May your god go with you


It seems that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is the keeper of the morals and ethics of a number of conservative politicians in this country. So does the ACL really represent the views of Christian Australia, or is it an attempt to enforce the views of a small group of people upon the majority?

To look at the views of the ACL, we need to do a bit of bible study. Those who will tell you that the bible is an accurate historical document have a fundamental problem in that the New Testament (the bit about Christianity) was written sometime after the events occurred. If we assume for a minute that the subject of the New Testament was actually born on 25 December 0AD, he died somewhere around March or April 33AD – despite the Gregorian calendar that we follow today not being developed until well after the 1000AD mark. While the common claim is that the New Testament was written hundreds of years after the event, this link to the Christian Apologetics and Research Institute argues that the various sections of the New Testament were all written by those who had direct knowledge of the events (or those who knew those with the direct knowledge) so were basically complete by 100AD.

Considering that we are now in 2016AD, it’s likely that in the previous 1900 or so years, various changes have occurred either through the length of time taken to commit the events to a permanent record, translation, intent or error. The Christian Apologetics website argues that while error is possible, the intent of the text remains the same. Given that most of us can’t remember what we had for lunch a month ago, or the exact circumstances and timelines behind an important event that occurred a year ago, the position that the bible text is an exact report of events that occurred years prior to the recording of them is as ‘pure’ today as it was when it was written is a leap of faith (sorry!) that is difficult to justify on a logical level.

For those who believe in a religion, be it Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or anything else for that matter, the book of faith for their particular brand of religion certainly suggests a way to live that is moral and ethical. However, it is doubtful if the books should be taken as an absolute truth. For example, the old testament of the bible, shared between the Jewish and Christian religions, prohibits the eating of products from pigs as it is ‘unclean’. Is there a deep spiritual meaning here or is it something as basic as that unless pig meat is cooked or cured properly, some pathogens survive? Science and modern technology do have their uses.

The ACL’s website will tell you that their work is to ‘see Christian principles influencing the way we are governed, do business and relate to each other as a community’. They also claim to be non-party political or aligned to any denomination of Christianity. It seems that principles in this case is a selected cherry picking of the bits they like out of the Christian holy book, the bible.

The ACL is currently in the news for it’s obsessive opposition to anything to do with acceptance of people who identify as LGBTIQ and by inference, same sex marriage. In their view, even the Safe Schools program, designed to prevent bullying across the spectrum of school students is claimed to be promoting sexual experimentation rather than being a valid response to a number of bullying issues – most of which have nothing to do with gender.

Continuing the biblical theme of this article, the Huffington Post religion site notes:
‘there are really only seven passages in the Bible that refer directly to homosexual behaviour, and none of them are associated with Jesus’

Compare that to the more than 250 verses on the proper use of wealth or more than 300 on our responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice, and you appreciate quickly that homosexuality was not exactly a major theme of the Bible.
The article in Huffington Post goes on to list the passages of the bible as well as discussing how the scholars see the relevance of the passages to the 21st Century interpretation placed on them by conservative commentators.

Jeff Sparrow discussed the historical roots of organisations such as the ACL in The Guardian. He makes these points:
Specifically, the ACL’s distinctive tradition comes not from the Holy Land but from the United States, where the American religious right first took shape in the early 1970s.

As Randall Balmer explains in Politico, Christian conservatism became a political force in the US at tail end of the civil rights era. Indeed, the religious right emerged initially to oppose desegregation – that is, to defend institutionalised racism against African Americans.

In 1971, the US government decided to withdraw tax exemptions from racially discriminatory schools. That included Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist college in South Carolina that claimed a scriptural basis for segregation. The university did not admit black students at all; later, it enrolled married black students but promised to expel any student who engaged in interracial dating (or who even supported an organisation that advocated interracial relationships).

The conservative political activist Paul Weyrich, working closely with the Reverend Jerry Falwell, rallied Christians in support of Bob Jones University’s right to receive tax breaks. Crucially, the campaign was pitched less as a defense of the college’s racism than as a matter of religious freedom: Weyrich roused a Christian constituency by warning evangelical leaders that the government was taking control their institutions. It was only later that Weyrich and Falwell redirected the anger at federal interference in Christian schooling into campaigns around “values” issues such as abortion and pornography.

