Melbourne 2020: the year that undid our hubris

The Victorian Government gave the infamous hotel quarantine program the code name, Operation Soteria. In light of the disastrous outcomes from the program, ‘goddess of rescue’ is hardly a suitable name. Eris seems far more appropriate. 

Melbourne is slowly emerging from the worst disaster in her 185 year history. The past nine months have revealed Melbourne’s heart and the diagnosis is not altogether positive. Good has been uncovered and also much that should concern anyone who knows that a malfunctioning heart is likely to cause future grief. 

The Covid 19 pandemic in Victoria has thus far resulted in over 20,000 cases and 781 deaths. In terms of global statistics, these numbers are relatively small, but of course, in June the State was approaching almost zero cases, following a small first wave. Something like 90% of all Victoria’s COVID-19 cases and almost all the deaths occurred in the second wave. Since July 100,000s of Victorians have lost their jobs, 1000s of businesses may never reopen, the economy is bleeding a $1 billion every week. The impact on individual lives can scarcely be measured. The pandemic has compounded mental health issues, children’s education impacted, churches closed.

The pandemic has revealed our human nature in ways that we may find uncomfortable. Once the second wave has left our shores, I imagine millions of Melbournians wanting to move on and to leave behind 2020 as we would an awful nightmare. Relief is a powerful medicine, albeit a placebo. Yet, 2020 has exposed realities about our societal health that we would do well to carefully and humble examine.

1. Self Preservation or Self Sacrifice?

The pandemic began with hoards of people rushing to supermarkets and emptying shelves of essential goods. The situation deteriorated to the point that supermarkets set aside the first hour of each day for our senior citizens so that they would not go without because of the surge of people fighting over toilet paper and grabbing the final bag of rice or pasta.

We became a state of dobbers. In May alone, Victorian police received 80,000 calls from Victorians who were reporting on their fellow citizens for allegedly breaking restrictions in one way or another. I am not excusing those who foolishly think they can live in disregard for the law. Yes, there were cases of people being ignorant of the rules, but more often this exposed a selfish impulse. However, the fact we have accumulated 100,000s of complaints over the course, and that the Government urged us to betray our neighbours, is quite telling. 

In the meantime, many other Victorians worked tirelessly to fight the virus and keep people alive. Working long hours and putting themselves at risk to care for the sick and for those who are most vulnerable. 

There is a telling disparity between those who preference self-preservation and those who choose self-sacrifice.

2. Fear or Love?

Whether we like it or not, the base motivator that has been used to control behaviour during the pandemic is fear. Government press conferences and public commentary were primed with scaring people into submission. 

Let it said, it is foolish to think COVID-19 is not a serious and deadly disease. It is no Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague, but the virus is nonetheless highly contagious and is life threatening for the elderly and people with preexisting medical conditions. Without diminishing these facts, it has been interesting to watch the narrative used to force compliance. There is little talk about loving our neighbour, instead, many threats have been made and cataclysmic proclamations given to funnel the population into ‘doing the right thing’. 

Fear can be a useful tool. We should not discount it altogether. Even the Bible speaks of fear as being the correct response to particular scenarios. However, what does this prevalent public narrative say about our society? What kind of city are we living in and raising our children in where the threat of punishment rather than compassion has become the normal modus operandi?

3. Suspicion or Trust?

This leads to a third observation, who do we trust. On the one hand, reactions to the Government’s position on COVID-19 soon fell into political partisanship, and conspiracy theorists didn’t let this opportunity slide either. Yet overall, Victorians followed the rules. This may be a sign that we trust the Government or that we’re afraid(I suspect the truth is a mix of both). 

The speed at which Victorians gave up basics freedoms was interesting to watch. The willingness in which we have filed away the State’s Human Rights Charter probably speaks to a combination of self-sacrifice and fear. Once upon a time, we would look at the world’s most authoritarian regimes, perplexed at how people give up freedoms to the State. A question for Victorians is, for what other reasons are we prepared to accept rigid limitations on personal liberty? Are there other scenarios in which we would lay down our freedoms to associate, work, play, and live? While Australia was built on certain myths, these are more fiction than fact, and among them is our belief in independence and self making. 

This is an uncomfortable truth, Victoria’s COVID-19 response was built on the premise of trust, but rather that of suspicion. The Government anticipated that people won’t follow the best medical advice and that people won’t follow reasonable measures. Their suspicions had warrant. 

Suspicion can be a powerful delusion and for others, it is a source for angry repose. In some circumstances, it can also serve as a wise friend. Unfortunately, our suspicious minds have led to an ‘all or nothing’ dichotomy. This absolutism has controlled much of the rhetoric causing needless divisions in the community and had the effect of pushing aside reasonable and respected voices from the medical fraternity and from the Melbourne world of law, business, and economics.

The Victorian people deserve to know the truth of what happened in Melbourne hotels, and yet it seems increasingly likely that we will remain in the dark. 

A few have fallen on their sword while also being stabbed in the back. Apologies have been offered, blame shifted, and still no one seems to be at fault. It is quite extraordinary that in the case of the worst disaster in our State’s history no one is taking responsibility. How can the State expect its people to behave with integrity when its leaders play blame games in order to save their own political skin? 

This has been a difficult year for everyone. For those who have lost loved ones, the pain is excruciating. For those who face financial ruin, the road ahead is long and uncertain. If anything, 2020 is a rehearsal for times that are yet ahead, and challenges that will shake our city to the very foundations. 

We need a better rescue plan

“Operation Soteria” proved to be an ironic and even sardonic name. 

To be fair, what COVID-19 reveals about Melbourne did not begin with the pandemic, rather it shone a light on our preexisting condition. To build relationships on trust, to do right out of love, and to self sacrifice: these are noble virtues and they are far too rare and absent in our city.

During the inquiry into the hotel quarantine, the Bible was held aloft, and yet sadly its message is all too often ignored. Instead of making promises on the Bible perhaps we should open its pages, then read and follow what it says. On the sacred page is a story of the original and best, Operation Soteria. It’s not another Greek myth or Melbourne fiction, but the account of the Son of God whose trust triumphed over worldly suspicion, whose love conquers all fear, and who laid down his life for the sake of his enemies. 

Melbourne has long turned its gaze away from the person of Jesus Christ. As we seek to recover surely it’s time to revisit him and to discover the One who truly rescues. As our city has faced the pandemic our foundations have been proven frail. I suspect that as Summer arrives and in our desperation for normalcy we’ll try to forget the year that has been. I understand the sentiment, but there are harder and deeper lessons to learn, ones which require us to look beyond even health and economic issues and into the very soul of our city. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ,

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

    or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

 He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt

    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”

(Isaiah 9:1-5)


This article is a revised version of a post from September

The Christmas Peace of 1914

Christmas 2018 my family visited the famed ground of the 1914 Christmas truce near Ypres.

Here’s a short excerpt from ‘Symphony from the Great War’, where I consider this paradoxical moment in time,

“The field today doesn’t look much like a place for sport. Then again, neither did it in 1914. While the ground is still soggy and uneven, in 1914 it was also filled with shell holes, barbed wire, unexploded bombs, and human body parts. War is an ironic and awfully sardonic affair. “Silent night” hovered over a battlefield. The message of “peace on earth” found a temporary home on that violent soil of Flanders.

The unofficial Christmas armistice lasted for one day, although along some other sectors of the Front, troops were reluctant to fire their weapons for several days. It required officers to threaten their men with disciplinary action, should they not repent of fraternising with the enemy. A snippet of grace amid continual bloodletting. A single day of peace during four years of unspeakable suffering. But like the sudden alarm clock that arrests a serene night’s sleep, peace evaporated with the inevitable, although probably reluctant, first shot fired.

