Peter Jensen on #qanda

Wow. Just wow. Look, Peter Jensen said tonight on Q&A that he supports the ACL – I’m going to write to him and ask him to support them with some PR advice. Just wow.

While every word he spoke was seized on and ridiculed by Catherine Deveny, Peter Jensen winsomely, faithfully, and articulately, presented the gospel and called for a more respectful public discourse about serious issues.

The Transcript is now online.

Let me just start by articulating, lest there be confusion, why I think Peter Jensen did a good job while saying substantially the same thing as the ACL.

He talked clearly and winsomely about Jesus and how the gospel impacts our social position. Not on all issues – Jesus was almost absent on his treatment of Asylum seekers – though his love for others wasn’t – and he said that it wasn’t “unChristian” to seek asylum”… he also talked about things in a measured way and talked about wanting to improve the tone of conversation around these issues – I don’t think the ACL models this well, and they certainly talk about Jesus much less than Jensen did, and does. A friend suggested that my favourable response to Jensen, when he not only endorsed the ACL, but took the same position as them, was possibly a result of bias, or that it would be perceived to be the case. But let’s walk through last night’s program and see how the Archbishop did (this friend didn’t actually watch until the end, and I thought it got better as it went along).

On Asylum Seekers

I think this was where what I am guessing was a strategy that Archbishop Jensen employed to demonstrate that careful engagement isn’t the order of the day on Q&A – he has been, perhaps rightly, criticised for being a little waffly – but I think he may have been inviting people to interrupt. He’s typically incredibly well briefed and sensitive to different mediums. There’s also this:

Which is interesting. So I think he’s subverting the medium to make a point about public discourse.

ROSS GRENFELL: Archbishop Jensen, do you agree with Tony Abbott’s comment that good Christians would not use the back door in relation to asylum seekers using boats? After all, weren’t Mary, Joseph and Jesus undocumented asylum seekers when they fled to Egypt to escape Herod.

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?

PETER JENSEN: No, I don’t agree with it and I do agree they were refugees and Christians ought to be extraordinarily sensitive to refugees and their needs. I agree with all those things. Can I go on?

TONY JONES: Yes, of course.

PETER JENSEN: I thought you might allow me. I do think, in terms of our political discourse, I’m sorry we can’t let the Government change its mind and get away with it because, after all, when new facts come in we’ve got to have people to change their minds.

In the light of my recent posts on asylum seekers I will say, that apart from tone, in the black and white form of the transcript, Catherine Deveny made some solid points, given extra credibility off the back of her recent Go Back To Where You Came From appearances.

Catherine Deveny: …This is very easy. This is not about stopping the boats, this is about starting the planes. This is about processing in Indonesia and in Malaysia. There is no deterrent that you can set up in Nauru or Manus Island or Christmas Island that is going to stop those people getting on boats. They say to me – every single one of them has said to me, “I would be happy to be swallowed up by the ocean than go back to where we’ve came from.” You have no idea what these people are facing. It is extraordinary that we’re not doing our basic obligations as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. We shouldn’t just be doing what the UN suggests we should be doing, we should be doing so much more. We have so much to give. This is a country that has been built on boat people, as they call them. I don’t see boat people. I just see people.

There was a nice moment where Peter Jensen promised to hold the government to account on its treatment of asylum seekers according to a recent report – which he had read, and could engage with.

CHRIS EVANS: Well, as I say, you can’t put a length of time on it. We don’t honestly know but in implementing the whole package one would hope that the deterrent value would start to see a change in behaviour. It’s one of the reasons why I think the…

TONY JONES: All right. So, no, just having elicited that answer I just want to hear from Peter Jensen. Are you satisfied with that, no time limits?

PETER JENSEN: Yes, well, I’ve had a look at the report. The spirit of the report is saying something a bit different, I think, Chris, and I trust that as you implement it you will be there’s nothing like hopelessness.


PETER JENSEN: And to have arrived at Nauru and to have Australian protection in that sense, I know it’s an independent country, but to have no timeframe will breed the hopelessness that leads to self-destruction and to depression. So I would be looking for something better than that if possible, I have to say, and I think that’s the spirit of the Aristotle-Houston report.

I actually thought Chris Evans was worse to listen to than Catherine Deveny.

The Archbishop’s gospel contribution began in earnest on the question of the Sydney Anglican’s alternate marriage vows.

ELIZABETH ANNE SMITH: As a young woman and feminist living in the 21st century, where everyone is entitled to equal rights, I would like to know what valid reason the Church has to request a wife submit to her husband in marriage.

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen, let’s start with you since you started this debate.

PETER JENSEN: I thought it might be me. Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you for the question. Really I mean that, because at long last we’re beginning to have a conversation which sounds as though it’s going to be a rational and serious conversation about the nature of marriage and I have to say, from my point of view and perhaps some others as well, the whole question of marriage and family is one in our community that needs careful thought. Now, when I say the Church, by the way, we have put forward a possible service for use. It’s not mandatory. It’s an alternative. Let me say that. What we’re seeing, I think, is a clash of world views between what I’d call individualism and what you may call family or, in a sense, community. It’s a clash of world views which is going on all around us and it has drastic consequences one way or another. If you agree with me that a man is a man and a woman is a woman and although they are we are absolutely equal, equal in the sight of God, both made in the image of God, both with the same destiny, both with the same value, all those things are inherent in the Christian gospel and they must remain in the Christian gospel, agree with that and yet, on the other hand, I would say there are differences between men and women which both sides bring to a marriage and we have not been good recently at working out what it is that men bring to marriage and women bring to marriage.

A word search even for the word “gospel” doesn’t produce a whole lot of substance on the ACL’s website.

This was perhaps my favourite moment of the night, Tony Jones treats his guests with thinly veiled contempt a little too often…

TONY JONES: Okay. Let’s just get to the heart of the matter and to the question. Now, you’ve said biblical teaching is that the bride can make a voluntary promise to submit to her husband. So what exactly does the word “submit” mean to you.

PETER JENSEN: Well, it is a biblical word.

TONY JONES: Well, it’s an English word, actually. It would have been in Hebrew in the Bible.

