The Big American Story that Australian media is keeping quiet

One of the most talked about issues in the United States for the past two weeks has been late-term abortions.

New York State passed a law to make it easier to perform abortions up until birth, the State of Virginia came within a single vote of doing so, the Virginian Governor proposed a position in support of infanticide, and the US Senate blocked a Bill aimed at protecting unborn children who can feel pain from 5 months.

Australians are captivated by American politics and culture. Every day and every night our major news outlets are reporting the latest stories coming out of America. Almost without exception, Australian media will rehash and talk about any controversial political story that is churning about America’s political washing machine. Viral video clips are splashed on the 6pm news. Tweets are relayed and commented upon, even those which might be innocent but sound juicy if we put an evil spin on them.

The past two weeks have witnessed some of the most embarrassing and detestable suggestions that have reached the floor of American State and Federal Governments in recent decades, and almost zero words have been dedicated to reporting this in Australia.

Australian media have no issue reporting the growing list of Senior Virginian politicians who been caught up in racist or sexual scandals; even local regional newspapers are talking about it. There is however almost no comment on the horrifying position Governor Ralph Northam has articulated in relation to infanticide (which by the way, is the issue which led to the revelations about the photograph in his college yearbook),

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”

There is no media discussion over Virginian Delegate, Kathy Tran’s, admission,

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow abortion up to 40 weeks.”

Todd Gilbert: “Where it’s obvious a woman is about to give birth…would that be a point at which she could still request an abortion?”

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow that, yes”

 

This raises a question in my mind, why is Australian media, who are known for their obsession with American politics, ignoring what is one of the biggest political stories of 2019 thus far? Why are they not showing the gruesome revelations made by Virginian Delegate, Kathy Tan? Why are Governor Ralph Northam’s comments supporting infanticide not being discussed?

The issue of late-term abortion has such currency in the United States that it was addressed in the State of the Union. Australian media are this week, as always,  reporting and comment on the State of the Union, but apart from a couple of passing and innocuous sentences that push the abortion debate into the arena of a local American issue, Australians would be surprised to hear that this is

The President stated,

New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. 

“These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth. To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”

While the story continues to unfold across the Pacific Ocean, during the same period of time in Australia, we have been reading stories about a fish saved from a sticky end and then driven 100kms to new and safer waters. There is a ‘new’ report telling us about the immorality of eating meat. Apparently, bees are intelligent. Two penguins enjoyed a holiday in Western Australia and are now traveling back to Antartica. A fish has changed its sex at the Melbourne Aquarium. Endangered Owls are being saved by a “vomit-sniffing dog”. These and many more stories about animals and protecting animals have managed to find space in our Aussie news. Of course, some of these stories are interesting and a few are even important and deserve public attention. Hey, there was even room to share another “snake in the toilet” story!

Defend animals! Save animals! Stop murdering animals! But killing healthy babies in the womb, and now even post birth?

I wonder, could it be the case that reporting this growing American story is too close to home? Perhaps the Pacific Ocean is not such a great divide. Maybe, the reality is that quoting these American lawmakers might expose uncomfortable truths about practices that are permitted and even praised in Australia today? It is not difficult to see the moral dissonance. We are being told to express moral outrage when animals are mistreated or are endangered; fair enough. What about killing a healthy baby at 40 weeks if the mother so chooses? What about giving a mother the right to let her healthy child die after he or she is born? Are Australian journalists so afraid of reporting the awful reality of abortion?  Are they so committed to protecting this insanely evil practice, that one of the biggest stories in America is blanketed by silence?

We have many fine journalists in Australia, working locally and all over the world, covering all kinds of weighty and relevant stories.  Who will speak for the unborn?

“They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood”. (Psalm 106:38)

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” (Proverbs 31:8)

Progressing Abortion and Killing Society

A stomach-churning video has gone viral over the last 24 hours. In the State of Virginia, House Democrats are pushing a Bill that will legalise late-term abortion, just days after New York State adopted similar legislation. Kathy Tran, a Democrat delegate, responded to questions by admitting that the Bill will permit abortion even as late as when a woman has entered labor.

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow abortion up to 40 weeks.”

Todd Gilbert: “Where it’s obvious a woman is about to give birth…would that be a point at which she could still request an abortion?”

