Painting for Freedom: some happenings with Richard Kidd

I’ve previously mentioned that next month Richard Kidd, Anne Mallaby, and myself will be teaching an intensive unit on theology and the arts. I’m really looking forward to being part of what is shaping up to be a great week of learning. (Spaces are still available for anyone keen to be involved.)

In addition, Richard Kidd will be exhibiting some of his work at Chapel on Station Gallery, in Box Hill. The exhibition will be accompanied by three related events:

Thursday 8 September, 1830–2000: Official Opening and Book Launch (with drinks, nibbles, and poetry).

Sunday 11 September, 1630–1830: Conversation and Cake. Richard Kidd and Anne Mallaby invite you to explore art and theology … and cake.

Tuesday 20 September, 1800–2000: Art & Justice: Creative Voices of Liberation. Richard will talk upon the work of Freeset in Kolkata, and his new Charitable Trust, ‘Painting for Freedom’.

All events are free and will take place at Chapel on Station Gallery, cnr Station St & Ellingworth Pde, Box Hill.

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‘No longer male and female’: a note on gender, Christian community, and the intersex condition

april-none-of-the-aboveA guest post by Andie Hider

In June last year, I was invited to attend a conference held by the Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group at which was discussed the vexed issue of how to treat a group of infants born with a particular group of genetic conditions. Present at the conference were surgeons, endocrinologists, and other medical specialists from some of Australia’s leading children’s hospitals, representatives from support groups that support parents of infants, and people born with the conditions, as well as ethicists and the current and former Chief Justices of the Family Court of Australia.

Earlier last year, in March, I shared my story growing up with one of these conditions with my congregation. My best friend, a devoted Christian, and friend of hers, who is a Deacon with whom I had shared my story long before, were amongst those visiting our congregation on that day to give me moral support. Standing up and telling my story living with my genetic condition is something I am very used to doing, but standing up and telling my story to my own faith community made me very nervous and was the reason for the moral support present on that day.

By now you may be asking yourselves what could be so complex, so difficult to treat, about these particular genetic conditions that would warrant such a formidable gathering of medical and legal expertise? What could possibly be so awful in the medical suffering I faced that telling my story to my own faith community would need the moral support I had? The answer to both of those questions is there is nothing medical about these genetic conditions that demands that sort of attention and fear. No, the difficulty faced here in both situations is a social problem.

The genetic condition I was born with is called an Intersex condition and, without wanting to get into complex discussions about genetics and embryonic development, it quite simply means I was born biologically both male and female. There are thousands of people like me in Australia, millions across the world, and the conditions and the people born with them have been around since the dawn of God’s creation. The problem is that for thousands of years we have not understood the conditions, and then once we understood them we did our best to hide the people with them away.

Society has spent so much time neatly dividing God’s creation up into male and female that once we realised there were plants, animals, and people who did not fit into one of our categories we didn’t know what to do with them. Throughout history people with Intersex conditions have either been humiliated, put on public display as curiosities, or, in some cultures, given specific ‘elevated’ roles in society (most often as shaman or healers) that allowed them to be set apart from others. As a result of this history the medical profession has been forced into the position they make a ‘best guess’ about the gender a child with an Intersex condition should be raised.

Placing the medical profession in the position they must make a decision on behalf of a child who is not yet old enough to speak their mind about who they are is unfair. The reason for the gathering of medical and legal expertise at the Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group conference is because things have now come to a difficult place. A decision about gender of rearing is often reinforced medically and irreversibly and if it is wrong the later consequences for that child and their family are horrific. Medical professionals and support groups are then again left to work with the families to try to pick up the pieces of the resulting harm to that child. As a result of this, and because of law suits brought against hospitals and medical practitioners, the Family Court has had to become involved in protecting the rights of the children involved. Conspicuous by their absence at the conference to discuss such an important and vulnerable group were our Christian leaders and we need to ask ourselves why that is?

‘Male’ and ‘female’ are words, part of human language and our attempt to reduce God’s creation to a level we can understand in our human simplicity. Once God created Eve, regardless of how you personally believe that came to be, God gave us the gift of creating life. God also meant for the beauty of creation to be realised in all of God’s forms. Creating Eve from one of Adam’s ribs would also have meant that Eve, our greatest of mothers, had some male in her and was by medical definition Intersex. We live in a world of striking and wonderful creations of God where we marvel at the diversity of plant and animal life we are privileged to enjoy. We are not the masters of God’s creation, and nor are we some immutable caretakers of that creation; we are part of it.

The reason our Christian leaders were not part of the conference is because we are part of the problem, not the solution. There is a very public debate about the issue of ‘gay marriage’ going on at the moment, and central to the debate is the oft-cited statement ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman’. Apart from the artificial line we have created to try to reduce God’s creation to our level of understanding, there is no division between male and female. God saw to that when He created Eve from Adam. Male and female are attributes and we all have some mix of both and we all fit somewhere along a spectrum.

Every time a Christian leader or one of our politicians makes the statement about marriage being between a man and a woman they are reinforcing a statement that science and medicine has long understood to be untrue. Worse than that, every time we make a statement about male and female in that way we keep doctors and infants with Intersex conditions and their families trapped in a circle of shame, secrecy, and hurt. Every time we make a statement about male and female in that way we force the Family Court to have to intervene in the lives of families that have enough to cope with. Every time we make that statement we deny God’s wonder and the diversity of creation, and reduce it to something merely human and insignificant.

Worst of all, every time we make a statement that God created man and woman to reinforce the view there is some inviolate division between them, people with Intersex conditions or parents of infants with the conditions that need our support turn away from our churches and our faith because we turn them away. We, Christians, limit and deny God’s creation and turn other Christians away from our church by making them feel unwelcome and misunderstood. A friend of mine that helps run our support group and has the same condition I do is also a member of the Uniting Church. There will be other members of our church that either have the conditions or are parents of an infant or child with an Intersex condition. When was the last time that one of them spoke to anyone reading this about the trials they are facing because God created them in a way that we, as human beings, are unable to accept because it would mean admitting that we cannot define God’s creation in human terms?

We as Christians should be at the forefront of helping understand God’s creation in all of its wonderful diversity. We should not be adding to the discomfort and shame and misunderstanding of people born with Intersex conditions by taking a hard, and incorrect, stance about God’s creation in our over-enthusiasm to define something that cannot be defined by us, but only by God. Our leadership should be part of the discussion about supporting infants with Intersex conditions and their parents, not excluding us because we add to the problem. We are challenged as Christians to welcome all who believe in Christ as our savior into our Christian family, and to understand, accept, and love them. We cannot do these things if we refuse to acknowledge some people even exist because they are the living proof our binary construct of male and female is wrong. It should not be that hard for us because we have grappled with the concept of a triune God since the beginnings of our faith.

‘Children’s Song’

Pat Scala

We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.

– R. S. Thomas

[Image: Pat Scala/SMH]

With Martha Nussbaum, the ‘Captain of Her Soul’

Martha Nussbaum.jpg

Rachel Aviv’s piece on Martha Nussbaum, published in The New Yorker, really is a wonderful read:

“To be a good human being,” [Nussbaum] has said, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered” …

For a society to remain stable and committed to democratic principles, [Nussbaum] argued, it needs more than detached moral principles: it has to cultivate certain emotions and teach people to enter empathetically into others’ lives …

Last year, Nussbaum had a colonoscopy. She didn’t want to miss a workday, so she refused sedation. She was thrilled by the sight of her appendix, so pink and tiny. “It’s such a big part of you and you don’t get to meet these parts,” she told me. “I love that kind of familiarization: it’s like coming to terms with yourself.”

The Danger of Outsourcing Morality

Jonathan SacksSome characteristically thoughtful words here from Jonathan Sacks in his acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize:

A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom … At some point the West abandoned this belief …

Morality itself was outsourced to the market. The market gives us choices, and morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire. The result is that we find it increasingly hard to understand why there might be things we want to do, can afford to do, and have a legal right to do, that nonetheless we should not do because they are unjust or dishonourable or disloyal or demeaning: in a word, unethical. Ethics was reduced to economics … [And] having reduced moral choice to economics, we transferred the consequences of our choices to politics.

And it seemed to work, at least for a generation or two. But by now problems have arisen that can’t be solved by the market or the state alone …

You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away …

But the West has, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa in Frozen, “Let it go”. It has externalised what it once internalised. It has outsourced responsibility. It’s reduced ethics to economics and politics. Which means we are dependent on the market and the state, forces we can do little to control. And one day our descendants will look back and ask, How did the West lose what once made it great?

Every observer of the grand sweep of history, from the prophets of Israel to the Islamic sage Ibn Khaldun, from Giambattista Vico to John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell to Will Durant, has said essentially the same thing: that civilisations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being in the first place. It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West. The sure signs are these: a falling birthrate, moral decay, growing inequalities, a loss of trust in social institutions, self-indulgence on the part of the rich, hopelessness on the part of the poor, unintegrated minorities, a failure to make sacrifices in the present for the sake of the future, a loss of faith in old beliefs and no new vision to take their place. These are the danger signals and they are flashing now.

There is an alternative: to become inner-directed again. This means recovering the moral dimension that links our welfare to the welfare of others, making us collectively responsible for the common good. It means recovering the spiritual dimension that helps us tell the difference between the value of things and their price. We are more than consumers and voters; our dignity transcends what we earn and own. It means remembering that what’s important is not just satisfying our desires but also knowing which desires to satisfy. It means restraining ourselves in the present so that our children may have a viable future. It means reclaiming collective memory and identity so that society becomes less of a hotel and more of a home. In short, it means learning that there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future. If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.

One can read the full lecture here.

