Australian Christian Lobby – “a good haven for bullies”

Oh, how we need more of this kind of exposure on national television! The case for secularism was brilliantly argued by Drs Marion Maddox and Leslie Cannold and the Reverend Bill Crews this weekend on Seven’s Sunrise program.  At last, we see two Christians and an agnostic stand up to state plainly that the Australian Christian Lobby is a ‘small and unrepresentative group that doesn’t speak for the majority of Christians’ … and that religion is a  ‘good haven for bullies’. Politicians, please take note!

Here’s the video with a  transcript of some of the highlights, below:

Marion Maddox (at 2:22): “… we know for example, that over 50 per cent of self-identified Christians support a right to same-sex marriage.The Australian Christian Lobby want us to think that Christian faith and support for same-sex marriage are diametrically opposed. We know … we know that three out of four Catholics and four out of five Anglicans support a right to assisted death when life has come to an end and is only pain and suffering.

Bill Crews:  … and they do.

Marion Maddox:  … and they do!  The Australian Christian Lobby want us to think that the Christian faith is diametrically opposed to support for assisted euthanasia. Well, it just isn’t.

Samantha Armytage: So, it’s a very powerful lobby …

Marion Maddox:  Well … it’s a very small and unrepresentative group that doesn’t speak for the majority of Christians, but they have been very successful at creating the impression of a groundswell where, in fact, none exists.

Bill Crews:  And religion, in many ways is a good haven for bullies, because, if you believe God’s on your side, then you can do anything you like and say anything you like.

Leslie Cannold (at 3:48): … Marion is absolutely right that there is a disproportionate representation of very orthodox, religious, Christian people in our parliament that is completely disconnected from their representation in the wider community. And what we really need is sort of a secular GetUp. We need an organisation that very, very clearly expresses the views of minority religions, people of no faith, and moderate Christians (who are by far the vast, vast majority) to make sure that religious views are not imposed by one group on another and of people of no faith. Because you have to keep clear about this: that what religious freedom is, is the freedom of everybody to express their religion and not be discriminated against as a consequence of it and not to have one religion dominating another in the public space. And, at the moment, there’s a belief we have a separation of church and state, but, in fact, we really don’t, we have a soft theocracy.

Bill Crews:  That’s the strength of a good, tolerant secular society; that it keeps religions in their place. Because we all know the horrors that happen when religions get in charge of countries …

Natalie Barr (at 6:25) So, Leslie, what’s the message for politicians here? …

Leslie Cannold:  …. the reality is that there is a concerted push by people who are very orthodox and very conservative in their religious views to have a disproportionate say in terms of the way this country is run. And so, what we need to have happen is that the media needs to make sure we look at those politicians, and look at their beliefs. And whether or not – and this is the key – it’s not what they believe, it’s whether or not they want to impose those beliefs on everyone else. And when that’s the case, I think, as voters, we need to know that.

Bill Crews: ’cause religious people can go and live however they like in a free society. It’s just that they don’t have to kind of impose it on everyone else.

Natalie Barr:  Yeah, and that certainly sounds like the Australian way ….

Chrys Stevenson

Leslie Cannold

Dr Leslie Cannold is an award-wining author and columnist, as well as a qualified ethicist and researcher. She is regularly noted as one of Australia’s most influential thinkers. In 2011 Leslie was honoured as Australian Humanist of the Year. Her latest book is an historical novel, The Book of Rachael, published by Text. Leslie is President of Reproductive Choice Australia, which is running the “Let’s End the Stigma” Flashmob.

You can follow Leslie Cannold on Twitter:  @LeslieCannold or find out more about her on her website.

26 thoughts on “Australian Christian Lobby – “a good haven for bullies”

  1. tamlyn123

    This is great, Chrys – about time voices of sanity and moderation were heard calmly discussing this, rather than being placed in a confrontation as happened on QandA last week. It may not make for exciting television, but it does produce clarity and common sense!

  2. Ian Wood

    Excellent post, Chrys. This discussion has calmly and rationally presented the Christian support for voluntary euthanasia. The ACL definitely does not represent us! Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia Group.

  3. Timaahy

    “Marion Maddox: Well … it’s a very small and unrepresentative group that doesn’t speak for the majority of Christians, but they have been very successful at creating the impression of a groundswell where, in fact, none exists.”

    Bang on. They get waaaaaay too much air time. I mean, Wallace isn’t even a “sophisticated theologian”!

