Dodging the “Exile” Bullet At Sydney Uni – For Now

A Basic Freedom is Upheld: But For How Long?

Common sense won the day at Sydney University this week.

After earlier threatening to exile (i.e. de-register) religious clubs who required their leaders and members to be, well, religious, the Sydney University Student-Union came to see reason:

 ‘After long and thoughtful consultation with our religious communities on campus, the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors resolved at the April Board Meeting to amend the C&S Regulations to allow faith based declarations as a condition of membership and Executives of faith based clubs registered under the USU C&S program.’ [emphasis added]

Thanks be to God: clubs such as the Evangelical Union can continue unhindered, holding out the Word of life to uni students.

It’s a great outcome. And we can breathe a sigh of relief: but for how long? 

Dodging Bullet photo

Photo courtesy

Is this a sign of things to come?

Was the Student Union’s earlier behaviour an exception, or will it become the new normal?

I think having our basic freedoms challenged will be the new normal:

As Atheist philosophers like Frenchman Luc Ferry have pointed out, our western understanding of human rights, and basic freedoms  developed out of a Judeo-Christian view of reality.

However, that view of reality is rapidly leaving the western building (certainly among the secular elite of our culture).

Therefore, what we used to call ‘common sense’ in relation to basic freedoms is likely to become less common.

And at the moment, especially on many university campuses, there’s a culture developing that doesn’t value basic, traditional freedoms: the Student Union’s views aren’t as unusual as we might like to think.

And here’s the thing: what’s culturally accepted in the first generation, becomes legal in the next.

But does it even matter?

1) The Romantic View of Persecution:

“It doesn’t matter if we Christians get persecuted: it’s even a good thing.”

Whilst having a club deregistered is not persecution in the global/historical sense, it is a step down that path. And so should we care if our culture heads in that direction?

Some would say no:  neither Jesus nor the apostles had religious freedom: so we don’t need it either.

And there’s obvious truth to this claim:

  • The gospel was birthed and spread in an environment of persecution;
  • Jesus Christ was persecuted: and he told his servants to expect the same (John 15:20);
  • The NT says it is a privilege to be persecuted (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:12-19);
  • God’s plans are never stopped by persecution: the gospel can and does go out in spite of, and sometimes because of, persecution;
  • In fact, God’s plan is for his people to be persecuted (1 Peter 4:12-19).

But I wonder if this view is in danger of so magnifying God’s sovereignty over history (and of persecution), that it ignores our responsibility to love our neighbour: wouldn’t such love include protecting our neighbour from harms such as persecution?

And so this raises the urgent question:

2) What Does Biblical Faithfulness Look Like When Basic Freedoms are Challenged?

Should Christians care about basic freedoms, such as freedom of religion, speech, and association?  

Now we Christians might feel ok about our basic freedoms gradually being reduced (at least in theory!): but what about our non-Christian neighbour: how might they fare in an environment where their basic freedoms of conscience, association, and speech, are rolled back?

To be more specific:

  • How might Australia’s non-Christian religious minorities fare without robust religious freedom?
  • The reality is non-Christians suffer greatly in countries where basic freedoms are weak (e.g. most people oppressed in the communist country of my birth were non-Christian);
  • People are less likely to hear the gospel in a society with less freedom;
  • If we care about other aspects of our neighbour’s wellbeing (e.g. if they’re in poverty), shouldn’t we care about protecting them from other harms (e.g political coercion)?

Now let’s be clear: protecting basic freedoms is not the gospel: it is not “gospel root”.

But is it not “gospel fruit”? Isn’t protecting our (Christian and non-Christian) neighbour from persecution  an important part of loving them?

Where to next?

If protecting basic freedoms is an important way of loving our neighbour, then we need to be ready as the challenges come. Part of that will mean developing a strong apologetic of why these basic freedoms matter, and speaking up in defence of them carefully, and winsomely.


Do You Think Christians Should Care About Basic Freedoms? Why/Why not? 

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7 thoughts on “Dodging the “Exile” Bullet At Sydney Uni – For Now

  1. It is the new normal, working at a local public school( yes i could lose my job for saying this) with now 3/4 of the students in non scripture class supposed ethics class(playing board games and drawing) parents no longer put their kids in scripture but ask them would you like to do it”no mum/dad its stupid”. No longer are the parents directing/guiding their kids. Kids are now dictating what they will and wont do, public schools now have become were kids learn their moral/ethical compass way instead of home and that’s not good.
    A local High school refuses to let christian students meet with a christian youth worker once a week in Lismore NSW so is this the new norm yes it is and its growing quickly. Borrowing Akos’s words”If protecting basic freedoms is an important way of loving our neighbour, then we need to be ready as the challenges come. Part of that will mean developing a strong apologetic of why these basic freedoms matter, and speaking up in defence of them carefully, and winsomely.
    If we are a free people in a constitutional government, we should expect our government to leave consciences free. We will work for liberty and justice, for all. But that means we should also expect many free people to jeer at us as crazy or stupid. We will walk with Jesus and bear such reviling, without reviling back (1 Pet. 2:22-23).

