Hell just won’t go away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same-sex marriage narrative isn’t so neat

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It wasn’t that long ago that we were listening to advocates for marriage change insist marriage wasn’t about children, and that it was misleading to use children as part of an argument for classical marriage.

For example, last year on QandA, the Federal Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, shouted down a fellow panellist for daring to connect marriage with raising children. The panellist was Katy Faust, an American blogger who was raised by two lesbians (one being her mum). She speaks affectionately about both women who raised her, she nonetheless believes children ought to have a mother and father.

“While my mother was a fantastic mother and most of what I do well as a mother myself I do because that’s how she parented me, she can’t be a father. Her partner, an incredible woman — both of these women have my heart — cannot be a father either.”

Penny Wong is also on the record, rebuffing Eric Abetz who submitted same-sex marriage would deny children the basic rights of a mother and father.

Di Natale’s and Wong’s outrage in not unique to them,  it has been mimicked by other politicians and social commentators. Indeed it has become part of the narrative: don’t bring children into the marriage conversation.

The only problem with this plot line is that SSM advocates have now found ways to use children in support of their own case. Hence, it’s anathema for one side to mention children, but it is only right and natural for children to be front and centre waving rainbow flags.

Last weekend in Melbourne at a marriage change rally, young children were organised to be on the platform and talk about their positive experiences of living with 2 mums or 2 dads. These children then featured in weekend newspapers across the nation.

Today in Canberra, Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfus met with ‘rainbow families’ at Parliament, and the ensuing photo-op has been splashed all over social media tonight.

This dramatic shift in narrative has taken an even stranger twist today; while children from gay families were being welcomed by Mr Shorten and Mr Dreyfus, in Canberra was another woman raised by 2 lesbian mums. But for some reason, Labor representatives were not keen to meet with her, and certainly no photography and selfies for their twitter accounts. Why were some children raised by 2 mums or dads put in the political spotlight, and  24 year old Millie Fontana was refused even a casual chat?

It appears as though her story doesn’t fit with story that is being written for Australia’s history books.

In an interview in Triple J today, Millie Fontana says,

‘I’m an atheist. But our story needs to be told. It’s natural to want a mum and a dad. But when we speak, we are told we are homophobes and Christians’.

Fontana is not alone in her belief that children should have a father and mother; there are numerous similar stories of children who were raised in same-sex contexts, but for the most part these testimonies are being ignored. Why? They don’t fit into the narrative being spun by certain political and social scriptwriters. 

The changing story goes something like this: children are not relevant to this marriage debate…except now those raised by lesbian or gay parents…so long as those kids don’t believe that children should have a dad and mum. 

Millie Fontana’s testimony is especially awkward because unlike someone like Katy Faust, Fontana is an atheist and even supports same sex marriage, but she does not believe children should be denied their mum and dad.

The reality is, there are many different Australians concerned with same-sex marriage and with its consequences, and they can’t be put in a box labelled, ‘heterosexual religious bigots’. In fact, very few people can accurately be described as such, but again, that’s not the story Mr Shorten, Ms Wong, and others want Australia to believe.

I’d love to see Mr Shorten and Mr Dreyfus meet with Millie Fontana, to hear her story. More important, the Australian public ought to be aware that the SSM narrative is not so neat and tidy, and contrary to reassurances from political leaders, there are real consequences that will flow from changing the definition of marriage.

Read more of the Triple J interview with Millie Fontana

While she’s for same-sex couples marrying, she has deep concerns about what same-sex marriage would mean for family structures. Families like hers.

“Same-sex parenting is not something I’m against,” Millie told Hack. “It’s got to be done ethically. There’s no easy way of raising a child in a same-sex scenario.”

“Same-sex marriage coming in basically says we don’t need biology,” she said. “Marriage itself has been so intertwined with child reproduction, and what I want to see happen is the preservation of child rights, regardless of who gets married.”

Not knowing her dad denied her “genetic integrity”, Millie said.

All children have a right to know who they are.”

Millie didn’t meet her dad until she was 11 years old. His absence had a big impact on her life.

She’d asked her mums to meet him as a young child, and they’d said no. She started acting out and having problems at school.

