of persuading them according to Christian beliefs. The Government believes that these activities are so heinous that they have attached a prison sentence of up to 10 years for anyone breaking the law (this law comes into effect February 2022). 

This week, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes announced another piece of legislation. This Bill will be brought to the Victorian Parliament before the end of year, limiting religious organisations in employing persons who subscribe to the values of the school, counselling centre, or aid agency.

The  Age reports,

“Religious schools in Victoria will be prohibited from sacking or refusing to employ teachers because of their sexuality or gender identity under sweeping social reforms proposed by the Andrews government.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said legislation would be introduced later this year to close an “unfair, hurtful” gap in anti-discrimination laws that allow faith-based organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender and marital status.

“People shouldn’t have to hide who they are to keep their job,” Ms Symes said.”

While the story focuses on Christian schools, the legislation is again broad and will swallow a great number of organisation (even some churches),

“The Victorian bill would also mean no faith-based organisations could discriminate when delivering government-funded services such as counselling or homelessness support, or hiring out community facilities”.

The proposal is deeply flawed and should trouble religious and non religious Victorians alike.

First of all, the conversation is wrongly framed. Not only is the Attorney General twisting the narrative, but even The Age assumes the story line that is being fed to us by today’s cultural preachers. 

The canvas paints Christians as mean and intolerant and makes us think that they’re firing gays and lesbians in their schools every second Tuesday. Instead of the crude and misleading ‘religious people hate gays’ rhetoric, this is about faith based organisations appointing staff who affirm their values. 

Faith-based schools largely exist because 100,000s of Australian families have lost trust in State schools to deliver an education that isn’t also accompanied by certain ideologies.  Christian and other faith based schools are growing because families want their children to be educated in line with their faith. Not only have families been driven away from State schools, now the Government is pursuing them in their faith-based schools.

Rather than saying, here are mean and intolerant Christians discriminating against others, the real picture is of religious organisations wanting to employ persons who affirm their stated values. It’s called freedom of association. 

Should a cricket club be forced to appoint a coach who wants to change the game to lacrosse? Should the ALP be forced to welcome One Nation members into the fold and change their platform to accomodate One Nation? If a hospital employs a doctor who later changes their views, coming out as an anti-vax campaigner who disagrees with COVID vaccines, should the hospital be forced to put them in charge of immunology? 

Not only does the framing of this conversation sounds like a badly acted caricature on Comedy Central, the policy itself is flawed and troubling for it depends on imposing a secularist view of religion. 

“Ms Symes said the reforms would “narrow” the exceptions to anti-discrimination legislation so that any discrimination would need to be “reasonable” and an inherent requirement of the job. For example, a school might be permitted to prevent a gay or transgender person being a religious studies teacher but could not stop them being a maths teacher.”

Who is the Attorney General to dictate to religious organisations what constitutes religious work and what is not? Do we really want the State educating and defining the theological beliefs and requirements of faith-based organisations? Is a gardener or an office administrator not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching Scripture? The Government is creating a false dichotomy which does not exist in the Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole which serves a common purpose.

The Government is also mistaken in assuming that because a role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it is therefore irrelevant whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ someone who does not support the basic values and vision of that asociation?

Equal Opportunity doesn’t mean sameness. I’m not doubting the Victorian Government’s commitment to ‘equal opportunity’, but their paradigm is flawed, and represents an ethic that is ultimately not about diversity, but is about conformity.

Is the Attorney General the new Archbishop? Is the Government replacement ecclesiastical council?  The question needs to be asked, is it reasonable for a Government to determine what constitutes required religious adherence or not? Is it the Government’s role to dictate theology and ministry practice? Does the Government have the necessary skills and knowledge required to adequately understand theology and therefore make the right judgement regarding the question of what is inherent?

The Labor Government tried to pass similar legislation in 2016, the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill. It fell short by a single vote in the Legislative Council. The vote is likely to be reversed on this occasion.

Not only is this latest attack on religious freedom a step too far, Jaclyn Symes is already hinting at expanding the legislation. The Bill has not even been tabled in Parliament and the Attorney General is fishing for justification to broaden the intrusion into religious organisations, 

“We could be convinced to extend it, we just haven’t consulted on that particular element of reform. I certainly wouldn’t have a closed mind to revisiting that down the track”.

The previous Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, made a similar comment in 2020 in relation to the Conversion Practices Bill. She indicated that the Government is open to extending prohibited ‘practices’ in the future and include church based sermons.

This ensures that conduct generally directed— such as sermons expressing a general statement of belief—is not captured. However, such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

These Government moves sadden me, not only because the proposal is so unnecessary and a significant threat to religious freedom, but also because like many Christian leaders, I have urged people to do the right thing throughout this pandemic and to be patient with Government restrictions. We regularly pray for our Premier and the Government, and so this latest legislative move is a vicious and unnecessary attack on Victorians. 

