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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.

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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!

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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

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Reconciliation on the land of Australia: “these are my people … this is my land”.

During this National Reconciliation Week, I am recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain, drawing on the work of Paul Irish in his recent book, Hidden in Plain View. (See https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/hidden-plain-view/)

Earlier this week, I mentioned Bungaree, an early Aboriginal leader. He is reported as living, at various times, at Broken Bay, Sydney Town, and the Hunter region. Paul Irish reports that his first wife was Matora (1770s-1820s) and his second wife was Cora Gooseberry (1770s-1852). Both women were from the Sydney Harbour area, and Cora became known as the “Queen” of coastal Sydney in her latter years.

I love Bungaree for his clear and forthright declaration, when he was part of an Indigenous group meeting with a group of sailors from Russia in 1820. In one such meeting, he apparently declared to them: “These are my people … this is my land”.

Right on!!!

(Irish cites this from a report by Glynn Barrett in “The Russians at Port Jackson 1814-1822”, published in 1981. Barrett’s work relates to Russian ships travelling from Europe to Alaska, which often stopped at Sydney, anchoring at Port Jackson. Naval Officers and Sailors had close dealings with the Aboriginal people of the area.)

Bungaree spoke truth. This was (and still is) the land of his people. But the colonial powers of Britain failed to listen and respond appropriately. During Reconciliation Week, we need to foster an attitude of respectful relationship and careful listening, as we engage with our Indigenous sisters and brothers.

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/

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

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Reconciliation on the land of Australia: Cora Gooseberry and Biddy Giles

As well as known Aboriginal men who were leaders of their clans and figured in ongoing relationships with the British colonisers in the coastal Sydney area, there are Aboriginal women who are recorded in the early colonial records. Paul Irish recounts what is known about some of them, in his book “Hidden in Plain View”.

Cora Gooseberry was the widow of Bungaree (see https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/30/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bungaree-and-mahroot/). She was born around 1777 and lived until 1852. Cora was a well-known identity in the Sydney streets. Born as Carra or Kaaroo, she was the daughter of Moorooboora, leader of the Murro-Ore (Pathway Place) clan, named from muru (pathway) and Boora (Long Bay).

Irish reports that Gooseberry’s mob, including Ricketty Dick, Jacky Jacky and Bowen Bungaree, camped in the street outside Sydney hotels or in the Domain, where they engaged with the British invaders by giving exhibitions of boomerang throwing. In July 1845, in exchange for flour and tobacco, Cora Gooseberry took Angas and the police commissioner W.A. Miles on a tour of Aboriginal rock carvings at North Head and told them ‘all that she had heard her father say’ about the places where ‘dibble dibble walk about’, an inference that he had been a koradji from that region. (See http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gooseberry-cora-12942)

Biddy Giles, 1810 to 1888, lived first in the Illawarra, where she had two daughters to Burragalong, known as Paddy Davis. Davis lived with Biddy from 1850s on a farm at Mill Creek, off the George’s River. Biddy was skilled at fishing and hunting with a pack of dogs. Irish reports that she ran guided tours in the bush land near George’s River down to the Heathcote area, from the 1850s onwards, and then tours to whale engravings near Bundeena in 1860s and 1870s

About the time Paddy died around 1860, Biddy moved to the Georges River, with a new partner, an Englishman called Billy Giles. They lived on the western bank of Mill Creek, known to the Dharawal as Gurugurang, in a farmhouse built earlier by Dr Alexander Cuthill. They had fruit trees, goats and abundant bush tucker from the river and its banks. During the 1860s, Biddy and Billy acted as guides for groups of travellers in shooting or fishing parties, sharing their knowledge of the river and its wildlife, telling stories and sharing skills. These trips ranged from Mill Creek east all the way to the ocean and south into Dharawal country as far as the Shoalhaven.

Some of these travellers wrote accounts of their trips with Biddy, marvelling at her unfailing ability to find fish, her control of her hunting dogs and the skill with which she could rustle up a delicious meal from local produce. (See https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/giles_biddy)

Such women are fine models for us to ponder during this National Reconciliation Week.

(In the picture, Cora Gooseberry is top right, Biddy Giles is bottom left.)

