For my review of last week’s Freedom for Faith Conference in Melbourne, go to The Gospel Coalition Australia site – https://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/freedom-for-faith-melbourne-conference
For my review of last week’s Freedom for Faith Conference in Melbourne, go to The Gospel Coalition Australia site – https://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/freedom-for-faith-melbourne-conference
French impressionism and Melbourne are a perfect match, like truffle and risotto, or Debussy and the piano.
40 paintings and 25 drawings by Vincent Van Gogh will be displayed in a special exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Victoria next year.
Bring on Winter 2017
“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt.”
Victoria has moved one step closer to undoing one of Australia’s most basic doctrines, that the State will not interfere with or control religious organisations. In a series political moves that may well remind us of a Henry VIII or Vladimir Putin, Daniel Andrews has decided to pull the plug on religious freedom.
Yesterday, a Bill was presented to the Legislative Assembly for debate: an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, making it unlawful for religious organisations to not employ persons on account of them holding to different religious views to those believed by the organisation.
Mr Andrews has said, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”
Should the State force Churches and religious organisations to employ persons who don’t subscribe to their values and vision? Of course not, but then again, Henry VIII shouldn’t have pronounced himself the head of the English Church and Julius Caesar probably shouldn’t stuck his nose into Gaul, but they did.
Schools, Churches, Synagogues, Temples, and hundreds of organisations, will be required to pass a test, demonstrating to the Government that advertised positions inherently require an employee to affirm the beliefs and practices of that institution. The tribunal will then have authority to decide what is religious and what is not, and which roles require a person to hold to the beliefs of the organisation and not; a pontifex maximus for Victoria!
Soon there will be all manner of religious organisations lining up outside a brick Government building, waiting to prove that their employees ought to be on the same page as their school or charity.
Yes, I know, all this sounds like one crazy dream built on an evening of Roquefort and Sauternes, or perhaps the plot line for a whacky comedy. But no, this is real and it is serious.
Victorians who conform to Labor’s strict interpretation of religion and sexuality have nothing to fear, but for 100,000s of Victorians who send their children to religious schools, attend churches, and who support religious organisations, there is genuine reason for concern.
The Bill will be voted on this afternoon (15/9) and is guaranteed to pass the Lower House, given that the Government has the numbers. The final outcome will then depend on the Legislative Council. Common sense ought to prevail, but then common sense would have ensured this Bill had never left cabinet room.
Concerned Victorians should contact their local members of Parliament. We can also pray that common sense will be followed and this Bill rejected.
For further details read:
On the way to 100 million reads! (hyperbole intended)
It’s one year since I began this blog. Blogging is a work in progress; not unlike learning to the play piano. You have to practice regularly, and as you do one discovers that there is yet more improvement to be had.
From the vault, here are the 10 most read articles that I’ve written thus far (I’m not including pieces published in the media and other sites). A couple from the previous blog have snuck in as they continue to be read.
This list shouldn’t be confused as being synonymous with the most significant articles from the blog, but those which have attracted the highest readership.
Also interesting is how social issues dominate the list, rather than posts which focused on theological and church matters. I suspect this is due to the fact that ethical questions have broader interest than issues facing a Christian denomination, amongst others things.
6. The End of Tribalism (Gospel Coalition of Australia)
17th Century England was not a promising environment for serious discourse on theological matters. Indeed, discussing theology in public could lead to loss of employment, imprisonment, exile, and on rare occasions, death.
Pressure to conform to the prevailing winds was enormous, with both governmental and ecclesial bodies (the two often working in tandem) interpreting difference as hostility and something to be silenced.
And yet this period of English history also witnessed tremendous Gospel growth, and playing a significant role in the missio Angliae were the early Baptists.
