Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Military Coup Leaves Burma’s Christian Peoples Gravely Imperilled

By Elizabeth Kendal

General elections were held in Burma (Myanmar) on 8 November 2020. There were problems, mostly on account of on-going conflict and massive displacement. However, 95 percent of international observers deemed the process "good" or "very good" and a "democratic success". 

NLD supporters celebrate with poster
of Aung San Suu Kyi .

As soon became clear, Myanmar’s ruling, pro-reform, National League for Democracy (NLD) party had won a majority of seats in parliament, increasing its gains at the expense of the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Consequently, despite being guaranteed 25 percent of seats (as mandated by the 2008 constitution) the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) was faced with the prospect that its days as the real power in Burma were coming to an end. 

Most analysts believe the military started plotting its takeover in January, after talks with the NLD failed and the Generals realised they had lost control. On 26 January, in a press conference in the capital Naypyitaw, military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun laid the foundation for the 1 February coup with his unsubstantiated claim the polls were marred by irregularities and fraud. 

Myanmar’s coup regime cut of old military cloth
By Bertil Lintner, Asia Times Online, 21 Feb 2021 

Make no mistake; for the Tatmadaw, the stakes are high. As Htwe Htwe Thein writes (Asia Times Online, 15 Feb), "For decades the military has amassed wealth by controlling the state bureaucracy and establishing near-monopolies in key sectors. The reform agenda of the civilian-led National League for Democracy government threatened to weaken – albeit gradually over time – this lucrative system of crony capitalism." The Tatmadaw’s ‘conglomerates control businesses and investments in sectors ranging from beer, tobacco and consumables to mines, mills, tourism, property development and telecommunications." Not only had the NLD already taken its first steps towards de-militarising the country, it promised to tackle military domination of key parts of the economy after the 2020 election.

coup leader, commander in chief
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing 
On the morning of Monday 1 February, the Tatmadaw staged its coup; replacing and detaining Burma’s elected leaders and State Ministers, installing themselves in the centre, and declaring a 12-month state of emergency. 

Like many others, Benedict Rogers believes that the personal ambition of coup leader commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing played a big part in his decision to launch the coup. 


Benedict Rogers on the military coup in Myanmar/Burma
YouTube, CSW UK, 22 Feb 2021

Who is Myanmar’s coup leader and what does he want?
Time the world started asking questions about General Min Aung Hlaing
By Nicholas Coppel, Nikkei Asia, 23 February 2021 

If the Tatmadaw thought the masses would meekly comply, they were gravely mistaken. Instead, the coup has triggered a crisis as the people rise as one to resist military rule. By the end of February, at least 20 civilians had been killed and scores wounded and arrested as the Tatmadaw – one of the most greedy, corrupt and violent human rights abusers on the planet – strikes back with deadly force.

CHRISTIAN PEOPLES IMPERILLED

Kachin villagers and internally-displaced people
in church in Myitkyina, Myanmar, May 2018.
Source WSJ, Photo: Ye Aung Thu

As Christian charity Open Doors rightly notes, the military takeover in Burma (Myanmar) will greatly "exaggerate existing vulnerabilities for Myanmar’s Christian minority". Christians comprise around six percent of the population; most are Protestant, mainly Baptist (1.7 million, mainly ethnic Karen, Kachin and Chin, the legacy of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson) – along with some 750,000 Catholics. 

While the crackdown against anti-coup protestors in the major ethnic-Burman and Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media, the situation throughout the periphery – in Burma’s ethnic minority states (where most of the country’s Christians live) – remains, as ever, dark. 

Pay attention to what’s happening in Myanmar, Baptist pastors plead.
By Jeff Brumley, Baptist News, 19 Feb 2021

Yet it is in these ethnic minority states that the Tatmadaw has long committed its worst crimes – bombing, burning, strafing of villages; killing, torturing, raping of civilians; plundering, exploiting, trafficking and abusing – all with impunity. 

The inhumane barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes is the product of its lust for power, its covetous greed, and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism (by which it dehumanises its victims). 

Writing for The Diplomat (25 Feb), Stella Naw shines a light on the situation in Kachin State where “there is a longstanding and visible military presence, and soldiers arguably act with greater impunity due to the lack of outside scrutiny.

“This has certainly been the case in the way that soldiers have cracked down on anti-coup protesters in Kachin, who have reported being beaten, shot with rubber bullets and slingshots, and arrested over the last week.”

