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February 2021

FEATURE ARTICLE 27th February 2021

By Feature Articles


By Jim Denison principal of the Denison Forum in USA

Editors comments: Controversy erupted recently when Facebook censored all news (and some other) sites in Australia from their platforms in a dispute with the Australian Government over a law requiring the social media giant to pay local news publishers for the material appearing on their platform.  It appears that dispute has been resolved and sites have been re-instated however it is no longer uncommon for the social media giants to censor material that does not conform with their view of the world, especially Christian material.

Recently  the conservative social media platform Parler was deplatformed by Amazon Web Services, citing “posts that clearly encourage and incite violence.” Apple and Google joined in blocking the platform. What do these actions mean for the future of our media? How could they affect Christians in the coming years? How should we respond biblically to this divisive and urgent issue? Let’s begin with some background. At the heart of the debate is the question: Are social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook publishers or platforms? If they are publishers, they are liable for the content they publish. For example, if the New York Times publishes a story that defames a person, it can be sued for libel. If they are platforms, by contrast, they are not liable for the content published by others on their sites. If someone posts a bad review of a restaurant on Facebook, the restaurant cannot sue Facebook. If it could, social media platforms would be inundated with lawsuits and could cease to function.

However, these platforms can regulate content if necessary without incurring legal liability. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in the USA states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” This provision allows social media platforms to restrict child pornography, for instance. Both sides of politics have criticized the way social media platforms have utilized this protection. Some claim that conservative speech is being censored; others claim that hate speech and disinformation are being protected and promoted.

Here’s the question for us: Will Christians be the victims of censorship by social media companies in the future? If they consider our stance on same-sex marriage to be “harassing” or “objectionable,” for example, will they block our content? The issue is larger than social media platforms. Email distributors can decide to block content they find objectionable, which would make it difficult to send out newsletters such as this one. Conservative voices can be marginalized or blocked by the liberal bias of mainstream media. This debate goes to the heart of our democratic society. Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg is right: “Democracy is supposed to be about disagreements, not agreements. Forced unity, outside of war or some other national emergency, is antithetical to democracy and poisonous to civility.

Three reasons censorship is escalating. Before we can respond effectively, it is important to understand why this is happening today. Consider three cultural factors. One: Our nation faces genuine threats. Sex trafficking is rising to “horrific dimensions.” Child pornography is exploding online. Cyberterrorism is a very real threat. As a result, we can expect escalating calls for media publishers and platforms to regulate content to protect their readers and the larger society. Two: Many non-Christians consider biblical morality to be hateful and prejudiced. For example, they believe the biblical prohibition against homosexual activity to be homophobic. They see our defence of life at conception as a war on women’s bodies and rights. If “hate speech” includes biblical truth, we can expect to see biblical truth censored by some.

Three: Our culture has no objective basis for determining truth. Postmodern relativism has convinced our culture that all truth claims are personal and subjective. As a result, we have limited ability to reason objectively about issues such as the juxtaposition of LGBTQ rights and religious liberty. Writers, editors, and publishers can be expected to do what advances their personal agendas and financial interests. How should Christians respond?  In days like these, it is vital that Christians speak biblical truth with courage, passion, and grace. The more our culture rejects biblical truth, the more it needs to hear biblical truth. The harder it becomes to speak the truth in love, the more we must do both (Ephesians 4:15).

But we cannot give what we do not have. To share the truth of God, we must stay connected to the God of truth. Jesus declared: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). Note the order: “abide” (remain) in his word as his “disciples” (fully devoted followers), and we will “know” (experience personally) the truth and be set free by it. Then we will share it with those we influence so they can experience the same freedom in Christ (Matthew 4:19; 1 Peter 3:15).

To this end, I invite you to make this prayer by Scottish minister John Baillie yours: “By your grace, O God, I will go nowhere today where you cannot come, nor seek anyone’s presence that would rob me of yours. By your grace I will let no thought enter my heart that might hinder my closeness with you, nor let any word come from my mouth that is not meant for your ear. So shall my courage be firm and my heart be at peace.”

