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ACL unleashes Anzac tweet firestorm

By Rod Benson

This morning I was enjoying a quiet Anzac Day at home after watching the ABCnews24 coverage of the various civic gatherings over breakfast. Then, just before midday, several journalists contacted me via Twitter, seeking to verify the genuineness of the Twitter account @JimWallaceACL, since an interesting and newsworthy tweet had just appeared on its timeline.

As it happens, I had followed the account early in 2010, when it first appeared, but as it was largely inactive I soon unfollowed since I prefer accounts rich and regular in content. The user subsequently followed me, and still does. A quick perusal of the 86 tweets, 231 followers and 35 followees confirmed to me that this was indeed the Twitter presence of Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Here’s a screen grab of the tweet that sparked the online debate, and subsequent apology:

The original tweet was deleted from the account just after 2.00pm, and a statement of clarification posted on the ACL website at 3:17pm.  Unfortunately the ACL website crashed within minutes, before I had time to read the statement.  I asked ACL staff to email it to me, but have yet to receive it.

The tweet clearly offended some.  I viewed it as a “dog whistle” comment intended for ACL’s core constituency, and posting in a public forum, and on Anzac Day, was bound to create controversy.  There are at least two ways of interpreting the comment, which I assume was written by Jim Wallace but may have come from a staffer.

The first interpretation, discussed at length on Twitter, and on blogs, and in the mainstream press, was that Wallace had “used Anzac Day to attack homosexuals and Muslims,” (as ABC News had the story), or that he had displayed homophobic and “racist” sentiment by claiming that Australian service personnel did not support same sex marriage or Islam.  Others went further, condemning Wallace for making such a statement as a Christian wielding significant political influence.  As journalism academic Julie Posetti tweeted:

So @JimWallaceACL, your Easter message is that Jesus only died for straight Christians? And you wonder why people reject the Church!

The second interpretation, slightly different, was that the moral and spiritual ideals for which Australian service personnel had fought in past generations were different from the specific values of the largely anti-Christian homosexual lobby and the equally anti-Christian element of the Islamic community in Australia.  This was my initial understanding of the tweet, and remains so.  The Australian’s Ben Packham also took this view, reporting that Wallace had declared on Twitter “that Diggers didn’t fight for an Australia characterised by gay marriage and Islam.”

It is no secret that there is entrenched and sometimes vitriolic opposition to Christianity and certain Christian values on the part of homosexual activists and their close supporters, and on the part of Islamists among us.  Nor is it a secret that, especially in past generations, a large majority of Australian servicemen and servicewomen conscientiously served “God and country” under the Australian flag, and understood “God” as the traditional Christian God of the Bible.  They may not have been evangelical Christians, but I doubt they thought they were fighting for the right of homosexuals to marry or the right of Muslims to establish legislative and institutional beachheads in Australian society.

Wallace was also widely criticised for expressing views contrary to the teachings of Jesus, for claiming to speak the Christian church, and for politicising Anzac Day.  For example, as @JacktheInsider put it:

@jimwallaceACL Your tweet today. Not exactly the Sermon on the Mount was it, old son?

Victorian Baptist minister Simon Moyle (@simonmoyle) tweeted:

For what it’s worth, I’m a Christian leader and @JimWallaceACL doesn’t remotely speak for me or any other Christians I know.

And @ABCnewsIntern tweeted:

Fancy that. A self-appointed Christian leader and former SAS soldier using #ANZAC day to dishonour both callings.”

To be fair, the Gospels record not one word by Jesus against homosexuals (although he clearly affirmed the conventions of heterosexual marriage as divinely ordered), and it would be some seven centuries before Mohammed penned the Qur’an and crafted his rival monotheistic religion. And, as I have been at pains to point out to disbelieving secularists and liberal-minded Christians alike elsewhere, neither Jim Wallace nor the Australian Christian Lobby claim to speak for all Christians.

But it was poor form on the part of the ACL’s managing director to state his personal opinion as he did, in a public forum such as Twitter, on Anzac Day.  And it was arguably poor form to delete the offending tweet, as it merely added fuel to an already raging fire.  Such is the immediacy of social media and the speed at which ideas and controversies advance in the 21st century.

The other matter that today’s Twitter event raises is the right to freedom of speech.  Early in the Twitter debate today, I maintained that the key problem with the tweet in question was its timing rather than its substance.  My view was that Jim Wallace was entitled to hold the view he expressed, and to express it publicly.  The error he made was in expressing it on Anzac Day, when it was surely going to offend public sentiment and result in negative publicity.  My view has not changed, despite robust criticism by people I continue to respect and admire.

Everyone is free to express ideas of every kind, within the limits set by law.  Those who advocate otherwise are enemies of freedom.  The irony is that many political liberals and libertarians, as well as some who privilege the state over individual rights, appear to want to silence legitimate debate and dissent when it comes from Christians.  This was unfortunately Jim Wallace’s experience today.

