Love one another: by this everyone will know (John 13; Easter 5C)

The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday contains a well-known saying of Jesus: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35).

The command to “love one another” is a striking element in this Gospel. Unlike what we find in the Synoptic Gospels, in this Gospel there is very little in the way of explicit ethical instruction in John’s Gospel. The focus is much more on the revelatory task that Jesus undertakes, as “the one who comes from heaven” (3:31; 6:38) to declare “the truth” (8:45; 14:6; 18:37), to “speak plainly of the Father” (16:25), to “make known everything that I have heard from my Father” (15:15), to glorify the Father (17:1–5).

His task is to teach the people (7:14–16; 8:2) and so he is regularly addressed as Teacher (1:38; 3:2; 8:4; 11:28; 13:13–14; 20:16). Indeed, in this Gospel, Jesus is no less than the authoritative teacher, revealing God to those who have already been chosen (13:18; 15:19).

Consequently, the basic position with regard to ethics is that those who know Jesus, will do as God wills (13:35; 14:7). As for those who do not know him, they are condemned to the darkness (3:19; 12:35). As a result, there is no urgency about instructing believers how to behave; for they will surely know what to do.

Rather than providing believers with guidelines and resources for living faithfully in the world, the Johannine Jesus assures his followers, “I have chosen you out of the world” (15:19).

Following Jesus is not a pathway to faithful living in the world, but rather a journey towards the cosmic Christ, who leads believers into mystical unity with God.

Nevertheless there are some pointers, in this Gospel, to what is required of believers. The Synoptic Gospels report that Jesus commanded his disciples to perform various actions, including those which subsequently became sacramental (communion, Luke 22:19; baptism, Matt 28:19).

In John’s Gospel, at his last meal, Jesus commands his disciples to wash one another’s feet, following his own example (John 13:14–15). The ethics of the Johannine Jesus are summed up in similar fashion: “just as I have loved you, so you should love one another” (13:34b). This “new commandment” sits at the centre of this Gospel (13:34–35; 15:12–17) and will inspire subsequent literature in the Johannine tradition (1 Jn 2:7–11; 3:11, 23; 4:7–11, 16–21; 5:3; 2 Jn 5–6).

Yet in contrast to the scriptural commands to love God and neighbour, cited by the Synoptic Jesus (Mark 12:28–31) and Paul (Rom 13:8–10), the command of the Johannine Jesus focuses on love of God and love of “one another”. It is limited to those within the faith community, and does not include “neighbours” (let alone love of “enemies”, as in Luke 6:27).

Another Synoptic instruction which is echoed in this Gospel is the command to serve, but once again with a narrower scope. Jesus instructs his disciples to follow his example and serve one another (Mark 10:42–45; Luke 22:24–27), but the Johannine Jesus exhorts them simply to serve him (John 12:26). Later, he informs them that they are no longer to be called servants, but friends, for they know all that God intends them to know (15:15). Even this ethical category is now obsolete.

In John’s Gospel, there appears to be little need for specific instruction about particular ethical situations, such as we find in the letters of Paul, James, Peter, and the teachings of the Synoptic Jesus (Matt 5–7; Luke 6; and so on). Rather, belief in Jesus brings with it an inherent sense of what must be done for the good.

This is expounded, not through ethical instructions, but by means of images which offer glimpses into how the central quality of love is made possible. In the image of the vine and the branches (15:1–11), Jesus portrays the foundations of ethical awareness; because believers abide in the Son, he is then able to bear fruit in their lives and “become my disciples” (15:8). So, love is made possible for those who believe, because they abide in the love of Jesus (15:10).

Employing another image, Jesus declares that he comes as “the light of the world” (9:5), inviting those who believe in him to follow the light (8:12), walk in the light (11:9–10), and thus become “children of light” (12:36).

A third image with potential for much ethical exposition is the statement by Jesus that “I am the way” (14:5). This image has been developed in other New Testament books, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in this direction. However, the Johannine Jesus appears to see “the way” simply as the way to intimacy with God (14:6–7).

Each of these images provides a sense of certainty for the believer—who abides in Jesus, who walks in his light, who follows his way—without having to spell out particular attitudes or behaviours which must be followed. In the end, the Jesus of this Gospel invites his followers to walk into unity with him, and thus unity with the Father. Right behaviour, it is assumed, will simply follow on.

