In their recent newsletter titled ‘Now is a time for courage’, Lyle Sheldon, the director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) told their supporters:

Right now, Australia is at a crossroads.

What you and I do between now and when we vote on the future of marriage will shape the nation our children and grandchildren inherit.

Like me, you too may have been taken aback by the pressure and even intimidation to remain silent about what we value.

We are not alone in history in facing this. William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, although from different eras, faced intense opposition to their campaigns against slavery and Nazism respectively. They even faced opposition from their churches.

Considering the ACL’s constant opposition to everything LGBT, especially marriage equality and the Safe Schools program, I find interesting, if not ironic, that they’d chose these two great men of Christian history, Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, as inspirations for their cause. Possibly looking back at the past through the lens of the 21st century has created a romanticised perception of the men and a misunderstanding of their alignment with modern conservative Christian ideology.

Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer were not fighting to maintain tradition. They were rebels of their time, challenging injustice. Unlike the ACL and those who support them, Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer were creators of history, not on the wrong side of history.

It’s true both men were against evils of their day, slavery and anti-Semitism. More importantly though they were campaigning for equality, justice and basic human rights for minorities and the marginalised.

240px-Wilberforce_john_risingWilliam Wilberforce

The British became involved in the slave trade during the 16th century. By 1783, the triangular route that took British-made goods to Africa to buy slaves, transported the enslaved to the West Indies, and then brought slave-grown products such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Britain, represented about 80 percent of Great Britain’s foreign income. Of the estimated 11 million Africans transported into slavery, about 1.4 million died during the voyage. Those that survived were submitted to the most inhumane treatment. Wilberforce fought the injustice of Africans being enslaved and taking away their basic freedoms as human beings. His campaigning bought Britain’s involvement n the slave trade to an end.

Wilberforce was fighting for justice and equality.

“It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power.” William Wilberforce

“It is however, most of all astonishing, that our opponents attempt to vindicate the slave trade on grounds of religion also.” William Wilberforce

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


During the Nazi regime most of the protestant/evangelical churches in Germany were aligning with Hitler. There was a push to construct an explicitly anti-Semitic Christianity, even including the removal of the Old Testament, Jesus being stripped of his Jewish heritage and Paul praised as the first great anti-Semite. “Into the oven … with the part of the Bible that glorifies the Jews,……so eternal flames will consume that which threatens our people,” proclaimed Georg Schneider, a German Christian leader of Bonhoeffer’s time.

In 1933 the Nazis introduced legislation, the Aryan Paragraph, which ensured Jewish people were not given access to positions, entitlements, benefits, education, etc thus making them second class citizens. The national church (Deutsche Christen) adopted the policy in their constitution thus effectively defrocking clergy of Jewish descent and even clergy married to non-Aryans. Their opponents, including Bonhoeffer, founded the Confessing Church which condemned the Deutsche Christen as heretics and claimed to be the true German Protestant Church.

Bonhoeffer was fighting for justice and equality and paid for it with his life, finally being hung in a concentration camp.

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

History tells us that with every single advancement in human rights equalities, whether it was to end slavery, to legalise interracial marriages, giving women the right to vote or equal rights for indigenous and people of colour there have been those who used bible verses as the basis to oppose progress and maintain discrimination. And yet there were heroes like Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer whose faith in God and love of humanity empowered them to create change. I’m glad that in the end love, justice and equality prevailed. May it be that way in Australia for our LGBTI youth, people and our relationships.

Were Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer alive today it is not inconceivable that they would be championing the rights of and equality for LGBT people and their relationships not opposing them.

So committed is the ACL to inspiring others with these Christian role models that they are flying in an expert, Eric Metaxas, who’s penned books on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer. Mr Metaxas will speak at the ACL National Conference and at events up the east coast of Australia.

I doubt the audiences will hear the quotes I’ve used above though.

It’s a crazy world when Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer are being used to inspire intolerance, injustice, discrimination, prejudice and ignorance. The very things they lived and died to extinguish.

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