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Attending to the National Soul

This volume continues the story begun with The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740–1914 in 2018. This two-volume blockbuster is the consummation of 35 years of research and writing by the authors as well as incorporating work by many other scholars who are acknowledged within. 

As Stuart Piggin quipped at the launch on 12 Dec 2019 at St Stephen’s Uniting Church Macquarie Street, this volume is vasta mole superbus (“proud in its prodigious bulk,” as Dr Johnson said of his Dictionary) at 656 pages. Again, thankfully, the footnotes are at the foot of the page, there is a bibliography of forty pages and a two-column index of 47 pages.  It is also a very attractive volume and a credit to authors and publisher.  The jacket illustration is even more evocative than the Parramatta Memorial Drinking Fountain on the volume 1 cover.  There are many arresting phrases (e.g., Anglican proponents of the ordination of women had something in common with Lindy Chamberlain, they were both “condemned hysterically, unreasonably and with allusion to witches”).  This reviewer said of volume 1 that this is “an epic achievement which deserves to reorient Australian history-writing in several important respects”.  Volume 2 confirms his opinion.

Volume 1 was set up by a stunning Prologue, a tour de force concerning first fleet naval officer and astronomer, William Dawes and his relations with the Aborigines.  The Prologue to this volume did not disappoint, featuring Mary Bennett (1881-1961), missionary and a determined advocate of Aboriginal rights.  Both prologues set the scene for a work which throughout takes seriously relations between Aborigines and later settlers and gives a continuing and balanced account of the importance of Christianity to the Indigenous peoples.

Volume 1 ends with evangelicals helping in “creating one of the most ‘Christianised’ nations on earth in terms of values” (p. 39).  The introduction to volume 2 reiterates this but goes further in asserting that Australia is “still one of the most ‘Christianised’ of nations”. (p. 15).  The themes of the book are, first, how evangelicals worked out how to be dual citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and of the Commonwealth of Australia, secondly, how evangelicals manifested their aptitude for desecularisation in a rapidly secularising world, and thirdly, how evangelicals have sensitised the Australian conscience and informed the Australian consciousness (i.e., “the National Soul” of the title).

The structure of the book works well.  Part A, “Faith under Fire” has two chapters on WW1, three on the 1920s and depression, and two on WW2.  Part A is underpinned by Bob Linder’s splendid research.  Part B, “Faith and the Secular Challenge” has three chapters on 1946-65 and two of each of 1965-79, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 21st century. This means that some chapters deal with issues internal to evangelicals and their denominations (such as theological and political conflict) and some with their attempts to influence the broader society (such evangelism, social work and political influence).

The authors obviously accept the truism that you can’t say everything, so generalise quite a lot but took Paul Hasluck’s advice and sank “shafts” to achieve depth.  Their two shafts were the evangelical experience of war (Linder’s métier) and Sydney evangelical Anglicans (for whom Piggin is something of a bête noir).  The account of the charismatic and Pentecostal movement within evangelicalism from the 1960s comes to form almost a third shaft. 

Other sorts of evangelicals are treated much more selectively and episodically, especially in Part B, where Sydney Anglicans shape the whole narrative, for good or ill.  With the Baptists, we get perspectives from WA, Victoria and NSW in different time periods, with little lateral connection.  Well, maybe it’s their polity that’s the problem.  The Congregationalists appear from time to time, but their swing from solidly evangelical to predominantly liberal from the 1880s to 1920s is left unexamined (despite a helpful article on the subject by Geoff Barnes in Church Heritage in March 1997).  The Methodists get better treatment, especially those in NSW and SA.  The Lutherans feature little at all. There is nothing on the Brethren in northern Tasmania. The Presbyterians also appear in a fragmented way, but feature strongly in sections about doctrinal dispute (e.g. Samuel Angus) and the ordination of women.  A personal beef is the continued ignoring of Scottish evangelical entrepreneur Andrew Stewart who recruited about 90 evangelical home missionaries and ministers for the Presbyterian Church of Queensland from 1900 to 1938. His recruit George Tulloch features, but not Hugh Paton.  Actually, Queensland is somewhat neglected in general.  (Even WA does better.) However, Stewart’s son-in-law Alfred Coombe is featured, but then he was active in Victoria.

