Essendon apologizes to Andrew Thorburn

Religious freedom received an early Christmas present this year with Essendon Football Club today issuing an apology to Andrew Thorburn. 

The forced resignation of Andrew Thorburn in October, following less than 24 hours in the job as Essendon’s new CEO, was one of the biggest stories in Victoria for 2022. After journalists dug into his church’s website, they found sermons where both homosexual practices and abortion were referred to as sinful. 

It was a classic case of cut and paste; find something controversial and ignore the rest. There was one insensitive analogy contained in one of the quoted sermons, but otherwise, the views expressed by Thorburn’s church are what you will find in any Christian Church across Australia. City on a Hill, is a mainstream Anglican Church that preaches the sermon Gospel that is common around Australia and which is deeply embedded in historic Christianity. In today’s age of tolerance and diversity, classical Christian views are considered today’s heresy and worthy of public humiliation and even loss of employment. Thorburn’s sin was that he attends COAH and until recently served as Chair of the Council. 

The Essendon board clearly thought that were acting with the backing of the new moral majority. Certainly, there was plenty of outrage found in printed media and Premier Daniel Andrews was quick to grab the footy and run with it. Perhaps the more accurate metaphor was that Andrews tackled the man without the ball! He said,  

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

Business columnist for The AgeElizabeth Knight, argued that the Thorburn case is proof that religion and business don’t mix and Christians holding to, you know, Christian things, should be excluded from the business world.

“Business doesn’t mix with religion in the same way it doesn’t mix with pleasure. Some would argue that AFL is a religion among its legion of fans, but first and foremost it’s a business. Andrew Thorburn and Essendon’s management that stupidly appointed him as the chief executive should have understood this.”

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

At the time, Andrew Thorburn released a statement in which he fairly summed up the situation,  

“ today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square.”

While Essendon FC initially responded in tune with the public cheer squad, they almost certainly acted outside the law. Legal experts have for months suggested that Thorburn has a case against the football club for unlawful religious discrimination. 

Andrew Thorburn engaged with lawyers and has now engaged with Essendon. Today, the football club has formally apologised to him and donated an undisclosed sum to an ethics institute. Thorburn has agreed to drop all legal action against the club. 

Will others follow suit and apologise for their role in this unnecessary saga?

This is a welcome outcome. One, it communicates to the business world that you can’t push out Christians (and people of other faiths) from the workforce on account of their religious associations or beliefs. More importantly, as someone who has been watching at some distance, I am thankful for the way Andrew Thorburn has responded throughout. I didn’t read or hear any vindictive words or slanderous retorts, as did fill much of the discourse surrounding the story. Rather, he approached the club and offered to help on a volunteer basis. He didn’t demand financial recompense as he might have done, instead, the agreed sum is going to a charity. 

The Bible verse that comes to mind as I learn of how Andrew Thorburn has behaved is 1 Peter 3:9.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

While the law may have come to Thorburn’s defence in this instance, Victorians are very much aware of how religious freedoms have diminished somewhat in recent years. And given the Government and current cultural preferences, these freedoms are likely to further narrow in times ahead. So while we were shocked by the appalling treatment Thorburn received by Essendon, our Premier and others, I’m grateful for the gracious way Thorburn has responded, and it’s one that we may do well to consider for ourselves when that day arrives. 

You see, Christians can hold to Jesus’ teaching about marriage and about life, and treat others with kindness and grace. Accepting the Bible’s vision for human life and human sexuality doesn’t breed bigotry, but a profound desires for the best for others. Holding these things together may be anathema to our zealous culture, but they can and do belong. Christians don’t choose between truth and love, or between grace and goodness. Indeed, this is one of the wonders of the Christmas message.

When it comes to Christmas, once we’ve unwrapped all the pageantry, presents, and tinsel, we find the message of God come to earth. The infant born in Bethlehem was the universe’s maker, true God from true God. God didn’t leave heaven to experience the most ordinary of beginnings because his view of the human condition is one of a premiership winning footy team. God saw helpless, hopeless, sinful people breaking all the rules of the game and thumbing their noses at the umpire. Knowing this, God determined, in love I want to redeem them.

The Bible text for my Christmas Day sermon puts it this way, 

“ we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)

Today is a good day for Victoria. Christmas Day points us to an even better day that can be known every day regardless of how the wind is blowing in old Melbourne town. 

A Christian responds to Victoria’s State Election

On Saturday morning before going to vote at the Victorian State election, I sent out this tweet, quoting Psalm 146,

“Do not put your trust in princes,

    in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

    whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

This morning, the day after the election, I retweeted these Bible verses. The reason being, the words of the Psalm remain true, before and after the votes had been cast and counted.

 I understand that in quoting Psalm 146, some people might be a little annoyed and perhaps a tad angry,  especially among voters disappointed by the election result. I certainly don’t mean to sound unfeeling or facile, as though the election was unimportant. I happen to believe elections do matter because government plays a significant role in the life of society; controlling much power and influence. After all, Government is a legitimate institution that falls under the banner of God’s common grace. It may not be the main game, but government nonetheless plays an important supporting role. 

It is also the case that Government has less influence in setting the direction for society as it is about providing the legal, economic, and social mechanisms by which society moves in the direction that it is already preferencing. The old adage about politics being downstream of culture is complicated but still true. 

The reason behind sharing the Psalm 146 quotation is that I’m wondering if we are attaching too much responsibility on Government for fixing social ills and rectifying economic currents. This is true for both the left and the right of politics. Have we become too dependent upon Parliaments and MPs for addressing what was once the prevue of churches, synagogues, media, and an array of social organisations? If we have lost trust in those civil and religious institutions (which seems to be the case), faith in our governments is also in sharp decline. There lies perhaps some of our misplaced faith and therefore frustration and despair at the political scene. We are not meant to burden Government with all our hopes and demands and needs. A healthy society needs to spread that load. Indeed, a truly healthy society would not require government to create what we have in Australia: a society wrapped in red tape and wads of laws and rules stickier than gaffer tape.

There are better governments and worse; it’s rarely a zero-sum game.  More Victorians than not prefer the given election outcome over the alternatives. After all, that is what the votes indicate. Many Victorians are pleased with the outcome, with many others perplexed or angered, and more than a few are underwhelmed by the choice of candidates that were on offer. I suspect there is also a deep suspicion of and discontent toward political parties across the spectrum. Sometimes it’s a case of choosing the least bad option available, or at least that’s how many voters are feeling: I don’t like this candidate, but at least they’re not the other candidates! 

