Letters to the editor – June 2016

Foreign aid

It was extremely disturbing to read that over $11 billion has been slashed from Australia’s overseas aid budget during the past few years (‘Stop foreign aid cuts,’ Crosslight, May).

I’m sure the lives of many poor and vulnerable people have been put at risk by these horrific cuts.

I ask Uniting Church members to urge the candidate and political party for whom they plan to vote on 2nd July to have the courage and compassion to begin rapidly increasing overseas aid again.

At present Australia gives just 22 cents in every $100 of gross national income to foreign aid. This is our lowest level of giving ever.

As the article in Crosslight states, Australia is a prosperous nation and I believe we can share much more of our wealth with developing countries.

Robert Van Zetten
Highton VIC


Yarra Junction history

I am part of a group researching and writing the history of Yarra Junction, a town in the Yarra Valley.

I am currently doing oral history interviews and am seeking anyone who may have attended either of these churches prior to or post amalgamation into the Uniting Church.

I am also interested in hearing from visitors to any local guest houses that attended either of the two pre union churches or the Uniting Church, or whose parents or grandparents attended, and about which you may have reminiscences either of church activities, Sunday school picnics, Sunday School anniversaries.

If anyone has photographs of any church activities or functions I would be interested in copying them too.

I can be contacted at wothomas@optusnet.com.au

Warren Thomas


Still lucky

In the late 18th century Thomas Paine called on the Americans to declare their independence: “Whatever we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. Heaven knows how to put a price on its goods, and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”

Australia is going to the polls in a few weeks’ time.  As history has shown, the freedom to choose or form your own government can be hard won.

Australia is lucky that it did not have to undergo a battle-scarred revolution to gain such freedom. Australians are lucky too that the country values a fully democratic process when electing governments. The ‘fair-go’ is given pride of place in the national psyche, where losers graciously accept the people’s decision and allow for a peaceful transition of power.

A total change of government is still a cherished dream by our northerly neighbours, who live in countries which are ‘democracies-in-form’ only.  Even uncomplimentary cartoon caricatures of leaders can earn you a dreaded midnight knock on the door.

Tied up with freedom is the concept of equality. The road to universal suffrage – the right to vote and to run for office – for western democracies has been a long and fretfully-taken one. Even during the so-called age of Enlightenment in the 19th and 20th centuries, women, the poor and non-whites had to wait their turn.

Two millennia ago, the apostle Paul wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 4:28). It may have taken quite a while for western democracies to mirror this powerful and defining spirit of Christianity. But we got there in the end.

Steven Ching
Ballarat VIC


Puzzling response

I am puzzled on several fronts by the response of John Gunson (Letters, May Crosslight) to my ‘Ferment, Change and the Church’s Vocation’ (April Crosslight).

I am puzzled, firstly, by his suggestion that I blamed the ‘materialistic world’ for the church’s ‘failures’. Far from blaming anyone for anything or accusing the church of failure, I was giving reasons for suggesting that the church could let go of its pervasive sense of failure. What I did do was sketch some of the cultural realities which mean that the way of Jesus is now simply one option among many around which contemporary Australians freely choose to build their lives. Why should we expect that people will choose the way of Jesus if the church was more authentic in its witness? This assumption of the automatic attractiveness of Jesus is an assumption of Christendom and we must let it go.

I am puzzled, secondly, by his definition of the ‘key issue’ facing the church is its ‘failure’ to accept the ‘changed thinking’ that came with the ‘European Enlightenment’.  My puzzle is that he can invest the Enlightenment with such confidence. Contemporary scholars have exposed its ideological prejudices and subject it to various levels of entirely justified suspicion. One manifestation of this is the number of contemporary thinkers who reach back behind the Enlightenment to retrieve some of Christianity’s classical ideas. Several leading atheist philosophers, Žižek and Badiou for example, find insights in the apostle Paul of crucial contemporary significance. Public intellectuals such as Marilynne Robinson and Terry Eagleton offer incisive critiques of Enlightenment ideas and draw on pre-modern Christian theology to shape their own contributions to public discourse.

I am puzzled, thirdly, that he speaks of ‘the Enlightenment’ in the singular. It is a staple of all scholars of the modern period that there were multiple Enlightenments throughout Europe and the British Isles during the 18th and 19th centuries. There never was an ‘Enlightenment’ that was the end game for classical Christianity that it is often claimed to be. That people think there was, is simply a reflection of the success of ‘the’ Enlightenment’s own mythology.

Those who would call us back to ‘the Enlightenment’ are, I suspect, unaware how easily they are heard as actually calling us back to the 1960s when the Enlightenment (and in the 1960s it was still understood in the singular) held mainline liberal Protestants in its all-encompassing thrall. But if we are to pursue an intellectually serious dialogue with the diverse worldviews of our contemporary culture we will need to resist calls to ‘accept the Enlightenment’ and humbly take our place in our own cultural milieu whilst engaging the diverse legacies of the various European Enlightenments as they should be: as some among many of the various conversation partners we must engage as we patiently develop a contemporary Christian vision.