Source: Originally published by the Denison Forum 

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By Australian Newsletter

Christians in Victoria are fearing for their religious freedom after the legislature voted to ban so-called conversion therapy. The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill criminalises practices seeking to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Christians have voiced concern over a subclause making it an offence to carry out “a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism.” Church leaders in the state fear that they could fall foul of the law simply for offering prayer or counselling to someone struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the Bill, conducting suppression practices carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years or a $10,000 fine.

Ahead of the vote, dozens of faith leaders raised their opposition in an open letter to Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria. “Religious organisations, parents and families, faith-based schools, ministries, and other individuals will face scrutiny, investigation, censorship, significant jail terms and large fines for exercising their religious duty to teach or advise individuals who request support to maintain adherence to religious constructs of sexuality and gender,” they wrote. The Bill recently passed the legislative council by 29 votes to nine after a 12-hour debate. Martyn Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, said the Bill “basically criminalises the truth”. “It takes those truths about marriage, gender, sex and family, which are part of creation itself, and it says that those ideas, the expression of them, the living out of them can become criminal acts.

Iles went on to say “There’s not many laws that I can say that about. Christians must continue to support and pray for those who come to them for help, even if it means breaking the law. I want to say something that’s going to sound a little bit radical but it’s so true, especially in this case. We must live as though this Bill doesn’t exist,” he said.

Source: Christian Today Australia

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By Australian Newsletter

Brian and Bobbie Houston are making way for a new generation of younger leaders to take the helm of Hillsong Church. Houston, 67, said at Hillsong’s recent Vision Sunday service that he had been “doing a lot of soul-searching and praying” about the future of the church and decided it was time for change. He said the couple, who have led the church for 38 years, are “definitely not retiring” but gradually handing over the reins to others, starting with Gary and Cathy Clarke, lead pastors of Hillsong London, who will move into a global leadership role over the next two years. Houston said “The Hillsong movement has grown so rapidly it has become clear to us we need to put a whole lot more structure into what we’re doing globally. It has become “virtually impossible” and “unsustainable” for us to manage the international church by ourselves.

“I want to look at ways that we can share that load and over these next couple of years heading up to that church being 40 here,” he said. “I would like to really put in place younger leaders. Younger leaders here in Australia and younger leaders around the globe.” The decision follows a challenging time for the international Hillsong family, with its New York campus pastor, Carl Lentz, being fired last November over adultery. His ousting was followed by an internal investigation into claims of financial abuse and inappropriate sexual relationships between staff and volunteers at the New York church.  The probe closed last week with an admission of failings but the findings are not to be made public. “We’re definitely not retiring,” Houston said. “We’ll be around but I do think it’s the right time to look at a whole new season.”

Source: Christian Today Australia

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By Australian Newsletter

Abortion to birth has been written into law in South Australia. Unborn babies can now be disposed of on demand up to 22 weeks and six days in South Australia, and under certain conditions they can be aborted right up to the moment of birth. The horrific legislation passed 29 to 15 last week after some 20 hours of debate. Fortunately several amendments were made to the Bill before it was passed. These were that there is a ban on sex-selection abortions and a requirement for counselling, as well as information on abortion risks and alternatives such as adoption. Babies born alive after an abortion will now be given the same care as other babies after birth.

The result of last week’s vote should prompt some sober reflection for our society and for the church specifically. Five thousand people “Walked for Life” in opposition to the abortion legislation. Many Pastors spoke up on this issue in ways they have not in the past. Many marched in support of life, again an unprecedented effort. Many believers are now waking up to the evil unfolding in our midst, but this time the church’s response has been too little, too late. Those who were active are to be commended. But the fight for life needs to be embraced by the whole church: countless believers still need to be aroused.

Source: Compiled by APN from various sources

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By Australian Newsletter

Editor’s note:  With the rollout of vaccines against COVID 19 imminent in Australia, all of us will soon be required to make a decision as to whether we wish to be vaccinated or not.  This article is not designed to address any expressed safety concerns surrounding the vaccines, we leave that to the medical experts, but to the ethical concerns that have been discussed in Christian circles. We know from correspondence received that many of our members have a keen interest in the subject, some with minds already made up on the subject. It is not our intention nor desire to question or challenge any views people hold on the matter as our position is, as our heading indicates, it is a matter of individual conscience.

