Memo to Australian Christians.

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No Margaret you’re not being bullied

This week former tennis great Margaret Court became the focus of media attention when she published an open letter in the West Australian newspaper declaring she would be boycotting Qantas because of statements by the company CEO in favour of gay marriage. The backlash was swift, from tweets by other tennis greats, to Tennis Australia distancing itself from Margaret Court’s position, to calls for the Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.

I watched an interview on The Project in which Margaret Court claimed that Christians were being persecuted for their views on same-sex marriage and that calls for a change of the name of the Margaret Court Arena amounted to bullying. I think it is certainly true that increasing numbers of Australians are losing patience with the delay in the legalisation of same-sex marriage and have little respect for the arguments against same-sex marriage. The tone of the interviewers on the Project was smug, condescending and at times bordered on mockery.

But the suggestion that Christians face persecution, that they no longer have freedom of speech, and that they are being bullied is ridiculous. Margaret Court published an open letter in one of Australia’s major newspapers invoking her status as a tennis great (“as you will know, I’ve represented Australia many times and have the proud record of never having lost a tennis match while playing for my country”) declaring her intention to boycott Qantas. It is disingenuous to claim she is being bullied when people respond in exactly the same fashion by calling for a boycott of her name on the arena and offering public commentary on her open letter. This is not persecution. No one is suggesting she be thrown in prison. This is not a silencing. For goodness sake she was published in a major Australian newspaper! This is simply a public of which the majority favour same-sex marriage making its views felt as forcefully as Margaret made hers.

A couple of weeks ago the Anglican church in Sydney distributed thousands of copies of a booklet opposing same-sex marriage to every one of its churches; the ACL regularly publishes arguments against same-sex marriage on its website and is part of an alliance that has legal recognition and its own website advocating for traditional view of marriage; Lyle Shelton is regularly interviewed in popular media; senior political figures such as the treasurer of our country articulate the case against same-sex marriage. No one is being silenced. No one’s freedom of speech is under attack. And before people rush to cite the complaint that was brought against the Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop distributing a booklet opposing same-sex marriage, let’s remember that the argument was not that the Church had no right to oppose same-sex marriage, but that the booklet suggested that homosexual people were paedophiles.

Are people discourteous on this issue? Yes, I think they are. I think it happens on both sides of the argument and I think it’s not helpful. Do people perpetuate stereotypes? Yes they do, from my Christian friends who speak with venom about the “gay lobby” and its conspiracy to subvert society, to my gay-rights friends who like to paint every person who opposes same-sex marriage as homophobic. Again such stereotyping is unhelpful.We shouldn’t however be surprised. This is an issue on which people feel strongly and at times people will overstep the mark of civility.

But please let us stop with this nonsense of persecution and loss of freedom of speech. Christians who hold to the traditional view of marriage need to get used to the fact that they hold a view that is considered repugnant by large sections of our society. And when you go into the public arena with a view that is repugnant you should expect to get strong opposition. But you’re not persecuted and you’re not being silenced. Tragically there is horrendous persecution of Christians in parts of the world today, but it’s not happening in Australia. We live in a liberal democratic state that guarantees its citizens the freedom to speak and when Christians speak out on marriage they are taking full advantage of that freedom. Yes it is difficult to take a public stance that is unpopular. But that doesn’t make you persecuted. It just makes you unpopular.

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