10 September 2007

Speaking Ethically No. 14

By Rod Benson

August 2007

In June Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia was in the grip of a “national emergency” – on the scale of Hurricane Katrina – brought to light by the release of a report, Little Children Are Sacred, arising from an Inquiry headed by two eminent Australians, Rex Wild and Pat Anderson.

Responding to the crisis, Mr Howard announced a raft of strong measures aimed at addressing violence and abuse in indigenous communities throughout the Northern Territory.

“The duty of care to the young of this country is paramount,” he said, “and nobody who has any acquaintance with that report could be other than appalled by … the cumulative neglect of many over a long period of time and frustrated in the extreme of the inability of governments to come to terms with an effective response to deal with this problem.”

“Without urgent action to restore social order, the nightmare will go on – more grog, more violence, more pornography and more sexual abuse – as the generation we are supposed to save sinks further into the abyss,” Mr Howard said.

Sadly, this is the latest in a series of reports documenting horrific and sickening violence and abuse in Australian indigenous communities. The federal government’s initiatives are welcome and desperately needed, but come too late for hundreds of children who have lost their innocence, and much more, through abuse and neglect.

Opponents have disingenuously accused Mr Howard of racism, paternalism and political opportunism. We do face a national emergency, and unprecedented steps are necessary to address the problem and its causes.

But what the Report uncovered is part of a wider malaise that reaches into every community, every family, every human heart. The Bible calls it sin, and calls for repentance and reconciliation.

Legislative and punitive measures to address social crises may be justified, but cannot change human nature. Only God can do that. A radical turn toward God is what this nation and its people need more than anything else.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.
Speaking Ethically No. 13

By Rod Benson

July 2007

In 1996, Dr Arch Hart spoke at a pastors’ conference I attended at Mapleton, Queensland. At one point he said, “There are many good people in the church, but not many nice people.”

Christians are graciously credited with God’s righteousness, but we all need to build on that truth and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, become godly. We are “called saints,” but we need to “be holy.” Theologians describe this as the tension between the indicative and the imperative.

How do we achieve this? By imitating the Lord Jesus Christ: sharing his heart for God, reflecting his confidence in God’s word, modelling his love for people, catching his vision for justice.

Jesus is our Saviour, but he needs to become our Exemplar. The Bible needs to become our rule for life. The fruit of the Spirit needs to permeate all our relationships (Gal 5:22-23). As this occurs, we learn to trust, and be trusted; to respect others, and be respected in return; to practice fairness for all, and be treated fairly ourselves. And we help others to find and follow Jesus.

Who you are becoming is more important than what you are doing. A virtuous character is of greater value than a grand vision and a busy schedule.

In our workplaces, communities, churches and families there are people who yearn for trust, respect and fairness. They don’t need the far-off example of good people; they need the close-up love of nice people. They need to know they are not alone, that God is at work, and that justice will prevail.

You may be good, but are you nice? Does someone close to you need to know that you trust them? Do you know someone who needs to feel respected once again? How can you make your community a fairer place?

Jesus did not go around feeling good, but doing good (Acts 10:38). He stood with the powerless, sat with the hurting, and ate with the outsider. He taught and modelled radical trust, respect and fairness. He was both “good” and “nice.” And he wants us to follow him.

Rev Rod Benson is founding Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.
Speaking Ethically No. 12

By Rod Benson

June 2007

For many Christians in Australia today, worship is an experience of emotional intensity that can be packaged in an event or purchased on CD. It’s all about me (and God).

But that’s not worship as conceived by the Bible or the first Christians. Of course, worship that lacks emotional intensity may be poor worship. Quality worship acknowledges the relation between the self and the divine, is not afraid to employ the full resources of the arts, and can touch our deepest feelings. But what we call worship may actually be something else.

Worship reveals what we value most. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Quoting Isaiah, he spoke of “people who honour me [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain” (Matt 15:8-9a).

