Down Syndrome, and the unwanted children

Two tweets appeared on my twitter feed this morning, juxtaposed to each other. At first I couldn’t believe the ignominious paradox, for both related to children with Down Syndrome: one was about letting kids be kids, and the other tells of a nation who is systematically killing off all such children.

 

The first tweet refers to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald written by Peter FitzSimons, in which he responds to a call to ban a boy with Down Syndrome from playing in a local soccer team. Why? Because, while soccer allows for 11 players on the pitch, Marc Reichler-Stillhard, plays as a 12th. No one has had any problem with him playing as an extra, until now. FitzSimons has written a beautiful account of this young boy and his local soccer club, including a sensible appeal to the Football association:

“It has been wonderful for Marc and his family, great for the Yamba team who love to play with him, and make sure he gets to kick the ball, and the opposing teams in the Clarence Valley have respected the situation, and Marc, not taking advantage of his position in the team.

So it’s all fun in the sun, yes, in a manner that would bring a tear to a glass eye, as the true spirit of community sport for kids is embraced? Yes, for nearly everyone.

Somewhere out there, however, last week, a complaint was made by just one of the opposing clubs that this was – wait for it – against the rules, asking North Coast Football to stop Marc playing as a 12th man.

NCF have upheld the complaint. Though they are OK to provide an exemption to him on grounds of age, they now insist that Yamba field only 11 players.

And so allow me please, a few words, NCF, and the club making the complaint.

I respectfully submit that you are making the wrong decision and should reconsider. This is kids’ sport. This is about fun, about inclusion, about humanity. It may or may not be that Marc’s inclusion affects the outcome of the game one way or another, but, who gives a flying frock?”

The second tweet concerns a story from Iceland. This tiny Island nation is determined to ‘eradicate’ Down Syndrome…by killing all unborn children who are discovered to have the condition.

CBS reporter interviewed an Icelandic mum with a Down Syndrome child. She said of her country, that ’three babies born with Down syndrome is “quite more than usual. Normally there are two, in the last few years.”

Following this story, Actor Patricia Heaton sent out this message, ‘Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down Syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.’

In addition, here in Australia, a 4 Corners special report revealed on Monday that 9 out of 10 babies who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are now aborted.

It is easy to see the jarring paradox of these two morning tweets.

We are confused. Are children human beings or not? Are unborn children fully human? Are some children, born or unborn, somehow lesser than others because they carry a medical condition? Is the inherent worth of some children expunged because they are likely to carry with them a disease or disability?

Since when does the vaginal canal transpose a Being from subhuman to fully human? Since when should we fight for the freedom of children to play, learn, and be loved, and yet pressure parents to have these children removed from the womb and have their life taken?

The very nature of loving community requires the unexpected and the difficult, and rather than eliminating those surprises, we alter our life expectations in order to to see their lives flourish.

Jesus once said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. Indeed, how great a love it is to sacrifice our hopes and plans for children who enter our lives.

These words may now be 3,000 years old, but they remain true today, even for individualist and narcissist societies that may cringe at their beauty:

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:13-15)

A Case for heterosexual only marriage

Increasingly, Australians have been led to believe that same-sex marriage is the great inevitable. The legal definition of marriage may well change in 2017, but the case for change has been less about cogent reasoning, and much to do with emotive stories and slick slogans. One should not ignore peoples personal experiences, but if we are to be fair, we will also listen to the equally powerful stories of same-sex attracted people who are asking us not to change the marriage definition. Yet, stories alone should not dictate Australian law.

Disappointingly, many people have been driven to silence, following a constant tirade of abuse from numerous politicians and media personalities. To even question the validity of same sex marriage is paramount to a new social heresy according to some. But it is possible, indeed desirable to speak for the dignity of LGBTI persons, and to seek their well being, without making the logical misstep of calling for marriage redefinition.

