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.

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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. .

Baptists believe in Freedom of Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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