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/

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

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Reconciliation on the land of Australia: Bungaree and Mahroot

Paul Irish, in his recent book, “Hidden in Plain View”, introduces us to various Aboriginal people who are noted on a number of occasions in the early colonial records. One of them was Bungaree (1770s-1830), who came from the area we know as Broken Bay, at the northern end of “Coastal Sydney”.

Bungaree, or Boongarie, was born around the time that the First Fleet was being gathered together in preparation for the long trip to the Great South Land. As an adult, he adopted the role of a mediator between the invading British colonists and the Aboriginal people. He sailed in that capacity with Matthew Flinders, becoming the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent on that voyage of 1802–03.

It is said that, during this voyage, Bungaree used his knowledge of Aboriginal protocol to negotiate peaceful meetings with local Indigenous people. later, in A Voyage to Terra Australis, Matthew Flinders subsequently wrote that Bungaree’s ‘good disposition and open and manly conduct had attracted my esteem.’ (In A Voyage to Terra Australis)

In mid-life he found a patron in Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who made Bungaree ‘Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe’, set aside land and gave him a boat for fishing. In his later life Bungaree, while still respected as an Aboriginal leader, was regarded as the best-known character in the streets of Sydney.

Bungaree died in 1830. There is a substantial entry on him in the Dictionary of Sydney (https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/bungaree)

Another Aboriginal leader was Mahroot (1790s to 1850), who was also known as “Boatswain”. Mahroot lived with his wife at Botany (near the site of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel), and it is recorded that he worked there as ferryman and guide in the 1840s. It is also claimed that several white people lived there, as his tenants. (https://dictionaryofsydney.org/person/boatswain_maroot)

Mahroot had regular and consistent engagement with whites in the colony; it is said that Mahroot and the British colonisers happily co-existed. He gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Condition of the Aborigines in 1845 where he spoke frankly about his life, his family, his Country and the impact on Indigenous people since 1788.

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/

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

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Reconciliation on the land of Australia: Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne

During this National Reconciliation Week, I think it is worth recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain. We are accustomed, now, to reading of the violent conflicts and massacres that occurred. These are tragic parts of our history that we must not deny, overlook, or ignore.

But in the early stages of the colony—and, indeed, stretching throughout the colonial period—there were mutually respectful relationships between these groups. National Reconciliation Week seems to be a good time to recall this.

Perhaps the best known persona from amongst the First Peoples encountered by the invading British coloniser was Bennelong, born in 1764 on the southern shore of the Parramatta River. Paul Irish (in Hidden in Plain View) notes that his various family connections meant that Bennelong had connections to country on Goat Island, at Botany Bay, on the lower north shore of Sydney Harbour, and along the northern side of Parramatta River.

Bennelong was kidnapped in November 1789, under the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip, who thereby set an unfortunate tone for the relationship with the locals from the very early years of the colony. Phillip apparently assumed that Bennelong was a “King” of the local people, and thus the correct person with whom to negotiate about co-existing in the same area. It was an attempt to build a constructive relationship, even if it was carried out in what we now recognise to be an entirely flawed manner.

It is said that Bennelong took readily to life among the white men, relished their food, acquired a taste for liquor, learned to speak English and became particularly attached to the Governor. At the end of his term as Governor in 1792, Arthur Phillip travelled to England with Bennelong and another Aborigine, Yemmerrawanne, a Wangal man of the Eora people.

Yemmerrawanne was described by Watkin Tench, in his work, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson (1793), as a “good-tempered lively lad” who became “a great favourite with us, and almost constantly lived at the governor’s house”. (See https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/yemmerrawanne)

Yemmerrawanne never returned home from his trip to England. After a long illness, he died from a lung infection on 18 May 1794 at the home of Mr Edward Kent at South End, Eltham in the county of Kent. His gravestone in Kent marks his life, and death.

Bennelong stayed in England from 1792 to 1795. On his return to Sydney, he was able to develop more positive relationships with the British, and functioned as an advisor to Governor Hunter.

Bennelong lived his last years with one of his wives, Boorong, at Kissing Point, with an extended group of about 100 people, until his death on 3 January 1813. He was buried in the Kissing Point orchard of the brewer James Squire—no relationship! Squire had been a great friend to Bennelong and his clan; another sign of positive, respectful relationships between Aborigines and the colonisers. We need to learn from such stories in our history.