PETER JENSEN: I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but it was Greek actually, if that’s all right but don’t worry

Then there was this:

PETER JENSEN: If submission is in view, it is because a husband has made certain key promises. This is more about men than it is about women and it is about a concern that men are not being men in the community. What men bring to marriage, what men bring to anything, is that sort of physical strength, if you like, a certain degree of arrogance, a certain degree of determination to be bossy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What men are being asked – they were asked something before the women say anything. What men are being asked is will you live towards your wife like Jesus Christ who gave his life for his bride. Will you do that? And if the man says yes to that and only then, otherwise I would not recommend it, if a man says yes to that and so commits himself, then I believe it’s right for a woman, if she chooses to, to say I submit to that in the sense that I recognise it, I respect it, and I’m going to give you space in our marriage – I’m going to give you space in our marriage to be a man.

As Tony Jones turned to Catherine Deveny in response to this Peter Jensen showed he had been briefed, with a reference to a tweet she put out a week ago.

PETER JENSEN: Now, you believe in marriage.


PETER JENSEN: That’s an important first point.

CATHERINE DEVENY: I don’t believe in marriage.

PETER JENSEN: You don’t believe in marriage.

CATHERINE DEVENY: I’ve never been married but I’m a very big supporter of same-sex marriage because I believe that marriage is a mistake that everyone has the right to make. I have never been married but I would like to congratulate you on your decision to proudly fly the misogynist and medieval colours of your religion and I do support your right to discriminate within your religion. And what I think is great is that you can choose to go to Las Vegas and be married by an Elvis or now you can choose to go to the Anglican Church and be married in a museum by a dinosaur….

So I think it’s interesting that you guys are going for a niche market there. I mean you guys could have gone for the Gloria Jeans, the corporate rock, the Hillsong, the ‘Be awesome for Jesus’ but you’re going, ‘No. No. Men are in charge because of the mumbo jumbo.’ So congratulations.

TONY JONES: I think you ought to be able to respond to that but briefly I just want to hear the…

PETER JENSEN: Where would you start to respond to that? I’m looking for a respectful and serious discussion of very important issues.

CATHERINE DEVENY: That is respectful.

PETER JENSEN: And we get dinosaurs and this sort of stuff. Interestingly, in the churches for years now we have not been using this language and we’ve gone down to 30% of the market.

CATHERINE DEVENY: Mm, the market.

PETER JENSEN: I’m saying, no, I think there’s a clash of – I think it was your word. I think it’s a clash of cultures here, very important. I may be wrong about all this. I’m only human. I think it’s important.

That my friends is epistemic humility. It’s disarming.

BRONWYN FRASER: Hi. I work with Christian cultures – women in Christian cultures overseas who do have this biblical wife submission approach to marriage and they also report some of the highest levels of domestic violence and sexually-based violence. Up to 60% of the women have experienced this. Could it be that this sort of inequality in marriage can lead to domestic and sexually-based violence and, as a Christian, how does this actually represent what Jesus stood for?

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?

PETER JENSEN: Yep. I believe this, again, gets to the heart of issues that are very important and can I say I utterly abominate the whole idea of domestic violence. I think it’s a wicked thing and any person – particularly any man who lays his hand on his wife is, to my mind, committing a grave sin. So that is what I believe. Now, is my view contributing to that end? I trust not because, properly understood, my view is saying that no man could ever do that, that it’s really he is to behave towards his wife as Jesus Christ behaved towards the Church.

He was again humble and open to discussion on gay marriage.

“PETER JENSEN: Yeah. Yeah. And again there’s an argument for this and it’s one that we ought to conduct in the right spirit, I believe, and with give and take and listening to the whole matter. I do…

TONY JONES: So you have an open mind about gay marriage?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I have the same open mind most people have about most things. Namely, with a good argument you may change your mind but for the moment you keep going down one track.”

Then it got really interesting, for me, anyway, given the last week… I take some solace from the bolded bits…

PETER KEEGAN: The Australian Christian Lobby has again made the headlines for offensive remarks made by its director, Jim Wallace. As a Christian, I continually find that the ACL does not speak for me and does not represent the kind of faith that I see reflected in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Archbishop, will you publically say that contributions like those we heard from the ACL pose a greater risk to the health of our public discourse and the integrity of our faith than the presence of lifestyles or beliefs that may differ from our own?

PETER JENSEN: Again, thanks for the question. No, I won’t say that. I am generally supportive of ACL, I have to say. I don’t support everything that’s said by its leaders.

TONY JONES: What about this very specific statement where Jim Wallace suggests that homosexuality poses the same kind of health risk to the community as smoking does?

PETER JENSEN: It needs to be observed that he has been somewhat quoted out of context in some reports. I’m not sure about that one but in some reports he’s been somewhat quoted out of context. But what he has done for us, rightly or wrongly, what he has done is given us an opportunity to talk about something significant, namely the question of health risks. Now, I think it is true to say – I think it is true to say – it’s very hard to get all the facts here because we don’t want to talk about it and in this country censorship is alive and well, believe me…

In response to a gay teenager, brought up in a Christian home who explicitly cited the rejection from his Christian community as the reason for his suicide attempt, the Archbishop had this to say… I loved the last bit, because it’s what I’ve been arguing our response should be.

ALISTAIR CORNELL: My question is for Peter Jensen. I was born and bred Anglican but at the age of 15 I tried to take my own life. What advice would he give to a 15 year old suffering almost to the point of death from the rejection of his community about being gay?

PETER JENSEN: Thank you and thank you for the courage of coming on and telling us that story. You see, one of the difficulties is to get that story, to get it to someone like me and to give me the chance to assess it for what it is…

PETER JENSEN: Well a 15 year old sorry, I need to be careful here. We don’t want to talk about this particular young man with his courage. But clearly a teenager is going through a period in their lives, exciting as it is, in which they’re seeking to find themselves. A person who feels in themselves same-sex attraction and I might add, a lot of such folk have talked to me over the years, is seeking, I think, to find themselves, to find an identity and in our sort of society, with its emphasis on sexual activity as an identity finding activity, there is therefore the opportunity to think that that is the way to do things and yet here you have this frowned upon same-sex feeling.

