Mental health is a significant issue in the LGBTIQ community, not because people are LGBTIQ, but because of the way LGBTIQ people are treated in society.
I recently wrote an article for my local parish magazine. I am not sure the average Australian understand what has happened and continues to happen to the LGBTIQ community in Australia. On Richard Glovers ABC Drive radio show on Monday evening (24 June 2019) a highly educated commentator suggested that now there is marriage equality all issues are solved. As I keep telling people, marriage equality is just one of the inequalities against LGBTIQ people.
The following is what I wrote for my parish magazine. Are you willing to respond to a call to action, as Jesus did to walk with the marginalised rather than the powerful?
I recently had some conversations with several leaders within the Uniting Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma.
I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue for many in the Aboriginal community.
There are those among us and within the media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities are then made to feel at fault.
In my roles within the cemetery sphere, I have become far more attuned to specific cultural and faith requirements around death and interment. When working with a significant Aboriginal Land Council here in the Greater Sydney area last year, I was shocked to be confronted with the fact that the number one cause of intergenerational poverty is the cost of funerals. Trauma passes from generation to generation.
I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child sexual abuse’. Firstly, they were abused. Then when they told someone, it is unlikely they were believed. Later (if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities), they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them.
Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.
Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma. They are being repeatedly traumatised.
While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues discussed above, they have a parallel. As I journey through writing my book, I have seen the impacts of little events and problems along the way. These little things cumulate.
When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter, there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s posts. But there are. We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ community.
A youth may hear a slur in the playground, or the phrase “That’s gay,” on the sporting field as a derogatory comment. If they read much of the News Corporation’s newspapers available in Australia (in Sydney, The Australian and the Daily Telegraph), they would always be reading and exposed to articles that suggest that LGBTIQ people should not be recognised and ultimately, should be disregarded. If they happen to enter many churches in Sydney, there can be outright hostility to LGBTIQ people.
I recently heard of two people from a Uniting Church here in Sydney – both cisgendered (a person whose gender identity corresponds to their biological sex at birth) and heterosexual, who happen to be employed by an Anglican Church child agency. They were told that as their Minister was gay, they would either need to leave their employment or leave their Uniting Church. They needed work so, unfortunately, they have been forced to leave their parish.
Teens see lots of negative information on social media. This becomes cumulative.
People rarely commit suicide because of one event; suicidality usually builds or cumulates from a series of events.
This is why Isreal Folau’s post was so dangerous. I contend that it was not theologically accurate, but for some young people, it is the proverbial straw.
Uniting Network, the LGBTIQ community within the Uniting Church has many aims, but the two big ones are pastoral care and theological engagement. This work is becoming a real challenge for members of the Uniting Network. Theological engagement is continuing but will now need to be ramped up to respond to the increasing commentary of non-affirming Christians in Australia and their perceived growing political power. But the Uniting Network members are tired, exhausted.
Pastoral care is now failing as we can barely care for ourselves, let alone others within our community. Repetitive and Cumulative Trauma is having its toll. The last few years have been huge for advocates, and from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the last three to five years have been the most intense in a long time.
The following is just some of my engagements over the last couple of years:
Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with marriage equality
Invovlement to stop the plebiscite on marriage quality
Campaigning for marriage quality through the postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats, guns pointed to a head, and many horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die”
Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017 connected to my sporting community
Continuing the momentum during the marriage equality debates in Parliament
Engaging with the Uniting Church Assembly process around same-gender marriage decision within the Uniting Church
Advocating during the attempts to delay the Assembly decision through a never previously used clause in the Uniting Church’s constitution
Supporting transgender people’s rights who have received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners
Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is now into its second year
Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom
Responding to misinformation by so many around Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession (usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge), and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election
Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them
Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area
I am expecting an increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the conservative Christian
Some Christian leaders and associated lobby groups who feel they are owed something from the return of the Government.
I was pleased to see that during the election, the Prime Minister announced increased funding to support mental health issues within the LGBTIQ community, as well as supporting the movement to be primarily driven by states to stop gay conversion, ex-gay, reparative therapy or similar “treatments”.
As this next three years are going to continue to require considerable advocacy by the LGBTIQ Community to retain civil rights that have been a long time coming and to continue to move for further civil rights (such as no LGBTIQ discrimination in all schools), this is the time for Allies to step up.
In what way can LGBTIQ Allies step up?
Perhaps undertake a Mental Health First Aid Course and other pastoral care courses focused on LGBTIQ issues to ensure good pastoral care of your LGBTIQ church members, family and friends.
Take time to learn more about LGBTIQ issues.
Identify areas of advocacy that may interest you around LGBTIQ issues and engage with the media, your local members, the broader church, and the wider community.
Repetitive and cumulative trauma is here within so many groups across our society – are you willing to engage?
Warning this is a long blog, as responding to short blog that may seem to be inconsequential by that author, but it needs detailed consideration, analysis and an appreciation of nuance, which unfortunately many who want to attack LGBTIQ people wish to avoid.
So, get a cup or a mug of coffee or tea, with your favourite biscuit and settle in for a read!
I propose to respond to the key challenges and issues with this article and why there are other perspectives that I personally believe is more important and more valid.
But as a refresher, I am an active Christian, with multiple
leadership roles in one of the largest Christian denominations in
Australia. And for transparency, I am
also gay. This means that I regularly
struggle for acceptance within the broader Christian community, and because of
the harm that Christians have caused to the LGBTIQ community, sometimes treated
with caution within the LGBTIQ community.
Let’s start with some broader context.
Some years ago, the Out on the Field study, one of the first and most extensive studies of homophobia in sport, it involved many countries and identified significant homophobia within the sporting community[ii].
80% of participants in the study experienced or
witnessed homophobia in sport.
75% of participants in the study believe that an
openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event
34% gay of participants in the study have been
bullied, 27% of gay participants have received verbal threats, and 15% of gay
participants have been physically assaulted
70% of gay youth (under 22) believe youth sport
is not safe for gay people
I would encourage readers of this blog to read the report in
detail. A link is in the endnotes.
This follows on from years of gay bashings, LGBTIQ people suffering discrimination in all types of situations. In the Australian context, we know that LGBTIQ kids can currently be discriminated in non-Government schools in Australia, and many religious organisation are fighting for the retention of this right of discrimination, under the guise of religious freedom.
I recently had some conversations with several leaders
within my Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma.
I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue
for many in the Aboriginal community. There are those among us and within the
media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the
Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities
are then made to feel at fault.
I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma
within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child
sexual abuse’. Firstly, they were
abused. Then when they told someone, it
is unlikely they were believed. Later
(if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities),
they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities
interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them.
Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their
stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked
to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.
Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if
the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media
interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma. They are being repeatedly traumatised.
While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues
discussed above, they have a parallel.
As I journey through writing my book coming out early next year, “A
Journey Towards Acceptance – an evolving memoir”, I have seen the impacts of
little events and challenges along the way.
These little things cumulate.
When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter,
there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s
posts. But there are. We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke
the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ
The last few years have been huge for LGBTIQ advocates, and
from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the
previous three to five years have been the most intense in a long time. In just the recent few years my own
Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with
Commitment to stop the plebiscite on marriage
Campaigning for marriage quality through the
postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats,
and many other horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die”
Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017
Continuing the momentum during the marriage
equality debates in Parliament
Engaging with the Church process around
same-gender marriage decision
Advocating during the attempts to delay the
Assembly decision through a clause in the Church’s constitution never used
Supporting transgender people’s rights who have
received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners
Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is
now into its second year
Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry
into Religious Freedom
Responding to misinformation by so many around
Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession
(usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge),
and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election
Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law
Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them
Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on
LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area
Post the 2019 Federal election I am seeing an
increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent
election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the
conservative Christian Churches and associated lobby groups who feel they are
owed something from the return of the Government.
So, this is some of the context that brings me to the
writing of this particular blog. I have
selected some quotes from the blog, and offer an alternative perspective that I
believe better meets the sporting arena and also a Christian reflection.
“It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants
to play Rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his
social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social
media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window.“.
It is always challenging to comment upon “it is reported”
without actually providing a reference.
The Australian reported on 2 June 2019[iii]
that “Israel Folau was set to accept a deal with Rugby Australia that would
have saved his job until his father intervened to stop him, according to a
report out today.”
