Christians and the proposed amendments to the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act


(Proposed repeal of section 18C)

Christians feel strongly about this issue but are also conflicted. On the one hand we believe strongly in the equality and dignity of all people before God but we also know that to maintain these values in a modern democratic society requires the opportunity and ability to defend them vigorously and that requires a degree of freedom of speech that some people and groups may find uncomfortable.

We believe we are made in the image of God and therefore every person is infinitely precious and must be treated with dignity and respect. We believe in the OT vision that one day all the nations will come together in peace, harmony and unity in The Kingdom of God, the reign that is ushered in by Jesus its king.[i] We believe that the Church, the community of Jesus, is to be a present example of and signpost to that future reality. We believe that, as the NT expresses it; in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[ii] We also confess to our failures and disobedience in regard to these truths at times in our history, such as our past discrimination against the Jewish people and the participation of parts of the Church in racism and apartheid in South Africa. Therefore it is with humility that we oppose racial and religious discrimination.

But we also know that Christians who have retained their true Biblical faith have often led the charge for basic human rights and the fight against racism. People like William Wilberforce, Anthony Benezet, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, to name just a few. In fact in the history of the development of a charter of Universal Human Rights Christians have played a significant role. The philosopher A .C. Grayling, no special friend of Christianity, makes this point very clearly in his history of the struggle for liberty and rights, “Towards the Light”. [iii] Many of the ‘liberal values’ of the modern democratic state have their origins not just in the ‘Enlightenment’ but in the Western Christian heritage.

We believe that to maintain the values enshrined in declarations of human rights, the right of freedom of speech is a key essential. Of course freedom of speech must have its limits and vigorous debate must be conducted with respect and civility. Defamation, abuse, lies and untruths must be excluded along with incitement to racial and religious hatred and violence. A critical question is how we define and set the limits. This is partly what the current debate is about.

It was Thomas Hobbs the 17th C. English Christian political philosopher who developed the very influential idea of the “social contract” where the citizen gives up or limits certain personal rights to the state in return for the protection by the state of their rights. This “contract” involves a tension between control and freedom and the balance between these shifts from one cultural period to another. Currently in Western democracies we are in a confused cultural state and therefore confused about how to manage the tension between control and freedom in this matter. [iv] On the one hand we are in a time of hyper individualism and a preoccupation with personal freedom of choice at the expense of the common good; on the other hand we have democratic governments passing all sorts of laws attempting to enforce morality on their citizens in the form of political correctness of various kinds by legislation. In our good intention we easily forget that virtues may be protected by legislation but they cannot be created by them.

There are other current cultural factors that also complicate our situation like the significant migration of people from pre-modern, authoritarian and traditional cultures into Western post Enlightenment ones. People from such cultures have a different view of what may and may not be debated in the public square. For at least 300 years Christians in Western society have had to adjust to increasingly aggressive public critique and scrutiny of their beliefs and their primary documents and frequently to be exposed to ridicule and mockery. We have had to accept that this is the price of living in an open society where freedom of speech and freedom of belief and religious choice is valued. We no longer have or enforce particular blasphemy laws as we have come to accept that they are not consistent with the modern pluralist democratic society. If Christians wish to have freedom of belief and religion they must also grant it to others. But immigrants from theocratic and authoritarian states do not understand this. They will use our well-intended, but sometimes badly drafted anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws to avoid genuine critique and debate about their beliefs and practices on the grounds of offense or blasphemy or vilification. This stifles open debate and shuts down freedom of speech because those who wish to disagree or critique others beliefs are constantly under the threat of expensive litigation by individuals or by government Commissions of Human Rights and the subsequent penalties that might ensue. The irony of this position is that many of the very views and practices unintentionally being protected from scrutiny by our anti – vilification laws are inconsistent with our common liberal democratic principles!

We have now suffered the unhappy result of such laws in the state of Victoria. The European Union and Canada have had similar and even more extreme experiences. As a result the Canadians, who have a similar Act to ours and have experienced overreaching government Commissions of Human Rights and a raft of heavy fines and expensive law suits, have now repealed a similar section in their act and sought to reign in their Commissions. This is a significant lesson for Australia as the two countries have a similar history, culture and liberal democracy and a successful multicultural experience. One of the pioneers and champions of Canada’s human rights laws, Alan Borovoy, has in recent years become a critic of the way the Canadian Commissions have overreached and has publicly supported the changes in their law. He has made the point that too much ambiguity arises from legislation that uses words like “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.” From the Canadian experience he says: “You wind up losing more than your trying to nail” – exactly! [v]

Because of the doctrine of the separation of Church and State we do not have a ‘Sacred Public Square’ with a state established religion, nor do we have an entirely ‘Neutral or Secular Public Square’, we have a ‘Civil Public Square’ in which all views and beliefs have a right to speak. But the right to participate in debate in the ‘Civil Public Square’ requires everyone to submit to the right of others to respectfully and rigorously question and critique your ideas, beliefs , values and practices without pleading ‘offense’, ‘insult’, ‘intimidation’, or ‘blasphemy’ and resorting to litigation to escape scrutiny and transparency. The same point could be made about the debate over gender and identity politics where it is so easy to silence differing views with clichéd labels that demonise those with different views and values. The way the current law is framed makes critique and open discussion very vulnerable to legal challenge and so limits freedom of speech.

Because religion, race and culture are so often connected the issue of ‘cultural relativism’ [vi] is also very important in this debate. ‘Cultural relativism’ is the commonly held view that different values and behaviours are simply relative to different cultures and that no one should judge anyone else or any other cultures values and practices. This sounds reasonable and tolerant at first but it excludes the idea of any objective or universal set of values like those in declarations of Human Rights. It leads directly to the tolerance of evils such as the oppression of woman, cast systems, slavery, abuse of children, exploitation of labour, minority and religious persecution, etc. Of course there are no pure and consistent cultural relativists everyone draws the line somewhere in relation to the practices and beliefs of other cultures. There is a fog of fuzzie thinking in this area. It is important to remember that the right to believe anything does not lead to the conclusion that anything anyone believes is right!

The atmosphere of Post Modern thought with its rejection of any objective truth, value or meaning and its reduction of every issue to a question of power means that in the end there is no contest of ideas only a contest of power. This freedom from the “oppression of absolutes”, including God, that Post Modernity craves, will of course in the end lead to the most terrible loss and oppression of all – the loss of freedom to the absolute oppression of naked power. Usually this appears in the form of oppressive and violent political powers whose first actions are always to slowly strip away our rights especially our right to openly contest the truth of ideas.

Migration of different people groups from vastly different cultures and worldviews into the cities of the West has led to the development of a degree of cultural pluralism that is new in the breadth of its diversity to our past experience. The doctrine of “multiculturalism” has been developed as a way to maintain harmony and social cohesion in this context and countries like Australia and Canada with their Christian heritage have been very successful in this experiment. It could be argued that this dream of intercultural and ethnic harmony is an echo of the ultimate Christian vision of the peace and harmony in the Kingdom of God. [vii] But we also believe that this dream will only be completely achieved in the fully realised Kingdom. Till then we have to work within a fallen world of imperfect people and imperfect societies and imperfect political instruments. This fact is the weakness that all human political utopianism stumbles on. The task of a democratic society and the role of Christians within it is to try and realise the dream as substantially as we can within the limits of fallen human nature. One of the vital instruments to achieve this is freedom of speech and the ability to speak truth to power, whatever that power might be. That is why this debate is so important.

We also need to constantly be reminded that the virtues of respect for others and respect for truth may be protected by law but they cannot be created in people’s hearts by legislation or fear. It can only be taught and caught by example and precept in our most fundamental institutions of families, faith communities, schools and universities – the basic foundations of a ‘Civil Society’.

Peter Corney


[i] Micha 4:1-4. Isaiah 2:1-5, 25:6-8. Mark 1:14-15. Luke 4:16-20. Revelation 7:9-10.

ii Galatians 3:26

[iii] “Towards the Light” A.C Grayling, Bloomsbury 2007

[iv] See Philip Rieff “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”, etc. He put forward the view that over time societies go through a cycle of ‘release and control’. In the West the 60’s and 70’s were at time of ‘release’, we may now be moving into a cycle of control.

[v] The Australian p11 April 9th 2014 article “One voice on Free Speech”

[vi] See the article on “Cultural Relativism” at <petercorney .com>

[vii] Revelation 7:9-10. Isaiah 2:1-5

Alain de Botton and a mock mass at the NGV

Alain de Botton and a mock Mass at the NGV.

Some comments by Peter Corney

Celebrity philosopher Alain de Botton, author of “Religion is for Atheists” and “The Consolations of Philosophy” was recently in Melbourne to promote the Melbourne branch of his “School of Life”. He also gave a sell-out lecture at the NGV. (The National Gallery of Victoria) on ‘Art as Therapy’.

It was described effusively in the Gallery’s magazine[i] as a mock Mass. “The Great Hall at the NGV with its quasi-liturgical glass ceiling was an apt setting for celebrity philosopher Alain de Botton’s secular sermon on Art as Therapy”. The glowing description goes on; “The evening progressed in the form of a mock Mass complete with secular hymns – the audience (or congregation) were encouraged to sing along to the Beatle’s ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds.’ As high priest, de Botton proved as polished a performer as he is a writer…… He was ably supported by singers Mark Jones and Adam Murphy, who kicked off the mock Eucharist with a clever, Latin peppered hymn that was one of the nights highlights….the authors’ proposition that art is a tool to help people live better lives and address their psychological frailties has clearly hit a nerve.” The Gallery was certainly pleased, over 600 turned up for the lecture!

