April 2014 letter

Alcohol is costing us millions of dollars and seriously affecting the wellbeing of our society.

I hate to think how many millions of dollars alcohol abuse is costing our society in trying to provide ‘cures’ instead of offering prevention. Reducing advertising would be a start in the right direction.

Excessive alcohol abuse would be the main cause of such a blowout in hospital and medical costs. It does not take Houdini to understand that our hospitals are full to overloading because of alcohol excess.

By attempting to reduce alcohol consumption then our medical costs would be reduced dramatically. We have been able to reduce smoking with legislation.

Smoking  generally only affects the user, but alcohol affects not only the user but friends, family and loved ones. A person consumed with excessive alcohol has little thought for others that indirectly affects other people’s lives.

I see no valid reason as to why we cannot introduce appropriate legislation similarly to that of smoking except to say that the tax revenue might be lowered and the alcohol industry might suffer less profit. But it may well save lives and improve the wellbeing of society in so many ways.

Dr Ron Roberts
Convenor Social Justice C/tee
Cranbourne Uniting Church


On behalf of High Street UC Church Council, I wish to strongly endorse those multiple calls for a rebuilding of trust in our Uniting Church following the fraught process of ‘divestment’ associated with the (not a little ironically entitled) Uniting our future process.
As the general secretary accurately noted in his 13 December open letter, ‘disappointment and sorrow’ have indeed been shared throughout our church, including our congregation which has not been directly impacted.

However, the opinion piece ‘Acacia, a collective responsibility?’ (Feb 14) which seems to imply that the failure of the Acacia College initiative is effectively shared by the wider church, is surely seriously misguided. Who was even privy to the machinations behind the scenes which led to the manifest failures in process and guidance which transpired?

The lack of transparency which has surrounded this sorry set of events is in no small way a core issue to be recognised and addressed.
Therefore, as we have recommended to the general secretary, we are firmly of the view that one of the most important lessons to be learned, is the need for new lines of communication to and from Synod and its Standing Committee. Trust and openness, even to widely divergent views, are attributes as a church of Christ we should surely uphold.

We strongly advocate an open and searching questionnaire to be sent to each and every congregation actively seeking their considered views about how to rebuild trust and learn lessons from the Acacia saga.

This surely, more than anything else, will reinvigorate a sense of openness and a collective voice for the future. This presents an opportunity to move forward together.

Ross Huggard
Frankston, VIC


What should the Uniting Church do about Religious Education? Here are some suggestions:
– Phase out all forms of its involvement with the special religious instruction programs conducted by Access Ministries in state schools by the end of 2016.
– Encourage the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to provide resources to enable educationally valid Religious Education programs to be taught in state schools by fully trained teachers as part of the mainstream curriculum. This could include courses in religion/s, comparative religion, values and belief systems etc; both as stand-alone subjects and as components of other subjects (eg English, history, personal development, social education, music, art).
– Investigate the scope and nature of existing exemplary religious education programs throughout Australia and world-wide and how such courses could be introduced as part of the mainstream national and Victorian curriculum into Victorian schools P-12.
– Liaise closely with other Christian denominations, faiths and interested parties in achieving the above.
– Provide financial and practical support for all parishes to reinvigorate their programs for school age children. (eg after-school activities, Sunday schools, primary school-age clubs and activities, junior and senior youth groups, online social media, community action projects). It should assist this by providing child and youth support workers, training programs, quality materials and sample exemplary programs and activities.

Tony Lenten
Glen Waverley, VIC


I write in response to the letters in the February and March editions of Crosslight regarding bullying behaviour in the church.
Bullying, I now realise, is a term that actually covers a vast area and various forms of abuse.
I, too, am a victim and sought help as best I could many times but to no avail. It seemed it was my problem. I was the one in the wrong.
It has taken me a long time to recognise verbal abuse for what it is and what it does; the use of words to reject any suggestion or contribution to the life of the church. This leaves a person feeling worthless – of no value.
The bullied (abused) person becomes so devastated they no longer seek help and withdraw to avoid further abuse.
I wonder how many have left the UC for this very reason.

Name withheld


Some realism needs to be fed into the debate about people coming to our shores through the aid of people smugglers and the detention of them. As long as Indonesia doesn’t have the where-with-all to cater for all these people flooding into their country, the leaving from their shores through people smugglers will be an attractive avenue for reducing the drain on their country.

