June 2019 ACCatalyst Magazine
Download the June 2019 Magazine (24 pages PDF)
One year on from the 15th Assembly decision to revise marriage ACC provides some reflections about what has been happening and why.
ACC Chair and Open Letters on Religious Freedom (Quote above SMH 11/5/2019)
The ACC, through its National Chair, Rev Dr Hedley Fihaki was a signatory to the open letters on Religious Freedom that were sent to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader in May 2019.
Copies are available below.
Letter to the Prime Minister (The Hon. Scott Morrison)
Letter to the Opposition Leader (The Hon. Bill Shorten)
Future of the UCA - !?!
What is happening in the UCA?
If one went by the PR news and letters, it seems the main idea is to continue on without considering the implications of the 15th Assembly decision to revise marriage. The failure to suspend the Assembly decision was not unexpected as Clause 39 (b) (ii) was hardly designed to actually allow a review. In any case, what was needed from union was a separate independent body that would review decisions, rather than a system that placed any review back with the actual body that made the decision.
It has been a tumultuous few months, though the feedback to UCA publications and hierarchy has probably been more minimal simply because most members would now not even bother. My anecdotal feedback from contact with ACC and other evangelical congregations is that at least 3000 people have left since the 15th Assembly. Sadly, many members have just drifted away in hundreds of congregations, one, two, three or four at a time, perhaps some not even noticed, or worried about by ministers and leaders. I am quite amazed now how this happens when often people have been members of the same local church for 50, 60 or 70 years. I have also been intrigued at the number of phone calls and contact ACC has had from non-ACC members who have left or are trying to work through their future, especially in increasingly divided congregations (our social media and website has prompted extensive contact since the 15th Assembly as individuals seek out others who are considering what is happening).
The disappearance of often key lay leaders is not insignificant at this critical time of the UCA in terms of the ageing of members and viability of congregations, especially in terms of offerings and people resources. What will this mean for the UC in those areas that are not propped up by property income (especially property income that can support stipended ministry)? Simply, 50-60% of UC ‘congregations’ will become non-viable in the next 5-10 years. Many are now more a preaching place (and perhaps occasional at that). The average age of members is such now that in the medium future there will not be the people able to support stipended-ministry and/or undertake many of the normal tasks associated with a functioning congregation (and assets from sales will mainly go to supporting the institutional life of the UCA and not the grass roots – the congregations).
And yes, the evangelical cause has been weakened (not just ACC as the majority of evangelicals are not in ACC member congregations); but, and here is the fundamental point, the UCA is catastrophically weakened as evangelical congregations are the central ones engaged in consistent evangelistic outreach and discipleship based on orthodox beliefs that provides a foundation for the future.
Why do some leaders have no real empathy or understanding of what is happening?
Some have a very different idea of ecclesiology. For them there is simply no distinction between the church and the world. The church is everyone, even if you are not aware you are part – this is the post-modern idea of the village church.
It is also where the context of ‘Uniting’ comes in – the UCA will be a social and community service, providing ‘good works’. The growth of ‘Uniting’ and its increasing secular visibility is clearly evident in its advertising campaigns and branding. (For a comprehensive overview of the ‘Secular Welfare’ scenario, see Dr Keith Suter’s work on possible scenarios for the future of the Uniting Church.
Others though want a new church, which actually means a new ‘faith’ and they believe the present church needs to be cleared out of those who are preventing this new ‘faith’. Some don’t care about congregations and the local witness over many years even if they say they want to keep property for the continuing witness of the local Uniting members. Some are suffering a delusion that people will flock into a truly liberal church, basically one that has no orthodox belief, denying especially the resurrection of Christ, because after all they believe they are more intelligent now and believe Christ was only a simple deluded peasant. It is an ideological orientation towards a utopian life on earth now, and they believe that evangelicals are the deluded ones! Never mind the fact that there is no evidence to support a growing liberal denomination and where there may be the occasional slightly larger liberal church in a city of several million people, this has more to do with it providing a niche-market to often disaffected members and ministers. It is no wonder that one of the main concerns of some leaders is to maintain the larger evangelical and CALD congregations in the UC fold, because if they left, overnight the UC would become a worshipping community with fewer followers than those who now say they are a Jedi.
Peter Bentley is the National Director for the ACC.
2019 ACC AGM and Conference
23 September - 25 September 2019
Alexandra Park Conference Centre, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
the registration brochure for the 2019 ACC Conference and AGM is now available.
