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Culture Connections

Welcome to Culture Connections

eternity_signsac_fountain_400_01This ACC web section is devoted to reflections and opinion pieces on culture in contemporary society, especially about Australia and Australian churches. The three main areas will be Contemporary Issues; Film; Books and Publications.

Peter Bentley provides regular articles for the primary benefit of the ACC Community, but if you would like to reproduce the articles in your own church or community publication (especially in an edited form), please contact Peter at the ACC office for further information.

If you have ideas for articles please contact Peter to discuss these ideas and contributions.

The photo is the main permanent memorial to Arthur Stace and his writing of the word Eternity. It is located in the St Andrew's Cathedral Town Hall Arcade (now inside Cascade Coffee Shop, near Town Hall Station).

ACC member congregations can reproduce ACC resource material in this section for their own church newsletter, provided proper acknowledgement is provided to the author. For Peter Sellick please acknowledge: Peter Sellick from On Line Opinion Column.

Battle of the Sexes - updated for the 21st century

Battle of the Sexes (2017, PG)

I thought it would be helpful to provide a comment on this film, though I caution potential viewers as there is active portrayal of (same) sex practice. It is a sign of the times that this film received a PG rating. For those who are unfamiliar, it is mainly a dramatic re-telling of the off-court competition between tennis champions Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (a No. 1 player in the 1940s) and then their actual match.  I was interested in this film because of the Margaret Court connection. Australian actress Jessica McNamee plays Margaret Court. The most intriguing aspect is the secondary story that involves Margaret Court, as she played the first ‘battle of the sexes’, the match in May 1973 that Bobby Riggs won 6-2, 6-1. Margaret continues as a character, but is primarily a foil for Billie Jean King.

Riggs continually taunted Billie Jean King with the idea of a major telecast deal, and a match was eventually arranged and held in September 1973. It was telecast with an estimated audience of 90 million, a very large number for the day. Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs and Emma Stone as Billie Jean are simply amazing in their roles.

The film is certainly well made and a fascinating biopic of the 1970s and male and female dynamics and relationships, but the obvious, though not unexpected aspect is that it is also a promotional film for same-sex relationships, and thus a revisionist interpretation that essentially mocks people in the era for being so narrow-minded. This is nowhere more evident in that the actual role Margaret Court is assigned in the film is that of ‘lesbian spotter’, and her prime target depicted is Billie Jean King. Battle of the Sexes is certainly a topical film given that Billie Jean King weighed in on the Margaret Court controversy over Margaret’s comments on same-sex marriage this year.

Peter Bentley is the ACC’s National Director

A New Era of Viewing

Many Australians have now embraced the new viewing era with comprehension. Gone are the days when most of Australia tuned in at a certain time to watch a certain program and then would discuss, critique or bemoan the program the next day.

Now with all TV stations offering catch-up service (streaming), even the 6 pm or 7 pm nightly news is on the way to becoming a rare event for any family or couple to watch together.

Paid streaming services like Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now, allow immediate access to a wide variety of material, and increasingly are making their name with their own TV shows.

Netflix is one of the most widely used. It is likely that at least one member of your family has Netflix and now can binge-watch TV series after TV series, let alone movie after movie. One of the intriguing aspects is that like Foxtel, these new services provide a range of films –  a type of broadcast smorgasbord, with offerings for everyone. I have listed below some of the Biblical and Christian films, and films with a Christian  theme available on Netflix. The US service has many more films on offer, but at least the Australian service has made a start.

Kings’ Faith (M): a teenager leaves a gang and is cared for by Christian parents who face some difficult personal choices.

A Matter of Faith: A contemporary evolution v creation debate on a university campus.

David and Goliath: A slightly awkward telling of the traditional story.

The Ark: the building of the ark is told by BBC1.

Born to Win: the title belies the focus as a teacher’s faith is challenged in a school for special needs.

The Blind Side: A Christian family support a young African-American in his football career.