A number of individuals come in for special treatment, or are used to illuminate the themes, not all of them evangelicals.  R.M. Williams is a surprise: he is used as a lens through which to observe the outback.  (Some might consider Bert Facey for a similar but urban purpose.) Robert Menzies, John Curtin and Joh Bjelke-Petersen are more understandable.  The main evangelical “stars” are Alan Walker, Billy Graham, Donald Mackay, the Chamberlains, General Eva Burrows, Tim and Peter Costello, Peter and Phillip  Jensen and Margaret Court.  Not to mention Arthur Stace, the “Eternity” man.

The authors explain what they call the trifurcation of Australian evangelicals (p. 503), gradually from the 1970s and clearly so from the 1990s.  The three branches are (1) exclusive conservatives (e.g., the Jensen brothers), (2) inclusive progressives (e.g., Tim Costello) and (3) charismatics/Pentecostals (e.g. Brian Houston).  They have unfortunately spent quite a bit of energy on fighting each other but the authors think they are learning to cooperate better.

The authors identify dangers of intolerance, defensiveness, narrowness and shallowness in contemporary evangelicalism, especially in “Fortress Sydney Anglican”.  Another point which hit home concerns the decline in theological literacy partly because hymns (previously often written by ministers and covering all aspects of belief and practice) have been replaced by short-lived, repetitive praise written by musicians. The new “generic evangelical church plan” (associated with both Pentecostalism and Phillip Jensen) is based on being Jesus-centred, Bible-based and imaginatively led.  In practice, they can turn out to be narrow in focus, shallow in worship and both congregationalist and authoritarian in polity.

There are about eight pages on the UCA, starting with the union as a response to secularisation, then dealing with the growth of “ethnic” congregations (predominantly evangelical) and featuring two sections on the homosexuality issue. The authors clearly recognise that very many, if not most of, the rank and file have been evangelical and argue that intolerant and politically-savvy liberals took political control and foisted their agenda on a reluctant laity.  They conclude that the UCA’s “liberal leaders … dumped the Bible in order to be relevant to the culture.” They were not rewarded by the culture but, instead, caused “cataclysmic losses”, as theirs was “not a gospel which could sustain a Christian denomination” (pp 553-4). There is much to cheer in volume 2 but not here, sadly.

Malcolm Prentis retired as Professor of History at ACU in 2014, edited the NSW & ACT Synod history journal Church Heritage for 26 years and maintains an active scholarly life along with a burgeoning grand-parenting role.


Total Truth: A review

Is religion only a private matter, or does God belong in the public arena?

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, in examining this question, follows in the line of, and further develops, Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live and Charles Colson’s How Now Shall We Live, both of which would be known to many readers.

Subtitled Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Total Truth presents a readable and insightful challenge to evangelical Christians to understand all of society and life through a Christian (biblical) worldview rather than a secular one Christians have adopted. That secular worldview is limited to our culture and binds Christians, who restrict their faith to only the private sphere, leaving it at Church each Sunday.

As our worldview governs our thinking, Pearcey encourages readers to develop and apply a biblical worldview to all of life, arguing that this gives us “a biblically informed perspective on all reality,” – a Total Truth – which enables us to see things more clearly and which we can take into our daily life and the world in which we live, i.e., the public sphere. In this way, Christianity is able to challenge, redeem and renew culture. 

Total Truth comprises 4 parts.

Part 1 explains how to build a Christian worldview by starting at the beginning – in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – and the Bible’s teaching that God is the only source of the whole created order, and seeing all of history through Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

From here Part 2 examines Creation and science;

Part 3 the decline of Christian thought over the ages;

and Part 4 how to apply a Christian worldview, and integrate our faith, in all of life and daily living under the Lordship of Christ.

