Don’t “mess” with laws on freedom of religion, fix them!

At the start of the week, a news reporter stood outside on a North Carolinian street during Hurricane Florence, facing the heavy rain and struggling against winds. It looked as though he might be blown over at any moment. As he clenched his muscles and defied the hurricane’s power, two men passed by behind him, walking casually and without any trouble or concern caused by the winds.

Not all news is fake, but sometimes journalists exaggerate their case or they forget to mention other pertinent information. Maybe it’s due to ignorance, while at other times there is an agenda which they reckon can’t afford nuance or balanced reporting. I cannot say which is the case for Wednesday’s Editorial in The Age, “No need to mess with laws on freedom of religion”. Let’s assume the best and that the writer, Alex Lavelle, is simply not on top of the issues he is addressing.

Lavelle has stated a simple case, arguing Australia does not need further religious protections. Responding to the Prime Minister’s suggestion that religious freedoms require legislative protections,  Lavelle contends,

“There is a real risk such undue interference by government, which could undermine separation between church and state in a secular democracy, might unleash further discrimination, including the refusal to employ or provide goods and services to people of other religions or from the queer community. In short, Mr Morrison risks needlessly reducing the rights of many.”

Two important corrections need to be made.

First, existing laws do not adequately protect people of faith.

Alex Lavelle cites Section 116 of the constitution, which reads,

‘‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’’

His point is that Section 116 provides adequate protections for religious people in Australia. What Lavelle ignores or is perhaps unaware of, is that  Section 116 has been interpreted so narrowly by the High Court that no successful litigation has ever been brought under it. Also, this section of the Constitution only binds the Commonwealth, not the States and Territories, and most of the growing problems in relation to religious freedom have arisen at a state level where S116 cannot help. 

When it comes to state laws, protections for religious freedom are inconsistent and often weak. In Tasmania, you can find yourself in serious trouble for doing nothing more than teaching the basics tenets of one’s religion. And in NSW, religion is not even a protected attribute for anti-discrimination law.

Second,  examples of religious restrictions are real and growing

The second major problem with this editorial is Lavelle’s reason as to why Australia is considering religious protections. He suggests,

“The issue exists only because former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull commissioned a review by former Liberal Party minister Philip Ruddock to assuage minority concerns about same-sex marriage.”

This is simply not the case, or at the very least, it is not the full story. The Ruddock Inquiry was initiated because there already is an issue relating to religious freedoms in Australia, and there are concrete reasons for thinking such freedoms will be further weakened and even denied.

Recent examples abound:

  • Archbishop Julian Porteous wrote to Catholics, explaining Catholic teaching on marriage, and he soon found himself facing the anti-discrimination laws of Tasmania
  • A Presbyterian preacher in Hobart wrote a blog article in which he addressed same-sex marriage from a Bible and pastoral perspective. The Anti-discrimination commissioner accepted a complaint against him.
  • A Queensland doctor is currently in trouble with the Medical Board for committing the horrendous crime of retweeting a selfie of Lyle Shelton and author Ryan Anderson (and expert in transgenderism), with Lyle encouraging people to read Anderson’s book.
  • In 2016, the Sydney University student body attempted to deregister the Evangelical Union, because it required students to affirm, “Jesus is Lord”.
  • Last September at the University of Sydney, a mob of 200 students violently attacked a small group of Catholic students who were peacefully handing out literature on marriage and encouraging a ‘no vote’ during the marriage plebiscite.
  • Churches were vandalised in the lead up to the marriage plebiscite.
  • A young university student asked another student if she would like prayer. He was told by university authorities that he had challenged a student’s beliefs, and was subsequently suspended. The university informed him that he was to attend fortnightly counselling and that he would be forcibly removed should he step foot on the university campus.
  • The Victorian State Government is seeking to ban ideology that does not fully embrace transgenderism and homosexuality. It may become unlawful to even question a person’s sexual self-identity or to present the Biblical view of abstinence outside of heterosexual marriage. Federal Labor is also putting forward for their national platform, policies that will include as child abuse, any persons (including parents) who do not support young children in transitioning from one gender to another.
  • The chief executive of a Queensland Baptist agency sent an email to staff, calling for people to respect differing views on marriage while also presenting his case against same-sex marriage. One employee complained and a case was taken to Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.

