Proposed Victorian Bill is likely to harm not help women

The State of Victoria wishes to be at the vanguard of the sexual devolution. Sadly, Victoria is already becoming an unsafe place for vulnerable children who struggle with gender dysphoria. Just as with the recent passing of euthanasia laws, concerns expressed by the medical fraternity were overlooked in favour of radical political and gender theorists from institutions such as Latrobe University.

 

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It is not only children who will suffer from these radical and non-scientific agendas but also women. I know of one situation where a young woman was forced to play football (AFL) against a male who identified as a female. She feared for her safety which is understandable given the physical difference between the average male and female. As a growing number of women are now indicating if the transgender agenda continues it is likely that women’s sport may cease to exist in a few years time. 

A story emerged from the United Kingdom this week concerning a group of less than impressed boys. In an age when we are recognising how big the issue of pornography is among boys, a not so smart teacher decided to take a group of school boys on an art exhibition to see ‘feminist art’. The boys weren’t so much exposed to art as they were to bare-breasted middle-aged women! In normal circumstances, authorities would be called and the adults charged with sex offences, but apparently, this is ok.

We live in astonishing times.

In their latest effort, the Victorian Government has decided that transgender women are being discriminated against under current laws. At the moment if anyone wishes to change the gender on their birth certificate, sex reassignment surgery is required. According to the Attorney General, Jill Hennessy,

“Everyone deserves to live their life as they choose, and that includes having a birth certificate that reflects their true identity.”

 The proposed legislation will eliminate the need for women to have vaginas and so forth, and men (sorry, women) with penises can be legally recognised as women. You can imagine the social problems that will arise from such a decision.

In a piece in the Weekend Australian, Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner and University of Melbourne philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith, express grave concerns over the Bill and are asking for it to be rejected.

“Sex should not be a matter of belief…If progressives want to disincentivise sex-reassignment surgery, they should protect gender expression, or gender identity, or trans status, separately — rather than trying to shoehorn it into sex.” Dr Lawford-Smith said.

They have likened the Bill to last week’s story coming out of Canada where a transgender woman is taking a woman to court for refusing to wax his testicles.  That’s right. Once again, in a normal world when a man demands a woman to touch his privates she is entitled to say no and to be protected by law, but in today’s Canada, he is the victim and she the perpetrator. Indeed, should the Victorian Bill be adopted, we can expect to see all manner of confusion and also litigation against religious groups who insist upon recognising biological gender rather than one’s self-assuming gender. Indeed, it is not only religious organisations that may find themselves in trouble with the law but also sporting clubs and schools and secular organsations. It is telling that Dr. Lawford-Smith, a self-identifying lesbian, is calling for the Bill to be rejected.

This isn’t about justice, this is about redefining the fundamental nature of women and men. It is the insane devolution of humanity at its most basic form. Biology no longer determines what is a man and what is a woman. Chromosomes, hormones, reproductive parts and sexual appendages now have no bearing on what constitutes male and female. The only factor that matters is how the self defines themselves. As Ben Sharipo astutely remarked last week, is female a set of stereotypes or is it biological? We are being told that it cannot be biological because a woman can have a penis just as men can give birth to children. Therefore,  femaleness must be definable by social stereotypes, a criteria of observable non-physical differences from males. But of course, the dilemma is that we are not permitted to suggest that men and women have any differences beyond the biological. So which is it, is a woman defined by biology or by stereotypes?

I write this as a leader in the Victorian community. I also understand that because I’m a Christian, my concerns will be automatically binned by some; I appreciate why.  Churches have lost almost all their moral impetus after facing scandal after scandal. The sexual sins uncovered inside some churches and religious organisations is beyond evil, if that is at all possible. And yet, how can one stand by and be silent in the face of such unhealthy legislation.

This is profoundly sad and harmful, both for Victorians wanting to change their gender and for people around them. I have had the opportunity to speak to the issue of gender dysphoria before, not as a medical expert, but as a community leader who values all people and who is deeply concerned about the radical and unscientific approach being adopted by our political leaders. Victorians struggling with gender dysphoria deserve our care and loving support, but as most clinical psychologists will explain, the majority of people wrestling with dysphoria will return to and be content with their biological sex. Those who continue to identify with the opposite gender need our affirmation of their dignity, but not a confirmation of their self-misconceptions. We don’t tell people with other disorders that their feelings are right and true. Do we agree with teenage girls suffering from eating disorders that they are overweight? It would be cruel to do so.