How did we respond to the election at church today? This morning my church prayed for the new state government, as we do regularly for whoever is in charge at Spring Street and in Canberra. And we also prayed for our local representatives in Parliament. That’s what Christians do. It’s one of the few constancies in the unpredictable world of politics; churches pray for those in authority. To the reluctant among us, let’s consider it this way, if the Apostle Paul could pray for the Roman Emperor, then we ought to pray for our governments. 

We should pray for our political representatives because they carry significant responsibility. Given the platform that we build for our leaders (or scaffold as it may be), praying is the right thing to do. Of course, government isn’t the big game in town, but its role impacts life at every level and therefore great wisdom, patience, integrity and compassion are necessary.  

Without some kind of cultural reorientation, I suspect Governments will become bigger and bolder. It is interesting to see how Australians, or at least Victorians, have become more comfortable with authoritarian personality and political styled governing. The myth of the convict, bushranger, and nonchalant Aussie digger may still exist in local sporting clubs, but as a people group, we are quite accepting of big government and monocratic-styled leadership. I’m not arguing a case either way here but simply noting the public trend.

Of course, my eyesight is myopic and so looking at the next 4 years is an imprecise art. There are, after all, no more prophets! My guess is that in the name of freedom, more laws and regulations will be introduced, and in the name of economic prosperity, more debt inducing spending will occur. If we follow the now predominant current, I anticipate that we’ll see tighter controls on social behaviour, fewer parental rights and a more pronounced religion-socio education drive.

I would not be surprised if we see religious freedoms further eroded during this next term of government. That’s no scare campaign, I’m simply noting the growing list of legislative changes that have been enacted in Victoria in recent years: from removing freedoms from religious organisations and schools to employ people of faith, to banning some religious conversations and prayers with threats of criminal charges and prison time, and now to Premiers interfering with workplace appointments because a football club appointed a Christian man who also serves on the council at his local church. I’d be surprised if the cultural vultures do not require more blood to be taken.

Of course, what Victoria is experiencing is simply a few steps ahead of the rest of the country and it’s indicative of an entire part of the world that has not only lost its moorings but is consciously tearing them apart and doing so without realising that without these foundations, we are left to be smashed about by the wind and waves.

So I go back to the verse in which I began, Christians should not look to government to be the saviour of society. Don’t put your trust in princes and premiers. Honour them and pray for them, but let’s not expect government to rescue society from the deepest and darkest of places.

This is one of the flaws present in left-leaning politics; it believes Government is the answer.  Hence it’s no surprise to see legislative agendas enveloping society around a new moral religion. God is optional in the new religion, but the worship of the sexualised individual is compulsory. Anyone thinking otherwise just isn’t listening to Daniel Andrews and Victoria’s Human Rights Commissioner and a hundred other bureaucrats working with the Government. 

There is a counterpoint emerging on the right side of politics that is also deeply concerning, and perhaps more so. Daniel Andrews may talk about how his catholicism influences his life, but people can see through the disconnection. Christian nationalism, on the other hand, has started to captivate some pew sitters and pastors and therefore it is more likely to create issues for Gospel ministry in Victoria. This theorem is thankfully marginal and I pray it doesn’t take hold as it is doing in parts of the United States, but nonetheless, I don’t wait for 100 mosquitoes to enter my house before dealing with the first one.

Christians, be careful of voices that speak more about politics than they do the Great Commission and use more words of anger than they do words of compassion and mercy. By all means, as commitment to common grace and out of love for your neighbour, keep government accountable. Christians might join a political party and stand for Parliament, but even the most Christian of political leaders and most Christian of political agendas isn’t going to redeem society. That kind of thinking ignores the testimony of Scripture, namely that the gospel is God’s power of salvation and the church is God’s big game in town. Our churches are more likely today to sit on the sideline of culture and be ignored by many,  but nonetheless, the church is the centrepiece of God’s work. Therefore, whatever you do in the name of political inspiration, aspiration or disappointment, don’t confuse it with the Gospel, don’t conflate common grace with saving grace, and don’t fuse the church with the state. 

The best way we can love our fellow Victorians is by serving your church and being clear on the gospel.

I’ll finish up here with one final word about misplacing hope and faith in political elections. During the Premier Daniel Andrews victory speech last night, he said, “Friends. Hope always defeats hate.”

The statement is true, although one might like to fill the word hope with some content and also define hate as something more than an imprecise aspersion on your opponents. 

Also, the irony of this comment was not lost. The election campaign was about as spiteful and negative a campaign as I’ve seen, and it was true across the major parties. And yes, our Premier’s chosen rhetoric can at times be described as hateful. In fact, I can think of few political leaders excising as much hateful language as Mr Andrews, especially as he describes people of faith in Victoria. His verbal attacks are often little more than vicious mischaracterisations of people (think Andrew Thorburn), but verbal attacks of this kind garner wide support in Victoria because it fits the religious narrative that now dominates the horizon. 

Daniel Andrews is not only an advocate but a victim of a worldview that sees all other views as anathema and a danger to society. The new dogma that he seems to preach demands that we either agree and follow the new moral absolutes or we belong to the devil. Love means full acceptance and tolerance means public affirmation, and any diverging from the narrow path is justification for public humiliation by our Premier and others. It’s a tricky path though because the definition of acceptance and tolerance are continually changing, like the staircases at Hogwarts. Orthodoxy one week is heresy the next, as public figures are finding out once they’re cancelled. 

 I am forever grateful to Jesus who didn’t affirm everything about me, and who didn’t accept some of the desires of my heart. God did something far greater and more loving. God disagreed and even called out my living as sin. The Bible even says it’s worthy of death, and yet God loved disagreeable people and his only Son gave his life on the cross. So yes, hope has defeated hate. 

Andrew Thorburn Case: when values is about religion

The Andrew Thorburn story is returning to media attention. The Age is tonight* reporting that Thorburn “has hired legal counsel and is pursuing legal action against the club after he was forced to resign.”

Thorburn lasted as Essendon’s CEO for less than 24 hours. Journalists went hunting and tracked down several ‘controversial’ comments made in sermons at Thorburn’s local church some 10 years ago before Thorburn had joined. As newspaper columns appeared, Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews came out and publicly attacked Thorburn’s church,

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

Within hours Andrew Thorburn was given an ultimatum by the Essendon board, choose the club or his church. Thorburn chose his church. 

In a statement, Thorburn explained,

“Today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many. I was being required to compromise beyond a level that my conscience allowed. People should be able to hold different views on complex personal and moral matters, and be able to live and work together, even with those differences, and always with respect. Behaviour is the key. This is all an important part of a tolerant and diverse society…

…Despite my own leadership record, within hours of my appointment being announced, the media and leaders of our community had spoken. They made it clear that my Christian faith and my association with a Church are unacceptable in our culture if you wish to hold a leadership position in society.

This grieves me greatly – though not just for myself, but for our society overall. I believe we are poorer for the loss of our great freedoms of thought, conscience and belief that made for a truly diverse, just and respectful community.”

I’m not here to comment on any potential legal action, for such things are beyond my expertise. As this story will fire up again over the coming days, it is worth highlighting once more the extraordinary nature of the decision made by Essendon Football Club and the interference by Victoria’s Premier. 

I was speaking with a member of the Victorian Government recently. He was quite open and adamant in his support of Essendon’s stance against Andrew Thorburn. One on the hand, he acknowledged that it’s against the law to discriminate against a person’s faith, but in the same breath, he insisted Thorburn shouldn’t lead Essendon given his connection with a Melbourne church. Not only that, this MP told me that any suggestion people of faith could lose their job because of their beliefs, is nothing more than ‘scaremongering’. Given that we were literally talking about a live example, I don’t think he was aware of the irony filling his words. Not only that, what a cold response to thousands of Victorians who now feel vulnerable in the workplace.

As I was thinking about the conversation afterwards, the issue is one of semantics or rather, it’s a game of bluff. He sees the issue through the lens of ‘values’, rather than religion.

He could say (correctly so) that it’s against the law to discriminate against someone in the workplace on the basis of their religion and yet he also believes it’s legitimate to force someone out of their job if their values don’t align (Ie their religious values). In other words, we don’t live in a society where there is a neat division between religion and secular, or between private and public. Everything is religious. Every value and action, every job and interest, is shaped by underlying commitments and views of the world, and these inevitably take on a religious flavour. It’s not as though some sexual ethics belong to a neutral space while religious views are found elsewhere. All values are religious in nature.

Victoria is like Ancient Rome where there is a god for everything. We’ve dispensed with the names; there’s no praying to Juno, Diana and Venus. We simply sacrifice to and live for sexual freedom, power, wealth, or whatever is our ultimate aim. Hence, when a religious view clashes with an assumed (or stated) value, the value wins out as though it’s morally omniscient. That is why football, like cricket and rugby league, is no longer about playing the game. Sport is attached to a set of dogmas, and sponsors often serve as the priests, making compliance certain, while the Board acts as bishop.  Of course, an AFL Club isn’t a church or a Christian school where particular religious views are necessary.  Having the right kind of religious view shouldn’t be a prerequisite for senior management in the ‘secular’ business or sporting world, but as the Andrew Thorburn case demonstrates, such distinctions no longer apply.

Values is simply a disguised way of talking about a person’s deep beliefs and practices. Values aren’t distinct from religion; values are always an expression of religious convictions, whether we attribute a god to them or not. The situation in Victoria, as our Premier has expressed, is that if a Christian’s ‘values’ don’t align with a place of employment, they may well find themselves receiving similar treatment to Andrew Thorburn. They may protest, as did my politician friend, ‘it’s values, not religion’, but such smoke and mirrors don’t fool anyone. 

Essendon’s President David Barham also attempted to play this game of dodgeball. When announcing Thorburn’s resignation, he tried to blur the lines, 

“I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.”  

Political theologian, Jonathan Leeman, is right, 

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

That is the world we inhabit. This is the air we breathe. It may take a little time for HR departments to catch up with the reality of what their guidelines and directives signify, but we no longer have to speculate or hypothesize: we have one very public case in point glaring at us.

Before I finish up, I noticed that there are a few details in The Age reporting that are incorrect: 

First, City on a Hill is not a ‘small’ church. It is probably the largest Anglican Church in Melbourne, and one of the largest Anglican Churches in Australia.

Second, it is not a ‘conservative church’ as opposed to normal or standard. City on a Hill adheres to the same beliefs and practices that are typical of Christian Churches across Australia and the world. This Church sits comfortably within the same orthodox Christianity that has existed and flourished for 2,000 years.

Third, there is no homophobic material on their website. What one finds, as with other Christian Churches, is the Jesus driven belief that sex is a great God given gift reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. And let’s not forget, that Australian law reflected a classical view of marriage until 5 minutes ago. There is nothing phobic when Jesus called out sexual transgression. He did so because people matter and ignoring God’s design is a perilous trip. The extent to which Jesus loved was crucifixion. Jesus didn’t bleed hatred on the cross, but love and mercy toward the same people transgress God’s good ways.

One may not like or agree with Christianity but throwing around language like phobic is lazy and untrue. Churches follow Jesus’ example, by loving and welcoming everyone who comes along. We don’t have to agree with every word, action, and value in order to love and welcome another. If that ethic was true, then Jesus is the world’s worst social heretic! Thank God,  that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)


*all the major newspaper were reporting the story by the end of the evening

“Businesses can’t afford to be tarnished” by Christians, writes Business Columnist

Business columnist for The Age, Elizabeth Knight, writes that there is an irreconcilable difference between business and Christianity, which means businesses and even AFL Clubs are right to exclude people on the basis of religious beliefs.

She says,

“Business doesn’t mix with religion in the same way it doesn’t mix with pleasure. Some would argue that AFL is a religion among its legion of fans, but first and foremost it’s a business. Andrew Thorburn and Essendon’s management that stupidly appointed him as the chief executive should have understood this.”

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

Victorian Christians are understandably shaken this week, given Premier Daniel Andrews public attack on Andrew Thorburn which added pressure on Essendon’s board to see him out the door after less than 24 hours in the role. And now we have a business columnist for one of the country’s major newspapers, justifying businesses no longer employing people of faith. 

We should note that it is illegal for the workplace to discriminate against job applicants and employees on the basis of their religious beliefs, but here we are with a business columnist pretty much saying that’s how it needs to be.

Let’s not play the hypocrites game that is being kicked around this week: ‘it’s not about personal religious beliefs’. Pretty much everyone who has said this has also added in the same breath, ‘he had to go because of his views and association with that church’.

Elizabeth Knight doesn’t even feel the need to hide the religious vilification that is spilling out this week. Those standing against Thorburn feel as though the crowd is behind them and cheering on them as though they’re at the Colosseum. 

