Cheers for North Korea and Condemnation for Barnaby Joyce

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:3)

 

We live in strange and disturbing times.

Many in the  media are drooling over the North Korean women’s cheer squad and fawning over Kim Jong-un’s sister, and they are also salivating at Barnaby’s Joyce’s affair.

The first is insane: young women who have perfected synchronised smiles, cheering, and songs, while their families back home probably have a gun to their heads. Kim Yo-jong is being touted as the next saviour of the world. Forget the fact that she represents one of the most evil and oppressive regimes in the world, suppressing and murdering staggering numbers of people. Instead, The Age has painted her as the enlightened diplomat who outshone those dreadful Americans,

“When the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, decided to send a large delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea this month, the world feared he might steal the show.

If that was indeed his intention, he could not have chosen a better emissary than the one he sent: his only sister, Kim Yo-jong, whom news outlets in the South instantly dubbed “North Korea’s Ivanka,” likening her influence to that of Ivanka Trump on her father, President Donald Trump.

Flashing a sphinx like smile and without ever speaking in public, Kim managed to outflank Trump’s envoy to the Olympics, Vice-President Mike Pence, in the game of diplomatic image-making.

While Pence came with an old message – that the United States would continue to ratchet up “maximum sanctions” until the North dismantled its nuclear arsenal – Kim delivered messages of reconciliation as well as an unexpected invitation from her brother to the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.”

While the media are mesmerised by the not so mythical Sirens of North Korea, they also can’t get enough of Barnaby Joyce’s sex life. No doubt there is barn full of political hay making at work behind the scenes, but I also think that there is warrant for reporting this story. First of all, there are legitimate questions surrounding Mr Joyce’s new partner’s employment in his ministerial office and concerning his use of tax-payer funded trips to Canberra when Parliament was not sitting. Second, there are moral questions relating to Barnaby Joyce’s character and thus his ability to serve as Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister.

 

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As Australians consider this latest political story, here are three thoughts that I think are worth mentioning:

Firstly, marriage is both private and public

One can try to imagine the pressures associated with public life: extraordinarily long working weeks, considerable time away from home, constant political and media scrutiny.  A few moments tiredness while sitting in the chamber and snap, tomorrow’s headline photo with caption, “Prime Minister growing weary in the top job”. 

The end of Bill Shorten’s first marriage and his ensuing relationship with Chloe Bryce (whom he married one year later) received media attention at the time. In 2012,  Mr Shorten spoke out, saying, “personal lives and families should be off limits.”

Marriage is incredibly personal and private, and yet it is also a public institution. Marriage is a way in which society self-defines and divides according to family units. Governments involve themselves in marriage because of children—to safeguard children so that they may be raised by their biological parents, except in unfortunate and extreme circumstances. The question is, to what extent should the personal life of our politicians remain private?

I err on the side of Mr Shorten and believe that we should respect their privacy, as we expect others to respect our privacy. Too often, salacious news and gossip about public figures dominates the news, and as the public we are responsible, because we are the ones who are intoxicated by the fountain of scandal. Having said that, there are circumstances where knowledge of personal circumstances is relevant. For example, their private life exhibits significant character and moral failing, such that it would cause people to distrust them or that it would impede their ability to do their job properly.

Second, love is not always love

At an event in 2016, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, suggested while speaking to the topic of same sex marriage that “it is not right to judge another person’s love”.

And yet the Canberra gallery is choked with opinion, judging Barnaby Joyce’s love, and the corridors of Parliament carry the whispers of others who are using the revelations to plot his political down fall.

Don’t mishear me, I think adultery is a terrible sin. It destroys marriages and families, and even careers and friendships. Adultery and casual relationships may be given kudos in television sitcoms and in Rom Coms, but in the real world, it hurts. Adultery isn’t wrong because of the potential consequences, there are consequences because it is wrong. Barnaby Joyce has acted immorally and repugnantly toward his wife, children, and toward his new partner. What is absurd however, are some of the voices who are calling Joyce a hypocrite, not because the charge is baseless, but because in making the accusation they are betraying their own standards.

For the last two years the nation has been marched into line by the drumming of those slogans, ‘love is love’ and ‘love equality’. I have been told that a person’s love is no one else’s business, no one has a right to judge someone else’s relationships. The suggestion has even been given that religion should stay out of marriage.

