New York, or what I saw of it in 100,000 steps

It’s a city that’s always fascinated me. I remember crafting cardboard models of New York landmarks for a board game I made in Year 4.

And if you’re a regular to my site, you may have noticed that my homepage header is a photo of Times Square, also known as “The World’s Crossroads”.

But this week I finally get to see the city that never sleeps with my own eyes. I’ve only scratched the surface of this sprawling concrete jungle in the five days I’ve been here. But in that time, 100,000 steps have taken me to every site at the top of my list and many besides.

“Within New York’s greater metro area lives a population as large as Australia’s.”

I was taken by surprise at my first glance of New York’s skyline. Looking up at hundreds of antique, pixellated high-rises piercing the sky, I was transported. I found myself in the world of Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis—both of which, no surprise, began as fictional spinoffs of NYC.

Something felt different about this city to the many others I’ve visited, and I knew what it was right away. Around the world, skyscrapers have been built mostly in late decades from steel and glass. 

By contrast, the majority of New York’s went up a hundred years ago. This was a time when architects stunned the world by sending stone up to impossible heights. And there that stone remains to this day, forming a proud trophy cabinet to the city’s historic genius and wealth.

“Looking up, I found myself in the world of Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis.”

The Big Apple really is big. It’s the most populous city in America. It has more subway stations, more billionaires, and more spoken languages than any other city on earth—over 800 dialects can be heard in its streets. Most impressive of all, within New York’s greater metro area lives a population as large as Australia’s.

This city has been called the cultural capital of the world, the media capital of the world, the financial capital of the world, and just the straight-up capital of the world. It’s even been dubbed the ‘centre of the universe’—though that last one might be taking it a little too far.

The list of New York’s iconic marvels is so long that it’s easy to forget they’re all found in the same place: the Empire State Building, Times Square, The United Nations, Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Rockefeller Centre, Wall Street, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Centre. The list never seems to end.

“The Big Apple really is big.”

The city has such a curious past. As I’ve previously written, during the Age of Discovery, the island of Manhattan was bought in exchange for a now-forgotten ‘Spice Island’ in the backwaters of Indonesia. If only its buyers—or worse, its sellers—could know Manhattan’s value now.

Another discovery I made, confirmed by Google as I paced New York’s vast underground, is this: the terms ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’, now used around the world, originated in NYC.

‘Downtown’ was dubbed for the simple reason that New York’s street numbers descend the further south you travel towards the city’s pulsing centre in Lower Manhattan. Now every city in America and many beyond use the same terminology. Who knew?

Then of course there were the fateful events of September 11, when we all became New Yorkers for a day. Thousands of lives were lost before the eyes of a watching world, and western civilisation was brought to its knees. We were reminded of our own mortality—but also of our enduring resilience and hope.

New York has even been dubbed the centre of the universe.”

Much of what I’ve shared so far could be found anywhere online, but what of my firsthand experiences? Three words that come to mind as I reflect on my days in this city.

Diversity. Perhaps that’s expected in any city of this size. But evidence of it was everywhere in New York, from the chorus of accents at street level, to the smorgasbord of cuisine sold from vans, markets and cafes, and the array of religious attire worn as unapologetically as this year’s fashion.

But the diversity that really captured my attention, that I’d been warned of but hardly believed until I saw it myself, was the gulf between rich and poor, which ran along strongly ethnic lines.

“Multiple subway closures left me stranded in Harlem late on Saturday night.”

Manhattan is finite in size, so its real estate sells at a premium. Which is why I was amazed that a community like Harlem in the island’s upper reaches really is as rough and seedy as the movies portray.

This hit home for me when multiple subway closures left me stranded in Harlem late on Saturday night.

The people I spoke to that night were friendly and helpful. But there were many sleeping rough; lone young kids rode scooters unsupervised; and the rip of distant gunshots blended into the atmosphere. At every turn, music pulsed from clusters of parked cars, and it was difficult at times to see sidewalk for litter.

“The divide between rich and poor knows no geographical limits.”

All this within a stone’s throw of Central Park.

It was a sobering reminder that not only is my own nation of Australia an incredibly lucky country, but also that the divide between rich and poor knows no geographical limits.

I don’t pretend to know the solution to this disparity, but I now see the American problem more clearly.

Generosity. I’ve been kindly hosted by friends of friends in upstate New York—now friends of mine—who went above and beyond to make me feel welcome.

They’ve loaned me train tickets, cooked me meals, shuttled me to stations, pointed me to local secrets, and much more besides. I was left wondering what I’d done to deserve such generosity.

I also had the chance to visit Redeemer Presbyterian, a church I’ve followed from afar through the books and podcasts of Tim Keller.

“I’ve been kindly hosted by friends of friends in upstate New York.”

I was fortunate enough to sit next to a couple who’d been part of the church since its earliest days. They introduced me to many others in the room who were part of the furniture. If that weren’t enough, they took me out to lunch, showed a great interest in my life and prayed for me before we said farewell.

If anyone thinks New Yorkers are too brash or busy, I’d simply counter that they haven’t met the right ones yet.

History. New York has a chequered past—from its treatment of Native Americans and slaves to the unrestrained greed that saw vast fortunes won and lost on Wall Street.

But originally, New York wasn’t founded for any of that. It was one of thirteen colonies that banded together seeking democratic and religious liberty.