See the extensive article on Bennelong in the Australian Dictionary of Biography at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennelong-1769

The image portrays Bennelong, the grave of Yemmerrawanne, and the 2019 National Reconciliation Week logo and theme.

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/

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

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Reconciliation on the land of Australia: learning from the past

During this National Reconciliation Week, I think it is worth recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain.

We are accustomed, now, to reading of the violent conflicts and massacres that occurred As the invading colonisers settled on lands which had belonged, for millennia, to the First Peoples of the continent. These are tragic parts of our history that we must not deny, overlook, or ignore. (See my earlier posts on this aspect, noted below.)

But in the early stages of the colony—and, indeed, stretching throughout the colonial period—there were mutually respectful relationships between these groups. National Reconciliation Week seems to be a good time to recall this.

Paul Irish, in his recent book, Hidden in Plain View, has traced the evidence that shows the positive and respectful relationships that existed in the 19th century “between the colonial settlers and Aboriginal people in Coastal Sydney”. (See https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/hidden-plain-view/)

Irish maps an area stretching from Port Stephens to the Shoalhaven, as far inland as the headwaters of the Parramatta and George’s Rivers in the Sydney Basin, but including coastal spurs along northern and southern edges of the Basin. (Pretty much like the current urban sprawl of Newcastle-Central Coast-Sydney-Wollongong-Kiama-Nowra.)

According to Irish, this was an area within which many of the Indigenous peoples moved about, living in different locations at different times, because of their long-established family and clan links with those locations. His interest in is mapping the relationships between the colonisers and Indigenous people at various locations in this coastal area.

Irish refers to “those whose links to coastal Sydney extend back hundreds of generations, whose ancestors met the first Europeans, and who found a way to create an ongoing place for themselves in the oldest and largest city in the country.”

He writes about their “remarkable story of survival through cultural strength and cross-cultural entanglement that sits in stark contrast to commonly held views of colonial and Aboriginal Australia, and to the experiences of most Australians today”. (There is an edited extract from his book available online at https://insidestory.org.au/atween-here-and-the-georges-river/)

Paul Irish refers to men such as Bennelong, Yemmerrawanne, Bungaree, and Mahroot. He also refers to women such as Cora Gooseberry, Biddy Giles, Matora, and Mary Ann Burns. They were leaders in their communities and they were able, for the most part, to relate to the colonisers who had invaded their lands, with grace and respect. In this National Reconciliation Week, we would do well to reflect on them and to follow their example.

(More reflections to come as the week continues …)

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/

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

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We are sorry, we recognise your rights, we seek to be reconciled

Yesterday was National Sorry Day. It has been observed for only a decade. On 26 May 1997, the Bringing Them Home Report report was tabled in Federal Parliament. This report addressed them impacts of the fact that in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, Australian government policies resulted in many Stolen Generations, in which thousands of Indigenous children were separated, often forcibly, from their families, with the aim of removing them from their culture and turning them into “white Australians”.

Because of this, the date 26 May carries great significance for the Stolen Generations, as well as for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and its supporters among non-indigenous Australians. So Sorry Day is an annual event that has been held around the continent on 26 May since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

Today marks the start of National Reconciliation Week. This week was initiated in 1996 by Reconciliation Australia, to celebrate Indigenous history and culture in Australia and promote discussions and activities which would foster reconciliation. It is held between 27 May and 3 June of each year, with the dates holding special historical significance.

27 May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum in Australia, which gave the vote to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while 3 June marks the anniversary of the 1992 judgement by the High Court on the Mabo v Queensland case.

Sorry Day (26 May) and the National Apology (made in Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008), the 1967 referendum, the 1992 Mabo decision, along with the Wik decision on native title (delivered by the High Court on 23 December 1996), are considered to be key events in addressing the historic mistreatment of indigenous Australians, and in taking steps towards reconciliation and restorative justice.

But these were only steps. The path still lies ahead. We need to take more steps, foster deeper relationships, advocate for a more embedded restoration of justice, work for wider and more lasting reconciliation within our communities. May we tread that pathway with compassion and intent.

