Religious Discrimination, Money, Schools, And Conformity

 

This week, the ‘Ruddock Report’ into religious discrimination has been released. I am writing before this happens, but the airwaves have been full of discussion about what it will mean.

 

Here is what I can glean so far. First, the whole thing is mostly about schools. Second, no one wants to be able to expel a student for being gay. OK. But here is the issue.

 

But then comes the hard part. Some people in some schools want to be able to hire and fire staff, and teach in their schools on the basis that the school has a religious ‘ethos’ which they claim they have a right to make the sort of ‘dominant culture’ of the school.

 

This ethos involves the doctrine that marriage is only ever between a man and a woman; that being Gay is a fundamentally disordered state; and that sex is only moral when it is an activity of married people.

 

The question is ‘Can the commonwealth government make laws that allow the religious schools and other institutions to teach such doctrines, when these doctrines contradict what the law of the land is in the secular world. In workplaces for example, it is not permissible to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation (ie say that being Gay is fundamentally disordered). Companies can have an ‘ethos’, but they cannot have an ‘ethos’ that interferes with a persons sexual life.

 

But then, most companies are not interested in a person’s sexual life. They do sometimes have ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’ sessions, and they do sometimes make claims on people’s lives as part of their ‘culture’ that I would resist. But they are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of such differences.

 

My problem is that the religious schools want it both ways. They want to receive government money to subsidise the school’s operation, but they then ant the government to have no say in the running of the school.

 

I think the debate would be much clearer if the schools said ‘Well, we want to be free to have a different ‘ethos’ from that of secular schools, so we will fund our own schools, where we can be free to hire and fire as we like, and teach what we like. This is what happens with ‘home schooling’ does it not? All this is possible.

 

The second thing is this. I am not sure what Christian schools are doing. I cannot speak for Muslim schools, but my experience of most Anglican schools is that they play very little part in the religious formation of young people, and I know of no research that says that ‘My current religious practice is a function of having gone to a Christian school’

 

It seems to me that the place for Christian formation and Christian education is the Church. A school is a community of education; a Church is a community of faith formation. I think that it is a mistake to expect a school to do the Church’s job.

 

Then young people can experience in their own lives what it means to be a Christian: to be in the world, but not of the world.

 

I cannot see why parents cannot then say to their children “Well, you are going to a secular school, the values of a secular school are not those of the Christian Faith as we see it. Experiencing this difference will be a part of your life from now on because you are a Christian.”

 

This was my experience. Now I might argue about the ways in which being a Christian is countercultural. I would rather, for example, that we stand against secular society in terms of compassion for refugees, that we stand against secular society regarding gender politics and sexuality. But that said, I think that saying ‘That is not our way’ when ‘our way’ represents more love, not less, and a wider embrace, not a narrower one is something for which I want to stand up.

 

We talk a lot about diversity, but I do not think we do very well when it comes to building in ways of expressing diversity or living with it.

 

I know someone who goes to a Rudolph Steiner school. There they have morning blessings and thanksgivings. Some of these strike me as not Christian, but there is a great deal about these schools that I can affirm. I would like to think that either a person would be praised for saying ‘I don’t think I can participate in this because I am not sure about it’, or that ways could be found for a participation that did not run counter to a Christian sensibility.

 

So in some ways too, we are being forced into a kind of uniformity of view, based on what the society at any given time thinks is a ‘fair thing’. The difficulty for me is the ‘forced uniformity’; while at the same time people are praising ‘diversity’.

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Elections, The Public Good and Christian Faith

The results of the election last Saturday sparked my interest. The thing is, that I have previously thought about what leads to the populism that is on the rise in the US and in Europe. The recent changes in the leadership of the Liberal Party have been, in part, due to a move on the part of the right of that party to capture some of the ‘populist’ vote by being ‘tough on immigration’ (Melbourne’s streets are clogged because there is too much immigration), ‘tough on crime’ (African Gangs) and ‘tough on the dole bludgers.’ (the ‘lifters and leaners’ slogan or the more current ‘Have a go and you’ll get a go!?)

Now it could have been argued that this mood was also part of Victoria’s landscape. This looked to have been the assumption behind the Liberal Party’s campaign.

But the result of the election showed that this kind of thinking did not resonate with the community.

