Trigger Warning: Includes Sexual Assult, Domestic and Family Violence
Since the last NSW/ACT Synod meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia, I have been thinking about the fantastic journey we are starting. One of the primary focuses is on people in their first third of life.
My meandering mind has also been looking at what lessons we should be learning from the COVID Pandemic.
I have been frustrated by many of our political leaders whose calling cry has been for the return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible, whatever normal is.
The old normal was one of the defining factors for the spread and response issues to the pandemic. However, that is another long topic.
We have seen social construct issues through this pandemic as our society has become more I-focused rather than We-focused on. Jesus has been the clarion call for society being we focused, as seen in his clear summary to love one another.
As a church, we have to be challenging the old normal and provide leadership as part of the pandemic recovery to drive a better balance in society. This would be across areas such as distribution of wealth, access to health care (of all forms) everywhere, improving social connectedness, thinking of the people on the margins, either due to race, disability, being in prison, about homes for the homeless, health, drug additions etc. With this is ethical decision-making of governments, being driven by lobbyists and organisations with the largest donations for influence.
As we reach out to people in their first third of life through evangelism, social justice activities, community engagement etc., I think our old normal may no longer be acceptable, relevant or useful. Do we need to develop something new? What are some of the old normals we need to contemplate and change our ways, thinking, etc.?
1. They know about Child Sexual Abuse
The people we are reaching out to, the youth, are very are aware of the recent history of child sexual abuse within religious organisations. The Uniting Church has not been immune from this. However, we have confronted our past with more integrity and a more victim-centred approach, but not perfectly.
Unfortunately, other denominations are still dealing with this horror. Often with a reputation of not dealing with victims ethically and campaigning against laws to make notification of child sexual abuse mandatory. Further, many younger people see that there has not been any real consequence around the years of abuse on children.
So, in moving forward with the younger generation, how prepared are we to talk about our past and that of the broader Christian Church in Australia and its horrendous impact on young people? What do we offer them now?
2. They know about Sexual Assault
2021 will go down as the year that sexual assault in our community gains much more comprehensive visibility. This visibility has come via the appointment of Grace Tame, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, as Australian of the Year. Brittany Higgins who was raped in our Federal Parliament House. And finally, Chanel Contos’ whose survey identified the significant amount of sexual abuse that high school students have suffered (primarily in Sydney in the initial study), often in our wealthy private schools.
Our younger people are getting important information on sexual assault from many leading shows such as ’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘Riverdale’ on Netflix, and other series such as ‘Why’, ‘Skam’, ‘Split’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Skins’ and ‘Euphoria’. The video below by YouTube content creator ravenclaw’s has drawn together a montage from these shows, which I have blended with another from creator zoe edits. This video also incorporated the sexual assault of young men. (Trigger Warning on the video content, sexual violence and graphic discussion).
In the 13 Reasons Why scene where Tyler tells Clay how he was raped, we see Clay’s consent to approach and touch Tyler, the victim. Many of our religious leaders fail on this essential step.
Further, Christian leaders have a history of saying to victims, focus on forgiving your attacker as well as forget it and get over it.
Importantly, Contos’s study brought into the public domain that our youth believe relationship and sex education in NSW schools is woefully inadequate. Our youth see Christian leaders have played a significant role in limiting relationship and sex education in NSW schools. Parents can withdraw their children from even this minimal education.
Mark Latham’s One Nation Party has a bill in the NSW Parliament to expand parents rights to withdraw their child from any lesson they view a controversial. This could include, for example, Aboriginal History that he sees as controversial. This bill has the strong support of many Christian denominations and Christian advocates.
So when our young people want to have robust, informed and detailed discussions on relationships and sexuality, how do we overcome what they perceive is irrelevant and 18th-century thinking and ideologies from Christians?
3. They know about Domestic and Family Violence
Our younger people are a lot more alert to the issues of domestic and family violence. Fortunately, at an earlier national Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, this has been recognised. As a result, a significant reflection on domestic and family violence within the Uniting Church is underway.
However, many young people still hear Christians saying that victims of domestic and family violence should remain in their marriages or families. They hear that, above all, they should forgive the abuser rather than seek refuge and safety. Unfortunately, too many young people have already had their lives devastated by domestic and family violence.
The broader Christian churches have a history of being on the side of the abuser rather than the victims.
So as we reach out to people in the first third of life, how do we demonstrate the reality of our recognition of domestic and family violence to those who are victims, know victims, or are socially aware of these issues our role in this area in the past?
4. They have Friends and Relatives who are LGBTIQ
Most young people will know someone who is LGBTIQ and realise that, unlike the views of many Christians, they are not inherently disordered and sinful people. The majority also expect that LGBTIQ people can marry a person of their choosing.
Their experience of LGBTIQ people is often one of two, either an LGBTIQ person with a level of depression or joyfulness.
For those that suffer depression, this often stems from their family, usually based on religious dogma.
The other end is a fully alive, joyful and engaging person. Their families and friends fully accept them without any reservation.
They hear the Christian message of love for one another but see the lack of love and inclusion of LGBTIQ people in most churches. Often the only time they hear of churches is where there is some negative view towards LGBTIQ people, based on exclusion rather than inclusion.
Further, they are aware that the Mark Latham “parental right’s bill” which has support from some in the NSW Government, is designed to ensure that transgender and gender diverse kids in our schools are erased. The proposed legislation will have the effect that if a school staff member provides any support to a transgender or gender diverse child they will be sacked. If that person is also a teacher they will have their teachers license revoked. The majority of support for this bill has come from Christian churches, other faiths and Christian lobby groups.
So how do we reach out to young people in our societies and communities when even within the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT when outr congregations don’t have a consistent position around LGBTIQ people?
The risk is that due to that inconsistency, when young people may have doubts about their safety for themselves or their friends about a local congregation, they may never engage.
As we in the Uniting Church NSW/ACT start executing this first third of life strategy, just as with COVID, I believe our old normal will not cut the mustard. We need to consider developing a new construct and consider if our theology is still sound as we navigate this vital mission?
I don’t have the answers now, but I know these are the questions we need to consider.
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” 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  “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.” 
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. .
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.”  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.
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
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” 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 (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:
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 outlines
the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and section 3 of that
“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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
I would be more than happy to discuss my submission with you.
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
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:
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
Associate Luke Beck, Associate Professor,
Monash University, Faculty of Law;
Equal Voices; and
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
Rather than necessarily repeating what
these organisations have said in their submissions, I will summarise my
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Clause 27 is unclear of its
intent and outcomes so requires considerably more consultation and review.
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.
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.
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.
Warning this is a long blog, as responding to short blog that may seem to be inconsequential by that author, but it needs detailed consideration, analysis and an appreciation of nuance, which unfortunately many who want to attack LGBTIQ people wish to avoid.
