The Sound of Papal Silence

 There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak”.

Pope Francis has been mastering the technique of silence in recent weeks, although I suspect there has been little quiet behind Vatican walls. Last month, former Vatican envoy to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò,  published an 11-page document, outlining allegations of cover-up by Vatican officials in relation to hundreds of cases of abuse in Pennsylvania. Included in the list of those who had knowledge of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s appalling history of sexual abuse, is the current Pope.

Pope Francis’ initial response to the allegations was to say, 

“I will not say one word on this. I think the statement speaks for itself and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions.”

Then eight days ago, he added,

“With people who do not have good will, with people who seek only scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within families,” the answer is “silence. And prayer.”

“May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we must speak and when we must be silent. And [to do] in all of life: in work, at home, in society…” to become more closely imitators of Jesus Christ

As it says in the day’s Gospel, the people “rose up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill… to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.”

Those who drove Jesus out of the city were not people, but “a pack of wild dogs,” …They shouted instead of using reason, and in the face of this, Jesus’ response was to remain silent.”

I certainly hope Pope Francis wasn’t inferring that he is behaving like Jesus and that those asking for clarification of the allegations are not like ‘a pack of wild dogs.’

Yesterday (September 11), Pope Francis once again broke his silence, by preaching a sermon in which he accused Satan of undermining Rome’s Bishops. He said,

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

I’m presuming Pope Francis hasn’t read my particular recent criticisms, but in case he has and this is what he reckons,  I think he and I need to have a chat. Far more likely, this is a veiled attack on Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and others who are bringing to light details of a very sordid history. Notice there is no sense of what Jesus asks his followers, “Blessed are the poor in the spirit…Blessed are those who mourn.” There is, however, a game of blame the Devil for the bishopric scandal!   Don’t get me wrong, I believe in a real Satan, one who is an architect of evil, but surely the evil is of men pretending to be of God and penetrating shocking acts against children. Surely, the work of the Devil is to obfuscate the beauty and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by introducing ideas that are septic.

So why the Papal silence?

There are 3 reasons why one would choose silence in the face of serious allegations, such as those being leveled by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

First, there is weight to the allegations, and so one is working out the best strategy before speaking up. There is something to be said about this. Not every word needs to be spoken along the high-speed highway that is Twitter. It is okay to slow down a little and to offer considered responses rather than instant tweets. I think it is appropriate given the gravity of the allegation, that a thoughtful response is offered. It has however been several weeks now and the Pope has been speaking, but just not answering.

A second reason for choosing silence is because you consider your interlocutors or accusers as fools. As Jesus said, why cast pearls before swine?

A third reason for keeping quiet is because it’s an effective rhetorical tool. I will bore people to the point of giving up, and they’ll soon enough be swept up in a controversy somewhere else.

One of the suggestions being made is that there is a civil war breaking out in the Vatican. Perhaps this is true, but of course, that does not mean the allegations are any less true (or untrue as may be the fact).  I’m not interested in internal bickering inside the Vatican unless of course, it involves calls to return to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, in which case we praise God for such a movement.

I also remain amazed at how the mainstream media have played down this story, given that it is potentially the biggest religious stories of this Century thus far.

Since the story broke in August, much of the media have either sided with Pope Francis, arguing that this is nothing more than internal fighting with conservatives trying to push back on the enlightened progressives inside the Vatican, or they have kept quiet. It’s as though the Pope said, “shh,” and the media answered, “ok.”

Since becoming the Pope, Francis has bedazzled onlookers, with his vintage styled uniforms with glittering gems, and his seemingly progressive views on social issues.

