By now I guess most people will have heard of the vandalising of the two murals in Newton: one very recent one showing Tony Abbott with his hand down Cardinal Pell’s speedos, the other, of much longer vintage, a memorial to George Michael painted after the manner of a Greek Orthodox ikon.
Both were vandalised by a group of young men from Christian Lives Matter, apparently in response to the country voting overwhelming to let LGBTI marry. Now, I know little about them, but I understand they are from the Lebanese Maronite Christian community, and claim to be ‘defending their religion’.
The Christian Lives Matter (CLM) Facebook page has been popping in and out of view, switching between public and secret status. Another icon of the LGBTI community, Pauline Pantsdown, has been monitoring members of the page closely, and has collected some violent posts. You can see them on her Facebook page, and there’s a small sample below.
You’ll notice that Pauline includes a tweet in which the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, praises the young men for their actions. Miranda Devine has also praised them in her column in the Herald Sun.
If you go to the CLM Facebook page now, it is full of vigils, praying rosaries, silent candelit marches and other apparently benign activities. There are also many protestations of peacefulness, innocence etc etc which are not altogether convincing. Someone has pointed out to them that planning vandalism and violence out in the open grasslands of Facebook is probably not a good idea.
SHELTON’S ARMY (THEY’RE DEVINE’S TOO, DARLING)
You would imagine that the man who just led the NO campaign to a crushing loss in the survey on marriage equality would be out on his ear and looking for a new job. Instead, Lyle Shelton has been ramping up the rhetoric, calling for a “standing army” of Christians to fight for the faith.The cover page of the ACL website has a similar violent tone. It would appear these young men have heard his call.
So far the local LGBTI community has not turned out in large numbers to face down the vandals, but that can only be a matter of time, unless something is done to take the heat out of the situation.
THE MAYOR INTERVENES
Darcy Bryne, the Mayor of Inner West council, has taken a strong stand. On Facebook he wrote:
In recent days a vigilante christian group has been engaged in a campaign of vandalising premises in the Inner West combined with homophobic and abusive rhetoric online. At a time of celebration about the big step forward we have made for human rights in this country, these attacks are the last thing we need.
It’s time to nip this in the bud.
Vandalism and intimidatory tactics are out of keeping with mainstream Australian values and Christian teachings. These spiteful practices are precisely what we feared would come to pass as consequence of the marriage equality survey process.
Council will be working closely with the Police to stop these attacks on people’s properties and defuse the situation. There are legitimate ways for people who have actual complaints about public art to raise them. Damaging private property isn’t one of them.
I ask that conservative commentators and activists, who don’t live in our community, desist from inflaming or encouraging vigilantism at this time. There is never any justification for illegality, Miranda Devine and Lyle Shelton shouldn’t need to be reminded of that.
Australia is a nation of freedom of speech and freedom of religion but also freedom from religion. People feeling zealous or angry about the result of the of the survey should keep in mind the words of a truly committed Christian, Martin Luther King:
“Hate distorts the personality and scars the soul. It is more injurious to the hater than the hated.”
The CLM brigade have not reacted well to this, as you may imagine. The Mayor could use some help, and I think it should come from us.
There has been little interaction between the community and CLM so far, although some people were filmed pleading with the vandals as they defaced the George Michael memorial. And so far, no violent confrontations, despite CLM threats. But since the memorial will be repainted, and in vandal-proof form, and CLM have vowed to prevent this or remove the result, it’s only a matter of time.
We do indeed need to nip this is the bud.
Confrontation is not the answer. These boys know next to nothing about us, and are steeped in ignorance and prejudice. They need to be educated and enlightened, if at all possible. But they cannot hear what we have to say if they will not listen.
We need senior high profile representatives of our community in Sydney – I suggest Christine Forster and Alex Greenwich would be ideal – to venture into the lions den. The safest way to do that would be under the auspices of the Mayor. Accordingly I have written to Alex, Christine and the Mayor to see if they’re willing to get the ball rolling.
Like most of us, I’ve been disturbed by this eruption from the Christian Lives Matter group, especially as they are being egged on by the likes of Miranda Devine and Lyle Shelton. I would hate confrontations to occur, and possibly escalate, as there seem to be some very violent young men among them.
It seems to me that the Sydney LGBTI community should reach out to the churches this is coming from, in some way. My first thought was to suggest that LGBTI community leaders in Sydney – such as Christine Forster and Alex Greenwich – might offer to address a gathering at one of these churches, to address some of their worries.
It would take courage, but I think it could help to take some heat out of the situation and show we’re sensitive to their concerns. I have written to Christine and Alex with this suggestion.
If you as Mayor were to organise and auspice such a gathering, I think it would be all the more effective at calming a situation that could easily get out of control.
UPDATE: TONY ABBOTT CLOSE TO THE MARONITE COMMUNITY
It’s been brought to the stirrer’s attention that former PM Tony Abbott has close ties with Sydney’s Lebanese Maronite Christian community. Perhaps he could use his connections to ask them to stop defacing murals in which he himself features.