So, get a cup or a mug of coffee or tea, with your favourite biscuit and settle in for a read!
I propose to respond to the key challenges and issues with this article and why there are other perspectives that I personally believe is more important and more valid.
But as a refresher, I am an active Christian, with multiple
leadership roles in one of the largest Christian denominations in
Australia. And for transparency, I am
also gay. This means that I regularly
struggle for acceptance within the broader Christian community, and because of
the harm that Christians have caused to the LGBTIQ community, sometimes treated
with caution within the LGBTIQ community.
Let’s start with some broader context.
Some years ago, the Out on the Field study, one of the first and most extensive studies of homophobia in sport, it involved many countries and identified significant homophobia within the sporting community[ii].
80% of participants in the study experienced or
witnessed homophobia in sport.
75% of participants in the study believe that an
openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event
34% gay of participants in the study have been
bullied, 27% of gay participants have received verbal threats, and 15% of gay
participants have been physically assaulted
70% of gay youth (under 22) believe youth sport
is not safe for gay people
I would encourage readers of this blog to read the report in
detail. A link is in the endnotes.
This follows on from years of gay bashings, LGBTIQ people suffering discrimination in all types of situations. In the Australian context, we know that LGBTIQ kids can currently be discriminated in non-Government schools in Australia, and many religious organisation are fighting for the retention of this right of discrimination, under the guise of religious freedom.
I recently had some conversations with several leaders
within my Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma.
I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue
for many in the Aboriginal community. There are those among us and within the
media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the
Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities
are then made to feel at fault.
I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma
within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child
sexual abuse’. Firstly, they were
abused. Then when they told someone, it
is unlikely they were believed. Later
(if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities),
they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities
interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them.
Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their
stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked
to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.
Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if
the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media
interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma. They are being repeatedly traumatised.
While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues
discussed above, they have a parallel.
As I journey through writing my book coming out early next year, “A
Journey Towards Acceptance – an evolving memoir”, I have seen the impacts of
little events and challenges along the way.
These little things cumulate.
When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter,
there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s
posts. But there are. We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke
the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ
The last few years have been huge for LGBTIQ advocates, and
from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the
previous three to five years have been the most intense in a long time. In just the recent few years my own
Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with
Commitment to stop the plebiscite on marriage
Campaigning for marriage quality through the
postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats,
and many other horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die”
Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017
Continuing the momentum during the marriage
equality debates in Parliament
Engaging with the Church process around
same-gender marriage decision
Advocating during the attempts to delay the
Assembly decision through a clause in the Church’s constitution never used
Supporting transgender people’s rights who have
received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners
Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is
now into its second year
Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry
into Religious Freedom
Responding to misinformation by so many around
Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession
(usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge),
and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election
Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law
Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them
Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on
LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area
Post the 2019 Federal election I am seeing an
increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent
election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the
conservative Christian Churches and associated lobby groups who feel they are
owed something from the return of the Government.
So, this is some of the context that brings me to the
writing of this particular blog. I have
selected some quotes from the blog, and offer an alternative perspective that I
believe better meets the sporting arena and also a Christian reflection.
“It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants
to play Rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his
social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social
media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window.“.
It is always challenging to comment upon “it is reported”
without actually providing a reference.
The Australian reported on 2 June 2019[iii]
that “Israel Folau was set to accept a deal with Rugby Australia that would
have saved his job until his father intervened to stop him, according to a
report out today.”
Folau first fell foul of his social media roughly 12 months
earlier than this current incident that led to his contract being
terminated. Surely, he should have taken
on the process of social media education after Rugby Australia provided him
with a lifeline from that earlier incident.
He was provided with a window, and he decided to smash it.
“You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel
was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose.”
This is one of the most egregious points in this article and
shows a lack of understanding of social media and its reach.
Many young people follow their stars from a very young
age. What we know from research that
from around the age of 10 is the age of development of sexual attraction and
Therefore, a young person may be following their idol not
being fully aware of their sexual orientation, and then as that awareness
develops, they are still pursuing their hero, who then posts messages of
I know that Christians like Folau sincerely believe that
they are loving homosexuals by telling them unless they repent, they are going
to Hell, and unfortunately, there are many that support of his position. However, this is why LGBITQ teenagers are
significantly over-represented as homeless people, why LGBTIQ people attempt
self-harm and suicide many multiple times more than compared to their
peers. The Folau comments are not
“love”, they are based, in my opinion, on a prejudice that is not substantially
supported through Biblical enquiry, nor following the principles of the key
person they purport to represent, Jesus Christ.
The issue is that a post like Folou’s may be unlikely that
this is the first and only message that may cause a suicidal event (but it is
possible), but it may well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s
back, leading to suicide.
When LGBTIQ have suffered, and continue to suffer abuse, you
don’t know whether your minor comment can cause a catastrophic effect. Folau’s post was not a minor comment, but the
continuation of misuse of the Bible and a history of Christian attacks on the
Even the Liberal Government recognised in the last Federal Election
that there are significant mental health issues in the LGBTIQ community. These mental health issues are not because people
are LGBTIQ, but as a result of the response of others towards LGBTIQ people.
“What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a
warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love.
You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.”
I wonder if the author has ever experienced actual hate
speech. They may well have, but if they
had, I am surprised they would make this comment.
I have suffered hate speech, I have been racially abused,
which may seem strange given that I am a white male Australian. The tribunal dealing with the matter was
following the protocols used in these type matters.
The accused in the hearing kept saying it wasn’t hate
speech, but I, as the recipient of the hate speech, knew and felt it was hate
It is a common position of conservative Christians in their
interaction with LGBTIQ people that their comments, no matter how
inappropriate, no matter how theologically dubious they are, if you add the
clause “the comments were made in love”, all is alright.
When you are telling anyone that they are going to Hell
simply because of the way they were born is abuse. The more subtle abuse is to say being LGBTIQ
is not sinful, but acting on your natural sexuality is. God doesn’t call people to celibacy, it is acknowledged
it is a very hard calling and only a few are called, there is no blanket call to
celibacy for a class of people in society.
Imagine you are a 15-year-old person, perhaps even playing
in your school or local rugby club, coming to acceptance of your sexual
orientation, knowing that others will cause you grief, and then your idol tells
you that you are going to Hell? That is
not a great scenario for any young person.
Yes, I’ve seen hate speech, both hate speech towards LGBTIQ
people and myself, and other forms of hate speech, and the Folau social media
post meets that threshold.
Most concerning is that if this author is a Chaplain, I am very
concerned about their capability to provide adequate pastoral care to people
who are “others” in our society, if they seriously maintain that Folau’s
comments are not a form of hate speech.
“Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your
player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian
brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and
other church school teams?”
There is much to talk about theology and its understanding
across all our communities. In my
business life, church life and theological education, when I have provided a
different theological interpretation that makes sense, most people respond, why
haven’t I heard this?
