in service of the
Trust – Facing Extinction
Is there commonality between the various items of bad, even frightening news, that daily inflict our senses domestically and internationally? Conversely, is there a theme that runs through the occasional glimpses of sunlight with which we are blessed if we know where to look?
I suggest the theme is trust, or more specifically its absence, in the rise and rise of personal or national self-interest, falsely masquerading as security and wellbeing– religious, ethnic, political, or economic.
Trust is a precious commodity; with it all manner of things are possible. In its absence little is possible. Trust expands horizons; its absence shrinks life’s experiences, reducing existence to tiny platforms over which individuals, communities, or nations seek to exercise total control.
We are born with a considerable capacity for trust. Growth in formative years depends on it. However, trust betrayed reduces this capacity and shuts down what should have been an expanding life.
From time to time we have all acted in ways that diminish trust, but equally, in generosity of spirit, we all possess the capacity to build or rebuild trust.
No one in a position of authority can effectively empower those for whom they have been entrusted with responsibility unless they are themselves trusted.
Scott Morrisonʹs sermon at Margaret Court’s Church in WA a few weeks ago was quite shocking. He said we should not trust governments (by implication we should not trust institutions), especially we should not trust the United Nations. We can only trust God.
Trust in God is common to all people of faith, regardless of the religion they follow. For Christians it is founded in belief that God is never other than what we have come to know and experience in Jesus. God serves us and the whole created order with a towel and bowl of water. Christians do not trust that nothing ill will befall us, but that love will nourish us. Further, because Christian belief is incarnational, we believe any trait or character that undergirds relationship with God should also characterise all other relationships. (If you do not love your sister/brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen.) However imperfect, no human relationship is possible without trust.
For governments to govern they require trustful cooperation from citizenry. That the Morrison government was not trusted is now a sad fact of history, leaving the incoming government with the responsibility of restoring trust, a more challenging goal than seeking to pass any single piece of legislation.
Greg Sheridan’s defence of Morrisonʹs sermon was flawed. In his article: ̋Lost in the Secular Desert ", (Australian 22-24 July) he argued criticism of Morrison was an ill directed secular attack on a legitimate expression of Christian belief. Not so. Morrisonʹs speech was not a legitimate expression of Christian belief. To encourage lack of trust in governmental institutions was wrong. Consciously or unconsciously, the sermon may have been an attempt to justify his own, largely discredited, government. In human affairs it must always be the case that legitimate instruments of governance are trusted. The alternative is anarchy.
Sheridan was also in error in not giving sufficient weight to the numerous ways in which sectional Christian voices have undermined validity that might otherwise be given to a Christian voice in contemporary public life. (Sydney Anglican denial of legitimacy to same sex unions, the Catholic Church’s plenary council initial deafness to the voice of women, Hillsong controversy, being recent examples).
Morrison’s reference to the United Nations was also deeply troubling. It is true that the United Nations is no more effective than its constituent members allow. It has been undermined by the self-interest of many nations including Australia. But global challenges are increasing the necessity of mechanisms to deal with issues that are well beyond the capacity of single (or even groups of nations) to address on their own. Many on the religious and political right deride the UN, depicting it as a non-elected power, seeking world domination. This conspiracy theory carries weight in fundamentalist Churches whose sympathetic ear Morrison was presumably addressing. In agencies of the UN that deal with human rights, health, global poverty, and the environment, we need more trust, not less.
The two greatest existential threats to the planet are, as they have been for decades, nuclear and environmental catastrophe.
Apparently nine nations collectively hold about 14,000 nuclear weapons. Given most global tensions involve one or more nations in possession of these weapons, monumental consequences must make their utility unthinkable. Even amongst foes, channels of communication must remain open and sufficient trust exist that will ensure accident or pre-emptive strike do not occur. In this context, it is difficult to understand what contribution was made towards trust and openness by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. Australia is not without guilt in the lack of trust that currently exists between us and China. In matters of less weight, laughing about sea rise did little to engender trust with pacific nations and bugging East Timor for financial gain did little to build trust with our poorest neighbour.
On the environmental front the situation could not be more dire, or the way out more clear. At ground zero trust is essential. Trust in the science. Trust in effective policies. Trust that we can turn around and eventually reverse post-industrial revolution harm.
Notwithstanding the defiant rumbling of a small conservative rump, the vast majority now understand a stable and liveable planet is not just a pious ideal, it is in fact mutual self-interest. No one nation, let alone a single individual, can make much difference. We must act, trusting our actions will galvanise others.
The future of the planet will not survive the continuing pursuit of aggressive and at times cynical self-interest. True leadership forges alliances across difference. Alliances offering mutuality are held together by trust.
A National Well-Being Budget
Every functioning household knows the importance of budgeting. No more so than when hopes, expectations and demands exceed resources available. What is possible at one moment may not be possible at another. A priority at one moment will change in different circumstances. A good budget is one that reflects the values of the household and contributes to its wellbeing. A good budget always has a long view in mind. A nation is a large-scale household. Without values that are well articulated and substantially owned, governmental policy becomes stuck on means – money, rather than the value-based aspirations wealth should resource.
It is therefore with a considerable sense of hope and anticipation we might look forward to Jim Chalmers first budget which, he states, will be set within a values framework and will begin to set economic policy in the context of national wellbeing. When Chalmers first promulgated such a framework, he was mocked by then treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his famous Ashram speech. ̋The member for Rankin is about to deliver his first wellbeing budget. He walks barefoot into the chamber… robes are flowing, incense is burning … beads in one hand, speech in the other … gone are the seats, gone are the benches and in their place, meditation mats for all ̏. One can safely assume the now opposition will be equally deriding.