“It was very hard for me to establish a stable identity,” Millie said. “It was negatively impacting my development.”

‘There was always something missing’

No one ever teased her at school, and her mums were loving and provided all she needed for a stable home life. But Millie said she still clung to the “missing gender” in her life.

“There was always something missing for me, and I can honestly say that I always wanted to know who my father was.”

Millie is against same-sex couples denying their children access to their mother or father. She’s also against single people choosing to have children, for the same reason.

Labor Party Proposal Deserves Attention

This afternoon news broke that the Federal Labor Party are considering agreeing to the marriage plebiscite, so long as this set of conditions are applied:

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Photo from The Age

  • plebiscite is self executing or binding
  • No public funding for either side
  • Voting is compulsory
  • question is fair and reasonable

In my opinion these are reasonable requests and deserve due consideration from Malcolm Turnbull and the Cabinet. The Age is reporting that ‘Christian groups’ will be angered by list, but I don’t see any reason for objecting.

Of course, the big question is, what will the question be, and it is understandable that people will wait for this announcement before making a final call on support for the plebiscite; I don’t envy those who are responsible for framing the question.

My only qualification to Labor’s suggestion is that it is unreasonable to expect MPs to vote against their conscience, that is, should the Australian public vote to change the law. If the majority of Australians vote to change the Marriage Act, I don’t think MPs should vote otherwise, but should their conscience not permit them to support same sex marriage they should have freedom to abstain from voting. Therefore, a self executing  plebiscite is preferable (I’m not a lawyer, and so I don’t know whether this is possible and how this would work).

There is one vital  matter that has not arisen, either today or in most public discussions on the issue, and that is how redefining marriage will impact many other aspects of Australian law and life. Changing the Marriage Act is not so simple,  as though all we are doing is removing a couple of words. Rather there will be a significant ripple effect throughout  many areas of law, including discrimination laws, family law, and property and finance laws. For example, when the U.K introduced same-sex marriage, they produced a 62 page document outlining many of the laws that would require reworking in light of the change. The point is a simple one, we mustn’t think that should we vote to change marriage, the discussions are over. It is only fair that in the lead up to the plebiscite, the Government outline to Australians, details of the many implications that will arise from altering marriage.

Anglican Minister asks Bill Shorten a question

Following a Church service in Canberra this morning, as part of the commencement of the new Parliament, Anglican Minister, Ian Powell, asked Bill Shorten a question about his use of language in describing opponents of same-sex marriage.

Mr Shorten was clearly not prepared for this conversation, and to be honest, I felt some sympathy toward Mr Shorten as I know I’d feel taken back by a surprise question.  The scene looked a little awkward for both men, with Mr Shorten being curt in his responses, and Ian Powell sounding nervous. Then again, politicians are used to street QandA, and an opportunity presented itself for a member of the public to ask a valid question to one of our nation’s leading political figures.

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It should be said,  the man who  approached the Opposition Leader isn’t a right wing liberal leaning conservative, but someone  who likes Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. He was respectful of Mr Shorten and gently spoken in his tone.

Rev Powell said, “You described people who weren’t in favour of changing the definition of marriage as ‘haters who come out from under rock’. Can I ask you not to speak like that?”

Mr Shorten has made such remarks. Following the horrific massacre in Orlando, he said,

“We’ve seen two terrible events in the last week have shown that hate and terrorism does exist in modern societies.”

“I don’t want to give haters a chance to come out from under the rock and make life harder for LGBTI people or their families, to somehow question the legitimacy of their relationship.”

Bill Shorten initially responded by suggesting he was being taken out of context, and then he qualified himself again by saying,

“People of faith can be opposed to marriage equality, but some people who object to marriage equality do have homophobic attitudes,” he said.

I think it is only fair to take Mr Shorten’s comment at face value, and assume he genuinely believes that not everyone who opposes SSM is hateful. That is pleasing to hear, mainly because it’s true; indeed, probably the overwhelming majority are not phobic. Unfortunately, however, and Ian Powell is picking up on this theme, the rhetoric that the Australian public is hearing from Mr Shorten (and others) overwhelming insinuates that any and all discussion about marriage will lead to hate and bigotry.

