Category Archives: News

Does Australia need a religious freedom bill?

In the next few months the government will vote on a religious freedom bill. It’s been hugely controversial, and critics say instead of protecting vulnerable people, it could act as a licence for hate. David Marr and Paul Karp analyse how this bill could change Australia.

You can read David Marr’s opinion pieces on the right to expel gay children and Israel Folau’s sacking.

Paul Karp has written extensively on the Ruddock religious freedom review.

The Guardian provides independent editorials with open access journalism. See more and follow at: The Guardian.

If you only have time for a shorter summary go to: What will Australians be allowed to say and do?

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NCCA on Climate Change

The National Council of Churches in Australia has called for Climate Change Action now.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Media Release

A Call for unified National Leadership regarding Climate Change

The National Council of Churches in Australia urges the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, to convene a roundtable on climate change, shaping a bipartisan approach and drawing in civil society leaders. “Let us draw the line now under what is past,” says the council’s President, Bishop Philip Huggins. “Let us just get on with working together to prevent global temperatures rising further.” Bishop Huggins said it would be wonderful, if this could be done before the crucial next UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP25), next month, from December 2 to 13. “I came back yesterday from the Annual Pacific Church Leaders meeting in Suva to the discourse here about the awful bushfires. “In Suva, Church leaders from all over Pacific shared their current experiences of climate change: the trauma for communities displaced and forced to relocate inland and away from a swapped coast; the anguish then for traditional cultures of ‘leaving ancestors behind’; the dread of more frequent and more violent cyclones and even the monthly anxiety for places not far above sea-level at the time of a full and new moon’s impact on tides. Said folk from such places: ‘We don’t sleep so well those nights!’ “It is a global issue. Humankind must find a quite unprecedented and sustained level of cooperation.” Bishop Huggins said the human family could do with some places of hope where there was a unified national response. “We urge our PM and our Leader of the Opposition to meet together and shape a way forward, as soon as practicable. Let Australia be an island of hope! It is a matter now of intelligent and cooperative leadership.” Bishop Philip Huggins NCCA President

Anglican Church, Antiochian Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Chinese Methodist Church, Churches of Christ Congregational Federation Coptic Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Indian Orthodox Churc,h Lutheran Church, Mar Thoma Church, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Roman Catholic Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, The Salvation Army Uniting Church.

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Reforming the Catholic Church?

Geoff Taylor has drawn our attention to the ‘Amazon’ Synod and the debate that is going on in the Roman Catholic Church.

But not all the Cardinals are happy! Cardinal Muller, a German Cardinal without a portfolio is being very vocal on his concerns about the reforms posited by his German Cardinal colleagues who are not prepared to be limited by Rome. Even the reformist Pope Francis is concerned about the pace of the thinking about changes including an end of priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, the reform of sexual morality, and the democratization of powers in the Church. The Synod that is promoting all of this thinking will for the first time give equal voting rights to laity and clergy and almost certainly shake the church to its foundations.

For more about this go to: They have driven Jesus out of the Amazon Synod

From L’Espresso

And Cardinal Müller also sees worldliness in the way in which part of the Church has sided with environmentalist ideology:

“The Church belongs to Jesus Christ and must preach the Gospel and give hope for eternal life. It cannot make itself a protagonist of any ideology, whether that of ‘gender’ or environmentalist neopaganism. It is dangerous if this happens. I come back to the ‘Instrumentum Laboris’ prepared for the synod on the Amazon. In one of its paragraphs it speaks of ‘Mother Earth’: but this is a pagan expression. The earth comes from God and our mother in faith is the Church. We are justified through faith, hope, and love, not through environmental activism. Of course, taking care of creation is important, after all we live in a garden willed by God. But this is not the decisive point. What is is the fact that for us God is more important. Jesus gave his life for the salvation of men, not of the planet.”

