Lutheran Church of Australia District Bishop Signs Potentially Harmful and Factually Distorted Letter to the Government.
Here are some facts. Facts are good. They have a way of separating those things that we think are true from those things that actually are true.
- 24% of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual and 36% of trans people meet the criteria for experiencing a major depressive episode compared with 6% of the general population.
- 15% of LGB and 20% of T people report CURRENT suicidal ideation. (Get that! 20% of them think they might want to kill themselves right now!)
- Up to 50% of trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their lives.
Same sex attracted Australians have up to 14x higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers.
- LGBT youth who are under the influence of Christian churches and colleges have much higher rates of suicidal ideation and depression than the rest of the LGBT population.
(The above figures are drawn from the papers listed in the footnotes of this article from lgbtihealth.org.au)
On 11 June an open letter was sent to the Prime Minister signed by the leaders of 38 Christian and Muslim organisations. The purpose of the letter was to express “grave concerns… regarding Bills that have or will be introduced into the Federal Parliament to change the definition of marriage in Australian law”.
The letter was co-signed by Rev Mark Lieschke Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia NSW District.
The letter continues the narrative that is now commonplace for many conservative Christians. They respond to the growing acceptance of homosexuality with fear rather than an analysis of facts. Their fear leads them to cry “persecution” where none in reality exists.
Bishop Lieschke’s letter states…
In overseas jurisdictions where the definition of marriage has been changed, the public manifestation of this belief has resulted in vilification and legal punishment of individuals and institutions.
There it is. Who are the victims in this whole debate? Not gay people who for generations have been marginalised, oppressed, criminalised, imprisoned, abused and bullied. Not gay people who at the hands of the church suffer shockingly increased rates of suicidal ideation and other mental health issues. Not gay people who are being told by the church that their love is not equal to that of a straight person. Not gay families who are being told by the church that they cannot have the same standing and respect as everyone else’s family.
No, the victims here are, of course, the Christians. (Sigh)
The letter lists 10 examples of this supposed “vilification and legal punishment” suffered by the Christians in the community. As I looked at the list I immediately recognised 6 of the 10 examples. I have closely followed the advancements of the LGBT cause over the last few years. In that time I have seen lots of reports by conservative Christians who claim that these advances have trampled on their religious freedoms. Again and again those reports have proven to be false.
So it is with these 6. Although I have not investigated the veracity of the remaining 4 cases I suspect that they too are fabrications or a manipulation of the truth.
Take, for example the first case of “vilification and legal punishment” mentioned in Bishop Lieschke’s letter.
The case refers to a couple, Don and Lynn Knapp, who operated a limited liability, for-profit wedding business called the “Hitching Post” in the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Although the Knapps classified themselves as “Ministers of Religion” their website stated that, for a fee, they provided civil ceremonies and ceremonies for people of other faiths.
In 2013 the city expanded their non-discrimination legislation to include protections for LGBT people. Anyone who operates a business in Coeur d’Alene is prohibited by law from discriminating against customers on the basis age, race, religion, gender disability or sexuality. A business owner is not allowed to refuse to serve someone just because that person is a for example a Jew, a woman, an African American or gay.
Not-for-profit religious organisations are exempt from these laws.
The Knapps made enquiries to the City who confirmed that because they were a for-profit business and not a religious organisation they would be subject to the non-discrimination laws.
Following their enquiries, the Knapps, registered themselves as a not-for-profit religious organisation and changed their website to remove references to “civil” and “other faith” ceremonies. Then, together with the Alliance Defending Freedom ( a law firm attached to national conservative Christian lobby groups) they filed a law suit against the City.
The City were surprised by the suit. They had received no complaint against the Knapps and had no plans to prosecute them. They were unaware that the Knapps had changed their status to that of a religious organisation. They confirmed that as a registered religious organisation the Knapps were now specifically exempted from the cities non-discrimination ordinance.
A copy of the letter from the city attorney’s office confirming the above can be seen here.
This is how Bishop Lieschke’s letter put the case.
The City of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, ordered Christian ministers to perform same-sex weddings under threat of 180 days’ imprisonment for each day the ceremony is not performed and fines of $1000 per day.
This statement is a disgraceful distortion of the facts of the case.
The other cases listed in the letter are of that ilk. (1)
Perhaps I can send a letter of my own in support of the LGBT people in our church.
Dear Bishop Lieschke.
About 10% of the people in your Dsitrict are either gay or have close family members who are gay. Your letter has real consequences for these people, people you are supposed to represent, people you are supposed to care for and pastor.
You must be aware that letters such as the one you signed further marginalise and hurt the gay people in your care. You are , in effect, telling them that their relationships, their love and their families are unacceptable and “less than”. Such hurtful words from church leaders adds to the social mix that creates the shocking mental health outcomes for LGBT people mentioned at the start of this blog.
Furthermore, if you write a letter urging the government to prohibit societal recognition and support for gay families by allowing marriage equality, well, that is one thing. But when, in that letter, you present YOURSELF as the real victims in all of this then you embarrass me and the other members of the LCA that you represent.
If in future you feel compelled to put your name to similar letters then at least get someone competent to fact check what has been put in front of you to sign. Otherwise you run the risk of confirming what your gay parishioners and their families might already suspect: That your views are reactionary and prejudiced and you are willing to believe any story that feeds the anti-gay narrative of fear.
Yours in sadness and disillusionment,
I have written to the NSW District Office inviting the Bishop to comment.
If any readers have heard sermons or read articles, by Australia Lutheran pastors or church leaders that are hurtful to our Lutheran LGBT brothers and sisters then please let me know about them. You can include a comment below or email me at email@example.com. Its time to speak up on behalf of the LGBT community in our church. It is time to make pastors accountable for the damage their words cause.
(1) I have already written about another one of the 10 examples of supposed “vilification and legal punishment” here . Each of the other examples would require 1000 words of explanation and that is not possible to do in the one post. I would be happy to write further on those examples if anyone is interested.