Historically, colonisation has never been about ʹcivilising the nativesʹ but about stripping assets from the colonised. While Australia has long since grown passed its early years of British colonising, our economic mind set continues to be one of lifestyle funded by the stripping of natural resources with little thought given to future consequences. We have not ʹcivilisedʹ Australia’s first nation people but plundered their culture and assets. Focusing on wellbeing is one step towards civilising ourselves.
Apart from Bhutan, countries that have embarked on this journey include Iceland, Finland, and New Zealand. Interestingly Iceland embarked on this journey following its dramatic 2008 global economic crisis collapse. Its successful recovery is attributed to owned values and priorities. Finland is measured as the globe’s most liveable country,
Australia is currently home to approximately 26 million people. Our national politicians have almost exclusively engaged with us in fiscal terms as if economic wealth is the only measure of individual or national wellbeing. It appears to be the only pillar supporting the house that is Australia. When he was national treasurer, Joe Hockey famously divided Australians between lifters and leaners. Lifters being those who generate money, leaners those who are a cost to the national budget.
Let us understand what we mean by the economy. Its Greek linguistic origins can be translated ʹhouse rulesʹ, or the business of divvying up resources to cover household activity. ʹEcologyʹ on the other hand with the same linguistic origins means ʹhouse wisdom or knowledgeʹ, how things hold together. Unless we own values of wellbeing upon which our house holds together, economic expenditure will simply be a response to short term populous request, a response which has a single political aim, the return of the treasury bench to another term in government.
Within the confines of a 1000-word blog, may I proffer two values (amongst many others) that should contribute to the values framework in which the October wellbeing budget will be set.
1.We are all custodians of intergenerational equity
It is normally expected each generation should exceed the general prosperity of those that preceded it. However, there are a variety of reasons for fearing that, from the millennial generation onward, the future may in fact be far less attractive than the past. Decline is difficult to reverse. In many first nations cultures ensuring the strength and stability of future generations is amongst the highest of values. The biblical genealogical tradition emphasises the importance of continuity, honouring the past and bequeathing a future.
With this value in mind, the budget must undergird:
2.Those who have much, do not have too much; and those who have little, do not have too little.
This (biblical) proposition should be considered essential for the long-term stability and harmony of any society. However, at both ends of this spectrum Australia is failing abysmally. At the top of the pyramid, it is obscene that executives can be paid an annual 8 figure sum. No one should be paid 20+ times the salary of their lowest paid employee. (A few are receiving 100 times that salary). The incoming government has been wedged into agreeing tax reductions for the wealthiest quartile. The Howard/Costello government legislated largesse to the wealthiest segment of society which can no longer be afforded. Jim Chalmers will need much courage and informed goodwill to enact overdue reform.
At the bottom of the pyramid many who work in service delivery (Hockey’s leaners), are inadequately remunerated. Why is a skilled nurse, or aid, valued much less than a person working in finance or a trade? (answer – because in a neo-liberal capitalist framework they do not generate money). Why can thousands hold the keys to multiple empty (holiday) homes without redress, while thousands of others are homeless? Why can renters have their tenancies terminated when higher rental is available from holiday lets. At a time when pressure will rightly be exerted to reduce expenditure, Jim Chalmers will need courage to assist various categories of citizens, who have too little.
Josh Frydenberg’s mocking of a values-based, wellbeing orientated, budget was entirely misplaced. It will however require considerable courage and skill to take the country down this overdue path. There is no alternative. Stay as we are, and much needed reform is denied. As trust and respect returns to politics, much needed reform can be enacted. From what we have observed so far, little goodwill will be forthcoming from an Opposition which appears to be modelling itself on Tony Abbott – ʹdisagree with everything, cooperate with nothingʹ. Much will be expected by the Australian community from those in neither major political party to ensure that in the next three years we invest in values which secure a robust just and harmonies future.
Except for those living in poverty, it is the case that there is little correlation between wealth and happiness or wellbeing. Far more significant relational issues are at play. May the national household wellbeing budget wisely reflect these aspirations.
Australian Children in Syrian Camps
The Albanese government has had bequeathed to it several unresolved human rights scandals which together have severely shrunk the moral character of Australia and Australians. Notable among them has been the plight of Australian overseas citizens who have fallen from grace.
These and similar matters have remained hidden from view or considered not Australia’s problem out of a disgracefully weaponised view of Australian security needs. The Biloela family are on their way to having permanent security. Whistle blowers such as Bernard Collaery are hopefully on their way to being lauded for the service they have rendered rather than punished for a supposed crime they have committed. But, yet to reappear from the shadows are the 60 Australian citizens, 40 of them children, still reported to being held in appalling conditions in Syrian camps under Kurdish control. These people are ideological pawns in a politically partisan game. Barnaby Joyce once described politics as a game, a statement that succinctly defines the previous governments approach on this and other multiple fronts.
As Prime Minister Albanese has said in a slightly different context: ʺAustralia is better than thisʺ.
The seeds of ISIS were sown in 2004 following the end of the Iraq war and the overthrow of the Sunni led government. The consequences of overthrowing a Sunni government to advantage a Shia led authority could have been calculated in advance but were not. Through clever propaganda, largely on social media platforms, Sunni youth from many countries were attracted to the cause of righting a perceived wrong inflicted by the West, rejecting so called western cultural excesses, and to living under the umbrella of an idyllic Islamic caliphate with Islamic values. The awful reality was of course it’s very antithesis, a life of cruel savagery. Fear and destruction continued for more than 12 years. But by the close of 2017 ISIS had lost 95% of its territory and by 2018 had been decimated, if not eliminated. Left behind were multiple victims, most obviously large swathes of cultural destruction and brutalised lives across Iraq and Syria. Under this dreadful pile of victimhood, barely visible, lie the wives of its defeated military – and their children.
