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December 2018

WHAT IS THE FUTURE WHEN CHRISTIANS ARE AFRAID TO STAND OUT AND DISTRUST IS GROWING

By Feature Articles

Source: by Stoyan Zaimov of The Christian Post

As the religious landscape of America continues to change and those identifying with faith continues to decline, the fear of standing out as a Christian is growing.  And that is impacting evangelism efforts.  There’s a greater apprehension among those who do count themselves as Christians to not only share their faith but to even appear differently from the rest of society, according to Bo Rice, assistant professor of evangelism and preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  They’re too afraid to stand for beliefs that might be seen as offensive to others in a diversifying culture.

“I believe in the politically correct, politically charged climate of our culture today, believers are afraid to take a stand and to look different for fear of being accused of being intolerant toward others.  Unfortunately, we have reached a point in history where Christians are afraid to speak biblical truth in love out of fear of retribution,” Rice said. “Many Christians have just assimilated into the culture of the world, so they won’t ‘offend’ anyone.” New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Charles “Chuck” Kelley Jr., laments that Christians are simply blending in with the secular world.

While it can be argued that the older generations might have been “overchurched,” the reality today is that some people have “never stepped foot in a church,” said Noel Heikkinen, lead pastor at Riverview Church in the Lansing, Michigan.  Many people in the current generation don’t have the church experience that previous generations were exposed to. As a result, “their view of Christianity is what they have seen in pop culture, and what we are seeing even more so is that it’s derived from social media,” Heikkinen explained.  He said that for a lot of younger people, “their whole perception of Christianity is not about the Gospel, or Jesus, or any of that.”

Unlike previous generations, young people today “have very much an ‘a la carte’ approach to spirituality,” meaning that they want to “pick and choose what strands of their spirituality are important to them,” the Michigan pastor said.  “Even if they hear a preacher say Scripture has to be the ultimate authority in their lives, there is always going to be an “asterisk” next to that, and they will turn to their “own truth” if they hear something they disagree with, he noted.  For many young people, “there is no real truth that lies outside of their own personal experiences, biases and assumptions.”

“The self becomes the arbitrator of personal truth; personal truth becomes greater than absolute truth,” Heikkinen said. Rice also believes that the number of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ is growing.  “We are seeing and hearing of more stories of people coming to faith in Christ after hearing about Jesus for the first time.  However, I also do agree that we often encounter those who are ‘disillusioned’ with ‘religion’ altogether,” Rice said. Many polls have painted a complex picture of the religious landscape in America and the west as a whole.

One overarching trend that has emerged in most surveys and analyses is that the proportion of those identifying with Christianity, especially young people, is shrinking.  A study by Gallup has found that while 71% of Americans identified with a Protestant denomination back in 1955, the percentage decreased to less than half (47%) of the population in 2017.  Roman Catholics retained a more stable rate of identification, making up 22% of the population in 2017, compared to 24% in 1955.  Young people were found to be one of the chief drivers of the rising “nonreligious” demographic, with 33% of those aged 21 to 29 stating that they follow no religion.

J Warner Wallace, a cold case detective, author and senior fellow at the Colson Centre for Christian Worldview, chronicled more than 50 similar surveys back in January and concluded: “Fewer people claim a Christian affiliation than ever before, and those who claim no religious affiliation are the fastest growing group in America.”  Researcher George Barna of the American Culture & Faith Institute noted, following a survey of 9,273 American adults in November 2017, which found that only 31% of adults identify as born-again Christians, that faith is undergoing a “substantial challenge.”

“The Church at-large is not likely to grow in the future unless some fundamental changes in practice are made,” Barna warned.  The survey found that people are most likely to accept Christ as Saviour before they finish high school, with two out of every three individuals who say they are born again revealing they made the choice before the age of 18.  Currently, evangelism, defined as the act of proclaiming the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, is in what Rice calls a “confused” state.  One of Merriam Webster’s definitions of confusion is “a state or situation in which many things are happening in a way that is not controlled or orderly.”

“I believe that this is a good picture of evangelism today.  We are not seeing the large-scale, structured evangelism campaigns emphasized as strongly in present-day churches like we have in the past,” Rice, who is also the dean of Graduate Studies at the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated NOBTS, observed.  “So we have lost the ‘controlled’ aspect of systematic approaches and more accurate reporting of numbers.”  Evangelism is still being done by individual churches and individuals but for Rice, the main question is whether their approach is effective in “reaching people for the Kingdom of God.”

Heikkinen is involved in another approach to evangelism: church planting.  He serves as the U.S. Midwest network director for Acts 29 Network, which focuses on planting churches where there is “a lot less Gospel influence.”  There are pockets in America where there’s been a good response to church planting and evangelism. “Some of the most successful efforts in the past 30 years” have been “in suburban areas,” Heikkinen noted.  “It’s been a much easier place to plant churches.”  He acknowledged that churches in America are “declining faster” than they are growing and church planters are struggling to plant in an urban context as well as in small rural towns.