A word to readers who haven’t yet lost their sense of decency and the belief in the good old-fashioned sense of tolerance. When Knight says that businesses can’t afford to be ‘tainted’ by association with churches like City on a Hill, let’s be perfectly clear about what this means.  City on a Hill is a normal, typical, mainstream Christian Church that teaches, believes, and practices the historic faith. They are no more controversial than Jesus and the Apostles and every faithful Christian Church since. 

It is true, that there are a few ‘Christian’ voices speaking in support of Essendon. Let the reader note: those folk are the very same ones who’ve given up the Bible and the Gospel and instead bought the theology from the same book as the Essendon Football Club. They tend to be the same voices who supported Daniel Andrew’s conversion laws to ban Christians from speaking and convincing to individuals of the Christian view of human sexuality. Even praying with people can result in a criminal conviction! Unsurprisingly,  their churches are declining into obscurity whereas traditional churches are far more likely to see growth. That’s not hubris, it’s the way it works.  

My bigger point here, one that I’ve made already this week and one that we’ve been warned about for years now by Christian leaders including Stephen Mcalpine, is that the workplace is not a secure or safe place for Christians (nor indeed for Muslims and Jews). Many Christians were already nervous at work, even fearful, because of the pressures to celebrate all manner of “diversity” events. Admitting you’re a Christian is like telling people you have COVID and you’re about to cough all over them! If Essendon can find a way to remove a high profile Christian man, of course, others can do so, and indeed it’s been going on for some time now. 

Andrew Thorburn was right when he said, 

… today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square.

Elizabeth Knight is nodding her head, 

“Running Essendon was a job that Thorburn could have managed even as a side hustle. But it’s hard to see where he will get his next gig, even after the current controversy dies down.”

Christian, be clear about your convictions and don’t let this temporary and passing age cause you to stumble or fall short. 

Christian, be wise in how you conduct yourself at work and on social media.

Christian, show kindness even toward those who oppose you.

Christian, talk to your pastors and church and shore up ways we can support and encourage each other

Christian, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2)

Hezekiah, the early church, and learning how to live in the State of Victoria

Life is often like a game of footy (it’s not really, but Hollywood type tropes are always popular!). Bare with this analogy because it has a happy ending.

Life is like a game of AFL: it’s tough, it’s exhausting and there are two sides battling it out against each other. One of my favourite football moments was the 1999 preliminary final win Essendon played Carlton. The bombers came into the match as raging hot favourites. The Navy blues won by a single point (happy ending)!

The story surrounding the new and now former Essendon football club CEO, Andrew Thorburn, has entered the fourth day. The saga continues to dominate the news with a collation of new articles and opinion pieces in the newspapers and with interviews on radio and TV. 

Andrew Thorburn was forced to resign from Essendon after less than 24 hours, for no reason other than he holds a position of leadership in his local church. The Premier of Victoria and the mob went after him until the football club pressured him into resigning.

Essendon is adamant, the issue isn’t people’s religious beliefs while in the same breath they explain that it is precisely about people’s religious beliefs. The spin is oxymoronic and as clear as day but that doesn’t subdue the voices who cannot tolerate biblical Christianity. Indeed, Daniel Andrews doubled down yesterday, once again calling Christians ‘bigots’ and painting churches as the most awful of people, while suggesting society needs more “kindness”. 

As all of this is going on, I’m reading through the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. I was struck by some key moments in this Bible reading, including how ‘right now’ the story feels. Let me share with you 2 encouragements and a warning.

First, faithfulness to God sometimes leads to strong opposition

The reading was chapter 32. In the previous chapters, Judah’s new King, Hezekiah, restored God’s Temple and reinstated the right practice of sacrifices and worship. 

In the opening sentence of ch.32, we read this, 

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.”

Hezekiah had the difficult job of shaking up a nation that was behaving like a footy team on muck up day and it all going horribly wrong. He worked tirelessly to turn the nation around and restore life and community to how God intended it to be. Then we read, ‘after all Hezekiah had so faithfully done, their very life and worship is threatened.

The idea of faithfulness leading to opposition is a regular motif in the Bible. For example, in Acts ch. 8, the world’s first church (which was of course in Jerusalem), grew in number and maturity when all of a sudden persecution broke out.  The opposition was so severe that Christians were forced to leave the city, abandoning their homes and jobs, and even the church.

We read….

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

Christians can live and work with integrity and generosity and kindness, and go beyond for the good of the workplace, and still be called all manner of insults and untrue swipes made against them, and even be forced to resign. Niceness, and not even godliness, will protect churches and careers in our culture that is bent on everyone worshipping from the same high altar of sexular secularism. 

Remember, trusting Jesus sometimes brings significant opposition into your life.

Second, when facing opposition for faithfulness take courage and confidence in God.

Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib was to exhort people to look to God

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

In this example, Sennacherib is humiliated and defeated much like that famous Preliminary final in 1999. It doesn’t always work out that way.  So, in the Acts 8 story, the persecution in Jerusalem forced people to leave their homes and places of work. It pushed families and church communities apart. Nonetheless, this did not weaken Christian confidence in God and their conviction in the Gospel,

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” 

God used the terrible situation of unjust and brutal discrimination for mission and spreading the gospel and starting new churches. 

Third, be aware of the dangers of pride

Sennacherib spoke and acted with a determined arrogance and with such confidence that he was on the right side of history. He didn’t need to coat his rhetoric in the language of tolerance. Without equivocation, preached against those God worshippers. 

“On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege? 11 When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst…13 “Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? 15 Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”

I’ll admit, as I read about Sennacherib, I couldn’t help but think of a certain Victorian Premier. That’s not necessarily good hermeneutics; I’m just noting a striking parallel.

It ends in disaster for Sennacherib, as it always does for those who think outdoing God is a great strategy.

Here though lays the warning. Instead of turning to humble thankfulness, Hezekiah took a leaf out of Sennacherib’s playbook. He became proud.

“Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem”.

There is no space in the Christian life for self-righteousness or moral superiority or an us versus them mentality. Hezekiah learnt that lesson the hard way. Sometimes churches do slip into that behaviour and even when Christians face unfair criticism we can exude a certain hubris. We need to guard our hearts against this.

I’m grateful for how Andrew Thorburn expressed himself in his public statement, as I am thankful for the ways City on a Hill staff have responded. 

Of course, the story of Hezekiah does not ultimately end with us or point to us. Rather, it is another historical reminder of how desperately our world needs the perfect King, who sees all things and understands all things and who acts justly and mercifully. 

2,000 years after this promised King came into the world, He remains the litmus test for truth and goodness. This week’s events have again demonstrated that we can’t stop talking about Jesus. No matter how hard the sexual revolution pushes and no matter how loud authorities secularists are, and even when a State Premier denounces Christian employees in the workplace, we can’t escape Jesus of Nazareth. 

