Richard Condie’s Positive Steps to help victims of child abuse

I want to commend the steps taken by Tasmania’s Anglican Bishop, Richard Condie, to redress the issue of child sexual abuse.

According to this evening’s ABC report,

“Tasmania’s Anglican Diocese is proposing to sell more than 120 properties, including churches, halls, houses and vacant land, to fund redress for survivors of child sexual abuse.

The church said it would need to sell just under half of its Tasmanian properties to cover an estimated $8 million of liability in additional payments to survivors.

It has been lobbying for the State Government to sign up to the National Redress Scheme for survivors, due to start on July 1 as a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Tasmanian Diocese also agreed to increase the payment cap for its own Pastoral Support and Assistance Scheme from $75,000 to $150,000 per claim.

Previous claimants will be entitled to have their claims reassessed, which may result in extra payments.

The figure of $8 million is based on advice that 150 survivors may be eligible to receive the average payment of $78,000 under the national scheme, or a similar figure from the church’s own scheme.”

“Survivors will not be able to claim from both schemes but, unlike the national scheme, the Tasmanian Anglican scheme is open to non-Australian citizens, those with a criminal conviction or people who were abused as adults.”

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Christian denominations and organisations have been rightly rebuked for the evil acts of child abuse that have been carried out by clergy and employees over many decades.  The abomination is not only the fact that the lives of young children have been devoured by demonic men, but that some groups covered up the crimes, or through inadequate training others did not respond to the cries of victims as they needed.

In part due to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Australians are more aware of the depth and breadth of the issue, and positive moves are now being taken to ensure children are safe and that Churches and other groups are better informed as to how to deal with reports of abuse. It still saddens me that the Royal Commission was ever required, but we should thankful for the tireless work of those who organised and participated. It is also encouraging to see many organisations being quick to follow the report’s recommendations, and it is disturbing to hear of others who are slow to practice repentance.

The damage created by decades of abuse will remain with us for decades to come. Thousands of Australians have been personally scarred, and their families too. Confidence in many institutions, including Churches, has been understandably broken. Churches have given Australians reason to doubt the authenticity of the Gospel, and to disbelieve the witness of Churches. This should never have been the case, for the name of Jesus Christ is good and holy, and without a single spot of unrighteousness, and followers of Jesus are called to be like their Lord and show others how good He is. Yet men from hell came and covered themselves in white robes and stole innocence. God is just and their evil behaviour will be recompensed in full, but  we are being naive if we believe that Aussies will quickly forgive or forget. We should not forget, we must repent.

I am reminded of the Law in the Old Testament. The Pentateuch may have fallen out of favour in our culture, like an out of date carton of milk, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment. Yes, the Mosaic law sours when it’s misapplied, but the law is more useful and essential than we might be willing to admit. In reading the law we learn two profound truths: Justice is paramount, and mercy is desperately needed.

“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (Exodus 23:6)

“Do not pervert justice or show partiality.” (Deuteronomy 6:19)

I thank God for Richard Condie’s leadership in practicing public and genuine repentance. He has not minimised the sins of past generations, and he is willing to go beyond recommendations in order to offer compensation to victims.

“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15).

Let justice be done. My prayer is that others will follow the example of the Tasmanian Anglican Diocese (and that of the Sydney Anglican Diocese who have also made welcoming steps forward).

The Changing Algorithm of Facebook

“Stay away from a fool,
for you will not find knowledge on their lips.

 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
but the folly of fools is deception”. (Proverbs 14:7-8)

 

Facebook has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism this week. It has been revealed that analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, went digging around Facebook and used the uncovered gold dust to help the 2016 Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. It’s being reported that as many as 50 million Americans had their private facebook information accessed and used.

I don’t like data-mining; it’s intrusive, a virtual version of a garage sale, except someone is selling your information without your knowledge and permission.  I may not like it, but I do however assume that marketing companies are doing this all the time. Is it really a coincidence that after researching a vacation online, within minutes I find advertisements appearing for airlines and accommodation?

People are so incensed by Facebook’s negligence, that shares have dropped in value and people have begun closing their accounts. Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla had deleted their facebook page.

Peter Hatcher wrote for The Age,

“America’s Big Tech firms have had a free run for a long time now. The normal standards were suspended for them. The soft power of their image gave them worldwide licence to evade tax, break laws, abuse customers’ trust and exploit workers.

“The personal information of some 50 million Facebook users was misused by a political consultancy to help Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign target voters. The consultancy, now notorious, is called Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook shrugged off the scandal and stonewalled the public and the US Congress for the first five days. It responded not to its angry customers or concerned Congress members but only to its falling share price. Facebook founder and major shareholder Mark Zuckerberg decided that it was serious only after he had lost $US9 billion in personal wealth.

“So this was a major breach of trust and I’m really sorry that this happened,” were Zuckerberg’s first words in a CNN interview this week. “So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

This is nothing new. When the Obama campaign used data-mining in the 2012 campaign, it was hailed as a technological masterstroke and use of innovation.

As an another example, the Brisbane Times reported during the week that Gold Coast City had planned to use data-mining during the upcoming Commonwealth Games, but have now decided against the idea.

