Sydney Siege, #illridewithyou and Lutheran Pastors. Are We The Baddies?

I love comedian David Mitchell.

I love his soapbox. (Hello America!)

I love his rants

Yesterday I was reminded of my first ever David Mitchell comedy sketch.

First, some context.

I came across two separate articles arising from the terribly sad events surrounding the Sydney Siege, two flashes of light in what otherwise was a very dark day. The first was an article about #illridewithyo.

Brisbane woman Rachel Jacobs was riding the train as the events of the siege unfolded. Like many others on that train  she was scrolling through her phone looking for updates and details. She then noticed a woman in her carriage discretely remove her hijab obviously frightened by the possibility of public reprisals that might be directed at her. Rachel and the woman alighted at the same station. It was then that she approached the woman and said, “Ill walk with you”.

Rachel tweeted the story which was soon picked up by “Sir Tessa” who was on the No. 373 bus between Martin Place and Coogee. She offered to ride with anyone who was in religious attire and didn’t feel safe riding alone. Sir Tessa suggested a hashtag, #illridewithyou. Within minutes people from around Australia were offering the same. They tied scarves to their wrist so that they could be identified. They scribbled signs “ill ride with you” and stuck them to their brief cases. Within hours the hashtag had been retweeted more than 150 000 times.

As Michael James, one of the first to respond to Rachel’s original tweet, said…

This, this is what good people do.


The second flash of light came in an article about Tori Johnston, the 34yo manager of the Lindt Cafe who was killed trying to wrestle the gun away from the hostage taker. The article mentioned Tori’s parents and his partner of 14 years Thomas Zinn. They were being comforted at Tori and Thomas’s home. So, Tori was gay. But the article appropriately felt no need to make special mention of this.

That was the flash of light.

Here was a long and lasting love shared by two men, tragically broken. And those of us who read the story felt sorrow and sympathy for Thomas as naturally as we would have felt sorrow had his life’s partner been a woman. We are, it seems, beginning to come of age. There was no need to highlight the fact that this was a gay couple. This was simply a couple separated by tragedy and Tori’s family (Thomas and the Johnstons) are united in their love for Tori and in their shared grief.

Two flashes of light. Two signs that prejudice can be overcome, that love and sympathy can triumph over prejudice and fear.

Tori and Thomas

Tori and Thomas

But within hours the darkness had again descended in the form of  two Facebook posts from two Lutheran pastors.

First,  I saw a post which reminded me of a public meeting I attended earlier in the year with a pastor who has a gay son. Now, Reader, over the last few years I have read reports of how even the most conservative pastors and politicians have been forced into radical reassessments of their anti-gay attitudes when they discover that a family member is gay. This change of heart is understandable.  I imagine that it would be very hard to hold onto prejudice and fear of the alien “other” when one is confronted by the simple reality of the life and love of one’s own child.

And yet that is precisely what this pastor had done. Rather than allowing himself the grace of a change of heart he had decided to double down on his support for the Lutheran Church of Australia’s anti gay views.  In the meeting the pastor used a well known, disparaging and dehumanising term describing his own son’s love as a “lifestyle choice”.  Thank God that the Johnson’s did not dismiss Thomas in such a callous manner. Thank God they accepted and celebrated their son’s life and love. So now the Johnsons and Thomas can lean on each other in their grief the way that families are supposed to do.

The second dark reality was a little more chilling. A Lutheran Pastor had commented on an article in The Pickering Post.

An excerpt from the article…

Muslims don’t place the same value on life that we do. They live in an ethereal world of after-life rewards for martyrdom, where decapitating non-Muslims and debasing women is honorable, where raping young girls is lawful.
If Aussies want to feel safe when going for a coffee in future then the Islamic scourge must be faced, named, dealt with and eradicated.

The article is despicable and ignorant. Unfortunately, rather than condemning the article the pastor’s comments seemed to show tacit agreement.

Let all the militant Islamists leave the country to fight where they want and refuse them re-entry into Australia as extremists if they survive the holocausts they create. (comment dec 16 7.17am)

This pastor’s attitudes were already on display in the most recent parish newsletter published on his congregation’s website (albeit from 2010).

I hope (my words) echo the opinion of 94% of those who recently took part in a well represented opinion poll suggesting that Aussies want an Aussie culture which is free from repressive and un-Australian customs such as the burqa – not on religious grounds; but simply from the point of repressive clothing; and the danger of an opportunity for terrorism or identity concealment.

Why the pastor thought that such divisive words would be appropriate material for a parish newsletter is beyond me. They are certainly a far cry from the thoughts expressed in #illridewithyou


They sit close together on my Facebook page.

There is the article about #illridewithyou, a wonderful, spontaneous act of compassion that directed thousands toward good will and good deeds, an act that captured the imagination of the world.


There is the article of ignorance, violence and fear, the article brought to my attention and apparently supported by a Lutheran Pastor.

There is a family who have no time for ignorance and fear as they grieve the loss of a son and a brother and a lover and partner of 14 years.


There is a Lutheran Pastor who, in a public meeting, disparages his own son’s life and love as a “lifestyle choice”.

That, dear Reader leads me back to David Mitchell and that comedy sketch from years ago. As I reflected on the above, the judgemental and divisive voice of my own church’s representatives compared with a wider public voice that strives for compassion and understanding, I have to ask… are we the baddies?