As leading organisations representing and advocating with LGBTIQ+ People of Faith and People of Faith who support LGBTIQ+ members of our communities, we urge that the current Religious Discrimination Bill be withdrawn from Federal Parliament and a genuine participative process be established to enable widely-agreed protective, not persecuting, rights for all. As it stands, the Bill can only enflame and enable further religious-based repression, without addressing the most pressing issues of religious concern, which impact upon marginalised people like ourselves.
So many of members of our religious communities are victims of religious-institution-based abuse and these experiences of abuse are a significant driver of our desire to see real safeguards for people of faith and all Australians, so that we are all able to live out our religious beliefs and other convictions without experiencing harm in our community places, where there should be safe places for all Australians.
We have seen (not least in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child
Abuse) how easily that safety can be lost - and how easily the true religious values of church or religious institutions are lost - when leaders exercise power without scrutiny and accountability. As LGBTIQ+ People of Faith, and People of Faith who support our LGBTIQ+ members, our participation in religious bodies takes many forms, but one central aspect is to challenge the self-serving actions of institutional leadership, and to create and push for checks and balances to the abuses of power and political influence in the hierarchies of religious bodies.
We are concerned that this Bill would further embolden those who currently wield so much institutional power, to use this power to the detriment of ordinary People of Faith in religious institutions and schools, who find themselves the target of harassment and bullying for their sex, ability/disability, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity - ordinary People of Faith who are there in every congregation and school, and who ask only to be accepted and supported in their faith journeys.. This Bill, as currently framed, would make it extraordinarily difficult for ordinary people of faith to experience this safety and acceptance; it would make it difficult for us to hold our leaders to account.
LGBTIQA+ people are to be found in every faith community, and have particular need for
understanding and support in contexts where they have historically been abused,
misunderstood and scapegoated. LGBTIQA+ People of Faith don’t just cease to exist
because a particular religious faction refuses to acknowledge their presence. LGBTIQ+
People of Faith and People of Faith who support LGBTIQ+ members of our communities
refuse to stop existing simply because an institution would prefer us not to exist. We are a part of our faith communities, and that we continue to offer service to our faith and our religious institutions. We ask that our basic human rights to be recognised and those of all other vulnerable people whose lives are at threat from this legislation.
Australian Catholics for Equality
Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Australia
Progressive Christian Voice
Rainbodhi LGBTQIA+ Buddhist Community
Rainbow Catholic InterAgency for Ministry
Sydney Queer Muslims
Congratulations to my dear friend Dr Jennifer Herrick (pictured here with my lovely wife at our 25th wedding anniversary party) for her strength, courage and persistence in dragging the (Roman) Catholic Church in Australia to recognition and penitence for the clergy sexual abuse she suffered in the past. It has been a long struggle. I know only some of the details and emotions which we have been privileged to share as Jen has fought this battle. However this week, alongside other 'compensation', she finally secured a both a public apology and a public admission of the eventual defrocking of the offending priest. Check out the ABC coverage here.
This is certainly a landmark case for Australia. For a Royal Commission rightly continues to help address child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of Australia's Churches and other institutions, greatly accelerating long delayed appropriate responses and responsibility. May that process continue to be fruitful, bringing some genuine consolation and integrity out of pain and refusal to respond. Others have however also suffered who do not fall into a childhood age bracket, some of them very vulnerable in other ways. Together with my friend Jen, I hope therefore that others may indeed now be enabled to come forward to build on the gateway of healing which has been created.
The issues raised are also challenging of course not only for the surivors of such abuse and the workings of power in ecclesiastical institutions but for clergy as individuals. Hopefully this case will therefore also encourage all of us in accredited positions to reflect more deeply on our own care and approach to relationships. Churches in the West may not have the power or influence they once had, and many may describe themselves as disinterested if not hostile to Christianity as such. Yet the spiritual power exercised by clergy should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to vulnerable or suscepible people.
In the meanwhile, I look forward to sharing with my friend many more times of joy, wine, good theological discussion and the love of the Sydney Swans!
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.