Religious Freedom Amendments End the Misuse of Church Power

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen the Australian public and the Australian Government take a stand against the misuse of Church power towards LGBTIQ+ people. Let me give you some context…

Three years ago I had a conversation with my minister about the fact that there was no space for gay Christians at our Newtown Anglican Church (the kind of place you’d expect to have a formal ministry to LGBTIQ+ people). I felt our church wasn’t doing enough to bridge the gap between a history of Christian judgement towards them, and the reality of God’s unconditional love and grace for the people in our area.

At a ‘Ministry Fair’ a few months later, showcasing all the ways our church could spread the gospel in our community, there was no mention of an LGBTIQ+ ministry. I wasn’t asked for any input. In fact over the two years that I attended this church in the “queer capital of Australia” and tried to share my ideas for how we could make it a more inclusive and welcoming space, my voice fell on deaf ears.

At the end of a period of feeling powerless, I wrote my story of coming out as a gay Christian – the first story that started this blog: Standing on the Rock: Coming Out as a Gay Christian. My leaders responded by asking me not to share it with anyone else at our church.

At the time I felt guilty for my lack of respect for my leaders, but now I recognise the shame of these actions is not mine.

Around the same time, on the 27th July, 2015, I wrote an email to the Archbishop of The Anglican Church of Sydney, Mr Glenn Davies, with similar concerns:

Glenn, I believe [our] view and tone of speaking, rather than our opposition to same-sex marriage itself, is the most troubling and urgent matter that needs addressing by the Anglican Church.

The Church’s urgent and oppositional tone is labeling our LGBTI Christians as disturbing, sub-citizens and the yeast in the dough threatening to ruin the entire batch. Not to mention the rest of the LGBTI community outside the church, and those who have left the church already because of this strong, impersonal stance. Whether we mean to or not, our tone is hurting the vulnerable.

I am also observing a growing number of my peers who feel the Anglican Church is losing touch and losing love. As a 26-year-old Christian who has attended an Anglican church for my entire life, the language we are using concerns me, and the way our message is being conveyed seems detrimental to our gospel of love and inclusion. Our gospel where we are helpless and condemned without grace, and where nothing we can do will earn our place in heaven.

We have adopted a fear of the unknown, rather than a love for the alien. We have lost perspective as well, where many other social issues are considered far more important to Jesus, and taught far more clearly and regularly in the Bible. But for some reason we have ended up in an out-weighted concern for same-sex marriage…

…I believe [there] are two concerns which could be quite easy to amend:

1. The Anglican Church is talking at us rather than conversing with us.

I believe we need to open up this conversation in churches and accept that our brothers and sisters might have very well thought-out, Biblical, loving and Godly perspectives on why same-sex relationships, same-sex parenting and same-sex marriages might not be as detrimental as the Anglican Church is so strongly pushing. I know this can be alarming and controversial, but it is always better to have these conversations happening amidst our ministers and other Christians in an open, loving space, than somewhere else.

2. The outright opposition to same-sex marriage is counter-productive

Whether it is in 10 days, 10 months or 10 years time, the passing of the same-sex marriage legislation seems inevitable, and to only have a message of opposition, only perpetuates your concerns. Which are also my concerns; the implications and consequences in redefining marriage for those (Christians) who hold the right to believe that marriage is be between a man and a woman.

The current space in which Christians can convey this view without being threatened is decreasing every day. And the future implications are only more threatening… But I also strongly believe that this is our own responsibility, and that either our message needs to shift, or our message needs to be complimented.”

I received no response.

Up until the last days of the postal survey on marriage equality, The Sydney Anglican Church was still full steam ahead with its one oppositional tactic, announcing the donation of $1 million of gospel funds to the No campaign i.e. $1 million dollars spent promoting a view that is mentally harmful to an already vulnerable group of Australian people.

Alongside of this, the Diocese made no apology for the ways the church has misunderstood and discriminated against LGBTIQ+ people in the past. There was no investment in mental health supports for LGBTIQ+ Christians who may have been experiencing trauma during a divisive debate. No dialogue among members about what the Bible says, just one-sided arguments about how “good Christians” need to vote.

There were no formal reminders for people to keep the gospel central to their conversations. In fact, there was even a letter that said the opposite:

“I am sure that we would prefer to spend our energies telling people about God’s loving message of salvation through Jesus Christ, but in God’s providence, this is the point of engagement with our culture at this time.”

The Sydney Anglican Diocese, my church, has chosen to ignore any form of relationship/bridge building initiatives and instead dig into the ground with repeated fear and discrimination.

So suddenly the people of Australia said, nope, not anymore. Not on our watch. And in the Senate it was voted with an overwhelming majority that Christians cannot repeatedly discriminate in these ways anymore. This week our Lower House will do the same.

As Christians, we are already protected in our freedom of beliefs by our legal system. As one of my lawyer friends posted on Facebook this week:

“Freedom of religion is in s116 of the Constitution, the HREOC Act, the Racial Discrimination Act, the universal declaration of human rights, about 827 in conventions and throughout common law. To codify this freedom in this act would actually limit the amount of religious freedom Australians have and honestly reduces the practice of religion and the freedom it affords to the practice of discrimination which we all know it is not.”

Many Christians have shown in the last 10 years, most particularly in the last 6 months, that when we have the right to say whatever we want, wherever we want about marriage equality, that we cannot do so responsibly. Because we have been harsh and harmful with our words, the Government has had to step in to cease its continuance. We will lose the opportunity to express these views in certain places, but for good reason.

Sadly, as a result, we will also lose the opportunities we currently have to promote the Christian gospel in public spaces. For that, I am truly gutted. If we had kept the gospel central to this debate, we would have made different priorities and acted differently. We don’t have the excuse of being blind, because we had plenty of countries and churches go ahead of us in this process.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21

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