The sexual revolution knows no boundaries. It is one steep descent with nothing but jagged rocks at the bottom. From time to time, the next redefinition and social regression slows down because of hairpin corners (i.e. commonsense, scientific fact, or moral integrity), and then it’s off at speed again until the next hairpin. But what is left? There are few turns left on this destructive road. 

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

I trust that common sense will prevail, but in Victoria, we have little hope of that. In the midst of growing mistakes, the good news of God offers hurting and confused Victorians are better hope than the misleading efforts of our moral deconstructionists. The years ahead are going to create such confusion about what it means to be human. We need an example to show people, we need a Saviour who is good enough and loves us enough to redeem and restore. Thank God there is one better than ourselves to whom we can point our fellow Victorians: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

 

(I made a small edit on July 29th)


New Victorian sex law a gender headache

by Bernad Lane

A law put up by Victoria’s Andrews government could expose women offering intimate services such as pubic waxing or underwear fitting to discrimination complaints if they reject trans women customers who still have penises, veteran human rights lawyer Moira Rayner has warned.

 

The new law would allow self-declared trans women, who possess a penis and have not undergone any sex-reassignment treatment, to change the sex that appears on their birth certificate, giving them access as women to equal opportunity protection.

Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner, said that, if enacted, the legislation could allow a Down Under version of Canada’s Jessica Yaniv case, in which a trans woman has lodged anti-discrimination complaints against 16 beauticians who did not want to handle her penis and testicles in order to grant her wish for a brazilian wax…

“Not every policy is scientific Murray”

I’ve been hearing this line of argument over and over again for the past four years. Ours is a post-scientific age, where what is true is no longer measured by empirical evidence and objective reality, but by what each individual feels is real for them.

A clear and blunt example of this epistemological transition was recently recorded in Scotland. A 17-year-old school student by the name of Murray suggested to his teacher that there are only two genders. The conversation was recorded on the student’s phone (not a move that this Murray condones), and the commentary is telling. The student was asked to leave the classroom, with the teacher informing the student that he should keep his opinion to ‘his own house’. In other words, in this Scottish school which is following the national education curriculum, there is no safe place for students to suggest the biological fact that there are two genders.

Murray responded to the teacher who defended teaching the set curriculum,

“That’s not scientific whatsoever.”

To which the teacher replied,

“Not every policy is scientific”

Scotland was once the seat of the Enlightenment and a key player in Scientific Revolution. I imagine Scotland’s Enlightenment thinkers now wanting to be raised from the dead and come back to educate Scotland’s teachers (and haunt them at the very least!).

Most of us like to view ourselves as rational and as believers in science, but the reality is, we drop the truth into the toilet as soon as it clashes with a priori commitments to our preferred moral and preferences and worldview. If truth doesn’t support my moral inclinations, then flush it down the sewer. I am who I think I am, which is somewhat problematic if I identify as an 6-year-old girl (as one 46-year-old Canadian man decided), but isn’t prejudice that we dare question what he believes himself to be?

If as in the case of gender, we affirm the biological reality of male and female, and that biology and sex and gender belong together, there is an obvious tension when there’s a disconnect between what is true and how I feel. It becomes necessary to claim an alternate reality. This alone can create a plethora of problems because not every self-identity is good for the individual or for the relationships around them.

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This conversation has a renewed relevance in my home State of Victoria. We are already the world sporting capital and food capital and atheist capital (some say), and we’re now vying to be the most progressive capital in the world. Let’s kill off the unborn up to point of birth and let’s kill the terminally ill, and let’s feed our economy off the backs of the vulnerable through gambling, and let’s beat Scotland to be even more progressive with our school curriculum.

As I said, this Scottish teacher’s honest slip of the tongue has an immediate application in Victoria at the moment. The Victorian Government is renewing its intent to amend the birth certificate laws to enable people to change the gender on their birth certificate in order to match how they wish to be identified.

Birth certificates were once sacrosanct and rightly treated as definitive legal documents. What was once subject to facts surrounding the birth of a child, can now be repeatedly altered according to how individuals wish to reconstruct their sexual identity. Does this undermine the very nature of such documents?

I want a pause for a moment and recognise that gender dysphoria is real but rare.  am not without personal knowledge of Victorians who are genuinely struggling and suffering due to gender confusion, and they seek resolution and acceptance (which does not always mean being identified in ways contrary to their biological sex). I want to affirm their dignity and humanity and pray that they would come to know the God who loves and gives us the greatest and most fulfilling identity, of being in Christ and knowing him. 