Voting on 21 May (5): An Inclusive and Equal Society

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 fifth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for An Inclusive and Equal Society, with particular reference to how we age well within contemporary society.

The Uniting Church seeks a fairer Australia where wellbeing in older years is protected and defended, and is also committed to appreciating and recognising the value of care work undertaken in Australia. This vision is based on the dignity of all human beings created in the image of a loving God. “We believe in a world-class aged care system. Older Australians should have access to the appropriate and affordable support and care services that they need, when they need them”, the resource notes.

It further notes that “the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety identified many barriers to providing universal access to high quality aged care. Over the past two years in particular, the aged care crisis has escalated significantly and threatens the continued operations of the sector. A key component of that threat is the capacity to attract and retain enough workers; aged care workers are the lowest paid caring workforce and yet are doing some of the most important work in the nation, supporting our ageing and aged citizens.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about a clear commitment to makes sure all parts of the aged care system have adequate funding, and to fair wages for aged care workers.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

Voting on 21 May (4): An Economy for Life

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 fourth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for An Economy of Life. This was the title of an extensive document on economic policy which the Twelfth Assembly adopted in 2009. See https://ucaassembly.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/17

The resource notes that our “government makes economic decisions that put people first: decisions that are good for creation, that lift people out of poverty and fairly share our country’s wealth. The economy serves the well-being and flourishing of all people. We believe in an Australia where prosperity is shared fairly, embracing all people regardless of their privilege or upbringing.”

The resource makes these observations: “Aspirations for shared prosperity in Australia are unravelling under the sustained, twin trends of weak wage growth and rising asset prices. Over the past 10 years wage growth has limped under 2.5 per cent annually. Over the same period share portfolio and real estate values have grown around 10 per cent annually.”

“These settings deliver economic gains toward those with assets and away from those doing it tough, resulting in a greater and growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Greater inequality strongly tracks with stress, hunger, poor physical health, poor mental health, homelessness and social exclusion, and has a negative impact on economic growth.”

“Older women are more at risk of reduced financial security after a lifelong gender pay-gap, interruptions to employment for care and reduced superannuation. The retirement savings gap between males and females in 2019 was almost one quarter. The result is that 34 percent of single women in Australia live in poverty.”

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

• A clear commitment to undertake a review into the past decade of low-income growth.

• An increase in social security payments, especially Jobseeker.

• Tax reforms to increase the progressive nature of the Australian tax system to address unhealthy inequality.

• A clear commitment to make superannuation contributions on top of the government Parental Leave Pay.

For the full series of seven posts, see

Voting on 21 May (3): A Welcoming, Compassionate, and Diverse Nation

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

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The third area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for A Welcoming, Compassionate, and Diverse Nation. The election resource acknowledges that we are a nation of diverse cultures, languages, faiths, ethnic groups and experiences, and affirms: “We celebrate and value the strength of this diversity. We see this diversity reflected in our leaders, key decision makers, institutions, industry, sports and media. We are a compassionate nation, where every person who seeks refuge here is treated fairly and made to feel welcome and safe – regardless of their country of origin or mode of arrival.”

Australia’s immigration policies continue to leave some people in indefinite detention. Some refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne’s Park Hotel have been in offshore and onshore detention for up to nine years. Across the country, it is estimated more than 70 people are being held in hotel detention, and, as of 31 December 2021, 105 people remained in PNG and 114 on Nauru. In response to the Afghanistan crisis, the Australian Government has committed to 10,000 humanitarian and 5,000 family reunion places over four years.

However, the 10,000 places will be taken from Australia’s current refugee and humanitarian program, which was cut by 5,000 places a year from 2020. Australia has received applications from more than 145,000 Afghan nationals and very few of those people have any hope of building a life of safety in Australia1. In addition, the recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine will see more people fleeing their homes in fear, seeking refuge in other countries.

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

• An end to mandatory and indefinite off-shore and on-shore detention either in Alternative Places of Detention (hotels) or detention centres.

• Community detention of refugees and asylum seekers must allow access to education, work and housing support.

• A target for Afghan and Ukrainian refugee resettlement much higher and appropriate to the magnitude of the problem.

• Permanent protection for Afghan people already in Australia but on temporary visas.

