JK Rowling and the Transgender Community

There has been some press even here in Australia around JK Rowling’s recent Tweets and subsequent blog article around her concerns with transgender people. On the one hand, she is supportive; on the other hand, wants to put limits.

Transgender flag.

Pretty quickly three high profile actors (Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) from her famous Harry Potter series movies came out extending their full support for the transgender community and politely challenged Rowling on her views. Additionally, Eddie Redmayne (from the Harry Potter spin-off film series Fantastic Beasts) has also come out fully supporting transgender people.

Her defending blog is quite extensive, but unfortunately, like many who hold an unfavourable position to full inclusion of transgender people, it is selective in how it is written.

Rowling does complain about threats, which are not acceptable in any discourse (I know I received numerous implied death threats during the Marriage Equality debate).

Within the Uniting Church in Australia, (where I am a member), it should not need to be restated, but I will, Transgender people hold full and equal rights of membership as any other member within our Church.

While this may seem to be an international issue, News Corporation, mainly in The Australian since July 2019, and to a lesser extend The Daily Telegraph and SkyNews, have been running an extensive anti-transgender campaign. NewsCorp has also been running a comprehensive anti-transgender campaign in the United Kingdom.

There are fundamentally two critical elements of the campaign, firstly the increase in the number of transgender people and children wanting to access puberty blockers and with this, the “sudden” high growth “detransitioners”. Secondly, a particular focus on Transgender women, are they women and should they have access to women’s space putting other women at risk?  The Australian is now morphing its campaign around concerns of people on the autism spectrum and “an apparent correlation” to transgender people.

Part of the News Corporation campaign is to have an inquiry in to transgender support health programs in Australia (as they have succeeded in the UK).  The Federal Minister of Health sought the advice of the Royal Australian College of Physicians who rejected the need for an inquiry and responded that such an inquiry would have negative mental health consequences for transgender people stating[i]

The RACP strongly supports expert clinical care that is non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming for children, adolescents and their families experiencing gender dysphoria” and “Withholding or limiting access to care and treatment would be unethical and would have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of young people” and “Finally, our clinicians noted that there are substantial dangers posed by some of the proposals that have been put forward during the recent public debate on this issue, such as holding a national inquiry into the issue. A national inquiry would not increase the scientific evidence available regarding gender dysphoria but would further harm vulnerable patients and their families through increased media and public attention.”

There is so much I could say, but I want to focus on a few key points that I think need rebuttal, and hopefully an educational piece for members of the Uniting Church and other Christians.

Much of The Australian’s early work had a connection to the research of Lisa Littman, a researcher in the USA that indicated that the sudden rise in the number of transgender children was a result in the term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” through “social contagion” (ie social media/peer pressure).  JK Rowing also refers to her work and study.  Her university initially pulled her research due to some questions on the method and approach, and additional work was required while her study results remained largely unchanged.

There continue to be significant questions on the credibility of her work, primarily through its study method. I won’t go into all the details here, but you can read an academic criticism of the study by Arjee Javellana Restar[ii]. It is important to understand that being transgender is not a mental health issue/or disorder (although many transgender people have mental health issues as a consequence of how they are treated by society, and often by religious people and organisations).

The key issues that concern me with the Littman study are (a) there appears to be an underlying negative pathological position and terminology towards transgender people which is against all accepted health professional bodies and the WHO, (b) there appears to be a self-selection bias in the recruitment of parents which was biased towards anti-transgender social media groups and (c) the study did not engage with the transgender child/youth, which is a concern as there was a very high percentage of parents 76.5% who did not believe their child was transgender. 

So, I have concerns that Rowling is pinning some of her non-affirming of transgender people on what does appear to be a flawed piece of research. It is in my opinion that if parents show a negativity towards LGBTIQ people, children will delay sharing themselves with them. If a home appears to be anti-transgender, then a transgender child is less to raise the issue. When their gender dysphoria becomes severe, often in their later teens and parents become aware sometimes via mental health issues, it then appears to these parents as “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”. In contrast, the child has been aware of this for many years.  As an example as a cis gendered gay man, I didn’t come out until some 24 years after my father had died.

Concerns around puberty blockers have been a key part of the News Corporation campaign, and they and Rowling make comments such as “extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria” and yet Rowling does not provide a link to any such evidence. 

There is no demonstratable evidence that puberty blockers cause long term harm to Transgender children (who are often on them for shorter periods than children with other medical presentation for the use of the medication).  The linked website in the end notesvprovides links to a considerable number of studies that refute this assumed issue.[iii]

Australia, like many countries, has a very well-established protocol for the assessment and managing the treatment of Transgender children, and if you are interested, you can read and download the document. I would encourage readers to download[iv] the document to be informed of the actual protocols and not what is often in the media as misinformation.

Another area Rowling talks about, with expansive language without data is the apparent “increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex)”. But when we look at meta studies undertaken by Cornell University[v]

“Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.”

The evidence doesn’t support the anecdotal commentary from Rowling.

The last thing that concerned me around Rowling’s article was that having suffered sexual abuse she didn’t want transgender women to share space with her. It is horrifying that she has been a victim of sexual abuse and I don’t in any way downgrade that experience or impact on her life.

I too am a victim, in my case of domestic violence, so does that mean that as my abuser was a male, that as a male I should exclude all other men from the spaces I need to be in?

I am not going to suggest that you cannot find an example of a woman assaulted in a women’s space by a Transgender woman. Still, it is essential to remember that cis women also assault women in women’s areas. Commentary from police forces in the USA[vi] that has had long-standing anti-discrimination policies (and the lack of the discriminatory “bathroom bills”) do not record this as an issue.

