Editorial Autumn 2018
- Written by: Ben Underwood
I suspect 2017 is a year in our national life we will not quickly forget. The changes to the Marriage Act have been supported and passed, and I suspect all sides of the question have found it hard in various ways. The LBGTQI community and their supporters went in apprehensive that they would be bruised by the debate, but came out celebrated and celebrating. Those who wanted to keep marriage as received also found the debate confronting, it seems to me, and came out with their fears confirmed—that they are the minority, and their views are implausible and their arguments unconvincing to the majority.
2018 may bring its own significant developments. The status of religious conviction and the freedom of believers to conduct their public lives, as individuals and through their institutions, according to the convictions of their faith-formed consciences is now on the agenda, thanks to the Prime Minister’s Religious Freedom Review. We can hope, pray and advocate for the continued embrace of such religious freedom, put together in our culture over such a long span, and so integral to the kind of society that we have enjoyed—a society that safeguards us against tyrannies large and small.
Our leaders by Rob Forsyth and Allan Chapple touch on these current affairs, and our first feature extends our engagement with these social concerns by hearing from Christians in the workforce as they encounter diversity training and the coming of corporately-adopted policies on diversity in the workplace. This can be a source of difficulty for Christians, even to the point that some Christians hear the message: ‘conform or get out’. If you want some insight on how some Christians are finding it, read on.
The Canberra-Goulburn branch of EFAC has generously provided written versions of presentations at their 2017 Preaching Seminars, and in this issue we feature Jonathan Holt’s analysis of the TED talk approach, and its grist for the preacher’s mill. David McLennan writes about preaching in a Prayer Book context. If you enjoy these you might like to find out more at the Preaching Seminars website:jonathan6412.wixsite.com/ preachingseminars.
Further along, Stephen Hale keeps our heads in the parish and looks to the changing nature of the ministry of small groups, and Gavin Perkins helps us meditate on the pronouncement of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue: ‘Today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. A clutch of book reviews and a railing against the poverty of philosophical materialism by Peter Corney rounds out the issue. But don’t forget to block out September 6-8, 2018 and come along to the Anglican Future Conference jointly hosted by EFAC and FCA Australia in Melbourne. Spread the word about this too. It’s not just for clergy. See the notice at the back of the mag.
Ben Underwood, Editor
Politics in the scheme of eternity
- Written by: Penny Taylor
Public life and politics are bruising and demanding ways to serve the community. But Penny Taylor was not put off. Here she shares something of her experience in running for public office. Penny Taylor ran for the Seat of Nedlands at the 2017 WA State Election.
It’s been a year now that I’ve been campaigning for public office. In March I stood for Labor in the seat of Nedlands in the WA state election, and as I write this, I’m a week away from the end of Local Government elections where I’m running for Mayor of Subiaco, WA. Looking back this looks like a planned progression, but I assure you it’s not!
I first became interested in politics, policy and government in the mid 2000s, when living in the Pilbara, as I saw how different aspects of community life—from education to health, policing and public housing and further—were all interrelated and had a direct influence on the quality of life in our community. I had begun to write letters to Government agencies over some concerns I was seeing locally. I received little by way of reply, until once I cc’d the letter to the local state Member of Parliament. Then the replies were actioned immediately. I learnt that lesson, and from then on directed any letters to the minister and the local member. I wasn’t a serial letter writer, but I did write a few each year on the major concerns our community was experiencing. As part of that advocacy, I would take the opportunity to meet politicians when they made themselves available. I met and wrote to various politicians from different parties. The politician who mainly replied was Mark McGowan, now the WA Premier.
WA was riding the mining boom but with little planning in place for the inevitable downturn. State debts and deficits were increasing and the looming GST shortfall was entirely predictable. I could see investment in buildings but not in people. It’s people who change people. Government grants for capital only—and not operations—means schools and other community supports don’t have the sustainable employment structures to make a real difference in our communities. This is particularly apparent in regional areas. My watching of politics from a layperson’s perspective led me to wonder whether I should change from watching to doing. WA was crashing hard after the mining boom. Many people were hurting and many felt like the current government had completely stopped listening to them.
