Looking forward to co-operative leadership in a “collaborative parliament”

I am really glad that we are cracking open the two-party duopoly in federal politics. We already have a good number of Green members in the federal parliament, led by Adam Bandt, with prospects of some more joining them once the results of this election are finalised.

And we have had a good collection of thinking independents in parliament in recent times—Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Cathy McGowan, Rebecca Sharkie, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall—with the prospects of quite a number of new members in this ilk (collectively known as “the Teal Independents”) joining them on the cross benches.

This will most likely produce what the commentators regularly call “a hung parliament”–although one of my colleagues says that we really should call it “a collaborative parliament”. For that is what the members of this next parliament will need to do: collaborate!

This will be in stark contrast to the disastrous shirtfronting, bulldozing approach of our feral federal leadership over the past decade, as both The Abbott of Inequity and The Liar from The Shire have relentlessly driven the COALition further to the right, turning the public discourse into a series of hate-speech episodes, fanning the flames of misogyny, xenophobia, and anti-science attitudes, targeting renewable industries, people below the poverty line, females in the workplace, same-gender attracted people, and transgender people. It has been a shameful period, thriving on the partisan conflict generated by confrontational rhetoric and aggressive actions.

Regardless of how many Greens and Teal Independents are elected to the lower house, the incoming government will still need to work with the range of Senators sitting on the cross benches in the red house, the Senate. There are currently Greens, a number of independents, and members from the Jacqui Lambie Network, the One Nation Party, and the Centre Alliance in the Senate. More Greens and perhaps some RWNJs may well be joining them once the Senate votes are all counted and the preferences distributed.

A “collaborative parliament” is not a disaster. Having a minority government which needs to propose legislation that it negotiates with cross bench members (Greens, Independents) to get through the House and the Senate, is a sensible, mature, responsible process.

In the last “collaborative parliament”, with a minority government led by Julia Gillard (2010–2013), more than 560 pieces of legislation were passed — more than the preceding Rudd government and more than John Howard when he controlled both houses of government between 2005 and 2007.

Some major policy initiatives of the Gillard government included: the Clean Energy Bill 2011; the Mineral Resource Rent Tax; a National Broadband Network; a schools funding formula following the Gonski Review; the National Disability Insurance Scheme; the carbon price package; a means test on the health insurance rebate; paid parental leave; a plan for the Murray Darling Basin; plain packaging for cigarettes; and the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office, which is available to cost policies on request. That is an impressive list.

Michelle Grattan wrote that in a hung parliament, “Parliament has a much more active role, rather than the House being a rubber stamp. The government is kept on its toes. Having the parliament “hung” is another check and balance in the system.” See https://theconversation.com/looking-back-on-the-hung-parliament-16175

She notes that in 2010–2013, about a quarter of House of Representatives time has been used for private members business. 357 private members bills and motions were introduced and debated; 150 were voted on and 113 supported, according to figures supplied by the Leader of the House’s office. By comparison, in 2005 under the Howard government no private members motions were voted on. Democracy works much better in a situation where the parliament has to work collaboratively.

Rob Oakeshott reflected that the great lesson for him out of that parliamentary term was that “bipartisanship is the best and politically the only way to achieve long-standing reform”. Tony Windsor noted that people do not understand what it is. “In some ways they do not fully comprehend what a hung parliament is, and still look at it through the prism of the two party system. It is not that”.

Bob Katter’s assessment was, “a hung parliament … is a multiparty democracy which is experienced everywhere else in the world. The two party system is primitive”. Andrew Wilkie noted that “the parliament itself has proved to be remarkably stable, reformist and productive.”

I am looking forward to the next three years, as collaboration and co-operation become the key markets of our federal leadership.

Scriptural resonances in Revelation 21–22 (Easter 6C)

The section of Revelation provided by the lectionary for this coming Sunday (21:10, 22–22:5) is the final vision from a long sequences of visions, in which the writer, carried “in the spirit” to “a great, high mountain”, sees “the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (22:10).

The top of a mountain is significant in biblical narratives; we only need to remember Moses atop Mount Sinai, receiving the commandments from God (Exod 19:1–25) and viewing the promised land, which he would not himself enter (Deut 34:1–4); and Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, teaching his disciples (Matt 5:1–7:28), being transfigured in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:1–8), and giving his last instructions to his followers before departing from them (Matt 18:16–20).

Visions in Scripture

There are many accounts of visions being seen by people on earth, as God reveals guidance to them; noteworthy are the visions of Abraham (Gen 18:1–16), Moses (Exod 3:1–6), Balaam and his donkey (Num 22:22–35), Joshua (Josh 5:13–15), Eli (1 Sam 3:2–18), and the visions of various prophets (Isa 6:1–13; Ezek 2:1–10; Ezek 40:1–44:31; Dan 7:1–14; Dan 8:1–14; Amos 7:1–9; Amos 8:1–14; Zech chapters 1–6).

In early chapters of the Gospels, visions experienced by key figures shape the course of the story—Zechariah (Luke 1:8–20), Mary (Luke 1:26–38), shepherds (Luke 2:8–14), and Joseph (Matt 1:19–21; 2:13; 2:19–20). Paul experienced “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor 12:1–7a); according Luke’s account of the journey he took towards Damascus, it was the visions to both Ananias and to Paul himself (Acts 9:10–12) that brought Paul into the community of believers, in a life-transforming moment.

However, the most notable vision is surely that experienced by Peter, in Joppa: “he saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’” (Acts 10:11–13). This vision not only changes Peter’s understanding of things; it sets forth the rationale for the fundamental nature of the movement founded by Jesus, as an inclusive community of Jews and Gentiles.

Visions in Revelation 19–22

The vision that the author of Revelation sees is part of an extended sequence of visions which are introduced by the same phrase that is used in Acts: “then I saw heaven opened” (19:11; cf. Acts 10:11). God’s opening of the heavens is recognised by the psalmist (Ps 78:23) as the means by which manna was provided in the wilderness; and perhaps this resonance is picked up in the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when Jesus “saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10 and parallels). God tears open the heavens to bless and to commission.

More pertinent, however, is the statement by Isaiah, in an oracle describing incredible devastation wrought in divine judgement over Israel, when “the earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled … the earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth [for] the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants” (Isa 24:3–4). The prophet declares that “the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble; the earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken” Isa 24:18–19). This is a fearsome rending apart of the heavens!

So, too, in Revelation, where the opening of the heavens (19:1) reveals a series of seven visions. There is a vision of an intense, violent battle (19:11–21), a vision of the binding of a dragon and “the first resurrection” (20:1–6), and two visions of judgement (20:7–10, 11–15); followed by a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1–8), a vision of “the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9–27), and then the final vision of “the river of the water of life, flowing … through the middle of the street of the city” (22:1–5).

Scriptural resonances in the visions of Revelation 19–22

In the initial vision of a cataclysmic battle, “the beast and the kings of the earth”, along with their armies, are confronted by a fiery, blood-soaked rider on a white horse, with “the armies of heaven” (19:11–16). The description of this particular figure, as is so often the case on this book, draws from biblical imagery (eyes like a flame of fire, sharp sword, rod of iron, treading the winepress). Indeed, each of the visions that follow are themselves thoroughly shaped by biblical language and imagery. As the author looks forward, he draws heavily on the traditions and stories of his own faith, as expressed in the scrolls of Hebrew Scriptures with which he is intimately familiar.

An angel steps forward to issue the call to battle—yet his call is an invitation to “the great supper of God” (19:17). The image of a supper had been utilised by the prophet Isaiah, who saw the final gathering of the nations in terms of a lavish feast (Isa 25:6–10; see also 55:1–5). This time, however, the supper is a feast for cannibals—turning the imagery upside-down, in a manner reminiscent of a grisly oracle uttered by Ezekiel (Ezek 39:17–20).

The beast and his false prophet are thrown alive into a lake of burning sulphur, evoking the punishment visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24–25; Deut 29:23; 3 Macc 2:5; Luke 17:28–30). The armies of the kings of the earth are slain by the sword, and Satan is cast into a locked pit for one thousand years (19:17–20:6). This recalls an oracle delivered by Isaiah, in which he declared that God, in judgement, would imprison “the host of heaven and the kings of the earth” (Isa 24:21–22).

But for a thousand years? The Psalmist says that “a thousand years in [God’s] sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Ps 90:4), and a late New Testament book affirms that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pet 3:8); however, we should note that the period of one thousand years is nowhere associated with divine punishment elsewhere in biblical texts.

After the release of Satan, one further battle takes place, against “the nations … Gog and Magog” (20:8). The account in Revelation 20 is brief, but the distinctive names (Gog and Magog) evoke a reference to an older battle against invaders from the north, described by Ezekiel (Ezek 38:1–39:20). This decisive encounter effected the definitive punishment of God and paved the way for the promised restoration of Israel to the land (Ezek 39:21–29) and the vision of a restored temple (Ezek 40:1–46:24). The same pattern is followed in Revelation 20. After the battle against Gog and Magog, the devil is also cast into the lake of burning sulphur, all the dead are judged, and Death itself is destroyed (20:7–15).

This is followed by the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth, a place devoid of death, bathed in light, sustained by the water of life, a city dazzling with jewels and home to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (21:1–22:5). The vision appears closely related to the final visions reported at the end of the book of Isaiah (Isa 65:17; 66:22–23).

The imagery used in these verses relates particularly to various sections of the book of Isaiah. The bride prepared for her husband (21:2) recalls the scene of Isa 61:10; the wiping away of tears (21:4) evokes the banishing of sorrow (Isa 35:10). The gift of water from the spring of life (21:6) is suggestive of the way that water functions as an image of life (Isa 35:6–7; 41:18), and the prominent place of the river of the water of life in the new Jerusalem (22:1–2) evokes Isaiah’s link between “the new thing” and “rivers in the desert” (Isa 43:18–21).

Likewise, the description of the spectacular beauty of the city and the careful itemizing of its measurements (21:10–21) imitates the section of Ezekiel where the Temple of his vision is carefully described and numerous measurements are provided (Ezek 40–42). What is noteworthy, of course, is the pointed declaration that “I saw no temple in the city” (21:22) and the insistence that the divine presence will provide more than enough light for the whole city (21:23– 25; 22:5).

Despite the author’s lengthy and intricate entwining with scriptural sources, in this final vision he points beyond the past, to a new form of the future. Yet still, he reaches back before the temple, to the times when the shining light signaled the divine presence (Exod 3:2; 13:21–22; Ps 78:14). In similar fashion, perhaps the prominence of the tree of life (22:2) is intended to supplant the many trees beside the river in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 47:12) and provide a reminder of the single tree in the creation story (Gen 2:9).

The closing scenes this provide assurance of God’s providential care of the people of Israel, and perhaps even of the whole earth. Indeed, the familiar patterns of this life, as we know it—night and day, light and dark, even life and death—will be transcended in this new order of reality. Written for a people in the midst of oppressive persecution, this glorious vision and triumphant conclusion provides assurance, reinforcing their faith with hope and certainty.

So it is no wonder, then, that the prayer of those who first heard these visions proclaimed to them, is simply: “Come” (22:17, 20). As we know, that coming was not, as was hoped for, “soon” (22:7, 12, 20). How we now apply these visionary words to our own times is the challenge that rests with us!

See https://johntsquires.com/2022/05/04/with-regard-to-revelation-and-rev-14/

*****

This blog draws on material in JOURNEYING WITH JOHN: an exploration of the Johannine writings, by Elizabeth Raine and John Squires (self-published 2014)

What language shall we use?

Lately I have been in some conversations relating to the language we use. We all speak English; a number of us speak or read another language, or languages, in the course of our days. But mostly, in most situations, we use English.

For many years, much of my work was focussed on making sense in the English language of material that was written in another language. The books of the Bible, as we should know, were not first written in English. Our Bibles are translations from Greek, in the case of the New Testament, and Hebrew (and a few chapters of Aramaic) in the case of the Hebrew Scriptures. So choosing the right words to render those foreign language texts into our English language is an important task.

Indeed, when it comes to Bible translations, we have allowed the Enlightenment to drive us into an incessant search for The Right Word/Phrase/Translation. Since translating is a skill that relies on nuance and subtlety, the offer of multiple options is just too good to refuse—and it invites us to explore, to question, to search for ourselves. That can only be good for our own discipleship and faith development.

