in service of the
A restored vision of Church
For centuries institutions provided security, identity, and continuity. Their very existence gave confidence that the contemporary world would continue to build on the foundations of the past. Each generation could expect to live much as their parents had done.
This is not contemporary reality. Institutions have been found wanting. Some have suffered public ignominy. Institutional Church is in serious decline throughout the Western world. Many would say the worst is yet to come. Here in my local community people are almost universally respectful of my faith and the way of life Margaret and I strive to live our lives, but have less than benign thoughts about ‘church’. Children of committed Christian families find it difficult to relate to their parents’ ecclesial experience.
In the past it was more than appropriate for institutional life to give flesh to the incarnate and eternal activity of God. Music, architecture, liturgy, ministries, works of charity, centres of thought, annual rhythms, pilgrimages, were expansive frameworks in and through which people could explore and grow into eternal truths. This is the world I have known and cherished.
With the demise of institutions over the last three decades and the rise of multi-faceted networks this is no longer the case for most people. Parishes that in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s enjoyed congregations in their hundreds now experience much smaller gatherings, and much older, despite the overall population on a geographical basis being significantly larger.
Should institutional Church as it has been known in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, the Orthodox and mainstream Protestant churches simply run up the white flag? No, because the universality of Christ can never be fully expressed solely through local expressions of Church that lack accountability to global and historical Christianity. The faith is not simply about personal piety, it is also about public engagement
So, what is to be done, what are we to do?
The longing for spiritual nurture and insight has not shrunk. Sceptics such as Dawkins and Hitchins argue that religion is a form of escape. I dare to argue the opposite, Christianity as I have known it is engagement in the totality of life. This is hardly surprising given the heart of Christian faith is belief in, and commitment to Jesus, the incarnate word of God who embraces and enables life itself.
So, where might the Spirit be leading us?
As is often the case, what otherwise might be thought a calamity - covid 19 – gives us a clue. During this calamity people everywhere have become aware of opposite realities which carry almost equal importance. On the one hand we have all come to know the importance of home, family, intimacy, and connectedness with those who are most important to us. Many of us have found blessing in the capacity to ‘work from home’. On the other hand, we are also aware of our irrepressible need for connectedness without limit, of belonging to and being fulfilled in the universality of life. I have become increasingly convinced that the Church of the future must come more thoroughly to grips with these two realities and hold them in healthy balance.
Since March last year Margaret and I have been running Church at our home to assist the local Parish in the context of the covid pandemic. Some of those coming have not previously been regular members of any Church. What people find attractive is a mixture of a less formalised liturgy, thoughtful teaching in which they participate, fellowship at a personal level and the joy of a shared meal. We have emphasized we are part of and accountable to the wider Church.
I have become convinced that clergy should act with oversight; legitimizing and authorizing a multitude of small gatherings in and through which a wide circle of people might be nurtured and fed. In the early Church bishops grew out of presbyters, it is time for presbyters to retake roles of intentional oversight. These groups could be as diverse as imagination and need suggest. Some will be based in meditation and contemplation, other through bible study, some through a focus on social justice and charity, some through a shared digital experience, others through arts-based activities, some through concern for and enjoyment of the natural order others through ministries of education and health, some through ethnic or cultural identity.
Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, urges the Church of England to establish at least 10,000 locally based and lay led ‘churches’ before 2030. There has been push back from Parish based leadership. This is short sighted. A move such as this could refresh ‘parishes’.
People in these groups may not be regular attenders of Sunday worship, but they should be gathered on significant occasions. It will be the duty of the ‘parish/diocese’ to provide universal experiences and linkages. Some of this can and should be provided digitally, but there must also be common shared experiences.
The purpose of Church is not to provide a chaplaincy service to a congregation of pious believers disconnected from the mainstream life of the wider community. It is to feed nourish and empower those who in Christ’s name are committed to the transformation of society. Richard Rohr puts it this way: “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on the same path. We made Jesus into a religion instead of a journey toward God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging’ and ‘believing’ instead of a religion of transformation”.
Because institutional churches have largely failed to provide spiritual nurture and intimacy to many who seek it, this need has been met through many experiences of Church which Dawkins and Hitchins could legitimately describe as escapes from reality. Some offer false certainties in a world better understood through nuance, paradox, and complexity. Dangerously extreme examples of this were seen by those carrying signs bearing Jesus’ name in the assault on Capitol Hill following Biden’s election and on banners carried by those engaged in protests against covid restrictions here in Australia.
We should not be witnessing the death of conventional parish and diocesan life, but it’s opening up in new ways of serving the world which God in Jesus loves. Church membership or Christian discipleship should not be calculated on the basis of Sunday church attendance alone, but on the basis of engagement and connectedness with the multifaceted life that is modern society.
The choice that lies ahead is either to pull up the doona and keep the façade intact for as long as possible or throw off the bed cover and embrace a more exciting and engaging expression of Church. It is not a matter of being shaped by the dominant culture of our time but recognizing its influence and engaging differently with it.
The IPCC Report and the Book of Revelation
An interpretive connection between the latest IPCC report and the book of Revelation, otherwise known as the Apocalypse, is painfully and dramatically obvious. However, focus on ‘apocalypse’ encourages a doomsday mentality and is counterproductive; other insights from this book help us to better understand the human dilemma and therefore the way forward.
I would like to look below the surface to a connection which is not as obvious, yet is quite revelatory. But first a little background.
This last book of the New Testament, and last to be accepted in the biblical canon, is well known to conspiracy theorists and end of the world fanatics. It is probably written at the end of the 1st century AD to seven churches in Asia minor struggling with a debilitating dilemma. Jesus has died and risen with the promise of a new creation, and yet the world as they experience it remains violently and painfully the same. Wherein does hope lie? What are they to make of the violent life they are experiencing? Why not conform to the dominant Roman culture and avoid attention. They have been sorely tempted to “lose their first love” and drift away from a life in the imitation of Christ to be seduced into conformity with the prevailing culture.
The writer, John, implores them to stand firm in their faith. He contrasts commitment to the ‘Lamb’ – Jesus, who because of his suffering death and resurrection has true authority – and the consequences of the alternative - sovereignty based on power, wealth, greed, self-interest which is fake or illusionary. The Lamb’s authority is counter intuitive. Jesus does not have sovereign right because of power, prestige or wealth, but because he has embraced temporal reality even death, and carried it with him into the world of eternal grace.
In a world which does not recognise grace as sovereign, where self-interested ambition reigns, the consequences are horrendous, most dramatically portrayed by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Every generation since the writing of this book has experienced realities as awful as those described in the book. In the last 100+ years we have experienced two global pandemics and many less universal, but equally dreadful. We have experienced two world wars, several minor wars, and ethnic cleansing on all continents. Our present covid pandemic has been described by the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan as a political pandemic, because the hubris of Presidents Xi, Putin and Trump and other world leaders such as Johnston and Bolsonaro has made the spread inevitable when is should have been avoidable. Every generation over two millennia have suffered events symbolically portrayed in this book.
The book swings between two opposing and contrasting communities – that of the Lamb and his followers, and that of the beast or the anti -Christ and his followers who bear its mark. The mark or seal of the lamb is the cross; a seal that is impressed upon followers of Jesus at their baptism. But what is the meaning of the mark of the beast, the distinguishing feature of followers of anti-Christ?
Margaret Barker, the eminent biblical scholar and linguist (who sadly passed away in April this year) postulates the mark of the beast is usuary, covetousness, greed, of putting economic goals above goals of common good. Indeed, chapter 13 of the book of Revelation which contains reference to the ‘mark of the beast’ continues with reference to faltering trade and collapsing markets as does chapter 18. Is the whore spoken of in the book the seductiveness of material gain? If Barker is right, then the anti-Christ is not communism, or Trump, or the Pope, but something far closer to home, the seduction of personal wealth and gain over harmony and connectedness with neighbour, creation, and God. In a nutshell, this is an apt description of what ‘anti-Christ’ might mean in any generation.
For the book to be included in the canon of scripture, its interpretation must be relevant to succeeding generations, not simply to those who received it in the first or second century AD. Now, let us cut to the chase. It is not hard to apply this insight to the great and threatening challenge of our time – climate change. Those who oppose action on climate change, most notably the conservative side of Australian politics, have consistently done so based on their economic theory. We can’t afford it they shout! As if we can afford not to!! In our context it could be said neo-liberal economic theory and practice has become the anti-Christ of our age because it sets short term material gain above long-term harmony, equity and sustainability. Many of its devotees hang out in Christian congregations!! Some hang out both in Christian congregations and in the halls of Australian parliaments.
The response of the Australian government to the IPCC report has been predictably appalling. Shane Warne must be proud of the spin that emanates especially from the Prime Minister. Unless you are comatose, it is simply implausible to ignore science and the imminent threat we face. Mr Morrison is spinning ill-conceived nonsense to claim Australia and Australians are already pulling our weight. It is manifestly untrue. It is also untrue to assert that technology, on its own will get us out of the diabolical predicament we are in. First and foremost, what is required is resolve, from the Prime Minister down. Because the ‘fish rots from the head’ resolve from the Prime Minister is not irrelevant. Setting targets focuses resolve.