We are grateful to Martyn Iles from the Australian Christian Lobby who has done some study on the issue and has produced the following article to assist people come to their decision, based on as many facts as possible that he has been able to glean on the subject. The Australian Prayer Network has no expertise in this matter and in re-producing this article we are acting in good faith but are totally reliant on the efforts of Martyn Iles as to the accuracy of the information it contains. We will not therefore engage in discussion on the issues raised as our purpose in publishing the article is not to state or take a position on the subject but simply to provide facts that will allow our readers to make up their own minds on the matter. 

As praying people we encourage you to pray that people will seriously consider all facts related to this issue and be guided by the Holy Spirit to the decision that is right for them. Pray too that people will respect the decisions that other people make in good conscience, whether that be to receive or reject the vaccinations. Pray that Governments will, as far as possible, also respect individual decisions recognising that they also have the responsibility to keep all people safe from being infected by the COVID virus. 

Martyn Iles writes:

I am constantly asked, so here are some thoughts and explanations on vaccines. Firstly I am grateful for the technology that makes them possible, and accept that they are generally safe. But there are qualifications. The main one relates to those vaccines which had an association, during their development, with foetal cell lines. In Australia, this includes the MMR, Chickenpox, Hepatitis A, and Rabies vaccines. A person’s attitude to these vaccines is a matter of individual conscience that ought to be respected. You may wonder which way your conscience ought to go – the following information may help:

Vaccine development requires a cellular environment. Companies buy cells “off the shelf” for this purpose, called “cell lines.” They have names which are combinations of letters and numbers. The cells are not ingredients in the vaccine; they are tools used during the research and development process.

But some have raised the question – where did these cell lines come from?  In each case, they descended from an original cell. That cell was replicated once, twice, three times… and to infinity, over many years. These replicated cells, descended from an original cell at some point in history, are the “cell line”. In some cases, the original cell was from plant matter. In others, from an animal. Sometimes, they come from human tissue. Then, there are cases where the original cell was from an aborted foetus. There are two or three popular foetal cell lines which originated from abortions in or around the 1960s. They each came from a single abortion. Their use does not result in more abortions. The abortions were not for the purpose of creating the cell line.

These cell lines are used so extensively in biotech and medicine that they are ubiquitous. We will all encounter and probably use multiple products developed with their help during our lifetimes. Most theologians, Christian bioethicists, and all church denominations who have publically spoken to the matter, do not consider it sinful to use products, including vaccines, which have had an association with these foetal cell lines. They make that deduction because it does not amount to complicity in abortion, nor endorsement of abortion. In other words, taking these vaccines does not cause or support abortions.

Whilst I have accepted this view for a while, I must confess to harbouring uncertainty in more recent times, along – I think – with anyone who really cares about the pro-life cause. Taking an affected vaccine may not be sinful per se, but I can see that it is a serious matter of individual conscience. On the one hand, the association is incredibly remote – materially and historically. On the other hand, an abortion is a serious matter. The situation becomes more complex, because there is no completely ‘ethical’ COVID-19 vaccine. (Some time ago, we indicated that the Prime Minister’s office had confirmed there would be an ‘ethical’ alternative vaccine. Sadly, this was the UQ candidate which was abandoned during the testing phase.)

Pfizer’s is the best from an ethical standpoint, but not perfect. (Because it does not rely on a foetal cell line for its development or manufacture… they only made use of a foetal cell line to conduct some trials.) I believe that this is reason enough not to make the COVID-19 vaccines compulsory. This conscience issue is not fanciful or baseless. It should be respected in cases where it is genuine.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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By Australian Newsletter

The study of humanities at top-ranked universities has been overrun by identity politics, sparking accusations that academics pushing ideological projects are fuelling division within the community.  Themes of class, race and gender dominate history, literature, politics and social studies courses at the expense of traditional disciplinary content, according to an audit of Bachelor of Arts subjects that 10 universities offered last year. Conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs, the audit found that 572 subjects, or 44 per cent of the 1181 subjects analysed, were concerned with identity politics, while a further 380 subjects featured critical race theory — a US-born framework for studying race and power responsible for coining the concepts “white privilege” and “structural racism”.

