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Kevin Rudd undermines his vision for a progressive Christian political agenda by ignoring injustices against LGBT people.
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did nothing…”
This sentence and the grave lines that follow have sprung a thousand times from the lips of social progressives explaining how persecution of the unpopular balloons into wholesale tyranny if unchecked.
They sprang again to my mind as I read Kevin Rudd’s headline essay on religion and politics in the current edition of The Monthly magazine (here's Rudd on Lateline as well as the SMH's take).
This was not because Rudd’s hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the author of “First they came”, Martin Niemöller, lived at the same time, suffered the same tyranny and were co-founders of the anti-Nazi “Confessing Church”.
It was because, in a text about standing up for those who are persecuted, homosexuals are so often left out.
It is irrelevant whether or not we were included in Niemöller’s first versions. The point is that, despite being included many times since, we are still routinely dropped so that the message reaches those our presence might offend, particularly Christians. That the message is thus fatally undermined is too little considered.
What does all this have to do with Kevin Rudd?
His call for a Christian engagement with politics that “must always take the side of the marginalized, the vulnerable and the oppressed”, fails to extend this principle to sexual and gender minorities.
True he questions the preoccupation of some Christians with “sexuality and sexual behaviour” at the expense of a broader moral perspective.
True he notes that “there is no evidence of Jesus expressly preaching against homosexuality” while “there is considerable evidence of the Nazarene preaching against poverty and the indifference of the rich”.
But there isn’t one mention of a set of legal and social injustices which are some of the most important facing Australia today: the financial disadvantage and emotional trauma caused by legal discrimination against same-sex couples and their families; unabating rates of prejudice, discrimination and violence against LGBT people from the school yard to the office and beyond; the cost in health impairment, economic contribution and social participation of all this discrimination and stigma.
People like Philip Adams might say it is enough that a progressive Christian political agenda has begun to be set.
Surely that is better than vacating the field to Christians who are better at hating than loving, binding than loosening.
Nope. Not only can’t I applaud a socially-progressive Christian political agenda that conspicuously excludes LGBT people, I find it hard to even declare it a step in the right direction.
This is not because of some general antipathy to the engagement of Christians with politics.
The political involvement of Christians who value tolerance, inclusion and equity was crucial to decriminalizing homosexuality and enacting anti-discrimination laws.
It remains just as important in the struggle for same-sex couple legal equality, as shown by the leading role taken by the Canadian United Church in the campaign for equal marriage in that country.
I see little value in Rudd’s contribution because the general principles behind his case are compromised by the omission of anti-gay injustices, and because such an omission sends out the message that such injustices are not injustices at all.
The effect and the response is the same for Labor’s recently-proposed Sexuality Discrimination Bill. The presence of large and very conspicuous exemptions for religious organizations in a Bill designed to remedy bias encourages such bias by confirming that it is acceptable.
Discrimination is wrong for all or not at all.
Rudd’s Nazarene would understand this. He would not just tell the Pharisees to stop judging others according to sexuality. He would preach that all must enjoy equality and justice despite it.
And then he would extend his hand to those who everyone else has spurned and forgotten and lift them up to where they suffer no more.
In other religious-in-politics news,
Why does the Prime Minister respect the Exclusive Brethren for what he condemns in Muslims, asks Adele Horan.
If the Treasurer believes in the separation of church and state why does he allow such generous tax breaks for churches, asks Dennis Altman.
Is the unholy alliance between the religious right and the corporate sector about to collapse, asks Paul Krugman.
Given the continued capacity of conservative church groups to muster the support of tens of thousands of people what chance of progressive Christian agenda building, with or without an LGBT component, asks yours truly.
And in other same-sex couple news,
Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks rules out civil unions for Victoria in a response to a predictable attempt to wedge him on the issue prior to next month’s state election, by the state Nationals leader, Peter Ryan.
Bracks yesterday in question time,
“In relation to civil unions, our government has a record second to none in removing discrimination from the majority of acts in this state. I want to congratulate the Attorney-General for the work he has done. Whether it is in superannuation, housing or the ability to take legal action, in all those areas we have removed discrimination from the statute book in Victoria, and we are second to none in any jurisdiction in this country. Whilst we do not support legislation for civil unions, we do support removing discrimination. Our record is there for everyone to see over the last seven years as being the government that shines out in Australia in removing discrimination from the statute book.”
