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.

A Bleak Week for Freedom in Australia

Our national anthem begins with the triumphant line Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

But after some troubling news headlines in the last few days, that word free is less true than it was a week ago.

Australia’s freedoms—in particular freedom of speech and freedom of religion—are suffering huge blows at the moment. This is good news for no one.

I don’t normally blog about the news cycle, but this week I’ve felt compelled to. You’ve probably heard about one of these headlines. The other two you may have missed.

A Christian conference was censored by Facebook

A couple months ago I had the honour of meeting distinguished legal scholar Augusto Zimmermann.

This coming June, along with some of the brightest legal minds from Australia and around the world, he is hosting a conference called Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West.

“Australia’s freedoms are suffering huge blows at the moment.”

When he and others shared the conference link on social media over the weekend, Facebook censored it, claiming that the conference violates their community standards.

Don’t skip past that. The biggest social media platform in the world censored an event highlighting the rising intolerance of Christianity.

Did you catch the irony?

A Christian woman saving unborn children was ruled a criminal

In 2016, Kathy Clubb was arrested for offering help and hope to mothers near an abortion clinic in Victoria. Recent laws had made it illegal for pro-life activists to be within 150 metres of such a facility.

She decided to challenge this law since it goes against Australia’s Constitution, which grants Australian citizens freedom of political communication.

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help.”—Martin Iles

On Wednesday, the highest court in Australia dismissed her challenge and forced her to pay a fine and all of the court costs.

In the words of Martin Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby:

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help. The ministry she is a part of has seen over 300 babies lives saved in recent years, and their mothers given the help they need at a difficult time. This work is now illegal. The woman who did it is now a criminal.”

There’s a bitter irony in this story too. Former Greens leader Bob Brown faced similar charges for protesting against logging in an exclusion zone. But his case was acquitted by the High Court.

Since when are trees worth more than babies?

A Christian rugby player was sacked for expressing his faith online

The story about Israel Folau got all of Australia talking—and rightly so. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player posted the following words on Instagram:

“Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” 

The post made reference to drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

“The story about Folau got all of Australia talking.”

Let me be clear that this is not my preferred method of evangelism. But to be fair, Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint—basically, a paraphrase of a Bible verse. 

For this sin, Rugby Australia has vowed to tear up his $4 million contract. No matter that it’s a World Cup year and Izzy was slated to be Australia’s star player.

No matter that Rugby Australia turns a blind eye when other players are charged with drunken misdemeanours every month or so.

“Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint.”

A statement released by Qantas, the major sponsor of Rugby Australia, couldn’t be more ironic: “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”

What about inclusion for Folau?

In the name of diversity, are Christians who are public about their faith no longer welcome to play high-profile sport in Australia? Are we going mad?

Your Freedom Might Be Next

Thankfully, in Australia we still enjoy some of the most amazing freedoms in the world. But there’s growing evidence this may not last.

Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.

“Our freedoms were hard won.”

Think what you like of Folau’s Instagram account, or Clubb’s views on abortion, or even the topic of Zimmermann’s conference.

But if you shrug your shoulders at the events of this week—or worse, think that justice has somehow been served—then you simply don’t understand how rare freedom has been in the history of this planet.

Our freedoms were hard won. And they’ll be even harder to win back once they’re sunk. You may dislike the people who lost their freedoms this week, but yours might be next.

“Open Doors has predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.”

Reflect for a moment on the famous poem First They Came by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, penned during the Nazi’s rise to power.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And when you’re done reflecting, please pray for Australia.

Ten Reasons Jesus is the Most Influential Person in History

Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.

The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous

Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.

“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”

Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.

Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.

But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.

2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution

Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.

But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.

Most ancient civilisations practiced slavery; even Plato and Aristotle defended it. Fast forward to the modern world and there are more slaves now than when slavery was abolished.

“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”

Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.

Thankfully, the equality we enjoy is having a ripple effect around the planet. But notice where this ideal originates: generally in western cultures which have been deeply shaped by the Bible.

Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.

“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”

From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.

All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.

And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, quota queens and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.

3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”

Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.

Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.

This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.

As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.

“This is an extraordinary reversal.”

Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, if your idea of a hero is a humble, self-giving servant, then you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy

Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.

That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.

“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”

Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.

A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.

As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.

5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History

It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.

Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.

“Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.”

In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”

And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:

Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.

Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science

Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”

Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:

Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.

The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.

The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”

We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.

Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.

All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.

7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion

Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.

Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.

As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.

“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”

The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.

By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.

8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He must be right if almost 70% of nations have adopted it.

Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.

For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”

They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.

As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.

9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth

Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.

100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.

What doesn’t make sense about all of this is that the western media will stand up for almost any minority group—but it’s almost silent when it comes to the global war on Christians.

“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”

This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.

Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.

When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.

Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.

10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique

One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.

But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.

“Jesus seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.”

No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.

When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.

Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.

“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”

Jesus could have been lying. It’s also possible that he was insane. But if his biographies are true, he seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.

The only possibility that remains is that he is who he says he is. The implications of this are profound. It means that he is Lord—and I am not.

And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Safest Place on Earth

A mother’s womb is an incredible place. In this warm and nutrient-rich environment, a tiny egg is fertilised, and 40 weeks later a beautiful, fully formed human emerges. No wonder the word miracle is so often used by parents to describe the birth of their child.

Given how fragile life is through these nine months, the womb should be the safest place on earth. But in recent decades, tragically it has become the most dangerous.

Abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. Around the world each year, some 56 million pre-born babies have their lives cut short. 70,000 of them would otherwise be raised by Australian parents.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”—Gandhi

Without doubt, some women who choose abortion have faced harrowing circumstances. A recent study, for example, has found that pregnant women who suffer violence are much more likely to seek an abortion than those who haven’t. The only humane response to someone who sees abortion as their only option is compassion and care.

Compassion and care are also desperately needed for expecting mothers, so they’re well supported when they choose to carry their baby to full term in the face of great difficulties.

But if all this is so, then surely compassion and care are needed most for the unborn, who are truly the world’s most vulnerable. Rightly did Gandhi say that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

“The only humane response to someone who sees abortion as their only option is compassion and care.”

How we treat the unborn hit global headlines again recently, when the state of New York passed a law legalising abortion up to birth. Buoyed by this, in following days the Governor of Virginia even called for infanticide to be legalised.

But these latest developments aren’t just taking place on distant shores. In South Australia, the Greens have introduced a bill that seeks to make abortions available without medical reason, without a doctor, and up to birth.

It is difficult to see how any of this could be called progress.

Progress is what happened 2000 years ago when an unpopular religious sect opposed the wisdom of the Greco-Roman world—and many other ancient cultures besides.

“A pre-born baby can feel pain and hear your voice by the sixth month of pregnancy.”

Those early Christians believed that every human life must have equal and intrinsic worth if we’re all made in the image of God. And they walked Rome’s streets and scoured her trash heaps to rescue the babies that had been discarded by a people who didn’t know better. 

Within centuries of this revolution, Emperor Valentinian, a Christian, had outlawed infanticide—setting a precent that has profoundly shaped the western world since.

Until recently, that is.

See, unlike the ancient world, we do know better. And it’s not just our collective conscience, shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic, that informs this.

“Every human life must have equal and intrinsic worth if we’re all made in the image of God.”

Modern science—which was also heavily influenced by the Christian worldview—tells anyone who cares to listen that a pre-born baby can feel pain, hear your voice, and will survive outside the womb by the sixth month of pregnancy.

Even simple logic exposes where we’ve gone wrong. In Queensland, for example, a drunk driver who kills an unborn baby can be charged for homicide. But in one of the state’s abortion clinics, the same victim can be deemed a non-entity and be quietly disposed of.

Humans deciding each other’s worth in such an arbitrary way should disturb us. Do other human rights even matter if one’s right to life isn’t first protected under the law?

“As you try to make sense of these contradictions, take a moment to be thankful.”

But despite ethics, science and reason, in 2019 great swathes of the media and political elite seem intent on a return to the status quo of the ancient world. All, ironically, under the banner of progress.

So wherever you are, as you try to make sense of these contradictions, take a moment to be thankful. Outside of the womb, you live in the safest place on earth.

