Evangelism and the First Third of Life

Trigger Warning:
Includes Sexual Assult, Domestic and Family Violence

Since the last NSW/ACT Synod meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia, I have been thinking about the fantastic journey we are starting. One of the primary focuses is on people in their first third of life.

My meandering mind has also been looking at what lessons we should be learning from the COVID Pandemic.

I have been frustrated by many of our political leaders whose calling cry has been for the return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible, whatever normal is.

The old normal was one of the defining factors for the spread and response issues to the pandemic. However, that is another long topic.

We have seen social construct issues through this pandemic as our society has become more I-focused rather than We-focused on. Jesus has been the clarion call for society being we focused, as seen in his clear summary to love one another.  

As a church, we have to be challenging the old normal and provide leadership as part of the pandemic recovery to drive a better balance in society. This would be across areas such as distribution of wealth, access to health care (of all forms) everywhere, improving social connectedness, thinking of the people on the margins, either due to race, disability, being in prison, about homes for the homeless, health, drug additions etc. With this is ethical decision-making of governments, being driven by lobbyists and organisations with the largest donations for influence.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shutterstock_635325116-scaled.jpg

As we reach out to people in their first third of life through evangelism, social justice activities, community engagement etc., I think our old normal may no longer be acceptable, relevant or useful. Do we need to develop something new? What are some of the old normals we need to contemplate and change our ways, thinking, etc.?

1. They know about Child Sexual Abuse

The people we are reaching out to, the youth, are very are aware of the recent history of child sexual abuse within religious organisations. The Uniting Church has not been immune from this. However, we have confronted our past with more integrity and a more victim-centred approach, but not perfectly.

Unfortunately, other denominations are still dealing with this horror. Often with a reputation of not dealing with victims ethically and campaigning against laws to make notification of child sexual abuse mandatory. Further, many younger people see that there has not been any real consequence around the years of abuse on children.

So, in moving forward with the younger generation, how prepared are we to talk about our past and that of the broader Christian Church in Australia and its horrendous impact on young people? What do we offer them now?

2. They know about Sexual Assault

2021 will go down as the year that sexual assault in our community gains much more comprehensive visibility. This visibility has come via the appointment of Grace Tame, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, as Australian of the Year. Brittany Higgins who was raped in our Federal Parliament House. And finally, Chanel Contos’ whose survey identified the significant amount of sexual abuse that high school students have suffered (primarily in Sydney in the initial study), often in our wealthy private schools.

Our younger people are getting important information on sexual assault from many leading shows such as ’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘Riverdale’ on Netflix, and other series such as ‘Why’, ‘Skam’, ‘Split’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Skins’ and ‘Euphoria’. The video below by YouTube content creator ravenclaw’s has drawn together a montage from these shows, which I have blended with another from creator zoe edits. This video also incorporated the sexual assault of young men. (Trigger Warning on the video content, sexual violence and graphic discussion).

In the 13 Reasons Why scene where Tyler tells Clay how he was raped, we see Clay’s consent to approach and touch Tyler, the victim. Many of our religious leaders fail on this essential step.

Further, Christian leaders have a history of saying to victims, focus on forgiving your attacker as well as forget it and get over it.

Importantly, Contos’s study brought into the public domain that our youth believe relationship and sex education in NSW schools is woefully inadequate. Our youth see Christian leaders have played a significant role in limiting relationship and sex education in NSW schools. Parents can withdraw their children from even this minimal education.

Mark Latham’s One Nation Party has a bill in the NSW Parliament to expand parents rights to withdraw their child from any lesson they view a controversial. This could include, for example, Aboriginal History that he sees as controversial. This bill has the strong support of many Christian denominations and Christian advocates.

So when our young people want to have robust, informed and detailed discussions on relationships and sexuality, how do we overcome what they perceive is irrelevant and 18th-century thinking and ideologies from Christians?

3. They know about Domestic and Family Violence

Our younger people are a lot more alert to the issues of domestic and family violence. Fortunately, at an earlier national Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, this has been recognised. As a result, a significant reflection on domestic and family violence within the Uniting Church is underway.

See the Assembly resources here https://uniting.church/dfv/ and the Assembly resolution on Domestic and Family Violence at this link https://mk0unitingchurcq6akw.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/09-Domestic-and-Family-Violence-15th-Assembly-Resolution.pdf .