Those thirteen colonies boldly declared independence in 1776 with the famous words, “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…”

Liberty is still a key word for the city of New York, though these days it’s taken on a new hue. Walking the streets of Times Square, it was clear that people flock to this city to indulge every pleasure imaginable.

“Almost 250 years later, the American experiment continues.”

In that sense, New York remains a city of great liberty. I just wonder if this is the best use of its hard-won liberty—given that the excesses of today quickly become the chains of tomorrow.

A distant king is a terrible master, but unrestrained desires within are arguably far worse.

Almost 250 years later, the American experiment continues, taking the rest of the West with it, whether or not we signed up for the journey.

With that in mind, my prayer for this nation I’m calling home for six months is a rediscovery of the liberty it began with and still so desperately needs.

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.

Israel Folau and the Crush of Corporate Activism

The corporate activists are cheering, but they shouldn’t be.

Back in April, Rugby Australia, under pressure from its major sponsor Qantas, sacked rugby superstar Israel Folau for posting a paraphrased Bible verse on Instagram. In May, a tribunal upheld the decision, allowing his $4 million contract to be officially torn up.

Now in June, GoFundMe has discovered the power of corporate activism too. Using the fund-raising site, Israel had reached out to likeminded Australians who wanted to support him in his court appeal for religious freedom. $700,000 had been donated to his cause before GoFundMe suddenly pulled his page from their platform.

“Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon.”

The reason GoFundMe gave for their decision was “violation of its terms of service”. Exactly which terms Israel has violated is still unclear.

Some suggest it’s because his fund promoted harassment or vilification. But clearly this can’t be the case. Anti-Folau campaigns abound on the website, including the “Israel is a knob cause”, the “F*** Israel Folau Foundation” and others raising funds for his ‘mental health issues’ or even for a rainbow sex toy to gag him with.

Others suggest that Folau’s campaign was canned because his was a legal fund. But this can’t be the reasoning either, given that GoFundMe continues to allow around 17,000 other legal campaigns on their site. This includes the fund for the fabled ‘Eggboy’ who (deserved or not) assaulted a sitting Commonwealth senator.

“By including some groups, these corporations exclude others.”

It seems increasingly clear that what GoFundMe has an issue with—and what Qantas and Rugby Australia before them take issue with—is the historic teachings of Christianity.

Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon. Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like. And by all means, they’re free to: they’re private enterprises, and this is a free country.

But in doing so, they’re creating a new set of marginalised minorities. By including some groups, these corporations exclude others. They preach tolerance but practice intolerance. And the gentle giant Folau—a Pacific Islander who counts Christianity as core to his identity—is only their latest victim.

“Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like.”

Folau’s fight is far from over. The Australian reports that GoFundMe’s decision has only hardened Israel’s resolve to have his day in court. 

And in the 24 hours since the Australian Christian Lobby began hosting a new fundraiser for Folau, almost double the amount given on Go Fund Me has been raised again. At the time of writing, that amount sits at $1.3 million.

What his opponents are yet to realise is this: Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy. He’s no pushover.

Not only that, but there’s a band of quiet Australians waiting in the wings who helped ScoMo to  shock victory, and who are more than willing to put their money where their mouth is and get behind Folau’s fight for religious freedom.

“Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy.”

It may just turn out that Go Fund Me’s late great grubby move is the spectacular own-goal that helps Folau and his followers to the victory they’ve been waiting for.

In any case, as the dust settles on this latest development, there are three questions that every Aussie Christian can be reflecting on.

1. Do You Really Believe?

The entire Israel Folau saga boils down to this: he lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This now infamous passage says:

“Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

“Israel lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.”

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

It’s hard to find a crisper announcement of the gospel in all of Scripture than the one Israel posted. So the question for every Christian is, do you really believe the Bible?

Notice that the question isn’t “Would you post this verse on your own social media account?” Certainly, there are more winsome ways to reach out to a secular world. Still, the question remains, do you actually believe what this verse says?

2. Can You Still Love?

It’s easy in a climate like this for us Christians to see ourselves only as an oppressed subculture. Yes, this is becoming increasingly true. But the early church had it far worse than we do, and still they found a way to love.

They were radical not only in their unwavering commitment to truth, but also in their unwavering commitment to love. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and bless those who persecute you are words for us today as much as they were for early believers.

21st century Christians are sobering up to the realisation that we live in a modern-day Babylon. 

“God isn’t calling us to start a revolt.”

This makes the story of the Babylonian exile a great source of wisdom for us today. So consider the words that Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon:

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7).

God isn’t calling us to start a revolt. He wants us to work and pray for the peace and prosperity of Australia. As Timothy Keller puts it, God calls us to be a “counter-culture for the common good”.

3. Will You Speak Out?

Keep in mind though that this doesn’t mean we just fall in line with what the mainstream culture demands of us.

If we truly long for peace and prosperity in Australia, then surely we want to see our civilisation’s hard-won freedoms continue to flourish.

“Political silence is tough to shake.”

Israel Folau lost his job for being a Christian: for believing and expressing a central Christian conviction. If someone with a profile as high as Izzy’s can be fired for his faith, anyone can. The only difference is that everyday religious people won’t have any fame to leverage for their cause.

Now is the opportune time for Christians to speak out.

