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Welcome to the September newsletter. Again the SSM debate dominates with the selection of articles offered in eNews this issue, particularly focussing on the need to protect religious fre edom. I found Stephen MacAlpine, Akos Balogh and Greg Sheridan’s contributions really helpful, and respectful argument on both sides. Two other highly recommended articles are Greg Sheridan’s piece on ‘Is God dead?’ and Bruce Ashford’s piece on ‘a man named Lesslie’ (Newbigin).

Term 3 is rapidly coming to a close. Have a good break.



Short Updates

  • The High Court challenge to the SSM Postal Survey failed so the postal survey opened on 12 September and close on 7 November. You might have already received your survey forms.
  • Reformation 500th Anniversary – October 31, 2017. There are a wide array of resources out there for schools to tap into as they note the 500th anniversary of this most significant day in world history. A wonderful 9 minute summary of the reformation story has been prepared by Mount Evelyn Christian school teacher Nathan Hunter. This is worth watching and could be used by teachers involved in telling the story.

    Click here for video clip. 

  • The Education funding debate has moved on mainly to the key determinants of educational improvement – focusing on improving the teaching of the teacher.

    However some parts of the Catholic sector continue to argue their losses in terms of the funding model. In the lead up to the 2019 election, this might well become an issue if the ALP hold fast to their (so far) expressed view that they will reinstate the ‘weighted average SES’ approach, which would basically undo a lot of good policy work that has placed everyone on a level playing field, at least by 2027. Minister Birmingham said in response to the political threats, [the reforms ensured that after] “the 10-year transition, all schools and systems are treated in a consistent manner, phasing out decades of inconsistencies and special deals’’.

    Click here for the article.

  • An excellent quote from The Australian (Aug 31) editorial, “Local and international evidence-based research has long indicated that what matters most in improving schools results is quality teachers and teaching. Fourteen years ago the late Ken Rowe, then research director for the Australian Council for Educational Research, wrote: “Whereas students’ literacy skills, general academic achievements, attitudes, behaviours and experiences of schooling are influenced by their background … the magnitude of these effects pales into insignificance compared with class teacher effects. That is, the quality of teaching and learning provision are by far the most salient influences on students’ cognitive, affective and behavioural outcomes of schooling — regardless of their gender or backgrounds.”
  • Gonski Review to Improve Student Outcomes: The Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, (Gonski 2.0) is now receiving public submissions. The Issues Paper will cover:
    – what students learn and how they learn
    – teachers and school leadership
    – parent and community engagement
    – defining and measuring success in education
    – identifying, sharing and driving good practice and continuous improvement.

    Submissions close on October 13, 2017 with the review panel set to report back by March 2018.

    Click here to view the issues paper, lodge a submission, or for more information on the Review.

Next Equal Oppor tunity ‘Cab Off the Ranks’ – NT

The Equal Opportunity – Human Rights campaign to extend anti-discrimination rights and restrict other rights like religious freedom continues, this time in the Northern Territory. It is proposed that current exemptions for religious bodies (like Christian schools) be removed and replaced with a requirement to apply for an exemption with the Anti-Discrimination Commission that requires the provision of a justification for why such an exemption is needed.

The Northern Territory Labor Government has launched (Sept 3) a review of the Anti-Discrimination Act labelled, ‘Building Safe, Vibrant and Inclusive Communities: Modernising the Anti-Discrimination Act’. A discussion paper with a three month public consultation process will follow.

Some of the areas targeted for review in the Discussion Paper include:

  • introducing specific anti-vilification laws prohibiting offensive conduct on the basis of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status;
  • consideration of amending the Act to remove the current exemptions for religious bodies in the areas of religious educational institutions, accommodation and access to religious sites;
  • modernising the Anti-Discrimination Act gender and sexuality protections and language in line with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

The closing date for submissions is 3 December 2017. 

Click here for the Northern Territory Discussion Paper.

Click here for more information.

The New ‘Safeguards’ Legislation

If you are making a statement on SSM please take note of the following. 

On Sept 13th the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017 in a rare example of rapid bipartisan work thereby ensuring that misleading and deceptive advertising will not be a part of the postal survey debate (ordinarily coverage under electoral legislation). It comes into force on September 14th.

With the new ‘safeguards’ legislation all material or statements distributed within the debate territory is required to carry an authorisation statement that is similar to what occurs within election campaigns, i.e. “Authorised by [individual name] on behalf of [school name], [school address].”

Further, there are requirements that cover poor behaviour and guidelines outlawing ‘vilification’ which I assume all schools would be aware of within their normal framework of conduct.

Some Notes on the SSM debate

  • School Principals and Board Chairs will shortly be receiving a suggested approach for writing to the local federal member regarding the issue of religious freedom. Please look out for this email.
  • When we know the outcome of the survey and the legislative consequences I will provide an advice paper on ‘where to from here’. Any input or questions to be addressed from members would be most welcome.

    It is likely that this paper will address:

    • Suggestions regarding the way in which schools should conduct themselves. Here we need to propose our traditional view in a courteous, humble way without denigrating what will probably be the accepted civil or society view.
    • Curriculum – our teaching about marriage can state the most common view of the state/society as well as the traditional Biblically-informed view. This would be quite similar to the evolution debate where the generally accepted view is taught as a scientific theory and where a separate ‘God as Creator’ view can also be taught. This can be carefully managed.
    • Staffing – this area will be the biggest challenge with Christian schools expecting staff to model a lifestyle that is in keeping with the school’s beliefs. There will be many challenges navigating this area should Australia change its Marriage Act to include SSM.
  • As stated previously (the August newsletter contained the AACS view) AACS has taken a very clear and straightforward approach. We encourage an engagement with the SSM debate that is respectful even if robust. We have acknowledged that there are a range of views within our school communities and the vast majority of these views fall within the traditional understanding of marriage. We have quite deliberately not been instructive as to which way those within our communities should vote. We strongly advocate for the right of Christian schools to hold viewpoints that are guided by the Christian faith on which they are founded. This cause seeks protection for religious freedom.
  • I was most taken with a story that Annandale CS Principal Daniel Clarke shared with me recently. Daniel writes, “I attend a lovely bible believing conservative church. Recently our minister addressed the congregation regarding the upcoming plebiscite. While I didn’t write down his words verbatim he said something like:

    I know many of you want our church to go door knocking to tell people how to vote. If we are going to knock on doors, it is going to be to tell people that Jesus loves them. The message that Jesus is risen and loves people is far more confronting and radical than anything else we could say and if people can get a grasp of that then God can work on people’s hearts. We do believe that God loves our community and we do believe that following God’s way is best for society and we are not apologetic about that, but our message is about Jesus love and this must be our focus.

