PHIL GRANO. A personal response to the marriage equality postal survey.

At first I was angry and irked by Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s linking of an annus horribilis with the passing of marriage equality laws in Australia.  Now, a few days later, I feel saddened that the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia is incapable of reading the Spirit in our times, is so mean-spirited about love, the celebration of love and institutional support for love. 

When a companion and I knocked on doors encouraging people to send in their votes to the same sex marriage survey, in all but three doors that were answered we were greeted with wonderful warmth and joy.  The other three were indifferent, not hostile.  As a gay man I had always lived in fear that I was not acceptable and that straight men in particular would be hostile to me should they know I am gay.  Yet, in these encounters with the public, my world  view, honed in school, university and work, was being turned upside down.  My fellow Australians were not hostile or indifferent, they were gracious and generous.

I was standing on the platform at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne minutes after I heard the outcome of the vote in House of Representative.  I had tears in my eyes.  “They think I am equal”.  On entering the crowded train, I wanted to yell out my gratitude.  But this was Melbourne and I lacked the courage to give expression to my overflowing heart.

I was once a Jesuit priest, but the Catholic Church was not a safe place for my mental health and I left – not just the Jesuits but the Church as well.  During the marriage equality postal survey, the faces of official Christianity became Lyle Shelton and the Sydney Anglican Archbishop, Glenn Davies.   There were three things that hurt me during the survey debate – (i) that gay and lesbian relationships were not of equal value, (ii) that the children of such couples were not worth the protection of the state institution of marriage, and (iii) the display of an unloving and unlovely Christianity that emanated from these officials.  At the beginning of the debate it was the third one that most affected me.  I phoned Beyond Blue (for the first time in my life) after I heard Lyle Shelton post the announcement of the survey.  During that conversation I realised I was distressed because I identify as a Christian and the face of Shelton’s official Christianity was unknown and foreign to me.

On Christmas day we Christians celebrate the incarnation of God as a human being.  I have long wondered why a God, who for Christians is credited with the origin of this enormous universe, should trouble with our species let alone join us.  But there is something unique about us in the universe, as we are aggregations of matter and energy that are able to articulate what that is like.  To borrow a religious term, I wonder if for God we are a sacrament of the universe, an outward sign of a hidden reality in our universe.   That does not make us good or bad, it just makes us emblematic.  God’s engagement with us does not change our ontology, our reality, our destiny.  What, then, can be its meaning?

The incarnation speaks to me of God’s generosity.  Jesus is born in humble circumstances.  He may have died soon after, as the circumstances of his birth were made more vulnerable by the travel to accommodate the Roman census.  He grew to know joy and celebration as well as pain and sorrow.  He knew love and he offered love to others.  We have no account of him experiencing erotic love which is sad, but may explain why his followers have struggled to accommodate this primal animal drive and its apotheosis in our species in devoted love.  He does know political intrigue and hollow religious piety that culminated in his death.  He knew about extremes of wealth and poverty.

Jesus’ life and death have not saved us from the human condition or the animal condition or the condition of being matter.  Why should they?  If we were saved from these things, how could we be their sacrament?  Through the life of Jesus, God has touched these things and somehow our hard and unyielding existence is nonetheless precious and a privilege to experience.

God will not save us from climate change, trickle-down economics or nuclear Armageddon,  only we can save ourselves from those things and we should to give others an opportunity to experience this remarkable gift of human life.

Does this explain why I find His Grace’s response to marriage equality mean-spirited and ungracious?  I find his god parsimonious with love.  A god who doles it out in scraps and withdraws it where there is a whiff of imperfection (despite assertions this god’s love is unconditional).  We queers are imperfect, as are all human beings.  It seems the love of queers is not fit as a metaphor of God’s love for humanity and so queers are not fit for marriage.

Human existence is exquisite, but it is tortured and hard and messy and full of tears.  I want the panoply of our humanity and animality to be the vista of our engagement with God and let God roam through this vista with us, filling us with the grace to engage it wholly.  Shelton’s, Davies’ and Fisher’s god is an ersatz and lonely figure.  He does not inspire.

The warmth of greeting from my fellow Australians in October as I canvassed the streets of Footscray was inspiring.  The home of the same sex couple and their little girl that we met at the end of our sojourn was a place I am sure Jesus would love to be, a place to celebrate, and a relationship to defend if that were ever needed.

Phil Grano is a Melbourne lawyer.

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10 Responses to PHIL GRANO. A personal response to the marriage equality postal survey.

