Dear Mode of Life,
As a convert to Orthodoxy, I find it perplexing that Australian federal and state politicians attend quite often, events convened by the various Orthodox Christian communities within this country. And it is perplexing, because on the one hand, the politicians speak about how they respect the community that they claim to represent and admire, often trundling out the usual spiel about the migrant success story and how they have contributed to Australia; but at the same time, put forward policies that do not support the various Orthodox Christian migrant communities (and the converts that have become a part of them), or at worse, advocate policies that infringe upon their rights as Australian citizens….
And as far as I can see it, beyond this usual rhetoric of Australian politicians who claim to be for multiculturalism and plurality, the reason that the various Orthodox Christian migrant communities came, was not merely to satisfy their material needs and to “make a better life” for themselves and their offspring. But to have the freedom to practice their culture and faith, to speak their language unhindered, and to have the freedom of political opinion. And they sought or seek to achieve this, while enduring much racism and discrimination, in addition to their efforts to adjust to the Australian context.
The many real-life stories I have encountered of Orthodox Christian migrants who came from Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, all tell of political oppression, the ravages of war and occupation, civil wars, genocides and religious and cultural persecution. Many have been confronted by Nazism, Fascism, Communism, Islamism, Zionism and much more…And yet the Australian politicians continue to ingratiate themselves for photo opportunities and try to put themselves forward as the representatives of these communities, without really knowing anything about them, or advocating policies contrary to their freedom and ethos. For example, Victoria’s rather extreme “abortion amendment act” that was passed by the Brumby government some years ago, or changes to laws regarding euthanasia without consultation, or similarly the new political distraction of same-sex marriage.
And I raise these comments in light of some events:
*1. Prime Minister Malcalom Turnbull attending the Gold Coast’s Greek Festival and then Kogorah’s very own Greek Festival, where he proclaimed himself to be an “unashamedly Philhellene” who loves and respects the wisdom and knowledge of Ancient Greece and Byzantium. And contrary to that wisdom and legacy for example, the Prime Minister is an advocate for same-sex marriage knowing fully well as a lawyer the sort of minefield it would create for peoples’ freedoms and rights, along with the social outcomes given the experience of other countries. (-Of course we can see the impact of how single parent families have impacted upon our society and the well-being of children, one can only guess what impact same-sex marriage will have. And Mr Turnbull, himself can speak about the issues facing a single parent home as he was raised in one..)
*2. Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett’s recent public lecture about mental health and working towards balance within one’s life at St John’s Greek Orthodox College. Naturally there was mention of the work that Beyond Blue does, an organization founded by Mr Kennett in dealing with issues of mental health and depression. An organization which militantly advocates the imposition of the “Safe Schools Program” which focuses more on promoting same-sex issues and places them ahead of more commonly experienced issues of safety within schools, such as bullying on the basis of race, religion, appearance etc. (In actual fact, bullying on the grounds of sexual preference does not rank high on a list of issues identified by a series of investigative commissions into school safety issues). A program which I further add, is insisting on implementing similar things like “gay days” and related activities to celebrate gay sexuality, ignoring completely the fact that we are dealing with minors who undergoing “growing pains” as they are entering into adulthood with many psychological, physical and hormonal changes occurring in their lives. Needless to say it is a confusing time for many, and where their opinion is changing ever-constantly. Nevertheless, Mr Kennett is also a staunch advocate of same-sex marriage and other similar agendas.
*3. This coming weekend’s event of Oakleigh’s Greek Festival which celebrates both the religious feast of the Holy Unmercenaries Sts Kosmas and Damian, as well as the local Greek community’s heritage together with other multicultural groups. An event which for example Premier Daniel Andrews and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will be present at. The views of both leaders have been very clear regarding same-sex marriage, with Premier Daniels who also effectively removed special religious instruction from public schools, while Mr Shorten putting into place systems which deny Labor politicians the right from abstaining or differing in opinion regarding same-sex marriage and the LGBT agenda.
Now the point I wish to raise, is, surely we can all see an inconsistency in the situation, that there is a disconnect between the Orthodox Christian communities and our supposedly political representatives. How do we deal with this as Orthodox Christians or as a Church? Why is it, that religious and ethnic communities far smaller than ours, seem to secure government funding and support far more easily, and are far more vocal? For example, there are more Orthodox Christians in Australia than there are gays or Muslims, and yet they are heard and are supported. Why have we not ever seen on that Q and A program people from an Orthodox background, even if the show is a bit stilted to one particular view by the choice of panelists and the program’s structure?
Could you share your thoughts or comments regarding this?