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow that, yes”

You can watch the video here:

I am again writing about this issue, less because of what is unfolding in the USA, but because I’m reminded of what is already practiced and accepted in my home State of Victoria.

In 2016, then member of the Victorian Legislative Council, Rachel Carling-Jenkins, presented a Bill hoping to overturn a 2008 law which legalised late-term abortions.

The law allows women in Victoria to have an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, right up until the time of birth. All that is required is for two doctors to give approval.

The Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 stipulates that late-term abortions are permissible so long as two medical practitioners “reasonably believe that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances”. “Circumstances” is defined as the medical practitioner having regard to

“(a) all relevant medical circumstances; and

(b) the woman’s current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.”

The Bill was defeated 27 votes to 11.

At the time I did not engage in the conversation. Perhaps I was busy. Maybe I was focusing on other matters of importance. I remember a debate taking place in Parliament but to my shame, it wasn’t on my radar as it ought.

If there is one thing I have learned over the past few years is that evil doesn’t slow down its agenda simply because we are paying attention or not paying attention. No one can address every act of immorality and speak to every grave issue facing the world; we need an omnipotent and loving God. However, when we can speak, should we not give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves?

Societal shift on abortion has been swift. In the space of three years, we’ve witnessed the culture move from justifying abortion to celebrating abortion, from permitting the practice during the early weeks of pregnancy to licensing third-trimester abortions, even when these very same infants could survive and live outside the womb.

Understand, these laws are not about saving the life of the mother, for, in such rare and terrifying circumstances, the life of the mother is surely and already prioritised. The aim in those rare situations is not to kill the child but to save the life of the mother. This is far from where the abortion argument now finds itself. The newly adopted law in New York State, the proposed Bill in Virginia, and the current practice in Victoria where I live do not require the mother’s life to be at risk. The grounds are,  can she persuade a doctor (in Victoria the law requires 2 Drs) that she no longer wishes to keep the pregnancy. As the harrowing video reveals, this decision can be made as late as during labor.

According to the Victorian State Government’s health website, in 2016, 14.9% of all perinatal deaths in Victoria were accounted by abortions for “maternal psychosocial indications”. 40.32% of all late-term abortions (from 20 weeks) are for “psychosocial” reasons, meaning there is nothing wrong with the baby or physical health of the mother.  Please note, my understanding is that these numbers include terminations that occurred in hospitals and does not include abortions that take place in clinics.

If the pronouncements of these lawmakers aren’t enough to turn the stomach, Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, today suggested that the life of a newborn child can be legitimately ended if that is the wish of the mother and attending physician.

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”

This is not a slippery slope, this is the natural outworking of an ethic without God. This is the world of Peter Singer. 20 years ago many people sneered at some of Singer’s views and found them repugnant. Today, much of his thinking has become the norm in Western countries. His utilitarian thinking supports the killing of lesser human beings, those who are disabled and are considered less than fully functioning. Singer’s arguments supporting infanticide are now finding their way into mainstream politics and legislative agendas. Have we not learned from history? Are not past stories of the mass killing of innocence enough to steer us from ever going there again? The answer is, no. Our civilised and progressive societies are eager to venture into those dark hellish places once again.

What makes our society even more culpable than past societies is that we are committing the same sins but with greater knowledge and with greater ability. Modern knowledge reveals truths about how babies are formed in the womb, things that were once believed but could not be seen until the invention of ultrasounds. We can see the heartbeat of a baby in the earliest weeks. We can delight at a child’s fingers and toes growing at 6 weeks. We now know that babies can hear and respond to music by 16 weeks; the next Mozart is already learning to feel and marvel at the beauty of sound.

Medical advancements give us unparalleled ability to care for both mother and child, to even perform surgery on a baby while it is in the womb. When these little ones surprise us by coming into the world early we have the know-how to save the lives of these children as young as 22 weeks.

This is a grotesque reality in which we live: despite superior knowledge of human life in the womb and superior medical technology to save life, our commitment to destroying life has also increased.

I suspect some readers will respond with partial agreement; you dislike late-term abortions, but you don’t have a problem with ending a pregnancy during the first trimester. This is not an uncommon position to hold.

May I respond by asking you this question, at what point can we draw an absolute moral line? At what point can we justify the moral shift from being okay with killing the child to believing it is not okay?  Is the moral threshold when the baby begins to feel pain? Is it the moment cognitive awareness starts? Is it the week when their limbs have formed? Is it the moment the heart begins to beat? There is no ontological moment during a pregnancy at which we can argue, at this stage, it is okay to abort a child.

