in service of the
This week the Royal Commission made it clear that it would like a law passed through our federal parliament mandating priests who hear a confession relating to child abuse to pass the information on to appropriate authorities. While Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council has signalled sympathy even support for this request, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, says such a requirement would be an infringement of ‘freedom of religion’; and Fr Frank Brennan, in an Opinion Piece in the Fairfax papers, has said if this became law he would simply disobey or cease hearing confessions.
The general population and perhaps even a significant proportion of the catholic community will find this response very hard to understand or accept given the gravity of the situation in which the Church finds itself.
Neither the Archbishop nor Father Brennan have given a considered argument to defend their position, probably because of the reality that an argument based in theology or canon law would not be easy reading in the secular press!
Let me have a shot at it. I assume both Archbishop Hart and Father Brenan are coming from a traditional catholic position that the sacerdotal ministries of the Church are not incidental but necessary and effective conduits of grace to eternal salvation. That is to say, to deny the seal of the confessional to a person in mortal danger who wishes to confess the crime of child abuse is to potentially deny that person their opportunity of salvation. It has been the Roman Catholic position that the capacity to forgive sins, given by Christ to his Church, is facilitated through a sacerdotal priesthood that for more than a thousand years has been expected to be male and celibate.
Five hundred years ago this October Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, heralding the European Reformation. Luther considered many practices of the Roman Church to be abuses, most notably the practice of indulgencies as effective instruments of salvation. But significantly he upheld the importance of confession and it is believed went regularly to confession himself until his death. (Some might suggest his rather florid language should have made this a necessity)!
However, after a struggle in which he wanted to uphold the importance of confession, he considered confession to be a ‘pastoral’ sacrament (along with marriage, unction etc) and not of the same standing as the dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist or Mass). In large measure the Anglican Church, which has retained catholic practice, has adopted Luther’s position.
As a pastoral sacrament, confession, including its seal of confidentiality should be honoured and protected.
Traditionally the sacrament of confession and the absolution that flows from it comprises three parts.
· Contrition - genuine sorrow or penitence of heart
· Confession – the declaring of the fault
· Sanctification – the performance of certain acts, usually of a pious nature.
Luther was critical of the place of sanctification, not in the general sense, but in the specific sense of being a means through which absolution could be achieved. He of course argued that forgiveness is an unwarranted gift of grace, not placated or warranted through any act of ours other than the contrition itself.
It is not the priestly absolution that secures forgiveness and restitution, but grace that flows from genuine contrition, the desire for amendment of life and where it is appropriate or possible, action which heals or restores the hurt and damage caused. Absolution is the outward confirmation of the inner movement of the heart, through the grace of God.
Religious confession (like the oath taken on the bible in a court) assumes the one taking the oath or the one confessing ‘fears’ the judgement that flows from their action, and recognises accountability to God.
No human being alive is immune from the need for ‘amendment of life’. Being able to confess a mistake or misstep to another is one sure path of preventing such an error becoming a pattern, a habit, or a way of life. For those with faith in God, to confess to one appropriately authorised (priest) is a gift of grace.
There are times in most lives when regret or remorse becomes a burden. Often the reason for remorse was not an intended action but an unintended consequence. The relief of this burden is an absolute necessity for a healthy life to be able to embrace the present. For those with religious faith, again the sacrament of confession is a channel of grace.
The capacity to talk in the strictest confidence to another is essential if a person is to be enabled to negotiate troubled pathways and to reveal what needs to be revealed for health wholeness and forgiveness. The seal of the confessional is essential.
All of these and many others are pastoral needs met through confession.
However, a person confessing a crime, especially a crime of the gravity of child abuse, cannot expect the assurance of absolution unless the consequences of that action are faced. The facing inevitably means facing consequences in law. Christian practice has always recognised the legitimacy and obligation of civil law. If hurt has been done to another, especially hurt caused through violation of laws of the state, then the consequences of that violation have to be met. It is one matter for a person to seek and receive forgiveness, it is quite another for the consequences of the act or behaviour to be properly addressed. The one does not mitigate the other. Even today it appears there are many, some in Church leadership, who have not properly understood the lifelong damage done through abuse of children.
Biblical teaching as well as state law recognises that violation or hurt of a child is most grievous.
For Archbishop Hart of Melbourne to argue that if child abuse revealed in the sacrament of confession has to be mandatorily reported it would be a violation of ‘freedom of religion’ is absolute nonsense. For the one making the confession to genuinely be restored, for their sake as well as for the sake of the one who has been damaged, meeting the consequences of their action according to law is a necessity. It would of course be wrong for a person to be ‘entrapped’. It needs to be made clear that evidence of this crime has to be reported. It would also be wrong for the person who has had the courage to come to confession is abandoned. The priest or another acceptable person should accompany the penitent on the long and tortuous journey ahead, giving outward and tangible evidence of divine grace and redemption which never ceases to be on offer.
‘Freedom of Religion’ will be seen as having no place within Australian society if it appears, even by default, to protect an abuser from the consequences of their criminal behaviour. Nor will it be seen as a right worth protecting if it gives clergy an immunity not enjoyed by teachers or people of other professions who have a mandatory obligation to refer information relating to abuse, even if that information is uncertain.
Freedom of religion should not and cannot protect any from the application of civil law unless that law is clearly immoral.
It is my hope and prayer that the request of the Commission becomes law and that Father Brenan will hear confessions for a very long time to come, without doubt his ministry is and will be a blessing to the many who are fortunate enough to benefit from his profound wisdom and counsel.
Centre for Values Ethics and Compassion
What do Holly Ransom (Chair of G20 Youth coalition), Mark Tedeschi (crown prosecutor and promoter of civil rights), Michael Sheldrick (eliminate polio campaigner, WA youth of the year and Global Citizen), Richard Stirzaker (CSIRO scientist and soil chameleon inventor), Toby Gunn (save the children advocate and Nauru detention centre whistleblower), Yasmin Abdel – Magied (civil engineer, Sudanese born Muslim), Sarah Bachelard (philosopher and theologian) and Sam Bailey (Pilot, farmer, author and quadriplegic) have in common? They were all speakers at this year’s Radford College (Canberra) Dirrum Festival run by its students and Chaplain.