With kind regards,
MODE OF LIFE RESPONDS TO QUERY
You open a real can of worms which have many issues and topics attached to it. Yet you clearly are well versed in the issues of our times and observe things very carefully.
THE BEGINNING OF THE PROBLEM
And I am impressed by your knowledge and depth of understanding of the migrant/ethnic origin of Australia’s Orthodox Christian communities and the forces that brought them out here. It is unfortunate, that the children and grandchildren of the migrants do not understand these things, or are unwilling to learn; but are happy to accept, like the politicians, the usual script of migrants coming out to “make a better lives for themselves and their offspring” in terms of material measures. And that is where the first fundamental problem begins. Because it is these “nominal” Orthodox Christians who virtually know nothing about the Faith, how it relates to everyday life, its positive and proactive approach and answers to real issues of everyday life, and for many they wish to remain in ignorance. Church is something that they might attend once or twice a year, or once in a lifetime….And when you speak of spiritual truths, they either misunderstand it, ignore it or are quick to take offence without serious investigation and to take it personally.
Consequently, for many, it is materialism and the bizarre individualism of our society which rules their minds and their judgements without realizing that they are being programmed by these influences to think and act in a particular way. (I say bizarre individualism because our society supposedly celebrates the worth of the individual to the detriment of everything else such as family and community, but ironically reduces the individual to a mere number within a “rat race”, which even if you come out on top, you still remain a rat!)
And of course media, schools, apparent societal values are key dynamics in this, along with the hesitancy of the migrants and refugees to really bring their story to their offspring who they are trying to integrate or assimilate into Australia…And if they are willing to tell, how many of their offspring are willing to listen? (And furthermore, how much does Australia or Australians really want this story of legacy to become part of the nation’s fabric, as many just really don’t care, because we are “in Australia”, “don’t bring it here”).
In taking these points into consideration, I can recall a recent workshop I attended at Foundation House which is an organization geared towards the assistance and settlement of refugees. Within the seminar that I attended, they spoke about the reasons and factors which compelled refugees to leave their homes and risk the unknown. They discussed the various traumas they suffered as well as the dislocation of settling in an unknown land with foreign customs and language. We had guest speakers who presented their experiences, as well as case workers and researchers contributing their own input. At the conclusion of the seminar, the overriding themes were freedom and safety as the impetus for many coming to Australia.
As the grandson of refugees and the son of migrants, the topic hit a rather raw nerve for me personally, because the reasons why my grandparents (and relatives presently) fled their Middle Eastern homeland was due to persecution of their ethno-religious identity. They were second-class citizens in their own home, while their children endured Nazi occupation, a civil war, right-wing extremism, militant communists and economic depravation. To which could be added racism and discrimination in Australia as you so rightly pointed out. And now in their old age, if things like same-sex marriage and other such agendas with their related legal and social implications become a reality, would place them again in the position of persecution and discrimination. (-Of course if you asked my father he would say that it never went away).
POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS & ORTHODOX HESITANCY
And so this brings us to the ever-shifting sands and quagmire of the current Australian political scene, where politicians on either side of politics do not seem to stand for any clear values or policies. The only ideology they all seem to subscribe to, is that they are all members of the “dollars-worshippers party” which is governed not by values, but by the dictates of banks and their economic ethos, no matter how unsustainable, inept or foolish it may be (-and I say this coming originally from an economics and commerce background myself, putting aside the so-called various financial crises that has gripped the world as evidence)….
But you may say that politics has always been unclean and unstable, and this is true, because it is about power, control and who has it and exercises it. And what is true today in not true tomorrow in the political scene, and this is one of the key reasons that the Orthodox Church hesitates to comment or engage the political scene, as it seeks to be above the pettiness, selfishness and stupidities of politics. It may not always be successful in this sense, as our human Church history attests to ambitious individuals manipulating and taking advantage of the Church, and using it for things which are not the Church’s concerns; but as the ancient philosophers observed, the human person by nature is a political beast. From a Christian perspective, we would cite this is our fallen and debased instinct that seeks to subvert the true and immortal identity and divine image within every person.
Not surprisingly, the Church throughout its history has many canons and guidelines advising clergymen and laity to keep political engagement to the bare minimum, so as to avoid being put in a position that would cause a believer to not render to God what belongs to God. And more to the point, to avoid the taint that politics can stain a person with if they are not discerning or careful. It is not coincidental that Our Lord and Saviour warned of rendering “to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, emphasizing that we do have a civic duty as people of a human society, but also our duty to God whom we all will dwell with for all eternity (for some it will be paradise and for others it will be hellish – but that’s another discussion).
