The below is a copy of a letter I wrote to my parishioners in our weekly pew sheet for Sunday 11th August 2019.
This week I am writing about a very challenging topic. My letter will deal with the topic of abortion, and may be upsetting or distressing for some. If you believe you may struggle with this topic, I encourage you not to read on, or to read it in the company of someone who can support you. I am always available to talk and provide support for any of you, don’t hesitate to call me.
I have real concerns about the abortion legislation which has been passed by the NSW lower house this week. Now this is an emotive and polarising topic. Let me be absolutely clear, if you or someone you love has had an abortion, you/they will not face any judgement, hate or discrimination from me. You and/or they are welcome here, you are loved here and you are deeply loved by God.
I know having an abortion is an incredibly hard decision, and it has long lasting emotional, psychological and sometimes physical effects. And while the traditional Christian view on abortion is that it is against God’s will, because it amounts to taking another human’s life, it is not something that God will forever hold against you, it is not something that is unforgivable.
When we turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration, we are forgiven everything. I want to make this clear because I know that sometimes in the past (and even today in some parts of the church) people are made to feel unwanted, unloved and unforgivable for having had an abortion—that is simply not true. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (c.f. Romans 8:38-39).
What I do encourage, though is if you or a loved one is struggling with having had an abortion in the past (or any other thing), if you are struggling with doubts, or guilt, if you are not sure of God’s love or forgiveness, please ring me and arrange a time for a private sacramental confession. As always in a confession anything you share is completely confidential, I cannot share it with anyone—not even my wife. Speaking out loud your fears, your brokenness, your heart ache, and hearing those words of absolute forgiveness, hope and restoration in the absolution is a powerful and liberating experience, and I truly wish more Anglicans would avail themselves of it.
I want to tell you also, that if you disagree with my view on this, as always you are welcome to do so, and I would be happy to have a private chat with anyone regarding this or any other issue.
A view compatible with scripture:
So what exactly could be a Christian understanding of this issue? What would be acceptable in legislation for us as we seek to honour God, and value the life of all people? These are my own thoughts on this very difficult topic—I believe them to be honouring of scripture, honouring of life and also honouring of women.
Interestingly, based on this understanding the only thing that needed to be changed in NSW, was removing abortion from the criminal code, as it is already legal for women to acquire abortion where medically necessary. Abortion itself was not illegal in NSW as has been reported in some parts of the media, only abortion without a valid reason, such as protecting the health/life of the mother was illegal, it has been readily available for decades where there is a valid medical reason.
So, if it was already legal, why do I have concerns about the new laws? Primarily because they could allow for the abortion of a baby right up to birth, and do not require that there be a valid medical reason.
That means, that technically under the new law it would be possible for someone to procure an abortion at 36 weeks pregnant, due for example to a relationship breakdown, and no longer wanting the child. Now of course that is a very unlikely scenario, and even if it did happen it would be exceptionally rare… but why would we want to allow it to even be a possibility? Why would we not close that loophole in the interests of protecting life?
My second reservation is around the new provision for those less than 22 weeks which means abortion would be an ’on demand’ service. It will no longer need a doctor to say it is medically necessary to protect health or life—abortion will be done essentially no questions asked, up until 22 weeks. This opens up the possibility of gender selective abortions, where, primarily girls, are aborted by people because they aren’t as valued as a son in certain cultures—there is already evidence that girls are being selectively aborted in Victoria (see article from The Age)
Finally, and incredibly importantly, we as a society, if we want to lower the number of babies being aborted, need to provide proper care and support for mothers—especially young single mums. We need to provide access to medical, psychological and spiritual care for pregnant women, that allows them to know all of their options, including options for adoption where a woman is not in a position to care for the child post birth.
Other situations that lead to abortion include domestic violence and abuse, and again this is a place where we as a society should be demanding our governments provide proper care and support. Women in danger from their spouse should never be forced to face the added trauma of choosing to terminate a child.
