Victoria to outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 1)

This is the first of a series of articles that I’m aiming to write on the topic of Gay Conversion Therapy. The Victorian Government has announced that it will introduce legislation in 2020 to ban Conversion Practice (Therapy) in Victoria. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism.

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I wrote on this topic twice last year, and on both occasions, I expressed concerns with conversation therapies. It is important for readers to hear that I am not supportive of certain practices. I have explained

“To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.”

Having said this, and without taking anything away from Victorians who have been subject to dangerous and unethical practices, there are serious questions here and concerns that must be adequately addressed by the Government before considering any legislation.

The Government has invited Victorians to give feedback on the issue, although the process appears to be a furphy. In the same opening remarks that invite Victorians to offer their views, the Government also makes it clear that they intend to ban conversion practices.

“In February 2019 the Victorian Government committed to prohibiting harmful LGBT conversion practices.

Conversion practices are any practices or treatments that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re asking Victorians to have their say. We want to know how you think the law can prevent the harm caused by LGBT conversion practices and protect and support LGBT Victorians.

The feedback you give us will inform the way the government approaches the ban and help shape the law.

The commitment to the ban follows the Health Complaints Commissioner Inquiry into Conversion Therapy report (HCC Report) which recommended the introduction of legislation to ban the practices in Victoria.”

Despite this Government exercise sounding awfully like a case of confirmation bias, I intend to proceed, for like I said above, “the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.” In addition, there are also very real and relevant issues here relating to religious freedom. I will address these in a later post.

In this post, I want to draw your attention to the Report, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justicewhich forms a basis for the forthcoming legislation. The Report was a joint exercise between 3 organisations, the Human Rights Law Centre, La Trobe University,  and the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

One might expect that an academic report of this importance would be thorough and broad, encompassing different perspectives and listening to a breadth of experiences, from those who have undergone conversion practices to those who have been practitioners and with others who have advocated against them.

Surely the researchers interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Surely dozens of organisations were included in the process for comment, both religious and secular groups. Did they interview anyone who practices conversion therapy? The answer seems to be, no. The report upon which the Victorian Government is building its case to ban conversion practice depends largely on the stories of 15 individuals who each allege a negative experience of gay conversion practices.

The report,

“reveals the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people who have struggled to reconcile their sexuality and transgender identities with the beliefs and practices of their religious community.”

“Nine participants identified as male and gay, two as female and lesbian, two as transgender, one as female and bisexual and one as non-binary. Thirteen participants were from Christian backgrounds, one from a Jewish background and one from a Buddhist background.”

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.

It is also important to note that the report was co-written by an LGBTI advocacy group and by La Trobe University (which is famously responsible for orchestrating the Safe Schools curriculum). 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? 

In other words, from beginning to end, this report is skewed. Even before one word was written, the trajectory was obvious. In my opinion, the report is biased, narrow in its engagement with relevant parties, and relies on a selected group of advisors who are predisposed to criticise beliefs and practices that don’t fully support LGBTIQ ideologies and lifestyles.

Once again, I am not arguing against the experiences of the 15 people and neither am I advocating for the kinds of therapies mentioned in the report. Pseudo-psychological and or spiritual practices aimed at altering a person’s sexuality can be harmful.  However, the Government’s adoption of the HRLC report is no way to put together public policy, let alone for establishing Government legislation. The HRLC  report may be used as a position paper but little more.

Victorians have been given the impression that Conversion Practices are widespread across the country and endemic within religious organisations, especially among Christians. The report states that, “Nonetheless, the ideology of the conversion therapy movement has become mainstreamed in many conservative Christian communities.” The reality is very different, and despite comments like in the previous sentence, the report evidences that the practice is marginal at most.

When a journalist from the ABC contacted me back in 2017, to ask what I thought about gay conversion therapy, I answered, 

“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want  anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone  who has been.”