These days, my work is focussed more on other areas where language matters. Sure, I still am involved in Bible studies where the meaning of a particular word or phrase in a biblical book might be a point of consideration. But more often during the week, I am involved in conversations where I am listening to people speak in the words and the phrases of their own choosing.

My task in such conversations is to listen carefully, to seek to understand what is being said by my conversation partner. Grasping the words that are spoken and sensing the meaning of what is being conveyed are important processes. We all do it when we converse. In ministry, listening carefully, hearing and understanding correctly, are vitally important skills.

Another area where understanding the words used—and making decisions about what words to use—is worship. I have long been of the practice that I will try to choose hymns and songs that don’t include complex, inscrutable, incomprehensible words—theological jargon, in particular. (To be honest, sometimes, if I really want to use such a hymn or song, I will “translate” such terms into more manageable words, and put them into the lyrics on the screen—although nobody seems to notice!)

I also have a personal dislike of hymns that persist in using “thee” and “thou”—fine, common words in Shakespearean English, but not at all in common use in the 21st century! A simple change from “thee” to “you” is easy and clear. The same goes for verbs that end in “-est” and “-eth”, like “thou doest” and “they saieth”. They are strange to people listening with a 21st century ear and not readily understandable in the contemporary context.

The matter becomes a little more complex when thinking about other terms often found in traditional hymns—and even in contemporary choruses. Persistently calling God “he” and referring to human beings as “men” really grates with me—and has for half a century, now. Using inclusive language is the policy of the Uniting Church, and that should carry into our hymns and songs in worship.

Likewise, I avoid hymns or songs that reflect particular theological viewpoints that I don’t personally adhere to (like hymns glorying in the shed blood of the lamb and extolling him as the

substitutionary means of atonement for our terrible sins). We can sing about how we relate to Jesus without adopting medieval theological terminology that has “stuck” in some quarters of the church long beyond its use-by-date.

In the same way, we can seek out those songs, poems, and prayers that move away from the stultify ing predictability of calling God “Father” or “Lord” over and over, never deviating from these so-called “biblical” names for God. Why, there are many names for God that are found in scripture—Holy One, Righteous One, Eternal One—and a proliferation of terms that identify a quality of God—Gracious God, Loving God, God of justice, Compassionate God, Faithful God, and so on.

There are also ways of addressing God that have been developed more recently—Ground of our Being, and the variant threefold pattern of “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” come to mind. And I recently found someone, writing about our care for creation, referring to God as “Gardener God”. I like that! Surely we ought to rejoice in the diversity of divine names that we have at our disposal.

And another pet peeve I have is the way that some grand favourite hymns simply assume that we are in the northern hemisphere; that Easter is taking place when the temperature is warming and the flowers are budding; that Christmas is celebrated at the time of the year when days are shortest and temperatures are coldest, with snow on the ground and warm fires burning.

That’s not my experience, and it feels weird to sing as if it is, when it isn’t! There are Southern Hemisphere alternatives that can be sung—not just “The north wind”, but many others that have been written downunder in recent decades by writers such as Shirley Erena Murray, Colin Gibson, Robin Mann, David MacGregor, Craig Mitchell, Leigh Newton, Heather Price, Malcolm Gordon, and more.

We have, in our midst, some fine wordsmiths who write new songs for us to sing—songs that use contemporary words, that avoid theological jargon, that employ inclusive language, that relate to a contemporary “downunder” context. People have always created new songs, and they still are today. Fostering that creativity by singing these songs and hymns is good to do.

There are also talented folks who are able to revise the words or even craft new verses for existing hymns, maintaining the traditional beloved tunes, but inviting people to sing using words, concepts, phrases, and ideas that more readily reflect the natural way of conversing and speaking in daily life.

I’m thinking of Sue Wickham and Sarah Agnew within the Uniting Church; I am sure there are many more. Sarah writes fine poetry for use in worship; and when it comes to poetry, the work of Jason John is excellent, also—although not always geared for liturgical use. (And there’s often a language warning with Jason’s work!)

