What are Pastors doing during the Pandemic?

One of the questions I’m often asked by unbelievers is, so what do you do? Once I have explained that I’m a pastor of a local church, the follow up question is often (and sometimes by Christians too), do you only work on Sundays? What do you do for the rest of the week? 

I’m sure there are a few people who are curious to know what pastors are doing during this pandemic, given that Sunday Church services are postponed for the foreseeable future. Walking the dog and watching Netflix aside, there are one or two responsibilities that occupy a pastor’s time. 

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The principal of Ridley College (Melbourne), Brian Rosner, has written an excellent article on the ABC, Coping with coronavirus disappointments: Five lessons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rosner highlights, 

“Bonhoeffer’s approach to prison life was not to allow the confinement to restrict his activity. Quite literally, he did not sit still while waiting for his hope for freedom to materialise”

Not that any of us are in prison, but parallels with today’s restrictions have some warrant. Speaking of his incarceration, Bonhoeffer wrote,

“I read, meditate, write, pace up and down my cell — without rubbing myself sore against the walls like a polar bear. The great thing is to stick to what one still has and can do — there is still plenty left — and not to be dominated by the thought of what one cannot do, and the feelings of resentment and discontent.”

So how are pastors spending this time during Stage 3 lockdown? In short, the work never ceases. In fact, the past three weeks have proven to be extra busy and particularly stressful. They are also exciting, not because of the threat to peoples’ health and livelihoods, but because we believe in a Sovereign God who can exercise his grace and mercy even during a season such as this. 

Here are some of the things Pastors are continuing to do during this season of uncertainty (not in any particular order):

  1. Pastors will be praying for their congregations, neighbours, community and nation. Pastors will be praying for the sick, for medical workers, and for our Governments.
  2. Pastors are reflecting theologically on this crisis in order to rightly direct Christians and non Christians alike to think and respond in appropriate ways.
  3. Pastors are listening to Government advice and guidelines so that our churches adhere to best practice in order to flatten the curve.
  4. Pastors will continue to study the Scriptures, in order to be refreshed and to refresh others.
  5. Pastors will continue to shepherd their Churches, exercising responsibility for the spiritual health of the body.
  6. Pastors are regularly connecting with church members: phone calls, emails, live conferencing, etc.
  7. Pastors are meeting with their leaders in order to see that they are doing ok and are equipped to carry out their responsibilities 
  8. Pastors are finding new ways to teach and using older models of teaching. Among the methods I’m using are: preaching a weekly sermon, writing short articles, publishing short podcasts, personal conversations (virtual) with particular people, and starting an online cohort who are studying a subject at Bible College.
  9. Pastors will continue to guard their churches against bad theology which rots peoples’ lives and offers misleading hope.
  10. Pastors are organising Sunday gatherings for their congregations online, and discerning what is theologically appropriate and pastorally edifying. 
  11. Pastors are maintaining the administrative side of church, ensuring that the every day behind the scenes structures remain in place and are in working order
  12. Pastors are organising spiritual, financial, and practical care for people.
  13. Pastors continue with the task of evangelism
  14. Pastors are trying to model godliness in the face of uncertainty.
  15. Pastors are helping at home, loving their spouse and children, and finding more time to help make homestay a success.
  16. Pastors will continue to serve the sick and the dying
  17. Pastors will continue to conduct weddings and funerals

These are some of the activities that require a Pastor’s attention and energy.

The stresses experienced by many pastors will be similar to those of a small business owner: for many, financial difficulty is a very real prospect. And yet the analogy only goes so far, for pastors are not selling products to consumers, they are Shepherding God’s people. 

A pastor’s work can also be likened to that of a medical professional, although we are not fighting against physical disease but caring for both peoples’ temporary and eternal condition. As has been witnessed in Italy, sadly many doctors and nurses have fallen ill and even died from COVID-19, and by their sides many priests have also become ill and died. 

A pastor’s duty is also analogous to that of a teacher, trying to establish healthy discipline among students, encouraging them to learn and not give up or become distracted in this virtual world of online education.

By no means is any of this meant to play up or down the work anyone is doing during this time. A pandemic requires a whole community approach. I simply sharing with readers the kind of activities pastors are engaging in at the moment. While pastors are very much conscious of their responsibilities, we are also thankful for and reliant upon the Chief Shepherd. We will make mistakes. We will grow tired and grumpy and not handle every situation with grace. There is one Saviour to whom we direct our congregation, and for whom we serve. He is our great joy and it is our great privilege to be engaged in his work at this time.

