This week I wrote to my congregation explaining to them that I uphold the doctrine of the church and believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I also explained that holding this view does not mean that I hate homosexual couples, it does not mean that I am opposed to them having equal rights under civil law - it simply means that I and those who share my view believe that the term marriage can only ever apply to the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Some I know will label me a 'homophobe' for expressing this view. Some will say I am being hateful. The truth is though, that I do not hate anyone - not even those who have done me direct emotional and physical harm - so why would I hate homosexuals?
The idea that to disagree with someone over marriage is hateful, is being used as a weapon in the debate by those who support changing the definition to include same sex couples. The argument goes that if you oppose same sex marriage then you are clearly against equal rights for gay people - which means you clearly are a bigot that hates gay people...
Of course saying that we believe that marriage should stay between a man and a woman actually in no way restricts the rights of homosexual couples to enter into lifelong committed and monogamous relationships if they wish to do so. It in no way restricts the ability of government to ensure that gay couples are treated equally under the law - in fact the previous Labor Government already passed legislation at the Commonwealth level to ensure this! That there are still some inequalities being experienced at the State/Territory Level simply means that those jurisdictions should be called upon to enact similar legislation. If this was done then gay couples would be treated 100% equally under the law at all levels of government in Australia - and all without ever changing the fundamental meaning of society's most important institution.
What saying that we believe marriage is between a man and a woman means, is that we understand marriage to be more than simply something people do if they love each other—we understand it to be a special union, between a man and woman, especially given and sanctified by God for the forming of a new family unit and the raising of children. There is no hate here—there is no homophobia, and no-one is saying that homosexual couples should be discriminated against—by all means give a same sex couples equal standing under secular law— even through recognising the relationships as civil partnerships or similar. It is also not a statement about the nature or value of their relationships—Homosexual couples do love each other, they care for each other, and they value their relationships just as highly as heterosexual couples do. They must be shown our love and care and be treated with the dignity deserved by people made in the image of God.
The simple truth however is this; in Traditional Christian understanding Marriage is something that can only take place between a man and a woman, any other relationship, no matter how loving, no matter how caring and valued that relationship is, simply is not and cannot be a marriage. Whilst the secular legal definition may change (and likely will) The Christian understanding revealed through God’s word will not.
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.
Yesterday Sonia Kruger expressed her opinion that Muslim migration to Australia should be stopped. Sonia was commenting in agreement with an article written by Andrew Bolt in which he directly links the number of Muslims in a country to the number of terror attacks and thus implies that the only way to ensure our safety as a nation is to stop allowing Muslim migration.
Now this blog piece is not about denigrating Sonia or Andrew - I don't want them to lose the opportunity to express their opinions - we live in a free and open democracy and freedom of speech is central to that. However let me be clear here - freedom of religion is also a fundamental pillar of free and open democratic nations.
Andrew is quick to dismiss as a ludicrous proposition that the way Muslim people are treated could have anything to do with the number of terror attacks - He notes how terrible it is for the Muslim community to allow the Grand Mufti to speak for them because he listed some causative factors which lead to terror attacks - things which marginalise and denigrate Muslims which makes it easier for young disaffected youth especially to be radicalised.
However here is the simple truth - If you deliberately target a group of people and use hateful, abusive language towards them. If you label them all as evil, if you make broad sweeping generalisations about them and ban them from the free expression of their faith... if you do these things you simply feed the propaganda machine of the terrorists - you give them evidence of how the 'West' hates them and they show that to the vulnerable, outsiders that they target to try and radicalise - they use our own words to convince them that we hate them and that we are the enemy.
Now let me be clear here - I am not suggesting that anything Andrew or Sonia or others have said could ever justify the horrific things done in the name of terror. I am not saying that treating Muslims badly is a legitimate defence of these crimes against humanity - what I am saying is that it is entirely reasonable to point out that the extremists who have no conscience will seek to use hateful language and behaviour directed at the Muslim community as part of their propaganda.
Sonia, has apparently developed a genuine fear of the terrorists (which is of course their aim). I don't condemn her for that - however I genuinely believe that she is unwittingly falling into a trap set for us by the terrorists - by turning her fear of terror into a fear of all Muslims, and seeking to ban Muslim immigration, she becomes yet another high profile person which the terrorists can point to and say - see! they hate us! And whilst most people who hear it will reject this message from the terror recruiters - some, won't. Some will be so vulnerable, so alone, so lost and seeking answers, that they will latch onto the message of hate and they will join.
There are other straightforward reasons not to lump all Muslims in with these terrorists - for a start in our own country the last report I saw said that around 400 people are on the watch list for possible links to terrorism. That sounds like a lot doesn't it... but let's put that in perspective - there are approximately 500,000 Muslims in Australia. Now let's assume that all 400 people on the list are Muslim (which is by no means certain), That being the case we work out the percentage of Muslims currently in our nation with possible links with terrorism using some simple arithmetic - 400/500000 = 0.0008. That means that 0.08% of the Muslim population of Australia (less than one tenth of one percent!) currently have suspected links with terrorism - and that word suspected is very important because if there was solid proof they would not be on this list, they would be in gaol.
The religion of Islam, like all religions and philosophical views can be hijacked and used by people with evil intent. As a Christian, I am a member of a religious group which in it's past has been used as an excuse by those responsible for horrific crimes against humanity - think the Spanish Inquisition, think about trying to justify slavery. However I know that the only way that one could justify any sort of evil using the Christian faith would be by completely removing context from some verses of scripture, by twisting it's meaning to fit your own purpose and then convincing people who don't have a solid grounding and understanding of the faith that this is what it means. This is true also of Islam - yes there are writings within it that can be used to try and justify evil - but again only if they are removed from their historical, cultural, social and literary context - Islam and Muslims are not the problem, the problem is that there are a group of people who hate the 'West' and who have made it their mission to attack us, and these people are seeking to pervert the religion of Islam to justify their hate - we must not let them do this, we need to support the Islamic community who call out these people, and clearly tell them they are not Muslims.
Sonia responded to some of the criticism she garnered after supporting Andrew Bolt's article by posting on Twitter that 'Following the atrocities of the last week in Nice where 10 children lost their lives, as a mother, I believe it's vital in a democratic society to be able to discuss these issues without automatically being labelled racist.' . On this point I agree with her - I don't believe that Sonia is racist, I believe she is frightened - that she is afraid for the future of our nation as a safe place for children to grow and live. I believe that there are many many people like Sonia, who are fearful about our future as a nation - and they are targeting this fear at the only group they know - the Muslims.
As a father, who worries about his children just as much as Sonia does hers, I believe that we need to stop erecting barriers between us. As a father I believe that our children should grow up in a society that allows freedom of speech (as Sonia called for) but also freedom of association and freedom of religion. I want my children to grow up knowing that they live in a country that welcomes all people regardless of race, or gender, or sexuality or religious affiliation - or lack there of. I want my Children to grow in a nation of tolerance, of openness, and of welcome. I want my children to follow the advice of Jesus, who says that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves - he didn't say love the people who look like you or talk like you.
It is my great prayer that we as a nation can tear down barriers of hate and division, and rather engage with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to show them that they are not our enemy, and neither are we theirs - because the truth is, if we pour forth love, compassion and respect towards Muslims, we destroy the ability of Daesh to claim us as enemies - the great truth is that the first step to defeating hate - is to love.
Today I read an article published on the Brisbane Times' website which tells of the 'Horrifying' lessons that children are being taught in Brisbane schools. The example the author Hugh Harris gives is of children being asked to act out the story of David and Goliath which includes the fight in which David defeats Goliath with his sling and then cuts off his head ( see 1 Samuel 17:48-51)
This, Mr Harris claims, is horrifying - I assume because in his view it is glorifying violence given his statement:
'Many would question the relevance of such a message today, and whether 10-year-old children benefit from acting out scenes of horrifying violence.
This is despite including references from the curriculum in question which reminds SRE teachers to keep children focused and sensible and notes that the main purpose of the lesson is to show that "through Jesus, David's descendant, God would save his people forever from their greatest enemies - sin, death and Satan". There is no glorification of violence it is simply using drama to help children to learn and remember the lesson.
Of course if asking children to act out violent scenes in the context of a wider lesson is 'horrifying' as Mr Harris asserts then we have some major changes to make to the broader education curriculum! We will need to start with removing traditional songs and skits from the pre-school environment - I am thinking first of all of course of the incredibly violent song 'Three Blind mice' where the horrible farmers wife cuts off their tails... then of course there is that primary school staple 'To Market To Market Went My Brother Jim' where poor Jim ends up dead due to being violently killed with a can of tomatoes... and the frightful 'Flying Purple People Eater' - no further comment required there surely! Then don't even get me started on Shakespeare! Suicidal teenagers, murderous royals... Of course none of these are a problem for Mr Harris though, all of that violence isn't horrifying at all - after all they aren't relevant to his personal agenda.
Mr Harris then goes on to note that:
Connect's syllabus uses a fundamentalist "sin and salvation" theme, which was developed by the evangelical Sydney Anglicans.'
Of course the curriculum may well have been created by the 'Sydney Anglicans' however the idea that 'sin and salvation' is a fundamentalist theme - or indeed that Sydney Anglicans are 'Fundamentalists' is a bit ridiculous.
The whole message of Christianity is and has been for the past two thousand years that all of humanity are sinners - that sin is what separates us from God and that the only way for that sin to be forgiven and for us to be reconciled to our creator is through the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross.
That is not fundamentalism - it is the basic message of scripture and I would honestly struggle to see how anyone who objects to it could be called a Christian.
Of course the biggest problem that is exposed through articles like this one is the incredible religious illiteracy in the media - Mr Harris says for example that many parents may find it disturbing for their children be asked 'who is a sinner here in this classroom' . Of course the answer is everyone!
The question then is whether that is a horrible fundamentalist thing to be teaching children. Is it wrong to teach them that everyone is in the same boat? That everyone does the wrong thing, that everyone offends against God. Is it wrong to point out to them that because Jesus came even though they are all sinners everyone can be forgiven? That if they trust in Jesus, no matter what they have done - no matter how bad they think it is - they can be forgiven? That is the Christian message - the Gospel - that Jesus died on the cross to take the consequence for sin on himself so that we don't have to. That he rose again and conquered death enabling us to enter eternal life. That is not fundamentalism, it is Christianity 101.
Of course perhaps most importantly all of this sensationalist propaganda from Mr Harris overlooks one important thing - SRE is not compulsory! If parents don't want their children to attend scripture, all they need do is say so!
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.