Alain de Botton has rightly discerned an empty space in our secular culture, created by the Wests turning away from Christianity. He is now promoting art as a substitute for religion. The place where values and meaning arose from in the past now seems empty for contemporary people.  There is a spiritual emptiness which some people think can be filled by the aesthetic or emotional experience that art can provide. De Botton goes much further he claims art museums can function as the new cathedrals, “places of consolation, meaning, sanctity and redemption”[ii] and also as centres of therapy. He says: “We propose that modern artists serve the psychological needs of people in the same way their forebears served the needs of theology.… scripture can be replaced by culture. Culture will be our new religion…”

Of course many of the treasures of Western art that de Botton now calls on in his “Art as Therapy”[iii] lectures were inspired by the Christian faith and its worship of God. But what inspired artists like Reuben’s and Rembrandt and musicians like Bach and Handell  was the glory of God and the beauty and profundity of God’s grace and love in Christ and his sacrifice.  Christians believe that our longing for beauty and our natural response to it is at root our longing for God who is the source of all beauty and creativity.

Alain de Botton is partly right; art can be healing because we were made to respond to it by beauty’s creator. But if the Christian faith is true the deep question is: if you cut the cord of beauty and creativity from its true origin can you really find its deepest consolations or do have only their shadows?

Christians believe that beauty in all its forms, in nature, in people, in art, can be thought of as ‘Gods photos’ that he scatters around our world, waiting for us to respond to them and see in them his face. St Paul in the NT says that Jesus is the icon of God[iv], the image of the invisible God, the one who brings God into the sharpest focus, through whom we may find and understand God. In the Jesus of the Gospels we see the love and compassion of God for all people, especially the poor, the sick and the marginalised and his opposition to all hypocrisy, injustice and evil. This is the face of God.

As de Botton points out in his lectures not all artistic expression is a reflection of beauty in its narrowest sense. It also reflects our sadness, loneliness and despair, all the aspects of the human condition. It also reflects our cruelty and ugliness. Think of Munch’s “Scream” or Goya’s “The disasters of war” or his depiction of the firing squad in “The third of May” or Picassos “Guernica”, or the paintings of David Ol’ere of the victims of the holocaust. These images shock and disturb our consciences. They raise deep questions about the reality of evil in our world and why we feel injustice so deeply. These truthful reflections of the dark side of reality direct us to seek answers to humanity’s flawed nature in some one greater than ourselves, or alternatively, force us into the despair of nihilism and a loss of hope.

Artistic beauty and artistic expression has always had its worshippers. The question is will we allow it to lead us to its true source or will we worship the creation rather than the creator?[v]

Peter Corney .

[i] ‘Gallery’ March /April 2014

[ii] This and the following quotations come from an interview with Alain de Botton in the same issue of ‘Gallery’  with Gabriella Coslovich, pages 22-28

[iii] “Art as Therapy” written by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. Pub. Phaidon, 2014

[iv] NT Colossians 1:15

[v] NT Romans 1: 18-25

Some reflections on Sorrentino’s film ‘The Great Beauty.’

“The great Beauty”, Paola Sorrentino’s film about Rome, is both a beautiful and disturbing film. It is a feast for the eyes and ears of the beauty of the ‘Eternal City’ but raises deep issues about meaning and purpose.

Following the tradition of Federico Fellini’s celebrated film “La Dolce Vita” (The Good Life), that portrayed Rome’s post war 1950’s revival and the empty hedonism of its upper classes, Sorrentino’s film is set in today’s Italy of Berlusconi, with its political and moral disorder and the spiritual and emotional emptiness of its rich high flyers partying amidst its decaying economy. At one stage Jep, the main character, travels to the coast and stands looking out at the image of the recently capsized Italian cruise ship, still on its side waiting to be re-floated. Is it a symbol of the nation’s condition and perhaps even Europe’s?

As we are taken on a tour through the breathtaking beauty of Rome and its treasures we also follow the nocturnal revelling’s of a group of wealthy decadent friends who party on to an endless but hollow beat of empty pleasure amidst the opulent beauty of their city. A neon Martini sign is a constant and appropriate backdrop to their nightly roof top gatherings.

Jep Gambardella the central character is played with elegant sardonic restraint by Toni Servillo. He is a wealthy, aging, jaded writer who has become dissatisfied with his life and his friends and is experiencing an emptiness that begins to overwhelm him.  He has never married and learning of the death of his first love brings back the memory of its fragile beauty. He then learns of the tragic suicide of a friend’s troubled son and he begins to ponder the meaning or futility of his own life amidst the beauty of his city. At one stage he remarks to a friend who has also become disillusioned with the city and his life; “We are all on the brink of despair; all we can do is keep each other company – and joke a little.” The film could be seen as a search for what gives meaning to life and death, especially in the presence of great beauty.

There are also wonderful cameo performances in the film like Jep’s interview with an artist for an article on the arts he is writing for a highbrow magazine. She is an avant-garde performance artist who’s bizarre act climaxes in her hurling herself naked head first against a stone wall! The setting is spectacular; the wall is part of the foundations of a great towering ancient Roman aqueduct set in glorious countryside. The irony of this rather bizarre and nihilistic performance being performed, once again, against the back drop of Rome’s “great beauty,” is hard to miss. The further irony is Jeps interview with the artist. It is an amusing but ruthless exposure of the shallowness and meaninglessness of her fashionable postmodern punk – hip performance. Her explanation is as incoherent as the performance, it is without meaning. In a sense it is a less sophisticated version of the lives of Jep and his friends and you sense that he knows it.

For me the film raised a fundamental question about the origin and purpose of ‘great beauty’ in our lives, whether it’s the beauty in art, nature, love or friendship. In the end I think the answer to that question lies in your world view.

As a Christian I believe great beauty has its origin in God and is a reflection of his glory and beauty and its purpose is to point us to him, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” [i] The film wonderfully celebrates beauty but never asks what is its ultimate source.[ii]

If great beauty doesn’t ennoble you then it may corrupt you. If you do not allow it to take you to its true transcendent source then you can make it the object of your worship, or you turn it into something you can manipulate for your own selfish purposes, human love is a good example, or it can set you on a journey of longing and desire that you never fully satisfy with this worlds substitutes.

In an interview about the film Toni Servillo who plays the main character said; “I think that beauty can injure you to death. It can cause an injury that can never be cured, or it can so traumatise you that it changes your direction.”[iii]

Rome is also known as ‘The Eternal City’ because the ancient Romans believed that it was a city that would last forever. That title is also sometimes used because its beauty and grandeur is said to reflect the true eternal city, the city of God in the Kingdom of heaven. But sadly the Rome of Berlusconi’s Italy is once again a byword for political, moral and spiritual corruption.

Also we should never forget its violent history, expressed in Cowper’s famous line from his poem ‘Boadicea’:

“Rome shall perish,

Write that word in the blood she has spilt.”[iv]

Both beauty and power have their origins in God and if their worldly expressions do not lead us back to him they will inevitably corrupt us.

In “The City of God”, written by Augustine after the sacking of Rome by the Vandals in the 5th Century, a book that has greatly influenced Western thought, he reflects on the historical conflict between the city of man and the city of God. The city of God is marked by people who forgo earthly pleasures and devote themselves to God and his eternal truths. The city of man on the other hand consists of people who focus themselves on the pleasures of this present but passing world.

Even though the great earthly cities may eventually fall, The City of God – the New Jerusalem – will last forever.[v]

Peter Corney Jan.2014

[i] See Psalm 19:1, Psalm 29, and Romans 1:20.

[ii] See C.S Lewis “The weight of Glory” Collected Essays 2000 Harper.

[iii] See The Guardian film review 2013

[iv] ‘Boadicea : An ode’ by William Cowper, 18th C.

[v] Revelation 21.

“Punk Theology”


Punk Rock was created in the UK by the Sex Pistols in 1975 with Johnny Rotten, joined later by Sid Vicious; they were closely followed by another creative Punk band The Clash. They took the rock scene by storm and created a whole new wave of music that was a vehicle for a radical form of political dissent from the establishment. Their concerts often ended in a riot! They also inspired new styles in dress and fashion. Later this was followed by Punk art, Punk poetry and even Punk film such as the classic “The Decline of Western Civilisation.” They were anti-establishment, anti-authority, anti-capitalist, nonconformist and iconoclastic. They were for freedom, equality, direct action and free thought, opposed to selling out to the dominant culture.

The name and image has been hijacked now by all sorts of alternative and New wave arts and social movements who want to challenge the established artistic or cultural scene. There is even a self-styled “mystic Punk -art collective” called “Punkasila” based in Jakarta of all places that is to perform in Melbourne soon.

