Category Archives: peter jensen

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

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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.