This needs to stop.

I understand that this issue is very real and personal for many women in our society. I don’t want to ignore the pain and guilt thousands of women experience following an abortion. To them, I say, there is hope of forgiveness and renewal for those who seek it.

How different is the answer that we find with the God of the Bible. The Bible insists that every human being, from the moment of conception, is precious and made in the image of God. Gender, age, health, mental faculties, physical appearance, do not detract from a person’s inestimable worth.

Jesus loved the unwanted. Throughout his three years of ministry, Jesus was known for befriending and caring for those whom society thought little and had often neglected. No one was too insignificant for him to take interest in and show love.

On one occasion we are told,

“A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

Jesus didn’t stop there, the extent of love that God demonstrated was found on a Roman cross, where the Son of God sacrificed his life for the salvation of others.

“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.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Pink is for Death

Pink has become the colour of death. When a baby girl came into the world, friends gave gifts of pink shoes or a pink outfit. It may be a social convention, but does that matter? Pink was the colour for girls. Like so much else, another insidious social movement has replaced something good with the representation of evil.

Last night in Manhattan, the skyline changed to a pinkish glow, as New York State celebrated the passing of a law which will enable the killing of babies up until birth.

pink new york.jpg

As the vote was counted and announced on the floor of the legislative powers in the State Capital of Albany, exuberant applause and cheers went up from the crowd who present to witness the proceedings. One American news outlet has likened scenes to winning the Super Bowl. It is telling when there is greater public joy over the sanctioning of killing human life than over the birth of a child. Surely society has plummeted to a new moral low.

Such scenes are not unique, they are becoming commonplace as abortion laws are relaxed across the world. There were similar scenes of jubilation in the Australian State of Queensland when abortion was legalised late last year. Brisbane’s night sky turned the colour purple in celebration of the right to take the life of a baby. Much of Ireland became a street party when their national referendum heavily favoured the legalisation of abortion.

The sheer evil of New York State’s law is reviling and should cause us to weep openly. Two of my children were born prematurely; two healthy beautiful little boys. Yet in places like New York and in my own State of Victoria, it is legal and even morally acceptable to have these children put to death. In Victoria, abortions can be legally attained until the pregnancy is 23 weeks and 6 days, after which, two Doctors are then required to sign a permission form. While late-term abortions are still considered ‘rare’ in Victoria, rare has become another malleable term, for in Victoria alone hundreds of unborn babies are subsequently killed every year after 24 weeks of pregnancy, many have no diagnosed medical condition and could be safely delivered alive.

25 years ago Hilary Clinton initiated what became the popular mantra, “abortion should be safe, legal, and rare”. That slogan has been abandoned for there is no longer a need to hide the realities. The new hashtag is “ shout your abortion”. This shift in public rhetoric less reflects a changing ethical system, and more echoes greater confidence to express what many people in society have long believed.

I still remember Jane Caro’s words in 2016,

“Shout out about your abortion any way you see fit — if the subject comes up in conversation, perhaps, or there is a story about it in the news.”

“If you have had an abortion, do not be ashamed of it. You are in good company. Shout it out and help lift the shame for all the other women who have also decided that every child should be a wanted child.”

Like a 21st Century prophetess, Caro’s sermon has been heard and adopted by the culture, as piranhas gathering around the carcass of a dying system of morality.

Long gone are the old excuses, for example, a fetus is not yet a human being.  With growing scientific and medical knowledge such nonsense is no longer sustainable but that does not matter. In full recognition of unborn babies being fully human and with the knowledge that their life can continue outside the womb,  the moral belief is, ‘their deaths are justified’. In other words, human life is not inherently valuable and untouchable but is subject to the worth we attach. A life is worth preserving only because personal interest declares it so.

The sadistic irony amidst the arguments of a woman’s right and health is that the majority of aborted babies are girls. In this age of advocating gender equality, most children who are killed in the womb are female. It is also the case that many other babies are aborted because they have been deemed as having some kind of medical condition, as though a disability or illness gives him less right to live.

In 2018, The Age (a secular Australian newspaper) reported a story concerning new research conducted by a secular Australian University, finding a link between abortion and the mistreatment of women.

“A phenomenon of “missing girls” could be afflicting Victoria, as a study of more than a million births suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies or undergoing embryo selection overseas in order to have a son.