TONY JONES: Okay, I’ve just to interrupt because we do need to hear other panellists on this subject but put simply are you saying or repeating, in a way, or making, you know, a sort of more complex argument about what Jim Wallace said, which is homosexuality is bad for your health? Are you seriously trying to make that argument tonight?

PETER JENSEN: I would like to know see, people tell me that it is and they produce literature on the subject. I can’t get a discussion going on this because it’s a forbidden subject. Now, I’m open on this. I hope it’s not true, Tony. I don’t want to see my friends dying and I’ve seen my friends dying. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to hear stories like that. But, dear friends, sorry, when do we get to the point where we can talk about this without shouting at each other and hurting each other?

This bit was helpful too…

TONY JONES: Well, can I just ask, presumably you’ve looked at some of the science around the health statistics, have you actually looked at the science about the gay gene which suggests that it is intrinsic in a person their sexuality and if you’ve looked at that, I would ask you this: if God actually created homosexuals, would you not then have to turn around and change your mind on all of these issues?

PETER JENSEN: Thank you, Tony. God did create homosexuals. I don’t need the gene to tell me that. God created homosexuals. God created every person and loves every person, without doubt.

TONY JONES: No, I mean he created if there is a gay gene, would you say the creator was responsible for creating that?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I would say that that that may be the case but we’re not talking about same-sex attraction, we’re talking about the acting out of same-sex attraction. We’re talking about well, I realise that we’re living in a very, very different world from the one I’m talking about but I’m living in a world where a number of my friends have life long committed themselves to no sexual relations.

Then we were on the home stretch – atheism and proof of God’s existence.

“CATHERINE DEVENY: For me, I mean, you can took about proof and there’s no proof. I mean one of the things that I always think about is like if God exists why doesn’t he show himself? But when you actually look at the Bible, which is – that’s the only text that I’m – like, religious text that I’m really familiar with, it is basically social engineering embedded in fairytales and horror stories which is just chock full of homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division and most people haven’t even read it. It has been written by 44 – you know, 60 people, I think, 44 chapters, you know, three different languages over thousands of years, thousands of different interpretations and despite all of those different interpretations, the only thing they can all agree on is homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division. So, I’m sorry, the way that I see it, it’s just been a very, very handy way to keep people in their place, particularly women, homosexuals and people who don’t believe what they believe.”

Then there was this. Pure gold. Christ centred gospel in the face of the chatter of Catherine Deveny who couldn’t resist scoring cheap points with angry soundbites. This is why I’m so very happy with last night. I know most people agree with Catherine Deveny’s assessment that the church is out of touch on social issues – you only have to look at the comments on this post that went up when it was just my tweets… but that’s not the point. Winsomely, and gently, responding to criticism and seeking a conversation where you can get to this point – having argued your position on social issues on the basis of Jesus and the gospel all the way through – that’s why this man is an example for how to, as John Dickson says, do public Christianity.

PETER JENSEN: Okay. Has God shown himself? Yes, I believe he has and I believe he’s shown himself in Jesus Christ. I believe if you want to know examine his life, examine what he said, examine his miracles and that’s where the big issue is. Come back to Jesus Christ and examine his life, examine what he said, examine what’s around him. I have to say that Catherine’s account of the Bible is as fanciful as a tooth fairy. It’s got no bearing on the reality of the Bible.

CATHERINE DEVENY: You mustn’t have read it.

PETER JENSEN: Yeah, I’ve read it a bit. And really the big look, I tell you what, the big story of the Bible is just as simple as anything. Jesus Christ came into the world to save us and he is God amongst us. What more could we ask? I tell you what, it’s the most gracious I’m so sorry you’ve got your view of it.

CATHERINE DEVENY: You said, “What more could we ask?” Equality, that would be good.

PETER JENSEN: Well, we’ve got it because every man and woman…

CATHERINE DEVENY: I’m sorry, a white middle class man like you does have it. Try being disabled, try being an asylum seeker, try being gay, try being a woman, you’ll find it’s not there.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right, Catherine. No. No. No. No. Okay. All right. Sorry, I said we’d give him the last word. I didn’t mean…

CATHERINE DEVENY: Yeah, I think he said plenty of words.

PETER JENSEN: Well, the last word is that in Jesus Christ we have that equality and in Jesus Christ was have that salvation and all I can say is the most wonder that the love of God for everyone, no matter who they are, no matter how they’ve lived or whatever, is the greatest reality in the world.


Here are my tweets from during the show.

I’m disappointed this is the summary from the SMH.

David Ould was in the audience last night and had this to say.


AndrewF says:

I caught it from when they were finishing up the topic of off-shore processing (not sure why it’s not geoblocked like the rest of the ABC).
I thought his comments about the ACL were not his best, or clearest. Overall his biggest ‘problem’ was that he was simply to thoughtful for the soundbite forum (or pretty much, anyone else on the panel). It was so frustrating to see him get cut off time and again when he was still only part way along his thought line on the question.

His excitement at getting a gospel opportunity handed to him on a plate at the end was palpable.

Elegir says:

Please allow me to explain how some of us who are not Christian view the comments of Peter Jensen on Q&A tonight.

Being calm and polite does not mean his answers are or correct, or even intelligent. White male governments through the past century were always very impressed with how rationally and methodically they were able to take rights away from black people and women. They accused black people and women of being hysterical and illogical, not responding to reason.

Peter Jensen similarly thinks he’s smart because he can calmly and methodically tell gays that they’re second-rate citizens, not entitled to seek physical love and not entitled to the rights afforded to other citizens. He knows this because his religion tells him so, and he expects the Australian government to implement those teachings of his particular church.

He tells women that they should submit to their husbands, not seek equality in a joint partnership, where both sides are equally respectful. He says men should be like Christ was towards the Church -does he forget that Christ got mighty angry when the Church used its buildings as markets, so angry that he threw over the tables and chased the money men out. Is that how he wants men to act towards women when the men get cross?! I suspect not.

I suspect rather that this is just a simplistic little homily that he regularly uses in his sermons. He doesn’t realise that the Australian public at large is not his flock, to preach to at will and order around with rules of his own choosing.

In short, Catherine and the other “intolerant” audience members were responding with unabashed shock at his gall. His shameless bigorty. It’s like asking to have a “calm and reasonable debate” on whether freeing black people from slavery was a good thing, or whether sex with children should be legalised. Seriously, that’s the level of disgust and revulsion that those of us who value human dignity and equal rights have for the “fair and balanced” views of Peter Jensen.