It’s been less than two months, but it appears as though someone has already dumped those placards into the recycling bin. Boy oh boy, how quick the media and leftist advocates have been to challenge and rip apart Joyce’s new found love.

Clementine Ford wrote in The Age,

“And so it turns out that not only is Barnaby Joyce a shocking hypocrite, he’s also a repulsive cliche.

The Deputy Prime Minister may have spent years defending the institution of “traditional marriage” from same-sex couples, but he’s carefully avoided applying his moral code to his own marriage of 24 years…This is where the cliche comes in. Because really, a 50-year-old man leaving his wife to start again with a 33-year-old isn’t a love story. It’s a midlife crisis.”

I happen to think that Clementine Ford could be right; Joyce may have caught that potentially deadly disease, known as the mid-life crisis. Ford calling Joyce out for hypocrisy is also fair, given his recent defence of marriage. 

However, you can’t have it both ways: either ‘love is love’ or it’s not. Either the only qualification for a sexual relationship is consent or there is more to it. You can’t work to liberate love from the supposed narrow parameters of heterosexual marriage, and then denounce a man for beginning a relationship with a woman who isn’t his wife. Are we going to let others enjoy their version of love, or are we going to own up to the fact that the insistent sloganeering of recent times was false advertising? Perhaps adultery is always wrong. Perhaps having sex with someone outside marriage is wrong. Perhaps casual sex isn’t such a good idea.

Third, Fidelity matters

If there is one lesson we can relearn from the past week, it is, faithfulness matters. Infidelity hurts. I can’t imagine what Barnaby Joyce’s wife and children must be going through at this time, especially due to the very public nature of Joyce’s betrayal. I trust they are being embraced by loving family and friends through all this.

Moral failings among leaders are far too common. Should we be so surprised? They are just like us. And yet we expect so much more of them, and indeed such expectations are important. Leaders ought to set an example for the rest of us. They should lead lives that demonstrate the values that we as a people wish to cultivate and be measured against. This is certainly true of Churches. While a Pastor is no more Christian than any other, having no greater access to God than the least in his congregation, and yet the Scriptures make it clear that character matters. Intellect and skills are important, but character is of greater worth. Should we follow a leader whom we cannot trust? Is it prudent for us to hold political representatives in office when their families have been betrayed? 

“Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)

 

As I rummage about the street to pick up a stone, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, words that dismantle our hypocrisy, words that don’t minimise the weight of wrongdoing, and words that offer grace, and it is with this message that I want to finish.

On one occasion with a crowd gathered, a group of men brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. Jesus first spoke a word to the crowd,

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”

With no one coming forward, Jesus turned to the woman and said

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REVIEW SUBMISSION

The Religious Freedom Review was commissioned by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in November 2017. Below is a copy of my submission.

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I am writing this submission as a father of 3 children, as a Minister of a Church, and as one who has the privilege to regularly counsel people in the broader community, including members of both State and Federal Parliaments. I wish to communicate not only my personal observations, but also some of the concerns that are being shared with me in relation cultural shifts in Australia that are leading to reduced religious freedom.

Intent to curb religious freedoms

These concerns are not ethereal and without warrant.  There is a growing sway of social commentators, politicians, and civic leaders who are demonstrating intent to reduce religious freedoms in our nation.

For example,

Auberry Perry, in The Age (Sept. 3, 2017),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4, 2017),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Jane Caro recently published an article for The Saturday Paper (December 23, 2017), in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

Recently, a group of notable Australian academics and journalists launched the National Secular Lobby, a group whose purpose is to remove religious beliefs from playing any role in Australian political life. While they refer to, “not allowing religious doctrine to influence our national laws”, their agenda is clearly broader.

Their list of ambitions includes,

• remove tax exemptions to “for-profit” Church businesses, their non-charitable properties, investments, and assets.

• remove prayers, religious icons and rituals from all “secular” public institutions, including all tiers of governments.

• remove single-faith religious instruction from schools; promote and teach “philosophical ethics” and “critical thinking”.

• abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program and replace chaplains with experienced professional counsellors.

• select Rationalists for boards/panels, based on “ethics”, not Church leaders who claim to be society’s “moral voice”.

