Private prayers in Victoria a legal ‘grey area’

I’ve written about The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act numerous times given the extraordinary nature of this Government intrusion into the lives of religious Victorians.  In this post, I want to inform people of one further way these laws will encroach on religious and civil freedoms and commonsense.

The laws will come into effect in February 2022. Churches are supportive of some measures contained in these laws, but the Act goes well beyond what is reasonable or right.

Among the more extraordinary measures found in the Act is banning people from having conversations with individuals about sexuality and gender, and prohibiting praying with them in line with a Christian view of sexuality (even with their express consent). 

Slide is from a VEOHRC forum

The new laws may well extend even beyond consensual prayer.  In a letter sent to church leaders from my own denomination we read, 

“There is some uncertainty about the application of the Act to praying for or with people regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Act specifically includes “a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism” in the unlawful practices, even if the person seeks or consents to such prayer. However, the VEOHRC has advised that it is a “grey area” if the person is not present when they are being prayed for. It may be unlawful if the person is aware of such prayer, in that this would be understood to be directed at them with the intention of change or suppression.”

Private prayers are considered a ‘grey area’ by the VEOHRC (Victoria Equal Opportunity Human Rights Commission). If that doesn’t make your eyes pop out of your head and roll down the hallway, what will?

For example, a believer prays for a friend, it’s just them and God. Or perhaps  2 or 3 friends pray together, as Christians do all the time, and they bring a request to God about another friend for whom they are concerned. This prayer, even if the person never knows about it, is potentially a breaking of the law. And depending on how police treat the crime, it could potentially lead to a term of imprisonment. More likely, the guilty prayers will be investigated by a civil tribunal and have their lives turned upside down and be forced to attend a reeducation camp where they must learn how to pray and believe in line with the religious views acceptable to the government.

Part of the problem with the VEOHRC coming out with what they call a ‘grey area’ is that it likely means a test case. Some poor woman or man will have their life dragged through the mud, legal system and courts, to see if a vexatious complaint can push the limits of the law.

What business is it of the Government to interfere with my prayers to God, or the prayers offered by anyone? 

For those who are not already convinced, can we not see the massive overreach and the insanity that a Christian’s personal prayers are treated as a violation of State law? 

What is it about prayer that the Government is so concerned about? Are they worried that God might answer prayer? As a Christian, I follow the Bible’s exhortation to regularly pray for our Governments, regardless of who is in power. I pray they might have wisdom and discernment, to act rightly, fairly, and mercifully. 

What is it about prayer that is so egregious? The answer is, activists are not content to ban what were a few rare and abhorrent practices. The intention is to delete any belief and practice that does not fully embrace their own worldview.

One group behind the laws explained,

“A similarly insidious development in conservative religious communities is the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ pastoral posture.”

Ro Allen (the VEOHRC Commissioner) said in an interview,

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

I thank God that Jesus welcomes us while not affirming every attitude and behaviour I might have. The very crux of Christianity is that God mercifully welcomes those who contravene his good design in many different ways. I will say again, for those who haven’t read before, the Gospel aim isn’t to change a person’s orientation but it is that they might live a godly life (the distinction is important). There are many same sex attracted Christians who uphold and want to live in light of the Bible’s sexual ethic. The very nature of Christianity is that it welcomes and includes everyone who doesn’t belong by nature and choice. That’s good news worth thinking about. 

 But understanding the very notion of sin and conversion, transgression and forgiveness cuts against what some groups will tolerate in our society. They are not prepared to live in a civil society where a plurality of thought is encouraged or permissible. Banning certain behaviours isn’t sufficient; the aim is to change and control what we believe and even think. Yes, even our prayers.

Orwell’s 1984 has been done to death in recent years. The next latest 1984 analogy is getting rather tiresome and predictable, but sometimes Mr Orwell had a knack of looking into the hearts of men and seeing something disturbing, 

The aim of the Party in 1984 was power and they would orchestrate mind games in order to gain control over even the thoughts of the citizens,

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”

There is one who understands the mind and who hears our prayers, and it is beyond the purview of any Government.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”  (Psalm 139:23)

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”(Hebrews 4:12)

Let God judge our prayers and our minds. And perhaps with time, reasonable minds will appreciate the misstep taken by the Victorian Government and seek to amend this set of laws.

Allow Victorian Churches to regather: A Sample Letter

For those interested, here is a copy of a letter that I have sent to several Victorian MPs in the last few weeks. Note, the actual letter varies slightly depending on the recipient. I’ve also made one change here in light of Victoria reaching the target of 90% fully vaccinated today.

Dear…..

I am writing to express concern about the rules governing who can attend religious worship services in Victoria.

Throughout the pandemic, almost all churches have closely followed the health directives and we continue to do so. Like other religious leaders, I am persuaded by medical professionals that the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and efficacious, and I have encouraged others to follow this advice. This public stance has come at some cost to me personally. 

I am grateful for the availability of the vaccines. My entire family is fully vaccinated, including our 3 children. In my church, we anticipate that the overwhelming majority of members will be vaccinated, indeed at a higher percentage than the Victorian population. I am also heartened by the fact that over 93% of Victorians have already received at least the first dose of a vaccine.

While our State needed to increase vaccination rates, certain restrictions on Churches were understandable. However, in light of the new targets, it is no longer reasonable for unvaccinated Victorians to be separated in Church.

On September 19th, Premier Daniel Andrews announced Victoria’s Roadmap. This document stated that once Victoria reaches 80% of 12+ fully vaccinated, all settings will “align with National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response”.  It was expected that when Victoria reached this target, any Victorians who remained unvaccinated would return to normal worship services alongside those who are fully vaccinated. We are now in a much better position than was anticipated. This is encouraging news. It, therefore, makes no sense to further exclude from worship services those who remain unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated people have no need to fear those who are unvaccinated. 

I acknowledge that the Government has made provision for churches to hold services for people with unknown vaccination status. For a few short weeks, this is possible, but it is not a long term solution. First, a church is one community and it is wrong and harmful to divide it, especially after almost 2 years of lockdowns and hard restrictions. Second, Churches have a responsibility to welcome and minister to all kinds of people including the vulnerable. And it is among this demographic that we find many who are unvaccinated. Third, churches are largely run by volunteers. Forcing churches to organise additional services is not sustainable for an already exhausted community.

For almost two years Churches have chosen to comply with Victoria’s health directives because we have believed that they were reasonable, fair, and temporary. However, to separate church attendees further is neither, reasonable, fair or temporary. 

I note that Churches in NSW have returned to normal worship services (as of October 24th) and so there is no division between those vaccinated and those with unknown vaccination status. If NSW can implement this positive step safely and equitably, surely Victoria can do so as well.

Apart from the health issues, this pandemic has created significant social tensions and has brought harm to the mental and spiritual well-being of countless Victorians. It is now time for our State to heal and move on. I am therefore requesting that the vaccination status mandate be removed from churches now that we have reached the target of 90%. 