Instead some socially progressive policies were proposed, which found a place in the hearts of the voters; The safe injecting room in Richmond was seen as a good thing, in general; People liked the removal of the level crossings, and the plan for a ‘ring rail’ in Melbourne which will connect up people across the city, and in public transport, but which will not be finished for a long time; people liked the attempt to do our share in the fight to ameliorate the worst effects of climate change due to our pollution, by the subsidies on solar panels and batteries.

So I’m wondering what is going on?

Matthew Guy said that the first job of the government was to keep the people safe. Say for the moment that this is true. It looks like people found more insecurity (unsafety) in the effects of climate change than in African Gangs. They felt more safe by a harm minimisation strategy in Richmond than in a ‘tough on crime’ approach.

Many people are staying out of their cars, and using public transport: we need a government that will plan for this change.

At the risk of sounding like a person who always thought things were better in ‘the good old days’, I can remember when water was not privatised, and the water board planned for long term building of reservoirs. I can remember when the SEC planned for our electricity needs, and trained apprentices.

It seems to me that much of the trouble we are in is the result of introducing the profit motive into activities that are not good at being subject to competition. Instead we are gouged by companies that have a monopoly, confused by complicated plans and the long term planning that is needed for infrastructure and dealing with long term issues like climate change. These issues look to be better dealt with out of the political cycle and away from the profit motive.

I think that most people know this.

So now comes the hard question. Does being a Christian help in making decisions about such issues?

I think so.

There is some grounds for thinking that the rise of Methodism in the 18th Century helped to prevent a revolution in England as they had in France. There is some grounds for thinking that a combination of Methodism and roman Catholic Social teaching gave us the regulation of unfettered capitalism which then meant that we could be entrepreneurs and ambitious and so on, but that the poor and weakest among us were not punished for it, and that a persons income was not solely determined by their economic value.

So here is my take on things.

First, the letter of John says ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ This means to me that if governments want to keep us safe, they should be thinking about the ways in which we can love one another better. This goes for ‘African Gangs’ and for those who commit crime, and for those addicted to drugs. The power of love is the power to keep together, or to bring into communion those who belong together. We all belong together, and it behoves us to exercise the harder kind of love that keeps us together, than the kind of response which simply excludes those who offend us.

Second, Jesus says that the first commandment is to love God, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Then he goes on to say that we cannot serve (love) God and Money. And that the love of money is the root of all evil. He also says to the devil ‘People shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from God’s mouth.

But we have changed everything into something that can be exchanged for money. This does violence to the true nature of those who are not means to something, but ends in themselves. This is why I like the idea of the common good, and long term planning for its sake. I also like the removal of the profit motive from such necessary long term planning.

So I think that the Victorian voters have said that the issues we face that make us insecure are not the can not be dealt with by short term-ism, or knee jerk reactions, but are of such a kind as need love.

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Being ‘Tough On Crime’: Being Christian. Some Models

The temperature has died down a bit recently, but one of the great themes of this state election has been ‘Law and Order’ ‘Crime’ and ‘African Gangs’.

 

When I was working as a Chaplain in the prison system, the mantra that used to be repeated was ‘There are no votes in Jails!’ Pentridge was terrible, and we kept on asking for better conditions, to no avail. When I was working there, the Victorian prison population was about 1500 people.

 

But then private money became involved in building and running jails. Now there was profit to be made. Is it any wonder that the prison population is now over 4,000 (up 70%from 2004)? It costs us 11,358.80 to keep a prisoner in jail (not counting the capital cost of building it)*

 

Did you know that privatised prison companies lobby governments to keep harsh drug laws in place and to be ‘tough on crime’ because their business model relies on people being locked up.**

The worst thing about private prisons is that they place the profit motive between us and those who offend us. More, they put distance, and less accountability between us and them.

The way it used to be was this: Those who offend us should be punished. We decide what an ‘offence’ is, by means of our elected representatives. We hand over that job to them. As well, we hand over the power of locking people up or not to the judges. We also hand over the power to use force to the police.

 

So we are not allowed to ‘take the law into our own hands’ because as a community, we have handed over these rights to those who act on our behalf, and on behalf of society as a whole.

 

This system has its limits, as the introduction of ‘victim impact statements’ has shown. When we hand over so much to others, we feel alienated from the system of justice that is operating on our behalf. We feel powerless.

 

This is different from the days of the stocks, or the pillory, where a person could come into direct contact with those whom they had offended, or where in severe cases, capital punishment was a very public affair.

 

The problem is that the prison system, while punishing, does not do much to help to reconcile those who have offended with the rest of us. The rate of recidivism is about 42.00% (this number of people are back in jail within two years of their release.)

