Letters to the editor – May 2017

Logo life

They say that everything in life is relative however, in Jim Gibson’s case we are not related!

Nigel Tapp’s timely piece (‘Logo stands the test of time’, April) brought back memories of a front-page story in The Sydney Morning Herald (perhaps November 1976) written by that paper’s long-time religion writer, Alan Gill, about the adoption of the Uniting Church’s official ‘emblem’. The article mentioned the new ‘badge’ will “supersede the unofficial, but extremely popular, design used during the past two years by the new church’s Joint Constitutional Commission”. That design showed three individuals, representing the three participating denominations, standing beneath a cross within a circle. Gill’s report went on to say “the individuals on the left and right of the trio extended an ‘open hand of friendship’ to other Christians, hinting of further ecumenical ventures to come”.

You may well ask how do I know all this detail? Well, for some reason I cut out the article from the Herald and filed it somewhere (I assumed over 40 years ago) I would find it! Last night  I had this sudden flashback as to its location. I went straight to my copy of The Basis of Union As Revised 1971 (Joint Board of Christian Education, 1971 Edition) and there it was!

Thank you Jim Gibson for your inspiration in helping to bring the Uniting Church’s emblem to life and adoption. As Gill concluded in his article, “the unofficial design was considered to have ‘insufficient substance’ to warrant consideration as the official and permanent emblem”.

Allan Gibson OAM
Cherrybrook NSW

 

Anything else is sinking sand

In Christianity, Jesus’ physical resurrection is central to the belief that Christ is who he says he is and has done what he was called to do. For the rest of the world the gospel with its Easter message is a fairy tale that just wouldn’t die.

In countries like Malaysia, the significance of Easter is suppressed. Easter is essentially a very powerful message of love: God so loved the world that he sacrificed his only begotten son to redeem all mankind. The resurrection? Confirmation that Christ is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. The Malaysian government possibly fears Christians’ open confession of Christ’s identity may upset, confuse or even sway people of other faiths. Thus Easter is necessarily a non-event, to be celebrated within the private confines of church buildings only. This is quite understandable as Malaysia is a Muslim country.

It is therefore ironic that in western democracies like Australia, where Christianity is supposed to be the dominant faith, the meaning of Easter is controversial. Not all churches are on the same page as to how they see the event.

Take for example, ‘liberal’ denominations which pride themselves on an enlightened, new-age approach to the faith. They see the Easter story as a hidden allegory of spiritual self-renewal. It is perhaps part of their denominational mission to ‘liberate’ minds, to explain away, often subtly, and align biblical events within the framework of a credible worldview.

To do this plausibly, the gospel will have to be tweaked and Jesus must necessarily be relegated to the figure of another ‘very good man’, like Gautama Buddha or Prophet Muhammed. All very commendable, very intelligently rational.

But many people find it puzzling and often ask the relevant question: if they believe in what they are preaching, that what they preach is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, why preach under the mantle of the Church then?  Why not launch a different belief-system? Does not the oddity of approach here speak for the Truth as overwhelmingly preferred by the faithful?

In a world reeling from frequent and frighteningly random terrorist and terrorism-inspired attacks, people need the stronghold and comfort of an unchanged and unchanging faith. One built on rock. Anything else is sinking sand.

Kimmy Fam
Via email

 

Astronomical

Ann Byrne’s Hidden Figures movie review (April Crosslight) rightly highlighted the noble struggle of three African-American women. With tenacity worthy of movie making, they challenged deep and widespread racism and sexism in the context of the space-race of the 60s decade.

A hidden figure that the space-race movie ignores, yet needs to be exposed is the cost. The cost just to win a race.

In dollar terms: $100 billion (today’s equivalent) during the 60s; in environment terms: five million litres of fossil fuel (350 petrol tankers) for the six Apollo rockets (1967-69).

In the movie, President John F Kennedy (Sept 1962) pledged, “We choose to go to the moon … in this decade”.

Pity he didn’t say, “We choose to eradicate world poverty … in this decade”? Simply, that stuff doesn’t sell.

Instead, things got a whole lot worse.

Imagine impoverished countries being equipped with adequate schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Imagine everyone having access to clean water, food, and shelter. What sort of world would it be? But no. It was more important to win a race at all cost.


Ray Higgs,
Ferntree Gully, VIC

 

Unanswered questions

I refer to my letter and the reply from Rev Dr Mark Lawrence, General Secretary, which appeared in the October 2015 Crosslight under the heading ‘Costs per church member?’. My concerns were broadly about duplication and overlap of administrative functions between the Victorian synod and its presbyteries, as well as the comparative costs per church member  of running UCA  bureaucracies in the various states.

The General Secretary responded, in part: “the Major Strategic Review is addressing a number of issues raised in this letter”.  In the 18 months since that reply was published, I wondered whether a further response could be made to my original queries.

 Alan Ray
Mont Albert, VIC

 

Spirit of renewal

My dad is a retired Uniting Church minister. I talked to him recently about whether he was dejected about the state of the local and broader church. His response surprised me. “God’s Holy Spirit will blow through again, Dave. Life will come again.”

I oscillate between hope and despair, but I am absolutely convinced that no genuine renewal will happen without God. No amount of human endeavour, committees working on Major Strategic Reviews, beavering away in offices, consulting with wide parts of the church will bring about life … only with the energy of God’s Holy Spirit.

