Rain, the ABC, and the heresy of mentioning prayer

The ABC has been caught out in the rain and subjected to a torrent of tweets demanding a retraction. They ran a story about the rain that is falling in NSW with the blasphemous headline, “Prayers answered as NSW rainfall extinguishes 74-day Currowan bushfire”.

Thousands of comments have poured down over Twitter and Facebook, expressing anger at the ABC for daring to use the word, prayer. 

“Prayers have no place in journalism. #ThisisNotJournalism”

ABC news… prayers had nothing to do with it. Please delete this offensive tweet. #FreedomFromReligion

“Prayers answered” ???

Seriously  @abcnews get this religious propaganda out of your lexicon. The rain came because science. Nothing more nothing less.  Sure as shootin’ not because someone asked nicely for it.”

I suspect the choice of wording had nothing to do with actual belief in God, as though the editor was personally thanking God or encouraging readers to do so. Like millions of Australians every day, we borrow words and ideas from Christianity to express our own thoughts. In this case, someone at the ABC probably thought they were being cute.  It’s a rather innocuous and generic way of noting thankfulness that the bushfires have been extinguished.

But in Australia today, this cannot be tolerated. References to God cannot be permitted unless it is in the pursuit of mocking religion. Religion (and specifically, Christianity) is to be ridiculed by the media in the most celebratory and obnoxious ways, but no one is to dilute the purity of worship to secularism. Introducing the word prayer is sacrilege. It might encourage someone to, you know, actually pray to God. Worse still, maybe there’s a religious person working for the ABC and they’re trying to brainwash the country with subtle suggestions of Divine power.

Our friendly neighbourhood secularists have reminded us, even an irreligious use of a religious word must be opposed. I couldn’t help but turn a little smile as I noted that some of the people yelling at the ABC today were, only weeks earlier, defending the ABC for its evenhandedness and balanced reporting.  But now, they are demanding to know the name of the editor who approved the headline; no doubt to shame them and call for their immediate dismissal.

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Wait till the outrage mob realise that there are Christians working at the Bureau of Meteorology and that some of our country’s Climate Change scientists are also Christian! Yes, that’s right, scientists who also pray. Scientists who believe in God and in the Bible!

The ABC has now repented of their grievous sin. The headline has been replaced, but our moral judges are not yet satisfied. What guarantees will be put in place so that this never happens again?

In contrast to this irrational and over the top reaction to the ABC, I think prayer is great.  We should thank God for the rain, for the rain has put out dreadful fires. We should also ask God for safety for those who may experience flooding, just as we have done so with the recent fires.

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 4.58.14 pmA friend of mine who lives in the Blue Mountains faced the threat of bushfire only a month ago. This weekend he called the SES for sandbags to help protect his home from floodwaters. Fire and flood remind us that the world, as wonderful as it is, is not the safe and secure environment that we long for. As we have been reminded in recent weeks, humanity has done much to harm the world; it is, to use a biblical word, cursed. It is both a place of extraordinary beauty and terror. In the current cultural climate, we mostly focus on the things we don’t like. Australian society is filled with perennial complaining and whinging, and in that, we often forget the tremendous blessings that we enjoy and the good that we can see and hold.

Many Australian have been praying for rain, both to put out a terrible season of bushfire and also to break the drought has gripped so much of the country. Has God answered those prayers?

Sometimes our words carry more truth in them than we realise. The angry mob who have bullied the ABC this afternoon will probably not thank God for the rain. They may well be grateful, but to whom?  Thankful for the meaningless weather patterns that have combined to create the splashes of water on our gardens and in our rivers? Without God, surely the weather is just nature’s mechanics at work without reason and meaning? The clouds did not form for our benefit, to help us in any way. There is no ethic or design; it’s just water. That’s all it is. The very notion of thankfulness for rain is an illusion, an evolutionary mistake in the human consciousness that causes us to pray and thank a God who does not exist.

Or maybe, as the Apostle Paul once told a crowd in the city of Iconium,

“In the past, God let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:16-17).

Serving up more Spin

We have moved beyond peering through the looking glass. We’ve entered a crazy new world where left is right and wrong is good and the impossible is normal. Sky is grass and the ocean is space. Nothing is what it seems to be, and questioning the new morality is the only heresy.

The only problem with this new world of topsy-turvey is that it’s given a good shake every 6 months or so, and then once again all the epistemological furniture and our moral certainties are thrown into the air. And it’s not the sanest or smartest who catch the debris and reorder the room but the loudest and most militant.

