President Trump is wrong about Evangelicals but he is not to blame

“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” (Psalm 2:7)

 

The necessary divorce

Is this the necessary divorce? The match wasn’t made in heaven. It was a coupling that shouldn’t have been, and yet some leading Christian voices in the United States laid down their theology and ascended the White House. In the last 48 hours, this special relationships has unravelled. Government and Church can be good friends but they make a lousy married couple.

Following an article written by Christianity Today’s Editor in Chief, Mark Galli, President Trump has attacked the magazine and ‘defended’ evangelicals. With what appears to be a sense of betrayal, the President has resorted to his usual public naming and shaming on twitter.

“….have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!

“A far left magazine, or very “progressive,” as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather…..”

“guess the magazine, “Christianity Today,” is looking for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or those of the socialist/communist bent, to guard their religion. How about Sleepy Joe? The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!”

I’m not writing to comment on the impeachment or to even comment on President Trump’s policies. I’m not here to defend Christianity Today either. My issue relates to the necessary separation of Evangelicalism from the White House (and any single political party for that matter).

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In response to President Trump’s assertion about looking after evangelical interests, it is not the role of Government to guard the evangelical faith. That is beyond the purview of a President’s responsibilities. The Church is not the State and the State does not control the Church.

Government and Church have different spheres of responsibility. The keys of the Kingdom belong to the Church while the Government holds the sword of justice. The different roles don’t mean there is no conversation between the two and that one cannot be of service to the other, but they are not institutions designed for a wedding. This important separation of Church and State is not an argument for the removal of religion from the public square, for all politics is religious. Some pundits argue for the removal of any semblance of religion in proximity to government, but this is neither biblical nor is it ideologically possible. Whether in the foreground and background everyone brings their convictions with them into the public square. We are all shaped by views about God and the world and these beliefs impact political priorities and policies.

It shouldn’t need saying, but just in case, the Government is not tasked with the responsibility of guarding one subsection of society, but caring for all its citizens by upholding the constitution, the law, and working for the good. Christians are part of the constituency, not the whole.

Also, President Trump understands Evangelical Christianity through a political lens that sees everything through a false binary: You’re either Conservative or socialist, you either vote Republican or Democrat. This is to misunderstand the nature of Christianity and the message of the Christian Gospel.

The Christianity Today article has spoken boldly about the importance of character,

“It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.”

Indeed,  too many Christians threw this qualification into the recycling bin for a season. I also remember at the time of the 2016 election, leading evangelical voices were cautioning Christians and reminding them that character matters. Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Al Mohler were among them. The reality is that some evangelicals wedded Trump while others stood at a distance. By in large, the Australian media ignored all this and instead ran with the preferred narrative of evangelicals supporting Trump. The reality is far more complex than has been reported. This doesn’t take away from the fact that many Christians in the United States, especially with notable names like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jnr, anointed Trump with a sacred calling that he and no President can hold.

Lest we conclude the problem is all Trump, we would do well to recall remember some of the things that have been said recently by Democratic presidential nominees in the name of Christianity. Pete Buttigieg, for example, takes the identity of Christian while supporting many ethical positions which are irreconcilable with the Christian faith, both politically and personally.

Should we blame the President? He is certainly responsible for what he believes and says. But is he to blame for the marriage with Evangelicals? No.

The greater responsibility lies with the fact that many Evangelicals in the United States fused their hopes and aspirations onto the Presidential bandwagon. They sacrificed integrity for expediency. I am not saying that voting Democrat is the alternative. How can one support a party that advocates the killing of unborn children and the destruction of sexual norms?

Sometimes there is no viable option. Surely this has been the predicament for Christians in many cultures during many seasons in history. The Bible never gives Christians a voting card. We are meant to honour, obey and pray for the Governing authorities, and to keep doing good to all. Some Governments are better than others, and we should wisely decide whom to support.

In none of this am I making a statement about who to vote for; not at all. The issue at hand is far more important and pressing; do not fuse the Christian faith with a political party or leader. Do not give to the State that which belongs to the Church. Do not sacrifice the Great Commission in order to maintain a place in the halls of Washington DC.