For some, this might mean swallowing our pride. It’s not sexy today to stand for ‘conservative’ causes—especially not Christian ones. Political bias, like political silence, is tough to shake.

But if we truly believe in freedom for all to practice their faith, then speaking up now is the right thing to do.

So will you?

Feel Like a Fool? All Good, God Chose the Foolish Things

Have you ever left a comment online taking a stand for Jesus, only to return an hour later to a barrage of criticism? Or sat in the lunchroom listening to someone unleash on the evils Christianity, not knowing how to respond? 

It’s a common experience. Standing for truth in the public square comes at a cost. Go against the flow of mainstream ideas and you’ll rarely find favour for your faithfulness—more likely you’ll be made to feel like a fool.

If that’s you, then hear the words of 1 Corinthians 1:27. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

“Standing for truth in the public square comes at a cost.”

This is so counterintuitive that it sounds almost ridiculous to our modern ears. God chose the foolish things?

Maybe a contemporary illustration will help. In recent years, billions of people have avoided the mainstream hotel industry to take advantage of AirBNB. They’ve found cheap accommodation in other people’s homes and even made money from their own.

Likewise, Uber has turned regular cars into taxis, to the advantage of passengers and upstart drivers alike. Both of these ‘disrupter’ companies, as they’ve been called—and now dozens of rivals—have upended conventional markets.

“You and I, as followers of Jesus, are ‘disrupters’.”

And here’s the thing: when Uber and AirBNB were struggling to get off the ground, the corporate world probably peered down from lush offices above, scorning them as foolish—if they even noticed. But fast forward a decade, and these companies have sent corporations broke and reshaped entire industries from the ground up.

This is the vibe of 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are ‘disrupters’. Here’s the meaning of this passage: A foolish message shared by foolish people is exactly how God has chosen to save the world.

A Foolish Message | v18-25

The gospel is a foolish message. We’ve made the cross a very tame, middle-class, domesticated symbol. We’ve forgotten that it was a symbol of shame and slaughter in the first century.

Imagine a small, golden electric chair dangling from a necklace. Or an atom bomb depicted in a church’s stained-glass windows. Or a noose hung high above a sanctuary altar.

Are you shocked by these suggestions? If so, then you can empathise just a bit more with those who’ve rejected the gospel today. Many scoff at the thought that a crucified Saviour is the hope of the world. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. (v18).

“The gospel is a foolish message.”

The reason so many see the gospel as foolish is because it confronts the idols in our culture. In Paul’s day, The Jews wanted power. They were waiting for a leader who would liberate them from the Roman Empire. They weren’t expecting a crucified Messiah: to them, that was weak, and it made no sense.

And likewise, the Greeks wanted wisdom. They were looking for the world’s greatest orator or philosopher—someone to rival Plato or Aristotle. They weren’t interested in a shabby carpenter from a backwater province of the empire.

So what does God do? Does he give the Jews and the Greeks what they want? No, he decides to offend everyone. He gives the world Jesus. God in the flesh, hanging on a cross.

“It’s a message to make every culture stumble.”

Jews seek signs. Greeks seek wisdom. In our day, millennials seek image. The middle class seeks comfort. Religious people seek rules. Irreligious people seek autonomy. But we preach Christ, and him crucified, Paul says (v23).

It’s a message to make every culture stumble. With the gospel—with this one simple message—God confronts every sub-culture’s idol. All of our false gods. All of our false salvations.

The gospel declares that the only thing we can offer God is our brokenness. Only then—only when we confess our sins, our weaknesses, and our need for Jesus—can we be saved (v21). This is why the gospel seems so foolish to so many.

Foolish Messengers | v26-31

Not only do we bear a foolish message—we ourselves are also foolish messengers. This is what Paul means when he says, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (v26).

Paul uses the word ‘foolish’ five times in eight verses. In the Greek, that word is moros, from which we get the word moron. In case you missed it, Paul is essentially calling us morons.

Yes, it’s encouraging when rich and powerful Christians use their platform for Jesus. But we shouldn’t hang our hopes on this. Fame, prestige and political power have never mixed well with the church. And that’s never been God’s plan to save the world anyway.

“Paul is essentially calling us morons.”

In his mission to bring redemption to this planet, God’s plan is to use really ordinary, average people. Fools. Morons. Us.

It’s confronting to realise that the average Christian today is extremely poor, and is part of an oppressed minority group, living somewhere in a rural or outer urban city in Africa or Asia. They’re the world’s forgotten people.

This might sound kind of gloomy, but only if we’re thinking in a worldly way. In fact, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” (v27-28).

“God’s plan is to use really ordinary, average people.”

In other words, with God, you don’t have to be strong or powerful or religious or rich or intelligent or spiritual or anything. You just have to be willing.

God uses the little people. God is with the underdog.

From the very beginning, the church has been most effective when it has been a prophetic voice on the margins of society. This is where we thrive. This is where we’re most at home.

“God is with the underdog.”

That’s where Jesus was in his day. It’s where the early church was when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. It’s where we believers in the West find ourselves in this cultural moment.

A foolish message. Foolish messengers.

If sometimes you’re embarrassed by the Christian message, that’s a good thing. Society around us elevates wisdom, intelligence, and brilliant philosophies. But God has chosen the foolish message of the cross to save the world.

