Letters – November 2016

Flying the flag

The August issue of Crosslight has a dramatic cover of the cross, the main symbol of the Christian religion, being manoeuvred into position at Long Tan, and its articles on military chaplaincy expresses many views, pro, con and neither one way nor the other.

To me, the most relevant quote in the issue of military chaplaincy is that of Professor Tim McCormack:

“In the midst of terrible circumstances there were people who were there explicitly as representatives of the faith. They were sharing compassion, love and understanding to people who had all sorts of trauma to deal with. How can we as a Christian church turn our backs on that?”

The issue also contains two advertisements calling for chaplains; one from the Uniting Church (which is proud to be an inclusive employer) for a prison chaplain, the other from the Defence Force Recruiting for services chaplains. I would hope our inclusive church will give full support to both such chaplaincies.

The issue refers to the matter of the Australian national flag being draped on a coffin at a church funeral. Many churches have our flag on display, inside or out. The cross, the main symbol of the Christian religion, appears on our flag not once, but four times: the cross of St George, the cross of St Andrew, the cross of St Patrick, and also the Southern Cross. Protocols for use of our flag include: the Australian national flag may be used to cover the coffin of any deceased Australian citizen at their funeral. Having served our country as a national serviceman and in the CMF, albeit before the Vietnam War, I would be disappointed if, at my funeral – hopefully in the far distant future! – our flag was not draped on my coffin in the church.
Onward Christian soldiers…

Bill Freeman,
Buckrabanyule, VIC

Not suitable for children

I was amazed, but not surprised, to see this article in the October Crosslight (Unexpected Rainbow in Outback Australia), two full pages for Mr Jones to air his same sex agenda. I doubt there is any other church monthly or religious newspaper in the world that would give the same sex lobby such a ‘free kick’ to push their agenda.

This article belongs more to a same sex lobby publication. If this article represents the thinking of UCA, then the UCA has no future.

The article conflates ‘Romantic/erotic love/infatuation/attraction’ – a transient state – with marriage, a life-time legal and personal commitment to a chosen partner. I find it extraordinary that so many same sex advocates have no idea about the true definition of marriage, which is a legal binding document between a man and woman for the mutual benefit of the couple, and for the protection of the offspring of the union, should that happen. There is no mention of sex or love with which the same sex lobby is so infatuated.

I remind readers that arranged marriages are still the norm in many parts of the world.

I cannot comprehend what the Priscilla movie has to do with the marriage debate, or the plebiscite, and the Priscilla weekend in Broken Hill is no more than a sideshow. Images of homosexual bar scenes have nothing to do with the eternal issue of the rights of a child to have a biological father and mother.

Jones asserts that communities have outpaced our political representatives with respect to same sex marriage. Where is the evidence?

Jones introduces the asylum seeker issue in his article, is this relevant to the marriage debate?

Jones trots out the same sex rhetoric of “bigotry, versus progressive tolerant beliefs” and so on, when all the evidence points to an irrational intolerance on the part of the same sex lobby (no more than 2 to 3 per cent of the population) to see any other viewpoint.

The current debate about same sex marriage ignores the main issue which is a push by the lesbian community to legitimise parenting of children without the need for or the presence of a male ie a biological father as complementary to the mother. How self-centred, misandric and anti-Christian is that? Should a tiny (0.5 per cent) element of the population (ie lesbian) and a similar if not smaller number of homosexual men be allowed to change the accepted status and long-standing definition of marriage?

There have been numerous studies over time showing that a stable heterosexual family unit gives the children of that union the best platform for their future. Is there any evidence to the contrary that this should change?

Dr John Bishop
Via email

Civil discussion

It was both delightful and refreshing to read Garth Jones’ story (Oct) of returning to Broken Hill and remembering Priscilla. I appreciated the link to the Uniting Church’s strong support for LGBTIQ inclusion and equality as stated by our national president.

As a member of the Assembly Sexuality Task Group in the 1990s, we supported equality in the Church but didn’t address the issue of marriage directly.

That is now happening.

With the marriage plebiscite not proceeding, there is a renewed opportunity for people of faith to affirm their public support for marriage equality.
In mid-November, the Uniting Network is launching a campaign named Uniting for Civil Marriage Equality. While our church carefully considers the doctrine of marriage, we can support civil marriage as basic human right. Check out the details at unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au

In addition to marriage equality we still have a long way to go to understand and respond to people who are transgender, gender diverse or intersex.

Warren Talbot
National Secretary
Uniting Church LGBTIQ Network Australia

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It is a great relief that the plebiscite is unlikely to go forward. The recent SBS documentary Deep Water, reminds us of a not too far distant time, when members of the LGBTIQ community were considered less than human. It is reminders like this excellent documentary that remind us of the danger of hate speech and behaviour.