My local member, shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, suggested on the weekend that, “Anyone who thinks they can delay marriage equality in Australia further is standing in the way of history. Time to catch up with reality.”

While I’m impressed with Mr Dreyfus’ Delphic like insight, we also know how history shows that people often make the wrong choices. It may well be that there are good reasons for holding to the classical definition of marriage, and therefore, having sensible recourse for explaining to the Australian people that we should refrain from any change.

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You see, the question remains, what is marriage?

What is it about the nature of marriage that requires us to remove man and woman from its definition?

Is it love?

Love is of course a wonderful thing, and there are many kinds of love, but is this argument sufficient? Surely, not every loving relationship should be called marriage? The reality is, there must be more to marriage than love, otherwise even the proposed redefinition is discriminatory and inadequate.

But Australia has already changed the definition of marriage

Another argument that has been put forward is the view that marriage morphed throughout history, therefore it’s okay to once again institute change. This thesis however is nothing more than an example of historical revisionism. The 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act did not change the nature of marriage, it simply spelled out what was already established belief and practice. And when the Marriage Act was enacted in 1961, it was not reinventing the definition of marriage, but delineating what was known to be true about marriage; it was a self evident truth. Similarly, the Family Law Act 1975 which established the principle of no-fault divorce, did not alter the meaning of marriage, but wholly depended upon it.

What about the argument of equality?

The phrase ‘marriage equality’ is often cited, and it’s a clever piece of marketing, but it is also self-defeating and potentially disingenuous.  First of all, all sides in the marriage debate believe in marriage equality, but equality depends on how one defines marriage. Second, if the current debate is really about honouring equality, for whom is it attaining equality? The draft definition will continue to discriminate against polygamists and polyamorists, and it will also discriminate against those who believe marriage should have fixed term rather than ‘being for life’. If proponents of ‘marriage equality’ are in fact wanting equality for all, it makes sense to ask, why do they insist marriage should remain between 2 persons and be intended for life?

Such questions are not difficult to answer for those holding to the traditional and historical understanding of marriage, but I am yet to hear a persuasive argument from those advocating change. Indeed, I am keen to hear one.

As far as I can see, pretty much everyone in the marriage debate discerns a level of discrimination, but the question is at what point? What is it about marriage that requires 2 persons and life long commitment?

After an interesting dialogue last year, one interlocutor wrote to me saying, “marriage is about what people want it to be, whether it’s about love, convenience, social acceptance, children, getting a visa or whatever.”

I appreciated his honesty, and it demonstrated that when nudged, the reasoning for marriage change frequently ends in this same place of vagueness and imprecision. But arguing that the meaning of marriage is malleable is a fast track to making marriage meaningless. Conversations such as this one revealed the argument boils down to individualism, and to the belief that I am free to determine meaning as I like. As appealing as that may at first sound, it’s ultimately fallacious and counter-productive for a healthy society.

If I walked along the Monash freeway, I would soon find myself in trouble because the Monash freeway is not designed for pedestrians. Others may join with me and begin campaigning for pedestrian access along the Monash freeway, but it’s illogical because Freeways are not designed for any and all modes of travel.

Similarly, marriage is and has always been designed for a particular type of relationship: a loving consensual relationship between a man and a woman, intended for life, for personal relationship, for procreation, and for the building of society. There is something inherently unique about this covenantal relationship that we call marriage, and which can only be fulfilled by a man and a woman. As an example, biologically, the act of procreation requires 2 persons: a man and a woman. And such is the intimacy of this sexual union, that it requires the kind of loving commitment that marriage provides. We all know  children who grow up without a father or without a mother, but I don’t know of anyone who believes that this is a good thing. It is sometimes necessary given the awful reality of domestic violence, or the tragic death of a parent, but does anyone truly believe that the ideal context for raising children is without a mum and dad?

If Australia is to change the Marriage Act, we need better reasoning than what we have heard thus far. And 2016’s argument, ‘well, the Americans have done it’, probably doesn’t hold so much weight anymore!

