By Liz Jakimow. This article is part of our February 2013 focus on Religion and Human Rights.
A new bill by the Australian Labor Party will give religious organisations in Australia the right to discriminate against those who might cause “injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion.”
It seems that the press wanted to present this in as controversial a way as possible, with many news outlets reporting that religious organisations were free to discriminate against those they considered “sinners”, which is not the actual wording used – and makes no sense at all in a Christian context, as Christians believe are all sinners.
However, one might well ask what does “injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion” actually mean?
I am a Christian. And I can think of no person whose employment would cause injury to my religious sensitivities. As a Christian, though, who believes God’s love and compassion extends to all people, I do feel my religious sensitivities may be injured should someone be refused employment on the basis of sexuality, gender, marital status or religion.
The same stories that used the word ‘sinners’ also said:
Under current exemptions to legislation, religious groups can reject employees for being gay, single parents or living “in sin”.
So are these the type of people who would injure “religious sensitivities”? I would say no. But at the same time, I fear that it is these kinds of people that will be discriminated against.
Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby explains it differently. He says it’s not a matter of vetting people, but of employing people who share the same beliefs. He gives the example that an environmental organisation would not employ someone who was an “ardent logger“.
The difference is, of course, that environmental organisations (quite rightly) are subject to discrimination laws.
And however it’s painted, in practice, I fear it’s going to be used mainly as an excuse refuse employment to homosexuals.
And quite frankly I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think that’s Christian. For a start, why is that many (certainly not all, but many) Christian churches focus on this one group of people? They’ll employ just about anybody and accept just about anybody – except for homosexuals.
I have heard many Christians say that a person cannot be a Christian and a homosexual. Why not? Even if they do believe it’s a sin – there’s lots of sins mentioned in the bible. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all guilty of at least one of them – and I include in there the sins mentioned as abominations. Lying is an abomination. Women wearing men’s clothing is an abomination. There’s lots of them. (For a full list of them all, go here)
I’m pretty sure that there aren’t too many people who are being refused employment by a Christian organisation for cheating or lying or oppressing the poor. Christians are perfectly willing to employ those people. But homosexuals, no, can’t be done. That would offend their religious sensitivities.
And I do understand that some Christian organisations (such as schools) want to employ people who share those Christian beliefs. That does make sense. But if it ends up getting used mostly as an excuse to discrimination against people, then that’s not right.
Christians believe in a God who has created us all and loves us all. We have the example of the Good Samaritan to show that even the people we detest may end up being the ones who do a lot better job of loving their neighbour than the ‘right’ people do. We have what might be considered an anti-discrimination verse in Galatians 3:28: ” There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We also have a lot of bible verses and passages that tell us not to be judgmental, Matthew 7:1-5 being just one of them:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Christians should be the people who accept others, the people who love others, the people who are least likely to judge others. They should be the least likely to discriminate, not the legal exception to anti-discrimination laws.
I do realise that the press has probably not done the best job in reporting this story. Controversial stories sell more papers – I should know, I bought one myself when I saw the front page of The Canberra Times. And I also realise that there are many religious organisations who do not discriminate based on age, gender, sexuality, race or religion.
However, I also wonder how the average Australian sees the church at this time. Do they see a church that is accepting and welcoming, that represents a God that loves them? Or do they see a church that wants to exclude people and that dislikes certain groups of people? And which one really is more representative of the God who created everyone, who loves everyone and his son, Jesus Christ, who died for everyone?
Liz Jakimow is currently completing a Bachelor of Theology at St Mark’s Theological Centre in Canberra. She has a keen interest in ecotheology. Her blogs may be found at God and Gum Nuts and Fringe Faith. She also moderates an Australian Christian Environmental Group on Facebook. You can contact Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Further reading: Shutting out the ‘sinners’ feeds bigotry