If sometimes you feel like a fool as a Christian, get used to that. It’s a good thing. It should feel normal. The world elevates people with power and strength and noble birth. But God has chosen to use foolish messengers like you and me.

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.

Israel Folau and the Fight for Underdog Status

Over two months have passed since Israel Folau found himself in the media spotlight, and buckets of ink are still being spilt as his story develops.

In recent days, the focus has shifted to Izzy’s GoFundMe campaign. He’s hoping to raise $3.0M for his legal showdown with Rugby Australia.

In this and every other stage of the Folau saga, there is a hearts-and-minds battle taking place. It’s one you may not have noticed, but it’s the fight for underdog status.

“Since May, Rugby Australia have been on the nose.”

The code itself has waged war on one of its own. Rugby Australia have bullied Izzy and rendered him, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the underdog. And this is a problem for them given that Aussies love underdogs.

From the beginning, public support for Folau has been huge. Quiet Australians have already donated $600,000 to his campaign. Some were even persuaded to make their election vote a vote for him and for religious freedom.

Rugby Australia can’t afford a public outcry in Folau’s favour. They could go bankrupt if their crusade against him fails. At the very least, their esteem among ordinary Australians is at stake.

“The code itself has waged war on one of its own.”

And since May, Rugby Australia have been on the nose. They realise that if they want to save their own reputation, they have no choice but to destroy Folau’s.

Here’s the rub. There’s no way they can paint themselves as the underdog, given their imposing role as his employer and their impressive corporate alliances.

But they can paint Israel Folau as a bully and a bad guy, if they can just find a victim. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing, with tireless support since May from most of the mainstream media.

“There is a hearts-and-minds battle taking place.”

When Izzy made that now infamous Instagram post, they hauled him before a tribunal and had him interrogated like he’d actually bullied someone, like someone else was the underdog.

In reality, he’d posted a Bible verse. It was directed at no particular individual, and it simply stated what Christians have always believed about sin and salvation.

When Israel expressed concern in a sermon last week about the transgender agenda in schools, almost every major news outlet smeared him immediately, carrying identical misinformed stories. They said he was on the attack again—this time against transgender youth. Again, as though someone else was the underdog.

“Rugby Australia have bullied Izzy and rendered him the underdog.”

In reality, Folau never targeted any transgender youth. His concern was with radical government policies, a concern that many quiet Australians share.

When Izzy took to GoFundMe for support in his legal battle this week, the media swooped again, suggesting this was a “brazen money grab”. They accused him of diverting funds away from sick and dying children on the crowdfunding site. They argued that someone else was the underdog.

In reality, it’s Israel Folau who is the underdog. He has been from the beginning.

“Aussies love underdogs.”

He’s lost his career and his only source of income. He’s been banned from both codes of the sport he loves, despite his spotless moral character. He’s faced a relentless and coordinated public smear campaign.

On top of all this, he’s facing millions of dollars in legal fees. The stand he’s taking isn’t merely for his career. He seeks to set an important legal precedent for religious freedom in Australia at a time when this freedom is worryingly unprotected.

“As Australians we’re born with the right of freedom of religion, and the right to freedom of expression,” says Folau. “The Christian faith has always been a part of my life, and I believe as a Christian it is my duty to share God’s word.

“In reality, it’s Israel Folau who is the underdog.”

“Rugby Australia tore up my employment contract for doing just that—that’s wrong. Every Australian should be able to practice their religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace.”

As the saga continues to unfold, some think they’re taking the moral high ground by opposing Folau. Even Christians are swallowing the spin that Israel Folau is the bully, and someone else—anyone else—is the underdog.

His haters say he should sell one of his properties to fund his legal fees. I wonder if they’d be happy to do the same if they’d already had their career and reputation stripped from them?

“He’s been banned from both codes of the sport he loves.”

Let common sense prevail. Let the quiet Australians decide who the underdog really is.

Going by the growing success of Izzy’s GoFundMe campaign, I think we have might have our answer.

Fired For Their Faith: The Crusade Against Christians in Medicine

Across the West, Christians in the medical professions are finding it harder and harder to practice both their career and their faith. Some are even having to choose between the two.

Historically, the church has played a disproportionate role in healthcare through the centuries. After ending infanticide in the ancient world, followers of Jesus went on to invent the public hospital and pioneer many fields of modern medicine.

“Australian non-profits are having to make a legal stand for Christians in the medical world.”

Florence Nightingale, who is widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing, was herself a devout Christian. She summed up her life with the words, “God has spoken to me and called me to serve.”

Dr William Osler who has been dubbed the ‘Father of Modern Medicine’ said of his Christian belief, “Nothing in life is more wonderful than faith.” 

The connection between Christianity and care can still be seen today, not just in the many hospital names that speak to their Christian origin, but also the high proportion of Christians still choosing careers in healthcare.

“Followers of Jesus invented the public hospital.”

So, it’s sad to see professionals being targeted by medical boards simply for holding fast to their faith convictions. It’s a growing phenomenon, and Australians are not immune.

In fact, Australian non-profits like Medicine With Morality and the ACL’s Human Rights Law Alliance are having to make a legal stand for Christians in the medical world.

As the crusade against Christians advances, consider ten stories from around the western world.