Folau first fell foul of his social media roughly 12 months
earlier than this current incident that led to his contract being
terminated. Surely, he should have taken
on the process of social media education after Rugby Australia provided him
with a lifeline from that earlier incident.
He was provided with a window, and he decided to smash it.
“You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel
was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose.”
This is one of the most egregious points in this article and
shows a lack of understanding of social media and its reach.
Many young people follow their stars from a very young
age. What we know from research that
from around the age of 10 is the age of development of sexual attraction and
Therefore, a young person may be following their idol not
being fully aware of their sexual orientation, and then as that awareness
develops, they are still pursuing their hero, who then posts messages of
I know that Christians like Folau sincerely believe that
they are loving homosexuals by telling them unless they repent, they are going
to Hell, and unfortunately, there are many that support of his position. However, this is why LGBITQ teenagers are
significantly over-represented as homeless people, why LGBTIQ people attempt
self-harm and suicide many multiple times more than compared to their
peers. The Folau comments are not
“love”, they are based, in my opinion, on a prejudice that is not substantially
supported through Biblical enquiry, nor following the principles of the key
person they purport to represent, Jesus Christ.
The issue is that a post like Folou’s may be unlikely that
this is the first and only message that may cause a suicidal event (but it is
possible), but it may well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s
back, leading to suicide.
When LGBTIQ have suffered, and continue to suffer abuse, you
don’t know whether your minor comment can cause a catastrophic effect. Folau’s post was not a minor comment, but the
continuation of misuse of the Bible and a history of Christian attacks on the
Even the Liberal Government recognised in the last Federal Election
that there are significant mental health issues in the LGBTIQ community. These mental health issues are not because people
are LGBTIQ, but as a result of the response of others towards LGBTIQ people.
“What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a
warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love.
You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.”
I wonder if the author has ever experienced actual hate
speech. They may well have, but if they
had, I am surprised they would make this comment.
I have suffered hate speech, I have been racially abused,
which may seem strange given that I am a white male Australian. The tribunal dealing with the matter was
following the protocols used in these type matters.
The accused in the hearing kept saying it wasn’t hate
speech, but I, as the recipient of the hate speech, knew and felt it was hate
It is a common position of conservative Christians in their
interaction with LGBTIQ people that their comments, no matter how
inappropriate, no matter how theologically dubious they are, if you add the
clause “the comments were made in love”, all is alright.
When you are telling anyone that they are going to Hell
simply because of the way they were born is abuse. The more subtle abuse is to say being LGBTIQ
is not sinful, but acting on your natural sexuality is. God doesn’t call people to celibacy, it is acknowledged
it is a very hard calling and only a few are called, there is no blanket call to
celibacy for a class of people in society.
Imagine you are a 15-year-old person, perhaps even playing
in your school or local rugby club, coming to acceptance of your sexual
orientation, knowing that others will cause you grief, and then your idol tells
you that you are going to Hell? That is
not a great scenario for any young person.
Yes, I’ve seen hate speech, both hate speech towards LGBTIQ
people and myself, and other forms of hate speech, and the Folau social media
post meets that threshold.
Most concerning is that if this author is a Chaplain, I am very
concerned about their capability to provide adequate pastoral care to people
who are “others” in our society, if they seriously maintain that Folau’s
comments are not a form of hate speech.
“Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your
player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian
brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and
other church school teams?”
There is much to talk about theology and its understanding
across all our communities. In my
business life, church life and theological education, when I have provided a
different theological interpretation that makes sense, most people respond, why
haven’t I heard this?
That’s because many religious leaders will only provide
their congregations with a view that suits their theology, rather than having
the strength of their own understanding to explore with their congregants a
wide variety of interpretations to develop their own robust theology.
As we research cultural history, we understand that in so
many countries and cultures, LGBTIQ people were accepted, and the English
colonisation and its Victorian perspectives on sexuality and associate laws
removed the acceptance of LGBTIQ people.
As a significant number of Western countries have recognised that damage
imposed on LGBTIQ people by laws and societal attitudes, unfortunately, many of
the colonies are only starting to follow these reforms.
Most people in Australia would be shocked to learn that the
first time the word homosexual appeared in the English versions of the Bible
was in the Revised Standard Version in 1946.
More concerningly is that research that has been underway for the last
several years on the translation of the RSV and the subsequent NIV Bible is
indicating that no serious academic translation work was undertaken around its
introduction. This research project is
expected to be published in the USA later this year. Some have argued that the translation of
“arsenokoitai” and “malakos”, as one-word “homosexual” was driven through a
cultural lens and an ideological construct rather than detailed academic and
So, the word homosexual hasn’t been a lifelong word in the
English translations of the Bible.
If we look the various translations of Folau’s selected
versions, the New Revised Standard Version uses “male prostitutes”, the New
Living Translation also uses “male prostitutes”, but then adds “or practice
homosexuality”, the King James Version uses “nor effeminate, nor abuses of
themselves with mankind”, and the NIV translates as “nor men who have sex with
men.” We clearly have translational
issues. Do we use a version of the Bible
that fits our cultural and ideological perspective?
So how do we move forward with this? We can take a literal view, and rely on our
preferred translation of the Bible, for a construct we wish to achieve, but
unfortunately, this leads to issues around consistency. Remember, that the Bible was used forcefully
to justify the continuation of slavery in the United States of America, the
country from which much of the evangelical Christian thought emerges. The Bible is still used to exclude women from
leadership roles in the Christian Church, even here in Sydney right now.
The Bible was part of the justification for the taking of
Aboriginal people in Australia from their homes and culture into the Missions,
destroying their culture, hope and spirituality.
Is there an alternative?
I tend to follow the Biblical interpretation method of trying to
understand the Bible through an understanding of the text, the culture and
context of the time, and what history might tell us. Being a member of the Uniting Church, our
Basis of Union calls us to “enter into the inheritance of literary, historical
and scientific enquiry”.
I contend that Paul’s world at the time, Rome, Corinth,
there certainly was a significant level of sexual immorality. Sexual exploitation, and in particular in the
context of the Folau references, the practice of pederasty, men were
maintaining young boys for sex. What is
also important from a literary inquiry perspective is there is very little in
the subsequent literature around the word “arsenokoitai” to help translators
understand its use, context and meaning.
There are equal reasons to surmise that “arsenokoitai” may be more
connected to economic sexual exploitation.
Peeling this back further, there are only 6 verses out of
some 31,100 verses in the Bible that some people use to condemn homosexual
people. However, if this is considered
through the lens I am offering, they do not refer to homosexual relationships
as we understand them today. This is
where our understanding of homosexuality (our medical and scientific knowledge)
comes into play. I would suggest that
homosexual people have been in existence since the beginning of humankind, and
why would God create people only for the purpose of condemning them to Hell?
The arguments for LGBTIQ exclusion are not strongly
supported in the Bible. What is strongly
encouraged is the concept of Love, which is mentioned in the NRSV 601 times,
NIV 590 times and the King James only 310 times.
Australia and Rugby have benefited from our Christian
Schools, however, when Chaplains at a Christian school in Sydney within the
last 20-30 years tells LGBTIQ kids to commit suicide so they don’t infect other
children at drag them into Hell, you have to ask is that firstly appropriate, secondly
does this attitude represent Jesus Christ, and finally it adds to homophobia in
sport discussed earlier?
The New Testament, the books pointing to God through Jesus,
is summarised in two principles “Love God and Love one another”.
“You have painted Izzy into a corner.”
This is false victim narrative. The religious conservative movement in
Australia, since the Marriage Equality process have tried to claim the victim
position, often not telling the truth in the process. The current religion freedom (which I call
privilege) debate post the Australian 2019 Federal Election is trying to build
a narrative that Christians in Australia are suddenly being threatened, abused
and oppressed, none of which is true.
What is happening is that communities of faith that have
historically had their position accepted without challenge are now having to
present and justify their place in society, and with a more informed society,
the faith demand for acceptance of their position is not automatically being
accepted. That is not abuse nor
“You demanded that he take down a post. That seems
reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes.”
This is potentially the second most egregious comment in the
article, may I suggest that Folau and the author actually walk in the shoes in
the LGBTIQ community and also LGBTIQ Christians. When they are walked in those shoes then we
can revisit this comment.
