This is my last blog for 2014 before I take a break with my family.
Throughout the year I have had the privilege of travelling the length and breadth of our country speaking to ACL supporters, Parliamentarians and church leaders.
This blog is an edited version of a talk I have given many times this year.
During a recent trip to Tasmania, one of our supporters suggested I publish it on our website.
I hope you will find it helpful.
May God bless you and your family this Christmas.
Why silence is not an option
Like many people, I have become intrigued with the question of how an entire national church – the Lutheran church in Germany - went along with the political agenda of Adolf Hitler.
A few years ago I picked up a book by New York author Eric Metaxas titled Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Some of you may have read it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a very young German theologian who began to sound warnings in the early 1930s about Hitler.
An early pressure point was the State’s insistence that the church adopt the so-called Aryan clause to exclude people of Jewish background in positions of authority. This included a ban on Jewish converts becoming Lutheran ministers.
Bonhoeffer was aghast and began challenging the Lutheran church to again become Christian in more than name only and to reject the Aryan clause.
Metaxas writes that no one took Bonhoeffer seriously.
When the Lutheran national synod convened in September 1934, 80 per cent of the delegates were wearing the Brown Shirts of the Nazi party.
By year’s end the Lutheran church’s capitulation was complete with it caving in to Hilter’s wish to affiliate with the Nazis and became the Reich Church. Swastikas were displayed in churches.
National Socialism of course was extremely popular in Germany – it energised the nation. It was a cultural phenomenon.
So why this history lesson? My kids roll their eyes whenever I talk about Bonhoeffer. So do some ACL staff.
Isn’t it dangerous to draw comparisons with the Nazis? It is often said that whoever invokes Hitler first in an argument loses.
That may be so but as I read Bonhoeffer, I can’t help but be struck by the similarities between then and now.
I’m not suggesting we are about to be overrun by men in jackboots marching the innocent off to death camps. (Although, our society’s acceptance of abortion surely must cause us to ask some very hard questions about our attitude towards human rights.)
But I am concerned about some of today’s cultural and political trends and the silence from us as Christians that accompanies them.
Quite frankly I’ve been shocked at having to have conversations that I would not have dreamed would need to have been had five years ago about standing up for the right of children to wherever possible have a mum and a dad.
In some sections of society, leaders are looking for a way out of the marriage debate.
And if I can just add, while leaders might be looking for a way out, their people are not. ACL recently gathered 42,000 signatures supporting man-woman marriage on a submission to a Senate inquiry. The inquiry was considering a Greens’ bill to recognise overseas same-sex marriages.
Thanks in large part to people speaking up, the bill failed.
But the cultural pressures are so strong and the cost of making a stand is so high it is much easier to go in silence with the flow. And some are.
There is an unwillingness to take to task those who say a child’s biological mum and dad no longer matter to a child. Because that is what the same-sex political agenda for marriage says.
So the political debate to change marriage has now raged in our nation for the best part of four years. In that time there have been 12 attempts to change the definition of marriage in law at State or federal level.
The very confused libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm has just launched the 12th, essentially as a political lever to cause the Coalition to cave in and water down its party position for marriage by granting a conscience vote.
Now 11 same-sex marriage debates have become wearisome for us. ACL has played a role in the defeat of each attempt at change.
The Greens nominate same-sex marriage (and euthanasia) as their top political priorities. I’m not sure what happened to the environment.
Before the 2013 election, Kevin Rudd promised within 100 days to legislate a new definition of marriage if he was re-elected. The Liberal’s Malcolm Turnbull says he wants to be part of a cross party group to achieve same-sex marriage.
Both men’s advocacy of same-sex marriage failed at the poll that mattered.
The media don’t report on the issue, they campaign on it.
Yet despite this heavy artillery, change has failed.
Since the High Court last December ruled that only the Federal Parliament can deal with marriage, the debate has gone relatively quiet.
Despite our success to date, some people have caved in and believe the rhetoric of inevitability around this issue. But the truth of the matter is that those seeking to change the law do not have the numbers in Parliament.
This issue is far from inevitable and as ACL’s former Managing Director Jim Wallace has always said, it is only inevitable if we don’t speak up.
Now, I’ve spent a lot of time on this but it is probably the most defining political debate of our time.
In all this, ACL has continued to be active on a myriad of other fronts.
In Queensland our State Director Wendy Francis has succeeded in lobbying for legislation that will reign in sexualised outdoor advertising. The threat of penalties for rogue advertisers is now real.
In Tasmania, our director there Mark Brown obtained a pre-election commitment from the now premier, Will Hodgeman, to freedom of association to faith-based schools.
In Victoria, our director Dan Flynn had, after a grass-roots campaign by ACL supporters, had a ban on student-led Bible study and prayer in schools overturned.
ACL has consistently spoken out against the winding back of our Millennium Development goal promises to the world’s poor.
Promises matter in politics.
ACL supports the humane offshore processing of people arriving by boat because the deadly and inhumane practice of people smuggling had to be stopped.
But we have long called for an increase in our annual humanitarian intake. While 13,700 a year might be high per capita by world standards, it doesn’t go close to addressing the desperate need of persecuted religious minorities, the vast majority of whom are Christians.
Almost 20,000 of our supporters signed an on-line petition calling on the Government to increase the humanitarian intake.
Just this week the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has put forward a proposal to increase the number of refugees by 7,400 over the next four years.
Our voices are being heard.
The shocking image of a seven-year-old Australian boy holding a decapitated head has caused the world to wake-up to what is happening in northern Iraq and Syria.
But long before this grabbed the public’s attention, ACL was active in the Parliament raising awareness of the purging of Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.
All this is just a snapshot of what our dedicated team is doing on a range of issues of public policy which we believe are necessary to promote human flourishing.
Well, the lobbying our people do in the Parliaments of our nation is of course absolutely necessary.
But it will not endure unless we can raise principled public leaders for the future.
ACL’s 14-week Lachlan Macquarie Internship continues to go from strength to strength and gives us great hope for the future.
This year we commenced Gap Week, a program for school leavers and university undergraduates. We are giving them a crash course in why Christians should participate in the democratic processes of politics and culture and not remain silent.
Sadly when Bonhoeffer urged the church to speak it rejected him.
This motivated him to say this:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Two weeks before World War II ended, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged on the orders of Hitler.
Soon after World War II leaders of the evangelical church in Germany met at Stuttgart and did some serious soul searching. The result was a document called the Stuttgart Declaration which said “it is our self-indictment that we have not made a more courageous confession.”
We are not facing a crisis in the magnitude of national socialism but we are facing a crisis nonetheless. Our Syrian and Iraqi brothers and sisters are facing a crisis of that order.
The pressure to remain silent on a range of issues is enormous. If we learn the lessons of history and rediscover the church’s role as conscience for the nation, we can be salt and light and help build a more just and compassionate society.
Let’s not be writing our own Stuttgart Declaration in 10 years’ time.
Thanks for your support in 2014. May 2015 be a year of continuing to speak up.