Monthly Archives: June 2021

Lyle Shelton – With God on his Side?

“Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss

But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.” 

– Bob Dylan, With God on Our Side

Aspiring politician, religious lobbyist, and former managing director of the Australian Christian lobby, Lyle Shelton, has spent his life fighting for what he believes is right. In these battles, Shelton believes fervently he is doing God’s will; that he has God on his side. And yet, isn’t it peculiar that every battle Lyle takes on ends in abject failure? 

There are three possible explanations for this.

      1. There is no God
      2. There is a God, but he is not, in fact, on Lyle’s side.
      3. There is a God and he is using Lyle in much the same way he used Judas Iscariot.

Of course, my preferred option is “(a)”, but I have been wondering, of late, how Lyle reconciles his abysmal track record with his dogged belief that God is a member of his cheer squad. Surely, if God were on Lyle’s side, he would emerge triumphant – at least occasionally.

Lyle Shelton was raised in a cult – the Logos Foundation. By definition, cult members believe they are God’s chosen people; that they, alone, understand God’s will. So, I have some sympathy for Lyle. He was conditioned from an early age to believe it was his mission to ensure God’s will prevails.

Through no fault of Lyle’s, the Logos Foundation was a monumental failure. Founded in New Zealand in the 1960s, Logos later relocated to Australia where it fell under the leadership of former Baptist minister, Howard Carter. At its peak, the Logos Foundation boasted around 150,000 members and was linked with various international dominionist movements. Under Carter, Logos took on the “overt theological-political paradigm” of the “post-millennialism of Presbyterian Reconstructionist theonomy” – a movement which effectively calls for a Christian coup of the world’s governments in order to reinstate divine law and justice. (See my article on the Australian Christian Lobby and dominionism, here.)

With Carter, Lyle’s father, Ian Shelton, was a leader of the Logos Foundation, so this was the world-view and Christian mission into which Shelton junior was indoctrinated. One can certainly imagine that when a young person is told their family was chosen to help return the world’s governments to God’s stewardship in order to create a world fit for the second coming of Jesus Christ, it has a profound impact. It’s an entirely more beguiling prospect that following Dad into the family plumbing business!

But, it appears, God was not on the side of the Logos Foundation. 

In the 1980s, the cult moved to Queensland where Carter and Shelton senior became involved in the 1989 Queensland State election. (Lyle was, then, 19 – old enough to understand what was going on in the ‘family business.’ Logos lobbied heavily for candidates to adhere to Christian principles and biblical ethics, oppose pornography, homosexuality and abortion, and perversely – given their strong ‘pro-life’ position –  return capital punishment in line with Old Testament law (not just for first-degree murder, but for homosexuals as well). 

This approach backfired spectacularly in uniting Queensland’s Christian forces to reclaim the Queensland government for God. Instead, mainstream churches recoiled in horror, distanced themselves from Logos and denounced the campaign. 

Soon after, Logos leader, Howard Carter (supposedly anointed by God), was exposed as living the high life on Foundation funds and was found in flagrante delicto with a female parishioner. The cult fell apart and, soon after, Carter died, of eye cancer. 

The Logos Foundation’s only surviving remnants were the Shelton family’s Toowoomba City Church, (established in the aftermath by Shelton senior) and a group called the Network for Christian Values (of which we’ll hear more, later). God, it seems, was not on the side of the Logos Foundation, nor had he anointed Howard Carter, after all.

As a young man, Lyle worked as a youth pastor at his father’s church, and still gives the occasional homily there. Later, he studied journalism and, for a time, worked as a reporter for a rural newspaper. But, not surprisingly, given his upbringing, Lyle aspired to a career in politics. 

“I had politics in my blood,” said Lyle in a 2019 interview with Lech Blaine of The Monthly. “Our family discussions around the kitchen table were about politics and religion – the two subjects you should never talk about in polite company.”

(There are many who would suggest that Lyle Shelton should never be let loose in polite company in the first place.)

In 2000, Lyle enjoyed one of his rare successes. He was elected to the Toowoomba City Council on a platform of expelling the sex industry from the city. Lech Blaine describes Lyle colourfully as “Ned Flanders with a country Queensland twang.” But, if God exists, he must have an extraordinary sense of humour. Because, at the same election, the good people of Toowoomba elected Dianne Thorley as their mayor. Blaine describes Thorley as an “independent feminist” and:

“… a lifelong underdog, a short-haired former pub chef who swore like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s. She didn’t wear make-up, jewellery or dresses. Her voice was husky from chain-smoking menthol cigarettes. At 19, she gave up a baby for adoption. Her platform featured personal honesty, empathy for the destitute and, presciently, environmentalism. 