The Apocalypse or the Revelation of John is prophetic, not in that it foretells the future but in that it has the capacity to reveal truth. The need for truth about the times in which we live has never been more urgent. Spin, the tool of choice of the Prime Minister, is severely damaging because the days are short. We do not have much time to avoid a catastrophe for our children.
The great irony is that the crisis presents opportunity as well as challenge. Why not emphasise opportunities rather than challenges? Indeed, opportunities for the many are so abundant, it makes the crime of protecting the self-interest of a few far more reprehensible.
Rights, law breakers, and Covid lockdown
The anti-lockdown protests held in Australian capital cities, most notoriously in Sydney, have been enacted in the same anarchic spirit that imbued those who stormed the US capital following the election of President Joe Biden. The conduct has been reprehensible, put lives at risk, and achieved the opposite of the stated outcome, namely the inevitability of a longer lockdown. At the heart of this arrogance and stupidity lies a total incapacity to understand what ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ mean in a civil, democratic society.
In what follows I am indebted to the work of Wesley Hohfeld who identified four incidents to the study of rights theory.
Applying these four incidents to the action of the protesters it is clear they had no rights to act as they did, enjoyed no immunity, and were jeopardising the very freedom they claimed to be protecting. They had the right to protest. But in exercising this privilege they had the duty to protect the health of the wider community. By wearing no masks, flaunting authority, refusing to keep social distancing, the right was lost.
The freedom claim was false. People long for freedom, but the great paradox of freedom is that it is most often delivered by those who accept passing privation in the service of greater good. This presumably is what the ANZAC tradition is about.
The State government not only has the power to enforce a lockdown, but a solemn duty to do so in the pursuit of safeguarding the health and greater wellbeing of its citizens. For the sake of all, essential workers are immune from the constraints of lockdown, not for personal self-interest, but in the interest of the good they bring to the whole community.
Very few rights are absolute. The right to life, in the context of enjoying, and contributing to greater good, is the only absolute.
Behind the lockdown lurk blights to what can be deemed acceptable standards by political leadership and media presentation.
George Christensen and Craig Kelly, amongst others, have been spruiking false information about the pandemic, about vaccinations and about the lockdown, giving comfort to those who have proved more than a little capacity for anarchic behaviour. Given these exponents of controversy in service of self-promotion sit on government benches, one might have expected censure from the Prime Minister. There has been none. It is utterly disgraceful that he, for the sake of keeping his slim majority, will overlook, and at best slap on the wrist, colleagues who give comfort to actions which endanger the health and freedom of all Australians.
If the excuse for this gross lack of leadership is defence of freedom of speech, this is a grave error. Like any other right, freedom of speech is not an absolute. If it is used to ridicule, let alone incite anger and prejudice, it ceases to be a right. Freedom of speech, like all rights is a privilege. When great responsibility is bestowed through the election box, freedom is tempered by duty to ensure every fact is checked, every opinion weighed on its possible affect. Every judgement must be weighed at the ultimate bar – does it serve the greater good.
Certain sections of the media have also been utterly culpable. George Christensen, Craig Kelly, Matt Canavan would have little or no oxygen if it were not provided by Sky News and its disgruntled, attention seeking presenters. Why is this obnoxious news outlet not brought into line? I am fully aware it exists to serve a small minority of the population that revels in delusion, slur, mistruth, and conspiracy theory. But when an interview is conducted in which statements are made inferring it is more dangerous to be vaccinated than to remain unvaccinated, this is not freedom of speech, it is dangerous anti-social behaviour of the most reprehensible kind. It should have caused the media umpire to call time.
The pandemic has a life of its own. That is true. But it is also true that we live in a privileged era in which we are equipped with knowledge and tools to mitigate its affect. That at vital levels of society we are failing to do so, is critical commentary on humankind’s supposed progress. We err in measuring progress in terms of individual rights, and life’s least important dimension – material wealth.
Joyce enjoys hats and metaphors instead of good policy
David Speers is a fine journalist and interviewer but on Sunday’s Insiders he astonishingly let Barnaby Joyce completely off the hook as the interview veered across the path of climate change.
Joyce in his extraordinarily large hat was contemplating lunch at a Walcha Rd café in his New England electorate. He informed us that whether he finally choose to adorn the café with his presence depended on the content of the menu and the indicative price for each offering. He informed “Speerzy” that he understood the climate change debate through this metaphor. Apparently, he will consider the possibility of zero emissions by or before 2050 if someone tells him how it is to be done and what it will cost.