In the major cities, people, especially in economically disadvantaged zones, are “suspicious of those coming in from outside” and would ask “why are you here?”  Suspicion against the church has intensified with the rise of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.  People are seeing churches “as a place to cover up” sexual assault and to “protect those who are hurting vulnerable people,” Heikkinen added.  Church planters are encountering a lot of that sentiment, particularly from the younger generation.  Both the Protestant and Catholic world have been mired in sexual abuse cases.

The sexual assault accusations against, and downfall of, high-profile megachurch pastor Bill Hybels, as well as Andy Savage in Tennessee, have prompted much discussion on accountability in evangelical circles.  While the Catholic Church has faced scandals worldwide, decades of clergy sex abuse and institutional cover-ups were revealed in Pennsylvania and other states earlier this year.  Underlying those scandals have been the thousands of #ChurchToo stories shared in online circles by people, mostly women, who say they have suffered rape and other forms of sexual abuse by Christians in leadership and others within churches.

All of this has a direct consequence on how Christianity is perceived and creates challenges for evangelism, both Rice and Heikkinen affirmed.  “When a believer falls, especially clergy and lay leaders, it’s a deterrent to the advancement of the Gospel,” Rice commented.  “Satan uses the ‘fall’ of leaders through the abuse of innocent children or women, or adultery, to name a few, to attempt to destroy the credibility of all believers and the Gospel.  Their sin is magnified and these ‘Christians’ are made out to be ‘worse than the world’ so that all who see their fall and who do not know the story of Redemption through Christ have no desire to be associated with them.

“However, it is our job to make sure we preach the Redemptive portion of the story.  We need Jesus because of those very sin issues.”  Heikkinen reflected that there is mistrust in the U.S. toward authority in general, and that mistrust “bleeds into the church,” especially when it comes to cases of sex abuse.  Looking at just how many people have been accusing Christian leaders and churches of varying degrees of abuse and cover-ups, the Michigan pastor said that he can’t claim to be surprised.  “But I would say I am heartbroken,” Heikkinen said.

“I want our churches to be a light to this world,” Heikkinen emphasized, admitting that “it’s hard right now to be a voice in our culture” due to the scandals. Christians need to regain trust and the universal Church has to take big steps in that regard.  He pointed to 2 Timothy in the Bible, where the Apostle Paul says in part: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.  But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

Rice turned to Acts 1:8, which reads: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”  Rice insisted that the future of evangelism is not bleak.  “If the believers of Christ will look to Him for His promised Spirit, direction, and power, then we will see Him accomplish great things through us,” he underscored.  “In short, evangelism will be successful because Jesus is on His throne, and He still desires to use His people to bring about His purpose and will.”

Traditional methods of evangelism include preaching on the streets, which was popular in the ’70s, but it might not be as effective as before.  For Heikkinen, the most effective way to spread the Gospel message and bring people to Jesus is through relationships.  ”I think what we are discovering is that evangelism is about being friends with people,” speaking with them honestly, and not hiding one’s own sins, he explained.  Rather than starting with theological teachings right away when engaging with nonbelievers, he emphasized the importance of building friendships with them first.

When something happens in their lives and they need someone to talk to, the Christian friend can step up and share how their beliefs have helped them, he said.  “Some of the people I have personally been able to lead to faith in the last several years have all been my friends first,” he revealed.  Heikkinen noted that the opportunity presents itself when something happens in people’s lives, and then they think of him: “He is a pastor and a Christian, I should talk to him.”  That strategy is also discussed in Friend of Sinners: An Approach to Evangelism by author and pastor Harvey Turner, also of the Acts 29 Network.

The book details how the approach mirrors the ministry of Jesus Himself, who had conversations with everyday people and chose to be a “friend of the sinners.”  Rice noted he also tries to practice what he called “Gospel conversations,” namely “taking the time to develop relationships with people and then transitioning to a Gospel presentation in regular conversation.”  And that presentation must be the “full truth,” Rice stressed.  “To many, the Gospel and biblical principles are controversial and offensive.  But we are called to be witnesses of the full truth, not just the parts of the Bible that make us ‘feel good’ or ‘comfortable,’” he said.

“So yes, the culture is changing, and the context of ministry might be more difficult in our postmodern world, but that doesn’t mean we should water down biblical truth just to make it ‘easier’ for us because if we do that, what Gospel are we preaching?  Our own?  May we never make a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in such a way.”  Christians must also not forget to extend a clear invitation to respond to the message of Jesus Christ.  Rice observed that in recent decades, fewer evangelicals ask for an “explicit response to the Gospel.” “Some no longer extend an invitation because they are fearful it might come across as manipulative,” he cautioned.

