The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has made a swathe of recommendations, however the one that is attracting the most interest in the media is the recommendation that clergy should be required to break the seal of the confessional and mandatorily report any confession of abuse of a child.
The Roman Catholic Church has responded through bishops and priests declaring that they will not break the seal of the confessional, even if the law is changed.
That to me is a heartbreaking response. We cannot put the spiritual welfare of the abuser above the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual welfare of their victim(s).
Thankfully in the Anglican Church we have already made moves to ensure priests are not bound by the confessional seal in the case of child sexual abuse. At the 2014 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia the canon regarding private confession was amended to allow for clergy to break the seal of confession in certain circumstances.
Under the amended canon, should a penitent make a confession of having committed a serious offence, then the priest is free to break the seal of confession if they are not satisfied that the penitent has reported the matter to the police and the director of professional standards (if they are a church worker or member of clergy).
The canon defines a serious offence as the following*:
“serious offence” means a criminal offence of the Commonwealth, of a State or of a Territory, or of another country which is equivalent to such a criminal offence of the Commonwealth, of a State or of a Territory:
(a) involving child abuse; or
(b) involving child exploitation material; or
(c) punishable by imprisonment for life or for a term of 5 years or more.
For me this is a common sense provision in the law of the church. It allows for the seal of confession to be maintained in all cases except where a major criminal offence has occurred and the penitent is refusing to go to the authorities.
My Roman Catholic brothers and sisters will continue to argue against this, because of their view that the seal of the confessional is an inviolable element of the sacrament - however I would argue that if a person approaches a priest and confesses a serious offence but has no intention of facing up to what they have done through reporting to the relevant authorities, then they are not genuinely repentant. If they are not genuinely penitent, then the sacrament is not valid and so their is no violation on behalf of the priest who reports the offence.
The simple truth is, If we as the body of Christ are to begin to regain the trust of society we must not fight against provisions such as this which are about protecting the most vulnerable in society. More importantly it is the right thing to do, both morally and theologically.
*Canon Concerning Confessions 1989
Today on the ABC a story was published about domestic violence, which highlighted how over many years the church in various guises and denominations has failed the victims of domestic violence. It makes for harrowing reading – to read of the abuse that women especially have endured because the church has failed to give them guidance, protection and support, and rather encouraged them to stay with their abuser lest they break their marriage covenant.
Firstly, let me be absolutely clear, if your spouse is abusing you, physically, sexually, emotionally or psychologically, then they have broken their marriage covenant with you. You are no longer bound to stay with them, and you should leave – immediately – and get somewhere where you and any children you may have will be safe. When they agreed to marry you your spouse promised, at least if you were married in a Christian wedding, to love, honour and comfort and protect you, and to live with you ‘according to God’s Word’ and the moment they begin to abuse you they have broken that commitment, and thus the marriage covenant.
So why is it that people get this so wrong? Because they rightly want to uphold marriage, as a lifelong commitment – a joining together of a man and a woman which Jesus upheld as something that couldn’t be dissolved except for sexual immorality. However Jesus was dealing with a very specific question about a practice which essentially allowed men to divorce their wives at will, with little justification. In a society where women were viewed as property, and who were reliant on the wealth and protection of either their husband or their father, getting divorced was a big deal – and it was being used as an abuse in itself. Jesus responds in this context and says this abuse of power isn’t allowed – he says unless your wife has committed adultery you have no real basis to throw her out on the street. Does that mean then that a woman must likewise stay with her husband if he is abusing her? Absolutely not! As I said, the moment your spouse is abusive they have broken their marriage covenant with you – you do NOT sin by divorcing an abusive spouse.
The article also deals with issues of patriarchy in the church which may influence how the church has responded to abuse victims. It specifically deals with the doctrine of male headship and how this doctrine espoused in some parts of the church has been twisted and the scriptures it is based on removed from their context and abused in order to justify appalling abuse of women.
I do not want to have a theological debate that will detract from this issue, but I think it is important to say I am an egalitarian, I believe that God sees men and women as equal in ability, talent and value. I believe that God calls both men and women to leadership – both in the home and in the church – based on their individual giftings, talents and abilities.