The behavior is most unusual, given that journalists are usually trigger happy when it comes to reporting the sins of Christians. Even when there is a sniff of an allegation or rumours of another religious nut saying espousing an outrageous message, we can sure that there are journalists at hand, with shovel ready to dig it up. If you think I’m exaggerating, as a veiled attempt to mock Scott Morrison’s Christian faith, last week The Guardian uncovered a Pentecostal preacher whom no one has ever heard from a church that no one has ever heard of,  and they reported his scandalous message ‘from God’ about our new Prime Minister. Yes, the preacher was saying dumb things that were not from God, but was it really worthy of public attention? Catholic clergy who have been accused of abusing children or of covering up abuse, have been rightly highlighted in our news. And yet, when the head of the Roman Church and other most senior Catholic clergy are named as co-conspirators to protect child abusing priests, the cone of silence descends not only on the Vatican but also on the media.

One of the accusations leveled at religious organisations is their lack of transparency and their long attempts to cover up abuse. Peoples’ anger at religious institutions is understandable and largely justifiable. It is beyond outrageous that ecclesial authorities should hide evil men who have destroyed the lives of thousands of children in their care. It is an automatic pass to hell.

If I had friends who were victims in Pennsylvania, for their sake I’d be wanting answers. If my children had ever been placed in such a vulnerable position, I would be in Rome right now with placards and a megaphone and a list of verbalisms to compete with any that Martin Luther ever preached.

This is time for reform inside the Roman Catholic Church. They ignored the opportunity when it came around 500 years ago, but they cannot afford to ignore it now. Bad theology leads to justifying bad living, and a trail of broken people in the wake.

 

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In the growing strange web of paradoxical ‘silence’, Rome refuses to break the seal of the confessional, but the Pope is still breaking God’s rules about praying, as he sends out more tweet prayers to Mary and to other saints.

I say all this, being aware of the plank in my own eyes, and the wood-paneled rooms of my own denomination. This is not about, ‘let him who has no sin throw the first stone’. Our broader society often misinterprets Christianity and Churches, and claims wrongdoing when there is none, but on this issue, people are right to be horrified. The harshest words Jesus ever spoke, were not toward those who admitted ignorance about God, but those who claimed to know and represent God, but by their actions denied him.

There is no glory or good to be found in the silence or in feeble half measures. If Jesus is Lord, then we must obey his call for repentance. Repentance repudiates cover-ups and superficial penances or forced retirements; repentance begins with confession and true contrition.

We wait to hear the silence end.

Banning ‘Conversion’ Therapy, what does it mean?

Media outlets have renewed a campaign to outlaw gay conversion therapy (GCT). The Age published an article on the weekend with the title, Churches, LGBTI Christians urge crackdown on ‘conversion’ therapy.

The headline is somewhat misleading, for according to the SOCE website (the group who are asking the Federal Government to ban GCT), only four churches have signed their statement along with 3-4 church ministers. No doubt there other supportive Churches, but nothing like the groundswell of ecclesial enthusiasm that the newspaper implies.

If The Age had asked Christian leaders and Churches from across the country, I suspect that they would find partial agreement with the folk at SOCE Survivors, and also significant disagreement.

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To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity. This, however, does not mean that every sexual preference and activity is morally good and beneficial, and neither does it mean that people who choose celibacy are somehow less complete or fulfilled as human beings.

It is interesting to learn that the SOCE Survivors statement makes the repeated observation that most organisations who once practiced GCT have now folded or no longer use such programs. If this is the case, then why are LGBTIQ groups and two political parties campaigning to have gay conversion therapy banned by Governments? If the aim is to inform the public of these formerly used and egregious methods, that’s fine, and yet their stated goals extend far beyond this. Why is there a concerted campaign to make illegal, practices that are no longer employed? As one reads further into the document, a picture emerges that their primary focus is no longer with GCT  but with any ideology that does not fully support LGBTIQ identity and lifestyles.

The statement argues that “many expressions of SOCE exist at the micro level, making them difficult to recognise, quantify, and regulate. The underlying ideology is firmly embedded in the everyday life of many faith communities as a collection of messages, beliefs and practices.”

According to their document, the key to this ideology is the erroneous and harmful belief (in their opinion) that “heterosexuality is the intended order”. Among these unacceptable practices are sermons that “talk about and reinforce traditional gender roles and ‘living as men and women of God”.

