June 30, 2018

Religious Exemption: I Give It a Year – Or Ten.

Christian educational institutions need to get a wriggle on.

Schools and other educational institutions that receive government funding have less time than they think to come up with alternate ways to educate students from an orthodox Christian framework and within a specifically orthodox ethical setting.

This has been highlighted by the move by Western Australian Greens to introduce legislation  to WA’s state Parliament to ensure that the same sex marriage decision bleeds into every aspect of life, including the removal of religious exemptions for schools.

You can still have your exemptions on sexuality matters, but don’t expect funding from state – and then in the future – federal, governments.

Greens Upper House MP, Alison Xamon says the Bill is designed to stop the flow of public funding to religious schools who won’t sign up:

They are receiving taxpayer dollars and frankly what someone’s sexuality or gender identity or marital status is, is really irrelevant to being able to teach or to garden or to be able to work in administration at a particular school.

You can read the full article here.

Of course this move was always going to be the next step.  However we were told by many a well-meaning person, including many a Christian, that there would be some sort of magical firewall to make sure alternate ethical communities were protected.

Turns out that will not be the case.  Although at this stage, it’s a Greens proposal, and it will be interesting to see if mainstream parties have the guts to pull that trigger for many of the local schools they represent, often populated by students from decidedly non-Christian backgrounds who enjoy the fruit of the gospel, without acknowledging the root of the gospel.

But it’s what Xamon says about the fundamental nature of religious practice that is most intriguing.  In the proposed bill she kept in a clause that allows discrimination on “religious grounds”.  She states:

The reason I decided to keep that in there is because what I’m not trying to do is mess with the fundamental integrity of the make-up of religious schools. So a Jewish school can still have Jewish students, Muslim schools can still have Muslim students, Catholic schools can still prioritise Catholic students, there’s no problem with that.

Great.  So a Jewish community can still think Jewishly, a Muslim community can still think Muslimly, and a Christian community can still think Christianly.  Just don’t expect to be able to practice Jewishly, Muslimly or Christianly.

What exactly does she mean by “fundamental integrity” when it’s the very integrity of what it means to be religious that this Bill is intending to rip out.  And itself, shows its own lack of integrity.

At its heart the bill, the Greens, and Alison Xamon, fail to grasp the fundamental nature of religion – that’s a whole world, whole person, whole practice matter.  She is treating it as if religion is a thought process, a private process, that has no bearing on the day to day life of a person.

That somehow we can hold to something in our minds, without it being an important aspect of what we do individually or as a community.

Back in the day I remember a number of left-leaning Christians with car bumper stickers “As A Christian I Oppose The Death Penalty”.

I oppose it too, and am more than happy to express that view in public and work towards that given the opportunity.  But apparently the public space is reserved for certain perspectives only these day in ethical matters.

I understand that of the Greens. Perhaps not so of Alison Xamon, who herself has a religious background.  She is a solid person and a good MP with a heart for mental health issues and refugee matters. I have debated her in a church setting on issues to do with teleology and the future of humanity. I presume that her heart for refugee matters, is borne at least in part from a religious framework, and it is a framework and practice with which I would agree.

So it would be horrendous and stupid to tell Alison Xamon that she could hold a religious viewpoint  – have a fundamental integrity – about what she believes should be the case for refugees, but not be permitted to put her convictions into action. It wouldn’t make sense.

Yet she fails to see the irony in her own statement when it comes to actions that she may not agree with, but which are held by religious people not just in theory, but in practice.

Of course, on the basis of her statements, her own religious beliefs must hold very different perspectives on sexuality to orthodox Christianity, Islam or Judaism, otherwise so perhaps this is just a case of the one who holds the power, exercising it over others with whom she disagrees.  The very problem this Bill claims to be resolving.

Which gets to the nub about what it means to be an MP who represents the community to the government and the government to the community.

Note what she says:

Fundamentally at the end of the day we need to remember that schools are there to also provide a service. They are receiving taxpayer dollars and frankly what someone’s sexuality or gender identity or marital status is, is really irrelevant to being able to teach or to garden or to be able to work in administration at a particular school.

In other words, all funding for everything from government must be aligned with what only the government decides is right or wrong on some of the deepest held beliefs and practices in our history.  Beliefs that existed before government.

This is statism at its ugliest, and as someone who has protested against a variety of government over-reaches Xamon should know better.  She – and the Greens – have decided which ethical frameworks should be allowed to be aired publicly and supported, and which should not be.

Now I often get accused as being a “sky is going to fall in” person when it comes to this issue of why the government should allow alternate ethical communities to not only exist, but to flourish, and to aid in their flourishing, and why to not do so will risk us losing more than we might at first think.

The sky won’t fall in, but the clear trajectory of the state, aided and abetted by an enthusiastically activist mainstream media, means that educational institutions better get their act together and soon.

They’d better come up with alternate funding methods and organise themselves for a stripped back, lean system that relies less on bricks and mortar.    And they’re going to need to do it quickly.

How many years do they have to do that?  Not all that many if Alison Xamon’s word prove correct:

“These are discriminatory, out-dated provisions on our statutes and I am anticipating that at some point in the future, whether it be in a year or whether it be in a decade, that we are going to see a wind back of these laws at a federal level.”

Christian institutions have about ten years – tops – to sort this out.  The time to start working on this was five years ago.  How are your institutions going?

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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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