After prayerful consideration I decided that I couldn’t just watch the State election, but I had to run in it. I chose the seemingly suicidal mission of contesting the seat I live in: Nedlands, a blue-ribbon Liberal seat in the affluent, leafy, inner-city suburbs of Perth. A senior, yet not hugely popular Liberal Minister held the seat by a 19% margin. I think the only people who thought this was a good idea were Mark McGowan and me. I braced myself for the negativity of politics and ploughed in with my extreme naivety and inexperience
As the State campaign heated up, I wrote this:
‘No politician is the saviour of the world. No political party, nor even an excellent government can offer true salvation. Christians who serve in government are no more doing God's work than any Christian in their workplace when they strive to live according to God's word as a sinner saved by grace. But leaders and representatives have an important role in our community. There are policies on all sides of government that don't align with God's plan for this world, and I don't agree with every policy of the Labor Party. We live in a fallen world that has no hope for eternity except for the redemption offered in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
However, I do believe that this opportunity has arisen with God’s help and I believe that I can make a substantial contribution to our community through this endeavour. I presented my Christian faith clearly to Mr McGowan and he and the Labor Party welcomed me to join. Since declaring my candidacy, I frequently have had the opportunity to share my faith in a variety of settings. To date this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but I will be faithful to Christ even if it’s difficult. You know I am a committed Christian and I will bring my Christianity to bear in the decisions that I will make. I do believe I have come to this moment for such a time as this.
Politically, some considered it practically impossible for me to win. This is one of the safest seats in WA. But nothing is too hard for God. If I win this seat in March there will be absolutely no denying that this is of God. Because I have complete confidence of my position before God, only by the redemption Christ has won me at the cross, do I dare attempt this. Without his confidence and the peace that passes all understanding, I couldn't do it. Win or lose, I belong to him.’
It was crazy and impossible but I can do all things through him who strengthens me. I had been a member of the Labor Party for a short period of time and did not enjoy any backing from a branch. The party viewed the seat as unwinnable and understandably didn’t want to waste too much money on a battle they couldn’t win. I did have the backing of my family, of the Leader of the Opposition and of my own convictions. I know that many people support a Party like they support a football team. You don’t like everything about them, but you barrack for them anyway. And where I live, that team is the Liberal Party.
Two things happened in the campaign gave me the confidence to just do it and then keep working hard. The first was the good fortune to be seated next to the soon-to-be-Premier at an event. The second was the overwhelming positive feedback from community members. People were stopping me in the street to tell me they were so glad I was standing at the election. I had braced myself for the negativity of politics, especially in this Liberal-held heartland. But instead I found many educated and sincere people wanting a genuine candidate who listened and understood their concerns.
So. I didn’t win. But I did have a sizeable swing—almost 11%, which The Australian said was the ‘shock result’ of the State Election. Overall, Labor won the election in a landslide, bringing the Hon Mr McGowan the Premiership. For me, without a faith in Jesus and the belief (relief?) of eternity this would have been a crazy, impossible venture. Instead I found it overwhelmingly positive. After it was all over, I got back to working in the family business, but I do have some observations on what’s it like as a Christian when you move from advocacy and prayer, into seeking to do the work of a politician.
Firstly, realise that there may not be a rush of support for you from your fellow church members. Despite having sat in church while we all pray for Christians to enter politics, my experience was that there’s not so much support once you actually do. Maybe it was because I ran for Labor, a party that has appeared to be anti-Christian to some. But maybe it is because it’s easier to pray about political involvement than actually to do something about it. ‘Sex, religion and politics—do we really want to have be the ones talking about these things?’ asks the comfortable middle class Christian. Many people think ‘Good on you’, but that’s it. Don’t expect it to be a respected decision. The distrust of politicians (including candidates) extends into churches.
Secondly, I learned that political parties simply reflect their membership. This means that if Christians are positive contributors and active in political parties then perhaps political parties will reflect this in their policies. I say ‘perhaps’, because as church attendance has dwindled, so has membership of political parties. And parties aren’t about recruiting members, they are about recruiting volunteers and winning elections. It’s a very different brief to churches.
Thirdly, I have learned not to underestimate the power of a well-written factual letter. Politicians can better help those who make it easy for them to be helped. They’re human too and encouragement and support (and dare I say love) is always welcome in the face of constant negative comments and scrutiny from the public.
But my story doesn’t end with the State election. I’m in my second election campaign for 2017, for, even after the State campaign ended, many people continued to raise their concerns with me (even though I did point out I wasn’t the person to see). Not a week would go by without someone stopping me to say I should be running for local government. I have served as a councillor before, in Port Hedland, and so I know local government, but the persistent encouragement of others gave me courage and confidence to seek election as Mayor of Subiaco. I was having trouble not advocating on local issues and for good governance anyway, so it made sense.
This campaign too, has its serendipitous moment. As my penchant for politics was becoming known in Christian circles, I was given the unexpected honour of being invited to pray at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast and sit next to the former WA Premier, the Hon Colin Barnett MLA.
