Submission on the Exposure Drafts for Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

2 October 2019

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

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney General,

Re: Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Why Women Should Be Concerned by the Religious Freedom Push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why should women be worried about religious freedom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPETITIVE AND CUMULATIVE TRAUMA – FOLAU ADDS TO IT.

Mental health is a significant issue in the LGBTIQ community, not because people are LGBTIQ, but because of the way LGBTIQ people are treated in society.

I recently wrote an article for my local parish magazine. I am not sure the average Australian understand what has happened and continues to happen to the LGBTIQ community in Australia. On Richard Glovers ABC Drive radio show on Monday evening (24 June 2019) a highly educated commentator suggested that now there is marriage equality all issues are solved. As I keep telling people, marriage equality is just one of the inequalities against LGBTIQ people.

The following is what I wrote for my parish magazine. Are you willing to respond to a call to action, as Jesus did to walk with the marginalised rather than the powerful?

*****

I recently had some conversations with several leaders within the Uniting Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma. 

I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue for many in the Aboriginal community.

There are those among us and within the media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities are then made to feel at fault.   

In my roles within the cemetery sphere, I have become far more attuned to specific cultural and faith requirements around death and interment.  When working with a significant Aboriginal Land Council here in the Greater Sydney area last year, I was shocked to be confronted with the fact that the number one cause of intergenerational poverty is the cost of funerals.  Trauma passes from generation to generation. 

I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child sexual abuse’.  Firstly, they were abused.  Then when they told someone, it is unlikely they were believed.  Later (if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities), they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them. 

Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.  

Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma.  They are being repeatedly traumatised. 

While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues discussed above, they have a parallel. As I journey through writing my book, I have seen the impacts of little events and problems along the way.  These little things cumulate. 

When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter, there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s posts.  But there are.  We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ community.

A youth may hear a slur in the playground, or the phrase “That’s gay,” on the sporting field as a derogatory comment. If they read much of the News Corporation’s newspapers available in Australia (in Sydney, The Australian and the Daily Telegraph), they would always be reading and exposed to articles that suggest that LGBTIQ people should not be recognised and ultimately, should be disregarded.  If they happen to enter many churches in Sydney, there can be outright hostility to LGBTIQ people. 

I recently heard of two people from a Uniting Church here in Sydney – both cisgendered (a person whose gender identity corresponds to their biological sex at birth) and heterosexual, who happen to be employed by an Anglican Church child agency. They were told that as their Minister was gay, they would either need to leave their employment or leave their Uniting Church.  They needed work so, unfortunately, they have been forced to leave their parish. 

Teens see lots of negative information on social media. This becomes cumulative. 

People rarely commit suicide because of one event; suicidality usually builds or cumulates from a series of events. 

This is why Isreal Folau’s post was so dangerous. I contend that it was not theologically accurate, but for some young people, it is the proverbial straw.

Uniting Network, the LGBTIQ community within the Uniting Church has many aims, but the two big ones are pastoral care and theological engagement. This work is becoming a real challenge for members of the Uniting Network.  Theological engagement is continuing but will now need to be ramped up to respond to the increasing commentary of non-affirming Christians in Australia and their perceived growing political power.  But the Uniting Network members are tired, exhausted. 

Pastoral care is now failing as we can barely care for ourselves, let alone others within our community. Repetitive and Cumulative Trauma is having its toll. The last few years have been huge for advocates, and from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the last three to five years have been the most intense in a long time. 

The following is just some of my engagements over the last couple of years:

  • Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with marriage equality 
  • Invovlement to stop the plebiscite on marriage quality 
  • Campaigning for marriage quality through the postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats, guns pointed to a head, and many horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die” 
  • Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017 connected to my sporting community
  • Continuing the momentum during the marriage equality debates in Parliament 
  • Engaging with the Uniting Church Assembly process around same-gender marriage decision within the Uniting Church
  • Advocating during the attempts to delay the Assembly decision through a never previously used clause in the Uniting Church’s constitution 
  • Supporting transgender people’s rights who have received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners 
  • Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is now into its second year 
  • Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom 
  • Responding to misinformation by so many around Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession (usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge), and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election 
  • Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them 
  • Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area 
  • I am expecting an increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the conservative Christian 

Some Christian leaders and associated lobby groups who feel they are owed something from the return of the Government. 

