Judge not …
RESPONDING to Dennis Litchfield’s letter (Crosslight, March 2017), who complains firstly about the statement “Crosslight seeks not to denigrate other denominations or faiths”, one wonders exactly what Mr Litchfield hopes to achieve. He links this concern with what he describes as “existing/potential problems threatening the good order of our communities.”
Which particular denominations or faiths is he critical of here? Which particular “spade” or “spades” is he demanding ought be called spades, in avoiding the “stifling/limiting of alternative views”? Everyone is well aware of the views of people such as Pauline Hanson and the United Patriots Front by now, surely? And is the world’s current refugee crisis really capable of being summed up by his term “people trafficking”?
Mr Litchfield also demands “stronger treatment” (which can only be translated, in the context of his letter, as “condemnation”) by Crosslight of issues such as “same sex marriage”, “safe schools (particularly that human sexuality is a matter of personal choice rather than our biological cell structure)”, “changing of gender on birth certificates”, “abortion” and “euthanasia”. In other words, he is upset that his own particular views on these issues are not being promulgated.
One wonders how a suicidal gay/intersex teenager would be helped by the Church’s newspaper asserting that her/his sexual orientation/gender identity is contrary to her/his “biological cell structure” and therefore wrong. And of what possible interest or concern to Mr Litchfield, or others, is how a person’s gender is described on their birth certificate?
Mr Litchfield is clearly welcome to express his views on all of these controversial issues. However he is not welcome to demand that the Church’s newspaper must editorially adopt or express those views, particularly if they may be seen as contrary to Jesus’ command to give up our habit of judging others.
Peter Byrne(Member of Leighmoor Congregation, Uniting Church, Moorabbin)
War on terror and Christian churches
A Roy Morgan Research survey in 2009 showed 62 per cent of Australians identified themselves as Christians; by 2013 this figure had reduced to 52.6 per cent. Today, it is less than 50 per cent. If this trend continues, the Australian Christian population will be insignificant within a few decades. Many of our churches have aging and dwindling congregations. Over the last few decades, hundreds of churches around Australia have been closed down and sold to be converted to flats, restaurants or gambling dens.
The Pew Research Foundation survey revealed that in 2007, 78.4 per cent of the US population identified as Christians. That figure had reduced to 70.6 per cent by 2013. The trend is similar in major English-speaking Christian nations, viz., Canada, the UK and New Zealand. This may be the first time in the last 1500 years that Christianity has been declining so rapidly in Western Christian nations.
Most of the Western churches are mired in schisms, petty squabbles or court battles. Few church leaders have knowledge or commitment to issues of justice and peace that wreak havoc around the world.
Sadly, the major perpetrators of wars that killed, maimed and created refugees in their millions since the end of WWII have been the five Christian nations mentioned above. Think of the Korean War, Vietnam War and the War on Terror unleashed on the Muslim nations in the Middle East. These wars were premised on lies and cooked intelligence.
The general silence of Church leaders on these issues has shown that Christianity has become both discredited and irrelevant to world affairs. Church leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power. Small wonder that Christianity is dying in the West.
Dr Bill Mathew
ROBERT Parry (March), in criticising income available for an aged pensioner with investments of $487,408, uses an earning rate just over 2 per cent for his calculation, when a far greater rate is easily obtainable, according to a variety of investment commentary.
To waste $333,500 “immediately” on “holidays and gambling”, as Robert Parry mentions in his second example, is against the long held belief of saving for a rainy day.
Instead, wisely investing this amount could go a long way in providing a pensioner with financial security. It would also go to help sustain our welfare system into the future.
Living hopefully in troubled times
DO you feel that media reports convey a sense of our world and society unravelling in areas completely outside our control? Does this cause you to feel stressed, dismayed, fearful, weighed-down or even overwhelmed?
We are, of course, besieged by negativity: the state of our Australian politics where governments and oppositions seem to prioritise party political and personal self-interest above the good of the nation; global politics including the election of a President Trump, Brexit and the emergence and resurgence of (especially European) ultra-right politics in a ‘fake news’, post-truth environment; the threat and politicisation of climate change and energy policy; our nation’s abhorrent refugee and asylum policy and practice. And, of course, we could all add many more troubling and negative influences to this list which is already much too long.
Where then can we find hope in this world which, in so many respects, seems such a mess?
At a recent Emerging Church service at Manningham Uniting Church’s Anderson Creek Road site, we were reminded that love is God and that wholeheartedly loving God and our neighbours is the cornerstone of our lives as Christians.
In this way of loving and living, there is hope. Hope that comes from a personal discipleship which, while not shutting out the negativity which besieges us, does not give in to or disengage from it but, as an antidote to what troubles us in our world, focusses on living positively, generously, compassionately and constructively as our circumstances permit. In our families, our neighbourhoods and communities, our church and more widely, we can be instruments for good. We can have a positive influence, either directly through our own actions and relationships or by supporting organisations that have greater resources and influence as forces for good.
The following extract from the closing blessing at that Emerging Church service encapsulates this hopeful, positive, generous way of living which follows Jesus’ Great Commandment, benefits society and is good for us personally, even in these troubling times.