Geoff Thompson,
Pilgrim Theological College


Open letter to the Uniting Church in Australia (please cherish the Bible)

As a child, I was dragged to the local Presbyterian Church, now a Uniting Church.  I never heard the gospel then and became a Christian much later in life. My dad was an elder there, despite being non-Christian.

Uniting Churches vary greatly and I have attended congregations dedicated to God. That’s the problem – the variance. Some churches are man-centred, but the Christ-centred congregations acquiesce. The Uniting Church considers itself progressive, and may sometimes ordain homosexuals or deny Christ’s divinity. Some congregations object, but only temporarily.

I was recently looking for a church in Melbourne that my mother and I could visit. She mentioned she had heard Francis MacNab preaching years ago. Mum had not become a Christian at that time and only became a Christian recently (she attends an excellent Uniting Church).

I was delighted to discover that MacNab was still preaching, but then read what this Collins Street Uniting Church minister believes. He apparently denies Christ’s divinity, denigrates Moses as a mass murderer, reads myths into Bible stories and considers the 10 Commandments too negative for today. In fact, MacNab wrote a positive version of the Commandments, labelling his rewriting of the Bible to make it more ‘believable’ as the ‘new faith’.

Those keeping Uniting Church ministers and congregations accountable (from moderator to elders) have not been fulfilling their God-assigned role. They may have been attending meetings like my non-Christian dad did, but they have not been cherishing the Bible, seeking God or acting in the Holy Spirit’s power. I truly hope and pray that as the Uniting Church slips along the path of intolerant tolerance (or ‘unity in diversity’ as the Pope calls it), that many within the Uniting Church will stand for Biblical truth, refusing to tolerate such deadly false doctrines.

Cameron Russell
Via email


Good reads

I was interested to read Bob Faser’s book review of Out of the Ordinary: Twelve Australian Methodist Biographies in the last Crosslight. Perhaps Bob had the period he was reviewing in mind (1902-1977) when he said that most scholars from a Methodist background tended to concentrate on topics of ecumenical interest rather than those of mainly ex-Methodist interest.

I totally agree with Bob’s remark that, “It is essential that we are aware of the Methodist dimension of the UCA’s heritage”. In our rush to be progressive and popular it is easy to depreciate and downsize the importance of history. Rather than ignoring or apologising for the past, we need to tell the positive story of the church’s significant contribution to the development of our State. We cannot live in the past traditions of our three churches, but if we do not respect them enough to learn what they believed and what motivated them, we have lost touch with who we really are.

I point out that last year marked the 200th anniversary of the Bible Christian Methodist movement and also the arrival of the first Wesleyan Methodist minister in Sydney. This produced a range of excellent publications. Travis McHarg has written The Bible Christian Church in Victoria 1850-1902 and last year the SA Uniting Church Historical Society published my detailed story of the movement and how they spread into Victoria, Bible Christian Methodists in South Australia 1850- 1900, a Biography of Chapel and their people. These are significant accounts of the faith of our forefathers that should stretch us beyond mere nostalgia to equipping and projecting us into embracing the future.

Rev E A (Ted) Curnow
Langwarrin, VIC

Chosen in the cosmos

The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 26th birthday on 24 April 2016. I know this event will never steal the march on the significance of Anzac day (25 April) but still, over a quarter of a century of peering into the universe deserves some mention. It was launched into space, 552 km above the Earth’s atmosphere in 1990. It has a mirror 2.4 m across and ‘observes’ invisible, near-ultraviolet and infra-red spectra. We can now see, among other extra-terrestrial bodies and activities not only in our home galaxy (the Milky Way), but also the Andromeda Galaxy, our largest galactic neighbour. Scientists are also able to discern by the light spectrum if any planet has the conditions necessary for life.

Despite two-and-a-half decades of scanning the universe, no other ‘Goldilocks’ planet with just the right conditions for life has been detected. Either the atmosphere is wrong or the temperature is wrong or the gravity is wrong or the matter-composition is wrong (many planets, like our Jupiter and Saturn are just giant balls of gas, one step and you sink right through!). The facts so far dovetail into the conclusion that we are, to put it over-simply perhaps, alone and unique. Sorry, no Klingons or Vulcans out there, just us Earthlings hurtling through space on the third rock from the sun.

If we could stand on the Hubble and look back at our big blue marble, we cannot help but realise how small we are, how lost in the endlessness of the cosmos we are… and yet at the same time how ‘chosen’ we are. A speck of life amidst an infinity of lifelessness. Many an astronaut who has seen Earth thus, has been overcome by what they realise as the design and handiwork of God.

The light show extravaganza in the heavens has been there since the beginning of time. The Hubble only gave us glasses with which to see them better. We slap ourselves on the back when we discover a super nova or two. But I wonder if we give credit where it is due. Where space, time, matter and life is concerned, the venerable Fulton J Sheen said it all when he wrote: “God is the author, scientists just the proof-readers.”

Kimmy Fam
Ballarat, VIC


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