I trust people won’t confuse my frankness here with glibness or insensitivity, for I do not wish to cause hurt to any for whom this is a personal issue. I genuinely desire for you to have life to the full, as Jesus spoke about (John 10:10). It is also possible that there will be a few ‘religious’ people who will read my words and use them to agitate views about homosexuality that I do not share; they will not find an ally here because the God whom I know and serve has made every human being in his image and they are deserving of love and dignity. That marriage is for a man and a woman is a good thing,  which even many gay and lesbian people recognise and affirm.

Is it wise to redefine marriage? Which ever way you respond to that question, we need to also answer these questions: what is marriage, and with what reason(s) do you define at such?

 

 

 


 

This post is a updated version of a piece published last year

Pursuing Public Conversation on Marriage

We live in strange days: When a Government breaks an election promise, the public is rightly critical and opposition Parties are justified to call them out. Even if we disagree with their political choices, there is an issue of integrity that the populace expect of our politicians.

Last night however, social commentators and some members of Parliament were outraged (again) that a Government has determined to keep its promise to electorate: to bring a plebiscite question on marriage to the Australian people. Is it not somewhat disingenuous to call Governments to account for broken promises one day, and then call them names the next day because they’re keeping their word?

 

Australia

I personally think there are arguments for and against a plebiscite. The pathway is a decision that needs to be made by the Government of the day.

There is precedence for a plebiscite

Since Federation in 1901, at the Federal level Australia has held 44 referendums and 3 plebiscites. The States however, have conducted many more plebiscites, covering a wide range of issues including the establishment of Wrest Point Casino (Tas, 1986), closing hours for alcohol selling establishments, extending shopping hours (WA, 2005), and daylight savings.

In other words, on no fewer than 60 occasions, Australian Governments have taken an issue to the people and asked for their opinion. That is one referendum or plebiscite every two years; meaning we’re overdue.

In 1977 a plebiscite was conducted to decide our national anthem. Now, maybe I’m not as patriotic as other Aussies, but in my view, marriage is significantly more important than choosing to sing ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

The issue warrants Australia’s input

While 94% of the Australian population don’t see this issue as very important, I am persuaded that it is of grave significance.

We are not talking about a tiny amendment to the law, but the radical and complete alteration of society’s most basic building block: from marriage comes the family unit, and from family communities are formed, and with communities a society and nation is shaped. Marriage is not everything, but it is an important thing and it is one which has held an almost universally accepted definition since history began. Until recently very few societies would even consider the question, and today the vast majority of nations remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Let us understand that no one is quibbling over a few words, at stake is rebooting the very notion of marriage. There are already community voices arguing that this rewrite is simply a steppingstone to further changes and even the eradication of marriage altogether:

In 2015, Simon Copland, a columnist with the Sydney Star Observer, argued that equal marriage might unfortunately limit expressions of sexuality, saying that ‘while monogamous marriage still works for many, our society is increasingly questioning whether it should remain as the only option’.

At the 2012 Sydney Writers’ festival, Dennis Altman, was among a number of speakers who declared their hope that the Marriage Act would be eventually repealed altogether.

The point is, it is not hyperbole to suggest that should marriage redefinition take place, it will be considered a watershed event in Australia’s history, one which will have inevitable and enormous repercussions for society.

Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage.

While the primary issue relates to what is marriage, there are significant corollary issues that Australians need to be made aware of. There are real consequences relating to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and there are genuine questions relating to the rights of children having a mum and dad, and to the issue of surrogacy and assisted reproduction. It is simply naive for us Australians to assume that nothing will change.

One of the largest problems facing is that, as soon as the law changes, anyone opposing the law will find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and thus exposing themselves to all manner of litigation. Law Associate Professor Neil Foster has written an important article outlining the very real threats to individual and organisation freedoms, should same-sex marriage become law in Australia.

