Protecting Freedom/Protecting Privilege


The Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco. Photo: Elenie Poulos

The first paper out of my ongoing PhD research on the politics of religious freedom has just been published by the Australian Journal of Human Rights, 2018, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp 117-133. Here is the abstract:

Lacking a national comprehensive human rights charter or bill, Australia’s legal balancing act between competing human rights protections is captured in discrete pieces of anti-discrimination law. In 2012, the Australian Government released a draft bill consolidating these laws. Most churches roundly condemned this bill. With very few exceptions, the churches have a strong record of opposing progressive reform of Australia’s anti-discrimination protections. This paper examines the submissions made by churches to the parliamentary inquiry into the bill. The analysis demonstrates that most churches regarded the bill as a serious threat to both religious freedom and freedom of speech. In privileging religious freedom in a hierarchy of rights to be protected, the argument for religious freedom became the means by which churches sought to both protect their institutional position and entrench their particular moral code in Australian law.

The article in its Authorised Manuscript form is available here. For those readers who have access to a university library, you can find the published article here.

The Very Public and Political Coming of the Prince of Peace

Pitt Street Uniting Church |  17 December 2017

Sermon for Third Sunday of Advent | Isaiah 11:1-9

Pitt Street Uniting Church is on the land of Gadigal People of the Eora Nation

The words of faith from the prophet Isaiah speak of a new shoot from the stock of Jesse, a new king from the dead stump that was once the towering tree of the royal line of David. In Isaiah’s vision, the king’s very being and his rule (his law and his judgement), will be the outworking of the spirit of God on him: politics, law, faith, and God, inseparable, bearing down on the world in order to transform the world.

There is a great deal being said about politics, law and religion in Australia at the moment. I doubt that personal faith has ever been referred to as much by politicians as it was during the most recent parliamentary debate on marriage equality. MPs and Senators were claiming personal Christian faith and family religious traditions, and quoting religious leaders, local ministers and priests, and constituents, to explain and support their position in favour of marriage equality or against it.

And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that per se. I claim my Christian faith as a foundation for believing in the equal dignity of all people and I’m confident that many of you do too. And yes, it was a conscience vote, so references to personal faith were always going to be made. But the whole premise of the political conscience vote is deeply problematic, and especially so in the light of the message of Advent. Continue reading

Bob Katter wants his wor(l)d back

The Castro, San Francisco. Photo: Elenie Poulos

Some thoughts about marriage equality in light of Australia’s postal survey.

This piece was first published by ABC Religion & Ethics on 1 September 2017.

Bob Katter grieves the loss of his favourite word to the cause of a minority group. But sadly for him, it’s gone and so is the privilege that he’s trying to protect.

The word gay was lost to Bob Katter in the 1960s, so as he went on to explain, having lost control of “the most beautiful word in the English language” he doesn’t want to now lose “one of the most beautiful institutions in human history”, not to the same people who stole his beloved word. Even a cursory glance through history should have been enough for Bob see that for almost its entire history, marriage has not been a beautiful institution – certainly not for women. But if you’re in a privileged institutional space, it can be hard to see what happens to those oppressed and marginalised by the institution.  Continue reading

In the midst of grief, agents of hope


South Sydney Uniting Church #wecandobetter 
A service of hope and lament for people seeking asylum

Uniting Church members and friends gathered on 27 November at Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney for a Service of Lament and Hope for people seeking asylum. The texts for the service were Psalm 137 and Matthew 25:31-46. The service was part of the Church’s Give Hope Campaign. This is my sermon.

Pitt Street Uniting Church is on the land of Gadigal People of the Eora Nation.

Lament and hope. Grief and salvation.

Whose lives do we grieve? How can we be agents hope in a broken world? Continue reading

One Household – Like We Mean It

San Francisco, Photo: Elenie Poulos

This was a speech I delivered at the National Environment Meeting 2016, at the University of Sydney on 22 October. The theme for the conference was ‘Hope in the Dark’ and I was part of a panel talking about the need for environment groups to build alliances with Indigenous groups, faith-based groups, unions, and legal organisations.

We met on the land of Gadigal People of the Eora Nation.

We are here together today to talk about change because we know that if the planet is going to survive in a way that will support future generations to live in peace and prosperity, then we need to change the way we live. Tinkering at the edges of systems, policies, structures and programs won’t do it. And neither will a fragmented approach to advocacy that has us boxed into our ‘issues’ and weak on the big picture. But time is up. Gentle words and soft coaxing are not enough. We need to overturn the tables in the temple and call people to a better way of living that will deliver justice for the planet and justice for people, knowing that there’s no justice for one without the other. We need to do it now. And the only way to do it is to work together – really work together. Continue reading