Churchgoers 'traumatised by Erikson abuse'

·2-min read

Parishioners at a queer-friendly Melbourne church refuse to go back inside a room where far-right extremist Neil Erikson spouted homophobic abuse three years ago.

Erikson crashed a Mother's Day service at the Metropolitan Community Church in Hawthorn in May 2019 with two women, live-streaming the ordeal to his followers online.

A few minutes after a bible discussion began, Erikson got up from his seat and, while standing in front of about 20 parishioners, asked: "Does your church marry Sodomites?"

He hurled further abuse, including "you're not Christians you're a bunch of "fa***ts".

Reverend Susan Townsend asked him to leave, with other parishioners standing up behind her and walking towards Erikson.

"To have somebody come in and directly offend members of the church, it was disgusting," she told Melbourne's County Court on Tuesday.

Erikson was found guilty of disturbing a religious service and sentenced to 10 weeks' jail in July 2021.

He has since launched an appeal against his conviction and sentence.

Rev Townsend, who gave evidence to the appeal, said Erikson violated a safe space for many LGBTQI Christians.

She said some parishioners were so traumatised they could not return to the room where the incident occurred.

"We were all very shaken, two members of our church refuse to go into that room after that incident, a number of them had counselling," she said.

"Our church is meant to be a safe space for LGBTI Christians, because at that stage there were so few safe spaces. What Mr Erikson did was take away that aspect so that we no longer had a safe space to worship."

After hurling homophobic slurs, Rev Townsend said Erikson refused to leave the church. Parishioners surrounded him and moved him out into the hallway.

A scuffle broke out between Erikson and a male parishioner, before Erikson's female friend said he had gone too far and he walked out.

But Erikson stormed back in and found the male parishioner, filming him while accusing the man of assault. He eventually left and waited outside for police to arrive.

Erikson's barrister Stephanie Wallace asked witness Louise Noorbergen, who called triple zero during the ordeal, if she was offended by the word Sodomite.

"Sodomite is a very offensive term in the current context, especially in the context of the gay marriage debate," she told the court.

She rejected Ms Wallace's suggestion there were religious aspects to the word.

Erikson, who remains on bail and appeared by video link, intends to rely on the constitution and police evidence as part of his appeal.

The court heard he wanted to call seven police officers to give evidence on Wednesday, however Chief Justice Peter Kidd said he did not know if much would "be added" to the case by the officers.

Erikson previously tried to access internal police emails to show the police response to the incident was politically motivated.

The appeal continues.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting