18 July 2006

Speaking Ethically No. 6

By Rod Benson

August 2006

The Micah Challenge presses governments to keep their pledges to support the United Nation’s millennial development goals, one of which is to halve global poverty by 2015. Other goals include universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment for women, fair trade and debt forgiveness, reducing child mortality and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Baptist World Aid Australia is the lead Australian agency for the Micah Challenge. I understand that all state Baptist unions have adopted a Micah declaration, and many of our churches support it.

Yet political advocacy for the goal of the Micah Challenge to halve global poverty by 2015 finds little action among Baptists elsewhere. According to Alistair Brown, general secretary of BMS World Mission, UK Baptists have not really engaged with MC in any serious way. Baptists in other countries tell a similar story.

Without active U.S. support, the Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved. Contrary to their impression that they are a generous people, the U.S. is among the bottom three developed country donors in the world when aid is considered as a proportion of GDP, and contrary to their advocacy of free trade, agricultural subsidies they pay to their farmers are devastating to poor country farmers.

In a recent article for USA-based EthicsDaily, I challenged American churches to press their government to change economic practices that harm billions of poor people around the world:

The American church desperately needs a wakeup call that will see them move beyond harmful patriotic myths to affirm their divine calling to be Christians first and Americans second. Baptists in America have a great opportunity to lead their nation in this demonstration of Christian discipleship.

We have a similar opportunity in Australia. As followers of Jesus, and inheritors of the prophet Micah’s ancient challenge, let’s continue to count the cost and lead our global Baptist family forward with the Micah Challenge.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

More information:

Micah Challenge: http://www.micahchallenge.org
Millennium Development Goals: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/
Speaking Ethically No. 5

By Rod Benson

July 2006

Australian citizen David Hicks has been in indefinite detention by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay for almost five years without trial – half of this time without charge.

Most agree he has made major errors of judgment, and some argue he gets what he deserves. Yet Hicks’s short-lived dalliance with the Taliban does not absolve the U.S. government and its allies from their responsibility to uphold the rule of law, and to respect people’s basic human dignity and human rights.

Two significant publications last month highlight the erosion of these principles and shed light on what is happening at Guantanamo Bay. The first is a report by Peter Vickery QC to the Victorian section of the International Commission of Jurists. It notes that indefinite detention and unfair trial by Military Commission has no application to U.S. citizens and breaches international law, and alleges Australian complicity in this conduct. The report suggests that terrorism is inadvertently corrupting the West’s foundational values.

The second publication, an article by Alfred McCoy in the June issue of The Monthly, describes the torture and other human rights abuses applied by the U.S. military and the CIA to David Hicks. It is shocking reading. McCoy says that Australians can “break with Canberra’s policy and press their government to honour its [human rights] commitments,” or commend the government in placating a powerful ally.

To do the latter would diminish our moral authority as a nation. To do nothing is cowardly and un-Christian. The issue is not whether Hicks is guilty. The issue is barbarism and lawlessness on the part of so-called “civilized” nations in response to terrorism.

The President of the Baptist Union of Australia, Dr Ross Clifford, wrote to the Prime Minister on 7 June, urging his government to expedite legal and political matters to ensure a fair trial for Hicks. This is a matter on which all Australian Christians should also have an informed view worth expressing to their federal members of Parliament.

More information:

· “David Hicks FAQ,” http://www.ag.gov.au/agd/WWW/ministerruddockhome.nsf/Page/RWP7546CD03855E60ABCA2570640080F973
· “ICJ (Vic) Report on David Hicks and Guantanamo Bay,” www.icj-aust.org.au
· “The outcast of Camp Echo,” The Monthly, June 2006, http://www.themonthly.com.au
· Information on Federal Members of Parliament: http://www.aph.gov.au/whoswho/index.htm
Speaking Ethically No. 4

By Rod Benson

June 2006

Yoga is an important part of the weekly regimen for many Christians. Yoga reduces stress, increases fitness, and strengthens body-mind unity. But yoga’s roots lie in ancient Indian philosophy and religion, and some practitioners seek to empty the mind and achieve union with the ‘transcendent.’

Some Christians are uncomfortable with this apparent syncretism, and there are ethical as well as spiritual concerns. Children are introduced to yoga at some Australian schools, and in after-school care programs, by instructors who insist it is “secular” and “values-free.”

Like reiki, performed by nurses on newborn babies without consent, yoga is a values-laden practice that children should arguably encounter in religious studies classes rather than the gymnasium.

Yet for evangelicals like Agnieszka Tennant, yoga is “bodily-kinetic prayer,” and “the Hindu gods don’t make it onto my mat.”[1] At the end of her session, however, Tennant’s instructor bows and says, “Namaste,” which can be translated, “I bow to the god in you,” reflecting Hindu doctrine.

Some Christians would respect Tennant’s integrity and freedom to express her faith as she wished. Others have offered us “Christian” yoga programs, one of the most popular of which is Laurette Willis’s PraiseMoves.

In place of yoga stretches, vinyasa flows and meditation, Willis offers “Walkin’ Wisdom Warm-Ups,” “Scripture Sequences” and “What Would Jesus Do? Relaxation Time.” You can buy her book, Basic Steps to Godly Fitness, peruse her website, and purchase her workout DVD. In 2005, Willis trained nearly 60 instructors to offer PraiseMoves classes in their churches.[2]

For Willis, any belief system not explicitly sanctioned in Scripture is a potential threat to one’s moral compass. But importing Christian prayer and Scripture quotations to yoga seems to do the trick.