I refer readers to my earlier blog article on the man born
blind and the shoes that Jesus actually asks us to consider (and spoiler alert
this passage is not about healing)
“Take the opportunity to forge a new future for
religious and cultural liaison in Rugby. Lead well. Show some grace.”
This one area that I agree, but not in the way I suspect
that the author intended. When Folau’s
first anti-LGBITQ tweet came out I tried to connect with Folau on Twitter
asking that he and some of his friends and that some of my LGBTIQ Christian friends
and I sit down and talk. Maybe together
on a Tongan mat. Unfortunately, I was
I am not sure that it is Rugby Australia needs to show
grace. Rugby Union understands the
issues of abuse of LGBTIQ people and is one of the launch national sporting
bodies of Pride in Sport, intending to reduce homophobia and transphobia in
Folau would have been well aware of Rugby Australia
involvement and support of these initiatives.
Folau breached the code of conduct earlier and was given
another chance. I know the Bible encourages
us to forgive our fellows seven times seven but does Folau have some
responsibilities in this issue.
He has been provided grace.
He chose to reject that grace.
In rejecting that grace, he again has put the lives of
LGBTIQ people at risk.
Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of
religion does come with responsibility, it does come with consequences.
I contend that the author of this article and Folau need to
engage in a religious and cultural liaison with LGBTIQ Christians and people in
the LGBTIQ community gracefully and show grace in that direction.
Conservative Australian Christian blogger Bill Muehlenberg continues his assault on the LGBTIQ community, and is currently focusing on the Transgender Community.
I am becoming quite fascinated why the conservative Christian movement seems to almost have its theology built on sexuality and gender (plus the pro-birth movement) and not on Jesus and his calling to Love One Another.
As has been the strategy of the Australian Christian Lobby, using one or two example to justify excluding an entire community, Muehlenberg has built this current article on the dangers of transgender transitioning to their gender and then detransitioning from one or two stories, and in this case a book review, thereby trying to justify the exclusion of potentially 25 millions transgender people around the world.
Getting good data on the number of transgender people in the world is difficult when leaders such as Trump wishes to exclude questions of sexuality and gender from their census. This consequently make it difficult for groups, support services, medical professionals etc to better understand the size of LGBTIQ communities and their locations to optimise service delivery.
I do generously feel compassion for people who have transitioned and ultimately de-transition, that their life has not worked as they had hoped.
However, Muehlenberg’s arguments are not only disingenuous but also dishonest, and add to the poor level of knowledge and information in the broader community and also in the Christian community.
I had responded to Muehlenberg’s blog on his site, and naturally, any commentary that provides an alternative perspective is not published on his blog – again a tendency of the conservative Christian movement, failure to be open to criticism only reenforces the lack of knowledge and insight of that community of people.
“We identified 56 studies that consist of primary research on this topic, of which 52 (93%) found that gender transition improves the overall well-being of transgender people, while 4 (7%) report mixed or null findings. We found no studies concluding that gender transition causes overall harm.”
In their overall research findings, they bring to light the possible causes of detransitioning, that may be at play in Muehlenberg’s example person.
“4. Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.
5. Factors that are predictive of success in the treatment of gender dysphoria include adequate preparation and mental health support prior to treatment, proper follow-up care from knowledgeable providers, consistent family and social support, and high-quality surgical outcomes (when surgery is involved).”
What Muehlenberg also fails to acknowledge is that any surgery has risks and any surgery can have outcomes that are not desirable for a whole raft of reasons. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons reported in their press release on 10 October 2017 that in 2016 there were adverse outcomes of surgery in 2.9% of surgical activities, which is a reduction from approximately 6% in 2009. So in relation to the case presented by Muehlenberg we don’t know if there was surgical misadventure, which is a possibility. So if these people transition some years ago, not only was the surgery techniques in earlier stages of development, and the rates of misadventure were statistically higher. (Source https://www.surgeons.org/media/25518478/2017-10-10-med_anzasm_national_report_2016_media_release.pdf)
Muehlenberg quotes from the book he is reviewing that “Candidates for sex change surgeries are vulnerable and ill-equipped to grasp the consequences of surgeries on their bodies and the effects on their future. They are easily approved for unnecessary procedures by surgeons willing to accommodate them….”
The problem for Muehlenberg, Miranda Devine and others who are attacking transgender kids is that they don’t have surgery when they are 10, and they don’t start medical supervised drug treatment when they are 5 years old. The trouble again with this ilk of people is they refuse to read the literature and report honestly information that doesn’t suit their narratives.
So once again we have a Christian voice mis-using information, and not being open and willing to contemplate evidence that is inconsistent with their narrative of disrespecting a significant group of people in our world population.
I sit back and wonder, why the Christian movement has lost the key message of Jesus, love one another? I set back and look at the Gospels of Jesus time on earth and see that Jesus is disrupting the religious leaders of the time who are destroying lives, and why can’t those doing the same now see that.
I know I have a plank in my own eye, but the LGBTIQ community doesn’t deserve this level of abuse. Being Christian is about love, forgiveness, hope, and that is not that in Muehlenberg’s blog.
Whilst I have been a Christian all my life, and held and continue to hold leadership positions in my denomination for over 30 years in various capacities, much of the wonder of the cycles of the Christian year have alluded me.
I have often struggled to do the giving up things for Lent, and as a kid, I never had the Advent Calendar.
Both of these are periods of waiting and preparation.
This year, I have had a much greater sense of waiting during Advent than ever before in my life, but more about that latter.
Earlier on Christmas morning, my Facebook posts have been more political than they have ever been.
It was intriguing at my own Church this morning, for the Christmas Day celebration, our Minister chose for the children’s talk the book, “Jesus was a refugee” by Andrew McDonough.
He was getting political.
In the context of Australia, where our successive Governments have hidden people who seek refugee status in Australia, are taken on the high seas, and then moved to third countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea. There they are hidden from the Australian population at extraordinary cost, level without the medical and humanitarian support that Australia can provide. They wallow away therewith increasing mental and physical health issues, many contemplating suicide.
During the service I posted on Facebook that our Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Border Force should be sitting on the carpet steps of our church with the children, to be reminded that the person they so willingly call upon for religious political advantage, became a refuge. Yet if Jesus were to be a boat person approaching Australia, he would be rejected and sent away, and placed within an abusing system.
We should be reminded of what the Bible tells us around Herod attempt to destroy God’s child:
Matthew 2:13-15 : (13) Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (14) Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, (15) and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (NRSV)
There are so many people in the world whose lives are being destroyed by political leaders in our world, famine, war and many other attempts to remove people based on their skin colour, their religion, their gender or sexual orientation.
Yet today, it is our Christian leaders here in Australia, the USA and many other countries who are rejecting these refugees, many of whom are refugees because of past policies of the very same countries.
Our Minister went on to describe what he doesn’t like about Christmas, one of the three being “the baby”.
It seems our thinking was in synch today.
Earlier in the day, on my personal FaceBook account, I had published a political commentary, calling for us to focus more on who Jesus became and stood for, rather than the nicety of the birth.
Many of Australia’s major religions are mirroring the United States of America with a call for special religious freedom, which I call religious privilege.
In the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney continues his theme that religion in Australia, in particular, Christianity, needs special protection by the State. In his homily he comments:
“One freedom endangered at the moment is freedom of conscience and belief. Around the world devastatingly high numbers of people are dead, damaged or displaced for their faith every year because some people want to homogenise human beings, control them, and use power, even violence, to do so.
No-one dies for their faith here in Australia, thank God, but we are not immune to threats to religious liberty. A year ago there were promises of new measures to ensure that freedom is protected in this country; a year later and all we’ve had are more promises… Meanwhile, discrimination against people of faith has become more acceptable in some quarters. There have been moves to undermine the Sacrament of Confession, to defund Catholic schools, to charge an Archbishop with discrimination for teaching about marriage, to deny faith-based institutions the right to choose what kind of community they will be. Tonight, as we join the angels in our carols, both glorifying God and pacifying people, some are demanding we choose between the two. Some want us to put the Christ-child away with the Christmas decorations, so He has no claim on the year ahead.” (source: https://www.sydneycatholic.org/homilies/2018/homily-for-the-midnight-mass-of-the-nativity-of-the-lord/ referenced 25 December 2018).
