Why David Marr is wrong about Religious Freedom

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

David Marr had his very own Marie Antoinette moment yesterday, when he exuded incredible ignorance on the issue of religious toleration in Western society. 

It is of course incumbent upon same sex marriage advocates to tell us that ‘nothing will change’. Admitting otherwise  impacts their chances of seeing the Marriage Act redefined.

David Marr asks the question, “Whatever’s happened to free speech?”

What a great question to ask in light of a string of public outings this year: Coopers Beer and the Bible Society, Rev. Markham Campbell in Tasmania, Dr Steve Chavura of Macquarie University, and others.

None of these people or organisations were acting maliciously toward LGBTI communities. In the case of the Bible Society they were simply modelling a respectful conversation about marriage. Dr Chavura hadn’t said anything publicly about same sex marriage, but being associated with an organisation was reason enough for a kangaroo court.

In addition, following the next Federal election, it will be no longer possible to win preselection in the Australian Labor Party unless you agree to same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year, Federal Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, indicated that Labor is considering expanding section 18C, to include banning speech that same-sex marriage advocates find offensive. According to The Australian editor, Chris Merritt,

“Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or ­insulted by those who publicly ­defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.”

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While criticising a recent article by journalist Paul Kelly, Marr alleges that,

“He seriously oversimplifies those conflicts but this is not the place to go into detail. Most are examples of citizens, governments and institutions fed up with church gay bashing. Equal marriage was a side issue.”

Marr doesn’t try to prove these ‘oversimplifications’, but immediately turns to the trusted ad homimen, those people must have been gay haters. Really?

Should the Marriage Act change, it automatically places people who affirm classical marriage on the wrong side of the law. It is inevitable that this will lead to all manner of anti-discrimination claims and litigations, maybe not straight away but they will come. How can one publicly teach that marriage is only between a man and a woman when the law says otherwise? How can one refuse their premises for a same-sex wedding? What will happen in our academic and educational institutions for anyone arguing for heterosexual only marriage? And let’s keep in mind, there are already individuals being threatened with legal action and with loss of employment, and the law hasn’t yet changed!

While David Marr would have his readers believe that Christians are only interested in self-preservation, the contrary is in fact true. Christians are concerned about freedoms for other groups. For example, when a local council recently refused the building of a Synagogue in Bondi, Christians leapt to support the local Jewish community.

Marr adds, “Calls for religious freedom are now rolling across the landscape, but they remain strangely vague. We never see a neat list of them.”

That’s not entirely true. Dean Smith’s Bill outlined potential protections. And earlier in the year, a Parliamentary Committee sought submissions in light of the exposure draft legislation from Brandis. Many groups, including the  Aussie think tank, Freedom for Faith, made submissions and these arguments are available for anyone to read.

It is true however that the Government is yet to release details of any potential marriage legislation, and it is imperative for them to do so quickly. How can the Australian public make up their minds when they are unable to read what is being proposed?

I am not arguing for special protections, but am simply making the point that the evidence is already here, and it is already being played out in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere; changing the marriage law will change society and it will impact religious freedoms for millions of Australians.

Having said this, I don’t for a moment want anyone to get the idea that the health of Christianity depends upon the graces of Government or society. On this point I offer partial agreement with David Marr: religious organisations do enjoy certain privileges in society, and we ought not assume them. Having said that, religious organisations have done enormous good for Australian society, such that without them we would be intellectually, socially, morally, economically, and spiritually poorer. And do we want Australia to be the kind of nation that interferes with peoples religious freedoms? History is littered with Governments that have tried to control religion; do we really want to follow their examples?

It is rather ironic that David Marr can so glibly speak about ‘privilege’ while sweeping the ashes of religious freedoms under the carpet. Reshaping marriage means reshaping society and society’s laws and expectations, and reshaping the contour of religious freedom and practice. David Marr can argue otherwise, but it is the logical flow on effect, and we are already seeing this in practice around the world.