[Image: source]

On becoming an anti-communist

Bolsheviks‘My political identity was shaped by the Holocaust. At first this drew me naturally to the left. However, because of my reading about the historical crimes of Stalin and the contemporary crimes of Mao Zedong, and because of the influence of two teachers, Vincent Buckley and Frank Knopfelmacher, during my undergraduate days I was gradually drawn into the anti-communist movement. There were two main reasons why people became anti-communists in those days. The first was geopolitical: because they believed the future of the world would be determined by the outcome of the Cold War that was being fought between Communism and Democracy. The second was moral: because of the crimes of Stalin and of Mao. For my part, I did not become an anti-communist because of the Cold War. In 1970, I marched against Australia’s participation in the United States–led Vietnam War. I became an anti-communist because only the anti-communist intelligentsia seemed to speak of the mass killings associated with Stalin and with Mao in an appropriate moral register.

Between the time I was preparing for my matriculation exams in October 1965 and the time I arrived at the University of Melbourne in March 1966, some 500,000 Indonesians were slaughtered. During my undergraduate days there was no discussion of the murders. We were preoccupied by the Vietnam War. As I know now, the American and Australian governments supported the murders through aid and silence, principally for questionable foreign-policy reasons. The threat of Chinese aggression, especially at the time of the Sino–Soviet schism, was vastly overblown. The anti-communist intelligentsia offered their governments full support. It is of course possible, perhaps even likely, that if the Indonesian communists had come to power a different kind of tragedy might have occurred. But can it seriously be maintained, as many anti-communist defenders of the Western policy in Indonesia did then and still do, that acquiescence in the murder of half a million civilians on political grounds can be justified by speculations about possible events in the future?

If I had known then what I know now, while my attitude to the crimes of communism would have been no different, I hope I would have had sufficient judgement to have given the anti-communist movement a far wider berth’.

– Robert Manne, ‘Rivers ran red: Indonesia’s mass killings have been overlooked for 50 years

On the seductive fallacy of the ‘safe’ classroom

violenceAlmost every semester, I remind my students that I have three general expectations for any particular class. I couch these in terms of joy, formation, and community. In regards to the latter, I note my expectation that we will learn together. Studying theology is a challenging exercise, but I hope and expect that there will be a growing awareness among my students that theology is the responsibility and work undertaken by a hermeneutical community. Part of this entails that students feel a measure of safety in the classroom, that the learning environment be a place where their learnings and reflections are welcomed. No one learns while feeling threatened or in a place where one is constantly on the defence, or on the charge. Any classroom can be a perilous place as much as it can be a gift, a place where we grow frustrated with and mistrusting of one another, a place where we can learn the disgraceful habits of competition and soon forget that the texts we employ, and the ideas we share, are not part of some intellectual game but rather represent our efforts to think faithfully about the narratives of divine love. I believe that the story of God is the most beautiful of stories, and we learn it best when we learn in such a way that that beauty finds form in our learning together.

But there is another side to all this. For if the learning environment is merely safe, it is unlikely that anyone will learn anything at all. Teaching calls for a kind of necessity for violence – a kind of violence against our dearly-beloved ideas and convictions, for example – apart from which the kind of expectations I have in my teaching cannot be reached. Thus there is a real sense in which I hope that my students will not feel safe at all. For there seems little point in undertaking theological study unless one is willing to have one’s ideas interrogated, challenged, transformed, changed. Real learning is always a kind of repentance, with all of the risk and pain in the arse that such entails. It may also, as George Steiner has noted, ‘take us as near as is possible to the concept of resurrection’. In this sense, I invite my students to resist with all their might the seductive fallacy of the ‘safe’ classroom and what Ilan Stavans recently called the ‘façade for overprotectiveness’. ‘Being in class’, Stavans writes, ‘doesn’t bring salvation. Instead, it plunges you into the contradictions that shape our lives. Safety is a basic principle of education: Knowledge results from trust, and trust comes from care. Yet whether we like it or not, violence is an unavoidable feature, our constant companion. Nature without violence is a contradiction’.

‘Fidelity and betrayal are close knit’ (Steiner) in any community, classrooms included.

Musings on Ministry and Theological Education

Anne MallabyA guest post from Anne Mallaby

Coming to the end of a formal pastoral leadership at Box Hill Baptist Church creates a moment to reflect upon ministry as it has been experienced in the local church context, and in my involvement in theological education within the formal educative process. Often this may have appeared to be a dance between separate spheres of academic theology and its practical outworking that could be at best considered a tension, and at worst placed as polarities. However, for me the concluding of formal pastoral leadership responsibilities does not mean that my love for the church as it strives to express the love of God in the world will stop. It continues, albeit in a different mode but contributing to both in ways that hopefully serve the realm of God expressed locally and more broadly.

For many years, I have lived out a model of ministry that sought to apply academic thought to practice by intentionally considering how academic thinking informs my practice, and, in turn, how my practice prompts more rigorous examination and understanding. The conversation between the two has provided a rich base for ministry, with experience informing theological thinking and the resources of the academy enriching my pastoral practice. I’ve delighted in that interesting dialogue that takes seriously the challenges of engaging with people, religious systems, and social phenomena, and that seeks to reflect theologically upon them. And, in truth, I’ve never been tempted to see this conversation as a one-sided one. We need the academy to distil the social data, the sources of our tradition, and the richness of our text. And the academy needs the practitioner to ask the questions, to prompt the exploration, to seek understanding. This has never been an either/or approach. The academy and the practice of ministry delight together in a dance that rises and falls, seeking to catch the rhythm of God with us.

