How ScoMo Took Australia By Surprise

It’s a day that will go down in history. The chattering class called it the unwinnable election. All the major polls, pundits and papers were unanimous: Labor was certain to take power. Even Sportsbet picked the wrong side, paid punters out early, and lost $5.2m for their troubles.

But by 10pm Saturday night, a nation in shock realised that ScoMo, against the odds, had won Australia’s trust as Prime Minister for another three years.

“It’s a day that will go down in history.”

As a Christian, I can’t fully endorse the Liberals. Like any party, they don’t represent all of my concerns in Canberra. But I am excited to have a spirit-filled PM, and I believe his re-election spells a crisis averted—not just for Christians, but for Australia.

In the aftermath, the question on everyone’s lips is how did he do it? How did Scott Morrison snatch victory from the jaws of defeat while no one was paying attention? Here are my top three reasons.

1. Australians Love Freedom and Family

Some will say Australia voted for ScoMo’s economic credentials. The more cynical have suggested that a vote for the Libs was a vote against the environment, justice and generosity. But that’s not my summary of Saturday. I’m convinced that Australians love freedom and family.

It’s unusual to see major parties campaign around issues like abortion or freedom of religion at election time. But this year, both were in the spotlight.

The Labor party were pushing to make abortion free and available to full term right around the country, and they’d even threatened to defund hospitals that refused to play ball.

“This year, both abortion and freedom of religion were in the spotlight.”

And late last year, you might have missed it, but there was a big tussle between the major parties about religious freedom. Labor tried to change the Sex Discrimination Act so that any religious school or place of worship could be taken to court simply for teaching what they always have about marriage.

In response, ScoMo promised that if he was re-elected, he’d introduce a Religious Discrimination Act to protect Aussies of faith from this radical overreach.

But Labor doubled down, setting themselves against religious schools again, hoping to take away the right of schools to choose staff who will teach their values.

“Australians couldn’t stomach it.”

Labor denied they’d remove gender from birth certificates, but their own policy platform contradicted this. And they were continuing to push gender fluid ideology in schools nationwide—moves that have stifled freedoms in other western nations.

To top it all off, over the last month, Rugby Australia conducted a witch-hunt against Israel Folau, ultimately sacking him from the Wallabies and destroying his career, simply for quoting a Bible verse. All of this played out—in the providence of God, perhaps—in the days and weeks leading up to the election.

It was all too much. Australians couldn’t stomach it, and they had their say on Saturday.

2. The Left Weren’t Listening

We saw it first with Trump and Brexit, and now we’ve seen it with ScoMo. The mainstream media, all the major institutions, and the loudest voices online—most of which lean left—had convinced themselves of their own viewpoint, assuming they’d convinced the whole country.

So much so that anyone with a conservative outlook felt they had no permission to speak up. And so the ‘quiet Australians’ spoke up in the only place they felt they could, and the only place it really mattered: at the election booth.

“We saw it first with Trump and Brexit, and now we’ve seen it with ScoMo.”

People don’t like being told what to think. Hillary Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables’ hated it in 2016 and they let her know about it, for better or worse, by voting in Trump.

So now is the time for those on the further reaches of the left to lean in and listen. Why did so many back ScoMo? What were the reasons behind their reasons? Can you find any sympathy with their perspective?

“The ‘quiet Australians’ spoke up.”

And for all of us: What does respectful conversation between the left and right look like now? And now that it’s all over, how can we find common ground to advance Australia fair?

As the dust settles, it’s also the time for conservatives not to gloat, but to show the kind of humility we’d all expect from the left if the tables were turned.

3. An Unprecedented Prayer Movement

Scott Morrison began his victory speech with “I’ve always believed in miracles!” His election was, even by mainstream accounts, an absolute miracle. The word ‘miracle’ has come to define this election.

But few probably realise the amount of prayer that was sent up for this miracle. Back in March, former tennis-great-turned-pastor Margaret Court awoke at 4am, convinced that God was calling the churches of Australia to rise up and pray for Scott Morrison’s re-election.

“The word ‘miracle’ has come to define this election.”

The response was overwhelming. Warwick Marsh, who helped spearhead the movement, said, “I have never seen so much prayer and fasting go up in a three week period in my whole life. Totally extraordinary!

“I have never seen senior church leaders push prayer so much either. The united push by church leaders, large denominations, Christian educational groups and Christian activists groups and individuals was the greatest I have ever seen.”

As Margaret Court herself pointed out, “Throughout the Bible, prayer and fasting have impacted the course of history and adjusted the spiritual course of nations.” Looking at the headlines Sunday morning, it’s hard to deny that something of biblical proportions has taken place. Christians uniting across all denominations have played a significant role in the weekend result.

“I’ve always believed in miracles!”—Scott Morrison

Not all Christians feel the same way about ScoMo’s election. But whatever happens over these next three years, it’s reassuring that believers of every political persuasion can still find unity in the promises of God:

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3). “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7).

And with that said, God bless Australia.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

Voting Like a Christian This Saturday

Politics is boring. That was definitely my view growing up. I’d say it’s the view of most young Australians—except for a few vocal friends in our newsfeeds, maybe. (I might be one of them. If so, I’m sorry. I hate being ‘that guy’).

For the most part, we Aussies feel the same about politics as we do about religion. In other words, awkward. Not sure what others will think if we speak up. Wary of of the consequences. Heck, it took me a lot of courage to publish this blog.

“Politics is boring. That was definitely my view growing up.”

But I’m not sure that’s God’s intention for believers. In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul wasn’t afraid to talk about politics or religion. He seemed to think both are important—and both are connected:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Three words stand out to me here as I prepare to vote on Saturday—three words that I think can help Christians vote ‘Christianly’, if that’s a thing. Here they are.

1 .  K I N G S

We don’t have a king. We have a Prime Minister. Big deal. Actually, it is.

Until a couple centuries ago, every person from the dawn of time found themselves ruled by someone they didn’t choose, and probably wouldn’t if they’d had a say. Good leaders were the exception—tyranny was the rule.

I can’t express how thankful I am to be born into a democracy. On Saturday, I along with everyone else in my electorate will get a green piece of paper. The person the majority of us choose will spend the next three years in Canberra—in the House of Representatives—representing us and our concerns.

“Who we send to Canberra really matters.”

Australia has 151 of these representatives. If a majority are from the same political party or alliance, they get to choose one of their own to lead the country. This year, that will be either Scott Morrison or Bill Shorten.

Stay with me here. This is important.

Democracy has ‘checks and balances’ to make sure bad laws aren’t easily passed. One of these is the Senate. It’s a seperate house of parliament, made up of 76 members from around the country, who have to approve any change in law suggested by the other house. These are the people you’ll be voting for on your white piece of paper.

Who we send to Canberra really matters. They shape the law that governs us. This is why it’s so important that we pray for them—whoever they are, whatever views they have.

2 .  G O D L I N E S S

If the people we send to Canberra shape our country, we owe it to ourselves to know who we’re voting for and the values they stand for. After all, God says here that he wants us to have leaders who promote godliness.

What does godliness look like in 21st century Australia? It looks like lots of things. Strong marriages and families; justice for those crying out for it; good stewardship of the environment; help for those who can’t help themselves; the freedoms that make democracy work in the first place. The list goes on.

Sadly there are no parties that do all of these things well. Christians find themselves either voting “left” for justice and the environment—or “right” for family values and freedoms.

Most of us long for a party that will represent all of these concerns well. The Bible tells us that it’s coming, but we don’t know when the Prince of Peace will return to establish his kingdom. Until then, we have some choices to make.

“We owe it to ourselves to know who we’re voting for and the values they stand for.”

Here’s how I’ve resolved it. I care deeply about justice and the environment. I recycle, I chat and give to the homeless, I like to buy local and ethical, I eat a plant-heavy diet, I minimise my waste, I try to give generously to the poor, and I live with an open heart to people of other cultures and creeds.

Lots of my concerns about justice and the environment can be addressed by my own choices, with my own money, within my own circle of influence. Not all, but lots.

Voting “left” on these issues will help increase foreign aid, open Australia’s borders, and better sustain the environment. It will make me feel better—but I’ll be using other people’s money and resources to do it. This isn’t actually as generous as it seems on the surface. Far better that I first practice care and generosity with the things that are mine.

“Voting left will make me feel better—but I’ll be using other people’s money and resources to do it.”

The godliness I can’t so easily influence are these other issues—namely, family values and freedom. Let’s start with just one example. In Australia, 70,000+ abortions take place every year. It’s staggering to think that the unborn have only a 3 in 4 chance of making it out of the womb alive.