All gender restroom sign.

Sadly Rowling tries to play down the suicidality that is often an issue for Transgender people. The LGBTIQ Health Alliance 2020 “Snapshot of Mental health and Suicide Prevention Statistics for LGBTIQ People”[vii]

  • 48.1% of transgender and gender diverse people aged 14 to 25 have attempted suicide in their lifetime 
  • Compared to the general population ….Transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly eleven times more likely …. to attempt suicide
  • 41% of transgender people and non-binary people aged 18 years and over reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm in the last two weeks 
  • Transgender people are six and a half times more likely … to engage in self-harm in their lifetime
  • 53% of transgender people aged 18 and over have self-harmed in their lifetime, 11% currently self- harming 
  • 74% of transgender and gender diverse16 people aged 14 to 25 have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime 
Young sad trans teenager boy suffering from depression.

This is why the power of people like JK Rowling is so dangerous, and why we as a Christian community should be taking a stand.

There are other issues I have in the JK Rowling blog, but I will stop here!

Unfortunately, many Christian communities reject Transgender people adding to the traumas in their lives.

We should not.

The Australian ABC Television show Compass recently showed a new film about two transgender Christians. I was fortunate enough to go to the World Premiere in Sydney 2020 just before COVID took over our world. It would be worth your time (28 odd minutes) to watch this documentary.

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/watch/compass/faithfully-me/12258752

I would encourage everyone in the Uniting Church and more broadly in the Christian community to become informed of the issues around transgender people, and carefully analyse the sources and background people present. The Australian and the Australian Christian Lobby regularly present a Professor of Paediatrics as an expert against transgender people. His status sways some people. Unfortunately, he has no peer-reviewed academic research in the area, his field of medical education is not in the area of transgender people, and he finally admitted last year that he has never treated a transgender patient. His positioning comes from a very conservative Christian perspective.  So, titles can be used to confuse and deflect.

Similarly, a Professor of Law at another university, who in research around children and the Family Court encourages courts to listen to Children, but when it comes to Transgender children, he takes the opposite position.  The media fail to note that he has had strong connections with the Australian Christian Lobby.

Transgender people have been part of our society for eternity. It is time they are treated with respect and inclusion as any other member of the human race.

JK Rowling created a fantastic series of books, that my children loved, as so many children around the world. Her, in my view, uninformed views on Transgender women should not detract from those works nor the benefits they have provided to so many children, particularly those that didn’t read until that series arrived. However, using her platform to support exclusion and the rejection of transgender people is, in my view, not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

Jason Masters

Member of the Uniting Church and LGBTIQ Advocate

These views are of the author and not any group within the Uniting Church or outside.


[i] https://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/advocacy-library/racp-letter-hon-greg-hunt-minister-for-health-gender-dysphoria-in-children-and-adolescents.pdf

[ii] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-019-1453-2

[iii] https://growinguptransgender.com/2020/06/10/puberty-blockers-overview-of-the-research/

[iv] https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/adolescent-medicine/australian-standards-of-care-and-treatment-guidelines-for-trans-and-gender-diverse-children-and-adolescents.pdf).

[v] https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/

[vi] https://transequality.org/what-experts-say

[vii] https://lgbtihealth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-Snapshot-of-Mental-Health-and-Suicide-Prevention-Statistics-for-LGBTI-People-LGBTI-Health-Alliance.pdf

Gay Hate Crimes – the Australian Version – A Play

Tonight formally ends Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2020 for me. The Parade and the After Party were on the weekend, but I couldn’t fit in all I wanted to see in plays, theatre (I didn’t get to any exhibitions!) over the 2 -3 weeks of the Mardi Gras season. Fortunately, a couple of plays associated with Mardi Gras started the season before, and some, such as the play I saw this evening, continue afterwards.

My final play was “Our Blood Runs In The Street”[1] put on by Redline Productions, and a beautiful little theatre in Woolloomooloo, just outside the CBC, attached to and underneath a pub – the Old Fitzroy. The play runs until 21 March 2020, and I would highly recommend you see it.

I knew some of the story from my volunteering at ACON Health, and also from that being aware of the NSW Upper House Inquiry [2] “Gay and Transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010 – 57th Parliament.”

This inquiry follows on from ACON’s report – I”n Pursuit of Truth and Justice: Documenting Gay and Transgender Prejudice Killings in NSW in the Late 20th Century – shines a light on the suspected anti-gay homicides that occurred in NSW from the 1970s and 1990s.” [3]

Given that I didn’t come out until 2015, was married in 1995, and hid my sexuality for most of my life, there were a couple of things that struck me.

Firstly, there is a connection for me, not here in Sydney, but in Adelaide, where I grew up as a child until I finished university. The first time I became aware of the word homosexual, I was nine years old, already knowing I was different, but not why, and this event didn’t help. Adelaide University senior lecturer, English born Dr. George Duncan died on 10 May 1972 after he was bashed, his body thrown into the Torrens River, where he drowned.

Soon after my 13th birthday in 1975, homosexuality was decriminalised in South Australian in 1975, around the time of major trauma in my family over my involvement with another boy. My father’s severe dislike for Don Dunstan, the Premier who brought about this change, plus I suspect his own war experience, meant that he was not supportive of this change at all.

In 2020 his murder has never been solved, and it is thought by many that members of the SA Police Force were involved. In the coronial inquest, members of the SA Police Force refused to answer questions. [4].

