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Faith in Action: a religious response to the Climate Emergency (Part Three)

Continuing my reflections on the first national conference in Canberra of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) …

Dr James Whelan, lecturer, researcher and longterm environmental activist, spoke about creating a faith network to tackle the climate emergency, advocating that we need to play to our strengths, ask the clarifying questions, “What are our strengths?”, “What are we lacking?”—and advocate that we need to be strategic!

He argued that we can learn from social movements that have come before—in areas as diverse as anti-apartheid, land rights, whaling, smoking, AIDS/HIV, breast cancer, anti-uranium, public transport, urban sanitation, workers’ rights, or domestic violence.

He then invited the participants to identify the strengths of ARRCC and its people; participants identified creativity, courage, a moral voice, the use of positional authority to persuade, energy from young people, shared values across a wide diversity, existing networks that can be engaged, a clarity of commitment to change, a commitment to respectful conversations as the basis for enabling change, a thoughtful, broad-based progressive religious voice in the public arena, and the fact that ARRCC is an intergenerational and transcontinental movement.

The afternoon was spent in small group workshops ranging across a range of issues exploring how people of faith might respond to the climate emergency. One group heard strategies used to convince religious groups to divest from companies that support fossil fuels; another explored a case study in “switching to sunshine” by installing solar panels.

In one group there was a focus on strategies for developing a climate-conserving lifestyle, noting both the opportunities and the challenges involved. A fourth group heard stories of nonviolent resistance “from the frontline”, whilst another group heard stories of developing local networks across religious faiths (and beyond), sharing the triumphs and the struggles of such work.

The afternoon continued with feedback of learnings and a consideration of how these learnings might best inform the ongoing work of ARRCC, as they focus on four areas: preventing the extraction of fossil fuels (no new coal mines)—transitioning to sustainable regional economies (retraining the labour force)—increasing clean energy uptake by local faith communities—and encouraging responsible lifestyle changes (through programs such as Living the Change, Switch to Sunshine, Eat Less Meat, and Climate Action Kits).

ARRCC President, Thea Ormerod, reminded us of the practical steps that people of faith (and others, too) can take: flying less and driving more; cycling more and taking public transport; eating less meat, shopping locally, and growing your vegetables; all of these (and more) contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.

The scourge of our society is that we think that increased comfort and convenience, and abundant choice as consumers, makes us appreciate life more and feel happier and more contented. Not so, the research shows; more is not better, comfort does not always generate happiness, convenience does not help us flourish as human beings.

Quoting Prof. Mark Howden of the ANU, Thea noted that “each choice matters, each year matters, each half a degree matters”. Living the Change is a project that ARRCC now offers to educate and encourage such transitions in people’s lives. This project upholds two deep theological convictions: the Earth is a sacred gift, and each person has the responsibility to live in a way that supports and sustains our common home. You can read about this project at https://www.arrcc.org.au/living_the_change and download a climate action kit with practical strategies at https://www.arrcc.org.au/climate-action-kits

The conference continues on Sunday with further workshops on moving to a pant-based diet, making the most of one-on-one conversations, and building the climate movement in a local faith community—but I won’t be there as I will be leading worship in my local faith community and speaking about the importance of caring for creation and living sustainability.

It’s certainly been a most intense but very useful experience to have been involved in this conference.

(The photo montage shows key ARRCC people, Dr Miriam Pepper at top left, Thea Ormerod and Tejopala Rawls at bottom right, along with the large cross and the meeting place of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton.)

See also

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/09/faith-in-action-a-religious-response-to-the-climate-emergency-part-two/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/09/faith-in-action-a-religious-response-to-the-climate-emergency-part-one/

and related blogs at

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/08/look-up-to-the-sky-look-down-to-your-feet-luke-20/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/09/18/supporting-the-climate-strike/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/25/873/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani-k/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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Faith in Action: a religious response to the Climate Emergency (Part Two)

Today I am with people from a wide range of faith traditions from across the Australian continent and Aotearoa New Zealand, at the first national conference in Canberra of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC).

During the morning, a series of keynote speakers addressed the Conference: a scientist, followed by a Muslim scholar and a Christian researcher and activist.

Prof. Lesley Hughes of the Climate Council and Macquarie University (top right in the photo montage) gave an overview of the impacts that are being felt right around the world in this climate emergency. Significant changes in the climate are clearly documented; the rate of change is alarming and disturbing in so many areas: temperatures are rising, heatwaves are growing, snow coverage is declining, water levels are rising.

Emissions in 18 countries have been declining in recent years; Australia is not one of those countries. Globally, there is less use of coal and more dependence on renewable sources of energy. However, Australia remains the largest exporter of coal in the world, and we have the 12th highest emissions per capita. Figures demonstrate that the introduction of a Carbon Price under Gillard had a clear impact, but there has been a strong reversal since the time of Abbott.

A number of articles by Prof. Hughes setting out the details of these factors can be read on The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823/articles, whilst the Climate Council has recently published a landmark report, This is what climate change looks like. It offers sobering reading. You can download and read the report from https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/This-is-What-Climate-Change-Looks-Like.pdf

Prof. Hughes concluded by quoting the inspiring slogan, We are the ones we have been waiting for!

Prof. Mehmet Ozalp, of Charles Sturt University (bottom right in the photo montage) spoke about an Islamic response to the climate emergency, arguing that within Islamic theology there is a clear ethical obligation to respond in practical ways. On the scale of assessment regarding ethical matters (allowed, recommended, neutral, not recommended, prohibited), this clearly sits within the realm of allowed (halal). He bases this on the premise that, where harm and benefit co-exist, alleviation of harm is the priority.

In 2015, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change was issued. It sets out the theological and ethical imperatives, but is not strong on offering practical strategies. See https://unfccc.int/news/islamic-declaration-on-climate-change

What motivates change? Prof. Ozalp outlined four factors: awareness through education, activism and media reports; relationships with friends, acquaintances and organisations; religious teachings in worship; and individual consciences which generate a concern for the earth and its creatures.

Prof. Ozalp referred to a range of initiatives: questions relating to the hajj and the use of plastic bottles for water; green makeovers of 600 mosques in Morocco and 2000 mosques in Jordan; the Greening the Desert project in Jordan is one of many projects in the Middle East; and the partnership of Greenpeace and the Indonesian Government to avoid plastic during Ramadan.

Trees for Change in Tanzania is one of a number of African tree planting projects; a proposed gold mine in the Kaz Mountains near Gallipoli in Turkey has been stopped by mass protest; an Eco Mosque is being built in Cambridge, UK; and a strong Green Muslim movement has emerged in the USA.

In Australia, Monash University held a Greener Iftar whilst a recently-opened Eco Mosque in Punchbowl has won an architectural award. Australian Muslim leaders have supported the Stop Adani campaign and signed the letter prepared by ARRCC. ISRA has been active in holding public education events in the Muslim community, including the 2019 Living the Change Workshop.

Dr Miriam Pepper, from the Uniting Church (bottom left in the photo montage), then spoke about Engagement and mobilisation on climate change in Christian churches, both to outline the responses and help participants to discern opportunities for future mobilisation.

In Australia, 1.6 million people attend Christian worship on any given Sunday, providing a significant opportunity for networking, influencing, and acting. However, church participants are generally socially and politically conservative, and takeup of climate activism, despite the clear evidence about the climate emergency, has been low and slow across all Christian denominations. (Some have been more active than others.)

Attitudes towards the climate emergency and activities taken in response to it can be schematised as citizen, reformer, rebel, or change agent. Each has a place in the overall movement. Dr Pepper spoke of a range of actions undertaken in Australian Christian churches. Community gardens, solar panels and climate signs outside churches are increasingly found associated with churches. Christian participation in marches, rallies and strikes remains consistent—especially from Uniting Church members, but spread across many denominations.

Divestment from companies supporting fossil fuels is a strategy employed by a growing number of religious organisations. Some Christians have participated in nonviolent direct actions—following the example of Jesus himself! Organisationally, churches work through Congregations and Parishes, denominational agencies focussed on environmental issues, influential positional leaders (most notably, Pope Francis), national and regional church bodies, church schools, university student groups, theological and bible colleges, religious orders, as well as in partnership with parachurch organisations and ecumenical networks.

Drawing on data from the NCLS, Dr Pepper reported that the majority of church people do accept that climate change is happening, but taking action on environmental issues does not rate high on the list of social and religious issues that churchgoers believe should be prioritised by their churches. That places a challenge before all ministers and leaders in the churches to press the point concerning this vital set of issues. See a series of NCLS papers on the environment at http://www.ncls.org.au/topic/environment

In summary, she noted that congregational engagement remains low; however, a sign of hope is provided through an increasing Roman Catholic commitment to caring for the earth, which has grown since the release of the encyclical Laudato si’.

The three presentations we followed by a lively panel discussion, responding to a range of questions and comments form conference participants. A clear role was seen for church communities to press for changes in lifestyle as well as the policy framework of society—through individual and communal actions, through public education and activism, and through political lobbying.

The importance of naming environmental issues in worship, inviting lament and grieving in prayers, offering practical strategies in sermons and study groups, and pointing to a hope for the future through specific actions, was also noted. The scientist on the panel, Prof. Hughes, made a strong statement about the importance of hope amongst everyone involved in responding to the climate emergency—both people of faith and people of no faith working together to a shared and hoped-for outcome.

Prof. Hughes also spoke about the interrelationship between environment, society, lifestyle and civilisation itself. We need to stop talking about “the environment” as an isolated entity, and frame it, rather, in terms of what impact the changes in climate will have on our way of living and our very existence as the human race. That is the extent of the challenge we face!

See related blogs at

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/09/faith-in-action-a-religious-response-to-the-climate-emergency-part-one/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/08/look-up-to-the-sky-look-down-to-your-feet-luke-20/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/09/18/supporting-the-climate-strike/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/25/873/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani-k/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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Faith in Action: a religious response to the Climate Emergency (Part One)

A good number of Uniting Church people from the ACT and NSW, and beyond, joined with people from a wide range of faith traditions from across the continent and Aotearoa New Zealand, at the first national conference in Canberra of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC).

The Friday evening began with the Kiddush, a welcome to the Sabbath, with blessings and sharing of wine and bread, as is the Jewish custom for the Friday evening start of Sabbath. This was led, and explained, by Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black from the Leo Baeck Centre in Melbourne.

A Welcome to Country was offered by Uncle Wally Bell, of the Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation, who sang and spoke in language as he explained the spiritual importance of land for the First Peoples of the country. This was followed by an introduction to the Conference by the President of ARRCC, Thea Ormerod, and a welcome to participants from Bishop Stephen Pickard, Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, which was the location for the conference.

Spirituality is at the centre of the ethos of ARRCC, so prayers were led by people of faith from the Hindu, Muslim, Brahma Kumaris, and Buddhist faith traditions.

This was followed by a powerful reflection on how Indigenous spirituality informs the work of caring for and protecting the environment. The reflection was offered by Murrawah Johnson, a young Wirdi woman from Wangan and Jagalingou country, the land of the Galilee Basin where it is proposed to build the monstrous Adani coal mine. She is an activist, inspired by Eddie Mabo and others of his era, who has worked hard towards the goal of stopping the Adani mine. “When you love your people, amazing things can happen”, she observed, bringing a strong sense of optimism into the conference deliberations,

The Muslim speaker quoted a verse of the Quran which appears to provide a direct commentary on the climate emergency that we are currently experiencing, not shying away from the contribution that human beings have made to that emergency: Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return. (Quran, 30:41)

That seems, to me, to be a powerful statement in our current context. It does not seek to excuse human beings for the scenario we are facing; in fact, it centres the ecological crisis deep in the heart of the spiritual dis-ease of human beings. It also signals some hope: is it possible that we might return (repent, change, transform) as a result of what we are currently experiencing. That means it is as much a spiritual, or religious, matter, as it is a political, legal, economic, and social matter.

For links to people and organisations noted above, see

http://www.buru-ngunawal.com/426483484

https://grist.org/grist-50/profile/murrawah-johnson/

https://www.arrcc.org.au/about

https://www.arrcc.org.au/arrcc_national_conference

https://about.csu.edu.au/community/accc/about

For some of my other blogs on the environment, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/08/look-up-to-the-sky-look-down-to-your-feet-luke-20/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/09/18/supporting-the-climate-strike/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/25/873/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani-k/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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Stones singing and rivers vibrating … a liturgy for Holy Communion

A LITURGY FOR HOLY COMMUNION, AT THE CLOSE
OF A MINISTRY RETREAT FOR ‘MARKING THE TIME’

Gathering music

Psalm 19:1-6, 7-10, 14 is read

The community is gathered in these words:

There are stones that sing and rivers vibrating
under our feet and in our hearts,
one and the same, not distinct—
sacred blurring into secular,
secular fusing into sacred;
no binary bifurcation, no simplistic division,
but wholeness—shalom
infinite liminality, unlimited unfinality  …

As we have been marking the time, we remember …

it is over food that everything happens;
it is over food that hearts are opened,
fears are revealed, and love is expressed;

it is over food that everything happens;
the sharing of hopes, the comforting of anxieties,
the telling of stories, the healing of hurts …

it is over food that we meet: food, bread and wine,
the basic stuff of life, here, now, for us, from eternity.

 

We offer our prayers:

In time beyond our dreaming, beyond our marking …
in Daramoolen … in Tjukurrpa … in Alcheringa
you brought forth light out of darkness:
swirling waters, dazzling colours, singing stones,
and you set woman and man in the midst of your creation.

In the covenant with Israel
you mandated holiness and steadfast love,
through the voices of the prophets
you called for justice and righteousness,
in the songs of the psalmists and the wisdom of the sages
you spoke truth and wisdom, hope at the gates.

And then, in the fullness of time
—in that particular wrinkle in time—
you sent forth Jesus, your Son:
gift of grace, gatekeeper of hope;
perfect grace, embodying you,
dangerous grace, confronting, challenging;
the grace of perfect danger
sent to the place of resistance and defiance
in the face of Empire: Roman—human—Empire.

 

We remember:

And so, as we have been marking the time,
we remember that time around the table, at the meal—
for everything happens over food.

And at this particular wrinkle in time, we remember:
how he took – blessed – broke – and gave them bread,
how he took – blessed – poured – and gave the cup;
blood shed from perfect danger,
blood shed as perfect grace,
sign of hope at the gates of hope,
promise and foretaste—stimulus and challenge—
the place of truth telling about our souls …
our ground … our struggle … our hope.

We mark that time in this time, now.

 

We pray for others:

And as we mark the time and remember that moment,
we celebrate this moment above the rivers vibrating,
amidst the stones singing, we celebrate and pray …

[specific names and issues may be named after each pause]

for each other …

for the people with whom we minister
and the urgencies that will undoubtedly claim us on our return …

for those who have been with us,
but have returned to responsibilities …

for colleagues unable to be with us here …

for those, here and beyond, who are pondering,
discerning, conversing, deciding about new possibilities …

for those who are moving on
into new pathways, new ventures …

for those towns and cities beyond us,
across this wide brown land …

for people and nations beyond our shores …

for creatures and ecosystems across the planet …

and we join in the Lord’s Prayer …

then we share the Peace …

then our Prayers continue:

Bless us, bless those for whom we pray, bless us all.

Bless this land,
with rivers vibrating, stones singing, land yearning.

Bless these gifts of bread and wine.

Send your Spirit to meet with our spirits, our very being.

Send your Spirit into these gifts of bread and wine,
that they may be for us body of Christ, blood of Christ,
to nourish us and change us
to be people of God, body of Christ, communion with Spirit,
here, now, on earth as in heaven.

The elements are shared amongst the people in silence

We mark the time of our moving on
and take the time to bless our going forth:

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground,
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
As you have lived] your time [here] to its fullest;
Return home more enriched and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

 

The Blessing of the Angels (sung)

 

John T. Squires
30 October 2019

 

Many thanks to the Rev. Dr Sarah Bachelard for the gentle leading, rich resourcing, and inspiring modelling of deep spirituality, which she offered throughout the Retreat.

 

Notes

The featured image is of the symbol that sat at the centre of the group throughout the Retreat, which was variously adapted at points throughout.

The term Dreamtime is an English attempt to render various Indigenous words that describe Aboriginal culture and spirituality. Included here are Daramoolen (Ngunnawal), Tjukurrpa (Walpiri and Pitjantjatjara) and Alcheringa (Arrernte)

“Marking the times” was offered by Sarah as the overarching theme for the Retreat, inspired by a phrase in the Book of Common Prayer (‘read, mark and inwardly digest‘)

“A wrinkle in time” is the title of a book by Madeleine L’Engle

“It is over food that hearts are opened, fears are revealed, and love is expressed” is taken from a sign in the Op Shop at Jindabyne Uniting Church

Jindabyne Op SHop

“Stones that sing and rivers vibrating” is taken from There are stones that sing by Mary Oliver

“The grace of perfect danger” is taken from For the Artist at the Start of the Day by John O’Donohue

“The place of resistance and defiance” and “the gates of hope” is taken from The Gates of Hope by Victoria Safford

“The urgencies that claim you” and the closing blessing, “may you travel …”, are both slightly adapted from For the Traveller by John O’Donohue

Other poems used on the Retreat include A Morning Offering by John O’Donohue, A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry, Still Point by Max Reif, Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two, XIII by Rainer Maria Rilke, and No Sooner by Michael Leunig

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The sincerest form of flattery? Or a later, imperfect imitation? (2 Thessalonians)

Paul, Silas and Timothy arrived in Thessalonika in the year 50 CE. Acts indicates that they went to the synagogue, where Paul declared that the Jewish scriptures pointed to Jesus as Messiah (Acts 17:2–3). This stirred up antagonism amongst the Jews of the city (Acts 17:5).

Those who accepted Paul’s message, realising that he was just recovering from the experience of prison in Philippi (Acts 16:19–24), sent him and Silas on to their next stop in Beroea after only three weeks in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2). Paul then travelled to Athens (Acts 17:15) and Corinth (Acts 18:1).

Little of this is reflected in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, apart from a direct comment about his difficulties in Philippi (1 Thess 2:2) and some generalised references to the persecution he was suffering (1 Thess 3:4, 7). Although it is likely that Paul wrote letters before he had visited Thessalonica, none of them are known to us.

1 Thessalonians, dating from the same year (50 CE) as his visit to Thessalonica, is the earliest example of Paul’s letter writing that we have. The letter itself contains no explicit indication of the time or place of its writing; tradition has it that Paul wrote from Athens, although it is more likely that he penned it in Corinth just months after his departure from Thessalonica. His visit was still fresh in Paul’s mind, and he writes with love and concern for the community of believers that he left behind in Thessalonica.

It is obvious that Paul had developed a strong bond with this community, and he is anxious to keep in touch with them (3:5). The letter was in reply to what he had learned from Timothy about their recent progress (3:6).

The letter known as 2 Thessalonians appears in the lectionary this Sunday and in the two following weeks. It seems to run in parallel to 1 Thessalonians in a number of ways. Some of the themes from the first letter are replicated, and varied, in the second letter to the Thessalonians:

• the matter of idleness in the community (1 Thess 5:14; 2 Thess 3:6–12)

• the general eschatological orientation (1 Thess 4:13–5:11; 2 Thess 1:5–2:16)

• an exhortation to imitate Paul (1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:7).

Also, both letters contain reminders about Paul’s teachings (1 Thess 2:5–7, 12; 4:1–2; 5:1–2; 2 Thess 2:15).

However, the commonality of both general themes and specific words and phrases leads to a question about the relationship between these two letters: is this stylistic variation on common themes written by the same author, or a deliberate attempt to copy the first letter by another scribe at a later date?

Scholars answer the question differently; there are different views on the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. The opening and closing sections of 2 Thessalonians are revealing.

The letter concludes with an insistence that it was written by Paul: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (3:17). At first glance, this looks similar to the reference to Paul’s “large letters” in his “own hand” at Gal 6:11; but this is a brief passing comment, whereas the claim is laboured in 2 Thessalonians by the addition of extra phrases, so that we start to have a sense of “methinks he doth protest too much”.

The first twenty words of the opening address of 1 Thess 1:1 are repeated exactly in 2 Thess 1:1–2a; this is unusual amongst the seven authentic letters of Paul, for in every other case there are variations of both minor and major significance in this opening section. (See Rom 1:2–6; 1 Cor 1:2b; 2 Cor 1:b; Gal 1:1 and 1:4; Phil 1:1b; Phlmn 2.)

In the thanksgiving (2 Thess 1:3–4), a string of key words evokes themes from 1 Thessalonians. There is virtually nothing in the thanksgiving of 2 Thessalonians which is not present, in some way, in 1 Thessalonians. This is unparalleled amongst the authentic letters of Paul; his usual practice was to contextualise this section of the letter by indicating key issues which will be dealt with in the body of the letter.

There are differences in content in the bodies of the two letters. The friendly relationship evident throughout the first letter differs from the highly critical attitude towards the community in 2 Thessalonians. The eschatological orientation of 1 Thessalonians is present in general terms in 2 Thessalonians, but the difference is that the second letter is marked by a much stronger apocalyptic character. And twice in 2 Thessalonians (2:15 and 3:6), claims are made that Paul taught the Thessalonians material which is not found in 1 Thessalonians.

In my assessment, then, these differences mark 2 Thessalonians as coming from a different hand, in a situation where different issues were at stake. It appears to be a later imitation of 1 Thessalonians.

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/17/harness-the-passion-but-restrain-the-rhetoric-musing-on-the-role-model-which-paul-offers-in-galatians/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/

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This is the proper way: no climbing

34 years ago today, on 26 October 1985, Uluru was handed back to the Anangu peoples, the Traditional Custodians. On that day, the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, ceremonially handed over title for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to the Anangu peoples.

Now, 34 years later, as from today, 26 October 2019, Uluru will no longer be able to be climbed. The Anangu peoples have for a long time, decades even, asked visitors not to climb this sacred place. Now, that has come to be.

It is believed the first European explorer to climb Uluru was an Englishman, William Christie Gosse, in 1873. However, as there are no specific records for this, the first climb actually recorded climb was in 1936, with the introduction of tourism to the region.

Since the 1950s when records were first kept, there have been a total of 37 fatalities on the treacherous climb. The most recent fatality was on 4 July 2018, when a 76 year old Japanese tourist collapsed when he was attempting to ascend one of the steepest parts of the climb. There hadn’t been a death on the Uluru climb before this since 2010, when a 54-year old Victorian man collapsed while attempting to reach the top.

In 1966, after two fatalities occurred in 1964, a chain was installed along a portion of the climb, without consultation or consent from the Traditional Owners. The chain was upgraded and ultimately completed in 1976. What will happen with the chain, posts and landmark cairn installed on top of Uluru after the closure of the climb is yet to be determined.

(I obtained this information from https://www.ayersrockresort.com.au/uluru-and-kata-tjuta/uluru-and-kata-tjuta-national-park/can-i-climb-uluru)

The First People of the area are the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional landowners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. In their language, they call themselves Anangu. The landscape of the region is closely related to a series of stories from their heritage. What can be told in public about these stories can be found at https://parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/discover/culture/stories/.

On the website of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Anangu people have said this about climbing Uluru:

We Anangu have a responsibility to teach and safeguard visitors to our land. The climb can be dangerous. Too many people have died while attempting to climb Uluru. Many others have been injured while climbing. We feel great sadness when a person dies or is hurt on our land. We worry about you and we worry about your family. Our traditional law teaches us the proper way to behave.

See https://parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/discover/culture/uluru-climb/

And they offer these words, from Kunmanara, a traditional owner:

“That’s a really important sacred thing that you are climbing… You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place. And maybe that makes you a bit sad. But anyway that’s what we have to say. We are obliged by Tjukurpa to say. And all the tourists will brighten up and say, ‘Oh I see. This is the right way. This is the thing that’s right. This is the proper way: no climbing’.”

(Tjukurpa is the traditional law, stories and spirituality of the Anangu)

See https://parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/discover/culture/uluru-climb/

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Please Leave ?? No — Please Stay !!

There has been a lot of media interest in the recent declaration by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, concerning the way that some dioceses, a number of ministers, and many, many people of faith are grappling with our changed understandings of gender and sexuality, and how that relates to Christian faith.

It is a complex matter, with many nuances, that deserve careful consideration, and compassionate reflection.

The words of the Sydney Diocese leader, however, cast the situation in a clear black-and-white manner, with the stinger of a sharp command to those with whom he (and many in his Diocese) disagree: “please leave”.

The full set of words from this part of his speech is instructive: “My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our Church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of Scripture. Please leave us.”

So sayeth the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, the Rev. Dr Glenn Davies.

(A full account of his speech to the Anglican Synod is reported on the Sydney Diocese webpage at https://sydneyanglicans.net/news/guarding-the-faith-in-a-changing-world and in Eternity News at https://www.eternitynews.com.au/australia/please-leave-us-sydneys-anglican-archbishop-tells-progressive-christians/)

But there are a number of problems with what Dr Davies said.

The Archbishop distanced himself from “people who] wish to change the doctrine of our Church”. The first problem is, that doctrine is always changing. It was changing in the early decades of the church. It changed significantly in the various Reformations of the 16th century, under the leadership of Jan Huss, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Knox, and then the response of the Council of Trent in the Roman Catholic Church.

It changed in 1540, when Henry VIII of England sanctioned the complete destruction of shrines to saints, and further in 1542, when Henry dissolved monasteries across the country—actions which changed doctrines and led to the formation of the very church in which Glenn Davies was ordained and then consecrated!

It changed when, during the Enlightenment, theologians and scholars applied principles of rational thinking to scriptural texts and faith concerns. It continues to change in the postmodern world, as new discoveries and insights lead Christian leaders to bring new questions to faith issues, and to formulate beliefs in ways that connect with and make sense within the changing world.

In my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, we recognise this when we recall the paragraph in our Basis of Union that affirms “the continuing witness and service”, not only of evangelists, prophets, and martyrs, but also of scholars; and which notes that as we engage with “literary, historical and scientific enquiry … [of] recent centuries”, we are able to develop “an informed faith” of relevance to the current times.

Doctrine is dynamic; it is always in a state of flux. Theology is transient; it is always developing. Church teaching is constantly evolving; it is never static.

(On my take on interpreting the classic creeds of the church, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/02/interpreting-the-creeds-in-a-later-age/; on how the Uniting Church envisages the factors involved in this process, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/seeking-an-informed-faith/)

Second, the Archbishop referred to “the plain teaching of Scripture”. The second problem, then is that scripture does not actually have a plain teaching. There are words, written in the Bible, which need to be interpreted, if they are to be understood and applied to contemporary life. There is no plain and simple teaching in these words; they are words which always need interpretation.

This interpretation starts with the choice of text. We do not have an “original version”; we have copies of copies, some complete, many fragmented. There are always options to consider–and we all rely on experts in this matter. Then comes the matter of language. Biblical texts were written in languages other than English. We English-speakers are reliant on the careful work of translators and scholars, seeking to render the phrases of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, into contemporary English. There are already multiple interpretive decisions that have been made for us, in our English Bibles.

Then, interpretation needs to take into account the differences in culture that exist, between the patriarchal, honour-shame cultures of antiquity, and the current state of play within (in our case) contemporary Australian society. We can’t just assume that something from an ancient culture “makes sense” in our contemporary culture, let alone that it can be “directly applied” into our context. There are interpretive decisions to be made.

(I have written about this dimension at https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/07/to-articulate-faith-contextually/)

The process of interpretation also needs to bear in mind how the usage of particular words and ideas has changed over time. Awful, for instance, once had a very positive sense, “full full of awe or admiration”, whilst nice had an earlier sense of “silly, foolish”. Guy (from the historical British figure Guy Fawkes) had an earlier sense of a frightening figure, not the generalised reference to men that it has today, whilst meat in earlier centuries was a catch-all term referring to food in general. (And, most pertinent to the particular issue at hand, “gay” once had a very different point of reference in English!)

These kinds of shifts in usage are also found in terms that appear in the Bible, especially in translations from some centuries ago. We need to factor that in to our interpretation.

And then, reading and interpretation of the Bible involves application, discerning how and in what ways a biblical passage is relevant for us today. That means knowing what our situation is as well as what we hear in the biblical text, and connecting the two. It is not simple or straightforward.

In an earlier interview about his view of matters of sexuality (and other issues), Dr Davies referred disparagingly to “a virus in the national church, caused by not teaching properly the word of God” (see https://www.thepastorsheart.net/podcast/2019/9/17/archbishop-davies-on-public-christian-leadership).

That’s an unfair and unhelpfully polemical characterisation of what is a complex and nuanced matter—reading biblical passages about sexuality in contemporary society. The biblical texts about sexual relationships involving people of the same gender are not simple and self-evident prohibitions on such behaviour, and should not be read as such.

Elizabeth and I have contributed a discussion of this matter which, I believe, offers more constructive lines of understanding; see https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/ as well as https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/26/human-sexuality-and-the-bible/ and https://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf.

(More generally, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/the-word-of-god-scripture-and-jesus-christ/)

Third, the Archbishop—quite strikingly—has urged certain people to leave the Anglican Church. I believe that advocating that people leave one church to start another church is not a helpful activity. Anglicans, like other mainstream denominations, have a commitment to unity in the church. So, the third problem is a lack of commitment to the unity of the church.

That’s quite an amazing position for a leader in a denomination which affirms that it is, indeed, an integral part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church—and which is universally recognised by other denominations as an integral part of that Church.

Each Sunday, in Anglican churches around Australia (and beyond), faithful people affirm, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” That’s a line in the Nicene Creed. And those Anglicans are joined by many Roman Catholics, members of the many Orthodox churches, and quite a number of folk in the various Protestant churches, to say these words together on regular (even weekly) occasions. Across the denominations, there is a commitment to unity.

Not in the Sydney Anglican Diocese, however. The Archbishop’s invitation to those who see things differently from him to leave the church and form their own branch is fracturing the unity of the church even more by this narrow, sectarian dogmatism.

Even his own colleagues, it seems, have recognised that Dr Davies has crossed a line with his rhetoric in recent days (see https://www.theage.com.au/national/even-conservative-rectors-shuddered-why-sydney-archbishop-s-words-hurt-20191018-p531ye.html). Such rhetoric serves only to exacerbate differences and intensify hurt. Is that really being faithful to the office into which he has been called?

The worldwide leader of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, has affirmed that “reconciliation is the hallmark of Anglicanism, the heart of the gospel and a life to which we are all called” (see https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/reconciliation.aspx).

Archbishop Welby is promoting through the Anglican Communion a resource entitled Living Reconciliation, which “offers a vision of Church marked by honesty, truthfulness and love … [and] applies the teaching of the Gospel at precisely the point where we need it most today” (see http://living-reconciliation.org/thebook/).

Is the Archbishop of Sydney aware of just how contrary his words are, to the principles of reconciliation and the commitment to an honest, loving church that is being championed by the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Finally, the Archbishop of Sydney is quoted as imploring those with whom he disagrees: do not ruin the Anglican Church. The fourth problem I see is that exploring and developing ideas is not a process of ruination.

Rather, the exploration of ideas and the development of thought is a constructive process that offers a gift to the church at large: the gift of an ever-evolving, ever-refining articulation of beliefs in ways that resonate with life in the contemporary age. Questions, provocations, redefinitions, and developments in thinking and believing are wonderful gifts!

I wouldn’t characterise the process as one of causing ruin. Rather, I would celebrate it and affirm the importance of this process. The problem, it seems to me, is that if you really believe that you have The Truth, then you are impelled to convince others of that Truth. But if you believe you are called to Love others, then you will listen and learn.

Sadly, the Archbishop has demonstrated this stark difference: when we prioritise Truth, we inform, lecture, admonish, even berate; whereas when we prioritise Love, we enter into relationships, affirm, explore, nourish, question, rethink, and develop in community with each other. Quite a different ethos. Quite a different result.

Please Leave? No—Please Stay! To the people addressed by Dr Davies, I say: Please stay in the Christian church and help us to be faithful to the Gospel. Please stay in the Christian church and help us to change in ways that are positive and life-giving. Please stay and gift your distinctive contribution to the life of the church in your locality and beyond.

And to the Archbishop, if he really is committed to the process of leaving, I say: you please leave. Please leave behind homophobic fear and discriminatory rhetoric. Please leave behind your insistence on conformity to your particular dogmatic assertions. Please leave behind your criticisms of those who happen to be born different from you. That’s what I would like you to leave.

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What does it mean to say that the Bible is inspired? (2 Tim 3:16)

How many times have you heard it said, “the Bible is the inspired Word of God” ? Have you ever thought about what this phrase actually means ? Paul Achtemeier, in his book The Inspiration of Scripture, has indicated the problems that are inherent in using the terminology of “inspiration” loosely.  He points to issues related to the use (or abuse) of this term.  The matter is not quite as simple as it first appears.

 The traditional answer to the question of what this statement means, is to assert (quite correctly) that the Bible uses this concept of inspiration to define itself.  However, we need to be careful in simply lifting out one word (this is all it is, even in Greek!) and making it the lynchpin of a massive argument.  The claim that “God said it; I believe it; that settles it” is ultimately an inadequate answer if we are truly seeking understanding of our faith.

 What, then, is the biblical evidence for the claim of inspiration? 2 Timothy 3:16 is generally regarded as the “proof text” for this topic, with the claim being made that all scripture is inspired. This verse appears in the passage set for reading in churches this coming Sunday, as the epistle reading in the Revised Common Lectionary.

However, even this verse must be viewed in context.  It cannot readily be extracted from its context and pressed into service as an abstract definition; we cannot assume that it is the fundamental principle held by all biblical writers, as no other writers of other biblical books give any indication that it was adhered to in this way.  We should note a number of aspects of this verse which caution us against making it a fundamental universal principle which applies equally in every case.

Is this the last word on the matter? Some interpreters have argued that the whole of 2 Timothy should be seen as a last testament of Paul — an attempt to set out his final thoughts in a clear, systematic, programmatic manner, as his last will and testament for his followers. However, caution is again required at this point. 

The authenticity of 2 Timothy is debated. Some scholars claim that it was not written by Paul, others say that he dictated it to a secretary, while yet others argue that it does contain fragments of material written by Paul, which are placed within a larger framework of a whole letter by another writer.  (See https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/)

Whatever the origin of the letter, it is clear that it was written in a specific context; it is by no means an attempt to set out basic principles, but rather applies such principles to a given situation.

 Inspired. First, the Greek word translated “inspired” is theopneustos, which literally means, “breathed by God”.  This was not a common term in the first century CE; many other similar terms were available prior to the New Testament to describe the activity of inspiration.  So the use of this term is not in itself a clear-cut way of proposing a “doctrine of inspiration” in first century terms.

 Useful. Further, we should note that in 2 Timothy 3:16 the definition which is given is functional, not ontological that is to say, it identifies the effect scripture has, and does not define the essence of scripture in and of itself.  The emphasis is placed on the fact that scripture is “useful” or “profitable”.  Inspiration, so it seems, does not reside in the writings themselves, nor in the writer, but results from the process of using (or applying) scripture.

 Scripture. A further issue concerns the word graphe, usually translated as “scripture”.  This word literally means “writing”, and normally it applies to Old Testament books.  At the time of writing 2 Timothy, it could not yet apply to the New Testament in a direct manner, since the complete New Testament was not yet formed. 

In his authentic writings Paul himself shows little awareness of the Gospels or of Gospel traditions; and there is no evidence for the collection of Paul’s letters until early in the second century CE.  By contrast, Paul regularly cites scriptures from his own tradition, the Hebrew scriptures, and it is clear that he considers these works to be important guides for living by faith. Romans, Galatians, and both letters to the Corinthians contain numerous such instances.

(There are explicit citations of Hebrew scriptures at two places in the Pastoral Epistles: 1 Tim 5:17-20, quoting Deut 25:4 and alluding to Deut 19:5, and 2 Tim 2:19, citing Num 16:5 and Isa 26:13.)

Thus, this statement was originally NOT about the whole of the Bible; it is only by inference that we can refer it to the whole of the Bible.

 Useful for … Finally, let us note the diversity of functions here attributed to inspired writings: they can be used for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.  Thus, a richness of meaning is perceived within scripture, indicating the diversity of ways of applying scripture.  There is no single function which is foundational; nor does this verse set out all the functions of scripture (the Psalms, for example, function in a number of different ways — for praise, lament, celebration, petition, confession, remembrance, and so on).

 Thus, 2 Timothy 3:16 itself does not offer a full and satisfactory answer to the question, what does it mean to say that the Bible is inspired?  It offers one insight, but it needs to be balanced against others.  It is not the last word on the matter.

Certainly, it is clear that this passage can refer only to the Hebrew scriptures, for the New Testament as we know it was not yet formed, even in the early decades of the second century. And it points towards a functional understanding of scripture, providing no basis for any claims about the divinely-inspired and absolutely authoritative nature of the books of the Bible.

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/07/rightly-explaining-the-word-of-truth-2-tim-215/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/17/harness-the-passion-but-restrain-the-rhetoric-musing-on-the-role-model-which-paul-offers-in-galatians/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

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Rightly explaining the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. So writes Paul to his “beloved child”, Timothy, in the second letter that we have addressed to this co-worker.

(On the reasons why this letter may well not have been written by the apostle Paul himself, but by one of his followers after Paul’s lifetime, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/)

The letter presents a scenario that sees Paul in prison (1:8; 2:9), in contact with a group otherwise unknown from his letters—Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia (4:21). As Paul was previously in Corinth and Miletus (4:20) and is in Rome as he writes (1:17), the letter itself suggests a time near the end of his life. He writes, we are led to believe, as a mature believer, imparting wisdom to a younger co-worker.

