General

Navigating the seas of diversity

In the following piece, three Christians share stories of what their experience of a push to embrace diversity has been like for them, and how they have thought about and responded to the various sides of the coming of diversity into their work lives.

Workplaces and corporations have lately become more and more reflective and intentional about their culture and values. They spend more time and effort identifying the environment they wish to foster and the values they want their workforces to embrace and work by.

One of the values getting plenty of attention is diversity, and one of the diversities of human beings that is an especially hot topic is the LGBTQI kind of diversity. What effect is all this having on Christians in workplaces where such diversity is being championed, and where there is sometimes an expectation that an endorsement of all these diversities is the way to be on board in the modern workplace?

The following three Christians are probably far from alone in having to figure out how to navigate these waters. Different workplaces no doubt expect different levels of conformity to particular views, and also different Christians feel that their Christian integrity requires different kinds of response. Perhaps we need gently to help each other find our way through the shifting and varied challenges and opportunities that the focus on diversity brings.

Roger Coetzer, WA

I have worked for the same employer for the past 10 years and over this time I have seen an increased focus on the topic of diversity and inclusion. The diversity and inclusion agenda has mainly been driven through training courses and in particular through senior leaders and executives promoting diversity and inclusion in a number of forums.

The communication and messaging I have received on a weekly basis from senior leaders and executives in a number of cases has had a section dedicated to diversity and inclusion. What I found interesting is that even though we are talking about diversity and inclusion the majority of this communication and messaging mainly centres on the LGBTI community, which also encompassed marriage equality. The marriage equality debate especially received a lot of airtime when the government confirmed the postal survey. There has also been a small focus on culture diversity but there has been little to no mention of diversity and inclusion around someone’s beliefs or religion.

As a Christian in the workplace I have found this very challenging because I am fully supportive of promoting a safe work environment and having a better understanding of each other regardless of religion, beliefs, race, sexual orientation or cultural background. All communication and messaging came across that the only voice to be heard was from the LGBTI community. Now there have been some good aspects to the training—mainly getting a better understanding of the struggles and challenges that the LGBTI community face—but there has also been an assumption that off the back of this you will be an advocate and promote their way of life and this is where I as a Christian feel my integrity as a believer starts to be compromised.
I think a lot of godly wisdom is needed to navigate how we uphold our Christian values in a secular work environment and at the same time still have the confidence to share the gospel. The conclusion I have come to is that I will actively promote that everyone in the workplace, no matter what your background, beliefs or sexual orientation, must be treated with dignity and respected and that we cannot elevate one over the other. It is then through individual relationships, where questions are asked and respect is built, that I pray God will open people’s hearts and minds and use me to share the gospel.

Adrian Fry, WA

In early 2017 my employer issued a range of workplace values, formalising a slow movement that had been gaining momentum over the previous two years. Over the previous couple of years the staff had been invited to participate in Aboriginal awareness, disability awareness and LGBTI ally training; and so when diversity featured as one the corporate values it was hardly a surprise.

Most of the values were innocuous, or generally positive: requiring staff to be diligent, provide excellent customer service and act with integrity are good values for any organisation, however the organisation’s framing of their diversity value was a problem. The diversity value statement required all employees fully to accept and endorse the LGBTI sexual framework and ethics—as detailed to staff in the prior training. The LGBTI training had made it was clear that any act, belief or statement that did not accord with the LGBTI sexual ethic could be regarded as an act of harassment and discrimination—and any act found to be harassment or discrimination would be punishable by termination of employment.

As a Christian it seemed evident that there was an inconsistency between what I believe and the beliefs that were now required of me. The Christian faith already contains a robust sexual ethic, with such convictions as God creating people as male and female (which is an affront to the notion that people can create our own sexual identities—which is itself a key part of the LGBTI sexual ethic) or that sexual relations outside of a heterosexual marriage were sinful. Through the lens of the new value of diverity, such a claim or belief is seen as an example of the worst kind of homophobia and should be self-evidently incorrect to any reasonable person.

In spite of the subtle change in culture that had happened over the pervious couple of years I was surprised that any organisation would set the bar so high, rather than at a pluralist ‘live and let live’—which I would have been comfortable endorsing, as it would simply require respect for each other—rather than requiring all staff to take on a specific set of beliefs.

