Baptists believe in Freedom of Association

Until Friday, I had never heard of Logan Robertson or Pillar Baptist Church in Queensland. Today, all Australia knows his name.

Logan Robertson and two other men have been charged with public nuisance offences following events that took place during the week at two Brisbane mosques. The incidents were ugly, offensive, and without warrant.

Mr Robertson is a New Zealand national who has already gained notoriety in his homeland for extreme religious views, including being subject to a police investigation regarding his public conduct. Prior to entering Australia a year ago, Robertson was cautioned about his behavior. Tonight he is in custody and will be shortly deported back to New Zealand.

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To begin with, along with Christians across the country, I wish to apologise to our Muslim Australians who were subjected to Robertson’s unruly conduct. People of any religion should be permitted to worship in freedom and without threat. We have seen other nasty incidents in recent months, usually with Christian churches and groups being targeted. On this occasion though,  the perpetrators were a group who purport to be Christian. We do not want Westboro or Münster type religious fanatics interfering with peoples religious freedoms, regardless of what their religion may be.

It is understandable that this story has made headline news across the country; this is a time when religious freedom is a topic of national conversation and we await the Government’s report on the Ruddock review. In the middle of these discussions, here is a ‘Christian’ minister intruding on a Muslim time of prayer and intimidating worshippers, including teenage boys.

Why does this matter? There are two issues here. First, there is the criminal charges and social ills that Robertson and others have allegedly engaged in. We should not intimidate other Australians by entering their worship spaces and interrupting religious services. Second, it is important to address this story, because just like the fake gynaecologist who was caught out and imprisoned in Melbourne this past week, a fake Baptist should also be called out because of the dangers in misrepresenting what Baptists, and Christians in general, believe.

While Logan Robertson self-identifies as a Baptist, as the media have rightly stated, he and his church have no affiliation with the Queensland Baptist Union and the Baptist Union of Australia. Indeed, there is little about Pillar Baptist Church that can be called Baptist.

As with all Christians, Baptist beliefs and practices are shaped by the Bible. What Christian Churches share in common is far greater than any differences. For example, while Baptists don’t baptise infants as do Anglicans and Presbyterians, and our church governance differs, otherwise,  we share the same beliefs that have been taught and lived out for 2000 years.

I have read the Doctrinal Statement of Pillar Baptist Church, and it does not resemble any Baptist confession that I have ever read before, and it includes some very strange ideas indeed.

Most Baptist Churches in Australia belong to the Baptist Union of Australia, and so they are in formal association with one another. There are also independent Baptist churches, and these vary in their beliefs and practices. Independence does not alone denote what a church is like, but as with every church (including those belonging to a traditional denomination), we ought to examine their doctrine and life closely. At the very least, when a Church states that it “reject[s] the teaching of the universal church” and does not associate with other Christian groups, that ought to raise serious questions.

Not only does Robertson’s Church have a doctrinal statement that doesn’t fit with historic Baptist faith, and not only are they unrelated to any formal Baptist association, it is clear that Logan Robertson has abrogated two important Baptist principles, namely that of freedom of conscience and freedom of association. While these principles are not owned by Baptists, they are closely aligned with Baptist thinking through the Centuries. Freedom of thought and freedom of association found clear expression among Baptists in the 17th Century, at a time when religious freedom didn’t exist but was often controlled by the crown, by Parliament, and by establishment churches. Baptists were often oppressed and even imprisoned for holding these beliefs. The author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, was twice imprisoned because he believed in and practiced freedom of religious association.

These two principles are not saying that Baptists agree with other religions or that we think that these religions are intellectually coherent, spiritually healthy, and morally good. Baptists are not theological and moral relativists. It does, however, mean that we believe Christianity is accepted through persuasion not by coercion, by gracious explanation and not by galling intimidation. Freedom of belief is not about privileging  one religious group over another, but positively guaranteeing that all Australians can speak and live their beliefs without harassment. Neither the State nor individuals in the community should resort to browbeating in order to change another person’s mind on an issue. We cannot create a healthy society by thuggery, whether it is noisy secularists forcing out Christians from the public square or religious fanatics spitting out their dogma in our faces.