• Enhance safeguards for people on temporary visas including including overseas students andmigrant workers.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

Voting on 21 May (2): the Renewal of the Whole Creation

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 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

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The second area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for living sustainably and responsibly as an integral part of the global environment. The Renewal of the Whole Creation is a vision and a commitment that was articulated in the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union, adopted in 1977, and which has continued to inform policies and practices over the ensuing decades.

The church seeks the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures, in which “we act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human-induced climate change”. To achieve this, government, churches, businesses and the wider community need to work together for a sustainable future.

The UCA resource acknowledges the current Government commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but notes that “we need to do more, and sooner. Global temperatures are rising as human activity continues to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Australia faces significant climate change impacts: rising sea levels, extreme heat and flooding, longer droughts and bushfire seasons and the loss of coral reef. Our neighbours in the Pacific and elsewhere are suffering the impacts of climate change, to their lands and waters, their livelihoods, their culture and identity.”

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


• Setting more ambitious targets for 2030 – committing to a 45-50% carbon reduction as a minimum but working towards a target closer to 70%.
• A strong renewables target – which embraces the potential for Australia as a global leader.
• Just transitions for impacted communities currently dependent on fossil fuels.
• Australia must play a significant role in our region and globally in addressing the causes and
impacts of climate change, responding to the call from Pacific countries, including the Pacific Conference of Churches, for our country to act more decisively to reduce carbon emissions.

For the UCA national climate action plan, see https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Assembly-National-Climate-Action-Plan.pdf

For the full series of seven posts, see:

Voting on 21 May (1): Putting First Peoples First

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The media, in true form, has dumbed things down, making us think that it’s about voting directly for a Prime Minister, and that it’s all about the mistakes the candidates make and the economic impact of their policies.

Our system, of course, is not simply a two- person contest; 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.

And it’s not just about personalities; it’s actually about policies. We need to think about each party is promising to do, in relation to a wide array of policy areas—not just economics, but a whole array of matters.

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 a fine 40-page document that was prepared and published last year, Our Vision for a Just Australia, 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

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The first area featured in this resource reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It acknowledges that these people were nurtured and sustained by God before invasion, and so are to be celebrated at the very heart of what it means to be Australian.

The Uniting Church affirms First Peoples’ sovereignty, and believes that First Peoples have a voice in the decision making of our country and in how they live out their right to self-determination. “As First and Second Peoples”, the resource states, “we walk together, creating socially just and culturally safe relationships, listening and learning from one another”.

The Statement from the Heart developed at Uluru has been given to us by First Peoples as the basis for how we can work together to build a better future, but governments have not followed their lead. First Peoples communities, whether remote, regional or urban, experience heightened levels of disadvantage, including a lower life expectancy and worse health, education and employment outcomes than other people in Australia.

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

• Constitutional change to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament.

• Recognising the sovereignty of First Nations People and establish a commission for treaty making, truth telling, justice and reconciliation.

• Sufficient funding to achieve the Closing the Gap targets, prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to deliver services wherever possible.

Subsequent posts are at:

Moving ahead as an inclusive, respectful community

Last year, the Uniting Church adopted a statement, Our Vision for a Just Australia, which articulates in detail the values that we hold as people of faith, following the way of Jesus.

See https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

This statement includes an affirmation that “we live together in a society where all are equal and free to exercise our rights equally, regardless of faith, cultural background, race, ability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity”. The statement asserts that “we defend those rights for all.”

It also makes the key claim that “A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity does not impact on their ability to live, work and contribute to society.”

On that basis, the Uniting Church has been working consistently towards valuing, accepting, and affirming “rainbow people”—those who identify with one of the letters in the now-familiar shorthand way of referring to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or identify their gender and/or sexuality in other ways.

In the recent pastoral response to the debate surrounding the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill earlier this year, President Sharon Hollis wrote, “We believe every person is entitled to dignity, compassion and respect, and that the community flourishes when all people are included and accorded the dignity and respect they deserve.” That fundamental commitment undergirds all that the Uniting Church seeks to do.

President Hollis continued, “I note with sadness not all LGBTIQA+ people feel fully welcome and safe across the Uniting Church. I encourage members of the Uniting Church and people of faith to offer prayer and support to those around them who are feeling particularly vulnerable because of the political and public debate taking place.”