If these conversion therapies are not a widespread and common practice throughout Victoria, one begins to ask, why is the Government making this into such a significant public issue, even warranting laws to prohibit practices that are voluntarily undertaken by people? I suspect part of the answer lays in the proposed definition of conversion practice, which will be the subject of my next post.

 

 


There was a typo earlier, which read HCC report, not HRLC. I am since fixed this

Banning ‘Conversion’ Therapy, what does it mean?

Media outlets have renewed a campaign to outlaw gay conversion therapy (GCT). The Age published an article on the weekend with the title, Churches, LGBTI Christians urge crackdown on ‘conversion’ therapy.

The headline is somewhat misleading, for according to the SOCE website (the group who are asking the Federal Government to ban GCT), only four churches have signed their statement along with 3-4 church ministers. No doubt there other supportive Churches, but nothing like the groundswell of ecclesial enthusiasm that the newspaper implies.

If The Age had asked Christian leaders and Churches from across the country, I suspect that they would find partial agreement with the folk at SOCE Survivors, and also significant disagreement.

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To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity. This, however, does not mean that every sexual preference and activity is morally good and beneficial, and neither does it mean that people who choose celibacy are somehow less complete or fulfilled as human beings.

It is interesting to learn that the SOCE Survivors statement makes the repeated observation that most organisations who once practiced GCT have now folded or no longer use such programs. If this is the case, then why are LGBTIQ groups and two political parties campaigning to have gay conversion therapy banned by Governments? If the aim is to inform the public of these formerly used and egregious methods, that’s fine, and yet their stated goals extend far beyond this. Why is there a concerted campaign to make illegal, practices that are no longer employed? As one reads further into the document, a picture emerges that their primary focus is no longer with GCT  but with any ideology that does not fully support LGBTIQ identity and lifestyles.

The statement argues that “many expressions of SOCE exist at the micro level, making them difficult to recognise, quantify, and regulate. The underlying ideology is firmly embedded in the everyday life of many faith communities as a collection of messages, beliefs and practices.”

According to their document, the key to this ideology is the erroneous and harmful belief (in their opinion) that “heterosexuality is the intended order”. Among these unacceptable practices are sermons that “talk about and reinforce traditional gender roles and ‘living as men and women of God”.

How broad is the net of unacceptable teaching and practice in faith communities? It certainly feels sufficiently broad to include the majority of Churches and Christian organisations. That’s part of the problem with the SOCE website, and also with the reporting in the newspaper, their descriptions of gay conversion therapy are vague, so much so that depending on how one reads in between the blurry lines, preaching a sermon on Genesis chs.1-3 or Romans 1:18-32 could fall foul of the authorities.

Definitions matter. The meaning of words and phrases is essential, lest we import a wrong sense or create confusion by speaking across each other. At the same time though, ambiguity and breadth are also proven rhetorical devices that gently and unassumingly push the envelope open even further.

In the Bible, God calls Christians to sexual purity. This does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. Some men and woman find their sexual desires and identity change with time, and to argue otherwise is to ignore the weight of personal testimonies. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. However, the fact is, when becoming a Christian, many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual.

The Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it does teach conversion. Christianity by definition is a conversion religion, where human beings made in the image of God, shift from looking for freedom in the myth of post-enlightenment moral relativism, and instead discovering the greatest freedom in the person of Jesus Christ. Let me repeat, I am not suggesting that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, this sanctification includes affirming that sex belongs to the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

Does believing and teaching the above, and encouraging Christians to practice the above, push me outside the moral parameters of SOCE? Keeping in mind that none of the above views are new or novel, for they sit perfectly within orthodox Christian teaching and practice. Nonetheless, should this standard Christian view be considered wrong and harmful, and to be scrutinised by the authorities?

Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

While the SOCE Survivors document is vague at points, a spokesperson from SOCE has this week responded to a friend of mine who was also seeking clarification from them. The spokesperson said,

“The conversion therapy movement is very broad. Eg. theologically driven celibacy of lgbtiq people, prayer ministry, sermons that veer into exgay ideology leading to harm. They all need firm interventions. The survivors who wrote the statement are very keen to keep the definition broad. Anything other than the full affirmation of lgbtiq individuals as fully equal (including in the church, with a move toward correcting the poorly translated words currently classed as “homosexual” in the bible) is really unacceptable.”

The SOCE representative also asked,

“Would people who attend this group be encouraged to avoid being in a long-term committed same-sex relationship on theological or psychological grounds?”

When my friend suggested, ‘yes’, he was then informed that,

“I would say this group falls under the umbrella of the ex-gay movement. As you can see from the statement, the ex-gay movement has been viewed through many lenses over the years – from conversion therapy, to ex-gay programs that are less about therapy and more about solidarity. Regardless, such a group goes against the latest biblical scholarship, as well as a significant body of research detailing the harm caused by attempts to suppress or change a person’s orientation or gender affirmation on religious grounds. Thanks.”

There you have it. The agenda is wider than banning rare and harmful practices, but includes ministry and preaching that encourages the classical Biblical understanding of sexual holiness and human identity.

One might choose to ignore this most recent reporting of the issue, believing it’s another example of Christian philistinism. However, SOCE’s agenda is being adopted by two of the nation’s major political parties (ALP and the Greens), and the current Victorian State Government is also considering legislating on the issue. In other words, there is a strong possibility that these views will be shaped into legislation in the not too distant future, and could be used to against Christian Churches across Australia (and especially in Victoria). In case we assume there will be no severe implications from such legislation, as one example, the ALP platform speaks of removing children from parents who fail to affirm children in their self-assigned gender and sexuality, referring to this as child abuse.

Rather than chasing the culture down the rabbit hole of fluffy and imprecise language, Churches need theological and pastoral precision. This is a time for Christians to repudiate unsound, unbiblical, and harmful practices that have been used in the past, albeit by marginal and whacky groups. This is a time to repent of resentment toward LGBTIQ Australians and to ask for forgiveness where we have wronged them. This is also a time to embrace God’s good ways that are revealed in the Scriptures.

The future of Christianity does not depend on Governmental or societal approval, but it does hinge on whether Churches will “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Christianity didn’t survive and flourish in the Roman Empire because they allowed the sexual norms of the day to define the Church, or because they played dodge-the-bullet with broad and vague language, but because they believed and lived the freedom that was brought about by Jesus Christ. Clarity in an age of confusion; that is what is required of Christians today: humble clarity and gracious conviction that God’s purposes are good and true.

The age of post-reality

Update February 25 2018: what I believed was satire in October last year, is perhaps more real than first thought. During the week Senator Linda Reynolds called for the inclusion of women in men’s sporting teams, thus removing segregation in sport based on gender.

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After only one season, the AFLW dream has come to an end. The AFL has taken the drastic step to remove the women’s football competition, following the publication of a report on gender by Associate Prof. Damien Riggs and Dr. Clare Bartholomaeus of Flinders University. Apparently, it wouldn’t be fair on women footballers to be segregated from the AFL on account of their sex. From 2018, women will be allowed to enter the draft, and word is, there’s no differences between men and women, and so they’ll do just fine. It is believed that one of the club doctors expressed concerns about the move, but he’s since been sacked, and so shouldn’t pose any further threat to the progress of society.

Not wanting to be left behind, soccer Australia has announced that the Matildas and the Socceroos will be merging: the neutered wombats. Given the recent form by our women’s team, experts anticipate that the new national team to jump through the world rankings, sitting just above Brazil.