How to conduct ourselves through this national debate

One of the 6 Liberal MPs who forwarded the proposed legislation last night, is a local member for many members of my church. I have a lot of respect for Tim Wilson, and I think it’s positive that members of the Liberal Party were able to bring forward an idea to their colleagues and to discuss its merits, even though it turned out that something like 80-90% of the caucus were not in agreement with them.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a plebiscite or not. It is doubtful that a free vote in Parliament would have the numbers for changing the Marriage Act, and it is also likely that the numbers among the Australian public are tighter than polling suggests. Whichever steps are taken in coming weeks, I am asking the Christian community to be wise and gracious in our speech. Most Christians don’t need reminding, but there are always a few who ignore the words of the Bible.

Public discussion on this issue does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act. Throwing bile at another human being is detestable, whether it is done in person or on twitter.

Indeed, the essence of Christianity is Jesus Christ showing kindness to a world that had no room for his beliefs,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Bible gives us very clear instruction on how to treat people around us, even those who disagree with us.

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

 

As important as this national conversation is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is how we conduct ourselves. Predictably although sadly, already this morning social media is alight with unhelpful and untrue rhetoric from politicians and television presenters, making assumptions about ‘equality’ and imputing all manner of malevolent motives on those who believe in classical marriage. To them, I say, please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly with gay marriage is not hate, and to claim such risks undermining the foundations of democracy and a free society.

Safe Schools Update

The Safe Schools Coalition released a statement on July 31st, defending the program and denying recent allegations made against their curriculum.

They state, “Recent online discussion regarding the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) program has spread a lot of misinformation, including claims about the content of SSCA resources. These claims have no basis.”

Nowhere does the statement mention which particular allegations are being denied, and neither do they offer any evidence to counter the ‘misinformation’.

It would have been helpful had SSCA clarified what exactly they are repudiating, because as it stands, their statement raises questions rather than answering them.

I am aware of one video that has been shared on social media recently, which has now over 3 million views. The video shows a mother describing her children’s story of how Safe Schools is being taught at their school. Some of her comments relate to facts that can be easily accessed either on the Safe Schools website itself or in media reporting from the last 2 years. Other comments relate to specific activities in the classroom which I can’t personally verify and therefore I’ll suspend judgment. I have no reason to doubt her and her children’s truth telling, but one also needs to be careful about conflating accounts with facts. It is unclear however whether SSCA is referring to this video or to something else. This has an unfortunate effect, a public statement that is designed to be clarifying is in fact just creating ambiguity.

The spokesperson for SSCA ask people to read the information that is available online for teachers, students, and parents. I thought, what a great idea. I hadn’t seen the material for sometime and assume that it may have been updated. So I did check it out, and sadly all the concerns that I have previously expressed have been reinforced.

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One statement I do agree with relating to Safe Schools, is found on the Victorian Education Department website, “All students should be safe from bullying and feel included at school. Students who don’t feel safe or included at school cannot learn effectively.”

Unfortunately though, Safe Schools is creating unsafe schools. In the year since the Federal review, concerns have not been alleviated.  It is becoming clearer that the authors of Safe Schools have taken one issue, but in the attempt to address it positively they have in fact created many more issues.

Facts:

  • What was first promoted as an anti-bullying program, was soon explained by founder Roz Ward, as a program designed to persuade children of socialist ideologies. Interestingly, the anti-bullying rhetoric is less prominent now, and the program is more clearly marketed as one of supporting LGBTI sexualities.
  • Safe Schools will be compulsory in all Victorian State secondary schools in 2018. It is also encouraged for Primary Schools.
  • Safe Schools is no longer allowed in NSW, and in South Australian it is being heavily revised.
  • Two studies have been conducted into Safe Schools by leading educational experts in Australia. The first was headed by Professor Bill Louden (of the University of Western Australia), and the other by Professor Professor Patrick Parkinson AM. Both studies demonstrate that Safe Schools is built upon misleading information and is unsuitable learning material. Prof Parkinson said that the curriculum is  ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.
  • Safe Schools relies on theories of gender and sexuality that have been deemed dangerous, and is now banned from schools in NSW.
  • Safe Schools depends on pseudo-science, relying on LGBTI statistics that have been shown to be false.
  • Safe Schools material is 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.”
  • Despite the Federal Government calling for the removal of third party websites such as Minus 18, Victoria continues partner with Minus 18, and the material encourage teachers to refer students to the Minus 18 website.
  • The curriculum is designed to alter the way children think about sexuality and gender, and to change their behavior. Safe Schools is not mere information, but it is aiming for change how children think and relate. One of the dominant themes is that heteronormacy is wrong and immoral, and instead we need to embrace the ‘fact’ that biology doesn’t determine gender, but instead we are what we feel we are
  • Exercises and questions given to 11-13 year old children are at times staggering in their inappropriateness. For example,
      • ‘Would you invite your partner home with you to meet your family?’
      • ‘If you were in a sports team, would you confidently tell your teammates about your sexuality?’
      • “Tell students on the left-hand side of the room that their character is going out with someone of the same sex, while the character of those on the right-hand side of the room is going out with someone of the opposite sex…”

 

There is tremendous pressure on students to conform to the new state quo. Students are not only participating during class, but they are given homework, and are encouraged to share their answers with teachers and with the class. Can you imagine the pressure on those kids who don’t subscribe to the views being taught? Can you imagine the pressure on a child who believes sex is only for a man and a woman in marriage, and to tell the class this? What about children who are same sex attracted but don’t wish to live a gay lifestyle? There is nothing to support them. And what about children who are experiencing some form a gender dysphoria? While best medical research urges delayed action (because the majority of kids no longer suffer dysphoria by the time the reach the end of adolescence), Safe Schools encourages schools to help them transition.

The teachers at my children’s schools are fantastic, and I greatly value their input into our children’s education. Say, though that one of my children came home and told me that their science teacher didn’t believe dinosaurs ever existed; I’d be a tad concerned. If my children’s history teacher taught revisionist history, I’d be keen to chat with the school.

Why then is it ok for our children to be forced to sit in classes that teach sex material based on dubious, misleading, and dangerous ideas? We are not talking about debating palaeontology or what really happened in 1066, but the health and wellbeing of our children, which of course includes children who do not identify as heterosexual.

Building school curriculum on flawed studies ends up hurting students, including those whom its meant to help. For the sake of all our children, we must do better than this. We want to see all children doing well and flourishing, not being bullied, but loved and supported. Safe Schools is continually showing that it isn’t the answer.

I would urge all parents to read the material for themselves. Ask yourself, are you happy for your child(ren) to be taught this in the classroom?

Is there persecution in Australia?

I don’t know if anyone has done the numbers, and I’m not old enough to know what Australian media was like before the mid1990s. I may be wrong, but my sense is that media is reporting more stories about Christians and Christianity than even 5 or 10 years ago. Many of the stories are negative (sometimes with good reason), while some are supportive of Christianity. There are stories and op-eds being written about Christianity and culture by Christians, and by agnostics, atheists, and Muslims; even sporting journalists are getting in on the act.

A good deal of what we read skews what Christians believe and practice, but why should we be surprised by that? Even some of the sympathetic journalism is unhelpful because it paints Christianity in ways other than through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On the upside, all the flurry of Christian attention is opening all kinds of opportunities to have conversations with people. On the downside, I am noting how many Christians are running too quickly to the poles, and not sticking with Jesus and letting his word shape our words and actions. As soon as another story about Christianity hits the news, responses are often tailored more by notions of progressive or conservative identities, and that’s a problem. When Christians too readily identify with left or right issues, we often can’t admit that there’s any problem unless it’s on the ‘right’ foot. The myopia is made worse by the fact that everyone has their preferred sources for news. The ABC is a friend…or foe. Are we Murdoch readers or Fairfax subscribers? And which journalist best represents our socio-political proclivities?