Naw describes how the junta moved quickly to depose the state’s NLD-appointed State Minister, and replace him with a “Kachin crony” aligned with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). “Kachin analysts predict he will use the chief minister’s position to further enrich himself and his business associates.”

Naw also reports that “On 13 February residents of [the Kachin capital] Myitkyina noticed that the city’s primary source of electricity, the Buga power plant [which is owned by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a political and armed organisation that the Myanmar military has designated as illegal], had been occupied by several dozen Myanmar soldiers. People did not know why the military had asserted control over the plant, but worried they would shut off their power.”

Furthermore, Naw reports, on two occasions during 2020, coup mastermind and military chief Min Aung Hlaing made official visits to Putao – Kachin State’s northern most town (close to the border with China) – and expressed an interest in developing the remote region. Then, on 29 January 2021, just three days before the coup, “the entire unit of Myitkyina’s regional Infantry Battalion 21 – around 200 men and their family members – was deployed to Putao to be permanently based there.” 

By Stella Naw, The Diplomat, 25 Feb 2021

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has expressed concern that troops are invading towns and severing transport routes, making it even more difficult to get aid to some 100,000 displaced Kachin. 

Burma expert Benedict Rogers commented on 1 March, that among the many images to haunt him, is that of SFX (St Francis Xavier) Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, tearfully knelling before police begging them not to shoot the protestors.

Words are not enough to stop Myanmar’s carnage
Suspension from ASEAN, sanctions and an arms embargo are needed to make the trigger-happy generals think again.
By Benedict Rogers, UCA News, 1 March 2021

Begging for mercy: Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Feb 2021
image source


In Karen State (around 30 percent Christian) some 5000 Christians are currently displaced in the jungle because the Tatmadaw has destroyed at least 23 villages over the past two months. In a report published on 7 February, David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, commented that the Karen feel that “their own lives haven’t changed: they were attacked before the coup and they are being attacked now after the coup.” Karen News reports (mid Feb) that in Karen State, as in Kachin State, the Burmese Army has blocked access to humanitarian aid.

DR SASA, CRPH ENVOY TO THE UN

The ousted government has formed the ‘Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Assembly of the Union: i.e. parliament]’ (CRPH). 

Significantly, as Benedict Rogers writes (UCA News 1 March 2021), the CRPH has appointed, Dr Sasa, an inspirational, highly regarded ethnic Chin and Christian (and long-time friend of Rogers), as its special envoy to the United Nations. 

“Suddenly,” writes Rogers, “seemingly out of nowhere, Sasa is the CRPH’s nominated special envoy to the United Nations. His picture adorns banners across the nation. Protesters throughout Myanmar are saying that he is their only representative. He has been catapulted into national prominence.” 

And as Rogers notes, “That is both exciting and dangerous.”

For more on Dr Sasa and the suffering of the Chin people, see:
11 Sept 2019, YouTube (52:13 mins). 

While Western democracies must rally in support of Burma’s peoples, the only power that wields any influence over the Tatmadaw, is China. 

China has massive interests in Burma and while it does not want its interests or ambitions threatened by reform, neither does it want them threatened by instability. 

Rogers is appealing for “more than words”. 

“We need a global arms embargo,” writes Rogers. “We need targeted sanctions against the military’s enterprises. And we need the UN to accept the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar – embodied in the form of Sasa as their envoy, in close collaboration with the very courageous Kyaw Moe Tun, working together. . .” 

As for the Church – the global Church – Rogers would like to hear its voice. “So far,” he writes, “while the voice of the Church in Myanmar has been inspiring, the voice of the Church worldwide in their support has yet to be heard.”

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Australia: Victoria’s ‘Anti-Conversion’ Law Passes in Upper House

-- Royal assent secured; law will come into effect on 16 Feb 2022.

The Victorian state government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practises Prohibition Bill passed in the Legislative Council on the evening of 4 February 2021.  

Despite a lengthy debate, the world’s most repressive LGBTQ+ anti-conversion bill passed without amendments, 27 votes in favour and 9 against. The nine opposing votes came from 7 of 12 crossbenchers, and 2 of 11 opposition members. 

