Archive for November, 2012


Posted: November 30, 2012 by J in Church, Theology

No one will buy our theology of gender until we manage to articulate the theology of power which necessarily goes with it.

The Sydney Diocese is dominated by a theology of gender which is more biblical and common-sense realistic than the views which hold sway in most other church groups. And we employ more women ministers than anyone I’ve heard of.

And yet there is a widespread perception that our take on gender is unhealthy.

Why is that? Some will rush to blame the other guys for smearing us.

Here’s my view: our theology of gender is right. But where we fail is in articulating a theology of power. And that is an essential to a right and balanced take on gender. Without the running mate of a well-defined attitude to power in social settings, a theology of gender is a scary thing, and will never get elected.

It’s just too likely to be abused.

I think people sense that. Our view of gender is biblical, but they see our message as naive and dangerous.

It is.

I for one would not encourage any person to adopt and practice Christian views on gender distinctions unless they also adopt the distinctive and radical Christian approach to power. The one where it gets turned on its head, and becomes a suffering, serving, self-giving, self-denying force. Like Jesus.

Because the man or leader who gets gender distinctions without this is likely to become an abuser.

But that is the unbalanced approach we are inviting.

I went to Moore College. The subject of gender came up and was addressed from time to time. Featured in the third-year doctrine grilling we received as ordination candidates. That puts it on the ‘top ten hit list’ of issues we needed to have straight.

The issue of power in the family or church was very rarely and slightly addressed in my four years at college. There was certainly no attempt at forming an intentional, theologically grounded, pastorally worked through approach, with us. No questions about our view of power in the doctrine interview.

And we were the guys who were heading out to take up the reins of power across the diocese.

Strange Americans

Posted: November 29, 2012 by J in General

Every day lately a bunch of Americans come here and look at one particular old blogpost – about Zechariah and Elizabeth from Luke’s Gospel.

I’m intrigued.

Who are you guys? And why that post?

Won’t someone explain in a comment?

this is like Luke’s Use of Numbers all over again…


It’s a passage the commentaries make little sense of: what’s it doing there stuck between the two parables about money? And why does Jesus talk about divorce here?

I’m preaching on this, so I’d like to make sense of it. Here’s my effort at a paraphrase translation.

(parable of the shrewd manager)… “So make friends for yourself with unrighteous money, so that you will be given true riches”.

The Pharisees who were lovers of money ridiculed him for this strange instruction to give away riches. But Jesus replied,

“You justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. For there are things that are prized by men, but are an abomination before God.

It’s all there in the law and the prophets, which were proclaimed until John’s ministry. Since John the good news of kingdom of God has been announced – and everyone is pushing into it. But it’s not a case of religious unfaithfulness. This is no divorce and remarriage. By coming into the kingdom of God, you’re not turning your back on the law and the prophets. Quite the opposite: we’re only preaching what was in the law. Heaven and earth will pass away before the smallest letter of the Scriptures will fall!

Even in the law, a man who divorces his wife sins, and a man who marries that divorced woman shares in the sin. So no one’s suggesting that God has abandoned his covenant with you, and that you now need a new one. It’s still the same promises, and God still wants the same things from you!

This attitude I’ve been promoting, of using money now with an eye to the future kingdom – you should have learned that from your Scripture. Listen to a parable about that…

(cue parable of Lazarus and rich man).

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Rethinking the shape of gospel ministry?

Posted: November 27, 2012 by deadfliesmike in General

What will gospel ministry look like in the future? Do we need to rethink what it means to be a full-time minister of the gospel?
For example, it may be that many of us who want to do gospel ministry in the future will need to take paying jobs where most of our time is spent in activity that has nothing to do with gospel ministry. We may have to take these jobs so that we can reach, pastor and encourage the people of God with the spare time we have left.
And then there are those who wont be Anglican rectors.
But that is for another post


A post by our dear friend Kristan Slack, a colleague in the Sydney Diocese.

In the midst of all the discussions about priests and the ‘seal of the confessional’ there’s been an undercurrent of a certain kind logic applied which has bothered me. And that is the complaint that priests might claim allegiance to something/someone beyond the nation state. I’m not for a moment suggesting that priests (or any others) should keep the seal – in fact, I don’t actually think the confessional is a good idea in the first place (nor one established by the Bible). Actually, I think child abuse and other crimes should be reported by priests and others.

But what I am worried about is the idea that one’s allegiance to the nation-state and its laws is a given absolute. I suppose the complaint itself is concerned that a person might consider themselves ‘above the law’ and not bound to answer to the law. But, and here lies my concern, Christians believe that God is above all nations and that Christians (and everybody else, for that matter) do actually owe allegiance to God beyond any nation’s code of law.