This isn’t an evangelical problem alone. Conservatives and Progressives alike make this blunder with a place too much emphasis on common grace and not enough episodes on the churches mission which centres in particular grace

It has been sad to watch a word which has holds such rich theological and historical significance, being undone in such a short time. Evangelical has been regularly misappropriated not only by political pundits but also by Americans themselves. True evangelicalism has little to do with the political aspirations of right-wing America, and everything to do with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Authentic evangelicalism is defined by this Gospel as presented in the Bible, not by the political right or left, not with Democrats or Republicans, and for the Australian context, neither Liberal nor Labor.

Terribly, “evangelical” America supported Donald Trump and have been tarnished for doing so. I cannot see how this association will advance the cause of Jesus Christ. If anything, the word may become irretrievably immeshed in a cause that is not the Gospel.

It is one thing to be part of a Presidential term, but it is quite another to one day stand before the Judge of the earth and give an account for how our lives have adorned or maligned the Gospel of Christ.

This final point is not only true for American Christians but also Australian Christians. When will Christians learn not to place undue hope in Government? The election has exposed a messed up eschatology and misplaced soteriology, which will not only disappoint, but will prevent people from seeing Christ. However Donald Trump decides to build his wall along the Mexican border, it is nothing compared to the wall evangelicals have built-in this election which will block out the wonder of the Gospel. How will true evangelicals work to dismantle this false gospel? What will we do publicly and in our Churches to redress the damage caused by this political misalignment?

What is a woman?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Amidst many ums and pauses, the  LDP leader said,

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

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

The best explanation that Jo Swinson could offer was,

“people can understand their own identity”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria to Outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 2)

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

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

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The Government justifies limiting religious freedom

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

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

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

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

 

Classical Christian teaching defined as harmful

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

The HCC report includes under its understanding of harm,

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

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

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

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

The Proposed Definition of Conversion Practice

Here is the suggested definition of conversion practice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversion by coercion or conversion by choice?

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

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

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

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

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

As Jesus once said to a notable leader,

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

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

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

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

Victoria to outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 1)

This is the first of a series of articles that I’m aiming to write on the topic of Gay Conversion Therapy. The Victorian Government has announced that it will introduce legislation in 2020 to ban Conversion Practice (Therapy) in Victoria. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism.

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I wrote on this topic twice last year, and on both occasions, I expressed concerns with conversation therapies. It is important for readers to hear that I am not supportive of certain practices. I have explained

“To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.”

Having said this, and without taking anything away from Victorians who have been subject to dangerous and unethical practices, there are serious questions here and concerns that must be adequately addressed by the Government before considering any legislation.

The Government has invited Victorians to give feedback on the issue, although the process appears to be a furphy. In the same opening remarks that invite Victorians to offer their views, the Government also makes it clear that they intend to ban conversion practices.

“In February 2019 the Victorian Government committed to prohibiting harmful LGBT conversion practices.

Conversion practices are any practices or treatments that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re asking Victorians to have their say. We want to know how you think the law can prevent the harm caused by LGBT conversion practices and protect and support LGBT Victorians.

The feedback you give us will inform the way the government approaches the ban and help shape the law.

The commitment to the ban follows the Health Complaints Commissioner Inquiry into Conversion Therapy report (HCC Report) which recommended the introduction of legislation to ban the practices in Victoria.”

Despite this Government exercise sounding awfully like a case of confirmation bias, I intend to proceed, for like I said above, “the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.” In addition, there are also very real and relevant issues here relating to religious freedom. I will address these in a later post.

In this post, I want to draw your attention to the Report, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justicewhich forms a basis for the forthcoming legislation. The Report was a joint exercise between 3 organisations, the Human Rights Law Centre, La Trobe University,  and the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

One might expect that an academic report of this importance would be thorough and broad, encompassing different perspectives and listening to a breadth of experiences, from those who have undergone conversion practices to those who have been practitioners and with others who have advocated against them.

Surely the researchers interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Surely dozens of organisations were included in the process for comment, both religious and secular groups. Did they interview anyone who practices conversion therapy? The answer seems to be, no. The report upon which the Victorian Government is building its case to ban conversion practice depends largely on the stories of 15 individuals who each allege a negative experience of gay conversion practices.