While the Bill’s focus is sexual orientation and gender identity, its similarity to religious anti-conversion laws in Hindu nationalist India and throughout the Muslim world is remarkable. In much the same way, Victoria’s anti-conversion law will ensure that LGBTQ+ identity is essentially a one-way street and procuring conversions is banned. 

If Victoria continues along this trajectory then the next step may well be a law against “blasphemy” (to criminalise criticism of LGBTQ+ ideology) and/or the mandatory registration of state-approved, ideologically compliant churches and clergy.

Text of Bill (pdf)
Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 

Excerpt: (from pages 7-8)

Meaning of change or suppression practice 

(1) In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person's consent— 

     (a) on the basis of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity; and 

     (b) for the purpose of— 

          (i) changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or 

          (ii) inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice or conduct is not a change or suppression practice if it— (a) is supportive of or affirms a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation . . .

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following— 

     (a) providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy; 

     (b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism; 

     (c) giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person. 

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice or conduct may be directed towards a person remotely (including online) or in person.

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For further background and analysis see:
Victoria, Australia: the church of LGBTIQ+’s war against ‘apostasy’
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 26 January 2021.
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That the Bill would be approved was all but certain. Holding 18 seats in the 40 seat Upper House, the ruling Labor government only needed the votes of three crossbenchers to secure passage of the Bill. This was all but guaranteed, with the Bill receiving strong support from crossbenchers Samantha Ratnam of the Greens, Fiona Patton of the Reason Party (formerly known as the Sex Party), and the Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick, the proud father of two transgender children (a son who is now a daughter and a daughter who is now a son). 

On 16 February, the Victorian governor the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, gave the Bill her royal assent. The Bill will come into effect on 16 February 2022. 

Once the law is enacted, anyone found trying to suppress or change another person’s sexuality or gender identity will face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a prison term of up to 10 years if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that their actions caused serious “serious injury” as defined by section 15 of the Crimes Act 1958: i.e. “an injury [to physical or mental health] (including the cumulative effect of more than one injury) that endangers life; or is substantial or protracted.”   

The Family Violence Protection Act will now be amended to make “conversion therapy” a form of domestic violence. 

BEFORE THE VOTE

In December 2020, former deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson took to twitter to express his concerns about the Bill. “A law before the Victorian parliament seeking to outlaw parental, therapeutic or religious discussions on issues of sexuality and gender is the biggest threat to our democratic freedoms in Australia’s entire legislative history.”  

A long list of organisations also criticised the Bill, including the Law Institute of Victoria, Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists,  Victorian Women’s Guild, Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese, Islamic Council of Victoria, and the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. 

Law Institute president Tania Wolff said their members were concerned that the bill “may impose limitations on conversations between children and their parents or other family or caregivers on the issue of gender identity or sexual orientation”. (The Australian, 4 Feb

Medical professionals expressed concern that the Bill's vague wording, broad scope and harsh penalties could see health professionals fined and/or jailed for giving professional advice that led to a patient choosing not to undergo permanent medical procedures to transition gender. However, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley dismissed these concerns, describing them as “misplaced” (The Australian, 3 Feb).

In an open letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s Catholic bishops and the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria noted that the bill risks criminalising conversations between children and parents, interfering with sound professional advice, and silencing ministers of religion from assisting some individuals who freely seek pastoral care.

“Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t just ban out-dated and insidious practices of coercion and harm, which we firmly reject,” the letter states. “It includes ill-conceived concepts of faith and conversation, vague definitions, and scientifically and medically flawed approaches. It places arbitrary limitations on parents, families and people of faith.”

The Presbyterian Church of Victoria’s “Church and Nation” committee described the legislation as “a solution in search of a problem”. 

From the Amnesty International Australia graphic:
"Conversion Practices in Australia".
(see RLM 26 Jan 2021)

We might also describe it as a “weapon”, purpose built for “lawfare” against “informal religious practices” that promote notions of “sexual sin” that are “harmful to LGBTQA+ people”, along with the “false ideology that their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender and sexual expression can be changed or suppressed.” 

See: What are Conversion Practices? 
Amnesty International Australia
22 Dec 2020 

As noted by Church and Nation: “The research used for the ‘whole of government LGBTIQ+ strategy’ was heavily skewed. The data was based almost entirely on personal surveys which measure each LGBTIQ+ respondent’s feelings or perceptions that other people treated them with hate or discriminated against them, and their subjective opinion that the perceived hate or discrimination was based on LGBTIQ+ prejudice. There was no indication of any analysis to ensure that their perceptions of “hate or discrimination” were correct, nor was there any indication of any analysis that any discriminatory behaviour was based on LGBTIQ+ prejudice as opposed to any other prejudice.