Nathan Campbell says:

Hi Elegir,

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate, and I think Jensen acknowledged this, that being a consistent Christian means being out of step with the reality of most people. But this means we’re faced with two options – be a consistent Christian, and submit to the God we believe is there, or change Christianity to be in line with popular expectations. Now, certain aspects of the church have always taken the latter option – the church has changed with time, and some of that is right – because there are cultural issues that get read into the church… but I’d rather be trying to do what I think God wants me to do, on the basis of the Bible, than what people want me to do. That seems the most intellectually consistent approach.

I don’t think Peter Jensen did this:

“Peter Jensen similarly thinks he’s smart because he can calmly and methodically tell gays that they’re second-rate citizens, not entitled to seek physical love and not entitled to the rights afforded to other citizens.”

I think he questioned whether sexuality is the root of human identity. I think that’s a legitimate question, and he said “I might be wrong about this” and “I’m open to arguments” – he seemed more interested in suggesting that gays were entitled to seek physical love, and even entitled to seek the rights they wish to seek, but he didn’t agree that those rights were necessarily “rights” (but that that is something that needs to be established) – I’d say partly because gay people are legally entitled to enter a marriage as currently defined, with a member of the opposite sex – it’s not a “discrimination” issue, but a definition issue.

Look, I’m with you on gay marriage, and politely disagree with Peter Jensen, I think the argument runs pretty much as Malcolm Turnbull suggested yesterday – religious beliefs aren’t particularly relevant to secular law, except that religious people have every right to participate in a democracy.

He doesn’t “tell women” anything – the church has simply made a vow available that is consistent with what the Bible says. It’s not our job to edit the Bible. He also explicitly ruled out domestic violence so it’s a little disingenuous for you to suggest that’s a possible implication of his position… I think he realises that the public at large is not his flock, because he said exactly that, on TV, last night.

elegir says:

Hi Nathan – I agree wholeheartedly with you that the church has changed over time, but I think it has *always* been for the better. What I find odd is that historically the church has often led social opinion (on issues like slavery, charity, world peace etc). Often, admittedly, it’s been part of the problem to start with, but in it’s defence, it has also worked hard to be part of the solution. Why is it so radically focussed on gays?

I think it’s because this is one issue that can join together all the Christian subgroups and hold some sort of consensus. There is no religious consensus on divorce (thanks to the Anglicans’ founder, Henry VIII), there is no religious consensus on the role of women (thanks to the misogynistic elements within Catholicism), there is no religious consensus on politics or economics or even, ironically, religious authority. But in gays you have an easy whipping boy – we’re a small minority with no social standing. But seriously, why focus on us? Why not focus on shellfish eaters or wearers of mixed fabrics or even (given this is a religious debate), on disagreements between Christians, Jews and Muslims?

As to your comment that gays can get married, as currently defined, so long as it’s with someone of the opposite sex, that really doesn’t hold water. The same argument can be used against interracial marriages: blacks can marry blacks and whites can marry whites. Where’s the discrimination?!

But you’re right to ask whether sexuality is the root of human identity. I think it’s only become a touchstone issue for us because religious people keep pushing it to the forefront. Opposing the full and free participation of gays in the secular world *simply because we’re gay* is the primary action driving the debate. (I note, with thanks, your and Turnbull’s support on this point). Again with the race comparison – if there were no history of racism then black people wouldn’t define themselves by their skin colour. But there is, so they do.

Perhaps, as other readers have noted, Jensen just picked the very wrong forum for a very different argument.

(Quick final comment – I wasn’t suggesting that he supported domestic violence at all; I pointed out that his homily was silly because it can support domestic violence, which I 100% believe he *doesn’t* support).

Nathan Campbell says:

Re your final comment – that’s true, it was a poor piece of comprehension on my part.

My argument is that this is a debate about redefinition to be more inclusive, not about discrimination per se – out of interest, would you approve of the government stepping out of marriage all together, civil unions for all, and freedom to call your relationship whatever you want?

I’ve written some stuff on why I think opposition to homosexual practice is the only legitimate interpretation of the Biblical data, which makes changing the church’s position difficult.

Particularly this post… I also wrote this post on how I think people who are opposed to gay marriage should present their opposition.

elegir says:

Hi Nathan – I’d be fine with the government totally stepping out of the marriage space, but I think this has 2 major problems:
1) The government has an interest in encouraging couples to live together, because of the emotional and financial support they can offer each other. This is a type of private insurance policy that the government can and (I think) should actively support. There are also obvious benefits to any children that they might have, especially if one parent falls ill, unemployed, or dies. In short – there are good reasons for having “marriage” as a government institution.
2) Partly as a result of 1 above, virtually every tax system in the world has explicit legislation relating to married couples. This allows for simpler and cheaper inheritance taxes, passing of income between couples on an annual basis, mortgage relief for family homes etc. Trying to unpick all these tax laws would be an admin nightmare, but if there were no government “marriage” then the delicate balance of companies, trusts, partnerships and other tax structures would be thrown into upheaval. In short – it’s easier to stick with what we’ve got!

I think it might be preferable to pare back the overlap between government “marriage” and church “marriage”. Let’s say that churches get to define who they want to “marry” while governments choose who gets “civil unioned”. Some churches will go heterosexual only, others, hetero- and homosexual, others might refuse divorcee’s, some might only allow members of their own church to marry. All cool, since that’s the point of separating church from state. The point is, the state’s laws on “civil unions” will be different from those of individual churches, because the state will allow atheists to marry, and interracial marriages, and man-man marriages and man-woman marriages etc.

Now in a way, this is how things worked for hundreds of years most western democracies. The state defined who could get married (no children, no relatives, no animals, and for a long time no interracial, no mixed religions, etc). What the state allowed was for certain churches that agreed with those laws to also marry people and have is counted *as if* the state had married them. For example, if your church didn’t want to marry people who had been divorced, it didn’t have to. But it couldn’t stop the state, or another church, from granting a new marriage licence to that divorcee. This is exactly as I think equal-marriage laws will work for LGBT people. It’s the way it works in Spain, the Netherlands, South Africa, Argentina and a host of other places.

