Former Lutheran Missionary Neil Hart on why he’s an ally

Neil HartHere in Australia, political forces are conniving to derail or delay marriage equality despite the fact at least 70% of voters are in favour of changing the Marriage Act to include us. We know who our opponents are but we don’t always know who our allies are. OUTinPerth has decided to seek out and interview those people who by their words and actions show they are straight allies. If you know someone you believe we should meet who is a straight ally, feel free to contact us and nominate.

Neil Hart is a new friend I met at the beginning of the year. He is an ex-Lutheran missionary who is a vocal ally for the LGBTI community. We caught up in Kings Park over a glass of wine and mandarins to chat.

Were you always an ally of the LGBTI community?

I was a Minister of a protestant church (Lutheran) and I wouldn’t have given two thoughts about LGBTI people or justice or discrimination. Most of my life I would have had fears that someone might turn my kids gay. But that changed for me when I established a school and met a real gay person. I became the chaplain and I began to come across gay kids and gender questioning kids and I realized that the church’s statements about this were not just unhelpful but downright harmful.

How long did it take you to get to the point where you were able to speak out in support of LGBTI people?

It took me a couple of years. I did a lot of listening before I was ready to speak out and give positive affirmation; to say, the Church is wrong and what they say is harmful and these kids need to be told they are all right. They’re great and they deserve to look forward to a life of love just like everybody else and that is all right with God.

When did you come out of the closet as an LGBTI ally?

I took a break from pastoring a Church and I started a blog. When I said in my blog; how dare we treat LGBTI people this way, I received a very antagonistic response. A lot of pastors responding said I was a voice of Satan. They denounced me, claiming I was leading people to hell. I lost friendships and my pastor’s credentials. It was a pretty tough time.

Did you ever think you might go back in the closet and stop talking about LGBTI rights?

I never thought that. I regret that I was so acid tongued. I could have been gentler. It was hard. Coming out as an ally had a cost. It wasn’t possible for me to stay worshipping at the church that I helped establish and build. People in the church were so opposed to what I was saying. They were writing to leadership but wouldn’t speak to me directly. I had to leave. Of course I had to realize that the rejection that I was experiencing was just a slight taste of what Christian gay people had experienced for generations. LGBTI people have been persecuted, not for anything they have done, but just because of who they are.

How did you become involved with The Reformation Project?

When I was studying what the bible says, if anything, about homosexuality I came across a YouTube video by Matthew Vines, a young bloke who gave a talk at a Baptist church about the texts that supposedly refer to LGBTI people. Matthew is gay himself and what he was saying really touched me. He said. ‘Just imagine, every time I met a guy and we got to know each other…that maybe I could grow to love, you would ask me to run away from that person every single time for the rest of my life.’ And I thought. Yes. That is what the church is asking people to do. That is just disgraceful. I ran study groups until I found that Matthew Vines had started The Reformation Project, a group formed to equip Christians to go back into their churches to be agents of change. Now I am part of a national group of people who are working to help churches change and become affirming and welcoming of LGBTI people.

How do you feel about Australian Christian Lobby’s voice around the issue of marriage equality and the proposed plebiscite?

I would say to the Australian Christian Lobby; how dare you call yourselves that. You aren’t the voice of Christians in Australia. You are a political lobbying group. What church do you speak for? I think that what they have to say in the lead up to the plebiscite is just going to be a hurtful, and harmful thing for the LGBTI community in Australia. I will be looking to work with LGBTI groups in opposing ACL and the plebiscite. Christian leaders may lose their job if they speak out in favour of marriage equality. Fortunately I don’t have that to lose any more. I am convinced that the message of Jesus compels me to speak for LGBTI people. Jesus did things to show that the need of the person was more important than the law. What is the need of this gay person? They need to be loved and accepted and have the same opportunity for love and marriage and family as everybody else the way God made them. So that is what I will do wherever I have an opportunity.

Would you march in the Pride parade?

Absolutely. Where do I sign up?

Charlie Perth

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