“There is no evidence that harmful ‘aversion therapy’ has existed in Australia for decades.” 

See: Conversion Therapy Ban, Victoria
URGENT CALL TO ACTION
from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria's Church and Nation committee.
-- includes links to the Victorian Government’s own publications: Whole of Government LGBTQI+ Strategy and Discussion paper on Conversion Therapy Ban legislation.

Only two opposition members – MPs Bev McArthur and Bernie Finn – defied their leader to vote against the Bill. Mr Finn told parliament that while he supported the general principle of banning gay conversion therapy, he could not abide the “bad parts of the bill”. (The Australian, 4 Feb

“This bill is an attack on basic freedoms,’ he said, ‘on freedoms of choice, free speech, freedom of assembly and an attack on freedom of religion . . .  If this bill was just what the government said it is [i.e. a law to protect LGBTQ persons from coercive, abusive or involuntary psychological or spiritual practices], there wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s not, it’s a lot more than that. This in its own way is an omnibus bill, and they’ve got a very, very nasty habit of doing this to people, and to the parliament, of putting bills up which are in part acceptable, and in other parts appalling, and this is one of them.” 

In a 31 January 2021 article for the Spectator Australia, crossbencher David Limbrick (Liberal Democrats) – who voted against the Bill – slammed the Bill as “shameful”.

“I have approached this legislation with an open mind – I am not a religious conservative – and sat through many meetings with stakeholders from all sides of the argument. 

“This idea that evil religious people are waiting in the shadows to deny people choices about their own sexuality is an offensive caricature, not just to faith leaders, but to millions of people quietly practising their religions.  

“What’s worse is that there are undertones of anti-religious bigotry. Anyone who thinks this particular brand of bigotry is better than any other kind is kidding themselves.”

AFTER THE VOTE

After the vote, Baptist pastor and blogger Murray Campbell gave voice to the question many Victorians would now be asking: “How can we respond when a Government makes illegal practices that have been part of Christian religion since the beginning of the Church and have their foundation in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ? 

“To be very clear,” Campbell explains, “I am not talking about aversion practices and non-consensual activity that stems from pseudo-science and bad theology. Church leaders including myself have repeatedly spoken against such things and believe they have no place in our churches . . .” 

However, “Among other things, the Conversion Practices Bill criminalises prayer and conversation where one person aims to persuade another that pursuing certain sexual activity or change is not the best course of action. A prayer for sexual abstinence can be considered ‘suppression’ and therefore illegal. Sermons are not targeted in this Bill, although the recently resigned Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, explained in the Parliament that sermons may be included at a later date.” 

What’s more, Campbell reports, “During tonight’s debate, one member of the Legislative Council [Ms Bath] asked the Attorney General [Ms Symes], ‘How will the Government up-skill ministers and pastors so that they know where the line is, [and] what they can and cannot say to people about sexual orientation and gender identity?’ (my [Campbell’s] paraphrase of the question). 

“What a revealing question! The Attorney General indicated that education materials will be made available. In other words, religious people must defer to the Government’s doctrine.”

See: Victoria Bans Conversion Practices Despite Significant Flaws in the Bill
by Murray Campbell, 4 February 2021  

Regarding the answer from Victorian Attorney General Ms Jaclyn Symes MLC, here is the quote from Hansard (p282):  “. . . when this bill is passed, there will be a 12-month implementation period. VEOHRC [Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission] will be providing education, materials and advice to religious organisations . . .” 

THE WAY FORWARD

As for the way forward, the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, Rev. Dr. Peter Barnes, issued a statement on the website of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, encouraging the congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Australia not to be deterred from the obligation to proclaim “the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27).”

“We are obliged before God,” he writes, “to preach all that He has revealed to us, whether law or gospel, and to do so in a spirit of love and truth.

“There is nothing unique in such legislation. When King Darius exceeded his God-given authority, Daniel did ‘as he had done previously’ (Dan. 6:10). 

“It is our task to keep on keeping on, to proclaim and to live out so far as we can the gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to us.”