However, after confirming the precise details of the new values with the executive, it was made clear to me that any beliefs I had that did not square with the new values would be a problem for my ongoing employment with the organisation. So I found another job and quietly left the organisation about 8 weeks after my meeting with the executive.

After nearly a year after the events I have these three reflections:

1. When Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow and to trust him to provide for our needs, we need to take him seriously. It’s terrifying to be threatened with job loss because of your faith in Jesus, and perhaps just as terrifying to trust God in the midst of it happening, but it’s been amazing to see God provide for us over the last 12 months.

2. My greatest fear for other Christians facing a similar situation is that they will forget the gospel of grace as announced by Jesus, and choose silence and quiet acceptance over faithfulness to God. I fear that we will forget that God is capable of righting every wrong that is done to us, and instead we decide to defend our patch when really we’re called to love sacrificially as the church. It’s very difficult to tell someone that God loves them when you’re busy sharpening swords and preparing to fight the culture wars or battles in court.

3. It’s been a very long time since we had an obvious enemy anywhere, and I hope we don’t stop praying for and ministering to those who hate us. It seems that as the gospel has receded from our culture, we’re seeing the things that have always been there. In spite of my experience I’m not pessimistic about this change, for a long time it’s been difficult to see any difference between a middle-class Christian and their middle-class neighbour, and I think that will change, and I think that will be a good thing for our witness to people about the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Tam Jonker, WA

Workplace diversity and its aid, diversity training, are becoming more prevalent in our workplaces, and I had some experience of these while working for a multinational organisation. It was an experience that irritated me and gave me heart, made me think and notice things about others’ reactions, led to conflict and started a longer conversation.

On the face of it, diversity within the workplace is a good thing. I know that studies show diverse workplaces are better able to make good decisions, have increased productivity, higher employee morale, greater innovation and creativity and the list goes on. Additionally from a Christian perspective, workplace diversity embodies a core Christian value of equality. If we naturally favour those like us and familiar to us, it does not surprise me that we would need to make a conscious effort to treat others with equity when they are unlike us and their ways might be unfamiliar and require us to learn and adjust to their diversity. And so I am basically well-disposed to diversity training, as it focuses on the practicalities of life in a diverse workplace, for example; the need for colleagues to be inclusive, understanding and patient with each other.

However, it is also true that many Christians feel threatened by diversity training. Why might this be, and and what can (and should) we do about it? Here are some observations that come from the diversity training that I attended in a multinational organisation.

My first observation is that there was conflict in the room in the training I attended. This conflict was caused by the change that the diversity training was aiming to bring about in the workplace. The changing nature of the workplace is no different to any other change – there are winners and losers with change. Some people were vocal about feeling threatened by diversity (if the company has gender targets, will I lose my job or miss out on the next promotion to a woman?). Others were vocal about the potential benefits (maybe I will get a promotion this year and won’t be overlooked just because I have young children). This conflict was uncomfortable. But uncomfortable conflict is not always bad – in fact, in this situation it was positive that people could voice their opinions and be heard. Despite the conflict in the room, a longer conversation started that day.

The second and more prominent issue that arose for me was that the diversity training I did conflated diversity with an LGBTQI agenda. This included a harsh criticism by the diversity trainer of societies’ failure to accept LGBTQI people in the past and was expressed as a rant against religion, particularly Christianity – whose teachings are the moral foundation upon which Australia has historically been built.

As I listened to the diversity trainer and watched people’s reactions (again, some vocal in support, others more circumspect), I was irritated that the training was largely limited to the idea that all people should accept LGBTQI values. However, it got me thinking.

First, I strongly disagree with the idea that all people should accept LGBTQI values. Jesus calls us to love, accept all people and treat all people equally. He does not call us to accept all value systems. But, secondly, given that I disagreed with the trainer, I had to ask myself what diversity is actually about. I walked away with an appreciation that, at its heart, workplace diversity encapsulates the core Christian value of equality. Jesus treated all people equally and instructed us to do the same. If I have a problem with treating all people, regardless of age, race, gender or sexuality equally, perhaps I need to examine my own heart.