    I was so encouraged to have such clear leadership (which may not have been popular in our congregation) to not become haters but to love and to share God’s love.

How To Speak Well When Engaging with the SSM Debate

Akos Balogh in his blog (11 Sept) opens with the question: “And so how should Christians talk about SSM? Is there a Christ-honouring way of discussing a subject that is so sensitive, especially to our LGBTI friends and family?” and concludes with, “Showing love and compassion to those who disagree with us, whilst not abandoning our convictions: that’s what Jesus requires of any who would follow Him. May God give us the grace to be such people.”

Click here for the full blog.

This is Not About the Postal Vote

Stephen McAlpine writes an excellent piece in Ethos (August 18) stating that the postal vote result is not half the issue that religious freedom is. There are so many good paragraphs it was difficult providing an abridged version.

“A lot’s going to be said about that postal vote before it is all done and dusted. This is not about that postal vote. This is about what the landscape may look like afterwards as far as religious expression in the public square is concerned down the line.

“He [Tim Wilson] personally told me, prior to his election as an MP, that the safeguards for dissenting religious voices in the corporate world, and for faith organisations in general, are woefully inadequate in Australia. And the likely introduction of same sex marriage will test this inadequacy.

“And to be frank, it is the cultural ideology of the new world. I believe that same sex marriage is inevitable because of what most people value about themselves whether they agree with SSM or not: That they have the freedom to do what they wish, to find happiness and satisfaction how they wish, especially in the area of sex. That’s the cultural frame of this new world.

“As Dale Kuehne argues in Sex and the iWorld, any politician who pushes against this new world idea of deep autonomy, especially in the area of sex, will die a horrible political death.

“But back to religious freedom. Regardless of what your view is about same sex marriage, the moment it is enacted – or at least after the confetti has settled and the party is over – is the moment we see if our religious freedom laws are strong enough to ensure that dissenting voices can continue to dissent publicly without fear of retribution on the other side of the marriage decision.

“Part of this is to do with language. Marriage equality, as it is being called, is being termed a ‘human right’. But as Kelly notes marriage is not a human right, and never has been viewed as such across the globe.

“But religious freedom and freedom of conscience are viewed as basic human rights – at least in theory – across the globe. And they are so on the basis that for a power to be able to tell you, coerce you, in terms of what you can and cannot think strikes at the very core of human autonomy.”

“However this has now changed. Our sexual selves are now viewed as the core of who we are as humans. And since this is now assumed, marriage and all that it offers and demands, finds itself in the territory of rights. And not just in the territory, but as the new foundation of human rights…

“Religious freedoms will have to give way to sexual freedom because all of the conditions in our culture to preference sexual freedom as the basic human right are in place. Make no mistake about that. You can huff and puff all you like, but if you say otherwise in most places you will be viewed as one views an exotic animal in the zoo.

“I believe that is what makes this issue so vexing for Australian Christians who, while holding to the orthodox view of marriage, are not too vexed by the probable introduction of same sex marriage.
They’re wondering if it is possible to allow the same relational status in a secular culture that they enjoy, while at the same time safeguarding their right to public dissent in word and corporate dissent in practice (religious schools, charities etc). None of the signs from elsewhere give them any confidence.

“For many Christians it is an in-principle decision that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Yet they realise … that we no longer expect others to see it that way, and that we will have to live with things we don’t agree with. That’s no biggie as far as I am concerned.

“Indeed there is a coherence to the Christian world view that can live with tension, and increasingly that coherence will be attractive to a world wearying itself over an elusive pursuit of idealised identity.

“I can live with the tension of same sex marriage being enacted because I am under no illusion that everyone must think as I do, nor act as I do. Christianity flourished in such conditions in the past, it can do so again. Same sex marriage won’t be the solution for many who hope it will be. But neither will it be the problem that others fear it will be.

“But no such coherence exists in the mish-mash of late modern secularism, bereft as it is of any true centre. It cannot agree to disagree and will, without adequate checks and balances, force people to a narrow view of secularism that brooks no dissent. Late modern secularism portrays itself as confident, when all the signs point to the fact that it is brittle.

“This is why, once same sex marriage becomes law, the truly hard work of creating a society capable of living with deep differences begins. This is why we need to get our religious freedom laws sorted out.”

Click here for the full article.

Yes to SSM and to Religious Fre edom

Greg Sheridan, a fine journalistic voice from the conservative Catholic perspective explains in The Australian (Sept 6) why he’ll be voting ‘yes’ and also why religious freedom must be protected. Here are quite a few paragraphs:

“I will be voting Yes for straightforward reasons. The idea of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman has lost social consensus and is honoured more in the breach than the practice. Therefore it is not reas­on­able for the state to enforce this ideal.

“All gay couples who wish to be in a formal partnership already get full legal rights as part of civil unions. This argument does not make same-sex marriage superfluous but is a supporting argument for it. Once the law accepts that gay couples can adopt children, then the overwhelming priority in the whole question is the welfare of the children. All children benefit from their parents being as committed to each other, and to them, as possible. Legal marriage helps the children of gay couples as it does the children of heterosexual couples.

“However, I do take Christian teaching about marriage and the purpose of life very seriously. I believe Christianity to be true and to be overwhelmingly beneficial for society. I am not asking the Christian churches to change their doctrines. But they need to win adherence to their doctrine, in this case, through persuasion and example, not through the law.

