Category Archives: Opinion

God and Kingdom – further from Len Baglow

A response to God and Kingdom by Wally Stratford which was a response to Theology and Advocacy by Len Baglow.

Dear Rev Stratford,
Thank you for taking the time to make a detailed response to my article “Theology and Advocacy”. I enjoyed thinking about your approach.

We do I think differ on several important points. However, hopefully this discussion will help us both deepen our understandings.

Firstly, I would question your claim that “The Old Testament has little to say of the kingdom of God.” I agree with John Bright (1953, 7), the Old Testament scholar who wrote nearly 70 years ago, “For the concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible. Not only does it loom large in the teaching of Jesus; it is to be found, in one form or another, through the length and breadth of the Bible.” A few pages later he comments cogently, “But ideas are ever larger than the words that carry them” (Bright, 1953,11) I think this is particularly true of the words, “The Kingdom of God’.

Secondly, I am not sure that the most relevant text for understanding the Kingdom of God is Lk 17:20/21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is’ or ‘there it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you”. While Lk 17:20/21 is an important text, there are around 120 other texts dealing with the Kingdom of God. My position is that we must grapple with all of them. Impossible? Yes, but no less important to do. As one grapples with all the texts, one comes to realise more and more, how Jesus’ teaching subverts, challenges, undermines any Kingdoms/Reigns/Estates/Empires that are based on injustice.

Related to this second point is that overemphasizing Luke 17:20/21 can lead to an over spiritualising of the Kingdom of God, as something within our hearts alone or on another plane (spiritual experience) and not something that has existence in the things we do. I think this is highlighted in your comments on Exodus where the actions of Moses are sidelined.

Thirdly I found it difficult to understand what you meant by “I think that, with the advent of Christianity, presence became absence with God relocated to a heavenly place.” Perhaps it makes some sense to me if you mean by Christianity, the form of Christendom that followed from Constantine and which was forming earlier. However, if you mean that with the coming of Jesus and his message “presence became absence with God” that would make no sense. An important assumption of my article is that Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom/Reign/Estate/Empire of God makes possible an even closer relationship with what we might call God in the midst of our present world.

Finally, I would answer your question, “Was the real beginning of the Kingdom of God, the start of Christendom in the fifth century?” with a resounding No. The growth of Christendom was for the most part a retreat from Jesus’ radical teachings on and exhortations about the Kingdom of God.

Len Baglow 19/09/21


Opinion: Suggested Amendments to the QLD VAD Legislation


The great majority of people in Queensland support some basic form of VAD being endorsed in legislation. I believe it would be politically futile to oppose such a public endorsement.

However I believe we must gather strong support for critical amendments which are listed below:


All VAD legislation must be complemented by an accountable commitment for high quality palliative care, especially to regional Queensland where provision for significant palliative care is virtually non-existent.


Non-government hospitals must be given an ABSOLUTE right to deny any provisions for VAD services in their hospitals. This basic right is fundamental to respect the religious, philosophical and values of all peoples in the Australian constitution.


In the light of serious breaches of initial legislation in some European countries where VAD has been implemented in previous years, no legislation should be enacted until the investigated experiences in other countries be analysed to prevent such happenings in Queensland legislation. Legislation must cover those provisions of the Act where these breaches did occur in those countries.


Public media campaigns for discerned amendments to proposed VAD legislation insist that such a position is founded on basic religious and human rights and is extremely compassionate to alleviate suffering and terminal illness. To imply that those seeking critical amendments lack compassion to the proposed legislation is highly offensive to such committed individuals and groups.

Dr Kevin Treston  September 2021

Kevin has taught and lectured for many years in 14 different countries. He is the author of many books, and a highly respected presenter among Catholic educators. He is also a subscriber to the UCFORUM and a regular participant in our seminars and conversations. Details about his publications can be found by following the link to Book Reviews on this site.