Having said that, there is a right time and place for public discourse, and there is an established etiquette for social media which punters ignore at their peril.  I was only half joking when I tweeted earlier this afternoon, “Think I might start a social media skills academy for religious leaders.”  Still, if it was publicity that ACL wanted, it certainly got more than it bargained for today.  And the number of followers of the @JimWallaceACL Twitter account has tripled to 643, and counting.

One hopes that from today on, tweets on that account are just as personal, but more frequent, and more judicious.  Journalists and bloggers, of course, may have other hopes.

See also:

Senthorun Raj, “Christian lobby chief violates the true Anzac spirit” (25 April) – http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/Christian-lobby-chief-violates-the-true-Anzac-spirit

Scott MacInnes, “Aussie, Christian or universal values?” (25 April) – http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/166708.html

Official ACL statement (25 April) – http://australianchristianlobby.org.au/2011/04/mr-acl-managing-director-clarifies-tweet-misrepresentation/

Lateline, “Wallace apologises for Anzac tweet” (25 April) – http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/s3200102.htm

Sunrise (Seven Network) interview (26 April) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeTvimoQoyo

Categories: Uncategorized

Rod Benson

Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.

13 replies

  1. No branch of faith does itself any favours by standing on opposition to other faith systems.

    The problem with Mr Wallace’s comment is not just the timing, not just the politicising of Anzac Day, but the lameness of the argument. It may be fair comment that diggers weren’t fighting for gay marriage or Islam. It can also be said that they weren’t fighting for decimal currency, Sunday trading or one-day cricket either. So what? What they were fighting for was the freedom to make all those decisions and more democratically.

    As for how his comments reflect Christian values, Christ taught compassion above all. As a Catholic, I see very little in the way of Christian values reflected in Christian political lobbies.

  2. “Nor is it a secret that, especially in past generations, a large majority of Australian servicemen and servicewomen conscientiously served “God and country” under the Australian flag, and understood “God” as the traditional Christian God of the Bible.”

    Nor is it a secret that a number of men and women who served under the Austalian Flag are homosexual. I know of 3 personally

  3. The idea that vitriol against christian arguments in the gay rights or freedom of religion debate somehow diminishes their rights to freedom of speech is stupid. Just because a minority can yell louder than their oppressors and get angry does no such thing. Equal to one person’s right to be offensive is another person’s right to be offended. The very idea that a majority can cry persecution is laughable, the idea that “pandering” to a minority is somehow bad, is a disgusting act. Mostly because the word “pandering” is loaded, meant to highlight the defense of inequality as noble. “Protecting” a minority is what we should strive for. What worth has man and morality if the strong do nothing to protect the weak?

    To me this is why Jim Wallace is a worthless man of vile opinion. He has earned this outrage, and should he be unable to deal with the consequences of his actions, he is not even a man but a child.

  4. I have managed to access the ACL website and this is what they have to say about the matter.
    (Accessed 8:54pm)

    ACL Managing Director clarifies tweet misrepresentation

    The purpose of this Media Statement is to clarify what are misinterpretations of a tweet by Jim Wallace earlier today.

    “The tweet has obviously been seized on by everyone with an intention to discredit, but although ill timed, it did not and was never intended to suggest that veterans had not fought for all Australians,” said Mr Wallace.

    Mr Wallace had been sitting with his 96 year old father, a veteran of both Tobruk and Milne Bay, when he considered a theme often mentioned by him, that he found it difficult to recognise the Australia he had fought for.

    “My ill timed tweet was a comment on the ‘nature’ of the Australia he had fought for, and the need to honour that in the way we preserve it into the future.” said Mr Wallace.

    “While of course and rightly there have always been gays and Muslims in Australia, many of whom have fought for the country, the nature of the country they fought for and arguably what made it worth fighting for, has been largely drawn from Judeo-Christian heritage and values,” said Mr Wallace.

    “I believe in and value ANZAC Day and our veterans too much to have ever intended a slight on the day, and apologise unreservedly for having even tweeted the thought on this day, it was not my intent to see it used this way, ” said Mr Wallace.

    Media contact: Katherine Spackman 0408 875 979

  5. @Bill, “the politicizing of ANZAC Day”?

    I agree with Rod that there should be “a social media skills academy for religious leaders” and I agree with you that compassion seems lacking in the rhetoric of the Australian Christian Lobby, but isn’t ANZAC Day inherently political? Or are we forgetting this ANZAC Day is connected to wars and nationalism? I can’t for the life of me see how we could call ANZAC Day apolitical.

