This is an article I wrote some weeks ago in response to another outrageous outburst from Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby. It got caught up in a queue for publication elsewhere and I subsequently used parts of it to respond to Mr Wallace on Leslie Cannold’s recent article on “Christian Values” on Online Opinion. I thought it was timely given Mr Wallace’s attack on homosexuals and Muslims today to publish the whole article here.
Update 5 May 2011: Since Wallace’s attack on gay Australians, Victorian MP Geoff Shaw has also revealed the bigotry and extremism of Christian fundamentalism by equating the gay rights with pedophilia and child abuse. Shaw is a member of the Peninsular City Church (Pentecostal) at Frankston which runs and promotes the Alpha Course which includes significant anti-gay propaganda. If you read the last link you will see that Shaw’s views mesh exactly with those of the Alpha course teachings.
Around 26AD, so legend has it, a nomadic Jewish preacher defied Jewish law by laying his hand upon a leper. With this simple act, he set an important example of how compassion should override religious tradition, prejudice, fear and self-interest. I hear a whole religion was built upon the teachings of that nomadic preacher. Sadly, it seems, its adherents remember little of the message he tried to impart. In fact, the Christian church has a very poor record of emulating the man they claim to worship.
Throughout history, those who dared to disagree with the devotees of Jesus of Nazareth have been variously boiled in oil, drowned, dismembered, raped with objects, mutilated, burned, roasted alive, stretched on a rack, massacred with swords and, later, with guns and cannon-fire. The church has never been a great supporter of human rights or social diversity.
In the nineteenth century, when women began agitating for equality and the right to vote, conservative Christians fought them tooth and nail, claiming that women’s subjection to men was founded in ‘natural law’ as handed down by God. Not surprisingly, they quoted Biblical chapter and verse to defend their position.
According to American suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
“From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation the Bible has been used to hold her in the ‘divinely ordained sphere’ prescribed in the Old and New Testaments.
The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man.”
While Christians make much of William Wilberforce’s role in ending slavery, less is said about the conservative Christian defence of trading in human misery. In 1823, for example, Richard Furman, a slave holder and leader of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, advised South Carolina’s governor that, “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”
This view was so strongly held that, in 1845, those firmly convinced that slavery was God-ordained formed a separatist group – the Southern Baptist Convention – which survives to this day. Had the Southern Baptists held the political sway they now hold in the US government, African-Americans may still be totin’ that barge and liftin’ that bail.
In the 1960s, when African-Americans began to fight against their historical oppression and demanded civil rights and an end to segregation, where was the conservative arm of the Christian church? Fighting them every inch of the way.
But surely, not! After all, Martin Luther King was not only a committed Christian but a pastor. So, what was King’s view on the support he received from the church? In 1963, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, King wrote:
“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest? Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church.”
In Arkansas, a statement signed by eighty ministers explained the Church’s view on integration:
“This statement is not made with any enmity or hatred in our hearts for the Negro race. We have an abiding love for all people . . . [But] [w]e believe that the best interests of all races are served by segregation …We resent the implication by certain liberal ministers that it is un-Christian to oppose integration. We believe that integration is contrary to the will of God … is based on a false theory of the ‘universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.’ We believe that integration is not only un-Christian, but that it violates all sound sociological principles and is not supported by Scripture or by biological facts.”
Wow! ‘Contrary to the will of God’, ‘un-Christian’, ‘not supported by Scripture or biological facts’. Doesn’t this all sound eerily familiar?
In February 2011, Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby defended the right of religious schools to expel gay students for no other reason except for being gay. He said he had no qualms about the law and that a church school should have the right to expel any openly gay child. What an interesting distinction is made here; and how curiously reminiscent of segregation. “Religious schools should be segregated on the basis of sexual orientation, but we might tolerate you if you can ‘pass as straight’.”
Jim, of course, realizes his stance on this might seem a little … well … un-Christlike, so he quickly adds a proviso:
“But I would expect any church that found itself in that situation to do that in the most loving way that it could for the child and to reduce absolutely any negative affects … I think it’s a loving response.”
Personally, I’m struggling to understand how you can expel a student, just for being who they are, in a ‘loving’ way; but then, the religious bigots who opposed racial desegregation also professed their ‘abiding love’ for the Negro people (“But please, just keep them out of our schools and churches.”).
Consider this potted history of conservative Christianity’s record on diversity, human dignity, freedom and tolerance as you read Greens are attacking religious freedom, Jim Wallace’s latest tirade against the ‘homosexual lobby’, published in last week’s Australian. Be careful! Your jaw may shatter as it hits the ground in astonishment at Wallace’s revelation that Christians are being oppressed by homosexuals.