How did they pull off a line up like that? I have no idea!!
Would the speakers be speaking into values which could boldly be described as ‘Australian values’? The public recognition already afforded them screams yes - unequivocally. Each in their own way has been acknowledged, applauded, recognised, through awards in the media and at a regional, state, national or international level. Why have they been so recognised: because they stand out from the pack in terms of compassion, integrity, imagination and sheer tenacity for good?
What are those values? The simplest way of describing them is to say that they all live a version of the principle that for good to be good it has to be common.
While many of the speakers would not be described comfortably as ‘Christian’ – and one is obviously Muslim – are their values Christian? Absolutely yes! Why? Because belief in a God who is revealed in the human face of Jesus requires the believer to stand for justice, equity, and equal opportunity, indeed to stand for the common good.
And could their values be described as Australian or rather, do Australian values work for the common good? Is the good of ‘Australian’ values limited to the Australian border?
Our soldiers have been engaged in conflicts abroad, fighting against Nazism and keeping peace BECAUSE our values take us there, fighting alongside others on the premise that freedom, dignity and justice are common and worth sacrificing for, beyond even our borders. Asking as Yassmin did (albeit naively on ANZAC day) if those values are being upheld on Nauru and Manus, would thus be a traditionally ‘Australian’ thing to do.
In my hearing I gained some clear messages from the stories and initiatives of these (mostly) young men and women about the nature of the good, of Australian values. They – and also their young student hosts – challenged how common and broad our values should be applied. From them I heard a very clear affirmation that if there is such a thing as Australian values, then they must work for what is common, global, human, and when they don’t, they have become un-Australian. With this logic, I clearly heard:
· It is un-Australian for this country to manipulate our common border with Timor-Leste that Australia might gain the lion’s share of gas and oil – which is what we have done.
· It is un-Australian to hold Asylum seekers, confirmed as refugees by the UNHCR, in cruel and indefinite detention – which is what we have done.
· It is un-Australian to inflict permanent psychological damage on refugee children known only by their boat arrival number – which is what we have done. Toby Gunn, the speaker, risks two years in gaol every time he says so.
· It is un-Australian for inventive ingenuity to be focused solely on profit. It is very Australian to invent a piece of technology which enables life giving productivity to African subsistence farmers. CSIRO has been changed from an institute committed to pure science which betters the lives of all, to an organisation which focuses on commercialisation. This is what has recently happened – it is un-Australian.
· It is un-Australian not to recognise that our nation has been built on many injustices against its indigenous people including an attempt at ethnic cleansing. Mark Tedeschi’s account of the Myall Creek massacre, its aftermath, and the role played by John Hubert Plunkett the NSW Attorney General should be compulsory reading for all Australians.
· It is un-Australian for Yasmin Abdel Magied to have been pilloried because of her comments about ANZAC and its place in the Australian psyche. What was it about her that made her comments unacceptable? Is it that she is Sudanese born, that she is a Muslim, that she is female, or perhaps that she has had the audacity to put her head way above the parapet?
Now let me come to the rub. I have a feeling that values expressed at the festival would have been interpreted by some as representing an ideological position, perhaps a politically ideological position, out of keeping with the aspirations of those who presume it is their right to define Australian values. Why wouldn’t aspirations for justice, compassion and equity be apolitical? Why wouldn’t every parent expect these values to be at the absolute core of what is taught at their children’s school? Why wouldn’t all Australian politicians assume that these are the values of Australians?
Why wouldn’t these values, expressed by the causes picked up by the students, be at the very heart of the policy initiatives of the Church? Why is the Church seemingly more comfortable talking about personal piety, than the implications of that piety when it is lived out publicly in a courageous life of faith?
Students living the Dirrum values, Australian values, Christian values, you give me confidence in the future; confidence that leaders of your generation have caught a vision that good has to be common, that if it is not common it is probably not good, that independence is a mirage, but that dependence is disempowering and diminishes us. I am confident that you understand that it is mutual interdependence which gives us wings.
Palestinian Recognition - An Obligation
One hundred years ago (1917), in the final years of the WW1, and to encourage an Arab uprising against the Ottomans (part of the German alliance), a promise of Arab autonomy after that war was made and understood. Arabs fought with the allies, including Australians, to push the Ottomans out of the Middle East. The Battle of Beersheba was part of this campaign. It had nothing to do with the establishment of modern day Israel.
At the same time, to gain Jewish influence and pressure within the US and to convince President Wilson to enter the war, the Balfour Declaration was made, promising a Jewish State on the condition that the rights and customs of the pre-existing Arab community were safeguarded and respected.
Seventy years ago (1948) Palestine was partitioned with the intention that there would be two States, Israel and Palestine of roughly equal size. Because of the losses suffered through the conflict that followed partition, Israel became 78% of the territory and Palestine 22%. Palestine still awaits its autonomy on less than one quarter of the original territory. (Israel would deny them even this). Palestinians suffered what they call the Nakba or disaster, when thousands of Palestinians were summarily pushed off their land, their houses confiscated without compensation, and thousands made refugees, a state in which they have remained ever since.
Fifty years ago (1967) the six-day war was fought and decisively won. . Israel seized the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai. The Sinai was subsequently returned to Egypt. The West Bank has remained occupied and Gaza blockaded with oppressive military force.
The obligation of the international community to safeguard and respect the rights of the Palestinian community is equal to the obligation of securing safety, freedom and autonomy to the Jewish community. The fulfilment of this obligation has waited far too long.
Fast forward to the present day:
A considerable majority of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) are on record as saying that Palestinians will never be allowed autonomy in their own State – not even this paltry 22% that they have agreed to accept.