No matter how events unfold in the State of Victoria, don’t enter that unbefitting space of hubris. We can speak confidently but never brashly. We can live with thankfulness but not with pride. After all, every Christian knows what it’s like to stand with the Sennacherib’s of this world. in his great mercy of God want us over. That is why when we experience fellow Victorians and even our Premier standing against,  we respond with kindness and resolve, with grace and with confidence in Christ.

As Christians in Victoria wait to see job security crumble and the window for career advancement shrink, keep taking our example from Jesus, and more so, rest your hopes in him

Philippians chapter 2 says

“have the same mindset Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

Christian Football CEO Forced to Resign from Essendon

It took less than 24 hours. Essendon Football Club’s newly appointed CEO, Andrew Thorburn has been forced to resign. Late yesterday The Age and Herald Sun newspapers reported and attacked Andrew Thorburn for nothing more than being a Christian and for belonging to a Christian Church.

Premier Daniel Andrews joined the chorus today, but more about his contribution later on.

Just before 6pm, Essendon released a statement, saying Andrew Thorburn has resigned. Or rather, his position was made impossible by the club. 

“The Board made clear that, despite these not being views that Andrew Thorburn has expressed personally and that were also made prior to him taking up his role as Chairman, he couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon Football Club and as Chairman of City on the Hill.”

The letter also states what can only be read as a contradictory if not disingenuous statement,

“I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.”  

Actually, this is exactly about vilifying personal religious beliefs, as their previous paragraph indicates. Thorburn cannot continue as CEO for the very reason that he holds a leadership role at his home church. 

Andrew Thorburn is not the first who has been forced to choose between a job and God, and he will not be the last. This is the culture in which we are living. 

The sharp end of our society’s movers and shakers do not believe in freedom or fairness, it is about power and control and conforming everyone into their own image. The fact that Daniel Andrews sees fit to interfere with the sporting club appointing the CEO is just another indicator of where things are heading. 

So what exactly did our State’s Premier say? At a press conference Dan Andrews (an Essendon supporter) wistfully said, 

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

To my knowledge, Daniel Andrews has never visited COAH nor listened to any of their sermons nor spoken with any of the 100O+ people who call COAH home. I say that because his comments are false and slanderous, as are many of the words being thrown about today. But careful speech isn’t required if you belong to the ‘right side’ of the culture. Daniel Andrews preaches a popular message and he knows it won’t hurt him politically or socially. All the influencers believe him, or rather he is happily mimicking their gospelling. 

Let the reader understand, Daniel Andrews, as Premier of the State of Victoria, is comfortable telling us what kind of church is acceptable. And this isn’t the first time. For a supposed secular state intruding into religion is becoming a popular past time.

Gray Connolly tweeted, 

“Was unaware that in Victoria you could not be employed by a football club if you attend a church that is not Dan Andrews approved … does this apply to Synagogues and Mosques?”

For the sake of consistency, it’s a legitimate question.

Let’s assume the Premier is serious about his stance against those most evil and terrible and dangerous Christians. He has just told the world that he thinks that AFL clubs shouldn’t appoint Christians. It raises the question, in what areas is the Premier okay with Christians finding employment?

Does the Premier believe Christians can stand for Parliament? What about working for the Government? Is he comfortable with corporations appointing Christians to senior management positions? What about Christians working in state schools, hospitals and the police force? Does he believe local councils should employ Christians as gardeners or garbage collectors? 

Does Mr Andrews believe that there should be some kind of religious test before you can get a job? It’s only been a few months since his Government shredded religious freedom by no longer allowing religious schools and organisations to employ people who share their values. And yet, he can speak imperviously of there being no place for Bible-believing Christians in high-profile positions in the AFL (yes, Bible-believing Christian is a tautology).

If there is any real issue in what was really a non-story it is this, why is senior pastor Guy Mason supporting a football team called the Demons? Let me leave that thought with all the conspiracy theorists out there!

Understand this, the sexular agenda will almost certainly make life more difficult for faithful followers of Jesus. It is already tricky. More and more people share their stories with me and I read of many more. The sexual revolution is still pounding the shore line and with every latest iteration it washes away more and more of the imago dei. It is a destructive social force. As the secular age creeps further inland and consumes everything, it will not tolerate anyone standing up and resisting the wave. It’s like the orcs from Lord of the Rings. They won’t relent until they’re taken Middle Earth.

It doesn’t require any imagination to realise more pressure will be heaped on Christians, bullying us into silence or into giving up precious God given truths for the sake of keeping our jobs. Are we ready to make that choice between God and employment? 

That’s why we need to settle in our hearts and be convinced with our minds, the question of whom we will worship. Will we choose God and worship him or will we choose Baal?

Any student of history and anyone persuaded by the power of the Gospel of Jesus will understand that political bullying and employment restrictions and stifling religious freedom, though real,  cannot hamstring God and his mission. Such confidence should never make us cocky or arrogant or apathetic. Rather, it leads to humble thanks and praise.

Our premier can shout and slander and misrepresent Melbourne Churches, and in doing so he may win political battles and social battles and popularity contests. And yes, he is an expert in doing all of these. But the one contest he isn’t winning and cannot win is the one that is out of his hands because it is firmly held by the Sovereign God whose word will not fail.

Don’t get me wrong, if anything I suspect City on a Hill will grow as a result of this controversy. Why? Because God honours the faithfulness of his people. And yes, the Lord of the church, namely Jesus, promises to build his church and not even the gates of Hades will overcome it. 

Christian worker in Victoria, if you haven’t already resigned yourself to the likelihood of facing discrimination, dislike, and bullying, get ready. If you’re still living that nice life of naivety, believing that hard work and loyalty and integrity should be enough to protect you, think again. If they crucified Jesus, how on earth do we think that we’ll be given a parachute?

Begin pondering Bible verses like the ones I’ve included below, and let’s learn to set our gaze on Christ and to really put our hope only in him. And that means we need thick Christian community. We need local churches where we actually turn up and commit to and then start supporting & strengthening one another for when these hard times come our way.

Don’t get angry with Essendon Football Club, Daniel Andrews and others. Anger is an understandable reaction, but let’s think and feel deeper than that. Let the Gospel inform our response:

“consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)


Here is a statement just released by Andrew Thorburn. Worth reading

What does the Bible say about Church & State?

One of the important topics today is understanding church and state. I gave this sermon recently at my home church, Mentone Baptist Church.