After that encounter, Mr Barnett unexpectedly came out supporting me for Mayor of Subiaco. I love that Local Government is independent! In this election I do have the backing of my family, many in my church and in the community. My electorate is well-educated and kind. The negative campaign tactics have been much worse in this local government campaign, but it makes me more disappointed about my community than for myself. There’s a job to do. The Mayoral race is simply a job interview where the good people of Subiaco are the ones who decide who should get the job. If I don’t win, I’ve had an amazing learning experience and have met many wonderful people. If I do win, I will seek to do my best to serve my community as Mayor of the City of Subiaco. Whether I win or lose, my life is for the Lord.
I know many of you have been praying for more Christians to enter politics. I know this because I've been sitting with you when you've been doing it. Well, God works in mysterious ways and even I didn't see this as a possibility 12 months ago. At every step of the way there has been prayerful consideration and a genuine desire to serve Jesus in this world as he sees fit. I’m not alone in seeking to serve Christ in this way. Thank you for your prayers for Christian politicians (we hope to see them answered!) and thanks for your encouragement to us as we work for better government for the common good.
Postscript: Penny Taylor was elected Mayor of Subiaco on October 21 (Ed.)
Editorial Summer 2017
- Written by: Ben Underwood
Synod season is over for another year, and I don’t know if you attended one, and I don’t know how you feel it went for you and your fellow members of EFAC, but Stephen Hale gives us the encouraging news of a good General Synod session for evangelicals, and a well-attended, worthwhile EFAC dinner to boot.
We could not let the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses pass without one more Reformation-oriented piece, so we kick off the features section this issue with an article by Archbishop Glenn Davies, EFAC President, on the place the Reformers gave to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We move then from the affairs of the church to Christian engagement with the wider society we participate in. Firstly, Penny Taylor relates what it has been like to take a big step into the political arena, and run for public office as a Christian. More than that Penny writes of the valuable ways she found to engage with politicians before plunging into election campaigns.
One ongoing concern for many in our nation is the experience of Indigenous Australians after European arrivals here, and down to the present day. I had a rather wonderful opportunity to visit the Northern Territory with some fellow evangelical Anglicans in June, and I write about my encounter with an Australian experience rather different from my own. I have a go at relating something of what that was like, and I hope it is worth something to others.
In our Bible Study, Thom Bull draws intriguing connections between the Lord’s Prayer and Ezekiel 36, and a clutch of book reviews follows, before Tony Nichols closes the issue with a delighted report on his recent return to Tawau, Borneo for the centenary celebrations of a school and church ministry he worked in fifty years ago. Read and rejoice with Tony to see what God has done there.
If over the summer you fall into reflections over modern parish life—the good and the bad, the new and the old, the flourishing and the failing; buildings, websites, liturgy, staffing structures, small groups, evangelistic endeavours or anything connected to how we do church these days—and if you find yourself moved to write something you think others might benefit from, then take a chance and send it to me. I’d love to see whether it could end up in Essentials soon.
Ben Underwood, Editor
Editorial Summer 2016
- Written by: Ben Underwood
The “good old days”?
The olden days feature in this issue. Some may wish to label Peter Brain’s article as a product of the “sentimental generation”. John Yates article maybe might be regarded as antiquarian by some.
These articles remind us of the problem of what happens a generation or so after the “good old days”. Or after a big revival. Both Methodism and Pentecostalism can be see as heirs of the eighteenth century revival. Nowadays neither look like the kind of religious communities overseen by Whitfield and Wesley.
We rightly praise God for the remarkable growth of the church in Africa, Asia and South America. But what will sustain the present life of those churches to the grand children and great grandchildren of today’s saints?
Forms continue but hearts change. Ideas and doctrines change slowly, as much under the power of the culture as under the power of the Word and Spirit.
Editorial Spring 2017
- Written by: Ben Underwood
Five Centuries Later
We don’t manage to theme each issue of Essentials, but we have made a special effort this issue to honour the five hundredth anniversary of the posting of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses by majoring on Reformation themes. There’s a trio of feature articles by a trio of Peters. Firstly Peter Brain looks at justification by faith in the heart of the pastor, then Peter Jensen reflects on the strange and precious gift of the Bible, and lastly Peter Adam urges us to benefit from the reformation of prayer that Cranmer brought to the church in the Book of Common Prayer. Another Reformation feature has Paul Bartley relating how a Reformation study tour has catalysed his interest in the historical actors, aims and outcomes of the Reformation.