God and Kingdom – Wally Stratford

I read Len Baglow’s comments [Theology and Advocacy] with interest. Two words stood up for me – namely God and Kingdom. Gods in a variety of shapes have dominated the life of humankind as far back as is possible to trace.

Concepts of God now take me back to two Old Testament stories, one about the beginnings of life, and the other the beginnings of a revamped covenant and a relationship re-established.

The beginnings of life for humankind occurred when God stooped down and breathed into the man’s nostrils. All stories require imagination and reading this story I am led to claim that with the breath we find the spirit. Of each other, they are together the one continual activity that begets and maintains constancy in the business of living. (Gen. 2:7)

The Moses story reintroduces the spirit, but in this story, presence is revealed and then affirmed in the words I AM. An element of the verb to be, it reveals an active attendance of the invisible spirit. This is further sealed in the events that lead the Israelites to freedom and stands by them as they enter their desert journey. (Exodus 3)

I think that, with the advent of Christianity, presence became absence with God relocated to a   heavenly place. Creeds, and words of worship and prayer seem to reinforce this notion.

The Old Testament has little to say of the kingdom of God. Oblique references only can be gleaned. Certainly, God is supreme, sacred, the name of God can never be spoken. It appears to me that the essence of the Old Testament is in God’s sacred presence, ample evidence for this is to be found in the Psalms and among the prophets.

In the New Testament, Kingdom of God appears many times but perhaps Jesus’ comment as reported in Luke’s gospel (Lk 17:20/21): “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is’ or ‘there it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you” is most relevant for understanding. It suggests that the thing being searched for is already present within. The claim of ‘kingdom’ always contains a claim of a monarch reigning, so perhaps it all makes more sense if we connect with the alternative reading which presents Jesus words as “The reign of God is within you”. These words recall the sense of presence powerfully present at the beginning of life, and reiterated in the conversation with Moses as I AM.

The kingdom of God may therefore more sensibly, and with greater meaning, be rendered something like – the presence of God as YHWH-spirit is always with you, riding the wind and contained in the breath that keeps one alive.

It may not be as straightforward, but makes more sense, than “Our Father in heaven – thy will be done on earth as in heaven …”

The first four hundred years of the church were tumultuous, with a host of claims and counterclaims about the shape of the faith. Among these, tradition became most important as a safeguard against heresy. Irenaeus claims that “the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back literally to the apostles. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit.” (Kelly p.37).

Allied to tradition as a demonstration of the truths of the church, an “absolute authority was accorded to scripture as a doctrinal norm … as interpreted by the church, it was the source of Christian teaching.” (Kelly p.42). The scriptures were those of the Jews – our Old Testament.

In those years the church suffered persecution, Christians endured martyrdom with an entrenched belief that their soul was safe. Gnosticism became a force to be reckoned with, eventually becoming muted by the many forcefully argued refutations.

The church, after argument and discussion, conferences of bishops, and theological musings, committed to an after-life, and to a Son of God destined to be a king. It was all cemented into place with the conversion of the emperor Constantine, and his declaration of the truth of the Nicene Creed.

Hailed as a Christian Emperor, Constantine’s “death was received with universal manifestations of grief, and his reign was regarded as continuing after his death: his funeral, conducted after the arrival of his second surviving son Constantius, was a magnificent spectacle,” (Stevenson 396).

“By the middle of the fifth century the Roman church had established, de jure as well as de facto, a position of primacy in the West, and the papal claims to supremacy over all bishops of Christendom had been formulated in precise terms.” (Kelly 417).

Is this, I wonder, the real beginning of the Kingdom of God.

Kelly. J.N.D. (ed) Early Christian Doctrines. London: Adam & Charles Black 1960.