I want to conclude this week by again emphasising that if you and/or someone you love has had an abortion—for whatever reason—you will never face judgement from me. I want to also re-enforce that you are deeply loved by God, and that nothing you or anyone has done, can ever separate us from that love, that hope and that forgiveness.
If this letter has distressed you, and you need to talk, please don’t hesitate to talk to me, or if you would prefer to talk to someone else please call:
Pregnancy Help Australia:
Offer post abortion support and counselling.
24 hour support:
1300 792 798
Lifline: 24 hour counselling support:
13 11 14
Within the Anglican Communion we often see those on the liberal end of the theological spectrum choosing to ignore our formularies and make up their own doctrine on the run.... today though I found an example of a conservative evangelical Anglican Church doing the same thing... Their website makes the following statement:
"Baptism is a sign or a seal. It neither confers God’s grace, nor is it a precondition to receiving God’s grace (his gift of salvation)."
Now, that may seem fairly innocuous and many non Anglican evangelical Christians would have no problem with it... however if you are an Anglican Christian you cannot accept this.
Why? Because those same formularies that we as conservatives so often direct the liberals to, also reject the notion of Baptism being a mere sign with no effect.
Lets look at what those formularies say:
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer it says in the Catechism (emphasis mine):
Question. How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Hmmm…. Our friends said “…nor is it a precondition to receiving God’s grace (his gift of salvation)…” But it seems the Book of Common Prayer views it differently, making it clear that Baptism is in fact generally necessary for salvation… there will be exceptions, for example where it was impossible to baptise someone for some reason… but generally it IS necessary.
Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
The baptism is a sign, yes, but it is a sign of something that is actually happening – in fact it is the means by which that something happens. What is that something? Grace! So our friends have it wrong again when they say: “…It neither confers God’s grace,..”
Question. How many parts are there in a Sacrament?
So Baptism is actually a means by which we receive the grace of God through dying to sin, and being born anew unto righteousness. Our sinful nature is overcome, the wrath of God against us is overcome through his Grace and we are made His children.
It seems Baptism is much more than our friends at this church would have us believe. But lets look a little further shall we? Let’s examine relevant articles from The Articles of Religion – also part of the standard for doctrine in the Anglican Church of Australia - again the emphasis is mine.
XXV. Of the Sacraments.
So we see Article 25 declaring that the sacraments (including Baptism) are not mere ‘tokens’ but are in fact effectual signs of God’s grace being invisibly worked in us… in other words the baptism is the means by which the grace comes.
XXVII. Of Baptism.
Article 27 is clear also – speaking specifically about Baptism, it declares that it is not only a sign of profession, but is in fact the very instrument through which we are grafted into the church – i.e. it is through Baptism that God pours forth the grace of God to adopt us as His children.
It is clear then, from the catechism and Articles that if we are to call ourselves Anglican, that we must hold to the belief that Baptism is not merely a ‘sign or seal’, but that it is in fact an outward and visible sign of the invisible grace of God acting in the soul of the person baptised. Baptism therefore does bestow the grace of God, which leads to us dying to sin and being reborn to righteousness. We are transformed through baptism to become ‘children of grace’ rather than the children of wrath we were born as and for this reason Baptism is generally necessary for salvation.
Then of course in the Nicene Creed we declare that we "acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins"... Through baptism then, our sins are remitted - in other words we acknowledge that God has established Baptism as the primary way in which we receive the Grace of forgiveness bought for us through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The baptism is not the thing that saves us - we are saved by the grace of God, through faith. However God has given us baptism as a means by which to receive that grace, We are called to put our faith in Jesus, that faith is enough to save us, but Jesus gave us baptism as a way to experience that saving grace in a real, tangible way.