Ian Turnnidge
Phillip Island

God got in first

A woman I don’t know, and probably never will, read the article ‘From Mooroolbark to Kampala’ in the June issue of Crosslight about Mooroolbark UC’s support of the Rubaga Youth Development Association (RYDA). She gave it to her daughter: “I think you might be interested in this.”

Her daughter, Marg Docking, read it and wrote an email to both Geoffrey in Kampala and myself in Mooroolbark. She congratulated RYDA on its work in Uganda, told us of her experience in remote Australia and Uganda as a midwife, introduced us to her work with an organisation titled Wise Choices For Life and invited us to look at their website. We were encouraged to consider sending staff members to a November training course in reproductive health; a train the trainers course aiming to build the capacity of Ugandans to reach the vulnerable, especially youth, with knowledge and skills in this area.

It felt like this could fit very well with RYDA’s life skills curriculum. The video was impressive. I discovered that when Marg Docking was not in Uganda she lived in East Ringwood. We met for coffee and Marg’s experience, passion, process and purpose blew away all doubt.

Geoffrey and I were convinced that this course would increase RYDA’s capacity to deliver a relevant, medically correct, Christian-based, life-changing sexual health and reproduction component for boys and girls within the RYDA life skills curriculum. The problem was to find the $700 required to send two staff to the week-long live-in course.

This project was introduced to St Margaret’s congregation on 31 July. That day $70 started the ball rolling, but something unexpected happened too. Karen and Stephen White bounced up after church to say: “We had a small windfall yesterday and we would like to give it to RYDA.”
“Wow, thanks for your generosity. Can I ask how much?”

I could barely believe the answer.

Marg had brought a set of teaching aids to our meeting but they were an additional significant cost. So I had made the decision not to mention the importance of this kit until after we were certain of sending staff to the course.

The White’s intended gift was exactly the same as the cost of the aids. God got in first.

The next Sunday a further $180 was given at St Margaret’s. The Sunday after the people of St John’s, Cowes, saw the video and following the service person after person slipped up beside me and pressed a note into my hand: “Don’t want to interrupt your conversation. Just pop that in your pocket for RYDA.”

I counted my pocket money when I got home. $500.

Two weeks, three Sundays, and project complete … and more.

I guess God got in second, third and fourth as well.

Douglas Williams
Mooroolbark, VIC
Class system

It should shock every one of us that Australia has been cited as having the most inequitable education system in the developed world (The Age 05/10).
As an ex-teacher I am constantly dismayed at the connection of the church with some of the most wealthy and exclusive private schools in the country.
When is the church going to confront the conflict it faces trying to follow both commercial and Christian principles?

After years of dedicated, bipartisan work by the Gonski committee, the long-held hopes of parents, teachers and students for at last some degree of fairness were crushed by a government that seeks to maintain the status quo of a two-tiered structure.

I note that the church was absolutely silent – unable to speak out on Gonski because it is itself part of the problem. How can the church say anything when some of our richest schools are recipients of such disproportionate government largesse, mostly with no strings attached?

There are plenty of private schools (including UC schools) who operate effectively on budgets which are a fraction of the wealthy schools, but by our inaction we seem to believe that we can entrench privilege without also exacerbating disadvantage? How is it that we support schools who contribute to permanently maintaining government lobbyists in Canberra to agitate for an even greater share of the pie? Perhaps we need to read more carefully the story of Lazarus at the gate of the rich man.

I have taught happily in both government and private schools and it is undeniable that church schools make outstanding contributions to our education system. But some church schools use their government funding to extend their boat sheds or renew their aquatic centres, while some government schools use their funding to provide breakfast for those who otherwise don’t get any. Sadly it is no longer the church that is providing breakfast.

Bryan Long,
Balwyn, VIC

Keeping children safe

I write in response to the moderator’s column in the September edition of Crosslight in which Sharon Hollis acknowledged that the Church in the past has failed to protect children from sexual abuse and that congregations need to work towards creating a safe environment for vulnerable children in the future.

I applaud the moderator for her comments but felt sad and disappointed that such an important article was relegated to almost the back page of Crosslight! (page 23). Surely if we are ever to inform congregations in the hope of bringing about change then ‘Keeping Children Safe’ should be front page material.

Many people may not realise the extent of sexual abuse that has occurred over many decades across all churches – the large and the small – in cities and in country towns. Now is the time to not only acknowledge the mistakes of the past but also to learn the hard lessons from survivors of abuse and make positive changes to protect our precious children in the future.