Several female Australian Islamic youth had been attracted/recruited. Many, perhaps most, were not active participants in ISISʹ cruel and savage campaign. They chose or were cajoled into being wives of ISIS militia. They have subsequently borne their children. There should be no bar to their return to Australia. Those, now mothers, who were directly involved in ISIS atrocities must face the consequences of their actions. But the consequences should be faced in Australian courts and under Australian law. After appropriate reparation, a civilised country will aways attempt restoration for those of its own citizens who have fallen foul of their own ill-conceived choices.
It hardly needs to be said that children can never be held accountable for the actions of their parents. Nor does it need to be said that civility has many measures, but none more significant than the way a nation cares for and protects its vulnerable children. Until they are brought home, the psychological damage already inflicted upon these children cannot be measured, let alone treated. They have seen and heard levels of brutality to which no child should ever be exposed and from which a healthy adult life will struggle to emerge. They desperately need to live as children should live, in safety and freedom. In the meantime, it is understood serious disease and hunger haunts the camps, made worse through the covid pandemic. Most of the children and their mothers are reported to being held in the Roj camp, roughly 30 kilometres from the Iraq border. There is only one modest healthcare facility in the camp to treat around 2,500 camp residents. It enjoys grossly inadequate supplies and is only able to provide basic care.
It is clear the Australian people have been deceived. No serious attempt was made by the Morrison government to repatriate the children, with or without their mothers. In October 2021 Mat Tinkler the deputy CEO of ʹSave the Childrenʹ said “Clearly the Australian Government is not trying hard enough to protect these children, who are Australian citizens. The question is, are they trying at all?”
According to the October 2021 7.30 Report, the Morrison Government had had no communication with the Kurdish authorities about the repatriation of its citizens since 2019, despite suggesting in a letter to the United Nations that there was “regular engagement”.
The excuse given by the Morrison government for inaction was that repatriation was not being facilitated by Kurdish authorities, and it was too dangerous. This statement flies in the face of the fact that Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Iraq, Finland, and Britain have successfully repatriated citizens.
The eventual overthrow of ISIS was in no small part due to the courage, tenacity, and military skill of the Kurds. The Kurds are themselves victims of geo-political alliances. Treated at best as nuisances and worst as enemies of state in both Türkiye and Syria, they need and deserve the support of the international community in the alleviation of the burden they carry - not of their own making. It is unjust that with their limited resources they are left to care for families and children who ought to be the responsibility of other foreign governments, including Australia. Dr Abdul Karim Omar, co-Chair of the Foreign Relations Commission for the Kurdish Administration indicated in his interview with the 730 Report that there had been no communication with the Australian Government about the repatriation of Australian citizens. ʺThere is currently no dialogue between us in relation to any other handovers or in relation to funding support to be provided by the Australian Government for the costs of looking after ISIS fighters and their familiesʺ.
The Albanese government cannot be expected to resolve all the issues requiring moral rectitude bequeathed to it in its first month in office. However, the salvation of Australian children languishing in Syrian camps, casualties of a conflict long over, and now mostly forgotten, is urgent – very urgent.
Christianity and its shrinking footprint.
ʺOnly forty four percent identify as Christianʺ – so screams headline analysis of the Australian 2021 national census. For most Australians and for a variety of reasons, institutional Church has become increasingly barren soil for the practice of Christian faith, let alone its discovery. In our 21st century multifaith multicultural society, past tribal allegiances that shored up religious identity and belonging, no longer have the same relevance, except for migrant groupings for whom religious and ethnic identity remain intertwined.
When I commenced my ministry in 1966 88% of the population identified as Christian with one third identifying as Anglican.
Now, from a Church insider’s perspective, it would be easy to excuse this downward spiral as a general trend of institutional mistrust, without seriously examining the capacity of Churches to be the vibrant conduit of Christian practice in a vastly different age. Is it the case that the general population is less hungry for spiritual meaning than its predecessors or is the truth less palatable, churches have shown themselves incapable of feeding or even reaching the spiritual aspirations of most 21st century Australians? The problem facing the Church has of course been made immeasurably more difficult by the scandals that have rocked it through the findings of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. However, the Church has made the situation worse by doubling down on its own internal concerns and desire to survive. Listen to the conversations of most Church synods or in the case of the Catholic Church, its Plenary Council, and you will hear much about preserving internal institutional life, not so much about how to engage our greatly troubled world and its individual members with a gospel of grace and life.
It would also be easy to regurgitate the cry of the 70ʹs and 80ʹs ʹthe age of religion is overʹ, science has made religion redundant; we have entered a new golden age of secularism. In some respects, the reverse is true. India, Turkey, Russia, Sri Lanka, the US have all moved significantly away from secularism to become, or nearly become, theocratic states with nationalistic ambitions reinforced through the religion of that state.
Few would disagree that there is far more to being human than popular success or material wealth. The much beloved Ash Barty has amply demonstrated this truth. Surveys show Generation Y (Millennials) are more empathetic, more likely to share with others, more concerned about equity and common good – yes, more spiritual than either Generation X or the Boomer generation. Materialism is not the answer to the world’s deepest longings.
