“fundamentalist is most often an epithet for those whose whose views on politics, theology, or church life seem more rigid than yours.” Thomas Kidd
In today’s Australia reasoned argument is optional. Presenting a point of view with gentleness and grace is seen as a liability. If you want to win over the public gallery, the key is to include as many trigger words as possible. Create a swell of anger or fear among your audience; that’s the choice pathway for getting your opinion heard today.
To be build a case that the current Treasurer of NSW, Dominic Perrottet, is unfit to serve as Premier, Dowrick throws out one of today’s shibboleths that’s used to identity the baddies in society: fundamentalist.
Not content to call out one fundie in Australian politics, Dowrick names Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, as another example of religious fundamentalism.
What is Perrottet’s sin? According to Rev Dr. Dowrick, he is “a highly conservative Catholic with views that represent the most extreme end of a rigidly male-dominated institutional church.”
Notice the plethora of descriptive words employed in just this one sentence: ‘highly’, ‘conservative’, ‘most extreme’, ‘rigid’. This approach becomes the hallmark of Dowrick argument; use as much emotionally charged language as possible to win over readers.
At one point Dowrick offers an explanation of what she means by fundamentalism,
“Fundamentalisms vary greatly. What they have in common, though, is a narrowness of conviction that cannot be challenged by logic, evidence or appeals to reason.”
“in its righteousness and self-righteousness around central questions of identity, sexuality, gender politics, minority rights and an unwavering conviction that this is the “one, true faith”, it is also far from mainstream 21st-century Christianity. And far from the progressive, vibrant Catholicism that flourishes in many parishes and among numerous laypeople active in social and environmental justice.”
If that’s the case, I assume Dowrick also believes Jesus is a fundamentalist. After all, Jesus defines all sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman as immoral.
In summary, Dowrick’s fundamentalists are anyone who disagrees with her version of religion.
Dowrick admits that neither Perrottet or Morrison would describe themselves as ‘fundamentalists’, but that’s not going to stop her using the label. She even insists that fundamentalists have a “total lack of self-awareness”. It’s a classic example of a fallacious circular argument: You are what I say you are, regardless of whether you agree with me or not. Indeed, some might suggest that this is a version of fundamentalism!
When it comes down to it, Dowrick is simply using fundamentalist in a pejorative sense to describe Christians with whom she disagrees. It’s an insult. It’s a disparaging comment designed to undermine another person. As the theologian Thomas Kidd points out, “fundamentalist is most often an epithet for those whose whose views on politics, theology, or church life seem more rigid than yours.”
The word fundamentalist once referred to someone who upheld the fundamentals of a belief system. To be a fundamentalist was neither good or bad, it was a description of faithful adherence to one’s said belief system. For example, a fundamentalist was someone who consistently upholds believing the doctrines of the Christian faith, as opposed to a progressive who no longer believes but still wants to keep the name Christian for various cultural reasons.
In a recent article, Andrew Prideaux notes how in the 1950s English bishops referred to Billy Graham as a fundamentalist. They called out Graham’s version of Christianity as elevating “‘the penal doctrine of the atonement,’ ‘the call for conversion after evangelistic sermons,’ and ‘an individualistic doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s work which makes churchmanship and sacraments practically superfluous.”
This bishopric description of Graham’s beliefs is not extreme, it simply biblical Christianity, the same Christianity that has existed for 2,000 years and continues to be true today. It is this now popular reinvention of the word fundamental that Dowrick is implying.
It’s at this point that Dowrick tells a fib. She claims that progressive churches are the ones ‘flourishing’ in Australia today. That is simply untrue. Progressive churches, which is code for, we no longer believe the historic faith, are emptying. They may be popular among a segment of unbelieving Aussies and they may have clout at some institutional levels, but their churches were empty pre-Covid and will continue to be so afterward. The Christianity that is growing today are churches who hold to traditional beliefs (or what should be called biblical beliefs and practices) and are living them out with clarity, conviction, and love.
Thankfully others are calling out the article for what it is, a political hit piece. A number of journalists are also slamming it.
Chief reporter for The Age newspaper, Chip le Grand, said,
“The drips will lap it up but it is dispiriting to read this snide sectarianism. Imagine if we ridiculed Jewish or Muslim MPs like this?”
Another journalist tweeted,
“Let’s try this headline with a couple of other politicians.
“Meet Julia Gillard – the avowed atheist and childless woman about to take Australia’s top job.”
“Meet Josh Frydenberg – the Jew about to be Australia’s treasurer.”
Can’t see those headlines getting a run.”
From beginning to end there is no fire in Dowrick’s argument, just a very big smoke machine hired from Bunnings. The smoke is spread thick and is designed to cause readers to believe there is also a fire. Instead, lurking behind is little more than the classic authoritarian secularist argument wanting a religious test for public office.
According to Dowrick, both Dominic Perrottet and Scott Morrison are unfit for public office because their religious beliefs differ to hers. Since when is a person’s religious affiliation a qualification for public office?
There is no religious test for assuming public life Australia, and neither should there be. One of the virtues of a pluralistic and democratic society is that citizens from different backgrounds and holding various beliefs can be nominated for office, and should they be elected, they can stand in Parliament and even lead a Government. It’s called democracy.
Let’s not play the erroneous game that secular means ‘without religion’. Australian political and public life is not designed by law or ethos to limit religious ideas inside of church buildings. Australian secularism encourages a plurality of thought and conviction. True secularism simply means that the State is not controlled by any single religious group. Parliament is not a neutral space where only non religious views can be expressed.
As Jonathan Leeman observes in his book on political theology,
“secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps as liberal authoritarianism…the public realm is nothing less than the battle ground of gods, each vying to push the levers of power in its favour’.
I don’t have any skin in the game when it comes to NSW politics. I don’t know Dominic Perrottet from a bar of soap. Neither am I here to defend Roman Catholicism or Pentecostalism. I disagree with both of these theological positions on a number of significant points. But we are not talking about a church appointment here or calling a lecturer to a theological college, where such distinctions are important. Does Australia really want to exclude from political life Aussies who hold to traditional forms of Christianity?
No doubt many would say yes. Today’s letters to the Editor are praising Dowrick. But let us understand, this is not a sign of a maturing and tolerant society, but one that is losing its moorings.
“Fundamentalist thinking is also highly divisive. The world consists of “us” – and the rest of you. High levels of conformity are demanded; to doubt, self-question, is unwelcome or forbidden.”
It sounds as though Dorwick may be guilty of the very thing she is accusing others of representing.
Given how Dowrick is attacking Christianity, I am again reminded of how Jesus was committed to his beliefs. His understanding of the world contradicted the prevailing mood of society at that time. With love and truth he served a people who didn’t tolerate him. It was Jesus’ convictions that led him to the cross. If there is a characteristic that defines fundamentalism (as commonly understood today) it is this, a lack of love.
I cannot comment on Perrottet’s and Morrison’s Christianity, for I don’t know these men. But throwing verbal insults at someone isn’t much of a way to progress serious conversation. And advocating for a religious means test for public office is a road Australia would do well to avoid.
I’ve been asked by a number of pastors what Mentone‘s plan is for returning to church later this year. Our church elders recently put together a document and they’ve given me permission to share it here, in the hope that it may be of some value to others. I stress, it is important to read the entire document and not remove one statement from the context of others.
We have tried to convey the complexity of issues that lay before churches in Victoria. We are not suggesting that this is the only path forward for churches. We appreciate that churches will land on these issues in slightly different ways. This is Mentone Baptist’s direction and the theological framework that is underpinning our decisions. In light of the fact that the COVID-19 situation is fluid (and as we state in the document), some aspects of the plan may change in the event of new information and updates. We pray that the Lord grants ongoing wisdom and patience to the churches across our State as we navigate this difficult season.
Statement by the Elders of Mentone Baptist Church regarding the return to church and vaccines
We realise that the topic of vaccine mandates and church is a contentious issue, with strongly held opinions in the community and including among Christians. The Elders have sought advice, discussed at length, and prayed over our position. Here is what we think.
We outline 5 principles in this document which together serve to frame the position we are taking in relation to church and vaccines. As you will see, forming a view is not a matter of using one Bible verse or singling out one issue. Rather, there are multiple issues and many theological strands that together help us formulate the conclusions we have arrived at. Also, it is not the case that we prioritise one of these convictions over the others, but that we hold all 5 together.
We appreciate that each church will be required to carefully consider these issues and some may arrive at slightly different conclusions. We are not pretending that the subject is easy and neither are we claiming to have infallible insight. We are nonetheless persuaded that the direction we have settled on is wise and godly. We also understand that if the rules change we may need to reassess the decisions we have made. As men who love the Lord Jesus and uphold the authority of Scripture and are committed to the health and future of Mentone Baptist Church, we commit this plan to you.
1. We believe the in-person gathering of the church is essential
We believe that Church is an essential service, both for the spiritual and social wellbeing of Christians and for the spiritual and social health of society.
