Dr Jones’ words confirm not assuage church concerns

The Age has run another opinion piece about the Victorian Government’s  Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. This op-ed is designed to counter concerns being articulated by a growing number of religious leaders and legal experts.

The article is written by La Trobe University’s Dr Timothy W. Jones. Dr Jones was the lead author of Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice (2018). Far from The Age op-ed coming from a place of impartiality, Dr Jones’ is heavily invested in the success of the Bill. His paper was used extensively by the Andrews Government for framing its position and the Bill that has subsequently been written.

Dr Jones insists that churches have nothing to fear about the Bill. Given the significance of his claims, it is important to consider them.

 Firstly he suggests,

“These fears are quickly assuaged by a plain reading of the bill and the statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights.”

The statement of compatibility is at best tenuous and weak. Associate Professor of Law, Neil Foster, explains

“Given the potential for a serious impact on the life of religious groups, then, does the Bill contain any protection for genuine religious freedom? Not a single word is said in the Bill about this. The only passing reference which would provide a slight comfort to religious groups would be that s 3(1)(b) tells us that one of the purposes of the Bill is “to further promote and protect the rights set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities”. The EM, then, decides to spell out what is hidden here by alleging that the rights to be promoted by the Bill include:

the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief (section 14 of the Charter) 

EM, page 3.

But how precisely the right to religion and belief is protected by a Bill that seems designed to marginalise and ignore deeply held religious convictions about sexual behaviour and how these can be taught in religious communities, is not explained.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is important to note that while Dr Jones suggests that concerns about the Bill are invalid, he then offers these two arguments:  

1. there already exists limits to religious freedom, therefore there is no harm in legislating further restrictions.

“Placing limits on religious practices, as proposed in this bill, is not new. Both Australian law and international human rights law provide guidance on when it is appropriate to place limitations on religious practices.”

The question is, is it appropriate for the Victorian Government to gag ‘conversations’ with faith leaders about sex and gender? Is it appropriate for a Government to legislate against prayer? Is it appropriate for the Attorney General to explain in the Parliament that sermons “may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

 2. Churches need to change and form their views according to the testimonies of LGBT Victorians.

“People of faith can be confident to welcome the bill. Take it as an opportunity to listen to survivors and to get better equipped to provide your LGBTQ+ members with true spiritual care.”

Of course, it is important to listen to others. I am continually learning from and interested in the stories of others. Where Churches have made mistakes or genuinely done what is wrong, we ought to admit and repent. Dr Jones is saying much more. He is informing people of faith that ‘true spiritual care’ doesn’t stem from our sacred books, but from listening to and taking the advice of those who support the current views on sex and gender. 

In what amounts to an ad hominem attack on religious leaders, Dr Jones alleges, “Rather than stoking unfounded fears, religious and opinion leaders should read the extensive work that has gone into the development and scrutiny of this world-leading legislation.”

Well, I have read his publication and have responded to it at length on other occasions. Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice is quite revealing. Far from assuaging the concerns expressed by religious leaders, this report confirms these concerns. Of course, this report is not the Bill but it nonetheless reveals the attitudes and framing of the Bill.

Given the importance of the Bill, which includes up to 10 years imprisonment for offenders, one would hope that the research that Government is relying upon is thorough and wide. When one reads Dr Jones’ report, we find the stories of 15 individuals. 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. This is not to argue against those 15 people who shared their story, people for whom I wish the very best, but it is important for the public to be made aware of what lays behind the Government’s legislation.

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? Why ignore the views of the overwhelming majority of Churches? Why were no positives stories published and used in the research? There are countless testimonies to share of people who have found great help and support in churches that hold to the classical understanding of marriage and sexuality. 

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice makes clear that the authors are not only viewing those few dreadful practices that were once used by a few marginal religious groups, they are targeting mainstream Christian Churches who teach, believe, and practice a classical view of human sexuality. For example,

“A similarly insidious development in conservative religious communities is the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ pastoral posture. Churches holding this stance maintain that LGBT status and behaviour is disordered and sinful, but keep this position muted in the hope of converting LGBT people to their version of Christianity.58 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.”