According to Wallace, it is not Christians who seek to inhibit diversity and, through legislation, force all Australians to live in accordance with a particular set of moral values, but homosexuals. It is an argument of such arrogant audacity and heartless hubris that it left me physically ill and shaking with rage. It reminded me of a particular quote from another vocal supporter of Christian doctrine:
“If, with the help of his Marxist creed, the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men.
Eternal Nature inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands.
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)
Yes, just as poor old Hitler had to defend humanity against the oppression of the Jews, Jim has to defend Christians against the oppression of the homosexual lobby – and both invoke God as their witness.
It is a time-honoured strategy of bullies and thugs to blame their victims and cast themselves as the oppressed. It is ‘Religion 101’ to appeal to ‘natural law’ and the ‘will of the Almighty Creator’ in defending the indefensible.
Wallace and the Australian Christian Lobby have tried very hard to portray themselves as religious moderates. Wallace protests that the ACL is not seeking an Australian theocracy. No! They don’t want a theocracy, they just want laws based on Christian doctrine or, if this can’t be achieved, exemptions to allow Christians to practice the prejudice and bigotry that decent Australians reject.
I thank Mr Wallace for his opinion piece in the The Australian. I hope it will be widely read. For, within this hateful, petty, disingenuous, irrational and self-serving piece of despicable drivel is revealed the true, black and ugly heart of the Australian Christian Lobby andAustralia’s religious right.
Is it only because I don’t believe in resurrection that I am deafened by the sound of Jesus of Nazareth turning in his grave?
Personally, Jim, I think you and your ilk should be expelled from this nation, unless, of course, you can ‘pass’ as civilised human beings. And I mean that, of course, in the most loving way.
Mr Wallace has said today on Sunrise on Seven that Muslims who seek to place their religion above government are ‘extremists’. Given this statement, it is worth referring my readers to this 2005 article from ACL watcher, Brian Baxter.
A bunch of theocrats: Brig. Jim Wallace and the Australian Christian Lobby – Bruce Baxter
Readers who find the charge that the Australian Christian Lobby’s ultimate goal is an Australian theocracy difficult to believe may find this instructive:
Interview – David Yates, Compass Australia Co-ordinator D.Y: One of the key things that ACL likes to focus on is areas where it can have a disproportionate impact for the Gospel. So, the area of politics and government, where ACL works in, is one particular field. If you can get through government and policy makers then it can influence laws and it can have a disproportionate effect within the culture.
For a satirical view of this issue, see “Bullets do not faze me but please don’t call me names” by Bob Whidon.
Jane Douglas, an ex-Christian, has written a brilliant and insightful piece on Jim Wallace’s tactic (shown above, and also evident in his defence of his indefensibly offensive ANZAC day tweet) of trying to blame the victim. I have said, above, this is a time honoured tactic of bullies and thugs. Jane has first-hand experience with ‘bullies and thugs’ and writes, in part:
“… as someone who has close experience of the lasting effect of sexual abuse on children, I feel I need to make this statement: I warn my kids about people like Jim Wallace in an effort to abuser-proof them. I tell them that bullies and abusers function by fooling us that it not the person who said or did something wrong who is at fault, but rather the poor sod who made an embarrassing fuss about it. I tell them that this is an evil lie.
Abusers harm us, and then slyly try to make us feel ashamed about saying we were harmed. They trick their victims into feeling bad that they spoke up rather than taking responsibility for their own abusive actions. The irony that no fuss would need to have been made had the abuser not acted inappropriately in the first place seems to evade them.It’s this sort of self-preserving manipulation that makes molested children reluctant to disclose the terrible truth of the abuser’s actions for fear of spoiling everyone’s mood and bringing the wrath of the abuser down on their heads. Not that I’m suggesting Jim Wallace is a child molester, but the game is the same. And it should never go unchallenged.”
Extracted from: jim wallace and the despicable tricks of abusers (and arrogant schmucks) by Jane Douglas, Putting her Oar In blog
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It completely bewilders me why supposedly well educated 21st century people can believe in a collection of myths and legends cobbled together by Bronze Age goatherders.
Every time Jim and his cohorts open their mouths, i can’t help but ask “What would Jesus think of these people”?
Keep up the good work Chrys.
Actually Dan, it has many of us wondering, “What would Jesus tweet?” 😉
Indeed there are many valid criticisms that can be levelled at the Christian church on the topic of human rights, but this article just seems a bit over the top to me. Yes some negativity towards the church is deserved, but the article is almost unmitigatedly negative. Despite the valid criticism of the church’s sad record in regards to slavery, womens rights etc, it’s a fact that the church has also played a major role in advocating for human rights in both distant and recent history.