While this play (and other TV series on SBS) focus on the gay murders in Sydney, there is a history of the same in Adelaide also, and SBS has produced a web series on their summary of informaiton, “Out of Sight – Untold Story of Adelaide’s Gay Hate Murders.” [5] That was my town.

Each year post-Orlando Massacre, people in various places will read out the names of those that died in that horrendous gay hate attack in Florida. Candle Light vigils are still held to remember those who died in the AIDS crisis.

For me, one of the powerful parts of this play was to hear the names and the date of death of the some 80 or so people of the gay hate murder spree in Sydney.

Whilst some of the choreography of the play, I wouldn’t say I liked the overall presentation of the story was compelling.

Excepts of recordings of listening devices of criminals already in jail to gather more evidence of other gay crimes they committed.

The play explored the probably underreporting of transgender murders in Sydney (and Australia).

We were reminded that the NSW Police, in the case of an American student, determined that it was suicide without collecting any evidence. Three coronial inquiries later, the State Coroner determined that his death was a gay hate crime, some thirty years after his death.

Other stories, of bashings and attacks, and the LGBTIQ communities unwillingness to go to the Police because couldn’t trust the NSW Police, they either didn’t care, may have supportive of the attacks happening or may have been involved.

As I look back over my time in Sydney arriving in 1991 after spending time in Melbourne post-university, I have little or no awareness of these murders.

So I have begun to think, who else is complicit in all of this.

First and obviously the NSW Police Force who it appears failed to investigate these (and possibly more murders) actively.

Secondly, where does Christianity come into this? The Sydney Anglican Church was well on its way of being a leading anti-gay religious community in Australia (and has expanded that activity globally). The Catholic Church which has historically had strong political ties is also notoriously anti-gay. While Australia’s third-largest Christian denomination was progressing on LGBTIQ acceptance during this period, there were still strong pockets of resistance, and significant parish have had (and still have) a significant anti-LGBTIQ stance.

The NSW Police and religious have had a long relationship and did the religious leaders in Sydney put any pressure on the NSW Police Force to not focus on these 88 or more murders?

Thirdly the media. There remain influential groups within the media who are clearly of homophobic and/or transphobic. You only have to look at the ongoing campaign of News Corps “The Australian” with its very regular and unbalances articles running since about July 2019 against transgender youth. There were some journalists who researched and considered these issues, but how did 88 murders go unnoticed by the media? If it these murders had been of almost any other group (probably with the exception unfortunately of Aboriginal people) at that point of time, there would have been a significant outcry. But it was only the murder of the gays.

The families of these victims will never have a sense of finality (as the play said closure is not appropriate here, because you can never close of these events in your lives) until these murders are solved. Unfortunately, with the progress of time, the lack of evidence maintained by the Police, this is getting increasingly unlikely. One hope is that as many of the murderers were likely teenagers, they are now probably in the ’40s or 50’s as life moves on, maybe for some of them, clearing up their conscious is something they might do. Somehow, I think that is a hope too far, but we can always hope.

“Our Blood Runs In The Street” is a play that people should see, particularly our younger members of our society, LGBTIQ and straight. Some rights still need to be achieved, particularly when governments around the world, including our Federal Government in Australia who want to wind back LGBTIQ rights. The winding back of rights will inevitably lead to increasing violence against the LGBTIQ community, starting with verbal abuse, and that may well escalate to the return of significant physical violence and deaths.

And it is those same churches, the Sydney Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, and other conservative Churches in Australia that are rightfully seeking anti-discrimination laws for people of faith, but are also wanting a sword to attack others. They wish to withhold employment and health care from people they don’t approve. They want the right to intimidate LGBTIQ people and others in our society. Where in Christianity is the justification for having a right to intimidate others?

These are the very attitudes that were part of the framework for setting up the environment where there are 88 unsolved murders of gay men in Sydney.

This is why this play, at this point of time, is so important.


[1] https://www.redlineproductions.com.au/our-blood-runs-in-the-street

[2] https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2562

[3] https://www.aconhealth.org.au/report_into_historic_gay_hate_murders_calls_for_justice_and_healing

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-41964671

[5] https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/feature/out-sight-untold-story-adelaides-gay-hate-murders

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.

***

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,

Why Women Should Be Concerned by the Religious Freedom Push

By the age of 9 I was struggling at my local public school, and my parents, a railway clerk and dressmaker decided that I needed to be moved to one of the local private schools, at a huge sacrifice to themselves, for which I am forever grateful.

By grade 5, I started at Westminster School in Adelaide and received the educational and pastoral care I needed to get me through schooling and on to university.

During my high schooling, as Dad has finally become a junior manager towards the end of his working career, there was an opportunity for him to take a significant promotion, moving to Broken Hill.  This was only the middle of the 1970’s, but in the end they could not.  I would have needed to be moved into the boarding house, at significant extra cost, but as mum was married, she would not have been able to work in Broken Hill and reverting to one income make the move not financially sustainable.

Religion and women have always had a challenging place, particularly as more religions are run and managed by men.

As a Christian man, I am grateful that I am a member of the Uniting Church, that has recognised that women to have a leadership role in the Christian tradition, and currently our national President is a Women, and now living in NSW, our General Secretary is a woman.

There is currently a major debate underway in Australia around the need for religious discrimination law or religious freedom laws, which I prefer to call religious privilege laws.

The push for these laws is a continued push back from conservative religious elements from the marriage equality laws, and more recently from the dismissal of Israel Folau from Rugby Australia over his infamous comments about amongst other things that homosexuals will end up in hell.

