Foreign Aid and Australia’s Disappearing Generosity


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

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

 

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

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

According to the research raised by Matt Wade,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

So what is the reason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Address at the Victorian Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheers for North Korea and Condemnation for Barnaby Joyce

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

 

We live in strange and disturbing times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Firstly, marriage is both private and public

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

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

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

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

Second, love is not always love

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine Ford wrote in The Age,

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

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

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

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

Third, Fidelity matters

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 “No one, sir,” she said.

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

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REVIEW SUBMISSION

The Religious Freedom Review was commissioned by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in November 2017. Below is a copy of my submission.

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I am writing this submission as a father of 3 children, as a Minister of a Church, and as one who has the privilege to regularly counsel people in the broader community, including members of both State and Federal Parliaments. I wish to communicate not only my personal observations, but also some of the concerns that are being shared with me in relation cultural shifts in Australia that are leading to reduced religious freedom.

Intent to curb religious freedoms

These concerns are not ethereal and without warrant.  There is a growing sway of social commentators, politicians, and civic leaders who are demonstrating intent to reduce religious freedoms in our nation.

For example,

Auberry Perry, in The Age (Sept. 3, 2017),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4, 2017),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Jane Caro recently published an article for The Saturday Paper (December 23, 2017), in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

Recently, a group of notable Australian academics and journalists launched the National Secular Lobby, a group whose purpose is to remove religious beliefs from playing any role in Australian political life. While they refer to, “not allowing religious doctrine to influence our national laws”, their agenda is clearly broader.

Their list of ambitions includes,

• remove tax exemptions to “for-profit” Church businesses, their non-charitable properties, investments, and assets.

• remove prayers, religious icons and rituals from all “secular” public institutions, including all tiers of governments.

• remove single-faith religious instruction from schools; promote and teach “philosophical ethics” and “critical thinking”.

• abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program and replace chaplains with experienced professional counsellors.

• select Rationalists for boards/panels, based on “ethics”, not Church leaders who claim to be society’s “moral voice”.

The National Secular Lobby has posited a definition of secularism that is historically incorrect. The secularism which shaped Australian history and is expressed in our constitution never meant that politics and public life should be free of religious ideas, but rather it ensured that the State is not controlled by any single religious denomination. As Dr Michael Bird notes in the 2016 article, Whose Religion? Which Secularism? Australia Has a Serious Religious Literacy Problem, the parameters of secularism have been redefined, “no longer as the freedom of the individual in religion, but as the scrubbing of religion from all public spheres.”

The intent of this new version of secularism is clear: it is not ideologically neutral, but is driven to control religious and public life and policy, and to remove those religious beliefs that won’t conform to their socialist leaning and atheistic worldview.

Examples of hampering religious expression and freedom in Australia

There is clear intent to reduce and even remove religious freedom from Australia. The problem is not limited to vocalised intent, but there are already substantive examples showing up across our society, especially in the State of Victoria. I wish to highlight examples that I have been personally involved with and/or have addressed elsewhere in a public forum.

In the area of public education:

Over the last three years many Victorian families have been forced to reconsider public education, and indeed, have felt obliged to remove their children because of a swathe of anti-religious policies introduced by the Daniel Andrews Government. Many families have come to me for counsel, and as a parent with 3 children I am sympathetic to their concerns

In 2015, the Daniel Andrews Government issued a ban on religious education classes in schools, except under very strict conditions which most schools are not in a position to provide. These weekly opt-in classes have been valued by hundreds of schools and thousands of families, for generations now. My children’s local primary school had a consistent high intake and enthusiastically encouraged the program to continue every year. They are no longer able to offer these classes. The Government then issued a curriculum to replace SRI classes: Respectful Relationships. This new curriculum is compulsory and does not teach religion, but is designed to teach gender fluid theory to children, and to encourage them to explore sexuality. [1]

Not only has the State Government removed a once cherished option to study religion in school, children are forced to participate in (and indeed to affirm) programs that at times contradict deeply held religious convictions and morality. This is resulting in many families believing that they can no longer send their children to public schools. This often comes at a tremendous cost to families, and sometimes parents don’t have the option of enrolling their children into a Christian or private school.

