A need to reject proposed Australia’s Religious Freedom Legislation.

Not being well this month, and working on other submissions, my own submission to the Exposure Drafts of the Religious Freedom bills for Australia (https://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/religious-freedom-bills-second-exposure-drafts.aspx) was left with little time to prepare and finalise.

Consequently it is a little disjointed, high level, but hopefully conveys the key points.

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31 January 2020

The Hon Christian Porter MP

Attorney-General of Australia
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney-General,

Re: 2nd Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

Firstly, I am happy for my submission to be made public and to be placed on the Department’s website.

By way of background, I am a businessman owning and operating a boutique consulting firm, sit on a number of boards, am an educator of company directors, a Christian heavily involved in my denomination at practically every level with a variety of leadership roles, a father of two young adult children and a member of the LGBTIQ community.

It is from all these different perspectives that I have a relatively uncommon perspective, but one that is not unique.

This week, many political leaders around the world, including here in Australia, have been remembering seventy-five years of the closure of Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust.  What most of the media hasn’t reported on outside the horrors of the Jewish Community, is that that same regime rounded up all the homosexuals, Gypsies, disabled and others.  It is estimated that over 15,000 homosexuals ended up in the gas chambers.

Why is this piece of history so important?

We need to understand the significance of othering.  Making minority groups othered and unimportant in a society.

We also need to remember the role of religion, particularly Christianity, that in some areas was complicit in allowing the Holocaust to occur.  Fortunately, some of our greatest theologians come from the concerns, such as Barth and Bonhoeffer, with the latter executed by the Hitler regime.

We also need to recall some of the history of Christianity:

  • Many supported slavery and racism
  • There has been and continues to be, global discovery of child sexual abuse that has been significantly covered up by the churches and in some cases, continues to abuse those people during the investigations and settlements.

UnitingJustice, an agency of the Uniting Church, in their document “Dignity in Humanity – Recognising Christ in Every Person, A Uniting Church in Australia Statement on Human Rights, adopted by the Eleventh Assembly July 2006, Resolution 06.20.01”[1] states:

“We must never forget that people who claimed to be Christians and the Christian church itself have been responsible for colluding with and perpetrating violence and oppression. Our history is scarred by greed and fear and so we have, too often, failed in our mission of love. However, there have always been Christians committed to ending violence and poverty and in the last hundred years or so the church has been engaged internationally to this end. In 1937 representatives from churches around the world met to ensure that human rights were included in the United Nations (UN) Charter and the churches went on to play a significant role in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

It is interesting to note that during a series of consultations around an earlier concept of a Bill of Human Rights, where there were case studies, many of the Christian Churches strongly objected to this direction.  Of the submissions received to build the case studies, the Uniting Church was rejected because it supported the development of a Bill of Human Rights.

There has been a drive by conservative Christians since the 1970’s to focus on the exclusion and erasure of LGBTIQ people.  However, it is also important to understand that the word homosexual was only introduced in the English translation of the Bible in 1946, and a major research project to be published this year will demonstrate that this was an academic error.

Just as the American Psychological Association determined that being homosexual was a mental illness through poor research (which took years to correct and untold damage to gay people), we are moving into a new time, just as the Churches had to come to a view, that racism and slavery weren’t Biblical in this age; the same will happen with attitudes of the Churches to LGBTIQ people. They will ultimately apologies for the abuse for which they are responsible towards LGBTIQ people, when they finally accept that there is no justifiable position for their rejection of LGBTIQ people. 

In fact, there are those that hold the view that the future evangelists of Christianity will come from the LGBTIQ community. Given that they are also made in the image of God and are one of the many oppressed communities that should Jesus be walking the earth today, he would sit down and spend time with, rather than reject.