Dr. David Drew, UK, 2010

It was a costly email. Dr. David Drew, a skilled paediatric consultant and a clinical director at Walsall Manor Hospital, hoped to motivate six or seven colleagues well known to him in his department. So, he sent them the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Managers who didn’t even receive the email lodged a complaint against Dr. Drew. A report was prepared, detailing other occasions that Dr. Drew had spoken of his faith at work.

“Dr. Drew was told his religious beliefs should be kept to himself.”

This included the time he wished a colleague a ‘peaceful Christmas’ by text message—described by the recipient as an ‘aggressive and unwelcome intrusion’ into his private time.

The report concluded that Dr. Drew’s language was ‘inappropriate in a professional business setting’ and that his religious beliefs should be kept to himself. He was accused of ‘gross misconduct and insubordination’ and was sacked from his job.

Dr. Drew appealed the verdict on the grounds that he’d been unfairly dismissed, but following an eight-day tribunal hearing, he lost his case.

Dr. Richard Scott, UK, 2011

A Cambridge-educated GP, Dr. Richard Scott had given years of his life in Tanzania and India as a medical missionary and surgeon. In 2011, after a lengthy consultation with a troubled patient, Dr. Scott shared with him about the comfort and strength he’d found through faith in Jesus.

Dr. Scott described the encounter as a ‘consensual discussion between two adults’. The 24 year old patient didn’t indicate that he was offended or wanted the discussion to end—indeed, he continued seeking treatment from Dr. Scott’s practice.

“He had given years of his life in Tanzania and India as a medical missionary.”

Nevertheless, a complaint was lodged by the patient’s mother, and Dr. Scott was placed under official investigation for ‘bringing his profession into disrepute’ by discussing Christianity.

The General Medical Council investigated the case, and in an incredible move, they accepted the patient’s evidence in secret over the phone, such that Dr. Scott’s defence team couldn’t adequately respond to it.

The trial resulted in Dr. Scott being issued with a warning that remained on his otherwise spotless record for five years.

Dr. Mark Hobart, Australia, 2013

In Dr. Mark Hobart’s home state of Victoria, abortion laws underwent radical reform in 2008. Since then, any doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion has been forced to refer patients to providers who will oblige—effectively making all doctors complicit in the abortion industry.

This law was put to the test when Dr. Hobart, a practicing Catholic, was approached by a pregnant couple in 2013. They were 19 weeks pregnant with a girl, but they were seeking an abortion because they’d hoped for a boy.

“In Victoria, abortion laws underwent radical reform in 2008.”

Dr. Hobart’s conscience wouldn’t allow him to refer them on to an abortionist, given both the mother and baby were healthy, and the abortion clearly would have been sex-selective.

The parents didn’t complain, but when members of the Medical Board of Victoria discovered Dr. Hobart’s decision, they conducted an ‘own motion’, making themselves both accusers and judges in Dr. Hobart’s case.

Given that the investigation could have resulted in him losing his license to practice medicine, Dr. Hobart was very fortunate to only be given a formal sanction for breaking the new law.

Victoria Wasteney, UK, 2014

In 2014, a senior occupational therapist, Victoria Wasteney, found herself being disciplined by the NHS for speaking about her Christian faith with a Muslim colleague at work.

She was found guilty of three ‘charges of misconduct’ by a disciplinary hearing. The first was for praying with the Muslim woman after she’d come to Victoria’s office, tearfully sharing about her health and home problems.

“Victoria appealed the decision in court and lost.”

The second was for giving the woman a copy of the book I Dared to Call Him Father, about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Speaking of this occasion, Victoria said, “Because we had had these conversations it did not seem abnormal. It certainly was not an attempt to convert her to Christianity, as it was put to me later.”

The third was for inviting the colleague to a sports day organised by her church, a decision that Victoria’s managers described as ‘inappropriate’.

Victoria was suspended on full pay for nine months, and had to accept a written warning that remained on her record for a year. She appealed the decision in court and lost.

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, Canada, 2015

Dr. Kenneth Zucker isn’t included in this list for any faith affiliation, but for his extremely high profile and the relevance of his case to Christian practitioners. He is a world-leading clinician and a global authority on youth with gender dysphoria, with 40 years of research and practice to his name.

Dr. Zucker isn’t strictly opposed to gender transition. But given that the majority of youth with gender dysphoria realign with their birth sex by the end of adolescence, he is guided by the belief that this is the best outcome for youth with the condition.

While he was psychologist-In-chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Dr. Zucker was targeted by activists who made false accusations against him, including that he called a patient a ‘hairy little vermin’.

“Dr. Zucker is a world-leading clinician.”

CAMH released a public report detailing this and Dr. Zucker’s other supposed misdemeanours, without review or comment by Dr. Zucker, and they fired him.

Over 500 clinicians and researchers signed an open letter to CAMH, expressing shock at their treatment of Dr. Zucker, and defending his extraordinary contribution to the field. After three years in court, CAMH issued an apology and a payout for Dr. Zucker’s unfair dismissal.

Sandra Rojas, USA, 2015

Following a reshuffle at the Winnebago County Health Department in Illinois, Sandra Rojas, a paediatric nurse with 40 years experience, found herself tasked with providing abortion drugs and referrals.

