Pubs, Churches, and Government Rules

The strict and prolonged lockdown in Victoria has tested the most resilient among us. As the State slowly opens up we should not be surprised if we find ourselves affirming some decisions and disagreeing with others. Where discrepancies appear and they are irreconcilable, it is incumbent on the Government to explain and to justify their rationale.

The example I want to talk about here concerns churches. On September 28th Eternity newspaper approached me for comment on Victoria’s roadmap to recovery. I said, 

“The Premier’s announcement on Sunday was encouraging because it means 130,000 people are returning to work and primary aged children returning to school…While I appreciate this, most of Melbourne’s restrictions remain in place. In my view, the Government’s roadmap is treating churches fairly at the moment, although we are still a couple of months away from being allowed to gather in any sizeable number.”

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. As of today (October 19), in regional Victoria pubs and restaurants can now have 40 patrons indoors and 70 patrons seated outdoors. Churches, however, can only have 20 people gathered outside and no church of any size is permitted indoors. At the moment all churches in Melbourne are closed and so we are watching with interest the roadmap in regional Victoria. The disparity between churches and pubs is unfortunate. I trust this is nothing more than an oversight which will be quickly resolved, rather than the beginning of a longer term trend.

At yesterday’s press conference the Premier made a comment about why greater numbers of people are allowed in pubs than in homes. The reason given is,  restaurants and cafes are a regulated industry. But what of churches? I trust the implication isn’t that churches cannot be trusted to organise and regulate safe COVID-19 practices.

On the Neil Mitchell show this morning on 3AW, Victoria’s new Health Minister, Martin Foley, claimed that the reason for the differences between pubs and churches is that international and local evidence points to church communities being unsafe.  

Where is the evidence? What international scientific research is Mr Foley referring to? 

In July the New York Times in July made a similar statement and it was quickly proven incorrect.

On July 8 The New York Times published an article claiming that churches were Covid-19 super spreaders. The headline read, “Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases.”

The article alleged, 

“Weeks after President Trump demanded that America’s shuttered houses of worship be allowed to reopen, new outbreaks of the coronavirus are surging through churches across the country where services have resumed.”

The problem with the NYT article is that the maths didn’t add up. Even the evidence mentioned in the piece contradicted the main thesis. The article cites several churches where multiple cases of COVID-19 were found, and it also disclosed the total number of COVID-19 cases linked with churches: 650. At the time, the United States had 3 million confirmed cases. The total number of cases connected with churches across the entire nation represent 0.0002% of all cases in the country.  Writing for Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer noted that a tiny number of churches had not done the right thing, but the overwhelming majority were conducting church according to strict Covid-19 plans.

“Churches have been remarkable partners in the fight again the coronavirus, with the vast majority closing their gatherings all around the country. Yes, there have been a few outliers, but their paucity demonstrates the cooperation of churches with officials throughout this pandemic.

Churches have overwhelmingly been partners with health authorities and have carefully taken each small step.”

I know many pastors and churches around the world and interstate. As they reopen they are taking Government policies seriously and acting responsibly and pastorally toward the people under their care. It is part of what we do in loving our neighbours. 

Throughout the pandemic Church leaders have spoken regularly and consistently about obeying Government directives, and about ensuring churches have responsible plans in place for a return to public gatherings. We continue to pray for our Prime Minister and our Premier and all who lead in Government and in health agencies. Churches are not asking for special treatment, but it is not too much to request that churches be permitted to open up with parity to restaurants and pubs and other analogous organisations and events.

Governments play an important role in society, but they do not give meaning to people. Governments provide structures and protections for its citizens, but offering the message that nourishes the soul, brings forgiveness to transgressors, and eternal life is beyond their job description. Churches are essential for Victorian communities. In a year where millions of Victorians have struggled and where many have lost everything, we need a message of hope. We need good news of hope that surpasses the material and temporal, and a hope that is more secure and certain than what we had once relied upon. It is possible that churches have never before been so important for this State and the future wellbeing of the people.

The Bible offers a message of living hope, not only to churches but even for those who have considered themselves disinterested in things spiritual. By definition, it is a breathtaking announcement for people who have lost hope,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

People are not disembodied beings. We are physical creatures who require physical presence and social interaction. We are also more than flesh and blood. We are mental and spiritual beings, who depend on more than food and sleep for life. It was Jesus who famously said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Churches provide one of the few remaining places where people can meet and share the joys and sorrows of life, and where supportive relationships are created. Zoom and social media are a blessing but they are no substitute for real and personal meeting. Indeed, church by definition is the physical gathering of Christians, meeting to worship God and to encourage one another. 

I trust the Victorian Government will correct this unnecessary discrepancy between pubs and churches, and avoid similar and further disparities in coming months. 

A young Victorian mum has died and is now with Christ

A young Chinese woman with a little girl started attending Mentone Baptist Church three years ago. She was battling cancer and had decided that she needed answers. It is one thing to understand a medical diagnosis, but accompanying such devastating news are other and even bigger questions. Why me? What is life meant to be about? Is there a God who is interested and cares?