As someone who survived the 70’s it occurred to me that some contemporary theology could be described as “Punk Theology” – iconoclastic, rejecting the historic tradition and anti-authority. But where it differs from authentic Punk is that strangely it is not opposed to selling out to the dominant culture, a strong theme in genuine Punk. In fact much contemporary liberal theology is accommodationist – reducing and adapting the Gospel to the prevailing culture and its plausibility structure- what it finds easy to believe and is congenial to its morality. Despite its radical pose it is oddly intellectually provincial, reflecting the attitudes and values of its times. Rather than offering a critique of the contemporary culture and its values from the foundation of the historic faith it does the opposite.  A visit to a “Progressive Christianity”, “Progressive Spirituality” or “Emerging Christianity” website will be enough to reveal how un – Punk much contemporary liberal Christianity has become.  Alternatively read Ross Douthat’s very insightful book “Bad Religion”, especially chapters 5-7, (Free Press 2012)

A truly authentic Punk theology would radically attack and critique the contemporary intellectual and cultural idols of hyper modernity. These idols include Western cultures hyper individualism and narcissistic selfism, its redefining of personal freedom as the freedom from any restraint’s on the individuals choice, its reduction of decisions about sexual ethics to the narrow private concept of individual consent, its boundryless radical inclusivism and hypocritical cultural relativism*, its intellectually lazy religious syncretism that refuses to grapple with fundamentally contradictory ideas and world views. Then there is the empirical and reality denying embrace of ‘new literary theory’ and deconstruction to justify the rejection of any objective meaning in human communication – turning every interpretation into a mirror of the self’s inner world of murky motives and emotions and our dysfunctional psyches. This radical subjectivism eliminates all objective meaning and any moral and ethical criteria. Then there’s its highly selective and phoney embrace of Eastern Mysticisms idea of the self as a divine spark that if realised will not just connect you to but merge you with the Divine. Re- packaged for Western consumption by the merchants of the self- realisation and self- fulfilment movement this naive adoption of Eastern ideas feeds our contemporary inflation of the self. It adroitly avoids the real message of Eastern Mysticism, the elimination of the self in the ‘great sea of cosmic consciousness,’ a kind of ultimate suicide of the self, definitely not a congenial idea to the ego focussed selfism of the West!  ** If we still had a Biblical memory we might recognise the echo of the Tempters lie from Genesis 3:4 seducing us away from listening to God’s voice, “…you will not surely die…. you will be like God…” But alas all we hear now is our own.

The list of the Wests present cultural follies that a truly Punk Theology could challenge is a long one but you get the idea.

I say, bring back ‘The Clash!’

Peter Corney

*See the article on this website: “Christianity’s radical challenge to Cultural Relativism” (Category: “Christ and Culture.”)

**See the article on the website: “ Remaking the Western Mind – How God and the Self Blurred into One” (Category: “Christ and Culture.”)

Lessons from the long haul

Recently the following personal questions were put to me about leadership. Here are my answers.

  1. 1. In your many years in ministry what one thing or one area of ministry has given you the

most joy?

God has been good to me and there are many things that have given me joy so it’s hard to choose. I think that to be a part of people coming to faith in Christ and then seeing them grow, persevere and stay in the race is a great joy. Recently I attended a reunion of a youth group I led when I was in training. A significant number of people came to Christ in that time. The people are now all in their 60,s and here they were still active Christians, involved in their churches, many of them in positions of lay leadership and some in ordained ministry. That was a joy! I think the area of ministry that has been most rewarding is my involvement in leadership training and development. When you help to develop a Christian leader you become part of a multiplying effect in the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God because leaders influence many others.

  1. 2. What season of ministry was the most stressful?

Well there are plenty to choose from to answer this question! At a personal and family level it would be the period when I was leading and building up a local congregation in a significant growth phase and my three children were at a critical age of late primary and early teens. I was very busy with a lot of balls in the air and the ministry was in a very stimulating phase. But I realised that I had to spend more time with my family and especially my three boys. The demands of the job were relentless and the opportunities were many and exciting. But I remember feeling very strongly one day that God was saying – “You might rescue a lot of other people but lose your own children if you don’t get some balance into your life”. I made a decision to significantly restructure my timetable and spend more time with my kids. It was one of my best decisions.

At a ministry level one of the most stressful times was during the charismatic renewal in the 80’s when many mainstream churches were affected by the movement. There were many positive things that came out of that time. It was exciting and unpredictable and we saw God do some great things in people’s lives. There was a great desire among people to discover their gifts and use them .Worship had a new energy and focus on God.  People had a much greater expectancy of what the Spirit of God would do. But along with this came significant tensions for leaders. It was a challenge to keep a healthy balance between those who wanted to see more and more freedom and those who became concerned about excesses. Many needy people flooded into the church looking for help. Moderating people’s expression of the gifts of the Spirit required great wisdom. Trying to be inclusive without people dropping off either end was challenging. Finding, and then standing by, a theological position that was Biblical, balanced, healthy and inclusive was a difficult and stressful task.

3. Can you remember a lesson you learnt from an unusual source? What was it and how did it affect you?

Captain Ahab, the very flawed but charismatic central character in Herman Melville’s great book “Moby Dick” was an unexpected source of leadership insight. Ahab is the Captain of a whaling ship who becomes obsessed with catching a particular whale, Moby Dick. In spite of being a skilled sailor his obsession and unbalanced passion eventually leads him and his crew to disaster. There is a key scene where the whale evades him yet again and in his rage and frustration he smashes his sextant on the deck, his main navigational tool. They are in the middle of the pacific and the crew realise they now have no reliable way to navigate home; their faith in Ahab begins to leak away.

The relationship between a leader and their people that makes positive, healthy and constructive ministry possible is a delicate unwritten contract that is based on trust, once that trust is broken or seriously weakened it is hard to restore. Sometimes it is broken by the leader making a major error of judgement that they refused to accept advice on, or by becoming so angry publicly when their ideas are frustrated that they say things that are difficult to take back. It’s like smashing your sextant!

I consulted once to a church where this trust had broken down not by anything immoral but by the leader being so obsessed with his vision that he could not accept any significant modification to it. In a fit of anger he then issued his lay leaders with an ultimatum – agree to it or I go?  He would not back down and so they accepted his resignation! It was his Captain Ahab moment.  It was a tragedy because his vision was actually good and he was a talented person, he was just pushing too hard and too fast and without enough consultation. It took the church some time to recover and several years before he could engage in ministry again.

Strong conviction about vision is Ok as long as it is presented in a way that is not absolute and allows other people have a real opportunity to contribute to and modify the vision. Leadership ultimatums are dangerous! They are usually driven by emotion not wisdom. It is also dangerous to present visions as a clear non – negotiable message from God to the leader. This can degenerate into spiritual blackmail. How do lay leaders disagree with God! Any vision must be presented in a way that leaves it open to be enriched, modified or challenged by others. Exclusive leader visions contradict the NT teaching of the Body of Christ and the operation of the Spirit in all members. Churches that are stuck or in decline are well advised to listen to a new leader and a fresh view of their ministry but not in a way that excludes their input.

  1. 4. What do you wish you had known earlier in your ministry?

How to focus my time strategically on the right people and the right tasks, and how to balance my time and energy between working IN ministry and working ON ministry.

Working strategically and working ON is to keep regularly asking yourself the following kinds of questions: “How can I/we equip, release and multiply people who can multiply ministry?”  “How can we multiply and train leaders?” “Does this work towards our main goals?” “Is the vision clear and how can we get more people to own it?” “What are the barriers to our growth?”  “What are the key things we need to do next to move forward?” etc.  Working ON is planning, designing, conceiving structures and organisations that enable others to serve. It is spending time listening to God about how you should move forwards.

Working IN ministry is chairing meetings, seeing people who are sick, preparing sermons, planning services, attending to administration, answering emails, counselling, listening to people’s concerns , etc, etc. You have to spend significant time doing these tasks, but if they consume all your time and energy you will not be able to lead effectively.

There are always more demands than you can meet and the immediate tasks are always pressing. This tends to push the leader towards a reactive rather than a proactive stance. The phone rings, the email arrives, the needy person wants to see you now, this task must be done by tomorrow, people with high needs absorb your time and sap your energy, etc.

So the challenge is to plan and manage your time so you have a balance between IN and ON and time to think and act strategically.

Think about it like this: You may be very good at pastoral counselling and be able to carry a significant load but if you’re the only one who does it then once you have reached your limit and  no more will be done! The only way to get more done is to train and release other people to do it also. That will mean you will have to say no to some individuals so you can give time to train others, you will have to reorganise your priorities and your time. If you do not become proactive about your time and focus you will be the prisoner of everyone else’s demands and you will unintentionally hold the growth back.

  1. 5. What charge do you pass on to the younger generation of leaders?

Keep your passion alive for ministry and the Gospel. To do that you need to attend to 11 things:

  1. Your relationship with God.
  2. Your personal disciplines both spiritual and practical, e.g.; prayer and time use.
  3. Be organised and plan ahead. Keep and adhere to your diary, keep control of your life.
  4. Attend to your relationship with your spouse and children if you are married.
  5. Keep growing, thinking, reading and learning.
  6. Keep balance in your life, maintain other interests, rest and recreate.
  7. Continue the mentor principle throughout your life.
  8. Keep renewing your spiritual life.
  9. Maintain personal integrity – deal with your weaknesses, live what you preach.
  10. Don’t sail too close to the shore, be wise but be adventurous.
  11. Keep your sense of humour.

Peter Corney.

The myth of neutrality and the contested space.


(Notes taken from a stimulating and insightful address by Jon Tyson, church planter and senior pastor of Trinity-Grace Church New York, at the Sept. 2013 Arrow Australia Alumni Conference.)

The myth of neutrality

Christians think they are the only ones discipling people but in fact everyone is being discipled by someone or something in the culture. (Eg: popular entertainment and advertising.)

The contested space

Everyone’s mind and heart is a contested space.

Society has a vision of “the good life” and Christianity has an alternative and competing one. Who will win the hearts and minds?

The popular culture disciple’s people from:

–          From faith to doubt

–          From love to insecurity

–          From community to individualism

–          From contributing to taking

–          From rest to exhaustion

–          From freedom for to freedom from

–          From service to others to serving the self

–          From enough to excess

–          Etc.

This culture is leading to a harvest of brokenness

We have to communicate the alternative vision of “the good life” – Gods plan for human flourishing and in such a way that people hear it as life affirming, redemptive and gracious.

(Notes taken by Peter Corney may not be exactly verbatim and contain some interpretation but they attempt to convey the ideas as clearly as heard –my apologies for any inaccuracies.)

The Grand Vision and the Great Dream – The future of the Nations.