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While everyone seems to be outraged by the latest facebook scandal, in January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg made an announced that few media outlets reported or expressed concern over. In introducing algorithm changes, Zuckerberg said that Facebook would reduce certain content on peoples’ feeds, and keep traffic clear for updates from friends, liked groups, and “trusted sources” for news. 

It has since come out that “trusted sources” doesn’t mean news and information sites that we have personally follow, but which Facebook had deemed newsworthy for us.

According to the DailyWire, ”Those “trusted sources,” however, are not necessarily going to be the same pages and news sites that users follow; rather, they are sources that Facebook designates as “trusted” through what it says will be rankings produced by “a diverse and representative” sample of Facebook users (see full post below). Which sources are “trusted sources” and which are not, is unclear. Sources not deemed “trusted” — even those you choose to follow — will get buried or de-emphasized in your newsfeed.”

The effect of this has been a marked decrease of readership for many conservative sites, and an increase for numbers left leaning and “progressive” media outlets. According to one study, “The 12 most conservative sites lost an average of 27.06 percent of their traffic from Facebook”, while more liberal sites saw either significant growth in traffic from facebook or remained the same.

The point is, Facebook is skewing the type of news and information that they want users to find and read.

It appears as though it is not only major news outlets that are experiencing this negative change. Since February I have noticed a significant drop on this blog, both in terms the total number of referrals from Facebook and in the percentage of total reads that would normally result from Facebook referrals. Like any website, visitor numbers change depending on numerous factors, including the frequency of posting new material, and the ‘interest factor’. Not everything I write flies with success, but the difference has been pretty clear. Not only has the facebook readership been declining, for the first time ever, twitter referrals are out performing facebook.

I have asked other prominent Australian Christian bloggers about this, and they are noticing similar trends.


I’m not suggesting that Facebook is targeting Christians sites, but I suspect that are conflating Christianity with conservative, and the latter is certainly being affected. It is somewhat ridiculous though because Christian and conservative are not the same. This is a gross error that is often made in politics and media, and apparently also by social media. While Christians and conservatives may share some commonalities, on other issues Christians finds themselves in a very different place, because our identity and beliefs are shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not by any single political philosophy. Nevertheless, algorithms don’t lie!

Apparently, facebook users can take steps to partially rectify this bias. Go to and follow the steps: https://www.dailywire.com/news/26203/facebook-changing-your-newsfeed-heres-how-make-james-barrett

More importantly, let’s learn that neutrality is often alleged and is rarely true. It would be nice if platforms like Facebook and Google worked without prejudice, but this is the real world. It is perhaps too early for giving up social media, but let’s not think that the virtual world is any more impartial than the physical world.

As the Proverb says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” And perhaps we should add,’ lean not on our social media.’

Address at the Victorian Parliament

Below is a transcript of a short address that I gave this afternoon at the Victorian Parliament, at a Parliamentary Update meeting for Faith Communities.

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Thank you to those who have organised this afternoon’s Parliamentary Update. Your time is appreciated.

Of the many issues which deserve attention I wish to raise 3 at this time: 1. religious freedom, 2. safe schools, and 3. freedom for unborn children to live.

In many ways Victoria is a great place to live, it is not however a safe State for unborn children. We talk about the right to choose,  but we rarely talk about our responsibility toward society’s most vulnerable. A 16 week old baby in the womb can be moved by the music of Mozart and Bach, and yet we permit that child’s death.

And Victoria is not always a safe State for school children who are now compelled to participate in and to affirm theories about sexuality that contradict many sound beliefs. While Respectful Relationships and Safe Schools may contain some useful tools, they are deeply flawed and ideologically driven. Safe Schools has been exposed by two independent inquiries. To quote Professor Patrick Parkinson, Safe Schools is “dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.”

This will damage many vulnerable children who are wrestling with their sexuality. In addition, many Victorian families now believe that they are no longer welcome in public schools. Alternative arrangements come at a tremendous cost to families, and sometimes parents don’t have the option of enrolling their children into a Christian or private school.

Finally, I am concerned by the fact that this Parliament has introduced ill conceived legislations that would reduce religious freedoms in Victoria and compromise freedom of conscience. For example, the currently proposed Charities Amendment Bill, and the Inherent Requirement Test legislation from 2016. The latter example specifically targeted religious groups, and would have given the Government power to intervene in churches and religious organisations during the process of hiring employees. Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

Such overreach threatens our liberal democracy, for freedom of association and freedom of religion are foundational. We are meant to be a pluralist society and yet such legislative agendas work against it.

I reminded of when the Apostle Paul visited the city of Corinth; he challenged the status quo but not by silencing them but by discussion and reasoning.

When a legislative agenda aims reduce religious freedoms all Victorians should be concerned, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because a healthy society needs this. We learn and mature through debate and discussion.

As we look to this year’s election, these are I believe 3 critical issues for our State.

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Should a sheep have the same rights as a person?

If you’ve ever felt sheepish, the reason may be more acute than you first thought!