People are not disembodied beings. We are physical creatures who require physical presence and social interaction. We are also more than flesh and blood. We are mental and spiritual beings, who depend on more than food and sleep for life. It was Jesus who famously said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
Churches provide one of the few remaining places where people can meet and share the joys and sorrows of life, and where supportive relationships are created. Zoom, Youtube, and social media are a blessing but they are no substitute for real and personal meeting. Indeed, church by definition is the physical gathering of Christians, meeting to worship God and to encourage one another.
The Scriptures exhort believers to meet regularly and not to give up this practice,
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Without diminishing the Biblical principle of in-person gathering, it is worth pointing out lessons from history. In times of plague and emergency, Churches were adaptable and took reasonable measures for the common good. For example, when the Spanish Flu struck North America in 1918, churches closed for several months. In the 16th Century, while there was little understanding about the way disease spread, Christian leaders including Martin Luther and John Calvin adapted their ministry practices during outbreaks of the plague.
In a letter Martin Luther wrote,
“Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.”
“If in the Old Testament God himself ordered lepers to be banished from the community and compelled to live outside the city to prevent contamination (Leviticus 13–14), we must do the same with this dangerous pestilence so that anyone who becomes infected will stay away from other persons, or allow himself to be taken away and given speedy help with medicine.”
Restraints on freedom to gather for public worship must be reasonable and temporary. We believe that current limitations on church gatherings qualify as reasonable and short term, although we are concerned about the increasing toll this is taking on peoples’ mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing. Subsequently, we accept there is an argument for reevaluating the current restrictions imposed on Melbournians. When we believe the Government is acting unfairly and unreasonably toward Churches, we will ask for correction.
2. We believe we have a duty of care toward others
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)
We want church to be safe for everyone and we want everyone to have opportunity to hear the Gospel and for all God’s people to gather as Church. Among these goals are competing tensions and we need wisdom for navigating these.
The Elders accept the broad consensus in the medical community that the COVID-19 vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective and we encourage people to be vaccinated. This is a way we can show consideration toward others. While we encourage people to be vaccinated, we also understand that a few cannot for medical reasons and others may express concerns. It is important for us to love those who have come to different conclusions.
We also don’t want to do anything that will discredit the Gospel and unnecessarily cause anyone to think ill of Christ and his Church. At a time where Christianity has lost social credibility through important issues such as abuse, are our actions adorning the Gospel or confusing the Gospel or conflating the Gospel with other worldviews and political agendas? Serving the wellbeing of our community and city is an important way of demonstrating the love of Christ.
3. We believe obeying the Government is a matter of godliness
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-5)
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2)
The two exceptions to this principle of obedience are 1. where Government policy directly violates Holy Scripture, and 2. where a Government mandate is manifestly unjust.
4. We believe the conscience has an important although not supreme role in determining what is right and good
We are mindful of the conscience and believe we should tread cautiously before acting against ones conscience. However, the conscience is not infallible. We mustn’t assume that strong feelings equal right feelings. We mustn’t assume that an issue must be primary or essential because people hold strong views or feel strongly about it. As Jonathan Leeman says (Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule: 2016),
“Christians no doubt possess a duty to be faithful to their consciences, yet I would argue that they possess a higher duty to be right. After all, consciences in the Bible can be misguided and must be instructed.”
There is a mistaken view of the conscience that has taken hold in some quarters, and that is, the conscience should never be violated and thus whatever I think about public health measures should only be enforceable where I agree with those measures. Jonathan Leeman is once again helpful,
“First, government is very much in the business of binding whole persons, including their consciences. […] God established governments in Genesis 9 precisely because humanity’s consciences had become unbound. A person might be conscientiously convicted that a nation’s immigration laws are unfair, but he or she is still obligated to obey them, even while simultaneously working to change them. His or her conscientious objection is no measure of the law’s legitimacy. An act of disobedience by the Christian can only be justified by demonstrating that the law is not just or right, not simply that one has a conscientious objection to it.”
“Luther’s celebrated parry against usurpatious princes and priests, “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe,” makes for good Protestant sermon fodder, but a theology of authority and submission is a bit more complex. God does in fact authorize various individuals and institutions to place burdens on the conscience. When a parent instructs a child to go to bed, the child should feel conscience bound to obey. So with a prince and subject or an elder and church member in their areas of jurisdiction.”
Professor Patrick Parkinson (Academic Law Dean at the University of Queensland and Chair of Freedom for Faith) explains why the argument from conscience is not always legitimate,
“If I object to taking a vaccine because I am worried about side-effects, or because I am concerned that it is insufficiently tested, I am not objecting on moral or conscientious grounds. I am making a decision based upon my assessment of the risks versus the benefits to myself on medical grounds. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that such a judgment is a religious one. The Bible gives us no guidance whatsoever on the medical efficacy or benefit of a new vaccine. A religious person who has an objection to a vaccine does not have a religious objection by reason only of the fact that he or she happens to be religious.
‘A religious person who has a non-religious objection to vaccination is absolutely entitled to refuse a violation of his or her bodily integrity; but this does not mean that governments and employers are not justified in imposing restrictions to protect others, so long as the restrictions are reasonable.”
In other words, we believe that coercing the conscience is fraught with problems, however not every argument against taking the COVID-19 vaccines can be attributed to the conscience.
5. We believe keeping the unity of the body of Christ is of paramount importance
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2).
At Mentone Baptist Church we will not divide the church with endless controversies (Titus 3:9-11) and/or over disputable matters. Christians who repeatedly introduce topics to the Christian community which are both divisive and of tertiary importance (such as the debates around covid), and refuse to stop doing so are guilty of dividing the church. People are free to have these discussions in their own time with others who wish to participate. But it is inappropriate to hash these discussions out in Bible study chat groups or church zoom meetings.
We will not treat with antipathy those who cannot be vaccinated or those who hold reasonable grounds for not getting vaccinated. We want to show grace and peace toward all.
We will affirm the Gospel together and that we are one in Christ Jesus. We will encourage each other with this Gospel and not allow other matters to distract or destroy the fellowship we enjoy together in Christ.
We encourage anyone who has concerns to speak with one of the Elders. We encourage anyone who has concerns about vaccines to speak with their GP.
Mentone’s roadmap for returning to Church:
The Victorian Government has announced the roadmap to recovery. We understand that the pathway is subject to unforeseen changing circumstances, but nonetheless it is useful to have this clarity.
Our 5 governing principles are each important but as the Victorian plan indicates, putting these into practice is not always straightforward. We maintain the essential nature of the public gathering of church, our duty of care toward others (both inside and outside the church), the need to obey Government, the role of conscience, and God’s command to maintain the unity of the Church.
In light of these 5 principles, our goal is to return to a single service and with everyone meeting in the same room (auditorium) as soon as possible. We recognise that this aim will come about in stages over a period of time. For the sake of public witness and public health we should exercise patience and grace.
Below are key dates and the Church activities that can recommence as per Government guidelines:
Victorian Government Roadmap” ‘Place of worship’
From October 26
Growth Groups and prayer meetings can recommence outdoors (on church property). If there are persons in a Growth Group who are unvaccinated, we encourage the entire group to continue meeting online rather than divide the group. Youth Group may restart, with the discretion of leaders.
If fully vaccinated, with medical exemption, and u16: Meetings must be outside, DQ4, 50 cap. Unknown vaccination status: any meeting is capped at 20, is outdoors, DQ4.
From November 5th
In addition to the above, and depending on latest health advice, we intend to return to in-person gatherings on Nov. 7th. If meeting indoors we will need to meet over 2 services. For those unable to attend we will provide online access.
Fully vaccinated: Indoors DQ4 and 150 cap, outdoors DQ2 500 cap. Or, Unknown vaccination status: any meeting is capped at 20, is outdoors, DQ4.
From November 19
Note: all dates are indicative and may change
The Government rules currently require proof of vaccination for entry into a place of worship to operate with appropriate numbers. As such, those who are unvaccinated (apart from those with a medical exemption and underage children) will be excluded from indoor and main gatherings in the short term.
We have concerns about this. As Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Kanishka Raffel has said,
“Churches have a responsibility to minister to all, regardless of immunisation status…We want everybody to be safe at church, but we also want to make sure we minister to everybody.”
Hence, we will comply with Government restrictions so long as they are reasonable, fair and temporary. For both stages of reopening (October 26th and November 5th), the Victorian Government is mandating double vaccination for people wanting to attend any events, restaurants, and churches. Therefore, this is not discrimination against Churches. In fact, whereas other public events and spaces are not permitted to include unvaccinated people at all, the Government have made provision for unvaccinated people to gather for a religious service, so long as it is outdoors and with a maximum of 20 persons. We are not comfortable in keeping anyone from our main gatherings, even for a limited period of time, but the rules do indicate that the Government is accommodating religious Victorians.