“Nonetheless, I think the churches were right to join this debate and to do so relatively vigorously. They have every right to put their view of what constitutes the good life, and to argue to shape a consensus, and then of course they will abide by the law as it develops. However, the law should not oppress the churches or conscientious Christians either.

“The Christian churches argue, with all the weight of tradition and history, that it is of the essence of marriage that it involves a man and a woman. That is certainly a respectable view and it deserves to be heard with respect. It is not a view that any longer expresses a social consensus.

“Same-sex marriage is virtually certain to come about, either under this government or the next one, whether that is Liberal or Labor. So it is much better to do it now and guarantee religious freedom at the same time. The churches have done a real service by highlighting the religious freedom issues. Christians should compromise on same sex-marriage but fiercely defend religious freedoms to the very death. 

” The real challenge to religious freedom is, however, very grave and you can see it coming. The Catholic Archbishop of Hobart circulated a moderate and entirely respectful pamphlet, Don’t Mess with Marriage — and Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commission agreed to hear a complaint against him.

“The complaint was eventually withdrawn, which was a tactical decision. But the principle of the complaint is clear. Simply asserting traditional Christian doctrine is prima facie an offence in the eyes of the crypto-totalitarian, lawyer activist class that is increasingly dominant in the toxic age of identity politics.

“Overseas examples abound. An award-winning orthodox Jewish girls school in London has three times been refused the renewal of its state accreditation in part because it won’t teach about gender reassignment in the approved way. Schools should certainly be compelled to teach that all human beings deserve complete respect. Gay and transgender people should certainly be protected from hate speech. But there is a grave threat that merely teaching their traditional doctrines will expose religious institutions to increasing legal assault.

“This is not a trivial matter and Yes advocates who do not wish to harass and suppress religious freedom should address it honestly, as the whole debate should be carried out civilly. But the signs of our times, and the intemperate, moralistic fury that increasingly accompanies identity politics, militates heavily against this.

“On this matter of religious freedom, however, the churches should battle with every resource at their disposal.”

Click here for Sheridan’s full article.


Human Rights and Fre edoms are for all Australians

In a paper from the Institute for Civil Society they argue the case that “human rights and fre edoms are for all Australians including those who support traditional marriage”.

Click here for I4CS paper.

Is SSM only about SSM?

A number of commentators including the federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham have said that they believe Same Sex Marriage to be a very simple issue. The Minister was responding to the first TV advertisement from the Marriage Coalition where he rejected linking same sex marriage to issues in schools, saying that SSM was a ‘simple issue’ that should not be ‘conflated with other issues’.

I would agree with the Minister, in as much as to say, that bringing in a raft of peripheral issues leaves the ‘No’ campaign open to the sort of critique that he gave. However, I would respectfully disagree with the Minister that it is just simply about SSM. The longer term consequences for religious freedom protection are not clear at all (see Greg Sheridan’s article above or Paul Kelly’s article that follows). The lack of any clear legislative protection for Christian schools with regards to teaching or upholding their particular viewpoint about marriage is of great concern to us.

However, it was reassuring that the Minister said faith based schools in the future “will be able to teach according to their faith and including according to the definition of marriage according to their faith. That will be respected in future, as it is today. It is patently ridiculous to suggest that allowing same-sex couples to marry is somehow going to see some new sway of teaching reform sweep across the country. That’s just not going to happen.”

The sort of freedom that the Minister has mentioned is what we are advocating for with politicians. We seek those reassurances in legislation and not just in doorstep interviews. Please participate in advocating for this cause by writing to your local member (advice will arrive by email).

Click here for the Doorstop Interview, Sydney 30 August.

Howard Weighs Into the Debate

The Adelaide Advertiser (Sept 9) reported on John Howard’s views.

“John Howard has called for proposed same-sex marriage legislation, including full protections for parents, religion and free speech, to be produced before the postal survey vote closes in November, as he launches his support for the No campaign.

“Mr Howard said yesterday it was disingenuous for the Yes campaign to argue that changing the law to include same-sex marriage did not affect other rights and that the survey involved a simple yes/no question.

“I respect the Yes campaign arguments, but this is not about a single right and there are conflicting rights,” Mr Howard told The Weekend Australian.

“Mr Howard, who was prime minister in 2004 when the definition of marriage being between “a man and a woman” was inserted into the Marriage Act, said yesterday there could not be changes to social institutions without wider consequences.”

Click here for the full article.

Religious Fre edom at Risk

Paul Kelly in The Australian (August 22) makes a good case for addressing the religious freedoms protection sooner than later. Some key paragraphs:

“The myopic failure of parliament to confront the need for broad religious-freedom guarantees in association with same-sex marriage laws has produced the inevitable — strong warnings that one right will be won at the erosion of other rights.

“They rest upon three realities: that protection of belief and religious freedom in this country is seriously inadequate; the refusal of politicians either to admit or to address such defects; and the abundant evidence at home and abroad that individuals and institutions will be intimidated after the marriage law is changed.

“Advocates of same-sex marriage insist the change to marriage law must be the only issue considered at the plebiscite. Anything else is dismissed as a scare or distraction. You can only believe this if you believe the consequences of the change don’t matter or if you don’t care if the price of a new right is the sacrifice of other rights or if, in fact, you actually support the winding back of protections for individual belief and religious freedom.

“In his recent article for The Guardian, Frank Brennan said religious freedom in Australia was seen as a “second-order right” while in international law it was a “first order ‘non-derogable’ right”.

“The debate about religious freedom has focused entirely around the ceremony, not the society. But the bigger issue concerns protections for individuals, schools, charities, adoption agencies, businesses and institutions. The politicians will deny it but advocates of same-sex marriage felt religious freedom beyond the ceremony was a non-issue they didn’t have to worry about, a telling conclusion.”

Click here for the full article.

