By Australian Newsletter

There were cheers as the controversial bill to decriminalise abortion passed the NSW lower house.  The bill to remove terminations from the state’s criminal code passed 59 votes to 31, but created a split within the Liberals with many of the party’s 35 MPs opposing the bill.  The proposed laws will now be scrutinised by the Parliament’s social issues committee, before proceeding to a vote in the upper house where it is expected to pass.  Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard supported the bill, but others including Attorney-General Mark Speakman, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Planning Minister Rob Stokes voted against the bill.

Now a coalition of upper house MPs from across minor parties have banded together in a plot to thwart the passage of the bill and will launch a fresh bid to prevent sex-selective terminations from being legalised.  The gender selection issue has dominated the bruising debate for Premier Gladys Berejiklian and has trigged deep divisions in all parties.  The issue is so contentious it has changed the stance of Shooters, Fishers & Farmers (SFF) MPs, who hold critical power in the upper house, who will now likely vote against the bill.  Prior to the exposing of the gender-based abortion loophole, the SFF members had been supportive of the bill.

The abortion debate has now split the minor party, with three lower house Shooters MPs having supported it when it passed on Thursday night following three days of fiery debate.  Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher has expressed his distress that an amendment to save the lives of babies that are born alive after an abortion attempt was not passed.  “If a civilisation is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members, New South Wales has failed spectacularly,” he said.  “Better proposed amendments, such as one to require that a baby born alive after a failed abortion be given lifesaving care, were defeated.”

In the US, 143 infants were born alive and died between 2003 and 2014 after attempted abortions, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.  Liberal MP and former minister for women Tanya Davies unsuccessfully moved a motion to require “termination not to be used for gender selection”.  Instead, members agreed to an amendment by Nationals MP Leslie Williams noting disapproval of the practice.  It requires the health ministry to review and report within 12 months.  A number of minor party members in the upper house have vowed to revive the gender issues when the bill is before them on August 20.

Christian Democrat MLC Fred Nile is already discussing amendments with One Nation’s Mark Latham and several Liberal members, including a motion to prevent sex-selective abortion.  Mr Nile said he would revive the motions that Ms Davies failed to get through the lower house, including reducing the threshold for restrictions of late-term abortions from 22 weeks to 20.  “I think it’s very important to discourage women or families and husband or wife if they want to try and control whether they’re going to have girls or boys,” Mr Nile said.  Shooters Party leader Robert Borsak said he was likely to oppose the legislation after he became concerned over the gender issues.

“I just won’t countenance any situation where there’s a chance for cultural reasons or other for potential parents to be selecting against a female,” Borsak said.  “That’s an anathema to me and I don’t want that to happen.”  He said he believed fellow Shooter MLC Mark Banasiak and Mr Latham would also not support the legislation.  Labor MLC Courtney Houssos is also open to an amendment on sex-selective abortions.  Nine upper house MPs have told The Daily Telegraph they will not support the bill.  Independent MP Alex Greenwich, who originally moved the bill, said Ms Davies’ amendment was “hostile” and “poorly drafted”.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said gender-selective abortion “should not happen”.  “Not one Member of Parliament should think that there is any opportunity in this state for gender-selective abortion to occur,” he said.  But he has been unable to point to a section of the bill that outlaws abortions based on gender.  Other major amendments that were rejected included one that would have strengthened protections for women against coercion to abort, and a motion to allow health services to collect data on abortions to determine their frequency, with claims that it was unfair to asylum seekers who wouldn’t have a Medicare card.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports 

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By Australian Newsletter

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has declared Australia should not let differences with China define an “important” relationship, as the Chinese embassy accuses Liberal MP Andrew Hastie of adopting a “Cold War mentality” after warning its rise could place Australia’s sovereignty and freedoms at risk.  The embassy said the comments by Mr Hastie, the chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, were detrimental to China-Australia relations.  Mr Hastie used a column in Nine newspapers to compare the West’s response to China to that of the French against Nazi Germany.  The response by China’s embassy was swift.