“I believe we must never use any form of manipulation in calling people to respond to the Gospel, but we must call for a clear and decisive response of people to repent of their sins and trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord.  We must plead and urge people to respond to the truth.”  Heikkinen often wonders what the state of Christianity will look like in the future.  “The trend that I see happening, and I hope I am wrong, is that American churches will continue declining in influence,” he said.  But that doesn’t leave him pessimistic in seeing more people in America gain salvation through Jesus because the work of evangelism will still go on, but not always from within.

There’s another trend that can’t be ignored, the Christian faith is growing overseas, such as in China and in parts of Africa and South America.  And they will send a new “generation of missionaries to come to the nations of the west and preach,” Heikkinen said.  Those overseas churches are earnestly praying for faith in the west, he highlighted. “God is going to use that.”

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LAST AUSTRALIAN NEWSLETTER FOR 2018

By Australian Newsletter

This is the final Australian News for the year.

We thank all of our readers for their support throughout the year and wish you all a Happy Christmas full of joy and spiritual blessing. The next edition of Australian News will be produced on Wednesday 9th January 2019.

Brian Pickering
National Coordinator
Australian Prayer Network

 

MORRISON TAKES A STAND ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION

By Australian Newsletter

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will take a religious discrimination act to the next election, in a major change to commonwealth discrimination laws that will introduce, for the first time, stand-alone legal protections for Australians of faith. Mr Morrison has unveiled the long-awaited review into religious freedoms conducted by former Liberal attorney-general Philip Ruddock and accepted its centrepiece recommendation for a religious discrimination act. The overhaul is aimed at ensuring religious discrimination is treated as seriously as racial or sexual discrimination, and will not pose curbs on free speech by avoiding replication of controversial provisions in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Draft legislation for the shake-up will be released early next year and will include a provision for the creation of a “freedom of religion” commissioner to sit within the Australian Human Rights ­Commission. The government will seek feedback on the draft legislation, which will make it unlawful to ­discriminate on the basis of an individual’s religious beliefs, before taking the overhaul to next year’s election.

In a key step, the government has also moved to defuse the parliamentary impasse over the treatment of gay students within religious schools by referring the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission for review.

The Prime Minister said he was taking action because religion and faith were central to the lives of millions of Australians, their families and their communities. “Australia is a secular democracy but that does not mean that Australians are a godless people,” Mr Morrison said. “Australians have a diversity of faith and religious backgrounds and these should all be respected. “This is an essential part of multiculturalism, in the same way no Australian should be discriminated against for their ethnicity or sexuality. Protecting freedom of belief is central to the liberty of each and every Australian.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said a religious discrimination act was necessary because society had changed. “There have been attempts in some states to ban the sacrament of confession,” he said. “There’s moves to remove the few existing religious liberty protections from our schools. “There was an attempt to prosecute the Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous for upholding Catholic teachings about marriage. “A lot of other supporters of traditional marriage felt that they were, one way or another, discriminated against, including being sacked just for saying they supported traditional marriage.”

Archbishop Fisher said Australians used to be “live and let live” on religious matters. “Our neighbours could have a different religion to us,” he said. “We gave each other the space to be different. But lately there has been a hard-edged secularism that wants to stamp out religion from public life. So that’s why there are calls today for religious discrimination legislation.” The government has accepted absolutely or in-principle all 20 of the Ruddock review’s recommendations and will move to implement some changes more quickly than others. Mr Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter announced their intention to accept 14 recommendations immediately.

The Coalition government will seek to enact these recommendations through legislation when parliament resumes in February and views them as uncontroversial. They include measures such as an amendment to the Charities Act ensuring groups that uphold a traditional view of marriage are not stripped of their charitable status. The Australian has confirmed that five of the Ruddock review recommendations dealing with exemptions in the Fair Work Act and existing anti-discrimination laws will be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). These include the recommendations relating to students and teachers at faith-based schools.

Mr Porter said the ALRC would be charged with devising a mechanism to balance the rights of gay students with the rights of religious schools. “Labors refusal so far to accept that religious-based schools should be allowed to impose what are known as rules of general application, such as a requirement for all students to attend chapel, meant this issue could not be dealt with by parliament before the end of the sitting year,” Mr Porter said. “If Labor is able to support the government’s amendments to ensure religious schools can educate within the doctrine and tenets of their faith, then this issue could be dealt with in the first sitting days of 2019.”

He also said there was no reason for any political party to oppose the introduction of a religious discrimination act. “I don’t see what arguments you would legitimately raise as to why we should protect people from discrimination based on their age, their race, their sex or the fact of a disability but not similarly protect them by virtue of the fact that they are a religious person,” Mr Porter said. He said the government would not make it unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of their religion, a move that would have replicated section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and has been attacked as an impediment to free speech.

