Can I be a Christian and a Marxist? A Qanda

I haven’t watched Q&A for some time. The predicable lineup of guests, questions, and interventions by Tony Jones has made the program rather dull. But given the interest that the ABC was generating with Jordan Peterson’s invitation onto the panel, I thought perhaps it was time for a revisit. Not that I’m a Peterson devotee, but at least he speaks his mind and is not afraid to challenge newly adopted cultural norms.

Did the show live up to the hype? Probably not. I suspect the tone of conversation was more civilised than producers were hoping for—even to a fanciful extent, when Terri Butler MP, insisted that no one in Australia is shut down or squeezed-out for speaking their mind. Had she forgotten what happened when Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie sat down with a Coopers beer and started a friendly conversation about gay marriage? Has no one shared with Ms. Butler how difficult it is for cultural conservatives (especially Christians) to retain faculty teaching positions in Australian universities today? Could someone at least share with her the stories of families who are being forced out of the public school system because of the social engineering programs that are being forced fed on our children?

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Leaving that aside, I was interested in what each of the panelists said when answering one of the final questions for the evening: “do you believe in God?”

What a great question. I listened to each of the responses. With responses ranging from agnosticism to deism, it was a reminder that hardline atheism is not as prevalent as some would make it out to be. Even politicians, psychologists, and transgender women, wrestle the notion of God. This is a question that won’t go away.

I was particularly struck by Catherine McGregor’s comment about being without a spiritual home. Catherine acknowledged the reason for this. Catherine, if you’re reading this, I would love to meet up with you over a coffee next time you’re in Melbourne. In fact, I would be keen to sit down with any of the panelists to listen to their questions and thoughts about God and to open the Bible with them and explore the Gospel together. There is no greater inquiry than this, who is God and can he be known?

Now I’m zooming in on the particular issue that I wish to comment on in this post. Tony Jones brought Van Badham into the conversation by revealing what he must have thought was a revolutionary marriage: Marxism and Christianity.

Van Badham nodded and explained that she is a Christian and a Marxist, “both at the same time … I absolutely believe in God”.

Alex Hawke, retorted, “I’m not sure you can be a Christian and a Marxist … they are mutually exclusive”.

Marxist Christianity?

Who is right? Can we hold Christianity together with Marxism? Hawke would go on to repeat the unhelpful and untrue idea that religion is a private affair, so I’m not suggesting that he is espousing a better view of God.

The question this raises is not as silly as we might think.  For example, socialism is once again finding appeal among young Australians. So when Roz Ward wrote the curriculum for Safe Schools, she announced that its purpose was to expose children to Marxist ideology.

Is Van Badham right to say that we can hold Marxism and Christianity together? I think we are right to be a little suspicious of anyone who juxtaposes Christianity with a set political ideology. It doesn’t matter whether the political views are representative of left or right, progressive or conservative, it is entirely appropriate to tread with caution.

It was Jesus who said, 

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

“My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Jesus was not arguing for a complete separation of religion and state and of the temporal and eternal. Jesus elsewhere taught that, “The time has come … The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Also, the Great Commission doesn’t ignore nationhood and systems of Governance, but rather insists that Christ, as Lord, has the right to issue a gospel summons to the nations:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

It is important to see that, while different groups tried to box in Jesus politically and socially, he would not allow it. His political ideology is the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, not liberalism or socialism. It is prudent for Christians to step with care, for if Jesus wouldn’t permit his character and work to be defined in socio-political categories, should we? It may be argued, that aspects of Christ’s teaching can be adopted by political minds. We might find tiny pieces of Jesus’ethics at work across the political spectrum in all kinds of legislative agendas. However, we ought to express great reticence at matchmaking the message of Christianity with any political structure and ambition.

Having said that, what about the example offered by Van Badham? I suspect Karl Marx would disagree with her synthesis.

Karl Marx argued:

“The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Take for example the following comparisons:

Karl Marx

Christianity

Was an atheist

Jesus believes in God and he claims to be God

Taught that belief in God is the invention of people

God is eternal and we exist because of him and for him

Claimed religion is a drug given to dull peoples senses as well as comfort them in their poverty

The Gospel is real good news of salvation that brings forgiveness and freedom and reconciliation to the living God

Christianity is dangerous

Christianity is good

The religion of revolution, with the masses toppling those in authority.

Christianity grows through preaching and prayer, loving our neighbours as ourselves

The State controls total life: commerce, education, art, sport, religion

Governments have a role to play but they are not God.

Has led to totalitarian regimes who have oppressed and murdered 10,000s million of people

Christianity is largely responsible for the political and religious freedoms exercised in the Western Hemisphere today. The principle of persuasion not coercion is antithetical to Marxism and foundational to the Christian Gospel.

The goal is a classless society, achieved by the masses.

The goal is the exaltation of Jesus Christ, the redemption of sinful men and women, right judgment on the world, and the bringing in of the new creation, accomplished by God alone through Christ.