It’s hard to even raise this concern of mine in the current turmoil, because it can sound as though I’m defending priests and paedophiles. But that simply isn’t the case. I’m merely worried that this idea of absolute allegiance to a nation’s laws has far wider consequences than forcing priests to report abusers. It could just as easily be applied in the future to ‘legally compel’ religious ministers to conduct weddings for gay couples, for religious organisations to hire people who have no religious agreement with the organisation itself (ie, an atheist forcing their way into employment with a Christian school or church), and etc. After all, what business do religious people have in not observing the nation’s law, one might argue. They aren’t above the law.

These aren’t meant to be alarmist illustrations but I’ve raised them to help demonstrate the danger when the nation state claims more for itself than is warranted – when a country’s politico-legal structure puts itself in the place of God. And that is at the core of my concern.

Good article on Royal Commission

Posted: November 20, 2012 by J in Church

Check out this article from the Centre for Public Christianity.

What will the Royal Commission find about us?

Posted: November 17, 2012 by J in Church

I’ve been poking around a bit, with help from friends, to see what sort of track record we have in the Sydney Diocese.

The big question, in my view, is not ‘have there been crimes’ or ‘will there be?’? In this world we live in, for any large group of humans (such as a diocese) the answer will surely be ‘yes’.

The question is, when a child-abuse crime is committed, what happens then?

Two things matter: the reality and the public appearance. This post is largely about the reality.

What happens after a crime is committed? The answer to that has changed over time: if you go back thirty years it’s pretty grim.

But here’s some things that have gone or are going on:

  • The lifting of a statute of limitations designed to protect clergy: there used to be a twelve month limit on disciplinary action after a crime was alleged to have occured. That meant by the time the wheels of discipline ground around, the gong had sounded, the perp was immune. Bad statute. Seems it was overturned by Synod in 1996. Now an abuser can be brought to book years down the track. Not sure if there’s any limitation now?
  • The Professional Standards Unit (PSU):  as Michael W has been saying here lately, this is an important step towards getting our house in order: a semi-independent body designed to protect and support victims. Also to promote awareness of child safety issues through training sessions across the diocese. Set up on Peter Jensen’s watch, I believe. I’ve met the PSU guys and let me tell, you, they are on the side of the victim. And then some!
  • The PSU has a chaplain employed to care for abuse victims and their families.
  • Also a Pastoral Care & Assistance Scheme including counselling provided to victims and paid for by the Diocese.
  • There is a diocesan Abuse Report HotLine. Makes reporting easier. Also provides advice.
  • The Archbishop is willing to meet with victims, and one victim writes of how he took her side in the matter. This was not so much the case in the past. Generally meetings were refused.
  • For the first time in the history of the diocese, clergy have been defrocked in the past decade. 2 that I’ve heard of. For child abuse which had occurred years earlier.

Much of this stuff is fairly new. We still must answer for our past. But it’s good stuff, isn’t it. That’s quite a bit of machinery in place to promote awareness (prevention), to help victims and deal with abusers among the clergy. Seems like good structures, too. Being semi-independent gives the PSU the chance to change the culture and cut across vested interests in the ‘establishment’.

Overall the above represents a shift in the balance away from protecting the clergy, towards protecting the victim. As a church minister, this is scarey for me (someone could make an accusation any time), but it seems to be in line with the gospel of Jesus: stand with the weak.

And consider this: it seems the number of incidents of clergy child abuse in the diocese has been relatively small, thank God. This gear has been set up as much pre-emptively as reactively. Our leaders have put stuff in place before the pressure to do so became overwhelming. That’s good too. Suggests a sincere change of attitude, not just damage-control.

None of this will stop determined abusers from a first offence. But it may stop them from a second or third one, and should help to stop the damage spiralling out of control where an offence has been committed.

I feel pretty happy about what I’ve discovered. At the level of realities, seems we’re on a good track. Not sure what more, if anything, needs to be done. Of course PR is another matter…

Comments? Omissions?

The Grit hits 10 000

Posted: November 16, 2012 by J in General

The Grit in the Oyster just passed the 10 000 hits mark. That’s hits we can measure – we can’t measure them all.

But I thought this might be a good moment to take stock and remember why we started. And also to thank you for taking an interest and reading.

Over the first year we have broached many topics which more tasteful folk would have left unbroached. The Grit was started with the aim of causing trouble, especially in the minds of those who prefer established views. An irritant, if you like. There’s no pearls without one. Our approach is expressed in the tagline: question everything. In keeping with this motto, we’ve tried to make sure that nothing and nobody was safe around here.

