Victoria to Outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 2)

In this second post, I am turning to the question of definition. How is conversion practice being defined and what should we think about it?

The definition which the Victorian Government is suggesting is the same as that offered by the HCC report. However, before offering a comment on the definition it is worthwhile highlighting this salient point which comes from the Government’s own website for the rather Orwellian sounding, “Department of Justice and Community Safety”.

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The Government justifies limiting religious freedom

The Government has admitted that it is prepared to further limit religious freedom.

“Both the HCC and HRLC Reports highlight that many modern LGBT conversion practices are religious rather than medical in nature in that they involve, or consist entirely of, pastoral and prayer activities. Manifestation of religious belief through religious practice is protected by the right to freedom of religion. This right to manifest is not absolute and a number of commentators argue that it is not clear that it extends to practices that seriously harm others. The impact of a ban of conversion practices on the right to freedom of religion may be justified given the nature and extent of the harm described in the HCC and HRLC Reports. Legislation to implement the government announced ban on conversion practices needs to demonstrate that it is necessary, effective, and proportionate to protect LGBT individuals from harm.”

To be clear, the Victorian Government is targeting religion, and specifically, the primary focus is on Christian churches, organisations, and denominations, as the material in the 2 reports exemplifies.

The intention is also clear: without any philosophical working, the Government has assumed that sexual rights are more important than religious rights. It is, of course, a false binary, for a person’s understanding of sexual morality is always attached to religious presuppositions. Sexual expression is an expression of one’s deepest convictions about God, the world, and the individual. Having said that, we mustn’t ignore the suggestion of harm, for the wellbeing of these Victorians is important. 

 

Classical Christian teaching defined as harmful

The Government is using the argument of harm in order to limit the freedom of religious groups. Certainly, we do not want any Victorians, including LGBTI Victorians, being harmed. It is important to hear that I am not disputing that some Victorians have been subjected to practices that have caused them all manner of distress and damage. It seems as though these have come about through good intentions, but funnelled through misleading understandings of Christian faith and psychology. The definition of harm, however (as expounded in the HCC and HRLC Reports) extends beyond certain practices which are found on the margins among some religious organisations. For example,

The HCC report includes under its understanding of harm,

“Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’”

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

Notice the attention given to Church teachings (as opposed to other religions who also identify homosexual practices as sinful). In other words, classical Christian teaching about sexuality is deemed to be harmful. According to the HCC, an exposition of Romans ch.1 or 1 Corinthians ch.6 would fall under the umbrella of harm. If a Church organises a marriage enrichment day where the Bible’s presentation of marriage is affirmed, this event could fall foul of harm. From weddings to Sunday sermons, from Bible study groups to counselling sessions, in contexts where sex outside of heterosexual marriage is spoken of as sinful or broken, the Health Complaints Commissioner identifies all of the above as harmful and therefore the State can justify limiting religious freedom.

I don’t know of anyone who would argue against protecting people from genuine harm. But dragging traditional Christian teaching and ethics into the ‘harm’ category diminishes the real harm that has been done to some Victorians. Is the Health Complaints Commissioner really proposing that the Government step in to control and redefine Christian belief and practice?

The Proposed Definition of Conversion Practice

Here is the suggested definition of conversion practice:

“(i) any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,

(ii) including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.”

The Government acknowledges that there are narrow and broad definitions available and that they have chosen to accept the broader definition that has been supplied by the HCC. It is important for the Government to explain why they are preferencing a broad definition rather than a narrow one. Also, why are they seeking to expand the definition even beyond the few international jurisdictions that have proceeded to ban conversion therapy?

Let’s be clear, the proposed definition of Conversion Practice is so broad that it includes more than a psychologist’s clinic or a counselling room.

The HRLC report wants included under the umbrella of conversion practice,

“pastoral care which includes (or claims to include) ‘counselling’, ‘healing’, claims about ‘curing’, ‘changing’ or ‘repairing’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or claims about improving a person’s mental or physical health, would likely still be classified as a health service, and the above regulations would apply.”

Indeed, the definition is so expansive that it may include sermons, Bible Studies, marriage courses, counselling, and prayer. Before a Government spokesman denies this is the case, let’s turn to the reports themselves.

Under the heading of, “RELIGIOUS CONVERSION THERAPY IN AUSTRALIA TODAY”,  the HRLC report refers to new forms of conversion practice, which include promoting self-control and abstinence.

“Instead, they are beginning to promote activities designed to help same-sex attracted people live chaste and celibate lives, in accordance with the sexual ethics of their religious traditions.”

As one academic in the field of gender studies has said to me in private, according to the above assertion, “self control is conversion therapy”. In one foul stroke, significant portions of the Bible would have to be removed.

The examples don’t end there. According to the same report, affirming the historical and biblical definition of marriage is also considered a form of conversion therapy,

“This ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture equates to a more sophisticated version of the old evangelical adage, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. LGBT conversion therapy is not prominently promoted. However, LGBT people worshipping in communities that present cisgendered heterosexual marriage as the only valid form of gender and sexual expression are positioned to repress and reject their LGBT characteristics and to seek reorientation.”

Without significant revision and clarification, the Government’s plan to outlaw Conversion Practices will be used by some to impede what are normal and deeply held convictions among our religious communities.

It should also be said that religious institutions have a responsibility to prevent practices/therapies that are genuinely harmful and wrong. While I cannot speak for other religions, I know that the aim of Christianity is not to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender. I’m reminded of the testimony given by Sam Allberry,

“I am same-sex attracted and have been my entire life. By that, I mean that I have sexual, romantic and deep emotional attractions to people of the same sex. I choose to describe myself this way because sexuality is not a matter of identity for me, and that has become good news,”

“My primary sense of worth and fulfillment as a human being is not contingent on being romantically or sexually fulfilled, and this is liberating,”

“The most fully human and compete person was Jesus Christ. He never married, was never in a romantic relationship, and never had sex. If we say these things are intrinsic to human fulfilment, we are calling our saviour subhuman. “

“I have met literally hundreds of Christians in my situation, and know of thousands more, who are same-sex attracted, and who joyfully affirm the traditional understanding of marriage being between a man and a woman, and the only Godly context for sex. If you do not hear from more of us, it is because it is really hard to stand up and describe ourselves in this way…”

The Bible calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply 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, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices should remain within the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. I say all this while I can without fear of being pulled up before a tribunal or court for espousing ‘conversion therapy’!

The fact is, some people over time do change. It is not a Christian teaching that homosexuals ought to become heterosexuals or that transgender people will conform to their biological sex, but it does sometimes happen, and for these reports to ignore this fact is curious, to say the least.

Conversion by coercion or conversion by choice?

As it stands, the Government’s proposal is nothing short of forced conversion. Without significant revisions, this looks like an attempt to control and redefine what religious organisations believe and teach about human sexuality and flourishing.

It is difficult not to see the Government’s grandstanding as somewhat duplicitous, given their proclivity to legislate in favour of gender and sex changes. On the one hand, the Government’s position here is that a person’s sexual orientation and gender cannot change, and supporting someone who wants to change is immoral and should be banned. On the other hand, only a few months ago the Victorian Parliament passed a Bill from the Government that gives Victorians permission to change the sex on their birth certificate, once every 12 months. And of growing concern to many people are Government policies which encourage children to transition their gender, something that State permits without parental permission and knowledge. There is growing consensus and concern amongst medical experts that these kinds of practices are indeed harmful and detrimental to the long-term physical and mental health of Victorian children.

Victoria is witnessing a fundamental clash of worldviews, one supports a healthy pluralism in our society and the other believes in conforming to a narrow and uncompromising agenda.

The Government’s current position on conversion practice is about pressuring religious groups to change their views on sexuality. If the definitions were limited to those rare, extreme, and dangerous practices that some peoples have been subjected to, there is warrant for discussion. What we are seeing thus far from the Government is unnecessary and contravenes those basic distinctions between Church and State.

Christians don’t believe in forced conversions. We believe in persuading others of a message that is good and attractive. Christianity is by definition a conversion religion. No one is born a Christian. People become Christians as they are convinced by the truthfulness and goodness of Christianity’s message, the Gospel of Jesus of Christ.

As Jesus once said to a notable leader,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Christianity posits conversion as a result of personal conviction and choice, whereas the Government’s position seems to be, convert by coercion. Indeed, placing this conversation on conversion under the “Department of Justice and Community Safety” is probably not meant to be prophetic, but the irony is certainly not be missed.

All Victorians should be concerned by the Government’s plan to ban conversion practices. Let me reiterate, the Government is indicating more than simply banning practices that have proven harmful to some individuals, they are proposing to force-convert religious organisations and churches to the theological convictions of the new secular sexual milieu.

In the future, will Churches and religious organisations in Victoria have freedom to preach, teach, and counsel and pray in line with their religious convictions? Without significant revisions to the proposed definition, the answer is probably no.

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

“Not every policy is scientific Murray”

I’ve been hearing this line of argument over and over again for the past four years. Ours is a post-scientific age, where what is true is no longer measured by empirical evidence and objective reality, but by what each individual feels is real for them.

A clear and blunt example of this epistemological transition was recently recorded in Scotland. A 17-year-old school student by the name of Murray suggested to his teacher that there are only two genders. The conversation was recorded on the student’s phone (not a move that this Murray condones), and the commentary is telling. The student was asked to leave the classroom, with the teacher informing the student that he should keep his opinion to ‘his own house’. In other words, in this Scottish school which is following the national education curriculum, there is no safe place for students to suggest the biological fact that there are two genders.

Murray responded to the teacher who defended teaching the set curriculum,

“That’s not scientific whatsoever.”

To which the teacher replied,

“Not every policy is scientific”

Scotland was once the seat of the Enlightenment and a key player in Scientific Revolution. I imagine Scotland’s Enlightenment thinkers now wanting to be raised from the dead and come back to educate Scotland’s teachers (and haunt them at the very least!).

Most of us like to view ourselves as rational and as believers in science, but the reality is, we drop the truth into the toilet as soon as it clashes with a priori commitments to our preferred moral and preferences and worldview. If truth doesn’t support my moral inclinations, then flush it down the sewer. I am who I think I am, which is somewhat problematic if I identify as an 6-year-old girl (as one 46-year-old Canadian man decided), but isn’t prejudice that we dare question what he believes himself to be?

If as in the case of gender, we affirm the biological reality of male and female, and that biology and sex and gender belong together, there is an obvious tension when there’s a disconnect between what is true and how I feel. It becomes necessary to claim an alternate reality. This alone can create a plethora of problems because not every self-identity is good for the individual or for the relationships around them.

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This conversation has a renewed relevance in my home State of Victoria. We are already the world sporting capital and food capital and atheist capital (some say), and we’re now vying to be the most progressive capital in the world. Let’s kill off the unborn up to point of birth and let’s kill the terminally ill, and let’s feed our economy off the backs of the vulnerable through gambling, and let’s beat Scotland to be even more progressive with our school curriculum.

As I said, this Scottish teacher’s honest slip of the tongue has an immediate application in Victoria at the moment. The Victorian Government is renewing its intent to amend the birth certificate laws to enable people to change the gender on their birth certificate in order to match how they wish to be identified.

Birth certificates were once sacrosanct and rightly treated as definitive legal documents. What was once subject to facts surrounding the birth of a child, can now be repeatedly altered according to how individuals wish to reconstruct their sexual identity. Does this undermine the very nature of such documents?

I want a pause for a moment and recognise that gender dysphoria is real but rare.  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 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 alert the fact that Labor’s proposal is no solution at all.

Here’s are a few questions that require attention:

  1. Children can apply to alter their birth certificate, but doing so with the approval of their parents and with a supporting statement from either a medical practitioner or psychologist. One question that needs to asked, however, is what will happen when a child wishes to change their gender on the birth certificate and the parents believe that such action is not in the best interest of their child? Are we to expect a similar situation to what now takes place in Victorian schools where children can be given resources to transition without parental consent and knowledge?
  2. Will the new legislation, like its predecessor in 2016, allow persons to change their birth certificate every 12 months, or is only one change permitted? As the medical and scientific fraternity attest, the major of people dealing with gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood, identifying comfortably with their biological sex. What will happen in these cases?

On another occasion, I’ve quoted from this article in The Atlantic and it is worth repeating here (it should be noted that it’s not a conservative publication). The author warns against moving quickly to intervene in cases of gender dysphoria. Keep in mind, in this instance the Victorian Government is not proposing psychological or medical intervention (which already happens) but a legal declaration.   This is more than recognising that a person feels like they are a certain gender, this is the State announcing that a person is their chosen gender.

“the World Professional Association for Transgender Health…states that while some teenagers should go on hormones, that decision should be made with deliberation: “Before any physical interventions are considered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken.” The American Psychological Association’s guidelines sound a similar note, explaining the benefits of hormones but also noting that “adolescents can become intensely focused on their immediate desires.” It goes on: “This intense focus on immediate needs may create challenges in assuring that adolescents are cognitively and emotionally able to make life-altering decisions…But some clinicians are moving toward a faster process. And other resources, including those produced by major LGBTQ organizations, place the emphasis on acceptance rather than inquiry. The Human Rights Campaign’s “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics” web page, for example, encourages parents to seek the guidance of a gender specialist. It also asserts that “being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation.”

“Ignoring the diversity of these experiences and focusing only on those who were effectively “born in the wrong body” could cause harm. That is the argument of a small but vocal group of men and women who have transitioned, only to return to their assigned sex.”

We have entered a very new and strange space where what is true is no longer true, and what is good is considered bad for society, and where people crying for help are told there is nothing wrong. I also suspect biology teachers may soon be out of work, or at best they’ll be transitioned into the humanity’s department.

Our culture has tried to kill off God and now we’re displacing science. One thing is clear, the path forward is not befitting of the word, progressive. I heard it once, and I’ve been trying to say it regularly ever since a day is coming when a generation of disillusioned and damaged Victorians are going to need safe places for healing and love. Governments may play the game of identity politics and flaunt the neo-marxist ideas that are pulling strings out of the universities, but there is a better way. We can affirm a fellow human being and acknowledge their struggles and needs without approving of every self-belief. Perhaps the Labor Bill will pass on this occasion and join the growing line of regressive ideological positions that have been enshrined inside Parliament over recent years. Perhaps common sense will win the day. Whatever the outcome, I trust our Churches will have doors wide open to welcome, love, and care for those who come inside looking for hope and resolution. 

While being careful to avoid misapplying texts of Scripture, I’m noting at the back of my mind that this Sunday we are preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. It is not a passage about gender dysphoria but it does hint at dysphoria more broadly speaking. The verses recognise that there is a groaning and discontentment in the human condition and a longing for permanency and settling into what is good and right.

“While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

 

Gambling and the Love of Money

“Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)

“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless”. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

 

Victorians love to gamble, but at what cost? It was revealed today that in the past financial year (2017-2018), Victorians lost $2.7 billion on the pokies. As the ABC has reported, this is the highest figure in a decade — “with punters in some of the state’s most disadvantaged communities losing the most money.”

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Sourced from the ABC

There are areas in Melbourne that are losing $10 million every month to the pokies, and this isn’t taking into account all the other forms of gambling that are popular in our State, including betting on sporting events and the lottery. In fact, pokies account for less than half of all the gambling costs incurred by Victorians annually. According to responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au,  “the average loss per adult in Victoria in 2015–2016 was $1235”. Given that many Victorians refrain from ever gambling, and many others bet on rare occasions, it doesn’t take long before realising that gambling is hurting thousands of Victorian families in significant ways.

While gambling leaves many Victorians destitute, it gives the State’s economy a sizeable boost each year. Over the course of the last financial year, the losses made at the pokies generated $1.1 billion in taxes for the State Government, and this does not include the revenue generated by the pokies at Crown Casino.

I’m sure many Victorians are appalled by these numbers. Building prosperity off the back of other peoples’ poverty shouldn’t be morally acceptable, but it has been the stars quo in the State of Victoria for many years. It’s hard to say “no” to money, especially easy money and free money. After all, who is bold enough to look a gift horse in the mouth?

While gambling is a huge social problem in Victoria, we are never going to overcome it while the Government accepts this revenue, protects Crown Casino, and while media and sports dilute the joy of the game for the sake of greater profits.

The situation has deteriorated to the point where parents are concerned about allowing the children to watch sport on television. When young children are watching the footy and gambling advertisements pop up every few minutes, they are not listening to those automated words, “gamble responsibly”. What they hear is the allure of making money. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to work for it. When a sporting hero tells them, give us $20 and we’ll magically turn it into $100, of course, kids will think, what a great idea.

Of course, the Government income profited through gambling is anything but free. Gambling is a powerful industry. When the NSW Government tried to ban greyhound racing in 2016, it backfired and resulted in the resignation of the Premier, Michael Baird.

It’s hard to turn away the promise of financial gain; it’s difficult for the gambler, and it’s herculean for a Government.

The thing is, we can’t claim to be for the working class family and to be concerned for the poor while we use their vulnerability to gambling as an economic driver.

Now, the picture is not all doom and gloom. My beloved Carlton Football Club may not be kicking many goals on the field this season, but off the ground they’ve been starring on a range of social issues. Last month the club sent out this tweet,

“Kids think you have to bet to enjoy sport. This round, remind them what foot is all about.”

“Love the game not the odds”

Such messaging is important, but it’s not enough, and it’s clearly not drowning out the clanging and cha-ching of the pokies and the alluring advertisements of gambling agencies.

We need the Government to have the moral strength to say no to billions of dollars. That means, we need Victorians to raise their hands, agreeing to forego some of our own economic demands upon the State.

It’s not so easy, is it?

Perhaps the Bible was right all along, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

We may not like gambling. We may hate the way gambling controls people and sends families into financial and social hell. What is clear, however, is that we don’t hate gambling so much and we don’t love our neighbours too much, that we would accept the cost of losing $100s millions annually.

It was Jesus who said (yes, the very same Jesus whom we’ve deemed redundant from our erudite and progressive culture),

“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?”

It’s a condition we Victorians all share, both wealthy and poor alike. The promise of prosperity is harder to refuse than the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey. With all the pride in our moral sophistication, we are still practitioners of total depravity, selling our souls and trampling on the vulnerable, in order to grab hold of the prosperity’s mist. 

If we want our Government to put an end to this blight on our society, then we need to check our own hearts and be willing to give up something as well

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victorian Government aims to outlaw Gay Conversion Therapy

Last year a journalist from the ABC phoned me, to ask about gay conversion therapy. I must have been a poor interviewee because they didn’t run a story at that time.

The questions were easy to answer, I asked him explain what he meant by gay conversion therapy. He wasn’t very sure, but he did share a few anecdotes, to which I responded,

“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.”

I don’t know how widespread this practice is, but it was easy to agree that the stories shared with me were disappointing and an awful experience for those who went through those programs. There is however, a  now very real possibility that Victoria will erroneously conflate those extreme views with normal and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality. 

There is a massive difference between offering someone shock therapy or performing a supposed exorcism, and reading the Bible with someone and them concluding that they no longer wish to identify as same sex attracted or transgender. But will the Victorian Government make this vital distinction. There are certainly prominent social voices who would not care whether there is a difference or not, anything other than complete allegiance to the current sexual narrative must be followed.

The Age has published a series of articles this year on this issue and the result is that the Victorian Government is planning to take action. In today’s edition, reporter Farrah Tomazin writes, 

Rogue religious leaders and health practitioners who claim that homosexuality can be “fixed” could end up being prosecuted as the Andrews government orders an unprecedented inquiry into gay conversion therapy.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has asked Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner to conduct a broad-ranging investigation, and has not ruled out tougher laws to crack down on those attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

The inquiry will capture registered or unregistered counsellors, clinicians who treat homosexuality as a disorder, and anyone purporting to convert LGBTI people through therapeutic means.

But significantly, it will also seek information on a more insidious trend: faith-based ministries and church figures who disguise their work as “spiritual guidance”.

“We have zero tolerance for anyone purporting to ‘convert’ gay people through any medical or therapeutic means,” Ms Hennessy told The Age.”

 

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I want to respond to Farrah Tomazin’s piece and to the comments being made by our Health Minister, Jill Hennessy.

First, because I am a Christian, I do not support gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality.

Second, in the Bible God calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply 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, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices remain within the loving, exclusive, mutual consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

You see, the Bible may not state that a person’s sexual orientation will change, but it is 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.

Third, I know people who are committed and godly Christians, and who continue to experience same-sex attraction. They are convinced that their greater and more satisfying identity is in Jesus Christ, and that living a celibate lifestyle is positive and good.

Fourth, it is an indisputable fact that some people do change sexual orientation. I appreciate that this evidence doesn’t fit with the current sexual narrative and it’s become socially and politically taboo to even mention it, but I don’t believe in ignoring research and personal stories, even if they contradict popular attitudes. For example, the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily identifying with their biological sex. There are also many gay and lesbian people who have found their affections changing and have become heterosexual.  Let me reiterate, this does not mean that there is some proven or absolute way to reconfigure a person’s sexuality, but it is empirically false and socially irresponsible to deny that some people do experience a change of affections and self identification.

Fifth, I am concerned about how our culture is increasingly marginalising people who are conscious of their sexual orientation but do not wish to express or live it out. This is one of the key flaws with the Safe Schools curriculum; there is no freedom offered to children to say no to their feelings. The emphasis is on instruction children to be who they currently think they are, and to celebrate and express it. I have found no pastoral empathy in the material that encourages children to think in alternate ways

It is hypocritical for us to defend the rights of LGBT people who want to express their lifestyle and to condemn those who do not wish to follow their orientation. You can’t claim to believe in gender fluidity and then disallow entire part of the population, simply because the don’t fit inside the current subscribed spectrum; it is intellectually dishonest and morally absurd.

Sixthly, there should be concerns as to how far the Victorian Government will proceed in drafting legislation to outlaw conversion therapies. If the reporting in The Age is correct, it may become illegal for churches to teach (whether from the pulpit or in private counselling) what the Bible says about sexuality.

Without due consideration and careful definition (ie what is conversion?), it is not beyond the realm of plausibility that legislation will ban Christians from teaching the Bible’s ethics on sexuality. Sadly this is not new, for back in 2016 the current Government sought to hamstring religious toleration in Victoria with a proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act.

It seems to me that there are voices on both spectrums who are ignoring science and the Bible. We might assume that both of these groups have good intentions, but whether it is political progressive with their latest interpretation of the sexual revolution, or a few crazy Pentecostals pursuing unhelpful ideas, both are making mistakes that will cause undue harm to real people.

If the Government intends to ban gay conversion therapy, consistency would have them also prohibit therapies that are aimed at changing the gender of children. In light of the research which indicates most children with gender dysphoria naturally reorienting over time, it is appalling to know of schools who are denying young children’s biological sex, and are putting them in counselling to begin transitioning them to the opposite sex. This not only includes outside dress and appearance, but hormonal therapy and eventually there is the possibility of surgery. What is even more staggering is that schools can commence some of these steps without the permission of and even knowledge parents.

To outlaw gay conversion therapies and not ban gender reassignment treatment and therapy among our youth would be sheer hypocrisy. Equally so, it is egregious to conflate fringe excessive programs with mainstream and historic Christian beliefs about sexuality, and to prohibit the freedom to articulate and persuade others with these beliefs.

I share concerns over some of the alleged practices that are contained in these so-called conversion therapies. The well-being of gay and lesbian Victorians is important, but recent political history and the current reporting in the media does not give us much hope that any drafted legislation will be fair and reasonable. There is reason to believe that these laws could negatively impact many Victorians who are wrestling with their sexuality (as is already happening through Safe Schools), and that legislation will effectively diminish religious freedoms in this wonderful State of Victoria. Indeed when the Government interferes with the teachings of Churches, all Victorians, from across religions and of none, should be troubled and asking our political representatives serious questions.

Victorian Schools to help children transition without parental consent

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

As parents, Susan and I are regularly signing forms that have been sent home from school: there is an excursion to the zoo next Friday, please sign. The school camp is next month, please sign. Your child has been selected in the school’s athletics team and we need your permission for them to compete. Your child was absent yesterday, please notify us as to the reason.

Three months ago I received a call from school, “your son has been hurt while playing rugby. It looks as though he’s broken his arm, can you come to the school and take him to the hospital…”

While no one enjoys paperwork (perhaps with exception to accountants!), both schools and parents understand the importance of these forms. Parents are the primary carers and even educators for their own children, teaching them life skills, morality, religion.  It is the parents joy and responsibility to love their children and to see that they safe and healthy and maturing in life. It is one of the few innate truths that our society still holds, or so I thought.

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Today, someone brought to my attention the updated School Advisory Policy Guide for School Principals and Administrators (updated July 2017). Under the section titled, Gender Diversity, Principals are given the following instruction by the Victorian Education Department:

“Schools must work with students transitioning or affirming their gender identity to prepare and implement a student support plan.”

