I’ve been on the campaign trail for the last couple of weeks. My mission (which I chose to accept) was to help persuade the organizers of the Woodford Folk Festival to remove the notorious anti-vaccination propagandist, Meryl Dorey from their program. On Christmas Eve, we had a win, if not a total victory. The organizers agreed to change the format from a solo appearance to a panel discussion involving immunologist, Professor Andreas Suhrbier and moderated by Dr John Parker from Doctors without Borders.
But, members of the Stop the Australian [anti] Vaccination Network group weren’t content to leave it at that. They came up with an ingenious, yet humorous way to protest against Dorey’s continuing presence at the festival – and have the last word.
My article about Dorey and the SAVN’s ‘scathingly brilliant’ plan which ‘takes off’ at 1.45pm today can be read on Online Opinion.
Here’s how it begins:
I’m a down to earth kind of girl; not much given to looking heaven-ward for good advice. In fact, I’m the girl-least-likely to suggest you should gaze into the stratosphere in search of the answers to life’s more vexing questions.
But, if you happen to be in the vicinity of the Woodford Folk Festival this afternoon and there’s any chance you might be swayed by the rapid-fire, baffle-them-with-bullshit stylings of anti-vaccination virago, Meryl Dorey, I have a suggestion.
Stop for a moment and cast your eyes aloft ; for there, my friends, you will find the truth revealed:
Vaccination Saves Lives
You’ll have to be quick. Heavenly apparitions are, by nature, fleeting; even the Virgin Mary doesn’t hang around at Medjugorje all day. But, this afternoon, during the two hours surrounding Ms Dorey’s anti-vaccination diatribe, you’ll hear a distant hum and then, miraculously – almost as if it was planned …. [more]
Are you a skeptical or science blogger? Do you want to help the work of Stop the Australian Vaccination Network?
This year, the Christmas present our family is most anxiously awaiting is the birth of a new baby boy to my nephew and his wife. ‘Lucky’ as we are calling him for now, is due tomorrow.
“Have you had that baby, yet?” I say to my nephew’s wife.
I imagine having to roll her up like a tube of toothpaste until young Lucky pops out all bright, shiny and minty fresh.
As far as we know, his real name is yet to be decided. At a recent family confab (around a table littered with pizza, Fashionista Barbie, and big-sister-to-be bling) we favoured a name that meant ‘Lucky’, but sounded something less like a member of the Sicilian mafia. Google was consulted but, sadly, Acarapi, Eyolf, Faust, and Feliciano just didn’t seem to roll off the tongue. (Actually Feliciano rolls off the tongue just fine, but comes to a screaming halt when you add Stevenson to the end of it.)
There was some half-hearted support for Felix, and I’ve warmed to the name. Any name with an ‘x’ in it has to be cool. Sadly, my nephew can’t quite get the image of Felix-the-Cat out of his mind so I’m thinking Felix may not make the cut.
On the way home in the car, great-grandma-in-waiting whispered to me, “When’s he due?”
“What are they going to call him?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“Well, I hope they don’t call him Jesus!”
I’m guessing that’s at even longer odds than Felix.
When my friends Warren and Kirsty were expecting, they called their baby ‘Monty’ as a kind of a gag until they decided on a real name. But nine months is a long time and by the time their little girl was born it was inconceivable that she could be called anything but Monty. I heartily approved, although I don’t envy them having to ‘fess up’ to the inspiration for that particular moniker!
Given the ‘Monty’ experience, I reckon we should just make it easy on ourselves and call the child Lucky. After all, it’s Christmas for Christ’s sake (literally!). We have turkey to cook, ham to glaze, potatoes to Dauphinoise and plum pudding to drown sadistically in brandy custard. We’re simply not going to have time to come up with another name between now and New Years.
And let’s face it, Lucky will be lucky. He’ll be born into the heart of a happy, loving (if slightly weird) family. He’ll have two great, outrageously intelligent parents, a very bouncy, blingy, beautiful big sister with a formidable wardrobe full of fairy costumes, a doting grandma, a devoted great-grandma, bucket-loads of uncles and auntses and cousins of various ages, sizes and postcodes, and a rather eccentric great-aunt who inexplicably calls his father Space Monster and spends a great deal of time writing cranky rants on the internet in the vain hope she can make the world a slightly better place for him and his sister. He’ll also have enough soft toys to populate a small African nation.
Lucky will be born to a life where he’ll be safe, warm, well-fed and well-educated. He’ll live in one of the most peaceful, secular, wealthy, and democratic nations in the world. How lucky is that?
He’ll never have to beg for a bicycle, a text-book or his next meal – although if he wants a horse, he’s going to have to learn to grovel.
Sure, as he grows up, he’ll have moments of difficulty, sadness, grief, ill health, and heart-break. But for all that, by the mere chance of being born into this century, this country and this family, he’ll have more advantages than it is fair to ask Santa for.
I hope he grows to appreciate his luck and to use whatever talents he has to make other people’s lives ‘luckier’ – even if only in a small way.
So, yes! Let’s just stick with ‘Lucky’ and, when he’s old enough, we will sit him down quietly and sensitively explain why we named him after the cat in the ’80s sit-com, ALF. I’m sure he’ll understand ….
With muchlove to Lucky, his parents and Miss Bling –
Nicholas Stevenson (aka Lucky Monster) – finally born …. and named:
Following Meryl Dorey’s anti-vaccination interview with Tiga Bayles on the National Indigenous Radio Service this week , I wrote an article. I couldn’t write it immediately afterwards. First, I was crying too much. Second, I had to go to Brisbane. Words rattled around in my brain all the way down to the city and all the way back. The next morning I turned on the computer and a story just flowed out.