Religious freedom expert Mark Fowler said the protection of people against discrimination on the basis of religious belief was “the missing piece in the constellation of Australian equality legislation. Of the five main equality rights recognised in the inter­national law to which Australia is a signatory, being race, age, disability, sex (including sexual orientation) and religion, only religion fails to receive protection in commonwealth law.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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SECULARISM WOULD STIFLE FAITH IF LABOR HAS ITS WAY

By Australian Newsletter

The hysterical response to the government’s attempts to secure the basic right of faith-based schools to operate according to the tenets of their religion exposes the grave danger facing religious freedom in Australia. The recent debate in parliament, as well as much of the related media coverage, betrayed a profound lack of understanding about the meaning of religious freedom in a free and pluralistic society. Two misconceptions stand out. The first is that the essence of last week’s clash was about whether faith-based schools should have a right to discriminate against pupils on the basis of their sexuality alone.

Despite plenty of grandstanding to the contrary, there is clear consensus inside and outside parliament that gay students should not be singled out for different treatment. No Christian school has sought to expel a student for being gay. What is at stake, however, is the far weightier issue of whether faith-based schools should be free to teach religious doctrines that conflict with progressive values that have the backing of anti-discrimination statutes. How this question is resolved could impose unprecedented limits on how faith-based schools approach their mission of providing a religious education in contemporary Australian society.

Should a faith-based school, a theological college or seminary, acting on the basis of its religious beliefs, be allowed to refuse a gender transitioning student to run a club or publish posters or web pages at the institution advocating for gender-fluid ideology? Should a faith-based school be allowed to refuse a male student who wishes to identify as female but has yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery the use of female toilets and changing rooms? And should a religious institution freely be able to articulate its teachings on sexuality, human relationships and marriage?

These scenarios are not hyperbole but precisely the type of conduct that could see faith-based schools hauled before anti-discrimination tribunals if the ALP’s amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act are passed, according to legal scholar Mark Sneddon. Yet Labor senator Penny Wong, her party and large sections of the media insist this kind of intrusion into the operation of faith-based schools has no real bearing on religious freedom. This goes to the second misconception that has corrupted this debate: that religious freedom can meaningfully coexist with laws that weaponise subjective offence.

Foundational human rights such as freedom of religion differ from goals of social justice enshrined in legislation. The former is a birthright of a liberal democracy: one of the rights that’s essential to being a free person in a free society. It is non-negotiable because it is inseparable from freedom of speech, thought and conscience. These rights are fundamental because without them the underlying basis of liberal democracy falls away. Like freedom of speech, true freedom of religion protects faith regardless of its content. After all, if religious teachings are forced to abide by the secular morality of the state, it is no longer free but licensed.

To be sure, religious freedom in practice may be subject to reasonable limits in the interests of public safety and preserving human dignity. But if freedom of religion is to be anything more than a mealy-mouthed platitude, it has to mean the freedom to express faith through worship and teaching. In the context of Australia’s school system, that means respecting the right of parents to enrol their children in a school founded for the express purpose of providing a faith-based education. And it means respecting the right of those schools to provide religious teachings on sexuality and human relationships that gainsay the progressive zeitgeist.

This gives the lie to any pretence that Labor’s amendments provide an accommodation between religious freedom and anti-discrimination law. Labor’s position represents an elevation of secular morality over religious doctrine without precedent in Australia’s history. Religious freedom would formally acquire the status of a second-rate right. As a result, faith-based schools would risk being forced to choose between their faith and anti-discrimination law, gutting them of their religious foundation. The passage of Labor’s bill also would repudiate international human rights, which have long emphasised the equal status of all rights, including religion.

It would mean Australia has chosen to take a different path: one that prioritises the right of a person to express his or her sexuality as  overriding of the right to faith, and the right of parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs. It would also mark a betrayal of our society’s pluralistic foundations. According to the 2016 census, 7 in 10 Australians still hold religious beliefs. Faith-based schooling remains a popular option; it accounts for about a third of school students. The millions of parents who send their children to faith-based schools do so because they want their child’s schooling to be based on the culture, values and teachings of a specific religion.

Public opinion is on these parents’ side. Opinion polls have consistently shown higher levels of public support for the protection of religious freedom than for same-sex marriage. Protecting the freedom of faith-based schools isn’t about endorsing any particular religious belief. It’s about recognising that for us to continue to be a diverse and harmonious society, we must cherish and respect the right of all religious Australians to practise their faith as they see fit. What could be more tolerant than that?

Source: Written by Amanda Stoker, Liberal National Party senator for Queensland. 

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UNITING CHURCH TORN OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DECISION

By Australian Newsletter

Protest is in the air at the Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) after its National Assembly’s decision earlier this year to allow two distinct, and contradictory, views on marriage. The Assembly resolved that the UCA would become the first major denomination in Australia to conduct same-sex “weddings”, while also allowing some parishes to only recognise man-woman marriage. The decision, apparently made in order to “honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members”, has placed a wedge firmly down the middle of the church.