Mr Shorten has previously used lines including,

“When I see people hiding behind the bible to insult and demonise people on the basis of who they love, I cannot stay silent. I do not agree.”

And of the plebiscite, ‘it will just be “a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia”.

I don’t think Ian Powell’s request is so outrageous. Is it too much to ask our national leaders to tone down their rhetoric on the marriage debate? Bill Shorten has been mild compared to some other politicians and public figures, but nonetheless, it is simply counter productive to continually insert the words ‘hate’ and ‘phobia’ into every public statement about marriage.

Leaders have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to set the tone of public discourse, demonstrating that Australians are capable of debating even the most sensitive issues and yet remain friends. Instead of jumping into the mud with those who are truly derogatory, could we not instead aspire to that line from The West Wing, spoken by the President’s Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry?

“We’re gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.”

‘Safe Schools’ and the Danger of Polemical Rhetoric

Just days after writing a piece on how to speak and engage in public, today the Australian public has witnessed further examples of immature and dishonest debate.

Earlier today in the halls of Parliament there was a brief and unpleasant exchange between Bill Shorten and Cory Bernadi. Mr Bernadi called Mr Shorten a ‘fraud’, while Mr Shorten yelled out, ‘At least I’m not a homophobe, mate’.

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SBS News

In today’s The Age, Jill Stark has presented what is now an all to  common false-antithesis: either we are progressive, enlightened and support gender theory, or we are conservative, culturally regressive bigots.

She writes,

“We cannot let the march of equality be held to ransom by a powerful minority of religious zealots who dress up their bigotry as concern for children.”

“These are desperate acts from ideological crusaders who refuse to accept that the inequality they have built their privilege on is in its death throes.

But fear is a powerful emotion. If you can scare conservative voters into thinking the by-product of equality is a world in which their children will be forced into some sort of state-sanctioned gay induction camp, facts are no longer necessary.”

Is Stark right? Are our only options, be caring citizens who support Safe Schools or hate-filled degenerates who wish children harm? Of course not.

  • There are many Australians who don’t identify with conservative politics and who reject current gender theory.
  • There are many Australian Christians not aligning with the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), and who affirm the historic Biblical understanding of gender and sexuality.
  • It is possible to be appalled and saddened by bullying in schools, and not support the Safe Schools program.
  • It is possible to actively care for and support families who have children identifying as LGBTQIA, without introducing Safe Schools.
  • It is possible for our schools to teach values such as respect and kindness amidst diversity without pushing specific and questionable gender theory. Many schools are doing an excellent job discouraging bullying without needing Safe Schools.
  • It is possible to have legitimate concerns over Safe Schools and not be homophobic and all the other insidious and untrue name calling that Jill Stark and others are resorting too. There is a sad note of irony in how  these anti-bullying advocates are among the most quick to disparage and heckle those who don’t support their social engineering project.
  • It is possible parents don’t want their 11 and 12 year old children  children being encouraged to explore sexuality in school.
  • It is possible many parents would be concerned if our schools permitted male students to use female toilets and change rooms.

I know many many people in the community who fit all the above statements, although most remain quiet and anonymous because they fear retribution from the kind of journalism Jill Stark is scripting.

Finally,  Jill Stark tries to reassure readers with this concluding remark,

“For the record, Safe Schools does not teach children how to be gay. It encourages young people to be themselves without fear of persecution or judgment, and fosters empathy for those who are different to them.

There is no “gay manual” because sexuality is not something that can be learned. Any suggestion to the contrary is a deliberate attempt to deny the very existence of LGBTI people.”

While I understand her logic, I can only assume Jill Stark hasn’t read all the material and that she has ignored the links on the Safe Schools website. Also, as a parent I am all to aware how what my children read and what they watch influences how they think and behave. It is simply benighted, or least naive, to conclude that Safe Schools will not impact the behaviour and thinking of children.

I am not interested in the politics of this debate, but I am speaking as a concerned parent, and as a person who is concerned by the continued untrue rhetoric certain journalists and politicians would have us believe about Australians who dare question current gender ideology.