Category Archives: Current Issues

A tale of King Arthur

All films change the facts. Cromwell (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981) and Ghandi (1982) all do this in various ways, some worse than others. The problem today is that there is such historical illiteracy that many people presumably think the film is the reality.

King Arthur has more written about him than just about any ruler of Britain and yet we really know next to nothing about him, or even if he ever existed. The current film King Arthur (2004) is introduced by a note that recent archaeological research has shed light on Arthur’s true identity. That is at best misleading. The film in fact adds its own mythology including some surprising historical blunders.

Essentially the film is about the Battle of Badon Hill, which the film dates to AD 467, near Hadrian’s Wall which separates the north of Britain (principally modern Scotland) from England. Arthur’s fellow knights are represented as Samartians (from the area of modern Ukraine – which is presumably why they cry ‘Rus!’ from time to time, if that’s what the shout is). From the film I wasn’t quite sure whether or not Arthur is supposed to be part British or not, but an ancestor is said to be a certain Artorius. Arthur and his friends are nearing the end of 15 years service  in Rome’s military frontier in Britain, but before they receive their freedom they must rescue an important Roman family under threat from the brutal Saxons. The head of this family is an unlikeable adherent of the Pope. He tortures those Britons who don’t convert, including a certain attractive warrior damsel named Guinevere. Arthur rescues the tortured and in the end sides with the Britons against the Saxons. They are defeated and Arthur marries Guinevere.

It’s an entertaining version of the story. However, it is entertainment not history. The inscription ‘Artorius’ found in Tintagel in Cornwall, Arthur’s traditional birthplace, actually reads ‘Artognus’. The Sarmartians were not a Slav/Viking people like the Rus, who founded Russia, but Iranian. An important battle over the Saxons at Badon Hill has good claim to historical reality, although a date between AD 475 and 520 is the best guess, not 467 as in the film. Badon is often thought to have been in the region of Bath – a long way from Hadrian’s Wall – but no one knows for certain. The earliest reference is in Gildas (ca. AD 550) who says it occurred the year he was born (thus ca AD 500). He doesn’t mention Arthur at all; a certain Ambrosius is the leader of the victorious Britons.

Around 250 years later the Celtic monk Nennius, seeking to preserve the traditions of his people, credits Arthur with a succession of six victories over the Saxons with Badon Hill the climax. Geoffrey of Monmouth created the basic framework of the highly popular Arthurian legend while teaching at Oxford 1129-51. In 1191 the Glastonbury monks claimed to have found Arthur and Guinevere’s graves in the monastic grounds after a major fire in 1184. Fund raising for the rebuilding was aided and King Edward III established the Knights of the Garter, based on the legend, in 1384. Sir Thomas Malory (1405-71) further embellished the story in a brilliant work published by William Caxton in 1485.

If there is anything new in the film it is at least in the attempt to demythologise Arthur so that the monkish legends about a Holy Grail and the magical sword Excalibur do not feature. The view that the Saxons were defeated by the Britons led by some Roman soldiers could be true, and some theorists suggest that the stories of the Holy Grail had their origin in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the film is the way Arthur is represented as a person of less than clear Christian conviction, but of decency and concern for the freedoms of ordinary people. He has as his closest friend in Rome the British monk Pelagius, whom the film tells us died a year earlier (AD 466). Pelagius was indeed a real figure – a British monk of decent life but poor theology. He stressed man’s abilities rather than divine grace, but met his match in the great Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Pelagius’ views were condemned as heretical, but he himself was not put to death for heresy as the film makes out. As Pelagius’ dates are around 350-425, he does not match the setting given to Arthur a generation later in the film. Still, the choice is interesting, reminding us that every film-maker is seeking an audience. To make Arthur into the kind of hero that appeals to an age distrustful of institutions and addicted to democratic individualism is far more likely to produce the box-office dollars. Does it in a strange way aim to give hope that the Iraq war will be worthwhile in the end?

