Victoria to Outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 2)

In this second post, I am turning to the question of definition. How is conversion practice being defined and what should we think about it?

The definition which the Victorian Government is suggesting is the same as that offered by the HCC report. However, before offering a comment on the definition it is worthwhile highlighting this salient point which comes from the Government’s own website for the rather Orwellian sounding, “Department of Justice and Community Safety”.

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The Government justifies limiting religious freedom

The Government has admitted that it is prepared to further limit religious freedom.

“Both the HCC and HRLC Reports highlight that many modern LGBT conversion practices are religious rather than medical in nature in that they involve, or consist entirely of, pastoral and prayer activities. Manifestation of religious belief through religious practice is protected by the right to freedom of religion. This right to manifest is not absolute and a number of commentators argue that it is not clear that it extends to practices that seriously harm others. The impact of a ban of conversion practices on the right to freedom of religion may be justified given the nature and extent of the harm described in the HCC and HRLC Reports. Legislation to implement the government announced ban on conversion practices needs to demonstrate that it is necessary, effective, and proportionate to protect LGBT individuals from harm.”

To be clear, the Victorian Government is targeting religion, and specifically, the primary focus is on Christian churches, organisations, and denominations, as the material in the 2 reports exemplifies.

The intention is also clear: without any philosophical working, the Government has assumed that sexual rights are more important than religious rights. It is, of course, a false binary, for a person’s understanding of sexual morality is always attached to religious presuppositions. Sexual expression is an expression of one’s deepest convictions about God, the world, and the individual. Having said that, we mustn’t ignore the suggestion of harm, for the wellbeing of these Victorians is important. 

 

Classical Christian teaching defined as harmful

The Government is using the argument of harm in order to limit the freedom of religious groups. Certainly, we do not want any Victorians, including LGBTI Victorians, being harmed. It is important to hear that I am not disputing that some Victorians have been subjected to practices that have caused them all manner of distress and damage. It seems as though these have come about through good intentions, but funnelled through misleading understandings of Christian faith and psychology. The definition of harm, however (as expounded in the HCC and HRLC Reports) extends beyond certain practices which are found on the margins among some religious organisations. For example,

The HCC report includes under its understanding of harm,

“Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’”

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

Notice the attention given to Church teachings (as opposed to other religions who also identify homosexual practices as sinful). In other words, classical Christian teaching about sexuality is deemed to be harmful. According to the HCC, an exposition of Romans ch.1 or 1 Corinthians ch.6 would fall under the umbrella of harm. If a Church organises a marriage enrichment day where the Bible’s presentation of marriage is affirmed, this event could fall foul of harm. From weddings to Sunday sermons, from Bible study groups to counselling sessions, in contexts where sex outside of heterosexual marriage is spoken of as sinful or broken, the Health Complaints Commissioner identifies all of the above as harmful and therefore the State can justify limiting religious freedom.

I don’t know of anyone who would argue against protecting people from genuine harm. But dragging traditional Christian teaching and ethics into the ‘harm’ category diminishes the real harm that has been done to some Victorians. Is the Health Complaints Commissioner really proposing that the Government step in to control and redefine Christian belief and practice?

The Proposed Definition of Conversion Practice

Here is the suggested definition of conversion practice:

“(i) any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,

(ii) including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.”

The Government acknowledges that there are narrow and broad definitions available and that they have chosen to accept the broader definition that has been supplied by the HCC. It is important for the Government to explain why they are preferencing a broad definition rather than a narrow one. Also, why are they seeking to expand the definition even beyond the few international jurisdictions that have proceeded to ban conversion therapy?

Let’s be clear, the proposed definition of Conversion Practice is so broad that it includes more than a psychologist’s clinic or a counselling room.

The HRLC report wants included under the umbrella of conversion practice,

“pastoral care which includes (or claims to include) ‘counselling’, ‘healing’, claims about ‘curing’, ‘changing’ or ‘repairing’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or claims about improving a person’s mental or physical health, would likely still be classified as a health service, and the above regulations would apply.”

Indeed, the definition is so expansive that it may include sermons, Bible Studies, marriage courses, counselling, and prayer. Before a Government spokesman denies this is the case, let’s turn to the reports themselves.

Under the heading of, “RELIGIOUS CONVERSION THERAPY IN AUSTRALIA TODAY”,  the HRLC report refers to new forms of conversion practice, which include promoting self-control and abstinence.

“Instead, they are beginning to promote activities designed to help same-sex attracted people live chaste and celibate lives, in accordance with the sexual ethics of their religious traditions.”

As one academic in the field of gender studies has said to me in private, according to the above assertion, “self control is conversion therapy”. In one foul stroke, significant portions of the Bible would have to be removed.

The examples don’t end there. According to the same report, affirming the historical and biblical definition of marriage is also considered a form of conversion therapy,

“This ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture equates to a more sophisticated version of the old evangelical adage, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. LGBT conversion therapy is not prominently promoted. However, LGBT people worshipping in communities that present cisgendered heterosexual marriage as the only valid form of gender and sexual expression are positioned to repress and reject their LGBT characteristics and to seek reorientation.”

Without significant revision and clarification, the Government’s plan to outlaw Conversion Practices will be used by some to impede what are normal and deeply held convictions among our religious communities.

