ATHEIST RISES UP TO DEFEND COMMITTED CHRISTIANS IN SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DEBATE
Editor’s note: We would not normally publish the views of a self-confessed atheist and same-sex marriage supporter in our newsletters however in this case we believe it is appropriate. This “open letter” was written by Brendan O’Neill following a recent appearance on the ABC program “QandA”.
Something terrifying has happened during the past five years: a belief that was held by virtually all human beings for centuries has been rebranded as bigotry, something that may no longer be expressed in polite society. That belief is that marriage is something that occurs between a man and a woman, or between a man and many women: the idea that marriage is a union of opposite sexes. This was once seen as a perfectly normal point of view. Now, in the historical blink of an eye, it has been denormalised, and with such ferocity and speed that anyone still brave enough to express it runs the risk of being ejected from public life. Consider the ABC’s Q&A last week, and the furious response to it. The show was unusual from the start because it featured not one but two gay-marriage sceptics: Katy Faust, an American Christian, and me, a godless Brit.
I made the argument that gay marriage now seemed to play the same role God played 200 years ago: anyone who didn’t believe in it hadn’t a hope in hell of getting ahead in public life. There was a chokingly conformist climate, I said, with critics of gay marriage facing demonisation, harassment and, in some cases, expulsion from decent society. Consider Brendan Eich being sacked as chief executive of Mozilla for his belief in traditional marriage. Or all those Christian cake shops beleaguered by gay-rights activists demanding that they make gay cakes. Twenty-first century religious persecution. The response to my comments, on Twitter and in parts of the media, proved my point. It can be summed up as: “How dare you say that the gay-marriage campaign is intolerant, you bigot! Get out of Oz!” “Irony” doesn’t even begin to cover this.
Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, also on the Q&A panel, accused Faust of being “hateful” and talking “Christian evangelical claptrap”. Yet all she said was that marriage should be between a man and a woman and children had a right to know both their father and their mother. The demonisation of Faust shows how thoroughly the Christian viewpoint has been turned into a kind of hate speech. Something that was a standard outlook a few years ago is now treated as a pathology. And as a small L liberal I find it deeply troubling that a moral outlook can be so swiftly put beyond the pale, branded “INAPPROPRIATE”. Then there was Twitter, which went into meltdown over Faust’s and my comments. We’re bigots, haters, scumbags, “vomiting our bile”; we should be sent packing.
You know what? Scrap my comparison of gay marriage to God: 200 years ago, in Western countries, even the godless had a better chance of getting ahead than gay-marriage sceptics do today. Are Faust’s views really so controversial? Most people would agree that kids should ideally know their biological mum and dad. Indeed, adopted children often seek out their biological parents, believing it will help them make sense of who they are. Maybe they’re bigots, too? The response to Q&A shows that gay marriage is not a liberal issue. Rather, what we have here is the further colonisation of public life by an elite strata of society — the chattering class — and the vigorous expulsion of all those who do not genuflect to their orthodoxies. Whether you’re a climate-change denier, a multiculturalism sceptic or, the lowest of the low, someone who believes in traditional marriage, you’re clearly mad and must be cast out.
The social impact of this illiberal liberalism will be dire. A whole swath of society — the old, the religious, the traditionalist — will feel like moral lepers in their own country, silencing themselves lest they, too, be branded scum. Remember school debating? Where both sides got a turn and the other team sat listening quietly and respectfully? We need more of that – a version for mature, hopeful, civilised grown-ups. The current debate over same-sex marriage is one-sided, volatile, even violent. In the movement to open up and move forward, the side that supports the prevailing laws and conventions is increasingly silenced. And it is not only same-sex marriage that features this concerning trend. In the explosive social media spaces particularly, there are now some views you are seemingly not allowed to express – and by doing so are called a bigot. Oh, the irony.
You can’t support cracking down on illegal migration, or even express concerns about radical minority religious elements or minority groups when they are revealed to commit a disproportionate amount of a particular kind of crime, even though you are allowed the virtual elbow room to spout off about criminals from the mainstream without the same very public censure. In Australia, social pressure is stifling free speech – the left is very vocal and crushes any chance of a dissenting, considered view. Rallies were held last year over the repeal of Section 18C of the Anti-Discrimination Act which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate because of race, national or ethnic origin. People are entitled to recalcitrant opinions, even if we do not agree with them.
And the gay marriage debate in public forums is in no way balanced – as seen in the abandonment of ads calling for a mature discussion about the likely outcomes of gay marriage by commercial networks and the ferocious put-down of traditional marriage proponent Katy Faust on the Q&A program. Considered, conservative, old-fashioned views might be unpopular in the madding crowd, but they are still valid. In a free country, they deserve to be heard. As it stands, those who dare speak in support of the current marriage laws are shouted down before they are fully expressed. Worse, intolerance rains down on those who express those views in ways unprecedented. They are threatened, vilified, verbally roughed up. Isn’t that shades of the very community intolerance that those who support same-sex marriage and racial and religious integration are fighting to dissolve?