Name withheld

The Season of Creation

Once again I give thanks for the Season of Creation. It enables us in worship to focus on the mutual interdependence that we and all life on Earth has on the wellbeing of Planet Earth.

We are challenged to replace the domination approach to our Earth’s resources (Genesis 1) with, not just the stewardship view (Genesis 2), but with a sense of the mutual interdependence in Nature that is at present so threatened by our profligate way of life.

I wonder if it is now time to replace ‘Creation’ with ‘Earth’ or ‘Nature’? Too easily we seem to mix up our Earth for which we have much responsibility, with the wondrous Cosmos for which we have no responsibility. It is as if we are still hankering for a God as the creator of the whole universe, when it should be what it means to show God’s love here and now for our precious Earth or Nature.

Cosmic images of God and Christ are ‘intelligent design’ notions and detract from the urgency of our environmental issues.

Peter J Fensham,
Kew, VIC

Restive West Papua – the church’s response

In August I travelled with my husband to West Papua, also known as ‘Indonesia’s troubled Papua province’, as guests of a group of Papuan women (Solidaritas Melanesia Perempuan Papua Barat). Marginalisation, discrimination and violence committed by Indonesian security forces are common grievances. The destruction of forests and pollution of water sources that accompany mining, logging and clearing is another blow to Papuan heritage and way of life as Papuans are pushed off their lands and deprived of traditional food sources. Everyone we spoke to was frightened of Indonesian military and police, and resented the presence of enormous numbers of Indonesian soldiers on their land.

The takeover of West Papua by Indonesia in the 1960s involved both violence and a sham referendum where only 1025 Papuans, selected by the Indonesian military, were allowed to vote (by a show of hands) surrounded by soldiers who threatened their families if they voted against integration into Indonesia. Not surprisingly this injustice caused and continues to cause considerable resentment and feelings of betrayal.

Successive Indonesian governments have made advocating for ‘separatism’ a crime, calling it treason. People are, for example, arrested for possessing or raising the West Papua flag, or calling for a fair referendum on self-determination.

Most West Papuans are Christians, and many want West Papua to become independent from Indonesia. A number of Papuan church leaders are advocates for a fair referendum for self-determination for West Papua, for example the Rev Edison Waromi, a Pentecostal pastor imprisoned for several years for his role in a peaceful demonstration. We met Rev Waromi in Jayapura, and he is a gentle, conscientious person committed to trying to improve life for Papuans.

Because of the criminalisation of separatist ideas by the Indonesian government, support by churches of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly (as stated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights) of Papuans expressing the wish for independence can lead to vicious crackdowns by the Indonesian security forces.

What can Australian churches do? Because the Australian government is involved in training and funding Indonesian security forces, churches in Australia can request our government to call for prosecution of Indonesian military and police involved in human rights abuses.

As a member of the United Nations, the Australian government should be called on to join with Pacific Island nations to urge the UN to place West Papua on the decolonisation list, and lobby for conducting the fair, democratic UN-monitored referendum on self-determination that West Papua has been denied for so long.

Dr Esther Anderson
Surrey Hills, VIC

Power of prayer

Our small group study of Ephesians has been so exciting we want to share it.

Paul reminded his readers that Christ is All in ALL – a 24/7 transforming reality. (A former alcoholic in the group agreed). The Church of God has the job of witnessing to the unity which is rooted in the ‘manifold wisdom of God’ not only on Earth but to the powers and authorities (good and bad) in the spiritual realm. What an assignment!

Submerged in Christ’s incredible love, Christians are to live to His glory in every detail of everyday life and in all their relationships. This is made possible because it is all grounded in truth, righteousness and a passion to share this good news. Our thinking is guarded by salvation; we are protected by the shield of faith and carry the Spirit’s sword (God’s word).

Just thinking about this provokes prayer: prayers of incredulity and gratitude; of confession (because it doesn’t sound like us); prayers for eyes to see God’s way; prayers to be open to His love so we can live “for the praise of His glory”; prayers about wearing the shoes of others. Paul had a passion to tell about Jesus but he knew to depend on prayer.

It all hit home when I saw this week the photo of an Asian church leader. While praising God for the wisdom and encouragement he found in the Bible, he was interceding for his people: “overwhelmed by darkness, devoid of hope, filled with fear”. He spoke of fellow students needing courage to stand firmly on God’s love and faithfulness so as to have the strength to persevere in the face of the hardship and dangers they faced.

“Thank you, Father, that we can stand with brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you for the Church’s message of a Risen Saviour, of vision, advance, victory, and the “sure hope” that “the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of God as the waters cover the sea”. (Hab.14:2; Is.11:9)

Margaret Turnbull,
Altona Meadows, VIC.

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