I read with great interest the Rev. Rod Benson’s article in the Religion and Ethics section of the ABC site. It has been interesting to see Gillard’s recent statements on same sex marriage, as well as the way changes to territory rights was, in a panic, referred to committee. Reading Benson’s article places those actions in their proper context – that Gillard has a religion – pragmatism. It also highlights, however, how far Australia’s Christian churches seem to be going away from their core business – promoting and embodying Christ’s teachings.
It annoys me whenever media outlets make a blanket statement that the Greens are “ultra-secularists”, such as Benson says in the article. It’s just not accurate. There are many in the Green movement – me included – who are active Christians that are a part of the Green movement because we see the actions of both major parties as damaging to core Christian concepts. These include stewardship of the Earth – Liberal and Labor policy has lead to widespread environmental damage; care for the less fortunate – Liberal and Labor welfare policy changes in recent times have been draconian and lacking on compassion; care for the “other”- as embodied in the parable of the Good Samaritan – Liberal and Labor asylum seeker policy has not followed Christ’s teachings about that.
There are many more examples of how Green policy and activity can be in harmony with Christ’s teachings and actions if one chooses to see it that way. Notice how I am not equating Christ’s teachings with the ways of the human developed “church”. That is a different thing altogether – and the ACL meeting with Gillard seems to show it operates.
The ACL and Gillard talked about 10 different points. Only 4 of them were concerns that had direct relationship with the teachings of Jesus. They were: Gambling, Persecuted People groups, The best interests of the child and Asylum Seekers. They are all very important ideas and should be of utmost importance in a civilised, Christian society. In addition, all are issues that are of great importance to the Greens.
Another, Sexualisation of Society and its related issue – Advertising and Entertainment classification standards – is more related to Paul and his teachings – the same Paul who had grave concerns about women getting equal rights in the Church and various other views that are largely irrelevant. While I am not especially enamoured of the sexualisation of society either, again, we don’t see the Greens promoting the sexualisation of society either. It is an issue that is very hard to control for any government in a western liberal society.
The other issues are related to the church and its interpretation of morality – not relating to Christ’s teachings directly. The first is same-sex marriage. Marriage was an activity that existed before Christ’s day and after his life on Earth, it became, after a time, the activity of the Christian Church. Yet, Jesus did not spend one minute talking about homosexuality or what marriage should be.
Over the recent past, marriage has ceased to become purely a religious activity and has become a civil activity. If churches were concerned about who was getting “married” and why, they should have made an objection to the Marriage Act of 1961, which allowed civil marriages to take place. After all, in the church’s definition, adulterers are allowed to marry, as are people who have had sex before marriage – another sin. And yet, now, and only now, the church is starting to object to how civil marriage is performed. While Jesus never mentioned it, it has become a core article of faith for some modern churches to oppose homosexual marriage. If they object to that, they should be, in all fairness, objecting to the civil marriage of all people who openly flout church teachings. But they aren’t. That’s because their opposition to same sex marriage is a step away from what should be their core business – promoting Jesus’ messages about loving relationships and harmony between people.
Another issue of interest to the modern church is euthanasia. This is again not related directly to Christ’s teachings, but has become a central part of the modern church’s desire to interpret the direction of its church in its own way. The idea of ending one’s own life in dignity and on one’s own terms doesn’t appear at any stage in the Bible. However, teachings from the Bible have been applied to the act. I am not saying for a minute that Jesus would have encouraged it. It is, though, a relatively minor issue in the light of the major issues facing our society – such as social inequity, the continual degradation of conditions in poorer countries and wars between parties about religion and other issues. Churches, for all the amount of time and effort paid to it, are in danger of neglecting Jesus’ core teachings, such as the ones outlined.
Many Christians around the world are ignoring the church’s interpretation and ending their lives with dignity, rather than pain. My father didn’t take the euthanasia path – but did have a lot of state hospital provided morphine injected to counteract the pain caused by the cancer attacking his body. That morphine probably did hasten things, mercifully for him. I’m not sure that is an un Christian way to leave.
A pure church issue is “religious freedom”, which is not about religious freedom at all. It’s about churches being able to fire people who have “lifestyle choices” or opinions that are at variance with church teachings, alternatively choose the screen out people who would not fit into the culture of a church related business, such as a school. The current exemptions from the discrimination act enjoyed by the churches allow them, for example, to ask gay teachers to leave – which does happen from time to time. That discussion has nothing to do with Christ’s teachings – indeed, it is encouraging an attitude quite at odds with the inclusive theology preached in the Gospels.
This leads to another pure church issue - federal funding of non-government schools, which is a key reason, I suspect, why various church leaders openly encourage parents of students at Christian schools as well as parishioners to not vote Green. While I disagree with the Green policy on this – I think it should be directed at the rich end of the independent school tree, not the systemic or local independent schools – it is highly unusual for churches to actively encourage a way to vote these days. This kind of political activity is more like the 1950s and 1960s, when the DLP was around. However, Jesus never talked about school funding – indeed, encouraged people to separate money from talk of God. The church, though, does, because it’s their core business.
Finally, we have the “not-for-profit regulator”, which has churches very worried – especially Hillsong and the Seventh Day Adventists, who make a lot of tax-free money from owning highly profitable music businesses and Sanitarium respectively. That is flying in the face of Jesus’ teachers and actions, specifically in defying the money changers in the synagogue. I have often thought that if Jesus were to return, he would visit the Sanitarium plant in the Central Coast and tell them that it wasn’t the work of Him – and then he’d turn his attention on the merchandise shop at Hillsong.
Ultimately, we see the problem with the Australian Christian Lobby and its agenda. It is Christian in its badging, but it’s not made clear by its machinery what is Christianity and what is human business. What is clear is that the ALP seems to cower to its cynical pragmatism, which is based partially on Christ’s teachings, but also with equal parts good intentions and business acumen.