The report,

“reveals the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people who have struggled to reconcile their sexuality and transgender identities with the beliefs and practices of their religious community.”

“Nine participants identified as male and gay, two as female and lesbian, two as transgender, one as female and bisexual and one as non-binary. Thirteen participants were from Christian backgrounds, one from a Jewish background and one from a Buddhist background.”

Surely 15 individuals is an inadequate pool size from which to draw substantive conclusions. More importantly, the research appears to be guilty of sampling bias. The recruitment process was limited to a narrow range of networks, which inevitably biased the sampling group that would be chosen.

“Participants were recruited through social media, LGBTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks. Participants were selected, using theoretical sampling, to be broadly representative of religious and LGBT demographics in Australia, and were screened for their psychological capacity to undertake an in-depth life interview about potentially traumatic personal histories.”

Significantly, no persons from Muslim, Hindu, or irreligious backgrounds were interviewed, and only persons who were negatively impacted are included in the report. While the 15 participants are Australians, it is not known how many were recipients of conversion practices in Victoria, which I would have thought is important for the given context.

It is also important to note that the report was co-written by an LGBTI advocacy group and by La Trobe University (which is famously responsible for orchestrating the Safe Schools curriculum). The credibility of the research is further weakened by the fact that the project steering committee consisted of representatives from LGBT lobby groups and progressive religious groups. To my knowledge, not one of the advisors represents a faith group that holds to the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. Why is that so? 

In other words, from beginning to end, this report is skewed. Even before one word was written, the trajectory was obvious. In my opinion, the report is biased, narrow in its engagement with relevant parties, and relies on a selected group of advisors who are predisposed to criticise beliefs and practices that don’t fully support LGBTIQ ideologies and lifestyles.

Once again, I am not arguing against the experiences of the 15 people and neither am I advocating for the kinds of therapies mentioned in the report. Pseudo-psychological and or spiritual practices aimed at altering a person’s sexuality can be harmful.  However, the Government’s adoption of the HRLC report is no way to put together public policy, let alone for establishing Government legislation. The HRLC  report may be used as a position paper but little more.

Victorians have been given the impression that Conversion Practices are widespread across the country and endemic within religious organisations, especially among Christians. The report states that, “Nonetheless, the ideology of the conversion therapy movement has become mainstreamed in many conservative Christian communities.” The reality is very different, and despite comments like in the previous sentence, the report evidences that the practice is marginal at most.

When a journalist from the ABC contacted me back in 2017, to ask what I thought about gay conversion therapy, I answered, 

“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.”

If these conversion therapies are not a widespread and common practice throughout Victoria, one begins to ask, why is the Government making this into such a significant public issue, even warranting laws to prohibit practices that are voluntarily undertaken by people? I suspect part of the answer lays in the proposed definition of conversion practice, which will be the subject of my next post.

 

 


There was a typo earlier, which read HCC report, not HRLC. I am since fixed this

The Premier and an Archbishop and a Mediating Baptist

A war of words has broken out between the Victorian Government and the Roman Catholic Church. The Premier is bidding to outlaw the seal of the confessional while Catholic hierarchy is defending it as sacrosanct.

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First of all, I need to note an important correction to the Premier’s statement. Most ministers of most churches are required to report suspected child abuse, according to the rules of their own denomination. Indeed, mandatory reporting is practiced by Baptists across Victoria (and indeed, around the nation) and we want this to be the case. Even if it was not mandatory, we would still report suspected child abuse. It makes no sense not to do so.

The Confessional

Canon law states that”The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Any priest who breaks the seal is automatically excommunicated from the church. Only the Pope can overturn this.

Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli has come out and said that he would prefer to go to jail than break the seal of the confessional. While saying that he would encourage an offender to go to the police, he wouldn’t break the seal if they refused to do so.

At the moment I think both Archbishop Comensoli and Premier Daniel Andrews are missing the mark.