That’s because many religious leaders will only provide
their congregations with a view that suits their theology, rather than having
the strength of their own understanding to explore with their congregants a
wide variety of interpretations to develop their own robust theology.
As we research cultural history, we understand that in so
many countries and cultures, LGBTIQ people were accepted, and the English
colonisation and its Victorian perspectives on sexuality and associate laws
removed the acceptance of LGBTIQ people.
As a significant number of Western countries have recognised that damage
imposed on LGBTIQ people by laws and societal attitudes, unfortunately, many of
the colonies are only starting to follow these reforms.
Most people in Australia would be shocked to learn that the
first time the word homosexual appeared in the English versions of the Bible
was in the Revised Standard Version in 1946.
More concerningly is that research that has been underway for the last
several years on the translation of the RSV and the subsequent NIV Bible is
indicating that no serious academic translation work was undertaken around its
introduction. This research project is
expected to be published in the USA later this year. Some have argued that the translation of
“arsenokoitai” and “malakos”, as one-word “homosexual” was driven through a
cultural lens and an ideological construct rather than detailed academic and
So, the word homosexual hasn’t been a lifelong word in the
English translations of the Bible.
If we look the various translations of Folau’s selected
versions, the New Revised Standard Version uses “male prostitutes”, the New
Living Translation also uses “male prostitutes”, but then adds “or practice
homosexuality”, the King James Version uses “nor effeminate, nor abuses of
themselves with mankind”, and the NIV translates as “nor men who have sex with
men.” We clearly have translational
issues. Do we use a version of the Bible
that fits our cultural and ideological perspective?
So how do we move forward with this? We can take a literal view, and rely on our
preferred translation of the Bible, for a construct we wish to achieve, but
unfortunately, this leads to issues around consistency. Remember, that the Bible was used forcefully
to justify the continuation of slavery in the United States of America, the
country from which much of the evangelical Christian thought emerges. The Bible is still used to exclude women from
leadership roles in the Christian Church, even here in Sydney right now.
The Bible was part of the justification for the taking of
Aboriginal people in Australia from their homes and culture into the Missions,
destroying their culture, hope and spirituality.
Is there an alternative?
I tend to follow the Biblical interpretation method of trying to
understand the Bible through an understanding of the text, the culture and
context of the time, and what history might tell us. Being a member of the Uniting Church, our
Basis of Union calls us to “enter into the inheritance of literary, historical
and scientific enquiry”.
I contend that Paul’s world at the time, Rome, Corinth,
there certainly was a significant level of sexual immorality. Sexual exploitation, and in particular in the
context of the Folau references, the practice of pederasty, men were
maintaining young boys for sex. What is
also important from a literary inquiry perspective is there is very little in
the subsequent literature around the word “arsenokoitai” to help translators
understand its use, context and meaning.
There are equal reasons to surmise that “arsenokoitai” may be more
connected to economic sexual exploitation.
Peeling this back further, there are only 6 verses out of
some 31,100 verses in the Bible that some people use to condemn homosexual
people. However, if this is considered
through the lens I am offering, they do not refer to homosexual relationships
as we understand them today. This is
where our understanding of homosexuality (our medical and scientific knowledge)
comes into play. I would suggest that
homosexual people have been in existence since the beginning of humankind, and
why would God create people only for the purpose of condemning them to Hell?
The arguments for LGBTIQ exclusion are not strongly
supported in the Bible. What is strongly
encouraged is the concept of Love, which is mentioned in the NRSV 601 times,
NIV 590 times and the King James only 310 times.
Australia and Rugby have benefited from our Christian
Schools, however, when Chaplains at a Christian school in Sydney within the
last 20-30 years tells LGBTIQ kids to commit suicide so they don’t infect other
children at drag them into Hell, you have to ask is that firstly appropriate, secondly
does this attitude represent Jesus Christ, and finally it adds to homophobia in
sport discussed earlier?
The New Testament, the books pointing to God through Jesus,
is summarised in two principles “Love God and Love one another”.
“You have painted Izzy into a corner.”
This is false victim narrative. The religious conservative movement in
Australia, since the Marriage Equality process have tried to claim the victim
position, often not telling the truth in the process. The current religion freedom (which I call
privilege) debate post the Australian 2019 Federal Election is trying to build
a narrative that Christians in Australia are suddenly being threatened, abused
and oppressed, none of which is true.
What is happening is that communities of faith that have
historically had their position accepted without challenge are now having to
present and justify their place in society, and with a more informed society,
the faith demand for acceptance of their position is not automatically being
accepted. That is not abuse nor
“You demanded that he take down a post. That seems
reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes.”
This is potentially the second most egregious comment in the
article, may I suggest that Folau and the author actually walk in the shoes in
the LGBTIQ community and also LGBTIQ Christians. When they are walked in those shoes then we
can revisit this comment.
I refer readers to my earlier blog article on the man born
blind and the shoes that Jesus actually asks us to consider (and spoiler alert
this passage is not about healing)
“Take the opportunity to forge a new future for
religious and cultural liaison in Rugby. Lead well. Show some grace.”
This one area that I agree, but not in the way I suspect
that the author intended. When Folau’s
first anti-LGBITQ tweet came out I tried to connect with Folau on Twitter
asking that he and some of his friends and that some of my LGBTIQ Christian friends
and I sit down and talk. Maybe together
on a Tongan mat. Unfortunately, I was
I am not sure that it is Rugby Australia needs to show
grace. Rugby Union understands the
issues of abuse of LGBTIQ people and is one of the launch national sporting
bodies of Pride in Sport, intending to reduce homophobia and transphobia in
Folau would have been well aware of Rugby Australia
involvement and support of these initiatives.
Folau breached the code of conduct earlier and was given
another chance. I know the Bible encourages
us to forgive our fellows seven times seven but does Folau have some
responsibilities in this issue.
He has been provided grace.
He chose to reject that grace.
In rejecting that grace, he again has put the lives of
LGBTIQ people at risk.
Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of
religion does come with responsibility, it does come with consequences.
I contend that the author of this article and Folau need to
engage in a religious and cultural liaison with LGBTIQ Christians and people in
the LGBTIQ community gracefully and show grace in that direction.
Conservative Australian Christian blogger Bill Muehlenberg continues his assault on the LGBTIQ community, and is currently focusing on the Transgender Community.
I am becoming quite fascinated why the conservative Christian movement seems to almost have its theology built on sexuality and gender (plus the pro-birth movement) and not on Jesus and his calling to Love One Another.
As has been the strategy of the Australian Christian Lobby, using one or two example to justify excluding an entire community, Muehlenberg has built this current article on the dangers of transgender transitioning to their gender and then detransitioning from one or two stories, and in this case a book review, thereby trying to justify the exclusion of potentially 25 millions transgender people around the world.