 

The heart of the Christian gospel is that whatever happens, we are meant to be reconciled to one another, because Christ has made that possible. We, in our ‘Tough on Crime’ selves, are not much interested in reconciliation, but revenge.

 

But I know of some places where a different approach is working. The Justice Reinvest programme in Bourke is designed to use money that might otherwise have been spent on locking people up, on community development programmes. In fact, instead of looking for a ‘silver bullet’, they work on co-ordinating a myriad of small steps. *** Here is a summary of the results in Bourke between 2015 and 2017. Crime rates fell by:

18% for major offences

34% for non-domestic violence related assaults

39% for domestic violence related assaults

39% for drug offences

35% for driving offences. ****

The other form of restorative justice that I know about comes from the Koori court in Shepparton. Here, while the sentencing laws are the same, there is much more involvement of the Aboriginal elders in the process. Victims are present at a sentencing conference, as well as people whose job it is to support offenders. In order to participate, offenders must plead guilty.

 

The aim of the process is to restore the offender to his or her community, with appropriate support.

 

How I wish that these stories were told, instead of the ones that pander to our baser instincts.

 

It is an anticipation of the Reign of God in Christ when these projects are successful. It is the victory of love over profit, of love over individualism.

 

As we sang last Sunday

‘All praise to our redeeming Lord,

who joins us by his grace,

who bids us, each to each restored, together seek his face.

*Source. http://www.corrections.vic.gov.au/utility/publications+manuals+and+statistics/corrections+statistics+quick+reference

** Sourcehttps://www.thedailybeast.com/for-profit-prisons-are-bad-but-the-drug-war-is-the-problem

*** Source http://www.justreinvest.org.au/justice-reinvestment-in-bourke/

**** Source <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/09/unique-community-policing-sees-rates-plunge-in-bourke&gt;

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On Being In The Pew At A Funeral

It is always interesting to swap roles from time to time. Recently I was at a funeral as a mourner, rather than as the celebrant, and so I was able to see how the conduct of a funeral might look to ‘the unchurched’, as we call them, or to someone who came to mourn a friend or loved one, but who was not familiar with the priest or with the form of service.

 

Here are my reflections.

 

First, I find funerals terribly passive occasions as a member of the congregation. The trend these days is for the funeral director to produce an order of service, but they are generally only made up of two pages on the inside, with hymns perhaps, and the outline of what is going to happen.

 

Not all the prayers are printed, and so the congregation must sit and listen for the majority of the service.

 

When I am conducting a funeral, I speak to the people informally, beforehand, and invite them to support the family of the deceased by saying the words for them written in ‘heavy type’. But I do understand that many people, who are not used to how worship goes, will be shy in making their responses, or for reasons of integrity, unable to say the words.

 

The other thing that makes for passive participation is the very common use of the ‘photo montage’ . Modern technology has made this possible, and all of the younger members of ‘the family’ know how to work it seamlessly.

 

I used not to like them, just out of prejudice I think. But this time, I loved the series of pictures about the life of the deceased person. They gave me an insight into facets of his life, which I had not known, as his former priest. It enriched my picture of him. So I think the advent of the ‘photo montage’ is a good development.

 

The other thing that adds to passivity is the eulogies. Sometimes people are very ill disciplined, so that a funeral that could normally go for 45 minutes goes for 90 minutes.

 

While I enjoy being the centre of attention as much as the next person, and enjoy presiding at funerals, I have seen enough to say, half jokingly, ‘Never give a microphone to a police officer or CFA volunteer at a funeral!’

 

The need for discipline in speaking is important, especially at funerals.

 

But then my attention turned to the way in which the priest was presiding.

 

I was thinking, “I knew this person who has died, and who has died too young. Will this priest do him justice?

Will he say anything that is useful to me? Does he know anything wise to say that will add anything to silence? Can I trust this person?

I do not know whether anyone else was asking such questions of the priest, but I wonder was I asking too much?

 

The bringing together of many people who have not been brought up in the Christian faith, and a priest, whose whole work life is based upon being the public face of the same faith is perhaps one of the most difficult of all professional relationships.

 

My hope is that I can appear to be ‘fair dinkum’; that I do not speak in clichés, and that the people who come feel welcome.

 

This is the importance of meeting with the family beforehand. Sometimes I get that sense of a really good connection between them and me, and it is an absolute pleasure to be of service to them.