This assumption is supported by some of the imagery used, with Paul describing his life as “poured out as a libation” (4:6) and stating that he has “fought the good fight” (4:7). We know virtually nothing of this period from Acts; the last description of Paul that we have in Acts (28:30–31) is generalized and non-specific, so we can’t cross-check with anything there.

This letter, like 1 Timothy and Titus, gives indication of disagreement and conflict within the early Christian communities, with varied understandings of faith being present in the place where the recipient of the letter is based.

 The opponents envisaged in this letter are described largely with reference to their verbal activity: they utter “profane chatter” (2:16), their “talk spreads like gangrene” (2:17), they engage in “wrangling over words” (2:14) and “stupid and senseless controversies” (2:23); they “captivate silly women” (3:6) and their “myths” are listened to by people with “itching ears” (4:3–4). The author certainly possesses a vivid vocabulary!

The author contends that these opponents are “people of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith” who oppose the truth (3:8), “wicked people and imposters” who deceive others (3:13); they have been “ensnared by the devil” (2:26). The long list of vices (3:2–5) might also be inferred as applying to these people. The rhetoric is aggressively antagonistic.

 The one specific identifying mark of these people who have “swerved from the truth” is their assertion that “the resurrection has already taken place” (2:18). Against this, the author refers to the future appearance of Jesus (4:1, using the Greek word epiphaneia, most unusually for Paul). There is also a quotation of scripture to refute the heresy (2:19, citing Num 16:5 and Isa 26:13).

Paul offers clear guidance to Timothy as to how he is to deal with such opponents. He provides Timothy with short, concise summaries of the faith that they share (2:11-13; see also 1 Tim 2:5-6 and 3:16) and advises, Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. So Paul instructs Timothy, whom he charges to be an apologist (one who contends verbally, and vigorously, for the faith).

The apologetic that Timothy is to exhibit is succinctly expressed in the excerpt from the letter set in the lectionary as this Sunday’s epistle reading; Timothy is to rightly explain the word of truth (2:15).

This letter shares an apologetic quality with the first letter to Timothy, in its concern for “godliness” (2 Tim 3:5), “the truth” (2 Tim 2:18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4) and “the faith” (2 Tim 1:13; 2:18; 4:7). It provides various indications of the content of this faith: an epitome in three short clauses (2:8), a more discursive exposition of “the gospel” in poetic form (1:8–10) and a five-line hymn (2:11–13), introduced as yet another “sure saying” (2:11).

Paul, the nominal author of this letter, is set forth as a model for Timothy; he is described as having been “appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (1:11) who provides “the standard of sound teaching” (1:13).

This “sound teaching” is entrusted to Timothy (1:12), who is exhorted to “guard the good treasure entrusted to you” (1:14). That’s the “word of truth”, direct from Paul. This word, in turn, is to be entrusted to “faithful people” (2:2) who in turn become teachers. So the letter clearly explains the way in which “the faith” is to be passed on from teacher to associate to local leaders. Paul’s authentic letters do not emphasise this line of authority in the same fashion.

 In his calling as a teacher, Paul has encountered suffering (1:12; 3:11), but he has placed his trust in Christ (1:12) and Christ has strengthened him (4:17). According to this pattern, Timothy ought then expect to suffer (2:3; 3:12) and should stand “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1).

The imagery used to explain the leadership role entrusted to him refers to the soldier (2:3–4), the athlete (2:5) and the farmer (2:6); these images are consistent with the rhetoric of self-defence which Paul employs (1 Cor 3:8–9; 9:7, 10, 24–25). By contrast, the reference to household utensils (2:20–21) runs counter to the way Paul used similar imagery (“we have this treasure in clay jars”, 2 Cor 4:7).

 The author of this letter expresses a firm confidence that he has gained “the crown of righteousness” (4:8) in his eternal destiny. For Paul to write this would be unusual, as he elsewhere uses this imagery to describe other people (not his own destiny) as his crown (the Philippians, Phil 4:1; the Thessalonians, 1 Thess 2:19–20).

As the letter draws to a close, the author asserts that “the Lord will rescue me…and save me” (4:18). This heavenly rescue, assured for Paul, is promised also to those who faithfully exercise their ministry; Timothy, and other leaders, will find themselves in the company of Paul, in the heavenly kingdom (4:8). It is noteworthy that Paul regularly expresses hope in his future fate, without claiming clear certainty about it (Rom 5:1–2; 8:24–25; 1 Cor 9:10; 2 Cor 1:9–10; Gal 5:5).

It is doubtful, to me, that this element of the letter reflects Paul’s regular way of thinking. My reading of Paul’s letters is that he has much more of a concern for the present realities of life, and how the Gospel is at work in the present, than with the promise of a future off in the distance. He does not dismiss the future; but his energy and passion is oriented towards living by faith in the present.

The letter provokes us to ponder what it is that we regard as essential to the word of truth, how we go about rightly explaining that word of truth, so that others will be grasped by the good news and feel welcomed and affirmed within the community of faith.

 

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/17/harness-the-passion-but-restrain-the-rhetoric-musing-on-the-role-model-which-paul-offers-in-galatians/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

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In the name of the apostle …

In this latter part of the season after Pentecost, in Year C, the Revised Common Lectionary is taking us through a tour of a number of letters attributed to Paul—which most likely, for various reasons, were not actually written by Paul himself. We’ve read a couple of excerpts from 1 Timothy and launch into 2 Timothy this coming Sunday, after which we move on to 2 Thessalonians.

Many scholars consider that the apostle Paul did not actually wrote any of these letters (along with some others also attributed to Paul—Titus, Ephesians, and perhaps even Colossians). They have been able to come to this view because of what is known about the widespread practice, in the ancient world, of circulating letters and other documents in the name of an eminent person from an earlier age—a great scholar, or philosopher, or religious leader, or teacher. This was done by a writer who wished to “borrow” the authority of the older figure, believing that this would give greater weight to the views and teachings included in their work.

The suggestion is that members of the church in the later decades of the first century did this, using the name of Paul, because they regarded him as a teacher of note and an apostle of the church. There were already many works like this in Jewish circles, and a number amongst the gentiles also; so this was a well-known practice. And the ancient world did not have the strict laws of copyright and intellectual property which characterise the twenty-first century!

1 and 2 Timothy are two of the three letters written in the name of Paul which are addressed to two individuals whom Paul valued as co-workers and employed as ambassadors to his churches—Timothy and Titus. The letters are commonly referred to as the Pastoral Epistles because, it is felt, they are concerned almost entirely with matters internal to the structure and governance of the churches.

Whilst Paul’s authentic letters reflect the dynamic nature of the community of faith, these letters reflect a move towards a more developed organisational structure. They point towards the institutionalised church of the second century and beyond, in which the way of Jesus would become determined by the authority of the apostle and his local representative, the bishop.

Each of these letters is addressed to a fellow-worker of Paul who is known from other references in Paul’s authentic letters. Titus accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1, 3) and was a fellow-worker with Paul in ministry to the Corinthians (2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13–15; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18).

Timothy also accompanied Paul as “co-worker” (Rom 16:21) and fellow- preacher (2 Cor 1:19) and was a regular intermediary between Paul and believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:1–6), Corinth (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10) and Philippi (Phil 2:19–24). Timothy is described as the co-writer, with Paul, of three authentic letters (2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1) as well as two debated letters (Col 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1). In Acts, he appears regularly as an associate of Paul (Acts 16:1–2, 14–15; 17:5; 19:22; 20:5).

Each letter begins with a familiar assertion that it was written by Paul, but modern scholars have identified various doubts about this claim. Indeed, strong arguments can be advanced for dating these three letters after the lifetime of Paul. Clearly, these letters were written by someone with good knowledge of Paul and his teachings.

Yet the format of the letters and the distinctive vocabulary used throws doubt on the claim that Paul was the author. Whilst they each have a traditional framework for a letter, the body of the letter often reads more like a sermon or a moral treatise.

Over one third of the words found in these three letters are not found in the authentic letters of Paul. Many words found frequently in the authentic letters do not appear anywhere in these three letters.

In addition, the situations addressed, the theology of the letters and the ecclesial structures envisaged reflect many differences between each of these three letters and the seven authentic letters of Paul.

Together, all of these elements point to the conclusion that the author wrote these letters after the lifetime of Paul. He reaches back in time to the figure of Paul in order to validate the teachings given to the community of faith in his own time. The figures of Timothy and Titus represent the leaders in the communities of faith in this later period.

As we hear excerpts from the Pastoral Epistles in worship, and reflect on what they are saying to us today, we might ask:

How important is it, for you, to affirm that Paul himself wrote each of these letters?

Can you be comfortable with the idea that a follower of Paul wrote them in his name?

What message about the life of the church comes through these letters?

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Gracious openness and active discipleship as key characteristics of church membership

Today, in the Congregation where I am serving in ministry, as a group we refreshed our membership and reaffirmed our commitment to active discipleship within the Congregation and the community where it is based.

The classic way that we deal with membership in the church has been in terms of status. This is how membership is defined, both in the Constitution of the Uniting Church as well as in the Regulations which govern the ways that we operate. The status of a person can be identified in that we are baptised members, or confirmed members, for instance.

So, the questions asked to determine membership are along the lines of: Is the person baptised? Has the person, if they were baptised as an infant, confirmed their baptism by a public declaration of faith? Or has the person been received into this Congregation from another denomination?

That is how we have usually compiled membership roles. Identify the date of your baptism, or the time when you confirmed your faith, or show a letter of transfer from another denomination. All of that is in terms of status. It is about setting good boundaries, defining clear limits. It is a closing off of the membership list at a clearly demarcated point.

Another way to approach membership is in terms of function. In this approach, the questions become: How does the person express the commitment of membership? What tasks and responsibilities might reasonably be expected from the person? How is a person’s faith commitment evident in their daily lives? These are matters of how the person functions as a member. This is about being active within the group, and about seeing the boundaries of the group as fluid, transparent, open.

There is a section of the UCA Regulations which provide a guide for membership that is more dynamic than the status categorisations, that sets out what is expected of members in a UCA Congregation in active, dynamic terms. The section is a description of Confirmation, in terms of the key markers that will be expressed by a member.

CONDITIONS AND MODE OF CONFIRMATION

1.3.3 Confirmation shall be according to an order which meets the requirements of the Assembly and which makes provision for the candidate to declare: acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, determination to follow him in daily life, intention to participate actively in the fellowship of the Church and to support its work, and resolution to seek the extension of the reign of God in human society.

There are four key features in this paragraph:

* acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord

* determination to follow him in daily life

* intention to participate actively in the fellowship of the Church and to support its work

and

* resolution to seek the extension of the reign of God in human society.

This offers an understanding of membership in terms of a gracious openness, which is not bound by legalistic requirements, but which celebrates the active participation of people in the life of the church. This more accurately reflects the nature of the church as a inviting community of grace and inclusion, rather than as a closed book matter.

When we raise the issue of membership within the church community, I propose that we do it NOT in terms of “are you baptised and confirmed?”, NOT in terms of “do you attend Sunday morning worship?”, NOT in terms of “are you on the rosters?”, or “do you contribute financially?”, BUT rather in the terms set out in Regulation 1.3.3, to foster this sense of gracious openness.

Thus, we would be looking for people to make commitments in various ways: first, a faith commitment, traditionally expressed in terms of commitment to Jesus as “Saviour and Lord”; and second, to the local community of faith in Queanbeyan, in four specific ways.

One element is that people would express their commitment through active discipleship in their daily life. That is, discipleship is not measured primarily by what people do on Sunday, but by their deeds and words on each and every day of the week. It seems to me that, after expressing faith in Jesus, this aspect is the primary measure of membership.

Good members are active disciples. How that is expressed is worked out differently by each person, in accord with the gifts that the Spirit has given them, for their specific ministries.

Alongside this, there is a commitment to active participation in the fellowship of the Church, which can encompass the various ways that people gather together under the umbrella of the UCA: in Sunday morning worship, in weekly coffee groups, in fortnightly discipleship groups, in the regular bible study groups of the congregation, in the prayer group, in Messy Church gatherings, in friendship group gatherings, and in other ways that people gather together.

Good members participate regularly in fellowship. Participation in any one, or more, of these gatherings contributes to the overall sense of fellowship that we share as a community of faith. No one gathering is of more weight or more significance than any other.

Membership also involves active support for the work of the church. This can be in physical ways, through providing morning tea or mowing the grass or counting the offerings or reading scripture in worship or leading worship in the aged care facility or praying regularly for the people of the church and the mission of the church … and in many more ways.

It can also be in financial ways, through contributing a regular offering to support the work of the church (and such offerings may be given electronically or directly during worship). Good members are supportive of the ministry and mission of the church.

It is also clear that membership involves a commitment to work for the reign of God in human society. This can take many and varied forms: assisting in preparation of meals for the needy, participation in rallies relating to climate justice or justice for refugees, serving with Meals on Wheels or visiting people in a hospital or an aged care facility, taking people shopping when their mobility is limited or providing meals for people whose domestic situation is difficult, and in so many more ways.

Good members are working for the health and flourishing of others in society.

In association with supporting the mission and ministry of the church, and seeking the reign of God in our society, we might reasonably expect that good members are also willing to bear witness to their faith commitment, to offer words alongside of deeds, to speak about their faith as they participate in fellowship and serve others in need, to testify to their faith as they stand for justice and work to encourage one another.

And although it is not specified in the formal documentation of the church, it would make sense for us to be wanting to talk about what we value, to testify to the one who loves us, to share faith in appropriate ways with others. That might provide a fifth mark of the church: good members are committed to discipling others.

Of course, this looks like a long and daunting list. And it is! Probably there is no one of us who could affirm that we do all of these things each and every week of our lives. Yet, the list is aspirational (we aspire to be like this) and visionary (this is what we imagine we could be like). It is a good list for us to commit to.

I hope that all congregations are able to demonstrate this gracious openness as they encourage members to be active disciples.

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Supporting the Climate Strike

It is clear to me that many people across the Uniting Church are concerned about the impacts of climate change, and have been supportive of the various efforts to raise this attention in the public arena. The Climate Strike this week is the latest such enterprise, and we should be supporting it. In addition, we need to ensure that we do everything we can to change our way of living to reduce our impact on the environment.

When the Synod of NSW.ACT met in July, it agreed by consensus to support the School Student Climate Strike on 20 September, and others like it. Synod comprises people from towns and cities right across NSW and the ACT, from every Congregation and Presbytery of the UCA. I was very proud, as a member of the Synod, to see the clear message given by the younger members of Synod, and the strong support across all members.

The precise resolution is:

SYNOD CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION STRATEGY

Resolved 106/19S

That the Synod

(i) Develops a Synod-wide Climate Action Strategy to reduce carbon emissions across all levels councils and agencies of the Church and to advocate to the Federal, State Governments and Local

Councils to take decisive steps to reduce our emissions nationally.

(ii) Supports initiatives taken by young people in advocating for action on climate change, including the global climate strikes.

You can find this on page 5 of the Minutes at https://nswact.uca.org.au/media/7536/synod-2019-minutes-final.pdf

I blogged about it at the time at https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/09/advocacy-and-climate-change-growth-and-formation-treaty-with-first-peoples-synod-2019/

and my colleague Amy Junor provided a fine reflection on the set of issues involved in confronting climate change, at https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/19/climate-change-a-central-concern-in-contemporary-ministry/

The widespread support for this decision, both at Synod and in discussions subsequent to this meeting, is quite striking. In my experience, this crosses generations, political leanings, and theological commitments.

The Moderator has written an article, published by Eternity News, which articulates the theological underpinnings for supporting this strike, which you can read at https://www.eternitynews.com.au/current/why-the-uniting-church-supports-students-striking-for-climate-change/

A Synod media release was issued on 26 August, at https://nswact.uca.org.au/communications/newsroom/media-release-uniting-church-the-first-to-endorse-the-climatestrike-movement/

A strong statement has been issued in support of the strike from the Head of Newington College, a UCA school in Sydney, at https://massmail.fi.net.au/t/ViewEmail/j/CE89880F76CEFA0D2540EF23F30FEDED/F4747CB15B40540BF99AA49ED5AF8B9E

Common Grace has provided a clear explanation of the issues involved at https://www.commongrace.org.au/im_rallying_for

Vivian Harris provides clear testimony about the impact of persistent protest at https://climateactionbega.blogspot.com/2019/09/persistent-presence.html

and The Conversation explains how participation in such an event can motivate stronger action for change at https://theconversation.com/why-attending-a-climate-strike-can-change-minds-most-importantly-your-own-122862

These links provide us with a clear understanding as to why the Uniting Church has been such a strong advocate for participation in this strike and why we are joining with school children and concerned citizens around the world to participate in this strike.

My wife Elizabeth Raine has written some helpful reflections on environmental theology at

https://revivemagazine.org.au/2018/07/20/and-god-saw-it-was-good/

and

http://ruralreverend.blogspot.com/2012/06/musing-on-ecological-economy-why.html

and a series of blogs on living a life with low environmental impact, at

http://ruralreverend.blogspot.com/2013/10/setting-sail-on-ss-low-impact.html

http://ruralreverend.blogspot.com/2013/10/rubbish-to-left-of-me-and-rubbish-to.html

http://ruralreverend.blogspot.com/2014/07/planet-at-risk-sorry-for-inconvenience.html

http://ruralreverend.blogspot.com/2014/10/hygenically-sealed-in-plastic-for-your.html

and a lot more at https://elementcityblog.com (follow the links on the right of the page)

For my other blogs on the environment, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/25/873/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani-k/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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Where will we find hope? When will we see justice?

There are people in some of the Congregations of the Presbytery where I am currently serving in ministry, who will be finding the events of the next three weeks a challenge. They will be looking for hope, and seeking for justice. People from my Congregation at Queanbeyan, and people in the Goulburn Parish, will especially be impacted.

Today at Queanbeyan, the Prayers of the People were led by Marg Cotton, who invited members of the Congregation to pray for these people.

i invite you to join with her and the people today who prayed:

Lord God, we come before you today

seeking to make sense of a world

where there are many contradictions.

Bad things happen to the young and the innocent.

Wrongdoers prosper and seem to have

no remorse for the havoc they cause.

Sometimes it seems that there is no justice,

and that inequality and incivility are increasing at an exponential rate.

We make the effort to build a respectful

and hopeful community,

but the work of a lifetime can seem fragile

and doesn’t seem to be able to survive

without our continuing vigilance.

Misunderstood and misunderstanding,

we ponder our next steps.

Like the people in Jeremiah,

we feel cut off from your fountains of living water

and all we can see the is the cracked cistern

that can hold no water at all.

Where will we find hope?

When will we see justice?

Teach us, Lord, how we should be acting

in the current circumstances.

Let us first turn to you in humility

and recognise our need to be remade

and refreshed by you.

Come Lord and show us the path to take.

On this first day of spring

give us hope for the future

and a sense of purpose and optimism.