However, many young people still hear Christians saying that victims of domestic and family violence should remain in their marriages or families. They hear that, above all, they should forgive the abuser rather than seek refuge and safety. Unfortunately, too many young people have already had their lives devastated by domestic and family violence.

The broader Christian churches have a history of being on the side of the abuser rather than the victims.


So as we reach out to people in the first third of life, how do we demonstrate the reality of our recognition of domestic and family violence to those who are victims, know victims, or are socially aware of these issues our role in this area in the past?

4. They have Friends and Relatives who are LGBTIQ

Most young people will know someone who is LGBTIQ and realise that, unlike the views of many Christians, they are not inherently disordered and sinful people. The majority also expect that LGBTIQ people can marry a person of their choosing.

Their experience of LGBTIQ people is often one of two, either an LGBTIQ person with a level of depression or joyfulness.

For those that suffer depression, this often stems from their family, usually based on religious dogma.

The other end is a fully alive, joyful and engaging person. Their families and friends fully accept them without any reservation.

They hear the Christian message of love for one another but see the lack of love and inclusion of LGBTIQ people in most churches. Often the only time they hear of churches is where there is some negative view towards LGBTIQ people, based on exclusion rather than inclusion.

Further, they are aware that the Mark Latham “parental right’s bill” which has support from some in the NSW Government, is designed to ensure that transgender and gender diverse kids in our schools are erased. The proposed legislation will have the effect that if a school staff member provides any support to a transgender or gender diverse child they will be sacked. If that person is also a teacher they will have their teachers license revoked. The majority of support for this bill has come from Christian churches, other faiths and Christian lobby groups.

This article demonstrates some of the messages those against transgender people often use as one example. https://medium.com/prismnpen/trans-women-are-not-abusing-children-religious-leaders-are-f23f018732bc


So how do we reach out to young people in our societies and communities when even within the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT when outr congregations don’t have a consistent position around LGBTIQ people?

The risk is that due to that inconsistency, when young people may have doubts about their safety for themselves or their friends about a local congregation, they may never engage.

Concluding Comment

As we in the Uniting Church NSW/ACT start executing this first third of life strategy, just as with COVID, I believe our old normal will not cut the mustard. We need to consider developing a new construct and consider if our theology is still sound as we navigate this vital mission?

I don’t have the answers now, but I know these are the questions we need to consider.

o O o

10 October 20201, Sydney

Margaret Court – Dangers of an Upgraded Australian Honour

I have written to the Australian Governor-General to express my concern about the leaked of the proposed Companion of the Order of Australia award to Rev. Dr. Margaret Court AO, MBE, Australia’s highest civilian award.

The following is a copy of my email to the Governor General sent this afternoon requesting that he reconsider and revoke the award.

***

My Dear Governor-General

I write to express my sincere concerns about Rev Margaret Court AO’s proposed appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia.

I understand that she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2007 for her services to tennis.  There is no doubt that she was and continues to be the most successful women’s tennis player globally, even to this point of time, so that award then (apart from being rather late) is entirely appropriate. Rev Courts was also a Centenary Medal recipient in 2001 and received an MBE in 1967 for her involvement in sport. Let’s also recall that she has a significant stadium named after her and was recognised at the Australian Open in 2020 being 50 years from her success.  (I do note that it appears it was something that she demanded rather than was humbled to participate in).

Whilst we don’t have the privilege of being aware of the reasons for her being upgraded to the Companion, it cannot be for tennis, so the question is for what?

We know that Rev Court has been one of the most divisive people in Australia in the last 9 – 10 years.

A person who has used their platform as a tennis player to spread hatred towards the LGBTIQ community in Australia and misinformation about LGBTIQ people.

I write this letter as an active Christian within the Uniting Church of Australia, and a member of the LGBTIQ community and an advocate for the community.  For clarity, I am writing in my own capacity and not on behalf of any organisations I have an association.

I think it is vital that we review some of the commentary of Rev. Court over the recent years.

From a background perspective even before her engagement with her anti-LGBTIQ crusade, there are real concerns about her thoughts towards non-white people.

Rev Court’s public commentary condemning the LGBTIQ community and marriage equality goes back to at least 1990 in the public domain.

1990’s

In 1990 in the UK on the front page of one of the large daily newspapers, she attacked members of the LGBTIQ in professional sport. She was falsely stating that Lesbians players would turn other tennis players gay.