 

Christ and the Collective Saviour

These differences are hard to reconcile. The subject has added complexity if, as some philosophers suggest, Marxism is its own religion. Raymond Aron is among many who note that communism, (the natural outworking of Marxist thought), is a “secular religion” whereby “Marxist eschatology attributes to the proletariat the role of a collective saviour”. There is no synthesis to be had between Marxism and Christianity.

Marxism, like other ’isms, asks important questions and highlights real issues that face real people. However, whether it we define it according to Marx’s own teaching, or by the embodiment of those original ideas in  130 years of history, it is pretty hard to marry Marxism with Christianity. Marxism is driven by an a-theology, soteriology, and eschatology that rejects almost every single Christian premise. There has not been a single country that has fully embraced Marxism and has also encouraged religious freedom and freedom of thought. The sum total Marxist States that support Christianity is zero. It is true that Christianity often expanded in these contexts, but this was despite Governmental oppression, not because of it.

It was a great question for Q&A, and some interesting answers were offered. I hope it might encourage other Australians to ask and seek and find God. He is better than we imagine. He may counter our expectations and agendas and supplant them with a greater love and meaning and challenge than we can imagine.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

 


I’ve posted a follow-up article in light of comments offered by a few readers – Further Thoughts on Marxism and Christianity. Can I be both?

 

The Big American Story that Australian media is keeping quiet

One of the most talked about issues in the United States for the past two weeks has been late-term abortions.

New York State passed a law to make it easier to perform abortions up until birth, the State of Virginia came within a single vote of doing so, the Virginian Governor proposed a position in support of infanticide, and the US Senate blocked a Bill aimed at protecting unborn children who can feel pain from 5 months.

Australians are captivated by American politics and culture. Every day and every night our major news outlets are reporting the latest stories coming out of America. Almost without exception, Australian media will rehash and talk about any controversial political story that is churning about America’s political washing machine. Viral video clips are splashed on the 6pm news. Tweets are relayed and commented upon, even those which might be innocent but sound juicy if we put an evil spin on them.

The past two weeks have witnessed some of the most embarrassing and detestable suggestions that have reached the floor of American State and Federal Governments in recent decades, and almost zero words have been dedicated to reporting this in Australia.

Australian media have no issue reporting the growing list of Senior Virginian politicians who been caught up in racist or sexual scandals; even local regional newspapers are talking about it. There is however almost no comment on the horrifying position Governor Ralph Northam has articulated in relation to infanticide (which by the way, is the issue which led to the revelations about the photograph in his college yearbook),

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”

There is no media discussion over Virginian Delegate, Kathy Tran’s, admission,

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow abortion up to 40 weeks.”

Todd Gilbert: “Where it’s obvious a woman is about to give birth…would that be a point at which she could still request an abortion?”

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow that, yes”

 

This raises a question in my mind, why is Australian media, who are known for their obsession with American politics, ignoring what is one of the biggest political stories of 2019 thus far? Why are they not showing the gruesome revelations made by Virginian Delegate, Kathy Tan? Why are Governor Ralph Northam’s comments supporting infanticide not being discussed?

The issue of late-term abortion has such currency in the United States that it was addressed in the State of the Union. Australian media are this week, as always,  reporting and comment on the State of the Union, but apart from a couple of passing and innocuous sentences that push the abortion debate into the arena of a local American issue, Australians would be surprised to hear that this is

The President stated,

New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. 

“These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth. To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”

While the story continues to unfold across the Pacific Ocean, during the same period of time in Australia, we have been reading stories about a fish saved from a sticky end and then driven 100kms to new and safer waters. There is a ‘new’ report telling us about the immorality of eating meat. Apparently, bees are intelligent. Two penguins enjoyed a holiday in Western Australia and are now traveling back to Antartica. A fish has changed its sex at the Melbourne Aquarium. Endangered Owls are being saved by a “vomit-sniffing dog”. These and many more stories about animals and protecting animals have managed to find space in our Aussie news. Of course, some of these stories are interesting and a few are even important and deserve public attention. Hey, there was even room to share another “snake in the toilet” story!

Defend animals! Save animals! Stop murdering animals! But killing healthy babies in the womb, and now even post birth?

I wonder, could it be the case that reporting this growing American story is too close to home? Perhaps the Pacific Ocean is not such a great divide. Maybe, the reality is that quoting these American lawmakers might expose uncomfortable truths about practices that are permitted and even praised in Australia today? It is not difficult to see the moral dissonance. We are being told to express moral outrage when animals are mistreated or are endangered; fair enough. What about killing a healthy baby at 40 weeks if the mother so chooses? What about giving a mother the right to let her healthy child die after he or she is born? Are Australian journalists so afraid of reporting the awful reality of abortion?  Are they so committed to protecting this insanely evil practice, that one of the biggest stories in America is blanketed by silence?

We have many fine journalists in Australia, working locally and all over the world, covering all kinds of weighty and relevant stories.  Who will speak for the unborn?

