It’s time to truly welcome LGBTQI+ and all marginalized people into communities of faith


I glanced at my phone because the familiar dial tone meant I had received another message. Over the past few days this had happened frequently, but the sender’s name caught my eye. I knew that would mean news of the impending passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill through the Senate. The text was short, “RDB will not go before the Senate”.

With this one-line text, five years of hard work as a representative of religious freedom for Australian Christian churches were over. My answer, “Lost of words” said it all. I didn’t know what to think. The previous 72 hours of incessant debate in the federal parliament had come to an abrupt halt. I checked the text for accuracy, knowing it was true for sure, but secretly hoping that maybe the bill was just being put off to another day.

However, it soon became apparent that the bill was finished, at least before the election.

My emotions immediately flew past me. I felt numb and bitterly disappointed. My mind, perhaps reverting to my legal training decades ago, began a detailed and systematic list of people and events I should blame. Unfortunately, the list seemed long.

I thought back to the dozens of political debates in which I had participated in recent years, to the promises made, to the speeches cheerfully kept and to the commitments made with such certainty. Then this word “why” appeared. Why was the bill introduced at such a late stage in the parliamentary cycle? Why the absence of bipartisanship? The list of “why” questions was certainly longer than that.

It’s quite amazing that the default blame and “why” is never directed at oneself!

When did sections of Australian society come to the point of viewing believers as so intolerant?

Eventually my overactive mind stopped with the sounds of more text messages being received. I knew what they were going to say, so I turned the phone around so his face couldn’t be seen and turned on silent so I could think about something else. Unfortunately, something much more unpleasant confronted me.

When did sections of Australian society reach the point of seeing believers as being so intolerant, critical and, dare I say, bigoted towards LGBTQI+ people? I supported this bill and at no time in the past five years did I want to cause pain, embarrassment or anguish to another human being. I sincerely believe in the right of every individual to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. These oldest freedoms, protected by Article 18 of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should find a legislative basis in Australian law. How did this bill become an argument about gender identity, sexual orientation and acceptance of the individual in society?

Again, I thought of the many unquestioned misrepresentations made about this bill that have been published in so many media outlets by passionate and well-meaning people.

Could the problem be me?

I should never have turned on silent mode on my phone or retreated into a quiet moment. It made me realize that sound creates noise and noise means restlessness and restlessness stifles thought. Could the problem be me?

The mandate of my faith to love my neighbor as myself is indeed a most dangerous commandment. It is one that should be exercised extravagantly rather than restrained. It is driven by a heart conviction that grace speaks louder than words, love and forgiveness trump judgmental behavior; kindness, patience, kindness and gentleness have the potential to heal the wounds of past unacceptable behaviors and humility is a more powerful force than arrogance of speech and manners.

None of these things affect my right to beliefs without which I am nothing. However, the tone with which these beliefs are expressed becomes the most powerful megaphone I have.

Am I saying that the failure of the bill rests on the feet of believers? Certainly not. However, I say that before the debate resumes, this time through the prism of an election, believers should look in the mirror of their own hearts and souls and consider whether or not love, as Jesus manifested it towards all, is really highlighted. in our identity as disciples.

Is it time to consider whether LGBTQI+ people and indeed all marginalized people are truly welcome in communities of faith? The front doors of most faith communities may be open, but once inside, are these people relegated to “pewkeepers” with their limited service roles? Are they exasperated at being perceived as an inferior person in their religious communities?

Are these people relegated to the rank of “bench keepers” with their limited service roles?

What controversial issues! The answers will be found in the hearts of those courageous religious leaders who know it is time to answer them by leading their people into realms of unconditional love without judgment, without compromising the faith convictions of their communities and yet without the flippancy of well-meaning but empty rhetoric.

Australia will not be made ‘better’ by contentious discussion of religion, especially in an election. Australia has a progressive federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure that individuals are not discriminated against on the basis of age, disability, race, sex, gender identity, characteristics gender and sexual orientation. I continue to believe that this framework should be extended to religious beliefs or activities.

One of the most important roles I can play in the coming debate, as a person of faith, is not just to articulate reasonable arguments, but to season my speech and actions with a healthy dose of unconditional love for all my neighbours. I hope I can be brave enough as a leader to start changing society’s perceptions of people of faith. If this is a defining moment for religious communities, I pray that I will not be caught out in this season.

It’s worth the risk after what our country has been through for the past few weeks, don’t you think?

Mark Edwards is senior minister at Cityhope Church in Ripley, Queensland.

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