Israel has passed a Bill authorising the stealing of Palestinian property by the settlers
The deluge of settlements on Palestinian land continues to escalate, 6000 this year alone.
Palestinian civilians are subject to the brutality of military law, the settlers live under civil law.
Israel clearly intends to extend its borders until they encompass the totality of historic Palestine. To do so is to extend and make permanent a system of apartheid, in which Palestinians will remain second or third class citizens in perpetuity
While there are significant human rights abuses in many countries, Israel is the only country claiming ‘western values of democracy and justice’ to be in such flagrant violation of these values and of international law.
Israel needs to know that maintaining the occupation and the oppressive breach of human rights that accompany it, is totally unacceptable and a price will be paid for its continuance.
One Hundred and Thirty nations have already recognised Palestine including the Vatican.
Most State Assemblies of the Australian Labor Party (South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and NSW) have moved resolutions in favour of immediate recognition of Palestine.
Labor nationally will probably follow suit.
There are decisive moments in history when courageous leadership is called for.
Whitlam had that courage to recognise China in 1971
Howard had that courage in the recognition and defence of Timor in 1999
Turnbull and the Australian people need to express the same courage in relation to Palestine today.
Not to do so, is to ignore the obligation of history, to condone human rights violations by a country that claims the same values as Australia and to maintain ad infinitum a cause for ongoing conflict in one of the world’s most troubled regions.
Male headship, which is a non-negotiable article of faith amongst Sydney Anglicans and many Protestant Churches, notably non-aligned Baptist Churches, has received considerable recent attention as a result of the journalistic investigation conducted by Julia Baird. Julia is not an anti-Church polemicist, quite the contrary; she and her instantly recognisable family are themselves active in their Christian faith and Church attendance,
Julia’s investigation has shown an existential link between this article of faith and the practice of domestic violence. It is hardly surprising therefore that Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Sydney in their defence of this ‘biblical verity’ have argued that any connection between it and domestic violence is the result of a total misunderstanding. But is this defence believable? A spirited defence of headship is required by those who hold it because of their understanding that the proposition is not simply a vague doctrine amongst many others, but rather an essential pillar undergirding the very order of creation.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of Christian men who espouse this doctrine find any form of domestic violence repulsive and in their marriages are genuinely loving; practicing a principle of equality to the very best of their ability.
However, there is no getting away from the reality that the flip side of headship is subjugation. If biblical headship in fact means the one who holds this responsibility, is the chief servant and puts himself last, as the Archbishop would have us believe, then I suggest another word or metaphor should be found to express this truth. But this is not what those who espouse this doctrine mean. They mean that the male is the head in a manner that women can never be. This is expressed in the Church through insistence that women should not be licensed to preach, or teach, or hold a position of authority over men. Women are clearly subservient to men. Its implication in marriage is that men take the lead in decision making. I grew up in a conservative evangelical family where this doctrine was subscribed. It was a loving family and I consider myself to have enjoyed a blessed childhood, but it was a family situation in which my mother accepted with enormous grace and humility that subservience was her lot. It was her grace and humility that formed her children.
On the Drum the Archbishop argued his case by saying that men and women are different and there are things women can do that men cannot and vice versa. The example he gave was that men cannot have babies. Clearly there are physiological differences between the genders, but it is a very long bow to claim that as a result of physiology, relational or leadership roles are possible to one and not the other. It seems pretty obvious that marriage roles are totally reversible and that tasks or oversights undertaken by the woman in one marriage are more suited to the man in the other and vice versa.
Is the doctrine of male headship arguable from scripture? Yes of course it is. Does it therefore mean that is right? No it does not. There are many positions that can be argued from certain biblical texts. Am I inferring that scripture lacks authority? No I am not. What I am saying is that scripture speaks to scripture and the overriding character or virtue required of followers of Jesus is a lack of ambition to do anything other than to serve. It cannot, indeed it must not be the implicit or explicit teaching of the Church that anyone has the right, let alone the mandate to Lord it as ‘head’ over another.
Whether or not there is some ‘misunderstanding’ of the doctrine is not the point. The inference of headship is not acceptable because of the connotations it carries. Male headship has carried cultural accretions over the years which have taken a long time to be abandoned, sometimes requiring enormous energy. Many would argue, with justification, there remains a long way to go. It is not long ago that female suffrage had to be fought for. Traditional marriages carry symbolic images of women being passed from one male (parent) to another (husband). While this meaning is not front and centre in the minds of modern brides, nevertheless the ‘giving away’ and the veil carry the inference that female identity is derived through the male.
We in Australia have to be honest in admitting that domestic violence is endemic and that it is present across all economic, social, racial and religious communities. Sadly it is most often present when the family unit is under stress through disadvantage, crisis, change of status and inequality. Statistically domestic violence is most prevalent in indigenous communities.
Any teaching that has the capacity for gross manipulation, however wholesome it might seem to its adherents, should be abandoned. Surely the quality one might expect in a Christian home of joint responsibility and loving care expressed through and between parents does not need to be loaded with a teaching that can have, and does have some very cruel implications.
SADDAM Hussein was a brutal dictator to those who were not his own, especially Kurds and Shi’ites. Removing him, no matter what followed, was imagined to leave Iraq a better place and Iraqi citizens full of gratitude. But it has not, it has been whole lot worse for thousands and thousands of Iraqis and gratitude is the last thing they feel. While it is not helpful to point the finger of blame (who is more to blame than anyone else?), it is important to recognise that post Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been a much darker, conflict riven place than it was while he was alive.
Removing ISIS from Iraq and especially from Mosul is more obviously a step in the right direction. The world has seldom seen a more brutal regime, born out of a brutal ideology, devoid of any recognisable religious faith. But will the people of Mosul experience the days to come as better? Having now achieved its military freedom, what now for Mosul? Will Mosul now be a ‘better’ place than it was even under the ISIS thugs or will it be a place of hopelessness and squalor? If it is the latter, then one thing can be predicted with certainty, violence and the threat of violence will remain behind every pile of rubble. In helping to ‘free’ Mosul with human life and suffering commensurate with or greater than leaving them in charge, how are we better than ISIS if we now walk away and leave Mosul residents to their own devices?