If nature was left to take its course, it is expected that for every 100 girls born, about 105 boys will be brought into the world.

But in findings researchers say indicate “systematic discrimination against females starts in the womb”, mothers within some key migrant communities are recording sons at rates of 122 and 125 for every 100 daughters in later pregnancies.

Lead researcher Dr Kristina Edvardsson from Melbourne’s La Trobe University said it showed gender bias persisted in Victoria, despite laws banning people from choosing the sex of their child, other than for medical reasons.

“We believe that some women may be terminating pregnancies after discovering they are expecting a girl and in other cases are travelling overseas to access non-medical sex selection services through assisted reproduction,” she said.

These children have no grave, but they are not forgotten. I believe that one day there will be justice for these little ones, for not one act of injustice will remain unmet and without due consequence. I also remember that the miracle of life can only be equaled by God’s miracle of mercy. Christians ought to grieve over the insane and out of control dehumanisation project that is sweeping Western nations, and there is a righteous anger to be spoken. Our shouts, however, must center on a cross and declare good news of forgiveness. Despite the furor of public cheers and political congratulations, many women do regret their abortion and carry with them guilt and shame for many years to come. We, if we are truly Christian, have come to know and experience the mercy of God in our own lives, and we mustn’t let our anger rob our hearts of God’s mercy.

The story we speak is better than those cries to kill. Appropriately, t is a story about another unwanted child. At his birth, the Government attempted to interfere by sending local authorities to his town in order to find the newborn and have him killed. He was saved by his mum and dad fleeing, leaving the country and finding asylum in another land. Thirty-three years later, the feverish shouts could be heard all over the city, ‘Crucify him, Crucify him’. The public wanted it, and the Government approved. Little did they know that through this one death, God was bringing justice and mercy. The perfect Son of God was heaping on himself the sin of the world so that God might remove our sin and shame.

This is an age of outrage, and at times with some justification. In all the noise, hearing shouts to take the lives of innocence, the Christian message is about One who gave up his life for the guilty. We may not shout, but we can speak His name with love and kindness, with clarity and grace.

Bishop Curry: Preacher of love and Persecutor of the Church?

“give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9)

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:9)

 

The world fell in love with Bishop Michael Curry last year as he delivered the sermon at the royal wedding. Even Christians were smiling and laughing at his wit and mesmerised at his storytelling, and nodding in agreement each time he spoke of love. He left convention behind, ignoring the stale, stuffy, and short sermonette that everyone has become accustomed to for a royal event, and he instead preached a long humorous monologue about love.

abc royal wedding

 

Prior to this sermon which stole the news headlines around the world for days to come, few people had ever heard of Bishop Michael Curry outside The Episcopal Church (TEC), of which he is the Presiding Bishop. Within moments of beginning his homily, social media lit up with Christians and atheists alike, gleaming and expressing likes all-round.

Some voices dared challenge the message and the preacher; I was one of them. I understood why Curry’s sermon might appeal to non-Christians; his words sounded awfully like their own secular worldview, except that he added the idea of God to the conversation. But many Christians were disappointed and even angry by the fact that some Christian leaders questioned the royal sermon. Even when concerns were more fully expressed, some swiped them away as though we were throwing mud at a great man of God.

His sermon was stamped ex cathedra, out of bounds to any criticism. He mentioned love and God, and Jesus was thrown in somewhere, so what’s the problem? Jump off the critic’s chair and join the crowds in celebrating Bishop Curry and his message of love!

Earlier this week, a story reported that this preacher of love is perhaps less loving that he has been made out to be. Indeed, he is less like Apostle Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 and more like Saul, the persecutor of the church.

Christian Today has reported that,

“The head of the US Episcopal Church has taken disciplinary action against the Bishop of Albany for opposing same-sex marriage ceremonies. 

Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev Michael Curry, moved to restrict part of Bishop William Love’s ministry after he introduced a policy in the diocese last year preventing churches from performing gay weddings.” 

The Bishop famed for his sermon on love has moved to discipline a local bishop who believes in upholding the biblical understanding of marriage.

In 2015, Episcopal Church’s General Convention protected dioceses who banned the practice of same-sex weddings, but those protections were removed last year. Bishop Love has instead chosen to follow what he believes is congruent with God’s word and to guard his congregations against damaging teaching and ceremonies. Bishop Love has responded to Curry’s disciplinary action, saying that his policy reflected the official teaching of the Church that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that no resolutions from the General Convention had overridden this. 

