Crying for Charlotte Dawson

This week I posted something I rarely do, a direct statement on my political views and how they interact with my religious beliefs. When I worked as a pastor, a (small but real) part of my role was relating with denominational leaders. During my time as worship pastor, we were asked to host various visitors to our church from the Christian Democratic Party, and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). I soon learned to avoid these meetings at all costs. Before this time, I attended and volunteered at Hillsong Church. Our senior pastor Brian Houston had publicly stated that our church represented both sides of politics (and seeing as my family’s connect group voted Labor at the time and I knew a number of Young Liberals, I assumed the statement was true). I never remember having the ACL come and speak at Hillsong, although they might have done so.

At our mid-sized congregation in Sydney, the ACL visited annually. I found myself in my office with crying women after *every* visit. The way they polarized the congregation was incredible. And the views that began spouting forth from our people after this annual visit were just unbearable. Christianity became about ensuring people did not have abortions, euthanize their parents, distribute condoms in schools, or allow gay marriage. We needed to prevent Islam from growing in Australia, and make sure our friends didn’t vote for The Greens. Maybe this was just what they presented to conservative congregations, I don’t know.

But …ugh. Seriously? If that’s your preferred Christianity, you can have it, and good luck to you. My faith is about relationship with Creator God, and working out a specific role I’m here to play in helping heal the world. Prayerfully playing my part in the narrative of the universe. I don’t want to police morality. I want to enjoy life, plant tomatoes, sing worship music regularly, laugh with friends, cry with refugees, kiss children and be entirely human. I want to feel the pain of the world deeply and yet know that in Christ, all things will be made right. I want to see my friends fulfill their dreams, and sit on cliffs watching the surf hit against rocks. I don’t want to hand out pamphlets telling people they are going to hell. If I’m living a “watered down” Christianity (as a CDP supporter presented to me this week), then I find it ironic, because this faith cost me everything and yet, I’m more convinced than ever that Christianity is living fully alive.

After leaving for the States to attend seminary, I honestly haven’t heard much about Australian Christian politicians in the media – except this. Oh and this. I guess I deactivated the emails from the ACL – they made me angry. Remember, these parties claim to speak on behalf of all Australian Christians in the public sphere.

Until, this week when a beautiful Australian woman, Charlotte Dawson, chose to take her own life. She had everything going for her – she was smart, capable, witty and yet, she recently admitted she battled depressive illness. She was known to many through her modelling career, her role in various television shows, as well as a former marriage to an Aussie swimming star (i.e. national hero). She’d written her story in the book ‘Air Kiss and Tell’. This is how The Christian Democratic Party responded:
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They have since made statements that they seek to protect women, and promote their right to speak about an event I’m sure nobody suspected would come up this week – Charlotte’s abortion. I’m posting my take on what happened below to show that my objection isn’t a leftist political view, but entirely based from my Christian faith. I’m not angry about “wimmin’s rights”. I’m not about silencing the pain women feel about abortion. But if Fred is representative of the Christian community, and I am a Christian (more right than left) then I feel I can say these following things:

1) After her death was announced, someone clearly scoured Charlotte Dawson’s biography looking for the “beginnings” of her depression. This seems like a strange thing to do, given she had recently openly asked for support in regards to social media (twitter) trolls, and didn’t mention her abortion online that night she took her own life. Those who knew her chose to make a stand against trolling, and Charlotte’s Law was launched — a great result. I can only say that from all accounts, Fred Nile did not seem to know Charlotte. So it’s unlikely he knew the ‘real’ reason behind her taking her own life. Perhaps his party could have just mobilized Christians towards the proposed law, building some credibility with the general public – something they are in need of at the moment.

2) After a decision to use Charlotte’s published comment, it was placed on this photo of her with a clear hashtag #teamnile. Instead of an obituary, this is an advertisement. Even if we give the benefit that the CDP party’s graphic designer has poor enough taste to feature a recent suicide victim, this obscure quote would have been better released within a lengthier statement noting CDP’s sadness about the loss of a beloved friend and family member. Instead, the image was couched within a (factual?) preventative statement on depressive illness following abortion. Whether Charlotte would have supported this statement during her lifetime is a question people asked, but cannot be answered. In fact, the sad reality that Charlotte was not available to comment on the issue seems to be useful, not something the party was extremely careful about.

3) The book passages they presented were strangely in synergy with pro-life posts earlier last week on Fred Nile’s wall. It seems (to most intelligent women) that the party see Charlotte’s death as a fortuitous event that would hopefully help move public opinion towards their existing political platform. I find it hard to see this as a “caring action” towards Charlotte as a woman or public figure, as has since been alleged.

4) No matter how you look at it, the ethics and mode of this communication seems particularly un-Christian, using an image of and quoting a woman who had recently suicided following depression to promote a political agenda. No matter how great the agenda, this is deplorable. The psalms shows us a lot about the godliness of lament as a practice, and describes how Christians should act towards those who are grieving (Romans 12:15). The bible’s intention is to communicate God’s heart towards those suffering, and many Australians were shocked and sad in the days after the event. Some had personal experience with this woman. Others were touched by the issues immediately raised through this event: depression, loneliness, suicide, bullying, loss of loved ones. In contrast, the Christian community was somewhere else – discussing abortion. Perhaps CDP could have offered a public meditation and prayer on behalf of those affected.

5) Unlike what the CDP argued, separating these events out and speaking of her published comments at another time does not diminish abortion as tragedy. In fact, there is room for both the sadness that people may feel in grappling with this suicide and online bullying she experienced — as well as (later in time) acknowledging a much earlier grief Charlotte felt over the loss of her child, and allowing for grief regarding terminated pregnancies. In fact, separating these events could *increase* the power of the communication, that every single life is significant to God.

6) However, the CDP makes no effort to understand the public’s vocal protest that the methods and timing they use is as important as the message. That people were outraged makes them unreasonable.

7) As a Christian, I believe all humanity is Imago Dei. I am incredibly sad about Charlotte’s passing. Sad for Charlotte’s sake alone. Sad that it happened, and sadder still that the Australian entertainment industry, her community and family were unable to find tangible ways to support her during her times of depression. Suicide is a serious problem in Australia, and many people’s lives are affected. I know other people also find themselves ‘alone’, and my hope is that we can do this better. I am shocked and disgusted at a role Scott Miller played in Charlotte’s life, with abusive expectations that were condoned and overlooked by many due to his public role as an athlete. I feel very sorry that for Charlotte, marriage meant doing things she actually didn’t want to do, and putting up with things no person should have to. Many Australian women are treated badly by their spouses, their fathers and their sons. I’m very sorry that there is not enough support for them in the times they need it most. In this case, seeking the well-being of Charlotte as a woman would have protected the equally important rights of an unborn child. I wonder what we have learned as a society from this story.

I’m most sorry that even in death, Charlotte is being used as an advertisement for men who want more power, whatever their reason, good or bad. When a woman is used in this way, in the name of Jesus Christ, that gives me the heebie jeebies. I’m so incredibly sorry. May Charlotte Dawson Rest in Peace.

One thought on “Crying for Charlotte Dawson

  1. Thanks Tanya.

    While ‘Christian’ political parties purport to represent Christians, in my experience they in fact obscure the vision of Christ that ordinary Christians hope to share with those around them.

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