I have noted with some unease the tone of much of the Crosslight correspondence subsequent to the declaration of ‘special circumstances’ at the last Synod meeting.  Whilst I understand – and, to some extent, share – the anger, grief, and need for explanations which arise in the wake of the failure of the Acacia College project, it nonetheless needs to be remembered that ‘accountability’ and ‘retribution’ are not one and the same.

It is therefore of some concern that I read letters which attribute the synod’s present situation to the ‘bloated bureaucracy’ of the synod office, or which demand to know why no-one has been dismissed or forced to resign.

While Synod rightly and properly acknowledged the grief accruing to the Acacia College community from the closure of the school, as well as the grief accruing to the wider Church, no such acknowledgement was made of the grief accruing to those people who had laboured long and hard to resolve this difficult issue. In other words, all the people from the synod office, as well as the various councils and committees of the Church, who tried over a number of years to ensure the success of Acacia College, but whose efforts were sadly in vain.

This grief was threaded throughout the ex-moderator’s address to the Synod meeting.  It was a grief brought home with startling clarity when one member of the synod staff said to me: “We brought an enormous amount of intellectual firepower to bear on this problem and were still not able to fix it – knowing we tried so hard and failed really hurts.”

So can I be slightly heretical and suggest that instead of writing off our colleagues in the synod office as ‘bloated bureaucrats’ who need to be punished, perhaps we could try responding with some compassion and concern for them as our fellow Christians who have been as much wounded by this situation as ourselves?

Accountability can still happen in this context – it just doesn’t need to be accompanied by unnecessary recrimination and vitriol.

Rev Brendan Byrne
Mitcham, VIC  3132



Key questions concerning the Acacia College aftermath remain unanswered in spite of readers’ letters published in the June, July and August issues of Crosslight. These reflect widely held concerns in relation to the massive debt incurred by or in the name of the Synod.

To summarise the specific concerns:

Who approved plans to develop and finance Acacia College? Where did due diligence fail?
Have lessons been learnt that will avoid such mistakes being made in the future?
How was college development and the related debt allowed to deviate from the original plans and what review process was in place to monitor debt levels?

Where does the buck stop? Who is taking responsibility? Who has resigned or has been dismissed? Is this a classic case of committees making decisions but not accepting accountability?

If, as reported, $7.7m has been received from ‘settlement of Acacia College’ and used to repay a UCA loan, why is this not reducing the Acacia debt and the $56m target? What is the status of action against the developer? Is the property now in other hands and operating as a school?

What financial institutions are or were owed money, how much and on what terms?

What explanation is there for the lift from the final net Acacia Debt to the $56m now targeted? Is this indicative of other actual or anticipated financial exigencies?

Communications from Synod to the wider Church provide no answers to any of the above questions, but have concentrated on ways that local congregations might assist synod to realise $56m from the sale of property (in an unrealistically short time).  How is the burden to be shared by the wider Uniting Church e.g. schools, synod agencies and programs?

The effect on trust, governance, accountability, transparency etc within the Uniting Church structures cannot be overlooked or over emphasised.

It appears to be assumed that properties that generate income to support churches in the same network can be sold without affecting the mission of local congregations.

Graham H Beanland
Balwyn, VIC 3103



While I commend the Costa Project Control Group for its efforts to rectify the Acacia College debacle I remain deeply concerned by the lack of accountability for this ineffective stewardship.

Not one person sacked – not one person sued. $56 million dollars lost to the Church.

Effective stewardship is vital to delivering ongoing church services. Generations of church communities have raised funds; secured donations and harnessed goodwill to accumulate these resources. Personal accountability is required by law – company directors face this daily. Is the Church seriously seeking to adopt a standard of accountability that is less than the law requires?

Personal accountability is essential for effective stewardship.

Indeed the many vulnerable users of Uniting Church services require it.

Dr Stephen O’Kane
Blackburn, VIC 3130



I really don’t know which party to vote for in the next election. The issue I need reconciled is refugees. One party seems like it wants to declare war and the other seems like it wants to mastermind an invasion of an unsuspecting country.

I feel like writing across my ballot paper ‘YOU’RE BOTH WRONG!’ It would be no more a wasted vote than choosing between the current awful options. Perhaps if enough people did exactly that we might actually get a new election and some new thinking.

I don’t think I am alone in this dilemma. There is evidence that a growing number of Aussies think both parties have it wrong where refugees arriving by boat are concerned. So let’s get creative.

These refugees pay the smugglers. So that tells me they must be really committed to getting here and being part of their new country. So, why not let them invest in our economy from the beginning by offering the opportunity to pay the Australian government for the sea journey? We take their money in return for guaranteed safe passage in an unsinkable liner or navy boat to hostels (not prisons) on the Australian mainland where they are supported to become citizens. Too easy.

Medical checks and vaccinations have to be completed before embarkation. Security processing begins prior to embarkation and is completed in accommodation. Hostels include various forms of work, including working in the community, using electronic monitoring if necessary. Refugee money is invested and returned when they are ‘approved to enter’ or when they fail immigration and have to be returned to their homeland. There are more details to work out, but at least it’s new thinking.

We don’t stop the boats – we send the boats!

People smugglers have no business. No one dies in transit. Australia’s got talent wanting to invest in the country. Our reputation as a nation is enhanced. We all regain our hope.

It might not be the best possible alternative, but God knows it is better than either of the current ballot box options.

Doug Williams
Mooroolbark, VIC  3138



The plight of the asylum seekers is very disturbing from a humane point of view. They are in some cases fleeing oppression and violence, in some cases death and terror for their families as a result of war in their homeland where our troops have been involved with other military forces.

This to my mind is an unacceptable situation. It makes me ashamed to be an Australian and ashamed to support a government and opposition that allow this to continue.

These people are human beings, fellow human beings, who desperately need our help in their hour of need to safeguard their families’ future and their own lives.

My mind goes back to the Second World War and the massive adoption and welcoming of the migrants from their devastated countries who were assisted to begin lives here in Australia, the land of the fair go.

These migrant people earned their right to become proud Australians, with their knowledge and work, by helping developments such as our wonderful world-renowned Snowy River Scheme.

Our government and opposition could overcome the present inhumane situations by sending ships overseas to bring the people here safely, instead of the very disgusting, ignorant and cruel gutter sniping tactics in parliament with political lightweights on both sides making political capital out of the people already distressed.

We need a statesman with vision and strength of purpose to work for our great country as opposed to the lightweight politicians who have much more ambition than ability.

I feel that Senator Nick Xenophon’s description of some is very apt indeed.

I am deeply offended as an elder Australian.

DJ Lee
Dimboola, VIC 3414



Mainstream churches are largely made up of old members. If we don’t change this what will the church be like in 20 years? Who will spread God’s word?

We are in crisis. It’s vital that young people also receive the blessing of a Christian faith and take part in our mission to spread God’s love and truth.

Why are young people largely absent from our churches? Is it because there is a perceived disconnect between Christianity’s teaching and the modern world’s scientific understandings?

Too often influential atheists ridicule religion because they have a literal view of the Bible’s teachings, so don’t understand the messages which are relevant today.

So it’s not surprising that people who are presented with a literal view turn away from exploring what religion is about.
The Uniting Church is right in calling for an update of religious education in schools away from Biblical literalism (The Age 1/8/13).
As the UC says, literalism brings the danger of “an implied connection to a God that might also appear redundant and out-dated”.

The Bible, for instance, is a record of ancient people’s views and experiences. The teachings are universal, couched in ancient language and settings. It’s vital for a good education that we are aware that our society has been deeply influenced by the values, history, language, literature, music and visual arts of religion, as well as its connection to our laws and scientific knowledge.

Our society has a high incidence of mental illness, fractured families and materialistic values. As Christians we are required to spread Biblical teachings, which can restore society with such values as love, community and hope.

Marguerite Marshall
Eltham, VIC 3095



Thank you for speaking about the ripple effect the royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse is having.

Several weeks ago, I attempted to write an article on this subject. I was unable to complete it. I intended calling it ‘What about us?’
While pleased the Royal Commission is taking place, I am alarmed at the lack of comment in the media about the areas of abuse it doesn’t cover. Your article is the first mention I have heard of those who were harmed by immediate family members.

In the week when the lectionary readings include the teachings by Jesus of a prayer beginning ‘Our Father’, it is particularly relevant to those of us whose relationship with God has been restricted by an abusive father.

There are a thousand names for Krishna and 99 names for Allah, but we have limited the names of our God to three or four, the main one being Father. It remains a stumbling block for many.

Sexual abuse is rarely isolated from other forms of abuse and is not confined to children. If people have difficulty believing it happens to children it is perhaps not surprising that vulnerable adult women have been scoffed at when trying to report sexual abuse within the church. And not all perpetrators within the church are clergy.

I was pleased to see the Bethel Centre has an ad in the same copy of Crosslight. I know so many of you think the abuse you suffered was so long ago that it is not worth creating a fuss. Many of our perpetrators have died. But if you have been feeling stirred up by memories since the media coverage, I urge you to talk with someone you trust.

It is good to know your pain is recognised and you are not alone. The ‘us’ in ‘What about us?’ includes many people. When I have preached on sexual abuse, about a quarter of the people in the congregations have told me later they were abused. It is a huge burden to be carried by individuals and by communities including the church.

If it was called a cancer, we would be giving millions of dollars to help the sufferers. We are doing a reasonable job of limiting future abuse. Are we willing to give the time, energy and resources so that those who survive may thrive?

Name withheld.



PS Clark (Climate debate, August) is right to be concerned about the world’s poorest people, both in Australia and overseas. However his assertion that the world’s poor have the most to lose if denied access to cheap fossil fuels is confusing.

Scientific evidence for humankind’s effect on climate change is so strong that there is consensus among climatologists:  increasing CO2 emissions contribute to climate change.

Climate change impacts the world’s poorest people ‘first and worst.’ It is already costing lives. Climate change negatively impacts the fight against poverty, and threatens to wipe out recent gains. Poor people are most exposed to climate change. Many developing countries lack infrastructure such as storm walls and water storage that enable developed countries to respond to extreme weather events – which appear to already be increasing in frequency and intensity.

Changing rainfall patterns are devastating agriculture in some areas, and will potentially damage many more. Farmers in Kenya say, ‘the sun is squashing us,’ as the rains no longer come, and if they do, they flood and wash away valuable top soil.

Climate change can potentially reduce the presently achievable goals of eradicating extreme hunger, achieving universal primary education and gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating infectious diseases to idealistic nonsense.

And this is why we absolutely must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, reduce our energy consumption and make clean energy cheaper. This is why the so called ‘Carbon Tax’ is necessary.

Christine Morris
Hoppers Crossing, VIC 3029



I write to respond to PS Clarke’s letter about climate change.  There is much in the letter with which I disagree, starting with the assertion that, “the climate hasn’t warmed.”  If this is so, why is the ice in the Arctic Ocean melting so rapidly?

Secondly, the writer expresses concern about what will happen to the poor “if denied access to cheap fossil fuel energy”. There are too many poor Australians who are currently unable to pay their gas and/or electricity bills, and many others worldwide who have never had access. This is a problem which will only get worse as the supply of oil runs ever lower.

Then, your correspondent refers to “cheap fossil fuel energy which has enhanced human living standards worldwide”. Yes, it has brought many benefits to some of us, but to others it has brought suffering. I’m not only referring to the damage inflicted by fossil fuel powered armaments, but also to the consequences of air and water pollution from mines, factories, and vehicle exhausts.

I, personally, have had my immune system irreversibly damaged by air pollution from city traffic, to the point where I have coughed for over 20 years, with no hope of any relief. And there are many more like me out there, PS Clarke.

Jill Hooke
Golden Square, VIC 3555



The heading ‘Climate debate’ on page 15 of the August Crosslight drew my attention to the letter from PS Clarke, whose eloquent first paragraph raised my critical faculty.

I agree with his assertion that “the world’s poor have most to lose if denied access to cheap fossil fuel energy which [hitherto] has enhanced human living standards worldwide”. But it is always the poor, because of their lack of resources, who are the first to suffer when, for whatever reason, the cost of living rises.

In the case quoted, the carbon taxes, a first step toward coping with climate change, will undoubtedly contribute to “the real and urgent problems facing the poor in Australia and overseas” as a side-effect of “reducing energy by making it more expensive”. An existential problem with no real solution.

What really inspired this letter was PS Clarke’s assertion that “Although CO2 increased by one-third over the last 17 years the climate hasn’t warmed” so presumably we have nothing to worry about. Quite apart from the validity of that bit of special pleading there is incontrovertible evidence of arctic warming, melting ice caps, receding water sheds, collapsing perma-frost etal, all symptoms of drastic climate change. Why has PS Clarke closed his mind to such factors? Too scary?

David Kingsley Parnaby
Castlemaine, VIC 3450

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4 Responses to “Letters”

  1. Brett Carpenter

    I would find the comments of Rev Byrne about the Acacia College disaster to be extraordinary if they were not so typical of pious defeatism that on occasion so infects our Church.

