Monday, 14 April 2008

Ugly is as ugly does.

This ugly inter-war brick building is St. Stephen’s Bellevue Hill, home of the Rev. Richard Lane - a faithful Matthian from way back. He’s recently achieved notoriety by sending two even uglier letters to Justice Michael Kirby: a much respected member of Australia’s High Court, and a profoundly Christian man equally as open about his faith as he is about his sexuality.

Anyone unfamiliar with the background to this spectacular example of Sydney Anglicans in action should read Noble Wolf’s account of the talk at which Rev. Lane's spectacular nastiness became public knowledge. At the time Justice Kirby kept the author’s name private; it wasn’t until The Sydney Morning Herald picked up the story a day later and outed the not-so-good Reverend that his identity became known.

In commenting on the issue Archbishop Jensen said the letters “needed to be read fully and in context”. Consequently one might imagine the Archbishop would be helping clarify any misunderstandings by providing public access to the exchange, but he’s done nothing of the sort. Which, once you've read his protégé's epistles, is hardly surprising: the word “loathsome” doesn’t even begin to do them justice.

Caliban’s Dream just happens to have been sent a copy of the correspondence by a sympathetic Duck Noodle Gangster, and unlike some versions circulating the letters here are in chronological order, starting with Lane’s unsolicited “turn or burn” missive and concluding with Justice Kirby’s amazingly patient second response, and appear complete. Read them all for yourself here.

Be warned: Lane’s “call to repentance” is positively vile stuff. The first letter is run-of-the-mill hate-exegesis, but his second is surreal, ridiculing Justice Kirby’s spelling, patronisingly addressing him as “Kirbs”, and sarcastically belittling his gracious effort to show that their might be more to reading Scripture in general, and those few passages concerning homosexuality in particular, than Rev. Lane has hitherto encountered. As I said, make up your own mind – but don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Strangest of all has been the hierarchy’s response: silence. Had Rev. Lane been writing to an average parishioner or perhaps a bewildered young man questioning his sexuality, those in power would be wholeheartedly supporting him. But Justice Kirby isn’t an average parishioner, as those in power are well aware. Lane’s regional Bishop, who shares few of the Jensen’s more puritan traits (he was known among certain disrespectful ne’er-do-wells - and not in an endearing sense - as “Reverend Falstaff"), once publicly refused communion to a lesbian couple, and the resultant media attention did nothing to diminish the support proffered by his fellow clergy. Yet this time things are different. Justice Kirby is a well known and much loved figure who gives selflessly of himself to the public. While at least Lane's homophobia is egalitarian, those in charge of the Sydney machine realise this is going to far, and appear to be trying to quietly lay low until things blown over. Perhaps after spending more than two decades encouraging and fostering bullies somebody has suddenly realised the danger of raising serpents as children?

Naturally the usual “blog nasties” are singing Lane’s praises and appear puzzled by this lack of support, although several seem to have quietened down when confronted with the second letter (it really is that bad!). My favourite is the blogger who's reposted letters sent to the Herald in support of Lane, and who claims that because the number of letters in favour of Lane was only slightly less than those criticising him Sydney Anglicans aren’t as unpopular and irrelevant as people say they are! He conveniently fails to mention was that one of the letters is his own, while another two are from clergy who studied with Lane, and are presumably close friends. Wonder how long before the spittle-flecked snake handlers (I’ve been dying for a chance to use that expression since seeing it at Padre Mickey’s, & still can’t say it without chuckling) realise people are laughing at them, not with them?

The funniest non sequitur of the debacle, however, is from someone apparently unknown in diocesan circles: one Lucy Chik of Faulconbridge. I quote it in entirety:

If Michael Kirby was in the surf and Richard Lane saw a shark approaching, would we not expect Lane to sound a warning?

You may have a point Ms. Chik, but Justice Kirby isn’t in the surf. He’s in a loving monogamous relationship, and has been so for 39 years. Contrary to what you might have been taught by your church leaders, there is a difference. Nor is there any shark approaching. Just an ill-mannered little man with a poor understanding of the Bible, and an angry urge to understate the vastness of God’s love.


Boaz said...

"Oh dear" Indeed! This is bad Alcibiades. Very bad.

I must immediately create a link on my website. I sent the story off to Mad Priest but then had to escape Sydney on a prearranged weekend away so I couldn't cover the story in any detail

I couldn't have imagined it could be as bad as this. The first letter is bad but, you know believeable. I could believe a Sydney Evangelical could write it. The second letter is, as you say, surreal, it is weird, it is the writings of someone who is out of control. The second letter is actually unbelieveable!

FranIAm said...


I recently got into a bit of a comment conversation at In A Godward Direction on the topic of homosexuality and church.

The endless blather of it all. I also have a long comment thread at my own blog in which the topic comes up.

Call me a simple minded fool, but I am of the mind that Jesus never said a word about it. I am also of the mind that Jesus did mention more than once that loving God and one another was the point. Even the frequently pedantic St. Paul tells us that without love, all is empty.

So while Lane speaks of some kind of love, I find his brand of it significantly perverted as opposed to the love represented by Kirby.

God help us all.

Thanks for this and for your clear voice and commitment to a better church, a better world.

God bless you Alcibiades! God bless you richly.

susan s. said...

It appears from the picture that the building could use a good sand blasting, as could the Rev. Lane(in my opinion). What an ass!

Kate Morningstar said...

Holy shit! That is appalling.

Brian R said...

Thanks for posting this, am at airport on way to Bangkok so will leave a ful lread to later
Brian alias noble wolf

John Bassett said...

Well, responding to these people only encourages them, particularly their bizarre sense that they are the persecuted minority. We will NEVER change their demented minds and it is absurd to even try. We all need to take the pledge not to feed the trolls and to spend out energies sharing our experience of God's love with people who are able to listen to the message. They're mostly outside the Church right now and feeling a bit alienated from it.

Gerontius said...

I am absolutely stunned! I am aghast that Rev Lane could allow such letters as he wrote to be posted. If he is truly the unrepentent writer of those letters, he is much to be pitied.
Justice Kirby is to be congratulated on his restraint and good manners. Well done. And I agree, we should not feed the trolls, unless we feed them with goats!

Anonymous said...

In my artless American fashion, I would have to ask Rev. Lane, "Dude, what have you been smoking?" After all, this wasn't an email in which the writer hit "send" by mistake, before reading it over and deciding if it was appropriate to send it "as is". This was an actual dead tree letter. Some time had to elapse between its composition and its deposit in the Post Office mailbox.

Probably the only thing that the two agreed on would be that Kirby's partner was better than Kirby. (At least one hopes that a spouse keeps thinking that he lucked out and got someone better than he deserved ;) )