 Religious organisations are already free to employ people regardless of sexuality, if they so choose. The Victorian Government wants to take away choice. 

For those who can still remember back to 2017 and the assurances offered during the Marriage Plebiscite, they have proven to be as leaky as a bucket of water held by a politician in one hand and an electric drill in the other hand, and with a team of social activists turning on the power. 

Above all, what concerns me is how the legislators framing of this debate skews the very nature of the Christian message. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t phobic or bigoted, and neither does it affirm and agree with every idea and desire that we express. The good news is God’s gracious and loving message of redemption. The Christian worldview presents an attractive alternative. Of course, not every Victorian will be convinced (and I’m the first to admit that sometimes Christians don’t help convince neighbours by some of the things we say and do), but this Government is bent on removing this choice and imbedding a version of sexual secularisation into Christian schools and organisations. This kind of intrusion will not strengthen our society and enable the vibrant pluralism and tolerance that once marked Victoria. 

By the end of the year, hundreds of schools and organisations will need to decide who they’ll follow. Will they sacrifice the good and God given vision for marriage and human sexuality or will they sacrifice Government funding*? A healthy and pluralistic society should never force this junction. At a time when we are still trying to survive the most difficult season in living memory, this Government is threatening religious organisations. One may hope that commonsense will prevail and that this legislation will fall down, but I suspect it’s time for organisations to consider what their true values are and where their ultimate allegiance lies.


Teachers have shared with me that it’s not just funding at stake but also registration and the ability to continue as a school

“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure”

“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure,” so said Eric Liddell, the 400m gold medalist from the 1924 Paris Olympics Games. 

Such a view may appear strange to many of our ears, partly because God is the idea we are trying hard to leave behind. Who needs God today? But also, we have accepted a popular myth; God is baggage that keeps us from having success and happiness. Over the course of the Tokyo Olympics we have heard multiple athletes showing us otherwise.

Like millions of Aussies, COVID lockdowns have been softened a little by the Olympic Games. Last night we were treated to an epic high jump final. Australia’s Nicola McDermott won silver and achieved an Australian record in the process. 

In the post medal ceremony interview, Nicola McDermott was asked about her faith,

“I think as a teenager i was always an outcast; and I got welcomed into a faith community that loved me. And I just remember encountering god’s love and it changed the way I though of my self – as a misfit why was I created so tall and stuff –  and it gave me passion and purpose to use it.

“In 2017 was my big moment when it flicked the switch and I decided to pursue God over sport.- whatever comes from sport is a bonus but I am already complete  and perfect and loved as a person regardless of it.

“That just allowed me to soar over high jump bar and not be scared anymore because I am loved and that is the most important piece.”

In a recent interview for the Guardian, Mcdermott offered this insight, 

“I keep the focus on making my identity outside of sport – I do sport, but it’s not who I am. That’s been the breakthrough for me – realising that my performance does not determine my identity. Once you do that, you realise that it doesn’t matter whether you win the Olympics or come last, you’re still the same person.”

Sydney McLaughlin is an American athlete who won 2 gold medals at the Tokyo Games, including breaking the 400m hurdle world record. Following her 400m hurdle final, Mclaughlin spoke to NBC, saying, 

“All the glory to God…Honestly, this season just working with my new coach and my new support system, it’s truly just faith and trusting the process. I couldn’t ask for anything more and truly it is all a gift from God.”

“I think the biggest difference this year is my faith, trusting God and trusting that process, and knowing that He’s in control of everything. As long as I put the hard work in, He’s going to carry me through. And I really cannot do anything more but give the glory to Him at this point.”

McLaughlin’s Instagram bio says, 

“Jesus saved me.”

“I no longer run for self recognition, but to reflect His perfect will that is already set in stone. I don’t deserve anything. But by grace, through faith, Jesus has given me everything. Records come and go. The glory of God is eternal. Thank you Father.”

Last week the gold medal winning Fijian Rugby 7s team sang of this reality that exists above.

These testimonies expose a large crack in the myth that belief in God prevents us from having the fullest life. These athletes winning Olympic glory speak of an even greater glory that belongs not to them but to God. For them, this greater identity and meaning exceeds winning athletic Olympic medals.

Of course, there are extraordinary athletes who follow Jesus and there are extraordinary athletes who do not. In every field of endeavour this is the case. Some of the most brilliant minds in the world today are followers of Jesus while others are not. Many of history’s most influential thinkers were professing Christians and others not. Today, in the fields of medicine, law, science, music, film, and economics, there are men and women who profess the name of Jesus and there are men and women who do not.

The difference does not depend on a persons intellect or effort but in the category that is greater than all others. Neither is the distinguishing characteristic success, as though Christians are more likely to win Olympic medals or non Christians are more likely. 

You don’t need to sacrifice God for sporting achievement. You don’t need to ditch God in order to find success. We are not required to ignore God in order to find our truest self. Nicola McDermott and Sydney McLaughlin are among the many athletes who prove this myth to be false. And what these athletes have shared is a message of good news that surpasses sporting achievement. Eric Liddell who felt God’s pleasure as he raced to gold, also said this, “Many of us are missing something in life because we are after the second best.” 

The Apostle Paul once wrote a letter to a young man. He used a sporting analogy to describe the greatest race worth running. 

“ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

No doubt many young Aussies are dreaming about future sporting success. Many more are thinking about the future and considering the possibilities before them. We do not need to make the mistake of denigrating God from life. Indeed, through Jesus Christ he promises something of eternal meaning, joy and satisfaction. A few may eventually win an Olympic medal, but let’s not miss out because we are after the second best.

The Lord’s Prayer in Victorian Parliament: Be careful what we ask for

We need more prayer, not less prayer. In a season when we have been reminded of our mortality and the acute limitations of being human, the wise learn how much more do we need Divine grace, wisdom, and strength. Instead of praying, the Victorian Parliament is arguing about Christianity again! This time, the dispute is over the Lord’s Prayer and whether it has a place inside Spring St.

Fiona Patten is introducing a motion to have the Lord’s Prayer replaced with a moment’s silence at the start of each Parliamentary sitting. The Legislative Council member from the Sex Party (sorry, it’s know called the ‘Reason Party) believes that our pluralistic society should exclude this prayer. Okay, I am being slightly facetious. Patten’s reasoning is that many Victorians are not Christian and the prayer discriminates against other religions and Victorians with no religious affiliation. 

Premier’s Chair!

What would I decide? Of course, I’m not sitting in the Premier’s chair nor in any chamber at Parliament. As a Christian minister living and serving in Victoria I do have some thoughts.

Fiona Patten has a point although it’s not without reasonable rebuttal. Reading the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament serves to perform two important functions in our society. First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both an historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability. 

Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live. 

However, what’s missing in this debate is an explanation of what the Lord’s Prayer is about. This prayer which brings great comfort is also dangerous to pray. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; nice and innocuous. In anything, the Lord’s Prayer should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Indeed, there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer (and for praying it). Let me explain.

The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,

“‘Our Father in heaven,”

Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it’s one that’s unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!

However, God is not everyone’s Father, and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad, only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. It is exclusive and yet it is also wonderfully inclusive, for no one is born Christian but we are adopted by grace, a gift from God. The Bible shows us that the privilege of knowing God as Father comes through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.

It is either a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father if they have not first put their faith in his Son. 

Notice also how the Lord’s Prayer petitions God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing,

“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.”

This prayer is asking  God to bring an end to all sin, evil ,and death, and to judge the guilty. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation. Are we ready to pray for Divine judgment on the Victorian Parliament, and all our attitudes and actions? 

The Lord’s Prayer recognises God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Such a petition is humbling, requires honesty, and it  provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness. There is a hypocrisy and hubris to ask God for forgiveness and to speak words that depend on a crucified and risen Christ while neither intellectual or heart assent to them. 

If we’re being honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my  consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers, even in many churches, have become about upholding tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. One cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those conclusions.

Fiona Patten’s reasons for removing  the Lord’s Prayer isn’t really about pluralism, it is simply the latest move in the Victorian Parliament to  further diminish the role Christianity holds in our society.

I understand why some Christians (and even unbelievers) are wanting the Lord’s Prayer to remain in Parliamentary program and I’ve above outlined two reasons above. At the same time, I note how this Parliament, earlier in the year, made it illegal for Christians to pray with and converse with another person about sexuality and gender. I am neither surprised by the move to remove the Lord’s Prayer, and frankly how hypocritical would it be if it continued. I am not keen to see our political representatives heaping more coals on their heads by speaking words that condemn them before an authority that exists above their own station.

Removing the Lord’s Prayer is another indication of a culture turning its back on the very beliefs upon which the very best of society is built. However its continuation is not a sign of living faith but of hypocrisy and dead religion. While there is great sadness in seeing my State of Victoria walk away from the God who exists, lives, and saves, the answer is not found in Parliament but in the local church. Christians should take care in how we argue, for we are mistaken if we conflate civil society with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God and the cause of Jesus Christ isn’t extended through such cultural nodding toward Christianity. The Lord’s Prayer belongs to the Church. The cause of the Gospel will be advanced by Christians believing, praying, and living out what Jesus taught us to pray.

This prayer that provides comfort to millions of Christians is far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament today is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making. Ask this question, do I believe this? Can I ask speak these words with a clear conscience? Perhaps, just perhaps, ask yourselves, does this God of the Lord’s Prayer really exist and can I known him and receive the blessings that are promised to those who know God as Father?


Update: The motion failed to gain sufficient support. For the time being the Lord’s Prayer will continue to be recited. However the Government’s Attorney General has indicated that Labor will proceed to remove it following the next State election (assuming they win)

Fiji sings, “We have overcome”

Today I have a good news story to share. I was moved and encouraged by these scenes, as it seems were millions of people around the world.

Fiji has won the men’s Rugby 7s at the Tokyo Olympic Games. I reckon they deserve another gold for singing! Following their win in the final against New Zealand, the players formed a team huddle in the middle of the pitch and burst into song.

There was no hoarse shouting as we’re accustomed to with our tuneless Aussie Rules Footballers and there was no silent mouthing by embarrassed children at a school concert. This was loud, harmonic and beautiful singing.

Australia’s Olympic broadcaster, Channel 7, couldn’t miss such a positive Olympic story. They even mentioned the lyrics. Or rather, they managed to quote one line of the song, “We have overcome.”

I can imagine people thinking, this must be a sporting anthem that celebrates the glory of sport. But as I listened one can hear other words in addition to ‘we have overcome’.

There is more than this single triumphal line. The song continues by pointing to how they have overcome, and indeed, what it is they have overcome.

Here are the 4 lines of the song,

We have overcome

We have overcome

By the blood of the lamb           

And the word of the Lord

Far from being about Rugby or sport, the words are in fact a quotation from the Bible, 

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:11)

While I love their singing and the joy in their faces, there is more gold here to love. The Fijian team have not only won Olympic gold, but it seems as though they know of an even greater victory that lays ahead and that has been made secure by the complete and amazing sacrifice of God’s only Son, the Lord Jesus. Our world is filling up with frustrations and disappointments and hurts, and we are all slowly accumulating a weight of guilt for past transgressions. These words from the book of Revelation are truly monumental, even on a scale that beats the Olympics.

You see, while we were witnessing a memorable Olympic moment, we were also glimpsing something of eternal significance and heavenly wonder. I can’t wait to join my Fijian brothers one day and sing this song around the very throne of God. 

The Lord’s Prayer is again the focus of the Victorian Parliament

The Lord’s Prayer is once again the subject of dispute in the Victorian Parliament. It is the practice of both Federal and State Governments in Australia to open the parliamentary sitting with the speaker reading out loud the ‘Lord’s Prayer’.

Today in Victoria, Legislative Council Member, Fiona Patten of the “Reason Party” (formerly called the Australia Sex Party), is introducing a motion to have the Lord’s Prayer banned and in its place introduce a moment’s silence at the start of each sitting. Her reasoning is that many Victorians are not Christians and it’s discriminatory toward other religions and to Victorians with no religious affiliation. 

As a Christian leader living in Victoria, I’m not persuaded by Patten’s argument, but neither am I calling for the Parliament to hold onto this tradition. Rather, my desire is that our Parliamentarians would come to terms with the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, and from there, make a decision.

In case anyone is wondering where this prayer originates, it is with Jesus Christ. Jesus introduced this prayer to his disciples early in his ministry and it was written down as part of Scripture and has remained precious to Christians ever since (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). The prayer, while it can be read verbatim, is probably meant to serve as a model for teaching us ‘how to pray’. Nonetheless this renowned prayer is read verbatim in our Parliaments.

The positive in keeping the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament

Reading the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament serves to perform two important functions in our society. First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both an historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability. 

Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live. 

The danger of praying the Lord’s Prayer

While there is argument for keeping the Lord’s Prayer in the Victorian Parliament, there are more significant reasons for treading cautiously with this prayer. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; all nice and innocuous. The Lord’s Prayer is a dangerous prayer to pray. It should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Let me explain, 

1. The Lord’s prayer is for believers 

The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,

“‘Our Father in heaven”

Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it is unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!

However God is not everyone’s Father, and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad; only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. The Bible shows us that we only have the privilege of knowing God as Father through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.

‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4-5). The Bible teaches us that we can know God as Father, but it is through Jesus. By trusting in his death and resurrection, we are no longer separated from God, but are included into his people and brought into a personal relationship with God.

It is a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father without first placing their faith in his Son. 

2. The Lord’s prayer acknowledges God’s utter holiness and otherness

“hallowed be your name”

This line is asking God for glory and greatness to be attributed to his name.

3. The Lord’s prayer asks for God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing. 

“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Lord’s prayer asks for God’s Kingdom to come and be manifest. This petition is asking for both judgment and salvation. We’re imploring God to bring an end to all sin, evil and death, and to judge the guilty. It is calling for God to rid the world of every evil and injustice, including our own. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally, that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation. 

Should we encourage people to ask God for this, especially if they themselves don’t believe in Jesus Christ? It’s like playing Russian roulette, except Jesus is persuaded that the Bible’s teaching on judgment is no idle threat, it’s about God righting all that is wrong.

4.  The Lord’s Prayer says we need God each day and especially his forgiveness

“Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

He is the God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins.

This petition requires us to recognise our sinfulness, as defined by God’s righteousness and not by our current social norms. At the time, this is breathtaking. In our culture where forgiveness is hard to find and where politics is filled with shaming and guilting others, Jesus’ prayer is humbling and provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness. 

5. The Lord’s Prayer asks for a way out from temptation.

“And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Are we wanting to embrace and live according to God’s design for life or something else? Given the reputation of our Parliament and many of the decisions made in recent years, one might conclude that our political representatives are consciously jumping into temptation rather than seeking to avoid it. 

To pray or not to pray?

Let’s be honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my  consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers even in many churches have become about tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. One cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those errant conclusions.

Fiona Patten’s reasons for banning the Lord’s Prayer may be about further undermining the important role Christianity plays in our society, but there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer.  Should you speak of God as your father if he is not? Do you understand that calling for the coming Kingdom include Divine judgment? Do you mean it when you ask God to forgive you? 

This prayer that provides comfort to millions of Christians is also far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making and to ask, do I believe this? Can I ask speak these words with a clear conscience? Perhaps, just perhaps, ask yourselves, does this God of the Lord’s Prayer really exist and can I known him and receive the blessings that are promised to those who know God as Father?

Distorting the Christian message doesn’t help anyone

I am tired of people misusing Christianity for all kinds or political and moral messaging. Whether it’s intellectual know-it-alls who explain away all the bits of the Bible that doesn’t fit with contemporary moral proclivities or those who get sucked in by crazy conspiracies and then justify them from loopy readings of the Bible. Indeed, some of this isn’t’ just odd, it is downright dangerous and blasphemous. 

Take for example, this sign that was waving about during an anti lockdown protest yesterday,

“The blood of Christ is my vaccine.”

I do hope people realise that Christians don’t support or agree with this banner that was displayed at an anti-lockdown protest yesterday in Australia. I suppose a few Christians might like the banner, but that doesn’t make it true or helpful.

This is a difficult year

I will address this appalling sign shortly, but first of all I want to say that I understand how many people are frustrated and fed up and hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic. I doubt if there are many Australians who don’t feel at the very least one of those emotions right now. I have seen many struggling Aussies over the last 19 months and I know it’s hard. No one wants to be in the situation that we’re currently experiencing.

I’m not arguing here for or against lockdowns. Neither am I advocating for or against other measures taken during the pandemic. It’s not that I don’t have opinions about such things but that I’m aware of the fact that I’m not a medical professional and these are complex matters and I don’t have to shoulder responsibility for millions of people. It may well be the case that we won’t know what the right course of action was for several years to come. Uncertainties and confusion have often been compounded by the unnecessary politicisation of the pandemic and the at times enflaming journalism by some members of the media (as opposed to the great reporting that’s been done by many other journalists). 

When it comes to protests my view is that it’s unwise to protest right now (that was my position last year as well), yes even selfish. At the same time we can be concerned by any Government who stifles peoples’ right to protest, even when we disagree with their point of view. Two things can be right at the same time. The higher biblical ethic however isn’t to push for my rights, it is to love the other.

The Bible doesn’t support conspiracies

I digress, my concern here is the so called Christian messaging present in these protests. If you are someone who claims to follow Jesus Christ, before making any decision first ask, am I faithfully promoting the good news of Jesus Christ? Another question I should ask is, am I loving my neighbour by joining in this unlawful and untimely rally? While I am sure there were a few well-meaning Christians protesting yesterday, that is no excuse for screwing up the beautiful Christian message by twisting it with anti-VAX nonsense. 

There is a difference between someone who declines vaccination as a result of carefully thought out reasoning and one who is saying no because they’re believe speculative hearsay and conspiracy theories. For me, I’m convinced taking the vaccine is sensible and it’s is foremost about loving others and putting their health above my own (I’ve had my first round of Pfizer). 

The Bible itself is not anti medicine anymore than the Bible isn’t anti-science. The Apostle Paul once says to a young Timothy, I hear that you’re unwell, take medicine. On many occasions when the Bible records people who are hungry, the answer was to provide food so that they may eat. When people were tired they slept. We are physical beings for God has made a physical world, not just a psychological and spiritual world. He has made a world in such that we can understand its mechanics and make advancements in technology and science and medicine. 

The Bible talks about people who advocate and believe wonky ideas and calls on churches to guard against them For example, n the First Pastoral Epistle the Apostle Paul famously calls out conspiracy theories and demonstrated why they have no place in the Christian community. He wrote, 

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longeror to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

Scholars can’t be certain about the precise content of these myths and genealogies. However, later in 1 Timothy (ch.4), Paul talks about people who were advocating distorted views of marriage, food, and other everyday norms. The Apostle is adamant, 

“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron”

Indeed, Paul argues that such abuse of Christian doctrine is harmful to people physical and spiritual wellbeing” (1 Timothy 4).

The meaning of the blood of Jesus

When people mix the Christian message with speculative theories we find absurd statements such as the banner which many journos are enjoying sharing around on social media, “The blood of Christ is my vaccine”.

What an awful slogan. This kind of misrepresentation is as detrimental to the Christian message as was the false teachers whom Paul spoke against.

Just in case someone is wondering, the blood of Jesus does not have physical properties that will so how mingle with our cardiovascular system to fight and destroy viral infection. Such medieval thinking is superstition not Christian. 

However, I will never ridicule the idea of the ‘blood of Christ’. This idea of Christ’s blood is a crucial and central aspect of Christian belief. Without this blood there is no Christianity. 

I get it, the very thought of blood isn’t attractive to our modern sensibilities. The theological significance of blood may not be as familiar to us as it is in other cultures. Blood is graphic. If we find the notion of spilled blood uncomfortable and even gross, we have come some way to understand the significance of blood in Biblical teaching and practice.  The shedding of blood goes a long way to demonstrate the true horror of human sinfulness and the extraordinary length God went to bring atonement and deliver reconciliation. 

Blood is used in many different ways in the Bible, but most of the time it signifies death. Blood is often used in a technical sense to refer to sacrificial death. In the first place blood speaks of sacrifices conducted in the Old Testament, and these are preparing for and pointing to the truly efficacious sacrifice that atones for human sin; the death of Jesus Christ.

”For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:18-20)

“remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” (Ephesians 2:18-20)

Let me explain it this way, while the biblical language of blood may be unusual for many of us, we do understand the concept of sacrifice. The notion of someone laying down their life in order to save another is a common theme in literature and film. In real life, such events are often mentioned on the news for they are rare and wonderful examples of love.

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance has these words engraved in the interior of the building, “Greater love hath no man”. 

While these words aptly describe the sacrifice of our war dead, these are in fact words spoken by Jesus. These words speak of the greatest sacrifice we can make for the sake of another, and the point to the ultimate sacrifice; the cross.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

When a protester distorts the Christian message and attaches it do something like the anti-vac movement, people will understandably mock her. Sadly, they may also go away with the wrong view of Christ and of Christianity. I’m thankful that most Christians have more sense, and hopefully better theology. For the rest of Australia, please don’t judge the truly sublime message of Jesus Christ by a few dreadful banners. Instead, find a Christian church, open a Bible, and discover the good news of Jesus for yourself.

Tokyo Olympics Imagine the wrong song

I enjoy the Olympics. I’m not one these anti-sport types or anti-cultural wowsers. There’s no doubt that my family and I will be watching the Aussies over the next couple of weeks. We expect to see some amazing athleticism and competition, and we’ll be cheering on as proud Aussies. There are plenty of non Aussies that I’m keen to see compete as well. And ‘yay’ to Tokyo! I’m happy for the people of Tokyo. Despite the trauma and uncertainty of the past 18 months the game have begun; well done!

There was much to enjoy and amaze in what was a scaled down opening ceremony. The cauldron is spectacular. And yes, mask wearing athletes waving to a near empty stadium is kind of weird but welcome to 2021. I also assumed there would be some element at the Games that’ll make us cringe. On this occasion, the irksome bit was in fact the contribution made by Australia’s very own Keith Urban. Or rather, Urban shared the honours with a Legend named John and two other singers who each represented a different continent.

Together they performed a virtual rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine. Really? Yep. We couldn’t think of something more imaginative to captivate the audience? Even a few lines from Puccini would have given us a better dose of goose bumps than Lennon’s dreary Imagine. Despite Lennon’s best efforts to produce a mediocre song,  Imagine has become something of a global anthem for times of trouble and bizarrely even at Christmas time.

But let’s stop for a moment and use our brains. Think about the lyrics. Forget about the ho-hum melodic line. Leave aside the earnest yodelling of Keith Urban, the swaying arms of a choir and the army of drones circling above to create a unified world. Truth ain’t measured by a spectacularly scripted show!

Imagine is hardly good news. It’s a pop song designed to imagine life without ultimate meaning and hope. Despite its claim, it doesn’t bring people together for it erases any story that’s bigger than ourselves and strong enough to heal the unreconcilable. It’s the perfect anthem for our neighbourhood nihilists, not for a hurting world.

At a time when the world in the thralls of a pandemic, facing enormous financial debt, geopolitical threats of warlike imminence, and the fracturing of western civilisation, Imagine is not the song we need to hear. What does this imaginary song offer us?

Imagine there is no ultimate meaning, purpose or goal toward which our lives are headed.

Imagine there is no overarching design and no inherent significance. 

Imagine if our lives were reduced to the pot luck outcome of billions of years of impersonal atoms and molecules running around hitting and missing, making and destroying.

Imagine a world where the reality of conscience and moral choice has no grounding in a purpose beyond that of group survival in the evolutionary race to the top.

Imagine human affections are ultimately an illusion, a cruel joke orchestrated by the impersonal rules pf physics.

Imagine all the people living for today, for tomorrow is the end.

Imagine’s meaning isn’t so great, is it?

In contrast to Lennon’s nihilist proclamation, people want to know that there is hope beyond a crisis and that there is hope when faced with mortality. Times of economic uncertainty can drive people to the kinds of selfish and greedy hoarding of supplies that we have been witnessing. A health crisis can lead to further fragmentation in societies. Indeed, the longer this crisis continues the more likely we are going to witness the breaking of social cohesion. And yet as these economic, social and health pressures tighten, it is all the more necessary for people to hear news of hope.

There is little consolation to a gravely ill person that not only is death imminent, but that it is ultimately meaningless. This atheistic ethic doesn’t do much to help grieving families who have just witnessed a loved one being ripped from their lives. To quote one friend, Imagine is “tone deaf”.

We want there to be a heaven, a better world with a better life. We want the cessation of sorrow and suffering, but Imagine cannot offer any such promise. 

At the same time, hell is also a necessity, for we do not want to live in a world where evil wins or where injustice prevails. While we should be thankful for our judicial system, it is not full proof and many terrible deeds are never prosecuted. People need to know that in death the wicked do not escape justice. Imagining there is no hell would be a form of hell its self.

John Lennon’s song collapses in on its own irrationality. He imagines ‘living life in peace’, and there being no “greed or hunger”, but such talk demands a form and purpose; atheism and naturalism cannot provide such a definition. 

The COVID-19 crisis is a voracious reminder of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of building society on credit. Hedonism is vanity. Pushing against greed and social disharmony suggests meaning, but meaning is disqualified in a God absent universe. As Solomon the wise wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, 

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless.”

Nietzsche was right, at least as far his logic is concerned, that “the masses blink and say ‘We are all equal – Man is but man, before God – we are equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.” A contemporary of Nietsche, Anatole France retorted without regret,

“It is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil.”

What if there is heaven and hell? What if God exists? 

Everything must change. What we think and say has greater import. How we live and how we treat others has far more consequence. 

What if the God who exists is the God of the Bible: who is Sovereign, and altogether righteous and loving, just and kind? 

What if Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, the One who as John testifies, 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

These words are far more sustainable and substantial than the sentiment of living in a world without Divine structure. A Biblical view of the world both assesses its beauty and its horror, the worth and the uncertainty. These Scriptures bring us to the most astonishing words, ones that counter John Lennon’s pipe dream with concrete hope, 

 “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)

Bishop of Liverpool calls churches to become more like the world

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

The Anglican Bishop of Liverpool (UK) has come up with a strategy to turn around the frailing Church of England. What insight is he offering? What move is he announcing? Imitate Christ? Preach the Gospel? Persevere in prayer? Paul Bayes’ message is none of the above. In what sounds like a defiant ‘no’ to Romans 12:2, the Bishop of Liverpool wants churches to become more like the world! 

In a speech last week, the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, called for “gender-neutral marriage canon”. He notes that “world beyond the church” has found the church’s teaching and practice of marriage is  “offensive, oppressive and hypocritical”. [1]

There is a certain ‘duh’ that’s appropriate here. Societies often regard certain Christian teachings as offensive; it comes with the territory. I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about not expecting or looking for adulation from the culture at large,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you”. (John 15:19)

The Bishop’s logic is simple, the outside world doesn’t approve of Christian teaching (especially on marriage and sexuality), therefore we must change in order to the win the approval of the world. That’s like saying to Americans, I can see you don’t like cricket, so we’ll put away the bat and instead take up baseball. Or to change the analogy, it’s like submitting to anti-vaxxers: we sense your fury about taking a COVID vaccine, so to avoid offending you we will throw out every last vial. 

In case we are left in any doubt, Paul Bayes gives churches an example to follow. Following Jesus sounds like a great idea to me, but no, this clergyman is telling Churches to become more like the English soccer team (apologies, ‘football’!). I’m not convinced that footballers are the paragons of virtue we ought to be emulating, but according to this Bishop they are our exemplars.

“Look at our football team, kneeling in the face of the boos of the sleepwalkers so as to advocate for justice. The world beyond the church has set the moral agenda, and those who kneel with our footballers, or who see no difference between attending the marriage of their gay or their straight friends or work colleagues, find the community of faith to be wanting and indeed increasingly offensive. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of human sexuality”.

Be more like England! I assume the Bishop might add…and be less like Hungary. For those following Euro 2020, Hungary is portrayed as the bad guys at the moment due to the way their Government is pushing back on the popular sexuality narrative that has captured the West. The current European football championship has led to arguments over stadiums lighting up in rainbow colours and all manner of virtue signalling. 

The reality is, churches shouldn’t look like England or Hungary. The Church is called not to be a synonym for the world nor its antonym. Rather, the New Testament vision is of a redeemed community communicating by both life and teaching God’s revealed truth in the Gospel of Jesus. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:14-15 explains, 

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 

Far from emulating the world, the Apostle’s descriptor of the church is that it’s like a new building set apart from all others in the city. In contrast to the Temples in Ephesus (the city where Timothy was living), the Church is distinct for two reasons: one, the foundation (it’s built on God’s truth), and second, its life (the church upholds God’s truth in both life and teaching). George Knight comments on these verses, “the living God has established his church to be the embodiment of his truth.”

What makes Christianity distinct and enthralling, shocking and appealing, is that it does not sit comfortably in any given culture. Genuine Christianity doesn’t feel like England and it doesn’t look like Hungary. For this reason, there is always a sense in which we (Christians) never truly fit and are at home in the places we live, work, and play.

I recall an observation made last year by British historian Tom Holland, 

“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.

Holland is not a Christian but he understands the lunacy of ecclesiastical leaders sacrificing Christian beliefs at the expense of pursuing favourable opinion polls. Didn’t Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”?

As soon as Christians begin talking about truth, some readers will pushback with suggestions of narrow-mindedness and archaic bigotry. That’s not how Christian truth works. The truth Paul is affirming mustn’t be misaligned with power plays, abrasiveness, and hatred, for doing so tarnishes the truth. Truth’s companion is love and truth’s context is grace. Anyone building pillars of truth without the essential ingredients of love and grace, is building a structure that’s certain to fall down.

For example, in the same letter Paul urges Timothy to confront false teaching and he explains how “the goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Paul can both speak of behaviours that contradict sound doctrine and the Gospel, and he can speak of God’s great love for law breakers, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 

In calling for a church of the world, the Archbishop of Liverpool fails to mention this crucial point: churches that stick with the Bible and who hold onto the Christian view of marriage, do in fact love and accept people from across backgrounds and persuasions. It is this distinct community that is so appealing for those who are weighed down with guilt and sense of helplessness. The Church isn’t a heterosexual club, it’s the community of men and women who have found God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ and who are now learning to find their truest identity and contentment in Him. This truth is not oppressive, it is freeing. It’s not life destroying, it’s life building. I am among the first to recognise that churches don’t always do this well, but often they do, and the more churches are enthralled by the Gospel of Christ, the more wonderfully they display the character of God and the beauty of his good news. 

As Jesus says, “love one another and the world will know that you are my disciples”.

The Bishop of Liverpool is essentially calling for churches to dismantle 1 Timothy 3:14-16. Such betrayal by a church leader does not encourage Christians who are seeking to follow Christ in the world, it confuses them and causes them to doubt what God’s good purposes. Neither will this kind of revisionism help people outside to become Christians; it only gives further reason to view Christianity as an irrelevance. 

There are churches who’ve capitulated and become servants of today’ cultural Kings. Other churches understand what’s at stake and are standing on this firm foundation. Again, others are hoping they can remain on the fence and they’re hoping no one ever asks them what they truly believe. 

The future doesn’t lie with camouflaging the Biblical vision of marriage and sexuality, nor in taking the advice from the Bishop of Liverpool. Churches, we need to become less like the world, whether it’s the world of England or Hungary, and let’s become more like the Lord Jesus. 

———————————————–

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/26/church-of-england-should-recognise-same-sex-marriage-says-bishop

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!