In contrast, a mere quarter of English literature subjects involved the study of great works comprising the Western canon, while just 23 per cent of history subjects dealt with the history of Western civilisation ranging from Ancient Greece to the modern world. In the political sciences, 10 per cent of subjects offered taught students about the history of ideas and political thought. Freedom, a key tenet of the study of social sciences, was also in just 10 per cent of the 524 possible subjects. IPA director Bella d’Abrera, who carried out the review, said the findings could have devastating consequences, pointing to the impact of critical race theory on interracial tensions in the US, which has spilled over into violent rioting.

Dr d’Abrera said divisive ideologies were already having an impact on Australian society, evidenced by the perennial controversy around Australia Day and campaigns for the removal of public statues associated with European settlement. An obsession with identity politics had divided Australians according to characteristics such as class, race and gender, she said, “preventing us from living together harmoniously as a cohesive society”. “Academics have turned the humanities into a political project which seeks to replace the values and institutions of Western civilisation with a fatal combination of nihilism and anarchy,” Dr d’Abrera said. “The concept of a shared humanity has been removed and replaced with a divisive ideology which pits us against each other on the basis of our immutable characteristics.”

The audit, on the back of Dr d’Abrera’s previous analysis of the study of history at the nation’s tertiary institutions, follows a recent move by the federal government to raise fees for humanities courses in a bid to steer young people to study nursing, mathematics, science and engineering where there are greater employment opportunities. Dr d’Abrera said the humanities had become “homogenised” to the extent that it was “almost impossible to differentiate between them”. “There is no discernible difference, for example, between sociology and English literature or philosophy and sociology,” she said. “No matter the subject, the same worldview, which is that of identity politics and critical race theory, is repeated throughout all disciplines.”

Subjects captured in the audit included Macquarie University’s history subject “Global History of Sport”, where students examine the meaning of sport across “class, racial, gender, and ethnic groups”, including “the rise of female, LGBT, and transgender athletes”. At the University of Melbourne, philosophy students taking “Race and Gender: Philosophical Issues” are asked to consider if race and gender are “biological” or “socially constructed” categories. Even the study of children’s literature is framed through an ideological lens, with one course examining the canonical works only to veer into looking at “the ideological implications of the adult interests vested in the production of children’s literature, and how the genre works to socialise children into dominant views about gender, race and class”.

Simon Haines, chief executive of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which is sponsoring great books-style courses at several universities, said it was concerning if students were being offered little choice but to study history, literature and other humanities disciplines “exclusively or primarily through a limited number of prisms, such as race, class and sexuality”.  “This is not because great works are not affected by such issues, but because they, like human life itself, are about so much more … Academics can do their students’ understanding of life and our past a tremendous disservice if they appear to evaluate the huge range of human experience using relatively crude ideological and conceptual templates, which can often seem to be as activist as they are scholarly,” Professor Haines said.

Campion College president Paul Morrissey, whose private university offers liberal arts degrees, said infiltration of identity politics into the humanities was a worrying trend. “Disciplines like literature and history should be studied for their own sake, using a wide range of interpretative lenses,” Dr Morrissey said. “If everything about our past, especially our history and art, is reduced to a contemporary ideology of identity this will have a broader negative impact on our society. One of the problems with identity politics is that it has an innate suspicion and disdain of western history and culture writ large.” Australian Catholic University senior research fellow Kevin Donnelly said academic freedom, rational debate and the search for wisdom and truth had disappeared from the university sector only to be replaced by “cultural-left ideology”.

“One of the greatest threats to liberty and freedom is the fact that neo-Marxist-inspired mind control and group think dominate our universities,” Dr Donnelly said. “It‘s time universities were brought to account given the millions of dollars spent every year on subjects riven with destructive and nihilistic identity politics and cancel culture.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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