Whether any full congregations leave the UCA or not over the inclusion of same-sex “marriage” within the life of the church is yet to be determined. However, there has already been a significant protest move made, one that could determine the long-term future of the denomination. The protest, made in accordance with Clause 39 of the church’s constitution, allows the wider membership of the Uniting Church to stop the implementation of a decision and call for a wider consultation and review. And that is what is happening right now. There is a call from several groups within the Uniting Church calling for the Assembly’s decision to be reviewed and reversed.

Failure by the assembly to respect this call could lead to the fracturing of the Uniting Church. UCA’s largest Church, Newlife on the Gold Coast, has already dropped the word “Uniting” from its name. And the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) has called for the UCA to adopt “non-geographic presbyteries” which would allow evangelical churches that hold to traditional marriage only, to band together. ACC’s move has widespread support, including from outside of the Uniting Church. “The decisions of the Uniting Church National Assembly should be of grave concern to Christians of all denominations,” said Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies.

“On my behalf, Bishop Michael Stead has been in discussions with the leaders of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations and others. “We urge them to stand firm in the face of a departure from the doctrine of Christ and compromise with the spirit of the world by the Synod of the Uniting Church.” Only time will tell whether the Uniting Church can survive intact. Many ministers and their congregants have already left the Uniting Church; and only a complete reversal of the same-sex “marriage” decision may prevent many more doing the same in coming months.

Source: Australian Family Coalition 

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WHAT IS ALL THE FUSS BEHIND THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DEBATE

By Australian Newsletter

While we might have expected the Ruddock Review into Religious Freedom to have enhanced religious freedoms, in the absence of the government adopting any of its recommendations, the ALP introduced a Bill into the Senate in the last sitting week to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the freedoms religious bodies currently enjoy which allow them to teach and run their institutions according to their religious beliefs. Fortunately that Bill was delayed and probably will go to a committee for consideration. In the meantime, Bill Shorten introduced an identical Bill into the House of Representatives which fortunately has also been delayed and will not now be considered until Parliament resumes in February.

The bills would remove the freedoms of:

  • religious schools and parents who send their children there
  • religious adult colleges and training institutions for missionaries, chaplains and religious workers (including theological colleges); and
  • all religious bodies like churches, mosques, synagogues and temples to provide education services to their members and the public through sermons, religious education classes for children, youth or adults and courses on issues like marriage, family and relationships.

This is an assault against the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and religion which are the basis of a properly functioning democracy. It would make illegal the teaching of religious principles which don’t subscribe to the secular worldview that transgenderism is perfectly good and same-sex or transgender relationships or “marriage” is as equally valid as traditional marriage.

The bills would make it illegal to take any action to uphold the religious sensibilities of faith-based institutions which currently allows them to discriminate against people on the grounds of, for example, someone in an openly homosexual relationship or someone identifying as transgender or advocating for transgenderism in a school. This bill would even restrict religious institutions from teaching their biblically-based position on heterosexual sexual relations outside of marriage.  Editor’s note: This may not be the intention of the legislation proposed by Bill Shorten (as claimed by Mr Shorten), but according to legal advice it will be the outcome of such legislation as currently drafted.

I am forwarding this serious warning and call to action to you from Professor Mark Sneddon, Adjunct Professor of Law Monash University; Executive Director, Institute for Civil Society and Legal; and Partner at Holley Nethercote Lawyers. This warning and call to action refers to religious freedom debate in the Federal Parliament. If passed, this law change will curtail your freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Letter of advice given to Christian Schools Australia by Professor Mark Sneddon Adjunct Professor of Law at Monash University.

You are probably aware that the Senate has been debating an ALP Bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove existing exemptions for religion and restrict the freedom of religious schools. What you may not be aware of is that this Bill has much wider effects. It will also:

  • restrict the freedoms of religious adult education colleges including theological colleges and religious institutions for training missionaries, chaplains, youth workers etc; and
  • apply to the acts and practices of a religious body (such as a church, temple, mosque or synagogue) which are connected with the provision of education by that body, this would seem broad enough to include sermons, and any education based on the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and other scriptures to adults, youth and children in the religious body, whether general scripture education or education applied to topics like relationships, marriage and sexuality.

At time of writing the Bill seems likely to pass the Senate, perhaps with some government amendments. It would then move to the House of Representatives later next week where the government does not have a guaranteed majority and it may pass that house also, becoming law.

The purpose of this email is to alert you to the wider application of the Bill for religious freedom and to ask you to tell your people and to contact your Senators and MHRs urgently to oppose this Bill.

Some examples of the Bill’s effects are as follows.