With all this talk about religious freedom one may be forgiven for thinking that this is the chief reason why Christians are arguing against changing the Marriage Act. This is not the case. Christians believe that the Genesis paradigm for marriage is a creation mandate that is a good for all humanity, not only for Christians. Until very recent, almost everyone accepted this view of marriage and believed it was good for society,  but now we are aiming to persuade our fellow Aussies that it remains a good for society today. At the same time, it is imperative that we understand the kinds of changes that will issue from this watershed redefinition of marriage.

With a final swing of sarcasm, David Marr ponders the future: “Can’t their faith, they wonder, win a free debate? How will it survive bullying demands for protection and privileges? How will it survive the hatred in the air?”

I’m sure Mr Marr reads history and will know that Christianity often flourishes when the State or society derides it. Christians have nothing to fear. While Australia remains a pluralist society, we will seek to persuade people, as Christians have done so for millennia. We do so, being assured that our ultimate confidence is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in Australian law. The future of Christianity is not contingent upon any current or future legislation. No matter the socio-ethical landscape, we know God will continue his work through the Gospel and Churches will continue and people will become Christians. This of course includes implications for how Christians love and serve our gay and lesbian neighbours, whether the definition of marriage changes or not. I trust we are already making every effort to befriend and support them, and to show them the love of Christ. For we remember that we too, in all manner of ways, once defined morality and truth in ways to fit with personal inclinations, and in that moment God graciously revealed Christ to us.

Whatever position one takes on this national survey, whether to vote or not, to say yes or no, no one is served well when journalists whitewash the facts that don’t suit them. Indeed, one might ask David Marr, “Can’t your faith win a free debate?”

A Case for heterosexual only marriage

Increasingly, Australians have been led to believe that same-sex marriage is the great inevitable. The legal definition of marriage may well change in 2017, but the case for change has been less about cogent reasoning, and much to do with emotive stories and slick slogans. One should not ignore peoples personal experiences, but if we are to be fair, we will also listen to the equally powerful stories of same-sex attracted people who are asking us not to change the marriage definition. Yet, stories alone should not dictate Australian law.

Disappointingly, many people have been driven to silence, following a constant tirade of abuse from numerous politicians and media personalities. To even question the validity of same sex marriage is paramount to a new social heresy according to some. But it is possible, indeed desirable to speak for the dignity of LGBTI persons, and to seek their well being, without making the logical misstep of calling for marriage redefinition.

My local member, shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, suggested on the weekend that, “Anyone who thinks they can delay marriage equality in Australia further is standing in the way of history. Time to catch up with reality.”

While I’m impressed with Mr Dreyfus’ Delphic like insight, we also know how history shows that people often make the wrong choices. It may well be that there are good reasons for holding to the classical definition of marriage, and therefore, having sensible recourse for explaining to the Australian people that we should refrain from any change.

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You see, the question remains, what is marriage?

What is it about the nature of marriage that requires us to remove man and woman from its definition?

Is it love?

Love is of course a wonderful thing, and there are many kinds of love, but is this argument sufficient? Surely, not every loving relationship should be called marriage? The reality is, there must be more to marriage than love, otherwise even the proposed redefinition is discriminatory and inadequate.

But Australia has already changed the definition of marriage

Another argument that has been put forward is the view that marriage morphed throughout history, therefore it’s okay to once again institute change. This thesis however is nothing more than an example of historical revisionism. The 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act did not change the nature of marriage, it simply spelled out what was already established belief and practice. And when the Marriage Act was enacted in 1961, it was not reinventing the definition of marriage, but delineating what was known to be true about marriage; it was a self evident truth. Similarly, the Family Law Act 1975 which established the principle of no-fault divorce, did not alter the meaning of marriage, but wholly depended upon it.

What about the argument of equality?

The phrase ‘marriage equality’ is often cited, and it’s a clever piece of marketing, but it is also self-defeating and potentially disingenuous.  First of all, all sides in the marriage debate believe in marriage equality, but equality depends on how one defines marriage. Second, if the current debate is really about honouring equality, for whom is it attaining equality? The draft definition will continue to discriminate against polygamists and polyamorists, and it will also discriminate against those who believe marriage should have fixed term rather than ‘being for life’. If proponents of ‘marriage equality’ are in fact wanting equality for all, it makes sense to ask, why do they insist marriage should remain between 2 persons and be intended for life?

Such questions are not difficult to answer for those holding to the traditional and historical understanding of marriage, but I am yet to hear a persuasive argument from those advocating change. Indeed, I am keen to hear one.

As far as I can see, pretty much everyone in the marriage debate discerns a level of discrimination, but the question is at what point? What is it about marriage that requires 2 persons and life long commitment?

After an interesting dialogue last year, one interlocutor wrote to me saying, “marriage is about what people want it to be, whether it’s about love, convenience, social acceptance, children, getting a visa or whatever.”

I appreciated his honesty, and it demonstrated that when nudged, the reasoning for marriage change frequently ends in this same place of vagueness and imprecision. But arguing that the meaning of marriage is malleable is a fast track to making marriage meaningless. Conversations such as this one revealed the argument boils down to individualism, and to the belief that I am free to determine meaning as I like. As appealing as that may at first sound, it’s ultimately fallacious and counter-productive for a healthy society.

If I walked along the Monash freeway, I would soon find myself in trouble because the Monash freeway is not designed for pedestrians. Others may join with me and begin campaigning for pedestrian access along the Monash freeway, but it’s illogical because Freeways are not designed for any and all modes of travel.

Similarly, marriage is and has always been designed for a particular type of relationship: a loving consensual relationship between a man and a woman, intended for life, for personal relationship, for procreation, and for the building of society. There is something inherently unique about this covenantal relationship that we call marriage, and which can only be fulfilled by a man and a woman. As an example, biologically, the act of procreation requires 2 persons: a man and a woman. And such is the intimacy of this sexual union, that it requires the kind of loving commitment that marriage provides. We all know  children who grow up without a father or without a mother, but I don’t know of anyone who believes that this is a good thing. It is sometimes necessary given the awful reality of domestic violence, or the tragic death of a parent, but does anyone truly believe that the ideal context for raising children is without a mum and dad?

If Australia is to change the Marriage Act, we need better reasoning than what we have heard thus far. And 2016’s argument, ‘well, the Americans have done it’, probably doesn’t hold so much weight anymore!

I trust people won’t confuse my frankness here with glibness or insensitivity, for I do not wish to cause hurt to any for whom this is a personal issue. I genuinely desire for you to have life to the full, as Jesus spoke about (John 10:10). It is also possible that there will be a few ‘religious’ people who will read my words and use them to agitate views about homosexuality that I do not share; they will not find an ally here because the God whom I know and serve has made every human being in his image and they are deserving of love and dignity. That marriage is for a man and a woman is a good thing,  which even many gay and lesbian people recognise and affirm.

Is it wise to redefine marriage? Which ever way you respond to that question, we need to also answer these questions: what is marriage, and with what reason(s) do you define at such?

 

 

 


 

This post is a updated version of a piece published last year

Pursuing Public Conversation on Marriage

We live in strange days: When a Government breaks an election promise, the public is rightly critical and opposition Parties are justified to call them out. Even if we disagree with their political choices, there is an issue of integrity that the populace expect of our politicians.

Last night however, social commentators and some members of Parliament were outraged (again) that a Government has determined to keep its promise to electorate: to bring a plebiscite question on marriage to the Australian people. Is it not somewhat disingenuous to call Governments to account for broken promises one day, and then call them names the next day because they’re keeping their word?

 

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I personally think there are arguments for and against a plebiscite. The pathway is a decision that needs to be made by the Government of the day.