Am I arguing then that someone can be baptised as an infant and then live a life without faith and still be saved? No. Of course not. Baptism pours out grace, the grace of forgiveness and adoption, but just as with any gift (grace means unmerited gift) we need to accept it, and we accept the gift of forgiveness and adoption given in Baptism by putting our faith in Jesus - it is the faith that actually unlocks the grace - it is the faith that saves us. So the baby is baptised in anticipation of their own faith, with promises made to raise that child in the faith of the church. If they as an adult reject the faith, the grace (unmerited gift) they have received is also rejected.
Recently a footballer in Australia listed a group of people he believes need to repent or face judgement after death - while also assuring them that they are loved and anything can be forgiven - the media and activists become apoplectic and his employer sacked him because it is unacceptable to say something so offensive - the offence being that he included homosexuals in that list of sinners who needed to repent.
Meanwhile our closest neighbours just to the north, regularly drag people into the public square and repeatedly whip them with a cane for 'getting to close to the opposite sex' or sex outside marriage and also for engaging in homosexual behaviour. Homosexuals and fornicators face up to 100 lashes.
What is the response of our media? - simply a matter of fact article that describes what happened (view it here). No outrage, no lengthy commentary about how the religion that endorses this (Islam) is horrible or backward or bigoted, no declaration that people who do this are extremists or fundamentalists. No cries of homophobia, no demands for action. In fact not even one harsh word.
People have told me many times this year that I am basically imaging things when I suggest that the media has an anti-Christian bias. Things like this however demonstrate the hypocrisy in the media when reporting anything to do with religion. To see it in action just wait for the next prominent Christian to say something that can be construed to go even marginally against what is the new social orthodoxy - there will again be outrage, calls for sackings, boycotts, mocking of Christians as 'sky fairy' worshippers - then recall and compare the article about homosexuals facing 100 lashes in Indonesia...
The media seems to become obsessed whenever a Christian makes a comment or suggestion that goes against the grain of society. Meanwhile the Islamic extremists to our North are publicly beating people for holding hands. Meanwhile child marriage is still being practised in this country, meanwhile female genital mutilation is still happening... but there is no outrage, there is no vitriol, no calls for boycotts, sackings and certainly no mocking of believers. To mock our Muslim neighbours for their faith would be Islamophobic!
But the argument still goes that Christians aren't being targeted by the media and by activists. Ironically, the mere fact we raise it as an issue is reason to mock and ridicule us more. The suggestion that we need religious freedom protected not just for us but everyone (because the freedom to believe, practice and manifest what you believe is a recognised human right) is instead made out to be a grab for 'power' or a demanding of 'special treatment' or the 'right to be bigots' because apparently wanting people who are employed by a faith based organisation to uphold the teachings and values of that faith is bigoted - yet no one ever suggests that political parties are bigoted for only wanting to hire people who are wiling to support and uphold their particular ideology.
No-one would bat an eye if the Greens fired someone for publicly advocating that climate change is a hoax, yet if a Christian school wants the power to sack someone who publicly advocates for things that go against their religious teaching and beliefs (say same sex marriage) then they are horrible bigots. Of course Islamic and Jewish schools want exactly the same right protected - to ensure people working in a faith based organisation support and promote that faith - but strangely there is no mocking of those organisations, no declaration of bigotry... hmmm...
So how do we deal with this? How do we as Christians respond to a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to traditional, orthodox Christianity? With love of course! We need to respond by loving the world around us, by loving our neighbour as ourselves - even the ones who mock us and ridicule us. We need to show the world the love of God poured out in our own lives and in how we relate to the world. What does that look like though? Do we withdraw from the public square? Do we cede to the demands to keep our faith to ourselves, caving in to societies mantra that 'faith is private'?
No, we don't do those things, instead I think we need to be bold, we need to engage and we need more than ever to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will face opposition, and I suspect that as time goes by it will only get harder, society is on a trajectory which is moving away from faith and towards a militant kind of secularism - and this will affect not just us, as the activists and media seem to think, but also our Muslim, Jewish and Hindu neighbours. It will have a chilling effect on the freedom of faithful people of all religions, and be detrimental to the harmony of our pluralist multicultural society, as religious people withdraw into fear based 'silos' cut off from the hostility outside - indeed there are already mainstream Christians suggesting we do just that.