“Perhaps no group in England made more use of public disputations than did Baptists. Between 1641 and 1700 at least 109 such public debars involving Baptists were held in England, with 79 of these between 1641 and 1660. These debates pitted one or more Baptist champions against opponents from Anglican, Quaker, Independent, or sometimes, Roman Catholic groups. Baptists welcomed these occasions, for they gave opportunity for declaring the gospel to large crowds, helped defend Baptists against unjust slanders, and often led to numerous conversions and the planting of new Baptist Churches. Many leading Baptists of that time were converted at public disputations.” (Leon McBeth, ‘The Baptist Heritage’, p64)
The Scriptures encourage Christians to live quiet, peaceful and productive lives. We are to pray for all, including those who Govern over us, and to submit to their authority with humility and obedience. At the same time, we are to live courageous lives, choosing godliness and faithfulness over compromise and indifference.
Of course, we do not need to choose between 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 4:2-5, or between Ephesians 4:1-6 and Galatians 1:6-9. All are applicable to our circumstances and they are driven by the desire to see God saving people and bringing them to a knowledge of the truth.
Challenging the norms of society is no easy task; it requires grace and wisdom the size of the outback.
A century of ecumenical murkiness makes the Rio Olympic pool smell and look like pure H2O. Indeed, one might forgiven for thinking the only heterodoxy left is the view that still believes that there is a line separating orthodoxy and other.
As we look at the enormous social and spiritual challenges before us, both in terms of engaging in the public square and in the ecclesial circle, there is encouragement to be found from among our Baptist grandparents. They didn’t permit a culture of fear to win the day. Instead, taking their confidence in the power, truth, and beauty of the Gospel, they sought to persuade all. Not all were convinced, but many were and thus begun one of the great church planting movements in Western history.
I wonder what might happen if we in Melbourne (and Australia) adopted this kind of Gospel determination?
The Baptist theological college in Victoria, Whitley College, is looking for a new Principal.
This is an exciting opportunity for the Baptist community in Victoria, as well as for one auspicious applicant.
There is an elephant standing a few blocks from the famous Melbourne Zoo, and one which can’t be ignored: The name ‘Whitley College’ conjures up a long history of theological liberalism, and with good reason. The sad reality is, there are very few statements in the Baptist doctrinal basis that are not rejected by one or more of Whitley’s faculty and adjunct teachers. One cannot assume that penal substitution or the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessarily affirmed or taught as Bible truth. Ideas such as universalism, modalism, affirming homosexual practices, are all to be found in teachings among the faculty.
I understand there are some Victorian Baptists who have a positive relationship with the College, but there is no escaping the fact that many churches (perhaps the majority) will not currently send their people to Whitley, because of radical deconstruction of the evangelical and baptist faith that swirls around its Colosseum looking building.
For two generations Evangelicals have overwhelmingly stayed away from Whitley (except for ordination studies), and have trained at other Bible Colleges in Melbourne, and even interstate.
That being said, there is a growing desire to see reform, and to see our college move forward.
Letters from various Whitley Board members have been circulating this year, aghast at the idea that Baptists are expressing concerns over the college’s orthodoxy, but the reality is, these concerns have been present for decades. For the most part people have been afraid to speak up, and when they have, no one has been listening, until now. In several public forums this year, including May’s Gathering, numerous concerns were raised regarding the teaching and training emanating from Whitley, communicating that the Churches want change.
Please refer to the formal job description. In addition, I can speak for some Victorian Baptists who are keen to see the following attributes in the College Principal:
The College Principal is an important position, and provides a significant opportunity for the future of not only the College, but also for the Baptist Union of Victoria.
Perhaps you would like to join with many of us in praying for this process. Anyone interested in applying should follow the above link (applications close August 22nd)
For this rainy Sunday afternoon I have a very different post. Two Saturdays ago the family visited Neil Perry’s new Melbourne food venture, the ‘Burger Project‘.
The burgers and chips were enjoyable; not spectacular but not too shabby either.
The milkshake, on the other hand, is worthy of many repeat visits.
The shakes are unlike those idiotic viral drinks which require a straw as thick as a toilet roll, so stuffed with marshmallows, sprinkles and other diabetic inducing treats. These were simple, delicate, and exactly how a real milkshake should taste.