 

Sometimes I am not able to ‘connect’, and this makes the work more difficult. Sometimes I have not met with one or two important people, whose views are different from mine, and so at the actual funeral, I make mistakes, or misread the congregation, and so give cause for unhappiness among the mourners.

 

But most of all I want to say something sensible about the Christian faith and about death that is both true to me and what I believe and will come across as authentic to those who hear it.

 

Sermons, despite the emphasis that we give to them, are mostly forgotten five minutes after they are delivered. Sometimes, the ‘feeling’ of a sermon is remembered long after the content has been forgotten.

 

But at a funeral, the preacher has the opportunity to talk about life and death. This is not often addressed, even in Church, except perhaps at Easter. But at a funeral, one cannot avoid the topic of life or death, and the worst thing that can happen is that the person who stands in the place of Jesus has nothing to say that makes any difference!

 

So I started this reflection asking about how the priest/celebrant came across to me. But now I see, that I am asking myself! How do I come across? Is my ‘funeral manner’ and my ‘funeral sermon’ (there really is only one) such that those who have come hear some solid news upon which they can rest their grieving souls? They may have come not because of the faith but because they knew the person who has died. But my hope is that they go away knowing that by being in Church they have come into contact with something far more real and solid than much else that passes for consolation.

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Being Christian is not one thing or another, but how we re being transformed

Last week, I wrote about the motions (now passed) at the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney, about what is permissible on their Church property.

So I looked up the motions, and made a response from my own source of knowledge, and what theological wisdom I was able to bring to bear.

 

In the course of looking for the actual text of the motions, I came across an article that was headed something like ‘Seven reasons why Anglo Catholics are wrong to support same sex marriage.’ I skimmed the article, but could hear myself saying “Naaah! That’s not me, that’s not what I want to hear.’ So I put it down.

 

I noticed my response, because the week before, I had been in conversation with someone in the congregation who said words to the effect of “Well I have views on certain things that are part of life here, or which I would like to be part of life here, but I can’t tell you why. I just have them.’

 

Now in that case, I invited the person to be more articulate about what it was that motivated them. Now I find myself in exactly the same position! I am saying abut the Diocese of Sydney’s case “I know what I think, and I do not want to take really seriously what you have to say in your article, Diocese of Sydney.’ So what I should do, is to go back and look at the article, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it so I can really know what they are saying. Then I might be better informed as to where my own thinking should go as I make reply.

 

Interestingly enough, this behaviour in which I have caught myself out, and the remedy which I am suggesting brings me closer to being a proper Christian disciple than any views, one way or another, that I might have.

 

This is because the Church is not a group of ‘like minded individuals’ who happen to congregate with other like minded individuals.

 

The Church is the Body of Christ. As Christ’s representatives, we are concerned, as he was, not so much with people who are ‘like us’ but people who are not like us.

 

This is my criticism of some of the Church Growth material, which stratifies congregations into homogenous groups.

 

So I take to heart my own criticism.

 

But the desire to reject what is foreign, or unconscious is a pretty natural one. To admit something ‘new’ into my consciousness, and to do the work involved in integrating it, and working with it takes courage, and brain- power, and humility. All good Christian qualities, to be sure, but not ones that I easily exhibit.

 

This is why it is hard for a rich (or powerful) person to enter the Kingdom of God, Because it is too easy to use one’s riches or power or connections to isolate ones self from the disturbance associated with owning my discomfort, interrogating my own internal state and integrating something new. This is in fact what the Diocese of Sydney is not doing by passing ever more restrictive, doctrinally based laws.

 

Interestingly enough, I heard something similar on Radio National’s ‘Future Tense’ programme National (24-10-18)

 

There they were talking about the renewed interest in the ‘long read’ in an age of Twitter and the assumed ever shortening attention spans.

 

There, they said that people still liked novels to read, and that research had found that those people who liked novels, showed more compassionate natures. This was, they argued, that a novel makes us spend time inside the personalities of people who are not the same as us. Doing this increases compassion!

 

It is interesting to hear this coming from the secular media, because this very process of widening our circles of love is exactly what the Church did, when it struggled to answer the question ‘Can Gentiles become followers of Jesus without being circumcised (and becoming Jews) first.