By “insidious development” they refer to the view held by Christians since the time of Jesus, and that is normative in Christian Churches across the world today and in Victoria. They continue,

“In a religious landscape where there are many prominent religious voices hostile to LGBT people, churches holding a ‘welcoming but not affirming’ stance may appear attractive. They avoid overtly homophobic and transphobic rhetoric and welcome LGBT people. Community membership, however, is conditional on remaining closeted or a commitment to living chaste and celibate lives.”

In other words, Dr Jones takes issue with any faith community that holds to Jesus’ teaching about marriage and sexual relationship. Even encouraging the Biblical position on self-control is deemed wrong and inappropriate.

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”.

Dr Jones’ words of ‘comfort’ in The Age are demonstrably undermined by his own words in Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice. His role in assisting the Victorian Government reveals how he and his coauthors do want churches to abandon their Biblical views and to instead endorse current gender theory. Granted, some of these Christians practices are not prohibited in the Bill, but others are. I am not referring to the few archaic and dreadful practices that once existed in marginal groups, I am speaking of pastoral conversation and prayer. 

This entire episode is so unfortunate. The overwhelming majority of religious leaders affirm protecting people from nonconsensual practices and dreadful things such as aversion therapy. No one supports such things. Instead, the Government is acting well beyond what is reasonable or right. Christian Churches trust that the Victorian Parliament will redress the extraordinary overreaches contained in this Bill and send it to committee for important revision.


This breaking interview organised by Eternity News with the office of the Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, confirms the validity of the issues raised by myself and others (including what I explain above) – https://www.eternitynews.com.au/australia/victorias-conversion-practices-bill-detailed-answers-from-the-government/

Added Information on the Conversion Practices Bill

New information has come to light since I wrote ‘A Day of Reckoning: Victorian Government pushes to ban Christian practices with threat of 10 years in prison’. Unfortunately, none of it alleviates initial concerns with the Victorian Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

First, let me reiterate the astounding step this Victorian Government is taking: a Bill before the Parliament will ban praying.

It is not a prohibition on all prayer but prayers with people that include a Christian view of humanity sexuality.

Also, this extraordinary measure: while it is understandable and agreeable that a Bill might seek to ban non consensual activity, this Bill forbids consensual prayers and conversations in which the Bible’s sexual ethic is explained and encouraged.

The explanatory memorandum states,

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity”.

As I noted last week, there are details in the Bill which are ambiguous. Either this serves to deliberately discourage a breadth of Christian (and religious) engagement with sexual ethics or the Bill has been poorly written. I will let others decide which is the case. For example, does preaching or leading a group Bible study fall foul of this Bill?

Associate Professor Neil Foster has written a second response to this Bill, in which he offer some clarity. He refers to the Attorney General’s speech before the Parliament. Unfortunately, rather than her explanation assuaging concerns, she indicates there may be further prohibitions on religious freedom to come, including on preaching. He explains, 

“While I appreciate that activities such as preaching are not explicitly prohibited, I note the Attorney General’s statement, “….” the conduct must be directed at an individual. This ensures that conduct generally directed— such as sermons expressing a general statement of belief—is not captured. However, such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

In other words, while preaching a sermon is not currently included in the parameters of this bill, the Attorney General is foreshadowing a time when sermons will come under scrutiny.

The Bible urges followers of Jesus Christ to refrain from sexual relationships outside marriage between a man and a woman. This is described in positive and good ways. It is not suppression, it is liberating. Depending on how ‘suppression’ is used, these normal conversations that take place religious communities may well become anathema. Certainly, the Bill may have the effect of creating fear and pressuring Christians leaders into failing their duty to faithfully explain and encourage the Christian faith.

In other words conversations that include the affirmation of normal and deeply held Christian beliefs and encouragement for Christians to live by these teachings, amounts to illegal activity with a possible prison term of 10 years.

For a Bill to name prayer as illegal under an Act of Parliament is astonishing and it is unwarranted. For a Government to make illegal conversations with a faith leader is extraordinary and significant overreach. When the Victorian Attorney General indicates that “sermons expressing a general statement of belief” may in the future be considered in framing new ant-vilification protections we have entered very dangerous territory. This is the kind of authoritarianism that we find in those oppressive countries. This Bill is Victoria’s Sinicization.