It is, indeed, a sadness that we do not yet have consistent practices right across the church, in how we accord dignity and respect to LGBTIQA+ people. Within the Uniting Church we are continuing to learn how best to do this, and to avoid what causes distress and anguish to “rainbow people”. Many Congregations have become explicit about their acceptance and welcome of such people, even as some communities of faith double down and refuse to make this gracious openness a marker of their life.

In recent times, governments in Australia have given consideration to banning practices which seek to alter the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of the minority of people who fall into the category of LGBTIQA+. Popularly (but unhelpfully) known as “conversion therapy”, such practices have been conducted by people of faith, in the name of Christ—attempting by persuasion, by prayer, by coercion, even by physical intervention, to “change” the attraction that an individual feels towards people of the same gender. Such “conversion” is valued by these people as a clear marker of “repentance” and “commitment” to the faith that they hold.

It is widely recognised, however, that such practices are harmful; the use of coercion, emotional manipulation, medical intervention, even physical acts, cause damage that has ongoing affects for decades. Survivors of sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts (often referenced as SOGICE) attest to the many ways by which such practices have harmed them.

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Jones, T, Brown, A, Carnie, L, Fletcher, G, & Leonard, W. Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia. Melbourne: GLHV@ARCSHS and the Human Rights Law Centre, 2018.

A 2018 study, entitled “Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice – Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia”, drew on the lived experiences of “15 LGBT people with experiences of conversion therapy, documented through social research”. These participants had engaged with various conversion therapy practices between 1986 and 2016 “as part of their struggle to reconcile their sexuality or transgender identity with the beliefs and practices of their religious communities”.

This study found that “responding to conversion practices in Australia requires a multi-faceted strategy”, and proposed “a number of legislative and regulatory reforms, with a particular focus on young people given their vulnerability”. It is hoped, say the study’s authors, “that this research will raise awareness of the severity of the harms occasioned through conversion therapy, and support the development of more appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people of faith.”

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A study published in 2021, by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society of LaTrobe University, concluded that “many people who experience attempts to change or suppress the LGBTQA+ elements of their selves are severely harmed by those attempts.”

Jones, T.W., Jones, T.M, Power, J., Despott, N., & Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2021). Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University.

The study, Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices, was a joint project involving the Brave Network, the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council (AGMC), the Victorian Government and researchers at La Trobe University and Macquarie University. The project was funded by the Victorian Government and the Australian Research Council.

The study made some significant findings. First, it found that “at least one in ten LGBTQA+ Australians are vulnerable to religion-based pressures and attempts to change or suppress their sexuality”. Second, it noted that such practices “may involve formal conversion programs or ‘counselling’ practices, but more often involve less-formal processes including pastoral care, interactions with religious or community leaders, prayer groups and other spiritual or cultural practices initiated within particular communities.”

Sadly, a third key finding is that “core to both these formal and informal change and suppression practices is the message conveyed to LGBTQA+ people that they are ‘broken’, ‘unacceptable’ to God, and need spiritual or psychological healing.” That is certainly of great concern to people of faith, especially in the Uniting Church, given what our President has articulated regarding the “dignity, compassion and respect” to which every person is entitled.

The study further reports that “psychological research has demonstrated that LGBTQA+ change and suppression efforts do not reorient a person’s sexuality or gender identity and an increasing body of literature has documented the negative impacts that these pressures and attempts have on LGBTQA+ people’s lives.”

The imperative to act in relation to instances of SOGICE, as well as the importance of providing supportive pastoral care to survivors of SOGICE, cannot be underestimated.

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In 2021, whilst advocating to the ACT Government to pass legislation that would outlaw such activities, a group of UCA ministers in the ACT wrote about the biblical understanding of human beings as created by God, infused with the spirit, and perfectly acceptable to God just as exactly as they are—whatever gender identity or sexual orientation each individual possesses.

We quoted from research undertaken by Elizabeth Raine, who has argued that “all creatures are ‘nephesh’, or sentient beings.

We have a soul, a state of being, a life that is fully formed and given by God. All human beings are created with the spirit of God within us (Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:7; Job 12:7-10). There are no exceptions to this in biblical understanding. All human beings exist within this understanding. Our human identity is grounded in the creative work of God’s spirit. Who we are is how God has made us to be—each human being is made in God’s image (Gen 1:27; Sir 17:3).”