On reflection, it all sounds pretty harmless. I’m in favour of encouraging a closer relationship between the evangelical body and the evangelical mind. But one wonders what Jesus and Paul would have made of PraiseMoves, and of the increasingly fad-based and product-oriented nature of evangelical experience and discipleship.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

[1] Agnieszka Tennant, “Yes to yoga,” www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/120/42.0.html, dated 19 May 2005.
[2] Monica Byrne, “Yoga and fundamentalist Christianity,” Sightings, 18 May 2006.
Speaking Ethically No. 3

By Rod Benson

May 2006

The President of the Baptist Union of Australia, Dr Ross Clifford, used his recent Easter message to draw attention to the plight of West Papuan dissidents. Why is this issue important?

West Papua (or Papua, the western half of the island of New Guinea) is another East Timor in the making. In 1961 Indonesia invaded the Dutch colony. In 1969 Indonesian authorities hand-picked 1025 Papuans who unanimously voted to retain Indonesian control in an “Act of Free Choice.” In 2001 Jakarta foreshadowed “special autonomy” for Papua, but this has stalled and there is a growing – and increasingly frustrated – separatist movement.

In addition to unchecked exploitation of Papua’s natural resources and allegations of official corruption, the major cause for alarm is reported widespread human rights abuses by Indonesian military and police. These include intimidation, confiscation of land, rape, torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, starvation, and the destruction of entire villages. Up to 400,000 Papuans are believed to have been killed or have disappeared since 1961.

In view of this, the Australian government should:

* seek United Nations support for an independent inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Papua
* continue to grant asylum to genuine Papuan political refugees
* urge Indonesia to uphold freedom of religion for Papuan Christians in the face of growing Muslim fundamentalism and large-scale immigration of Indonesians to Papua
* encourage Indonesia to grant greater autonomy to Papua while recognising that political independence is not a viable option

At the same time, churches and individual Christians in Australia should:

* learn more about Papuan history and geography, and the history of missions in
* lobby the Australian government (see above)
* prepare to offer hospitality to Papuan political refugees
* encourage all parties in Papua to pursue nonviolence
* pray for wisdom and peace, and for missionaries serving in

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney. Previously he pastored Baptist churches in NSW and Queensland.

See also:

Speaking Ethically No. 2

By Rod Benson

April 2006

As a child, the lens of an independent, fundamentalist church tradition filtered my religious experience. This meant that I grew very familiar with the Bible, but eschewed traditions such as Easter. Now older and more relaxed, I have warmed to the liturgical calendar and many of the church’s rich traditions.

None of these traditions attracts more spiritual and theological significance than Easter, recalling the affliction, death and resurrection of Jesus. We draw meaning and motivation from these great gospel events. The sufferings of Jesus are a witness to truth and righteousness, and his death is crucial for salvation – cosmic as well as personal.

But as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15, the rock that anchors the gospel and inspires obedience to it is the resurrection of Jesus. It is perhaps surprising that this great doctrinal chapter ends not with praise (v 57) but with a call to action (v 58). We might have expected Paul to urge his readers to look forward and heavenward. Instead, he turns their attention to the here and now. He grounds the gospel, showing that the resurrection gives meaning and direction to our day-to-day lives:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain (v 58, NRSV).

This “work” undoubtedly includes social justice as well as evangelism; peace-makers as well as prayer-warriors; acts of mercy as well as words of proclamation; ethical action as well as spiritual formation. These are all part of the fruit of the resurrection of Jesus in our lives.

We are children of the resurrection, and God has given us spiritual and moral work to do. In view of the resurrection of Jesus, and of the future resurrection, we make it our business to address the needs and dilemmas of our world. As we do so, we have God’s word that neither our faith nor our works are in vain.

And that’s good news!

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney. Previously he pastored Baptist churches in NSW and Queensland.
Speaking Ethically No. 1

By Rod Benson

March 2006

The abortion pill, the war in Iraq, withdrawal of medical treatment, genocide in West Papua, the AWB scandal, human cloning, gambling, homosexuality: these and scores of other ethical issues clamour for our attention. Faced with complex issues, many of which the Bible does not explicitly address, we can feel overwhelmed and under-resourced.

At such times, it’s important to remember our calling, as Jesus put it, to work as “salt” and “light” in our communities. Baptists have a long history of enlightened social and ethical action. Never has our public witness been more needed by the church and the world.

In Philippians 2:4, Paul writes, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I’m sure our own interests are already well served, but to what extent do we actually serve the interests of others? Who are the “others” on the edges of your life? What are we doing to share God’s love and grace with them? How could we speak prophetically on their behalf? How could we be more strategic, more effective?

In The World Calling: The Church’s Witness in Politics and Society, Thomas W. Ogletree reflects on the church’s public witness in a world of competing interests, entrenched injustice and radical individualism. He is optimistic about the church’s capacity to fulfil its prophetic calling, and has something important to say to liberals and conservatives alike. In the preface he offers this wise advice on strategy:

… sometimes our most energetic efforts will prove fruitless … We have to learn to discern the times of opportunity when openings emerge that present unprecedented new possibilities for constructive change. At other times, we must learn to practice patient waiting and faithful enduring, holding steadfastly to our deepest convictions even when prospects for constructive change are slim.

Ethical activism starts with a fresh awareness of the social and moral problems of our world, a glimpse of a better world, and the audacity to believe that these two worlds might be one. I dare you to ask God today to point you in the direction of some concrete ethical action, and give you the wisdom and grace to make a lasting difference!

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics based at Morling College, Sydney. Previously he pastored Baptist churches in NSW and Queensland.