My intent is not to cause people greater consternation, but to alert the fact that Labor’s proposal is no solution at all.

Here’s are a few questions that require attention:

  1. Children can apply to alter their birth certificate, but doing so with the approval of their parents and with a supporting statement from either a medical practitioner or psychologist. One question that needs to asked, however, is what will happen when a child wishes to change their gender on the birth certificate and the parents believe that such action is not in the best interest of their child? Are we to expect a similar situation to what now takes place in Victorian schools where children can be given resources to transition without parental consent and knowledge?
  2. Will the new legislation, like its predecessor in 2016, allow persons to change their birth certificate every 12 months, or is only one change permitted? As the medical and scientific fraternity attest, the major of people dealing with gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood, identifying comfortably with their biological sex. What will happen in these cases?

On another occasion, I’ve quoted from this article in The Atlantic and it is worth repeating here (it should be noted that it’s not a conservative publication). The author warns against moving quickly to intervene in cases of gender dysphoria. Keep in mind, in this instance the Victorian Government is not proposing psychological or medical intervention (which already happens) but a legal declaration.   This is more than recognising that a person feels like they are a certain gender, this is the State announcing that a person is their chosen gender.

“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.”

We have entered a very new and strange space where what is true is no longer true, and what is good is considered bad for society, and where people crying for help are told there is nothing wrong. I also suspect biology teachers may soon be out of work, or at best they’ll be transitioned into the humanity’s department.

Our culture has tried to kill off God and now we’re displacing science. One thing is clear, the path forward is not befitting of the word, progressive. I heard it once, and I’ve been trying to say it regularly ever since a day is coming when a generation of disillusioned and damaged Victorians are going to need safe places for healing and love. Governments may play the game of identity politics and flaunt the neo-marxist ideas that are pulling strings out of the universities, but there is a better way. We can affirm a fellow human being and acknowledge their struggles and needs without approving of every self-belief. Perhaps the Labor Bill will pass on this occasion and join the growing line of regressive ideological positions that have been enshrined inside Parliament over recent years. Perhaps common sense will win the day. Whatever the outcome, I trust our Churches will have doors wide open to welcome, love, and care for those who come inside looking for hope and resolution. 

While being careful to avoid misapplying texts of Scripture, I’m noting at the back of my mind that this Sunday we are preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. It is not a passage about gender dysphoria but it does hint at dysphoria more broadly speaking. The verses recognise that there is a groaning and discontentment in the human condition and a longing for permanency and settling into what is good and right.

“While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

 

Media Freedom and Religious Freedom

According to the last few weeks of media reporting, George Orwell’s 1984 has come to roost in Australia. A headline in yesterday’s The Age announced that “This country’s treatment of whistleblowers has strong echoes of Orwell”. While acknowledging Orwell’s novel is set suspiciously in Oceania and that ‘Big Brother’ was headquartered on the Gold Coast, I reckon that the population of Hong Kong have a better understanding of the Orwellian State than we Aussies.

I am thankful for the fact that we live in a country where the press has the freedom to report issues. They don’t need to hide under a blanket and with a pseudonym, uploading stories to those who are brave enough to click on them This is not the case in every nation, and it’s a blessing that we shouldn’t take for granted.

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Journalists perform a vital task in modern societies: to investigate and to inform people of news stories. Media is a key source for attaining information regarding all manner of news items, and so it is essential that they have freedom from Governmental control and influence (and indeed, freedom from the control of big business and influential identities). I’m suspect that self-interest sometimes serves as a journalist’s catalyst which can encourage boundaries to be pushed or even crossed,  whether it is fame, extra clicks and likes, or corporate profit. I’m also sure that many work with personal convictions and integrity and are seeking to do good for the public interest. 

There was been a strong and immediate reaction to two raids made by Federal Police over the last couples of weeks, one in a journalist’s home and the second at the ABC’s Sydney office. Authorities enacting newly introduced laws that are aimed at protecting information sensitive to national security. 

In today’s The Australian, Labor Senator, Kristina Keneally said,

“When freedom of the press — a basic tenet of our democracy — is seen to be under attack, the government must speak up.”

While not all journalists are concerned by this ‘news’, across the media’s ideological spectrum there has been a fairly unified expression of concern. 

In an interview on ABC radio Melbourne last week, Kerry O’Brien commented

”people have to be really clear about what’s at stake here”.

“If they care about democracy, this does go to the heart of democracy and the democratic process”.