I’m reminded of what Peter wrote to the elders of the churches in Asia, 

 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Hypocritical Leadership (Matthew 23)

Our Bible text at Church yesterday was Matthew chapter 23. It is a difficult passage to preach, not least because a pastor teaching about sinful leadership is a hazardous undertaking. As I meditated on Jesus’ words last week, and even now, I am aware of my own sinful proclivities and failings. Christ’s words cause me to reflect on my own life and public ministry, which of course is a good thing to do.

It was also difficult to preach on this Scripture without being aware of recent revelations of spiritual and moral failings by high profiled Christian leaders. One does not need to be intimately involved in these stories to sense a degree of dismay, anger, and sadness; people have been abused and betrayed, and the Gospel dragged into the mud.  The Church is meant to reflect the character of Christ and should be the safest environment on earth for people. Often this is the case, but not always.

I am not about to impose Matthew ch.23 on each of those situations or to assume that behind these men are the same set of motives and attitudes that Jesus is exposing among the Pharisees and teachers of the law. I am not writing in response to these cases, but am rather thinking more broadly about leadership because of having just preached on Matthew. ch.23. Having said that, as we come to terms with the nature of Christian leadership and the kind of leaders our churches and organisations need, Jesus’ address raises several invaluable cautions and helps.

What is so astonishing about Matthew ch.23 is that the people Jesus is calling us to avoid were the model citizens of that culture. The Pharisees and scribes were the spiritual and social leaders of the day. People looked up to them and tried to emulate them. Jesus says, do otherwise. No fewer than six times does he call them hypocrites (and hypocrite is among the more polite names he uses here). The hypocrite is a pretender, someone uses religion to feed their own ego, they use people to fuel their pride and hold onto power. Jesus is not directing his attention at individuals who have committed a single sin; he is describing a pattern of behaviour that stems from an egotistic (and perhaps even narcissistic) attitude of the heart. This is habit-forming behaviour.

These are ominous words for anyone who holds a position of authority in a local church, and they are words of wisdom and grace for the rest of us who sit under the leadership in our churches. You can listen to the sermon via this link. What I wish to do here is offer six reflections on leadership based on my meditations on Matthew ch.23.

1. Jesus knows our hearts.

If Jesus knows the motivations of the Pharisees and exposes them before the population of Jerusalem, surely he is aware of the attitudes and impulses that shape our own lives and ministry.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)

2. Jesus opposes hypocrisy

As difficult as Bible passages like Matthew ch.23 are, they are a good and gracious word from God. Jesus is showing us that God both sees injustice and he opposes hypocrisy. God is not okay with people being used and abused.  Some of the strongest language used in Scripture is found here coming from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.

The Lord Jesus not only denounced hypocrisy in the strongest terms, he explains why this is necessary. The first ‘woe’ outlines the justification for Jesus’ judgment.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  (v.13)

Hypocrisy has a devastating effect on those who are under such leadership. While outward appearances suggest spiritual vitality and attractiveness, the inner realities are very different.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (vv.25-28)

Such leadership confuses people, misleading people into believing error and into acting inappropriately and coming to the wrong conclusions about God. Hypocrisy distorts  God’s vision for his Church.

3. Be careful who we follow

Jesus’ words are not hypotheticals but address real men who abused their authority and who were responsible for causing real damage to real people.  The purpose of his words is to inform and to warn so that we avoid following the hypocrite. Of course, part of the problem is that we often only make this discovery after the fact. Even as Jesus explains, it’s hard to spot a hypocrite.  There are signs and we can learn to discern the traits, but it’s not always an easy task. For those who are taken in, you are a victim of malicious intent. The rest of us need to recognise the abuse for what it is, own up to our failings in protecting people, and learn to more effectively guard the flock as God calls us to do.

When we see a brilliant public speaker, or erudite thinker, or captivating person, be slow, be wise, and test them. Don’t ignore character for charisma. Don’t dismiss godliness because of personality. The wolf may appear cute and fluffy, but don’t be fooled!

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Spotted this wolf in Montana back in 2013

Under God’s providence, in the different spheres of life there are authorities, small ‘a’ authorities whom we ought to respect and follow. For example, our parents, the boss at work, the Government, and the Elders at Church. However, we should not blindly follow any of them.