Australia has played a small, but we are led to believe, a crucial role in the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, a role played out in the strategic training of the Iraqi army and in the bombing of ISIS positions in the city. The city is now in ruins and its citizens in a state of great pain and deprivation. Iraqis are clearly stoic and resilient people, but how are they to recover from this position? Does the Iraqi government have the will and determination to care for its people and restore their humanity in a truly non-partisan manner, or are we to see another stage in the ongoing struggle for one faction’s dominance over another? Equally important, even if it does have the will, does it have the capacity?
Australia was a high profile partner in the campaign to topple Saddam. That this was an ill-conceived campaign based upon a falsehood is a fact of history. What is also a fact of history is that the Allies have been entirely negligent in their strategy to support, nurture and resource an inclusive and equitable civil society in the aftermath of the military campaign.
We have again been involved militarily. Is this the end of our involvement, or indeed of our responsibility? I would strongly argue that it is not, that we must now have involvement in the restoration of the city. How that involvement and resourcing is played out is of course a matter for the Iraqis and particularly the citizens of Mosul. When a major natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world there is an expected and immediate response from the international community. Even if a country can normally be expected to look after itself; the need for restructure in the shortest possible time requires international support. In this case much of the collateral damage has been caused by the pre-emptive strikes of allies including Australia.
I fully realise the cost of involvement in the campaign to ‘free’ Mosul has been more than simply a dollar figure. But what is the dollar figure?
Already an estimate is available for how much (in billions) it is going to cost to rebuild the city. There is urgent need for the international partners involved in the campaign to sit down with the Iraqi government and municipal leaders in Mosul to determine an appropriate share of the cost of rebuilding in cash or kind. It is urgent that Australia and Australians be in the forefront of this discussion. Currently defence spending, illegal immigrant prevention, and terrorism strategy is entirely dominating the field that was once occupied by diplomacy and foreign aid. This must be reversed, otherwise Australia and Australians will run from one conflict to another, with the outcome of one campaign contributing to the next, in the self-deluding belief that we are contributing to a better world.
It should be entirely unacceptable for the Australian budget not to include a substantial figure for the re-structuring of Mosul, its schools hospitals and housing, a figure many times that spent on the military campaign. If it is not, we can only assume that Australia has entirely lost its compass, believing that military might conquers - it never has and never will. Victory is hard won and only achieved through friendship, restitution, equity, dignity and respect. The children of Mosul deserve to see a little of this so that they might grow up with hope and not become adults in the revolving door of violence.
It is urgent. House reconstruction should be a real possibility within months, schools and hospitals also. Employment must be provided first to Mosul citizens. We know we Australians are good at the military thing, it is less and less clear that we have a heart for the restitution and well being of any beyond our borders unless we can somehow make a dollar from the deal. About time there was some evidence this is not true.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a vision or idea is simply a thought bubble that has prematurely escaped, or whether it was intended as a genuine contribution to debate. Christopher Pyne’s ‘vision’ for Australia as one of the world’s great weapons exporters is surely in that category. It is such a bizarre, alien and frankly such a loathsome idea that it must surely have just slipped out while he was not paying much attention.
Global arms sales now top 1$ trillion. While there has been an economic down turn in many of the indicators of human well being, there is no down turn in the industry of death. The market for death remains amongst the most resilient contributor to global ‘economic growth’. Weapons have one purpose, to maim or kill. It is in the interest of arms dealers for conflict or the threat of conflict to escalate. Little distinction is or can be made between friend and foe. Western weapons have been used in civil wars, genocides, terrorist activities and the like. The Congo has been one of the world’s most devastating civil wars in recent history. Several reports have shown the US was a major contributor of armaments to various parties involved in this deadly conflict, a conflict which caused death and destruction to more than one million civilians. Once developed and sold the manufacturer has no control over where or how the weapons are used, nor does he probably want to know.
Given conflict or the potential for conflict is likely to increase in coming decades, as shortages of water and food escalate, inequity grows and the effects of climate change force migration, it is inevitable that there will be a great demand for sophisticated weaponry, and that arms dealers will only have one consideration – selling to whoever has the money to buy.
Worse, the West has a long history of propping up corrupt and unpopular governments through the provision of armaments for the protection and exploitation of perceived Western self interests.
It is hard to imagine how low Australia’s moral standing might continue to slide. The level of Australia’s overseas aid as a percentage of GDP is approximately half the standard set for developed countries. It is pathetically mean. The Pyne thought bubble must be put in this context. He would have us further contribute to the world’s pain and distress by increasing the potential for armed combat. Apparently it is not enough that we do not wish to contribute to the alleviation of poverty and disadvantage, no, we will consider adding to it through the provision of resources for armed conflict – for our own profit. A very high percentage of all manufactured armaments are sold to developing countries. For every dollar spent on armaments in one of these countries there is one less dollar available for the development of agriculture, improving education and health care, or simply building the structures of a stable civil society. Indeed many of these countries become financially beholden as a result of the arms sales, meaning that payment of interest to the West takes precedence over basic services for their people.
Armament manufacturers have made great profit for themselves and their share holders through the devastating conflicts in the Middle East. Military ties between the US and Saudi Arabia are well known and yet Saudi Arabia is not called to account for the contribution (moral and military) that it has given to Sunni inspired terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world. War was waged against Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11 notwithstanding the majority of the hijackers were Saudi.
I fully realise Christopher Pyne wants more jobs in South Australia, but why not develop factories that manufacture high tech services that improve the lives of others and thus reduce the likelihood of conflict?
Finally, we clearly do have a revenue issue. Why not collect revenue for our gas exports that is at least equivalent to that being made by other cointries far less capable of maximising the benefit of their resources.
