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IS CHRISTIANITY MAKING A COMEBACK?

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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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MALES CAN NOW COMPETE AS “FEMALES” IN SPORT

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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BILLIE JEAN KING HITS OUT AT MARGARET COURT

By Australian Newsletter

Tennis, specifically Billie Jean King and her coterie of admirers, has a looming crisis.  It goes by the name of Margaret Court, hardly a new topic for the haters (mostly US-based) whose desperate attempts to distort history continue at a disturbing rate.  When the 2020 Australian Open rolls around in January, King and her devotees will confront a historical reality at odds with their toxic narrative.  Court will celebrate the 50th anniversary of her magnificent 1970 grand slam sweep.  She will be feted in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.  As she should be.

Wimbledon hailed Rod Laver recently when the grand slam titan was presented with a replica trophy to mark his 1969 domination of the four biggest tournaments in the world.  Court will get similar recognition next year.  Only three women in history have lifted all four majors in the same season: Steffi Graf and Maureen Connolly are the others.  Neither Graf nor Connolly attracts the same hostility as Court.  King’s abhorrence of Court stems from the Australian’s stance on gay marriage, a position that prompted King to demand Court’s name be removed from the Melbourne Park stadium created in her honour.

If Tennis Australia submits to King’s call to erase Court’s name from Melbourne Park, it will spark a firestorm fiercer than that created by Israel Folau.  King sits at the forefront of the campaign to discredit the validity of Court’s record 24 grand slam singles trophies.  Asked if she thought too much was made of Court’s 24 majors, King replied: “I sure do.  You gotta remember we didn’t play the Australian Open for many, many years, we played the Virginia Slims in San Francisco.  We also played Team Tennis during the French Open.  I think (Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova) would have had a lot more than 24, quite frankly.”

But King and others made their choices.  Connolly, in 1953, took the trouble to travel to Australia.  Court’s achievements were also attacked by a Women’s Tennis Association employee on CNN.  Assessing Serena Williams’s pursuit of Court’s tally, the so-called expert told CNN: “I don’t think it is a record Serena needs, and I don’t think it is a record she should be chasing.  The real record, it was Steffi Graf’s record, which she already broke.  “When Steffi got 22, no one said, ‘Oh, you need two more to get to Margaret’.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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LABOR SET TO “GUT” LGBTIQ POLICY

By Australian Newsletter

After our strong campaign in Labor dominated Western Sydney, it seems Labor may have learned their lesson: the radical gender agenda doesn’t play well in the suburbs.  The New Daily reported, “Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has told shadow cabinet the Labor Party needs to ‘gut’ the policy platform, citing the need to streamline ‘LGBTIQ’ references to gay rights.  The New Daily has confirmed that Mr Albanese’s preferred approach is to replace LGBTIQ throughout the platform by simply referring to the need to end discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender.”

Albanese has always been a very strong supporter of same sex marriage and other gender related issues.  He is a member of the left faction that pushed for the inclusion of many of the LGBT issues in the first place.  Kirralie Smith, Binary spokeswoman, was delighted with the news saying “Labor’s gender agenda is way too radical for mainstream Australia.  Tax-payer funded LGBT centres, a gender commissioner, banning ‘conversion therapy’, valuing transgender ideology above women’s rights, is all too much.” “Let’s hope that Labor is finally accepting this is not simply a matter of language, but policy.  Voters rejected the radical gender agenda, and so should Labor.”

Source: Binary

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FEWER SYDNEY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS CHOOSING SCRIPTURE

By Australian Newsletter

Some Sydney public school principals are pushing to scrap Special Religious Education (SRE) classes from government high schools as new figures reveal as few as 5% of students at some Sydney high schools are attending scripture lessons.  The NSW Department of Education does not keep centralised data on SRE enrolments, so Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) sought enrolment figures at 25 schools across Sydney under Freedom of Information laws.  In some Sydney high schools, as few as 5 per cent of students have enrolled in Special Religious Education.

That snapshot showed enrolments varied, but fewer than one-third of the schools had more than 33 per cent of eligible students enrolled.

The Secondary Principals Council (SPC) has called for SRE to be dropped from high schools, saying the time should be used for teaching and learning, and the NSW Teachers Federation has also previously urged an end to mandatory religious education.  Just 16 students, or 5 per cent of those eligible, signed up to any form of SRE at Arthur Phillip High in Parramatta this year, while only 6 per cent of students at Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus attended SRE classes.

At Marrickville High school, 10% of students are enrolled in SRE, a figure similar to Willoughby Girls High (10%), Sydney Secondary College Balmain (8%) and Burwood Girls’ High (11%).  The schools with high rates of SRE attendance included Rose Bay Secondary College, where 50% of students are enrolled in some form of religious instruction; Castle Hill High, with 84%; and Fairfield High, with 71% enrolled.  The figures showed many students who identified as religious are still opting out of SRE; almost three-quarters of students at Cherrybrook Technology High identify with a religion, but only 35% are enrolled in SRE.  At The Ponds High School, two-thirds of students say they identify with some kind of religion, but only 21% signed up to SRE.

When students do not participate in SRE lessons, which involve between 30 and 60 minutes per week, they do “alternative meaningful activities” such as homework or reading, but are not allowed to learn the curriculum.  Ethics is not offered in NSW high schools.  SPC president Chris Presland said high participation in SRE was the exception rather than the rule.  “Those lower figures would be the norm for most secondary schools,” he said. “We believe public schools should be free and secular.  We see religious education as a parental responsibility not a school responsibility.”

But a spokesman for Christian SRE, Murray Norman, said some schools reported an overwhelming response to SRE, while others had a lower response. “That’s quite normal, just as some schools have a high percentage enjoying sport and others don’t,” he said.  “In some schools close to 100 per cent of students attend SRE classes because their parents have exercised their right to choose a values-based education for their child at that school.”  Religious Instruction is also coming under pressure in Queensland, where calls to dump it are growing after figures revealed that just a quarter of public school parents wanted their children enrolled in it this year.

But NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the existing system, saying it allows parents to decide whether to enrol their child.  “Last year, the NSW Government changed the enrolment procedure for SRE, making it clearer to parents and carers what SRE and SEE (Special Education in Ethics) options are available at their child’s school,” she said.  “All SRE and SEE options are opt-in.  Religious education classes have been offered in public schools since 1848. Every NSW Government has supported this approach since then.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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WA EUTHANASIA BILL MORE LIBERAL THAN NEW VICTORIAN LAW

By Australian Newsletter

The West Australian government is poised to introduce euthanasia laws that are more liberal than those operating in Victoria after an expert panel recommended that patients should be eligible for voluntary assisted dying if they have a disease likely to cause death within 12 months.  This contrasts with Victoria where terminally-ill people must have less than six months to live to qualify to end their lives by taking lethal medication.  The 13-member expert panel, chaired by former governor Malcolm McCusker, also recommended that nurse practitioners be able to give permission for a patient to access the scheme in WA.

In Victoria, where new laws recently came into effect, the assessment of a patient’s eligibility can only be made by two doctors.  The WA panel has adopted that safeguard, but recommended that the second assessment can also be done by a qualified nurse practitioner, given the scarcity of doctors in country areas of WA.  Nurse practitioners are senior clinical nurses who have completed additional university studies.  The planned WA scheme would also differ from Victoria, the first VAD (Voluntary Assisted Dying) scheme in the nation, by allowing doctors to raise the subject of euthanasia with their patients.

Victoria prohibits health practitioners from starting a conversation about voluntary assisted dying.  “Many health practitioners are reluctant to discuss end-of-life care with people,” the panel said.  “It is also known that up to 60% of Australians may not have the knowledge or confidence to start discussions about specific treatments or options that have not already been raised by their health practitioner.”  The panel recommended that people who have lived in WA for less than 12 months should be able to access the scheme by making a special application to the State Administrative Tribunal.

In Victoria, a patient must have been a resident in the state for 12 months at the time of making a request for euthanasia.  Mr McCusker said the panel felt a different policy was needed in WA due to its large fly-in fly-out population.  Under the proposed WA scheme, a patient must have decision-making capacities, which would preclude people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  They must make three requests, two orally and one in writing.  Two adult witnesses to the written application must also prove they will not benefit financially from the person’s death.

A person eligible for assisted dying would self-administer the lethal medication themselves, although a doctor would be able to assist the patient if needed.  Only those whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” within 12 months can apply.  The panel made 31 recommendations for the proposed laws after consultations in 11 metropolitan and regional centres across WA.  Health Minister Roger Cook said the report would help in the development of legislation that will be introduced into parliament in August.  Dying With Dignity WA president Steve Walker welcomed the report.  The Australian Medical Association, which opposes euthanasia has not commented.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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WOLLONGONG UNIVERSITY GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO WESTERN CIVILISATION DEGREE

By Australian Newsletter

In an bid to thwart a union court challenge to its Western Civilisation course that is due to start next year, the University of Wollongong’s top governing body has intervened to green light the new degree.  The university’s council decided to use its ultimate authority to approve the degree, which is sponsored by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, independently of the university’s regular processes.  In a statement the university said the decision was intended to remove any uncertainty about whether the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation would begin in 2020 as planned.

The university called on the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) , which launched NSW Supreme Court action in April this year in an attempt to stop the degree’s rollout, to end its court challenge.  NTEU national president Alison Barnes responded by condemning the council’s decision, saying it was “another example of the university not following its normal processes, at the expense of academic governance”.  She said the union would consider the impact of the university’s move on its legal case and “decide next steps as soon as we are in a position to do so”.

The council said it took its decision under NSW legislation governing the University of Wollongong which says the council has powers to “act in all matters concerning the university”, and to “provide such courses, and confer such degrees … as it thinks fit”.  The NTEU’s court action challenged the decision by University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Paul Wellings, announced in February, to use his fast-track power to speed the formal approval of the Western civilisation degree, meaning that it was not considered and approved in the normal way by the university’s academic senate which represents academics across all faculties of the university.

The NTEU lodged a claim in the NSW Supreme Court to have Professor Wellings’ decision declared invalid and to halt its preparations to offer the degree.  University of Wollongong chancellor Jillian Broadbent said that the council had full respect for the university’s academic process, particularly the role of the academic senate.  “By approving the degree the council has acted in the best interests of the university.  It will enable progress to continue despite any continuing legal challenge to the vice-chancellor’s approval decision,” she said.  “The council remains prepared to continue with its legal defence of the vice-chancellor’s exercise of his delegated authority.”

Ms Barnes said that the NTEU’S case against the University of Wollongong centred on the by-passing of normal academic governance processes which “play a vital role in quality control and are fundamental to ensuring academic integrity and quality”. “The NTEU is again disappointed at UOW’s disregard for its academic staff and the broader university community,” she said.  Ms Broadbent said “I encourage the whole university community to unite in a shared commitment to our objectives of encouraging ‘the advancement, development and application of knowledge informed by free inquiry’ and ‘the provision of courses of study across a range of fields.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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