The Straw Man is about to burst!

The straw man mock-up of the Religious Discrimination Bill is getting stuffier with every passing day.

It wasn’t enough for Judith Ireland and Luke Beck to write a couple of fictional pieces last week for Fairfax. Their collation of hypotheticals have been mistaken by some readers as fact, but in the end, their scaremongering ended up belittling religious and irreligious Australians alike!

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Apparently, the straw man has yet more room to fill. A string of articles this week (once again thanks to our friends at Fairfax) have continued to make hay out of the Religious Discrimination Bill. This overstuffed straw man is about ready to burst, even before they even finishing preparing to light the bonfire.

Take, for example, The Royal Women’s Hospital. According to reporting in yesterday’s The Age, they are arguing that the Religious Discrimination Bill will lead to Doctors refusing to perform abortions and even to abortion freedoms being stifled.

First, Doctors are already protected by law to refuse to perform an abortion. Second, and contrary to the straw man, this Bill is primarily aimed at protecting already existing freedoms of religious Australians, not introducing new rights. Third, if abortions laws are tightened in the future, it won’t be the consequence of this Bill but because Australians once again acknowledge that unborn children are human beings and therefore must be treated with due dignity and worth.

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has joined the fray with a piece in The Age, arguing that the Bill will divide Australians and not unite them.

What is Michael Kirby’s evidence that this will be the case? For the most part, he entertains a similar line of hypotheticals that have already been paraded in the street. There is however one concrete example. He mentions the case in Victoria where a Doctor allegedly refused to prescribe contraception or advice to a patient about IVF. It is important to note however that this alleged incident has nothing to do with the drafted Religious Discrimination Bill. This case has arisen under existing laws in Victoria and not because of a Bill that has yet to be even debated before the Parliament.

It is worth noting the kind of language Justice Kirby employs to describe the kind of person who is advocating for the Bill:

“it actively facilitates intolerance and will work to divide rather than unite Australians”

“support those who use religious belief as a weapon against non-believers.”

Is this really the state of mind and heart of religious Australians? We are wanting legal protection for the purpose of using our beliefs as a weapon? There is more…

“This is something obsessive religious proponents demand”.

Of course, any person who supports this Bill is obviously ‘obsessive’ and unreasonable and a fool! For a decisive knock out punch, Justice Kirby concludes by bringing out one of the big words,

“We should be vigilant to preserve it, not erode its legacy by enacting laws to appease an extreme minority.”

Are our mainstream Christian denominations now to be described as ‘extreme’? Are Anglicans, Presbyterians and Baptists, ‘extreme’. Extreme in what and how? For affirming what Christians have believed and practised for 2,000 years? For cherishing ideas that have created the freedoms and societal goods that we enjoy today in this country?  We all know how appalling extremists are, but labelling people in this false way is incredibly slanderous.   I understand, resorting to this kind of rhetorical game can be effective and persuasive, but it does nothing to aid truth-telling and it only further exemplifies the fracturing of civil society. Of course, there are some religious tools in our community; I don’t see anyone denying that. But this narrative being spun by Kirby and others is simply disingenuous.

As I wrote earlier in the week, I’m not saying that the Bill cannot be improved. My preference would be that we live in a society where such legislation isn’t required.  It is important to remember why this Bill is even being considered: it is because of the unreasonable and hardline secularists who will not tolerate Australians who do not fully endorse their narrow way of looking at the world. The same people who cry out for love speech are calling fellow Australians bigots for not supporting their causes, and are going to great lengths to silence these Australian and even remove them from their places of employment.

Wouldn’t it be advantageous and refreshing to see disagreeing Australians discuss these matters with civility and sitting down together without spitting coffee at each other?  I remember one such example. Back in 2017, Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson sat down with a Coopers beer in hand and chatted about their differing position on gay marriage. It was polite, honest, and respectful. Yet within hours, social media was alight with hate, and with photos of people destroying bottles of Coopers and with pubs declaring that they would no longer serve the Aussie beer. That’s the problem, we no longer wish to talk across the table or to show kindness to those who disagree with us. There is only one flavour in town and that is ‘outrage’.

Whether it is Michael Kirby or Luke Beck, the media, and the rest of us (including those who support some kind of religious discrimination bill), we really need to put the straw man out to pasture and rediscover those out-of-fashion virtues, kindness and authentic tolerance. The Religious Discrimination Bill is aimed at going some way to hold together this fraying society, but I do hope that wherever it finally lands, Christians will keep speaking truth in love and to love our neighbours whoever they may be. Yes, sometimes we will fail to do so, and so we should ask for forgiveness. We should hold to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. If our society so determines that this is extremism, then so be it. Let us be extreme in loving God and in wanting good for others

 

 

Are we prepared to walk away, for sake of Christ?

Israel Folau has come out and explained his recent remark on Instagram that has led to huge public controversy, and has involved Rugby Australia and their chief sponsors. It seems as though everyone has an opinion, and so it has been helpful to hear Israel speak for himself.

I appreciate his honesty and his humility. It made me think of the Apostle Paul’s words,

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life”. (1 Timothy 1:14-16)

I appreciate Folau’s clarification about what believes. I appreciate his unswerving faith in Jesus Christ and his trust that the Bible is true and good,

“I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness.”

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He has indicated that should Rugby Australia find his views to be untenable he would resign,

“After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”

At this point in time, no decision has been made by either Folau or Rugby Australia. Last week, Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, admitted the difficulty she is facing,

“This is a difficult issue when you think you are trying to combine religious beliefs, freedom of speech and inclusion, respect and the use of social media,” 

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s a strong believer and he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

“We want athletes in our code who are prepared to do that and that’s really important.

“But at the same time, Rugby Australia’s got a policy and position of inclusion and using social media with respect.

“So that’s where we shared stories, shared ideas and shared positions and both of us recognise that what we want is a situation where we use our social media platforms in a respectful and positive way.”

I think Castle helpfully summarises some of the tensions that now exist in the broader community. As a nation we are struggling to cope with societal pluralism. Sexuality has now been defined in such strong terms, that alternative views, as reasonable and loving as they may be expressed, are now perceived as evil and unacceptable. It’s reached the point that sporting codes are now making theological commentary, and assuming a position on hell. Unfolding before us is another test for Australian society. Are we serious about religious freedoms and freedom of speech, or does the rhetoric only apply when beliefs fall into line with the new sexual morality? Do we accept that millions of Australians don’t subscribe to the now popular view on marriage and sexuality, and that these Australians have a right to express their opinions? While politicians and company CEOS and sporting organisations wrangle over a position on religious freedom, it is even more important for Australian Christians to be thinking through these issues. What do we really believe? How can we best communicated what we believe? What are prepared to lose for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?

Even though Folau’s sporting future remains uncertain, his testimony presents a healthy challenge to the rest of us Aussies who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Would we be prepared to walk away from job security? Would we be willing to give up a lucrative income? Are we ready to embrace public abuse?

I hope no one is thinking, Israel Folau can afford to make a decision to leave because he’s already earned millions of dollars and he has options in front of him to return to Rugby League. First of all, those who have more often find it exponentially harder to give it up. It is relatively easy to keep our beliefs quiet and to ourselves, and the pressure to compromise can be immense. Second, in standing by his Christian convictions, Folau is likely to face further public backlash. Third, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, has made it clear that Folau’s belief in hell would be unacceptable in their code, meaning that there is far from any guarantee that he could return to Rugby League.

When Jesus spoke about taking up a cross and giving up the world’s offerings, he wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Perhaps it is time for us to ponder his words and examine our own hearts and ambitions,

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8)