WHAT STEPS CAN BE TAKEN
Now given all these points we have mentioned there are certain things we can do as both a civic and religious duty:
*1. Learn about our Orthodox Christian Faith and know what its teachings are.
*2. Learn and examine all aspects of a particular issue we wish to engage, and see how our Faith applies or discerns it. And it is here where we are able to put into action, the social justice that Christ and the Church Fathers spoke about and taught. (-Read in particular the works of St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom regarding social justice and political activism).
*3. Inform the appropriate ecclesial authorities regarding the issue at hand.
*4. Inform other fellow believers of the issue of concern.
*5. If the appropriate ecclesial authorities bless and permit action to be taken, they will either make the first steps or allow you and those of similar mind to form an action group.
*6. Remember that as Orthodox, our perspective is not formed by ideologies, nor are we advocates of one ideology over another. We are not advocates of civil rights and liberation movements in of themselves. The criteria for discernment is the Gospel and the teachings of Christ, is how we measure any given issue whether spiritual, emotional, psychological, political, economic etc. In Orthodoxy there is no left or right wing divide (and should not be either), nor a sense of progress or backwardness, nor a liberation or a revolution, rather there are certain necessary principles and frameworks which underpin a stable, harmonious and fair human communion, irrespective of what form it may take such as a democracy, family or a local neighbourhood.
*7. Accordingly, voicing our concern must be in line with this perspective of the Gospel when we communicate to the political authorities. The example of St Justin Martyr in the Apostolic era is a very good illustration of how we bring our concern or correct misinformation before political authorities.
*8. Yet, we need to remain informed of where the political authorities stand regarding the particular issue we are concerned about (IE euthanasia). Thus naming politicians and highlighting their stance is a crucial point, and not take sides by overlooking a Liberal political member of parliament who agrees with late term abortions, but holding to account a Labor member of parliament who also advocates it. And as I said, our perspective is not to show favouritism or be advocates of an ideology, but to discern things from the perspective of the Gospel.
*8. This of course requires action groups and lobbies whose focus is in line with the Gospel or is similar in perspective. This could mean forming an Orthodox Christian action group that lobbies or links into associations such as the Australian Christian Lobby. And this point is very relevant as the options politically are becoming fewer with each state and federal elections for Christians in general as well as other cultural, ethnic and religious groups. We now have groups such as the “Australian Sex Party” which has certain policies that are of serious concern and will become reality as the wider public have grown tired of the major parties prevaricating and taking their votes for granted. And it is unfortunate to see the lack of socio-political maturity of Australian voters thinking that voting for groups like the Australian Sex Party is a laugh, entertaining, and will help correct the negative dynamics of Australia’s current political morass. I have heard people even cite that they vote for such a party because it has the word “sex” in it, which is a ridiculous reason. But then again in Australia, sports holds more importance than religion or politics, and the only forum for discussion at best, is the pathetic, carefully engineered and stilted “Q and A”! The real serious dialogue just simply does not exist….
Having said all that, you are correct James in pointing out, that the politicians do not represent us and are slowly through legislation (combined with the media’s moulding of public opinion) denying us any forums to speak in, and deny us the freedoms which the Orthodox Christian migrants and refugees sought in settling here.
And unfortunately it brings us back to the indifference, ignorance and unwillingness of our faithful to act, because we need to recognize that it is the people who make up the Church established on Christ; and if they are not active in their faith, then the Church is not active, as it mirrors their reality and not of God’s purpose. A few clergymen and some laity can only effect so much. The burden of responsibility falls on the heads of too few, while the rest are non-committal or lazy.
Consequently, the Church in Australia has remained upon the sidelines as a result of this; but also, since it was a migrant Church that remained insular because of the racism and discrimination that Orthodox migrants and refugees experienced in settling in Australia. To which we could further add, problems of legal recognition as being a Church in Australia, as church parishes right up until the mid 1980s were registered as war memorials, club associations, philanthropic societies and other various forms of notarization in order to be permitted to be constructed. So the path has not been easy at all and is not easy at present either.
The recent lecture given here in Melbourne regarding same-sex marriage for example, should have had ten times the number of people attending it from across all Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, as well as a larger venue to accommodate them. The keynote speakers spoke about the legalities, social impacts, educational consequences and much more. Of the topics covered, was invariably the influence and power of the Safe Schools Policy Programme which is being forced upon schools currently. And as many of us either knew previously, or learnt at the lecture, this programme is a very vociferous and strong supporter of same-sex marriage and purported “gay rights”.