It should also be said that religious institutions have a responsibility to prevent practices/therapies that are genuinely harmful and wrong. While I cannot speak for other religions, I know that the aim of Christianity is not to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender. I’m reminded of the testimony given by Sam Allberry,

“I am same-sex attracted and have been my entire life. By that, I mean that I have sexual, romantic and deep emotional attractions to people of the same sex. I choose to describe myself this way because sexuality is not a matter of identity for me, and that has become good news,”

“My primary sense of worth and fulfillment as a human being is not contingent on being romantically or sexually fulfilled, and this is liberating,”

“The most fully human and compete person was Jesus Christ. He never married, was never in a romantic relationship, and never had sex. If we say these things are intrinsic to human fulfilment, we are calling our saviour subhuman. “

“I have met literally hundreds of Christians in my situation, and know of thousands more, who are same-sex attracted, and who joyfully affirm the traditional understanding of marriage being between a man and a woman, and the only Godly context for sex. If you do not hear from more of us, it is because it is really hard to stand up and describe ourselves in this way…”

The Bible 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 should remain within the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. I say all this while I can without fear of being pulled up before a tribunal or court for espousing ‘conversion therapy’!

The fact is, some people over time do change. It is not a Christian teaching that homosexuals ought to become heterosexuals or that transgender people will conform to their biological sex, but it does sometimes happen, and for these reports to ignore this fact is curious, to say the least.

Conversion by coercion or conversion by choice?

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

It is difficult not to see the Government’s grandstanding as somewhat duplicitous, given their proclivity to legislate in favour of gender and sex changes. On the one hand, the Government’s position here is that a person’s sexual orientation and gender cannot change, and supporting someone who wants to change is immoral and should be banned. On the other hand, only a few months ago the Victorian Parliament passed a Bill from the Government that gives Victorians permission to change the sex on their birth certificate, once every 12 months. And of growing concern to many people are Government policies which encourage children to transition their gender, something that State permits without parental permission and knowledge. There is growing consensus and concern amongst medical experts that these kinds of practices are indeed harmful and detrimental to the long-term physical and mental health of Victorian children.

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

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

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

As Jesus once said to a notable leader,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

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

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

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

Anger at Archbishop Glenn Davies for saying Anglicans should believe what Anglicans believe

Outrage is one of the few certainties of our age. At times there is a good reason for anger, sometimes it’s misguided, and sometimes it’s a rhetorical weapon used for avoiding sensible discourse and argument. And yes, for third parties watching on it can be difficult to discern what is what.

Predictable parts of the media and progressive Christians are today fuming at Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop because he believes Anglicans should be Anglican.

The line that has particularly infuriated people is this,

“My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of Scripture. Please leave us.

“We have far too much work to do in evangelising Australia to be distracted by the constant pressure to change our doctrine in order to satisfy the lusts and pleasures of the world.”

 

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Robyn Whitaker of Pilgrim Theological College tweeted in response,

There’s a redefinition of “Anglican” here that is terrifying and must be utterly rejected. Christianity has always tolerated a range of views. What is being advocated by @abpdavies is a fundamentalist cult.

First of all, Glenn Davies hasn’t redefined Anglican. He is doing what he’s supposed to do, namely upholding Anglican doctrine and practice, and calling out those who are creating fracture by introducing unAnglican ideas. Indeed, it is worth noting that at the very same event where Archbishop Davies gave this address, the Synod prayed for Jay Behan, a newly appointed Bishop over a new group of churches in New Zealand who have been forced to leave the Anglican Church of NZ because it has turned away from Anglican doctrine.

Whitaker’s use of language here is designed to paint Sydney Anglicans into a religious box where all fanatics and right-wing dangerous religious people belong. The reality is very different. Sydney Anglicans belong to mainstream and historic Christian faith which is practised by many other denominations in this country and across the world. You may not like or agree with the Sydney Anglican Diocese but calling them a cult is intellectually and morally disingenuous.  Whitaker suggests “Christianity has always tolerated a range of views.”. No, and yes. Christians throughout history have agreed on some things being tertiary, but many other beliefs and practices are primary, and agree on these is necessary for continued unity and fellowship. Despite her implication, Anglicanism (as with Christianity) isn’t an endless spectrum of alternate theologies, as though I can believe whatever I want about God and call myself Anglican. Anglicanism consists of concrete beliefs and practices, which include the 39 Articles, and more important, beliefs and practices that are grounded in the Bible. As Melbourne’s Ridley College (an Anglican college) recently, stated,

“We are convinced that the biblical vision for human sexuality is clear. We also believe that it is beautiful, and that God’s commands are for our good as well as for his glory. The traditional path may be a hard one to travel, but it is the one we are called to take.”

It is interesting to note in light of her tweet that Whitaker’s own denomination (the Uniting Church), is squeezing out evangelicals who hold to the classical view of marriage. An example of this was reported in The Australian last week.

Jarrod McKenna also tweeted,

“It’s Jesus’ church. You don’t get to ask those you disagree with to leave”

Yes, it is Jesus’ Church, and that’s the point. The Lord Jesus Christ establishes and defines the Church, not us. So when people come along and declare that they no longer agree with Jesus, it is incumbent upon Churches to point this out and call them to repent. Should they decline and persist in holding to erring ideas, they ought to leave. Glenn Davies is simply acknowledging the Bible’s own processes on this matter, and it also makes sense. I should add, there is a difference between someone wrestling with the Bible’s teaching and someone who rejects the Bible’s teaching. There is an important distinction between someone struggling with doubt as they come to terms with biblical ethics and someone with knowledge deciding to say no. There is a difference between a person who is exploring the faith and a leader who has decided that no longer adhere to church doctrine.*

For example, if a member of a sporting club decides that they no longer hold to the values of the club, it is a matter of integrity that they move elsewhere. If a member of a cricket club insists that they no longer want to play cricket, but instead want to redefine the club as a lacrosse society, the right thing to do is for them to move to a sporting club that plays lacrosse.

