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Australia controversy over churches and discrimination

Australia controversy over churches and discrimination

Updated. In Australia, a controversy is brewing over the fact churches that receive government funding for specific purposes can discriminate against GLBT folks, not just in ordination and clerical appointments but also in hiring and delivery of services


Associated Press story:

Religious groups in Australia are allowed to discriminate against people who are gay or transgender, prompting criticism from gay rights activists who find it galling that religious social service programs receive millions of dollars in government funding.

Such exemptions to anti-discrimination laws exist elsewhere, but other countries including Britain and the United States have narrowed their scope in recent years, limiting them to issues such as the appointment of church leaders.

In Australia, gays can be denied social services and employment from religious groups, including teaching jobs in their schools. Anglicare, a branch of the Anglican church, won’t allow gay parents to use its adoption services.

Anglicare Sydney received more than 55 million Australian dollars ($50 million) in government funding in 2010, and the Catholic Education Commission of New South Wales received AU$1.8 billion in 2009.

“States are providing large amounts of funding to services along with essentially a license to discriminate with the provision of those services, and it just seems very out of date and inappropriate,” said Alan Brotherton, a policy director for ACON, an organization promoting health issues for the gay community.

Related to this is Scott Stephen’s commentary on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation’s Religion and Ethics website, who says that government funding for religious activities is based on a kind of “Christian exceptionalism” that undermines the church.

….Christian “exceptionalists” seem to have so tenuous a grasp on Christian theology and the nature of Christian witness that they assume that the staggering decline in church attendance, and therefore the diminishment of its capacity for charity and beneficence, is best mitigated by softening its message, by adapting its mode of worship to accommodate religious “consumers” and by appealing to government funding and tax-breaks, as if from the hand of God, to make up the shortfall.

I would argue that the very assumption – on the part of said Christian “exceptionalists” – of a kind of “entitlement” to government funds, and to a place of relative privilege in Australian law and society, and to access to the corridors of power actively undermines the credibility of Christianity in Australia and effectively neuters its ability to bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

Christianity in Australia ought to be distinguished by its willingness to embrace a kind of self-imposed vulnerability, precisely because it relies on the health and charity of local, organic communities of Christian disciples – which the Church has long believed is the immediate sphere of God’s activity and providence – and not on the largesse of the State. The great irony, of course, is that the increase in Christian political lobbying has been inversely proportional to the health of local Christian churches.

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