CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Silencing Parachurch Ministries (and Other Christian Activities)

May 25, 2009

Many of you would appreciate the ministry of Focus on the Family. James Dobson’s organisation has helped millions of families with its practical, faith-friendly resources. In the same way, Teen Challenge is another Christian organisation which has been helpful to so many drug and alcohol victims.

Another group which has done so much good for so many is Prison Fellowship. Countless prisoners have been assisted, and many have come to a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Or think even of this website, which many have said has been a helpful source of information and encouragement.

What do these four organisations have in common? All are what are known as parachurch organisations. As the term implies, these are Christian ministries that come alongside of the church, helping it in performing tasks it may not be able to do itself. They provide specialised ministries to help assist the church in carrying out its work.

And another thing they all have in common is that they might all be forced out of business, if restrictive options proposed in a discussion paper go through. At the moment there is a review underway of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1995. The options paper looks at removing the various exemptions to religious organisations. This should be of real concern to every single Christian, as well as to everyone concerned about religious freedom and freedom of speech.

The government paper is 173 pages long, and not the sort of thing most Victorians would have the time or inclination to read. But we must be aware of what it is saying, and make appropriate responses. Mark Durie has done us all a terrific favour by providing a very good summary and overview of the document, and alerting Christians to the many dangers the proposed changes would entail.

In addition to the main sections dealing with religious exemptions (Sections 75-77), there are other relevant sections, notably Sections 38 and 56. Durie carefully examines each section, and demonstrates how the removal of exemptions would seriously impact on churches, Christian schools and parachurch organisations.

Durie says this: “Clearly religious freedom is not unlimited. There is such a thing as bad religion. Some religious practices, such as child sacrifice and female genital mutilation, are illegal in Victoria and should remain so. It is also not the case that people of faith are seeking unlimited exemptions from the laws of the state. The challenge is where to draw the line, and there are just so many problems with implementing the framework proposed in the Options Paper for drawing this line. The distinction between ‘core’ and other functions to limit exemption 75(2) is, as we have noted, particularly ill conceived.”

He says this about how parachurch groups will be impacted: “The use of the ‘core/peripheral’ test could penalise hundreds of parachurch organisations, with many thousands of supporters. Such groups have been constituted for a religious purpose, yet employ no clergy and conduct no officially recognized worship. A great deal of the diversity and vitality of the Christian community derives, not from official clerically led denominational activities, but from independent lay organisations. These include many mission bodies, as well as groups dedicated to providing a diverse range of services, both to their members, and to the broader community. The Options Paper seemingly has little or no awareness of the extent of these groups in the Australian community, and the impossibility of protecting their members without a broad interpretation of 75(2).”

Durie rightly notes that the discussion paper makes a faulty distinction between core and peripheral religious activities: “By proposing to protect ‘core’ religion the Options Paper begins to walk down a path, well?trodden by oppressive regimes, of regulating religion through channelling its observance into officially recognized denominational observance, at the expense of lay?led and independent non?conformist religious activity. This privileges institutional manifestations of religion over the exercise of independent personal conscience. Such a model for regulating religious freedom has failed again and again, being used as an effective instrument of persecution. By discouraging diversity it also encourages narrow, restrictive religious practices.”

Also, it may be impossible to distinguish religious activities from non-religious activities: “Churches employ many staff who are not clergy, but whose function is regarded as integral to the religious vocation and life of the Christian community. In a congregational context, roles such as receptionist, playgroup coordinator or caretaker are not simply ‘secular’ functions devoid of spiritual content. They are understood as involving the exercise of what are regarded as charismata ‘spiritual gifts’ (such as hospitality and helps: see Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), and are to be conducted as an act of service to God, and as a witness of faith to the community. It would prove impossible to impose secular morality – include secular sexual ethics – upon churches’ processes for choosing employees or volunteers in such contexts by limiting exemptions to clergy or some narrow secularist conception of ‘core’ functions.”

And different religions require the ability to maintain their differences: “Some religions are inherently opposed to each other. It would be unworkable to compel a Satanist group to employ a Christian cleaner or cook, or vice versa, solely on the grounds that cleaning is alleged not to be a ‘core’ function. Such compulsion would moreover cause deep hurt and offense. For the state to fine or imprison clergy, or lay church leaders, over equal opportunity violations of this kind would cause deep offense, and indeed widespread scandal in the community, as conflicting religions take their theological battles and antipathies into courts and tribunals.”

And as Durie notes, if these recommendations go through, judges may well be forced to rule on doctrinal issues: “There are serious difficulties with demanding that religious groups justify to secular judges what constitutes ‘reasonable’ religious practices, and what does or does not accord with religious doctrines. To do so would require Tribunals and Courts to make wide?reaching and complex determinations on which religious beliefs and practices are reasonable or authorized by the state.”

He concludes, “In summary, the Options Paper’s conceptual framework for determining how to limit religious rights is deeply flawed. Its approach is antithetical to Christian understandings of faith and public life. The Options Paper seems to veer towards the prohibition of the public manifestation of religion, by setting up an unworkable and ultimately discriminatory dichotomy between ‘core’ and other functions, and seemingly conflating it with an equally unworkable ‘private’ vs. ‘public’ dichotomy.

“The Options Paper is flawed in its discussion of the religious exemptions. It applies an innovative and untested model for regulating religious freedom which is essentially secularist and, if accepted, will penalize public manifestations of religion. The present system of exemptions should be left in place. They have served us well. Meddling with the religious rights of Victorians by applying an ill?considered and ill?informed analysis of religious liberty can only cause disharmony and great distress in the Victorian community.”

Exactly so. Whether well-intentioned or not, this paper, if its restrictive proposals are fully implemented, will result in a stranglehold on Christian activity of all sorts. It will be the beginning of the end for Christianity in Victoria. Every single person reading these words needs to put in a submission, no matter how brief, arguing that these exemptions remain.

The options paper is here: www.parliament.vic.gov.au/SARC/EOA_exempt_except/Options%20paper/options_paper_complete.pdf

Submissions can be sent to: [email protected]

The deadline for submissions is Friday 10 July 2009.

And everyone should carefully read Mark Durie’s excellent 13-page briefing paper: www.smac.org.au/blogs/vicar/Briefing%20Notes%20on%20the%20Options%20Paper%20-%20Durie.pdf

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28 Responses to Silencing Parachurch Ministries (and Other Christian Activities)

  • And here’s another example from today’s news (via Andrew Bolt’s blog):
    Salvos apologize to Scarlet Alliance

    Hrmph!

    John Angelico

  • Thanks John

    Yes there are examples of this taking place every single day. Christians really need to wake up, and wake up fast. Melanie Phillips in the UK just sent me a link to her newest article, warning of the very same thing: http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/3643186/the-sexualisation-of-heresy.thtml

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill – it is not fair to say ‘if the Victorian government gets its way’ … etc. SARC is a committee of the parliament – I assume it involves people from both sides of parliament – and it has not made specific recommendations, but offered a range of options. These options reflect a range of views which have been put to SARC. So it is not about how the groups ‘will’ be impacted, but how they COULD be impacted. It is important not to wedge the government into the bad guy here: rather we need to offer persuasive arguments why some proposals made by the community are not acceptable and should be supported. We are months away from knowing what the Government will make of the options.
    Mark Durie

  • Thanks Mark

    Yes you are quite right. The specific options have not been decided upon yet, and the final outcome will have to be discussed and voted on in Parliament at some point in the future. So it is not a fait accompli at this point, and hopefully the Victorian Parliament of the day (at the moment comprised of a strong Labor majority), will do the right thing on this. So in the meantime we all need to put in submissions and lobby our local MPs.

    The frustration many of us have is that the current Victorian Labor Government, especially pushed along by Attorney General Rob Hulls, has been quite active in pushing through a number of radical bits of legislation. So this simply just appears to be more of the same. Which is why I used my phrase, but as you point out it is not accurate enough, so I have altered it. While one might expect a poor outcome, we can certainly work toward the best outcome.

    And you are right to point out that the committee itself is a bi-partisan committee. But as you correctly observe in your briefing paper, the whole tone and direction of the paper is not very good at all for Christian activities and freedoms. Thanks again for all the important work you did in assessing this options paper.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Is there a politician in Victoria that is prepared to speak out? I hear of no voices speaking out on either side.
    Tas Walker

  • Thanks Tas

    Yes that is the problem. We know that the current Labor Government has been a keen instigator of social engineering and political activism. But often the opposition has not been all that much better. But hopefully enough sensible members of both sides of Parliament can see the dangers of these proposals, and reject them altogether. We need to pray, as well as do the practical work: put in submissions and contact MPs.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Sigh, if liberalism weren’t so prevalent, and if all parachurch organizations could work together – stop all activities for a week – in protest of the bill. Most people wouldnt realize how far-reaching the bill would be, so maybe it would show them – and although most people think discrimination is a good thing, from comments I’ve read on websites – they are sensible about it ie., if you are a muslim, don’t apply for a Christian school job.
    Catharine Carpenter

  • Unfortunately, this option would hurt the very people the parachurch there helps.
    Catharine Carpenter

  • Thanks Catharine

    Yes, it is vital that not only parachurch groups but all Christians stand up and be counted on this one. But going by past experience, if these religious exemptions are removed, Christians will have to share some of the blame. In the past those Christians and churches which have spoken out have often been in the minority. (And incredibly a handful of churches and individuals will actually support the removal of these exemptions.)