I don't think that is a viable or worthwhile option. I argue that in the face of ridicule and mocking, we need to respond with care and respect. In the face of threats to employment and reputational consequences, we need to speak the truth of the Gospel, the hope of the Gospel, the love of the Gospel. That means unlike much of the Christian commentary of the last few decades we cannot continue to be 'one issue' people. Issues like abortion, and same sex marriage have tended to dominate Christian commentary on society. While these are important issues and Christians can and should speak on them, we need to move away from speaking judgement - judgement belongs to God not us.
The key is that whenever we speak to the world outside the church, we need to speak not from a place of judgement, not from a place of condescension, but from a place of genuine concern, love and respect. We should only speak into the public debate for the promotion of the Gospel, and to give a Gospel focused voice into public discourse. That means we don't seek to condemn those outside the church, we instead seek to convict them through sharing the good news of God's love, forgiveness and hope.
We don't need to be targeting expectant mothers and homosexuals and warning them about judgement and Hell, we instead need to be walking along side them and sharing the love of God, being open, and supportive. Yes that will mean that when it comes up we will be honest about our view of things like same sex marriage, but our view on something like same sex marriage or abortion should not be the basis on which we establish a relationship with someone. The truth is we will never convince someone of God's love for them by seeking to argue with them, or by condemning them or their loved ones. Telling someone they are going to burn in Hell isn't loving - that footballer I mentioned at the start of this article should take that on board.
If we want to bring people into relationship with God, if we want them to know they are loved, that no matter what they have done they can be forgiven, restored, and made whole, starting with: 'you are a horrible sinner who is going to burn in hell', isn't a good strategy. The core of the Gospel message is found in these words:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus died to save us - all of us. God loves us enough come to earth as one of us, to suffer and die for us, to rise again for us. His desire is to save us, and he does that because of his incredible, all encompassing love for us. If we want people to turn from sin and the desires and brokenness of this world, we need to start from the same place God started - love.
I know some of you are thinking that I am suggesting that we ignore sin, that we never mention it, and provide a watered down version of the Gospel. That is not what I am saying. Yes, we need to explain sin, yes we need to encourage repentance, but we do so first and foremost by explaining that our sin is not what defines us, our sin will not be a barrier to God's love. We start by recognising that while justification comes through faith, sanctification is a process and not instant. We should encourage people to identify and confront their own sin, by guiding them to the scriptures, and walking with them rather than making our own judgements, condemnations and demands for change. When we are asked about sin, we do not pretend it isn't real, but we also re-enforce that through Christ, sin and death have been defeated. That we need not fear Hell or judgement as long as we are genuine in our faith and seeking to follow Christ.
Love. Forgiveness. Hope.
In a hostile, angry, broken world, our response should be living the Gospel out through love, forgiveness and hope.
There is a lot of media attention at the moment about the appointment of The Rev Dr John Shepherd as the interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The holder of the position essentially acts as an ambassador of the Anglican Communion to the Holy See - so it is a position of significant importance, and the holder of the post needs to be someone that can represent the official position of the Anglican church in ecumenical dialogue. This should be a person that can be supported by the broad spectrum of Anglican churchmanship - and also by the Vatican.
The problem is that Dr Shepherd is not such a person. Now I want to be clear I do not know Dr Shepherd personally, I do not make judgements about his general character as a man. I'm sure he is a perfectly nice guy - I can however make a judgement, based on his publicly espoused beliefs, that he should not be in this post, and in my opinion, that he should not be in Holy Orders.