Our lead articles are perhaps less obviously connected to the Reformation, but consider that anxiety over guilt before God was a powerful experience for Luther, and the joyful discovery of justification before God through faith in Christ’s atoning death electrified him and his age. What, then has happened to the sense and burden of guilt in our own age, and the desire to be morally justified? Is it still with us? In our opening leader I recommend a recent essay that explores these questions powerfully, and in our second leader, Frances Cook writes candidly of the way her Bible reading helped her in her own feelings of self-condemnation.
The Politics of Rage
- Written by: Dale Appleby
The Politics of Rage
"The Second Coming: On the politics of rage". Christos Tsiolkas. The Monthly Dec 16-Jan17
The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race. David Marr Quarterly Essay 65 2017
Christos Tsiolkas concludes his article by bemoaning the impact of anger in public debate: “...but this rage and this pornography of wrath, it is proving dangerous.” (35). His discussion claims that rage is everywhere and expressed by all kinds of parties. “There is a narrative of this anger…: that the rage festers in the disenfranchised white working class of the globalised capitalist world.” (30) A narrative he says, which is mistaken. “We are fooling ourselves if we believe the rage is only misogynistic or rural, only white and right-wing, baby-boomer and not millennial.” (30)
His view is that it has invaded all aspects of public discourse. Some if it is the language of elites used against those who don’t speak that language – the less educated for example. “...identity politics has become a weapon to punish any ambivalence of thought and expression, any incorrect use of gendered, racial or theoretical nomenclature, and to launch accusations of bad faith.”
(31) Some of it is exacerbated by “..the internet, which allows for a lubrication and indulgence in wrath just as much as it does for lust” (30). It shows itself in the increase in dichotomies, false distinctions and separations. Each group thinking in their own bubbles, class divisions and lack of understandings. His suggestion is that “We have to relearn listening and we have to relearn argument, to free both activities from the indulgent wrath of the new digital age.” (34)
David Marr discusses the rise and influence of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party. Despite her appeal to those disaffected with politics and politicians, those fed up with the influence of elites, and her positioning as part of a working class and nostalgic group, her central appeal has to do with race, according to Marr. The focus of the rage against other races has changed over the years. At present it is Muslims. Previously it was Aborigines and Asians. Dr Anne Aly agrees with various researchers who think that there is around 14 per cent of the population that are clearly hostile to Muslims and another 10 per cent that hold vaguer fears towards Muslims (17).
Marr thinks Hanson has harnessed the fear and anger of this part of the population. Her power, he says, is not just that it has won her another term in the Senate, but that she holds sway over a significant voting block which affects the fortunes of the major parties. Hence the gradual and unashamed adoption of many of One Nation’s policies by the Government, and the refusal of any of the leaders of the major parties to call her on her racism. Because that would immediately alienate a group which the major parties need to woo.
Marr’s essay outlines a deliberate use of fear and racial hatred to promote a political agenda. Hanson would say that she is merely giving that 24 per cent of the population a voice. Marr’s conclusion is that “the far right where politicians are spending so much energy harvesting votes these days is not Australia. Nearly all of us are somewhere else, scattered around the centre, waiting for a government that will take this good, prosperous, generous country into the future.” (95).
Both essays are rational and irenic. Both are speaking the language of their group. Marr’s is an attempt to explain and dismiss. Tsiolkas offers some advice about listening and arguing. And a plea to give up anger. But what is the alternative, or antidote, to engineered anger?
At a community level, fear and engineered hate are ways of reinforcing tribal boundaries. Because tribal boundaries are felt as means of retaining security. Listening and arguing better may be of some help to those who want less tribal conflict. But some of the talk needs to be inside the tribe to identify other ways not to be afraid. And leadership that shows a path for righteous anger not to become festered anger.
I was at a meeting of EFAC members recently at which the discussion came around to the kind of hate that is directed towards evangelicals. Some of it is passive, of course, and most of it may not be addressed directly. Yet there is a strong antipathy to what evangelicals are perceived to stand for. Inside the evangelical tribe there is a strong desire to listen and argue gently, humbly and in a conciliatory spirit. There is also anger particularly by those who are chronically marginalised. But evangelicals don’t need to be afraid and they don’t need to feed their anger. Either as members of a church or as citizens in a nation.
What they do have is a way of thinking, living and feeling that follows the principle of “blessing those who curse you”, and of “doing to others what you want them to do to you”. Marr wants a government to lead this nation into a better future. Christians still have the opportunity to show their church and nation (and political parties) how the tribes of the earth can listen and argue and grow together in friendship.