Religion and Politics

Writing in The Mercury’s TasWeekend recently (Nov 14), columnist Charles Wooley commented, “That’s the principle of the separation of church and state. To be less highfalutin, I think that just as we try to keep politics out of sport, our politicians should try to keep religion out of politics. It’s annoying to the large numbers who don’t share their particular faith and, besides, it only makes politicians look stupid.”

Religious Candles and Cross

“This is freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion”

Wooley’s view no doubt reflects what many Tasmanians think, although how many it is hard to say. It is hardly an original suggestion and rather clichéd, yet in today’s society, it is somewhat naïve.

Despite what some might believe, the Australian constitution does not preclude religion in politics. What it does stipulate is that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion” and “The Commonwealth shall not make any law … for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. The aim is to ensure no one denomination or religion becomes the official national church, and no person, no matter what their religious belief, will be barred from participating because of their religion. This is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

The argument that religion has no place in politics stands on a fallacy and an assumption secularism is somehow “value neutral”, while religion remains “value charged”.  Read More >>>

“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Recently I have been leading a men’s discussion group studying a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.

Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who spoke out against the political developments in his country in the 1930s. He saw grave danger in the rise of Führer cult which merged the two Nazi ideals of a militarized state and a utopian world base on the Aryan “super race”. The joining of these forces resulted in a world war with the death of millions, the Jewish holocaust, and the devastation of a continent.

In the years before the Third Reich gained ultimate power, Bonhoeffer saw the magnitude of the threat long before others. He spoke up with courage, becoming being ridiculed even amongst church colleagues. When he dared question Hitler’s assurances, he was painted an alarmist. In response he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The eighth of May this year was the 70th year anniversary of the surrender of Germany which ended World War II in Europe. While the world has seen progress in many areas since, wars continue to rage across the world. No matter where they are, nations still engage in conflicts and remain vulnerable to rule by totalitarian administrations.

Even in Australia there is evidence of totalitarian tendencies. Read more >>>

Christians: The new non-believers

At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I had the opportunity to provide a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:

As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Outback Cross

“Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history . . . to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal.”

In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.

Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naive, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.

This caricature, I suggest, is quite false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.

But why? Why such a contrast?

Read More >>>

Boil a Frog?

Malcolm Muggeridge once asked, how do you boil a frog? His answer was not to drop it into a pot of hot water, as it will immediately jump out. Rather, you place it in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature. Then the frog will remain in the increasingly hot water and die without even noticing.

"How do you boil a frog?" Muggeridge asked

“How do you boil a frog?” Muggeridge asked

Some suggest this is a good illustration of the church across the Western world. The world we live in has gradually changed and we have been caught unaware, and now, the situation is quite perilous.

Across the media the church is often portrayed as irrelevant in contemporary Australian society. Christian views are seen as relics of a bygone era, out of step with the community and even downright dangerous to the future.

That the majority of Australians still tick the Christian box in our Census is but a historical memory. The process of change, in areas such as science, technology, bureaucracy and the media, has pushed Christian ideas and ideals to the margins. Less than 10% of the population are ‘regular’ church goers (where regular means at least once a month), which leaves the vast majority of the 60% who nominate Christianity as their religion amongst those who regard the church as irrelevant.

In response it is not surprising to find that the Church is often tempted to respond by striving all the harder to be relevant. We see it throughout the churches, in our worship, in our literature and in our architecture.

Read On >>>

 

Loving Our Neighbours

Ten days ago nine members of the Supreme Court in the USA, in a 5-4 ruling, declared same-sex “marriage” law across America. The result is that same-sex marriage can no longer be banned by any of the States. This new state of affairs was resolved by a small panel of seven men and two women. Many see this as a severe blow to democracy given that the people were not given a choice in the matter.

The 50 states of USA

The 50 states of USA

Although their decision does not change the biblical view of marriage, nor the view of millions of Christians across America, it nevertheless has significant implications for those who continue to hold the alternative, more traditional view. The result continues the marginalisation of Christians in the Western world.

The repercussions have already hit us. The calls for Australia to follow suit are growing louder and more strident. It seems only a matter of time before we fall into line. Then we, along with our American brothers and sisters, will need to work out our Christian response.

Read On >>>

 

Taking Up Your Cross

Change is at the heart of the Christian life. It’s about repentance and renewal, commitment and character. It is a journey towards maturity and an embracing of God’s values all in the process of becoming more like Jesus. Yet, it is never easy.Change

The good news that God loves us, that Jesus died for us – that we are set free from sin, death and Satan – is made more wonderful by the reality that it comes to us absolutely free. It is God’s gift. We don’t deserve it, nor can we earn it, all we can do is receive it. But! Although our salvation is free, following Jesus is a different story, it costs everything.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The challenge was not immediately understood by Jesus’ disciples. He’d just let them know for the first time that he was going to suffer, die and be raised again. Even at his crucifixion they were confused.

Read More >>>

 

 

 

Executed?! That’s Not Fair!

After months of letters, appeals and pleas from citizens, lawyers and parliamentarians, including Australia’s Foreign and Prime Minister, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Amnesty International, the Bali Nine ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were executed nearly two weeks ago by Indonesian authorities.

 Bali Nine members (top L-R) Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and Martin Eric Stephens, 2nd row (from L-R) Chen Si Yi, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen and Matthew Norman, and 3rd row (from L-R) Scott Rush, Michael Czugaj and Renae Lawrence. Picture: Supplied Source: News Limited

Bali Nine members (top L-R) Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and Martin Eric Stephens, 2nd row (from L-R) Chen Si Yi, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen and Matthew Norman, and 3rd row (from L-R) Scott Rush, Michael Czugaj and Renae Lawrence. Picture: Supplied Source: News Limited

In response, the Australian Government recalled its ambassador to Jakarta, the Australian Federal Police responded to criticism of their actions, and the Australian Catholic University created two “Mercy Scholarships” to be awarded annually to international students from Indonesia. It was a national outpouring of grief, regret and outrage, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott describing the executions as “cruel and unnecessary“.

Although some maintain that Chan and Sukumaran got exactly what they deserved, most Australians have responded in anger at Indonesia’s refusal to consider clemency. We were not happy with the way they were treated.

Read On >>>

Continue reading

Australia Day: Love-Respect-Tension

A couple of weeks ago we commemorated Australia Day – a day to celebrate all that it means to be Australian. From barbeques to beach cricket, in community and family events, from community awards to the new immigrants, the nation takes a day off thankful for such a wonderful country.Australia Day 2015

For some it is just another excuse for a day off work, for others it is less than a celebration. The date, January 26, marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the British ships of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, New South Wales. There are descendants of those who lived in this land before their arrival for who find this day difficult.

While the arrival of the First Fleet heralded the beginning of modern Australia, for many of the original inhabitants it signalled the end of a way of life. It brought with it suffering, disease and increased death rates thus making January 26 more a day of mourning than celebration, and more about invasion than foundation.

It is not hard to see why some feel this way. Read More >>>

A Church is Born

On the corner of Bligh & Hunter Streets in Sydney lies Johnson Square. Within it stands a monument marking the location of the first church building and commemorating the first church service held in Australia on February 3, 1788.

Richard Johnson Square

Richard Johnson Square

Sadly, only five years after its opening in August 1793 the church building was burnt to the ground. Allegedly a group of disgruntled convicts angered by decree from Governor Hunter requiring all residents, including officers and convicts to attend Sunday services, had set it alight.

Although it was made of wattle and daub construction with a dirt floor, thatched roof and plank seats the building could seat 500 and was the culmination of years of frustration by the first Christian minister in Australia.

Rev_Richard_Johnson_1

The monument engraving

Richard Johnson, an Anglican priest, was appointed chaplain of the prison colony at New South Wales in 1786 largely due to the influence of evangelical Anglican reformers Newton and Wilberforce. Keen to have a committed evangelical Christian as chaplain in the colony, they recommended Johnson who at the time was working in London as an itinerant evangelical preacher.

A kind, generous and devout man, Johnson found life in the penal colony very difficult.

Read More >>>

Forgiving the Unforgivable

rwan-LMAP-md

Rwanda is the land-locked country marked in orange

At Hobart Baptist we are currently in the middle of a series of messages on forgiveness, and how important it is not only for the church, but for society to be a forgiving community.

More often than not forgiveness is not easy and quite costly. This is certainly the case for the communities that were caught up in the genocide of 20 years ago that claimed an estimated 800,000 in Rwanda.

Now, two decades later, organisations such as World Vision and AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) are still at work endeavouring to bring healing through reconciliation and forgiveness.

Australian John Steward first arrived in Rwanda in 1997 to manage a peace building and reconciliation program for World Vision. Now after 19 visits he has seen the program, based on the value of forgiveness, cautiously grow bringing a level of healing to communities once destroyed by hate.

Upon arriving he saw people, “full of fear, struggling to get food – frantic to get jobs, dislocated and separated from their communities.” Although the government was looking for justice and the church preached forgiveness, the message was too hard to hear because people were hurt and traumatised.

Read More >>>