Whatever, Pelagius is indeed a picture of many moderns, but also of many in the Greek world of the New Testament age. But there’s an emptiness in the end in this philosophy. We need a better hope. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides just that – in the past but also in 2005 and beyond.

Initially published in The Presbyterian Banner, December 2004.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 November 2010 20:40

God and Natural Disasters

God created a good world free of moral evil but yet with dangers and the possibility things could go wrong, as the entry of sin shows. As God’s representatives and image-bearers in this world humans were to fill the earth and subdue it. Through our first parents’ disobedience humanity is estranged from God, and all kinds of misery follows, including death itself and the ultimate consequence of disobedience in eternal separation from God. Yet God remains good, and judgment is his strange work (Isaiah 28:21). The account of Noah’s Flood does not focus attention on those who perished, as our newspapers do when recording modern disasters, but stresses God’s pain and grief, and his determination to not again bring such an extensive disaster (Genesis 6:6; 8:21).

God continues to send good, such as sunshine and rain, to believers and non-believers alike (Matthew 5:45; Psalm 145:9), and he even has pity on the cattle in unbelieving Ninevah (Jonah 4:11). We cannot exclude God’s involvement in so-called natural disasters. Sometimes specific judgments like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah come because of specific sin, but other times disasters are unrelated to specific sins (Job 1:8,16,18). We need to beware lest we pretend to know God’s purpose in any particular case. Yet we also need to recognize that cause and effect have reality. Many disasters arise from human abuse of the environment, or failure to take reasonable precautions against inherent or likely dangers.

God’s self-revelation in Scripture shows that believers are entitled to pray to him for protection and he will answer according to his perfect will. That does not mean they will always be delivered from the disaster, but faith says, ‘Although he slay me, yet will I trust him’ (Job 13:15).  In reference to both barbaric acts and accidental events Jesus declined to relate them to the personal sins of those who died as if these people were worse than others (Luke 13:1-5). However, such tragedies as well as natural disasters do serve as warnings that without repentance we will all perish. Such events are characteristic of this age. They are not indicators of the imminent end of the world, but point to the perfect age to come (Matthew 24:8; Luke 21:28).

In the end we do not need to defend God’s ways. He has made abundantly clear that he is concerned for humanity, so much so that he has sent his Son into the world of sin and shame to die on the cross to redeem and save all who turn to him in repentance and faith. As Jesus had compassion on the multitudes and also wept over the stubborn unbelief of the people of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37), so should we have compassion for those suffering in disasters and a deep desire to bring the message of salvation in Jesus to them as to all others.

Presbyterian Identity

Historically the Christian faith as understood by Presbyterians has experienced tension between the three aspects of correct doctrine, personal piety and social engagement. All these aspects are necessary to a well-rounded Christian faith.

They were well represented in James Forbes (1813-51), the first Christian minister settled in that capacity in Melbourne. He served the Scots’ Church and then founded the Free Presbyterian body in 1846. On the one hand he held definitely to the Confession of Faith and thought deviation from strict adherence would come back to haunt the church, but he also maintained a personal devotion and piety that included special gatherings for prayer with other evangelical believers. On top of that he was a foremost educationalist, and principal founder of the Melbourne Academy (later known as Scotch College) as well as involved in many of the early community enterprises such as the hospital, the temperance society and missions to aborigines.

It is not surprising that Australian Presbyterianism has manifested some divergence. In any church of some size different emphases will develop through geographical, social and political factors as well as the influence of significant people.

The impact of the early dominance of the Free Church of Scotland and Irish ministers in Victoria, the much greater Established Church of Scotland influence in New South Wales and the strong Irish Church and Glasgow Bible Training Institute influence in Queensland is seen to this day in the main Presbyterian denomination [PCA] in this country. Differences between rural and city PCEA congregations are another example.

Worship issues

In my youth I used to think that if a church of my own stripe was not available then the Baptists would be best; nowadays I’d say a PCA church would be preferred, but when I go I’m not sure what I’ll find in the worship service.  I may find something similar to my own denomination, or I may find a very traditional PCA style like the 1950s, or increasingly, it seems, I’ll find a rather casual approach with plenty of music and a charismatic feel.

