Christians At Work

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pic by Gorgio Minguzzi

News Limited is on a Crusade to smear any LGBTI activist who dares to criticise religious objectors to equal marriage.

It started with a tweet.

A bad look @IBMDiversityANZ @PrideDiversity that IBM Managing Partner Mark Allaby sits on the anti-LGBT Lachlan Macquarie Institute board.

(IBM is a Founder Member of Pride In Diversity and has won numerous awards)

From this has grown a stream of vitriol from Andrew Bolt, Lyle Shelton, Miranda Devine, Primrose Riordan, old Uncle Tim Wilson and all, beating up the Jewish (as they continually remind us) writer, Michael Barnett, claiming LGBTI ‘totalitarians’ are ‘bullying’ Christians. Scroll to the end for a full timeline of the saga, with links.

The Australian: Jewish LGBTI activist defends his role in Coopers boycott saga

Herald-Sun: Andrew Bolt: TOTALITARIAN GAYS TARGET IBM CHRISTIAN:

Michael Barnett, convener of Jewish LGBTI support group Aleph Melbourne”

The Australian: IBM refuses to back Christian executive:

“Michael Barnett, who convenes the Jewish LGBTI support group Aleph Melbourne”

Why is his connection to Aleph relevant to this story? And his Jewishness? This anti-semitic dog-whistling is a new low, even for a sheaf of pre-loved toilet paper like The Australian.

Michael is accused of trying to get Allaby fired, of standover tactics, and foul language. Even some on the LGBTI side have weighed in against him on Facebook and elsewhere. But he says he’s not trying to get Allaby fired. The Australian’s claim that this is about freedom of religious speech is a smear, as is the statement that it’s the “marriage equality” lobby doing it. Michael says:

“This is actually incorrect: it’s not about attacking religious freedoms and it’s not about marriage equality, but rather, holding Pride in Diversity members to account. How is it possible for a very active, committed Christian to be on the board of an organisation that is obsessed with denying LGBTI our rights, while at the same time occupying a very senior management position in a company that has had a strong public commitment to supporting its LGBTI employees?”

A FAR FROM PRIVATE FAITH

A lot of nonsense has been spouted about how Allaby’s faith is a private matter and nothing to do with his work. This might make sense if he were merely an ordinary Joe with a deep and abiding Christian faith who toddled off to church every Sunday and did good works in his spare time. Or if he were just a lowly desk jockey in a junior management position at his employer.

But he is neither. He’s a man with very serious influence in both his roles. He’s a senior manager at a major corporate with significant influence. He also sits on a subsidiary board (alongside all the main board directors) of the biggest Christian gorilla in Australian politics (he used to sit on the main board, too, till Michael first raised the issue with Allaby’s previous employers, PriceWaterhouse Coopers). This gorilla (as has been pointed out many times) is obsessed to the point of monomania with blocking marriage equality, Safe Schools, and any and every other advance towards LGBTI equality and justice.

I think it’s safe to assume that these ACL policies and these ACL activities meet with Allaby’s approval, to say the least. And that’s fine. He’s entitled to his opinion.

He still has complete freedom of religion. But what he does not have is a licence to have mutually incompatible duties of loyalty, under the Corporations Act, to two boards (or employers).

The subsidiary of which he is a director is the Lachlan Macquarie Institute. For those who don’t know, the LMI runs what it calls Internships. Young Christians thinking of entering public life live together for a few weeks. They are schooled in how to put their Christian faith into practice at work, in public service, and in politics. They are introduced to people who can help them in their intended career. They spend time working for politicians at Parliament House. They meet important Christians like Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz, high powered Christian academics, and powerful Christian businessmen – such as Mark Allaby.

HYPOTHETICALLY

Let’s take the personal out of this and conduct a hypothetical. Zelda is a director of an organisation which hews to a militant, some may say extreme, version of Christianity. This organisation believes that businesses, government and law should all be based on Christian principles and run by Christians. It is outspokenly anti-gay. She is also a director of a subsidiary of that organisation which is dedicated to grooming young Christians for positions of power and influence.

Zelda simultaneously occupies a senior management position with a large pro-active, pro-LGBTI multinational corporation, which has won many awards for the inclusion and support of its LGBTI employees.

She is constantly confronted with dreadful ethical dilemmas. When the question of running, say, an LGBTI recruitment initiative comes up at work, does she embrace the idea enthusiastically, say nothing, water it down, subtly discourage it, or suggest alternatives?

When the company is approached for money towards an LGBTI homeless refuge, is she likely to argue for it, suggest the money might be better spent on a more established church run facility, or talk the issue to an unresolved standstill? When a management development course to help LGBTI employees climb the corporate ladder is suggested, is Zelda going to get on board wholeheartedly, or just put up the poster sent by worldwide corporate HQ and hope nobody notices?

How will she resolve these conflicts? As a devout Christian, she prays to God for guidance. She asks herself, what would Jesus do? I think we can guess what God’s answers will be.

EVANGELISING THE WORKPLACE

The influence of evangelising Christians in progressive workplaces can be very damaging. They are a poor fit for organisations devoted to diversity and inclusion. Listen what Peter De Groot, an out gay man who has experienced evangelical Christian love at work, has to say:

“A long time ago I worked with a born again Christian and the lunch room could be a nightmare. The staff couldn’t leave New Idea in the lunch room as it was considered offensive to the born again Christian. [She] would complain to the supervisor all the time over the topics being discussed between staff members during lunch. [She] Christian would constantly ask another staff member who lived with her boyfriend when she would do the ‘right’ thing and marry her boyfriend.

‘The question is if a person has very hard views and wants to express them at work are they then a great fit for employment with a company that holds different beliefs?’

I can also speak from personal experience, as an out gay man who has worked with committed Christians. In one (relatively minor but typical) instance, a fellow analyst in Management Services objected to my jokey astrology desk calendar because it was a ‘satanic’ influence, offering to replace it with one displaying Bible verses. When I refused, he complained to management.

He constantly found reasons not to work in my team, because I was gay, and complained – behind my back – when he was obliged to. He constantly rebuked other staff members if he thought they were having ‘lewd’ private conversations on company time.

My second experience was more serious, because it concerned my senior manager. He was a committed Christian, a lay preacher, and one of the nicest and best bosses I ever worked for. But. He ran a lunchtime prayer and Bible study group, gently encouraging everyone who worked for him to join. Those who did tended to get the plum projects and promotions. Those who did not, did not.

It’s extremely naïve to think that such an extremely devout Christian Mr Allaby doesn’t bring his Christian beliefs and principles to work with him. He’s on the board of an organisation dedicated to training young people to do exactly that.

THIS IS ABOUT CORPORATE INTEGRITY

Michael Barnett is quite justified in asking, in effect, is IBM truly pro-LGBTI, or is its support for Pride In Diversity just a cosy pinkwashing exercise? In the final analysis, this is not about Mark Allaby, or Christianity, or marriage equality. It’s about corporate integrity.

It would be interesting to hear from IBM, but they are so far saying nothing. Today the Australian reported “IBM refuses to back Christian executive.” 

What IBM actually said was that they would not be making any comment on the issue. But that doesn’t suit the ‘nasty gays on the rampage’ narrative News Ltd and their fellow travellers have constructed. Any excuse the ‘bash the gays’. Especially those like Michael who dare to stick their head above the parapet.

Today the Australian found a new target: Tim Peppard, Victorian Director of Australian Equality.  His crime? To sign, as a private citizen, the petition to boycott Coopers Brewery. I wonder what his religion is? I think the Australian should tell us.

PS No-one can find any record of IBM ever making a corporate public statement supporting marriage equality.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)