And so when I read that the working title of the Synod’s new major unit is the Mission and Capacity Building Unit (April), I revert to a bit of despair.

Don Watson in his book Death Sentence writes: “Every day we are confronted with a debased, depleted sludge: in the media, among corporations, the public service, cultural institutions, out of the mouths of our leaders… New styles of business management have forced on us this new public language that makes no sense to outsiders, and confounds even those who use it. It is a dead language…”

Can we as a Uniting Church collectively have a moment to reflect and perhaps confess that at times we are guilty of management speak, of using debased, depleted sludge? The 16-page Vision and Mission Principles are refreshingly clear in their Christ-centred mission. But I do have concerns when I read: “The March Synod Standing Committee approved a high-level framework for the new Mission and Capacity Building Unit to comprise four main functional areas… Leadership, Education and Formation; Relationships and Connections; Priorities, Focus and Advocacy; Functions and Administration.”

If I used that sort of language with the students I teach and minister with, they wouldn’t let me get away with it for a nano-second. This new synod unit could be the heart and soul of what the Uniting Church is about, if we give God’s Holy Spirit a chance to blow through again. Let’s not mire it in depleted sludge.

 

David Hall
Chaplain
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School

 

Buying power

Dr Ian Anderson AM in his letter (April) writes of living hopefully in a troubled world where many of us feel powerless. He refers to the importance of Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and neighbours.

One specific way we can express our love for our neighbours is through the way we shop. Many of the world’s workers are exploited or treated as slaves. Purchasing Fair Trade products such as tea, coffee and chocolate, ensures that the people who produced what we consume were paid a fair wage, worked under healthy conditions and in an environmentally sustainable way.

UnitingJustice in the document, Ethical decision-making in the key of an economy of life, asks us all, individuals and congregations, the question “Are we buying certified Fair Trade products?”

How do we respond if we are serious about showing God’s love towards our neighbours across the world?

Rev John O Martin
Robina Qld

 
Truth for our time

Hedley Fihaki’s thoughtful article (‘Lead us not into temptation’, April) unfortunately represents a classic example of ‘proof texting’ of scripture.  It is always possible to make a point about anything by bringing into service this, that or the other piece of scripture. That method has long been the mainstay of conservative theologians, so I am not surprised that Dr Fihaki does that.

Many of Crosslight’s readers will know the risks involved in assuming a literal understanding of Scripture, (in this case) in order to argue against ‘free research’ and ‘scholarly biblical interpretation’. This he regards as ‘Satan’s method’ of leading humanity astray. Yet it is apparently only some biblical scholars he has in the cross-hairs. He, after all, is assuming the mantle of biblical scholar, albeit by cherry-picking portions of scripture from out of their historical and theological contexts.

Many of the ‘free’ biblical scholars Dr Fihaki disdains are in fact pointing to the teaching of Jesus, and encouraging their readers to become his followers. This is hardly commensurate with his argument that “common practice today” means “we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do”.

Dr Fihaki’s article actually illustrates the danger of dividing people who love God and follow Jesus into two opposing camps – those who are good (who read Scripture literally) and those who are evil (who find its meaning through literary, historical and contextual biblical criticism).

That kind of biblical scholarship has been taught in theological academies for over 200 years. It is called ‘interpreting scripture’. It follows Jesus’ method, where he clearly did not believe he should regard every word of scripture as literally and indisputably true. Instead, he interpreted it compassionately for his own people for his own time, according to the sacred law of love.

By following Jesus’ lead, we too can find sacred ‘truth’ in Scripture, for our time. For love of Jesus, let us regard each other with love, not as people who “misuse scholarly exegesis to try and destroy the figure of Jesus and to dismantle the Christian faith”.

Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson
Via email

 

Support for tradition 

In his article supporting same-sex marriage (March), Bill Loader avoids any reference to traditional marriage and this enables him to argue his case in a context-free space. The core of his argument is that homosexuality is neither a sin nor a disability and it follows that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

I don’t think it follows at all. For most of us, the fundamental human partnership is between a man and a woman. In partnership, they possess complementary physical and biological features and a mutual attraction which enable them to create new life together. Each one of us owes our existence to such a harmonious partnership and it is appropriate that the word ‘marriage’ should be retained solely to describe the formal commitment between a man and a woman. Same-sex partnerships do not possess the harmony of the features described above.

I can accept that same-sex couples discover rather than adopt their sexual preferences and that in the past many have suffered from extreme prejudice and discrimination. However, my understanding is that most of the previous legal restrictions no longer apply as is the case for de facto partners generally. However, as same-sex marriage advocates see it, there remains the struggle for the word ‘marriage’ in ‘marriage equality’ to symbolise that there should be no distinction between same-sex and male-female formal relationships. If these advocates are prepared to struggle for the name to symbolise that there is nothing special about traditional marriage then it is reasonable for supporters of traditional marriage to argue otherwise.

It is disappointing that Bill Loader concentrates on what homosexuality is not about while ignoring the life-creating potential of a man and a woman within traditional marriage. Whether this is indicative of a general church view or one of many is unclear.

 

Geoff Smith
Mount Waverley, VIC

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