We used to think it noble to sacrifice lives to preserve our freedom. Now we sacrifice our freedom to preserve lives

“Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18)

Once upon a time we would go to war, believing that it was worth sacrificing millions of lives, if necessary, to maintain our freedom. Now we do exactly the opposite. We sacrifice our freedom for the sake of preserving lives.

When I was entering my teens, the Vietnam war was still going. I assumed then that it would go on indefinitely and that when I turned eighteen my name would go into the lottery and I too might be called up. I dreaded the prospect, though, even then, I could understand the rationale of conscription and why my dad supported it so strongly. Our society had been built on democratic principles that enshrined fundamental human freedoms. Those freedoms were under threat from the godless ideology of Communism (or so we had been told) and so it was right and proper that we stand together to defend our country and protect those freedoms, even if it meant that countless numbers of our young men must die, perhaps including me!

Times have changed. I thank God that I did not have to go and fight in Vietnam, and I am now unequivocally opposed to the practice of conscription. That’s because I no longer believe the way our wars are sold to us – as noble causes. The ‘domino principle’ that was used to justify the stand in Vietnam turned out to be vacuous. We had no business being in Vietnam any more than we did in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. I no longer believe in conscription because I don’t trust the government. Even so, I accept the basic principle, that there are things worth dying for, and that we should be ready to pay a cost to defend our freedoms. So … what happened?

I remember when lockdowns were first announced, I posted a video on Facebook, expressing concern and suggesting that we should think about where we draw the line. If we accept social distancing and stay-at-home orders, is there a point where we draw a line? When we’re no longer allowed to embrace our children – is that where we draw the line?

I posted that in March 2020, and received an immediate call from my bishop, asking me to take it down. He said, “nobody is saying that we can’t embrace our children”, as if I had ventured into the absurd. I took the video down. Within a few weeks of that phone call I watched news footage of a man disembarking his plane in Darwin where his young son ran up to embrace him. Dad stepped back with his hands in the air. Lockdown rules had come into force while he had been in flight and, indeed, the man was forbidden to embrace his child.

Not long after that my position as parish priest was terminated – a position that I’d held for thirty years. At least that meant I could repost my video. Yes, I’ve been able to speak freely ever since, though no doubt many had hoped that by denying me a pulpit, I’d be left preaching into a void.

I have never accepted, and I do not accept now, that what is driving our government’s response to this ‘great pandemic’ is purely a concern for public health. That is largely because the statistics do not justify, and have never justified, the level of totalitarian response we have endured.

Yes, people have died. Indeed, a good friend of mine died from COVID 19. He died in Syria and not in Australia, but I don’t deny for a second that the virus is real and deadly. Even so, there are a lot of things in this world that can kill us, and of course governments should play some role in trying to protect us, but it’s a matter of balance.

The roads can be deadly. People die every day from car accidents but we don’t reduce the national speed limit to 40 km/hour, even though we know full well that this would save more than a thousand lives each year!

We know that by allowing families to build in-ground pools in their backyards that the number of domestic drownings will inevitably increase. We still let them do it.

We know that by banning the sale and consumption of alcohol, as the US did for a full thirteen years (between 1920 and 1933, road deaths would be reduced, domestic violence cases would decrease, and there would be way less brawling on the streets. Even so, not only do we not ban the sale of alcohol, but even in the most serious lockdowns, the sale of alcohol has been considered an essential service!

I simply do not believe that public health was ever the sole and sufficient reason for locking down huge numbers of healthy people, and if it were, surely more weight would have been given to the health cost of the lockdowns.

Lockdowns destroy small businesses and lose people their jobs, which in turn causes stress, poverty, depression and domestic tensions. Moreover, while lockdowns may only be a minor disruption for the well-to-do and the well-healed, for those who are on the edge, lockdowns threaten to push them over the edge.

As I mentioned, I have lost one friend to COVID. Even so, I know of seven who have died through suicide during these lockdowns. One of the boys in my boxing club told me one night of how he had gone to see his dad but got there to find that he had hanged himself.  How do you recover from something like that?

I read that during the Melbourne lockdown, youth suicide rose by 180%. I’m surprised it’s not more.

I haven’t had paid employment myself since I lost my position in the church and I’ve been struggling. Lockdowns are suffocating. The universe no longer seems like a friendly place. Stopping the pain through self-destruction starts to look like a credible way forwards. It is not, of course. It never is. Even so, I have felt the pull from the abyss, and I weep for those for whom that pull has been just too great.