This famous soccer pitch can be visited today, as we did two days before Christmas in 2018. Two markers note what took place on the field on Christmas Day 1914. One is located on the very edge of the ground, placed by the famed khaki chums (an organisation of army enthusiasts). Across the road, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) unveiled a humble yet befitting memorial on the centenary of that game with a modest sculpture. Lying in front is a box filled with soccer balls of all colours, although now faded and deflated with the seasons. Standing behind is a fir tree decorated for Christmas.

What makes this field pertinent for Campbell history is that this is where the 35th Battalion ascended on the morning of the battle of Messines. That morning when the whistles blew, it wasn’t to start a football match, but to announce the launch of an attack; what General Monash referred to as his Magnus Opus.”

Government Commissioner Confirms Church Leaders Concerns

A spokesperson for the Victorian Government has made a series of admissions that confirm the concerns religious leaders are expressing over the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.

Eternity newspaper sent questions to the office of the Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet. Commissioner, Ro Allen, has responded.

The article was published on the Eternity website two days ago (Dec 17th). Within the hour the Government contacted Eternity and asked for the article to be taken down. This request is quite astonishing and one can imagine media outlets expressing concern over a Government asking media to delete an already published article, especially where the Government representative freely gave written comments on the record. There are a couple of significant changes between the two versions of the interview.

Before I offer comment on Ro Allen’s answers, it is worthwhile reiterating how wide societal concerns over over the Bill.

There is broad and growing concern over the Bill

The LGB alliance have expressed grave concerns with the Bill.

Feminists are speaking against the Bill. University of Melbourne’s Feminist Philosopher, Holly Lawford-Smith, has said,

”The Keira Bell verdict [UK High Court landmark case- see below] establishes that children are unlikely to be competent to consent to puberty blockers, which establishes that an ‘affirmation-only’ approach is the wrong approach where it is likely to involve medicalisation. Yet Victoria is heading in the opposite direction, with a new bill about to criminalise any individual who fails to ‘affirm’ or support a child’s claim about her gender identity.”

Men and women who have detransitioned are voicing grave concerns about how this bill will harm not help Victorians who are wrestling with their gender identity.

Legal experts believe the Bill poses needless and extraordinary infringements on religious freedoms. As one example (among many that can be mentioned),

“In the most aggressive action ever taken by an Australian government to attack freedom of religion, the Labor Government in Victoria proposes to make it a criminal offence, punishable by several years’ imprisonment, for a person to pray with another person about issues they are having concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity. It will not be a defence that the person actually wanted prayer.”

Barney Zwartz wrote earlier in the week that ,

“Most Victorian churches are concerned about the conversion bill”.

The Bill itself clearly denotes that the prohibitions are not limited to the few and awful practices that were once engaged in by a small number of religious groups. The Bill includes a ban on ‘prayer’. The Explanatory memorandum states that conversation with a faith leader can be considered conversion practice and therefore subject to prosecution. 

The Premier and the now Former Attorney General have each made their case. They oppose not only those rare and dreadful conversion practices, but they are pitching to remove the beliefs from Victoria.

“Cruel and bigoted practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will soon be stamped out across Victoria, thanks to new laws introduced to Parliament today.       

The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”

Attorney-General Jill Hennssey said,

“We’re sending a clear message: no one is ‘broken’ because of their sexuality or gender identity,” 

“These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”

 La Trobe University’s Dr Timothy W. Jones wrote a report for the Government on the topic. Despite claiming churches have nothing to fear about the Bill he then proceeded to tell churches  change their beliefs and instead do what LGBT activists tell them to do. In his report he refers to “insidious development”. By this he is speaking of Christians who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality (the very teaching that forms the foundations for our society). 

All those comments should be suffice to convince people that the Government is not limiting its intent to outlawing extreme practices. They are consciously legislating against religious Victorians who hold legitimate practices, even those doctrines that are as ancient and good for society as the Christian Bible. 

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Now to offer comment in response to the interview with the Victorian Commissioner.

The question of sermons

Are there any limits on what can be prosecuted? Yes, but these lines are often blurry and as both Jill Hennessy and Ro Allen admit, these boundaries may well expand over time to include even more religious practices.

For example, the one activity the Government is clear on is the sermon. Under the current provisions contained in this Bill preaching a sermon will not be prohibited. However, Jill Hennessy told the Parliament that the Government may later reconsider this activity, “such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

The issue of sermons doesn’t go away.

Eternity asked,

“Will the educational role of the Commission act to discourage the general teaching that the Bible says homosexual sex is wrong?

This statement was made in the original interview

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

In other words, a sermon may not lead to charges and 10 years imprisonment, but a sermon may be reported and the preacher compelled to attend a reeducation camp. Victorians should appreciate the authoritarian and Caesar like approach this Government has told religious freedom. If a Christians upholds the Christian view of sexuality and persuades others of this view, you may be forced to attend the Andrews school of ethics and be told that Christianity is bigotry and that queer theory is right. What makes Allen’s admission even more startling are the changes made in the new Government approved version of the interview.

The response becomes,

“If general prayer in c) is reported to the Commission, the Commission would not be required or empowered to do anything as this is not a change or suppression practice. The Commission would decline to consider the report.

There will be a 12-month period before the law starts, in order to allow important implementation work to be completed. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will lead this and consult widely with Victorians.”

Which version of the answer expresses the Government’s position? The former is a clear threat to Churches, while the latter communicates, ‘we’re not going to tell you what will happen should you preach, teach, or counsel in line with your church’s doctrine. Wait and see!’

There is a further significant revision made in Allen’s answer. Eternity referred to stories of individuals who allege harm at the hands of churches who prayed for them and whose churches disproved of non heterosexual marriage. “These activities may or may not have been targeted at the individual person in each case.” The question was then asked,

“Will there be experiences regarded as harmful by LGBTQ persons not covered by the bill?”

In the original interview Allen answered by saying,

“Under the current law, such practices are not covered. This law will be reviewed in two years. If the advice coming to the government is that these practices do indeed cause harm in the same way, then the government may have to revisit the law.”

In the new version of the interview, Allen takes a step back, offering a response that is more vague.

“This is unclear and may be determined when such a case is raised. If, for example, a religious leader was providing lessons to LGBTIQ people to “pray the gay away”,  it could possibly be captured under this law as inducing a person to try and change their sexual identity or gender identity.”

While the revised answer sounds less threatening, the point remain: this unnecessary law is likely to grow fatter with time. This is a further indication that the current Government has not finished its strategy to, “stamp out across Victoria” any view of sexuality and gender that does not fully embrace (and without questioning it), the current expression of queer theory. 

Allen also reinforces the Bill’s own statement about how the list of prohibited activities are only ‘examples’. It is not an exhaustive list at all.

“These religious practices given as examples are among those known to cause the most harm to people. Other religious practices that will be covered by the law will be any religious practice that is directed at an individual person to try to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the Explanatory Memorandum goes on to say, the bill “is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.’”

 

Targeting ministry to individuals rather than groups

The Government’s Commissioner notes the Government’s aim is to distinguish between what takes place in a general setting and what occurs with individuals. Sermons are ok (for now) because they are teachings addressed to a group of people. He explains, 

“Some sermons may express beliefs that seem contrary to the aim of this bill, which affirms that people of faith have the right to express their views, but not to force them upon other people. The law becomes triggered when it is aimed at changing or suppressing an individual.”

It is reasonable to ask in response to this comment, for how long will a Government permit ‘sermons’ given that they supposedly “express beliefs that seem contrary to the aim of this bill”?

For now, the issue for churches relates to ministry that focuses on individuals. This includes praying with people, and exhorting people to live in accord with Biblical ethics.

Rev Dr John Dickson said on Eternity’s Facebook page, 

“advising an LGBT person to be celibate for life (because traditional marriage isn’t an option) seems to be described here as an outlawed practice.”