Stevenson, J. A (ed) A New Eusebius. London: S.P.C.K. 1960

Rev Walter Stratford, 2021


Theology and Advocacy, by Len Baglow

Advocacy, Evangelism and Service to the Community are related concepts in theology. All are about announcing and making present the Kingdom of God. Advocacy is about the prophetic role of proclaiming that even though the Kingdom of God has been announced in Christ, the poor, the exploited and even the earth itself still cry out for the fulfillment of that promise and reality. In Evangelism we put in words our experience of the Kingdom so that others might understand and join in the liberating work of the gospel. In Service we act as exemplars of what is happening as the Kingdom of God becomes real.

The theology of advocacy cannot be understood in isolation from Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God. However, the theology of the Kingdom of God is itself no simple matter. In the synoptic gospels the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned in over 120 verses. The references are wide ranging, often challenging or perplexing and yet central to Jesus’ message. It is not coincidental that Jesus’ prayer to the Father begins,

Father, May your name be held holy, Your Kingdom come (Luke 11:2).

The word “Kingdom” sounds strange to modern ears. Scholars at times use other words to translate the Greek. These include Reign,1 Estate,2 and in the case of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, “Empire”,3

Each of these alternate translations alerts us to the depth and breadth of the reality that
Jesus is proclaiming. It is clear that for Jesus the Kingdom of God is not just an idea but a happening, an event:

The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).

Central to this event is a change that is occurring simultaneously at several levels; the individual, the relational, the societal, the cultural and even at the Kingdom or Empire level, which includes all the others. This is perhaps clearest in the first Beatitude which reads,

To the ancient ears this is both a scandalous upturning of political and cultural reality, and also a liberating word for those who are poor who suddenly find themselves first in this announced
Kingdom. And yet of course the Kingdom announced is not yet fully formed. Its existence in space and time depends on those who respond to Christ’s call. For the initial small gathering of Jews and associated gentiles this took incredible faith, especially when faced with the massive power and then hostility of the Roman Empire. They responded by building small communities in which they tried to enact the reality of this new Kingdom, and they spread the good news of this new way of living and responding to God.

Today our era is both different from and similar to biblical times. The differences include increases in technology that have led to our computer or information age, significant advances in health care and medicine, and a standard of living for many that is far more luxurious than any Roman emperor could imagine.

[1 Glen Stassen & David Gushee, 2003. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context.
2 John Cobb, 2015. Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed.
3 Robert Funk, Arthur Dewey & the Jesus Seminar, 2015. The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar (2nd edition) ]

Yet many people still live in poverty while others profit from their labour and live in extraordinary luxury; there are wars and rumours of wars, corruption and exploitation.
Empires have come and gone, but empires remain. In ancient times there were the Egyptian,
Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Roman empires all juggling at some time for power. Until recently we had the British Empire, and now today we have the American, Chinese and perhaps re-emerging Russian empires. Such human empires have not stopped being exploitative.
Australia as a nation-state (a small kingdom if you will) has had a history of identifying first with the British Empire and more lately with the American. The most obvious example of this is our
participation in wars over the last 130 years. However, it is not just wars but a way of thinking about power, race, and exploitation that we have taken for granted, that is at odds with the Kingdom of God proclaimed in Christ.

This has led to a cultural framework in which people aspire to a material security and comfort for themselves and those like them at the expense of the other. This results in a fear of the other. Our current treatment of refugees and the previous white Australia policy are examples of this framework in practice. The more one is caught up in the empire framework, the harder it is to hear the liberating call of the Kingdom of God. Churches which accept these human empire values uncritically (often unconsciously) lose their ability to identify with or announce God’s Kingdom.

Paradoxically, the modern democratic movement has grown out of human empires. Democracy
provides churches and church members new opportunities for working with others to create a
better and fairer society and hence herald the Kingdom. The churches and church members in
Canberra are uniquely positioned to play an advocacy role in the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.