    As citizens, we should expect freedom of religion. As Christians, we shouldn’t expect freedom from ridicule.

      • I am very sorry, Trevor, to hear of your disheartening experience but I want to say that what is happening in your area does not need to happen. In NSW our Special Religious Education classes (also called ‘Scripture’) are soundly based so that in the overwhelming majority of schools they are operating well, so much better than 30 years ago.

        In NSW the core characteristic of our religious education classes is that they are held in response to the wishes of parents when they enrol their child. Our SRE is not based on some supposed ‘right of entry’ by the clergy. It is a worry that in the past 2 years confusion has developed over the letter for parents to sign regarding SRE and it seems that Trevor’s experience could stem from this confusion which the Department needs to clarify.

        I think it is fair to say that where SRE lessons are well taught they are well accepted by schools and parents across NSW. In NSW, dedicated SRE teachers are working to keep SRE classes as the norm.

        Trevor reports that “a local High school refuses to let Christian students meet with a Christian youth worker once a week.” I wonder where the problem lies because for many years ISCF lunchtime groups have been recognised by the NSW Department of Education. However a year or so ago the Department introduced a new rule requiring pupils to bring a permission note from home before they could read the Bible together etc and this ruling was in response to a media scare about a ‘prayer group’ in a particular Sydney school.

        • Steve I am not talking about what SRE is doing in schools they do a great job and praise be to God for that but in the reality of it all like i said “parents no longer put their kids in scripture but ask them would you like to do it”no mum/dad its stupid”. No longer are the parents directing/guiding their kids. Kids are now dictating what they will and wont do, public schools now have become were kids learn their moral/ethical compass way instead of home and that’s not good.”
          I work for the Department have been for sometime i am Christian who serves his King fervently in the school system I am up to date on all things SRE which you can no longer according to the Department refer to it as ‘Scripture’ from April.
          The Department may recognize ISCF but it is now up to the principal to ok this as it comes under an name/system called Voluntary Student Activities.
          This is from the new FAQs for NSW Department of Education| SRE SEE VSAFAQ_April Religious Education(SRE)
          Special Education in Ethics(SEE)Voluntary Student Activity of a Religious Nature in
          (VSA) What is a Voluntary Student Activity of a Religious Nature in Schools?
          Voluntary Student Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools (VSA) is any activity of a religious nature, including those provided by religious organisations.
          VSA includes student and/or volunteer ledprayer groups, breakfast or lunchtime clubs, and religious youth groups.
          VSA is not part of Special Religious Education (SRE) and is not part of the curriculum.

          a Voluntary Student Activity of a Religious Nature in Schools (VSA). VSA includes student and/or volunteer led prayer groups.

          Q7Are schools required to offer Voluntary StudentActivities/Prayer Groups?
          Principals may choose to allow Voluntary Student Activity of a Religious Nature in Schools (VSA) to operate within their school, when it aligns withlocal community
          So this is what one of the principals has chosen to use to say no.
          But in the end in all this messy crazy world God uses it all for His glory and Grace.

      • I go into schools once a term as a R.E teacher, I have about 30 minutes with each class, so far we have been able to keep this going although there is more red tape to go through we now have to let the school know what exactly we will be teaching the kids, unfortunately l watch kids walk out of my class as their parent opt out for their children to stay in for R.E. I have tried to built some relationships with the staff and we are welcomed so far…I love the children and when l ask them if they remember me l get calls of “Yes!!You teach us about Jesus” I pray that we can still reach little children for Christ in this way…

  2. Thanks, Akos, for alerting us to the Romantic View of Persecution which I believe needs to be challenged.

    First, persecution has so often caused not only growth but also disunity in the Body of Christ with some hot-headed Christians seeking martyrdom and others seeking compromises. As an extreme example, in North Africa in the aftermath of the persecution under Emperor Diocletian it took generations to sort out the nasty schism.

    Second, persecution means a triumph of evil. I want to do all I can to speak up in defence of our freedoms and at the same time to pray, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil”.

    • Wait. Is the cross a triumph of evil or triumph of good? I think persecution of Christians is a worldly ‘triumph’ and will be shown to be hollow in the light of God’s actual triumphs and we’re pretty terrible at believing that God’s power is displayed in our weakness. This is the sort of dual reality that Revelation captures well in a passage like Rev 11, describing the two faithful witnesses whose testimony is Jesus, and whose lives/deaths match his.

      “Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8 Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

      11 But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.”

      Now, I assume the beast is basically a picture of worldly power/dominion operating in the pattern of Satan, so I think we’re called to face the same thing, and I’m not sure why we’d be all that concerned about our neighbour’s ability to have ‘religious freedom’ when we want to call them to ‘freeing religion’… I’m not suggesting there’s a total overlap between loving our neighbours and the proclamation/living of the Gospel, but I’m also not sure there’s a great distinction between ‘aggressive secularism’ and ‘religion’ what people are practicing when they silence us is their idolatrous ‘beastly’ religion where they worship worldly power. Why should we protect one alternative idolatry over another in the name of ‘neighbour love’?