Maybe Jesus was gay, as we're asked to imagine by St Matthew-in-the-City's latest billboard. Certainly, had always wondered about his dad, Joseph. I mean, this business about the immaculate conception? If Joseph and Mary were both keen, why didn't God just wait for nature to take its course and sprinkle some stardust on the newborn? Would have saved a lot of trouble. Not to mention a house-call from the archangel Gabriel. Even back then, that couldn't have been cheap.
Must say, if I was to ever re-connect with a church, St Matthew-in-the-City would be my sort of parish. Don't usually have much good to say about churches but these guys are a special case. Can't help but think, if I'd been a nipper in the Rev Glynn Cardy's flock, I'd have grown up with a much more positive perspective on what Christianity could mean. Alas, the priests and nuns who taught me would've deemed St Matt's a terrorist organisation.
And no wonder. From fighting apartheid (via the 1981 Springbok tour), to holding memorial services for AIDS victims and sponsoring a church for gays and lesbians, St Matt's has continually represented everything good about Christianity. It's refused to condescend, to judge, to invoke absolutes. To look away in the interests of the establishment. It recognises the faces of those whom conventional, traditional religion prefers to ignore.
Take the latest billboard. Not only is it a message of support to the gay community, it's a message to young Christians that there are different ways of interpreting the story; that you don't have to believe in the unbelievable to understand the message. That it's this that counts, not the faintly absurd fantasy that was invented to back it up. St Matthew's simply asks us to believe in the message of Jesus, even if you don't believe in the story. I can warm to that.
Let's be fair. There's little doubt Jesus existed and that his beliefs got under the skin of the occupying Romans. He challenged people to think. And so does St Matthew-in-the-City with its billboard campaign. There was the one entitled "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow". There was the one about Judas "liking" a Facebook photo of the crucifixion. And the one last Christmas: a startled Mary staring at the results of her pregnancy test.
No doubt the Catholic Action Group meatheads will soon spring into action and vandalise the latest sign in the name of their particular brand of Christianity. That's the other good thing about the St Matthews' billboards. Yes, they preach an inclusive approach and appeal to the young, and those with progressive minds. But they also highlight the intolerance on which so many other church goers have built their faith.
You don't have to look far to notice it, particularly given the debate raging about marriage equality. It's not a scientific measure, of course, but it seems 95 per cent of those opposing the right for gays and lesbians to marry are using religion to support their viewpoint. That's why St Matthews' particular focus this Christmas is so pertinent. Instead of being a champion for prejudice and bigotry, it's once again stood up for tolerance and understanding.
Rev Cardy and friends deserve our support, not to mention a hearty round of applause. While other churches and denominations rush about rallying against anything that challenges their comfort zone, these good people continue to find ways to reach out to the community. Rather than building walls and cutting themselves off, they're opening doors and putting out the welcome mat. Nothing better represents the spirit of Christmas.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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