By Peter Corney

(This address was first delivered on the 20/10/13 at St Hilary’s Kew on the occasion of the launch and dedication of the Persian /English parallel N.T. produced by the Rev Khalil Razmara.)

The focus is the vital importance of people hearing the Gospel in their own heart language. It also deals with:

: The strategic importance of ethnic church planting in multicultural Australia.

: The dangers of the cultural trap.

: The unity of the body of Christ.

: God’s plan for the healing of the nations.

We sometimes forget that almost all of the first Christians were Jews, the twelve disciples were Jews. It is also easy to forget, at our distance from the first century, the cultural challenges they faced in embracing the Gospel.

The second Temple Judaism they were raised in had become narrow, inward looking and exclusive. The very design of Herod’s Temple itself bore witness to this. Surrounding the Temple proper was a great courtyard known as the courtyard of the Gentiles. This is where Jesus took his radical action against the money changers and sellers of animal sacrifices. Within this courtyard, separating it off from the Temple itself, was a stone balustrade on which were inscribed words in both Greek and Hebrew that forbade any non-Jew, on threat of death, from entry to the Temple courts. This was not in the original design of the Temple given by God in the OT and was certainly not exactly welcoming to a non-Jew! This was the Judaism in which the first Christians were raised.

Right up to the time of Jesus’ ascension the disciples were still asking “Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Their view of the Kingdom was restricted and ethnocentric.

It took the dramatic power and work of the Holy Spirit to break them out of their narrow ethnocentrism.

For example Peter’s exclusivism was blown apart by his dream and vision of all the food unclean for a Jew but which God commanded him to eat. The Spirit then sent him to the house of Cornelius , a gentile and an officer in the hated army of occupation. While Peter is explaining the gospel about Jesus to them the Holy Spirit falls on all in the house. Amazed, Peter baptises Cornelius and his household. Later, when he is criticised for entering a Gentile’s house and baptising them, Peter recounts the whole story and how the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household. The critics startled response is recorded in Act 11:18 in these words: “So then, God has granted even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life!”

Then there is the fanatic Pharisee Paul who led a campaign to purge the new Christian sect from Judaism. He is confronted by Christ in a powerful and extraordinary vision on his way to Damascus to persecute the Jesus followers there. Thrown to the ground and struck blind he hears Christs voice questioning him, he is later healed by one of the very people he came to arrest! Dramatically converted, he is then called to be the primary messenger to the Gentiles, his life turned completely upside down.

Think about the infant Church, very early on in their care for the poor widows in the Jerusalem church. Acts 6. records that the Hellenist or Greek speaking widows complained because they were being put last in the queue for assistance, the Jewish widows were being given preference! Then in Acts 15 they have a major conflict over how much of the Jewish law the new Gentile converts should follow. They call what must be the Churches first council of leaders to resolve the question.

Just like us they didn’t find it easy to overcome ethnic and cultural prejudice, a prejudice reinforced by the first century theological exclusivism they had grown up with.

Remember also they were members of an occupied country trying to preserve their culture against the overwhelming homogenising force of the Roman Empire, at that time the greatest imperial, economic, cultural and military power the world had ever seen. It was like the way many Christians feel now in Western culture in the face of Post Modernity, aggressive secularism and the popular media as we struggle to preserve our identity and values and our children’s faith.

But the Holy Spirit changed their hearts and minds and opened them up to the great vision of God for all the nations, the vision that began with the promise to Abraham that through his family “all the nations of the earth would be blessed.”

It was to this group of Jewish Christian converts that Jesus gives this commission shortly before he leaves them: “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (Gk. ‘all ethnicities’), baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Math28:18-20)

This is then reinforced with Jesus’s exhortation in Acts 1:8 at his ascension; “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

But to reach the nations (‘all ethnicities’) the Gospel had to be brought to them in their own heart languages, they had to hear it in their own tongue.

The day of Pentecost is a dramatic expression of their new mission and its international, interracial, and intercultural scope.

Acts 2:1-11 says: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly from heaven there came the sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians , Medes, Elamites, and the residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another “What does this mean?”

The Christian faith is essentially relational; it is about entering into a personal relationship with God through Christ, loving God with all our heart…and our neighbour also. And so to understand it properly we need to hear it explained it in the language of our hearts, our own relational language, our own tongue.

That is why Christians have worked hard at the task of the translation of the Bible and the Gospel into people’s heart languages. To date we have translated the Gospel into 2,798 different languages. There are 518 complete translations of the Bible and the work continues through the Bible Society, Mission agencies and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

This work of Khalila’s that we celebrate and dedicate today is part of that great tradition, a tool to help one culture speak to another about Jesus in their own tongue.

Nevertheless in spite of our positive history in the work of translation we should never underestimate the power of language and culture to trap us and limit us.

Judaism has a sacred language – Hebrew. Islam has a sacred language – 7th C Arabic. But Christianity has no sacred language and yet at times Christians have forgotten this. The mediaeval Church and its scholars trapped the Bible in Latin and it took the courage of people like Wycliffe and Luther to break out of that and put the scriptures back in to the language of the ordinary people.

Some Orthodox traditions have trapped their liturgy in forms of Slavonic, Georgian, and Greek that people no longer speak or understand,  a dead language has become sacred! They have even developed a whole theology of worship to justify this as a heavenly language of worship. The divine service of the communion of the saints united with the heavenly worship by the use of a special language that transcends the divisions and limitations of living earthly languages. This special language is of course generally only known by the priests. While this idea contains an insight about our unity in Christ the cost of this to evangelism and generational transmission of the faith has been very high for many branches of Orthodoxy, with whole generations now missing or with little understanding of their faith because the language of their worship is not understood by them.

There are also Anna – Baptists who today still use old High German in their worship, a language no longer generally spoken.

When I trained for the ministry in the 1960’s Anglicans were still stuck with the Elizabethan English of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, beautiful  but no longer spoken except in Shakespearian theatre companies!

Kenneth Bailey in his classic commentary “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes” makes this insightful observation on Jesus’ use of every day Aramaic when he taught his disciples to pray.

“The Lord’s prayer begins with the Aramaic word ‘abba’ and therefore we can assume that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the Aramaic of daily communication rather than the classical Hebrew of written texts. The Aramaic – speaking Jew in the first century was accustomed to recite his prayers in Hebrew, not Aramaic. Similarly, Muslim worshipers always recite their traditional prayers in the classical Arabic of seventh century Arabia. Both Judaism and Islam have a sacred language. Christianity does not. This fact is of enormous significance.

The use of Aramaic in worship was a major upheaval in the assumptions of Jesus’s day. It meant that for Jesus no sacred language was ‘the language of God.’ Jesus lived in a world where the public reading of the Bible was only in Hebrew, and prayers had to be offered in that language. When Jesus took the giant step of endorsing Aramaic as an acceptable language for prayer and worship, he opened the door for the New Testament to be written in Greek (not Hebrew) and then translated into other languages.

It follows that if there is no sacred language, there is no sacred culture. All of this is an outgrowth of the incarnation. If the Word is translated from the divine to the human and becomes flesh, then the door is open for that Word to again be translated into other cultures and languages.”

The primary task of the Church is mission – to speak the Gospel to all the nations. That is why communicating the Gospel in peoples heart language is a strategic priority for the Church. It is also why ethnic Church planting in our multicultural Australia is a strategic priority, especially at this time when we are experiencing major immigration of people from very different cultures and language groups.

But even within this strategy we must beware of the cultural trap. Every ethnic church must eventually transcend its ethnicity and language and the culture that accompanies it and understand that it is part of something bigger, the international body of Christ and the communion of the Saints in which, as Paul expresses it in Gal 3:28 “…there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus”.

We are saved by grace not race!

Every ethnic church that is planted in a dominant host culture like Australia, whether Chinese, Korean, Iranian, Tamil, etc., must plan ahead for its young people whose life will be shaped not only by the ethnic church but by the host culture in which they will be educated and the new language and culture they will absorb. The ethnic church must be willing to embrace change in their worship style and music, and create parallel services and youth groups in the language and style their children will be immersed in through their school and popular culture. If they fail to do this they will lose the next generation, a sad pattern we have seen repeated over and over again in immigrant churches. This strategy must be insisted upon by the host churches from the dominant culture that initiate or assist ethnic churches to be planted under their sponsorship.

This is not an easy task for immigrant churches who value the traditions and language of their cultures of origin, but when the main preoccupation of an ethnic church becomes the preservation of their language and culture they are on their way to spiritual death and irrelevance. They have lost the heart of the Great Commission. Of course it must be said that established churches in the dominant host culture can fall into the same trap when they become locked in a sub culture that has lost its relevance and connection with the main stream of society.

Behind the command of Jesus in Mathew 28 lies the greatest dream of all, the brightest, most holy and most precious vision of all, which is the ultimate purpose of the Gospel – the reconciliation and unity of all things to God. This plan, that arises out of the heart of God’s love for his broken world, is to reconcile us to himself through Christ, and then with one another in a unity that will never again be broken by prejudice, fear, pride, racial ambitions, war and conflict. It will also restore to harmony the very creation itself from its brokenness, as Paul expresses it so majestically in Romans 8:18-28, and make us once again its responsible stewards. This great purpose will lift from us the judgement of confusion and division laid upon us at the Tower of Babel because of our vaunting pride and rejection of Gods authority, creating a rich unity in diversity. This is one of the great goals of the Kingdom of God.

The great prophetic visions in the OT speak of a day when all the nations lay down their weapons, gathering in a great celebration of unity and peace.

Micha 4:1-4 “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning    hooks. Nation will not rise against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”

Isaiah 25:6-8 “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken”

As we think of the people of Syria today in their suffering we long for the realisation of Isaiah’s vision and hope.

And then the final great vision of the book of Revelation.