I was pleased to see that during the election, the Prime Minister announced increased funding to support mental health issues within the LGBTIQ community, as well as supporting the movement to be primarily driven by states to stop gay conversion, ex-gay, reparative therapy or similar “treatments”.

As this next three years are going to continue to require considerable advocacy by the LGBTIQ Community to retain civil rights that have been a long time coming and to continue to move for further civil rights (such as no LGBTIQ discrimination in all schools), this is the time for Allies to step up. 

In what way can LGBTIQ Allies step up? 

  • Perhaps undertake a Mental Health First Aid Course and other pastoral care courses focused on LGBTIQ issues to ensure good pastoral care of your LGBTIQ church members, family and friends. 
  • Take time to learn more about LGBTIQ issues.
  • Identify areas of advocacy that may interest you around LGBTIQ issues and engage with the media, your local members, the broader church, and the wider community.

Repetitive and cumulative trauma is here within so many groups across our society – are you willing to engage?   

Dear former Brumbies Chaplain……

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

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

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

Warning this is a long blog, as responding to short blog that may seem to be inconsequential by that author, but it needs detailed consideration, analysis and an appreciation of nuance, which unfortunately many who want to attack LGBTIQ people wish to avoid. 

So, get a cup or a mug of coffee or tea, with your favourite biscuit and settle in for a read!

I propose to respond to the key challenges and issues with this article and why there are other perspectives that I personally believe is more important and more valid.

But as a refresher, I am an active Christian, with multiple leadership roles in one of the largest Christian denominations in Australia.  And for transparency, I am also gay.  This means that I regularly struggle for acceptance within the broader Christian community, and because of the harm that Christians have caused to the LGBTIQ community, sometimes treated with caution within the LGBTIQ community.

Let’s start with some broader context.

Some years ago, the Out on the Field study, one of the first and most extensive studies of homophobia in sport, it involved many countries and identified significant homophobia within the sporting community[ii].

  • 80% of participants in the study experienced or witnessed homophobia in sport.
  • 75% of participants in the study believe that an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event
  • 34% gay of participants in the study have been bullied, 27% of gay participants have received verbal threats, and 15% of gay participants have been physically assaulted
  • 70% of gay youth (under 22) believe youth sport is not safe for gay people

I would encourage readers of this blog to read the report in detail.  A link is in the endnotes.

This follows on from years of gay bashings, LGBTIQ people suffering discrimination in all types of situations.  In the Australian context, we know that LGBTIQ kids can currently be discriminated in non-Government schools in Australia, and many religious organisation are fighting for the retention of this right of discrimination, under the guise of religious freedom.

I recently had some conversations with several leaders within my Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma.

I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue for many in the Aboriginal community. There are those among us and within the media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities are then made to feel at fault. 

I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child sexual abuse’.  Firstly, they were abused.  Then when they told someone, it is unlikely they were believed.  Later (if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities), they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them.

Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.

Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma.  They are being repeatedly traumatised.

While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues discussed above, they have a parallel.  As I journey through writing my book coming out early next year, “A Journey Towards Acceptance – an evolving memoir”, I have seen the impacts of little events and challenges along the way.  These little things cumulate.

When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter, there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s posts.  But there are.  We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ community.

The last few years have been huge for LGBTIQ advocates, and from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the previous three to five years have been the most intense in a long time.  In just the recent few years my own experiences:

  • Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with marriage equality
  • Commitment to stop the plebiscite on marriage quality
  • Campaigning for marriage quality through the postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats, and many other horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die”
  • Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017
  • Continuing the momentum during the marriage equality debates in Parliament
  • Engaging with the Church process around same-gender marriage decision
  • Advocating during the attempts to delay the Assembly decision through a clause in the Church’s constitution never used before
  • Supporting transgender people’s rights who have received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners
  • Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is now into its second year
  • Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom
  • Responding to misinformation by so many around Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession (usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge), and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election
  • Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them
  • Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area
  • Post the 2019 Federal election I am seeing an increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the conservative Christian Churches and associated lobby groups who feel they are owed something from the return of the Government.