How broad is the net of unacceptable teaching and practice in faith communities? It certainly feels sufficiently broad to include the majority of Churches and Christian organisations. That’s part of the problem with the SOCE website, and also with the reporting in the newspaper, their descriptions of gay conversion therapy are vague, so much so that depending on how one reads in between the blurry lines, preaching a sermon on Genesis chs.1-3 or Romans 1:18-32 could fall foul of the authorities.

Definitions matter. The meaning of words and phrases is essential, lest we import a wrong sense or create confusion by speaking across each other. At the same time though, ambiguity and breadth are also proven rhetorical devices that gently and unassumingly push the envelope open even further.

In the Bible, God calls Christians to sexual purity. This does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. Some men and woman find their sexual desires and identity change with time, and to argue otherwise is to ignore the weight of personal testimonies. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. However, the fact is, when becoming a Christian, many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual.

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. Let me repeat, I am not suggesting 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, this sanctification includes affirming that sex belongs to the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

Does believing and teaching the above, and encouraging Christians to practice the above, push me outside the moral parameters of SOCE? Keeping in mind that none of the above views are new or novel, for they sit perfectly within orthodox Christian teaching and practice. Nonetheless, should this standard Christian view be considered wrong and harmful, and to be scrutinised by the authorities?

Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

While the SOCE Survivors document is vague at points, a spokesperson from SOCE has this week responded to a friend of mine who was also seeking clarification from them. The spokesperson said,

“The conversion therapy movement is very broad. Eg. theologically driven celibacy of lgbtiq people, prayer ministry, sermons that veer into exgay ideology leading to harm. They all need firm interventions. The survivors who wrote the statement are very keen to keep the definition broad. Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

The SOCE representative also asked,

“Would people who attend this group be encouraged to avoid being in a long-term committed same-sex relationship on theological or psychological grounds?”

When my friend suggested, ‘yes’, he was then informed that,

“I would say this group falls under the umbrella of the ex-gay movement. As you can see from the statement, the ex-gay movement has been viewed through many lenses over the years – from conversion therapy, to ex-gay programs that are less about therapy and more about solidarity. Regardless, such a group goes against the latest biblical scholarship, as well as a significant body of research detailing the harm caused by attempts to suppress or change a person’s orientation or gender affirmation on religious grounds. Thanks.”

There you have it. The agenda is wider than banning rare and harmful practices, but includes ministry and preaching that encourages the classical Biblical understanding of sexual holiness and human identity.

One might choose to ignore this most recent reporting of the issue, believing it’s another example of Christian philistinism. However, SOCE’s agenda is being adopted by two of the nation’s major political parties (ALP and the Greens), and the current Victorian State Government is also considering legislating on the issue. In other words, there is a strong possibility that these views will be shaped into legislation in the not too distant future, and could be used to against Christian Churches across Australia (and especially in Victoria). In case we assume there will be no severe implications from such legislation, as one example, the ALP platform speaks of removing children from parents who fail to affirm children in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, referring to this as child abuse.

Rather than chasing the culture down the rabbit hole of fluffy and imprecise language, Churches need theological and pastoral precision. This is a time for Christians to repudiate unsound, unbiblical, and harmful practices that have been used in the past, albeit by marginal and whacky groups. This is a time to repent of resentment toward LGBTIQ Australians and to ask for forgiveness where we have wronged them. This is also a time to embrace God’s good ways that are revealed in the Scriptures.

The future of Christianity does not depend on Governmental or societal approval, but it does hinge on whether Churches will “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Christianity didn’t survive and flourish in the Roman Empire because they allowed the sexual norms of the day to define the Church, or because they played dodge-the-bullet with broad and vague language, but because they believed and lived the freedom that was brought about by Jesus Christ. Clarity in an age of confusion; that is what is required of Christians today: humble clarity and gracious conviction that God’s purposes are good and true.

