Interview with Bishop-elect of North Queensland, Keith Joseph

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Our recent piece on the announcement of Dr Keith Joseph as the next bishop of  North Queensland garnered a large amount of interest and feedback, including from Dr Joseph himself. He and have been in conversation and we’re delighted to publish the following interview with him.

In the sermon published on your Cathedral Website in Darwin you clearly come across as supporting same-sex marriage. Indeed, you seem to go out of your way to support it. Are you a supporter of same-sex marriage?

The sermon was about welcoming all into the love of God – the material on same-sex marriage was but a small part of the sermon. I support same-sex marriage as a civil institution: all adults in an exclusive union should have access to the protections and privileges that only are to be found in marriage. But this is a different thing to advocating same-sex marriage in the Church. 

You note in my writings that I think same-sex relationships are trivial. I think they are extremely important pastorally but are barely considered in scripture and therefore are theologically of far less importance. I realise that many Christians disagree vehemently with me on this point. Many conservative Christians see this as fundamental to their understanding of the Gospel: and likewise many progressive Christians see the exclusion of same-sex couples from full participation in the church as also being an affront to the Gospel. I tend to the view that if loving monogamous same-sex relationships are in accordance with the will of God they will prosper and show the fruit of the Holy Spirit; and if not then that will not be the case. In any event, I think it is overblown to call me “outspoken”: same-sex marriage is not central to my understanding of the Gospel and certainly is not a matter on which I tend to speak much.

Consequently this is not an issue on which I would be taking a strong line either for or against. This is not an issue on which to split the Anglican Church and it is not an issue that I see as of great concern to the church in North Queensland. It is certainly not an issue that I intend to pursue: there are far more important things to deal with.

[ It’s great to have bishop-elect Joseph answer these questions. We’re sure readers will be keen to note that despite his support for civil same-sex marriage he has expressed a clear intent not to pursue this matter.

It was remiss of us in our original article to omit this, particularly since Keith wrote (my emphasis),

As can be seen, homosexual behaviour is barely mentioned in the Bible, and when it is, the mentions are quite ambiguous. I just fail to see how this issue deserves the importance that it is given. As a trivial issue, it is best left to conscience.

It’s not quite a clear statement of non-engagement but, read in the context of Keith’s answer above, is now clearer.]

In your writing on religious freedom you clearly oppose exemptions for businesses: why should a business run by Christians be compelled to provide services supporting same-sex marriage?

If you look at my writings as a whole you will see that I have a very strong regard for religious freedom, including strong support for conscientious objection for both believers and non-believers. For example, as early as 2002 (published in 2003) I was arguing that Defence members who objected to participation in the Iraq conflict should have their conscientious objection recognised ( If you look fully at the submission to the Ruddock Review you will note that every other paragraph of my submission champions religious freedom; likewise I have made a similar submission to a review of the Anti-Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory. Commercial exemptions are only one small part of this. Initially I was inclined to allowing conscientious exemption to be given to small businesses but have been persuaded by friends in the legal profession that it is simply not practicable. I am also persuaded that Paul’s advice on meat offered to idols implies that we can take part in commercial life without endorsing any particular religious practice. So to imply that I am opposed to religious freedom based on one paragraph drawn from many years of writing consistently supporting religious freedom is a serious misrepresentation. 

[ we would point out that we never claimed that Dr Joseph was “opposed to religious freedom”. On the contrary, we noted in our citation from his submission that he wrote that “…religious freedom is essential to Australia…”. Nevertheless he then went on to argue that businesses ought not to be allowed to demur from providing goods and services against their conscience, hence our narrative of “Joseph has also pushed strongly against freedom of conscience for Christians to not be forced to provide commercial services”.]

In your article on Climate Change published by the Diocese of Newcastle magazine Encounter in 2012 you use very strong language. Surely this language is not fitting for a Bishop.

Jesus himself uses very strong language. “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” (Matthew 23.13) was extremely offensive. In related passages in Luke (11.37-54) and Matthew (23.1-39) he also calls them fools, blind guides, murderers, and snakes. It was also not directed against the defenceless, but against religious leaders. Obviously I am not in the same league as our Lord. But on occasions strong language and rebuke is needed and should be made. 

For me the issue that evokes this type of passion is climate change. I have lived in the South Pacific and been on islands which are being erased by rising sea levels; have seen the suffering of people no longer able to access fresh clean water; and cried with people who are losing their very homes. This is a gross injustice and we as a country and a people have not done nearly enough. My intemperate language reflects my anger at this injustice. I cannot raise much passion about same-sex marriage: it is not nearly important enough. But climate change is an absolute Gospel issue: it is about our stewardship of creation and is about justice and protection of those who unable to protect themselves. We can hardly claim to love our neighbours if we do nothing about climate change.

As a clarification it should also be noted that a full examination of the article which you quote from makes it clear that my anger is directed at prosperity gospellers and other Christians who defend the accumulation of personal wealth and who deny climate change because they want to hold onto their own wealth. It is not directed at Christians who question climate change science for honest reasons of truth seeking. Rather it is directed at those who refuse to consider climate change or do anything meaningful about it because of their greed. For this I acknowledge my words are intemperate – but I would argue that it is justly so.