The National Secular Lobby has posited a definition of secularism that is historically incorrect. The secularism which shaped Australian history and is expressed in our constitution never meant that politics and public life should be free of religious ideas, but rather it ensured that the State is not controlled by any single religious denomination. As Dr Michael Bird notes in the 2016 article, Whose Religion? Which Secularism? Australia Has a Serious Religious Literacy Problem, the parameters of secularism have been redefined, “no longer as the freedom of the individual in religion, but as the scrubbing of religion from all public spheres.”

The intent of this new version of secularism is clear: it is not ideologically neutral, but is driven to control religious and public life and policy, and to remove those religious beliefs that won’t conform to their socialist leaning and atheistic worldview.

Examples of hampering religious expression and freedom in Australia

There is clear intent to reduce and even remove religious freedom from Australia. The problem is not limited to vocalised intent, but there are already substantive examples showing up across our society, especially in the State of Victoria. I wish to highlight examples that I have been personally involved with and/or have addressed elsewhere in a public forum.

In the area of public education:

Over the last three years many Victorian families have been forced to reconsider public education, and indeed, have felt obliged to remove their children because of a swathe of anti-religious policies introduced by the Daniel Andrews Government. Many families have come to me for counsel, and as a parent with 3 children I am sympathetic to their concerns

In 2015, the Daniel Andrews Government issued a ban on religious education classes in schools, except under very strict conditions which most schools are not in a position to provide. These weekly opt-in classes have been valued by hundreds of schools and thousands of families, for generations now. My children’s local primary school had a consistent high intake and enthusiastically encouraged the program to continue every year. They are no longer able to offer these classes. The Government then issued a curriculum to replace SRI classes: Respectful Relationships. This new curriculum is compulsory and does not teach religion, but is designed to teach gender fluid theory to children, and to encourage them to explore sexuality. [1]

Not only has the State Government removed a once cherished option to study religion in school, children are forced to participate in (and indeed to affirm) programs that at times contradict deeply held religious convictions and morality. This is resulting in many families believing that they can no longer send their children to public schools. This often comes at a tremendous cost to families, and sometimes parents don’t have the option of enrolling their children into a Christian or private school.

In the area of employment:

One of the more ardent attempts to remove religious freedoms came in 2016, when the Victorian Government proposed an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act. This shift would have given the Government greater authority over religious organisations, including churches, schools, and charities. In effect, religious organisations would have had to demonstrate to a Government appointed tribunal, why their employees must adhere to the religious values of their Church or school. While this Bill failed at the final hurdle (by a single vote in the Victorian Legislative Council), it is revealing that a Government in our nation had the audacity and believed it had sufficient public support, to act against religious freedom.

Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions. The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 crossed that line.

Firstly, why did the legislation target religious groups? The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act would not have impacted any social or political groups, only religious ones. As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. It is therefore reasonable to ask, what was the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?

The scope of the legislation was not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extended to “differing religious beliefs”. In other words, the Government would have had the power to stop a church or religious organisation from rejecting applicants on the basis of them adhering to a different religion.

Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumed that Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ. This test was a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.

Premier Daniel Andrews stated at the time, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.” This move however counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and would have set up the situation whereby a Government could impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who did not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.

Thirdly, the test assumed that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, would have had the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”

But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?

The legislation assumed that some jobs in a church (or mosque or religious school) can be considered religious and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?

It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God. 

As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?

Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

In the area of societal conversation:

In my view, the Coopers Beer saga symbolises the shift against religious toleration in Australia.The initial scene looked innocent enough; the Bible Society sponsored a video conversation between two Government MPs, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The two men sat down over a Coopers beer and enjoyed a civil conversation about marriage. Within minutes pubs across the nation were boycotting Coopers, and tirades of abuse hit social media. So incensed were non-beer drinkers and craft-beer drinkers across the nation, that they bought bottles of Coopers beer only to smash them in alleys across the nation until Cooper’s management fell obliged to jump and join the fight for same-sex marriage.

Another iconic Australian brand, the Carlton Football Club, recognised that among football supporters there are diverse views and so they decided not to take sides during the marriage campaign. They were vilified in the media and by social media for not publicly taking a stand in support of marriage change.

The implications are clear: There is public backlash, and even financial loss for those who will not openly affirm the current and popular philosophic views of sexuality.