The picture montage shows a Sorry Day poster, celebrations after the 1967 referendum, Eddie Mabo who brought the High Court case that was resolved in 1992, Gladys Tybingoompa dancing outside the high court in Canberra on 23 December 1996 following the Wik people’s native title win, and the front page of a national newspaper reporting the National Apology in 2008.

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Once again: affirming our diversity, celebrating joyous marriages

Last year, the Assembly resolved to allow Uniting Church ministers and authorised celebrants the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages. Some within the church were not happy with this decision. Many councils of the church across the country reviewed the decision. Most affirmed it strongly or unanimously. Some questioned it. A few asked for it to be revisited. In the end, the decision stood, and still stands today.

There are some within the church who are not able to let go of their angst about this decision. They hold on to old understandings and continue to fight past battles. Most recently, we see that they are feeding sympathetic journalists in the media misinformation, making misleading and mischievous claims. But the decision has been made, and stands firm.

It was a good decision, and it provides a good expression of our faith. We recognise that there is a diversity of opinion across the church. The Assembly explicitly affirmed that, amongst the members of the Uniting Church, there is “a diversity of religious beliefs and ethical understandings” in relation to marriage. Nobody is excluded. Nobody is being forced out. Nobody is being pressured to act contrary to their beliefs.

The Assembly determined that “the Church is able to accept this diversity within its life and make the decisions necessary to enable its ministry and members to act with integrity in accordance with their beliefs”. We continue to hold to that affirmation.

This affirmation of diversity is strategically significant. It speaks of who we are—as people of the church, and as people in the wider society in which we live. In making this decision, the Uniting Church remains faithful to its commitment, as articulated in the Basis of Union. We are, indeed, a pilgrim people, on the way towards the promised goal of the kingdom that God has in view.

The decision about marriage involved so many difficult conversations and challenging moments for many people. The decision of Assembly steps out in a new direction. Some are not able to let go of their angst about this decision. They hold on to old understandings and past battles.

In my view, this decision demonstrates how the Uniting Church continues, today, to look for a continuing renewal. Last year, I wrote that, in that search, we clearly affirm our readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church. This decision is one that many people believe is a faithful response to what God is today calling the Church to be and to do. It is a signal that we seek to remain open to constant reform under his Word.

Throughout this process, I believe that we have continued daily to seek to obey his will, and to discern ways by which we might confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds. We continue to do that now, as Ministers across Australia implement the decision of the Assembly and rejoice in the celebration of joyous marriages, within the church, of couples of the same gender.

As this takes place, I am certain in holding to the belief that we are not apostate, we have not betrayed our faith, as some critics stubbornly maintain. We continue to hold to the essence of the Gospel in all good faith. The marriages of people of the same gender serve to remind us, in a fresh way, of the grace which justifies [us] through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier.

As our President has reminded us, we are all included in that abundant grace and we look with anticipation to the promise of liberating hope.

And, as my Anglican colleague Chris Bedding has affirmed, “The Uniting Church in Australia, in its very foundation, has already offered an ecumenical witness to the church. I believe The Assembly decision to offer marriage to all couples is an evolution of this witness. The impact of this decision will be felt by people across all Christian traditions in this country for many years to come, because, every LGBTQIA+ Christian will know that somewhere out there is a church that will affirm them, and marry them.

“If the ‘ecumenical question’ is ‘What if marriage of same-gender couples in Uniting Churches is a gift to other Christians, which can foster unity and strengthen evangelism?’,  I think the answer is a resounding yes. When the histories are written, this pioneering decision will be seen as one of the signs that the snow is beginning to melt, as together we fulfil the great commission.” (See https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/)

For the Uniting Church’s affirmations on human sexuality and same gender relationships, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations

For the President’s statement about the inaccurate and misleading ABC report (dated 26 May 2019), see https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/3015-statement-on-abc-news-report

And see also https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/in-celebration-of-diversity/

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

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Discovering new futures … letting go of the old

This month, I am taking up a portion of my future placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery, in a 25% supply role, alongside of my 75% IIM Placement. This will run through into early next year, when I will move into the full time role as Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing in the Canberra Region.

I was asked to offer some reflections on the theme for the May meeting of Presbytery, when we will be considering what it means to be discovering new futures and letting go of the old. So, here goes …..

From time to time I hear people reminiscing about “the ways things used to be”. Often, the narrative is one of “things just aren’t as good now as they used to be”. You might know the script; it goes something like: “not enough people ‘come to church’ on Sunday mornings … we have no Sunday School … there is no Youth Group … the Women’s Fellowship has closed … the rosters have empty spaces … nobody wants to do the flowers … there aren’t enough greeters.”

I hear these things. I listen. I nod and make empathic noises.

I start to talk about how things are, indeed, different now. How the church is in a different place in society. How society itself is different, now, from 30 years ago, 50 years ago, 60 years ago. How people are looking for different things, now. How the Sunday morning four-hymn sandwich, sitting quietly and listening to a 20 minute monologue, is not what “younger people” accept as valuable, any more. (And some “older people”, too!)

I might push back a little more. What does this congregation offer, to people who are looking for a place to connect with their faith? How do we welcome people? How do we disciple people? How do we connect with people in the ways that they best appreciate and look for? What are we doing to grow our own sense of what it is that people in the community around us are hungering for?

I wonder whether this is the right line to take. I wonder whether this just reinforces the resistance and strengthens the frustrations of those who express these things to me.

So, could there be a different line of approach to take? From time to time, I mull over a different kind of response. One that goes something like this, instead:

The challenge that faces the church as our numbers decline, is in fact a wonderful opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to renew ourselves. It is an opportunity to become deeply incarnational. It is an opportunity for us to contextualise the way we express and live out our faith. It is an opportunity to discover new futures.

To be incarnational, means to enter fully into the reality of human life that we find all around us. It means to “take on the flesh” of the society of which we are a part.

(Don’t freak out—that is entirely biblical. That is what, we say, Jesus did, when he “became human” and “pitched his tent in our midst”—to paraphrase John 1:14.)

To be incarnational, means to live in this world, amongst our fellow human beings, as one of them, bringing into this situation a sense of the “more than” that the Gospel offers; a sense of the “dimension beyond” the immediate that we proclaim.

To be incarnational is to be contextual. To be immersed in the context. To be part of the community that lives, sleeps, eats, shops, works, plays, and relaxes, within the very neighbourhood where the church is.

Instead of yearning for more people to come to church on Sunday morning, perhaps we should become more active in engaging with people out there in the parks, the shopping centres, the gathering places, in our local community. These are the new futures waiting for us to discover them.

Instead of lamenting decline, perhaps we need to be seizing the day, grasping the opportunity, becoming deeply incarnational, ensuring that we are thoroughly contextual, as we discover the new futures that God has in store for us.

The church, in many places, has lost contact with people in the wider community. Long ago, the church was at the centre of society. Every local church was a community hub. People from the community, with minimal or no religious commitment, were regularly in the church, on the premises, interacting with church people.

Over time, the church lost those connections. We gradually moved closer to the edges. We lost this strong central position, this robust community engagement. Slowly, but surely.

So now, the challenge is to recapture that central position, to re-engage with the community, to reconnect with people across the spectrum of society, to be incarnate within the community, to let go of the old and discover our new futures.

The challenge of the moment is the incarnational opportunity. Can we hear the call, to let go of the old, and discover new futures? Let’s seize it with enthusiasm!

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A prayer for Mother’s Day

One of the delights of the worship that takes place each week in my current placement, is that the Prayers of the People are led by a range of people from within the Congregation. This provides prayers which are “grounded” as well as reflecting the diversity of perspectives found within the people.

Today, Mother’s Day, Marg Cotton led with this thoughtful prayer. I share it with her permission.

******

Creator God, as we come to you in prayer help us to pray in your spirit and truly enter into a time of stillness and simplicity.  Give us courage to be open to your unfathomable goodness, and imponderable light.  While we cannot ever know the depths of your being help us to see enough of what is truly mysterious to break down our pride and recognise that we need to rely on your grace and mercy.

We have much to be thankful for.  Living in freedom in this land.  Having access to education and health care, food and water, warmth and friendship.  Being able to worship in peace and security.  We give thanks for the many blessings you have given to us and the many people who have been part of our lives.

