In the year 1986 and in the depth of a mid-life crisis I found myself embroiled in a decision that would change my life forever.
I joined a Pentecostal Church and stayed for 25 years. Years later when my logic concerning the place of women, the interpretation of scripture, social justice, homosexuality and many other aspects of society deviated from the so-called laws of the Bible and the church I decided to move on.
My beliefs were simply not compatible with the church. They were much to political. Maybe that’s a story for another day.
I can vividly recall the look of astonishment on one Pastors face when I told him I was a Socialist and another’s horrified look when I spoke in support of women in society and the church at a men’s breakfast.
Later I was told that the elders wouldn’t appreciate my views being broadcast in the church. I say this not to tell a story of my journey into Christianity and my eventual exit but rather to say that I speak with some knowledge on the subject of faith and its place in society.
The Government is intent on introducing legislation that in essence will help in:
- Establishing religion as a protected attribute in a new Religious Discrimination Act, rendering discrimination on this basis unlawful;
- Establishing a new statutory position of Freedom of Religion Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission;
- Developing a Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill for introduction into Parliament as soon as practicable, implementing a range of amendments recommended by the Ruddock Review;
- Supporting the Australian Human Rights Commission to increase community awareness of the importance of freedom of religion.
So, what is it the government wants to allow people of faith to say that it cannot say now? What is the connection, if any, between another attempt by the government to expand free speech rights and the decline in the Christian church.
As I said in a previous post, having had experience in both mainstream and Evangelical churches, I can tell you that the Uniting Church, for example, long ago cast away any vision of hell.
But the evangelical/ fundamentalist churches would have been celebrating Morrison’s election because Romans 13 says that it is God who elects our leaders. It is a literal truth.
Morrison may be a Christian but he is also a warrior for Christ and he and his fellow Pentecostals will be praying that ‘His will, will be done’.
I could never let go of my conscience.
Opinions seem to bounce from one side of the net to the other, clipping the net cord without ever conceding a point, or indeed missing the point that in Australia the Christian church is fighting for its very survival.
Indeed, most Christians wouldn’t be aware of it but the truth is that in Australia it is dying.
In his engaging and most thoughtful book Losing My Religion Bishop Tom Frame (he is the Priest that conducted the services after the Bali bombings) concludes that:
“Unless there is a turnaround in the fortunes of all community organizations by 2025 the Christian Church will be a marginal player in Australian life with only a few remaining remnants.
When the Christian affiliation of the population drops below 50 per cent, projected to happen around 2030, those identifying, as Christians will be found in four main clusters.
The Roman Catholic Church will continue to exercise sufficient discipline among its people to resist the mutating of popular culture.
The Pentecostal/Charismatic churches will flourish in the larger cities, form communities within communities and become more sect like.”
Mind you, in my experience, with the church I saw many sins committed. A senior pastor at the very first church I attended knowingly protected a teacher who was abusing his students lest it might damage the Church’s reputation. He appeared before the Royal Commission.
At another church, the Senior Pastor who was also a Financial Planner and a personal friend scooped $2 million from his clients.
These sorts of events are not uncommon. In many cases I was unable to give Pastors, because of my differing opinions, the respect they demanded from me.
Whereas mainstream churches exist fundamentally to serve the poor, Pentecostal churches are about saving souls for Christ. That is their mission.
Greg Sheridan in a piece for The Australian (paywalled) said this:
“Shortly after he became Prime Minister, Morrison attended the Melbourne Pentecostal church Planetshakers. It is a brilliant church, and one I know well. It uses social media as effectively as any religious movement in Australia. It live-streams big church services through its website. So Morrison was seen by the world praying at Planet shakers.”
His rather long defence of Morrison and the church is filled with naivety about fundamentalist doctrine. It is an external view rather than an internal one.
The Christian Church has been enormously damaged by the abuse of children scandal and by the success of the marriage equality legislation. And by the victory of those campaigning for gay rights generally.
In the mix, all of a sudden we have a rugby player causing a stir over his free speech right to say that homos will go to hell, even though he signed a contract to say he wouldn’t say such things.
I’m not in the least suggesting some sort of conspiracy theory here. Perhaps it is just circumstantial that we have a fundamentalist Prime Minister who has so many like-minded people in his Cabinet.
An enlightened society is one in which the suggestion that we need to legislate ones right to hate another person is considered intellectually barren.
I have no idea how all this comes together, maybe it doesn’t, but it does seem coincidental that it has all materialised at the one time. It is ironic however that the Folau case has shown the existence of some gigantic gaps in Australia’s protections for fundamental freedoms. And just as the government is about to introduce a new bill to increase protections for religious freedoms.
We will never truly understand the effect free speech has on an individual until we have suffered from the abuse of it.
I cannot recall the media being so actively engaged in a religious matter.
Former Wallaby Drew Mitchell laid into Folau when he decided to attract public funding for his cause saying sick children were more deserving of support.
But public funding he has attracted and I’d bet it is Christian money even though Folau is privately wealthy.
Mitchell posted on Twitter:
YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do??!!
The Guardian’s David Marr – insightful as ever – wrote:
Pity these Christians. They’re lashing out, angry and terrified. Miranda Devine is warning them via the pages of the Sydney Daily Telegraph Australia faces a revolution of “coercion and bloodshed” à la Mexico in the 1920s unless we rally to the cause of Christianity and Israel Folau.
But to Folau’s Christian backers this notion of freedoms we all share doesn’t make sense. Why? Because for them putting the boot into gays is basic Christianity. This is hard for the rest of us to credit in 21st century Australia, but to make sense of the current uproar it needs to be faced.
By now you should be getting the point that this is all about free speech or for some the right to abuse others in a way that might be called hate speech.
Personally, I cannot think of anything that I want to say that I’m prohibited from saying now.
It says something about the moral sickness in a supposedly enlightened society when the right to abuse each other, in the name of free speech, needs to be enshrined in law.
As Australia settles into the acceptance of secular values in marriage equality and it castes a wider net where sex and family is more genuinely welcomed, the Christian mission becomes more urgent.
People often demand free speech to compensate for the freedom of thought they rarely use.
Gillian Triggs writing for The Guardian says the Folau case is exclusively a matter of contract law: 1) Folau has the right to freedom of speech and religious expression; and 2) the law should protect against harmful homophobic abuse.
The right to manifest religion is subject to the rights of others and may not incite others to discrimination, hostility or violence. In short, the right of religious expression is not absolute and depends upon respect for the freedoms of others.
Whatever the case, be it Folau’s right to express his views on Christianity, the Prime Minister’s desire for a greater display of religion in our society or the government’s back door expansion of free speech one thing remains clear:
We are a secular society. Religion has historically and constitutionally has had a place in it. There it should remain.
My thought for the day
The ability of thinking human beings to blindly embrace what they are being told in any area of scholarship without referring to evaluation and the consideration of scientific fact, truth and reason, never ceases to amaze me. It is tantamount to the rejection of rational explanation.
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