EFAC Australia


Bishop Tony Nichols was one of nine from the Diocese of Perth who visited China in April. The main purpose was to visit the Amity Press in Nanjing, the largest publisher of Bibles in the world. The tour was organized by Dr Khoo Kay Keng and led by Archbishop Roger Herft. Tony, who admits to being a China watcher since his youth, reflects on his two visits to China, 50 years apart.

1963, first visit

Mao Zedung, ‘the Great Helmsman’, was at the height of his powers and piloting this great nation onto the rocks. Up to 50 million are thought to have starved to death in his ‘Great Leap Forward’.

Christians were no longer visible. They had numbered nearly a million in 1949 when the Communists took power. Church leaders had been executed or sent to labour camps. Church properties were confiscated and became factories or warehouses.

The Bible was banned (mine was confiscated). Christianity was declared to be a tool of Western imperialism. All Protestant churches had been merged in the ‘Three Self Patriotic Movement’ (TSPM) and placed firmly under Party control at every level. Subsequently, Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1966–76) brought a further wave of persecution for Christians and plunged society generally into chaos.

Marriage and sexuality are still in the news. The same-sex lobby has not slackened its pace. One by one governments are changing the laws about marriage. Christians may feel they are fighting a rearguard action. Maybe we are. Certainly our place in society is changing. The hostile parts of our community seem to be getting bolder in mockery and insult. Some of it, no doubt, the church community has asked for. One of the difficulties is to be heard. Rational discussion seems quite difficult.
So this issue of Essentials attempts to discuss some of the matters again for the sake of our EFAC community. Ben Underwood examines homosexuality from a number of angles and has a very helpful set of responses to it. Peter Brain reminds us of the biblical foundations of sexuality and marriage. He also proposes friendship as a challenge to the continuing idolatry of sex.
Same-sex friendship is one of the rallying cries of the debate. But Christians don’t have any problem with same-sex friendships. These, together with opposite-sex friendships, are the stuff church is made of. The problem is the sexualising of such friendships—a grievous matter being highlighted in the Royal Commission and in various news reports of pastors who have affairs with members of their congregations.
Ministering among those who have same-sex attraction is provocatively discussed by Haydn Sennitt. Issues in ministry among heterosexual teens is helpfully canvassed in a review of Patricia Weerakoon’s book Teen Sex by the Book. Four new books on sex and marriage are reviewed by Cailey Raffel—and there are other interesting bits in this issue as well.
For a complete change, Tony Nichols reflects on his second visit to China after 50 years and observes significant changes both in the country and the church.

Dale Appleby is the
rector of Christ the King Willetton in the Diocese of Perth, and the new editor of Essentials

Haydn Sennitt shares experience and insights for ministry with those with same-sex attraction.

In today’s modern, liberal, western cultures, what is the num­ber one issue dominating public discussion? Is it climate change, whaling, North Korea, or penal substitutionary atonement? While all those issues are important to differing degrees, par­ticularly the latter, none at the moment are as important as homosexuality. Discussions about it are occurring with gay abandon and show no sign of abating. Gay and ‘straight’, Chris­tian and non-Christian, young and old, liberal and conservative all have gay relationships on their radar. Its influence is occur­ring beyond western borders: South Korea is now considering proposed laws that ban discrimination against gays and re­cently the first Zulu same-sex wedding occurred. And although previously it was liberal churches that had embraced pro-gay theology, now other denominations are either embracing it or silencing God’s word on homosexuality, including evangelicals. Prominent American preacher Rob Bell recently announced, ‘I am for love, whether it’s [between] a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man… This is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.1 Emerging church pioneer Brian McLaren last year married his son in a same-sex marriage ceremony. This is raising many challenging issues regarding evangelism, church life, and the future of Christian witness.