What ‘Speerzy’ neglected to do what to remind the ruddy faced and bucolic deputy Prime Minister that he is the second most powerful politician in the country. He is paid handsomely by the taxpayer to decide what is on the menu and to deploy the skills of the public service at his disposal to work out the price.
The reality is that a price can only be considered when a proposal is presented. In my hometown, there was much debate about a new bridge over the Clyde River. In the end, urgent necessity drove the decision. Only then were alternative possibilities presented and a price determined.
The government needs to make a clear and unambiguous decision that we have no choice, we must join the rest of the world. Together we must reach carbon zero as soon as possible and no later than 2050, the price of not doing so is far too high. Having made that decision, the government should employ the expertise of science and the public service to determine the most efficient and cost-effective manner of achieving the goal. It is not that hard. May I be bold enough to suggest some of the essential items that must appear on the ‘menu’.
The cost of nmot acting takes us into negative territory with accelerating speed. The benefit of acting is so obvious at a multitude of levels that it must be assumed those who oppose action are doing so out of political or personal self-interest
Mr Joyce, you are not paid to ask others to work out the safest and best future for Australia, you are paid to do it yourself. If you do not know the answer to the question of what it would cost for Australia to reach carbon zero compared with the cost of not doing so, you are abdicating your responsibility. Move out of the way and let those who are prepared to take this responsibility to do so.
Click here to Israel, Apartheid, and why Albo is seriously wrong and seriously right
The zoom conducted by Mr Albanese, the leader of the Federal Opposition, with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has received wide publicity and greatly angered the Palestinian diaspora in Australia. This is sad and ironic, given Mr Albanese has a long history of supporting Palestinian rights and helped found the federal parliamentary friends of Palestine.
So, where does the problem lie?
The focus of the anger lies in his refusal to accept the word Apartheid as the most apt way of describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In its most extreme form, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians refuses to recognise they have any rights, let alone equal rights.
All cultures and languages use words and phrases from other peoples to convey meaning, particularly when one’s own language does not have an exactly equivalent word. Many Italian and French words are commonplace in English (Australian) usage as of course are words from more ancient languages such as Greek and Latin. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that means apartness or separation. It described a government enforced system of racial segregation. The word has power both to describe and to shock. Indeed, Israel has its own word for the same reality – Hafrada - which carries the meaning of both separation and segregation. It is used by the Israeli government to describe their policy.
Apartheid is the predictable outcome when the political theory of Zionism is enforced on a subject people. (I distinguish between Zionism as a theological or cultural construct and Zionism as an enforced political dogma). Mr Albanese is quite wrong to dismiss the words of the Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who describes the situation facing Palestinians as directly akin to the situation facing black and coloured South Africans under the apartheid regime. However, the term is no longer applicable simply in comparison with South Africa. The Rome statute of the international criminal court states “The crime of apartheid means inhumane acts of a character committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination of one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. While not wishing to apply the word ‘apartheid’ within Israel itself, nevertheless the Nation-State-law of 2018 provides for 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinians, 20% of the population.
He is also wrong to dismiss the recent poll to emerge from the US that indicates a quarter of all American Jews describe Israel’s control and treatment of Palestinians as Apartheid while the figure amongst younger Jews is even higher. While it is true that poll results are determined by the questions asked, it is undeniably true that a significant proportion of the Jewish diaspora is highly critical of Israel and its abuse of human rights and the Jewish members of APAN will attest that ECAJ, and least of all the Zionist Federation of Australia, do not speak for them.
Finally, he is wrong not to take seriously the highly respected Israeli human right organization B’Tselem which uses the word apartheid to describe Israeli policy of systemic human rights abuse in the Palestinian territories.
Apartheid is insidious in its advance. It starts with annoying rules which apply to one race but not to others. It proceeds with tools of identification which permit one group freedoms which are denied to others. It climaxes in one race being systematically ‘cleansed’ from homes farms and villages they have occupied for generations to be corralled into smaller and smaller areas of deprivation and poverty, with violence used to keep them in place. Palestinians experience all these phases. Sunday’s news stories from the Israeli paper Haaretz chronicle the story of a Jewish settler on the West Bank shooting at Palestinians while the Israeli military watched on. Stories of apartheid emerge every day and visitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza will experience them for themselves. From my own experience I echo the words of an Australian parliamentarian who, following his week in the Palestinian Territories, said “I cannot now unsee what I have seen”.
Apartheid is the most apt word to describe the situation faced by Palestinians and I encourage all who claim to stand for universal human rights, especially politicians, to name the reality, in keeping with the legal meaning of the term in international law.