He is correct.

Personal prayer and conversation forms a regular part of clergy ministry. It is also not uncommon for a lay believer to meet with another person for prayer and bible study. These are normal activities. However, should the topic of sex and gender arise, the government may charge individuals with encouraging abstinence and moral godliness. Refraining from sex outside of heterosexual marriage has been normative for the entire history of the church.

The Government is forcing religious Victorians into an impossible position: do we remain faithful to our convictions and continue to love people by sharing our faith, or do we submit to these scandalous demands of a Government? 

Here is a further important scenario that may fall foul of this law. Christians churches require potential members to affirm the doctrinal convictions of the church. For example, Churches regularly require members to refrain from sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman. Members who sin in this way (to use the Bible’s own language) are usually asked to repent and discipline can take place (which may include being asked to refrain from taking Communion or even being removed from membership).  Given that these normal practices relate to individual persons, will the church’s actions be prohibited under this Bill?

The Government has chosen to attack churches rather than work with them

Premier Daniel Andrews last week directed an attack against church in leaders during a speech in the Parliament. 

“Some faith leaders have been critical of these provisions, critical of a law to ban the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable.

“This is not kindness and love, or the protection of the vulnerable and persecuted. This is not something to be proud of. This is not what I pray for.”

His words are unfortunate. The Premier has dismissed the legitimate concerns that are being expressed and which Allen has now validated. Instead, Mr Andrews implied that teaching and praying for the Christian view of human sexuality is the “worst form of bigoted quakery imaginable?” But surely the Premier was only referring to those awful practices such as aversion therapy? But no faith leader is supporting such a thing. They are they are calling on the Government to amend a Bill so we may continue to practice of faith without the undue intrusion of the State. Allen’s words have given further substance to these concerns.

There are members of the Government who are privately expressing concerns about the Bill’s overreach. I trust they will find their voice and speak with the new Attorney General.

I also understand how some members of the community are praising the Government’s Bill, and that some are already demanding that it be extended to include a greater range of religious activities.  Are not the beliefs that have carried and formed and blessed our societies for 2000 years no longer welcome?

It remains a disappointment that the Government didn’t follow the example of Queensland and write a Bill that focuses on the few, rare, and genuine harmful practices that once existed. Religious leaders could have partnered with the Government to make this Bill work. Instead, the Premier labels us bigots and quacks.

I appreciate how fellow Christians have approached this Bill with grace and gentleness, assuming the Government’s good intentions. Grace and gentleness should exude from us, but there is nothing virtuous about gullibility. Playing nice sometimes slides into naïveté. The Government’s spokesperson has reaffirmed concerns that many have raised over the past month.

Since the times of the Caesars Christians have prayed for Governments, honoured them, and submitted to their authority.  We will continue to do so. There is however a line that Christians will not cross, and this State Government is drawing that line thick in the black ink of law. It is bullying people of faith into either submission or having a criminal record with a stint at a reeducation camp. Does this sound like healthy pluralism? Does this bode well for a free and democratic society? Does this continue centuries of strong partnership between Church and State?

Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox are among the many groups who are voicing legitimate concerns over this Bill. It is time for others to join. At the end of the day these voices may not persuade the Parliament to fix this Bill, but at least we can say that in this day of trouble we stood with Christ, with our churches and for our people.  One day we can look back and know that didn’t throw our congregations to the lions, we instead chose to remain with them. 


A correction. The original Eternity article spelled the Commissioner’s surname as Allan. They have informed me that they were incorrect and it is Allen. I have subsequently changed the spelling.

Dr Jones’ words confirm not assuage church concerns

The Age has run another opinion piece about the Victorian Government’s  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. This op-ed is designed to counter concerns being articulated by a growing number of religious leaders and legal experts.

The article is written by La Trobe University’s Dr Timothy W. Jones. Dr Jones was the lead author of Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice (2018). Far from The Age op-ed coming from a place of impartiality, Dr Jones’ is heavily invested in the success of the Bill. His paper was used extensively by the Andrews Government for framing its position and the Bill that has subsequently been written.

Dr Jones insists that churches have nothing to fear about the Bill. Given the significance of his claims, it is important to consider them.

 Firstly he suggests,

“These fears are quickly assuaged by a plain reading of the bill and the statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights.”

The statement of compatibility is at best tenuous and weak. Associate Professor of Law, Neil Foster, explains

“Given the potential for a serious impact on the life of religious groups, then, does the Bill contain any protection for genuine religious freedom? Not a single word is said in the Bill about this. The only passing reference which would provide a slight comfort to religious groups would be that s 3(1)(b) tells us that one of the purposes of the Bill is “to further promote and protect the rights set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities”. The EM, then, decides to spell out what is hidden here by alleging that the rights to be promoted by the Bill include:

the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief (section 14 of the Charter) 

EM, page 3.

But how precisely the right to religion and belief is protected by a Bill that seems designed to marginalise and ignore deeply held religious convictions about sexual behaviour and how these can be taught in religious communities, is not explained.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is important to note that while Dr Jones suggests that concerns about the Bill are invalid, he then offers these two arguments:  

1. there already exists limits to religious freedom, therefore there is no harm in legislating further restrictions.

“Placing limits on religious practices, as proposed in this bill, is not new. Both Australian law and international human rights law provide guidance on when it is appropriate to place limitations on religious practices.”

The question is, is it appropriate for the Victorian Government to gag ‘conversations’ with faith leaders about sex and gender? Is it appropriate for a Government to legislate against prayer? Is it appropriate for the Attorney General to explain in the Parliament that sermons “may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

 2. Churches need to change and form their views according to the testimonies of LGBT Victorians.

“People of faith can be confident to welcome the bill. Take it as an opportunity to listen to survivors and to get better equipped to provide your LGBTQ+ members with true spiritual care.”

Of course, it is important to listen to others. I am continually learning from and interested in the stories of others. Where Churches have made mistakes or genuinely done what is wrong, we ought to admit and repent. Dr Jones is saying much more. He is informing people of faith that ‘true spiritual care’ doesn’t stem from our sacred books, but from listening to and taking the advice of those who support the current views on sex and gender. 

In what amounts to an ad hominem attack on religious leaders, Dr Jones alleges, “Rather than stoking unfounded fears, religious and opinion leaders should read the extensive work that has gone into the development and scrutiny of this world-leading legislation.”

Well, I have read his publication and have responded to it at length on other occasions. Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice is quite revealing. Far from assuaging the concerns expressed by religious leaders, this report confirms these concerns. Of course, this report is not the Bill but it nonetheless reveals the attitudes and framing of the Bill.

Given the importance of the Bill, which includes up to 10 years imprisonment for offenders, one would hope that the research that Government is relying upon is thorough and wide. When one reads Dr Jones’ report, we find the stories of 15 individuals. Surely 15 individuals is an inadequate pool size from which to draw substantive conclusions. More importantly, the research appears to be guilty of sampling bias. The recruitment process was limited to a narrow range of networks, which inevitably biased the sampling group that would be chosen.

“Participants were recruited through social media, LGBTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks. Participants were selected, using theoretical sampling, to be broadly representative of religious and LGBT demographics in Australia, and were screened for their psychological capacity to undertake an in-depth life interview about potentially traumatic personal histories.”

Significantly, no persons from Muslim, Hindu, or irreligious backgrounds were interviewed, and only persons who were negatively impacted are included in the report. While the 15 participants are Australians, it is not known how many were recipients of conversion practices in Victoria, which I would have thought is important for the given context. This is not to argue against those 15 people who shared their story, people for whom I wish the very best, but it is important for the public to be made aware of what lays behind the Government’s legislation.