Then spare a thought for the little ones who haven’t joined us here yet.

The Year in the Jungle That Changed My Life

When I was 19, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I moved to the jungles of Indonesia.

If you know me now, that may sound like the course my life was always going to take. Let me assure you: it was anything but an inevitable decision at the time.

My mate, whose parents were working for an NGO there, had been bugging me endlessly to visit, and I was more than content to ignore him. I felt no particular draw towards other cultures and certainly no interest in learning another language. Like a hobbit, I had everything I needed in my little shire and had no reason to leave.

“This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

But then God spoke, and in a Jonah moment, I knew I could ignore him no longer. And rather than a visit, I felt compelled to commit to at least a year and see where it would go.

Over a decade later and I’ve just returned from my tenth trip to this remote region. I’ve now spent around two and a half years of my life in a place that has captured my heart and keeps drawing me back.

If you’re wondering what to do with your gap year; are at a crossroads in life; or are otherwise experiencing your own Jonah wake-up call, let me share with you why this was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I’ve always loved camping, but I didn’t know adventure until I lived on this tangle of tropical islands.

I could tell you stories of spear fishing and jumping down waterfalls, of high-speed midnight rides on a car roof (don’t tell Mum), of climbing one of the world’s most active volcanoes (four times), and of getting lost in the jungle for days—and fortunately, making it out alive.

If none of that excites you, I could tell you about the families who’ve hosted me in their dirt-floored, bamboo-thatched homes; stories of suffering and hope that I never imagined I’d hear first hand; and the incredible friends, young and old, that I now have a lifelong bond with.

Culture and Language

I recently heard it said that until you understand a second language, you don’t understand your own. I couldn’t agree more. And I’d say the same about culture.

On return from my first year in Indonesia, I had fresh eyes—an outsider’s view—on things in my own culture that I’d grown up taking for granted. I can’t quantify just how life-changing that has been for me.

In the best of ways, I now question the status-quo I see all around me, and more importantly, the mediocrity inside my own head.

And there’s another link between culture and language worth mentioning. Language embodies culture. When you learn one, you learn the other. Through language, you don’t just learn to speak like your hosts, but to share their values and their outlook on life so that it shapes your own.

Growth and Perspective

When I landed back in Australia, after spending some time with a friend, she commented that I went to Indonesia a boy and came back a man. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I certainly grew a lot that year—not least in my perspective on the world.

Whether it was washing my own clothes each day with a scrubbing brush, tasting the most unusual cuisine from bat to snake to sago grub, or seeing the unparalleled joy of children in the face of abject poverty—there is something about living on the outskirts of civilisation that can only alter your view of almost everything.

I can no longer approach finances like I used to. Or my fears, or my friendships, or my faith. Years later and I’m still unpacking how my interactions with the amazing people of Indonesia have shaped me.

Future Possibilities

Too many people, even those still finishing high school, have been persuaded to focus far too much on CVs and career paths, salaries and ambition. Too few are concerned about the kind of person they’re becoming.

As you make these big decisions about your future, what grid are you using? If it’s comfort, status or security, let me challenge you beyond goals like these that won’t satisfy, and that aren’t particularly attainable anyway.

Let me challenge you away from the path of least resistance and towards the path of adventure, obedience and self-sacrifice—whatever that might look like for you.

Even if it looks like a year in the jungle.

~

The organisation I serve with in Indonesia welcomes with open arms western visitors who are willing to serve and get behind their vision of physical, emotional and spiritual restoration for the poor and marginalised.

They have a particular need right now for native English speakers to teach in the school (Reception to Year 8), qualified or otherwise. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to find out more.

How Hinduism Points to Jesus

Since the 1960s, Hinduism has profoundly shaped the West. But it goes beyond vegan food, henna and hippy culture. We’re all one with God; there’s a divine spark within each of us; I’ll find my own path—all of these Hindu ideas have gone global.