  1. Greg Latemore says:

    Hi Phil. Thank you for your honest and perceptive article. I too feel sad that our Church traditionally has been unfriendly to LGBT people. As an ex-priest myself (and while happily heterosexual!), I have many gay friends and in-laws: why should they not be welcome in God’s family? Can’t the leaders follow Jesus’ example and say too ‘ I call you friends’? You are not alone. Regards,

  2. J Knight says:

    God has historically been revealed/portrayed (depending on your POV) as a Father, Jesus, His Son and a more ‘neutered’ Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

    We are created in His image, and as a biological father of many, I can reasonably argue that I have an appreciation of the uniting and procreative elements of (monogamous sacramental) marriage. As a parent I also just may, and I rely on scripture about parents handing scorpions etc, also have some insight into what the old missal prayer says of God – Love, mercy and JUSTICE. To mislead my children by ignoring their ‘proclivities’ – as they say way up north – and the truth as revealed by biology if not reason, then I fail them on the justice count, irrespective of ‘bucket loads’ of love and mercy if it was mine to give.

    The Archbishop is in the same boat. If one of his priests or flock is a chainsaw enthusiast psychopath, irrespective if God ‘made’ them that way, in justice, we all have a duty to dissuade him/her/they of this error. If someone smokes – and like STD’s there are very well known health risks – a doctor would be remiss not to treat the issue as humanly/pastorally and medically ethically as possible. Ultimately, the person has to make the decision to change their lifestyle.

    The Secular State (The Executive, Parliament and High Court) errs in thinking that any of them can (or have the legitimate power to) redefine marriage from such a central element as the biological reality of the complementarity of sexes. It is questionable from logic, biology yet alone constitutional law, however, even if the matter was dealt with ‘lawfully’ and the Constitution amended, just why would, like the new law, monogamy be considered an essential element? Just what are the interests of the State in all this? Perhaps the Irish ‘couple’ avoiding death duties in Ireland may wake up the treasury?

    Indeed, the reverse slippery slope of overseas, not Westminster tradition, of male/female polygamy was the ratio (and I use that term in its strict formal legal sense only, as there was no rational thought involved) that the High Court – and wait for this from our Highest Court – said “probably” means that the sex of the partners is also a permissible variable!

    I am afraid, like Luther of old, Phil’s (and many others) experience and personal longing for recognition is more of an ‘excuse’ than ‘reason’ for rejection the Christian and generally truthful position of marriage.

    Is Phil my brother, or my son? Of course, and he is guaranteed of my love, God’s mercy, and freedom from persecution and abuse*, but, none of us are at liberty – that God given surprise – to reject truth or, in the face of God, just dismiss it like Pilate!

    *I would doubt any of the people Phil met would, in any situation, adopt the yobbo mindset. Tolerance, acceptance and discrimination (in its proper sense) are not all the same thing and do not impact on reason, civility and personal interactions. If someone felt the need to tell me they were gay or a serial Tinder user, I’m pretty sure my response would be the same.

    • Phil Grano says:

      Dear J Knight,

      Thank you for your response to my reflection. I think you are saying that there is something unjust and, perhaps, untrue about same sex relationships and thus the Archbishop must always act to correct that injustice even where it may seem unloving to do so. I think you are also saying that I, and other queer people, should and can expect civility in our dealings with you and others.

      But I am unclear why you think same sex relationships are unjust and untrue and so I cannot judge the validity of your position. I could surmise it is that you see such relationships proscribed by texts in the bible or traditional teachings of the Catholic and other Christian churches. If so, I note that what is just or unjust is not measured by the simple application of a text or teaching. Ethical judgements are formulated by examining
      – Motive
      – Intention
      – The nature of the act itself
      – The consequences of the act
      – Relevant values
      – Relevant principles
      – Relevant paradigms of ethical decision-making (including those from religion).
      When one is doing these things, one is exploring what is just or not.

      You conflate the notions of sacramental marriage and the state institution of marriage. I am unsure why. Nonetheless, I would hope that sacramental marriage will be provided to same sex couples. Your own experience of marriage indicates it has been a rich and rewarding one, yet you seem unwilling to share this opportunity with others who could benefit from it. It seems you prioritise the biological complementarity of the sexes as justification for not sharing it. This is superficial. Others, like me, prioritise the devoted nature of love that is shared in a relationship as the emblematic and sacramental aspect of marriage.

      Peter Bowron, who also responded to my reflection, is a heterosexual man who is willing to share what he has known in marriage.

      It intrigues me that, in asserting to be made in the image of God, you put forward your carnality and consequential procreativity. God is spirit; God’s creativity is not in a sexual way.

      When writing of justice, you make no mention why it is just not to make the benefits of the institution of marriage available to the children of same sex couples. Yet you are proud to be a parent who would not hand your child a scorpion.

      You guarantee me your love, but in the next sentence I am to infer that I will experience God’s wrath for rejecting truth and you emphasise this by concluding it with an exclamation mark. What love are you and your god really offering me? Is your guarantee of love a platitude? Are you (and your god) insincere?

      I note you mention in your response
      – a chainsaw enthusiast psychopath
      – STDs
      – Polygamy and bigamy
      – An Irish couple avoiding death duties
      – Luther (much reduced in stature)
      – Pilate
      – a serial Tinder user.
      Are you seeking to associate my reflection with these things to somehow discredit by association? If meant to truly succeed in presenting an argument that would persuade me I am wrong (as you suggest a good father would do) your argument lacks rigour, integrity and, to be honest, love.

      When Archbishop Fisher included the change to the law to allow same sex marriage as part of his annus horribilis, I did not experience this as civility. I did not experience this as a proclamation of justice offered in, and perhaps tempered by, a spirit of love. I experienced it as having a door slammed in my face.

    • Jim KABLE says:

      But J KNIGHT, Pilate did not dismiss truth – he washed his hands of involvement however – a symbolic form of standing back and being neutral in the face of Jewish leaders’ insistence in a sense that they too remain blameless by forcing Pontius P. to make a decision. In an case – none of it is provably true – this authority to which you appeal – certainly not in any historical sense. You have to read all these stories as metaphors for leading better lives.

      Your analogy of people being born (the emphasis is on the “born” here, J KNIGHT) the way they are – if one is to continue the religious metaphor of being created by God and in his image (body and parts/predisposition to being gay or indeed other) – as suggesting that someone is therefore capable of being born a chainsaw enthusiast psychopath is simply bizarre and marks you as having little to no common sense.

  3. Peter Bowron says:

    Phil, thank you for the reflection. I am a white, anglo, 63 year old, heterosexual male Catholic. I mention the others because to discriminate against anyone becasue of their race, sex, age or religion is anathema to both me and my wife of 37 years. Discrimination on the basis of gender orientation is just another thing that we reject. When the Yes campaign march was on in Sydney, we were proud to attend, and managed the day even though my wife was in a wheelchair. Along the way, we picked up a “Yes” flag which we attached to her wheelchair for the whole of the campaign.

    What surprised me, and probably shouldn’t have, is that we had two heterosexual couples, both older than us, thanks us for making the flag prominent in our external lives. One lady had a gay brother, the other couple just thanked us with no explanation. These were both in traditional “conservative Christian” areas of Sydney (the Hills.) after that, I had no doubts that the vote would go the way it went.

    As for our so called leaders, we withdrew our planned giving from the church because of their irrational opposition, giving it to the Yes campaign, , and I wrote to Bishop Comensoli about it. If I want to be a Christian, then all are my neighbours – there are no fine print exceptions in Christ’s second most important commandment.

    I had intended to return to giving after the vote in Parliament. However, so far I have found the responses of Bishops Hart and Fisher (in particular) to the report on the royal Commission incredibly negative. So again, we will withdraw funding, and it will go to somehow support survivors of this sexual abuse. Again, I will point out why to our bishop. Many of our friends, still Christian but no longer church going, have given up and just withdrawn. It is my faith, however distorted by the hierarchy, and I will stay and fight for it.

  4. Wayne Sanderson says:

    Good on you Phil – thanks for sharing your experience of a God worth knowing.
    Your friendship and care are a blessing to many people.

  5. Graham English says:

    PS Like his predecessor in Sydney he is not ‘the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia’ whatever he tells himself in the mirror each morning. I don’t know who is. Leaders by definition have followers.

  6. Graham English says:

    I feel exasperated ‘that the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia is incapable of reading the Spirit in our times, is so mean-spirited about love, the celebration of love and institutional support for love’.

    And that the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney so lacks gravitas, wisdom, breadth and kindness that if Martians arrived and said ‘take me to your leader’ I’d not even think of him when I tried to decide where to go first.

  7. Jim KABLE says:

    Bravo, Phil. I am not a Christian – but I have friends, good friends indeed, who are – and as you said – those uglier faces supposedly representing a supposed majority of the citizens thought to be Christian – fundamentalist Anglicans, Catholics and others of the ilk of the Lyle SHELTON sect – did not match those friends – of Uniting, Anglican and Catholic (Orthodox as well) faiths. I was a Christian as a boy – but it was the hypocrisy of those telling others how to live their lives while not doing as they told us to do which severed my faith. Your essay here deserves front page placement on daily newspapers. If God created us all – he created us all in our infinite diversity of ethnicity and genders – the God who made no mistakes. The god-made-man Jesus – whom our Christian politicians invoke increasingly at every public moment yet who know Him not – I could name Abbott, Morrison, Hockey and Dutton here – as have many others over this Christmas season – speaking of their explicit treatment of the poor and of refugees to name only two aspects.

  8. Peter (PJ) Johnstone says:

    Thanks for these insights, Phil Grano. Your perspective is valuable. Christian opposition to marriage equality and rejection of those with a different sexuality is simply unChristian.

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