MY SUBMISSION TO NSW CURRICULUM REVIEW

https://nswcurriculumreview.nesa.nsw.edu.au/home/siteAreaContent/19e4f544-6d8b-4fbf-ba85-d3f9fc0b55e5

13 December 2019

NSW Curriculum Review

Online Feedback Portal

Re: Submission on PDPHE Curriculum

Context

I am a more recent LGBTIQ Advocate, having been married in a mixed orientation marriage for some 20 years, coming out late in life in my mid 50’s.  I have two young adult children who in recent years completed their schools, one in a public school, the other in a religious private school.

Contextually, apart from being a national executive member of Uniting Network the LGBTIQ community within the Uniting Church, I also hold a number of leadership roles within the Uniting Church, both on the board of a major commercial enterprise, and as well as Parish Council of my local church at Eastwood, I am a member of the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery and have been a member of both the recent NSW/ACT Synod and national Assembly meetings.

I also volunteer on the Finance Audit and Risk Committee of ACON Health and so have a broader understanding of the health issues in the LGBTIQ community.  I recently attended Stanford University to attend their LGBTIQ Executive Leadership Program.

I am also an adult educator, as a facilitator with the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

I am the Managing. Director of a boutique management consulting firm.

In summary, I have a broad understanding of the needs of business, the LGBTIQ Community, the religious community and families as well as involvement in the education sector.

This context being said, the comments expressed in this submission are purely my own.

I apologies in advance for spelling and grammatical errors in this submission, as there are a significant number of issues currently confronting the LGBTIQ community and a wide variety of submissions that are requiring attention, and unfortunately this submission has been prepared at the very last minute.

Preliminary Commentary

We are at a challenging point of time within the Australian community.  There has been much greater acceptance of the LGBTIQ community within Australia, as seen by the significant vote for marriage equality and the subsequent carriage of related bills in the Australian Parliament.

Unfortunately, there is a push back from the conservative religious quarters in Australian society, with the current Australian Prime Minister releasing the latest exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bills, which I suspect may well remain friendless, or only have a very limited number of friends.  Regrettably these bills are they stand are likely to create further disharmony within Australia and could be said to create a “religious apartheid” within Australia.

It is therefore even more important that the PDHPE curriculum in NSW adequately incorporates the existence of LGBTIQ students in schools and the broader community. Failure to do so will only continue the high levels of bullying of LGBTIQ kids in NSW as well as maintaining homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia within our society.

It is very concerning that NSW will continue to ignore LGBTIQ students and have effectively erased their existence of LGBTIQ students from the Interim Review and the curriculum.

Interim Review Commentary

The report quite correctly comments:

They are witnessing increasing public cynicism about traditional institutions, including religious and political institutions and their leaders; the erosion of traditional values; growing questioning of ‘truth’; and the emergence of ‘fake news’. Many are concerned about environmental sustainability, social inequalities and the future, and large numbers of today’s students are exposed to the realities of substance abuse, easy access to age-inappropriate online content, and cyber-bullying.”[1]

And yet in many of our schools, religion is used as justification for limited effective PDHPE education, particularly around sex education, modern understanding of gender and more broadly the LGBTIQ community.  Yet at the same time there is an awareness of social inequalities as the report states, but LGBTIQ exclusion in education is a contributor to this inequality.

The lack of willingness for inclusion leads to bad outcomes for students and families.

As an example, a school in Sydney north west where friends of mine had their first child attending had to withdraw their child from school as the end of K as the school was unable to adequately deal with the bullying that their child suffered because he had two mums. The failure to identify different types of families I believe is a direct contributor to this type of outcome recently in our school system.

Rapid changes are also occurring in workplaces and to occupations that once provided destinations for school leavers. “[2]

Workplaces expect well rounded and educated people to enter their workforce, and modern workplaces have LGBTIQ inclusion as part of their safe workplace environments.  And yet our education system fails to include and prepare our students even on the basic understanding of LGBTIQ people and  their existence.

Page 5 of the report discusses the diversity of our student population, but completely ignores the existence of LGBTIQ students within our education system or students of Rainbow Families.  These students are valuable, but unrecognised and often rejected people in our education system.

My search of the document identified 44 references to the work Aboriginal, which is completely appropriate. 18 references to students with disabilities, again most worthy. 10 mentions of non-academic students.  8 references to “other than English” a particularly challenging cohort of students.  There is not one mention of LGBTIQ students, who make up at least 10% of our population plus children of Rainbow Families and for whom their school period of life can be the most challenging as they become aware of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (from about the age of 10 years), bully, issues with mental health, all of which can have a very significant impact on their learning capabilities.

After the recent international testing results, there will be further push back on the “crowded curriculum” beyond what the report already indicates.

Numerous references were made to other pressures resulting from decisions to delegate to schools responsibility for addressing various social issues. One person observed that schools had become ‘the solvers of all of society’s ills’, with new issues constantly being added to the curriculum. The Review was told that a recent scan of political announcements had identified a diverse set of issues that schools were now being asked to address, including ‘anxiety/depression, resiliency training, childhood obesity, road safety, water safety, Asian studies, healthy school canteens, bush fire safety awareness, languages, cyber safety and anti-bullying’. Others mentioned drug education, first aid, stranger danger, healthy eating and pet safety. Additional programs of these kinds consumed significant teaching time and detracted from other aspects of teaching and learning. (my emphasis in bold)[3]

LGBTIQ are in need of resilience training, assistance with anxiety/depression and definitely anti-bullying within the school environment.  It is important to be reminded that many LGBTIQ kids are threatened by their sexuality in their home environment and may not obtain the necessary support there.

Ensuring that all students can maximise their learning capability should be a key focus of the education system, which therefore means the visibility, inclusion and fully acceptance of LGBTIQ students within the school environment.

There is a consequential issue with ‘Reform Direction 13: Introducing a major project’[4], and in particular the proposal that this project – which would apparently contribute a significant proportion to a student’s final school results – be undertaken by working in teams.

I agree that developing these skills is an important student development and one that is required in the world place.  However, requiring students to work together in teams is only possible where schools are safe learning environments for everyone – and that NSW schools, both government and non-government, currently are not safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

This is not just because of the exclusion of LGBTI issues from the PDHPE syllabus (see further commentary below), but also because of high rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersex bullying within our schools (and the broader society).

Regrettably LGBTIQ students in non-government schools are especially vulnerable given the exceptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), allowing all private schools and colleges (whether they are religious or not), to discriminate against and expel LGBTIQ kids.  Whilst the Prime Minister has stated this discrimination should be withdrawn, the NSW Government and the NSW Department of Education have been silent on this matter.  Parent may enrol their child into a non-government school in year K, and it is only from the age of around 10 do students start to become aware of their sexual orientation (transgender children often know much earlier).  It creates a greater danger for these students to know that they may well be unsupported at home and risk being expelled from their school and removal from their circle of friend as a result of their innate sexual orientation.

Whilst page 45 of the interim report states:

“studies have highlighted the importance of inclusive, supportive environments in which all learners’ backgrounds, strengths and starting points are recognised and welcomed, strong relationships are built, and collaborative learning (including project-based and problem-based learning) is encouraged.”

Unfortunately for too many LGBTI students, in too many NSW schools, they do not enjoy ‘inclusive, supportive environments’ in which they are ‘recognised and welcomed’. Unless and until this is fixed, then any proposal for a team-based major project in the final years of the NSW curriculum will not be achieved and should be considered for rejection from being implemented.

2018 PDHPE Curriculum

The 2018 PDHPE curriculum is not appropriate for our century, and after the withdrawal of the ‘Safe Schools Program’ in NSW, continues to ensure the ongoing invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTIQ) content, and therefore of LGBTIQ students.  More than invisibility, it is actually contributing to a current trend of some in the political sphere of trying to erase the existence of the LGBTIQ community.

As in the above interim review where LGBTIQ students are completely non-existent. In the 138 pages of the syllabus, these words occur three times each. However, two out of these three appearances are found in the document’s glossary – with a definition of each term, and then as part of the broader definition of LGBTI people.  Q is completely missing and as is the concept of queer, questioning and gender non-conforming students and the like in society.