Concluding Reflections

The law, as well as restraining behaviour, operates also to change public attitudes. With the revised Marriage Act, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. The two examples that I cited above are not exceptional but are becoming the norm.  It is important to note that these examples took place before changing the Marriage Act. What are we to expect now that the law has altered? While clergy have been given an exemption in relation to the weddings the choose to conduct, student clubs on university campuses, and employees in companies are nervous and are already being bullied into abandoning religious beliefs that have been long held.

At the time when the Federal Parliament was deliberating the Dean Smith Marriage Bill, Former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, wrote,

“West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bill guarantees only “the right of clergy and religious institutions” to decline participation in same-sex marriage services and celebrations. There is by omission no recognition of the likelihood of damage to the freedom of conscience for ordinary citizens and their businesses. Smith and many of his colleagues seem unmoved by the encroachments on freedom of speech and conscience already demonstrated in Australia.

Smith’s exemptions approach arguably does more harm than good, for it assumes freedom of conscience is of worth only to professional religionists and not to all Australians. This weakens even further the standing of this important democratic right and makes it an easy target for those who would lobby to erase this exemption and similar exemptions that may remain in state legislation.”

Why is this a problem? Because 4.83 million Australians have said that they do not support same sex marriage. Millions of Australians potentially face loss of income, employment, and facing tribunals for adhering to a view that will no longer be supported by the law.

Along with many fellow Australians, I am asking:

Will Australians be guaranteed freedom to continue teaching and explaining the classical view of marriage and sexuality, not only in a Church but also in public places including universities?

Will religious schools maintain freedom to teach and affirm the classical view of marriage?

Will our children in State schools have liberty to express, without bullying, a Christian view of marriage? Will parents have freedom to opt-out children from lessons that advocate views of marriage and sexuality that contravene their religious convictions?

The concept of a free exchange of ideas, and the notion of respecting others whilst disagreeing with them has helped cultivate the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today as a nation. This successful pluralism relies upon a Christian worldview. It is not irreligion that brought religious pluralism to our shores, but the Christian view that we ought to love our neighbours, and that authentic belief in God comes about through persuasion not coercion. It is a sad reality that influential elements of society are deliberately turning us from these ideals. It is because of this fractured pluralism that we need to now carefully consider how we might encourage and make certain that freedom of religious expression, speech, and practice may continue, and remain a hallmark of Australian society.

 

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[1] – It is worth noting that this theory of sexuality can no longer be taught in NSW schools. Another program, Safe Schools, continues to be taught in Victoria and is compulsory, with the Government  ignoring the recommended changes introduced by the Federal Government. This curriculum is being abandoned altogether in some other States due to its extreme ideological and unscientific content.

Australian Generosity at Christmas

Caitlin Fitzsimmons has called for Australians to be more generous, and to give to charity outside the Christmas period. She offer some sage advice for all of us, and her points about generosity also got me thinking.

She writes,

“Before we dive into the prolonged festival of consumerism that is the summer sales or turn our thoughts to the new year, let’s pause to reflect on the season of giving.

December is the third-biggest month for charitable giving behind May and June, the two months before the end of the financial year when people are trying to maximise their tax deductions, according to Commonwealth Bank figures.”

Fitzsimmons helpfully points out,

“The lead-up to Christmas is when many charities give a big marketing push to drum up donations. It’s also a time of greater need, especially for organisations that help disadvantaged families in Australia or rescue abandoned pets, for example. But no matter the cause, the need doesn’t disappear in January.”

Fitzsimmons doesn’t want us thinking that we’re a nation of Scrooge’s. She proclaims that,

“The good news is that Aussies are generous year-round”.

So how generous are we?

According to research cited in the article, 2/3rds of Australians give to charity, totalling $4.2 billion. That’s not an insignificant sum, although it in fact equates to approximately $300 per Aussie. Hmmm. Generous? I’m beginning to wonder if Scrooge was an Australian.

Fitzsimmons goes on to offer some helpful practical advice about how to give to charity, and why it’s important for organisations to have knowledge of regular giving rather than one off guilt driven contributions.

It would be interesting to know what the average regular Church attender gives per annum. Based on many years of experience, working for and being a member of several Churches, I reckon that a conservative estimation would place Christian giving at 10 times the national average, and Christians often give without any tax benefits.

According to NCLS research (a national survey across Christian denominations, which involved 10,000s of participants), 66% give regularly, with 20% of attendees regularly giving over 10% of their income. It is important to note that these figures only include financial contributions to the local church, and does not include all the charitable giving beyond. Again, this is consistent with my experience of Christians and Churches.

