Last Monday’s ABC TV Q+A program was the familiar left-of-centre stack. The politicians on the panel were the Nationals’ Bridget McKenzie, teal independent Monique Ryan and Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten. Ryan and Shorten campaigned against the Coalition at the 2022 election.
The trio was joined by disability advocate Sam Connor and comedian and singer Reuben Kaye, who the ABC described as “loud, politically active, queer, and brash”. Both are left-of-centre, to say the least. And then there was the audience – a baying mob of green-left types – as is to be expected of a crowd in the ABC Melbourne inner-city studio.
In holding her own, in what was the political equivalent of a four-to-one tag-team wrestling competition, McKenzie did remarkably well. Towards the end, she was asked by presenter Patricia Karvelas about the so-called joke Kaye told Network Ten’s The Project on April 31, concerning Jesus Christ and sex.
Kaye’s wit brought instant applause from The Project’s audience. But an apology soon followed. Co-presenter Waleed Aly acknowledged the joke was “deeply offensive” and added: “We want to acknowledge the particular offence and hurt that caused our Muslim, but especially our Christian viewers.”
On Q+A, Karvelas repeated the joke in what she called a “very straight delivery”, and said she understood “why people were offended”. The presenter then asked McKenzie about where to draw the line between freedom of expression and offensive humour.
The official transcript records the following exchange:
McKenzie: “I’m a person of faith. And it wasn’t just the Christian community that got offended. The Islamic community did as well. Although I guess Christians have been persecuted for over 2000 years.
Kaye (snorts): “Oh, give me a break! You’re standing next to a Jewish homosexual, and you’re going to say Christians have been persecuted?”
No informed and honest person would deny Jews have been persecuted throughout the centuries and that this continues today. Also, nothing in human history equates with Nazi Germany’s war of genocide against the Jews. However, McKenzie was not making this point. She was expressing the view that Christians have experienced persecution.
In a November 2020 study, the Pew Research Centre reported that “as in previous years, Christians and Muslims experienced harassment in more countries than other religious groups in 2018”. The centre’s research also found that, in spite of very small numbers in many nations, Jews were harassed in 88 countries.
Kaye’s ridicule of McKenzie’s Christian faith was not typical of the Jewish community. But it is typical of a small, radical element of the gay community. Of which there have been recent examples in the US and Australia.
Last week, there were protests in California at the decision of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team to honour a group called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which describes itself as “an order of queer and trans nuns”.
Needless to say, they are not an order of religious sisters. Rather, they are a group of individuals who choose to mock Catholic sisters by dressing up in a habit that few Catholic female religious wear today.
The LA Dodgers have a significant support base among Spanish-Americans of the Christian faith. It’s not surprising there was opposition to the decision to make the SPI honoured guests at Dodgers Stadium. As Fox News reporter Jeff Paul commented, the grievances of Catholics and people of other faiths concerning this occasion is not to “the group’s charitable work”. He added “their outrage is aimed at over-the-top outfits that many feel mock not only nuns but religion itself”.
The California-based SPI present themselves as doing good work among the gay community. But so have Catholic nuns and sisters over the years. Take Australia, for example. On April 22, Nine News covered the 40th anniversary of HIV-AIDS in Australia. Gabriella Rogers reported from the now abandoned Ward 17 South at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, which housed Australia’s first unit dedicated to patients with HIV-AIDS. She interviewed David Polson, a former patient.
Polson told Rogers of life, and death, in Ward 17 circa 1983. He said “four or five people died in one day … that really had an effect on the whole ward”. He added: “There would be lots of boys whose parents had disinherited them, didn’t want to know them because they were gay and they had AIDS … they were dying and they were alone. The nuns, the sisters, sat by their bed, holding their hands. It was a place of great love, great compassion.”
The nuns at St Vincent’s were the Catholic Sisters of Charity. They wore similar habits to the ones the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence mock today. It’s not clear why a small minority of male gay activists choose to dress up as Catholic or Anglican nuns rather than their male equivalents.
Fabian John Lo Schiavo died in early May. He was brought up Catholic and became an Anglican. The obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald contained three photos of Lo Schiavo dressed up in nuns’ habits. No doubt Lo Schiavo did good work within the community, but he could have done so without ridiculing religious women.
Another obituary – by academics Miles Pattenden and Michael Barbezat – was published on the ABC Religion & Ethics web page on May 22. They reported that Lo Schiavo presented as the “Mother Inferior of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence”. The heading to the piece described Lo Schiavo as an “Australian nun, social activist, religious leader.” He was a social activist, no more than that.
The ridiculing of the Christian tradition in Australia exists alongside the decision of the Labor-Greens government in the ACT to take over the Catholic Calvary Hospital in Canberra by terminating a long lease without guaranteeing compensation. And then there is the decision of the Andrews socialist-left Labor government in Victoria to impose a substantial payroll tax on middle fee-charging non-government schools, many of which are faith-based.
McKenzie is right – despite Kaye’s snorting. It’s not easy being a person of faith in contemporary Western societies.