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Christine grew up in a family and culture that was atheistic, and she assumed that this was the way to view the world. A highly intelligent and capable woman, being informed that she had terminal cancer broke apart what she believed to be true about the world

Suffering didn’t reinforce her atheism, it led her to seek out God. In learning about the person and work of Jesus Christ, she didn’t feel repulsed or angry at God for her cancer, rather her life was transformed by the beauty and warmth of Jesus.

Christine quickly made friends with several of the women at church and started attending a Bible study group.

In early 2019 it was evident that the cancer would take her life. She battled on while recognising the awful and difficult path she was taking.

In Christine’s own words,

With the time I spent more with bible group, i started to be more curious about Jesus Christ. As I said before, I used to live that hard and trying that much to prove myself and now I had cancer. My whole life was ruined. If there is a God, could Jesus give me a new life.

Just at that time, my cancer was coming back again, only 1 and half year time after the operation and chemo. I was shocked and felt lost. The doctor told me that  I had no chance to be cured. I was too tired, I had been tried that hard to stand up. I just got the chance to see the light of new life.

Different from last time, I thought of Jesus Christ almost immediately. I remembered in the Luke, Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” That probably was my first real pray from the bottom of my heart, I kept asking Jesus Christ to save me and hoped he could guide me and change me if I had done anything bad and wrong. I realized no one could help me now except Jesus Christ.”

Her young body was failing. There were days when getting out of bed was impossible. Although her body was terribly weakened by the cancer, she wanted to publicly profess her faith in Christ through baptism. With a couple of Christine’s friends from church, it was my great joy and privilege to sit with her in her home: listening and sharing, hearing her story and encouraging her with the Scriptures. It was clear that she was convinced about the Gospel and now knew and loved Jesus.

We spoke about baptising her in her home, but she wanted to show the world the difference Jesus made. Even the night before we were unsure whether Christine would be well enough to leave her house and come to the church.

That Sunday morning in April 2019, Christine stood in front of the church and spoke about what the Lord Jesus had done for her, and how despite her suffering, she was safe in him.

She shared,

“I now believe and trust Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, knowing that even though I denied him for past 30 years, he died on the cross for my sins and is willing to forgive me. I know that God has accepted me as his daughter and loves me.

I am still in the middle of treatment, reading God’s words every day is motivating me to continue to trust him and rely on him. I still feel scared and worry about my cancer sometimes. The difference is I have God to rely on and he is willing to take my worry. More exciting is I find my life is changing slowly, I am spending more time with my friends and family. I am not willing to spend time being angry anymore, because I appreciate every single day God gives to me.

I am so weak and little in this world, and I used to be  a terrible person, but God loves me and I now love him and I can trust him for the future.”

Christine then stood in the pool with me. I asked the same two questions that we ask everyone who is getting baptised,

“Do you believe Jesus is God’s Son who died on the cross for your sins and who was raised to life to give you new life?”

“Have you repented of your sins and are trusting Jesus for salvation, and with His help will you follow him all the days of your life?”

With a confident yes to both questions, Christine went through waters of baptism, signalling to family, friends, and the church, Jesus had redeemed her and gifted her eternal hope.

It was one of those moments a pastor never forgets. I suspect no one present that morning will ever forget.

Not long after, she needed to move to another part of the city and so connected with another church, although she was never well enough to attend. They have supported in her final months. Her mum and dad have since both become Christians and have stayed by her side throughout this entire journey. Christine also remained close friends with several people at Mentone, who have supported her right through to the end.

In the early hours of this morning, Christine lost her fight against cancer and but with Christ, she has triumphed over death. The Apostle Paul’s belief, “to be away from the body is to be with the Lord”, is right now her experience. She no longer lives by faith but with sight.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Christine’s name and life won’t be mentioned in the news today, and that’s ok. Deaths resulting from COVID-19 are understandably making news each day.  Death is however always with us, even when it is taking place away from the public gaze. She was one of many Victorians who today have died from cancer or from other afflictions. Yet, her life and story have impacted the people who knew her. Her testimony will remain with us at Mentone Baptist Church, and encouraging us to place our hope in the only Saviour there is.

Christine has finished her race and has received from her Lord and God the crown of righteousness. For those who are left behind the grief is palpable. It is intense, and I can only imagine the difficult days that lay ahead for Christine’s daughter especially, and also for her parents and closest friends. One thing I do know, we don’t grieve as those without hope. “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14)

Jesus once asked Martha,

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Christine’s answer was, ‘yes’.

I wonder, where are other Victorians are placing their hope?

Banning Books in Hong Kong and more

“As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know”.

The above words formed part of a speech which was aimed at calling people to a return to morality and social decency. This address given to university students was of course delivered by Joseph Goebbels directly before one of the most infamous book burning scenes in history.

During the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, purging the population of dissenting ideas was seen as an essential step. The Säuberung or cleansing included destroying religious and political texts that didn’t conform to the new normal. 

The destruction of books is as old as literature. Hate is a strong motivator, as is fear. To be honest, there are plenty of books that I believe are dangerous, and I’m happy to warn people about their messages. There is a vast difference though between informing people about a book’s content and removing those same volume’s from libraries and blowing their ashes into the wind. 