So, this is some of the context that brings me to the writing of this particular blog.  I have selected some quotes from the blog, and offer an alternative perspective that I believe better meets the sporting arena and also a Christian reflection.

It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants to play Rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window.“.

It is always challenging to comment upon “it is reported” without actually providing a reference.  The Australian reported on 2 June 2019[iii] that “Israel Folau was set to accept a deal with Rugby Australia that would have saved his job until his father intervened to stop him, according to a report out today.”

Folau first fell foul of his social media roughly 12 months earlier than this current incident that led to his contract being terminated.  Surely, he should have taken on the process of social media education after Rugby Australia provided him with a lifeline from that earlier incident.

He was provided with a window, and he decided to smash it.

You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose.”

This is one of the most egregious points in this article and shows a lack of understanding of social media and its reach.

Many young people follow their stars from a very young age.  What we know from research that from around the age of 10 is the age of development of sexual attraction and sexuality[iv].

Therefore, a young person may be following their idol not being fully aware of their sexual orientation, and then as that awareness develops, they are still pursuing their hero, who then posts messages of condemnation.

I know that Christians like Folau sincerely believe that they are loving homosexuals by telling them unless they repent, they are going to Hell, and unfortunately, there are many that support of his position.  However, this is why LGBITQ teenagers are significantly over-represented as homeless people, why LGBTIQ people attempt self-harm and suicide many multiple times more than compared to their peers.  The Folau comments are not “love”, they are based, in my opinion, on a prejudice that is not substantially supported through Biblical enquiry, nor following the principles of the key person they purport to represent, Jesus Christ.

The issue is that a post like Folou’s may be unlikely that this is the first and only message that may cause a suicidal event (but it is possible), but it may well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, leading to suicide.

When LGBTIQ have suffered, and continue to suffer abuse, you don’t know whether your minor comment can cause a catastrophic effect.  Folau’s post was not a minor comment, but the continuation of misuse of the Bible and a history of Christian attacks on the LGBTIQ community.

Even the Liberal Government recognised in the last Federal Election that there are significant mental health issues in the LGBTIQ community.  These mental health issues are not because people are LGBTIQ, but as a result of the response of others towards LGBTIQ people.

What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.”

I wonder if the author has ever experienced actual hate speech.  They may well have, but if they had, I am surprised they would make this comment.

I have suffered hate speech, I have been racially abused, which may seem strange given that I am a white male Australian.  The tribunal dealing with the matter was following the protocols used in these type matters.

The accused in the hearing kept saying it wasn’t hate speech, but I, as the recipient of the hate speech, knew and felt it was hate speech.

It is a common position of conservative Christians in their interaction with LGBTIQ people that their comments, no matter how inappropriate, no matter how theologically dubious they are, if you add the clause “the comments were made in love”, all is alright.

When you are telling anyone that they are going to Hell simply because of the way they were born is abuse.  The more subtle abuse is to say being LGBTIQ is not sinful, but acting on your natural sexuality is.  God doesn’t call people to celibacy, it is acknowledged it is a very hard calling and only a few are called, there is no blanket call to celibacy for a class of people in society.

Imagine you are a 15-year-old person, perhaps even playing in your school or local rugby club, coming to acceptance of your sexual orientation, knowing that others will cause you grief, and then your idol tells you that you are going to Hell?  That is not a great scenario for any young person.

Yes, I’ve seen hate speech, both hate speech towards LGBTIQ people and myself, and other forms of hate speech, and the Folau social media post meets that threshold.

Most concerning is that if this author is a Chaplain, I am very concerned about their capability to provide adequate pastoral care to people who are “others” in our society, if they seriously maintain that Folau’s comments are not a form of hate speech.

Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and other church school teams?”