The Report of the Expert Panel into Religious Freedom[2] (the Religious Freedom Review) created by the LNP Government commented that Australians whose faiths face persecution overseas appreciate the ‘relative safety that Australia affords people of different faiths’ (para 1.13). Importantly that Report recommended only small additions to Australia’s legislative protection of Australians’ religious freedoms.  Yet what the Government has offered is extreme in nature and moving from the concept of protecting an individual from discrimination, to a new and highly concerning legal structure of protecting a non-natural person (an organisation) from discrimination, and allowing both an individual and organisation unprecedented powers of discrimination against others.

Now coming to the legislation:

Enabling Discrimination

The proposed legislation appears to start from the premise that religious freedom is an absolute right, and one that does not need to be balanced with other human rights.  I would argue that the proposed legislation creates the position that a religious right is superior to all other human rights.  This is clearly untenable, that a choice to hold a faith is superior to the actual existence of a person.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18 of the ICCPR[3] outlines the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and section 3 of that article says:

“Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

The Bill agrees, section 3(2) stating that regard is to be had to ‘the indivisibility and universality of human rights, and their equal status in international law; and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights’. However, the proposed Bills provided an almost unfettered legislative right to religious freedom, without balancing that with other rights, the Bill divides the right of religious freedom from other rights, and will result in some Australians being less ‘free and equal in dignity’ than others.

Effectively, this Bill creates of system of religious apartheid in Australia. This will form of apartheid will be as destructive to our society as the systems of racial apartheid used in other countries, that Australia has historically been leading global voice to have removed.

Historically, there has been a significant amount of discrimination built into legislation in Australia, much of which has permitted discrimination against LGBTIQ people.  As a minority group, the LGBTIQ community has had to work very hard over long periods of time to gradually have discrimination against them removed.  However, it has been the trend of legislators over recent years to remove unreasonable discrimination enabled by law.

Some of these have been hard fought, as we saw with the national postal survey and parliamentary process to remove discrimination in marriage; the first time in Australia’s history where a human rights matter has been put to the people where Parliament could have acted, as it should have.

In the lead up to the Wentworth by-election in 2018, the Prime Minister promised to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ students in schools and has failed on that commitment and moved and delayed the matter for additional consultation.

This proposed legislation will enable a dramatic increase in discrimination in Australia.  Much of the activities where discrimination will occur will actually be funded by the Australian taxpayer, which is completely unacceptable.

In welfare services, there is no justification for discrimination of employment, while it is reasonable to ask staff to be supportive of the ethos of the organisation.  The concept of supportive of the ethos should not be used however to restrict employment of LGBTIQ people, people in same sex relationship/marriages, people of particular gender.  The only area where such as exception may be reasonable, is in the area of formal appointment of ministers of religion, such as Chaplains at schools, hospitals, aged care facilities etc, and to some extent members of an organisation’s governing body.  These limited exceptions must be significantly controlled and transparently justified.

To that extent, rather than providing additional rights for discrimination in employment, the Government should work to reduce discrimination.  There is no justifiable reason for a school to be exempt from hiring a maths teacher because they may be LGBTIQ.  Years ago, churches would have said they should be allowed not to hire a disabled person because their disability is a sign of sinfulness.  We all know that is not right, so why do we allow such injustice to LGBTIQ people now?

There is no justification to allow people who hold a religious faith to be abusive to other people outside of their religious setting, such as a taxi driver being abusive to a lesbian couple in their taxi, or a school teacher telling a divorced father looking after their kids that he is sinful as a divorcee, or a manager emailing a staff member that being transgender is not acceptable in the eyes of God.

Some of these would breach any reasonable employer code of conduct today, so why should these be acceptable in the future?

Why is it acceptable for a religious person to intimidate another person, when this is not acceptable for any other citizen?

Professional Bodies/Commercial Limitations

I am currently involved in a number of professional bodies and have been involved with more in the past.

Over time, there has been an increasing acceptance that it is not appropriate to bring private religious material that could bring discomfort or harm to other people into a professional setting, ie that have no bearing on the matter at hand.

This Bill will unwind many years of advancing of good professional practice.

The notes with the Bills provide an example of how a doctor can legally comment in a derogatory manner towards a transgender patient.  There is no justification in a clinical setting for such comments to be made in the first place.