Many religious organisation want to continue with their existing legal right to be able to exclude LGBTIQ kids from their schools (which are significantly funded by the secular society), and to sack teachers of mathematics, English, or office staff and gardeners who are LGBTIQ even though they may make no comments around their orientation in their workplace environment.  As a gay Christian I do find this very distasteful, as it seems to go against the principle teaching of Jesus, the central person of the Christian faith, who brought the faith down to two key principles, Love God, Love one another, with no * with a list of exclusions at the bottom of the page.

The conservative Christian leaders in my mind are currently focusing on LGBTIQ people, because they are at the margins of society, don’t really affect people in the mainstream, and unfortunately many people in the broader society think that now there is secular marriage equality, all issues of LGBTIQ equality have been solved, which unfortunately is not the case, schools is but one example.

Unfortunately, the LGBTIQ community is exhausted from the marriage equality debate, we don’t have a lot of resources, which plays nicely into the timing of the Government and conservative religious organisations.

So why should women be worried about religious freedom?

In an article by Dr Kevin Donnellyof the Australian Catholic University, in “The Catholic Weekly, the Melbourne Archbishop is quoted with a section, “Based on natural law and the inherently moral and spiritual truth evidenced by religious faith Bradley [a Law Professor at Notre Dame University in the USA – another Catholic institution], as does Sydney’s Archbishop Fisher, argues religious freedom should be treated as a positive right essential to human flourishing.”

I contend that the push for positive rights by the conservative Christian groups, currently focused at the LGBTIQ community, is the back door entry point to then work on reversing women’s rights that have been won, but really only over the last century.

So where could this positive religious freedom go in relation to women, a church could if they wished say that within the tenants of their faith

  • Women could not be Principles of Schools as women can not be superior to men.
  • Women may be denied the opportunity to teach high schools classes as boys have moved to men and women can not teach men.
  • Should it be found out that a women has had an abortion they could be removed from any role.
  • Women could be limited to nursing in hospital as that is the role of a women and not a doctor.
  • Women could not be the head of any religious organisation as women can not be superior to men
  • Women when they are married need to leave their jobs as their role is to nurture their family.

It is only in the mid 1970’s that my father could not take on a promotion because my mother would not be able to work.  That was an unwritten secular rule, but those within faith communities can develop old rules that could once again be used to roll back women’s rights.

The above list might be seen by some as extreme, but they were in existence not that long ago.

The pushback on LGBTIQ people by some communities of faith is the trogon horse some religious leaders are looking for.

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?   

Dear former Brumbies Chaplain……

The Israel Folau saga is set to continue, now into its second year, and could well continue into a third, but I am hoping not.

There are so many inter-related issues with this matter that it is hard to actually to get through them all.

Recently, my attention was drawn to an article by a former Chaplain of the Brumbies, with another of the genres of articles it is all Rugby Australia’s fault, Rugby Australia is failing and either because of its management of the Folau issue or the Folau incident is putting the nail in the coffin of Ruby Australia[i]. (https://www.spectator.com.au/2019/06/exclusive-dear-rugby-australia/?fbclid=IwAR1ISBDs9eLSICuQodjHH9n1kItQFWg8286Ol739CBVNE8aNKkJWUSovBVI)

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 community.

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 experiences:

  • Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with marriage equality
  • Commitment 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, 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 before
  • 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 sexuality[iv].

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 condemnation.

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 LGBTIQ community.

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 speech.

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 theological work.

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 oppression.

“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 blocked.

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 sport.

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.


[i] https://www.spectator.com.au/2019/06/exclusive-dear-rugby-australia/?fbclid=IwAR1ISBDs9eLSICuQodjHH9n1kItQFWg8286Ol739CBVNE8aNKkJWUSovBVI

[ii] http://www.outonthefields.com/media/#Australia

[iii] https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/rugby-union/folaus-dad-intervened-to-stop-careersaving-deal/news-story/1da354d9bf3a4f0c7ed1ac8e6091cb11

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11100264

Why do Christians Attack Transgender People? It’s not Love

Conservative Australian Christian blogger Bill Muehlenberg continues his assault on the LGBTIQ community, and is currently focusing on the Transgender Community.

I am becoming quite fascinated why the conservative Christian movement seems to almost have its theology built on sexuality and gender (plus the pro-birth movement) and not on Jesus and his calling to Love One Another.

As has been the strategy of the Australian Christian Lobby, using one or two example to justify excluding an entire community, Muehlenberg has built this current article on the dangers of transgender transitioning to their gender and then detransitioning from one or two stories, and in this case a book review, thereby trying to justify the exclusion of potentially 25 millions transgender people around the world.

Getting good data on the number of transgender people in the world is difficult when leaders such as Trump wishes to exclude questions of sexuality and gender from their census. This consequently make it difficult for groups, support services, medical professionals etc to better understand the size of LGBTIQ communities and their locations to optimise service delivery.

I do generously feel compassion for people who have transitioned and ultimately de-transition, that their life has not worked as they had hoped.

However, Muehlenberg’s arguments are not only disingenuous but also dishonest, and add to the poor level of knowledge and information in the broader community and also in the Christian community.

I had responded to Muehlenberg’s blog on his site, and naturally, any commentary that provides an alternative perspective is not published on his blog – again a tendency of the conservative Christian movement, failure to be open to criticism only reenforces the lack of knowledge and insight of that community of people.

Cornell University has undertaken a review of all peer reviewed published articles in English from 1991 to 2017. (Source: https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/)

They summarise the following:

“We identified 56 studies that consist of primary research on this topic, of which 52 (93%) found that gender transition improves the overall well-being of transgender people, while 4 (7%) report mixed or null findings. We found no studies concluding that gender transition causes overall harm.”

In their overall research findings, they bring to light the possible causes of detransitioning, that may be at play in Muehlenberg’s example person.

“4. Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.

5. Factors that are predictive of success in the treatment of gender dysphoria include adequate preparation and mental health support prior to treatment, proper follow-up care from knowledgeable providers, consistent family and social support, and high-quality surgical outcomes (when surgery is involved).”

What Muehlenberg also fails to acknowledge is that any surgery has risks and any surgery can have outcomes that are not desirable for a whole raft of reasons. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons reported in their press release on 10 October 2017 that in 2016 there were adverse outcomes of surgery in 2.9% of surgical activities, which is a reduction from approximately 6% in 2009. So in relation to the case presented by Muehlenberg we don’t know if there was surgical misadventure, which is a possibility. So if these people transition some years ago, not only was the surgery techniques in earlier stages of development, and the rates of misadventure were statistically higher. (Source https://www.surgeons.org/media/25518478/2017-10-10-med_anzasm_national_report_2016_media_release.pdf)

Muehlenberg quotes from the book he is reviewing that “Candidates for sex change surgeries are vulnerable and ill-equipped to grasp the consequences of surgeries on their bodies and the effects on their future. They are easily approved for unnecessary procedures by surgeons willing to accommodate them….”

However he fails to acknowledge the significant work undertaken by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne who have published the Australian Standard of Care and Treatment Guidelines for Trans and Gender Diverse Children and Adolescents. https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/adolescent-medicine/australian-standards-of-care-and-treatment-guidelines-for-trans-and-gender-diverse-children-and-adolescents.pdf

The problem for Muehlenberg, Miranda Devine and others who are attacking transgender kids is that they don’t have surgery when they are 10, and they don’t start medical supervised drug treatment when they are 5 years old. The trouble again with this ilk of people is they refuse to read the literature and report honestly information that doesn’t suit their narratives.

So once again we have a Christian voice mis-using information, and not being open and willing to contemplate evidence that is inconsistent with their narrative of disrespecting a significant group of people in our world population.

I sit back and wonder, why the Christian movement has lost the key message of Jesus, love one another? I set back and look at the Gospels of Jesus time on earth and see that Jesus is disrupting the religious leaders of the time who are destroying lives, and why can’t those doing the same now see that.

I know I have a plank in my own eye, but the LGBTIQ community doesn’t deserve this level of abuse. Being Christian is about love, forgiveness, hope, and that is not that in Muehlenberg’s blog.

https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/02/10/a-review-of-trans-life-survivors-by-walt-heyer/

What is a Merry Christmas – Recieving​ or Agitating

Whilst I have been a Christian all my life, and held and continue to hold leadership positions in my denomination for over 30 years in various capacities, much of the wonder of the cycles of the Christian year have alluded me.

I have often struggled to do the giving up things for Lent, and as a kid, I never had the Advent Calendar.

Both of these are periods of waiting and preparation.

This year, I have had a much greater sense of waiting during Advent than ever before in my life, but more about that latter.

Earlier on Christmas morning, my Facebook posts have been more political than they have ever been.

It was intriguing at my own Church this morning, for the Christmas Day celebration, our Minister chose for the children’s talk the book, “Jesus was a refugee” by Andrew McDonough.

He was getting political.

In the context of Australia, where our successive Governments have hidden people who seek refugee status in Australia, are taken on the high seas, and then moved to third countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea. There they are hidden from the Australian population at extraordinary cost, level without the medical and humanitarian support that Australia can provide. They wallow away therewith increasing mental and physical health issues, many contemplating suicide.

During the service I posted on Facebook that our Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Border Force should be sitting on the carpet steps of our church with the children, to be reminded that the person they so willingly call upon for religious political advantage, became a refuge. Yet if Jesus were to be a boat person approaching Australia, he would be rejected and sent away, and placed within an abusing system.

We should be reminded of what the Bible tells us around Herod attempt to destroy God’s child:

Matthew 2:13-15 : (13) Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (14) Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, (15) and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (NRSV)

There are so many people in the world whose lives are being destroyed by political leaders in our world, famine, war and many other attempts to remove people based on their skin colour, their religion, their gender or sexual orientation.

Yet today, it is our Christian leaders here in Australia, the USA and many other countries who are rejecting these refugees, many of whom are refugees because of past policies of the very same countries.

Our Minister went on to describe what he doesn’t like about Christmas, one of the three being “the baby”.

It seems our thinking was in synch today.

Earlier in the day, on my personal FaceBook account, I had published a political commentary, calling for us to focus more on who Jesus became and stood for, rather than the nicety of the birth.

Many of Australia’s major religions are mirroring the United States of America with a call for special religious freedom, which I call religious privilege.

In the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney continues his theme that religion in Australia, in particular, Christianity, needs special protection by the State. In his homily he comments:

“One freedom endangered at the moment is freedom of conscience and belief. Around the world devastatingly high numbers of people are dead, damaged or displaced for their faith every year because some people want to homogenise human beings, control them, and use power, even violence, to do so.[2]

No-one dies for their faith here in Australia, thank God, but we are not immune to threats to religious liberty. A year ago there were promises of new measures to ensure that freedom is protected in this country; a year later and all we’ve had are more promises… Meanwhile, discrimination against people of faith has become more acceptable in some quarters. There have been moves to undermine the Sacrament of Confession, to defund Catholic schools, to charge an Archbishop with discrimination for teaching about marriage, to deny faith-based institutions the right to choose what kind of community they will be. Tonight, as we join the angels in our carols, both glorifying God and pacifying people, some are demanding we choose between the two. Some want us to put the Christ-child away with the Christmas decorations, so He has no claim on the year ahead.” (source: https://www.sydneycatholic.org/homilies/2018/homily-for-the-midnight-mass-of-the-nativity-of-the-lord/ referenced 25 December 2018).

What is sad, is the misrepresentation of facts for Christianity to move under the protection of the State. Whilst he notes that no one in Australia is dying for their religion, many people in Australia have died because of who they are, and the church rejects, as an example, LGBTIQ people. In Australia’s history, as recently as early 2000s, LGBTIQ people have been murdered for simply being who they are. LGTBIQ people are actively discriminated in Australian society. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney conveniently ignores this.

For clarity, the reference to undermining the Sacrament of Confession is a move by some State Governments in Australia to require Priests to report people who sexually abuse children even if advised of this during confession. This is consistent with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Many religious organisations have failed to fully own, repent and respond to the thousands of children in Australia and even more internationally, who have been sexually and physically abused by religious people.

For further clarity, let’s explore the conversation on defunding Catholic Schools and discrimination on marriage and denying faith-based organisations the right to choose what type of community they want to be. So what is the context here? In 2017 the people of Australia, after the first public vote in Australia’s history on a matter of social and civil rights (all prior restoration of rights have been simply dealt with by Parliament), which was abusive, the people of Australia requested, by a significant majority of voters, that Parliament amend the Marriage Act to allow two people to marry. Embedded in the modification of the Marriage Act were protections for Ministers of Religion not to have to marry two people (as distinct from a man and a women), even if their denomination requires them to, and also protects religious organisations from having to hold weddings of two people on their property.

To appease the conservative right of the Australian Government, the then Prime Minister Turnbull agreed to an inquiry into Religious Freedom. The inquiry was held in secret, the report provided to the Government in May 2018, but only officially released in December 2018 under pressure. The release was forced due to the Government having to call a by-election for the former Prime Minister’s seat when the report’s recommendations were leaked.

These recommendations laid bare to the Australian public that religious schools had special powers to discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers.

The students and parents of many of these schools and society, in general, reacted with dismay, not realising that our Governments had provided these special religious privileges to religious and other non-government schools. Whilst the inquiry recommendation was aimed at reducing the level of discrimination, the public became aware that discrimination existed, would continue and do not approve.

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney and other Sydney religious leaders have for months been calling for special religious privileges that allow their organisation’s special rights to discrimination that no other organisations, public or private. have the right to in Australia. The call for cutting of funding for Catholic Schools is based in that context. If Catholic Schools want the right to discriminate, should they not use their own wealth, rather than be dependent on State funding of their schools?

Yet the man whose birth we recall today didn’t want special religious privileges.

In fact, he came to challenge, not only the government of the day but also the religious leaders about the core message of God, which we hear in the interchange between Jesus and the lawyer in Luke’s narrative (10:25-28):

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”” (NRSV)

There are no exclusions or exemptions in this interchange between Jesus and the lawyer. If there was anyone you think Jesus would be clear about any exemptions or exclusions it would be a lawyer, but there isn’t any.

The fight around religious privilege (aka freedom), is not about some nice general principle. It is very targeted. Just as the Ruddock Inquiry was, it is how religious organisations are to obtain special privileges to discriminate against LGBTIQ people. Yet Jesus, having created many opportunities to enunciate who should be excluded, never does.

Jesus is very political.

He overturns the tables at the temple. To me, the message to the two Archbishops of Sydney is you don’t need special religious privileges, what you need is to reflect on the nature of Jesus, his message of love and inclusion. Be prepared to present your arguments for discrimination. You no longer have the automatic right for your opinions to be maintained as fact and consequential legislation in our society. When the Catholic Church continues to call LGBTIQ people intrinsically disordered, in spite of all the evidence, medical and psychological, you are forcing an ideology that is out of step with knowledge and good values. When some of our major Churches in Australia continue to support and fund “gay conversion therapy”, when society knows that you can’t pray away red hair for black hair, or pray away brown eyes for blue eyes, you also can’t pray away someone innate sexual orientation.

Just as society’s acceptance of religious organisations has diminished due to their response to child sexual abuse, they are no longer tolerating the abuse of LGBTIQ people through “pray away the gay therapies”. Yes, you can dye your hair, or put in contact lenses to make your eye blue. At the end of the day, your red hair roots will reappear, and you can’t keep contact lenses in forever and the brown eyes will become visible again. Many people have tried to suppress the sexual orientation to become acceptable to religious people, but at the end that ends up often at best with severe mental health issues, and unfortunately at worse suicide.

Jesus talked about looking after those that are hungry and thirsty, strangers, sick, in prison. These political statements of Jesus are still very real today. Our political economic structure in the west has created enormous wealth for a few and poverty, hunger and thirst for so many around the world at an increasing rate.

Governments are being sued in the USA because the private prison providers don’t have enough prisoners, and here in Australia, I expect in the upcoming NSW State election, we will have many demands for putting more and more people in prison, with no support at all, which will lead to an increase in the perpetual cycle of poverty for them and their extended families, at greater cost to our society.

In the USA and Australia, the conservative side of politics, the same that focus on their “Christian Values” are usually the very ones that want to dismantle national health care for the sick in our countries.

So today, Christmas Day, if wish to sing the joyful carols celebrating the birth of Christ, please do so, but in your other hand, have the rest of the story.

This child is immediately a refugee.

This child grows rapidly to disrupt religion and politics of the day.

If we are to celebrate the birth of Christ, then we must be ready to challenge the religious and the political rulers of the day using the issues and values of the Christ.

I started by talking about this Advent has been the first Christmas when I have had the sense of waiting.

The birth of Jesus today hasn’t ended my waiting. My denomination in the middle of the year, after so many years, decades of debate, prayer, talking, listening, decided that there is a valid theological position to allow two persons to marry. As a concession to those who struggled with this, the Church decided that it would allow two parallel doctrines of marriage, identical in all material ways, with one key difference, one uses the terms a man and a women, and the other two people. No minister was forced to use either, and no parish was forced to allow the marriage of two persons on their properties.

Unfortunately, a number of the conservative presbyteries are using a historically never used part of the church’s constitution to suspend this decision, and in my mind, their arguments are built on lies. Their position is about power. Yes, Jesus was and is a very powerful individual, but his central teaching was inclusion and love. He regularly challenges the abuse of power. The next chapter in the misuse of the church’s constitution is in early January 2019, that is what I am waiting for.

This advent I have heard about waiting, and it has forced me to think more deeply than ever about what this birth of Jesus is all about, the birth is the start of a radical journey.

Jesus was a radical, he was inclusive, he spoke of love, he challenged the religious rulers and the political rulers of the day.

If you admire the baby Jesus, then you are called into his radical inclusion, his radical love and his racial challenge of all those that stand in the way of these two elements of what we are called to; Love God, Love One Another.

We are not receiving a child, we are about to hear about an agitator, we are about to hear about the offending of the religious and the political rulers, offending so much that he was hung on a cross.

With this gentle meek and mild Child, we are all called to be Jesus’ agitators.

Sydney Prayer Breakfast – “Freedom From” or “Freedom For” I think they got it wrong

This morning (30May 2018), I had an opportunity to attend the Sydney pray breakfast at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. This is an annual event, and one of many such events are held around Australia around this time of year.

The prayer breakfast has many activities during the morning, including Grace thoughtfully given by a high school student, to a beautiful set of musical items by Tash Lockhart and support musicians and then some genuinely inspirational prayers provided by some city business leaders.  We also had an opportunity to pray with people on our tables which was very helpful.

The guest speaker, Os Guinness, I had some trepidations in listening too. I found his talk interesting, but in the end in my mind, his arguments pointed to the dangers in Australia of the current movement of the so-called “religious freedom” requirements. I fully acknowledge my own theological biases in considering his speech.

He talked of the grand paradox of freedom, and the fact that one of the enemies of freedom is itself freedom, that freedom requires a framework, built around self-restraint, which often gets washed away over time. When Neville Cox, the chairman of the city prayer breakfast gave his welcome and introduction, we were shown a short video of the late Billy Graham and his extraordinary preaching when he was in Sydney in the 1950’s. When I look at lack of restraint in the Christian movement at the moment, I see one example being Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, who in my mind exemplifies why Christianity is struggling in the Western society. His lack of self-restraint and misuse of the Bible to condemn the other, to support further power to the powerful over the week, is the total opposite of what I see in the gospel.

Guinness then went on to talk about the need to be clear about what one means by freedom, is it the power to do what we ought, is it “freedom from” (a negative connotation), or “freedom for”? Where he talked about freedom for, he indicated this is a higher order, to be who we are, to be the truth of who we are, and knowing that the truth will set you free.

His third point was looking at shouldering full responsibility for that political freedom, that countries win freedom, we order freedom, but we often overlook the process of sustaining freedom. This was the segue to the importance of handing down the concept of freedom, and in our context the freedom that is given through the Bible to generations, the importance of transmitting our faith to generations behind us.

We then received the link to the underlying question, do we know and stand for a solid foundation in a society, that is, in his opinion, curtailing religious freedoms.

He left his message there, but one was left with no doubt as to the purpose and meaning of his message. At the end of the prayer breakfast John Anderson, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, a friend of Guinness, then gave the thanks and a prayer for Guinness. In Anderson’s commentary, he talked about the importance of an understanding of history and culture of our country and the need for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. He pointed out the significance that Oz Guinness had recent access to the Prime Minister, and again we were left in no doubt that this was in connection to the context of the current enquiry into religious freedom that is currently taking place in Australia.

What struck me this morning was the juxtaposition of the prayers that beautifully enunciating the need to pray for and support for the poor and the marginalised, that our business and civic leaders need to use our Christian values as a guiding post to all that we do, and the importance of support, encouragement and learning for young people, against the underlying tone and the means of the religious freedom debate.

You see it is interesting that the churches in Australia have for decades rejected the need for religious freedom and a charter of human rights because they feared that such charters would constrain what they perceive as higher order rights.

Guinness spoke of the need to move away from the concept of “freedom from” which is negative to the “freedom for”. And yet the religious freedom movement, as demonstrated at the moment, is actually all about the “freedom from”.

What they’re wanting is freedom from LGBTIQ people, and the evidence of that is that this demand has come around because of civil union of same gendered people in Australia even though Parliament ensured that religious organisations had exemptions from having to participate in a religious marriage of same-gender people. But this very issue has been the launching pad of this desperate desire of the conservative religious movement in Australia to have freedom from LGBTIQ people.

What they’re wanting is freedom from all LGBTIQ people being employed in religious organisations and the right for Christian business people to have the religious right to not employe LGBTIQ in commercial/secular businesses. They want the right to discriminate against all LGBTIQ people actively. Now I can accept that if a person in a school was employed solely for the role of religious education within the doctrines of that particular Christian organisation, to be constrained by those religious tenants. I disagree with the theology and hermeneutics that lead them to that position, I can acknowledge that right.

But I cannot accept the right of a Christian school to be allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ staff member force being simply who they are. How does this influence their effectiveness as an office staff member, maths teacher, cleaner, kitchen staff? You see this is where the disconnect occurs Guinness talks about when you have freedom for the truth will set you free, and yet these very people do not want LGBTIQ people to be free, they do not want the LGBTIQ people to be who they are as was said when we prayed to be recognised as made in the image of God. They don’t want all LGBTIQ people to have the “freedom for” to be who they are to be true and for the truth of who they are made in the image of God, to be set free.

We prayed for the children in our schools, and we know that in all of our schools, in the secular and the religious schools, there are LGBTIQ kids. And yet, what the religious freedom people want is not religious freedom for these young people they want freedom against them. They do not want a teacher in their school who might be gay and Christian who can support the Christian teachings and be a symbol of hope for a young gay teenager in school.

Rather than hoping the freedom for that young teenager to be who they are, to accept the truth of who they are and to be set free in who they are; what they want, is protection from the state. As governments around the world recognising that “conversion therapy” is nothing but abuse, those who are fervent for religious freedom are saying we want freedom from government interference to stop the abuse of LGBTIQ people with the horrors of “conversion or restorative therapy”, which often leads to suicide or long-term damaging mental health issues. They want the freedom from government stopping churches abusing of kids and young adults, rather than freedom for these people to be entirely acceptable of who they are.

John Anderson let the cat out of the bag, with his closing comments in thanks of Guinness that everybody should have freedom of conscience. This, in fact, is code for the Christian baker beings allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ couple wanting to get married and have a wedding cake.

Guinness asked us to consider the need to be clear and ask what do we mean by freedom. The dangers of this religious freedom movement are, whilst its core is around the freedom from LGBTIQ people, it does not understand what it means by freedom.

What it wants to do is to break what has been a remarkable aspect of our Australian society wherein the commercial marketplace we don’t discriminate. I can’t say to a Muslim because I’m a Christian I won’t serve you in my shop. I’m also a Muslim business owner can’t say to a Jewish custom I won’t serve you because you’re Jewish. An Indian business in Australia should not be allowed to refuse to provide services to a Pakistani customer.

Should a Christian business owner who believes that interfaith marriage offends his faith have the right to discriminate against an employee on that ground?

But this is where we are heading with this religious freedom that my religious conscience is more important than your rights, because some people are so fearful of the LGBTIQ community.

The unintended consequences of this movement in the Australian context is extraordinarily risky, and is more than likely to bring fracturing and destabilising of our society and our economy because they have not thought through what their view of freedom means.

The other thing that struck me with this prayer breakfast was the focus on the Old Testament. I thought as Christians that we are the Jesus people, and yet it seemed to me that in this prayer breakfast Jesus was missing, rarely mentioned, except for in the conclusion of a prayer in the name of Jesus.

His Gospel of hope, His Gospel of inclusion, His Gospel of love, was completely missing when we were talking about freedom this morning.

And it seems to me, that if Jesus were here today, talking and engaging in the religious freedom argument, he would be visiting the people around the Wayside Chapel who are homeless. He would be asking questions of the religious leaders and the governments why are there are so many homeless people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world?

It seems to me that if Jesus were contemplating these issues of religious freedom, he would be reminding our Archbishops, our Moderators our Priests and Ministers of the story of the young man who was born blind. Today he might find a young man walking out of a counselling session at ACON Health. Jesus doesn’t use the story of the healing of the young man born blind to talk about healing; instead, the story uses the young man was the entry point into the narrative.

Remember that it was his own apostles who were asking the question at to why the man was blind because he was a sinner, and frankly how could be a sinner be born blind, or was it that his parents were a sinner and this was the consequence of their sin. This is often the line of the preachers of the those who are seeking religious freedom, where is the sin, however we need to recall that Jesus wanted none of that thinking. The religious freedom movement in Australia who want religious freedom from LGBTIQ people, fail to accept that being an LGBTIQ person is not a choice and not a consequence of sin.

I think if Jesus were healing the young man coming out of his counselling session at ACON health because he was struggling with the abuse from his church and his family because he was gay, the healing Jesus would be offering is not anything to do with his sexuality because Jesus would know that he was born in God’s image, but it would be the healing of the mental anguish from what has been done to him by others.

And we follow the story of that young man when the Pharisees of the religious leaders the Priests and the Archbishops in today’s language, were horrified that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and challenged the parents and you can see the tensions today if you have a gay child there are so many churches that follow exert this concept of religious freedom that says you have to choose between your child and our church and God, and regrettably that child ends up wandering the streets of King’s Cross and is supported by the Wayside Chapel. It was those religious leaders who threw that young man who was healed out of the Synagogue. It was Jesus who then circled back to the young man and said, hey you’re with me, come on a journey with me.

John Anderson finished up by saying we need to understand history and culture of our country to justify the demand for religious freedom. I agree with the first part; we need to understand history and culture, we also need to understand the context of the time when the Hebrew and the Gospel Bible was written. Then we might realise what true religious freedom is, it is not about lying in bed with government to allow religious organisations to exclude the other. When we understand the context of the culture of the Biblical writings, we understand this is not an attack on LGBTIQ people, we then learn that freedom is really about.

What is discovered is that freedom is the understanding of a loving God, the loving of all others with no asterisk to exclude some. We discover that when we help people be who they are, and helping people accept the truth of who they are and then knowing this truth, will, in fact, set them free and all of us free to be with Christ and God.

So Guinness and Anderson this morning I think enunciated the opposite of what they intended, because they fear the other, they will continue to fight for religious freedom to be a “freedom from” rather than “freedom for”.