What is sad, is the misrepresentation of facts for Christianity to move under the protection of the State. Whilst he notes that no one in Australia is dying for their religion, many people in Australia have died because of who they are, and the church rejects, as an example, LGBTIQ people. In Australia’s history, as recently as early 2000s, LGBTIQ people have been murdered for simply being who they are. LGTBIQ people are actively discriminated in Australian society. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney conveniently ignores this.
For clarity, the reference to undermining the Sacrament of Confession is a move by some State Governments in Australia to require Priests to report people who sexually abuse children even if advised of this during confession. This is consistent with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Many religious organisations have failed to fully own, repent and respond to the thousands of children in Australia and even more internationally, who have been sexually and physically abused by religious people.
For further clarity, let’s explore the conversation on defunding Catholic Schools and discrimination on marriage and denying faith-based organisations the right to choose what type of community they want to be. So what is the context here? In 2017 the people of Australia, after the first public vote in Australia’s history on a matter of social and civil rights (all prior restoration of rights have been simply dealt with by Parliament), which was abusive, the people of Australia requested, by a significant majority of voters, that Parliament amend the Marriage Act to allow two people to marry. Embedded in the modification of the Marriage Act were protections for Ministers of Religion not to have to marry two people (as distinct from a man and a women), even if their denomination requires them to, and also protects religious organisations from having to hold weddings of two people on their property.
To appease the conservative right of the Australian Government, the then Prime Minister Turnbull agreed to an inquiry into Religious Freedom. The inquiry was held in secret, the report provided to the Government in May 2018, but only officially released in December 2018 under pressure. The release was forced due to the Government having to call a by-election for the former Prime Minister’s seat when the report’s recommendations were leaked.
These recommendations laid bare to the Australian public that religious schools had special powers to discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers.
The students and parents of many of these schools and society, in general, reacted with dismay, not realising that our Governments had provided these special religious privileges to religious and other non-government schools. Whilst the inquiry recommendation was aimed at reducing the level of discrimination, the public became aware that discrimination existed, would continue and do not approve.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney and other Sydney religious leaders have for months been calling for special religious privileges that allow their organisation’s special rights to discrimination that no other organisations, public or private. have the right to in Australia. The call for cutting of funding for Catholic Schools is based in that context. If Catholic Schools want the right to discriminate, should they not use their own wealth, rather than be dependent on State funding of their schools?
Yet the man whose birth we recall today didn’t want special religious privileges.
In fact, he came to challenge, not only the government of the day but also the religious leaders about the core message of God, which we hear in the interchange between Jesus and the lawyer in Luke’s narrative (10:25-28):
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”” (NRSV)
There are no exclusions or exemptions in this interchange between Jesus and the lawyer. If there was anyone you think Jesus would be clear about any exemptions or exclusions it would be a lawyer, but there isn’t any.
The fight around religious privilege (aka freedom), is not about some nice general principle. It is very targeted. Just as the Ruddock Inquiry was, it is how religious organisations are to obtain special privileges to discriminate against LGBTIQ people. Yet Jesus, having created many opportunities to enunciate who should be excluded, never does.
Jesus is very political.
He overturns the tables at the temple. To me, the message to the two Archbishops of Sydney is you don’t need special religious privileges, what you need is to reflect on the nature of Jesus, his message of love and inclusion. Be prepared to present your arguments for discrimination. You no longer have the automatic right for your opinions to be maintained as fact and consequential legislation in our society. When the Catholic Church continues to call LGBTIQ people intrinsically disordered, in spite of all the evidence, medical and psychological, you are forcing an ideology that is out of step with knowledge and good values. When some of our major Churches in Australia continue to support and fund “gay conversion therapy”, when society knows that you can’t pray away red hair for black hair, or pray away brown eyes for blue eyes, you also can’t pray away someone innate sexual orientation.
Just as society’s acceptance of religious organisations has diminished due to their response to child sexual abuse, they are no longer tolerating the abuse of LGBTIQ people through “pray away the gay therapies”. Yes, you can dye your hair, or put in contact lenses to make your eye blue. At the end of the day, your red hair roots will reappear, and you can’t keep contact lenses in forever and the brown eyes will become visible again. Many people have tried to suppress the sexual orientation to become acceptable to religious people, but at the end that ends up often at best with severe mental health issues, and unfortunately at worse suicide.
Jesus talked about looking after those that are hungry and thirsty, strangers, sick, in prison. These political statements of Jesus are still very real today. Our political economic structure in the west has created enormous wealth for a few and poverty, hunger and thirst for so many around the world at an increasing rate.
Governments are being sued in the USA because the private prison providers don’t have enough prisoners, and here in Australia, I expect in the upcoming NSW State election, we will have many demands for putting more and more people in prison, with no support at all, which will lead to an increase in the perpetual cycle of poverty for them and their extended families, at greater cost to our society.
In the USA and Australia, the conservative side of politics, the same that focus on their “Christian Values” are usually the very ones that want to dismantle national health care for the sick in our countries.
So today, Christmas Day, if wish to sing the joyful carols celebrating the birth of Christ, please do so, but in your other hand, have the rest of the story.
This child is immediately a refugee.
This child grows rapidly to disrupt religion and politics of the day.
If we are to celebrate the birth of Christ, then we must be ready to challenge the religious and the political rulers of the day using the issues and values of the Christ.
I started by talking about this Advent has been the first Christmas when I have had the sense of waiting.
The birth of Jesus today hasn’t ended my waiting. My denomination in the middle of the year, after so many years, decades of debate, prayer, talking, listening, decided that there is a valid theological position to allow two persons to marry. As a concession to those who struggled with this, the Church decided that it would allow two parallel doctrines of marriage, identical in all material ways, with one key difference, one uses the terms a man and a women, and the other two people. No minister was forced to use either, and no parish was forced to allow the marriage of two persons on their properties.
Unfortunately, a number of the conservative presbyteries are using a historically never used part of the church’s constitution to suspend this decision, and in my mind, their arguments are built on lies. Their position is about power. Yes, Jesus was and is a very powerful individual, but his central teaching was inclusion and love. He regularly challenges the abuse of power. The next chapter in the misuse of the church’s constitution is in early January 2019, that is what I am waiting for.
This advent I have heard about waiting, and it has forced me to think more deeply than ever about what this birth of Jesus is all about, the birth is the start of a radical journey.
Jesus was a radical, he was inclusive, he spoke of love, he challenged the religious rulers and the political rulers of the day.
If you admire the baby Jesus, then you are called into his radical inclusion, his radical love and his racial challenge of all those that stand in the way of these two elements of what we are called to; Love God, Love One Another.
We are not receiving a child, we are about to hear about an agitator, we are about to hear about the offending of the religious and the political rulers, offending so much that he was hung on a cross.
With this gentle meek and mild Child, we are all called to be Jesus’ agitators.
This morning (30May 2018), I had an opportunity to attend the Sydney pray breakfast at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. This is an annual event, and one of many such events are held around Australia around this time of year.
The prayer breakfast has many activities during the morning, including Grace thoughtfully given by a high school student, to a beautiful set of musical items by Tash Lockhart and support musicians and then some genuinely inspirational prayers provided by some city business leaders. We also had an opportunity to pray with people on our tables which was very helpful.
The guest speaker, Os Guinness, I had some trepidations in listening too. I found his talk interesting, but in the end in my mind, his arguments pointed to the dangers in Australia of the current movement of the so-called “religious freedom” requirements. I fully acknowledge my own theological biases in considering his speech.
He talked of the grand paradox of freedom, and the fact that one of the enemies of freedom is itself freedom, that freedom requires a framework, built around self-restraint, which often gets washed away over time. When Neville Cox, the chairman of the city prayer breakfast gave his welcome and introduction, we were shown a short video of the late Billy Graham and his extraordinary preaching when he was in Sydney in the 1950’s. When I look at lack of restraint in the Christian movement at the moment, I see one example being Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, who in my mind exemplifies why Christianity is struggling in the Western society. His lack of self-restraint and misuse of the Bible to condemn the other, to support further power to the powerful over the week, is the total opposite of what I see in the gospel.
Guinness then went on to talk about the need to be clear about what one means by freedom, is it the power to do what we ought, is it “freedom from” (a negative connotation), or “freedom for”? Where he talked about freedom for, he indicated this is a higher order, to be who we are, to be the truth of who we are, and knowing that the truth will set you free.
His third point was looking at shouldering full responsibility for that political freedom, that countries win freedom, we order freedom, but we often overlook the process of sustaining freedom. This was the segue to the importance of handing down the concept of freedom, and in our context the freedom that is given through the Bible to generations, the importance of transmitting our faith to generations behind us.
We then received the link to the underlying question, do we know and stand for a solid foundation in a society, that is, in his opinion, curtailing religious freedoms.
He left his message there, but one was left with no doubt as to the purpose and meaning of his message. At the end of the prayer breakfast John Anderson, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, a friend of Guinness, then gave the thanks and a prayer for Guinness. In Anderson’s commentary, he talked about the importance of an understanding of history and culture of our country and the need for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. He pointed out the significance that Oz Guinness had recent access to the Prime Minister, and again we were left in no doubt that this was in connection to the context of the current enquiry into religious freedom that is currently taking place in Australia.
What struck me this morning was the juxtaposition of the prayers that beautifully enunciating the need to pray for and support for the poor and the marginalised, that our business and civic leaders need to use our Christian values as a guiding post to all that we do, and the importance of support, encouragement and learning for young people, against the underlying tone and the means of the religious freedom debate.
You see it is interesting that the churches in Australia have for decades rejected the need for religious freedom and a charter of human rights because they feared that such charters would constrain what they perceive as higher order rights.
Guinness spoke of the need to move away from the concept of “freedom from” which is negative to the “freedom for”. And yet the religious freedom movement, as demonstrated at the moment, is actually all about the “freedom from”.
What they’re wanting is freedom from LGBTIQ people, and the evidence of that is that this demand has come around because of civil union of same gendered people in Australia even though Parliament ensured that religious organisations had exemptions from having to participate in a religious marriage of same-gender people. But this very issue has been the launching pad of this desperate desire of the conservative religious movement in Australia to have freedom from LGBTIQ people.
What they’re wanting is freedom from all LGBTIQ people being employed in religious organisations and the right for Christian business people to have the religious right to not employe LGBTIQ in commercial/secular businesses. They want the right to discriminate against all LGBTIQ people actively. Now I can accept that if a person in a school was employed solely for the role of religious education within the doctrines of that particular Christian organisation, to be constrained by those religious tenants. I disagree with the theology and hermeneutics that lead them to that position, I can acknowledge that right.
But I cannot accept the right of a Christian school to be allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ staff member force being simply who they are. How does this influence their effectiveness as an office staff member, maths teacher, cleaner, kitchen staff? You see this is where the disconnect occurs Guinness talks about when you have freedom for the truth will set you free, and yet these very people do not want LGBTIQ people to be free, they do not want the LGBTIQ people to be who they are as was said when we prayed to be recognised as made in the image of God. They don’t want all LGBTIQ people to have the “freedom for” to be who they are to be true and for the truth of who they are made in the image of God, to be set free.
We prayed for the children in our schools, and we know that in all of our schools, in the secular and the religious schools, there are LGBTIQ kids. And yet, what the religious freedom people want is not religious freedom for these young people they want freedom against them. They do not want a teacher in their school who might be gay and Christian who can support the Christian teachings and be a symbol of hope for a young gay teenager in school.
Rather than hoping the freedom for that young teenager to be who they are, to accept the truth of who they are and to be set free in who they are; what they want, is protection from the state. As governments around the world recognising that “conversion therapy” is nothing but abuse, those who are fervent for religious freedom are saying we want freedom from government interference to stop the abuse of LGBTIQ people with the horrors of “conversion or restorative therapy”, which often leads to suicide or long-term damaging mental health issues. They want the freedom from government stopping churches abusing of kids and young adults, rather than freedom for these people to be entirely acceptable of who they are.
John Anderson let the cat out of the bag, with his closing comments in thanks of Guinness that everybody should have freedom of conscience. This, in fact, is code for the Christian baker beings allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ couple wanting to get married and have a wedding cake.
Guinness asked us to consider the need to be clear and ask what do we mean by freedom. The dangers of this religious freedom movement are, whilst its core is around the freedom from LGBTIQ people, it does not understand what it means by freedom.
What it wants to do is to break what has been a remarkable aspect of our Australian society wherein the commercial marketplace we don’t discriminate. I can’t say to a Muslim because I’m a Christian I won’t serve you in my shop. I’m also a Muslim business owner can’t say to a Jewish custom I won’t serve you because you’re Jewish. An Indian business in Australia should not be allowed to refuse to provide services to a Pakistani customer.
Should a Christian business owner who believes that interfaith marriage offends his faith have the right to discriminate against an employee on that ground?
But this is where we are heading with this religious freedom that my religious conscience is more important than your rights, because some people are so fearful of the LGBTIQ community.
The unintended consequences of this movement in the Australian context is extraordinarily risky, and is more than likely to bring fracturing and destabilising of our society and our economy because they have not thought through what their view of freedom means.
The other thing that struck me with this prayer breakfast was the focus on the Old Testament. I thought as Christians that we are the Jesus people, and yet it seemed to me that in this prayer breakfast Jesus was missing, rarely mentioned, except for in the conclusion of a prayer in the name of Jesus.
His Gospel of hope, His Gospel of inclusion, His Gospel of love, was completely missing when we were talking about freedom this morning.
And it seems to me, that if Jesus were here today, talking and engaging in the religious freedom argument, he would be visiting the people around the Wayside Chapel who are homeless. He would be asking questions of the religious leaders and the governments why are there are so many homeless people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world?
It seems to me that if Jesus were contemplating these issues of religious freedom, he would be reminding our Archbishops, our Moderators our Priests and Ministers of the story of the young man who was born blind. Today he might find a young man walking out of a counselling session at ACON Health. Jesus doesn’t use the story of the healing of the young man born blind to talk about healing; instead, the story uses the young man was the entry point into the narrative.
Remember that it was his own apostles who were asking the question at to why the man was blind because he was a sinner, and frankly how could be a sinner be born blind, or was it that his parents were a sinner and this was the consequence of their sin. This is often the line of the preachers of the those who are seeking religious freedom, where is the sin, however we need to recall that Jesus wanted none of that thinking. The religious freedom movement in Australia who want religious freedom from LGBTIQ people, fail to accept that being an LGBTIQ person is not a choice and not a consequence of sin.
I think if Jesus were healing the young man coming out of his counselling session at ACON health because he was struggling with the abuse from his church and his family because he was gay, the healing Jesus would be offering is not anything to do with his sexuality because Jesus would know that he was born in God’s image, but it would be the healing of the mental anguish from what has been done to him by others.
And we follow the story of that young man when the Pharisees of the religious leaders the Priests and the Archbishops in today’s language, were horrified that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and challenged the parents and you can see the tensions today if you have a gay child there are so many churches that follow exert this concept of religious freedom that says you have to choose between your child and our church and God, and regrettably that child ends up wandering the streets of King’s Cross and is supported by the Wayside Chapel. It was those religious leaders who threw that young man who was healed out of the Synagogue. It was Jesus who then circled back to the young man and said, hey you’re with me, come on a journey with me.
John Anderson finished up by saying we need to understand history and culture of our country to justify the demand for religious freedom. I agree with the first part; we need to understand history and culture, we also need to understand the context of the time when the Hebrew and the Gospel Bible was written. Then we might realise what true religious freedom is, it is not about lying in bed with government to allow religious organisations to exclude the other. When we understand the context of the culture of the Biblical writings, we understand this is not an attack on LGBTIQ people, we then learn that freedom is really about.
What is discovered is that freedom is the understanding of a loving God, the loving of all others with no asterisk to exclude some. We discover that when we help people be who they are, and helping people accept the truth of who they are and then knowing this truth, will, in fact, set them free and all of us free to be with Christ and God.
So Guinness and Anderson this morning I think enunciated the opposite of what they intended, because they fear the other, they will continue to fight for religious freedom to be a “freedom from” rather than “freedom for”.
It is has been a while since I posted a blog – I was honest at the beginning of the blog that I may be a little erratic.
Partly work, partly undertaking some course/study and partly a little of the “black dog” has been hanging around a bit.
I have been struggling to put something together , so many ideas running around my mind, but not forming a coherent flow.
