Ashpenaz’s Children: ALP National Platform to separate children from parents

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt” (Ezekiel 22:7a)

“How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands!” (Lamentations 4:2)

Like many people watching from Australia, it has been distressing to see footage of children being separated from their parents along the United States’s border with Mexico. The Trump administration’s ploy to discourage undocumented migration is cruel and immoral. The policy may have been put in place by an earlier administration, but President Trump has made it clear that he is using these children to discourage illegal migration into the United States.

Russell Moore (President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) is one of many signing a public letter to the Government, saying, “The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern.”

While we in Australia look on with disgust at this violation of the family unit, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have announced their national platform, which includes a policy to remove children from a new wave of ‘disgraced’ parents.

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According to policy initiatives that are to be presented and adopted at this year’s ALP national conference, parents who don’t support their child’s wish to transition to another gender, are guilty of abusing their children and therefore will subject to a new range of laws.

“LGBTI Conversion Therapy

Labor accepts the scientific evidence that claims by those purporting to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity are both false and harmful and does not accept that such claims should continue to be made or, worse, be acted upon. Those who make these claims prey upon those vulnerable to the anti-LGBTI prejudices of the circles in which they or their families move.

Current laws regulating false and misleading conduct in trade or commerce, or professional misconduct in the health professions, are inadequate to deal with perpetrators who can evade health regulation by not being registered, and evade consumer protection laws by claiming to be conducting religious activities.

Labor will:

  • Ensure, in cooperation with the States and Territories, that adequate laws and systems are put in place to ensure the protection of children, adolescents and others from the false claims and psychological harms of so-called “ex-gay” therapies
  • Ensure that child protection authorities acknowledge attempts to “cure” Same-Sex Attracted or Gender Questioning children and young people as serious psychological abuse; and
  • Acknowledge these harms, when suffered within the family, as domestic violence against the child.”

(Chapter 8, pp 236-7)

“Labor opposes the practice of so-called conversion and reparative therapies on LGBTIQ+ people and seek to criminalise these practices.”

(ALP 48th National Conference (Consultation Draft 2018), chapter 8, p.205)

 

Child abuse is a very real and very terrible evil in our society. It is incumbent upon us to guard our children against such ignominious harm. But what are the facts here? Is this domestic violence?

In 2016, Prof Patrick Parkinson published an important evaluation of the Safe Schools program. In this research paper Prof Parkinson noted that contrary to Safe Schools, which claims that 4% of the population is transgender, research suggests that the real number is about 0.35%. This number encompasses a broad definition of transgenderism, based on surveys rather than proper diagnosis by medical professionals. Prof Parkinson then cites The American Psychiatric Association which estimates the rates of gender identity disorder for natal adult males to be at 0.005% to 0.014%, and for natal females, from 0.002% to 0.003%.

The numbers of children who identify as gay or lesbian is significantly higher, but percentage remains relatively small, somewhere between 2-4% of the population. It needs to be said that because these numbers of small, doesn’t diminish the importance of these kids, and of their need for love and support; no child is insignificant.

In the most recent edition of The Atlantic, Jesse Singal has written a thorough piece, exploring the complexities of treating children with gender dysphoria, cautioning against preempting treatments,

“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.”

Prof Patrick Parkinson makes the important point,

“One reason for great caution about what we teach children is that gender dysphoria may be transitory.”

There is a growing volume of research that is exploring the relationship between age and gender dysphoria. Depending on the study, evidence shows that somewhere between 80-98% of children will no longer experience gender dysphoria after puberty. That is a staggering indictment on the claims being made by the ALP. Even if we ignore the data from the highest end of the spectrum and only accept the most conservative percentile (80%), this still indicates that the overwhelming majority of children will return to identifying with their biological sex by the time they reach adulthood. For argument sake, let’s manipulate the data even further and assume that the conservative 80% is an exaggeration and that the real number of children recovering from gender dysphoria is half that number; that is still 4 out of every 10 children who have gender dysphoria. But according to the ALP, producing such evidence is simply to “prey upon those vulnerable to the anti-LGBTI prejudices of the circles in which they or their families move.”

While the ALP’s National Platform refers to “accepting the scientific evidence”, they cite zero studies, and they fail to account for many academic articles that have been published in recent years which either contradict or at the very least, nuance the position which the ALP is claiming as Gospel fact.

Some LGBTIQ Australians will experience a change of orientation and of gender identity, especially in the case of children with gender dysphoria who later come to affirm their biological sex. This is a simple statement of fact, not an affirmation for certain gay conversion therapies that have been reported in the media in recent months. Because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical methods to change a person’s sexuality. There is, however, a massive difference between offering shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same-sex attracted or transgender. It is disturbing to see the ALP platform insist upon a zero-sum game, whereby everyone who doesn’t fully subscribe to the new gender agenda, is called names and will be accused of abuse.