“We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on ‘China threat’ which lays bare his Cold-War mentality and ideological bias,” the embassy said in a statement.  “History has proven and will continue to prove that China’s peaceful development is an opportunity, not a threat to the world.  “We urge certain Australian politicians to take off their ‘coloured lens’ and view China’s development path in an objective and rational way.  “They should make efforts to promote mutual trust between China and Australia, instead of doing the opposite.”

Senator Payne would not slap down Mr Hastie for his critique and said an Indo-Pacific that was free, open and prosperous was overwhelmingly in the interest of Australia and its partners in the region.  “There are many opportunities for both Australia and China in our bilateral relationship.  It’s an important relationship underpinned by a comprehensive strategic partnership and a free trade agreement which benefits both countries,” Senator Payne said.  “There are differences from time to time but we should not let our relationship be defined by those differences.  We will continue to manage the relationship in Australia’s best interests.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton defended Mr Hastie, saying he was one of the most distinguished members of parliament after serving as an SAS captain.  “Andrew Hastie is somebody who has served with great distinction and it is his right as a backbencher to raise issues that are of concern to him,” Mr Dutton said.  While he refused to comment on Mr Hastie’s opinion piece, Mr Dutton said Australia must ensure all of its partners respected its sovereignty whether it’s in the area of trade negotiations, the allegations of theft of IP or on our university campuses.  We’ll continue to work with countries so people understand the boundaries,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison distanced his government from Mr Hastie’s warning.  The Prime Minister did not reject Mr Hastie’s critique, saying the issues and challenges he had raised were not new.  But Mr Morrison pointed out his colleague, who also chairs the parliamentary joint standing committee on intelligence and security, was not a minister and was therefore free to say what he wanted as a backbench MP.  Mr Morrison said Australia would continue to have a “cooperative arrangement” with China and declared there was more to be gained from the relationship, particularly from a trade perspective.

Mr Hastie said Australia must be clear-eyed about its position in the world as it balanced security and trade interests.  “We are resetting the terms of engagement with China to preserve our sovereignty, security and democratic convictions, as we also reap the benefits of our trade relationship,” he said.  “Right now our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure, but in our thinking.  If we don’t understand the challenge ahead for our society, in our parliaments, in our universities, in our private enterprises, in our charities, our little platoons, then choices will be made for us.  Our sovereignty, our freedoms, will be diminished.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham has accused NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian of doing a deal with Independent Alex Greenwich prior to the election to bring the abortion debate on because she was concerned she would fall into minority government at the March state election.  Mr Latham has accused Ms Berejiklian of running the “Berejiklian-Greenwich government”.  Mr Latham said Mr Greenwich was being given a “rails run” by the government, including on introducing a private members’ bill on abortion, when other members introduced private members bills and saw them kicked off to parliamentary committees for six months or not debated.

Mr Latham said Ms Berejiklian, who has a majority of two, had given Mr Greenwich three concessions since being elected: the abortion bill, making him chair of a committee which he said was aimed at killing coal jobs and making him deputy chair of the lockout laws review committee.  He also attacked the cross-party working group which had worked on the abortion bill, saying it was led by Nationals MP Trevor Khan, who he said had been given more power than most ministers.  “Trevor Khan is like a shop steward for the leftist progressive issues of the parliament,” Mr Latham said.

He said of the prospect of a Berejiklian-Greenwich deal: “How else do you explain this convergence of the private members bill that is rammed through the parliament?  “I’m putting two and two together and getting four.  A spokesman for the premier said of Mr Latham’s claims there was a deal with Mr Greenwich: “This is completely untrue.  It did not happen.”  Before the election, Mr Greenwich and fellow Independents wrote to Ms Berejiklian with a series of demands.  After the election, where she did not mention social issues, the Premier said social issues would be her priority in this term.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

A UN committee including members from China, Cuba, Uganda and Burkina Faso will oversee key decisions on Sydney’s future water supply, flood mitigation and flight paths from the new international airport.  Australia has agreed to give World Heritage Committee (WHC) members full details of the environmental impact of a planned increase in the height of the Warragamba Dam wall before any final decision to proceed is made.  The committee has also requested final flight path data for the new airport to ensure there is no impact on the Blue Mountains, a listed World Heritage area.