Last month I wrote the growing schism in the Anglican Communion and argued at the time, “Of what use is a doctrinal statement if churches can freely ignore or reject articles without consequence? Of what benefit is a definition of marriage if churches and pastors can circumvent the rules and pursue alternate avenues without disciplinary procedures both defined and enacted? These clergy and churches have either broken fellowship or they have not.”

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney is acting with pastoral awareness of the churches and is using commonsense.

If an Anglican no longer holds to Anglican beliefs and practices, they can no longer be described as Anglican in any meaningful way and so it’s a matter of integrity that one stops pretending to be so. If a football player changes clubs, it is inappropriate for them to wear the jumper of their previous club. Be honest about it and go support the team you’re now playing for.

I understand why some people don’t like what Glenn Davies has said. Some people may not agree with his views, but he is being consistent with the teaching and practice of Anglicanism (and indeed with that of Christian denominations around the world). As a leader of that Diocese, he has the responsibility under God to “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9), “to contend for the faith” (Jude 3), and “to keep watch over the flock” (Acts 20).

What especially grieves me amidst this ongoing issue is not only the way progressives publicly misconstrue the true nature of mainstream Christian Churches but the fact that they also misconstrue to everyday Aussies the good news of Jesus Christ. The Gospel doesn’t affirm 21st Century sexual ethics, it is offers something better, more astonishing and good.

If I may defer to Ridley College once more,

“We acknowledge that homosexuality is a difficult topic to discuss. This is not because the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is especially unclear, but because its implications are so deeply personal. We are Bible scholars, but we are also people. All of us have wrestled with God’s teaching on marriage on a personal level as it relates to those we love –  our children, our friends, those we pastor  –  and indeed to our own lives.

“We rejoice with the many gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted men and women in our churches who love Jesus and are quietly committed to following him on this path, trusting him with their whole lives even, and perhaps especially, with their sex lives. The church as a whole can learn much from their example about what following Jesus looks like as we await his return. Jesus calls us to give up our lives, take up our cross, and follow him no matter the cost. If, for some of us, life has become a little too comfortable, a little too much like the world, incurring too little a cost, then we might look to these celibate gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted saints whose lives can serve as a living, breathing sermon, an example to follow, and a reminder not only of the cost of following Jesus but also that he is worth giving up anything to follow.“

 

 


*It should be noted that the Archbishop’s comments were directed toward bishops and clergy of the Anglican Church. This is a distinction that the media is overlooking

Which Story of Children will our Society Esteem?

The way our society treats its children is a reflection of the gods we make and worship. The gods of Sepharvaim had an insatiable appetite in Ancient Babylon, requiring the sacrifice of the young. The Valley of Benn Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem, was a place of liberation in the Eighth Century BC. Children were offered up to the gods as a means to find personal freedoms and prosperity.  More revealing, the mistreatment of children is a sign of decaying society and failing religion.

Will we never learn the lessons from the past?

Two stunning revelations have been made over the weekend and yet neither are being reported by most Australian media. Truth and moral good ought to be relevant to our television news producers and newspaper editors but some truths are inconvenient to the prescribed narrative.

First of all, an interview went viral on social media with a BBC journalist being visibly shaken by the confessions of an abortion doctor in the United States. Not only did DR Leroy Carhart freely admit that the babies he kills are children, but he also explained how he refers to them as children in front of his patients. There is no hiding behind the disingenuous rhetoric of babies being a clump of cells or foetuses. When pressed about late term abortions, ‘does he perform abortions up until 38 weeks…39 weeks…’, he refused to answer.

Second, one of Australia’s major providers of abortion has acknowledged that they have no issue with gender-specific abortion. Phillip Goldstone, who is the Director of Marie Stopes, stated in a submission to the NSW Government’s inquiry into abortion,

“We do not support the inclusion of gender selection in the Bill and we strongly caution against amendments to the legislation as the issue of gender selection and termination of pregnancy is not grounded in evidence.

Further public debate or amendments on this issue has the potential to discriminate against multicultural and diverse communities in Australia and would unfairly target people who already face barriers in accessing abortion care.”

The narrative that our newspapers are presenting is that abortion is:

  1. The very difficult decision being made by courageous women
  2. Late term abortions are rare
  3. Gender selective abortion isn’t an issue

The problem with points 2 and 3 is that they are simply not true. What constitutes rare? 500 babies per annum? 300…200…100? Does rare constitute unimportant? I certainly hope not.

After the Bill passed the Legislative Assembly last week, Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, spoke up on the issue of gender selective abortion, suggesting,  “Everybody regards that as an abhorrent practice.”

Her words echo about the chamber that has just refused an amendment that would have prohibited gender selective abortion. The Assembly refused to protect vulnerable girls in the face of not only a moral imperative and commonsense but did so with evidence coming from Victoria that reveals gender based abortion is a fact in Australia. In Victoria, girls are more likely to be aborted than boys. And as Phillip Goldstone has made clear, this should be a viable option for women. The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Dr Goldstone last week but failed to ask him about why he refuses to back amendments that would ban gender selective abortion. 