The Preacher’s Son (M): an illuminating adult look at a fictional African-American local church dynasty and their failings and past (and present) sins. An eye-opener into the combining of politics in American society and the church. The wife of the Minister has the title ‘First Lady’ in the church.

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler: the story of a Polish social worker who saved Jewish children during WWII.

Soul Surfer: The story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm in a shark attack.

Christian TV – in a new way

Many readers would be aware of the dedicated Christian TV channel, the Australian Christian Channel (Yes, another ACC). As noted above, many people now use a form of pay TV – Fetch is a common one and ACC TV is available on Fetch or Foxtel.

However, the Australian Christian Channel is now more than just a channel, as its website provides live TV and on demand/catch-up. You can also download the ACCTV App and watch when you want to on your tablet or phone, or Apple TV. For more information see: https://acc.tv/

Moving from DVD base to Digital

Heritage Films (marketing through Movies Change People) continues to provide a theatrical release arrangement for churches and groups, and a DVD based service, and has now developed digital on-demand and streaming to meet the needs of a new era. See their website: https://www.movieschangepeople.com/

During so much change in broadcasting, it is good to see Christian organisations again at the forefront of technology; just like they were at the start of the film industry in the early 20th century.

Peter Bentley

Civility no Match for Nihilism

Despite the fact that, according to the 2016 Census, only 1% of households are headed by same-sex couples, debate on 'Marriage Equality' continues to rage.

As Uniting Church bodies prepare to debate the issue at the Assembly in July 2018, they would benefit from close study of a recent book, Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church (2016). Published by an evangelical Christian publisher in the USA, it features contributions by Drs Bill Loader (Uniting Church minister) and Megan DeFranza, who support the 'affirming' view 'that consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations can be blessed by God and fully included in the life of the church,' and Drs Wesley Hill and Stephen Holmes, who support the 'traditional' view 'that all forms of same-sex sexual behaviour are prohibited by Scripture and Christian theology' (p15).

Unlike much current debate, their scholarly convictions and disagreements are firmly and respectfully argued in a spirit of deep pastoral concern and without recourse to demeaning slogans.   

Sexual Orientation

Loader, Hill and Holmes basically agree that Scripture opposes all forms of same-sex sexual intimacy, in contrast to DeFranza who argues that it mainly refers to exploitative relationships. However, where Hill and Holmes claim that prohibitions apply to behaviour resulting from a prior disposition, Loader locates them in 'sexual orientation' itself.

As a celibate man with same-sex orientation, Hill rejects this distinction on the ground that predisposition does not necessitate practice.  Indeed, his experience of same-sex attraction, commitment to celibate ministry, and support of marriage between a man and a woman is at odds with the popular view that, as a matter of justice and compassion, people with a same-sex sexual orientation must not be denied the right to find sexual intimacy in 'marriage’. His testimony should cause the church to think before making decisions which falsely assume that same-sex orientation and practice are fixed and invariably directed towards sexual union and/or same-sex 'marriage.'

The book does not explore the complex biological, psychological, personal and social causes of same-sex attraction. The contributors agree that 'sexual orientation' is a strong physiological drive that provides a deep sense of personal identity. They differ about whether same-sex (and other-sex) attracted people are right to express themselves in consensual relationships, including marriage, which involve sexual union. DeFranza and Loader regard the imposition of restraint as a denial of human rights; Hill and Holmes regard restraint as a tough virtue.

Scripture

Central to the debate is how Scripture is used. The 'affirming' writers interpret texts on sex and marriage in the light of Jesus' command to love thy neighbour, to show compassion, and to act justly.  This position enables them to modify what is said in Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19:3-12; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 7:1ff; 11:1ff; Ephesians 5:21-33 etc. in order to correspond more closely to contemporary views about equality, companionship, sexual diversity, and divorce. By separating love from law, however, they misrepresent 'traditionalists' as being tacit accomplices of the legalists who opposed Jesus and Paul (p66).

