Council of Presidents, graduate placements, bastardisation and secrets secrets secrets..

A post by Neil Hart on homosexuality, LGBT, lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

From this morning’s AGE…

What is called bastardisation involves rituals of separation — shedding identity through a ritual of humiliation — then incorporation, where a person passes the test and can join a new group. It’s about people giving up some of their old rights and allowing the group to exercise power over them, to demonstrate loyalty. The more a group feels set apart from others and imbued with a sacred mission, the more it will have cultures of initiation.

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I’ve been bastardised twice in my life. i think, to my shame,  ive been involved in bastardising others. I remember when i was about 12 years old we had a gang. Whenever someone wanted to join the gang we made them go through initiations. Why? Because we could. Because we had power and it felt good to exercise it.

In adult life i can remember two occasions where I have been bastardised. One was in the military. A group of us were going through a direct entry officer course. The course involved weapon training, some basic infantry skills, and familiarisation with the army culture. We were given rank and officer status as a privilege and because of the skills we brought to the army. i was a Minister of Religion training to become an Army Chaplain. On my course were Doctors, Dentists, Nurses and Accountants.

At one point in the course, we were deliberately set up to fail at something in front of a large number of other troops. it was public and it was embarrassing and it hurt. Everyone else had a good laugh and eventually we laughed along. What else could we do? It was part of the game. It was supposed to help us feel like insiders, like we had been initiated in some way. This had happened to others before. Certainly this type of thing had happened to those who were responsible for our training course. I have no doubt that they would have justified it with that age old impeccable logic…”It never did US any harm!”

But, it did harm them. Just as it harmed us. They did it because they could. It was senseless , it was an abuse of power and it was wrong.

The second time I experienced bastardisation was when I graduated from the seminary. Having gone through final year interviews in front of the Council of Presidents I fronted up to an office where i stood before the General President. I felt scared and totally powerless.  He then proceeded to tell me where in Australia or New Zealand I was about to take my family.

Like generations of graduates before me I had not been given any chance to voice my preferences. I had not been asked about any special family concerns or special needs that my wife or children may have had. All discussions and decisions had occurred behind closed doors and, although these discussions were to have an enormous effect on my family’s life i was not privy to any of them. Even when the decision was announced I was not given an opportunity to enquire as to their reasoning. When I did raise a couple of questions I was told to “Trust in God”.

Why did they think this particular placement was right for me? I will never know. I do know some things however.

1. There was no sensible reason for excluding my wife and I from the dicussion and decision.

2. The only logic behind the practise was that this is the way it is always done and as they no doubt said to each other and to themselves, “It never did US any harm!”.

3. They did it because they could.

Remember the definition of Bastardisation?

What is called bastardisation involves rituals of separation — shedding identity through a ritual of humiliation — then incorporation, where a person passes the test and can join a new group. It’s about people giving up some of their old rights and allowing the group to exercise power over them, to demonstrate loyalty


Thats what happened to my classmates and I when we graduated. As far as I know it is still happening today. Certainly a recent graduate told me that his experience was similar to mine.  If it continues today then it is a misuse of power, just as it always has been. It is senseless and it does do harm.

Wanna hear a funny story about my placement? Apparently ideas about me  had been brewing in people’s minds for some months before I graduated. (Not that i knew anything about it, of course). Strong preferences were being voiced from WA that i should return to this my home state to plant a new church in a developing area. Word got passed to the Seminary in Adelaide that I should attend a Church Planters weekend course which was being held in Melbourne. The principal mentioned to me that this course was happening, that i might like to attend and perhaps report back to the final year class on what i had learnt. He mentioned that there would be money available from a certain church fund to pay for travel and costs. Of course, there was no mention to me that this was actually critical training for my future job!

I contacted the fund administrator. He advised me that they were already funding a seminary student. A 3rd year had heard about the course and expressed an interest in attending. Could I perhaps ask that 3rd year student to report back to the final year class? Of course! One less weekend away from my famly. No problems. I contacted the other student and he was happy to do a presentation for our class.

I remember when I was told about my placement. Half time church planter, half time pastor   in my home congregation, the place i grew up in, the church I was married in and the place I left from to attend the seminary. My placement was slightly unusual to say the least. I remember my wife saying…”But the Bible says we should be willing to LEAVE home and family. It doesnt say anything about GOING BACK!” We were completely ready for the former… the latter came as somewhat of a shock. A couple more shocks were in store…

I found out that as well as being a half time Pastor of a busy congregation and a half time church planter, I was also to be pastor of a small congregation of mainly elderly people some 120 kms away from where i lived and…oh yeh,,, youth pastor for the district.

But….and here is the real joke in this funny story…the congregaton that called me, the congregation that put their vision and hopes and resources into planting a new church, understood that they were getting a specially trained church planter…lil ol’ me.

Not only is it a little laughable to assume that a weekend course was going to prepare anyone for the complexities of planting a new church, the joke just explodes into hilarious when one realises that, because of the church’s veil of secrecy over the placement of graduates…I never even went to that one course.

Dear…oh dear…funny?…I’m still wiping the tears from my eyes.

Im not posting this as a “poor Neil” story. Well…actually…yes i am. I want you all to feel terribly sorry for me. Those of you who feel sad enough for me are free to send condolence cheques and cash to my personal bank acount :)

But the real reason I have told this story is that it fits into the theme of “Church Secrets” that I have been pursuing. (Have a look at the links at the bottom of this post if you havent seen them yet). It seems to me that the practice of deliberately excluding graduates from discussions about their future is a misuse of power and fits the definition of bastardisation. Those who say, “It never did me any harm!” are wrong. We have all been harmed  by this to some extent.

In the traditional church calender it is the season of Epiphany. Its the season of light. Now is a good time to shine some light into the darker corners of our church and its practice of keeping secrets.

Here are those earlier posts…

You’re only as sick as your secrets. Is that why our church is so sick.


Happy New Year Pastor. Your Fired! Secrets Secrets Secrets Sectrets…

The LCA’s theological think tank and homosexuality.