Australia needs honest conversations about the big questions of life. We need these discussions happening in public spaces and in private meetings, and yet sadly, people like Logan Robertson caste a shadow on our optimism, and authoritarian secularists are throwing even darker clouds over the social and religious freedoms that we have long enjoyed in this country.

It is easy to say that Logan Robertson’s behaviour is unAustralian, but I’m not sure if I want to indict my New Zealand friends on this occasion! Robertson’s ideas and behaviour are certainly anti-Baptist, and therefore they have caused confusion over the beauty and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus met people with whom he held profound disagreement, he loved them and he went to a cross to die that they might come to know and enjoy God forever. That is how Australians can tell a Christian, not that we agree with your beliefs, but that we love you and above everything we desire for you to know the Lord Jesus Christ, not to force him upon you, but with grace and fervour, with openness and humility, to explain the reason for the hope with have in Him.

What Senator David Leyonhjelm’s words teach us about ourselves

Like most Australians, I was disgusted by what Senator David Leyonhjelm said to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and to television interviewer, Angela Bishop.

His remarks are vile and sexist and unbecoming of one who represents the Australian people in Parliament.

During a discussion on women’s safety inside the Upper House Chamber, Senator Leyonhjelm told Senator Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men”.

Over on Twitter, Senator Leyonhjelm responded to Angela Bishop’s criticism of him by calling her “a bigoted b#tch”.

Senator Leyonhjelm remains unapologetic, and offered this defense on ABC news radio yesterday,

“It is a normal Australian behavior”

“I am a normal Australian, I am elected by normal Australians, normal Australians call people bitches, bastards, shut up, various things of that nature.

“I don’t discriminate between men and women.”

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I don’t know whether Senator Leyonhjelm truly believes his own defense, but let’s suppose he does. For argument sake, let’s assume Senator Leyonhjelm believes that he ought to speak to women in the same manner as he does with men. Is this not the kind of equality we are hoping to attain as a society? Should men and women not speak to each other in undifferentiating ways? Aussie blokes are known for their colourful language. I’m not agreeing with this cultural ‘norm’, but swearing and deriding each other long been a sign of social acceptance…and also of insult (discerning the difference isn’t always straightforward!). If men and women are identical and should be treated equally, should we not use the Aussie vocabulary tool bag for men and women alike?

Let me be clear, I believe Senator Leyonhjelm’s comments are indefensible and that he should apologise without reservation. It is entirely appropriate for Senator Hanson-Young to call him out and to expect an apology. Indeed, Senator Hanson-Young has revealed that this is only the latest in what is a culture of bile-like rhetoric which is thrown around the corridors of Canberra. I doubt if many of us are surprised, but surely it is entirely right for Senator Hanson-Young, and for all of us, to expect better from our political representatives.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has spoken up, saying,

“That type of language has no place in Parliament, it shouldn’t have a place in any workplace…Respect for women in particular is one of the highest priorities that we should be focused on.”

His emphasis, “respect for women in particular”, is worth noting. Why do Senator Leyonhjelm’s derogatory comments jar? Because we know it’s wrong, it’s always wrong, and as Prime Minister Turnbull states, it is particularly wrong when a man speaks to a woman in such a way. A man can get away with calling another bloke a ‘b#stard’, but it is entirely different when a man refers to a woman as a ‘b#tch’. This is not about social conventions, but an inherent-born-with understanding that men should not belittle and abuse women by their words or actions. We know it’s wrong. Boys were raised to respect girls and to treat them well, not because there’s some masculine superiority complex at play, but because it is how men should behave. Boys might fight each other, but you never hit a girl. Boys might open a door and walk through it first, but most women appreciate the man who stops and opens the door for them first. 