The Australian Christian Lobby was founded in 1995, in fairly direct imitation of the Christian Coalition of America. There’s no suggestion that the ACL ever embraced the segregationist politics of Bob Jones. Nevertheless, you can still detect traces of that early history in the ACL’s persistent invocation of “religious freedom” when making its case against same-sex marriage.
See the contradiction? Note the number of references in the bible to proper use of wealth and responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice that the Christian conservative movements seem to routinely ignore when you look at their history of supporting segregation, racism and the framing of their arguments as religious freedom or values issues. Certainly conservative Christians have a right to be heard, but you wonder how the ACL can justify their request for exemption from the Discrimination legislation during the lead up to the same sex marriage plebiscite as caring for the poor and working for justice. As The Saturday Paper rightly comments:
This is an outrageous nonsense. If Shelton’s [Managing Director of ACL] arguments depend on vilification, they are scarcely arguments. They are bigotry. They are hate.
While a number of LNP politicians seem to be on the same wavelength as the ACL, others in the commercial world have a greater sense of morals. Mark Allaby, a senior executive with Price Waterhouse Coopers was recently instructed to resign from his seat on the board of ACL.
A spokesperson for PwC said that one in 10 of the company’s staff participate in board or advisory roles outside of PwC, but they’re not given a free pass to join any board they want:
“When it comes to employee participation on external boards, if a conflict arises between an employee’s board role and the best interests of PwC, we would request that they step down from that board”
Interestingly, Allaby continues his directorship at the Lachlan Macquarie Institute. The Institute’s vision includes the following text:
What we seek to achieve by this programme is the transformation of the nature of politics and governance in Australia. By helping develop the character and intellectual foundations of future politicians, journalists, advisors and public policy influencers before they step into public life, we will begin to see more decisions made based on a solid understanding of what is good, true and beautiful in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have to ask if it is the ‘true’ revelation, or the ‘conservative’ revelation where apparently bullying and vilification of children and adults in our society are considered to be acceptable.

Back in 2014, Eureka Street looked at the rise of the ACL and identified a few reasons why the Lobby has continued to grow. Among the conclusions:
Like most other pressure groups, the ACL, founded in 1995, boosts itself shamelessly in its search for donations and members. It claims to be a 'Voice for Values' and boasts 30,000 members. It reckons it has become 'one of the premier political lobbies in the country' and that it is 'growing in size and influence'. These are big claims, but measured by its growth and positioning ACL has been successful.

First it has effectively taken over the term ‘Christian’ in politics, though it does not claim to be the peak Christian voice. The name says it all. The major churches are fading by comparison, their image blighted by child sex abuse and falling attendances.

It is a sleight of hand, of course, to infer that the 64 per cent of Australians who are Census Christians subscribe to the ACL agenda. Half of them are Christian only in name and the other half includes many progressive Christians who do not accept at all any purported representation by the conservative ACL. But church leaders, like the new Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, also on this year’s program, have enhanced ACL’s image.
Eureka Street is published by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order.

If your takeout from Eureka Street is that not all Christian groups identify with the ACL, you’d be right. Forty religious leaders, most of them Christian, have written an open letter to the prime minister asking for him to arrange a vote on same sex marriage in parliament in the term of this government. Turnbull has so far refused.

There is evidence that ACL is far from the moral and ethical Christian organisation it claims to be. These people claim to be the interpreters of the Christian faith in today’s Australia yet seem to have completely forgotten the many references to proper use of wealth and responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice while skating around the scholarly interpretation of the few references to homosexual behaviour found in their source document – the bible. Readers of the bible are reminded far more of the responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice as well as use wealth properly than any reference to the material the ACL is so concerned about. We have also seen that as the bible was not written until some time after the event, it is hardly likely to be an accurate record of events as they occurred. In addition, some of the prohibitions in the bible seem to be there for purely physical reasons – such as the prohibition on eating pig meat (routinely ignored by even the most conservative Christians).

Perhaps the real reasons ACL is against same sex marriage is shown in a recent debate on Sky News. Lyle Shelton, the Managing Director of ACL, was asked:
how does, on this Valentine’s Day, my marriage and my relationship with Adrian of 18 years affect your marriage?
The response beggars belief.
“Well,” Shelton replied, “if the definition of marriage is changed, it’s no longer assumed that millions of people like myself who are married… that I’m married to a woman. So that affects me straight away! People no longer assume that I’m married to a woman, I’d have to explain myself.”
So the almighty scare campaign, including a request to exempt the no case from discrimination legislation, is a response to one person’s concerns that he might have to one day explain that he is married to a woman (if that matters anyway). For Pete’s sake!

How about we leave this sordid example of framing a debate so the actual issue is clouded in layers of waffle and misinformation to John Faulkner, a 65-year-old gentleman who asked this question on the ABCTV’s QandA in late February.
“I’m a 65-year-old Australian Christian. At least I try to be,” Faulkner started.

“There are many Australian Christians who support marriage equality but they don’t remember appointing [Managing Director] Lyle Shelton and the ACL to speak on their behalf. The example of Christ is completely contrary to what the ACL is promulgating with its hate campaign.”

Who gave Mr Shelton and the ACL the right to speak for all Christians on the matter of marriage equality?” [bold added]
The response was:
“Yes, our name is Australian Christian Lobby but just as the Australian Labor Party, they wouldn’t claim to speak for all workers.”
If that is the case – they represent a small proportion of a small and declining percentage of the Australian population. Isn’t it time the majority of Australians told the conservative rump that while we understand they have a problem with some issues – it’s their problem, not ours?

