Hope for a generation without hope

During the course of 2019, I have observed a growing sense of hopelessness being felt and expressed by people across the globe, especially among teenagers. Climate change, political agendas and social uncertainties are compounding and amplifying a disillusionment about the future.

There is an audible disquiet and growing despair spilling over from social media and into our schools and onto our streets. My children’s school was so concerned about this that they wrote a letter to parents, urging us to address these matters in a calm and constructive manner.

This year we have heard young people declaring that they will never have because of threats facing the globe. Members of the British Royal family have also joined the chorus, announcing that they will have fewer children because of the perils posed by climate change. 

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It is not only Climate Change that is of concern. Western societies are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism, stories of sexual abuse rarely leave the headlines, and the question of religious freedom is no longer limited to the theoretical. The oft forgotten issues of alcohol, drugs, and gambling continue to destroy homes and lives across our suburbs and towns. There is also the situation facing Hong Kong, the forced internment of over one million Uyghurs in China, and a 1000 who have been killed in Iran recently protesting in support of freedoms in that land.

There is much to see in our world today that can overwhelm young and vibrant hearts. Indeed, has there been another year in living memory that has exuded so much negativity and sense of despair?

Our city streets are regularly clogged with protests. Once upon a time, we might see 3 or 4 such marches during the course of a year, but now it is almost every week. And the people protesting have also changed. There are fewer industry unions standing for the rights of the working class. The demonstrations are about sexual rights and the environment: save the planet, save animals, and kill the unborn. If that final inclusion sounds a little distasteful, that’s because it is. Children are now joining in these rallies in their thousands, skipping school to express dread and discouragement as they consider their future.

These conditions are a dangerous recipe. Passionate citizens and concerned people can be exploited by vociferous ideologues. History is littered with such examples and even some current movements have also been used and turned by less than helpful campaigners. How quickly we forget. For example, when Safe Schools was launched, its chief architect, Roz Ward, explained that the curriculum was designed to introduce Marxist thinking into our schools. Far from assisting youth who are wrestling with their sexual identity, they became pawns in a political subversion game being played among academics and social activists.

There is something particularly disconsolating in watching a generation lose hope. Sure, some of it is virtual signalling. Of course, adults need to take responsibility for the over the top rhetoric they sometimes apply to public issues. And yet, we should recognise that many young Australians are feeling the weight of a less than certain future.

When we looked back we remember that ours isn’t the first generation of young people to experience despondency. The generation of 1914-18 was marked by the trauma of world war. The following generation grew up during the Great Depression and was soon struck down by a global war more terrifying and bloody than the one their parents survived. Children of the 1950s learned to duck and cover, in the event of a nuclear attack that many believed was inevitable.

We could dig further back into history and look to the time of the Exodus or to the age of exile in Babylon. What were those people living through?  How did they feel? And where did they place their hope?

Of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, 

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

Of the people living in exile for 70 years, 

“They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11)

Millennials are not the first generation to face enormous life changing obstacles and they won’t be last. This is not to dismiss Climate Change. My purpose here is not to contest the science for I am no expert in this area. I have no reason to doubt the research being conducted by so many and where there is broad consensus. Indeed the issue fits neatly with a biblical understanding of the world and of the human capacity to care for and to abuse the creation in which we live. 

Are we reaping the fruit of generations of greed and selfishness? Probably. We are also reaping the benefits of generations of ingenuity and progress. I can almost hear Charles Dickens penning those famous words, 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

In some respects, we are living in the best of days. Our standard of living has never been higher. Our children have more opportunities and experiences open to them than could have been imagined 20 years ago. In many areas, life has never been better, but the rhetoric of doom is drowning out much else.

