Submission on the Exposure Drafts for Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

2 October 2019

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

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney General,

Re: Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Where would Jesus be on identity politics?

(Trinity Sunday 11 June 2017)

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.

A Current Parallel to Jesus Story of the Man Born Blind

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?

Communion and Danish TV – include or exclude

Danish TV Station TV2 recently published a short film entitled “All That We Share”, on their YouTube channel where they state “We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes. Maybe we have more in common than what we think?”

Every month, most churches around the world celebrate Communion, and this video made me think about communion.

Communion can be a little box that is part of our lives.  It can be a routine, in the latter part of the service on the first Sunday of the Month (my Church is rather radical, we hold it on the 2nd!).

Was Jesus giving us something routine, or giving us something transformational?

In our busy lives, getting to church can sometimes be an amazing feat, and there is something useful about routine, it is known, it is comforting, it is a known place, it can be a safe space, and sometimes the only safe space that on some occasions we see inside.

In the darkness’s of my life, that routine has been a saving grace.

But, very little about Jesus was routine, and I think with Communion we need to step outside of it being a routine event.

So what do I see as the connection between this Danish TV video and Communion.

I think the timing of this video in the context of the global political landscape is very interesting, with tension in Europe over refugees, with Brexit in the UK not about the economy but the ill-informed using Brexit as a referendum on people different to us and not the economy, with Australia pushing refugees trying to come to Australia out to foreign countries for processing to avoid its international obligation towards refuges, and President #45 of the USA trying to ban people from entering his country on religious grounds.

I think it is time for Christians to reflect on what communion may be about, what might be the radical thinking for Christians within the geopolitical landscape.

The video showed the modern clans of Denmark, which are not dissimilar to our own.  The poor, the workers, the rich, the business elite, those we fear based on our imagination of their image, those we don’t know and know nothing about.  Yet when questions were asked about life experiences, people came forward from pretty much all groups, except the single guy who responded to the question who was bi-sexual.  What the video demonstrated that there is more that connects us, than divides and disconnects us.

What was also most interesting, out of this group there was only one bi-sexual person, and yet he was applauded.  I would not expect that this group would have done that in the past, however, having realised their similarities, already being made aware of those that had been hurt by others, he was rewarded for his honesty and bravery, because people were getting the message that there is more in common with each other, and the differences don’t mean very much.  He was not a threat to them at all.

When it comes to communion, we are reminded of the Passover Meal, that Jesus spoke when he broke the break and shared it, and raise the cup and shared it asking those to take the meal to remember him.

This was a motley crew of disciples, fishermen, tax collectors, possibly a nobleman and a treasurer.  Each was very different, and yet each called to walk with Jesus.

At this special occasion, and around it Jesus was aware that one would betray him, and another would lie about knowing him.  Yet Jesus included them all in this meal.

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22: 19(b)-20 NRSV

At the table Jesus included all he had with him in the meal knowing what was ahead and how those around him would respond.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1Cor 10:16-17 NRSV

In our communion setting, we do not hear Jesus or Paul saying, come and eat, except for the black, or except for the pregnant teenager, or except for the LGBTIQ person, or except for the disabled, or except for the refugee, or except for the poor, or except for the ……..

When you next have Communion in your church, my prayer for you is to think inside, Jesus calls us to love one another as we love ourselves.  (“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him,  ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”) Matt 22:36-40 NRSV

So who are the people; in your heart, in your community, in your society, that you are excluding (silently or explicitly) from the Communion Table and from our communion with life?

Jesus is calling us to be people who are All That We Share.  If we are alert to those that we exclude, we may be more able to welcome those that we and our political leaders are encouraging us to exclude, which is the opposite of Jesus’ call to us, and take the first step to welcoming them in.

Will you be open to the transformational power of Jesus at your next communion to welcome rather than exclude?

It is time to rise up!

Welcome to my new blog.

As I indicated in the side bar – this may be regular, this may be very irregular – let’s journey together to see how we go.

There is a lot of upheaval in the world at the moment.

We have learnt about “Alternative Facts”.

Electors have looked at the candidates in the recent Presidential Elections, and I think a significant number of people thought, one of the candidates is saying some pretty mean and horrible things, but it is just to get elected. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is what he talked about, he is delivering.

President Trump decided to pretty much ignored the 75th remembrance of the Holocaust, and on the same day decided to ban travellers from certain countries to enter the USA for a period of time, and significantly reduce their refugee intake – and only after severe vetting (what ever that means).