First of all, schools are not given the discretion to counsel against students transitioning from one gender to another, they are required to affirm the student’s chosen identity, and to prepare and implement a support plan.

“The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible, and should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the needs of the student at the different stages of their transition, and at the different stages of their education.”

Notice the qualification? “The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible.”

Surely, the Government is not giving schools permission to help children change their gender identity and even their name, without parental involvement and consent?

Let’s keep reading. Under the following section, titled, Parental Consent, we read,

“There may be circumstances in which students wish or need to undertake gender transition without the consent of their parent/s (or carer/s), and/or without consulting medical practitioners.

If no agreement can be reached between the student and the parent/s regarding the student’s gender identity, or if the parent/s will not consent to the contents of a student support plan, it will be necessary for the school to consider whether the student is a mature minor.

If a student is considered a mature minor they can make decisions for themselves without parental consent and should be affirmed in their gender identity at school. Department policy addresses situations in which students, though under the age of 18 years, may be sufficiently mature to make their own decisions, see Decision Making by Mature Minors

How old does a child need to be in order to be defined as mature? Luckily the Department don’t leave us in limbo. They explain,

“there is no specific age when a young person may be deemed sufficiently mature and capable of making his or her own decision”

In other words, school aged children, both secondary and primary, can decide to change their gender, and the school must support this transition and the school does not need to inform or gain parental consent. The policy is written in such a way as though parental consent is advantageous, but it is not necessary. If this is not sufficiently worrying, the school is also not required to gain professional medical advice prior to implementing a plan for gender transition for a child.

This is insane; a school cannot let my child attend a fun excursion without my consent, but they can prepare my child to change their gender and identity?

No one wants these children being bullied or sidelined and left to struggle alone. They are image bearers of God and therefore to be loved and protected. It is not however, the right of a Government or a school to proceed to change a child’s identity without the parents knowledge, consent, and without due medical and psychological assessments. We all understand that there is the rare situation where parents don’t act in the best interests of their children, but these guidelines don’t carefully limit parental exclusion for that specific scenario.

Children do not belong to the Government, and schools are but temporary caretakers who have the permission of the family to teach writing, reading, and counting. What we are again seeing in Victoria, is a Government forcing families to cross into a new world where Government takes control from loving parents, and gives schools freedom to navigate even critical decisions for a child.

Does the State love our children more than us? Do schools, even with their fantastic staff who care for our kids, do they understand them more than parents? This school policy is dangerous, and it will lead to damaging the lives of children and of their families. Not only that, this will create impossible scenarios for schools and their principals, whom I can imagine are rarely adept to make such decisions, and will feel incredibly concerned about about leaving parents in the cold and not enquiring from medical professionals, which is surely a sensible course of action.

Even then, research shows that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it in their adolescence or early adulthood, thus delayed action is normally preferred. Research also indicates that transitioning does not necessarily alleviate the stresses associated with gender dysphoria. 

Victorian parents need to be aware of these policies, and others. If you are concerned concerned, please read the policy for yourselves, contact your local State member and share your concerns, graciously and clearly.

Safe Schools Update

The Safe Schools Coalition released a statement on July 31st, defending the program and denying recent allegations made against their curriculum.

They state, “Recent online discussion regarding the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) program has spread a lot of misinformation, including claims about the content of SSCA resources. These claims have no basis.”

Nowhere does the statement mention which particular allegations are being denied, and neither do they offer any evidence to counter the ‘misinformation’.

It would have been helpful had SSCA clarified what exactly they are repudiating, because as it stands, their statement raises questions rather than answering them.

I am aware of one video that has been shared on social media recently, which has now over 3 million views. The video shows a mother describing her children’s story of how Safe Schools is being taught at their school. Some of her comments relate to facts that can be easily accessed either on the Safe Schools website itself or in media reporting from the last 2 years. Other comments relate to specific activities in the classroom which I can’t personally verify and therefore I’ll suspend judgment. I have no reason to doubt her and her children’s truth telling, but one also needs to be careful about conflating accounts with facts. It is unclear however whether SSCA is referring to this video or to something else. This has an unfortunate effect, a public statement that is designed to be clarifying is in fact just creating ambiguity.

The spokesperson for SSCA ask people to read the information that is available online for teachers, students, and parents. I thought, what a great idea. I hadn’t seen the material for sometime and assume that it may have been updated. So I did check it out, and sadly all the concerns that I have previously expressed have been reinforced.

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One statement I do agree with relating to Safe Schools, is found on the Victorian Education Department website, “All students should be safe from bullying and feel included at school. Students who don’t feel safe or included at school cannot learn effectively.”

Unfortunately though, Safe Schools is creating unsafe schools. In the year since the Federal review, concerns have not been alleviated.  It is becoming clearer that the authors of Safe Schools have taken one issue, but in the attempt to address it positively they have in fact created many more issues.

Facts:

  • What was first promoted as an anti-bullying program, was soon explained by founder Roz Ward, as a program designed to persuade children of socialist ideologies. Interestingly, the anti-bullying rhetoric is less prominent now, and the program is more clearly marketed as one of supporting LGBTI sexualities.
  • Safe Schools will be compulsory in all Victorian State secondary schools in 2018. It is also encouraged for Primary Schools.
  • Safe Schools is no longer allowed in NSW, and in South Australian it is being heavily revised.
  • Two studies have been conducted into Safe Schools by leading educational experts in Australia. The first was headed by Professor Bill Louden (of the University of Western Australia), and the other by Professor Professor Patrick Parkinson AM. Both studies demonstrate that Safe Schools is built upon misleading information and is unsuitable learning material. Prof Parkinson said that the curriculum is  ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.
  • Safe Schools relies on theories of gender and sexuality that have been deemed dangerous, and is now banned from schools in NSW.
  • Safe Schools depends on pseudo-science, relying on LGBTI statistics that have been shown to be false.
  • Safe Schools material is to be integrated throughout school subjects: “This material can be interspersed throughout school subjects, “Schools may also choose to adapt and use the videos and teaching activities in other areas of the curriculum such as English, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Civics and Citizenship, and applied learning curriculums (e.g. VCAL, TAS) where the exploration of LGBTI people and topics allows.”
  • Despite the Federal Government calling for the removal of third party websites such as Minus 18, Victoria continues partner with Minus 18, and the material encourage teachers to refer students to the Minus 18 website.
  • The curriculum is designed to alter the way children think about sexuality and gender, and to change their behavior. Safe Schools is not mere information, but it is aiming for change how children think and relate. One of the dominant themes is that heteronormacy is wrong and immoral, and instead we need to embrace the ‘fact’ that biology doesn’t determine gender, but instead we are what we feel we are
  • Exercises and questions given to 11-13 year old children are at times staggering in their inappropriateness. For example,
      • ‘Would you invite your partner home with you to meet your family?’
      • ‘If you were in a sports team, would you confidently tell your teammates about your sexuality?’
      • “Tell students on the left-hand side of the room that their character is going out with someone of the same sex, while the character of those on the right-hand side of the room is going out with someone of the opposite sex…”

 

There is tremendous pressure on students to conform to the new state quo. Students are not only participating during class, but they are given homework, and are encouraged to share their answers with teachers and with the class. Can you imagine the pressure on those kids who don’t subscribe to the views being taught? Can you imagine the pressure on a child who believes sex is only for a man and a woman in marriage, and to tell the class this? What about children who are same sex attracted but don’t wish to live a gay lifestyle? There is nothing to support them. And what about children who are experiencing some form a gender dysphoria? While best medical research urges delayed action (because the majority of kids no longer suffer dysphoria by the time the reach the end of adolescence), Safe Schools encourages schools to help them transition.

The teachers at my children’s schools are fantastic, and I greatly value their input into our children’s education. Say, though that one of my children came home and told me that their science teacher didn’t believe dinosaurs ever existed; I’d be a tad concerned. If my children’s history teacher taught revisionist history, I’d be keen to chat with the school.

Why then is it ok for our children to be forced to sit in classes that teach sex material based on dubious, misleading, and dangerous ideas? We are not talking about debating palaeontology or what really happened in 1066, but the health and wellbeing of our children, which of course includes children who do not identify as heterosexual.

Building school curriculum on flawed studies ends up hurting students, including those whom its meant to help. For the sake of all our children, we must do better than this. We want to see all children doing well and flourishing, not being bullied, but loved and supported. Safe Schools is continually showing that it isn’t the answer.

I would urge all parents to read the material for themselves. Ask yourself, are you happy for your child(ren) to be taught this in the classroom?