Pearcey shows what this Total Truth means for areas of family, business, public policy, education, arts, science, music, law, politics and Christian involvement in society. She “walk(s) you through practical, workable steps for crafting a Christian worldview in your own life and work” and applying it “to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and ideologies we encounter in a postmodern world. The purpose …. is nothing less than to liberate Christianity from its cultural captivity, unleashing its power to transform the world.”

She believes:

“The most effective work …. is done by ordinary Christians fulfilling God’s calling to reform culture within their local spheres of influence – their families, churches, schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, …. and civic institutions.”

Although written in 2004, Total Truth is a book highly relevant today. The foundation and explanations laid down by Pearcey are most helpful for Christians  in the present day in understanding that God belongs in the public arena and   in their responding to the push to exclude the Christian faith from the public square.

There is also a study guide edition to Total Truth available – which would be a practical way of reading the book and understanding its message.

Owen Davis is an active ACC member in South Australia.

The Bible in Australia

by Meredith Lake, Newsouth Publishing, 2018 (pp 439) 

A short explanation of what this book is about is found in the subtitle - A Cultural History.

This book provides a picture of how the bible’s influence and impact has connected with Australian history and culture. It considers how the bible has been used and misused, and perhaps ‘not used’, in the context of the foundation and development of modern Australia. Meredith Lake has created a rare offering - a readable scholarly academic work. There are four parts:

Colonial Foundations

The opening section considers the arrival of the bible in 1788 and initial interactions in the convict era, and the overall immigrant context as the nation develops. Woven throughout the first part and indeed through the whole book are stories, and examples of connection related to Aboriginal and Islander people, especially in relation to translation and hearing the word in their own tongue, and the wider questions about indigenous theology and relationships.

The Great Age of the Bible

This part provides an excellent overview of the incredible stories of missionary endeavour and promulgation of the bible and the beginnings of the consideration of different ways of viewing the bible, its authority and status.

Bible and Nation

The third part looks at the place of the church (and bible) in Australia in the context of a consolidated Australia that was finding its own identity. A revealing chapter is the chapter on WWI and its aftermath. As it has been revealed during these WWI centenary years, the impact of this era has often been underestimated.

The final part A Secular Australia? Explores the place of the bible in the new era, looking at the changes in society and the impact of change on the church and the place of the bible. I noted quotes from people who would be known to ACC readers, including Deane Meatheringham in reference to his conversion at the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade. In this 60th year anniversary of the Crusade, it is illuminating to reflect on the differences in Australia in terms of our cultural history.

The chapter ‘The Bible in the new millennium’ vividly highlights the pace of change, especially in the context of SRE (and certainly the fact that this is now the sole area of contact with the bible for a large group of Australians), and the impact of new technology and how this relates to reading and understanding the bible.

Having highlighted this book’s accessibility and wide-ranging material, I am still going to suggest that an abridged version is needed (not the twitter form), but more an adult pocket version that summarises and yet continues the main themes and ideas. I note that Meredith produced a version of this in 2016, aimed at students and prepared for The Bible Society - The Bible Down Under.

I found the last few pages especially fascinating and helpful as they raise the context for a wider discussion. These pages form a very interesting conclusion in the context of ethics and decision-making. It is a question I have long been asking - how do people make decisions today when for many there is no association with a book like The Bible?

The conclusion takes one back to earlier discussions and ongoing themes in the book about the cultural impact of the church and its role in providing for the common good in society. This enables one to understand, consider and discuss in hopefully a helpful way the continuing role of the bible today.