I understand the position that those who hold the opposite (complementarian) view – who believe that while men and women are equally loved and valued, that they are created by God with specific gender roles in mind, with men called to lead in the home and in the church. I understand how they interpret the scriptures to come to this conclusion, and I understand that their interpretation of those scriptures does not allow for abuse. However, the fact that this view is consistently being used to justify abuse must surely sound alarm bells. If we were to judge this doctrine by the fruit that it is bearing in the lives of men and women, as exposed in this and other articles and research papers, we must surely declare it fundamentally against the will of God. Now I will cop some flack for that statement, the key argument will likely be that it is the abuse of the doctrine that is the problem, not the doctrine itself. That is true – however if I was being facetious, I could equally say that communism isn’t the problem it is just the way it is interpreted and implemented…
As I said above though I am not going to get bogged down in a debate about theology, and I would ask readers to respect that and not seek to engage in the comments in a debate about complementarianism vs egalitarianism, to do so would be to miss the entire point of this very serious issue. Women are being abused, and the church through naivety, through misunderstanding, through incompetence, through misunderstanding marriage and divorce, and yes through the abuse of the doctrine of male headship has been complicit in enabling abuse to continue and even in the deaths of victims of abuse as one heart breaking example in the article pointed out.
We need to face that. We need to make changes to how clergy and other church workers are trained. We need to listen to victims, and we need to believe them. Those parts of the church who insist on holding to the complementarian view of male headship especially need to be taking time to fully explain the doctrine to clergy and to men and women in their churches, so that there can be no confusion and no doubt that headship does not include the right to be abusive and coercive.
I want to finish this by simply saying sorry. As a priest in the Church of God, I am truly and deeply sorry if you or anyone you love has been the victim of abuse and found the church complicit in making that abuse worse. If you are one of my parishioners, know that I will listen, I will believe you and I will not dismiss you. I will do everything I can to support you and I will never tell you to just go home and put up with it.
The debate about legalising same sex marriage in Australia is still continuing and distracting from other major issues facing our nation. As a priest in the Church of God, I uphold the church's doctrine that marriage is something that can only take place between a man and a woman, however I believe that the time has come for this issue to be settled. We who hold to a traditional understanding of what marriage is have lost the debate in the public square - through the past hateful and hurtful actions of our own churches, through the inability to uphold the values which we advocate and through an inability to convey our message to the people.
I have personally never supported discrimination against gay couples, and have long supported changes to legislation that would have allowed for civil unions or other legal recognition that was equal under law to marriage.
It is my view however, that the vast majority of the population now does support changing the legal definition of marriage to include adults of the same sex, and as somewhat of a libertarian I believe that in a modern pluralist democratic society legislation should reflect the will of the people. For this reason I don't believe that we should be focusing on opposing legislation that would see the Marriage Act changed to allow same sex marriage, however I don't think we should endorse it either. The truth is though it is coming - and we need to learn how to deal with that.
To be clear I believe that for Same Sex marriage to occur there needs to be very strong safeguards put in place - and we should absolutely be arguing for those - religious freedom is where our argument now needs to stand. This includes the right of people to decline to take part in the celebration of a same sex marriage because of religious conviction. I believe there also needs to be safeguards in place to protect the right of organisations which are owned or run by religious organisations to likewise decline to participate. Finally the right of Religious leaders and others to publicly state their traditional view of marriage in opposition to the newly changed legal definition without fear of being dragged through the courts for discrimination, or losing their jobs if they are employed outside of a religious context, must be protected.
My view is also that the only way that this change can be made before the next federal election is to have the plebiscite. The arguments which have been levelled against holding a national poll include that it is non-binding, that it is against the tradition of parliamentary democracy, and finally that it would be too harmful for LGBTI individuals to have a public debate in the lead up to the plebiscite due to the risk of extremist and bigoted views being put forward by the 'no' side.
Firstly, the argument that the plebiscite should be abandoned on the basis that it is not binding is flawed at its core. Whether the plebiscite is binding is irrelevent, because following the plebiscite members will be given a free vote in the parliament in response. Anyone who would reject the will of the people and vote no in such a vote is going to vote no in any vote whether there is a plebiscite or not - and here is the kicker - not only will their revolt against the will of the Australian people be rather risky for them politically, it simply will not change the outcome.
The second argument around Australia being a parliamentary democracy and plebiscites not being a part of that system is again flawed. Throughout the history of parliamentary democracy their have been many plebiscites - they are used generally when their is a contentious issue to be decided, and the parliament wants to properly gauge the will of the people they represent. I agree that having plebiscites on every major issue is a bad idea, however when we are talking about an issue as fundamental as what comprises the most important component of our society - the family unit - I think it was reasonable for the Government to propose the plebiscite as a way forward.