What do you think?
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Comments (7) -

  • Ad astra

    3/27/2016 12:01:55 PM |

    2353NM
    Thank you for your timely piece. The ACL needs exposure for the sham it is in purporting to represent majority Christian views. The churches are up in arms about the misrepresentation its title portrays, namely that it represents the views of all Christian churches. ACL denies any misrepresentation by pointing to ‘Lobby’ in its title, a rather pathetic ploy. It’s perception that counts, and they know it. So they are quite happy for people to perceive that they do represent the views of all Christian churches.

    They are simply a cunning lobby group. CEO Lyle Shelton has been given the task of perpetrating their bizarre ideology, and is ruthlessly carrying out his role.

  • TalkTurkey

    3/28/2016 3:41:16 AM |

    Greetings Comrades,
    2353NM Your article is both entertaining and quite frightening, or it would be if I weren't already frightened by religiomanes the world over, and never more than when they are directly involved in politics.

    I thank Dog that I was raised without having religion forced down my throat: a few times a year we went to the quite tolerant Unitarian Christian Church in Adelaide, the only one in SA. They really don't believe in a deity much, nor miracles, but they do espouse "Christian" principles (a la "Good Samaritan") - as do I.
    I am humanist I think, and I am ongoing astounded at the hypocrisy
    of those who most loudly proclaim their espousal of Jesus' principles, and eternally boggled that people it seems actually  believe in all that miracle crap and Creation and their own righteousness.
    I did think in my younger days that religion was on its inevitable way out and I thought too that we would be able gradually to reduce  religious pressure groups such as the Groupers of the 1950's & 60's. Well I was wrong wasn't I.  

    Ohhh Religion. Don't get me started!  

  • 2353NM

    3/28/2016 8:49:29 AM |

    TT - nice to see you again.

    I've wondered the same thing about religion and wonder if the current emphasis is a case of the accuracy of the theories around people fighting change.  There are a lot of good people that do a lot of good things in the name of religion - there are also a lot of bad people doing likewise.

    Unfortunately those that do good share the publicity of those that do bad.

  • Ross

    3/28/2016 12:02:57 PM |

    The answers to questions of religion on this year's census should prove interesting.
    Religion is falling fast in this country, we teach our children to question everything and religion only works if you don't question and believe completely what you are told, by elderly churchy men. As soon as you start to question the whole edifice crumbles.

    Question 1: Where on the evolutionary tree did man become man and therefore able to accept god's grace. At which point did those to the left, sorry you miss out, those to right you get to ascend to heaven for all eternity, but you won't know that for about another million years.  
    Answer 1: Don't ask silly questions, just put your money in the plate.

    Religion is what it's always been about, power. Command and control. That quirk in human nature that requires some people the need to control the lives of others.
    The rapid decline in attendance and income, i.e. power,  is what is behind lobby groups such as ACL.
    The idea is to lobby governments to try to stop the decline in church power, unfortunately for them the public are pushing back quite strongly.

    The thought of trying to get a teenager to get up early on a Sunday morning to attend church makes you shudder. Church attendees are predominately the aged. They get up at sparrow fart and anyway it's something to do.

  • 2353NM

    3/28/2016 8:10:39 PM |

    Ross, thanks for the comment - I literally laughed out loud at your question and answer.  The rest of your comment was pretty accurate as well.

  • Ken

    3/28/2016 8:53:24 PM |

    Ross and 2353NM

    I attended a Methodist church in the western suburbs of Sydney until I was about 20 (too long a story to explain why I kept going that long).  In my last few years there I was studying Social Anthropology at uni and so could question the certainty of the moral values of the church (and the bible) as no more than a cultural phenomenon.  Other societies had their own moral certainties, sometimes at odds with the christian ones.  Nowadays I would be dismissed as propounding 'relativism' -- another way of saying that 'we' (the Western Christians) are right and everyobdy else is wrong.

    One interesting sidenote was that a mate and I refused to register for the Vietnam bingo lottery and our local minister offered us the sanctuary of the church if we were caught.  We almost hoped we would be caught just so we could test the modern version of that sanctuary -- but we survived unscathed until Whitlam was elected (by which time we had left the church anyway).

  • Ad astra

    3/30/2016 4:26:02 PM |

    Folks
    Today's Essential Poll is fascinating:

    The TPP is at 50/50, the same as for the last three weeks.

    The responses to the other questions will give Turnbull something to think about:
    Opinion about a double dissolution election, and the validity of Turnbull's rationale for it.
    The preferred tax cuts.
    The attributes of the two major parties, and
    The best party to manage the economy.

    www.essentialvision.com.au/.../essentialreport?

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