Gehenna’s Dead

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Piled in unmarked graves,

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Filling Gehenna with what remains,

Of flesh and blood and marrow.

 

Who are these nameless ones,

Whose time on earth so short?

What mountain of horror to see,

the scandalous unwanted dead.

 

No coffin or ceremony,

No words of solace spoken.

Though lingering in the deep,

Are perhaps doubts and disquiet,

Wonderings and hopes.

 

What cause,

What appeal,

What affliction has created this disturbance?

What necessity or hate has so consumed,

That life is deemed discretional?

 

Who would give their children to Molek,

Or present offerings to Eros and Aphrodite?

What god so insatiable must we appease,

To pull from womb ones so dear?

 

A public commotion shudders the earth,

Let us dance and celebrate;

Cheers reverberate through the streets;

We are free to kill.

We choose to kill.

Little ones, do not deny our liberty.

 

Jezebel, she is a jealous prophet;

Let us prove our dignity and worth.

For freedom sake,

Give us our rights.

We choose ourselves,

And we vote to forfeit others.

 

The altar of self is a bloody place.

The smell of burning corpses stiffens the air.

Winning is losing and the losers die.

Is this progress’ price,

Suffer the little children, and let them not come?

 

“Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses;

it has removed the children.”

With approval we look on;

Humanity scorched, and losing soul.

 

Who will love these little ones, imago dei?

Who will remember them, their smiles and motions,

their cries and laughter,

that first word and step?

Who will celebrate their first birthday,

Hug them and say, ‘I love you’?

 

Who would give life to these unwanted,

to those disdained and sacrificed for Molek?

What name is given to these young lives,

Who are found amidst rubbish and refuse alike?

 

Greater Josiah has come.

He will love them.

He will welcome them home.

This greater Josiah;

A King upon a cross,

purify Gehenna,

redeem the dead,

forgive the transgressor.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Repentance: the forgotten practice

While Pope Francis was visiting Ireland over the weekend, accusations have been raised by one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most senior Archbishops.

According to an explosive piece in NPR,

“A former Vatican ambassador to the United States alleges in a 7,000 word letter that top Catholic Church officials, including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, were long aware of sexual misconduct allegations against former D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

Given the gravity of the allegations being made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, it is inappropriate for other observers or me to offer an uninformed opinion on the particulars. It is however surely incumbent upon authorities to fully investigate this public letter.

 

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Matt Dunham/AP, via NPR

What I wish to do here is re-express my great concern and sorrow. 18 months I presented a series of matters relating to the report published by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. At the time, the Australian media were uninterested in this perspective, but I believe it is important to repeat the message because the Australian public and Australian Christians need Church leaders to speak up. Thank God, there are Christian leaders speaking openly and unreservedly; Richard Condie (the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania) is one such example who immediately comes to mind. The pain and anger rightly runs deep, and Churches must face reality, that repentance must also be deep and enduring.

We can expect accounts and allegations of sexual abuse from within the Roman Catholic Church and coverups by clergy to come to light for many years to come. No doubt, the same will be true for many religious and nonreligious organisations.

When the Royal Commission released statistics relating to child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church of Australia (February 2017), Australians were appalled and shocked, although sadly we were  unsurprised.

The Royal Commission disclosed that a survey conducted by the Australian Catholic Church found 4,500 alleged cases of child abuse within their organisations. This number reflects claims made between January 1, 1980 and February 28, 2015, and it also excludes cases that were not investigated.

Few significant organisations in the country have not discovered someone who has abused a child; my own Baptist denomination is not without known cases. Jesus warns us about the log in our own eye, and the Scriptures also call Church leaders not to treat gross sin lightly. We anticipate people will try to infiltrate all kinds of organisations to scope and prey on innocence; this is not to excuse due organisational diligence, but this world holds insidious individuals who will attempt to circumvent the highest standards. Having said all that, this new data communicates what we perhaps already knew and that there is a major flaw in Roman Catholic attitudes, brought about in part by flawed theological belief and practice. While any instance of child abuse is repugnant, there is a difference between isolated cases of abuse and a culture of abuse.

