There is a big problem with the current discussion about Israel Folau and his comment that gay people would be going to hell unless they repent and turn back to God. That problem is ignorance - complete and unadulterated ignorance.
To be clear - I am not referring to Israel Folau's comment when I speak of ignorance - I am instead speaking of the the complete and utter ignorance of Christian doctrine and the clear biblical illiteracy of the media personalities writing and speaking about it.
I was shocked for example to see an article by Peter Van Onslelen in the Australian, in which he declared that the Bible doesn't in fact even directly mention Hell as a place where people could end up... This despite the fact that Jesus himself repeatedly warns about Hell... See for example Matthew 10:28, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 13:42, Mark 9:43.
The most consistent evidence for complete ignorance of Christian doctrine however is found in the repeated and continual references to Israel's comments as being 'anti gay' or 'homophobic' or 'bigoted'. Of course what this fails to understand is that had Israel Folou been asked 'What is God's plan for adulterers?' rather than gays, his answer would almost certainly have been the same. In fact had the question simply been - what is going to happen to all people when they die? Israel's response again would likely have been identical! Why? Because Christianity teaches that ALL human beings are sinners, and ALL human beings will end up suffering eternal separation from God (commonly called Hell) unless - you guessed it - they repent and turn back to God!
Israel was asked a question about what he believed the eternal destination of people who he understands to be non-repentant sinners would be - he answered in accordance with the basic teachings of his faith. Unless they repent and turn to God they will end up in Hell.
Sounds harsh? It would be but God gave humanity a simple way to be forgiven all of our sins and granted eternal life. How do we do that? First we repent - we do our best to identify the sin in our lives - all sin - and turn away from it (Repent literally means to 'turn around'). But above all we put our faith - our trust - in Jesus, and in what he did for us. You see the truth is all of us will fall short if we simply try to do it on our own. All of us will continue to make poor choices - to sin. It is part of our fallen human nature. However Jesus took the consequences for every sin we can ever commit on the cross - he took the consequence for us. He now holds it out as a gift for us - all we have to do is trust in what he has already done for us, through putting our faith in him.
Israel wasn't targeting gay people - he was asked (read baited) about gay people on an unrelated thread. He answered the question honestly, according to the tenets of his faith. Could Israel have taken more time and explained in more detail that what he was saying didn't only apply to homosexuals, but to ALL people? Yes he absolutely could have - and likely wishes he did. However the fact is he was simply expressing a theological viewpoint that has been integral to the Christian faith since its inception.
What is more troubling and I hope the inquiry into religious freedom is paying close attention, is that Israel, as a result of his answering this question about his faith honestly has now been broadly condemned, sponsors are threatening to withdraw (i.e. his livelihood is under threat because of his faith). and the media continually points to the ARU's inclusion policy and declares that Israel has breached it. Of course no one wants to acknowledge that all he did was express his religious belief when he was asked - and that in the inclusion policy itself it defines discrimination as including treating anyone unfavourably because of their religion.
The way this has been handled is yet more evidence that the warnings that came from the 'No' campaign in the Same Sex Marriage debate were in fact spot on. It seems that religious freedom, and freedom of speech and conscience are truly under direct threat. We have already seen governments begin investigating the removal of religious freedom exemptions, and now when a person of faith simply answers a question about a straightforward part of the Christian faith, we see hysteria in the media, and threats to his job,
I have seen people say in social media comments in the past few days things like - what if it was a Muslim, would you support freedom of speech and religion then? YES! What if it was a racist, would you support freedom of speech then? YES!
As far as I am concerned freedom of speech, freedom of religion... these are inalienable rights. Yes, even for those who I vehemently disagree with! Are there exceptions? Yes - but only in cases where someone is inciting violence or engaging other criminal activity (i.e. slander, libel, purjury etc.). Israel Folou simply answered a question about what he personally believed. He did not incite hatred, or violence, he did not lie, or slander anyone. He simply answered according to his own sincerely held religious beliefs.
The response has been a swathe ignorance, and bigotry from the very people who claim to be bastions of 'inclusion'.
During the debate about same sex marriage much was made of the threat to religious freedom. Those on the no side of the debate argued vigorously that the freedoms of individuals to freely practice their faith and to live their lives in accordance with their faith and conscience would be curtailed should the Yes campaign succeed. The Yes side of the debate argued consistently that the debate had nothing at all to do with religious freedom - that this was only about who was allowed to be married and nothing else would change.
Though I had realised the inevitability of same sex marriage being legalised in Australia I had argued strongly that significant protections would be needed for people to be able to exercise their religious freedom in a previous post on this blog. I did believe however that parliament should just get on and pass the Dean Smith Bill, and then deal with religious freedom as a separate issue.
I don't do this very often - and in writing too! ... I was wrong. Since the announcement of the result the same sex marriage survey the lobbying of LGBTI groups to remove religious protections currently in place has already begun.