To “L’Osservatore Romano,” which has published an obituary for the Icelandic glacier Okjökull, which died “through our fault,” Müller objects: “Jesus became man, not an icicle.” And he continues:

“Of course, the Church can make its own contribution, with good ethics, with social doctrine, with the magisterium, recalling anthropological principles. But the Church’s first mission is to preach Christ the son of God. Jesus did not tell Peter to concern himself with the government of the Roman empire, he does not enter into dialogue with Caesar. He kept himself at a good distance. Peter was not a friend of Herod or of Pilate, but he suffered martyrdom. Cooperation with a legitimate government is just, but without forgetting that the mission of Peter and of his successors consists in uniting all believers in faith in Christ, who did not recommend involvement with the waters of the Jordan or the vegetation of Galilee.”

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Making an important correction

Following my request to the President of the UCA for a clarification of the recent ABC TV, Radio and Online news other media reports that the Uniting Church had joined a small number of other denominations in presenting a petition to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader related to so called “freedom of religion” in the Israel Folau case, I have received the following:

“Hi Paul.

At our urging, the ABC has acknowledged, corrected the online story and apologised to us for its error. The SMH also corrected its story at our urging to distinguish between Dr Fihaki’s comments and any official position of the Church.

We are reminding news editors that the Uniting Church is not a signatory to any letter to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader seeking reassurances about freedom of religion.

The Uniting Church’s actual position on freedom of religion, as expressed to the Expert Panel of Religious Freedom in January 2018, is that “such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society.” The full submission is available here.

Individual Uniting Church ministers and other members of the Church from time to time express a range of public views.


However, we expect ministers, lay leaders and others and the journalists who cover them not to misrepresent these views as official positions of the Church.

The only authorised spokespeople on the Church’s national positions are the President Dr Deidre Palmer or in matters of regional significance, the Moderators of Synods.

Thanks for your query.

Cheers

Matt/Assembly Comms “

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The UCA and the National Redress Scheme

In December 2018, the Uniting Church in Australia provided the Federal Government with its application and supporting documentation to participate in the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse.

The Church’s national council the Assembly submitted information from all six Uniting Church Synods to be covered through the UCA’s participation in the Scheme to the Department of Social Services in Canberra.

The submission followed months of work in cooperation with the Department and Uniting Church bodies across the country.

In that time the Church has established a national vehicle for dealing with redress claims for survivors of child sexual abuse.

The Department will advise in due course when the UCA will be an operational member of the NRS.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has affirmed the Uniting Church’s commitment to the National Redress Scheme and acknowledged the pain caused for survivors, who are waiting to access redress through the National Redress Scheme.

“For those who might have been concerned about our commitment, please be assured that we are working to make amends and to ensure that our Church has a strong and robust culture of child safety that empowers children and adults in our care.”

“For anyone who was abused in the care of the Uniting Church, in our churches, schools or agencies, I’d again like to apologise sincerely. I am truly sorry that we didn’t protect and care for you in accordance with our Christian values,” said Dr Palmer.”

If you need support, please contact the following 24-hour support services:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

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Death of John Bodycomb

We have learnt of the loss of our friend Rev Dr John Bodycomb.

Dr Val Webb, theologian and author, and friend of John had this to say:

So sad to hear of the death yesterday of Rev Dr John Bodycomb, Melbourne. John’s career in sociology, academia, church growth and pastoral care over half a century and his provocative challenges to the church at large have inspired many. Only last September, his latest book was published “Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership”. Sympathies to his wife Lorraine Parkinson and their families.

As a contributor and friend of the UC Forum, we have valued his insights and experience and his huge contribution to progressive thinking. His works stand as continuing reference points for those wanting to take religious professionals into a new era. In his own words – My fear that we were programming men and women for failure – according to a model that belonged to another era…..

He has challenged many and influenced many more with his big question – In a world where we know we are seven million miles away in space from where we were this time last week, and in a universe nearly fourteen billion years old, what ever do we think we mean by the formula G-O-D?

I hope that we can continue to ask this question and openly do what John did – question the many assumptions that have not been challenged effectively. In that way we will be paying our respects to a great man.

[See an earlier post for details about his last book published in September.]

Paul Inglis 14th December 2019

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Pastoral Letter from the UCA President

Pastoral Letter – Post Fifteenth Assembly Update

To all Congregations and Faith Communities

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in this new year, that brings fresh opportunities, as we serve Christ together as the Uniting Church in Australia. I am greatly encouraged by the ways the Uniting Church is engaging in mission and exercising ministry through our local churches, Presbyteries, Synods, our Agencies, schools and the Assembly.