Religious Fre edom Must be Prot ected Says Liberal Senator

Liberal senator James Paterson’s argues in The Guardian (August 25) for immediate attention to be given to religious freedoms protection. Now that the survey has opened it could well be argued that this should have already been addressed. Those against providing religious freedom protection would argue that such changes would change what people are voting on, mid-vote.

“Parliament must decide how to protect religious freedom if same-sex marriage is legalised … The Victorian senator has called for an overhaul of anti-discrimination law…

“The comments escalate an internal dispute between Liberal party conservatives … who argue that freedom of speech and religion are at issue in the postal survey, and moderates including George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, who consider the issues a distraction from the only issue in the poll: same-sex marriage.

“Paterson told the Association for Reformed Political Action that denying a connection between marriage equality and religious liberty would “sidestep the difficult and complex questions this debate raises … There clearly is the potential for the legalisation of same-sex marriage to have flow-on effects for other people’s freedom.”

“He argued it was a matter of when not if same-sex marriage was legalised, saying the yes campaign was likely to win the survey and that Bill Shorten and Labor would legislate marriage equality if it failed.

“He said changing the law “whilst best preserving religious liberty is a task I believe we must now take up … Paterson called the Liberal senator Dean Smith’s private member’s bill a “good starting point” that did the “bare minimum” by allowing religious ministers to refuse same-sex weddings, but also provided protections for religious civil celebrants and religious schools and other venues.

But Paterson said same-sex marriage would have “implications for people of faith who are not directly connected to religious institutions … I firmly believe it is possible for the parliament to allow both same-sex marriage and at the same time preserve the freedoms of those who have a different view. But it is a task we must first agree to take up.”

Click here for the full article.

Deception on Fre edom of Religion

Paul Kelly, a strong advocate for the ‘No’ case, makes some strong points about the vulnerability of religious institutions in The Australian (13 Sept). This is a most worthwhile read. Here are the key paragraphs:

“The government and parliament, despite years of emotional debate, declined to address the wider religious freedom question. The political class engaged instead in a great pretence: that the only such issue concerned the wedding ceremony and protections in the Marriage Act for clergy and celebrants, an extremely narrow view of religious freedom.

“Given legalisation of same-sex marriage means the laws of the state and laws of most religions will be brought into direct conflict over society’s most essential institution, the one certainty is ongoing legal and political trench warfare over the balance between acceptance of the same-sex marriage norm and the scope for freedom of belief and religion.

“While some aspects of the No case are obnoxious, its warnings about religious freedoms risks are entirely valid.

“The first point is that religious freedom guarantees in this country are inadequate. This was agreed and documented in February’s Senate select committee report. Unlike many Western nations, Australia has no statutory expression of a stand-alone right to religious freedom. There are far greater legal protections in relation to sexual orientation than in relation to religious belief.

“This is an anomaly given that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights freedom of religion is an inviolable right. The risk now is our parliament undermining Australia’s commitment to the ICCPR.”

“What was the reaction of the Turnbull government and Labor to the Senate report …[A report that canvassed and supported enshrining religious guarantees as a protected attribute in federal anti-discrimination law]? It varied between disregard and contempt. The reason is apparent — politics. Labor has abandoned any interest in addressing the inadequacy of religious protection laws with its embrace of the LGBTI cause. As for the Coalition, the story is the weakness of its conservative caucus. The deeper point is the churches are vulnerable and the politicians know it.

“The second core conclusion is that this battle over rights will continue after same-sex marriage is legislated.

“We are being put on notice. You would have to be politically blind to deny the reality (an option many politicians have deliberately chosen). The post-same-sex marriage battle is already under way. This is because while many people genuinely see same-sex marriage as an issue of non-discrimination, this was never its essence. It is an ideological cause seeking fundamental changes in Western society, laws and norms. It will continue apace after the law is changed.

“We are being put on notice. You would have to be politically blind to deny the reality (an option many politicians have deliberately chosen). The post-same-sex marriage battle is already under way. This is because while many people genuinely see same-sex marriage as an issue of non-discrimination, this was never its essence. It is an ideological cause seeking fundamental changes in Western society, laws and norms. It will continue apace after the law is changed.

“That [balancing ‘at tension’ human rights] hasn’t happened in Australia, not even remotely. Every sign is Australia will legalise same-sex marriage devoid of any serious attention to religious freedom issues and, as a result, religious protections will be exposed and sacrificed.

“The politicians are doing this because they think they can get away with it. They are entitled to that judgment. What they are not entitled to is a gross deception. The assurances they give on religious protection are worthless — their inaction proves that. People, regardless of how it affects their vote, need to know the reality.”

Click here for the full article.

Can We Still Have Our Own Opinions on SSM?

John Wilson from the Presbyterian Church wrote about protections for those expressing opinions that stand in contrast to SSM or, what occurs in schools when teachers might be required to teach about matters that they conscientiously object to (The Australian, Aug 22).

“The proposed changes to the Marriage Act are far-reaching and must not be taken lightly. Those proposing a private member’s bill in favour of same-sex marriage say clergy will be afforded legal protections for counselling, officiating and speaking with respect to weddings. However, would this prevent ministers and evangelists such as Campbell Markham and David Gee from being hauled before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner when one referred to same-sex marriage in a blog and the other in a street meeting in Hobart?

If same-sex marriage becomes law this will have a significant and disturbing impact on our schools. There is no doubt that teachers will be required to teach pupils about the validity of same-sex marriage. What protections will there be if they conscientiously object? In Victoria, state policy is that “schools must support and respect sexual diversity, including same-sex attraction”. Further, “learning within other domains such as English, the humanities and civics and citizenship provides many opportunities to include sexually diverse content … and … texts that incorporate the theme of same-sex relationships”.

This policy seems to penetrate most areas of the curriculum and no doubt will trouble many teachers for emotional, moral, philosophical as well as religious reasons. They are right to be troubled. In Canada, which went down this path in 2005, there are no exemptions for teachers in state or faith-based schools. They must support this material despite misgivings.

What implications will this have in schools associated with the Presbyterian Church … Will this proposed bill afford them protections? …. We just don’t know.