Getting good data on the number of transgender people in the world is difficult when leaders such as Trump wishes to exclude questions of sexuality and gender from their census. This consequently make it difficult for groups, support services, medical professionals etc to better understand the size of LGBTIQ communities and their locations to optimise service delivery.
I do generously feel compassion for people who have transitioned and ultimately de-transition, that their life has not worked as they had hoped.
However, Muehlenberg’s arguments are not only disingenuous but also dishonest, and add to the poor level of knowledge and information in the broader community and also in the Christian community.
I had responded to Muehlenberg’s blog on his site, and naturally, any commentary that provides an alternative perspective is not published on his blog – again a tendency of the conservative Christian movement, failure to be open to criticism only reenforces the lack of knowledge and insight of that community of people.
“We identified 56 studies that consist of primary research on this topic, of which 52 (93%) found that gender transition improves the overall well-being of transgender people, while 4 (7%) report mixed or null findings. We found no studies concluding that gender transition causes overall harm.”
In their overall research findings, they bring to light the possible causes of detransitioning, that may be at play in Muehlenberg’s example person.
“4. Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.
5. Factors that are predictive of success in the treatment of gender dysphoria include adequate preparation and mental health support prior to treatment, proper follow-up care from knowledgeable providers, consistent family and social support, and high-quality surgical outcomes (when surgery is involved).”
What Muehlenberg also fails to acknowledge is that any surgery has risks and any surgery can have outcomes that are not desirable for a whole raft of reasons. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons reported in their press release on 10 October 2017 that in 2016 there were adverse outcomes of surgery in 2.9% of surgical activities, which is a reduction from approximately 6% in 2009. So in relation to the case presented by Muehlenberg we don’t know if there was surgical misadventure, which is a possibility. So if these people transition some years ago, not only was the surgery techniques in earlier stages of development, and the rates of misadventure were statistically higher. (Source https://www.surgeons.org/media/25518478/2017-10-10-med_anzasm_national_report_2016_media_release.pdf)
Muehlenberg quotes from the book he is reviewing that “Candidates for sex change surgeries are vulnerable and ill-equipped to grasp the consequences of surgeries on their bodies and the effects on their future. They are easily approved for unnecessary procedures by surgeons willing to accommodate them….”
The problem for Muehlenberg, Miranda Devine and others who are attacking transgender kids is that they don’t have surgery when they are 10, and they don’t start medical supervised drug treatment when they are 5 years old. The trouble again with this ilk of people is they refuse to read the literature and report honestly information that doesn’t suit their narratives.
So once again we have a Christian voice mis-using information, and not being open and willing to contemplate evidence that is inconsistent with their narrative of disrespecting a significant group of people in our world population.
I sit back and wonder, why the Christian movement has lost the key message of Jesus, love one another? I set back and look at the Gospels of Jesus time on earth and see that Jesus is disrupting the religious leaders of the time who are destroying lives, and why can’t those doing the same now see that.
I know I have a plank in my own eye, but the LGBTIQ community doesn’t deserve this level of abuse. Being Christian is about love, forgiveness, hope, and that is not that in Muehlenberg’s blog.
Whilst I have been a Christian all my life, and held and continue to hold leadership positions in my denomination for over 30 years in various capacities, much of the wonder of the cycles of the Christian year have alluded me.
I have often struggled to do the giving up things for Lent, and as a kid, I never had the Advent Calendar.
Both of these are periods of waiting and preparation.
This year, I have had a much greater sense of waiting during Advent than ever before in my life, but more about that latter.
Earlier on Christmas morning, my Facebook posts have been more political than they have ever been.
It was intriguing at my own Church this morning, for the Christmas Day celebration, our Minister chose for the children’s talk the book, “Jesus was a refugee” by Andrew McDonough.
He was getting political.
In the context of Australia, where our successive Governments have hidden people who seek refugee status in Australia, are taken on the high seas, and then moved to third countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea. There they are hidden from the Australian population at extraordinary cost, level without the medical and humanitarian support that Australia can provide. They wallow away therewith increasing mental and physical health issues, many contemplating suicide.
During the service I posted on Facebook that our Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Border Force should be sitting on the carpet steps of our church with the children, to be reminded that the person they so willingly call upon for religious political advantage, became a refuge. Yet if Jesus were to be a boat person approaching Australia, he would be rejected and sent away, and placed within an abusing system.
We should be reminded of what the Bible tells us around Herod attempt to destroy God’s child:
Matthew 2:13-15 : (13) Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (14) Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, (15) and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (NRSV)
There are so many people in the world whose lives are being destroyed by political leaders in our world, famine, war and many other attempts to remove people based on their skin colour, their religion, their gender or sexual orientation.
Yet today, it is our Christian leaders here in Australia, the USA and many other countries who are rejecting these refugees, many of whom are refugees because of past policies of the very same countries.
Our Minister went on to describe what he doesn’t like about Christmas, one of the three being “the baby”.
It seems our thinking was in synch today.
Earlier in the day, on my personal FaceBook account, I had published a political commentary, calling for us to focus more on who Jesus became and stood for, rather than the nicety of the birth.
Many of Australia’s major religions are mirroring the United States of America with a call for special religious freedom, which I call religious privilege.
In the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney continues his theme that religion in Australia, in particular, Christianity, needs special protection by the State. In his homily he comments:
“One freedom endangered at the moment is freedom of conscience and belief. Around the world devastatingly high numbers of people are dead, damaged or displaced for their faith every year because some people want to homogenise human beings, control them, and use power, even violence, to do so.
No-one dies for their faith here in Australia, thank God, but we are not immune to threats to religious liberty. A year ago there were promises of new measures to ensure that freedom is protected in this country; a year later and all we’ve had are more promises… Meanwhile, discrimination against people of faith has become more acceptable in some quarters. There have been moves to undermine the Sacrament of Confession, to defund Catholic schools, to charge an Archbishop with discrimination for teaching about marriage, to deny faith-based institutions the right to choose what kind of community they will be. Tonight, as we join the angels in our carols, both glorifying God and pacifying people, some are demanding we choose between the two. Some want us to put the Christ-child away with the Christmas decorations, so He has no claim on the year ahead.” (source: https://www.sydneycatholic.org/homilies/2018/homily-for-the-midnight-mass-of-the-nativity-of-the-lord/ referenced 25 December 2018).
What is sad, is the misrepresentation of facts for Christianity to move under the protection of the State. Whilst he notes that no one in Australia is dying for their religion, many people in Australia have died because of who they are, and the church rejects, as an example, LGBTIQ people. In Australia’s history, as recently as early 2000s, LGBTIQ people have been murdered for simply being who they are. LGTBIQ people are actively discriminated in Australian society. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney conveniently ignores this.