In the area of employment:

One of the more ardent attempts to remove religious freedoms came in 2016, when the Victorian Government proposed an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act. This shift would have given the Government greater authority over religious organisations, including churches, schools, and charities. In effect, religious organisations would have had to demonstrate to a Government appointed tribunal, why their employees must adhere to the religious values of their Church or school. While this Bill failed at the final hurdle (by a single vote in the Victorian Legislative Council), it is revealing that a Government in our nation had the audacity and believed it had sufficient public support, to act against religious freedom.

Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions. The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 crossed that line.

Firstly, why did the legislation target religious groups? The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act would not have impacted any social or political groups, only religious ones. As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. It is therefore reasonable to ask, what was the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?

The scope of the legislation was not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extended to “differing religious beliefs”. In other words, the Government would have had the power to stop a church or religious organisation from rejecting applicants on the basis of them adhering to a different religion.

Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumed that Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ. This test was a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.

Premier Daniel Andrews stated at the time, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.” This move however counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and would have set up the situation whereby a Government could impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who did not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.

Thirdly, the test assumed that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, would have had the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”

But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?

The legislation assumed that some jobs in a church (or mosque or religious school) can be considered religious and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?

It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God. 

As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?

Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

In the area of societal conversation:

In my view, the Coopers Beer saga symbolises the shift against religious toleration in Australia.The initial scene looked innocent enough; the Bible Society sponsored a video conversation between two Government MPs, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The two men sat down over a Coopers beer and enjoyed a civil conversation about marriage. Within minutes pubs across the nation were boycotting Coopers, and tirades of abuse hit social media. So incensed were non-beer drinkers and craft-beer drinkers across the nation, that they bought bottles of Coopers beer only to smash them in alleys across the nation until Cooper’s management fell obliged to jump and join the fight for same-sex marriage.

Another iconic Australian brand, the Carlton Football Club, recognised that among football supporters there are diverse views and so they decided not to take sides during the marriage campaign. They were vilified in the media and by social media for not publicly taking a stand in support of marriage change.

The implications are clear: There is public backlash, and even financial loss for those who will not openly affirm the current and popular philosophic views of sexuality.

Concluding Reflections

The law, as well as restraining behaviour, operates also to change public attitudes. With the revised Marriage Act, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. The two examples that I cited above are not exceptional but are becoming the norm.  It is important to note that these examples took place before changing the Marriage Act. What are we to expect now that the law has altered? While clergy have been given an exemption in relation to the weddings the choose to conduct, student clubs on university campuses, and employees in companies are nervous and are already being bullied into abandoning religious beliefs that have been long held.

At the time when the Federal Parliament was deliberating the Dean Smith Marriage Bill, Former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, wrote,

“West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bill guarantees only “the right of clergy and religious institutions” to decline participation in same-sex marriage services and celebrations. There is by omission no recognition of the likelihood of damage to the freedom of conscience for ordinary citizens and their businesses. Smith and many of his colleagues seem unmoved by the encroachments on freedom of speech and conscience already demonstrated in Australia.

Smith’s exemptions approach arguably does more harm than good, for it assumes freedom of conscience is of worth only to professional religionists and not to all Australians. This weakens even further the standing of this important democratic right and makes it an easy target for those who would lobby to erase this exemption and similar exemptions that may remain in state legislation.”

Why is this a problem? Because 4.83 million Australians have said that they do not support same sex marriage. Millions of Australians potentially face loss of income, employment, and facing tribunals for adhering to a view that will no longer be supported by the law.

Along with many fellow Australians, I am asking:

Will Australians be guaranteed freedom to continue teaching and explaining the classical view of marriage and sexuality, not only in a Church but also in public places including universities?

Will religious schools maintain freedom to teach and affirm the classical view of marriage?

Will our children in State schools have liberty to express, without bullying, a Christian view of marriage? Will parents have freedom to opt-out children from lessons that advocate views of marriage and sexuality that contravene their religious convictions?

The concept of a free exchange of ideas, and the notion of respecting others whilst disagreeing with them has helped cultivate the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today as a nation. This successful pluralism relies upon a Christian worldview. It is not irreligion that brought religious pluralism to our shores, but the Christian view that we ought to love our neighbours, and that authentic belief in God comes about through persuasion not coercion. It is a sad reality that influential elements of society are deliberately turning us from these ideals. It is because of this fractured pluralism that we need to now carefully consider how we might encourage and make certain that freedom of religious expression, speech, and practice may continue, and remain a hallmark of Australian society.