There is much to talk about theology and its understanding across all our communities.  In my business life, church life and theological education, when I have provided a different theological interpretation that makes sense, most people respond, why haven’t I heard this?

That’s because many religious leaders will only provide their congregations with a view that suits their theology, rather than having the strength of their own understanding to explore with their congregants a wide variety of interpretations to develop their own robust theology.

As we research cultural history, we understand that in so many countries and cultures, LGBTIQ people were accepted, and the English colonisation and its Victorian perspectives on sexuality and associate laws removed the acceptance of LGBTIQ people.  As a significant number of Western countries have recognised that damage imposed on LGBTIQ people by laws and societal attitudes, unfortunately, many of the colonies are only starting to follow these reforms.

Most people in Australia would be shocked to learn that the first time the word homosexual appeared in the English versions of the Bible was in the Revised Standard Version in 1946.  More concerningly is that research that has been underway for the last several years on the translation of the RSV and the subsequent NIV Bible is indicating that no serious academic translation work was undertaken around its introduction.  This research project is expected to be published in the USA later this year.  Some have argued that the translation of “arsenokoitai” and “malakos”, as one-word “homosexual” was driven through a cultural lens and an ideological construct rather than detailed academic and theological work.

So, the word homosexual hasn’t been a lifelong word in the English translations of the Bible.

If we look the various translations of Folau’s selected versions, the New Revised Standard Version uses “male prostitutes”, the New Living Translation also uses “male prostitutes”, but then adds “or practice homosexuality”, the King James Version uses “nor effeminate, nor abuses of themselves with mankind”, and the NIV translates as “nor men who have sex with men.”  We clearly have translational issues.  Do we use a version of the Bible that fits our cultural and ideological perspective?

So how do we move forward with this?  We can take a literal view, and rely on our preferred translation of the Bible, for a construct we wish to achieve, but unfortunately, this leads to issues around consistency.  Remember, that the Bible was used forcefully to justify the continuation of slavery in the United States of America, the country from which much of the evangelical Christian thought emerges.  The Bible is still used to exclude women from leadership roles in the Christian Church, even here in Sydney right now.

The Bible was part of the justification for the taking of Aboriginal people in Australia from their homes and culture into the Missions, destroying their culture, hope and spirituality.

Is there an alternative?  I tend to follow the Biblical interpretation method of trying to understand the Bible through an understanding of the text, the culture and context of the time, and what history might tell us.  Being a member of the Uniting Church, our Basis of Union calls us to “enter into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry”.

I contend that Paul’s world at the time, Rome, Corinth, there certainly was a significant level of sexual immorality.  Sexual exploitation, and in particular in the context of the Folau references, the practice of pederasty, men were maintaining young boys for sex.  What is also important from a literary inquiry perspective is there is very little in the subsequent literature around the word “arsenokoitai” to help translators understand its use, context and meaning.  There are equal reasons to surmise that “arsenokoitai” may be more connected to economic sexual exploitation.

Peeling this back further, there are only 6 verses out of some 31,100 verses in the Bible that some people use to condemn homosexual people.  However, if this is considered through the lens I am offering, they do not refer to homosexual relationships as we understand them today.  This is where our understanding of homosexuality (our medical and scientific knowledge) comes into play.  I would suggest that homosexual people have been in existence since the beginning of humankind, and why would God create people only for the purpose of condemning them to Hell?

The arguments for LGBTIQ exclusion are not strongly supported in the Bible.  What is strongly encouraged is the concept of Love, which is mentioned in the NRSV 601 times, NIV 590 times and the King James only 310 times.

Australia and Rugby have benefited from our Christian Schools, however, when Chaplains at a Christian school in Sydney within the last 20-30 years tells LGBTIQ kids to commit suicide so they don’t infect other children at drag them into Hell, you have to ask is that firstly appropriate, secondly does this attitude represent Jesus Christ, and finally it adds to homophobia in sport discussed earlier?

The New Testament, the books pointing to God through Jesus, is summarised in two principles “Love God and Love one another”.

You have painted Izzy into a corner.”