Your advocacy for local religious communities will be much appreciated.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly,

Yours Sincerely,

Murray Campbell

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com


Unfortunately, during the course of the year, some letters have been sent to MPs by some religious quarters containing misinformation, negative messaging toward vaccinations, and a tone lacking any semblance of grace. In contrast, the approach that has proven constructive (ie leading to favourable arrangements for NSW Churches, and even the Victorian Government giving some special consideration to Church) is one where church leaders have advocated responsibly and positively with consideration of society’s overall wellbeing.

Victoria and the Gradual Reversal of Constantine

Premier Daniel Andrews’ Pandemic Management Bill, is one hot potato. The Bill is currently being debated in the Victorian Parliament and it is drawing much attention in the media and also among the legal fraternity

The President of the Victorian Bar, Christopher Blanden, QC, says of these new powers,

“Stasi police would have been more than happy with the range of powers if they were given it…It’s extraordinary.”

Such authoritarian tendencies have been the hallmark of this Premiership. I’m not here to speak about this contentious Bill. And please note, what I have to say in this article should not be read as a politically partisan presentation, for that is not my agenda. When a Government accomplishes good, I am thankful, no matter who is in power. Without taking away from any good that this Government has achieved in recent years, it is evident that it is drawn by draconian impulses. No Government in Australia in contemporary history has introduced as many policies targeting religious freedom as has this Victorian Government. I say this as someone who lives in Victoria and is watching religious liberties slowly eroding through a combination of policy and power. 

Most recently, in February this year, the Government introduced and adopted the  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.  While Churches agreed with aspects of the Bill, the Government took the unnecessary approach (breaking with jurisdictions around the world) to define conversion practices as broad as possible, such that normal Christian activities are now prohibited. The Act makes it illegal for Christians (and others) to pray with or speak with another person about sexuality and gender with the aim of persuading them according to Christian beliefs. The Government believes that these activities are so heinous that they have attached a prison sentence of up to 10 years for some offences (this law comes into effect February 2022). 

While almost all attention this week is on the new powers being given to the Premier through the Pandemic Management Bill, another Bill has been tabled this week and it deserves attention, The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021. It will be debated in Parliament in 2 weeks time.


The proposed amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act are directly aimed at further reducing religious freedoms in Victoria,

The Premier says of the Bill, 

“Religious organisations and schools will only be able to make employment decisions based on an employee’s religious beliefs where these are inherent to the job. Religious bodies and schools will still be able to practice their faith, teach their beliefs and set the religious ethos within their organisation.”

The Premier’s second statement is denuded by the first. By introducing an inherent requirement test for jobs in religious organisations, the Government is self-determining the nature of religious work and removing from these organisations their freedom to make employment decisions for the benefit of their school, church, or charity. 

The Bill not only impacts the ability of religious organisations (and faith-based schools) to employ persons according to their established religious convictions. Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes, explains,

“The Victorian bill would also mean no faith-based organisations could discriminate when delivering government-funded services such as counselling or homelessness support, or hiring out community facilities”.

Should the State dictate to religious organisations what constitutes religious work and what is not? Do we really want the State defining the theological beliefs and requirements of faith-based organisations? Is a gardener or an office administrator not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching Scripture? The Government is creating a false dichotomy that does not exist in the Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole that serves a common purpose.

The Government is also mistaken in assuming that because a role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it is therefore irrelevant whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ someone who does not support the basic values and vision of that association?

One month prior to the Bill being tabled in Parliament, the Attorney-General indicated that the new parameters maybe even further expanded, 

“We could be convinced to extend it, we just haven’t consulted on that particular element of reform. I certainly wouldn’t have a closed mind to revisiting that down the track”.

A similar comment was made about the Conversion or Suppression Practices Act by the then Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy. Hennessy told Parliament that conduct “such as sermons…may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

In other words, as extraordinary as these amendments are, the Government is already indicating that further religious restrictions may be introduced in the future.

In 2016, a similar amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act was narrowly defeated, however, this latest attempt is likely to pass. 

Today not only marks the release of this Bill in Victoria’s Parliament, it also coincides with another day from history. On October 28th 312AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine won a famous victory. This pagan ruler attributed his triumph to what had been up until that moment an illegal religion: Christianity. Soon after, Christianity was legalised and the formal oppression of Christians came to an end in the Roman Empire.


Christianity and the State have not always had an easy relationship, whether it was Ancient Rome, Tudor England or China’s Sinicization. In Australia, for more than a century our society achieved a healthy dynamic between Church and State. The Church does not control the State and the State doesn’t dictate religious beliefs and practices. This division doesn’t mean that religious ideas can never influence public policy.  After all, politics is never free from worldview, ideology, and theology. Indeed, our appreciation of the secular state has its roots in the teaching of Jesus Christ.

One day when Jesus was confronted by a group of political and religious pundits, he responded with what has become a vital principle for a healthy society, 

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus wasn’t arguing for the exclusion of religious ideas from the political sphere and neither was he fusing them together. Similarly, the Australian Constitution doesn’t advocate for secularism without religious ideas and contributions, but rather Government is protected from the control of any single religious organisation.

It is important to realise that the social pluralism we enjoy in Australia is deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian beliefs. Indeed, Australia’s political and social pluralism is one of the byproducts of Christian theism. If, as some hardline secularists want, that we rid our culture of all public vestiges of Judeo-Christianity, we will in fact destroy the underpinnings for a healthy pluralistic society and instead create one that is far more authoritarian and far less tolerant. Do we want to take that road?

It took almost 300 years for Christianity to be no longer deemed dangerous and criminal. In the space of 5 years, basic Christian ideas have been maligned and even made illegal in my State of Victoria. It’s one thing to disagree with Christian teaching, but such Governmental interference is wrong and needless. Without diminishing this overreach, I don’t want to overstate the case either. It’s not as though the future of Christianity depends upon Governmental permission. Far from it! Christianity often grows where the State opposes Churches. The opposition forces Christians to consider who we truly worship, love and follow. When Christians attribute too much to Government, we can weaken the Gospel and lose sight of the centrality of the Church. We are not theocrats! Government intrusion does however make following Jesus Christ more difficult and costly.

At a time where many nations are turning the screw on religious freedoms, from China to Iran and to Russia, why would we want to join this number? The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 achieves less for inclusion and instead gives the State greater control over what religious organisations can do in line with their religion. This legislation contradicts healthy pluralism, and it denies the very foundations upon which our secular society is built. 


This article is an update on comments I made about the proposed Equal Opportunity Amendments last month

Associate Professor Neil Foster provides a legal analysis of the Bill here

Who’s the Fundamentalist?

“fundamentalist is most often an epithet for those whose whose views on politics, theology, or church life seem more rigid than yours.” Thomas Kidd

In today’s Australia reasoned argument is optional. Presenting a point of view with gentleness and grace is seen as a liability. If you want to win over the public gallery, the key is to include as many trigger words as possible. Create a swell of anger or fear among your audience; that’s the choice pathway for getting your opinion heard today. 