Access to health for many people is already difficult, and the proposed legislation will make access to health for women, disabled people, LGBTIQ people significantly more difficult and put their physical and mental health at risk.

On one hand the Government is attempting to dramatically improve the mental and physical health of people in Australia, yet on the other hand, groups that are dependent on high health care are increasingly at risk of inappropriate treatment, if they will be able to get it at all.

There are no religious grounds for this dangerous expansion of the removal of health services, particularly to vulnerable Australians.

This Government has prided itself on getting out of the way of business, however, through these Bills, wants to interfere in business and ensuring safe workplaces and maintenance of their brands in society.  I note that the Government continues to give rights around codes of conducts and outside activities that it is now denying the private sector.

The dangers of some conservative religion are being shown as states around Australia are working on legislation to outlaw conversion therapy because of its dangers (such acts are being supported by the majority or relevant professional health associations because of their dangers).  Religious schools are fighting to retain the right to send children to conversion therapy.  Just as they denied sexually abusing children, they want the right to mentally abuse children through programs that at best leave long term mental health issues or at worst case, suicide.

Nature of Discrimination Acts

Discrimination Acts by their nature are to protect the individual, however, for the first time, these Bills will provide protection and the right to discrimination by religious organisations.  This is not consistent with the standard of these types of Acts and is not acceptable.

Overriding Other Jurisdictions

There is no justification for these Bills to override some Tasmanian Laws, or to allow religious people to not comply with Local Council regulations with which other citizens need to comply.

Other Matters

There is no requirement for a Religious Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, as the Ruddock Inquiry indicated there is little risk for religious people and organisations in Australia.  What there is a need for, is an LGBTIQ Commissioner as there is a long history of violence and discrimination towards LGBTIQ people.  Much of this discrimination supported by many religious organisations.

While there has been an attempt to correct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spiritually via notes to the bill, I remain unconvinced this issue has been appropriately addressed, and once again Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be disadvantaged and subject to further discrimination.

Summary

This proposed legislation is some of the most dangerous legislation in recent Australian legislative history.

It creates a level of differing rights and standards between different classes of Australian citizens and organisations.

It is unnecessarily complex.

It lacks reasonable definitions and tests.

It reverses the rightful trend of Australian parliaments to reduce discrimination and to improve protections for minorities in favour of creating a system of systematic discrimination against large sectors of Australia’s society, and targets some of the most vulnerable minorities in Australia.

It is without a doubt a system of religious segregation that is no better than race-based apartheid which Australia has been a global leader fighting against.

Rather than moving Australia together as a cohesive society, this will pit Australian against Australian and create disharmony among so many.

Rather than assist with the ongoing improvement in the health and well-being of Australians, this will have a direct and negative impact on the health of many.

If religious organisations can convince the Government that they need the right to discriminate, then they should not receive any taxpayer funding.  Likewise, if health professionals want to discriminate against patients, they should not have access to Medicare funding at all and should seek to only have patients who are willing to consult with them outside of the Medicare system.  Their Medicare biller code can then be reallocated to doctors who are willing to serve all the public.

Accordingly, I have no option but to call on the Government to abandon this legislative strategy and recommence with a Human Rights Bill that seeks to balance competing human rights.  When balancing competing human rights, it seems to me that the innate nature of a person, such as their race, gender, sexual orientation etc is a is given a higher order than their rights from areas of choices, such a religion.

These exposure bills are an abject failure in balancing human rights.  They virtually guarantee that religious rights (the rights from a personal choice) are always held above all other human rights (those that are innate about a person).

The only way forward is the creation of an effective Human Rights Bill.

I would be more than happy to discuss my submission with you.

Yours sincerely

Jason Masters


[1] https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/human-rights/uca-statements/item/download/111_40d235aeb99ba1eb6e46503f5490416d (sourced 30 January 2020), page 7

[2] https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/Documents/religious-freedom-review-expert-panel-report-2018.pdf (Sourced 30 January2020), page 10

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx (sourced 30 January 2020)

Submission on the Exposure Drafts for Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

2 October 2019

The Hon Christian Porter MP
Attorney-General of Australia
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney General,

Re: Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

As a Christian and a gay man, I wish to record my concerns around the proposed bills to enact anti-religious discrimination laws.