… Thorley spoke publicly about surviving a violent marriage with a Pentecostal wife-beater, and recovering to become a successful businesswoman. She describes her ideology as “pro business with a social conscience.”

When Thorley confronted a local graffiti artist she told him if he persisted with his vandalism, “I’ll rip off your dick so hard you’ll have to piss sitting down.”

Undeterred, Lyle and his father attempted to persuade Thorley to join with them in doing God’s work in Toowoomba. She responded, “Fuck off Lyle! Just let me have a smoke and coffee in peace.”

You’d think if God were serious about helping Lyle do his bidding in Toowoomba, he wouldn’t have saddled him with Di Thorley as mayor!

Needless to say, Toowoomba’s sex industry survived the Sheltons’ best efforts to eradicate it. I wonder if Lyle ever considered that God was on the side of the sex-workers.

To be fair, Lyle did have a big win during his time as a Toowoomba City councillor. He successfully joined a fear campaign against a scheme, instigated by Thorley, to address the city’s chronic water shortage by recycling sewage. Spooked by a flood of misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories, residents voted against the scheme in a plebiscite. The defeat prompted Mayor Thorley to describe Lyle as “a duplicitous little shit.”  

If God was working on Lyle’s side, it seems God didn’t want Toowoomba drought-proofed with a scientifically proven, environmentally friendly method of water purification. If that’s the case, he truly does work in mysterious ways.

Emboldened by this victory, Shelton ran as a National Party candidate at the 2006 Queensland state election. He was roundly defeated by Labor’s Kerry Shine, 10,000 votes to 6,000, with Lyle’s candidacy prompting a 4.9 per cent downturn in the Nationals’ vote and a 1.7 per cent swing to Labor. Even God was not able to secure Lyle Shelton a seat in the Queensland Parliament.

I’ve been told by those who were around at this time that Lyle took the defeat hard – very hard. I have some sympathy. Imagine, being told from childhood that this was your destiny, that God and prayer would see you through, and then losing – badly.

Following the collapse of the Logos Foundation, former Logos members formed the Network for Christian Values, headed by the cult’s former national co-ordinator, Derek Brown. It was this group – strongly aligned with Christian dominionism and Australian fascism – which formed the Australian Christian Coalition –  later re-badged as the Australian Christian Lobby. So, with Lyle’s political aspirations in tatters, it only made sense that “Plan B” was to get him a job as chief of staff of the Australian Christian Lobby, serving under managing director, Brigadier Jim Wallace.

There is no denying the ACL had considerable clout under Wallace. But, as many of us fought back against the regressive and harmful positions of that organisation, its grip on power began to decline. Wallace helped us out by making several major strategic errors, including becoming embroiled in a firestorm over an ANZAC Day tweet. Unwisely, in what might have been dismissed as a drunken tweet were it anyone other than Jim, Wallace suggested Australian soldiers had not fought for “gay marriage and Islamic [sic].”  The public outcry forced Wallace into an embarrassing backdown.

Just as mainstream Christians were repulsed by the political machinations of the Logos Foundation, they rushed to reject Wallace’s take on the ANZACs.

“For what it’s worth,” tweeted Victorian Baptist minister, Simon Moyle, “I’m a Christian leader and @JimWallaceACL doesn’t remotely speak for me or any other Christians I know.”

If mainstream Christians feel that God is not on the side of the ACL, you have to wonder, “Whose values does this group represent?”

It wasn’t too long after the ANZAC Day debacle that Wallace retired and Lyle Shelton took his place as managing director. By then, the ACL was already a sinking ship and Lyle had none of the charisma or gravitas of his predecessor.

Lyle’s big opportunity to shine and re-establish the ACL as a political force was in the debate about marriage equality in 2017. Though, like King Canute, Lyle tried valiantly to turn the tide of public opinion, his campaign failed. Nearly 62 per cent of Australians voted “Yes” to marriage equality and the Australian Christian Lobby emerged defeated with their reputation in tatters. The ACL had offended all but the most conservative religious extremists with its harmful and dishonest campaign against what Lyle described, somewhat hysterically, as “The Yes campaign and their noisy rainbow-flag-waving storm troopers.”

