Christian Churches in Australia are having a tough time. Numbers are down, abuse, hypocrisy and prejudice are rife and, as a result, public opinion of Christianity can tend to be critical rather than embracing.
For Christians, this can be hard. After all, in Australia, we have had the monopoly as one of, if not the, key influencers of societal opinion for many years. Issues such as the role of women, gender, sex and sexuality have largely been discussed, even in the secular community, with Christian beliefs as an assumed shared morality for decades. But this is changing.
In the SBS documentary Christians Like Us, where I shared a house with nine other Christians for a week discussing issues like this, the first thing that divided us was the idea of Christian persecution.
“It’s not easy being a Christian in this society,” said one housemate, to murmurs and nods of agreement. “It’s not easy being a Catholic!” said another.
My instant gut reaction was of anger, and I couldn’t help but to stick my two cents in. “It’s not that hard either.” I interrupted, seeing nine sets of eyes turn to face me.
I am a Christian, but I am also a gay man who experienced years of ‘conversion therapy’. I know why my housemates feel that they are persecuted, but I also know that the reality is: I have experienced far more persecution as a gay man than as a Christian...and most of it has come from the Church. For this reason, I no longer go to a church, even though I retain my faith in God and my relationship with Him.
I am a Christian, but I am also a gay man that experienced years of ‘conversion therapy’.
As Christians, we have had our way for a long time. In fact, it could be argued that up until recently, the Church has been one of the most powerful influencers of societal norms in Australia. However, public opinion is now far less influenced by the Church. This is evidenced, amongst other things, by the overwhelming support for marriage equality, which probably didn’t exist in such a strong majority a decade ago. Unfortunately, the reaction from the Church has largely been to claim that they are now being ‘bullied’ and ‘persecuted’.
Christians in Australia do cop some criticism. I mean, we really do make ourselves easy targets. Are people laughing at us? Sometimes, yes! Do people like us? Often, no! But perhaps we need to ask ourselves, why? And the answer is - because Christians do and say things that completely warrant criticism.
“I’ve got homosexual friends,” said one housemate, “…but I get called a homophobe because I may not agree with something. That’s not a fair cop…”
As Christians, we have had our way for such a long time that we don’t even recognise that being criticised isn’t really persecution… often, we are simply being disagreed with. But after many decades of having a monopoly on influencing societal norms, we are finding ‘changing with the times’ tough. It is not easy to wake up in 2019 and realise that your views are no longer shared by the majority, and it’s even harder to accept that your system of belief no longer holds the same power over society as it once did.
As Christians, we have had our way for such a long time that we don’t even recognise that being criticised isn’t really persecution...
The Church has a long history of real persecution against LGBT+ people. ‘LGBT conversion therapy’ has the spotlight now, and the ideology that gay and trans people can be ‘fixed’ or ‘healed’ is still clung to in more churches than you would like to think. The belief that being LGBT+ is a perversion of the natural order has made them the target of abuse, violence and discrimination for a long time in Australia. Although not all discrimination has directly come from the Church, the influence of the Church’s stance on homosexuality has often perpetuated and even condoned the homophobia and transphobia in the Australian community. LGBT+ people working in Christian organisations still fear loss of employment, and those who go to non-affirming churches are often declined roles in ministry and, in some cases, are asked to leave.
In 2017, the Australian government used a nationwide survey to determine public opinion on same-sex marriage. This was a traumatic and damaging time for LGBT+ Australians, as their fellow countrymen were given permission – no, were encouraged– to give their opinions on whether homosexuals should be considered equal when it comes to marriage law.
Fear-mongering and homophobia were tactics of the ‘No’ campaign. Advertisements during the debate implied that children were being taught to be gay and trans, and claimed that marriage equality would take away parental rights.
I am truly sick of hearing Christians complain about being ‘persecuted’ for their beliefs. Historically, we have been the bullies. How dare we claim to now be the ‘bullied’ ones, simply because the majority of society has decided that they don’t like the way we treat others.
Chris Csabs appears in the SBS program Christians Like Us, which airs over two nights at 8.35pm, Wednesday April 3 and 10 on SBS.