Christopher I realise your portfolio is “defence procurement”, surely the very best opportunity Australia has to defend itself is by investing in the wellbeing of other nations. Surely our greatest mistake would be to engage with others simply out of our own interest; developing arms for our own profit and contributing to the industry of conflict?
Warning this blog is probably only of interest to those interested in the politics of the Anglican Church!!
On the 30 June 2017 the Revd Canon Andy Lines was ordained a ‘missionary, bishop to the UK and Europe at an assembly of the ‘Anglican Church of North America’. This Church and its assembly has arisen in protest against what its adherents understand to be a rejection of scripture, or worse, a rejection of the teaching of Christ, by those who support the ordination of women, the ordination of candidates with a homosexual orientation and finally those who support same sex marriage. This action took place despite the fact the Church of England has made its own provisions to care for those who for conscience sake are disturbed by these matters and yet wish to remain within the family of the Church. Apparently what triggered this move by the breakaway Church of North America and its supporters was a recent decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to support same sex marriage.
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in protest against the claim of the Roman Church that salvation for ordinary men and women was only possible through the sacerdotal mechanisms of the Church. It was only the Church, so it was claimed, that could save the faithful from the flames of eternal damnation.
Martin Luther took his stand on two pillars, sola fidei and sola scriptura (faith alone and scripture alone). The Church had controlled, at a whim, the lives and destiny (and pockets) of the people of Europe. Luther lit a fire which came to be known as the Reformation, the Western Church would never again be unified and the inheritors of the Reformation came to understand that salvation was a matter of their life of faith, and scripture their authority.
Fast forward to the present era. Where and for what reason should Christians take a stand and as a consequence cause further division in the Church? That nothing can be taught as necessary for salvation that cannot be proved from scripture is the first of the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church. Because the Anglican Church is both Catholic and Reformed the fundamental declaration also declares that the Church must be episcopally led in a manner that is culturally sensitive to the place in which it serves. This has been taken to mean that the style, authority and decisions of that local or Diocesan Church should be respected by the whole Church even while others disagree, as long as the fundamentals are adhered to.
Are those who support same sex union departing from the fundamentals? Clearly this group of Churches under the umbrella of what is known as GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) thinks so – passionately. Indeed so passionately that this is the issue over which they would cause a break in the Church. Why choose to stand on this issue and not on a multitude of others? Why make this issue a badge of faith?
There is no question that scripture has quite a bit to say about personal morality, but it does so in the context of what I might call an overarching biblical ethic. This ethic is fundamentally concerned with relationships, relationship first of all with God, secondly with others and thirdly with the whole created order. Scripture does not understand humans to be independent or autonomous; it understands us all to be interdependent, needing to live in fellowship and harmony with the creator and the whole of creation.
Scripture is therefore strident in its condemnation of actions taken for personal gain which impact negatively on others. A modern word for this is abuse. Abuse of any kind is abhorred in scripture. In our time various forms of fundamentalism or extremism are abuse. They corral folk into artificial constructs which diminish life and cause division. Self-serving leadership, secular or spiritual, is abuse. A capitalist system that enables the wealthy to acquire more wealth and the poor to be neglected is abuse. Political systems which prioritise the need to win over policy which serves common good, is abuse. Those whose influence causes enmity and strife are guilty of abuse. Those who hold onto power for its sake rather than being jealous to serve are guilty of abuse. Sexual gratification at the expense of others, most tragically at the expense of children is shocking abuse. Abuse is a matter of injustice. Inequity is the fruit of injustice. These matters are played out in the public square of human life where so often the Church is cowered into silence for fear of upsetting those with political influence. Abuse, injustice, alienation, exclusion are expressions of harm about which the Church of Jesus Christ cannot afford to be silent if it is true to him. Here the Church should take a stand, but most often does not.
Personal morality is also a matter which scripture takes seriously. It does so because the biblical narrative assumes that intimacy is fundamental to humans made in the image of God. “It is not good for man to live alone”. Scripture is concerned that this intimacy dignifies honours and blesses. Scripture assumes intimacy will be between a man and a woman and that it will be lifelong. When the bible makes reference to homosexual acts the assumption is that these acts are being performed by heterosexuals for perverted reasons of gratification and for this reason are condemned. Understanding that some people’s gender orientation is ambiguous while a few are born with an inability for intimacy with a person of the opposite gender is relatively new.
How the Church should respond in a caring and life giving manner within this situation and in the wider community is one issue, how it should care for people within its own community and particularly its leadership, is another.
I can see that a range of responses could be considered legitimate based on the primary biblical injunction of ‘love of neighbour’. Understanding who our neighbour to be is an evolving responsibility in every generation and within every culture. Few if any families with a homosexual member would do any less than support the happiness and wellbeing of this person.
As I have said in a previous blog, Marriage the Law and the Church I am now convinced the State should make its own decisions about those who are eligible for marriage and should make its own provision for licence and register. This would free the Church to respond appropriately with Gospel imperatives within its own cultural context.
Same sex unions within a loving and committed relationship may or may not be considered morally acceptable within a Christian context, depending on whether the starting point is safeguarding intimacy and care for all, or whether the starting point is particular biblical verse(s) and their interpretation. But what is clear is that a secure and enduring relationship of intimacy which is life giving for the people concerned cannot be described as abusive. To deny this possibility should itself be considered abusive.
It is therefore very difficult to be sympathetic to those within the Church who make a judgement resulting in severance on the basis of personal intimacy that may have about it all the hallmarks of sacrificial love. Worse, taking a stand on this issue while being mute on local, national, and international situations of manipulation and abuse is utterly hypocritical.
As a Bishop in the Anglican Church I have accepted that although Dioceses and Provinces may live out of different theological priorities, nevertheless we can enjoy trust and fellowship through our instruments of unity.