The official start for the AGM is 1.30 pm on Monday 23 September.
The ACC Prayer Time will start at 11.00 am on the morning of Monday 23 September.
Note: if you are not living in and are considering attending please let the office know as soon as you can to co-ordinate numbers.
All accommodation at the conference centre is on a shared basis: 4/5 person with ensuite; 8 or 12 share with bathroom nearby.
Information about Alexandra Park Conference Centre is available here.
Note: There is a wide range of alternate accommodation in the nearby area. Search 'accommodation Alexandra Park' or contact the ACC office.
Youth Support and Subsidy. ACC is aiming to support youth attending. If you are able to assist please contact the ACC office.
Registration rates for Children
Note – there are now discounted rates for children attending.
There are two accommodation areas and the rates will depend on the place chosen or allocated at Alexandra Park. Arrangements will be made to try and accommodate family groups together if possible. If you have a preference for accommodation, please advise the ACC office. These rates include all meals from morning tea on Monday 23 September to and including lunch on Wednesday 25 September 2019.
Acacia (The Acacia Dormitory rooms have the capacity to sleep up to 8 people per room (4 sets of bunk beds) with the amenities shared by all dorms (separate male and female).
$175.00 primary aged child (5-12 yrs)
$75.00 per pre-primary child (2-4 yrs inclusive)
Infants UNDER the age of two stay free of charge
Bungalows (The Bungalow Ensuite rooms usually sleep five people per room (2 bunks plus one single) each with their own bathroom and toilet facility).
$190 per primary aged child (5-12 yrs)
$95.00 per pre-primary child (2-4 yrs inclusive)
Infants UNDER the age of two stay free of charge
Please join in prayer for the planning, speakers and arrangements.
Future of the UC?
Members will be interested in the following -
Dr Keith Suter continues his exploration of the future of the Uniting Church in his latest on-line opinion piece:
"The Uniting Church is in a crisis. Its membership is in decline but the church bureaucrats ignore the signs of impending doom. For example, the publicity material often contains photographs of happy smiling young people – but a person visiting a Uniting Church congregation will find few such young people."
Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey
Many readers would have attended the 60th anniversary gatherings held earlier this year (2019) that were arranged by the Billy Graham Association (BGA) in recognition of the impact and long-term ministry of Billy Graham. Soon after Billy Graham’s death (February 21, 2018), the BGA released a documentary to provide an ‘official’ film of Billy Graham’s ministry calling. The documentary is now available via streaming services.
This is a personal journey, and features Billy Graham from his early years and at different and pivotal points of his life and with members of the Graham family.
His wider connections and ability to relate to a wide variety of people is a feature. In the USA and in other places, his regular appearances on radio, and then TV talk shows brought him into contact with many people who would never have attended a crusade. The ecumenical foundation of his crusade gatherings, and his general support for integration are prominent in themes, but of course the central focus is on his calling to preach the gospel.
There has been some debate over the style of the documentary and criticism that it was not a critical or academic documentary, though I think this misses the point as that was not its purpose. It is a relatively short overview (about an hour) and serves the purpose of being a visual eulogy for the countless millions of people that Billy Graham connected with, and clearly could attend the actual funeral. People are invited into the life of Billy Graham and towards the end of the documentary the actual funeral service is featured. I found the documentary to be quite illuminating and humble in its approach, with a focus on giving thanks to God for the life of one person who was called to tell others in this very public way about his lord and saviour Jesus Christ.
(Another interesting film, though not BGA produced is Billy: the early years (2008) - this was reviewed in an early ACCatalyst: March 2009.)
Liberal Development of the UC
The Liberal Theological Development of the Uniting Church
The current debate about sexuality in the UCA would not have arisen to the extent it has without a prominent liberal theological presence in the wider councils of the church, especially the Assembly. A question I am often asked when I visit congregations is how did we get to this place? Another question is: Why has the UCA developed an overt liberal theological orientation (especially when its membership has been largely theologically conservative)?
While many PhD theses could be written about these questions, I note below some brief points and comments. These points are expanded on in my earlier articles available on the UnitingViews website and in a revised article taking into account more recent developments.
Given the context of union, the UCA was always destined to become more theologically liberal than the antecedent denominations because in the case of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism most of the more conservative ministers, and a good section of the more conservative members stayed out of union. It is worth noting that Victoria was the only state to have more Presbyterians enter union than Methodists. The larger base of former liberal Presbyterian ministers made Victoria into a more overt liberal state that soon overwhelmed Tasmania as well.
The Interim Report on Sexuality (IRS)
Liberal theology was spurred on by the didactic report of the Task Group on Sexuality (1991-1997). The Victorian base of the Task Group, the process adopted, the IRS (1996), and the final report itself (1997), helped to provide a foundation for public liberal theology as well as entrenching the polarisation during these formative years of the UCA.
Leadership of Officers and Members, particularly in the Assembly
Before the Task Group on Sexuality the liberal theological section of the church had strengthened its involvement in the growing institutional life of the church (especially the Assembly), and following it maintained significant influence through membership on key Synod and Assembly committees which contribute to the overall directional leadership of the church. As liberal leaders have moved into Presbytery positions, presbyteries have also come under the influence of the liberal school of direction. Over time, more and more of the theological liberal members of presbytery and synod gained election to the Assembly, leading eventually to the dominance that exists today.
Theological training in the UCA developed towards a general progressive and theologically liberal character (with some individual and Synod exceptions at times) and over time more liberal theological ministers were produced, often then ending up in moderate-evangelical congregations with the result usually being decimation or slow bleeding out and/or conversion of the congregation to a neutered faith or an ideological liberal theology.
Attitudes to Sexuality in a changing society
The growing public discussion, influence and position of homosexual people in society in the 1970s and 1980s provided a pointer to how homosexuality would become a major focus for the church. As the UC became more focussed on ‘loving our neighbour’ through provision of good works and community services and a certain understanding of social justice, sections of the church began to equate ‘loving God’ with ‘loving our neighbour’ and supporting their personal needs a priority. As society moved toward support of the GLBTIQ agenda, parts of the church saw this as a natural step as well.
The dominance of personal story in UCA theology
It is an irony that the UC has produced critics of Pentecostal and charismatic theology because of their perceived focus on experience, and yet within the public voice of liberal theology, personal experience is the cornerstone of UCA theology and personalisation of the debate has played a very significant role in the councils of the church. The bottom line is: personal story today trumps the story and theology of the bible.
Up until the 2003 Assembly there were enough evangelicals and moderates at the Assembly meeting to ensure no major radical sexual agenda crept in at least by defined resolution. The agenda was not forgotten though and by 2003, the sexual agenda pushed again and the start in terms of resolutions, R84, opened the door for the future liberal pattern. The three areas in which the UCA has traditionally been identified:
* Ecumenical Relationships
* Relationships with Aboriginal and Islander members
* Multicultural and cross-cultural relationships
had slowed the adoption of the sexual agenda, but they had become more sidelined in favour of a focus on the place of gay and lesbian people in the church.
In the 1997 Assembly, it was the Church’s broad commitment to these three areas that helped to affirm the church’s traditional understanding on marriage. Since 2003, the increasing focus on the need to make a more defined commitment to gay and lesbian ministers and members in the church eventually produced the outcome at the 2018 Assembly. Once the Australian parliament had changed marriage, it was clear what was the next step for the dominant liberal theological group, even though the majority of UCA members were not supportive of same-gender marriage. For the liberal members at the Assembly they had already moved with the direction of Australia and it would have been more unusual to have not gone down that path.
Published as 'The Bentley Report' in ACCatalyst March 2019
ACC Statement 25 March 2019
The ACC National Council met 10-12 March 2019 for its annual face-to-face meeting in Sydney. The Council has prepared a statement to confirm and clarify the stand that the ACC has taken since the 15th Assembly decision on diversity and marriage. The ACC National Council considered all the complexities that are at present abounding, and we earnestly seek your prayers and support. Please continue to also join with one another and encourage each other in the faith.
Peace and grace
The ACC National Council
March 2019 ACCatalyst Magazine
The March 2019 Edition of the ACCatalyst Magazine is now available to download. As the UCA has entered a new era of change and Australia itself is increasingly debating issues in this ‘new era’, it is timely to read Monica Doumit’s paper from the 2018 ACC Conference on religious freedom. Peter Bentley explores the development of liberal theology in the UC and Rev Rod James continues his reflections on the cross of Christ, and Rev Warren Clarnette provides helpful reflections on ministry today.
United Methodists reject changing marriage teaching
At the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist Church (USA) [23-26 February], a plan to liberalise the denomination’s teaching on marriage was rejected.
See the report in Juicy Ecumenism
The Confessing Movement (in the United Methodists) provided daily reports and a summary of the decision that explained the decision making process and the outcome. Excellent information in the lead-up to the decision is also available on their website.