We praise Qantas when they wrap themselves in rainbow colours and when their chief executive officer publicly advocates gay marriage, but it’s deeply offensive and outrageous for a religious person to express an alternate view in their organisation (and a religious organisation at that!)? Had the Baptist chief executive sent an email to staff in favour of same-sex marriage, the outcome would be vastly different. To begin with, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission would almost certainly be disinterested. On the off chance that he sent an email in which he advocated for a ‘yes’ vote in last year’s plebiscite, and one of his staff complained to the Baptist Union of Queensland, and he was reprimanded as a result, can you imagine the public outcry? How dare Baptists stifle this man’s freedom to voice an opinion and to share his views amongst his staff!

The Federal member of Goldstein, Tim Wilson, was asked about the particular case on Sky News only two weeks ago. Mr Wilson said,

“it’s not a good trend. It’s not a good principal, and it’s certainly inconsistent with the very basis of free speech”

He also pointed out how in the workplace free speech needs to be used “reasonably and respectfully”, and from what he had seen, this Queensland Baptist case hadn’t crossed that line.

Maybe Alex Lavelle is unaware of these and many other examples that have been disclosed in recent times. Perhaps he is unaware that his own newspaper has reported on some these cases. Perhaps he is also unaware of Fairfax journalists who have written articles arguing for the restriction of religious freedoms. To cite two examples,

Auberry Perry

“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.”

Matt Holden,

“‘the best guarantee of religious freedom is keeping religion out of politics”.

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I  imagine that a decade ago most Australians would probably have agreed, there is little need to offer legal reform in relation to religious freedoms, for most Australians accepted that we should have freedom of association, and be free to speak and to have a conscience that accords with our religious convictions. Australia has changed and is changing. The move away from cultural and philosophical pluralism and toward domesticating and conditioning religion according to the zealotist rules of humanistic secularists is no mere trickle.

We can choose to ignore the evidence and to proffer that there is no issue, but we can only pretend for so long before that leaky tap spills over the sink and floods the entire house. The agenda to squeeze out religious beliefs from politics and schools and businesses and universities is all too real, and the fact that many cases are already reaching anti-discrimination tribunals demonstrates that there is a problem. Even if some of these cases are being thrown out or overturned, the tide is persistent, and without proper and positive protections in place, we will see an increasing number of religious Australians losing their freedom to believe and practice their faith.

The only good Christian politician…

The only good Christian politician is one who has the prefix non sitting at the front. Or, if they insist on believing in God, make sure it’s not the Christian God. Or, if that too fails, just make sure the god being worshiped is domesticated and progressive and doesn’t really believe what the Bible says.

It only took a few days, but elements of mainstream media have established their narrative for Australia’s new Prime Minister: Scott Morrison is one of those whacky Christians who believe in prayer and who hates gays and refugees. He’s dangerous because he isn’t following the script, the one that is being redrafted continuously by social progressives as they cherry pick scientific research and dismantle moral parameters that don’t fit with their already fixed social theories.

 

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Tony Wright, yesterday sent our bodies into spasmic motions of laughter as we read his classic tales of Christian mockery and parody, Scott Morrison’s Sermon on the Murray. Love: it’s for Australians.

“Love, exhorted Australia’s latest Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, pacing like an old-time tent preacher. Love!

“I love Australia,” he cried.

“Who loves Australia?” he demanded.

“Everyone,” he answered himself.

“We all love Australia. Of course we do.

“But do we love all Australians? That’s a different question, isn’t it?

“Do we love ALL Australians? We’ve got to.