Often when we turn our attention to intentional rigorous thought, searching to make sense of the many conundrums that come our way in ministry, we shy away from thinking of this as academic research. But to truly grapple with issues that lay before us, we need to understand deeply and fully as much as we can. If ministry on the run is our sole approach, we are likely to run full headlong into complex situations that have been over-simplified or run away from the opportunities for rich learning and engagement that will inform how we live.

I’ve needed the rigor of the academy to make sense of my practice, to stimulate my thinking, and to prompt me to extend my ideas and practice. But there is a compromise of resourcing and time. Trying to be abreast of the most current thinking, responding thoughtfully and intelligently to trends and contemporary questions, requires thinking through the implications and considering fresh paradigms of thought with as much energy as we can gather. We need the means of gathering that research and the skills to interpret it within our contexts, and we need people who have those skills and the time to support us in this endeavour.

Of course, we are all practitioners. We engage in community life with real people seeking to live well in God. We are practitioner-theologians in one sense. That said, we can’t all be on top of everything, and if we are to delight in new discoveries and to be open to new insights in our learning, then time and space need to be available for this. If I’m honest, even keeping up with the latest research is a challenge, let alone contributing to it!

As my formal ministry leadership role in a local church comes to an end, the question may be asked if I have sold out to the desire to live in books and ideas? This is not only a simplistic view of the Academy; it is flawed. Just as I’ve needed the rigor of academy to offer input and clarity along the way, so too I will need the community of God to raise up some of the questions that are important and that need to be explored. We all need people who have the capacity to discern clearly and to think deeply about important subjects that inform our living.

I am committed to informed and integrative learning as the way forward for our churches and our formational programs. And being informed requires thoughtful, intentional, attention to research and discovery. I’m excited to be a part of a team who are committed to doing this together.

§

Ed. Some related posts can be read here and here.

 

The political realm as a place of spiritual decision

Plato's Symposium - Anselm Feuerbach

‘The weightiest criticisms of Christian speech and practice amount to this: that Christian language actually fails to transform the world’s meaning because it neglects or trivializes or evades aspects of the human. It is notoriously awkward about sexuality; it risks being unserious about death when it speaks too glibly and confidently about eternal life; it can disguise the abiding reality of unhealed and meaningless suffering. So it is that some of those most serious about the renewal of a moral discourse reject formal Christian commitment as something that would weaken or corrupt their imagination. It may equally be that a Church failing to understand that the political realm is a place of spiritual decision, a place where souls are made and lost, forfeits the authority to use certain of its familiar concepts or images in the public arena’.

– Rowan Williams

Galarrwuy Yunupingu on leadership

Galarrwuy Yunupingu

Every now and then an essay is written that will probably be read for decades, an essay that risks the invitation to change the way whitefellas view the world and their place in it. This piece by Galarrwuy Yunupingu may be one of those.

One of the recurring themes that emerges throughout the essay is that of leadership. At one point, Dr Yunupingu describes an action of a great ancestor Ganbulapula:

This action was both stunning and brilliant, and it lifted people’s eyes from the mire of disorder, disagreement and bitter division. In that unprecedented throwing of the decorated log coffin, that unexpected shift into a new context, a new network of cultural meaning was created – a new future was believed in. The action generated the possibility of a future different from the past. Bitter division was healed by way of bold, confident leadership.

What a extraordinary description of what good leadership can be about! (Most of us, I suspect, are more familiar with management than we are real leadership.)

On the subject of political leadership, the author offers these timely words:

I live in the total knowledge that politics is a business that runs hot and cold every time a new office holder comes to Canberra (and Darwin), and they have to find some answers to what they can do in their time. Three years is such a short time, and politicians are under pressure to do something instead of biting their fingernails and having no solutions.

Aboriginal people need to understand that the government of the day will always seek to justify itself, protect itself and get its reputation straight. Its members will worry about their jobs and about saying things that will keep them in the good books with their electors, who are mainly white people. And those people will often have little good to say about Aboriginal people; when the voters do talk to their politicians they may want something from us or have some problem with us, because we are not like them. And this adds to the worry of politicians who are most of all concerned about whether they will be re-elected. That’s their first commitment. That’s the real situation. So the only way through it is for a politician to risk prestige with the voters to make the achievement, and to believe that an outcome can be good for all concerned.

This type of sacrifice from strength is the key to leadership. My father had to sacrifice much, too much, to reconcile his life with the ways of the modern world. But he did so. What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are, and not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are – Aboriginal people in a modern world – and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past had thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people – our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way …

Kevin Rudd, like prime ministers before and after him, acknowledged my leadership and made promises to my people. Tony Abbott made the same promises and came and lived on my land at Gulkula, and from there he ran the government for five or six days. Both were decent and respectful men. All the prime ministers I have known have been friendly to me, but I mark them all hard. None of them has done what I asked, or delivered what they promised. I asked each one to be truthful and to honestly recognise the truth of history, and to reconcile that truth in a way that finds unity in the future. But they are who they are and they were not able or not permitted to complete their task. For a prime minister is beholden to his party and to the parliament, which in turn is held by the Australian people. And the Australian people seem to disapprove of my simple truths, or the idea of proper reconciliation. The Australian people do not wish to recognise me for who I am – with all that this brings – and it is the Australian people whom the politicians fear. The Australian people know that their success is built on the taking of the land, in making the country their own, which they did at the expense of so many languages and ceremonies and songlines – and people – now destroyed. They worry about what has been done for them and on their behalf, and they know that reconciliation requires much more than just words.

