Thoughts on that ANZAC Day Twitter controversy

Today I’m back at work after a few weeks leave. Over the Easter and ANZAC Day long weekend I tried to maintain that holiday mood by only infrequently and warily checking out my Twitter feed.

I love Twitter but for me, even though my account is my own, it does drag me to a ‘work place’. It serves as my personal news feed and while the views I express are my own (UnitingJustice Australia, the agency for which I serve as National Director, has its own organisational page), I do use it to promote the work of UnitingJustice and the Uniting Church more broadly. I try never to forget that even though I am expressing personal views they will be read by most in the context of the position I hold within the Church. It is the same with this blog.

On ANZAC Day, then, it was with some despair that I logged on to find a raging torrent of tweets condemning Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby for an earlier tweet expressing his view that gay marriage and Islam did not represent the Australia the ANZACS fought for.

Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic! (posted at @JimWallaceACL)

All of this has since received much media attention. By the end of that day, Rod Benson, who is probably Australia’s leading tweeting public theologian, had written a (very good) blog which is now also available on the (very good) ABC Religion and Ethics website http://bit.ly/flxait.

I am not as prolific a tweeter as Rod but I do like to engage as much as I can. Not wanting to lose that holiday feel, I did nothing more than publicly agree with Rod that the Twitter account in question appeared to be genuine (the question had been raised) and send this tweet to Julie Posetti, a Canberra-based journalism academic and high-profile tweeter:

@julieposetti Sadly too many think this is what all Christians think. But Jesus challenged religious bigotry & social custom that excluded.

It was not long before I was being challenged on Twitter to issue a Uniting Church statement condemning Jim Wallace’s remark.

This blog post is my personal response to those demands and to the debate that Jim Wallace’s tweet has stirred. I need to try keeping it succinct and so offer some dot points for information and consideration.

  • I was not impressed with Jim Wallace’s tweet but nor was I surprised. His views on gay rights and religious diversity are well known. I have previously debated him on the program Sunday Nights with John Cleary on ABC Radio on human rights.
  • I have been concerned for some time that while ACL says that it does not represent all Christians or speak for all the churches, the continuing engagement of many church leaders in ACL organised events feeds perceptions that ACL does. I am also concerned that our political leaders find it too easy and too convenient to regard it as some kind of de facto peak body. It is not.
  • UnitingJustice and the Uniting Church’s National Assembly have well known views on such issues as gay rights, human rights, religious freedom and diversity. Anyone who cares to read about them can see various media statements, submissions to government and other inquiries, and church resource material, for example, those produced in the lead-up to the last election, on the UnitingJustice Australia website www.unitingjustice.org.au.
  • I cannot unilaterally issue a public statement in the name of the Uniting Church. In fact, no-one can, not even the President or the synod (state) Moderators.
  • While the Uniting Church is not afraid to declare different positions to those of our ecumenical friends on social issues and matters of public policy, the Church’s councils and agencies do not engage in public arguments with Christian leaders or public figures. We try hard to keep the issues at the heart of the media stories, preferring not to feed the media’s obsession with Christian in-fighting.
  • The Uniting Church is deeply committed to its relationships with peoples of other faiths and works within the community to help build understanding, respect and acceptance.
  • While UnitingJustice supports and champions the rights of the GLBTI community in society and within the Church, and the Uniting Church as a whole is rightly regarded as the most gay-friendly mainstream denomination in the country, it is no secret that there are some in the Uniting Church who would prefer it to be otherwise.
  • It is also no secret that the official Uniting Church position on marriage is that it is for heterosexual couples only. This is not likely to be challenged any time soon but I am pretty sure (and hopeful) that one day it will be.

Now, specifically on Jim Wallace’s tweet, my reading of such sentiments is that they represent an ossified Christian theology that has very few resources to cope with the demands of a post-modern, globalised world. It is a theology that declares only one theological reading of our social world and so leads its adherents into a corner, fighting a rear-guard battle against the end of Christendom and social change in general. It is a theology that stands as a once and for all interpretation on Christian life and thought, failing to account for the fact that over the thousands of years of Judeo-Christian tradition, the Christian faith has survived because it is a living faith.

The Christian faith speaks of God’s indiscriminate and unconditional love for all people with stories that can and do travel to different peoples across cultures and throughout the ages. The stories have proved so powerful and enduring precisely because they are alive, open to constant reinterpretation in the light we what we continue to experience of ourselves and our world and our God. Because they speak to the deepest parts of our humanity they are stories, thank God, that will continue to live and grow with us as we learn and experience what it means to be human on this planet and what it means to be loved by a God of grace and justice.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EleniePoulos.

You can follow UnitingJustice Australia on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UnitingJustice.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on that ANZAC Day Twitter controversy

  1. I was urging for some sort of statement from the mainstream churches on Twitter. We do ourselves a disservice when ACL statements go unchallenged and get reported as if they are *the* Christian position. Maybe we need to fund a progressive Christian lobby group that would not need to trace every statement back to an Assembly resolution, as is rightly the case for those speaking on behalf of the UCA.

  2. Jim Wallace is wrong plain and simple. The ANZACS didn’t fight so I could have lamb on my barbie or shrimp or salmon for that matter. They fought so we would be free to live life as we choose to live it. So we would be able to have our say and not risk going to jail for it. So if someone is pushing for Gay marriage then all they are doing is exercising their right to free speech and the right to live their life the way they choose. Funny thing is the ANZACS also fought so Jim could be free to have his opinion even if it annoyed a hell of a lot of people.

  3. The problem I have is that the more moderate and mainstream christians _don’t_ speak up. As I said to you on twitter, if you’re silent, you let the Wallaces and Pells and Niles of the world claim the public mandate of Christianity in Australia. While I am a non-believer, I pretty much feel that the ethos of Jesus is actually not a bad way to live. Look after the weaker and more disadvantaged and all that. But right now, the extremists are the only ones with a public voice. I _know_ the Uniting Church does great work. But I’d like to see them also speak up against the hatemongers.

    (disclaimer: I attended a Uniting Church Sunday School as a child for quite a few years, am now a solid atheist, but would love to see more believers who actually stand up for the beliefs of the Gospels stand up and call out the crazies)

  4. Hi Elenie

    Great post. On this point:
    “I have been concerned for some time that while ACL says that it does not represent all Christians or speak for all the churches, the continuing engagement of many church leaders in ACL organised events feeds perceptions that ACL does. I am also concerned that our political leaders find it too easy and too convenient to regard it as some kind of de facto peak body. It is not.”

    What do you think we can do about this? I find it very frustrating. My (previous, liberal Anglican) church put on a screening of the leaders’ debate that ACL organised at a recent election (maybe 2007). I was really disappointed but felt like I was the only one. I just can’t see how Christians (unless they share Jim Wallace’s narrow theology) can participate in ACL things _at all_.

    Sounds like you otherwise had a great holiday 🙂
    Bron

  5. “I cannot unilaterally issue a public statement in the name of the Uniting Church. In fact, no-one can, not even the President or the synod (state) Moderators.” – No, but surely the President or Moderators can make public statements based on decisions of Assemblies and Synods? And there have been decisions made about the inclusion of GLBT people in the Uniting Church and the Church’s opposition to discrimination. Couldn’t something based on those be said?

    I’m sure that you, like me, have had conversations with young GLBT people who are worried that God hates them. I used to be puzzled by why people who didn’t attend church worried about that. But it’s because the views of people like Jim Wallace are presented in the media as ‘the’ Christian position, and vulnerable young people take that on board. We need to do more to challenge that perception.

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