It is expected that this year’s cohort of medical students will be the worse since 1968. Ever since words like vagina and penis were banned in class, students are unable to identify human anatomy in their exams

Expectant parents are also among the throng who are dodging the bullet of common sense. When a newborn … passes through the …. canal, obstetricians can no longer tell if it is a boy or a girl. The parents, not wanting to force biology onto their children, leave it sexless and nameless, until such time that XYZ decides what it wants to be. One now former doctor made the unforgivable blunder, calling the life form, a human. It is possible however, that after a public letter of apology and taking reprogramming course in one of the nation’s tertiary uneducated institutions, she may be reissued with a licence to practice.

All this stems from a study conducted by Associate Prof. Damien Riggs and Dr. Clare Bartholomaeus, After spending many hours watching youtube videos, they wrote a series of recommendations for schools, urging them to avoid language that might suggest a person’s gender. The reason being, it may cause some children distress.

They have proposed that school staff refrain from calling boys and girls, boys and girls, and cease sporting activities where children are divided by their gender

According to the story in today’s The Australian,

“Gender could be stripped from classroom talks about sex and anatomy, with body parts described according to their function rather than being considered “male” or “female”, in a proposal by two academics to make school sex education more inclusive of transgender youth.

The terms “penis” and “vagina” could be replaced with gender-neutral terms, while reproduction and safe sex could be taught without referring to “sperm and eggs”.

Channel 7 reported,

“The authors said the aim of the report was to offer Australian policymakers and educators alternative ways to consider sexual health education.”

I have a growing empathy for the science community. Prof Richard Dawkins and his apocalyptic horse buddies have been decrying anti-science and pseudo-science for years, but they’ve been targeting the wrong group of people. It’s not Christians and theists who are the danger to rational thinking, it’s the new wave of university teachers and social commentators who insist that boys and girls must be anything other than boys and girls. Identifying the person standing in front of me has become more perplexing than figuring out a Jackson Pollock painting.

 

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There is such a thing known as ‘gender dysphoria’, where a child or adult feels as though their gender does not match their biological body. It is rare, with about 0.52% of people experiencing some form of transgenderism. It is also known that most children who experience some kind of dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood. We must love and support these people, for they are made the image of God and have inherent worth. It is vital that our schools and society and churches be safe places for them. However, we are surely entering dangerous territory when  we must desist in applying and even mentioning basic human biology and sociology.

Finally, Riggs and Bartholomaeus have today rigorously denied any link between their de-gendering agenda with the current debate about genderless marriage.

Among their recommendations for schools are:

Philosophy and ethos

• Mission-and-values statement of school includes celebration of diversity, specifically naming gender

• Signs and posters in school celebrate gender diversity, including in the front office

• Written statements about philosophy and ethos that are followed through in practice

Policies, procedures, and guidelines

Bullying, harassment, physical safety, and discrimination:

○ Policies naming gender, gender diversity, and transphobia (including mention of transphobic bullying and language, deliberate ongoing use of incorrect names and pronouns, etc.)

○ Policies outlining consequences for such transphobic actions for students and staff

○ Procedures for dealing with complaints relating to discrimination and harassment

○ Procedure for recording incidents

Dress codes

○ All options for school uniforms and dress codes (including in relating to jewelry and make-up) available to all students, including for sport, formals/proms, and other activities

○ All options for dress codes available to all staff

Toilets/bathrooms and change rooms

○ Student facilities accessible to students according to affirmed gender (or individual transgender students’ preferences)

○ “All gender” toilets/bathrooms available for all students to have access to, if they choose

○ Staff toilets/bathrooms accessible by staff according to their affirmed gender (or individual transgender staff members’ preferences)

○ “All gender” toilets/bathrooms available for all staff to have access to, if they choose

○ Building of new facilities to consider individual facilities (e.g., individual toilet stalls)

  School camps

○ Transgender students consulted about their preferred options for sleeping arrangements when attending school camps; students placed with other students of their affirmed gender, unless they have concerns and then a suitable arrangement should be agreed upon (e.g., placing with friends)

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15532739.2017.1355648

 

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.

