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The power of congregations

gosford anglican churchIt has long been my view that the potential and resources of the church are largely wasted on worship.

There are few institutions with the power to influence fundamental change – governments, unions, the military, big corporations, and the church. This government is undermining the unions, using the military for civil operations, and paving the way for big corporations. Globally, we see the military and corporations wielding power in different states. In times like these, as in other times of crisis, the church needs to step up and use its power to remind the world of its responsibilities.

Despite the falling numbers in church attendance, and the growing number of people who identify as having no religion, there are positive signs of this happening.

Pope Francis is speaking out about poverty, income inequality, the economy, climate change and homosexuality, whilst adopting a much humbler lifestyle and encouraging his clergy to do the same.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us …”

Caritas Australia has added its voice to other groups protesting against the Federal Government’s cuts of $650 million from Australia’s official aid program in the 2013-14 financial year to direct the money into Tony’s “roads of the 21st century”.

The Australian Christian Lobby also expressed disappointment at the funding cuts, announced on January 18.

Caritas Australia chief executive officer Paul O’Callaghan said it was “unfortunate such a decision had been made in the first year of our partnership with the new government”.

He said the generosity of the Australian public, bolstered by Caritas’ 40-year partnership with the Australian Government, had led to beneficial change in many countries.

“In the last year alone, this partnership enabled Caritas Australia to reach more than 1.1 million people across 20 countries,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

Other organisations such as Care, Save the Children, ChildFund, Plan International and the Fred Hollows Foundation – who also have partnership agreements with the Government – have had their funding cut by about eight per cent.

Churches are not only speaking out against cuts to foreign aid and charities, some are also making conscience investment decisions.

Resolutions passed by the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in April show that it is possible for religious institutions to take concerted action on climate change.

The Synod resolved to divest from stocks and shares in corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, and to redirect investments into renewable energy. A second resolution, again passed by consensus, saw the Synod agree to to call upon the state government to protect important farming land, water resources and conservation areas from coal and coal seam gas mining. A third resolution, with unanimous support once again, called upon the Synod and the Assembly to speak and act pastorally as well as prophetically in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Individual churches are also making a difference. If you have not heard of Gosford Anglican Church and Father Rod then you are missing out. He organises and speaks at rallies and his signs are an internet hit. One of my favourites was “Jesus had 2 dads and he turned out ok”.

The Church has taken a stand on various hot topics of modern society, including marriage equality, asylum seekers and women’s rights.

“From a theological perspective, Jesus was on about one thing and one thing only, and that’s what he called the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom of God manifests itself in compassion and justice and true humility and there are lots of things going on in our society at the moment that aren’t about those things, like the way we treat gay people by not allowing them to be married, the way we treat our planet and the way we treat asylum seekers. These are the things Christians should be seeking – justice and compassion. We contribute to that.”

Another church that has attracted attention is the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church.

In a bold pro-active move, the congregation thought the best possible response to the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit would be to conduct one of its own, one which they considered would put people before profit. The church raised $15,000 to commission its own Audit on behalf of the people of Australia: the People’s Commission of Audit carried out by independent public policy research organisation The Australia Institute.

They intend to release the results this month before the government releases their Commission of Audit recommendations. The comparison will be very interesting.

I would highly recommend their newsletter “The Beacon”. It is very informative on both domestic and global issues and contains excellent articles by people like refugee advocate Julian Burnside. The March edition was devoted entirely to the asylum seeker problem and is well worth a read, as are all their publications.

I am encouraged by these displays of the church taking a role in calling for change. I understand the importance of separation of church and state but, when the state is abrogating its responsibilities to humanity, then we must all join together in demanding better.

31 comments

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  1. jasonblog

    Excellent piece of work.

    It is about community and how to best re-engage with it and to use it as a force for change.

    There was an excellent article in The Saturday Paper (p 15, 12/04/2014) by Nick Dyrenfurth, ‘Abbott’s clumsy culture war’. He writes: “The real culture war in Australia today is not one waged between conservatives and progressives, or even left versus right. Rather it pits doctrinal libertarians against a new communitarian alignment of progressives and small ‘c’ conservatives. It is a war between people who are intent on the hyper-individualisation of Australian life, and advocate a scorched-earth approach to economic management and the destruction of venerable public institutions, and people who reject the false division between individuality and collectivism, and the tired debate between advocates of ‘too much market’ and ‘too much state’.

    We become more complete as people by recognising and appreciating how our lives interconnect. Self-interest is a wonderful thing when it recognises mutual reciprocity and obligation. We all benefit as individuals when the collective is prosperous.