What of the child or adult who no longer wishes to identify as LGBTIQ? What if an individual, while having LGBTIQ affections, does not wish to be identified as such? What of men and women who have undergone sex change surgery and have since detransitioned? The point is obvious and yet the ALP policy has no room to accept the reality that there are LGBTIQ people who do change and cease to identify as transgender, gay or lesbian.

The ALP platform is more troubling, for they are moving to criminalise therapies/ministries that fail to affirm people in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, and they are moving to accuse parents of domestic violence for not supporting children into transition.

How dare an Australian political party throw around the language of abuse and threaten to taken children from their parents; it is immoral and unspeakable, and it insults victims of real child abuse.

It is a sad irony, that on the one hand, voices calling for a ban on LGBTIQ conversion therapies, are at the same time, promoting sex changes for children. So, children are free to change one way, but not another?

At best, the ALP’s position on LBGTIQ issues is an attempt to show compassion toward vulnerable children, but it is a platform built on unstable and dangerous ideology.

As a parent, I know that not everything a child feels and wants is in their best interest, and chances are, they will change their mind by next week. Parents can discern the difference between a child’s fad and a deeper issue and. Parents love their children and want to see them safe and healthy and flourishing in life. This is not about bullying people into gender stereotypes or funneling children into strange and potentially harmful practices. This isn’t about parents patiently and lovingly caring for children who are struggling with their sexual identity; the ALP platform is about conformity to a new pattern for sexuality, and about using the weight of the law to force religious groups and parents to sign up to the sexual revolution.

I understand that some people may read this as an anti-ALP and perhaps pro-conservative article; that is not my agenda. As a Christian minister, I am not defined by such socio-political parameters. My concern is for children and for parents, who will face the onslaught of this irrational and dangerous ideologue, should the ALP platform gain traction. I am also concerned by these political attempts to place traditional Christian teaching on the wrong side of the law.

Churches need to appreciate that without due consideration and careful definition, the ALP’s platform can be used to constrain Christian teaching on sexuality, from the pulpit through to pastoral counselling.

Parents need to appreciate the gravity of the situation being outlined. For example, say a son comes home from school and announces that he feels like his true identity is as a girl. If the child returns to school and mentions to his teacher that mum and dad are not convinced and are reluctant to buy him dresses, the school may be obliged to report a case of child abuse.

I urge members of the Australian Labor Party to speak up and to vote against these dangerous and unnecessary measures. I also encourage members of the public to contact their local State and Federal Labor members and to share your concerns with them.

Victorian Government aims to outlaw Gay Conversion Therapy

Last year a journalist from the ABC phoned me, to ask about gay conversion therapy. I must have been a poor interviewee because they didn’t run a story at that time.

The questions were easy to answer, I asked him explain what he meant by gay conversion therapy. He wasn’t very sure, but he did share a few anecdotes, to which I responded,

“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone who has been.”

I don’t know how widespread this practice is, but it was easy to agree that the stories shared with me were disappointing and an awful experience for those who went through those programs. There is however, a  now very real possibility that Victoria will erroneously conflate those extreme views with normal and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality. 

There is a massive difference between offering someone shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same sex attracted or transgender. But will the Victorian Government make this vital distinction. There are certainly prominent social voices who would not care whether there is a difference or not, anything other than complete allegiance to the current sexual narrative must be followed.

The Age has published a series of articles this year on this issue and the result is that the Victorian Government is planning to take action. In today’s edition, reporter Farrah Tomazin writes, 

Rogue religious leaders and health practitioners who claim that homosexuality can be “fixed” could end up being prosecuted as the Andrews government orders an unprecedented inquiry into gay conversion therapy.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has asked Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner to conduct a broad-ranging investigation, and has not ruled out tougher laws to crack down on those attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

The inquiry will capture registered or unregistered counsellors, clinicians who treat homosexuality as a disorder, and anyone purporting to convert LGBTI people through therapeutic means.

But significantly, it will also seek information on a more insidious trend: faith-based ministries and church figures who disguise their work as “spiritual guidance”.

“We have zero tolerance for anyone purporting to ‘convert’ gay people through any medical or therapeutic means,” Ms Hennessy told The Age.”

 

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I want to respond to Farrah Tomazin’s piece and to the comments being made by our Health Minister, Jill Hennessy.

First, because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality.

Second, in the Bible God calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices remain within the loving, exclusive, mutual consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

You see, the Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it does teach conversion. Christianity by definition is a conversion religion, where human beings made in the image of God, shift from looking for freedom in the myth of post-enlightenment moral relativism, and instead discovering the greatest freedom in the person of Jesus Christ.

Third, I know people who are committed and godly Christians, and who continue to experience same-sex attraction. They are convinced that their greater and more satisfying identity is in Jesus Christ, and that living a celibate lifestyle is positive and good.

Fourth, it is an indisputable fact that some people do change sexual orientation. I appreciate that this evidence doesn’t fit with the current sexual narrative and it’s become socially and politically taboo to even mention it, but I don’t believe in ignoring research and personal stories, even if they contradict popular attitudes. For example, the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. There are also many gay and lesbian people who have found their affections changing and have become heterosexual.  Let me reiterate, this does not mean that there is some proven or absolute way to reconfigure a person’s sexuality, but it is empirically false and socially irresponsible to deny that some people do experience a change of affections and self identification.

Fifth, I am concerned about how our culture is increasingly marginalising people who are conscious of their sexual orientation but do not wish to express or live it out. This is one of the key flaws with the Safe Schools curriculum; there is no freedom offered to children to say no to their feelings. The emphasis is on instruction children to be who they currently think they are, and to celebrate and express it. I have found no pastoral empathy in the material that encourages children to think in alternate ways

It is hypocritical for us to defend the rights of LGBT people who want to express their lifestyle and to condemn those who do not wish to follow their orientation. You can’t claim to believe in gender fluidity and then disallow entire part of the population, simply because the don’t fit inside the current subscribed spectrum; it is intellectually dishonest and morally absurd.

Sixthly, there should be concerns as to how far the Victorian Government will proceed in drafting legislation to outlaw conversion therapies. If the reporting in The Age is correct, it may become illegal for churches to teach (whether from the pulpit or in private counselling) what the Bible says about sexuality.

Without due consideration and careful definition (ie what is conversion?), it is not beyond the realm of plausibility that legislation will ban Christians from teaching the Bible’s ethics on sexuality. Sadly this is not new, for back in 2016 the current Government sought to hamstring religious toleration in Victoria with a proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act.

It seems to me that there are voices on both spectrums who are ignoring science and the Bible. We might assume that both of these groups have good intentions, but whether it is political progressive with their latest interpretation of the sexual revolution, or a few crazy Pentecostals pursuing unhelpful ideas, both are making mistakes that will cause undue harm to real people.

If the Government intends to ban gay conversion therapy, consistency would have them also prohibit therapies that are aimed at changing the gender of children. In light of the research which indicates most children with gender dysphoria naturally reorienting over time, it is appalling to know of schools who are denying young children’s biological sex, and are putting them in counselling to begin transitioning them to the opposite sex. This not only includes outside dress and appearance, but hormonal therapy and eventually there is the possibility of surgery. What is even more staggering is that schools can commence some of these steps without the permission of and even knowledge parents.

To outlaw gay conversion therapies and not ban gender reassignment treatment and therapy among our youth would be sheer hypocrisy. Equally so, it is egregious to conflate fringe excessive programs with mainstream and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality, and to prohibit the freedom to articulate and persuade others with these beliefs.

I share concerns over some of the alleged practices that are contained in these so-called conversion therapies. The well-being of gay and lesbian Victorians is important, but recent political history and the current reporting in the media does not give us much hope that any drafted legislation will be fair and reasonable. There is reason to believe that these laws could negatively impact many Victorians who are wrestling with their sexuality (as is already happening through Safe Schools), and that legislation will effectively diminish religious freedoms in this wonderful State of Victoria. Indeed when the Government interferes with the teachings of Churches, all Victorians, from across religions and of none, should be troubled and asking our political representatives serious questions.

Victoria about to legalise euthanasia

It has been another sad day in Victoria. Victoria is set to become the first State in Australia to legalise euthanasia. We used to say how we were better than NSW in everything, but in recent times we have demonstrably shown ourselves to be less safe, less caring, and less reasonable.

In contrast to the NSW Parliament who last week knocked down a euthanasia bill in its early stages, this afternoon the Victorian Legislative Council vote 22-18 in favour of the euthanasia bill. There were several amendments, but none take away the basic design of the legislation. The bill will soon return to the Lower House for final ratification, and becoming law. However, euthanasia won’t be permitted until June 2019, which ironically gives Australians from other States sufficient to move to Victoria and begin making plans (one has to be a resident in for Victoria for 12 months in order to have access to this law).