As disappointing as this is, it is not the complete disaster some Victorians may fear.
First, thanks to its backward parenting laws, Victoria is more like second-to-last when it comes to same-sex couple rights. Clearly Bracks is completely out of touch, not only on civil unions but LGBT issues in general. He has just given the LGBT community an election platform: revealing the sad truth below the Government’s conceit and complacency.
Second, if “civil unions” are too hot for Bracks he can always be offered another scheme to fill the same need – partnership registration for instance, or a variant thereof. The beauty of formal recognition of same-sex relationships is that the field is still wide open for innovation and creativity.
Third, it says a lot that the wedge came from the Nationals, not the Liberals. While the dominant conservative party stands aloof from the issue, the hope of a constructive post-election debate remains strong.
Fourth, regardless of what Steve Bracks thinks, the civil union debate is not going away.
As if to reinforce the point, tomorrow night at 6.30pm, in Rm GM15 at Melbourne Uni Law School, ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, will speak on his attempt to enact civil unions earlier this year.
To underline it still more, Civil Union Action is holding a protest this Friday at 5.30pm, outside Victorian Labor Party HQ, 360 King St, West Melbourne, near Flagstaff Station.
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Phillip Ruddock. In the "Lateline" interview, interestingly mentions gender, and there it ends.
The ABC lateline interviewer, we will not mention, as he "Could not interview a camel trying to get back to Afghan!.
I haven’t seen the article in The Monthly – I’ve just read the commentary, and from that I’d say it might be drawing a long bow to argue that because he’s been silent on gay rights, Rudd is perpetuating anti-gay discrimination, prejudice and violence.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible to argue that he’s attempting to occupy the compassionate-christian space without raising all of the red-flag issues at the same time.
There’s a slim possibility for Labor to neutralise the christian right the same way Howard neutralised the Hansonist right, but like Howard, they would need to take it steadily.
Rudd voted in favour of handing control of RU486 to the TGA, against the christian right. Isn’t it possible that the values of tolerance and compassion he espouses will also be deployed in favour of same-sex attracted people?
If the Labor Party suddenly became more strongly compassionate, they would need to thrash out a position on gay rights pretty fast, since that would probably be the only remaining issue they could be wedged on. I’d be surprised if Rudd hasn’t worked this out for himself, even if he is currently keeping quiet about it.
Compassion is a great card for Rudd to play. It doesn’t place him in conflict with Beazley, but it does go to the Coalition’s weak point, as we saw when Howard got rolled on refugee rights. If there’s a chance of it helping to push the Coalition out of government, I say he should go for it. Steadily.
John Howard didn't neutralise Hansonism, rather, he nurtured it by taking it under his wing. Pauline's policies now form the backbone of the Coalition Government.
That's the last thing the ALP should be doing with the religious right. Rather, they should appeal to those who believe in equality and human rights (which, I think, is most ordinary Australians).
I expressed that idea quite badly, John. I’ll have another go at it.
Yes, Howard adopted Hanson’s policies, and thus rendered One Nation redundant. Of course, they assisted in their own demise, but the end result was that all those One Nation voters went (back) to the Liberal Party. That’s what I was trying to say with my clumsy formulation about neutralising the Hansonist right.
A similar thing might be possible with the christian vote. Many of them are economically left of centre, but socially right. Boosting its compassion credits offers Labor the chance to capture enough of those lefty christians to split the christian vote and leave the right-wing without parliamentary representation (outside the Liberal Party, that is).
It’s a fairly idyllic scenario, and a long shot. There’s also a big question of how much of the right-wing baggage would Labor have to take on board in the process. Still, I reckon Kevin Rudd should be given a chance to have a go at it. I think that a compassionate Labor Party is (a) more likely to get voted in, and (b) better for us in the long run than their current spinelessness.
Jim, two points...