BTW, sorry if it seems I hijacked your blog with all these responses: I get very angry on other blogs when newcomers wade in and take over the joint with scant regard for longer-term readers! :) I really just wanted to give an outsider’s opinion on why Jensen’s performance was less impressive for some of us, despite his moderate tone and why Deveny garnered some support, despite her crassness and rude interjections. I understand that his particular church believes that homosexuality is a sin and that it therefore doesn’t support equal-marriage rights for gays. And he is fine to give his opinion to everyone he meets. He is free to tell everyone that gays are “sinful”, according to his church’s definition of sin. But when he starts making up “facts” about the unhealthiness of gays and the detriment of gays in society, then he is being insulting and offensive, even if he says it politely and with a smile.

elegir says:

Oops – poor comprehension on MY part now! I missed your comment about “civil unions for all”, so thought you meant no secular marriage at all. I wrote a page basically agreeing with you :)

Nathan Campbell says:

Hi Elegir,

Can I just say, first of all, thanks for how you’ve engaged here – it’s such a breath of fresh air to have this sort of conversation without the combative stuff. Even when I’ve misread stuff you’ve said. I’ve really enjoyed what you’ve had to say, and how you’ve said it.

I don’t think you’ve hijacked this thread at all.

Would you say, on the health issue front, that though HIV/AIDs is much less of a concern now, it is still mostly a gay issue (at least according to Avert ( though that data is a little old. While the prognosis is better – it’s still pretty fatal (69 months as opposed to 12 months) – again oldish data.

And the mental health stuff with associated addictive behaviour, and increased suicide rates, even in countries where gay marriage is legal, also seems plausible.

Do you agree with this data and the statement that there are health issues in the gay community that are unique to the gay community, but attributable to the stigma attached to homosexuality, and some of its sexual practices?

I don’t think this is a reason not to go down the path of gay marriage, and I think using this as an argument against gay marriage is a bit reprehensible. But I don’t quite think that’s what Jensen was doing (I think he carefully distanced himself from the ACL, but didn’t go as far as I would have liked). See the bolded bit in the transcript above.

AndrewF says:

Why is it so radically focussed on gays?

It isn’t. The media is.

But you’re right to ask whether sexuality is the root of human identity. I think it’s only become a touchstone issue for us because religious people keep pushing it to the forefront.

On the contrary, it’s become a touchstone issue, where the religious view is highlighted because post-sexual-revolution society has made sexuality the root of human identity. Christianity challenged that basis of identity, which is why that particular issue makes a fuss with society and is all the secular media focuses on.

Go to Nathan’s church, or my church and you’re most likely to hear about Jesus as the focus.

Elegir says:

Hi Nathan, Glad to hear I haven’t annoyed you all too much yet. I’ll keep trying :)

On the health front, I will carefully say that I recognise HIV/aids was *originally* a gay issue, but that hasn’t been the case for 2 decades at least. The reason for being careful is that I’m aware how frequently some people jump from “it’s a gay issue” to “it’s a gay lifestyle issue”.

I’m originally South African and I’ve seen the destruction that HIV/aids has caused in sub-Saharan Africa – mainly among heterosexual men, pregnant women and children. You have kids as young as 5 looking after younger brothers and sisters there because both parents and all other family members have died from HIV/aids.

Should I therefore classify it as a disease of “the straight lifestyle”? That strikes me as more than illogical. It is heartless. Being straight and having sex it what humans do. It eould be inhuman to expect them not to. Instead, i would advocate better education of safe sex methods and early diagnosis of new infections. Better than pointing fingers and laying blame.

Similarly, I find it illogical to associate HIV/aids with “the gay lifestyle” in Australia (which i assume means gay sex, because truly, there is otherwise no meaningfully correlation between any of our lifestyles at all!). So, within Australia gays are disproportionately affected by HIV/aids, but that’s just a geographical anomaly on the world scale. Anyway, gay marriage will, if anything, help in efforts to prevent its further spread here.

Now I’m not a doctor or epidemiologist, but in truth I think it’s dangerous to associate any particular medical or psychological condition with a particular social grouping. Viruses, bacteria, accidents, mental illness and degenerative genetic conditions don’t usually care whether victims are black or white, gay or straight, male or female. (Some genetic mutations do, and some cancers do.) For example, alcoholism affects Australia’s indigenous population disproportionately, but it not a “Aboriginal disease”. Suicidal thoughts affect teenagers and the depressed disproportionately, so we should see what actions we can take in society to help such people through these difficulties. Sometimes the cause will be gay bullying, sometimes just bullying generally, sometimes bullying won’t be a part of it at all. The fewer assumptions and stereotypes we engage in, the more likely we are to resolve the problem.

Make any sense? I guess my worldview in this is based on personal experience – I’ve never felt suicidal, never been promiscuous and don’t have HIV/aids. This obviously isn’t good *statistical* evidence, but as a single counter example, I personally disprove the causality of gay=high risk. Go me :)

Nathan Campbell says:

I guess, what I’m saying on the HIV front, is that the best data I can find includes a statement that says:

“HIV transmission in Australia occurs primarily through sexual contact between men. Around 65% of people newly diagnosed with HIV in 2009 were among men who have sex with men; 28.7% were exposed through heterosexual contact; 2.3% were due to injecting drug use; and a further 3% were men with a history of both injecting drug use and sex with other men.”

I agree that equating correlation with causation is dangerous – especially on the basis of stereotyping. But – surely at some point there’s a danger of overcorrecting, so if we say that any attempt to demonstrate causation is the result of prejudice.

I think it’s fair to say (and I do some PR work for a medical client who works in preventative health in regional communities) that alcoholism is a focus of indigenous health care because it is an indigenous health issue – this doesn’t mean it’s not an issue for others. But it’s going to need to be tackled differently in indigenous communities than elsewhere – because the social conditions related to alcoholism are different. I’d say it is, so far as the indigenous community is concerned, an “Aboriginal disease” – it’s a disease that aboriginal people, and those who care about them, hopefully all of us, should want to see cared for and solved in the indigenous world.

That’s kind of where I’m coming from.