7% of Catholic priests serving between 1950-2009 have been identified as alleged perpetrators. The current known number is 1,880 men. Among some Catholic organisations the percentage is considerably higher: 22% of ‘Christian Brothers’, and 40.4% of those belonging to the order of ‘the Brother of St John of God’ are known to be sex offenders.

The issue extends beyond the fact that priests have abused thousands of children, but that Catholic Dioceses (and other denominations) have also failed to adequately address allegations and the clergy in question.

This is a national catastrophe.

Abusing children is unacceptable, for any person belonging to any community group or society, and sadly it is occurring even now in many family homes across our suburbs and towns; it should not be. The Royal Commission has disclosed child abuse in schools, sporting clubs, Government organisations, and across religious groups. There is, however, something particularly evil about the presence of such sin among communities who profess Jesus Christ.

As a parent with three children, I can imagine what many Aussie parents are thinking about these revelations, and these thoughts are not cordial. There are feelings of disgust toward the perpetrators and toward ecclesial authorities who have repeatedly failed to investigate and protect. There are feelings of sorrow for those whose childhood was snatched from them.

As a Christian and as a Church minister, I am angered that men would betray children under their care and that they would so disdain the name of Jesus by their gross sin. It is beyond reprehensible.

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4)

As much as we may point out that these priestly behaviours are irreconcilable with authentic Christianity, for they certainly contravene the person and teaching of Jesus Christ in every way, and yet we must appreciate that this issue has understandably tainted peoples trust in Churches. I can also see how many Australians don’t differentiate between Roman Catholicism and Christian Churches, for there are correlations, but there are also stark differences, which pertain to deeply held theological views that are proving to be unbiblical and untenable, including Rome’s view of the priesthood and of the confessional.

Pope Francis last night offered a prayer on a tweet,

“I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors of abuse and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”

While it would be presumptuous of me to question the Pope’s sincerity, this prayer will be as efficacious as praying to a man in a cape or Jack Dorsey himself. A better approach is surely to take Jesus’ view of repentance more seriously. Christians mustn’t give up being like Jesus, we need to become more like him. In the same short New Testament letter of Jude, where Christians are urged to look out for potential abusers in our churches, a few verses later we are also encouraged to “be merciful to those who doubt”.  This is not a time for defensiveness, but repentance, public repentance.

#Metoo for unborn girls?

Today at Church we celebrated the birth of a little girl. The parents gave thanks to God for her, and we as a congregation prayed for them. It was a joyous occasion, because life is so precious and wonderful, and every new life is beautiful.

As I was preparing for the infant dedication service earlier this morning, I came across this upsetting article in today’s The Age,

“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.

Analysing almost 1.2 million births between 1999 and 2015, the study found while the overall ratio of male and female babies born across Victoria was as expected (at close to 105 to 100), there were notable exceptions.

There is now widespread global access to ultrasound technology to determine the sex of a baby, and Australian parents can find out their baby’s gender from within 10 weeks with a newly-available blood test.

“The Indian government has estimated that two million girls go “missing” from its population each year due to sex selective abortion and other forms of discrimination that lead to premature death.”

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The report is disturbing; it’s more than disturbing, it is utterly evil. Let’s be clear, we are talking about the conscious decision to kill little girls because they are girls.

One wonders, how quick will our fourth wave feminists be to speak against this phenomenon? The only children who are more likely to face abortion are children diagnosed with mental and physical disabilities, such as Down Syndrome. Even this year, we have seen that their right to live has been drowned out by placards and tweets about the ‘right to choose’, as though the value of human life depends on what we want it to be.

Why should killing on the basis of gender matter more than choosing an abortion for other biological or sociological reasons? It shouldn’t, but this article nonetheless reveals a terrible trend in our society that needs addressing.