    So we all need to be involved in this battle, and if we don’t, we will share the responsibility for the fate which befalls us.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • What struck me in reading about this latest development, is that what we have happening here is the most blatant example so far of a false religion trying to legislate Christianity out of the public square. Too many Christians just view this issue as a “secular” state overstepping the mark and beginning to impinge on religious freedom, but I don’t see it that way. It is a false religion that is best described as evolutionary humanism, and it is hiding behind the mask of “secular” government.

    The “secular” state is a myth, religious neutrality is a myth, and until the church wakes up to that fact and unapologetically defends Christianity as being the only workable and successful foundation for our moral, legal and political systems, then we will continue to lose the culture war. Secularism needs to be exposed for what it really is – nothing but a false religion masquerading as the epitome of reasonableness and neutrality. It is neither of those things.

    And thanks to John Angelico for that link to the story about the Salvos apologising for offending the prostitutes. What cringing subservience from the Salvos. This is the kind of wimpy church response that has become all too common these days. Instead of defending their newspaper ad which implies that prostitution is a bad thing, the Salvos actually apologised for the “offense caused” to prostitutes and have withdrawn the ad. And if I understand the story correctly, the Salvos also allowed Scarlet Alliance president Elena Jeffreys to speak at the Sydney launch of the Red Shield Appeal. Unbelievable! William Booth would be spinning in his grave.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • The bottom line is that the government will gets its way because it has the numbers as the Greens will support them and the Liberals will wimp out.
    Roger Marks

  • Thanks Roger

    Sadly that has often been the case in the past. But we must not be fatalistic here, or put up the white flag of surrender prematurely. We simply must pray harder then ever before on this issue, worker harder than ever before, and get involved more than ever before.

    Mark Durie’s briefing paper very nicely lays out the flaws to these proposed changes. We need to get his paper and other assessments out as far and wide as we can. Every church, every parachurch group and every Christian in Victoria needs to receive this information. Then they need to pray and act.

    So this is not over yet. Let’s encourage the troops to get involved. The first step is to get a flood of submissions in.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • If the culture is so intent on jumping off a cliff, what can be done?

    To some degree, part of me thinks, let them commit suicide like this. Lessons are often only learned by suffering the consequences of poor decisions.

    I’d prefer that people just have 2 brain cells to rub together to see what the result of this sort of thing will be, but sadly that level of wisdom and foresight seems to be getting rarer and rarer.

    Jason Rennie

  • Contrary to Mark Durie, the Vic government IS the bad guy here. That’s why they rammed the “anti-vilification” bill down its state’s throat, even after it became clear it was increasing not decreasing religious strife (2 Dannies). And as BM says, they are actively pushing more anti-Christian leglislation.

    Unfortunately, the Libs have elected a Labor-Lite leader in Red Ted Baillieu. That’s why they wimpishly went along with that atrocious bill. They haven’t learned from the futility of the US Republicans languishing for decades as a congressional minority when they were Dem-Lite, or “an echo not a choice”. After all, why should leftists vote for the imitation when they could have the real thing, while the rightists are not likely to be motivated by a party that doesn’t reflect their values.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • 1/ Pray that these recommendaitons will not be available until before the next election.
    2/ Pray for the removal of this government and the toxic greens, and those coalition members who would support it.
    3/ Organise for all Para christian and jewish organisations to withold their services for three days, just to see the impact it would have on society, but don’t tell the press until it begins.
    4/ Pray that God will raise up leaders politically to confront this government.
    Waybe Pelling

  • Thanks Wayne

    Your third point is quite telling, and it it should be emphasised in our submissions. If we removed – even temporarily – all of the social work, mercy ministries, health, welfare and education services which are provided – mostly free of charge – by the Christian churches, parachurch groups, and other religious groups, the State of Victoria might easily grind to a halt.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • You mention that it will be the beginning of the end for christianity in Victoria. Surely the christian faith is not going to die simply because of an act of parliament? If we are truly living out our christian faith then we will inevitably run into opposition from those in power, Jesus certainly did and countless others following in his footsteps. Christians who are truly committed to the faith will continue to do good works, regardless government assistance or otherwise.
    James Bennett, Melbourne

  • Thanks James

    Yes in one sense of course you are perfectly correct. Nothing will ever fully silence the church of Jesus Christ. It will prevail against all opposition. And persecution is always the lot of true Christians.