The Age is tonight reporting, 

“Books by prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy figures have become unavailable in the Chinese-ruled city’s public libraries, days after Beijing introduced sweeping national security legislation, according to online records and one activist.”

A search for books by young activist Joshua Wong or pro-democracy politician Tanya Chan on the public libraries website showed the books, including Unfree Speech, co-authored by Wong, either unavailable or under review.

“The national security law … imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city,” Wong tweeted on Saturday, adding his titles “are now prone to book censorship.”

…It is unclear how many books are under review. Two titles by Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident Liu Xiaobo were still available, according to the online”

This isn’t the first attempt by the Chinese Government to eradicate writings that don’t support the State’s unbending ideologies.

In 2018, the Government began work on a new version of the Bible, to ensure that the Bible affirms ‘socialism’ and doesn’t contain ideas that might subvert the Government. One can imagine how distorted the Holy Scriptures will become once this atheistic, militant, and totalitarian, regime has finished their rewriting project. In many regions of China it is already difficult to own and read a Bible, let alone teach this book in a semi-public setting. Preaching ‘Jesus is Lord’ is likely to end in arrest and possible imprisonment.  

without the permission of the authorities, you can’t organize a Bible study. And if you do get permission, you’d better hold it in a Party-approved religious venue, at a Party-approved time, with a Party-approved leader and using the new Party-approved Bible, which contains quotations from Confucius and, of course, Xi Jinping.”

Not even Christians are permitted to change the words of Scripture, let alone a Government who wishes to change and control its message.

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Let’s shine the camera on ourselves. 2020 is the year of cancelling. We might look at China with disgust and growing wariness of their geo-political agenda, but our own background is a growing mound of buried careers, reputations, and lives. We have long lost the will to disagree with other, even with passion. The mob demands destruction of any idea that is not representative of new morality and decency.

Let’s not forget, even the beautiful State of Victoria has faced the Government’s axe. In 2016, Christian programs were removed from State schools in light of many Christian ideas being deemed inappropriate. The same Government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to ban conversion practices (which under their current definition will probably include Christian teachings on sexuality. This includes normal Christian teaching and prayer that takes place in Churches). It would be silly to equate this situation with China, for the two are not the same. The point is simply, our own societies are not entirely blameless.

The Chinese Government is afraid of the Bible, and so are we. Perhaps we ought, for it is no small thing to contest the Sovereign God who made the universe and whose word says he will judge all the living and the dead.

Hong Kong libraries are beginning to experience what is commonplace in China and what religious groups have been forced to do for generations, hide their precious books under the bed because the bookshelf isn’t safe.

No society should take their literature for granted, especially the words that give eternal life.

Put away the matches, because as cancel culture is demonstrating, once it starts, it very easily burns out of control. Perhaps we, who want to preserve the freedom to read and teach our texts, ought to show a little humility toward those who prefer and magnify a different set of books. Let’s argue with words not by deleting them. 


Correction: I originally said ABC when it should have read The Age

Proposed Victorian Bill is likely to harm not help women

The State of Victoria wishes to be at the vanguard of the sexual devolution. Sadly, Victoria is already becoming an unsafe place for vulnerable children who struggle with gender dysphoria. Just as with the recent passing of euthanasia laws, concerns expressed by the medical fraternity were overlooked in favour of radical political and gender theorists from institutions such as Latrobe University.

 

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It is not only children who will suffer from these radical and non-scientific agendas but also women. I know of one situation where a young woman was forced to play football (AFL) against a male who identified as a female. She feared for her safety which is understandable given the physical difference between the average male and female. As a growing number of women are now indicating if the transgender agenda continues it is likely that women’s sport may cease to exist in a few years time. 

A story emerged from the United Kingdom this week concerning a group of less than impressed boys. In an age when we are recognising how big the issue of pornography is among boys, a not so smart teacher decided to take a group of school boys on an art exhibition to see ‘feminist art’. The boys weren’t so much exposed to art as they were to bare-breasted middle-aged women! In normal circumstances, authorities would be called and the adults charged with sex offences, but apparently, this is ok.

We live in astonishing times.

In their latest effort, the Victorian Government has decided that transgender women are being discriminated against under current laws. At the moment if anyone wishes to change the gender on their birth certificate, sex reassignment surgery is required. According to the Attorney General, Jill Hennessy,

“Everyone deserves to live their life as they choose, and that includes having a birth certificate that reflects their true identity.”

 The proposed legislation will eliminate the need for women to have vaginas and so forth, and men (sorry, women) with penises can be legally recognised as women. You can imagine the social problems that will arise from such a decision.

In a piece in the Weekend Australian, Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner and University of Melbourne philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith, express grave concerns over the Bill and are asking for it to be rejected.

“Sex should not be a matter of belief…If progressives want to disincentivise sex-reassignment surgery, they should protect gender expression, or gender identity, or trans status, separately — rather than trying to shoehorn it into sex.” Dr Lawford-Smith said.