 

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[1] – It is worth noting that this theory of sexuality can no longer be taught in NSW schools. Another program, Safe Schools, continues to be taught in Victoria and is compulsory, with the Government  ignoring the recommended changes introduced by the Federal Government. This curriculum is being abandoned altogether in some other States due to its extreme ideological and unscientific content.

Abortion, Canada, and the relentless wave of Authoritarian Secularism

I love taking Claude (family greyhound) for an early morning walk through the streets of Parkdale and Mentone, and to listen to the Bible as we go. Today in the Psalms, I was struck by Psalm 8:2, which says,

“Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Afterward, I was catching up on the news and heard a report about a recent announcement by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Organisations applying for Government funding for the Canadian Summer Jobs program, must now sign an attestation that they support abortion. The Government had tried previously to prevent funding to pro-life groups but there were legal hurdles that couldn’t be jumped. Instead, they have now built a wall to keep out organisations they won’t subscribe to the extreme social secularism that is being enforced on Canadians by the Trudeau Government.

 

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The form states,

“CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians. Canada Summer Jobs 2018 4 The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies. The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

According to information stated on the application form, the rationale for this change is twofold:

-to prevent the Canadian Government from funding projects that don’t endorse abortion and LGBTQI rights,

-and to protect minors being “exposed” to these anti-social views.

Among the organisations that are unable to sign the attestation are Christian groups, many who previously were part of the program and providing work for Canadian youth.

Attention to this new policy came to fore last week when Justin Trudeau was asked a question about free speech during a Town hall meeting at McMaster University, Hamilton. He answered,

“In this country, we defend each other’s rights, even when they’re unpopular, as we’ve seen a couple of times. At the same time, we need to know that there is a difference between freedom of expression and acting on those expressions and beliefs. A great example that I was wondering whether you’d bring up is the current kerfuffle around the Canada Summer Jobs program, and expecting that any organization that gets funding to bring young people through the Summer Jobs program – which hundreds of thousands of young people go through – will respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now, that doesn’t mean that religious groups and faith groups can’t apply for that. On the contrary, so many of the great community organizations that we have working incredibly hard are faith-based across this country and it’s an important and wonderful part of our society. It does, however, mean – and this is where we get to the crux of the matter – that an organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

The fact the Mr Trudeau felt liberty to use the Summer Jobs Program as his example in answering a question on free speech, says something about his confidence for advancing his social agenda.

Trudeau’s comments are sadly not unusual, but are indicative of much western civilisation today. He is saying to Canadian Christians, ‘we’ll let you hold your believes in private, and perhaps within the confide of your association, but these views are no longer permitted publicly’. This means that organisations will either have to bury their convictions, hide their conscience, and sign the document, or accept that they are no longer Canadians of equal footing and thus lose their funding.

Of course, this is Canada, not Australia. However, we are not so different. Our culture, our history, and our system of Government, is more closely aligned to Canada than it is the United States. The same authoritarian secularism that is sweeping the the land of the maple leaf is also at work here in the south.

It is a perfect illustration of where Western secularism is moving; the gods of the sexual revolution don’t take prisoners. Indeed they will sacrifice the unborn and will trample on the living dissidents. We have already seen a similar move undertaken in Australia. In 2016, the Victorian State Government attempted to legislate that all religious groups must conform to a proposed ‘inherent requirements test”. In short, this would removed freedom from churches and organisations to employ persons based on the theological convictions of the group. The legislation was finally defeated in the Upper House by a single vote. The point is, a State Government in Australia felt as though the sway of society had moved such that they could put forward such Erastian law.

It should also be noted that in addition to the new restriction, Canadian groups are calling for  “anti-abortion” agencies to lose their charitable status altogether.

Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 

“No anti-abortion agency should be registered as a charity…The mission and activities of anti-choice groups are inherently political and biased, which should disqualify them from charitable status. They work to stigmatize abortion, constrain individuals’ access to it, and ultimately to re-criminalize it.”

In light of the recent introduction of same sex marriage in Australia, the hot issue has become religious freedom and freedom of conscience. These issues have been highlighted by some in the Federal Parliament, and mocked by others. In response to what is probably a combination of reasoned argument and political pressure, a panel has been established to review Australia’s religious freedoms.