Footnote: the opening paragraphs are satirical

 

Does Australian Christianity need a Nashville Statement?

Today, The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW) announced the Nashville Statement, a manifesto designed to bring clarity to the Christian view of human sexuality.

Evangelical leaders from across the USA and the UK are signatories, with many more names being added, from across churches and different denominations. They share in common a belief in the truth and goodness of God’s word and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are also expressing concern over  the culture’s reconstruction of sexuality, and are calling Churches back to the Bible and to trust God’s purposes.

The Preamble states,

“Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.”

 

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In recent days we have seen a number of Christian leaders in Australia reject the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, and doing so with the intent of persuading the public, both Christian and non Christian, that God supports sexual unions that are not within covenant union of marriage between a man and a woman. One can understand why so many Australians and even Australian Christians are confused on these issues when recognised Bible teachers come out with their hermeneutical trickery. Other Christians feel unable to speak to these issues, not because they lack conviction, but out of fear of being ostracised.

It is the case that almost every major Christian denomination in the country has a formal position on marriage, one that reflects the Bible’s presentation. However, these are often unaccompanied with adequate theological and pastoral reflection, and they don’t speak to other matters of sexuality.

In our current climate, could we do with our own Nashville Statement? How could it be helpful for Churches? Obviously we would need to change the name to something more Aussie: perhaps Bourke or Newcastle, or Frankston! Which of the 14 articles would need recalibration for our context, if any?

There may be reasonable objections to putting together a nation wide Christian oracle, and it would be helpful to hear and consider these. One thing though has become increasingly clear in recent weeks, and that this is not a season for Aussie Christians to become unclear about or lacking confidence in God’s good purposes, and in the beauty of the Gospel.

Tim Keller, Princeton Seminary, and a Christian example

‘We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!’ (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Friend of the Gospel Coalition Australia and City to City Australia, Tim Keller, was due to receive the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, on April 6. It is an annual prize awarded by Princeton Seminary.

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Princeton is one of America’s oldest and most prestigious theological training institutions, and Abraham Kuyper was one of the 20th Century’s leading practitioners of Calvinism.

Anyone who has met, listened to, or read Tim Keller will know he is gracious and perspicacious, winsome and biblically rigorous. It is this God given combination that has enabled his books and preaching to reach such a wide audience, even here in Australia.

In a scene replicating this year’s Acadamy awards, ‘the academy award for best picture…’, Princeton Seminary has changed its mind.

After numerous complaints, the Princeton leadership has taken the unprecedented step of withdrawing this year’s prize. When Abraham Kuyper said, ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’, I don’t think he meant the square inch that is Princeton was exempt.

President of Princeton Seminary, Rev. Craig Barnes, has written an open letter in which he says, giving Keller this annual price might be seen as an endorsement of his views on women’s ordination and LGBTQ people.

Rev Barnes adds that he remains committed to academic freedom and “the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community.” Hmmm. To be fair, while they have rescinded the award, Princeton has kept their invitation for Keller to give a lecture at the Seminary, which he has graciously accepted.

In the case of Princeton Seminary, we are not talking about a secular education institution, or a brewery (Aussies readers will understand), but a Bible College. One critic wrote, ‘we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.’  I am saddened by those words, that the Bible’s teaching on marriage, church, and gender should be viewed as toxic, and calling it toxic should be described as Christian.

Barnes admitted this had been “a hard conversation” but one “that a theologically diverse community can handle.” Clearly, they couldn’t handle it. No one is suggesting Princeton or any theologically egalitarian institution ought to invite complementarians to speak, teach, or be given awards. I’m pretty sure Tim Keller wasn’t petitioning for this or any prize. The lesson for institutions is simple, don’t stuff up by saying you’ll do something and then not doing it. I’m pretty sure there’s a Christian principle behind that one: “let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’” (Matt 5:37).

Sadly, this is not a first. Several years another respected American Christian thinker was in Australia for a series of missiology lectures, and one denomination (who were also sponsors) withdrew their support and invitation to speak, on account of his complementarian theology.