Many of us may disagree with aspects of the Government’s plan or share concerns, but that is not sufficient reason to disobey. Once the vaccination rates hits the required target on or around November 19th, we anticipate that Australia’s National Plan will remove the barriers between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. If this is the situation, we are prepared to endure 2 weeks of this less than ideal situation. To signal our unity in Christ, for Sundays Nov 7 and 14, we will refrain from the Lord’s Supper. In addition, rather than speaking of church we will use the language of ‘public gathering’.
We believe it is incumbent upon both the Federal and State Governments to confirm with adequate time the date when unvaccinated Victorians can mingle unhindered with vaccinated Victorians. If it becomes clear that these arrangements are going to extend beyond November 19th, we will appeal to the proper authorities and we will discuss with the church what the wise and godly course of action will be.
We recognise that these arrangements are less than ideal; it is the nature of a pandemic. We are very conscious of the fact that while the majority of people agree to being vaccinated, we understand that others have concerns. We are also aware that we have a duty of care toward those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons and we want to be able to confirm with visitors that we are a safe space for them. Each member is important to the whole body and we do not want to live in an environment where some are excluded. Again, we encourage people to be vaccinated if not for their own wellbeing, then doing so out of love for others. The Elders are happy to address any moral or theological concerns, but we ask that you speak to your GP for any medically related issues.
Brothers and sisters, let’s “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. (Ephesians 4:3)
I just got off the phone with a friend and fellow baptist pastor from Melbourne. He has resigned himself to the likelihood that he will face imprisonment over the next few years. This isn’t because he’s done anything wrong or immoral. He’s a faithful follower of Jesus and lovingly serves a local church. He shared how he has been made to feel that he is a criminal. Again, this is not because he is behaving in any egregious manner. It is because he is a faithful follower of Jesus and a loving pastor that he is expects to face jail time.
My friend had just attended an information session for baptist pastors regarding Victoria’s new conversion practices laws. I attended the same forum but on a different day.
The Government representatives provided a thorough briefing on the intent and details of The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act. No assurance was given that the laws are only targeting extreme practices. Instead, the Government representatives made it clear that numerous Christian beliefs and practices are now on the wrong side of the law.
I won’t repeat everything that was said in the forum, nor will I cover all the ground that I’ve written about previously and that others have well documented. The aim here is to remind Victorians of the serious threats posed by The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act. The Bill was adopted by the Victorian Parliament in February this year, and it comes into effect February 2022.
At the moment, churches are understandably focused on issues relating to COVID-19 and what church may look like once we can return in November. At the same time, this Act looms large and will have real consequences for faithful Christians and also for Victorians who seek solace and new identity in Jesus Christ.
The forum speakers were at pains to say that their role was to explain the law and not enter discussions about religious doctrines. However, their commentary was interspersed with judgements on various Christian beliefs and practices. One Government official referred to the Christian view of sexuality as ‘insidious’. The law itself is designed to stop certain beliefs and practices inherent to the Christian faith. Indeed, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act is a religious manifesto wrapped in the guise of politics and law. Lest we were left in any doubt, the government presenters offered ‘Christian’ resources for us to read. None of the sources reflect Christian views, but the teachings of LGBT activist groups.
For example, we were informed that no person’s sexuality or gender identity is broken or sinful, and to suggest so contravenes the intent of the new laws. While this may be a popular view in our cultural moment, it is logically incoherent and experientially false.
We were told that,
“It’s deceptive to say there’s a problem when there isn’t one.”
“It wrong to suggest that “you cannot have faith unless you change”.
However, by definition Christianity is a conversion religion. God requires us to repent of sin and to turn to him for forgiveness, new life, and reconciliation. There is no Christian without change. People are persuaded by the message of Jesus Christ and are changed by it. I am not suggesting that a person’s sexual orientation changes, nor do we minister for that goal. Contrary to the views presented at the forum which repeatedly stated that people cannot change, the fact is, some people do find their sexual orientation change, while many do not. What does change however is an individual’s desire to live in conformity with God’s righteousness. It is normal for people to share this newly found desire in Christ and to seek counsel and prayer to live in light of the beliefs that they are now persuaded to be good and right.
We were informed by a lawyer representing the Government that,
“We are to affirm peoples sexual orientation and preferences and ‘the love of God’ in that!”
The love of God as described by God in the Bible is given to people not on account of moral aptitude and adherence to his laws. The beautiful account of God in the person of Jesus Christ is that God loves ‘sinners’. It is not a love that condones human sexual behaviour and preferences, but a love that is offered despite our behaviour and desires. To affirm certain preferences is not ‘the love of God’, that is a betrayal of his love, and it is beyond the scope of a government lawyer to suggest so.
The following questions were asked during the forum of the panel:
Christians believe that sexual practices should only take place within marriage between a man and a woman. This belief comes from the Bible, affirmed by Jesus, and has been the norm for thousands of years.
Say, for example, someone approaches a Christian and shares that they are same sex attracted. They ask for prayer because they don’t want to live out those desires but instead live according to Christian principles. I am acting unlawfully by praying this with/for them?
If the same person also asks me for assistance on how to live according to Christian beliefs and so refrain from sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage, am I acting unlawfully?
The answer in both cases is, yes, this would be a breach of the law.
Here’s another example, a home group may conduct a Bible study on Romans chapter 1. However, if during the study someone shares that they are homosexual, the study cannot continue, because doing so may be interpreted as an attempt to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation.
There is one point where confusion remains; it relates to church positions (whether staff, volunteer, or membership). While a church can appoint persons in line with expressed doctrinal values, it seems to be the case that once a person reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity, you cannot remove them from their role. This will have real repercussions for issues of employment, freedom of association, and the Christian practice of church discipline.
To be clear, it is not only religious leaders who are subject to the Act, everyone Victorian is subject to these laws.
Since governmental discussions on conversion practices started 4-5 years ago, the direction was pretty clear, and today’s forum has reinforced this simple fact: in Victoria only one view of humanity is permitted, and the Christian view is not it.
No doubt, some Victorians will be very pleased with this news. However, for all the pop-talk about the separation of church and state, and of government commissions not getting involved in church doctrine, this law is all about doctrine and forcing a hardline (and at times anti-scientific) humanistic view onto religion. As another pastor expressed to me, for a law that’s designed to ban ‘conversion’, he feels that he is being forcibly converted away from Christianity and into some new fangled civil religion.
It is extraordinary for a government to assume such authority and tell its citizens how to pray and who to pray for. It is beyond reason and fairness that a government should threaten religious people for loving others as Christ has loved us. To wield the law in order to bully churches into changing their beliefs is beyond the pale.
Through reading and hearing stories I am aware that a few religious groups have taught and practiced things that are wrong and harmful. I don’t know of anyone who disagrees with every element of the Act. I’ve been on the record since I first heard about ‘conversion practices’ and publicly repudiated such activities. However, this law goes well beyond banning a few practices that belonged on the fringes of a small number of religious organisations. It’s like the Government noticed an ingrown toenail on the left foot and their answer is to cut off the entire leg, and then threaten to cut off other leg should should we offer any resistance! Let me repeat, this law makes it illegal to speak with someone and pray with someone about human sexuality in line with the Christian faith. Worse still, it threatens to silence the most precious good news the world can ever know.
The Bible is clear and good
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Corinthians 6:9-11)
Becoming a Christian doesn’t remove every issue or struggle, but it does give us a new standing and status before God, and by his Spirit he gives us a new set of desires and purpose. I am not saying that a person’s sexual orientation will change. I don’t think the aim is to change a person’s orientation, nor have I ever suggested so. The Christian goal is to persuade people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to encourage believers to live godly lives that reflect God’s good purposes as revealed in the Bible.
Again, the Bible is clear. You may not agree with it, but that’s part of living in a healthy and pluralistic society. People share and exchange ideas, and people do their best to love and care, and people can choose to engage or not. When the Government deems it necessary to clamp down on historic mainstream Christianity, all Victorians needs to be aware and consider what is becoming of our society.
What can Churches do? Write a letter to their local MP expressing concerns. Speak with your organisational/denominational leaders and them to provide adequate protections and advice for churches. Don’t give up on the goodness of the Gospel.
Over the past week a letter has been promoted and circulated around many churches and religious organisations. The Ezekiel Declaration (“the Declaration”) is addressed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and outlines concerns over a potential “vaccine passport” that would be required for church attendance. The letter has now received 2000+ signatures of religious leaders from across Australia, and for that reason alone it is gaining much attention receiving quite a splash. For every signatory there are certainly many more Christian leaders who have not signed their names. Still, 2000+ names and the organisations that they represent is a significant number.
In some respects there are a number of clear core statements in the Declaration that we (David Ould and Murray Campbell) would want to support. We strongly agree that there is a serious question to be asked about “vaccine passports”, particularly when they impact upon church attendance. We are also in robust agreement with the authors of the Declaration that “conscience should never be coerced”.
Nevertheless, we have declined from adding our names and support to this manifesto. While we share some of the concerns raised in the Ezekiel Declaration, we are unable in good conscience to align ourselves with other aspects and the overall tone and content.
Our purpose here is to explain the reasons why we have not signed the Ezekiel Declaration and to also caution others from doing so. While we respect how some religious leaders have and will wish to affirm this document and continue to respect those leaders as individuals, we encourage people to think through the issues that we raise here before adding their endorsement to what we consider to be a confused and ultimately unhelpful document.
First, the tone of the letter is combative rather than cooperative.
Both the title and subtitle suggests a posture of hubris and even spiritual smugness: “The Ezekiel Declaration” and “Watchmen, it’s time to speak”.
Really? Are the authors claiming a prophetic word or preaching Divine judgment upon those who are drafting COVID policies? This level of rhetoric continues throughout the letter. For example, the authors refer to “medical apartheid” and “the dangerous precipice of a therapeutic totalitarianism”. This seems to be inflammatory language that does not accurately represent the current situation.
Straight away the letter therefore signals an ‘us versus them’ position; we the churches against a bullish and autocratic Government. At this point in time in Australia the situation is more akin to Daniel ch.1 than Daniel ch.6. We are appealing for a fair hearing before the Government, not open defiance with our lives being threatened for any dissent. We are seeking to persuade, not calling for civil disobedience.
We understand the issues at stake and we share concerns about any proposed vaccine passport, but from the outset the tone of the letter communicates an angry sermon rather than bridge building.
We will further address the theological implications of this title below but, for now, simply note that the Declaration takes on a combative approach.
We are also concerned that the Declaration is unnecessarily political. We are entirely convinced that there is a place for responsible engagement with political parties (at times working with them and at times challenging them) but a genuine danger in being seen to be overly partisan. The Declaration has already been leveraged by one political party for political purposes and this does nothing to allay fears that the Declaration is first and foremost a political document, and one that comes from a particular political position.
Second, the letter nowhere encourages people to be vaccinated and it fails to affirm the safety and efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
There is a single word that is accepting but not positive ofin favour of vaccinations, and even then it is partnered with a word of dissent,
While some individuals will receive the vaccination with thanks, others may have good and informed reasons for declining.
The Declaration does not define what these ‘good and informed reasons’ are. It then proceeds to misuse the words of the Federal Health Minister in February 2021 in support of refraining from being vaccinated.
One such reason [for declining vaccination] is highlighted in the statement of the health minister Greg Hunt:
“The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data.”
One of the things that is absolutely fundamental to confidence is the belief in safety. And the essence of safety is a full and thorough assessment…that’s ultimately about making sure we have the maximum take-up in Australia, and above all else, safety, safety, safety. That’s our duty. But it also leads to confidence and take-up.
Hunt’s argument is not that the vaccine is unsafe. On the contrary, he is stating that the approval process for the vaccine is there to provide confidence in it; confidence in the face of the uncertainty that some feel – the same uncertainty that the Declaration promotes.
We see a similar failure to handle sources responsibly in the reference to a CDC study when discussing the efficacy of vaccines. The Declaration states, having referenced the study, “it is evident that vaccines do not prevent infection”. This is, at best, misguided language. Nobody claims that the vaccines prevent infection, simply that they greatly reduce the rate of infection and the negative outcomes from those infections. Further, the report that is linked in the Declaration to support this claim closes with these words,
While numerous studies have shown that the vaccines don’t work as well against the delta variant as they did against other strains, health officials say they are still highly effective, especially in protecting against severe illness and death. Roughly 97% of new hospitalizations and 99.5% of deaths in the U.S. are among unvaccinated individuals, U.S. health officials repeated this week.
The CDC also said the data has limitations. The agency noted that as population-level vaccination coverage increases, vaccinated persons are likely to represent a larger proportion of Covid cases. Additionally, asymptomatic breakthrough infections might be underrepresented because of detection bias, the agency said.
The CDC also said the report is “insufficient” to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the authorized vaccines against Covid, including the delta variant, during this outbreak.
Christian leaders have an obligation to quote people in context and to represent their position with fairness. Christian leaders also have a duty of care to listen to experts, convey accurate information, and to refer people to their local GP, rather than publicly undermine health advice. We have documented how at two critical points in its argument the Declaration does not do this.
We appreciate how some Australians are hesitant to take the vaccine at this point in time and are sympathetic towards them. Our intention isn’t to ‘force’ the conscience. We also understand and affirm that there are valid medical reasons why a limited number of Australians cannot use these vaccines. We also understand that as time progresses our understanding of COVID-19 and the best ways to fight against it will improve and at times perhaps change tack. Our concern here is how the Ezekiel Declaration offers no encouragement and no positive information about COVID-19 vaccines. At best this is disappointing, at worst this is knowingly misleading and may undercut people’s confidence in being vaccinated when it is actually the best decision for most of our population when the relative risks are properly assessed.
Finally, we note that it is now well-established that widespread vaccination is the single greatest accelerator for achieving an opening up of our communities and a more “normal” life, the very thing that the Declaration strives for.
Third, the arguments are a kaleidoscope of confusion, conflation, and misrepresentations.
We have already noted above some serious errors in the way the Declaration handles other material. More generally it seems to us that there is an unhelpful and unclear mixture of different arguments being made. Had the Declaration not contained much of this it would be more useful. Instead the authors have chosen to roll in additional arguments that do little to support their case, especially when (as we have shown) their arguments are based on poor use of external material.
One more example is helpful.
The authors spend much time addressing the issue of mental health. While this is pertinent to discussions surrounding the pandemic, including ongoing lockdowns, it isn’t directly relevant to the question of mandatory vaccine passports for churches. Our hearts ache for those who are overwhelmed and exhausted mentally and emotionally. As pastors we tend to congregation members who are suffering and struggling because of the pandemic. The growing strain is palpable and we too are concerned at the emotional, social, economic, and spiritual toll this is taking on millions of lives. We are pleased to see that politicians, doctors and the media are beginning to address these issues with increasing urgency. These factors, however, are separate from the question of vaccine passports and whether the government should introduce them and even mandate them for public worship services. To conflate them as the Declaration does is to confuse the argument.
The Declaration presents itself as a call against mandated vaccination for attendance at worship service. In reality it also attempts to argue against lockdowns and repeats discredited anti-vaccination arguments and does so with questionable use of source. By rolling in these two extra divisive issues in the manner that it does it presents a far less cohesive argument, let alone fails to garner comprehensive support amongst a wider Christian cohort.
Fourth, the list of signatories raises some concerns in a number of ways. We are uncomfortable signing our names to an alliance of ‘Christian leaders’ where the list includes members of a non-Christian sect and numerous ‘churches’ and other organisations that are considered fringe if not heterodox any other day of the week.
In addition we have been personally contacted by those who tell us their names have appeared as signatories on the Declaration without their action or consent. We have also had correspondence with those whose professional background includes the investigation of data integrity and they have raised concerns with some elements of the data as it is presented. None of this is to suggest in any way that the writers and promoters of the Declaration have deliberately falsified the signatories, yet there remain concerns about how some of the signatories have been recorded.
Fifth, instead of offering clear Gospel hope to our country, this letter creates suspicion and suggests that Christians are more interested in their own freedom rather than the common good.
At a time when Australia desperately needs to hear and see the beauty of God’s good news, this letter fails to deliver. Despite the closing language affirming the gospel, the message given is not one filled with grace and hope, but rather one of frustration, unbelief, and defiance which obscures and even contradicts the final gospel call.
Gospel and Biblical fidelity will always be a concern with any declaration made by Christian leaders but particularly one styling itself after the “watchman” of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33 we learn what the watchman’s role is:
Ezek. 33:1-6 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. 5 Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’
In the context of the writing of Ezekiel (the impending judgment of Judah under God’s hand by the means of Babylon) the watchman’s role is clear; he calls the people to repentance for their sin in the face of judgment (a judgement signalled as imminent by the blowing of a trumpet). In other words, it is the role of any gospel minister to warn of the coming judgement and urge people to find their refuge in Christ. This document does not do that. By using the title of “Ezekiel Declaration” it confuses that great eternal moment of decision with a lesser, albeit significant, matter before the churches. It frames the question of vaccine mandates in the churches (and more general questions around vaccination and lockdowns) as on a scale with the Babylonian invasion and destruction of God’s people. The immediate remedy it suggests is not the gospel of Jesus. The Declaration communicates a defiance of God-ordained authority rather than trusting submission of the Lord as we engage with a difficult moment in our common life. By using the language of the “watchman” it also labels those who do not agree as failed watchmen who have neglected their solemn duties as stewards of the gospel. We are firmly convinced there is a much higher threshold for this charge of abandoning the gospel than disagreement over the matters raised in the Declaration. It is deeply divisive.
Why We Can’t Sign the Ezekiel Declaration
There is a genuine issue relating to vaccine passports, both in general and specifically when tied to church attendance. We will be extremely concerned if Governments decide that religious organisations must mandate vaccination for attendees and participants in public worship services and other religious meetings. There may yet be a need to respectfully make our case and even courageously refuse to place a limit on who may gather together with the people of God. But we are not at the moment yet, nor has any such potential restriction even been announced. Our concern is that the Ezekiel Declaration neither provides a productive pattern by which opposition should happen if required nor increases the opportunity for productive engagement with Governments before then.
Finally a personal word. The two authors have come to publish this position with some hesitancy. We are both known, perhaps even notorious, for standing for gospel purity within our own denominations. That has sometimes come at personal cost. Nor have we been shy when it comes to public engagement with the authorities, be they media, governmental or other. Where necessary we have taken the opportunity to speak of Jesus in the public sphere especially when his word is not well-received. We respectfully do not believe that the charge of “selling out” or cowardice can be levelled against us. We are also acutely aware that many of those that we are effectively criticising here are our natural allies in many of these struggles, not to mention those that we are at times more comfortable with when it comes to political expression. One of us has spoken on your platforms and been featured in your websites. We have spoken plainly about “culture wars” and the like and will continue to do so. We are fellow evangelicals.
Despite this we felt the need to write. We ask that the above be received as it was intended, “wounds from a friend that can be trusted” (Prov. 27:6). We long for gospel unity with all our brethren and offer this letter in that spirit.
To the rest of our readers we ask you to consider whether adding your endorsement to the “Ezekiel Declaration” is the wisest choice at this moment in time or even if you ought to now ask for it to be removed. We believe that the Ezekiel Declaration is an unhelpful move, unnecessarily political, confused in its argumentation and ultimately divisive at a time when the church should be known for its united loyalty to Jesus and his gospel, expressed in an appropriate engagement with the world.
Ps. Murray Campbell, Lead Pastor Mentone Baptist Church, Melbourne.
Rev. David Ould, Senior Associate Minister St John’s Anglican Cathedral Parramatta.
One of the few heresies today is to suggest that there are many if any differences between men and women. We are even at the point where some are arguing gender is so fluid that categories like men and women are becoming superfluous. I suspect however that few will find offence with a hypothesis that submits that anger is a more aggressive issue among men than for women.
The reason for mentioning this is because I’ve come across research that supports a biblical proposition. The Bible presents many positive differences between men and women but on this occasion I’m thinking of a negative example.
I’m about to start preaching through Paul’s first letter to Timothy at Mentone Baptist. The Epistle is filled with encouragements and instruction for churches, which together provide directives for how a church is to conduct herself. As Paul says to Timothy, this conduct matters because God’s household is “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”.
Despite the positive and constructive way the Apostle outlines life for a local church, some parts of the letter have created significant controversy; not least are the sections that discuss the roles of men and women in the church. I’ll preaching through the entire letter, including ch.2, but for now I want to share an interesting article that I recently came across which may help us further understand what Paul means in 2:8,
“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing”
Verse 8 is an instruction given by God to men in the church. What follows in vv.9-15 are instructions given to women in the church.
Paul introduces verse 8 (and the following verses, 9-15, for they form a coherent section) with the strong conjunction, ‘therefore’. Paul is tying this application with what he has written previously in verses 1-7. The connection between vv.1-7 and v.8 is not only the subject of prayer, it is also ‘godliness and holiness’. Similarly, godliness and holiness is the concern of vv.9-15. The Apostle is concerned with godly behaviour in the church as it pleases God and because it functions as a Gospel witness to outsiders. That godliness is on view in v.8 is confirmed by the way Paul contrasts hands used in prayer and hands used in anger.
Why does Paul’s teaching on men here focus on ‘anger’? Surely anger isn’t a male only attribute?
1 Timothy 2:8 seems to support the idea that anger is a greater issue among men than it is for women. In a paragraph where Paul is making distinctions between men and women in the church, it is observable to Paul that a proclivity toward anger is one characteristic that sufficiently differentiates men from women. It’s not the only distinctive attribute but it is one.
It’s not that women don’t experience anger. Of course women can be angry, for good reasons as well as for sinful reasons. Is there however something in Paul’s statement that rings true? For example, we know that most cases of domestic violence are perpetrated by men. We also know that most violent crimes are committed by men. Do men and women process anger in different ways? It’s not only such extreme forms of anger.
In 2018, The Conversation published an article on differences between men and women. The focus was on ‘happiness’ and how men and women experience happiness in different ways. The article also speaks of the converse,
“Gender differences in depression are well established and studies have found that biological, psychological and social factors contribute to the disparity.”
I note that despite all the talk about how cultural influences inform and determine behaviours research suggests that social factors lack the explanatory power for defining how men and women experience the highs and lows of life in distinctive ways. There is more going on.
I think of 1 Thessalonians where Paul speaks of masculine traits and feminine traits, not because they are mutually exclusive but because there are observable differences between the two genders. The fact that these analogies make sense to us living in 21st Century suggests the meaning is not fixed to those living in Thessaloniki in 50-51AD. It’s also worth highlighting that these metaphors are used positively and with affection.
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7–8).
“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11–12).
Back to 1 Timothy. As I read the piece in The Conversation, my eyes were drawn to the section on anger. According to the piece, research demonstrates that men and women express anger differently.
“However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.
When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to internalise and direct the anger at themselves. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.”
This makes sense of Paul’s observation about men raising hands in anger. It’s not that 1 Timothy 2:8 is valid because of what researchers are learning, but rather we shouldn’t be surprised to find that reality matches what Scripture teaches and affirms.
In any discourse about men and women it is unhelpful to overstate differences. What we share, namely our humanity and the imago dei and union with Christ is of staggering beauty and importance. Without losing or diminishing any of those things and more, it is also unwise to downplay or ignore the simple fact that there are also differences. As The Conversation explains, these differences extend beyond social influences, and neither can they fully explained by physiology such as muscle and bone density, and sexual organs. There are psychological and personality differences. 1 Timothy 2:8 seems be to a Scriptural acknowledgment of such differentiation. Indeed, I would argue differences also exist for theological reasons, but that’s a topic for another ocassion.
At a time when we are hearing so many stories about men mistreating women, even within churches, 1 Timothy 2:8 is a timely verse (not that the verse is specifically aimed at men’s behaviour toward women but it surely includes such). It’s also an example of how Paul’s ecclesiastical paradigm in 1 Timothy isn’t limited to First Century Ephesus but how the God’s ways remains poignant and powerful today.
As our society recognises harmful versions of masculinity, it’s good to be reminded that God is also in opposition. God does not condone sinful anger, and neither should the church. The Apostle mentions anger because despite its prevalence among men, it is out of place in God’s household. The answer though isn’t simply to cease a certain behaviour or attitude, it is to replace it with one that is better and is good. It’s a picture of repentance. Paul instructs men, instead of using hands in anger, men ought to lift their hands in prayer. In other words, men should use their bodies for godliness not sinfulness, and they should focus their attention on God who brings peace rather than igniting disputes.
For men who are aware of anger issues in their life, reach out for help. If you’re part of a church, talk to your pastor. For women who are living with an angry man, please reach out for help.
The local high school in my suburb made the news yesterday. I have friends with children at this school and know many families with children attending Parkdale Secondary College.
Several Victorian schools have made headlines this year as students engage in inappropriate and even abusive behaviour. On this occasion, it wasn’t the students who did anything wrong, rather they were subjected to a demeaning and abusive tirade.
A youth worker from the local city council was invited to give a presentation as part of a ‘diversity and inclusion’ program. According to eyewitness accounts, year 11 boys were “ordered to stand up in class”. What followed was anything but diverse and inclusive.
The Herald Sun reports that the boys were then “slammed by a council youth worker for being white, male and Christian “oppressors”.
“If the students were “ if they were “white”, “male” and “Christian”, they were made to stand and face public humiliation as this youth worker “ told them they were responsible for being “privileged” and “oppressors”.”
A 16 year old students spoke to the Herald Sun,
“It was so messed up, we thought for a moment it was a joke, but then we realised it wasn’t and we were so upset and angry by it all,” the 16-year-old said.
“She basically said straight, white, Christian males were oppressors and they held all the power and privilege in society.”
She said the male students had felt “ashamed” and “targeted” during the presentation.
“We were shocked but it was quite difficult to say anything because she was also talking about LGBTQI+ and if you spoke out against that you feared you’d be called homophobic,” she said.”
Students were understandably shaken by this unjustifiable shaming by an individual who knows nothing about the personal lives of these boys. Parents are understandably angered. Thankfully the school is also disappointed and has complained to Kingston city council. Also pleasing is how Kingston Council has apologised and began an investigation. Kingston City Council chief executive, Tim Tamlin, said,
“It is never council’s intention to enter into identity politics … we are carefully reviewing the youth services program and will take measures to ensure this can never happen again.”
Well done to both the school and the Council for these positive responses.
On this occasion, the intolerant attitudes attached to identity politics were met with rebuke. This is often no longer the case as academic institutions and workplaces assume these ideologies and compel faculty members and employees to subscribe without question. The kind of thinking presented to these school students is now flowing mainstream in our culture This story at Parkdale secondary College further highlights how this ideology is no longer kept inside the shadows of a lecturer’s study or limited to the next Netflix series; there is a confidence in these self appointed truth-tellers to publicly shame students in school. Again, these boys were not judged guilty for doing any wrong, but simply on account of their skin colour, their gender, and their potential affiliation with the Christian religion.
It’s hard to overlook the fact that in Victoria a person can face imprisonment if they pray or speak with someone about sexuality in line with Christian beliefs, but school children can be subjected to racial or gender abuse by a council employee. Again, thankfully this school has spoken up but how many other schools are teaching this nonsense? We know that this is not the only school to have this situation; boys at a Warrnambool school faced a similar attack only a couple of weeks ago. I look forward to the Victorian Education Minister responding to the incident.
We don’t fix one problem by introducing another
There are real issues of gender based abuse in our society and issues of racism. we have been reminded of these around the country this year. Burying our heads in the sand is not going to help anyone. However replacing one problematic attitude with another is no solution. Destroying one culture by introducing one that is worse will not benefit our children. The rules of wokeology are unscientific and immoral. Propagating this kind of harmful teaching will not solve the issues society is wrestling with, it will only produce a new wave of trouble and end with moral and social disillusionment. Let the reader understand, this is the very design and goal of today’s social educators. I’m sure many people jump on board some of these ideas because of attractive rhetoric and out of desire to make a better society, but words have meaning and purpose. Let us be clear, authors of today’s anthropological story have quite adamant ambitions: the eradication of Christianity, the removal of the family unit, and the disintegration of gender is the aim. In 2017, Roz Ward, a chief architect of safe schools , admitted the underlying political agenda but the government of the time chose to ignore the confession. Doubters should read Carl Truman’s latest volume, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.
Wilhelm Reich may have written, The Sexual Revolution in 1936, but Trueman explains Reich’s influence on today’s culture,
“Reich also believes that the state must be used to coerce families and, where necessary, actively punish those who dissent from the sexual liberation being proposed. In short, the state has the right to intervene in family matters because the family is potentially the primary opponent of political liberation through its cultivation and policing of traditional sexual codes. … What is significant in Reich’s comment is not so much the principle of state intervention to stop abuse but the underlying definition of abuse with which he is operating. It is a psychological one, specifically one rooted in a highly sexualized psychology. … The importance of Reich’s point here can scarcely be overestimated. It has had a decisive influence on Western political thought, most obviously for the Left but, as it connects to the rise of a psychological conception of victimhood, for Western society in general. When oppression comes to be thought of as primarily psychological, then victimhood becomes a potentially much broader—and much more subjective—category. This affects everything…”
Trueman then explores how,
“The sexual education of the child is simply of too much social and political consequence to be left to the parents. After all, it is the parents as those in authority who actually constitute the problem. The family as traditionally understood needs to be dismantled.”
Attitudes and ideas deriding boys and heterosexuality and Christianity are not in their infancy in Victorian schools. Much of this is already present and taught. For example, Safe Schools and Healthy Relationships are now part of the curriculum in every Government school and many private schools. These programs describe heterosexuality in negative ways. To assume heterosexuality is considered a form of sexism and bigotry. Our children are taught to doubt their biological bodies and encouraged to experiment sexually. Despite the volume of material on offer, almost none discuss marriage. Where marriage does appear, it is usually held up as a negative illustration. Safe schools has been deemed so dangerous that the Federal Government banned the material a few years ago, although the State of Victoria responded with loud enthusiasm.
What is new is the unabashed confidence among some who are now teaching our children.
Parents, talk to your your school
Parents, ask questions to your school about what your children are being taught and told on important social issues. You may discover that even the schools are unaware of the some of the content being fed to students.
Parents, take responsibility as the primary carers and educators of your children. As a father of two boys and a girl, I understand the pressures, failures and struggles like other parents. Let’s not however rescind our roles and hand them over to schools and to the Government. I’m not saying schools have no role to play but they are not meant to be our children’s father and mother.
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9)
“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
An alternative vision of inclusion
Down the road from Parkdale Secondary School is Mentone Baptist Church, where I serve as a pastor. While no church is perfect for we are all a work in progress, we do experience a very real glimpse of what it means to a multiethnic and multigenerational community where people find love and community and identity in God. We don’t ignore or condone the sins of our society. We ourselves don’t pretend to be without fault. We confess our own sinfulness and look to Jesus Christ who graciously forgives and atones for all our wrongdoing. Instead of standing in shame, we stand together on Sundays to worship God and celebrate who we are in Christ Jesus: men and women, married and single, young and old, white, yellow and brown, professionals and tradies, together finding friendship and enjoying God.
The answer to sexism, abuse, racism, and a host of other evils is not current progressive and neither is it old school conservatism. It is found in local churches like Mentone Baptist (and countless others around Melbourne). It is ironic and even predictable, that the very idea that these local high school students were told is oppressive is in fact God’s freeing vision of reconciliation, healing, and dignity for every human being: namely the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? (from 1984)
If you believe words like mum and dad, or brother and sister, or wife and husband speak to a normal state of affairs and reflect relations that are good and healthy, one might be forgiven for being surprised when your employer pulls you up for being discriminatory and even bigoted.
Calls to de-gender persons and relationships are taking off around the globe. In the United States House Democrats recently declared their intentions to avoid speaking of mothers. A maternity ward in a UK hospital announced that instead of talking about ‘breastfeeding’, staff would use the term, ‘chest feeding’ and instead of ‘pregnant women’ doctors and nurses will refer to ‘pregnant person’.
The ANU (Australian National University) doesn’t want to be left behind. The Daily Telegraph reports,
“Academics at the nation’s top university have told staff to stop using the word “mother’’ and replace it with “gestational parent”, while a “father’’ should now be referred to as a “non-birthing parent” in order to deliver gender-inclusive education.
The Australian National University’s Gender Institute Handbook instructs tutors and lecturers to use terms like “chestfeeding’’ instead of breastfeeding and “human or parent’s milk’’ instead of the phrase “mother’s milk’’.
“Do not worry if you make a mistake, simply acknowledge it and correct yourself,’’ the handbook instructs.
“Language habits take practice to overcome, and students respect the efforts you make to be inclusive.”
While the directives are a guide and not mandatory, it doesn’t require much imagination to realise that guidelines soon enough become rules and requirements.
Universities were once exciting places of discovery and inquiry. The sciences studied the world to gain knowledge of what is true. The arts encouraged creativity and exploration of the imagination. Sadly, the university of today can ill afford to value scientific fact or applaud freedom of expression. Today, a university education is more concerned with social engineering and training the next generation to think and live in conformity to the new groupthink. In case anyone assumes that what happens at uni stay at uni, think again. What is taught at university soon becomes adopted throughout the rest of society.
In the Daily Telegraph article, they interviewed language academic, Dr Neil James. He pointed out,
“It is very powerful, the way you describe a term can have a loading and can have that social engineering purpose…Choosing particular terms will steer community attitudes.”
Of course, this is the precise point. Language means control. Redefining words is about changing the way people think and the way we live. The aim is to create a new reality.
This isn’t new. Language has been used to control and influence people since the world’s first lie. What is new is the way we are being made to feel psychologically unstable and even ashamed for believing in some of life’s basic truths. This madness didn’t begin yesterday; the horse bolted decades ago. Marriage was redefined and children in the womb reclassified. What we are facing today is simply the latest chapter of the revolution to reinvent sex and gender. Man and woman have become virtually meaningless words, representative of the bad old phobic days. The modern priests of orthodoxy kindly inform us that meaning pivots on the self and ones personal impulses. To impose names beyond the individual is to cause harm and create an unfair society. Hence, we must no longer speak of mother’s feeding their babies breast milk, but of person’s offering chest milk.
Sex and gender are politicised. Nothing is to interfere with the project of modern self realisation. Traditional understandings, as essential and commonsense as they may be, must be eradicated in the name of expressive individualism. It can be observed with more than a dose of irony that the most committed individualists are among the most insistent on imposing new meanings and new words on everybody else.
Does it matter?
First of all, effective communication is becoming harder. We can no longer trust our eyes and our senses to make reasonable conclusions. We stumble over our words as we try to find the accepted doublespeak. How is the new mother, sorry, the ‘gestational parent’? Are you the non ‘birthing parent’? Apart from sounding like idiots, the problem is, the rules around language are constantly changing. There is always potential that employees will be publicly shamed simply because they are not up to date with the latest metamorphosization of words.
To misspeak can cost you your reputation and career. The process begins with an announcement of what is deemed acceptable speech. Self appointed hermeneutists then provide new definitions and education materials to instruct us how to repent of our ways and to use the right words. This leads to fear and to submission, for who wants to be singled out as a social heretic and bigoted person?
Second, the project that is designed to bring about equality and human dignity is in fact dehumanising. The distinctive, beautiful, and irreplaceable role of motherhood is taken away. Women’s sport will soon be a thing of the past. To refer to God as Father is now ridiculed by theologians and pastors who want to remain in the good pleasures of society’s bishops. Belief that only a biological woman can be a mother now contradicts ANU’s speech guidelines, despite the fact that this is a fact. Mothers and fathers are being erased from the culture’s new book of life, and inscribing a baby”s gender at birth is now controversial and potentially an infringement on the baby’s rights.
However, to call a mother, mother, and a father, father is not to diminish the personhood of those who are not. Rather, it is recognising and honouring a social good and social necessity.
We will do well to also recognise that there are people who genuinely feel as though they are living in the wrong body or who struggle to reconcile gender and sex. The answer is not to take man and woman and mum and dad to the deconstuctors. A society that ignores biology and the most basic of relational entities is not progressive, it becomes oppressive. This is a sign of a culture in trouble. We are not witnessing a new age of enlightenment, but a culture that is exhausted and declining. If we can no longer recognise and name mum and dad, or boy and girl, we have become like the painter who can no longer identify colour or shape, or the musician who no longer recognises pitch or rhythm. Everything is dismantled and becomes unrecognisable.
For the Christian, it will not do for us to simply hold onto patterns that even a short while ago were assumed by society as a moral good. Christians affirm categories of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother (as do many others who share a different worldview). Yet, Christians also look above and ground our worth in another category. Christians ground the value of personhood in the Bible’s affirmation of the imago dei. This thinking is quite unique to Judeo-Christianity and it is wonderfully liberating. All people are made in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth and dignity. Not everyone is a man or a woman or a mother or a father, but all share the imago dei.
The Christian view pushes even further. The man Jesus Christ is described as the representative for all people and the perfect substitute for all humanity. The Son of God became incarnate. In the person of Jesus Christ we find God who understands and empathises with human struggles and one who redeems. I suspect Hebrews ch.2 won’t find a place in a university’s guidebook any time soon, but I reckon these words are far more affirming and loving and good.
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
13 And again,“I will put my trust in him.”
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
The Victorian Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 made the front page of Sunday’s The Age. Given the issues at stake, it is indeed headline news.
I was interviewed for that article. Yesterday, another piece was published, this time, The Age found two baptist pastors who support the Bill. I’m sure there are a few more out there, but in light of the fact that there are 100s of baptist pastors in Victoria, we are talking about a small number.
Teash Taylor (of St Kilda Baptist) and Simon Carey Holt (of Collins Street Baptist) have the right to say whatever they want. Victoria is a free State, at least it is until the Bill is adopted early next year. The issue is not their freedom to express an opinion. The point is that their views are incorrect and dangerous.
I observe how their quotes are being used to divide the Liberal Party room. Notice the headline, “Liberals tussle over gay conversion laws as religious leaders split”.
Imagine investigating a university campus in order to find which students believe in a flat earth. Say they find 5 students…even 20? Should they conclude that the majority of university students believe the earth is flat? Would it be fair to therefore conclude that this belief is valid and that the academic community are split on the issue?
It is always possible to find contrarian voices on any issue. Quoting supportive Christians voices gives the public a sense of confusion and mixed views within the religious community. On the matter of the Government’s Conversion Bill there will of course be some of this. But let the reader understand, the comments made by Teash Taylor and Simon Carey Holt are not representative of what our churches formally believe and teach. Maybe, they are speaking with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean their words are not problematic and damaging.
Let’s look at what the two baptists said.
Conversion Bill will lead to harm
Teash Taylor said that reforms had “the potential to be life saving”.
Everyone knows that those old practices were always marginal and rare. No one today thinks aversion therapy is a good idea. No one supports or practices non consensual pastoral care. So what are we talking about? What is it exactly that’s going to be life saving?
One can only presume that what Taylor has in mind is prayer and pastoral conversations where the Christian point of view is presented and encouraged. After all, these are the kinds of religious activities that do take place today and that the Government is targeting. What an odd position for Taylor to take.
Importantly, there is evidence suggesting that the Government’s Bill will create harm for LGBT persons, not prevent it.
According to the landmark decision made by the UK’s High Court last week, pushing vulnerable children into undertaking hormonal treatment and other invasive practices is a serious threat to their mental and physical wellbeing. The Victorian legislation however will force parents and medical practitioners down that very path.
“Despite a weak evidence base the gender-affirming approach is so dogmatic that it champions the new wave of criminal laws against any therapy deemed to try to “convert” someone’s gender identity, Victoria being the latest with a draft bill. Cruel attempts to force adults to change sexual orientation appear to be mostly a historical footnote. Laws such as Victoria’s could criminalise ethical attempts to help a trans-identifying teenage girl re-embrace her biological sex and find comfort in her body after the trauma of sexual assault. But counselling to assist medicalised gender change for children is exempt from these cookie-cutter bans on conversion therapy. The risk is that some minors struggling with non-gender issues will seize on trans identity as a solution, will be uncritically “affirmed” by teachers or counsellors at school, and will be put on the path to needless medication.”
Another outcome from this Bill that will cause harm is an increased reluctance among Churches and Christians to give the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. After all, no one wants to be imprisoned, fined, or sentenced to a reeducation camp as though we’re living in Xinjiang Province. But of course this is the goal. Both Premier Andrews and Attorney General Jill Hennessy have admitted such,
“The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”
“These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”
Churches remain a beacon of light and hope in a city where there is so much darkness. This Bill will have disastrous consequences for our communities who are searching for answers and looking for hope. Will Churches and Christians now refuse to pray with people, even when invited to do so? Will pastors decline from teaching the whole counsel of God in fear that someone will find offence? Remember, offence is sufficient cause to have you dragged before a civil tribunal and for authorities to force you to attend classes instructing you that what Christians have always believed is a lie and cannot be tolerated.
This Bill creates an environment of fear and bullying. Instead of ideas being shared and discussed, and people being persuaded, this a Government attempting to control religious belief.
Despite recent comments by our political leaders, it remains the case that the Christian message is good news. It is wonderful and extraordinary news for people who believed they can never approach God and that hope can never be theirs. Jesus says to believe his message is to find eternal life.
At the same time, the same Christian message always causes offence to some. As the Scriptures say,
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)
If freedom is taken from Christians to speak, engage and pray in favour of the Christian vision for human life and flourishing, we can only expect serious consequences for the health and life of our fellow Victorians.
All this is unnecessary, had the Government acted reasonably and fairly. The Government acknowledged in 2019 that there are narrow definitions of conversion practice, which focus on those few and rare practices that once existed in marginal religious groups. That would have had validity and probable support amongst Christians universally. However, this Government deliberately settled on parameters that are broad and vague. Indeed, they have already declared that they are open to extending these parameters. For example, while sermons are not currently included in the prohibitions, the AG has said in the Parliament that they may be included at a later stage under new “anti-vilification protections”.
The Baptist supporting imprisonment of fellow Baptists
Let’s turn to Simon Carey Holt from Collins St Baptist. He said,
“This seems to me to demonstrate an extraordinary lack of self awareness” .
“While it is true that many churches have never sanctioned the more extreme practices of aversion or shock therapy, their consistent messaging that those people of a homosexual orientation are broken and must suppress, deny and repent of their sexuality has been far more consistently damaging and over such a long period of time for so many of its own people.”
What Simon means to say is that he doesn’t believe what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and life. He disagrees with Jesus in Matthew 19 and with the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 5. Simon belongs to those progressive voices who are better informed than the authors of Scripture.
Simon Carey Holt does not speak for the Baptist Denomination. Nor do I for that matter. However, I happen to believe, for example, the Baptist definition of marriage. This baptist understanding of human sexuality and relationships is in line with what Christians have held across the world for thousands of years. Simon dissents from this and instead follows the view that is currently popular in our culture.
The gall isn’t only in the fact that these pastors reject Christian doctrine around these anthropological questions. It is that they support a Bill that will imprison Christians for doing nothing more than upholding Christian teaching and practice.
For religious leaders to support this Bill is beyond reprehensible. Our Roman Catholic friends and Eastern Orthodox friends are behaving in a more baptist manner on this issue! It is one thing for politicians to pursue a course of action. As Jesus might say, “they don’t know what they’re doing”. However, for Church leaders to do so, even if it is only a few, is an attack on the body of Christ.
Particularly for Baptists who have a long tradition of upholding the separation of Church and State, for these Baptists to applaud Government intrusion into the prayer life of churches is a slap in the face of the Baptist community. Again, we are not talking about those archaic and awful practices once employed in a psychologists clinic that seeped into a few religious groups, we are speaking about praying and conversation.
The greater problem isn’t even these two outspoken baptists; it is years of Christian Denominations lacking courage to stand for Christian truth and to refute bad theology when it arises. Years of inaction and faux-peace-making has created this scenario. It is as though everyone has forgotten Thyatira.
Will the Andrews Government vision for our churches finally stir denominations into life? Or perhaps it will merely consolidate their dying breath. The best thing Churches can do is continue to lovingly, winsomely, and faithfully present and live out this good news from God.
Daniel Andrews doesn’t define what is good anymore than Simon Holt or Murray Campbell. Sexual norms and gender theory is constantly changing, The lines of orthodoxy are redefined almost every year. Even gays and lesbians are finding themselves publicly cancelled and vilified because they do not support the latest version of ‘my truth’. Amidst these shifting shadows is a piercing light that does not change and that continues to promise “life to the full”. Not life without difficulty or confusion, but a contentment and peace and clarity like no other. This message is worth holding onto. .
“the demonization and dehumanization of the other side must stop. When professing Christians do it, it is triply wrong.”
The statement shouldn’t be controversial for Christians, but in today’s America (and to a lesser degree, Australia), it was outrageous for Tim Keller to make this suggestion.
Despite many people appreciating his comment (and others that he has recently made on social media), there has been a lot of backlash and complaints. For example,
“Another comical and tone deaf statement by Keller. It’s triply wrong when Christians do it because we expect non-Christians to be awful people that do crappy things.”
Tim Keller is observing a very real and concerning problem in our societies. Public debate no longer has room for grace, kindness, and patience. Genuine conversations are hard to find and even more difficult to start because of the cacophony of stereotypes, insults, and shouts that now dominate public space. The force of political diatribe is sweeping aside nuance and fairness and patience. There is little toleration for paving a new path in this age in intolerance. Keller is rightly noting how it is all too easy for Christians to slide into the assumed poles that are being defined by left and right, progressive and conservative.
Today’s posture is the opposite of Proverbs 18:13 which says,
“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”
The reality is, Christians may agree with a moral principle but we may believe that there are different ways to approach the issue and we might feel more or less passionately about the issue than the next Christian. Among these matters are abortion, racism, refugees, and climate change. We can agree that these are important ethical issues. We grieve over how our culture buys into and even celebrates theories and policies that dehumanise our fellow human beings. It is quite possible, indeed it is inevitable, that while concurring that a certain belief or action is wrong, there is often diverse opinion about how to best approach the issue. It may be unpopular to suggest this, but these disparate positions often have less to do with shared theological convictions and more to do with political philosophy (ie. what is the role of Government?) and personal experience. Instead of recognising the way we form our views, we have wrongly purchased the arrogant absolutism that is now pervading our society.
I have seen this happening even in Australia as the nation deals with the latest manifestations of the sexual revolution, with a bushfire emergency and now with the COVID-19 pandemic. A person may rightly identify an important issue, but if we respond to evil with more sin, how have we contributed in any constructive way? If we only react according to our sense of ‘righteous indignation’, are we not in danger of relying upon rhetorical power to fend off terrible things rather than ‘grace seasoned with salt’?
If I need to resort to slander, gossip, and caricature, in order present my case, I have already lost.
As I casual onlooker of American culture and someone who lives inside Australian culture, it is clear that we have foot-faulted and we’ve convinced ourselves that because others are getting away with it, so can we. One of the consequences is that instead of adorning the Gospel, we attached a pugnacious moralism.
The harder path is the road less trod. A myopic culture may not see much benefit in taking this road but as Christians we are surely looking ahead toward eternity, not just the next social schism or election.
Another response to Keller’s tweet said this,
“Are we implying Christians have NO BATTLE to fight? Demolishing arguments and exposing unbiblical ideologies ≠ attacking individuals. Let’s not forfeit the battle to “the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”
The comment is quite revealing, for it makes the very mistake that Tim Keller is urging Christians to avoid. There is a battle, but we do not fight as the world fights. We don’t resort to the same tactics that are employed by Government and corporations, by Hollywood and by social media platforms. The Bible is clear, we take our stand with truth and faith and righteousness. Our feet are readied with the ‘gospel of peace’. Notice this, Paul describes God’s good news about Jesus Christ as the gospel of peace. The staggering truth is, this is inauguration of peace for those who are not at peace with God. This is a peace for people who are not at rest but who are struggling against God and even ourselves. In this way, the Christian path in our secular age is to proclaim reconciliation and forgiveness through Christ.
When our political and social commitments speak louder than our Gospel convictions we inevitably begin to mirror the culture and not the Church of Jesus Christ. The cross is not a weapon to beat down opponents, it is God’s amazing news of salvation for sinners, of whom I am the worst.
This is the place to begin each day and every conversation,
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
When we view ourselves in light of the cross, it changes the ways we understand ourselves and the way we view others. We can mourn the days in which we live (and there is much reason for mourning). There are sometimes godly reasons for anger. But the cross will surely recompose our attitudes and ambitions and avenues.
As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
How can a Christian live and speak and act without seeing that it was my sin that held him there?
Two Christian doctrines of humanity that often create controversy are original sin and total depravity. I understand, these concepts cause us discomfort because of what they suggest about humanity in general, and me personally. However, this Biblical understanding of what went wrong in the world is part of our story and it’s vital if we are to understand ourselves and the world around us today. Indeed, just as a doctor needs to diagnosis the illness before treating it successfully, we need a detailed and accurate diagnosis of the human condition.
Interestingly, in this second wave of COVID-19 that is responsible for locking down my city of Melbourne, we are seeing an analogy of these doctrines. The analogy isn’t perfect but nonetheless, I think it is a poignant illustration. I’ll come to this analogy shortly.
It is worth noting that the phrase, ‘original sin’ has reappeared in our vocabulary over recent months. Original sin is now employed to help explain the current issue of racism in both Australia and in the United States, and to find its connection with historical slavery. There is some warrant for using this category in a sociological and historical manner, but theologically it comes unstuck. Europeans didn’t introduce sin to these shores, although we have urged it on, being living representations of the Christian doctrine of total depravity.
The Biblical notion of original sin begins in Genesis ch.3 where Adam and Eve doubted the truthfulness and goodness of God’s word by disobeying his clear instruction. The Apostle Paul traces every sinful thought, attitude, word and action back to this cataclysmic moment in the garden.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)
One of the resistances to the Biblical idea is the argument of justice. How can I be made responsible for the sin of another? Why should I pay the price for what someone else did thousands of years ago?
Just as the Bible explains sin’s origins in the one act of disobedience, it also explains how every human being chooses this path for themselves. Jesus responded to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in his day who argued for external adherence to religious laws by uncovering the heart of the issue,
“Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 18-23)
In other words, we are responsible for our own hearts and the motives and lives that follow.
We may inherit the condition put in motion in Genesis ch.3, but we also embrace them. This doctrine of total depravity isn’t suggesting that we only transgress but that we are inclined to reject God and his righteousness and instead to create and justify our own moral truths, often with disastrous consequences. As God’s image bearers, we carry hints of the glory of God and exquisite glimmers of his purposes. That there is love among us is reflective of the fact that God is love. And yet, this image bearing is broken and we often take pride in this fracturing.
The Apostle Paul concludes his gut wrenching exposition of God’s justification for judging the world by saying,
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away…” (Romans 3:10-12)
Let’s now turn to the analogy. It is believed that Melbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 began with a single source, connected with security guards working in hotel quarantine. One transgression has led to thousands of people contracting COVID-19 and a growing number now dying. The analogy that I want to draw your attention to isn’t so much virus but the chain of social disobediences that has ensued.
Every day there are dozens of people caught and fined for breaching the rules of the lockdown. Yesterday one Melbourne woman was arrested by police for flaunting the rules and posting her defiance on social media in front of police. Others, echoing that ancient serpent, “did God really say,” have insisted that they don’t need to follow the restrictions because they think the pandemic is a hoax.
The single actions of hotel security guards has led to the situation where we are in a serious medical and social situation. Can the Bunnings Karens blame these guards for their own actions? Should those refusing to wear masks or continuing to gather illegally in groups defer responsibility to those guards? Despite those original actions that has produced the crises in which we find ourselves, is not every Victorian responsible for their own actions? Of course.
The analogy does break down at this point: many Victorians (most) are complying with the restrictions, whereas the Bible explains how every person is sinful and breaks God’s intention for us, by nature and by choice. As I said at the beginning, the illustration isn’t perfect, but it shows how one action produces an environment where others do what is wrong. The former created the situation but the latter cannot use this as a defence for their own actions.
It is also true that while we are responsible for our own sins, we can also be victims of other peoples wilful and selfish behaviour. This is evident for everyone to see in this pandemic. Thousands of Victorians are now ill because some decided that following rules didn’t apply to them. Even yesterday, as police and ADF members visited the homes of Melbournians who’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, some of these people couldn’t be found because they had decided to return to work.
We may disagree with original sin, but the world around us and even our own lives bear testimony to it.
There is, of course, good news. The problem of sin has an answer, but it’s not found from within but from an outside source. The God who responded to original sin by cursing creation also offered his own life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” “(Galatians 3:13)
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous”. (Romans 5:19)