Those Bishops (two from Australia) who attended the ordaining of Andy Lines as a bishop against the wishes and without the invitation of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have crossed a boundary of fellowship and have made their stand on a matter of personal morality, not on a matter of abuse. They have done so knowing that those who have supported same-sex unions also do so in obedience to their understanding of the primacy of scripture; and its unequivocal mandate to safeguard love based and enduring intimacy for all.
The battle currently being waged within the Australian Government between those on the right who prefer to be called conservative and those less on the right who prefer to be called liberals is tedious, but its eventual outcome will have a profound effect on Australian life if this side of politics remains in government. For Christians the struggle is particularly acute. Those who prefer to be called conservative most frequently, and publicly, align as Christian. Are the conservatives or the liberals more or less likely to address issues faced by 21st century Australia and are the conservatives or the liberals more or less likely to mirror Christian values? I want to address this question by looking at three issues central to Australian political and media life.
1. Inequality. The growing level of inequality in Australia and throughout the Western world is at the heart of political disquiet everywhere. Our inequality is demonstrated in a variety of ways but especially through:
· house ownership vs. house rental
· needs based educational funding
· escalating privatisation which too often favours shareholder profit at the expense of services to customers (cf banks and energy providers).
· pressure placed upon the poor through tightening of pension eligibility while the wealthy (private and corporate) avoid tax payment through family trusts and various schemes for tax avoidance or minimalisation.
So far it appears that those on the political right favour policies which increase inequity. It is a no-go area for conservatives to deal with the causation of escalating house prices through negative gearing etc, thus favouring investors over home occupiers. Gonski2 passed, but attempts to make school funding more equitable were resisted by the right. The right would privatise everything, maximising benefit to shareholder investment at the expense of services. The language of ‘entitlement’ from the right has been used to demean ‘Struggle Street’, while the benefits and entitlements of those in power are lauded. If a fundamental characteristic of Christianity is solidarity with the disadvantaged, it is very difficult to gain a glimpse of this from amongst those who espouse conservatism.
2. Energy Revolution There can be no doubt that the world is at the beginning of an energy revolution of the same magnitude as the industrial revolution, or the digital revolution. The revolution’s trigger might well be the challenge of climate change, but the driver is now the darling of the right - the market. The revolution is about the capacity of ordinary people to generate and access their own energy independent of a national or international supplier. This is a revolution of empowerment and it will contribute to the softening of what has become ‘neo-liberal capitalism’. Now and increasingly into the future ordinary citizens will access their own energy or will cooperate with neighbours to do so. This revolution will be of special benefit to the world’s poor and will contribute to a reversal of inequity. Poverty is not simply lack of wealth, poverty is dependence created through lack of opportunity. Dependence is demeaning. Full independence is a mirage. Interdependence expresses the life of a harmonious and contented humanity. The political right appears to be doing all in its power to delay this revolution. Delay is all that is possible, the change will not be driven by idealism or ideology, but by the market. The revolution is unstoppable. The more ‘conservative’ a politician appears to be, the more likely they are to oppose this empowerment and try to protect large companies whose future now clearly has a use by bar code.
3. An inclusive, harmonious civil society There is no going back. It is now more than 50 years since the White Australia policy was correctly abandoned and Australia opened up as a cosmopolitan, multicultural, multiethnic, multifaith society. All indications show that those who have chosen to make Australia home are almost always highly motivated, productive, flexible and imaginative. In short, they are almost always exactly the people that a country would love to embrace. It is also clear that problems arise if and when the country to which they have come, keen to make a contribution, implicitly or explicitly does not embrace them. That they come with their own ethnic, faith and cultural traditions should be assumed. It should also be assumed that these traditions will enhance the quality of Australian life. It appears again that it is those on the right of the political spectrum who would encourage a negative perception of those who do not conform to a European view of Australia
Writing as a Christian leader who has just read that the 2016 census shows a dramatic drop in Christian adherence, it is not at all helpful to bemoan the rise in numbers of other faith adherence. The Christian community deserves to be in decline if adherence to this faith inherently favours inequity, opposes empowerment, and fails to be honoured because its values and virtues do not build an inclusive civil society. It deserves to be in decline if it seeks defensively to hold on to historical but quickly disappearing status or privilege. As a Christian I unequivocally believe Christian values and virtues are infectiously attractive, as perhaps globally demonstrated by the popularity of Pope Francis. In Australia popular Christianity is not known for its deep humility, its desire for solidarity with the poor, its longing for the transformation of society. It is better known for private piety and the imposition of what it perceives to be a superior personal morality. Through Tony Abbott and Cori Bernardi Christianity is aligned with the conservative right, the idealism that by implication would have Australia less demonstrative of the world of the Sermon on the Mount.
In 1959 Quinton Hogg, chair of the British Conservative Party described Conservatism as: “not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force performing a timeless function in the development of a free society and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement in human nature itself”.
Political conservatism has its origins in the 16th and 17th centuries with Christian leaders such as Richard Hooker. These divines deemed economics to be subordinate to a conservative social ethic and capitalism subordinate to social tradition.
Tony Abbott and Cori Bernardi cannot be in a true conservative tradition if their belief in the rights of the individual blinds them to the reality that humans need to live in a ‘free and harmonious society’. Nor can they have any real understanding of freedom if the rights of the individual are prioritised over the demands of a truly free and equitable society. Rights are always conditional, the 21st century places conditions on the whole of humanity to rise above national let alone private aspirations to a level of global cooperation for common good that might undergird humanity’s otherwise tenuous tenure on planet earth.
The blog, Capitalism, anti-Semitism and the Judaeo/Christian Ethic (5 May) received more comments of indignant disapproval than any other that I have written. Interestingly none of the disapproving comments refer to its theological rationale.