So the task remains: to reconcile with the truth, to find the unity and achieve the settlement. A prime minister must lead it and complete it. The leader of the nation should accept his or her commission and simply say what he or she thinks is right, and put that forward for the nation to correct, or to accept, or to reject. Let us have an honest answer from the Australian people to an honest question.

This vision, this challenge, this way of reading the world, does not emerge out of a vacuum. It is in every way non-novel, the fruit of millennia of song cycles which, as Yunupingu describes it, both tell of a person’s life and serve as ‘the universities of our people, where we hone and perfect our knowledge’. This seems to me to speak of not only the ways that our identities are grounded in story – that we are, in fact, storied peoples – but also of the fact that such stories are characterised by both the burdens and liberties of receiving, carrying, and then passing on traditions that are always dynamic and marked with the hope that makes life bearable. Whether or not our futures lay in the direction of our past, it seems that our futures can never be about an escape from the past. The best of our leaders, such as Yunupingu himself, get this. As he writes earlier on in the piece:

As a man reaches the final points in his journey it is then for others to do the singing. Others must take the lead, acknowledge him and guide him. If there is unfinished business it is no longer for that man to carry that business; others who have taken responsibility and who have taken leadership must then bear the burden of creation. The future is theirs, to be taken by them, crafted along the terms set by law as given to us by those that have come before. And failure will be theirs also, to own and bear witness to if they fail.

I have lived my song cycle and I have done what I can to translate the concepts of the Yolngu world into the reality of my life. I have endured much change and seen many different faces – I have watched both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders move in and out. And of course I have mixed feelings when I reflect on my life’s work. I feel a deep sadness at times, yet I know that I have done much that is useful. I know that I have secured my family’s birthright – we will not drift off with the tide; we will stand and endure, and our names will pass down through the decades and the centuries. Yunupingu means “the rock that stands against time”, and so be it. But I think always of what has been lost around me against what endures. It is a form of torture for a Yolngu person to see the loss of our life: every word, every note, every slip in the song is pain; every patch of land taken; every time an outsider takes control from Yolngu; every time we compromise; and every time we lose something or someone. I tell my family to stand strong and endure, stay within the guidelines of our law, stay with the song cycles and be armed with this knowledge so as to secure for our people our lands, our way of life and our place in the world.

These are just some snippets of what really is a remarkable essay, the entirety of which you can read here.

Australia’s offshore detention system and the Journal of Medical Ethics

Offshore detentionJulian Burnside has drawn attention to four recently-published articles on Australia’s offshore detention system. They appeared in the Journal of Medical Ethics, and they contribute to a significant and growing body of academic literature on what is a far cry from being a merely academic subject:

ABSTRACT: Australian immigration detention has been identified as perpetuating ongoing human rights violations. Concern has been heightened by the assessment of clinicians involved and by the United Nations that this treatment may in fact constitute torture. We discuss the allegations of torture within immigration detention, and the reasons why healthcare providers have an ethical duty to report them. Finally, we will discuss the protective power of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as a means of providing transparency and ethical guidance.

ABSTRACT: Australian immigration detention centres are in secluded locations, some on offshore islands, and are subject to extreme secrecy, comparable with ‘black sites’ elsewhere. There are parallels between healthcare professionals working in immigration detention centres and healthcare professionals involved with or complicit in torture. In both cases, healthcare professionals are conflicted between a duty of care to improve the health of patients and the interests of the government. While this duality of interests has been recognised previously, the full implications for healthcare professionals working in immigration detention have not been addressed. The Australian Government maintains that immigration detention is needed for security checks, but the average duration of immigration detention has increased from 10 weeks to 14 months, and detainees are not informed of the progress of their application for refugee status. Long-term immigration detention causes major mental health problems, is illegal in international law and arguably fulfils the recognised definition of torture. It is generally accepted that healthcare professionals should not participate in or condone torture. Australian healthcare professionals thus face a major ethical dilemma: patients in immigration detention have pressing mental and physical health needs, but providing healthcare might support or represent complicity in a practice that is unethical. Individual healthcare professionals need to decide whether or not to work in immigration detention centres. If they do so, they need to decide for how long and to what extent restrictive contracts and gagging laws will constrain them from advocating for closing detention centres.