On this Sunday the 13th of January, six months will have passed since the members of the Fifteenth Assembly gathered in Melbourne to discern prayerfully the national priorities and directions of our Church.

Decisions of the Assembly
During this time, members of Synods, Presbyteries, Congregations and Faith Communities have heard about and discussed the decisions we made in Melbourne. In many parts of our Church, our members are living out the hopes and vision that relate to our decisions on domestic and family violence, sovereignty of First Peoples, care for creation, access for people with disabilities, and support for seasonal workers.

Our Decision on Marriage
In respect to our recognition of two statements of belief on marriage, there have been a variety of responses. Across our Church, there are many people who have embraced the decision as a wise way of moving forward as a Church, respecting the different views we hold on marriage, and giving freedom to Ministers and Congregations to hold to a view of marriage, that they believe is faithful to the Gospel of Christ. Leaders in our Church have journeyed alongside those Uniting Church members, Congregations and Presbyteries, who have difficulty in living with the decision of the Assembly.

In 2009 an additional Clause 39 (b) was approved by the Assembly, which allows Presbyteries and Synods to ask the Assembly to reconsider a decision it has made.

Clause 39 (b) of the Uniting Church Constitution states:

(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the
Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion

• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision

the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

Six Presbyteries chose to exercise their right to notify me as President, that, in their opinion, the matter was
“vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.” There were five
Presbyteries in Queensland and one Presbytery in the Northern Synod. On Saturday the 5th of January 2019, the Presbytery of South Australia met, and decided that the majority of members did not support the proposal that the Fifteenth Assembly marriage decision was a “matter vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.”

This means that the threshold for the suspension of the Assembly decision has not been reached.

As a result, the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge with deep gratitude, the many Uniting Church members who have listened to one another with open hearts, and who have entered into challenging conversations, as you have responded to the Assembly decision and what it means for your particular community – and in many cases for your families and friends.

During this first six months as President, I have had many opportunities to meet with Uniting Church members, Congregations, Presbyteries and leaders of National Conferences and listen to their concerns and their hopes for our Church. Some of our conversations have focused on Assembly decisions, including our decision on marriage. Our broader focus has included the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.

I know that there are Uniting Church members who have been hurt and have felt distress – either by the decision on marriage, or the possibility of the suspension of the decision. Let us remain conscious in the weeks and months ahead that this is a time for us as a Church to pastorally support one another, to act compassionately toward one another, and to hear Christ’s invitation to love each other, as Christ loves us, with grace, healing and hope. This call for us to love as Christ loves is at the heart of God’s mission.

A Prayerful and Loving Community

After the Fifteenth Assembly, I noted that I was proud of the way our Assembly members modelled a loving Christian community, by holding together and caring for each other as they exchanged strongly and faithfully held views from different theological and cultural perspectives.

In the months ahead, I pray that we will reflect the marks of the Christian community that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Philippi: “encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy.” (Philippians 2:1-3).

I invite you to pray for the Uniting Church, and for each other, that we may faithfully embody the Gospel of Christ in all we do and say. I have included a prayer for our Church, that I invite you to pray in your congregations and faith communities.

May we all know God’s abundant grace and liberating hope as we seek to journey together, shaped by God’s reconciling love.

Grace and peace.

 

Dr Deidre Palmer
President
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

11 January 2019

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UCA holds onto principles of inclusivity and diversity

So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

1A. On 13 July 2018, the 15th Assembly decided that Uniting Church ministers are able to conduct the weddings of people of the same gender. Assembly did have a proposal before it at that time, declaring that changing our understanding of marriage was a matter that was “vital to the life of the church”. This drew on a provision in the Constitution in Clause 39(a), which provides that On matters which, by a two thirds majority vote, the Assembly deems to be vital to the life of the Church, the Assembly shall seek the concurrence of Synods and/or Presbyteries and/or Congregations as the Assembly may determine.
1B. At that same July 2018 meeting, Assembly decided that the matter was not “vital to the life of the church”. Assembly Standing Committee subsequently approved an alternate order of service for use in marrying “two people” (with gender not specified), and since late September, Uniting Church ministers have been conducting marriages where the couples are of the same gender.