Then, thirdly, in the situation where diversity was confused and conflated with a demand for acceptance of LGBTQI values and a corresponding attack on religion, I realised that I had to accept and take some responsibility for the fact that many things done in the name of religion are racist, sexist and elitist. This is not just a historical phenomenon, it continues today. It became apparent to me that it was only by accepting those things, and apologising for them, that I could have a voice.

I then took heart that equality and inclusivity were on the agenda! This gave me the ability to say that despite the terrible things that have happened and continue to happen in the name of religion, criticising someone for holding a religious view is the antithesis of what diversity training is about. Far from being inclusive, it is exclusive and shows a lack of understanding.

Lastly, I also spent time observing the reactions in the room. Often the most vocal people are also the most wounded. I made a mental note of people to strike up a conversation with at a later time – without the gaggle of onlookers.

 

Politics in the scheme of eternity

Penny Taylor
Public life and politics are bruising and demanding ways to serve the community. But Penny Taylor was not put off. Here she shares something of her experience in running for public office. Penny Taylor ran for the Seat of Nedlands at the 2017 WA State Election.

It’s been a year now that I’ve been campaigning for public office. In March I stood for Labor in the seat of Nedlands in the WA state election, and as I write this, I’m a week away from the end of Local Government elections where I’m running for Mayor of Subiaco, WA. Looking back this looks like a planned progression, but I assure you it’s not!

I first became interested in politics, policy and government in the mid 2000s, when living in the Pilbara, as I saw how different aspects of community life—from education to health, policing and public housing and further—were all interrelated and had a direct influence on the quality of life in our community. I had begun to write letters to Government agencies over some concerns I was seeing locally. I received little by way of reply, until once I cc’d the letter to the local state Member of Parliament. Then the replies were actioned immediately. I learnt that lesson, and from then on directed any letters to the minister and the local member. I wasn’t a serial letter writer, but I did write a few each year on the major concerns our community was experiencing. As part of that advocacy, I would take the opportunity to meet politicians when they made themselves available. I met and wrote to various politicians from different parties. The politician who mainly replied was Mark McGowan, now the WA Premier.

WA was riding the mining boom but with little planning in place for the inevitable downturn. State debts and deficits were increasing and the looming GST shortfall was entirely predictable. I could see investment in buildings but not in people. It’s people who change people. Government grants for capital only—and not operations—means schools and other community supports don’t have the sustainable employment structures to make a real difference in our communities. This is particularly apparent in regional areas. My watching of politics from a layperson’s perspective led me to wonder whether I should change from watching to doing. WA was crashing hard after the mining boom. Many people were hurting and many felt like the current government had completely stopped listening to them.

After prayerful consideration I decided that I couldn’t just watch the State election, but I had to run in it. I chose the seemingly suicidal mission of contesting the seat I live in: Nedlands, a blue-ribbon Liberal seat in the affluent, leafy, inner-city suburbs of Perth. A senior, yet not hugely popular Liberal Minister held the seat by a 19% margin. I think the only people who thought this was a good idea were Mark McGowan and me. I braced myself for the negativity of politics and ploughed in with my extreme naivety and inexperience

As the State campaign heated up, I wrote this:

‘No politician is the saviour of the world. No political party, nor even an excellent government can offer true salvation. Christians who serve in government are no more doing God's work than any Christian in their workplace when they strive to live according to God's word as a sinner saved by grace. But leaders and representatives have an important role in our community. There are policies on all sides of government that don't align with God's plan for this world, and I don't agree with every policy of the Labor Party. We live in a fallen world that has no hope for eternity except for the redemption offered in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

However, I do believe that this opportunity has arisen with God’s help and I believe that I can make a substantial contribution to our community through this endeavour. I presented my Christian faith clearly to Mr McGowan and he and the Labor Party welcomed me to join. Since declaring my candidacy, I frequently have had the opportunity to share my faith in a variety of settings. To date this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but I will be faithful to Christ even if it’s difficult. You know I am a committed Christian and I will bring my Christianity to bear in the decisions that I will make. I do believe I have come to this moment for such a time as this.