    Speaking of sophisticated theologians…

    Peter Jensen: I am generally supportive of ACL, I have to say. [Although] I don’t support everything that’s said by its leaders.

    “Generally supportive” may be underplaying it a little. I can’t see anything that the ACL has said that isn’t backed by the dogma of the major Christian churches. I suspect Pell and Jensen are gleefully celebrating the fact that their views are getting a public airing, but they’re not having to deal with the media fall-out.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      I’d like to begin by thanking you sincerely for your comment. It really is greatly appreciated.

      But, it is not enough. We atheists do recognize there are many churches and Christians who don’t share the poisonous views of the ACL and Archbishop Jensen but we get very frustrated and, yes, angry that these progressive voices are largely silent.

      For some years now, I’ve been working my butt off to speak out against Wallace, Jensen and their ilk. I am nobody. I’m just a middle-aged woman, sitting in front of a computer in a tiny village in regional Queensland. I am a ‘voice in the wilderness’ but I haven’t let that deter me. I live by the maxim, ‘All that it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing’. So I do something. Despite the fact I have no fame and no resources, I have, I think, been able to expose the propaganda and virulent views of the ACL to a much wider audience. I’ve managed to build a large network of supporters who, in turn, retweet, Facebook and reblog the articles I write here – or use them as inspiration for their own response to Wallace’s and Jensen’s evil bigotry. My reach is now in the tens of thousands. How many more people could the progressive churches reach if they combined their considerable resources against the ACL?

      So many days I sit here with the words of Martin Luther King ringing in my ears. Writing from a Birmingham jail, King said:

      “In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

      I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

      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. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.”

      Isn’t it ironic that the ‘good’ Christian governor who so virulently opposed racial equality shares a name with the ‘good’ Christian soldier who so virulently opposes full equality for our GLBTI community. How closely the strategies and propaganda used by Wallace and his cronies mirror those of the southern Baptists who argued against the full humanity of ‘the negro’ just as the ACL and Jensen seek to dehumanise and humiliate ‘the Christian lobby’ with their ghastly misrepresentations and smears.

      So yes, I do thank you for posting here, but I beg of you, do more! Organise. Get together with the Victorian Council of Churches, the newly formed A Progressive Christian Voice and people like the Reverend Bill Crews and Rowland Croucher and others and present a national, united voice. Please! Say, “This virulent group of interlopers do not speak for the vast majority of Australia’s Christian churches or our congregations”. If I can build an audience, think what you can do!

    2. Jeff Poole

      Dear St Luke’s

      While it’s heartening to hear a christian say that, sadly it’s not enough.

      It’s especially not enough if your church and your progressive christian friends merely shake their heads and wring their hands.

      Just like its simply not enough for good Moslems to be shocked and sad at the antics of the few who rioted the other day.

      No. What’s required is a concerted effort by Christians of good heart across the denominations to stand against bigotry.

      And that’s going to be very, very uncomfortable.

      It’s going to involve a clear-eyed look at the people, even within your own church, who quietly hold these antediluvian views on women and those of us within the various queer communities. It’s going to involve telling them that, no the writings in Leviticus – and in Romans – no longer apply, just as we no longer expect women to cover their heads and be silent.

      My background is in a relatively progressive UK Methodist tradition – one that might be described as ‘social democratic’ a similar outlook to the Uniting Church – and even there no-one was prepared to stand firm against bigotry, especially when it was expressed by a senior churchman.

      The founder of Sydney’s Wesley Mission, Alan Walker, preached at my church in England many years ago when I was in my early twenties. At the time many people in that congregation were aware of my sexuality, and the struggle I was having to reconcile such a fundamental part of my personality with my faith. Dr Walker made some, frankly nasty, comments about gay people and I was aware that many sympathetic eyes turned to me when he did.

      Not one person in that congregation of several hundred ever broached the subject of that sermon with me. Not one.

      That was the point at which I began to understand the power dynamics of the church generally and how incredibly difficult it is to stand against preachers, Superintendent Ministers or Archbishops who hold bigoted views.

      These days I’m a ‘born-again atheist’. And that moment was the beginning of my movement away from the church.

      And for that I’m thankful, because if I’d stayed I’m pretty sure the depression that my internal conflict had created would have turned to suicide – as it does for so many of my queer brothers and sisters.

      Are you prepared to lose a large portion of your congregation if you stand up for us ‘evil’, ‘sinful’ queens? Are you prepared to contradict your own archbishop publicly?

      ‘Evil flourishes when good men do nothing’. ACL promotes evil, as does your Archbishop, what will you do?

      1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

        Bravo, Jeff. And we need more people like you standing up to say, “These attitudes are lethal. They kill people.” I was absolutely horrified to hear Jensen say so off-handedly on Q&A: “Some people say it’s because of the things I say and the position I take and that creates, for example, a spate of suicides. That may be true but how can we get at the facts if we’re never willing to talk about it?”

        He cheerfully acknowledges the possibility that his words may result in people committing suicide and yet, he callously goes on to support the pathologising, dehumanising smears of the Australian Christian Lobby. I had more than one homosexual friend contact me to say how his comments cut them to the quick – death by a thousand paper cuts – but Jensen does not care.

        The fact is we ARE talking about it but Jensen does not want to listen to the overwhelming majority of research which exposes him as a homophobe. The evidence that a toxic environment caused by a discriminatory culture and religious homophobia is complicit in high rates of depression, suicide, alcoholism, self-harm, drug addiction and suicide in the GLBTI community is accepted by all the peak mental health organisations here and overseas, and by epidemiologists and mental health experts.

        But they’re not saying what Jensen needs to rationalise his hateful homophobia, so he keeps saying, “We need to talk about it ….”

        We don’t need to talk about it any more than we need to keep talking about whether scientific evidence confirms evolution by natural selection. Only those who have a dogmatic, intractable belief that it ‘can’t’ be true perpetuate the myth that there is some doubt.

        As Catherine Deveny said on Q&A the other night, “homosexuality is not a health risk. Homophobia is a health risk. Hate kills. Hate causes suicide. Hate causes self-harm and hate causes depression. It’s not homosexuality, it’s homophobia.”

    3. palmboy

      Dear St Lukes,

      Thanks for your comments.
      Please consider taking some further actions:

      1. Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality is seeking clergy who support marriage equality. So far 77 clergy have publicly shown their support here If you can assist, please contact

      2. Please consider joining a group such as Progressive Christian Voice to counteract the harm being done by ACL

      thank you Phil

  4. Glen Mcbride

    You done good Now how to get these sensible comments out into the real world everyong is vaguely aware of this, but SO FEW concerned to do omething or to know what to do? Cheerily Glen ________________________________________

  5. drunkslag

    I’m going to open myself to all sorts of charges – including something close to victim-blaming – and I’m not sure how much I agree with what I’m about to say, but devil’s advocate:
    This is a small group that makes a lot of noise and gets a large response. The response and outrage is exactly what media outlets want. If we stopped replying, or at least replying specifically to the ACL (although confronting their arguments in general), would they be offered fewer platforms to spread their argument?

  6. Damian Coburn

    Some thoughts both on Chrys’ article and her response to St Luke’s. At length, taking Chrys’ “Salon” comment on face-value ;).

    There are many thoughtful, decent, fair-minded people of faith who don’t get much attention. Waleed Aly is an example of someone who does get a bit of a run in the press, but not many others.

    I am an atheist bottom line I think religion is a bad thing. But I believe that people should neither be advantaged nor disadvantaged, have more or less rights, because of their belief – I would, as Tim Minchin puts it, march with a ‘shitty sign’ for religious freedom, all other things being equal. Anyone who agrees with me that the locus of justice is the dignity and wellbeing of the individual human is someone with whom I can work, and never mind if they are of that view because they think god says so. As it happens, last year I was involved in establishing a new branch of PFLAG, and the president of the branch is a Christian. Right now I’m on the board of another new community organisation which is about supporting services and advocacy for LGBTIQ people; the president of that organisation, as well as a number of the board members, are people of faith – Christian or Jewish.

    But then there is the other side.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been taken aback by someone I know who is a person of faith (generally Christians – that’s mainly who I know) and who is a fair-minded person who, out of the blue either gets antsy when I’m critical of the unpleasant views of eg Wallace, Pell or Jensen, or even tries to defend them.

    More generally, it seems to me that, on the whole, publicly-voiced opposition by Christians to the ACL and their fellow travellers is a recent phenomenon. It seems to have taken a lot of hate spread over a long time for there to be a reaction.

    Admittedly unscientfically, I hypothesise that this is due to two misconceptions.

    The first is a misconceived Christian solidarity; that it is better to be silent about the poisonous outpourings of the ACL et al than to criticise other Christians. A lot of Christians seem to be getting over that. Secondly, I think a lot of Christians – and atheists – conflate atheism and secularism. They are different things. Secularism protects everyone, those with belief and without; it protects all ideas. The first I heard this idea and understood it, it was being said by the Dalai Lama. When the US founding fathers codified the idea of separation of church and state, it wasn’t to attack religion; it was to preserve diversity of faiths.