While Senator Leyonhjelm’s obscenity is receiving widespread condemnation, this same Australian culture has, however, embraced other language that is designed to denigrate and silence other Australians. For example, last year’s marriage debate witnessed people slandering gay and lesbian Australians and also slandering heterosexual Australians. The former was rightly called out, but the latter was often supported by and even used by our political representatives and media personalities to popular adulation. Another body of language has recently come into common usage, which aims to deride white males, because apparently if you are white and male you represent everything that is wrong with society. The point is, our problem is much deeper than simple misogyny. 

Whether we like it or not, Senator Leyonhjelm has revealed something ugly about Australian society, and it is more complex than gender equality. We have taught ourselves to treat men and women without distinction and we have encouraged a culture of vulgarity. We often praise the outspoken disparager. We believe in freedom of expression, where obscenity is even called artful and humorous. Let’s pile a hundred naked men and women on a supermarket roof in Prahran, take a photo, and call it art. Listen to the Shakespearen-like lyrics of Beyonce and other pop musicians that we download in the millions. Walk into any Melbourne comedy club and find an act that’s not going to resort to jokes about peoples’ private parts and sexual proclivities! The jokes don’t even need to be funny, just say a dirty word and the audience will laugh.

How different is the verbal posture presented by the Apostle Paul,

“No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Of course, Paul is writing to Christians here, and so this a word that we Christians must take seriously. It’s also pretty good advice for everyone. Instead of following the Australian way, which loves to kick the pedestal out from others, perhaps we need to introduce the language of honour and respect. Maybe we should be teaching young boys to respect girls. Maybe we should be doing more to tackle the problem of pornography.  Maybe we shouldn’t demonise gender differences but acknowledge them as a common good. And maybe self-control is not so detrimental to our health, but considering our words before speaking them is important for healthy relationships.

While there is a great deal of public anger this week, it doesn’t suffice to shame men like Senator Leyonhjelm, or to call for resignations, or to argue that we need more education. Jesus reveals an uncomfortable truth about ourselves,

“what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. (Matt 15:18)

Our words are revealing, communicating to others what is going on in our hearts. We speak what we think, and we verbalise the deep-seated attitudes that we hold. It is interesting to note that Jesus spoke these words in the context of a conversation regarding the family unit, and how children and parents relate to each other (Matt 15:8-16). Jesus continues,

 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Our problem in Australia is that we don’t believe Jesus. We ’re unconvinced by his analysis, and that many of these heart attitudes are wrong. Jesus said, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). It’s true, we often justify our loves and actions and use all manner of social slogans to protect ourselves, and yet our social engineering projects are building communities that are deeply fractured and tearing. We are becoming proficient at identifying social ills,  but we are falling far short of adequate solutions. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our hearts, not of the girl or guy next to us, but our own hearts. But are willing to acknowledge what we discover? Without a gracious and merciful God, the Proverb will be true,

“At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed, and you will say, “How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction. (Proverbs 5:11-12)

Ashpenaz’s Children: ALP National Platform to separate children from parents

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt” (Ezekiel 22:7a)

“How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands!” (Lamentations 4:2)

Like many people watching from Australia, it has been distressing to see footage of children being separated from their parents along the United States’s border with Mexico. The Trump administration’s ploy to discourage undocumented migration is cruel and immoral. The policy may have been put in place by an earlier administration, but President Trump has made it clear that he is using these children to discourage illegal migration into the United States.

Russell Moore (President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) is one of many signing a public letter to the Government, saying, “The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern.”

While we in Australia look on with disgust at this violation of the family unit, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have announced their national platform, which includes a policy to remove children from a new wave of ‘disgraced’ parents.

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According to policy initiatives that are to be presented and adopted at this year’s ALP national conference, parents who don’t support their child’s wish to transition to another gender, are guilty of abusing their children and therefore will subject to a new range of laws.