On the one hand, I commend Daniel Andrews for taking further action on this terrible issue. And yet his rhetoric about putting ‘children first’ rings a little hollow. There are those in the community who are concerned for all children and aggrieved by the fact that vulnerable children become hay in politicking. The Premier’s record demonstrates that he often puts ideology first. For example, he ensured that an amendment to the Abortion Law Reform Act was defeated, a step which would have protected children from late-term abortion. Also, the rebirth of the birth certificate bill puts children at risk. In 2016 he introduced an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act which would have stripped religious organisations, schools, and churches, of their freedom to insist that employees adhere to the doctrinal and ethical convictions of their religious institution.

At the same time, the issue of child sexual abuse has exposed a theological flaw in Catholic dogma, as well as a moral one. The Confessional grew out of an inflated and unbiblical notion of the priesthood. One could enter into a long discussion here about the historical and theological premises the lay behind the seal of the confessional, but in short, this is not a practice encouraged by or mandated in the Bible. Indeed, it clearly conflicts with the teaching of the New Testament Church.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5).

No priest can absolve another person’s sins, let alone their own. We can certainly confess our own sins to those whom we have offended and to ask for their forgiveness. There is a place for corporate confession to God. But no priest can represent God and absolve another’s sin. We can listen to others and offer advice, but we cannot stand as Divine judge over a person and officiate Divine forgiveness or judgment. 

As a member of the community who is not Roman Catholic, one of the things that continues to concern me is how Archdiocese’s rhetoric continues to signal the wrong message; namely that they do not truly take child sexual abuse seriously. As a father of three children, this sickens me and makes me empathise with those who no longer trust religious institutions. I wish to say that the real Jesus is safe and good, and many churches are safe and wonderful places to investigate and come to terms with the greatest realities of life. But this immense positive is often lost in the face of due public scrutiny of institutions who have failed our children.

The Conscience and the Government

As I consider the debate, there are broader questions that should not be ignored. We mustn’t overlook for example these two further considerations: the conscience, and the role of Government. The conscience of individuals is important, even when we disagree with their religious views. The conscience is, of course, not God or infallible The Bible acknowledges that the conscience can be seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). However, we should be slow to stamp our own conscience on others.

We must also be wary of Government intrusion into religious practices. Do we really want Government dictating what are and are not valid religious convictions? I am not supporting the Roman Catholic Church’s position; I find it reprehensible. But neither do I believe it is right or healthy for the Government to interfere with a church’s traditional teaching. The issue is further complexed because Daniel Andrews is right in suggesting that religious leaders are not and should not be outside the law. In my view, both Mr Andrews and the Catholic Archbishop are throwing speech bombs at each other rather than working toward a solution.

A potential solution

Perhaps the most sensible solution that I have seen thus far comes from the words of a progressive Muslim, Waleed Aly. I don’t think it’s foolproof by any measure, but at least it is an offering in the right direction In 2018, writing for the New York Times, Aly rightly notes that a law, such as the one being proposed today, will fail because the consequences facing a priest who breaks the confessional are far greater than those imposed by the State. In addition, given the nature of the confessional, it is unlikely that those sealed revelations made by abusers will be uncovered by authorities.

“the royal commission reported on testimony from several priests who said, in the words of one, that a priest hearing confessions “has always been required to have at least ‘moral certitude’ of the penitent’s contrition and purpose of amendment before granting absolution.”

Accordingly, the commission’s said that “a priest can defer granting absolution until the act of satisfaction” has been carried out. For example, the report says, a confessed abuser would not be forgiven by a priest unless he reports himself to the police. Several priests told the commission that this is exactly what priests hearing confession should do.

This approach is far more likely to curtail reoffending than any attempt to compromise the institution of the confessional. It certainly addresses the commission’s finding that the easy availability of absolution contributes to reoffending. It would increase the likelihood that abusers will go to the authorities since it is the only way they can receive forgiveness.

And since keeping the state out of the confession booth wouldn’t require priests to commit an excommunicable offense, it is far more likely to be applied than a law that extends mandatory reporting into the confessional booth.”

Waleed Aly has offered an alternative, which may work. This position will remain distasteful for many Christians because it upholds a practice that undermines the sole and sufficient mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. This is an unnecessary tradition and one that gives false assurances to those who make use of the confessional. The confessional remains a box in which a man presumes the role of God. At yet, could Aly’s proposal allow conscience to be preserved and hold back undue Governmental interference into religious doctrinal matters?

