Family First Distorts Facts Surrounding Venue Allowing Same-Sex Marriages

I read with interest an article on stuff.co.nz last week about Living Springs, a Christian venue in Christchurch, that has changed its position on allowing LGBTI couples to get married there. From the tenor of the article it seemed that the venue had come to this policy change in a sensible, rationale and logical way. The director, Denis Aldridge, was quoted saying, “we’ve been on a journey with this one, and we’ve got there… It took a while.”

Part of the journey involves a recent Human Rights Commission complaint against Living Springs after a lesbian couple were refused their request to hire the venue for their wedding. According to the article, Living Springs did not feel coerced by the Human Rights Commission to change their policy. In fact Elizabeth Wiltshire, one half of the couple who made the Human Rights Commission complaint, rang to speak to Aldridge after the change in policy. Wiltshire indicated that Aldridge seemed to be perfectly happy with the outcome.

“It was good, actually. I felt it was genuine. It wasn’t ‘Oh, we’ve had this unlawful policy and now you’re making us change it,’ [he was] very thankful,” she said, “It gave them a mandate to push for change.”

Fast forward one week and lobby group Family First distributes a press release headed “Function Centre Pressured to Allow Same-Sex Weddings.” The Press Release uses Living Springs as a reason to push the narrative that “Faith-based function centres” are being held hostage and forced into holding LGBTI marriages when they don’t feel they should have to. Family First also continues to make allegations that some in government said this would never happen which is factually incorrect as the opposite was clearly signalled at the time.

“If a church currently hires out their hall for money, they can’t discriminate against any group who chooses to hire out that hall.” Louisa Wall, Q&A.March 2013

I saw Family First’s Press Release on Facebook and it didn’t ring accurate to me after having read the stuff article. The change in Living Springs’ policy seemed more pragmatic than pressured. The conversation on the Facebook post ebbed and flowed between Living Springs and general negative comments about marriage equality. However anytime a contributor suggested the headline of the Press Release may be incorrect Family First director Bob McCoskrie pushed back with the idea that Living Springs “were certainly placed under pressure.”

This really didn’t add up to me, so I phoned Living Springs Director Denis Aldridge myself and requested a formal interview to use for elephantTV. It turns out Aldridge’s story is fascinating.

As a Pastor he was at the forefront of protests in Balclutha in 1986 opposing the Homosexual Law Reform Act. Since then he has been on what he describes as a “journey of thirty years”, where various people came into his life at different stages and challenged his perspective on what it means to be gay. Today Aldridge is an supporter for marriage equality. To have shifted from being someone who led the march against homosexual law reform to someone who is now ‘pro’ marriage equality is simply remarkable.

I wanted to clear up the most important claim by Family First that Living Springs was ‘pressured’ into changing their policy. Aldridge’s response was simple.

“It’s totally wrong and that didn’t come from us, that was the narrative that the guy that rung me wanted and I refuted it” he said. “The reality was [Living Springs] didn’t feel strongly that way, we’d actually come as an organisation [to the place where] we were seeing it, we believe, on a higher level and the higher level was ‘what would Jesus do?’”

Aldridge also made it clear that if they were to take what many Christians believe to be a “biblical interpretation” on marriage and reject marriage equality, then “we have to take a biblical line on re-marriage and divorced people” as well, given that the bible specifically denounces those forms of marriage.

Family First contacted Aldridge looking for comment on their change in policy prior to writing the press release and Aldridge wanted to make clear that he told Bob McCoskrie that they did not “feel coerced [into making the decision to change policy].”

“It’s actually that we have decided it’s the right thing to do” Aldridge said.

Aldridge feels as if Family First has purposely ignored their position.

”They obviously have an agenda, there’s a certain narrative that they wanted to hear and they’ve printed that narrative,” he stated.

Aldridge said they “weren’t pressured into [holding Same Sex marriages]” and they “don’t see it as capitulation.” The issue of Same Sex couples using the venue was already being spoken about at Living Springs, “we’d already had this conversation and that was the words I felt Bob [McCoskrie] was trying to put into my mouth that we were bullied into it, we answered that [we were not] but he’s gone ahead with that story anyways.”