They have likened the Bill to last week’s story coming out of Canada where a transgender woman is taking a woman to court for refusing to wax his testicles.  That’s right. Once again, in a normal world when a man demands a woman to touch his privates she is entitled to say no and to be protected by law, but in today’s Canada, he is the victim and she the perpetrator. Indeed, should the Victorian Bill be adopted, we can expect to see all manner of confusion and also litigation against religious groups who insist upon recognising biological gender rather than one’s self-assuming gender. Indeed, it is not only religious organisations that may find themselves in trouble with the law but also sporting clubs and schools and secular organsations. It is telling that Dr. Lawford-Smith, a self-identifying lesbian, is calling for the Bill to be rejected.

This isn’t about justice, this is about redefining the fundamental nature of women and men. It is the insane devolution of humanity at its most basic form. Biology no longer determines what is a man and what is a woman. Chromosomes, hormones, reproductive parts and sexual appendages now have no bearing on what constitutes male and female. The only factor that matters is how the self defines themselves. As Ben Shapiro astutely remarked last week, is female a set of stereotypes or is it biological? We are being told that it cannot be biological because a woman can have a penis just as men can give birth to children. Therefore,  femaleness must be definable by social stereotypes, a criteria of observable non-physical differences from males. But of course, the dilemma is that we are not permitted to suggest that men and women have any differences beyond the biological. So which is it, is a woman defined by biology or by stereotypes?

I write this as a leader in the Victorian community. I also understand that because I’m a Christian, my concerns will be automatically binned by some; I appreciate why.  Churches have lost almost all their moral impetus after facing scandal after scandal. The sexual sins uncovered inside some churches and religious organisations is beyond evil, if that is at all possible. And yet, how can one stand by and be silent in the face of such unhealthy legislation.

This is profoundly sad and harmful, both for Victorians wanting to change their gender and for people around them. I have had the opportunity to speak to the issue of gender dysphoria before, not as a medical expert, but as a community leader who values all people and who is deeply concerned about the radical and unscientific approach being adopted by our political leaders. Victorians struggling with gender dysphoria deserve our care and loving support, but as most clinical psychologists will explain, the majority of people wrestling with dysphoria will return to and be content with their biological sex. Those who continue to identify with the opposite gender need our affirmation of their dignity, but not a confirmation of their self-misconceptions. We don’t tell people with other disorders that their feelings are right and true. Do we agree with teenage girls suffering from eating disorders that they are overweight? It would be cruel to do so.

The sexual revolution knows no boundaries. It is one steep descent with nothing but jagged rocks at the bottom. From time to time, the next redefinition and social regression slows down because of hairpin corners (i.e. commonsense, scientific fact, or moral integrity), and then it’s off at speed again until the next hairpin. But what is left? There are few turns left on this destructive road. 

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

I trust that common sense will prevail, but in Victoria, we have little hope of that. In the midst of growing mistakes, the good news of God offers hurting and confused Victorians are better hope than the misleading efforts of our moral deconstructionists. The years ahead are going to create such confusion about what it means to be human. We need an example to show people, we need a Saviour who is good enough and loves us enough to redeem and restore. Thank God there is one better than ourselves to whom we can point our fellow Victorians: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

 

(I made a small edit on July 29th)


New Victorian sex law a gender headache

by Bernad Lane

A law put up by Victoria’s Andrews government could expose women offering intimate services such as pubic waxing or underwear fitting to discrimination complaints if they reject trans women customers who still have penises, veteran human rights lawyer Moira Rayner has warned.

 

The new law would allow self-declared trans women, who possess a penis and have not undergone any sex-reassignment treatment, to change the sex that appears on their birth certificate, giving them access as women to equal opportunity protection.

Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner, said that, if enacted, the legislation could allow a Down Under version of Canada’s Jessica Yaniv case, in which a trans woman has lodged anti-discrimination complaints against 16 beauticians who did not want to handle her penis and testicles in order to grant her wish for a brazilian wax…

What is happening to my beloved State of Victoria?

What is happening to my beloved State of Victoria?

In so many ways she is the envy of the world, with our tremendous prosperity, sport, food, and lifestyle. And yet an out of control ideology is driving Victoria to a place that we ought not visit. Vehicle number plates are soon to be changed from, “stay alive” and “the place to be”, to “the place to die”.

The centrepiece of the economy is a casino.

Our favourite public holiday is all about gambling and drinking.

Best education practice has been overturned by one of the most dangerous social engineering projects we’ve ever seen in this country.

Opt-in Religious Instruction classes are almost impossible to hold, while parents are refused permission to opt-out their children from non-scientific and ideologically heavy sex programs.

No, I’m not entering the nutty world of wowserism, but I’m searching for reasonableness and compassion where both are fast exiting north along the Hume Highway.

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The Victorian Parliament is about to decide whether to legalise euthanasia. The Bill is being debated this week, and it will almost certainly pass in both houses.

Daniel Andrews has called this legislation, “conservative assisted dying”, as though adding an obtuse adjective makes killing people somehow ok. Let us be clear, there is nothing conservative about handing out poison to human beings so that they can commit suicide. The fact that this is even being considered, demonstrates how warped we’ve become in our rationalisation. Despite some of the dishonest rhetoric accompanying  arguments for euthanasia, I have been informed by sources inside Spring Street that the intention is to soften and broaden the parameters for euthanasia down the track.