December 2011 (which reference commentary back to 2002)

“Court, who is the founder and senior pastor at Victory Life Church in Perth, has urged Australians to make a stand against same-sex marriage, saying no human law could ever change God’s divine laws.”

“Court said society was best served by strong family units that comprised a mum, dad and children and that there was no reason to put forward “alternative, unhealthy, unnatural unions” as a substitute.

“Court has had a history of anti-gay comments, accusing lesbians of ruining women’s tennis and calling Navratilova a bad example to young players.”

“In 2002 she said Damir Dokic’s concern about daughter Jelena being exposed to lesbians on the circuit was “understandable” and campaigned against Western Australian laws that gave gay couples equal legal rights as de facto couples.”

“To dismantle this sole definition of marriage and try to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices that include sodomy, reveals our ignorance as to the ills that come when society is forced to accept law that violates their very own God-given nature of what is right and what is wrong,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/court-in-same-sex-tennis-furore-20120112-1pwux.html

When looking at families, it is essential to recognise that children within LGBTIQ families perform as well, if not better than their peers in heteronormative families. “We identified 79 scholarly studies that met our criteria for adding to knowledge about the well-being of children with gay or lesbian parents. Of those studies, 75 concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children.  …..   Taken together, this research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children.”

2019 Marriage Equality

Court’s engagement in the Marriage Equality campaign was very destructive and also very ignorant.  During her commentary, she stated that “lust for the flesh” and that LGBT tendencies in young people were “all the devil”. “That’s what Hitler did. That’s what communism did,” Court said, “get in the minds of the children. There’s a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get in the minds of the children.”

Her suggestion that LGBTIQ advocates where like Hitler were unacceptable.  Like many Australians, they knew of the history of Hitler’s atrocities to the Jews; unfortunately, our education system has failed. Most people are unaware of what Hitler also did to the homosexuals, disabled, Gypsies and others.

In particular, all the homosexuals were rounded up.  The gay rights movement symbol of the Pink Triangle came from the concentration camps as that was a patch on the clothes of the homosexuals.  It was much larger than for other groups, and they were hoping that they would be bashed in the concentration camps.  Further, they were subject to medical experiments, and it is estimated that 15000 were killed in the gas chambers.

https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/nazi-persecution-of-homosexuals

https://www.history.com/news/pink-triangle-nazi-concentration-camps

“Hatred of homosexuals was determined by both party ideology and the personal obsessions of the leaders, and especially of Heinrich Himmler, the main originator of the plan to exterminate homosexuals. For Himmler and other Nazi ideologues, homosexuals—like Jews—were the incarnation of degeneracy. They saw Jews and homosexuals as outsiders and inferior human beings who threatened the purity of der Volk.”

http://auschwitz.org/en/history/categories-of-prisoners/homosexuals-a-separate-category-of-prisoners/robert-biedron-nazisms-pink-hell/

“Those who wore the pink triangle were brutally treated by camp guards and other categories of inmates, particularly those who wore the green (criminals), red (political criminals) and black (asocials) triangles.”

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-homosexuals-in-the-holocaust

Further, it is important to recall that one of the first acts that Hitler’s regime undertook was the destruction of the “Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a German name that roughly translates to the Institute of Sexology.” This library was considered the most extensive LGBTQ library globally and probably the most important around transgender people.

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/lgbtq-institute-in-germany-was-burned-down-by-nazis

https://theconversation.com/how-the-nazis-destroyed-the-first-gay-rights-movement-80354

Would you allow a person with similar sentiments towards Jewish people to receive the top honour in the Australian system? 

There are so many other examples around Rev Court’s comments, but I will leave those here, and I am sure with some very quick Google searches (if we still have that capability) you will be able to find even more.

Translational Issues of the English Bible

One of the challenges is that many Christians use the Bible to condemn the LGBTIQ community.  One of the critical issues is that until 1946 the word homosexual didn’t appear in any English translations of the Bible.  It was introduced into the 1946 RSV version by error.  When people look into the context and culture, the translation to homosexuality does not make sense.  When you look at translations into other traditional languages, you don’t see the equivalent of homosexual.  So, I contend, just like with Biblical justification of racism and slavery, the Biblical rationale for rejection of LGBTIQ people is not sustainable within the Christian thinking.

https://www.forgeonline.org/blog/2019/3/8/what-about-romans-124-27

There are Consequences of these types of Comments

During the Israel Folau matter, I have been aware of some youth/young adult suicides/suicide attempts, some through my Church network and one through an article in the public domain such as this quote. “Julie rang me late yesterday. Matt [12 years old] is in hospital after a suicide attempt. He’s twelve. He’s a great kid who has been terribly distressed by everything that is happening right now about Israel Folau’s fight with Rugby Australia over Folau’s right to freedom of speech, and about Matt’s idol’s continued stance on homosexuality as a sin against God.”