Hinduism inspired brilliant movies like Inception, Avatar and Interstellar. And many big-name celebrities have famously converted to the faith, including Julia Roberts, Russel Brand and George Harrison of The Beetles.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Hinduism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

The Heart of Hinduism

Hinduism has no founder: there’s no historical figure called Hindu. That’s just a British word for the colourful rituals and beliefs of the Indian subcontinent. Even today, most Hindus don’t know that word—they just know they follow the eternal religion.

Eternal is a stretch, but it’s definitely ancient. Hinduism predates Moses, beginning around 2000BC—making it the oldest religion in the world. It’s not a neat, easily understood faith. It has no organised hierarchy, no creeds, and no central holy place. It sort of just is.

“Since the 1960s, Hinduism has profoundly shaped the West.”

At the centre of this spectacular web of beliefs and practices is one simple idea: union with the ultimate life force. To understand what this even means, we need to take a journey through the deep traditions that have shaped Hindu belief.


THE VEDAS (2000BC—500BC)

First are the Vedas. These hymns, curses and chants were brought to India by Persian nomads, explaining how to communicate with a vast array of gods through the use of drugs, and how to appease these gods with sacrifices.


THE UPANISHADS (1000BC—300BC)

Second are the Upanishads. Indian gurus and holy men reflected deeply on the Vedas and developed a whole worldview out of them, teaching these important ideas:

Brahman / Behind everything in the universe is a life force called Brahman. Brahman isn’t a who but a what—it has no personality. And Brahman isn’t seperate from the world: it encompasses everything, including you and me. Like sparks from a flame, we all came from Brahman, and to Brahman we will all return.

“At the centre of Hinduism is one simple idea: union with the ultimate life force.”

Illusion / You think you’re reading this blog, but actually you’re not. You, your device, and the entire universe is actually just a dream of Brahman. According to Hindu teaching, until you realise this, you’ll stay trapped in the illusion of this world.

Reincarnation / All of us, even plants, animals and insects, are caught on a carousel of being born, dying and being reborn again. Reincarnation isn’t fun to a Hindu—it means being spat back out into the illusion of this world; trapped once again in a false existence.

“In Hindu teaching, the entire universe is just a dream of Brahman.”

Karma / We think karma is doing good so good comes back to me. For Hindus, karma is vengeful—it’s the reason we’re trapped. The poor are suffering now because of their actions in a past life: it’s their fault. As such, I need to live a good life now so I can return as a king, not a cockroach.

Release / However, the end goal is actually to not come back at all. Instead, I’m aiming to experience final release from the futile cycle of life. Release isn’t a place; it’s a state of being where I no longer exist—where I’m absorbed back into Brahman, the ultimate reality.


THE SMRITI (500BC—AD300)

The third and final tradition is the Smriti. These epic Shakespeare-like dramas tell the stories of the gods, and teach two more ideas:

The Caste System / People are born into different castes or social orders based on their karma from past lives. Those at the top work in business and government, while the untouchables at the bottom fill India’s slums. Mahatma Gandhi fought the caste system, and today many Hindus reject it, but it remains deeply ingrained in Indian society.

The Way of Release / Release from reincarnation and a return to Brahman is possible, and it can happen in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Path of DutyPerforming good works that are fitting to your particular caste, and being faithful in giving offerings to the local gods.
  2. Path of DevotionChoosing one of Hinduism’s 330 million gods to love and worship with your whole life—the most popular being Vishnu and Shiva.
  3. Path of KnowledgeDenying comforts, chanting scriptures, and practicing mediation and yoga in order to achieve union with Brahman.

And that’s a brief summary of Hinduism. Today it’s the third largest religion in the world with over a billion followers. The vast majority of Hindus live in India.

Hinduism and Jesus

Hindu ideas challenge Christians, and in the best of ways. They rattle our safe little cage and make us question everything we thought we knew. Hinduism also reminds us that God is not just far off, but present everywhere; and many Hindus truly know the meaning of spiritual devotion.

But where does Jesus fit with Hinduism? It would be too easy to see him as just another guru or god among the millions. But this holy man is different. Jesus’ teachings are eternal, more ancient than the Vedas. In fact, they come directly from Brahman.

“Jesus came to show us what Brahman is like.”

According to Jesus, it’s true that Brahman is the life force present everywhere, giving unity to the world we see. But Jesus called Brahman a who, not a what. Brahman is actually personal, with a mind, emotions and the capacity for relationship.

This makes sense because we are personal. We use logic; we experience joy and sadness; and we relate to others. How could you or I, with all the beauty and wonder of personality, come from an impersonal force? Brahman must have a personality if we came from him.

“Brahman is a who, not a what.”

Jesus also taught about karma. He called it sin—actions from our past that have trapped us. But he didn’t teach the path of duty, devotion or knowledge, because they leave us uncertain; we can only know if they’ve worked after we die. Jesus taught a better way of release, one that we can know gives us release in this life.

Instead of us making our way back to Brahman, Jesus said, Brahman has come to us. Jesus wasn’t just another spark from the flame: he claimed to actually be Brahman, entering into our world, ending the illusion. Jesus came to show us what Brahman’s personality is like.

Jesus performed every good work and lived a perfect life, and this meant his karma was good. And when he died, he took all our karma upon himself, and he gave us his good karma in return. The moment we believe this and devote ourselves to Jesus, we experience final release.

“Jesus isn’t just another guru or god among the millions.”

When we die, we can be certain we’ll return to Brahman. Not like sparks to a flame. But like children to their father. We’re actually seperate beings from Brahman—and that’s good, because it means we can have a personal relationship with him. This is love. And this is true union with the ultimate life force.

We all need a god to worship and devote our lives to. Jesus is the only one who is truly worthy of this, because he’s not one god among many. He’s the one true God.

And this God loves and accepts us, no matter which caste we’re from.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Claydon, David. Connecting Across Cultures: Sharing the Gospel Across Cultural and Religious Boundaries. Melbourne: Acorn Press Ltd, 2000, 83-94.

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 17-46.

How Islam Points to Jesus

For some in the West, Islam is a synonym for terrorism and oppression. Others seem to believe that Muslims deserve a free pass, and special immunity from criticism.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased too. I love my Muslim friends, and I have a deeper interest in Islam than any other world faith outside my own. For me, Islam is an acronym for I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Islam—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

It all began with Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in Mecca in 570AD, five centuries after Jesus. Arabia was dry, hot, and full of warring tribes. Jews and Christian cults were scattered around, but most people were polytheists, and once a year they’d flood to Mecca to worship their gods.

As a travelling merchant, Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas, and the idolatry troubled him. He would often retreat to a cave near Mecca for spiritual insight. One day there, a supernatural being appeared and spoke to him. He was so alarmed that he ran home to his wife, convinced he was demonised or insane.

“Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas.”

But with the help of a scholar, Muhammad concluded that he’d met the angel Gabriel, and that he was called to be a prophet. For the next two decades until his death, he received 114 messages—today making up the chapters of the Qur’an.

His theme was this: only one of Mecca’s hundreds of gods was the true God, and all the others were false idols. That didn’t go down too well—so fleeing persecution, Muhammad moved to the city of Medina.

Here the people liked him and his message about the oneness of God. They embraced him as their prophet and political ruler. It was 622AD; Islam was born.

“Muhammad would often retreat to a cave for spiritual insight.”

The people of Mecca kept troubling Muhammad until eventually, with an army of 10,000, he marched on the city. The powerless Meccans were quick to convert to Islam.

Throughout his life, Muhammad lead 66 battles, married 11 times, and was heralded as a great military leader and God’s final and greatest prophet.

Within a hundred years of his death, Islam spread as far as Turkey, France and India. Fourteen centuries later there are 50 Muslim-majority nations, and Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with 1.8 billion followers.

The Heart of Islam

Islam is built on a single idea: submission to Allah—this is what the word Islam means. Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam in the hope that Allah will accept them into paradise:

1. Creed. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. If you recite this in the presence of another Muslim and believe it, you become a Muslim.

2. Prayers. At five set times a day, faithful Muslims pray facing the city of Mecca. This involves a ritual washing, set postures and recited prayers. The Friday noon prayer is held in local mosques where a sermon is preached.

3. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. Night time is for feasting; and celebrations are especially big at the end of this month—a time when Allah is more likely to hear and answer prayers.