But as a Catholic, and someone who’d built her career on caring for children, this didn’t sit right with Sandra. “I was given two choices: to violate my faith and my oath to do no harm, or to lose my job in the clinic.”

“Sandra found herself tasked with providing abortion drugs and referrals.”

When Sandra asked to be exempt from these new requirements of her job, she was fired. This despite previously being named ‘Employee of the Month’ and ‘Employee of the Quarter’ by the department.

Soon after her dismissal, Sandra joined a group of nurses who testified on Capitol Hill, each of them having been forced by their employers to violate their conscience by taking part in abortions, under threat of losing their jobs.

Sandra’s case is currently in the Illinois state court.

Dr. Eric Walsh, USA, 2016

A physician and former city public health director, Dr. Eric Walsh had also sat on the President’s Advisory Council on HV/AIDS. In his spare time, Dr. Walsh was a lay preacher at his Seventh-day Adventist church.

He took a job with the Georgia Department of Public Health as a district health director. But a week later, officials became aware that he’d preached mainstream Christian views on topics like evolution and human sexuality.

“In his spare time, Dr. Walsh was a lay preacher.”

The director of human resources then gave department employees the assignment of listening to Dr. Walsh’s sermons. Dr. Walsh was even forced to hand over copies of his sermons to the state.

Two days later, the department left a message on Dr. Walsh’s voicemail letting him know a termination letter was in the mail.

Dr. Walsh filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia and has since won a settlement for unfair dismissal.

Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz, Norway, 2016

In 2016, Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz became the first medical professional fired for exercising her conscience rights in Norway.

Dr. Jachimowicz had over 20 years experience and was known as a doctor with exceptional integrity and skills, and able to consult with her patients in Polish, Russian, and Norwegian.

She is also a Catholic. When Dr. Jachimowicz first accepted her job, her employer knew of her conscientious objection to abortion and hired her nonetheless.

“Dr. Jachimowicz was known as a doctor with exceptional integrity and skills.”

But during her time at the family practice, the Norwegian government abolished conscience protections for doctors. Following this, when Dr. Jachimowicz chose not to refer her patients for abortions or provide abortion treatments for them, she was sacked by the state-run health care system.

Feeling that her rights had been violated, Dr. Jachimowicz appealed this decision in court—a landmark case in Norway. She won the country’s first legal victory for freedom of conscience.

Dr. David Mackereth, UK, 2018

“I’m not attacking the transgender movement. But I’m defending my right to freedom of speech and freedom of belief.” These are the famous last words of Dr. David Mackereth, who lost his job with the NHS for his religious conviction that gender is connected to biology and established at birth.

Dr. Mackereth, a Reformed Baptist, had worked as a doctor for 26 years, spending most of this in accident and emergency wards. More recently, he’d taken a job as a medical assessor for a government department.

“He was given no choice: he must abide by the department rules.”

During training for his new role, Dr. Mackereth was told that he must refer to patients by their preferred gender pronoun, otherwise it could be considered harassment, punishable by law.

When Dr. Mackereth voiced his own views, the tutor passed this information on to his employer. He was given no choice: he must abide by the department rules.

Dr. Mackereth responded that ‘in good conscience’ he couldn’t abide by the compelled speech policy. As a result, he was deemed ‘unfit to work’ and his contract was terminated.

Dr. David van Gend, Australia, 2018

I’ve personally met Dr. David van Gend. He’s warm, intelligent, and well spoken. He’s also a Christian. Last year, Dr. van Gend found himself at the centre of controversy when he retweeted two posts on Twitter.

One was by Lyle Shelton, a candidate for Australian Conservatives. It promoted a book criticising the indoctrination of children with radical gender ideology. The other was an article by Miranda Devine, also questioning the need for gender fluidity classes in schools.

“Dr. van Gend was accused of providing information that is not promoting public health.”

Soon after, Dr. van Gend was hauled before the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) on professional misconduct charges.

Though he made the tweets in his own time on his private social media account, Dr. van Gend was accused of ‘providing information that is not medically, psychologically, nor scientifically based and not promoting public health’.

After a nervous nine month wait, and with many doctors and thousands of ordinary Australians petitioning for Dr. van Gend, AHPRA dropped the complaint without so much as an apology for all that they made him endure.

Where To From Here?

In just the space of a decade, cultural and political sands have shifted, bringing radical changes to the medical world. New laws are being written and tested out. For those who transgress them, the results are hit and miss, as we’ve seen. Some are sacked, some are scolded, some sue. Some escape the fire unscathed and yet the crusade continues.

What’s clear is that there’s no end in sight. Christians are in the cross hairs, along with anyone else who dares to abide by their conscience or speak of their convictions in the workplace.

“Cultural and political sands have shifted.”

This isn’t progress. Not so long ago, stories like these ten would only have reached us from the communist world. Now they are commonplace in western nations.

While we still have our freedoms, we need to speak up. We must resist repressive laws, we need to pray, and we owe it to those who’ve faced the fire to share their stories of injustice.

Originally published at the Daily Declaration.

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.

Good Lord, Where Did Labor Go?

The Australian Labor Party has abandoned Aussies of faith. This is the story being told by media outlets as diverse as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, SBS, Nine News and the ABC, in the fallout from Labor’s shock election loss.