Between our family of 5 we shared both strawberry and chocolate milkshakes. The strawberry was fresh and yum, but the chocolate was perry delicious.
Valrhona is Perry’s chocolate of choice, one of the world’s most luxurious cacao extracts. It is smooth, deep and rich, and with just the right portions of milk and ice cream, this chocolate milkshake is worth all $7.50.
I give 5 milkshake glasses out of 5!
Last night while Melbourne suffered through the Great Snowstorm of 2016 and the rest of the world chased Pokemons, Mentone gathered for quite an extraordinary evening.
The topic of conversation was ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia’, and we were privileged to have speaking, Mr Tim Wilson MHR, and Rev Dr Michael Bird. Present in the audience were members of various political parties (and of none), and people reflecting a variety of religious and non-religious world views, including of course members from Mentone Baptist Church.
The first thing I learnt last night is that the Federal seat of Goldstein, whom Tim Wilson now represents, is not pronounced Goldstein but rather, Goldstein! In other words, the ein is pronounced as mine, not bean. Apologies to everyone living in Beaumaris, Hampton, Brighton, and so on!
Electoral names aside, both Wilson and Bird presented a case for free speech in Australia that was erudite, thoughtful, and engaging. And this was followed by a time of QandA with the audience.
Tim Wilson spoke first. He offered an historical overview of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and articulated how ‘good law’, that which related to work place harassment, has been abused by being applied universally to public speech. A case in point is the now infamous and inexplicable Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.
In a defence of free speech, Wilson asked, “is it really right, just, that to exercise our most basic right we have to question whether we are going to be held in contempt of the law and then going have to pay significant legal bills to defend ourselves”
While not the topic at hand, it is difficult to speak on Freedom of Speech in 2016 without commenting on the current marriage debate. Wilson shared some of his own experiences growing up as a homosexual and of him favouring changes to the Marriage Act. Most importantly, in light of his views on marriage, Wilson said,
“I don’t think we can have a constructive conversation around the marriage of same-sex couples until both sides can say what they truly think.”
He then pushed further, pointing out, “the hypocritical nature of so many people today, when they don’t want to hear a particular argument, they declare it to be bigoted or hate speech.” Wilson then referred to Bill Shorten and Penny Wong, noting that only a few short years ago they spoke against changes to the Marriage Act, but now they can’t desist from calling opponents of same-sex marriage, bigots and hate filled.
At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Wilson offered a timely admonition to religious organisations, who though themselves call for a higher standard of morality, they have been exposed, especially in the area of sexual abuse.
As a Christian leader I affirm his rebuke, and would add that men (or women) who commit abhorrent acts on children behind clerical vestments and institutions are not representative of the Christ whom they claim to worship, but are the very manifestation of anti-Christ, for the deny him by their deeds. And yet, we need to understand that the public do not also differentiate between authentic Christians and dress-up Christians. Tim Wilson was spot on to call out Christian leaders to work harder on this.
Mike Bird employed his familiar array of jocose analogies and allusions, while driving home some pertinent truths for Australian society, as well as for Churches.
‘The future is French’, Mike asserted, in relation to where Australian religion and politics is heading. Either we will take the path of Vive la différence or that of the less desirable, Laïcité.
“I like to think our Constitution is robust enough to protect basic freedoms, and our political parties will seek to do right by all. However, people of faith can expect to receive a hard time from progressive activists and parties in the forseeable future. Religion may be sanitised from the public square.”
How should Churches respond to this paradigm cultural and political shift? Bird proposed that the future will either be Swedish or Chinese!
The reproach was overlooked by many last night, but Bird was calling out ‘liberal’ churches, suggesting they suffered from Stockholm syndrome. That is, they have lost their identity by tinkering with the tenets of the Christian faith in order to ensure religion is palatable to the powers that be.