The Government’s one way street to conversion fails to do justice to the complexity of issues. It has assumed a narrow posture toward sex and gender, which neither medical experts or religious communities accept as true. Indeed, neither do many LGBT people accept the Government’s hostile stance.

It is important to note that it is not only religious groups who are concerned at the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 . The Government won’t inform the public, but the fact is, there are people identifying as LGBT who are against this Bill.

The LGB Alliance has expressed significant reservations about the Bill. 

One transgender woman has spoken with me and expressed concerns about the Government’s politicisation and popularisation of the issue.

Men and women who have detransitioned are speaking up and making the point that this Bill will prevent people from seeking out and finding both professional help and pastoral care that they require.

The problem with this Bill is that it is neither based on best science nor on essential democratic principles of freedom of conscience, belief, and practice. Rather depends on the narrow and belligerent worldview that is propagated by vociferous ivory tower scholastics with their minions in popular culture and activists groups.

This week saw the landmark High Court ruling in the United Kingdom. 23 year old Ms Bell won her case against Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, for its dangerous treatment of children who have gender dysphoria.

Ms Bell was prescribed puberty blockers at age 16. As an adult Ms Bell has sued Tavistock, alleging that young people do not have sufficient awareness to make an informed decision to undergo invasive treatments that will have long term effects on their physical and mental state. Three judges ruled in her favour

Notice the clear language quote by the The Times

“under-18s in gender clinics need “far better mental health services to help them to reconcile themselves to their (sex) — not life-changing physical interventions that might alleviate short-term distress at the price of long-term trauma”.

This same view, should it be found in a doctors clinic or in pastoral visitation here in Victoria, could see charges laid followed by a 10 year term of imprisonment. For what? For failing to subscribe to the Government’s narrow and one way street of conversion, rather than offering sensible, caring, patient care toward those in our community who are struggling with their identity. 

The UK ruling is relevant to this conversation because it demonstrates a growing awareness of and concern for those who are treating gender issues according to dogmatic and myopic views. 

Members of Parliament and the Victorian public should note this Bill is a disaster not only for religious groups but also for LGBT Victorians who don’t wish coercion down the ideological path which the current Government is directing. Doctors and psychologists are increasingly concerned about this one way street and the road blocks this Government is laying down will prevents real and necessary conversation and care to be offered.

Far from protecting people this bill will have the unfortunate consequence of threatening many Victorians with legal proceedings to they continue to believe and practice a Christian worldview, it will pressure faith leaders from exercising their pastoral responsibilities, and it will prevent many people in our community who are wrestling with their identity and are looking to faith communities for wisdom and prayer and support.

Where the Government could have made allies with faith communities in Victoria, they have unnecessarily targeted them and pushed them away. They are sadly driving this Bill over other Victorians who deserve love and care, not this coercive piece of legislation. One prays that commonsense will prevail and that the Government will return this Bill to the drawing room and start again. 

Operation Soteria

The Victorian Government gave the infamous hotel quarantine program the code name, Operation Soteria. In light of the disastrous outcomes from the program, ‘goddess of rescue’ is hardly a suitable name; Eris seems far more appropriate. 

The city of Melbourne is slowly emerging from the worst disaster in her 185 year history. The past six months has revealed Melbourne’s heart and the diagnosis is not altogether positive. Good has been uncovered and also much that should concern anyone who knows that a malfunctioning heart is likely to cause future grief. 

The Covid 19 pandemic in Victoria has thus far resulted in over 20,000 cases and 781 deaths. In terms of global statistics these numbers are relatively small, but of course in June the State was approaching almost zero cases, following a small first wave. Something like 90% of all Victoria’s COVID-19 cases and almost all the deaths have occurred in the second wave. Since July 100,000s of VICtorians have lost their jobs, 1000s of businesses may never reopen, the economy is bleeding a $1 billion every week. The impact on individual lives can scarcely be measured. The pandemic has compounded mental health issues, children’s education impacted, churches closed.

Victoria, especially Melbourne, is living with the greatest restrictions imposed on personal liberty and social freedom that has ever been witnessed in Australian history. A strict curfew has been enforced for months and Melbournians cannot leave a 5km radius from their homes. Schools are shut and most of the workforce must work from home. Churches have not met since March and may not for some considerable time. Families and friends are not permitted to mingle, either indoors or outdoors. 

The pandemic and how it has been handled in Melbourne reveals human nature in ways that we may find uncomfortable. Once the second wave has left our shores, I imagine millions of Melbournians wanting to move on and to leave behind 2020 as we would an awful nightmare. Relief is a powerful medicine, albeit a placebo. I want to offer three observations about how the pandemic is revealed our societal health.

1. Self Preservation or Self Sacrifice?

The pandemic began with hoards of people rushing to supermarkets and emptying shelves of essential goods. The situation deteriorated to the point that supermarkets set aside the first hour of each day for our senior citizens, so that they would not go without because of the surge of people fighting over toilet paper and grabbing the final bag of rice or pasta.

We became a state of dobbers. In May alone, Victorian police received 80,000 calls from Victorians who were reporting on their fellow citizens for allegedly breaking restrictions in one way or another. I am not excusing those who foolishly think they can live in disregard for the law. Yes, there are cases of people being ignorant of the rules, but more often this exposed a selfish impulse. However, the fact we have accumulated 100,000s of complaints over the course, and that the Government urged us to betray our neighbours, is quite telling. Personally, while I am irritated by people who think they can live above law, I find it sad that we were so quick to dob on our neighbours to the police.

In the meantime, many other Victorians worked tirelessly to fight the virus and keep people alive. Working long hours and putting themselves at risk in order to care for the sick and for those who are most vulnerable. 

There is a telling disparity between those who preference self preservation and those who choose self-sacrifice.

2. Fear or Love?

Whether we like it or not, the base motivator that has been used to control peoples behaviour during the pandemic is fear.  Government press conferences and newspaper articles have been primed with scaring people into submission. 

Let it said, it is foolish to think that COVID-19 isn’t a serious and deadly disease. It is no Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague, but the virus is nonetheless highly contagious. The Corona Virus is a life threatening disease for the elderly and for people with certain preexisting medical conditions. Without diminishing these facts, it has been interesting to watch the narrative used to force compliance. There is little talk about loving our neighbour, instead many threats have been made and cataclysmic proclamations given to funnel the population into ‘doing the right thing’. 

Fear can be a useful tool. We should not discount it altogether. Even the Bible speaks of fear as being the correct response to particular scenarios. However, what does this prevalent public narrative say about our society? What kind of city are we living in and raising our children in where the threat of punishment rather than compassion has become the normal modus operandi?

3. Suspicion or Trust?

This leads to a third observation, who do we trust. On the one hand, reactions to the Government’s position on COVID-19 soon fell into political partisanship and conspiracy theorists were not going to let this opportunity slide either. Yet overall, Victorians have followed the restrictions. This may be a sign that we trust the Government or that we’re afraid of fines and even longer lockdown (I suspect the truth is a mix of both). 

The speed at which Victorians gave up basics freedoms was interesting to watch. The willingness in which the people have filed away the State’s Human Rights Charter probably speaks to a combination of self sacrifice and fear. Once upon a time we would look at the world’s most authoritarian regimes, perplexed at how people give up freedoms to the State. A question for Victorians is now, for what other reasons are we prepared to accept rigid limitations on personal liberty? Are there other scenarios in which we would lay down our freedoms to associate, work, play, and live? My underlying observation is that while we have built our nation on certain myths, these are more fiction than fact, and among them is our belief in independence and self making. 

While there is certainly an air of trust in Government directives and following public health warnings, the COVID-19 response was not be built on the premise of trust, but of suspicion. The Government anticipated that people won’t follow best medical advice and that people won’t follow reasonable measures (ie social distancing). Their suspicions have some warrant. 

Suspicion can be a powerful delusion and for others it is a source for angry repose. In some circumstances it can also serve as a wise friend. Unfortunately, our suspicious minds have led to an ‘all or nothing’ dichotomy. This absolutism has controlled much of the rhetoric causing needless divisions  in the community and had the effect of pushing aside reasonable and respected voices from the medical fraternity and from the Melbourne world of law, business, and economics.

Take for example this new Bill that the Government is brining before the Parliament, ’COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020’. If it passes any citizen can be appointed and given the authority to detain any fellow citizen who is suspected of having COVID-19 and whom authorities believe may not fully comply with quarantine.  In theory, as an untrained citizen who is not a police officer, I can be employed to report, check on, and even detain fellow citizens in a manner reminiscent of the Stasi. 

A significant number of QCs and SCs have written a letter outlining concerns about this Bill, including Retired High Court judge Michael McHugh and former Federal Court judges Peter Heerey and Neil Young. They explain,

Authorising citizens to detain their fellow citizens on the basis of a belief that the detained person is unlikely to comply with emergency directions by the ‘authorised’ citizens is unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse”.

“The bill would also allow any person the secretary considered appropriate to be authorised to exercise emergency powers”.

“There would be no requirement that persons authorised be police officers, or even public servants.”

As astonishing and dangerous as this Bill is to a free and democratic society, the Government not only has the gall to argue for it, but many Melbournians I suspect will be okay with it.  I suspect this doesn’t bode well for the future.

Choosing suspicion over trust works both ways. I’ve noted voices making unrealistic expectations and unsympathetic calls, condemning any and all mistakes. This fails to appreciate the nature of this pandemic; it is new and scientists are still trying to understand how the virus works and what is the best public approach. We may not know for another year which nation stumbled into the most advantageous roadmap. There is also a difference between mistake and incompetence. In the swamp of news conferences, tweets, and inquiries, discerning the truth is not always easy. 

The Victorian people deserve to know the truth of what happened in the Melbourne hotels which has crippled our State, and yet it seems increasingly likely that we will remain in the dark. 

Just today, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos fell on her sword, the morning after her boss stabbed her in the back. Sure, there have been apologies for “Operation Soteria” and even admissions of mistakes made, and yet when it came to the Inquiry no one it seems knew the answers to key questions. Instead, there was lots of blame shifting. It is quite extraordinary (and sadly predictable) that in the case of the worst disaster in our State’s history no one is taking responsibility. How can the State expect its people to behave with integrity when its leaders play blame games in order to save their own political skin? 

This has been a difficult year for everyone. For those who have lost loved ones the pain is excruciating. For those who face financial ruin, the road ahead is long and uncertain. If anything, 2020 is a rehearsal for times that are yet ahead, and challenges that will shake our city to the very foundations. 

We need a better rescue plan

“Operation Soteria” has proven to be an ironic an even sardonic name. The rescue turned out to be a sinking ship. 

To be fair, what COVID-19 is revealing about Melbourne  did not begin with the pandemic, rather it shone a light on our preexisting condition. To build relationships on trust, to do right out of love, and to self sacrifice: these are noble virtues and they are far too rare and absent in our city.

During the inquiry into the hotel quarantine the Bible was held aloft, and yet sadly its message is all too often ignored. Instead of making promises on the Bible perhaps we should open its pages, then read and follow what it says. On the sacred page is a story of the original and best, Operation Soteria. It’s not another Greek myth or Melbourne fiction, but the account of the Son of God whose trust triumphed over worldly suspicion, whose love conquers all fear, and who laid down his life for the sake of his enemies. 

Melbourne has long turned its gaze away from the person of Jesus Christ. As we seek to recover surely it’s time to revisit him and to discover the One who truly rescues. As our city has faced the pandemic our foundations have been proven frail. I suspect that as Summer arrives, in our desperation for normalcy we’ll try to forget the year that has been. I understand the sentiment, but there are harder and deeper lessons to learn, ones which require us to look beyond even health and economic issues and into the very soul of our city. 

Christians Avoiding the Pitfalls of Political Polarisation

I get it, our society isn’t just polarised, it’s being torn apart by tribalism, divisions, and unbending ideologues. It’s hard enough being an average Aussie let alone one who believes Jesus is Lord. What are we meant to do when we disagree with the Government? How should we respond when we don’t like what a Government says or decides?

Thankfully God hasn’t left us walking in the darkness. In his wisdom, God gives us clear instructions and principles in his word. Just like me who can feel heated by some of the political debates going on and therefore needs to be reminded of these words, I suspect many of us do.

I’m not intending to pull out every nugget in every verse that I quote below. My aim is simply to draw our attention to the main imperative or principle that is mentioned in each of these Bible passages.

 

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Pray

Take, for example, 1 Timothy 2:1-3

”I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)

We are commanded to pray for those in authority. The imperative isn’t conditioned by our political preferences or by the decisions made in our favour. Keep in mind that Paul was writing at a time where there were no democratic societies and where there was little toleration of Christians.

We pray for our Governments and political representatives, not because we always agree with them, but they have a God given responsibility for society.

Indeed, Governments, politicians, and bureaucrats need our prayers. Not every authority is conscious of this or a would accept this proposition. They nonetheless carry significant responsibility and work long stressful and often thankless hours.  When I’ve messaged an MP and asked how I can pray for them, the response has rarely been, “no, don’t pray for me”.

Listen to what verse 3 says, “this is good and pleases God our Savior”.

 

Be subject to

What about Romans 13?

”Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” (Romans 13:1-3)

We are not only to pray for governing authorities but also to submit to and obey those in authority. Why? These authorities have been established by God, for the good order of society and to punish wrongdoing.

Submit

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people”. (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Listening to, honouring, and obeying the Government is God’s will for every Christian. It is one of the ways we do good and it serves to silence some of the ridiculous criticisms aimed at Christians. I am surprised (perhaps not) at how our readiness to adhere to Governments often depends on who is in power. It is amazing to see how much our political preferences shape our rhetoric and responses to a Government.

Also this, it is sometimes assumed that we will make a clearer statement for the Gospel by standing apart from the authorities, but that isn’t the argument given here in 1 Peter nor in Romans 13. We can bear faithful witness to Christ by submitting to authority.

Another issue relates to trust. Do we trust the words and decisions being made by those in Spring St and in Canberra? I understand the trust issues as much as any Australian. It may also be the case that those making decisions have a fuller perspective and better understanding of the issue than I. I’m not a medical doctor or a lawyer or an economist, and so I want to tread very carefully when issues relate to those subjects and countless others. I’m blessed to have members at my church and among my friendship networks who are professionals in these areas and whom I can go to with my questions and seek understanding. My point is, submitting to authorities is not only right, following expert advice is usually the wise course of action.

 

Appeal

In Acts ch.25 the Apostle Paul, having been arrested,  is interrogated by the Roman Governor of Judea.

Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

On this occasion, Paul uses his right as a citizen to appeal to Caesar. During his ministry, Paul was arrested and imprisoned on multiple occasions and he didn’t always make this legal case in his defence. He does however on this occasion.

When we disagree or hold a legitimate concern, we ought to follow due process. Not every citizen in every society has the opportunity or even the political right to address concerns to their governing authorities. One of God’s graces to us is that we do have this kind of freedom in Australia. We can write to our local MP. We can arrange meetings and even present our positions to Ministers of the Government. If that fails, every few years we have the democrat privilege of voting for (or against) our political representatives.

Christians have a choice, we can join in the fray and take sides on every single issue, and so add to the anger and cultural fragmentation. Or, we can choose the more difficult path. We can watch our tone carefully. We can choose to keep our words to ourselves.  When we open our mouths we should begin with prayer for those in authority. When we speak we can find good things to affirm and not only criticise the contemptible.

We don’t all have to be John Knox all the time and in every situation. Not every issue is a Martin Luther, ‘Here I stand’ moment. Life is far more complex. Even among Bible-believing Christians, we will sometimes come to different conclusions about the gravity of a subject and how Christians ought to respond.

I can’t help but wonder whether some of our Christian voice stems from a mistaken eschatology. In our protestations are we trying to make heaven out of earth? Do we conflate the nation state with the kingdom of God? Or, in speaking up are we appealing to the common good and love for neighbour, and upholding the tradition of religious toleration, defending for all people freedom of conscience and freedom of speech and religion?

There are times for civil disobedience but those occasions ought to be rare and for extraordinary reasons. There are first order issues and situations where a Christian must say no because it would be paramount to sinning against God, but that is not every matter. I can foresee a time where churches in Victoria will be forced to choose between Christ and the State, especially on issues surrounding sexuality. We may be pushed into the insane position of deciding whether we will teach God’s view on human sexuality or comply with Government regulation. When that day comes, the stand we take will look feeble and sound reminiscent of the boy who cried wolf. We need to be careful about using up all our capital now on lesser matters.

