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Do We Lack the Courage to Stand?

Sometimes, in my naivety, I think that we may have finally gotten comfortable with being ridiculous.

In truth, my expectations are not so high given the reality of our situation. Many in the political and media classes think we are worse than ridiculous. Most think we are somewhere on the spectrum between lunacy and evil.

Surely, I think to myself, after all that has happened culturally in recent times, we are at least getting comfortable with being unpopular in some sense.

And then I realise that we’re not.

Despite being on the wrong side of most morally trendy issues for some years now; despite living through a cultural paradigm shift that is calculated against Christianity; despite constantly parroting how different we are… we’re still not so happy being thought ill of.

We still crave acceptance.

I see this afresh as I observe how scared we are of our own religious freedom.

I’ve watched as the Christian world has beaten its collective chest in recent months, claiming that the Ruddock Review is a decisive moment which shall not be ignored.

Everywhere I go, it’s the first question I get – where’s the Review at? People anxiously lean forward for an answer.

I was almost convinced that we were all ready to take a stand, nail our colours to the mast, go down with the ship and all that…

Until we hit one hiccup.

The Fairfax media wrongly reported that the Ruddock Review recommends giving schools the ability to make enrolment decisions based on sexual orientation.

In fact, that is existing law.

The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act has authorised religious schools to choose not to enrol a student, or indeed to choose to terminate a student’s enrolment based on their sexual orientation for years.

But that wasn’t the end of the controversy.

Now that this hypothetical non-issue has been “exposed” everyone will be challenged. Everyone must give an answer.

It’s not good enough to simply use the “existing law” excuse and move on.

No, everyone must say definitively whether they think religious schools should be able to expel gay kids.

The witch-hunt is on.

And here lies the choice. Do we try very hard to appear reasonable? Or do we stand on principle?

The truth is that no religious schools have asked for this right in so many words, and none have declared that they would make an enrolment decision on this basis.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. On the contrary, it is very important.

Religious schools everywhere do want to make enrolment decisions based on factors associated with the behaviours and lifestyle of students.

A student’s sexual orientation is not the material issue. Rather, it’s how they choose to behave.

If a student is openly flouting a Biblical sexual ethic, making it known to others, then the school will have cause for concern. That will equally be true whether they claim to be homosexual or heterosexual.

But if a student prominently identifies as “gay” in the school community and is expelled for flaunting misconduct of a sexual nature, the school will be accused of expelling a student merely because they are gay.

That is why religious schools need the protections of the existing law.

It does not mean they will expel a student simply because they are gay, but it does mean that they are better able to expel a student for actual misconduct, especially if they happen to be gay.

To my dismay, even our Prime Minister followed the media beat-up with hasty promises to overturn the law.

Many have been very quick to welcome the move.

The immediate impulse of so many was to do something which never works: seem as reasonable as possible.

It’s as if, as soon as we find ourselves having to stand on a position that our critics will lambast us for, we just don’t have the ticker to bear the embarrassment of it.

Can we not get used to the fact that they do not think we are reasonable?

Can we not get used to being pariahs?

Yes, there are many who can and who have taken a stand, but not enough.

If we don’t get more thoroughly used to it very quickly, then we will never have the courage to stand firm. We won’t even be able to stand up for our own freedom, as has already been demonstrated.

Within hours, Tanya Plibersek upped the ante, demanding that religious schools also be stripped of their right to hire and fire staff based on sexual orientation.

Again, we know schools are not hiring and firing staff merely because of their sexual orientation, but the existing law at least permits schools to hire and fire based on conduct, without the threat of being sued for discrimination.

So here we are.

The starters’ gun just fired on religious freedom, and we all tripped over ourselves.

And, as we lie in the mud, thoroughly outflanked and outsmarted, we’re left to reflect on the fact that before the Rudock Review has even been discussed publicly, we have already lost a lump of religious freedom for our schools.

But at least we don’t look too unreasonable, right? I mean we’re not super unpopular, are we?

I do fear that too many of us are coming at all this from the wrong state of mind.

If we stood firm in the strength of our convictions, believing them to be not only right but extremely important, we would not fall onto the back foot so instinctively. We wouldn’t step backwards at every whiff of difficulty. We wouldn’t be so misguidedly keen to look reasonable.

We wouldn’t have gone backwards on religious freedom before we’ve started.

We wouldn’t have given up so easily.

We would, instead, have the courage to stand in such moments as this.

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