christians and the human rights bill – part 4

part 4 of 4

Plaatje Christopher - Human RightsThe Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (2012) is in draft from and currently before a Senate Inquiry and facing some opposition from Christian groups. In this final post I look at the issue of public perception of Christians.

Firstly, not all Christians oppose the draft bill. Here are two positive Christian responses:

Peter Sandeman from Anglicare If we believe all people are equal we must live this

Elenie Poulos from the Uniting Church Injustice not an article of faith for all churches

how are outsiders going to interpret this?

As I have argued before, PR matters. We need to be concerned about how we come across to outsiders so as not to create a barrier to knowing Jesus. So how do we look? What message do we project to the public when we object to this legislation?

David Marr’s article article in the SMH gives us a hint. He interprets Christian opposition as churches defending their powers to ‘punish “sinners” in the workplace.’

Most conservative faiths have most of the following on their lists of the sackable: gays and lesbians, single mothers, adulterers – yes, even adulterers! – bisexuals, transsexuals, the intersex and couples like Gillard and Tim Mathieson…

Some see Christians as fighting for their ‘right to discriminate’. See Eleanor Gibbs or Ben Dorrington.

Or there’s Jeff Sparrow’s Religious freedom beats your rights at work

Religious lobbyists run the risk of winning this particular skirmish but losing the war. Even those of us who aren’t believers know that the scriptures spend far more time condemning the wealthy and greedy than obsessing about which sexual organ can legitimately go where. Do churches that already struggle for relevance really want to identify themselves so exclusively as the bedroom police, rather than finding something to say about the various moneylenders ensconced in the temples of the 21st century?

And Joumanah el Matrah Shutting out the ‘sinners’ feeds bigotry (not a secular perspective, but relevant nonetheless)

When the federal government assures religious groups they will have the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals and others they deem sinners (The Age 16/1), it not only undermines the rights of already vulnerable groups, such as same-sex-attracted people, it also undermines the substance and integrity of religion by reducing it to a collection of petty bigotries.

Finally, a cartoon

Image

The secular public does not understand Christians’ reasoning behind their opposition. Instead, Christians, by their opposition, confirm the public’s suspicion that Christians are sexist, homophobic and arrogant and that Christians believe they are entitled to special treatment.

Many of the Christian submissions regarding the bill complain that their free speech and religious freedom would be violated if they’re not allowed to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.’ (note –  the word ‘offend’ was included in the draft bill because it comes from existing harassment legislation – I wouldn’t normally post something from the IPA, but Berg explains it here).

That does sound a lot like we believe that offending, insulting, humiliating and intimidating people are core parts of Christianity that need to be protected. The public could be forgiven for thinking so. They see the contradiction between what we say we believe and the ‘rights’ we claim.

I am not saying that we should let our beliefs be determined by public opinion, only that public opinion matters if people are going to listen to our message. We need to think seriously about which battles are worth fighting and what our opposition tells people about Jesus.

Because I’m worried that, worst of all, we’re creating a stumbling block to the gospel, a barrier to knowing Jesus.

concluding thoughts

There is a risk that Christians and churches may be taken to court for speaking the truth in love because someone was offended by it.

But there is a far greater risk that, by opposing this legislation, the public will get the impression that we Christians reserve the right to offend, humiliate, insult and intimidate people, to treat people unfairly, to mistreat people, to show favouritism and to ignore the injustices faced by the most vulnerable in our society.

There’s a risk they will think that we value our ‘freedom of religion’ over better protections for vulnerable people.

Would you not rather be taken to court?

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