I therefore earnestly urge you to reconsider the awarding to Rev Dr Margaret Court the honour of the Companion of the Order of Australia and withdraw the award.

I look forward to your correspondence in response to my request.

***

JK Rowling and the Transgender Community

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

Transgender flag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All gender restroom sign.

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

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

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

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

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

We should not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Masters

Member of the Uniting Church and LGBTIQ Advocate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A need to reject proposed Australia’s Religious Freedom Legislation.

Not being well this month, and working on other submissions, my own submission to the Exposure Drafts of the Religious Freedom bills for Australia (https://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/religious-freedom-bills-second-exposure-drafts.aspx) was left with little time to prepare and finalise.

Consequently it is a little disjointed, high level, but hopefully conveys the key points.

***

31 January 2020

The Hon Christian Porter MP

Attorney-General of Australia
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney-General,

Re: 2nd Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

Firstly, I am happy for my submission to be made public and to be placed on the Department’s website.

By way of background, I am a businessman owning and operating a boutique consulting firm, sit on a number of boards, am an educator of company directors, a Christian heavily involved in my denomination at practically every level with a variety of leadership roles, a father of two young adult children and a member of the LGBTIQ community.

It is from all these different perspectives that I have a relatively uncommon perspective, but one that is not unique.

This week, many political leaders around the world, including here in Australia, have been remembering seventy-five years of the closure of Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust.  What most of the media hasn’t reported on outside the horrors of the Jewish Community, is that that same regime rounded up all the homosexuals, Gypsies, disabled and others.  It is estimated that over 15,000 homosexuals ended up in the gas chambers.

Why is this piece of history so important?

We need to understand the significance of othering.  Making minority groups othered and unimportant in a society.

We also need to remember the role of religion, particularly Christianity, that in some areas was complicit in allowing the Holocaust to occur.  Fortunately, some of our greatest theologians come from the concerns, such as Barth and Bonhoeffer, with the latter executed by the Hitler regime.

We also need to recall some of the history of Christianity:

  • Many supported slavery and racism
  • There has been and continues to be, global discovery of child sexual abuse that has been significantly covered up by the churches and in some cases, continues to abuse those people during the investigations and settlements.

UnitingJustice, an agency of the Uniting Church, in their document “Dignity in Humanity – Recognising Christ in Every Person, A Uniting Church in Australia Statement on Human Rights, adopted by the Eleventh Assembly July 2006, Resolution 06.20.01”[1] states:

“We must never forget that people who claimed to be Christians and the Christian church itself have been responsible for colluding with and perpetrating violence and oppression. Our history is scarred by greed and fear and so we have, too often, failed in our mission of love. However, there have always been Christians committed to ending violence and poverty and in the last hundred years or so the church has been engaged internationally to this end. In 1937 representatives from churches around the world met to ensure that human rights were included in the United Nations (UN) Charter and the churches went on to play a significant role in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

It is interesting to note that during a series of consultations around an earlier concept of a Bill of Human Rights, where there were case studies, many of the Christian Churches strongly objected to this direction.  Of the submissions received to build the case studies, the Uniting Church was rejected because it supported the development of a Bill of Human Rights.

There has been a drive by conservative Christians since the 1970’s to focus on the exclusion and erasure of LGBTIQ people.  However, it is also important to understand that the word homosexual was only introduced in the English translation of the Bible in 1946, and a major research project to be published this year will demonstrate that this was an academic error.

Just as the American Psychological Association determined that being homosexual was a mental illness through poor research (which took years to correct and untold damage to gay people), we are moving into a new time, just as the Churches had to come to a view, that racism and slavery weren’t Biblical in this age; the same will happen with attitudes of the Churches to LGBTIQ people. They will ultimately apologies for the abuse for which they are responsible towards LGBTIQ people, when they finally accept that there is no justifiable position for their rejection of LGBTIQ people. 