It is astonishing to see that as the facts surrounding abortion come to light, notable social commentators and reporters, and even politicians, simply suppress or explain away and even ignore what is true. The truth is ghastly. It is truly horrendous. It is the determined killing of children with full knowledge of what is happening. What is more telling about a society’s soul than the way it treats children?

There is one truth that the media have conveyed, and that is how for many women, abortion is a moral dilemma. Circumstances surrounding pregnancy can be extremely difficult. We can empathise and we can help write a better story that shows good coming from choosing the harder road. There are organisations whose sole purpose is to care for and support women through unplanned or difficult pregnancies. There are many local churches who already support women through such situations, and gladly so. Australia has its Ahazes but also its Boazes and Josephs.

We ought to recognise and speak of the life supporting options and good that is found in local communities. The media’s commitment to facts, or lack thereof, reflects what they believe the public wants to hear. The media’s choice of storytelling reveals something of our society’s heart. Our politicians’ decisions speak back to us our own moral inclinations. What does our behaviour toward children suggest?

As a Christian, I like to give God the last word. In the 8th Century BC when the Valley of Benn Hinnom (known in the New Testament as Gehenna) was the scene of continual fire and burning of baby’s bodies, the righteous judge offered an extraordinary word of mercy. Even as I write I’m aware that some readers are going to ridicule these words with all manner of interesting and colourful language, but there is always someone for whom the crap in popular rhetoric doesn’t sway. Imagine a God who sees our choices and understands them and is appalled by them and yet offers redemption?

“I have made you, you are my servant;

    Israel, I will not forget you.

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,

    your sins like the morning mist.

…Return to me,

    for I have redeemed you.”“This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself, (Isaiah 44: 21b-22;24)

The Premier and an Archbishop and a Mediating Baptist

A war of words has broken out between the Victorian Government and the Roman Catholic Church. The Premier is bidding to outlaw the seal of the confessional while Catholic hierarchy is defending it as sacrosanct.

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First of all, I need to note an important correction to the Premier’s statement. Most ministers of most churches are required to report suspected child abuse, according to the rules of their own denomination. Indeed, mandatory reporting is practiced by Baptists across Victoria (and indeed, around the nation) and we want this to be the case. Even if it was not mandatory, we would still report suspected child abuse. It makes no sense not to do so.

The Confessional

Canon law states that”The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Any priest who breaks the seal is automatically excommunicated from the church. Only the Pope can overturn this.

Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli has come out and said that he would prefer to go to jail than break the seal of the confessional. While saying that he would encourage an offender to go to the police, he wouldn’t break the seal if they refused to do so.

At the moment I think both Archbishop Comensoli and Premier Daniel Andrews are missing the mark.

On the one hand, I commend Daniel Andrews for taking further action on this terrible issue. And yet his rhetoric about putting ‘children first’ rings a little hollow. There are those in the community who are concerned for all children and aggrieved by the fact that vulnerable children become hay in politicking. The Premier’s record demonstrates that he often puts ideology first. For example, he ensured that an amendment to the Abortion Law Reform Act was defeated, a step which would have protected children from late-term abortion. Also, the rebirth of the birth certificate bill puts children at risk. In 2016 he introduced an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act which would have stripped religious organisations, schools, and churches, of their freedom to insist that employees adhere to the doctrinal and ethical convictions of their religious institution.

At the same time, the issue of child sexual abuse has exposed a theological flaw in Catholic dogma, as well as a moral one. The Confessional grew out of an inflated and unbiblical notion of the priesthood. One could enter into a long discussion here about the historical and theological premises the lay behind the seal of the confessional, but in short, this is not a practice encouraged by or mandated in the Bible. Indeed, it clearly conflicts with the teaching of the New Testament Church.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5).

No priest can absolve another person’s sins, let alone their own. We can certainly confess our own sins to those whom we have offended and to ask for their forgiveness. There is a place for corporate confession to God. But no priest can represent God and absolve another’s sin. We can listen to others and offer advice, but we cannot stand as Divine judge over a person and officiate Divine forgiveness or judgment. 

As a member of the community who is not Roman Catholic, one of the things that continues to concern me is how Archdiocese’s rhetoric continues to signal the wrong message; namely that they do not truly take child sexual abuse seriously. As a father of three children, this sickens me and makes me empathise with those who no longer trust religious institutions. I wish to say that the real Jesus is safe and good, and many churches are safe and wonderful places to investigate and come to terms with the greatest realities of life. But this immense positive is often lost in the face of due public scrutiny of institutions who have failed our children.

The Conscience and the Government

As I consider the debate, there are broader questions that should not be ignored. We mustn’t overlook for example these two further considerations: the conscience, and the role of Government. The conscience of individuals is important, even when we disagree with their religious views. The conscience is, of course, not God or infallible The Bible acknowledges that the conscience can be seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). However, we should be slow to stamp our own conscience on others.

We must also be wary of Government intrusion into religious practices. Do we really want Government dictating what are and are not valid religious convictions? I am not supporting the Roman Catholic Church’s position; I find it reprehensible. But neither do I believe it is right or healthy for the Government to interfere with a church’s traditional teaching. The issue is further complexed because Daniel Andrews is right in suggesting that religious leaders are not and should not be outside the law. In my view, both Mr Andrews and the Catholic Archbishop are throwing speech bombs at each other rather than working toward a solution.