Now the irony here is, that in 2008, the Federal Parliament passed a series of legislation that enfranchised all types of couples, including gay couples to the same rights as is accorded to married couples. The one issue pertaining specifically to gay couples that was left for further discussion was regarding custody of children, which took into consideration child psychology and emotional well-being, so the law was not very clear on this point. Nevertheless the only difference between for example de-facto, gay and married couples is their characteristics which define what they are, as for example a de-facto relationship is known as such because of the couple’s choice to not get married but to live together. (-Now there are some who object to the term “de-facto” and wish to use another term, but marriage cannot be one of them as that couple chose to not be married.)
However, as you noted James, Mr Kennett is a vocal proponent for same-sex marriage and his organization Beyond Blue is one of the chief supporters of the Safe Schools Programme. And I duly note the irony in that this man who advocates such a position spoke at an Orthodox Christian College. A college which might be forced to close down, be silenced or be compelled under legal and political duress to advocate that which it does not believe, a freedom which the Orthodox Faithful sought when settling in Australia, and have the right to exercise which is God-given to all peoples and as is also cited in the UN Charter of Human Rights.
Nevertheless, there are many other Australian politicians we could consider:
*Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who though known for being very attuned to ethnic and religious groups and minorities, has supported same-sex marriage contrary to the protests of these various peoples, including traditional custodians of Australia, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who objected strenuously to the imposition of same-sex marriage legislation upon them. And yes you are right in highlighting, contrary to popular belief, that the ancient Greeks whom (Turnbull holds in such high regard) objected to homosexuality within their society, and as we know, the Athenians passed legislation seeking to curtail it.
And the view of those ancient Greeks along with other ancient civilisations, was that their objections was based on the fact that they saw homosexuality as another form of fornication or adultery that was outside of marriage, and threatened the stability of society by threatening the stability of marriage and the family, by putting forward a temptation of an alternative form of sexual expression. The Byzantines took a similar view, that all forms of sexual expression outside of marriage was both a perversion and a danger to the stability of a healthy and functioning society. And that such sexual expressions promote moral relativism creating a situation where anything goes, which in turn creates chaos. They differed with the ancients, in that they spoke about citing behaviour and not condemning the individual who engaged in it, and the need for personal counselling.
But of course our Philhellene Prime Minister seems to have overlooked this point and attended two Greek Orthodox festivals….Irony would be an understatement here…
*Premier Daniel Andrews – Attended the Greek National Day Parade to the Shrine back in March, issued a statement in the Neos Kosmos newspaper about how we must never forget the sacrifices Greeks made in World War II in the fight for freedom, in addition to attending a Greek Orthodox festival this weekend. Yet his advocacy for same-sex marriage would see our clergy and laity go to jail or pay hefty fines for “bigotry” etc due to not towing the line regarding same-sex marriage. Furthermore he played a crucial role in the formation and implementation of Victoria’s Abortion Amendment Act when he served as a minister in the Brumby Labor government some years ago. And more recently, he scrapped Special Religious Instruction within public schools without consultation with religious groups, and has paid lip service to including some sort of religious discipline within the new programme he seeks to implement.
A point we need to consider carefully as our schools form the future citizens of the Australian nation which is part of a globalized community, and which depends heavily upon trade. Creating students who are not culturally or religiously aware or attuned is suicide for trade and diplomatic relations, as well as for the multicultural fabric of Australian society. Such ignorance is a liability if anything, but then again the way we teach foreign languages in Australia is also something of an amiable joke, (so we struggle to communicate with our neighbours)…Yet to step on spiritual growth and expression is also stunting students who are not merely rational beings governed entirely by logic (and even moreso as they are going through their teenage years, and I say this as a teacher!). The human person is a complex holistic being who experiences things on many different levels, from the emotional dimension to the realm of the senses, while psychologically consists of the conscious being and unconscious being and much more. Thus, to stifle spiritual expression is tantamount to stunting a person’s holistic growth and development and takes away their inviolable God-given right to self-expression and freedom. Yet by stunting people in this manner, creates individuals who are very fixed and inflexible in their views and perspective of the world around them, and tend to seek solace in materialism as an outlet to fill that inner void. But the problem is, is that such an outlet neither gives focus, meaning or purpose to a person’s life, it cannot show them love or allow them to experience love. Rather, materialism merely distracts a person for a while, and forms them into being small-minded and selfish individuals.