Sure. HIV/AIDs isn’t really a big deal in Australia currently – in the gay or straight community – but it’s still a proportionately bigger deal in the gay community… suicide, from what I can gather from the stats (though they’re fairly hard to accurately pin down), is a proportionately bigger deal in the gay community…

Just because the science behind the treatment (ie how you fix something) is constant – the way you get people to self care, or educate them about health issues to get prevention happening, or the need to be examined for something, is going to be different based on your audience. That’s a communication reality and it’s tantamount to “profiling” just less discriminatory – but it pretty much underpins most of the marketing industry. But I think now, having re read your comment – that this might be at the heart of the distinction you’re making between something being a “gay issue” (ie an issue for gay people to think about) and a “gay lifestyle issue” (an issue specifically and only for gay people) – is that where you’re coming from? I can’t be bothered deleting all of this, because it took me so long to write.

elegir says:

Hi – 100% agree, so I’m glad you didn’t delete it all. As a marketing issue or even a way of identifying subgroups within which to solve to problem, yes I’m ok with stereotyping. We might find, for example, that alcoholism in the indigenous community comes about because of, say, family breakdowns during teenage years (just an example), whereas is the anglo-Australian communities its because of, say, work-life balance issues. If the stereotype is useful in solving the issue, then fine. But the stereotype is just the first step in trying to solve the issue, it’s not the solution in itself.

To come back to the discussion at hand: connecting HIV/aids with “gays” is step 1 only. Step 2 recognises that gay *women* are actually at a very low risk of infection relative to society at large while gay *men* are at a high risk. So we see it’s not a “gay” issue as such, but a safe sex issue. Step 3 means we try to solve the problem (through education, government legislation, social pressure, whatever). The point is we’re now focusing on men who have unsafe sex with men, whether they identify as gay or not. And finally, all this is subject to the understanding that we haven’t even begun to address the issue in the straight community or in the world outside of Australia. Which is where we get back to “it’s a gay issue” (it affects gays) and “it’s a straight issue” (it affects straights), but it’s NOT a “gay lifestyle issue” and it’s NOT a “straight lifestyle issue” because it doesn’t affect everyone or even most people in each of those groups.

So lastly, I guess I’d ask why (if we leave the epidemiology discussion aside) would ACL or Peter Jensen be interested in bringing up health issues when asked about same sex marriage? Why would they equate being gay (male AND female) with being hiv+, and equate hiv+ with being gay? (An “if and only if” statement, mathematically). Why would a disease that affects people across the social, economic and sexual orientation spectrums be used to deny marriage to only one of those subgroups? Why not deny marriage to the poor, or the Aborigines, or recent immigrants, or Africans? The answer is because that would be ridiculously discriminatory and would not help one iota with solving the medical problem. If Peter Jensen disagrees with gays getting married due to homosexuality being “sinful” in his church then he should be honest enough to say so. As you’ve said elsewhere, that would make it clear that it’s a religious objection that should apply only to religious people within his church. He should not pretend that he’s opposed on some spurious correlation to the health issues relating to “the gay lifestyle.

AndrewF says:

methodically tell gays that they’re second-rate citizens, not entitled to seek physical love and not entitled to the rights afforded to other citizens

he expects the Australian government to implement those teachings of his particular church.

He tells women that they should submit to their husbands, not seek equality in a joint partnership, where both sides are equally respectful.

But Eligir, that’s not actually what he said – you’re putting words in his mouth (or bringing presumptions to bear perhaps).

elegir says:

Hi Andrew – I wasn’t quoting Jensen, I was very much “bringing presumptions to bear”. Apart from the fact that he believes (like his Bible says) that homosexuality is a sin, with all the social connotations that has, some quotes from the transcript that lead me to these presumptions are:

–methodically tell gays that they’re second-rate citizens,
“A person who feels in themselves same-sex attraction and I might add, a lot of such folk have talked to me over the years, is seeking, I think, to find themselves, to find an identity…”.
This reads to me that homosexuality is some sort of introspective phase of life, while heterosexuality is more real, more long-term.

“the lifespan of practising gays is significantly shorter than the ordinary, so called, heterosexual man.”
This is simply ludicrous. He gave no support, no evidence, no backup. He threw a “fact” out into the world without any care as to what harm it might cause. This is exactly the type of behaviour Anna Krien was criticising in relation to his comments on gay suicides. Compare how Jensen discusses these issues with how Archbishop Desmond Tutu discusses them. There is a world of difference in tone and empathy.

–not entitled to seek physical love
“…we’re not talking about same-sex attraction, we’re talking about the acting out of same-sex attraction. … I’m living in a world where a number of my friends have life long committed themselves to no sexual relations.”
This is fairly standard dogma that gays can be gay so long as they don’t actually have do gay stuff. Linguistically, I find this bizarre as it brings on a Bill Clinton memory of what is and is not included in the definition of “sex”.

–and not entitled to the rights afforded to other citizens
“I’m not saying other forms of marriage are hopeless, by any means or anything like that, but I’m saying that there is in the culture these, what I believe are destructive forces, which have an impact on family life and an impact on our children.”
This is pretty clearly saying that letting gays get married like straights get married will have a *negative* impact on families and children. This is not respectful language.

–he expects the Australian government to implement those teachings of his particular church.
Not sure this is controversial – he’s fairly forthright in his views on equal marriage. You recall that he (and other churches) read out long speeches in church a few months back, calling for the government to keep gays out of marriage?

–He tells women that they should submit to their husbands, not seek equality in a joint partnership, where both sides are equally respectful.
I guess this one just comes down to the logic of “separate but equal”. To my mind, if the same is required of both parties, then say so. It makes no sense to say that one person must do X and another must do Y, but X and Y are the same thing. So why don’t men submit to their wives? There are many quotes in the transcript where he refers to submission, but the closest he comes to defining it is “I’m going to give you space in our marriage to be a man”. Which means?!?! Note: Despite this subservience, he’s keen on both being “equal” and, as I said before, I am not in any way trying to imply that he supports domestic violence or similar attitudes.

AndrewF says:

Hi Eligir,

This reads to me that homosexuality is some sort of introspective phase of life, while heterosexuality is more real, more long-term.