We used to think that freedom was worth dying for. What happened? Well … the narrative changed.

In today’s official narrative we are indeed at war, but the enemy is COVID and we are all standing together to fight against it.

Yes, we will all have to endure some hardship and, inevitably, some will have to sacrifice more than others, but once we have achieved victory over the virus enemy, all these hardships will soon be forgotten. The economy will bounce back, small businesses will thrive again, the government will relinquish all emergency powers, and electronic tracking and surveillance will be gone forever. Those who suicided will all be resurrected. and we won’t even remember what social distancing was as we’ll all be too busy embracing one another in celebration!

Does this sound about right?

The only thing that makes the official narrative look plausible is that the counter-narratives, most of which point to secret cabals plotting the destruction of the human race, look even less plausible. Personally, I don’t accept any of these narratives. Rather, I believe that what is driving the worldwide response to the virus are the same twin forces that drive just about everything else in this world – namely, the lust for power and money, both of which feed on fear.

Fear sells newspapers, fearful populations are easy to control, and, of course, in this extraordinarily litigious culture, both companies and governments are terrified of being sued should they be held responsible for someone’s death because they did not do enough to protect them!

The institutional church works exactly this way. I remember while I was still in seminary hearing a bishop warn us that we (the church) must be careful not to apologise to our Indigenous population lest we be sued like the church in Canada which was then looking like it might soon be insolvent! I said to the bishop then, “but shouldn’t we just do what is right and let the chips fall where they may?” I don’t think I received an answer.

With any large company or government or institution, the bottom line will always be the bottom line, and so the church can’t take the risk of allowing people to worship for the same reason we can’t take the risk of being honest about our history.

We cannot open the way for scores of litigants to come forward and say “my grandma would still be alive if you had only closed the doors of the church”. No! We must do whatever is necessary – close the doors, stop people singing, talking, embracing, deny the faith if we have to … just protect the bottom line!

There are alternate paths out of this mess.

For our leaders, we need them to be guided by love rather than by fear. As the Apostle John said, “perfect love casts out all fear”. (1 John 4:18), If love is too much to ask for, just a basic respect for human dignity will do.

For the rest of us, we need to be willing to take personal responsibility for our own health and leave the government to focus on their real job – protecting our freedoms!

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A critique of American Human Rights

My thanks to Dr Yahya Jahangiri for the kind invitation to speak at this conference, organised by Tehran University in Iran.  I participated  via  the live  stream  on  June  30,  2021American Human Rights

It is a privilege to be invited to speak to you today, and I am always conscious when I engage with my Iranian friends that our countries share the dubious privilege of both having experienced US-initiated regime change in the last generation or so.

In Iran’s case, of course, it was the CIA-initiated overthrow of Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953. In Australia’s case, it was the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 – arguably, Australia’s greatest Prime Minister.

Whitlam was formally dismissed by the Australian Governor General on constitutional grounds, but many believe that the Governor General was acting on the instructions of the CIA, and that it was Whitlam’s promise to evict US military bases from the country, along with his opposition to the Vietnam War, that was the real basis for his eviction from office.

We share this common heritage then of having both threatened US global hegemony, and having both paid the price for our presumption of independence. The key difference is that Iran took back its independence in 1979 whereas Australia continues to be a vassal to US interests. The other difference, of course, is that whereas the CIA acted openly in the overthrow of Mosaddegh, in all subsequent regime-change operations, the United States government and their agents have worked in the shadows.

The US regime-change operation that I am actually most familiar with is the current ten year long attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Syria – an operation that most of us only became aware of in 2011, but which Wikileaks cables have revealed was already an explicit part of US foreign policy as early as 2006. I don’t pretend to have any particular expertise in understanding the political and economic factors that helped form that policy. What I am familiar with though is the level of devastation that it has caused. I have had the privilege of travelling to Syria nine times over the last ten years of war in that country and I have seen first-hand the toll that the US regime-change policy has taken on ordinary Syrian people.

I remember when I first arrived in Damascus, early in 2013, when things were at their worst, one of the first Syrian people I met was a woman, dressed in black, tugging on my cassock and trying to show me a photo of a young boy while she pleaded in broken English, “They killed my son, Mohamad! They put a bomb in his pocket and they blew him up! They killed him because we are Shia.”

It soon became apparent that the woman wanted me to help her get her other son out of Homs – something that I had no power to help her with whatsoever. Even so, I wondered then as I wonder now, whether those who sat in comfortable offices in Washington, working on their mission objectives in Syria, had any idea what life looked like on the receiving end of their policy decisions.