A potential solution

Perhaps the most sensible solution that I have seen thus far comes from the words of a progressive Muslim, Waleed Aly. I don’t think it’s foolproof by any measure, but at least it is an offering in the right direction In 2018, writing for the New York Times, Aly rightly notes that a law, such as the one being proposed today, will fail because the consequences facing a priest who breaks the confessional are far greater than those imposed by the State. In addition, given the nature of the confessional, it is unlikely that those sealed revelations made by abusers will be uncovered by authorities.

“the royal commission reported on testimony from several priests who said, in the words of one, that a priest hearing confessions “has always been required to have at least ‘moral certitude’ of the penitent’s contrition and purpose of amendment before granting absolution.”

Accordingly, the commission’s said that “a priest can defer granting absolution until the act of satisfaction” has been carried out. For example, the report says, a confessed abuser would not be forgiven by a priest unless he reports himself to the police. Several priests told the commission that this is exactly what priests hearing confession should do.

This approach is far more likely to curtail reoffending than any attempt to compromise the institution of the confessional. It certainly addresses the commission’s finding that the easy availability of absolution contributes to reoffending. It would increase the likelihood that abusers will go to the authorities since it is the only way they can receive forgiveness.

And since keeping the state out of the confession booth wouldn’t require priests to commit an excommunicable offense, it is far more likely to be applied than a law that extends mandatory reporting into the confessional booth.”

Waleed Aly has offered an alternative, which may work. This position will remain distasteful for many Christians because it upholds a practice that undermines the sole and sufficient mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. This is an unnecessary tradition and one that gives false assurances to those who make use of the confessional. The confessional remains a box in which a man presumes the role of God. At yet, could Aly’s proposal allow conscience to be preserved and hold back undue Governmental interference into religious doctrinal matters?

I am calling on the Melbourne Archdiocese to re-evaluate their unsound and unethical practice of confessional seal. And I call on the Government to work harder to provide a workable and important solution to protect our children. Indeed, much good has come from this evil in recent years and I pray that we continue on this road.

The Uniting Church of Victoria/Tasmania votes to use Euthanasia

The Uniting Church has been chasing after the culture ever since its creation in 1977. While there are evangelical churches and ministers within Australia’s 3rd largest Protestant denomination, they are relatively few, and these have been engaging in formal discussions to review their association within the denomination. If the final nail in the coffin hadn’t already been laid, surely it has after today’s proceedings.

Today, the Uniting Church (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania), voted in support of motions to allow euthanasia in their agencies.

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In a statement released on their website we read,

“Key points from the resolution included:

There was a range of faithful Christian responses to voluntary assisted dying.

Exploring, accessing and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying were all within the range of faithful Christian responses to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

To give permission within Victoria to UCA institutions (Uniting Vic.Tas and Uniting AgeWell) and the UCA-affiliated hospital group Epworth HealthCare to make voluntary assisted dying allowable within the context of their facilities and services for their patients, clients and residents.

Moderator Rev Denise Liersch said afterwards: “The decision was made after a long period of careful consideration, discussion, and prayer.

“As followers of Jesus, we affirm that all human life is precious and has God-given dignity.

“We believe allowing voluntary assisted dying in our agencies, under the constraints of the legislation, is consistent with this belief.

“The Synod will prepare pastoral responses and resources that reflect the Synod’s decision.

“The Synod acknowledged that exploring, accessing, and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying was within the range of faithful Christian responses to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.

“As outlined in the legislation, any individual in our agencies or Church members may act in accordance with their own conscience in this matter.

“I was impressed with the way in which the Synod members grappled with this issue openly, honestly and faithfully with its theological and practical implications.”

 

Let’s get our heads around the moderator’s assertion, “in the name of Jesus…voluntary assisted dying in our agencies, under the constraints of the legislation, is consistent with this belief”.

‘In the name of Jesus’, we support the killing of terminally ill human beings?! What a disgrace to attach Christ’s name to such an ignominious and evil practice. 

It doesn’t matter how much they couch the decision in terms of careful discussions or extended times of prayer and thought, or listening to ‘expert’ panels, a wrong decision is still a wrong decision. This is not the first controversial decision to be made by the Uniting Church. In 2018 the Uniting Church (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania) adopted same-sex marriage. With an unsurprising congruity, a denomination known for its ‘liberal theology’ is quickly falling into line with mainstream positions on many social issues, including calling for the decriminalisation of illicit drugs, and vocal support of abortion among some of its leaders, including the Victorian Synod’s bioethics committee. The very trajectory designed to make their churches more inclusive is, in fact, making them redundant. Why become Christian and join a Church if Christianity simply mirrors the worldview I already hold? According to the 2016 Census, the Uniting Church is one of the fastest declining denominations in the country, losing around 22% members since 2011 (almost 200,000 people). There is little doubt that the direction will continue.

The Uniting Church has already littered the landscape with graves where there were once churches, and now they are giving consent for their health agencies to sanction euthanasia. It is one thing for a Government to legalise euthanasia, but for an association of Christian churches to stand together and vote in favour of their own agencies to allow this practice? And then have the audacity to attach the name of Jesus to this?

As I pastor I am not immune to the terrible suffering people experience, including among some who have a terminal illness. As a member of the community, I’m not blind to awful suffering experienced by friends and family. No one wants people suffering, and yet there is a line we ought not to cross, namely sanctioning the killing of human beings because they are ill. Hundreds of medical professionals urged the Victorian Parliament not to accept this legislation, but instead provide proper funding to palliative care. Sadly their concerns and appeals were ignored. 