What then is the Church’s future, or does the Church have a future? The Church does have a future, but what it looks like and how people relate to it will not remain constant. The structure and form of the Anglican Church, of which I am a committed member, remains largely the same as it did in previous centuries. This worked well until the 1960s, but the decades since have seen such vast changes in every dimension of life that old structures simply cannot accommodate spiritual aspirations which inevitably emerge from every other aspect of life.
Jesus said: ʺUpon this rock I have built my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against itʺ. The rock referred to in this dramatic assertion is not the institution that has evolved but faith: faith that God in Christ is present and does not need to be brought to this place or time, or any place or time (read the prologue of Johnʹs Gospel); faith that life, forgiveness, restoration is constantly on offer; faith that time and eternity merge in a new creation; faith that each individual is made complete through belonging, faith that love conquers all, faith that peace is made possible in love; faith that every individual matters because of what they bring to the whole, faith that in Christ humanity is embraced by divinity.
Now, who would not want to hear, experience, and embrace such a transformative faith?
I cannot outline a blueprint for the unfolding future but can perhaps make some observations.
John wrote: ʺI have written what I have written that you might know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that in him you will have lifeʺ. Christianity is not fundamentally about dogma or religion. It is about life and discovering wisdom to live it in its fullness. Every encounter, every conversation, should be about this matter and this alone. Here in lies the Good News.
The UN Human Rights Report on Israel, and Australia’s Statement
The UN special Human Rights investigation into Palestine/Israel which found Israel to be primarily responsible for ongoing unrest and violence received a strong rebuke from the US, which in turn sought support from its allies to sign its statement. Australia declined to do so, issuing its own statement. The significance is not so much in what the statement contained, but in the very fact that after nine years of blindly following the US, Australia wishes to make its own statement and judgement about human rights, justice, and peace. This should be resoundingly applauded. The US statement is predictably partisan, and while the Australian statement mirrors the US statement in the oft repeated claim that Israel is being unfairly picked on, it is far more nuanced.
In this and other matters of world politics it is important that Australia takes its own informed position. The blunt truth in relation to Israel/Palestine is that because of its unapologetic partisanship, the US is not, and cannot be, a contributor to a lasting and just peace. For example, the US may make critical statements about Israel’s expanding settlement programme, but Israel simply thumbs its nose, and the US continues to give unequivocal diplomatic support together with $US12B in annual military and loan guarantee aid. The US always has Israel’s back.
The UN report simply states what anyone who has visited the occupied Palestinian territories knows, namely, that Israel is the oppressor. The Palestinians are the oppressed. Examples of this oppression have frequently been elaborated by various commentators. The latest egregious act was announced in the Beer Sheba Court last week when after six years in jail Mohammed El Halabi was found guilty of channelling World Vision money from its Gaza project to the military wing of Hamas. Various forensic audits, including DFAT, World Vision and Deloitte, have shown that this accusation is not only untrue, but is impossible to be true.
ʺAll the judge said was that the security forces cannot be wrong. That's why he was convicted." (BBC Report)
Israel is not being unfairly picked on at the UN or in the court of international opinion. First, China and Uighurs, Myanmar and the Rohingyas, Russia and Ukraine, even Australia and our treatment of First Nations people, all receive appropriate attention. There are currently 8 investigations being undertaken by the Human Rights Council, including others that are open ended. Second and very significantly, Israel is the only country in the world that claims to be democratic, is best friends with Australia, and the US, wants to sit at the table of “respectable” nations, yet at the same time is guilty of perpetuating egregious human rights violations based on racial discrimination. Israel’s claim to live by free world standards should automatically bring it before the bar of those standards. Persecution of a minority is a crime. But Palestinians are not even a minority – they comprise half the population. This is why the word ʹapartheidʹ is now being used to most accurately describe the situation Israel has created. While Australia supports a two-state solution, Israel has already created one-state in as much that it controls everything that occurs in Israel itself, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Nothing takes place, is allowed in or out, that is not permitted by the State of Israel.
In all of this are Palestinians guiltless? Living under oppression makes daily life intolerably difficult; negative reaction to provocation is easy to criticise by those not having to endure it: Palestinian inability to form a cohesive and respected political system is tragic. The PA is a toothless servant of Israel’s occupation. Not only can violence against citizens on either side not be condoned, but it inevitably perpetuates further violence. The reality is that violence always suits an oppressor. It feeds the propaganda machine used to justify further suppression.
The Gandhi doctrine cannot be demanded and is very hard to embrace. Without external support and partnership, it is nigh on impossible. Gandhi taught that oppressed peoples must hold their heads up, retain dignity and self-respect, assert their human rights, but resist violence. When you are unemployed as most young in Gaza are, or your cousin on the West Bank has been shot by Israeli military, or your brother from East Jerusalem is in gaol without trial or reason, or your home has been demolished, or your family olive orchard has been raised to the ground, Gandhi’s way is too difficult without support – in this case from the international community.
This is where Australia and the new Australian government comes in. We can help dignify Palestinian lives by our words and actions. The Albanese government is committed to the recognition of Palestine. While this wonʹt immediately end the occupation, it will help create the environment where a real and lasting just peace can be negotiated. It will dignify Palestine and Palestinian lives and in so doing promote the ultimate cause of peace and justice.
The US has blind spots with almost fatal consequences. Domestically there is no clearer example than in its inability to enact gun control laws and in its political toleration of alternative realities of truth. In relation to Israel its blind spot is in allowing Israel, to continue destroying the very civility of its nationhood. No nation can continue without destroying itself if its very survival is dependent on the permanent suppression of others.
In APAN we look forward to working with the Albanese government in charting a fresh forward path, knowing that yesterday’s policies will continue yesterday’s suffering.