You have to ask, “If God is on the side of the Australian Christian Lobby – if God anointed Lyle to represent his will on this issue – how is it that the ‘rainbow-flag-waving storm troopers’ won, and Lyle and his merry-band of theocrats lost. I’m sure Lyle was as perplexed as I am. 

The rainbow-hued defeat seemed to turn Lyle a little loopy. He has subsequently campaigned against the depiction of cartoon lesbian ponies in the TV show “My Little Pony” and had an absolute conniption when a path in Alfred Park, Sydney, was painted in rainbow colours to commemorate the third anniversary of the national marriage equality vote.

“To all the children who might see this in Prince Alfred Park, Sydney,” tweeted Lyle. “Your mother is not a ‘birthing parent’, she is not a ‘chest feeder’, you were not born in the wrong body, & no adult for lifestyle reasons has the right to deny you the love of your mother & father.”

Okaaay. Step. Away. From. The. Rainbow. Path. Lyle.

While it’s impossible to know the conversations that went on at the ACL after the defeat of their campaign against marriage equality, the fact that Lyle departed in 2018 suggests there was a (mutual?) agreement that he wasn’t the man for the job. Geez, if you can’t win a political battle with God on your side, something is very, very wrong. And I’m betting the ACL weren’t about to blame God. 

Since then, Lyle has failed to find traction in his life-long mission to bring us under the thumb of a Godly government. 

After leaving the ACL in 2018, Lyle joined Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives as their communications director.  In 2019, he ran for the Senate. But, despite Lyle’s best efforts, the Australian Conservatives’ performance was woeful; they failed to get a single candidate into parliament. In June 2019, Bernardi announced that he would deregister the party – apparently closed due to lack of interest. Where the f#ck was God?

Questioned about the dismal result Shelton said, “Sadly, we have not done well. It was not our time.”

You’d think God might have let them know that before they put in all that effort! 

If God can’t communicate clearly with his earthly representatives about when they should run for parliament, you have  to wonder whether there are other communication breakdowns between Yahweh and his chosen ones. Maybe God wasn’t against marriage equality, after all? Maybe Lyle just got it wrong.

Just as Lyle failed to get into the Queensland parliament in 2006, he failed to enter the federal sphere in 2019. If God wants Lyle in politics, he has a very funny way of showing it. 

Defeated once again, Lyle worked as part-time staffer for Queensland LNP politician, Mark Robinson. 

During this time, Lyle became embroiled in a ding-dong row with a couple of drag-queens who were innocently reading fairy tales to children in a council library. The furore resulted in a (gay) religious protestor taking his own life and Shelton being sued $20,000 for defamation. It was all very tacky, and it’s hard to imagine the Creator of the Universe looking down and feeling proud that Lyle was “doing God’s work.”

In April 2021 it looked as if God had finally decided Lyle’s time had come. With veteran religious bigot, Fred Nile, forced to retire from his own party, Lyle Shelton was to be ‘parachuted in’ to take his place in the NSW upper house. Sydney MLA, Alex Greenwich, spoke for many when he was asked how he felt about the light-weight Shelton succeeding heavy-weight Nile:

“Letting a politically irrelevant blow-in fill your vacated shoes is a sad legacy to leave after 40 years in Parliament.”

But Lyle, it seems, has the luck of Job when it comes to his political career. Just this week it was announced that, riven by internal squabbles and financial mismanagement, Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party has been forced into receivership. Before Lyle even had a chance to get elected, the party seems to have crumbled beneath him. Although it’s probably unfair to blame Lyle – who came so late to the CDP table –  there has been some reference to his propensity for sending political parties down the gurgler. 

Lyle Shelton was raised to believe he was chosen by God to help transform the world’s governments to create a world worthy of Christ’s return. And yet, at every turn, he has failed in spectacular style. The Christian parties he has joined have crumbled beneath him. He has failed to win every major battle he has taken on. He has never succeeded being elected and, like his father’s cult, his homophobia, bigotry and anti-scientific stance has lost him the respect and support of mainstream Christians and their churches. 

It’s hard to believe that God, if he exists, could be so hugely inept at assisting his “Chosen One” to do his bidding. If God does have some great inscrutable plan in which Lyle is an actor, he seems to have cast Lyle as Judas rather than Jesus – the screw-up who gets everything wrong and lets the whole team down.

Perhaps it’s time for Lyle to consider whether God is really on his side – or whether God is looking on, appalled, with the rest of us. 

