February 6, 2023

The Australian Law Reform Commission Has Christian Schools in its Sights.

If anyone was under any illusions that there would be a “live and let live” attitude from the purveyors of the Sexular Age, then the recommendations of The Australian Law Reform Commission, in terms of how Christian schools should be able to staff themselves, will dispel such illusions. It’s quite a depressing first-up read.

Make no mistake, the ALRC has faith-based schools in its sights. And it’s only a matter of time before schools have to decide whether they will simply allow their identity to die the death of a thousand cuts.

And I’m not sure most staff in Christian schools get it. The ALRC, and state governments around this country, are implacably determined to push the gospel of sexual diversity not only as something that schools must teach, but that must supplant the biblical framework. And not just in what they teach, but in who they employ to teach it.

This is a gospel issue. A rival gospel issue. There is a good news story wrapped up in sexual identity that the secular evangelists are promoting. And they have the time, resources, evangelists, and currently the power, to ensure that gospel rings out from across the land.

There is no live and let live approach. Christian educators that once though that there is room for all sorts of views, not only to be tolerated, but more importantly to be celebrated, funded and accredited, need to wake up. And ironically, it’s the Christian parents that are realising it quicker.

It would be a great irony that at the very time Christian schools grow, that they would lose the very thing that made them distinct in the first place – the Christians! But that’s what is happening. And it’s happening every time a school fails to stand up firmly and lovingly (both can be true at the same time), for the orthodox perspective on sexuality in the face of the secular mainstream and social media banshees howling for blood.

That’s why, despite the growth in Christian schooling, there’s a trickle, growing to a flow, of Christian parents from such schools. Home-schooling and micro-schooling options are seen as better alternatives, while being a little further removed from the likes of the ALRC and its interests.

If the perceived default position, whether actual or not, in Christian schools is that the students that most require love are those who identify as non-binary or trans etc, then Christian parents are going to come to the conclusion that the love required to enable a faithful Christian student to navigate the hostile, yet beguiling, Sexular Age with gospel integrity, is no longer in the school’s remit. I’m all for schools being missional, but you’ve got to be clear about the mission you are missioning, so to speak. Why? Because the secular missionaries have a good news story that they also wish to spread, and they’re intent on silencing their rivals.

If school executives and boards are scared into silence on this matter, or just roll over in order to survive, what sort of lesson is that giving to its Christian students? Alternatively, activist students (and not all sexually diverse students are activists) know that the weight of culture is with them. Schools live in fear of being the lone gazelle being picked off by the media (such as the Citipointe Christian College case last year), in what is in effect a lesson to all the other gazelles standing at a distance. It’s a case of “See? And this is what can happen to you if you misbehave.”

Let’s be clear, most young Christians in schools cope with the sexual diversity issues among their peers better than the older Christian crowd generally does. After all, it’s been the water they swim in since birth. The cultural shift has shocked my generation, or at least the pace of it has, but it’s all the likes of my daughter has known.

But Christian students also want their school leaders to show clarity and bravery as well as love. A rival gospel would pick them off. It wants these students for its own. It iss rainbow coloured, alluring, and clearly presented as “being on the right side of history”. What Christian student want, even if they can’t articulate it this way, is an alternate plausibility structure to the one the likes of the ALRC would like to give them. Are they getting it at your school?

Young Christians who are going to have to navigate this as they step into the wider world, want schools to model the difference Jesus makes in our lives, all without compromising on the ethics that make Christianity so distinct in this one area that the culture refuses to give the church a hall pass on.

The most loving thing a Christian school can do is welcome confused children into its midst, and give them clarity about what it means to truly flourish as a human. In short, they want their school to model a better story to their peers, that even if they do not end up believing it, is something to be envious of.

If all we have left to us is the fruit of the gospel, while the likes of the ALRC hack at the root of the gospel in our schools, then we’re going to be left with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and not much else. That’s an anaemic Christian heresy that will not stand up to the harsh secular winds.

You see the articles of faith around sexuality that drives the ALRC brooks no rival faith. The ALRC has one simple agenda, to ensure that Christian schools cannot retain their distinctives when it comes to ethical matters.

The commission has ostensibly been asking for submissions to its consultation paper so that it can determine a way forward. But when you read the paper you realise the decision on which direction to take is already signed, sealed and delivered. Whatever Christian schooling in Australia will say, the hard trend is to ensure that they will be unable to meaningfully staff to their values.

That, by the way, was always going to be the agenda of the progressives in Australia. When there’s a constant pincer move between the disinformation from the likes of the ABC, the Sydney Morning Herald, plus the progressive zealotry of state governments such as Victoria’s and Western Australia’s, it was always going to be an uphill battle.

Speaking to those in the know in Canberra this past week, the tone was that the recommendations are far more intrusive than many feared. But not only that, the recommendations are most likely going to be adopted by the Federal Government, meaning that all state legislations or protections will be over-ridden. As I was told, it won’t really matter if you get to speak to a submission before the legislators, they’re not interested in what we have to say.

Now Neil Foster, who’s a bit of an expert in the legal side of things, has written an excellent blog post on this here. Neil is much more circumspect emotionally than I am (I am Northern Irish after all), but he’s under no illusions about the implications of the ALRC’s drive:

It effectively recommends the removal of protections enjoyed by religious educational institutions which have been designed to safeguard the ability of these organisations to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. The “fences” protecting these bodies from being forced to conform to majority views on sexual behaviour and identity (and hence losing their distinctiveness as religious bodies) are to be knocked down, the ALRC says. But the paper offers no convincing reasons for this wholesale demolition of a structure which has served the diversity and plurality of the Australian community for many years. Rather than supporting “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”, the paper’s recommendations would require a compulsory uniformity which would undermine the reasons for the existence of faith-based educational institutions…And when we come to the substantive recommendations, what we find is that at almost every point, balancing clauses currently in force to allow religious schools and colleges to operate in accordance with their faith, are to be abolished.