    The short version is, I think, this. Atheists and theists may have opposing views, but secularism, freedom and justice are spaces where we can share. But it’s going to take some more courage on the part of people of faith – which in Oz, mainly means Christians – to stand up against the injustice of their cobelievers.

  7. Rhonda Cale

    You’ve been great value (in my inbox/and thoughts) these last couple of weeks. Heartfelt thanks Chrys

  8. Vance

    I think politicians need to be taken to task whenever they publicly denigrate secularism.

    Tony Abbott, in a speech to the ACL in 2010, described freedom from religion as “a very bad thing”. I would hope that, unlike Mr Abbott, most Australians regard both freedom of religion and freedom from religion as not only very good things, but essential to a functioning secular democracy.

    1. Damian Coburn

      And thus one of the key lies of would-be theocrats; that inability to force views on other people is, somehow, a restriction on religious freedom.

      I strolled down to the local Catholic church to listen to the broadcast when it was on; the three Coburns made up 37.5% of those attending. It struck me then how the speech seems, on the surface, to insist on secular government, but then goes on to say “but if we get in we will continue to shower you with riches nudge nudge wink wink”.

      The para on Kyoto and climate change is, btw, one from the vault!

      (As an aside, I do have a touch of sympathy for some exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation. If it really is a touchstone of one’s faith that one will burn in hell if one is decent to queers, or if one doesn’t have one’s boot on the neck of womenkind, well then maybe. But in that case those organisations ought not get one cent of public money, either directly through grants or indirectly through tax benefits. Either they play by society’s rules or they don’t. They can’t have it both ways).

    1. wannie (@wannie1956)

      Just out of curiosity. Bill Muelhenberg still has an American Citizenship has he not? If so, why hasn’t he renounced it and become a fully Aussie Citizen !! His links as an author to white supremacist sites are of great concern !!

  9. david

    i think the same could be said for many people on this forum too.
    agree with us or we won’t vote for you etc.
    the endless barrage of bile directed at Tony Abbott.
    Rightly or wrongly all examples of bullying.
    We should just ignore this Lobby and they will fade from prominence

    1. tamlyn123

      Far too simplistic, David. The threat of withholding of our vote is the only means we ordinary chickens have of influencing our elected representatives. As for the bile directed at Abbott: in my case, it is not bile, but gut-deep loathing of a man who has made it quite clear that not only does he despise women who oppose him, but he has little respect for the views and/or wishes of the electorate as a whole if it doesn’t support him.
      Politics is what politicians make of it: Abbott had the opportunity to work in co-operation with the current government, but chose instead to attempt to destabilise it for his own ends, with the result that he has made himself deeply disliked by a very substantial number of people. Again, the only means of expressing discontent is the threat of withholding our vote – and the raising of our voices to publicly express dislike and contempt for his actions.
      None of those things are bullying. They are reaction – and an expression of concern and apprehension as to what form a possible government under Abbot might take. Again, not bullying.
      As for the ACL: ignore that kind of lobby, and it will only grow stronger as it imagines itself unopposed. It has already made the mistake of over-estimating its support, and given the spineless vote on the SSM bill, it will re-estimate that support upwards. We ignore organised bigotry at our peril.
      And if you want to know what *real* bullying is: talk to young people from the LGBT community about their experiences; or ask any woman who has worked at a refuge; or any one of our new migrants whose face is a darker colour than the Australian norm.

      1. Abbie Noiraude

        (….or being a fat person in our society today)..Well said Cushla.

  10. Abbie Noiraude

    Thank you again, Chrys for an interesting link ( who’d a thunk that ‘Sunrise’ would be worth watching?) and for the following discussion. When you mentioned in reply to St Luke’s that you are ‘not famous’ I beg to disagree. I think you are very ‘famous’, just for the right reasons IMHO.

    Thank you also for providing space for a forum of such interesting people.
    I was most taken by Damian Coburn. An interesting writer…kept me glued to the screen, almost as much as you do.

    What to do?
    Keep speaking for that which allows choice, freedom, equality and ‘keeping religion in its place’.
    I have a plethora of experiences within many Christian churches which lead me at last to active Atheism. Respecting church leadership is becoming harder, if those with heart are not heard.

    I always look forward to GTCEB… my little NSW country village it gives me food for thought and gives me great heart. Thank you.


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