This morning I received an email from Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of The Australian Christian Lobby. I have neither met Mr Shelton nor communicated with him in any way, yet he saw fit to send an email encouraging me, as a ''Church Leader" to ''activate'' in response to the postal plebiscite on marriage equality. Mr Shelton did not contact me previously about aid for refugees fleeing to Australia from conflicts abroad; he did not contact me about the need for interfaith dialogue in a pluralistic society; he did not even contact me last week about an appropriate faith response to the homeless encampment in Martin Place. Mr Shelton has reached out, for the first time, about an issue he assumes must be the primary point of agreement that I, as a Quaker, have with the general community of Christians in Australia (namely that a sizable portion of Australian residents are less deserving of a given set of rights than ''us'').
I have, if I were to actually think about it, at least eight colleagues at my workplace who are gay (or, rather, who have made known that they are as it honestly has nothing to do with our work relationship). I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are gay. Some of them, amazingly, have families and seem to lead relatively happy lives (or, at least, as happy lives as the rest of ''us'' manage to do as they are equally as human with neither more nor fewer faults that others).
The email I received this morning implies, ominously, that the inclusion of gay people in the same category of rights that are enjoyed by other Australians, will somehow bode ill for ''our'' children. This is the same straw man set up anytime homosexuality is mooted in a public space, they are coming for your children. The email specifically mentions the evils of the Safe Schools program; Safe Schools is not a means to advocate or promote homosexuality. It's a way to provide a healthy space for young people who are coming to terms with their own sexuality. It's a way to educate children, as they come to comprehend a new and sometimes confusing part of life, about the need for inclusion and understanding of others. (I still find the whole thing a bit bewildering at forty-two; give the kids some tools for goodness' sake!)
The message in the email was that, by allowing for a safe space in schools, religious freedom would be curtailed. Their logic concludes that, if ''our'' religious freedom is to be maintained then the freedoms of others must, of necessity, be suppressed. This never works in a way that is not damaging to both the free and certainly not to the ones who are put down. Basically everyone is bound in an increasingly narrowed container of freedoms that are defined by a subset of society. Freedom of conscience, private action, and self-determination aren't concepts that constrain religion or belief; these are, indeed, the foundation of a society where all faiths can flourish. Paradoxically, the argument that a given religious idea should prevail over all others is what eventually causes both that idea and the larger system to implode.
There is a much deeper issue here than homophobia; I would say that most of the people behind such anti-gay movements are not especially afraid of gay people (they are uncomfortable, but there is a difference between that and fear). And few of them actually think that there is some gay agenda to come into schools and ''turn'' their children gay. What they are most concerned about is that, by teaching children how to understand others, they will lose control over the narrow worldview they want their children and general society to have. If I develop the parallel skills of self-determination and empathy, there is little hold that a prescriptive social or religious system can have over me; I can go on and determine what is necessary for social cohesion based on my interaction with "them" (and realise that, in fact, I am part of "them").
This is rather blunt, but I think the essence of it. The Australian Christian Lobby doesn't care who you are in bed with; they'd rather really not think about that. (Or, there is a whole other story here that some people might be thinking of it...a bit too much.) What they do fear is that there will be a gradual opening of understanding that this group of people who they have demonised are actually ''humans'' with rights, that they are, indeed, just like everybody else. And these kinds of revelations break the bonds of control that ''Church Leaders'' have over their flocks. It's the same reason these people are opposed to interfaith dialogue; breaking down the us and them dynamic weakens the bind of control from within. The primary fear is that, without The Other to oppose, there will not be enough spiritual locus to hold things together in the group and it will dissolve. What they can't see is that we all can hold our own sacredness; that, if The Other holds a given matter sacred, it does not diminish that which is sacred for me.
I cannot speak as a Church Leader. For one, that's not how Quakers work but, also, there is no way to speak for all Christians any more than one can speak for all Australians or white people or any group (or, conversely, can one speak of The Homosexuals, The Muslims, etc.). To assume that one has that ability, as is assumed in this email, is overly presumptive. I would ask though, what is to be gained by furthering inequity on this matter? The dogged determination to oppose it is now going to cost the treasury many millions of dollars for a postal plebiscite. To what end when I would argue that gay people will, if not now then eventually, be granted full equality. This is reminiscent of a flat earth argument in the years following the discovery with all certainty that we are walking on a sphere. But, more pointedly, are you indeed arguing for inequity and a continued narrowing of understanding in the world? If that is your proposal, for a world where people are actively discriminated against based on the parameters you set, you lose the argument at the outset. Speak your truth, by all means; but bring a positive truth as a contribution to the whole, not as a means to contain and control. We are, by all obvious markers, in a world of diversity; we need to learn how to generate understanding and inclusion in it or we are not going to progress (or, frankly, survive). This has far larger implications than this issue at hand and those other matters are here upon us now as we dither!
Update on this; see the open letter response from Quakers Australia here.