The social pressure is stifling. And it is often liberal opinion that is loudest and most raucous. An example from the United States, to which we are wedded culturally for better or worse, illustrates the pickle we have got ourselves into: an appeals court has ordered that a Colorado baker’s religious beliefs were not an acceptable reason for him to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple’s nuptials. This was despite baker Jack Phillips giving evidence that he was not engaging in sexual-orientation discrimination because he was happy to serve gay customers and make them all manner of sweet treats – just not wedding cakes, because his religious convictions meant he believed marriage itself should be between a man and a woman. Interestingly the Colorado court ruled it was OK for three other bakeries to refuse to make cakes with religious scriptures on them.
To be clear: I support the legal right for same-sex couples to wed if they wish. It removes outdated divisions, it is right and it is time. And I have fears about the rise in our country of the radical element of Islam, a religion that is cut from a very different cloth than that of our bedrock Judaeo-Christian laws. But I also believe that for us to truly progress, we must be able to have respectful, informed, civilised debate. And for that to occur, we must accept that there are different, heartfelt views and that mature discussion does not mean grinding someone down or forcing them into fearful silence if they do not concur with you. A hundred years ago, English biographer Beatrice Hall summarised French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s notion: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In matters of massive social and legal change, we would do well to follow that lead.
RELATIONSHIP ADVICE TO REPLACE RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION IN VICTORIAN SCHOOLS
Religious instruction will be replaced with “respectful relationships’’ lessons in Victorian schools next year as part of a national effort to short-circuit family violence. Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has announced that relationship lessons will be included in the curriculum as part of the physical education program from Prep to Year 10. Special Religious instruction (SRI) would have to be taken in students’ free time during lunch breaks, or before and after school. Mr Merlino said this would free up 30 minutes of “valuable class time’’ every week for hundreds of schools and thousands of students. “Every second of class time counts,’’ Mr Merlino said in a statement with the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson. “Extra-curricular programs should not interfere with class time, when teachers and students should be focused on the core curriculum.
“Currently, while up to 20 per cent of primary school students participate in religious instruction, other students are missing out on essential teaching and learning time.’’ Mr Merlino said religious instruction remained an “important and popular extra-curricular program’’ that schools could continue to offer outside class time. Instead, qualified teachers would instruct students in a new “respectful relationships’’ program. Students would learn how to build healthy relationships, prevent family violence and understand global cultures, ethics, traditions and faiths. Mr Merlino said that in a multicultural, multi-faith society, acting with tolerance and respect was an “essential skill’’. “This new content helps all school students, regardless of their background or faith, to understand the world around them and the ideas and values that shape that world,’’ he said.
Ms Richardson said it was important to teach students about “equality and respect’’ to prevent family violence. White Ribbon spokeswoman Jennifer Mullen said one in four Australian children would witness domestic violence against a mother or stepmother. “It’s important that boys learn how to be respectful and for girls to expect respect,’’ she said. “It’s critical we educate young people in their formative years before their attitudes and behaviour with respect to violence are set in stone. “Exposure to domestic violence is considered a form of child abuse and results in an increased risk of mental health, behavioural and learning difficulties.’’ National Council of Churches general secretary Sister Elizabeth Delaney said the removal of religious instruction from class time would be a “real loss’’ for children.
“Respect for people is at the heart of the Christian message and is also in the Koran,’’ she said. “Religious education complements what families provide for their children and is particularly important for children who don’t have that from church or their families.’’ In May, National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell called on schools to teach children about healthy relationships. NSW announced last month that it would tackle domestic violence in lessons next year. Queensland is also planning lessons on avoiding abusive relationships, following recommendations by former governor-general Quentin Bryce. Tasmania has also said it will introduce “respectful relationship” lessons in schools.
Religious groups however have warned that students will leave state schools after SRI is dumped. Chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction in Victoria, said the decision had eroded “equality and opportunity”. Access Ministries spokesman Rob Ward said state school parents who could not afford, or chose not to send their children to faith-based schools would suffer. “The decision seems to emphasise secularism at the expense of faith.” He said it would lead to more parents choosing faith-based schools over state schools. Under the changes, weekly 30-minute SRI classes will be moved to lunch time or before and after school, making way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics, and respectful relationship education.
United Jewish Education Board president Yossi Goldfarb said the decision could serve as a blow to Jewish families, many whom were drawn to certain state schools because they offered SRI. “I think there are certainly many Jewish families who choose a school partially because of the SRI program that is offered at the school.” Opposition education spokesman Nick Wakeling said the government had created chaos for parents and broken an election promise. “Parents in schools across Victoria will face the prospect of juggling new and varied after-school hours pick-ups just to suit the ideological whims of Daniel Andrews.” Education Minister James Merlino said state schools would not lose enrolments. “We’ve got a fantastic education system in Victoria and it’s up to parents where they send their children.”