If one attends a charismatic church one tends to find a pretty common style for all that charismatics usually want to stress they are a Spirit-led community and not a structured denomination. So how is it that Presbyterians, who identify as a structured church body without denying being Spirit-led, have such wide divergences in worship?

I want to suggest that in fact these variations in Presbyterian worship, as in anything else, reflect theological commitments. It may be the love of order, beauty, continuity and tradition that controls what we do, or it may be the desire to be with it, and to get people in without being very precise about method. In either case we are missing the Presbyterian point. As Christians who strive to be biblical we are supposed to be committed to the view that the glory of God is the chief purpose for which we are made and that this is the way to enjoy him forever.

So how does the glory of God illuminate our Presbyterian identity?

1. Scripture nourishes the life of the church

We can readily pay lip service to the authority of Scripture while we actually let our own experience and culture interpret it rather than the other way around. The Church can only live by God’s word. Sometimes one has the impression the Code book is more important! The seriously liberal phase in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Australia reflected not just an imbalance in the three aspects mentioned already but an alien intrusion of anti-supernaturalism so that man’s thoughts and not God’s were dominant and directive. And of course the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man proved a very empty response to the human predicament.

Similarly, the emphasis in much of the charismatic movement since the 1970s is on my feelings, my desires, my happiness. The concept of sin, if it’s not blamed on demonic forces, is downplayed as negative and uphelpful.  In this way the path to a God-centred life and true happiness is blocked up. The wonder of the love of God and the significance of the cross of Christ is evacuated of its true meaning. God in his glory and grace is reduced to my good mate, hymns become Christianised love songs to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is there to give us good feelings about ourselves but not lead us in the disciplined life of true godliness.

2. The church is the gathering of God’s people by means of his word and Spirit

Paul was clearly well aware of the culture and intellectual influences in Athens when he spoke in the Areopagus (Acts 17). He employed that knowledge so that he might speak more effectively to them of Jesus and the resurrection. We need to be abreast of the intellectual influences in our culture also, but we must not descend to social and management theory as if they are to control how we see the work of the church. Ministers are not managers per se but preachers and proclaimers, shepherds of the flock. Statistics have a place but the great means for the extension of God’s kingdom is the word of God blessed by the Spirit. After all, the church is not a human institution although there is that face. Ultimately it is Christ who said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ Clever psychology and slick marketing is no substitute.

3. Understanding of Scripture occurs in the community of faith in the context of our Confession of Faith

The New Testament emphasizes that the Gospel is to be traditioned, that is, passed on faithfully. Thus Paul writes 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition (Gk: paradosis) that you received from us.” He uses accounting terms when elsewhere he writes: “what I received I also passed on to you” The Gospel was passed on without addition or subtraction. The gospel is not to be understood individualisticly as if I can adjust it to my preferences, but it to be understood communally. Hence we have a consensus creed in the Confession of Faith.

Now clearly various procedures and aspects of how we worship need not be everywhere the same so long as they follow the general principles of Scripture.  The Confession says that. And the Confession is not the rule of faith but a help to faith. The Confession also says that. However, Presbyterians are committed to the position that Scripture rules doctrine and life, and that in matters of worship the express direction of Scripture or the good and necessary consequence of its teaching is required.

Ministers have both form and freedom, but it’s to be an ordered freedom. Too often we can act like independents as if we can ignore the wisdom of our fathers and the consensus that binds us together. In the Presbyterian system holy moderation ought to be furthered. “Here”, said Alexander Henderson, the great Scottish Churchman of the 17th century, “Here is superiority without tyranny, . . . here is parity without confusion and disorder . . . and lastly, here is subjection without slavery.”

 

4. Worship on the Lord’s Day is at the heart of the church’s life

Public worship on the Lord’s Day is the meeting of God’s people with their Lord. The older continental Reformed orders of worship bring this out. They began with a votum or promise, a response to God’s call to worship him, such as “Our help is in the Lord who made the heavens and the earth.” Then followed a salutation or greeting such as “Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Benediction at the close is not so much a prayer but a blessing from the Lord as we leave his special presence.