Of course, the connection between terrorist groups operating in Syria and their foreign backers has never been openly admitted. They have operated in the shadows. Even so, there is one weapon of foreign policy that the United States government has wielded openly, and it is, I believe, the most damaging weapon of all in terms of the toll it has taken on ordinary Syrian people, and I am talking, of course, about the sanctions.

Sanctions kill people. No one knows that better than the people of Iran, of course, but for the Syrian people the latest round of sanctions imposed by the United States has devastated normal civilian life. You can’t get gas to heat your home during winter because of the sanctions. There is no fuel for your vehicle, so you can’t do your work because of the sanctions. You would like to rebuild your home that was damaged in the fighting but you can’t get the building materials because of the sanctions.

Last time I was in Syria, in 2019, I met a lovely woman who worked with young people who had cancer. She said that all she could really do was to sit with these children as they died as they weren’t able to get them cancer medications. They were only ever able to get expired medications from developing countries. Why? Because of the sanctions.

The great irony of these devastating sanctions is that they have been sold to the American people as a humanitarian policy! The sanctions are part of the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”, named after an individual known as ‘Caesar’ who produced photographs that were allegedly taken of people who had been tortured by the Syrian government, though how these sanctions could ever have been envisaged as a form of ‘civilian protection’ is beyond comprehension.

The photographs of ‘Caesar’ are themselves highly suspect, which only adds to the irony. Of course, the sanctions themselves do make provision for food and medications to be delivered to Syria, as these are technically exempt, but those who design the sanctions know full well that such exempted items will never reach Syria, as the exporting companies cannot take the risk.

The fines imposed on companies that export prohibited goods to sanctioned countries are so great that they can bankrupt an offending company overnight. No board of directors in their right mind will ever block the export of their widgets, but allow the export of food and medicine lest a widget be accidentally included, or lest a competitor allege that they exported a widget, tying them up in court for years.

Those who design these sanctions know how companies operate, and they know that their ‘humanitarian sanctions’ will result in death and devastation for ordinary people. This particular irony mirrors the greater lie proclaimed by successive US administrations, that they are only intervening in the affairs of other countries, such as Syria, out of a concern for the human rights of their people.

This brings us back to the broader issue of why the United States feels it has a unique role to play as global policeman – enforcing democracy and human rights on the rest of the world. We would argue, of course, that this has never been the true intention of US foreign policy but, even so, we must also ask why the United States of America should ever have felt that it had this unique responsibility in world affairs.

There has indeed been a history of rhetoric from US leaders, explicating the unique role they see their country as having in the world. The idea that North America was formed as “A city built on a hill” goes right back to one of the founding fathers – John Winthrop – who took this image from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 to 7) to depict his new colony in Massachusetts Bay as a model of Christian charity. The phrase was taken up again in writings such as Manly Hall’s “The Secret Destiny of America” (1944) and used unashamedly in speeches by Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama, amongst other American political luminaries.

At one level, this is simply the common language of empire. Julius Caesar would speak of his aim to ‘civilize the Gaul’s’ before engaging in the wanton slaughter of their native people. Rudyard Kipling similarly spoke of the ‘white man’s burden’ to justify the imperialist ambitions of the British Empire. Empires inevitably produce high-sounding propaganda to mask their greed. Even Adolf Hitler framed his bloodlust as an attempt to save the world from his imagined Jewish enemy! What makes the American propaganda especially difficult for me to deal with though, of course, is the way it is so often steeped in the language of the New Testament.

It has been suggested that a perverse strain of Evangelical Christianity has fueled much of the violence of American imperialism. The New Testament does indeed depict the suffering and death of Jesus as a means to the salvation of the world, and this combination of suffering and salvation has given rise to what American theologian, Walter Wink, termed, ‘the myth of redemptive violence’ wherein positive social change is seen as inevitably requiring a degree of violence and suffering.

This is well illustrated in Julia Ward Howe’s great Battle Hymn of the Republic (1862), wherein the struggle for emancipation of African Americans in the American Civil War (1861-1864) is depicted as a holy war, foreshadowed by the cross of Christ – “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”.

I believe that political leaders will always try to tap into the religious idealism of their people in order to further their own political ends. Conversely though, I believe that genuine religious piety, that begins in the prayers of the people, will inevitably be critical of power, and will always choose the path of peace.