“LGBTI Conversion Therapy

Labor accepts the scientific evidence that claims by those purporting to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity are both false and harmful and does not accept that such claims should continue to be made or, worse, be acted upon. Those who make these claims prey upon those vulnerable to the anti-LGBTI prejudices of the circles in which they or their families move.

Current laws regulating false and misleading conduct in trade or commerce, or professional misconduct in the health professions, are inadequate to deal with perpetrators who can evade health regulation by not being registered, and evade consumer protection laws by claiming to be conducting religious activities.

Labor will:

  • Ensure, in cooperation with the States and Territories, that adequate laws and systems are put in place to ensure the protection of children, adolescents and others from the false claims and psychological harms of so-called “ex-gay” therapies
  • Ensure that child protection authorities acknowledge attempts to “cure” Same-Sex Attracted or Gender Questioning children and young people as serious psychological abuse; and
  • Acknowledge these harms, when suffered within the family, as domestic violence against the child.”

(Chapter 8, pp 236-7)

“Labor opposes the practice of so-called conversion and reparative therapies on LGBTIQ+ people and seek to criminalise these practices.”

(ALP 48th National Conference (Consultation Draft 2018), chapter 8, p.205)

 

Child abuse is a very real and very terrible evil in our society. It is incumbent upon us to guard our children against such ignominious harm. But what are the facts here? Is this domestic violence?

In 2016, Prof Patrick Parkinson published an important evaluation of the Safe Schools program. In this research paper Prof Parkinson noted that contrary to Safe Schools, which claims that 4% of the population is transgender, research suggests that the real number is about 0.35%. This number encompasses a broad definition of transgenderism, based on surveys rather than proper diagnosis by medical professionals. Prof Parkinson then cites The American Psychiatric Association which estimates the rates of gender identity disorder for natal adult males to be at 0.005% to 0.014%, and for natal females, from 0.002% to 0.003%.

The numbers of children who identify as gay or lesbian is significantly higher, but percentage remains relatively small, somewhere between 2-4% of the population. It needs to be said that because these numbers of small, doesn’t diminish the importance of these kids, and of their need for love and support; no child is insignificant.

In the most recent edition of The Atlantic, Jesse Singal has written a thorough piece, exploring the complexities of treating children with gender dysphoria, cautioning against preempting treatments,

“the World Professional Association for Transgender Health…states that while some teenagers should go on hormones, that decision should be made with deliberation: “Before any physical interventions are considered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken.” The American Psychological Association’s guidelines sound a similar note, explaining the benefits of hormones but also noting that “adolescents can become intensely focused on their immediate desires.” It goes on: “This intense focus on immediate needs may create challenges in assuring that adolescents are cognitively and emotionally able to make life-altering decisions…But some clinicians are moving toward a faster process. And other resources, including those produced by major LGBTQ organizations, place the emphasis on acceptance rather than inquiry. The Human Rights Campaign’s “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics” web page, for example, encourages parents to seek the guidance of a gender specialist. It also asserts that “being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation.”

“Ignoring the diversity of these experiences and focusing only on those who were effectively “born in the wrong body” could cause harm. That is the argument of a small but vocal group of men and women who have transitioned, only to return to their assigned sex.”

Prof Patrick Parkinson makes the important point,

“One reason for great caution about what we teach children is that gender dysphoria may be transitory.”

There is a growing volume of research that is exploring the relationship between age and gender dysphoria. Depending on the study, evidence shows that somewhere between 80-98% of children will no longer experience gender dysphoria after puberty. That is a staggering indictment on the claims being made by the ALP. Even if we ignore the data from the highest end of the spectrum and only accept the most conservative percentile (80%), this still indicates that the overwhelming majority of children will return to identifying with their biological sex by the time they reach adulthood. For argument sake, let’s manipulate the data even further and assume that the conservative 80% is an exaggeration and that the real number of children recovering from gender dysphoria is half that number; that is still 4 out of every 10 children who have gender dysphoria. But according to the ALP, producing such evidence is simply to “prey upon those vulnerable to the anti-LGBTI prejudices of the circles in which they or their families move.”