Indeed, one of the sharp contrasts Jesus establishes is that between the leaders in Jerusalem and the true leader, whom he identifies as ‘Father in heaven’ and as ‘Messiah’.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. (vv.9-10)

At the end of the day, we have one Lord and he can be trusted. He doesn’t treat his own with disdain, for he loves his own.

4. Be careful who we appoint

It is no small thing for a church to appoint pastors, elders, and deacons. The Scriptures urge us to to be slow and deliberate. The New Testament outlines prerequisites for those desiring to serve as pastoral ministry, and we would do well to rely heavily upon these Biblical processes.

As a Pastor, I understand the pressures of never having enough people to serve in different ministries. I also understand the pressures of appointing the vocal member, the eager member, or the well-liked member of the congregation. They may or may not be suited to the role but we are not serving our churches well by shortcutting due diligence.

5. Be careful who we claim to be

Dr. Jonathan Haidt, is a distinguished moral psychologist from Virginia University. He introduces his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, with the unsettling observation,

“It is the realization that we are all self-righteous hypocrites”

In another volume, The Righteous Mind, Haidt writes,

“We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.”

Leaders turn to hypocrisy because opportunity and position affords them to exercise the already existing condition in the heart. Where in our own lives are we aware of the Pharisaic tendencies? How do Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable about the realisation of our own desires?

6. The leadership our churches need

“The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (vv.11-12)

These words are foremost autobiographical, for who is the greatest and who has humbled themselves more the Lord Jesus Christ? He did so first as our substitute and for our salvation; he humbled himself even to the point of death on the cross. And second, His life is our guide showing us how to lead and love God’s people.

God hasn’t preserved these words of Christ in Holy Scripture so that we would neglect them. They serve as a timely word to Churches whom Christ loves. They are a public admonishment to structures and offices who neglect their duty before God. These words are a call to repentance for leaders who have used and abused the people under their care.

Jesus asks,

“How will you escape being condemned to hell?” 

He then adds,

“Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers.”

The question is for those of us who are in leadership is, will we listen?

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

Growing Concerns over treatment for children

Self-identifying genderism is perhaps not so free. The Australian has published a series of articles that should concern parents across the nation, especially those living in Victoria.

Last week Cricket Australia announced that men can now play for women’s teams, so long as their testosterone levels remain below 10 nanomoles per litre continuously for 12 months or more

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Last week the NSW Legislative Assembly passed legislation that not only decriminalises abortion but will permit late-term abortion and gender-selective abortion. The latter proves the idiocy under which our society now governs the definition of sex and gender. We are being told that a penis and vagina is no indication of what constitutes male and female, and neither can xy or xx chromosomes. And yet, a woman is being given the legal right to terminate a pregnancy based on the biological assumption that the baby is a girl or boy. The Spectator last week published a telling cartoon in which a baby girl in the womb is crying out to the doctor who is about to kill her, ‘Stop, I identify as a boy’.

This week the Victorian Parliament is debating legislation which will allow boys and girls to change the gender on their birth certificates without needing sex reassignment surgery. A person does not even require a signed letter from a medical practitioner or psychologist as evidence that the person believes they are a gender that differs from their biological sex.

There is a dangerous shift taking place in our culture, one where children are victims to unscientific social engineering. As a Father with 3 children, this movement toward initiating hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgery on children is staggering in its myopic vision and ethical bullying.

According to a report in The Australian, since 2014, 2415 children have been referred for medical gender treatment in Australia. There has been a 41% increase in cases in Victoria, which coincides with the introduction of the Safe Schools program, and with Dr Roz Ward and others encouraging gender transition inside local schools across the State.

Bernard Lane explains,

“Girls as young as nine are ­believed to be put on “puberty blocker” drugs, and boys from about 11.”

The article also notes growing concerns amongst paediatricians. Professor Whitehall said, “Who gave ethics approval for this treatment (at children’s hospitals) when it lacks any scientific basis and therefore is an experiment?…We should give the psychiatry and psychology a full run before we start castrating children.”