I am calling on the Melbourne Archdiocese to re-evaluate their unsound and unethical practice of confessional seal. And I call on the Government to work harder to provide a workable and important solution to protect our children. Indeed, much good has come from this evil in recent years and I pray that we continue on this road.

Growing Concerns over treatment for children

Self-identifying genderism is perhaps not so free. The Australian has published a series of articles that should concern parents across the nation, especially those living in Victoria.

Last week Cricket Australia announced that men can now play for women’s teams, so long as their testosterone levels remain below 10 nanomoles per litre continuously for 12 months or more

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Last week the NSW Legislative Assembly passed legislation that not only decriminalises abortion but will permit late-term abortion and gender-selective abortion. The latter proves the idiocy under which our society now governs the definition of sex and gender. We are being told that a penis and vagina is no indication of what constitutes male and female, and neither can xy or xx chromosomes. And yet, a woman is being given the legal right to terminate a pregnancy based on the biological assumption that the baby is a girl or boy. The Spectator last week published a telling cartoon in which a baby girl in the womb is crying out to the doctor who is about to kill her, ‘Stop, I identify as a boy’.

This week the Victorian Parliament is debating legislation which will allow boys and girls to change the gender on their birth certificates without needing sex reassignment surgery. A person does not even require a signed letter from a medical practitioner or psychologist as evidence that the person believes they are a gender that differs from their biological sex.

There is a dangerous shift taking place in our culture, one where children are victims to unscientific social engineering. As a Father with 3 children, this movement toward initiating hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgery on children is staggering in its myopic vision and ethical bullying.

According to a report in The Australian, since 2014, 2415 children have been referred for medical gender treatment in Australia. There has been a 41% increase in cases in Victoria, which coincides with the introduction of the Safe Schools program, and with Dr Roz Ward and others encouraging gender transition inside local schools across the State.

Bernard Lane explains,

“Girls as young as nine are ­believed to be put on “puberty blocker” drugs, and boys from about 11.”

The article also notes growing concerns amongst paediatricians. Professor Whitehall said, “Who gave ethics approval for this treatment (at children’s hospitals) when it lacks any scientific basis and therefore is an experiment?…We should give the psychiatry and psychology a full run before we start castrating children.”

Of course, ideology always influences political and societal thinking, and the medical fraternity is not immune to this. Most doctors have integrity and only give advice to patients based on best knowledge and practice, but neither are they free from social pressures being applied by ideologues who are intent on cutting away all residue of the biological and traditional understanding of men and women and the social structures upon which we build communities. Bernard Lane notes that in the United Kingdom, lobbying from transgender groups is “contaminating clinical decisions”. Also, doctors in Australia are afraid to speak out on the issue because of the possibility of professional ostracisation and job loss.

The fact that there is a significant rise in gender transitioning where Safe Schools is most prevalent, raises questions. Is there a correlation?

Also writing in The Australian, Jennifer Oriel today has further justified concerns. She begins,

“castrating children” is the phrase used by pediatrics profess John Whitehall to describe unscientific experimentation on youth in the name of transgenderism.”

At the very least, these revelations should cause us to pause and investigate the claims being made.

In the normal state of affairs, the kind of psychological and physical intrusion being thrust upon these kids would amount to abuse. They are crying out for help, but not short term and potentially devastating manipulation of their bodies. This is also likely to cause long term harm to children, not least because most gender dysphoria children will want to identify with the birth sex by the time they reach adulthood.

In raising the subject we must not cast dispersions onto these children or onto transgender people. As I have said on many occasions, all people have inherent dignity and worth, and we are to love and care for them no matter their sex and gender. That does not, however, indicate that every social decision is healthy and good. This doesn’t entail that every choice made by an individual is right or beneficial. However, those responsible for pushing this new wave of gender ideology ought to be held to account. Those who have jumped on board legislations that will inevitably harm children, have a duty to pause further amendments to the law. Instead, the wellbeing of our children demands that the concerns of medical experts are heard and steps are taken to investigate what is now taking place in our schools and in some clinics.

 


Here’s one example of a recent article with a psychologist expressing concerns  – https://t.co/JDW3s4Bt8d?amp=1