Doing what we should have always been doing

When Danica Roem became the first transgender person elected to a state legislature in Virginia last month, there was outrage from some sectors of the American church. One affronted church leader tweeted, “Christian parents, the nation’s first transgender elected official enters American history tonight. What are you doing to prepare your children for that?”

In response, bestselling author and University of Houston professor, Brené Brown tweeted:

 

We’re doing what we should have always been doing: loving God and loving others.

But are we? Is that what we’ve been doing, because if it isn’t, I suggest the church should get back to it.

In my homeland of Australia, we recently had a national survey on the question as to whether same-sex marriage should be legalized by the parliament. There was a hard-fought campaign waged on both sides of that debate. It wasn’t always very pretty or edifying.

In the end, the Yes vote romped it in – 61.6% to 38.4%.  For some perspective, if a federal election was won by that margin it would be the most comprehensive landslide in Australia’s history.

As a result, many church leaders are asking a similar question to the one we began with here: what are we doing to prepare ourselves for being the church in the new era of Australian society in which same-sex marriage is soon to become a reality?

I like Dr Brown’s response: still loving, caring, serving, welcoming, feeding.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to love our neighbours, to seek to be Christ’s representatives in the world. And all the more so because recent events in this country have greatly damaged the church’s reputation.

 

Not only has the same-sex marriage debate rocked Australian society, but we are currently enduring the painful but necessary ordeal of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony presented to a government enquiry into church responses to child sexual abuse. We’ve heard story after story about priests and church workers either abusing children in their care or turning a blind eye to that abuse. All of it reported on the nightly news. It has reached the highest levels with archbishops and the leaders of Australia’s largest churches being called to bring evidence.

German Jesuit scholar Hans Zollner, visiting Australia recently, reflected on the enquiry and said he felt Australians have completely lost trust in the church.

“There seems to be almost nil trust in what the church says,” said Fr Zollner, “This is not true in other parts of the world. I think you are in a pretty unique situation.”

I agree.

But people aren’t rejecting the church just because they hate Christ. They distrust us because of the way some of us have behaved. Not only have they listened to stories of child sexual abuse at the hands of church leaders, they were also dismayed to see the conduct of some sectors of the church in prosecuting the No case in the same-sex marriage survey.

Sure, Yes campaigners behaved badly (there was an assault on the former conservative prime minister; a No voter was fired from her job for posting her position on Facebook; two churches were graffitied with references to Nazis), but it’s also true that a lot of the No campaign, supported by the churches, was essentially dishonest, and designed to foster fear among voters.

While some Christian campaigners tried to make the No case based on biblical interpretation and Christian tradition, a great many tried scare-mongering, with stories about kids being taught “genderlessness” in schools if same-sex marriage was legalized and openly questioning the legitimacy of non-traditional families. These campaigns were funded by the major churches to the tune of several million dollars.

There seemed to be no sensitivity to how these kinds of charges would be felt by those who don’t or can’t fit into traditional family arrangements. Many in the LGBTIQ community found the whole thing extremely difficult. Calls to helplines increased by 30% during the campaign period. One line received 10,000 calls.

Now that the vote is in, we need to grieve for the anger, fear and hurt that occurred during the campaign and seek to make amends for the ways we may have contributed to that.

 

Instead, the discussion has shifted to a campaign by the churches to ensure that their religious freedoms (not to be forced to perform same-sex weddings) are preserved. It has led some commentators to suggest the church is just a bunch of self-interested sore losers.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story that read, “…if we are going to turn over some rocks in a debate on religious freedom, we may see a greater need for freedom from religion, not freedom of religion.”

As you can see, the church is not viewed positively by many Australians. The fastest-growing category of religion over the past 50 years has been “No religion”, up from just 0.8 per cent in the 1960s to 30 per cent last year.  Christianity isn’t just seen as irrelevant in contemporary Australia, but as insidious, dangerous, corrosive.

Now is not the time for the church to be moaning about the outcome of the same-sex marriage debate. Or about a transgender citizen being elected to office. Or about what are perceived as “attacks” against the church. Neither is it the time to appear so attentive to how this new world will affect us that we look self-focused and fearful.

Now is the time to do the same thing we should have been doing yesterday and the day before that: loving neighbors, giving thanks, and finding the face of God in everyone we meet.

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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7 thoughts on “Doing what we should have always been doing

  1. It seems that mistrust in the church is just really finding a voice now that these things are coming to light. The elderly community, while not jumping as fast from .08% to 30% are at about 9% claiming no-religion or non-religious. That suggests to me that perhaps that mistrust had been ingrained but unable to find expression. I personally think that the church should welcome the backlash with humility and grace, as you suggest Mike, in order to refocus on the two greatest commandments.

    Great article.

  2. How about doing follow up articles about situations where Christians in Australia ARE loving their neighbours (far and wide)?
    I can suggest lots of examples including Operation Hope – Northern Iraq Project.

  3. Love it. Thank you.

  4. So many of my non-church friends tell me that they think the church is a self-serving institution that has no grace for or acceptance of anyone different from themselves. And yet they are so very interested in spirituality, the mysteries of the world they live in, and nearly always the teachings of Jesus. When I tell them about Pascal’s metaphor of everybody having a God-shaped hole within, they readily concede. And yet the church is the last place they would look for wrestling with their deep questions. It is so very tragic.
    But! I firmly believe the church remains the heart of God’s plan for the world, the spotless bride (that sadly happens to be pretty spotty at the moment!) The church needs to be rescued from the church.

    1. I love this comment Pete because I find your words encouraging. Something I have wrestled with for a long time, and even so in past few months. How do we pastor a church that seemingly loses relavence even amongst those who appear to be worn out of hearing a msg of love God, love people. I do agree with your statement the church needs to be rescued from the church. And that of itself is also tragic.

  5. I’m not convinced that Australia is the only country struggling to trust the church. I was in Dublin the day the result of their referendum on same sex marriage was announced. Another yes vote, and many people said even though it’s a highly religious country, people were heartily sick of the church telling them what to do. For the same reasons Aussie are.

  6. Mike, I agree that the church needs to focus on showing how and why God’s ways are better by living them out and using their lives as exhibit #1 in their explanations (as per the Apostle Paul). A good resource on this is McDowell & Stonestreet’s book, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. It’s hard to argue with someone who loves you (and others) better than you can love yourself.

    Just a note: I’m not sure that your comparison of the results of the poll to a federal election helps give perspective, since federal elections are multi-way contests. Take a look at referendum results for a better perspective: the last carried referendum (on retirement of judges) had a yes vote of 80.1%, and the famous ’67 referendum on Aboriginals had a yes vote of 90.77%.

    Having said that, a little research shows that the Abbot election of 2013 gave the coalition 60% and Labor 36% of seats in the lower house, a slightly wider margin than the SSM poll! (Although the senate result was not so lopsided.) And yet that comprehensive landslide did not seem to yield the Abbot government a mandate–we live in precarious times.

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