Rev. 7:9-10 “After this I Looked, and there before me was  great multitude that no one could count, from every tribe and nation, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb……they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the lamb.’”

When the people, gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost from all over the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East, heard the disciple’s speaking in the power of the Spirit in their own languages, they called out “What does this mean?” Peter answers them in the words of the prophet Joel “In the last days I will pour out my spirit on all people…..and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2)

“What does this mean?” This is a foretaste of the final fullness of the kingdom of God, the ultimate purpose of the Gospel, that one day God will unite all people from all nations and all tongues who have put their trust in Christ in a great unity of love and peace in the fully consummated Kingdom of God.

Augustine in his book “The City of God”, written as the old order of the Roman Empire was disintegrating in the 5thcentury, describes the disunity, conflict and rivalry of the nations as the fragmentation of Adam. “Adam lies scattered over the earth…..he has fallen. Having been broken to pieces, as it were, he has filled the universe with his debris and disunity. However, God’s mercy has gathered together from everywhere his fragments and by fusing them in the fire of his love, he has reconstituted their broken unity.” The focus of that fire of love is in the cross of Christ.

But now we, the disciple of Jesus, must be the anticipation of this unity in our life and mission, and a witness to the truth that we are saved by grace not race.

The Parable of the ER Ward Patient

The Parable of the ER Ward patient          by Peter Corney

An unconscious patient has just been admitted to the ER department at a major metro hospital that specialises in very sick organisations. After being triaged and seen by the ER doctor they are sent off for a series of tests; X-rays, blood tests, an MRI and an ECG.

Tests show the patient is not dead, they have a faint pulse, but are deeply unconscious.

The blood tests reveal a serious theological anaemia and a system compromised by ‘liberal theological reductionism’* and cultural conformity. Provisional diagnosis would indicate the sustained absence of a proper diet of orthodox and intelligent teaching from the organisations primary sources. This has seriously threatened their identity, distinctiveness and understanding of their core purpose.

X-rays and bone density scans show their skeletal structure is affected by osteoporosis and there are a series of fractures in critical areas such as leadership, outreach and evangelism, youth and children’s ministry, discipling, community and worship style. The leadership crisis would seem to be the result of a long term neglect of good recruiting, selection and training and a model of ministry dominated by pastoral maintenance. It would also seem that an out dated and irrelevant model of the local congregation has been pursued for too long.

The ECG indicates heart disease resulting from a lack of emphasis on personal commitment, the Holy Spirit and prayer. This is the reason for the low energy, passion and commitment.

The MRI reveals the presence of a brain tumour. Further test show it is cancerous – a BXY 304 type which affects specific neurological functioning. This results in symptoms of denial and inability to face reality or make serious decisions.

The patients name is Ecclesia. Their only future lies in radical treatment of the underlying pathologies.

(*Footnote:  ‘Liberal theological reductionism’ is a theological pathogen that reshapes the Churches faith and practice by reducing and accommodating its beliefs to the current plausibility structure or world view of the time, what people find plausible or easy to believe in the current culture. It usually does this by stealth, by preserving the Christian words and symbols but changing their first order meaning or emptying out their original meaning. For example; currently doctrines like the Atonement, the divinity of Christ, the incarnation, salvation by Christ alone, Biblical authority, sexual ethics, etc., are the subject of major revisionism by Liberal Reductionists. Rather than challenging and critiquing the spirit of the times with the long perspective of the historic faith it does the reverse. In this sense it is intellectually provincial and limited, bound to its culture and controlled by fashion – a kind of Dior theology. It currently goes under the banner of ‘Progressive Christianity.’ It is often embraced by Christians who failed to work through the difficult questions early in their Christian life. They put them on hold only for them to resurface later in life.)

The Future of Democracy in a Post Christian West.

More people attend an AFL round over a weekend in Melbourne than the combined membership of all Australian political parties. In the 90’s ALP membership was around 50,000, it is now about 30,000 and still falling, and in the last national party elections only 12,000 voted. A similar pattern affects the Liberal party. The late Don Chip’s Democrats, that began as a high member participation party is now a tiny shadow of its former self.

Some people say that the greatest threat to democracy today is voter indifference and voter cynicism with politics and politicians.

This year a Lowey Institute survey polled Australian’s attitudes to democracy. They found that – 60% preferred democracy to any other form of government. But most disturbing was that of 18-35 year olds only 39% answered yes to that question and 15% said “It doesn’t matter what kind of government we have.” [i] Currently it is estimated that about 1.4 million young Australians eligible to vote have not registered.

Our English word democracy comes from a Greek word meaning “the rule of the people”, from demos = people and kratos = power – “the power of the people”. Well, if that is how we are to define it then we might be in trouble because the people are switched off, or in the case of party members, ‘ticked off’ by being shut out of the political process by an increasingly professionalised and remote party machine.

Commentators point to other issues like:

–         The over influence of the Media and the relentless reporting cycle that politicians seem to allow to control them, and the media focus on the internal political conflict rather than policy – politics as entertainment rather than real debate over ideas and vision.

–         The obsession with minority issues and special interest groups that affect only a tiny proportion of the electorate.

–         The tendency of governments to attempt to intrude further and further into areas like freedom of speech.

–         The creeping surveillance and data collection culture that threatens our privacy and freedom.

–         Etc.

These are all important issues but I have chosen to focus in this lecture on what I believe to be three critical threats to modern liberal democracy today.

(1) The diminishing influence of Christianity in the West and the rise of an aggressive secularism.

(2) The growth of hyper individualism and the new understanding of freedom.

(3) The threat to democracy from religious extremism.

The first threat comes from the diminishing influence of Christianity in the West and the growth of an aggressive secularism that believes that it alone has the right to occupy the public square.

Almost everyone knows Lincolns description of democracy that was part of his famous Gettysburg speech on Nov. 19th 1863. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

But where did that phrase come from? Did it originate in Lincolns mind? Well, No! Thirteen years before Gettysburg it was used in a speech by the Rev Theodore Parker at an anti-slavery convention in Boston. In his speech urging Americans to abolish slavery Parker described democracy and freedom in these words: “ A democracy, that is a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people…..a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God…..I will call it the idea of freedom.”  [ii]

But where did Parker get it from? Well it turns out that the first occurrence of this phrase is found in, of all places, the preface to the first translation of the Bible into English by John Wycliffe in 1384. Where it says: “The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”[iii]

Now I mention this obscure bit of history to illustrate how powerful the influence of Christianity and the Bible has been on the development of Western liberal democracy.

The quote from the preface to Wycliffe’s Bible also illustrates the inextricable link between democracy and freedom and the part that the Reformation and Protestant ideas played. Wycliffe is known as “the morning star of the reformation” and, like Martin Luther who translated the Bible into common German, they were concerned to make the Bible accessible to ordinary people so that they would be free to make their own judgements unfiltered by authoritarian Popes or controlled by priestly mystification. This thread of influence weaves its way through the development of democracy.

In the long struggle for democracy and its evolution in England from Magna Carter on, Christians and biblical ideas played a key role. For example: the key idea that God has established the state as a delegated authority, not as an autonomous power above God’s law. Laws made by the State should not contradict God’s law. English jurists from Bracton (1210-1268), to Edward Coke (1552-1634) and William Blackstone (1723- 1870) repeated and upheld this idea. [iv] This concept lies behind the trial of King Charles I. for “crimes against the people of England” by the English Parliament in1649. He was the first European monarch to be tried and sentenced in such a way. Even the King is not above the law. This is the principle on which the International court of justice in The Hague now operates in judging crimes like genocide by leaders of states.  [v]

In the 16th and 17th C’s  and the formation of the English Parliament and the Commonwealth, the Puritans were a driving force. They sought to model their ideas about community and government on the Bible. James Harrington a Puritan scholar developed a concept of republican government with popular ownership of land based on Israel’s God given agrarian land laws. [vi] They were greatly influenced by the NT ideas that all Christians are one in Christ and all people are equal before the Cross and God’s grace. Radical elements like the “Levellers” challenged the whole aristocratic arrangement of inherited land and privilege. They were heavily persecuted for their ideas. All the Protestant Dissenter’s Confessions of faith in the 17th C. contain strong statements about freedom of conscience and the moral limits of the state to compel people in matters of faith and belief.

These ideas were then transported to America with the Pilgrim Fathers and the first English settlers who were seeking religious and political freedom and were foundational in the new political experiment in the ‘new world.’

Tom Paine who wrote “The Rights of Man” and greatly influenced American democracy and human rights thinking began his public life as a Methodist lay preacher in England in the 1760’s. [vii]

When we come to the late 18th and early 19th C, the beginnings  of organised labour, the early union movement and workers’ rights were dominated by Methodism and people affected by the Evangelical revival in England. [viii]

Human rights are intimately connected with democratic values and Christians have been closely involved in their development and codification from the very beginning. Key figures in this process like the anti – slavery campaigners: Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and the French Huguenot and Quaker Anthony Benezet, were all motivated by their Christian faith.[ix]

The first country to give woman the vote was New Zealand, closely followed by South Australia, in both cases Christian woman’s organisations like “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union” were a driving force.

So from these few brief highlights we can see  the profound influence of Christian and Biblical ideas on freedom and democracy. The key point here is to recognise that modern democracy has  a cultural foundation developed in the Christian West.