That’s a good thing, I believe; articulating the Gospel in ways that make most sense within the context is an important thing to do. It’s perhaps somewhat akin to paraphrases that people make of biblical passages—or, indeed, preaching, where the aim is to communicate the message of scripture in ways that connect into the contemporary context.

Sadly, I know not everyone shares my interest and delight in discovering “new words for old tunes”. Some people think that the ”traditional” words shouldn’t be changed or interfered with in any way. However, if the original is acknowledged as the inspiration for the reworking, then I think that should be acceptable; it indicates that the person reworking the old hymn is finding inspiration to express in refreshing and invigorating ways, the age-old truths of the Gospel.

And really, this is actually doing what many fine hymn writers of the past have done—they reworked their own words, they reshaped verses from other writers, they wrote whole new sets of verses for tunes that were popular in their day (although they weren’t bound by the laws of copyright as we are). It’s part and parcel of the fine tradition of hymnody that we celebrate within our church.

So choosing the right words is a very good thing to be concerned about. What language shall we use? The language that conveys our faith in relevant, understandable, enlivening ways, right here, right now! I’m all for that.

See

Sarah Agnew at https://www.sarahagnew.com.au and https://praythestory.blogspot.com

Jason John at https://ecofaith.org

Sue Wickham at https://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=925

Robin Mann at http://www.robinmann.com.au/Robin-Mann-Songs-pg23732.html

David MacGregor at https://dmacgreg1.wordpress.com and https://togethertocelebrate.com.au/songs-for-free-streaming/

Craig Mitchell at https://craigmitchell.com.au/music/

Leigh Newton at https://leighnewton.com.au/

Heather Price at https://heatherprice.com.au/

Malcolm Gordon at https://malcolmgordon.bandcamp.com

Shirley Erena Murray at https://hymnary.org/person/Murray_SE and https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/posts/a-jolt-of-reality-the-hymns-of-shirley-erena-murray/

Colin Gibson at https://hymnary.org/person/Gibson_C1 and https://songselect.ccli.com/search/results?List=contributor_P130845_Colin%20Gibson&CurrentPage=1&PageSize=100

See also links to all manner of reworked and new material at http://lectionarysong.blogspot.com

UCA Music at https://ucamusic.com.au

the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts at https://www.cmla.org.au/shop/

and original songs at https://www.paddingtonuca.org.au/music

IDAHoBiT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

May 17 is IDAHoBiT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. IDAHoBiT is a day to draw attention to the discrimination experienced by LGBTQI+ people internationally.

The day is marked worldwide in over 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are still illegal. The first day was held in 2004 to raise awareness of the violence and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including all people who have diverse gender identities or sexual expressions.

The date of 17 May was chosen for IDAHoBiT as this was the date in 1990 when the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Despite this, LGBTQI+ people across the world continue to face hate, discrimination and violence.

The theme for IDAHoBiT 2022, adopted after consultation with LGBTQI+ organisations worldwide, is Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights.

The theme claims the rights of sexually- and gender-diverse people to live their sexual identity and to express their gender freely. It also signals a desire for such people to be free from physical violence, free from conversion practices (mislabelled as “therapies”), able to access transition services for Trans people, and free from the forced sterilisation of Intersex people.

The website for this day (https://may17.org/) states that the theme provides a reminder that “many of us around the world live LGBTQI-phobias in their very flesh every day and that our bodies are being abused, ruining our lives. Our bodies are our lives. And we have a right to live free and in dignity!”

For myself, I do not identify with any of the letters in the LGBTIQA+ acronym. I have lived my life as a male who is heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to me at my birth correlates with my sense of personal identity and gender)—in short, I am what is referred to as heteronormative. And, as a white male in the Western world, my life experience has certainly been privileged and sheltered from internal or external disturbances and challenges related to my sexuality or gender identity.

So I have no personal experience of the gender dysmorphia that others experience in their lives; nor have I had any experience of the prejudice or persecution experienced by people identifying as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. My understanding of what such people have experienced has come through relationships, conversations, readings, and personal thinking through of the issues. It has required empathy and understanding, and I think that it’s clear that I haven’t done this perfectly; but hopefully I have done so at least adequately.

I’m also a person of faith, and thus embedded within a community that, sadly, has demonstrated a collection of failures in the way that sexually and gender diverse people have been seen and treated. The Christian Church has shown a persistent lack of understanding, a continual marginalising (or “othering”), an aggressive assertion about the sinfulness of the particular identity or lifestyle, and undertaking attempts to “change the protestation” or “reverse the gender” of some people. All of these attitudes and actions have been unloving, uncaring, and indeed (in my view) unChristian.

Recent events in a number of churches have indicated that these attitudes and actions remain, tragically, alive and well in churches today. The United Methodist Church has become the Untied Methodist Church, as the so-called Global Methodist Church splits off in schismatic separation from the UMC because of differences of opinion about sexuality issues.

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, this week, has been debating the definition of marriage, and has shown a continuing need by many within its ranks to condemn (once again) all manner of people living outside the narrow norms that are set up, by some, as being “biblical” requirements.

My own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, has struggled with these issues over decades; more intensely, and intentionally, in the last decade, addressing matters relating to gender identity and sexual attraction. Recently the National Assembly agreed to a proposal “that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts (SOGICE) are harmful to people’s mental health and wellbeing”. The proposal cited the Uniting Church Statement, Dignity in Humanity, which states that “every person is precious and entitled to live with dignity because they are God’s children”.

See https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/human-rights/uca-statements/item/484-dignity-in-humanity-a-uniting-church-statement-on-human-rights

How are privileged, cis-gender heterosexual people like myself to respond to a day like IDAHoBiT? I think we need to cultivate empathy and develop understanding. I think we need to seek out and develop respectful relationships in which we can hear stories, learn of experiences, articulate our own inadequacies and sorrow for how we have acted or interacted with people in the past. Most importantly, I believe we need to learn ways by which we can support survivors of gender identity change efforts and help prevent harm from the ideology and practices of such gender identity change efforts.

Underlying this is my own firm commitment to an understanding of human beings as intentionally created by God, exactly as we are, to be exactly who we are, without qualification or change. The “doctrine of sin” that the church has promulgated has impressed on us that we are all “fall short of the glory of God”, that we all do wrong things—and who would argue with that?

But this doctrine has also been used to identify and persecute specific sinfulness on the part of identifiable minority groups—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersex, and transgender people in particular—not recognising the nuances of differences that actually do exist across the spectrum of humanity. That’s a misuse of the doctrine, in my opinion. It should not be used to persecute someone on the basis of differences that are perceived.

What gender a person believes that they are, and what attraction an individual has to other people, is built into the very DNA of them as a person, wanting to force change in either of those matters is, to my mind, one of the greatest sins. I think it’s important for “allies” such as myself to remind others of this truth, and to stand in solidarity with “rainbow people” each and every day.

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, let us ensure that each and every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or otherwise identifying people knows that we accept them, value them, and love them, exactly as they are!

And let us be strong in calling out any sign of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia, when we hear it expressed or see it enacted.

For information about IDAHoBiT in Australia, go to https://www.idahobit.org.au/

I close with a short prayer written by the Rev. Josephine Inkpin, for IDAHoBiT Day

Fairly produced, fairly traded: for World Fair Trade Day 2022

World Fair Trade Day will be Saturday 14th May this year. Fair Trade helps support small-scale farmers, artisans and producers to cultivate safer, healthier and more sustainable communities around the world.

The theme for World Fair Trade Day this year is Climate Justice. We are all aware that climate change is causing major problems across the world. Climate change is affecting the people in the world unevenly.

It is clear that we are not all suffering from the changes in climate in the same way. Those who are least responsible for the climate crisis are the ones who are most affected by its impacts.

Fairtrade is a way to support those who are most vulnerable, those who are most exposed to the impacts of climate change. There are more than 1.9 million farmers and workers in Fairtrade certified producer organisations, in 71 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa—some of the countries that are most at risk because of rising sea levels, the spread of drier desert climates, the increasing number of catastrophic weather events such as floods or bushfires, and other effects of climate change.

47% of all Fairtrade farmers produce coffee, and 41% of all FairTrade workers produce flowers. But many other products are produced in ways that ensure they are fairly produced and fairly traded: tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, rice, honey, nuts, vanilla wine—but also textiles and cotton, used in our clothing. There is even, now, a Fairtrade Carbon Credit scheme operating under the auspices of Fairtrade International.

