Continuing our series with our series on ‘What to Expect in 2018’, we turn our attention to two countries with a Christian -majority population – Australia and the United States. The context for Christians of these two nations is dramatically different from those in Africa and the Middle-East which we have previously covered in this series. However, Christians do face challenges even in countries where they are in a majority. In this piece Global Christian News contributors David Virtue (for the US) and Jude Simeon (for Australia) provide an analysis on what to expect in 2018.
Americans are not expecting a major terrorist attack by either ISIS or Al Qaeda. There will be minor incidents from time to time, incited by social media where disillusionment with the American way of life plays a part. The majority of Muslims both old and new have integrated into the American Dream and way of life.
Most terrorism in the country is internal, coming largely from disillusioned white males and/or mentally ill men, some of whom are disgruntled with America’s political trajectory and perceptions that America is no longer the nation they remember it to be.
There will be continued growth from fringe groups incited by the alt-right that will rattle both Democrats and Republicans, but given a pass by President Donald Trump.
The widespread ownership of guns, some in the hands of disgruntled people, will continue to pose a danger to American civility. Some 40,000 Americans will die of gun violence in 2018, virtually none by terrorists.
Issues of inequality and tax cuts that fail to deliver to the working and middle classes could lead to violence over time. Hot button issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom will dominate the news, especially the latter. These Culture War issues will not go away and will, in fact, increase tensions in America.
Overall, America will be more polarized than ever in 2018, with the result that churches, friendships, and even family bonds will continue to be strained.
The protection and enhancement of religious freedoms and liberties in Australia are becoming shakier in the current climate of Australian life and politics, particularly with the results of the recent same-sex marriage survey which has paved the way for Parliament’s ardent commitment to legalizing same-sex marriage.
With the rise of anti-discrimination legislation, religious freedoms are becoming watered down in a subtle way. This often has a detrimental impact on fundamental religious rights with rising patterns of complaints against religious bodies and individuals who seek to uphold the tenets and doctrines in which they believe.
In 2017, a Tasmanian pastor was asked to appear before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission for his views on LGBTQI+ relationships which was posted on his online blog. Section 17(1) of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tasmania) makes it illegal to ‘offend, humiliate, insult’, or ridicule another person based on a protected attribute.
The fact that one may be legally responsible simply for ‘offending’ another is a significantly low threshold, which makes Christian ministers/pastors vulnerable to complaints and litigation when sharing or advocating their beliefs.
Contrastingly, no explicit religious protection is provided except in the exemptions of the legislation which simply applies for the ordination or appointment of ministers, not what they say.
Australia’s legal climate does not provide sufficient protection for religious freedom, thus, the newly appointed Ruddock Review has sought to address and identify whether Australia has sufficient religious protections in the law or whether it ought to provide better protection particularly with the certainty of same-sex marriage becoming the law of the land.
Some individuals appointed to be part of the review process include academics and experts. One of these Nicholas Aroney, an expert on legal pluralism, law and religion has argued for the western legal system to accommodate sharia law in a 2012 essay titled ‘The Accommodation of the Sharia within Western Legal Systems’.
His article appears to favorr a system which accommodates Islamic tribunals within the common law system, to deal with family and business disputes for adherents of the Muslim faith. However, such an argument, if acted on would undermine the rule of law, as well as increase the vulnerability of women, children and converts from Islam who may be exposed to the unfairness of Sharia.
Overall, anti-discrimination legislation and now the legalization of same-sex marriage are posing a threat to the ability of Christian communities to voice their concerns and be heard, without facing legal consequences.
There are loopholes in the law which have not sufficiently protected freedom of religion and speech in spite of the fact that Australia is a liberal, representative democracy with a commitment to international law and human rights declarations.
Image Credit: CC by Christians/ Wikimedia Commons