I appreciate that sometimes, some of the people crying “pro life” are obnoxious, and even crass and hurtful, but these are few and hardly representative of the average Australian who does not support abortion. Surely it is possible, and indeed desirable to view every human being with dignity and inherent worth, but sadly the evidence suggests that we believe otherwise.

For example, #metoo has captured the fury and passion of millions of women and men all over the world. The outrage has much justification, for women are often mistreated, abused, or simply undervalued. However, like other agitations for social change, #metoo is selective in the injustices that they wish to advocate. I’m not talking about fighting any and every cause of injustice in the world, but one that is surely consonant with the fight for women’s equality. Where are the #metoo for unborn girls and unborn children with disabilities? Where is the wave of feminists marching the streets for the millions of girls who will never grow up and go to school and finds careers, and experience love and joy?

Perhaps, this is one reason why the rhetoric of these hashtag movements lack cogency and long-term positive change. They are not fighting for all women, but only some women.

The birth of Christianity contested the Roman practice of abortion and infanticide. Christians welcomed and loved little ones who were neglected and left on the hills to die from exposure; by far, the majority of these children were girls. They did this against the grain of popular culture, and often at great personal cost, and yet over time the good could not be denied. Aisha Dow’s article is simply unveiling another grotesque step in the dehumanising project that is becoming all too common in Australian culture.

Is there a correlation between a society that leaves Christianity behind, and a society that dehumanises others? There will be historians and sociologists better equipped than me to answer that question. But to me, evidence suggests that there is a connection. Even as science reveals more and more wonder about human life in the earliest stages of pregnancy,  many couples are using this modern technology to determine the sex of the child and therefore to abort those who don’t match their expectations. “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

Protests and social media outrage may win momentary ‘likes’, but it’s not enough, and to often these movements are hijacked by unhelpful groups. We need a better vision, a more beautiful and glorious vision to capture the minds and hearts of Australians.

Jesus once said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. What an incredible way to consider people around us. Imagine, the betterment of society if we took Jesus’ words to heart! Indeed, how great is the love that sacrifices our hopes and plans for children who enter our lives unplanned. The very nature of a loving community is that it requires the unexpected and difficult, and rather than eliminating those surprises, we alter our life expectations in order to see their lives flourish. Perhaps instead of #metoo, we should be suggesting, #themtoo. 

Gambling and the Love of Money

“Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)

“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless”. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

 

Victorians love to gamble, but at what cost? It was revealed today that in the past financial year (2017-2018), Victorians lost $2.7 billion on the pokies. As the ABC has reported, this is the highest figure in a decade — “with punters in some of the state’s most disadvantaged communities losing the most money.”

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Sourced from the ABC

There are areas in Melbourne that are losing $10 million every month to the pokies, and this isn’t taking into account all the other forms of gambling that are popular in our State, including betting on sporting events and the lottery. In fact, pokies account for less than half of all the gambling costs incurred by Victorians annually. According to responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au,  “the average loss per adult in Victoria in 2015–2016 was $1235”. Given that many Victorians refrain from ever gambling, and many others bet on rare occasions, it doesn’t take long before realising that gambling is hurting thousands of Victorian families in significant ways.

While gambling leaves many Victorians destitute, it gives the State’s economy a sizeable boost each year. Over the course of the last financial year, the losses made at the pokies generated $1.1 billion in taxes for the State Government, and this does not include the revenue generated by the pokies at Crown Casino.

I’m sure many Victorians are appalled by these numbers. Building prosperity off the back of other peoples’ poverty shouldn’t be morally acceptable, but it has been the stars quo in the State of Victoria for many years. It’s hard to say “no” to money, especially easy money and free money. After all, who is bold enough to look a gift horse in the mouth?

While gambling is a huge social problem in Victoria, we are never going to overcome it while the Government accepts this revenue, protects Crown Casino, and while media and sports dilute the joy of the game for the sake of greater profits.

The situation has deteriorated to the point where parents are concerned about allowing the children to watch sport on television. When young children are watching the footy and gambling advertisements pop up every few minutes, they are not listening to those automated words, “gamble responsibly”. What they hear is the allure of making money. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to work for it. When a sporting hero tells them, give us $20 and we’ll magically turn it into $100, of course, kids will think, what a great idea.

Of course, the Government income profited through gambling is anything but free. Gambling is a powerful industry. When the NSW Government tried to ban greyhound racing in 2016, it backfired and resulted in the resignation of the Premier, Michael Baird.

It’s hard to turn away the promise of financial gain; it’s difficult for the gambler, and it’s herculean for a Government.

The thing is, we can’t claim to be for the working class family and to be concerned for the poor while we use their vulnerability to gambling as an economic driver.

Now, the picture is not all doom and gloom. My beloved Carlton Football Club may not be kicking many goals on the field this season, but off the ground they’ve been starring on a range of social issues. Last month the club sent out this tweet,

“Kids think you have to bet to enjoy sport. This round, remind them what foot is all about.”

“Love the game not the odds”

Such messaging is important, but it’s not enough, and it’s clearly not drowning out the clanging and cha-ching of the pokies and the alluring advertisements of gambling agencies.

We need the Government to have the moral strength to say no to billions of dollars. That means, we need Victorians to raise their hands, agreeing to forego some of our own economic demands upon the State.

It’s not so easy, is it?

Perhaps the Bible was right all along, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

We may not like gambling. We may hate the way gambling controls people and sends families into financial and social hell. What is clear, however, is that we don’t hate gambling so much and we don’t love our neighbours too much, that we would accept the cost of losing $100s millions annually.

It was Jesus who said (yes, the very same Jesus whom we’ve deemed redundant from our erudite and progressive culture),

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

It’s a condition we Victorians all share, both wealthy and poor alike. The promise of prosperity is harder to refuse than the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey. With all the pride in our moral sophistication, we are still practitioners of total depravity, selling our souls and trampling on the vulnerable, in order to grab hold of the prosperity’s mist. 

If we want our Government to put an end to this blight on our society, then we need to check our own hearts and be willing to give up something as well

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Senator David Leyonhjelm’s words teach us about ourselves

Like most Australians, I was disgusted by what Senator David Leyonhjelm said to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and to television interviewer, Angela Bishop.

His remarks are vile and sexist and unbecoming of one who represents the Australian people in Parliament.

During a discussion on women’s safety inside the Upper House Chamber, Senator Leyonhjelm told Senator Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men”.

Over on Twitter, Senator Leyonhjelm responded to Angela Bishop’s criticism of him by calling her “a bigoted b#tch”.

Senator Leyonhjelm remains unapologetic, and offered this defense on ABC news radio yesterday,

“It is a normal Australian behavior”

“I am a normal Australian, I am elected by normal Australians, normal Australians call people bitches, bastards, shut up, various things of that nature.

“I don’t discriminate between men and women.”

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I don’t know whether Senator Leyonhjelm truly believes his own defense, but let’s suppose he does. For argument sake, let’s assume Senator Leyonhjelm believes that he ought to speak to women in the same manner as he does with men. Is this not the kind of equality we are hoping to attain as a society? Should men and women not speak to each other in undifferentiating ways? Aussie blokes are known for their colourful language. I’m not agreeing with this cultural ‘norm’, but swearing and deriding each other long been a sign of social acceptance…and also of insult (discerning the difference isn’t always straightforward!). If men and women are identical and should be treated equally, should we not use the Aussie vocabulary tool bag for men and women alike?

Let me be clear, I believe Senator Leyonhjelm’s comments are indefensible and that he should apologise without reservation. It is entirely appropriate for Senator Hanson-Young to call him out and to expect an apology. Indeed, Senator Hanson-Young has revealed that this is only the latest in what is a culture of bile-like rhetoric which is thrown around the corridors of Canberra. I doubt if many of us are surprised, but surely it is entirely right for Senator Hanson-Young, and for all of us, to expect better from our political representatives.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has spoken up, saying,

“That type of language has no place in Parliament, it shouldn’t have a place in any workplace…Respect for women in particular is one of the highest priorities that we should be focused on.”

