The taking of the Uniting Church

Posted: May 2, 2013 by J in Church, Church history

First have a read of this:

I am a Uniting Church minister who has married people in traditional man-woman marriages, where I have had the couple wanting to end the marriage 2 days later. I have gay friends who, some of them, have been in committed relationships for decades, who are as committed to one another as my wife and I are. And I have young gay friends who long for the opportunity to publicly confirm their commitment to one another in marriage.

Marriage has not always been between a man and a woman. Sometimes it has been between many women and a man. Sometimes it has been between many men and a woman. And for those who have a literal view of scripture among some of the popular faiths, there are plenty of examples of marriage that would be illegal in Australia today.

Regarding a referendum, I might just say too, that at some point, politicians are surely to lead, not to follow. It doesn’t matter if the whole population of Australia were to believe that slavery was a good thing. I would expect politicians to legislate for what is right, not what is popular.

Andrew Prior
Western Sydney
Date and time
April 30, 2013, 10:55AM
I checked out Andrew Prior, he blogs, and yes he is what he says he is, a Uniting Church minister. A prominent one. A Christian minister who takes time out from his busy schedule to write to the Herald in favour of gay marriage.
The article he’s commenting on is by secular commentator Gerard Henderson. Henderson claims that ordinary people don’t want such a fundamental change to society imposed on them – government tampering with the meaning of marriage. He says the issue is so important, it deserves a plebiscite – let the people decide.
And our Christian minister, above, writes in to say, it doesn’t matter if people want gay marriage or not, they should have it forced on them because it’s right.
A rather extreme position, you might think! A little odd for a church leader?
I grew up in the Uniting Church, it is still dear to my heart. And it is dying.
I think it’s dying because since its creation in the 70s it has been infiltrated by people of minimal Christian faith, with radical social agendas. These people have not remained in the pews. They have captured the leadership. And they use the church platform to dignify and legitimate their own agendas.
The rank and file, who by and large do have Christian faith, are apparently powerless to prevent this – to prevent these people speaking in their name is if they represented their views. Speaking in Jesus’ name as if they represented his views.
In reality, the song sheet leaders such as Prior are singing from is straight out of the Greens Party. ‘Impose radical social experimentation on the masses – it’s good for them.’
Not all Uniting Church ministers are like this. But the extremists tend to be activist and gain a high profile. They determine the church’s public face.
Of course the question that arises is, can a church group maintain its existence under such leadership? Can it afford to have its energies diverted into these causes, which are apparently little connected to Christian faith or mission? It’s not as if future existence is guaranteed for any religious group. And Uniting Churches are closing down all over the place.
Jesus can look after himself. But I do feel for the poor helpless passengers on Uniting Church Airlines. They’re trusting their pilots, but it seems the plane’s been highjacked – who knows where it could end up? It very much looks like a nasty crash landing.
  1. Alan Wood says:

    Jonathan, don’t take this the wrong way, but…
    The description you’ve given above sounds like many other descriptions I’ve heard from “our side” of the argument (and I don’t mean the argument about asexual marriage). But it doesn’t sound like the self-description of an activist minister.
    I’m still trying to work out whether it’s better to appeal to the minimal Christian faith these people claim to have, or to call them out as heretics/infidels. Absent a system of heresy trials (I heard once that the pressies have those, and they’re a very mixed blessing?) I don’t know how to force them out. And I don’t know enough about the UCA’s structures and culture to tell if what it really need are faithful Christians who will step up to lead and wait on God’s equipping, and grow wheat among the weeds.
    The problem of the mixed church is old and insoluble without angels uprooting, but in Australia we seem to particularly promote the weeds to our leadership. Now, is that the weeds’ fault or the wheat’s? Did they hijack the plane, or were they in business class when the cockpit turned out to be empty? Not that I want to assign blame – I want to know what to do about it, and how to avoid it happening again.
    (sorry about thoughts being out of order – editing is hard on my phone, and my home connection is on the fritz)
    The interesting thing about Prior’s letter is that he speaks as a married man, a friend of gay people and a marriage celebrant, but God doesn’t come into any of those – at least in this public proclamation.

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes Alan, it is hard to know what a good way forward might be. Is there any alternative to the continued decline of the UCA? Only God knows.

      In Scripture it seems the leaders get held mostly responsible for leadership failure, rather than the little people. But often the little people get lead into destruction. So it’s not much consolation to avoid the blame!

      But I think perhaps leaders are responsible too for other leaders. If the leaders let wolves in among the sheep, they have failed in their duty of care.

      • Alan Wood says:

        Your proof-text for that last line (you know you want one) is Acts 20:29-31a.

        To try to clarify what I said yesterday, two things:

        1) Any response we make as Christians needs to be fair to the other person’s self-understanding (I say this practically, so we can win arguments with truth, and because fairness is something that pleases God). I don’t know that the hijack metaphor is the best one to do that, because I think there’s less deliberate assault on faith going on than that implies – at least at first. It’s trickier for me to slag off about liberals and anglocatholics in my current context, because I know them now and can see that often they mean well. I’m not saying that meaning well is the key thing, just that the Priors of this world don’t always know how destructive they are being. It’s possible that the better response is to challenge them as the Christians that they think they are, not as antichrists. But that’s a long hard road with no certainty of success.
        Where I think this has some value is in our selection of people who feel the call to ministry. Are we selecting for faith, or for a skillset that activists will fill as well (or, to judge by results, better)? How do we select for faith, and is ‘activism’ and passion of some kind a good sign of it? I just suspect that the doorkeepers kept picking the wrong folk to push to the front of the plane. Now, was that structural, or cultural, or due to specific policies and procedures?

        2) What to do about the UCA (or the ACA, which is slightly more to the point for both of us) is tricky.
        The pragmatist in me says: work out how bad it is; work out a path back- outgrow and outrecruit and out-train their side, vote people out, crowd them out, buy them out, hang in and outlast them, whatever; then follow the plan, and push on whatever institutional levers will get you there (college faculties, mission organisations, parachurch bodies, retirement homes…).
        The idealist in me says, those folk who are called to this will just do it, and there may be no reward, recognition or even lasting success in it. It will only be worth doing if it’s done by God, and he has given no UCA-specific guarantees, as you say.

  2. Terry says:

    I completely agree with this article, I was in a circle of friends at a pentecostal church that contained a number of left leaning christians who were very vocal in pushing their social agendas. If you didnt agree with their pro climate change and gay marriage views along with welcoming asylum seekers with open arms etc then you were seen as backward and uneducated. When they tried to infiltrate the leadership at the church they were met with strong opposition so they took as many people as they could down the road to the local Uniting church where they and their socialist views were applauded and were given leadership positions. Jesus taught us to build our house on the rock so that when the winds and currents of this world become strong we will not be moved. It seems though that that the uniting church have been swayed by worldly agendas and taken a very liberal view of some very important topics. I even heard a radio interview the other day with a high ranking member in the Unitingcare organisation who said she had previously run for a seat with the greens party. It all seems very luke warm and dangerous territory for the uniting church to be treading.

    • J says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Terry. Sadly, I know many ‘little people’ in Uniting churches who still want to listen to the voice of God – but their leaders are taking them into ‘dangerous territory’ as you say.

      I am very comfortable with left-leaning Christians, as long as they lean left where Jesus does, and not where he doesn’t! Care for the poor and the disadvantaged should be ‘bread and butter’ stuff for Christians. Care for the environment is demanded by a right doctrine of creation. Etc. But what we call the left has got loaded down with unhelpful and unnecessary ideas about experimenting with the building blocks of human society (marriage etc). That sort of left I can happily leave!

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