In looking at Australia’s major parties, sadly a Labor-Greens alliance is unconcerned about the unborn’s right to life. In fact, Labor is pushing to make abortion free and accessible up to birth throughout Australia, threatening to deny funding to public hospitals that refuse.

If I have to choose between the environment and human beings, then as a Christian I will choose human beings who are made in God’s image. If I’m serious about promoting justice and helping those who can’t help themselves, I must lend my vote to these precious little ones facing their silent holocaust.

3 .  S A V E D

But I have other concerns that are beyond my ability to influence in day-to-day life. Australia’s freedoms are so, so precious. If they disappear, democracy disappears with them. Consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

This is why, as much as I didn’t like Israel Folau’s Instagram posts, all Australians should be horrified when anyone loses their job for expressing a tenet of their mainstream religious faith.

“Australia’s freedoms are so, so precious.”

We’re used to thinking of our freedoms as a given, but they are not. In small bubbles of the world, for bubbles of time that can be measured in just centuries, these freedoms have existed. Apart from that, they have not. Preserving them must always be one of the main projects of democracy.

Sadly, Labor and the Greens have shown contempt for these freedoms as well.

There are five main equality rights recognised in international law: race, age, disability, sex and religion. The only one not protected in Australian law is religion.

“If these freedoms disappear, democracy disappears with them.”

With religious discrimination on the rise in Australia, Scott Morrison’s Liberal party has promised to introduce a much-needed ‘Religious Discrimination Act’ if they win on Saturday.

On the other hand, Labor and the Greens have set themselves against religious schools, hoping to take away their right to choose staff who will teach their values. This follows on from an attempt by Labor last year to change the Sex Discrimination Act so that any place of worship could be taken to court for teaching their thousands-of-years-old beliefs. This is a staggering shirtfront on freedom.

My concerns about religious freedom might sound selfish, like I’m just trying to protect Christians. But in truth, the erosion of these freedoms is bad for everyone regardless of their faith, and it’s terrible for civilisation.

“Preserving our freedoms must always be one of the main projects of democracy.”

More than that, it’s terrible for the gospel. 1 Timothy tells us to seek godly leaders so that we’re free to proclaim the gospel, that all people might have a chance to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

If we Christians believe our own message, surely we want this freedom preserved—not merely for our own sake, but for all those God longs to save.

I’m convinced that religious freedom and right to life for the unborn are two of the most crucial issues come Saturday. In my everyday life, I’m limited in what I can do to influence these issues. But I can use my vote.

“If we Christians believe our own message, surely we want freedom of religion preserved.”

So I’ve emailed all the candidates who will be on my green and white papers this weekend. (It was so easy—do it for your electorate here). I’ve asked them where they stand on these issues, and I will rank them accordingly.

This is how I’ve resolved to vote like a Christian on Saturday. It’s not a perfect plan, and I don’t expect all Christians to agree. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

The Christian Roots of Human Rights

Religion has fallen on hard times across the West—at least in the media, the major universities, and our other culture-shaping institutions.

But there’s one form of religion today that’s praised and promoted widely, and that’s the religion of human rights. Human rights might be secular. But to the secular, they couldn’t be more sacred.

In the words of British legal academic Anthony Julius, the human rights movement “is the new secular religion of our time.” Samuel Moyn, law professor at Yale University, calls them “the premier values of the day”.

“For most of time, rights were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.”

This elevation of human rights to such a holy status has made many believers, Christian and otherwise, quite suspect of the whole movement—rightly so perhaps.

But when Christians take such a combative stance, they forget the distinctly Christian origins of human rights. In fact, like so much that we take for granted in our secular age, human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.

It would be foolish to argue that Christianity alone has shaped human rights as we know them. Likewise, only a fool could deny church abuses of human rights through the centuries.

“Human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.”

But if all this is true, then far more foolish is the claim that human rights were some kind of inevitable discovery—a ‘fact of nature’ that our human family always would have stumbled upon.

Most cultures for most of time, including many in our present day, simply do not accept human rights as a given. They were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.

An honest look at history reveals that human rights have been profoundly shaped by Christian ideas. Consider ten moments of time that make this clear.

1. The Creation of Humanity

Whatever you believe about the first chapter of Genesis, there’s no denying that the concept of the imago dei or the ‘image of God’ has played a big role in shaping the West’s understanding of human rights.

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Inspired by these words, a despised Christian minority ended the barbaric practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire, and stood against the ancient slave trade.

