NSW is removing Safe Schools. Could Victoria follow?

It was announced today that the NSW Government is scrapping the controversial school curriculum, Safe Schools. From July, not only is the Federal Government stopping its funding of Safe Schools, but the NSW Education Department will introduce an alternative program. The content of this new program is yet to be released, but early indications suggest that it will be a broader and more inclusive program, and one that does not depend on the now debunked gender theory.

Safe Schools is presented as an anti-bullying curriculum, and is designed to teach children acceptance of other children who are different to them. The emphasis however is on sexuality, and teaching a flawed view of sexuality and encouraging young children to explore these alternative sexualities for themselves.

Safe schools was originally an opt-in program, but it is now compulsory in all secondary schools across Victoria. Many primary schools have also signed up.

One of the chief authors of Safe Schools, Roz Ward, defined the curriculum’s intent as follows: 

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation,’’ she said. “Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

It would be wrong to suggest everyone who supports the program views Safe Schools as does Roz Ward, but it is telling that one of the chief architects has admitted that Safe Schools is less about anti-bullying, and is designed to educate and influence a new generation of children to the values of marxism and to its accompanying sexual ideology.

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One year ago, the Federal Government made numerous changes to the curriculum, following widespread concerns regarding the appropriateness of material and the promotion of third party websites whose content could not be approved.

The Victorian Education Minister responded by saying,  Canberra was caving in to the bigots, and announced Victoria would not implement any of the amendments.

At the start of this year, the NSW Government introduced even more overhauls, including that gender fluid theory could no longer be taught in schools.

Only Victoria has made Safe Schools compulsory for schools. Each school can decide how much of the curriculum they wish to use, but the material to be used must be that which is set by the education department. This makes sense, except that Safe Schools is, to quote Professor Patrick Parkinson from the University of Sydney, ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.

Concerns over Safe Schools has received some bipartisan support in NSW, with Labour MP, Greg Donnolly saying,

“Politicians in one state do not generally take kindly to colleagues in another state giving them advice. There can be exceptions but the unwritten rule is that if you stick your head out and give advice across the border, you are likely to get it knocked-off. With that said, let me now give some advice to my Labor colleagues in Victoria.

The Safe Schools program that the Victorian Government is imposing on public schools in that state is political poison. While it may be just starting to show up in focus groups and other polling activities undertaken by the Labor Party, do not underestimate its malignancy. When it fully manifests, it will be like a fully laden freight train that you will not be able to stop.

The problem for the Premier and the Minister for Education is that the Safe Schools program from the get-go was never about anti-bullying. It was about inculcating into school children hard edged sexuality and gender ideologies. The same ideologies that are examined and debated when undertaking Gender Studies units at university. The same units that such students elect to do by choice; no compulsion or requirement. Not only are these ideologies being presented to school children as a matter of fact i.e. sexuality and gender are not to be understood in any other way, but parents are being kept completely in the dark about what is being presented to their children and by who.”

As it stands, there are children in Victorian schools currently transitioning on account of what is being taught, despite best medical practice stating that most children with gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily conform to their birth gender. Many Victorian families are being pressured because they cannot subscribe to the curriculum, and feeling  pushed out of the public system. Children who believe heterosexuality is normative are labelled  as sexist, and the program is built to reframe their thinking until they believe that all sexual preferences and practices are legitimate human expression, and perhaps they might wish to explore these for themselves.

Being a Victorian, I understand our reluctance to listen to our northern neighbours. After all, has anything good ever come out of Sydney? I totally get why Victorians build rhetorical walls to keep out this colony of convicts. Listening to a New South Welshman may sound like a Banshee singing Justin Bieber, but on this occasion we Victorians are fools to ignore such sage advice.

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, as a Victorian and parent of 3 children, I strongly urge you to re-examine your position on Safe Schools, and the unscientific and harmful gender theories now being forced upon our children. It’s ok to once in a while  redress mistakes and poor policy; humility is in fact a virtue that we value in our political leaders.  In winding back ‘Safe Schools’ and aspects of the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program, we do not have to wind back the clock on caring for children who may be working through issues of their own sexuality. We want to see them safe and flourishing, and this is achievable without having to promote ideology that is demonstrably skewed and unsuitable for the classroom.