“They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood”. (Psalm 106:38)

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” (Proverbs 31:8)

Letter to my local MP. RE: Sex Discrimination Act & Faith-Based Schools

Here is a copy of the letter that I have written to my local MP today, Sharing my concerns over the religious discrimination bill that is to be presented before the parliament on Monday

Australia

Dear ………

I trust you are keeping well

I’m writing to express concerns relating to the proposal Labor is introducing to Parliament on Monday, regarding the Sex Discrimination Act and faith-based schools.

During the debate on marriage in September last year, you said that, 

“I will be voting yes for marriage equality. There is a lot of talk from the ‘no’ campaign about how marriage equality will infringe on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It’s simply untrue. Marriage equality will mean that couples of the same gender are allowed to be legally married in Australia. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Despite what anyone may have thought at the time, it is clear that this is not the case. Indeed at the time of the plebiscite debate, I appreciated the conversation I had with your chief-of-staff. I suggested to him that consequences will inevitably follow a change of marriage definition. For no society changes the definition of its bedrock institution without corollary changes flowing through the rest of our culture.

While it is important not to overstate the case, there have numerous repercussions reverberating across the landscape, from employees losing their jobs to Aussie battlers having their businesses boycotted. As you are also aware, currently before the Federal Parliament are a series of issues relating to religious schools.

I share your concerns over the Government’s slowness to publish their findings from the Ruddock review, however, I am also concerned by the solution Labor is bringing to the Parliament for debate on Monday. 

With parts of the Ruddock Review leaked, the media grabbed sensationalist headlines about Christian schools expelling gay students. Of course, the reality is very different. Christian schools across the country came out, stating that they were not aware of this policy and they certainly did not support or practice it. One newspaper made inquiries around the nation and found the whopping sum total of schools who were expelling gay students to be zero. Recently I asked a teacher who works at a Christian school in Melbourne and they were stunned that the media was implying that this was a practice inside Christian schools. 

I submit, in seeking to defend the welfare of LGBT students, this proposed legislation extends well beyond its intended purpose, and it will, in fact, have far-reaching consequences for all religious organisations, including schools, churches, and mosques.

Mark Fowler (Adjunct Associate Professor at Notre Dame Law School in Sydney) has written, 

“On a plain reading, this would capture the Sunday morning sermon, the Friday kutbah at the mosque, a Buddhist meditation course, the children’s Sunday school, the midweek Bible study, the Friday night youth group talk. It is quite clear to both the preacher and the recipient in all of these exchanges that they are participating in an act of education that expands upon religious principles.” 

Associate Professor Neil Foster has stated, 

“Unfortunately, the amendments do much more than stop schools expelling students on the basis of their internal sexual orientation (a goal all sides of politics agree on.) They will have a serious impact on the ability of such schools, and other religious bodies, to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. A more nuanced approach is needed.”

Their critique of the proposed amendments is concerning.

Without significant revision, this legislation will open the door to a myriad of serious legal and social challenges that will undermine the freedom of religious schools and indeed of any religious organisation.

If I may ask, do you believe that it is the purview of the State to influence and even alter the religious teaching of a Christian school or church? Should these institutions have the freedom to employ, teach, and practice their values? I trust so, but therefore, I ask that Labor reconsider the bill before it is tabled on Monday. 

I remain thankful for the public education I received and I am also aware of how much this country is indebted to non-public schools. This proposed bill, whether intended or not, is an attack on the freedom to teach the values which are consistent with the religious convictions of the schools and beyond, and retain freedom for these organisations to employ staff who both affirm and will teach these values. Once again, it is imperative that the loophole which will extend the parameters of this bill into all religious institutions (including churches) needs to be closed.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter and I look forward to reading your response.

 
Kind Regards,
 
Murray
——————————–
UPDATE December 3rd, 2:30pm:
Today’s Senate debate on the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 has taken place & did not pass. It’s been referred to another committee. We can be thankful for the outcome but there are more chapters to be written in this story.

The Pruning of Australian Christianity

Does God sometimes allow non-Christians to do the work Churches should be doing themselves?

God used Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians as a weapon of judgement against Judah, and God used Cyrus as an instrument to bring God’s people back to the land and to see the Temple rebuilt.

While we cannot say with certainty that any specific person or organisation has been handed the pruning shears by God (for the simple reason, God hasn’t told us), we do know from the Scriptures that God is concerned with cutting off dead branches, pruning lives branches, and bearing fruit in the lives of his disciples.

In John ch.15 Jesus uses one of his many analogies to describe his relationship with his people, namely that of the vine and branches.

Jesus says,

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

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There is no doubt that churches have been entangled in many scandals in recent years. Clergy have been guilty of committing terrible abuses on children, while other ecclesial authorities have at times hidden these crimes. Popular preachers have been called out for marital unfaithfulness, embezzling money, acting like mini-dictators, and saying some really dumb and unwise things relating to an array of social and political issues.

