In last week’s blog I highlighted something that the church needs to beware of, that is, outraged Christians.  They write blogs and social media posts that others share with little or no fact checking.  All they do is distort the truth, create fear and lead to further outrage which creates an attitude of culture wars.  Outraged Christians see themselves as a minority that has to lobby and campaign for their rights.  How different this is to the way the first century Church conducted themselves in even more adversarial circumstances than we face today (read the Book of Acts).

In recent times, I’ve noticed another falsehood being shared and re-shared by the outraged.  This time it’s about the Doctors in Secondary Schools program introduced by the State Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews.  The outrage goes as follows:

Daniel Andrews’ government has launched a program that will allow students to bypass permission from their parents and receive medical treatment, including the pill, without their parents’ or guardians’ knowledge.  The quoted example is of a girl as young as 11 being able to get a prescription for contraceptives from school without the parents knowing about it.

As the father of three daughters, I’d certainly be concerned if this were true. So instead of sharing the outrage on social media, I did some homework and here’s what I discovered:

The people who are outraged are missing the primary purpose of this program that is all about improving the mental health of youth in Australia.  The Doctors in Secondary Schools program is not about providing an oral contraception service to adolescent girls.  As suicide is the leading cause of death for the 15-19-year-old age group in Australia (which accounts for 31% of deaths in this age group), this program aims at removing a barrier and improving the mental health of this vulnerable population.

Regarding the issue of whether a doctor can prescribe the oral contraceptive to a young person without the parents’ consent, the concept of “mature minor” comes into play. [1]

This idea of “mature minor” was first adopted in England after a famous court case in the 1980’s when a mother of five daughters (Mrs. Gillick) took the family doctor to court.  The court rejected her claim, and it was at that time the law was changed in England to reflect this.  Australia followed suit shortly after.  So it has been legal to prescribe the oral contraceptive to “mature minors” for more than 30 years.  This practice goes on in Australian general practices every day.  It is not a new thing.

What this looks like in practical terms is that very few adolescents under 16 would satisfy the definition of mature minors.  They often do not have a thorough understanding of the risks of entering a new sexual relationship (unwanted pregnancy, STIs, etc.) or the consequences of their actions.  What most GPs do is spend a lot of time trying to persuade the young person to talk to their parents and include them in the decision making process.  They also screen to make sure that someone is not coercing the young person into a sexual relationship.  Older teens would still need to satisfy the GP that they have a complete understanding of the risk and consequences of entering into a sexual relationship.  It would only be if the GP felt that the young person was definitely going to engage in sex that they would prescribe it on the grounds that the risks of pregnancy were greater than the harms of being on the pill.

The concept of mature minor also comes into play in schools.  It is the Department of Education policy that principals can declare a child to be a mature minor and to make decisions about their education.[2]  In the same way that principals would always have the young person’s best interests at heart, so too do GPs.  It would be a very rare circumstance that it was not in the best interests of the adolescent to have their parents involved in decisions about their education or medical care.  GPs want parental involvement too.

Have people been getting up in arms about the Department of Education policy?  NO!  Has it been the policy for years now?  YES!

So this outrage that’s been doing the rounds online is just another example of people getting upset about a new initiative that is not so new but has been occurring for years in a different form.  And maybe this new initiative might save a few lives as doctors, parents and the education department work together to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicide as well as to diagnose and treat mental illnesses.

So how should we deal with outrage when we see it?

First of all, rather than respond to or repeat the information, check it out.  Get the facts and see if the outrage has any foundation.  Secondly, how about we (Christians) get outraged about the genuine injustices we see around us?  Where’s the outrage from the church about the mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers?  Where’s the outrage that leads us to help those who, for whatever reason, find themselves homeless on our city streets?  Let me hear some Christian outrage about domestic violence, human trafficking and the injustices faced by Australia’s Indigenous people.  Let’s start being incensed by the things that anger God.  Maybe then Australians will sit up and start to give some value to the Church again (instead of leaving it in droves) because they will see us not just looking after our interests but also the interests of others. [3]




[3] Philippians 2:4

Over the past week the Safe Schools program (SCAA) has featured in the news with some in the Federal Coalition calling for a review. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered the independent review last Tuesday and it will be completed by mid-March.  Safe Schools is a school education program aimed at promoting acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & Intersex (LGBTI) students. The teaching manual was set up by Labor but launched by the Coalition in 2014.

The main concern appears to be the age-appropriateness of what is being taught to 11 year-olds. Other concerns include some of the links from the program to websites that promote concerning material. For example, The Minus 18 website (Australia’s largest youth-led network for gay, bi, lesbian and trans teens) has an article instructing kids on how to “Cover their tracks” on the Internet.

Another link leads to an article on how to make your own sex toys, finding women to teach cross-dressing skills, healthier and safer ways to bind your chest, an online sex shop and so on.

Seeing that $8 million of federal money is being used to support this program the government has every right to call a review – and any tax payer has a right to express their opinion on this. While some are calling for all funding to be withdrawn and the program to be axed, the review could lead to some healthy modifications to SCAA so that it is fairer and more age-appropriate.