“God created man in his own image.”—Genesis 1:27

Inspired by these words, William Wilberforce finally abolished slavery in the British empire, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought bravely for civil rights in the United States.

Inspired by these words, Mother Teresa served the poor in India’s slums for fifty years, and Nelson Mandela dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

In fact, new research has made a very politically incorrect discovery. Christian missionaries exporting the idea of imago dei to colonial lands were the single greatest force in creating free and stable democracies in the developing world.

2. The Mosaic Law

Human rights today have been deeply influenced by the Old Testament scriptures—especially the law of Moses.

In The Evolution of the West, Nick Spencer calls the Mosaic Law’s focus on widows, orphans, aliens and the poor ‘obsessive’, and argues that in ancient Jewish thought, to deprive these groups of justice is actually to deprive God of his rights.

Says Spencer, “If one acknowledges this—that God, in effect, has rights—one has made a crucial move towards recognising natural human rights.”

“Today we consider rights fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention.”

And Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher at Yale University, makes the case that if God has such rights, then so do humans who are made in his image.

So, for example, he says, “The proscription against murder is grounded not in God’s law but in the worth of the human being. All who bear God’s image possess, on that account, an inherent right not to be murdered.”

Today we don’t make human rights dependent on something that humans do or possess—instead, we consider them fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention; it can clearly be traced to the Jewish scriptures.

3. The Life of Jesus

Jesus’ treatment of women, children, and society’s down-and-outs was remarkable in an ancient context.

The way Jesus spoke to women, healed them, taught them, praised them and involved them in his ministry made it clear that he saw women as equals. And he broke many social conventions to do so.

Ancient wisdom said that children should be seen but not heard. Yet on this backdrop, Jesus welcomed children and embraced them. He had scathing words for any who would harm a child. And he frequently praised children and their faith as the ideal for grown-ups to imitate.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”—Jesus

Jesus is still admired today for the care he showed to the sick, poor and dying. The gospels are peppered with too many of these stories to recount. In fact, Jesus so identified with the world’s forgotten that to feed, clothe and care for ‘the least of these’ was—in his words—to do the same for him.

For all these reasons, Wolterstorff argues that human rights ultimately trace their origins to Jesus. “Being loved by God,” he says, which was one of Jesus central teachings, “gives to each human being who bears it the worth in which natural human rights inhere.”

Or in the words of author John Ortberg, “It’s really Jesus who brought that notion of the dignity and worth of every human being from little Israel to the much larger world.”

4. The Early Church Fathers

Historians also see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.

The most famous perhaps is Basil of Caesarea, who in a 4th century sermon claimed that the wealth of the rich in fact belonged to the poor.

“That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.”

“Historians see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.”

John Chrysostom, living at the same time, also taught that generosity is a duty and not merely a choice. “Even if he is the most wicked of all men, let us free him from hunger. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune.”

And consider that the only criticism of institutional slavery that has reached us from the ancient world was also from an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa, who asked, “Who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God?”

5. The Middle Ages

Our next stop through the sweep of human rights history is the Middle Ages. In this period, canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights, a concept that is simply taken for granted today.

In the 1280s, for example, Godfrey of Fontaines argued that if a beggar stole a loaf of bread from his rich neighbour, he couldn’t be charged for theft since he had a natural right to that bread in order to survive:

“Each one is bound by the law of nature to sustain his life, which cannot be done without exterior goods, therefore also by the law of nature each has dominion and a certain right in the common exterior goods of this world which right cannot be renounced.”

“Canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights.”

By the year 1300, Godfrey and other Christian thinkers had recognised at least five natural rights: the right of the poor to the necessities of life; the right of self preservation; rights to property; the right to a fair trial; and the right of self-defence.

These are remarkable advances for a period often dubbed ‘the Dark Ages’.

6. The Reformation

Another momentous step towards modern human rights took place during the Reformation—a social and spiritual revolution in 16th century Europe.

The Catholic church had been selling indulgences. Put crudely, they were exchanging the promise of heaven for money. A monk called Martin Luther was enraged, believing the church had come to wield far too much power over the inner lives of its people:

“For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but Himself… therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys the souls.”

The battlecry of the Reformers was salvation by grace alone. All have sinned—even priests and bishops. Yet all who believe are priests unto God—even beggars and outcasts.

“Reformers set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.”

Their great vision was to see the Bible in the languages of the people so that every soul could discern God’s truth independently, so that every conscience could answer to heaven directly, and so that every heart could know God personally.