Melbourne is in the middle of a world wide campaign to fight for the rights of animals*. I wasn’t aware of this fact until pictures of sheep started appearing on social media this morning, but apparently “Melbourne is becoming known as one of the world’s most vegan-friendly cities”. Leaving aside what this must mean for another of our most beloved titles, ‘Australia’s food capital’, what are we to make of these posters?

After doing a little research I discovered that I missed out on ‘World Vegan Day’, last November. According to organisers, the goal of World Vegan Day is,

“to promote and expand awareness of the ethical, compassionate, health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet and lifestyle to the general public.

We are an all-inclusive, non-judgemental family event that encourages all people of every age group, gender, race and religion to celebrate World Vegan Day. While it is a great day for all Vegans to celebrate the vegan lifestyle it is also a great opportunity to outreach to the wider non-vegan community and immerse them for a few hours in the vegan lifestyle.”

It all sounds rather nice and tame, until you stop for half a second and realise that ‘non-judgemental’ only counts so long as you accept their philosophy about animals and humans. Last month, dozens of vegan protesters stormed a Melbourne steak restaurant, waving posters and screaming at diners.

 

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If the point is simply to make the public aware of certain cruel and unnecessary practices, fair enough. But no, they want us to believe that animals share the same rights as human beings.

Do we really believe that a sheep has the same value as a human being? Are you convinced that a person is ultimately no different to or better than an animal? And let’s not stop with sheep, after all are not all animals equal? What about cows, camels and man’s best friend?

It has become socially uncouth to speak up about the mass slaughter of unborn human beings. In my home State, the terminally ill are now only one train stop away from termination. The greatest sin of all is to suggest that there is any difference between the sexes. We are not only equal, we are all the same. Clearly, that must be true because women’s AFL is about to scrapped and instead female footballers will compete with the men in the draft. In fact we are now taking this pursuit to a whole new level, for society has committed itself to the unscientific and unkind endeavour of gender blurring. We can move between genders, and undergo hormone treatment to give the physical impression of change.

Perhaps the dream of Australia’s most infamous ethicist will come true, ‘imagine there’s no heaven or hell, no God, no marked difference between people and animals.’

In 2007, Peter Singer wrote a piece in the New York Times, where he discussed ethical questions surrounding  a severely disabled 9 year old girl by the name of Ashley. He wrote,

“Here’s where things get philosophically interesting. We are always ready to find dignity in human beings, including those whose mental age will never exceed that of an infant, but we don’t attribute dignity to dogs or cats, though they clearly operate at a more advanced mental level than human infants. Just making that comparison provokes outrage in some quarters. But why should dignity always go together with species membership, no matter what the characteristics of the individual may be?

What matters in Ashley’s life is that she should not suffer, and that she should be able to enjoy whatever she is capable of enjoying. Beyond that, she is precious not so much for what she is, but because her parents and siblings love her and care about her. Lofty talk about human dignity should not stand in the way of children like her getting the treatment that is best both for them and their families.”

Notice the comparison he makes? He suggests that the life of a dog or cat has more value and ‘dignity’ than a human being with limited cognitive faculties. Not only that, in true utilitarian style he denies Ashley’s intrinsic worth as a human being, suggesting that she has worth only insofar as she is loved by her family.

This post is not a rant against veganism as such. I don’t get it, and I have no plans to giving up milk, eggs, and especially steak. To be clear, the practice of not eating or using animal products is not inherently wrong. When it comes to some treatment of animals in our abattoirs, they probably have a valid point to make. However, the idea that animals and human beings are of equal worth, is vile and communicates how crazy the culture has become.

I suspect the vegan lifestyle is never going to catch up in mainstream society, but the atheistic utilitarianism of Peter Singer and others has already taken middle Australia captive. The vegan slogan is nothing more than the natural outworking of decades of denying the inherent imago dei.

According to the Bible, we do share one trait with sheep, “we all like sheep have gone astray”. We’ve broken down the fence and wandered off, and are trying to create a world without God and stubbornly refusing his good design.

I have some suggestions for a new poster at Melbourne’s train stations:

“Equal But Different: Dignity for men and women”

“Equal But Different: God’s Image Bearers”

“Equality for the Unborn”

“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

Does anyone think that any of these slogans would be permitted on platform 8 at Southern Cross Station?

 

 

 


*No vegans were hurt in the publication of this post

Cheers for North Korea and Condemnation for Barnaby Joyce

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

 

We live in strange and disturbing times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Firstly, marriage is both private and public

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

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

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

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

Second, love is not always love

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine Ford wrote in The Age,

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

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

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

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

Third, Fidelity matters

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 “No one, sir,” she said.

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

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REVIEW SUBMISSION

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

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

Intent to curb religious freedoms

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

For example,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their list of ambitions includes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of hampering religious expression and freedom in Australia

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

In the area of public education:

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

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

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

In the area of employment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

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

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

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

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

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

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

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

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

In the area of societal conversation:

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

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

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

Concluding Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

Along with many fellow Australians, I am asking:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Australian Generosity at Christmas

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

She writes,

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

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

Fitzsimmons helpfully points out,

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

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

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

So how generous are we?

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the reason?

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

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

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

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

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