Case in point, the recent Australian Tennis Open. First of all, what an amazing tournament. Second, in yesterday’s SMH Peter FitzSimons threw a volley at Novak Djokovic for touching the umpire’s foot during the final. If Fitz’s issue was simply that Djokovic committed a foot violation and should be fined for it, that’s fine. But you see, Fitz’s fury doesn’t depend on right and wrong, and rules of any kind, but on whether he supports the activity of the person. Remember, it was only a few days earlier when John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova unfurled a political banner on one of the courts in Melbourne Park. It was a protest against Margaret Court, with Navratilova also attempting to grab the umpire’s microphone in order to speak to the crowd and media. In that case, Peter FitzSimons quickly came out in support of the two former tennis players, who not only broke tournament protocols but brought the game into disrepute.

He tweeted,

“If your last name is McEnroe or Navratilova and you are on a tennis court, you have no need to “hijack” a tournament. You have earned your spot as your sport’s most respected voices.”

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In contrast, days earlier Margaret Court was invited to a special evening during the tournament where she was recognised by Tennis Australia for her famous Grand Slam of 1970. On Court, Margaret Court did not use the event to promote her personal beliefs. She said nothing about her views on sexuality which have been denounced in some parts of the community.

The upside roundabout of modern Western thinking isn’t done yet. While Martina Navratilova got away with her anti-Court banner and her online letter was republished or quoted by major media outlets all around Australia and the world, it was only last year that she was sacked by an LGBT group. While serving as an ambassador for Athlete Ally, Navratilova criticised transgender athletes and claimed that men competing as women are cheats and being unfair. Hmmm…so Margaret Court name must be removed because of her views on sexuality, and yet Navratilova, according to the latest definitions of phobia is also a phobe and a bigot. Indeed, how on earth did Tennis Australia miss that one when they ranted about their inclusivity policy?  How can we support and praise the on-court protest by a former player who publicly speaks against transgender women playing tennis at the highest level?

Thankfully, amidst all these double faults being served by our social and sporting commentators,, there was some great tennis played both on and off the court. As journalists tried to grab quotes from players about all kinds of social and moral issues, some players like Novak Djokovic and our very own Ash Barty, saw the spin coming and avoided it with skill and grace; well done.

All this demonstrates these three simple points: One, intersectional politics and cancel culture are intent on smashing their way into every pocket of life. Second, it is an ultimately hypocritical and destructive ethic. Three, our society needs a better way of evaluating moral confusion and for relating to the other.

I remember the words of Jesus,

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

That sounds pretty enticing. Just maybe, there is more wisdom and compassion, more goodness and truth in Jesus Christ than we realise. Of course, Jesus remains no.1 target of the cancel culture, but just perhaps, we could look at the world the right way up and see that he is not an opponent to be beaten but the one who gave his life to be our advocate. Recognising such liberating news requires a doss of humility and sadly, few in this age of rage feel able to accept what Jesus says. My suggestion is this, while the intersectional mob throw balls at each other, step aside and take a few moments to consider the One who offers, ‘truth that sets you free’.

 

 

New Concerns over Victoria’s Proposed Banning of Conversion Practices

As a Victorian, I have a moral obligation to report to authorities personal knowledge of alleged child abuse. As a pastor of a church, I have both a moral and legal duty to report knowledge of or suspicions of child abuse. Mandatory reporting is a social good. Even without the legal requirement, one’s natural concerns for a child’s wellbeing would automate contacting the police.

In Victoria, under new laws being proposed by the Andrews Government, I can be imprisoned for 12-18 months, for speaking up against the psychological and physical trauma inflicted upon children by gender warriors and dangerous medicos who work to change a child’s gender or sex.

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Last year the Victorian Government revealed plans to ban conversion practices. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism. In November, I exposed the biased and flawed reports upon which the Government is basing its definition. I also noted at the time that the proposed definition of conversion therapy is so broad that it includes normal Church preaching from the Bible where topics of sexuality are mentioned. Indeed, a Christian wedding could also fall foul for Christian Churches define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. In what would be an extraordinary attack on Christianity, an Australian State Government is arguing that Classical Christian teaching is harmful and can be banned.

Earlier in January, retired Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Stuart Lindsay, wrote an article where he alerts Victorians to another serious implication of Government’s planned laws. With the apt title, Sound an Alarm: Gender Activism Is About To Silence Us, Judge Lindsay explains how,

“the Victorian government intends to pass a law very soon that may see ordinary citizens imprisoned if they speak up against the chemical, psychological and physical mutilation of confused adolescents.” 

And,

“The discussion paper and the reports it relies on, together with Ms. Hennessey’s public utterances about them, make it clear that Victoria intends to make plain what is latent or ambiguous in Queensland’s proposed legislation. It is not just the individual transsexual or homosexual who needs protection from conversion; no, the criminality can arise outside of any therapeutic context. It is society that needs to be protected so the mere utterance of heterodox views about affirmation of gender or sexual “choice” must be extirpated.”