Peter Bentley

The Way Back

How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back (pp 251) 

by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbours. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honourable behaviour, and they will give honour to God when he judges the world. 1 Peter 2:12 (NLT)

First, I need to highlight that this is a book that looks at how the church and Christians relate to society and not the issues and nature facing the church internally. The context is evangelical faith in the USA, so the context for the reflection is how that evangelical community essentially blew it by becoming too associated with politics and the culture wars. It is not an apologia for liberal Christianity and a call to adopt the culture of the day. It is a simple challenge for Christians to become more the people of ‘the way’.

The two authors have both been involved in a wider media and communication ministry and network and are well placed to report on the perceptions of society and change in how Christians and the church are viewed and provide pointed reflections on where we are and what to do.

Phil Cooke will be known to a number of readers as he has spoken in Australia and was a lead interviewee on the Andrew Denton documentary God on Our Side (this looked at evangelicals and their support for George W Bush in the context of the US National Religious Broadcasters Convention in 2006). Phil’s blog (search philcooke.com) provides short reflections and practical examples and ideas to encourage people to re-think their way of doing things.

Of greatest help though in this book is the focus on our personal Christian lives and a call to renew our Christian walk. As we become more people of the way our hope is that people will see the way themselves.

Peter Bentley


Snowy Summer: Book Review

What would a novel by a Christian sexologist be like? How many sex scenes would there be and how would they be described? 

I had read Patricia Weerakoon's previous novel, Empire’s Children, and enjoyed it as a gentle romance between a wealthy British plantation owner and the daughter of the tea-maker. It was set in Sri Lanka, the country of the author’s birth and in a tea plantation much like her own father’s. 

Snowy Summer reflects much more of Australia, the country that is now her home, and is strengthened by a more complex plot with more suspense. Patricia has crafted a story about Annie, a young Australian girl who had emigrated from Sri Lanka. Annie is engaged to a Sri Lankan man that she and her family expect her to marry. Within the first chapter, doubts are cast over this marriage and the story moves swiftly to include much unravelling of secrets and exploration of the main characters’ lives. The setting is mainly around Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains, which is accurately and charmingly described, due to her frequent visits there and her husband’s passion for bushwalking in the national park. Her detailed research into both the landscape and the communities give the story an authenticity which even Snowy locals may find difficult to fault.

The wholesome romance – without lurid or unnecessary sexual descriptions – delighted me and it had enough twists to make the ending less predictable than Empire’s Children. The intrigue gradually unfolded and kept my interest to the last page. It is not an overtly Christian novel, but has some positive references to church and Christian radio and Annie’s commitment to reserve sexual intimacy for marriage is respected.

Patricia is more well-known in academic and Christian circles as a woman who has researched, published and continues to present on many aspects of sexuality, including 23 years as lecturer at the University of Sydney. She is not afraid to speak frankly and yet beautifully about God’s gift to married couples, and to address many of the pressures facing children and young people in today’s sex-obsessed world. She has written books for several age groups and a recent resource for parents Birds and the Bees by the Book was reviewed by Lisa Yew in the March 2018 ACCatalyst.

If you are looking for a wholesome romance/mystery novel that would suit teenage to mature-age readers, I recommend Snowy Summer.

Anne Weeks is a secretary of the NSW ACC Movement and is married to Rev. Ian Weeks, minister at Belrose UC.

Birds and Bees: Having the ‘talk’ today.

Having 'the Talk' Today

Birds and the Bees by the Book 

reviewed by Lisa Yew

"Where did I come from?" It's the question that makes parents and carers to squirm, but these days it seems so much more complicated. Questions that children may or may not be asking out loud still need clear answers. Is it ok to look like me? Why do two men want to marry each other? Am I really a girl? Why do those pictures make me feel so good? How do we teach our children to think biblically about sex and sexuality in our current world? And how do we do it without needing an industrial plunger to remove our foot from our mouth?

Patricia Weerakoon's picture book set Birds and Bees by the Book, illustrated by Lisa Flanagan is a great tool for introducing these and other issues around sex. Consisting of six books, the set looks at different kinds of families, the body, the brain, gender, sex and pornography in an age-appropriate, biblical, and straightforward way.