    But having said that, there is still much that we can do here. Will we fight for religious freedom or not? There is the very real possibility that Christians who take their faith seriously may soon be driven underground, as was the early church. That is what I was driving at. Depending on whether we Christians are willing to stand up and be counted on this issue will in large measure determine whether this sort of Christian persecution gets worse, or is turned back somewhat.

    The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ and his church, but our involvement in these battles will help determine whether religious freedom remains in this nation, or whether we see it slowly but surely stamped out. The real issue here is whether we will take a stand for the freedoms we currently have, or will we simply wimp out, roll over, and allow forces hostile to the church to have a free ride? That is the issue which each of us must consider. I for one will not go down without a fight.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • This is a classic case of divide and conquer. At present the secular humanists, helped by government legislation, make a case for appointing their members to lowly positions in parachurch organisations; as well as schools. Allow them to do this, and tomorrow it will be a push towards middle-management positions. Ultimately they will make the same demands for upper-management and executive positions. Eventually, they will be responsible for running the organisation, and introducing their core values. One has to recognise the strategy, and take appropriate action as early as possible.
    Dunstan Hartley

  • James Bennett wrote:
    “You mention that it will be the beginning of the end for christianity in Victoria. Surely the christian faith is not going to die simply because of an act of parliament?”

    Bill M replied:
    “Nothing will ever fully silence the church of Jesus Christ. It will prevail against all opposition. And persecution is always the lot of true Christians. … [but] There is the very real possibility that Christians who take their faith seriously may soon be driven underground, as was the early church.”

    Mark Durie wrote (on his blog):
    “One of the problems in achieving a coordinated response is that comfortable middle-of-the road Christians tend to just assume everything will continue on for ever as in the past. This could be a great mistake.”

    My comment:
    While increased persecution from the state is not desirable, perhaps it is exactly what the Christian Church in Victoria (and Australia) needs. Tragically, our churches are filled with lukewarm, complacent people (“comfortable middle-of-the road Christians” as Mark puts it) who in many cases are willing to follow secular culture down all sorts of corrupt paths — feminism, homosexuality, divorce, abortion (yes, my denomination supported decriminalisation) , Gaia-worship, Darwinism, religious pluralism…

    For example, how many people turned up to protest the abortion decriminalisation bill? About 3-5 thousand. Out of the 19% of the population who (according to NCLS) attend church regularly. That’s not many. You’d think that murder of small innocents would stir up slightly more opposition amongst Christians.

    Under the refining fire of persecution things might be different; I doubt there were too many lukewarm believers in the underground early church. God prefers that we be hot or cold (Rev 3:15ff), and persecution is one way to achieve that outcome.

    Jereth Kok

  • Thanks Jereth

    You raise some important points, which others have also touched on. Instead of offering a brief reply here, I have penned a whole new article. So go here to see my thoughts on your comment: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/05/27/thinking-about-persecution/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hello Bill,

    I have read your new article — thanks. I agree with you that the Bible does not command us to seek out persecution. I certainly don’t want to suffer! nor do I want my Christian friends and family to. Yes we should do our best to defend the current freedoms we enjoy.

    I was just trying to draw together some threads in what others had written. The naivety and complacency of what seems to be the bulk of people sitting in our churches on Sunday, concerning what our Governments are trying to achieve with their “rights”-driven anti-discrimination policies (and other social engineering agendas), is a sad state of affairs. This complacency is likely to mean that we will lose the battle to the secularists, and when things get tough there will inevitably be a “refining” effect on the Church. If, in God’s providence, this results in an increase of zeal and faithfulness among his people, it won’t be all bad.

    I look at the USA from a distance, but it appears to me that Christians there are forced to be much more truthful and vocal because the hostility from secularism is more aggressive. Christians are forced to speak up on issues such as the natural family vs. homosexuality, protection of the unborn, and the teaching of Creation in schools; whereas in Australia, at present, it is possible to sit back and keep quiet.

    I like being comfortable as much as anyone else, but I would be willing to accept a modest amount of “persecution” (I don’t think we’ll be held at gunpoint, no matter how bad it gets here!) if the fruits were an increase in Christian boldness, and consequently greater glory to God and his Kingdom.

    Jereth Kok

  • Hi Bill.
    Read Mark Durie’s paper and all the blog comments here. In the midst of all this, there is a deadly silence. I have more questions than answers.
    1/ Where are those who brag about the many programs they have or how big their church is?
    2/ Where are the voices of wisdom from seasoned men and women? (Say those been in ministry longer than I have been alive).
    3/ Where are the leaders of ALL organizations? I don’t see a rallying of the troops happening!
    Maybe I do Know. Possibly still accepting the acalades of their wonderful achievements. Sarcasasm isn’t my forte. I’m serious.
    Just recieved a petition from ACC Vic. I will be doing my bit, just hope and pray others will also.
    Rohan Needs

  • Thanks Rohan

    Yes you are doing your bit which is terrific. As you say, if we could just get everyone else to do their bit, we could easily win this one. Thanks for leading by example here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The NT church was evangelising all the time. The towns around where I live does not have one single church involved in evangelism. They are all bless me clubs intended to be as inoffensive as possible. Their message is come and join us if you want to enjoy the status quo. To paraphrase a well known hymn “Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God”

    I have a feeling that we have brought this persecution on ourselves. If we are not prepared to develop some backbone, then God will have to do it for us. If it means that it gets rid of the shallow and counterfeit, I say bring it on.

    The battle of Jericho was won with 300 soldiers after 29,700 had been dismissed. Lord give us 300 that will do whatever it takes.

    Roger Marks

  • Rohan wrote:
    In the midst of all this, there is a deadly silence. I have more questions than answers.
    1/ Where are those who brag about the many programs they have or how big their church is?
    2/ Where are the voices of wisdom from seasoned men and women? (Say those been in ministry longer than I have been alive).
    3/ Where are the leaders of ALL organizations? I don’t see a rallying of the troops happening!

    Rohan (and others)-
    The silence is disturbing, I agree. I might be able to offer a partial answer.

    Looking at my own committed Christian friends, associates and church circles, most people are busy working away in pastoral care, evangelism, nuture and personal devotion. These things are seen to be of much higher priority than battling the culture at large on the Big Issues. To some extent that is true. It is individuals who must stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of themselves.

    However, it is also true that this turning inwards to the personal and the “spiritual” is a sign that we have swallowed the lie that the secularists are preaching — that religion is an entirely private matter between individuals and God. It is left to the Christian Left to exhibit and express a public faith — and their version of “faith” is generally one that has all of the world’s (corrupt) values.

    So the problem is not sloth or lack of programs or effort, or even lack of leadership; it is a misdirection or imbalance in our efforts.

    Again I point to the US, where religious conservatives *do* exhibit a very public faith- in their pro-life, pro-family, pro-Creation lobbying and so on. (Is it any surprise that the man who runs this blog is American?) We need to catch that bug down here.

    Jereth Kok

  • All this EO stuff (wich appears to have led to the Bills and Charter of Rights) is VERY ALARMING INDEED. I have always felt that the DEMANDING of Eequal Opportuniy, and Rights was intrinsically selfish and therefore not helpful in the long run (as Christianity informs us, of course).

    Surely we are fiddling at the edges, here. As others have said, let’s use this opportunity as an example to show how the EO Law itself is basically flawed.

    Surely all this has almost inevitably led to the imposition by the Victorian Government of the Vilification Law and the Abortion Law, both of which have tossed up clear examples of the confusion (not the improvements in community affairs they were supposed to bring).

    Freedom has been mentioned as being a casuality. I have been most impressed (but not surprised) by the reaction of the Catholic church to the Abortion Law, and the requirements of Cathlic (or any) doctor to direct abortion seekers to abortionists. Their five page colour document on freedom of conscience which was apparently produced to support a Catholic wide Conscience Sunday (I have forgottent the actual title) reads extremely well.

    I agree wholeheartedly that Christians have been taking all this for far to long. There is still time to raise our voces very loudly to actually condemn the proposed amendment. I say that we should go a lot further and call for the repeal of the EO Act itself!!!! We have all been asked by others to note that existing Common Law, properly applied, should and must be made to cover all these instances of demanidng of rights which can often lead to actual verbal and physical assault.

    Brian Tideman

  • God says to us, “No weapon formed against us can prosper,” “If God is for us who can be against us”, “Nothing is impossible with God” and the list of mighty scriptures keep coming at me.

    We have been given to understand that there will be persecution in the last days but the gates of hell will NOT prevail. Jesus has already won victory for us on the Cross of Calvary so we are dealing with a defeated enemy who is posturing as if he were the victor. This is his handiwork.

    God’s strategy for destroying the works of the enemy is legendary.

    Yes, we can be vocal but with God’s wisdom it will be far more effective and strategic to penetrate the very epicentre of where this assault is coming from.

    So why not ask Him what He wants us to do?

    Colin Deoki

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