Teachers are only required to teach the content for each year stage of the syllabus. And the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex can be found only once in the prescribed content, together on page 96:

‘investigate community health resources to evaluate how accessible they are for marginalised individuals and groups and propose changes to promote greater inclusiveness and accessibility eg people in rural and remote areas, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, people with disability.’

The problem with this is that LGBTI comes after ‘for example’ therefore suggesting that any commentary on LGBTIQ students or population is optional.

Effectively LGBTIQ students and the broader LGBTIQ community appear just once in the entire NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus, as part of an exercise around marginalised groups and inclusiveness, and schools and/or teachers can choose to remove even this most cursory of references, meaning a student in a school may never hear about LGBTIQ people in their entire PDHPE schools live.

The school curriculum is effective reinforcing the marginalisation and exclusion of LGBTIQ content and students which is not acceptable in the 21st century.  This approach is not only damaging to LGBTIQ students, but also to all students who will not be prepared for their interaction of LGBTIQ people in schools, their communities or the workplace.  This is a failure in our education system.

The curriculum continues to fail to adequately develop students understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Again, we know that transgender children often have a particularly difficult time a school and their lack of acceptance there and elsewhere is a significant contributing factor to the very high rates of suicide within the transgender youth community.

Unfortunately, the anti-transgender movement have been successful in creating the concept of gender ideology, but the continuing evolution of medical and science understanding of transgender people only continues to confirm and conform with that transgender people have always know.  When education steps away from knowledge and falls into position of political and religious ideology, then society becomes disadvantaged.

The erasure, or lack of visibility of LGBTIQ people in the NSW PDHPE Syllabus is itself nothing short of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic.  Which is ironic where the curriculum does briefly discuss homophobic and transphobic bullying on pages 77, 88 and 111

Once again, these references to homophobia and transphobia are merely examples, and so therefore options that schools and/or teachers could use or reject to discuss.  Again, issues for bi-sexual and intersex people are once again ignored and queer or gender non-conforming students don’t exist.

We continue to see an antiquated approach with the new NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus in relation to sexual health.

The curriculum has only two compulsory references to sexual health one on page 96: ‘explore external influences on sexuality and sexual health behaviours and recognise the impact these can have on their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing’.

The other reference is on page 95, describes ‘identify methods of contraception and evaluate the extent to which safe sexual health practices allow people to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health.’

This approach is rather problematic. Firstly is places an emphasis on contraception rather than on sexual health.  Sexual health, and LGBTI sexual health especially, is a much broader concept. 

Critically, and with the rise of STI’s in our society, it does not specifically mandate that schools and teachers instruct students about sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

It is amazing that the only reference to STIs in the general curriculum is found on page 84 (‘identify and plan preventive health practices and behaviours that assist in protection against disease, eg blood-borne viruses, sexually transmissible infections’) makes teaching about them optional. The only time the term HIV even appears in the entire document is in the glossary.  Whilst many unfortunately see HIV as a “gay issue” recent reports from WA Health show that there have been more new incidents of HIV in the heterosexual male population than the homosexual male population.  It is important to also remember that female are also susceptible to HIV.

In terms of STI-prevention, it can be observed that the NSW PDHPE syllabus has actually gone backwards from the previous 2003 document, which at least outlined that students should be learning about:

‘sexual health

  • acknowledging and understanding sexual feelings
  • expectations of males and females
  • rights and responsibilities in sexual relationships
  • sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne viruses and HIV/AIDS’ as well as to
  • identify behaviours that assist in preventing STIs, BBVs and HIV/AIDS and explore the interrelationship with drug use.’

Page 12 of the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus states the aim of the curriculum is:

‘The study of PDHPE in K-10 aims to enable students to develop the knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes required to lead and promote healthy, safe and active lives.’

Regrettably, the 138-page curriculum does not support this aim generally for students and particularly it completely fails to promote healthy, safe and active lives for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students. How can they learn if they do not exist in the curriculum?

Conclusion

The ongoing erasure and non-inclusion of LGBTIQ students poses them and the wider society a significant risk, and this must be addressed.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require additional information or clarifications.

Yours sincerely



[1] Page 4

[2] Page 4

[3] Pages 26 and 27

[4] Page 97

In need of a prophetic voice

Unfortunately, the minister at my parish has been extremely ill, and we are all helping out where we can. Last Sunday was the first time in the five or so years I have been at the Parish that I have preached in the main service. (listen hear https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCDAj80N_IA&t=710s)

With my busy business and a lack of discipline with my spiritual life, I do find preaching helpful as it forces me to spend time contemplating the Bible. What does the Bible say, what is happening in society, what is God calling me to say in this place at this time?

Chatting to friends afterwards, receiving feedback around my sermon, which was more political than usual for our parish, one friend made an interesting comment along the lines of:

I studied and read history at school and after. I often wondered how the people of Germany let Hitler happen, why didn’t they see it? They are intelligent people. How did they let it happen? I look around and see what is happening in our world currently, and I am getting to understand better how.

This well enunciated what had been traversing my brain for a while.

Around the globe, we have numerous religious political leaders at the moment. Morrison in my own Australia, Trump in the USA, Bolsonaroin Brazil. All are professing faith as leaders, yet seem to operate in the exact opposite direction of the man they claim to follow.

  • These type of men appear to not have the interests of their indigenous people at heart.
  • These type of men don’t appear to be interested in providing for the sick.
  • These type of men don’t appear to want to help or care for the refugees.
  • These type of men appear to be more interested in putting people in prison rather than helping those in prison.
  • These type of men appear to be more interested in the rights of the corporate over the environment.
  • These type of men appear to be more interested in the well being of business rather than the workers who labour within these business.
  • These type of men seem to be more interested in power than in service.
  • These type of men seem to be more interested secrecy than openness and transparency.
  • These type of men seem to be more interested in oppressing minorities than allowing them to flourish as valuable additions to society.
  • These type of men seem to think that sexual orientation is binary and will oppress, erase and harm people rather than recognise the inordinate contribution that being different provides society.

These type of men represent the political elite, power and control.

Then we have the religious communities, what some might call the evangelicals. Unfortunately, those who follow Jesus are called to spread his word, but the “white evangelicals” have destroyed that concept for me and many others.

  • We have religious leaders who are fighting against the protection of children.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting to ensure women are reduced to second class citizens.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting to ensure they can exclude people on their own grounds.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting to ensure that they have extraordinary power and privilege that no other citizens can have.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting for the right to abuse youth and adults of different sexual orientations, in a process that often lead to suicide or at best severe mental health issues.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting for the right for health practitioners not to help people based on their own religious views, which will negatively affect the health of women, disabled people, LGBTIQ people, people of different races and faiths.

We have religious leaders who are seeking power to control rather than the free people.

We are now being faced with a number of countries where the political and religious elite are working for their own power, and not for the betterment of all humankind.

Jesus, the person they all say they follow, called for inclusion, healing, for the sick, support for those in prison, acknowledgement and engagement with people of different faiths and ethnicities, bringing in the outcast (often the outcasts are caused by the political and or religious elite), caring for our world and so much more.

The canary in the coal mine is very ill.

Each country that is heading down the pathway of political and religious elitism, exclusion, power and control, needs a new prophetic voice.

In some way, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the canary of an earlier period. His voice wasn’t listen to and the results were devastating.

Can we wait any longer to find the 21st century Bonhoeffer prophetic voices to rise, to ensure we have civil society tomorrow, next week, next year?

Why Women Should Be Concerned by the Religious Freedom Push

By the age of 9 I was struggling at my local public school, and my parents, a railway clerk and dressmaker decided that I needed to be moved to one of the local private schools, at a huge sacrifice to themselves, for which I am forever grateful.

By grade 5, I started at Westminster School in Adelaide and received the educational and pastoral care I needed to get me through schooling and on to university.

During my high schooling, as Dad has finally become a junior manager towards the end of his working career, there was an opportunity for him to take a significant promotion, moving to Broken Hill.  This was only the middle of the 1970’s, but in the end they could not.  I would have needed to be moved into the boarding house, at significant extra cost, but as mum was married, she would not have been able to work in Broken Hill and reverting to one income make the move not financially sustainable.

