“It wasn’t made entirely clear to me whether it was simply because Anthony was gay that he would not be allowed to speak,” Father Smith told Sydney Star Observer.
“There was mention that he might be promoting -˜the homosexual lifestyle’, though I’m not entirely clear as to what that is supposed to mean. Is there -˜a heterosexual lifestyle’? I think the implication was that Anthony might be promoting promiscuity, which I think is entirely false.”
“There was also mention that this was something the Archbishop had taken a strong stand on and that I wasn’t to be seen to be undermining that. I didn’t think I was undermining anything by promoting thoughtful discussion.”
Cox was contacted, but failed to respond in time for publication.
Venn-Brown who “has previously been banned from speaking at bible colleges, had his books banned from Christian stores and had both the Salt Shakers and Fred Nile lead campaigns against him -” was surprised by the Anglican Diocese’s decision to veto his talk.
“What I was doing was sharing my story, that’s all,” he said.
“I know I’m not an immoral person, I’m not promoting anything that would be un-Christian in any way, so I was quite surprised by the decision.”
“There are probably better ways to handle it and I think it was interesting, I didn’t think I was that important, but obviously within Sydney Anglican Diocese I’m seen as some sort of threat.”
Venn-Brown did attend the service as a member of the congregation and then addressed a number of parishioners in a hall across the road after the service.
“I did exactly what I was going to do in the church … it brought more people in, he said. The other thing it did was raise within the minds of the people in the congregation questions about the appropriateness of what had been done.”
“Within congregations these days, a shift has already happened in understandings of sexual orientation.”
“People within the congregation have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, work colleagues who are gay or lesbian and they know that they’re not evil or bad people. But they’re what I call the silent majority, whereas up in the hierarchy of some denominations these people have little or no contact with gay or lesbian people and have pre-conceived ideas and misconceptions.”
“The saddest thing about the ban of me speaking in Sydney Diocese churches is that it sends the wrong message to gay and lesbian people who are trying to sort out their faith and their sexuality.”
Father Smith said he was disappointed by the intervention.
“We’ve always had a number of gay people in the parish and there’s never been an issue – it’s not something we’ve ever felt the need to go and make any great pronouncements about, they’re just members of the parish,” he said.
“It comes up in sermons for me, just in terms of speaking to people about you know, that we’ve got to love everybody, which I think is pretty basic. But beyond that, we’re not a heavily politicised parish that’s trying to make a point or cause controversy unnecessarily, we’re just trying to get on with loving the people of our community the way that they are.”
“I wasn’t really looking to upset anybody and it did not occur to me that they’d actually shut down discussion on the subject forcefully, without discussing it or giving any other option, I thought it was really quite bizarre.”
Father Smith said he would not be intimidated into changing the way he addresses his congregation, and would continue to reach out to gay and lesbian parishioners, though his job may be at risk now.
“I won’t compromise my integrity or what I understand to be the Christian message of love and acceptance – that’s non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“I’m not going to sell my soul for the sake of placating the leadership, but at the same time I’m not wanting to make enemies of people who are friends either.”
“I just thought we should be able to sit down and listen and talk about things in a civilised and open way, and that seems to have been blocked from happening.”