Sermon: We ALL make mistakes

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church

James 3:1-12

This past week another battle in Australia’s culture wars has broken out; and it went international. In the final of the USA Open Serena Williams was docked first a point and then a game for abusing the umpire. She protested that the umpire was being sexist. I have to admit that as someone with a hot temper myself I completely sympathise with Williams on this. Of course she shouldn’t have abused the umpire but, as Tracey Holmes has pointed out, in 2016 Nick Kyrgios said that the same umpire was biased and that the code violation awarded to him was ‘effing bullshit’ (although he didn’t say ‘effing’) and yet, unlike Williams, Kyrgios wasn’t docked a game. Holmes gave a few other instances of what seems to be sexism; male tennis players getting away with things for which Williams was penalised. Continue reading

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Letter to the Sunday Age

My letter was edited for space, so here is the full thing.


‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father,’ says the letter attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, ‘is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world’.

No mention is made of the nationality, religion, or sexuality of the orphans and widows, only of their need. Denis Dragovic and Barney Zwartz are correct that protecting religious freedom won’t lead to discrimination – because the adherents of  pure and undefiled religions do not  want the right to discriminate.

To speak only of the church to which I belong, in early 2016 Uniting Aged Care proudly became the first faith-based aged care provider to be awarded a rainbow tick for its commitment to serving the LGBTIQ community. Earlier this year UnitingCare’s national director affirmed its non-discriminatory policy in employment, recruitment, and service to the Ruddock review into religious freedoms.

The submission of the national Assembly of the Uniting Church to that same review said: ’Fundamental to the Uniting Church’s approach to its own religious freedoms is that such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society’.

At a time when far-right extremists claim that discrimination against Muslims is not racist because Islam is not a race there is no doubt that religious belief should be a protected attribute under anti-discrimination legislation. Sadly the arguments made by secular commentators too often focus on the ‘right’ of religious people to discriminate against others, rather than our right to be protected from discrimination.

Was that hypothetically homophobic Christian baker to be found in Australia, they would undoubtedly be following the advice of the Apostle Paul and baking same-sex couples the  most beautiful wedding cakes, thus heaping burning coals on their so-called ‘enemies’ heads.


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Sermon: Faith that is alive

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
9 September 2018

James 2:1-10, 14-17

We are in our second week of reading through the Letter attributed to Jesus’ brother, James the Righteous, leader of the church in Jerusalem. Remember last week, when we saw academics from the University of Nottingham describe Martin Luther’s abhorrence of this letter? Today we come to my favourite part of the letter, and the part that I think, more than any other, made Martin Luther fume: ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ Continue reading

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(Not A) Sermon: Beginning the Letter of James

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
2nd of September, Pentecost 15

James 1:17-27

For the next month we are going to be reading our way through the Letter of James, attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, and addressed to ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,’ otherwise the Jewish diaspora throughout the Roman Empire. We first hear of James in the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew, when people are scoffing at the idea of Jesus being anyone special. ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?’ (Matt 13:55, also Mark 6:3)

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200 Continue reading

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Reflection: Notes from 20 years of the Uniting Church’s sexuality debate

When a Korean-speaking minister implies that people like me should be exorcised, I console myself that something is being lost in translation. Not that ‘exorcise’ is said; the English translation instead uses the modern euphemism ‘deliverance’. ‘[S]ame gender relationships are the subject … not of blessings, but ultimately of deliverance’ says the translator and the Assembly listens respectfully as it is implied that there is something demonic about LGBTIQ people.

While researching my PhD on ‘the sexuality debate in the Uniting Church, 1977-2000’ I am given access to all 8000 responses of the Assembly Task Group on Sexuality’s 1996 Interim Report on Sexuality. A few are so homophobic that after reading them I vomit. In order to read the responses without making myself sick I lug the boxes over to the History Department’s postgraduate room, so that as I read I’m surrounded by the sort of supportive community the Church is failing to be. Continue reading

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Reflection: Marriage for Eureka Street

I wrote something for Eureka Street. You can read it here. Enjoy.

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Sermon: Aren’t there times when you just want to punch Hitler?

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
26 August 2018, Pentecost 12

Ephesians 6:10-20

There are times when I not only accept violence; I absolutely applaud it. I’m a collector of comic books; a watcher of sci-fi television and films; a reader of fantasy and crime novels. I have no problem with Captain America punching Hitler, or Buffy staking vampires, or any of the residents of Narnia or Middle-Earth using swords and arrows. I cheer when Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star. In certain genres and for certain purposes I am extremely comfortable with violence. But for me those genres don’t include scripture, and those purposes don’t include the revelation and worship of God.

Captain America

We all know that connecting religion and war is profoundly dangerous. It can lead to crusades and military jihads; to the demonisation of opponents; to the justification of war crimes committed in the name of God. I can remember the shock and fear I felt watching an ABC documentary that screened in 2000, so well within my adult life, about the bashing of gay men in Townsville.  One young man said, ‘I’m a Catholic. It’s meant to be a woman with a man, not a man with a man. That’s sick. That’s hitting material’.[1] So it won’t surprise you that I vastly prefer those parts of the Bible that oppose violence. Luckily, there are lots of them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people: ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also’. (Matthew 5:38-39) Paul advised the Romans: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ (Romans 12:14, 17-18.) Christians celebrate the coming of Christ as the Prince of Peace, giving himself up to death rather than allowing his disciples to defend him with swords. Continue reading

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