Medical experts have called for the Parliament to reject this legislation.

Over 100 palliative care specialists have pleaded that Victorians Parliamentary members stop this legislation from becoming law.

Over 100 oncologists informed the Government that assisted suicide is dangerous and should not be permitted.

“Physician assisted death is not, by definition, medical treatment. It is not palliative care.  We as doctors and medical specialists do not want   to intentionally end the lives of our patients, or provide them with the direct means to do so. Assisted suicide is in conflict with the basic ethical principles and integrity of medical practice and undermines trust in the medical profession. We strive to eliminate suffering but not the sufferers themselves.

Where cure of cancer is not possible, we seek optimal palliative care services to support and care for patients and their families at the end of life. Without easy access to quality palliative care, some may request physician assisted dying as they feel they have no other choice. This is especially so for people who live in rural, regional and remote areas and for people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities who have less access to palliative care services.

We are very disappointed that discussion of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has dominated the agenda to improve end of life care in Victoria. We are dismayed that the multiple recommendations made by the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into End of Life Choices (June 2016) to strengthen palliative care have not been actioned. Until this is addressed, discussing physician assisted dying is premature.”

Pharmacists have warned that they will be placed in an intolerable position, whereby they will be forced to subscribe poison to Victorians, with the aim of killing them.

Palliative care experts have called on the Government to provide a more compassionate and human alternative to euthanasia, namely, providing proper funding for palliative care.

Victoria isn’t losing its soul, we are actively killing the soul in order to win the prize of becoming the most socially progressive society in the nation. Sure, we’re winning the praise of many inner-surbanites, favourable editorials in The Age, and the adulations of those who want to be like Peter Singer, but is sacrificing our humanity worth it? When the warnings of hundreds of medical professionals are ignored, and when common sense becomes a liability in framing law, we know that we’ve jumped into the murky depths of the Yarra river.

Do Victorians truly want the State to justify killing its own citizens? What is more human, to kill the sick or to ensure they receive proper palliative care?

I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “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?” (Mark 8:36-37)

Our Rubicon River

Should a cricket club have freedom to appoint persons who share the values of their club?

Should a political party have liberty to pre-select individuals who support and will promote their policies?

Should not a corporation employ professionals who will abide by the values and vision of that institution?

For most of our nation’s history Churches and Governments have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship; understanding their distinct roles while together serving for the good of society. Both have had their failings as well as making enormous contributions to building our society, but Australians have always been careful not to confuse the two.  Tomorrow (Tuesday 8th November) this judicious relationship may come to an end as the Victorian Government proposes a hostile takeover of all religious organisations.

The Victorian Legislative Council will tomorrow debate and vote on the proposed Inherent Requirements test. The purpose of this amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act is to require religious organisations to demonstrate that their employees must necessarily subscribe to the beliefs and values of that church, school, or charity. 

Religious organisations currently have freedom to employ persons who affirm the beliefs and practices shared by that organisation; this is only sensible. Should this legislation pass, a tribunal will be appointed by the Government who will determine what constitutes inherent requirements for all religions across the State. In other words, the Government is posturing itself as a teacher and arbiter of theology, with power to inform Churches, Synagogues, and religious schools whom they are to employ.

The Government has presented the amendment as a natural extension in the fight for equality, but the reality is quite different. Labor wants sameness not equality. This Bill will inevitably work against a pluralist and diverse society, and instead demand that Victorians fall into line with a rigid and historically dubious view of secularism.

Dr Michael Bird was right when he called out the inherent requirement test as an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice.

I can imagine some secularists will be ecstatic at hearing the Government’s plan to further diminish religious freedom in Victoria, but is there not an air of hypocrisy in all this? Do atheistic humanists really want the Government functioning as bishops over churches, religious schools, and charities? Do nonbelievers genuinely think they have the academic credentials, expertise, and the right to define the theological parameters for synagogues and churches, explicating what is inherently required of that religion or not?

As Dr Bird notes, the problem is that “demonstrate a necessary connection” between beliefs and roles is notoriously subjective. There are no objective criteria here since beliefs and roles will vary from religion to religion and from organization to organization. So who is going to decide when a “necessary connection” exists between beliefs and roles and exactly how they will decide?’

The ‘inherent requirement’ test is all the more ironic, given how the Andrews’ Government has spent the last two years introducing several policies designed to push out Christian involvement from the public square, and now they are intent on invading religious spaces.

I cannot speak for all religious organisations, but when it comes to Christian Churches they are, for the most part, welcoming of anyone from any cultural, religious, sexual orientation background. I am not denying that there are appropriate rules and requirements for those who would serve in a formal capacity, and neither am I ignoring that associations can sometimes get it wrong. But the Christian Gospel is all about welcoming men and women who have no rights on God, no inherent claims on him, and yet in Jesus Christ we are lovingly forgiven and welcomed. This conviction has forged a tradition throughout the world of Christians starting not only churches, but also schools and hospitals and aged-care facilities, without which both our Government and society would collapse.

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Former Victorian Crown Counsel, Mark Sneddon, recently offered this caution against the Bill,

“The proposed bill amending the Equal Opportunity Act will not encourage Victorians to get along with each other. It won’t enable Victorians to live and let live. In fact, it is more likely to exacerbate division by creating legal weapons for forcing some voluntary associations to host or endorse views with which they deeply disagree.

Deep differences of moral vision will not be resolved by trying to legislate one view to supremacy and squashing others. Rather, we should accept that there are different views, and defend each other’s rights to hold and live out different views. Importantly, we should also commit to respectful communication so we can understand each other and agree how to live together peacefully with our differences.”

All the good that this Government may achieve is being swallowed up by their rigid and aggressive social agenda. This legislation is not only nonsensical, it is dangerous; they have reached the Rubicon and are intent on crossing it, and Victorians have no assurances that the Government will stop there.

As our representatives vote, I trust common sense will prevail and that freedom of association and religion will remain after November 8.

Petition to Uphold Freedom of Association and Freedom of Belief in Victoria

I’m not usually one for signing petitions, but if you are concerned for religious freedoms in Victoria, please consider signing this petition

 

“The petition of citizens of the State of Victoria and Australia draws to the attention of the Victorian Parliament our objection to the moves by the Victorian Government under the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 to remove or restrict the freedom of faith-based schools and other organisations to employ staff who uphold the values of the organisation and to force faith-based organisations to hire staff who are fundamentally opposed to what the organisation stands for, thereby:-

(i) denying those organisations the freedom to operate in accordance with their beliefs and principles;

(ii) denying parents the ability to choose to send their children to schools that are able to give them the values based education their parents are looking for; and

(iii) undermining Victoria’s diverse, pluralist, multicultural society, which supports the right of people of many different faiths to establish institutions in accordance with their faith.”

Click on the link to sign the petition:

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/petition-to-uphold-freedom-of-association-and-freedom-of-belief-in-victoria.html

Incoherent ‘inherent requirement’ test

Two months ago I sat in a packed room where Mr Tim Wilson MP and Rev Dr Michael Bird addressed the topic, ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia today’. During the conversation Mike Bird said that the next issue facing Victorians will be in relation to religious schools and discrimination policies. This week my non-prophetic friend was proven to be right: the Victorian Government announced that it will reintroduce the ‘inherent requirement’ test, impacting whom religious organisations may and may not employ.

The test was originally introduced by the previous Labor Government in 2010, but was removed in 2011 by the Coalition Government.

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This explanation is offered on the Premier’s website:

“The test was scrapped by the former Coalition Government in 2011, which left many Victorians vulnerable to discrimination when seeking employment with religious bodies or schools, particularly because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inherent requirements test will limit the ability of a religious body or school to rely on a religious defence to discriminate in the area of employment because of a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or differing religious beliefs.

The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.

The test will not force religious bodies or schools to employ people with attributes that conflict with its religious beliefs and principles. However, it will require them to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This latest move from the Victorian Government is disturbing, although not surprising. I appreciate and at times laud the Government’s move to ensure particular social minority groups are protected, including LGBTI people. But one may be forgiven for concluding that some of the extreme measures have less to do with the principle of inclusion, and more about exclusion.

For example, removing SRI from schools had nothing to do with advocating sexual equality. Indeed, the list of anti-religious of measures is growing, and one can only wonder where and if Mr Andrews’ will draw the line. Over the last two years many Victorian families have come to feel as though they are being pushed away from public schools, and now it appears as though the same Government is set on invading the religious school space also, and that of any religious organisation. It is yet unclear whether Churches will be protected from this test or not.

The inherent requirement test is a deeply flawed concept:

First, the notion of ‘inherent requirement’ depends upon imposing a secularist view of religion. The test presumes a separation between what is considered spiritual work and what is not. It is surmising, for example, that a gardener or an office administrator is not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching the Bible, etc. This is a false dichotomy that does not exist in Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole which serves a common purpose.

Second, this test wrongly assumes that because a particular role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it therefore does not matter whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ a person who does not support the basic values and vision of that association?

Equal Opportunity doesn’t mean sameness. I’m not doubting the Victorian Government’s commitment to ‘equal opportunity’, but their paradigm of equal opportunity is flawed, and represents an ethic that is not ultimately about diversity, but about conformity.

During that cold July night when Michael Bird pre-empted Mr Andrews’ announcement this week, Tim Wilson offered an idea which deserves consideration as the Victorian Parliament wrestles with this legislation. Mr Wilson believes that the question of whom religious organisations employ is better dealt with through contracts rather than through law. He said,

“In terms of hiring and firing people, I don’t think it’s best dealt with through law. I fully accept that religious institutions have a right to preserve the environment and the value systems of people who embody those value systems.”

“It is the right of children and parents, to raise their children in the culture, traditions and customs to which they hold dear.”

Finally, the question needs to be asked, is it reasonable for a Government to determine what constitutes required religious adherence or not? Is it the Government’s role to dictate theology and ministry practice? Does the Government have the necessary skills and knowledge required to adequately understand theology and therefore make the right judgement regarding the question of what is inherent?

Respectful Relationships?

I agree with Daniel Andrews’ recent comments about the evils of domestic violence in our society, and I laud the Victorian Government for adopting strong measures to support victims and convict perpetrators. Domestic violence is a dreadful, dreadful thing: Sexual, physical, emotional, and material abuse is never justified.

In August 2015, Daniel Andrews announced that the program replacing SRI in schools would be Respectful Relationships, which has been introduced into secondary schools, and will be compulsory from kindergarten to year 10 in 2017.

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There are many things to like in the curriculum, but oddly, a significant portion of the material has little to do with domestic violence, but is teaching children how to find partners and have sex.

For example, year 8 students are asked to write an ad, describing what qualities they would like to find in a partner. Is it appropriate to ask 12 and 13 year old children what kind of sexual relationship that would like to have?  Is it healthy for children to be directed to online dating sites, and given examples, such as these found in the curriculum?:

‘hot gay gal 19 yo seeks outgoing fem 18-25 into nature, sport and nightlife for friendship and relationship’

‘lustful, sexually generous funny and (sometimes shy) Tiger1962 seeking sexy freak out with similar intentioned woman.’

Not only are young teenagers taught about what to look for in a partner, they are taught what to seek in sex, and they are taught what to believe about sexuality, even to explore and affirm alternative sexual orientations.

As one of the year 8 sessions explains, it is designed to,

“enable students to explore the concept of gender and the associated notions and expectations that have an impact on sexuality. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect issues of gender to different positions of power central to adolescent sexual behaviour. The activity also aims to extend their understanding of gender by exploring traditional notions of gender in a case study that examines the experience of a young transsexual person.”

Much of the ensuing material explores broadening the horizons of sexual relationships, with the determination of deconstructing the “narrow” view of gender.

It may surprise some people to learn that children can legally have sex in Victoria from the age of 12 (younger in some States), so long as it is consensual and the other person(s) is within the legal age bracket. This may be lawful, but I suspect many parents would be shocked to learn that schools teach our children it is okay for them to engage in sexual intercourse at such a young age.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that exposing children to these ideas will not result in influencing sexual and social behaviour. The fact that Respectful Relationships makes consent unequivocal (a vital point) does not mean the activity is therefore good and okay for the child.

Also astonishing is what is missing. In a curriculum teaching relationships and sex, marriage receives almost no mention. Why is that? Marriage is mentioned on a ‘character card’ where Stephen, a 16 year old Christian attending a Christian college, believes sex should only take place within marriage between a man and woman (got to love the pastiche Christian example!). And there is Maria, a 15 year old girl who doesn’t want to wait for marriage before experiencing sex. Otherwise, marriage is only mentioned as a power structure behind which domestic violence occurs. What a sad and miserable view of marriage. I understand there are marriages where appalling abuse happens, and in my work I have ministered to victims from such circumstances. But marriage is designed to be, and often is, a beautiful thing, and it remains the best model for loving and caring intimate relationships in society.

Is it not a wonderful thing when a couple covenant together for life, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish’?

There is much sensible and good advice offered in Respectful Relationships, which could be easily taught without the intrusion of particular views on sexuality and without exposing young children to ideas that blemish their innocence. It is a travesty that the issue of domestic violence has been taken captive by sexual libertarian ideology.

Is it the role of Government to absolutise onto children a theory about gender that is disputable and widely contentious? James Merlino has made it clear that this curriculum is to be compulsory in Victorian schools; I wonder, is forcing explicit sexual language and ideas onto children, moral or even legal?

Far from solving the unspeakable horrors of domestic violence, it is ultimately presenting a different version of the me-centric vision of the world. Author, Tim Keller writes, ‘It is possible to feel you are “madly in love” with someone, when it is really just an attraction to someone who can meet your needs and address the insecurities and doubts you have about yourself. In that kind of relationship, you will demand and control rather than serve and give.’ 

Instead of leaning on a failed sexual revolution in order to find a way forward on domestic violence, would we not serve our children better  if we considered a paradigm of sacrifice and service, and where living for the good of others is esteemed more highly than our own gratification?

The good & not so good from the Safe Schools Review

First of all, I want to thank Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for calling the review of Safe Schools, and Education Minister, Simon Birmingham for his role in overseeing the process.

I know many people are grateful to these and other members of Parliament who have listened to the concerns expressed by the public.

The proposed changes are indeed positive and welcomed, however there remain a number of serious concerns, especially for Victorians.

The positives:

I have copied the Minister’s report below, but to summarise the more significant amendments.

  1. Parents will now have more access to the program, be included in the process if and when a school considers using Safe Schools, and be given the right to have their children opt-out of the program.
  2. Third-party websites will removed except for “organisations funded by state, territory or Commonwealth governments for the provision of mental health or counselling services.”
  3. The content from some lessons will be either removed or reconfigured to be less affronting and to be more age appropriate.
  4. There will be tighter controls on what materials can be used and distributed in classes and in schools.

The negatives:

1. The Network Provider in Victoria is La Trobe University, the very group who authored the program. According to the findings of the review, the La Trobe university team have been found to have written material unsuitable for young teens, and using the program to promote political ideologies.