For clarity, the reference to undermining the Sacrament of Confession is a move by some State Governments in Australia to require Priests to report people who sexually abuse children even if advised of this during confession. This is consistent with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Many religious organisations have failed to fully own, repent and respond to the thousands of children in Australia and even more internationally, who have been sexually and physically abused by religious people.
For further clarity, let’s explore the conversation on defunding Catholic Schools and discrimination on marriage and denying faith-based organisations the right to choose what type of community they want to be. So what is the context here? In 2017 the people of Australia, after the first public vote in Australia’s history on a matter of social and civil rights (all prior restoration of rights have been simply dealt with by Parliament), which was abusive, the people of Australia requested, by a significant majority of voters, that Parliament amend the Marriage Act to allow two people to marry. Embedded in the modification of the Marriage Act were protections for Ministers of Religion not to have to marry two people (as distinct from a man and a women), even if their denomination requires them to, and also protects religious organisations from having to hold weddings of two people on their property.
To appease the conservative right of the Australian Government, the then Prime Minister Turnbull agreed to an inquiry into Religious Freedom. The inquiry was held in secret, the report provided to the Government in May 2018, but only officially released in December 2018 under pressure. The release was forced due to the Government having to call a by-election for the former Prime Minister’s seat when the report’s recommendations were leaked.
These recommendations laid bare to the Australian public that religious schools had special powers to discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers.
The students and parents of many of these schools and society, in general, reacted with dismay, not realising that our Governments had provided these special religious privileges to religious and other non-government schools. Whilst the inquiry recommendation was aimed at reducing the level of discrimination, the public became aware that discrimination existed, would continue and do not approve.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney and other Sydney religious leaders have for months been calling for special religious privileges that allow their organisation’s special rights to discrimination that no other organisations, public or private. have the right to in Australia. The call for cutting of funding for Catholic Schools is based in that context. If Catholic Schools want the right to discriminate, should they not use their own wealth, rather than be dependent on State funding of their schools?
Yet the man whose birth we recall today didn’t want special religious privileges.
In fact, he came to challenge, not only the government of the day but also the religious leaders about the core message of God, which we hear in the interchange between Jesus and the lawyer in Luke’s narrative (10:25-28):
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”” (NRSV)
There are no exclusions or exemptions in this interchange between Jesus and the lawyer. If there was anyone you think Jesus would be clear about any exemptions or exclusions it would be a lawyer, but there isn’t any.
The fight around religious privilege (aka freedom), is not about some nice general principle. It is very targeted. Just as the Ruddock Inquiry was, it is how religious organisations are to obtain special privileges to discriminate against LGBTIQ people. Yet Jesus, having created many opportunities to enunciate who should be excluded, never does.
Jesus is very political.
He overturns the tables at the temple. To me, the message to the two Archbishops of Sydney is you don’t need special religious privileges, what you need is to reflect on the nature of Jesus, his message of love and inclusion. Be prepared to present your arguments for discrimination. You no longer have the automatic right for your opinions to be maintained as fact and consequential legislation in our society. When the Catholic Church continues to call LGBTIQ people intrinsically disordered, in spite of all the evidence, medical and psychological, you are forcing an ideology that is out of step with knowledge and good values. When some of our major Churches in Australia continue to support and fund “gay conversion therapy”, when society knows that you can’t pray away red hair for black hair, or pray away brown eyes for blue eyes, you also can’t pray away someone innate sexual orientation.
Just as society’s acceptance of religious organisations has diminished due to their response to child sexual abuse, they are no longer tolerating the abuse of LGBTIQ people through “pray away the gay therapies”. Yes, you can dye your hair, or put in contact lenses to make your eye blue. At the end of the day, your red hair roots will reappear, and you can’t keep contact lenses in forever and the brown eyes will become visible again. Many people have tried to suppress the sexual orientation to become acceptable to religious people, but at the end that ends up often at best with severe mental health issues, and unfortunately at worse suicide.
Jesus talked about looking after those that are hungry and thirsty, strangers, sick, in prison. These political statements of Jesus are still very real today. Our political economic structure in the west has created enormous wealth for a few and poverty, hunger and thirst for so many around the world at an increasing rate.
Governments are being sued in the USA because the private prison providers don’t have enough prisoners, and here in Australia, I expect in the upcoming NSW State election, we will have many demands for putting more and more people in prison, with no support at all, which will lead to an increase in the perpetual cycle of poverty for them and their extended families, at greater cost to our society.
In the USA and Australia, the conservative side of politics, the same that focus on their “Christian Values” are usually the very ones that want to dismantle national health care for the sick in our countries.
So today, Christmas Day, if wish to sing the joyful carols celebrating the birth of Christ, please do so, but in your other hand, have the rest of the story.
This child is immediately a refugee.
This child grows rapidly to disrupt religion and politics of the day.
If we are to celebrate the birth of Christ, then we must be ready to challenge the religious and the political rulers of the day using the issues and values of the Christ.
I started by talking about this Advent has been the first Christmas when I have had the sense of waiting.
The birth of Jesus today hasn’t ended my waiting. My denomination in the middle of the year, after so many years, decades of debate, prayer, talking, listening, decided that there is a valid theological position to allow two persons to marry. As a concession to those who struggled with this, the Church decided that it would allow two parallel doctrines of marriage, identical in all material ways, with one key difference, one uses the terms a man and a women, and the other two people. No minister was forced to use either, and no parish was forced to allow the marriage of two persons on their properties.
Unfortunately, a number of the conservative presbyteries are using a historically never used part of the church’s constitution to suspend this decision, and in my mind, their arguments are built on lies. Their position is about power. Yes, Jesus was and is a very powerful individual, but his central teaching was inclusion and love. He regularly challenges the abuse of power. The next chapter in the misuse of the church’s constitution is in early January 2019, that is what I am waiting for.
This advent I have heard about waiting, and it has forced me to think more deeply than ever about what this birth of Jesus is all about, the birth is the start of a radical journey.
Jesus was a radical, he was inclusive, he spoke of love, he challenged the religious rulers and the political rulers of the day.
If you admire the baby Jesus, then you are called into his radical inclusion, his radical love and his racial challenge of all those that stand in the way of these two elements of what we are called to; Love God, Love One Another.
We are not receiving a child, we are about to hear about an agitator, we are about to hear about the offending of the religious and the political rulers, offending so much that he was hung on a cross.
With this gentle meek and mild Child, we are all called to be Jesus’ agitators.
This morning (30May 2018), I had an opportunity to attend the Sydney pray breakfast at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. This is an annual event, and one of many such events are held around Australia around this time of year.
The prayer breakfast has many activities during the morning, including Grace thoughtfully given by a high school student, to a beautiful set of musical items by Tash Lockhart and support musicians and then some genuinely inspirational prayers provided by some city business leaders. We also had an opportunity to pray with people on our tables which was very helpful.
The guest speaker, Os Guinness, I had some trepidations in listening too. I found his talk interesting, but in the end in my mind, his arguments pointed to the dangers in Australia of the current movement of the so-called “religious freedom” requirements. I fully acknowledge my own theological biases in considering his speech.
He talked of the grand paradox of freedom, and the fact that one of the enemies of freedom is itself freedom, that freedom requires a framework, built around self-restraint, which often gets washed away over time. When Neville Cox, the chairman of the city prayer breakfast gave his welcome and introduction, we were shown a short video of the late Billy Graham and his extraordinary preaching when he was in Sydney in the 1950’s. When I look at lack of restraint in the Christian movement at the moment, I see one example being Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, who in my mind exemplifies why Christianity is struggling in the Western society. His lack of self-restraint and misuse of the Bible to condemn the other, to support further power to the powerful over the week, is the total opposite of what I see in the gospel.
Guinness then went on to talk about the need to be clear about what one means by freedom, is it the power to do what we ought, is it “freedom from” (a negative connotation), or “freedom for”? Where he talked about freedom for, he indicated this is a higher order, to be who we are, to be the truth of who we are, and knowing that the truth will set you free.
His third point was looking at shouldering full responsibility for that political freedom, that countries win freedom, we order freedom, but we often overlook the process of sustaining freedom. This was the segue to the importance of handing down the concept of freedom, and in our context the freedom that is given through the Bible to generations, the importance of transmitting our faith to generations behind us.
We then received the link to the underlying question, do we know and stand for a solid foundation in a society, that is, in his opinion, curtailing religious freedoms.
He left his message there, but one was left with no doubt as to the purpose and meaning of his message. At the end of the prayer breakfast John Anderson, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, a friend of Guinness, then gave the thanks and a prayer for Guinness. In Anderson’s commentary, he talked about the importance of an understanding of history and culture of our country and the need for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. He pointed out the significance that Oz Guinness had recent access to the Prime Minister, and again we were left in no doubt that this was in connection to the context of the current enquiry into religious freedom that is currently taking place in Australia.
What struck me this morning was the juxtaposition of the prayers that beautifully enunciating the need to pray for and support for the poor and the marginalised, that our business and civic leaders need to use our Christian values as a guiding post to all that we do, and the importance of support, encouragement and learning for young people, against the underlying tone and the means of the religious freedom debate.
You see it is interesting that the churches in Australia have for decades rejected the need for religious freedom and a charter of human rights because they feared that such charters would constrain what they perceive as higher order rights.
Guinness spoke of the need to move away from the concept of “freedom from” which is negative to the “freedom for”. And yet the religious freedom movement, as demonstrated at the moment, is actually all about the “freedom from”.
What they’re wanting is freedom from LGBTIQ people, and the evidence of that is that this demand has come around because of civil union of same gendered people in Australia even though Parliament ensured that religious organisations had exemptions from having to participate in a religious marriage of same-gender people. But this very issue has been the launching pad of this desperate desire of the conservative religious movement in Australia to have freedom from LGBTIQ people.
What they’re wanting is freedom from all LGBTIQ people being employed in religious organisations and the right for Christian business people to have the religious right to not employe LGBTIQ in commercial/secular businesses. They want the right to discriminate against all LGBTIQ people actively. Now I can accept that if a person in a school was employed solely for the role of religious education within the doctrines of that particular Christian organisation, to be constrained by those religious tenants. I disagree with the theology and hermeneutics that lead them to that position, I can acknowledge that right.
But I cannot accept the right of a Christian school to be allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ staff member force being simply who they are. How does this influence their effectiveness as an office staff member, maths teacher, cleaner, kitchen staff? You see this is where the disconnect occurs Guinness talks about when you have freedom for the truth will set you free, and yet these very people do not want LGBTIQ people to be free, they do not want the LGBTIQ people to be who they are as was said when we prayed to be recognised as made in the image of God. They don’t want all LGBTIQ people to have the “freedom for” to be who they are to be true and for the truth of who they are made in the image of God, to be set free.
We prayed for the children in our schools, and we know that in all of our schools, in the secular and the religious schools, there are LGBTIQ kids. And yet, what the religious freedom people want is not religious freedom for these young people they want freedom against them. They do not want a teacher in their school who might be gay and Christian who can support the Christian teachings and be a symbol of hope for a young gay teenager in school.
Rather than hoping the freedom for that young teenager to be who they are, to accept the truth of who they are and to be set free in who they are; what they want, is protection from the state. As governments around the world recognising that “conversion therapy” is nothing but abuse, those who are fervent for religious freedom are saying we want freedom from government interference to stop the abuse of LGBTIQ people with the horrors of “conversion or restorative therapy”, which often leads to suicide or long-term damaging mental health issues. They want the freedom from government stopping churches abusing of kids and young adults, rather than freedom for these people to be entirely acceptable of who they are.
John Anderson let the cat out of the bag, with his closing comments in thanks of Guinness that everybody should have freedom of conscience. This, in fact, is code for the Christian baker beings allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ couple wanting to get married and have a wedding cake.
Guinness asked us to consider the need to be clear and ask what do we mean by freedom. The dangers of this religious freedom movement are, whilst its core is around the freedom from LGBTIQ people, it does not understand what it means by freedom.
What it wants to do is to break what has been a remarkable aspect of our Australian society wherein the commercial marketplace we don’t discriminate. I can’t say to a Muslim because I’m a Christian I won’t serve you in my shop. I’m also a Muslim business owner can’t say to a Jewish custom I won’t serve you because you’re Jewish. An Indian business in Australia should not be allowed to refuse to provide services to a Pakistani customer.
Should a Christian business owner who believes that interfaith marriage offends his faith have the right to discriminate against an employee on that ground?
But this is where we are heading with this religious freedom that my religious conscience is more important than your rights, because some people are so fearful of the LGBTIQ community.
The unintended consequences of this movement in the Australian context is extraordinarily risky, and is more than likely to bring fracturing and destabilising of our society and our economy because they have not thought through what their view of freedom means.
The other thing that struck me with this prayer breakfast was the focus on the Old Testament. I thought as Christians that we are the Jesus people, and yet it seemed to me that in this prayer breakfast Jesus was missing, rarely mentioned, except for in the conclusion of a prayer in the name of Jesus.
His Gospel of hope, His Gospel of inclusion, His Gospel of love, was completely missing when we were talking about freedom this morning.
And it seems to me, that if Jesus were here today, talking and engaging in the religious freedom argument, he would be visiting the people around the Wayside Chapel who are homeless. He would be asking questions of the religious leaders and the governments why are there are so many homeless people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world?
It seems to me that if Jesus were contemplating these issues of religious freedom, he would be reminding our Archbishops, our Moderators our Priests and Ministers of the story of the young man who was born blind. Today he might find a young man walking out of a counselling session at ACON Health. Jesus doesn’t use the story of the healing of the young man born blind to talk about healing; instead, the story uses the young man was the entry point into the narrative.