*Bill Shorten – Leader of the Labor Party, supposed Christian, and strongly supports same-sex marriage moreso on the grounds of political expediency than actual conviction despite appearances. Has been instrumental in putting in place measures that would silence and expel labor party members who dissent on supporting same-sex marriage legislation, with the possible threat of legal action for “bigotry”. This point is going to be a rather sore point for Labor politicians who represent constituents that do not agree with same-sex marriage, particularly Labor seats that represent sizeable ethnic and religious minorities.
*Jenny Mikakos (nominal Orthodox Christian) – Seen at every Orthodox Christian function for photo opportunities, but is an advocate of same-sex marriage and various policies supporting euthanasia. And as parliamentarian insiders assert, was one of the members who supported the passing of the Brumby government’s notorious “Abortion Amendment Act” that took away doctors’ right to conscience, and permitted late-term abortions right up until or near enough to birth, along with “partial-birth abortions” (-I’m not familiar with this specific procedure, but I know of some other methods).
*Arthur Sinodinos (nominal Orthodox Christian) – Federal member of the National Parliament. Very strong and vocal supporter of same-sex marriage. His views on abortion and euthanasia are very unclear, but it seems his stance regarding abortion seems to follow a very lax approach to what is a very delicate and sensitive issue.
*Anna Burke – Federal member for Chisolm and often seen and photographed at Christian and ethnic group functions. Very strong proponent of same-sex marriage, has been vocal regarding abortion rights, is unclear regarding matters of euthanasia. Responded to letters of concern raised to her by various Orthodox Christians regarding her stance on same-sex marriage, to which she replied in a very subtle manner to tell those concerned to remain silent and just simply accept without question proposed legislation (Copies of some of these letters and the responses to them have been forwarded onto me, but I will not publish them).
*Nick Xenophon (nominal Orthodox Christian) – Vocal advocate for same-sex marriage and “gay rights” even though 2008 federal legislation enfranchised gay couples. Tends to be pro-abortion and seems to be very pro-euthanasia, but at least has the sense to advocate certain conditions into any prospective policies regarding it.
*Steve Georganas (nominal Orthodox Christian) – Vocal advocate for same-sex marriage and “gay rights” even though 2008 federal legislation enfranchised gay couples.
*Josh Frydenberg – Jewish Federal member of parliament, who contrary to Jewish religious teachings strongly advocates same-sex marriage legislation. Ironic when one considers that the Jewish community of Australia predominately traces it origins to survivors of World War II and came to Australia so as to have the freedom to practice their religion and culture unhindered, which future same-sex marriage legislation and its consequences would deny these rights….
*Matthew Guy – Leader of Victoria’s state Liberal party branch and thus the current opposition leader within Victorian state parliament. Strongly supports same-sex marriage legislation. Whether this is due to political expediency or conviction it is unclear, but what can be discerned is that he has not made his stance regarding many socio-ethical issues clear, indicating the political astuteness to avoid committing to anything.
In any case, there are many other politicians that we could mention, but for brevity I cite the above-mentioned as examples of a cross-section of the typical political figures of Australia. Figures who assert they represent us, and yet do not consult us and often ingratiate themselves to religious and ethnic communities, for the express purpose of photo opportunities. More flash than substance if truth be told.
Yet for me, having read the correspondence of a certain Middle Eastern Orthodox Christian gentleman, best sums up the struggle before us. The gentleman in question came to Australia as a refugee and in his letter he cites the reasons why he, not by choice became a refugee. Duly noting that his forced exodus from a homeland that he loves immensely, was to seek the freedom to be able to speak his language, practice his faith and culture unhindered, without fear of persecution or obstacle. He went on to highlight to his federal representative that if legislation changes, it would invalidate the very reasons why he came to Australia, and that he would be better to have stayed in his homeland and be killed by jihadists. The federal member in question did not respond to his letter, nor brought it to the attention of colleagues. I am currently seeking to get his permission to publish the letter on our website along with correcting the grammatical and spelling mistakes in it.
But don’t worry James, rest assured the same gentleman is accosted by his local federal member each year for a photo opportunity at the local church function and receives annually, empty Paschal and Christmas greetings from the said member, a member who rejects that very man’s Christian beliefs and his concerns. A simple man who has been a quiet law-abiding citizen, and never sought anything from anybody, least of all his “political representative”.
So the question is, why do Australian politicians believe they have the backing of the Orthodox Church? What and how exactly are Australian politicians representing Orthodox Christians and the ethnic groups which are attached to this spiritual identity, as well as the converts who became Orthodox due to the Church’s beliefs and teachings?
In any case James, I hope I have provided you with some thoughts and comments that are constructive to your request. May the Lord keep you and your loved ones in health and wisdom.
With the sincere and humble love of Christ
VM on behalf of Mode of Life Project