Australian Lutheran Congregations and Schools at Risk of Loosing Safe Place Status.

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

Been a while reader. Sorry.

I havent been totally slothful in that time. I have been developing a series of 6 DVD based studies on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Lutheran Church for use in small or large group settings.   I have also been researching something  else that i think is important and immediate in the church/ gay  discussion.

Is discussion the right word? What do you call it when you try really hard to tell someone something and they block their ears and tell you to shut up and go away? Hmmmm…Interesting question. i guess it depends what you are saying to the person.

1. If you were calling them names…perhaps it would be called harassment.

2. If you were telling them that their house is on fire. It would be called citizenship.

3. If you were telling them to stop hurting someone…it would be called advocacy.

I certainly have had people tell me that what i write is no. 1. But what i have been researching will, I hope, be received as numbers 2 and 3. (Reader, if you are attempting to apply any toilet based humour to my references to No 1 and No 2 then, STOP IT! We are both wayyyy too mature to do that. Agreed? Good.  Lets move on)

I sent this letter to the Director of Lutheran Education Australia. He phoned me back as soon as he was able. We had a good discussion. I don’t think I have met the man but, in our discussion he struck me as one who spoke with compassion and common sense. He certainly took seriously the questions I had raised.

See Reader! And you thought there wasn’t anyone left like that in authority in the church.  HA! Silly you!

Anyway…Here is the letter. Its long but…hell…just read it anyway… This stuff is important.

Australian Lutheran Congregations and Schools at Risk of Loosing Safe Place Status.

To the Director Of Lutheran Education.

I write to you with a sense of urgency.

I have been researching LGBT issues in the Lutheran Church and have been campaigning for the LGBT people who are members of the church. In that time I have discovered that the Church, through its official agencies appear to be woefully ill prepared to provide a theological base for the pressing issue of change of public attitudes to homosexuality. The LCA Presidents submission to Federal Parliament and the submission of the head of the Church’s CSBQ show the unhelpful direction in which the church is heading.

My concerns are compounded by the fact that in my discussions with members of the CTICR I have come across a dogged determination to hold to poor research, out of date scientific opinion and discredited sources. I have been informed that although the CTICR had been charged with the responsibility of reviewing the Church’s statement on homosexuality which has been widely acknowledged as being out of date they will be recommending a restatement of the Church’s present theological stand at the next synod. I believe this gives concern for those responsible for the care of students in all Lutheran Schools in Australia.

The Theology of the LCA effects the practice of the church and its schools. When poor theology cause practices that are harmful to the young people in our care then it would be irresponsible, perhaps even negligent, for the officials of our church to not address the situation. I believe that we are in danger of such irresponsibility.

I would beg your indulgence to read carefully what I place before you in this email even though it is somewhat long. I apologize for this but it is difficult to present a case of such importance on an issue that is so complex and emotive in only a few words. I write because I have a passion for Lutheran Schools and their continued success. I have invested my time heavily in the establishment of Lutheran Schools in Western Australia and I write not to cause trouble or division but to assist in the continued success of Lutheran Education in Australia.

I am presently in contact with 2 LGBT young people who were students of my local Lutheran college in my time as both foundation pastor and chaplain. These students both speak of a homophobic environment and a very negative school experience. I feel so sad that I was a part of producing that environment and that they felt that they had no where to turn. I fear that their experience is suffered by LGBT students in Lutheran schools across Australia.

The Australian Government sponsored a study on the health and wellbeing of same-sex attracted and gender questioning (SSAGQ) young people. The report has been compiled by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society through Latrobe University. The reports are based on surveys compiled on 3 occasions with 6 year intervals (1998, 2004 and 2010). They are the most comprehensive analysis on the matter and have become a basic tool for health care professionals in the field.

The reports findings should be noted by religious institutions and schools.

The 2004 report states the following…

For those young people who were involved in religion, the struggle in coming to terms with a different sexuality appeared to be more fraught than for those who were not. Though we did not ask formal questions about religion, it came up in young people’s stories so often that we felt it should be included as a layer of influence in their lives. The difficulties occurred in three contexts: that of the religious school, the religious family and of the personal religious faith.

Popular culture brings with it taboos about same-sex attraction,though this has in recent years been changing and the taboos no longer have the support of many of society’s main institutions. Religion, and in the case of the young people in this study, Christianity, remains a last bastion of resistance to what is regarded in legal and health arenas as a normal part of human sexuality.

In many cases the rejection of their sexuality and the embracing of their religion left young people hating themselves. This is to be expected given that they found no positive positions within their religion for a same-sex attracted person… As one respondent noted, self-hatred is worse than hatred from others.

Education about the issues plays a crucial part in helping SSAGQ young people feel positive about themselves and in providing a school  environment that is as safe as possible for them.  The report states…

Understanding about homophobia and discrimination is important for young people because it can help them reframe negative messages about sexual difference to ways that describe a problem with the culture rather than with themselves, and this shift can help protect them from the negative impacts of homophobic abuse. This information has the power to decrease discriminatory attitudes and homophobic behaviour among young people who are opposite sex attracted.