Richard Flanagan’s piece for Guardian goes even further,

“The AFP media raids aim to suppress the truth. Without it we head into the darkness of oppression

If mass surveillance is brought in, how will we know about it? Is national security best served by the inevitable abuses of such a scheme about which we are never told and which would go unpunished? Would national security be enhanced or weakened were Mr Dutton to use such powers for political advantage or to enable political persecution without our knowledge?

And if we cannot know the truth of such fundamental matters, what security as a democracy do we have?”

Professor Peter Greste has offered what appears like a more even-handed analysis, suggesting that, 

“We are not suggesting that those laws be repealed – clearly, we need to update our national security framework to deal with evolving threats – but if in the process of trying to make us safer, we undermine the very system that has made us one of the safest countries on the planet in the first place, something has gone terribly wrong.”

The legislation, if accurately summarised by Damien Cave in the New York Times, does seem needlessly broad and vague.

“The most recent expansion of governmental secrecy came last year with an espionage bill that increased criminal penalties for sharing information deemed classified, even if a document happened to be as harmless as a cafeteria menu, and broadened the definition of national security to include the country’s economic interests.”

It’s a little tricky to work out what all the relevant parties think about the Federal Police raid on the ABC. For example, both the Coalition and Labor last year supported the legislation which gave license to this police investigation. It was also last year that Greens Leader, Richard Di Natale, called for Parliament to introduce legislation to crack down on journalists who were allegedly engaging in “hate speech” (by which he meant, social commentary that he didn’t agree with). Last week, he was whistling a very different tune.

The Age newspaper ran with the headline, “without fear or favour”. It is a perfectly sensible ideal and many journalists aim to live up to this high standard. The benchmark is, of course, an impossible one, for no media corporation is without bias and no reporter is morally or politically neutral. Indeed, as society becomes more polarised, we are seeing a diminishment of this kind of “without favour” reporting, with many journalists spouting popular ideology and replacing evidential and reasoned reporting with sloganeeing, sometimes without the faintest idea of the subject matter that they are talking about. The topic of religious freedom is an all too obvious and rather ironic example of this.

There is more than a touch of incongruity in the middle of this public outcry. Many of the same voices who are today yelling grave concerns for journalistic freedoms have been quite prepared to deny similar freedoms to religious people when it comes to speaking and persuade in the public square. 

Parallels between media freedom and religious freedom

Indeed, I suspect some members of the press would squirm at the realisation that there are striking correlations between the media and religious communicators. 

Firstly, both groups have little protection under Australian law. Professor Peter Greste explains,

“Like a lot of people, I’m really concerned about the last two raids … it imposes an extra level of intimidation and that’s really unhealthy.

“That’s why it demonstrates to us the need for a media freedom act, that acts as a buffer to prevent these kinds of activities.”

Two South Australian Senators, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, have announced plans to introduce legislation to amend the Constitution in order to give the press similar protections to those enjoyed by American journalists under their Constitution. 

At the same time, legal experts have also been calling for the Government to give protection to religious organisations, schools, and churches so that they can continue to adhere to their values and to speak, without fear of Government intrusion and without businesses defining appropriate religious belief, as we have witnessed in the recent Israel Folau case. 

Secondly, both groups have a role and responsibility to broadcast and communicate a message. 

It is worth noting that the Biblical language for religious speech is not dissimilar to that of the reporter. To preach means to herald a message. To teach is to inform and to impart information of importance to others. The preacher may analyse social events and cultural trends but foremost they are to present the truth of Jesus Christ without “fear or favour”. In this way, I can empathize with journalists who feel as though the Government is attempting to intimidate and control.

Some of our media have mud in the eye today, or is that a plank? Sadly, I don’t think they’ve spotted it as yet. Freedom for the press, but not freedom for religious speech. Freedom from Government intrusion, unless you’re a religious organisation in which case the Government has every right to interfere. If only some of our most vocal journos practiced what they preached, “without fear or favour”, they might be receiving a little more sympathy today. Despite their lack of concern for the freedom of other Australians to present, speak, and persuade in the public square, other Aussies understand that there is an important principle at stake for both groups. With that in mind, might I suggest the following 5 points.

5 Points for Consideration

As I calculate the actions and reactions in light of the police raids, here are 5 thoughts for consideration:

1. Freedom of the press is paramount for sustaining a liberal democracy. We ought to defend the media’s freedom to pursue and publish stories that are of public interest and importance, without undue external pressures being applied.

2. Journalists shouldn’t work outside the law (I’m not saying that’s the case here with the ABC. The fact is, we don’t yet know). 

3. We should be slow to impute bad motives on our police (and on the Judge(s) who signed the warrants)

4. We should be cautious about making unsubstantiated judgments about Governmental interference. Rumouring and speculating don’t aid the cause of the media, nor that of the public. If we are truly concerned about ‘fake news’, we mustn’t let rhetorical flair escape the evidence at hand

5. If recently instated laws are unnecessarily inhibiting journalists from setting about their work with integrity and thoroughness, it is appropriate for the Government to reevaluate these laws (as well intended as these laws may be).

The President went to Church and the Pastor prayed for him

President Donald Trump went to Church today. After playing a round of golf on Sunday morning, he visited McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia. A spokesman from the White House said that President Trump was there to “visit with the pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.”

David Platt is a Pastor at McLean Bible Church. Platt was formerly the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and is a Council member of the Gospel Coalition. McLean Bible Church is a nondenominational church located just outside of Washington DC. The Church describes their aim as, “We glorify God by making disciples and multiplying churches among all nations beginning in greater Washington, DC.”

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What does a Pastor say when the President of the United States arrives for Church? One could conflate Christian faith with conservative politics and therefore deflate the Gospel and create needless divisions in your church. One could condemn the man and his politics and so initiate another unnecessary division in your church and once again confuse the Gospel. One could use the opportunity to campaign either for or against President Trump.

The Scriptures provide us with examples of how to navigate such scenarios, although I don’t recall a specific example of a national leader visiting a church service. There is Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar, and Paul before Agrippa, Festus, and Felix.  As David Platt made mention in his prayer, 1 Timothy 2 gives us instructions as to how to pray for Governing authorities,

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

It is clear from Platt’s prayer that he shares this Pauline view of the world.

I’m not privy to the arrangements made prior to the President’s visit (reporting suggests that it was quite an impromptu visit), but it is worth noting that Mr Trump did not speak or share while on the platform; Church is not a political rally. Mr Trump did not pray or read the Bible, as Church’s sometimes feel obliged when dignitaries visit. Pastor Platt and the Elders of McLean Bible Church respectfully guarded their pulpit and they rightfully acknowledged their nation’s leader with them and prayed for him and for the country.

We need more examples like David Platt.

How would we greet our political representatives, should they turn up to our churches next Sunday?  What would our reaction be should our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison or our Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese decide to drop by for church? Or if you live in Victoria, what if our Premier Daniel Andrews wished to attend? Placards or prayer? Posturing or Gospel presentation?

In an era where social outrage and political partisanship are on the rise, and where the culture drives people to the poles of icy extremes, David Platt offers us an example worth heeding.

Take 3 minutes to watch the video and listen to the pastor’s prayer for the President.

 

Since writing earlier today I have received some pushback. For the most part, Christians have expressed gratefulness for the way in which David Platt prayed, but some are suggesting that it’s all about optics rather than the content of the prayer. I don’t know what motivated the President to turn up that morning (I’m not naive enough to think politics wasn’t at play), but I also believe that the God to whom we pray is more wise and powerful and can outwit even the optics created by the President of the United States. The will of God to whom we pray will outdo the intent of any who wish to spin it for their own short-term political ends.


David Platt has since written this letter to his church. I appreciate his love for the Gospel and for his Church https://www.mcleanbible.org/prayer-president?fbclid=IwAR1nxkslWRJlU7kxOquyYYmyQxsjilfOHIp5nCtKKbG5GZwuAjn2vMfvRlI 

 

Hell just won’t go away

Once again, Australians are talking about hell. It was only last week that I wrote an article suggesting that the Israel Folau case might set a course for the future. Little did I realise that it would only take a few days before Australia would be hit with another example, and this time it’s one that might influence the outcome of a Federal election.

The week started with a schoolyard journalist believing they’d discovered the great gotcha moment. They asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “Do you believe gay people are going to hell?”

Mr Morrison gave a roundabout answer, which sounded like, “I do believe that, but my personal beliefs about hell don’t have anything to do with public policy and governing the country.”

There is some truth in this kind of response. Even a non-response would have been okay—after all, don’t answer a fool according to their folly is proverbial wisdom (Prov 26:4). But of course, as soon as the Prime Minister flustered his answer, everyone from Broome to Ballarat everyone knew that hell had now become an election issue.

Mr Shorten jumped on the Prime Minister’s response saying,

“I cannot believe in this election that there is a discussion even under way that gay people will go to hell,”

“I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell.”