As Australians talk about religious freedoms and submit reports to the Ruddock Inquiry, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some who look to this latest Canadian example and use it as ammunition to further squeeze religious freedoms here in Australia.

Jane Caro is a representative of the vanguard of socio-politico thinking in Australia. Two days before Christmas she wrote an article for The Saturday Paper, in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools. In the wake of same sex marriage, Caro has strong views about schools and other organisations whose views differ to the newly redefined Marriage Act.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

 

It is easy for people to say, “the answer is straightforward, stop applying for Government funding.” The issue is less about the money, but the attack of religious freedom and freedom of speech. This is yet another example of a western nation shedding principles of a liberal democracy. Where citizens lose the freedom to express a point of view (indeed, a viewpoint that was until recent times morally accepted and valued) and are threatened with defunding for holding that position, we are witnessing societies letting go of principles that made possible the creation of the modern democratic State.

Authoritarian secularism may employ the language of progress, equality and fairness, but the reality is very different to their sloganeering. This is about changing how people think and live, this is about redefining truth and morality, and forcing everyone to worship at the feet of our modern manifestations of Moloch and Venus. Aussie Christians need to get used to the fact that the country has changed. We are no longer nominally Christian, and that means that many of the structures and moral frames which built this wonderful nation are being removed. There will be social stigma, there will be financial cost.

How different was my morning reading from Psalm 8. The God of the Bible reveals his glory in his creation, and most wonderfully in humanity. He affirms the praises and song of children and of infants; they are wonderfully made. How different is the view of children that Canada now promotes.

The Lord is majestic in all the earth, both in his stunning acts of creation and in his wondrous act of redemption.

The Psalmist asks,

“what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?”

The answer given is that God give human kind unique glory and honour, and has placed them uniquely in all the universe to rule. God’s image bearers all fall, failing to rule with care, justice, and kindness.  In love God’s only Son descended to the grave, having being killed in the place of sinners. He was raised to life on the third day, to defeat not only death, but to prove the efficacy of his death for sin.

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Volunteering makes the world a better place

2018 may only be 5 days old, but we already have a contender for the most stupid article of year award.

For a moment, I thought all Fairfax Editors had vacated the building for summer holidays and had given the keys to an 18 year old work experience student who’s started the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as the next Prime Minister of Australia.

Fairfax has published a piece with the title, Volunteering doesn’t make the world a better place.

As the headline suggests, the article is an attack on the indispensable practice of voluntary work in Australia.

Catherine Walsh is calling on Australians to “stop volunteering”.

Why? She sees volunteering as a faux help, not resolving societal issues but aggravating them. Walsh arrives at her conclusion by arguing that voluntarism is inefficient, is unvalued, and is exploited by organisations who are disinterested in solving problems.

Walsh’s solution seems to be, get rid of voluntarism and instead let’s create a bigger government and remunerate people for all their work. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s handball even more communal opportunity and responsibility over to Government, and let’s suck out the tiny bit of oxygen that keeps Australian philanthropy alive. Instead of donating time and money to causes that we think highly of, let’s give Government permission to charge even higher taxes to pay for the programs that it subscribes as morally relevant.

 

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Apart from her less than satisfactory alternative to voluntarism, there are several important flaws in Walsh’s presentation of volunteering that require response.

Firstly, Walsh largely equates volunteering with virtual signalling. She says,

“Being a volunteer, or fundraising, or working for a charity, signals that you are a good person.”

“If volunteering was valued we would have a separate resume for it, at parties people would ask each other about their volunteering, and hours worked would contribute to superannuation.”

I have no doubt that there are persons involved in voluntary work because it gives them a drug free high. They feel good about themselves, and they enjoy the praise they receive from people around them. That is certainly not the Christian motivation for doing good. We give because we know the joy of what it is to receive. Those who have been loved, want to love others.

According to Walsh, if Australians truly value volunteering, we would be congratulating one another. But why should people boast about their volunteering and donating? Doing so undercuts the very nature of the work, that is, it is being done for the good of others, not for oneself. Is it not possible that Australians happily give time and effort to serve others without demanding compensation, let alone, superannuation? Where is the ideal of sacrificial giving? Indeed, as soon as we strip these Christian foundations for society, we fast become bereft of moral structures that we need for building a healthy society.

And BTW, people can and do include volunteer work on their resumes!

Not only does Catherine Walsh paint volunteerism as egotism, she secondly alleges that voluntary work is inefficient.

“A lot of the volunteering we do is inefficient. Schools ask that parents bake cakes to be sold to the children of other parents who have baked cakes. Most school events involve sausages on white bread and fizzy drinks, which is not recommended as a healthy diet. Chocolates are sold in staffrooms to raise money for the children’s hospital. Rubber wristbands are sold by charities to raise awareness of illnesses. A fundraiser for the environment can sell unhealthy food one week, and a fundraiser for health can damage the environment the next. This is inefficient. Any effort to help one system should not be feeding into the brokenness of another. In order to be helpful we need to factor in all systems at once.”

I do agree with one small point here  – her examples about about cake stalls and chocolate drives; these are often self-defeating exercises given that the very people designed help are the ones buying the sugary treats. We shouldn’t need incentive in order to give generously to a cause that we value. Volunteering though is not donating: voluntarism isn’t donating $5 at a school fete and receiving a chocolate bar in return.  Voluntarism is work without pay; it is giving time, energy, skills, and productivity for a cause without expecting any reimbursement.

Is voluntary work always efficient? No. But then, is paid work always more efficient? Is Government the very epitome of efficiency? And why is efficiency the only measure worthwhile considering?

Much of life is not efficient. Relationships are often complex and messy, and they require time and patience and perseverance. The reality is, not all of life’s brokenness can be fixed with a signed policy statement and a grant dispersed by Government bureaucrats.

Matt Perman explores this myth about work in the book, What’s Best Next?. He writes,

“While efficiency is important, it is secondary. More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. Efficiency doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong things in the first place.”

It is also important to broaden the view of worthwhile work which is suggested by Walsh. For example, Tim Keller defines work as, ‘rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.”

Dorothy L. Sayers asks the poignant question, “We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?” She argues, “the habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolution change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitudes of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgements about things and people”

In other words, while we shouldn’t ignore inefficiency, there are bigger and more important questions that need asking about our work, and indeed why we should value unpaid work. At its root, Walsh advocates a consumerist and individualist paradigm which inevitably squashes the greater love, which requires selfless giving for another’s good.

Thirdly, Walsh presents a narrow understanding of voluntarism.

In her article, Catherine Walsh is targeting organisational volunteerism, however much voluntary work and giving in our local communities is informal.

I think of my local cricket club which depends upon the generosity of volunteers who love the game and who want to encourage children in the game. I think of the local athletics club where my daughter runs, and how they depend on the voluntary time giving by families.  

Thinking of my own local church, where people lovingly pour 1000s of hours into giving, serving, caring, and organising. What they achieve is more than running a few programs, they are building and belonging to community, and including others in this endeavour. Societal cohesion and growth cannot be left to Government, but requires spontaneous and informal contributions from the grassroots up. It’s about loving our neighbour as ourself.

Walsh soon enlightens us as to where her real criticism lays – it is with religious organisations and churches. She says, 

“Many government services are now outsourced to church-run charities, which win contracts due to their tax concessions and tax donation status – and rely on the work of volunteers. They are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It is not in their interest to solve problems.”

“It is not in their interest to solve problems”?

Wow. One can only assume Walsh has never visited a church, nor observed religious charities at work, nor considered the data which elucidates the extraordinary work being achieved by religious groups in this country. Of course there are always going to be a few bad eggs in any system, but is she being serious? Is this a moment of hyperbole? I know of countless people who have found financial restitution through the generosity of others, of mums who can go back to work because friends are helping to baby sit, of marriages being healed because of counselling provided, of people offering beds for those without, of finding hope and forgiveness where society offered none.

A healthy society can only exist where the people contribute to the wellbeing of others without seeking personal benefit. Do we want to be taking away further personal responsibility and opportunity, and therefore assume that big Government will take care of it? If anything, this will produce more cracks and more people going without.

Imagine Australian society with Surf Life Savers, the CFA and SES, without locally run sporting clubs and playgroups. Consider the billions of dollars that we would be required to pay to Government, should churches and religious organisations (yes, primarily Christian) were abandoned of free serving and giving volunteers?