I said earlier that freedom and democracy are intimately connected but as the framers of the American Constitution stressed “freedom requires virtue and virtue requires faith”. [x] It is striking in their writings and speeches to see how clearly they understood this. While many were Christians, others were Deists and free thinkers, but they all understood the essential connection between freedom, virtue and faith. Let me give you just three quotations from the many I could have quoted:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom” (Benjamin Franklin)

“To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a fantasy.” (James Maddison)

“It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.” (John Adams)

The social and cultural critic Os Guinness has recently published a new book provocatively titled “A Free Peoples Suicide – Sustainable Freedom and the American Future”. [xi] He makes the point that while freedom can be a long and tough struggle to achieve; sustaining freedom is an even greater challenge because freedom is its own worst enemy. When freedom becomes unmoored from virtue and faith it tends to become license and undermines liberty. We begin to believe that whatever life style we desire we can choose without any cost. Inevitably we begin to impinge on the freedom of others as we lose our sense of obligation to the common good. He writes “only those who can govern themselves as individuals can govern themselves as a people. As for an athlete or dancer, freedom for a citizen is the gift of self- control training and discipline not self- indulgence. The laws of the land may provide external restraints on behaviour, but the secret of freedom is what Lord Moulton called ‘obedience to the unenforceable’, which is a matter of virtue, which in turn is a matter of faith. Faith and virtue are therefore indispensable to freedom” [xii] This is a most perceptive insight.

The Classical virtues are: Temperance, Prudence (Wisdom), Courage and Justice; the Christian virtues are: Faith, Hope and Love.

But these virtues can only be sustained by belief in and a commitment to a source of transcendent values. Hence the formula “Freedom requires virtue and virtue requires faith..”

It is no accident therefore that the two outstanding English speaking examples of modern liberal democracy are Great Britain and the United States, both profoundly influenced, as I have shown, by the Christian faith and world view that also incorporates the classical virtues. In the case of the British example it has now been successfully adopted by Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a large number of countries in the British Commonwealth of Nations, including the largest democracy in the world, India. (Japanese and Korean democracy were the gifts of America.)

To dismiss this influence on world democracy on the grounds of personal or ideological prejudice towards the Christian faith, as many aggressive secularists do, is to say the least, curious. But to ignore it as a result of historical amnesia is just irresponsible. To fail to ensure that this history is taught in our educational institutions is to fail to nurture and sustain the foundations of our culture and identity and to sustain our democracy. The question people in the West need to ask is, how long can the flower of democracy last once it is cut from its roots?

The second threat is from the growth of hyper individualism and the redefining of freedom.

Democracy like community requires the commitment of its individual members to the common good if it is to flourish. Indeed democracy is a form of community. It can only remain healthy if its members have a sense of obligation and duty to the good of others. Rights must be accompanied by responsibilities.

In Pre- Modern traditional societies the good and the authority of the community is placed above that of the individual and their rights, conformity is required, often in ways that are oppressive of individual freedom.

In Modern societies the rights of the individual are more strongly asserted and a balance or accommodation is sought with the authority and good of the community. This is ‘the social contract’ struck between the state and the individual.[xiii] Many of our current public debates arise from this tension, like the issue of freedom of speech.

In contemporary Post – Modern society the emphasis on the individual’s freedom and rights has now overbalanced so far towards personal autonomy that obligation, duty, commitment to the family, the community and the greater common good is falling away. This is ‘hyper individualism.’

In a recent essay in The Quarterly, Mark Latham has produced a very insightful essay into not only the future of the A L P but Australian politics in general. He makes the point that liberal democracy with its emphasis on individual rights worked much better in the early 20th C. when citizens were tied together morally much more strongly, by tradition, common culture, religion, family and locality. But such a society has now passed. He writes “This is the price of modernity: instead of being heavily inculcated in traditional social norms, our obligations have become optional. The challenge for progressive government is to maintain the benefits of pluralism and personal freedom while encouraging solidarity among its citizens…… Rights alone are not sufficient to create a good society. Having the right to do something does not always make it the right thing to do. More is needed: a collective recognition of right and wrong.” [xiv]

This is not an entirely surprising view from the left for those who know its history. The ‘ethical left’ in English and Australian politics was heavily influenced by the early English Christian socialists. [xv]

In this process of social change another critical shift has taken place: the idea of freedom has been unconsciously redefined.

The new Post Modern view of freedom is located in the idea of the right of the individual to the unhindered power of spontaneous choice. On this view an act is free when it is in defiance of any restrictions, even of any objective values or duties. The only absolute is “the triumph of the will”. [xvi] Once freedom in this sense becomes an absolute we arrive at the tyranny of the individual – this is ‘hyper individualism’.

This expresses itself trivially in the social media by unpleasant people who feel it is their right to say whatever they like and express however they feel without concern for others feelings.

At the most serious and destructive end of the spectrum it reveals itself in the desertion of family and community. As one writer expressed it: “This kind of freedom is really just abandonement. You might start by throwing off religion, then your parents, your town, your people and way of life, and when later on, you leave your partner and your child too, it seems like a natural progression”  [xvii]

I argued earlier that freedom requires virtue or it descends into selfish individualism or moral license. But virtue cannot stand alone in its task of guiding freedom. Virtue requires faith if it is to be strong enough to resist our selfishness. It requires a foundation in a transcendent moral source beyond ourselves.

Until recent times the Western idea of freedom was greatly influenced by Christianity. In Christian thought freedom is about becoming free from the negative and selfish aspects of my nature so I might become what I was created for – to love and serve God and others. The model was the self-giving of Jesus in the sacrificial act of servant hood; “I have not come to be served but to serve and to give myself as a ransom for many” [xviii]

This idea also drove Christians to work for the social and political freedom of oppressed people so that they also could become and be what God had made them to be. This is why Christians have so often been at the fore- front of human rights movements.

But once this core idea is lost freedoms end becomes fixed on the self, on the individual, on my rights, my choice and my freedom from any restrictions on those choices, including any transcendent or objective values, there is now no limits to my freedom.

So duty to others, to the community, to family, to service, to kindness and respect for others falls away. People are then trapped in a destructive narcissism, imprisoned in the service of the self. As the NT expresses it:

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them” [xix]

Also the positive side of Enlightenment liberal thinking about human rights and freedoms is corrupted into a culture of entitlement, ugly selfism and hyper individualism.

These attitudes weaken democracy at a fundamental level. The positive “power of the people” rests on a virtuous vision and that rests on faith. I believe this can only be renewed in Western culture by a return to its Christian roots.

The third threat comes from religious extremism:

National and cultural identity and forms of government have historically been inextricably bound up with religion. Europe, North America and Australia have been shaped by Protestant and Catholic Christianity. After the collapse of the Christian Byzantine Empire the countries of the Middle East were reshaped by Islam. India has been shaped by Hinduism and Buddhism, and so on.

For centuries these cultures were separated by distance, geography and limited communications but we now live in a very different world. Our world has shrunk through globalisation, large people movements and modern communications. As a result the old cultural boundaries have become porous or weakened and in some cases broken down altogether. Very different cultures, religions and world views now find themselves living together. Almost all the great cities of the world are now multicultural. One of the results of this is a growing sense of confusion and anxiety about our identity. Assumptions about values, beliefs, rights and forms of governance are challenged.

Xenophobia, (the fear of difference), and racism, (the sense of racial superiority) have been with us ever since the fall and the tower of Babel. But these human weaknesses are exaggerated by the current changes we are experiencing.

One of the most dangerous developments of our current situation is the growth of religious extremism and ultra-Nationalism. Some examples: [1] The first and most obvious is Islamic fundamentalism and its deep hostility to the West and Christianity. Inherent in its core beliefs are (a) the goal of a world wide universal rule of the Islamic faith and law, (b) the union of the state and the Islamic faith and Sharia law, (c) the submission of all other faiths and beliefs to this rule, (d) the principle of ‘Jihad’ or holy war understood as both an internal spiritual war against evil within the individual and also the legitimate use of war against any external opposition to Islam. When these core beliefs are held without compromise or liberalisation they become an ideological foundation and justification for the use of violence, armed conflict and terrorism to advance the cause.
The resort to violence to advance their cause is inflamed by certain social and historical factors such as the Wests colonial past and the present high levels of unemployment and poverty among young adults in many Muslim countries and their marginalisation in immigrant and refugee communities in the West. Also the threat of modernity to conservative, authoritarian regimes in some Islamic states and their perception that the West has an insidiously permissive and moraly corrupt lifestyle are contributing factors. [2] The second example is the unease that is felt by many Europeans to the large influx of Islamic immigrants and refugees to Europe and the EU. This has created an anxiety that has fed a revival of the old ultra nationalism that the EU was designed to counter. With Europe’s present economic difficulties and high unemployment levels this is a dangerous mix. [3] Third, is the growth of Hindu nationalism in India represented by the BJP party that threatens to distort democratic politics and religious tolerance in India. There are now regular serious attacks on religious minorities in parts of India. [4] Fourth, is the growth of a militant and politicised Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar which has partcipated in numerous violent attacks on racial and religious minorities in those nations.

There is a long and depressing history of Nationalism in its extreme form seducing religion to its cause. This is a great danger to modern liberal democracy. In the tragic story of ethnic cleansing in the recent conflict in The Balkans in the 1990’s, the ambitions of Serbian nationalism was supported by elements of The Serbian Orthodox Church. This conflict is built on historical tensions between Islam and Christianity going back to the Islamic invasions of the 17th C. The emergence of fascism in Europe in the 1930’s that led to the rise of the extreme nationalism of Hitler and the Nazis, Franco’s Spain and Mussolini’s Italy was supported by parts of the Christian Church. In Hitler’s case he managed to recruit the official German Lutheran Church to bless what was really his Pagan cause. Only the courageous opposition of the minority Confessing Church formed by Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonheoffer stood against Hitler.

