Category Archives: christianity

rule #4

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[Source: The Telegraph.]

An article appeared on my Facebook feed today that I think it worthy of comment. In ‘6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person‘ Cracked.com writer David Wong hypothesises that a person’s value to the world is found not in soft characteristics they may possess (funny, kindly, smart), or in the things that they are not (selfish, slovenly, dishonest) but in what they actually do. Wong says that it is only marketable and/or desirable skills that will make the world beat a path to your door. He applies this to employment (no one cares that you are a nice person if you can’t do your job properly) and to relationships (stop whining women/men don’t want to date you and make yourself datable).

In fact, Wong says this simple philosophy can be applied to every aspect of our lives…and that it ought to be. He suggest that anyone dissatisfied with themselves in any respect should stop whining, stop making excuses, stop hating on anyone who is managing to achieve success and just get the hell on with constructing a version of you that you – and the world – can value.

Wong’s post spoke to me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is this: one thing I’ve learned about myself is that inside me exists a swirling vortex of rationalisations and excuses, self-loathing and doubt always tugging at my ankles, inviting me to give up completely and be sucked to a nice, comfortable oblivion. I’ve done a lot of hard things in the past few years, and done many of them well, but I always approach these things with fear. A large part of this is that deep in my heart I think that if I don’t try too hard, no one can laugh when I fall on my little pink arse. I learned to think like this as a child and it’s not an easy habit to throw off. I am lucky to have friends who try to help me. Recently, when I was asked to do a radio interview, my fall-back position was to gasp, ‘Oh, no! I could never do that!’ So I refused. But when I mentioned this to my friend Chrys, she faced me up, pursed her lips and said sternly, ‘Jane, we never say no to opportunities.’ She was right, of course. I called the journalist back and did the interview. And the next time I was asked the same question I said, ‘Sure. Love to.’ There. Growth.

Anyway, thanks David Wong for reminding me that fear should not be the factor that defines my life or determines my destiny. It’s good advice and useful to hear from time to time. I can see a dozen ways I can apply this…not least as a prompt to start blogging regularly again. I have a dozen rationalisations and excuses to explain that, some of which are close to valid, but the truth is, they are keeping me from what I want to do, so they have to go.

The second reason I liked Wong’s article is that it happens to line up nicely with my own little list of Rules for Living. This is an actual list that I’ve been jotting as I flee from one messy, miserable life and attempt to construct a new and better one. Christianity, at least the fundamentalist brand that I subscribed to, supplies adherents with a tidy, plug-and-play template for living. As a messed up 19 year old, that appealed to me. I wanted a well-worn path to walk and gleefully ripped off the bubble wrap and erected my newly-purchased, guaranteed-effective religious scaffolding and set about constructing an identity and a life inside that apparently nice, safe space. When the building collapsed with a whump and I found myself suddenly without a belief in a deity and watching the backs of the believers who had once been my family receding at speed, I was forced to make some choices. I looked around at the rubble at my feet, kicked a few broken bricks, picked up one or two fragments, put them down again, and decided that very little was worth salvaging. I determined to start construction at the foundations.

This is where my list of Rules for Living comes in. Well, more sort of guidelines really. As time passed and things arose that seemed important enough to keep, at least for now, I wrote them down. Here’s how the list looks so far:

Rule #1: Live the fuck in reality.

Rule #2: Don’t hang with assholes.

Rule #3: Own your own shit.

Rule #4: You cannot be a better [________] than you are a human being.

Rule #5: Know thyself.

Rule #6: Integrity: It’s all you’ve got.

Rule #7: Call bullshit bullshit.

Rule #8: Never, ever settle.

Rule #9: Boundaries. Have them.

Rule #10: Treasure the right things. Nurture the right relationships.

Rule #11: Fuck ‘ought’.

It’s a work in progress.

If you read David Wong’s piece, you might have recognised that Rule #4 is the one that applies here.  I discovered this rule while watching someone close to me attend parenting courses, devour parenting books and still come out a royal screw up in the parenting stakes. He would frequently ask me how it ought to be done. ‘The thing,’ I ended saying, ‘Is this: You cannot be a better parent than you are a human being. Life isn’t a trick to be learned. There is no magic formula. You can’t demand respect with shouting, or wheedle it with whining, or buy it with gifts. Your kids will respect you if you actually are a person worth respecting. There are no shortcuts and you can’t fake it.’

It seemed true to me at the time. And I’ve discovered that you can fill that blank in Rule #4 in with just about anything and it will remain true. You cannot be a better teacher than you are a human being. You cannot be a better doctor than you are a human being. You cannot be a better partner, sister, writer, neighbour, lover, employee…than you are a human being. It’s about authenticity.

We get a bundle of stuff handed to us when we are born – personality, privilege or the lack of it, varying physical and mental abilities – but then it’s up to us to construct something that approximates a decent human being with it. I’m for doing the best job at that that I possibly can. I only get one crack at it. Soon enough my turn will be over for good. I’d like to finish my days having done the best I can with myself, and having made a positive difference to my little corner of the universe, naff as that may sound.

So there you have it. It’s nice to be blogging again. I might just come back and elaborate on the rest of the list. In any case, I’m determined to press through the self-loathing, rationalisations and doubt and write here again. Thanks for reading, sweeties!

dear pastor prater…

If you missed Pastor Matt Prater’s spooky performance on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s response, you might just want to take a peek now.



Although applauded for his comments in support of marriage equality on the night, Prime Minister Rudd has been widely criticised since by Christian writers such as Sandy Grant at Matthias Media’s The Briefing for ‘grossly caricaturing’ and ‘misrepresenting the Holy Book of the faith he confesses’. I have to say, I think Grant has some right to gripe. It would be difficult to honestly argue that the New Testament, at least, actually advocates slavery although the Book in general does seem to look upon it with a decidedly friendly eye. Still, Mr Rudd should have perhaps stuck with the biblical prohibitions against eating prawns and wearing mixed cloth, the guidelines for selling your daughter to her rapist or some other more well-established scriptural values like those.

And even Prater fans would have to admit, I think, that the pastor also rather ‘grossly misrepresented’ the PM’s change of heart on marriage equality saying Mr Rudd (or ‘Kevin’ as Prater addressed him) seemed ‘to keep chopping and changing his beliefs’ on the matter. As Rudd pointed out, he did indeed publicly admit to reversing his former position on same-sex marriage. It’s a backflip to be sure but just the one. Hardly the tumbling routine Prater was suggesting.

Prater went further and claimed insider knowledge with regard to Rudd’s motivations for changing his beliefs saying it was ‘just to get a popular vote’. I’m not a Rudd fan and could easily imagine that might be true enough. However it’s not a provable statement and to accuse the Prime Minister of such on live television was more than a little cheeky, I think.

But Rudd didn’t return the insult. While making it clear he doesn’t hold the Bible in the same esteem that Prater does, he didn’t suggest that God was disinclined to rail against slavery in his Book because (Rudd happens to know) God is a despicable racist fuck. See? Manners.