There is precedence for a plebiscite

Since Federation in 1901, at the Federal level Australia has held 44 referendums and 3 plebiscites. The States however, have conducted many more plebiscites, covering a wide range of issues including the establishment of Wrest Point Casino (Tas, 1986), closing hours for alcohol selling establishments, extending shopping hours (WA, 2005), and daylight savings.

In other words, on no fewer than 60 occasions, Australian Governments have taken an issue to the people and asked for their opinion. That is one referendum or plebiscite every two years; meaning we’re overdue.

In 1977 a plebiscite was conducted to decide our national anthem. Now, maybe I’m not as patriotic as other Aussies, but in my view, marriage is significantly more important than choosing to sing ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

The issue warrants Australia’s input

While 94% of the Australian population don’t see this issue as very important, I am persuaded that it is of grave significance.

We are not talking about a tiny amendment to the law, but the radical and complete alteration of society’s most basic building block: from marriage comes the family unit, and from family communities are formed, and with communities a society and nation is shaped. Marriage is not everything, but it is an important thing and it is one which has held an almost universally accepted definition since history began. Until recently very few societies would even consider the question, and today the vast majority of nations remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Let us understand that no one is quibbling over a few words, at stake is rebooting the very notion of marriage. There are already community voices arguing that this rewrite is simply a steppingstone to further changes and even the eradication of marriage altogether:

In 2015, Simon Copland, a columnist with the Sydney Star Observer, argued that equal marriage might unfortunately limit expressions of sexuality, saying that ‘while monogamous marriage still works for many, our society is increasingly questioning whether it should remain as the only option’.

At the 2012 Sydney Writers’ festival, Dennis Altman, was among a number of speakers who declared their hope that the Marriage Act would be eventually repealed altogether.

The point is, it is not hyperbole to suggest that should marriage redefinition take place, it will be considered a watershed event in Australia’s history, one which will have inevitable and enormous repercussions for society.

Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage.

While the primary issue relates to what is marriage, there are significant corollary issues that Australians need to be made aware of. There are real consequences relating to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and there are genuine questions relating to the rights of children having a mum and dad, and to the issue of surrogacy and assisted reproduction. It is simply naive for us Australians to assume that nothing will change.

One of the largest problems facing is that, as soon as the law changes, anyone opposing the law will find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and thus exposing themselves to all manner of litigation. Law Associate Professor Neil Foster has written an important article outlining the very real threats to individual and organisation freedoms, should same-sex marriage become law in Australia.

How to conduct ourselves through this national debate

One of the 6 Liberal MPs who forwarded the proposed legislation last night, is a local member for many members of my church. I have a lot of respect for Tim Wilson, and I think it’s positive that members of the Liberal Party were able to bring forward an idea to their colleagues and to discuss its merits, even though it turned out that something like 80-90% of the caucus were not in agreement with them.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a plebiscite or not. It is doubtful that a free vote in Parliament would have the numbers for changing the Marriage Act, and it is also likely that the numbers among the Australian public are tighter than polling suggests. Whichever steps are taken in coming weeks, I am asking the Christian community to be wise and gracious in our speech. Most Christians don’t need reminding, but there are always a few who ignore the words of the Bible.

Public discussion on this issue does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act. Throwing bile at another human being is detestable, whether it is done in person or on twitter.

Indeed, the essence of Christianity is Jesus Christ showing kindness to a world that had no room for his beliefs,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Bible gives us very clear instruction on how to treat people around us, even those who disagree with us.

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

 

As important as this national conversation is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is how we conduct ourselves. Predictably although sadly, already this morning social media is alight with unhelpful and untrue rhetoric from politicians and television presenters, making assumptions about ‘equality’ and imputing all manner of malevolent motives on those who believe in classical marriage. To them, I say, please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly with gay marriage is not hate, and to claim such risks undermining the foundations of democracy and a free society.

Safe Schools Update

The Safe Schools Coalition released a statement on July 31st, defending the program and denying recent allegations made against their curriculum.

They state, “Recent online discussion regarding the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) program has spread a lot of misinformation, including claims about the content of SSCA resources. These claims have no basis.”

Nowhere does the statement mention which particular allegations are being denied, and neither do they offer any evidence to counter the ‘misinformation’.

It would have been helpful had SSCA clarified what exactly they are repudiating, because as it stands, their statement raises questions rather than answering them.

I am aware of one video that has been shared on social media recently, which has now over 3 million views. The video shows a mother describing her children’s story of how Safe Schools is being taught at their school. Some of her comments relate to facts that can be easily accessed either on the Safe Schools website itself or in media reporting from the last 2 years. Other comments relate to specific activities in the classroom which I can’t personally verify and therefore I’ll suspend judgment. I have no reason to doubt her and her children’s truth telling, but one also needs to be careful about conflating accounts with facts. It is unclear however whether SSCA is referring to this video or to something else. This has an unfortunate effect, a public statement that is designed to be clarifying is in fact just creating ambiguity.

The spokesperson for SSCA ask people to read the information that is available online for teachers, students, and parents. I thought, what a great idea. I hadn’t seen the material for sometime and assume that it may have been updated. So I did check it out, and sadly all the concerns that I have previously expressed have been reinforced.

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One statement I do agree with relating to Safe Schools, is found on the Victorian Education Department website, “All students should be safe from bullying and feel included at school. Students who don’t feel safe or included at school cannot learn effectively.”

Unfortunately though, Safe Schools is creating unsafe schools. In the year since the Federal review, concerns have not been alleviated.  It is becoming clearer that the authors of Safe Schools have taken one issue, but in the attempt to address it positively they have in fact created many more issues.

Facts:

  • What was first promoted as an anti-bullying program, was soon explained by founder Roz Ward, as a program designed to persuade children of socialist ideologies. Interestingly, the anti-bullying rhetoric is less prominent now, and the program is more clearly marketed as one of supporting LGBTI sexualities.
  • Safe Schools will be compulsory in all Victorian State secondary schools in 2018. It is also encouraged for Primary Schools.
  • Safe Schools is no longer allowed in NSW, and in South Australian it is being heavily revised.
  • Two studies have been conducted into Safe Schools by leading educational experts in Australia. The first was headed by Professor Bill Louden (of the University of Western Australia), and the other by Professor Professor Patrick Parkinson AM. Both studies demonstrate that Safe Schools is built upon misleading information and is unsuitable learning material. Prof Parkinson said that the curriculum is  ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.
  • Safe Schools relies on theories of gender and sexuality that have been deemed dangerous, and is now banned from schools in NSW.
  • Safe Schools depends on pseudo-science, relying on LGBTI statistics that have been shown to be false.
  • Safe Schools material is to be integrated throughout school subjects: “This material can be interspersed throughout school subjects, “Schools may also choose to adapt and use the videos and teaching activities in other areas of the curriculum such as English, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Civics and Citizenship, and applied learning curriculums (e.g. VCAL, TAS) where the exploration of LGBTI people and topics allows.”
  • Despite the Federal Government calling for the removal of third party websites such as Minus 18, Victoria continues partner with Minus 18, and the material encourage teachers to refer students to the Minus 18 website.
  • The curriculum is designed to alter the way children think about sexuality and gender, and to change their behavior. Safe Schools is not mere information, but it is aiming for change how children think and relate. One of the dominant themes is that heteronormacy is wrong and immoral, and instead we need to embrace the ‘fact’ that biology doesn’t determine gender, but instead we are what we feel we are
  • Exercises and questions given to 11-13 year old children are at times staggering in their inappropriateness. For example,
      • ‘Would you invite your partner home with you to meet your family?’
      • ‘If you were in a sports team, would you confidently tell your teammates about your sexuality?’
      • “Tell students on the left-hand side of the room that their character is going out with someone of the same sex, while the character of those on the right-hand side of the room is going out with someone of the opposite sex…”

 

There is tremendous pressure on students to conform to the new state quo. Students are not only participating during class, but they are given homework, and are encouraged to share their answers with teachers and with the class. Can you imagine the pressure on those kids who don’t subscribe to the views being taught? Can you imagine the pressure on a child who believes sex is only for a man and a woman in marriage, and to tell the class this? What about children who are same sex attracted but don’t wish to live a gay lifestyle? There is nothing to support them. And what about children who are experiencing some form a gender dysphoria? While best medical research urges delayed action (because the majority of kids no longer suffer dysphoria by the time the reach the end of adolescence), Safe Schools encourages schools to help them transition.