And we have questioned quite a few things over this year. Tilted some windmills. BBQ’d a few sacred cows. And we’ve found it’s amazing how far you can get if you’re willing to rethink, re-read, and generally question stuff.

One goal of mine for the second year is to get more conversation happening. More commentors. Gain a few more contributors who like asking questions, who’ll post at The Grit form time to time. That might be you. Let me know. If you disagree with some of the views expressed at The Grit so far, all the better! We wouldn’t want to get too comfy.

Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the troublemaking, especially to people who’ve taken the time to chip in with comments. We very much appreciate you all.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! Let’s do it all again in the year ahead. I’ll stick around if you will.

Can the Catholic Church survive?

Posted: November 14, 2012 by J in Church

Cardinal George Pell addresses the congregation at St Marys Cathederal during Easter Sunday Morning Solemn Mass in Sydneys CBD.

MORE than 70 per cent of the Brothers from the St John of God order are suspected child abusers and the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney should immediately shut it down, says a psychologist who was employed by the order to meet scores of victims.

…Last week a Melbourne inquiry into child abuse heard allegations that Brothers had drugged and pack-raped boys at their operations in Victoria.

-SMH report, Nov. 12 2012

They’ve made a mockery of everything.

-my elderly, Catholic neighbours

These are just small snippets of a much-larger picture, which reaches beyond the RC church.  The above allegations may not even be true. But what they point to is a tidal wave of distress and outrage which is currently breaking over the edifice of the Catholic church. The Royal Commission is rightly not limited to church behaviour. But Sydney’s Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell seems unable to articulate what everyone now knows – that the child abuse scandal has reached disastrous, monstrous, institution-breaking proportions.

Which raises the question, can the RC church in Australia survive this calamity?

What will the Catholic church look like in 5 years? How will attendance at its services be? We cannot help foreseeing a significant departure of sheep from the fold. A widespread implosion. It’s an old old church and this won’t be the finish of it, but it may be the long-term loss of its place of trust in Australian society.

Not just because of the crimes. But because of the cover ups, and above all because of the failure at the highest levels of leadership to realise what was needed, and respond properly to the crisis. The church’s addiction to secrecy and instinct to suppress evidence are looking like bringing it undone. For they give the strong impression that the institution’s first allegiance is to its leaders, not to the people. To the powerful, not the vulnerable.

And blind Freddy can see the hypocrisy in that, for a Christian set-up.

Without a kind of Glasnost, a new policy of openness, it’s hard to see how the church can have any sort of future. But how damaging that the state has to intervene and impose that policy, because the church is not willing. All signs suggest that the any regulations imposed by the state will be resisted and receive minimal compliance at best. (For OS readers, our Prime Minister has just announced a Royal Commission into the handling of child abuse cases by organisations like churches).

George Pell is clearly not the man for the hour. At a moment when clear-sighted, wise and sensitive leadership is needed, when there is a desperate need for someone who can inject some confidence and calm into the crisis scene, Pell’s public comments regularly make things worse.

Pell’s default mode seems to be denying things. He didn’t know, he wasn’t involved in the process, the Brothers don’t report to him, etc, etc. He gives the impression of admitting to the minimum possible, only to what is undeniable.  And he never wants to accept personal responsibility, even for the things that have happened on his watch. This is disastrous. As his organisation self-destructs, he seems determined to keep up appearances. The trouble is, appearances are shot to pieces. What is needed is for Pell to be telling us the worst. Unless we hear it from Pell, he will not be able to escape inclusion in the sense of betrayal Australia is feeling.

There is a time when the best form of defence is attack, but this is not that time. It may be that the media exaggerates and singles out the RC church more than other groups. But now is not the time for Pell to be harping on that note. The pugilistic, defensive posture is all wrong. We won’t hear any contrition or sorrow for the victims coming through over that growling, whining noise. Pell just needs to let it go. If he’s seen to be straining out the media’s gnat while letting through the camel in his own eye, it’s all bad.

Nothing Pell has said or done has convinced us that he’s the man to fix things. And so now that state has had to step in to fix it for him – what an indictment that is.

At a time like this, the Catholic church simply can’t afford to have substandard leadership. Which returns us to the question: will the Catholic church be able to survive?

We take no pleasure in this. Our own team is not squeaky clean. But we can’t afford to ignore what’s happening, or not to learn its lessons. It’s just too close to home.

What will be the effect on our own cause of the RC church’s spectacular fall from grace?

  • Will a smaller RC influence in society be a good or bad thing over-all?
  • Will it make our job of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus easier or harder in the next generation?
  • Will we evangelicals be tarred with the same brush, or will we manage to distinguish ourselves from the RC church clearly enough to escape the loss of credibility?
  • How should we respond to what’s happening?