Call me a heretic but Climate change isn’t the existential threat facing the planet and humanity. It is a symptom of an ancient problem that we have afforded to ignore for far too long. If there is no God, why should we ultimately concern ourselves with altruism? Why bother with protecting the environment for future generations if purpose is found in the individual and defined by personal satisfaction? The fact that we understand that there are moral boundaries and that the future does matter, is not an argument against Divine purpose but the only rational explanation for having such concerns. How we behave toward one another and how we use the planet is important because this isn’t a meaningless existence. 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

 There has been a cosmological battle taking place for millennia, and it is ultimately against the Creator, not the creation. The ancient mandate to care for the world remains, but the growing call to save and redeem the world is not one within our purview. Those who believe we can save the planet have far too high regard for human capability and moral will. I’m not saying, don’t bother reducing carbon omissions and forget about investing in renewable energy; far from it. The house I live in won’t stand forever but it doesn’t mean I neglect the building. I neither wreck the house nor place all my energy and hopes in the house. I’m just pointing out the fact that people putting their ultimate hope in other people will always disappoint in the end. The role of global saviour is too big a job. You see, I don’t believe things are as bad as we suggest they are; despite even the good around us the reality is far more perilous. 

At least in the West, millennials are following their parents lead and ditching Christianity in favour of either vague and undefinable spirituality or choosing a-theism and an irrational universe. I reckon this pursuit is partly responsible for hopelessness that is weaving itself through our communities. It is time to revisit the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, for most Australians, it is to visit Him for the very first time. The Gospel of Matthew declares, 

“In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12:21)

And this, 

 “And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)

Here are words of profound hope. Here is a person in whom we can rest our hope. Jesus wasn’t a virtual signaller. He came into a hostile world and to a people without hope. He demonstrated his Divinity in the most powerful and loving ways. He chose to take a road to crucifixion. He was raised to life on the third day. He has ascended to heaven. He will hold the nations to account. He will hold all of us to account. He brings hope and healing, peace and reconciliation. Some Churches have done a great job at confusing and even betraying these things, but the message stands the test of time. Indeed there are millions of millennials turning to the Gospel all over the world today and discover the kind of hope they need and cannot find in anything else.

We can’t survive without hope. Hope in the world or hope in humanity is an age-long route to despair. Human responsibility is noble and right, but the hope of the world cannot rest on the shoulders of our children. You may doubt what I suggest, but at the very least, why not open a Bible to the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John, read and consider this hope before you discount him?

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)

What is a woman?

What is a woman? Let’s be clear from the outset, this wasn’t my question. I am simply repeating a question asked by a woman to another woman, and the answer is certainly worthy of discussion.

It was only a few years ago that it was possible to describe what a woman is and indeed, what a man is. We could talk about biology and physiology. We could define men and women according to whether a person had  XY chromosomes or  XX chromosomes. We could speak of social and emotional differences. Of course, if you dare offer any such explanation in today’s culture, you’ll soon find yourself being shamed and cancelled.

 

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So what happens when a political leader is asked on national radio, “what is a woman?”

British voters are counting down the hours to the election. I am very casual and distant observer of British politics, but my interest here is apolitical. This post relates to the latest showing of the absurd in our Western culture.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 and was taking questions from callers. A woman by the name of Anna phoned in and asked,

“It is really great that your party promotes women’s rights. So please can you tell what is a woman?”

I suspect Swinson’s answer will be disappointing news to many women, and to men, and to men who think they are a woman.

Amidst many ums and pauses, the  LDP leader said,

“I know that I am a woman…..we know what we are….all woman have rights and need to be protected…”

Anna wasn’t exactly satisfied by this lack of an answer and so she tried again, “So how can you tell what a woman is?”

The best explanation that Jo Swinson could offer was,

“people can understand their own identity”

There we have it. It is no longer possible to define what a woman is. You know if you are, but don’t count on biology to inform you or anything else for that matter. If that leaves you in a state of uncertainty, unable to base your gender identity on anything clear and certain, that just how things are.

Jo Swinson may believe she is representing transgender Brits and people who are confused about their gender identity, but her answer doesn’t offer them any comfort. They may say that they are a woman, but can they or anyone know? Definition is beyond our grasp. Apparently, we are now unable to even describe what a woman is.

As the American political commentator Ben Shapiro asked a few months ago, is female simply a set of social stereotypes or is it biological? We are told that it cannot be biological because a woman can have a penis just as men can give birth to children. Therefore,  femaleness must be definable by social stereotypes, a criteria of observable non-physical differences from males. But of course, the dilemma is that we are not permitted to suggest that men and women have any differences beyond the biological; that would be mansplaining. It is derogatory and sexist to hint there is any difference between men and women.

