Up here in National Party heartland, things are hotting up in regard to the proposed price on carbon. The NP faithful are going into overdrive, and the Port newspapers are issuing challenges left, right and centre to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, daring her to come on up and explain that there carbon tax to them in person, dammit. Somewhat surprisingly, the Wauchope newspaper appears to be much more balanced, offering a much more thoughtful discussion of the issues involved.
It is these newspapers that have given rise to this particular blog. Those of you in the Uniting Church would be aware that our church actually has a statement on climate change and the environment and discipleship. Last week, the National Director of Uniting Justice sent out a press release congratulating the government on its stand on carbon pricing, reiterating UCA support for this policy.
John and I sent the press release with a few comments to the three local papers. We know it was printed in the Wauchope Gazette and the Port Paper. It was possibly printed in the Port News. In this electorate, where the local member Mr 72% is king, this press release was not viewed benignly by all.
The Gazette carried a letter stating that the Uniting Church should stay right out of politics. We have responded by reminding the letter-writer that any church that stands up for the poor, the marginalised, and the environment must be political if it is to challenge the social, political and commercial structures that enable such injustices or problems to occur in the first place. We also pointed this out to one of the local pastors, who distrusted the local Federal member and who believed the NP rhetoric, and who was not happy with our stand.
The published article in the Port Paper (and possibly the Port News) drew another type of response. John received a Snowy Mountain postcard pertaining to be from someone in the Labor party in Sussex St, Sydney. It reads:
“Dear Comrade John, Ref. Port Macquarie Paper. Your support for our Labor Party initiatives is great. With the loss of the Rev. Harry Herbert, our Labor Party member, we have needed someone like you who believes in the Fabians and homosexuality. Your success with the lesbian pastors is commendable. Keep up the good work. Con Raftopolous, Sussex St, Sydney.”
I apologise to any Con Raftopolous for reproducing his name, should there be such a person. The postcard was postmarked Mid North Coast. It was so ridiculous that John couldn’t stop laughing when I read it out to him.
The handwriting, was however, recognised. Apparently it was none other than Mr Carp, our friend and Carp’s Corner columnist from that scurrilous rag, the Port Paper. The Carp was cornered indeed.
There is something deeply disturbing about this response. While its sublime ridiculousness provoked mirth, the thought processes behind it are deeply disturbing. Beneath the sarcasm lurked the rhetoric of hate, a hate that was aimed at minority groups and which used the gay and lesbian community as symbols to express dislike and disdain.
I find it disturbing that, despite its perverted goals, such rhetoric effectively influences people via our media and the political leaders who may seek power and status ahead of the well-being of the Australian population and the future of the planet. Our pastor friend’s opinion made it clear that those who read such rhetoric can be persuaded by it. Up here in National Party heartland, it is rhetoric that "works."
In an article on this topic at http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-20-fall-2001/rhetoric-hate the author noted that “[George] Orwell warned that clichéd and pretentious language is more than a stylistic nuisance -- it also obscures the truth. Such language is potentially dangerous. It has been used by governments to manipulate public opinion in support of destructive policies.”
It is also rhetoric that most Christians should despise and want to dismantle, as hate is as real a force as love or compassion. The arguments used by the Carps of this world are often deceptively friendly in tone, and have a dangerous power to persuade. Politically euphemistic language becomes the tool of such people to justify hatred toward entire groups of people.
The Christian church needs to not only condemn such rhetoric, but also itself refuse to join its seductive power. It is time for the Christian church to separate the rhetorical chaff from the wheat, and make a stand against the rhetoric of hate, and its deliberate attempt to obscure the truth about issues that must and will eventually concern all of us.
Which leads me to the following.
The assumption that a church or indeed any religion cannot be political and cannot speak out against misinformation designed to mislead needs to be challenged. Any religion that has social justice on the agenda and which seeks to challenge inequity, injustice and human rights abuses must be political.
It was clear from the discussion with members of the local ministers’ association that social welfare is often confused with social justice. While welfare and op shops and services for the poor are indeed necessary, they are not in themselves social justice. As I stated earlier, to aim for justice for the poor and oppressed means publically challenging the political structures that have allowed the inequity and hatred to develop in our societies.
Further, the gospel stories (especially in Luke) make it clear that Jesus had social justice high on his agenda. The Magnificat in chapter one of Luke sings of the complete inversion of the status quo, with the rich and powerful being pulled down, and the poor and lowly being lifted up. He spoke up and challenged the religious leadership (and hence Jewish political leadership as they were one and the same) of his day, staking his colours to the mast as it were in both the triumphal entry and the overturning of the tables in the temple.
If as Christians we seek to emulate the actions of Jesus, then individual and pietistic faith alone is simply not going to cut the mustard. To be a follower of Jesus means to be called into action, to speak out publically against all forms of injustice and to live a discipleship that requires faith in action.
It is time for the Christian church to recognise the rhetoric of hate under its alluring blandishments and challenge it. It is time to for the Christian church to separate facts and issues from party politics and rhetoric, and speak against such tactics. And it is time for the Christian church to challenge the Carps of this world, as they use the language of denigration to speak the rhetoric of hate.