Australia has a band of public figures and journalists who are always quick to castigate, shame, and then to investigate, all manner of evils perpetrated by Christians (and by people of various kinds of religious perspectives). This is no bad thing, for why should Christians be given a jail free pass, simply because they allege a diplomatic Jesus card?

At the same time, Churches and Christians are being increasingly condemned for believing and practising things that are in line with their Scriptures. Whereas abusing children is abhorrent and aberrant to the Christian faith, believing in heterosexual only marriage is consistent with biblical and historical Christianity, and yet many do not care for such moral distinctions.

With the redefinition of marriage, only the most naive maintained that nothing would change; after all, the entire point of altering the marriage act was to create further societal change. The flow on effects has not been a flood, but it is a regular trickle and one that is far from finishing. Whether the bathroom tap is dripping slowly or water is pouring out of the faucet, the end result is the same, the sink fills up and floods the room.

Australian laws have and are changing, and the cultural narrative has is shifting faster than the writing of a cheap romance novel. Dozens of Australians have already faced the prospect of losing their jobs or businesses because of their religious convictions on marriage. Now it is religious schools who are being targeted. Indeed without carefully considered legislation,  the only religious schools that will remain in 10 years are those who have given up their convictions and fully subscribed to the religion of secular humanism. Hardline secularists will not be content to leave the agenda in the political arena or in schools. Next stop is the family home and after that, the local church. For example, if the Australian Labor Party platform becomes law, parents may face losing their children if they do not actively support a child who wishes to change their gender. Australians may soon be compelled to ignore biological fact and instead identify people according to their own chosen gender, and face anti-discrimination tribunals and prosecution should they decline to do so. And while Churches have some protections, it is delusional to conclude that teaching a Christian view of marriage will remain unchallenged by secular authorities.

Part of the problem is that the broader Australian culture has lost its cognitive awareness, rarely knowing what is and isn’t Christianity (and this blurring will only increase as Governments further squeeze out Christian education and religious freedoms); let’s return to the good old days of Pliny the Younger, who assumed the Lord’s Supper consisted of Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of fellow human beings! Weeds, plants, trees, and grass, all look the same, and the temptation to mow it all down is too great for some. This unfortunate and unsurprising trend toward religious ignorance is one reason why our society struggles to differentiate between the real sins in Churches and Churches who are properly exercising their faith.

Another problem is that in the world of today’s social media madness, the noise is at a crescendo, with people shouting and screaming at everything they don’t like, forgetting that not everything that they disagree with is necessarily wrong or harmful or evil. Religious and irreligious people are both guilty of the unsociable new norm, and it’s a worrying trend because when the volume reaches triple forte, it becomes near impossible to any worthwhile and important discourse.

Juxtaposed to these Metallica like screams is a deathly quiet that we find in some religious quarters. Rare moments of stillness can be of some value, but we should not confuse the appearance of saint-like silent meditation with spiritual authenticity; sometimes it’s nothing more than a magician’s trick to hide cowardice or complicity.

You see, at one level we can’t blame the culture, because it defines good and bad by its own standards, even if those moral lines keep moving around like a cat chasing a laser light. We are not expecting secular Australia to define moral goodness according to the Christian faith, because we understand, even as Jesus taught, that the two are not synonymous.

It’s not as though God’s righteousness is only true for the Church and is irrelevant to the outside world, for there is nothing in creation that escapes God’s good design and intent. The entire cosmos, including Governments, is subject to the rule of God, and yet they are in a state of rebellion, whereas the Church is meant to be a redeemed people, a city on the hill revealing the glory of Christ.

The greater responsibility lays with Churches and religious organisations, who have too often neglected the faith once for all delivered, and have instead adopted the moral and epistemological posture of the prevailing culture.

One of the persistent problems we have in Australia is with many Christian leaders failing in their responsibility. They have failed to stand for orthodox teaching. Instead of refuting bad and dangerous doctrines, these ideas are promoted and taught, or they give a silent endorsement. After all, can anyone really say that they know what the Bible says? Surely, only a puffed-up bigoted Pharisee would ever suggest that Biblical truth is clear and mandated? While far too many theologians and pastors have hired smoke machines to create ambiguity over pretty much every Christian doctrine, others have failed to act against bullies and abusers, perhaps through incompetence, and more often, through neglect or not being willing to pay the cost.

The question is if Churches are unclear about discipleship and if Church leaders are failing to fulfill their ordained responsibilities, perhaps God will employ another to do that all-important work of pruning?

I understand why some Aussies look at our backyard and conclude that religion in general, and Christianity especially, is waning. The culture has shifted, and every leaf and twig not conforming to the new pattern will be picked off for mulch. But that is to misunderstand what is happening. When a tree is pruned, it looks so bare and feeble that some might mistake it for being dead. That was certainly the reported diagnosis in the wake of last year’s national census, and with regular reminders about church closures and dipping church attendances. Is the Church dying? Is Christianity on the way out? Or is God in the process of cutting off dead branches and pruning those that bear fruit?