If this is the case (that we can’t detect a woman according to either biology or social stereotypes) what is the value in even using these categories of sex and gender? Why not eliminate them altogether?

Western culture has quickly turned into the ouroboros. We are slowly destroying ourselves as we deny essential realities about the world and about ourselves. It’s as though some bright spark read Romans 1:18-32 and thought to himself/herself, what a brilliant pathway to progress! But this isn’t progress, it is a dangerous game of identity politics with an undertone of Marxist like authoritarianism, and it is hurting real people who are struggling with real issues.

Jesus once asked a group of intellectuals, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…” I suspect Jesus wouldn’t survive on social media for very long. Our inspired progressive leaders would have him cancelled by nightfall for daring make such a suggestion! We don’t need further legislation and social alterations that will define men and women out of existence. If only we would stop listening to the insane and dangerous, and begin listening to the One who came from heaven and who was crucified out of love for us. He doesn’t only explain to us men and women, he offers us greater dignity and love and life than any politician can ever promise. But giving up hubris and putting on humility isn’t an easy path to take, but it is a necessary one if we have any chance of finding redemption.

This isn’t the final word

Rugby Australia and Israel Folau have come to an agreement. The terms of the settlement remain confidential but both parties have released a joint statement in which Folau affirms he never intended to offend anyone and where Rugby Australia apologise to Folau.

Israel Folau will be remembered as a greatly gifted player, who was nevertheless a disaster for rugby.

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Not everyone is satisfied. Lawyers are expressing their preference to see the case played out in court, not necessarily because of prejudice against either party but for the sake of clarifying where Australian Law sits in regard to religious freedom. Other Aussies are disappointed because the case has ended in ex-communication for Folau rather than social execution. For 18 months, Peter FitzSimons has used his privileged place in the Australian media to call for and support the sacking of Israel Folau. He is far from the only voice, but Fitz has perhaps been the loudest and most consistent.  Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, FitzSimons has expressed his disappointment over the final outcome and has tried to type out the final word on the Israel Folau saga.

“From the point of view of resolving the many issues raised, however – and more particularly holding Folau to account for his damaging actions – it is singularly dissatisfying.”

“As one who has followed the issues closely since Folau first disgraced himself by putting up a post endorsing the view that gays are destined for hell, and who has written and ranted about it extensively, I am more aware than most of the damage he has done, the hurt he has caused. In the 21st century, his homophobic gibberish – you heard me – simply has no place. And it is no excuse that the gibberish in question is sourced from the Bible. I was hoping the court would confirm that, hence the dissatisfaction.

It was for that reason my first reaction on hearing the news – and I write in the first few minutes thereafter – was the settlement was, firstly, a great pity. Secondly, my stronger reaction was I hoped RA kept the presumed payment to him to an absolute minimum.”

FitzSimons has been quick to call out rumours on social media that suggest the size of the settlement, and yet here he is, acting as a judicial speculator,

“have no inside knowledge of the terms, not even a hint, but my bet is it will be about $200,000 to $300,000…. Any sum more than that and I hope RA would have said, “bring it on, we’ll see you in court”.

Finally, he writes,

“Goodbye, Israel. You will be remembered as a greatly gifted player, who was nevertheless a disaster for rugby. The day you severed the final strands of your relationship with Rugby Australia was a good day for the game.

Good day to you, I said good day.”

FitzSimons may be posturing to give the final word, but this is far from over. The ‘Rugby Australia and Israel Folau’ chapter may have been signed off, but the issue of religious freedom in Australia is only just beginning.

Peter FitzSimons may not speak for all Australians, and probably not for mainstream Australia either, but he does represent a group of self-appointed moral arbiters who have significant public and influential voice. He has made it clear that believing and publicly affirming the Bible’s teaching on sexuality amounts to phobia and gibberish and it has no place in Australia today.

“In the 21st century, his homophobic gibberish – you heard me – simply has no place. And it is no excuse that the gibberish in question is sourced from the Bible.”

