Common sense won the day at Sydney University this week.
‘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?
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.