Joining The “Christian” Dots

Graeme Cole, Public Affairs Manager, Wesley Centre

Graeme Cole, Public Affairs Manager, Wesley Centre

Is the Australian Christian Lobby wedging the Uniting Church?

As many regular readers of the stirrer would know the ACL (Australian Christian Lobby) is holding its annual conference at the Wesley Centre on the 23rd of April 2016. This has come as quite a surprise to many progressive Christians and members of the LBGTI community.

The Uniting Church has bravely pushed forward with reforms such as allowing practicing gay clergy and a position on blessing same sex unions. Although I long since resigned my membership on the grounds I no longer believe in the god of the bible, I have been quietly proud that the church of my youth is so progressive and inclusive.

So why is the Uniting Church allowing an organisation like the ACL to use its conference centre at one of its flagship missions, giving a platform to extreme anti-G.A.Y.* American crusaders? Enter Mr Graeme Cole, Public Affairs Manager at Wesley Mission.

On 10 February 2016 Cole issued a statement titled “Wesley Mission’s reputation and trust continues to grow in community”. He proclaimed

“Wesley Mission has substantially increased its standing as a reputable and trustworthy charity in the eyes of the Australian public, according to a recently released national survey.” He goes on to say ““Our commitment to our values of Christ-like servanthood, unfailing integrity and courageous commitment across our services areas and our strong and sustained advocacy in the public space on social and client issues”.

If this is true, and not just PR boilerplate, why allow a group like the ACL and its far right extreme guests to hold a conference there? Why would a mission concerned with, among other things, suicide prevention (remembering that LBGTI youth and adults represent one of the most at risk groups), in good conscience host Australia’s premier LBGTI hate group, and its even more extreme US backers and mentors?

Perhaps the answer lies with Cole himself. Let’s join the dots. His Linkedin Profile describes his role at Wesley Mission as follows:

Graeme Cole manages Wesley Mission’s media and government relations, is media adviser to the CEO and senior management, provides media and government briefing papers to the CEO and senior management, provides government strategy and liaison, speech writing, opinion and editorial writing for leading publications, research led media campaigns, stakeholder planning and management across a diverse range of services, crisis and issue policy management, acts as media spokesperson, public speaking and media event management, media coaching and mentoring of staff, identifying and managing emerging social and political issues impacting Wesley Mission, public positioning of organisation, and is editor of Wesley Impact! – the magazine of Wesley Mission.

But he is actually an evangelical Anglican. Mr. Cole worships at St Andrews Cronulla, which describes itself as:

An Evangelical Anglican Church located in ‘the Shire’ in Sydney, New South Wales. We are a community of people from many different walks of life but with the same thing in common: we’re forgiven and saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church is one of Australia’s largest, richest and most influential Evangelical factions [see Who Are The Sydney Anglicans: below], good mates with the ACL, and markedly anti-G.A..Y.*. The diocese is also a regular customer of the Wesley Centre: it’s the home for all their major diocesan gatherings, including the annual Synod.

Cole used to work for Anglicare NSW. He was also previously a journalist, sub-editor, and Night Chief of Staff at The Australian from 1984 – 1988: initially employed as a feature writer and sub-editor, he later covered general news, the NSW Parliament and the industrial round.

Cole likes it to be known he has many contacts with people of influence. Elise Williams, Community Engagement Manager at DLA Piper, describes him as “a highly experienced and well-connected media and communications professional”.

Suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so surprising to find the ACL is holding a conference at the Wesley Mission, owned by the Uniting Church, when you consider the mindset of the Public Affairs Manager, a politically well-connected evangelical Christian from the same media stable as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine.

The Centre claims this is a pure business decision: nothing to do with ideology. Perhaps Cole sees no problem, because of his inbuilt biases. But it’s been known for some time the Uniting Church has been battling its own right wing elements, many of whom are opposed to its progressive stance on LGBTI issues, and that the ACL and their allies the Sydney Anglicans support that faction within the church.

I will let you be the judge, but it does make you wonder: why would the Wesley Mission – which values it reputation so highly – rent its conference centre to the ACL, ignoring internal pressure from the progressives in the Uniting Church (especially the Victorian branch), if not to wedge, and display the Right making a stand against the Left.

Either way Mr. Cole and the Uniting Church have questions to answer. He can be contacted at Wesley Mission via email

*G.A.Y. = Good As You (the acronym formerly known as LGBTIQQ2A)

Who Are The Sydney Anglicans?

If you have observed the battle over Special Religious ‘Education’ (SRE) in Victoria and NSW you may know that it is almost exclusively run by conservative ‘evangelicals’. Evangelicals and Pentacostals are the ‘Far Right’ of Australian Christianity. In fact the two groups are often one and the same; with a similar social agenda and ethos.

It’s no coincidence that Cory Bernardi, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, George Brandis, Tony Abbott, and our current Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, among others, are supporters of the lead evangelical lobby group, the ACL. Scott Morrison in particular sees no problem in sharing a platform with the likes of Eric Metaxas and top legal counsel for the ‘Alliance Defending Freedom’, Jeffrey J Ventrella.

Doug Pollard also gives a very good run down about Mr. Ventrella here.

One of Australia’s largest Evangelical factions is the Sydney Anglican Church. They openly “influence peddle” and make no apologies for pushing their agenda into NSW politics, as well as having extensive links with the greater academic community in Sydney. One example would the Macquarie University Ancient History Department which has, in the opinion of some, become a “historical Jesus apologetics workshop”, with links to organisations like the Centre for Public Christianity. Another is the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, also a Sydney Anglican priest. The NSW premier is associated with the Sydney Anglicans, as is Fred Nile (since the Uniting Church gave him his marching orders).

Sydney Anglicans, via various entities, almost exclusively control the curriculum material/texts for SRE or ‘School Scripture’ in Australia, overseen by the Anglican Archbishop for Sydney, Glen Davies. The ACL and Sydney Anglicans exploded recently when the Victorian Government, responding to community concerns, removed SRE from school curriculum hours in Victorian State Schools, especially as the Fairness In Religion In Schools was then free to refocus its campaign on SRE in NSW Public Schools.

The SRE curriculum ,published by Youthworks (owned by Sydney Anglican Church), is demonstrably anti-LGBTI and ingrained with misogyny. One such example is a now-removed book by the priest John Dickson who suggested sexual immorality was done best by the LBGTI community at Mardi Gras, and that a woman with a sexual history was like an old ‘Datsun, with scratches he didn’t value highly and ….didn’t mind lending to friends’.

About the author

Known for his advocacy on LGBTI issues, such as Safe Schools and Marriage Equality, & raising awareness of issues around special religious education in public schools, Stephen is a gay parent of two currently living in Brisbane Australia who has worked in a variety of roles from manufacturing, sales, consulting, and residential youth work.