While many Australian Christians are concerned with happenings both inside Churches and in our surrounding communities, it would be wrong to respond with despair or hopelessness. It is a work of grace that God so loves his church that he attends to it: watering, feeding, and yes even pruning her. The vine is Jesus, and the branches are those who have been united with him. Remaining in Jesus is the only way to be fruitful, and remaining in Him is to remain in his word, namely to keep trusting and obeying his words. 

Surely we can be thankful as dead Christendom is removed from the scene, and while the culture isn’t savvy enough to discern between real and fake Christianity, the season can also be used of God to refine and prepare. In other words, pruning may hurt, but it’s good, and it’s the necessary prelude to a bumper crop. 

 

 

 


This is an updated piece from Sept 2018

Are Victorian school children being taught Safe Schools?

In a televised debate on Sky News, Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews was asked a question about the Safe Schools program. My interest doesn’t relate to the forthcoming election, but as a parent with 3 children, I am interested in what they are (or aren’t) taught at school.

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I found Mr Andrews’ answer to be a curious one, and it raises several important questions.

Are our children taught Safe Schools material?

First of all, Mr. Andrews made the point that “Safe Schools is not taught to any student in any school in this state…It is a resource for teachers”.

He is correct when he says that Safe Schools provides resources for teachers. However, Mr. Andrews is mistaken when he suggests that “Safe Schools is not taught to any student in any school in this state.”

The reality is, Safe Schools material is promoted and taught in almost every State secondary schools, and it is also found in many primary schools and privates schools around Victoria.

For example, the Safe Schools Coalition website explains,

“The Hub is the Government’s one-stop−shop for information and resources on student wellbeing for the whole school community including students and their parents/carers. The site includes curriculum−aligned resources on contemporary topics and issues that impact on the wellbeing of students.”  (bold is my emphasis)

All of us is assigned material to be used in schools. To quote,

“ALL OF US All Of Us is a collection of short videos and teaching activities designed by Safe Schools Coalition Australia in order to assist students in understanding gender diversity, sexual diversity and intersex topics. “

“ALL OF US: UNIT GUIDE…The Safe Schools Coalition Australia guide for a Health and Physical Education resource for years 7 and 8 on the topic of gender and sexual diversity. This unit is taught in conjunction with videos, student handouts and posters”

Safe Schools own advertising speaks of material that is designed for children, and it is written to be integrated throughout school subjects: “This material can be interspersed throughout school subjects, “Schools may also choose to adapt and use the videos and teaching activities in other areas of the curriculum such as English, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Civics and Citizenship, and applied learning curriculums (e.g. VCAL, TAS) where the exploration of LGBTI people and topics allows.”

 

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Is Safe Schools about preventing all bullying?

I have a second question relating to the scope of Safe Schools. Mr Andrews said,

“It is a resource for teachers to make sure that if a child is bullied for wearing a turban or if a child is bullied (or a younger person is bullied) because of their sexuality or if a person is bullied because of the faith they practice or if a person is bullied because of their gender, then they have a safe environment”

While I applaud the Premier for speaking against students being bullied because of their race or religion, this has nothing to do with Safe Schools.

Safe Schools does not address issues relating to bullying on the basis of a student’s race or religious beliefs. It is specifically and narrowly aimed at preventing bullying of LGBT schools students and promoting and even encouraging the normalcy of LGBT lifestyles.

The Victorian Education website describes the program as follows: “In 2010, the Victorian Government established Safe Schools to ensure schools are safe places for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, and are free of discrimination.”

To my knowledge, there is no emphasis on or even mention made in the program about bullying because of race or religion. I am yet to read even a paragraph that teaches students to respect and affirm other students for their religious convictions. The material does, however, allege that students who affirm a Christian or Jewish view of sexuality as being sexists,. Children who believe heterosexuality is normal or desirable are labelled with the new and derogatory term, heterosexism. There are also numerous reports of children being marginalised in their schools for not supporting the gender fluidity theories that are promoted as fact in Safe Schools.

I’m sure our schools are doing an excellent job at teaching children to respect people from other races and religions, but it is simply wrong to suggest the Safe Schools is doing anything to counter this kind of bullying.

Is Safe Schools compulsory?

A third question relates to Mr Andrews’ suggestion that Safe Schools is not compulsory. It has been interesting to note that while the Federal Government and many State Governments have either greatly reduced the Safe Schools curriculum or removed it altogether, Victoria has pushed ahead with the plan to implement the program into every secondary school by the end of 2018.

It is interesting to note that Mr Andrews stresses that Safe Schools is not part of the Education Curriculum. While that appears to be the case (it is fine to argue over semantics), but we must note that Safe Schools is an official program of the Victorian Education Department.

In March 2016, The Age reported that “Education Minister James Merlino says he’ll make the original un-gutted program compulsory for all state schools by the end of 2018”

In January of this year, Education Minister, James Merlino reminded Victorians that, “We will be continuing to deliver the Safe Schools program and every government secondary school will be participating by the end of 2018.”

In other words, every secondary school in Victoria is expected to participate in Safe Schools, and while there is flexibility as to what the school presents, there is specific teaching material provided for teachers to implement across the school curriculum.

I’m sure many parents would be keen to hear Mr Andrews or Mr Merlino clarify the Premier’s comments.

A return to common sense pluralism in Victoria?

Matthew Guy, leader of the Victorian State Opposition, has announced that “a government I lead will bring back religious instruction in schools because it’s very important.”

This is encouraging news, not only for Christian families but also for Victorians in general. Let me explain.

But first of all, it is important to premise my commentary with this statement: when I talk about various policies or pieces of legislation, one shouldn’t read into this an advocation for any one political party.  I don’t believe it is the role of a pastor to dictate or to suggest to their congregation (or to others) how to vote. I also recognise that there are many important issues which influence the way we vote and on these Christians may differ. One, however, may comment on specific policies, for such things are designed to influence and to shape aspects of society, and therefore they can very real consequences for constituents. It is a misstep however for the reader to conclude that either giving praise or criticism is a signal to vote in any one direction.

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Having said that, let’s address the issue at hand.

In 2015, the Victorian State Government announced that Special Religious Instruction (SRI) classes would cease in our schools, during class hours, as of January 2016. This was not a policy that State Labor took to the election.

At the time, Education Minister, James Merlino, offered this reason for SRI’s removal, ‘We can’t have kids missing out on essential teaching time.’ However, he then announced that a new program will be introduced to schools, replacing SRI, which includes instruction on faith and ethics. The reasoning behind the axing morphs again when the Australian Education Union supported the decision, stating that SRI is at ‘odds with Victoria’s secular education system’.

To be fair, Mr Merlino also made it clear that SRI could continue “outside the curriculum.” I am sure that Mr Merlino was and is aware of what every parent knows, and that is our children already have multiple programs running during lunchtimes and after school. During those breaks when they are not having sport or music practice, they need that downtime to relax and to play with friends.  Yes, schools are permitted to run SRI, but the goal posts were moved so frequently that almost no one knew what was permissible, and the red tape has been wound so tight that most schools were unable to give students an option. Despite the rhetoric about schools being allowed to run religious classes, by design, there is a massive disconnect between optics and what is actually possible on the ground.

One of the results of this move is that many Victorian families no longer feel welcomed in State Schools, and instead have been pressured into moving their children into religious schools, often at significant and unplanned cost to these families. This movement may have benefited independent schools, but our State Schools are the poorer for it. Matthew Guy’s announcement is welcoming and sends the message that all children are welcome.

It is also important to note that under the current Government (and the previous Government), important lessons were learned in relation to the training of religious instructors and to preferring an opt-in approach. Mistakes were made by SRI providers, but the sensible answer, however, was never to rid schools of these classes.

Once again, I understand that Matthew’ Guy’s announcement is enmeshed in politics and an upcoming election; so let me repeat, that’s not my interest here. What can be said is that (whatever the motivation) the Liberal’s position on this issue better reflects the Australian ethos than does the current position on religion in schools. The announcement permits and encourages healthy pluralism, as opposed to the narrow ideology that is currently being forced upon an entire generation of children.

A return to opt-in SRI also better reflects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948:

‘Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.’

Art5(2) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981)

Replacing Safe Schools with a curriculum safe for our children

Matthew Guy has also announced that a Coalition Government would remove the  Safe Schools curriculum from Victorian schools. This is a safe option for our children.

While some of the intent of Safe Schools needs affirming, it was unnecessarily but inextricably enmeshed in unscientific and dangerous theories that have potential to cause immense damage upon our children. To teach our children to respect others, regardless of their sexuality, is right and important, but to teach that gender is fluid, to encourage exploration in sex, and to encourage children to transition to another gender despite research indicating that most children will recover from dysphoria with maturity, it is morally and intellectually reprehensible to have such things taught in our schools. To label children who believe in heteronormacy as ‘sexist’ is itself sexist, and demonstrates the hypocrisy that’s woven into the program. The whole saga has been troubling; Safe Schools isn’t about anti-bullying, it’s about forcing on our children a particular and narrow view of sexuality. When the very authors of the curriculum pointed out this fact, the Government were quickly dismissive.

Since the introduction of Safe Schools, two separate and academic reviews have been conducted (the first by Professor Louden and one by Professor Parkinson), both demonstrating significant flaws and problems with material, including dependence on fake statistics, unscientific theories, and in places presenting as fact ideas that remain highly contested within the medical fraternity. Following Professor Louden’s Review, the Federal Government announced significant changes to the curriculum, but Victoria has insisted on ignoring the findings and implementing the program without change.

What has happened in Victoria over the past 3 years is that a ½ hour opt-in religious program was removed and then replaced with compulsory curriculum (not only Safe Schools but also Respectful Relationships). In addition, the Government began designing a ‘general religious’ curriculum course for schools, which is to be compulsory across our schools (I am not aware if this course has been implemented as yet).

Don’t fall for revisionist views of secularism

According to The Age, “Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said special religious instruction had no place in the curriculum of secular public schools.