This is not only because of proximity to the Parliament, but because so many church members have experience either working in the public service or as members of political parties or national organizations such as The Australia Institute or Australia 21. The challenge for the Uniting Church in the Canberra region is to seize this opportunity. As inequalities grow in Australia and meanness of spirit stalks our political culture, it is certain that God continues to hear the cry of the poor and witnesses their oppression (Exodus 2: 9). Even though we feel inadequate and ill prepared, we have the ability to advocate on a wide range of issues. Will we
respond to the call to advocacy? “So come, I send you to Pharaoh … to bring my people out of Egypt. … I shall be with you.” (Exodus 2: 10-12)

Len Baglow
Len is a member of the Canberra Region Presbytery Social Justice Group and of Woden Valley Uniting Church and subscriber to the UCFORUM.



Thanks to Rex Hunt for this recent issue from Jim Burklo from the University of Southern California.

By Jim Burklo. 10 July 2021. Musings.

“Enter Joe Biden, one of the most religious presidents of the last century, along with Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Biden attends Mass regularly and inhabits faith as Donald Trump merely brandished it (as if speaking to two Corinthians). Likewise, Vice President Kamala Harris is a
Baptist who says she has regularly attended church. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a Catholic who says her faith inspires her to address health care and climate change. Elizabeth Warren taught Sunday school. Raphael Warnock, a new senator, is an ordained Baptist pastor. Other Democrats,
including Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg, speak the language of faith fluently as well, so a critical mass has formed of progressive Christians inspired by religion not to cut taxes for the rich but rather to slash poverty for children.” So wrote Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times recently.

Twenty-five years ago, hardly anyone used the term “progressive Christianity”. It used to be expressed as “liberal” or “mainline” Protestantism, terminology so fuzzy as to be nearly meaningless. Along came The Center for Progressive Christianity, now, and an organized movement was born. Churches around the globe
began to publicly identify themselves as progressive. A turning point came in 2004 when Jim
Wallis, a politically liberal evangelical, was described by Terry Gross as a “progressive Christian”
on her NPR show. Then Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, was elected in 2008,
raising the profile of the term further. But evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders paid the movement scant attention. In 2003, Albert Mohler, the virtual Pope of the Southern Baptist Convention, poo-poohed it: “Christians should see The Center for Progressive Christianity, not as posing a threat to Christianity itself, but as exposing the basic hatred of biblical truth that drives those on the theological left. Evangelical Christians should be aware of this organization, not because we should fear it’s influence–it isn’t likely to have much.”

But times have changed, and so has the pitch of Mohler’s tune. Here’s what Mohler said in 2019, sounding the alarm about Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy for the presidency: “This is the great danger inherent in the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg… Buttigieg may quickly drop in the polls as fast as he ascended. That is the nature of American Presidential politics. What will not depart from the political scene, however, is the idea enshrined in Buttigieg’s campaign. The left in America desperately wants a leftist faith as its handmaiden. They want (and even demand) a new and “progressive” Christianity.”

Since then, the evangelical “apologetics” machine has gone into overdrive. And the rhetoric is
disturbing. Cissie Graham Lynch is Billy Graham’s granddaughter and Franklin Graham’s
daughter. Here’s what she had to say in May of 2021 about the dire threat of progressive
Christianity: “When the voice of Satan comes, that you are able to have that discernment—whether it’s the voice of God or the enemy talking.”

“But what is progressive Christianity? Where did it come from? Why is it growing in popularity?”
asks Alisa Childers, a prolific anti-progressive evangelical apologist. “There is a growing
movement in the church that seeks to re-interpret the Bible, re-assess historic doctrines, and re-define core tenets of the faith… Jesus not only predicted that Christians would be tempted by these false doctrines but pointed out that these teachings would be peddled by people who claim to be Christians. They would look like sheep, walk like sheep, and talk like sheep. But they would not be sheep—they would be predators looking to feast on the sheep.” Let’s pray that Alisa Childers is not issuing licenses to hunt what she considers to be “predators”.
Some evangelical detractors of progressive Christianity are doing a fine job of inadvertently
promoting our movement. In her diatribe against Kristof’s op-ed, the fundamentalist blogger
Natasha Crain writes: “Progressive Christianity is hard to define (and people would define it in a
lot of different ways), but in general, it’s the belief that our understanding of God is evolving as
society progresses, and the Bible simply reflects man’s understanding of God in the time it was
written. In other words, the Bible is a helpful tool—maybe even a beautiful one—but it’s not God’s final say for all time.” Nicely put! As is the description given by the president of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Michael Kruger: “In the modern day, there’s something very similar still happening, and we may not call it liberal Christianity today, although there’s a sense in which that’s true, but really the term now is progressive Christianity. It’s a version of Christianity that sells itself as a valid option for Christians that on the surface looks a lot like the Christian worldview and may seem in the eyes of many people to be more acceptable, more likable, a really more palatable version of the faith.”