This is State sanctioned suicide which has now become Church approved suicide. When Churches decide that handing out lethal pills to patients is in accord with the Christian faith, it is clear that they have long deserted the faith and are now following a very different religion to the one taught in the Scriptures. The fruit of today’s decision may lead to the deaths of vulnerable people who are using Uniting Church health facilities. It is hard to grasp how such fruit can ever be equated with the work of the Holy Spirit or with a Christian Church. The careful use of doublespeak, i.e. giving employees freedom of conscience on this issue, does not remove the force of the Synod’s decision. The same tactic was employed in last year’s marriage debate. 

No doubt there will be Christians within the Uniting Church of Victoria/Tasmania who are tonight grieving this decision. These brothers and sisters need our prayers as they discern what to do.  Many other Christians share their grief tonight and we ask for God’s mercy. 

 

 


Update July 15: A few people have responded to the article, saying that the Uniting Church has not accepted euthanasia, but rather VAD (voluntary assisted dying). First of all, euthanasia is the big umbrella term, with VAD being one form of euthanasia. Second, voluntary assisted dying is a disingenuous term that seeks to cover the reality, which is, it is voluntary assisted suicide. I believe it is important for churches to have integrity and to name things accurately.

Netball Australia sets the right tone for civil disagreement

The Israel Folau saga is reaching new levels of the ridiculous. It now seems as though it’s an enormous issue for Maria Folau to support her husband publicly.

Maria Folau is a star of International netball, representing New Zealand and playing for the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

What did she say that was so terrible and controversial?

She wrote a single word on her Instagram account, “Support”, along with reposting her husband’s statement where he explained why he was pursuing legal action and how people could support the costs, should they wish to do so.

 

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Netball Australia and Netball S.A succumbed to public pressure (or in this case, I think they preempted the coming tsunami) and released a statement in support of Maria Folau. They made it clear that they were not agreeing with Israel Folau’s views, but also that Maria had not breached any rules.

It is important to quote the following statement in full.

Statement by CEO of Netball South Australia – Ms. Bronwyn Klei

First and foremost, I want to be very clear that Netball South Australia is fiercely determined to provide an inclusive environment that allows anyone to participate in the great game of netball regardless of gender, religious belief, age, race or sexual orientation.

We also believe in fairness and perspective.

Like millions of other people across Australia, Maria Folau uses her personal social media platform to share her life and beliefs with her family, friends, and fans. This week, she shared her husband’s controversial Go-Fund-Me post.

While Netball SA in no way endorses the reposting, we do not believe Maria has contravened our social media policy.

Maria is a key member of the Thunderbirds. Not only has she provided great strength and leadership on court, she attends and works with netballing clinics, spends a lot of time with fans, engages with local communities and passionately encourages young kids with their netball dreams. We continue to support her as we support all our players.

To the thousands of people that play netball across South Australia every week:

Netball SA is not endorsing Maria’s repost.

Netball SA is committed to diversity and inclusion.

Netball SA and the Adelaide Thunderbirds support and encourage everyone wanting to play this great game.

And finally, we want to get out on that court today, play a great game of netball and win this game.

Media requests and further information please contact Grays Public Relations:

Cathy McHugh
0412 515 819
cathy@grayspr.com.au

 

My daughter plays netball.  I for one appreciate this public statement. Australian netball has acted wisely and impartially, taking what only a few years ago would have been considered a sensible and reasonable course. But of course, we no longer live in such a culture.

Liz Ellis, a former Australian netball Captain, responded,

“Yeah nah not good enough. How about this: There is no room for homophobia in our game. Anyone who is seen to support or endorse homophobia is not welcome.”

We are left wondering, what would Liz Ellis like to see happen? Does she believe that Maria Folau should be sanctioned or suspended? Does Ellis expect Netball Australia and the Adelaide Thunderbirds to publicly denounce Maria Folau for supporting her husband? Is this what family members should expect in the future?

Once again, a lot hangs on the interpretation of Israel Folau’s original comments. Liz Ellis is among those who assume it is ‘homophobia’. Let the reader understand, under this assumed language (that is by the way never defined or articulated), the Bible itself and Christianity would need to be defined as ‘homophobic’, for Israel Folau was simply paraphrasing parts of the Bible. Indeed, thousands of sermons in normal Christian churches throughout Australia would fall under this category every month, even though none of the preachers or congregations are fearful of or hateful toward people who identify as homosexual. Indeed, they welcome and are close friends with people who identify across the sexuality spectrum. Sometimes we forget, Churches are not communities for the self-righteous but for sinners, as Jesus himself put it.

Indeed, in the moral blitzkrieg that’s sweeping Australia, the Apostle Paul would find himself tarred and feathered. John the Baptist? We know what happened to him when he challenged the marriage of Herod! And Jesus? I can already hear the Aussie crowd yelling out, “Crucify him, crucify him”.

That’s the problem. There used to be an ethical category called loving disagreement which was employed regularly by Jesus Christ, the Apostles and by most Christians ever since (granted that Christians have sometimes failed in this regard).  This was about presenting an alternate position not because you thought less of another person or because you carried a dislike for them, and neither was the problem one of ignorance. Rather, out of concern that they were exercising a lifestyle that you believe is harmful or disadvantageous to their spiritual or social wellbeing. Indeed this ethical framework can still be found in use today in some quarters of society, for example among friends or with parents explaining to a child that their choices are not particularly good or helpful.