  6. I would assume that Jim Wallace’s comment (however inappropriately timed) would be based on the fact that the ANZAC’s fought for freedom, whereas Islamic teaching and the homosexual lobby would, it appears, happily remove our hard-fought freedoms, particularly to freedom of speech and belief. Islam teaches that anyone who isn’t a muslim is an infidel and can be legitimately killed if they won’t convert. They are the ones who want to bring Sharia law (which is all about limiting individual freedoms) to our democratic nation, and who have pushed for laws to punish those who speak against them. As for the Gay Lobby, they automatically castigate anyone who doesn’t fully endorse a homosexual lifestyle as a rampant homophobe, no matter how genuinely loving. They would probably slam Mother Teresa if it suited their agenda.

    Whether you consider Jim Wallace right or wrong is irrelevant. His point, that the freedom and tolerance won by the ANZAC’s should be extended to all, whether Muslim, homosexual or Christian, should be heard. It is about time we stopped making laws to suppress “vilification” as all they do is damage, not improve, community relations.

  7. “No branch of faith does itself any favours by standing on [sic] opposition to other faith systems.”

    Bill, surely most (if not all) branches of every faith stand in opposition to other faith systems by their very nature?

  8. Richard,
    Sorry for the typo. While it’s true that certain fundamentalist offshoots that oppose all other branches of faith, the majority of believers are cool with other believers who worship differently. It’s a false assumption that different faiths are all at war with one another. There are disagreements of course, but not all believers are radicals. It’s a lot like politics really.

    Matt, Anzac day is about remembrance and respect, not war and nationalism. While some have co-opted it for the latter, they are missing the point and should not be taken seriously.

  9. Hey Bill,

    No probs, not trying to be pendantic, just accurate.

    I agree that “the majority of believers are cool with other believers who worship differently”, however I would argue that, by their very nature, all world views (ie religions) are opposed to each other.

    The Christian world view teaches that there is one triune god who incarnated himself in human form and died on a cross for the forgiveness of sins.

    The Islamic world view teaches that there is one mono-deity who spoke through his prophet to provide the path through which man can achieve salvation.

    The Buddhist world view (note: yes, I know there are many and varied forms of Buddhism, as well as other world views portrayed here) teaches that all creation is divine and that the chief aim of man is denial of self and surrendering self desires to attain a state of peace and eternal bliss.

    The Hindu world view teaches that there are multiple ways to understand the spiritual world which could vary from polytheism to pantheism and even modalist monotheism depending on how you view their pantheon.

    The Atheistic world view “teaches” that there is nothing super-natural, that there is no divine being or “god” and that any attempt to explain the natural world by means of super-natural causes is false.

    Again, note that yes, I have simplified all 5 major world views for sake of brevity and completely understand that in 2-3 sentences you cannot convey the depth and complexity of each of these.

    However, even from these 5 simplistic overviews of the predominant world views across the globe they stand each opposed to all the others. A muslim cannot accept the triune God as described by Christianity, nor the absence of any deity as described by Atheism, without betraying his own world view. Similarly, an atheist cannot accept that their position on super-natural existences is true whilst at the same time acknowledging the pan/poly/monotheism of the Hindu or the pantheism of the Buddhist. The positions are contradictory in nature.

    Now, I’m not saying that an adherent of one world view need necessarily be “at war” with all others, or any others, but one that is intellectually honest has to say, “Whilst I accept your right to believe and practice whatever you believe and practice, my world view tells me that what you believe and practice is fundamentally opposed to what I believe and practice.”

    That, in summary, is what I meant by my statement: “most (if not all) branches of every faith stand in opposition to other faith systems by their very nature”.

  10. Saying that soldiers fought for our freedoms seems to be pushing it a bit far. That seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. Our freedoms, such as the right to demonstrate and the right to hand out leaflets (free speech), were won by those opposed to war. The supporters of war wanted those freedoms curtailed, and continue to try and limit them. Viewing ANZAC day as sacred and beyond criticism is part of the inclination to limit freedom rather than advance it.

  11. I’m an ordained Baptist minister that has had the privilege of receiving genuine hospitality from both the Muslim and Gay communities. Sharing the journey together, sitting down for a meal, asking and answering honest questions and learning from each other promotes understanding which, in turn, leads to peace. Surely this is what anybody who has fought in war has strived for.

    In Australia, our brothers and sisters, friends and family are now gay, lesbian, Muslim, Christian and a whole range of other things. Tweets like Wallace’s simply drive a wedge between us all and work against the peace so many died for.

    Jim Wallace most certainly does not speak for me, nor for anybody that says they follow the “Prince of Peace”, Jesus Christ.

    I appreciate Rod’s attempt to understand what Jim wrote and why, but for me it only reveals some of the core values and beliefs of Jim and the ACL. Considering the danger that this attitude poses particularly to gay young people and their high suicide rates, I’m left wondering which part of the ACL is considered ‘Christian’.

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