Mr Merlino said it was unjustifiable to devote half an hour of the curriculum a week to only 20 per cent of primary school students. No learning took place when SRI was provided within class time, he said. Australian Principals Federation Victorian president Julie Podbury said it was “completely unacceptable” that her members had not been consulted about the major change to the curriculum. “This change will cause major repercussions in some schools to school planning, staffing, programs and more importantly to relationships with community groups. These relationships have been built up over many years and are hard earned.” The number of primary school students in SRI plummeted after the state government changed its policy in 2011, requiring parents to “opt in” to the classes rather than “opt out”.
Enrolments fell from 92,808 Victorian students in 2013 to 53,361 in 2014 – a 42 per cent plunge. East Bentleigh Primary School assistant principal Sue Jackson welcomed the changes, saying they would give teachers more time to focus on an already crowded curriculum. Ms Jackson said the primary school offered Jewish SRI to about 25 students, who have to catch up on class work after attending the religious lessons. The school will continue offering SRI but shift it to either lunchtime or after school. The Greens said changes to SRI did not go far enough. Greens education spokeswoman Sue Pennicuik said children needed to play, rest and socialise during lunch time, not “be cooped up in the class room doing SRI.” “While the removal of SRI from formal class teaching hours is certainly a step forward, it doesn’t go far enough. SRI should be removed from government schools completely” she said.
GOVERNMENTS AND SOCIETY MUST PRIORITISE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The Leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Rev Fred Nile MLC, has congratulated Australian Of The Year, Rosie Batty, for her dedication and remarkable efforts to bringing awareness to the severity of domestic violence in our society. ‘Dismayingly, there is currently an average of two women a week inhumanely killed due to domestic violence. It’s not just about funding, it’s about accountability and addressing the deficiencies in the legal system which fails to protect the vulnerable victims and efficiently address domestic violence,’ he said. ‘The recent Essential Research poll of 1006 people across the nation revealed that 74% of Australians believe that currently, domestic violence is of greater concern than terrorism. It is clearly evident that Government funding is currently disproportionately low compared to other law and order provisions.
There should be more facilitation and training for doctors, teachers and government services which can identify the signs of violence against women and children to improve early intervention. ‘Addressing homelessness must also be a priority for the government, as there is a clear correlation between domestic violence and homelessness. The fear of being homeless is a dominant factor preventing the victims of domestic violence to taking the initial steps to avoiding domestic violence and demoralising abuse. The security systems for women and children at high risk of violence is evidently failing; the number of potentially avoidable homeless women and children and deaths from domestic violence are staggering. It’s shameful that domestic violence is evidently so apparent in our society.’
Rev Fred Nile has supported the establishment of the domestic violence register which aims to list the identification of convicted offenders. The Christian Democratic Party has also urged that a national register of convicted paedophiles be incorporated in the proposed national register. ‘Society must face the ugly reality of this avoidable, unfortunate dilemma which is harming and claiming the lives of too many innocent defenceless women and children. Unfortunately, the abuse is ongoing with physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse,’ he said. ‘This is about the right of every woman and child to live in a protected safe household. It’s about the right to protection by law enforcement and an efficient legal system, which protects the lives of innocent women and children from the heinous crimes of domestic and sexual abuse. I urge governments to prioritise and escalate domestic violence and sexual abuse issues.
Source: Press Release from Christian Democratic Party
The new movie WAR ROOM, from the award-winning creators of Fireproof and Courageous, starts this Thursday the 27th of August in 30 mainstream cinemas all over Australia. Go to http://warroomthemovie.com.au/cinemas to find out which cinemas are showing WAR ROOM.
WAR ROOM is a compelling story of love, laughs, and loss that explores the power prayer can have on marriages, parenting, careers, friendships, and every other area of our lives. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan have it all-great jobs, a beautiful daughter, and their dream house. But appearances can be deceiving. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan’s world is actually crumbling under the strain of a failing marriage. While Tony basks in his professional success and flirts with temptation, Elizabeth resigns herself to increasing bitterness.
Their lives take an unexpected turn when Elizabeth meets her newest client, Miss Clara, and is challenged to establish a “war room” and a battle plan of prayer for her family. As Elizabeth tries to fight for her family, Tony’s hidden struggles come to light. Tony must decide if he will make amends to his family and prove Miss Clara’s wisdom that victories don’t come by accident. WAR ROOM features well-known actors Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore and the Kendrick brothers. WAR ROOM is a vivid reminder that prayer is a powerful weapon.
The first week of any movie is the most critical and it really is the first 4 days that make or break any movie that is released. On Monday morning, the cinemas look at their attendances over the last four days and decide whether to run a movie for another week, or take it out of their system. If we are to change our culture we must support those brave Christian film makers who are able to penetrate the movie world with messages of hope, faith and love. It is so easy for Christians to be known for what we are against. WAR ROOM is an opportunity for us to promote something that will reach out beyond the walls of the church to the broader community. We must grab this opportunity with both hands.