This is a good time for Christians to press closer to what God says in his word about Church and State. Begin with prayer, assume submission and obedience, do good, and choose our battles carefully. “This is good and pleases God”.

 


Let the reader note, in this piece I’m not addressing specific stories that have come out this week, but  I am thinking more generally.

New Concerns over Victoria’s Proposed Banning of Conversion Practices

As a Victorian, I have a moral obligation to report to authorities personal knowledge of alleged child abuse. As a pastor of a church, I have both a moral and legal duty to report knowledge of or suspicions of child abuse. Mandatory reporting is a social good. Even without the legal requirement, one’s natural concerns for a child’s wellbeing would automate contacting the police.

In Victoria, under new laws being proposed by the Andrews Government, I can be imprisoned for 12-18 months, for speaking up against the psychological and physical trauma inflicted upon children by gender warriors and dangerous medicos who work to change a child’s gender or sex.

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Last year the Victorian Government revealed plans to ban conversion practices. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism. In November, I exposed the biased and flawed reports upon which the Government is basing its definition. I also noted at the time that the proposed definition of conversion therapy is so broad that it includes normal Church preaching from the Bible where topics of sexuality are mentioned. Indeed, a Christian wedding could also fall foul for Christian Churches define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. In what would be an extraordinary attack on Christianity, an Australian State Government is arguing that Classical Christian teaching is harmful and can be banned.

Earlier in January, retired Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Stuart Lindsay, wrote an article where he alerts Victorians to another serious implication of Government’s planned laws. With the apt title, Sound an Alarm: Gender Activism Is About To Silence Us, Judge Lindsay explains how,

“the Victorian government intends to pass a law very soon that may see ordinary citizens imprisoned if they speak up against the chemical, psychological and physical mutilation of confused adolescents.” 

And,

“The discussion paper and the reports it relies on, together with Ms. Hennessey’s public utterances about them, make it clear that Victoria intends to make plain what is latent or ambiguous in Queensland’s proposed legislation. It is not just the individual transsexual or homosexual who needs protection from conversion; no, the criminality can arise outside of any therapeutic context. It is society that needs to be protected so the mere utterance of heterodox views about affirmation of gender or sexual “choice” must be extirpated.”

“This is what is about to happen: talking about or writing about or counselling against or promoting caution about affirmation as the sole medically permitted response to any putative decision by an individual to transition to their non-natal sex, or even discussing the practice of affirmation generally in a non-supportive way, is about to made illegal. It will at the very least be subject to civil penalty proceedings (in which case, see you in the Tribunal, facing up against publicly funded gender radicals).  Much more likely are serious criminal penalties. I mean prison sentences”

The irony is not difficult to see. Indeed, it is not so much ironic as it is moronic and downright dangerous for anyone with a conscience and who still believes in science and commonsense. According to Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney General Jill Hennessey, praying for individuals who are struggling with their sexuality is immoral, and preaching Biblical sexual ethics is also wrong. But telling a boy that they are really a girl and putting them in a dress, and changing their name, and beginning medical procedures and filling them with drugs to alter their biology and physical appearance is considered a moral imperative. Of course, the issue is becoming more insidious as a growing number of psychologists and doctors express concerns over how children with gender dysphoria are being treated.

I am quickly writing this and putting it into the public space before Parliament sits and I find writing my memoirs from a prison cell.

Judge Lindsay notes the real agenda behind the Government’s move, as I have also noted in the past. It is grievous to say but it has little to do with the wellbeing of children, and much to do with implementing cultural Marxism. Before this is dismissed as one of those tiresome and hyperbolic caricatures,  Roz Ward, (who is the architect of Safe Schools and academic at La Trobe University), has openly admitted that this is the case. 

To close, allow me to repeat what I wrote lastNovember,

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.

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, 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.

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

Indeed, as Judge Lindsay has now revealed, a prison term may also be in the offering for those evil Christians and dreadful medical professionals who dare speak out against the new ‘normal’.

 

 


Note: this is not a personal or political attack on Daniel Andrews. Earlier this month I praised him for his work during the bushfire crisis

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 have 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 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.