Today I attended a Pride Rally in Sydney. Many of the Pride Marches around the world are the month of June, summer time. It is winter here, and the main Pride event in Sydney is the Mardi Gras held in March, at the end of our summer and beginning of Autumn.
The focus of the rally was to raise awareness that in countries such as Australia and the USA where there have been positive movements for LGBITQ rights, and countries where Human Rights have been a core foundation, however in recent months there has been a reversing momentum on LGBTIQ rights. Many of these backward actions, or attempts to stop LGBTIQ rights progress have often been led by fundamentalist evangelical Christians and the political (religious) rights.
One of the speakers at the rally used the phrase “identity politics”. This has been one of the strategies of that group of fundamentalist evangelical Christians with right wing politics to create the concept of identity politics to devalue people who are different to them and in some sense abuse them by comments like “lifestyle choices” when being LGBTIQ is how you are born.
The thought that hit me standing in the winter rain in Sydney between the St Andrews, the Sydney Anglican Cathedral (a Sydney based denomination part of the Anglican Communion that seeks to oppress LGBTIQ people and provides global leadership on that mission) and the secular Sydney Town Hall, “Where Would Jesus be on Identity Politics?”
Then a number of Biblical stories hit me how to answer this question, and I had been writing some of this without knowing it, but the topic brought these strains together.
During the recent course that I did over two consecutive weekends we undertook a high level overview of the Hebrew Bible, helping us understand some of the context, history on how the Hebrew Bible was constructed and to help us understand it on another level for when we are in a situation where we may be involved in preaching or leading a group.
One book we explored was Ruth and for me through a lens that I had not previously worn.
So the quick run through:
There was a famine, and a man and his wife left Bethlehem to go to Moab, with their two sons.
So we have people leaving their country due to a famine, they are refugees, and they were able to remain there.
The husband dies, and Naomi is left with two sons. This is not a great situation in those days, to be a single mother.
Eventually the two sons married (this may be the only way that Naomi would be able to survive), their wives were Orpah and Ruth.
10 years later the two sons dies, now Naomi had no husband nor sons.
Naomi with her two daughter-in-laws started out to return from Moab.
Naomi told her two daughter-in-laws to return to Moab.
After discussions and tears, Orpah turned back to Moab and Ruth decided to continue with her to Judah.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi was remember, and now Ruth was the outsider.
Naomi and Ruth lived of the land, reaping the left overs in the field under Boaz, the land owners protection
Ruth eventually married Boaz (after some commercial trading) and they had a son Obed, whose son was Jesse who would have a child David, the famous David, and from that line we flor through to Jesus.
In this story, we have Ruth and her sons becoming refugees into a foreign land, marry, and the males die. Then Ruth and one of her daughter-in-laws came back to Judea, and they are on the outside of society as widows, and eventually we see the linage to one of the most important Hebrew Bible people David, and then onto Jesus.
It is important to remember that widowed women don’t have any real protection in their society at that point in history, were refugees, essentially outcasts in various societies, and yet provide the lineage to David and through to Jesus. It seems to me given this family history, Jesus would be very open to those who are different, be that from their race and ethnicity, position in society, we know he walked with those who were disabled, and included in being different are those with different sexual orientation.
I’m finally putting this together on Trinity Sunday 2017, which has a number of interesting lectionary readings. The Hebrew Bible text for the day is the first creation story, Genesis chapter 1 rolling slightly into chapter two. In verse 26 we hear “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (NRSV). It is interesting that the writer didn’t provide any limitations, ie only White, or only Americans, or only Australians, or only those not disabled, or only those who are heterosexual. God made mankind in his image, with all of its variations, colour, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation etc.
In today’s Psalm reading, we hear (Chapter 8 verses 4 and 5 – NRSV) “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” Again we are seeing the message that all are included in God’s plan, there are no exclusions.
The last of today’s readings I wish to reference, is the Great Commissioning from the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18b-20 NRSV) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Again, Jesus is not saying go and make disciples and baptize only the white American’s or Australians. He is saying to go and make disciples of all nations, of all people, and from our reference in Genesis, all people are made in his father image.
And he is telling us to do everything that he commanded him to do, and what is the Great Commandment? We find this earlier in Matthew (22:36-40 NRSV) “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What is Jesus asking us to do, to love God, and to love one another. There are no exceptions as to who to love.
So coming back to identity politics, this is a term which is used by the fundamentalist evangelical Christians, the religious right of politics and the political right wing , to try to demean and undermine people, particularly those who are different. Their key crusade at the moment, is the LGBTIQ community. These are the people that want “bathroom bills” to disadvantage transgender people, these are the people who do not want to allow marriage equality, or to roll it back, these are the people who want to allow people not to bake a cake for a same sex wedding reception, these are the people who want to stop anti-bullying programs for LGBTIQ kids in schools (who have a very high incidence of bulling – and LGBTIQ teen suicide rates are significant multiples of their peers), these are the people who want to create 21st century pharisaic laws for their own religious freedom at the expense of the freedom of others.
So where would have Jesus been today in Sydney, I think he would have been at the anti-homophobic rally today, he would have been speaking against oppression, and speaking for inclusion. I think he would have been happy to have been outside of St Andrew’s Cathedral speaking to those that the religious leaders of today are rejecting and oppressing for their own power and influence in the political sphere.
Jesus would recognise that the “politics of identity” is about oppression, and not about love, grace or inclusion, and in Pride month around the globe, Jesus would be standing with the LGBTIQ community, not those who want to use the identity politics as a tool of oppression.
Recently I attended a Christian conference in Pittsburgh USA, in January and it was freezing cold. There were an amazing raft of keynote speakers and an amazing range and number of breakout electives/workshops.
I tended to follow a theme in my electives of storytelling. This is not something I have looked at in the past, but I decided to look at it for a project I may do one day (which gives me a lot of time!).
But it has also given me some insights into Biblical stories that I now read.
In the preparation for Easter, as we journey through lent, I have the opportunity to take an early morning service at my local church for a four week period. For the first time I have tried to integrate a theme and at the same time follow the lectionary (Definitional link) .
Last week, week three of our journey, and the Bible reading was John 9:1-41, the story of the man born blind and Jesus’ healing. (Link to the Bible Reading).
As I was working through this, it struck me that unfortunately this story is playing out in many churches around the world at this moment.
You see, Jesus left us with a very fundamental set of principles, Love God, and Love One Another. In the second part, there is no *, where at the bottom of the page there are exclusions.
When Jesus saw the blind man (in our series so far Nicodemus a religious figure has sought out Jesus in the darkness of night, and the women at the well, met Jesus and had a conversation on equal grounds), it seems that Jesus sought him out. In our Lenten readings we see three different interactions between Jesus, and in this case, Jesus is seeking out the person.
It appears that only the Disciples hear the conversation between Jesus and the man born blind, but their focus of discussion is on where is the sin, is it his own, but as he was born blind, or it is of his parents?
Jesus response was emphatic, neither this man nor his parents sinned …
The Disciples were stuck in the construct of the day, that disabilities or disadvantage were a response to sins. We now have all the medical, scientific, psychological and sociological evidence of the causes of disabilities or disadvantage. Accordingly, we have moved on from this concept of the relationship between a disability, disadvantage and sin.
So we are being asked to change our paradigms as new information becomes available to us?
The next characters in the story, with a relatively short mention, are his neighbours. As the blind man was an outcast, and needed to beg to survive, he was probably pretty invisible to those in his neighbourhood, and when his sight was restored, they weren’t sure if it was actually the same man.
So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider if we are being blind to those that suffer disadvantage in our neighbourhood?
The next characters in our story are the parent and the Pharisees and there is an interconnection here.
The Pharisees went immediately to sin, because Jesus had healed the man born blind on the Sabbath, so he could not be of God. Theirs is a focus on a breach of the law, sin, and no connection with the man to celebrate that he now has sight.
The Pharisees ask of the parents, is he their son, was he born blind and how does he now have sight? The Pharisees were so overbearing in their community, that the parents were frightened of them, that they might be thrown out of the Temple for declaring that Jesus healed their son, so all they can fearfully do is to acknowledge that he is their son, that he was born blind, but as their son is old enough, they tell the Pharisees to ask him how he was healed.
The Pharisees are determined to follow the law rather than any compassion, and when the formerly blind man states that Jesus healed him, he is excommunicated from the Temple.