An easily-recognised symbol on products marks them as Fairtrade. This symbol that designates products certified in accordance with Fairtrade Standards.

These Fairtrade Standards require producers to meet minimum social, economic and environmental requirements. In addition, participating organisations are encouraged to provide an ongoing improvement of farmers’ employment conditions or the situation of estate workers. 

“When you buy Fairtrade certified products, you are part of an effective global movement for change,” says Uniting Church minister and longterm Fair Trade Advocate, John Martin, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Fair Trade Association (ANZ). “You are also contributing, in a small but significant way, to lessening the impact of climate change.”

The Fairtrade organisation began in the UK in 1992, and has now spread around the globe, with strong support in Australia and many other countries with big purchasing power—the USA, Canada, India, Japan, and over 20 European nations.

Springwood Uniting Church is one of a number of UCA congregations which is strongly supportive of Fairtrade, holding an annual Fairtrade Festival to promote the initiative and e courage people to buy Fairtrade. About a decade ago, the Synod of NSW.ACT agreed to use Fairtrade products, and encouraged congregations and organisations in the Synod to do likewise.

That proposal was brought by the Revs. Elizabeth Raine and John Squires, who have a personal commitment to buying all their food and clothing from organic, fairly produced, and fairly traded sources. Elizabeth says, “it can sometimes be a challenge to keep to this regime; but we believe that the time it takes, and the extra cost that is sometimes (not always) involved, is really not much to ask. We don’t want to be supporting any product that exploits, degrades, or oppresses anybody involved in making it”.

In keeping with the Climate Justice theme for World Fair Trade Day 2022, the lectionary for the next Sunday (15 May) includes Psalm 148–a wonderful statement where the whole of creation praises God.

In this Psalm, the whole of creation praises God: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Ps 148:7–10).

The psalm causes us to ask: how can the whole creation praise God when the life is being stifled out of it by ecological damage principally caused by climate change? Perhaps you can refer to World Fair Trade Day and use this psalm in worship this Sunday—and encourage your congregation to adopt Fairtrade products.

For further resources, see this excellent 1 minute 32 sec. video and other resources prepared by the World Fair Trade Organisation:

https://wfto.com/fairtradeday2022/page1.html

To see how Fair Trade enterprises use sustainable methods in the production and packaging of their products:

https://wfto.com/fairtradeday2022/

If your church uses Fairtrade products, you can apply to use this logo at https://fairtradeanz.org/what-is-fairtrade/get-involved

Voting on 21 May (7): Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The final area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World.

The UCA resource notes that “we are a nation that works in partnership with other nations to dismantle the structural and historical causes of violence, injustice and inequality. Our government upholds human rights everywhere, acting in the best interests of all people and the planet.”

It further notes that we remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with the highest median wealth per adult, and fourth highest average wealth per adult. “Historically, we played a significant part in reducing world poverty and making significant gains in human flourishing. COVID-19 has made the world poorer, less equal and less secure.”

“Climate change and increased geopolitical competition is destabilising democracies and increasing the number of refugees in the world. In 2020, Australia boosted aid to our local region to support pandemic response, however, the current government has capped ongoing aid to pre-COVID levels, the lowest since 1961.”

“Despite our relative wealth, we are ranked an ungenerous 21st on the global list of overseas development aid as a percentage of gross national income. The recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine reminds us again of the urgent need to rid the world of weapons capable of catastrophic, widespread destruction.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• Centering Australia’s foreign policy on a commitment to justice and peace; collaborating internationally to deliver community development and human rights.

• Legislate Australian Aid to reach 0.5% GNI by 2026 and 0.7% GNI by 2030.

• Increase support to fight COVID globally.

• Sign on to the global treaty banning nuclear weapons.

• Increase support to vulnerable nations to help address the impact of climate change.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

Splitting a church, maintaining a prejudice: the sad case of the (un)United Methodist Church

A new church was formed this month. The so-called Global Methodist Church (GNC) was launched as a new denomination—in effect, a sectarian schismatic movement, splitting from the United Methodist Church (UMC)—on the basis of, you guessed it, sexuality.