“This is what is about to happen: talking about or writing about or counselling against or promoting caution about affirmation as the sole medically permitted response to any putative decision by an individual to transition to their non-natal sex, or even discussing the practice of affirmation generally in a non-supportive way, is about to made illegal. It will at the very least be subject to civil penalty proceedings (in which case, see you in the Tribunal, facing up against publicly funded gender radicals).  Much more likely are serious criminal penalties. I mean prison sentences”

The irony is not difficult to see. Indeed, it is not so much ironic as it is moronic and downright dangerous for anyone with a conscience and who still believes in science and commonsense. According to Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney General Jill Hennessey, praying for individuals who are struggling with their sexuality is immoral, and preaching Biblical sexual ethics is also wrong. But telling a boy that they are really a girl and putting them in a dress, and changing their name, and beginning medical procedures and filling them with drugs to alter their biology and physical appearance is considered a moral imperative. Of course, the issue is becoming more insidious as a growing number of psychologists and doctors express concerns over how children with gender dysphoria are being treated.

I am quickly writing this and putting it into the public space before Parliament sits and I find writing my memoirs from a prison cell.

Judge Lindsay notes the real agenda behind the Government’s move, as I have also noted in the past. It is grievous to say but it has little to do with the wellbeing of children, and much to do with implementing cultural Marxism. Before this is dismissed as one of those tiresome and hyperbolic caricatures,  Roz Ward, (who is the architect of Safe Schools and academic at La Trobe University), has openly admitted that this is the case. 

To close, allow me to repeat what I wrote lastNovember,

As it stands, the Government’s proposal is nothing short of forced conversion. Without significant revisions, this looks like an attempt to control and redefine what religious organisations believe and teach about human sexuality and flourishing.

Victoria is witnessing a fundamental clash of worldviews, one supports a healthy pluralism in our society and the other believes in conforming to a narrow and uncompromising agenda.

The Government’s current position on conversion practice is about pressuring religious groups to change their views on sexuality. If the definitions were limited to those rare, extreme, and dangerous practices that some peoples have been subjected, there is warrant for discussion. What we are seeing thus far from the Government is unnecessary and contravenes those basic distinctions between Church and State.

Christians don’t believe in forced conversions. We believe in persuading others of a message that is good and attractive. Christianity is by definition a conversion religion. No one is born a Christian. People become Christians as they are convinced by the truthfulness and goodness of Christianity’s message, the Gospel of Jesus of Christ.

Christianity posits conversion as a result of personal conviction and choice, whereas the Government’s position seems to be, convert by coercion. Indeed, placing this conversation on conversion under the “Department of Justice and Community Safety” is probably not meant to be prophetic, but the irony is certainly not be missed.

All Victorians should be concerned by the Government’s plan to ban conversion practices. Let me reiterate, the Government is indicating more than simply banning practices that have proven harmful to some individuals, they are proposing to force-convert religious organisations and churches to the theological convictions of the new secular sexual milieu.

In the future, will Churches and religious organisations in Victoria have freedom to preach, teach, and counsel and pray in line with their religious convictions? Without significant revisions to the proposed definition, the answer is probably no

Indeed, as Judge Lindsay has now revealed, a prison term may also be in the offering for those evil Christians and dreadful medical professionals who dare speak out against the new ‘normal’.

 

 


Note: this is not a personal or political attack on Daniel Andrews. Earlier this month I praised him for his work during the bushfire crisis

Responding to the Australian Bush Fire Crisis

We spent the first three days of 2020 driving to and from Canberra, for a family wedding. Once we drove across the border from Victoria into NSW, visibility on the road slowly deteriorated as the air became more dense with smoke. By the time we reached Canberra, we could see less than 100m in front. Getting out of the car, the smoke clung to our clothes and flushed into our throats as we breathed, causing everyone to cough and eyes to sting.

We had the radio tuned to the ABC for reports on the fires. As we drove into Canberra we listened to a pollution expert explain that air quality index readings above 200 are considered hazardous to health. That day in Canberra (as it was for most days in recent weeks), the readings spilled over 2,000, and even reaching 5,000 during parts of the day. Canberra wasn’t only the dullest city in Australia, it now has the worse air quality of any city in the world.

Our hotel was situated just around the corner from  Parliament House. The flag and spire on top of the building that usually dominates the area, couldn’t be seen due to the blanketing haze. We drove across Lake Burley Griffen with its famous fountain but all was invisible to us.