Politically, some considered it practically impossible for me to win. This is one of the safest seats in WA. But nothing is too hard for God. If I win this seat in March there will be absolutely no denying that this is of God. Because I have complete confidence of my position before God, only by the redemption Christ has won me at the cross, do I dare attempt this. Without his confidence and the peace that passes all understanding, I couldn't do it. Win or lose, I belong to him.’

It was crazy and impossible but I can do all things through him who strengthens me. I had been a member of the Labor Party for a short period of time and did not enjoy any backing from a branch. The party viewed the seat as unwinnable and understandably didn’t want to waste too much money on a battle they couldn’t win. I did have the backing of my family, of the Leader of the Opposition and of my own convictions. I know that many people support a Party like they support a football team. You don’t like everything about them, but you barrack for them anyway. And where I live, that team is the Liberal Party.

Two things happened in the campaign gave me the confidence to just do it and then keep working hard. The first was the good fortune to be seated next to the soon-to-be-Premier at an event. The second was the overwhelming positive feedback from community members. People were stopping me in the street to tell me they were so glad I was standing at the election. I had braced myself for the negativity of politics, especially in this Liberal-held heartland. But instead I found many educated and sincere people wanting a genuine candidate who listened and understood their concerns.

So. I didn’t win. But I did have a sizeable swing—almost 11%, which The Australian said was the ‘shock result’ of the State Election. Overall, Labor won the election in a landslide, bringing the Hon Mr McGowan the Premiership. For me, without a faith in Jesus and the belief (relief?) of eternity this would have been a crazy, impossible venture. Instead I found it overwhelmingly positive. After it was all over, I got back to working in the family business, but I do have some observations on what’s it like as a Christian when you move from advocacy and prayer, into seeking to do the work of a politician.
Firstly, realise that there may not be a rush of support for you from your fellow church members. Despite having sat in church while we all pray for Christians to enter politics, my experience was that there’s not so much support once you actually do. Maybe it was because I ran for Labor, a party that has appeared to be anti-Christian to some. But maybe it is because it’s easier to pray about political involvement than actually to do something about it. ‘Sex, religion and politics—do we really want to have be the ones talking about these things?’ asks the comfortable middle class Christian. Many people think ‘Good on you’, but that’s it. Don’t expect it to be a respected decision. The distrust of politicians (including candidates) extends into churches.
Secondly, I learned that political parties simply reflect their membership. This means that if Christians are positive contributors and active in political parties then perhaps political parties will reflect this in their policies. I say ‘perhaps’, because as church attendance has dwindled, so has membership of political parties. And parties aren’t about recruiting members, they are about recruiting volunteers and winning elections. It’s a very different brief to churches.

Thirdly, I have learned not to underestimate the power of a well-written factual letter. Politicians can better help those who make it easy for them to be helped. They’re human too and encouragement and support (and dare I say love) is always welcome in the face of constant negative comments and scrutiny from the public.

Penny Taylor

But my story doesn’t end with the State election. I’m in my second election campaign for 2017, for, even after the State campaign ended, many people continued to raise their concerns with me (even though I did point out I wasn’t the person to see). Not a week would go by without someone stopping me to say I should be running for local government. I have served as a councillor before, in Port Hedland, and so I know local government, but the persistent encouragement of others gave me courage and confidence to seek election as Mayor of Subiaco. I was having trouble not advocating on local issues and for good governance anyway, so it made sense.

This campaign too, has its serendipitous moment. As my penchant for politics was becoming known in Christian circles, I was given the unexpected honour of being invited to pray at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast and sit next to the former WA Premier, the Hon Colin Barnett MLA. 

After that encounter, Mr Barnett unexpectedly came out supporting me for Mayor of Subiaco. I love that Local Government is independent! In this election I do have the backing of my family, many in my church and in the community. My electorate is well-educated and kind. The negative campaign tactics have been much worse in this local government campaign, but it makes me more disappointed about my community than for myself. There’s a job to do. The Mayoral race is simply a job interview where the good people of Subiaco are the ones who decide who should get the job. If I don’t win, I’ve had an amazing learning experience and have met many wonderful people. If I do win, I will seek to do my best to serve my community as Mayor of the City of Subiaco. Whether I win or lose, my life is for the Lord.

