Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Letter to Wendy

This is an open letter which I have sent to Wendy Francis, a senate candidate for Family First in the 2010 federal election. In case you don't recognise the name, she is the one who said those nasty things about gay couples on her twitter account. If you feel strongly about the issue (one way or another), feel free to leave me a comment. I will delete overly rude or hateful comments, but I will not delete a comment just because I disagree with you.

PLEASE keep in mind that I was very much writing to a specific audience with this letter. The tone of this piece doesn't reflect my general outlook at all.

Even better, if you agree with what I'm saying, email Wendy (or a Family First candidate in your area) and let them know. You can find contact pages for many of the states linked from the Family First website.

Dear Wendy (and others),

Thank you for the brochure you sent to me in the mail outlining your values. I have some thoughts which I think would be valuable for you to take on board. Please do not dismiss me as 'just another liberal nut-case'; I do not intend to offend, but I hope you can take these comments as constructive debate. I do apologise for the invective you have (no doubt) received from some others on my side of politics regarding your comments on twitter; I intend to provide a genuine opinion from the other side of things, and I hope you may eventually be swayed by me and so many others who disagree with you.

What I really want to discuss is your objection to gay marriage: while I understand that you believe that children are not well served by having gay parents, the evidence is to the contrary. I have been following the Prop 8 trial in California in detail, and all of the evidence presented by both sides suggested that children with gay parents do no worse than children with straight parents. In fact, for a male gay couple to have a child, they are overwhelmingly likely to have received it from some situation in which the child was unwanted, or the parent was unable to care for it. These children are much better off in stable families with two fathers or two mothers than they are with (for example) single parents who cannot afford to keep them. Or perhaps you would prefer those children had simply been aborted? Of course you wouldn't. I acknowledge that many Christians disapprove of homosexuality, and I expect that in the face of civil marriage being extended to same-sex couples, most Christian churches would continue to refuse to marry gay couples. However, allowing gay marriage will, in fact, benefit many children, and harm none.

If you would like to see some of the evidence in relation to this lack of harm, I would encourage you to read the decision handed down by Judge Walker the other week (you can find it online); it contains numerous findings of fact from the evidence presented at trial aside from the final legal opinion. I do not believe that you could read the trial material extensively and remain opposed to allowing gay marriage, though I certainly support your right to disapprove of gay couples. As you so aptly put it in your debate against Fiona Patten: It's a free country. However, when even your own party members, members of the most conservative party in Australia, feel unable to defend your position (see Bob's response to your twitter comments), perhaps you need to re-examine it. I believe you have lost sight of the central tenets of Christianity (love and compassion), because you are too busy expressing your moral disapproval of one particular minority.

I believe that religion still has an important part to play in society; it gives people something to look up to, and a reason to be good people in spite of a police and judicial system which is, sometimes, unable to effectively punish crime. Unfortunately, in an increasingly progressive and tolerant society, the Christian church risks seeming irrelevant, particularly to the younger generation. I know your party does not directly represent any particular church; however, people do see you as the party which speaks for the Christian interest. An increasing number of young people have gay friends and family (by which, of course, I mean out gay friends and family, as the actual number likely hasn't changed much.) To see the church so outspokenly opposed to people they love is a tense way to live, and something has to give. Your strong position, one in which you not only disallow gay people from expressing their love within the church, but attempt to extend your religious disapproval to civil society and their very right to marry (an institution not linked to the church for a great many Australians), is very alienating. It drives people away from the church. It certainly did me; I couldn't continue to be a member of an organisation which was so hostile to people I love.

Ultimately, I would like to see the church as a tolerant institution in which a vulnerable gay teenager could expect to go to a minister with his troubles and receive genuine approval and support, in much the same way as a straight teenager might. I accept that that is probably not achievable, and certainly not in the short term. However, I think a more achievable goal is to cut back on the more overt intolerance, and you, as a senate candidate who many people see as representing the Christian position, could do a great deal to help the church move towards tolerance. The opposition many parents feel towards your party is a reaction to how mistreated they worry their child will be by the chaplaincy program, should they turn out gay. Teenagers with gay friends or siblings see you as a threat to their friends and family. People who believe in freedom and civil liberty see you depriving gay people of a basic human right, as Judge Walker put it, with "no rational basis."

I would like to call on you, as a leader even before the ballots are in, to re-consider your position, and to understand that you can maintain your own personal values without painting the Church (and your party) as a backwards, intolerant institution, but rather, one focused on protecting children and the Australian family, however it be formed. Stop your opposition to same-sex marriage; stop making comments which paint gay people as second-class citizens, or imply that they are somehow harmful to children. Comments like that only cement intolerance and hatred in the hearts and minds of Australians. Comments like that only increase the bullying and violence faced by young gay people. Comments like that lead young people to repress their feelings, to devalue themselves, and to depression, and suicide. Comments like that lead gay people to unloving opposite-sex marriages, which end in broken families and divorce. Defy all of that; campaign, instead, for an end to intolerance; champion loving marriage and committed families, however they are made up. I do not believe you can have both protection for children and young people, and opposition to gay marriage. It is a one-or-the-other proposition. Treating gay people as anything but equal to straight people harms young teenagers at their most vulnerable, and keeps children out of loving families.

If you cannot find it in your heart to do all of this, that is your right, as a free Australian. But I challenge you to first, look the nation in the face, and say that this is what Jesus would condemn gay people to: bullying, and violence, and intolerance; a second-class citizen, not afforded the rights of straight people. If you can do that, then I am afraid that your heart is hard, and I will know that I was right to walk away from my Church.

I would love to see the church and its proponents as a positive, healing force in today's society. Please be a part of making that happen.

Kind Regards,

Lionell Pack

ps If I have touched you, but not convinced you, please tell me where your worries lie. I was once an intolerant Christian who found the path to compassion, and perhaps I can help with the speck in your eye.
pps This is an open letter. I have copied it to a number of people, and will publish it on my blog. I feel strongly about this issue, and if my comments cannot help you, perhaps they can help another.


  1. lionel, that is such a brilliant, well-worded letter! i'm interested to know if you ever received an equally well-thought out response?

  2. Hi Gary,
    Sorry to take so long to reply - it's been a busy few months! Wendy put me off until after the election, saying she was interested in discussing my points, but too busy right then with her campaign. When I pushed her for that discussion a few weeks after the election, I got no response.