Picture this, the situation around the country worsened over the week. Returning home to Melbourne on the Thursday, we drove south along the Hume Highway. For the entire 700km journey smoke covered the roads and the paddocks and hills on either side. 700km of smoke from bushfires. As we approached Albury/ Wodonga the smoke thickened, and at times visibility on the road was less than 200m. We stopped for lunch in Wodonga, where the smoke was heaviest. Our food had little taste for the smoke covered everything. The air tasted of ash, and its’ heaviness found a home in our throats and noses.

I have passed through bushfire areas before. Growing up in country Victoria, I’ve experienced burnt out bushland and smoke lingering around the hills, but never anything so thick and covering an area of such staggering size. Something like 10 million hectares of land is now scorched black. That’s an area larger than many entires States in the USA. More than 20 people have died, 2000 homes destroyed, and it is said that half a billion animals have been killed.

Cooler and wetter conditions mean that most of the fires are now either under control and at least temporarily dampened until the weather changes once again. We can be thankful for this temporary reprieve.

The reason for writing this post less about sharing our recent family road trip and more about offering some advice. Unlike most bushfires in Australian history, this time everyone has an opinion. Some of the suggestions are helpful while others should be avoided.

I want to offer 6 responses that Christians can make following these weeks of fire (and in preparation for the rest of the fire season which we mustn’t forget has another two months to go). I want to begin where I think the Bible encourages us to begin

1. Weep with those who are weeping and mourn with those who are mourning. 

“mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)

If we cannot start here and empathise with those who have lost much, frankly our opinion about the rest is little more than a noisy gong being played out of rhythm. Fast-forwarding to politicking and virtual signalling is uncouth and uncaring.

2. Avoid the heated and at times disgusting politicisation of these events.

In one sense it is impossible to separate the fires from politics altogether. Of course, understanding what has happened and learning how to better manage the future matters enormously.  However, over the last month, we have seen some of the grossest grandstanding and vilest commentary that I have witnessed in Australian political history.

No, I am not referring to the Prime Minister here. I recognise Scott Morrison has made errors of judgement in his initial responses (in my opinion, taking his family on a one week vacation over Christmas is not one of them). I also think that the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, has overall addressed the crisis well. While I frequently disagree with the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, he has conducted himself well and served Victorians well throughout this crisis. There have been however too many loud and loquacious voices using this tragedy for political point-scoring.

In such dangerous and exhausting circumstances as the nation has witnessed, there is naturally going to be anger and frustration, especially by those who are closest to the fires. But much social media and media responses have only served to fuel anger and encourage outrage in an irresponsible way, and often by people who know little about the subject matter. My plea is, don’t dump more petrol on the crisis.

Think before you tweet. Check before you share articles. Ask, is this righteous anger or are you justifying your disapproval of political opponents?

3. Don’t claim to be an expert when we are not

I have been asked to write some thoughts on the bushfire emergency. Until now I declined. Let me share why. There are two reasons why I have hesitated in writing anything on the fires. The first reason is that when someone’s house is on fire you don’t stop to argue about how the fire started, you go in and help them. There is a time to critique and analyse, and there is a time to get on with the job of helping out. As I suggested under point 1, many Aussies who have a megaphone in hand have skipped the important step of mourning and weeping, and instead jumped straight to blaming and shaming. Second, while I understand there are 25 million experts on climate change in Australia, I am not one of them. I can offer a point of view about fires and climate change, but I no more an expert than most of my 25 million fellow Australians. The problem is of course, that by even admitting such, there will some critics who assume I must be one of those evil climate deniers. Anything other than shrilling at the top of my lungs has become reason to cast suspicion on a person.

So what do I think? I accept that the globe is warming and that human beings have contributed to this problem. I am not a climate change scientist and neither are most of us. One cool fact though is that at Mentone Baptist Church we have an actual climate change scientist, and conversing with her is more than helpful. In addition to accepting the science on Climate Change, I also accept reporting that has revealed many of the fires that have started this season are the result of human agency; arsonists. Extreme drought conditions in many parts of the country and years of ignoring Indigenous practice of fuel reduction burning are also a combustible combination. It seems as though there are multiple factors contributing to the terrible fires burning across the country, including climate change. Indeed, it only makes sense that climate change will produce more volatile conditions (i.e. droughts and heat) leading to bushfires. It is vital that experts once again meet and provide workable and important solutions for future seasons (which include pathways to introducing more renewable energies). Believing in responsible policies and avoiding extreme rhetoric does not amount to Climate Change denial. These are my 2 cents worth of comments, spoken as an Aussie novice in this area.

4. Donate without playing to the crowds.

When donating to any of the organisations collecting for fire relief, don’t grandstand. It’s helpful to promote organisations who are doing good work but we don’t need to know how generous you are personally.

5. Pray.

Prayer isn’t useless. There are Aussies fighting the fires and who have escaped the fires who’ve been praying and they stand by prayer. Pray is effective for those who pray to a living God who is Sovereign over all things. Christians pray to a loving Father, who is the creator of all things and who is compassionate. We don’t pray because we understand everything that happens, we pray because we trust God who sees all things.

Pray for those fighting the fires. Pray for the communities who are facing fire. Pray for rain. Pray for our Government and political representatives that they will make wise decisions both in their immediate responses and for planning for the long term future. Here is a suggested prayer written by Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney:

“Our heavenly Father, creator of all things and especially the creator of this land and its original peoples, we call out to you in these desperate times as fires have swept across several parts of our country.

Our hearts cry out to you for those who have lost loved ones, and those who have lost properties in the wake of these ravaging fires 

Father we pray, in your mercy, restrain the forces of nature from creating catastrophic damage; in your mercy protect human life.

Guard those volunteers, rural fire service personnel and emergency services who selflessly step into the breach to fight these fires. Guide police and authorities who help evacuate and shelter those who are displaced.  Bring comfort and healing to all who suffer loss.

Remembering your promises of old that seedtime and harvest will never cease, we pray that you would open the heavens to send refreshing rain upon our parched land. 

In your mercy, we pray for drenching rain. 

We pray that despite the forecasts, in your miraculous power you would bring forth rain to quench these fires and to bring life back into the earth, so that crops may grow and farmers may bring forth the harvest of the land again.

We bring these requests before your throne, in the name of your Son, who died and rose again for our deliverance,

Amen.”

 

6. Put your hope in God

Before Christmas, I wrote an article about hope, because I am increasingly hearing and seeing a young generation express hopelessness and despair. There are many reasons why millennials are sensing a world without hope, and chief among them is the issue of Climate Change.  In that piece, I suggested something that amounts to blasphemy according to some, but it is true and needs saying:

“Climate change isn’t the existential threat facing the planet and humanity. It is a symptom of an ancient problem that we have afforded to ignore for far too long. If there is no God, why should we ultimately concern ourselves with altruism? Why bother with protecting the environment for future generations if purpose is found in the individual and defined by personal satisfaction? The fact that we understand that there are moral boundaries and that the future does matter, is not an argument against Divine purpose but the only rational explanation for having such concerns. How we behave toward one another and how we use the planet is important because this isn’t a meaningless existence.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

There has been a cosmological battle taking place for millennia, and it is ultimately against the Creator, not the creation. The ancient mandate to care for the world remains, but the growing call to save and redeem the world is not one within our purview. Those who believe we can save the planet have far too high regard for human capability and moral will. I’m not saying, don’t bother reducing carbon omissions and forget about investing in renewable energy; far from it. The house I live in won’t stand forever but it doesn’t mean I neglect the building. I neither wreck the house nor place all my energy and hopes in the house. I’m just pointing out the fact that people putting their ultimate hope in other people will always disappoint in the end. The role of global saviour is too big a job. You see, I don’t believe things are as bad as we suggest they are; despite even the good around us the reality is far more perilous.”

The Bible tells us that the world in which we live, with all its beauty and wonder, is also a dangerous place. It is cursed and corrupted and corroding like those old fashioned corrugated iron roofs that mark the Australian landscape. The hope for creation lies not in our management skills and commitments, but in the Gospel alone. When Christians forget this, we place too great a burden on our children to fix that which we cannot, and we may slide into preaching a Gospel to Australia which is no Gospel at all.

 “19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:19-25)

We can’t survive without hope. Hope in the world or hope in humanity is an age-long route to despair. Human responsibility is noble and right, but the hope of the world cannot rest on the shoulders of any given generation.

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)

President Trump is wrong about Evangelicals but he is not to blame

“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” (Psalm 2:7)

 

The necessary divorce

Is this the necessary divorce? The match wasn’t made in heaven. It was a coupling that shouldn’t have been, and yet some leading Christian voices in the United States laid down their theology and ascended the White House. In the last 48 hours, this special relationships has unravelled. Government and Church can be good friends but they make a lousy married couple.

Following an article written by Christianity Today’s Editor in Chief, Mark Galli, President Trump has attacked the magazine and ‘defended’ evangelicals. With what appears to be a sense of betrayal, the President has resorted to his usual public naming and shaming on twitter.

“….have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!

“A far left magazine, or very “progressive,” as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather…..”

“guess the magazine, “Christianity Today,” is looking for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or those of the socialist/communist bent, to guard their religion. How about Sleepy Joe? The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!”

I’m not writing to comment on the impeachment or to even comment on President Trump’s policies. I’m not here to defend Christianity Today either. My issue relates to the necessary separation of Evangelicalism from the White House (and any single political party for that matter).

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In response to President Trump’s assertion about looking after evangelical interests, it is not the role of Government to guard the evangelical faith. That is beyond the purview of a President’s responsibilities. The Church is not the State and the State does not control the Church.

Government and Church have different spheres of responsibility. The keys of the Kingdom belong to the Church while the Government holds the sword of justice. The different roles don’t mean there is no conversation between the two and that one cannot be of service to the other, but they are not institutions designed for a wedding. This important separation of Church and State is not an argument for the removal of religion from the public square, for all politics is religious. Some pundits argue for the removal of any semblance of religion in proximity to government, but this is neither biblical nor is it ideologically possible. Whether in the foreground and background everyone brings their convictions with them into the public square. We are all shaped by views about God and the world and these beliefs impact political priorities and policies.

It shouldn’t need saying, but just in case, the Government is not tasked with the responsibility of guarding one subsection of society, but caring for all its citizens by upholding the constitution, the law, and working for the good. Christians are part of the constituency, not the whole.

Also, President Trump understands Evangelical Christianity through a political lens that sees everything through a false binary: You’re either Conservative or socialist, you either vote Republican or Democrat. This is to misunderstand the nature of Christianity and the message of the Christian Gospel.

The Christianity Today article has spoken boldly about the importance of character,

“It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.”

Indeed,  too many Christians threw this qualification into the recycling bin for a season. I also remember at the time of the 2016 election, leading evangelical voices were cautioning Christians and reminding them that character matters. Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Al Mohler were among them. The reality is that some evangelicals wedded Trump while others stood at a distance. By in large, the Australian media ignored all this and instead ran with the preferred narrative of evangelicals supporting Trump. The reality is far more complex than has been reported. This doesn’t take away from the fact that many Christians in the United States, especially with notable names like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jnr, anointed Trump with a sacred calling that he and no President can hold.

Lest we conclude the problem is all Trump, we would do well to recall remember some of the things that have been said recently by Democratic presidential nominees in the name of Christianity. Pete Buttigieg, for example, takes the identity of Christian while supporting many ethical positions which are irreconcilable with the Christian faith, both politically and personally.

Should we blame the President? He is certainly responsible for what he believes and says. But is he to blame for the marriage with Evangelicals? No.

The greater responsibility lies with the fact that many Evangelicals in the United States fused their hopes and aspirations onto the Presidential bandwagon. They sacrificed integrity for expediency. I am not saying that voting Democrat is the alternative. How can one support a party that advocates the killing of unborn children and the destruction of sexual norms?

Sometimes there is no viable option. Surely this has been the predicament for Christians in many cultures during many seasons in history. The Bible never gives Christians a voting card. We are meant to honour, obey and pray for the Governing authorities, and to keep doing good to all. Some Governments are better than others, and we should wisely decide whom to support.

In none of this am I making a statement about who to vote for; not at all. The issue at hand is far more important and pressing; do not fuse the Christian faith with a political party or leader. Do not give to the State that which belongs to the Church. Do not sacrifice the Great Commission in order to maintain a place in the halls of Washington DC.

This isn’t an evangelical problem alone. Conservatives and Progressives alike make this blunder with a place too much emphasis on common grace and not enough episodes on the churches mission which centres in particular grace

It has been sad to watch a word which has holds such rich theological and historical significance, being undone in such a short time. Evangelical has been regularly misappropriated not only by political pundits but also by Americans themselves. True evangelicalism has little to do with the political aspirations of right-wing America, and everything to do with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Authentic evangelicalism is defined by this Gospel as presented in the Bible, not by the political right or left, not with Democrats or Republicans, and for the Australian context, neither Liberal nor Labor.

Terribly, “evangelical” America supported Donald Trump and have been tarnished for doing so. I cannot see how this association will advance the cause of Jesus Christ. If anything, the word may become irretrievably immeshed in a cause that is not the Gospel.

It is one thing to be part of a Presidential term, but it is quite another to one day stand before the Judge of the earth and give an account for how our lives have adorned or maligned the Gospel of Christ.

This final point is not only true for American Christians but also Australian Christians. When will Christians learn not to place undue hope in Government? The election has exposed a messed up eschatology and misplaced soteriology, which will not only disappoint, but will prevent people from seeing Christ. However Donald Trump decides to build his wall along the Mexican border, it is nothing compared to the wall evangelicals have built-in this election which will block out the wonder of the Gospel. How will true evangelicals work to dismantle this false gospel? What will we do publicly and in our Churches to redress the damage caused by this political misalignment?

Bethel causing greater grief

In 2018, Bethel Church (Redding California), sponsored and organised a revival rally in Melbourne. At the time, Stephen Tan of Regeneration Church, myself, and others expressed concerns about the event because of Bethel’s reputation for teaching and practicing ideas that are at odds with orthodox Christian faith. The backlash to these criticisms was sizeable, and yet since then many of the original concerns have remained and been reaffirmed.