The final, very serious and heart breaking reason often put forward is the danger to LGBTI youth especially if the debate leading to a plebiscite leads to bigoted and hurtful comments and campaigns against the proposed change. Research shows that LGBTI individuals are already at a higher risk of mental illness and suicide, and it is argued this could be the thing that tips many over the edge. This is a major concern, and I share it to an extent. However the idea that we should not have a public debate about issues of major significance is fundamentally flawed.
I wonder for example if those who reject the plebiscite on same sex marriage due to possible harm, also reject having a referendum on recognition of Australia's first peoples in the constitution? There is no group in Australian society with higher suicide rates than our Indigenous population. Given that 11% of the population say that they support One Nation, and also given the racist remarks directed at me and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders pretty well daily on Social Media, and in the real world, it is beyond doubt there will be high levels of racist ranting against any form of recognition when the campaign starts. Given the high levels of mental health issues and the skyrocketing suicide rates in the community, if we follow the logic of same sex marriage advocates to abandon the plebiscite, then we should also abandon any attempt at a referendum on recognition.
However as an Aboriginal man, the grandson of a woman stolen from her parents, I say the referendum needs to happen (following the recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart). I know that it will see an increase in hateful rhetoric, but I also know that those who speak in such a hateful way are a small minority, and the overwhelming majority of Australians can talk about it using common sense and decency - I believe the same of the debate about Same Sex Marriage.
I suspect however that one of two things is going to happen. Either the legalisation of same sex marriage will happen before the next election through a private members bill in which Liberal Party MP's and Senators cross the floor - first to have it debated, and then to have it passed. Or it will languish as an issue constantly moving on and off the political agenda and become a political football at the next election where there is the same likelihood of hurtful, misinformed and bigoted comments being made as in any plebiscite.
As I said it is my view that the plebiscite goes ahead, because it is a major issue of significance and because the Government was elected on the understanding that any change to the definition of marriage could only take place after such a vote. However, in the event that it is legalised without the plebiscite, either through members crossing the floor before the election or in a free vote after the election, I believe that it is a change that is coming and which I after much consideration and prayer, I do not oppose (to be clear not opposing something is not the same as endorsing it).
Provided there are real protections for individuals to exercise their religious freedom, speech and expression, I believe that this change will only serve to better reflect the plurality that exists in our nation - and that is one of the blessings of living in a liberal democracy such as ours.
As for Christians who hold to a traditional view of marriage, I would argue that the best way forward for us from here is to actually bear witness to the biblical ideals of marriage, and of the Gospel message of love, forgiveness, redemption and hope in our own lives and relationships - especially in our relationships with LGBTI members of the community.
Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Tosca Lloyd, the executive officer of the Rationalist Society of Australia, titled: The message in the Census: End Australia's Christian bias.
In the article Tosca argues that there is a Christian bias in government policy and funding decisions and that this should be ended on the basis of the census results which show that 29.6% of Australians now identify as having 'no religion'.
Tosca gives as evidence that there is a Christian bias the fact that the parliaments around Australia open with the Lord's Prayer, that catholic schools receive government funding, and that the majority of chaplains employed under the schools chaplaincy program are Christian.
Of course what Tosca fails to note is that no-one is forced to say the Lord's prayer, Parents who send their children to religious schools are tax payers who are just as entitled to government support for their children's education as any other parent - and lets not even get started on the HUGE cost to Government if they stopped funding private schools and all of a sudden the 34.6% of students (over 1.3 million!) who currently attend non-government schools all needed a place in the public system - the infrastructure costs alone would see the budget destroyed,
Then we have the fact that the chaplaincy program is open for any faith group to provide chaplains to schools - and the fact that most are Christian simply reflects that the majority of Australians still identify as Christian. It also fails to understand that schools have to apply for the funding to hire chaplains, and that it is done in consultation with the school community so they get a chaplain that best matches the demographics represented,
Tosca also notes that issues such as same sex marriage, euthanasia and abortion have struggled to get through our parliaments, and dismisses the possibility that there is a secular justification for this. She declares that it is due to what she sees as the Christian influence on the parliaments, saying:
"It is clear that our federal and state governments make decisions based on the perception that Christians make up the core of our society, but they need only look at the latest census results, as well as the results of polling, to correct this perception."
Firstly, given that more than half of the population still identifies as Christian, I think it is fair to say that Christians do in fact make up a core group of our society. Secondly, surely Tosca isn't suggesting that there be a religious test (or lack of religion test) to hold office in this country? Surely she isn't suggesting that anyone who wishes to hold public office be required to renounce their religious beliefs, and/or ignore their conscience when voting in parliament?