I know many of you have been praying for more Christians to enter politics. I know this because I've been sitting with you when you've been doing it. Well, God works in mysterious ways and even I didn't see this as a possibility 12 months ago. At every step of the way there has been prayerful consideration and a genuine desire to serve Jesus in this world as he sees fit. I’m not alone in seeking to serve Christ in this way. Thank you for your prayers for Christian politicians (we hope to see them answered!) and thanks for your encouragement to us as we work for better government for the common good.

Postscript: Penny Taylor was elected Mayor of Subiaco on October 21 (Ed.)

Dear Mr Ruddock

Concerned to say a word in favour of religious freedom, Allan Chapple took the opportunity to write to the Prime Minister’s Expert Panel currently tasked to consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights in Australia. Here is the case he put.
Allan Chapple is Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Trinity Theological College, Perth, WA

I believe it is crucial to be clear about the issue that is at the heart of the review you have been asked to conduct. In my opinion, the fundamental issue is not whether—and if so, how—religious freedoms are to be protected; it is whether—and if so, how—Australia is to remain a genuinely democratic society.

What are the defining characteristics of ‘democracy’? While this is not the whole answer, I believe that the most essential feature of democracy is the protection of certain fundamental freedoms. And the clearest indicator of a nation's commitment to democracy is how well those basic freedoms are preserved when there are powerful reasons for disallowing any of them, at least for a limited period. So when we are at war, and must quickly build up military forces capable of defending us, conscription of able-bodied citizens is an obvious strategy. But when we are truly democratic, we have made provision for conscientious objectors, even when many believe that our national interest should over-ride their freedom of conscience.

That is what I believe is the most basic and important question we are now facing as a nation: are the freedoms that lie at the heart of democracy, and which have long been taken for granted in our country (even though they may not have been legislated appropriately), to be upheld? The freedom that is most at stake here is what has been known traditionally as ‘freedom of conscience.’ As in the case of the ‘conscientious objector’, the committed pacifist, this is not just a matter of holding private opinions; it is about living by one's fundamental convictions about what is good and right, even when doing so brings me into conflict with institutions and groupings in society and with key aspects of the national agenda. The majority of my fellow-citizens may disagree strongly with my convictions, and may well be very unhappy about the problems I cause by living by them-but in a democracy, my right to hold and live by my convictions is acknowledged and protected. [I understand, of course, that work needs to be done to distinguish genuinely held and proper convictions from fantasies and delusions, immoral dogmas and obsessions, and so on-but the big question is whether we do believe that this fundamental freedom must be granted and protected, even if it isn't always easy to work out the best way of doing so.]

Seen from this perspective, the key issue is not freedom of religion, for that could be understood as permitting people with religious beliefs to meet together: to go to the mosque or synagogue or church, and so on. But if that is all that this freedom involves, it necessarily defines religious belief as only private opinions to be expressed only in private gatherings and personal rituals. While some religious beliefs might be of this kind, the major religions in Australia have in common the fact that the convictions their followers hold are meant to be lived out, not only at home or at the mosque/church/and so on, but also in the public domain.

As a result, this matter has real personal consequences for me. I write as someone whose family was not religious, who became a Christian by conviction during my teenage years, and who still holds strongly, even passionately, to those convictions more than five decades later. Because of what lies at its heart, if I were to accept that Christian commitment is a merely private matter I would effectively be abandoning that commitment — and that I cannot do. So the question you have been asked to consider can be stated like this: will I be allowed to live out my Christian convictions, even when this means being a conscientious objector, out of step with majority beliefs and practices?

I thank you for the opportunity to put my views.

Allan Chapple

28 January 2018

Find out more about the Religious Freedom Review at -
pmc.gov.au/domestic-policy/religious-freedom-review

Editorial Summer 2017

Synod season is over for another year, and I don’t know if you attended one, and I don’t know how you feel it went for you and your fellow members of EFAC, but Stephen Hale gives us the encouraging news of a good General Synod session for evangelicals, and a well-attended, worthwhile EFAC dinner to boot.

We could not let the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses pass without one more Reformation-oriented piece, so we kick off the features section this issue with an article by Archbishop Glenn Davies, EFAC President, on the place the Reformers gave to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We move then from the affairs of the church to Christian engagement with the wider society we participate in. Firstly, Penny Taylor relates what it has been like to take a big step into the political arena, and run for public office as a Christian. More than that Penny writes of the valuable ways she found to engage with politicians before plunging into election campaigns.