I’m reminded of the words by the Apostle Paul, who said of Christians,

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”

The Apostle doesn’t call us to dump everything on Government, or to assume someone else will do it, or to demand reimbursement for services completed. He writes in the context of Christian freedom, for we work in light of an eternal future that has been made secure by a God who worked by grace for our good.

When you are insulted

Did Turnbull Malcolm speak too soon?

As the Dean Smith Bill was about to be receive its final reading in Parliament yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed,

“Australia has done it. What a day for love, for equality, for respect.”

It’s attractive rhetoric, and perhaps Mr Turnbull really believes what he said, or maybe he’s just hoping for the best. Whatever is the case, Australia hasn’t disappointed because soon after he spoke these words, trending across Australia on twitter was hashtag Lyle. Even out doing many hashtags dedicated to celebrating yesterday’s decision, thousands of people are sending offensive tweets to Lyle Shelton, using all kind of base language in order to offend. Telling a fellow human being to eat excrement, in my opinion, is shameful. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Shelton’s views or not, it is simply disgusting.

For those who may not be aware, Lyle Shelton is the Managing Director of ACL (Australian Christian Lobby), and he took a key role in the national campaign to uphold the classical view of marriage in Australia.

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No doubt Lyle Shelton is a controversial figure. Not every Christian would agree with everything he says or how he has said it, but his view of marriage is certainly in keeping with the Christian understanding. More than that, he is respectful and gracious when interacting with people, even those who send him verbal parcels of expletives and insult.

This national pronouncement of love and respect isn’t only being directed toward Lyle Shelton, but it has been a sad the trend throughout much of the debate on same sex marriage. Gay and Lesbian Australians have have been subjected to awful mud slinging, and many supporters of classical marriage have had all manner of insult and assault aimed at them. The difference between the two is that the latter has often found public and media support. Remember when Bill Shorten and other Federal members equating opponents of same sex marriage with haters and bigots?

Remember when comedian and Fairfax columnist, Benjamin Law, threatened to sexually assault Government MP, Andrew Hastie? Apparently, it’s not only ok, but it’s funny to make a joke about raping a politician. More humour from Mr Law last night,

“Now I am become Lyle, the eater of shit”

Even before the vote was taken on Thursday, throughout the day’s proceedings, the public gallery in Parliament continually interrupted MPs who dared suggest that Australia is likely to see a reduction of religious freedoms in light of changing the Marriage Act.  It was impossible not to see the irony, while fellow MPs referred to concerns over religious freedoms as “baseless”, the choir sitting in the public gallery repeatedly applauded and cheered in triumph when any MP suggested religious freedom would be reduced.

No doubt there have been many people from across the opinion divide who have expressed their views respectfully and who have been quick to speak against those who are hateful. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that our Prime Minister’s words are already destitute. A truly pluralist and tolerant society is able to handle rigorous debate and can avoid jumping into the sewer. Last night and again today, thousands of Australians can’t contain their eagerness to take scoop down and start throwing it at high profiled defenders of classical marriage.

It’s not nice, it’s awful, but should we be surprised? Didn’t Jesus tell us in advance that this would happen? The final vestiges of our Christian culture have up til now served as padding against some of the slings and arrows of social outrage. Yesterday’s Parliamentary “victory” has been interpreted by thousands as justification to knock down those who didn’t support the cause. I suspect that for some, they’re simply letting off steam following months of anger and frustration, although I’m not sure that a justified reason.

While this was unfolding, I was preparing my sermon for Church this Sunday. At Mentone Baptist we are looking at Matthew ch.10. While the context of that passage is mission, and Jesus instructing his disciples how to go about mission and what to expect when they are sent into surrounding towns, it’s hard not to notice some relevance.

Jesus is forewarning his disciples that not everyone is going to welcome them and welcome their message. In fact, at times it’s going to be incredibly hard. People will turn on you, insult you, and even take you to court.

Jesus says, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). The combination of both qualities is essential: shrewdness without innocence can lead to deceitfulness and unkind methodology, and innocence without shrewdness can lead to naivety or to a foolish bravado. In other words, don’t be stupid and don’t be sinful. Don’t respond to trouble in kind.

While many Australians are today celebrating, many others are today disappointed and saddened by how easily our Parliamentary representatives dismissed the genuine concerns about religious liberties, don’t leap onto social media and say something stupid and sinful. Stop, think, and read these verses:

“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 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. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech”. (1 Peter 8:10)