With the coming of spring

there is the hope of new life.

Help us to be ready to grow

and work together in this new season,

to hear your plans for us

and act to bring them into being.

In the name of Christ, we pray: Amen.

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In the wake of the verdict (and appeal decision) relating to Pell …

With some slight modification, this post from earlier this year seems appropriate for revisiting today, the day when the appeal by Cardinal George Pell has been dismissed.

……..

There has been a lot of media discussion in recent times about the convictions handed down against Cardinal George Pell. Articles that I have read have ranged across the validity of the sentence, the quality of the evidence provided, the rhetoric of the defendant barrister, and the perception that Pell was targeted in a “tall poppy syndrome” or as part of a wider vendetta against the Church.

I have been thinking, not just about this particular case, but about the various elements of our culture that are involved in these discussions. There are many elements that deserve attention and careful consideration.

Fundamental to these discussions, should be the basic principle of respect for another human being. If an alleged victim raises an accusation, that person deserves to be heard with respect and integrity. It is not fair to label or accuse such a person, especially if the claim has not yet received measured and fair consideration in the courts. Disrespectful descriptions and negative labelling of victims should never be published by any media outlet.

Second, I sense, is a concern about the way that we demonstrate trust in institutions — whether those institutions are the justice system, religious bodies, or leadership in society. It is clear that, in modern Australian society, any institution is “fair game” for suspicion and distrust. That might well be justified in some instances—the banking and finance industry, for instance; or political parties, when it comes to “jobs for the boys” and (as we have seen lately) “goodbye to the girls”. But should it be the default setting when considering any institution in society?

A factor that I see running through all considerations relating to sexual abuse, is the pernicious influence of secrecy—whether that is secrecy by church leaders, concerned to maintain the good name of their church; or secrecy by perpetrators, seeking to quieten the noises made about their alleged activity. Perpetrators are particularly good at impressing the need for secrecy on their victims. That’s one of the main warning flags in a sexual abuse scenario. It is not a healthy trait.

Of course, there is a different between when something needs to be held as confidential, and when it has become a secret. Knowing the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, is an important process of discernment. Some matters do need to be held in confidence, while further investigations are undertaken, for instance. And knowing when it is inappropriate to hold on to a secret, is also important to discern.

The discussion raises questions, for me, about styles of leadership within our society. Cardinal Pell exercised a particular style of leadership. It may well have contributed to the surge of opposition to him, both in his role as a leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a person in the spotlight. Certainly, while his style of charge-through-and-win-at-all-costs, might have garnered him support from those who agreed with his ideological stances, it also generated a mountain of opposition to him. Is this really the best way to exercise leadership in society?

Of course, the recently-concluded Royal Commission has shone a spotlight in the culture and ethos which has been dominant in a number of institutions in our society, including the Roman Catholic Church, other church denominations, and other institutions dealing with children. The Roman Catholic Church has been carefully scrutinised and a number of the commission’s recommendations do deal with changes that need to be made, to create a more healthy culture with an ethos that values integrity and transparency above arcane processes and secrecy.

I found myself, again and again, coming back to the priority that should be shown (but which often has not been shown), to demonstrate authentic care and compassion for victims. There are too many examples, that I am aware of, where people who have been victims are saying that the way the issues are discussed in the public arena provides a trigger to their hurts and fears, to their anxieties and depressive feelings. We owe them more than this; we need to prioritise a way of discussing matters that does not replicate past abuses and reinforce negative emotions.

That leads to another matter; the importance of language. Nothing demonstrated this more, than the unfortunate and ill-chosen rhetoric of the defence lawyer representing Cardinal Pell. It carried an inference that the kind of sexual assault experienced by the victims in this particular instance, was a lesser grade of assault. The swift apology and withdrawal of the terrible phrase that Robert Richter used, is a clear indication of the power that is carried in the words we use. I know this from my experience in leading worship and interpreting texts, within my church roles. It is something that needs to be recognised in people right across society, in the public discourse.

In terms of my faith, the message that I hear pressing on me, again and again, is that the Gospel call to faithful discipleship is far more important than the matter of preserving the institutional reputation. The deeply sad fact at the heart of so many instances of sexual abuse by priests, ministers, and pastors, is that the Gospel call has been subordinated (and ignored) in favour of protecting the institution. That is completely wrong.

I guess that the culture of “let’s stick together”, “this is not who we are”, “don’t criticise us, we do lots of good things”, must have been strong within the Catholic Church. That explains why there was such a concerted effort by many, to protect their fellow priests. The same went on in the Anglican Church, and there are indications of it in other denominations and organisations.

There is something positive in looking out for your fellow priest, or minister, or believer. (Although I really dislike it when someone says to me—as they do, from time to time—“ah, but you Ministers always stick together”.) But, sadly, this sense of a priestly brotherhood, all looking out for one another, has contributed to this distorted culture. It is clear that the culture of the Catholic Church has actually fostered misogyny and secrecy in relation to abuse. The sense of belonging to “a brotherhood” has contributed to that culture.

I have noted a tendency, in some faith-based commentary, to look for conspiracy theories about the criticism of churches that is abroad in society. I don’t think it is helpful to become defensive in this way, and I certainly don’t think it is at all useful to label those who criticise the churches as demonic or guided by the devil. Such negative, condemnatory language is completely unhelpful. The church needs to be able to defend itself through reasoned argument, and not resort to judgemental stereotypes.

A final point needs to be made. There is a need to distinguish “The (Roman) Catholic Church” from other church denominations. There are things about the Catholic Church which are distinctive, and which set it apart from other denominations, such as the Uniting Church: the all-male priesthood, the lack of females in leadership, the power of episcopacy in setting the culture, the requirement of celibacy amongst the priesthood, the centralised bureaucracy in Rome, and the strongly bonded nature of “the brotherhood” amongst religious (men). These factors have contributed to create the kind of culture that has protected, and also fostered, abusers. The Catholic Church needs to work hard to dismantle that culture. And all denominations need to be on the alert for signs that secrecy and protection of abusers is continuing.

There is a fine prayer for the current situation, written by my colleague Avril Hannah-Jones, at https://revdocgeek.com/2019/02/27/prayer-for-the-survivors-and-victims-of-child-abuse/

This is a well-argued piece which focuses on the damage done by a Pell, to an individual as well as to the church:

https://www.smh.com.au/national/history-will-judge-george-pell-the-cardinal-who-sought-to-crush-me-20190227-p510ma.html

Frank Brennan offered this analysis immediately after the verdict:

https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/truth-and-justice-after-the-pell-verdict

However, Daniel Reeders has provided this careful critique of Brennan, and of others seeking to vindicate Pell:

https://badblood.blog/candle-lighting-the-catholic-response-to-the-pell-conviction/

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Dark deeds in a sunny land: the exposé offered by John B. Gribble

I am currently reading an excellent work by Richard Broome, Professor of History at LaTrobe University in Melbourne. He is a much-published researcher in the area of Aboriginal history. The book, entitled Aboriginal Australians: a history since 1788, is comprehensive, providing many insights into the history of this country over the past 230 years, with many challenges in the narrative. I will be pondering much of what Broome writes as I work my way through the 400 pages of this book.

Today I read about a minister-missionary, of whom I was previously unaware. He was the Rev. John B. Gribble, who came originally from Cornwall in Britain, travelling as a one year old with his parents as they set out for a new life down under.

In October 1876, Gribble was admitted to the ministry of the United Free Methodist Church, but subsequently he joined the Congregational Union of Victoria and served as a home missionary. Apparently he had an encounter with the Kelly Gang during their heyday.

Over the years, Gribble worked with the Indigenous people, and in 1879 Gribble and his wife Mary opened the Warangesdah Aboriginal Mission at Darlington Point. The Bishop of the Church of England from Goulburn took on sponsorship of the mission, and then made Gribble a stipendiary reader in 1880, deacon in 1881 and priest in 1883.

In 1884, Gribble was invited by Bishop Henry Parry of Perth to work in Western Australia. He went to England, where he raised funds and published Black but Comely, a description of Aboriginal life in Australia. In 1885 he opened a mission on the Gascoyne River but was strongly opposed by settlers who exploited native labour.

In 1886, Gribble published Dark Deeds in a Sunny Land. This was a fierce castigation of his opponents; it created a furore and the welfare of the Aborigines was obscured by the fierce debate that ensued, which impacted the reputation of Gribble for some decades.

The booklet included an allegation that ‘quite sixty natives, men, women and children’ had been shot dead in one day in the Pilbara region. This exposé appears to have been one of the earliest, if not the earliest, public descriptions of what later became known as the Flying Foam massacre. The witness cited by Gribble, one David Carly, claimed to have seen ‘the skulls of fifteen who were shot’.

More information about the Flying Foam Massacre can be read at http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/flying-foam-massacre-killing-fields-murujuga

I have read all of this information also in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gribble-john-brown-3668). What this official biography does not mention—but Broome duly reports—is that Gribble’s license to preach was removed by his Bishop, and the Church later closed down the mission which he had started.

Gribble worked for a time as a labourer, sued the West Australian newspaper (but lost the case), then returned to the east and established another mission for Indigenous people in Queensland. Sadly, he died soon after this.

So much for the Church siding with the oppressed and standing for the Gospel!

The pictures show Gribble, the settlement at Warangesdah Aboriginal Mission, and relevant book covers.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today, 9 August, has been designated since 1982 by the United Nations as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year’s observance is dedicated to Indigenous Peoples’ Languages, since 2019 is being marked as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

A person’s right to use his or her chosen language is a prerequisite for freedom of thought, opinion and expression, access to education and information, employment, building inclusive societies, and other values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Many of us take it for granted that we can conduct our lives in our home languages without any constraints or prejudice. But this is not the case for everyone. Of the almost 7,000 existing languages, the majority have been created and are spoken by indigenous peoples who represent the greater part of the world’s cultural diversity. 

Yet many of these languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, as the communities speaking them are confronted with assimilation, enforced relocation, educational disadvantage, poverty, illiteracy, migration and other forms of discrimination and human rights.

It is estimated that, every 2 weeks, an indigenous language disappears, placing at risk the respective indigenous cultures and knowledge systems. That is why, on this International Day, the goal is to draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote them at both national and international levels.

It is believed that there were more than 250 Indigenous Australian languages, as well as 800 local dialectal varieties, which were spoken on the continent of Australia at the time of European settlement in 1788. Today, only 13 of those traditional Indigenous languages are still acquired by children. Approximately another hundred or so are spoken to various degrees by older generations, with many of these languages at risk as Elders pass away.

A map indicative of the language groups across the continent (in the image above) was created in 1994 to illustrate the diversity of Indigenous cultures across the continent. It includes many language groups but is not definitive in this regard; it provides a visual representation of that cultural diversity. The map was developed along with the Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia as part of a national research project. The Encyclopedia is available in libraries and contains more detailed information about the groups represented on the map.

Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia are speaking out about the need to maintain, preserve and strengthen Indigenous Australian languages. There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their languages, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation.

An important resource for the preservation and revival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages is the Australian Indigenous Languages Collection maintained by AIATSIS. The collection brings together over 4500 items such as children’s’ readers, bible translations, dictionaries, grammars, vocabularies, works of imagination and learning kits in 200 languages. The collection’s significance was recognised in 2009 when it was added to the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

Approximately 20 dictionaries of Australian Indigenous languages are being supported through the end of production cycle. This includes what will become an iconic Warlpiri encyclopedic dictionary, based on 60 years of research by teams of speakers and linguists, to support language maintenance in that community, and a facsimile edition of The Sydney Language (1993), to support language awareness and revival of the language which the First Fleet first encountered in 1788.

In 2016, then Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull made history by being the first Prime Minister to speak an Australian Indigenous language in a parliamentary speech. He gave an acknowledgment of country in Ngunawal for the annual Closing the Gap speech. The acknowledgment was written by Ngunawal men Tyronne Bell and Glen Freeman, with assistance from AIATSIS linguist Doug Marmion. This is particularly significant as the Ngunawal language has not been spoken fluently for almost a century, but AIATSIS has been working with the Ngunawal community for several years to revitalise it.

****

I have taken the above information from these websites:

https://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/

https://en.iyil2019.org/international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples-9-august-2019/

https://en.iyil2019.org/role-of-language/

https://en.iyil2019.org

https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/indigenous-australian-languages

https://aiatsis.gov.au/collections/about-collection/languages

https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia

https://aiatsis.gov.au/news-and-events/blog/indigenous-languages-australian-parliaments

https://aiatsis.gov.au

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330293198_The_Encyclopaedia_of_Aboriginal_Australia

https://australianarchaeologicalassociation.com.au/journal/review-of-encyclopaedia-of-aboriginal-australia-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-history-society-and-culture-edited-by-d-horton/

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Ramping up the rhetoric, generating guilt and provoking panic: the failed strategy of conservatives in the UCA (part III)

Concluding my exploration of reactionary conservatism throughout the 42 years of the Uniting Church. In part one, I looked at the formation of the church in 1977, and EMU (the Evangelical Ministers of the Uniting Church, later renamed to the Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU). In part two, I considered the Reforming Alliance (RA) and the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC), through to the present, with the formation of Propel.

VI. Conservative theology, the ACC, and CALD communities

From time to time, I hear the claim that goes something like, “lots of ethnic congregations disagree with the Uniting Church position on sexuality”. This is often applied to Pacific Island communities, referring to churches with their roots in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and a number of other islands in Oceania. It also applies to some Korean-speaking congregations.

One simple reason for this is historical: when Western churches sent missionaries to the Pacific Islands, and to Korea, the people that they sent were inevitably filled with missional zeal, conservative pietism, and intense desire to convert the people amongst whom they were living and ministering. The type of Christian faith that they brought with them, that they taught and advocated, and that was adopted by the people of the islands where they were based, was from a particular cultural context, which was conservative, evangelical, and in many cases, pre-critical.

Thus, the churches that they planted and that grew up in Korea and the Pacific Islands held strongly to conservative, evangelical, and even fundamentalist perspective on faith. That has carried over into the churches in Australia from those various Islander and Korean communities. Indeed, in those very cultures, pre-missionary understandings were often quite different from what we now hear as being from those cultures.

The same kind of rhetoric has been applied to these CALD communities (CALD = culturally and linguistically diverse). The dominant theological stance is conservative. The claim is made, from time to time, that people from these communities are leaving the church. In droves, it is sometimes said. Once again, the rhetoric is over-reaching; the numbers are highly exaggerated; the tactics are based on inaccuracies fed by fear, fostering division.

And the theological positions of people within these various CALD communities can no longer be stereotyped as being all the same, all conservative, all anti-homosexuals, all believing that the Bible is inerrant. There is, now, actually a wide range of opinions, perspectives, and theologies amongst these CALD communities. They are as diverse as any other part of the church, with all shades of theological commitment reflected.

After many generations of life in Australia, it is clear that people within the various CALD communities, like people within mono-Anglo church groups, have grappled with biblical interpretation, have sensed how traditional culture might be critiqued, and have realised that life is filled with diversity. They have adopted the Uniting Church’s commitment to an informed faith. It is not just a black-and-white situation. And that is part of the wonderful diversity that can be found within the Uniting Church.

On the commitment to an informed faith in the Basis of Union, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

I am proud to have many colleagues in ministry from non-Anglo origins, who have negotiated the pathway of being a “hyphenated” personality, straddling the culture of their place of origin and the culture of the place they now live. They serve with faithfulness. They know how to critique their culture of origin, how to critique their culture of current living, and how to apply these insights to biblical interpretation, theological exposition, pastoral care, and missional engagement.

I have been a member of the last two Assemblies. In debates on the floor of both Assemblies, the wide spread of theological positions advocated by members of the various CALD communities has been clearly evident. There is a diversity of voices within CALD communities. Not everyone in those groups accepts and repeats the conservative rhetoric about the crisis in the church, the decline of numbers. Indeed, most CALD communities hold fast to the Uniting Church as their faith home. They are not leaving in droves.

I have talked about this with a number of people who have worked, in different Synods, with people from many of the CALD communities. They know the diversity. They know the resentment of those who adopt “divisive, splintering tactics”, at some National Conferences, and in the public arena. Some CALD leaders attempt to speak to a wider audience as if they are speaking for all members of their ethnic community, and indeed all cultural groups across the UCA. They do not, and I have been told that this has been made clear in many sessions of various National Conferences.

The recent foray into Tonga is a case in point, when some leaders of the ACC went to the General Conference of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWC), to raise their concerns about the UCA, citing the 2018 decision about marriage, and to raise the possibility that there might be a breaking of relations with the UCA. The renegade UCA people in leadership in the ACC did not succeed in this task of fomenting dissension. The leaders of the FWC have issued a statement explicitly repudiating the claim that the relationship has broken.

See my post on this issue and the divisive tactics employed at

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/30/dividing-the-unity-splintering-the-connections-more-acc-agitation/

The current dominance in leadership, and in membership, of individuals from certain CALD communities, simply reflects the ineffective nature of their strategy in the church at large. It seems like cultural expectations are, in some situations, being used to sway adherence to a particular, narrow, theological dogma. I know of a number of locations where ACC leadership has explicitly sought to recruit whole CALD faith communities to their cause. That is a really sad way of operating.

VII. In conclusion

It is clear to me that the Uniting Church is firmly committed to being welcoming and inclusive, acting with integrity and grace. The President has signalled this with her 15th Assembly theme of abundant grace, liberating hope. (See https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/abundant-grace-liberating-hope/)

However, more recent statements by the ACC have exposed its theology as exclusionary, wrath-driven and judgemental. In my mind, it would be good if these advocates of “orthodoxy” were to have a different narrative.

There is clearly a place for an articulate, thoughtful, informed theology which is both conservative and evangelical. I don’t dispute that. I have always valued such voices, in the scholars I have read, the students I have taught, and the colleagues with whom I work and interact. Good conservative theology makes a valuable contribution to the life of the church.

However, the way that the case has been argued by some conservative leaders, the rhetorical strategy of crying doom and gloom, or worse, in an attempt to reverse decisions, does not provide a constructive contribution to the church. And in recent times it has descended into ugly rhetoric (“the UCA is apostate”, for instance). That’s counterproductive.

I yearn to hear conservative church leaders speaking in a way that highlights the GOOD news, that offers the GRACE of God, that models the INCLUSION of the Gospel and invites people into an EXPLORATION of faith, as is evident in the New Testament texts. This is the positive model of leadership which does well for the whole church.

Too often over the years, conservative leaders—and especially, more recently, the leadership of the ACC—have spoken to highlight JUDGEMENT, offering FEAR as the motivation for seeking repentance, and modelling the EXCLUSIVE character of a holy huddle which is entirely convinced that it, and it alone, possesses THE TRUTH about God.

We need to move away, once and for all, from these ineffective and disrespectful strategies.

We need to proclaim the good news!