Back in July, Rugby Australia’s CEO, Raelene Castle, admitted that had Israel Folau only quoted Bible verses, that would be sufficient grounds to have him sacked. The Folau case was never really about contract law. This was always a case of cultural signalling, with Rugby Australia proving its wokeness to the world. Regardless of what one thinks about Folau’s post, he dared break the new moral code that is being pressed upon Australians, and that is, do not question the new sexual narrative. We are to fully subscribe to the new sexuality paradigm, and failure to do so requires a public cancelling and shaming. This forced social subscription may have found a high profile case in Australia but there are countless examples appearing all over the country, including Margaret Court, Coopers Beer, legislative moves by the Victorian Government, and more. Indeed, as Victoria pushes to ban conversion practices they have set the parameters so broadly that it may impact normal teaching and praying that occurs within church ministries.

Peter FitzSimons is an example of broad cultural ignorance toward the Christian Gospel. The entire premise of the Christian Gospel is that God disagrees with us, and yet he loves us. God’s disapproval of human attitudes and actions isn’t an example of phobia, and neither is Christian disagreement with the current sexual narrative. Peter FitzSimons is perpetuating the myth that the only good Christian is the Christian who embraces the atheistic ethic. Yes, it’s illogical and he is not entirely to blame.  It seems as though FitzSimons takes his theological education from the progressive Christian voices whom our culture hasn’t yet cancelled out. Of course, there is no need to silence the priest of Gosford and others. These are nice Christians who have signed up to the neo-Proletariat. They have given up the Gospel for a seat among our society’s culture club. Christians need to work harder at countering these fake Gospels and to do so in a manner that confirms the Gospel and not with the kind of behaviour that contradicts the message we claim to believe.

Like I said, the final word on religious freedom in Australia hasn’t been spoken.

The Federal Government’s religious discrimination Bill has recently returned to the drawing board, following criticisms from both religious and non-religious groups. As it stands, when it comes to religious freedom, Australian law remains unwritten.

Part of the reason behind this legal mess is because Australian law was not framed to deal with a culture that turns against the very belief system which provided its societal and legal foundations. Like a game of Jenga, you can only remove so many blocks before the entire structure comes crashing down. Of course, that hasn’t happened as yet, but that’s part of complexity facing many Western cultures today. How do we remove Christianity without destroying the very fabric upon which our culture depends?

Christians would be fools to bag their hopes in any future law. The law ought to function for the common good of all society (not only for Christians). The law should exist as a friend to its citizens by protecting freedoms. The difficulty of today’s Australia is that we have become the dog chasing its own tail. We allege freedom and toleration but by eating away at freedom and toleration.

More important than the law, will Australians learn to rediscover the art of civil disagreement? We are fast losing both the cognitive and moral ability to engage with opposing worldviews and to live together despite these differences. Social pluralism is being fast replaced by an ugly and authoritarian secularism that reigns with tackless hubris. Christians need to grow thicker skin and realise that the culture has set course. We need to stop that pointless dreaming about a ‘Christian Australia’ which by the way never existed, and we need to stop falling into modern trap of dumping our hope into the societal structures and systems. We must not give up on kindness, patience, or truth telling, on gentleness, love, or faithfulness. There is no need to play by the rules that Rugby Australia, Peter FitzSimons, and others insist upon. Hell is too awful and heaven too wonderful, and we want to serve our fellow Aussies well by offering a better story.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Hebrews 6:10-12)

Victoria to Outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 2)

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

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

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The Government justifies limiting religious freedom

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

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

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

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

 

Classical Christian teaching defined as harmful

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

The HCC report includes under its understanding of harm,

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

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

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

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

The Proposed Definition of Conversion Practice

Here is the suggested definition of conversion practice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices should remain within the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. I say all this while I can without fear of being pulled up before a tribunal or court for espousing ‘conversion therapy’!

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

Conversion by coercion or conversion by choice?

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

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

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

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

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

As Jesus once said to a notable leader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The line that has particularly infuriated people is this,

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

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

 

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Robyn Whitaker of Pilgrim Theological College tweeted in response,

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

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

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

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

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

Jarrod McKenna also tweeted,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I may defer to Ridley College once more,

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

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

 

 


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

Which Story of Children will our Society Esteem?

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

Will we never learn the lessons from the past?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have made you, you are my servant;

    Israel, I will not forget you.

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,

    your sins like the morning mist.

…Return to me,

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