“We leave with the blessing of mindfulness for people around us and for the issues in which we can make a difference. We leave with the blessing of peace, knowing that we cannot heal the ills of the whole world, but hopeful that those who can be healers will play their part. With those blessings, we continue the journey of our lives, guided by love.”
Dr Ian Anderson AM
Basis of the ACC
RESPONDING to two letters about the Assembly of Confessing Congregations conference in November 2016 (and the report about it entitled ‘Core Beliefs’ in Crosslight, December) gives me an opportunity to dispel some common misunderstandings. Firstly, that the ‘core beliefs’ represent a minority view in the Uniting Church. On the contrary, the ACC upholds the core beliefs of the Uniting Church as described in the Basis of Union. Secondly, that such beliefs tend towards ‘literal interpretation of Scripture’ in a wholesale sense. The consequence of that idea is that the Basis of Union tends towards ‘literal interpretation of Scripture’.
Let us first be clear about what is meant by ‘literal’. “Jesus,” writes the first correspondent, “is not only the ‘Lamb of God’ (as the Confessing Church website affirms), he is the Way, Truth, Life, Door of the sheepfold, Bread of Life, True Vine, Resurrection, Gracious Friend, Wise Counsellor, Suffering Servant, God with Us, Comforter, Saviour, Wounded Healer (and more names beside).” How true. Are none of these to be taken literally? If not, what are we to make of the correspondent’s next statement: “[Jesus] is our friend and companion as we encounter the challenges of a risky, uncertain and often hostile world”? On the other hand, ‘the Lamb of God’ is obviously metaphorical. Let us agree that some things about the ‘core beliefs’ are to be taken literally, some metaphorically.
A further objection is lodged against the ACC making statements in the “highly complex matters” associated with “biological and psychological analysis of sexuality and gender identity … until there is widespread consensus on research findings”. Here is the nub of the problem: there is no consensus on such matters. But that is no bar to the statement by the other correspondent to the effect that today’s scientific knowledge relativises the Church’s teaching on sin and God’s judgement. Further relativising is found in the statement: “we cannot be certain that Jesus actually said every word written in the Gospels”. What we can be certain of, the writer continues, is “the Bible’s constant assurance of God’s love for each of us, a message that surely the world needs to hear urgently again in these times of war, hatred and greed”. There is a difficulty here: how do we know about God’s love if Scripture is unreliable?
Both correspondents seem to fear that the ACC will cause division (and negativity) in the Uniting Church. Neither considers finding unity in the Basis of Union, which is what the ACC wants to encourage. As for the biology and psychology of sexuality and gender identity, a broad-based (and preferably ecumenical) scientific enquiry (along the lines of paragraph 11) would be timely.
I find myself in agreement with William Rush (February) who reminded us of the original vision of the Uniting Church to be uniting and ecumenically inclusive with a “desire to enter more deeply into the faith and mission of the church”.
If we are serious about this, we will need to learn to be much more understanding and inclusive of the evangelical heritage of the Church and the ACC members within the Church.
Two letters in February Crosslight indirectly questioned the intellectual integrity of those aligned with the ACC by implying they retreat to a position of literally interpreting the scripture. I have never heard of anyone in the Uniting Church advocating the plucking out of an eye or of adopting childish behaviour in order to enter the Kingdom of God. However, I do know of many faithful people who take both biblical scholarship and the unique inspiration of scripture very seriously.
Rev Rod James is extremely well read in theology and secular ethics but to suggest he needs to be a genetic scientist before he speaks about contemporary culture is to deny him his role as a responsible Minister of the Word. If we don’t want the church to be divided by factionalism, instead of ‘putting others down’ let’s grow up, examine our attitudes and with the help of God begin to think about what it really means to be Uniting.
Rev Ted Curnow
WHO is she? She broods on the waters, she wings over earth, she nests in the womb and she dances in fire. John Bell’s startling imagery of the Holy Spirit [TIS 418] challenges us to revisit the season of Pentecost. From Creation [Genesis 1:2] to the Annunciation [ Luke 1:35 ] to Pentecost [Acts 2:2-4 ], Bell sketches its mysterious work. In verse 4, he describes the Holy Spirit as one with God in essence, gifted by the Saviour in eternal love.
The second couplet of each verse applies the continuing Pentecost miracle to our contemporary world. We are reminded that the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures and rekindles potential, which is hidden to our eyes. We are heartened to read that its enduring, ineffable grace cannot be captured, silenced or restrained.
That overarching theme of the gift of the Spirit’s love is further developed in Shirley Murray’s song “Loving Spirit” [TIS 417]. In successive stanzas, Murray visualises the third person of the Trinity as mother, father, friend and lover. The Spirit is articulated as forming us of its flesh and bone and enabling us to see the world from on high. In its promise and presence, we draw comfort and rest.
Many hymns, both ancient and modern, invoke the Holy Spirit with the bidding: Come confirm us, come console us, come renew us and come possess us [e.g. TIS 413]. This yearning for the presence of the Spirit is a constant refrain of the people of God throughout the ages.
These poems by living writers seek to illustrate what John Wesley in his Aldersgate experience recorded as his “heart being strangely warmed”.
Murray’s opening and closing verses are worth making our prayer today:
Loving Spirit, loving Spirit,
you have chosen me to be –
you have drawn me to your wonder
you have set your sign on me.
Mont Albert, VIC