4. Alms. This religious tax of up to 5% helps feed the poor, support war efforts, and spread the message of Islam around the world.

5. Pilgrimage. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must visit the city of Mecca once in their life. Here, pilgrims take part in many rituals: they wear special garments, circle a shrine called the Kaaba, and spend an evening on a hill outside the city where they hope their sins will be washed away.

Jihad is sometimes considered a sixth pillar. Jihad means struggle, and while some point to the days of Muhammad and think of this in military terms, most Muslims today consider jihad an internal struggle against sin.

Along with these practices there are Five Pillars of Faith which every Muslim must embrace:

1. God. Allah has 99 beautiful names. (His hundredth name is unknown). Allah is unique, and it’s blasphemy to equate any person with him; certainly, he is too lofty and majestic to have a son. Allah is our master, and we are his servants. He knows us, but we can’t know him.

2. Angels. These include jinn or genies, but most important are the two angels that sit on every person’s right and left shoulder, recording our good and bad deeds for a final day of reckoning.

3. Prophets. Moses, Abraham, David and many other Bible characters are prophets in Islam—Jesus is especially honoured as a prophet. But Islam’s final and greatest prophet is Muhammad. He’s the model for all Muslims to imitate.

4. Books. The Torah, Psalms and Gospels are holy books in Islam. In fact, Jews and Christians are considered people of the book. But the most holy book is the Qur’an. Muslims believe it was given because the other books were corrupted.

5. Judgment Day. Like Muhammad, Allah is a good businessman. On judgment day, he will weigh our good and bad deeds on a scale to see whether we deserve hell or paradise. But even then Allah is still sovereign, and his mercy is what will determine our destiny.

Muhammad and Jesus

Christians have much to learn from Islam. In a world of apathy, Muhammad led with uncompromising conviction, and he had a reverence for God that the western church desperately needs to recapture. And the cultures Muhammad has shaped are among the most respectful and hospitable on the planet.

What about Muhammad’s claims? Private visions are difficult to verify—but the Qur’an does help us build bridges with Muslims since it speaks so often of ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah. In fact Jesus is referred to 93 times in the Qur’an—four times more often than Muhammad himself!

“Christians have much to learn from Islam.”

The Qur’an says that Jesus was born of a virgin; that he was a healer and miracle worker who raised the dead; and that he will intercede for us on judgment day. These things are not said of Muhammad. In fact, while the Qur’an mentions Muhammad’s sins, it calls Jesus sinless—and even gives him titles like Spirit and Word of God.

Actually, this is what the Bible taught all along. There’s no theological reason for Muslims to believe the Bible has been corrupted: God can protect his books. And there’s no historical reason either: 25,000 manuscripts spanning from the second century AD are almost identical to today’s Bibles. How could forgers have edited so many documents—and no modern scholar notice?

“God can protect his books.”

The Word of God didn’t come to Jesus in a private vision. Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message, and it was lived out in public where it could be tested by history.

Like Muhammad, Jesus called people to turn from their idols and follow the true God. The people of Jerusalem persecuted him for this. But unlike Muhammad, Jesus didn’t flee. He willingly submitted to the plan of God. That evening he was crucified on a hill outside the city—where he washed our sins away.

Because of this, our destiny no longer hangs in the balance between the good and bad deeds that we do. God has shown us mercy once for all in Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that we’ll also be raised up to paradise.

“Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message.”

Because of Jesus, God hears our prayers any time of the year. Because of him, we can win our internal struggle against sin. Most of all, because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.

It is wrong for any human to equate themselves with God. But what if God equated himself with us? What if the greatest act of God’s majesty was to become one of us, and make himself personally known? What if God’s hundredth name is ‘Isa al-Masih?

“Because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.”

Today there’s a wind in the house of Islam. In countries still shut to the gospel, Jesus is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and supernatural visions. And many more are coming to faith in open nations through the love of Christian friends.

Muslims around the world today are discovering that Jesus is more than a prophet—and that following him is the true path of submission to God.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 177-217.

Masri, Fouad. Bridges: Connecting Christians With Muslims (DVD). Indianapolis, IN: Crescent Project, 2008.