On this Mothers Day we particularly acknowledge the role that those who nurture us have had in our lives.  For some of us we have fond and happy thoughts about our mothers: their love and support, sacrifice and hard work, compassion and teaching.

For others, perhaps our experiences and memories are not so sweet.  The difficult mother or embarrassing mother, the times when our mums could not cope, the absent mother, the one who was addicted self obsessed, or struggling with mental illness.  

As we think of our mother on mothers day let us show her the respect of acknowledging that she was always more than we ever understood.  Like the God we worship she came before us and she labored to bring us into this world.  Let us acknowledge in the words from Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”  

In the same way we have been often been unmindful of the women who gave us birth and of those other nurturing figures who supported us in many steps in our lives. Help us to acknowledge appropriately those who have helped make us who we are.

But as we acknowledge this help us not be complacent.  Help us to see that some of our own struggles may have come in part from our upbringing and our expectations.  Help us to turn to you and see that our lives can be transformed and made more whole as we seek a path of hope and reconciliation.

We are aware that there is much darkness in our world.  We hear every day of terrible injustices, of violence, of hatred, of feuds, of greed. We see this both at the personal level, at the political level and at the global level.  Break through our complacency and help us see when we are jealous or spiteful, not prepared reconsider our own prejudices, not able to acknowledge the hurt we caused. 

Help us to be aware of the needs of others and take our part in caring for those who are facing difficulties.  We know that there are some people in our midst who struggle to find hope and justice in our community.  For people living with illness or disability, let us ensure that our health system and the NDIS are available to provide the best kind of help available.

For those struggling to find employment let them not be disheartened by the complex structures that sometimes make a secure job seem unattainable.  

For people who are seeking to exercise leadership.  Please grant clarity of thought and honesty of purpose as to all who are involved in important decisions.

For the forgotten people who toil without recognition or thanks.  May we sometimes notice and give thanks for their work and commitment.

As we join together and to share praying the Lord’s prayer I invite those of you who would like to acknowledge the non-gendered divinity of our God to begin this prayer

Our Mother in heaven….

Hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours 

now and forever. Amen

 

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To care for, honour, and respect the creation, we need to #StopAdani

Elizabeth and I attended the #StopAdani climate crisis rally outside the Federal Parliament this morning. The crowd present was estimated at around 5,000 people. There were people from churches, schoolchildren, union members, as well as members of many community organisations and climate change action groups participating.

Author Richard Flanagan addressed the crowd in his inimitable poetic manner, marking the issues and telling the truth:

“Jabbering ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ in a hi-vis shirt does not make you a leader”

“The Franklin was more than a river. Adani is more than a mine.”

“Was there hope with the Franklin!? Yes, there was. Is there hope with Adani? Yes, there is!”

Two young female school-age climate strikers stirred the crowd with pointed rhetoric and a call to action. “Change is never implemented by the oppressors. Change must always be demanded by the oppressed.”

Other speakers from various organisations urged the large crowd to hold fast, stand firm, and work for change. “We are on the right side of history. We will Stop Adani.”

Adrian Burragubba, an elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people of the Galilee Basin in central western Queensland, reminded the crowd that Adani does not have the consent of the First People of the area, whose ancestral lands, waters and culture would be destroyed by the mime if it went ahead.

Paul Kelly sang two song, including “My island home”, and then Bob Brown brought the rally to a climax with his clarion call: “There will be no divine intervention. The onus is on us. And we will take it.” He noted that there was “a bigger crowd here today, than Bill Shorten will have in Brisbane, than Scott Morrison will have, whenever he has his campaign launch.” Popular opinion is clearly against the development of this mine.

Why is it important to protest against this mine, and to petition our leaders to ensure that the Adani mine and associated works do not go ahead?

The Great Barrier Reef. The mine will see ships travelling through this unique World Heritage Area each year, risking ship groundings, coal and oil spills; and it requires further dredging within the World Heritage Area causing water contamination, destruction of dugong habitat, impacts on Green and Flatback turtle nests, and more.

The Great Artesian Basin is our greatest inland water resource, covering 22% of the Australian continent. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy. The mine will take at least 270 billion litres of groundwater over the life of the mine; put aquifers of the Basin at risk; and dump mine polluted wastewater into the Carmichael River.