See https://johntsquires.com/2020/08/24/sexuality-and-gender-identity-conversion-practices-bill-a-christian-perspective/

It’s my view that this fundamental biblical insight should guide our actions as the church today—accepting people for who they are, placing no value judgements on how they understand themselves or how they express themselves in loving, committed relationships. That is a key way by which we live out our faith in our lives and our relationships.

One organisation with the Uniting Church, Uniting Network, stated that “we call on all religious organisations in Australia to explicitly state their rejection of LGBT conversion therapy, and any statements along the lines that LGBTQ people are disordered, broken or otherwise not whole individuals”. See https://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org/uniting-network-australia-calls-for-action-to-end-formal-and-informal-lgbt-conversion-therapy/

The 16th Assembly of the Uniting Church, meeting this coming weekend, has before it a proposal that is a direct response to this call, and sits firmly in line with the research findings from the studies noted above.

The Assembly is being asked to recognise “that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts (SOGICE) are harmful to people’s mental health and wellbeing”, and to prepare resources which can inform congregations, agencies, and individuals so that they might “help prevent harm from SOGICE ideology and practice”. See https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/40-Preventing-Harm-from-Sexual-Orientation-Gender-Identity-Change-Efforts-SOGICE.pdf

It’s an important proposal which merits careful and prayerful consideration. Its a direction that is well-supported, both by individual stories told by survivors of SOGICE, and by careful academic research in this area. It’s a proposal that should inform our pastoral care practices as well as our public advocacy and our local community engagement.

It’s a matter that people right across the Uniting Church (and beyond) would do well to consider—to ensure that we do not contribute to the (sadly) continuing harm being caused to our “rainbow” brothers and sisters.

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On the various affirmations in the area of sexuality that the Assembly has made, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/

The studies cited above are accessible at:

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580025f66b8f5b2dabbe4291/t/5bd78764eef1a1ba57990efe/1540851637658/LGBT+conversion+therapy+in+Australia+v2.pdf

Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices at https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1201588/Healing-spiritual-harms-Supporting-recovery-from-LGBTQA-change-and-suppression-practices.pdf

See also

The Father and I are one (John 10; Easter 4C)

Each year, on the fourth Sunday of the season of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary provides a section of John 10 as the Gospel reading for the Sunday. That chapter is where Jesus teaches about his role as “the good shepherd” who lays down his life for the sheep. The chapter is divided over the three years: 10:1–10 in Year A, then 10:11–18 in Year B, and 10:22–30 in the current year, Year C. For this reason, this particular Sunday is sometimes called the Good Shepherd Sunday.

The section offered in Year A concludes with the classic claim of Jesus, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10). The passage set for Year B begins with the famous affirmation, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:14-15).

Both passages develop the image of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep, in intimate relationship with the sheep; the shepherd knows his own (10:15), calls them by name (10:3), shows them the way of salvation (10:9), and lays down his life for the sheep (10:11, 15, 17–18).

The third section from John 10, offered in Year C, is set at a different time. The earlier sections (10:1–10, 11–18) had followed on from the story of the man born blind (9:1–41), which itself has emerged out of the conflicts between Jesus and Jewish authorities (7:10—8:59), reported as taking place in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths (7:2). That sequence of conflicts had culminated with the Jewish authorities picking up stones to throw at Jesus (8:59).

The second moment when Jewish authorities in Jerusalem prepare to stone Jesus (10:31) is at the end of the later part of John 10, in this Sunday’s reading (10:22–31). This section, still in Jerusalem, is set during the Festival of the Dedication (10:22), some time later than the earlier Festival of Booths (7:2). It includes a further statement about the shepherd: “my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (10:27–28).

However, the focus on this section is less on the shepherd and the sheep, and more on Jesus and his relationship with the Father. Indeed, the lectionary ends the section before the climax of the conflict, when Jewish authorities pick up stones (10:31). Rather, the final verse places the emphasis in quite another direction: “The Father and I are one” (10:30). This is one of a number of key verses in this Gospel where important claims about Jesus are placed onto his lips.

Wayne Meeks (in his classic article, “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism”, JBL 91 (1972) 44–72) notes that the claims made about Jesus in the fourth Gospel function as reinforcements of the sectarian identity of the community. As this community had come into existence because of the claims that it had made about Jesus, so the reinforcement of the life of the new community took place, to a large degree, through the strengthening and refining of its initial claim concerning Jesus.

