Fifty people took part in a discussion around the topic "Sex, sexuality and the church" hosted by the Socialist Alliance on August 6.
Speakers included Peter Maher from St Joseph's Catholic Church and chaplain at the University of Technology, Sydney, Ansgar Fehnker from Sydney Atheists, Rachel Evans from the Socialist Alliance and norrie mAy-welby, a Christian activist and Uniting Church member.
After the panelists' contributions, discussion ranged over the role of progressive forces within the church, including the impact of liberation theology across Latin America, morality and politics and the church hierarchy's hypocrisy on human rights and health questions — including contraception and women's rights. Also discussed was the issue of the protest during the pope's visit, and how reactionaries, such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, use religion to push their conservative agendas.
Evans and others took up the left's attitude to religion and spoke about why the Socialist Alliance helped organise the NoToPope protest last month. The left must continue to build alliances with people from various religious backgrounds, some contributions to the meeting noted, but this shouldn't stop it from strenuously opposing religious figures and institutions that attempt to force religious practices or laws onto the whole of society.
Despite disagreements, the thought-provoking discussion prompted Maher to say that while colleagues had warned him against coming into "the lion's den", he felt it had been privilege to take part, noting that it was unusual to hear about the Old and New Testaments from so many atheists!