Covid and the Eucharistic Common cup – an Anglican position
Abundant caution following the arrival of the covid pandemic in 2019 understandably saw the implementation of restrictions to slow and hopefully prevent the spread of the disease, including withdrawal of the common cup in the Eucharist. While many reverted to communion in one kind, we have also experienced widespread use of individual cups. Should communion in one kind or the use of individual cups now become the norm?
I consider there to be two reasons why use of the Common Cup reflects belief at the core of our Christian identity and therefore why the use of individual cups should not be normalised. These reasons run at greater depth than purely pragmatics: disposing of single use plastic cups, properly sanitising multiple glass cups, setting aside a tray of wine filled cups that appear to have no connection to the rite of consecration, disposing of wine remaining in little cups etc.
These words are plain, instructive, and directive. It is not possible or desirable to disentangle the use of the cup in Communion from the sacrament of grace it facilitates. A sacrament is an ʹoutward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual graceʹ. In this case the common cup is a sign of communal participation in the covenant of life, binding those gathered at the Lordʹs table. Receiving a piece of the broken bread or drinking from the cup is not to be reduced to personal or private communion with ʹmy Jesusʹ. It is to be a recipient of grace in the context of ongoing witness, service and sacrifice to the broken world which God in Christ came to redeem. It is even more than that. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was fond of saying ʺwe cannot be human aloneʺ. Wonderfully, in the Eucharist more than any other moment of life, as we take from the broken bread and share from the common cup, we celebrate our common shared humanity in Jesus, who gifts us with his divinity.
At the table of life, more than any other place, we want, we need, to celebrate as truly as we are able the reality at the core of our being - life in communion.
For all the above reasoning, the Common Cup is a central element in our Anglican ʹsonglineʹ. It should not be and cannot be easily abandoned.
Of course, its ongoing place in our life may be experienced differently. It may be that some form of intinction is widely adopted. Certainly, there should be a clear understanding that a person conscious of passing an infection of any kind should refrain from the cup on that day. At the very least the common cup should be available to all and its merits taught, even if a different option is made available.
This is not a small matter. It goes to the very heart of what it means to be a member of the Church of the triune God.
Anglicans Divided over Same Sex Marriage
Since the Reformation we have been used to disunity in the Church being demonstrated through denominational loyalty around historical theological dispute and response. This is no longer the primary case. In the Church, as in politics, the deepening rift is between those who, for the sake of simplicity, insist truth is conveyed through fixed dogmatic assertion, usually on social issues, “conservatives”, and those who believe truth is encountered at the crossroads of faith and life, or to put it more piously, at the point where heaven and earth meet. The latter are commonly called “progressives¨ which, like woke, has become a weaponised term seldom owned by those to whom it is ascribed. (Neither adjective is absolute, relationships are invariably more complex). Both progressive and conservative leanings are present in every denomination. Christians often find more in common across denominational lines with those who share their views, conservative or progressive, than they do within their own denominational membership.
In the Anglican Church of Australia, the largest and most well-resourced Diocese is Sydney. Here conservatism is a badge of honour and its expectations a pre-condition of licence. The recent requirement of Sydney Anglican school principals to declare marriage between a man and a woman to be the only legitimate marriage is the latest example of controlled conformity. Another well-known example is the denial of ordination to women as priests or bishops, on grounds that a woman may not hold oversight of a man. It appears the judgment of Lord Matthew Hale, a seventeenth century English judge still carries weight: a wife is contractually obligated to her husband.
Anglicans deal with differences, sometimes quite substantive, through a polity of checks and balances, that requires attentive listening and good intentions for the whole Body of Christ; not protection of tribal rules
The Anglican Church is a Communion of Provinces (national churches) and dioceses throughout the world in 164 countries with over 85million adherents. It has no equivalent to papal authority, nor is it a confessional Church with a dogma defining statement like the Westminster Confession in the Presbyterian Church.
Every Diocese has a large degree of autonomy within what is known as the Lambeth quadrilateral – allegiance to four fundamental principles:
Holding and giving expression to:
For those who uphold equality between men and women in ministry on the one hand, or marriage equality on the other, there is no conflict in their doing so with the fundamentals of the Lambeth quadrilateral. Nor do they believe they are out of step with one or more of the instruments of unity.
The Diocese of Sydney, however, strongly disagrees. It claims both the ordination of women and the blessing of same sex marriages to conflict with the first fundamental principle - plain scriptural truth. Its position is well known. It contributed $1 million to the “no” campaign in the national same-sex marriage plebiscite.
Here is not the place to develop a serious biblical hermeneutic, but conservatives are accustomed to take single verses of scripture and apply them literally without adequate reference to context. To do less, they claim, is to undermine the authority of scripture. I argue that using individual verses as proof texts does the opposite, it undermines the authenticity and authority of scripture. What is required is the hard work of reading individual verses in a much wider scriptural context. Every biblical text must come under the bar of love revealed to us in Christ who said, “You search the scriptures believing that in them you find truth, but it is they that bear testimony to me.”
For example, in reference to marriage equality, I argue the starting scriptural injunction is: “it is not good for man (human) to live alone”. As social beings we all long for intimacy. Given we now know intimacy with a person of opposite gender is not possible for a relatively small minority, it is cruel, not to say dangerous, for life-time intimacy to be denied, or its blessing withheld.
At the recent General Synod of the National Church, the Diocese of Sydney moved a resolution, which if passed, intended to prohibit the blessing of same sex couples. To be passed, a matter of this weight requires a majority in the three houses of bishops, clergy, and laity. While it received a majority in the latter two, it failed in the house of bishops.
