How disrespectful! How tragic!

24 Jun

First the disrespectful, courtesy of an email from The Empress.


Mind you, odd as I find the whole World Youth Day thing as a somewhat bizarre manifestation of Jesus of Nazareth, I am not going to rain on their parade too much, as some aspects will be worthwhile. For example, I was struck by what Indigenous artist Tom Lewis had to say on ABC Local’s Sunday Night Talk last Sunday. (I will be highlighting links from here on, by the way, but not retrospectively, apart from the recent Around the Blogs series…)

How Tragic! 1

Zimbabwe is descending deeper into the pit, isn’t it? There is to be a report on Foreign Correspondent tonight, not to be missed: Zimbabwe – On the Run, featuring prominent Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) politician Sekai Holland and her husband Jim. Dorothy McRae-McMahon from South Sydney Uniting Church did a profile of Sekai Holland, whom she has known for some years, in The South Sydney Herald in April.


That story really was outstanding. Bear in mind that some of the women and children we saw have since been “rounded up.” We have had some strong words from the United Nations too, at last. At the moment (10.40 pm) Archbishop Desmond Tutu is being interviewed on Lateline. He is raising the possibility of — no, advocating — invoking the UN doctrine of responsibility to protect. The problem is that this would have to get past veto by Security Council member(s), China being the most obvious probability there… See too the June archive on This is Zimbabwe. [Search my blog for Mugabe.]

Sunday night 29 June

We’ve had Nelson Mandela coming out against the failure of leadership in Zimbabwe, and now Desmond Tutu has been even stronger: Tutu urges rejection of Mugabe rule:

Archbishop Tutu said Mr Mugabe should play no part in Zimbabwe’s future and repeated his call for military intervention by a United Nations force, spearheaded by African troops if necessary.

How Tragic! 2

Did you see Four Corners last night?


One moral from this: if any church — any religious group at all — asks for your brain as you enter the building and discourages doubt and questioning, walk away. The urge for certainty is, in my opinion, the enemy of faith. On the other hand, the issue of limits to religious freedom — probably there should be — is fraught with difficulty. Who decides those limits? How might they be enforced?

CHRIS MASTERS (to Helen Pomery): Could you have ever got it right in the eyes of the elders?

HELEN POMERY, BRISBANE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP 1986-2001: No, you, as a victim when you are targeted there, you come to the realisation that you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. So there were things that I tried desperately to obey and submit and I would be suffering discipline because I had cooked too much food, I had made the bed in the wrong way.

CHRIS MASTERS (to Morag Zwartz): Can they get it right?

MORAG ZWARTZ, AUTHOR: No, but that’s the thing. This, as I say, I see it as a manufactured concept to give them the wherewithal to beat you up, to be the way they want you to be.

CHRIS MASTERS: Even so, on any Sunday they turn up – ordinary decent people, university students, carpenters, landscape gardeners, teachers, police officers, accountants, doctors and lawyers.

DAVID LOWE, BRISBANE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP 1985-2000: It’s not a matter of intelligence. Hey, I was there for about 18, 20 years. I was there boots and all, committed.

MORAG ZWARTZ, AUTHOR: It has nothing to do with intelligence. I really believe that very strongly. Intelligence, it’s just not part of it; it’s some other part of our psyche. It’s some other part of that combination of vulnerability and need and all those other things that we all have that the church addresses.

DR RACHAEL KOHN, RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS, ABC RADIO NATIONAL: Even decent and kind people can believe things which are fundamentally unfair and even abusive. It is abusive to actually interfere in someone’s private life, to tell them that they mustn’t be married to that person or that they must leave their children because they have been somehow caught in Satan’s web.

It’s very important that this kind of teaching, wherever it emerges, is seen as not only abusive but indeed even un-Christian.

CHRIS MASTERS: Earlier this month there was a brief report in the Brisbane media of a man found dead at the bottom of a gully in Samford. William Wise was another with a troubled history at BCF. Initial police investigations indicate suicide.

Attributing a single cause to suicide is difficult, as is understanding the degree to which episodes linked to BCF are unusual.

Bill Johnston’s son Ray left the church and suicided in 2004.

CHRIS MASTERS (to Bill Johnston): Do you feel that the church was in any way responsible?

BILL JOHNSTON, BRISBANE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP 1957-1984: I can’t prove that that is so. I can only conclude that it’s so because I lost him and they took over his role. They took over the role as a father to him…

(Excerpts from letters and stories):

VOICEOVER: When people leave BCF they are ostracised.

VOICEOVER 2: The saddest things is the families that have been split.

VOICEOVER 3: Courting and marriage are controlled.

VOICEOVER 4: I believe there’s something very seriously wrong with the BCF movement.

(End of excerpts)

HELEN POMERY, BRISBANE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP 1986-2001: I feel that I’ve healed, I’ve seen enough, I’ve looked back over the history of this movement and I feel if I cannot save my children, my grandchildren, then I can certainly warn people to beware of them. And maybe as my letter did, I can maybe get a word of courage to some of the people in there to say, get out while you can. Leave that evil, wicked place and be safe.

DAVID LOWE, BRISBANE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP 1985-2000: I’d like to say that the reason I am talking is because I need to warn my family. There’s four of my family in there – my wife and three kids – and they need to know from me as a husband and a father that I believe they’re in a bad place.

MORAG ZWARTZ, AUTHOR: I think everyone is a victim. I think people who are there are victims and I think people who’ve got out are victims. I would argue that the people who are there right now and think that everything is okay are victims. They’re victims in the sense that even if they haven’t realised it yet, they’ve been robbed of a huge part of their capacity to operate as an independent person…

CHRIS MASTERS: This is not the first time “Four Corners” has reported on an abusive, secretive church. Despite the massive community harm, governments and mainstream churches avoid interference. The freedom to preach what we like and believe what we like comes at a cost that is not always hidden.

DR RACHAEL KOHN, RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS, ABC RADIO NATIONAL: I think the answer to cases like this is to expose them, to be critical of them, to be unafraid to subject religious groups no matter who they are to this kind of scrutiny and hope that there will be enough concern and alarm that there will be more help, also more awareness…

CHRIS MASTERS: There is a good side. There are survivors who have done so not because of another’s word but because they were able to recover their ability to think for themselves and recapture their life.

And if there is anything else that is good in this story, it’s that for once it might have come along before it is all too late.

Quite unlike South Sydney Uniting Church, I assure you.

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5 responses to “How disrespectful! How tragic!

  1. Denys

    June 24, 2008 at 11:36 am

    “I am not going to rain on their parade too much, as some aspects will be worthwhile.” I can’t imagine what. I am annoyed that as a taxpayer I am paying to host a religious event. From the Herald:
    “The biggest cost to taxpayers would be extra transport and traffic management, followed by security costs for additional police and health services – including emergency units, first-aid officers and ambulances – and having the State Emergency Service, NSW Maritime and NSW Fire Brigades on stand-by.”
    How can the State find money for this when it cannot properly fund either public education, hospitals or for that matter public transport. Arrgh!

  2. ninglun

    June 24, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Yeah, I also find that aspect outrageous, not that their funding of those things would have been much better even if there had been no WYD. I guess there is also some inflow of cash coming with it, if not as much as some seem to have hoped.

    I was referring to some of the cultural and artistic events that come with WYD; the one I am referring to is an interesting Indigenous event.

    There are also a number of GLBT side events happening, some within the Catholic (and other) churches, but not of course organised by Cardinal Pell and the official team.

  3. siir

    June 25, 2008 at 3:00 am


  4. missionlog

    June 25, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Re. the Four Corners BCF piece –
    “DR RACHAEL KOHN, RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS, ABC RADIO NATIONAL: Even decent and kind people can believe things which are fundamentally unfair and even abusive. It is abusive to actually interfere in someone’s private life…”

    While I don’t support the activities BCF is accused of here, I’d have to say I disagree that what is termed interfering in someone’s life is either fundamentally unfair or abusive. How do you deal with the collateral damage due to alcoholism or other substance abuse? How do you provide justice for victims of violence against women, or other types of real abuse? There must be a means for community intervention aka, interference.

  5. ninglun

    June 25, 2008 at 8:41 am

    I agree that Rachel Kohn’s observations are not without their problems; she often has interesting people and ideas on her Radio National program, but is (in my opinion) often delightfully woolly in her own thinking.

    A footnote about the denomination covered in the Four Corners program: it may or may not be appropriate (or ironic) that the Sydney branch is centred on Camden.

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