It appears that only the complete removal of religion - and Christianity in particular - from any public discourse, and the removal of all government funding for religiously affiliated organisations will do, and that is a rather scary position to take - to identify one section of society - one group of citizens and say to them you are no longer allowed to have a voice, you are no longer allowed to exercise any influence because you have a religious faith.
Then of course comes the gem - the claim that this secular utopia which bans its religious citizens from receiving government support, and refuses to allow them a voice in public policy decisions is not about enforcing its view on others - but is in fact tolerant!
France is probably the most secular democratic nation on the planet at the moment - lets examine shall we how tolerant France is towards those who are religious. Surely in this tolerant secular society a person who is religious would have the freedom to wear symbols and clothing prescribed by or which identify their religion? Well no, Tolerant secularism in France says that all religious symbols and clothing are banned from schools, and Muslim women are forbidden from wearing their religious clothing - even to the point that they were banned from wearing a 'burkini' swim suit. Here is a woman in one:
Thank goodness secularism is saving the french from seeing children wearing cross necklaces and women in stylish swimwear! All joking aside though, the truth is enforced secularism is no better than enforced religion - forcing me to discard my religious views and beliefs in order to be eligible for government support, employment or funding is just as abhorrent as if someone was forced to adhere to a particular religious belief system.
What Australia actually needs is not secularism, but pluralism. Pluralism sees a nation recognise that it is diverse and that people have divergent views on religion, ethics and cultural expectations. Pluralism allows genuine religious freedom, including the right to not believe anything. Secularism by contrast demands that religion be completely removed from pubic discurse and disqualifies religious entities and people from receiving government funding - based only on the fact they have a religious affiliation, and not based on whether they are best suited to deliver the program or policy in question.
Pluralism says the religious affiliation or lack thereof of an organisation or individual is not relevant. What matters is who is best suited to provide the service, program or implement the policy. Secularism demands that religious individuals give up their faith and ignore their conscience if they wish to serve in public office. Pluralism recognises that all citizens of our nation are guided by their own beliefs and morals - whether based on religion or not, and allows freedom to politicians and other public servants to exercise their judgement based on their conscience - confident that if they behave in a way that society opposes, they will not be re-elected,
I agree with Tosca that our nations demographics are changing, and are likely over the short term to continue toward an increasing number of people who identify as non-religious. However the solution is not to impose secularism, but rather to embrace a pluralism that sees everyone free to live and believe as they wish (within the bounds of the law), and doesn't exclude people, and organisations from public service, and government funding and support arbitrarily based only on religious affiliation, but instead judges all funding and policy decisions on their merits, recognising the increasingly diverse society we live in,
Some of you may have seen over the past week the controversy surrounding Coopers Brewery and the Bible Society about a short video where two politicians discussed the idea of same sex marriage.
The video was part of the Bible Society’s 200th birthday celebrations. It was designed to encourage people to engage in discussion on significant issues in a civil and respectful manner. Coopers had agreed to make a specially labelled light beer to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Bible Society and the video featured the participants “keeping it light” while they discussed the issue with great respect and care while enjoying a beer.
Now all of that seems fairly reasonable doesn’t it? The Bible society as part of its birthday celebrations released a video encouraging people to engage in respectful and caring conversation on major issues… However the response to the video was anything but reasonable.
Almost immediately same sex marriage advocates called for a boycotting of Coopers products. They demanded that pubs and clubs stop stocking Coopers beers—and many agreed. Why were they so outraged? Both men in the video were given equal air time to put forward their case—and even had to say what part of the others view they found most compelling. The Video did not present one view as superior to the other… The outrage came because they dared to even put it forward as something to be debated.
That isn’t a typo—the same sex marriage lobby has decided that not only should those who oppose same sex marriage be bullied into silence, but that even those who think it is an important matter for public discussion and civil and respectful debate should be bullied into submission—dissent will not be tolerated in any form. Anyone who they perceive as even suggesting that there is a discussion to be had must be punished—and so Coopers was punished—dragged through days of hostile media scrutiny and sadly they eventually caved in to the bullying—no doubt fearing for their livelihoods—and in some cases their safety as threats were made. Coopers withdrew its plan to release the commemorative cases of light beer—they disatanced themselves from the Bible Society and they announced they were going to join the group Australian Marriage Equality. The bullies won.
This has been an incredibly sad week in our nation for freedom of thought, speech and expression. It has been a week in which the same sex marriage lobby have shown their true colours as bullies, hypocrites and bigots who demand tolerance and respect on one hand and then bully and coerce those who have not accepted their views on the other.
Please pray for our nation, that we will be able to hold onto the values we value so dearly. Values of freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of thought, expression and freedom of speech. Pray that we don’t become a nation that does not tolerate dissent, and punishes those who don’t agree with the prevailing view of the elites. Pray that we can be a nation that debates important issues with civility, love and compassion—the very things the video promoted.
I also invite you to pray for the victims in all of this—the staff of both Coopers Brewery, and the Bible Society.
Today is Australia Day. It is a day that our nation has set aside as a day of celebration of who we are, of our freedoms and our history. However, the date that was chosen for this celebration is one that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is the anniversary of when they began to lose their own sovereignty over the land and sea of our great nation and the beginning of dispossession not only of that land and sea, but also of culture and language. It is a day that marked the beginning of the end for many Aboriginal cultures and languages which have now ceased to exist. It is a day that led to the subjugation and murder of people who before then were sovereign rulers of the land the citizens of our country now call home.
With that in mind many people are now calling for the date of Australia Day to be moved, and for January 26 to be made a day of lament or mourning for the injustices which have taken place against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. As an Aboriginal man, whose grandmother was one of the people of the stolen generations, I have a great deal of sympathy with this view - in fact in the past I have put forward the 27th May as an alternative - the date of the 1967 referendum which resulted finally in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being given equal status as citizens of Australia.
That this country needs to acknowledge our past and the effect that it has had (and continues to have) on the first inhabitants of this land is in my mind beyond questioning. The only way that we will be able to move forward as one, strong and united nation is by being willing to own the entirety of our nations history - not just the good bits.
That means that we need to acknowledge that this nation, while having achieved greatness, while being a beacon of freedom and hope, while having great stories of conquering adversity and of exploration and sacrifice leading to the incredible prosperity we enjoy today also has another history that must be acknowledged, a history of dispossession and murder, a history of subjugation and of genocide.
So does that mean that we should change the date? No. Not from my perspective at least - my mind has been changed as I have thought and prayed long and hard on this. I am of the view that while the 26th of January is the date that saw the beginning of a very dark period for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our nation, it is also the date that marked the beginning of the transformation of Australian into the nation we are now. It is also the date on which the conception took place of Australia as the modern, liberal democracy in which we now live - so while it is a day of mourning - it is also a day of celebration.
For me the solution is in transforming Australia Day into a day of both celebration and lament. A day that acknowledges not only the great history of our nation that began on 26th January 1788, but also the incredible story of our nation that existed here for tens of thousands of years before then. What I long for is that Australia Day would be a day on which we could stand together in the morning to remember the devastating effects that the arrival of Europeans had on Aboriginal an Torres Strait Islander people. To stand together and give thanks that despite 2o0 years of policies that sought to destroy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, culture and history (children were still being forcibly removed for race based reasons into the 1970's) that we are still here. To stand together as a nation and acknowledge and lament the policies of genocide and the effects these have had and continue to have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Then It would be my hope that having stood together in the morning to lament the wrongs of the past, we could stand together in the afternoon to celebrate the great victories and achievements that we have achieved together. It is my hope that we could stand in solidarity and rejoice in our freedom, to give thanks for all the opportunity and incredible wealth (relative to most the world) we enjoy.
For me this is about genuine reconciliation. Genuine reconciliation requires genuine repentance – a genuine desire to turn away from the wrongs of the past and walk a new path. To be able to turn away from the wrongs of the past we need to acknowledge them, we need to acknowledge their ongoing effects. By including both a time of lament for the sins of the past as well as a celebration of what is good in our past – and our future we can make this day a day for all Australians – a day we can truly be proud of.
I want to finish with this prayer. If you would, please join me in praying it:
God of all creation, who formed this great land on which we live. We come before you acknowledging our brokenness, acknowledging that we are all sinners who fall short of your glory. We humbly admit that our nation in its past has been responsible for great crimes against the first peoples of this land. We acknowledge that great harm was done, and the consequences of that are still being felt even now. Gracious Lord, we submit on behalf of our nation the blood of Christ as we turn to you in sorrow and repentance and ask forgiveness for the wrongs done by those who preceded us - bring us to full reconciliation father both with you and with each other.
Loving Lord having acknowledged our sin, we turn to you and give thanks for Australia – we give thanks for our freedom – freedom which is so valued, and yet so rare in this world. We give thanks for those who have built our nation, we give thanks for the incredible wealth and prosperity that we have. We pray your blessing on those who have been called to lead us, that they would do so honourably and justly. We also pray Father that we as a nation would use the incredible wealth and privilege that we have been afforded for the benefit of all – that we would be a nation of generous spirit and open hearts.
Finally Father we pray that you would pour forth your Spirit and bring about renewal and revival in our nation, that we would be a beacon of the hope, justice, love and forgiveness that comes only through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 The definition of genocide in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) is "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1 ; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." (http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/pdf/osapg_analysis_framework.pdf )
This article is the second one in a week about Rev Dr Mascord 'losing' his licence to preach in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney due to his stance on same sex marriage and his view that traditional Biblical theology is flawed. It is worth noting straight away that Dr Mascord did not have a current license in Sydney, so his license was not revoked - he applied for a license and the Archbishop declined.
I have to say that I side with the archbishop of Sydney on this one - and I know that some of my friends will vehemently disagree with my view here - especially those on the list of signatories.
The truth is though that Dr Mascord, when ordained, vowed only to teach and uphold the doctrine of the Anglican Church, and also to be subject to his bishop. He is now openly advocating views which are contrary to the doctrine of the Anglican Church, and refuses to submit to his bishop's lawful and reasonable request.
Also worth noting is that the Archbishop advised that he could in fact be licensed to serve in his parish, if he could give an assurance that he would only preach that which is in accordance with the doctrines of the church (again,he is only being asked to fulfil his commitments in accordance with his vows of ordination) - Dr Mascord declined to give that assurance, and so the Archbishop upheld his own vows taken when he was consecrated as bishop 'to drive away all false and strange doctrine which is contrary to God’s word; and privately and publicly to call upon and encourage others to do likewise' and to 'correct and discipline, according to the authority you have by God’s word, the disorderly and disobedient and those guilty of offence within your jurisdiction'.*
For me this is pretty clear cut - if you wish to be licensed to preach in an Anglican Church, it is entirely reasonable that you will only preach in accordance with the doctrines of the church. If you cannot in good conscience do that, then it is also not unreasonable that you be told you can't preach.
Finally, I will finish with a quote from C.S. Lewis, which I think is relevant here:
“It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.”**
*From The Consecration of Bishops service in An Australian Prayer Book, © Anglican Church of Australia Trust Corporation.
** From 'God in the Dock'
This week I wrote to my congregation explaining to them that I uphold the doctrine of the church and believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I also explained that holding this view does not mean that I hate homosexual couples, it does not mean that I am opposed to them having equal rights under civil law - it simply means that I and those who share my view believe that the term marriage can only ever apply to the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Some I know will label me a 'homophobe' for expressing this view. Some will say I am being hateful. The truth is though, that I do not hate anyone - not even those who have done me direct emotional and physical harm - so why would I hate homosexuals?
The idea that to disagree with someone over marriage is hateful, is being used as a weapon in the debate by those who support changing the definition to include same sex couples. The argument goes that if you oppose same sex marriage then you are clearly against equal rights for gay people - which means you clearly are a bigot that hates gay people...
Of course saying that we believe that marriage should stay between a man and a woman actually in no way restricts the rights of homosexual couples to enter into lifelong committed and monogamous relationships if they wish to do so. It in no way restricts the ability of government to ensure that gay couples are treated equally under the law - in fact the previous Labor Government already passed legislation at the Commonwealth level to ensure this! That there are still some inequalities being experienced at the State/Territory Level simply means that those jurisdictions should be called upon to enact similar legislation. If this was done then gay couples would be treated 100% equally under the law at all levels of government in Australia - and all without ever changing the fundamental meaning of society's most important institution.
What saying that we believe marriage is between a man and a woman means, is that we understand marriage to be more than simply something people do if they love each other—we understand it to be a special union, between a man and woman, especially given and sanctified by God for the forming of a new family unit and the raising of children. There is no hate here—there is no homophobia, and no-one is saying that homosexual couples should be discriminated against—by all means give a same sex couples equal standing under secular law— even through recognising the relationships as civil partnerships or similar. It is also not a statement about the nature or value of their relationships—Homosexual couples do love each other, they care for each other, and they value their relationships just as highly as heterosexual couples do. They must be shown our love and care and be treated with the dignity deserved by people made in the image of God.
The simple truth however is this; in Traditional Christian understanding Marriage is something that can only take place between a man and a woman, any other relationship, no matter how loving, no matter how caring and valued that relationship is, simply is not and cannot be a marriage. Whilst the secular legal definition may change (and likely will) The Christian understanding revealed through God’s word will not.
Today the Weekend Australian published an article by Hedley Thomas in which internal and confidential prison reports were 'obtained' by the Weekend Australian. 'Obtained' is a nice way of saying that someone in NT Corrections isn't happy that the organisation has been exposed for its clear abuse of a child over many years and so chose to deliberately leak the documents to the press. You see now we can all see what a terrible young man Dylan Voller is and we can join in a sympathetic cry with those poor corrections staff - clearly they were justified in picking up a small teenage boy and body slamming him into his mattress on the floor. Clearly they were justified in kneeing him and smacking him to the ground. It's not their fault - he is a bad kid...
Apparently it justifies this:
Well here's the thing Hedley Thomas and NT Corrections, I and the rest of the right thinking population of Australia know very well that Dylan Voller has done some pretty bad things in his life - we know that he probably isn't a nice guy to get along with - we've heard how he spat at guards and was verbally abusive. We have even heard that he has been physically abusive. What we also know however is that NONE OF THAT MATTERS. The images we saw on the four corners program were sickening. They depict a child being deliberately, physically abused by Corrections staff. Let me say that again just so I am absolutely crystal clear here - they depict a child being abused.
Now, I am not a child development psychologist, but I am pretty sure that when you have an obviously troubled child being held in a detention facility because they have committed multiple crimes at a young age, it might be best to take time to try and help him. It is not the job of detention centre staff to punish this child - being locked up away from family and friends is his punishment. No, what should be happening is that the child should be receiving counselling, schooling and being shown love care and support. If Dylan Voller had been shown as an 11 year old boy that the world really wasn't against him - that there are people who care and who want to help him, then who knows... he may have come out of that centre reformed, ready to learn and contribute to the world.
He didn't receive love, care and respect though. Instead that 11 year old child was brutally and repeatedly abused. That 11 year old child learnt that the people that were supposed to look after him were monsters, who he could never trust - he learnt that those in authority are a bunch of bastards who will abuse their power and don't care at all about him. This child was shown that no-one cared and the whole world was against him - what then is the point of reforming, why not just give up?
So yes we all know that Dylan has committed crimes - you don't go to detention/prison for helping old ladies cross the street, but let me be very very clear here - he was physically, and psychologically abused whilst he was a child in state care and that cannot ever be justified.
The fact that his private prison notes have been leaked to the press is in my view only further evidence of corruption within NT Corrections and further evidence of the culture of cover up and victim blaming. This cannot continue - it must be stopped.
I want to finish this now with a prayer for Dylan, and for all those children currently being held in detention around our nation and beyond.
Loving Lord, you say in your Word, 'let the children come to me and do not stop them'. Lord we see that there are many many children who stumble, who struggle and who find themselves in a dark place right now as they have been removed from family and friends and all the support they need as a consequence of bad choices and actions.
Father we uphold them to you now, we pray that they would be able to see your light through the darkness, we pray that they would know that whatever they have done, that they are deeply loved, that they can be forgiven and restored and remade as citizens of your kingdom. Father we pray especially for Dylan Voller whom we have learnt about through seeing images of the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of those meant to be caring for him. We give thanks that in his recent letter released to the public he acknowledged his wrongdoing and sought to make amends - we pray Lord that this repentance is genuine, and that he can come out of prison a new man, but above all we pray for him to find healing, for him to find hope - the genuine healing and hope that can only come through you Lord.
Finally Lord we pray for those who have been involved in the abuse of children in detention, and for those who have conspired with them to cover it up - Lord give them hearts of repentance, and bring them forward to speak honestly about what has happened and to face justice - we do pray Lord that they too would seek to find forgiveness, redemption and hope through you.
We pray all these things in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN.
Yesterday Sonia Kruger expressed her opinion that Muslim migration to Australia should be stopped. Sonia was commenting in agreement with an article written by Andrew Bolt in which he directly links the number of Muslims in a country to the number of terror attacks and thus implies that the only way to ensure our safety as a nation is to stop allowing Muslim migration.
Now this blog piece is not about denigrating Sonia or Andrew - I don't want them to lose the opportunity to express their opinions - we live in a free and open democracy and freedom of speech is central to that. However let me be clear here - freedom of religion is also a fundamental pillar of free and open democratic nations.