Why? Because as reported in multiple places Dr Shepherd does not believe in the most fundamental of Christian doctrines - that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact he has preached this openly - during an Easter service of all places! He has also shared his view in op-ed pieces in the West Australian Newspaper. Why does that matter? Because as St Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians:
.... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Scripture then is clear - the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith - and without that resurrection, the Christian faith is simply a waste of time.
So that raises some problems for Dr Shepherd. If he rejects the resurrection, he then declares Christianity and its teaching - as St Paul says useless - and the scriptures to be false.
How then can he even be in holy orders? Surely if he no longer believes the faith he vowed to uphold at his ordination (assuming he believed it then) he should stand down. Yet he doesn't stand down and instead he is rewarded for his blatant heresy, by being put into a high profile representative role.
This of course tells us a couple of things - the process for appointing someone to this significant role is very flawed, and there is also a fundamental problem within the Anglican Communion and within the Anglican Church of Australia which allows clergy who are openly espousing views in direct contradiction to their vows of ordination to not only get away with it, but get promoted into positions of authority and major significance. Dr Shepherd should not have been the Dean of Perth, and he certainly shouldn't be director of the Anglican Centre..
This is not an isolated incident, we have seen this previously with clergy in the Australian church. Rod Bower in Gosford, who as David Ould has reported, openly says Jesus didn't die for our sins, and that there is no such thing as heaven or hell, and also that God isn't a divine being was rather than being disciplined for heresy, made an Archdeacon. I could point to many more.
I have no doubt that there are many Anglican (and other) clergy out there who over time may come to have views contrary to the position of the church. Over non fundamental things this isn't really a problem, but when we find ourselves with clergy who stand up in church each Sunday and recite the Nicene Creed with their fingers crossed because they don't actually believe it, that is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable because it shows an incredible lack of integrity on behalf of the church leadership which stands by and lets these people lie to their congregations, to their colleagues and to the wider society they serve when in leadership roles. It also shows an incredible lack of integrity from those who are happy to continue to stand in front of their congregation each week, and take the stipend (salary) which is paid for through their donations, while not actually believing in, or upholding the faith they vowed to uphold when they were ordained.
To be clear, I am not asking for clergy to be perfect, and I am not asking for everyone to believe and behave identically - The Anglican tradition is broad, and we have room for evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and Charismatics alike. I understand that there are areas within the Christian faith which are more grey than black and white, and that we can agree to disagree on those, without compromising our faith or the Gospel message. But when an ordained man or woman no longer believes in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, when they can no longer honestly recite the creeds of the church, they need to stand down - and if they won't, then the church leadership needs to deal with it - by removing them from ministry.
In the last couple of days a news story has been circulating which outlines how a woman in Tasmania was fired from her job with Cricket Australia, due to having posted comments on Twitter which were critical of the Tasmanian government's position on abortion rights for women.
Whilst my view is pro-life, because I believe a new human life begins at conception. I have been supportive of the backlash that cricket Australia is facing for having fired this woman for expressing her personal political view on her personal twitter account. I believe that this woman's right to freedom of expression, specifically freedom of speech, has been violated and if it is not possible to get her job back, she should be adequately compensated.
However something else has been bothering me about this news story. In all of the coverage I have seen, there has been near universal condemnation of someone getting fired for merely expressing a personal political opinion. This condemnation has been especially strong (as you may expect) from those who lean to the progressive side or the 'left', who as a general rule are supportive of the position the woman was advocating for - i.e. easy access to surgical abortion.
So what is the problem? What is bothering me? I am a supporter of freedom of expression, whether political, religious or otherwise, so what could possibly be the problem?
The problem is that when the exact same principle was in need of defending just a few months ago, the same people who are now crying from the roof tops for this woman's freedom of expression to be respected, were instead declaring that freedom of expression was irrelevant and calling for the scalp of Israel Folou.
It seems that for many on the progressive left, fundamentals of our democracy like freedom of speech, expression and religion are only valuable and worth defending when they agree with the opinion being expressed... and that is frightening.
