A Pastoral Message from the LCA Acting Bishop
I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1,2).
The Lutheran Church of Australia regularly prays for Australia’s civic leaders in its general prayer. We pray, ‘that God would help those in government and positions of responsibility to maintain honesty and truth, justice and peace’ (Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement, p14). As public consultation takes place with respect to the issue of religious freedom in our country, I encourage congregations and individual members to pray, and have suggested some prayer points at the end of this eNews.
Last Thursday, 29 August, federal Attorney General Christian Porter released a draft Religious Discrimination Bill for public consultation. This bill follows on from the formal review of freedom of religion in Australia undertaken by Philip Ruddock and his Expert Panel last year, which the Prime Minister set up in response to concerns from faith groups about growing intolerance towards them and their freedom to express their faith.
Intolerance towards Christian teachings on sex and marriage was evident for example during the same sex marriage discussion. Catholic Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous was called to appear before the Tasmanian Human Rights Commission because a newsletter that presented Catholic teaching on marriage and family was found by someone to be offensive.
The Attorney General’s draft bill seeks to prevent such attempts to shut down religious teaching by clarifying that a statement of belief made in good faith is not in itself discriminatory. It confirms the right of people of faith to express their convictions and practise their faith without fear of discrimination in the community, and that institutions and agencies of the church can promote the beliefs and values they see as foundational. It will complement the protections already in place against discrimination based on other personal attributes, such as sex, race, age, marital status and disability.
Those responsible for drafting laws like this one face the difficult challenge of how best to deal with the issue of competing rights. Most obviously in tension are, on the one hand, the convictions of people of faith to live by and promote an ethical life they believe God teaches in his Word, and, on the other hand, the convictions of people who live from a different ethical foundation.
Prominent Australian Christian legal scholars have commended the draft bill as a ‘good foundation to work on’. However, they have identified some problems with legal wording which they hope can be fixed before the draft is finalised and introduced in the federal parliament.
Meanwhile, the issue of laws relating to religious schools and policy on staff and students who identify as LGBTI is still in the hands of the Australian Law Reform Commission. The Commission will issue a discussion paper in early 2020, which will include proposals for reform and questions for interested parties to consider and respond to. Its final report and recommendations will only come out in December 2020.
We can be thankful for all the work that has been done up to this point on the issue of freedom of religion in Australia: by Parliamentary Joint Committees, Philip Ruddock and his Expert Panel, the Attorney General and his department, the Australian Law Reform Commission, and the many individuals and organisations that have contributed to deliberations on this issue.
The LCA contributed submissions on this issue to a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry in 2017 and the Ruddock Review of freedom of religion in Australia in 2018. We are pleased to live in a liberal democracy where all citizens and civil society organisations can contribute to debates as to how best to shape our lives together, so that we can dedicate ourselves to living well alongside each other, treating each other with fairness and respect even if on some issues we appear to be irreconcilably divided.
We are especially indebted to Christian legal experts who dedicate themselves to carefully weighing up rival claims of rights and achieving the fairest and wisest possible legislation.
I invite you to pray with me
- for our federal MPs, that God may give them the goodwill and wisdom to work together to produce a bill that helps people to live together honestly and peaceably;
- that Christians especially will use what freedoms we have with wisdom and grace;
- for Christians with legal expertise as they contribute to discussions on how best to fix the problems identified in the draft bill;
- that Christians can lead by example in showing how to live well alongside people with whom we have differences;
- for all Australians who have been treated unfairly because of their religious beliefs; and
- for people of faith in countries where intolerance, discrimination and persecution is, overall, worse than in Australia and New Zealand.
Rev Dr Andrew Pfeiffer
Acting Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
Adelaide, 3 September 2019
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