The Sydney contingent at the synod was clearly unhappy. Archbishop, Kanishka Raffel, told the synod the church was “in a perilous position, and no one should be mistaken about that”.
What he meant by that is far less clear. The General synod normally meets every three years. It is well within the bounds of possibility that in three years a conservative vote on all matters will safely pass all three houses, such is the growing influence of Sydney Diocese nationally.
If this eventuality is realised, three serious outcomes will need to be faced.
First, the Church will sound and feel increasingly cult-like and irrelevant to the majority of Australians. Most will feel intrusion into their personal lives offensive. Worse, the conservative obsession with sex and gender on the one hand and male headship on the other is proving to be part of the problem in a country where abuse and the exercise of unequal power is endemic. A recent poll has shown domestic violence to be more prevalent in the Anglican community than in the wider population.
Second, if the Church is to retain any public interface, it will be perceived to be the spiritual guardian of the political right, a position already held by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). This is a bizarre situation for the Church, committed as it is to Gospel imperatives for justice, and a bias towards the voiceless and powerless. Advocacy for social justice and cohesion is the more natural place for Christian alignment. While the Diocese of Sydney has used a megaphone to declare its position on gender and sexuality, its voice on the ethics of climate change, indigenous rights, asylum seekers and refugees, transparency in politics, social housing, homelessness, etc has not simply been muted, it has been silent.
Third, those Anglicans who believe the Church should be immersed in the world for its justice and transformation, and who hone their theology at the coal-face will feel they have nowhere to go, the Church of their heritage will feel a foreign place. It is unlikely such people will start another Church, it is more likely they will exercise the ministry and love of Christ outside such confining, and in truth unscriptural, boundaries.
It is a sad indictment on a world that increasingly longs for certainty (political, economic, and religious) that what we end up experiencing is arrogance, narrowness, and meanness of spirit.
ʺThe wind blows where it wills. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goesʺ.
On Sunday we celebrate Pentecost (Whitsunday) one of the three great festivals of the Christian year. But these days you would not really know unless you are a complete insider. On 3rd June 1770, Captain James Cook, sailing through the Coral Sea clearly did know the significance of this day, and named the paradise like islands he was passing, the Whitsundays. Much has changed in 250 years, and not all for the better.
Pentecost celebrates the all-pervading presence of God: God who creates, God who redeems, and God who gifts life.
Pentecost origins are embedded in the biblical creation narrative where we are reminded that nothing exists outside the breathing (wind) of God: breath that especially enters humans to make us truly alive. It is through this divine breathing we have ʹsoulʹ.
But is this reality universally cherished and fed? President Biden claims that on a visit to the Kremlin in 2011, when he was Vice President of the US and Vladimir Putin Prime Minister of Russia, he looked into Putinʹs eyes and said: ʺMr Prime Minister, you have no soulʺ. Bidenʹs observation which echoes through the Ukraine invasion, is given credence in the ongoing creation narrative.
We find it in the story of Cain and Abel, a narrative not so much about humanity’s first children, but about each one of us. In each of us Abel (wind spirit or soul) abides, as does Cain (possessor, controller, owner). In each of us Cain is quite capable of predominating to the extent that Abel dies. I have always been certain of the universal reach of the creative and redeeming love of God, but I am not a universalist, I do not presume rest in the presence of God is an inevitable human destiny.
Because everything exists through the omnipresent blowing of the spirit of God everything is connected to everything else, and we should be able to find language to address or speak to everything and everyone else – with respect. But as we know to our loss and shame, this is not so. This reality is picked up in the ongoing creation narrative.
The Tower of Babel narrative highlights human resistance to respect, and humility in the commonality of life. Again, this is not a story about an event at the beginning of time, but about all time, and especially our time. Humans, unhappy with living appropriately choose dominance, superiority, elitism; they choose to build a tower. The consequence, we are told, is that humans lose the capacity for genuine communication, beyond self-interested tribal interests. How tragically true this has become of global political life – not least, recent past in Australia.
In his brilliant book, the Go-between God, John Vincent Taylor talks of the Spirit as divine energy holding all things in harmonious unity: the Spirit is the ʹgo-betweenʹ. In the famous chapter 37 of Ezekiel, the prophet picks up the same theme when he describes the spirit putting back together the broken pieces of Israel.
Today marks the end of a week of prayer for Christian unity and the week marking reconciliation in Australia. A season celebrating and praying for unity aways precedes the celebration of Pentecost. Harmony and reconciliation is always the mark of God’s presence.
As we turn to the New Testament, we can hardly be surprised to learn that the birth and ministry of Jesus: the taking of human nature and subsequent proclamation of the Kingdom of God, is ascribed to the action of the Spirit. (Jesus’ conception was ʹof the Holy Spiritʹ while his ministry commencing at his baptism was marked by the Spirit ʹalighting on him as a doveʹ).
In the creeds Christians assert the Holy Spirit is the ʹLord and Giver of Lifeʹ. John tells us he wrote his gospel that we might understand Jesus is the Son of God and that in him we would experience life. Clearly the gift of life was manifest in everything Jesus said, and in every person he touched. What then of his death through crucifixion. Was this to be the end of such imminent divine presence? No! Early in his Gospel John makes it clear that after his death and resurrection, that same spirit they experienced in Jesus would become manifest in them ʺout of the believers shall flow rivers of living waterʺ.
Pentecost is therefore the outpouring of the same spirit that was in Jesus, the imminence of God is not restricted to any locality but is poured out on the believing community. The Spirit is the Spirit of the crucified and risen one. The resurrected Jesus is present to us through the spirit and in our baptism, we are baptised into that spirit.