She said there was already room to learn about religion and its role in society and history in state schools.”

“But it shouldn’t be taught by unqualified people who come into the schools with a very different purpose.”

These remarks prove the point. Contrary to Meredith Peace, secular does not mean non-religious or keeping religion out of public education and other public domains. The definition of secularism is not private religion, as Peace implies. True secularism allows for and encourages the plurality of ideas.

Also contrary to Meredith Peace, it is sensible that those who teach the Bible, should be qualified people (whether teachers or volunteers) who understand and believe the Bible’s message, rather than skeptics who explain away and misrepresent the Bible’s message.

Neutral education is a fairy tale, and it’s simply disingenuous for anyone to suggest such. This bias is clearly demonstrated by the Department’s own statements in the draft general religious studies program. As someone who holds an honours degree in theology I am in some way able to speak to the following statements.

According to the Education Department, these are the key premises of Christianity:

“There is one God, consisting of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. God became human in the person of Jesus, the Son.

People have one life and its purpose is to live in a loving relationship with God, with others and with the world. The life and teachings of Jesus show how this is done and make possible the life-giving changes needed in individuals and society. Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and are called to demonstrate God’s love, compassion and justice in all their relationships and interactions. Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God.

The Bible is the sacred text for Christians. The Bible has two parts, known as the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains Jewish books and teachings, before the time of Jesus. The New Testament records the teachings of Jesus as well as the history and teaching of the early Church which is based on the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Some of the above statements align with Christianity, while others are blatantly wrong, and some of the most central tenets are altogether missing.

Here is one example of a basic error, ‘Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God”. No, all Christians believe in an afterlife, and this life beyond death will be physical.

Notice how there is no mention of sin, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, and of salvation on account of God’s grace. There is no mention of hell. Without these things, there is no Christianity. It is not enough to make the excuse, we can’t say everything in a few paragraphs, the core of Christianity has been ripped out and in so doing it is presenting a Christianity that is inauthentic and inaccurate.

To quote the Bible, Christianity is about “Christ and him crucified”.

My point is this, if the Education Department is unable to fairly and accurately summarise the Christian faith, how can we trust what they want to be taught about any and all religion?

Would we want our children being taught maths by a teacher who doesn’t understand algebra? Would we be happy to learn that the school biology teacher doesn’t believe in male and female anatomy? Is it acceptable for sports teachers to deny the value of physical exercise? Why is it, therefore, acceptable when it comes to Christianity specifically, and religion more generally.

This is not about imposition, this is about recognition.

Why shouldn’t we give our children an opportunity to explore the greatest book that has ever been written? A book to which we owe more than any other? A book that has given shape to millennia of civilisation (not only in the West but also in the East), and has given our society its ethical and political moorings?

An intolerant secularism that is claiming the public space.

The version of secularism that now dominates much public and political conversation in Victoria feints intellectualism and freedom, but it is simply the guise for a new wave of intellectual totalitarianism, where dissent is squashed by a tirade of shout downs.

Barney Zwartz made this astute comment in the The Age,

“This attitude masks a more serious problem in the widespread contemporary misunderstanding of what “secular” means, one that I suspect is shared by Fairness in Religions in School. It has never meant, as many imagine, the absence of religion from the public arena but simply that no religion should be privileged (as, for example, the Church of England is in Britain).

Properly understood, that works to protect people of all religions and none, and to foster an open, vibrant, tolerant public culture.”

Are we so frightened of the Bible that we must prevent our children from spending 1/2hr of the week from exploring it in a safe and fun environment? It is sad to see children having taken from them the freedom and opportunity to explore what is the greatest book to have influenced Australian life and culture.

I said it in 2015, and it remains the case today; 20 years from now, a generation of Victorians will look back upon the decisions that have been made, and we will recognise the diminished experience that we have given our children, having kept from them the very ideas that gave birth to Augustine and J.S Bach, C.S Lewis and Martin Luther King, and many of the greatest thinkers, scientists, artists, writers, and humanists of history.

I would encourage the Government to reconsider their own policies on these issues, and to realign them true secularism and with best scientific and medical research. Surely for the good our children and the future of the State, it is worth it.

Religious Freedom and Civil Speech: the insane, the fair, and the good

Narrative is important. In 2018, the winning argument doesn’t rely on facts and accurate information but depends upon telling a story which will garner the outrage of one’s constituents. Anger is power. Anger is persuasion. Truth-telling has become optional; useful when it supports one’s thesis, and redundant when it does not.

In this current age of rage and rhetorical bashing (which both progressives and conservatives are utilising), alternative narratives are often not presented with accuracy and fairness. It is proving increasingly difficult, and at times, near impossible to engage in civil discourse, because the climate is reaching temperature levels that resist reasoned and gentle speech.