One year later, there is a new and disturbing story coming out of Bethel. The two year old daughter of one of Bethel’s music leaders, Kalley Heiligenthal, died over the weekend.

The grief of losing a child is a grief no parent ever wishes to know. I am truly sorry that this family are experiencing such a trauma. We can pray that Kalley, her husband, and family are surrounded by friends at this dreadful time.

A photo of their daughter is being shared on social media through Bethel, but I will not show it on this post as I believe it is inappropriate. The reason for writing now is because Bethel is making an assertion that is incredibly harmful,  and because of their widespread influence around the world including Australia, it is appropriate to respond.

 

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Grief is hard enough in the best of circumstances. Grief is compounded by bad theology and misplaced hope. Bethel Church have posted a request on their facebook page, including a statement from Heiligenthal, asking for prayer that God would raise their daughter from the dead.

“Our God is the God of miracles, and nothing is impossible for Him! We are asking you, our global church family, to join with us in prayer and in declaring life and resurrection over @kalleyheili and @apheiligenthal’s daughter, Olive Alayne! Kalley, Andrew, and Elise, we stand with you in faith and in agreement for Olive’s life!

Read Kalley’s Post:
We’re asking for prayer. We believe in a Jesus who died and conclusively defeated every grave, holding the keys to resurrection power. We need it for our little Olive Alayne, who stopped breathing yesterday and has been pronounced dead by doctors. We are asking for bold, unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life. Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for. It’s time for her to come to life.”

If it wasn’t already established back in 2018, the signs are clear that Bethel is producing strange and errant teachings, ones that create false hopes for grieving families.

To quote the Apostles Creed,

“I believe in the resurrection of the dead.”

I believe along with all Christians that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day. It was a bodily resurrection, not a spiritual awakening or temporary resuscitation. Indeed, the credibility and efficacy of the Christian Gospel depends upon this resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.

“if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15)

The Bible explains that the resurrection of the dead is tied to the return of Christ and the unveiling of the new creation. In the mean time, the Bible speaks of suffering and patience, death and hope. For example in Romans chapter 8,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Since posting the prayer request two days ago, thousands of people have shared it on social media and thousands have posted prayers in which they ‘claim’ the power of God to bring this little girl back to life. There’s the problem. That’s the reason for saying something today. Errant theology produces false hopes and misleads people into believing and expecting wrong things from God. It also gives unbelievers reason to dismiss Christianity as a load of nonsense. If you are not yet convinced of the ongoing and dangerous influence of the ‘Signs of Wonders’ movement, surely this persuade you? 

The Scriptures themselves warn us about teachers who allege an early resurrection.

“Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” (2 Timothy 2)

Losing a child is horrible beyond imagination. A Church has responsibility to love and comfort people in their grief, not to entertain, encourage, or promote unbiblical and false hopes. It is one thing for parents to wish for an alternate outcome, but for a Church to affirm this request is pastorally irresponsible and biblically aberrant.

 

 

 


Postscript

I believe that the parents have now asked for the prayers to cease.

Again, this is an awful situation that no parents wish ever to experience. I feel for them. May they turn to the God of grace in this time and know the comfort of family around them

(December 22 2019)

 

 

 

Hope for a generation without hope

During the course of 2019, I have observed a growing sense of hopelessness being felt and expressed by people across the globe, especially among teenagers. Climate change, political agendas and social uncertainties are compounding and amplifying a disillusionment about the future.

There is an audible disquiet and growing despair spilling over from social media and into our schools and onto our streets. My children’s school was so concerned about this that they wrote a letter to parents, urging us to address these matters in a calm and constructive manner.

This year we have heard young people declaring that they will never have because of threats facing the globe. Members of the British Royal family have also joined the chorus, announcing that they will have fewer children because of the perils posed by climate change. 

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It is not only Climate Change that is of concern. Western societies are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism, stories of sexual abuse rarely leave the headlines, and the question of religious freedom is no longer limited to the theoretical. The oft forgotten issues of alcohol, drugs, and gambling continue to destroy homes and lives across our suburbs and towns. There is also the situation facing Hong Kong, the forced internment of over one million Uyghurs in China, and a 1000 who have been killed in Iran recently protesting in support of freedoms in that land.

There is much to see in our world today that can overwhelm young and vibrant hearts. Indeed, has there been another year in living memory that has exuded so much negativity and sense of despair?