2000+ year ago those gathered in Jerusalem on that fiftieth (jubilee) day after the resurrection were from all possible nations and tribes. For them and potentially for us all, the Tower of Babel is reversed. Each hears in their own tongue ʹof the wonderful work of Godʹ.
What is this common language? It is not so much what the ear hears, but what the eye sees and the heart expresses. Described by Paul as ʹfruitsʹ the Spirit is made manifest in ʺlove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-controlʺ. He says ʺthere is no law against such thingsʺ, in other words, it is in such traits that transformative life resides. Like laughter, this is common and unifying language.
On the day of Pentecost there was so much exuberance that those passing by rather derisively remarked ʺthey are all drunkʺ. One of the marks of this exuberance was speaking in tongues or glossolalia. Glossolalia is not specifically, or exclusively, a Christian phenomenon. It is a feature of many and varied exuberant expressions of spiritual awareness. It most certainly should not be claimed as a badge of identification for born again or class A Christians. If there is such a badge it is demonstrated in the afore mentioned fruits.
Paul is later to describe ministries which he identifies as gifts or empowerments of the spirit. I do not wish to dwell on them but to highlight one – the one most strongly emphasised – prophecy. There is much pious nonsense spoken of in relation to this ministry. Prophecy is essentially the gift or capacity of making God or truth known. Jesus is the greatest of all prophets because it is in him that God and truth are most perfectly known. Islam makes the right call when it refers to Abraham, Moses, and other Old Testament figures as prophets, for they each make God known. We should all covet prophecy for we are all to make God known.
I do hope and pray that Pentecost can recover its place alongside Christmas and Easter as one of the three great festivals. I hope and pray too that Pentecost can be reclaimed from Pentecostalism and the extravagances associated with it. In our narrative and living we, the Christian community, are vehicles of the Spirit’s renewing breath that began the process of creation and is fully invested in its redeeming.
Christians and the Federal Election
Christianity and Christians cannot be neutral or disconnected from politics. Christianity is an incarnate faith. While it rightly gives central place to personal piety, Christianity is, at its roots, a way of life deeply immersed in the world for its justice, renewal and transformation. It is so because God, who took human likeness in Jesus, is prejudiced toward harmony and justice and therefore is on the side of the poor and needy, the downtrodden and voiceless. The divine agenda is nothing less than the transformation of human society into one where the first will be last and the last will be first. Christians pray: thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
For this reason, at the forthcoming federal election Christians have a solemn obligation not to vote for blatant self-interest but to vote for a person or party they believe will be most inclined to serve justice and common good, a sustainable future, not just in Australia, but throughout the globe.
Those currently in power wish to remain in power, an understandable but not necessarily virtuous aspiration. They are encouraging us to believe the direction we have been heading is the direction that should be maintained.
Let me come straight to the point. I do not believe a Christian, in good conscious, can support a political party wedded to neoliberal capitalism and self interest. My reason is simple, it is that neoliberal capitalism is a construct embedded in a flawed philosophical and quasi-theological position which inevitably leads to injustice and is incapable of addressing the 21st century crises faced by humanity.
Neoliberal capitalism is born from a post enlightenment position that contends the individual and not community is the fundamental unit of society; and on a broader scale that nations and national interest (nationalism) should shape international life. It is flawed because humans are social beings. None of us can live alone. None of us are capable of true independence. We are all interdependent. We are who we are through others. Reflecting on the catastrophic slaughter of WW1, an international gathering of Christian leadership in 1920 contended that self-interest is the basis of human violence and disintegration and the greatest of all evils is national self-interest.
Neo-Liberal capitalism is founded on a quasi-theological position because of the obvious mutual interdependence, one could say marriage, that exists between the political and religious right. But the religious right is misleading its political friends and giving them false comfort. Priority given to individual identity is an entirely novel idea imposed by the religious right on scripture and is a novel thought to Christianity. Scripture contends we are as strong as our weakest members and that while each is unique, our uniqueness lies in the contribution with which we can gift the identity of the whole body. “Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members” is attributed to both William Temple and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If there is to be a marriage between Christianity and politics, it must be founded on the idea that our interest is developed through investment in the legitimate interest of others and that national interest must serve global best interest.
Neoliberal capitalism was given a huge kick along by Thatcher, Reagan and Howard and exaggerated to absurdity by Abbott and Trump. The philosophy has meant individual rights have triumphed over societal good. Individual rights and needs are transient, societal good endures across generations. Neoliberal capitalism wins at the ballot box through temporary hip-pocket incentives at the expense of long-term policy and reform.
This flawed philosophy has resulted in the privatisation of much that should have remained in public hands – not least the port of Darwin. We have seen the consequences play out in, amongst other areas, aged care, the prison system, and the inability of the electricity grid to be made fit for purpose as we journey towards decentralised generation of renewable energy.
We have seen this flawed philosophy play out in the decimation of the public service. The corporate memory and skill of the public service exists to serve the common good. It is almost beyond belief that neoliberal politicians and especially the Prime Minister deride ‘non-elected experts’ and insist that they, partisan politicians, are the ones to decide strategies, the merits of which can only be properly understood through expert technical, scientific, or modelling analysis.
This flawed philosophy has insisted the market makes the necessary adjustments and reforms that society needs. If this is the case, why have government at all? But at least it goes part way to explain why the current government appears to have no reforming policy on any of the crucial issues that confront us. For the three years of its latest term the government has presided over a policy void.