It is also frightening how many comments I have seen on social media defending this position. So many people saying it is perfectly OK to only defend the freedoms of those you agree with and demand the humiliation, ridicule and firing of others. The irony in these same people declaring anyone who disagrees with them to be a fascist is apparently lost on them.
Put simply freedom of expression and association matter. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion matter. Yes, that means the freedom of the people you disagree with matters! Yes it means even the freedom of those who say things you find offensive matters too! I fundamentally disagree with the view espoused by the woman who was fired by Cricket Australia - that doesn't mean I think she shouldn't be allowed to freely express her political viewpoint, without fear of losing her job or any other freedoms. That is what living in a free and open society means - that is what living in a pluralistic society means.
If we want to live in a free, open and pluralistic society, we must be consistent. Freedom must be protected for all people, not just those we agree with. This is especially important for those of us who are Christians to remember. If we want freedom of religion protected and freedom of speech and expression for ourselves we must be willing to stand with those we disagree with when those same freedoms are threatened for them.
We must stand for justice and freedom, and we must do so impartially. Please join me in praying for our nation. Pray that we might live in a country that truly respects the individual freedoms we all so cherish, and allows genuine plurality to thrive.
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.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has made a swathe of recommendations, however the one that is attracting the most interest in the media is the recommendation that clergy should be required to break the seal of the confessional and mandatorily report any confession of abuse of a child.
The Roman Catholic Church has responded through bishops and priests declaring that they will not break the seal of the confessional, even if the law is changed.
That to me is a heartbreaking response. We cannot put the spiritual welfare of the abuser above the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual welfare of their victim(s).
Thankfully in the Anglican Church we have already made moves to ensure priests are not bound by the confessional seal in the case of child sexual abuse. At the 2014 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia the canon regarding private confession was amended to allow for clergy to break the seal of confession in certain circumstances.
Under the amended canon, should a penitent make a confession of having committed a serious offence, then the priest is free to break the seal of confession if they are not satisfied that the penitent has reported the matter to the police and the director of professional standards (if they are a church worker or member of clergy).
The canon defines a serious offence as the following*:
“serious offence” means a criminal offence of the Commonwealth, of a State or of a Territory, or of another country which is equivalent to such a criminal offence of the Commonwealth, of a State or of a Territory:
(a) involving child abuse; or
(b) involving child exploitation material; or
(c) punishable by imprisonment for life or for a term of 5 years or more.
For me this is a common sense provision in the law of the church. It allows for the seal of confession to be maintained in all cases except where a major criminal offence has occurred and the penitent is refusing to go to the authorities.
My Roman Catholic brothers and sisters will continue to argue against this, because of their view that the seal of the confessional is an inviolable element of the sacrament - however I would argue that if a person approaches a priest and confesses a serious offence but has no intention of facing up to what they have done through reporting to the relevant authorities, then they are not genuinely repentant. If they are not genuinely penitent, then the sacrament is not valid and so their is no violation on behalf of the priest who reports the offence.
The simple truth is, If we as the body of Christ are to begin to regain the trust of society we must not fight against provisions such as this which are about protecting the most vulnerable in society. More importantly it is the right thing to do, both morally and theologically.
*Canon Concerning Confessions 1989
Today on the ABC a story was published about domestic violence, which highlighted how over many years the church in various guises and denominations has failed the victims of domestic violence. It makes for harrowing reading – to read of the abuse that women especially have endured because the church has failed to give them guidance, protection and support, and rather encouraged them to stay with their abuser lest they break their marriage covenant.
Firstly, let me be absolutely clear, if your spouse is abusing you, physically, sexually, emotionally or psychologically, then they have broken their marriage covenant with you. You are no longer bound to stay with them, and you should leave – immediately – and get somewhere where you and any children you may have will be safe. When they agreed to marry you your spouse promised, at least if you were married in a Christian wedding, to love, honour and comfort and protect you, and to live with you ‘according to God’s Word’ and the moment they begin to abuse you they have broken that commitment, and thus the marriage covenant.