“That’s what brings a country together. You love all Australians if you love Australia.”

Call it Scott Morrison’s Sermon on the Murray.

It turned out to be a stream of consciousness devoid of policy announcements, starting and finishing with pledges to uphold Menzies’ legacy, and heavy on folksy family tales, love and, yes, prayer.

In the midst of a long and dreadful drought, glory be, it rained in Albury on Thursday.

Morrison wasn’t about to let that go by without homage.

“It’s great to see it raining here in Albury today,” he said, roaming the stage with a hand-held microphone.

“I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country. And I do pray for that rain.

“And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that.”

And in case there were those in the audience who weren’t God-fearing, Morrison included them, too.

“And everyone else who doesn’t like to do that, you just say, ‘Good on you, guys. You go well’. Think good thoughts for them. Or whatever you do.”…

The room by then was fairly oozing the love. No one had the poor form to note out loud that Morrison’s love for everyone apparently stopped firmly at the coastline he once defended by Border Force, or that supporters of that other Mardi Gras might not share his happy sense of family, given his well-known thumbs down to equal marriage…

No. He’d come to give his Sermon on the Murray. Family and prayer and individualism.

Yes. And love. Lots of love. For everyone, so long as they’re Australian.”

 

Ok, I have to admit, the “Sermon on the Murray” line is kind of funny, but mainly because I spent some of my childhood in Albury Wodonga and my name is, well, Murray!

Like every Prime Minister before him, Scott Morrison is creating a narrative of his own, and he has chosen to be upfront about his Christian faith. Good on him. Why should he hide it? We’re not living in North Korea, are we? Or in an Islamic country?

I’m not suggesting that Christians should be beyond scrutiny. Christians serving in the public sphere should not be exempt from serious questions on relevant policy and views. Christian beliefs are not beyond the scope of impassioned dialogue and debate. Indeed, as we read the story of the Bible we discover countless examples of the Apostles inviting careful investigation. Equally so, the Christian life ought also to display the character of Christ,

 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

Don’t misunderstand me, Scott Morrison is no Messiah. I assume that our new PM, like every other Christian, will sometimes get things wrong, and that means that some of his decisions won’t always best reflect the Christian worldview that he upholds. For instance, do I think the Government’s policy on Asylum Seekers best reflects a Christian view of refugees? No, I don’t.  I think it’s cruel and unnecessary. But are our atheistic secularist friends really wanting an Australian Prime Minister to adopt policies that are shaped by Christianity?

If a politician or public figure makes their religious convictions known, it is entirely appropriate for journalists to note hypocrisy and inconsistency. However, it’s clear that the derision toward Scott Morrison’s Christianity doesn’t stop there; let’s mock the PM’s belief in prayer. Why? The issue isn’t even the fact that Scott Morrison has called for prayer, but that he’s praying to the wrong kind of god. The God who is revealed in Jesus Christ and who authored the Bible doesn’t preach their ‘progressive’ gospel of sexual fluidity, abortion, and non-heterosexual marriage.

Many of the same political pundits who are critical of Morrison’s Christianity are very quick to praise the sloganeering of religious figures like Rod Bower. They can’t get enough of his tirades of abuse toward conservative politicians. The more heretical his signs, the louder the applause. Yes, Australia remains ardently religious, and even the irreligious can’t help themselves. They’ll keep mocking religion that doesn’t fit their agendas, and they will praise from the heights (or lows) of twitter any Aussie in a clerical collar who preaches their message.

Mocking the right type of Christian will win ‘likes’ on social media, and will ensure our parodies are published in the paper, but it is all rather dull and unoriginal. This kind of mud-slinging has been going on since, well, since the time of Jesus. The Roman soldiers had a riot of a time while they mocked Jesus, before crucifying him, and the religious elite joined in the fun as Jesus hung there on the cross.

