Candy Conversion, Part 1

Truth telling in the church and mosque

The truth, especially the harsh confronting stuff that says non-believers burn in hell, and that gay sex is sick perversion, isn’t necessarily cool. It seems stupid even suggesting it, yet trendiness is exactly the effort being made by the modern evangelistic campaigns.

Check it. The casual presentation style, peppy worship CD’s that seem more Coldplay than they do hymnbook, pamphlets that say ‘Popcorn Thursday’ right beneath ‘The Uniqueness of the Quran’, churches with names like “The River” and “Lighthouse”. The parade is endless. It produces compensations, pre-emptions and enough political correctness to sap the scary from the Pentateuch. Speaking to pious students on campus explores whether we can tell the truth and still, truly, show tolerance.

Australians are conservative people, still part of the Commonwealth, still ‘Christian,’ still Capitalists. Yet, poll support for same sex marriage is higher than ever, Australian Marriage Equality, AME, shows half of Australian Greens voters and a third of young voters would vote Labour, if it allowed same-sex marriage.

Harold Camping. Crazy evangelical.

Hugh Chilton is white, tall, conservative. He runs his church bible study, the same evangelical church in suburban Pymble where he’s been attending since childhood. Evangelical Union President since 2009, Hugh leads a small group on campus, he speaks at annual general meetings, he sends weekly emails to hundreds of members, and helps plan huge evangelism campaigns. He’s heterosexual, Christian, and extremely pleasant.

Today, he’s sitting with legs folded on the grass, talking to me about how he presents himself in private conversation. I was eager tell whether his responses smelt too politically correct.

“Often I say that I’m an evangelical myself, that can be equated with fanaticism. He explains that evangelicalism is actually historically separate to fundamentalism.

Then, he says something surprising. “Sometimes I have to position myself and try to address some of those statements pre-emptively”

“I guess if using words like evangelical or even just using the word Christian, if that automatically triggers: right wing, bigoted, Quran burning, placards of “God hates fags”. If that’s what people instantly think of, then I can understand why people don’t want to talk to an evangelical.”

Isn’t it contradictory that Hugh should have to take the edge off of Christianity? He claims that such events aren’t things that represent historic Christianity, so then, should he have to pre-empt what seems, comparatively speaking, craziness? It seems inconsistent.

Hajar Mrafiq is this year’s Sydney University Muslim student association president. She helped plan this year’s Islamic Awareness week which ran through September. She lives in Liverpool, she has Lebanese heritage and sometimes attends at mosque as well as in women’s prayer room here on campus.

Campus suits her sometimes, but she says that it can be uncomfortable here. The pressure to conform persists in a society where just under half of Australian survey participants still say that Muslims don’t fit in.  Hajar is pretty, heavy eyebrows, and pale skin. She’s sitting in the sunshine of the Holme courtyard, her hijab is tight. She’s thoughtful today.

Any examples of controversial sentiment she’s had to comment on as a Muslim? She doesn’t take too long, “Sheik al Hilaly made a comment about women that are undressed is equivalent to meat that’s thrown in front of cats or dogs or something like that that”

Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly. Confidently embarrassing.

That’s Sheik Taj El-Din Al-Hilaly to you, Australia’s former Mufti, that’s the highest Islamic post in the country. His prestigious position made his statements about scantily clad women being like the ‘uncovered meat’ that cats were wont to eat, even more embarrassing.

“I can see how the word choice would have thrown some people off” she continues.

Can Hajar tend toward excuse-making; can she exacerbate the problems of Islamaphobia herself, especially in trying to correct controversies that she says are mostly exaggerations, even misconceptions?

“I don’t feel any extra pressure to explain Islam’s teachings on this subject (of women). The only reason I might feel that I have to compensate is because I see that there might be people in that setting, say in a classroom, who might associate Islam with that sort of behaviour.”

Hajar continues confidently through my silent confusion.  She’s explained that she sees no such prejudices in Islam itself, so is she compensating somehow? It’s pretty confusing.

“I might take that extra step but I don’t feel extra pressure.” She affirms that is possible to become part of the problem herself. She mentions her “cookie theory”: a child who protests to eating a cookie he was never asked about confirms his own guilt. Hajar is conscious of the effectiveness of her silence.

She’s hesitant to explain that she has had to massage the message, yet, here she is, telling me that she would have to “compensate sometimes”.

It makes sense that Hajar should experience this pressure to imitate. Passionate as she is, hearing ‘terrorist’ even makes her “think of a guy with a beard in traditional dress.” This portrayal is evidently common enough as to have coerced everybody’s thinking.

Hugh can’t escape popular Christian personalities either, especially the crazies.  He mentions Harold Camping,the evangelical who announced that the world would surely end this year. Hugh confidently separates between Camping and “moderate” Christians like himself. Can he see the effort in having to constantly distinguish himself from these people though? Camping seems ridiculous here, but he clearly has support and popularity somewhere else.

How Hugh stay consistent?

More to come soon…

Harold Camping is crazy though:

One thought on “Candy Conversion, Part 1

  1. “It seems somehow ironic, even contradictory that Hugh should have to take the edge off his Christianity. If he claims that these aren’t things that represent historic Christianity, I wonder why he should have to pre-empt these statements at all. It seems inconsistent.”

    If something is associated with Christianity in a majority of people’s minds, is it representative? Even if it goes against Christianity’s stated values?

    I don’t know to be honest. I thought blogs were supposed to give me my opinions for me!

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