In Western Australia the government has already launched an investigation into removing the right of religious schools to hire and fire people in accordance with their faith - all started because a baptist school decided it would no longer use the services of a casual teacher after he told them that he was gay and living in direct contravention to the faith and values statement he agreed to when he was offered employment. The response has been a demand from LGBTI lobbyists that the right of religious institutions to fire people who don't support their beliefs be removed. You can read about it here.
In WA Today former Democrat senator Brian Greig argues that the right of religious organisations to hire people who agree to their beliefs is a 'legal loophole' that must be closed. What does he primarily base his argument on? Well he makes all the usual baseless references to 'human rights' whilst seemingly oblivious to the fact that while same sex marriage has been repeatedly determined to NOT be a human right, religious freedom is universally recognised as such. However then the true colours begin to emerge when he says:
'Now that Australia is on the cusp of embracing marriage equality, we will be in the extraordinary position where LGBTI people in the private school system can legally get married under federal law, and then legally sacked the next day under state law.'
But of course this cannot possibly be right can it - that a prominent LGBTI lobbyist is now calling on government to remove religious freedom protections on the basis that same sex marriage has been legalised? This is surely a mistake - after all we were assured repeatedly over and over again that religious freedoms were a non issue in the debate over SSM. The No Campaign were merely bringing up red herrings we were told - religious freedom protections would not change... and yet here we have it, within weeks of the Yes vote governments are investigating removing religious freedom protections and LGBTI advocates are demanding they do so.
Also troubling and noted over at David Ould's blog is the fact that during the debate about the legislation, when members were arguing for or against amendments, Andrew Hastie sought leave to table a number of letters from major religious leaders around Australia. The letters were calling for strong protections and expressing concern the bill didn't offer enough of them. Leave to table the letters was not granted. Let that sink in for a moment, The tabling of letters from religious leaders which dealt specifically with the issue being debated in our parliament were deemed not worthy of even being tabled. As David notes in his piece, this is a clear attempt to silence those who have faith - to remove those of faith from public discourse. It has been noted by some that Scott Morrison managed to table these letters later - that does not change the fact that the natural instinct of those who supported SSM was to instantly say 'no' when the voices of religious leaders were seeking to be heard - not to impose anything, but simply to be heard.
Then of course we have the fact the Greens, in a spate of utter hypocrisy after declaring no amendments should be considered to the Smith bill, did in fact move a number of amendments in the house of representatives which sought to remove or water down the very limited protections that were included in the bill.
So I was wrong - I was naive - to believe that the best course of action was to simply pass the Smith bill and work out further religious protections over time. I thought in holding that view that the attack on religious freedoms would not happen immediately - I thought the LGBTI lobby would be happy with their victory and simply rejoice for a while in the fact that same sex couples could now legally marry. It seems though the removal of these religious freedom protections is the very next thing on the agenda and that there will be no respite. All opposition to the new orthodoxy it seems must be utterly and completely destroyed, and if that involves the removal of others human rights then so be it...
All we can hope now is that the current review of religious freedom headed by Philip Ruddock will make solid recommendations, (and that the parliament will heed them) which will lead to genuine religious protections being put in place in Australia - at a national level, which cannot be arbitrarily watered down by state and territory governments.
If this nation allows the erosion of religious freedom - the right of religious organisations and individuals to freely exercise and live out their faith - we will be walking a very dangerous path. Why? Because if you are prepared to remove one human right for one element of society, it won't be long before others fall as well... I leave you with Martin Niemöller's poem... purely as food for thought...
First They Came...
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Today the Weekend Australian published an article by Hedley Thomas in which internal and confidential prison reports were 'obtained' by the Weekend Australian. 'Obtained' is a nice way of saying that someone in NT Corrections isn't happy that the organisation has been exposed for its clear abuse of a child over many years and so chose to deliberately leak the documents to the press. You see now we can all see what a terrible young man Dylan Voller is and we can join in a sympathetic cry with those poor corrections staff - clearly they were justified in picking up a small teenage boy and body slamming him into his mattress on the floor. Clearly they were justified in kneeing him and smacking him to the ground. It's not their fault - he is a bad kid...
Apparently it justifies this:
Well here's the thing Hedley Thomas and NT Corrections, I and the rest of the right thinking population of Australia know very well that Dylan Voller has done some pretty bad things in his life - we know that he probably isn't a nice guy to get along with - we've heard how he spat at guards and was verbally abusive. We have even heard that he has been physically abusive. What we also know however is that NONE OF THAT MATTERS. The images we saw on the four corners program were sickening. They depict a child being deliberately, physically abused by Corrections staff. Let me say that again just so I am absolutely crystal clear here - they depict a child being abused.