Instead, Bird exhorted Christians to learn from Christianity in China, where it exists on the margins of society. Yet despite the oppression of Christians in China for many decades, it has witnessed exponential growth, and all without the privileges of political and public freedoms, which we currently enjoy in this country.
Michael Bird also lauded Tim Wilson’s work last year in organising the Religious Freedom Roundtable, and he suggested that we need more forums such like that.
If I were to offer any criticisms, they would be minor:
At one point Tim spoke of certain religious groups who have tried to impose their morality onto other minorities. I do not disagree that historically there have been religious groups who’ve behaved as such, but the key word here is ‘impose’. There is an essential difference between imposition and influence, or pressure and persuasion. Mike said it well, when he exhorted Christians to “persuasive and compassionate discourse.”
In a crescendo of rhetoric Mike declared that, ’Christendom is over’. I would push back on this point and argue that Christendom in Australia never was. There is no doubt that Christianity has significantly influenced Australian culture and life, but it has been tolerated rather than happily embraced, sitting there in a position of begrudged prominence.
The content of each presentation was winsome and helpful, but for me the highlight of the evening was the manner in which the conversation was conducted, including participation from the audience. The tone was respectful but not innocuous; certain hypocrisies were called out, and serious challenges were proposed, but all without the immature name-calling and shout downs that are becoming all to common in the public square.
Last night demythologised the rhetoric of some social progressives, that civil dialogue can’t be had on issues relating to sexuality and marriage. Can an heterosexual Evangelical Anglican clergyman discuss issues of national importance with an agnostic gay politician? The answer is, yes. Indeed, despite obvious differences, they shared much in common. And can a room full of people, representing a spectrum of political and religious ideologies, enjoy a robust night of conversation? Yes, and in fact, people stayed and talked so late into the evening I was tempted to begin turning off the lights.
Finally, as a poignant way to close the evening, while answering a question on how to raise children to preserve and properly practice free speech, Mike Bird responded, ‘Love God, love your neighbour.’
Of course, these words comes from the lips of Jesus, who in turn was affirming the Old Testament Scriptures, and they remain the model for how Christians relate to others in society. I cannot speak for those of other world views, but this is how Christians must participate in both public and private. This Golden Rule does not build a staircase to Heaven as is sometimes believed, but rather, it is the life response of a person who has been captivated by the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It was fitting way to end such a rewarding night, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
‘Freedom of Speech’ is a significant social and political issue in Australia. The topic is being debated by the major parties in the current Federal election, and is an important issue for all Australians.
Mr Tim Wilson is the Liberal candidate for the Division of Goldstein. He was a public policy analyst and a commentator who was the Australian Human Rights Commissioner from 2014 until his resignation in 2016.
Dr Michael Bird is a lecturer of theology at Ridley College. He is one of Australia’s most distinguished theologians, having written over 20 books and speaking at conferences across Australia, the UK, and USA.
Both speakers have offered important contributions to this topic of ‘Freedom of Speech’, and it is a privilege to have them share the platform for this symposium.
The evening will consist of an address by each speaker, an opportunity for them to reply to the other’s presentation, and there will be a time for question and answer from the floor.
Refreshments will be served at the conclusion of the evening
I have a question that I would like to ask of Daniel Andrews and James Merlino.
Any Government will introduce policies with a mixture of success, and with varying responses from the community. On occasions I have affirmed changes implemented by this Government, as well as highlighting concerns.
The reason for making this letter public is because the question is pertinent to many thousands of Victorian families. Indeed, it is a question many people have raised with me this year.
I appreciate that our members of Government have very busy schedules, with many demands on them, and so it perhaps unlikely Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino will read this letter for themselves, although an acknowledgement would be welcomed and seen by many Victorians as a positive sign from an inclusive Government.
Before asking my question it is important to provide some context.
SRI (Special Religious Instruction) was a ½hr/week opt-in program in schools. A variety of religions were offered, depending on parental interest. In August 2015, the Government announced that the program would be removed from class time, and only made available under very strict guidelines (such that very few schools now have the resources to run the program). In the place of SRI, a new program was introduced, Building Healthy Relationships. This curriculum is to be compulsory in all primary and secondary Schools. It is presented as an anti-domestic violence program, an issue which Mr Andrews’ has rightly identified as a major community concern.