This is false victim narrative.  The religious conservative movement in Australia, since the Marriage Equality process have tried to claim the victim position, often not telling the truth in the process.  The current religion freedom (which I call privilege) debate post the Australian 2019 Federal Election is trying to build a narrative that Christians in Australia are suddenly being threatened, abused and oppressed, none of which is true.

What is happening is that communities of faith that have historically had their position accepted without challenge are now having to present and justify their place in society, and with a more informed society, the faith demand for acceptance of their position is not automatically being accepted.  That is not abuse nor oppression.

“You demanded that he take down a post. That seems reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes.”

This is potentially the second most egregious comment in the article, may I suggest that Folau and the author actually walk in the shoes in the LGBTIQ community and also LGBTIQ Christians.  When they are walked in those shoes then we can revisit this comment.

I refer readers to my earlier blog article on the man born blind and the shoes that Jesus actually asks us to consider (and spoiler alert this passage is not about healing)

Take the opportunity to forge a new future for religious and cultural liaison in Rugby. Lead well. Show some grace.”

This one area that I agree, but not in the way I suspect that the author intended.  When Folau’s first anti-LGBITQ tweet came out I tried to connect with Folau on Twitter asking that he and some of his friends and that some of my LGBTIQ Christian friends and I sit down and talk.  Maybe together on a Tongan mat.  Unfortunately, I was blocked.

I am not sure that it is Rugby Australia needs to show grace.  Rugby Union understands the issues of abuse of LGBTIQ people and is one of the launch national sporting bodies of Pride in Sport, intending to reduce homophobia and transphobia in sport.

Folau would have been well aware of Rugby Australia involvement and support of these initiatives.

Folau breached the code of conduct earlier and was given another chance.  I know the Bible encourages us to forgive our fellows seven times seven but does Folau have some responsibilities in this issue.

He has been provided grace.

He chose to reject that grace.

In rejecting that grace, he again has put the lives of LGBTIQ people at risk.

Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of religion does come with responsibility, it does come with consequences.

I contend that the author of this article and Folau need to engage in a religious and cultural liaison with LGBTIQ Christians and people in the LGBTIQ community gracefully and show grace in that direction.


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

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

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

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

What is a Merry Christmas – Recieving​ or Agitating

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

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

Both of these are periods of waiting and preparation.

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

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

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

He was getting political.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems our thinking was in synch today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is very political.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This child is immediately a refugee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Communion and Danish TV – include or exclude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I have to confess I am stealing, I hadn’t heard this quote until last Sunday in church when the early morning service focused on The Beatitudes.

As our Minister said, there is something appealing about this – my interpretation of what he was saying – none of us are completely whole, we are full of cracks, and through those cracks, the love of Jesus can shine into us, or alternatively, out from us to others.

I have been thinking a lot about cracks of late, although I didn’t realise they were cracks, this Marx quote has given me a concrete reference points.

The cracks that are developing in our societies, between our neighbours, between our families, between and within political parties.

Unfortunately, many of these cracks are not letting in light and giving brightness into our lives and into our communities, but actually bringing darkness.

My last blog was about rising up.

In the midst of these negative cracks in our world, is seems that as Christians, we may need to find the modern equivalent of a hill for the light of Christ, the just Christ that needs to be seen.

Matthew 5 14:16 reminds us:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (NRSV)

In Australia and in many western countries people coming to our churches is declining, yet at the same time, there is a flurry of activities for “religious freedom”.  We see this most notably in the USA, but unfortunately this activism by the religious or evangelical right is heading into Australia.

Like many good ideas, I believe the concept of religious freedom is becoming a perversion of Christianity, a new crack that brings darkness rather then light.

I believe in the principle that every person should have the right to a freedom of belief and to change your beliefs over time.  However, the modern interpretation of religious freedom, predominately from certain Christian groups, is being used to exclude some class or classes of people not only from religious activities, but also from secular activities.