1. Religious schools and theological and adult training colleges

If a religious school, theological college or adult education institutions acting on the basis of its religious beliefs:

  • refuses to admit students or expel them or impose any other detriment on a student because of the student’s relationship status, sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • refuses permission for a sexually active student (straight or gay) or gender transitioning student to run a club or publish posters or webpages at the school or college advocating for sex outside marriage (straight or gay) or fluid gender ideology; or
  • refuses permission for a same sex oriented student to take a same sex romantic partner to a school or college function; or
  • requires a male student who wishes to publicly identify as female and whose appearance is male and has not had sex reassignment or cosmetic surgery to use the male change rooms and toilets rather than the female ones, and to be addressed by the male pronoun;
  • the school or college is “subjecting the student to a detriment” on the grounds of relationship status or sexual orientation or gender identity and can be sued under s.21 of the Sex Discrimination Act.

2. Religious bodies like churches, mosques, synagogues and temples engaging in acts or practices in connection with the provision of education by the body e.g. sermons, religious instruction, scripture classes

A religious body could discriminate in the provision of education services by it (or the facilities through which they are provided) under s.22 of the Act in several ways:

(a) by the manner in which the religious body provides the other person with those services or makes those facilities available to the other person (e.g. the manner of the sermon or scripture teaching is discriminatory because the content of the teaching based on sacred scriptures is critical of same sex marriage or of the behaviour of those having sex outside marriage (straight or gay) but not of other forms of sexual behaviour, or because the teaching criticises the idea and practice of gender transitioning).

(b) by refusing to provide a person with those services or to make those facilities available to the other persons (e.g. the religious body provides separate training on marriage, relationships and sexuality to men only and women only groups, or refuses to provide training on relationships to people known to be actively engaged in extramarital sex);

(c)  in the terms or conditions on which the religious body provides the other person with those services or makes those facilities available (e.g. the religious body requires attendees at the training to affirm that they are living godly lives in accordance with the teachings of the religion including on relationships and sexuality).

Such discrimination can lead to a complaint and lawsuit under the Sex Discrimination Act if the Bill is passed.

Additional Resources

I have written in my capacity as the Executive Director of the Institute for Civil Society and you can also find a copy of this paper and our other work on the issue at www.i4cs.com.au  and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/institute4civilsociety/

Freedom for Faith’s Facebook page has recent posts on this issue including posts from pastors and others about their conversations with and letters written to MPs protesting about this Bill – see https://www.facebook.com/freedomforfaith/

Professor Neil Foster has some excellent recent blogs on this Bill and the Coalition’s proposed amendments at his Law and Religion blog:

https://lawandreligionaustralia.blog/2018/12/01/government-amendments-to-religious-schools-bill/

The Gospel Coalition presents a Christian perspective on the Bill at https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/religious-freedom-immediate-threat/

The Coalition Senator’s dissenting report in the Senate Committee inquiry into exemptions and faith based schools is a useful resource – Legislative exemptions that allow faith-based educational institutions to discriminate against students, teachers and staff

Please consider carefully, pray and act.

The position of cross-bench Senators and MHRs will be important. If you are able to contact them that would be most helpful.

Kind regards,

Professor Mark Sneddon
Adjunct Professor of Law Monash University
Executive Director, Institute for Civil Society
Principal Sneddon Legal and Partner Holley Nethercote Lawyers

Source: Mark Spencer, Executive Officer Policy, Governance and Staff Relations Christian Schools Australia Limited

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CALL FOR DAILY PRAYER OVER ISSUES FACING OUR NATION

By Australian Newsletter

Many prayer networks in our nation are calling Christians to set aside time each day to pray for Australia over the many issues that are currently before our Federal Parliament and facing our nation, many of which are contentious and have the capacity to take our nation down the path of radical societal change affecting our religious freedom, freedom of speech and the economic and cultural future of our nation.

The plan is for folk to pray for as long as they feel led by the Spirit of God for our nation at the times of 7.00AM, 12 Noon and 7.00PM just as Daniel prayed for Jerusalem. Most networks are calling for daily prayer until 21st December, but we the Australian Prayer Network, would encourage our members to engage each and every day until the Spirit of God gives you release to move on from this commitment. We will not bow our knees to evil decrees but like Daniel we will bow our knees in prayer to our God in heaven.

Please pray:

  • for revival and transformation for our nation.
  • that Australia would be awakened to Christ.
  • for Godly and stable government
  • for renewal within the church and an out pouring of the Holy Spirit.
  • for an awakening to the importance of faith, family, Life and freedom in our government and in our nation.

Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Mother Teresa said, “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.” Let us put this inspiration into action.  Our nation is in serious trouble and the one thing we can do is to follow the example of Daniel who got down on his knees three times a day to pray and seek God on behalf of the land.