So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider, should we throw someone out of our Christian Community because a person doesn’t fit our understanding of the rules?
The final act of this story, Jesus hears the man has been rejected from the Temple, he seeks him out yet again and brings him into his community.
So, it seems we are being asked to consider, are we willing to reach out and welcome in others who are outcast by other communities for being whole and for who they are?
So what is the modern day parallel I am seeing?
If we look at the LGBTIQ community around the world, there are many Christians who are caught up in an old paradigm, using phrases like “lifestyle choices”, or interpreting some limited passages as total justification for condemning LGBTIQ people as sinful and as outcasts.
I think this passage is asking those particular Christian communities to serious examine themselves.
Firstly, as with the first part of this John passage, the Disciples want to focus on the sin that caused the affliction. Jesus would have none of that. We now know that physical blindness is not caused by sin, we also know that LGBTIQ people are simply born the way they are, in the image of God. There is the medical, scientific, psychological, and sociological evidence that there is nothing wrong with LGBTIQ people.
Secondly, there are many neighbours of LGBITQ people, who are like the neighbours of the man born blind, they choose to ignore their neighbours, their needs and assistance and support for justice.
Thirdly, there are many parents of LGBTIQ youth who feel they must ignore their children, or worse, put them in “reparative therapy” because the Christian Pharisees of the day make them so frightened to look after the best interest of their child (who is made in the image of God).
Fourthly, the Pharisees are focused on law and in their case law over love, law over healing, law over compassion, law over community, law over hope. They send the man away from their community. Today, we still see many Christian Churches who reject LGBTIQ people because they focus on what I believe I poor view of scripture and more focused on their interpretation of law over love, healing, compassion, community and hope, and in fact, their focus on law leads to destruction and often suicide.
Finally, we see Jesus coming to those that are rejected by the Pharisees and welcoming them in, and I think the parallel is clear that in today’s context Jesus is welcoming in the LGBTIQ into his community.
There might be some reading this and thinking, no, if there is a linkage to LGBTIQ people in this story, then it is about being healed from their LGBTIQ affliction. The flaw in this positing is there is no affliction, but there is other healing required. I think the healing in this passage is the healing for LGBTIQ people from the abuse they have suffered from society, Churches, other religious institutions, and governments. Just as Jesus made the blind man whole by restoring his sight, I think Jesus is wanting to heal LGBTIQ people from the hurt, pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of others, and from their own hands as they struggle often with internal issues of acceptability from their rejection by so many.
What I am seeing particularly now in Australia and the USA (an in it in other countries), is a group of Christians that are more focused on excluding people because of their interpretation of sin (whilst ignoring a whole raft of other sins), whereas what we see in this story, is Jesus is focused on the exact opposite, making people whole (and stopping them from being rejected) and including them in his community.
Are you willing to accept Jesus’ challenge from this story?
Danish TV Station TV2 recently published a short film entitled “All That We Share”, on their YouTube channel where they state “We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes. Maybe we have more in common than what we think?”
Every month, most churches around the world celebrate Communion, and this video made me think about communion.
Communion can be a little box that is part of our lives. It can be a routine, in the latter part of the service on the first Sunday of the Month (my Church is rather radical, we hold it on the 2nd!).
Was Jesus giving us something routine, or giving us something transformational?
In our busy lives, getting to church can sometimes be an amazing feat, and there is something useful about routine, it is known, it is comforting, it is a known place, it can be a safe space, and sometimes the only safe space that on some occasions we see inside.
In the darkness’s of my life, that routine has been a saving grace.
But, very little about Jesus was routine, and I think with Communion we need to step outside of it being a routine event.
So what do I see as the connection between this Danish TV video and Communion.
I think the timing of this video in the context of the global political landscape is very interesting, with tension in Europe over refugees, with Brexit in the UK not about the economy but the ill-informed using Brexit as a referendum on people different to us and not the economy, with Australia pushing refugees trying to come to Australia out to foreign countries for processing to avoid its international obligation towards refuges, and President #45 of the USA trying to ban people from entering his country on religious grounds.
I think it is time for Christians to reflect on what communion may be about, what might be the radical thinking for Christians within the geopolitical landscape.
The video showed the modern clans of Denmark, which are not dissimilar to our own. The poor, the workers, the rich, the business elite, those we fear based on our imagination of their image, those we don’t know and know nothing about. Yet when questions were asked about life experiences, people came forward from pretty much all groups, except the single guy who responded to the question who was bi-sexual. What the video demonstrated that there is more that connects us, than divides and disconnects us.
What was also most interesting, out of this group there was only one bi-sexual person, and yet he was applauded. I would not expect that this group would have done that in the past, however, having realised their similarities, already being made aware of those that had been hurt by others, he was rewarded for his honesty and bravery, because people were getting the message that there is more in common with each other, and the differences don’t mean very much. He was not a threat to them at all.
When it comes to communion, we are reminded of the Passover Meal, that Jesus spoke when he broke the break and shared it, and raise the cup and shared it asking those to take the meal to remember him.
This was a motley crew of disciples, fishermen, tax collectors, possibly a nobleman and a treasurer. Each was very different, and yet each called to walk with Jesus.
At this special occasion, and around it Jesus was aware that one would betray him, and another would lie about knowing him. Yet Jesus included them all in this meal.
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22: 19(b)-20 NRSV
At the table Jesus included all he had with him in the meal knowing what was ahead and how those around him would respond.
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1Cor 10:16-17 NRSV
In our communion setting, we do not hear Jesus or Paul saying, come and eat, except for the black, or except for the pregnant teenager, or except for the LGBTIQ person, or except for the disabled, or except for the refugee, or except for the poor, or except for the ……..
When you next have Communion in your church, my prayer for you is to think inside, Jesus calls us to love one another as we love ourselves. (“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”) Matt 22:36-40 NRSV
So who are the people; in your heart, in your community, in your society, that you are excluding (silently or explicitly) from the Communion Table and from our communion with life?
Jesus is calling us to be people who are All That We Share. If we are alert to those that we exclude, we may be more able to welcome those that we and our political leaders are encouraging us to exclude, which is the opposite of Jesus’ call to us, and take the first step to welcoming them in.
Will you be open to the transformational power of Jesus at your next communion to welcome rather than exclude?
I have to confess I am stealing, I hadn’t heard this quote until last Sunday in church when the early morning service focused on The Beatitudes.
As our Minister said, there is something appealing about this – my interpretation of what he was saying – none of us are completely whole, we are full of cracks, and through those cracks, the love of Jesus can shine into us, or alternatively, out from us to others.
I have been thinking a lot about cracks of late, although I didn’t realise they were cracks, this Marx quote has given me a concrete reference points.
The cracks that are developing in our societies, between our neighbours, between our families, between and within political parties.
Unfortunately, many of these cracks are not letting in light and giving brightness into our lives and into our communities, but actually bringing darkness.
My last blog was about rising up.
In the midst of these negative cracks in our world, is seems that as Christians, we may need to find the modern equivalent of a hill for the light of Christ, the just Christ that needs to be seen.
Matthew 5 14:16 reminds us:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (NRSV)
In Australia and in many western countries people coming to our churches is declining, yet at the same time, there is a flurry of activities for “religious freedom”. We see this most notably in the USA, but unfortunately this activism by the religious or evangelical right is heading into Australia.
Like many good ideas, I believe the concept of religious freedom is becoming a perversion of Christianity, a new crack that brings darkness rather then light.
I believe in the principle that every person should have the right to a freedom of belief and to change your beliefs over time. However, the modern interpretation of religious freedom, predominately from certain Christian groups, is being used to exclude some class or classes of people not only from religious activities, but also from secular activities.
It was a surprise to me, that during the current Australian Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, that much of the written and verbal submissions to this committee were on the issues of religious freedom as a response to marriage equality. We are also seeing a new push for expanded religious freedom concepts under the Trump Presidency in the USA.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)has been positioning itself as a martyr in conversation on marriage equality, that Christians are being oppressed because of the possibility of marriage equality. The problem is the ACL and it kindred spirited organisations have been trying to persecute certain groups in our society in relation to secular matters outside of the religious community.
I see the problem with much of the “religious freedom” concepts are that
They assume a Christian perspective only; and
The are in effect creating a new pharisaic 21st century law – the likes of which Jesus came to overturn.