Fundamentalist leaders used to describe progressive Christians as a shrinking heretical sect, if they noticed us at all. Now they condemn us as an existential threat to the survival of evangelicalism. Their rhetoric should inspire in us a healthy vigilance, as America drifts into deeper polarization and ominous threats of violence. Meanwhile, the louder they rail against us, the more folks – especially their own – are made aware of the existence of our progressive alternative to the still-dominant Christian paradigm. Are our progressive churches ready to welcome the flood of exiles pouring out of evangelical churches? We need to attract them by making changes in our styles of worship and congregational life that are necessary to seize this remarkable moment.


That contentious Census question

What is the person’s religion?   







What is the purpose of the Religion question in the Census? I have yet to hear a good justification but am as always open to being educated. It confuses denomination with religion; it uses outdated nomenclature, it doesn’t define ‘religion’ adequately, and it relies on categories that are no-longer the significant players. What purpose does it serve? Who needs to know and why would anyone base decisions on ‘nominals’ over ‘practitioners’? Time to review the need for the question and if not needed, drop it! Since it is optional it will never give a true indication anyway.

Paul Inglis

Sydney Morning Herald  by  Caitlin Fitzsimmons



Contemplation, prayer, learning to see as the Mystics do

A Superior Lens – Richard Rohr
Friday, July 16, 2021

Today the unnecessary suffering on this earth is great for people who could have “known better” and should have been taught better by their religions. In the West, religion became preoccupied with telling people what to know more than how to know, telling people what to see more than how to see. We ended up seeing Holy Things faintly, trying to understand Great Things with a whittled-down mind, and trying to love God with our own small and divided heart. It has been like trying to view the galaxies with a $5 pair of binoculars, when we have access to a far superior lens.

Contemplation is my word for this superior lens, this larger seeing that keeps the whole field open. It remains vulnerable before the moment, the event, or the person—before it divides and tries to conquer or control it. Contemplatives refuse to create false dichotomies, dividing the field for the sake of the quick comfort of their ego. They do not rush to polarity thinking to take away their mental anxiety. Importantly, this does not mean they cannot clearly distinguish good from evil! This is a common misunderstanding in early-stage practitioners. You must succeed at dualistic clarity about real and unreal before you advance to nondual responses.

I like to call contemplation “full-access knowing”—prerational, nonrational, rational, and transrational all at once. Contemplation refuses to be reductionistic. Contemplation is an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material. It is content with the naked now and waits for futures given by God and grace. As such, a certain amount of love for an object or another subject and for myself must precede any full knowing of it. As the Dalai Lama says so insightfully, “A change of heart is always a change of mind.” We could say the reverse as well—a true change of mind is also, essentially, a change of heart. Eventually, they both must change for us to see properly and contemplatively.

This is where prayer comes in. Instead of narrowing our focus, contemplative prayer opens us up. “Everything exposed to light itself becomes light” (see Ephesians 5:14).  In contemplative prayer, we merely keep returning to the divine gaze and we become its reflection, almost in spite of ourselves. “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). I use the word “prayer” as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow us to experience faith, hope, and love within ourselves. It is always a form of simple communing! Despite what Christians have often been taught, prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 22–23, 33–34.