1. the basis of Rudd's case is that Christian morality has a role in politics, just a different morality to the one that currently prevails. He should therefore expect his views to be judged by moral standards as well as political ones, and by any compassionate moral standard he has let LGBT people down.
2. on the political question, my experience in Tasmania is that when public figures move in a direction which might benefit LGBT issues in the long run, but which still leaves us out in the cold now, the damage runs deep and we must redouble our efforts if we are to benefit from the broader change. There is nothing inevitable about LGBT rights being part of a resurgent compassionate politic, Christian or otherwise.
PS: I should have added that Kevin Rudd is very supportive of fair treatment for LGBT people. This is to be applauded, but also makes his failure to acknowledge our human rights in his call for renewal more disappointing.
I think it's premature to conclude that Rudd has "failed" and is "disappointing". Presumably he didn't go on Lateline to specifically lobby for gay rights; it is unreasonable to have expected him to do so.
Instead on zooming in on what Rudd DIDN'T say, greater acknowledgement ought be given for what he DID say. It's well past time that the Government's exploitation of religious morality became a topic of mature Opposition contention. This is what I saw Rudd's main message as being. I'm not religious, nor a Labor voter, but I applaud him for speaking these home truths.
Brendan, Rudd seemed quite happy to talk about a range of other current issues from Iraq to workplace conditions.
He might respond by saying they affect everyone whereas LGBT rights just affects a minority. But as many of us know, "homophobia hurts everyone".
Rudd argues "the function of the church in...social, economic and security policy is to...give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse".
What is subject to a greater silence than the inequities and disadvantages experienced by LGBT people?
And what has Rudd just done to this silence - reinforce it.
It still seems unreasonable & premature to expect Rudd to cite every disenfranchised group (including GLBT folk) when he appears to be trying to build a broad concensus for change in the interplay of morality & Australian politics. To me, it makes sense that he should mention Iraq & workplace conditions because they are issues of concern on the radar of the public majority. He welds his argument into the context of these major current affairs to make a statement that as many people as possible will easily relate to & understand.
I simply don't agree that Rudd's omission of reference to GLBT folk is either a dismissal of our causes or a reinforcement of the disadvantages GLBT folk endure. Time, as they say, will tell.
I'm not aware that Rudd's role model, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke out specifically on the treatment of GLBT folk under the Nazi regime. Rodney, would you condemn him for his "silence"?
You also ask "what is subject to greater silence than the inequities and disadvantages experienced by LGBT people?". How about the inequities endured by indigenous Australians? Not that I think it's about competing for the dubious distinction of who is more worse off. I merely respond to your implication that GLBT folk have it worse than everyone else (which I don't believe is necessarily accurate).
I don't think he was saying that GLBT people are the worst off. I read his statement as more saying that ours is a fight that is silenced more... I don't think people would argue that a lot of the big issues aren't worse... but that's just it. They're the Big Issues, and everyone *knows* about them - and things can be done about things that people know about.
At least, that's my take. Rodney would have to say for himself exactly what he meant... ***shrugs***
Thanks E, Indeed it wasn't my intention to say LGBT people are worse off. That's ridiculous. But, as you say, there is an argument that for us the silence is as great as any.
Brendan, I don't want Rudd to cite every disadvantage and injustice. But because he chose to cite sexuality as something not to get hot under the collar about, I think he stands condemned if he doesn't also cite homophobia as something that's worth acting against.
I don't know enough about Bonhoeffer to judge him on your point. But I do know enough about German history to condemn those anti-Nazi Christians who survived the war, who vowed "never to let it happen again", but who left gay men imprisoned under the Nazis to serve out their terms, who couldn't bring themselves to repeal the Nazi anti-gay laws until 1968, and who went to their graves refusing to acknowledge, memorialise or compensate fascism's gay victims.
Must we also wait another generation for Rudd et al to take the next step?
There's more than one way to cook an egg. Perhaps Rudd thought that citing sexuality as something not to get hot under the collar about WAS his way of undermining homophobia. Calmly, rationally, without getting all hot under the collar about it. Again, time will tell. I personally feel quite at ease with Rudd's comments.
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