There is a lot of useful material in this program, but unfortunately it is aggressively and unnecessarily promotes gender theory. It teaches children to explore alternative sexualities, provides information for children as young as 12 for having sex, and speaks of heterosexual marriage almost exclusively as a ‘power structure behind which domestic violence occurs.’
In the mean time, a separate curriculum, Safe Schools, has been investigated by the Federal Government and much of the material deemed inappropriate for school children. This Federally funded but optional program has been taken up by the Victorian Government. They have rejected the decisions made by Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, they have promised to fund the program if needed, and they have announced that Safe Schools will be compulsory in every Victorian Government School.
The main architect of Safe Schools, Roz Ward (from La Trobe University), has made it clear that the program less about anti-bullying and is primarily designed to introduce Marxist ideology into schools, in order to change children’s beliefs:
“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation… Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”
Safe Schools not only describes heteronormality as wrong, it labels children who believe in heterosexual normality as “sexist”. It is somewhat ironic that an anti-bullying program specifically gives derogatory names to children who do not support its contentious ideas.
On top of these programs and other initiatives, The Age announced yesterday (May 8) that the Government is also considering introducing into Victorian schools another program about LGBTIQ ideology, the Gayby Baby education toolkit, which is being released this week.
The Director of Gayby Baby, Maya Newel, believes the program is a “no brainer”, saying, “It’s 2016 and something like 30 per cent of children are not raised by biological heterosexual parents, so we’re not just talking about children in same-sex families, but also divorced families and kinship families and so on. Not only will this be the first resource to represent same-sex families, it will also be something that can really dive deep into family diversity as a topic.”
While Newel concedes that the 30% is not all made up with same-sex families, she does misleadingly say, “30 per cent of children are not raised by biological heterosexual parents”. She thus gives the impression that same-sex families are indeed common place. However, according to the 2011 Census, 0.1% of all Australian children live in a home with a couple of the same gender. Not only are the majority of children raised in homes with a mum and dad, most of the other 30% lives in homes where the intent was for children to have a mum and dad, but due to divorce, death, and other circumstances the children are unable to live with both parents.
If we are going to use statistics as argument for changing school curriculum, surely we ought to present the numbers accurately. And also, if 0.1% of the population warrants another sexuality program in schools, then surely the 60% who have at least a nominal Christian affiliation, warrants introducing a Christian view of marriage and family into schools! Don’t worry, I am not actually arguing for that, but simply pointing out the irony in Newel’s argument.
According to The Age,
“As part of its lesson plans, students will be encouraged to deconstruct the stories of the four main children featured in the documentary (whose parents are gay); reflect on families that fall outside the “traditional” family unit; and challenge gender stereotypes.”
“Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley said the state government would be “only too happy” to lend its support to the resource, “because it fits with our notion that to be a successful and equal society then there has to be a place for everyone”
Given this context of our State Government introducing multiple new curriculums on the same topic of sexuality, my question is this, are families who do not subscribe to views on sexuality as prescribed by the current Government, still welcome in Victorian State Schools? If the answer is yes, are these families permitted to express their views? Will children who articulate a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim view of sexuality be protected in our schools from bullying? Will they be encouraged to share their opinions without students and teachers belittling them?
Last Wednesday, The Australian reported a story of a Frankston family who have been forced to leave their local school because their daughter was subject to bullying for holding Christian beliefs. Perhaps this is an isolated incident or should Victorians anticipate this to be common practice? After all, if gender theory is taught as fact, should we not expect alternative views to be rejected and spoken against in our schools?
Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, we understand the direction you are taking children’s education in Victoria, but what remains unclear is whether Victorian families remain free in our schools to engage in, to question, and to offer alternative ideas to the ones now promoted.
I appreciate your time in reading and considering these questions.