In the first instance, I do wish to record that I support the principle of religious discrimination laws, those that are intended to protect individuals who hold a religious belief.

However, while there are elements of a traditional non-discrimination bill in the proposed Acts, the bills go considerably further and consequently create a real and present danger not only to the LGBTIQ community but also to women, single parents and potentially people with disabilities.

It is important for the Attorney General to remember that religion has been used to:

  • Justify slavery;
  • Discriminate against women;
  • Support discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and
  • Obtain legislation to positively discriminate against LGBTIQ people, as examples.

In preparing to make this submission, I have had the opportunity to read some early submissions that have been made public, and I support the principles outlined in those submissions, particularly:

  • Australian Human Right Commission;
  • Associate Luke Beck, Associate Professor, Monash University, Faculty of Law;
  • Equal Voices; and
  • Uniting Network.

Conceptually, the Acts intention are to provide a shield rather than a sword, but due to the unusual nature of the drafting of the bills, compared with more traditional discrimination law, there are significant and dangerous elements within them, very much more sword than a shield.

Rather than necessarily repeating what these organisations have said in their submissions, I will summarise my thoughts:

  1. The proposed legislation is complicated with significant interaction with many other pieces of legislation, both Federally and State/Territories.  It appears that outside of the religious organisations, there was minimal consultation with other communities, including the LGBTIQ communities around the construct and drafting principles of these bills.  Approximately 5 weeks for people and organisations to digest and respond to the consultation is not reasonable.

    It is my opinion that there needs to be a real, significant and constructive consultation with all communities, particularly those that will be negatively impacted by this legislation, so that balance and proportionality around competing rights can be managed.

  2. Unfortunately, that the Government is rushing the development and plans to implement what is effectively a “religious privileges” bill.  However it has not used this as an opportunity to either develop a universal bill of rights for all Australians or review all discrimination bills, and add a religious discrimination bill that are all consistent with their model of operation.

    Additionally, it seems illogical to present these bills, when the Government has requested the Australian Law Reform Commission to undertake a review and provide advice in relation to specific areas of religious privilege and discrimination rights.  These should all be considered concurrently to ensure an appropriate balance is reached.

  3. The proposed amendment to the Marriage Act through the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religious Bill) section is not required and should be removed.

  4. The objectives of the Act need to be constrained to ensure that people who hold religious beliefs do not have a legislative benefit over those that do not hold any religious beliefs.  Further, the objectives should be modified to ensure that religious freedoms granted to an organization or person, do not enable those organisations or people to have a positive right to discriminate against other people.

  5. The clauses on indirect discrimination are problematic and could lead to unintended negative consequences towards whole classes of Australian citizens, including but not limited to unmarried mothers, disabled people (where a religious group’s faith is that a disability is caused from sin), LGBTIQ people etc.  It is my opinion that clauses 8(3) and 8(4) should be deleted.  If the Government is not willing to delete those clauses, then a broader range of terminologies should be included as protections against religious abuse, using times in other discrimination laws such as that would, or is likely to, offend, insult, humiliate, harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence against another person or group of persons”

    As a business owner, there is a balance between people’s rights and that of the organisation’s values, it appears the draft Act dramatically sways that balance inappropriately.  Accordingly, Clause 31(6) should be deleted due to the significant potential for unintended consequences.

  6. The health of LGBTIQ people is something that the Government has recognised, with the welcome commitment for additional funding for LGBTIQ mental health services.   It is worthwhile noting that the mental health of the community is currently at a worse position than through the Marriage Equality campaign, and I expect that this current legislative framework and the associated process is not assisting the community.

    The LGBTIQ community do have issues with many health providers already, who are either uninformed about health issues for the LGBTIQ community, or are hostile towards the community potentially breaching their health profession’s practice codes.

