SBS and the not so inclusive “exclusive”

On the weekend it snowed on the outskirts of Melbourne, and it appears as though some of that snow fell on the Central Coast of NSW and clouded the vision of one SBS reporter.


An article was published on the SBS website late this afternoon, aiming to discredit a group of FIEC churches on the Central Coast. These Churches use facilities in local schools after school hours, especially for Sunday services

Journalist, Robert Burton-Bradley, has accused the Churches of promoting a ‘homophobic’ message, and he then proceeds to prove his case by providing a list of quotes from various sermons. Unfortunately, his evidence looks more like a JFK conspiracy theory than material fit for publication on a respected Australian media website.

To begin with, the headline states, “Claims evangelical Christian churches preach gay hate in public schools” and has the accompanying tag line, “Exclusive: Serious allegations have emerged that gay hate messages are being preached inside public schools by evangelical groups.” It sounds truly outrageous and, these headings are sufficiently vague to lead readers to believe that the following ideas are being taught in these schools, which is not the case. The content of these sermons is for a church, not for children in the classroom.

Secondly, in light of the evil mass murder in Orlando, the media have reported various Muslim leaders who believe homosexuals should be executed. In the midst of these  stories, it appears as though Burton-Bradley is portraying these Christian Churches  as if they are preaching a similar hate message. He writes,

“One recording of a sermon on homosexuality and the Bible’s book of Leviticus from the Lakes Christian Church, based inside the Berkeley Vale Public school on the NSW Central Coast, includes references to the “death penalty” as a punishment for the “sin” of homosexuality.”

Taking words from their intended setting could potentially be seen as slanderous, which leads to a third point,

The article quotes statements from various sermons with no regard for the context in which they were spoken.

Anyone can cut and past a few words from a sermon, and give readers all manner of impressions. I once said in a sermon, ‘sex is good’; I guess one can only assume I’m a member of the sex party. I’ve also declared my dislike of cats, perhaps someone ought to report me to the RSPCA for possible future animal cruelty!

Not only does the article ignore context in which words were spoken, there is no understanding here of biblical theology, by which I mean, how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament, of how God’s holiness and love relate, and of the way the cross of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding Christianity and Christian thought and attitudes toward other people. Nowhere does Robert Burton-Bradley bring his readers to the conclusions that are offered in the sermons.

Christians do not hate homosexuals, and from what I know of the Churches in question, neither do they.  If I may repeat words that I wrote last week in a piece relating to Jason Ball,

“A Christian cannot hate because we have been on the other side, we have belonged to the crowd who have hurt others and thrown stones of hate, pride, and greed. Christians, if they are Christian, confess their spiritual and moral destitution, and yet we have come to experience the undeserving and loving grace of God who forgives our trespasses through Jesus. Once the human heart has experienced Divine forgiveness, we can not walk back into old attitudes of disdain for other people, nor hold onto some cold and languid acquiescence toward popular moral thought. When God replaces hate with love, it is a commitment to affirm what is good as defined by God. Can not love lead us to disagree with fellow human beings? Can a desire to see people flourish not include aspects of nonconcurrence, as we find in the life of Jesus Christ?”

What lessons should Churches be learning from such reporting?

First of all, be mindful that our sermons and websites are available to whoever is interested, including whacky atheists, angry secularists, and agenda driven journalists. In fact, this example is a helpful reminder for preachers and pastors. How do our sermons  come across to unbelieving Australia? Indeed, how is skeptical Australia reading our blogs!?

Secondly, be mindful of the fact that uncritical and biased reporting is a reality, not always, but it is common place. Such impropriety ought to disappoint us but not surprise us.

I’m not a fan of media bashing, and so I’m pleased to be able to say that on most occasions when I have dealt with the media, the experience has been positive. One time, a major newspaper even revised a headline to more accurately reflect my argument, and I remember the time when  Derryn Hinch stepped off his bandwagon to publicly acknowledge he had misunderstood something I’d said. Sadly though,  I think we can expect more fractious reporting in future days, as our society closes the door on fair and civil public discourse.

This is extremely poor journalism; no wonder the schools and churches didn’t feel obliged to speak to SBS. I hope SBS’s editorial team will have the common sense and decency to remove the piece and apologise to the parties involved.

UPDATE: I believe SBS have taken down the article from their website. Thank you to SBS for their wise deliberation and response. (June 30)

A Christian QandA: But where was the Gospel?

Tonight’s ABC’s QandA program was purposed to examine the role of Christianity in Australian society today.

Interestingly, two hours prior to the show, I tweeted a question to which many of my Christian friends responded, ‘no, they would not be watching the program’. It seems as though lots of people are dubious about QandA’s capacity to present a fair and reasonable picture of Christianity, which is perhaps has some warrant based on previous programs.  I guess I include myself among the sceptics, but overall such doubts were given the boot. The show was presented well, and the rudeness scale from some previous episodes dropped off significantly.