Australia is not the only country in the same situation but what makes it more convenient for Indonesia is our close proximity to their shores and the ease of which they can send asylum seekers and refugees to us.

This is a problem that Australia should not be facing alone. The whole world, particularly the wealthier countries, should be together resolving this crisis, for it is a world crisis.

Through a meeting of world leaders, Indonesia and other nations in deep crisis should be given assistance to cope with a population explosion that other countries like Australia don’t necessarily have but can lend some help in relieving these countries from the danger to their own communities.

Those with a solution to this problem like The Hon Malcolm Fraser are dreaming. Australia will never resolve this by themselves; our governments have tried and have failed. While it is about people and love for our neighbour it is also about balancing the population of our world and helping to heal countries in crisis.

Norman Warren
Strathmore Heights, VIC


The following letter was sent to Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison last month:

Re: Manus Island asylum policy

We appreciate the responsibility that falls to you in the formulation of policy regarding Asylum Seekers. This is a challenging area and there are many voices to be heard and considered. We want to express our concerns and we raise four questions for your response.
We are a group of people with many decades of experience working in Papua New Guinea, in both village and institutional arenas.

We also have current links as active partners with various regions and institutions of the United Church of PNG.  Our experience embraces educational, medical and economic policies and programs and we have close links to grass-roots congregations and their leaders. We have shared village and urban life with them.    We look at current issues regarding asylum seekers from the viewpoints of both Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Like many Australians, we have enormous concerns relating to the way we are handling our border protection. We are glad that Australia is a signatory to the Human Rights Convention and has ratified this commitment in domestic legislation.  We are therefore alarmed that recent policy changes seem to be an abrogation of Australia’s commitment.

1. Can you please clarify whether offshore processing and settlement is consistent with Australia’s HRC obligations?
2. We are especially concerned about the plan to release asylum seekers into the PNG community with refugee status.
3. Can you please advise us how the policy safeguards the human rights of the people of PNG who are under pressure from Australia to accept the refugees?
4. What policies are in place regarding housing, health, education and employment for asylum seekers who may be released to live on Manus Island or elsewhere in PNG?
5. PNG is a nation struggling for unity and development, in need of understanding and support from the more developed world, especially from Australia.  We are aware that land ownership in PNG is often a matter for conflict and that the people of Manus Island may despair at the loss of the use of their land.  We have learnt that the PNG Parliament is currently considering the constitutional validity of some commercial and other leases.  It will be most unhelpful if Australia becomes implicated in these matters.
6. What arrangements has your department made to avoid conflict over land in a country where government land is scarce?
We look forward to your response to the above questions as soon as possible.
Margaret White,   President
(on behalf of 49 members )

Friends of the United Church of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (Victoria)


“Your faith has made you whole,” said Jesus. But the bully either consciously or subconsciously aims to destroy your “wholeness”.

It is a very serious offence in any community given the impact on the victim’s life, but even more so in our church life where it is unexpected.

It surprises me therefore that the UCA Regulations define bullying only as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ when in reality it is an assault on the psychological integrity and wellbeing of the victim.

Nothing alters the fact that the churches’ responses to cases of abusive behaviour, bullying and harassment are lacking in compassion for the victim (who has a right to expect sympathetic support) but also in discipline of the offender/perpetrator.

It is this latter aspect that I wish to address here. The UCA Regulations place the responsibility for discipline of members with the church council in the first instance and provide as a last resort that a member can be removed from the church roll.

Based on my experience councils are reluctant to accept this responsibility resulting in the bully feeling validated in the actions and possibly even empowered, when they should be held accountable for their behaviour and made to accept responsibility for the hurt they have caused.

It is very clear that councils are incapable of addressing these very serious issues and synod needs to find a new way forward.
One possibility would be to form an ‘Abuse Response Team’ of persons trained in psychology as a first point of reference to meet separately with the victim to provide the ongoing support needed, and with the offender to resolve the matter including appropriate discipline.

I will end with a quote from the Dalai Lama who said: “I love your Jesus, but not your Christians.”

The challenge for the UC is to live as a loving people of Jesus, to respect each other and to find a way to overcome these destructive influences in our church life.

Robert Serpell
Manningham Uniting Church


Adding to Rev Lauren Mosso’s advice re: abuse and bullying that “support and counselling may be obtained from Bethel Pastoral Centre” (March 2014).

I bring to attention a study titled Power in the Pews – The Impact of Abuse and Bullying Of Ministers Perpetrated by Members of the Congregation by Hannah Peterson, 2004, available online from: bethel.victas.uca.org.au

‘Congregation’ in Peterson’s study is qualified as “…abuse and bullying at the congregation level… by people in positions of leadership.”
Abuse and bullying of ministers is far more insidious than acknowledged because it is often denied and hidden.

It is denied and hidden from the broader congregation because the perpetrator is either an individual working, or a core group colluding, against the minister.

The secrecy from the wider congregation is part of the control of the minister. Abuse and bullying is more than bad behaviour.
These situations need to be named and challenged as they occur. Only then may we expect alleviation and, hopefully, allow a healing process for the perpetrators, the congregation and the minister.

Peterson’s study has in it eight recommendations which, if put in place, will at least publicly acknowledge the existence of abuse and bullying in one area in the Church. It will recognise that leaders who are to show care and support to ministers sometimes in fact demean and negate that minister’s gifts and call to ministry. At worst, this results in the minister’s ill health and/or resignation.

Name withheld


I am a recent adherent of the Church and I come from a multi-cultural, multi-faith country where the words ‘God’s Will’ or ‘It’s God’s Will’ are often offered as an explanation or words of solace to those affected by the unexpected and the tragic, the unforeseeable and the calamitous.

In a Judeo-Christian culture like Australia’s, Christians may not be comfortable with ascribing such events to ‘God’s Will’. The statement could be understood the wrong way, especially in the fresh wake of a disaster for example, and could be seen as an inane or even a blasphemous utterance. God is always a loving God, never a capricious nor cruel one.

In an Islam-centric culture however, the statement ‘God’s Will’ is not meant to imply God is anything other than good and compassionate. It’s taken to encompass the concept of takdir or fate, something no one can do to prevent or avoid. But as God is omnipotent and almighty, He must be having ultimate control over fate. So if something adverse happens, it is because He lets it happen.

It is ‘His Will’ and Man cannot but accept it. (Islam, by the way, means submission to the will of God).

This belief has a practical side to it. It gives victims and the bereaved some peace of mind where otherwise they could be torturing themselves with countless ‘if only’ scenarios eg ‘if only I had stopped him from making that trip…’

I think ‘God’s Will’ is man’s way of trying to assign reason to randomness, to see some semblance of order in chaos, to explain the ‘why-ness’ that has no answers. Above all, it is man’s attempt to comfort and console man.

I hope my attempt at explaining ‘God’s Will’ in the cultural context will go a little way towards clearing misconceptions and help promote inter-faith goodwill and understanding.

Kimmy Fam
Ballarat, VIC


The Russian occupation of Crimea is indeed wrong. However, the West’s assertion that Mr Putin has conducted an outrageous intrusion into an independent democratic nation, as reported by our newsmedia in recent weeks, is not correct.

The ousting of the democratically elected president, Victor Yanukovych, by a group of right-wing dissidents and neo-Nazis deprived Ukraine of its democratic status. Yanukovych was elected in 2010 by a majority in an election judged by a panel of international observers to be democratic and fair. He became a pariah to a few right-wing elements when he opted for generous economic support from Russia.

No independent observer is able to point out what was wrong with Yanukovych accepting the Russian economic assistance in preference to an inferior EU offer.

An investigative US journalist, Robert Parry, exposes the reason behind the opposition to Yanukovych in an article, “A shadow foreign policy” in Consortium News (28/2/2014).  (http://consortiumnews.com/2014/02/27/a-shadow-us-foreign-policy/).

According to Parry, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – Ronald Reagan’s propaganda war against Soviet Union – has evolved into a $100 million US government-financed slush fund to promote the neocons’ agenda to destabilise regimes of which they disapprove.

The neocons have been aiding and abetting right-wing dissidents including neo-Nazis in Ukraine to overthrow Yanukovych.
Judging from destabilisation initiated by neocons in other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria et al) this is only the beginning of bloodshed in Ukraine. Parry points out that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Dick Cheney, a prominent neocon, wanted to disempower Russia by dismantling it. Russia recognised this, and it is not surprising that Putin has occupied Crimea.

Dr Bill Mathew
Parkville, VIC

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