Should Victoria introduce laws permitting doctor assisted suicide?

Who can live and not see death,  or who can escape the power of the grave? (Psalm 89)

Pastoral ministry is one of the few professions where you get to  travel with people from birth through to death. It is a privilege to minister to people who are facing their final weeks and days. Sometimes it is a brief period of illness, other times it is an elongated time of suffering. I have known people in their final days who were keen, not to die, but to see their suffering come to an end and to see their hope in Jesus Christ realised. It is an extraordinary privilege to sit beside a person who in approaching death is joyful and at peace. I have also witnessed people wrestling with their own mortality and doubts of what lies beyond death. A pastor’s care in such circumstances also extends to a spouse, to children and friends. Indeed, for many pastors, these relationships are not merely ‘professional’, for those whom we serve are much loved, and they are our friends and family.

Several members of my family work in the medical field, including my wife who worked as a nurse for 10 years, spending much of that time caring for patients with terminal and chronic illnesses. On more than a few occasions she would come home after a shift in tears, having witnessed a patient die.

I wanted to begin by mentioning the above contexts because it would be wrong to assume I am writing from a distance. Indeed, I appreciate that there are many personal stories, from people who hold to various views on euthanasia, and while these stories are all important, stories alone are not suffice for creating law.

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If there is common ground to be found in the debate on euthanasia, albeit a rather morbid commonality, it is agreement that death is a terrible reality in the human experience.

It is no small thing for the State to legalise killing another human being

It is of paramount importance that we recognise that the State exists not only to protect life but to enable human flourishing. Similarly, our health system exists to save human life and to bring healing of body and mind. Introducing a law that permits taking a human life is no small thing.

Physician assisted suicide not only contravenes the very purpose of our health system, it would require medical professionals to discard both the Hippocratic oath and the Declaration of Geneva.  Such a law would introduce to society the morality of taking human life, legislating that our society condones the killing of another human being. Again, this is no small and insignificant line in the sand.

Dr Michael Bird recently made the astute observation that Victoria could potentially have two hotlines: one for suicide prevention, and the other, suicide permission. The conflict is clear for everyone to see.

Palliative Care as a better option

I am not unsympathetic toward those who wish to end their lives; I hate human suffering and long for the day when it will desist forever.  I do not, however, believe that euthanasia is either morally right nor is it the only option available for terminally ill Victorians. We have been led to believe that the only choices available are either ongoing treatment or euthanasia, but there is a third option, and one that avoids unnecessarily prolonging a patient’s life and avoids actively killing them, palliative care.

Palliative care is designed to provide the greatest possible comfort for patients, without undue intervention and causing protracted suffering.

Dr Megan Best is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Medical Faculty and works as a palliative care physician in Sydney. In a recent article, Dr Best has argued that a better way forward is to provide adequate resources for palliative care. She says,

“While services such as palliative care and hospice can do much to relieve the distress dying people experience, many still do not have access to it. We must do better.”

It is a travesty that many Victorians cannot currently access proper care that they deserve and need at such an urgent time.

Similarly, Dr. Ian Haines is a medical oncologist, and he believes, 

“Like Andrew Denton and others who have observed unbearable suffering in loved ones and the terrible failures of modern medicine in the past, I had once believed that euthanasia was the only humane solution.

I no longer believe that.

The experiences of countless patients and families should be the inspiration for continuing to improve palliative care, for general introduction of advanced care plans and not for euthanasia with its openness to misuse.”

In other words, our Government would do better to invest properly into palliative care, providing the kind of support patients and their families need at such a time.

Unsafe safeguards

The model of euthanasia being considered in Victoria is that which is currently practiced in Oregon, USA. The process involves a Doctor prescribing a lethal capsule to a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

In a report recently published by the Health Department in Oregon, are a series of startling revelations regarding doctor assisted suicide in Oregon: First, 49% of patients state as a major reason for taking their own life, the belief that they are being a burden to their family. Second, once the doctor has prescribed the capsule containing secobarbital or pentobarbital, there is no guaranteed follow up in patient’s home where most are said to take their life, with no safeguards to ensure only the patient can consume the lethal dose. Third, patients with non-terminal illnesses have been given access to these lethal drugs and taken their own life.

