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.
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.