Our city streets are regularly clogged with protests. Once upon a time, we might see 3 or 4 such marches during the course of a year, but now it is almost every week. And the people protesting have also changed. There are fewer industry unions standing for the rights of the working class. The demonstrations are about sexual rights and the environment: save the planet, save animals, and kill the unborn. If that final inclusion sounds a little distasteful, that’s because it is. Children are now joining in these rallies in their thousands, skipping school to express dread and discouragement as they consider their future.

These conditions are a dangerous recipe. Passionate citizens and concerned people can be exploited by vociferous ideologues. History is littered with such examples and even some current movements have also been used and turned by less than helpful campaigners. How quickly we forget. For example, when Safe Schools was launched, its chief architect, Roz Ward, explained that the curriculum was designed to introduce Marxist thinking into our schools. Far from assisting youth who are wrestling with their sexual identity, they became pawns in a political subversion game being played among academics and social activists.

There is something particularly disconsolating in watching a generation lose hope. Sure, some of it is virtual signalling. Of course, adults need to take responsibility for the over the top rhetoric they sometimes apply to public issues. And yet, we should recognise that many young Australians are feeling the weight of a less than certain future.

When we looked back we remember that ours isn’t the first generation of young people to experience despondency. The generation of 1914-18 was marked by the trauma of world war. The following generation grew up during the Great Depression and was soon struck down by a global war more terrifying and bloody than the one their parents survived. Children of the 1950s learned to duck and cover, in the event of a nuclear attack that many believed was inevitable.

We could dig further back into history and look to the time of the Exodus or to the age of exile in Babylon. What were those people living through?  How did they feel? And where did they place their hope?

Of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, 

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

Of the people living in exile for 70 years, 

“They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11)

Millennials are not the first generation to face enormous life changing obstacles and they won’t be last. This is not to dismiss Climate Change. My purpose here is not to contest the science for I am no expert in this area. I have no reason to doubt the research being conducted by so many and where there is broad consensus. Indeed the issue fits neatly with a biblical understanding of the world and of the human capacity to care for and to abuse the creation in which we live. 

Are we reaping the fruit of generations of greed and selfishness? Probably. We are also reaping the benefits of generations of ingenuity and progress. I can almost hear Charles Dickens penning those famous words, 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

In some respects, we are living in the best of days. Our standard of living has never been higher. Our children have more opportunities and experiences open to them than could have been imagined 20 years ago. In many areas, life has never been better, but the rhetoric of doom is drowning out much else.

Call me a heretic but Climate change isn’t the existential threat facing the planet and humanity. It is a symptom of an ancient problem that we have afforded to ignore for far too long. If there is no God, why should we ultimately concern ourselves with altruism? Why bother with protecting the environment for future generations if purpose is found in the individual and defined by personal satisfaction? The fact that we understand that there are moral boundaries and that the future does matter, is not an argument against Divine purpose but the only rational explanation for having such concerns. How we behave toward one another and how we use the planet is important because this isn’t a meaningless existence. 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

 There has been a cosmological battle taking place for millennia, and it is ultimately against the Creator, not the creation. The ancient mandate to care for the world remains, but the growing call to save and redeem the world is not one within our purview. Those who believe we can save the planet have far too high regard for human capability and moral will. I’m not saying, don’t bother reducing carbon omissions and forget about investing in renewable energy; far from it. The house I live in won’t stand forever but it doesn’t mean I neglect the building. I neither wreck the house nor place all my energy and hopes in the house. I’m just pointing out the fact that people putting their ultimate hope in other people will always disappoint in the end. The role of global saviour is too big a job. You see, I don’t believe things are as bad as we suggest they are; despite even the good around us the reality is far more perilous. 

At least in the West, millennials are following their parents lead and ditching Christianity in favour of either vague and undefinable spirituality or choosing a-theism and an irrational universe. I reckon this pursuit is partly responsible for hopelessness that is weaving itself through our communities. It is time to revisit the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, for most Australians, it is to visit Him for the very first time. The Gospel of Matthew declares, 

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

And this, 

 “And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)

Here are words of profound hope. Here is a person in whom we can rest our hope. Jesus wasn’t a virtual signaller. He came into a hostile world and to a people without hope. He demonstrated his Divinity in the most powerful and loving ways. He chose to take a road to crucifixion. He was raised to life on the third day. He has ascended to heaven. He will hold the nations to account. He will hold all of us to account. He brings hope and healing, peace and reconciliation. Some Churches have done a great job at confusing and even betraying these things, but the message stands the test of time. Indeed there are millions of millennials turning to the Gospel all over the world today and discover the kind of hope they need and cannot find in anything else.

We can’t survive without hope. Hope in the world or hope in humanity is an age-long route to despair. Human responsibility is noble and right, but the hope of the world cannot rest on the shoulders of our children. You may doubt what I suggest, but at the very least, why not open a Bible to the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John, read and consider this hope before you discount him?

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)