The credibility of the research is further weakened by the fact that the project steering committee consisted of representatives from LGBT lobby groups and progressive religious groups. To my knowledge, not one of the advisors represents a faith group that holds to the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. Why is that so? Why ignore the views of the overwhelming majority of Churches? Why were no positives stories published and used in the research? There are countless testimonies to share of people who have found great help and support in churches that hold to the classical understanding of marriage and sexuality. 

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice makes clear that the authors are not only viewing those few dreadful practices that were once used by a few marginal religious groups, they are targeting mainstream Christian Churches who teach, believe, and practice a classical view of human sexuality. For example,

“A similarly insidious development in conservative religious communities is the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ pastoral posture. Churches holding this stance maintain that LGBT status and behaviour is disordered and sinful, but keep this position muted in the hope of converting LGBT people to their version of Christianity.58 This ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture equates to a more sophisticated version of the old evangelical adage, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. LGBT conversion therapy is not prominently promoted. However, LGBT people worshipping in communities that present cisgendered heterosexual marriage as the only valid form of gender and sexual expression are positioned to repress and reject their LGBT characteristics and to seek reorientation.”

By “insidious development” they refer to the view held by Christians since the time of Jesus, and that is normative in Christian Churches across the world today and in Victoria. They continue,

“In a religious landscape where there are many prominent religious voices hostile to LGBT people, churches holding a ‘welcoming but not affirming’ stance may appear attractive. They avoid overtly homophobic and transphobic rhetoric and welcome LGBT people. Community membership, however, is conditional on remaining closeted or a commitment to living chaste and celibate lives.”

In other words, Dr Jones takes issue with any faith community that holds to Jesus’ teaching about marriage and sexual relationship. Even encouraging the Biblical position on self-control is deemed wrong and inappropriate.

Under the heading of, “RELIGIOUS CONVERSION THERAPY IN AUSTRALIA TODAY”, the HRLC report refers to new forms of conversion practice, which include promoting self-control and abstinence.

“Instead, they are beginning to promote activities designed to help same-sex attracted people live chaste and celibate lives, in accordance with the sexual ethics of their religious traditions.”

As one academic in the field of gender studies has said to me in private, according to the above assertion, “self control is conversion therapy”.

Dr Jones’ words of ‘comfort’ in The Age are demonstrably undermined by his own words in Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice. His role in assisting the Victorian Government reveals how he and his coauthors do want churches to abandon their Biblical views and to instead endorse current gender theory. Granted, some of these Christians practices are not prohibited in the Bill, but others are. I am not referring to the few archaic and dreadful practices that once existed in marginal groups, I am speaking of pastoral conversation and prayer. 

This entire episode is so unfortunate. The overwhelming majority of religious leaders affirm protecting people from nonconsensual practices and dreadful things such as aversion therapy. No one supports such things. Instead, the Government is acting well beyond what is reasonable or right. Christian Churches trust that the Victorian Parliament will redress the extraordinary overreaches contained in this Bill and send it to committee for important revision.


This breaking interview organised by Eternity News with the office of the Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, confirms the validity of the issues raised by myself and others (including what I explain above) – https://www.eternitynews.com.au/australia/victorias-conversion-practices-bill-detailed-answers-from-the-government/

Victoria’s Revised Inclusive Language Guide unable to define terms

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” (George Orwell, 1984)

It was only a few years ago that everyone knew what a man was and what a woman was. Addressing a woman with female pronouns and speaking to men with male pronouns was commonsense, polite, and normal. In Victoria today, this is no longer the case.

The Victorian Government has recently revised its LGBTIQ+ Inclusive Language Guide for public servants.

Gendered titles such as Mister or Miss should be avoided. Referring to husband or wife has been deemed inappropriate. Such language has been deemed exclusivist.

According to the story in the Herald Sun

some judges are refusing to use “gendered” titles like “mister”, instead referring to people before them in court as “citizen” or “plaintiff”.

We know ‘Citizen’ worked really well for the French Revolution, so why not here in Victoria!?

There is nothing more welcoming and personal than to address people by impersonal pronouns. I’m sure we would appreciate a Government worker make introductions by asking, are you a woman or a man or…?

The guide to Victorian queer theory contradicts itself in two glaring ways.

First of all, the guide acknowledges that most men use “he” and most women use “she”. The fact is, almost all men use “he” and almost all women use “she”, but according to the guide there is no “normal”. If 99%, 98%, or 95% cannot be considered a norm, I don’t know what can. One notes how politicians frequently use numbers to establish a mandate and to define moral norms. Isn’t that what happened with the same sex marriage plebiscite in 2017, where 61.6% of respondents supported a change of definition? 

Secondly,  “A report on the strategy said an appendix of “Language & Terms” had been removed because “wording and understanding in this space changes incredibly quickly, and the appendix would soon have been out of date”.

In other words, the Guide that instructs 300,000 employees how to address people cannot even define its own terms because the meaning of words is constantly changing. Doesn’t that communicate a rather obvious issue with their approach? 

How insulting to men and women that you can no longer address them as such. Isn’t rather demeaning to ignore the fact that a woman is a woman? Imagine the approaching the desk at the public swimming pool and you ask for the changing room. The employee responds by asking, ‘how do you identify?’

Let’s assume that at least some of the persons involved in writing this Guide are trying their best to look out for people and to avoid injury and insult. Good intentions is not the definition of what is good or right. Daniel Andrews and his legion of bureaucrats are not saving humanity, they are tearing human identity and dignity asunder. 

What happens with single sex schools? What happens to women’s sport? What about prisons? What happens with gender quotas? Where individuals decide that they don’t identify as male or female but as one of growing list of alternative genders, how do they fit into all of the above contexts? 

The absurdity of this Guide means we can no longer trust our eyes and the facts we see. No longer can we depend on common sense. Biology is to be ignored (which as you can imagine creates all kinds of problems), instead public servants are told to assume that each person’s self identification is authentic and accurate. 

Ultimately gender and sex become meaningless categories, which of course is the end game in Queer theory. Names are an infringement on personal freedom, which ultimately leaves parents with zero permission to name their own children, let alone presuming what their child’s sex and gender is. Does our baby have a penis? Apparently such realities are irrelevant. What is their name? We have to wait until they are old enough to decide their gender preference and then they can choose their own name.

This Guide to language is of course a one way street. The Government’s latest move is the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

If a child is wrestling with their gender identity, this Government is preparing to imprison mum and dad if they don’t consent to filling their child with hormone replacement therapy. These children can taken away from their family and brought the child into the loving care of the State who will gladly abuse the physical body in aid of this unyielding new ideology. 

A Church leader who explores the Christian view of sexuality with an individual can be charged and jailed for 10 years. Should a pastor or priest dare pray in accord with say 1 Corinthians 6, they can also face a prison term or a fine of $200,000.

All this would be hilarious if it were not so serious. This new cultural imperialism will not lead to clarity, it produces mountains of confusion. This is not dignity building, it is demoralising as we create a generation of young Victorians who are taught not to trust their own biology or even their parents. Eventually, we will be left with a society where we can no longer identify anyone or know anything to be truly true. The further my State of Victoria entertains this project, the more we harm ourselves. We are losing our grip on what it means to be human as we exchanged the soul for acceptance at the table of identity politics. Perhaps, the advise given to judges is correct, all we will be left with is a label, “Citizen”. 

Students of history understand that when cultures abandon moral goods, the trajectory can persist for extended periods. The road that our society is making didn’t start last week. It’s a project that is now many decades old, and while the final kilometres of this road are yet to be made, the direction should concern all of us. 

These ages of experimentation are detrimental to the lives of the people who find themselves living through it, which is what makes them so dangerous. This current negation of man and woman effects real people in real time. However, reality cannot be subdued forever. 

When the cultural influencers of Jesus’ day argued over marriage and tried to subvert the ‘normalcy’ of the Scriptures, Jesus responded, 

“Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female”.