While the ALP’s National Platform refers to “accepting the scientific evidence”, they cite zero studies, and they fail to account for many academic articles that have been published in recent years which either contradict or at the very least, nuance the position which the ALP is claiming as Gospel fact.

Some LGBTIQ Australians will experience a change of orientation and of gender identity, especially in the case of children with gender dysphoria who later come to affirm their biological sex. This is a simple statement of fact, not an affirmation for certain gay conversion therapies that have been reported in the media in recent months. Because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical methods to change a person’s sexuality. There is, however, a massive difference between offering shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same-sex attracted or transgender. It is disturbing to see the ALP platform insist upon a zero-sum game, whereby everyone who doesn’t fully subscribe to the new gender agenda, is called names and will be accused of abuse.

What of the child or adult who no longer wishes to identify as LGBTIQ? What if an individual, while having LGBTIQ affections, does not wish to be identified as such? What of men and women who have undergone sex change surgery and have since detransitioned? The point is obvious and yet the ALP policy has no room to accept the reality that there are LGBTIQ people who do change and cease to identify as transgender, gay or lesbian.

The ALP platform is more troubling, for they are moving to criminalise therapies/ministries that fail to affirm people in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, and they are moving to accuse parents of domestic violence for not supporting children into transition.

How dare an Australian political party throw around the language of abuse and threaten to taken children from their parents; it is immoral and unspeakable, and it insults victims of real child abuse.

It is a sad irony, that on the one hand, voices calling for a ban on LGBTIQ conversion therapies, are at the same time, promoting sex changes for children. So, children are free to change one way, but not another?

At best, the ALP’s position on LBGTIQ issues is an attempt to show compassion toward vulnerable children, but it is a platform built on unstable and dangerous ideology.

As a parent, I know that not everything a child feels and wants is in their best interest, and chances are, they will change their mind by next week. Parents can discern the difference between a child’s fad and a deeper issue and. Parents love their children and want to see them safe and healthy and flourishing in life. This is not about bullying people into gender stereotypes or funneling children into strange and potentially harmful practices. This isn’t about parents patiently and lovingly caring for children who are struggling with their sexual identity; the ALP platform is about conformity to a new pattern for sexuality, and about using the weight of the law to force religious groups and parents to sign up to the sexual revolution.

I understand that some people may read this as an anti-ALP and perhaps pro-conservative article; that is not my agenda. As a Christian minister, I am not defined by such socio-political parameters. My concern is for children and for parents, who will face the onslaught of this irrational and dangerous ideologue, should the ALP platform gain traction. I am also concerned by these political attempts to place traditional Christian teaching on the wrong side of the law.

Churches need to appreciate that without due consideration and careful definition, the ALP’s platform can be used to constrain Christian teaching on sexuality, from the pulpit through to pastoral counselling.

Parents need to appreciate the gravity of the situation being outlined. For example, say a son comes home from school and announces that he feels like his true identity is as a girl. If the child returns to school and mentions to his teacher that mum and dad are not convinced and are reluctant to buy him dresses, the school may be obliged to report a case of child abuse.

I urge members of the Australian Labor Party to speak up and to vote against these dangerous and unnecessary measures. I also encourage members of the public to contact their local State and Federal Labor members and to share your concerns with them.

Victorian Government aims to outlaw Gay Conversion Therapy

Last year a journalist from the ABC phoned me, to ask about gay conversion therapy. I must have been a poor interviewee because they didn’t run a story at that time.

The questions were easy to answer, I asked him explain what he meant by gay conversion therapy. He wasn’t very sure, but he did share a few anecdotes, to which I responded,

“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone who has been.”