Loving disagreement has largely been bullied out of the public square, but others have at least wanted to hold onto civil disagreement, but even this is too much for the authoritarian secularists who wish to use sexuality as a weapon against religious thought and speech.

Liz Ellis’ comment, which has been retweeted and quoted thousands of times since Sunday afternoon, reinforces the narrow but now mainstream view that only certain religious beliefs should be freely expressed in the public space. Such beliefs are no longer defined by religious institutions or by a sacred book, but by self-appointed moral elitists who insist that all society conforms to the rigid sexual ethic that they have created. This is somewhat problematic because their grid is constantly changing and being redefined according to how many letters need adding, and even then we are now discovering that L and T have turned in on each other. Lesbians are now finding themselves being chewed and spat out of organisations because they find problematic men who identify as women. One of tennis’ all-time great players, Martina Navratilova, was sacked earlier in the year from her role as ambassador to an LGBT group for raising concerns about this issue.

Netball Australia has suggested a return to the centre, to at least try and resurrect the notion of civil disagreement. Well done to netball for exposing Rugby Australia’s overreach and for modeling to Australians are sensible and reasonable course. It reminds of the stance the Carlton Football Club took during the marriage plebiscite. They issued a statement in which they said,

“As a Club, we respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue, but we do strongly reinforce our Club’s absolute commitment to equality – and a community that is free from any form of discrimination.”

The response was instant and vitriolic.

It will be interesting to see what further backlash will come upon Netball in Australia because of the stance they have made. We may well hope that their example will encourage other sporting codes and organisations to also stand for fairness and neutrality, but one suspects a whistle has already been purchased from Sportsmart and self-appointed referees are about to blow that whistle and shout that there’s been a court violation and send Netball into the magistrate’s office for re-education.

 

 


June 26: Liz Ellis has written a piece for Fairfax in which she clarifies her tweet & so it’s only fair to include a link here – https://www.theage.com.au/sport/netball/super-netball-and-thunderbirds-missed-a-chance-with-folau-statement-20190625-p52112.html

Israel Folau decision may set a course for the future

Christians across Australia have been given a message, “don’t commit social blasphemy” and “be careful if you choose to use the Bible”.

After three days of deliberations, a three person panel has found Israel Folau guilty of a “high level breach” of Rugby Australia’s player code of conduct.  Not that the outcome was much in doubt, given that Rugby Australia and the Waratah’s had bypassed due process and instead announced to the nation that Folau’s contract was terminated and that he would never be selected again to play for his country or club. Last night’s verdict was little more than a formality.

 

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Whatever Izzy’s motives may have been for posting on social media, he has forced onto the national stage an issue that has been pulled and tugged and tested in quieter situations from the East Coast to the West; can a pure form of Christian beliefs be permitted in the public space?

What was his offence? It is believed that Israel Folau declined to sign a document in addition to the standard players’ contract, which would have placed greater restrictions on his use of social media. He did, however, sign his contract, which presumably includes a clause about adhering to the players Code of Conduct. He has been found guilty of a “high level breach” of the Rugby Code of Conduct. This breach hangs on a subjective interpretation of Part 2 Article 1.3, “Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.”  Interpretation of this clause depends on one’s a priori beliefs and moral framework, and in this case the panel have deemed that summarising 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is a “high” form or harassment, even though the point of that passage is quite the opposite, and so too the meaning of Folau’s post.

Legal experts are expressing concerns over the handling of the issue. Professor Nicholas Aroney has interpreted the allegations against Folau with reference to International law. He explains that

“ [What] Folau has said is not an example of hate speech, and he should not lose his rugby career as a result.” Indeed, he reminds us of the broader framework in which Folau has posted comments, “In addition to repeatedly expressing his love and acceptance of all people, Folau has confessed to having committed many of the sins about which he now warns his readers. This makes it difficult to attribute any intention on his part to advocate hatred against these classes of people, for he numbers himself amongst them”

Setting aside legal questions (which I will certainly leave to those who legal expertise) what is clear is that Rugby Australia and the social commentators who’ve joined the scrum have defined ‘orthodox’ religion. Whether Rugby Australia realise it or not, they have taken a theological stand on Israel Folau and have determined to define what is and isn’t acceptable religious belief and speech. Remember, Folau was quoting the Bible and summarising basic Christian teaching.

Yes, as I and others have said a thousand times, Folau’s comments were not seasoned with grace and kindness. They appeared blunt and insensitive, much like a Rugby footballer. Was his manner lacking? Probably, yes. Were his words untrue to 2000 years of Christian belief? No.

Footballers have been forgiven for all manner of social and even criminal offences over the last few years; have we forgotten what some NRL and AFL players have been embroiled in the last few years. But Israel Folau isn’t to be forgiven.

And what of the teammates who have spoken out in support of Folau and have even agreed with his post? Surely Rugby Australia can’t afford to lose any more players before the World Cup? Is Folau to be a sacrificial lamb, served up to warn others of what might happen should they transgress again?

Let’s not be fools, Christians and non-Christians alike are praised for quoting the Bible when they squeeze it to fit with progressive social agendas. Kristina Keneally wasn’t removed from the Labor Party after quoting the Bible against Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Peter FitzSimons hasn’t been sacked by Fairfax for repeatedly speaking of Jesus Christ? Why not? Because their speech falls into the rut of the cultural narrative, no matter how poor their handling of Christian texts may be.

