Christian sect's gay snub

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WayOutMany eyes have turned to a case being argued in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), concerning a campsite run by the Christian Brethren. They refused to hire it to a community health program (WayOut) for gay and lesbian teenagers run by the Cobaw Community Health Service.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act (1995) generally excludes discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and sexual orientation, but does provide exemptions for choices within religious bodies (such as decisions over whom to ordain), and to comply with a 'person's genuine religious beliefs or principles'.

It is undeniable that many Christians believe homosexual acts are not in keeping with their faith, although there are shifts going on, as is evident in the wider Anglican Communion. It is far less clear, however, that there is any element in Christian faith that would ever justify being inhospitable, or denying provision of goods and services, to homosexual persons.

Christian Brethren run the Philip Island Adventure Resort as a facility that seeks public clients; it is not simply a Church camp. They promote its use for corporate events without indicating that they would run ethics tests over company policies, or otherwise vet the content of clients' programs, before accepting bookings.

The parties in the dispute have offered different accounts of just how the planned WayOut event was described to the camp manager. But it seems clear that the Christian Brethren will argue that hosting a group which explicitly accepted homosexuality is incompatible with their beliefs, and in effect identical with 'promoting the homosexual lifestyle'.

Many conservative Christians professedly take a 'hate the sin, love the sinner' approach to homosexuality. Some, I am sure, practice what they preach and are genuinely concerned to be welcoming and supportive of gay and lesbian people who come to church.

The line seems to be crossed for them however when an event or community is understood to accept homosexuality itself, as in this case. People can be accepted up to a point, but to accept them as gay or lesbian is equated with 'promotion' of homosexuality. The debate in the Anglican Communion has involved the crossing of similar lines; the ordinations as bishops of Gene Robinson and more recently of Mary Glasspool have been seen to make their lives potentially models for others.

I can't help but think here of the most powerful parable about hospitality in the Gospels, that of the Good Samaritan. In it, Jesus answers the question 'who is my neighbour?' by telling the story of a man robbed and assaulted, who is ignored by a priest and a levite, the religious functionaries of his time, but is rescued and taken to a safe haven by a Samaritan.

The Samaritans were, in the eyes of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries, heretics or marginal types, whose worship of God was actively wrong because it dismissed the true Temple in Jerusalem in favour of their local shrine. Jesus, an observant Jew, clearly endorses the classic Jewish view of the Samaritans' error (see John 4:22).

It is remarkable then that Jesus takes the clear risk of using an unrepentant Samaritan as the embodied answer to the question 'who is my neighbour'.

Of course this does not mean that Jesus agreed with the Samaritans. It suggests he might have cared less about the risk he might 'promote' Samaritanism than about the need to promote an ethic of unconditional acceptance. It suggests Christians and others in the community might be called to take risks for the marginalised, rather than religiously to carry our orthodoxies with us down the other side of the road, ignoring those in need, lest we 'promote' something we disagree with.

Gay and lesbian youth are at greater risk from suicide and mental illness than from their own sexuality. They are at greater risk from religious and other forms of exclusion than from their own sexuality. It would be good for religious people to stop seeking refuge behind exemptions, and show that their contributions to such young people could be rather more than the law requires, instead of much less.


Andrew McGowanAssociate Professor Andrew McGowan is Warden of Trinity College, The University of Melbourne. He blogs at Andrew's Version and Royal Parade Diary.

Topic tags: Christian Brethren, WayOut, gay, lesbian, teenagers, good samaritan, vcat


 

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Existing comments

One thing is certainly clear from the Bible: people who aim to promote among youth the legitimacy of acts the Bible finds gravely immoral have no right manipulating the state to single out and bludgeon groups which decline to cooperate formally or materially in their disastrous project.
HH | 16 July 2010


Funny how the only campsite in Victoria that WayOut could possibly use happens to be run by an ultra-conservative Christian sect... One might almost suspect that the gays were practising entrapment, May Helou-style, to get a show trial happening.

I dislike the Exclusive Brethren intensely, but they leave me alone, and I leave them alone, and it seems to work.
Rod Blaine | 16 July 2010


Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written article. Jesus spoke with, ate with and associated with many who were shunned by the "religious" people of the time.He knew exactly what he was doing in using the Samaritan, the outsider, as the compassionate person in this parable.
Maureen | 16 July 2010


Is it worth considering that the reportedly higher rate of depression, drug abuse and suicide amongst gay teenagers may not be due to their "exclusion" by the mainstream. Could it be that their same sex attraction, in some cases at least, is itself a symptom of deeper problems which also manifest themselves with the self-abuse, depression, suicide ideation, etc.

If someone is gay and happy, well good luck to them. However, as a heterosexual, I reject the as simplistic the notion that there would be no problems amongst gays, if only we heterosexuals were more accepting of them. It makes it all someone else's fault.

If you're gay and at peace with it, why hand anyone else the power to make or break your life? No one else can belittle you without your permission.
Joseph Lanigan | 16 July 2010


Is it worth considering that the reportedly higher rate of depression, drug abuse and suicide amongst gay teenagers may not be due to their "exclusion" by the mainstream. Could it be that their same sex attraction, in some cases at least, is itself a symptom of deeper problems which also manifest themselves with the self-abuse, depression, suicide ideation, etc.

If someone is gay and happy, well good luck to them. However, as a heterosexual, I reject as simplistic the notion that there would be no problems among gays, if only we heterosexuals were more accepting of them. It makes it all someone else's fault.

If you're gay and at peace with it, why hand anyone else the power to make or break your life? No one else can belittle you without your permission.
Joseph Lanigan | 16 July 2010


Thank you for this refreshing and compassionate piece. We would all do well to take a leaf from Jesus book & listen to our young peoples (and our young gay peoples) experience of church. Things look quite different from the margins.
Thank you again for this piece.
Cara Munro | 16 July 2010


Great article Andrew. My non-church-going friends are bemused that they are more tolerant and supportive of gays than most Christians. Seems immensely sad to me too.
Gwynith Young | 16 July 2010


It's easy to point the finger at the Brethren for being inhospitable- but don't let the mote get in our own eyes, eh? Does anyone seriously think Catholics would be able to hire out the local College hall for the Gay health event instead?
Pauline Small | 16 July 2010


This was a company that discriminated that happened to be owned by the Brethren. Imagine a country town where the only GP Clinic was Brethren. Would they deny treatment to people who were homosexual? Or what if they believe people who were not white should not get treatment? This is not a case about people who were gay or lesbian getting rejected from a church. It is a case about a commercial business that sought to discriminate. Could the Brethren go onto to discriminate against people of the Jewish Faith or Catholic Faith? They would argue they should if that is what they decide to believe. This is a test case that will result in laws changed no matter what the outcome is.
David | 17 July 2010


Thank you for such a refreshing article. As one of the young people who attended the eventual camp (which happened at a YMCA owned facility) I can attest to the value of the event itself, but also to the value of such an organisation welcoming young people, of various religious and or spiritual beliefs with open arms. when the question of sexuality isn't, and doesn't need to be raised. I would like to see, and will strive for, more of the same.
Jakob | 17 July 2010


Profeesor McGowan's article shows no horror of personal sin. Homosexuality is against God's Law. As Catholics we should be greatly concerned for the state of anyone's soul whose actions will lead them to Hell. We are bound to save our own soul as well as others who sins offend God greatly. If you truly love God, you would not want God to be so offended. The 6th and 9th Commandments are to be obeyed by all men. To help keep someone in Mortal Sin is to be an accessory to that sin.The Blessed Virgin said was "More souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason."

To help people to not sin is part of the "Good Samaritan". To just stand by and not help other souls to combat their sins against God is not acceptable to God. To try to save that person's soul is the very epitome of the "Good Samaritan".
Trent | 18 July 2010


I might say that CYC is not run by the "Exclusive" Bretheren. That is something completely different in my understanding.
Matt | 18 July 2010


I'd like to join others in praise of your article Andrew. I think freedom of religion is something we should continue to prize but....we must have consistency with the way people are treated.

If the Brethren management of the campsite check the marriage licence of each couple who register as Mr and Mrs....and if they also run around the campsite with a torch at night to ensure no fornication is going on amongst any heterosexual young people then their rejection of a gay community group is consistent. If not it is pure prejudice and hypocrisy.
Anthony Venn-Brown | 19 July 2010


Interesting that none of the posts in support of this article have offered any substantive defence of the proposition that the Bible supports homosexual acts.
HH | 19 July 2010


I've bookmarked this article. It very eloquently describes what I've been trying to tell my Christian family for years.
MJ | 24 July 2010


Doesn't the church also believe suicide, so you might not be supporting homosexuality but you are supporting suicide by not allowing these people to help.If you are a religious person you would know all life is worth saving

Peter | 26 July 2010


Andrew McGowan's equating homosexuals to Samaritans is disingenuous. There is nothing in the Bible that states one cannot be a Samaritan. The attitude of the Jews to the Samaritans was one of straight religious intolerance and bigotry.

Homosexuality, like it or not, is proscribed in both the New and Old Testaments, along with drunkeness, fornication, anger, idolatry, etc.

Of course, Jesus did not shun anyone, whatever type of sinner they were. But he did say, "Repent and sin no more."

I think that it time the editors of Eureka Street came out of the closet themselves. They should state plainly whether they think that the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality is correct or not.

Further, they should state how much acceptance of homosexuality they want to see in our society. Do they support same-sex unions in both the state and churches? Do they support same-sex couple adopting children.

I am tired of Eureka Street authors wagging their finger at those who do not condone homosexuality, thus taking the high moral ground of tolerance.

Where do people like Andrew McGowan draw the line on this issue, if they would draw one at all?

Professor McGowan, please go on the record.
Patrick James | 27 July 2010


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