Claims made about Jesus, the Messiah (Christ) thus function as markers of the emerging self–identity of the new community, over against the inadequate understandings of Jesus which continue to be held in the old community (the synagogue), still under the sway of the Pharisees. This function can be seen in a number of other terms which are used of Jesus in the Gospel according to John.

As Meeks notes, one of the most common self–designations of the Johannine Jesus is that he is “the one sent from God”. This is another phrase which is unique to the Gospel according to John; the nearest Synoptic equivalent is found in the parable of the vineyard (Mark 12:1–8 and parallels).

The phrase may well originate in the Jewish notion of the shaliach, or messenger (for the wordplay involved in this word, see 9:7). A recognisable form of this phrase occurs 42 times in this Gospel (for instance, at 1:33; 3:34; 4:34; 10:36; 11:42; 20:21).

This claim consolidates the link between Jesus and God, binding his mission to the mission of the Father, and making a claim for Jesus which transcends the kind of claim which could be made of a chosen messenger figure.

Jesus is clear that he belongs to the world “above”, the heavenly realm, where— according to the worldview of the time—God is to be found. He declares, “I am from above…I am not of this world” (8:23); this is in contrast to the Pharisees, who are “from below” and “of this world”.

As king, he informs Pilate, he rules over a kingdom which is “not from this world” (18:36). The distinction between Jesus and the earthly authorities of the day is firmly held; Jesus belongs with God. He comes to earth in order to bring into effect the judgement of God over “the ruler of this world” (12:30–33).

Another characteristic which dominates the Christology of this Gospel is the Father-Son relationship (3:35–36; 5:19–23, 26; 6:37–40; 8:34–38; 10:32–38; 14:8–13; 17:1–5). At the conclusion of the Prologue, the importance of this relationship is established: “it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18).

In one of his disputes with the Jewish authorities, Jesus declares that he does his works “so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (10:38). This mutual interrelationship is brought to the pinnacle of its development in the lengthy prayer of chapter 17. The purpose of describing this relationship in this way is to strengthen the claims made for Jesus, to validate him as authoritative, in the context of debates with the Jewish authorities.

Finally, Jesus is perceived as being “equal with God” (5:18). At the narrative level, this is a polemical view of Jesus, attributed to the Jews. However, the author of the Gospel clearly wants the readers to agree with the claim. This is supported by further comments such as: it is clearly evident that he is the Messiah, for he is “doing the works of God” (10:24–25); he is one with the Father (10:30); he is “making himself a god” (10:33); “he has claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7); and he is acclaimed as “Lord and God” (20:28).

This is the strongest claim made about Jesus; it lifts him above the realm of human debate and, as a consequence, it also lifts the claims made by his disciples, in his name, above that human realm. By this means, the community of his followers lay claim to a dominant, privileged position, vis–a–vis the Jewish authorities.

The Christology which is proclaimed in the written Gospel has thus been developed and refined in the controversies and disputes of the community over the preceding decades, as each of these markers of the identity of Jesus were debated amongst Jewish groups, and as the community formed around Jesus differentiated itself in various ways from the dominant stream of Pharisaic Judaism (especially in the period after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE).

Later Christian theology developed the doctrine of the Trinity, in which God, Jesus and the Spirit relate to one another as equals. Whilst the Gospel of John provides biblical warrant for the equality of Father and Son, the role of the Spirit is less prominent. Jesus is endowed with the Spirit at his baptism (1:32– 33) and gives the Spirit to others through the words he speaks (3:34).

However, the Spirit is clearly subordinated to the Son in this Gospel. It is not until after Jesus is glorified that the Spirit is given (7:39; 20:22). The role of the Spirit is to be the Advocate of the Son (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), sent by the Son to testify on his behalf (15:26) and to represent what has already been spoken by Jesus (14:26; 16:13–15). As the Son testifies to the truth (1:14, 17; 8:32, 45–46; 14:6; 18:37), so the Spirit is “the spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

So the long, extended scene in Jerusalem ends as “they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands” (10:39). Jesus moves “across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier” (10:40), where many expressed their belief in him. The next, more intense, conflict still lay ahead of Jesus—by raising Lazarus from the dead (11:38–44), Jesus placed himself firmly in the sights of the Jerusalem leadership; his own death was brought firmly into view (11:45–53; 12:10–11).