You’ve got to be consistent, with who you distance yourself from,” he says, “You can’t distance yourself from every single thing that you don’t like in Christianity.” Hugh, even here, shows the ceaseless concentration of a person concerned that they might sound strange to the hearer.
Hugh explains that he has good friendships with people whose lifestyle he can’t support. That everyone sins, that he too has had to be saved, rather than being perfect himself. Yet he comes short of saying that he can sustain any strong personal connection to such people, to sinners.
How important is conversion to him? “You must be born again, said Jesus. It’s essential. No-one can have eternal life unless they have a fresh start, a new life, a new relationship with Jesus” he says confidently. He continues, ironically, with “It’s not my job to convince people but I’m happy to play my part…” The EU’s huge evangelical events on campus make this a little bit of an understatement. It has hundreds of staff and three weekly public meetings every semester.
He places the onus on the hearers though, “I can’t change people… Jesus challenged people, the exclusivism, that’s why they crucified him.”
How important is conversion to Hajar of the Muslim Students Association? Is it the part of the purpose of Islamic awareness week? “Not really, it’s more to spread the message” she pauses, then, consents “I’m not going to lie, if you believe that something is true, you’d like to see other people accept that as the truth as well.”
With the numbers of non-Muslims attending, surely it wasn’t exclusively about telling people that not all Muslim women are oppressed, and that Jesus was totally an important prophet in Islam too.
Yet, Hajar can never really say this, she explains that she shouldn’t have to apologise for anything that somebody else has done in the name of Islam, yet, she struggles to confidently confess her desire to evangelise, self-evident as the effort itself is. “I end up being on the back foot all the time, and my preaching will always be limited to that. Why can’t I go out and say more? Why can’t I be on the front foot?
It’s homosexuality though, especially same sex marriage, which truly separates the religious from the ‘spiritual,’ the Conservative from the Liberal, the politically correct from the rest. The gays change everything, and a Macquarie poll of 1009 voters showed allowing gay people to marry is an “electoral winner”.
It’s on this that Hugh produces most of his precautionary statements and Hajar shows her true colours.
Sitting here, Hugh supports the statements of Peter Jensen, Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop, who has pushed to split Aussie Anglicans from England’s High Church, over the issue of same sex clergy.
Hugh is confident, “I think that that the bible is pretty clear that any form of sex outside of man/ woman marriage is sin.” Though scriptural Christianity seems to say this much more clearly, In Leviticus, it says that a man who lies with a man is committing abomination and both men must be killed. Super-tolerant.
Is it possible to have true consensus on this issue then? Hugh can’t pretend that this is so, “At the moment, no. I couldn’t be true to God’s word and what I know from it to be right and wrong, and still say that homosexuality is ok with God” Yet he says he can have still sincere conversations with homosexuals. That too is surprising, especially if scripturally speaking, they’re perverts.
Homosexuality is one issue that makes it even more difficult for Hajar to seem palatable to some. She seems more hesitant than Hugh to proclaim the truth here. She is considering how it will sound. She is censoring.
“If it was in practice, if someone was practicing it openly, there would be penalties.” She continues hesitatingly “…If someone is an open homosexual. There would be penalties under the Islamic state, it would be seen as a serious issue.”
That penalty is execution, pretty serious indeed. In Saudi Arabia hundreds of men suspected of homosexual acts have been executed, and stoning is still a prospective end. The statements from the Quran on punishing the homosexual are contentious, though, needless to say, they aren’t tolerant.
Hajar continues after some trepidation “I’m being very honest, I’m not someone who might become best friends with someone who is a practicing homosexual. I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that environment. I could speak to them, person to person…”
She asks if this sounds unpalatable, I tell her it probably might to some. Her frankness is comforting.
Hajar and Hugh’s popularity is surprising, when you consider that both their pious colleagues and their secular contexts expect their mutual compliance. They must somehow publicise their religions, and promote harmony. They must be nice to people, but they mustn’t endorse their conduct. It seems impossible.
They’re expected to show compassion while they see evil everywhere on this campus. Though it’s pretty hard to tolerate perversion, these people have somehow maintained some neutrality. That’s commendable; it just seems pretty cruel that we expect their constant honesty too. Evidently, it’s the pious who must compromise the most.