So what are the recommendations? Here are the four points summed up by Neil:

Proposition A : Religious schools and colleges can no longer apply conduct rules relating to student behaviour in the area of sexual activity or gender identity, except for theological colleges training clergy for formal ordination. Schools and colleges can, however (very carefully) still teach their religiously based views on appropriate sexual behaviour.

Proposition B: Religious schools and colleges can no longer apply conduct or speech rules to their staff in the areas of sexual activity or gender identity, except for theological colleges training clergy for formal ordination. But staff can be asked nicely to teach the doctrines of the religion on these issues.

Proposition C: Religious schools and colleges can require staff to share the religious outlook of the body, or preference such staff in appointments, but only where participation in teaching religion is a “genuine requirement” of the position and the differential treatment is “proportionate”. In making these decisions, however, no consideration may be given to staff behaviour, views or identity relating to sexual activity, or orientation, or gender identity.

Proposition D: Staff at a religious school or college can be required not to “actively undermine” the ethos of their employer, but no criteria relating to sexual activity or orientation or gender identity can be imposed.

Now it’s worth reading Neil’s article in full, it’s got the links you will need to better understand where this is going, plus he’s a great legal exegete and I am not. It’s astonishing how little secularists actually understand religion isn’t it? You can live a compartmentalised life apparently. You can apparently “not actively undermine” the religion in your teaching, your way of engaging with students, your life in the staffroom or the department building, but live completely the opposite of what the school teaches. It’s as if the likes of the ALRC thinks religious life is a set of abstract ideas that you intellectually assent to and that’s it.

But here’s what’s also alarming. The commission is giving schools the right to teach what they foundationally believe about matters such as sexuality, marriage, gender etc. But they are also going to be required to teach alternate viewpoints. And by that do we think they mean that in the context of what we believe is a biblical approach to such matters, we can critique other perspectives? Of course not. What they mean is that these ideas must be promoted as viable alternatives. This is interference at curriculum level that secularists would chafe at if the other way around.

To which I would retort: “You mean like the secular public system promotes the orthodox Christian perspective on such matters and gives it a fair hearing?” Yeah right! Go to any public schooling system and speak up in the humanities or the wellbeing program, cough gently to get attention, say “Excuse me” and then politely and kindly explain the biblical vision of human flourishing and the goal and meaning of our sexuality. You’ll get a whole lotta words that end with the suffix “phobe” thrown at you, that’s if you’re even allowed to say anything.

Folks, this is the make or break time for Christian schooling. I don’t mean whether those schools whose shingle out the front claims allegiance to a denomination or has the word “Christian” in it. I mean those schools that seek to offer an alternate vision to the Sexular Age’s vision of what life is about. If Christian schools don’t take a stand on what is the single-most hostile assault on biblical distinctives then why bother.

The ALRC and its cultural cronies knows that the biblical vision is at odds with the progressive, secular vision they wish to promulgate. And if they can’t legally shut down those education institutions that make it hard for them to sell that vision untrammelled to our next generation of young people, then they’re going to disempower and domesticate them.

I don’t want to be the doomsday prophet on this one, and I note that the Catholic Church has expressed severe dismay on this matter. Some see this as a positive, and that with such a strong lobby group as the Catholics in their corner, then independent Christian schools are on a sure footing. To which I would say, maybe you need to go back and watch the protests outside Cardinal George Pell’s funeral the other week, and the ducking for cover in terms of attending that funeral by state and federal leaders. Whatever one thinks of the issues around Pell, the institution of the Catholic Church does not convey the moral future of our nation.

The sentiment and tone in this country is not behind the Catholic Church when it comes to matters of sexuality. Besides, I’m not sure the average Catholic school educator is aligned with the monolithic position held by the Church’s central leadership. I suspect there’s a gap between the two. I’d be very surprised if the average teacher at a Catholic school holds to official Catholic doctrine on sexual identity matters.

Which simply reflects a wider issue for the Church, e.g., the gap between the Catholic church’s teaching on contraceptives and the practices of its parishioners. Maybe there was a day when, if the Catholic Church expressed its concern over a matter in the public square then people might think “We’d better look into this.” Now its concerns are seen as special pleading, and a mask for power. This school matter will be no different. Independent faith-based schools might be leaning on a rod of Egypt, so to speak.

Of course, none of this negates the fact that Christian schools need to be loving when they are dealing with the coalface of the sexual revolution right up front. When self-identifying trans students and those who say they are gay or non-binary are in your classrooms everyday you want to navigate that space carefully and pastorally.

Yet most schools do. The stories that make the news are few and far between. However the ALRC is not interested in our schools pastorally caring for students whose lifestyles we disagree with, but who we wish to walk alongside. They are interested only in enervating our message that there is a better, more holistic, and satisfying identity in Christ available to all. They are insistent that the gospel message of an identity in Christ is antithetical to a flourishing life, and is, rather, an impediment to the safety, mental health, and autonomy of a student.

So watch this space. Pooh-pooh my concerns – and those of the likes of Neil – if you like. But that’s the direction this thing is going, and unless there is a concerted effort to stand our ground, that’s the place we’re going to land. Disagree with me if you will, but you’re going to have to give me another likelier outcome if you do so.

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