Last week, many Christians around the world would have read and contemplated “The Beatitudes” – Matthew 5: 1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NRSV)

When I look at political leaders across the globe, including my own here in Australia, what am I seeing.

  • Governments that persist with “Trickle Down Economics”, which the vast majority of economist state doesn’t work. All it does it transfer more from the poor to the rich.
  • Governments that favour business over the individual, be it on property rights (corporate over the community), lack of compliance (how many companies in Australia over the last 12 months have been identified as systematically underpaying their workers?), profits over delivering to the individual (look at the banking sector in Australia that really has not had any penalty for the massive losses incurred to individuals from fraudulent practices of their wealth management arms, or say the insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank where management overrule the medical staff on insurance claims). This are systematic examples of the failure of corporations to honour their side of the social licence provided to them to have the protection of a corporation rather than personal exposure.
  • Governments that seek to make people worse off based on false information and action (think CentreLink debt recovery program in Australia)
  • Governments and politicians that use fear of groups to support their political objectives – think refugees in Australia (offshore detention centres) and the US Executive Order on immigration and refugees that is based around countries, but is really an attack on a religion (remember that the conservative evangelical Christians at the same time will be arguing for their religious freedom rights!)
  • Governments and politicians that are using fear based on race, origin and sexual orientation to enhance their justification for active discrimination against certain groups.

Yet many within these governments around the world boldly state that they are driven by a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ and committed to following “Christian Principles”

However, what I see are government that:

  • are not willing to help the poor, in fact they seem intent on making the poor worse off
  • through their actions will see an increase in deaths and more people mourning (think refugees, think suicide of LGBTIQ people, think young black men killed)
  • through their actions that are trying to have a smaller number of richer people controlling the wealth of the world, leading to an increased poverty globally
  • through their power, oppress those who are willing to fight for righteousness
  • show no mercy, think of torture the President of the USA has approve, think of the refugees that Australia is putting in Manus Island and Nauru and our failure to provide appropriate medical care and refugee processing
  • think of the people that are complaining about the peaceful protests, and I expect as protest around the world increase, the powerful will use non peaceful means to try to discredit them
  • think of all the people being put in prison, when alternatives could be explored (some countries are closing down prisons, where as in Australia and the USA we are constantly building more)

We are entering a dangerous period of time.

People older than me have seen this before. Radical ideas based on fear, using scapegoats such as the Jews, Gypsies, Gays in the 1930’s – now being replaced by Muslims, Latinos/Blacks and Transgender people (but LGBTIQ more generally will be incorporated I expect).

Back then were politicians and world leaders who thought it best to appease, and to deal with quietly behind the scenes. They even held up a a piece of paper. But that didn’t stop the atrocities in the 1930.

Yet today, we have similar language, some speaking forcefully, but many others such as Australia’s Prime Minister Turnbull trying to appease and work behind the scene. Yet unless there is a different response, history may well repeat itself, just on a grander scale.

There are those that are speaking up – such as 15 year old Royce Mann – in his poem he presented at the Ebenezer Church, ATL, GA, on Martin Luther Day, January 2017.

It is time to rise up, and reclaim Christ’s Gospel:

Jesus called us to love our neighbours as ourselves.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the false teachings by some preachers that align themselves and associated with riches, power and oppression of groups (the stand out amongst them is the LGBTIQ community) – the 21st century Pharisees. Jesus tore strips of the Pharisees and they played a big part of putting him on the Cross.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the abuse of political power to suppress and injure groups (be they minorities, other religions etc). Remember there were powerful political forces in Jesus time, and also some weak ones, who knew there was no case against Jesus, but he didn’t stand in the way.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the abuse of marginalised people. The political and conservative evangelical right are gunning globally against LGBTIQ rights, with a particular focus on Transgender people in the USA and LGBTIQ people in Australia by trying to stop marriage equality. Many governments are withdrawing funding from the poor and disabled who are need of health care, education, housing etc. Jesus stood with the poor, the sick, the disabled, the outcasts, the Samaritans.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against discrimination, based on race, sex, sexual orientation, colour of your skin, ethnicity, religion. These forms of discrimination are tools of those in power to stay in power based on creating fear and anxiety. Jesus called us to love one another as we love ourselves.

At this time of the liturgical year – I am fascinated by the Bible readings we are provided with, which are a complete contrast to how the “Christian” leaders around the world are leading.

It is time for Christians to rise up.