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Wising up to religious schools and conversion therapy agendas

When I was very young, I watched Disney’s Aladdin.

From that day, I’d often speculate about what I’d ask the genie in the lamp if I ever found him.

How could I eke maximum benefit out of just three wishes? Could I phrase my wishes in such a way as to get more wishes? Or perhaps some infinite benefit out of what appeared to be a single wish?

My mind was abuzz with options. Of course, I’d never ask for a million dollars or some specific amount of money. I’d ask for a wallet that never stopped dispensing money – hah! Yes! Clever! Pity the fool who didn’t think of that!

It was around this time that I read the story of Solomon.

God gave him one wish which would be His command.


Solomon’s request deeply impacted me. It impacted me not merely because of what he asked for – though that was part of it – but also why he asked for it.

First, it was because he was humble. He knew that he didn’t know. He knew that he was not equipped to discern and understand the realities of this world. He confessed that he was “a little child” concerning the task that lay before him.

But secondly, he identified the particular reality of this world concerning which he would need the most profound help… “to discern between good and evil.”

He wanted wisdom in order to know what was right and what was wrong.

This is a key application of wisdom in today’s world because that which is wrong is so often cloaked in what seems right. The deceitfulness of sin means we are sitting ducks without training in godly discernment, insight, understanding and wisdom.

We need wisdom when it comes to people, for example.

We have all known people who present admirably, but after time – years, perhaps – their true colours are finally exposed. Maybe they were never the person we thought they were. Maybe you feel sick to discover they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

God’s own advice rings true, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” [Jer 17:9]

We also need wisdom when it comes to judging ideas.

I wrote two weeks ago about self-esteem, self-worth, inner beauty and identity. So many Christians have hitched their wagons to those buzzwords in recent decades.

And now we stand back, wondering why a generation filled with affirmation and ideas of their own empowerment are seduced by a postmodern worldview. Of course they are – it just plays to the script they’ve already heard, taking it one step further. A step we did not foresee, for lack of wisdom.

Telling a child only how special they were seemed harmless enough. But too often we fail to discern the deeper foundations behind ideas. The attractive, surface veneer of that which is wrong fools us.

Again, we need so much wisdom.

But my call today is not primarily for wisdom in relation to people or ideas, but for wisdom in discerning agendas and understanding the path they lead us down.

This past week has reminded me of two seemingly good causes being pushed in the public square which have a dark underbelly.

One is the reform of legislation to prevent gay students being expelled from religious schools. The government has promised to introduce legislation shortly, but Labor has upped the ante, demanding an inquiry.

The second is the effort to outlaw so-called “LGBTQ conversion therapy.” Thursday’s release of the movie Boy Erased is the latest PR effort here, though media and political parties have been running a soft campaign for some time.

Each of these sounds like something we could all support, but the devil is in the detail (or, rather, the underlying agenda).

This is a call to wisdom.

The religious schools’ reforms began with a straightforward lie. The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that the Ruddock Review recommends schools be able to expel students based on their sexuality.

That was just not true.

But in this false claim was another idea simmering away: the idea that religious schools are in fact expelling students simply because they are same-sex attracted.

It turns out that is simply not true, either.

There is, however, a section in the Sex Discrimination Act which would technically make this possible, so the debate quickly zeroed in on that.

But the section in question is crucial to the protection of Christian schools, enabling them to operate according to their ethos.

It allows them to uphold a Biblical sexual ethic in the conduct of their staff and student body, something which is surely in accord with the expectations of most parents who make sacrifices to send their children to a Christian school.

It also includes a crucial protection which could enable a school to teach Biblical sexual ethics without falling foul of legal technicalities, or even refuse to teach Safe Schools-style programs without being accused of causing detriment to LGBTQ students.

This is a seriously important matter.

Many, including the Prime Minister, quickly stood on the landmine that had been laid to blow open this debate.

But what is the actual objective?

Is it about protecting gay kids from the persecution they suffer at the hands of religionists?


It is about nothing less than the decimation of the freedom of our Christian schools; Nothing less than a serious attack your ability to raise your children in accord with your moral convictions.

Meanwhile, the conversion therapy debate continues with the release of Boy Erased in theatres. It is the story of a young man whose devoutly Christian parents force him to go to a bizarre bootcamp to knock the gay out of him. The practices are abusive, coercive, demeaning and… wrong.

To the average Australian, the emerging narrative is that conversion therapy based around coercion, electric shocks, bizarre rituals and other madness is alive and well. The term “conversion therapy” itself is enough to conjure up a nightmare.

But that is a lie. It’s not happening.

The more subtle idea is that this has been a mainstream practice in Christianity in the past.

But that is not true, either.

I do not deny that this happened to some, including the boy around which the movie is based. I do not deny that it is tragic, and it should be condemned. I condemn it.

But I don’t think I know a Christian who would have experience with any such practices. Overwhelmingly, we couldn’t even have imagined them. Certainly, I know that they are not a problem in 2018 Australia.

And yet there is a vigorous push on to outlaw so-called “LGBTQ conversion therapy.”


Because the laws that are being proposed use the name “conversion therapy” to capture more than what we see in Boy Erased.

Activists believe that a major oppressor of LGBTQ young people are their parents with Christian moral values. The mere teaching of those values is enough to cause harm to a vulnerable LGBTQ child and therefore ought to be stopped.

So “conversion therapy” really comes to mean anything less than positive affirmation of a child’s felt gender identity of sexual orientation at any given time.

It could become “conversion therapy” to affirm your male child as a boy if he feels like he might be a girl after speaking with the school counsellor.

It could become “conversion therapy” to uphold a Biblical sexual ethic in the family home.

The laws which enshrine the outlawing of conversion therapy are nothing less than an excuse for the long arm of the government to reach into homes and label Christian parents “domestic and psychological abusers” (words taken from the Australian Labor Party’s conversion therapy policy).

They would also prevent pastors, counsellors, and other Christian professionals from teaching the truth that change comes through Christ; the very gospel itself.

This is perhaps one of the most insidious political agendas at work today, and yet it presents as totally compassionate.

It is no wonder that Solomon later wrote:

Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding. [Prov 4:7]

Let us be those who are wise, understanding the times in which we live, and discerning what is right and what is wrong in the agendas that are pushed all around us.

Hebrews 5 calls us to become “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”


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