My Australian Christian friends who still believe avoiding these topics is the best policy, are living a fools paradise. We don’t make sexuality the issue, but society has, and it has determined that sexuality is the plumb line of moral truth in the Western world. Silence is not going to cut it, and defensive and angry responses miss the mark. Tim Keller has given us a wonderful model for responding; he has agreed to address a community who have publicly shunned him; that’s an example to us all.

‘when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.’ (1 Cor 4:13)

We live in this world, seeking to serve Christ and to imitate him in order to show the world his glory, truth and grace, and we do so with a sure and certain hope. As the Apostle Paul expressed to Timothy, ‘Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ If God has secured this ‘prize’ for us, we can afford to show grace to those who might identify us with toxicity. 

Two quick words about egalitarians:

It is important to distinguish between evangelical egalitarians and the kind of egalitarianism being proffered by Princeton and the PCUSA which includes affirming GLBT lifestyles and same-sex marriage. I disagree with the former, but the latter lies outside Christian orthodoxy.

This post is not a criticism of ‘evangelical’ egalitarian theology. I love my egalitarian friends and joyfully work alongside them for the advance of the Gospel. Obviously, we disagree on some matters, and we agree that these subjects matter and for that reason we don’t partner on some projects. I suspect though that even they would be disappointed by Princeton’s actions.


photo from The Gospel Coalition

Victorian Government and Birth Certificates

History cannot be changed.

This axiom used to be true, until now with the Victorian Government introducing a Bill, giving people freedom to alter their birth certificates, as much as once a year, should they feel the need.

Would you like to change your birth certificate? Perhaps the year in which you were born? What about the place of your birth? We are not yet able to make these changes, but you will be able to change the identity of your gender, should you decide that your preference no longer matches your birth gender.

Birth certificates were once sacrosanct, treated as definitive legal documents. What was once subject to facts surrounding the birth of a child, can now be repeatedly changed according to how individuals wish to reconstruct their sexual identity.

I want a pause for a moment and recognise that gender dysphoria is real, although rare. I am not without personal knowledge of Victorians who are genuinely struggling and suffering due to gender confusion, and they seek resolution and acceptance (which does not always mean being identified in ways contrary to their biological sex). I want to affirm their dignity and humanity, and would pray that they would come to know the God who loves and gives us the greatest and most fulfilling identity, of being in Christ and knowing him.

My intent is not to cause people greater consternation, but to explain that this Bill does not provide answers.

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The Bill’s scope includes transgender, gender diverse, and intersex persons.  Transgender for example, is not identical with gender dysphoria, although it’s inclusive of; trans covers a broad range of sexual expressions. The category of gender diverse technically means, well, almost anything. The point is, the Bill’s parameters are so broad as to include persons who are not suffering medically diagnosed sexual dysphoria, but include people who for many reasons wish to change their legal status.

The Government website summarises the Bill as follows:

The Victorian Government will remove barriers for trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians seeking new birth certificates.

Delivering on another equality agenda election commitment, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 to be introduced in Parliament today removes the need for applicants to have undergone sex affirmation surgery before being able to apply for a new birth certificate.

Importantly, the Bill also ensures couples will no longer be forced to divorce if one partner wishes to apply to change the sex recorded on their birth registration.

Adults will be able to apply to alter the sex recorded on their Victorian birth registration and birth certificate.

Under the changes, an applicant will be able to nominate the sex descriptor in their birth registration as male, female or specify a gender diverse or non-binary descriptor.

The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages will be able to refuse to register an amendment descriptor that is obscene or offensive, or if it is not reasonably established as a sex descriptor.

The Bill will also introduce a new process enabling parents or a guardian to apply to alter the sex recorded on their child’s birth registration.