It sometimes takes me up to three weeks to write an article. This took less than three hours.
The team at Mama Mia who have been heroic in opposing Dorey’s anti-vaccination propaganda agreed to publish it. I’m very grateful because this article is rather ‘left of centre’ . But it’s what I had to write and I can only hope it’s something that people may feel they had to read.
I wrote with respect for the indigenous community and with no ill-feeling towards Tiga Bayles. I hope that comes across.
Anyway, here’s a taste.
“I’m sitting in the Griffith University Library at Nathan. It’s the mid-90s and I’m researching an assignment for my Bachelor’s degree. One of my subjects this semester is Aboriginal Studies. I open the study guide and turn to the required reading. As I read, great silent tears start to flow down my cheeks, splashing onto the page below. I don’t sob. There are no histrionics. I don’t make a sound. My face just starts to resemble a waterfall in slow motion. It is the strangest, saddest feeling, and one I will never forget.”
I had hoped to wind down in the fortnight leading up to Christmas. I was picturing picnics at the beach, a swim or two in a friend’s pool, some leisurely Christmas shopping, perhaps a movie …
Sadly, I didn’t account for the notorious anti-vaccination campaigner, Meryl Dorey, scoring not one, but two, speaking spots at the Woodford Folk Festival.
The brilliant and talented Peter Tierney (aka Reasonable Hank) first alerted me to this appalling discovery on Friday, 9 December.
Peter’s a member of Stop the AVN. Stop the AVN is a Facebook group which won the Skeptic of the Year award in 2010 for their community activism against the misinformation disseminated by Ms Dorey and her Australian [anti] Vaccination Network.
I support Stop the AVN but I’ve never been particularly active in it. I’m more of an admirer than a member. I know Peter only slightly as a Facebook and Twitter friend. The same can be said of my ‘association’, if any, with the ‘leaders’ of the group: Daniel Raffaele, Wendy Wilkinson and Ken McLeod. They are Facebook friends but, until this past week or so, I doubt if Wendy and Ken, in particular, would have been able to pick me out in a crowd. Daniel might recognise me, but probably wouldn’t be able to say much more about me than, “She’s that atheist writer.”
So, this was really out of my usual area of ‘politics and religion’ and while I’ve ventured into skeptical areas before (homeopathy and Qlink Mobile Phone Radiation Scam) it’s not the area where I’m most comfortable. But, when it seemed that Meryl was venturing on to my turf I began to get stroppy.
I live in the Sunshine Coast hinterland – not all that far from Woodford. Vaccination rates here are already low. Last year an outbreak of whooping cough effected 700 people. This year there’s been a case of diphtheria reported. These are diseases which are preventable and can even be eradicated by immunisation. We know this for a fact – how many cases of smallpox and polio do you hear of nowadays? (And no, Meryl, better nutrition and sanitation didn’t eradicate smallpox, you silly, silly woman.)
This is very personal for me. I have a four year old great-niece and a soon to be born (any day now!) great nephew. Outbreaks of communicable diseases in my area mean an increased risk of our family babies getting ill. Miss Bling is fully immunized, but vaccines aren’t 100% effective (but will almost certainly result in a milder case of the disease should she catch one). It will be some time before Master ‘Lucky’ has all his shots and until then he will be very vulnerable.
When I heard that Dorey was going to preach her deadly message at Woodford I seemed to morph into Mama Bear mode (or should that be Aunty, the Cross-Eyed Bear?).
My first move was to ring the organisers at the Woodford Folk Festival. That was only fair. Surely there had been some terrible mistake. Surely if they knew Meryl Dorey and her Australian [anti] Vaccination Network were the subject of a Public Health Warning from the Health Care Complaints Commission they would never have booked her. I would put things right! I’d just ring them and point this out and they’d say something like:
“Oh, silly us! We booked someone who’s been caught out telling great big hairy fibs to parents! We respect our patrons and, while we know they enjoy vigorous debate on controversial subjects, we would never knowingly engage a speaker who has been proven to base their arguments on false, misleading and biased information which endangers public health.”
Yeah, right. Instead they said: “We’ll get right back to you.”
They didn’t, so I rang them back. I was stonewalled. My background is in PR and marketing. I know a story that has legs. I knew this one had legs. I warned them, “Do something now – not tomorrow, not next week, now – because this is only going to get worse, much worse.”
I don’t think they believed me.
So, having got nowhere with the “Give them a chance to fix it” approach, I wrote a blog post – but somehow, that just didn’t seem to be enough. So, I decided to plant the story with a contact at the Sunshine Coast Daily. A phone call and an email covering the salient points was all it took.
Click photo to enlarge
With that success, I figured, (doing my best Tim-Minchin-in-Storm impression) “… in for a penny, in for a pound!” So I rang the health writer at the Courier-Mail and left a message on her voicemail.
“Worth a try,” I thought.
In the meantime, there was lots of lobbying and blog-writing going on behind the scenes. The master of Wikis and Skepticators, Jason Brown (aka A Drunken Madman) started keeping a list (and, in keeping with the season, checking it twice). No prizes for guessing who was the naughty one, Meryl.
I started tweeting to @WoodfordFF about Dorey speaking at Woodford, and soon a twitter storm blew up. It’s been ticking along very nicely for 11 days now with new names popping up every day to join the protest.
Science and skeptical blogger, Professor PZ Myers was quick to lend his considerable weight (no pun intended PZ) to the story. Professor Myer’s Pharyngula blog is one of the top-ranking science blogs in the world and read by millions. Not good international publicity for the Woodford Folk Festival.
