Updated: Feb 10
Update: On February 10 the Bill passed the lower house with some amendments, and was then shelved by the Government indefinitely, in order to focus on the upcoming federal election. However all that is said below still applies.
The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 was recently (February 8) been reintroduced to the Australian Federal Parliament for debate and, the Coalition hopes, passage into law.
There’s divided opinion about the Bill across the community, including among professing Christians. Those at the more conservative end are supportive, while those at the more progressive end oppose it. So how should Bible-believing Christians respond?
It’s not my place to instruct people in regard to political views or actions; in fact I believe that a pastor should try wherever possible to avoid any political comment or endorsement, or alignment (explicit or implied) with any side or party of politics. The mission of the church is not to use politics to change the world, but to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples who are looking for the Kingdom of God, not seeking to be at home in the kingdoms of this world.
So here’s just a few thoughts about the kind of attitude that Christians should have about the Bill, regardless of any of its merits or faults.
Firstly, we should see that Christians don’t need religious discrimination legislation. We have, until now, lived in Australia without such laws, and have been blessed to enjoy freedom to practice and preach our faith. Some more recent state-based legislation (not in South Australia yet) has caused some to predict an erosion of this freedom, but the accuracy of these predictions will only be seen over time.
The Bible commands us to pray for our authorities that we might have religious freedom:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
The ultimate motivation for this is not merely our own comfort, but because these freedoms can facilitate the spread of the Gospel:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Nowhere does the Bible command us to lobby, protest, fight for legislation or force reforms to society so that our own freedoms will become enshrined in law. We should desire and pray for religious freedom, but we’re also told to expect and be willing to endure times of suffering, even state-sanctioned persecution (Mark 13:9). If we have a heart primarily for God to be glorified though the proclamation and spread of the Gospel of Jesus, then we must also have a confidence that the Spirit will empower and enable us to live and proclaim faithfully regardless of society’s disposition towards us:
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)
Secondly, we should note that while Christianity may be the most represented faith in Australia, this bill isn’t just about protecting Christians. It applies to anyone of any religious belief, even if their ‘religious belief’ is not having a religious belief. In other words, it will even protect Atheists when they express their views about the God they don’t believe in!
The existence of religious freedom in many parts of the world today is largely due to the influence of Christianity over the last two millennia. Because of the conviction that true faith shouldn’t be coerced, but expressed voluntarily, the Gospel spread across the world in the vast majority of instances not by enforced conversion, but though preaching and calling people to respond. This created cultures that tolerated a diversity of beliefs and opinions, in which the Church often provided welfare to all regardless of race or creed, and where people of diverse religious affiliation were enabled to live side-by-side in peace.
As Christians, we should be concerned for our neighbour’s wellbeing and their freedom to believe or not believe. In that sense, if we feel inclined to support or endorse this bill in any way, we should do it not to protect our own freedoms, but the freedoms of our neighbours, of other religions or none. We have the freedom in the Gospel (ie. it’s not prohibited) to lobby, protest or fight for reforms. But if we do we should be sure that it’s not our own interests we’re standing up for, but the interests of those who are less privileged than ourselves.
Thirdly, this Bill has been described as, ‘a shield for people of faith, not a "sword" for new forms of discrimination’. A number of people who oppose the bill are predicting that if passed, it will unleash a wave of unfair discrimination and exclusion from Christian teachers, doctors, nurses, accommodation providers, pastors and charity workers. A lot of this concern has come from those in the LGBTIQ+ community, since the Bill was primarily a flow on from the introduction of same-sex marriage legislation in 2017.
Christians should own the fact that the Church doesn’t have a spotless historical record in regard to unfair discrimination or bullying, and be willing to repent for the actions done in Jesus’ name that haven’t reflected the grace of the Gospel. Even if we as individuals haven’t engaged in those actions, we are nevertheless called to a sense of corporate responsibility, since we’re all members of the one body. Dismissively saying, ‘Those people were not real Christians,’ just doesn’t cut it.
While it is unfair for people to predict in advance what our actions will be, based on a limited or skewed view of the facts, our response to these predictions or allegations should be not self defence or clever rhetoric, but to simply prove them wrong by our actions:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
Being falsely accused can be difficult, and can cause our sinful desire for self-justification to rise up and make us want to fight back. Instead, we can entrust ourselves to the God of justice, who has borne our sins and, we pray, the since of our accusers, at the cross. The cross gives us the freedom not to seek vindication in the eyes of the world, bust to stand secure in the God who has promised to vindicate His people. This freedom leads to another freedom - to ‘…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’ (Luke 6:27-28)
If we as Christians face criticism, ridicule or false accusations in response to this bill, our call is to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), and to do so patiently, knowing that it may not be until the Judgement day that we are finally vindicated. In the meantime, we must get on with our primary task: proclaiming the good news of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in Jesus’ name (Luke 24:47)