What I said was that a religion that claims to be monotheistic cannot, because of its monotheism, conceive of outsiders, it must potentially treat all people as children of the same God, and must practice universal and redemptive care and justice. The Old Testament prophets who had come to a monotheistic position considered the imperative of justice and righteousness to be a higher priority than ‘religious practice’. If I were to rewrite that blog I would strengthen it, not water it down. The derisory comments I received in the ‘Spectator’ either illustrate how ignorant the extreme right wing of Australian politics has become of traditional Judaeo/Christian belief and practice and the central place given to righteousness and justice; or it illustrates how owned (or cowered) it has become as a media outlet by the Israeli lobby; or it illustrates the political right’s refusal to walk even a single day in the shoes of the oppressed. Whichever explanation you choose, criticising Israel for its oppression of Palestinians is not Anti-Semitic, but the reverse, it is a plea for Israel to return to the ethical base inherent to Judaism. To describe the current Palestine/Israel situation as apartheid is an invitation to those who find this offensive to provide another word to accurately describe what prevails in the Occupied Territories on a daily basis.
I want now to reflect on the unspeakably appalling terror events that have occurred recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Manchester, London, Melbourne and Tehran in the light of monotheistic religion.
Islam shares roots with Judaism and Christianity. Its monotheism is audibly announced through the first ‘Pillar’ Shahada (faith) and ethically required in the third, Zakᾱt (charity). For a Muslim, life is a journey of submission: submission to God and to a charitable response to fellow human beings. Both submission to God and charitable submission to fellow human beings is practiced in ‘jihad’, a life time struggle to live a better life. If jihad is seconded to defend, even encourage, violence towards others; I submit subversion of the term must be challenged and corrected by Islamic leaders. While military jihad is justified as a defensive strategy, perhaps in the same way that Christians might argue for a ‘just war’, in practice this perverted interpretation of jihad kills far more civilians than military opponents and entrenches violence’s, inevitable and vicious cycle. More often than not victims are fellow Muslims. This is no way to further the struggle to lead a better life.
Islam’s monotheism gives it the right to believe that all humans can potentially be Muslim, but this right travels with the obligation to treat all human beings equally with dignity and honour as children of God. The former right is annulled if the latter is not in place. This is also the case with Christianity, the right to be a universal faith carries the obligation everywhere and in every age of universal human care and justice.
Therefore in light of these unspeakable and ongoing acts of terror, in the name of Islam, what is to be done?
1. As hard as it might be, Islamic leaders must name the perpetrators for what they are, apostates, infidels; for engaging in these atrocities they abandon any right to be named amongst those who are submissive to the one true God. This message must be clear and unequivocal. I realise the difficulty. In the West we assume the hierarchies that we see in Christianity with Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops to be transferable to Islam. Sunni Islam (majority Islam) is organisationally flatter. Here in is strength, but also great weakness, even danger, for it seems almost anyone can put up their shingle as an Imam. A Christian minister or priest who stirs enmity, who preaches division should be (will be) stood down. So should any Imam who abuses the privilege of religious freedom in this country. Such freedom carries civic and social responsibility.
2. The West must be far more honest and discerning about the manner in which it condones injustice, perceived or otherwise, for injustice is a radicalising catalyst. It needs to be said that the West has a very long history of interference in the Arab world out of blatant self interest, not out of Arab well being. In recent history the Iraq war was ill-conceived and has done untold damage. Unless the actions of the West are transparently conducted in the interests of those whose lives are being disrupted, the problem of terror must be expected as a consequence. More than that, if those whose lives have been detrimentally disrupted are not aided on a path to recovery, on their terms, then these consequences remain. The oppression of Palestinians, even though a very small part of Middle Eastern injustice, is nevertheless a significant source of radicalisation within Palestine, throughout the Arab world and beyond.
3. The West’s hypocrisy in terms of its chosen friends and enemies must come to an end. The home base for 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers was Saudi Arabia – the US ally. Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam ideologically underpins ISIS. This ideology perpetrates violence against others ‘less pure’, and against their ancient sites. This ideology is linked to the house of Saud, although since 9/11 and to retain the US as an ally against Iran, the links are less overt. Nevertheless Saudi Arabia should be called to account. Terrorism (including ISIS) is perpetrated by people who claim to be adherents of Sunni Islam and Saudi Arabia its financial backer.
4. Iran, the sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US is neither Arab nor Sunni. The people are Persian and adherents of the minority branch of Islam, Shia. Shia Islam is focussed on what it believes to be its divinely sanctioned religious leadership. The Ayatollahs thus have considerable power in what might genuinely be referred to as a theocracy, but they are equally more open to demonization from the West than their secular counterparts might be in Saudi Arabia. Iran is no less a target of ISIS terrorism than the West as seen yesterday in their parliament. Why is the US so implacably against Iran? The answer is multilayered. What should however be clear is that Iran exercising its place as a responsible international partner makes for a much more peaceful world than such a large proud and powerful nation being ostracised to the edges.
Terrorism in its many forms must not become the new normal. Its source is not monotheism, for monotheism’s counterpoint is equality and justice for all humanity. Banishing terror to the periphery will require effort on the part of everyone.
It will require leadership from western leaders who should condemn terror but not demonise Islam. The undisciplined rightwing of Australian politics pours oil on the fire.
It will require leadership from Islamic leadership everywhere to denounce perpetrators as apostate.
It will require a new world order in which alliances are made out of global and regional best interest, not national (often hypocritical) best interest, for national best interest exercised by the strong will inevitably mean injustice for the weak and a perpetuation of the cycle.
It will require effort from ordinary citizens to reach out beyond difference so that inclusion and respect becomes the mark of each community.
We left the previous blog in the context of the Anthropocene and what it means to be human facing a Defiant Earth with the question: “is grace too optimistic”?
Pentecost (4 June), together with Easter and Christmas, is one of the three great Christian festivals. As we enter its season we are provided with a fruitful context to further puzzle over this question. Why? Because Pentecost celebrates the Spirit, whom scripture tells us is the architect of creation.