Each book is underpinned with a relevant truth from the Bible. They look at how the first family was made, that God wonderfully made our bodies and brains, and sex as a part of a marriage relationship. This focus teaches children to approach sexuality as a positive thing created by God.

The books explore the good aspects, and the potential pitfalls of each topic. From recognising that many families differ from nuclear families, to avoiding images that are unhealthy for your brain, to valuing bodies that don't conform to media images, to rejecting inappropriate touch, these books are filled with good safeguards that are relevant for today.

It sensitively broaches current issues around sexuality. In previous generations, people didn't talk about transgender or homosexuality, especially not to children, and there was little chance of viewing pornography. Today, this is not so. Birds and Bees by the Book appropriately defines what these are, but importantly also what they are not. Gender is not about stereotypical behaviours, and the friendship love you feel doesn't define your sexual orientation. Thus, confusion around what to think and how to behave in light of todays issues is minimised.

Godly attitudes and behaviours are encouraged, especially that of loving different kinds of people. There is a strong warning not to bully, and to report any bullying of anyone. Instead, children are encouraged to be kind to boys who look or behave like girls and vice versa, or to people with different sexual orientations. Just as Jesus loved all kinds of people, the books encourage children to follow his example.

Children everywhere can benefit from this excellent resource. The style of the writing is concise and factual and concepts are introduced simply and clearly. The pictures show children and families from a range of ethnic backgrounds in action and having fun. Rather than being clinical, the pictures support the writing in the style of picture story books. These books are invaluable for seven to ten-year olds, as a fantastic starting point for that awkward conversation parents dread.

Parents and carers need no longer fear talking about the birds and the bees. Even though the topic has become more complicated in recent years, we can springboard from the Birds and Bees by the Book set and begin the conversation with our children. We can flesh out the issues with our own anecdotes and examples, and be a clear light that helps children navigate through our hyper-sexualised culture. So, there are no more excuses to put off having 'the talk,' Birds and Bees by the Book equips you to have the talk today.

Lisa Yew is married to Manfred Yew, the Assistant Pastor at Belrose Uniting Church, NSW and mother of four young daughters.

Note: The accompanying web site has support information: http://birdsandbeesbooks.com/


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.


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.



Review of Stealing from a Child

A strong recommendation to thinking friends.

After much thought, I agree with the author of the book shown here that if Same-Sex Marriage is made law, our culture will change radically in ways of which the average person is unaware.  I admire Penny Wong as a thoughtful and socially responsible politician, but her remark that SSM will effect a small change without any dire social consequences is, on all the evidence available, naïve in the extreme. 

I fear that many good people, accepting such reassurances at face value, are sleeping through an escalating culture war.  Dr van Gend’s analysis, by contrast, convincingly argues that in statistical terms, SSM will have serious flow-on effects, especially for children.

Dr van Gend is a qualified and experienced medical practitioner in Queensland.  For some years he has been President of the Australian Marriage Forum.   Having recently heard Dr van Gend speak at a launch of this book,   I believe him to be a genuine and competent researcher, not given to wild generalisations.

Further, having marked many academic theses in my time, and after careful reading of this book, I judge the book to be a solid analysis of evidence-based research.   It does not rely on particular religious beliefs to prove its case.  Rather, it documents many statistically secure findings from social and psychological sources.

In later chapters of the book, he also reviews the Safe Schools program, which has been widely publicised as an “anti-bullying program.”  The evidence he presents is again very strong.  Safe Schools is shown to be a deliberate and ideologically driven attempt to promote an agenda of gay sex education in schools, by-passing parental consent if necessary.  It aims to encourage all children from the earliest school years to consider their own gender perceptions fluid, and to engage in sexual experimentation.   On ethical grounds, I rate this as indoctrination, not education.