Andrew is quick to dismiss as a ludicrous proposition that the way Muslim people are treated could have anything to do with the number of terror attacks - He notes how terrible it is for the Muslim community to allow the Grand Mufti to speak for them because he listed some causative factors which lead to terror attacks - things which marginalise and denigrate Muslims which makes it easier for young disaffected youth especially to be radicalised.
However here is the simple truth - If you deliberately target a group of people and use hateful, abusive language towards them. If you label them all as evil, if you make broad sweeping generalisations about them and ban them from the free expression of their faith... if you do these things you simply feed the propaganda machine of the terrorists - you give them evidence of how the 'West' hates them and they show that to the vulnerable, outsiders that they target to try and radicalise - they use our own words to convince them that we hate them and that we are the enemy.
Now let me be clear here - I am not suggesting that anything Andrew or Sonia or others have said could ever justify the horrific things done in the name of terror. I am not saying that treating Muslims badly is a legitimate defence of these crimes against humanity - what I am saying is that it is entirely reasonable to point out that the extremists who have no conscience will seek to use hateful language and behaviour directed at the Muslim community as part of their propaganda.
Sonia, has apparently developed a genuine fear of the terrorists (which is of course their aim). I don't condemn her for that - however I genuinely believe that she is unwittingly falling into a trap set for us by the terrorists - by turning her fear of terror into a fear of all Muslims, and seeking to ban Muslim immigration, she becomes yet another high profile person which the terrorists can point to and say - see! they hate us! And whilst most people who hear it will reject this message from the terror recruiters - some, won't. Some will be so vulnerable, so alone, so lost and seeking answers, that they will latch onto the message of hate and they will join.
There are other straightforward reasons not to lump all Muslims in with these terrorists - for a start in our own country the last report I saw said that around 400 people are on the watch list for possible links to terrorism. That sounds like a lot doesn't it... but let's put that in perspective - there are approximately 500,000 Muslims in Australia. Now let's assume that all 400 people on the list are Muslim (which is by no means certain), That being the case we work out the percentage of Muslims currently in our nation with possible links with terrorism using some simple arithmetic - 400/500000 = 0.0008. That means that 0.08% of the Muslim population of Australia (less than one tenth of one percent!) currently have suspected links with terrorism - and that word suspected is very important because if there was solid proof they would not be on this list, they would be in gaol.
The religion of Islam, like all religions and philosophical views can be hijacked and used by people with evil intent. As a Christian, I am a member of a religious group which in it's past has been used as an excuse by those responsible for horrific crimes against humanity - think the Spanish Inquisition, think about trying to justify slavery. However I know that the only way that one could justify any sort of evil using the Christian faith would be by completely removing context from some verses of scripture, by twisting it's meaning to fit your own purpose and then convincing people who don't have a solid grounding and understanding of the faith that this is what it means. This is true also of Islam - yes there are writings within it that can be used to try and justify evil - but again only if they are removed from their historical, cultural, social and literary context - Islam and Muslims are not the problem, the problem is that there are a group of people who hate the 'West' and who have made it their mission to attack us, and these people are seeking to pervert the religion of Islam to justify their hate - we must not let them do this, we need to support the Islamic community who call out these people, and clearly tell them they are not Muslims.
Sonia responded to some of the criticism she garnered after supporting Andrew Bolt's article by posting on Twitter that 'Following the atrocities of the last week in Nice where 10 children lost their lives, as a mother, I believe it's vital in a democratic society to be able to discuss these issues without automatically being labelled racist.' . On this point I agree with her - I don't believe that Sonia is racist, I believe she is frightened - that she is afraid for the future of our nation as a safe place for children to grow and live. I believe that there are many many people like Sonia, who are fearful about our future as a nation - and they are targeting this fear at the only group they know - the Muslims.
As a father, who worries about his children just as much as Sonia does hers, I believe that we need to stop erecting barriers between us. As a father I believe that our children should grow up in a society that allows freedom of speech (as Sonia called for) but also freedom of association and freedom of religion. I want my children to grow up knowing that they live in a country that welcomes all people regardless of race, or gender, or sexuality or religious affiliation - or lack there of. I want my Children to grow in a nation of tolerance, of openness, and of welcome. I want my children to follow the advice of Jesus, who says that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves - he didn't say love the people who look like you or talk like you.
It is my great prayer that we as a nation can tear down barriers of hate and division, and rather engage with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to show them that they are not our enemy, and neither are we theirs - because the truth is, if we pour forth love, compassion and respect towards Muslims, we destroy the ability of Daesh to claim us as enemies - the great truth is that the first step to defeating hate - is to love.
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.