    The clauses concerning Health Professionals are dangerous and will lead to further access issues to effective health services by LGBTIQ people.

    Additionally, other people such as women, unmarried mothers, etc. could find themselves being rejected for services by health professionals based on this legislation.

    Concerningly, there is a risk, that this legislation could override the health professional bodies code of good health practice, negatively impacting the health regulatory framework in Australia.

    Accordingly, I recommend that Clauses 8(5) and (6) be removed from the bill.  If the government is unwilling to remove those, then I believe it is essential that there be additional requirements in the Act for the practitioners to notify patients when making bookings (as well as on any advertising, web pages etc. promoting their services) around any limitations that have in their practice due for religious requirements.  That practitioners must provide a reasonable referral to another practitioner (within reasonable distance for that particular patient and their circumstances).  They must provide all services (including those they object to on religious grounds) if necessary, to preserve the life of the person or to prevent any significant harm.  The related clause 31(7) should also be deleted.

  7. Clause 10 should be removed as discrimination laws relate to a human being and not to a body corporate, and this is a unique and dangerous addition, outside the tradition of discrimination legislation.  For LGBTIQ people, this raises real and significant risks in relation to religious processes such as gay conversion therapy (in its many forms) that have real and damaging impacts on LGBTIQ people, and the lower end being long term significant mental health issues through to suicide.

  8. Clause 18 created inconsistency in the way discrimination Acts operate in Australia and will permit ongoing discrimination of LGBTIQ students as an example.  Given the Prime Minister has also made a commitment to end discrimination against LGBTIQ students in non-government schools, this clause should be deleted.

  9. Clause 27 is unclear of its intent and outcomes so requires considerably more consultation and review.

  10. There is no justification for the Federal Government to override State and Territory Laws in the area of religious discrimination and as a principle clause 41 should be removed.  Importantly the arguments presented on why this clause is required, often referred to as the Porteous Clause is based on false and misleading information.  In any count, the construction of this clause means that States and Territories can readily bring this clause to nil-effect.

  11. The Ruddock Inquiry did not identify any real religious discrimination in Australia, which make moot the underlying reason and urgency of this legislation.  When other areas of the community are suffering through lack of resources, it seems rather wasteful to create a new role in the Australian Human Rights Commission to support and area of discrimination where there is little to none.

    Therefore clauses 45 – 53 should be deleted.  I note however that the Prime Minister did make this as an election promise, so if the Government wishes to proceed with this role, it should also create an LGBTIQ+ Commissioner, which is a community that has been the recipient of long term and significant discrimination in Australia (and globally).  This would allow the AHRC to have informed Commissioners representing the competing rights of individuals.  I would so also wish to clearly state that the rights of a person due to their existence (ie being a woman, being disabled, being LGBTIQ), should always be superior to that of a belief or choice.

  12. Australia has a history of separation of various arms of running the country fairly, and whilst there are times when a Minister ought to have some discretions, there are no demonstrated reasons why the Minister (Attorney General) should have the right to vary or revoke exemptions under this Act.  Accordingly, Clause 39 should be amended to remove that right.

In summary, the proposed legislation does not meet the objectives that you, as Attorney General stated, of it being a shield and not a sword.  It will expand on the already extraordinary legislative religious privilege that religious organisations have in Australia.  This drafting has moved from traditional discrimination legislation to a sword that will embolden religious communities against LGBTIQ people as has been their target for many years, but also women, unmarried people, people in de facto relationships, people of other faiths, cultures, ethnicities and disabilities.  In summary, this is hazardous legislation and will, without a doubt, reduce social cohesion within Australian.

Yours sincerely,

REPETITIVE AND CUMULATIVE TRAUMA – FOLAU ADDS TO IT.

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?   

Communion and Danish TV – include or exclude

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?

“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light” – C Marx.

 

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

  1. They assume a Christian perspective only; and
  2. 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.

It is time to rise up!

Welcome to my new blog.

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.

It is time for Christians to rise up.