WIN News saw the article in the Sunshine Coast Daily and contacted the Australian Skeptics asking (I assume) if they could contact me or if they had someone else in the area who could make a comment on camera. I’m barely known to the Skeptics and there was someone much better qualified than me to speak who lived nearby. I enthusiastically agreed that, if she was available, she should definitely do it. But, as it turned out she wasn’t available, and lived a little too far away for the camera crew. So, if it was to be, it was up to me.
And now I need to make another disclaimer. I am a member of the Australian Skeptics but only technically. The Australian Skeptics don’t really have ‘members’ they have people who subscribe to their journal. I’m one of them. But I’m definitely not in the Skeptics ‘in crowd’ – I read their magazine and I had fun, once, at one of their conferences. But I’m not in the same ballpark as real skeptical activists like Dr Rachael Dunlop and Richard Saunders. At the 2010 Skeptics conference (TAM) they were the ones up on stage – I was the anonymous blonde sitting wide-eyed in the audience.
In this case, I just happened to be ‘on the spot’ and the person closest to the television station – it took no special talent to get picked for this assignment!
Neither the Australian Skeptics nor Stop the AVN ‘organised’ the media. This wasn’t an orchestrated media campaign at all. The reason the Skeptics got involved (I suspect) was because I mentioned in the interview with the Daily that I was a member – but stressed that I didn’t represent the Australian Skeptics or speak on their behalf. Nevertheless, Chrys Stevenson a member of the Australian Skeptics got into the paper so, when journos were looking to contact me, they understandably emailed the Australian Skeptics.
It’s probably worth noting at this point that, despite Meryl Dorey’s frequent assertions the Australian Skeptics and Stop the AVN are two entirely different groups. Stop the AVN is not a ‘branch’ of the Australian Skeptics. Certainly the two groups share some members, but not all Australian Skeptics are ‘friends’ of the Stop the AVN Facebook group and not all Stop the AVN supporters are members of the Australian Skeptics.
Probably nothing I say will convince Meryl otherwise, but this story took off because it was newsworthy – not because there is some Big Pharma funded highly-organised hate campaign being waged against her.
I used to work in PR. Bosses and clients always want you to get their story into the news. But, no matter how well you write or how clever you think you are at ‘spin’, if a story isn’t newsworthy there’s little chance of getting it into anything other than a community newspaper – if that. Because this story was newsworthy, it took only some minimal effort from a demonstrably not-funded-by-Big-pharma middle-aged lady sitting on top of a mountain to light the match that set off a firestorm.
That’s the truth and it’s a truth that Meryl and others of her ilk should find very scary. The internet makes community activism easy. It makes having one on one contact with journalists easy. And once someone like Meryl becomes ‘newsworthy’ in a ‘Peter Foster’ kind of way, getting more bad publicity for them is really too easy to take any credit for.
As for the companies and venues that might, unwisely associate themselves with the ‘notorious’ or ‘controversial’, they quickly learn the truth of the maxim, “When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”
And so, the media circus began. The next thing I knew there was a television crew (of two) at my doorstep and we were down in the vegetable garden filming – much to the bemusement of my next door neighbour’s Christmas guests who must have wondered what the hell was going on!
Here’s the result:
I must say that Daph, my 87 year old Mum, seemed much more excited that her agapanthus were on the telly than her daughter – but then, they are very fine aggies!
The next day both the Australian Skeptics and I got emails from Channel 10. Mine went to the Sunshine Coast Atheists gmail which I check less frequently than my ordinary mail, so the first I heard was another email from the Skeptics. Would I be willing to do another television interview?
There was some discussion about what I would say – my position on the matter was slightly different to the Australian Skeptics’, but not irreconcilably so. I made it clear that if I was going to go on television again, I could only represent my own view and the Australian Skeptics were happy with that and generously gave me permission to say I was a ‘member’ of their organisation, given that interviewers kept insisting that I have some kind of title other than ‘unsuccessful freelance writer’, ‘village dweller’, or ‘local wit’.
The fact is, I had my 15 minutes of fame on television, radio and newspapers back when I was working. It wasn’t a novelty for me, and it wasn’t something I was keen to repeat. That was my ‘old life’. As I said to a friend last night, when you’re a size 24, being on the telly is really one of the last things you wish for!
Anyway, duty overcame vanity and, as there appeared to be no-one else close enough to serve, I rode once more unto the breach – or unto the television camera. Here’s the result:
During the day I got a tip that the Queensland Health Minister would be making a statement. Geoff Wilson is not my favourite fundie government minister – but, while he didn’t threaten to pull the government’s sponsorship if Dorey spoke, he did good.
In the afternoon I got a tweet from a producer at Gary Hardgrave’s drive-time program on Radio 4BC. She wanted to know if I could speak on air just after the 5pm news. I was in two minds as to whether to publicize this interview – suspecting that Meryl’s ears were now roughly three times the size of Dumbo the elephant’s – but I wanted people to listen in, so I threw caution to the wind. Of course Meryl saw my tweet and rang 4BC demanding an invitation to the party.
Meryl speaking cut down on my air time, but I actually think it was a better interview for having her rabbit on, followed by me coming in at the end to calmly point out that while she sounded credible, she was really talking a great deal of total crap – a fact proven by the HCCC.
Thanks to Ken McLeod – a tireless campaigner against Meryl and the AVN – here’s my part of the interview.