Anyway, it turns out Pastor Prater’s talents extend beyond insulting public officials, quoting select snippets from ancient texts, and impersonating a rabbit about to be mown down by a combine harvester. Pastor Prater, I’ll have you know, is also an artiste. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and take a listen to his performance on the audio track here. It’s ranty, homophobic, lyric-bludgeoning gold. Although I found the performance hilarious, it is unquestionably nauseating. But do listen if you can stomach it…and then don’t tell me white guys don’t got no rhythm.


matt-prater--11720cda


Here’s my best effort to jot down the lyrics for you. There may be some mistakes but I’m totally not going back for another crack.

prater song copy

On the audio track, the first thing you might notice is that Pastor Prater uses the word ‘parody’ despite the fact that it does not mean what the thinks it means. Meh. An innocent mistake. He also seems to believe that media ratings battles are literally warlike and bloody. A misconception, perhaps. I suspect the homoerotic irony of suggesting that ‘bloggers ram it down your throat’ may have passed the good pastor by as well.

No matter. The real gist of this song is that it constitutes a laundry list of Everything Matt Likes and Everything Matt Doesn’t. American televangelists and Australian Christian hate groups? Yay! Labor politicians and two people with pokey-outy bits wanting to co-habit in legally-recognised monogamy? Boo!

It will seem almost unbelievable to sensible folk but Prater is not alone in popping these particular items neatly into Good Things/Bad Things baskets. Thousands of Australian Christians – in particular Pentecostal and other bible-believing fundamentalists – would share his views, even if most of them may have put it a little less hilariously. I once counted myself among them. With the fundies of Australia, I’d have been proud to see Prater ‘standing up for Jesus’ on Q & A, though I’d have acknowledged even back then that he made a bit of a tosser of himself.

But here’s the thing: Pastor Prater’s public airing of despicable bigotry didn’t happen in a vacuum. And I’d like to have a few words with him about that. So here goes:

***

Dear Pastor Prater,

If I were still a Bible-believing Christian, and I were going to get just one 30-second crack at speaking direct to the leader of our nation on live television, I may have used the opportunity a little more wisely than you did. I may have said something like…

‘Mr Rudd, as a Christian, how do you countenance forbidding entry to our country to some of our planet’s most vulnerable people? How can you justify sending refugees – men, women, children, the elderly – to a lawless, dangerous place like Papua New Guinea? And have you considered what effect that may have on PNG society? What about Christian compassion? What about Christian charity? What about upholding the rights of ‘the stranger within your gates’?’

or, perhaps…

‘Prime Minister, if re-elected, what will your government do to address the problem of child poverty in Australia? Will you reverse your decision to pitch thousands of single parents off the Single Parent Pension thereby driving them and their children into terrifying penury?’

or, even…

‘Mr Rudd, Australia is one of the richest, most generous nations in the world. How is it that in 2013 we still have people living on our streets, sleeping rough night after night? What will your government do to ensure these people can live their lives in dignity and safety?’

You had one chance, Pastor, and gay folk wanting to get hitched was your big Bible-honouring issue? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Most of us don’t give a rat’s eyebrow what you think your deity said 2000 years ago. We don’t either deny your right to construct yourself as Prater the Hater if you choose. But many of us have gay friends and family and so we do care that your publicly aired ‘opinions’ and ‘beliefs’ encourage homophobic hate to flourish. Real people in the real world are harmed by your views, Pastor Prater. Some of them die as a result. And some of those who die are children and young people. So with all the respect I can muster, and on behalf of the many gay people I know and love, I ask you to please shut the fuck up. Please keep your poisonous bigotry inside your church walls where fewer and fewer Australians choose to visit.

Very sincerely,

Jane

alan jones, bullies, and my dead grandad

My grandfather was not a good man. I realise it is generally considered uncouth to say such things about one’s relatives, especially the dead ones, but, the truth is, my grandfather lived almost 91 years and yet died virtually friendless. At his funeral only the scantest sprinkling of immediate family and close family friends – ours not his – were present. What I remember most was that the Presbyterian minister – a Masonic ‘brother’ from my grandfather’s lodge – recited a most ridiculous little speech about the grief he imagined the deceased’s loved ones to be enduring. In truth, few of us were sorry to see Grandad go. One of his nearest and dearest, in fact, had requested an open coffin viewing in order, she told me, ‘to be sure the bastard was dead’. Such was the affection with which my grandfather was remembered by those who knew him best. Grandad’s is the only funeral I can remember leaving dry eyed.

One of nine children born into grinding poverty in Glasgow in 1906, my grandfather shared a bed with two of his brothers. The family cottage was tiny; my grandfather’s bed was hidden inside a hallway cupboard during the day, and folded out for the boys to sleep in each night. My great-grandfather, who died before I was born, was, by all accounts, a cruel and violent man with a terrifyingly volatile temper. He would beat his children – and in particular, his sons – on a whim, with whatever weapon came to hand. Whispered family stories tell of brutal bashings with cricket bats and iron bars. In the end, Great-grandad finally died of an infection subsequent to presenting at a hospital emergency room with a slit throat. The official story was that his injury was the result of a botched suicide attempt. According to my mother’s cousin, John, who has an interest in genealogy and so conducted interviews with family members of that generation before they died, my forebears’ dirty little secret is that, in fact, after a lifetime of violent abuse, one of Great-grandad’s sons finally did for him.

It’s little wonder then that my grandfather grew up tough – and mean. He didn’t marry until his late-thirties and so was quite old by the time he and my grandmother emigrated to Australia, following my mother who had married an Australian lad and begun a family here. Grandad was bald as an egg – he had been since his 20s – but sported a tenacious half ring of grey bristle that prickled from ear to ear above his collar. He was physically imposing – tall, barrel chested and strong, even in old age. But it was his invisible yet quite tangible presence that I remember most. Grandad possessed a power to impose his mood on a household that was breathtaking in efficacy. Even as a small child, I wondered how it was he was able to do it. When he and my grandmother were spending a holiday with us, I could wake in the morning and know before I left my room whether Grandad’s mood du jour had turned dangerous yet or not.

When he was feeling chipper, Grandad could be jovial and generous. He had a repertoire of silly jokes and delighted to make us children laugh. When the mood took him, he would empty his pockets of change and with a kindly wink, tell us to ‘pop it in yer moneyboxes’. And then, ‘…to buy books!’ he would call after us as we scampered away. Grandad was entirely obsessed with self-education. He had left school at 11 and had never quite recovered from the sting of failing to make better than Captain during his Second World War posting in Italy. He was always after us kids to read the classics. We ignored him at the time, of course, but years later, having uncovered a love great literature in myself, I often smile to think he’d have been pleased in his way.

But life with Grandad was lived on a knife edge. His mood would change without warning or obvious provocation, and a profound, threatening blackness would descend on the house. It was as though rage were seeping from Grandad’s pores, or flashing from his eyes and fingertips like lightning. We all were acutely aware of his every twitch and tone for the duration of the darkness. My mother, though not herself a victim of the violence of Grandad’s younger years, had many times heard him beating her mother and brothers behind closed doors. When Grandad’s moods were upon him – and we seldom went a whole day without one during a visit – my mother would enter a state of brittle, wild-eyed terror and, drag me and my two sisters along with her. We girls would have to fly about getting Grandad cups of tea and anticipating imminent requests for other treats, turning down the television, speaking way more politely that was usual for us, and generally not-upsetting-your-grandfather. I cannot recall that Grandad’s aggression was ever more visible than power pouting but I do remember the gut-wrenching fear of the possibility that Something Much Worse could happen that held me in its grip on those days.

Although I understand now that she could do no better, I remain capable of flashes of anger that my mother taught me the most important thing to do when confronted with a bully is to avoid any possibility that you might irritate them further, whatever the cost to yourself. I learned to fear the anger of others, and to internalise blame whether or not their feelings had anything to do with me. I have come a very long journey learning to overcome a pathological dread of conflict. In part, I attribute to that phobia my teenage attraction to Christianity, and my staying so many years subject to the manipulation and control that was a central feature of my church experience.

By the end of his life, Grandad hated everyone. He was road raging waaaay before it became a thing. I remember shrinking down in the back of his car while he shook his fist at drivers who had dared to irritate him, shouting ‘Swine!’ and ‘Bastard!’ out of the window, even, perhaps especially, at women. He spent the last decade of his life in a bedsit at a War Veterans home in Sydney; meal times in the communal dining room were an abiding misery for him. Every time we visited it wouldn’t take him long to get around to complaining about the other residents: ‘That bloody fat-arsed bitch Annie MacDonald with her fucking whining….’ Annie seemed often to be the focus of Grandad’s ire. I often wondered at her boldness in continuing so to brazenly piss him off. I used to like to imagine she was a strong woman who enjoyed the game, and to wish that I’d been able to do the same.

***

I had cause to think of my grandfather this week as a furor erupted over the words of another nasty and powerful man. I live in Queensland so don’t listen to Alan Jones’ 2GB program, and only get to hear of his exploits when he’s crossed another line, as he so often does. The public outcry since the vile content of his recent speech was made public has been astonishingly loud. In response to what is probably unprecedented public pressure, so far over 60 companies who formerly advertised during Jones’ immensely popular radio program have withdrawn their support. A petition to sack Alan Jones has managed to attract over 107, 000 signatures to date. I have signed the petition myself, and sent numerous emails to advertisers suggesting they rethink their advertising policy in light of Jones’ long history of bigoted, racist, and misogynistic hate-speech.

Alan Jones (AAP).

There has, though, been some criticism of the social-media-driven campaign against Jones. Jones made what I think was a ludicrous attempt at an apology-thingy on Sunday and some have suggested that ought to be the end of it. But, rather than contrition, Jones used his ‘apology’ press conference to further express his contempt for his detractors. Not surprisingly, this riled more than a few of us up even further. Some have suggested that the anti-Jones backlash is an ALP stunt. While I have no doubt the ALP won’t miss an opportunity to gain political ground wherever it can, I can’t see 100, 000 signatures appearing on a petition almost overnight unless most of those people were just really, really annoyed. Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes commented that the action will make little difference in the long term. That could be true, but, in my view, that’s not what’s really important.

Paul Sheehan argues that the public backlash against Jones is disproportionate to his crimes, that it is an abuse of power, an act of bullying in itself. While I couldn’t care less whether Alan Jones actually loses his job over this, and while I acknowledge his right to free speech, the point is, a significant number of Australians, including some of Jones’ former fans and toadying political pals, have stood up and said, ‘We don’t like what you did. We want you to stop.’ That’s precisely the way to handle bullies. Ask any Year 2 teacher. It’s what I did in response to my grandfather phoning to abuse me when I was the 20-something mother of toddlers. ‘Grandad,’ I said, ‘I’m a grown woman. I don’t have to take this any more.’ And I hung up.

Jones is acting like a bully who has gotten away with his behaviours for far too long. To me, it looks as though Australia has risen to its feet and said in a loud voice, and without trembling, that we’re not going to put up with his nonsense any more. That is our right and our responsibility, and I’m proud to have participated. It’s likely Jones will go on to offend again, bullying is how he makes his living after all, and plenty of people don’t seem to mind that he does. But my hope is that when Jones once more goes too far, a whole lot of us will rise up and shout a little bit louder. And the time after that, louder again.

I learned something I didn’t know about Alan Jones while reading an article by David Penberthy this week. Penberthy says that, when he isn’t inciting thugs to racial violence, denigrating women, or suggesting our Prime Minister ought to be subjected to a violent death, Alan Jones ‘busies himself with generous acts for put-upon individuals and families, doing unpaid charity work, [and] writing letters to ministers on behalf of people who are illiterate or uneducated’. Who knew? If that’s true, perhaps Jones isn’t rotten to the core, and perhaps he has managed to earn the respect of one or two healthy, emotionally functional adults who have no reason to fear him. Jones is not a young man. Perhaps these good deeds will lead to a more impressive turn out at Jones’ funeral than my grandfather was able to garner.

But if I had Alan Jones’ ear for 5 minutes, this is what I’d say:

Fame is not the same thing as respect, Alan Jones, and fear is not the same as love. Who loves you, Alan? Who knows you – really knows you – and loves you still? Who will weep for you when you are gone? And what will your legacy to the Australian people be? How will the rest of us remember you, Alan? With your power, your platform, your gift of the gab, what did you do to make Australia a better, fairer, safer, kinder place for our children and grandchildren to inherit? What has been your most noble contribution, Mr Jones? And if you’re struggling to think, consider this: My grandfather lived a good deal longer than many men do. Every morning for more than 90 years he rose to a day full of possibilities, a bright instant in which to leave his mark on the world. And every day, almost without exception, he chose to do harm and not good. If that doesn’t strike you as horribly sobering and dreadfully sad, then I feel very, very sorry for you indeed.

ah, max the mennonite, we meet again

An odd thing occurred while I was writing my last blog post. A ute pulled up at my front gate and a peculiar looking man stepped out. He was wearing a homemade, collarless shirt, long canvas trousers, and sporting a crew cut and Abraham Lincoln beard. He looked very much like those angry young Muslim men who have been all over the news in the past week. Only he wasn’t a Muslim.

I recognised Max* when he was about three steps from my open front door – too late to pretend I wasn’t home. It was one of those awful moments when your past catches up with you just as you were in the very act of wiping your arse with it in a blog post. We all know how that feels, I’m sure.

Ever since my children and I had moved back into the family home post-divorce-and post-2011-flood, I’d known there was a possibility that some blast-from-the-past Christian who hadn’t heard how eminently dumpable my family had become might wander innocently in hoping for a friendly reunion. This was it and here he was. Poor Max.

Max would hate me to say this, but he’s kind of a Mennonite. The epithet is offensive because, to Max, the Mennonites are a worldly, wishy-washy bunch of compromising slackers unworthy of the name ‘Christian’. Obviously. I mean, just look at their women. Those head-coverings hardly reach to their ears and what’s the go with the visible ankles?

Max’s wife Abbie** knew how to dress. (You can see a photo of a similarly clad woman here.) Winter or scorching Queensland summer she’d be shrouded in a calf-length cape dress of thick homespun with an extra layer of fabric extending from neck to waist (to conceal any errant boobishness), and long sleeves, elasticised at the wrist (so as to prevent passing men from being provoked to lustful imaginings by unscheduled glimpses of elbow). Abbie also wore a white, past-the-shoulder, nun-like veil; opaque black tights; and black, lace-up, nurses’ shoes. Young, blonde, slim and pretty, Abbie was a walking lust averter.

Headless woman models a Mennonite cape dress.
Source: http://www.candleonthehill.net

Max and Abbie had turned judgementalism into a fine art. On the surface, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine a couple more kindly, hospitable or warm. But behind their have-another-hot-buttered-wholemeal-zucchini-muffin smiles, they wuz judging on yo ass. I never measured up. I had hair that fell almost to my knees, wore dowdy, ankle-length skirts, homebirthed and then homeschooled a hoard of ostensibly sweet, Scripture-quoting offspring, but my refusal to wear a head-covering kept me firmly in the not-too-sure-about-that-one’s-commitment-to-Jesus box as far as Max and Abbie were concerned.

Mostly, Max and Abbie used my house as a convenient, central location to meet with Christians they did like. My best friend Louise and her husband Frederick passed muster, or very nearly. They had become Amish several years earlier, and dressed almost as nicely as Max and Abbie. There remained only a few details yet to be perfected, and Max and Abbie, I think, felt confident they’d bring Louise and Frederick around to God’s way of thinking in time. The fact that Frederick was a narcissistic sociopath impinged on his Godly Head of Household status not at all, although, to be fair, none of us realised the severity of the abuse he was inflicting on Louise and their ten children. Not then.

Max and Abbie hadn’t been able to find anyone sufficiently holy with whom to spend their Sundays, so had to organise weekly church meetings via Skype with a handful of like-minded Better-than-Mennonites who were scattered – lonely and unappreciated – across North America. Abbie was US-born so eventually, they decided to move to Wisconsin in order to be closer to some of ‘the brethren’. Evidently, that hadn’t gone as well as they’d hoped so, some three years later, here they were back again with plans, Max told me, to buy some acreage in a rural area near my home, and take another crack at establishing a Christian community with some imported Americans who, he said, were soon to fly in.

As I looked at Max’s smiling face, a dozen small indignities I had endured during the years of our relationship flooded back. I remembered that I couldn’t say grace at my own table when they were visiting because, as a bare-headed woman, my prayers were deemed an affront to God. I remembered how, on two occasions they brought young Mennonite-ish men with them to visit. We showed those boys warm hospitality and thought we’d become quite friendly, but when one of them phoned from the US while we were all sitting to dinner in my home another night, Max passed the phone to Louise and Frederick, but not to us. It was then I realised they didn’t consider us friends or even believers. We were their mission field, their strategies: winsome example-setting and tacit disapproval.

Suddenly, I wanted Max gone. I considered terrifying him by stating plainly my current godless status, dropping a casual f-bomb for emphasis. I attended to an threatening attack of the giggles as I imagined a range of Mennonite-frightening subjects I could broach, and then realised none would be necessary. Max asked after my husband and I told him we were no longer married. I saw the judgement flash behind his eyes and knew I wouldn’t be hearing from Max again. Too easy.

That’s the great thing about Christians like Max and Abbie: so easily discouraged. I’m very glad they aren’t that pesky sort who care whether or not folk fry in hell. I hear those are out there.

* Not his real name.

** Or hers either.

an open letter to catherine deveny

Dear Catherine,

I realise you don’t know me but I feel compelled to write. I’m a close friend of Chrys Stevenson and, because I follow Chrys’ writing, I’ve been aware of some of the furore that has erupted since your appearance on Q&A on Monday night (10 September, 2012).

In a previous incarnation, I was a fundamentalist Christian and pastor’s wife. That’s not the relatively bland statement it may appear. I, and my children, were profoundly damaged by Christianity and, some years after leaving, we are still recovering. In any case, I thought you might like to know how that particular Q&A program looked to someone like me.

I understand, I think, what you mean when you describe Archbishop Peter Jensen as pure evil. His conduct on Q&A reminded me very much of how my ex-husband used to drive me to the point of blind rage, and then try to get me to believe I was the one at fault for losing my rag. It’s part of a clever technique I now know is called gaslighting.

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Gaslight’ (MGM, 1944)

Gaslighting is a term coined (from the movie ‘Gaslight‘) to describe a particular form of psychological or emotional abuse. The object is to cause the target to question themselves and their perception of reality. At its most extreme, the aim is to make a sane person appear demented (sometimes even to the point where they believe themselves to be going mad). The technique often works by contrasting the calm, reasonableness of the abuser against the increasingly emotional demeanour of the target. Gaslighting is often, but by no means exclusively, perpetrated by men against women; societal prejudices that position women as nervous, hysterical and less prone to logical reasoning work in the abuser’s favour. The abuser adopts the role of ‘smiling assassin’ and exploits the victim’s emotional response in order to discredit them. That abuse has, in fact, occurred is routinely denied.

Gaslighting is generally a very slow process, but while there was nothing gradual about what Jensen did, and, although I can’t imagine a whole cathedral of Archbishops being sufficient to convince you that you were the one at fault, Catherine, Jensen’s behaviour had all the hallmarks of a contrived strategy to make you look unattractive at best, and crazy at worst.

And both of those desired outcomes are tied to your being a woman. Making you seem ugly and mad is achieved through Jensen appearing the precise personification of elegant rationality and educated white maleness, all the while making vile and even outrageous statements, the import of which slide past the audience because of the persona and relational dynamic Jensen has crafted. It’s clever, and Jensen appears to be an expert. I imagine he’s been doing it for most of his professional life – and has been lauded for it. Without ever launching a personal attack, Jensen was able to make those watching join him in criticising you for being passionate, articulate, intelligent and a woman. Confronted with a communication style that should have raised little comment, viewers became embarrassed that you even existed, and most of them probably weren’t even aware of the sleight of hand being practiced.

Having spent many years in the church (where I found life as an intelligent woman who has trouble with submission fraught with difficulty) I noticed while I was watching Q&A, that two conversations were taking place in my living room. One was audible: like many viewers, I surprised myself by frequently shouting at the television in response to Jensen’s comments and demeanor; I was enraged on your behalf. The other conversation was internal, the vestigial voice of the church as I knew it – of male pastors, of God: “You are woman. Sit still! Be prettier! Take up less space! Be less powerful! Make less noise! Be nicer! We like you better when you are nicer.”

Women in the church are, in fact, largely controlled through what I call ‘the Cult of Nice’. That you – a woman – were passionate and disagreeably vocal on national television broke more seldom-spoken Christian rules than I can count. But the worst of your crimes was that you were proud and unafraid. A less practiced player may have shown himself to be overtly angry about that. But Jensen’s strategy, I think, was not to oppose you, but to destroy you – by making the rest of us ashamed of your strengths.

You, Catherine, violated the biblical doctrine of women’s ‘shamefacedness’, which, while almost invisible in contemporary Australia retains, I believe, the power to influence even many of the secular and liberal among us.

1 Timothy 2:8-10 (KJV)

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

and

1 Corinthians 14:34 (KJV)

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

and again

1 Timothy 5:14 (KJV)

I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

As, no doubt, you know, there are more where those came from.

On Monday night, Catherine, you embodied everything that certain forms of Christianity despise about women. I know how disgusted many of the Christians I once knew would have been to see you in action. Still, I have found it astonishing that with scarcely a word, Jensen was able to make even his enemies and many of your supporters believe that you were guilty of some great transgression. Such is the power of the practiced gaslighter.

There will be Christian women – and perhaps secular women too – all over Australia this week who, whether traditionally feminine women or not, will be doing their darndest to show that they are Not Like Catherine Deveny. They will want others to know that they are good women. I imagine there once were black Americans provoked to similar attitudes in response to public criticisms of that most troublesome black American, Martin Luther King Jr, and for very similar reasons.

I am not proud to admit it but I also felt the power of Jensen’s pull on my own mind. I felt it first, in fact, when I watched you engage with former Howard government minister Peter Reith on Go Back to Where You Came From: a desire to side with Nice, a sense that I ought to feel embarrassed and repelled at your bold talk, your making yourself unpleasant to those who remained ‘better controlled’. I felt instructed to be silent, smaller, more pleasant to see and hear, more submissive, less trouble. Nicer. So this is me saying, “Fuck that!”

I am deeply sorry that you have found yourself the target of so many ludicrous and vicious attacks this week. I am not suggesting that others have no right to take issue with your views, or your delivery of them. I’m not suggesting that you conducted yourself perfectly, nor am I suggesting you should aspire to do so. I’m not suggesting that you should care whether you please me, or anyone else, or that you need, or even want, my support or appreciation. But I am suggesting that the deeply personal vitriol you have encountered may be explained by the strategies I have described.

And I want to put my hand up as one woman who values your contribution, and who, because of my own experience as a Christian woman, can see Jensen’s game plan for what it was. Perhaps, in some small way, that matters.

Very sincerely,

Jane

the archbishop & the ‘s-word’

Today in the Sydney Morning Herald in an article entitled Stylish Same-Sex Campaign Glosses over Real Issues, Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen suggests that what he describes as a ‘sustained and brilliantly-orchestrated campaign to radically alter the marriage laws of this country’ is proving so successful simply because it is based on a handful of clever slogans than Jensen says are difficult to refute. In response, I’d like to address some comments to the Reverend Doctor Jensen.

Archbishop, you identified three slogans that have given you particular difficulty and, lucky you, you’d also been given some space in a prominent newspaper to do your derndest to poke holes in them. It was your big chance to explain just what’s so wrong about letting the gays get hitched, and heartened by the title of the article, I was keen to see what ‘real issues’ you had be able to uncover for us. Popcorn at the ready…off we go.

Adam and Eve. Jan Gossaert (Mabuse)


Slogan 1: Marriage Equality

You said:

The reality of the world God made is that human beings are in two sexes, male and female.

Really, Peter? That you still think that you can make statements like this and not be challenged reveals how very out of touch you are with contemporary Australia. I can accept that you have a right to believe that a god exists, that that god created the natural world, and even to believe that the Book your god is supposed to have authored has something meaningful to say about human relationships. But many of the rest us hold dear those beliefs in the very same way we confidently await Santa’s arrival each December. Just because you have devoted your life to Christian dogma (and indeed earn your living from it) does not mean that any of those beliefs form the basis of a self-evident ‘reality’ for anyone outside the evangelical Christian community, or indeed that they ought be valued as the last (or even first) word on human experience or legal provisions surrounding it. The majority of non-religious Australians simply do not accept that ‘marriage is a God-given institution’ as you said in your letter to the churches also released today.

Even if you are simply arguing here that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ while homosexuality is not, you’re on very shaky ground. Pointing at the world and saying, ‘Look! Men…women…duh!’ doesn’t build a case for a ‘reality’ that privileges heterosexual marriage and excludes all other relational variations. It is well-established that homosexuality has always existed in human populations in roughly the same proportion as it does now, just as is true of animal populations. Homosexuality is not normative – it is not a majority orientation – but it is absolutely normal in that it is naturally occurring everywhere, if you care to cast about a blushing glance. Some men are sexually attracted to men, and some women to women. They didn’t choose to be that way, they just are. That’s about as natural as it gets.

And some of those people want to get married. It’s marriage that is the social construct. The fact that there are both men and women in the world does nothing to tell us about the appropriateness or otherwise of any contractual arrangements into which they choose to enter. Humans invented marriage – probably for reasons of social stability. It’s for this reason if no other that you should be glad that some homosexual people would like the right to share in the opportunity of a lifetime of wedded bliss such as that you and Mrs Archbishop undoubtedly enjoy.

You also argue (I’m summarising here):

‘Equality’ is a misnomer: real equality would include pedophilia, incest and bigamy.

Apart from the obvious straw man strategy of equating same-sex relationships (which are legal, adult and consensual) with practices that fail to qualify on one or more of those counts, you have not managed to make any point of refutation here at all. An oblique allusion to the tired, old slippery slope theory hardly counts as a reasoned argument. If I am understanding you rightly, you would like to make people fearful about purchasing Object A by telling them that if they do, they will get Objects B, C, D and E in the package free of charge. Objects B–E are not A, or in reality even like A, but people should know that will arrive in the post together, and we should be very, very afraid about that. In the absence of evidence, generating baseless fear is a common ploy. It’s patently dishonest though, and unless you are Bill Muehlenberg, you probably know it. You probably also know that marriage to a minor, marriage to a sibling, and polygamy are condoned in the Bible. But perhaps it’s impolite of me to mention.

Fortunately, we are unlikely to see the institution of biblical marriage law in Australia any time soon. On the oft-trotted-out subject of polygamy, for example, Law Council of Australia president Catherine Gale has stated:
The Law Council does not consider that the proposed amendments [to the Marriage Act] can possibly lead to the legalisation of polygamy. The proposed amendments only seek to create equality between heterosexual and same-sex couples in marriage. In none of the overseas countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised has this led to the legalisation of polygamy.

That’s what an argument based on evidence and professional expertise looks like, Peter. FYI.

Lesbian couple in the act of destroying the foundations of society. With their dog.
Source: http://www.catholicvote.org


Slogan 2: Marriage won’t change

Here’s where you start to really nail your colours to the mast. In response to statements that legislating to allow same-sex marriage will not essentially alter heterosexual marriage you say:

My marriage would be different. It’s no good asserting otherwise. When a society redefines one of its basic institutions, it affects everyone. I would have to find a different word for my marriage, or add the rider ”heterosexual” to the word ”marriage”.

Did you really just say that? Do you tell your friends you have a ‘white marriage’ now that we allow blacks and whites to tie the knot? And gays have been having sex for, oooh, a while now. Do you describe your intimate relations with your wife as ‘heterosexual sex’ just so as to be clear it is distinct from the icky sex the homos get up to? Perhaps you do. And perhaps you just will have to find a new and suitably self-righteous name to adequately describe your own marital status should Australia legislate to remove discrimination against people you’d rather now share the institution with. Perhaps ‘smugarriage’ would do.

You go on to say:

Same-sex marriage is symbolic of social acceptance of gay sex as a moral good.

True, true. Or at least, acceptance as a moral neutral.

Most people still believe the physical make-up of humans points in another direction.

I most certainly am not sniggering at the little phallic allusion you snuck in there, Mr Archbishop, sir.

But they would not be able to prevent their children being taught that consenting sex between any two persons is a matter of moral and physical indifference.

Ah. Now we’re at the crux. Pointy-outy bits should go with pokey-inny bits. And never unless the owners of said bits are married (the proper kind) and never, never should you try to fit together bits of a similar configuration. Ever. To do this is ‘immoral’.

We’re not silly, Peter. Those of us who have lived inside evangelical Christianity know that ‘immoral’ is code for ‘sin’, and that word necessarily embodies ‘judgement’ which inevitably leads to ‘eternal damnation’. What you are really saying here is that homosexual people are going to burn in hellfire for eternity and that the effect on our nation if we fail to tell our littlies that dreadful truth will be catastrophic.

I’d like to say (a) bullshit and (b) have you considered at all the catastrophic effect of telling young gay people they are going to suffer an eternity of fiery torment? Given a choice, I’d rather explain (as I have) to my children that some men love men and some women love women, rather than describe the unending agonies a supposedly loving god is going to wreak on gay friends and family for not being born heterosexual. Legislating for marriage equality won’t change your Book and it won’t change your belief in the sin, judgement and suffering detailed therein, but it will help young Australians – gay and straight – know that the expression of their sexuality is normal, and that it is acceptable to the rest of us.

But once again, aside from a foot-stamping tanty about sharing marriage’s name, there’s no actual evidence or reasoned argument here. So moving on…

Slogan 3: It’s inevitable
You appear, if I may be so bold, to go a little bit mental here, Peter. Here’s what you said:

The stylish and confident propaganda has become pervasive. Federal politics is in danger of being distorted. Those who are doubtful or opposed have been tempted to remain silent rather than be accused of promoting hate. But it is interesting that in 30 US states where the matter has been put to a direct vote (as against imposed legislative or judicial change), the majority voted against ”gay marriage”. There is also evidence of electoral fatigue in Britain and Australia.

Same-sex marriage is not inevitable. It is not even possible. It would be better for us all if the law reflected the truth human beings have always known. Social engineering cannot change realities as basic as these. But the consequences of an attempt may still be painful.

I think you must have missed a bit. Explain to me how your arguments are self-evident, truthful reflections of reality, while marriage equality activists’ statements instead constitute pervasive propaganda? Oh, I know what it is! You’re squeamish about using the ‘s-word’ again. Indeed, the truth behind this article, Archbishop, is not that the apparently frightful cleverness of these slogans makes them too slippery for you to effectively address, but that you find it difficult to argue against them without revealing the cruel religious dogma that underlies your position, without calling homosexuality ‘sin’ (as you truthfully believe it to be) with its embarrassing but inevitable connection to ‘judgement’ and ‘damnation’, without revealing that your belief is, at its core, every bit as repugnant as the views held by members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
The truth is, there is not a hair’s breadth between WBC’s views and your own. No-one is buying your ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ bullshit any more, Archbishop. We know your commitment to biblical ‘truth’ has made you a bigot. Coded it may be but you reveal it every time you open your  mouth.
And, as you seem to be wondering about it, that’s why we say you are promoting hate. It’s because you are.

Westboro Baptist Church. They think gay people are going to hell, too.

tim on texas

Lovely article by Tim Minchin on his concert tour of Texas. I do love that man.

 

 

trick-or-treating: why we did it

Halloween is a relatively new celebration in Australia. My memory of it as a child was my father harumphing about ‘American nonsense’ and ‘cultural imperialism’. But as giggling around the nighttime streets collecting armfuls of treats from strangers started to really take off, he let us go anyway. (Goodonya, Dad!)

An awful lot of Australian’s probably felt like my dad did. Many probably still do. We’re a small nation and a new one, still struggling to build an identity we can call our own. That’s not an easy task when your homes are flooded with American television programs, our children’s heroes grown in some far flung field. So I sympathise with those who are resistant to the imposition of a new holiday which has no real meaning in this country. I really do.

Then, in my 20 years as a Christian fundamentalist, my justification for rejecting the celebration of Halloween was based on my belief that it glorified the satanic. It was difficult for me to see how dressing children as witches and ghouls could possibly be compatible with the purity and holiness we were valued so highly. So we ignored it more or less. Although I kept lollies by the door for visiting children. I was never quite so bah, humbug as to hand out toothbrushes, or worse, Bibles as we’ve heard some do. Nearly, but not quite.

For several years, our family also boycotted Christmas believing that it’s pagan roots and contemporary materialism were taints we could not ignore. We toyed with holding a ‘birthday party for Jesus’ instead and even did it one year – with cake, balloons and all – but frankly, it just didn’t fly. Later, to the horror of one of the stricter families in our home church group, we embraced Christmas wholeheartedly once more, building in additional symbolism in order to help our children remember important truths about the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. Looking back, I wonder how explaining as we dressed the tree that ‘this string of red beads is symbolic of the blood Christ shed for us when he died on a tree for our sins’ could have seemed a festive thought to share with my babies. 

But at the time it made sense. For us, everything had to have meaning. Everything had to sit in the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ basket. There are few shades of grey, few acceptable variations. There was no spectrum of faith for us. Our idea of what constituted a Christian, or appropriate Christian practice was narrow, quite rigid and based on the Bible. 

So, anyway, today I no longer hold concerns about either imperialism or satanism. But as Halloween drew closer this week, and my children started asking whether we could go trick-or-treating for the first time, I uncovered another layer of reluctance lurking in my heart. I found myself saying, that I just can’t see it is OK to knock on strangers’ doors and ask for food. Begging doesn’t do it for me. Too proud I suppose. I don’t even like those smorgasbords where you hold out your plate like Oliver, smiling with gratitude should the chef deign to fling a slice of overcooked beef in your direction. They always make me feel kind of dirty.

So I fobbed and fobbed…and would have managed to let it pass us by if my friend Lynette had not called at the last minute and said she was going to take her daughter to a nice quiet set of streets for some chocolatey fun. She assured me there were some Americans and Canadians living there who were always thrilled when children came a-calling. Pressed to make a decision with almost no notice (and not wanting to miss a chance to do a bit of street walking with a girlfriend) I agreed.

So the bairns frocked up and off we set. I felt nervous at first. What if someone chased my children off their stoop with a broom? Or shrieked that they were imperialised beggar brats who should go home and memorise some Henry Lawson? But no such horrors transpired. We carefully selected only those homes with porch lights on and front doors tantalisingly ajar. People couldn’t have been nicer, or more pleased to fill our children’s bags with enough chocolates and lollies to give us all a dreadful night’s sleep and a serious sugar hangover the next day. We bumped into other trick-or-treaters and frightened each other with giggly boos. The kids laughed and chattered as they ran from door to door, scarcely able to believe how good this was. Free lollies! From strangers! And all you had to do was smile nicely and hold out your bag. It was a dream come true.

So…the days when I would require a profound meaning to drive me to participate in the fun are long gone. And I no longer care a snip either about Halloween’s roots, or that trick-or-treating is only appropriate for those who can’t afford to come by chocolates in the ordinary way. From now on, instead of constructing arguments for rejecting Halloween – or any other celebration on offer, I’m going to limit my analysis to this: Life is just too short to miss any opportunity to enjoy watching children – mine or anyone else’s – laughing out loud in frank delight.

the child catchers

Sunday night, here in Australia, the ABC TV program Sunday Best screened the disturbing US-made documentary Jesus Camp. Made in 2006, many American readers will have seen it already but I think this was the first time it has screened in Australia. I found I was a little nervous as I sat down to watch it. My friend Vyckie Garrison had mentioned the doco should come with a trigger warning for ex-fundamentalists. She was right. So much of it was horrifyingly familiar, depicting scenes I had witnessed in churches in Australia many times when I was a Pentecostal myself.

For those who haven’t seen it, Jesus Camp follows a group of young children as they prepare for and then attend a camp conducted by North Dakota pastor Becky Fischer, founder and director of Kids in Ministry International (KIMI). The featured children seemed to be from conservative evangelical, homeschooling families, and their parents, many of whom attended camp with them, were apparently unphased by Fischer’s bullying and mad-eyed rants, or by the bat-shit crazy things she got the kids to do (having them speak a blessing to a life-sized cardboard cut out of George Bush springs to mind).

A video of ‘highlights’ (using the term in its broadest sense here :)) is embedded below.

Evidently, Becky Fischer was bombarded with emails and letters from angry viewers after the documentary first screened in the US. The North Dakota campsite where Jesus Camp was filmed banned Fisher and her team from returning after vandals made their feelings about Fischer and her methods known. But KIMI’s disturbing ‘ministry’ to children continues nonetheless.

Fischer’s particular schtick is getting kids involved in ‘the supernatural’. By this she means that she is gifted to teach children how to connect directly to God, to speak to him and to hear him speak, to experience supernatural power flowing from God to the child and so on to transform a sinful world. Fischer’s camps run for 3 – 4 days and cover a huge range of supernatural techniques. At the (relatively) harmless end of that spectrum, this involves getting the kids ‘filled with the [Holy] Spirit‘, and encouraging them to speak in tongues. At its nuttier extremities though, kids are instructed how to engage in direct prayer warfare against Satan, have visions, prophesy, heal the sick, and perform ‘signs, wonders and miracles’. Apart from attending camps like the one in the documentary, kids learn how to do this through instruction from their own church leaders who have studied Fischer’s DVD courses broadly entitled, School of Supernatural Children’s Ministry (which is at least better than its former, rather chilling name, Leading the Lambs to the Lion Training Institute).

Fischer’s charismatic ilk reminds me very much of my own experiences at Clark Taylor’s Christian Outreach Centre (COC) in Brisbane in the 80s – the church where I landed when I was first drawn into Christianity at the age of 19. I taught Sunday School at that church and while the children’s workers didn’t engage in the kinds of activities I saw in Jesus Camp, I can well imagine that Fischer’s practices would have been held in very high regard had COC leadership known about them. The then-3500-strong COC congregation was subjected to the ministry of many visiting American evangelists at least as flaky as Fischer and, like Fischer, COC leadership believed that to reach a lost world you should earnestly seek to convert its children – as early as possible. Buses were sent out from COC to underprivileged suburbs each Sunday morning and Christian workers wearing appealing animal character costumes and offering handfuls of lollipops (and the promise of more) would lure children on to buses and ferry them to church. It gives me shivers to think of it now.

 

Sir Robert Helpmann as The Child Catcher, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' (1968)

 

In my twenties I left COC in favour of the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination of Hillsong fame. My then-husband studied to be a minister at the AoG ministerial training college in Katoomba. The AoG was more conservative than COC and other similar charismatic denominations in those days. But the winds of change were blowing and bringing with them the madness of faith healers Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth E. Hagin, and that of utter charlatans such as Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard Brown. By the time I was in my late-twenties, the Toronto Blessing had hit and in-church craziness shot to a terrifying new level. If you think I might be exaggerating, take a peek at this video which shows behaviours typical of Toronto-influenced church services at the time. I witnesses spectacles such as those depicted – people shaking, rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, and (I kid you not) ‘barking in the Spirit’ – more than once in Australian AoG churches. It was believed to be a revival, an outpouring of God’s Spirit on his people. Yes, even the barking.

I left this rather frightening kind of Christianity behind and settled into a much duller but less overtly weird form of conservative fundamentalism. I didn’t jump ship because I disagreed with the notion that believers could connect directly with God and experience some kind of supernatural power. I left because, in my view at the time, these Pentecostal leaders were foolish to be accepting that just because these bizarre extremes occurred (a) in church and (b) to people who claimed to be Christians, they must therefore be signs from God – regardless of what the Bible might have to say on the subject. It was this new and incredibly popular wave of belief in what was seen and experienced rather than what was written in the Book that frightened me. It seemed to me as though the church was standing on the edge of some dark abyss and leaping forward with no possible way of imaging what lay beyond. I found solace with believers who valued the commandments in the relatively nice, safe Book with it’s comfortingly ancient and only tangentially relevant stories of prophets and faith healers.

I’ve written elsewhere that the Christian fundamentalists’ commitment to the teachings in the Bible, despite reliable evidence to the contrary or indeed common sense, no longer holds any appeal for me. But frankly, I’d probably take a busload of my old Quiverfull fundy friends in preference to a small handful of Becky Fischers. Her type manage to combine the crushing weight of religious fear, condemnation and guilt, and add to it the terrifying notion that if you notice the appearance of a sudden, vivid thought or an image springs seemingly unbidden to your mind, you should consider it a direct communication from the Almighty and act on it without hesitation. Indeed, to hesitate would be to sinfully disobey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The implications of this kind of belief would probably genuinely terrify many a free-thinking person.

And of course, Fischer isn’t preaching this to adults. The penitents broken and sobbing with remorse at her altar, having realised they have served God with less than a whole tiny heart are children between the ages of 6 and 12. And Fischer’s reach isn’t limited to American children either. Kids in Ministry International has an Australian branch based right here in my own city, Brisbane. At that site, you can even find a special section devoted to selling DVDs for teaching Fischer’s doctrine and methods to babies and preschoolers.

It is probably almost impossible for those who have never been inside fundamentalist Christianity to understand why parents would allow their children to be subject to such blatant emotional manipulation and brainwashing. Let me try and explain: To the fundamentalist parent, Heaven and Hell are real, literal places and God gets to decide to which of those you will go depending on how you have lived your life on earth. Like all parents, Christian fundamentalists love their children; the very worst thing they can imagine happening to them is that they grow up in a home where Jesus is known – and yet finish spending eternity in fiery torment. Desperate to ensure their children follow the path to Paradise, many grasp frantically at any system which purports to assist or, better yet, guarantee success in raising God-loving offspring. Fischer’s program claims to turn ordinary children into spiritual and evangelistic powerhouses with direct access to the throne room of Heaven. This is an irresistible offer for these kinds of parents.

Fischer’s message is also highly appealing to children raised in these kinds of homes. Of course, they want to please God, and of course they notice how thrilled their parents are when they are apparently ‘touched by the Spirit’ in these meetings as they commit their lives to Christian service with tears of joy. In Jesus Camp, Fischer used a multitude of tricks to draw the children in: colourful props, delicious treats, engaging stories as well as bullying and lambasting, guilt, condemnation, and threats of hellfire. The desire for a solid sense of belonging with God and other believers, combined with the thrill of being different from (and better than) ‘the world’ has a seductive power, and committing to those ideals offers an emotional payout that it would be rare to find offered in any other context.

I am not able to find any Australian churches who have purchased Becky Fischer’s School of Supernatural Children’s Ministry DVDs – at least, none that will admit it on their websites. But I can tell you than this interest in teaching a mystical, supernaturally-oriented Christianity seems to be on the rise. Churches like Westlife not far from me in Springfield, Qld have attracted media attention* for running School of the Supernatural courses where they claim can teach people to cure cancer. Numerous other Australian churches run similar programs built on the teachings of US-based Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. And while these churches might be at the whacky end of the billabong, their pool is getting wider and wider all the time. The churches that are growing their congregations are the arm-waving, Pentecostal, flee-from-hellfire-and-prophesy-on-the-way sort. Of particular concern is that these are the churches from which the Australian government-funded National School Chaplaincy Program draws many of its workers.

My point is, Australians who watched Jesus Camp on Sunday shouldn’t imagine that the craziness depicted is a purely Americian phenomenon. The same dangerous, psyche-cracking nonsense is being preached at Australians – including, I believe, children – as I write. We can only wait and see what the fruit will be. My bet, sadly, is that we’ll see a spike in adolescent and young adult psychiatric illness as a result.

 

* The article cited states that Westlife and its School of the Supernatural are linked to the well known AoG church Hillsong, however Hillsong denies any such association.

christian guys and porkie pies

>>Editing to note: The article was published by On Line Opinion 3o May, 2011.  Welcome to visitors who have followed a link from that site.

***

While others have already written about recent public statements by Christian leaders such as Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Jim Wallace and organisations such as Access Ministries, as a former fundamentalist pastor’s wife – no longer a believer – I’d like to share my perspective.

Until quite recently, I was a supporter of ACL and admired Jim Wallace for ‘standing up for Christian values’ which I, like many of my former friends, felt were under attack in Australia. Precisely what values were in danger of being quashed by godless atheists is now lost to me but I do at least remember feeling that we Christians were part of a small, embattled subculture, significantly under-represented in the public arena. I heard chaplains speak in church many times and remember that I, like most, if not all, of those in the pews were positive about the work chaplains were doing ‘reaching unchurched kids for Jesus’ in public schools.

So, while the content of Jim Wallace’s racist and anti-gay Anzac Day tweet was evidently deeply shocking to many non-religious people, it was precisely what I would have expected to hear from any serious Christian fundamentalist in a closed meeting with likeminded believers. I was somewhat taken aback that Wallace was so indiscrete as to share his true thoughts on twitter – but not wholly surprised as I will explain.

Church organisations and their private activities have not been of very much interest to anyone but themselves for…well…a long, long time. Christians have become used to this lack of scrutiny and, in my experience, have forgotten how out of step with the rest of the community many of their beliefs and attitudes are. I mentioned this in a church setting on a number of occasions. Once, at the end of a brief course on the how-tos of discipling new converts, I approached the group leader and asked what she would see as the difference between what she’d just shared with us and, say, the coercive and controlling strategies used by a cult – apart from the obvious fact that our beliefs were right. The leader, I think, experienced a Douglas Adamsesque upside-down-pink-bistro moment and was unable even to imagine a response to such a peculiar query. There was an awkward silence as she looked at me blankly, then smiled kindly, and walked away.

This incapacity to imagine how Christian, in-house communications might appear to those on the outside helps to explain Jim Wallace’s indiscretion. I imagine he just forgot for a moment that non-believers also follow him on twitter and was simply revealing what he really thinks about gay people and Muslims. But instead of either manning up and and taking the hit for his admission, or offering a sincere apology, Wallace immediately went on the attack, blaming those who brought his tweet to the attention of the media, saying that it was they who were causing the trouble, and accepting no responsibility whatsoever for provoking the storm that ensued as a result of his tweet.

There were Christian commentators, Bill Muehlenberg for one, who expressed disappointment that Wallace later offered a half-baked non-apology instead of standing by his bigoted beliefs. I expect there are many Christians who would agree with Muehlenberg on that score. After all, Wallace declares himself not just a Christian but a representative of the majority of Christians in Australia and we know that honesty is a virtue particularly valued in that faith community. Is it then unreasonable to expect a Christian representative should at least be able to take responsibility for his own words and abstain from telling porkies when questioned about them?

I imagine that many Australian Christians would also like to see Access Ministries, the primary supplier of chaplains to Australian public schools and a fundamentally Christian organisation, stand up for what it believes instead of hiding behind a facade of smiling but dishonest niceness as it is currently doing. Recent scrutiny of the contents of teaching materials, websites, newsletters and articles by and about Access Ministries have revealed, among other things, that Access, in breach of their contract with state education departments, and despite protestations to the contrary, their own publications reveal that Access Ministries chaplains have been merrily evangelising our kids in the school yard all along. A flurry of bottom-covering ensued last week as Access Ministries rushed to remove incriminating material from public view.

But I imagine no Christian would have be surprised by these revelations in the slightest. Chaplaincy organisations have never concealed their agenda to fulfil Jesus’s Great Commission of ‘making disciples of all men’, at least, they’ve been frank with other Christians about their aims. Indeed, it’s because that idea has broad Christian support that chaplains are able to attract private donations to subsidise their work. It’s just that, until now, no-one who wasn’t already a fan has apparently bothered to read their websites or newsletters to check whether they were indeed as harmlessly altruistic as they claimed.

But the cat is out of the bag. In the words of Access Ministries CEO, Evonne Paddison ‘…the greatest mission field we have in Australia [is] our children and our students. We need to go and make disciples.’ No-one, I think, is suggesting that this is incompatible with the Christian faith; enthusiastic evangelism is entirely consistent with a belief that, again in Paddison’s words, ‘without Jesus, our students are lost’. But subsequent to the public outcry caused by Paddison’s address, Access Ministries, instead of coming clean, released an explanation that attempted to perpetuate the lie that chaplains wouldn’t think of sharing the gospel with our children and that we should stop listening to the lefty, atheist ratbags who say they would. How very like Jim Wallace’s response.

I’m not the only one who finds this level of dishonesty staggering. The only explanation I’ve been able to come up with for the apparent ease with which Access Ministries continues to lie is that they are twisting another injunction of Jesus: to go out into a world of ‘wolves’ and be ‘as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). But I wonder if they bend the truth at their peril. Apart from numerous bible verses which threaten hellfire for liars, it seems to me that this particular sort of dishonesty, claiming they are not wholehearted followers of Christ when in fact they are, skims perilously close to the nastier ‘denying Christ’ kind of lie. And Christians well-understand the eternal consequences of those.

I’d like to see Christian organisations of all sorts fess up to the fact that they are (gasp) followers of Christ and admit that that carries with it certain obligations such as sharing their faith at any reasonable opportunity. I’d like them to honestly explain what they’ve been doing in our schools and state what they intend to do in the future. Then parents, principals and the State can decide if it’s appropriate that they continue to get paid to access our children. And if not, Christian organisations can go back to preaching on street corners or some other non-taxpayer-funded activity in an effort to attract converts.

But, for heaven’s sake, enough of this despicable deception; it really is a humiliating spectacle. Christian or not, no-one ought to be telling lies with the ease and frequency that these Christian leaders are. It is a sickening charade. And they’re not fooling anyone anyway.