“No, I don’t believe gay people, because they’re gay, will go to hell. I don’t need a law to tell me that. I don’t believe it.”

“I think if you want to be prime minister of Australia you are going to be prime minister for all people. And I just don’t believe it. The nation’s got to stop eating itself in this sort of madness of division and toxicity”.

Finally, Mr Morrison issued a statement saying that he didn’t believe gays would go to hell.

In one sense, it’s not the answers that are the issue here (I’ll qualify this remark later on), but the fact that the question is being asked at all of our political leaders.

 

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I am fascinated by, and glad to see, Australians discussing eternal matters. These questions are of great significance. They bring God onto the nation’s radar and help us to ask existential questions about what we believe and how we live our lives. I am less encouraged, however, by some of the assertions being made by journalists and politicians alike. As a Christian, while I firmly believe that what we think of heaven and hell matters enormously, these things should not become tests for public office. Indeed, the Australian Constitution S116 offers protection and states that there is to be no religious test for office.

I understand why religious institutions, churches, and organisations would require agreement on the doctrine of hell. For example, how can someone teach the Bible at a theological college if they do not subscribe to the basic doctrinal position of the said institution? It’s not that hell is extraneous and inconsequential to the wider societal discourse, but have we entered the place where outside the church, a person’s theological convictions are to be judged?  Are we to define a person’ suitability for public office based on their personal views about eternal matters? Is the public square to be a place fitted with theological gates to keep out bits of the Bible that don’t applaud current cultural obsessions and attitudes? The answer seems to be, yes.

Once upon a time, if an employer asked you what you thought about hell, it wasn’t in order to find grounds to have you sacked. How quickly has our culture shifted!

I don’t think we should be getting our doctrine of hell from any given political party, and I don’t think we should be voting for or against candidates because of their particular understanding of hell. I can honestly say that as a Christian this issue has never been one of the top 50 questions that I’ve ever thought of asking candidates.

But truly secular society can never be a religion-free zone. That is a fictitious position that can only exist in the theoretical world and is posited by persons who are themselves reacting against set religious thinking (usually Christian theism).  Classic secularism (of which Australia is an example) is designed to provide a civil public life which encourages the discussion of life’s big questions without control by any single ideologue. Secularism, in contrast to the ravings of some, is not meant to establish atheism or soft and bland religion as the official state religion. Secularism is meant to be pluralistic; to make our society an Areopagus where people bring ideas to the table and where people argue and seek to persuade each other. No one is excluded because they are Christian or Jewish or Hindu or atheist.

Unfortunately, many of today’s secularists have shifted the goalposts. They don’t want secularism in the classic sense, they want to pit people against each other. They trade in outrage and scare campaigns—the intention of which are to punish and banish any heresy that doesn’t fit with their dogma. Hence, Rugby is no longer about playing football but is about subscribing to the narrow sexuality agenda being forced by corporate sponsors. University learning is less about the free exchange of ideas and discovery, but about forcing progressive theory into young minds. And now, Christian politicians are apparently required to affirm that they are theological liberals when it comes sexual matters.

My point is this, Christians who think they can hold onto their beliefs in private and keep them tucked away from public gaze, probably need to wake up and think again. While a generation of educators and public narrators told us that religion is a private affair and that our views about God are not welcome out loud, the very same parrots are now demanding that we open our mouths. Of course, they are not interested in listening and engaging with ideas. Far from it, they want us to speak because they are convinced that Christianity, like two atoms hurtling toward each other at extraordinary speed, will implode. Many of our cultural scriptwriters are keen to write out Biblical Christianity from the Australian storyline altogether, either by forcing Christians to admit that they believe the Bible or by denying it publicly.

It is time for Christians to think about what they really believe and why, and to formulate answers to these hot topics, explanations that are grace seasoned with salt. If colleagues at work or fellow students uni are aware that we follow Jesus, are they not already asking us these kinds of questions? Surely it is prudent for us to be thinking biblically, lovingly, clearly, and winsomely. As Peter writes,

“be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I would also suggest that  Christians reopen Augustine and Calvin, as aids to helps us think through the complexities of religion and public life. Jonathan Leeman’s, How the Nations Rage, is a new volume that deserves careful treatment (while written for an American context, there is a wealth of theological insight to gain from this book).