I’d like to hear people’s thoughts.

Summary of a summary of an apparently good book

Posted: November 12, 2012 by mrdanwebster in Book review, General

A friend was drooling to me about Wright‘s new-ish book ‘How God became King’. As is always best to do if you really want to suck the marrow out of something, I searched online for a summary of it. I found it in the form of a 25 minute address he gave. I found his critique to be true of me and much of what I’ve experienced. Here’s a summary of the summary.


It’s a book about how we read the gospels, not so much focussing on their content.

People struggle with the gospels for many reasons. Eg. Jesus doesn’t seem to teach Paul’s gospel much (if we understand that to be Justification by Faith). Eg. We know what to do with his birth and his death and resurrection, but otherwise we seem to take Bultmann’s line (the gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions). Eg. In the face of this others have done the opposite! It’s all about his life and living like him.

He suggests that the creeds have misshapen how we read the gospels. He affirms that he believes every jot and tittle of them! But they’re lists, not stories!

Another reason we find them hard to read is that we don’t like the idea of theocracy. So when Jesus turns up and says ‘God is in charge now in a real earthly sense’, we don’t know what to do with it. But that’s what’s going on. Jesus says; ‘God is king, and this is what it looks like when he’s king. And we should expect his kingdom to come like a farmer scattering seed, or like a mustard seed growing. Etc.’

The book offers this illustration of how we should learn to read the gospels; We’ve got a 4 speaker surround sound system. We’re sitting in the middle of the room trying to adjust the levels of each speak so that what we hear is just right. We’ve got 4 speakers (approaches to the gospels) that we need to adjust as we listen to the story all 4 gospels are telling.

1)       The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of Israel; This is one that the church has turned right off. We treat it like it’s a free standing story, perhaps with some fulfilled prophecies thrown in for good measure. But actually, it’s where that OT narrative was going all along. Eg. The alien coming to the final game of a world series. They don’t know about the other 6 games! There’s been a sequence and you need to know about them otherwise this one doesn’t make much sense. The protestant tradition has as story about a clean break from Catholicism. So we like clean break stories (perhaps with some distant antecedents). But this isn’t how the gospel works.

2)      The story of Jesus as the story of God; This one’s been turned up too loud. The gospels do pretty well think of Jesus as God. Eg. Mark 1! The prophecies fulfilled make us expect to see God coming back to his temple. And then we’re wondering what that will look like. And the answer is, the life of Jesus. So we’ve been clear that the gospels are the story of God, BUT we’ve had the wrong kind of God that we’re trying to fit Jesus into. We’ve had a deist God, VERY lofty and removed. Instead of doing what the NT tells us we should do. Ie. Find God in Jesus! The gospels don’t say ‘Jesus is God’, but the opposite! God is seen in Jesus. It’ s a redefinition of Israel’s God! A clarifying of God. Israel’s God comes back surprisingly.

3)      The story of Jesus as the launching of the church; Again, this one’s been turned up too loud. We’ve viewed the gospels as instructions for the church. Instructions about how to be saved, get to heaven, live etc. Yes there’s plenty in there about that. But the gospels are far more than rules on how to be a good Christian. It’s actually the launching of God’s kingship on earth! Eg. Mat28. All authority on heaven AND ON EARTH…

4)      The story of Jesus as the story of the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar; Another one we’ve had turned off. Clearest in Luke and John. We screen this out because we think that the kingdom of God is separate from the kingdom of earth. Eg. Jn16. ‘When the Spirit comes… he’ll convict the world of sin because the ruler of this world is judged.’ This reference (and another earlier one) make it a bit confusing as to whether or not he’s talking about Satan or Caesar. The Spirit will hold the world to account. What does that look like? We see it very soon. Jesus holds Pilate to account. A violent man. The church has the responsibility has the responsibility to hold up the mirror to the world. To witness to the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world. It won’t do to be spiritual off in the corner. This world is God’s world and we need to figure out how to bear witness to it!

Conclusion; The key moments of the gospels are the baptism and cross/res of Jesus. These are royal moments, Messianic moments. But between these we see those 4 stories coming to their proper conclusions and fulfilments. The gospels are more than info or interpretations of Jesus, but stories that enable us to be Jesus’ disciples. This is how stories work, they shape communities and individuals, so that through telling and retelling we’re drawn into the narrative. It’s not a narrative about something back there, but it’s a narrative that continues. The gospels don’t really conclude properly. They’re stories that launch and fuel a new beginning.The story of how God became king. (Note; later in question time he says that God always was king, but it wasn’t clear. There were threats to it. He was de facto king. But Jesus announces that the king is truly taking up his throne.)