The process will require the child’s consent. The application must be accompanied by a supporting statement from a doctor or registered psychologist confirming the child has capacity to consent, and that the change is in the best interests of the child. Children over the age of 16 will be assumed to have capacity to consent.

Why is this Bill problematic?

The social, familial, educational, and legal implications are enormous. For example,

1. Persons will be permitted to change their birth certificate every 12 months (according to the amended Section 30A). This is not an abstract over-the-top never-going-to-happen eventuality, for why would the Government provide this known loop hole if it is not designed to be used? And why, given the significance of this point, has it not been delineated by the Government in their press releases?

2. Apart from the legal and social confusion arising from persons changing their identified gender, perhaps annually, the Government has created a back door for same sex marriage:

A married man can choose to now identify as a women on his birth certificate, without having to divorce his wife. Or a unmarried woman may change her birth certificate to male and therefore be legally free to marry a woman, and should they choose 12 months later, change back to female without needing to divorce.

3. Gender confusion exists among a small but significant number of children. Research has demonstrated that as children mature their psychology will conform to their biology, and thus grow out of their confusion. For a tiny percentage, dysphoria continues into adulthood, but this is not the norm.

It is therefore not difficult to see the problems arising when young children and parents, due to misinformation being now taught in our schools about sexuality, are told that their little boy is in fact a girl and should identify as such (there are numerous examples of this happening in Victorian primary schools at the moment). What will happen is that children will have their birth certificates altered, and be treated as a different gender, only to realise in adolescence that they are in fact what their biology says. This will result in all manner of social, legal, and personal disorientation for these children and their families.

We need to appreciate how incredibly dangerous this Bill is to the health and well being of young Victorians.

4. Biologically, even with sex-change surgery, one cannot change their gender. Changing one’s birth certificate does not alter one’s identity, and thus it will create a dissonance between one’s legal status and one’s nature.

The births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 is the latest step in a social engineering agenda that has been moving in the background for many years and is now being championed by Daniel Andrews.

There are many difficult and pastoral issues surrounding these issues, but the fact is, the now many legal and social changes that have been forced upon Victorians by the current Government will not relieve and lay aside issues surrounding sexuality, but will only heighten sexual confusion in our society.

Teaching boys and girls that are not boys and girls, and that they can choose and change their sexual identities, depending on how they are feeling for the day, is frightening and irresponsible; this is not education, and it is not responsible lawmaking.

The Bill was due for final consideration and vote in the Legislative Council earlier this month, but the Government has delayed the vote due to a lack of support by members.

Perhaps it would be helpful if the Government paused and considered the due concerns of their Parliamentary colleagues and of the broader public whom they are here to represent and serve.

Julia Baird defends John Dickson…sort of

“It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree.” (Leo McKern)

Like an episode of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, Julia Baird yesterday came to the defence of John Dickson, although in a somewhat less convincing performance.

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One week ago Rev Dr John Dickson raised a question on his personal Facebook page, concerning the manner in which the same sex marriage debate is being conducted in Australia. Within hours the post was taken down by Facebook, and then reinstated one day later with a somewhat fuzzy apology attached.

In yesterday’s The Age, Julia Baird came out swinging, first of all using testimony from Prince and then proceeding to argue, ‘Dickson’s questioning should not be slammed but aired, and he is right to argue conservative viewpoints should not be so rapidly shut down or dismissed as hate. It was very odd of Facebook to delete this post.’

At the same time, Baird didn’t hold back in offering her own view on Dickson’s comments,

‘This is a massive, inadvertently inflammatory call and one I do not agree with. Surely acceptance, tolerance and absence of judgment about difference would make LGBTI youth feel better. But, isn’t it up to them, to say what makes them feel better? It is also highly provocative to accuse those who either belong to, or are allies of the LGBTI+ community of augmenting the very hatred they have spent their lives trying to fight and diminish.’

The fact that a journalist in Australia has freedom to speak her mind and to disagree with another Australian, and to do so in the most direct manner, is a sign of a healthy society. Would we want our sitz im leben to be less than this? 

In her closing statement, rather than reiterating Dickson’s right to offer an opinion, it seems as though Baird crossed the floor to the prosecutor’s table, and it is these remarks that I find most odd.

Baird finishes by quoting another Facebook post, that of Sydney Chaplain, Garry Lee Lindsay,

I can’t see how this helps anything. Please don’t try to convince me that it is intellectual debate or you are approaching the subject with an open mind and a loving heart. You might be, but why do you have to say it? And why is it so important to make comment about other people’s lifestyle or culture on Facebook? Just go out and make friends with people because they are people, made in the image of the Creator, inseparable from God’s love.

“What about calling people to prayer for those poor people in Japan and Ecuador that lost their lives and family in the earthquakes? To start with!!! What about we stop writing posts like this one, make some soup and sandwiches, go and hand it out to the hundreds of rough sleepers on our streets every night and give them some company? Why don’t I? Because I’d rather whinge about the terrible people that aren’t like me, don’t think like me, don’t live like me. And do it from a distance, because then at least I know I’m OK. What a wretched man I am? Who will save me? Thanks be to God.”

First of all, Lee-Lindsay (and presumably Baird, given she is appealing to the quote) dismisses the importance of people offering comments about lifestyle and culture matters on Facebook. Although I wonder, does  Lee-Lindsay realise that he is guilty of the very thing he is accusing of others of doing? ‘Others mustn’t use Facebook to express opinions about sexuality issues, like I am doing right now…!’

Do Lee-Lindsay and Baird not realise that these issues of marriage and of transgenderism are very much public issues? Marriage may be a personal relationship, but it is also a societal one. If it were not, why are wedding ceremonies held in the presence of witnesses, and why does Government have a role and why do we have a national marriage registry?  Similarly, recent discussions on transgenderism demonstrates it is not merely a private issue: should boys be allowed to use girls toilets in schools? How is society to relate to people who don’t wish to identify with their biological sex? It is incongruous to suggest these issues cannot be discussed in public forums; these matters effect families, schools, communities and Governments. And if they are discussed, are only agreeable voices to be allowed?

Second, the quote implies that Christians such as John Dickson are whinging as they make public statements about SSM, when what they should be doing is ‘making friends with people’ and helping people where they are at. This is not only a very smug caricature of Christians, it is hugely presumptuous. How do they know we are not providing food for the hungry, and not praying for victims of those earthquakes?

Can we not do both? John Newton was a preacher and an anti-slavery campaigner. John Wesley preached more sermons than most and he started orphanages. Jesus preached, taught and addressed all manner of social and spiritual issues, and even daring to question the political realms, and he cared for the poor and broken. Christians I know are committed both to speaking and sharing, preaching and praying, and I have no doubt John Dickson does likewise.

Despite initially supporting John Dickson’s right to post on Facebook, Baird lands on what is becoming an all to common place; while John Dickson technically has the right to freedom of speech, he really shouldn’t say anything unless he is offering unqualified support for those who wish to pursue non-heterosexual lifestyles. In fact, Christians should stick to helping people and leave public discourse to others.

Ultimately, Julia Baird falls for the false antithesis: disagreement equals hate. Why is Baird propagating such poor logic? The latter may be an expression of the former, but not necessarily. For example, as a parent there are occasions when I disagree with my children’s choices, and yet I still love them. Indeed, love necessitates that I sometimes disagree with them. More than that, Jesus Christ lived and spoke constant love, and yet this love sometimes manifested itself by offering correction to people, even rebuke.

If Christians are to be anything like Jesus we will continue to trust and graciously speak his words, the gospel, and seek to love others as Christ has loved us. As far as John Dickson has tried to emulate his Lord and Saviour, he given us a worthwhile example to follow. It is clearly unpopular, but popularity is often a poor test for what is truly good and right.