As it happens, I don’t believe anyone goes to hell because of their sexual orientation. I also don’t believe anyone goes to heaven because of their sexual orientation. Will gays go to hell? Will heterosexuals go to hell? The answer to both questions is yes, but not because of sexual orientation but because in a thousand expressions we all dismiss and denude God’s ways. Both self-realisation and self-righteousness are a sure path to hell, because both deny that there is God and that he is altogether good and holy and love. There will be plenty of happily married couples who never enter heaven and many same-sex attracted men and women who are welcomed by God. This isn’t because sex is malleable and or because the Bible’s teaching on marriage isn’t clear and good. Jesus insisted that any sexual activity outside the marriage between a man and a woman is to be considered immoral. And yet we also see his compassion on those who had digressed and lived in ways contrary to God’s design.

Heaven and hell isn’t a left or right issue, it is a human issue. The self-righteousness that is condemned in the Bible isn’t owned by any single political party, but it must not be a characteristic of those who profess to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. Rather, Christians can remind each other that we’ve come to understand the rightness of God who judges; the wonder of God who shows mercy; and that we desire nothing more than to see straight Australians, gay, lesbian and transgender Australians also finding this God who loves.

So to the question that is making headlines across the nation this week, when we are next asked, “do you believe gays will go to hell”, how will you answer?

The Politico-Religious Tug Of War

The Gospel Coalition (USA) is under fire again, this time for apparently being too anti-Trump.

A notable American theologian has exclaimed with a tone of frustration, “Are all the vocal gatekeepers of The Gospel Coalition “Never- Trumpers”?”

I am staying away from the particulars of this conversation as it seems to be unfolding and there is perhaps misunderstanding on both sides. To be clear though, the issue does not relate to TGC, it concerns a comment made by a TGC writer on his own personal twitter account.  What I am interested in noting is criticisms aimed at  The Gospel Coalition’s positioning and contributions on a range of politico-ethical issues, which I think in fact reflects a healthy and constructive place.

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Over the last couple of years, there has been consternation over TGC being too ‘leftist’ and too social gospel orientated. This is quite different from the more regular criticism that is found in some Christian quarters and in the media whereby The Gospel Coalition is caricatured as overly conservative and exclusive.  In Australia, despite TGCA now being one of the major Christian websites in the country, with significant reach and influence across the nation and internationally, TGCA remains outside the radar of most Australian media and political attention; and that’s fine because they are not our audience. Nonetheless, within the smallish Christian circles that do exist in Australia, TGCA has been similarly attacked both left and right alike. 

First of all, we shouldn’t conflate every statement made on a personal social media account as representing The Gospel Coalition. I’m pretty sure that my fellow TGCA Council members wouldn’t agree with some of my personal tweets about football,  Melbourne, and food, let alone on every single theological comment I have uttered. Surely we can differentiate between what a person says under their own name and what is written under the umbrella of an organisation.

Second, the Gospel Coalition, both in the United States and in Australia (and its other chapters), does not identify with any given political spectrum. TGC(A) is not a political entity, representing any single political party or position. It is a coalition of Christian men and women who are gathered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and who affirm a set of theological convictions that are grounded in and are concerned for the fidelity of, the proclamation of, and living out of this Gospel of God. This coalition is made up of folk with clear theological convictions and from a wide range of ethnic groups, demographics, denominations and churches, and from many parts of the globe.

Third, it is quite possible, and indeed preferable, to critique positions on moral issues without suggesting whom we should vote for or which political party a Christian ought to support. TGC and TGCA contribute articles on a wide range of ethical and social issues, including abortion, racism, same-sex marriage, and these are argued Biblically and pastorally without taking that further step which is beyond the jurisdiction of pastors, namely to indicate how fellow Christians should vote or which party they should support.

As Australians go to the polls later this month to elect a Federal Government, I’ve heard once again the unhelpful (although probably well-meaning) voices of a few Christians encouraging fellow believers to vote for particular candidates and parties.  The problem is, sometimes their pleas become so impassioned that we are left with the impression that Christians must vote in a singular way and for only certain political parties and not others. Of course, there are very important issues for Christians that are better reflected in some party politics than others, but our cause is not Liberal or Labor, or Republican or Democrat. It is also possible that a time may come when it becomes impossible for Christians to support a particular party, given their policies are so anti-God and so anti-human, but we must be reticent to make such pronouncements, in contrast to some religious folk who seem to have this route locked on autopilot every election.

Our Gospel does not belong to and is not defined by progressive politics and morality nor by conservative politics and morality. The fact that TGC is regularly attacked by progressive branches of the media and by liberal Christians and that it is also sometimes accused of being too progressive and embracing of social issues, probably indicates that they are sitting in a wise place. It is even more important that our churches are wise when addressing social and political issues.