At the time of writing, the Woodford Folk Festival organising committee are yet to make a statement about Meryl Dorey’s attendance at the festival. Had I been their PR adviser, I would have told them 11 days ago, after they were alerted to the HCCC ruling against Ms Dorey, that they should quietly cut her loose. It provided a good enough excuse and anyone with an iota of media experience should have given them the same advice I did on 9 December: “This story will take off if you don’t act now.”
Why let a speaker who is essentially a ‘filler’ rather than a ‘drawcard’ for the festival, overshadow the event? A quick risk/benefit analysis would have quickly determined that Dorey was going to be far more trouble than she was worth.
If the Festival commiteee had been pro-active, they could have looked like responsible corporate citizens. Instead they look like rabbits caught in the headlights – stunned and silent as the media B-double bears down on them. And what do they think is going to happen when Dorey speaks? More negative media, more scrutiny of the kinds of quacks and kooks to whom Woodford (unwisely) provides a forum – partially at the tax payers’ expense. Having been given such great media mileage this year, do you think the media won’t be itching for another whacko to make good copy next year? This is the kind of thing that makes sponsors very, very nervous. If I was the marketing manager for a large corporate entity approached to sponsor next year’s Woodford Folk Festival I’d be saying, “No, it’s too risky.”
This can all still be stopped. It would have been better if it was done earlier, but a good PR company could still get rid of Dorey and ‘spin’ the story to make Woodford look good. After she’s spoken, they’re only going to look very, very silly.
The argument that Ms Dorey has a right to free speech has been floating around so let’s deal with it before I finish. The argument is specious. The woman has a website and her own magazine! She is free to speak any nonsense she likes on her own dime. But the Woodford Folk Festival has no obligation to provide a platform for anyone to speak – let alone someone who has a public health warning issued against their organisation! The Festival committee, however, does have an obligation not to damage the brands of its sponsors. And, I think, it does have an obligation not to endanger public health by providing a venue for the dissemination of demonstrably false propaganda.
So, that was wot I done on my summer vacation. It wasn’t quite lazing around at the beach, but there is a certain satisfaction in knowing I can still do the job I was trained to do – no longer to make money for myself and the companies I represented, but hopefully, to help make the world a slightly safer, happier and healthier place for all of us; and for Miss Bling and Master ‘Lucky’ in particular.
Breaking News: ABC radio slams Dorey for speaking off-topic, making disingenuous claims, and providing misleading and unsubstantiated information to the public. Full story here from Reasonable Hank (aka Peter Tierney).
A baby with whooping cough - whooping cough can cause broken ribs, brain damage or death - but it is preventable.
It is not too strong a statement to say that, in booking Meryl Dorey of the Australian [anti] Vaccination Network to speak at the Woodford Folk Festival, organisers are potentially putting the lives of thousands of Australian children at risk.
* I acknowledge that this may be inadvertent, but it makes the matter no less serious and their immediate attention all the more urgent.
PUBLIC WARNING ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN VACCINATION NETWORK (AVN)
26 July 2010
by the Health Care Complaints Commission under section 94A of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993The Health Care Complaints Commission has investigated two complaints about the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), a non-profit organisation registered in New South Wales that provides information about vaccination. The complaints alleged that the AVN provides incorrect and misleading information about vaccination.The Commission’s investigation of the complaints focussed on the material presented by the AVN on its website www.avn.org.au.The Commission’s investigation established that the AVN website:
provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
contains information that is incorrect and misleading
quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.
Is this really the kind of ‘health’ information the Woodford Folk Festival wants to disseminate to its patrons? Doesn’t it have a duty of care to do some basic research on participants booked to give health advice?
Apparently not. Because Ms Dorey is listed on the Festival’s website as follows:
Investigate before you vaccinate is the motto of the AVN. Having collected reports of thousands of Australian families whose children have been killed or injured by these shots, Meryl knows that the benefit of vaccines don’t always outweigh the risks. Her information is sourced from medical data and is necessary for anyone who is thinking about being vaccinated.
It does not mention that Ms Dorey has no medical or scientific qualifications. It does not mention that she has been found to quote ‘selectively’ from medical data or that she has been found to provide false and misleading information on her website.
Nor does it mention that when asked to place a warning on her website in the interests of public health, Ms Dorey refused.
This is not a case of the Festival organisers providing an ‘alternative view point’. Ms Dorey’s assertions about vaccine safety and links with autism are not based on medical evidence or scientific research. They are based on conspiracy theories, bias and a pitifully poor understanding of the data.
” In August 2011, an exhaustive review of the scientific literature by the Institute of Medicine in the US concluded that overall “few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines”. And when I say “exhaustive review”, I mean 12,000 peer-reviewed articles, covering eight different vaccines were pored over by a committee of 18 experts in the largest review of adverse events associated with vaccines since 1994. It was a thorough and herculean effort concluding that there is no causal relationship between vaccines and autism.”
Millions of children are vaccinated every day and every day many children fall ill for all sorts of reasons. It is not surprising then, that some children get sick after having a vaccination. But, it does not follow that the vaccination caused the illness.
Claims that vaccines contain dangerous amounts of mercury are also untrue. Dr Dunlop continues:
“Mercury was removed from all routine childhood vaccines in Australia in the year 2000 (with the exception of one type of HepB vaccine which contains trace amounts) and it was never in the MMR vaccine. Prior to 2000, thimerosal, an organomercury compound, was used in the manufacturing process of vaccines as a preservative. The process left only trace amounts in the finished product – you ingest more mercury when you eat a can of tuna than you would ever get from a vaccine. Also there are two types of mercury – methyl mercury is the scary environmental toxin that “bioaccumulates” in your body, and ethyl mercury the type found in thimerosal, which does not bioaccumulate.