  2. Ricardo29

    I wish we had more separation of church and state but too many of our politicians allow their own, bastardised religious views to influence their behaviour, e.g Morrison, Abbott and before them Rudd and of course many others. Although not religious, I am happy to see religious groups calling the government to account on moral issues. I just don’t want them to join other rent seekers in special pleadings serving their own religious ends.
    Very pleased that the head of the Catholic Church seems to be a breath of fresh air. It is to be hoped his views have a better trickle-down result than has resulted from Thatcherite principles as now espoused by our own sad, sick government.

  3. Kaye Lee

    “too many of our politicians allow their own, bastardised religious views to influence their behaviour”

    Theirs is a convenient Christianity – something to be displayed rather than adhered to. They can willingly turn a blind eye to anything that interferes with their power or corporate greed.

    Asylum seekers aren’t people in need – they are illegal economic migrants and potential terrorists who are here to leech off the public purse and subvert our way of life…apparently. Forget the well documented terror they are fleeing in their homelands, forget the human rights abuses, forget the over 200,000 ‘legal’ migrants we welcomed last year – they got themselves here and they came from happy places – less trouble that way.

    Forget the estimated $4 billion a year we are wasting on offshore detention. The fact that if we treated people humanely and processed them here it would cost about $750 million a year is irrelevant. Mr Crocodile says they may not cross our golden river.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu6FBmGigjs

  4. deanyz1

    The Gosford Anglican Church, Pope Francis and the progressive church organisations are a ray of hope in this gloomy world today.
    Let me state that I am a nontheist; if ‘God’ is a symbolic reference to the forces of the Universe [multiverse?] then I’m for ‘God’. Others have different interpretations of ‘God’.
    My eldest brother rang the other day, we had a chat about his health and the conversation turned to Climate change.
    Now, my eldest brother has been a Christian since his early teens. Good on him. He taught me how to drive and he was very mechanically minded, he was an airframe fitter in the RAAF and worked mainly on F111 aircraft. He was also a light plane pilot and I love him.
    I voiced my concerns about climate change and the current Government. I knew he was a Liberal voter, but the response I got was one which left me gob-smacked.
    -“Science hasn’t proven global warming and I think Tony Abbott is doing a good job”.
    Now I was concerned, I asked how he rationalised Government policy with that of Christ’s teaching. My brother started quoting scripture to me – I interjected with a comment on the age of the Earth. He stated that the Earth is no older than what the Bible states.
    “What?” I retorted, “You cannot deny the evidence of the age of the Earth – the sedimentary layers…” I won’t go into the rest, but my big brother is a ‘creationist’. This how religion has distorted his otherwise rational mind.
    Likewise, our current PM has distorted views, but not based on Christ’s benevolent nature and love for his fellow humankind.

  5. Kaye Lee

    deanyz1,

    I studied astronomy as an elective in a BSc. My lecturer was a creationist. That still gives me headaches.

  6. john921fraser

    <

    @Kaye Lee

    I will make no Comment other than to say "good luck to the Gosford Uniting Church parish".

    "The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others."

    Bertrand Russell (1872-1972).

  7. geoffreyengland

    I personally find it hard that the government of tony abbott (lower case intended) claims to have so many ministers who wear their religion on their sleeves yet they would all, to a person, have been thrown from the temples along with the money lenders Jesus.

    Personally I’m a non believer but even I can recognise rank hypocrisy when it is so obvious.
    I am simply beyond despair at the amorality of this government and by extension it’s supporters.
    Not those fooled by tony abbott’s mock piety and hand over heart performances prior to September 13, but those callous, soul less individuals who put their own private well being above the good of this nation, (note the unseemly haste to fill plum diplomatic posts and boards with their own scabs) and are now driving us all to a dark place…the American sack of rotting flesh, the West Australian graceless heiress, the idiot Queensland millionaire turned Senator, and their IPA “friends, though I doubt these sorts have any real friends, just “friend$”

    History will record the Liberals and their lap dogs, the Nationals as having made a hostile takeover of Australia and proceeded to sell, dismember, mutilate and dig it till it is nothing.
    “It IS indeed GLORIOUS to be WEALTHY”

  8. Kaye Lee

    john,

    As the song says…I’ve looked at life from both sides now…

    My beef is with worship and intolerance. Spirituality for me is a composite of many experiences. Some very wise Aboriginal women once helped me understand ‘seeing’ the bush – understanding the symbiotic relationship with the land, listening to its needs, all being part of one being.

    Buddhist philosophy has taught me that one small act of kindness can echo around the world like ripples in a pond.

