Review by ALAN RAY
A senior federal minister was furious about a front page photograph on The Canberra Times newspaper where Graham Downie was the religion reporter. “Haven’t you seen the photo; are you blind?”, demanded the politician. “Yes I am,” replied the author of Servants and Leaders – Eminent Christians in their own words.
This book contains vignettes and interviews by Downie of 27 clergy and lay people over 35 years, including Desmond Tutu, Peter Hollingworth and George Pell. They have shared their views on matters such as church and society, morality and sex, child abuse and homosexuality. These reports chronicle church life of the times and chart ecclesiastical evolution. Most of the interviewees are senior Catholic and Anglican clergy. James Haire, president of the Uniting Church in Australia from 2000 to 2003 is an exception, and he reflects on his missionary life in Indonesia, as well as issues current during his time as president.
Like most newspaper reporters, Downie takes a great interest in the scandals which have beset the church, yet is fair-minded enough to document instances of charity and compassion.
Bishop Tom Frame, in his preface, notes that newspaper reporters present pen portraits of public figures which respond to what they believe will interest their readers, mediated through their own appreciation of what constitutes the public interest. This book represents what Tom Frame calls “the first draft of history”.
This is an enticing, accessible book to dip into to recall the topical religious issues over the last 35 years. It will prompt reflections on where the church has come from in this period and lead, more importantly, to contemplation about where the church should be going in the next 35 years.
Halstead Press. RRP: $28.95.