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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ROLE OF TEACHERS IS TO TEACH NOT TRANISITION CHILDREN

By Australian Newsletter

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is gravely concerned that New South Wales teachers are being taught how to identify gender confused children and to support them through the transition process.  “Of the 1% of children who suffer from gender dysphoria over 80% resolve to their birth sex during puberty. We cannot expect teachers, with no medical or psychological training to identify the 0.2% of children for whom this will remain an issue,” said Kieren Jackson, ACL’s state director.  “Experts agree the transgender agenda is incredibly harmful to a child’s physical and mental development, particularly when they begin taking puberty blockers and hormones.”

“Considering we are facing a national epidemic with 42 per cent of 15-year old’s failing to meet minimum national standards in maths and literacy, teachers should be more concerned about teaching children than transitioning them.” ACL  will be writing to the Education Minister Rob Stokes to raise this issue with him and urge him to consider more stringent management of educational courses for teachers which can negatively impact the wellbeing of children,” commented Mr Jackson.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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UNIVERSITY CHIEFS UNITE TO DEFEND FREE SPEECH

By Australian Newsletter

Leading university heads have warned of the urgent need to take a stand against encroaching threats to free speech across Australia’s tertiary institutions, including US-inspired boycotts of speakers and classroom “trigger warnings” about details that might upset students,  with one high-profile chancellor dis­avowing the notion that campuses should be “safe spaces”.  University of Western Sydney chancellor Peter Shergold has warned that attacks on free speech are a relatively recent development in Australia and university governing bodies should be prepared to make tough decisions to defend the integrity of their institutions.

Speaking following a robust panel discussion on the topic at the University Chancellors Council annual conference in Adelaide, Dr Shergold said his personal view was that universities should default to a position of enabling “as much freedom as possible, not to constrain, not to control”.  “Universities need safe spaces for students, be they LGBTI or Muslim, where they can go and talk to each other,” said Dr Shergold, the council’s chairman.  “But university campuses cannot be safe spaces in terms of ideas.  “People should be challenged by ideas, see a diversity of ideas.  That’s the heart of the institutional ethos of a university.”

Dr Shergold’s comments, which come amid mounting concerns that universities are increasingly becoming closed intellectual shops, prone to groupthink and the censoring of diverse ideas, were echoed by Australian National University chancellor Gareth Evans.  While Mr Evans has recently been forced to defend the university’s decision to withdraw from plans for a new degree in Western civilisation,  which was to have been funded by the John Howard chaired Ramsay Centre, he too slammed the emerging phenomenon of staff and students seeking to shut down debate under the premise that people should not be exposed to ideas with which they disagreed.

“We are hearing about ‘no-platforming’ disinviting or shouting down visiting speakers espousing various heresies; about the need for ‘trigger warnings’ alerting students to potentially upsetting racially, politically or gender sensitive themes,” Mr Evans said.  “Most disconcerting of all, the need for ‘safe spaces’, where students can be completely insulated from anything that may assault their sense of what is moral and appropriate.”  Institute of Public Affairs research fellow Matthew Lesh cited recent publicised threats to free speech such as opposition to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

ANU staff and students have accused the Ramsey Centre of pushing a “racist” and “radically conservative agenda”.  There have also been violent protests over psychologist Bettina Arndt’s appearance at the University of Sydney.  These were just “the tip of the iceberg”, Mr Lesh said. He told the conference that the proliferation of social justice policies around cultural inclusion, global citizenship and sustainability were to blame for restraining free speech.  “I speak to academics and students at your institutions almost every day, the tell me about a worrying culture of censorship,” he said.

“Australia’s universities are lacking in viewpoint diversity — a range of perspectives challenging each other in the pursuit of reason, truth and progress.  This leads to groupthink, self-censorship, and sometimes active shouting down.”  He said universities had a choice between either encouraging free inquiry or treading a social justice path and seeking to “change the world”  but choosing the latter would “not only undermine academic scholarship and student learning, it could be seriously damaging to the reputation and viability of the institutions”.

Mr Evans said it wasn’t only universities that were at risk, referring to the decision by the Brisbane Writers Festival to disinvite former NSW premier Bob Carr and feminist Germaine Greer as “absurd to the point of indefensibility”.  Joking that he was perhaps an “unreconstructed child of the 1960s”, the former Labor senator and foreign affairs minister said principles of “timeless significance” were at stake and university administrators and governing bodies “simply must take a stand”.  “Lines have to be drawn, and spines stiffened, against un­conscionable demands for protection against ideas and arguments claimed to be offensive,” Mr Evans said.

“Keeping alive the great tradition of our universities, untrammelled autonomy and freedom of speech, is a cause for which university chancellors should be prepared to fight.”  Concern about the impacts of growing campus activism has been on the political radar for some months.  Education Minister Dan Tehan recently proposed to the Group of Eight universities that measures to protect freedom of thought and expression should be considered, such as requiring student activists who sought to disrupt an event to pay for additional security costs.  He expressed concerns that in the case of Sydney University, event organisers were being levied with the bill.