I understood this to be part of his challenge to the prevailing tendency for our society to base our identity largely on our sexuality, so here I think he’s saying that such a view can be particularly harmful to people who are going through that stage when they begin to develop sexually.

This is simply ludicrous. He gave no support, no evidence, no backup. He threw a “fact” out into the world without any care as to what harm it might cause.

To be fair, you can’t say that the claim is not true, and then imply that it contributes to suicide. Now, I recognise that the data re HIV is out of date, and the stats will be very different to the 80’s, but I don’t think it’s unfair to recognise, as I think he did, that there is a higher suicide rate amongst homosexual men. What I saw Jensen do was ask for this not to be taboo, but for open discussion on the possible causes to be welcomed.
It’s also worth noting that he qualified his comments about health statistics with ‘it seems’ and he frequently made the point that he could be wrong. What he seemed to be more interested in was allowing conversation of controversial topics.

This is fairly standard dogma that gays can be gay so long as they don’t actually have do gay stuff.

Again, I understood his comments here, about his celibate friends, as a challenge to the equating of sexuality with personal identity (the implied disparagement of celibacy such a view entails may, in effect, be hurtful to those who are asexual or involuntarily celibate, might it not?)

This is pretty clearly saying that letting gays get married like straights get married will have a *negative* impact on families and children. This is not respectful language.

Just to be clear, a homosexual person has exactly the same legal rights in regards to marriage that a heterosexual person does, as the law stands, because the law takes no account of ‘love’. The law doesn’t care if married people have romantic feelings for oneanother. What is actually being debated is whether marriage should be redefined – the conjugal nature of the union be discarded in order that it be gender-neutral (which is why comparisons to inter-racial marriage are fallacious). Even with SSM, the marriage laws will discriminate against certain people (underage, polyamorous – I don’t say this as an objection btw, just clarifying what the issue is). Now it seems to me that the conjugal nature of marriage has already been discarded in the popular, cultural view, so that marriage is nothing more than an emotional commitment, and as such, why should it necessarily be between two people of the opposite gender? In that sense, I tend to agree with Nathan, that the State should be in the business of civil unions to protect familial rights, and people can solemnise their union by whatever faith or tradition they might like to choose.
That’s all a round about way of saying that when we talk about SSM as a ‘rights’ issue, the right being talked about is the right to ‘marry someone we love’ – which the state has no interest in, and which, even in the case of ssm will not be unfettered – there will still be those who are not granted the right to marry the person they love. What this means is it’s not actually a rights issue (I support the equal legal rights that civil unions ought to afford), but more a question of whether the redefinition which abandons the conjugal nature of the union is in the interests of society (Jensen tried to point out how such thinking runs counter to an individualistic worldview).. I’m not sure…

he’s fairly forthright in his views on equal marriage.

Sure, but that doesn’t equate to him “expect[ing] the Australian government to implement those teachings of his particular church.”. He endorses the separation of church and state – but that does not mean Christians, and the church cannot have a voice attempting to persuade people on social issues. I don’t think this issue can be reduced to merely trying to force a church position on the public, but it much more tied up in the issues of redefinition and conjugality and what that will mean for society.

I guess this one just comes down to the logic of “separate but equal”. To my mind, if the same is required of both parties, then say so. It makes no sense to say that one person must do X and another must do Y, but X and Y are the same thing.

I think you make a fundamental mistake of defining ‘equality’ as being ‘the same thing’, that is, you seem to view interchangeability, with equality. So Jensen pointed out (in reference to Tony as moderator) that people can be different, and have different roles, abilities and responsibilities and yet be absolutely equal – equal in value, standing and worth as humans (indeed, he grounds this fundamental human equality in the redeeming work of Jesus – I would have loved someone to ask Deveny on what grounds an atheist such as herself grounded the concept of fundamental human rights). So in Jensen’s view of voluntary submission, he made very clear that it came only in the case of a husband promising to give himself up for his wife – so I think it’s valid for his to say that submission in such a view is a recognition of this space to self-sacrifice for the good of the other (I suppose you might just as easily call this mutual submission).

Leah says:

Hi Eligir, I’m trying to see where you think Peter Jensen suggests that a Christian marriage does not seek equality or mutual respectfulness. On the contrary, I think a Christian marriage requires what modern society views as pretty extreme behaviour from both the man and woman involved – totally self-sacrificial love from the husband, and submission from the wife. Neither behaviours are advocated much at all these days, and both require a lot of respect.

Jesus didn’t get angry at ‘the church’ when they ran markets in their buildings. He was angry at the Pharisees & other religious leaders who allowed it to happen. In the bible, ‘the church’ is just a collective noun for Christians. ‘The church’ wasn’t even involved in the incident with the markets in the (Jewish) temples. If you want to see how Jesus behaved towards the church – he subjected himself to torture and crucifixion so that total sinners who despised him could have eternal life. The fact that Jesus calls husbands to behave the same way – total self-sacrifice for his wife, not just when she is kind and loving to him, but even when she is rude, disrespectful or angry – needs to be the balance when people complain about the suggestion that the wife should submit to the husband. I think Jensen tried to make it clear that he only supports a wife promising submission to her husband if the husband has first promised this type of self-sacrificial love. These types of promises would completely exclude the possibility of domestic violence, so Jensen’s homily wasn’t silly at all.

Also, the reason Jensen’s demeanour – calmness, gentleness, politeness – is being so emphasised by Nathan (and other commenters & bloggers around the internet) is in contrast to Jim Wallace’s comments. I don’t think anyone is saying you should agree with Jensen’s comments just because he’s being polite about it, but they’re saying that for someone claiming to represent basically the same group of people (Christians) and with roughly the same opinions, Jensen manages to do it far more compassionately and kindly than Wallace. He also manages to talk about the *reason* for our opinions – Jesus – a lot more than Wallace, who often seems to suggest we should listen to his opinions just because.

elegir says:

Hi Leah,

I picked up on the submission comments in a reply to Andrew (above). I have no problem with the church defining “best behaviour” guides for each party in a marriage. My original reason for coming to comment here was just to explain why those of us *outside* the church weren’t as impressed with Peter Jensen as many *within* the church might have been. Talking about woman submitting to their husbands but not husbands submitting to their wives sounds odd to some of us. The whole spectre of “separate but equal” comes in to play. Just my impression. as I say, the point was to answer why his calm and moderate tone didn’t make up for the specific words he was using.