Remember that it was his own apostles who were asking the question at to why the man was blind because he was a sinner, and frankly how could be a sinner be born blind, or was it that his parents were a sinner and this was the consequence of their sin. This is often the line of the preachers of the those who are seeking religious freedom, where is the sin, however we need to recall that Jesus wanted none of that thinking. The religious freedom movement in Australia who want religious freedom from LGBTIQ people, fail to accept that being an LGBTIQ person is not a choice and not a consequence of sin.
I think if Jesus were healing the young man coming out of his counselling session at ACON health because he was struggling with the abuse from his church and his family because he was gay, the healing Jesus would be offering is not anything to do with his sexuality because Jesus would know that he was born in God’s image, but it would be the healing of the mental anguish from what has been done to him by others.
And we follow the story of that young man when the Pharisees of the religious leaders the Priests and the Archbishops in today’s language, were horrified that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and challenged the parents and you can see the tensions today if you have a gay child there are so many churches that follow exert this concept of religious freedom that says you have to choose between your child and our church and God, and regrettably that child ends up wandering the streets of King’s Cross and is supported by the Wayside Chapel. It was those religious leaders who threw that young man who was healed out of the Synagogue. It was Jesus who then circled back to the young man and said, hey you’re with me, come on a journey with me.
John Anderson finished up by saying we need to understand history and culture of our country to justify the demand for religious freedom. I agree with the first part; we need to understand history and culture, we also need to understand the context of the time when the Hebrew and the Gospel Bible was written. Then we might realise what true religious freedom is, it is not about lying in bed with government to allow religious organisations to exclude the other. When we understand the context of the culture of the Biblical writings, we understand this is not an attack on LGBTIQ people, we then learn that freedom is really about.
What is discovered is that freedom is the understanding of a loving God, the loving of all others with no asterisk to exclude some. We discover that when we help people be who they are, and helping people accept the truth of who they are and then knowing this truth, will, in fact, set them free and all of us free to be with Christ and God.
So Guinness and Anderson this morning I think enunciated the opposite of what they intended, because they fear the other, they will continue to fight for religious freedom to be a “freedom from” rather than “freedom for”.
It is has been a while since I posted a blog – I was honest at the beginning of the blog that I may be a little erratic.
Partly work, partly undertaking some course/study and partly a little of the “black dog” has been hanging around a bit.
I have been struggling to put something together , so many ideas running around my mind, but not forming a coherent flow.
Today I attended a Pride Rally in Sydney. Many of the Pride Marches around the world are the month of June, summer time. It is winter here, and the main Pride event in Sydney is the Mardi Gras held in March, at the end of our summer and beginning of Autumn.
The focus of the rally was to raise awareness that in countries such as Australia and the USA where there have been positive movements for LGBITQ rights, and countries where Human Rights have been a core foundation, however in recent months there has been a reversing momentum on LGBTIQ rights. Many of these backward actions, or attempts to stop LGBTIQ rights progress have often been led by fundamentalist evangelical Christians and the political (religious) rights.
One of the speakers at the rally used the phrase “identity politics”. This has been one of the strategies of that group of fundamentalist evangelical Christians with right wing politics to create the concept of identity politics to devalue people who are different to them and in some sense abuse them by comments like “lifestyle choices” when being LGBTIQ is how you are born.
The thought that hit me standing in the winter rain in Sydney between the St Andrews, the Sydney Anglican Cathedral (a Sydney based denomination part of the Anglican Communion that seeks to oppress LGBTIQ people and provides global leadership on that mission) and the secular Sydney Town Hall, “Where Would Jesus be on Identity Politics?”
Then a number of Biblical stories hit me how to answer this question, and I had been writing some of this without knowing it, but the topic brought these strains together.
During the recent course that I did over two consecutive weekends we undertook a high level overview of the Hebrew Bible, helping us understand some of the context, history on how the Hebrew Bible was constructed and to help us understand it on another level for when we are in a situation where we may be involved in preaching or leading a group.
One book we explored was Ruth and for me through a lens that I had not previously worn.
So the quick run through:
There was a famine, and a man and his wife left Bethlehem to go to Moab, with their two sons.
So we have people leaving their country due to a famine, they are refugees, and they were able to remain there.
The husband dies, and Naomi is left with two sons. This is not a great situation in those days, to be a single mother.
Eventually the two sons married (this may be the only way that Naomi would be able to survive), their wives were Orpah and Ruth.
10 years later the two sons dies, now Naomi had no husband nor sons.
Naomi with her two daughter-in-laws started out to return from Moab.
Naomi told her two daughter-in-laws to return to Moab.
After discussions and tears, Orpah turned back to Moab and Ruth decided to continue with her to Judah.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi was remember, and now Ruth was the outsider.
Naomi and Ruth lived of the land, reaping the left overs in the field under Boaz, the land owners protection
Ruth eventually married Boaz (after some commercial trading) and they had a son Obed, whose son was Jesse who would have a child David, the famous David, and from that line we flor through to Jesus.
In this story, we have Ruth and her sons becoming refugees into a foreign land, marry, and the males die. Then Ruth and one of her daughter-in-laws came back to Judea, and they are on the outside of society as widows, and eventually we see the linage to one of the most important Hebrew Bible people David, and then onto Jesus.
It is important to remember that widowed women don’t have any real protection in their society at that point in history, were refugees, essentially outcasts in various societies, and yet provide the lineage to David and through to Jesus. It seems to me given this family history, Jesus would be very open to those who are different, be that from their race and ethnicity, position in society, we know he walked with those who were disabled, and included in being different are those with different sexual orientation.
I’m finally putting this together on Trinity Sunday 2017, which has a number of interesting lectionary readings. The Hebrew Bible text for the day is the first creation story, Genesis chapter 1 rolling slightly into chapter two. In verse 26 we hear “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (NRSV). It is interesting that the writer didn’t provide any limitations, ie only White, or only Americans, or only Australians, or only those not disabled, or only those who are heterosexual. God made mankind in his image, with all of its variations, colour, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation etc.
In today’s Psalm reading, we hear (Chapter 8 verses 4 and 5 – NRSV) “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” Again we are seeing the message that all are included in God’s plan, there are no exclusions.
The last of today’s readings I wish to reference, is the Great Commissioning from the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18b-20 NRSV) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Again, Jesus is not saying go and make disciples and baptize only the white American’s or Australians. He is saying to go and make disciples of all nations, of all people, and from our reference in Genesis, all people are made in his father image.
And he is telling us to do everything that he commanded him to do, and what is the Great Commandment? We find this earlier in Matthew (22:36-40 NRSV) “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What is Jesus asking us to do, to love God, and to love one another. There are no exceptions as to who to love.