AMEN

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Victoria, Australia: The Church of LGBTQ+’s War Against “Apostasy”

by Elizabeth Kendal

When the Victorian parliament returns on 2 February, one of the first issues to be decided will be the fate of the government’s unprecedented and far-reaching Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.  

Premier Daniel Andrews.
If passed, the Bill will – in the words of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews – ensure that “cruel and bigoted practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be stamped out across Victoria”. 

SEE: Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews 
Banning Cruel Conversion Practices For Good
Press release 25 Nov 2020 

The “cruel and bigoted practices” to be “stamped out” include both formal (e.g. professional counselling) and informal (e.g. prayer) therapies and practices. The Bill will make it a criminal offence to engage such practices even if they have been requested. 

According to the Premier, these “therapies” -- which he insists “are based on false ideology” -- are nothing but “the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable”.  

The Bill – which was introduced to the Victorian parliament on 25 November 2020 – passed the Victorian Legislative Assembly (lower house) on Thursday 10 December, the final parliamentary sitting day of the year 2020. 

The opposition put forward an amendment, to pause the Bill so as to enable consultation over the summer break. When that failed, the opposition, opting to boycott the vote, rose and left the chamber. 

All 55 MPs remaining in the chamber voted in favour of the Bill. 

The Bill empowers the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of conversion and suppression practices. Criminal penalties of up to 10-years in prison will apply.  

The Bill is now before the Legislative Council (upper house) where its fate will soon be decided. 

Regardless of Council’s decision, we can be certain that the Church of LGBTIQ+’s war against apostasy has only just begun.

A TROJAN HORSE FOR ACTIVISM

In commentary for The Australian (26 January), columnist Nick Cater refers to the Bill as “an ugly law that purports to prohibit gay conversion therapy.” 

Yet, as Cater notes, “the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill is not primarily intended to outlaw a practice that almost every Victorian would abhor. It is a Trojan horse for activism of the most insidious kind. It is an attack on freedom of religion and parental rights by activists who regard the very existence of categories of sex and sexuality to be oppressive.

“To call upon the laws of biology when counselling a gender-confused teenager or to suggest they might want to think again before declaring war on their bodies will become a criminal act. The role of doctors, psychiatrists, priests and parents will be reduced to applying a rubber stamp”.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AUSTRALIA

The Bill has strong backing from Amnesty International (AI) Australia, as well as from the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors group. In fact, SOGICE Survivors created a graphic for AI which outlines how churches go about attempting to “convert” LGBTIQ+ individuals through informal means, including preaching, conversations and prayer. [Graphic – 9 slides, full size.] 

According to Amnesty International: “This model [as outlined in the graphic] represents some of the common experiences of modern survivors of conversion practices. The manifestations of the conversion movement are broad and can include children, healthcare professionals and paid services. However, these are extremely rare in Australia. To be truly effective, legislation must also address these far more prevalent experiences of the ‘modern survivor’ outlined in the graphic”.

AGENDA TO SILENCE PEOPLE OF FAITH

Contrary to the premier’s press release, faith leaders were not consulted. Indeed, many are shocked by what they see as massive over-reach by a government clearly hostile to Christianity. 

In his opinion piece published in The AGE (14 Dec 2020), Barney Zwartz – former religion editor of The Age from 2002 to 2013, now a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity – gave voice to the legitimate concerns of religious leaders. 

“Most Victorian churches are intensely concerned about legislation the state government is rushing through Parliament without consultation to ban so-called conversion therapy to change sexual orientation. It is not that the churches practise or defend any form of coercive conversion therapy; the problem is the massive overreach of the bill and the State arrogating to itself wide control over the religious beliefs and practices of religious believers.

“No faith leaders were allowed to see the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill (2020) before it was introduced to Parliament, and the Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy, has declined to meet church representatives herself.

“Many Christians – and people of other faiths – fear there is a broader agenda at work by a state government more hostile to Christianity than its predecessors. . . They fear the bill may hide an agenda to silence people of faith.

“And not only believers. Thanks to the broad-brush approach, this legislation might unintentionally intrude on rights and freedoms that are precious to everyone. . . 

“I emphasise,” writes Zwartz, “that the churches do not want to be a source of harm to vulnerable people, and it is clear that, sadly, in some cases that has happened, that people have suffered psychological and spiritual damage. A meeting of leaders of Victorian churches last Wednesday unanimously supported the intention of the bill to protect vulnerable people from coercive practices.

“Yet, so far as I am aware, the number of coercive conversion therapy cases historically in Victoria is tiny, certainly not enough to justify legislation of this magnitude.

“The text of the legislation is troubling, interfering as it does with Christian practices of prayer, conversion, Christian formation, spiritual accompaniment, family and church life, and the ability of individuals to seek advice or counselling to make their own decisions.

“Frankly, should someone actively wish to change their orientation, or to seek advice about practising celibacy, or any private matter of conscience, it is none of the government’s business.

“If a married adult is struggling with sexuality and asks for prayer so s/he can contain sexual expression to the marriage, are people praying for them guilty of a 'change or suppression practice'? What if a polyamorist is advised to stay faithful in a marriage but decides this advice has damaged him? The bill explicitly says these prohibitions are regardless of consent, or the desires of the subject.

“What if a pre-pubescent child requests gender-reassignment treatment, but the parents, who know and love that child, encourage him or her to wait and see if their feelings change? Are the parents guilty of a 'change or suppression practice'? That certainly seems a possible interpretation of the legislation.

“Further, the definition of sexual orientation has been amended extraordinarily broadly. . .

“Astute observers have also noted that the bill (under Section 57) requires an independent reviewer – chosen by the Attorney-General, so a political appointment – who must consider the need for a redress scheme. That raises the stakes.

“The penalties under the bill are severe, including imprisonment. The government wants to suggest that not much is changing but, with the bill as it is, that is clearly untrue. . .”

THE BILL IS EVERY BIT AS BAD AS PEOPLE SAY IT IS

John Steenhof appeals to church leaders.
source: Australian Christian Lobby
John Steenhof is the Managing Director and Principal Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Alliance. Working in partnership with the Australian Christian Lobby, Steenhof has issued appealed to church leaders, urging them to raise their voice. 

“Now let’s be clear;” he says, “no-one supports aversion therapies, where pain or nausea are used to deal with unwanted sexual attraction. These practices are abusive and rightfully consigned to the dustbins of history.

“But the Victorian Conversion Bill goes much farther than just targeting coercion. This bill is overly broad and fundamentally flawed. If it passes unchallenged you will face coercion, investigation, monitoring, re-education, potential fines and jail time just for promoting the teachings of the Bible.

“Hostile activists will be empowered to take complaints, and to weaponise the Victorian Human Rights Commission against religion and against churches. Pastors, priests, and ministers are under threat. The Bill targets religious practices and prayer specifically; and a pastor who would preach that God’s plan for those who are not married is celibacy could find the cops on their doorstep. 

“Ordinary Christians could be investigated if they have prayed for change with someone who is experiencing unwanted sexual feelings. Parents who do not affirm a child’s gender confusion could also face questions. 

“The Bill also targets the many members of the LGBTIQ+ community who themselves have benefited from spiritual guidance and have seen changes in their lives. This Bill will be fundamental breach of their human rights to live the way that they want, to seek the treatment that they want. It removes their support during a very vulnerable time.

“This Bill will criminalise a traditional Biblical sexual ethic . . .”

Law professor Neil Foster has done an enormous amount of work, analysing and following the progress of the Bill. He warns that it is “every bit as bad as people say it is!” 

“The Bill,” he explains, “creates a powerful set of bureaucratic mechanisms by which religious groups presenting the classic teachings of their faith may be subject to investigation and ‘re-education’ by human rights officers. It arguably makes the presentation of some aspects of Biblical teaching unlawful if the aim of that teaching is to encourage someone to follow that teaching in their own life. Despite the appearance of addressing horrific and oppressive quasi-psychological procedures inflicted on young people, the Bill goes well beyond this laudable goal, and will make it unlawful to provide assistance in obeying the Bible to those who explicitly and with full understanding request such help”. 

UPDATE:
The Institute for Civil Society has produced an excellent paper entitled Problems and Proposed Amendments: Victoria’s ‘Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020’.

Quotes: "Compared with all other ban jurisdictions, the Victorian Bill would create the broadest and harshest ban in the world."

"The Victorian Bill has the harshest criminal penalties of any legislation in the world – for 'change or suppression' conduct causing psychological harm 5 years’ imprisonment or a $100,000 fine or for serious psychological harm 10 years imprisonment or a $200,000 fine. Most other laws provide for at most 1 years’ imprisonment." 

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com