When we look back over the last 100 years, we can see a handful of positive examples of movements for social change where the genuine religious piety was a driving force.

I’m thinking specifically of the Indian Independence movement in the first half of the 20th century and the role of Mahatma Gandhi. I’m thinking of the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and the role of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m thinking of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the role Ayatollah Khomeini.

In each of these cases we see, not politicians using religious rhetoric, but religion inspiring political change. Each of these social movements were as peaceful as they were powerful, and their results have been long-lasting. The contrast between these religiously-driven movements for social change and the hollow crusades of successive US administrations, thinly veiled with a veneer of human-rights rhetoric and Biblical imagery, could not be more stark.

As we look at our sisters and brothers in the United States at the moment, we see a country in turmoil, an empire in decline, and a culture where the place of religion is very much in question. The rhetoric of American exceptionalism sounds increasingly hollow as all pretentions to moral superiority are gradually being seen to be without foundation.

My hope and prayer for our brothers and sisters in the United States is that the genuine religious piety of so many people in that land will lead to a peaceful revolution through which their leaders will be held accountable for their human-rights abuses and where, ultimately, we may yet see America become that city built on a hill that she always had the potential to be.

Father Dave, June 30, 2021

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Father Dave’s Preach and Punch Fest – 26-27 June, 2021

Binacrombi Bush Camp – June 26-27, 2021

I had some excellent men join me in the rign on Saturday night, June 26. My first opponent – Fonda – had obviously had a few fights. He knew what he was doing, was fit, and slightly larger than me. His the only fight I’ve included in the video, though two more guys immediately followed him, and they were both hard work too. I then made my usual thank-you’s, had a photo taken with my three opponents, and then sat down as the crowd returned to their cabins.

The shock came about five minute later when another group of around a dozen, who were camping on our site, showed up late. I apologised to them for not gerring to their camping area and letting them know that we were about to start. Then another guy showed up who had earlier told me that he was keen to fight me. Between the whole group, the groans of disappointment seemed so palpable that I put my wraps and glove back on and fought three more opponents from the second group! I slept well that night.

As to the Bible readings for the following Sunday, there was plenty of passion there too. The reading from the Hebrew Bible focused on King David’s lament over the death of Saul, and more especially over Saul’s son, Jonathon. David says of Jonathon, “Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26b). However we understand that, it was a deeply personal statement, and yet David included this in a song of lament that the entire country would sing!

Paul is passionate as ever in his plea to the church in Corinth to ‘finish what they had started’ (2 Corinthians 8:11) though it might not be obvious to the casual reader what great work he was referring to. Paul is talking about the aid collection being taken up amongst the non-Jewish churches to support needy sisters and brothers in Jerusalem. It was the first-ever global Christian welfare project! Those who downplay the importance of sharing with the poor need to take good account of these words of St Paul, and recognise too that Paul’s final arrest only happened because he risked his freedom to ensure that this aid collection reached its proper recipients.

The Gospel reading has Jesus engaging with three different people who are very different from eachother. The first is Jairus, a synagogue leader and a powerful community figure, the second is his 10-year-old daughter who is gravely ill. The powerful father is helpless in the face of the illness, and so he appeals to Jesus. Coming into this story from left-of-field is an unnamed woman who intercepts Jesus en route to the home of the father and daughter. She is a shadowy figure, only known to us through her painful and embarrassing condition, such that she had been bleeding for twelve years.

Jesus displays both power and tenderness towards each of the characters in this story. We also see something in this story about the power of touch. The woman touches Jesus and is healed. Jesus touches the little girl and she is healed. Cannot the healing power of Jesus still be communicated to us through human touch?

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.fighting-fathers.com

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Preach and Punch Fest – June 5&6, 2021

Binacrombi Bush Camp – June 5-6, 2021

We had a great pair of boxers to take me on in the Binacrombi Bush Bash on the Saturday night (Karim and Mohammad) and a wonderful collection of Bible readings at our Sunday Eucharist. The highlights of both are in the video below.

As to the boxing, both of my opponents were skillful pugilists but they lacked the fitness to really push me. A long day of bike-riding and an over-fondness for the sisha pipe had them performing as a tag team between rounds.

As to the Eucharist, our reading from the Hebrew Bible (1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15) focused on that pivotal point in Israelite history where the community made the transition from a being a loose tribal confederation to a monarchy.

We might be tempted to see this only as an issue of political expediency but the prophet Samuel saw it as a faith issue, believing that the move towards monarchy displayed a failure of trust in God.