Strangely, neither side focuses on the Biblical-theological significance of the body, an approach that would have opened up fruitful discussion about the ethical implications of docetic and Gnostic understandings of sexuality, both ancient and modern.

St. Augustine: 'On the Goods of Marriage'

With the help of Augustine's seminal work, the Christological and present significance of marriage is discussed at length. According to him, the three goods of marriage are: Procreation, Fidelity and Sacrament. That is to say, 'Marriage is a bond of male and female, ordered to procreation, sealed in faithful union, and signifying Christ's love for the church. (p131).

The different emphases in the Old and New Testaments on procreation are acknowledged by all. But the implications are debated, particularly in relation to the marriage of infertile or elderly couples. Loader and DeFranza argue that this position creates space for same-sex couples who cannot bear children. Holmes and Hill argue that such marriages still model the only form of complementarity that is open to procreation.

All agree that fidelity and companionship are vital aspects of marriage and deep same-sex friendships. But they strongly disagree about whether genital intimacy is appropriate to same-sex relationships and, thus, to same-sex unions in marriage.

There is also basic agreement about the place of marriage as a sacramental sign of God's love for Israel and the church.  What is at issue, and is a major point of contention among Christians, is whether the Biblical metaphor of husband-wife / male-female can be used exclusively of marriage in a post-patriarchal, egalitarian Western society.  Might not the otherness that exists between same-sex couples also serve as a metaphor for the Otherness of God who unites Godself to the church?

Gender complementarity

The issue here is what counts as gender complementarity.  In this context, Ephesians 5:21-33 is pivotal.  Fearing that this is another attempt to smuggle in male superiority, DeFranza argues that all of us, in different ways, exhibit 'male' and 'female' attributes. Therefore, because the marriage metaphor that runs throughout Scripture expresses a past cultural form which no longer applies, it must be replaced by a more egalitarian form of otherness. Implicitly, for her and Loader, the otherness of male and female bodies and their function in procreation, become 'a', not 'the' defining, metaphor of God's union with us.  When applied to sexual relations within marriage, the psychological, affective and companionable aspects of otherness are held to be paramount. 

Although the mystery of male-female otherness isn’t easy to characterise, attention should have been paid to the incompatibility between the Judeo-Christian concept of persons, as male-and-female, and the androgynous concept which is individualistic.

None of the contributors considers the possibility that, rather than promote equality between the genders, 'same-sex marriage' devalues both genders. Widely regarded as necessary for the public good in business, politics, education etc., it is ironic, if not hypocritical, to argue that gender complementarity is not necessary in this most basic social unit.

Pastoral Care

A major strength of the book is its pastoral concern for same-sex attracted Christians. Contributors agree that the starting point for discussing sexuality is to acknowledge that the church is a community of sinners whose desires are less than perfect and who seek to be loving, compassionate and just. 

But they disagree about what this view means for accepting monogamous same-sex sexual relationships as marriages. Loader and DeFranza believe that love and justice demand their acceptance; Holmes and Hill believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that space must be made for recognition of spiritual, non-sexualised friendships.

What is not acknowledged by any of the writers is that unwanted same-sex attraction may, with great difficulty, patience and pastoral sensitivity, be reoriented towards other-sex relationships. The effect of this omission, which is typical of mainstream discussion, is to erase from public memory the experience of large numbers of same-sex attracted people. 

Nothing on Nihilism

The major defect of the volume is also its strength - Pastoral Civility.   Ecclesial politeness hides the fact that the cause of a small group is so prominent in the public mind due to the persistence, misrepresentation, aggression, and media savvy of its most vocal advocates.  

