Religious right wants war, not freedom. They haven’t considered the cost.

by Anthony N. Castle

The preachers, lobbyists, and politicians that make up Australia’s religious right claim to seek freedom but haven’t considered the cost of their culture war.

Scott Morrison has promised to amend discrimination laws to make clear that no student at a religious school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality, reversing his initial position and contradicting the recommendations of the Ruddock religious freedoms report.

The controversy will no doubt continue, but the push to expel gay kids from schools is just one of many attacks against LGBTI Australians from the religious right.

Religious lobby groups have sought the freedom for religious parents to submit their children to gay conversion therapies.

Archbishops have sought the freedom for religious organisations to fire nurses if they are involved in same-sex weddings.

Right-wing Christian politicians have sought the freedom for businesses to be freely able to refuse service to gay couples.

Some have sought the freedom for independent marriage celebrants, with no denominational affiliation, to turn away gay couples.

Others have sought the freedom for religious aged-care services to deny people care due to their sexual orientation.

The process of the Ruddock review has revealed that the religious right are seeking the freedom to exclude LGBTI Australians from religious schools, businesses, workplaces, communities, and any services they deem to be a religious space.

It isn’t freedom they fight for.

Freedom isn’t being coached to ‘pray the gay away’ or being expelled from school for coming out.

Freedom isn’t being sacked for getting married or growing old without knowing if you can get the care you need.

The religious right seeks to create communities that are free from all sexual diversity and gender diversity. Some may think that is freedom, but that is erasure, and while some state legislation already allow them to discriminate in this way, the religious right cannot erase LGBTI people entirely from their spaces without a cost because LGBTI people are the church as well.

32% of same-sex couples in Australia identify as Christian. Same-sex couples are almost as likely to be Christian as they are to have no religion at all.

While the figures are not exact, LGBTI Australians may actually account for 11% of the population; approximately one in 10.

Those on the religious right should reflect on the statistics; one in 10 children reading in classrooms or singing in Sunday school could be LGBTI. One in 10 teenagers in church youth programs could know their sexual orientation and have begun to feel the isolation.

11% is a conservative figure as well with the number of Australians identifying as LGBTI on the increase. There are more LGBTI believers in religious spaces than we know and while policies of exclusion may drive many away in adulthood, some remain.

LGBTI people are the babes in christening gowns and the elders at prayer. They are the church’s pastors, principals, nurses, and youth workers.

They utter the same prayer, drink of the same cup, and carry the same cross.

The religious right can’t erase LGBTI people without erasing themselves, and to do so, is to erase the Body of Christ.

Studies shows that discrimination of this kind is harmful and that connection to a religious community is a risk factor for suicide among LGBTI young people. Religious gay conversion therapies that are condemned by medical authorities still continue to this day.

It is harmful when religious spaces aren’t affirming of its LGBTI believers and when some LGBTI believers leave the church they are fleeing for their lives.

The statistics could indicate that LGBTI believers are doing just that, just as Australians have been leaving the church for decades, with the ABS figures showing that same-sex couples identifying as Christian dropped 8% from 2013 to 2016.

Regardless of the freedom the religious right claims to seek, this is the cost of their culture war; risking LGBTI lives, losing believers from their shrinking communities, and gaining a crown of cruelty along the way.

The religious right don’t want freedom, they want a culture war where no one wins, including themselves.