This was the approach taken by Reverend Dr Stephanie Dowrick in yesterday’s opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘NSW must do better than Dominic Perrottet as premier’.

To be build a case that the current Treasurer of NSW, Dominic Perrottet, is unfit to serve as Premier, Dowrick throws out one of today’s shibboleths that’s used to identity the baddies in society: fundamentalist. 

Not content to call out one fundie in Australian politics, Dowrick names Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, as another example of religious fundamentalism.

What is Perrottet’s sin? According to Rev Dr. Dowrick, he is “a highly conservative Catholic with views that represent the most extreme end of a rigidly male-dominated institutional church.”

Notice the plethora of descriptive words employed in just this one sentence: ‘highly’, ‘conservative’, ‘most extreme’, ‘rigid’.  This approach becomes the hallmark of Dowrick argument; use as much emotionally charged language as possible to win over readers. 

At one point Dowrick offers an explanation of what she means by fundamentalism, 

“Fundamentalisms vary greatly. What they have in common, though, is a narrowness of conviction that cannot be challenged by logic, evidence or appeals to reason.”

“in its righteousness and self-righteousness around central questions of identity, sexuality, gender politics, minority rights and an unwavering conviction that this is the “one, true faith”, it is also far from mainstream 21st-century Christianity. And far from the progressive, vibrant Catholicism that flourishes in many parishes and among numerous laypeople active in social and environmental justice.”

If that’s the case, I assume Dowrick also believes Jesus is a fundamentalist. After all, Jesus defines all sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman as immoral.

In summary, Dowrick’s fundamentalists are anyone who disagrees with her version of religion. 

Dowrick admits that neither Perrottet or Morrison would describe themselves as ‘fundamentalists’, but that’s not going to stop her using the label. She even insists that fundamentalists have a “total lack of self-awareness”. It’s a classic example of a fallacious circular argument: You are what I say you are, regardless of whether you agree with me or not. Indeed, some might suggest that this is a version of fundamentalism! 

When it comes down to it, Dowrick is simply using fundamentalist in a pejorative sense to describe Christians with whom she disagrees. It’s an insult. It’s a disparaging comment designed to undermine another person. As the theologian Thomas Kidd points out, “fundamentalist is most often an epithet for those whose whose views on politics, theology, or church life seem more rigid than yours.”

The word fundamentalist once referred to someone who upheld the fundamentals of a belief system. To be a fundamentalist was neither good or bad, it was a description of faithful adherence to one’s said belief system. For example, a fundamentalist was someone who consistently upholds believing the doctrines  of the Christian faith, as opposed to a progressive who no longer believes but still wants to keep the name Christian for various cultural reasons.

In a recent article, Andrew Prideaux notes how in the 1950s English bishops referred to Billy Graham as a fundamentalist. They called out Graham’s version of Christianity as elevating “‘the penal doctrine of the atonement,’ ‘the call for conversion after evangelistic sermons,’ and ‘an individualistic doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s work which makes churchmanship and sacraments practically superfluous.”

This bishopric description of Graham’s beliefs is not extreme, it simply biblical Christianity, the same Christianity that has existed for 2,000 years and continues to be true today. It is this now popular reinvention of the word fundamental that Dowrick is implying.

It’s at this point that Dowrick tells a fib. She claims that progressive churches are the ones ‘flourishing’ in Australia today. That is simply untrue. Progressive churches, which is code for, we no longer believe the historic faith, are emptying. They may be popular among a segment of unbelieving Aussies and they may have clout at some institutional levels, but their churches were empty pre-Covid and will continue to be so afterward. The Christianity that is growing today are churches who hold to traditional beliefs (or what should be called biblical beliefs and practices) and are living them out with clarity, conviction, and love.

Thankfully others are calling out the article for what it is, a political hit piece. A number of journalists are also slamming it.

Chief reporter for The Age newspaper, Chip le Grand, said,

“The drips will lap it up but it is dispiriting to read this snide sectarianism. Imagine if we ridiculed Jewish or Muslim MPs like this?”

Another journalist tweeted,

“Let’s try this headline with a couple of other politicians.

“Meet Julia Gillard – the avowed atheist and childless woman about to take Australia’s top job.”

“Meet Josh Frydenberg – the Jew about to be Australia’s treasurer.”

Can’t see those headlines getting a run.”

From beginning to end there is no fire in Dowrick’s argument, just a very big smoke machine hired from Bunnings. The smoke is spread thick and is designed to cause readers to believe there is also a fire. Instead, lurking behind is little more than the classic authoritarian secularist argument wanting a religious test for public office. 

According to Dowrick, both Dominic Perrottet and Scott Morrison are unfit for public office because their religious beliefs differ to hers. Since when is a person’s religious affiliation a qualification for public office? 

There is no religious test for assuming public life Australia, and neither should there be. One of the virtues of a pluralistic and democratic society is that citizens from different backgrounds and holding various beliefs can be nominated for office, and should they be elected, they can stand in Parliament and even lead a Government. It’s called democracy.

Let’s not play the erroneous game that  secular means ‘without religion’. Australian political and public life is not designed by law or ethos to limit religious ideas inside of church buildings. Australian secularism encourages a plurality of thought and conviction. True secularism simply means that the State is not controlled by any single religious group. Parliament is not a neutral space where only non religious views can be expressed. 

As Jonathan Leeman observes in his book on political theology, 

“secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps as liberal authoritarianism…the public realm is nothing less than the battle ground of gods, each vying to push the levers of power in its favour’.

I don’t have any skin in the game when it comes to NSW politics. I don’t know Dominic Perrottet from a bar of soap. Neither am I here to defend Roman Catholicism or Pentecostalism. I disagree with both of these theological positions on a number of significant points. But we are not talking about a church appointment here or calling a lecturer to a theological college, where such distinctions are important.  Does Australia really want to exclude from  political life Aussies who hold to traditional forms of Christianity? 

No doubt many would say yes. Today’s letters to the Editor are praising Dowrick. But let us understand, this is not a sign of a maturing and tolerant society, but one that is losing its moorings. 

Dowrick writes,

“Fundamentalist thinking is also highly divisive. The world consists of “us” – and the rest of you. High levels of conformity are demanded; to doubt, self-question, is unwelcome or forbidden.”

It sounds as though Dorwick may be guilty of the very thing she is accusing others of representing.

Given how Dowrick is attacking Christianity, I am again reminded of how Jesus was committed to his beliefs. His understanding of the world contradicted the prevailing mood of society at that time. With love and truth he served a people who didn’t tolerate him. It was Jesus’ convictions that led him to the cross. If there is a characteristic that defines  fundamentalism (as commonly understood today) it is this, a lack of love.