The contributors do not confront the nihilistic alternative to the Christian doctrine of humanity that underpins demands for change. While Holmes and Hill see the need to uphold the ‘tradition’, they are silent about the dire social and ecclesial consequences of failing to do so. On the other hand, DeFranza and Loader, while disagreeing with each other on the status of Biblical norms, undermine the tradition by 'affirming' forms of love, equality and human rights that are at odds with the goodness and splendour of marriage attested throughout Scripture.

Unfortunately, all authors fail to discuss the ramifications of changes to marriage law. If, in order to satisfy the desires of no more than 1% of households, marriage is to be defined by the State as the life-long consensual union of two persons regardless of sex, the church will be discouraged from teaching that humanity's God-given glory is uniquely embodied in our male-female complementarity, and forbidden from shaping her educational, hospital and welfare agencies accordingly.

Rev. Dr Max Champion is the Convenor of the ACC Theology and Ecumenical Relationships Commission.

This review is published in the September 2017 edition of ACCatalyst in Max's Column Pseudo Maximus.

 

 

Tired and Trying Christians

Facing today’s Pressures

Amid the positive happenings and stories of our time about the church becoming more technology-savvy and contemporary, the Christian Research Association reports on church attendance projections. These projections show that from 2006 to 2026 all Christian denominations, with the exception of a few, will decline in numbers. Dr Hughes has said that over the past two decades churches have struggled to accommodate changes in society by trying to provide diverse forms of worship. Many Christian ministers and lay-people today are trying to faithfully serve in stressful situations.

As institutions decline or diversify, as finances and resources are reduced, as complexity and regulation increases, the structures and patterns that supported ministry in the past increasingly become liabilities that drain energy and stifle initiative. As a result those involved with the ministry of the church can become very tired, weary, depressed, even frantic, sweating it out every Sunday to keep “the show on the road.”

Some time ago Major Ian Thomas pointed out that as the church has learned to appropriate the death of Christ as redeemer, so it needs to appropriate the life of the risen Christ that empowers action.

Facing Bankruptcy

Major Thomas recalled his own experience of being worn out, tired and discouraged. “When I decided to quit I thought God would be disappointed---in fact I found out He was overjoyed.” For Thomas it was a matter of rediscovering that God moves into our bankruptcy to make perfect His strength in our weakness. The rediscovery changed his life and ministry and he points out that it is not until we have jettisoned the last vestige of self-confidence, the sinfulness of what we are, our own inherent destitution, that we see the significance of Christ’s resurrection.

Encountering a Living Christ.

Instead of Easter Sunday being an academic exercise when we acknowledge the redemptive significance of the cross that pronounces our requital, (eg what Jesus did) we need to appropriate Jesus is now, that He is alive. “While what Jesus did because of what we have done is important, we need to see that what He is, is to take that place of what we are. That is the Gospel designed to restore us to our own humanity.”

Seeking More.

“God cannot give us more than He has given us. When Christ comes to live in us, when we are restored to God by acknowledging Jesus death was for us and the Holy Spirit comes to indwell your human personality with the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, God gives us all He can afford. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When God gives us Christ, He gives you and me, with Him, embraced by Him, all things. There is not one single person who is converted who does not have dwelling within their humanity all the illimitable resources of deity but the tragedy is that we can sit on it and never know it is there.”

The Big Picture.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are what Christ has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” “Jesus did not come to do his best for God, to do his best to redeem humanity some how. Every step he took, he took triumphantly, every word he spoke, thing he did, every decision he made was a Divine fulfilment of a plan agreed as between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternal ages of the past. It was simply that the Father—had the yielded humanity of Jesus in which to tell the story until he could cry triumphantly, “It is Finished,” and then the Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to his the right hand. That same Lord Jesus had his own programme to fulfil through you and me and all he is waiting for is for our humanity to be yielded to him today as his humanity was yielded to his Father. The moment we become available to Jesus Christ, to be who he is in action, we are caught up into that predetermined purpose for which we were first created, we have now been redeemed and we prove what is that good, perfect acceptable will of God.”(Rom12.2)

Living the Adventure Now

Thomas jolts us into rediscovering that we need to let the baggage go, it is not a matter of propping up the past, meeting the expectations of others or trying to prove ourselves.

We share a vital relationship with a risen Lord that allows Him to indwell our personalities and from there allows Him to express Himself in terms of our daily behaviour. The Lord Jesus who died for us also rose for us, rose to share his life with us. Every day can become a huge adventure of stepping out into his timeless plan. We may well say, “Lord we don’t know who you are going to talk to today, what we are going to bump into but it’s going to be our privilege to yield my humanity so you can be in me, where you please, doing what you want, how you want to do it and any time you like.”

“Jesus died that that we might be caught up into this adventure of proving daily that good and acceptable, perfect will of God. God himself working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight, being himself the very dynamic of all his demands, the cause of his own effects, the source of his own activity and the origin in us of his own image in action.”

That is the Christian life lived in the awareness of his risen presence now.

Adapted by Rev E. A. (Ted) Curnow       Sourced from an address by Major W. Ian Thomas.

Discovering Daily

The Christian life fleshed out in the personal experience

of Bonney Haine, a forgiven person.

Discovering daily who God really is.

Discovering daily God’s love for me,

such mercy, forgiveness, amazingly free.

Discovering daily He does answer prayer.

Discovering daily what grace really means,

unmerited favour beyond all my dreams.

Discovering daily God speaking to me,

(He speaks through the Bible)

Once blind now I can see.

Discovering daily every day that I live,

that all that I need He freely will give.

Discovering daily Christ working through me,

accomplishing daily what never could be.

Discovering daily I can’t but He can,

thanking Him daily for my place in His plan.

Discovering daily how real life can be,

when living in Christ and He’s living in me.

Discovering daily a song in my heart with,

anticipation for each day to start.

Delighting and basking in love so divine,

secure in the knowledge,

that I’m His and He’s mine.

Besides mere contentment, excitement I see,

A daily adventure,

Christ alive and living in me.

Denial

Denial (2017, M)

Denial is also a film based on a book, but in this case the non-fiction work "History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier," by Deborah Lipstadt, the US historian who had to defend herself against a libel charge by David Irving for calling him a Holocaust denier when she gave a lecture in England. In English law the burden of proof is on the accused, so the defence focussed on the facts of the Holocaust and by relation, proving that Irving was a liar. It is a well-made courtroom drama, with fine performances, though Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt has very much a supporting role as the legal eagles dominate the film. Deborah Lipstadt has often been asked about ‘free speech’ and among many comments, I thought it was helpful to consider the following quote from the film.

“Now, some people are saying that the result of this trial will threaten free speech. I don't accept that. I'm not attacking free speech. On the contrary, I've been defending it against someone who wanted to abuse it. Freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want. What you can't do is lie and expect not to be held accountable for it. Not all opinions are equal. And some things happened, just like we say they do.”

Peter Bentley

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove (2015, M)

This Swedish film was recently released in Australia and has had a continuing run at some selected cinemas (I have been wondering if it may continue a run like As it is in Heaven (2004) – this ran for well over a year in Sydney, mainly by word of mouth).

I thought of briefly mentioning Ove as there is a similar and distinct philosophy about life and religion to the very popular As it is in Heven. I am sure that some people will see A Man Called Ove as a (mostly) a charming and even eirenic film, but there are some questionable aspects, notably the theme of suicide. Ove consistently tries to kill himself, but is always thwarted, usually by the interruptions of neighbours, who are perhaps ‘angels of mercy’. Overall, though the film promotes the idea that being good is the most noble way for a person to live. Ove himself, hopes that when he does die, the church will be packed, and this clearly links with the concept of the ‘good man’- people giving honour to him for what he has done.

Peter Bentley

Star Wars: 40th Anniversary

Star Wars (1977, PG)

Or as it is known now, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ….