    Compassion for people who oversaw this outrageous episode?

    Acacia College was scandalously run from the very beginning. The property was sold to the Seventh Day Adventists but $56 million is still owed? Where are the explanations? Where are the mea culpas?

    The Rev Byrne cannot possibly be so naive to think the Synod bureaucracy and those elected office bearers in charge of Church funds are the ones who deserve compassion?

    Surely he understands the compassion must be for people who will no longer be able to worship at congregations dislocated, members of our community no longer able to access support from services and programs no longer funded by property sold off to fund this debt.

    The congregations and the people supported by them didn’t have any say over the crazy Acacia College scheme but they are expected to have compassion for those who did and offer no meaningful explanation?

    Brett Carpenter
    East Brighton, Vic

  2. Rev. Brendan Byrne

    I do not know who Brett Carpenter is, but I can tell immediately that he has not the first clue who I am, otherwise he would know that, having spent twenty years in the trade union movement fighting for workplace justice before coming to the ordained ministry, I am not inclined in the least bit to defeatism – pious or otherwise.

    Sadly, the “blame and punish” mentality implicit in Mr Carpenter’s response to my letter is indicative, not only of the very attitude that caused me to write to Crosslight in the first place, but of a much deeper malaise.

    Namely, there is a seemingly widespread desire in the Vic/Tas Synod to find a scapegoat to lynch, instead of facing the painful reality that the Acacia College situation was the result of a whole-of-church failure, and not the culpability of a distinct group upon whom we can pin the blame and then conveniently pillory.

    There were many people at many levels of the Church involved in Acacia College, from both within and without the Synod office. Is Mr Carpenter suggesting we round up those non-Synod office folk involved in the Acacia College matter and subject them to public ridicule and humiliation (given they don’t actually have a “position” from which they can be conveniently “sacked”)? Or is it simply too easy to lay all the blame at the feet of the Synod office staff and whitewash ourselves of any responsibility?

    Moreover, Mr Carpenter’s assertions that no meaningful explanations have been offered simply indicate that he has not being paying attention. There have been plentiful communications detailing the fact that the property divestment is not just for the purpose of retiring debt (not all of which is associated with Acacia College) but also for the purpose of raising funds in order to build up a financial buffer to protect reserves and secure ministry and mission into the future.

    As for compassion: yes, there will need to be sustained and profound support and care for those congregations and ministries directly affected by the property divestment (a point I made in my own contribution to this debate during the last Synod meeting) – but compassion for one group does not warrant or justify vilification of another group. As a church we are going to need compassion all round, a virtue I find distressingly lacking in Mr Carpenter’s response and in the responses of those who apparently share his “blame and shame” attitude.

  3. Brett Carpenter’s response to Brendan Byrne’s letter seemed to take the view that the appropriate way for the Synod to deal with L’Affaire Acacia was the same way that corporations and political parties deal with major institutional goofs: find a scapegoat and punish said scapegoat.

    However, he does not address the main point advanced in Brendan’s letter that Christian churches should be finding better ways to deal with such matters.

  4. While I would never agree with Brett Carpenter that Brendan Byrne is guilty of ‘pious defeatism’ I can understand Mr Carpenter’s concern for those “who will no longer be able to worship at congregations dislocated, members of our community no longer able to access support from services and programs no longer funded by property sold off to fund this debt”. So far any apologies that have been offered have been given to the community around Acacia College, students, parents, teachers, and the local community. The church has acknowledged the faults and mistakes that have let down the Acacia College community. The church has not yet apologised to those who will be affected by the sale of properties.

    I hope that that is only because we don’t know yet exactly who those people will be. Once decisions are made those affected deserve not only compassion but also deep and heartfelt apologies from the rest of the church. We may all be in this together, but some parts of the church will suffer more than others.

    At the Synod meeting, as we heard about the anger from Acacia College teachers, I said to a colleague: Don’t they realise the Church did the best it could? She responded: They don’t care about that, it doesn’t change their experience.

    Just as the Synod understood the anger directed at it by members of the Acacia College community, so we will all have to accept and understand the anger that may be directed at the rest of the Synod by those directly affected.

    There’s no point seeking out scapegoats, but the ‘we’re all involved in this together’ rhetoric doesn’t recognise that some people are more affected by this debacle than others. Those affected most do deserve the most compassion.