"Courage In A Hostile World - the story of Family Voice Australia" by David Phillips. Published in Adelaide by Family Voice Australia: www.fava.org.au. Price $40 includes postage. Reviewed by John Morrissey.
For many years I had never heard of Festival of Light (F.O.L.) in any connection other than with Rev. Fred Nile in NSW. I suppose that I had imagined the nation-wide organisation known today as Family Voice Australia to have grown out of Rev. Nile's movement. David Phillips' account, "Courage in a Hostile World: The story of Family Voice Australia," has changed all that. It reveals a remarkable journey, on which his wife Ros and he have been key movers for forty years, and that the NSW organisation merged with it only in 2007.
This attractively presented and well documented work is crammed with information, and modestly outlines the origins and growth of the movement in Australia, its roots in the UK, its campaigns, successes and setbacks, the issues which it now confronts, and its Christian family-based inspiration. We learn that the present name was adopted in 2008, in response to internet searches revealing confusion with the Jewish and Hindu Festival(s) of Lights - not to mention an attempted hijack of the name by a Perth gay pride march in 2003!
The story begins in London in 1971, when Malcolm Muggeridge and Mary Whitehouse addressed a crowd of 35,000 in Trafalgar Square, on a platform of "Moral Pollution Needs a Solution" and appealed to "Christ Our Saviour, Light of the World". This inspired a circle in Adelaide gathered around Anglican rector Lance Shilton to plan the formation of a Festival of Light in Australia. Newcomers to Adelaide, the Phillips' had already felt God's call to defend the Christian faith and readily became active in the group. Committees had already been formed in Victoria and NSW by 1973, when Mary Whitehouse toured and spoke to large crowds at rallies and marches. This would be the pattern for years to come, with inspiration from visits by Mother Teresa, Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly and Moral Majority's Ron Godwin.
Another, US pastor and author John Anderson, visited in 1986 and introduced the idea that the fight against abortion is a Christian and not just a Catholic issue.
Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage. Beginning with Frank Sinatra's 1955 lyrics, chapters follow describing how the 1960s cultural revolution brought the Vietnam War protest movement, free love, a drug culture sanctioned by popular music, and the rise of the New Left, all of which rejected old-fashioned values. Interestingly, the recollections of a disillusioned young Bill Muehlenberg are quoted to illustrate the spirit of this era.
The ALP's swing to the left on what had hitherto been seen as indecent and hence to oppose censorship, and the Liberals' Don Chipp's replacement of it with classification led to, in practice, opening the floodgates to pornography in South Australia, accompanied by a steep rise in rape in that state . Involvement in the campaign by the Phillips' led to police threats from Don Dunstan's Labor administration, happily terminated by press coverage, the premier's resignation and a change of government. Meanwhile, in NSW Rev. Nile had accepted the state's FOL leadership and generated quite a following, witnessed by a crowd of 35,000 in Hyde Park in 1976.
A succession of chapters follow, under the heading "Understanding the Times". The FOL refined its purpose to "A Christian ministry to our nation promoting true family values in the light of the wisdom of God". Among new challenges was the rise in the influence of radical feminists, and their hijack of PM Malcolm Fraser's National Women's Advisory Council (NWAC). In forging its platform, amendments in support of the traditional family, moved by a minority of elected delegates, were rejected by the majority of appointed delegates. With little scrutiny, Australia then signed up to the UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and Australia's Sex Discrimination Act followed in 1983, despite the misgivings of many in the Coalition, and it remains a threat today.
Next, the Hawke government's bid in 1985-86 to pass an Australian bill of rights became a national issue, and the organisation participated in a widespread campaign to alert the nation to the dangers which it posed to our liberties, taking power from elected parliaments and giving it to unelected judges. In 2010 the government withdrew the bill. Involvement followed in similar campaigns against an ID card and a referendum to expand Federal powers, among other items, with equally favourable outcomes.
But hard times followed for the Adelaide FOL in 1985-86 with resignations of staff and very tight finances, and it was the voluntary work of the Phillips family which filled the breach. In time, staff were recruited and finances mended, but one-by-one four state branches closed and it was left to Adelaide to mail out magazines to remaining supporters, becoming in effect the national office. Retirement from his work as a Defence scientist followed for the author in 2002 and he then devoted all his time to rebuilding the organisation, from its constitution up.
Phillips goes on to outline a number of issues confronting Christian activists, on which Adelaide FOL campaigned along with other like-minded organisations. Among them were the religious vilification laws which ensnared the two Christian pastors in Victoria; sex education programs for schools, which were ghost-written by abortion providers; same-sex parenting; attempts by Premiers Beattie in Queensland and Carr in NSW to sideline the role of governor; the push for legal brothels; threats to marriage; and euthanasia. The considerable achievements of this organisation run on a shoestring are recorded here, but there are no extravagant claims for exclusive credit.
Rebuilding the organisation was evident in the vigorous activities of Richard Egan, recruited from the NCC, and the appointments of Pastor Peter Stevens as state officer in Victoria in 2006 and Graeme Mitchell in NSW in 2010.
Action was needed in Victoria, opposing the Labor government's so-called Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, the latter word having been added at the eleventh hour and in no way reflecting the contents. Exemptions for religious institutions were also removed from what the author calls an "unequal opportunity act", but restored with a change of government in 2010.
Scripture is often invoked in this work and some chapters are devoted to reflection on one's duty as a Christian in civic society and to redefining one's mission, for example, to build "a harmonious culture that provides freedom, order and security for its people". Extracts from Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel give inspiration, and especially the words of Jesus: "You are the salt of the earth .... You are the light of the world ... let your light shine before others". William Wilberforce's undertaking of this "Great Commission" is also held up as an exemplar for readers. In a final chapter, the author explains the meaning of God's kingdom in the Lord's Prayer. It is one of truth and justice, where the will of God is carried out in the keeping of His commandments - a mission statement for Family Voice Australia.<< Back to newsletter