2. Since July, Presbyteries have been considering the matter. Some Presbyteries have considered that the decision of the Assembly did include “a matter vital to the life of the church”, which requires the Assembly to suspend the decision and undertake further consultation.
This in accordance with Clause 39(b) of the Constitution, which states:
(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion
• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision
the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

3. This meant that if half the Synods, or half the presbyteries in half the Synods, wrote to the President stating that they believe there has been inadequate consultation, the decision would be suspended. The timeframe of within six months means that this runs until 13 January 2019. In October, the General Secretary of the Assembly advises all ministers that there was a possibility that Clause 39(b) might be invoked, and thus, the decision might need to be suspended, pending further consultation.

4. There are six Synods. No Synod asked that the clause 39 process of seeking concurrence be invoked.

5. The number of Presbyteries varies in each Synod. The single Presbytery in WA and many of the Presbyteries in Victoria-Tasmania and New South Wales and the ACT have not considered that this is a matter which needs to be reconsidered. So nowhere near one half of the Presbyteries in these Synods have asked for any further process of consultation.

6. In two Synods during 2018, the threshold of Presbyteries invoking Clause 39(b) was met: by one of two Presbyteries in the Northern Synod and by four of eight Presbyteries in Queensland (North Qld, Central Qld, Mary Burnett and South Moreton).

7. South Australia just has one Presbytery. It met in November 2018 to consider this matter, but the decision of the Presbytery was not to ask for further consultation by invoking Clause 39(b). A notice of a special meeting was submitted at that meeting, and this meeting took place on 5 January 2019, the last day of the season of Christmas. Once again, the SA Presbytery did not support the proposal to request further consultation by invoking Clause 39(b).

As the deadline for invoking Clause 39(b) was six months after the decision (therefore, 13 January 2019), and as no further Presbytery meetings are scheduled to take place in the coming week, it is clear that the threshold of sufficient Presbyteries requesting a suspension and further consultation, has not been met.

So the status quo stands: the decision of the Assembly remains in place, marriages of same-gender attracted people can continue to occur, the President of Assembly does NOT need to issue a notice that same gender marriages must be suspended, and Assembly does NOT need to arrange for further consultation on that decision to take place.

The Uniting Church thus remains faithful to its commitment, as articulated in the Basis of Union. We are, indeed, a pilgrim people. In the process of making this decision, people of the church have met in council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will. The decision about marriage has involved so many difficult conversations and challenging moments for many people. The decision of Assembly steps out in a new direction.

I believe that this decision demonstrates how the Uniting Church continues, today, to look for a continuing renewal. In that search, we certainly affirm our readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church. This decision is one that many people believe is a faithful response to what God is today calling the Church to be and to do. It is a signal that we seek to remain open to constant reform under his Word.

Throughout this process, I believe that we have continued daily to seek to obey his will, and to discern ways by which we might confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds. We continue to do that now, in implementing the decision of the Assembly and rejoicing in the celebration of joyous marriages, within the church, of couples of the same gender.

As this takes place, I am certain in holding to the belief that we are not apostate, we have not betrayed our faith. We continue to hold to the essence of the Gospel. The marriages of people of the same gender serve to remind us, in a fresh way, of the grace which justifies [us] through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier. As our President has reminded us, we are all included in that abundant grace and we look with anticipation to the promise of liberating hope.

We say often that we seek to be “an inclusive church”. I hope that my LGBTIQ friends who have felt so marginalised, objectified, and (sadly) even vilified over the course of the past 18 months (and decades back before that) now feel that they are truly accepted, valued and included within this church.

I hope that together, as a whole church, we might remain faithful to God’s calling to be a fellowship of reconciliation and, in this difficult process and courageous decision, we might see something of the foretaste of the Kingdom which Christ will bring to consummation.