Both Dr Megan Best and Dr Ian Haines, are among numerous medical professionals who believe the introduction of euthanasia will lead to abuses and even to amendments and extensions down the track.

Dr Best explains,

‘It upsets healthcare providers when their patients are distressed. Don’t tempt them. You can’t rely on the rules. It is not possible to write a law that can’t be abused. That’s why euthanasia bills get defeated in parliament. Because, even though we ache for those who are suffering and desire to die, we feel responsible to protect the vulnerable who would be at risk of dying under the legislation if it were to pass. Surely the worth of a society lies in how it treats those who can’t care for themselves.’

Does this not at least raise questions in our minds, if not grave concern? If medical professionals working in palliative care are already communicating that the rules will be broken, we ought to take notice.

And for to those who allege slippery slopes are mythical, have they not looked to Northern Europe, and seen how euthanasia laws are now regularly broken and expanded, to include killing children, killing people with mental illness and dementia and even gender dysphoria?

Behind the debates on many ethical issues including euthanasia, is what is known as utilitarian thinking, most notably advocated by Professor Peter Singer. Utilitarian ethics ditches belief in the inherent value of every human life, and instead determines moral good by what the greater number of persons believe will maximise their happiness. In other words, for example, killing unborn children is a moral good when the mother believes the child will not add to her own happiness. This is one of the chief reasons why the number of children with Downs Syndrome has decreased significantly in Western societies because the vast majority are now killed in the womb.

There are Parliamentary members across the spectrum who are expressing support of a Bill legalising assisted suicide, and similarly, across the parties are members who disagree and are concerned. We have all heard heartfelt stories being told from different viewpoints, but we must judge what is right. There is an overarching principle with which the State of Victoria must decide, is it the role and right of Government to introduce law that permits the killing of human life? If so, what promises will be given that no further legislative changes will be made in the future?

When society cuts our humanity away from the imago dei, we always slide down a path toward dehumanisation. Bringing the two together again requires humility and more. It requires the loving actions of God to restore and heal this broken image. Is this not the wonder of the Easter event?

If the moral compass of our State is utilitarian ethics, which certainly appears to be the case, then further expansion of euthanasia laws is almost inevitable, as is happening across many countries who’ve already taken the pledge to kill. Indeed, I have already been informed, on sound advice, that the Bill shortly to be presented to the Victorian Parliament will be in the first place be a conservative pro-euthanasia Bill, but the intent will be to extend it 3 to 5 years down the track.

When we begin defining the value of human life by the kind of utilitarianism pursued by Peter Singer and others, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a few short years permitting and even pressuring the expungement of all manner of people whom society deems a burden. I realise all this sounds rather Stalinesque and outrageously impossible; we would never traverse such dreadful ground. But look to Belgium and the Netherlands, and consider how our own society has already deemed moral, killing unborn children, and possibly now, those who are at the end of their days.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea

    or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been shown to you?

    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?

 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

    Tell me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:16-18)

Are we prepared to cross the line, or instead, can we do better by providing improved and greater resources in palliative care?

Respectful Relationships now compulsory across Victoria

The Respectful Relationships curriculum is now compulsory across Victorian schools and early childhood learning centres. Children will be first introduced to material in kindergarten.

With all the attention on the now unravelling Safe Schools program, its cousin, Respectful Relationships has received little attention, despite it targeting not only teenagers but also our young children, and it being made mandatory throughout the State. It has however received some attention this morning in The Australian,with reporter Rebecca Urban, revealing that Safe Schools co-author, Joel Radcliffe,  has been appointed to the Victorian Education and Training Department to assist in rolling out the program across the schools.

It is important for parents to have knowledge of Respectful Relationships and to ask questions where they are unsure of its content or have concerns. One may well discover that their school shares similar concerns over the material.

I want to make it clear that there are positive aspects to this new program as well as  significant concerns, and it would be a shame for the program’s aim to be hijacked by the unscientific theories and morally dubious suggestions that currently run throughout. It would be certainly irresponsible to teach some of the content without parental awareness. 

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If you are unfamiliar with the program, here is an overview that I wrote last year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can learn from NSW…sometimes

I know we like to dislike our northern neighbours in NSW, but sometimes we really ought to take notice and learn from their example. No, I don’t mean playing football with an oversized egg or drinking their faux coffee. Yesterday, The Australian  reported that students in NSW schools will no longer be permitted to learn gender theory,

Students will no longer be taught that gender is a “social construct”, or that sexuality is “non-binary”, occurring on a ­continuum and “constantly changing”.

An edict encouraging teachers to “de-gender” their language will also likely be scrapped, along with sexually explicit case studies and teaching aids such as the “Genderbread Person”, which promotes the idea that there are “infinite possibilities” of gender identity.

The decision follows an independent inquiry that reported in September last year. The review was headed by Professor Bill Louden (of the University of Western Australia) and examined sex and health education resources for NSW schools. It appears as though changes are being implemented not only with Safe Schools, but any part of the State curriculum where a de-gender and gender-continuum message has been integrated.

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Of particular relevance for Victoria is  that Professor Loudan’s review is finding bi-partisan support in NSW. In fact,  NSW Labour MP Greg Donnelly has taken the unusual step of writing an open letter to the Victorian Premier, imploring him to give this report due consideration,

“Politicians in one state do not generally take kindly to colleagues in another state giving them advice. There can be exceptions but the unwritten rule is that if you stick your head out and give advice across the border, you are likely to get it knocked-off. With that said, let me now give some advice to my Labor colleagues in Victoria.

The Safe Schools program that the Victorian Government is imposing on public schools in that state is political poison. While it may be just starting to show up in focus groups and other polling activities undertaken by the Labor Party, do not underestimate its malignancy. When it fully manifests, it will be like a fully laden freight train that you will not be able to stop.

The problem for the Premier and the Minister for Education is that the Safe Schools program from the get-go was never about anti-bullying. It was about inculcating into school children hard edged sexuality and gender ideologies. The same ideologies that are examined and debated when undertaking Gender Studies units at university. The same units that such students elect to do by choice; no compulsion or requirement. Not only are these ideologies being presented to school children as a matter of fact i.e. sexuality and gender are not to be understood in any other way, but parents are being kept completely in the dark about what is being presented to their children and by who.”

Mr Donnelly continues, “Premier Andrews and Education Minister Merlino have been both doctrinaire and obstinate about the Safe Schools program. As a case in point, in March last year following a review of the resource material located on the Safe Schools Coalition Australia website it was recommended by the reviewer, Professor William Louden, that certain content was not fit for purpose. It was subsequently removed from the Safe Schools Coalition Australia website. In Victoria though the material that was removed from the website was immediately uploaded onto the state’s Department of Education and Training website, presumable under instruction from the Premier and/or Minister for Education. That material still sits on the Department’s website and is being actively promoted. In other words instead of taking into account what were rather modest recommendations by Professor Louden, the Victorian Premier and Education Minister got all hairy chested and gave the whole review exercise the middle finger.”

I totally get why Victorians build rhetorical walls to keep out this colony of convicts. Listening to a New South Welshman may sound like a Banshee singing Justin Bieber, but on this occasion we Victorians are fools to ignore such sage advice.

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, as a Victorian and parent of 3 children, I strongly urge you to re-examine your position on Safe Schools, and the unscientific and harmful gender theories now being forced upon our children. It’s ok to once in a while to redress mistakes and poor policy; humility is in fact a virtue that we value in our political leaders.  In winding back ‘Safe Schools’ and aspects of the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program, we do not have to wind back the clock on caring for children who may be working through issues of their own sexuality. We want to see them safe and flourishing, and this is achievable without having to promote ideology that is demonstrably skewed and unsuitable for the classroom.

Heteronormacy is the new Heresy

A word of clarification and qualification:

I’ve received some helpful feedback this afternoon, and upon reflection, I should probably have nuanced some of the comments in this post.

While the guidelines don’t ban the use of ‘traditional’ words, it is nonetheless framing a new language that the Government want used in the workplace.And while I agree that one can read the document with a fair degree of latitude, it is written in a way that can also be enforced rigidly when suited.

– The Guidelines do discourage using the language of husband and wife, and it does encourage gender neutral alternatives.

-The document also rejects heteronormative language and thinking, branding it as a form of sexism.

Both of these points are problematic.