Before anyone assumes that this is the first of such instances, Michael Curry has a history of persecuting clergy and churches who don’t support his progressive views of sexuality and marriage.

This was one of the important facts that was whitewashed amidst all the public adulations being heaped on Michael Curry in the wake of the wedding; not only does he deny the biblical definition of marriage, he presides as Bishop over a denomination which has taken its own churches to court in order to remove them from buildings and property, on account that these churches won’t cave into theological liberalism. Michel Curry has been and continues to be one of the chief protagonists responsible for fracturing the Anglican communion not only in America but worldwide.

Curry’s latest actions against a local bishop are just another example of this man who preaches love and practices persecution.

It grieves me to know that while brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States are counting the cost for faithfulness to the Gospel, many other Christians remember that royal wedding sermon with fondness. It perhaps shouldn’t surprise us, but it ought to trouble us, that with a few slick words spoken at a wedding, Christians have sided with the world and decided that Curry’s heterodox beliefs and practices shouldn’t discount the warmth people enjoyed by his presence as he stood and spoke behind that pulpit in St Georges Chapel. It’s almost as though, for the sake of lapping up a captivating presentation, we are prepared to ignore reality and to toss out God’s loving truth, even when these things are made transparent to us.

Let us pray for and learn discernment. Let us side with those who are persecuted, and not with the persecutors. Pray for the churches and clergy who remain in The Episcopal Church and remain in Christ. And ask God that he might lovingly bring Michael Curry to repentance, just as God so graciously did for Paul on that road to Damascus.

Letter to my local MP. RE: Sex Discrimination Act & Faith-Based Schools

Here is a copy of the letter that I have written to my local MP today, Sharing my concerns over the religious discrimination bill that is to be presented before the parliament on Monday

Australia

Dear ………

I trust you are keeping well

I’m writing to express concerns relating to the proposal Labor is introducing to Parliament on Monday, regarding the Sex Discrimination Act and faith-based schools.

During the debate on marriage in September last year, you said that, 

“I will be voting yes for marriage equality. There is a lot of talk from the ‘no’ campaign about how marriage equality will infringe on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It’s simply untrue. Marriage equality will mean that couples of the same gender are allowed to be legally married in Australia. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Despite what anyone may have thought at the time, it is clear that this is not the case. Indeed at the time of the plebiscite debate, I appreciated the conversation I had with your chief-of-staff. I suggested to him that consequences will inevitably follow a change of marriage definition. For no society changes the definition of its bedrock institution without corollary changes flowing through the rest of our culture.

While it is important not to overstate the case, there have numerous repercussions reverberating across the landscape, from employees losing their jobs to Aussie battlers having their businesses boycotted. As you are also aware, currently before the Federal Parliament are a series of issues relating to religious schools.

I share your concerns over the Government’s slowness to publish their findings from the Ruddock review, however, I am also concerned by the solution Labor is bringing to the Parliament for debate on Monday. 

With parts of the Ruddock Review leaked, the media grabbed sensationalist headlines about Christian schools expelling gay students. Of course, the reality is very different. Christian schools across the country came out, stating that they were not aware of this policy and they certainly did not support or practice it. One newspaper made inquiries around the nation and found the whopping sum total of schools who were expelling gay students to be zero. Recently I asked a teacher who works at a Christian school in Melbourne and they were stunned that the media was implying that this was a practice inside Christian schools. 

I submit, in seeking to defend the welfare of LGBT students, this proposed legislation extends well beyond its intended purpose, and it will, in fact, have far-reaching consequences for all religious organisations, including schools, churches, and mosques.

Mark Fowler (Adjunct Associate Professor at Notre Dame Law School in Sydney) has written, 

“On a plain reading, this would capture the Sunday morning sermon, the Friday kutbah at the mosque, a Buddhist meditation course, the children’s Sunday school, the midweek Bible study, the Friday night youth group talk. It is quite clear to both the preacher and the recipient in all of these exchanges that they are participating in an act of education that expands upon religious principles.” 

Associate Professor Neil Foster has stated, 

“Unfortunately, the amendments do much more than stop schools expelling students on the basis of their internal sexual orientation (a goal all sides of politics agree on.) They will have a serious impact on the ability of such schools, and other religious bodies, to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. A more nuanced approach is needed.”

