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Confession or Confusion?

11th July 2020

The debate about sexual practise in the Uniting Church and the decision of the 2018 National Assembly that adopted a theology of inclusiveness and polarised the church now seems a fact of distant history. This does not mean the issues of fidelity, compassion, integrity, and justice have been resolved. Local Congregations and the church universal continue to remain deeply divided.

The debate over sexuality extended over many years but this has now been overshadowed by an increasing range of complex controversial issues compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic to the point of it reshaping our way of life. The hot bed of cultural wars and rapid social change continues to immerse the church into further prolonged polarisation. As the church faces these overlays of cultural and theological differences it seems that fragmentation and challenges will inevitably reshape our priorities and the way we think and practise being church. Alongside of this rather painful onset Congregations have been propelled into utilizing creative, innovation and technologies in amazing new ways. All of this is creating the question of what will be the NEW NORMAL—Post Covid-19?

Rev Bill Crews representing something of a Christian world viewpoint to a positive approach. He has said that Christians should see this as possibly leading to a kinder society. We need to re-imagine life. We need to hold on to some elements but think more about community well-being. Having been forced to slow down, people should put their own interests aside and focus on the family etc. This would create a kinder society that cares more for people than profit.

The issue facing English Methodism and its Conference June 25-1st July 2020 this year was to be a decision about how the Church should respond to the important issue of the homosexual lifestyle and practise. An Open Letter to Methodists circulated by some says, “The challenge to reinvent ourselves as the body of Christ has become immediate and critical. And this transformation must be Christ centred, strategic, passionate, truthful and fearless.”

The letter explains that the onset of COVID-19 has postponed the important sexuality issue for a much broader, radical debate about the future mission of British Methodism and the need to prioritise justice.

It is claimed that in reflecting on the end times Jesus postulates various apocalyptical events. “The intention of Jesus prophetic words is to stimulate change and repentance, in order to bring something new to birth. They are a description of the reality of his day, and of ours, and in the midst of it all our calling to respond is to witness to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of justice which is at the heart of his message.”

There is little doubt that in Australia we are also living in times of unique crisis where some people beyond the church don’t know where to turn for help. According to Bureau of Census and Statistics figures 24,825 people in Victoria alone are homeless. Each year supportive services and alcohol and drug treatment cover 40,000 people and one in five Australians have a mental health illness or disorder.

Amid this social chaos and complexity Dr John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics and Child health has called for an inquiry into an epidemic of gender dysphoria. Some claim gender-identity is determined by one’s choice of mind while Genesis says we are born male or female and we know that over a period of time biology finally clarifies our gender.

Others in the Australian church have aligned with the political aspects of ‘Critical Theory’--- a pragmatism where truth is judged by its social effects. This is such a mixed bag that it cannot be clearly defined but it understands all relationships in terms of power dynamics. It cannot be confined to a single issue such as class, race, or gender but Christian privilege is seen as a form of oppression to be rejected. However Christian activists see it as a solution to racism or sexism and they question a biblical understanding of gender roles, identity, sexual orientation, marriage and even to the point of questioning the uniqueness of the Christian faith.

Some church activists have come to understand love, grace, mercy, and redemption in terms of a focus on power and privilege, a handy pragmatism that for them ‘puts legs on the gospel,’ on justice, freedom and inclusion. However, those grounded in sound teaching and the Bible know that these things can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Social engineering, good will and new priorities will not usher in a new humanity.

The gospel goes beyond mere social engineering and praxis. There needs to be a more holistic respect for the primacy of the inspiration of scripture and a realization that real social transformation is inseparable from personal transformation and the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’ and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Rather than social theory it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately transforms life and the human heart so that faith and action are welded together.

Today the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is forging a creative new model. It highlights the Christian gospel in terms of a message that can bring peace in the midst of the storms in life but also practical care and healing via a ‘Rapid Response Team’. It integrates words and action as a model that amid the global pandemic deploys Chaplains around the world. Social action and justice cannot be divorced from personal transformation and the message that, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lam. 3:22). Both go together in sacrificial service. ‘Samaritan’s Purse’  for instance serves some of the largest emergency field hospitals in the world based in New York and Italy. Here there is a prime example of an integrated gospel, of patient care and a sharing of the good news that goes well beyond the immediate crisis, the good intentions, and limitations of social activism.

Rev E. A. Curnow trained in the Adelaide Bible College before entering ordained ministry. His creative gifts have had a rural focus spanning South Australia, Victoria, and two years in Cornwall with the Methodist Church. He has documented the pioneer church in ‘Bible Christian Methodism in South Australia 1850-1900’ and in retirement continues to preach and services a website with an Evangelical focus. http://www.tedcurnow.wordpress.com

2 July 2020

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