Aldridge finished the interview with a challenge to us all, “I felt really proud of [Living Springs] in the end that we had, I suppose, the humility to say ‘well we haven’t always been right in this thing.’”

To clear up one issue with this whole thing. The law is clear, and it hasn’t changed since Same-Sex marriages were legalised. There is no ambiguity. If you hire a venue to the general public then you must abide by the Human Rights Act of 1993. This doesn’t allow discrimination in twelve main areas, one of which is ‘sexual orientation’. If you hire your venue to the general public for marriages, now that LGBTI couples can marry, then you cannot withhold the venue from them because of their sexual orientation. Prior to marriage equality, if your venue made itself available to the general public and that same LGBTI couple wanted to use it for a birthday party, or a baby dedication, or any kind of celebration that you’d hire it to any heterosexual person for, you also couldn’t refuse them because of their sexual orientation. There is no difference in the law.

I gave Family First the opportunity to retract or correct their statement about Living Springs informing them of the interview I had conducted and the information that came from that interview. They have refused to do so. It is now unequivocally clear that Living Springs were not ‘pressured’ or ‘bullied’ or ‘forced’ into making this policy change. They chose to, and were happy to change.

The full unedited interview with Denis Aldridge is below.

 

Update: 15/04/2016, 3.30pm

I’ve just been contacted by one of the people who I asked to speak to Bob McCoskrie from Family First claiming there is an inaccuracy in the post which I obviously want to correct. Bob maintains that the phrase “he declined to meet with them.” is inaccurate. Bob’s supposition is that the emails between them may be seen as a meeting and, as it was obvious that my representatives were going to support my position of challenging Family First, he felt there was no need to speak about the issue any further.

So, just to be perfectly clear, Bob did exchange emails with the people I asked to meet with him, in which he defended his position and said that there was no reason to meet.

There was no challenge to the accuracy of any of the other information I have provided in the post by either Bob McCoskrie or Family First.

I’m on the bridge – Support for Same-Sex Marriage from within the Church

Turnaround Tuesday as portrayed in the movie Selma
“Turnaround Tuesday” as portrayed in the movie Selma

The post I wrote last week about marriage equality was partly brought about by the movie Selma.  The movie documents the three marches (or part marches) from Montgomery to Selma in 1965. It’s an incredible movie to watch – it brings the civil rights movement to life – and it also impacted me as an example of how intense and dangerous the fight for any civil right can be. As I covered in my previous post, one of the key leaders of the Selma march, John Lewis, has publicly stated that he thinks the resistance to marriage equality for the gay community comes from the same “fear, hatred and intolerance” he himself witnessed in “racism and bigotry” during the civil rights battle in the sixties.

The movie depicts the first march, often referred to as “Bloody Sunday“, which had 525 black protesters who began the 80 kilometre march without Dr. King at the helm. At the outskirts of Selma, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were stopped by Alabama State Troopers who were ordered there by Governor George Wallace. The Troopers turned back the protesters with brutal violence – you can read about it here from a reporter on the scene – it makes for horrific reading.

In complete contrast, the third march was safe and legal with a federal Judge ruling in favour of the protesters saying it was a Constitutional right for them to march and that right could not be quashed by the State of Alabama.  On the third march there were no police roadblocks, no legislative restrictions, no legal way for the march to be stopped. 25,000 people marched to Selma. It was an incredible moment.

But it is the second march, known as “Turnaround Tuesday”, that I think is the pertinent march for the church at this time.

After Bloody Sunday Martin Luther King decided immediately that they would go back to that bridge and finish what they started. He made a public call to Americans to get involved in the fight, “I am appealing to men and women of God and good will everywhere, white, black and otherwise,” he said, “If you believe all are created equal, come to Selma and join us, join our march against injustice and inhumanity. We need you.” This appeal caused thousands of people from all over the country, many white and many ministers, to travel to Montgomery for the second march.

On Turnaround Tuesday again the marchers got to the Pettus Bridge and this time the number of marchers was 2,500 individuals. They made it half way across the bridge and stopped. Dr. King prayed briefly, then turned the marchers around and walked them back to Montgomery. That night three white preachers were attacked by members of the KKK for supporting civil rights. The injuries sustained by Rev. James Reeb led to his death two days later.

The first march was dangerous, but the danger was unknown. The marchers didn’t realise what was going to happen to them on the Pettus Bridge. They were acting in good faith, having no idea what lay ahead. The second march was dangerous, but this time the danger was known. The 2,000 new marchers knew that they may face the tear gas and night sticks again, but they went anyway to support the cause. The second march gave clear evidence of the widespread growing support for black rights amongst white people. And amongst those people, ministers were a significant number.

It’s apparent, as evidenced in the weekend’s US Supreme Court decision, that the world outside the Church is well on its way to the third march. It is now ‘safe’, in most Western nations, to support Marriage Equality. However there is no denying that LGBTI issues and causes within the church are still on the second march. Turnaround Tuesday is not a safe place to be and there may be consequences ahead for the LGBTI community and their allies within the church. But if history teaches us anything it’s that now is the moment to get on the bridge and show our support for the LGBTI community. It’s not completely safe yet, but it is the right thing to do and I believe the Christ-like thing to do.

My willingness to stand on the bridge stems from these firm beliefs:

  • That marriage is a government institution
  • That marriage provides many legal and social benefits, and that it is discriminatory to withhold those benefits from same-sex couples
  • That recent scientific and psychological developments, as well as the personal experience of thousands of gay Christians, show that gay people don’t “choose” to be gay, and that efforts by the church to “cure” gay Christians have failed (see the closure of Exodus International)
  • That as a Christian, Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40) carries more weight than the passages that have been traditionally viewed as anti-homosexuality in the bible (and there are alternative readings for those passages of which Gushee’s Changing our Mind, and Vines’ God and the Gay Christian are two of many)
  • That the LGBTI community are a minority that are often discriminated against, and in many places persecuted, and that to stand with them in support rather than protest, imitates Christ
  • That Christians should support the LBGTI community even if they believe that gay Christians should be celibate (see Marin’s Love is an Orientation, and the explanation of the “side A and side B” debate on the gay christian network)

If you choose to publicly state you are on the bridge, what you are doing is standing side by side with the LGBTI community and saying ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality and the full inclusion, as Tony Campolo recently stated, and “full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” You are positioning yourself as an ally and as a friend to those who have been denied full welcome in the church, who have been rejected and who have borne the brunt of the church’s spite and violence. It’s time for that to change.

onthebridge

I’m on the bridge and my prayer for you today is to join me on that bridge. Stand with me on that bridge, as an ally, side by side with the LGBTI community.

I echo the words of David Gushee who recently wrote in the Washington Post

“I am pro-LGBT in just the same way I hope I would have been pro-Jew in 1943 and pro-African American in 1963. I stand in solidarity with those treated with contempt and discrimination. And I do so because I promised in 1978 to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Even here.”

If you are already on the bridge, or you want to use this as a chance to join us, then please use the hashtag #imonthebridge to let people know where you stand and spread the word.

Marriage Equality is the New Civil Rights Movement

It’s probably been fairly obvious for a while that I am a supporter of marriage equality.  I have always viewed same-sex marriage as a cut and dry case of civil rights. I believe that marriage is a governmental institution, not one that belongs to the church. Marriage, in its many forms, pre-dates the church. And as discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in New Zealand, it is obvious to me that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry is discriminatory.

I myself got married fourteen years ago, on a bright winter’s day in June. I hardly thought about marriage as a right back then. All I knew was that I was in love with a beautiful girl and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was a case of opposites attract, and we had no idea how much work our love was going to take, but here we are all those years later, and the cliché is true. We are more in love than ever before.

For us, marriage was a right of passage, the beginning of a journey that forced us to grow up like nothing else could. Statistically speaking, marriage improves every success marker for the couple and the children that may come from that marriage. Marriage done well makes everything better – and I can vouch for this. Marriage is also the ultimate gift. There is no other commitment quite like it. Marriage is the fullest demonstration of love that can be given from one person to another. It’s an amazing, life-giving transaction and it can only build stronger families and therefore stronger communities. Why would we want to withhold this incredible gift from anyone?

After watching Selma recently I finally came to the conclusion that the current battle for marriage equality is akin to the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960’s. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. It has similarities with the world-changing battle that Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others fought (and sometimes died) for. Marriage, for the spiritual, emotional, physical and legal benefits it offers, is a civil right.

In New Zealand we have been fortunate enough to have had both civil union and same-sex marriage legalised. But until same-sex marriage was legalised couples who were joined by civil union could not avail themselves of the Matrimonial Property Act, or adopt children. In other countries where same-sex marriage has not been legalised, gay couples are significantly disadvantaged. They are withheld rights to hospital visitations, medical decision making, adoption, parenting rights and automatic inheritance, among other rights.

John Lewia on Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965
John Lewis on Pettus Bridge in 1965

You may not recognise the name John Lewis, but he was with Martin Luther King on the bridge at Selma, and is considered one of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights leaders. He is the only member now still alive. He is a Christian and has been an American Congressman for more than 25 years. If there is anyone who has the right to compare the fight for marriage equality with the civil rights movement it is him. He was there in the thick of it then, and judging by his political and religious positions he is still in the thick of it today. There is literally no one else on the face of the planet who can look at these two issues, compare them, and speak to them with as much authority as John Lewis.

As a response to President Obama’s public support of Same-Sex Marriage Congressman John Lewis said:

Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.

Even as early as nine years prior to President Obama’s public statement, John Lewis was beating the drum for marriage equality. In 2003, the man who was at the front of the march with Martin Luther King wrote an article for the Boston Globe that stated:

“I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Sometimes it takes courts to remind us of these basic principles. In 1948, when I was 8 years old, 30 states had bans on interracial marriage, courts had upheld the bans many times, and 90 percent of the public disapproved of those marriages, saying they were against the definition of marriage, against God’s law. But that year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in America to strike down such a ban. Thank goodness some court finally had the courage to say that equal means equal, and others rightly followed, including the US Supreme Court 19 years later.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as [human beings] do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being [human beings].

John Lewis today
John Lewis today

He couldn’t be clearer; the fear and intolerance that leads people to seek to withhold the right for same-sex couples to marry is the same as the “fear, hatred and intolerance” that Lewis and the civil rights movement faced in the 1960’s.

As a follower of Jesus I want to be in the camp that stands up and speaks out for the disenfranchised. I want to speak up for those whose voice is not always welcome, not always heard. You can throw all the bible verses you like at me, and I’ll say simply that Jesus’ commandment to love one another trumps them all.

Some people may be unaware that the work I do for elephantTV is done jointly with my wife Idoya Munn. Although I am the presenter of the episodes, behind the scenes the project is carried 50/50 between us. This is the first post in a series, and we’ve written the next one together.

As I said in my earlier post, genuine comments and healthy, constructive conversation are welcome.

Colin Craig ready to jump into bed with John Key…who’s ‘too gay’ now?

12 months ago the Conservative party sent a newsletter out to residents of John Key’s Helensville electorate citing a local’s opinion that John Key was ‘too gay for Helensville’.

Colin_Craig_pamphlets

The political posturing around the Conservatives and National at the moment is interesting but it seems that while Mr. Craig may endorse the view that Mr. Key to too gay for Helensville, it’s now obvious that Craig is just gay enough to jump in bed with the Prime Minister.

We all know how MMP works and if the Nats ‘get into bed’ with the Conservatives it’s the start of a new era of ‘any partner for power’.

John Key has described himself as ‘fiscally conservative and socially liberal’ in an interview I did with him a few years ago and went on to say that if you keep the purse strings tight you can then spend in areas of social need. Whilst I think his record is not quite as ‘generous’ as that you have to say that in the areas that National has been socially liberal like the ‘anti-smacking’ law and marriage equality there is deep division with the Conservatives.

Whilst this would not normally be a problem between parties who focus is things like the economy and ‘jobs for New Zealanders’ this is not the case with the Conservatives. Turning over the anti-smacking law is Colin Craig’s number one objective in politics. Opposing marriage equality is also right up there so whilst there is a lot of generous spirit at the moment and acknowledging that ‘we need to work together’ you have to remember that for the Conservatives it comes back to a couple of big social policies, that they disagree with National on, and those policies are what the Conservatives are built on…they are their core beliefs.

I was at Conservatives HQ in the last few months and suggested to Colin Craig’s press secretary that he’d have much more a chance at the next election is he moved publicly away from these kinds of conversations, there was a wide eyed look of shock to that suggestion and I was told in no uncertain terms ‘but that’s Colin’s passion‘.’Okay, but who is here to counter Colin’s passion for political balance or even just another perspective, for example who is on the board who supported Sue Bradford’s law reform?‘ The answer was ‘No one‘.

I have no issues with people who oppose either of those social policies, that’s your right as a citizen and voter, however when they are ‘your passion’ and you are being touted as the person who will hold up the next politically right Government it is likely a concern to some.

The one other issue about the Conservatives is that should Mr. Craig get elected to a seat in Auckland I wonder if the question will be asked, “is this the first parliamentary seat that has been purchased outright in NZ politics?”

Colin Craig is a wealthy businessman which I congratulate him on, his success in the world of business is admirable, the success has given him access to vast sums of money. He has spent millions of his own money on his campaigns and protest marches to this point. The only reason there is a Conservative Party is Craig’s own personal $1.6 million donation at the last election…then there is the ‘March for Democracy’ ($400,000) and his Mayoralty campaign. If it wasn’t for Colin Craig’s personal wealth, there would be no Conservative Party, no TV interviews, no chance of winning a seat. I wonder how many will be uncomfortable with the idea that should he be elected, Craig’s wealth has been the main reason he is now in politics as without the wealth, no one would have had the chance to vote for him.

If we are potentially in a new era of ‘any political partner so long as we stay in power’ I wonder what the voter will do? Will the voter support that view and just to keep their party in charge they will open the door to anybody else to make up the numbers, or will the vote decide that it’s safer not to allow these one policy ponies in with unknown consequences.

Big day today for the LGBTI community…and others

I came across an interesting blog today. From the 2000+ comments and 10,000+ shares on Facebook it seems that I am the only person in the world not to have seen it. The blog piece is called An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation and it is written by Dannika Nash, a college student, raised in South Dakota. I have seen South Dakota to as a ‘junior member of the bible belt.”

On that piece there is a link to a spoken word/music video that has caught my attention. Please watch it before you read on.

Now you need to watch it, at least some of it…I know you haven’t so let me quote you a couple of versus from it.

When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same, but that’s not important
No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it

And later in the song…

When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are
And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start

I firmly believe to show love to someone, to help them get their freedom and equality we must wish for them the same rights as we have for ourselves. Anything else we are treating them like second class citizens.

Now I don’t want, don’t need and don’t encourage a fight here, or on my Facebook or Twitter, but I can already see what will come from this. All I will encourage you to do is mull over the words in the song, and then in the blog that led me to this post which references the Church, some of the reasons this fight is going on and potentially what will come from it.

My point in writing this isn’t to protect gay people. Things are changing—the world is becoming a safer place for my gay friends. They’re going to get equal rights. I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. I’m going to offer a pretty candid answer, and it’s going to make some people upset, but I care about the Church too much to be quiet. We’re scared of change. We always have been. When scientists proposed that the Earth could be moving through space, church bishops condemned the teaching, citing Psalm 104:5 to say that God “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” But the scientific theory continued, and the Church still exists. I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress. DON’T hear me saying that we can’t fight culture on anything. Lots of things in culture are absolutely contradictory to love and equality, and we should be battling those things. The way culture treats women, or pornography? Get AT that, church. I’ll be right there with you. But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum.

Amen sister…’Holy bullshit’…I likes that saying a lot. I feel a t-shirt coming on.

And if nothing else church, please oh please read Dannika’s final thought. From someone as young as she is, wiser words have never been spoken.

Oh, and can we please please PLEASE stop changing our Facebook profile pictures to crosses in a protest against gay marriage? You are taking a symbol of hope and redemption and using it to make a political point. No matter what you think, that has to stop. It’s a misrepresentation of what that symbol means.

If this post annoys you, if you feel like now ‘correcting’ many things in the post…just take a breath, unfollow me and live your life.

Peace