No Winners in Intolerance
No Winners in Intolerance and Divisiveness
The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO | Archbishop of Perth
The name of the fifth month of the year in our Gregorian calendar, May, is said to have originated in the ancient world from gods associated with growth and success. No doubt the name reflected the green shoots and growth of fruits and flowers of the northern hemisphere’s warming Spring weather, and the Mayday festivals on the first day of the month.
It was certainly a time of transition, leaving the darkness behind, emerging afresh into the light, with fresh possibilities, even as it can be when the seasons don’t line up, as with us right now, in the throes of a federal election. No matter what else we are hearing in the avalanche of election promises, community response centres on leaving the past behind and looking ahead with new hope.
People of faith could do worse than align our individual and common prayer with traditional meanings of May regardless of whatever political party we support – looking for fresh signs of growth, of leaders with vision, praying that every single one of those elected seek to live up to the rhetoric of governing for all Australians.
It was clear from the start that this election was not to be fought on issues of greatness and wisdom, not even on critical policy issues Australians so clearly consider a priority – issues such as integrity and transparency, focusing on essentials like housing, adequate employment, decent and reliable aged care, the cost of living, and the increasing and multiple impacts of climate change.
Instead, the 2022 election campaign has been marked by bitter accusations of lying, use of fear as a weapon of choice, intolerance, and divisiveness. While the word ‘strategy’ has featured prominently, the word ‘respect’ has often been missing in action. There is predictable and dangerous rejoicing in any perceived wrongdoing or misfortune. On all sides.
Scare campaigns do work, but only by stoking the embers of anxieties. Intolerance and divisiveness destroy trust, until there are no winners apart from short-term selfishness and enmity. In countries where voting is voluntary, negativity and squabbling ensures that fewer people want to participate, and vote with their feet, failing to participate at all.
We Australians don’t have that choice, but polls demonstrate again and again that most of us want more of potential leaders than the easy stirring up controversy. We want more than the widespread perception that candidates are busy doing whatever it takes to paint a negative picture of ‘the other bloke” – still the case with too many candidates.
Given the chance, we understand and appreciate complexity. We live with it day by day at home, at work, in war and peace between family members or between countries, at the time of a global pandemic and when that isn’t the case. The politics of divisiveness and negativity fundamentally disrespects Australians who can cope with adult discussions of divisive and challenging issues without violence.
There is surely a lesson for all of us in that, and not least for the Australian Church. With an election in full swing, representatives of the twenty-three Anglican dioceses across the country are preparing to meet in the first ever hybrid gathering of General Synod, in-person and online.
After an enforced COVID break, the national Synod faces several issues of great significance for the Church itself and the country we serve. Some of the same big issues that divide Australians will be discussed, climate change, and family and domestic violence among them. General Synod will look to further enhancing Safe Church practices too. One very significant matter with considerable ministry and mission ramifications will be our response to marriage equality, and the blessing of same sex marriages and partnerships.
As this is the first meeting of General Synod since the changes made to the Commonwealth Marriage Act, and the first meeting since the Church’s Appellate Tribunal’s decision that there is no constitutional barrier to the Church blessing same sex marriages, the country will be listening closely not only to what we say among ourselves, but also to the way we say it.
One historical gift among Anglicans about to be put to the test is what we have called the Via Media, a middle way between different perceptions and attitudes within the household of faith. Different approaches, views, strong and varied biblical hermeneutics, the very richness in how the church we love has learned to live into God’s future at many points in history, the strength of tradition and the reconciling love of God for all people in Christ in conversation. The respect and reverence we have for one another, acknowledging the divine image in believers and unbelievers alike, is all important here, and strength lies in love and trust in grace. Different perspectives and different insights are nothing to fear, but can be celebrated in the Spirit of unity as a pathway to truth.
Indeed, how we approach our differences will define us as a Church for contemporary Australians far more clearly than how we approach what already unites us in the love of Christ. If the Anglican Church is to have any impact at all, we must not alienate those who strive each day to live in the grace and peace of Christ.
Returning to the month of May, history reveals that it has two birth flowers, one of which is the Hawthorn flower – a symbol of hope.
May that augur well for the 47th Parliament of Australia. As Anglicans, we put our hope and trust in the crucified and raised Lord, praying that the 18th Session of the General Synod will be a real blessing for the Church and for our country.
Prayer for good government
Spirit of justice and truth,
grant to our government and all who serve in public life,
wisdom and skill, imagination and energy;
protect them from corruption
and the temptation of self-serving.
Help us to commit ourselves to the common good
that our land may be a secure home for all its peoples,
through Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace. Amen.