Of course, ideology always influences political and societal thinking, and the medical fraternity is not immune to this. Most doctors have integrity and only give advice to patients based on best knowledge and practice, but neither are they free from social pressures being applied by ideologues who are intent on cutting away all residue of the biological and traditional understanding of men and women and the social structures upon which we build communities. Bernard Lane notes that in the United Kingdom, lobbying from transgender groups is “contaminating clinical decisions”. Also, doctors in Australia are afraid to speak out on the issue because of the possibility of professional ostracisation and job loss.

The fact that there is a significant rise in gender transitioning where Safe Schools is most prevalent, raises questions. Is there a correlation?

Also writing in The Australian, Jennifer Oriel today has further justified concerns. She begins,

“castrating children” is the phrase used by pediatrics profess John Whitehall to describe unscientific experimentation on youth in the name of transgenderism.”

At the very least, these revelations should cause us to pause and investigate the claims being made.

In the normal state of affairs, the kind of psychological and physical intrusion being thrust upon these kids would amount to abuse. They are crying out for help, but not short term and potentially devastating manipulation of their bodies. This is also likely to cause long term harm to children, not least because most gender dysphoria children will want to identify with the birth sex by the time they reach adulthood.

In raising the subject we must not cast dispersions onto these children or onto transgender people. As I have said on many occasions, all people have inherent dignity and worth, and we are to love and care for them no matter their sex and gender. That does not, however, indicate that every social decision is healthy and good. This doesn’t entail that every choice made by an individual is right or beneficial. However, those responsible for pushing this new wave of gender ideology ought to be held to account. Those who have jumped on board legislations that will inevitably harm children, have a duty to pause further amendments to the law. Instead, the wellbeing of our children demands that the concerns of medical experts are heard and steps are taken to investigate what is now taking place in our schools and in some clinics.

 


Here’s one example of a recent article with a psychologist expressing concerns  – https://t.co/JDW3s4Bt8d?amp=1

“Not every policy is scientific Murray”

I’ve been hearing this line of argument over and over again for the past four years. Ours is a post-scientific age, where what is true is no longer measured by empirical evidence and objective reality, but by what each individual feels is real for them.

A clear and blunt example of this epistemological transition was recently recorded in Scotland. A 17-year-old school student by the name of Murray suggested to his teacher that there are only two genders. The conversation was recorded on the student’s phone (not a move that this Murray condones), and the commentary is telling. The student was asked to leave the classroom, with the teacher informing the student that he should keep his opinion to ‘his own house’. In other words, in this Scottish school which is following the national education curriculum, there is no safe place for students to suggest the biological fact that there are two genders.

Murray responded to the teacher who defended teaching the set curriculum,

“That’s not scientific whatsoever.”

To which the teacher replied,

“Not every policy is scientific”

Scotland was once the seat of the Enlightenment and a key player in Scientific Revolution. I imagine Scotland’s Enlightenment thinkers now wanting to be raised from the dead and come back to educate Scotland’s teachers (and haunt them at the very least!).

Most of us like to view ourselves as rational and as believers in science, but the reality is, we drop the truth into the toilet as soon as it clashes with a priori commitments to our preferred moral and preferences and worldview. If truth doesn’t support my moral inclinations, then flush it down the sewer. I am who I think I am, which is somewhat problematic if I identify as an 6-year-old girl (as one 46-year-old Canadian man decided), but isn’t prejudice that we dare question what he believes himself to be?

If as in the case of gender, we affirm the biological reality of male and female, and that biology and sex and gender belong together, there is an obvious tension when there’s a disconnect between what is true and how I feel. It becomes necessary to claim an alternate reality. This alone can create a plethora of problems because not every self-identity is good for the individual or for the relationships around them.

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This conversation has a renewed relevance in my home State of Victoria. We are already the world sporting capital and food capital and atheist capital (some say), and we’re now vying to be the most progressive capital in the world. Let’s kill off the unborn up to point of birth and let’s kill the terminally ill, and let’s feed our economy off the backs of the vulnerable through gambling, and let’s beat Scotland to be even more progressive with our school curriculum.

As I said, this Scottish teacher’s honest slip of the tongue has an immediate application in Victoria at the moment. The Victorian Government is renewing its intent to amend the birth certificate laws to enable people to change the gender on their birth certificate in order to match how they wish to be identified.

Birth certificates were once sacrosanct and rightly treated as definitive legal documents. What was once subject to facts surrounding the birth of a child, can now be repeatedly altered according to how individuals wish to reconstruct their sexual identity. Does this undermine the very nature of such documents?

