December 6, 2018

The Religious Freedom Arm Wrestle



arm-wrestling-manual-featIt’s time to get real.

The debate around religious freedom in Australia is an arm wrestle and we’re at an impasse.  Each side is straining at the other, and refusing to budge.

And the reason each side is refusing to budge is that there is so much at stake.

Paul Kelly nailed it today in The Australian when he said this:

The national parliament was deadlocked yesterday on the issue of the age — how to protect ­religious freedom in schools and worship with the need to protect gay children from discrimination.

The dispute here is about ­religious freedom in Australia — how much it should exist, how much it should be curtailed and how it should be protected in law. The Morrison government and the Shorten Labor Party cannot agree, pointing to a schism likely to run throughout the nation.

“The issue of the age”.  Kelly recognises what many of us do not recognise.

Three things to note:

First, as we’ve said ad nauseam, it’s never been about gay children being expelled from a school.  That’s a total furphy perpetrated by zealous activism and taken up by many a woke journalist.

Second, it’s always been about wedging religious mediating institutions. Always.  It’s been the first and only pitch since the same sex marriage debate.  And it’s being played out as deep concern for students when in fact it’s been about smoothing out the acceptable public square narrative around sexuality.

The Sexular Culture can brook no rivals. And the main reason it can’t is because it’s so fragile owing to the fact it is promulgating a lie.

It will engage in a never-ending game of Hungry Hippos, slamming down on inconvenient truths that pop their head up.

Truths about the nature and problems associated with issues such as gender dysphoria. Truths around the increasing realisation that something akin to social contagion is occurring around gender identity matters among young people.

Truths around the body of evidence from more progressive Scandinavian nations that decades of sexual liberation for the gay community has seen the suicide rate among gay men in particular remain stubbornly high.

Truths they may be, but they’re truths that are no longer permitted in the public square and those who mention them will be howled down with a derision reserved for the new sinners and transgressors of our ironically puritanical Sexular Culture.  Wonder how this will all wash out in a couple of decades time when the wreckage washes up on the shore?

Thirdly, and most interestingly, its clear that the secular media sees the issue with far more clarity than many Christians do and is able to enunciate it. Christians of either stripe, but particularly as I said the other day, those of a more left persuasion, have been silent on the matter.

Perhaps we’ve been ghettoised for so long, both conservative and progressive among us, that we’re not used to fighting with the big boys.   Not used to having books published outside Christian bookshops. We’re flat-track bullies, swishing away at juicy half-volleys and unable to stand up to the real match on a turf wicket where the ball swings and cuts.

No longer able to engage in the public square with grown up arguments.  When it comes to the arm wrestle, we’re standing by with our puny arms, realising we’re not up to the challenge.

The conservatives among us are not up to the challenge of a strong, intellectual argument without resorting to a vague natural law theory that make little sense to moderns today, or else to a rigid fundamentalism that curves in on itself.

The progressives, meanwhile are more straight-forward; they have either totally gone along with the culture on this one, or are silent because they’re not up to the challenge of being disliked by the culture.

A Christian federal MP lamented to me this week that the churches have been totally silent, refusing to go in to bat on this.  It’s as if they cannot believe that a modern democracy would consider shutting down the right of a religious organisation to teach and require ethics central to its practice.  But that is exactly what is at stake.

Which is why the plain-speak of the likes of Kelly, the Editor-at-large of a large national newspaper, is so refreshing.  He outlines clearly how much of a high stakes game it is:

…Labor refuses absolutely the government amendment that it is not unlawful to engage in teaching activity if that activity “(a) is in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed; and (b) is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tents, beliefs or teachings”.

This is one of the critical points of dispute. The government says this amendment is essential to protect religious education. Labor says it will make discrimination against gays even worse. Liberal senator Amanda Stoker told the Senate this provision was “utterly non-negotiable in a free society” and said it was extraordinary “that a simple amendment stating that it is not unlawful to teach the doctrines of a religion in good faith is so abhorrent to Labor”.

And of course it’s all going to come down to the lawyers, which is something activists will just love.  Here’s the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s move, according to Kelly:

…Shorten released a legal opinion yesterday from Mark Gibian SC, from HB Higgins Chambers, saying this government amendment “has the potential to permit discrimination against ­students in schools, both direct and indirect”. Invoking this legal advice Shorten said: “The government is proposing a mechanism which will lead to greater division in the community and it doesn’t solve anything. It replaces one form of discrimination with another.

Keep your eye out for those words “direct and indirect”.  That simply means that a religious school (or other religious institution) could merely quote biblical material on human identity matters in passing, noting that it is a central plank of Christian ethics, and that could be seized upon as discriminatory.  It wasn’t intended.  It wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but that would not protect the one who made the statement from an accusation – or a charge – of discrimination.

Incidentally, I intend to discriminate directly and indirectly in a few weeks time when I conduct the wedding of some friends.  I  will make some potentially transgressive statements, including the fact that God created marriage, that it came before government, that it is an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman, and that whatever God joins is not to be sundered.

But what does Bill Shorten propose?  What form of discrimination (for we all discriminate) would be envisage?  He seems as predictably unclear about this as he is about many things.

Here’s what Shorten said:

“ I don’t think the parliament at this point has been able to come across a mechanism which sufficiently reassures religious schools about how to teach faith and their ability, in fact, to teach faith without actually ­reintroducing the same discrimination sought to be removed.”

Kelly pounces on this as the issue, exhibiting a clarity of thought that is woefully lacking among many Christian commentators:

Just reflect on that statement — it is a catch-22 crisis. Is the problem a dispute between lawyers? It is, to an extent. Is the problem a dispute between conflicting secular and religious world views within Western democracy? It is, to a much larger extent.

And he’s right.  It’s catch-22.  Something has to give.  Some group has to give.  There can be no middle ground.  And it has always been thus.

Deputy Opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, ever keen to sheet the home to shadowy right wingers on the fringe attributed the deadlock to:

 “a very nasty campaign being run by the right-wing of the Liberal Party”

Kelly rightly calls that out as “a pure denial of the issue.”

The headline to his article says this:

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 1.33.49 pm.png

Yep, it’s time to get real.  Time for Christians to show their true colours either by their voice or by their silence.  If the secular world is calling it out like that, why are we so reticent (other than for the scurrilous reasons I mentioned in my previous post?).



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