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul describes his vision of “true worship.” It is an ongoing, whole-person self-sacrifice. It is empowered by God’s mercy and guided by God’s will. It is counter-cultural, and achieved most fully in community.

True worship has nothing to do with style of music, CCLI compliance or seating capacity. Old Testament prophets like Amos, Isaiah and Micah were on the right track when they called God’s people to more fully express justice, mercy, compassion, generosity and humility in their daily lives. That’s worship.

Jesus stood at the heart of the same spiritual tradition. He modelled and taught those same virtues and values. He challenged and denounced their opposites. In doing so, he revealed what he valued most. In his own way, Paul expressed an ongoing, whole-person, counter-cultural, self-sacrificial conception of worship. Both paid with their lives, but left a permanent practical legacy.

As we follow Jesus, when do we engage in true worship? What do others perceive we value most? How costly is our commitment to godly living? In what ways are we intentionally and missionally counter-cultural in the context of worship? What might God think of it all?

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.
Speaking Ethically No. 11

By Rod Benson

May 2007

As missiologist Brian Stanley observes, “the Church must stand for something in the world, or it will be swept aside as meaningless.” The church of Jesus Christ is far from meaningless in real terms. But its necessary spiritual emphasis and legitimate otherworldly agenda make it an easy target for those who would see it swept aside.

A church that does not reflect God’s heart for unredeemed social systems and structures, as well as God’s heart for unreconciled persons, is a church that God may well sweep aside as meaningless to his purposes.

The great danger for so-called Left- and Right-motivated movements for Christian social justice is that they will perpetuate the adversarial rhetoric and destructive divisions of the past (both political and religious) rather than embrace a truly wholistic vision and strategy for justice and peace in our world.

Where are Baptists positioned with respect to these threats and opportunities? Should our understanding of mission self-consciously embrace a moral or social dimension? Do we stand for something in the world?

Indeed we do. Many Australian Baptists would agree with the principle that “the soul of reform was the reform of the soul.” Yet on the whole, we have clearly accepted that our Christian responsibility does not end at the regeneration of individuals but extends to the reformation of society.

A small example of this occurred last month on the NSW-Victorian border where the recently planted Echuca-Moama Baptist Church sponsored an event to raise funds for the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal. The 1,000-strong crowd was entertained by musicians from local churches, Bendigo and Melbourne, puppet plays, Easter egg giveaways, Easter quizzes, egg and spoon races, face painting, basketball hoops, a footy handball target, and a jumping castle.

There was also opportunity for people to be impacted by the Gospel with a strong Christian emphasis through the puppet plays and songs, a Bible reading and free Christian literature.

Was it worth it? Was it mission? Did it bless others? Yes.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.
Speaking Ethically no. 10

By Rod Benson

April 2007

“We are at a moral crossroad; it’s time to demonstrate the true meaning of Easter,” the flyer declared, advertising a national event. The flyer failed to explain which moral crossroad the sponsor had in mind, but it got me thinking: What has Easter to do with ethics?

The Easter story is the foundational story of Christianity. As we accept what God did for us in Christ, and identify with Jesus in his death and resurrection, God grants us a new life of freedom, assurance and hope. This new life is profoundly shaped by our obedience to Jesus. But what does such a life look like?

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it best:

Jesus … calls us to share in his work of drawing out and dealing with the evil of the world; by loving our neighbours, both immediate and far-off, with the strong love that sent him to the cross; and by working out the implications of that love in our own vocations, whatever they may be, in our social and political action, in our relationships (and particularly our marriages and families), and in our caring for those in our midst who need the healing and restoring love of God most deeply. We are called, as the people who claim the crucified Jesus as our Lord, to seek out the pain of the world, and, in prayer, in patient hard work, in listening, in healing, in announcing the Kingdom of this Jesus by every means possible, to take that pain into ourselves and give it over to Jesus himself, so that the world may be healed … With the cross as the underlying story of our lives, validated by the resurrection and then implemented by the fire of the Holy Spirit, we can have the confidence to take on the world with the sovereign love of God.

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