The teachers at my children’s schools are fantastic, and I greatly value their input into our children’s education. Say, though that one of my children came home and told me that their science teacher didn’t believe dinosaurs ever existed; I’d be a tad concerned. If my children’s history teacher taught revisionist history, I’d be keen to chat with the school.

Why then is it ok for our children to be forced to sit in classes that teach sex material based on dubious, misleading, and dangerous ideas? We are not talking about debating palaeontology or what really happened in 1066, but the health and wellbeing of our children, which of course includes children who do not identify as heterosexual.

Building school curriculum on flawed studies ends up hurting students, including those whom its meant to help. For the sake of all our children, we must do better than this. We want to see all children doing well and flourishing, not being bullied, but loved and supported. Safe Schools is continually showing that it isn’t the answer.

I would urge all parents to read the material for themselves. Ask yourself, are you happy for your child(ren) to be taught this in the classroom?

Is there persecution in Australia?

I don’t know if anyone has done the numbers, and I’m not old enough to know what Australian media was like before the mid1990s. I may be wrong, but my sense is that media is reporting more stories about Christians and Christianity than even 5 or 10 years ago. Many of the stories are negative (sometimes with good reason), while some are supportive of Christianity. There are stories and op-eds being written about Christianity and culture by Christians, and by agnostics, atheists, and Muslims; even sporting journalists are getting in on the act.

A good deal of what we read skews what Christians believe and practice, but why should we be surprised by that? Even some of the sympathetic journalism is unhelpful because it paints Christianity in ways other than through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On the upside, all the flurry of Christian attention is opening all kinds of opportunities to have conversations with people. On the downside, I am noting how many Christians are running too quickly to the poles, and not sticking with Jesus and letting his word shape our words and actions. As soon as another story about Christianity hits the news, responses are often tailored more by notions of progressive or conservative identities, and that’s a problem. When Christians too readily identify with left or right issues, we often can’t admit that there’s any problem unless it’s on the ‘right’ foot. The myopia is made worse by the fact that everyone has their preferred sources for news. The ABC is a friend…or foe. Are we Murdoch readers or Fairfax subscribers? And which journalist best represents our socio-political proclivities?

Last week’s story about children evangelising in Queensland school grounds is a classic example of this ridiculous Christian ping pong. On the one hand some Christian leaders ran to Andrew Bolt’s side, while other’s waved the Education Minister’s statement as proof that the entire story was a beat up. Both were wrong. The prohibition is real enough, and the Minister’s denial, while welcome, does not resolve the issue. Neither, though, is the Queensland Government the anti-Christ, as some silly people were suggesting.

Another example of this inane and insane polarisation took place today when Andrew Bolt jumped on the story of a Hobart Presbyterian Minister, Campbell Markham, who’s been notified of complaints made against his teaching by an upset atheist. As soon as people began to share the story on social media, it’s as though the Red Sea parted, with some going to the right in praise of Bolt’s defence, and others moving left to distance themselves from the Herald Sun columnist and all those shallow allegations of persecution in Australia.

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We would be mistaken if we defer to Andrew Bolt as some pseudo-Bishop for Aussie Christianity. After all, he does tell us that he is not a Christian. We are also mistaken if we close our eyes and claim that there’s nothing to see, and that any suggestion of persecution is simply overreach and unhelpful hyperbole.

