and, until Auckland returns to Covid alert level 1, you can
Zoom into a daily morning tea and chat, with whoever else turns up,
11:00am, Link, ID & passcode as above.
How many Kiwis actually know that people seeking asylum here in Aotearoa are sent to prison on arrival, and are often left for months without any method of communication, or legal assistance? This is not how we expect people to be treated, and we need to fix it.
In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1675, Isaac Newton wrote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.
The phrase is understood to mean that if Newton had been able to discover more about the universe than others, then it was because he was working in the light of discoveries made by fellow scientists, either in his own time or earlier.
I stand on the shoulders of John Shelby Spong and he stood on the shoulders of John A T Robinson, an English New Testament scholar, author and the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, his friend and mentor. Robinson stood on the shoulders of Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and situational ethicist Joseph Fletcher, when he published a highly controversial book in 1963, Honest to God.
On September 15th 2021 we made an oral submission via Zoom. Video on Demand of this is available at the Justice Select Committee Facebook Page, Our submission begins at 11:45, audio only can be heard or read below.
I wish to begin by thanking the select committee for inviting me to speak to the Auckland Unitarian Church’s submission in support of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Our support is fully aligned with the stated purposes of the bill which would ban such practices to protect the human rights of vulnerable individuals and groups, in particular those who are part of the Rainbow community. So to some degree I am preaching to the choir.
There is overwhelming evidence about how destructive these practices are to the individuals subjected to them. I will leave it to those professionals better versed in that research to speak to that. What I would like to address is in my sphere of expertise, that is religious freedom. As there are faith groups who defend these practices in the name of religious freedom, Unitarians believe their arguments are spurious and must be challenged. The necessity to do so is part of our heritage.
In 1568, Francis Davíd made an eloquent case in a debate with Catholics, Lutherans and Reformers on religious freedom, arguing for it on the grounds that “faith is a gift of God, not of men”. This argument prompted the first and only Unitarian king, John Sigismund, in Transylvania (modern Romania) to issue the Edict of Torda. The edict is described by historian Susan Ritchie as “the first modern articulation of the principle of religious toleration by Europeans at the level of state rule”. While religious toleration sounds like an oxymoron, and the edict was not perfect, as it did not include non-Christian groups, it was a start in the right direction.
The bloody warfare between Catholics and Protestants in England prompted John Locke to further our understanding of religious freedom and tolerance in his Letter concerning toleration: He wrote:-
True and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment that they have framed of things.
Our journey to a modern understanding of religious freedom and tolerance has been has been long and tortuous, but in 1948 the UN issued The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defining freedom of religion and belief as follows:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. (Article 18)
A corollary to the principle of freedom of worship is the freedom to practise religious duties. While not generally a source of conflict today, some run afoul of state interests. An extreme example is the practice of human sacrifice, which was common in some ancient societies. Even in cases where this might be carried out voluntarily, few would argue today that banning this practice constitutes an unnecessary abridgment of religious freedom. Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation, is a more contentious issue, with a few religious sects still claiming this to be a religious duty. Refusing blood transfusions and medical care for minors are also times when the state has intervened to protect the individual from harmful beliefs of religious duties.
Those faith groups that argue it is their religious duty to “convert” those who do not fit their definition of righteous, labelling them as less than fully human and needing correction, are not justified by the concept of religious freedom. Religious freedom cannot be practised by denying the religious freedom of others.
I am gratified by the significant number of faith groups that have made a submission supporting the passage of this bill. It should not be taken lightly that the Salvation Army and the Unitarians are on the same page regarding this issue. Its passage must be meant to be.
I now invite your questions.
This is the submission of the Auckland Unitarian Church in favour of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.
The Auckland Unitarian Church is part of a faith tradition – Unitarianism – that originated in Europe and has developed around the world over five centuries. Unitarians have been active in New Zealand from the 19th century. Auckland Unitarians have been meeting continuously at 1a Ponsonby Road, Auckland since 1901.
Our tradition has always supported progressive causes. In early times, these causes included freedom of conscience in Europe at a time the Spanish Inquisition was burning people for heresy, and the abolition of slavery in Britain and the US. Our own church in Auckland has supported pacifism in times of war, anti-nuclear movements, environmental protection, honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, marriage equality and support for rainbow communities. We provided a place to meet, teach and organise to the Workers Education Association in the earlier part of the 20thcentury, and to the Polynesian Panthers in the 1970s, and we provided sanctuary to vulnerable Indian students threatened with deportation in 2017.
The Auckland Unitarian Church held the first same-sex marriage after the passing of marriage equality legislation in 2013.
A survey of church members drew 100% support for this submission.
Auckland Unitarians are a faith community. We do not support the position of those faith communities who wish conversion practices to continue to be protected in law. We do not believe that banning conversion therapy is a violation of religious freedom, as some faith communities have stated.
