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'I am being bullied,' says Margaret Court

Tennis star in hard-fought match with the media

Calls to change the name of Margaret Court Arena is bullying, says the pastor and tennis star after whom it was named. “I think it’s very sad they use my tennis for something that is a ‘now’ thing,” Court told Vision radio. “I think it’s bullying, and it’s their way of bullying now. I think it’s very sad, and below the belt.”

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The furore Court is at the centre of began last week when she wrote a letter to The West Australian. “Your statement leaves me no option but to use other airlines [where] possible for my extensive travelling,” she wrote, responding to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s decision for the airline to support same-sex marriage.

Court is the senior pastor at Victory Life Centre, a megachurch in Perth, which she founded in 1991. She is also remembered for her 62 Grand Slam Titles in her tennis career.

“They’re trying to push something and they want it their way.” – Margaret Court

After her letter was published, Court suddenly was in demand by media. “Probably a mistake” is her description of the interview she did with The Project – a Channel 10 current affairs program she had never seen.

“I know I was being bullied on that show, but I think it’s been more detrimental to them than it has been to me. I think maybe people will start to realise how there’s not a lot of honour or respect for anybody anymore; It’s all about what I want to get across or say. They’re trying to push something and they want it their way.”

The favoured media narrative drove The Project coverage, according to David Bennett, a prominent Christian commentator on the same-sex marriage debate (who used to be a gay rights activist).

“The damage it is doing to the culture of our nation is not worth the dividend.” – David Bennett

“In this case, it was The Project versus Court, and the quality of the conversation is absolutely dismal,” responds Bennett to how Court’s opinions were treated. [Read David Bennett’s full response here]

“In the mainstream media game, two large, very lucrative, polarised voices are often represented as soon as marriage is mentioned. The two crowds that are always presented are the supposedly enlightened ‘liberals’ and the cruel, petty conservatives. This makes for great viewing stats but the damage it is doing to the culture of our nation is not worth the dividend.”

Despite the reaction sparked by Court during the past week, she believes that Christians need to speak up. “It’s very important that we are a voice in this time because if there’s no voice, there’ll be no light shone on it. I believe that every Christian or person out there who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman should be a voice or they should write letters out to the open press. [But] Don’t write them to Qantas because they’ll probably put them in the rubbish bin.”

“As a celibate gay man, I agree with Margaret Court that marriage is between a man and a woman.” – David Bennett

Similarly, Bennett wants a voice to be heard: “The voice you don’t hear is that of everyday Australian Christians who, since they can remember, were attracted to the same sex but who have, as all disciples of Christ are called to deny themselves, picked up their cross and given over their ‘rights’ to their sexuality; they are called to be redefined by God’s love and the nature of the gospel.”

“As a celibate gay man, I agree with Margaret Court that marriage is between a man and a woman. I do also believe in full substantive rights for gay couples in a secular society. If for aesthetic purposes it is called marriage, that is the right of state legislature but I cannot in good conscience move from what the Bible is exegetically clear on and God’s image and likeness is reflected and analogously etched in.

“Marriage is ‘ontologically’ defined by God as a covenant that reflects his own internal glory as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; distinct persons, in one essence.

However, Bennett does not agree with all of Court’s comments. “On the conservative side, I don’t agree with Margaret Court’s view that homosexuality is a product of abuse, as I was never abused. Within this belief is an old pseudo-Freudian paradigm that sexual orientation is somehow related to desire for a parental figures’ love and thus a product of abuse or abandonment.”

“These conversations have allowed people to understand that marriage equality is simply about ensuring every Australian has the same dignity and respect.” – The Equality Campaign

Eternity contacted The Equality Campaign about the Margaret Court controversy and its bearing upon the same-sex marriage debate in Australia. “Fairness and equality are at the heart of Australian society,” says Francis Voon, the campaign’s Faith Outreach Coordinator. “We are promoting some of the greatest human values: love, respect and happiness.

“Support for civil marriage equality has happened because of the thousands of conversations in families, workplaces and communities throughout the country. These conversations have allowed people to understand that marriage equality is simply about ensuring every Australian has the same dignity and respect.

“The issue is simply about our families, friends, colleagues and teammates enjoying the same respect and dignity in the land of a fair go.”

Stephen McAlpine is another Christian leader in Perth. The minister at Perth’s Providence Church, McAlpine has called on Christians to support Margaret Court despite the ridicule she has received in some sections of the media. In particular, he wants “sensible” evangelicals to lose their fear of being rubbished and back Court.

“We suddenly fear we could be tarred with the same brush as Margaret Court.” – Stephen McAlpine

“So when a supposedly crazy Christian such as Perth’s very own global tennis legend, who is also a Pentecostal pastor of a large church scandalously called Victory Life instead of some funky Greek word, throws a spanner in the works and says something eminently unsensible in the public square, then we sensible middle-class evangelicals suddenly get nervous.”

“We suddenly fear being outed. And that may give us pause for thought as to how many gay people fear being outed. We suddenly fear we could be tarred with the same brush as Margaret. We suddenly fear being considered nonsensical, the ultimate purgatory for sensible types such as ourselves.”

“Maybe we should not react so shocked and angry when we are shouted down.” – Stephen McAlpine

Even as McAlpine admires Court’s boldness, he goes on to say that the tennis great has not realised that the public square has become much more difficult than it used to be for Christians. But he is with her, when it comes to the substantive issue.

“But here’s where I do agree with Margaret Court: The Bible does state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Categorically.”

“Margaret Court believes that marriage itself is a picture of God’s redeeming, covenantal, exclusive relationship to his people; a visible gospel so to speak, in which difference is celebrated: God to human, Creator to creature, man to woman in covenant relationship.

“And that’s where Margaret Court and sensible come apart in the eyes of this age. That’s where we should come apart from sensible in the eyes of this age. We should at least affirm Margaret Court’s perspective privately, even if we have neither the cultural naivety nor the gospel bravery to say so in the public square.

“And if we do say it in the public square, maybe we should not react so shocked and angry when we are shouted down.”

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