Tim Costello
Tim Costello

Aussie Christians should ‘suck it up’

One of Australia's leading religious figures has called for Christians to "suck it up" and "calm down" as the debate surrounding religious freedom laws continues to heat up.

Reverend Tim Costello, a Baptist minister, the former boss of the charity World Vision and now a senior fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, fears the fight has caused significant damage to social cohesion.

Tensions have been running high for months, fuelled largely by the dumping of rugby union star Israel Folau for homophobic social media posts.

"As a Christian, I understand there are important issues to be discussed," Reverend Costello told news.com.au.

"But when I hear Christians in Australia talking about being persecuted, I would say, 'Just calm down'. I fear some are working themselves up into a lather that we Christians are all victims.

"We're not being persecuted. Where I travel, I have seen examples of the religious persecution of Christians. No, we are not being persecuted in Australia."

Reverend Tim Costello said the suggestion Christians are being persecuted in Australia is false. Picture: Gary Ramage
Reverend Tim Costello said the suggestion Christians are being persecuted in Australia is false. Picture: Gary Ramage

Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Church's Archbishop in Sydney, has declared that "Christianity is under attack" and accused "powerful interests" of seeking to "marginalise religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life".

Archbishop Fisher is one of the major figures demanding legislation to protection people of faith, warning that Christians could be unable to freely worship in the future.

But Reverend Costello said he has travelled to countless countries where Christian persecution is a stark reality and said Australians face no such attacks now or in the future.

"I say to Christians, suck it up. That is what I have said today. Maybe I should say 'turn the other cheek' but my point remains," he said.

"I've been to Pakistan where there are ongoing cases where blasphemy or saying something that slights the Prophet can see you executed. There was the case in Indonesia where the Mayor of Jakarta, a Christian, was charged and jailed for saying that Muslims didn't have to vote for a Muslim politician.

"There are many places in the world where Christians go to jail, Christians lose their lives - that's persecution."

RELATED: Penny Wong delivers 'emotional' message to Israel Folau

Catholic Archbishop for Sydney Anthony Fisher claims that Christianity in Australia is under attack. Picture: Hollie Adams
Catholic Archbishop for Sydney Anthony Fisher claims that Christianity in Australia is under attack. Picture: Hollie Adams

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated the government will bring forward legislation later in the year to safeguard faith, but details of how far the new law would go remain unclear.

But Reverend Costello doesn't believe a Religious Freedom Act is necessary, calling for the debate to focus on "respect rather than rights".

"I think we can coexist and that's why I talk about respect rather than rights, with different beliefs and visions flourishing. That's good for society. We don't just look to the state or look to the individual."

The increasingly tense debate, sparked in large by Folau's sacking by Rugby Australia over homophobic social media posts he made, saying that gay people will go to hell, has caused division and anxiety.

"We're at a point where we say that if you disagree with me, you hate me. Now, people disagree with me but I don't think they hate me. Certainly, when I disagree with them, I don't hate them.

"That's the damage we have and it's making us more anxious. We're in this debate with a tone that just makes us more anxious - 'I'm a victim, you're hurting me and you're trying to oppress me'. That's what I want to avoid."

RELATED: Scott Morrison is pushing new religious discrimination laws

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated the government will bring forward religious freedom legislation later this year. Picture: Chris Kidd
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated the government will bring forward religious freedom legislation later this year. Picture: Chris Kidd

Rugby Australia argues that the decision relates to his employment contract, forbidding the marginalisation of minority groups, and not Folau's faith.

While not commenting on that specific case, Reverend Costello said there is a need to ensure religious institutions and organisations can discriminate "without causing harm".

"Religions will have organisations where they want people with their beliefs," he said.

"Having freedom for those groups to, if need be, discriminate, is needed. But not to discriminate harshly in a way that causes damage.

"But I equally say to secular groups that sometimes are hostile to religious groups, you have organisations where you want people with your beliefs, and that's absolutely appropriate.

"The (right-wing think tank) Institute for Public Affairs discriminates in not choosing someone left of centre to work for them to fulfil its purpose. Political parties do the same. The Greens Party wouldn't want to hire someone who believes strongly in coal mining.

"The Ruddock Report, as I read it, has found a way through rather than a Freedom of Religion Act.

"It says that we'll treat the right to discriminate as a way to maintain religious communities' identities, and for that matter other communities' identities."

Tim Costello believes religious institutions and organisations should be able to discriminate on the basis of faith.
Tim Costello believes religious institutions and organisations should be able to discriminate on the basis of faith.

Reverend Costello said the government trying to legislate in instances of competing and contrary "extreme" views was doomed to fail.

"I say to Christians who say we're losing our freedoms and need a Freedom of Religion Act, freedom for what? What exactly can't you do now?

"We don't want an Act that gives freedoms by taking freedoms from someone else."


Inquiry launched into racehorse cruelty

Inquiry launched into racehorse cruelty

Queensland Premier announces inquiry into retired racehorses

Price rise fears as applications drag out

Price rise fears as applications drag out

Residents likely to pay more as regulation slows developments

Australia to be hit by searing heat spike

Australia to be hit by searing heat spike

Seven capital cities set to surpass 30C this week