Paul’s words to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1) are filled with emotion as, once again, he comes to terms with his personal pain in the context of the great future that God has in store for us and for all creation.

The Gospel reading from Mark 3:20-35 is one of those very sobering passages where we sense how isolated Jesus was from the structures we might have expected would support Him.

His religious institution, which you might have thought would be a force for life and healing, was turning on Him to destroy Him. You might then expect that His family would step in and stand by Him, but they didn’t. Instead, they tried to shut him up and shut him down – perhaps more for their sakes than for His.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?”, Jesus asks. They were not the people anybody had expected.

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On the Occasion of the Pope’s Visit to Iraq – ICDT, March 30, 2021

The Iranian Council for Defending the Truth (ICDT) asked me to write something about the Pope’s visit to Iraq. As I explained to the editor, I am not Catholic. Even so, when I see Pope Francis act like this, a large part of me wishes that I was.

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Father Dave responds to statement from the spokesperson for the Sydney Anglican Diocese on February 26th, 2021

The following statement was released by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in response to the segment aired by A Current Affair on February 24th, 2021, and can be found on the Current Affair website.

Our policy around marriage breakdown does not involve blame or sacking. But in the close-knit community of a church congregation, the breakdown of the rector’s marriage causes wider relational difficulties and so usually leads to the minister changing roles, in the interests of the congregation. After the breakdown of Father Dave’s second marriage, several factors meant that in this case, a continuing role was not available in his parish. A minister is financially supported by the members of the congregation.  When a minister loses the confidence of his congregation, they are no longer willing to support him.  The parish generously provided Father Dave with a stipend and free housing for twelve months to help him find a new job. The diocese also agreed to continue his licence for ministry so he could take up a new role. Father Dave is now fund raising for the next phase of his ministry, and we wish him well in this.

I believe this is a disingenuous statement that contains multiple falsehoods. I will address the three key points individually:

  1. Our policy around marriage breakdown does not involve blame or sacking.

This is false. The policy is (and always has been) that clergy will normally lose their license if their marriage breaks down. This was reaffirmed to my by Bishop Stead when I first notified him of the impending separation and he is quoted as reaffirming it in the Guardian article of November 14, 2020:

“The bishop of the southern region, Michael Stead, did not dispute that Smith’s 30-year career as rector of Holy Trinity in Dulwich Hill was over because he and his wife had split…

Stead said Smith’s position had become untenable on biblical grounds, citing 1 Timothy 3:5: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?””

I was told by the same bishop that if I could even show that my wife and I were in counselling by the end of 2018, my license would be extended. To say that my termination was not due to the marriage breakdown is a simple falsehood.

  1. When a minister loses the confidence of his congregation, they are no longer willing to support him

I would contest that I had not lost the confidence of my congregation. Indeed, a petition was presented to Bishop Stead, signed by at least half the active members of the congregation, asking that I might retain my position. It was made clear to the petitioners then that my future was not theirs to decide.

I certainly had at least one opponent in the congregation, and had had for a number of years. That person’s influence grew considerably after my separation, and particularly after my position was terminated. Even so, I have no doubt that those who opposed me would have settled down had I had the support of the bishop to continue.

  1. The parish generously provided Father Dave with a stipend and free housing for twelve months to help him find a new job.

This is false.

After my forced resignation on April 19,2020, I was not told to look for a new job but was told that I would take up the position of Assistant Minister to the new incumbent. I soon discovered though that I was not being permitted to continue in ministry in the parish in any capacity, though I did try to continue to minister to the broader community.

I received the part-time stipend and accommodation that came with the position that I had, even if it was only on paper, and that stipend was later supplemented with long service leave payments due to me.

My employment ceased entirely on December 31st, 2020 (not a year, but eight months after my resignation) and no payments were made after that date. The extended housing was in lieu of a $10,000 severance payment that the Parish Council had agreed to in February 2020. In other words, the housing was not free and the stipend was never generous.

DBS February 26th, 2021

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Beloved Sydney priest speaks out against ‘toxic’ church beliefs – news.com.au, February 25th, 2021

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Sacked Father’s fight back against “archaic” Anglican church rule – A Current Affair, February 24th, 2021

if you’re can’t see the video below, click here to access it on the 9 Now site

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Christians and Muslims can be Friends – a book review by Dr Robin Ray of Anglican Overseas Aid

This review appeared in Anglican Focus (a publication of the Anglican Church of Southern Queensland) on February 19, 2021.

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