I want a pause for a moment and recognise that gender dysphoria is real but rare.  am not without personal knowledge of Victorians who are genuinely struggling and suffering due to gender confusion, and they seek resolution and acceptance (which does not always mean being identified in ways contrary to their biological sex). I want to affirm their dignity and humanity and pray that they would come to know the God who loves and gives us the greatest and most fulfilling identity, of being in Christ and knowing him. 

My intent is not to cause people greater consternation, but to alert the fact that Labor’s proposal is no solution at all.

Here’s are a few questions that require attention:

  1. Children can apply to alter their birth certificate, but doing so with the approval of their parents and with a supporting statement from either a medical practitioner or psychologist. One question that needs to asked, however, is what will happen when a child wishes to change their gender on the birth certificate and the parents believe that such action is not in the best interest of their child? Are we to expect a similar situation to what now takes place in Victorian schools where children can be given resources to transition without parental consent and knowledge?
  2. Will the new legislation, like its predecessor in 2016, allow persons to change their birth certificate every 12 months, or is only one change permitted? As the medical and scientific fraternity attest, the major of people dealing with gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood, identifying comfortably with their biological sex. What will happen in these cases?

On another occasion, I’ve quoted from this article in The Atlantic and it is worth repeating here (it should be noted that it’s not a conservative publication). The author warns against moving quickly to intervene in cases of gender dysphoria. Keep in mind, in this instance the Victorian Government is not proposing psychological or medical intervention (which already happens) but a legal declaration.   This is more than recognising that a person feels like they are a certain gender, this is the State announcing that a person is their chosen gender.

“the World Professional Association for Transgender Health…states that while some teenagers should go on hormones, that decision should be made with deliberation: “Before any physical interventions are considered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken.” The American Psychological Association’s guidelines sound a similar note, explaining the benefits of hormones but also noting that “adolescents can become intensely focused on their immediate desires.” It goes on: “This intense focus on immediate needs may create challenges in assuring that adolescents are cognitively and emotionally able to make life-altering decisions…But some clinicians are moving toward a faster process. And other resources, including those produced by major LGBTQ organizations, place the emphasis on acceptance rather than inquiry. The Human Rights Campaign’s “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics” web page, for example, encourages parents to seek the guidance of a gender specialist. It also asserts that “being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation.”

“Ignoring the diversity of these experiences and focusing only on those who were effectively “born in the wrong body” could cause harm. That is the argument of a small but vocal group of men and women who have transitioned, only to return to their assigned sex.”

We have entered a very new and strange space where what is true is no longer true, and what is good is considered bad for society, and where people crying for help are told there is nothing wrong. I also suspect biology teachers may soon be out of work, or at best they’ll be transitioned into the humanity’s department.

Our culture has tried to kill off God and now we’re displacing science. One thing is clear, the path forward is not befitting of the word, progressive. I heard it once, and I’ve been trying to say it regularly ever since a day is coming when a generation of disillusioned and damaged Victorians are going to need safe places for healing and love. Governments may play the game of identity politics and flaunt the neo-marxist ideas that are pulling strings out of the universities, but there is a better way. We can affirm a fellow human being and acknowledge their struggles and needs without approving of every self-belief. Perhaps the Labor Bill will pass on this occasion and join the growing line of regressive ideological positions that have been enshrined inside Parliament over recent years. Perhaps common sense will win the day. Whatever the outcome, I trust our Churches will have doors wide open to welcome, love, and care for those who come inside looking for hope and resolution. 

While being careful to avoid misapplying texts of Scripture, I’m noting at the back of my mind that this Sunday we are preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. It is not a passage about gender dysphoria but it does hint at dysphoria more broadly speaking. The verses recognise that there is a groaning and discontentment in the human condition and a longing for permanency and settling into what is good and right.

“While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

 

Australians turning to the USA to find the ideal baby

Australian couples are turning to the United States to help them find the ideal child.

Among all the questions that Susan and I talked about and thought over as we considered having children, not once did we ask, ‘what coloured eyes would we prefer our children to have?’  Such contemplation would not find entry into the top 1000 questions that we asked ourselves about the children we hoped to have the privilege of raising and loving.