I cannot comment on Perrottet’s and Morrison’s Christianity, for I don’t know these men. But throwing verbal insults at someone isn’t much of a way to progress serious conversation. And advocating for a religious means test for public office is a road Australia would do well to avoid. 

Victoria’s Conversion Practices Act is a genuine assault on religious freedom

I just got off the phone with a friend and fellow baptist pastor from Melbourne. He has resigned himself to the likelihood that he will face imprisonment over the next few years. This isn’t because he’s done anything wrong or immoral. He’s a faithful follower of Jesus and lovingly serves a local church. He shared how he has been made to feel that he is a criminal. Again, this is not because he is behaving in any egregious manner. It is because he is a faithful follower of Jesus and a loving pastor that he is expects to face jail time.

My friend had just attended an information session for baptist pastors regarding Victoria’s new conversion practices laws. I attended the same forum but on a different day. 

The Government representatives provided a thorough briefing on the intent and details of The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act. No assurance was given that the laws are only targeting extreme practices. Instead, the Government representatives made it clear that numerous Christian beliefs and practices are now on the wrong side of the law.

I won’t repeat everything that was said in the forum, nor will I cover all the ground that I’ve written about previously and that others have well documented.  The aim here is to remind Victorians of the serious threats posed by The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act. The Bill was adopted by the Victorian Parliament in February this year,  and it comes into effect  February 2022. 

At the moment, churches are understandably focused on issues relating to COVID-19 and what church may look like once we can return in November. At the same time, this Act looms large and will have real consequences for faithful Christians and also for Victorians who seek solace and new identity in Jesus Christ. 

Government Doctrine

The forum speakers were at pains to say that their role was to explain the law and not enter discussions about religious doctrines. However, their commentary was interspersed with judgements on various Christian beliefs and practices.  One Government official referred to the Christian view of sexuality as ‘insidious’. The law itself  is designed to stop certain beliefs and practices inherent to the Christian faith.  Indeed, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act is a religious manifesto wrapped in the guise of politics and law. Lest we were left in any doubt, the government presenters offered ‘Christian’ resources for us to read. None of the sources reflect Christian  views, but the teachings of LGBT activist groups. 

For example, we were informed that no person’s sexuality or gender identity is broken or sinful, and to suggest so contravenes the intent of the new laws. While this may be a popular view in our cultural moment, it is logically incoherent and experientially false. 

We were told that,

“It’s deceptive to say there’s a problem when there isn’t one.”

And

“It wrong to suggest that “you cannot have faith unless you change”.

However, by definition Christianity is a conversion religion. God requires us to repent of sin and to turn to him for forgiveness, new life, and reconciliation. There is no Christian without change. People are persuaded by the message of Jesus Christ and are changed by it. I am not suggesting that a person’s sexual orientation changes, nor do we minister for that goal. Contrary to the views presented at the forum which repeatedly stated that people cannot change, the fact is,  some people do find their sexual orientation change, while many do not. What does change however is an individual’s desire to live in conformity with God’s righteousness. It is normal for people to share this newly found desire in Christ and to seek counsel and prayer to live in light of the beliefs that they are now persuaded to be good and right.

We were informed by a lawyer representing the Government that, 

“We are to affirm peoples sexual orientation and preferences and ‘the love of God’ in that!”

The love of God as described by God in the Bible is given to people not on account of moral aptitude and adherence to his laws. The beautiful account of God in the person of Jesus Christ is that God loves ‘sinners’. It is not a love that condones human sexual behaviour and preferences, but a love that is offered despite our behaviour and desires. To affirm certain preferences is not ‘the love of God’, that is a betrayal of his love, and it is beyond the scope of a government lawyer to suggest so.

The following questions were asked during the forum of the panel:

Christians believe that sexual practices should only take place within marriage between a man and a woman. This belief comes from the Bible, affirmed by Jesus, and has been the norm for thousands of years. 

Say, for example, someone approaches a Christian and shares that they are same sex attracted. They ask for prayer because they don’t want to live out those desires but instead live according to Christian principles. I am acting unlawfully by praying this with/for them?

If the same person also asks me for assistance on how to live according to Christian beliefs and so refrain from sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage, am I acting unlawfully?

The answer in both cases is, yes, this would be a breach of the law.

Here’s another example, a home group may conduct a Bible study on Romans chapter 1. However, if during the study someone shares that they are homosexual, the study cannot continue, because doing so may be interpreted as an attempt to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation. 

There is one point where confusion remains; it relates to church positions (whether staff, volunteer, or membership). While a church can appoint persons in line with expressed doctrinal values, it seems to be the case that once a person reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity, you cannot remove them from their role. This will have real repercussions for issues of employment, freedom of association, and the Christian practice of church discipline.

To be clear, it is not only religious leaders who are subject to the Act, everyone Victorian is subject to these laws.

Government Overreach

Since governmental discussions on conversion practices started 4-5 years ago, the direction was pretty clear, and today’s forum has reinforced this simple fact: in Victoria only one view of humanity is permitted, and the Christian view is not it.

No doubt, some Victorians will be very pleased with this news. However, for all the pop-talk about the separation of church and state, and of government commissions not getting involved in church doctrine, this law is all about doctrine and forcing a hardline (and at times anti-scientific) humanistic view onto religion.  As another pastor expressed to me, for a law that’s designed to ban ‘conversion’, he feels that he is being forcibly converted away from Christianity and into some new fangled civil religion.

It is extraordinary for a government to assume such authority and tell its citizens how to pray and who to pray for. It is beyond reason and fairness that a government should threaten religious people for loving others as Christ has loved us. To wield the law in order to bully churches into changing their beliefs is beyond the pale.

Through reading and hearing stories I am aware that a few religious groups have taught and practiced things that are wrong and harmful. I don’t know of anyone who disagrees with every element of the Act. I’ve been on the record since I first heard about ‘conversion practices’ and publicly repudiated such activities. However, this law goes well beyond banning a few practices that belonged on the fringes of a small number of religious organisations. It’s like the Government noticed an ingrown toenail on the left foot and their answer is to cut off the entire leg, and then threaten to cut off other leg should should we offer any resistance! Let me repeat, this law makes it illegal to speak with someone and pray with someone about human sexuality in line with the Christian faith. Worse still, it threatens to silence the most precious good news the world can ever know.

The Bible is clear and good

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Corinthians 6:9-11)

Becoming a Christian doesn’t remove every issue or struggle, but it does give us a new standing and status before God, and by his Spirit he gives us a new set of desires and purpose. I am not saying that a person’s sexual orientation will change. I don’t think the aim is to change a person’s orientation, nor have I ever suggested so. The Christian goal is to persuade people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to encourage believers to live godly lives that reflect God’s good purposes as revealed in the Bible.

Again, the Bible is clear. You may not agree with it, but that’s part of living in a healthy and pluralistic society. People share and exchange ideas, and people do their best to love and care, and people can choose to engage or not. When the Government deems it necessary to clamp down on historic mainstream Christianity, all Victorians needs to be aware and consider what is becoming of our society. 

What can Churches do? Write a letter to their local MP expressing concerns. Speak with your organisational/denominational leaders and them to provide adequate protections and advice for churches. Don’t give up on the goodness of the Gospel. 

Why it is becoming harder for Christians to gain a fair hearing in society

I think it’s helpful to learn and hear how others perceive Christians when we argue for religious freedom issues. It may be increasingly difficult for Christians to get a fair hearing, but there is value in us learning about the fears, concerns, and attitudes the unbelieving society is expressing.

A piece in Saturday’s The Age attempted to draw together several issues including the State Liberal leadership, proposed legislation targeting Christian Schools and the Conversion Practices Bill which passed earlier this year.

I know nothing about alleged promises made between Michael O’Brien and the ACL and these things are not my interest here.

As I read, I noticed that one of quotations came from me, although it wasn’t attributed to me (from The Age 5/12). I mentioned this to the reporter (who by the way has been doing excellent reporting on the pandemic in Victoria) as well as a brief summary of why Christians are rightly concerned by the  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 . I noted how Churches agreed with aspect of the Bill while explaining how other aspects are overreach and misguided. 

With the same degree of surprise as someone jumping into sea and expecting to get wet, the Twitter community bandied together to object to what I said. Their objections were telling. For instance,  one person used the issue of child sexual abuse in churches to argue Christians have no right to engage in conversation and dialogue,

“Christian faith had no right to use prayer institutions to groom, abuse, assault, persuade and then cover up child sexual abuse for decades either. Stay out of people’s sexual choices. You lot lost any moral right to have anything to do with persuading (bullying) people.”

While I disagree with how they conflate issues that are very separate, it’s worth listening to the comment. The harm caused by evil people who worked their way inside some churches is truly insidious. Though their abuse may have taken place many years ago, it will have an ongoing effect for many years to come, and possibly for generations. In the first place, the damage inflicted on victims of these crimes is both real and abhorrent. Second, the damage these actions has caused to the reputation of Christ and churches is real. We may say, as I have myself have pointed out, churches are overwhelmingly safe and that such behaviour contradicts every fibre of Christian faith. Indeed, the Bible warns us how people with evil intent will worm their way into churches and cause harm both by their words and by their actions. And of course, issues of sexual abuse are widespread throughout every part of society. Nonetheless, we need to understand how these sins and the manner in which some churches at times overlooked abuse, has understandably marred peoples’ view of Christianity.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Second, there are members of the community who genuinely believe Christians have no right to speak and practice our religion publicly. These voices range from the anonymous Twitter account through to high-profile social commentators and one can mount the case that this is becoming an adopted view inside the current Victorian government.

For example, a few responses to my tweet stated that Christians have no right to persuade anyone,

“In this context, those “offers” are unquestionably acts of psychological abuse, deliberately inflicted on vulnerable people. That you would defend this as your “right” is a damning indictment. Disgraceful. You’re not a victim, stop pretending otherwise.”

The problem is one of framing. I mentioned this issue last week in relation to the Victorian Attorney General’s announcement of forthcoming legislation that is targeting faith-based schools. Instead of supporting the rights of religious organisations to employ people who affirm their values, the Government, using it’s own theological priorities, is seeking to insert its own preferences onto faith-based schools and other organisations. 

Similarly, the Conversion Practices Act attempts to remove what are common sense and essential aspects of Christian faith; namely the freedom to persuade and to pray. The lead up to the debate on conversion practices was framed according to a narrow and at times misleading narrative. The Government told stories of so called Christian practices that are horrible (and these are horrible especially to Christian ears).  The problem was, these practices were either only ever practised by a small number of marginal religious groups many years ago, or never at all. Instead, what happened is that a straw man was built out of thousands of plastic straws and with a couple of strands a genuine hay. This  predominantly false presentation was used to justify making illegal activities that are not only congruent with 2000 years of Christian history, but also congruent with a civilised and pluralistic society that encourages persuasion and conversation and prayer. Does the government have any right to tell me who I can pray for and what I can pray for? It somewhat bemusing to hear ardent secularists approve of political means to step into the religious realm and legislate against prayer and conversation. In the name of equality, Victoria is again moving to diminish freedom and equality and tolerance. 

I have been saying for many years that society and sometimes churches have not always treated gay and lesbian neighbours in love and with the respect due them. Every Christian who is a born again Christian is aware of the fact that we only come to know God‘s wonderful forgiveness and the gift of reconciliation because of His undeserved grace and love towards us in Christ. This grace doesn’t motivate hatred toward others, but desires to see people doing well. Of course, the narrative that now controls much public discourse is that you cannot love another person and uphold the Christian view of marriage. It is said that one cannot hold to a Christian view of sexuality and truly want the best for others. The megaphone may be loud, constant, and popular, but it is no more true than those who claim the earth is flat or those who argue that the climate is not warming. 

One thing Christians in Victoria need to realise is that we no longer hold a place of respect or authority in our society. Of course, that is a generalisation, for there many Victorians (even among unbelievers) who still value the contributions of Christians and who believe in healthy pluralism. Nonetheless, we need to comes to terms with the fact that culture is shifting The answer isn’t for Christians to pine for yesterday. The answer isn’t to ‘reclaim’ our political or social position. These attempts not only usually fail, they often lead to further polarisation and to muddying the Christian message. There is a place to contest unfair laws and unjust governmental intrusion, but these avenues should be pursued by reasonable minds not by angry activists. Rather, Christians need to be doing what Christians have always done at their best and that is, humbly walk before God, and being persuaded by the Bible keep living out God’s good ways, and with patience, grace and clarity, keep speaking God’s good news, and keep loving our neighbours no matter who they happen to be. 

Victorian Government to Discriminate against Faith-Based Schools

The past 18 months have proven difficult for all Victorians. During this time 100,000s of Victorians rely on and are grateful for the support, care, and education provided by religious organisations: from schools to counselling services, and more. Churches have continued to minster to people and offer hope where disease and lockdowns have darkened the lives of so many. During this same period, the Victorian Government has moved again and again to reduce the freedoms of religious organisations for the simple reasons: for holding beliefs and practices that align with the historical convictions of their religion. 

In February this year, the Government introduced and adopted the  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.  While Churches agreed with aspects of the Bill, the Government took the unnecessary approach (breaking with jurisdictions around the world) and defined conversion practices as broad as possible, such that normal Christian activities are now prohibited. The Act makes it illegal for Christians (and others) to pray with or speak with another person about sexuality and gender with the aim of persuading them according to Christian beliefs. The Government believes that these activities are so heinous that they have attached a prison sentence of up to 10 years for anyone breaking the law (this law comes into effect February 2022). 

This week, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes announced another piece of legislation. This Bill will be brought to the Victorian Parliament before the end of year, limiting religious organisations in employing persons who subscribe to the values of the school, counselling centre, or aid agency.