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If there is one comment from today that sums up this legislation, it comes from Upper House Labor member, Jaclyn Symes. Liberal member, Craig Ondarchie, had asked for an amendment, which would have made it lawful for Doctors to name the cause of death on the death certificate, namely, assisted suicide by the administration of xyz drug. The amendment was an important one,  because under the proposed law,  doctors won’t cite the cause of death, instead they would record the illness with which the patient was suffering.  The amendment failed to find sufficient support. Anyway, Ms Symes said in response to the amendment (to paraphrase),

“Mr Ondarchie, your amendment is cruel and lacks empathy.”

Think about it –  if writing down the true cause of death is cruel and lacks empathy and can’t be recorded, what does that tell us about euthanasia?

A short time ago our Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced to the media, “This is Victoria at its best.”

No, the State sanctioning the killing of human life is not our best, it is our worst.  We should commend our Governments when they do good and serve our communities well, but this is not one of those days. Hundreds of medical professionals urged the Parliament not to accept this legislation, but instead to give proper funding to palliative care. Others encouraged the Parliament to understand the moral line they would cross, should they legalise euthanasia. There were indeed many from within Parliament, and across party lines, who spoke against this bill, but to no avail.

Tonight, it seems as though Victoria is taking glory in our shame. Our Premier and others are  taking pride in a law that is designed to kill people, and that should frighten Victorians and sadden us.

I’m reminded of Proverbs which says,

“Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:17-19)

It is better to stand for what is right and good, and to lose, than to stand and share in the glory of dreadful and immoral lawmaking.  This does mean though, Churches must ready themselves to love and support families who have loved ones who’ve made the decision to take their own life, and we must be ready to offer gentle and wise counsel to people who are considering the path of taking their own life.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others, must ready themselves for how they will address patients who come to them and asking drugs in which to take their life.

Over the course of the debate several members of Parliament and staffers have indicated to me that we should expect the parameters of the euthanasia law to be broadened, in the next 5-10 years. In other words, don’t think that this issue is a done deal.

As the debate continued today in Spring Street, I was preparing a sermon for this Sunday at Mentone Baptist, our passage is Matthew 9:18-34. In this portion of Scripture we find Christ who has come to restore all that is wrong and broken and hurting and sinful. People in the darkest times, who had lost all hope and for whom others could no longer assist, in Jesus they found God who loves and who one day will restore all things.

In that passage there are two blind men who come to Jesus, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” That is a great response for Christians today. As our State further dehumanises its citizens, and demonises those who oppose their agenda, let us cry out to God for his mercy, not only for ourselves but also for those who voted ‘yes’ today, and for those in our community who are struggling with the realisation that death is not far away.

As the song of Isaiah promised,

“Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

 

 

Victorian Schools to help children transition without parental consent

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

As parents, Susan and I are regularly signing forms that have been sent home from school: there is an excursion to the zoo next Friday, please sign. The school camp is next month, please sign. Your child has been selected in the school’s athletics team and we need your permission for them to compete. Your child was absent yesterday, please notify us as to the reason.

Three months ago I received a call from school, “your son has been hurt while playing rugby. It looks as though he’s broken his arm, can you come to the school and take him to the hospital…”

While no one enjoys paperwork (perhaps with exception to accountants!), both schools and parents understand the importance of these forms. Parents are the primary carers and even educators for their own children, teaching them life skills, morality, religion.  It is the parents joy and responsibility to love their children and to see that they safe and healthy and maturing in life. It is one of the few innate truths that our society still holds, or so I thought.

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Today, someone brought to my attention the updated School Advisory Policy Guide for School Principals and Administrators (updated July 2017). Under the section titled, Gender Diversity, Principals are given the following instruction by the Victorian Education Department:

“Schools must work with students transitioning or affirming their gender identity to prepare and implement a student support plan.”

First of all, schools are not given the discretion to counsel against students transitioning from one gender to another, they are required to affirm the student’s chosen identity, and to prepare and implement a support plan.

“The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible, and should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the needs of the student at the different stages of their transition, and at the different stages of their education.”

Notice the qualification? “The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible.”

Surely, the Government is not giving schools permission to help children change their gender identity and even their name, without parental involvement and consent?

Let’s keep reading. Under the following section, titled, Parental Consent, we read,

“There may be circumstances in which students wish or need to undertake gender transition without the consent of their parent/s (or carer/s), and/or without consulting medical practitioners.

If no agreement can be reached between the student and the parent/s regarding the student’s gender identity, or if the parent/s will not consent to the contents of a student support plan, it will be necessary for the school to consider whether the student is a mature minor.