    If you take the best of spiritual philosophy, there is a general rightness about what they espouse. The failure comes with indoctrination, a princely mentality, worship and ceremony, and intolerance – a divine belief that theirs is the one true way.

    The new Pope has said he wants his Bishops to not only lead the flock, he wants them to smell of sheep. I admire the good works done when good people come together for whatever reason.

  9. Jen

    Kaye – your writings are always so credible and so intelligent and insightful. What I want to know is how you can keep engaging with the subject matter without spiralling into a big hole of depression? I wish I had your resilience. Something in me feels that arguing with ignorance is futile. Tony Abbott and co. and a large chunk of Australian society don’t know or understand what it is to suffer. It is not within the realm of their experience. They can’t see how their own privilege is not just of their own making (if at all, I would argue) in the same way that they regard disadvantage as self-created. There is no intellectual argument that will succeed in changing their mindsets. They don’t/can’t get it. You can’t inject higher awareness into some (most?) brains. Only experience does that – and genetically-determined intelligence (ergo, a brain that is capable of critical thinking). I despair. Thank you for your tireless work.

  10. john921fraser

    <

    @Kaye Lee

    Under the banner of god the Abbott squad have come together.

    The new pope has made the one person in Australia who was most responsible for the catholic church withholding monetary compensation from abused children, the keeper of the vatican's bank.

    Obviously god forgot to direct him in that endeavour.

    I've got no time for any religion, if people want to be good they will.

  11. mars08

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
    ~G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

  12. Kaye Lee

    I prefer the term spirituality to religion. It is such a personal experience. My idea of spirituality has nothing to do with worshipping a God or thinking about an afterlife. It has nothing to do with ceremonies or buildings. It has a lot to do with the miracle of nature and protecting all inhabitants of our planet.

    “Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention.”

    Deepak Chopra

  13. Denisio Fabuloso

    To Jen: I understand your predicament exactly. I think the time for giving abject morons the polite time of day is over. They are an impediment to all things great, noble, beautiful and long term. Its time to kick a little moron arse… anyway we can. At arguably the most critical time of human existence, citizens are either voting against their own interests and /or the Planet’s. Are these people so critically dumb? Sociopathic? I really cannot grasp the depth of such destructive self interest and stupidity. Things really have to change radically very soon… or it’s over.

  14. helenmarg

    I understand too Jen.It is so hard to understand how these people can live with themselves or sleep peacefully at night.

  15. helenmarg

    Thank you Kaye Lee.

  16. rick5591rick5591

    Hang on a minute. If people want to set up a Church and worship their God in it, surely that’s their business. One of the hallmarks of a free society is that people can do want they want and organize as they want so long as it doesn’t harm others. The issue of looking after the poor is a different issue and most of the Churches do a good deal through the service of ordinary members to help others less fortunate. I know that the Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (Catholic) and many others quietly help others with meals, support, shelter etc.
    Why there is never enough money in a nation to do necessary things such as health, education, public transport, roads etc is because industry has been centralized into increasingly smaller numbers of Transnational corporations who manage to shift their assets around the world so as to pay minimal tax.
    They are creaming off obscene amounts of money to obscenely rich owners. I am talking about hundreds of trillions of dollars world-wide.if this money were used as it should be for the benefit of everyone, this world could be a paradise..
    rick5591

  17. CMMC

    I still think Abbott and the rest of the Jesuit mafia running things have a rather warped interpretation of the Ignatian value of being “a man for others”.

    They don’t see the altruism and charity, but rather an authoritarian endeavour of “tough love”.

  18. mars08

    Kaye Lee:

    There are few institutions with the power to influence fundamental change…

    As you say, these days religion is not a cornerstone for the vast majority of Australians. Well, not religion in the usual sense. But what about sport and entertainment? I am very disappointed at the silence from Australians in those fields. Seems that having a political opinion is out of fashion and an occupational hazard to be avoided at all costs.

  19. Stephen Tardrew

    You know it is a strange world. Many religious ideologies, and to my experience hard core atheists, fail to see the depth and breath of the dynamic interplay of existence. There are so many unknowns and imponderables as to leaves us with a sense of mystery awe and wonder at the foundations of existence. I find the constraints, counterintuitives and paradoxes of science incredibly fascinating and the mathematics of infinity astounding.

    God, spirit, soul who needs them when the minds witnesses, as silent observer, the limitless potentialities rendered in millions, may be billions of years of evolution. And there is now emerging evidence of the evolution of infinite universes now that proof of cosmological inflation is being verified. How is it possible, in such a primitive epoch, to make judgements about these unknowns as if we are proxy too that which is not yet self-evident.