The  Age reports,

“Religious schools in Victoria will be prohibited from sacking or refusing to employ teachers because of their sexuality or gender identity under sweeping social reforms proposed by the Andrews government.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said legislation would be introduced later this year to close an “unfair, hurtful” gap in anti-discrimination laws that allow faith-based organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender and marital status.

“People shouldn’t have to hide who they are to keep their job,” Ms Symes said.”

While the story focuses on Christian schools, the legislation is again broad and will swallow a great number of organisation (even some churches),

“The Victorian bill would also mean no faith-based organisations could discriminate when delivering government-funded services such as counselling or homelessness support, or hiring out community facilities”.

The proposal is deeply flawed and should trouble religious and non religious Victorians alike.

First of all, the conversation is wrongly framed. Not only is the Attorney General twisting the narrative, but even The Age assumes the story line that is being fed to us by today’s cultural preachers. 

The canvas paints Christians as mean and intolerant and makes us think that they’re firing gays and lesbians in their schools every second Tuesday. Instead of the crude and misleading ‘religious people hate gays’ rhetoric, this is about faith based organisations appointing staff who affirm their values. 

Faith-based schools largely exist because 100,000s of Australian families have lost trust in State schools to deliver an education that isn’t also accompanied by certain ideologies.  Christian and other faith based schools are growing because families want their children to be educated in line with their faith. Not only have families been driven away from State schools, now the Government is pursuing them in their faith-based schools.

Rather than saying, here are mean and intolerant Christians discriminating against others, the real picture is of religious organisations wanting to employ persons who affirm their stated values. It’s called freedom of association. 

Should a cricket club be forced to appoint a coach who wants to change the game to lacrosse? Should the ALP be forced to welcome One Nation members into the fold and change their platform to accomodate One Nation? If a hospital employs a doctor who later changes their views, coming out as an anti-vax campaigner who disagrees with COVID vaccines, should the hospital be forced to put them in charge of immunology? 

Not only does the framing of this conversation sounds like a badly acted caricature on Comedy Central, the policy itself is flawed and troubling for it depends on imposing a secularist view of religion. 

“Ms Symes said the reforms would “narrow” the exceptions to anti-discrimination legislation so that any discrimination would need to be “reasonable” and an inherent requirement of the job. For example, a school might be permitted to prevent a gay or transgender person being a religious studies teacher but could not stop them being a maths teacher.”

Who is the Attorney General to dictate to religious organisations what constitutes religious work and what is not? Do we really want the State educating and defining the theological beliefs and requirements of faith-based organisations? Is a gardener or an office administrator not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching Scripture? The Government is creating a false dichotomy which does not exist in the Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole which serves a common purpose.

The Government is also mistaken in assuming that because a role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it is therefore irrelevant whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ someone who does not support the basic values and vision of that asociation?

Equal Opportunity doesn’t mean sameness. I’m not doubting the Victorian Government’s commitment to ‘equal opportunity’, but their paradigm is flawed, and represents an ethic that is ultimately not about diversity, but is about conformity.

Is the Attorney General the new Archbishop? Is the Government a replacement ecclesiastical council?  The question needs to be asked, is it reasonable for a Government to determine what constitutes required religious adherence or not? Is it the Government’s role to dictate theology and ministry practice? Does the Government have the necessary skills and knowledge required to adequately understand theology and therefore make the right judgement regarding the question of what is inherent?

The Labor Government tried to pass similar legislation in 2016, the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill. It fell short by a single vote in the Legislative Council. The vote is likely to be reversed on this occasion.

Not only is this latest attack on religious freedom a step too far, Jaclyn Symes is already hinting at expanding the legislation. The Bill has not even been tabled in Parliament and the Attorney General is fishing for justification to broaden the intrusion into religious organisations, 

“We could be convinced to extend it, we just haven’t consulted on that particular element of reform. I certainly wouldn’t have a closed mind to revisiting that down the track”.

The previous Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, made a similar comment in 2020 in relation to the Conversion Practices Bill. She indicated that the Government is open to extending prohibited ‘practices’ in the future and include church based sermons.

This ensures that conduct generally directed— such as sermons expressing a general statement of belief—is not captured. However, such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

These Government moves sadden me, not only because the proposal is so unnecessary and a significant threat to religious freedom, but also because like many Christian leaders, I have urged people to do the right thing throughout this pandemic and to be patient with Government restrictions. We regularly pray for our Premier and the Government, and so this latest legislative move is a vicious and unnecessary attack on Victorians. 

 Religious organisations are already free to employ people regardless of sexuality, if they so choose. The Victorian Government wants to take away choice. 

For those who can still remember back to 2017 and the assurances offered during the Marriage Plebiscite, they have proven to be as leaky as a bucket of water held by a politician in one hand and an electric drill in the other hand, and with a team of social activists turning on the power. 

Above all, what concerns me is how the legislators framing of this debate skews the very nature of the Christian message. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t phobic or bigoted, and neither does it affirm and agree with every idea and desire that we express. The good news is God’s gracious and loving message of redemption. The Christian worldview presents an attractive alternative. Of course, not every Victorian will be convinced (and I’m the first to admit that sometimes Christians don’t help convince neighbours by some of the things we say and do), but this Government is bent on removing this choice and imbedding a version of sexual secularisation into Christian schools and organisations. This kind of intrusion will not strengthen our society and enable the vibrant pluralism and tolerance that once marked Victoria. 

By the end of the year, hundreds of schools and organisations will need to decide who they’ll follow. Will they sacrifice the good and God given vision for marriage and human sexuality or will they sacrifice Government funding*? A healthy and pluralistic society should never force this junction. At a time when we are still trying to survive the most difficult season in living memory, this Government is threatening religious organisations. One may hope that commonsense will prevail and that this legislation will fall down, but I suspect it’s time for organisations to consider what their true values are and where their ultimate allegiance lies.


Teachers have shared with me that it’s not just funding at stake but also registration and the ability to continue as a school

The Lord’s Prayer in Victorian Parliament: Be careful what we ask for

We need more prayer, not less prayer. In a season when we have been reminded of our mortality and the acute limitations of being human, the wise learn how much more do we need Divine grace, wisdom, and strength. Instead of praying, the Victorian Parliament is arguing about Christianity again! This time, the dispute is over the Lord’s Prayer and whether it has a place inside Spring St.

Fiona Patten is introducing a motion to have the Lord’s Prayer replaced with a moment’s silence at the start of each Parliamentary sitting. The Legislative Council member from the Sex Party (sorry, it’s know called the ‘Reason Party) believes that our pluralistic society should exclude this prayer. Okay, I am being slightly facetious. Patten’s reasoning is that many Victorians are not Christian and the prayer discriminates against other religions and Victorians with no religious affiliation. 

Premier’s Chair!