My advice to Aussie Christians is, don’t get too upset by the latest round mocking Christianity. Didn’t Jesus have something to say about insults in the Sermon on the Mount?  After all, remember the strangest irony of all, our Churches are filled with once-upon-a-time mockers. Our congregations are made up of people who once didn’t believe in prayer but have now discovered pray is effective. Today’s Christians were often yesterday’s critics; we once argued how the Bible is an archaic and immoral book, but now we have become convinced that the words of Scripture are true and good. Anti-theists become theists and worshipers of Jesus Christ.

Here ends today’s Sermon by Murray!

Banning ‘Conversion’ Therapy, what does it mean?

Media outlets have renewed a campaign to outlaw gay conversion therapy (GCT). The Age published an article on the weekend with the title, Churches, LGBTI Christians urge crackdown on ‘conversion’ therapy.

The headline is somewhat misleading, for according to the SOCE website (the group who are asking the Federal Government to ban GCT), only four churches have signed their statement along with 3-4 church ministers. No doubt there other supportive Churches, but nothing like the groundswell of ecclesial enthusiasm that the newspaper implies.

If The Age had asked Christian leaders and Churches from across the country, I suspect that they would find partial agreement with the folk at SOCE Survivors, and also significant disagreement.

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

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity. This, however, does not mean that every sexual preference and activity is morally good and beneficial, and neither does it mean that people who choose celibacy are somehow less complete or fulfilled as human beings.

It is interesting to learn that the SOCE Survivors statement makes the repeated observation that most organisations who once practiced GCT have now folded or no longer use such programs. If this is the case, then why are LGBTIQ groups and two political parties campaigning to have gay conversion therapy banned by Governments? If the aim is to inform the public of these formerly used and egregious methods, that’s fine, and yet their stated goals extend far beyond this. Why is there a concerted campaign to make illegal, practices that are no longer employed? As one reads further into the document, a picture emerges that their primary focus is no longer with GCT  but with any ideology that does not fully support LGBTIQ identity and lifestyles.

The statement argues that “many expressions of SOCE exist at the micro level, making them difficult to recognise, quantify, and regulate. The underlying ideology is firmly embedded in the everyday life of many faith communities as a collection of messages, beliefs and practices.”

According to their document, the key to this ideology is the erroneous and harmful belief (in their opinion) that “heterosexuality is the intended order”. Among these unacceptable practices are sermons that “talk about and reinforce traditional gender roles and ‘living as men and women of God”.

How broad is the net of unacceptable teaching and practice in faith communities? It certainly feels sufficiently broad to include the majority of Churches and Christian organisations. That’s part of the problem with the SOCE website, and also with the reporting in the newspaper, their descriptions of gay conversion therapy are vague, so much so that depending on how one reads in between the blurry lines, preaching a sermon on Genesis chs.1-3 or Romans 1:18-32 could fall foul of the authorities.

Definitions matter. The meaning of words and phrases is essential, lest we import a wrong sense or create confusion by speaking across each other. At the same time though, ambiguity and breadth are also proven rhetorical devices that gently and unassumingly push the envelope open even further.

In the Bible, God calls Christians to sexual purity. This does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. Some men and woman find their sexual desires and identity change with time, and to argue otherwise is to ignore the weight of personal testimonies. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. However, the fact is, when becoming a Christian, many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual.

The Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it does teach conversion. Christianity by definition is a conversion religion, where human beings made in the image of God, shift from looking for freedom in the myth of post-enlightenment moral relativism, and instead discovering the greatest freedom in the person of Jesus Christ. Let me repeat, I am not suggesting that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, this sanctification includes affirming that sex belongs to the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

Does believing and teaching the above, and encouraging Christians to practice the above, push me outside the moral parameters of SOCE? Keeping in mind that none of the above views are new or novel, for they sit perfectly within orthodox Christian teaching and practice. Nonetheless, should this standard Christian view be considered wrong and harmful, and to be scrutinised by the authorities?

Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

While the SOCE Survivors document is vague at points, a spokesperson from SOCE has this week responded to a friend of mine who was also seeking clarification from them. The spokesperson said,

“The conversion therapy movement is very broad. Eg. theologically driven celibacy of lgbtiq people, prayer ministry, sermons that veer into exgay ideology leading to harm. They all need firm interventions. The survivors who wrote the statement are very keen to keep the definition broad. Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

The SOCE representative also asked,

“Would people who attend this group be encouraged to avoid being in a long-term committed same-sex relationship on theological or psychological grounds?”

When my friend suggested, ‘yes’, he was then informed that,

“I would say this group falls under the umbrella of the ex-gay movement. As you can see from the statement, the ex-gay movement has been viewed through many lenses over the years – from conversion therapy, to ex-gay programs that are less about therapy and more about solidarity. Regardless, such a group goes against the latest biblical scholarship, as well as a significant body of research detailing the harm caused by attempts to suppress or change a person’s orientation or gender affirmation on religious grounds. Thanks.”

There you have it. The agenda is wider than banning rare and harmful practices, but includes ministry and preaching that encourages the classical Biblical understanding of sexual holiness and human identity.

One might choose to ignore this most recent reporting of the issue, believing it’s another example of Christian philistinism. However, SOCE’s agenda is being adopted by two of the nation’s major political parties (ALP and the Greens), and the current Victorian State Government is also considering legislating on the issue. In other words, there is a strong possibility that these views will be shaped into legislation in the not too distant future, and could be used to against Christian Churches across Australia (and especially in Victoria). In case we assume there will be no severe implications from such legislation, as one example, the ALP platform speaks of removing children from parents who fail to affirm children in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, referring to this as child abuse.

Rather than chasing the culture down the rabbit hole of fluffy and imprecise language, Churches need theological and pastoral precision. This is a time for Christians to repudiate unsound, unbiblical, and harmful practices that have been used in the past, albeit by marginal and whacky groups. This is a time to repent of resentment toward LGBTIQ Australians and to ask for forgiveness where we have wronged them. This is also a time to embrace God’s good ways that are revealed in the Scriptures.

The future of Christianity does not depend on Governmental or societal approval, but it does hinge on whether Churches will “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Christianity didn’t survive and flourish in the Roman Empire because they allowed the sexual norms of the day to define the Church, or because they played dodge-the-bullet with broad and vague language, but because they believed and lived the freedom that was brought about by Jesus Christ. Clarity in an age of confusion; that is what is required of Christians today: humble clarity and gracious conviction that God’s purposes are good and true.

Cricket and Fair Play

Cricket Australia is in the Australian news once again. This time, the issue isn’t sandpaper and ball tampering, but abortion.

Cricket Australia employee, Angela Williamson, had her position terminated following comments she made on twitter in relation to abortion laws in Tasmania.

Williamson had criticised the Tasmanian Government over its restrictive abortion laws, which resulted in her flying to Melbourne in order to have her child aborted. In her frustration, she tweeted,

“Most irresponsible, gutless & reckless delivery in early ever #politas”

Cricket Australia released a statement, saying it “respects an individual’s right to their opinion”…and it also “expects that employees will refrain from making offensive comments that contravene the organisation’s policies.”

Do I think Angela Williamson’s views are gross and immoral? Absolutely. Let’s stop hiding the reality of what we’re talking about behind clinical words like ‘abortion’ and ‘medical procedure’, and behind power words such as ‘women’s rights’. No matter how you look at it, this is about killing children, taking away their right to live.

Despite me strongly disagreeing with Angela Williamson’s views on abortion, should this have been a sackable offense?

Like others, I struggle to understand how an employee of a ‘secular’ organisation can lose their job for making a political comment of this nature. Perhaps there is a clause in her employment agreement which she has clearly broken (apparently this was the second occasion), perhaps the issues are more complex than Williamson and the media are presenting, I don’t know.