    Skepticism is part of scientific methodology however it does not limit the dynamic potentialities of future configurations of sentient minds.

    If we were educated in the nature of physics and cosmology there would be no grounds for dogmatic assertions to God or atheism when in fact the gestalt whole may be larger than any concept of God or the debilitating constraints of atheism.

    Nevertheless if we do not get a handle upon logic and rationalism there may be no future to consider. We have lost the ability to be humble and just say we do not know. Some of the greatest physicist alive today say they have no idea what is going on at a deep level of particle physics. We are too quick to judge when our judgements are partially developed uninformed prejudices.

    Maybe if we were all a little more circumspect we could provide a sense of awe and wonder to our children in the face of impending death outside of religious dogma and scientific nihilism. We should remember it is the unknowns and unfathomables that make life a thing of wonder.

    To be religious is fine if religion is of love compassion, equity and tolerance. It is fine to be atheist or agnostic if one believes in moral imperatives of justice and equity. It is also fine to stretch beyond all known boundaries to a realm of unknown potentialities that leave the self open to vast possibilities.

    Who knows maybe in some profound sense they all have a place otherwise they would not occur. Too many unknowns for my liking.

  20. Stephen Tardrew

    Michael post lost to the void of spamism.

  21. Matters Not

    Dicastery in all its forms is part of the problem. As for:

    spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention

    Yep we really need more of those undefined, unanalysed ‘concepts’. Perhaps not?

    Certainly not for me.

  22. paul walter

    Yes it was a reasoned piece and I enjoyed it too.

  23. billy moir

    belief needs no evidence for because there is no evidence against. The rabbott’s catholic pragmatism is amoral in that no matter what deprivations or mistakes result from his actions, they will be addressed by st peter and if he believed the end point was good, salvation is certain! How can the rabbott be challenged when the male labor leadership group are imbued with the same belief system, owe allegiance to rome, were private school educated and appear media shy. There is little hope, but, perhaps, someone will revisit gillard’s ‘misogyny’ and take the blowtorch to the rabbott in the morning shows. labor members picked Albanese educated by the ‘mild’ brothers caucus picked shorten another Jesuit trained comrade of the rabbott, little joey and joyce.

  24. Directcurrent

    All I can say, is lord, protect me from your followers!

  25. Kaye Lee

    It’s obvious that there is a great deal of mistrust where the church is concerned and no doubt deserved in many cases. But we are doing so much mistrusting that we seem to have forgotten how to work together. Religions mistrust each other, atheists mistrust all religions, Greens and Labor mistrust each other, older protestors mistrust young protestors whose signs or actions are a bit more direct, many Labor followers mistrust their new leader…. in fact we tend to mistrust all politicians, once again, with good reason.

    I doubt that I could find anyone who would agree with me about everything, just like no political party or religion truly represent my views on everything. That should not stop me from working with these people. It’s all about tolerance and acceptance. I don’t believe the imaginary friend in the sky line but I do recognise the comfort, companionship, and support that the church offers to many. They won’t convince me of the value of prayer or worship but I will support them in the practical good that they do.

    Put aside your differences you Pharisees and Greeks and be as one in the house of humanity.

  26. diannaart

    Kaye Lee

    Excellent article. Have often wondered the mountains that could be moved if more religions actually acted on what they preached.

    If you hadn’t mentioned The Unitarian Church – then I would’ve – they welcome everyone – atheists are frequent guest speakers. The Beacon is an excellent source of inspiration – in fact a very good antidote after having heard from any of the Abbottoir.

    I also recommend their Saturday broadcasts on 3CR (http://www.3cr.org.au/) – these talks are podcast and cover every conceivable topic and then some:

    http://melbourneunitarian.org.au/category/podcasts/

  27. Word Journeyer

    If the biggest problem with people coming here in leaky boats is the likelihood of their death, why aren’t we trying to give them passage on seaworthy vessels in direct competition with people smugglers with the aim of stamping put their illegal and dangerous profiteering? Instead of intercepting the tubs, putting their passengers on orange life boats, and pushing them back to Indonesia?

  28. Michael Munro

    Theirs is a convenient Christianity – something to be displayed rather than adhered to. They can willingly turn a blind eye to anything that interferes with their power or corporate greed. This statement applies equally to church organisations as well, especially the pent up hostile types!

  29. deanyz1

    I love this quote – it embodies my idea of religion as spirituality:
    We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
    Paraphrased variant: We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.
    The Phenomenon of Man (Le Phénomène Humain, 1955) is a book written by French philosopher, paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

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