What would I decide? Of course, I’m not sitting in the Premier’s chair nor in any chamber at Parliament. As a Christian minister living and serving in Victoria I do have some thoughts.

Fiona Patten has a point although it’s not without reasonable rebuttal. Reading the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament serves to perform two important functions in our society. First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both an historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability. 

Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live. 

However, what’s missing in this debate is an explanation of what the Lord’s Prayer is about. This prayer which brings great comfort is also dangerous to pray. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; nice and innocuous. In anything, the Lord’s Prayer should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Indeed, there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer (and for praying it). Let me explain.

The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,

“‘Our Father in heaven,”

Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it’s one that’s unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!

However, God is not everyone’s Father, and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad, only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. It is exclusive and yet it is also wonderfully inclusive, for no one is born Christian but we are adopted by grace, a gift from God. The Bible shows us that the privilege of knowing God as Father comes through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.

It is either a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father if they have not first put their faith in his Son. 

Notice also how the Lord’s Prayer petitions God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing,

“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.”

This prayer is asking  God to bring an end to all sin, evil ,and death, and to judge the guilty. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation. Are we ready to pray for Divine judgment on the Victorian Parliament, and all our attitudes and actions? 

The Lord’s Prayer recognises God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Such a petition is humbling, requires honesty, and it  provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness. There is a hypocrisy and hubris to ask God for forgiveness and to speak words that depend on a crucified and risen Christ while neither intellectual or heart assent to them. 

If we’re being honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my  consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers, even in many churches, have become about upholding tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. One cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those conclusions.

Fiona Patten’s reasons for removing  the Lord’s Prayer isn’t really about pluralism, it is simply the latest move in the Victorian Parliament to  further diminish the role Christianity holds in our society.

I understand why some Christians (and even unbelievers) are wanting the Lord’s Prayer to remain in Parliamentary program and I’ve above outlined two reasons above. At the same time, I note how this Parliament, earlier in the year, made it illegal for Christians to pray with and converse with another person about sexuality and gender. I am neither surprised by the move to remove the Lord’s Prayer, and frankly how hypocritical would it be if it continued. I am not keen to see our political representatives heaping more coals on their heads by speaking words that condemn them before an authority that exists above their own station.

Removing the Lord’s Prayer is another indication of a culture turning its back on the very beliefs upon which the very best of society is built. However its continuation is not a sign of living faith but of hypocrisy and dead religion. While there is great sadness in seeing my State of Victoria walk away from the God who exists, lives, and saves, the answer is not found in Parliament but in the local church. Christians should take care in how we argue, for we are mistaken if we conflate civil society with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God and the cause of Jesus Christ isn’t extended through such cultural nodding toward Christianity. The Lord’s Prayer belongs to the Church. The cause of the Gospel will be advanced by Christians believing, praying, and living out what Jesus taught us to pray.

This prayer that provides comfort to millions of Christians is far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament today is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making. Ask this question, do I believe this? Can I ask speak these words with a clear conscience? Perhaps, just perhaps, ask yourselves, does this God of the Lord’s Prayer really exist and can I known him and receive the blessings that are promised to those who know God as Father?


Update: The motion failed to gain sufficient support. For the time being the Lord’s Prayer will continue to be recited. However the Government’s Attorney General has indicated that Labor will proceed to remove it following the next State election (assuming they win)

The Lord’s Prayer is again the focus of the Victorian Parliament

The Lord’s Prayer is once again the subject of dispute in the Victorian Parliament. It is the practice of both Federal and State Governments in Australia to open the parliamentary sitting with the speaker reading out loud the ‘Lord’s Prayer’.

Today in Victoria, Legislative Council Member, Fiona Patten of the “Reason Party” (formerly called the Australia Sex Party), is introducing a motion to have the Lord’s Prayer banned and in its place introduce a moment’s silence at the start of each sitting. Her reasoning is that many Victorians are not Christians and it’s discriminatory toward other religions and to Victorians with no religious affiliation. 

As a Christian leader living in Victoria, I’m not persuaded by Patten’s argument, but neither am I calling for the Parliament to hold onto this tradition. Rather, my desire is that our Parliamentarians would come to terms with the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, and from there, make a decision.

In case anyone is wondering where this prayer originates, it is with Jesus Christ. Jesus introduced this prayer to his disciples early in his ministry and it was written down as part of Scripture and has remained precious to Christians ever since (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). The prayer, while it can be read verbatim, is probably meant to serve as a model for teaching us ‘how to pray’. Nonetheless this renowned prayer is read verbatim in our Parliaments.

The positive in keeping the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament

Reading the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament serves to perform two important functions in our society. First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both an historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability. 

Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live. 

The danger of praying the Lord’s Prayer

While there is argument for keeping the Lord’s Prayer in the Victorian Parliament, there are more significant reasons for treading cautiously with this prayer. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; all nice and innocuous. The Lord’s Prayer is a dangerous prayer to pray. It should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Let me explain, 

1. The Lord’s prayer is for believers 

The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,

“‘Our Father in heaven”

Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it is unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!

However God is not everyone’s Father, and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad; only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. The Bible shows us that we only have the privilege of knowing God as Father through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.

‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4-5). The Bible teaches us that we can know God as Father, but it is through Jesus. By trusting in his death and resurrection, we are no longer separated from God, but are included into his people and brought into a personal relationship with God.

It is a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father without first placing their faith in his Son. 

2. The Lord’s prayer acknowledges God’s utter holiness and otherness

“hallowed be your name”

This line is asking God for glory and greatness to be attributed to his name.

3. The Lord’s prayer asks for God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing. 

“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Lord’s prayer asks for God’s Kingdom to come and be manifest. This petition is asking for both judgment and salvation. We’re imploring God to bring an end to all sin, evil and death, and to judge the guilty. It is calling for God to rid the world of every evil and injustice, including our own. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally, that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation. 

Should we encourage people to ask God for this, especially if they themselves don’t believe in Jesus Christ? It’s like playing Russian roulette, except Jesus is persuaded that the Bible’s teaching on judgment is no idle threat, it’s about God righting all that is wrong.

4.  The Lord’s Prayer says we need God each day and especially his forgiveness

“Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

He is the God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins.

This petition requires us to recognise our sinfulness, as defined by God’s righteousness and not by our current social norms. At the time, this is breathtaking. In our culture where forgiveness is hard to find and where politics is filled with shaming and guilting others, Jesus’ prayer is humbling and provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness. 

5. The Lord’s Prayer asks for a way out from temptation.

“And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Are we wanting to embrace and live according to God’s design for life or something else? Given the reputation of our Parliament and many of the decisions made in recent years, one might conclude that our political representatives are consciously jumping into temptation rather than seeking to avoid it. 

To pray or not to pray?

Let’s be honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my  consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers even in many churches have become about tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. One cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those errant conclusions.