The Center for Action and Contemplation

The Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) is an educational nonprofit introducing seekers to the contemplative Christian path of transformation.

Who We Are

Franciscan Richard Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in 1987 because he saw a deep need for the integration of both action and contemplation—the two are inseparable. As Father Richard likes to say, the most important word in our Center’s name is neither Action nor Contemplation, but the word and.

Contemplation is a way of listening with the heart while not relying entirely on the head. Contemplation is a prayerful letting go of our sense of control and choosing to cooperate with God and God’s work in the world. Prayer without action, as Father Richard says, can promote our tendency to self-preoccupation, and without contemplation, even well-intended actions can cause more harm than good.


Is Progressive Christianity a threat to the church?

Threat, Challenge or Opportunity?

A response to the Internet article by Alisa Childers

Alisa Childers

Link: Five Signs Your Church Might Be Heading Towards Progressive Christianity

Rodney Eivers

                        4th March 2021

            I rather like this article by Alisa Childers, extracted from the Internet.

            Although her position on Christian faith is not my own, I acknowledge that she knows what she is talking about. This is in contrast to so much comment on a topic from one side or another when neither side is prepared to listen to or understand that other. Alisa’s 5 signs shows that she has done her research and can write from a knowledgeable base. Her approach contrasts clearly the difference between traditional orthodox Christianity and “progressive” Christianity.

            She then makes the considered decision to stay with her tradition. From my perspective, however, it is interesting to note that she implies that, of the members of her initially “evangelical” congregation, she and her husband were the only ones to do so. The rest of the congregation appear to have chosen the progressive path.

            This sort of process is at the heart of my programme of scholarships for theological students.  These are two starkly, one might say opposing, approaches to Christian faith. We have a choice of which we find the more satisfying. But that choice is going to be more firmly based if we have the knowledge to make an informed judgement. That can only be done if we are prepared to expose ourselves, as Ms Childers, has done, to both points of view.

            In that way I would hope no matter which path we choose. we can be more confident exponents of the Jesus Way we would hope to proclaim.

PS  The link to Alisa’s website is Alisa Childers I Blog . There is a long list of comments to her original article.

PS Those interested in discussion relevant to “progressive” Christianity may like to Google “UC Forum” or follow the link,


Letter to the Editor – founding values and the PM

Ray Barraclough (A Progressive Christian Voice Australia) has kindly shared the following:

Dear Member of A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) inc [APCVA],

I was delighted to discover that I was able to have a letter published in the Monday (3 May) edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

The issue I addressed in my letter was sparked by responses to a speech that the Australian PM gave to a gathering of his fellow-Pentecostals….

I was responding to the claim that Australia was founded on “Judeo-Christian values”.

I am sure there were a whole mixture of values influencing the framers of The Australian Constitution from Enlightenment-influenced lawyers to a spiritualist Alfred Deakin, and others in between, including Judeo-Christians.. 

My take is that, like the framers of the American Constitution, the chief movers-and-shakers wanted to entrench the separation of Church and State. That is why both the American and the Australian documents refer so very sparingly  (and warily) to any role the state may have in regards to religion.

Anyway, the SMH printed my letter. A copy is printed below.

Best wishes,


PS. I hope that a number of APCVA members could pen letters on important issues to their appropriate media. (And let us know that they have done so.)


Dear Madam/Sir,

If the Australian federation was founded on Judeo-Christian values, as Judith Bond asserts, (Letters, May 12) then two explanations at least are needed.

The federation speedily enacted laws based on white supremacy, namely the ‘white Australia policy’.

While also no mention was made of prior Indigenous occupancy of the country.

And the federation was created through the dispossession of the same Indigenous peoples.

What Christian values shaped the supremacist action and the dispossession?

Christianity served as a chaplain to white supremacist European empires that, for centuries, dispossessed Indigenous people across four continents.



[Rev’d Dr Ray Barraclough]