There are consequences to redefining marriage, such that may affect ordinary Australians who uphold the traditional view of marriage and who ask for the fundamental freedom to say so.

Click here for the full article.

The Nashville Statement

A group of American evangelicals recently released the Nashville Statement – a coalition for biblical sexuality. The statement takes a strident and strongly conservative stance.

While I would agree with many of the ‘affirm’ articles of the statement (they appear clear and faithful to my understanding of the Scriptures), I have a few reservations. My concerns are: Firstly, are the ‘fails’ necessary when the positive statement makes its point quite clearly. And secondly, from my understanding of genuine gender dysphoria, I don’t think it is fair or helpful to simplistically equate this to an individualistic approach of choice trans-genderism. Is it possible to affirm the very strong link between biological sex and gender without having to state absolutes and equate anything outside of that as sin? Can we leave some matters in the mysterious and ‘beyond our understanding’ category and simply engage with these people as lovingly and pastorally as possible?

The American Evangelical website Patheos has a current running commentary on the Nashville Statement. In this particular article (Sept 3) the author says, “The trouble with the Nashville Statement is that it is like poking an angry bear in the eye with a stick.”

Click here for the commentary.

Girls Win the Right to Wear Shorts and Trousers in Victorian State Schools

Girls’ uniforms has become a hot topic in a number of jurisdictions as a more gender-neutral approach gains ascendancy. 

The Age (12 Sept) wrote about girls winning “the right to wear shorts and pants at every Victorian state school.”

“In a victory for parents who have long complained about girls being forced to wear restrictive dresses and skirts, Education Minister James Merlino has vowed to ensure all girls have the option of wearing shorts or trousers.

“Momentum has been growing across Australia for schools to ditch uniforms that discriminate against girls and limit their movement.

“Pants and trousers are less common options for girls in non-government schools. The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia – whose members are mostly non-government schools – has noticed an increase in schools creating more flexible uniforms.

“The trend to include shorts and pants as uniform options for girls may be part of a school’s broader gender-neutral approach,” the organisation’s executive officer Loren Bridge said.”

Click here for the full article.

Perth Girl Wins Campaign for all Students to be Able to Wear Shorts

“According to 9 news, an 11-year-old girl has won her campaign for female students to have the right to wear the same the same shorts to school as her male counterparts. The girl wrote a letter to the WA Education Minister, which led to an overhaul which will ensure the state’s government schools now have “non-discriminatory” dress codes for students. Government schools in WA will no longer be able to limit female students to wear dresses, skirts or ‘skorts’.”

Click here for the full article.

There was also an article on this issue in The Australian (Sept 4):

“A national organisation of parents who want shorts and pants to become standard options in every girls’ school uniform across Australia is on the cusp of a big win, after a battle between a Perth mother and a government school went to the state Equal Opportunity Commission. West Australian Education Minister Sue Ellery has agreed to alter the state’s dress codes for students policy to ensure girls at government schools are not compelled to wear a dress or skirt if they do not want to.”

Click here for the full article.

Parents Sue Christian School Over Boy Permitted to Wear a Dress

I wasn’t going to run this story because it is from the UK and I’m not sure about its relevance. However, one paragraph stood out for me, “Gender dysphoria is something we as Christians need to address with love and compassion, but not in the sphere of a primary school environment.”

In this very difficult debate, I would suggest that there’s a difference between ‘transgenderism’, where some proponents of the transgender movement seek to nullify differences between genders (a form of forced political correctness – no gender uniforms; discarding gender based pronouns, etc) and genuine gender dysphoria, which should be handled with great care.

Click here for the UK story.

Prove Teaching Skills in Classroom or Fail Course

The federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, has announced that from 2018 all teaching students will need to pass a teacher performance assessment before they can graduate and in so doing prove that they are ‘classroom ready’.

The Australian (Aug 31) ran a story on the renewed focus on proving student teacher’s competence before they land in the classroom. Some key paragraphs:

“Student teachers will need to prove hands-on competence in the classroom before they can graduate from next year, as part of a game-changing assessment designed to lift the nation’s education standards.

“We’ve had common standards. We haven’t had common evidence requirements — that’s why it is the game-changer,’’ Professor Wyatt-Smith said.

“The national focus on education has shifted from the bruising political battle over federal school funding after the Turnbull government secured crossbench Senate support to legislate an additional $23.5 billion Gonski 2.0 package, and returned to the debate about the best ways to improve student performance.”

Click here for the full article.

As a result of these changes many Australian universities are working on ways to determine the suitability of new students entering into teaching degrees. This story is about “Victorian schools [who] are scrambling to prepare senior students for a new test which screens those applying for teaching degrees for resilience, ethics and empathy.”

Click here for the full article.

Rigour, Practice and Mentoring get the Best into Every Classroom

An excellent opinion piece accompanied the above story (The Australian, Aug 31). Some key paragraphs:

“An effective teacher understands where every child in a classroom is up to, where they need to go next, and how to get them there. Deeply understanding the content being taught is important, but is not enough.

“Not everyone is cut out to teach, which means the selection process needs to be more rigorous.
We must make sure that all graduates have the potential to go on to be great teachers.

“And we know that, in order for graduates to be given the best chance of being great teachers, they must work in schools that support them to teach well….Teachers need time to observe, learn from and get feedback from other teachers.

“They also need access to the expertise of other teachers proven to have had a positive effect on students, such as teachers who are certified “highly accomplished” or “lead”.

This way our best teachers can be rewarded with improved status, and we build strong, clear career paths that support our best teachers to have the greatest impact on teaching and learning in schools.”

Click here for the full article.


We Don’t Stop Praying for our State and its Flourishing

At the recent (August 16) Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, the Chairman, Stephen Baxter gave a wonderful introductory speech. Here is an abridged version:

“Over the years, these changes have left some Christians dislocated, lost and struggling to come to grips with life in secular, pluralist Australia. Some are still learning they can’t pretend Australia is a “Christian country” or the clock can be turned back, or that Christian values should be the preferred option of all Australians.

“We struggle when our beliefs and values are caricatured and mocked; we are dismayed when they are overlooked in public policy discussions, and we are confused when we are branded bigots for just trying to explain our faith. We feel it when journalists and progressive activists portray us as “the new barbarians and enemies of progress.”

“Nevertheless, we don’t stop praying for our State and its flourishing. While we acknowledge others have fundamentally different visions of what flourishing means, our prayers are nevertheless filled with concern – not for what WE have lost, but for what our community is losing.

“Many make this point and Paul Kelly, in The Weekend Australian of July 8-9, described it this way. “The reality is staring us in the face. Yet it cannot be spoken, cannot be entertained, cannot be discussed because there is no greater heresy and no more offensive notion than that the loss of Christian faith might have a downside.”

“While some are pleased believing society has ‘grown up’ and we are finally free of the shackles of religion, others are not so convinced, particularly in the light of many atheistic tyrannies of the 20th century.

“The foundations of Western society are built on the teachings of Jesus. They are clear and easy to understand espousing life, joy, forgiveness, freedom, tolerance and justice. These are good for all and we are a poorer society when we reject their source.

“This alone is a compelling reason for us to pray. Not to force a Christian way of life upon our community, but to ask for wisdom for our leaders… that they consider well this “downside”, that they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and that they seriously consider what their decisions will mean for our children and our grandchildren. We pray our leaders may be granted wisdom, patience, empathy and grace.”

Click here for the full speech.

How a Man Named Lesslie Changed the Way I Think

It is a real challenge to wisely know the best way to express our Christian voice into the public square. Here is a most helpful set of insights. Bruce Ashford writes in Christian Living (Sept 1) providing a summary of the brilliant insights from the hand of Lesslie Newbigin. A most worthwhile read. Here are some great paragraphs:

“…it is clear to me that I’m living in an increasingly post-Christian society. The majority of [westerners] no longer consider traditional Christian doctrine (e.g., original sin) or traditional Christian ethics (e.g., sexual morality) plausible in the modern world. Christians who don’t abandon these beliefs are increasingly considered morally inferior or even hateful.

“Given the fact that [we live in a democracy], the beliefs of citizens affect the lives of other citizens socially, culturally, and politically. This reality makes it increasingly important for Christians to figure out the best way to conduct themselves in the public square. Many theologians can aid us in this task; in this article, I focus on Lesslie Newbigin (1909–1998) and how his example is helpful for us …

“Newbigin’s public-square writings focused on situations in which Christians find themselves in the minority, and he endorsed principled pluralism. Newbigin believed Christians should take a missionary posture in the public square, focusing on the message of the gospel and demonstrating its relevance as public truth. In order to do so, we must gain a deep understanding of our cultural context so we can proclaim the gospel and work out its implications in a manner faithful to Scripture and meaningful in the cultural context.

“Newbigin wasn’t opposed to a Christian state, but he was opposed to a theocracy. He made it clear that the church shouldn’t impose gospel convictions on those who aren’t Christians. The institutional church shouldn’t directly influence public policy. Instead, the institutional church should equip individual Christians to reflect on—and act in—public life in a theologically sound and gospel-centered manner.

“ Fourth, Christians must pledge allegiance to Christ but affirm the right of others to hold and express different beliefs. Newbigin was committed to public pluralism; a healthy Christian society should maximize the possibilities for face-to-face public-square conversation. Christians shouldn’t suppress or exclude those who dissent, but publicly reason with others to persuade them that the Christian vision of the good life causes all members of society to flourish.

“ Newbigin knew he wasn’t a political philosopher or a political scientist. He never tried to develop a political program or agenda. Instead, he called Christians to recognize the gospel as public truth, preach it as such, and apply it to matters of public concern. Newbigin’s life and writings remind us of the value of cultivating a public theology and of raising up public theologians who can speak and act in the public square for the common good.

“ a helpful encapsulation of his thoughts on Christianity and public life can be found in a brief essay titled “Can a Modern Society Be Christian?”

Click here for the full article.

What Parents Look for in Christian Schools

A Barna Update (August 22) reveals latest research findings when asking what parents are looking for in a Christian school.

[Parents] “process of choosing a school was most likely informed by the educational objectives they most value for their children. But what are the priorities of parents when it comes to choosing a school? And what role does faith play in such important decisions? … Barna asked parents of current and prospective Christian school students about their schooling decisions.

Barna asked these parents to choose the top five purposes of education. For both groups of parents, the most selected goal of education is to instil strong principles and values (current: 69%, prospective: 53%).

Click here for the full article.

Proportion of Male Teachers Drops

This article in The Age (Sept 9) explores a few angles on why there is a disproportional drop in male primary teachers. Interestingly it suggests a range of reasons that are equally relevant for male and female teachers but it doesn’t buy into the challenging issue of trusting men with the care of children.

“Men are becoming a token presence in our children’s schools. In 2016 fewer than one in five primary school teachers were men and if the current rate of decline continues male teachers will be extinct by 2050.”

“In 1977 men were 28 per cent of Australian primary school teachers. In 2016 they were only 18 per cent. The proportion of men teaching in secondary schools dropped from 53 percent to 29 per cent over the same period.”

Click here for the full article.

The ‘trust’ issue is opened up in a School Governance (24 August) article that involved a study of Tasmanian male primary teachers. The conclusion:

“To minimise the fear of deterring men from being teachers, schools should ensure that they have clear policies, procedures and training in place to address acceptable conduct, behaviours and professional boundaries between staff and students. Having policies, procedures and training in these specific areas is a progressive step towards male primary teachers understanding what is expected of them as a teacher and to gain confidence in their role so they remain within the profession.”

Click here for the full article.

Disability and Discrimination

Emil Ford Lawyers’ Education Law Notes offer some helpful advice. Here they use two case studies in addressing the question of, “If a school suspends or expels a student with a disability, is it discrimination? As you would expect, it all depends on the circumstances for that suspension.”

“These two cases serve as a reminder to schools that the Disability Discrimination Act states that it is unlawful for a school to discriminate against a student on the grounds of their disability. This includes both prospective as well as current students. When a school does have to exclude a child with a disability, it is not considered discrimination if the reason for the exclusion is not the disability but rather the school’s concerns that it would breach its duty of care to the other students and the teachers if this child was not excluded.”

Click here for the full article.

For Long-term Improvements Schools Need to Slow Down

This offering was found in The Conversation (Sept 8). Here are the first and last paragraphs:

“Australian schools, like those in other developed countries, are caught up in what has been called the “cult of speed”. This is largely driven by reporting of the national assessment program, NAPLAN, which is focused on whether there are improvements in test results from one year to the next. Meanwhile, little attention is paid to the fact that, over the past decade, there has been limited progress in overall results, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to lag behind.

“The intense pressures for short-term improvements, which requires school leaders and teachers to make important decisions quickly, discourages deeper consideration of how those decisions could affect students long-term. The need for fast change is at odds with the collaboration, reflection and evidence-based practice that is needed in order to promote equity in our schools. It is time to slow down.”

Click here for the full article.

Religion and Politics in Australia

The Conversation ran a series of article on religion and politics in Australia in late August. Michael Quinlan from Notre Dame, Sydney wrote (August 24) the most relevant article for us (‘The great divide where religious beliefs and the law meet’) looking at the census results and how changing attitudes have impacted the religious freedom protection’s debate. Here are a few paragraphs:

“Australia is a multi-faith society. The 2016 Census shows that, while the mix of beliefs has changed over the years, Australia remains a pretty religious place. In the last census, nearly 70% of Australians self-identified as religious. The number of Australians who have self-identified as Christian in the census has fallen from 88.2% in 1966 to 52.1% in 2016.

“Australian parliaments regularly pass laws without sufficient protections for religious freedom. It is common for Australian courts and human rights officials, when having to decide between protecting religious freedom and any other claim, to decline to protect religious freedom.

“Religion is not going away. Our laws can do a better job of accommodating people of faith. Our history demands no less.”

Click here for the full article.

Click here for an outline of the series.

I Love a Sun-Smart Country

As we enter spring and summer I am sure schools will be prepared for this with Sun Smart policies and procedures.

Click here for a reminder from School Governance (Sept 14).

Orphanage Tourism

I recently listened to a compelling radio interview with a spokesperson from Save the Children addressing the issue of longer term negative outcomes regarding (what has been termed) ‘orphanage tourism’ or ‘voluntourism’. The spokesperson had just addressed the Parliamentary Committee Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

Many Christian schools are involved in assisting students to make humanitarian overseas trips, sometimes termed ‘mission trips’. My hope is: that schools involved in such causes have done a thorough job in developing their educational rationale; that partnerships are more than singular ‘drop ins’; and, that local research has been undertaken about the operation of the group being visited and engaged with. No doubt, schools involved in this work will have contacted Christian mission organisations about the advantages and pitfalls of short term mission work.

Recent media attention has highlighted many negatives. Education Minister Simon Birmingham weighed in on the issue (The Sydney Morning Herald Sept 2) saying he was “appalled that well-meaning students could be unwittingly caught up in child exploitation through orphanage tourism and shonky volunteer programs.”

“Advocacy agency ReThink Orphanages said a revolving door of volunteers was making abandonment and attachment issues even worse.” ABC News (Sept 12) ran a story on the world’s biggest school-based volunteer travel company World Challenge pulling out of offering trips to developing world orphanages after research showed the practice was harming vulnerable children.

Click here for The Sydney Morning Herald story.

Click here for the ABC story.


Is God Dead?

Greg Sheridan in The Australian (August 26) wrote an outstanding piece on the loss of Christian influence, why it is happening and what the consequences will be. This brilliant piece of journalism (do we say things are brilliant because we agree with them?) is worth further study in the staffroom or senior school studies. I have abridged the article, though what follows is considerable (around half the article).

“One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity. George Orwell, 1944

“What will it mean, when God is dead? Australia is about to become an atheist nation. The census shows us that barely half the population identifies as Christian while nearly a third nominates no religion. The numbers of believers will be bolstered by immigration but the trend is unmistakable. The old beliefs are dying out.

“Our trek to radical unbelief follows much of western Europe. The same trends are evident in the US. Though religious belief is stronger there, it has lost the elites and over time elite opinion leads public opinion.

“The eclipse of Christianity will be like the eclipse of the sun. Darkness will be the result. Will it be a temporary darkness or a long night of the Western soul? In abandoning God, we are about to embark on one of the most radical social experiments in Western history. It is nothing short of the reordering of human nature. Short of war, nothing is as consequential.

“Human beings create themselves inside a culture. A culture without God will create different human beings… When our culture has exiled God, there will be a radical change to the human personality and all our social institutions and relations.

“For a time we will continue to live off the declining ethical and cultural capital of our heritage of 2000 years of Christianity and more than 3000 years of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But as British writer Arnold Lunn once remarked, we are living off the scent of an empty vase. As we cut ourselves off ever more comprehensively from the roots of our civilisation, our civilisation will be damaged.

“The social and political consequences will be severe, with a crippling loss of civic purpose. At this moment there is a perfect storm of social, historical, technological, educational and intellectual forces militating against belief in Christianity. A semi-official new religion, the new atheism, is slowly taking its place and acquiring the appurtenances of an established church. Atheism is every bit as much a religious faith as any religion, but it is less rational and less human than Christianity.

“What are we losing here? Religious belief cannot be sustained on the basis that it is useful to society. People only subscribe to it if they think it is true. This means not only a rational ascent, but an intuitive sense that religion is real, a sense that our innate hope and wonder are not meaningless, that our lives are not meaningless. In all the important decisions in life — who we will marry and the like — we use all the means of understanding at our disposal. Our intuition of God, and of hope, is admissible evidence, it is part of the reason we believe

“But we should at least pause for a second to consider how much we are losing as a society by rejecting this Christian tradition. Virtually everything we like in our current society, and in our political culture, derives from Christianity, and before that from the tradition of the Old Testament.

“The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, might have been written 2500 or more years ago. It begins with what was the most radical statement in favour of human rights to enter the ancient world. It was that God, one God, created human beings in his own image. That is the beginning of the story of human dignity in the Western tradition.”

[In this section Sheridan goes onto explore the teachings of the OT and NT as they contribute to “the central elements of cultural and indeed political development in Western civilisation”.]

“In the 19th century, seduced by the new discoveries of science and reacting against the exaggerated or misplaced claims of some Christians to explain the detail of the physical universe only through scriptural reference, there developed a great vogue among some intellectuals for scientism, the misplaced view that science could explain everything.

“This is not to whitewash the various crimes and periodic wicked¬ness of countless Christians, including many Christian leaders, through history. Nothing is easier than to find bad deeds and sayings of individual Christians over 2000 years and then implausibly claim that this invalidates the whole of Christianity.

“Where are we now in the West? As our liberalism loses touch with its Christian roots it is becoming ever more confused, intolerant and incapable of delivering a good political culture.

“But liberalism today is unravelling. The loss of faith in God has been accompanied in the West by the collapse of faith in institutions, and indeed in humanity itself.

“To cite one study among thousands, the US National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper titled Is Religion Good for You? Here is one of the headline results: “Doubling the rate of religious attendance raises household income by 9.1 per cent, decreases welfare participation by 16 per cent from baseline rates, decreases the odds of being divorced by 4 per cent and increases the odds of being married by 4.4 per cent.” There are endless similar statistics.

“It has been rightly said that when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. An intolerant atheism is just one variant of a wild miscellany of ideologies and esoteric cults gaining ground in the West.

“ The lack of purpose and the lack of any ultimate standards that comes with the exile of God from our culture leads to savage polarisations and sudden outbursts of hysterical sentiments. This is an inevitable consequence of the new conception of human nature that will follow the turn away from God.

“Without God, human beings are no longer unique, universal and special in nature — they are just one more chancy outcrop of the planet and its biosphere. And when Christianity is more completely eradicated from our consciousness it will dawn on the culture that without God there is no final human accountability. Life is just what you can get away with, and no ultimate price to pay.

“We seem now to be moving into a new, extremely perplexing historical phase. The sheer pace of change everywhere, not least the extreme disorientation of every person holding in their smartphone computing power undreamed of even a decade ago, is fracturing and disorienting. We have moved from what sociologists have called the “solid modernity” of the first half of the 20th century to “liquid modernity”, where there is nothing to keep hold of, no certainties, just a continuous whirl of change that is exhausting and confusing, and yet ultimately dreary.

“And we have decided to banish and harm the very things that might help us make sense of this time. For the first time in non-communist Western societies, except for brief moments in European history when revolutions have displaced monarchies, the state apparatus itself will to some extent be mobilised to suppress and prevent Christianity.

“The process has already begun, but you can see coming down the road a vast caravan of legal harassment and actions, under the aegis of human rights and anti-discrimination bodies, to constrain churches and Christian institutions from teaching and practising their faith.

“…society is about to move from that consideration and swing wildly to an alternative extreme of making the conventional practice and teaching of traditional Christianity legally problematic.

“The Christian churches have been slow to understand and respond to all this. But a serious dialogue is under way. American writer Rod Dreher argues that many mainline Christian churches are in danger of descending into what he calls moralistic therapeutic deism, a bland version of the prevailing zeitgeist with the merest thin treacle of lowest-common-denominator deist beliefs over the top.

“In his bold and high-selling new book The Benedict Option, Dreher suggests the churches have to rethink their social roles. Politics offers them nothing, the culture is everything. Their main political battle, he argues, should be to secure their own freedoms.

“He thinks they need to re-conceive of themselves as minorities. This would give them some advantages. They need, too, to reconsider the seriousness of their purposes, so that even if they no longer represent a consensus, they can at least continue to offer an ¬alternative.

“This is not the end of days. But it is the end of that long period when the West has known Christianity, even if it has often honoured the faith in the breach.

“Our culture, our people, not to mention our poor and our sick, will miss Christianity more than they can possibly know.

Click here for the rest of this outstanding article.

For Australian Students Academic Potential Still Outweighs Social Circumstances

While in this The Conversation (Sept 12) article there is an egalitarian bent it does reveal some interesting observations about the influence of genes (academic potential) verses SES (social circumstances), coupled with a comparative weighing up against the US.

“The influence of genes on school achievement has now been well established by researchers using the “natural experiment” afforded by identical and non-identical twins. Between 50% and 75% of the differences among students in the same grade in literacy and numeracy is estimated to be attributed to genes; the rest to environmental factors.

“The same researchers have also been interested in whether genetic influence remains constant across differing levels of some environmental factors, such as socio-economic status (SES). Are differences among students from poorer households as subject to the influence of genetics as those from richer households? Technically, this is referred to as the search for a gene-by-environment interaction.”

[From a summary] … “In the US, differences in school results among poorer children depend more on environment than genes. In Australia, the story is different.”

Click here for the full article.

Research Shows the Importance of Parents Reading With Children Even After They Can Read

Writing in The Conversation (August 28) Margaret Marga explores “why is it so important for us to keep reading with our children for as long as possible?” This would be a great article for your school newsletter.

“Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people. Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading.”

Click here for the full article.

The Christian Influence Within the National Parliament

Jonathan James argues in The Conversation (August 21) that whilst Australia becomes increasingly secular our Parliament is still strongly influenced by ‘Christian’ politicians. He says, “politicians are influencing the nation in particularly interesting ways … Arguably, the large proportion of Christians in the main parties enables Christian politicians to negotiate their religious values in four main ways:

  1. A strong parliamentary Christian fellowship
  2. Faith-based delivery of social and community services
  3. Selective faith keeping
  4. Invoking the conscience vote on controversial moral issues

Click here for the full article.