If a student is considered a mature minor they can make decisions for themselves without parental consent and should be affirmed in their gender identity at school. Department policy addresses situations in which students, though under the age of 18 years, may be sufficiently mature to make their own decisions, see Decision Making by Mature Minors

How old does a child need to be in order to be defined as mature? Luckily the Department don’t leave us in limbo. They explain,

“there is no specific age when a young person may be deemed sufficiently mature and capable of making his or her own decision”

In other words, school aged children, both secondary and primary, can decide to change their gender, and the school must support this transition and the school does not need to inform or gain parental consent. The policy is written in such a way as though parental consent is advantageous, but it is not necessary. If this is not sufficiently worrying, the school is also not required to gain professional medical advice prior to implementing a plan for gender transition for a child.

This is insane; a school cannot let my child attend a fun excursion without my consent, but they can prepare my child to change their gender and identity?

No one wants these children being bullied or sidelined and left to struggle alone. They are image bearers of God and therefore to be loved and protected. It is not however, the right of a Government or a school to proceed to change a child’s identity without the parents knowledge, consent, and without due medical and psychological assessments. We all understand that there is the rare situation where parents don’t act in the best interests of their children, but these guidelines don’t carefully limit parental exclusion for that specific scenario.

Children do not belong to the Government, and schools are but temporary caretakers who have the permission of the family to teach writing, reading, and counting. What we are again seeing in Victoria, is a Government forcing families to cross into a new world where Government takes control from loving parents, and gives schools freedom to navigate even critical decisions for a child.

Does the State love our children more than us? Do schools, even with their fantastic staff who care for our kids, do they understand them more than parents? This school policy is dangerous, and it will lead to damaging the lives of children and of their families. Not only that, this will create impossible scenarios for schools and their principals, whom I can imagine are rarely adept to make such decisions, and will feel incredibly concerned about about leaving parents in the cold and not enquiring from medical professionals, which is surely a sensible course of action.

Even then, research shows that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it in their adolescence or early adulthood, thus delayed action is normally preferred. Research also indicates that transitioning does not necessarily alleviate the stresses associated with gender dysphoria. 

Victorian parents need to be aware of these policies, and others. If you are concerned concerned, please read the policy for yourselves, contact your local State member and share your concerns, graciously and clearly.

Genderism, Atheism, and Civil Discourse falls off the precipice

Last night on live television Clementine Ford called fellow journalist, Miranda Devine, “a c**t”. The ABC has today publicly apologised to Devine, although Ford has begun moving through the expletive vocabulary as people on twitter dare suggest that a civil society requires civil discourse.

The topic for last night’s episode of Hack Live was, Is Male Privilege Bullsh!t?” With such a cleanly articulated topic for conversation, should anyone be surprised that one of the program’s guests took liberty with language?

 

Hack Live

Only hours earlier The Age published a piece by Andrew Street, asking the question, ‘Why do atheists have to behave like such jerks?’

Andrew Street bemoans the behaviour of some of his fellow atheists including the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Summarising a piece by Mark Oppenheminer, Street admits that such behaviours are a massive problem in the international atheist community. His particular and present concern is the treatment Clementine Ford has received since being invitated to speak at the Atheist Global Convention in Melbourne. Without question, the online abuse is appalling. Street quotes the moderators of the Convention’s Facebook page, ”we have been deleting specific rape and death threats as they occur… there have been substantial numbers”.  There is no justification for such demeaning and disgraceful threats and language, and I’m pleased to hear Andrew Street confronting it.

Toward his conclusion, Street makes a swipe at ACL, trying to analogise ACL with the crude atheists attacking Ford. This comparison is sadly predictable, and greatly misplaced:

He writes, “It also means such groups end up much like the Australian Christian Lobby: filled with reactionary voices that don’t remotely represent the diverse community for which they’re claiming to speak.”

The Australian Christian Lobby may not share views on sexuality and marriage that many atheists hold, but they do not resort to vulgarity, and they are known for their advocacy for women against sexual exploitation. One may not agree with ACL but one cannot associate them with the kind of vitriol that Ford has been subjected to and has also dished out.

Street’s article is revealing, for he is rightly concerned about the attitudes and behaviour of his fellow atheists, but he doesn’t recognise how their creed gives no protection from such assaults, indeed atheism gives license to demean and hate. Not for a second do I think that this is a problem exclusive for atheism, we should keep in mind that the same can also be said of many religions.

While Street’s article doesn’t dig so deep, it helpfully reminds us that worldview matters and that from the heart we speak.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).

Much of Australia’s intelligentsia insists that there are few if any axioms and that ethics is mostly freelance. We cannot  however do away with them and the most convinced anti-theist recognises that there are right ways and wrong ways to treat people. This deeply rooted belief doesn’t stem from atheism but from Christianity.

We often treat people in ways similar to how have been treated, and it is a vicious cycle. With a decisiveness and efficacy that makes the Hadron collider appear like recycled garbage, Jesus Christ broke the cycle. He showed us how to live and he lived that life on our behalf. He made himself a substitute, not returning hate for hate but enduring it on the cross. This grace and kindness does more than give us the example par excellence for public conversation, for he liberates the human heart from hate, as well as from pride that stems from forced adherence to cultural conventions. No doubt Christians have at times forgotten this good news, and even proven themselves unChristian by using speech that contradicts the character of Jesus Christ. This love given by Christ changes attitudes and behavior, such that we show respect toward those with whom we have significant disagreement, not because society demands civility, but because we wish to share this infectious love that God has given to us.

Should Victoria introduce laws permitting doctor assisted suicide?

Who can live and not see death,  or who can escape the power of the grave? (Psalm 89)

Pastoral ministry is one of the few professions where you get to  travel with people from birth through to death. It is a privilege to minister to people who are facing their final weeks and days. Sometimes it is a brief period of illness, other times it is an elongated time of suffering. I have known people in their final days who were keen, not to die, but to see their suffering come to an end and to see their hope in Jesus Christ realised. It is an extraordinary privilege to sit beside a person who in approaching death is joyful and at peace. I have also witnessed people wrestling with their own mortality and doubts of what lies beyond death. A pastor’s care in such circumstances also extends to a spouse, to children and friends. Indeed, for many pastors, these relationships are not merely ‘professional’, for those whom we serve are much loved, and they are our friends and family.

Several members of my family work in the medical field, including my wife who worked as a nurse for 10 years, spending much of that time caring for patients with terminal and chronic illnesses. On more than a few occasions she would come home after a shift in tears, having witnessed a patient die.

I wanted to begin by mentioning the above contexts because it would be wrong to assume I am writing from a distance. Indeed, I appreciate that there are many personal stories, from people who hold to various views on euthanasia, and while these stories are all important, stories alone are not suffice for creating law.

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If there is common ground to be found in the debate on euthanasia, albeit a rather morbid commonality, it is agreement that death is a terrible reality in the human experience.

It is no small thing for the State to legalise killing another human being

It is of paramount importance that we recognise that the State exists not only to protect life but to enable human flourishing. Similarly, our health system exists to save human life and to bring healing of body and mind. Introducing a law that permits taking a human life is no small thing.

Physician assisted suicide not only contravenes the very purpose of our health system, it would require medical professionals to discard both the Hippocratic oath and the Declaration of Geneva.  Such a law would introduce to society the morality of taking human life, legislating that our society condones the killing of another human being. Again, this is no small and insignificant line in the sand.

Dr Michael Bird recently made the astute observation that Victoria could potentially have two hotlines: one for suicide prevention, and the other, suicide permission. The conflict is clear for everyone to see.

Palliative Care as a better option

I am not unsympathetic toward those who wish to end their lives; I hate human suffering and long for the day when it will desist forever.  I do not, however, believe that euthanasia is either morally right nor is it the only option available for terminally ill Victorians. We have been led to believe that the only choices available are either ongoing treatment or euthanasia, but there is a third option, and one that avoids unnecessarily prolonging a patient’s life and avoids actively killing them, palliative care.

Palliative care is designed to provide the greatest possible comfort for patients, without undue intervention and causing protracted suffering.

Dr Megan Best is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Medical Faculty and works as a palliative care physician in Sydney. In a recent article, Dr Best has argued that a better way forward is to provide adequate resources for palliative care. She says,

“While services such as palliative care and hospice can do much to relieve the distress dying people experience, many still do not have access to it. We must do better.”

It is a travesty that many Victorians cannot currently access proper care that they deserve and need at such an urgent time.

Similarly, Dr. Ian Haines is a medical oncologist, and he believes, 

“Like Andrew Denton and others who have observed unbearable suffering in loved ones and the terrible failures of modern medicine in the past, I had once believed that euthanasia was the only humane solution.

I no longer believe that.

The experiences of countless patients and families should be the inspiration for continuing to improve palliative care, for general introduction of advanced care plans and not for euthanasia with its openness to misuse.”

In other words, our Government would do better to invest properly into palliative care, providing the kind of support patients and their families need at such a time.

Unsafe safeguards

The model of euthanasia being considered in Victoria is that which is currently practiced in Oregon, USA. The process involves a Doctor prescribing a lethal capsule to a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

In a report recently published by the Health Department in Oregon, are a series of startling revelations regarding doctor assisted suicide in Oregon: First, 49% of patients state as a major reason for taking their own life, the belief that they are being a burden to their family. Second, once the doctor has prescribed the capsule containing secobarbital or pentobarbital, there is no guaranteed follow up in patient’s home where most are said to take their life, with no safeguards to ensure only the patient can consume the lethal dose. Third, patients with non-terminal illnesses have been given access to these lethal drugs and taken their own life.

Both Dr Megan Best and Dr Ian Haines, are among numerous medical professionals who believe the introduction of euthanasia will lead to abuses and even to amendments and extensions down the track.

Dr Best explains,

‘It upsets healthcare providers when their patients are distressed. Don’t tempt them. You can’t rely on the rules. It is not possible to write a law that can’t be abused. That’s why euthanasia bills get defeated in parliament. Because, even though we ache for those who are suffering and desire to die, we feel responsible to protect the vulnerable who would be at risk of dying under the legislation if it were to pass. Surely the worth of a society lies in how it treats those who can’t care for themselves.’

Does this not at least raise questions in our minds, if not grave concern? If medical professionals working in palliative care are already communicating that the rules will be broken, we ought to take notice.

And for to those who allege slippery slopes are mythical, have they not looked to Northern Europe, and seen how euthanasia laws are now regularly broken and expanded, to include killing children, killing people with mental illness and dementia and even gender dysphoria?

Behind the debates on many ethical issues including euthanasia, is what is known as utilitarian thinking, most notably advocated by Professor Peter Singer. Utilitarian ethics ditches belief in the inherent value of every human life, and instead determines moral good by what the greater number of persons believe will maximise their happiness. In other words, for example, killing unborn children is a moral good when the mother believes the child will not add to her own happiness. This is one of the chief reasons why the number of children with Downs Syndrome has decreased significantly in Western societies because the vast majority are now killed in the womb.

There are Parliamentary members across the spectrum who are expressing support of a Bill legalising assisted suicide, and similarly, across the parties are members who disagree and are concerned. We have all heard heartfelt stories being told from different viewpoints, but we must judge what is right. There is an overarching principle with which the State of Victoria must decide, is it the role and right of Government to introduce law that permits the killing of human life? If so, what promises will be given that no further legislative changes will be made in the future?

When society cuts our humanity away from the imago dei, we always slide down a path toward dehumanisation. Bringing the two together again requires humility and more. It requires the loving actions of God to restore and heal this broken image. Is this not the wonder of the Easter event?

If the moral compass of our State is utilitarian ethics, which certainly appears to be the case, then further expansion of euthanasia laws is almost inevitable, as is happening across many countries who’ve already taken the pledge to kill. Indeed, I have already been informed, on sound advice, that the Bill shortly to be presented to the Victorian Parliament will be in the first place be a conservative pro-euthanasia Bill, but the intent will be to extend it 3 to 5 years down the track.

When we begin defining the value of human life by the kind of utilitarianism pursued by Peter Singer and others, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a few short years permitting and even pressuring the expungement of all manner of people whom society deems a burden. I realise all this sounds rather Stalinesque and outrageously impossible; we would never traverse such dreadful ground. But look to Belgium and the Netherlands, and consider how our own society has already deemed moral, killing unborn children, and possibly now, those who are at the end of their days.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea

    or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been shown to you?

    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?

 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

    Tell me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:16-18)

Are we prepared to cross the line, or instead, can we do better by providing improved and greater resources in palliative care?

Study shows huge flaws with Safe Schools

Where are we leading our children?

The Safe Schools Program made the front page of my local newspaper this week. One of the local councillors, Paul Peulich, raised concerns over the program at a recent Council meeting. He proposed a motion to bring attention to the issues with Safe Schools, but it was met with ‘silence’ from his fellow councillors.

Following the failed motion, another Councillor,  Steve Staikos, referred to Mr Peulich’s comments as ‘disgraceful’, and Kingston Mayor, Tamsin Bearsley, said no local resident had raised Safe Schools with her as an issue.

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The lack of letters and phone calls to the Mayor’s office is probably due to the fact that Safe Schools is a State and Federal issue, rather than one for local Council, but we are  mistaken if we believe that Kingston City residents are not profoundly concerned with Safe Schools.

While the Federal Government has proposed revisions to the program, parental concerns have been repeatedly ignored by the Victorian Government. Disappointingly, rather than responding to questions with reasoned argument, Government members persist with name calling and accusations of phobia and bigotry.

It is one thing to discount the views of opposition politicians, and even to spurn the concerns of families; but it will be interesting to see what will happen in light of an academic  paper that was published last week, The Controversy over the Safe Schools Program – Finding the Sensible Centre.

Professor Patrick Parkinson AM is one of the nation’s most respected legal academics. He has been researching Safe Schools and has deemed it ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’. 