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The question is, why is the gap between general Australia and Christian Australia so great? I’m sure that some Christians give out of a sense of obligation (although they should not), and others give because of a dubious understanding of Divine blessing (ie the prosperity Gospel). But those two reasons cannot explain the giving that continues in evangelical Churches across the country.

So what is the reason?

My hypothesis is a simple one, and it comes from the Bible: Grace changes peoples’ hearts.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

When you have come to experience the sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus, and how the Lord of the universe gave up everything, even his life on the cross, this good news changes you inside and it reorients the way you view your income and the way you look at other people. I’m not suggesting that Christians are better people; Christians are ordinary citizens who face the same financial responsibilities as other Aussies. I am however proposing that there is a difference, and that difference turns on belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The extraordinary gift of forgiveness that is found in Jesus, not only frees people to give generously but installs a joy in giving to others.

I happily join Caitlin Fitzsimmons in encouraging Australians to think about generosity in 2018, and we do so, I also encourage us to consider the greatest act of compassion and sacrifice the world has ever known.

When you are insulted

Did Turnbull Malcolm speak too soon?

As the Dean Smith Bill was about to be receive its final reading in Parliament yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed,

“Australia has done it. What a day for love, for equality, for respect.”

It’s attractive rhetoric, and perhaps Mr Turnbull really believes what he said, or maybe he’s just hoping for the best. Whatever is the case, Australia hasn’t disappointed because soon after he spoke these words, trending across Australia on twitter was hashtag Lyle. Even out doing many hashtags dedicated to celebrating yesterday’s decision, thousands of people are sending offensive tweets to Lyle Shelton, using all kind of base language in order to offend. Telling a fellow human being to eat excrement, in my opinion, is shameful. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Shelton’s views or not, it is simply disgusting.

For those who may not be aware, Lyle Shelton is the Managing Director of ACL (Australian Christian Lobby), and he took a key role in the national campaign to uphold the classical view of marriage in Australia.

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No doubt Lyle Shelton is a controversial figure. Not every Christian would agree with everything he says or how he has said it, but his view of marriage is certainly in keeping with the Christian understanding. More than that, he is respectful and gracious when interacting with people, even those who send him verbal parcels of expletives and insult.

This national pronouncement of love and respect isn’t only being directed toward Lyle Shelton, but it has been a sad the trend throughout much of the debate on same sex marriage. Gay and Lesbian Australians have have been subjected to awful mud slinging, and many supporters of classical marriage have had all manner of insult and assault aimed at them. The difference between the two is that the latter has often found public and media support. Remember when Bill Shorten and other Federal members equating opponents of same sex marriage with haters and bigots?

Remember when comedian and Fairfax columnist, Benjamin Law, threatened to sexually assault Government MP, Andrew Hastie? Apparently, it’s not only ok, but it’s funny to make a joke about raping a politician. More humour from Mr Law last night,

“Now I am become Lyle, the eater of shit”

Even before the vote was taken on Thursday, throughout the day’s proceedings, the public gallery in Parliament continually interrupted MPs who dared suggest that Australia is likely to see a reduction of religious freedoms in light of changing the Marriage Act.  It was impossible not to see the irony, while fellow MPs referred to concerns over religious freedoms as “baseless”, the choir sitting in the public gallery repeatedly applauded and cheered in triumph when any MP suggested religious freedom would be reduced.

No doubt there have been many people from across the opinion divide who have expressed their views respectfully and who have been quick to speak against those who are hateful. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that our Prime Minister’s words are already destitute. A truly pluralist and tolerant society is able to handle rigorous debate and can avoid jumping into the sewer. Last night and again today, thousands of Australians can’t contain their eagerness to take scoop down and start throwing it at high profiled defenders of classical marriage.

It’s not nice, it’s awful, but should we be surprised? Didn’t Jesus tell us in advance that this would happen? The final vestiges of our Christian culture have up til now served as padding against some of the slings and arrows of social outrage. Yesterday’s Parliamentary “victory” has been interpreted by thousands as justification to knock down those who didn’t support the cause. I suspect that for some, they’re simply letting off steam following months of anger and frustration, although I’m not sure that a justified reason.

While this was unfolding, I was preparing my sermon for Church this Sunday. At Mentone Baptist we are looking at Matthew ch.10. While the context of that passage is mission, and Jesus instructing his disciples how to go about mission and what to expect when they are sent into surrounding towns, it’s hard not to notice some relevance.

Jesus is forewarning his disciples that not everyone is going to welcome them and welcome their message. In fact, at times it’s going to be incredibly hard. People will turn on you, insult you, and even take you to court.

Jesus says, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). The combination of both qualities is essential: shrewdness without innocence can lead to deceitfulness and unkind methodology, and innocence without shrewdness can lead to naivety or to a foolish bravado. In other words, don’t be stupid and don’t be sinful. Don’t respond to trouble in kind.

While many Australians are today celebrating, many others are today disappointed and saddened by how easily our Parliamentary representatives dismissed the genuine concerns about religious liberties, don’t leap onto social media and say something stupid and sinful. Stop, think, and read these verses:

“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech”. (1 Peter 8:10)

Victoria about to legalise euthanasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m reminded of Proverbs which says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the song of Isaiah promised,

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

 

 

Victorian Schools to help children transition without parental consent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A QandA Recap

The Age is right to publish Neil McMahon’s Qanda recap under ‘entertainment’, for it doesn’t belong under ‘news’ or anything resembling fair and factual reporting.

According to McMahon, Magda Szubanski is an angel, in contrast to  the rest of the panel who are presumably on the devil’s payroll.

I’m not having a go at Magda Szubanski and her contribution last night, but McMahon’s near superhuman selective hearing.

If you’ve only read McMahon’s offering in The Age, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last night’s QandA served up another staple diet of stupid Christians and thoughtful atheists, annoying anti-SSM campaigners and human heart beating advocates. I’m sure McMahon’s regulars will read his account with cheers, but for others who watched last night’s program, we are left wondering, through which smokey haze did he view Qanda?

QandA has gained a reputation for too often lacking finesse and nuance from its guests, but last night each panellist brought a healthy degree of intellectual argument touched with humility and empathy.

 

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The entire program was dedicated to issue of same sex marriage, and important questions were asked, and all 4 panellists offered (for the most part) substantive comments and arguments, and yet McMahon fails to even acknowledge any of this.

McMahon latches onto one comment made by Karina Okotel, which was certainly less than convincing, but he concludes that she must be either lying or is at the very least untrustworthy in what she says,

“Okotel is a challenge in this debate: an all-smiling and apparent voice of reasonableness adept at speaking out of both sides of her mouth like the lawyer she is.”

Sure, she fluffed her answer, but it’s not as though there isn’t a clear and important response to this question (cf. https://murraycampbell.net/2017/09/02/fathers-day-telling/).

McMahon also completely ignores one important fact check from the episode, namely when Magda Szubanski repeated the old time myth of 10%. Alfred Kinsey’s now debunked study has nonetheless taken the status of undeniable truth for some in the community. After all, the temptation to inflate favourable numbers is understandable. According to most research, the real number of Australians who variously identify as LGBTI is closer to 2-4%. And according to the 2016 Census, 0.39% of Australians are living in a same sex relationship. Belonging to a small number doesn’t alter the humanity and worth of these Australians, but I would have thought that presenting misinformation isn’t helpful, no matter which side of a debate you are presenting.

Magda’s personal testimony is important and worth listening to. We (speaking to Christians here) do need to listen to such voices. It’s also worth hearing how she understands what Churches are saying about marriage. There are moments when Glenn Davies tries to correct some of her assumptions, without success it would seem, but the interaction does communicate something of the mishearing that is going on in our society.

If there was a “powerful” moment in last night’s program, surely it was Archbishop Glenn Davies stating that should holding Jesus’ view of marriage be declared unfit in Australians society, he would be prepared to go to jail. He would accept the democratic processes of our nation, but is not prepared to change his convictions even in face of imprisonment. But not even worthy of a footnote for McMahon.

Perhaps someone needs to give Neil McMahon their hearing aid, but then again, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. Photoshopping reality is sadly a far to common tool of the trade in journalism today. Journos from all sides are guilty of doing this as they win the applause of their facebook groupies. Let’s be honest, this is not only a journalist problem, but we see it among our politicians, and we even see it in ourselves. We may rightly object to the selectivity and agenda bogged journalism that’s muddying our media, but at the same time, we ought to ask the same about our own proclivities. 

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
    for the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)