The compromised nature of healthcare has now been well documented along with the pervasive nature of dual agency (or dual loyalty) obligations, between that of patients, the immigration department and other contractors. This has only served to restrict and distort the nature of healthcare and limit clinicians in their roles with healthcare frequently subverted to other policy goals. Accountability is obscured and oversight is limited with arrangements that attempt to divest responsibility from the immigration department. At best clinicians are required to navigate ethically fraught terrain where they frequently have to compromise what may be ideal or even generally accepted treatment, at worst this promotes conduct that is clearly unethical. Along with the detention environment this all serves to curtail what benefits may usually be gained from treatment. These issues have played out in a more acute form in off-shore detention where there has been a number of examples of the immigration department intervening in medical transfers and treatment recommendations.

Sadly and justifiably, regardless of the final results of this past weekend’s federal election, those illegally detained in Australia’s offshore detention centres can expect nothing to change. We are being governed by xenophobic dragons with little regard either for the rule of law or for human decency.

‘Tenebrae’, by Geoffrey Hill

Tenebrae

He was so tired that he was scarcely able to
hear a note of the songs: he felt imprisoned
in a cold region where his brain was numb
and his spirit was isolated.

1

Requite this angel whose
flushed and thirsting face
stoops to the sacrifice
out of which it arose.
This is the lord Eros
of grief who pities
no one; it is
Lazarus with his sores.

2

And you, who with your soft but searching voice
drew me out of the sleep where I was lost,
who held me near your heart that I might rest
confiding in the darkness of your choice:
possessed by you I chose to have no choice,
fulfilled in you I sought no further quest.
You keep me, now, in dread that quenches trust,
in desolation where my sins rejoice.
As I am passionate so you with pain
turn my desire; as you seem passionless
so I recoil from all that I would gain,
wounding myself upon forgetfulness,
false ecstasies, which you in truth sustain
as you sustain each item of your cross.

3

Veni Redemptor, but not in our time.
Christus Resurgens, quite out of this world.
‘Ave’ we cry; the echoes are returned.
Amor Carnalis is our dwelling-place.

4

O light of light, supreme delight;
grace on our lips to our disgrace.
Time roosts on all such golden wrists;
our leanness is our luxury.
Our love is what we love to have;
our faith is in our festivals.

5

Stupefying images of grief-in-dream,
succubae to my natural grief of heart,
cling to me, then; you who will not desert
your love nor lose him in some blank of time.
You come with all the licence of her name
to tell me you are mine. But you are not
and she is not. Can my own breath be hurt
by breathless shadows groaning in their game?
It can. The best societies of hell
acknowledge this, aroused by what they know:
consummate rage recaptured there in full
as faithfulness demands it, blow for blow,
and rectitude that mimics its own fall
reeling with sensual abstinence and woe.

6

This is the ash-pit of the lily-fire,
this is the questioning at the long tables,
this is true marriage of the self-in-self,
this is a raging solitude of desire,
this is the chorus of obscene consent,
this is a single voice of purest praise.

7

He wounds with ecstasy. All
the wounds are his own.
He wears the martyr’s crown.
He is the Lord of Misrule.
He is the Master of the Leaping Figures,
the motley factions.
Revelling in auguries
he is the Weeper of the Valedictions.

8

Music survives, composing her own sphere,
Angel of Tones, Medusa, Queen of the Air,
and when we would accost her with real cries
silver on silver thrills itself to ice.

– Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016)

Should Christians support anti-discrimination legislation? Some very inadequate and provisional scribbles

non discriminationPolitics is messy, as messy as is the human muddle itself. For people of faith, discerning how one ought best participate in that mess – or whether to participate in it at all, an act which itself actually represents a kind of participation – is typically characterised by a similar pattern of ambiguity and oddness that is unavoidable. This is no less so for those who follow Jesus.

Today, I happened across a strange post arguing why Christians in Australia ‘can’t vote Greens’. Its author, Andrew, an Anglican minister, is troubled by the fact that one of the country’s main political parties is championing anti-discrimination legislation. He believes that this equates to the Greens advocating for a kind of totalitarianism that is fundamentally at odds with the practice of following one’s conscience. He proceeds to argue, very strangely indeed, that ‘amongst the first political commitments of Christians, following Jesus’ words, is to a pluralist state’. The words of Jesus to which he refers are those recorded in Matthew 22: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s’.

The argument goes that a Christian cannot support the Greens on the grounds that the Greens have a policy that prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. The facts, it seems, are a little less clear cut than Andrew suggests. The amendment that the former Australian Greens senator and social justice lawyer Penny Wright put before the parliament argued that the ‘religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act strike the wrong balance between freedom of religion and protection from arbitrary discrimination’, an acknowledgement that the weighing up of rights is always a very difficult task indeed. So too Penny Wong, a Christian and Labor Party senator, once noted that the government must seek ‘to balance the existing law and the practice of religious exemptions with the principle of non-discrimination’. I read in these calls a challenge to keep that conversation a live one. Wright’s statement reads, in part:

Freedom of religion is an important human right. However, religious bodies should not have a free pass to discriminate. The Sex Discrimination Act as it stands gives broad exemptions from anti-discrimination law for religious bodies and educational institutions set up for religious purposes. The exemptions fly in the face of the idea that people should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, so that they can have access to opportunities and services such as health, education and housing. As a result of these exemptions, a religious hospital can refuse to employ a gay doctor, a religious school can refuse to enrol a bisexual student or to hire a lesbian administrator, and a faith based homelessness shelter can refuse to accept a transgender resident. (Italics mine)

The proposal from the Greens, as stated elsewhere, is that ‘blanket exemptions for religious organisations do not apply when that organisation is using public money to provide public services like health, education and housing’. That sounds very reasonable to me.