 

They came to the conclusion that, after experiencing the Spirit in the Gentiles, regardless of circumcision or not, that ‘Yes! Gentiles are also proper Christians’

 

Our practice is the same. We who are so different and not like each other, share the meal around Christ’s table, just as the early Christians did with their Gentile friends. There we learn to become conscious of God’s actions, not because we are comforted so much as because we are irritated, and forced into consciousness and thereby love, because of coming into contact and spending time with those who cause us problems.

 

It is this ability to move, to be repentant, to be converted which Characterises Christian faith. Being converted to Christianity is not about just shifting from one fixed world view to another, but it means being converted from one fixed world view, to the process of being converted, day by day. This is what St. Paul means when he encourages us to ‘not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds’ (Rom. 12:2). Or more succinctly put ‘It’s not where you stand that counts, but how you move!’

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The Use Of Church Property, Doctrine and Love

Recently, a member of a group to which I belonged sent me some information about the latest Synod of the diocese of Sydney.There are some motions about the kinds of activities, which are allowed on Anglican Church property in the Diocese. The motions are structured within a framework of the doctrine of the Church which is briefly outlined, and then the implications of this policy are drawn out as examples of how the policy might work. So the doctrine section says “There is only one way of salvation, which comes through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The gospel calls us to turn from sin and abandon our idolatrous or syncretistic worship, and to worship the true God, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

  1. Church property must therefore not be used for the worship of other gods, or to profess and promote a different doctrine of salvation. “ (p.125ff, Book 3)

Some of the consequences for the use of church property are that the use of Church property by other religions, or Christian denominations that do not follow this doctrine. Smoking ceremonies (presumably by indigenous peoples) are also forbidden.

Next, Under the heading of the doctrine of the human person is forbidden (a) abortion advocacy;

(b) Undertaking or making referrals for medical and/or surgical elective abortions;

(c) Production of abortifacient or abortifacient-like contraceptives;

(d) Undertaking stem cell research involving the destruction of embryos;

(e) Advocacy for, or assistance with, euthanasia;

(f) Manufacture of armaments or other weapons of war;

(g) Activities that incite racial hatred;

(h) Advocacy of or activities that incite discrimination against the disabled;

(i)

Advocacy for transgender ideology (e.g., gender-fluidity)

Under the doctrine of marriage and sexuality is forbidden

(a) Production or distribution of pornography;

(b) Commercialisation of sexual services (e.

g., a brothel);

(c) Solemnisation or blessing of a same-sex wedding;

(d) A reception venue for a same-sex wedding;

(e) Advocacy for expressions of human sexuality contrary to our doctrine of marriage.

 

I have great difficulty with the way that these prohibitions are set out.

First, I have a problem with the reduction of the Christian faith to doctrine. For me, the Gospel is not first an foremost about believing certain things, but is about participation in a process of becoming made one with Christ. This mostly happens through the Eucharist. As Queen Elizabeth 1 was reported to have said “I do not want a window to peer into men’s souls’. She did not want to tie down the doctrine of the Eucharist too much. It was enough that people could participate in it, and let the Eucharist do its own work.

I think that it is better to say that the Gospel, as an entity is more like a liturgy to take part in, than a doctrine to be assented to.

Second, I think that the way that this document is set out, does not take into account the primacy of love in Christian life. I have known of Churches that have invited their Muslim neighbours to use their halls when the local mosque was attacked.

Third, I think that the way this document puts together different types of activity, some of which is not controversial, alongside very contested activities is not ‘playing fair.’

For example the idea of gender fluidity is currently a matter of debate. A person can be a perfectly faithful Christian, and think that a person’s gender is not fixed into binary categories of simply ‘male and female’. It is becoming clear that there are many people who are beginning to find their voice who are saying ‘My experience is not that of the majority, that fits into the two categories on male and female’. It is wrong I think to forbid even discussing such issues on Church property, or to forbid people who want to speak for such ways of being from doing so on Church property.

The same is true for the list about sexuality. I do think that the law of love is contravened by commercialising the relations between men and women. But using the Church for same sex weddings, or the advocacy of ideas of human sexuality that differ from this doctrine seems to me to be increasing the amount of love and fidelity that there is, not making it more difficult.

This way of proceeding just trikes me as so very different form the picture of Jesus we get in the gospels.

There I see a man full of joy, full of open engagement with everyone. He was very hard on hypocrisy, true, but found room in his heart for so much love. It was for his wide embrace that he was killed. Not his orthodoxy.

While some guidelines about behaviour are necessary, they come after forming loving relationships. This is the kind of Christian I want to be.

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