Eventually we will return to the paradigm of Genesis 1. For now, in Victoria, we need to be prepare for a long and windy road trip. We pray that God brings us back sooner than later.

None of this is to ignore people in our community for whom heterosexuality or binary gender identity are things that don’t sit easily with them (or not at all). These individuals should be shown compassion and treated with respect. Indeed, I would argue that the good news of Jesus Christ offers greater hope and life and freedom than the constantly changing deluge that is queer theory. Remember the encounter of the Samaritan woman with Jesus. The outsider who had transgressed the norms of marriage was welcomed and loved by Jesus, not because of her background but on account of Christ’s own character. Jesus did not approve of her past, he extended to her a future,

“a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

When Baptists suppress Baptist beliefs in support of Government conversion Bill

The Victorian Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 made the front page of Sunday’s The Age. Given the issues at stake, it is indeed headline news.

I was interviewed for that article. Yesterday, another piece was published, this time, The Age found two baptist pastors who support the Bill. I’m sure there are a few more out there, but in light of the fact that there are 100s of baptist pastors in Victoria, we are talking about a small number.

Teash Taylor (of St Kilda Baptist) and Simon Carey Holt (of Collins Street Baptist) have the right to say whatever they want. Victoria is a free State, at least it is until the Bill is adopted early next year. The issue is not their freedom to express an opinion. The point is that their views are incorrect and dangerous.

I observe how their quotes are being used to divide the Liberal Party room. Notice the headline, “Liberals tussle over gay conversion laws as religious leaders split”. 

Imagine investigating a university campus in order to find which students believe in a flat earth. Say they find 5 students…even 20? Should they conclude that the majority of university students believe the earth is flat? Would it be fair to therefore conclude that this belief is valid and that the academic community are split on the issue?

It is always possible to find contrarian voices on any issue. Quoting supportive Christians voices gives the public a sense of confusion and mixed views within the religious community. On the matter of the Government’s Conversion Bill there will of course be some of this. But let the reader understand, the comments made by Teash Taylor and Simon Carey Holt are not representative of what our churches formally believe and teach. Maybe, they are speaking with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean their words are not problematic and damaging.

Let’s look at what the two baptists said.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Conversion Bill will lead to harm

Teash Taylor said that reforms had “the potential to be life saving”.

Everyone knows that those old practices were always marginal and rare. No one today thinks aversion therapy is a good idea.  No one supports or practices non consensual pastoral care. So what are we talking about? What is it exactly that’s going to be life saving?

One can only presume that what Taylor has in mind is prayer and pastoral conversations where the Christian point of view is presented and encouraged. After all, these are the kinds of religious activities that do take place today and that the Government is targeting. What an odd position for Taylor to take. 

Importantly, there is evidence suggesting that the Government’s Bill will create harm for LGBT persons, not prevent it. 

According to the landmark decision made by the UK’s High Court last week, pushing vulnerable children into undertaking hormonal treatment and other invasive practices is a serious threat to their mental and physical wellbeing. The Victorian legislation however will force parents and medical practitioners down that very path.

Take note of the commentary in today’s The Australian,

“Despite a weak evidence base the gender-affirming approach is so dogmatic that it champions the new wave of criminal laws against any therapy deemed to try to convert” someones gender identity, Victoria being the latest with a draft bill. Cruel attempts to force adults to change sexual orientation appear to be mostly a historical footnote. Laws such as Victorias could criminalise ethical attempts to help a trans-identifying teenage girl re-embrace her biological sex and find comfort in her body after the trauma of sexual assault. But counselling to assist medicalised gender change for children is exempt from these cookie-cutter bans on conversion therapy. The risk is that some minors struggling with non-gender issues will seize on trans identity as a solution, will be uncritically affirmed” by teachers or counsellors at school, and will be put on the path to needless medication.”

Another outcome from this Bill that will cause harm is an increased reluctance among Churches and Christians to give the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. After all, no one wants to be imprisoned, fined, or sentenced to a reeducation camp as though we’re living in Xinjiang Province. But of course this is the goal. Both Premier Andrews and Attorney General Jill Hennessy have admitted such,

The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”

These views wont be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”

Churches remain a beacon of light and hope in a city where there is so much darkness. This Bill will have disastrous consequences for our communities who are searching for answers and looking for hope. Will Churches and Christians now refuse to pray with people, even when invited to do so? Will pastors decline from teaching the whole counsel of God in fear that someone will find offence? Remember, offence is sufficient cause to have you dragged before a civil tribunal and for authorities to force you to attend classes instructing you that what Christians have always believed is a lie and cannot be tolerated.

This Bill creates an environment of fear and bullying. Instead of ideas being shared and discussed, and people being persuaded, this a Government attempting to control religious belief. 

Despite recent comments by our political leaders, it remains the case that the Christian message is good news. It is wonderful and extraordinary news for people who believed they can never approach God and that hope can never be theirs.  Jesus says to believe his message is to find eternal life. 

At the same time, the same Christian message always causes offence to some. As the Scriptures say, 

“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)

If freedom is taken from Christians to speak, engage and pray in favour of the Christian vision for human life and flourishing, we can only expect serious consequences for the health and life of our fellow Victorians. 

All this is unnecessary, had the Government acted reasonably and fairly. The Government acknowledged in 2019 that there are narrow definitions of conversion practice, which focus on those few and rare practices that once existed in marginal religious groups. That would have had validity and probable support amongst Christians universally. However, this Government deliberately settled on parameters that are broad and vague. Indeed, they have already declared that they are open to extending these parameters. For example, while sermons are not currently included in the prohibitions, the AG has said in the Parliament that they may be included at a later stage under new “anti-vilification protections”.

The Baptist supporting imprisonment of fellow Baptists

Let’s turn to Simon Carey Holt from Collins St Baptist. He said, 

“This seems to me to demonstrate an extraordinary lack of self awareness” .

While it is true that many churches have never sanctioned the more extreme practices of aversion or shock therapy, their consistent messaging that those people of a homosexual orientation are broken and must suppress, deny and repent of their sexuality has been far more consistently damaging and over such a long period of time for so many of its own people.”

What Simon means to say is that he doesn’t believe what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and life. He disagrees with Jesus in Matthew 19 and with the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 5. Simon belongs to those progressive voices who are better informed than the authors of Scripture. 

Simon Carey Holt does not speak for the Baptist Denomination. Nor do I for that matter. However, I happen to believe, for example, the Baptist definition of marriage. This baptist understanding of human sexuality and relationships is in line with what Christians have held across the world for thousands of years. Simon dissents from this and instead follows the view that is currently popular in our culture.

The gall isn’t only in the fact that these pastors reject Christian doctrine around these anthropological questions. It is that they support a Bill that will imprison Christians for doing nothing more than upholding Christian teaching and practice.

For religious leaders to support this Bill is beyond reprehensible. Our Roman Catholic friends and Eastern Orthodox friends are behaving in a more baptist manner on this issue! It is one thing for politicians to pursue a course of action. As Jesus might say, “they don’t know what they’re doing”. However, for Church leaders to do so, even if it is only a few, is an attack on the body of Christ. 

Particularly for Baptists who have a long tradition of upholding the separation of Church and State, for these Baptists to applaud Government intrusion into the prayer life of churches is a slap in the face of the Baptist community. Again, we are not talking about those archaic and awful practices once employed in a psychologists clinic that seeped into a few religious groups, we are speaking about praying and conversation. 

The greater problem isn’t even these two outspoken baptists; it is years of Christian Denominations lacking courage to stand for Christian truth and to refute bad theology when it arises. Years of inaction and faux-peace-making has created this scenario.  It is as though everyone has forgotten Thyatira.  

Will the Andrews Government vision for our churches finally stir denominations into life? Or perhaps it will merely consolidate their dying breath. The best thing Churches can do is continue to lovingly, winsomely, and faithfully present and live out this good news from God. 