I confess to being as seduced as is Andrew when it comes to defending a broad commitment to religious pluralism. But his argument strikes me as very odd, especially for a Christian and particularly upon the grounds of Matthew 22. To my mind, he appears to suggest, albeit tacitly, that it is somehow the role of the state to help Christians to be Christians, to follow Jesus. His argument also appears to confuse or conflate the roles that God has assigned to so-called civil authorities with those given to the church. It is, it seems to me, reasonable to argue, and to hope, that it is precisely the responsibility of the state to ensure that all of its citizens – and especially, perhaps, its most vulnerable; and this sometimes includes religious communities – are granted equal rights and access under the law. (Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney, recently reminded us too that ‘Human rights failures say a lot about our government’.) I remind Andrew that it has been the Greens – and not, sadly, the ALP and the Liberal–National Coalition – who have consistently respected and defended the important role that the Australian Human Rights Commission plays in protecting the rights, including the religious rights, of all those whom our parliament and courts are obligated, by both domestic and international law, to protect.

Conversely, it is the responsibility of the Christian community (I dare not speak for other religious traditions) to challenge and even to break such laws if and whenever its obedience to the rule of Christ demands it do so, that believers might live in the world with a clear conscience and their lives testify that God and not Caesar is sovereign. In a world marked by unbridled greed, abuse of power, and the defence of both by means of state-sponsored violence, God help Christians if they become known for being ‘good citizens’.

Perhaps what this little response to Andrew’s post represents has more to do with our respective ecclesial tribes – that Andrew is an Anglican and that I am of the free church tradition – than it is about whether or not one might, in good conscience, support this or that political party, none of which, it must be said, a Christian can support uncritically. It certainly reminds me, and for this I am grateful to Andrew, that following Jesus is, at core, a profoundly political act; indeed, it is the most political act of all. Might I confess, however, that it is difficult for me to see how Andrew’s critique represents much more than a gasp by a powerful institutional elite to maintain ground that a particular political arrangement – associated with the name of Constantine – once secured, or at least promised. God’s promises – the promises of one whose power is not of this world and which is made perfect precisely in the act of forgoing its own rights – might, I suggest, be quite otherwise. (So John Dickson noted around the time of the last election: ‘a Christian vote is a vote for others, not oneself. It is fundamental to the Christian outlook that life be devoted to the good of others before oneself’.)

Returning to those strange words of Jesus’ – ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s’ – I want to suggest that for too long Christians have stood on the side of Herod here, and have, as a result, sought to take the sting out of the impossibility that Christian discipleship represents. ‘Christian accommodation to play the game dictated by Caesar’s coin insures that the separation between state and church makes Christians faithful servants of states that allegedly give the church freedom’ (Stanley Hauerwas).

Or, as another has said: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’.

Paul Fiddes on being Baptist

This past week, Whitley College has played host to Professor Paul Fiddes who has been our guest speaker at the annual School of Ministry. He has been speaking on the theme of Baptist identity. It really has been a rich time in so many ways. For those who were unable to be there, or who might like a little summary of what it was all about, here is a precis of the various addresses:

Songs that stink

Paddling By the ShoreIt has been my privilege over recent days to have prepared the liturgies for the various worship services held this week at Whitley College’s School of Ministry. I included two songs from Kim Fabricius’s collection of hymns published in Paddling by the Shore. People seemed to really appreciate these songs, a testimony I am pleased to hear. My own enthusiasm for Kim’s book is noted on its back cover:

The songs gathered here stink. They stink of theology cultivated by the best of the Catholic tradition and sensitive to the hazards of congregational worship. They stink of the holy wit of an indecorous soul set loose. And, most wonderfully, they stink of divinity unashamedly immersed in the blunt realities of being human in the world and delighting in life familiar with, but unconstrained by, death. They also should be sung, loudly and lots.

A number of folk asked me for a copy of the words for the two songs we sang from this collection. So, for them and for any others that may be interested, here they are:

‘Out of nothing God created’. Tune: Blaenwern – 87 87

Out of nothing God created
all the somethings that exist;
from a Bang the world inflated,
light-years later earth he kissed.
Starting with the smallest microbe,
moving from the sea to land,
life evolved around the new globe,
gently pushed by God’s good hand.

‘Go!’ said God, and animated,
species spread by law and chance;
Spirit fashioned and related
each to all in sacred dance.
All that breathes is love’s location,
not just humans in their pride;
by selection and mutation,
ask the beasts how God can guide.

Now creation groans and shudders,
plundered, poisoned, colonized
by a beastly little brother,
self-styled as the one who’s wise.
Will the sparrows finally perish,
though God clothes them and protects?
Time is short, so let us cherish
all that God will resurrect.

