It can be extremely difficult to speak up in the face of controversial issues. But someone has to be willing. We can genuinely make a difference if we’re brave enough. The Australian Christian Lobby’s Martyn Iles feels that our voices are critical in the continuing debate over religious discrimination.
“Here in the ACT, they’re changing the local discrimination laws and exemptions,” says Martyn. “Churches and religious bodies like Christian schools, campgrounds and charities currently rely heavily on exemptions. For example, churches want to retain the right not to employ somebody who doesn’t believe their religious doctrine.”
According to Martyn, the obvious controversy would be around a person who might be identifying as transgender or homosexual. They wouldn’t be an appropriate church pastor. The church needs these exemptions in the anti-discrimination laws in order to be able to say no.
“It’s the same thing in terms of enrolling students in Christian schools,” says Martyn. “Or hiring out a venue and saying we don’t want to hold same-sex weddings in our church. Unfortunately, we have to rely on these flimsy exemptions in discrimination acts all over the country.”
What is being proposed now is the narrowing of these exemptions to make it harder for religious bodies to operate in accordance with their convictions. All of these decisions will be subjected to scrutiny by the Human Rights Commission, who are not theologians and don’t share the worldview of a church.
“We are lobbying pretty hard to see whether or not the government will have some mercy,” says Martyn. “But the main thing is to make sure that churches and Christians are fully informed and aware of what these changes mean. What’s the Christian way forward here if these laws are going to change?”
Martyn says there is help available for Christian organisations that need support navigating some of these issues. The Human Rights Law Alliance is one organisation that can offer legal advice when required.
“These are the challenging times into which we’re headed,” says Martyn. “But it’s also a huge opportunity for Christians to speak up. We need to be ready to do that.”