Last week’s story about children evangelising in Queensland school grounds is a classic example of this ridiculous Christian ping pong. On the one hand some Christian leaders ran to Andrew Bolt’s side, while other’s waved the Education Minister’s statement as proof that the entire story was a beat up. Both were wrong. The prohibition is real enough, and the Minister’s denial, while welcome, does not resolve the issue. Neither, though, is the Queensland Government the anti-Christ, as some silly people were suggesting.

Another example of this inane and insane polarisation took place today when Andrew Bolt jumped on the story of a Hobart Presbyterian Minister, Campbell Markham, who’s been notified of complaints made against his teaching by an upset atheist. As soon as people began to share the story on social media, it’s as though the Red Sea parted, with some going to the right in praise of Bolt’s defence, and others moving left to distance themselves from the Herald Sun columnist and all those shallow allegations of persecution in Australia.

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We would be mistaken if we defer to Andrew Bolt as some pseudo-Bishop for Aussie Christianity. After all, he does tell us that he is not a Christian. We are also mistaken if we close our eyes and claim that there’s nothing to see, and that any suggestion of persecution is simply overreach and unhelpful hyperbole.

Let’s take a look at the Bible’s language of persecution. The Biblical words convey a broad sense of opposition. The primary word, dioko, means to pursue, chase, or drive away. The aim of persecution is to drive away the Gospel, Jesus, and those who follow him.

Persecution can take on many shapes and sizes.

Persecution can be intense and severe: you may be marked out in your community and lose privileges that others enjoy. You may lose your job, be imprisoned, be forced to flee and seek asylum in another country. You may be killed. This is the experience of many millions of our brothers and sisters today in different parts of the world.

On other occasions, the Bible gives examples of ‘softer’ persecution. For example, in the Beatitudes Jesus says,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.”

We must be careful not to conflate our circumstances with those faced by many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Disagreement for example is not persecution.

We must also be careful not to minimise real threats that have been  made again some Christians in Australia. To argue that there is no persecution is ignorant and even callous.  Sure, persecution in Australia is unusual, but it’s not unknown. Indeed, more than a few members of my church have been subjected to bullying by parents and by spouses because they have chosen to follow Jesus. This includes disownment and disinheritance, should they persist in being baptised and joining a local church.

Across Bass Strait, Campbell Markham and David Gee are the latest Tasmanian preachers to have formal complaints made against them for their Bible teaching. Being brought before a State’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, because someone took offence at your preaching, is a form of thlipsis.

Just because there is no tsunami doesn’t mean that the tide isn’t changing, and neither does the changing tide mean that there’s a gigantic wave about hit the shore.

At Mentone Baptist we are currently preaching through Romans ch.12-16, and our text yesterday was 12:14-21. No matter the direction of the tide, it is a posture to have continually define our response,

“9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Queensland Education Department is afraid of Jesus?

In the school playground, children talk about everything and anything: what they watch on television, who is eating what for lunch, their favourite sporting players and what bands they’re listening too, and what they’re hoping to do on the weekend. But if the Queensland Education Department have their way, the one topic children will not be allowed to speak about is Jesus.

In our click bait media culture, it is sometimes hard to discern real stories from the dubious, but sure enough, this story is legitimate.

The Queensland Education Department have undertaken to inform schools that children are not to discuss Christianity outside formal Religious Instruction classes.

To quote from the Departmental report that has been given to schools,

“While not explicitly prohibited by the EGPA or EGPR, nor referenced in the RI policy statement, the Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not  participate in their RI class, given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.”

What is extraordinary about this memorandum is that the Department admits that this prohibition falls outside the parameters of any formal policy and guidelines, but they are nevertheless insisting schools take action.