******

For earlier parts, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/25/ramping-up-the-rhetoric-generating-guilt-and-provoking-panic-the-failed-strategy-of-conservatives-in-the-uca-part-i/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/25/ramping-up-the-rhetoric-generating-guilt-and-provoking-panic-the-failed-strategy-of-conservatives-in-the-uca-part-ii/

For my musings on the DNA of the UCA, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-I/

For the 1985 affirmation that the Uniting Church is a multicultural church, see https://assembly.uca.org.au/mcm/resources/assembly-resolutions-and-statements/item/1688-we-are-a-multicultural-church

For the 2012 statement on One Body Many Members: Living faith and life cross culturally, see https://assembly.uca.org.au/obmm

For overviews of the matter of sexuality within the Uniting Church over four decades, see https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/PDF/SexualityandLeadership_DocumentingtheHistory.pdf

https://www.southmoreton.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Same-gender-marriage-the-UCA-journey-rev1018.pptx

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Ramping up the rhetoric, generating guilt and provoking panic: the failed strategy of conservatives in the UCA (part II)

Continuing my explorations of reactionary conservatism throughout the 42 years of the Uniting Church. In part one, I looked at the formation of the church in 1977, and EMU (the Evangelical Ministers of the Uniting Church, later renamed to the Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU).

In this part, we look at the Reforming Alliance (RA) and the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC), through to the present, with the formation of Propel.

III. The Reforming Alliance, sexuality and leadership

Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU) had become active in prosecuting the view that the Uniting Church did not have an adequate view of scripture and did not hold strongly enough to the classic understandings of faith from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

The doctrinal stance of EMU is set out at

http://www.confessingcongregations.com/emusite/All%20About%20emu/Doctrinal%20Statement.pdf

After some individuals who identified as same-gender attracted offered themselves for consideration as candidates for ordained ministry, the focus of the conservatives turned more intensely onto the matter of sexuality.

Already in the 1980s the Assembly had established a Task Group on Sexuality, exploring the issues raised by EMU and then RA. There is a good summary of the work of this group, and the ensuing two decades of discussion of sexuality, at https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/PDF/SexualityandLeadership_DocumentingtheHistory.pdf

The Reforming Alliance was established in response to the 10th Assembly’s decision in 2003, not to make a statement opposing the ordination of people who are in a same-gender relationship. RA had fought against the reasoned articulation of “an informed faith” in relation to scripture and sexuality. It advocated a conservative, perhaps even fundamentalist, approach to scripture, which was the dominant paradigm in some denominations, but had never been the way that the UCA had approached biblical interpretation.

For a summary of the doctrinal position taken by the Reforming Alliance, see http://www.confessingcongregations.com/resources/reforming-alliance/

After the decision of the Assembly in 2003, there was a resurgence in rhetoric warning that the church would die, that this latest decision would mark the end of the Uniting Church. The rhetoric was steadily inflated. The strategy seemed to be to induce guilt about the future of the church, with the hope that this would result in an overturning of the decision. It did not. Some people left the UCA. Some congregations split. Ministry and Mission continued apace. The UCA continued on.

IV. The ACC and marriage of same-gender attracted people

Persistent debate has continued since that time, with conservative evangelical advocates across the Synods arguing against the agreed UCA position. There have been particularly strong groups in Qld and SA.

After the 11th Assembly in 2006, a special summit of the remnants of EMU and the relatively new Reforming Alliance established a new organisation, the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) within the Uniting Church. The battle continued into the present time. The rhetoric continued, and intensified, as the obvious lack of impact in the strategy became more evident. The generation of guilt was magnified, but to no avail. The church has continued.

So, what we see today is playing out the four decades of the UCA where disenchanted conservative evangelical pietists have resisted the moves towards “an informed faith” which thinking Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians all saw as a key commitment within the Uniting Church. The ACC has been waging an ongoing battle against this position for 15 years, but the majority of the UCA has always been engaged with the processes of critical thinking and fresh words and deeds which the Basis of Union holds as a key value.

In recent years, the ACC has swerved even more to the hard right; it speaks in tones even harsher and unflinching, compared to RA and EMU. The extremes of the theological position of the ACC can be seen on their webpage at

http://www.confessingcongregations.com/uploads/acc027_confess_a5_ncov_imp_hr.pdf

and its most recent statement, expressing its hard line about sexuality, is accessible at

http://www.confessingcongregations.com/uploads/acc027_sexuality_a5_new_cov_lr.pdf

The rhetoric of the ACC has become increasingly inflamed. Accusing the UCA Assembly of being “apostate” is excessive and ill-judged. Claiming that the ACC itself is “the true Assembly” is hyperbolic overreach. The ACC is becoming smaller and less effective. It has employed tactics which are nasty and ugly. Its leadership, and membership, are increasingly drawn from specific sections of the Pacific Island and Korean communities, not from the wider church. Other CALD leadership across the board differentiates itself very clearly from the ACC rhetoric and tactics.

The recent foray by ACC leadership into Tonga, to convince the Free Wesleyan. Church of Tonga to break off relationships with the UCA Assembly, is a case in point. Publicity shared by the ACC since that conference has been completely inaccurate, deliberately inflaming.

(see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/30/dividing-the-unity-splintering-the-connections-more-acc-agitation/)

I will explore in more details the issues involved with CALD communities and conservative theology in a third part to this blog.

 

V. A new conservative voice: Propel

And now, there is a new movement within the Uniting Church: Propel. It describes itself as “a new national network of evangelical leaders, congregations and agencies in the Uniting Church in Australia” and promises that its members will “seek to be a positive renewal movement within, and for the life and mission of the church.”

Propel declares that it has been formed because of “the significant pastoral and mission disruptions experienced in many places leading up to and since the decisions of the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church”, and affirms that it will offer leadership related to “the historic, orthodox faith and mission” of the church. (See https://www.propelnetwork.org.au/)

Propel is the latest manifestation of a minority conservative protest thread which has run through the life of the Uniting Church, all the way from the time of church union in 1977 (and before).

I think Propel wants to position itself differently from the ACC and its precursors. (And rightly so!) Propel claims that it wants to “positively network together for mutual encouragement and resourcing – prayerfully, strategically and passionately pursuing the great commission.” Those are fine sentiments, and if the movement is able to hold to these positives, that would be good.

I am not entirely convinced that this new movement within the Uniting Church is actually needed. What is to stop the aims of Propel being achieved within the current structures of the church? And the clear naming of the recent decision about marriage as an issue of differentiation, ignores the fact that the Assembly did not insist on any one minister or congregation holding to a particular view. The Assembly recognised the integrity of two different views, and affirmed each as equally valid within the Uniting Church.

However, one of the NSW leaders promoting Propel writes, “We will stand firm in the faith, stand aside from that which is not, and move forward in mission with limitless power and resources in the Holy Spirit.” The phrases “stand firm, stand aside” contain code words which have been used often throughout 2018, to indicate a stance of rejecting the decision of the 15th Assembly regarding marriage. They have been spoken and written often by ACC leaders and members over the last year. To differentiate from these extremists, surely other language needs to be used?

Propel looks to me like an attempt by more moderate conservatives to distance themselves from these ugly reactionary tactics. But it is still at odds with the fundamental convictions of the UCA. The Basis of Union affirms that we hold to an informed faith. It values critical and contextual engagement with scripture. It values the recent insights of science, literature, history, psychology, medicine, and other modern disciplines. The ACC runs far from all of these foundational affirmations of the UCA. They are fast running out of options for being faithful members of the Uniting Church.

And let’s hope that Propel does not catapult itself headlong into the same dead end.

For part I, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/25/ramping-up-the-rhetoric-generating-guilt-and-provoking-panic-the-failed-strategy-of-conservatives-in-the-uca-part-i/

For my musings on the DNA of the UCA, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

In addition to resources noted above, there is an excellent overview of what has been produced on the matter of sexuality within the Uniting Church over four decades, at https://www.southmoreton.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Same-gender-marriage-the-UCA-journey-rev1018.pptx

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Ramping up the rhetoric, generating guilt and provoking panic: the failed strategy of conservatives in the UCA (part I)

“My anecdotal feedback from contact with ACC and other evangelical congregations is that at least 3000 people have left since the 15th Assembly. Sadly, many members have just drifted away in hundreds of congregations, one, two, three or four at a time, perhaps some not even noticed, or worried about by ministers and leaders.”

So writes a leader from the Assembly of Confessing Congregations in their latest magazine, ACCatalyst. It seems to me to be a massive overreach in rhetoric, an attempt to generate a feeling of guilt amongst the faithful across the Uniting Church. “Look what terrible things have resulted from your decision about marriage”, is the implied message. I don’t know how the figure of 3,000 has been calculated. Inflated overestimates, I reckon.

It is also an inaccurate representation of the current situation. Personally, I know of some people in the context where I currently minister who have been upset by the decision. They have all received follow-up from pastoral carers, or myself as minister. Some have left, others are “hanging loose”. I spoke just two weeks ago with one person who had left the UCA last year because of the decision about marriage. He and his family are happily attending a church, geographically more convenient and theologically more suited to their views. I suspect there are more such stories amongst those who have left the UCA.

I know also of a number of Congregations where people have decided to come along to the Uniting Church, to take part in worship and fellowship, to align themselves with this denomination, precisely BECAUSE the Assembly made the decision that it did! I would not say there are 3,000 such people—in fact, I have no idea how many such people there might be—but I do know that there are, most certainly, a number of such people, who have JOINED the UCA since last July!

In talking with colleagues, who have similar stories, overall, of some small number of departures, as well as some stories of people joining, my sense is that the impact on numbers in the UCA over the past 12 months is small. Very small. And for most of those, there is another church, another spiritual home, where they have been welcomed. So it is not as bad as the ACC leader makes out.

This kind of scaremongering rhetoric is familiar and well-worn. I seem to have heard something very similar after each “controversial” decision relating to sexuality that has been made within the Uniting Church. Each time a decision was made, after much care, thought, prayer, and discussion, the noises about people leaving the church in droves have been heard. Each time, it is claimed, the Uniting Church is about to divide and die. And each time, we know, the church goes on, continuing to gather for worship and fellowship, maintaining its faithful witness in society, and providing loving service to people in the community.

The thread of a disenchanted reactionary minority, puffing and panting with an increasingly excessive rhetoric about the imminent demise of the church, has run through the Uniting Church for four decades. And we are still here. And still strong. The experience of the most recent Synod meeting I attended in Sydney attests to this: There was a significant contingent of younger members; in fact, we were told that one third of the members at this Synod were attending for the first time. Not all of them were “young”—but this in itself testifies to a strong commitment to the church across the board.

Why is it that we have had this irritant reactionary stream throughout our 42-year history?

I. The formation of the Uniting Church in Australia

When the Presbyterian church decided not to adopt the “one in, all in” approach that the Methodist church was utilising, in the voting about church union, the foundation was laid. Less involvement in the new denomination from Presbyterians, with their valuing of critical thinking and academic resourcing of thoughtful preaching, meant that, in some places, there was a higher proportion of Methodists, with their emphasis more on personal piety and evangelical fervour, within the new Uniting Church.

Had the Methodist Church allowed for more conservative dissidents not to join—as the Presbyterian and much smaller Congregational Churches did—the conservative thread in UCA history would have been much smaller. And the new church could have developed an even stronger focus on contextual theology, actions for social justice, and moving into the post-Christendom era. But such was not the case.

There was, to be sure, noise back in the 1970s to the effect that the new church was a rearguard action against declining numbers. Most often this came from disenchanted conservatives, frustrated at the fledgling church’s failure to stand for an understanding of the Bible as the “inerrant, infallible Word of God”. The church was going to die, they maintained, because of this failure.

However, the new church refused to die. It has continued on throughout the ensuing four decades of the Uniting Church. It remains the third largest denomination (counting by the census numbers) in Australia. True, like all other mainstream denominations, overall numbers have been falling. There is nothing different about the Uniting Church in this regard. Yet the UCA continues apace.

In those years since 1977, we have seen, one after another, the Evangelical Ministers of the Uniting Church, which in the early 1980s was renamed to Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU); then in the early 2000s, the Reforming Alliance (RA); and, in more recent years, the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC).

The family resemblance is very clear. Each of these organisations advocated for a regressive conservative position on matters of morality (largely, sexuality) and veered towards a flat, literalist reading of scripture. They each made lots of noise about these issues but made little or no headway in achieving their aims. And, over time, the reactionary rhetoric has become more defensive, more rabid, more overreaching.

II. EMU, the Bible, and women in ministry

The ACC and RA are the children of EMU. What was Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church started as Evangelical Ministers of the Uniting Church, formed in South Australia out of a concern about the so-called “liberal” tendencies dominant in the Uniting Church. Over time, the SA group grew with branches formed in other Synods, and then a national organisation emerging.

In the early years of the church, various evangelical members and ministers had opposed the church’s commitment to equality and mutuality, specifically arguing against female ministers. In my first parish, for instance, in 1981-1983, I worked hard with parishioners and members of other nearby UCA congregations who held to that view and argued that the UCA was doing the wrong thing by ordaining women.

I was a member of a Synod working group later in the 1980s that produced resources addressing the issue of mutuality in ministry, and the ordination of women, in direct response to evangelical members pushing the counter position. I know that women in ministry in the UCA continued to experience discrimination and marginalisation into the 21st century.

EMU was strongly focused on the issue of biblical authority. (This stance has been used to undergird the claim that the Bible does not support the ordination of women). The doctrinal statement crafted by EMU had strong resonances with the general conservative evangelical assertion that the Bible was inerrant, infallible, and completely authoritative, even though the founding documents of the UCA had explicitly not included such terminology.

For a summary of the doctrinal position taken by EMU, see http://www.confessingcongregations.com/emusite/All%20About%20emu/Doctrinal%20Statement.pdf

On the commitment to an informed faith in the Basis of Union, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

As is clear in its founding document, the Basis of Union, the Uniting Church was formed with a commitment to the mutuality of men and women in ministry; indeed, all three denominations had already ordained women in the years prior to church union. Dr Julia Pitman has traced the long history of ordaining women in the Congregational Church—since 1927, in fact! — see https://www.insights.uca.org.au/reviews/read-this/small-church-big-step-for-women

Dr Avril Hannah-Jones provides a fine overview of the ministries of women in the predecessor denominations. She notes that the Congregational Church ordained Rev Winifred Kiek in 1927; Rev Dr Coralie Ling, a deaconess, became the first woman to be ordained in the Methodist Church in 1969; and Rev Marlene Thalheimer was ordained as the first female minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1974. You can read about these women, and more, at https://revdocgeek.com/2013/06/22/women-in-the-uniting-church-by-a-partial-prejudiced-ignorant-historian-to-quote-the-immortal-jane/

Indeed, the issue of the ordination of women was clearly and strongly affirmed in a UCA paper produced in 1990; see https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/society-religion-and-politics/uca-statements/item/download/947_0ff250e12a2db30ecf2027d7a831e979This has been a consistent practice of the church since 1977.

I clearly recall rhetoric from the 1980s to the effect that ordaining women would see other churches stop talking to us and the life of the Uniting Church would shrivel. Those churches continued to talk to us, and the Uniting Church continued on unabated.

I remember being a member of a Presbytery which had one curmudgeonly old member who regularly voted NO whenever anything to do with women in ministry was considered. He should not have been allowed to do this, as it was inconsistent with UCA policy. Fortunately, his ilk has all but died out, at least amongst clergy and lay leadership.

(… to be continued)

For online articles which reflect on the creation of the UCA and its core commitments over the years, see:

https://journeyonline.com.au/features/three-became-one-christ/

https://revivemagazine.org.au/2017/06/22/making-a-bold-statement/

https://sa.uca.org.au/new-times/40th-anniversary-reflection?

https://crosslight.org.au/2017/05/21/union-not-easy-step-many-congregations/

https://assembly.uca.org.au/about/uca

https://assembly.uca.org.au/component/k2/item/2609-forty-years-forty-days-forty-hours#prayer-1-revisiting-our-inauguration

For my musings on the DNA of the UCA, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

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Climate Change: a central concern in contemporary ministry

This year, I am sharing in ministry with a colleague who has a brief for fostering discipleship amongst young people, with adults open to fresh expressions of being church, and for strengthening community connections in our local area. She is my guest blogger for this post.

Thanks to Pastor Amy Junor for thoughtful words about the impact of climate change and centrality of this issue in ministry today.

The morning of Climate Change Pastoral Care training, we stood in a circle, acknowledging the traditional owners of the country on which me met. Smoke swirled up from the ceremony we had just shared. I stood with my hands being squeezed by two strangers, and I squeezed back my acknowledgement of their presence. We were outside, under beautiful trees – preparing, to ask together how we care for ourselves and others in a world where climate change is an encroaching issue.

Later in the morning, I was text-messaging members of my faith community about the statistics we were reminded on in the morning session. I told them I was feeling emotional, grieving again at the grim picture before us. I entered a session afterwards where we were given 10 things that ministry agents can do to help care for people experiencing climate distress. Number 8 was to live in a well-functioning and connected community where the burden can be shared. I told my people that I am grateful that we can speak about these things together.

In the afternoon, we listed to voices from our nearest neighbours in the pacific islands and what climate change means for them. We heard from indigenous voices. We spoke together about how we hold the information about our situation and respond helpfully and practically. I drove home that evening in the middle of an enormous rainstorm – the wild world we are called to care for refusing to be ignored. The first line of Psalm 19 played on repeat in my mind.

Fast forward a month, I am in a Generation Next conference in Canberra where attendees consider the health and wellbeing of young people. I ponder the anxiety about climate change that is clearly being announced to us via the actions of our young people (e.g. climate strikes). I wonder how we nurture the generations we are yet to see in a way that equips them to deal with the stress and pressures they will experience in a changing climate.

Two weeks later I am completing a sacraments course in Canberra Region Presbytery. I think about how the natural world plays such a central role in how we worship God. I wonder what it would sound like for our churches to share sacraments specifically acknowledging and committing to our shared stewardship of the planet.

Fast forward to Synod 2019 at Knox Grammar School in Sydney. As the Synod considers a proposal for action on climate change, one of the speakers asks all the people at Synod who are under 40 to stand. He gestures around the room and says ‘all these people are…’ – well, I won’t repeat here what he said exactly because it is an expletive. I wished strongly that this was news, but those exact words are frequently used in self-reference by my peer group (20-40-year olds) when they speak about their future considering climate change. I message my faith community and tell them about the proposal. We celebrate that a body of the wider church recognises the issues and corporately chooses to act.

I text messaged my youth group, asking what they know and think about the issue. Two girls respond; ‘VERY concerned about our climate + the environment in general’ (yes, one of them capitalized the ‘very’).

I have a friend who has been part of our congregation and is one of the most environmentally responsible people I know. She lives in a way that means her footprint on the planet is minimal, with very little waste and very much recycling. She said to me at one point as we spoke about climate action; ‘we don’t need one person to do this perfectly, we need everybody to be doing this imperfectly”. This has stayed with me as I have processed these stories.