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/a-diversity-of-religious-beliefs-and-ethical-understandings/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/the-additional-marriage-liturgy-which-allows-same-gender-couples-to-marry-in-uniting-churches/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

Cheers
John

John Squires
johntsquires@bigpond.com

Rev Dr John Squires is a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church. He is a former Principal of Perth Theological Hall and is currently in placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery. He was a member of the 15th Assembly in 2018.

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Exciting New Study Scholarship – The Rodney Eivers Bursary

The UCFORUM is pleased to announce:

The Rodney Eivers Annual Bursary – $13 000

Trinity College, UCA Queensland Synod

Rodney Eivers is the Chairperson of the UCFORUM

This bursary is awarded to new tertiary students of Trinity College Queensland, to assist with their course fees whilst studying for a Bachelor of Ministry degree. The aim of the bursary is to provide financial support to students and to encourage the development of a greater awareness of the breadth and diversity in theology and scriptural scholarship, as it relates to contemporary society.

Applications open – Monday 10 September 2018

Applications close – Wednesday 10 October 2018

The student will be awarded the bursary on or before Thursday 1 November 2018. The presentation of the bursary certificate/award will be on 14 November 2018.

For details and applications go to: The Rodney Eivers Bursary 

The Bursary requirements include the submission of an essay showing an understanding of Progressive Christianity. As this will require reading a selection of texts from a recommended reading list, applicants should not delay making a start on their application. The books are available from Trinity College Library.

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UC FORUM News

  1. Our friends at the Progressive Christianity Network Q are very pleased with the response to the advertised seminars with Professor Joe Bessler, Professor of Theology at Phillips Theological College in Tulsa Oklahoma. The good response to the half day of two sessions and morning tea at the Uniting Church, New Farm, includes many first timers. There is clearly a growing interest in Progressive Christianity and we continue to challenge traditional thinking and encourage contemporary and practical understandings of the Jesus Way. A well stocked bookshop will be operating at this seminar. It is not too late to register for this Saturday’s program (See earlier posts in this Forum) or at other venues. Just send me an email message if you are coming: Paul Inglis . PCNQ can be followed on Facebook .
  2. Planning for the next Common Dreams Conference in Sydney is well under way. The fifth Common Dreams conference will be held in Sydney on either 4 – 7 July or 11 – 14 July 2019(the exact dates will be determined when the availability of the venue is negotiated). Matthew Fox has been booked as the distinguished international keynote speaker. Matthew is a well-known writer & inspired speaker with at least 30 books to his credit. Professor Bessler is part of the build up to CD5 and is visiting several state capitals as well as New Zealand.
  3. The UC FORUM has just awarded two students at Trinity Theological College in the Queensland Synod of the UCA with study scholarships of $2500 each. They were successful in meeting the criteria associated with writing an essay on Progressive Christianity. The scholarships are part of a gift from Rodney Eivers the chairperson of the UC FORUM. Negotiations are advanced for much larger annual grants commencing later this year and managed through the Synod Foundation. We would welcome others contributing to these awards. Watch for further announcements.
  4. Mark Gregory Karris the editor of Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God, referred to by Len Baglow in a recent post has made a generous offer. He says: I am very excited this book is making an impact all over the world! For those who are interested, and who purchase the book or audiobook, the publisher has given me permission to give away the workbook selling on Amazon for free. Just let me know if you bought it, and I will email you the workbook with over 100 questions of reflection. Many are using the workbook individually and in small groups. I also love to field questions or just know your experience of the book, so don’t hesitate to reach out!   Peace, Mark  Email: markgkarris@gmail.com 
  5. The UC Forum Executive meets monthly in the café space at the Queensland Synod for a 90 minute session of informal conversation about emerging issues in our fields of interest. if you would like an invitation to join us please let me know: Email Paul
  6. Our friends at the Milpara Project are currently discussing the growing phenomenon of House Churches. There are many aspects to the trends that we are seeing…some are the result of a movement away from the institutional church and others are staying well inside the tent but offering alternatives to congregational worship and fellowship. Indeed, some are clearly quite progressive. And some are down right scary! You can subscribe to as well as contribute to this discussion by visiting the Milpara site.

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