I don’t know how widespread this practice is, but it was easy to agree that the stories shared with me were disappointing and an awful experience for those who went through those programs. There is however, a  now very real possibility that Victoria will erroneously conflate those extreme views with normal and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality. 

There is a massive difference between offering someone shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same sex attracted or transgender. But will the Victorian Government make this vital distinction. There are certainly prominent social voices who would not care whether there is a difference or not, anything other than complete allegiance to the current sexual narrative must be followed.

The Age has published a series of articles this year on this issue and the result is that the Victorian Government is planning to take action. In today’s edition, reporter Farrah Tomazin writes, 

Rogue religious leaders and health practitioners who claim that homosexuality can be “fixed” could end up being prosecuted as the Andrews government orders an unprecedented inquiry into gay conversion therapy.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has asked Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner to conduct a broad-ranging investigation, and has not ruled out tougher laws to crack down on those attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

The inquiry will capture registered or unregistered counsellors, clinicians who treat homosexuality as a disorder, and anyone purporting to convert LGBTI people through therapeutic means.

But significantly, it will also seek information on a more insidious trend: faith-based ministries and church figures who disguise their work as “spiritual guidance”.

“We have zero tolerance for anyone purporting to ‘convert’ gay people through any medical or therapeutic means,” Ms Hennessy told The Age.”

 

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I want to respond to Farrah Tomazin’s piece and to the comments being made by our Health Minister, Jill Hennessy.

First, because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality.

Second, in the Bible God calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices remain within the loving, exclusive, mutual consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

You see, the Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it is does teach conversion. Christianity by definition is a conversion religion, where human beings made in the image of God, shift from looking for freedom in the myth of post-enlightenment moral relativism, and instead discovering the greatest freedom in the person of Jesus Christ.

Third, I know people who are committed and godly Christians, and who continue to experience same-sex attraction. They are convinced that their greater and more satisfying identity is in Jesus Christ, and that living a celibate lifestyle is positive and good.

Fourth, it is an indisputable fact that some people do change sexual orientation. I appreciate that this evidence doesn’t fit with the current sexual narrative and it’s become socially and politically taboo to even mention it, but I don’t believe in ignoring research and personal stories, even if they contradict popular attitudes. For example, the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. There are also many gay and lesbian people who have found their affections changing and have become heterosexual.  Let me reiterate, this does not mean that there is some proven or absolute way to reconfigure a person’s sexuality, but it is empirically false and socially irresponsible to deny that some people do experience a change of affections and self identification.

Fifth, I am concerned about how our culture is increasingly marginalising people who are conscious of their sexual orientation but do not wish to express or live it out. This is one of the key flaws with the Safe Schools curriculum; there is no freedom offered to children to say no to their feelings. The emphasis is on instruction children to be who they currently think they are, and to celebrate and express it. I have found no pastoral empathy in the material that encourages children to think in alternate ways

It is hypocritical for us to defend the rights of LGBT people who want to express their lifestyle and to condemn those who do not wish to follow their orientation. You can’t claim to believe in gender fluidity and then disallow entire part of the population, simply because the don’t fit inside the current subscribed spectrum; it is intellectually dishonest and morally absurd.

Sixthly, there should be concerns as to how far the Victorian Government will proceed in drafting legislation to outlaw conversion therapies. If the reporting in The Age is correct, it may become illegal for churches to teach (whether from the pulpit or in private counselling) what the Bible says about sexuality.

Without due consideration and careful definition (ie what is conversion?), it is not beyond the realm of plausibility that legislation will ban Christians from teaching the Bible’s ethics on sexuality. Sadly this is not new, for back in 2016 the current Government sought to hamstring religious toleration in Victoria with a proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act.

It seems to me that there are voices on both spectrums who are ignoring science and the Bible. We might assume that both of these groups have good intentions, but whether it is political progressive with their latest interpretation of the sexual revolution, or a few crazy Pentecostals pursuing unhelpful ideas, both are making mistakes that will cause undue harm to real people.