The Reformers had set out to redefine faith. But in the process, historians now say that they also redefined the dignity of the human person, endowed the self with moral authority, and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

According to Joseph Loconte, Professor of History at The Kings College in New York City, “Virtually every important defence of religious freedom in the 17th century—the liberal politics of William Penn, Roger Williams, Pierre Bayle, and John Locke—took Luther’s insights for granted.”

The Reformation has had such a profound impact on our understanding of human rights today that even the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights uses language that tips the hat to Luther and his vision.

7. The Birth of the Modern World

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So run the most familiar words of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776).

Among the other political documents that have profoundly shaped our modern world are the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the United States Bill of Rights (1789).

“All men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—United States Declaration of Independence

Collectively, these are the precursors of today’s human rights documents. And all of them arose in distinctly Christian lands, resting on and expressing Christian ideas.

Some would include in this list France’s more secular Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). And to be sure, not all of America’s founding fathers were of orthodox Christian faith.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Christendom was the greenhouse in which all of these important documents came to flower.

8. The World at War

The two world wars of the 20th century caused unimaginable devastation to the human family. Because of this, the wars were also a cause for deep reflection on what it means to be human.

Samuel Moyn, an expert on human rights from Yale University, explains that during this period, the idea of the ‘human person’ was becoming central in Christian political thought.

Evidence of this can be seen, he says, in the new Irish Constitution, drawn up in 1937, which began: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions of both men and States must be referred.”

The constitution went on: “Seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured…” Moyn observes that never before in history had the word dignity been used this way in reference to humans.

“During the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.”

In the same year, Pope Pius XI issued With Burning Concern, an encyclical written in German and smuggled into Germany to decry Hitler’s Nazi regime, declaring:

“Man, as a person, possesses rights that he holds from God and which must remain, with regard to the collectivity, beyond the reach of anything that would tend to deny them, to abolish them, or to neglect them.”

These words, argues Moyn, along with Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message of 1942, were landmark declarations about human dignity. In other words, during the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.

9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Surely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a secular document? This is certainly what its drafters set out to achieve, in order to give it widespread religious and cultural appeal.

But the University of Notre Dame’s Iain Benson points out that some of its key framers were followers of Jesus:

“The major proponents of human rights as it was developed and codified in the twentieth century were themselves Christians—people like Jacques Maritain from France and Charles Malik in Lebanon.”

“Some of the Declaration’s key framers were followers of Jesus.”

Nick Spencer, author of The Evolution of the West, contends that not only did Christians help draft the document, but that the ideas it contains betray their Christian influence:

“In the sense that the Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t draw explicitly on any religious doctrines of course it’s thoroughly secular, but if you lift the lid you find an awful lot of Christian workings underneath the bonnet.”

10. The Post-War Period

The tragedies of the World War I and II kept the nations of Europe focussed on the issue of human rights over the following decades. Moyn observes that in this period, just as they had earlier, Christians once again led the charge:

“Conservative Christian thought bore the language and logic of human rights in the immediate pre-war and war years and it was generally conservative Christian thinkers and parties that nurtured it in the post-war period.”

Moyn calls this the last European golden age for the Christian faith,arguing that the Christian Democratic parties that came to power between World War II and the 1960s played a key role in embedding human rights in global politics.

The One Who Gave Up His Rights

Today the tides are shifting. English philosopher Roger Scruton has remarked that “Europe is rapidly jettisoning its Christian heritage and has found nothing to put in the place of it save the religion of ‘human rights’.”

Some may call this progress. But we’ve got to ask the question: if human rights are in large measure the fruit of Christian ideas, what is their future as those Christian roots continue to die?

Maybe there’s another set of ideas that can sustain human rights in the modern world.

“Followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.”

But that’s a big maybe. Because to date, what has sustained them through time—what has influenced them more than anything else—is Jesus.

In the words of Samuel Moyn, “No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”

From the earliest days of the church, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation and into the modern world, followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.

“No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”—Samuel Moyn

Followers of Jesus did this for the simple reason that they were following Jesus.

Let it be remembered that in his mission to earth, Jesus’ ultimate act was to lay down his life to redeem the world. In that great sacrifice, he declared the immeasurable value of every human life.

In that sacrifice, he gave up his rights entirely—so that we might have ours.

Originally published as Ten Reasons Our Human Rights Come From Jesus at the Canberra Declaration.