[ we don’t think that the piece can be read as clearly being against prosperity gospellers (about which we share a great unhappiness). He writes,

Even worse, some Christians deny that anything is wrong, or that they are responsible. They say their prosperity is God’s gift; how dare anyone suggest that such a blessing is wrong!

And then a little later,

But no! The wealthy of Europe and Asia and America and Australia do not want to pay any more tax…

Neither of those statements single out those who hold to the prosperity gospel but rather appear to describe more generally the “prosperous” and “wealthy of Europe.” etc..

We’d also tentatively point out that Jesus used strong language only on very limited occasions and only when critiquing the legalists around him on their undermining of the gospel of grace. Besides, the word “bastard” was more likely to be used as a charge against him than ever be heard from his lips!

Nevertheless, is encouraged by the passion shown in this area even if we might disagree on the way that it is expressed.

Final words?

First, thanks for the right of reply and for our conversations on these matters. I do think your original article was a misrepresentation as I am hardly an “outspoken” supporter of same-sex marriage: there are far more important issues to pursue. I know that you strongly disagree with me on this: fair enough. But for me it is not an issue that is important enough to split the church.

I have been and am a strong supporter of religious freedom: it is just that I do not think it is feasible in relation to commercial activities. To assess my support of religious freedom simply on one paragraph taken out of context is simply unfair.

Finally I have used strong words in relation to climate change and do not resile from doing so. Our brothers and sisters in the South Pacific and elsewhere are suffering because of the inaction and greed of those of us in the West and in Asia and we in Australia need to own our share of this injustice and repent. Christians who ignore or downplay climate change because of their own greed need to be rebuked. For me this is a Gospel issue deserving of far more attention than same-sex marriage.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. linda nolan

    Bishop-Elect Joseph supports same-sex marriage as a civil institution, as did a majority of Australians who participated in the postal survey last year. This is all to the good.

    As the B-E makes clear, he will not be taking a strong line either for or against advocating SSM in the Church. In the sermon mentioned in the article, Dr. Joseph forecasts that one day the ACA communion itself may want same-sex couples to be married in church, a possibility I now share.

    But back to the present. Inexplicably, when Parliament legislated to bring about SSM it kept clergy involved in the civil side of marriage despite changing the legal definition to the union of 2 people.


  2. linda nolan

    That re-definition marked a natural delineator at which civil & religious solemnisations should have been separated. Instead, Parliament passed the buck to churches, leaving it to them to decide if their ministers should continue participating in civil marriages or offer religious ceremonies only.

    All our Christian churches should “come out” on this issue asap! The longer they prevaricate, the more public respect they lose.

    1. MichaelA

      You are correct. All our Christian churches should come out and state unequivocally that they will not celebrate a same sex union in any way. Jesus taught that marriage is only between a man and woman. A parliament can legislate that two men or two women are “married” just as it can legislate other injustice, but that does not mean their “marriage” is real.

      1. linda nolan

        Thanks MichaelA. I feel the best way for our churches to be unequivocal is to dis-associate themselves with the Marriage Act totally – offer sacramental marriages only. Christian couples (a man & a woman) will not object to spending 10 mins at a registry office to be legally married before the church marriage. Spread the word if you are able Michael, thanks. LN

  3. Geoff Fletcher

    Thankyou David for teeing up this dialogue with Dr Keith Joseph. There’s no substitute for going to the source – and I’m impressed by what I hear / read. More please – and might many be challenged to listen & think about the logs he points out, not be distracted by the trivial specks!!

  4. Brendan McNeill

    Our sexuality is very much a part of what it means to be human. Scripture is clear about what sexual practices are pleasing to God, and those that are not. Jesus was clear about marriage being between a man and a woman, and to suggest that he was ‘unconcerned’ about the teaching of Leviticus chapters 18 and 20 on homosexual practice (and other sexual sins) would be to ‘miss the mark’, just as it would to ignore Paul’s teaching on this subject.

    Ah, but I note the Bishop is passionate about the corporate sin of human induced climate change. Scripture may not excite him, but rising sea levels….

    Ahem, well they are rising at an average of between 2mm and 3mm over the last 100 years, and credentialed climate scientists disagree on what the future may bring. Rising sea levels, yes, but by how much? And what can we possibly do about it while still preserving the economic base of western civilisation?

    We expect our Bishops to be theologically literate, and to uphold the canons of the church. We don’t place much weight on their political leanings, their choice of scientific opinion, or much else frankly. They would do well to remember this.

  5. iholford

    The Bishop is entitled to his views on climate change but he is living in fantasy land if he thinks we can do anything about it. There is no firm proof that this is human induced nor that increasing CO2 is the primary cause. Actually CO2 levels are historically very low, and it could be argued that our extensive coal deposits are a gift from God who knew that we would need this source of energy as civilisation progressed. To decarbonise the world’s economy would cost far more than to deal with the detrimental effects of climate change. Furthermore there are significant benefits of increasing CO2 and global warming. Climate change alarmism is causing unnecessary stress to some people especially children.

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