Fiona Patten’s reasons for banning the Lord’s Prayer may be about further undermining the important role Christianity plays in our society, but there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer.  Should you speak of God as your father if he is not? Do you understand that calling for the coming Kingdom include Divine judgment? Do you mean it when you ask God to forgive you? 

This prayer that provides comfort to millions of Christians is also far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making and to ask, do I believe this? Can I ask speak these words with a clear conscience? Perhaps, just perhaps, ask yourselves, does this God of the Lord’s Prayer really exist and can I known him and receive the blessings that are promised to those who know God as Father?

Scott Morrison does Christian stuff?

Fairfax have published their latest exposé on Prime Minister Scott Morrisons’ Christianity. PM says social media being used by ‘evil one’, gives rare insight into Pentecostal faithis a strange and sophomoric non-story. I think it illustrates how shallow our grasp of Christianity is in Australia. I suspect it’s another attempted subterfuge to undermine the credibility of the  Prime Minister. 

As I read Daniela White’s piece, it felt like an Aussie version of those famed letters by Pliny the Younger. Pliny was a magistrate in first century Rome. He who felt obliged to tell the Roman Emperor Trajan about those weird Christians who practice a “depraved, excessive superstition”. According to Pliny the Younger, these Christians drink human blood and practice cannibalism, they call each other brothers and sisters, they let women oversee programs and they do really nice things for other people!

There are plenty of issues worthy of reporting in relation to the Federal Government: among them, the painfully slow roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines and the mistreatment of women in Parliament. With a stale and predictable breathe, like waking up every morning, readers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have been given another dose of Scott Morrison’s faith. 

Daniella White explains that the Prime Minister participates in, “the Pentecostal practice of laying on of hands”.

Okay…well, so what? The practice of ‘laying on hands’ is not just a pentecostal thing, it harkens back to New Testament times and it is practised by pretty much all Christians churches to this day. It’s a physical symbol representing a spiritual committal (ie praying for an individual).

That is not all. Readers are reminded of this vital piece of evidence, 

“Mr Morrison was photographed raising his hands in a church service during the 2019 election”.

This is indeed disturbing behaviour by a Christian! Seriously, this is as silly as reporting, ‘a football fan was photographed raising her hands during Saturday’s game at the MCG”. 

One of the Prime Minister’s words that caught Daniela White’s attention was him talking to a Christian audience about the dangers of social media. He said, 

“It is going to take our young people… it’s going to take their hope, it’s going to steal their hope”.

“Sure, social media has its virtues and its values and enables us to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before, terrific, terrific, but those weapons can also be used by the evil one and we need to call that out.”

Does anyone think social media is never used to promote dangerous ideas and to harm people?  You may not believe in a real and personal devil as do Christians (and remember, so did Jesus), but you probably believe in a devil in some metaphoric way while to trying to explain the sheer volume of evil that is promoted and bullied on social media platforms. 

The article amounts to the revelation: Scott Morrison, a self confessing Christian, engages in normal Christian practices and beliefs. Wow. Big news!

I am tempted to mock the article because it is inane and it’s a classic example of a non-story being whipped up into what still amounts to a non-story.

Nevertheless, the piece does reveal something important. It illustrates what is a common thread in Australia today: people don’t understand Christianity. Most Aussies have little or no idea what the church is about. It is normal today for children to grow up and not even know who Jesus is, and that the cross and resurrection of Christ is the central pivot of all human history. 

It is not only the key teachings of Christianity that are being distanced in our communities, there is gaping hole in our understanding of how Christianity has positively shaped the society in which we live and benefit. Christian residue remains attached to our culture and provides foundational material without which our society would crumble. 

The British historian Tom Holland made a similar observation earlier this week when discussing the topic of culture wars. Holland explains how (in the West) many of our cultural and moral leanings arise from Christian theology, it’s just that we no longer see the connections. For example, he suggests, 

“The anxieties around statutes today are bred of deeply Christian ideas, just that the people campaigning against it don’t recognise it as Christian…this is drawing on the assumption that making a profit from slaves and conquering vast reaches of territory and killing people while doing so is not something deserving of praise, and these are assumptions  that are bred of the great heritage of Christian history….They’ve escaped the moorings of Christian doctrine and they now just kind of percolate in the air and people breathe them in and take them for granted.”

“Culture wars…are arguments about theology that do not recognise themselves as being arguments about theology”.

We don’t even realise that our moral impulses to fight against racism stem from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. Scott Morrison’s statement that was reported is exactly right, 

“It’s so important that we continue to reach out and let every Australian know that they are important, that they are significant.

“Because we believe that they are created in the image of God.”

A friend of mine made a comment last night about a different story, one that relates to a local high school. His point nonetheless translates well,

“As far as I can see, Christianity is the best chance we have of creating an equitable society. It teaches that all humans are made in the image of God and thus to be valued. All people have a problem with meeting their own standards of goodness and thus require forgiveness and patience. Love for God and neighbour is the greatest good. The West was built on these principles and yet we’ve still fallen horribly short.

How much worse will we be living under an ideology which demonises those who disagree, peddles a view of ‘goodness’ which is constantly changing and hard to define, and believes in inescapable guilt upon those born with the wrong skin colour and sex?”

Of course, Christianity is far more than a system of beliefs and values that provide a framework for civil society and cultural progress; Christianity is about a person. Christianity is about God sending his son into the world to atone for sin that we might be reconciled to the living God. That is sublime news that remains as good today as it was in the days of Pliny the Younger. 

Christianity cannot be reduced to a game of knowledge  but it certainly necessitates knowledge. For Christians, surely we don’t want to mislead or confuse people as to the reality of the Christian message, either by our teaching or by our actions.

All Christians across churches and denominational brandings have opportunity and responsibility before God and in love for our neighbour to try and correct the misnomers and myths that are tossed about on a regular basis. The fault lays less with journalists, we need to realise that we’re not always upfront or clear about the great news of Christ. The task is hamstrung  when ‘Christians’ perpetrate evil acts against other people. The Gospel of Christ is betrayed when our own lives contradict the message. The cause isn’t helped when so many church leaders today spit out garbage from the pulpit. My advise is, go and find a church that believes and teaches what the Apostles Paul says is ‘sound doctrine’. 

Even if we become the clearest, most winsome and most Jesus like people to have ever lived, plenty of people will still conclude that Christianity is not for them. There will be people who think you stink like the stench of death. Isn’t that how the Pharisees and crowds responded when they saw and heard the incarnate Son of God?  Others though will conclude, ‘yes I believe this Jesus is the son of God.’

The Australian Prime Minister is again trending on Twitter because of another ‘Christians are weird’ article. Let’s turn it around , maybe it’s opportunity and one you might like to take. If you don’t really know what Christianity is about and are interested even for the reason for discovering why you like or don’t like Scott Morrison, go check out a church sometime or open a Bible and start to read it. The Gospel of Luke is a great place to begin an investigation.