So why is it that people get this so wrong? Because they rightly want to uphold marriage, as a lifelong commitment – a joining together of a man and a woman which Jesus upheld as something that couldn’t be dissolved except for sexual immorality. However Jesus was dealing with a very specific question about a practice which essentially allowed men to divorce their wives at will, with little justification. In a society where women were viewed as property, and who were reliant on the wealth and protection of either their husband or their father, getting divorced was a big deal – and it was being used as an abuse in itself. Jesus responds in this context and says this abuse of power isn’t allowed – he says unless your wife has committed adultery you have no real basis to throw her out on the street. Does that mean then that a woman must likewise stay with her husband if he is abusing her? Absolutely not! As I said, the moment your spouse is abusive they have broken their marriage covenant with you – you do NOT sin by divorcing an abusive spouse.
The article also deals with issues of patriarchy in the church which may influence how the church has responded to abuse victims. It specifically deals with the doctrine of male headship and how this doctrine espoused in some parts of the church has been twisted and the scriptures it is based on removed from their context and abused in order to justify appalling abuse of women.
I do not want to have a theological debate that will detract from this issue, but I think it is important to say I am an egalitarian, I believe that God sees men and women as equal in ability, talent and value. I believe that God calls both men and women to leadership – both in the home and in the church – based on their individual giftings, talents and abilities.
I understand the position that those who hold the opposite (complementarian) view – who believe that while men and women are equally loved and valued, that they are created by God with specific gender roles in mind, with men called to lead in the home and in the church. I understand how they interpret the scriptures to come to this conclusion, and I understand that their interpretation of those scriptures does not allow for abuse. However, the fact that this view is consistently being used to justify abuse must surely sound alarm bells. If we were to judge this doctrine by the fruit that it is bearing in the lives of men and women, as exposed in this and other articles and research papers, we must surely declare it fundamentally against the will of God. Now I will cop some flack for that statement, the key argument will likely be that it is the abuse of the doctrine that is the problem, not the doctrine itself. That is true – however if I was being facetious, I could equally say that communism isn’t the problem it is just the way it is interpreted and implemented…
As I said above though I am not going to get bogged down in a debate about theology, and I would ask readers to respect that and not seek to engage in the comments in a debate about complementarianism vs egalitarianism, to do so would be to miss the entire point of this very serious issue. Women are being abused, and the church through naivety, through misunderstanding, through incompetence, through misunderstanding marriage and divorce, and yes through the abuse of the doctrine of male headship has been complicit in enabling abuse to continue and even in the deaths of victims of abuse as one heart breaking example in the article pointed out.
We need to face that. We need to make changes to how clergy and other church workers are trained. We need to listen to victims, and we need to believe them. Those parts of the church who insist on holding to the complementarian view of male headship especially need to be taking time to fully explain the doctrine to clergy and to men and women in their churches, so that there can be no confusion and no doubt that headship does not include the right to be abusive and coercive.
I want to finish this by simply saying sorry. As a priest in the Church of God, I am truly and deeply sorry if you or anyone you love has been the victim of abuse and found the church complicit in making that abuse worse. If you are one of my parishioners, know that I will listen, I will believe you and I will not dismiss you. I will do everything I can to support you and I will never tell you to just go home and put up with it.
Today is Australia Day. It is a day that our nation has set aside as a day of celebration of who we are, of our freedoms and our history. However, the date that was chosen for this celebration is one that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is the anniversary of when they began to lose their own sovereignty over the land and sea of our great nation and the beginning of dispossession not only of that land and sea, but also of culture and language. It is a day that marked the beginning of the end for many Aboriginal cultures and languages which have now ceased to exist. It is a day that led to the subjugation and murder of people who before then were sovereign rulers of the land the citizens of our country now call home.