The sermon explains why hardline secularism is problematic and so is Christian nationalism. The Bible doesn’t lead us in either direction but provides a better and dynamic relationship between church and state whether the two don’t fuse together and neither do they ignore each other.

Should Church-run hospitals be forced to perform abortions?

Preface: please read the entire piece & not just one or two snippets. The whole argument matters, not just a quote or two. thank you

———————————–

I’m beginning to think that when some people read ‘1984’ and ‘A Brave New World’, their impression is, what a great idea. Let’s model our society on ‘Oceania’ or ‘World State’!

There is a certain predictability about our political and social overlords: Christianity is bad, science is a subject in the Arts faculty, and conscience is only free for those who follow the right agenda. 

In its latest iteration, Victorian Legislative Council member, Fiona Patten, from the Sex Party (sorry, it’s now called ‘Reason’ Party) is tabling legislation that will force Church-based hospitals and health institutions to perform abortions. Patten’s Bill threatens these hospitals with losing their public funding if they refuse patient requests for abortion. 

Before I respond to Patten’s reasoning, I want to admit that abortion isn’t a topic I like to write about. I appreciate how this is a very real and sensitive and emotionally charged issue for many people. Despite angry messages that I receive from certain quarters, the reality is, women carry tremendous guilt and pain from having an abortion, even many years later. ‘Celebrate your abortion’ may be a thing right now, but behind the slogans, many women struggle. The way to find forgiveness and freedom from the past isn’t to redefine a wrongful act as good, as our political representatives feel necessary today, but to take the harder and better road that Jesus outlines: admit our terrible decisions and turn to God who is big enough and willing to wipe away every spot of guilt. Churches and religious organisations remain communities who gladly help where there is a difficult pregnancy, and who also gladly welcome people who carry heavy burdens. Churches are not communities of the moral oppressors, but of those who found a loving and forgiving God. I encourage readers to ignore the caricatures of Christianity that we read about in the media and instead check out the real thing for ourselves.

Having said that, Fiona Patten explains her legislation, 

“Publicly funded hospitals and other health institutions have no right to refuse these legally enshrined rights that a woman has control over her body and reproductive health.”

“Religion is a blessing to many amid the mysteries and vagaries of existence, but imposed religious faith has no place in the public health system.”

According to The Guardian

“Patten said institutions should not be able to claim “conscientious objection” and that the bill would ensure public hospitals were not able to prevent a doctor from performing legal abortion procedures.”

First of all, let the reader understand, Fiona Patten does not believe in the separation of Church and State. She thinks that the State ought to control religion. The State of Victoria has witnessed the slow erosion of this healthy distinction (and partnership) in recent years, including the State removing freedom from religious institutions to employ people on the basis of their religious convictions, and banning certain prayers and conversations with fellow Victorians. Patten believes that the State should force religious health providers to perform acts of killing unborn children, an action that deliberately cuts against sound religious convictions. 

Patten regularly campaigns to have any vestige of Christianity removed from the public square (ie think the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament*) and she regularly promotes legislation that will bring down State sanctioned secular ideology onto religious organisations. This is but the latest manifestation of a growing trend.

This is dangerous political overreach. 

Second, does Fiona Patten appreciate that her threat will only further harm our health system, a healthy system that is already overburdened and not coping? Is throwing rocks at vital and overworked hospitals going to help the sick and injured? Removing public funding from these hospitals won’t save lives and relieve the mounting pressures and massive backlog of important surgeries. 

Instead of threatening religion-based hospitals, perhaps our political representatives should ask, how can we be helping?

Third, in the grand tradition of doublespeak, Fiona Patten obscures the reality of abortion by ignoring the life of the child and speaking of a woman’s right. Few activists admit today that the child in the womb is anything less than a human being. Science and technology simply won’t allow the ‘clump of cells’ myth to continue. We can see the little human inside the mother’s womb growing. Even at 16 weeks, we now know that babies are thinking and feeling. They respond to sound and to music. Their cognitive faculties, creative faculties, and listening and communication skills are far more advanced than was once believed. 

“I am reminded of the words spoken by one excited mum, ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).

A society that claims a right to destroy such life is a society that has lost sight of its humanity and its obligations to the most vulnerable. But not content with abortion taking place in public and some private medical centres, move is afoot to force religious medical providers to perform this unconscionable act.

The prophet Isaiah said, 

“Woe to those who call evil good

    and good evil,

who put darkness for light

    and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

    and sweet for bitter.”

I suspect Fiona Patten’s Bill will fail to win sufficient support in Parliament. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the majority of Victorians would think her reasoning is reasonable. Nonetheless, let the reader understand that she doesn’t represent a marginal cultural perspective but rather she belongs to the vanguard of cultural change. We shouldn’t be surprised to see, as we have on other issues, that ‘try, try, again’ will eventually see hardline authoritarian secularism succeed.

I wonder, does Fiona Patten believe that the State should have the power to coerce her to act against her conscience? As we’ve seen with the Manly 7 and a growing list of examples, the argument for conscience moves in only one direction, and that’s not a song and dance routine that I want to follow. 

What do other Victorians think? Should doctors and nurses be compelled to take human life?

What a crazy, sinful, grief giving world we live in. 

The insatiable blackhole of today’s groupthink requires a response that our political and culture wars can’t handle. Facts, figures and commonsense rarely belong to the debates of today, and even more rare is the nuance and grace that we desperately need. In our thinking, we need to dig deeper.

Of course, Christians aren’t going to cave into Patten’s threats and start killing babies. What an absurdity! Without giving an inch to this grim ideological pressure, I caution against responding with anger or with spite. Rather, follow the example of Jesus. At the beginning of what we now called the Passion week, Jesus stood over Jerusalem, and he wept. Jesus said,

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”  He then entered the city, resolved to lay down his life for those who wanted to take his. 

—————

  • Christians recognise there are valid reasons for keeping the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament and for removing the Lord’s Prayer from Parliament.

“I’m not an idiot”

“I’m not an idiot”, so said Michael Jensen in an interview with Peter FitzSimons for Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald

FitzSimons opening barrage on Jensen was to portray Christianity in his typically parodic manner, as though Christians are a bunch of uneducated, antiscientific, and annoying cluster of flies. Hence, Michael’s initial response. Although to be fair, apart from the opening line to Jensen,  the article is pretty decent and Fitz does a good job in questioning both Fiona Patton and Michael Jensen. His topics were the Lord’s Prayer and churches’ tax exemption status. 