The latest report in 2010 found the following.

Those who mentioned religion were: 

•         More likely to feel bad about their same sex attraction.

•          More likely to have experienced social exclusion or had to tolerate homophobic language from friends.

•          More likely to report homophobic abuse in the home.

•          More likely to report feeling unsafe at home.

•          More likely to not be supported by their mother, father, brother, teacher or student welfare coordinator/counsellor, when disclosing their SSA.

•          More likely to report thoughts of self harm and suicide or to carry out self harm.

The stories of SSAGQ young people who experience religion are those of young people on a difficult journey… SSAGQ young people who experience religion are often left to understand their sexuality alone with little, if any, information to help them. Our study discovered that SSAGQ young people who mentioned religion were more likely to report having never told significant people in their lives about their sexuality including their mothers, brothers, teachers, and student welfare coordinators/counsellors.

An individual does not need to experience a negative social reaction directly for them to feel fear or isolation; sometimes fear of an imagined negative sanction is more powerful than an actual assault. Disclosing ones same-sex attraction to family can be traumatic, especially if they are known to reject non-heterosexuality.  

The present position of the Lutheran Church of Australia, the position that will more than likely be restated at the next General Synod, is that while homosexual propensity is not of itself sinful, homosexual practise is sinful and disordered. The Church teaches that the only godly response for a young gay person is to either remain celibate,  to attempt to change their orientation or to act contrary to their natural sexual orientation through opposite sex relationships.

This is the problem that faces our church and our schools. The Church’s statements do not provide an atmosphere that permits a young gay person to accept and celebrate who they are as a child of God. Rather, it forces young gay people into attitudes of misplaced shame and guilt, secrecy, isolation and self-hatred.  The Church’s recommended responses for young gay people have been widely criticised by health care professionals as mentally distressing and harmful. These are no longer a matter of personal opinion. They are a matter of well researched, well documented and universally accepted scientific and medical fact and they are attested to by the findings of the Writing Themselves In reports.

The Victorian and South Australia state education offices have release papers which outline the importance of school communities and education in combating homophobia and making schools safe and healthy places for  SSAGQ young people. Their documentation shows a list of practices and strategies that are necessary to bring this about. As I read the documents I realized that Lutheran schools would not be able to implement a number of the key strategies because of the Church’s theological stand. Even if the some of the strategies were to be introduced the fact would still remain that the misguided theological foundations that undergird any practice would destin the desired outcome to failure.As Jesus said…A bad tree cannot produce good fruit.

The State Education Department documents can be found here. Please read the opening statement from the Writing Themselves In report and the top 2 documents under Resources.

http://decd.sa.gov.au/speced2/pages/bullying/homophobia/

In my discussion with the CTICR I was informed that the focus of their investigation was necessarily narrow meaning that they restricted themselves to what they considered to be purely theological and not social issues. I understand, therefore, that they are not taking into account the complex social situations faced by Lutheran educators across Australia and their findings will not at all be helpful to the LEAs desire to uphold the very best principles of education and care for all of its charges.If the LCAs present understanding on homosexuality were to be restated at the next synod then the schools of the Church will find themselves increasingly practically and legislatively out of step with the rest of the community.

The only reason that the schools of the church can operate with their present outdated and harmful attitude toward gay people is because they are exempted from State and Federal anti-discrimination laws. I am sure you are aware that these laws are regularly questioned and challenged. I do not believe that the church can rely on them being in place indefinitely. Even now, if challenged and placed under scrutiny, I doubt that our present legal exemptions would extend to protect the schools from continuing practices that have proven to be harmful to the SSAGQ young people in our care. 

If the Church were to simply restate its present stand on homosexuality then I believe it would force the schools of the church to adopt one of the following two positions.

The schools could decide to separate themselves from the theological statements of the church on homosexuality.

or…

The schools could accept that under the theology of the church they can no longer be considered safe places for SSAGQ young people and would need to take appropriate action to recommend placement of these students in other schools more suited to their needs.

I would recommend that the LEA commence urgent talks with the College of Presidents so that the decisions made at the next General Synod represent the very best outcome for all.

Thankyou for taking the time to read and consider this important matter. I look forward to hearing from you next week.

As I have been campaigning on behalf of the LGBT people in our church it has become my practice to make as public as possible all correspondence and documentation on the question of homosexuality and the church.  I do this to keep LGBT members and employees of the LCA as informed as possible with what is happening. I also do it in an attempt to combat what I believe to be an unhealthy attitude of secrecy that exists in our Church on this matter. As such, I intend to send a copy of this email to the College of Presidents, the CTICR, and as a mail out to all pastors and principals of the Church. I will refrain from doing this, however, until I have had a chance to talk to you.

Respectfully Yours

Pastor Neil Hart