On the other hand, Mr Albanese is seriously right in his reassurance that a government he leads will recognise Palestine in its first term.
Israeli leadership is of the view that the whole of the West Bank (known in Israel as Judea and Samaria) and East Jerusalem will be part of Israel, but the Palestinians who live in these areas will never be part of Israel. Numerous senior ministers in the Knesset are on record as saying that not one inch of these lands will ever be ceded to Palestinian control, nor will Palestinians be granted Israeli citizenship. Netanyahu and the current prime minister, Bennett are part of this chorus. It is the charter of the Likud party.
In 2010, Henry Siegman, former director of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, wrote:
Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank … seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement”, one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.
That is why recognising Palestine, recognising the right of Palestinians to exist, is so important and the foundation of any just and peaceful future that may lie ahead. Recognising Palestine does not pre-empt a future. It is however essential to affirm that both halves of the population that almost equally occupy these lands deserve an equal share in that future.
I applaud the courage of Mr Albanese and his colleagues in the Labor Party for making this stand and for staking a claim on the right side of history.
Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve better than their current crop of politicians. They serve neither peoples well. If they stay on their present trajectory, unhappiness fear and violence will be the common lot of all who live in this unique slice of planet earth for the foreseeable future. But it need not be this way. There is every reason why respect and a desire for mutuality will lead to shared flourishing. Walls, armaments and a disgraceful political class will keep both peoples from living the life they both deserve.
Mr Albanese, thanks so much for your long history of speaking up for human rights, but in this case, do not be afraid to name the situation for what it is, for only in naming it, can pressure be brought to change it.
The Regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce
Usually, news items have no intellectual or emotional impact, either because we have become so conditioned to a situation, however appalling, that its further announcement has become unremarkable, or because the matter simply does not seem relevant.
I was therefore surprised at my reaction to the news that Barnaby Joyce had returned as Deputy Prime Minister. I found the news quite shocking and symptomatic of everything that is wrong with contemporary Australian politics.
Joyce is a flawed human being. Now, I know all human beings are flawed, none more so than myself. However, there is something about Barnaby’s flawed nature that presents him as one entirely unsuitable for a position of responsibility, least of all as Deputy Prime Minister. He seems to be totally consumed with himself. For someone who claims a strong Christian faith within the catholic tradition he appears utterly hypocritical. How can he possibly claim to hold to ‘family values’ and do what he has done to his first family. Given all the unresolved issues about parliamentary culture, he would appear to be the least suited person to take a lead as a standard maker. He appears a pugnacious grenade thrower, not a reasoned, trustworthy, leader.
When I think of the National Party, I think of a political movement that emerged to represent farming and agriculture throughout regional Australia. One of the politicians I admire most in the Federal Parliament is a farmer who holds a National Party seat in NSW. Yet, Barnaby Joyce and his key supporters live lives that are far removed from agriculture, (despite owning some land), representing most loudly the interests of miners, particularly in central Queensland. His statements in the last few days all reflect this reality.
It is apparently the case that Barnaby Joyce has returned as leader of the National Party because significant power brokers want to prevent further action on emissions reduction, lest the businesses model undergirding fossil fuel extraction be threatened. This is not the position of the farming community which numerically far exceeds the fossil fuel industry, and which is often adversely affected by it. With two caveats, the NFF (National Farmers Federation) has signed up to the goal of zero emissions by 2050. A primary reason for this is that such a goal could, and should, provide economic advantage through carbon sequestration, hosting renewable energy generation projects etc. Such projects potentially increase productivity and provide a cash buffer in times of drought. How relevant are the ambitions of Barnaby Joyce, George Christiansen, or Senator Canavan to Australia’s farming community? Apparently not at all. So, Mr Joyce, it appears your party is not the advocate of regional, agricultural, Australia as you claim. You are the champion of the mining industry and particularly its wealthy and powerful ownership. Ironically, you are not doing miners any favours.
My contacts in the Hunter Valley tell me that many in the mining industry are all too aware and accepting of the reality that coal has a much-diminished future. They do not seek open warfare in a fight to the death for an industry that is already being phased down, but they seek fearless advocacy for a place in the technologically attractive post carbon world for which most are uniquely qualified for pioneering employment. It is ironic that miners would be better represented by a party that strongly believes in a new technological future, rather than a party that demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to outdo king Canute.
The regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce was heralded by the National Party’s outgoing leader, Michael McCormack, as evidence of the party’s democratic DNA. That may or may not be a reasonable interpretation. However, the sought for outcome by those who initiated the spill is most undemocratic. Consistent polls show that approximately 70% of Australians want further action on climate change and emissions reduction. The National Party represents less than 5% of the electorate and given support for change by farmers and the NFF, those who hold the position for which National Party leadership now appears committed, are quite minimal. And yet. And yet … representing this small section of the electorate, Joyce along with his supporters, seek to hold the country to ransom by threatening the unity of the coalition unless it toes the line with them. Nothing could be less democratic.
Added to this has been yesterday’s announcement from UNESC0 that they intend to declare the Great Barrier Reef to be endangered. Scientific observation makes this tragic declaration virtually inevitable. It is a fact that the Great Barrier Reef employs vastly more people in the tourist industry than will ever be employed in an increasingly mechanised central Queensland mining industry. Why is Mr Joyce more interested in the much smaller coterie of jobs in coal mining than he is in the vast numbers dependent upon the tourist industry?
Michael McCormack is an affable but bumbling politician. It is not unreasonable to think that in Australia’s second most senior politician we might have seen a greater level of competence. Those who know him tell me he is essentially a decent human being. But can the same be said of Mr Joyce? His first wife and daughters clearly do not think so, nor do many women struggling for a changed culture in a still largely male dominated world.
What is beyond dispute is that Australia must step up and take its place in the international family of nations with unequivocal support for action to safeguard ecological and environmental sustainability. Not to do so is unthinkable. That a minor political party believes it has the right to scuttle such an aim is quite grotesque. It is even more grotesque to think that an Australian Prime Minister, having made an undisclosed pact with them for the sake of power retention, should consider this pact more important than the future of the planet.
Domestic Abuse in the Anglican Church and Male Headship
In the last few days, considerable attention has been given to the results of a survey which indicate that domestic violence is not just as prevalent in the Anglican Church as the wider community but is more prevalent. This is too shocking to grasp. What possible explanation can we give? Do women gravitate to the Church seeking comfort because of their abuse? I suppose that is possible. But if this is the reason for the shocking statistics, it does not square with the other finding that women seldom seek counsel from Church leadership. The most plausible explanation is that this shocking data relates to teaching within the Church. In 2017 I wrote the following blog which also appeared in the Melbourne Anglican and has now reappeared on its web page. It seems as pertinent now as it was then.
JULY 25 2017 “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 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 undergirding of creation’s order.
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 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 7.30 Report (July 2017) Archbishop Davies 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 long bow to claim that because of physiology, relational or leadership roles are possible to one and not the other. It seems obvious that roles within marriage are 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 (although not from the teaching of Jesus in the gospels). 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 must 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”.
Dr George Browning is the former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. This is a slightly edited version of an article he wrote for his blog on 24 July 2017. See http://www.georgebrowning.com.au
From Memorial to Theme Park
Approval has been granted by the National Capital Authority for the governing body of the National War Memorial in Canberra to turn the Memorial into a theme park and further the myth that values undergirding Australian identity were and are primarily forged in war on foreign lands. There has been a signing off on what are called ‘early works’ of this half billion dollar plus redevelopment.
All this is occurring despite overwhelming public submissions in opposition. These include an almost who’s who of eminent Australians. Opposition focusses on the scandalous attempt to further glorify war and display the apparatus of war. Global armament production has become, a reported 2 trillion USD industry annually, of which more than 70% is reported to be generated and exported by the US.
Why is the Australian War Memorial redevelopment such a bad idea?
It was the highly respected retired Admiral, Chris Barrie, who described the proposal as a tourist theme Park. If that is its role, it needs to be relocated to the Gold Coast. At the heart of Australia’s national capital, it sits facing parliament house, together, their joint placing and purpose signify they are Australia’s two most significant buildings. If parliament house is best known through the spectacle of question time and the memorial through its theme park, we hardly deserve to be taken at all seriously as a nation. We have apparently become a nation that does not wish to take anything seriously, but rather seeks any amusement, however bizarre, as a source of diversion therapy.
The ABC - a victim of Right wing Cancel Culture
Increasingly ferocious attacks on the ABC by Fox, Sky News, News limited are gratuitous, transparently self-serving and a threat to a free press. This is serious, a vibrant democracy is impossible without an independent and unfettered press, and in the great tradition of western democracies, without a public broadcaster. Ferocious attacks from politicians are vexatious, coming as they do from powerful people who wish to avoid accountability and would prefer their deeds be kept in the dark.
The ABC occupies news space which privately owned companies resent, believing that news and its distribution should be in private hands. News outlets that are privately owned, by definition, have a sectional agenda. Hopefully, a public broadcaster’s mandate is to publish news without fear or favour to any sectional interest. To have the ABC out of the way, or at least severely diminished, suits their business plan and allows their sectional interest to appear more ‘main-stream’.
Comments critical of the ABC from government politicians are vexatious because they reject the concept of accountability. Programmes most detested by government are Four-corners, 7.30, and Q and A. It is the job of journalists to hold those who hold public office to account. The principle of accountability should be welcomed by all in positions of power and authority. Cleary this is not the case for a significant number of senior ministers in the Morrison government. It is not helpful for them to whinge that the heat of laser sharp enquiry is directed more intensely toward them than the opposition. It is inevitable that those in power will be subject to more scrutiny than those in opposition, for the simple reason they hold power.
Action against the ABC by competitive news outlets and by government officials is also hypocritical, for it is they, on the right of the political spectrum, who most vehemently argue for freedom of speech and accuse those with whom they disagree of being ‘woke’ or being part of ‘cancel culture’. If ‘cancel culture’ is the threat to a free democratic society that those in the right often assert, surely the attacks on the ABC are the most egregious form of this culture. Those who are crying the loudest are the very people who do not wish their performance to be held to account. It is apparently virtuous to demand the right to freedom of speech when promoting ideas, or people, who support your position, but it is not acceptable for freedom of speech to be exercised in the arena of accountability.
Without scrutiny and accountability of those in power, democracy and liberality becomes very fragile.
It is hard to argue against the proposition that the ABC’s Four Corners is the flagship of the best in Australian journalism. Over many decades its stories have brought to light numerous situations which would otherwise have remained hidden. Australia and Australian democracy owes the programme, its journalists, producers, and the management that has supported it, a very great debt of gratitude.
Of course, it too needs to be held accountable, but this is a different matter than being attacked by those who would prefer their performances not to be scrutinised by the light of day.
It is more than a little interesting that current attacks on the ABC include personal attacks on its chair, Ita Buttrose. It appears the argument goes like this. “We, that is the government, appointed Ita to chair the ABC to ensure the government’s agenda is strongly prosecuted. Ita is apparently not doing this to the satisfaction of the government bench, instead she is doing her job, chairing the ABC board of management. Therefore, she should be dismissed, not because of any failure in the performance of the task to which she has been appointed, but because she has not in all circumstances protected the government’s perspective on controversial issues”.
It is likely that, if the ABC continues to do its job properly, it will come under further and accelerating attack, because it appears we are currently served by one of the least accountable of governments.
There are several in the current cabinet or parliament who should have stood down or should have been stood down. In the past it was the custom that if failure occurs on a grand scale in a minister’s department, they will stand aside. On any scale there has been monumental failure in the department of aged care. When figures are presented to justify the performance of a department that are later proved to be manifestly untrue, a minister would in the past have stood down. When the public persona of a minister or ordinary member has become the source of scandal, in the past they would have stood down. It is not simply a matter of innocence or guilt, it is a matter of public trust and perceived fitness for office.
‘Cover ups’ appear to have become an acceptable modus operandi, the most egregious form of cover-up being the treatment of whistle blowers. The continuing prosecution of witness K and Bernard Colleary is scandalous. It is cruel both in its endlessness and in its secrecy. It could be stopped at any time by the public prosecutor or by the Attorney General. That it continues, and continues in secret, is not because a great crime has been committed by those standing at the bar, but because the Australian government is guilty of a crime against the Timorese government that they would prefer not to be given oxygen, a crime that the Timorese had to take to the Hague to gain redress. Bernard Colleary is doing no more, but no less, than what a barrister should do, represent his client. For this ‘crime’ he can neither practice and earn a living, or clear his name. The previous Attorney General and the current Attorney General should have stood down, or have been stood down, because of this gross injustice.
Ironically this is a matter over which the ABC is guilty, it has not sufficiently held the government to account.
The attacks on the ABC by other news outlets and especially by senior members of the government is a matter of considerable gravity. It is not simply that in times of emergency like the pandemic, or bushfires, that the role of the ABC is paramount, it is that every democracy worthy of the name needs and deserves a vibrant public broadcaster unfettered by sectional interest
Those who do not like the light of day shining on mirky activity should remove themselves from public service not attempt to shoot the messenger.
War – who is being advantaged by it?
The world’s media has swung into action to report the ‘imminent war between Hamas and Israel’ as if there is equality of capability and culpability. Why is it not reporting the desperation of Netanyahu to stay in power without a mandate, and the convenience of war for him? Why is it not reporting the reality that this ‘conflict’ makes it virtually impossible for a coalition to be formed against him, inclusive of Arab parties? Why is it not reporting that Hamas and Netanyahu need one another? In a strange way they are both on the same side, they were both born in and shaped by conflict, they both need conflict to cement their positions. Neither want a two-state solution, one seeking the supposed elimination of Israel, the other the extermination of Palestinians. Hamas may talk about its desire that Israel not exist but has zero capacity to influence or effect that outcome. On the other hand, the leadership of Israel that says it will never allow the existence of a Palestinian State has every capacity to achieve this end.
More importantly, why is it not being made unequivocally clear that for 70+ years Palestinians have been subject to gross violation of their human rights and that this subjugation is intensifying not diminishing. The threatened forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah is but the latest example of outrageous human rights violations. In the face of constant violations should anyone be surprised there are reactions. That some reactions are violent and threaten innocent civilian lives must be condemned. However, what should be reported and underlined is the cause. In a nutshell the cause is the occupation and its consequences. Reactions should not be treated with equal seriousness as the action that caused them.
Why is ‘disappearing Palestine’ not being made clear to the outside world. In the partition which was forced on the Palestinians following the second world war the intention was for two states of approximately equal size. As a result of the war that followed, for 70+ years Israel has been 78% of the original Palestine and the Palestinian territories 22%. In the Oslo agreement of the nineties, Palestinian leadership agreed to a state based on that 22% with East Jerusalem as its capital.
As a result of the aggressive and illegal settlement programme, pushed and accelerated by Netanyahu, Palestinians, although approximately equal in population to Israelis, are being progressively pushed out of the 22% into disconnected pockets of population. Netanyahu and his ‘government’ (there is currently no legitimate Israeli government) effectively control the fate of all Palestinians, no matter where they live. Gaza is blockaded and therefore controlled.
So, where does all this place the Australian government and its foreign policy. In a very tricky position. Australia purports to stand up for human rights. We have been quite outspoken about China’s oppression of the Uighurs – and rightly so. We have not been quite as outspoken about the denial of civil rights to ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. How many Australians know anything about the fate of the Karen, or indeed have knowledge of the Karen diaspora in Australia?
We should raise human rights violations anywhere they occur in the world. However, we will remain hypocritical, two faced, because of our uncritical support for Israel as its supposed best friend. Silence in face of its human rights violations makes us tacit supporters of its system of growing apartheid. It is shamefully the case that we feel at liberty to criticise foes, but do not have the same compunction to criticise those with whom we are otherwise aligned. Is that partly because we are embarrassed and ashamed by our own domestic record?
Let me repeat what I have said many times before, more Australian politicians, Federal and State, especially of coalition parties, go to Israel than any other country in the world. Why? What knowledge or agenda do they wish to propagate on their return? What is it that they see when they are there?
How many have visited a Palestinian family evicted from their home? How many have joined the crowd of workers at 4.00.am being herded through a ‘security’ tunnel to try to be at work on time? How many have met a Palestinian farmer who can see his fields but must take a 40km trip to reach them because of no go zone. How many have stayed with a Palestinian family in Nablus to experience the intermittent availability of electricity or the scarcity of water while observing the illegal settlements above the city with manicured irrigated lawns and plenty of water to wash the car? How many have conversed with shop keepers in Hebron who daily contend with refuse being poured down upon them from settlers above. How many have spoken to an Australian member of the accompaniment programme who at the age of 80 has volunteered three months at a time to walk with Palestinian children from their homes to school to protect them from settler harassment? How many have spoken with Palestinian parents on their way to gaol to visit their 12-year-old son or daughter who has been incarcerate for supposedly throwing a stone at a soldier who has shot his or her cousin?
Yes, there are always two sides to a story. But here in Australia, so great is the pressure exerted by Israeli interests that only one side is permitted. The journalist John Lyons has long made this point, not least in his book Balcony over Jerusalem.
What is currently unfolding in Israel/Palestine is tragic beyond words.
Joe Biden has parroted the words beloved also of Australian Prime Ministers: “Israel has a right to defend itself”. But hang on a minute. Israel is not being attacked by some external power. It is experiencing dissent from within territories over which it exercises control. Apart from the rest of the Palestinian territories, it continues to maintain a blockade of Gaza and therefore controls it. Israel has within its power the capacity to end this endless cycle – take its foot off the neck of Palestinians. Grant equal democratic rights to all citizens. Abandon racist ideologies.
Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu, various competing Israeli political power plays, none of you are part of the solution, you are all part of the problem, step aside leave space for younger leadership which hopefully will see the future in terms of an integrated, free, respectful society in which difference is treasured and diversity embraced.