It seems to me that the Christians who are pushing the religious freedom angle are forgetting that the underlying principle of religious freedom is the right to a belief. This could be any religion or no religion. This freedom is not just about Christian religion.
One of the key problems from those pushing religious freedom, is these Christians want to take their religion freedom out from their Church to impose their will in the secular world and secular activities, rather than building a relationship for the member of the community with Jesus Christ. This can offends the religious freedom of others.
The darkness coming through this crack is totally the opposite of what Jesus was on about – loving one another. It is interesting to reflect on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) – the religious elite cross the road and did not help. Here was a person with secular needs – medical attention, and for religious reasons that religious leader crossed the road and didn’t help. It was the Samaritan, who was rejected by the society the Jesus was talking to, who not only stopped to provide immediate assistance, but also provided some longer term help. We are called to love each other, regardless of race, religion (and I would add sexual orientation, refugee status, economic status, disabilities etc). Remember that this parable told by Jesus was in response to a legal expert asking a question about how he would enter eternal life.
So I just don’t get how one can use a Christian value to decide not to serve someone who is the modern day man beaten by people on the road. It is also more sad that many of the people beaten on the road, are often beaten up by some Christians, think; refugees, poor people, LGBTIQ people, the disabled people, those who look and think differently to us.
At the Senate Committee hearings recently, when discussing religious freedom, there were only from a Christian perspective. I wonder what outcry there would be if:
A Christian photographer refusing to photograph a wedding between two Muslim people because it offends their freedom of religion.
A Muslim cake maker refusing to make a cake for a Sikh wedding because it offends their freedom of religion
A Hindu public servant refusing to provide services to a Buddhist on freedom of religion grounds
I don’t see anywhere that Jesus is calling us to exclude our talents from secular activities from people who are different from us, when Jesus did the exact opposite and went and spent time with those the religious leaders of the time would not sit next to.
Again at this Senate Committee hearing two major denominations tried to explain how religious freedoms would work in the particular context of a same sex marriage (using the government’s terminology which I don’t agree).
At the hearing they introduced this concept of whether a person should be allowed to exercise their religious freedom to not provide services to a same sex marriage based on the concepts as to whether the services were “integral, direct and intimate”. This led to a bizarre conversation about what and who could be included, a taxi driver taking a person to a same sex wedding could not invoke religious freedom, but a hire car driver of the wedding party I assume could. The baker could, but a person providing, setting up and removing chairs from a same sex marriage not in a Church could not. A photographer could, but a person providing crockery may not, a musician may, but perhaps a sound engineer may not – we don’t know the rules as yet.
This is the creation of pharisaic law, laws made up by man for the purpose of excluding others.
So in these times when certain groups are creating new pharisaic laws, and the creation of the 21st century religious freedoms, these are actually about withdrawing from others, the opposite of what Jesus would do. How do we shine a light into these cracks?
At the moment I don’t have the answer. Our media is being filled with Alternative Facts, there is so much material on Facebook and Twitter it is hard to digest any of it. We probably only see the stuff we like, compared to the stuff we should be challenged about – do we see the modern man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of ….?
I think it is time for Christians to find the new hill, whatever that hill is in your area, and take your light there to shine into the cracks of darkness that are appearing.
My challenge to us all (myself included), in your community, where or what is the new hill that you need to move to (and may need to wrestle to got on top of), so that the light of Jesus, who calls us, is seen and shines into the cracks in our society and our community to bring hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, humility?
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13-34:35 NRSV)
We need to rise up and find a high ground for Jesus light to shine into the cracks.
As I indicated in the side bar – this may be regular, this may be very irregular – let’s journey together to see how we go.
There is a lot of upheaval in the world at the moment.
We have learnt about “Alternative Facts”.
Electors have looked at the candidates in the recent Presidential Elections, and I think a significant number of people thought, one of the candidates is saying some pretty mean and horrible things, but it is just to get elected. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is what he talked about, he is delivering.
President Trump decided to pretty much ignored the 75th remembrance of the Holocaust, and on the same day decided to ban travellers from certain countries to enter the USA for a period of time, and significantly reduce their refugee intake – and only after severe vetting (what ever that means).
Last week, many Christians around the world would have read and contemplated “The Beatitudes” – Matthew 5: 1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NRSV)
When I look at political leaders across the globe, including my own here in Australia, what am I seeing.
Governments that persist with “Trickle Down Economics”, which the vast majority of economist state doesn’t work. All it does it transfer more from the poor to the rich.
Governments that favour business over the individual, be it on property rights (corporate over the community), lack of compliance (how many companies in Australia over the last 12 months have been identified as systematically underpaying their workers?), profits over delivering to the individual (look at the banking sector in Australia that really has not had any penalty for the massive losses incurred to individuals from fraudulent practices of their wealth management arms, or say the insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank where management overrule the medical staff on insurance claims). This are systematic examples of the failure of corporations to honour their side of the social licence provided to them to have the protection of a corporation rather than personal exposure.
Governments that seek to make people worse off based on false information and action (think CentreLink debt recovery program in Australia)
Governments and politicians that use fear of groups to support their political objectives – think refugees in Australia (offshore detention centres) and the US Executive Order on immigration and refugees that is based around countries, but is really an attack on a religion (remember that the conservative evangelical Christians at the same time will be arguing for their religious freedom rights!)
Governments and politicians that are using fear based on race, origin and sexual orientation to enhance their justification for active discrimination against certain groups.
Yet many within these governments around the world boldly state that they are driven by a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ and committed to following “Christian Principles”
However, what I see are government that:
are not willing to help the poor, in fact they seem intent on making the poor worse off
through their actions will see an increase in deaths and more people mourning (think refugees, think suicide of LGBTIQ people, think young black men killed)
through their actions that are trying to have a smaller number of richer people controlling the wealth of the world, leading to an increased poverty globally
through their power, oppress those who are willing to fight for righteousness
show no mercy, think of torture the President of the USA has approve, think of the refugees that Australia is putting in Manus Island and Nauru and our failure to provide appropriate medical care and refugee processing
think of the people that are complaining about the peaceful protests, and I expect as protest around the world increase, the powerful will use non peaceful means to try to discredit them
think of all the people being put in prison, when alternatives could be explored (some countries are closing down prisons, where as in Australia and the USA we are constantly building more)
We are entering a dangerous period of time.
People older than me have seen this before. Radical ideas based on fear, using scapegoats such as the Jews, Gypsies, Gays in the 1930’s – now being replaced by Muslims, Latinos/Blacks and Transgender people (but LGBTIQ more generally will be incorporated I expect).
Back then were politicians and world leaders who thought it best to appease, and to deal with quietly behind the scenes. They even held up a a piece of paper. But that didn’t stop the atrocities in the 1930.
Yet today, we have similar language, some speaking forcefully, but many others such as Australia’s Prime Minister Turnbull trying to appease and work behind the scene. Yet unless there is a different response, history may well repeat itself, just on a grander scale.
There are those that are speaking up – such as 15 year old Royce Mann – in his poem he presented at the Ebenezer Church, ATL, GA, on Martin Luther Day, January 2017.
It is time to rise up, and reclaim Christ’s Gospel:
Jesus called us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the false teachings by some preachers that align themselves and associated with riches, power and oppression of groups (the stand out amongst them is the LGBTIQ community) – the 21st century Pharisees. Jesus tore strips of the Pharisees and they played a big part of putting him on the Cross.
It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the abuse of political power to suppress and injure groups (be they minorities, other religions etc). Remember there were powerful political forces in Jesus time, and also some weak ones, who knew there was no case against Jesus, but he didn’t stand in the way.
It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the abuse of marginalised people. The political and conservative evangelical right are gunning globally against LGBTIQ rights, with a particular focus on Transgender people in the USA and LGBTIQ people in Australia by trying to stop marriage equality. Many governments are withdrawing funding from the poor and disabled who are need of health care, education, housing etc. Jesus stood with the poor, the sick, the disabled, the outcasts, the Samaritans.
It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against discrimination, based on race, sex, sexual orientation, colour of your skin, ethnicity, religion. These forms of discrimination are tools of those in power to stay in power based on creating fear and anxiety. Jesus called us to love one another as we love ourselves.
At this time of the liturgical year – I am fascinated by the Bible readings we are provided with, which are a complete contrast to how the “Christian” leaders around the world are leading.