In the meantime there seems to be plenty of unhelpful mudslinging from both “sides” of the debate. For example, Katherine Hudson on the New Matilda site writes, The prejudiced views of Senator Cory Bernardi and his rightist droogs are shared by many dictators, despots and despicable leaders, including Putin, Kim Jong-un, Mugabe, and ISIS terrorists. Those who’ve come out against the Safe Schools Program aren’t reasonable conservatives, they’re homophobic reactionaries, who want a return to ‘the days of the old school yard’ where LGBTIQ students lived in fear and silence.” This sort of rant is singularly unhelpful. Just because someone asks questions doesn’t make them a homophobic reactionary. I’m asking questions but I’m neither reactionary nor homophobic – in fact I’m just the opposite and have received my fair share of criticism over the years for speaking graciously towards LGBTI people and suggesting the Christian Gospel includes ALL people!

The hateful emails that some politicians have received about the Safe Schools program are also unhelpful – even more so when they are sent by people professing the Christian faith. Surely genuine Christian behaviour should include things like love, kindness, gentleness and self-control. It saddens me greatly when Christians fail to present their Christianity Christianly!

So, where to from here? Of course we’ll have to wait for the review. Personally I hope the SCAA program isn’t shut down but I do hope it’s modified. Having a school program that is aimed at increasing our understanding of one another and decreasing bullying is a worthy goal, but I believe the current Safe Schools program is too narrow. While it’s more than appropriate to educate teenagers about the diversity of human sexuality, it’s also vital that we educate them about diversity in other areas too – such as culture, race, and religion. For example, classmates often pick on our youngest daughter because of her Christian faith (and she attends a Christian based school).

Bullying takes place for any number of reasons and it would be helpful for all teenagers to have age-appropriate teaching that seeks to help them deal with it in healthy ways. Over the past few days I’ve had a number of conversations with teenagers and all of them have told me the number one cause of bullying in schools has to do with body image (being too fat, too thin, having red hair etc.). It was the same when I was in high school in the 70s. We had a gay guy in our class and he was really cool. No one ever picked on Graham. But lots of people picked on the overweight Italian guy. In making this statement I do not want to underestimate what LGBTI teens face at school. I’m sure many of them experience bullying and that certainly needs to be addressed through education.

Secondly, on highly personal and potentially divisive topics such as human sexuality it’s vital that parents be involved. With the current model, there’s some material in the Safe Schools program that encourages students to go behind their parents’ backs. It also deals with topics that may go against parents’ beliefs and values. Parents currently have no choice whether their children attend the Safe Schools program if their school is a member school of SSCA. There’s no way to “opt out.” I believe this needs to change as well, much like it has for Christian Religious Instruction.

Thirdly, if you’re a concerned parent then I encourage you to speak to your children’s school and ask good questions. Also speak with your children, ask them what they’re learning at school and allow good discussion to occur. Christie and I have wonderful conversations with our girls on a whole range of subjects. We’ve talked about how important it is to be kind and respectful to all people including LGBTI people. Obviously these discussions are age-appropriate – we speak in much more detail with our 17 year old than we do with our 14 year old. Our seven year old is too young for in-depth discussion on human sexuality. We’re trying to allow her to maintain the innocence that a seven year old should be able to enjoy. Parents should be allowed to choose when, where and how they talk to their children about LGBTI issues.

Teenagers (and all people) need to understand the difference between acceptance and agreement.  Just because we accept someone, and choose to be kind and gracious towards him or her, doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they do, say or believe.

On the issue of sexuality there are people who, because of religious or cultural reasons or just personal opinion, consider any sexual behaviour other than that between a man and woman in the covenant of marriage to be wrong.  Others disagree.  We all need to learn respect for other people’s opinions even if they are different to our own and, while we’re at it, let’s stop the name calling towards those with which we disagree!

There is an ongoing debate in politics as well as in the media about government funding of independent schools – and there have been a lot of misconceptions and distortion of facts.  In particular The Age has been running a campaign against funding for independent schools using phrases such as “a flawed funding model” and “generous funding to independent schools”.  In 2007, columnist Katherine Deveny put it more bluntly when she wrote, “private schools should not receive funding.”

What is often not mentioned is that the existence of independent schools actually saves the taxpayer money.  For example, one local independent school receives almost $3,000 of funding annually per Primary student and about $3,800 per Secondary student.  The average cost of educating a student in a government school in Australia is over $7,000 (Primary) and over $9,000 (Secondary).

In other words, every primary student at this local school saves the taxpayer over $4,000 a year and every secondary student saves the taxpayer over $5,000.  The combined 2008 saving to taxpayers from families attending this school will be over $13 million.

What needs to be made clear is that scrapping – or reducing – government funding to independent schools will increase fees thus forcing some families to send their children to government schools and putting extra stress on the public school system.  This in turn will cost the taxpayer more.  It would also reduce the education options for families and penalize people of faith who desire for their children to have an education that is consistent with their religious beliefs.

I believe it is the right of every parent to send their children to a school of their choice – be it government or independent, but please let’s not buy in to some of the tripe that is being served up currently by some politicians and media commentators.  It’s hard to believe they don’t have some sort of anti-faith agenda!