Steven Schwartz, a former vice-chancellor at three universities in Australia and Britain, said: “Today’s university students will grow up to be tomorrow’s lawyers, politicians, and judges.  For the sake of our democracy, we cannot allow a generation of graduates to grow up believing that there are issues that are too dangerous to discuss.  “Expanding the meaning of words such as ‘violence’, ‘aggression’ and ‘traumatic’ to describe speech provides universities with a spurious excuse for censorship.”  Professor Schwartz said if universities failed to defend free speech, governments might intervene: “I am sure they will not like the result.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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MAJORITY BACK LAWS TO PROTECT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

By Australian Newsletter

A clear majority of Australians, including nearly 60% of Labor voters, back new laws to prevent individuals, schools and companies from being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and practices.  The special Newspoll, comes as the government weighs up its response to a review into religious freedom conducted by former Liberal attorney-general Philip Ruddock and commissioned in the wake of the successful same-sex marriage plebiscite last November.  The Newspoll shows 59% of those surveyed were in favour of new laws to protect individuals, schools and companies because of their religious beliefs compared with 26% opposed to change.

About 65% of Coalition voters support a strengthening of protections for religious freedoms; 57% of Labor voters also backed the need for more robust protections.  Greens voters also overwhelmingly backed new laws to protect religious freedoms, with 63% saying they were in favour of change compared with 50% of One Nation voters.  The results show that support among all the key political parties is running in favour of legislating stronger protections for religious freedoms.  Despite the poll, a parliamentary committee has proposed the removal of key protections for faith-based educators from anti-discrimination laws.

A Senate inquiry examining the treatment of gay students and teachers at religious schools recommended the removal of an exemption at section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act.  This exemption currently allows faith-based schools the ability to discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, although it is not used for this purpose by religious schools.  The Senate committee also recommended that “further consideration” be given to amending the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination by faith-based educators against gay teachers and staff.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has made it clear that the government will support the removal of the exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act allowing schools the ability to discriminate against students.  However, he will not remove the exemption that exists for teachers.  This section allows religious schools to discriminate against staff on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy, but again it is not used for this purpose.  Faith-based educators have argued that the exemption gives them the legal protection to insist on the employment of staff who uphold the fundamental religious mission of the school.

Faith-based educators have attacked the present system of exemptions, saying they discredit religious freedoms by framing them as a “negative right”.  This means religious schools are given the ability only to “discriminate” in key situations.  The committee has addressed this deficiency by recommending that “consideration be given to inserting in law a positive affirmation and protection of religious freedom in Australia that is appropriately balanced with other rights”.  Faith-based bodies have argued for religious freedoms to be expressed as a “positive right” in federal law, an action that would fundamentally reframe religious freedom protections.

It is also possible that the government will seek to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act, one of the key recommendations of the Ruddock review in a bid to reframe the current system of protections.  The committee also recommended “that the government immediately release to the public the full report and findings of the Religious Freedom Review” led by Mr Ruddock.  Some Christian schools have warned they will face an existential threat and could face claims of direct discrimination for promoting a biblical view of marriage if the exemptions were removed from the Sex Discrimination Act.

The issue of religious freedom is likely to gain traction in the ALP’s traditional heartland, with the opposition holding nine seats in Western Sydney that voted against same-sex marriage in last year’s postal plebiscite.  These included the electorates of senior opposition frontbenchers Chris Bowen, Tony Burke and Jason Clare, whose seat of Blaxland recorded the strongest ‘No’ vote against same-sex marriage of 73.9 per cent.  Newspoll indicates that 15% of the population is uncommitted on whether new laws are needed to better protect religious freedoms.  The results were based on a sample size of 1717 voters.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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BAN SEXUALISED ADVERTISING FOR OUR CHILDREN’S SAKE

By Australian Newsletter

The Advertising Standards Bureau has received new complaints about a now infamous store which consistently objectifies and degrades women in its advertising.   The Australian Christian Lobby’s Centre for Human Dignity director Wendy Francis said that “Honey Birdette continues to ignore upheld complaints from Ad Standards, as well as increased backlash from the community.”  “This is not the first time the store has been publicly scrutinised.  They have a track record of exploiting women through their advertising and blatantly displays their ads in shopping centres which are particularly harmful to children.”

“Our kids are being unnecessarily exposed to sexualised and degrading images of women in public places.  There is overwhelming evidence of the short and long-term effects sexualised advertising has on children, making this an issue the government should urgently address,” commented Wendy Francis.   The Centre for Human Dignity is urging the government to consider extending their advertising ban to include sexualised advertising for the welfare and safety of our children.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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