Labor’s own Chris Bowen agrees. Pulling out of Labor’s leadership contest, he reflected that, “During the election campaign… it has been raised with me that people of faith no longer feel that progressive politics cares about them.” In a gesture to the faithful—and a rebuke to his colleagues—he declared, “We need to tackle this urgently.”

Labor does need to tackle this urgently. If May 18 taught us anything, it is this: Australia is still a country deeply shaped by faith, and any political party or prospective PM that ignores this fact will pay the price at the polling booth.

“Labor has abandoned Aussies of faith.”

The ALP has traditionally appealed to the working class because of their strong stance on welfare and workers’ rights. As such, they would normally win huge support in Labor heartlands like Western Sydney and the blue collar strongholds of Queensland, where voters have the most to gain from their policies.

But it’s precisely here that huge swings were recorded against Labor. And as analysts have pointed out, it’s precisely here that religious voters are also well represented.

Not just the rusted-on Liberal types either—but believing battlers from the lower classes, Christians who have fled persecution in the Middle East and Asia, and many Muslim and other faithful besides.

“Australia is still a country deeply shaped by faith.”

Looking back on the election campaign, there are two defining moments that clearly carried weight with religious voters around the country.

The first was Scott Morrison, worshipping in his home church south of Sydney with hands raised. Despite all the negativity the media could muster about those photos, there was an authenticity and abandon there that stood out to the Aussie public.

The second was Bill Shorten bullying ScoMo about his religious beliefs. “I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell,” scoffed Shorten, effectively creating a de facto religious test for office―which, by the way, is outlawed in Australia’s Constitution.

“Multicultural Australia is also religious Australia.”

One candidate for PM wore his faith out in public, unconcerned about the public reaction. The other told the country that faith is out of place in public. For religious Australians, the choice between them was easy.

If the ALP is to gain back ground with religious voters, there are a number of issues they need to address as a matter of priority before the next election.

First, Labor needs to realise, as University of Queensland Professor Patrick Parkinson points out, that “multicultural Australia is also religious Australia”.

“Bill Shorten told the country that faith is out of place in public.”

Labor cannot afford to welcome outsiders with open arms but then turn around and tell them to keep their beliefs to themselves. Five minutes ago, secularism meant freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. If Labor like open borders, they also need to have open minds.

They could begin by making believers of all stripes feel more welcome and valued in their caucus. It’s not uncommon to hear of MPs of faith within the Labor party feeling increasingly sidelined for their convictions. “Few active Christians remain in the parliamentary party,” writes Parkinson.

Second, Labor needs to step back from such an aggressively secular vision to more moderate, mainstream values in line with the people they hope to represent. Their current platform might resonate with activists and inner-city types, but not with middle Australia.

“If Labor like open borders, they also need to have open minds.”

Writes Parkinson, “On social issues, Labor is now much closer to the radical Left than to the Labor Party of Hawke and Keating.” Labor would be better off leaving radicalism to the fringe parties, where it belongs.

Third, Australia needs to know that the ALP is committed to religious freedom. In theory, Labor supported the Ruddock review, but unlike the Coalition, they didn’t commit to any of the inquiry’s recommendations.

In the lead up to the election, Labor also set themselves in opposition to religious schools, moving against their right to choose staff who teach their values. When Christian leaders wrote to both major party leaders for clarity around religious freedom, Bill Shorten didn’t respond.

“Australia needs to know that the ALP is committed to religious freedom.”

Finally, Labor would do well to demonstrate to people of faith that they’re a valued and respected part of mainstream society. This is about more than Bill Shorten’s ‘Christian-shaming’, mentioned earlier.

Shorten should have learnt from Kevin Rudd, himself a Christian. For the most part, Rudd had a great track record of giving voice to people of faith. But consider the words of the ABC’s Andrew West on Kevin Rudd’s demise:

“Then, on the eve of his thumping defeat at the 2013 election, Rudd went on ABC’s Q&A program. In response to a question from a pastor―asked more in sorrow than anger―about why Rudd had changed his position on same-sex marriage, Rudd tried to humiliate the man, almost spitting the word ‘mate’ at him.”

“The Australia Labor Party began with strong Christian roots.”

Simply put, Aussies vote against anyone who treats them with contempt—and Australians of faith are no exception to this. As John Wilson, moderator-general for the Presbyterian Church of Australia, has said, ordinary Australians want “a country where it’s okay to disagree and express that disagreement, to hold opposing views and not be marginalised for it.”

None of this should be a big ask for the ALP.

The Australia Labor Party began with strong Christian roots. It was born in the late 19th century out of the emerging labour movement in Australia which was in turn inspired by those fighting for workers’ rights in Britain.

“Half of Australia’s Labor Prime Ministers have been committed, churchgoing Christians.”

One such inspiration was Keir Hardie, a founder of the British Labour Party. Hardie was a lay preacher and an advocate for women’s suffrage and self-rule in India. He was quoted as saying, “The inspiration which has carried me on… has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.”

Keir Hardie was friends with our own Labor PM Andrew Fisher, who was in office intermittently between 1908 and 1915, and who was also a committed Christian.

In fact, no fewer than half of the Prime Ministers provided to Australia by the ALP have been committed, churchgoing Christians.

“Labor doesn’t need to be the party of sectarian secularists.”