In fact, there are those that hold the view that the future evangelists of Christianity will come from the LGBTIQ community. Given that they are also made in the image of God and are one of the many oppressed communities that should Jesus be walking the earth today, he would sit down and spend time with, rather than reject.

The Report of the Expert Panel into Religious Freedom[2] (the Religious Freedom Review) created by the LNP Government commented that Australians whose faiths face persecution overseas appreciate the ‘relative safety that Australia affords people of different faiths’ (para 1.13). Importantly that Report recommended only small additions to Australia’s legislative protection of Australians’ religious freedoms.  Yet what the Government has offered is extreme in nature and moving from the concept of protecting an individual from discrimination, to a new and highly concerning legal structure of protecting a non-natural person (an organisation) from discrimination, and allowing both an individual and organisation unprecedented powers of discrimination against others.

Now coming to the legislation:

Enabling Discrimination

The proposed legislation appears to start from the premise that religious freedom is an absolute right, and one that does not need to be balanced with other human rights.  I would argue that the proposed legislation creates the position that a religious right is superior to all other human rights.  This is clearly untenable, that a choice to hold a faith is superior to the actual existence of a person.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18 of the ICCPR[3] outlines the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and section 3 of that article says:

“Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

The Bill agrees, section 3(2) stating that regard is to be had to ‘the indivisibility and universality of human rights, and their equal status in international law; and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights’. However, the proposed Bills provided an almost unfettered legislative right to religious freedom, without balancing that with other rights, the Bill divides the right of religious freedom from other rights, and will result in some Australians being less ‘free and equal in dignity’ than others.

Effectively, this Bill creates of system of religious apartheid in Australia. This will form of apartheid will be as destructive to our society as the systems of racial apartheid used in other countries, that Australia has historically been leading global voice to have removed.

Historically, there has been a significant amount of discrimination built into legislation in Australia, much of which has permitted discrimination against LGBTIQ people.  As a minority group, the LGBTIQ community has had to work very hard over long periods of time to gradually have discrimination against them removed.  However, it has been the trend of legislators over recent years to remove unreasonable discrimination enabled by law.

Some of these have been hard fought, as we saw with the national postal survey and parliamentary process to remove discrimination in marriage; the first time in Australia’s history where a human rights matter has been put to the people where Parliament could have acted, as it should have.

In the lead up to the Wentworth by-election in 2018, the Prime Minister promised to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ students in schools and has failed on that commitment and moved and delayed the matter for additional consultation.

This proposed legislation will enable a dramatic increase in discrimination in Australia.  Much of the activities where discrimination will occur will actually be funded by the Australian taxpayer, which is completely unacceptable.

In welfare services, there is no justification for discrimination of employment, while it is reasonable to ask staff to be supportive of the ethos of the organisation.  The concept of supportive of the ethos should not be used however to restrict employment of LGBTIQ people, people in same sex relationship/marriages, people of particular gender.  The only area where such as exception may be reasonable, is in the area of formal appointment of ministers of religion, such as Chaplains at schools, hospitals, aged care facilities etc, and to some extent members of an organisation’s governing body.  These limited exceptions must be significantly controlled and transparently justified.

To that extent, rather than providing additional rights for discrimination in employment, the Government should work to reduce discrimination.  There is no justifiable reason for a school to be exempt from hiring a maths teacher because they may be LGBTIQ.  Years ago, churches would have said they should be allowed not to hire a disabled person because their disability is a sign of sinfulness.  We all know that is not right, so why do we allow such injustice to LGBTIQ people now?

There is no justification to allow people who hold a religious faith to be abusive to other people outside of their religious setting, such as a taxi driver being abusive to a lesbian couple in their taxi, or a school teacher telling a divorced father looking after their kids that he is sinful as a divorcee, or a manager emailing a staff member that being transgender is not acceptable in the eyes of God.

Some of these would breach any reasonable employer code of conduct today, so why should these be acceptable in the future?

Why is it acceptable for a religious person to intimidate another person, when this is not acceptable for any other citizen?

Professional Bodies/Commercial Limitations

I am currently involved in a number of professional bodies and have been involved with more in the past.

Over time, there has been an increasing acceptance that it is not appropriate to bring private religious material that could bring discomfort or harm to other people into a professional setting, ie that have no bearing on the matter at hand.

This Bill will unwind many years of advancing of good professional practice.

The notes with the Bills provide an example of how a doctor can legally comment in a derogatory manner towards a transgender patient.  There is no justification in a clinical setting for such comments to be made in the first place.

Access to health for many people is already difficult, and the proposed legislation will make access to health for women, disabled people, LGBTIQ people significantly more difficult and put their physical and mental health at risk.

On one hand the Government is attempting to dramatically improve the mental and physical health of people in Australia, yet on the other hand, groups that are dependent on high health care are increasingly at risk of inappropriate treatment, if they will be able to get it at all.

There are no religious grounds for this dangerous expansion of the removal of health services, particularly to vulnerable Australians.

This Government has prided itself on getting out of the way of business, however, through these Bills, wants to interfere in business and ensuring safe workplaces and maintenance of their brands in society.  I note that the Government continues to give rights around codes of conducts and outside activities that it is now denying the private sector.

The dangers of some conservative religion are being shown as states around Australia are working on legislation to outlaw conversion therapy because of its dangers (such acts are being supported by the majority or relevant professional health associations because of their dangers).  Religious schools are fighting to retain the right to send children to conversion therapy.  Just as they denied sexually abusing children, they want the right to mentally abuse children through programs that at best leave long term mental health issues or at worst case, suicide.

Nature of Discrimination Acts

Discrimination Acts by their nature are to protect the individual, however, for the first time, these Bills will provide protection and the right to discrimination by religious organisations.  This is not consistent with the standard of these types of Acts and is not acceptable.

Overriding Other Jurisdictions

There is no justification for these Bills to override some Tasmanian Laws, or to allow religious people to not comply with Local Council regulations with which other citizens need to comply.

Other Matters

There is no requirement for a Religious Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, as the Ruddock Inquiry indicated there is little risk for religious people and organisations in Australia.  What there is a need for, is an LGBTIQ Commissioner as there is a long history of violence and discrimination towards LGBTIQ people.  Much of this discrimination supported by many religious organisations.

While there has been an attempt to correct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spiritually via notes to the bill, I remain unconvinced this issue has been appropriately addressed, and once again Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be disadvantaged and subject to further discrimination.

Summary

This proposed legislation is some of the most dangerous legislation in recent Australian legislative history.

It creates a level of differing rights and standards between different classes of Australian citizens and organisations.

It is unnecessarily complex.

It lacks reasonable definitions and tests.

It reverses the rightful trend of Australian parliaments to reduce discrimination and to improve protections for minorities in favour of creating a system of systematic discrimination against large sectors of Australia’s society, and targets some of the most vulnerable minorities in Australia.

It is without a doubt a system of religious segregation that is no better than race-based apartheid which Australia has been a global leader fighting against.

Rather than moving Australia together as a cohesive society, this will pit Australian against Australian and create disharmony among so many.

Rather than assist with the ongoing improvement in the health and well-being of Australians, this will have a direct and negative impact on the health of many.

If religious organisations can convince the Government that they need the right to discriminate, then they should not receive any taxpayer funding.  Likewise, if health professionals want to discriminate against patients, they should not have access to Medicare funding at all and should seek to only have patients who are willing to consult with them outside of the Medicare system.  Their Medicare biller code can then be reallocated to doctors who are willing to serve all the public.

Accordingly, I have no option but to call on the Government to abandon this legislative strategy and recommence with a Human Rights Bill that seeks to balance competing human rights.  When balancing competing human rights, it seems to me that the innate nature of a person, such as their race, gender, sexual orientation etc is a is given a higher order than their rights from areas of choices, such a religion.

These exposure bills are an abject failure in balancing human rights.  They virtually guarantee that religious rights (the rights from a personal choice) are always held above all other human rights (those that are innate about a person).

The only way forward is the creation of an effective Human Rights Bill.

I would be more than happy to discuss my submission with you.

Yours sincerely

Jason Masters


[1] https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/human-rights/uca-statements/item/download/111_40d235aeb99ba1eb6e46503f5490416d (sourced 30 January 2020), page 7

[2] https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/Documents/religious-freedom-review-expert-panel-report-2018.pdf (Sourced 30 January2020), page 10

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx (sourced 30 January 2020)

Submission on the Exposure Drafts for Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

2 October 2019

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

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney General,

Re: Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Why Women Should Be Concerned by the Religious Freedom Push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why should women be worried about religious freedom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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