So coming back to identity politics, this is a term which is used by the fundamentalist evangelical Christians, the religious right of politics and the political right wing , to try to demean and undermine people, particularly those who are different. Their key crusade at the moment, is the LGBTIQ community. These are the people that want “bathroom bills” to disadvantage transgender people, these are the people who do not want to allow marriage equality, or to roll it back, these are the people who want to allow people not to bake a cake for a same sex wedding reception, these are the people who want to stop anti-bullying programs for LGBTIQ kids in schools (who have a very high incidence of bulling – and LGBTIQ teen suicide rates are significant multiples of their peers), these are the people who want to create 21st century pharisaic laws for their own religious freedom at the expense of the freedom of others.
So where would have Jesus been today in Sydney, I think he would have been at the anti-homophobic rally today, he would have been speaking against oppression, and speaking for inclusion. I think he would have been happy to have been outside of St Andrew’s Cathedral speaking to those that the religious leaders of today are rejecting and oppressing for their own power and influence in the political sphere.
Jesus would recognise that the “politics of identity” is about oppression, and not about love, grace or inclusion, and in Pride month around the globe, Jesus would be standing with the LGBTIQ community, not those who want to use the identity politics as a tool of oppression.
Recently I attended a Christian conference in Pittsburgh USA, in January and it was freezing cold. There were an amazing raft of keynote speakers and an amazing range and number of breakout electives/workshops.
I tended to follow a theme in my electives of storytelling. This is not something I have looked at in the past, but I decided to look at it for a project I may do one day (which gives me a lot of time!).
But it has also given me some insights into Biblical stories that I now read.
In the preparation for Easter, as we journey through lent, I have the opportunity to take an early morning service at my local church for a four week period. For the first time I have tried to integrate a theme and at the same time follow the lectionary (Definitional link) .
Last week, week three of our journey, and the Bible reading was John 9:1-41, the story of the man born blind and Jesus’ healing. (Link to the Bible Reading).
As I was working through this, it struck me that unfortunately this story is playing out in many churches around the world at this moment.
You see, Jesus left us with a very fundamental set of principles, Love God, and Love One Another. In the second part, there is no *, where at the bottom of the page there are exclusions.
When Jesus saw the blind man (in our series so far Nicodemus a religious figure has sought out Jesus in the darkness of night, and the women at the well, met Jesus and had a conversation on equal grounds), it seems that Jesus sought him out. In our Lenten readings we see three different interactions between Jesus, and in this case, Jesus is seeking out the person.
It appears that only the Disciples hear the conversation between Jesus and the man born blind, but their focus of discussion is on where is the sin, is it his own, but as he was born blind, or it is of his parents?
Jesus response was emphatic, neither this man nor his parents sinned …
The Disciples were stuck in the construct of the day, that disabilities or disadvantage were a response to sins. We now have all the medical, scientific, psychological and sociological evidence of the causes of disabilities or disadvantage. Accordingly, we have moved on from this concept of the relationship between a disability, disadvantage and sin.
So we are being asked to change our paradigms as new information becomes available to us?
The next characters in the story, with a relatively short mention, are his neighbours. As the blind man was an outcast, and needed to beg to survive, he was probably pretty invisible to those in his neighbourhood, and when his sight was restored, they weren’t sure if it was actually the same man.
So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider if we are being blind to those that suffer disadvantage in our neighbourhood?
The next characters in our story are the parent and the Pharisees and there is an interconnection here.
The Pharisees went immediately to sin, because Jesus had healed the man born blind on the Sabbath, so he could not be of God. Theirs is a focus on a breach of the law, sin, and no connection with the man to celebrate that he now has sight.
The Pharisees ask of the parents, is he their son, was he born blind and how does he now have sight? The Pharisees were so overbearing in their community, that the parents were frightened of them, that they might be thrown out of the Temple for declaring that Jesus healed their son, so all they can fearfully do is to acknowledge that he is their son, that he was born blind, but as their son is old enough, they tell the Pharisees to ask him how he was healed.
The Pharisees are determined to follow the law rather than any compassion, and when the formerly blind man states that Jesus healed him, he is excommunicated from the Temple.
So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider, should we throw someone out of our Christian Community because a person doesn’t fit our understanding of the rules?
The final act of this story, Jesus hears the man has been rejected from the Temple, he seeks him out yet again and brings him into his community.
So, it seems we are being asked to consider, are we willing to reach out and welcome in others who are outcast by other communities for being whole and for who they are?
So what is the modern day parallel I am seeing?
If we look at the LGBTIQ community around the world, there are many Christians who are caught up in an old paradigm, using phrases like “lifestyle choices”, or interpreting some limited passages as total justification for condemning LGBTIQ people as sinful and as outcasts.
I think this passage is asking those particular Christian communities to serious examine themselves.
Firstly, as with the first part of this John passage, the Disciples want to focus on the sin that caused the affliction. Jesus would have none of that. We now know that physical blindness is not caused by sin, we also know that LGBTIQ people are simply born the way they are, in the image of God. There is the medical, scientific, psychological, and sociological evidence that there is nothing wrong with LGBTIQ people.
Secondly, there are many neighbours of LGBITQ people, who are like the neighbours of the man born blind, they choose to ignore their neighbours, their needs and assistance and support for justice.
Thirdly, there are many parents of LGBTIQ youth who feel they must ignore their children, or worse, put them in “reparative therapy” because the Christian Pharisees of the day make them so frightened to look after the best interest of their child (who is made in the image of God).
Fourthly, the Pharisees are focused on law and in their case law over love, law over healing, law over compassion, law over community, law over hope. They send the man away from their community. Today, we still see many Christian Churches who reject LGBTIQ people because they focus on what I believe I poor view of scripture and more focused on their interpretation of law over love, healing, compassion, community and hope, and in fact, their focus on law leads to destruction and often suicide.
Finally, we see Jesus coming to those that are rejected by the Pharisees and welcoming them in, and I think the parallel is clear that in today’s context Jesus is welcoming in the LGBTIQ into his community.
There might be some reading this and thinking, no, if there is a linkage to LGBTIQ people in this story, then it is about being healed from their LGBTIQ affliction. The flaw in this positing is there is no affliction, but there is other healing required. I think the healing in this passage is the healing for LGBTIQ people from the abuse they have suffered from society, Churches, other religious institutions, and governments. Just as Jesus made the blind man whole by restoring his sight, I think Jesus is wanting to heal LGBTIQ people from the hurt, pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of others, and from their own hands as they struggle often with internal issues of acceptability from their rejection by so many.
What I am seeing particularly now in Australia and the USA (an in it in other countries), is a group of Christians that are more focused on excluding people because of their interpretation of sin (whilst ignoring a whole raft of other sins), whereas what we see in this story, is Jesus is focused on the exact opposite, making people whole (and stopping them from being rejected) and including them in his community.
Are you willing to accept Jesus’ challenge from this story?