One ongoing concern for many in our nation is the experience of Indigenous Australians after European arrivals here, and down to the present day. I had a rather wonderful opportunity to visit the Northern Territory with some fellow evangelical Anglicans in June, and I write about my encounter with an Australian experience rather different from my own. I have a go at relating something of what that was like, and I hope it is worth something to others.
In our Bible Study, Thom Bull draws intriguing connections between the Lord’s Prayer and Ezekiel 36, and a clutch of book reviews follows, before Tony Nichols closes the issue with a delighted report on his recent return to Tawau, Borneo for the centenary celebrations of a school and church ministry he worked in fifty years ago. Read and rejoice with Tony to see what God has done there.

If over the summer you fall into reflections over modern parish life—the good and the bad, the new and the old, the flourishing and the failing; buildings, websites, liturgy, staffing structures, small groups, evangelistic endeavours or anything connected to how we do church these days—and if you find yourself moved to write something you think others might benefit from, then take a chance and send it to me. I’d love to see whether it could end up in Essentials soon.

Ben Underwood, Editor
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Editorial Autumn 2018

I suspect 2017 is a year in our national life we will not quickly forget. The changes to the Marriage Act have been supported and passed, and I suspect all sides of the question have found it hard in various ways. The LBGTQI community and their supporters went in apprehensive that they would be bruised by the debate, but came out celebrated and celebrating. Those who wanted to keep marriage as received also found the debate confronting, it seems to me, and came out with their fears confirmed—that they are the minority, and their views are implausible and their arguments unconvincing to the majority.

2018 may bring its own significant developments. The status of religious conviction and the freedom of believers to conduct their public lives, as individuals and through their institutions, according to the convictions of their faith-formed consciences is now on the agenda, thanks to the Prime Minister’s Religious Freedom Review. We can hope, pray and advocate for the continued embrace of such religious freedom, put together in our culture over such a long span, and so integral to the kind of society that we have enjoyed—a society that safeguards us against tyrannies large and small.

Our leaders by Rob Forsyth and Allan Chapple touch on these current affairs, and our first feature extends our engagement with these social concerns by hearing from Christians in the workforce as they encounter diversity training and the coming of corporately-adopted policies on diversity in the workplace. This can be a source of difficulty for Christians, even to the point that some Christians hear the message: ‘conform or get out’. If you want some insight on how some Christians are finding it, read on.

The Canberra-Goulburn branch of EFAC has generously provided written versions of presentations at their 2017 Preaching Seminars, and in this issue we feature Jonathan Holt’s analysis of the TED talk approach, and its grist for the preacher’s mill. David McLennan writes about preaching in a Prayer Book context. If you enjoy these you might like to find out more at the Preaching Seminars website:jonathan6412.wixsite.com/ preachingseminars.

Further along, Stephen Hale keeps our heads in the parish and looks to the changing nature of the ministry of small groups, and Gavin Perkins helps us meditate on the pronouncement of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue: ‘Today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. A clutch of book reviews and a railing against the poverty of philosophical materialism by Peter Corney rounds out the issue. But don’t forget to block out September 6-8, 2018 and come along to the Anglican Future Conference jointly hosted by EFAC and FCA Australia in Melbourne. Spread the word about this too. It’s not just for clergy. See the notice at the back of the mag.

Ben Underwood, Editor

Editorial Summer 2016

The “good old days”?

The olden days feature in this issue. Some may wish to label Peter Brain’s article as a product of the “sentimental generation”. John Yates article maybe might be regarded as antiquarian by some.

These articles remind us of the problem of what happens a generation or so after the “good old days”. Or after a big revival. Both Methodism and Pentecostalism can be see as heirs of the eighteenth century revival. Nowadays neither look like the kind of religious communities overseen by Whitfield and Wesley.

We rightly praise God for the remarkable growth of the church in Africa, Asia and South America. But what will sustain the present life of those churches to the grand children and great grandchildren of today’s saints?

Forms continue but hearts change. Ideas and doctrines change slowly, as much under the power of the culture as under the power of the Word and Spirit.