Their critique of the proposed amendments is concerning.

Without significant revision, this legislation will open the door to a myriad of serious legal and social challenges that will undermine the freedom of religious schools and indeed of any religious organisation.

If I may ask, do you believe that it is the purview of the State to influence and even alter the religious teaching of a Christian school or church? Should these institutions have the freedom to employ, teach, and practice their values? I trust so, but therefore, I ask that Labor reconsider the bill before it is tabled on Monday. 

I remain thankful for the public education I received and I am also aware of how much this country is indebted to non-public schools. This proposed bill, whether intended or not, is an attack on the freedom to teach the values which are consistent with the religious convictions of the schools and beyond, and retain freedom for these organisations to employ staff who both affirm and will teach these values. Once again, it is imperative that the loophole which will extend the parameters of this bill into all religious institutions (including churches) needs to be closed.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter and I look forward to reading your response.

 
Kind Regards,
 
Murray
——————————–
UPDATE December 3rd, 2:30pm:
Today’s Senate debate on the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 has taken place & did not pass. It’s been referred to another committee. We can be thankful for the outcome but there are more chapters to be written in this story.

The Pruning of Australian Christianity

Does God sometimes allow non-Christians to do the work Churches should be doing themselves?

God used Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians as a weapon of judgement against Judah, and God used Cyrus as an instrument to bring God’s people back to the land and to see the Temple rebuilt.

While we cannot say with certainty that any specific person or organisation has been handed the pruning shears by God (for the simple reason, God hasn’t told us), we do know from the Scriptures that God is concerned with cutting off dead branches, pruning lives branches, and bearing fruit in the lives of his disciples.

In John ch.15 Jesus uses one of his many analogies to describe his relationship with his people, namely that of the vine and branches.

Jesus says,

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

img_7985

 

There is no doubt that churches have been entangled in many scandals in recent years. Clergy have been guilty of committing terrible abuses on children, while other ecclesial authorities have at times hidden these crimes. Popular preachers have been called out for marital unfaithfulness, embezzling money, acting like mini-dictators, and saying some really dumb and unwise things relating to an array of social and political issues.

Australia has a band of public figures and journalists who are always quick to castigate, shame, and then to investigate, all manner of evils perpetrated by Christians (and by people of various kinds of religious perspectives). This is no bad thing, for why should Christians be given a jail free pass, simply because they allege a diplomatic Jesus card?

At the same time, Churches and Christians are being increasingly condemned for believing and practising things that are in line with their Scriptures. Whereas abusing children is abhorrent and aberrant to the Christian faith, believing in heterosexual only marriage is consistent with biblical and historical Christianity, and yet many do not care for such moral distinctions.

With the redefinition of marriage, only the most naive maintained that nothing would change; after all, the entire point of altering the marriage act was to create further societal change. The flow on effects has not been a flood, but it is a regular trickle and one that is far from finishing. Whether the bathroom tap is dripping slowly or water is pouring out of the faucet, the end result is the same, the sink fills up and floods the room.

Australian laws have and are changing, and the cultural narrative has is shifting faster than the writing of a cheap romance novel. Dozens of Australians have already faced the prospect of losing their jobs or businesses because of their religious convictions on marriage. Now it is religious schools who are being targeted. Indeed without carefully considered legislation,  the only religious schools that will remain in 10 years are those who have given up their convictions and fully subscribed to the religion of secular humanism. Hardline secularists will not be content to leave the agenda in the political arena or in schools. Next stop is the family home and after that, the local church. For example, if the Australian Labor Party platform becomes law, parents may face losing their children if they do not actively support a child who wishes to change their gender. Australians may soon be compelled to ignore biological fact and instead identify people according to their own chosen gender, and face anti-discrimination tribunals and prosecution should they decline to do so. And while Churches have some protections, it is delusional to conclude that teaching a Christian view of marriage will remain unchallenged by secular authorities.

Part of the problem is that the broader Australian culture has lost its cognitive awareness, rarely knowing what is and isn’t Christianity (and this blurring will only increase as Governments further squeeze out Christian education and religious freedoms); let’s return to the good old days of Pliny the Younger, who assumed the Lord’s Supper consisted of Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of fellow human beings! Weeds, plants, trees, and grass, all look the same, and the temptation to mow it all down is too great for some. This unfortunate and unsurprising trend toward religious ignorance is one reason why our society struggles to differentiate between the real sins in Churches and Churches who are properly exercising their faith.

