July 20, 2018

Christian Institutions: Build Your Boats For Foul Weather

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The noise leaking today from the Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedoms in Australia would indicate that Christian organisations that hold to an orthodox sexual ethic in theology and practice should be building their boats for foul weather ahead.

That’s a general rule: always build a boat for foul weather.  Hope for fair, but build for foul.

Aircraft engineers over-engineer aircraft to accommodate for extremes that the average flight will not likely experience.

The chances of such catastrophic conditions mid-flight?  Minimal.

The consequences of catastrophic conditions mid-flight?  Huge.

Leaving aircraft aside, the comments today by one of the Inquiry members, Father Frank Brennan, indicate that mid-flight conditions for Christian organisations receiving public funding in the near future are going to be turbulent.

Brennan is quoted in today’s The Guardian newspaper, which has received a copy of a speech delivered to the Castan Centre human rights conference.

The newspaper states:

Brennan says religious groups are “entitled to conduct their institutions consistent with church teaching but not in a manner which discriminates adversely against those of a different sexual orientation”.

LGBTI staff should be treated “in the same manner as those of a heterosexual orientation”, suggesting that if churches “turn a blind eye” to heterosexual teachers not living in a church-authorised marriage they should “surely do the same for those thought to be living in a same-sex relationship”.

That last paragraph is interesting.  Why?  Because it assumes that independent Christian schools that have a conduct covenant signed by their staff are in the same position as mainline denomination church schools which have pretty much flown the white flag on how heterosexual staff conduct their relationships (or indeed the rainbow one to celebrate homosexual practice as the way forward for the Christian faith in the 21st century).

In other words, the standard by which Brennan, and perhaps others on the inquiry, judge the Christian ethical practice is mainline denominational standards: “church schools”, not necessarily “Christian schools”, if you get the difference.

Nonetheless I can’t see LGBTI advocates either being able to differentiate between those two extremely different beasts or, more to the point, wishing to.

And what does Brennan mean by religious groups being permitted to “conduct their institutions consistent with church teaching”, yet at the same time say this cannot be in a manner “which discriminates adversely against those of a different sexual orientation.”

Those two concepts cannot co-exist in any practical level.  It’s as if Brennan is saying that in one glaring example – sexual practice – the religious institution is not permitted to be consistent with church teaching.  Why that one and only that one Frank?  It’s almost absurd, and is certainly an example of the doublespeak that has dogged this debate.

I’m astonished that someone like Frank Brennan cannot see the dualistic nature of his comment.  There is no world-view without world-practice.  The secular frame believes that belief is simply privatised opinion, and Brennan’s comments add fuel to that already stoked fire.

Which all means that Christian schools should build their boats for foul weather.  What does that look like? It means no longer assuming government and other public monies for their organisations, unless of course they sign off on the legislation that will inevitably be introduced that forces them to bifurcate their beliefs from their behaviours.

There’s been the push already in Western Australia by the Greens, who are set to introduce legislation that ties funding to such sign offs.  I wrote about that here.

What does the future look like for non-mainline church schools such as Baptist colleges, independent Christian schools, and the like?

Well, the pressure will be on.  If you wish to survive and thrive, and not shut down complete schools, or at least not drastically reduce what you can offer at the price you offer it, then you’ll sign off.  And I’m sure many will.

But if the board of your school won’t sign off, then a number of things will happen.  First there may well be  internal pressure to do so from staff who rightly fear losing their jobs, and losing the vocational centres they have established.

There will also be external pressure from parents, especially if the school has a high percentage of open-intake students, meaning students without any Christian background.

Most secular parents are sending their children to Christian schools because of the good pastoral care and clear disciplinary boundaries.  Many could care less about the Christian framework, so there’ll be no understanding there when the fees go up dramatically.

Funding won’t be cut overnight of course.  But that’s the trend. So get used to operating on less money, or prepare your parents for huge fee increases. In other words, get prepped for foul weather.  I am not sure that many independent schools are taking this seriously enough.  There’s a sense in which they don’t consider that it might happen.

Until it happens, of course.

What does a boat built for foul weather look like in this circumstance?  Well it will have a contingency plan.  It will already be looking at how to not bloat itself on government money and bank loans for big spends.  It will be battening down the financial hatches.

It will also be assessing how it can do Christian education in the future without bricks and mortar.  A model of home schooling, perhaps with some good selective organisations that provide collective educational experiences and learning a few days per week.  Fortunately technology as it stands, and where it is headed, means that pedagogical methods unimaginable a few decades ago are realities now.

Perhaps school boards and CEOs need to be sourcing the brightest, nimblest minds available to them, younger staff who have grown up in this hardening secular time, and who have a theological conviction about how to navigate it, and how to build a boat robust enough to not flounder on the rocks.

None of this alarmist.  It’s reality.   If you are part of a Christian independent school and this has not been part of your school’s conversation, then your school is going to sink pretty quickly when the inevitable storm hits.

The storm is a reality that is taking a step closer every day.  There’s not energy left in the current Federal Government, and certainly no desire in the current Opposition to fight for religious freedoms that really matter, and certainly none outside the cloisters of your safe church building.

Of course there will be vicars, pastors and theologians aplenty who will scorn this as alarmist.  But hey, they’ve got the luxury of doing so. They should be the last to worry about this because their roles will be left untouched – there’s little chance they’ll have to sign off on anything.

For the moment.  Perhaps they might make some noise once the secularists come after their fringe benefit entitlements, which can make up to fifty per cent of their income (and in the interests of disclosure my income too).  Then they might start to make some noise.

And if all of that sounds doom and gloom, it ought not to be.  Look around the world.  Six thousand Nigerian Christians killed this year and little MSM hoo-ha about it.

That doesn’t make it nothing. Each Christian setting is going to face its own pressures, and ours will also result in vast changes to our habits and expectations. But Jesus made a habit of being in the boat with his disciples, storm or no storm.

It will be confronting, but we won’t perish.  The boat he has built is more than capable of withstanding the storm, and one day he will say to the raging and foaming nations “Cease, be still!” and the sea will become as glass.  Until then, build for foul weather.






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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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