We know Pentecost gains its name from the Greek, Пεντηκοστή ήμέρά – the fiftieth day (after Easter). We also know it coincides with the festival of Shavout, the feast of Weeks, (this is why the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem), a harvest festival which celebrates the Torah. We know that Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, commonly understood as the birth of the Church.
Its account describes Pentecost as an extraordinary burst of transformative energy on dispirited disciples, who spoke of wind and fire to explain their experience. I want to go behind these well know verities to explore our, and the planet’s, relationship with Spirit. The creedal summary of the Spirit’s activity is ‘the Lord and Giver of Life’; if you like, Spirit is creation’s ‘life force’. Just as water always flows down hill and while we can build dams and even pump it uphill, we cannot abrogate this fundamental principle; so too the ‘giver of life’ will always be the giver of life regardless of the fickle nature of human choices and action. Herein lies abundant grace, beyond human capacity to deny, control, or deserve. Pentecost celebrates an extraordinary outpouring of energy, energy that empowers giftedness. However, it is one thing to say we cannot abrogate the life giving grace of the Spirit, but it is quite another to assume the wind of that Spirit will always, or automatically, or even occasionally, fill our sails. In the Anthropocene more than any other age we need it to.
We first encounter the Spirit in the second verse of the Bible: “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. This is the scriptural explanation of how what we call existence came into being. Questions we might like to ask did not occur to the biblical writers. For example how the world was made, was it ex nihilo” cannot be deduced from scripture; the only thing that matters is that God is the initiator. The second time we meet the Spirit is in chapter 2:7 when breath from God makes the human a living being. Existence is one thing, life is another. The Spirit imbues life. But how does that happen, how do we experience its happening? I would like you to encounter three clues.
The late John Vincent Taylor, one time Bishop of Winchester, picks up my first clue in his brilliant book about the Spirit, the Go Between God. His argument infers that entities, be they human or nonhuman, are not primary realities. This is a gob smacking thing to say. The primary reality is the movement between them. Let’s take that in! The life of the human (you and me), is experienced (positive and negative) in a variety of relationships. Genesis 2 provides an extensive roll call of those relationships: plant life, animal life, other human beings, and the earth itself. Entities (you and I) have value in relation to something or someone else. A cool evening breeze has value for the one fortunate enough to be walking in it. The forest has value to those creatures who reside within it. Plants make love to insects through their flowers. All who have crossed my path have contributed to who I am. Our image of God has not kept pace. Our anthropomorphic mind pictures God as a glorified human entity, almost always male: while in truth we know God as spirit, the unifying, life giving force that lives and breathes in and between all things. Presumably this is what John means when he says “God is love”. (1 Jn. 4:8) Also what Paul means when, having told us of the gifts that emanate from Spirit’s energy he goes on to say “I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging bell...”. (1 Cor. 12:31-13:1)
Christians understand God as movement we call Trinity; that divine eternal dance of Father Son and Spirit, into which destiny calls us. To be at one with God is to be at one with all that belongs to God. There is a wonderful word for this: περιχορησις (perichoresis) literally meaning to dance around. As we celebrate Pentecost in the age of the Anthropocene and the rise of a ‘defiant earth’ our life will always be greater when we focus on the relationships that are primary to our existence, beginning with the earth itself. Our life will always be less if we focus upon ourselves with the right to carve out our own space regardless of the impact that carving has on everything around.
My second clue is to be found in what is called the Wisdom Literature. We are familiar with Proverbs, Psalms and Job, less familiar with material in the Apocrypha. This literature insists that Spirit and wisdom are synonymous. Indeed wisdom literature asserts that wisdom is the beginning of creation, pre-existing everything else. There is a passage in the Wisdom of Solomon I particularly love:
Wisdom is more mobile than any motion, because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. She is breath and power of God a pure emanation of the glory of the almighty...although she is but one she can do all things and while remaining in herself she renews all things. In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. (Wis. 7:22-28)
In the age of the anthropocene we are deluged with data. Data is the lowest value coin in the currency of knowing. Yet data seeps out of every ubiquitous medium. Most of it passes by without contributing to useful information. Useful information, when digested and reflected upon can add to the quantum of shared knowledge. But more precious even than knowledge is wisdom, that virtue which enables a life to be well lived. No wonder spirit and wisdom are aligned, for they are mirror image agents of being truly alive. How blessed is the wise person, even more blessed it is to be in the company of wisdom. The antonym of wisdom is probably ‘folly’. Human traits that contribute to the anthropocene are folly. They are folly not simply because of their catastrophic consequences for the future; they are folly because they detract from what should be (could have been) a much more meaningful life in the present. A life in which the price of everything is calculated, but the value of nothing is known, is a life of profound folly.
My third clue is the connection between Jesus and the Spirit. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the Spirit that fell on the disciples is the same Spirit that was in Jesus. Just as Jesus and the Father are one, so Jesus and the Spirit are one. Jesus proclaimed that his going would enable the Spirit’s presence. The Spirit, life, is first about relationship, second about wisdom and third about presence. The spirit enables the presence of God, the presence of Jesus. Presence is about company. Conservationists desire to keep in perpetuity what is known to have irreplaceable value. The Conservation Foundation is not a subversive Greenie conspiracy, but an old fashioned ideal that each generation should at the very least hand to the next an undiminished legacy, preferably one that is enhanced. To do that we must be aware of and value the company we keep.
Indeed I like to say, ‘we are the company we keep’ for the company we keep, the presence we honour, becomes the life we lead. Unfortunately we increasingly keep the company Kardashians - I am not even sure who they are, except I understand they represent the glitzy meaninglessness of fame and fortune.
In the Anthropocene, as in every age, vulnerability and transience is life’s experience. It does not become more secure through walls, isolation, hoarding or putting ‘America first’. Life’s grace and gift is experienced in the opposite direction. It is experienced through the multitude of relationships that define us. It is experienced in the love and embracing of wisdom. It is experienced by living fully in the company we keep.
Come Holy Spirit