Intervention by the WHC could mean flights are routed over populated areas rather than the national park.  The committee also told the federal government to limit future mining development in and around the protected zone.  Australia was represented at the meeting by a nine-member delegation of senior bureaucrats as well as a six-person indigenous delegation from the Gunditjmara people of southwest Victoria.  The indigenous delegation’s attendance is in anticipation of a new heritage listing being approved for their area.  The Budj Bim area will be the first World Heritage listing of an Australian site exclusively for its cultural values.

Ms Ley said the federal government recognised the importance of protecting the Greater Blue Mountains’ World Heritage status.  “World Heritage listing is a significant international achievement for any property,” she said.  “It is based on a recognition that the Blue Mountains has outstanding natural values that are globally significant.  World Heritage listing protects the values of the property, and also delivers social and economic benefits.”  Ms Ley said the listing did not mean that development could not take place in western Sydney, “but it does mean that every effort has to be made to protect the natural values of the Greater Blue Mountains”.

“To retain the World Heritage listing it is important to demonstrate that those efforts are being made and that is what this process can achieve,” Ms Ley said. Raising the Warragamba Dam wall is a state government project but it is being assessed under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.  The federal government is the state party recognised by UNESCO for World Heritage matters.  Australia is one of 21 nations on the current World Heritage Committee.  Many of the nations on the WHC have poor environmental records, including host nation Azerbaijan.

The Absheron Peninsula in Azerbaijan is regarded as one of the most ecologically devastated regions in the world because of severe air, soil and water pollution.  Brazil and Indonesia have been criticised for widespread deforestation, while Zimbabwe’s poor mining practices are blamed for heavy metal pollution of the African nation’s land.  A coalition of environment groups, led by the Colong Foundation and including former Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne, has lobbied UNESCO to intervene.  Colong Foundation organiser Harry Burkitt said hundreds of donors, volunteers and supporters from western Sydney had helped take the Warragamba Dam fight to the UN.

Foundation director Keith Muir said that as a signatory to the World Heritage convention, Australia must accept the rules that go with it. “The World Heritage Committee is within its rights to criticise our intended damage to this World Heritage area,” he said.  The proposal to lift Warragamba Dam’s wall by 14m for flood mitigation is expected to cost more than $700 million.  NSW Finance Minister Damien Tudehope said the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam was a key element of the government’s flood strategy for the Hawkesbury Nepean river floodplain.

“While there will be some environmental impacts from temporarily holding floodwaters behind a raised dam wall, they must be measured against the social and financial impacts a catastrophic flood would have on western Sydney,” Tudehope said.  Critics argue the project is designed to provide additional land development opportunities in the flood-prone area.  Last October, the NSW parliament passed an amendment to the Water NSW Act 2014, exempting Warragamba Dam from the prohibition to increase temporary inundation in a national park.  Australia told the WHC the raising of the wall was expected to increase the frequency and extent of temporary inundation upstream of the dam.

The Committee noted this “with concern”. Former NSW environment minister Bob Debus told the WHC meeting the area proposed for intermittent inundation included up to 1000 hectares of World Heritage property and up to 3700ha within the adjacent protected area critical to its integrity.  Up to 65km of wilderness rivers would be inundated.  ”The area proposed for in­undation includes at least 300 known Gundungurra Aboriginal cultural sites, which would be damaged,” Mr Debus said.  He said the NSW government has treated the protection of outstanding universal value in a World Heritage area as little more than an irritating afterthought.

He said the state government’s real motivation was to increase residential development in the flood plain.  The WHC said inundation of any areas within the Blue Mountains World Heritage property was likely to impact on its outstanding universal value.  The committee reaffirmed that it considered the construction of dams with large reservoirs within the boundaries of World Heritage properties as incompatible with their World Heritage status.  The committee noted advice from Australia that development of Western Sydney Airport might result in “some noise impacts within the property”.  These could be minimised through the airspace and flight path design.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has delayed a vote to decriminalise abortion in NSW after conservative Liberal MPs pressured her for more time to consider it.  Independent MP Alex Greenwich introduced the bill last week, with an unprecedented 15 co-sponsors from all sides politics, but it will now not be debated until this week.  With debate expected to be held in Tuesday of this week, by the time you read this it is possible the debate and vote will have been finalised.  Several senior Liberals were keen to have the bill debated last week but in a heated Liberal Party room meeting last Tuesday, there was a push for the issue to be delayed.

