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.