It is important, occasionally, to remember that the Australian Christian Lobby is nothing like it sounds.
Certainly, it is a lobby. The group, a registered private company, commands meetings with leaders of both major parties. It describes itself as “a credible Christian voice in the corridors of power” and boasts of “strong relationships with politicians and policymakers”.
But to say that this lobby represents “Australian Christians” is a hopeless stretch. When the Australian Christian Lobby speaks, it speaks for an acetous few: a couple of Pentecostals and a few loon Baptists. Theirs is a false authority. Their influence belies their number.
Their chair is Jim Wallace, AM, a former SAS commander who says things such as, “I certainly believe that homosexuality is a sin – you know, I think that’s an orthodox Christian view.” He calls abortion “a slice of Western culture which only reinforces notions of the cheapness of life”.
He says: “I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years … we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems and … normalising the lifestyle by the attribution of marriage, for instance, has to be considered in what it does encouraging people into it.”
Their managing director is Lyle Shelton. He was once a journalist and came to the lobby after a failed tilt at the Queensland parliament. He says things such as: “The prime minister who rightly gave an apology to the Stolen Generation has sadly not thought through the fact that his new position on redefining marriage will create another.”
This week, Shelton argued that anti-discrimination legislation should be suspended in the lead-up to any plebiscite on same-sex marriage, so that the “no” campaign might be freely put.
He said: “I think the threshold for offence under many of these state-based anti-discrimination laws is way too low.”
He said: “We’re concerned about people being taken to human rights commissions around Australia simply for advocating marriage between a man and a woman and right to the child to, wherever possible, be allowed to be loved and raised by their mother and father.”
This is an outrageous nonsense. If Shelton’s arguments depend on vilification, they are scarcely arguments. They are bigotry. They are hate.
But it is worse than that. Shelton’s argument for an override to anti-discrimination laws only highlights the concessions for religious groups already won in these laws. It is because of groups such as his that a church can lawfully sack gay men from their schools and hospitals, that a church can lawfully expel gay children from its schools for the simple fact of who they are. The false power of his lobby cows politicians when instead they should be brave.
Laws in this country carry any number of mutant clauses to respect the intolerance of churches. Slowly, the public view of this intolerance shifts. The worry for people such as Shelton is that the arrival of same-sex marriage might shift it more quickly. He has his finger in the dyke. In a last desperate gasp, he is arguing for the right to shout vilification through the hole.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 20, 2016 as "False gods". Subscribe here.