It will threaten ancient springs and 160 wetlands that provide permanent water during drought, and leave behind 6 unfilled coal pits that will drain millions of litres of groundwater, forever. Adani’s associated water licence allows unlimited access to groundwater for 60 years for free. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy.

The Great Coal Swindle. Pollution from burning coal is the single biggest contributor to dangerous global warming, threatening our way of life. In Australia, ‘black lung’ disease has recently re-emerged among coal miners, with at least 19 workers in Qld identified with the disease. The coal from the Carmichael mine will be burnt in India where 115,000 people die from coal pollution every year. Developing renewable energy is more responsible for the environment and more energising for the economy.

The Great Employment Myth. There are 69,000 tourism jobs related to the Great Barrier Reef, which rely on a healthy Reef. There are thousands of farming jobs in the inland areas under threat. The Adani mine and associated works will pollute, despoil, and degrade both the land area and the associated offshore seas, impacting hugely on the Reef. Adani claims the mine will bring employment opportunities to the region, but in reality there will be far fewer jobs if the mine goes ahead. The mine will decimate local employment opportunities.

The Great Commercial Swindle. Adani companies are under investigation for tax evasion, corruption, fraud, and money laundering. Nine of the 20 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia are ultimately owned by an entity registered in the infamous Cayman Islands tax haven. That is beyond the regulatory reach of the Australian Government.

Adani Group companies have an appalling environmental track record with a documented history of destroying the environments and livelihoods of traditional communities in India, and failure to comply with regulations. They will do the same in Australia if the mine goes ahead.

There are other reasons—environmental, economic, political—that mean we should not go ahead with the mine.

And, for me, there is a fundamental theological principle undergirding this issue: God’s good creation is in our hands; we are called to act responsibly, to care for, honour, and respect that creation. That means that we act to lessen our carbon footprint, restructure our energy infrastructure to grow renewable sources, and refresh our national policies so that we prioritise the planet over personal preferences.

The Uniting Church has affirmed, “We seek the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures. We act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human induced climate change. Government, churches, businesses and the wider community work together for a sustainable future.” (See https://uniting.church/visionstatement2019/)

The Church has issued a Vision Statement which sets out the following desired Key Actions:

1. A national climate policy that drives down greenhouse gas pollution, including no new coal or gas mining in Australia and investment in renewable energy.

2. Just and sustainable transition for communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries for employment, towards more environmentally sustainable sources of income.

3. Equitable access to renewables for all Australians.

4. Policies which support people and nations that are most vulnerable to climate change.

There is No Planet B. We have no choice but to #StopAdani.

See also https://wanganjagalingou.com.au/our-fight/

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/stopadani/pages/1816/attachments/original/1497939723/factsheet20.06.17.pdf?1497939723

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/lockthegate/pages/5429/attachments/original/1521596433/Adani_Water_Factsheet.pdf?1521596433

https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/environment

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Friendship in the presence of difference: a Gospel call in a world of intolerance and hatred

 

In recent weeks, we have seen Muslims murdered as they gather for Friday prayers; Jews murdered as they meet for Sabbath prayers; and Christians murdered as they congregate for Easter worship. These tragic events point to the intolerance, even hatred, held by individuals who identify with a faith “other” than the one where people have been killed. They indicate that, even in this contemporary world where we recognise that there are people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions, this intolerance and hatred remains strong and incessant.

The Uniting Church has been advocating for some decades, now, that as we live in a multicultural society, we need to recognise and engage constructively with people of other faiths. There are some keynote resources that deserve our attention and ongoing reflection.

The Ninth Assembly (2000) adopted a statement prepared by the Doctrine Working Group, entitled Living with the Neighbour who is Different: Christian Vocation in Multi-faith Australia.

It set out the following theological affirmations as the basis for the way that we are to relate to people of other faiths:

God is calling us to engage in conversation with people of other faiths. The development of hospitable and respectful relationships with those of other faiths is a proper response to Christ” who “calls us to live in harmony with all other people and so contribute to a world of peace, justice and hospitality.