Besides Andrew Fisher, these include James Scullin (1929-1932), Joseph Lyons (1932-1939), Frank Forde (1945), Ben Chifley (1945-1949) and Kevin Rudd (2007-2010, 2013). Many others had a Christian upbringing that influenced their time in parliament.

Put simply, Labor doesn’t need to be the party of sectarian secularists. This was not the case in the past, nor is it necessary today. Indeed, it was once known as the party of hard-working Catholics whose faith shaped the Labor emphasis on equality and social welfare.

It’s impossible to relive the past, but a better future can be forged. Australia is best served by two major parties whose ‘inclusion’ doesn’t feel like exclusion for a vast swathe of voters.

“A better future can be forged.”

With a left-faction opposition leader now in Anthony Albanese, that might be a challenge, but it’s far from impossible. And it’s in Labor’s best interests.

God-fearing Australians shouldn’t have to choose between the God they believe in and the party they vote for.

Labor, the faithful haven’t left you. You’ve lurched too far left and you’ve left them.

Please come back soon.

Turning the Tide on the West’s Cultural Decline

A Book Review of Escape From Reason by Francis Schaeffer

We’re two decades into the new millennium but something strange is in the air. We can’t name it, but somehow we can sense it. In the West, new trinkets and ideas surround us; still something about our lives feels frayed, hollow, fractured.

Francis Schaeffer’s Escape From Reason gives words to that fracture. Published 50 years ago, it frames the dilemma of modern humanity with such prophetic insight that it could have been written yesterday.

“Something about our lives feels frayed, hollow, fractured.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” If it’s been a while since you’ve read an old book, make Escape From Reason your next.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a pastor, theologian, and philosopher and evangelist, and also the founder of L’Abri, a discipleship community based in Switzerland.

Schaeffer had an impressive array of passions—from art, music and architecture, to theology, philosophy and modern culture. Such a broad knowledge base enabled him to connect dots that no one else did; moreover it gave him piercing insight into the modern mind.

Most of all, however, Schaeffer was an evangelist. He preached, discipled, and wrote over twenty books with a single aim: to see modern people transformed by the gospel.

“Schaeffer had an impressive array of passions.”

In Escape From Reason, Schaeffer contends that to make sense of life, we humans are looking for a unity between two “levels” of knowledge—picture two stories of a house.

Downstairs is the diverse array of our earthly experiences—in philosophy, these are known as particulars or nature. Upstairs in this house is some kind of transcendent truth that gives all the particulars meaning—in philosophy these are called universals or grace.

It is only when we can perceive a unity between the downstairs and the upstairs that we can be at peace within ourselves and make sense of the world we live in.

Schaeffer had piercing insight into the modern mind.”

In Chapter 1, Schaeffer suggests that early Christians emphasised grace to the neglect of nature. But then beginning with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), an over-correction towards nature began to take place.

In the world of art, this was revolutionary as paintings, for example, became far more lifelike. But in theology it spelt trouble. As the Renaissance took off, people began wondering if grace—in particular, the insights of Scripture—were even needed anymore.

Schaeffer highlights in Chapter 2 why the Bible’s revelation is needed. Scripture gives us a perspective that our view from downstairs cannot—namely that we humans are both broken and beautiful. Broken, meaning we desperately need grace. But also beautiful: made in God’s image, therefore far more than simply “cogs in the machine” of nature.

Chapter 3 traces how tragically, this “cogs in the machine” view of humanity took over the modern world. It even led philosophers, starting with Hegel (1770-1832), to abandon all hope of a downstairs-upstairs unity. And since philosophy eventually flows down to the arts and popular culture, an all-pervading despair began to fill the western hemisphere.

“This really is the reason we moderns find it so hard to live with ourselves.”

Why did philosophers abandon this hope? In Chapter 4 Schaeffer tells us. Beginning only with downstairs rationalistic ideas, everything—including humanity itself—is reduced to mere mathematics and machinery, with no ultimate meaning or purpose.

In other words, we moderns now find it impossible to believe an upstairs even exists anymore. So we’re forced to take a “leap of faith” and invent our own irrational upstairs meaning out of thin air.

So now, downstairs and upstairs have zero relationship to each other. Downstairs logic leads to meaninglessness. And any upstairs meaning we concoct is purely illogical. All unity has been lost. This is Schaeffer’s famous “dichotomy”. And it is—he contends—the great cause of the West’s despair, right up to the present day.

“Christians need to respond to this with gospel clarity.”

In Chapters 5 and 6, Schaeffer draws on his knowledge of the world of art, literature, cinema and popular culture to illustrate this dichotomy, centring on the seismic shifts that took place in the 1960s. In doing so, he proves convincingly that this dichotomy really is the the reason we moderns find it so hard to live with ourselves.

Finally, in Chapter 7 he summarises his entire argument and insists that he has not written Escape From Reason in order to entertain. Rather, he did so to expose the utter despair of modern people, and thus the need for Christians to respond to it with gospel clarity.

At 120 pages, Escape From Reason is one of Schaeffer’s shorter works, so you won’t need long to read it. You will, however, need your brain—and a willingness to learn some of his unique vocabulary.

But if you’re serious about turning the tide on the West’s cultural decline, and you long to see Australia’s Christian foundations rebuilt, you absolutely need to read this book.