If the Government intends to ban gay conversion therapy, consistency would have them also prohibit therapies that are aimed at changing the gender of children. In light of the research which indicates most children with gender dysphoria naturally reorienting over time, it is appalling to know of schools who are denying young children’s biological sex, and are putting them in counselling to begin transitioning them to the opposite sex. This not only includes outside dress and appearance, but hormonal therapy and eventually there is the possibility of surgery. What is even more staggering is that schools can commence some of these steps without the permission of and even knowledge parents.

To outlaw gay conversion therapies and not ban gender reassignment treatment and therapy among our youth would be sheer hypocrisy. Equally so, it is egregious to conflate fringe excessive programs with mainstream and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality, and to prohibit the freedom to articulate and persuade others with these beliefs.

I share concerns over some of the alleged practices that are contained in these so-called conversion therapies. The well-being of gay and lesbian Victorians is important, but recent political history and the current reporting in the media does not give us much hope that any drafted legislation will be fair and reasonable. There is reason to believe that these laws could negatively impact many Victorians who are wrestling with their sexuality (as is already happening through Safe Schools), and that legislation will effectively diminish religious freedoms in this wonderful State of Victoria. Indeed when the Government interferes with the teachings of Churches, all Victorians, from across religions and of none, should be troubled and asking our political representatives serious questions.

Foreign Aid and Australia’s Disappearing Generosity


“Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” (Proverbs 11:28)

““Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;  in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.” (Psalm 39:6)

 

The Age yesterday reported that not only is Australia’s Foreign Aid on the decline, Australians in general are giving less to charitable causes.

  • In 1994 Australia was ranked 9th on the international league table of overseas aid donors (measured by the share of gross national income devoted to overseas development assistance). In 2018, we have dropped to 17th.
  • In 1994, Australia gave 34 cents for every $100 of national income to foreign aid (0.34%). In 2018, the contribution is now 22 cents for every $100 (0.22%).
  • Foreign Aid spending has decreased in the ministry of 7 of our last 10 Foreign Ministers.
  • “Even on the current budget numbers Australia’s aid spending is expected to slump to just 0.20 per cent of gross national income by 2021.”

According to the research raised by Matt Wade,

“The National Australia Bank’s Charitable Giving Index, which tracks donations made through online channels, shows giving to “humanitarian service” organisations like World Vision, Red Cross and Oxfam has declined as a share of all charitable giving over the past three years. In 2015 the humanitarian services sector received 35 per cent of all donations but that had fallen to 32 per cent by last year. The average donation to the sector was also down.

That fall came despite a plethora of international humanitarian crises…the public response in Australia was strangely muted.”

Depending on which research one uses, somewhere between 65-80% of Australians contribute to charitable causes, both within the country and to NGO’s. Again depending on which study we rely on, per capita contributions equate to between $200-300 per annum, which works out to be approximately 0.25-0.3% of the median household income in Australia.

I have three theories as to why we are seeing this trajectory:

  1. Foreign Aid doesn’t win votes. I’m sure it is a factor for Christians and for some conscientious Australians from other backgrounds, but the reality is, Foreign Aid is not a political game changer.
  2. Most Australians base their charitable giving from their disposable income, rather than regularly setting aside an amount from the total income. We are spontaneous givers, not planned givers.
  3. Uncertain times create caution, and thus a reluctance to give money to various causes. There are certainly many geo-political tensions in the world today, and these may well mute our responses. There are also domestic economic issues that again call into question what we feel able to contribute beyond our own immediate concerns. Then again, is this not always the case? Are there not always socio-economic question marks and pressures? When has there ever been an ideal time to given generously to those without? And as Matt Wade exclaimed, Australia today has never been more rich, and yet we are moving from modest giving to miserly.