Let’s assume that the issue is no deeper than what the media has presented. If this is the situation, and it appears to be so, then I agree with those voicing concerns over Williamson’s dismissal; not because I like what she said, but because in a civil society, citizens have a right to voice opinions about social and political issues. How can public policy ever be resilient if commentary and opinions are squashed? In the case where the integrity of the organisation is put into question as a result of an employee’s public comments, it is understandable that a disciplinary process would be undertaken, but it’s hard to see how this could be the case here.

What’s been most interesting to watch over the last 48 hours, is the level of protest being voiced in the media and by various social commentators. Oh, the irony!

John Birmingham of The Age wrote,

“CA demonstrably does not respect anybody’s right to voice any opinion that might make things a little awkward in the members pavilion the next time some freeloading politician is there hoovering up the triangle sandwiches and complimentary fairy cakes.

And it can expect whatever it wants, but it has no legal authority to decide what makes a comment offensive, and it has never even tried to explain how Williamson contravened any written policy of her employer. Mouthing the words after the fact doesn’t make it so.”

And on last night’s The Drum, Dr Kerryn Phelps said,

“I’m concerned about this case. What extent is there a crossover between peoples’ personal views on social media, and their employment? Can you be gagged in your job for something that you feel very strongly about personally?”

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Only a few months earlier, Dr Phelps said of Israel Folau,

“People are entitled to their views, but not everyone is entitled to express their views if they’re hurtful to a group of people and you’re a celebrity.”

There is more spin here than Warnie on his best day. This isn’t about fairness and consistency, but a team of socially left ideologues complaining when the umpire’s decision doesn’t go their way. As it happens, I agree with their appeal for ‘not out’, but let’s not pretend that the current outrage is about defending peoples’ “right to voice any opinion”. This is about defending those views that conform to the narrative being created by social progressives, and it’s about denouncing voices who dare raise a different story.

If we are to take them seriously, where are their voices speaking up for religious Australians who are being bullied into silence forever daring question the morality of same-sex marriage? How many of these social progressives stood on the field to defend Israel Folau? Where were the Fairfax and ABC opinion pieces jumping to the aid of Julian Porteous who did nothing more than publish a gracious word to Catholics about the Catholic view of marriage? How many of our journos,  political progressives, and gender revisionist advocates drank a Coopers Beer in protest against the vile reaction to 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 joined the fight for same-sex marriage. 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.

The Federal Government is expected to shortly release their report, following the Ruddock review on Religious Freedom. Religious groups are not asking to change the rules of society, but rather, to hold onto the freedoms that have been, until recently, assumed and enjoyed by all Australians.

Sadly, cricket in Australia today is no longer about how you play the game, it’s become about ‘winning at all cost’. And no, I’m not talking about the sport. With groups like Amnesty International calling for faith-based organisations to lose their funding, should they not sign up to the new sexual ethic, and with the public square demanding total allegiance, it is reasonable for Christians and Australians of other faiths to expect unfair dismissals.

It is important to note that there are Christians defending Angela Williamson, despite disagreeing with her opinions. Michael Kellahan (Executive Director of Freedom for Faith), said, “Cricket Australia – you no more own Angela Williamson’s conscience than Rugby Australia owns Izzy Folau’s soul. Big mistake to sack her.” Unfortunately though, the same cannot be said of a growing number of institutions and public commentators who have little interest in keeping to the same standard for other Australians. Many Australians are losing confidence that our society is willing to play fairly and consistently, and until we see a change in the rhetoric and public views of many authoritarian secularists, these doubts will remain.

 

Baptists believe in Freedom of Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Senator David Leyonhjelm’s words teach us about ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

“It is a normal Australian behavior”

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

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

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

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

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has spoken up, saying,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“LGBTI Conversion Therapy

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

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

Labor will:

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

(Chapter 8, pp 236-7)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof Patrick Parkinson makes the important point,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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