At present there is a lot of concern in Australia about religious freedom. The secular media recently whipped up a lot of misinformed hysteria about religious schools in Australia, particularly in relation to perceived discrimination against particular identity groups. The concern was that Christian schools can (allegedly) expel students based on their sexual identity. As far as I’m aware this has never occurred, and nobody seems to be able to give an example of it ever happening. As an experienced high-school teacher I find it difficult to see how such a scenario would even play out. School students aren’t permitted to make loud noises about their sexual inclinations regardless of what they are! In short, Australian secular media and politicians continue to demonstrate their anti-religious (and particularly anti-Christian) bias by using any excuse to slander those who won’t submit to their own religion, the religion of secular identity-politics.
This recently led to the proposal of a parliamentary bill, which is supposedly about preventing religious schools from expelling gay students, but actually threatens to prevent religious organisations from being free to operate in accordance with their own beliefs. In the case of Christian schools, this would threaten the ability to teach a biblical view of issues of sexuality and gender, and the ability to hire teachers who personally hold these beliefs.
These issues are of some importance. I believe that democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom to associate on the basis of shared beliefs are all deeply important values for a healthy society. I also believe that the law should deal with ‘externalities’, not mere perceptions. Perceptions are subjective and impossible to enforce. How can I control what you find offensive? And how do we avoid this from devolving into endless counter-claims of who has most offended by the other? (“I’m offended by your offense…”)
However, Christians must be careful that we don’t allow the immediate to overshadow the important. When our civil rights are threatened this is an easy mistake to make.
Christian Freedom is Invincible
‘Christian freedom’ isn’t about the laws of Australia at all. Christian freedom is about the gospel. It refers to what has been won for us in Christ. That means that it cannot be lost.
By definition, Christians are free.
Christians are free from their sins, which were done away by Jesus on the cross. We are free from guilt and shame, and free from fear of the final judgement (Colossians 2:14).
That means that Christians are free from needing our good works to secure our righteousness before God. I don’t need my works for me, so I am free to use them for you! The Protestant Reformers championed this kind of freedom that we have in Christ. Christian freedom means that we are radically enabled to serve other people.
Christians are free because we have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in our hearts to love righteousness and to hate sin (Galatians 5; Romans 6 & 8). The laws of Australia cannot threaten this. We have been freed to obey Jesus’ good commands.
Christians are free because God is sovereign over all things, guiding the hearts of rulers where he will (Proverbs 21:1). We are free because Jesus has overcome the present age and has been given all authority and power over all things (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20-21). Not only is our saviour trustworthy, but he has the power to do all that he has promised.
Christians are free to speak of all that Christ has done for them. This freedom is equally true in every society. Christian freedom doesn’t change, however the consequences do (!). Christian freedom has enabled countless Christians to name Jesus as their Lord and Saviour before hostile societies, and even to accept martyrdom for it. Jesus warned us that persecution is what following him would look like (Mark 8:34-38). Christian freedom has led Christians through the ages to suffer for the name of Jesus, and to do it with joy! Christian freedom cannot be lost by the passing of mere secular legislation.
Christian freedom is what we gain in the gospel. Worldly powers can do nothing to take it from us. The New Testament itself was written in the context of persecution by political authorities. So let’s not confuse Christian freedom with the mere civil ‘religious freedom’ laws. One of these is feeble and fluctuates with time and circumstance. The other is invincible and will last for eternity.
Thus Christian freedom means freedom from desperation. It frees us from defensiveness, and from the destructiveness of ‘by-any-means-necessary’ politics. It frees us from fear, for what can people do to me? (Psalm 56:11). It leads us to calm trust in God, rather than reacting out of anxiety and fear, and becoming yet another example of modern ‘outrage culture’.
Christian freedom means that we are able to listen to those who disagree with us, and calmly express where we might partly agree with their views or at least see where they are coming from.
Christian freedom means that we should not fear losing the culture war. Indeed, we should expect to lose it. We follow the Jesus, who came in humility in order to suffer (Philippians 2:5-11). It is the meek who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Only truly free people can afford to be meek and to lose the world, whilst the world grabs at whatever it can.
So what should we do?
I am not saying that engaging with Australian law is unimportant. We should be concerned with these sorts of changes. We should carefully engage them in accordance with the way of Jesus.
However, let’s not act as though they can rob us of our freedom in Christ. Society will childishly fluctuate with the waves of cultural opinions. Media will sensationalise, slander and demonise Christians whenever they can. But they can’t win. Jesus already has.
So please, express your concerns to your local member of parliament. Use your democratic right to make your views known. Warn others of the ugly social consequences of these moves. But all these things should be a distant second to praying for our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-2), renewing our trust in our heavenly Father whose plans cannot be thwarted, and living out the wonderful freedom that we have in Christ.