Let’s take a look at the Bible’s language of persecution. The Biblical words convey a broad sense of opposition. The primary word, dioko, means to pursue, chase, or drive away. The aim of persecution is to drive away the Gospel, Jesus, and those who follow him.

Persecution can take on many shapes and sizes.

Persecution can be intense and severe: you may be marked out in your community and lose privileges that others enjoy. You may lose your job, be imprisoned, be forced to flee and seek asylum in another country. You may be killed. This is the experience of many millions of our brothers and sisters today in different parts of the world.

On other occasions, the Bible gives examples of ‘softer’ persecution. For example, in the Beatitudes Jesus says,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.”

We must be careful not to conflate our circumstances with those faced by many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Disagreement for example is not persecution.

We must also be careful not to minimise real threats that have been  made again some Christians in Australia. To argue that there is no persecution is ignorant and even callous.  Sure, persecution in Australia is unusual, but it’s not unknown. Indeed, more than a few members of my church have been subjected to bullying by parents and by spouses because they have chosen to follow Jesus. This includes disownment and disinheritance, should they persist in being baptised and joining a local church.

Across Bass Strait, Campbell Markham and David Gee are the latest Tasmanian preachers to have formal complaints made against them for their Bible teaching. Being brought before a State’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, because someone took offence at your preaching, is a form of thlipsis.

Just because there is no tsunami doesn’t mean that the tide isn’t changing, and neither does the changing tide mean that there’s a gigantic wave about hit the shore.

At Mentone Baptist we are currently preaching through Romans ch.12-16, and our text yesterday was 12:14-21. No matter the direction of the tide, it is a posture to have continually define our response,

“9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Queensland Education Department is afraid of Jesus?

In the school playground, children talk about everything and anything: what they watch on television, who is eating what for lunch, their favourite sporting players and what bands they’re listening too, and what they’re hoping to do on the weekend. But if the Queensland Education Department have their way, the one topic children will not be allowed to speak about is Jesus.

In our click bait media culture, it is sometimes hard to discern real stories from the dubious, but sure enough, this story is legitimate.

The Queensland Education Department have undertaken to inform schools that children are not to discuss Christianity outside formal Religious Instruction classes.

To quote from the Departmental report that has been given to schools,

“While not explicitly prohibited by the EGPA or EGPR, nor referenced in the RI policy statement, the Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not  participate in their RI class, given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.”

What is extraordinary about this memorandum is that the Department admits that this prohibition falls outside the parameters of any formal policy and guidelines, but they are nevertheless insisting schools take action.

Evangelism is defined by the Department as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity”.

The problem with their definition of evangelism is that in effectively prohibits any conversation that involves God, Jesus, and Church. Inviting a friend to a Christmas service might be interpreted as evangelism. Sharing what you learned about God could be taken as evangelism. It is only natural for children to talk about and share things that are important to them and that they enjoy; for many children this includes belief in Jesus and being part of a church.

Is the education department really wanting to squash children’s freedom to talk about issues beyond homework, sport, music, and latest i-pad apps?

Is inviting a friend to a church event really going to undermine pluralism and respect? Is a group of student engaging in the big questions of life so unacceptable?

 

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Associate Professor of Law, Neil Foster, has written an important response to this QLD report, pointing out that it fails several important tests. It is worth taking the time to read. In summary, he notes that,

1. This “expectation” is not supported by legislation

2. This “expectation” is probably illegal as discriminatory

3. The “expectation” is illegal as contradicting the head legislation

4. The “expectation” undermines free speech of pupils

5. The “expectation” undermines religious freedom for pupils

 

These points alone amount to checkmate, but there is more.

First, the prohibition fails the test of what is sensible.

Remembering what it’s like to be a child at school, and having 3 children at school, I can imagine the kinds of conversations that will happening today. During lunch there will be 10 year old students inviting their friends to the movies this weekend: Do you want to come with me and watch the new Transformers  movie or Planet of the Apes film? Watching age inappropriate movies is fine, but Church is too dangerous. Birthday cards will be handed out, but please avoid Christmas cards. Have a giggle over dirty jokes, but let’s be clear, no one can mention the Bible.