Many wars have been fought under the false flag of religion. A tragic example is The 30years War that devastated Europe from 1618 – 1648. It is often explained as a Protestant verses Catholic conflict but in fact the underlying force was the emergence in Europe of the ambitions for independence and power of the sovereign Nation state. Catholic France with its messianic pretensions actually made alliances with Protestant armies to defeat and ruin Austria and defeat Spain, both Catholic countries. [xx] The Treaty of Westphalia that ended the conflict in1648 created the idea of independent national sovereignty and what is now the basis of modern Europe. Some historians believe that it also paved the way for the national ambitions and power conflicts of the 19th and 20th C’s, it certainly didn’t solve them. [xxi] Whatever the weaknesses of the current EU it is at least a genuine attempt to create a unity that will diminish these old temptations to national pride and megalomania.

Underlying extreme nationalism is the ancient pagan and tribal marriage of “blood and soil” – the linking of race and land in a kind of exclusive covenant of difference and superiority. Christianity challenged this with its doctrine of all nations and tribes being one in Christ. The great prophetic visions of the Bible speak of a day when every tribe and nation would be united and living in peace, where, in the words of Isaiah “they will beat their swords into ploughshares”.[xxii] If you visit the United Nations headquarters in New York and go to the courtyard garden you will find a powerful bronze sculpture of a man beating a sword into a ploughshare and on it are inscribed Isaiah’s words. The Biblical dream is of the Tower of Babels confusion being transformed into unity and peace on the Mountain of the Lord.[xxiii]

The thirty years War broke the influence of that unfulfilled Christian dream in Europe, although it did not entirely snuff it out. In a sense the EU and the UN for all their weaknesses are reflections of that dream.

We cannot turn the clock back on globalisation and multiculturalism. To support liberal democracy and to make it work in this context we need to do the following five things:

(i)                We need the commitment and cooperation of faith communities who support liberal democratic values and who understand that it is not necessary to have a state sponsored religion or church to preserve these values. And of course we need religious freedom.  (eg: Muslim intellectuals who support a ‘middle way’- a pluralism that rejects both ‘assertive secularism’ and ‘radical Islam’ – and accept the idea of a ‘secular Muslim democracy’ or what is sometimes called ‘proceedural democracy’ are to be encouraged. Although it should be understood that these ideas are not accepted among traditional Muslims. See the recent book by Sydney University academic Lily Z Rahim “Muslim Secular Democracy – Voices from within”  pub. Palgrave Macmillan 2013.)

(ii)              We need a consensus and acknowledgement from the general community about the importance of religious faith in the sustaining of democratic values and the virtues that make them work. Aggressive secularists need to understand and accept that the overwhelming majority of people in the world have strong religious attachments and commitments and have a rightful place in the public square. Globally secularists are in fact the minority.

(iii)            In my personal experience of working with refugees it has become very clear that democratic governments need to take far more seriously and intentionally the process of integration and the education of new settlers. People from very different cultures and value systems who have almost no experience of democratic values and governance need special assistance. As I mentioned earlier education in democratic values and the history of their development should also be a compulsory part of the general school curriculum.

(iv)            We also need to begin an open public conversation about our current problems in this area.

When new settlers fail to adapt to or embrace democratic values and become isolated cultural islands, or their young people are marginalised by poor education, discrimination and unemployment serious social problems emerge. For example: If the new settlers come from a pre modern culture, as they engage with modernity in the new culture the gap between young people and their parents’ traditional values grows to a chasm and the parents lose control. The young person’s identity becomes confused; they then become vulnerable to the extreme religious voices as well as petty crime, drugs and street violence. The internet provides all the radical resources they need to forge a new identity that seems empowering. This can also be exacerbated by the xenophobia, fear and right wing extremism they may find in the host culture.

In March this year the UK scholar and member of the UN’s special committee on intercultural engagement Dr Aftab Malik spent a month in Sydney’s Lakemba community which has the highest concentration of Islamic people in Australia. He reported that the identity crisis for young Muslims in Australia is a “growing disease”. He urged us to begin a public discussion of these issues.

He said: “Unfortunately for British Muslims it took a terrorist attack for us to have that discussion…. You need to pre-empt this. Don’t wait till something tragic happens.” [xxiv]

(v)              We need to understand that multiculturalism is an important part of modern democracy but that its definition and limits have sometimes been subject to naïve views and overly influenced by the philosophy of ‘cultural relativism.’[xxv] A view that ignores the reality that every culture has some features that are destructive and morally wrong. Our naiveté in Australia is partly due to the success we have had with our post WW2 immigration and the cultural enrichment it has brought. But we forget that the majority of those immigrants were from Europe, including a large group of Jewish refugees; all had a similar Judeo / Christian world view and culture to Australia. The second wave after the Vietnam War was also a success as the Vietnamese immigrants were fleeing communism and enthusiastically embraced our democratic values. Within the current wave are many people from traditional, authoritarian and Islamic cultures whose experience, values and world view are very different to that of a liberal democratic society like ours.

As Christianity continues to make, the sometimes painful journey from the pre – modern to the modern world, it continues to negotiate and adapt its relationship with the state. From its beginning as a persecuted minority, to controlling Europe’s Holy Roman Empire, to a separation of Church and state in some western nations,[xxvi] to conflict with totalitarian states like the former Soviet Union, to embracing representative democracy today, the relationship continues to change. Christianity has at times, in disobedience to the clear teaching of Jesus and the New Testament, descended into the use of force to forward its mission and discipline its members. It has at times persecuted minorities. It has at times confused the Kingdom of God with the Church or the Kingdoms of this world. It has had to adapt to scientific and Biblical criticism, to secularism, to philosophical materialism and now to consumerism and aggressive atheism. Therefore Christians, as a result of their sins mistakes and successes, have much to bring to the conversation that other religions and cultures need to have with the Enlightenment, modernity and liberal democratic values. Indeed there are some sections of the Christian community who are still to make that journey. Some sections of the Christian community are still hoping for a return of Christendom!

Of course for us all it is a continuing journey as our society continues to change. Maintaining an intelligent and relevant orthodoxy and holding on to the essential core beliefs and values of the Christian faith in a rapidly changing culture is a challenge but we must not shrink from it otherwise we concede the ground to secularism, extremism or authoritarianism.


Christianity has many unique and rich things to bring to the process of sustaining democracy:

(a)  As I have mentioned, our past and present experience in responding to the challenges of The Enlightenment and modernity. This should equip us in our conversations with some other faiths who have yet to constructively respond to these challenges.

(b) Our long history of involvement in the struggle for freedom and human rights.

(c)  Our theological commitment to the following core ideas that are a great underpinning for democracy:

–         The primacy of love.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and your neighbour as yourself”, “Love your enemies”, “Whoever loves God has fulfilled the law.”

“God is love. Those who live in love live in God and God in them” [xxvii]

–         The key doctrines of grace and forgiveness commit us to reconciliation in all our relationships.

–         The infinite value of every person because they are made in Gods image, and because God in Christ took on human flesh. This value propels us to champion human rights and protect the sacredness of every individual.

–         The community of equality. In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” [xxviii]

–         An international community that embraces all races – we are saved by grace not race. We have no sacred language, everyone prays in their own heart language and we are committed to the provision of the Bible in every person’s language.

–         Servant hood and following the example of Jesus is our goal.

–         The three great Christian virtues of ‘faith hope and love.’ [xxix]

These ideas and commitments fit us most aptly to be in the vanguard of actions to forward and sustain democracy’s cause.

All of us need to ask ourselves the following questions: (i) Is my current engagement with the democratic process sufficient to claim my rights as a citizen? (ii) How can I be more engaged at a level appropriate to my abilities and stage of life? (iii) As a Christian how can I apply the core Christian values listed above to the various activities and involvements of my daily life, especially where I might be involved in decisions that affect professional or business standards, public policy and social structures? (iv) Given that the foundation of my life is my relationship with God in Christ how can I bring prayer to bear on this task?

Peter Corney 17/6/13 St Hilary’s Annual Lecture series.


[i] The Lowy Institute poll 2013 on Australian attitudes to democracy.

[ii] From a speech delivered in Boston 29th May 1850 “The American idea”

[iii] From the Prologue to the first edition of the Bible to be translated into English by John Wycliffe in 1384. The prologue is thought to have been written by John Purvey.

[iv] Augusto Zimmerman “Christian foundations of the rule of law”  News Weekly June 4, 2005 (

[v] See “The Tyrannicide Brief” by Geoffrey Robertson, Chato and Windus 2005.

[vi] James Harrington (1611-1677), who wrote “The Commonwealth of Oceana” in 1656. It was dedicated to Oliver Cromwell. See Gai Ferdons article in ‘Engage’ p.6 Spring 2006 from The Jubilee Centre UK.

[vii] Tom Paine (1737-1809) “The Rights of Man and the Age of Reason”. From “Tom Paine – A Political Life” by John Keane p. 46-48 1995 Bloomsbury Press.

[viii] See “Christian Social Reformers of the Nineteenth Century” Ed. by Hugh Martin, Torch 1933. “Saints in Politics – the Clapham Sect and the growth of freedom” by E. M. Howse, Allen and Unwin 1976.

[ix] A. C Grayling “Towards the Light” Bloomsbury. See chp 5.

[x] Os Guinness “A Free Peoples Suicide” IVP 2013 p. 108

[xi] OS Guiness ibid

[xii] OS Guiness ibid p.106

[xiii] The idea of ‘the social contract’ originates with Thomas Hobbes (1588- 1679) who wrote “Leviathan’. His theory is the basis of much western political philosophy – the idea that individual citizens surrender some of their freedoms and rights to the state in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.

[xiv] The Quarterly Essay issue 49. 2013 “Not Dead Yet – Labor’s post left future” By Mark Latham p.61-62

[xv] See “Christian Socialism – Scott Holland to Tony Blair” Alan Wilkinson, SCM press 1998.