Evangelism is defined by the Department as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity”.

The problem with their definition of evangelism is that in effectively prohibits any conversation that involves God, Jesus, and Church. Inviting a friend to a Christmas service might be interpreted as evangelism. Sharing what you learned about God could be taken as evangelism. It is only natural for children to talk about and share things that are important to them and that they enjoy; for many children this includes belief in Jesus and being part of a church.

Is the education department really wanting to squash children’s freedom to talk about issues beyond homework, sport, music, and latest i-pad apps?

Is inviting a friend to a church event really going to undermine pluralism and respect? Is a group of student engaging in the big questions of life so unacceptable?

 

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Associate Professor of Law, Neil Foster, has written an important response to this QLD report, pointing out that it fails several important tests. It is worth taking the time to read. In summary, he notes that,

1. This “expectation” is not supported by legislation

2. This “expectation” is probably illegal as discriminatory

3. The “expectation” is illegal as contradicting the head legislation

4. The “expectation” undermines free speech of pupils

5. The “expectation” undermines religious freedom for pupils

 

These points alone amount to checkmate, but there is more.

First, the prohibition fails the test of what is sensible.

Remembering what it’s like to be a child at school, and having 3 children at school, I can imagine the kinds of conversations that will happening today. During lunch there will be 10 year old students inviting their friends to the movies this weekend: Do you want to come with me and watch the new Transformers  movie or Planet of the Apes film? Watching age inappropriate movies is fine, but Church is too dangerous. Birthday cards will be handed out, but please avoid Christmas cards. Have a giggle over dirty jokes, but let’s be clear, no one can mention the Bible.

I realise Queensland is the sunny state, but one can have too much sun. This Departmental imposition really is as silly as it sounds, and it will in fact achieve the opposite of their intention, which is to ‘provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.’ 

In recent years we have laughed at schools who have banned balls from the  playground, because they are a threat to children’s safety. Now, we have to remove Jesus talk because it will undermine social cohesion in schools?  Do we really not trust that our kids can have reasonable conversations about religion? It is all the more ironic, because the very principles that these bureaucrats  want to see in school, that of respect and inclusion, are based on Christian beliefs?

Second, the QLD Education Department wrongly assumes that non-God talk in the playground is somehow morally and spiritual neutral, as though children can chat about any topic in a theologically neutral way. This is not true secularism, it’s imposed atheism. It is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse is void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we will have is exclusive and intolerant atheism. Is that the kind of school environment we want for our children?

As I was reading about this story this morning, my mind turned to the book of Acts in the Bible and to chapter 4 where the city’s leadership arrested Peter and John for talking about Jesus with people. They warned the disciples, ‘do not speak or teach in the name Jesus’. Peter and John replied, ‘we can’t help it’.  One can only assume that these education officials haven’t ready a Bible nor studied history, because demanding that people stop talking about Jesus usually has the opposite affect.

I trust that sane heads will prevail and that the Queensland Education Department will retract this injunction.

 

 


Update:

The QLD Education Minister has released a statement this afternoon denying there’s any ban on students sharing their faith with other students. Ms Jones said, ‘No one is telling a child what they can and can’t say in the playground.”

This is welcome news. However it doesn’t explain the Department’s report which she accepted, a report which urges schools not to permit God-talk by students outside of Scripture Classes. This report falls under the official policy section of the Education Department, titled, ‘Religious instruction policy statement’.

On this page there is a section marked ‘Reviews’ which is introduced with this statement,

“The purpose of the reviews is to provide guidance to state schools as to whether the program complies with departmental policies, procedures and applicable law.”

This ban is official guidance for schools.

In other words, the Minister’s statement is at odds with her own Department’s position. 

We encourage Ms Jones to follow through with today’s positive announcement and ensure that those statements about evangelism are removed altogether.

ABC, Domestic Violence, and Churches

Over the course of the week I affirmed much of the ABC’s reporting into domestic violence, and made it clear that any and all abuse is wrong and not to be tolerated. Abuses in the home contravene the teaching of the Bible, and expressly transgresses the Bible’s teaching on marriage. I have made my views public, not only this week, but 2 years ago.

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Unfortunately, ABC reporters are choosing to draw links and make strong insinuations where the threads are tenuous.

For instance Julia Baird has hit back at people who questioned the ABC’s reporting of statistics, suggesting that they were “quibbling” over data. At the same time, panelist Georgina Dent, insisted that there isn’t enough data. On the one hand, viewers were told that anyone asking questions about the research were ‘quibbling” and denying some of the assertions made by Baird and others, and then viewers were being told that the research should be even more damning than it is. This is problematic and confusing for so many reasons.

I do take issue with some comments being made this week. I have not appreciated the tone of some individuals, who instead of recognising that abuse can occur in a Church context, they simply went on the defensive. This is poor form, and it only aggravates the appalling wounds of women who have had courage to speak up this week.

Having said this, it appears somewhat disingenuous when the reporters suggests there is ‘quibbling’ of data. Let’s be clear, the ABC report relies on particular research, and it has since come to light that the evidence does not support some of the connections that Baird and others are trying to establish. For example, one of the main arguments being made on the ABC is that ‘headship’ teaching plays a significant role in the abuse of women. The research however says that the men who are the least likely to abuse their wives are those who are active and regular members of conservative churches. There is though a connection between abuse and men who are sporadic attenders of conservative churches.

Those ‘quibblers’ were not doubting the veracity of the research, but the ABC’s presentation of the evidence. Viewers are left asking, should we accept the research or not?

One of the key researchers that the ABC’s report relies upon is the work of Professor W Bradford Wilcox. Over the weekend he has weighed in on the conversation with a series of tweets, in which he questions the way that the ABC has represented the findings from his studies. It certainly unusual for an academic to step in and comment on a journalistic article from a different country.

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Secondly, in a follow up piece from last night’s The Drum, the views articulated by David Ould, are not fairly represented. It’s not that you misquote him, but that you didn’t quote the rest of what David said, and that you inserted these particular comments in a context that suggests his views are out of touch with what Christians really ought to believe. The reporter didn’t even properly explain what the Bible means by headship and submission, but presents it in such a way that readers are meant to think, ‘well, we all know how silly and wrong that view is’. 

I whole-heartedly agree with this comment by Philip Freier, offered last night on The Drum,

”I know that these words are easy sometimes to say, but I think we should be truly regretful where we have failed and we haven’t listened to people, or understood the depth of their suffering, or the kind of situation that they are being urged to go back into.”

However, the Melbourne Archbishop also made this astonishing remark in which he, as a Christian leader, denounced the very own Scriptures he is ordained to uphold,

“I don’t find there is an essential reading of the Bible that teaches me that I must believe in the headship of men. I read the Bible and see that it talks more about the mutuality of people and their love towards each other.”

That’s a problem, because the Bible does teach a view of headship, and this view is one where the husband leads in love like Christ and lays down his life for his wife. Surely, the Archbishop isn’t asking husbands to ignore this biblical model? Not only that, his comment speaks against the very research that the ABC originally relied upon, that churches teaching and practicing Ephesians 5:22-31 have the male members who are LEAST likely to abuse their wives.

ABC, you have highlighted an issue that requires open and rigorous conversation. Almost every Christian leader I know is receiving this report with sober judgment and eagerness to do better when it comes to caring for abuse victims and dealing with perpetrators. I am concerned however, that this important report is mixed with at times poor journalism, and by doing so you will ultimately distract us from the actual issue that needs deliberation and action. The last thing we want is unhelpful journalism clouding the important stories being told by women about abuse, and from churches learning how to do better in the future.

 

 

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P.S. This is not an anti-ABC article so please don’t circulate it as such. Thank you