Fair point on the church v. temple distinction (another commenter upbraided me on this too!). I was recalling Jesus’s anger at the temple (a physical building) and confounding it with his attitude to the church (the collection of believers). This also led people to think I was accusing Jensen of supporting domestic violence, which I wasn’t. Sorry.

Lastly, I agree with you on Jensen v. Wallance in terms of tone. But Jensen must surely understand that words can hurt? Jensen uses Wallace’s words and (per Q&A) largely agrees with Wallaces views. Now I’m fine with being insulted and offended (that’s the nature of free speech!), but Jensen plays the innocent if he thinks that harsh words, sweetly spoken are less offensive than harsh words, harshly spoken.

Robert says:

@Elegir, well said. Every comment I have read since written by someone who called themselves Christian seems to have completely ignored what Peter Jensen actually said and focused solely on the fact that he said it with a smile on his face and a soft comforting voice. Every comment he made was vastly out of touch with reality.

The comments made about him being thoughtful were absurd. I suspect he was buying time, talking in circles, just waiting to get cut off so he didn’t have to answer the questions he was asked. The rest of the panel may have come off as brash but that doesn’t mean they are less compassionate than Jensen. If anything, they showed better human quality than he did by being considerate towards human rights.

Nathan Campbell says:

I think it’s interesting that we keep using “human rights” to describe gay marriage, when the UN says it’s not. It’s something that needs to be argued and demonstrated, rather than asserted.

elegir says:

Nathan, the UN is a collection of governments, some liberal, some less so. I wouldn’t use the UN general assembly as a moral basis for my washing machine, never mind my life! UN declarations require a 2/3rds majority to pass and even then are not binding on anyone. What’s more interesting, therefore, is not what declarations are passed, but who supports them.

The list of UN countries that voted with Syria’s anti-gay initiative, largely because of the marriage clause, as you note, are not the bedfellows you should be proud of (

Those that approved the pro-gay version (, on the other hand, include just about every western democracy you can name.

Bruce says:

How about the European court of human rights. They found gay marriage is not a human right.

elegir says:

Hi Bruce. Again, the ECtHR needs to keep its myriad member states happy. What the Ct refused to do was *force* member states to all adopt equal-marriage legislation ( All European treaties to this end leave the final decision up to national legislatures (see point 62 of the judgement). The Ct found that despite societal changes, this approach was best given the differences in current legislation (see points 57, 58 and 105 of the judgement). That’s rather different from refusing to see it as a human rights issue. In fact, the government in question, Austria, agreed it was a human rights issue, but that it had been “resolved” by allow same-sex civil unions rather than marriage – see points 35 and 40 of the judgement.

Nathan Campbell says:

Hey, sorry, I didn’t make my point clearer – it quite possibly could be a human right. I just think that case still needs to be made, not simply asserted.

Bruce says:

Jensen said what the bible says. I didn’t hear him saying more or less. The popularity of the message in the wider culture isn’t his problem.
That he said it nicely made it clearer than if he was as shrill and off topic as Deveney.

The temple where Jesus overthrew the tables was not the “church”. It is a term that refers to the body of new testament believers in Jesus. Anger at the corruption of the Jewish religion shouldn’t and can’t reasonably be conflated with how Jesus sees the church or behaves towards it. Nice trolling, though.

[…] Here‘s also what Nathan has to say about it .fb_iframe_widget { vertical-align: top !important; margin-left: 16px !important; } Tweet […]

Tom says:

I was quite frustrated with Jensen at times – he should have read up on the facts a bit more, waffled a bit, was clearly nervous, and perhaps came across as a bit out-of-touch with the sentiment and experiences of many younger people in particular (especially compared with XXXchurch founder Craig Gross earlier this year).

And yet his comments on refugees, his general demeanor while Deveny’s behavior could only be described as shamelessly rude, angry, and bombastic, and the fact he got the last word with a brief presentation of the gospel were impressive.

The format of Q&A is such that much of the discussion ends up being quite shallow at times and more of a circus. I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 at the end of it all…

Also, I recently read an article by Perth theologian Dr John Yates which I think summarizes Deveny’s approach & philosophy: “The drive to elevate gay marriage to the same level as divinely ordained heterosexual union is an attempt to supplant God’s righteous order with our self-constructed righteousness. This act of rebellious humanity seeks to create an exalted experience of false moral glory to cover up the shame of the loss of the glory of God (Rom 3:23; Gen 3:7)”.

Dannii says:

Maybe we should use health issues as a positive argument – following the Biblical ideal for marriage is a great way to avoid all STDs!

elegir says:

I quite agree – by “normalising” gay men into society and allowing them to marry, this should reduce the level of promiscuity and reduce the resultant STDs. Since lesbians already have very low STD levels, I guess none of this applies to them? :)

gussy says:

I think I’m with John Dickson when he wrote about a worldview being observed here. On one hand you’ve got the conservative evangelical. He did not hesitate to speak the offensive, scandalous truth, but he did it politely and with courtesy. On the other hand we have the atheist comedienne, and I must say I loved it when she said ‘I don’t see boat people, I just see people.’ Bravo!

But on the whole her tone was impatient, intolerant – dare I say, a wee bit fundamentalist? I imagine some would confess to feeling a bit torn. Go with the so-called out-of-touch message, yet delivered winsomely, or go with the new atheist line, delivered at a shrill pitch? The argument is always so much more than the words and the logic: see how much sheer character brings to bear, and bears witness to, the things being said. Thanks PFJ.

[…] the 5,600 word behemoth on my rationale behind publicly criticising the ACL (21 shares), and my 3,950 word wrap up of Peter Jensen’s appearance on Q&A (27 shares). Between the 27th and 28th my stats are split between the 2,800 word post on why clarity matters […]

[…] – the tone of debate, and who the New Atheists look to to champion their cause. This is why Peter Jensen won Q&A – according to both impartial judges, and even according to many atheists who were […]

[…] play the stupid combative game that Q&A seems to thrive on. John Dickson continued in Peter Jensen’s fine tradition (not Pell’s so much, […]