Police Minister David Elliott, Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly, Mulgoa MP Tanya Davies and Vaucluse MP Gabrielle Upton were among those who were worried about it being rushed through.  Community Services Minister Gareth Ward defended Health Minister Brad Hazzard’s role in the drafting of the bill, telling colleagues Mr Hazzard’s involvement ensured a sensible outcome.  Mr Hazzard and Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock are co-sponsors of the bill, along with MPs from Labor, the Greens, the Nationals and Animal Justice.

One senior Liberal said there was concern MPs had not seen the bill until Saturday night and some wanted time to “talk to their communities” before taking a position.  “This really is a complex issue and I do understand people not wanting it rushed through because that could undermine the bill,” the source said.  The source said the delay “would mean it will get messy” because MPs will be pressured from religious leaders as well as pro-choice supporters.  Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher and a number of religious leaders have written to the Premier asking for an “urgent intervention” so that more time can be permitted for a “proper consultation”.

“It is the dream bill of the abortion industry, which they have already pressed upon other several states; but it will leave unborn children and unsupported pregnant women even more at risk,” the Archbishop said in a statement.  Mr Greenwich said he had a “firm commitment” from Ms Berejiklian, and the Leader of the House, Andrew Constance, that the bill would “be dealt with” this week.  “I hope opponents of the bill do not use this time to play politics with women’s bodies,” Mr Greenwich said.  “But I am pleased that the bill will take priority over government business on Tuesday.”

Mr Greenwich said the Liberal MPs who raised concerns in the party room meeting about the legislation being rushed through had not sought a briefing on the bill, despite being offered one.  Mr Constance, who has been a strong supporter of the bill, told the lower house that the bill will be debated on Tuesday and the issue finalised this week.  The proposed legislation would excise abortion from the state’s 119-year-old criminal code and create a standalone healthcare act to regulate the procedure.  It would allow abortion on request for women up to 22 weeks’ gestation performed by a registered doctor.  Women beyond 22 weeks would need the consent of two doctors.

Ms Berejiklian and several ministers have confirmed they will support the bill, which will be the first co-sponsored legislation to be introduced into the Legislative Assembly.  Opposition Leader Jodi McKay has also said she would back the bill.  The bill has more co-sponsors than any piece of legislation in the history of the NSW Parliament.  Both pro-choice and anti-abortion supporters have rallied  outside Parliament House this past week in an attempt to influence Parliamentarians who have still to make up their mind as to how they will vote on the issue.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Christian leaders, lawyers and lobbyists across Australia are urging people of faith to call on the government to enact a “Religious Freedom” bill, to protect the rights of Australians to free religious expression.  Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Liberal Senator for NSW, launched it during a recent speech in Parliament.  hg The petition calls for an act that ensures Australians the right to freedom of speech, thought, conscience, religion and religious expression, both publicly and privately; protects Australians from coercion in the area of religion and belief; is limited only by laws around public safety, order, health, morals and fundamental human rights and freedoms; and enables parents to educate and raise their children according to their beliefs.

The government is currently workshopping possible legislation around the issue of religious protection, and a “Religious Discrimination Act” is one of the possible draft legislations that may be brought forward.  However many Christian voices, including lawyers from the Human Rights Law Alliance, and the Freedom for Faith lobby group, believe an act focused solely on cases of religious discrimination would not be adequate to protect Australians’ freedoms.  In her speech to the Federal Parliament, Senator Fierravanti-Wells said she had been a long-time advocate for people of faith and was determined to see Australians’ freedom of speech protected.

“A religious discrimination act is not sufficient,” she said.  “It would be defensive in nature and limited to protecting against acts and practices by others which are discriminatory on the grounds of religion.  It is important that Australians of all faiths be free to practise their religion without discrimination.  Even those who have no beliefs should be free to express those views.”  She said the sacking of Israel Folau by Rugby Australia for his faith-based statements on social media, was an example of the discrimination that Australians should be protected against.