Another problem is that in the world of today’s social media madness, the noise is at a crescendo, with people shouting and screaming at everything they don’t like, forgetting that not everything that they disagree with is necessarily wrong or harmful or evil. Religious and irreligious people are both guilty of the unsociable new norm, and it’s a worrying trend because when the volume reaches triple forte, it becomes near impossible to any worthwhile and important discourse.

Juxtaposed to these Metallica like screams is a deathly quiet that we find in some religious quarters. Rare moments of stillness can be of some value, but we should not confuse the appearance of saint-like silent meditation with spiritual authenticity; sometimes it’s nothing more than a magician’s trick to hide cowardice or complicity.

You see, at one level we can’t blame the culture, because it defines good and bad by its own standards, even if those moral lines keep moving around like a cat chasing a laser light. We are not expecting secular Australia to define moral goodness according to the Christian faith, because we understand, even as Jesus taught, that the two are not synonymous.

It’s not as though God’s righteousness is only true for the Church and is irrelevant to the outside world, for there is nothing in creation that escapes God’s good design and intent. The entire cosmos, including Governments, is subject to the rule of God, and yet they are in a state of rebellion, whereas the Church is meant to be a redeemed people, a city on the hill revealing the glory of Christ.

The greater responsibility lays with Churches and religious organisations, who have too often neglected the faith once for all delivered, and have instead adopted the moral and epistemological posture of the prevailing culture.

One of the persistent problems we have in Australia is with many Christian leaders failing in their responsibility. They have failed to stand for orthodox teaching. Instead of refuting bad and dangerous doctrines, these ideas are promoted and taught, or they give a silent endorsement. After all, can anyone really say that they know what the Bible says? Surely, only a puffed-up bigoted Pharisee would ever suggest that Biblical truth is clear and mandated? While far too many theologians and pastors have hired smoke machines to create ambiguity over pretty much every Christian doctrine, others have failed to act against bullies and abusers, perhaps through incompetence, and more often, through neglect or not being willing to pay the cost.

The question is if Churches are unclear about discipleship and if Church leaders are failing to fulfill their ordained responsibilities, perhaps God will employ another to do that all-important work of pruning?

I understand why some Aussies look at our backyard and conclude that religion in general, and Christianity especially, is waning. The culture has shifted, and every leaf and twig not conforming to the new pattern will be picked off for mulch. But that is to misunderstand what is happening. When a tree is pruned, it looks so bare and feeble that some might mistake it for being dead. That was certainly the reported diagnosis in the wake of last year’s national census, and with regular reminders about church closures and dipping church attendances. Is the Church dying? Is Christianity on the way out? Or is God in the process of cutting off dead branches and pruning those that bear fruit?

While many Australian Christians are concerned with happenings both inside Churches and in our surrounding communities, it would be wrong to respond with despair or hopelessness. It is a work of grace that God so loves his church that he attends to it: watering, feeding, and yes even pruning her. The vine is Jesus, and the branches are those who have been united with him. Remaining in Jesus is the only way to be fruitful, and remaining in Him is to remain in his word, namely to keep trusting and obeying his words. 

Surely we can be thankful as dead Christendom is removed from the scene, and while the culture isn’t savvy enough to discern between real and fake Christianity, the season can also be used of God to refine and prepare. In other words, pruning may hurt, but it’s good, and it’s the necessary prelude to a bumper crop. 

 

 

 


This is an updated piece from Sept 2018

If Classical Composers were a Cricket Team…

 

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A suggested batting order:

1. Shostakovich: unconventional but effective and stays in for a long innings

2. Beethoven: hard hitting play maker who can make a score

3. Mozart: perfect technique, exquisite shot playing every time

4. J.S. Bach: the heart and captain of the side. Everyone learns from him

5.  Debussy: can do everything with the bat(on)

6. Rachmaninoff:  a sublime all rounder

7. Schumann: Because someone has to be wicket keeper

8. Ravel: he dances down the pitch, whether batting or bowling

9.  Chopin: the perfect leg spinner who turns the ball with uncanny precision

10. Puccini: the art of fast bowling who mesmerises all who watch

11. Tchaikovsky: power, strength and volume