[xvi] F. Nietzsche “Beyond Good and Evil”

[xvii] Larissa Mac Farquhar in The Age Good Weekend 11/8/13.

[xviii] Jesus, Mark 10 :45

[xix] 2Peter 2:19

[xx] David  P Goldman “How Civilisations Die” Regnery 2011 Chap.11.

[xxi] Ibid Goldman chap 11

[xxii] Isaiah 2:4,

[xxiii] Micha 4:1-4

[xxiv] The Weekend Australian 13-14  April  2013 p 6. See also the article “Between Two Worlds” by Trent Dalton on Lakemba NSW in The Weekend Australian Magazine.

[xxv] See the article “Christianity’s Radical Challenge to Cultural Relativism” at <>

xxv The separation of Church and State is still in a process of evolution in liberal democratic countries like The UK where the Bishops sit in the Upper House, although the powers of the Upper house are limited and subject to those of the Lower elected house “The Commons”. The Church of England is an established Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury has considerable moral authority and influence in national affairs. The balance of ‘powers’ in this case is as much custom and culture as it is law and its effectiveness is only as significant as the general citizenship accept its place and level of influence. This idea hangs over in a more vague way in Australian political life although it is being challenged by aggressive secularism.

[xxvii] Mathew 5: 44., Romans 13:8-10., I John4:7-12.

[xxviii] Galatians 3:26-28.

The Drop Outs

THE DROP OUTS By Peter Corney  (This article was first published in “Equip” magazene, Feb 2013 .)

Why is it that an increasing number of Baby Boomer (1) Christians who, not having lost their faith, have nevertheless dropped out of church or become so disengaged they still attend but seem to be just going through the motions?

There are a range of reasons and some of them are not unique to this cohort. Some of us have simply been seduced by our affluent Australian life style. There are more options when you have more disposable income, like the holiday house you need to visit regularly on weekends. When the kids leave home you are now free and have the resources to take weekends off to interesting places. The cost of this affluence is hard work and demanding jobs that require more and more of the time of both husbands and wives and so we feel we need the weekends away to recover and relax. We don’t want to be tied down with other commitments like church rosters and teaching Sunday school.

Some have begun to sit more loosely to church attendance because they have never really worked through satisfactorily some of the intellectual and faith questions they had in their twenties. They put them on hold and attended to the needs of their young families for some years, going to church regularly was part of that. Now they are revisiting the questions and doing so in a much more aggressively secular environment which further unsettles them. They probably find that normal church doesn’t really address their questions deeply enough. While their professional work development continued their faith development went on hold.  Unfortunately they generally don’t take the time to read seriously or seek out the help they need and so they do not resolve their problems, or they tend to drift to the reductionist solution – they just keep reducing the challenging bits of Christian faith and morality to fit the prevailing cultures plausibility structure and so they gradually drift away from orthodoxy.

There is also the general sense of discomfort and disappointment many people feel who have been Christians for a long time. They now find the general culture and values of the society they live in so disturbing and unattractive that it can have a dispiriting effect. Like Israel in exile in Babylon they feel like strangers and aliens in the culture. Their hearts echo the cry “How can we sing the Lords song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137.) It is not just the aggressive secularism but the sense that there is no cultural memory left of the Christian heritage, perhaps two generations now with cultural amnesia.

Then there is the constant background noise of the popular media; films, T.V. programs, video games and radio, with their coarseness, violence, cruelty, exploitive and distorted sexuality, confused morality and superficiality. Add to this the internet where every possible form of pornography and human degradation is available to anyone on line at the touch of a keypad or IPhone. This is a reflection of the majority culture now and its values. We are the minority. They see their children and grandchildren soaked by this wave of pop culture and drifting away from the Christian faith and are very disturbed.

This produces a variety of reactions. Some take a very proactive stance and join groups like The Australian Christian Lobby or ‘Saltshakers’ or create or join on line forums like EA’s Public Theology discussion to try and put alternative Christian ideas and values into the public forums in an attempt  to retake some of the lost ground in the public square. Others retreat into their Christian world of church, Christian school and the social life of their Christian friends and try to have minimal engagement with the culture, although their daily work makes this difficult for most to do completely. Then there are those, who are in some ways a bit like the group just mentioned above, who drift indecisively to the place where it’s just too hard in this culture to be distinctively Christian any more in a public way and so just go with the flow of the culture, their Christian faith retained as a private truncated experience and the whole ‘church thing’ is just let go.

Another group are those who just stopped serving, leading small groups, caring, and discipling others and became passive consumers. They probably got over busy in their jobs or got over committed and felt they needed a rest and never got started again! They forgot the spiritual maxim that if you don’t keep serving you will stop growing in your faith.

When you have been going to church for a long time and hear sermons on themes you have heard many times before and passages you have read many times the familiarity can breed superficial listening or a critical attitude and then boredom. Someone said ‘routine is the enemy of wonder.’ Of course the quality of some preaching does not help!  The challenge is to discipline oneself to listen to the Word of God afresh and to ask ‘what is God saying to me today?’ There will always have to be teaching that is pitched at the level of new Christians in the congregation and inexperienced people will need to be given experience in preaching to develop their gifts, the mature Christian should be happy about that and not a complainer. Mature Christians must take some responsibility for their own growth. There has never been more excellent Christian books and study materials available than there is today and at a reasonable price. The fact is that so many mature Christians do not make it a priority in their reading and time. As a result their Christian minds shrink and atrophy just like our relationship with God does when we stop praying and being attentive to His presence with us every day.

There are of course those who have hung in there for a long time in boring, uncreative, intellectually unchallenging, inward looking churches, where the teaching and preaching was either so bland, or so liberal, that they finally gave up the unequal struggle.

Then there are those who were switched on in their youth in the early 1970’s and 80’s through the excitement of the changes sweeping through society and the church with the counter culture, the Jesus movement and the charismatic movement. They got a taste of how powerful and radical the Gospel and the Kingdom of God could be. They experienced emotional and powerful worship, music that tapped into their culture and souls. They caught a glimpse of the implications of the Gospel for personal conversion and social justice. They tasted the fellowship and the energy that real Christian community could generate. They had their idealism switched right on! Many of them went on to leadership in their churches; others became the backbone of many congregations exploring change and new ways of doing Church. They played in contemporary church music bands; they got involved in aid and development groups like Tear; they provided the manpower for creative para – church missional initiatives. It was rewarding and exciting stuff.

If you were part of what I have just described and your present church experience is a long way from that, as well as being bored, you may now be tired from trying to sustain or create that liveliness in your congregation. In your tiredness and disillusionment you drop out. Maybe you just do your social justice thing but have given formal church a miss.

Two things happened in the late 80’s and 90’s that contributed to this scenario. First the charismatic renewal in main stream churches began to run out of steam and second the large regional church development took place. The energy at the local church level began to drift to the large churches and the already growing decline of small suburban churches accelerated. If you were left in a small suburban church that had experienced some renewal but has now declined you can feel that the struggle is too hard, of course you may also have forgotten that you are now 20 years older and your energy level isn’t the same! The average age of most of the members of these churches will now be 6o+. The next generation, X and Y, seems to have disappeared.

If you are in a large regional church then there will be more action, the music will be better, (although still not as rocky as it used to be), the initiatives for outreach will be greater, the youth and children’s ministry will be better, there will be active social justice programs, small groups, etc.  But there is a danger that you can become a passive consumer, just a passenger in the bus that’s rolling along. In the end this can lead to personal inaction in ministry and create a sense of disengagement. Some large churches are trying to counter this with ‘second half’ and special volunteer programs for able and skilled retirees but the temptation exists to coast and enjoy the freedom of retirement and your accumulated superannuation.

The last reason that comes to mind that affects us all is the tough challenges of life. No one gets to their 50’s and 60’s without having experienced some pain, sadness and disappointment in their life. Sickness, losing your job in a ‘downsizing’, children who haven’t followed in the faith, the death of friends, broken marriages, bad church experiences, the list goes on. Maintaining trust in Christ, being an active member of a community of believers and staying the course – the “long obedience in the same direction” – is hard.  It is even harder in our contemporary culture that encourages individualism over community that emphasises the autonomous self over the obligated self, which places my rights over my duties, my self-discovery and fulfilment over service to others. The Boomers had their expectations raised very high by the late 60’s and 70’s culture in which they were nurtured, perhaps too high for the realities of life. That can lead to cynicism or disillusionment which in turn can lead to disengagement. (2)


The Boomers have contributed significantly to the changes in modern society and to the reshaping of the contemporary Protestant church in Australia. The question is as the leaders of change with high expectations will they cope with their dreams not being completely fulfilled? Will they cope with the changes the next generation will initiate? How will they cope with the changes and limitations of their own ageing? I have a vision of them being bussed from their retirement villages to concerts to listen to Mick Jagger and The Stones, still on stage but now in wheel chairs, singing “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Peter Corney


(1) The term ‘Baby Boomers’ generally refers to the generation born after WW2 from 1946 – 1964. They are now between the ages of 49 and 67 years. The author of this article is a pre Baby Boomer, born before WW2, who spent a large part of his ministry working with the Boomers.

(2) Within the Roman Catholic Church the dropout rate from regular Mass attendance has been escalating now for years. The hopes of a whole generation of Catholics were raised by the reforms of Vatican 2 and the continuing possibility of even greater change but these have been dashed by the Vatican’s swing back to conservatism. The possibility of married clergy and the ordination of woman have been killed off by the last two reactionary Popes.  Added to this, the uncovering of the extent of the abuse of children by catholic clergy and the hierarchies cover up, has left many lay Catholics in despair. We are already seeing them join Protestant churches and I suspect this trend will increase. However most will simply drop out and stop going to church anywhere.