Incidentally, for a clearer idea of what will happen to parents if the Safe Schools program is made compulsory, view the testimony of a parent who, after she’d read the Safe Schools materials, withdrew her children from Frankston High School in Victoria, after having been refused her right to have the children opt out from this material because it was across the curriculum subjects.  It is a rivetting 9 minutes and can be viewed here.  

At $30, the book deserves wide dissemination, and I gather that copies can be ordered at Connor Court.  

Professor Brian Hill, 12/10/2016

‘Same Sex’ Marriage Debate - Anglican Report

A Review of Human Sexuality and the ‘Same Sex Marriage’ Debate, compiled for the Sydney Diocesan Commission, edited by Mark D. Thompson, published by Anglican Press Australia, March 2015 (Rrp $16.95)

This short book offers a readable approach to a difficult topic in a language and style that is accessible to the not so theologically trained. The five chapters are divided into bite-sized sub-sections, beginning with ‘Where are we?’ and ‘How did we get here?’ These leading questions set the scene for the first chapter: ‘Human Sexuality in Contemporary Context’. The four remaining chapters cover the topics of ‘How can we begin to apply the Bible’s teaching to today’s context and questions?’, ‘What does the Bible actually say about marriage and human sexuality and so about homosexual practice?’, ‘How do we speak about the Bible’s teaching in such a highly charged public debate?’ and ‘How do we care for those who experience same-sex attraction’. Chapter Three includes a postscript for those who are not married.

As might be expected from the Sydney Anglican Diocese, the book argues from the framework of orthodox Christianity rather than present-day attitudes in our church communities as seems to be the tenor of the current Uniting Church enquiry. To my mind, this Anglican publication is closer to the spirit of the Basis of Union § 11 in terms of ‘literary, historical and scientific enquiry’, ecumenical engagement and the kind of ‘fresh words and deeds’ which may now be expected of those who act ‘trustingly, in obedience to, God’s living Word’. The last chapter exhorts Christians to offer compassion to those who experience same-sex attraction and to demonstrate courage in the face of likely incremental persecution.

I found the first chapter the most useful in telling me what I didn’t know already. It offers dates and details in a history, commencing in 1966, of long-term activism by the ‘gay rights movement’. This process includes persuading the American Psychological Association that homosexuality should be removed from the list of psychological disorders, causing some debate about whether paedophilia should also be removed from the list. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (2013) is reported to list ‘paraphilias’ as disorders in cases ‘whose satisfaction has entailed personal harm, or risk of harm, to others’.[1]

The book is a compilation by eight authors. The preface disclaims the attempt to remove slight differences of emphasis between the chapters and admits that much more could be said and done in the area. For me key topics for further exploration would be:

  • the possibility of homosexual disorder in relation to the current search for identity
  • use of language by the ‘gay rights movement’, e.g. ‘homophobia’ and ‘equality’ [2]
  • the gendered and non-gendered imago Dei[3]
  • the rationale for ‘gay rights’ and emphases of the feminist movement[4]

I would class this publication as recommended reading for those inside and outside ACC, and the first chapter in particular for decision-makers e.g. Federal Parliamentarians.

Katherine Abetz (BA, DTheol, Dip. Nursing, and ACC Member in Tasmania and member of the Northern Cluster)


[1] See pp. 22-25 and especially footnote 25.

[2] Human Sexuality and the ‘Same Sex Marriage Debate states that ‘Wainwright Churchill of Homosexual Behaviour Among Males (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967) … introduced the term ‘homoerotophobia’, a likely precursor to the term ‘homophobia’. Last time I checked Wikipedia, it stated: ‘Homophobia has never been listed as part of a clinical taxonomy of phobias’. Unlike ‘marriage equality’ which means the definition of marriage has to change, an equal right to vote doesn’t mean the definition of voting has to change.

[3] Compare ‘it is only with the woman that the man can be God’s image and it is only with the man that the woman can be God’s image’ in Chapter Three with Chapter Five: ‘God has created every human being – those struggling with same-sex attraction and those in the LGBTI community no less than any other – in his image’.

[4] Broadly speaking, I would say that feminism has moved from an emphasis on equality and, for this purpose, unisex to an emphasis on identity and embodiment as a woman. The ‘gay rights’ agenda seems to try to combine equality and identity.

Forgetting How to Blush

Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism's Compromise with the Sexual Revolution 

(Bristol House, Fort Valley GA, 2012)

Karen Booth's book is a fascinating account of a major US denomination's journey in tandem with the sexual revolution within the wider society. The title is excellent and one that we could well use in parts of our society as well. It comes from Jeremiah (in several references but one will suffice: Jeremiah 6: 15 "Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD."
Karen is presently the director of Transforming Congregations, an organisation that aims to "help train and empower local church leaders so they can reach out with faithfulness and compassion to the sexually confused, broken and sinful in their midst." , based on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7: "Equipping the Church to model and minister sanctified sexuality."
Transforming Congregations is now an official Program of Good News, the largest and oldest renewal and reform ministry within the United Methodist Church (UMC).
This is a very helpful and detailed book as church events are related to the influence of societal and educational changes, especially through certain key leaders such as the now quite discredited so called sex ‘researcher' Kinsey. It was also illuminating to learn that for the UMC, one church figure in particular was clearly very influential - Rev. Dr Ted Mcllvenna, who has become a celebrated gay rights figure (though not homosexual himself). I even found an article on him entitled The Porn-Again Minister highlighting his extensive collection of pornography and involvement in liberal sexual education movements. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4710272/The-porn-again-minister.html).
The book follows the major studies and programmes initiated by the UMC and shows how the liberal direction was started and developed. It provides helpful background to a denomination not dissimilar to the Uniting Church, though more complex due to its size and number of ministers, specialised ministries and range of congregations. There are simply many more people able to be involved in liberal and sexual experimentation and to press for change. It was sobering to read a more detailed analysis of the protests by various liberal groups and their supporters that have been conducted at the four yearly General Methodist Conferences since the early 1970s. UCA members would probably be amazed to learn about these quite strident protests about the UMC position on sexual practice for Christians, and the general lack of respect for the operation and arrangements of the Conference. Despite the protests, the General Conference of the UMC has continually affirmed a normative Christian sexual ethic, though this seems to engage libertarian activism among some UMC ministers and members even more, and as the website Juicy Ecumenism has pointed out, even over the last 12 months there have been a variety of practices and activities within the liberal leaning lobby organisations that need to be highlighted so people can be aware of the extent of the issues involved.(see: http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/10/04/19488/)
There is an important section at the end in the context of ‘remembering how to blush' that discusses the issues associated with the idea of the ‘third way' that I found very insightful. There is promoted in some quarters the idea that a third way will be found that will allow everyone to live in harmony and peace (my paraphrasing). This is a difficult area for all of us in the institutional church. I can appreciate the ideal of this if the person is sincere and genuinely though perhaps naively wanting to maintain denominational unity, but for those of us who have seen this debate over too many years in the wider church, you would understand that the third way often simply means that those who hold traditional and biblical understandings of sexual practice are helped to compromise even further by ‘well-meaning' liberals who are simply manipulating the arrangements to suit their own desired outcomes. I think Rod James's discussion of the two ways in relation to the UCA is illuminative of the issues here: Why' Gay Marriage' is not good for Australia (ACCatalyst September 2013).
Rod outlines that the slant road the UCA is on simply contains an increasing number of bridges to be crossed. The present dominant group wants to imply once you cross this bridge it will be all be okay again, but across the bridge there is another bridge. The narrow way has been far removed and the broad way with many bridges waits.
Other helpful features in the book are a timeline of events and developments; outlines of various organisations and detailed appendices. Though there is a tremendous amount of information, I found this book to be quite a pastoral journey as well, as it interweaves Karen's own story and her pastor's heart, with that of people called Methodist and the call to be holy among the broken and deluded world.
Peter Bentley
National Director of the ACC