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The Victorian Government has published Guidelines for State employed workers, informing them of what language is appropriate when addressing fellow employees, including those who are married. The Government is encouraging even non-Government  business and organisations to adopt their chosen language.

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In The Australian today, Ro Allen, Victoria’s gender and sexuality commissioner, says that the Inclusive Language Guide is designed to teach people to use the ‘correct language’.

What is the basis for the officially declared ‘correct language’? If anyone was hoping the answer would be grounded science or even common sense, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The accepted language is defined against what is perceived as heteronormative. In other words, the noun wife assume that the person is a woman; that is gender specific and therefore inappropriate.

What is the correct language? Spouse is preferred, but also, if you a married woman, you shall be known as Hir, and if you are a married man, you shall be called Zie.

I would have thought that quite a few married women will be offended if you refer to them as an androgynous being, which is what the pronoun Hir means. And calling a bloke Zie is not going to upset anyone? Hey Bill, instead of referring to you as he and him, and man, I will now speak of you as Zie! And if you’re offended by that, don’t worry, it’s the correct language so says the Government. 

To be fair, the Guidelines also address some issues relating to LGBTIQ persons, which are reasonable. For example, using words to demean gay and lesbian people is not appropriate, in the workplace or anywhere for that matter.

The Guidelines state,

‘Inclusive language ensures everyone is treated with respect as such language is free from words or tones that reflect prejudice, discrimination or stereotypes. Gender and sexuality are experienced and expressed in many different ways, and using language that excludes or stereotypes can cause unintentional harm to LGBTI individuals. This includes ‘positive’ stereotyping of LGBTI people.’

The Government has a growing list of policy initiatives that allege to defend equality and safety for LGBTIQ Victorians. I gladly affirm policies that will protect people from harm, but it is clear however, that the Government’s agenda exceeds these goals, and there is the now explicit intent to rewrite the human understanding of male and female. Whether it is Safe Schools, the birth certificate legislation, Respectful Relationships, or this workers guide, what we are told to believe is that heteronormacy is false and unethical. Indeed, as with Safe Schools, these Guidelines judge that anyone affirming heteronormacy is sexist, and their views are to be removed from the workplace.

Think about it, what is more sexist, acknowledging my wife’s femaleness, or referring to her as an androgynous being? What amounts to discrimination, suggesting a married man is someone’s husband, or calling them Zie, and doing so whether they like it or nor?

As crazy as it sounds, in the foreseeable future Victorians will be forced to refrain from speaking of anyone as a woman or man, boy or girl, daughter or son. Instead, we will told by Governmental authorities what the correct language is, and those who fail to comply will no doubt find themselves in hot water.

The new moral vision that Daniel Andrews is championing will not lead to a fairer Victoria, but a more confused Victoria, and one where people are fearful to use natural and wonderful words like husband and wife, and man and woman, lest they be bullied for pseudo-sexism.

We should not be afraid to affirm manhood and womanhood. No one should be called sexist for using the natural categories of wife and husband. No gay and lesbian or transgender person should be victim of work place mockery and bullying.

I trust that concerned members of Parliament, including  within the Labour caucus, will speak up against this latest chapter in Mr Andrews program to prejudice heteronormacy.

The answer can be found inside the Victorian Parliament

“All along the answer was staring us in the face.”

BREAKING NEWS: We are thankful to God for his grace and grateful to those who voted and defeated the ‘inherent requirement’ legislation.

Should this amendment to the ‘Equal Opportunity Act’ have been adopted, all religious organisations in Victoria, including churches, would have lost their freedom to employ people based on the beliefs and practices of the organisation. A tribunal would have been appointed by the Government, establishing a theological framework for all religious groups, and this same body would determine whether potential employees would be ‘inherently required’ to follow the convictions of any particular religious organisation.

In essence, the legislation would have redefined the role of Government in religious matters, giving it pseudo-episcopalian oversight.

A liberal democracy necessarily provides and protects an environment for society whereby associations have freedom to employ persons who’s convictions and character align with that organisation. In spite of the Andrews Government’s intent to remove this freedom from churches and religious schools, the Parliament has determined otherwise, at least for this point in time.

Today, we witnessed the Victorian Parliament putting on the brakes, and in a small way, slowing down a movement that is intent on eliminating Christian beliefs from society. After a series of anti-Christian policies that have come into effect over the past 2 years, we should be thankful for today’s decision, which means that the State of Victoria has retained an important aspect of religious freedom.

As we express gratitude, I trust though that people will refrain from pontificating, and from presuming that this decision will in some way advance Christian faith in Victoria. The reason is simple, the Gospel doesn’t advance through Parliamentary processes but only through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing that the legislation was defeated, but we mustn’t over-state the argument.

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Rather than focusing on the ‘inherent requirement’ legislation, I wish to take the opportunity to speak of a little known fact about our Parliament building. Positioned in the middle of the Victorian Parliament building, inside the library, is a large Bible, opened and sitting on a wooden stand. It is not hidden in a corner or shelved along a row of books, but stands alone at the centre of the library, conspicuous as a light post.  Despite its prominence though, one wonders how often people stop to notice let alone read this copy of God’s word. One wonders if people consider this Holy book anything more than an item of historic curiosity.

I have walked passed this Bible on numerous occasions, and  have noted that it is always opened to the same passage, Jeremiah chapter 31. I don’t know the story behind choosing this particular portion of Scripture, and whether it was chosen carefully or just opened randomly. Either way, it is a fitting page for the seat of Victorian political power.

The book of Jeremiah was written in the 6th Century BC, at the time of the Babylonian invasion and of Jerusalem’s destruction.  The book details the ministry of Jeremiah the prophet, who expounded words from God that offered explanation of the nation’s then predicament. It was a time when society had turned its back on the God of the Bible, and instead chose to propagate and trust in ‘progressive’ political and religious thought. Not all Biblical thought was silenced, aspects were retained although heavily redacted and reinterpreted in ‘new’ ways.

The nation’s leaders, both political and religious, in ways that may remind one of Neville Chamberlain, spoke of a message of peace,

“From the least to the greatest,

all are greedy for gain;

prophets and priests alike,

    all practice deceit.

They dress the wound of my people

    as though it were not serious.

‘Peace, peace,’ they say,

    when there is no peace.

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?

    No, they have no shame at all;

    they do not even know how to blush.

So they will fall among the fallen;

    they will be brought down when I punish them,”

says the Lord.’

(Jeremiah 6:13-15)

The book of Jeremiah contains many bleak messages, and with good reason, but it is not without hope. Jeremiah ch.31 gives a portrait for a new beginning, a Divine promise of hope to those without hope. What is especially staggering about the message is that it is not written for ‘good’ people who are being beaten down by an oppression regime, but it is written for those who were doing the beating. To a disinterested and at times vitriolic people, God speaks a message forgiveness and newness, one that reaches to a level of humanity that no human law and politics can reach, the human heart.

He says,

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

    “when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel

    and with the people of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant

    I made with their ancestors

when I took them by the hand

    to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant,

    though I was a husband to them,”

declares the Lord.

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel

    after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put my law in their minds

    and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

    and they will be my people.

34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,

    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

    from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

    and will remember their sins no more.”

35 This is what the Lord says,

he who appoints the sun

    to shine by day,

who decrees the moon and stars

    to shine by night,

who stirs up the sea

    so that its waves roar—

    the Lord Almighty is his name:

36 “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”

    declares the Lord,

“will Israel ever cease

    being a nation before me.”

37 This is what the Lord says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured

    and the foundations of the earth below be searched out

will I reject all the descendants of Israel

    because of all they have done,”

declares the Lord.

It is quite extraordinary and wonderful that at the centre of Victoria’s State legislative power is a reminder of ultimate hope. The answer to our deepest struggles and concerns lays not with Government policy and lawmaking, not in a ground swell of public opinion, or in the strident voices of columnists, but in an ancient promise given by God, God who kept his word by sending his only Son into the world.

The reality is, in different ways our political and ideological preferences can blind us from the glory of Jeremiah ch.31, whether we define ourselves as progressive or conservative, green, red or blue. No matter where people align themselves on these spectrums Jeremiah 31 gives a Divine word that counters and surprises. God is not frustrated by or restrained by any socio-political movement, and neither is he defined by it.

I would encourage all who visit our Parliamentary library, don’t walk past the Bible. Why not pause and read, and ponder at the possibility of its promises being true?

Our Rubicon River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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