If thimerosal was implicated in autism, you would expect a significant drop in cases after its removal. Instead the opposite is true – autism rates continue to rise.”
Ms Dorey compalins that vaccines have not been properly tested. Dr Dunlop explains why vaccines cannot be tested to suit Ms Dorey’s demands:
“When people claim that vaccines have “never been tested” they usually mean that they have not undergone randomized placebo controlled trials (RCTs). To do an RCT of a vaccine you would need to take two groups of kids, give one group the vaccine, and the other a placebo, then expose both groups to the disease to see which ones survive. Raise your hand if you can see the problem here…
Not only would such an experiment be unethical, it’s unnecessary. We have extensive evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of vaccines; the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio from the world are just two examples.”
The medical community is not hiding information about vaccinations and, of course, parents should ask questions from an informed and reliable source – ie. someone with a medical degree – before vaccinating their child. Doctors freely acknowledge that vaccines are not 100 per cent safe – no medical intervention is without risk. But the chance of your child being harmed by a vaccine is infinitesimal when compared with the risk of an unvaccinated child contracting (or passing on) a potentially deadly disease.
People like Meryl Dorey do not make it easier for parents to make an informed decision – they make it harder. They muddy the waters with half-truths, conspiracy theories and anecdotal evidence. They also endanger children’s health and safety.
Public health physician for Queensland Health, Dr Margaret Young said the outbreak was due to the percentage of vaccinated children dropping below the state average. As Ms Dorey is the most vocal opponent of anti-vaccination in this country, at least some of those cases can almost certainly be attributed to her efforts.
All of this information is readily available on the internet and the Woodford Folk Festival could have checked before booking Ms Dorey – but they didn’t. If the Woodford Folk Festival doesn’t have the resources to check on the credentials of those it books for its health forums, perhaps it should stick to what it knows and leave the health advice to doctors.
Again, this isn’t about someone having an ‘opinion’ about whether about whether organic food is better for you than supermarket food, about whether meditation is helpful or not, about whether you should use a crystal instead of commercial deodorant. This is a matter of life and death for children and it warranted some basic research on the part of the organisers.
I have spoken to someone from the Woodford Folk Festival this afternoon and I’m assured they are ‘looking into it’. When I hear that they have ‘looked into it’ and uninvited Ms Dorey I will happily remove this blog and write another one congratulating them for taking positive action in favour of children’s health and safety.
Until then, I suggest you contact the Festival organisers yourself on: (07) 5496 1066
You can tweet some of the sponsors at the following addresses:
ABC Sunshine Coast FM – @abcsunshine
Triple J – @triplej
Brisbane Marketing (a subsidiary of the Brisbane City Council) – @brismarketing
NB: I am reliably informed that the Woodford Folk Festival organisers were not entirely unaware of Ms Dorey’s reputation. They had been warned about her prior to her last appearance at the Woodford Folk Festival in 2009 but ignored the advice. Peter Bowditch has the information here.
“The Pharisees were religious leaders in the Jewish society at the time of Jesus. They were religious fundamentalists who focused on strict observance of the Jewish laws, ceremonies and traditions. … Pharisees strongly encouraged the Jewish people to pursue righteousness by closely following the Jewish laws and not compromising with the beliefs and ways of the Romans. The Pharisees openly opposed Jesus for many reasons. They were particularly appalled at his acts of healing people on the Sabbath and his blatant claims to divinity.
Jesus denounced them as being hypocrites. They often lived moral lives, full of good deeds, but it was all outward actions with no thought given to the heart or motives of the actions.”
Consider – Pharisees were the ‘fundamentalists’ of Jesus’ time. Did Jesus join in with their fundamentalism? Did he adhere slavishly to Biblical law? Or did he follow his heart and do what it told him was right – even when it meant outraging the religious bureaucracy and the status quo. Jesus was not legalistic in following Jewish law. He challenged it. He called on people to do the right thing for the right reason – not just because it was ‘written’. And if what was ‘written’ was not in the interests of someone who needed help – Jesus just ignored it. It seems that Jesus felt he answered to God, not to the Pharisees.
And what was the penalty of Jesus’ insistence on putting people before the leadership of the temple? Crucifixion.
Today, I heard of some legalistic, religious fundamentalists who have taken exception to someone in their midst who followed his heart rather than their rules. Baptist Minister, the Reverend Matt Glover from Lilydale Baptist church in Victoria has been forced to resign because he spoke out in favour of marriage equality.
This puts Pastor Glover, the father of two small children, out of a job just before Christmas. How very Christian of the Baptist pharisees … er …. conservatives.
“Our churches have argued the issue on biblical, theological and moral grounds for years, and agreement seems elusive. But as the battles rage, real people are being forgotten, left bruised and hurting, and wondering where they fit. While not tackling the more specific issues of the debate like gay marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, it is the purpose of this paper to bring another approach to the issue that is based on our equality before God, the work of the Spirit in our lives, and the unity that the Spirit produces in our church communities.
This alternative approach requires journeying with the real people stuck in the middle of the debate, listening to their questions and seeking answers together. It is a pastoral response that has its grounding in scripture and in my experience of ministry over the last twenty years …
Pastoral care begins with the life and practice of Jesus. With those on the fringe of his society, Jesus was welcoming and compassionate, touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable and creating a community that saw all people as equals before God. His life included teaching on scripture and the condemnation of religious leaders who had twisted scripture to protect the institutional religion. But never did Jesus isolate those with a genuine response to his care and his teaching on the Kingdom of God.
Pastoral care in the church must reflect the care of Jesus by opposing rules that drain life, and instead, create a life giving community where burdens are carried together.
This is not some liberal ‘whim’ of Pastor Glover’s. It is clear he has thought on this issue deeply. He has also, obviously, spent a great deal of time amongst the gay and lesbian community – seeking to understand them, so that he can properly represent their interests and help alleviate their suffering.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he doesn’t see himself as ‘Christ-like’ – but he does see himself as trying to act ‘like’ Christ, something the conservative members of his church clearly fail to do.
As an interesting side-note, in Satan: A Biography, Biblical scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly strips away the medieval caricature of Satan and reveals the Biblical character as an over-zealous heavenly bureaucrat intent on ‘catching people out’ when they break God’s laws and taking delight in their punishment.
“His job is to test people’s virtue and to report their failures,” Kelly said.
Meanwhile, in passages in Luke, Matthew, Corinthians and elsewhere in the New Testament, Satan continues to act as a tester, enforcer and prosecutor but not as God’s enemy, Kelly points out.
This is not to say, however, that Kelly contends that Satan is likeable.
“Jesus doesn’t like him, and Paul doesn’t like him,” Kelly explained. “He represents the old guard in the heavenly bureaucracy, and everyone longs for him to be disbarred as the chief accuser of humankind.”
Perhaps the legalists in the Baptist church should take a good look in the mirror and determine whether it is the face of Jesus or Satan peering back at them!
When Pastor Glover said on the Australian Marriage Equality website that he supported same-sex marriage, conservative voices within the church went into a tizz.
Conservatives have accused him of ”opening the door to sin”, while activist Christian group Salt Shakers asked followers to pray that God would ”improve or remove” him …
When he became senior pastor two years ago, he was open about his 15-year ministry to gays and lesbians.
”I’ve met many who have had faith in the past but because of their sexual orientation have been isolated from church and family. I felt a burden to stand in the gap between the church and person,” Mr Glover says.
… ”Salt Shakers and the Australian Christian Lobby were saying gay marriage would open the door to paedophilia. I couldn’t sit back and let Christian leaders say things like that, that are untrue. I gave a statement to Australian Marriage Equality, and that was the last straw.”
As Pastor Glover was reportedly excellent at his job it was hoped he would be allowed to stay on and serve his parish, despite the unpopularity of his position with conservatives within the church. It now seems that has not been possible and he has been forced (or felt it necessary) to resign.
Shelley Argent of PFlag (Parents and Friends of lesbians and gays) Queensland, has started a fundraising appeal for Matt Glover and his family by donating $1000.
She has opened a bank account at the Bank of Queensland for direct debits and donations.
BSB: 124-001 Account No: 2172-4166
Account Name: Shelley Argent (for Matt Glover)
Please put in what you can.
If you would like to post a cheque or money order please write them to Rev. M. Glover and address the envelope to PFLAG, PO Box 1372, Eagle Farm 4009.
We spend a lot of time bitching and moaning about Christians doing the wrong thing. When Christians do the right thing, I think they deserve our help and support. I can’t afford much, but Pastor Glover will be getting a little present from me in the mail, and I hope you might add him and his family to your Christmas list as well. Even if you can’t donate, I’m sure a card or a letter stating your appreciation for his stance would be much appreciated. If you want to send an email of support to Matt, you can send it via firstname.lastname@example.org with Att: Matt Glover in the subject line. If you’re on twitter you can send a friendly tweet to @Matt_Glover.
If you wish to discuss this matter further with Shelley Argent before donating, contact me at email@example.com and I will pass on her contact details.
Yes, Muehlenberg’s rant on the ALP changing their platform in favour of same-sex marriage yesterday was hilarious. But now it has turned deadly serious.
Here is a comment posted to Muehlenberg’s blog post from a Christian father who lost his gay son to suicide – and Muehlenberg’s heartless response. This is extremist Christianity at its finest. I really don’t think this needs any further commentary except to say my deepest sympathies are with Mr Sutherland and his family.
Michael Sutherland – 4.12.11 / 7pm
I too am a christian and I used to believe that same as you, but just last year my own son, Jeremiah, took his life because he was gay and knew that none of his friends or me and my wife would accept him.
I have since then changed my position on the issue, I would have much rathered I have my son with me today and for him to be able to face gods judgement and have a chance to repent, than for him to have taken his own life and go straight into satans lair.
I’m sorry to see that you all feel that love is a bad thing. There isn’t much of it left in the world and I say we should promote as much love as possible, whether that be heterosexual love or homosexual love. You say that it will harm our children to know that it’s okay to be gay, in fact the opposite is true.
I hope that everyone here takes a good look at what they’re saying and how they speak to their own children. For me it was too late, but it’s not too late for you. Only God can pass judgement on others, it is not up to us to do so.
We can all sympathise and pray for this, as it is a difficult matter indeed. But it is quite remiss of you to take a personal tragedy and seek to get political mileage out of it, to push an agenda, or to seek to lay a guilt trip on those who disagree with you. I and my readers know nothing of your situation so of course we cannot comment on it. No one begrudges your concerns over what happened, but I for one must still call your bluff.
The biblical truth on homosexuality did not result in this sad situation. So don’t seek to make us somehow responsible. If a loved one of mine embraced this lifestyle I would of course still love him or her, but I would also tell them the truth about this dangerous, high-risk and unhealthy lifestyle. You say you “did not accept him”. Again, I know nothing of your situation, so it is unfair to expect me to say anything on this, but one can accept and love a person while not approving of a dangerous lifestyle. I can love a drug addict or alcoholic while strongly disproving of the actions which are killing these people.
And we know that homosexuals have all sorts of problems which are due to the lifestyle itself, not because of social disapproval. For example, homosexual suicide rates are just as high in places where it is fully accepted (eg., Sydney or San Francisco or Amsterdam) as anywhere else. So disapproval (even by parents) is not at all the core cause of suicide here.
If you claim to be a Christian then you should know that love has absolutely nothing to do with lust, or with mere feelings, or with violating God’s principles of human sexuality. Indeed, real biblical love has to do with keeping God’s commandments, not openly and defiantly breaking them and defying them.
And any parent will want what is best for their children. A lifestyle which basically guarantees a shortened life is not best for any child. A loving parent will do all they can to keep their children out of such a lifestyle, and tell them the truth about it. They certainly will not falsely and unbiblically say that all loves are the same.
Indeed, as one commentator just said elsewhere: “Heterosexual couplings are not identical to homosexual couplings. Heterosexual couplings are the sorts of couplings required for the continuation of our species. Strangely, the gay crowd already has a term for this: ‘breeders,’ which is often used pejoratively in reference to heterosexuals. It is inconsistent to insist on redefining marriage under the ‘marriage equality’ banner, when they, perhaps in a Freudian way when they use that term, admit that their sexual activity is not identical to heterosexual sexual activity.”
So we all can and will keep you in prayer (indeed I already have), but none of us need to buy your unbiblical and unhelpful change of direction here.
Well, it’s been a long and frustrating day on the same-sex marriage campaign trail, but there is a little ray of sunshine at the end of it: that loud explosion you just heard was right-wing Catholic conservative Bill Muehlenberg blowing a gasket. I think the reverberations of the explosion are still being felt in Moscow!
Poor old Bill is just starting to realise he’s the minority. While he huffs and puffs and tries to blow the homosexual lobby down, he’s livid that the rest of Christendom really doesn’t give a shit. Just 50-100 people turned up for the pro-traditional marriage rally today – versus a reported 10,000 in favour of same-sex marriage – and Bill is on the war path.
Further, in a move that’s likely to distance him and his ilk even further from the halls of power, he’s lashed out and called the Prime Minister “a fornicating, socialist atheist”. With that kind of rancid rhetoric, Bill’s less likely to get invited to dinner at the Lodge than the Get-Up representatives from teh ‘Homosexual Lobby’ who paid $30,000 for their dinner invite and are still waiting … and waiting … and waiting.
Do go and read Bill’s blog, just for the chuckles.
The best way I know to combat bigotry is to shine a spotlight on it. I was at the debate on Civil Partnerships at Queensland Parliament House this week (30/11/2011). Several of the comments had me holding my hand to my mouth in horror. Many had me laughing they were so outrageous.
Politicians’ bigotry should not be hidden away in Hansard where few people will read it. It should be out in the open and freely circulating so that voters can find it easily when searching for information on their local candidates.
Perhaps the worst speech of the night came from Chris Foley, member for Maryborough. There were others and you can read them on Hansard.
Margaret Keech, member for Albert, gave a particularly cloying defence of bigotry in which she managed to insult just about everyone by drawing an analogy between the strength of Christians’ ownership of traditional marriage and the strength of Aborigines’ commitment to the land. Ms Keech’s decision to vote against the bill was particularly odious in view of the fact she, reportedly, has a gay son.
But, let us move on to Mr Chris Foley, the Independent MP for Maryborough.
Mr Foley began with the all too familiar ‘some of my best friends are gay/black/jewish’ canard which is inevitably followed by a stream of homophobic/racist nonsense. He didn’t waver from the formula.
“I have a number of gay friends who I see regularly—” said Foley.
This brought a predictable groan from both his fellow MPS and from the gallery.
“Two of our lifelong friends are a young lesbian couple who have just had a baby. We visited them in hospital and wished them well with their baby.”
But Foley doesn’t think his friends’ baby should have the protection of parents with a legally recognised partnership.
He continued (though he really shouldn’t have):
“The first time I met one of my best friends who comes to visit me regularly in parliament was in a former life when I was a full-time piano bar singer. He tried to pick me up. He would be one of the gayest people I have ever met in my life. I will never forget the first time he came in. He had the handbag, the lipstick and everything going on—”
There was a collective gasp from the floor and the gallery. The gayest person he had ever met in his life???? I think that’s when my hand involuntarily flew up to my mouth.
There was such outrage at this remark the speaker had to call for order.
Yet, Foley blundered on:
“This particular gentleman has been a friend of mine for over 30 years. He has since changed his mind in terms of relationships and has gone on to marry his wife and they have four children. I want to tell members that he was a very good friend of mine when he was gay and now that he is straight he has also continued to be a very good friend of mine.”
Yes, Mr Foley, so you suggest that all those damned homosexuals up in the public gallery should just ‘change their minds’ and marry someone of the opposite sex instead? Did it ever occur to you that this ‘friend’ (if he exists) is bisexual? Or homosexual and repressing his sexuality? There are many homosexuals in the community who are, or who have been married with children. That doesn’t make them straight, Mr Foley. Nor does it make them happy, whole, or psychologically well adjusted. Note that Foley doesn’t mention his friend is ‘happily‘ married.
Next, Foley launched artlessly into the ‘slippery slope’ argument:
“Where do you stop when you change the time-honoured principle of the way relationships have always been? How do we then say polygamy is wrong when someone has more than one wife? How do we then say polyandry—where a woman chooses to have more than one husband—is not an appropriate relationship? How do we say polyamory—where there are multiple relationships—is wrong? There has been lobbying from all sides on the issue. I must admit that I had to reach for a dictionary when some of these terms were presented to me during the hearing.
It is my contention that one of the dangers of this bill at law is that, once you start to move away from traditional marriage relationships, you set yourself adrift on a sea without an anchor and anything goes. We start to push the boundaries a little towards people having all sorts of totally strange ideas.”
And, of course, having used all the usual cliches, Foley brings it home by casting Christians as the true victims in the debate:
“When I look at this argument I am very concerned that Christians are often portrayed as being hateful or spiteful towards gay people in particular. I just do not see that to be true in the Christians that I know. They have nothing but love and grace towards people regardless of their orientation. In some respects I believe that this has become an ipso facto referendum on whether Christianity is some sort of bigoted and uncaring religion. “
Yes, Mr Foley. The Christians opposing civil unions and same-sex marriage are so loving and caring they ignore the evidence that homosexuality is not chosen and cannot be changed. They ignore the evidence that psychological distress and suicide attempts are astronomically higher in the gay community than the general population. They close their ears to expert opinion that this is linked to discrimination against the gay community. Gay teenagers are killing themselves, but the good Christians think it is more important that their sensibilities about marriage are preserved.
And why would a gay teen kill themselves? Because Christians, Mr Foley, are telling them they are less than equal, not normal, and sinful in the eyes of God. Because Christians, Mr Foley are telling them they can change (when they know they cannot). Christians equate homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality when what most homosexuals want is simply a loving, monogamous relationship with a consenting adult partner – the same as the rest of us. And then Christians tut-tut and shake their heads when gay teens are bullied at school – completely denying the fact that it is their attitudes which precipitate such behaviour.
Christians are telling gay teens the only way they can have a ‘normal’ family life is to deny their sexuality and marry someone of the opposite sex – ruining not only their life, but, potentially, that of their spouse and any children of that misgotten union. And if they choose not to marry, Mr Foley, your good Christian friends tell them, “That’s okay, providing you never have an intimate sexual relationship or have children.” How would you have felt, Mr Foley, if you had been told that as a vulnerable teenager?
What’s more these bigoted, homophobic Christians even ignore the fact that other Christians, reading from the same holy book, following the same Christ and worshipping the same god find no problems whatsoever with civil unions or same-sex marriage. It never occurs to them for one moment that there might be a kinder, more humane way of looking at things – they are too preoccupied shoring up their own prejudice.
But none of that figures on Mr Foley’s radar. He concludes:
“As a matter of conscience I cannot support the legislation, but I do so with a struggle in my heart and I wish no ill feeling towards people who share a different point of view.”
And my response? My fat arse you don’t, Mr Foley!
The people of Maryborough should be shocked and embarrassed to have a representative who apparently did no research whatsoever into homosexuality before voting on the bill. Instead, Foley based his decision on his own ignorance and bigotry and then had the unmitigated hide to display that ignorance proudly ‘for the record’.
Let us pause for a moment and contrast Foley’s stance with that of my local MP, Peter Wellington. Mr Wellington is no screaming lefty. He was once a member of the National Party, now an independent. He is also a Christian. This is how someone who has done the research and approached the question openly and honestly viewed the question of civil unions:
Mr Wellington began by reading some correspondence, for and against the bill, from members of his constituency. Then he read a notice he had received from the Australian Family Association – a conservative Christian lobby group:
“This is an interesting one from the Australian Family Association. It is headed ‘Campaign to target MPs who support Civil Partnerships Bill’. It states—
An Australian Family Association leaflet campaign will target any MPs who back the controversial Civil Partnerships Bill,
scheduled for a tight vote in the Queensland parliament next week.
MPs who support the Civil Partnerships Bill can expect churches everywhere to help letterbox their electorates with leaflets similar
to those the AFA distributed in the seat of Capricornia in recent weeks (see below) though in this case the leaflet will conclude …‘When you vote … place___ MP last!’
Now Wellington began to roar:
“I do not agree with the Australian Family Association’s view that this bill is attacking the institution of marriage or is introducing same-sex marriage to Queensland. The God I believe in does not threaten or intimidate people who may have a different view. I say tonight to the Australian Family Association and to the other people who have contacted my office and threatened to campaign against me: I will vote for what I think is right and just, and I will not be intimidated, whoever you are. I will support this bill.
I do not wear my Christianity like a badge on my chest, but the God I know would never sanction behaviour that threatens people cruelly because of their genetic make-up.
… I believe this bill will simply provide for a registry whereby eligible heterosexual and homosexual couples in relationships can apply for registration as a civil partnership. I will be supporting the bill. As an Independent, I am proud that I am able to vote according to what I believe is right and just. I am not intimidated by anyone or any interest group.”
Contemptibly, the Liberal National Party not only voted as a bloc against the bill, they did so at the direction of their unelected leader, Campbell Newman who has put on record his support for same-sex marriage. Further, they did not even have the courage to explain their personal objections to the bill – only one representative for the LNP spoke against the bill, the rest sat silent.
People of Queensland should be aware that Newman and several of his MPs put aside what they knew and even acknowledged to be right in order to make a political point. A sharp contrast to Peter Wellington who may well lose his seat for doing the right thing.
Look for the name of your local MP in that list and consider, before casting your vote in the next state election, whether you want to vote for someone who puts what is right above what is politically expedient. Consider whether you want to vote for someone who does not support the full equality of all Queenslanders.