“The Israel Folau issue has heightened already existing concerns about incursions on religious freedom,” she said.  “Ordinary people of faith are now, understandably, asking the question: ‘if I quote the Bible, will it get me into trouble?’  This is now the discussion at the kitchen table for Australians who hold religious beliefs.”  A petition is now in circulation among Christian groups across the country, and the Senator is also urging people of faith to voice their concerns around the issue of religious freedom with their local Federal Member of Parliament.

Source: Hope 103.2FM

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By Feature Articles

The scene is rocking, and the most racially diverse I have encountered in contemporary London.  Lots of Afro-Caribbeans, plenty of Asians, lots of white folks, too, and almost every other variety you can imagine.  The joint is hopping.  Singer and guitars and a big, big sound.  Boom! Boom! Boom!  After the “concert” the big crowd, as diverse in age as in ethnic origin, spills out on to a precious patch of green in central London, there to enjoy an informal lunch of many ethnic cuisines, curries, paella, chilli con carne, pizzas and ice cream.  There’s no cost, though you can make a donation if you like.

I am attending the Sunday morning service of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), one of the most dynamic and important Anglican parishes in the world (though the good folks there would never make such flattering comparisons about themselves).  The big feature of the service is the music.  But the spiritual highlight, perhaps, is the legendary pastor, Nicky Gumbel, interviewing Christian musician couple Matt and Beth Redman.  Gumbel and the Redmans are stellar names in British evangelical Christianity.  One of Gumbel’s books sold more than a million copies.  The Redmans have both written books of Christian testimony and they are sell-out musicians in the US and Britain.

The big story of contemporary Britain is the radical loss of belief. It is a transforming social dynamic.  But there are now, perhaps equally important, tentative signs of a counter-trend.  Right next door to HTB, is the Brompton Oratory, the historic, world famous Catholic church.  Just a little before the rocking and rolling at HTB, the Catholic priests at Brompton Oratory celebrated the old Tridentine mass.  Not only is this mass conducted in Latin, the liturgy follows the ancient rites from the 16th-century Council of Trent, which was universal in the Catholic Church until it was replaced with an updated liturgy in vernacular languages by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

The music at the Tridentine masses is sublime, exquisite, liturgical, stylistically a world away from rock ’n’ roll contemporary style.  I have been to mass and other services at the Brompton Oratory a few times and they, too, are strikingly well attended.  These two churches, so superficially different, are, in my view, not so different after all.  One, with its ancient Latin liturgy, looks shockingly countercultural.  The other, hip and groovy, seems to be riding the wave of contemporary culture.  But the liturgy and music in both places is based squarely on the words of the Bible, Old Testament and New, and the message of basic Christianity is also essentially the same.

Tellingly, both forms of Christianity are thriving, in London and elsewhere.  Holy Trinity Brompton uses contemporary cultural style but it does not endorse the contemporary culture in toto any more than the Latin mass Brompton Oratory folks do.  Beth Redman, in her impressive comments, recounts how she has basically gone off Twitter and scaled back her Facebook.  Partly this is theological; the Bible says do your good works in secret.  Partly it is, like everything in this tradition, experiential.  She found that even when she was trying to pray, her iPhone distracted her.  She was inclined to check it.  So she chucked it.

She tells people to be careful of the films and television they watch, of the evil they put in their heads.  She and her husband also had much to say about more profound issues of life, but I was struck by the good and uncompromising nature of her social media advice.  The genius of this style of Christianity is that it is as hip and groovy and contemporary as you like, but it doesn’t shirk tough messages that in other contexts may sound wowserish.  The question is whether the two Bromptons and the other signs of life in contemporary British Christianity are really signs of hope, or are they more like crowded lifeboats bobbing around in the wake of a sinking ocean liner?

Whether you are religious or not, the pivotal point of history that we have reached in Britain and western Europe is awe inspiring, and little understood.  Britain and western Europe have abandoned the faith of their fathers, and even more their mothers, and with it much of their cultural and civic inheritance.  Before asking whether the trend has reached a turn, we must realise how staggering the trend is.  According to well-based research published last year, among 18 to 29-year-olds in France, there are as many practising Muslims as there are Catholics.  As many young Muslims go to mosque in France as young Catholics go to mass.