Now, I am not a child development psychologist, but I am pretty sure that when you have an obviously troubled child being held in a detention facility because they have committed multiple crimes at a young age, it might be best to take time to try and help him. It is not the job of detention centre staff to punish this child - being locked up away from family and friends is his punishment. No, what should be happening is that the child should be receiving counselling, schooling and being shown love care and support. If Dylan Voller had been shown as an 11 year old boy that the world really wasn't against him - that there are people who care and who want to help him, then who knows... he may have come out of that centre reformed, ready to learn and contribute to the world.
He didn't receive love, care and respect though. Instead that 11 year old child was brutally and repeatedly abused. That 11 year old child learnt that the people that were supposed to look after him were monsters, who he could never trust - he learnt that those in authority are a bunch of bastards who will abuse their power and don't care at all about him. This child was shown that no-one cared and the whole world was against him - what then is the point of reforming, why not just give up?
So yes we all know that Dylan has committed crimes - you don't go to detention/prison for helping old ladies cross the street, but let me be very very clear here - he was physically, and psychologically abused whilst he was a child in state care and that cannot ever be justified.
The fact that his private prison notes have been leaked to the press is in my view only further evidence of corruption within NT Corrections and further evidence of the culture of cover up and victim blaming. This cannot continue - it must be stopped.
I want to finish this now with a prayer for Dylan, and for all those children currently being held in detention around our nation and beyond.
Loving Lord, you say in your Word, 'let the children come to me and do not stop them'. Lord we see that there are many many children who stumble, who struggle and who find themselves in a dark place right now as they have been removed from family and friends and all the support they need as a consequence of bad choices and actions.
Father we uphold them to you now, we pray that they would be able to see your light through the darkness, we pray that they would know that whatever they have done, that they are deeply loved, that they can be forgiven and restored and remade as citizens of your kingdom. Father we pray especially for Dylan Voller whom we have learnt about through seeing images of the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of those meant to be caring for him. We give thanks that in his recent letter released to the public he acknowledged his wrongdoing and sought to make amends - we pray Lord that this repentance is genuine, and that he can come out of prison a new man, but above all we pray for him to find healing, for him to find hope - the genuine healing and hope that can only come through you Lord.
Finally Lord we pray for those who have been involved in the abuse of children in detention, and for those who have conspired with them to cover it up - Lord give them hearts of repentance, and bring them forward to speak honestly about what has happened and to face justice - we do pray Lord that they too would seek to find forgiveness, redemption and hope through you.
We pray all these things in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN.
There is a lot of talk in the media of late regarding the fate of the 267 asylum seekers who are facing deportation back to offshore detention on Nauru. There is much debate within the Australian community regarding the fate of those seeking asylum and whether or not offshore detention is the best way to deter asylum seekers from taking dangerous journey's by boat in order to reach Australia.
The harsh measures that have been implemented by the government and which are supported by the opposition certainly have been effective in deterring asylum seekers from taking the risk and getting on a boat. Since its inception the governments policy of offshore detention, nil prospect of settlement in Australia, and turning boats back, has brought the boat arrivals to a screaming halt. So that should be it then shouldn't it? It works as a deterrent and as a result lives aren't being risked at sea - surely this is a wonderful achievement!
Of course it all looks fantastic on the surface - until we dig a little deeper... When we begin to dig into the consequences being suffered by those who have been put into offshore detention we see the dark side of the current policy. I invite you to read carefully and consider the implications of the Human Rights Commission's report into children in detention. I will post the summary below, but here is a snap shot:
From January 2013 to March 2014 the following incidents were reporting as occurring in detention centres where children were held:
Mandatory detention has been demonstrated to have a devastating effect on children and adults in terms of their health, (both physical and mental) and education. There have been continuing reports of abuse and appalling conditions and for this reason it cannot be viewed as a suitable way forward in deterring asylum seekers getting on boats.
As a Christian I cannot simply go with the notion that the end justifies the means. I cannot agree with the idea that it is ok to subject a group of people to conditions which endanger their health and even their lives in order to deter others from getting on a boat on which they may be injured or die.
So what is the way forward? Well there is no clear solution, the only way to stop refugees seeking asylum is to end all war, famine, disease and persecution. For that outcome I pray come Lord Jesus. However in the interim we need to find a way forward that both deters people from getting on boats and risking their lives but also treats all people with love, compassion and dignity. I would suggest using some of the money we are spending in locking people up in other countries on adequately funding refugee processing and resettlement in Indonesia. If people could be processed and settled in 12 months or less instead of the up to 10 years it currently takes, they wouldn't need to risk a boat journey out of desperation to ensure a future for themselves and their children. Through adequately funding processing and increasing our humanitarian intake we could destroy the people smuggling trade and also bring hope to thousands.
The way forward is simply to follow God's Word to welcome the stranger with love and compassion (Hebrews 13: 1, Romans 12:13, Deuteronomy 10: 19, Leviticus 19:34) not to subject them to fear, pain and suffering (Matthew 25:40, Romans 13:10).
Below is the summary fact sheet from the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014. It was sourced from here.
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.