The program though didn’t quite start of the right footing, with Julia Baird exclaiming, “Everyone on the panel is a Christian.” Hmmm, really? There were some pretty dubious theologies up there tonight. But then I remembered how Julia recently referred to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a cult who reject Christianity, as ‘conservative Christian’. That aside, Julia Baird did a fine job at facilitating the proceedings.

The Panel

On the panel was John Haldane (a Scottish Catholic who is a Papal advisor to the Vatican), Julie McCrossin (radio & tv personality, and gay rights activist), Ray Minniecon (Pastor & Chairperson of the Sydney Anglican Indigenous People’s Committee), Tiffany Sparks (Anglican minister in Brisbane), and Lyle Shelton (Director of ACL).

Given the program’s topic, one would have thought the ABC would invite Australia’s most notable Christian voices: where was Peter Adam, Peter Jensen, Brian Rosner, John Dickson, Michael Jensen, Justine Toh, and many others? I understand why Lyle Shelton was chosen, and Ray Minniecon, but the other panelists? McCrossin and Sparks represent what is at best a fringe and frayed interpretation of Christianity. John Haldane is from out of town and struggled to comment on Australian cultural particulars, although he did add a sense of intellectual gravitas that was otherwise missing at times.

Having said that, QandA is not (nor is it meant to be) an orthodox Christian program, and the producers no doubt have pressures on them to diversify the panel and encourage as many sparks as possible.

The Questions:

The most interesting part of the show was seeing what questions people were asking:

  • When a 16yo is arrested for terrorism is it time for us to consider if we have failed to nurture our sons?
  • Do the churches share responsibility for failing to articulate the Christian principles of a ‘just war’?
  • There was a question about Eric Metaxas and his alleged comparison between Nazi Germany and debates over sexuality.
  • Why are churches in Australia so silent when it comes to climate change?
  • What role should our churches be playing for true reconciliation in our nation today?Do Church leaders recognise the role that patriarchal hierarchies & theologies play in DV?
  • Is what the Bible describes a more realistic view of our world or have the secularists got it right?

Apart from the final question, no one asked about the veracity of Christian beliefs (is it true or not), rather, people wanted to know whether Christianity is good (good being defined in a variety of ways). That is worth reflecting on from an apologetic and evangelistic perspective. But also, for many of the questions, including the climate change and indigenous recognition, Christians have been actively speaking on these issues, and yet it seems as though the public hasn’t listened (ABC viewers at least!). This raises an important question for Christians as we seek to speak into society: why are we not being heard? How can we work better at clearly presenting our views?

The Conversation:

It is best to watch the program for answers to the specific questions, for here I only wish to offer one comment, which to me sums up the program:

Where was the Baptist tonight? Yes, that’s tongue in cheek…sort of. Baptists are in fact one of the few Christian denominations growing across Australia, and yet there was no room for one? Leaving the facetious aside,

Why was an entire episode of a ‘Christian’ Qanda without any mention of the crux of the Christian faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I remember an episode with Peter Jensen and one with John Dickson, where both sought to explain the Gospel and give a reason for the hope they have. Tonight, the entire program was addressing matters from a Christian perspective and yet where was a faithful and clear articulation of the Gospel, even in a single sentence? The closest we came was when Lyle Shelton made passing reference to Christ laying down his life, and when Ray Minniecon called Australians to ‘repentance’. 

Of course, television programs (and the media in general), have little interest in the actual message of Christianity;  it is easier and more contentious to focus on moral questions. These questions are important, and as a Christian I believe the Bible gives us answers, but Christianity is not moralism. This is one of the potential dangers for groups like the Australian Christian Lobby. While I agree with many of their statements, they can be guilty of presenting a Christianity that is defined by a set of moral values, but that is a faulty view of Christianity. This is not questioning their orthodoxy, but the only message we have is  is the good news message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on a cross and rose from the dead for the salvation of everyone who believes in Him.

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)

‘I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:8)

As Julia Baird summed up the final question, she gave the panel every opportunity. She asked, ‘is it down to God’s grace or human endeavour?’ There I sat, pleading, would some one please explain the good news of Jesus Christ? Would someone at least say, ‘yes, it’s God’s grace’. What an opportunity to articulate the truth and beauty and power of God’s grace, but no. I was saddened to hear no minister of the Gospel say yes to God’s grace.

I was saddened. I was not surprised to hear Julie McCrossin and Tiffany Sparks contradicting Biblical truths; that’s what ‘progressives’ do; they throw away those things in the Bible that contravene their liberal views. But still, as Australians listened tonight to Christian leaders expound their beliefs, they will go to sleep none the wiser, yes, hearing some Christian ideas and thoughts, but almost nothing about the message which is Christianity. 

What I heard tonight was, Christians have opinions about lots of issues, just like everyone else. I heard, Christians disagree a lot. I heard, people have the capacity to change.

This ‘Christian’ QandA ended up sounding more like a Jane Austen novel set in Victorian England, acknowledging some things Christian, but with very little appeal to the Christ of Christianity and to the grace of God which Christians do trust, rejoice in, and want other Australians to know.