To be begin with, I fully affirm Professor Parkinson’s words, “it is axiomatic that children and young people should be protected from bullying.” As a parent (and as a Pastor), I do not wish to see any child suffering from bullying. Our schools, churches, and communities ought to be safe places for children.

Throughout the 32 page paper, Professor Parkinson gives detail of the research used by La Trobe University to form the basis of Safe Schools, and what he reveals is shocking.

First of all, the numbers don’t add up. Safe Schools material claims that 10% of the population is same-sex attracted, 4% are transgender or gender diverse, and 1.7% are intersex. None of these statistics are true, in fact all these numbers of wild exaggerations.

For example, when it comes to transgenderism, if 4% was true, it would mean that 1 in every 25 students (approximately one child per classroom) would be transgender. We know anecdotally this is not the case. Where does this number come from? The only citation offered by Safe Schools is from a New Zealand study, which, when read, does not purport that 4% of people are transgender.

Professor Parkinson then quotes the actual report, which says,

“About 1% of students reported that they were transgender (a girl who feels like she should have been a boy, or a boy who feels like he should have been a girl…). Ninety-six percent were not transgender and approximately 3% were not sure.”

Parkinson then states, ‘To count the 3% who answer ‘not sure’ as being ‘gender diverse’ is academically irresponsible. People who answer ‘not sure’ in surveys do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they don’t understand what the questioner is asking.’

He then follows to summarise a series of notable studies, none which found more than 0.52% of people are to some extent transgender.

He concludes the section with this damning assessment:

“A likely explanation for the exaggeration of transgender and intersex conditions is that it is regarded as necessary to support the authors’ belief system to show that gender is “fluid” and can even be chosen.”

This is not science, this is uncontrolled ideology, and one that is aimed at our children.

Professor Parkinson also demonstrates how Safe School’s depends on theories of sexuality that counter best knowledge and practice in psychology and medicine, how it offers flawed legal advice, and how it is creating unsafe environments for children and families who don’t adhere to the program’s contentious views. He even argues that Safe Schools poses genuine risk to students who are struggling with aspects of their psychosexual development.

Safe Schools must be challenged, because our children matter and because truth matters. No doubt a reader will inevitably mis-hear and accuse me of hating LGBTI people; for their good and the sake of all children, should not our education programs be grounded in proven research? Should we not frame school curricula with the best available research, rather than ‘erroneous information’?

Mr Peulich’s concerns have been substantiated, and rather than being met with silence, we must speak and address this, and we must resolve these issues before we abuse a whole generation of children with unscientific pop-psychology. We want effective anti-bullying programs in our schools, but Safe Schools is not it.

Music and Abortion

Scientists have discovered that babies in the womb, as young as 16 weeks, respond to music by ‘dancing’.

“The foetuses responded to the music by moving their mouths or their tongues as if they wanted to speak or sing,” said one of the researchers, Marisa Lopez-Teijon. The research has been published in journal of the British Medical Ultrasound Society, Ultrasound.

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What this means is that babies’ cognitive faculties, creative faculties, and listening and communication skills are more highly developed at 16 weeks than previously thought.

The more scientists study human beings in the womb, the more wonder, beauty and complexity we discover. As scientific research advances, the findings increasingly demonstrate that embryos are not less human but fully human, and from the very earliest stages.

I am reminded of the words spoken by one excited mum, ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy’ (Luke 1:44).

It was interesting to note that the article in The Australian, while sometimes referring to embryos, also addresses them as babies. The days when scientists and proabortionists justified abortion by claiming embryos were not human has long gone.

This latest research makes the reality of abortions even more appalling. It is a dreadful paradox of our society, that a child who enjoys listening to music in the womb can, on the same day, be killed in the womb.

How can we justify killing a child who in their first weeks of life is being moved by the sounds of Mozart and Bach? Not that responding to music defines their humanity but it further proves their humanity. He or she is not potential life, but is life with a mind and body that is active and alert.

Science is showing us the ignominy of our attitudes toward the unborn, but will we listen? We have longed turned deaf to the Bible’s pleas about the sanctity of life, and I suspect that we will also turn a blind eye to these amazing revelations that are being proven through empirical research.

Through music, science is affirming an ancient theological truth, embryos are people like us. But will we listen?

If you are reading this post as someone who struggles with a past decision to undergo an abortion, I want you to know that the good news of Jesus Christ means that real forgiveness and healing is promised through him. Abortion is wrong, but it is not the unforgivable sin. Again, please contact our church counsellor. If you don’t live near Mentone but are keen to find out more, please contact us and we’ll try to find a suitable church near where you live.