Christians are called to love the neighbour who is different. The movement from exclusion to the embrace of neighbours who are different is of the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians discover the will and power to enact this gracious embrace of the neighbour as they become more deeply immersed in the indiscriminate love of God.

God has placed the contemporary church in an ideal situation to engage in genuine dialogue with those of other faiths. We no longer relate to those of other faiths from a position of assumed political and social superiority. From nearer to the margin of society we are free to relate to other people as servants of the unifying, reconciling purposes of God revealed and embodied in Jesus.

God delights in diversity and seeks unity. Diversity, woven into the heart of creation, is a gift of God. The unity God intends for humanity does not destroy difference but weaves difference into a single human mat.

The Spirit is present in all of life. No part of life, no person is without the influence of the Holy Spirit…the Holy Spirit is present through the whole fabric of the world, yet is uniquely present in Christ and in the fellowship of Jesus’ disciples. It does not follow, however, that the life and work of Jesus exhaust the work of the Spirit or exclude the presence of the Spirit in other faiths.

The Centrality of Jesus Christ in Christian believing is not to be compromised when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Christ is the foundation of Christian believing and living. We live “in Christ” and our way of being with others should be consistent with the way pioneered by Jesus.

In 2010 the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group commissioned Keith Rowe to write an updated statement. The title of this statement, Friendship in the presence of difference, is carefully chosen. Real differences do exist in humanity. The gospel imperative calls us to live in friendship.

Individual and corporate friendship robs difference of its power to divide, to foster distrust or to sanction violence. Friendship in the presence of difference is a gift greatly needed both in the Christian community and within the human family as a whole.

The word ‘friendship’ is chosen because it includes a sense of growing relationship, empathy, warmth and care for others. While we may rejoice in similarities among the affirmations and wisdom of the various religions we do not want to deny the existence of very real and important differences. World religions differ in their understanding of the Divine dimension within life, the purpose of our living, the nature of human fulfilment and what it means to live together in a world of many faiths.

Our Christian uneasiness in the presence of difference is something we need to recognise and address. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it well: “In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference”. (The Dignity of Difference, Continuum, 2003, p. vii). The possibility of the religions and people of religion being able to contribute to peace rather than conflict in our world depends on the capacity to relinquish the desire for uniformity based on what serves our comfort or power.

The Thirteenth Assembly (2012) adopted a statement prepared by the Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths, entitled Friendship in the Presence of Difference: Christian Witness in Multifaith Australia.

In introducing this theme, the statement said:

Friendship in the presence of difference is regarded as being a central Christian attitude and value. Engagement with those of other faiths is welcomed as a pathway on which we may rediscover the heart of the Christian way while also being enriched by wisdom others have to share. Distortions that have crept into Christian living and believing often become apparent in informed conversation with those who believe differently. Friendship in the presence of difference can be a significant doorway into the renewal of Christian discipleship and theology.

It offered the following Conclusion:

As a church we are grateful for our developing friendship with those of other faiths. Christians have deepened their understanding of God and of the tasks we face together in our divided world in friendship and conversation with people of other faiths. We look forward to developing deeper friendships and discovering ways we can live together generously and work together for the common good.

We encourage politicians, decision makers and opinion shapers in commerce, industry and the media to grow in sensitive and accurate knowledge of the faiths within our society. Where religious beliefs contribute to conflict and division, we ask our national leaders to strive for understanding and reconciliation among those whose beliefs differ. We believe that lasting peace in our world is not possible unless the religious dimension of life is recognised.

Each part of the Uniting Church is invited to make the building of friendship in the presence of religious and cultural difference a priority missional objective. Whatever theological or spiritual stream of the church’s life we belong to we all have a positive role to play. Trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Uniting Church commits itself to cultivating friendship in the presence of difference.

Clearly, the call that the Gospel places before us at this time, is to offer and receive friendship in the presence of difference.

See https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/theology/livingsummary.pdf

https://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/about/theology/item/1876-study-guides-for-living-with-the-neighbour-who-is-different

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

https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/resources/appendix_1_-_Friendship_in_the_Presence_of_Difference-Christian_witness_in_Multifaith_Australia.pdf

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/hello-thank-you-we-are-with-you-we-support-you/