I don’t believe we should avoid talking about the political and social issues from the Scriptures, but we should not bind the consciences of our congregation beyond what Scripture allows. We must allow room for wisdom. In my view, unwise conscience binding includes promoting a given political party or politician (even those who purport to be overtly Christian) whether in our literature or from the Sunday church platform. I know of one church where a member of Parliament attends and is an active member. Both he and the church leadership are on the same page, making the conscious decision to refrain from presenting him or his party’s platform in the church context, lest people confuse Christianity and the Church with a particular political expression. Even on social media, Christians leaders need to be careful about aligning too closely with one candidate or another. Instead, teach our congregations well from the Scriptures, pray for them and pray for those in political authority over us (regardless of the party they represent), and trust that the Holy Spirit is working in lives of believers and giving them wisdom to discern how to vote.

A Mural and a Sign: Two Messages for Melbourne

A mural has appeared in Melbourne’s famous Hosier Lane. I’m not sure whether it’s commemorating or celebrating the egging of Senator Fraser Anning, but it’s there and no doubt it’ll gain national if not international attention by tomorrow morning.

It was only last night that I realised that this incident took place just up the road from where I live and from where my church is located. Frankly, I felt sickened that in my neighbourhood an event took place which is being described as an extreme right-wing political meeting.

 

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Photograph V.T Rudd

The egging was a 17-year-old boy’s response to Senator Anning’s comments about Friday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch, where 50 Muslims were murdered as they prayed in two separate Mosques. Senator Anning suggested,

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand… The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader.”

He then had the audacity to misread and misapply the Bible as a proof text. Dr Andrew Moody has written a helpful article which explains what Jesus is saying, as opposed to the message Anning is communicating.

I find Senator Anning’s comments morally repugnant. As an Australian, I wish we would be more welcoming of refugees. I spoke to someone over the weekend who works among some of the poorest and more oppressed peoples in the Middle East. They reminded me of the continued needs that thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis have, who are looking for a new home, a place that is safe and where they can raise their families without bloodshed.  Also, as a Christian who is serving in a church literally down the road from Moorabbin, I find Anning’s use of Jesus’ words repellent.

Like many Australians, I understand why a 17 year old boy might be tempted to ‘egg’ the Senator when the opportunity arose. If I was 17 years old and the supermarket was close by, I might also be tempted to do likewise, but surely we don’t correct one wrong by making another, even if it a relatively harmless egg.

What has been equally sad in the midst of a grief that so many New Zealanders are experiencing this week, is to see politicians, journalists and social commentators throwing their own rhetorical eggs at each other, lobbing insults from left to right and from right to left. If tragedies like Christchurch are unable to bring communities closer together, we have drifted into an unseemly place in our society. It has reached levels where I prefer not to check my twitter feed, and where reading the opinion pages leaves one feeling more disillusioned and disappointed. I don’t think it’s because we have forgotten how to speak civilly and how to show respect by carefully listening to each other, it’s that we don’t want to, and when people do try they are often shouted down with a torrent of verbal insults. The aim of the day is to win the argument by shouting louder and making oneself appear more morally outraged than others.

A few minutes drive south from Moorabbin along Nepean Hwy and with a left hand turn into Mentone, there is a sign which has been displaying its message for 50 years. Thousands of cars drive past this sign every day, although I suspect most people take little notice; it certainly won’t gain the attention that the mural will receive. I understand why. However, the message does grab the attention of some people. At Church yesterday, a man shared his testimony before the congregation and explained how he was driving past Mentone Baptist Church a few years ago and the message on this sign stood out to him and left him wondering about his own life. He eventually started to attend the Church and he became a Christian, his life turned dramatically, and yesterday he and another young guy at Mentone were baptised down at Parkdale Beach.

The message he saw reads, “Jesus Saves”. It is simple and beautiful, its meaning is ancient and yet also current, it both repels and compels, it creates questions and gives an answer. The message is very different from the mural on Hosier Lane that is imprinting the Moorabbin incident onto the city landscape. In a couple of years time only a few people will remember the egging and by then the mural will have been painted over many times. But the good news message of Jesus Christ will still be here, not because there’s anything special about the sign at Mentone Baptist, but because He is that good. It is a message that not only stands against racism but all manner of thinking and living that deposes goodness and truth and life. It is a message that not only signals fault but speaks of an extraordinary and undeserving redemption.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 

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