Lest we conclude that this story will soon be forgotten as a blip on the cultural radar, Rugby Australia’s stance may well soon find legislative legs. The Australian Labor Party (as the Greens have already done) have announced that they are considering expanding “anti-discrimination legislation to shield gay and transgender ­people from harmful speech if elected, in a move that has alarmed lawyers and free-speech advocates.”

“When prejudice against LGBTIQ people contributes to harassment by the written or ­spoken word, such harassment causes actual harm, not simply mere offence, to people who have suffered discrimination and prejudice, and causes particular harm to young same-sex-attracted, gender-questioning or intersex people.

“Labor considers such harmful harassment is an unacceptable abuse of the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech and must be subject to effective sanctions. Labor will ensure that anti-discrimination law provides such effective sanction.”

Depending on how the language of ‘harm’ is understood, all manner of reasonable speech may be found on the wrong side of the law. For example, former rugby league player, Ian Roberts, last week alleged that comments like those of Israel Folau play a role in teenage kids committing suicide as they come to terms with their sexuality

“There are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves — and I say that with the greatest sense of respect — I’m not implying that Israel’s responsible solely for that, please don’t take it that way.

“But it’s these types of comments and these off the cuff remarks, when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it, these types of remarks can and do push people over the edge.”

If explaining the Christian view of sexuality is deemed to be a trigger for teenage suicide, we can anticipate further public outrage and potential legislation that will restrict and prohibit words that conform to and explain the Christian message. One might respond by pointing out that thousands of Christians are killed every year simply because they are Christian, therefore we must not limit or silence Christians freedom to speak their beliefs. If we are to be morally and logically consistent, Robert’s argument works in different directions. Leaving that aside, Roberts’ comments could be taken offensively by some Christians because we too are concerned for the wellbeing of teenagers. It is good to be reminded that these conversations are not merely academic or theoretical but they relate to real people who matte. We can thank Ian Roberts for this reminder.  No one wants teenagers despairing of their worth and believing they are unloved. I am reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, a woman who’s sexual past was complicated, to say the least. Jesus didn’t affirm or applaud her but he did love her and speak a powerful word of compassion and hope to her.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life….The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”… Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:13-14, 25-26)

In the midst of all the myriad of questions and issues relating to the Folau case, it is important to repeat an observation that was made last month: while Folau’s offending posts are in line with orthodox Christian teaching, he has on other occasions suggested a troubling view of the Trinity. He appears to advocate Oneness theology, which contradicts the Creeds and the very Scriptures themselves. This matters because it would be unwise to use Folau as a poster for Australian Christianity should he not subscribe to one of the most basic of Christian doctrines. It would be unwise and unChristian for Christians to pedestal Israel Folau while knowing he may well reject an even more foundational belief. As I suggested at the time, it may well be the case that Folau is like many Christians who are confused about and fuzzy on the Trinity. At the very least, this is a reminder as to why it is incumbent upon Pastors to teach the Bible clearly and faithfully in order to aid their congregations to understand such crucial doctrines.

The controversy over Israel Folau was not the first case and it is far from being the last. School children in Victoria are force-fed gender theories which are often unsupported by science and best medical practice, and many families have already felt pressured to leaving the public system and forced to pay the expense of independent schooling because of this Governmental pressure in Victoria. We can expect more corporations and organisations falling for the kinds of pressures that have been exposed by the Folau situation. Australia is moving toward introducing limitations on religious freedom that we see in parts of Europe and in Canada. We are heading closer toward the situation found in China, whereby Christians cannot join a political party and they cannot speak openly about Christianity and churches must be approved of by the State. This isn’t hyperbole, this is the natural progression of authoritarian secularism who will use the sexual revolution and identity politics to push all but their sanitised version of religion out of the public square.

A culturally palatable Christianity will entail deleting most Bible verses, any references to hell and to judgment, removing the core of the faith which is the atonement, and of course, we must let go of any teaching about marriage and sex and the roles of women and men. We will be left with a very tiny Bible and one that makes little sense, and one that has no power to give life and hope to this world.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That saying of Jesus will need to go. So too will Jesus’ introductory summary of his ministry, ““The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Anything that challenges personal autonomy and freedom to define self realisation cannot be tolerated.

I have said it before, Christians need to start taking Jesus’ words seriously, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” We cannot afford to give up gentleness and compassion, grace and kindness, for these are indispensable attributes of the Gospel we claim to believe. We cannot respond to cultural shifts with hate but with enduring love because God has loved us. However, we have to accept the fact that loving others will not always be read as love because today’s secularist police will not permit views that transgress their narrow understanding of righteousness. Don’t give up on love, and don’t sacrifice truth and goodness for doing so means that we have also evacuated love from the picture.

If Christianity’s demise in Australia has been party due to Christianity’s seducement by the culture, then perhaps the clarifying disjunction between Church and culture will aid believers to regain Gospel convictions, compassion, and expectations. After all, it was communist China that created a moral and epistemic environment which catalyzed the explosion of Christianity and the conversion of 10s of millions of Chinese.  We may be disappointed by indicative direction Australian public life may be taking and the ramification this may have for our job security, education, and financial stability, but we are hopeful and joyful because Jesus Christ remains true and good today as ever. And by the grace of God, over time some our Aussie neighbours may come to realise that we are not against them but for them and have a message of hope that we alter their lives in the most satisfying and liberating fashion.