For those who don’t know of Fiona Patten, she is a member of the Legislative Council in the Victorian Parliament. Her party, Reason Party, was formally called the Sex Party. Unsurprisingly, Patten is a passionate advocate for progressive sex ideology. Michael Jensen on the other hand is Senior Pastor at St Mark’s Darling Point in Sydney and holds a PhD from Oxford University.

On the topic of the Lord’s prayer, Michael Jensen is typically Christian as he sees both pros and cons with Parliament reciting the Lord’s Prayer. On the issue of tax exemption rules, Jensen explains,

“the first thing to say is that Jesus told us to pay taxes and churches should too, on [straight-out businesses they run]. But churches as places of worship come under the charity law as a community group and for the purposes of taxation don’t have special privileges that other community groups don’t have. So sports, for example, don’t pay tax because they are a community group, as are trade unions, things like Men’s Shed, the CWA and indeed political parties. So this is not a special provision just for churches. And when it comes to churches, the view is that money put in the plate has already been taxed – it is people’s after-tax dollars – and so doesn’t need to be further taxed, just as when people donate to community groups.”

“Tax law needs supervision, needs compliance and needs data to be administered properly. Most of the long-established churches like ours have an accumulated wealth, particularly through property, because of our longevity in Australia – and most of our buildings are held in a trust to support the purposes for which the organisation exists, which is not for making profit. So we’re not remotely a business in that sense.”

Jensen is correct. I acknowledge that I’m biased, but it does not require a PhD from Oxford to realise that Jensen’s explanation is reasoned and grounded in what actually happens in churches across Australia and how their financial paradigm fits comfortably within the ACNC (Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission). Of course, where churches engage in business enterprises they rightly follow the law and pay their taxes. If and when there are examples of churches failing to comply, it is appropriate for authorities to investigate. 

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Fiona Patten holds a very different view from Michael Jensen. In this interview, she offers a clear explanation as to why she believes churches should be taxed: she doesn’t like them. 

“If you are talking about religious charities, providing shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry – what we in society consider real charity – I absolutely think those genuine charities should be tax-exempt, and I totally support that. But the problem is the tax exemption the law provides for “the advancement of religion”. That used to be regarded as being for the public benefit but fewer people than ever think that. And why should you get a tax break for promoting a superstition?”

First of all, what Patten describes as ‘real charity’ is in error. The ACNC includes all kinds of organisations, including, community sporting clubs, unions, political parties, Rotary and Lions, and more. Is Fiona Patten suggesting that all these should have their tax exemption rescinded because they are not involved in giving food to the hungry?

If you look at Patten’s words, her position is hardly an argument, but it is a reason of sorts. She doesn’t like religion, therefore churches should lose their tax exemption status. Now, there are many charitable organisations that I don’t particularly like or attach much value to.  I don’t enjoy swimming or basketball, but should these sporting clubs lose their not-for-profit status because I personally don’t receive benefit? Can I not admit what is true, and that is, that other people find value in these community organisations even if I don’t? But of course, this is the issue: Christianity is not only viewed as irrelevant, but it is also immoral and dangerous. Or at least, that’s the narrative being preached around the country from university campuses to school classrooms and newspaper opinion pieces. 

In this interview, Michael Jensen is simply stating facts, as the Federal Minister for Charities, Andrew Leigh, confirmed. And yet, social media yesterday turned on industrial-sized heaters, blowing angry and distasteful commentary.

John Dickson said, 

“The Fitz article is good. The responses demonstrate a key point in our debate about taxing churches as businesses. Those who oppose church tax exemptions do so (almost invariable) because they despise – ‘bigoted’ ‘stupid’ ‘paedophilic’ ‘nonsense’ ‘fairytale’ – religion!”

A few hours later John tweeted further,

“The level of anti-religion argument in this country is very poor. It is emotion and distaste all the way down. Bring back the old atheists, I say!”

Over at the land of twits I offered a simple affirmation of Michael Jensen’s answers, and it didn’t take long for Fitz’s followers to unload. It’s not as though people offered rebuttal as such, it was more akin to pointing a flamethrower at anyone standing with Jensen.

For example, 

“I just read this, all nonsense. You talk about dependence on God, which one, Thor, Odin? Get this nonsense out of our govt.”

“What rubbish”

“What benefits did christianity bring again? Ignorant belief in imaginary gods used as an excuse for control of others, forced unwilling pregnancies on women, looked away from paedophilia & domestic violence, great examples of man’s evil though.”

“Seriously, can’t you do better than that?

“Let’s reverse it – You just love religion. That’s the only real reason you have for defending tax breaks for religion. 

See how facile that is?”

And then this doozy for a happily married man of 22+ years…

“You virgin Murray!”

I can receive a lot worse than these contributions, but the examples I’ve cited are nonetheless telling. These comments and countless more like them simply rehash Patten’s view: ‘I don’t like religion, therefore we should remove their tax exemption.’

It’s a sad state of affairs but this is the calibre of what’s becoming normalised public scrutiny and debate today. Rather than weighing on facts and reason and listening carefully to the other, debate is shut down by the loudest mob. They don’t need to rely on evidence or rationality,  pushing people into silence is effective. And it’s proving effective because Christianity is no longer seen as stupid, it is an evil that requires intervention. Of course, Christianity and evil are diametrically opposed,  but this is not how Aussies are taught to view Christianity any longer. 

Yes, Christians are at times obnoxious and give off an unpleasant smell. More often, Australians assume to be true what they hear repeated often enough and they believe what they are taught, and what we are taught is that Christianity is bad for you. Hillsong was used as an example by both Patten and people on social media. Hillsong is a popular target, and for some reason, but 99.9% of churches are not Hillsong, and judging the whole on the basis of that single example is superficial at best, and fallacious at worst. 

It’s important for Christians to come to terms with how the fabric of education and belief has shifted in Western countries like Australia. The Christian message, and therefore Churches, is a social toxin that requires social, political, and even legal action to minimise its spread. It is therefore only natural for people to believe churches don’t deserve their tax exemption status. After all, if Christianity is bad for you, why should the Government provide tax exemptions?

There are people who are hurt by religion. There are people who hate religion, by which they usually mean Christianity. There are many people who simply do not understand Christianity. Michael Jensen has served us well.

