If there is one thing I don’t understand about being gay it's the interest - and the people with the greatest interest seem to be religious hard right. As someone who has some sympathies to the right of Australian politics, I know they are not reflective of the broader political thought. Increasingly, I have become interested as to whether they are representative of Christian Australia.
The short answer is no.
When I was coming out and to terms with my sexuality I was working with a prominent Catholic institution. My boss and colleagues had no issue with me being gay. The CEO and I still speak regularly, often on LGBTQI issues.
I have also been relying more on an Anglican friend lately. (That underplays his faith a bit, he’s a retired Anglican bishop.) He may be soft-spoken but he is forthcoming in his views. We had coffee last week and discussed modern Christianity. Not the most glamorous topic, but a very present one.
One of his great appeals, to me at least, was that he sought to find the Christian spirit in all. He does not proselytise. He reframes issues with a focus on positive good. Deeply encouraging inclusion, he has spent his life building communities and brings people together.
When I asked him about the division LGBTI feel from Christian Australia he did not mince his words.
“Those seeking to distance LGBTI people have misunderstood the teachings of Christ,” he said.
“Christianity is about the community and being a common point of reference."
When people speak about faith they do so from an emotional place. But what if they are wrong? What if they have a perverted understanding of Christianity? That is what has puzzled me about the Australian Christian Lobby. They are relentless in their yearning for a narrow view of Christianity. One that a minority seem to identify with.
"When people speak about faith they do so from an emotional place. But what if they are wrong? What if they have a perverted understanding of Christianity?"
Another issue which evokes strong emotions and religious discussions is that of refugees. Fred Chaney, former Senior Australian of the Year and Liberal Party minister, is a strident Catholic. He takes a similar view to my bishop.
At a Law Society of Western Australia event in 2014 I heard Chaney recite an interaction with the then immigration minister Scott Morrison. Chaney asked Morrison where he brings his faith into his decisions. Morrison told Chaney “I don’t consider my faith when making professional decisions”. As if there was an eruption, Chaney jumped to his feet and told an audience of 50 “I bloody well do and you should, too”.
What does this look like? What does this mean for LGBTI people? If these lessons teach me anything it is that religion is not a zero sum game. It pushes us toward conversation and personal insight. It is not definitive, but it is inclusive.
The majority of Christians adhere to this view. They are accepting and embracing of LGBTI people and rights. They do not buy into the spin or the hatred. Neither does The Australian’s hard-right foreign editor Greg Sheridan. On last week’s Q&A he professed his support for marriage equality, and he did again in his column last Thursday.
His views have a lot in common with the Christian right. Everyday it becomes clearer that Christian and LGBTI Australia are not different. We both believe that inclusion and respect trump all else.
Conrad Liveris is a workforce diversity specialist.