‘Migrant Jesus, at the border’. Words modified. Tune: Servant Song/Brother Sister Let Me Serve You.

Migrant Jesus, at the border,
refugee of fear and hate,
you’re a threat to law and order,
nightmare of the nation-state.

Child of Israel, fleeing soldiers,
from the Jordan to the Nile,
were your parents passport-holders,
were you welcomed with a smile?

Home from Egypt, Spirit-breathing,
in the towns of Galilee,
how you had the people seething
when you preached the Jubilee.

At the margins, far from center,
where you met the ostracized,
even friends weren’t keen to enter
conversations that you prized.

Ease our fears, forgive our hatred
of the other and the odd;
help us see the single-sacred:
face of stranger – face of God.

Migrant Jesus, at the border –
Manus Island or Nauru –
Greetings, sister! Welcome, brother!
Make this place your promised land.

How democracy produced a monster

‘[He] came to power in a democracy with a highly liberal constitution, and in part by using democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy itself …

[His party’s] surge in popular support … reflected the anger, frustration and resentment – but also hope – that [he] was able to tap among millions of [his countrymen]. Democracy had failed them, they felt. Their country was divided, impoverished and humiliated. Scapegoats were needed …

Mercifully, what happened [then] … will remain a uniquely [sic] terrible episode in history. What took place then reminds us even so of the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war, facing enormous privations and burning with resentment at national humiliation through perceived foreign interference. It also reminds us of the need for international cooperation to restrain potential “mad dogs” in world politics before they are dangerous enough to bite’.

– Ian Kershaw, How democracy produced a monster (3 February, 2008)

Lear on Brexit

Harding - Study for John Bell as King Lear

Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen’d crawl toward death.

– King Lear (with thanks to André)

[Image: Nicholas Harding, ‘Study for John Bell as King Lear’, 1998–2001]

 

Steve Biddulph on why Eddie McGuire should resign

Eddie McGuire

Meanwhile, over here in the colonies, there’s a much-welcome statement from Australian-based psychologist Steve Biddulph on why Eddie McGuire should resign:

In case you are in any doubt, I think he should resign too.

The pattern is important to understand if we are to end violence against women.

Caroline Wilson is a serious journalist, she made valid and important – but always reasoned – criticisms of Eddie McGuire’s performance as a manager of Collingwood. That’s her job.

A grown up would have two options – to address her arguments and make a case why she was wrong. Or to concede that she was right.

But instead of engaging as an equal and an adult, Mr McGuire seethed, and in a setting where he felt safe, among mates, and in the hearing of several million people, they joked about – essentially – killing her.

When shamed men can’t deal with the anxiety they feel, they choose to resolve it by imagined, or real, violence, and rally support from other men to make that okay.

This also happened with Alan Jones and our first woman PM Julia Gillard, and the infamous “chaff bag” threats. And as we see in the daily news – from Yorkshire to Orlando, there’s always some nutter willing to carry it out.

Token apology that is forced by circumstance isn’t the same as real change. You have to say – this is a character flaw.

Even if the victim wasn’t a woman, it’s still wrong.

Adults deal with conflict or disagreement with words, respectfully, and safely. Only mature adults should be in positions with this much power …

A few commenters, mostly men, are saying “it was just a joke”. Because they are presumably fathers, I want to explain this, as it makes a difference to your parenting. If you go back to my piece at the top, I am saying I don’t believe this was “just” a joke.

There was a context. He was genuinely threatened and angry at her criticism in her articles. It was on his mind.

It came out quite inappropriately at a charity dunking. It was a slip up, sure, but it showed his underlying anger, and his inability to deal with it in an adult way.

And it showed him appealing for emotional support to his mates. It was anger and threat leaking out through humour.

And as the Age pointed out today, she wasn’t there, so it can’t be banter. Banter is when people are sharing in put downs for fun, by mutual agreement. Humour is used to mask violence every single day. Rapists and abusers often say “get over it”.

It was window into the man’s heart. And that is a huge thing.

[Source]

Is the ACL the least theologically-literate lobby group in the country?

ACLIs the Australian Christian Lobby the least theologically-literate lobby group in the country?

They may well be, for according to their latest newsletter, ‘A marriage plebiscite is … the only way that, as Christians, we can secure both the future of marriage, and our freedoms to believe and practice our faith’.

This piece of brilliant propaganda might be the least Christian statement on marriage that I’ve ever read. What an embarrassment these people are to the Good News.

They’re certainly right about one thing, however: ‘There’s more at stake this election [sic] than marriage’. But even on that subject, the institution of marriage is far too important to be left to the likes of the ACL to define it.

[Update: Within minutes of this little post going live, the Australian Christian Lobby blocked me from the ability to post comments on, or even to ‘Like’, their Facebook page. (As far as I am aware, this is a first for me.) So much for being about promoting ‘public contributions of the Christian faith reflected in the political life of the nation’.]

Theology and the Arts

In September this year, Richard Kidd, Anne Mallaby, and myself will be teaching an intensive unit on theology and the arts. Some basic details here:

Theology and the Arts flyer - 2