Yesterday’s pushback on Jensen reminds me how Churches have more work to do to correct these misnomers about churches and money, and most importantly about the nature and purpose of the local church. Of course, churches can preach and live as faithfully to Jesus as possible and still face wild outrage and bitterness, but let’s not be too quick to throw out all opposition into the basket named, ‘hatred’.  One of the trends we are seeing is growing ignorance of what Christianity is about and for that, we can hardly blame the average Aussie. To be sure,  our cultural elites must take some responsibility as they distort Christianity in the ploy to remove her influence from society. Churches shoulder greater responsibility for the confusion that exists in our broader society. Why? Gospel clarity and conviction and teaching and life are often missing from our churches. The beauty and power of the Christian message is often defused by poorly trained pastors or through religious Benedict Arnolds.

I happen to agree with Fiona Patten in that some religions are little more than superstition, but others are not. Christianity is necessarily and integrally grounded in history and reality. The claims of Jesus Christ are consequential because they are rooted in real events and real people and for a real world. Far from superstition, Christianity provides the very ideas that have converged to build the very best of Australian society and the building blocks necessary for democratic liberalism and social pluralism: the equality and dignity of all human beings, the art of persuasion not coercion, belief in the rule of law, and so on. 

Christians have a better story. It’s not a story that Christians are somehow better than others (for we are not), but a living example that shows how crucified and now living Christ is better. The Federal Minister for Charities, Andrew Leigh, is an atheist and yet recognises the ways in which belief in God and joining a religious community changes peoples lives for the better, creating greater generosity and servanthood and helping out for the good of others (cf Leigh’s interview with John Dickson).  

While fewer Australians are formally identifying with religion, the fact is that the advancement of religion remains hugely important to millions of Australians. More so, at a time when Australia is experiencing less social cohesion and staggering levels of loneliness and people living without hope, there is an argument for churches having an even greater role and responsibility in bringing people together. Removing the tax status of churches is not only irrational, but Australian society will also be worse off. Churches are communities where people come and share life together and find the answers to life’s greatest questions. These are communities where people enormous amount of time and energy to loving others and sacrificially giving. These are voluntary associations where people gather to learn and discover the greatest message the world has ever known. Yes, it requires money for the upkeep of buildings and utilities and ministries. The social capital for broader Australian society is huge, and dare I say it, the implications are of eternal nature.

Disagree with Christianity by all means. Let us listen and argue well and disagree well, but removing churches’ tax exemptions will achieve little more than shooting ourselves in the head and expecting a good outcome to follow.

How this Christian is responding to the Federal Election

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Australia has a new Prime Minister and a new Federal Government.

Millions of Australians are happy and excited by what may come about as the result of Saturday’s Federal election. Millions of other Australians are disappointed and even angry and concerned by the political shift. A large number of more Australians, probably in the millions also, are despondent with politics in general. Christians will also be found across this political spectrum. Christians may or may not be less favourably disposed toward the new Government. It is certainly the case that no Government will fully align with or be supportive of every issue that is concerns Christians. Indeed, we should not expect this to be the case, for it is the church that is God’s centrepiece, not a human Government, and hope is found in Christ, not in any political system or party. Theonomy is a dangerous and anti-Christian notion, as much as hardline secularism opposes healthy pluralism and democracy. 

I am not intending to dig into my own political preferences, nor to offer here any sociological insights into what the election may or may not mean for Australia’s future. Such analysis is outside the scope of my interest here. The point I wish to make is a simple one. The observation ought to be an uncontroversial one, but knowing how polarised and tribal our communities are becoming, I think it is worth reminding ourselves of a basic Biblical imperative.

Regardless of how one may feel about the election result and who your local MP is or isn’t, there is a Scripture that remains compulsory for all Christians. And it is this,

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I was reminded of this timeless word by Justin Moffatt, the Senior Minister at Church Hill in Sydney. He said,

“One of the things I like about the prayers in the Anglican Prayer Book is that we always pray for the government of the day, and we pray the same thing no matter who governs.

It moves effortlessly from one to the next, as though the problem of the world isn’t government, and the hope of the world were found elsewhere.”

Whatever our reaction to the election, Justin is right. This Christian imperative doesn’t necessarily legitimise or remove how we are feeling about the election outcome, but it ought to remind us of the bigger picture and it rightly reorients us to what is eternal and ultimately important. There ought to be a certain constancy, evenness, and repetition that is evident in our churches as we note the changing political landscape. 

Because we have the habit of assuming that we live in the worst of times (or the best) it’s good to remember the plasticity of that view. The Apostle Paul wrote his words at a time when the Roman Empire was expanding and where there was no political freedom and where opposition to Christianity was emboldened. This was not an easy time to confess Jesus is Lord and to belong to a local church. One of the Emperors during Paul’s ministry was Nero! Nonetheless, the Apostle commands the church in Ephesus to pray for those in authority. 

The duty of Christians around Australia has not changed. And yes, the language of duty is appropriate. There is a new Prime Minister in the new Government and with that will come all kinds of policies and decisions impacting the economic and social landscape of the country. Anthony Albanese and his team are taking the helm following a very difficult season in our nation’s country and I suspect the more difficult place ahead, especially in regard to the question of China. 

Prayer like 1 Timothy 2:1-4 can circumvent Christians from overly aligning with any single political movement, and over eschatologising hope in political agendas, rather than in the Gospel of Christ and God’s mission into the world. 

It is very easy to be swept up in the political narratives that are preached around the country. As Christians, we need to resist these (or at the very least, temper them) by instead reminding each other of the lordship of Christ and the purposes of God that are found in the gospel. I am not suggesting that followers of Jesus ignore the political process and not participate; not at all. We, as with all citizens, have the opportunity and responsibility to serve the common good of our nation, and this includes political discourse. ‘Love your neighbour’ remains a word for us today. However, the prayer in 1 Timothy 2 frees us from both the jubilation and the despair that accompanies political change. 

Of course, with any change of government, there will always be questions about the good and bad in changing policy and direction. Neither am I suggesting that Christians shouldn’t engage with these issues and offer advice and opinion. When choosing to do so, we must however be clear about God’s mission and his character and not be dragged into compromising the gospel for the sake of political expediency. A new government may bring about significant change and re-ordering of social policy and moral direction; it’s naive to suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, as the Apostle Paul reminds Timothy in Ephesus, we know and pray to God who is sovereign over all things including governments and the nations. Our responsibility and opportunity as Christians remain the same: commit to God in prayer those in authority.

The duty of Christians in Australia has not changed. Pray for the new government and our political representatives. Live quiet and peaceful lives with all holiness. Keep the Gospel front and centre in both our hearts and lives and words, because God longs for people to be reconciled to him and come to a knowledge of the truth. Let us not allow our emotions and words to inhibit, disguise, or confuse this good news of God in Jesus Christ.