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An article published by the Herald Sun over the weekend revealed that hundreds of Australian couples are paying up to $20,000 for ‘designer babies’.   Australian couples are utilising the services made available at Fertility Clinics across the United States, to siphon out babies who don’t fit with their dream baby. Most common, parents are screening for gender, deciding whether they wish to have a girl or boy. There are also cases where parents are selecting their child’s eye colour; in fact, there is now an 18-month waiting list for this screening test.

Journalist Natasha Bita reported that “Controversially, it claims that Australian medicos are co-operating with the offshore clinic…The NHMRC yesterday warned it would be illegal for Australian doctors to co-­operate with foreign clinics offering selection for gender or eye colour.”

Brisbane geneticist Professor David Coman is right when he said, this is a case of “eugenics” and it is “grossly inappropriate in the Australian culture”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines eugenics as, “the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.”

What these “desirable heritable characteristics” are, will vary depending on the culture and the dominant moral narrative of the day. Eugenics has been advocated and practiced in many cultures, perhaps most infamously in Nazi Germany during the 1930s-40s. One difference today is the greater wealth of scientific knowledge made available to medical experts for identifying all kinds of details pertaining to an individual human being from its earliest moments of life in the womb (or petrie dish as it may be). Technology is a useful servant, and it can create greater destruction than the hammer of Thor. Too often, what is discerned as possible through science, soon afterward becomes a moral commitment; we can therefore let us do.

Thank God that many forms of eugenics are currently banned in Australia, and yet the door has already swung wide open as doctors test for all manner of ailments and give parents permission to keep or to kill, based on whether they wish to have a child with a potential illness. No doubt some parents use this information to help prepare them for parenthood, while others use diagnoses to determine whether they will keep the pregnancy or not.

What happens to those embryos who don’t fit the parents’ requirements, whether it is the ‘right’ gender or even the ‘right’ coloured eyes? Are these little ones given another chance or are they discarded into a rubbish bin, like we would with a piece of fruit that is past is best used by date?

Are children to be loved unconditionally or should they be viewed as a valuable commodity, selected and loved like the family pet. Should a parent’s love for their children be measured by gender or by disability or by how many fingers or toes are counted? Is a child to be more or less valued because of their DNA or potential chromosomal abnormality? Should we really take into account the colour of a baby’s eyes? Australian culture is drifting far from the worldview of Psalm 139.

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”

Our society has moved a long way from holding fast to these ancient words, words which delight in the life of every image-bearer of God. It is liberating Psalm, for the dignity of each person is not contingent upon the value attributed by another person or social opinion, but by the fact of ontology.

Popular threads on social media and in the news will downplay the wonder of Psalm 139 and instead elevate the freedom of others to choose life or death. The practice is revealing uncomfortable truths that can’t be denied, despite clamorous noises trying to ignore and/or downplay:

  • The majority of babies aborted are girls
  • Babies diagnosed with possible physical abnormalities are many times more likely to be aborted than those without
  • In parts of America, such as New York State, the number of African-American babies being aborted is greater than those who are born.
  • Most late-term abortions are not performed because the baby’s or mother’s life is at risk.

Most of these examples are forms of eugenics. We may avoid the language due to its historical associations, but it is nonetheless the practice of controlling breeding in order to increase desired social outcomes.

Psalm 139  reveals a complex anthropology. For while the Psalmist glorifies God for the wonder of life in the womb, he also calls for God to intervene against those who shed blood. It is as though those who destroy human life are hypocrites, denying their own humanity as they refuse it in others.

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!

They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.” (verses 19-22)

The Psalmist, however, does not end with this view of retribution but turns to his own situation and asks God to make known to him things that are unacceptable and unbecoming in his own life.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting”. (verses 23-23)

The point is this, we are quick to judge nations around us for their discrimination and violence, but we are slow to acknowledge our own participation in the dehumanisation project. Instead, we have resolved to justifying ourselves in manipulating and even taking life. We allege that “it’s an act of mercy…the cost would be too great…the parents may not cope”.

Even we Christians who speak to the dignity of every human life, ever for us, especially us, we must ask of God, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”. When this process of Divine examination begins, we remember that our own faults and offences are great, so hideous that they demanded a bloody cross to bring redemption and peace. In other words, the Psalmist’s anger, although justified, leads to personal reflection and repentance; not only damning culture but offering a better paradigm. With this in mind, Christians have something worth offering. Just as Christians once challenged the Roman practice of infanticide by quietly loving and saving the unwanted, let us consider how we can counter the growing and dreadful practice of eugenics.