The GMC has placed to the fore a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and clergy must adhere to this in their ministry. This has been a point of persistent debate, dissension, and division in the UMC for decades. Many efforts have been made to hold the different points of view together under the one umbrella of the UMC. That fragile union cracked with a decision last year, and now the moment has been seized by the breakaway group, acting unilaterally, to set up its own structures.

Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the new denomination’s Transitional Leadership Council and until now a United Methodist minister in Virginia, complained that “some bishops are intentionally blocking churches from using certain processes for exiting the denomination”—a reference to the fact that the UMC’s Council of Bishops has twice delayed holding a General Conference that would enable a friendly parting of the church.

The COVID pandemic had been the reason for delaying the General Conference first set for 2020, and then for 2021; this year, the delay has been credited to the delays being experienced in the US of the processing of visa applications. The United Methodist Church currently claims 6.3 million members in the U.S. and 6.5 million overseas, so half the representatives would have been travelling into the US and would have needed visas.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who recently became the President of the UMC Council of Bishops, said that the continuing United Methodist Church was “not interested in continuing sexism, racism, homophobia, irrelevancy and decline … what we are interested in is a discovery of what God has in mind for us on the horizon as the next expression of who we are as United Methodists.”

I have taken this information from an article at https://www.columbian.com/news/2022/apr/30/united-methodist-church-split-official-as-of-today/. It’s important to note that the trigger words used here—sexism, racism, homophobia—are Bishop Bickerton’s words; I am simply quoting him.

Sadly, it seems to me that this is just another instance of people within a Christian church perpetuating actions that will impinge in negative ways on people in society—and, indeed, within the church. The discriminatory actions of the new schismatic denomination will have a negative impact on a small, but significant, minority group within society.

It’s simply a fact that the majority of the population identify as heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to them at birth correlates with their sense of personal identity and gender). LGBTIQA+ people do not identify as either cis-gender, or as heterosexual, or as both. So whilst it is true that they are a minority in society, that should not affect the way that they are treated in society, and by churches.

However, the key plank in the formation of the GMC is a perpetuation of a discriminatory attitude towards same-gender attracted people who are seeking to be married in a service of Christian marriage. The GMC will not allow its ministers to marry such people. There are many denominations around the world who, sadly, share that attitude.

Up until 2018, my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia was one. All of this changed with a decision taken by the National Assembly in 2018, which meant that ministers now do have discretion to marry people of the same gender. That is part of a continuing trajectory within the Uniting Church, affirming and valuing the place of LGBTIQA+ people within the life of the church, and, indeed, within society.

See https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/a-diversity-of-religious-beliefs-and-ethical-understandings/ and the various links included in that blogpost.

For the various affirmations that the Assembly has made that have led the church to this latest decision, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/

It’s my hope that we can continue along that trajectory, continue to marry people regardless of their gender identity, and hopefully in due course issue an Apology to LGBTIQA+ people for how the church has treated such people in past years.

See also

*****

For an exploration of the forces that worked for so long against this, and earlier, enlightened moves relating to sexuality within the UCA, see my series of posts that are linked below.

For my series of blogs on the failed strategy of conservatives in the Uniting Church over the decades, see

Voting on 21 May (6): Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote, and Urban

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The sixth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote, and Urban—with particular reference to issues of housing and mental health in rural and remote areas.

We live in communities where we are connected and we care for one another. In communities all over Australia, from our big cities to remote regions, we seek the well-being of each Australian and uplift those who are on the margins.

People in Australia living in rural and remote areas tend to have shorter lives, higher levels of disease and injury and poorer access to and use of health services, including mental health care, compared to people living in metropolitan areas. The housing crisis and mental health crisis are converging in regional Australia as rental vacancy rates in some regions fall below 1%.

Regional towns have experienced a significant reduction in available properties and rental affordability, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. The Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, the state’s peak body for community mental health said the situation was “pushing people experiencing mental distress into homelessness”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about these two major areas:

(1) Improved mental health support for people in rural and remote Australia that is adequately funded, able to be flexibly used and well managed locally.

(2) Governments to do more to provide affordable housing in the regions – to boost housing for vulnerable people and strengthen local economies.

For the full series of seven posts, see: