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.

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.