In fact, another of the best ways we can care for people (and young people especially) is to be actively modelling proactive (if imperfect) care for the creation around us.

Maybe for you the first step is changing an aspect of your lifestyle to be more sustainable. Maybe for you it is working with your congregation to minimize the waste generated by your Sunday morning service. (There are resources relating to local congregations at http://ecofaith.org/ and https://sa.uca.org.au/justice-advocacy/environmental-advocacy/ea-resources)

Perhaps you want to start by contacting Common Grace to learn more about what you can do. (https://www.commongrace.org.au/climate_change)

You may even write a letter to your local MP informing them of changes that could be made in your neighbourhood to combat climate change.

These stories and others like it are far from over. I hope that we as followers of Jesus can step forward gently, squeezing hands as we acknowledge and grieve the reality and commit to hopeful action together.

Amy Junor, July 2019

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/09/advocacy-and-climate-change-growth-and-formation-treaty-with-first-peoples-synod-2019/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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Advocacy and Climate Change, Growth and Formation, Treaty with First Peoples: Synod 2019

Synod this year was a rich experience of being the church. In the church, we are young and old, and at every point in between. In the church, we are black, brown, and white; we have round eyes and almond eyes, curly black hair and shiny bald pates, flowing blonde hair and cropped short hair.

Around 15 people from the Canberra Region Presbytery attended the three days of Synod this year, in grounds of one of the Uniting Church schools, Knox Grammar, in Wahroonga. We were part of over 300 people who participated in the meeting.

During Synod, we worshipped. Each day began with worship, supported by an amazingly-gifted group of musicians, filled with prayers and songs and scripture and silence. Each day ended with worship, with an act of reflection based on doing, not just listening.

At regular points, we were invited to pause, reflect, share, or pray about what we had been considering. In one session, we prepared for prayer by writing words of gratitude on a piece of paper, folding it into the shape of a plane; and then we prayed by sending the plane shooting through the air to the accompaniment of a resounding AMEN!

During Synod, we listened. Principal Peter Walker led three studies on scripture, drawing from the letters of Paul as well as medieval and reformed church leaders, focussing us on the Christ who is the unifying centre of our diversity. Pastor Jon Owen spoke of working on the ground with people, in inner city Melbourne and now, in his current role with Wayside Chapel in Sydney.

And we listened some more. Karina Kreminski inspired us to consider “what in the world is God up to?” in our neighbourhood. And Josh Gilbert, a young indigenous farming man, spoke with passion and commitment about how it is possible to have an impact, to make the changes, that will enable us to reduce our carbon footprint and move towards a healthier environment for future generations.

During Synod, we deliberated. Each day we listened to proposals, deliberated about clauses, discussed action plans, explored and debated and applauded and sighed and waved cards, making decisions about matters of significance within the church and across our society. This is the business component of Synod, and it is always important to give adequate time to prayerful consideration and thoughtful discussion of the array of proposals presented to the Synod.

In two sessions, we met in smaller Discernment Groups of about ten people, to give focussed attention to one or two specific matters each day. Feedback from each group is then collated and fed back, the next day, to the Synod meeting in,plenary session. This is an important part of the way that the Uniting Church attends to business in its councils. Each person’s view is important, and Discernment Groups provide an opportunity for everyone, even the shyest person, to contribute to the making of policy.

One thing that the Uniting Church does well, is advocate. On the first day, we spent a productive time exploring a comprehensive report on what is being done, and considering what might be done, to advocate for the needs and of particular groups in our society. The Uniting Church has been the lead body in seeking fair treatment in relation to illicit drug usage, and very active in the Give Hope campaign for Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

The Uniting Church has been involved in the broad community movement to seek better arrangements for Affordable Housing in Sydney, and relentless in pursuing responsible living within our environment and climate change advocacy. There has also been involvement in policy development relating to domestic and family violence, as well as the scourge of poker machine gambling. We were asked to consider what other issues required attention.

In one session, a large group of younger members of the Synod gathered on the stage, along with the Uniting Earth Advocates and the Uniting Director of Mission, Communities and Social Impact. They made a compelling presentation which convinced the Synod to adopt a Climate Change Strategy Plan. This has multiple elements, each of which needs significant and sustained buy-in from all of us across the Synod.

We adopted another proposal which urges the people across the Synod to Focus on Growth in a wide variety of ways: growth in discipleship and growth in relationships, as well as growth in numbers and in impacts. This is to be a priority for Congregations and Presbyteries in the coming years.

We approved a Renewed Vision for Formation, to engage people across the church in forming leaders in local contexts, discerning those gifted for ministry, and providing deeper Formation all pathways for those candidating for a specified ministry within the church.

And we enthusiastically supported a set of proposals, shaped around the theme of NAIDOC Week 2019 (Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty) to encourage people across the church to become better aware of how to relate to First Peoples and to advocate with our governments for treaties to be established with First Peoples nations.

During Synod, we learnt and rejoiced. There were evening events outside the ‘business sessions” during Synod: the screening of the powerful documentary ‘Half a Million Steps’, highlighting the plight of people struggling to access drug treatment as part of the Uniting-led Fair Treatment campaign; and a Saturday night festive Revivify Worship Event with music from various cultures and a keynote address from Jon Owen.

During Synod, we made a bunch of regular administrative decisions. People were elected to vacancies on each of the four Synod Boards, as well as a new group of twelve people to serve as members of the Standing Committee of the Synod until the next meeting in 2020.

In a most unusual (but understandable) move, Synod decided to extend the term of the Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford, by another three years. With this extension, the Moderator’s term will now finish in 2023. The combination of significant turnover of senior leadership within the Synod, and changing expectations in society, were the motivators for this decision.

Members of Synod are drawn from all fourteen presbyteries across NSW and the ACT, as well as from the Congress of First Peoples. Not every congregation has a person present at Synod—some have multiple members present. There is always an equal number of ordained and lay people attending, and CALD groups were particularly in evidence throughout the meeting—Korean, Tongan, Fijian, Samoan, Kiribati, and no doubt a number of other ethnicities. It was great to see the substantial number of younger delegates present. Almost one third of the membership was attending their first Synod meeting. We well depicted the diversity of people of faith in our contemporary church.

The meeting ended with a final worship service, featuring lively music, moving prayers, and thoughtful reflection on the three days of this gathering.

Synod meetings always serve an important personal function as well. After a couple of years interstate for Elizabeth and myself, this meeting offered us both opportunities to catch up with friends and colleagues from many different locations, as well as to meet new people and find out about the challenges and opportunities facing these folk. Those opportunities were greatly appreciated. It also offered opportunity to network in strategic ways about specific matters in our current placements. So that made attending the Synod a most worthwhile, enjoyable, and productive experience.

There are reports on many of the matters noted in this report, on the Insights website. Go to http://www.insights.uca.org.au/news

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/07/giving-voice-telling-truth-talking-treaty-naidoc-2019/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/19/climate-change-a-central-concern-in-contemporary-ministry/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/09/19/discernment/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/26/the-uniting-church-is-not-a-political-democracy/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

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Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty: NAIDOC 2019

NAIDOC Week runs for a week each July. NAIDOC originally was an acronym for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. The organising committee behind the day adopted this name in 1991. It has been held, as a week, each year since then.

The theme for NAIDOC Week 2019 is Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty. This is something that all Australians should support. And this is certainly something that people within the Uniting Church are able to support.

The Uniting Church has given voice to First Peoples. Twenty five years ago the Uniting Church entered into a covenant relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. The Covenant is an expression of how we seek to listen to the voice of First Peoples. (See https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/3035-the-25th-anniversary-of-the-covenant and https://assembly.uca.org.au/resources/covenanting/item/135-covenanting-statement-1994)

A covenant relationship is often an agreement between equals. Yet the relationships between First and Second Peoples is not one between equals. The voice of First Peoples, the place of First Peoples, has a priority over the voices and the place of those of us who have come more recently, in the past two and a half centuries, to this continent and its islands. We are committed to prioritising the voice of the First Peoples.

The Uniting Church is committed to telling truth. This truth is confronting and challenging. In the revised Preamble which was adopted a decade ago by the Uniting Church, we sought to tell the truth. Drawing on the voices of Indigenous Peoples, we have named the settlement of this continent as a colonising movement, generated by foreign imperialism, manifesting in violent invasion and genocidal massacres, spread from north to south, from east to west, of this continent. We must continue to prioritise this commitment to tell the truth. (See https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/)

Likewise, at the 14th Assembly, we decided to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, that medieval theological foundation upon which the worldwide invasion and colonisation of lands was based—including the invasion and colonisation of Terra Australis. This has been part of our commitment to tell the truth. (See https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/)

And the Uniting Church is committed to talking treaty. We are supportive of the formalisation of treaties with the various nations of Peoples who have inhabited, nurtured and cared for this land since time immemorial. This commitment is based on a recognition of the Sovereignty of each of those nations, sovereignty over the land that the people have inhabited, nurtured, and cared for over those many millennia.

Sovereignty, as articulated in the Statement from the Heart of 2017, is understood by the First Peoples as a spiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and the First Peoples (see https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/ and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/)

Each of the hundreds of nations found before 1788 on this continent hold that sovereignty. The 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church recognised this sovereignty. This current proposal seeks to take the next step with regard to this sovereignty. A treaty between the governments of the invading, colonising settlers and the long-existing nations of First Peoples, is the logical next step. That is the pathway stretching out ahead of us.

Labor governments in Victoria and South Australia have already committed to signing a treaty with Indigenous peoples. SA has appointed a treaty commissioner, Roger Thomas, to consult with Aboriginal communities and help negotiate individual clan-based treaties. This work is now underway and resulting in regional treaties.

Victoria has also appointed a treaty commissioner, Gunditjmara woman Jill Gallagher, who will oversee the development of an elected representative body which will negotiate with the Victorian government on behalf of Victoria’s Aboriginal peoples. (See https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/apr/11/victoria-a-step-closer-to-indigenous-treaty-with-creation-of-first-peoples-assembly)

In NSW, the Aboriginal Land Council has a Strategic Plan which sets its direction. The Plan commits to an ambitious agenda of cultural protection, social wellbeing and economic development. In 2019, it now adds a new political call: that there be a process for establishing a Treaty or Treaties between the NSW Government and the Aboriginal people of this state. (See

http://alc.org.au/about-nswalc/strategic-plan-2018—2022.aspx)

The current NSW state government needs to be pressed with regard to this issue. It is not an optional matter. It is core business.

Finally, the Federal Government needs to be lobbied to return to the process set up some years ago, working towards reconciliation. National governments have formalised treaties with Indigenous peoples in New Zealand and Canada, and parts of the United States of America. (See https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/theconversation.com/amp/why-the-indigenous-in-new-zealand-have-fared-better-than-those-in-canada-84980)

The establishment of a Makarratta Commission within Australia, to oversee and facilitate the making of treaties, is essential to our national wellbeing. As a church, we should be strongly committed to encourage that process.

At the 2019 meeting of the Synod of NSW and the ACT, we have now agreed by consensus to enact a series of proposals to give support to the theme of Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty. A similar proposal was adopted by the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. The church is committed to reconciliation, giving voice, telling truth, and working to secure treaties.

See https://www.insights.uca.org.au/news/hear-the-statement-from-the-heart

https://victas.uca.org.au/synod-day-three-recap/

https://www.insights.uca.org.au/news/its-a-time-for-a-treaty

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Dividing the unity, splintering the connections: more ACC agitation

Recent posts from the warriors of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations suggest that they have been hard at work in Tonga, lobbying support for their retrograde sectarian minority opinion. The matter revolves around the decision of the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. The posts emanated from the Conference of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, meeting in session over the past week.

A proposal went to the Conference, “That the conference of the FWC of Tonga suspend its formal relationship with the Assembly of the Uniting Church Australia until such a time as she repents of her apostate decision to approve its secular doctrine on diversity and same-gender marriage.” It was posted with the implication that this was adopted by the FWC. I don’t believe that it was.

In fact, the General Secretary of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga has issued a statement strongly affirming the relationships that the FWC has with the Uniting Church in Australia. Dr Tevita Koloa’ia Havea has said that “There is no change to the relationship between the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga and the Uniting Church in Australia.”

The statement continues, quite pointedly, “Please disregard the rumours, regarding the termination of the relationship between our General Conferences and the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.”

You can read this at http://fwc.to/

Meanwhile, the Uniting Church website reports that the President and General Secretary of the Assembly have issued a statement celebrating the UCA’s ongoing relationship with the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.

“The Uniting Church in Australia and the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga have a partnership that is strong, and grounded in our shared life in Christ, the honouring of and respect for our expressions of ministry and mission and our proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. The formal relationship between the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia and the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga remains strong. May God bless our churches with wisdom, grace and peace as we seek to serve our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ with joy and love.”

 

The statement was issued over the names of Dr Deidre Palmer, President, and Ms. Colleen Geyer, General Secretary of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.

You can read this at https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/3033-blessed-by-our-joyful-partnership

There can be no doubt that the tactics of the sectarians in the ACC are retrograde, divisive, and disturbing. Far from affirming “the faith and unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” (as the UCA Basis of Union declares), the ACC has acted to divide the unity of the church, challenge the commitment to holiness manifested in lives working for justice, splinter connections across worldwide church through agitations with a partner church outside of the regular lines of communication and fellowship, and turn away from the church’s commitment to “the discipline of interpreting [the apostolic] teaching in a later age.

That is a poor witness, acting in ways that were clearly not envisaged in the faithful work undertaken to form, and then strengthen, the Uniting Church, over many decades. The theme of the last Assembly was “abundant grace, liberating hope”. It would be good to see some grace and hope emanating from the ACC …….

also

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/26/human-sexuality-and-the-bible/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/13/affirmations-we-can-make-together/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/26/once-again-affirming-our-diversity-celebrating-joyous-marriages/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/15/when-you-suffer-the-whole-body-of-christ-suffers/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/09/19/discernment/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/abundant-grace-liberating-hope/

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Human sexuality and the Bible

The recent Israel Folau controversy has highlighted various issues: freedom of expression in modern society, the place of religion in Australian society, the ethics of professionalism … and questions of biblical interpretation.

For people within the Uniting Church, the Basis of Union provides a foundation for careful and prayerful thinking about scripture. The Basis affirms that the witness of scripture is to be understood through the work undertaken by scholarly interpreters, by insights that have arisen in scientific and medical investigation, by understandings that have developed in society, as we better understand how human beings operate and how they function. All of these are important matters to consider when we think about human sexuality.

A number of passages are regularly cited in relation to matters of human sexuality, and particularly homosexuality. We need to think about those sections of scripture in the light of this way of approaching the biblical texts.

Elizabeth and I have written a brief discussion of the texts most often cited when “homosexuality” is debated by Christian people–especially conservative Christian people. It is an expansion of our earlier blog post (noted below).

A longer discussion of these issues is now posted on the Uniting Network website (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf) as part of a collection of resources for Open and Affirming Churches (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/open-and-affirming-project/)

LGBTIQ+ people often refer to these passages as the “clobber passages”, since they are regularly (mis)used to “clobber” people who identify as LGBTIQ or other related designations.

These texts were originally written either in Hebrew or in Greek, so there are questions about how particular words should be translated, whether there are exact equivalences in English, and so on. Many translations use the word “homosexual” where the original language actually requires more nuance in translation.

A second factor is that we need to reflect on the cultural customs of the societies within which the Bible came to be written. It is important to consider how these cultural customs have shaped the way in which the words were written. “Homosexuality” is a modern concept, which was not known to the writers of the biblical texts in the way that we understand it.

Scripture does not include anything relating to the loving, committed, lifelong relationship of two people of the same gender. So we need to take care when we use these “clobber passages” in our discussions. None of them should actually be used to criticise LGBTIQ+ people.

Alongside these passages, there are many sections of scripture which provide a more positive outlook on human sexuality. So we have offered a short reflection on a number of the key affirming and inclusive verses.

Our discussion of these passages can be read at

http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf

Geoff Thompson has a careful consideration of the cluster of issues in the Israel Folau scenario at https://theconversation.com/amp/why-christians-disagree-over-the-israel-folau-saga-118773

See also

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/13/affirmations-we-can-make-together/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/26/once-again-affirming-our-diversity-celebrating-joyous-marriages/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/15/when-you-suffer-the-whole-body-of-christ-suffers/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/09/19/discernment/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/abundant-grace-liberating-hope/

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Australian Religious Leaders support renewable energy

I have joined more than one hundred and fifty religious leaders across Australia as a signatory to an open letter to the Prime Minister about the climate crisis. The letter has been released today, 25 June 2019.

We are writing because we have #NoFaithInCoal and we need to grow our use of renewable energy sources. We asking Mr Morrison to show real moral leadership by taking bold action along the lines that the school strikers have demanded:

Stopping the proposed Adani coal mine

Committing to no new coal or gas projects in Australia

Moving to 100% renewable energy by the year 2030.

You can read the letter at https://www.arrcc.org.au/no_faith_in_coal?utm_campaign=no_faith_in_coal&utm_medium=email&utm_source=arrcc

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Freedom and unity: themes in Galatians

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery … For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Gal 5:1, 13).

Paul’s letter to the Galatians continues in the Revised Common Lectionary for a number of Sundays. This Sunday, the focus is on freedom.

In last week’s reading, we saw that the gospel which Paul proclaims has the capacity to make believers “one in Christ”. This unity overshadows all divisions—as the most famous words in this letter declare, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (3:28). 

The threat against this unity has arisen through the insistence of other teachers, that true faith requires, first, circumcision (2:12; see Acts 15:1, 5). Paul asserts that they want their followers to be circumcised—although surprisingly, he notes that they themselves “do not obey the law” (6:13). 

Paul claims that the “circumcision faction” were preaching “another gospel” (1:6) in which they actually “pervert the gospel” (1:7). He calls them “false believers” (2:4) who have “bewitched” the Galatians (3:1). His vehemence at one point is such that he exclaims, “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (5:12). 

Paul’s problem, of course, is that he himself is circumcised, as he mentions at Phil 3:5 (a fact which he omits when he rehearses his past at Gal 1:13–14). How can he advocate the opening of the faith to those who are not circumcised, when he himself bears this sign of the covenant? 

He insists that the Galatians “become as I am” (4:12), and yet threatens that “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2). What applies to Gentile converts must be different from what is the case amongst Jewish converts. 

Circumcision was the pre-eminent sign of the Law for Jewish believers. Paul wants to move the Galatians away from their understanding of the Law. He re-interprets the scriptural passage which lies behind this Jewish custom. Galatians 3:1–5:1 thus contains a tightly-argued, complex argument concerning the Law. 

Paul uses the story of Abraham, the patriarch to whom the requirement of circumcision was first commanded, as a sign of the covenant (Gen 17). He interprets this story without once mentioning circumcision (3:6–18). It is the faith of Abraham, in believing God’s promise, which secured him righteousness (3:6–7) and opens the promise to Gentiles (3:8–9). It is that promise which is now fulfilled in Christ (3:13–14, 16, 29). This is the pathway to freedom in faith.

This letter demonstrates that freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul offers this freedom anew to the believers in Galatia. The Gospel frees them from the complex web of duties and responsibilities under the Law. 

The call to freedom (5:1, 13) becomes a platform for ethical guidance, grounded in love (5:13–14), manifested in living by the spirit (5:22–26), not by the flesh (5:16–21). This ethic requires believers to “bear one another’s burdens “(6:2) and “work for the good of all” (6:10). In this way, they will become “a new creation” (6:15). The gospel which brings liberation in community (3:28) will also lead to liberation for the creation (6:15).

Galatians is important because of the central theme of freedom which it articulates. In what ways does your faith provide you with a sense of freedom?

Image: Painting of Paul from Cave of St. Paul in Ephesus c. 450 AD

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/17/harness-the-passion-but-restrain-the-rhetoric-musing-on-the-role-model-which-paul-offers-in-galatians/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

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Providing for the exercise by men and women of the gifts God bestows upon them: lay people presiding at the sacraments in the Uniting Church

The Uniting Church has a firm commitment to being part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This is affirmed in our Basis of Union as well as in many places in liturgies and papers written on various topics.

Belonging to this body, along with many other denominations—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and others—means that we seek to find the things in common, that we hold across the denominations. As members of that one body, we share many beliefs, practices, customs and commitments.

From time to time, however, one of those denominations will make a decision or implement a policy that sets it apart, in some, from the others. This process of differentiation is perfectly normal and quite understandable. Human beings are all different from one another. We have many things in common, but some things that set us apart as different.

The matter of presiding at the sacraments is one such case in point. For twenty-five years, now, the Uniting Church has authorised lay people to preside at the sacraments. In many denominations, this role is the preserve of the clergy who have been ordained, set apart for a priestly role, which includes presiding at the sacraments. So, for the Uniting Church to introduce the practice of authorising lay people to undertake this role, is a distinctive feature.

Of course, there are other practices within the Uniting Church which differentiate us from other members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Ordaining women is one such practice; it is not done in many denominations around the world. Permitting ministers to be married is another; some denominations do not have such a practice. The ordaining of a person to the ministry of Deacon, a ministry that is equal in status and equivalent in function alongside the Minister of the Word, is another Uniting Church distinctive.

Despite these distinctive, we still maintain cordial and respectful relationships with other denominations where those practices are not found. We recognise that it is possible to be different within the one body. Diversity is not division, and unity is not uniformity. We co-exist in our diversity within unity.

We need also to note that, within the Uniting Church, authorising lay people to preside at the Sacraments is understood as being faithful to our commitment in the Basis of Union. In that document, the church affirms that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and then declares that the Uniting Church will … provide for the exercise by men and women of the gifts God bestows upon them (Basis of Union para 13). Leading a gathering of faithful people in a celebration of one of the sacraments of the church is one such gifting, for which appropriate provision has been made.

Four four days over the last two months, Elizabeth and I have been working with a group of lay leaders from across our Presbytery as they prepare to fulfil this ministry within the community of faith where they worship and serve. It is always an inspiring opportunity, to work with committed people who are equipping themselves for new forms of service.

We take four days, across two weekends, to explore the Biblical passages relevant to the two sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, as well as the relevant paragraphs from the Basis of Union, which sets out the theological understandings held by the church in relation to these sacraments.

We spend some time exploring the structure of the liturgy for worship in Sunday services, where each sacrament “fits” within that structure, and what the component parts of each sacrament are. We look at the role of symbols, in life in general, and in worship in particular, and explore the various symbolisms inherent in each sacrament.

There are case studies and role plays included in the resources for the group to use. This helps participants to “get inside” the role of Lay Presider, both in the worship itself, and in the times of preparation for each sacrament, such as the pre-Baptism interview with candidates or parents of the child to be baptised.

We spend each Sunday morning attending the worship of a local congregation within the Presbytery, where Holy Communion is being celebrated. This gives participants an opportunity to experience worship led by an experienced minister (either ordained or lay), and then to reflect on the experience with critical insight.

Finally, there is a session for each sacrament devoted to the various practical considerations associated with each sacrament. Each member of the class takes a turn in leading a part of the liturgy, and we discuss matters such as voice projection, eye contact with the congregation, gestures, actions integral to the worship, and so on.

To complete the requirements of the course, participants seeking to become lay presieers must submit four written assignments followed by the conducting of a service with supervisory assessment of the candidate by an experienced Minister or Lay Presider.

In undertaking this course, we demonstrate the way that the Uniting Church works. Every one of the four councils of the church plays a role. We follow the national Assembly guidelines for Lay Presiders, using the educational resources provided by the Synod. The Presbytery (the regional body) offers the training. The local Church Council designates the candidate(s) for this ministry, who must share in the pastoral oversight of the congregation or faith community, and requests the Presbytery to approve them once they have completed their assignments.

The final step is for the Presbytery to approve for the conduct of Sacraments by the authorised Lay Presider within the designated congregation. Authorisation is for a designated period of time, and must be reviewed before it can be renewed, if appropriate, at a later time.

The process is relatively slow and complex, but that is to ensure that not just anybody can perform this role; those who do so must be recognised as gifted for the role, then trained and equipped for the role, before they are authorised.

In part, this is because the Uniting Church takes seriously the process of appropriate equipping people for ministry. In part, it is because of our ecumenical commitments, and sensitivities to how presiding at the Sacraments is understood and practised in other denominations within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

And that is something for which, I believe, we ought to be most grateful.

The photo shows participants in the course, Understanding the Sacraments, held mid-2019 in the Canberra Region Presbytery.

For the Assembly guidelines on lay presidency, see https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/ASCMinutes/2013/July/13.07Minutes-Attachment_A-_Lay_presidency_Guidelines.pdf

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The DNA of the UCA (part II)

Two years ago, for the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, I prepared a resource exploring the key characteristics of this church. This week, for the 52nd anniversary, I am reposting those thoughts. Here is a second set of five key characteristics.

VI A very important dimension to being the church in this country is that we are a church in Covenant with the First Peoples of Australia. From its earliest years, the Uniting Church has been involved in actions which express our solidarity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Older members will recall events at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberley in 1980, when Uniting Church members stood in solidarity with the traditional owners, the Yungngora people, against the mining of their land.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was established in 1985, and a Covenant between the UAICC and the UCA was implemented in 1994. This Covenant recognises that working for reconciliation amongst people is central to the Gospel.

In 2009, the Preamble to the UCA Constitution was revised to recognise the difficult history of relationships between the First Peoples and the later arrivals, as Second Peoples. Our present relationship is one which seeks to ensure that we commit to the destiny together which we share as Australians.

VII In the same year that the Congress was formed, the Uniting Church declared that it is a multicultural church, which rejoices in the diversity of cultures and languages which are found across Australia. The Basis of Union recognises that we share much, as Australians, with people of Asia and the Pacific. The Uniting Church has maintained strong relationships with churches from these regions, as well forging new links with churches in Africa and the Middle East.

The Statement to the Nation, issued in 1977, acknowledged that the Uniting Church seeks a unity that transcends cultural, economic and racial distinctions. Within Australia, there are currently 12 national conferences based on regional groupings and people from 193 language groups who belong to the Uniting Church.

Each Sunday, worship takes place in Uniting Churches in 26 different languages, not including the many indigenous languages used in worship by first peoples across our church.

Through UnitingWorld, we maintain partnerships with churches in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. We are truly a multicultural church. Through the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group, the Uniting Church has been active in developing relationships with other faith communities. We are firmly committed to constructive interfaith relations.

VIII Over 40 years, the Uniting Church has shown that it is a church which is prepared to engage in difficult discussions about contentious issues. Our Basis of Union commits us to learn from the insights of contemporary scientific and historical studies, and affirms that we remain open to correction by God in the way we order our life together.

In the early years of the Uniting Church, debates about Baptism were the focus of great controversy. Infant baptism had been an integral part of the worship practices of each denomination which joined the Uniting Church, but Ministers and Elders Councils were receiving regular requests for baptism by adults who had been baptised as infants but had come to a personal faith later in their lives. After debates stretching through the 1980s and 1990s, the Uniting Church has developed a clear set of protocols to cover such requests.

Another area of enduring controversy has been that of human sexuality. There is a wide diversity of opinion within society relating to such matters, and this diversity is present within the Uniting Church. Once again, from the 1980s though into the present era, lively debates regarding human sexuality have taken place in the various councils of the church. In dealing with such issues, we have learned how to debate with respect and integrity with ongoing conversations looking to employ a “Space for Grace” process to encourage respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making. Let us hope that this trait stays firmly embedded in the DNA of the UCA.

IX The Uniting Church inherited from its predecessor Churches a strong commitment to advocating for justice for all. Many Uniting Church congregations and members are actively committed to serving those people who find themselves on the margins of society. This commitment was clearly articulated in the 1977 Statement to the Nation and it has been evident in many actions undertaken by Uniting Church members over the decades.

The Uniting Church has joined in common cause with other groups and organisations in society, in advocating for a welcoming attitude towards refugees; in lobbying for a fair and just system of caring for people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness; in seeking equity for workers in their workplace; and in many other issues.

A regular stream of policy documents and public resolutions point to a clear and unbroken commitment to seeking justice for all.

X In like manner, the Uniting Church has always been a church which honours the environment and supports a sustainable lifestyle.

Although such matters are firmly on the radar of the public now, they have long been integral to the DNA of the UCA. Once again, the 1977 Statement to the Nation flagged such commitment. A series of subsequent documents attest to the ongoing determination of the church to live responsibly, in such a way that we minimise the damage we cause to the environment in which we live.

Our partnerships with Churches in the Pacific have intensified our awareness of the negative impacts that are resulting from climate change. We know that we need to act now, to reduce the threat.

So, many congregations and individual members of the UCA are seeking to implement practices that will reduce their carbon footprint on the planet. We know that we owe it to future generations, to live responsibly in the present.

For the first five key characteristics, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

So: these are ten strands to our DNA, as far as my thinking is concerned. What about you?

Would you add anything? Take anything away?

What do you think are the essential aspects of our UCA DNA?

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

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The DNA of the UCA (part I)

Two years ago, for the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, I prepared a resource exploring the key characteristics of this church. This week, for the 52nd anniversary, I am reposting those thoughts. Here are the first five characteristics.

I When the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches joined together in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia, they declared that this union was both in accord with the will of God, and that it was a gift of God to the people of God in Australia.

Since then, the Uniting Church has been a church which is committed to working ecumenically with other Christian denominations. That commitment is one very important aspect of our DNA as a Uniting Church.

We belong to the National Council of Churches in Australia and the World Council of Churches, where we co-operate with many denominations.

Nationally, we have participated in ongoing conversations with other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic). At the grassroots level, our ministers participate in local ministers’ associations in hundreds of towns and cities across the nation. We are an ecumenical church.

II The Uniting Church is a church which values the ministry of all the people of God and seeks to order itself in accordance with the will of God. Our Basis of Union affirms that every member of the church is engaged to confess Christ crucified, and every person is gifted by the Spirit to engage in ministry in their own particular way. We are a church that values the ministry of each and every person.

Throughout the last 40 years, we have held our structures and forms of ministry accountable to ongoing scrutiny. Alongside the Ministry of the Word, to nurture and guide Congregations, we have introduced the Ministry of Deacon, to focus attention on people living on the margins.

We have also undertaken important conversations about membership and the relationship of Baptism to Holy Communion. We now have a clear commitment to an open table when we gather for The Lord’s Supper: all who are baptised (whether adult or child, whether confirmed or not) are welcome to share at this table.

III The Basis of Union makes it very clear that we are a church which is committed to equality and mutuality of women and men in ministry. Even before 1977, the three previous denominations had ordained women to ministry.

Since 1977, many women have stood on an equal basis alongside men, as Ministers of the Word, Deacons, Elders, Church Councillors, Lay Preachers,
Lay Presiders, Chaplains, and Pastoral Carers. We value the insights and experience of women.

In this our 40th year, lay and ordained women serve in leadership positions across all councils of the Uniting Church from Presbytery Chairpersons to Moderators to the Assembly General Secretary. Many couples minister together as husband and wife. Gender equality is most certainly part of our DNA!

IV Another contribution that the UCA has made has been to highlight the importance, when we gather in council, of being open to the Spirit, and seeking to discern the will of God.

We live this out in our councils by practising a process of consensus decision-making. The Manual for Meetings sets out the various elements that are involved in making decisions by discernment: a time of information, a time of deliberation, and a time of decision-making.

The infamous “coloured cards” are only one small part of the whole. The focus is on listening to the Spirit before we speak, and striving to find a way forward that most, if not all, people can see as the will of God for the church. This way of decision-making, which originated in the UCA, has now been adopted by the World Council of Churches and a number of its member Churches.

V Over the last 20 years, the Uniting Church has developed a firm commitment to strong professional standards, for Ministers as well as for lay people who exercise leadership in the church. Our commitment to professional standards emerged initially in response to the problems of sexual misconduct within the church. A whole section of the Regulations is now devoted to this.

Since 1999, all Ministers have been expected to adhere to a Code of Ethics, and this has most recently been revised to provide a Code of Ethics Ministry Practice for Ministers and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. Ministers and pastors undertake regular training in aspects of this code, in ethical ministry workshops.

This, too, is integral to the DNA of the UCA.

For part two, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

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Harness the passion, but restrain the rhetoric. Musing on the role model which Paul offers in Galatians.

For the next few weeks, the Revised Common Lectionary includes sections from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I am interested to explore this text in relation to our contemporary context, and particularly consider what sort of role model Paul offer us, as he writes this short but potent letter.

The letter to the Galatians begins in a dramatic, striking fashion. There can be no doubting the passion that is driving Paul as he writes (or, more likely, dictates) this message to the Galatian believers. The very way that this letter starts is instructive.

Almost all of his letters begin with a prayer of thanksgiving, designed to strengthen the relationship between Paul and those to whom he writes. Not so in Galatians: in place of a friendly thanksgiving, Paul launches straight into a devastating criticism of the Galatians, with the wordsI am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you …[that you] are turning to a different gospel … [that] some are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

In quick succession, he criticises their activities, attacks the beliefs they have adopted from their teachers, and invokes a curse on their heads (1:6-9). That is quite a dramatic opening section! As the letter proceeds, he accuses the Galatian believers of being fools who have been bewitched by deceivers; he accuses them of biting and devouring one another; he criticises them for urging Gentile converts to be circumcised and to adopt full adherence to the Torah. This is no gentle, reflective spiritual meditation; this is full-on partisan polemics!

What do we make of this language used by Paul?

Strong language is not uncommon in Paul’s letters. It was also widespread amongst the educated class of the day, who had been taught how to mount a strong and effective criticism by the careful use of rhetorical techniques. Rhetoric was taught to privileged young (male) members of Greco-Roman society—which would have included Paul. Many of the techniques taught in those schoolrooms are in evidence in the letter to the Galatians.

Paul uses familiar rhetorical techniques to address the situation in Galatia, to expose his concerns, and to articulate his point of view. Other teachers had visited the Galatian community, and had taught them things that were at odds with what Paul was teaching. Paul uses rhetoric to persuade the Galatians to dissociate themselves from the teachings which apparently had been so effective amongst them. 

If we knew precisely who the Galatians were, what group of teachers had been active amongst them, or what specific matters caused Paul to write this letter, we might be better placed to adjudicate on this matter. Unfortunately, we don’t have this kind of information.

The letter is sent to communities of faith in a whole region (Galatia, 1:2), not a single city or town. Acts indicates that Paul visited there with Barnabas he visited Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14–14:23) and later with Timothy (18.23). But we learn no further specifics of the Galatian churches from Acts. There is a similar vagueness about the date of the letter; “late 40s or early 50s” is most often cited. So the specifics of the origins of this letter are not entirely clear.

Nevertheless, the dynamic that we can perceive within this letter, between its author, Paul, and the disciples in the region of Galatia, are quite interesting. Perhaps, even, disturbing. Certainly, to be sure, challenging. Not only with his dramatic language at the start, but also in the middle of the letter, Paul is in full flight: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (3:1, 3).

And towards the end of the letter, he launches into the Galatians yet again, providing a long list of “the works of the flesh”, those negative things that they are doing (5:19-21), and then seeking to persuade them to change their behaviour , “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (5:26).

The letter is peppered with such robust, assertive, even aggressive polemic.

In the church today, as in the wider society, we regularly encounter similarly robust conversations, in which aggressive name calling and simplistic sloganeering abound. In the Uniting Church, debates over sexuality have, for decades now, often lapsed into accusations of heresy, advocacy of progressive views, reinforcement of allegedly orthodox stances, and charges of being inspired by Satan. Such is the way of our discussions together, sadly.

In reflecting on such discussions in the context of this letter from scripture, I think we can validly affirm the model that Paul provides, at least in this: articulating what we hold as important, in ways that are clear, through advocacy that seeks to be compelling, in terms that aim to be persuasive. We all need to implement this in our lives. Be clear about what we believe, stand firm for what we value. Those are valuable elements in the model that Paul provides for us.

At the same time, I want to quarrel with the apostle in terms of the manner by which he does this. Aggression which feeds conflict, confrontational polemic which becomes vituperative hate speech, serves nobody any good. Let us not take this element of the model that is provided in Galatians; let us steer away from personalised name-calling and theological sloganeering wherever we can.

Was Paul effective and successful in convincing the saints in Galatia to turn from the pathway they were travelling, to adopt new practices and implement new patterns of discipleship? We don’t actually know. We have his powerful words of persuasion as a testimony to his passion, but no follow-up communications indicating how the Galatians responded.

I suggest that it is good for us to hold to that passion which Paul exhibited, but we need to work hard to ensure that our discussions remain constructive, that our debates demonstrate respect for the other, that our words to one another will build up rather than tear down.

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

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“Do you believe in the Triune God?”

Every so often, I get asked the question, “Do you believe in the Triune God?”

My answer to that question involves consideration of a number of areas.

One. History

I accept that the Trinity is a helpful way of understanding God that the church has employed throughout most of its history. It arose within the debates that took place amongst philosophically-aware teachers of the church in the third and fourth centuries, so as an historical phenomenon, I can see that it makes a lot of sense within that context.

Three persons, consubstantial, of the same nature, co-inheriting, all makes sense in terms of the philosophical context of the day. Clearly, these were important ideas at the time; they generated vigorous debates amongst church leaders for quite some time!

That was how they thought and wrote, so analysing and describing God in terms of ‘persons’, ‘substance’ and ‘essence’, was utilising the tools of the time. From my studies of the period, and of many of the writings of these teachers as they debated and probed the ideas, I find I can generally admire their intellectual strength and spiritual insight in the course of these debates.

Viewed contextually, in their own time within history, the affirmations about God as “triune” make good sense. I value the concept of the Trinity as a fine example of good, honest, contextual theology.

Two. Scripture

I don’t find that there is a clearly-articulated awareness of a “three-in-one, one-in-three” divine being within either testament of the Bible. At best there are hints and clues which later investigators used, in the 3rd to 5th centuries, as the basis for their own theoretical speculations.

Neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Greek New Testament are informed by the developed neo-platonic worldview which was held by those Christian teachers of later centuries. So none of the writers of books which are placed into scripture can articulate things in the way that was later developed.

It is clear to me that a number of the individual elements (both the ‘persons’ and their attributes, or qualities) which made up the fourth-century concept of a triune God, are all to be found within the works of assorted first century followers of Jesus, which were eventually collected together as part of Christian scripture, the New Testament.

It is also clear to me that many of these elements are most certainly not found, in the way they are used in Christian theology, in the Jewish writings from centuries prior to Jesus, which were collected together as Hebrew Scripture.

So the individual elements can be seen if we identify a number of New Testament texts, extract those elements from their context, and combine them artificially into a new combination of ideas that we then grant the status of a reality. Clearly, the fully-fledged, totally integrated concept that the later fathers developed, is not there. Scripture does not testify to the “three-in-one” concept of God that is articulated in later theology.

This is an important distinction to maintain. Perhaps you can argue that individual elements are present in some biblical passages for assorts books. But certainly I cannot see how the final, integrated idea is put forward at any point in Scripture.

And, of course, there are numerous ways of understanding God, articulated in both testaments, which are not of primary consideration in the “doctrine of the Trinity” that arose over time. Hebrew and Greek writers offer a wide range of diverse insights into what God may well be like. A “triune God” is one, but by no means the only, deduction to be drawn from scripture.

Three. Liturgy

Personally, I find that the threefold pattern of prayers and litanies that have been developed within the church is a useful, and often quite poetic, help in shaping public worship and private prayers. And that makes sense, since the pattern of threes is a common technique in public speaking, in speeches, in jokes, and so also in liturgies.

However, I don’t for one moment imagine that the way I shape my litanies and prayers is a full and final reflection of the inner nature, the “essential being”, of God. That points in some ways to God, but by no means defines the essence of God. So I am open to other patterns and structures in worship, and in talking about God, as well.

Four. Doctrine

I do have a degree of frustration with the way that what appears to be a fixed, solidified understanding of ‘the Trinity’ or ‘the Triune God’ has taken hold, not only in many liturgies, but also in much theological writing and thinking, and doctrinal treatises, in our own time. This doctrine seems to have become a touchstone for orthodoxy, a test as to how genuine one’s doctrinal understanding is. We have solidifed our view of God into a Trinitarian formula.

The effect of this “solidification” of views about God has been that it has squeezed the life out of a wide range of other expressions as to who God is, how we relate to God, and what we understand of the mystery of the deity. Our doctrine (teaching) about God needs to be open to our range of experiences as we encounter and engage with and meditate upon God.

One way that systematic thinkers have grappled with the doctrine is by focussing on the notion that the Trinity places the idea of ‘community’ right at the heart of God; and that this then provides a mandate for exhorting our fellow human beings to live relationally, in community, with one another. That is an attractive idea, to be sure — and one that is much needed in modern society.

But how do we really know what is at the heart of God? what is the essential nature of God, within God’s own self? We can’t be sure that this is actually how God is. And why do we need an abstract theory of ideas and concepts to validate the exhortation to live in community? A theoretical philosophical doctrine, shaped so long ago, isn’t really a convincing argument in modern public discourse, I would have thought.

Five. Polemics.

Modern theologians are quite taken by the notion that the doctrine of the Trinity provides some unifying vision that enables Christian believers to feel content in their close relationship with God, and affirmed in their positive relationships with other people of faith (and beyond …).

I find it ironic, however, that the process by which this unifying vision emerged was through a series of entirely pragmatic political powerplays exercised by a group of church fathers who soughty and gained control over the church.

Those patristic patriarchs “played hard”, confronted alternative points of view, argued vociferously against them, expelled their proponents from the church, and created creeds which shut out these so-called ‘deviant’ or ‘heretical’ opinions. They were convinced that they possessed The Truth, and any other view was Beyond The Pale.

The irony is that such modern theologians can so readily overlook the hardball powerplays of the patriarchal pugilists, and create theories and pictures of trinity-as-communion, trinity-as-unity-in-diversity, and the whole idealistic perichoretic thing.

I’m somewhat sceptical of the conclusions to which such modern theologians arrive (very nice as they are, very appealing as they emerge), largely because these theologians appear to be completely oblivious to the rough, painful and highly politicised process by which the doctrine was created.

I wonder: would any of the fathers of old have been up on Discipline Charges, given they ways that they prosecuted their arguments and dealt with dissidents, if they were miraculously transported into the contemporary church??

Six. Prayer

It seems to me that the doctrinal stranglehold of the Triune God has limited, confined—even belittled—our human grasping after God, our human imaginings of who God is, our human efforts to articulate something of how we might gain access to the inner workings of God.

I am actually quite unsure as to how we human beings can do this with final, definitive confidence, so I much prefer the openness of pondering about, and praying with, God, that is not limited by trinitiarian formulae and dogmas. Prayer, after all, is opening ourselves to a renewed encounter with the divine.

I do not believe that the Trinity as a doctrine has nothing at all to offer to us today. That is not so. But, by the same token, there is so much more to ponder, explore, and explain, beyond this strict triune formula, so I think we need to be regularly reminded that we ought to be opened up to those possibilities.

So I am happy to have a place for “the Triune God” amongst the various ways in which I think about and relate to God. But it is not the one and only thing to be said, or thought, or prayed, in relation to God.

Seven. Mission and Meaning.

So, I reckon that Trinity Sunday provides a new missional opportunity. The missional task that we face is to follow the example provided by the contextualised development of doctrine by the church fathers. This Trinity Sunday, instead of sermons that grind through abstruse and remote arguments for the Trinity, I would hope we can begin to find ways, in the contemporary context, where we can talk about God and bear witness to our faith, using concepts that are understandable and ideas that are enlivening.

If we want to talk about the divine delight in deep relationships and God’s desire to relate fully to our world, then concepts of incarnation, God coming “down” to earth, hypostatic equality, co-inherence and perichoresis, just won’t cut through in the contemporary era.

We need to move beyond the ossified conceptualisation of God from so many centuries ago, and begin to create our own language and our own ideas for bearing witness to what we know in God. Mere repetition of ancient speculation and debate will not suffice.

It seems to me that, if we want to engage adequately in mission, we have to be immersed in our world, fully part of the communion of daily life. One critical problem is that when we devote time to speaking of the Trinity, using abstract philosophical terms drawn from the foreign languages of antiquity, then we are privileging the voices of male patriarchs from antiquity, over the lived experience of faithful people in these present time.

The Gospel is surely that God’s generous self-outpouring is evident in actions which foster justice and deeds which demonstrate compassion; in loving relationships and in living the values of the kingdom. Words which are uttered about concepts which are about imagined entities and their relationships, will not suffice. We need new images, concepts and doctrines: new images to reflect who God is for us, new concepts to help us think further about God, and new doctrines to speak clearly about God in our contemporary context!

(The image is a literalist personification of the doctrine of the Trinity, from the so-called Dogmatic Sarcophagus, c. 350 CE, kept in the Vatican Museums)

Geoff Thompson has recently written a thoughtful and challenging reflection on the Trinity at http://xenizonta.blogspot.com/2019/06/trinitarian-disruption.html

Craig Mitchell has offered these words (to a familiar tune) which provide a supportive expression of how we encounter the triune God in our lives at https://craigmitchell.typepad.com/mountain_masala/2012/05/creator-companion-comforter.html?fbclid=IwAR39O1mfvMFx4dKIPtUhuUKfldiW4LAZZp2zgh4A6j37AGCh4tPDyWjGDqQ

For my musings about the creeds and what they contain, see

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/30/affirming-the-teachings-of-jesus/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/02/interpreting-the-creeds-in-a-later-age/

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The Paraclete in John’s Gospel: exploring the array of translation options (John 14, 15, 16)

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 15) contains a rather unusual word, which is translated in various ways across the range of English translations. The word (in Greek) is parakletos. It appears four times in the Gospel of John (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7) and once more in the first epistle of John (1 John 2:1). How should this word be translated?

First, a word about translations. There is a range of possibilities for undertaking a translation of the Bible into modern English, stretching across a spectrum that ranges from formal correspondence translations, all the way to dynamic equivalence translations. 

At one end of the spectrum, formal correspondence translations place a high value on sticking closely to the original biblical language. They follow, as closely as is possible, what was written in the original language. Where the original Greek or Hebrew is obscure, it may attempt to assist the reader in some measure; but the sentence structure of the original language is basically adhered to, and there are approximately the same number of words in the translation as in the original. 

At the other end of the spectrum of translations, dynamic equivalence translations move the emphasis away from the original language; the overriding concern of the translators is to communicate the meaning of the text in contemporary, idiomatic English expression. There are anumber of such translations that have been published over the years.

When we turn to this single Greek word, used in John and 1 John to describe the Holy Spirit, we find that the Revised Standard Version translates this word Parakletos, as Counsellor. The same term is used in the New International Version.

Both translations aim at formal correspondence as much as possible. The term counsellor infers that the spirit is a guide for Christian faith; one who relates one-to-one with the Christian person, who walks alongside them, encouraging them and offering advice where relevant. This is a fair translation of the Greek word used here.

The New Revised Standard Version has made a significant change from its parent translation, the RSV. In place of the term Counsellor, the NRSV prefers the term Advocate. The Jersualem Bible and the New Living Translation also use this term. It has quite a different nuance in English. 

The usual location for the term advocate, in contemporary English, is the courtroom; so we move from the intimacy of the counselling relationship, to the public realm of judicial hearings. By describing the spirit as an advocate, these translations are describing the spirit as a person who represents the Christian person and stands up for their rights, who ensures that the believer is given a full and fair hearing at the day of judgement. 

The NRSV translation, Advocate, is equally as valid as the alternative, Counsellor, since the Greek term they both translate actually contains both shades of meaning  it refers to one who walks beside and supports, as well as one who stands on behalf of and represents. Either translation corresponds formally to the original term. But, in opting for one or the other of the nuances of the term, the meaning has actually been specified far more narrowly than in the original language. Such are the limitations of translations. 

The Good News Bible, a dynamic equivalence translation, translates the word for the Spirit in John 14-15 as Helper. The New American Standard Bible and the translation made by J.B. Philips also use the term Helper.

This choice of word is obviously related to the sense of Counsellor, but it is very limited in meaning. A counsellor can certainly help; usually they have specific skills and expertise that they bring to bear into a situation. By contrast, the word helper suggests someone who is in a subordinate position, one who pitches in by assisting with the more menial tasks, and perhaps one who is at the beck and call of the one requesting the help. 

This kind of nuance might give some insight into the role of the spirit, who does come to the aid of the Christian person and provide assistance. Nevertheless, the English word helper sits somewhat at odds with the broader Christian conception of the Holy Spirit. It is a limited, over-simplistic view of the role of the Holy Spirit.  

A fourth option for translating this term is the word Comforter, which appears in the King James Version, the so-called ‘Authorised Version’ of 1611. This also is an accurate translation of the word Parakletos, for it was used in ancient writings to describe the comfort, or consolation, to those who were aggrieved. By opting for this translation, the KJV was also being faithful to the text. 

However, there are other considerations to be made here. Because the KJV is so old – it is over four centuries since this translation was made  it can sometimes be less relevant to contemporary understandings. The word “comfort” has shifted in meaning over the centuries, and to us it now conveys an image of the kindly parent, hugging the distressed child, drying their tears, settling them down into bed; a domestic image which may well describe something of the role of the spirit, but which loses so much of the broader scope inherent in the term.

In addition to the formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence translations, a third type of bible version which can be bought today is the Paraphrase. Although some of these versions claim to be translations, there is a significant difference. A paraphrase will happily move very far from the original text of the Bible, in order to convey in precise detail the particular nuance of the passage being translated. Most paraphrases deliberately use a number of words, a phrase, to convey one of the possible meanings of the original word. 

A popular contemporary paraphrase is The Message. In this instance, it uses just one word for Paraclete, which it renders as Friend. That is nice and cosy—but not quite grasping the range of meanings in the Greek! 

Finally, let me note a fifth option for translating the Greek term for the Holy Spirit in John 14-15. The Jerusalem Bible translates the term parakletos as Advocate; but in revising the JB, the New Jerusalem Bible has decided simply to transliterate the term from Greek into English. It thus uses the non-English term, the Paraclete, at this point. The virtue of this is that all the possible meanings are inherent in the term. We need to explore what it means, using biblical dictionaries or commentaries. Thus, this translation has encouraged us to work out what the word means for ourselves. 

The disadvantage of this translation is that, from a simple reading of the text, we have absolutely no idea what a Paraclete is. It is not an English word, and it is as puzzling as reading the original Greek. We cannot simply read this translation; we have to stop, think, explore, and question. Depending upon the situation, this may be appropriate and valuable, or frustrating and unhelpful.

The bottom line, for me, is: use a range of translations … explore the alternatives that are chosen in each of them … and use this range, to ponder the significance of the text that is under investigation!

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Reconciliation on the land of Australia: living together with respect

In his book Hidden in Plain View, Paul Irish has found many records that demonstrate the positive relationships between the colonisers and Indigenous people at various locations in the coastal Sydney region.

One story concerns the area in Sydney Harbour known today as Watsons Bay.

The original inhabitants of the area that is now known as Watsons Bay, were the Gadigal people. The Gadigal referred to the area as Kutti. This indigenous group of people fished and collected shellfish in the waters and bays off South Head. They acquired their resources from Camp Cove and carved rock engravings there, although many have since eroded from the cliff faces and rock surfaces that line the coastline.

Watsons Bay was named after Robert Watson (1756–1819), who had arrived with the First Fleet as quartermaster of H.M.S. Sirius. After some years at Norfolk Island, Watson was given a land grant at South Head. When the lighthouse at South Head was finished, Watson was installed as its first superintendent in November 1818.

In the early decades of the colony, there was a group of Aborigines which used Camp Cove as their base for fishing. They co-existed with the whites who began settling in the area. Later events would challenge, and then unravel, this positive relationship. There is a lot of tragedy and much sadness in the relationships between First Peoples and the colonisers, in the ensuing decades. But perhaps we need to look back to those early positive, respectful relationships, as the model for our lives today?

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/28/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-learning-from-the-past/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/29/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bennelong-and-yemmerrawanne/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/30/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bungaree-and-mahroot/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/31/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-cora-gooseberry-and-biddy-giles/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/01/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-these-are-my-people-this-is-my-land/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

On learning from the land:

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/17/learning-of-the-land-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/18/learning-of-the-land-2-ngunnawal-namadgi-and-ngarigo/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/02/08/learning-from-the-land-4-naiames-nghunnhu-fishtraps-at-brewarrina/

On difficulties and tragedies in the early relationships:

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/endeavour-by-every-possible-means-to-conciliate-their-affections/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/we-never-saw-one-inch-of-cultivated-land-in-the-whole-country/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/they-stood-like-statues-without-motion-but-grinnd-like-so-many-monkies/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/resembling-the-park-lands-of-a-gentlemans-residence-in-england/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/26/they-are-to-be-hanged-up-on-trees-to-strike-the-survivors-with-the-greater-terror/#more-424

#nuptothecup

Remembering Medora, Dispatch, Dulcify, Verema, Admire Rakti, Araldo, Red Cadeaux, Regal Monarch, and Cliffsofmoher–who each died during or soon after racing in the Melbourne Cup.

Today the Melbourne Cup takes place. It has become known as the race that stops a nation. But the reality is, it really should be the nation that stops a race—and all other horse races—because of the cruelty that is integral to the horse racing industry. A brief history indicates this.

The race was first run in 1861 to a crowd of 4,000 people. Two horses died in that first race. An article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes the race: Medora’s front legs gave way and she fell heavily, bringing down her jockey, Henderson. Dispatch rounded the turn and somersaulted over her, careered into the picket fence and threw her jockey, Morrison. Next came Twilight who collapsed on top of them, bringing Haynes down with her. Unhurt, she broke loose before heading off across the course and was disqualified. Nearby spectators anxiously dragged the fallen horses off the track before the others came round the course again. The jockeys also sustained injuries; Henderson’s shoulder was dislocated and Morrison’s right collar broken. The injury to his right side was such that he could only walk with assistance and had to be taken to Melbourne Hospital. (see http://adb.anu.edu.au/essay/1)

In 1881, Jockey John Dodd died as a result of injuries received while riding Suwarrow in the race. The horse survived.

In 1979, Dulcify broke his hip 400m from the finishing post in the 1979 Melbourne Cup and was taken to the Melbourne stables of his trainer, where he was euthanased by a vet in the back of a horse float.

In 2013, a horse named Verema was euthanased right on the Flemington racetrack, although green tarps prevented the crowd from seeing what was happening.

Two horses died due to racing in the 2014 Melbourne Cup. Cup favourite Admire Rakti, who was carrying the heaviest weight since Think Big (1975), died of heart failure in his stall after the race, and Araldo broke his leg and had to be euthanased after being spooked by a flag in the crowd after the race.

In 2015, Red Cadeaux, the only horse to finish 2nd in the race on 3 occasions, and a public favourite, did not finish due to a fetlock injury and had to be euthanased 2 weeks later.

In 2017, Regal Monarch broke his right leg and had to be euthanased. Such deaths take place because it is difficult for a horse’s fractured bone to heal. So a broken bone spells death.

In 2018, Cliffsofmoher had to be put down after fracturing a shoulder early in the Cup. He was euthanased on the track, right in front of the grandstand, behind a large green sheet.

In 2015, 132 racehorses died on race courses across Australia due to repeat injuries, according to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses. That’s about one death every three days.

Has that terrible figure produced a response from racing authorities, to lessen the death toll? Not at all—in fact, the number of death has grown in the intervening years. From July 2016 until July 2017, 137 horses died on Australian racetracks. That is an outrageous number.

The most recent set of figures kept by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses indicate that over the past year, the most common reason for a racehorse dying was catastrophic front limb injury (61), whilst 7 horses collapsed and died on the track, 10 horses died from cardiac causes, and 5 horses died from bleeds.

We need to stop this cruelty. This is actually the race that shames a nation. The whole industry, however, is riddled with practices and customs that perpetuate cruelty and cause regular deaths, as the recent ABC 7:30 report has demonstrated. (see https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/the-dark-side-of-the-horse-racing-industry/11614022)

Say Nup to the Cup.

See also

https://www.animalsaustralia.org/events/?event=159

https://horseracingkills.com/issues/deathwatch/

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-06/the-cliffsofmoher-euthanased-on-track-after-melbourne-cup/10470260

https://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/the-melbourne-cup-hit-by-protests-after-horse-deaths/news-story/f9948e85ad3a3b68cde5d197292e65f2