His emphasis, “respect for women in particular”, is worth noting. Why do Senator Leyonhjelm’s derogatory comments jar? Because we know it’s wrong, it’s always wrong, and as Prime Minister Turnbull states, it is particularly wrong when a man speaks to a woman in such a way. A man can get away with calling another bloke a ‘b#stard’, but it is entirely different when a man refers to a woman as a ‘b#tch’. This is not about social conventions, but an inherent-born-with understanding that men should not belittle and abuse women by their words or actions. We know it’s wrong. Boys were raised to respect girls and to treat them well, not because there’s some masculine superiority complex at play, but because it is how men should behave. Boys might fight each other, but you never hit a girl. Boys might open a door and walk through it first, but most women appreciate the man who stops and opens the door for them first. 

While Senator Leyonhjelm’s obscenity is receiving widespread condemnation, this same Australian culture has, however, embraced other language that is designed to denigrate and silence other Australians. For example, last year’s marriage debate witnessed people slandering gay and lesbian Australians and also slandering heterosexual Australians. The former was rightly called out, but the latter was often supported by and even used by our political representatives and media personalities to popular adulation. Another body of language has recently come into common usage, which aims to deride white males, because apparently if you are white and male you represent everything that is wrong with society. The point is, our problem is much deeper than simple misogyny. 

Whether we like it or not, Senator Leyonhjelm has revealed something ugly about Australian society, and it is more complex than gender equality. We have taught ourselves to treat men and women without distinction and we have encouraged a culture of vulgarity. We often praise the outspoken disparager. We believe in freedom of expression, where obscenity is even called artful and humorous. Let’s pile a hundred naked men and women on a supermarket roof in Prahran, take a photo, and call it art. Listen to the Shakespearen-like lyrics of Beyonce and other pop musicians that we download in the millions. Walk into any Melbourne comedy club and find an act that’s not going to resort to jokes about peoples’ private parts and sexual proclivities! The jokes don’t even need to be funny, just say a dirty word and the audience will laugh.

How different is the verbal posture presented by the Apostle Paul,

“No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Of course, Paul is writing to Christians here, and so this a word that we Christians must take seriously. It’s also pretty good advice for everyone. Instead of following the Australian way, which loves to kick the pedestal out from others, perhaps we need to introduce the language of honour and respect. Maybe we should be teaching young boys to respect girls. Maybe we should be doing more to tackle the problem of pornography.  Maybe we shouldn’t demonise gender differences but acknowledge them as a common good. And maybe self-control is not so detrimental to our health, but considering our words before speaking them is important for healthy relationships.

While there is a great deal of public anger this week, it doesn’t suffice to shame men like Senator Leyonhjelm, or to call for resignations, or to argue that we need more education. Jesus reveals an uncomfortable truth about ourselves,

“what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. (Matt 15:18)

Our words are revealing, communicating to others what is going on in our hearts. We speak what we think, and we verbalise the deep-seated attitudes that we hold. It is interesting to note that Jesus spoke these words in the context of a conversation regarding the family unit, and how children and parents relate to each other (Matt 15:8-16). Jesus continues,

 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Our problem in Australia is that we don’t believe Jesus. We ’re unconvinced by his analysis, and that many of these heart attitudes are wrong. Jesus said, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). It’s true, we often justify our loves and actions and use all manner of social slogans to protect ourselves, and yet our social engineering projects are building communities that are deeply fractured and tearing. We are becoming proficient at identifying social ills,  but we are falling far short of adequate solutions. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our hearts, not of the girl or guy next to us, but our own hearts. But are willing to acknowledge what we discover? Without a gracious and merciful God, the Proverb will be true,

“At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed, and you will say, “How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction. (Proverbs 5:11-12)