It was a surprise to me, that during the current Australian Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, that much of the written and verbal submissions to this committee were on the issues of religious freedom as a response to marriage equality.  We are also seeing a new push for expanded religious freedom concepts under the Trump Presidency in the USA.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)has been positioning itself as a martyr in conversation on marriage equality, that Christians are being oppressed because of the possibility of marriage equality.  The problem is the ACL and it kindred spirited organisations have been trying to persecute certain groups in our society in relation to secular matters outside of the religious community.

I see the problem with much of the “religious freedom” concepts are that

  1. They assume a Christian perspective only; and
  2. The are in effect creating a new pharisaic 21st century law – the likes of which Jesus came to overturn.

It seems to me that the Christians who are pushing the religious freedom angle are forgetting that the underlying principle of religious freedom is the right to a belief.  This could be any religion or no religion.  This freedom is not just about Christian religion.

One of the key problems from those pushing religious freedom, is these Christians want to take their religion freedom out from their Church to impose their will in the secular world and secular activities, rather than building a relationship for the member of the community with Jesus Christ.  This can offends the religious freedom of others.

The darkness coming through this crack is totally the opposite of what Jesus was on about – loving one another.  It is interesting to reflect on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) – the religious elite cross the road and did not help.  Here was a person with secular needs – medical attention, and for religious reasons that religious leader crossed the road and didn’t help. It was the Samaritan, who was rejected by the society the Jesus was talking to, who not only stopped to provide immediate assistance, but also provided some longer term help. We are called to love each other, regardless of race, religion (and I would add sexual orientation, refugee status, economic status, disabilities etc). Remember that this parable told by Jesus was in response to a legal expert asking a question about how he would enter eternal life.

So I just don’t get how one can use a Christian value to decide not to serve someone who is the modern day man beaten by people on the road.  It is also more sad that many of the people beaten on the road, are often beaten up by some Christians, think; refugees, poor people, LGBTIQ people, the disabled people, those who look and think differently to us.

At the Senate Committee hearings recently, when discussing religious freedom, there were only from a Christian perspective.  I wonder what outcry there would be if:

  • A Christian photographer refusing to photograph a wedding between two Muslim people because it offends their freedom of religion.
  • A Muslim cake maker refusing to make a cake for a Sikh wedding because it offends their freedom of religion
  • A Hindu public servant refusing to provide services to a Buddhist on freedom of religion grounds

I don’t see anywhere that Jesus is calling us to exclude our talents from secular activities from people who are different from us, when Jesus did the exact opposite and went and spent time with those the religious leaders of the time would not sit next to.

Again at this Senate Committee hearing two major denominations tried to explain how religious freedoms would work in the particular context of a same sex marriage (using the government’s terminology which I don’t agree).

At the hearing they introduced this concept of whether a person should be allowed to exercise their religious freedom to not provide services to a same sex marriage based on the concepts as to whether the services were “integral, direct and intimate”.  This led to a bizarre conversation about what and who could be included, a taxi driver taking a person to a same sex wedding could not invoke religious freedom, but a hire car driver of the wedding party I assume could.  The baker could, but a person providing, setting up and removing chairs from a same sex marriage not in a Church could not.  A photographer could, but a person providing crockery may not, a musician may, but perhaps a sound engineer may not – we don’t know the rules as yet.

This is the creation of pharisaic law, laws made up by man for the purpose of excluding others.

So in these times when certain groups are creating new pharisaic laws, and the creation of the 21st century religious freedoms, these are actually about withdrawing from others, the opposite of what Jesus would do.  How do we shine a light into these cracks?

At the moment I don’t have the answer.  Our media is being filled with Alternative Facts, there is so much material on Facebook and Twitter it is hard to digest any of it.  We probably only see the stuff we like, compared to the stuff we should be challenged about – do we see the modern man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of ….?

I think it is time for Christians to find the new hill, whatever that hill is in your area, and take your light there to shine into the cracks of darkness that are appearing.

My challenge to us all (myself included), in your community, where or what is the new hill that you need to move to (and may need to wrestle to got on top of), so that the light of Jesus, who calls us, is seen and shines into the cracks in our society and our community to bring hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, humility?

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13-34:35 NRSV)

We need to rise up and find a high ground for Jesus light to shine into the cracks.