Daniel Andrews doesn’t define what is good anymore than Simon Holt or Murray Campbell.  Sexual norms and gender theory is constantly changing, The lines of orthodoxy are redefined almost every year. Even gays and lesbians are finding themselves publicly cancelled and vilified because they do not support the latest version of ‘my truth’. Amidst these shifting shadows is a piercing light that does not change and that continues to promise “life to the full”. Not life without difficulty or confusion, but a contentment and peace and clarity like no other. This message is worth holding onto. .

Clarifying comments about The Age article

For those who have read the article in Sunday’s The Age, “Gay conversion legislation puts Andrews on a collision course with churches”.

The headline is fair. It did not need to be this way, but the current Victorian Government has a poor track record when it comes to dialoguing with faith communities. 

Journalist Farrah Tomazin has done a reasonable job trying to squeeze into one article many important factors. I thank her for her courtesy and pleasant conversation. Let it be said, Farrah Tomazin achieved more in that single phone call than the Government has probably done in attempting to understand how Christian churches function and what they in fact believe.

Nonetheless, it is important to reiterate these points that I have long maintained and which have been overlooked by The Age or insufficiently emphasised. Hopefully this encourages more conversation, not less.

  1. Christians oppose conversion practices, in terms of those archaic and awful therapies that a few religious groups once adopted. These include aversion therapy and shock therapy. Such practices were never mainstream and never supported by most Christians.
  2. If the Government had chosen to work with churches rather than against them, a successful Bill might have been accomplished.
  3. I noted yesterday that sermons do not fall under the umbrella of this legislation. However this is far from clear from the Bill itself. Clarification was required in a speech given by Attorney General Jill Hennessy.
  4. On preaching, Hennessy has not excluded the possibility of controlling Christian sermons in the future: “such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”
  5. The article failed to interview people who find support and care within Christians Churches (or other faith communities), and who find prayer and conversation of enormous value as they wrestle with their identity. This is not unusual for it forms the fabric of Christian Gospelling over 2,000 years.
  6. The article overlooks last week’s landmark ruling in the UK High Court where a 23 year old successfully demonstrate that the new trend in treating teenagers with gender confusion with hormones and other invasive practices is wrong and dangerous. The current Victorian Government enforces that medical professionals proceed down this path of conversion. The Bill threatens families who do not fully endorse this conversion.
  7. The aim of Christian teaching is not to alter an individual’s sexual orientation. Jesus was clear that sexual activity is reserved for the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. Christians accept Jesus’ purposes as good and want to live in accord with them. The proposed Act prohibits both prayer and conversation where this Bible ethic is encouraged.
  8. It is incorrect and somewhat amusing for someone to describe me and churches like my own as “the religious right”. This is far from accurate. Over the years, I have been called left and right, conservative and progressive. Let’s be clear, the position I hold is neither right or left. These views are in step with classical Christianity, believed and practiced by 100s of millions of people around the globe and that has its teaching and centre firmly grounded in Jesus Christ.
  9. I will say this again, for a Government to define ‘prayer’ and ‘conversation’ as harmful is ridiculous, extraordinary, and reaches far beyond their jurisdiction. One can only ask the question, why have they chosen this extreme and unnecessary approach?

Added Information on the Conversion Practices Bill

New information has come to light since I wrote ‘A Day of Reckoning: Victorian Government pushes to ban Christian practices with threat of 10 years in prison’. Unfortunately, none of it alleviates initial concerns with the Victorian Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

First, let me reiterate the astounding step this Victorian Government is taking: a Bill before the Parliament will ban praying.

It is not a prohibition on all prayer but prayers with people that include a Christian view of humanity sexuality.

Also, this extraordinary measure: while it is understandable and agreeable that a Bill might seek to ban non consensual activity, this Bill forbids consensual prayers and conversations in which the Bible’s sexual ethic is explained and encouraged.

The explanatory memorandum states,

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity”.

As I noted last week, there are details in the Bill which are ambiguous. Either this serves to deliberately discourage a breadth of Christian (and religious) engagement with sexual ethics or the Bill has been poorly written. I will let others decide which is the case. For example, does preaching or leading a group Bible study fall foul of this Bill?

Associate Professor Neil Foster has written a second response to this Bill, in which he offer some clarity. He refers to the Attorney General’s speech before the Parliament. Unfortunately, rather than her explanation assuaging concerns, she indicates there may be further prohibitions on religious freedom to come, including on preaching. He explains, 

“While I appreciate that activities such as preaching are not explicitly prohibited, I note the Attorney General’s statement, “….” the conduct must be directed at an individual. This ensures that conduct generally directed— such as sermons expressing a general statement of belief—is not captured. However, such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

In other words, while preaching a sermon is not currently included in the parameters of this bill, the Attorney General is foreshadowing a time when sermons will come under scrutiny.

The Bible urges followers of Jesus Christ to refrain from sexual relationships outside marriage between a man and a woman. This is described in positive and good ways. It is not suppression, it is liberating. Depending on how ‘suppression’ is used, these normal conversations that take place religious communities may well become anathema. Certainly, the Bill may have the effect of creating fear and pressuring Christians leaders into failing their duty to faithfully explain and encourage the Christian faith.

In other words conversations that include the affirmation of normal and deeply held Christian beliefs and encouragement for Christians to live by these teachings, amounts to illegal activity with a possible prison term of 10 years.

For a Bill to name prayer as illegal under an Act of Parliament is astonishing and it is unwarranted. For a Government to make illegal conversations with a faith leader is extraordinary and significant overreach. When the Victorian Attorney General indicates that “sermons expressing a general statement of belief” may in the future be considered in framing new ant-vilification protections we have entered very dangerous territory. This is the kind of authoritarianism that we find in those oppressive countries. This Bill is Victoria’s Sinicization.

The Government’s one way street to conversion fails to do justice to the complexity of issues. It has assumed a narrow posture toward sex and gender, which neither medical experts or religious communities accept as true. Indeed, neither do many LGBT people accept the Government’s hostile stance.

It is important to note that it is not only religious groups who are concerned at the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 . The Government won’t inform the public, but the fact is, there are people identifying as LGBT who are against this Bill.

The LGB Alliance has expressed significant reservations about the Bill. 

One transgender woman has spoken with me and expressed concerns about the Government’s politicisation and popularisation of the issue.

Men and women who have detransitioned are speaking up and making the point that this Bill will prevent people from seeking out and finding both professional help and pastoral care that they require.

The problem with this Bill is that it is neither based on best science nor on essential democratic principles of freedom of conscience, belief, and practice. Rather depends on the narrow and belligerent worldview that is propagated by vociferous ivory tower scholastics with their minions in popular culture and activists groups.

This week saw the landmark High Court ruling in the United Kingdom. 23 year old Ms Bell won her case against Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, for its dangerous treatment of children who have gender dysphoria.

Ms Bell was prescribed puberty blockers at age 16. As an adult Ms Bell has sued Tavistock, alleging that young people do not have sufficient awareness to make an informed decision to undergo invasive treatments that will have long term effects on their physical and mental state. Three judges ruled in her favour

Notice the clear language quote by the The Times

“under-18s in gender clinics need “far better mental health services to help them to reconcile themselves to their (sex) — not life-changing physical interventions that might alleviate short-term distress at the price of long-term trauma”.

This same view, should it be found in a doctors clinic or in pastoral visitation here in Victoria, could see charges laid followed by a 10 year term of imprisonment. For what? For failing to subscribe to the Government’s narrow and one way street of conversion, rather than offering sensible, caring, patient care toward those in our community who are struggling with their identity. 

The UK ruling is relevant to this conversation because it demonstrates a growing awareness of and concern for those who are treating gender issues according to dogmatic and myopic views. 