In London, the most religious part of Britain, of a total population of more than eight million, there are 4.1 million people who self-identify as Christian and 2.4 million who self-identify as Muslim (although Christians at last seem to be holding their numbers).  According to survey results of two years ago, 7% of 18 to 29-year-old Brits identify as Anglicans, while 6% identify as Muslims.  There are three reasons Muslim numbers have grown so fast.  They have been a very big part of the immigration cohort.  They generally have more children than non-Muslims do, and are much more successful than European Christians in passing on their faith to their children.

It is not necessary to be in any way anti-Muslim to recognise that this represents a huge, epic shift in the cultural and civic identity of Europe.  People who follow other religions are also growing in Britain, among them Hindus and Sikhs, and even, off a very low base, Orthodox Haredi Jews.  All of these religious groups are more successful than Christians in maintaining their religious affiliation across generations.  There is one critical point of context that is slightly mitigating.  For a long time now, Christianity has been a nominal affiliation for huge chunks of European populations.  So secularisation, the loss of God, has meant in part the end of nominal Christianity.

As Nick Spencer from the influential London think tank Theos tells me: “For the last generation or two, Christian identity and ethics are no longer the default position.  That’s been replaced by a default liberal outlook, me and my choices.”  But the civic identity of Europe, and its civilisation more broadly, derived overwhelmingly from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.  Britain is now, according to the surveys, a majority atheist society, as are some other west European nations.  This is a much stronger trend in western Europe and Britain than it is in the US or Australia, though all Western nations are experiencing some version of the same symptoms.

There is a debate about whether secularisation is a process that has progressed over centuries, from the Renaissance de-emphasising the divine in art, through the wars of Christianity to all the savage disruptions of the 20th century, or something much more sudden.  The classic account by Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, argues that the process was much more sudden.  It was kicked off by the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the sexual revolution and everything that followed.  Brown’s book suggests that Christianity reached a high point in Britain in the early 20th century, but the proportionate numbers of Christians were still not far below those highs in the 50s.

Indeed, there had even been some serious revival of Christian sentiment and practice in the 40s and 50s.  There is some evidence, at least a suggestion, that the decline of Christianity in Britain has now hit bottom and may be slowly turning around.  If that is so, it is in part at least because of the efforts of Gumbel.  He is the son of a German secular Jewish refugee.  Oxbridge educated, he was a highly successful barrister.  He converted to Christianity through reading the New Testament.  Although he did not found it, he has run the Alpha program, one of the most successful Christian formation and evangelisation efforts in modern history, since 1990.

It is an approach to teaching the basic Christian faith mainly to non-Christians, although so many nominal Christians have so little knowledge of Christianity, and contemporary Western culture provides almost no positive signs or clues to it, that the distinction between non-Christian and nominal Christian when people first come into contact with Alpha can be pretty meaningless.  Around the world, perhaps 26 million people have taken the Alpha program.  Within Australia alone, a half-million have done so.  A week and a half after I attend the service at Holy Trinity Brompton, a friend arranges that I might go and see Gumbel at his home near the church.

Whatever his success with selling books and the like, his house is modest.  He makes me a cup of tea and we walk through to his study, which is book-lined and lived-in, a little ramshackle, and contains more than one chair that doesn’t bear very vigorous use.  He doesn’t think Christian decline is inevitable, ongoing or irreversible: “If you take the church in the UK, people think it’s a steady decline.  But actually it’s back and forth. In 1750 the church had declined to almost nothing.  “There were 10,000 sex workers walking the streets of London and 16 people at St Paul’s Cathedral on Easter.

Then along came the Wesleys (John Wesley was an Anglican minister who founded the Methodist denomination) and William Wilberforce, and Christianity builds all the way to 1910.  “From 1910 onwards there’s been a decline.  But even within the cycles there are reverses.  When Billy Graham came there was a blip of growth.  “The question is: are we at the end of that decline?  The old Christians are still dying but the young are still coming forward.  There’s been a huge rise in Anglicans studying for the Anglican ministry.”  Paul Bickley, like Spencer also of Theos, points me to research that shows that religious communities of “experiential difference” are flourishing.