Religion and women have always had a challenging place, particularly as more religions are run and managed by men.

As a Christian man, I am grateful that I am a member of the Uniting Church, that has recognised that women to have a leadership role in the Christian tradition, and currently our national President is a Women, and now living in NSW, our General Secretary is a woman.

There is currently a major debate underway in Australia around the need for religious discrimination law or religious freedom laws, which I prefer to call religious privilege laws.

The push for these laws is a continued push back from conservative religious elements from the marriage equality laws, and more recently from the dismissal of Israel Folau from Rugby Australia over his infamous comments about amongst other things that homosexuals will end up in hell.

Many religious organisation want to continue with their existing legal right to be able to exclude LGBTIQ kids from their schools (which are significantly funded by the secular society), and to sack teachers of mathematics, English, or office staff and gardeners who are LGBTIQ even though they may make no comments around their orientation in their workplace environment.  As a gay Christian I do find this very distasteful, as it seems to go against the principle teaching of Jesus, the central person of the Christian faith, who brought the faith down to two key principles, Love God, Love one another, with no * with a list of exclusions at the bottom of the page.

The conservative Christian leaders in my mind are currently focusing on LGBTIQ people, because they are at the margins of society, don’t really affect people in the mainstream, and unfortunately many people in the broader society think that now there is secular marriage equality, all issues of LGBTIQ equality have been solved, which unfortunately is not the case, schools is but one example.

Unfortunately, the LGBTIQ community is exhausted from the marriage equality debate, we don’t have a lot of resources, which plays nicely into the timing of the Government and conservative religious organisations.

So why should women be worried about religious freedom?

In an article by Dr Kevin Donnellyof the Australian Catholic University, in “The Catholic Weekly, the Melbourne Archbishop is quoted with a section, “Based on natural law and the inherently moral and spiritual truth evidenced by religious faith Bradley [a Law Professor at Notre Dame University in the USA – another Catholic institution], as does Sydney’s Archbishop Fisher, argues religious freedom should be treated as a positive right essential to human flourishing.”

I contend that the push for positive rights by the conservative Christian groups, currently focused at the LGBTIQ community, is the back door entry point to then work on reversing women’s rights that have been won, but really only over the last century.

So where could this positive religious freedom go in relation to women, a church could if they wished say that within the tenants of their faith

  • Women could not be Principles of Schools as women can not be superior to men.
  • Women may be denied the opportunity to teach high schools classes as boys have moved to men and women can not teach men.
  • Should it be found out that a women has had an abortion they could be removed from any role.
  • Women could be limited to nursing in hospital as that is the role of a women and not a doctor.
  • Women could not be the head of any religious organisation as women can not be superior to men
  • Women when they are married need to leave their jobs as their role is to nurture their family.

It is only in the mid 1970’s that my father could not take on a promotion because my mother would not be able to work.  That was an unwritten secular rule, but those within faith communities can develop old rules that could once again be used to roll back women’s rights.

The above list might be seen by some as extreme, but they were in existence not that long ago.

The pushback on LGBTIQ people by some communities of faith is the trogon horse some religious leaders are looking for.

Communion and Danish TV – include or exclude

Danish TV Station TV2 recently published a short film entitled “All That We Share”, on their YouTube channel where they state “We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes. Maybe we have more in common than what we think?”

Every month, most churches around the world celebrate Communion, and this video made me think about communion.

Communion can be a little box that is part of our lives.  It can be a routine, in the latter part of the service on the first Sunday of the Month (my Church is rather radical, we hold it on the 2nd!).

Was Jesus giving us something routine, or giving us something transformational?

In our busy lives, getting to church can sometimes be an amazing feat, and there is something useful about routine, it is known, it is comforting, it is a known place, it can be a safe space, and sometimes the only safe space that on some occasions we see inside.

In the darkness’s of my life, that routine has been a saving grace.

But, very little about Jesus was routine, and I think with Communion we need to step outside of it being a routine event.

So what do I see as the connection between this Danish TV video and Communion.

I think the timing of this video in the context of the global political landscape is very interesting, with tension in Europe over refugees, with Brexit in the UK not about the economy but the ill-informed using Brexit as a referendum on people different to us and not the economy, with Australia pushing refugees trying to come to Australia out to foreign countries for processing to avoid its international obligation towards refuges, and President #45 of the USA trying to ban people from entering his country on religious grounds.

I think it is time for Christians to reflect on what communion may be about, what might be the radical thinking for Christians within the geopolitical landscape.

The video showed the modern clans of Denmark, which are not dissimilar to our own.  The poor, the workers, the rich, the business elite, those we fear based on our imagination of their image, those we don’t know and know nothing about.  Yet when questions were asked about life experiences, people came forward from pretty much all groups, except the single guy who responded to the question who was bi-sexual.  What the video demonstrated that there is more that connects us, than divides and disconnects us.

What was also most interesting, out of this group there was only one bi-sexual person, and yet he was applauded.  I would not expect that this group would have done that in the past, however, having realised their similarities, already being made aware of those that had been hurt by others, he was rewarded for his honesty and bravery, because people were getting the message that there is more in common with each other, and the differences don’t mean very much.  He was not a threat to them at all.

When it comes to communion, we are reminded of the Passover Meal, that Jesus spoke when he broke the break and shared it, and raise the cup and shared it asking those to take the meal to remember him.

This was a motley crew of disciples, fishermen, tax collectors, possibly a nobleman and a treasurer.  Each was very different, and yet each called to walk with Jesus.

At this special occasion, and around it Jesus was aware that one would betray him, and another would lie about knowing him.  Yet Jesus included them all in this meal.

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22: 19(b)-20 NRSV

At the table Jesus included all he had with him in the meal knowing what was ahead and how those around him would respond.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1Cor 10:16-17 NRSV

In our communion setting, we do not hear Jesus or Paul saying, come and eat, except for the black, or except for the pregnant teenager, or except for the LGBTIQ person, or except for the disabled, or except for the refugee, or except for the poor, or except for the ……..

When you next have Communion in your church, my prayer for you is to think inside, Jesus calls us to love one another as we love ourselves.  (“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him,  ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”) Matt 22:36-40 NRSV

So who are the people; in your heart, in your community, in your society, that you are excluding (silently or explicitly) from the Communion Table and from our communion with life?

Jesus is calling us to be people who are All That We Share.  If we are alert to those that we exclude, we may be more able to welcome those that we and our political leaders are encouraging us to exclude, which is the opposite of Jesus’ call to us, and take the first step to welcoming them in.

Will you be open to the transformational power of Jesus at your next communion to welcome rather than exclude?

“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light” – C Marx.

 

I have to confess I am stealing, I hadn’t heard this quote until last Sunday in church when the early morning service focused on The Beatitudes.

As our Minister said, there is something appealing about this – my interpretation of what he was saying – none of us are completely whole, we are full of cracks, and through those cracks, the love of Jesus can shine into us, or alternatively, out from us to others.

I have been thinking a lot about cracks of late, although I didn’t realise they were cracks, this Marx quote has given me a concrete reference points.

The cracks that are developing in our societies, between our neighbours, between our families, between and within political parties.

Unfortunately, many of these cracks are not letting in light and giving brightness into our lives and into our communities, but actually bringing darkness.

My last blog was about rising up.

In the midst of these negative cracks in our world, is seems that as Christians, we may need to find the modern equivalent of a hill for the light of Christ, the just Christ that needs to be seen.

Matthew 5 14:16 reminds us:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (NRSV)

In Australia and in many western countries people coming to our churches is declining, yet at the same time, there is a flurry of activities for “religious freedom”.  We see this most notably in the USA, but unfortunately this activism by the religious or evangelical right is heading into Australia.

Like many good ideas, I believe the concept of religious freedom is becoming a perversion of Christianity, a new crack that brings darkness rather then light.

I believe in the principle that every person should have the right to a freedom of belief and to change your beliefs over time.  However, the modern interpretation of religious freedom, predominately from certain Christian groups, is being used to exclude some class or classes of people not only from religious activities, but also from secular activities.

It was a surprise to me, that during the current Australian Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, that much of the written and verbal submissions to this committee were on the issues of religious freedom as a response to marriage equality.  We are also seeing a new push for expanded religious freedom concepts under the Trump Presidency in the USA.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)has been positioning itself as a martyr in conversation on marriage equality, that Christians are being oppressed because of the possibility of marriage equality.  The problem is the ACL and it kindred spirited organisations have been trying to persecute certain groups in our society in relation to secular matters outside of the religious community.

I see the problem with much of the “religious freedom” concepts are that

  1. They assume a Christian perspective only; and
  2. The are in effect creating a new pharisaic 21st century law – the likes of which Jesus came to overturn.

It seems to me that the Christians who are pushing the religious freedom angle are forgetting that the underlying principle of religious freedom is the right to a belief.  This could be any religion or no religion.  This freedom is not just about Christian religion.

One of the key problems from those pushing religious freedom, is these Christians want to take their religion freedom out from their Church to impose their will in the secular world and secular activities, rather than building a relationship for the member of the community with Jesus Christ.  This can offends the religious freedom of others.

The darkness coming through this crack is totally the opposite of what Jesus was on about – loving one another.  It is interesting to reflect on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) – the religious elite cross the road and did not help.  Here was a person with secular needs – medical attention, and for religious reasons that religious leader crossed the road and didn’t help. It was the Samaritan, who was rejected by the society the Jesus was talking to, who not only stopped to provide immediate assistance, but also provided some longer term help. We are called to love each other, regardless of race, religion (and I would add sexual orientation, refugee status, economic status, disabilities etc). Remember that this parable told by Jesus was in response to a legal expert asking a question about how he would enter eternal life.

So I just don’t get how one can use a Christian value to decide not to serve someone who is the modern day man beaten by people on the road.  It is also more sad that many of the people beaten on the road, are often beaten up by some Christians, think; refugees, poor people, LGBTIQ people, the disabled people, those who look and think differently to us.

At the Senate Committee hearings recently, when discussing religious freedom, there were only from a Christian perspective.  I wonder what outcry there would be if:

  • A Christian photographer refusing to photograph a wedding between two Muslim people because it offends their freedom of religion.
  • A Muslim cake maker refusing to make a cake for a Sikh wedding because it offends their freedom of religion
  • A Hindu public servant refusing to provide services to a Buddhist on freedom of religion grounds

I don’t see anywhere that Jesus is calling us to exclude our talents from secular activities from people who are different from us, when Jesus did the exact opposite and went and spent time with those the religious leaders of the time would not sit next to.

Again at this Senate Committee hearing two major denominations tried to explain how religious freedoms would work in the particular context of a same sex marriage (using the government’s terminology which I don’t agree).

At the hearing they introduced this concept of whether a person should be allowed to exercise their religious freedom to not provide services to a same sex marriage based on the concepts as to whether the services were “integral, direct and intimate”.  This led to a bizarre conversation about what and who could be included, a taxi driver taking a person to a same sex wedding could not invoke religious freedom, but a hire car driver of the wedding party I assume could.  The baker could, but a person providing, setting up and removing chairs from a same sex marriage not in a Church could not.  A photographer could, but a person providing crockery may not, a musician may, but perhaps a sound engineer may not – we don’t know the rules as yet.

This is the creation of pharisaic law, laws made up by man for the purpose of excluding others.

So in these times when certain groups are creating new pharisaic laws, and the creation of the 21st century religious freedoms, these are actually about withdrawing from others, the opposite of what Jesus would do.  How do we shine a light into these cracks?

At the moment I don’t have the answer.  Our media is being filled with Alternative Facts, there is so much material on Facebook and Twitter it is hard to digest any of it.  We probably only see the stuff we like, compared to the stuff we should be challenged about – do we see the modern man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of ….?

I think it is time for Christians to find the new hill, whatever that hill is in your area, and take your light there to shine into the cracks of darkness that are appearing.

My challenge to us all (myself included), in your community, where or what is the new hill that you need to move to (and may need to wrestle to got on top of), so that the light of Jesus, who calls us, is seen and shines into the cracks in our society and our community to bring hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, humility?

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13-34:35 NRSV)

We need to rise up and find a high ground for Jesus light to shine into the cracks.