It is therefore surely untenable to have La Trobe university acting as Network Provider for the State of Victoria. Their reputation has been diminished, and trust significantly eroded, if not altogether.

What guarantees do we have that Roz Ward and her colleagues will desist from using school children as a means to further their ideological agenda? If this were any other education program, they would surely be removed from such an influential position of power over schools and children.

2. What guarantee is there for Victorian families that children will be given permission to opt-out of the program?

While the Federal Government are making this guarantee, the Victorian Government have repeated their policy that the program will be mandatory.

What are Victorian families to expect when our Education Minister, James Merlino, refers to the Federal Government as “caving into bigots”?  Where does that leave 100,000s of Victorians who are against bullying but do not support Safe Schools? The possibility of any genuine dialogue with the Andrews’ Government is doubtful, and no wonder there are people using social media to lash out at concerned persons, when we are hearing Government ministers resorting to such malicious rhetoric.

3. The fact remains that Safe Schools teaches gender fluidity (as though it is the new norm), and it encourages children to question their own sexual orientation and practices. It is ironic that this imbedded doctrine of gender fluidity remains so  intolerant towards anyone who doesn’t fit within its parameters. Teaching children to doubt or ignore biology, and to create their sense of sexuality will inevitably lead to confusion, experimentation and harm.

At this stage, children who believe in heteronormacy will still be labelled as ‘sexists’, and children with unwanted same-sex attraction are given little choice other than to believe that it is inevitable, permanent, and to be embraced.

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Like with Autumn the leaves fall from their branches so Safe Schools has been pruned, but its roots remain unchanged. The revisions are a good start, but they do not go far enough. Safe Schools remains a social engineering program that is wired to change the way children view themselves and each other. With the revisions announced today it is certainly a more sensible program, but the wisest course would have been to put Safe Schools to rest and introduce a new and better program which teaches respect, kindness and resilience.

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There is a story in John’s Gospel where Jesus broke the cultural expectations of his day by speaking to a Samaritan woman. At that time Samaritans were considered social outcasts, and often discriminated against. Jesus’ conversation is all the more outrageous because the person before him was a woman and she was then living with a man to whom she was not married.  To our culture of anything goes this may not sound particularly shocking, but at that time this woman was guilty of  triple-headed social evil. However, it didn’t stop Jesus.

The text tells us how Jesus understood her heart and her past, and yet he struck up a conversation with her, showed her kindness, and even offered this astonishing word, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In other words, Jesus did not agree with her lifestyle and yet he loved her and broke down cultural barriers to express kindness to her.

In contrast, many advocates for Safe Schools are repeatedly slandering, and throwing around derogatory names toward anyone getting in the way of this program.

Which of the two examples demonstrates greater tolerance? Which of these two illustrations is more attractive?

Augustine once wrote,

“I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

Safe Schools may get a few things rights, but its blind commitment to a particular gender theory is setting the stage for a generation of confused children and a society that will grow less tolerant by the day. We need better. We must do better. We can do better.

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Here are the stated changed announced by Simon Birmingham:

1. Fix the content of the programme resources by:

a. Having the lesson plans for Lessons 2, 6 and 7 of the All of Us resource amended to remove those activities identified by the review as potentially unsuitable for some students.

b. Having the content of Lesson 5 of the All of Us resource redesigned to ensure that the content aligns with the curriculum content for biology appropriate for the target age group.

c. Requiring that the amended resources and any further resources be peer reviewed and approved by a panel of qualified educators appointed by the Department of Education and Training.

2. Address concerns about third party links, advocacy and materials in resources by:

a. Having all third party organisation branding removed from all official resources.

b. Having reference to any third parties limited to organisations funded by state, territory or Commonwealth governments for the provision of mental health or counselling services.

c. Requiring that national and local programme managers not bring the programme into disrepute, or engage in political advocacy in a way that represents their views as being endorsed by the programme.

d. Requiring that the resources for the programme not be used for political advocacy.

3. Limit the distribution of certain materials by:

a. Requiring local programme managers to ensure the distribution and promotion of Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme materials is restricted to secondary school settings only.

b. Restricting the use and distribution of the OMG I’m Queer, OMG My Friend’s Queer and Stand Out resources, which were not developed as classroom resources, to one-on-one discussions between students and key qualified staff.

4. Align the location of resources with other inclusion, support, tolerance and anti-bullying measures by housing official resources only on the official Australian Government Safe Schools Hub website, which contains other inclusion and anti-bullying resources for schools, teachers, parents and students in areas such as racism, domestic violence and disabilities. The Safe Schools Coalition Australia website will not have any resources, advice or links and will limit operations to programme coordination and direct users to the Safe Schools Hub for access to official programme resources only.

5. Ensure parents are appropriately empowered and engaged by:

a. Requiring agreement of relevant parent bodies for schools to participate in the Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme, including the extent of participation and any associated changes to school policies.

b. Requiring parental consent for student participation in programme lessons or activities, while maintaining the rights of all students to seek counselling services.

c. Having an official fact sheet for the Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme for parents about the programme developed so they have access to full and consistent information of its content and the resources that may be used in schools.

d. Having an official resource for parents of students dealing with questions of sexual identity developed, and distributed only by key qualified staff.