 

It is easy to stand in the public gallery and shout out advice to Governments. But perhaps we should be aiming the megaphone at ourselves. Whether we like it or not, Governments are, at least in liberal democracies, a mirror of the dominant society. Government policies to a very great extent reflect the attitudes and priorities of the general community. Is it of coincidence that the slide in Foreign Aid is tracking at a similar level to the average charitable giving by Australians?

Before we tear down the Government for another moral failing, there are several important caveats and consideration.

First, the social and economic priorities of a Government should depend, at least in part, on what one believes the responsibility of Government to be. I think we make a lot of assumptions about the role of Government. Our list of expectations seems to be growing, and the end result is that we are creating bigger Governments, and I’m not so sure that that is particularly healthy for our society. Have we become too reliant on Governments? For example, once a upon a time, a family would care for their own elderly parents and for their own young children, but now, do we too readily call upon the State to assist?

How Government spends money, largely reflects the values and the priorities of voters. The relationship is even more complex, for there are times when we want Government to do the kinds of things we should be doing ourselves. We wish to alleviate ourselves of responsibility by loading governments with even more.

Second, the priorities of a government should primarily focus on its own people, and yet we also belong to a global community, so surely it is right for us to share some of our bounty with communities across the world who are struggling at this time? If the shoe was on the other foot, would we not hope that someone would see our plight and have compassion on us?

Third, if we want our government to change perhaps we need to start with ourselves. If we are serious about changing Foreign Aid to levels that a more akin to those in 1996, what will we voluntarily give up? Are we willing to ask for a cut in sport or in the arts? What about infrastructure, Defence, social services, and a thousand other areas of expenditure? Does not the very definition of generosity imply a cost and sacrifice? What are we prepared to give up?

What does it mean to love our neighbour as ourselves? This is a principle taught by Jesus Christ, although I realise Christianity has nothing worth saying in the public square and we should never permit Christian values to influence public policy; perish the thought!

Thankfully it was a journalist from a progressive newspaper that reported this story. Can you imagine if a Christian minister had suggested that Australians are becoming less generous and more like Scrooge incarnate? The response would be unsurprising,

“here’s another example of judgmentalism and moral condescension from our Churches.”

Perhaps this 20 year trend is more revealing than we want it to be. Is it because our personal wealth has diminished over the years? No, the opposite is true. Is it because there are greater economic uncertainties today than 20 years ago? Again, the answer is no. Is it because there are fewer global opportunities to assist the poor and disadvantaged? Global poverty is thankfully in decline, but there is never a shortage of need. Is there perhaps a connection between society’s move away from Christianity and our decreasing generosity toward those in need? I don’t know of any research that has examined such a hypothesis,  but I would not be surprised if it were so. Juxtaposed to declining charitable giving across Australia, evidence suggests that Christians continue to give many times more than the national average.

 

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According to NCLS research (a national survey across Christian denominations, which involved 10,000s of participants), 66%  of church attenders give regularly, with 20% of attendees regularly giving over 10% of their income. It is important to note that these figures only include financial contributions to the local church, and does not include all the charitable giving beyond. It should also be pointed out that these financial contributions are not tax deductible.

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

So what is the reason?

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

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

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

This is not to say that people from other religions and with no religion cannot also show generosity with their finances, but the difference between the average Australian and the practicing Christian is staggering. Please don’t mistake my point, in no way am I talking up Christians, rather I am talking up Jesus Christ.

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

If Australians are concerned about Foreign Aid and the downward direction of our generosity, we need to look beyond Government and to our own hearts. What kind of people do we want to be? What type of nation do we wish to be? I am reminded of what Jesus once said, ‘you can try and gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul. Where is the gain in that?’ (Mark 8:36)

Address at the Victorian Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheers for North Korea and Condemnation for Barnaby Joyce

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

 

We live in strange and disturbing times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Firstly, marriage is both private and public

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

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

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

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

Second, love is not always love

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine Ford wrote in The Age,

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

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

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

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

Third, Fidelity matters

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 “No one, sir,” she said.

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