This term “experiential difference” means two things: the idea that there is “something different” about being a Christian, and combined with this some kind of transcendental experience of God.  Gumbel’s movement of Anglicans has been involved in “church planting” in Britain and around the world.  Where a church is about to close or there is a need on a housing estate or some other part of the community, the HTB network, as it is sometimes called, tries to step in with volunteers and energy and passionate commitment and see what they can do.  A decade ago HTB founded a seminary, a college to train new ministers.

In many churches, certainly Anglicanism and Catholicism, for hundreds of years now the typical way to train to become a priest was to go away to a residential college and study theology and philosophy and the like for years.  This college offered a new model.  For a few days a week students for the priesthood studied, but for a couple of days a week they worked in a parish and on Sundays they took part in parish life.  All the while, they lived at their homes.  This has now become one of the biggest and most successful Anglican training colleges in Britain.

I ask Gumbel just why Alpha has become such a worldwide success.  “One thing is the genuine community.  There’s food, people are welcomed, it’s non-confrontational, everyone’s loved for who they are.”  Alpha is organised around a series of talks, each followed by group discussions in which the Alpha leaders facilitate discussion of the talk just held.  At a certain point there is a weekend away.  Gumbel outlines some of the Alpha themes: “The talks are organised around peoples search for meaning and purpose in life.  The first asks: what is the purpose of life?  The second is: who is Jesus, why did he die?  It’s all around forgiveness. The next is about faith, who do you trust?”

The average age of Alpha course participants is 27: “The weekend away is about the Holy Spirit, it’s an opportunity to experience God.  This generation is much more interested in experiencing God than learning facts about God.  There is an evening on healing, healing and mindfulness are very in now.”  The success of Alpha crosses Christian denominations: “Alpha is running in all parts of the church, the Reformed Church, the Pentecostals, the Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Salvation Army.  We’re Church of England.  That’s very good because we’re less of a threat than anybody because no one really knows what the Church of England believes.”

Finally, I ask Gumbel what a person loses if they lose the knowledge of God.  In a long, animated, fluent conversation, it is the first time he pauses.  “I was not brought up as a Christian,” he says slowly.  “I know the difference between belief and not having belief.  Ultimately, you can lose everything.  “A person obviously can find purpose outside of the faith, but I don’t think you can find ultimate purpose and meaning outside of a relationship with God.”  Another pause: “And if Jesus did rise from the dead, there’s hope, and meaning. And love.”

Source: Article written by Australian journalist Greg Sheridan for the weekend Australian

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By Australian Newsletter

Federal Minister for Youth and Sport, Richard Colbeck has supported guidelines drawn up by the Human Rights Commission in partnership with Sport Australia and the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, which calls for people to be able to play in the sporting team of their identified sex, rather than their birth sex.  Senator Colbeck said he hoped the new rules would help tens of thousands of sports clubs across the country to be more inclusive and therefore boost the number of people playing sport.  But would being forced to compete with biological males mean females would be less likely to want to participate?

The federal Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) allows a person born male to be excluded from women’s competitions where “strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant.”  (Section 42 (1)) The Guidelines refer to this provision but at the same time put strong pressure on sporting bodies and clubs to allow men who identify as women to compete against women.  The Guidelines also warn that it may amount to discrimination to ask for any documentation (e.g., a birth certificate) to show a man identifying as a woman is legally recognised as a woman.

However, this does not apply to sporting activities for children under 12 years (SDA, Section 42 (2) (e) and the Guidelines say they can compete as whatever sex they identify as.  What injuries could be inflicted upon females competing against males who have superior strength and stamina?  How will females fare in sports such as AFL, rugby league, rugby union, water polo, martial arts, wrestling and so on, when competing against males who identify as female?  In vigorous contact sports males can be put in direct physical contact with females in tackles and ball contests which can lead to inadvertent or deliberate sexual contact.  Should females be forced to accept this?

Will the Minister be responsible for any injuries or sexual assaults that result from forced mixed sporting competitions?  The Guidelines say males who identify as females should be able to use the female showers, toilets and change rooms if they so desire.  How can the Minister justify the increased risk of sexual assault by placing boys and girls together in shared toilets, change rooms and showers?  How does the Minister plan to mitigate the risk of sexual assault created by deliberately placing biological males in these intimate, closed female spaces?  Will the minister be held liable for financial damages sought by anyone who has been assaulted in these circumstances?

Source: Australian Family Association

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