With that in mind many people are now calling for the date of Australia Day to be moved, and for January 26 to be made a day of lament or mourning for the injustices which have taken place against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. As an Aboriginal man, whose grandmother was one of the people of the stolen generations, I have a great deal of sympathy with this view - in fact in the past I have put forward the 27th May as an alternative - the date of the 1967 referendum which resulted finally in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being given equal status as citizens of Australia.
That this country needs to acknowledge our past and the effect that it has had (and continues to have) on the first inhabitants of this land is in my mind beyond questioning. The only way that we will be able to move forward as one, strong and united nation is by being willing to own the entirety of our nations history - not just the good bits.
That means that we need to acknowledge that this nation, while having achieved greatness, while being a beacon of freedom and hope, while having great stories of conquering adversity and of exploration and sacrifice leading to the incredible prosperity we enjoy today also has another history that must be acknowledged, a history of dispossession and murder, a history of subjugation and of genocide.
So does that mean that we should change the date? No. Not from my perspective at least - my mind has been changed as I have thought and prayed long and hard on this. I am of the view that while the 26th of January is the date that saw the beginning of a very dark period for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our nation, it is also the date that marked the beginning of the transformation of Australian into the nation we are now. It is also the date on which the conception took place of Australia as the modern, liberal democracy in which we now live - so while it is a day of mourning - it is also a day of celebration.
For me the solution is in transforming Australia Day into a day of both celebration and lament. A day that acknowledges not only the great history of our nation that began on 26th January 1788, but also the incredible story of our nation that existed here for tens of thousands of years before then. What I long for is that Australia Day would be a day on which we could stand together in the morning to remember the devastating effects that the arrival of Europeans had on Aboriginal an Torres Strait Islander people. To stand together and give thanks that despite 2o0 years of policies that sought to destroy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, culture and history (children were still being forcibly removed for race based reasons into the 1970's) that we are still here. To stand together as a nation and acknowledge and lament the policies of genocide and the effects these have had and continue to have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Then It would be my hope that having stood together in the morning to lament the wrongs of the past, we could stand together in the afternoon to celebrate the great victories and achievements that we have achieved together. It is my hope that we could stand in solidarity and rejoice in our freedom, to give thanks for all the opportunity and incredible wealth (relative to most the world) we enjoy.
For me this is about genuine reconciliation. Genuine reconciliation requires genuine repentance – a genuine desire to turn away from the wrongs of the past and walk a new path. To be able to turn away from the wrongs of the past we need to acknowledge them, we need to acknowledge their ongoing effects. By including both a time of lament for the sins of the past as well as a celebration of what is good in our past – and our future we can make this day a day for all Australians – a day we can truly be proud of.
I want to finish with this prayer. If you would, please join me in praying it:
God of all creation, who formed this great land on which we live. We come before you acknowledging our brokenness, acknowledging that we are all sinners who fall short of your glory. We humbly admit that our nation in its past has been responsible for great crimes against the first peoples of this land. We acknowledge that great harm was done, and the consequences of that are still being felt even now. Gracious Lord, we submit on behalf of our nation the blood of Christ as we turn to you in sorrow and repentance and ask forgiveness for the wrongs done by those who preceded us - bring us to full reconciliation father both with you and with each other.
Loving Lord having acknowledged our sin, we turn to you and give thanks for Australia – we give thanks for our freedom – freedom which is so valued, and yet so rare in this world. We give thanks for those who have built our nation, we give thanks for the incredible wealth and prosperity that we have. We pray your blessing on those who have been called to lead us, that they would do so honourably and justly. We also pray Father that we as a nation would use the incredible wealth and privilege that we have been afforded for the benefit of all – that we would be a nation of generous spirit and open hearts.
Finally Father we pray that you would pour forth your Spirit and bring about renewal and revival in our nation, that we would be a beacon of the hope, justice, love and forgiveness that comes only through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 The definition of genocide in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) is "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1 ; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." (http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/pdf/osapg_analysis_framework.pdf )
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.