The market does well what it is designed to do – make maximum profit at minimum cost. But the market cannot address the appalling pay level endured by aged care workers or the inaccessibility of housing. Nor can the market determine the support that should have been given to the Pacific Island Nations. These and many other issues need value attributed to them independently of the market, values that undergird societal good.
Ironically the market can now make a major contribution to climate transition given it is cheaper to use renewables than it is to generate energy from fossil fuels. (The government, feeling stymied that its commitment to fossil fuels no longer has the support of business or the market, now abuses the very market principles it espouses by subsidising fossil fuels to the mining industry).
Finally, the extreme end of this flawed philosophy and quasi theology makes place for and gives comfort to conspiracy theories. People such as Craig Kelly and George Christensen have been tolerated, even protected, within the government. Can the Coalition parties be political platforms through which Christians can invest their energy and commitment? Yes, of course yes. But this can only be so with integrity if those parties free themselves from the flawed ideology in which they are trapped by the extreme elements in their ranks.
Wanting social equity, an environmentally sustainable world for future generations, transparency and accountability in government, compassion and empathy for refugees and asylum seekers, a voice to parliament, should be cross party aspirations. That they are not, is shameful and the reason for the rise of independent voices.
At the federal election we, people of faith must be bold enough to stand up for the divine agenda made manifest in Jesus.
Easter: A New Thing
We like to think 21st century humanity is somehow superior to past generations, possessed as they were with less knowledge and sophistication, but the invasion of Ukraine tells us otherwise. The unspeakable depravity visited upon the Ukrainian people by Russian forces completely dispels any illusion we might have held that humanity’s intellectual evolving over centuries has flowed universally to a more advanced moral civility.
If we are honest with ourselves, we did not need the Ukrainian invasion to tell us this. Here in Australia, we have held some asylum seekers and refuges in detention for almost a decade. We incarcerate our indigenous population at rates hardly exceeded anywhere in the world. We enjoy a political system which scrutinises welfare recipients, but protects incompetence, even corruption, by legislators. We know that a sustainable future for the planet now hangs on a knife edge, yet here in Australia we would rather defend and prolong past harmful activity than invest in a sustainable future.
Two thousand years ago an enigmatic figure and his donkey made a short trip into Jerusalem. This trip and its fateful destiny had become an inevitability because his vision, and the power structures of his time, religious or secular, were on a collision course. His announced ‘kingdom’ and the way power operates were, (indeed are), irreconcilable.
For a while the crowd misunderstood, they thought he offered a similar power structure, but more powerful, one that was on their side rather than Rome. When it became clear this was not Jesus’ agenda their cry of ‘hosanna’ changed to ‘Crucify’. This misunderstanding, or worse, terrible misrepresentation prevails today. In the US the right of politics is filled with the halleluiah choruses of those who see Jesus’ mission fulfilled in Donald Trump, while it is reported that the Russian Colonel in charge of troops murdering civilians in Bucha was blessed by a Russian Orthodox bishop before he left for the invasion.
The sad truth is that we are all no different, we seldom seek a different way, we simply want a power structure that is more transparently mirroring our view of the world, rather than a way that seeks a civility embracing all creation inclusive of humanity: recognising that none should “think of themselves more highly than they ought to think”.
While claiming Christian commitment, it is clear the present Australian government has completely lost its way and should be defeated at the May election, we can only hope that its replacement will be less partisan, more consultative, and more transparent.
The events of what we now call Good Friday are well known. A man who had chosen for himself the title ‘Son of Man’ was made to carry his cross and face the fate of a common criminal. All humanity is embraced in his self-chosen title. He saw himself no more but no less than common humanity, the cross of all humanity is being borne here. This is the point. Ukraine reminds us that in the pursuit of self-interest and fed by prejudice and ignorance we all live lives but a hairs breadth away from criminality. Domestic violence, homelessness, a thousand dollar an hour salary for some and twenty-three dollars an hour for those who care for us in our old age; wanton disregard for habitat, etc are all part of the same spectrum.
This ‘Son of Man’ faced both the religious and politically powerful. Before Pilate he was asked “what is truth”? All humanity must face the same question, but most of us are too afraid, or too self-absorbed. What Pilate could not grasp was that the truth he sought was being lived out right in front of him.
While over the past two thousand years many saintly women and men, followers of Jesus, have understood and followed his way, in our time some have intuitively understood, while not outwardly calling themselves Christian – Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela come to mind. Others, less well known, have also followed the way of the cross, like the Palestinian Mohammed El Halabi who languishes in an Israeli gaol because he refuses to confess to a crime he has not committed. A false confession would give comfort to his oppressors who wish to further disempower his people.
All of this is pretty grim, unbearably so if it were the end of the story. But it is not.
Good Friday gave way to an astonishing truth – love is more powerful. It cannot be vanquished. When there is light, darkness must give way. No matter what happened yesterday, today offers possibilities of a new thing. Today is a day never lived before and can be filled with grace. Easter is not primarily about an empty tomb but about the irrepressible presence of life, focussed in the Easter narrative on the one who is its source.
Isaiah, who is traditionally read in the lead up to Easter, speaks of the promise of a ‘new thing’. What he is referring to is not ‘new’ in the sense of never having been tried before, but new in the sense of ‘renewing’ that which has the power to make new.
In the Ukraine we have glimpsed this ‘new thing’ in the extraordinary generosity and courage of thousands who have provided safe refuge. We have seen it in the Ukrainian grandmothers who have shaken their brollies at Russian soldiers and told them to go home to their own mothers and grandmothers, and hopefully we will see it in a Ukrainian nation which will seek justice but not revenge.
Here in Australia, we desperately need to experience a ‘new thing’ and to hear its promise in the lead up to the May election.