Members of Parliament and the Victorian public should note this Bill is a disaster not only for religious groups but also for LGBT Victorians who don’t wish coercion down the ideological path which the current Government is directing. Doctors and psychologists are increasingly concerned about this one way street and the road blocks this Government is laying down will prevents real and necessary conversation and care to be offered.

Far from protecting people this bill will have the unfortunate consequence of threatening many Victorians with legal proceedings to they continue to believe and practice a Christian worldview, it will pressure faith leaders from exercising their pastoral responsibilities, and it will prevent many people in our community who are wrestling with their identity and are looking to faith communities for wisdom and prayer and support.

Where the Government could have made allies with faith communities in Victoria, they have unnecessarily targeted them and pushed them away. They are sadly driving this Bill over other Victorians who deserve love and care, not this coercive piece of legislation. One prays that commonsense will prevail and that the Government will return this Bill to the drawing room and start again. 

Can Churches Sing or not?

The day after Victoria was declared COVID free, the DHHS reversed their directive and introduced a ban on singing in churches.

Yesterday my church gathered together for the first time in almost nine months. We did all the rights things in regard to social distancing and mask wearing, registering attendees and cleaning before and after each service. We didn’t share morning tea as we love to do. We even bought prepackaged communion wafers and cups. 

I preached a sermon on Psalm 33,  which begins with a call to worship, 

“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

Praise the Lord with the harp;

    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

Sing to him a new song;

    play skillfully, and shout for joy.”

To obey the Christian call to worship in song has now been forbidden by the DHHS. Earlier in November we spoke to a DHHS officer who guaranteed that we are allowed to sing in church, so long as we wear masks. The Health directives on the Government website, even as late as last night, still stated in one section that singing is permitted for indoor religious ceremonies. 

First of all, I have no doubt that those working in the DHHS have much on their plates. There is an enormous breadth of decisions to make, including producing directives for areas of community life where they have little experience or understanding. This is hard at the best of times. I appreciate how the tragic events that Victorians have experienced this year does not make  producing health advice or directives any easier.

There is no need to attack the DHHS or impugn motives that we are not aware of. My aim here is understanding and to ascertain a helpful explanation from the DHHS.

I have been informed that over the past week there has been confusion within the DHHS and with the DHHS’s messaging. Official Government’s websites have simultaneously allowed singing and prohibited singing for religious ceremonies. The permission granted to my church for singing has not been overturned in writing. However it is my understanding that the DHHS will today confirm on their website that singing is not permitted for religious ceremonies. 

On the surface the DHHS reversal makes no rational sense. The day after Victoria is declared COVID free, the DHHS impose (or at the very least, confirm) a prohibition on singing in churches? 

The question is, what is the justification for reversing the decision on singing?

Several months ago, suggestions were made by some medical experts that singing could play a role in spreading the virus. We certainly want to listen carefully to the findings of research. I note that this information was available months ago and it do not prevent the DHHS from giving religious groups in Victoria the green light for singing. Let me stress, with this information widely available, the DHHS decided that singing was permissible. 

Since those early indications that singing causes COVID to spread, more recent research has found that singing is not more problematic than speaking.

The BBC reported in August, 

“Singing does not produce substantially more respiratory particles than speaking at a similar volume, a study suggests.”

“Dr Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “This important research suggests there is no specific excess risk of transmission due to singing”

It is not for me to discern how COVID-19 spreads and whether singing is a worse offender or not. I believe in listening to the science. To my knowledge, no new evidence linking singing to the spread of COVID-19 has come to light in the last couple of weeks, the same time frame that has introduced this 180 degree change by the DHHS. Perhaps new scientific data has become available in the past week. If so, it is incumbent upon the DHHS to explain.

This policy reversal is even more bizarre given the fact that Victoria has recorded zero new cases of COVID-19 for 31 days. There has been an entire month with zero new cases, despite many 1000s of people being tested every single say. It’s not as though the health situation is growing more perilous. Indeed, on November 28th Victoria was declared COVID-19 free! 

The logic is quite strange – while there remained a few cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, Churches could sing. Now that there are no cases and Victoria is declared COVID safe, churches can no longer sing?

It is not asking too much for the DHHS to detail the precise reasons to the1000s of churches and 100,000s of religious Victorians who are finally beginning to meet again after almost nine months of severe restrictions

Government bureaucrats perhaps do not appreciate the importance people of faith place on meeting together for worship, and the key role singing plays in these services. For Christians, to sing is one of the great joys and imperatives. It is an essential aspect of Christian worship. 

In 3 week time there will be crowds of 25000 people shouting and singing and chanting at the MCG’s Boxing Day Test. I intend to among that crowd! Groups of noisy patrons are already filling our pubs, sharing spittle as they talk over tables and cheer across the room. While people are amassing in restaurants and pubs 2sq m apart, people in church must sit 4sq m apart. 

There is a moral obligation for the DHHS to demonstrate this ban is necessary, because, for 1000,000s of Victorians, singing is a necessary expression of the faith we hold. If the DHHS has genuine cause for introducing the ban, okay. We will respond appropriately, as we have done so throughout 2020. 

A Day of Reckoning: Victorian Government pushes to ban Christian practices with threat of 10 years in prison

The day has come in Victoria where Christians and Churches need to decide whether to obey God or the Government. Such a decision should never be forced onto believers but the current Victorian Government insists that it must be so.

There are times when we use hyperbole and exaggerate the significance of words or decisions, but I do not think this is one of those occasions.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 has been tabled in the Victorian Parliament. This is the most significant threat to religious freedom in Victoria in living memory. The current Government has been slowly removing religious freedoms for a number of years, but nothing quite like this.

Anyone found engaging in ‘change or suppression practices’ may face 10 years imprisonment.

Premier Daniel Andrews

“Cruel and bigoted practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will soon be stamped out across Victoria, thanks to new laws introduced to Parliament today.       

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 will put in place new measures to protect Victorians from the serious damage and trauma caused by conversion practices.

The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.

The laws empower the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to consider and respond to reports of change or suppression practices from any person, as well as launch investigations where there is evidence of serious or systemic change or suppression practices.”

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill may have wide-reaching ramifications for thousands of religious groups in Victoria, for 100,000s of Victorians, and for the entire State as it turns its back on religious freedom in favour for State-controlled religion. 

Now that the Bill is available to read, what does it mean for Christians and for churches?

The Bill is long and complex. There are important details that need to be addressed which I or others will do so later on. I want to comment here on some of the larger issues.

I want to begin by stressing that if the Government’s intention is to protect vulnerable people from extreme practices that were once employed by a few and marginal religious groups, there is a warrant for conversation.

When the Guardian reported, 

“Religious groups have sought to distance themselves from the older practices of electro-shock treatment, aversion therapy or other extreme methods, while arguing that religious counselling encouraging people to change their sexuality or gender identity should not be banned if a person consented to the treatment.”

I must respond and say, not true. We are not distancing ourselves from these older practices because almost no church ever engaged in them. Until a few years ago I didn’t know that such practices once occurred in a few religious groups. Despite the efforts of the Government and various advocacy groups, this is not and was never widespread among Christians in Victoria. In addition, I note the government has carefully avoided telling the public that this the so-called ‘conversion therapy’ originated not with Christian churches but within secular psychology. Decades ago, some well-meaning people unfortunately adopted the ideas and practices from psychology and added a spiritual twist. 

If the Government is concerned with banning shock therapy and particular counselling methods, pretty much all Christians would find agreement. For those people who have undergone those kinds of experiences, I pray that they will find healing and come to know the God of all comfort. However, these narrow and debunked practices are not the parameters of this Bill, nor the goal of this Bill. Both the Premier and the Attorney General have made it clear,

Premier Daniel Andrews referred to conversion practice as,

 “This bigoted quackery”, 

and 

“The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”

Attorney-General Jill Hennssey said,

“We’re sending a clear message: no one is ‘broken’ because of their sexuality or gender identity,” 

“These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”

Let us take note, it is not only the alleged activity that Daniel Andrews and Jill Hennessy want to be eradicated from Victoria, it is “these views”. In other words, to think or have ‘these views’ is something that the Victorian Government wants rooted out.

In other words,  the Government is not only targeting those rare, few and extreme practices (that frankly don’t happen anymore), the government is aiming its intention at the beliefs and the thoughts of 100,000s of Victorians. Is it the role of government to police our minds and to decide what theology can and cannot be believed? Since when did God give them jurisdiction over the conscience?

Churches are left with little protection

The Bill contains no explicit protection of the rights of religious people to believe and teach their views. At one point it refers to the Charter of Human Rights but it fails to offer any specific protection to religious people and religious organisations. With a note of irony that can’t be missed, the Bill’s explanatory memo references to “freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief”, in the context of constructing an entire Bill aimed at taking those freedoms away.

The Government’s position is of course hypocritical and disingenuous. For example, while they argue sexual orientation is fixed and that persuading anyone of an alternative is morally wrong, the Bill offers protections for those who are in the business of transitioning people into a gender other than their birth sex. In another law that the Government pushed through a year ago, on one’s birth certificate you are free to legally change the gender on your birth certificate every 12 months. When it comes to children who are wrestling with gender dysphoria, they are now encouraged and urged to no longer identify with their biological sex but to assume a new gender identity. The government have acted in this manner despite an increasing consensus in the medical fraternity that this kind of counselling and medical intervention is fraught with danger and is unlikely to resolve the issues facing these children.

What is considered ‘conversion or suppression practice?

In terms of the particulars of this Bill. it is important to understand how terms are defined, in particular, what constitutes ‘conversion or suppression practice’.

5 Meaning of change or suppression practice 

(1) In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent—

(a) on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and

(b) for the purpose of—

(i) changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or

(ii) inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following—

(a) providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy;

(b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism; 

(c) giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person.

Take note of the following details:

  1. The Bill will ban consensual practices. If a person invites a pastor or person to pray for them in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the pastor or person can be charged according to the Act.
  2. Section 5.3 provides examples of what constitutes ‘practices’.  Prayer is banned. For example, if a person asks for prayer that they would live a godly life and refrain from sexual activity that they believe is inconsistent with follow Jesus Christ, the person praying can be charge according to this Act. 
  3. Section 5.3 specifies that practice is not limited to the examples that are provided. 

Where does this leave preaching and teaching the Bible’s sexual ethic? What of the sermon, the Bible study group, and seminars? 

To be clear, Christianity does not teach that a persons gender or sexual orientation will change. Christianity does however teach and urge Christians to live sexually godly lives which include only having sexual relations within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. The Bible contains many exhortations for believers to not engage in sexual activity outside marriage. Will these formal and informal conversations be permitted under this Bill? At the stage, that is far from certain.

For teaching abstinence or offering pastoral counselling in line with the Bible’s vision of sexuality, and praying with fellow believers that they will be godly in their sexuality, does this fall foul of the Bill?  

This ambiguity needs to be clarified in the Bill. If teaching and sermons and study groups are not subject to this Bill, then it needs to be made explicit so that religious organisations are afforded due protection.

As it stands, there are details that this Bill does not answer and deliberately (or least it seems a conscious decision) leaves open. What if a church runs a seminar on marriage or raising children and we explore the bibles teaching on sexuality?

Where the Bill is silent, we may turn to the Bill’s explanatory memorandum and to the HCC and HRLC reports which the Government used extensively for shaping their position. 

The explanatory note states,

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.”

In other words, a conversation is deemed an offence. A chat where a Christian encourages another Christian to follow a Christian ethic could become unlawful.

The Explanatory memo doesn’t hold as much legal weight as the Bill itself. However, I am reliably informed that a Court may refer to the explanatory note.

The Health Complaints Commissioner’s Report for the Government, adds this information,

“Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’”

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

Notice the attention given to Church teachings (as opposed to other religions who also identify homosexual practices as sinful). In other words, classical Christian teaching about sexuality is deemed to be harmful. According to the HCC, an exposition of Romans ch.1 or 1 Corinthians ch.6 would fall under the umbrella of harm. If a Church organises a marriage enrichment day where the Bible’s presentation of marriage is affirmed, this event could fall foul of harm. From weddings to Sunday sermons, from Bible study groups to counselling sessions, in contexts where sex outside of heterosexual marriage is spoken of as sinful or broken, the Health Complaints Commissioner identifies all of the above as harmful and therefore the State can justify limiting religious freedom.

The other report which the Government has underscored is from the Human Rights Law Centre.

Under  conversion practice they include,

“pastoral care which includes (or claims to include) ‘counselling’, ‘healing’, claims about ‘curing’, ‘changing’ or ‘repairing’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or claims about improving a person’s mental or physical health, would likely still be classified as a health service, and the above regulations would apply.”

Indeed, the definition is so expansive that it may include sermons, Bible Studies, marriage courses, counselling, and prayer.

The HRLC report also included new forms’ of conversion practice, among them is self-control and abstinence.

“Instead, they are beginning to promote activities designed to help same-sex attracted people live chaste and celibate lives, in accordance with the sexual ethics of their religious traditions.”

The HRLC and HCC reports are not part of the Bill, but they do form background and reveal the sorts of practices that are being views. The Government has a responsibility to clarify where the HRLC and HCC understandings of ‘practices’ can or will influence interpretation of the Act.

Concluding Remarks for now

Once again, we can all agree that there used to be unhelpful and damaging practices done to fellow Victorians. We oppose them and pray that those individuals who have been harm, may find peace and healing. The Government’s Bill, as it stands, goes well beyond those archaic and now debunked practices. This is an attack on normal and deeply held beliefs and practices among Christians all over the world.

I am less shocked by the Government’s narrative as I am saddened. Pumping children with hormones and cutting off breasts and penises is not harmful, but Christianity is harmful. Praying for Christians to be godly about sex is harmful. Teaching the Bible’s vision for human sexuality and relationships could be defined as harmful. 

Without important revisions and corrections, this Bill will make vulnerable 100,000s of Victorian Christians who are persuaded by the Bible’s vision for human sexuality.  For Christians, this is never about forcing our views on anyone. It is about casting a better vision for the world and human life, and about persuading and loving others as Christ has loved us.

If the Government doesn’t intend to prosecute Christians or Churches for praying or teaching or practicing a Christian view of sexuality, then it is incumbent upon them to clarify their goals and to correct this Bill.

I trust that the Victorian Parliament will see commonsense and introduce significant revisions to this anti-religion Bill. 

To Churches, faith groups, and denominations, I encourage you to write to your local members of Parliament and express your concerns winsomely and clearly.


LGB Group opposes the Bill

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/conversion-therapy-ban-may-backfire-lgb-group/news-story/f065829f62254bfdbdaac91961b9ab20

Associate Prof. Neil Foster begins to unpack the legal issues with the Bill – https://lawandreligionaustralia.blog/2020/11/26/victorian-conversion-practices-prohibition-introduced/?fbclid=IwAR1FXurFqxt6SFJojCi5BvSFK_agfYbp8Zn18UyY0E8qa4vcuG2QJ4l8ouA

This legal analysis exposes deep problems with the legislation, including how it works against children and families. No wonder LGB groups and some transgender people are appalled by the proposed Bill – https://freedomforfaith.org.au/library/labor-government-in-victoria-makes-prayer-a-criminal-offence?fbclid=IwAR378h-hypTQLwfVRM0KAoY-WRnhdQ22L2xUaJLgtXldSWSolZlBypYP8pw