Well, I thought it was suitable to comment on a film that was realised in the same year as the inauguration of the Uniting Church. I find it harder to believe this film is now 40 years old. It was a distinctly new and ground-breaking film, heralding in a new age of technology. Amazing special effects and it of course started a franchise and provided a toy and related-goods marketing bonanza.

There is a distinct religious and philosophical stream to Star Wars that is centred around ‘the force’, and this in many ways resonates with a popular view of religion that believes there is some higher force than ourselves out there that will provide help when we need. Other themes include people being tempted and won to the ‘dark side’, and some coming back to the ‘right side’ There is also the idea that a simple good person will eventually prevail over a nasty evil person. Music is central, just like it is in our churches. In popular culture terms, who would fail to recognise the Star Wars introduction? And perhaps befitting a focus for some on individual fantasy,  it led to people including Jedi as their religion in the Australian census (approximately 65 000 in 2011).

Peter Bentley

In the SILENCE

Silence, 2016 MA 15+ (Australian rating)

Silence is a strangely beautiful and yet alarmingly horrifying depiction of a quite savage period in Christian history. The context here is the period after the first ‘opening up’ of Japan in the middle 16th century, and then the reaction, and the desire to purify and rid Japan of foreign influences (not only Christian, but associated). Possibly thousands of Christians were martyred during this time, with one of the most well-known being the crucifixion in Nagasaki on February 5, 1597 of twenty-six Christians including six European Franciscan missionaries and three Japanese Jesuits. Persecution continued into the 1630s and the film itself is set in this later period following a major rebellion that had some Christian context, though was also related to other factors. The film itself provides an eye-opener into the never-ending methods of torture and killing that mankind develops at times when they desire revenge and destruction.

The film is based on the 1966 book by Shusaku Endo, and directed by the influential and controversial ‘actors’ director’ Martin Scorsese. Apparently, it was a nearly three-decades long personal project to bring the film to fruition. This film is oddly reminiscent at times of Terrence Malick films with the soft voice-over and lyrical filming. Like Scorsese, Malick focusses on people exploring their beliefs in extraordinary times.

Intriguingly Andrew Garfield, who played the main Christian character in Hacksaw Ridge, plays one of the Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues, who goes in search of his mentor Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson), partly to find out if there is truth to the rumour that he ‘apostatised’? The film also follows the struggles of Father Rodrigues and his companions. This is the ‘silence’ connection – even in the times that there is seemingly silence by God, God is there. As Father Rodrigues observes, “It was in the silence that I heard Your voice.”

There are certainly some theological questions raised due to the Catholic context (especially in related to confession and prayer), but these need to be considered in the strong pastoral context where the priests gave totally of themselves to serve their people. There are also incredible moments that we all hope we would never have to personally face:

What would you do in a situation where;

  • Your life will be spared if you deny your faith?
  • Others will be spared if you deny your faith?
  • You are tortured simply for having a Christian symbol in your possession?
  • You repeatedly deny Christ and yet are so burdened you repeatedly seek forgiveness?

There is another whole theme in the film about the hidden or ‘secret Christians’, and readers may be aware of this context in China after the expulsion of missionaries in 1949, in countries in the former Soviet Bloc, and in middle eastern countries today. The ‘secret Christian’ remains a theme throughout the movie right to the incredible end.

The early 17th century was a very public period of confrontation for the local Christians, and yet it was also an isolated period for Japan itself. In contrast to today, it was of course a time without social media and the broadcasting of martyrdom. This is very much an adult film, but one that I believe will lead you to think deeply about your faith. It will have a short season at the cinema, but given the length of the film, it may be best watched at home with a group. Then  you can take a break at an appropriate time, perhaps even spend some time in prayer and reflection, before preparing yourself for the final part of this quite searing and intriguing drama.

Peter Bentley is the ACC’s National Director 

The Story of Colliding Worlds

Download the paper The Story of Colliding Worlds by Rev. Ted Curnow