The principles we adhere to include a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, justice, equity and compassion in human relations, and respect for the interconnected web of existence, of which we are all a part.
Our principles lead us to support the right of people of all genders and all sexualities to flourish.
We abhor and condemn conversion therapy because it violates our principles and because it violates and threatens people’s worth and dignity. It works against equity and compassion and it seeks to rupture the interconnected web of existence. We seek to build a beloved community. Conversion therapy works against love and against any possibility of community for people of diverse genders and sexualities. When one part of our community is threatened, we are all threatened.
Members of the Justice Select Committee, as you consider possible changes to the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, we urge you to hear the voices of people who have suffered from conversion therapy. We urge you to consider equity and compassion for rainbow communities, and for sectors of rainbow communities who are the most vulnerable, who may also be subject to racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination because of their identities or the situations they find themselves in. When finalising the legislation, we hope you will create a law that supports rainbow communities in the most effective way possible.
Last week in my musings about conspiracy theorists I relied on my pastoral training to encourage you “to respect their human dignity and listen to them. Ask questions about their fears. Remain connected to them. Love them.” What the hell was I thinking? This is a case of do as I say, not as I do. Those who spread conspiracy theories that endanger people, enrage me.
Ever since the pandemic began the tin hat brigade has been out in force, spreading misinformation and, worse, disinformation. The former is “false information that people didn’t create with the intention to hurt others,” and the latter is “false information created with the intention of harming a person, group, or organisation, or even a country.” They have always been around, but this time, thanks to social media, conspiracy theories have never been more deadly. I have seen videos of people in ICU dying of Covid still claiming it is a government hoax and that Bill Gates has put microchips in the vaccine to control us. It beggars belief. Up to now I’ve just dismissed them without a second thought, lumping them in with the few who believe in the Flat Earth Society and those who believe the moon landing was a hoax spoon fed to the “sheeple”. But now their nonsense is threatening extinction. With the world increasingly on fire or underwater, their denouncing of climate change as not real and their undermining public health efforts to eliminate a deadly virus are a real threat. They have forced me to take them seriously and consider why people come up with conspiracy theories in the first place and why others are taken in by them even when it isn’t in their best interest.
Our reading this morning is what has occupied my musings this week, I’m grateful to my former colleague Glynn Cardy’s Facebook post pointing me in the direction of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog on circuit breakers. I suppose it resonated because of a conversation I had with someone feeling confounded about how to respond to someone who wanted to relitigate an altercation that was years ago. This is the kind of imposition that can blow a fuse when we can barely handle all that is happening now. So, this is another message from your Minister for Spiritual Health on how to use a lockdown to your spiritual advantage. Just because we are adhering to the lockdown rules for the common good, it does not mean we have to lock down our growth and transformation.
As we once again find the virus an unwelcomed guest in our midst, I pondered what to share with you today. The Ministry of Health is doing a great job, considering the enormity of the task, trying to keep us physically healthy. Our Prime Minister is doing her job of keeping us mentally sound with her calm assurance, clear messaging and kind manner. But I can’t find a ministry for assisting us with our spiritual wellbeing. I guess that’s my job. It is a daunting one, but I take comfort in my opening words, by Elizabeth Mount. If I can remind you of your internal spiritual strength that will help you endure, that would be Dayenu. It will be enough for today.
Follow-up letter from Anthony Watt of Freeset Global on how your generous donations were spent:
“Firstly, thank you for the donation. The money has been moved over and spent. It contributed towards the covid-19 campaign where we provided wages, vaccinations, emergency medical care, education for children missing school and food distribution into our 4 communities, (over 20 tonnes of food!) Thank you for contributing towards this.
Secondly, I am very glad to see the interest you are taking in following this up. It shows a great degree of care.”
Anthony also included a photograph of one of young girls receiving education from Freeset donations. He comments:-
“She is doing so well in school at the moment. She is smashing all the boys in math, which is unheard of here! So she is a bit of a star.”
“Thanks again for your support Shirin.[and to all those who contributed to the fundraiser] It really does mean a lot.”
While it is disappointing, it is not surprising we are back in a Level 4 lockdown. We’ve had a good run, but the Delta variant is the trickiest and most dangerous to date, so it was only a matter of time. A year and a half ago, we were still learning how to defeat the virus. We’ve learned a lot since then and, fingers crossed, we will be even be more successful this time if we all do our part.
Auckland Unitarians will do ours. The building is closed for In-person and live-streaming worship until we return to Level 1. Committees, men’s group, circle groups, and renters may return at Level 2 if they can meet Ministry of Health NZ guidelines.
Covid does not stop our being a beloved community. Be kind. Check in on our single members and seniors. If you need assistance please let Clay or one of our other members know.
Stay safe by following government guidelines to the letter. If you can’t stay home, wear a mask. Book your vaccine. Give thanks for all those essential workers who have to risk their lives to care for us.