According to my survey of the web today on the topic:
*The factory reform movement was a forerunner to trade unions and sought to provide rights to exploited sweatshop workers and child labourers. A man singled out as one of the movements most prominent leaders was Richard Oastler, motivated by the Bible. Likewise the court decision of the Harvester Judgment, apparently a benchmark legal case for ensuring workers in Australia were paid a fair basic wage, drew from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum of 1891.
*The country to engage women in voting for parliamentary elections was New Zealand. Apparently a key motivating force for the women who fought for this right was Women’s Christian Temperance Union. One of the first originators of the women’s suffrage movement was apparently Olympe de Gouges of France, who argued that women’s rights were created at the beginning of time by God.
*churches have been described as pivotal points of resistance to South Africa’s apartheid.
*As an adult, four years before he founded prominent human rights organisation Amnesty International, Peter Benenson had converted to Roman Catholicism.
Even if the goal of the article was not a balanced assessment of whether the church has historically supported human rights, but rather if the goal was to merely to show that the church has an anti-human rights component, then the article is still unfair. To characterise Hitler as “vocal supporter of Christian doctrine” is misleading. Yes, he declared support at times, but like many politicians, he cynically tried to curry favour with different groups at different times in order to win political support. Historians claim that Hitler held a “fundamental antagonism” towards the Christian churches and wanted to destroy Christianity within the Reich.
Craig, thank you for your comment. Certainly individual Christians have often made substantial contributions towards the betterment of humanity as, at times, have some Christian organizations.
The point of this article, of course, was to identify the historical roots of Wallace’s particular brand of fear-mongering, bigoted Christianity and the way it has routinely been defended and rationalised by reference to the Christian gospels.
You speak of the Christian contribution towards the Union movement, but omit to mention the Chartists who were the precursors of Australia’s union movement and provided the impetus behind the watershed of the Eureka Stockade.
Many of the leaders of the British Chartists were atheists or at the very least anti-clerical (William Lovett, GJ Holyoake, Francis Place). Lovett wrote, for example:
“. . . the relics of paganism formed a part of Christian worship, as well as Judaism, or the laws and customs and the recorded sayings and doings of a half-savage people; and these old Jewish records have ever formed texts, incentives, and apologies for barbarities innumerable, opposed to the religion of Christ. War has ever met with countenance and apology in these old records, despite the assertion of Christ that his mission was one of peace, brotherhood, and forgiveness of injuries; and slavery, bigamy, concubinage, oppression, vindictiveness, and cruelty have countenance and apology in their pages.”
There was, of course, no shortage of clergymen willing to preach on the evils of Chartism. Indeed the clergy during the 18th and 19th centuries were commonly despised as being the corrupt supporters of the status quo.
Certainly, there were Christians and clergy who supported the Chartists, but they were of far different stripe to our Brigadier Wallace. For example, the Rev. William Hill wrote “We are commanded…to love our neighbors as ourselves…this command is universal in its application, whether as friend, Christian or citizen. A man may be devout as a Christian…but if as a citizen he claims rights for himself he refuses to confer upon others, he fails to fulfill the precept of Christ”
If only Brigadier Wallace would live by that precept.
Expatriate Chartists, such as journalists, Henry Nicholls (an atheist) and George Black (a Methodist), negotiated with the government on behalf of Victorian miners in the dispute which culminated in the bloody, but iconic, Eureka Rebellion of 1853. The influence of the Chartists’ secular principles is evident in the Eureka oath in which the miners swore, not by God, but on the Southern Cross depicted on the Eureka flag.
Key campaigners for unionism and feminism in Australia were Henry Lawson and his mother Louisa – both atheists. Atheistic communism was also highly influential in achieving workers’ rights.
The Australian church was far from a supporter of workers’ rights. In his book, The Kingdom of Shylock, prominent Labor politician and freethinker, Frank Anstey, indicts the church for its role in the conspiracy of ‘money power’ aligned against the workers. In 1907 Anstey wrote,
“The Money Power! It is the greatest power on earth; and it is arrayed against Labour. No other power that is or ever was can be named with it….It attacks us through the press — a monster with a thousand lying tongues … It thunders against us from innumerable platforms and pulpits. The mystic machinery of the churches it turns into an engine of wrath for our destruction.”
Similarly, in the 1920s Ernest H Barker, General secretary of the ALP wrote an article entitled “The Church is Weighed and Found Wanting” (in The Necessity of Atheism by David Marshall Brooks Barker 1933). Barker wrote:
“The attitude of the Labor movement in Australia to the church is one of supreme indifference. There is little or no point of contact between the two and apparently neither considers the other in its activities and plan of campaign … The Church preaches the brotherhood of man. [But] … the church is put on trial in the minds of men. They ask, “What did the Church do when we sought a living wage, shorter hours of work, safing working conditions, abolition of Sunday work, abolition of child labor?” The answer is an almost entirely negative one. The few instances where church officials have helped are so conspicuous as to emphasize the general aloofness … In how many of the advanced ideas of our time has the Church taken the lead? Is it not renowned for being a long way in the rear rather than in the vanguard of progressive thought and action? It resents any challenges to its ideas, doctrines, or authority.”
In summary, I think it is most unwise to suggest that Christianity underpinned the union movements or the feminist movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries – particularly here in Australia.
I think you both have justified points about the prominence of Christians on either side of human rights issues.
The problem is people talk about ‘the church’ as if Christianity was some kind of homogenous collection of people. It isn’t and never has been. From the earliest days of the religion, as a strange Jewish cult, disagreement existed around important theological issues (with subsequent impacts on the moral prescriptions of the religion). In fact, part of the problem most people observe about Christians, in their ‘failure’ to be more like Christ is they are being quite consistent with Paul’s writings (especially those not written by Paul) and the author of John.
However, the point shouldn’t be that Christians are horrible people or they are not horrible people – they are just people. The point is the religion has, and always will, be incapable of preventing disturbing approaches to treating others. It is worth noting that more often than not, on the various human rights issues mentioned here, there are more non-religious people on the side of human rights than not. And those Christians who fought for human rights did so against prevailing theology, this is an important point. Just because it is now a mainstream Christian view doesn’t mean it always has been. This is why talking about ‘the church’ across time and space is also problematic.
Christianity has been moderated by outside forces, it is different ideas in society that has shaped the movement of Christianity to more humane and liberal states of affairs. The importation of new pespectives with which to read scripture and find justification. Unfortunately, there will always remain a select few who read the bible differently and use it to justity their brutality.
The problem I have is it tends to be the non-religious who make the most noise when ignorant and self-righteous bastards like Jim Wallace stick their neck out. There needs to be a more diverse array of Christian perspectives on these issues to undermine his and the ACL’s influence. For this reason I’m linking this petition for Christians who don’t agree with the ACL (it is only 1 day old and has over 90 signatures, however it would benefit from wider distribution).
Don’t get too caught up on even handedness and tone. This article is a direct critical response to overt moralising and sophism of the ACL.
Check out wikipedia’s entry on “can Christian values”. What used to mean the teachings of Jesus, has been intentionally reshaped by lobby groups like the ACL. It now means placing restrictions (mostly sexual) on non-Christians… and those Christians who won’t themselves live according to the ACL’s party line without legal coercion.
Another gobsmacking datapoint was his deliberate choice of words in his FORT Australia ravings on priestly child rape (transcript and video):
Jesus Christ that was brilliant!
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Chrys, you know that I am a Christian and that the organisation I work for has been the beneficiary of his lobbying – both Rudd and Gillard announced extensions to the school chaplaincy programs in the context of his organisation – but I have absolutely no truck with him. I wish he would rename his organisation Jim Wallace and Associates. There are many many Christians who hold different views to his on the rights and place of gays in society and I feel embarrassed by his tacit claim to represent all Christians through ACL.
I have a good number of gay and lesbian friends who are Christians like me. Given the barriers they must frequently face, or the feeling they need to be duplicitous rather than transparent about their sexuality I am amazed at their tenacity in sticking with it.
Please don’t tar all Christians with the same brush just because Jim Wallace demonstrates his ignorance and bigotry.
Thank you for your comment and for your support of gay rights. Of course I don’t tar all Christians with the one brush. In fact, I have no quarrel with any Christian who wants to pursue their faith – providing it hurts no-one else. My only concern is the intrusion of religion into the public square to the extent that it imposes its doctrines on a secular general public.
I can certainly see that Jim Wallace would be an embarrassment to any decent Christian. I only wish more Christians would speak out against the ACL and lobby the government to remove the privileges accorded to the ACL on the basis that it does not speak for the majority of Christian believers in this country.
Any chance you guys could speak up a bit?
There may well be more of you than us, and no-one is helped by the misconception that only ‘militant’ atheists support secularism, gay rights, or any of a number of issues on which we would both disagree with Brigadier Wallace.
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