Chrys Stevenson

New Statistical Report Challenges Contention Australia is a “Christian nation”

Many years ago, on behalf of Atheist Nexus, I wrote a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission on Freedom of Religion and Belief in Australia. Pulling together statistics on religiosity in Australia took months. The research was both scant and scattered.

Now, my friend, Neil Francis, has filled the gap by writing a forensically researched report on Religiosity in Australia for the Rationalist Society of Australia.

From: Religiosity in Australia, Neil Francis, Rationalist Society of Australia (2021)

 It’s a big read at 150 pages, but well worth the effort. I highly recommend you find a comfy chair, snuggle down with a cuppa, and devour the whole thing. You’ll also find a short summary of the research by Paul Karp in The Guardian.

The aim of Neil’s detailed, statistical analysis is “to help inform legislatures, governments, regulatory authorities, media and the public about Australians’ actual religious attitudes and behaviours.” It is not ‘opinion’, it is information based on statistics and sound evidence.

Neil shows, definitively, that the Australian Census does not provide an accurate assessment of Australians’ attachment to religious faith. The 2016 census suggests that 60 per cent of Australians identify with a religious denomination. But, the census question does not ask whether the respondent practices that religion, whether they believe in its tenets, or if they ever attend religious services. In fact, as Neil’s study shows, when asked expressly if they belong to a religious organisation, 62 per cent of Australians reply in the negative.

Remarkably, 48 per cent of Catholics, 44 per cent of Anglicans and 27 per cent of minor Christian denominations say they are not practicing members of their professed faith. Consistent with these statistics, 71 per cent of Australians say religion is not important to them – including nearly 50 per cent of Catholics.

In “Felons, Ratbags, Commies and Left-Wing Loonies”, the chapter I wrote for Warren Bonnett’s (2010) The Australian Book of Atheism, I charted the history of Christianity in Australia, I agreed that, while convicts, colonists, pioneers and those who came after them may have been nominally Christian, Australia, at its heart, has never been a ‘Christian nation.’ (I made a similar argument in a speech about Jeremy Bentham in 2014.) Neil’s research confirms this is as true in 2021 as it was in 1788. We are a nation in which a small majority of the population are nominal, but not practicing, or even believing, Christians. That should have real implications for political policy-making. 

Consider, if religion was an important factor in Australians’ lives, most Australians would choose – on what many consider the most important day of their lives –  to get married in a church. And yet, 80 per cent of weddings are conducted by civil celebrants, not ministers of religion. 

Further, Neil’s study shows, most Australians do not follow the conservative churches’ line on social issues. The majority of Australians support progressive social policies including abortion and women’s reproductive rights, voluntary assisted dying, marriage equality, the legalisation of recreational drugs and the need to address global warming. As Neil points out, the “Christian values” so loudly espoused by the Vatican, and from conservative religious pulpits around Australia, do not reflect the values of the churches’ own congregations. 

In 2018, 40 per cent of Australians claimed to hold no belief in either a specific deity or even a generic “higher power.” That makes unbelievers the largest ‘religious’ grouping in Australia. But an even more startling finding in Neil’s study is that: just 1 in 5 Australians – only 20 per cent –  are certain that God, heaven, hell, religious miracles, and life after death are real. That includes, on average, just 1 in 3 Catholics (32%), and around 1 in 4 Anglicans (23%) and Uniting/Methodists (23%).  

This confirms my argument in Felons, Ratbags, Commies and Left-Wing Loonies that, for many, attending church is about networking, social status, socialising, culture and tradition, and a sense of obligation, rather than any particular commitment to the tenets and beliefs of the church. 

With Neil Francis, the Rationalist Society of Australia has provided us with an evidence-based document that will help to counter the hollow propaganda of the religious right. Politicians who genuinely wish to represent the values of their constituents would do well to consider Neil’s findings.

Australia is not, and has never been, a ‘Christian’ nation and our governments’ policies should reflect the views of the majority, not the ideological propaganda of lobbyists whose views are not even consistent with those of the people they claim to represent. 

Chrys Stevenson

See:  Neil Francis, Religiosity in Australia –  Part 1: Personal faith according to the numbers, Rationalist Society of Australia, May 2021

Paul Karp,‘Australians are very sceptical’: Michael Kirby warns against ‘excessive protection’ of religious freedoms, The Guardian, Australia, 11 June 2021

You can read more of Neil’s research on voluntary assisted dying at his blog, Dying for Choice.