The test case was the now infamous 2017 conversation promoted by the Bible Society and featuring Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that it is possible to conduct a civil conversation over a beer while disagreeing on same-sex marriage.  Apparently, the very notion that Australians could enjoy polite disagreement on SSM was too much, as beer drinkers all over the nation raged and smashed bottles of Coopers’ Beer in protest. Coopers’ was threatened with boycotts to the point that they were forced to recant and join those waving rainbow flags (despite the fact that they were never sponsoring the video in the first place). Sadly, this response is now normal in Australia today.

One month ago, most journalists in the country were saying very little about the Ruddock inquiry into religious freedom…until a Christian became Prime Minister. Since then there has been an almost absurd flurry of attention given to this review in which the Government is still yet to release its decisions. Don’t get me wrong, there is a legitimate story here as to why the Government has been so slow in releasing its findings from the Ruddock review, but instead of waiting to find out what the Government’s position will be, media outlets began hypothesising and arguing points based on speculation, and when a summary of the Ruddock report was leaked to the media, everyone went nuts.

In the first few days, Fairfax published no fewer than 19 articles, in which they argued that the Government was taking steps to give religious schools freedom to expel gay students.

It soon became apparent that this was not a measure that the Government was considering, in fact, this provision already existed and it was introduced by the Labour Government in 2013. More importantly,  Christian schools across the country came out, saying that they were not aware of this policy and they certainly did not support or practice it. Eternity newspaper made inquiries around the nation and found the whopping sum total of schools who were expelling gay students to be zero. The other day I asked a teacher who works at a Christian school in Melbourne and they were stunned that the media would argue that this was a practice inside Christian schools.

In other words, the whole story was a beat up. But it hasn’t stopped anti-Christian hysteria, with numerous social commentators and now members of Parliament attacking this dangerous practice that doesn’t exist.

ABCs Media Watch presented an excellent summary of this sloppy journalism.

To be fair, since publishing the first 19 articles, Fairfax has now allowed two pieces which finally offer an alternate perspective. Both articles are indeed excellent and worth reading.

Come this morning, I wake up and the top of my Twitter feed is sprucing another article, with this title, “Sydney Anglicans set to ban gay weddings and pro-LGBTI advocacy on church property

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The problem with this piece is that it is neither new news nor is it news at all. The Sydney Anglican Diocese, like other Anglican Dioceses around Australia, already have a position on marriage and their clergy and property is already constrained to practice weddings that conform to their definition of marriage. I realise that journalists are under growing pressure to write articles that are provocative and opinionated because such writing can increase audience reach and circulation, but this does not cultivate better public conversation. 

Deep into the article, after readers have already been won over to once again tut tut these  incredulous Christians, Michael Koziol, adds this important detail, one which in fact completely debunks that click-bait headline,

“Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead, the senior clergyman who authored the proposal, told Fairfax Media that the use of church property had “always been governed by various regulations” and the new policy merely sought to consolidate those into a single document.

“The new policy doesn’t represent a change in our position and I wouldn’t expect it to have an effect on any activities currently occurring on church trust property,” he said.

“Because the federal government has changed its definition of marriage, the policy makes clear the church’s doctrine of marriage has not changed and that property use scenarios relate only to man/woman marriage.”

Is it so shocking that a Christian denomination should reaffirm their already stated beliefs? Is it so outrageous that Christians should practice what they preach? How dare Christians believe what Christians have always believed and practiced!

There is literally no point in publishing this article on the Anglican Synod, other than trying to add weight to the narrative that’s being spun, namely that conservative Christians in general, and especially Sydney Anglicans, are awful people who are intolerant, and who are fighting a rearguard action against the inevitable tide of sexual and moral progressiveness. Just so readers come away believing that Sydney Anglicans are really out of step, Koziol finds a few quotes to suggest that most Christians (certainly Anglicans) don’t support this out of touch view of marriage. Readers are told that Sydney Anglicans are just playing power games of ‘privilege’.

There you have it; it doesn’t matter what’s true or not, just insert one of those key intersectionality words, like ‘privilege’, and the story is complete; Sydney Anglicans are bad!

I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with a Fairfax journalist not so long ago. They shared with me how most journalists have little understanding of religion, in general, let alone comprehending Christianity. Of course, sometimes Christians add to the confusion by doing and saying things that are not true of Christianity. This kind if misinformation happened in the time of the New Testament Church. Take, for example, Alexander the metalworker whom Paul mentions as having “done him a great deal of harm”.

There are many fine journalists around Australia, some are Christians, many are not. I wonder though, how can we reach out to journalists and help educate them as to what it is Christians do and don’t believe?

Regardless of what one’s personal suppositions and moral inclinations are, Australian society needs to find ways to reduce the dangerous and at times disingenuous reporting and commentary that is taking over the public square. It would be great if our politicians would show the way, and societal conversations would certainly be strengthened if media outlets stepped away from speculative and sensationalised reporting.

Regardless of how others decide to debate ethical and political issues, Christians must follow the guidelines that are set out by the very Scriptures which our society deems as foolish and immoral.

Early this week I was reminded of this timely words written to Timothy by his friend and mentor, Paul,

 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

That’s not a bad place for us to begin.