I realise Queensland is the sunny state, but one can have too much sun. This Departmental imposition really is as silly as it sounds, and it will in fact achieve the opposite of their intention, which is to ‘provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.’ 

In recent years we have laughed at schools who have banned balls from the  playground, because they are a threat to children’s safety. Now, we have to remove Jesus talk because it will undermine social cohesion in schools?  Do we really not trust that our kids can have reasonable conversations about religion? It is all the more ironic, because the very principles that these bureaucrats  want to see in school, that of respect and inclusion, are based on Christian beliefs?

Second, the QLD Education Department wrongly assumes that non-God talk in the playground is somehow morally and spiritual neutral, as though children can chat about any topic in a theologically neutral way. This is not true secularism, it’s imposed atheism. It is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse is void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we will have is exclusive and intolerant atheism. Is that the kind of school environment we want for our children?

As I was reading about this story this morning, my mind turned to the book of Acts in the Bible and to chapter 4 where the city’s leadership arrested Peter and John for talking about Jesus with people. They warned the disciples, ‘do not speak or teach in the name Jesus’. Peter and John replied, ‘we can’t help it’.  One can only assume that these education officials haven’t ready a Bible nor studied history, because demanding that people stop talking about Jesus usually has the opposite affect.

I trust that sane heads will prevail and that the Queensland Education Department will retract this injunction.

 

 


Update:

The QLD Education Minister has released a statement this afternoon denying there’s any ban on students sharing their faith with other students. Ms Jones said, ‘No one is telling a child what they can and can’t say in the playground.”

This is welcome news. However it doesn’t explain the Department’s report which she accepted, a report which urges schools not to permit God-talk by students outside of Scripture Classes. This report falls under the official policy section of the Education Department, titled, ‘Religious instruction policy statement’.

On this page there is a section marked ‘Reviews’ which is introduced with this statement,

“The purpose of the reviews is to provide guidance to state schools as to whether the program complies with departmental policies, procedures and applicable law.”

This ban is official guidance for schools.

In other words, the Minister’s statement is at odds with her own Department’s position. 

We encourage Ms Jones to follow through with today’s positive announcement and ensure that those statements about evangelism are removed altogether.

Victorian Greens banning the conscience

The Victorian Parliament is expected to commence debate on an assisted-suicide Bill next week, although the conversation has been taking place for many months already.

Two of the main issues that I have heard expressed concern the ethics of killing human beings, and the question of safeguards. In regard to the latter issue, Peter Singer (who is one the most notable global pro-euthanasia voices) recently admitted in a Melbourne meeting,

“Euthanasia without patient consent does happen in Europe. Don’t worry it happens here too.”

 

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This week, however, another important area of debate has been brought to the fore by the Victorian Greens.

St Vincent’s Health Australia has made it clear that should euthanasia be legalised in Victoria, they will not be offering this ‘procedure’, given that killing human life contradicts their values. In response, Victorian Greens have asked the Government to review public funding of St Vincent’s if clinicians are banned from administering assisted suicide. How extraordinary that a political party would remove funding from a major health care provider on account that they refuse to assist patient suicide. Imagine living in a State where hospitals were forced to participate in killing patients; welcome to Victoria. In all probability, it is unlikely that the Parliament would support such measures, but this is yet another example of how far our society has moved in the dehumanisation project.

A Greens spokesperson then had the audacity to attack St Vincent’s hospital, accusing them of lacking compassion for the terminally ill and “condemning people to pain.” One can imagine what the doctors and nurses at the hospital think of such a repugnant comment.

I am a strong supporter of the Greens policy to ban Greyhound racing because of the appalling statistics of these dogs being euthanised. We own a greyhound rescue dog, and he’s a much loved member of our family. How ironic that the same political party not only support proposed legislation to encourage assisted suicide of human beings, they would also threaten health providers who find such action unconscionable.