Neglect of public worship is dishonouring to God and destructive of piety. But when that worship is centred on us as a kind of pick-me-up, glossy show, we are moving on dangerous ground indeed.  James S. B. Monsell was right: “O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness/Bow down before him, his glory proclaim.”  Some trends in the PCA as regards worship and the Lord’s Day are very disappointing. We in the PCEA need to let our light shine.

A New Year resolution?

A brief article like this can only hint at issues. The recovery of family worship and the use of the catechism are also important. Princeton Professor B.B.Warfield somewhere tells the story of two men of calm and purposeful bearing, whose very demeanor inspired confidence, walking towards each other in a street of a city then in the midst of commotion and violence. They passed, then turned around and one asked, “What is the chief end of man?” The other answered, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever’ ”—“Ah!” said the first man, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!” “Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,” was the rejoinder. It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy, adds Warfield. They grow to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

In 2012 let us resolve that God and his glory, supremely seen in Christ, may be our chief joy. Then we will find our identity as Presbyterian Christians!

Homosexuality and Same-sex marriage

EXTRACT FROM A STUDY PANEL REPORT TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND, MAY 2012

The full report which also deals with Marriage & Divorce can be found on www.freechurch.org

3.1.1 “Same sex marriage” Sex researcher Dr Alfred C. Kinsey published research on the sexual behaviour of men and women in the 1940s and 1950s which claimed that 10% of males were more or less exclusively homosexual and around 5% of women. However, this has been extensively challenged in recent years. This is summarised by Peter Saunders and Rachael Pickering thus: “For decades, researchers adopted Kinsey’s reported figure of 10% for the general incidence of homosexuality. Kinsey’s study had been poorly designed, using a nonrandomly selected population, 25% of whom had been prisoners. The figures stood unchallenged until quashed by contemporary research; a figure of 1-2% is now generally quoted.”13 and The Guardian reported on 23 September 2010 “Just one in 100 people in the UK say they are gay or lesbian… A further one in every 200 people is bisexual, according to the data published by the Office for National Statistics.” So that’s around 1.5%. The gay lobby seems to have a disproportionate influence in the media and politics compared to their numbers.

3.1.2 It is not only the incidence of homosexuality that is controversial; the causes of homosexuality are also hugely controversial even among homosexuals themselves. Generally from the 1960s onwards society has moved from a medical understanding of homosexuality as a perversion to an acceptance that this is natural for some people. Lady Gaga’s song ‘Born this way’ is just one example from popular culture of the expression of this view: “No matter gay, straight or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life… / I was born this way”.14 The song also implies that whatever we are, we are just the way God created us. Saunders comments: “Many people are sympathetic to persons with same-sex attraction demand for a ‘right’ to marry because they believe that such persons were ‘born that way’ and can’t change; therefore, allowing them to call their relationships marriages gives such persons their only opportunity for a recognised relationship.”15

3.1.3 What is the scientific evidence? In an extensive study in 1995, editors John DeCecco and David Parker concluded, “Current research into possible biological bases of sexual preference has failed to produce any conclusive evidence.”16 Saunders adds, “And since 1995 no new scientific, replicated studies have even claimed to find abiological cause for same sex attraction.”17

3.1.4 If the evidence is lacking to support the view that there is some genetic or other biological cause ofhomosexuality, is there evidence for environmental factors being a cause – nurture, rather than nature? Again here the evidence is not clear. Saunders comments: “While there will always be those who support one sole model of causation, most concede that many factors are involved. Heredity, environment and personal choice all play a part. This should leave us with a humble and open attitude, willing to learn more from scientific research and the testimony of skilled counsellors and gay people.”18

3.1.5 However, all too often the role of personal choice is ignored. Saunders states: “We are not solely genetic machines anymore than we are blank slates on which experience writes. At some point, every practising homosexual makes a choice to indulge in homosexual fantasy or to have gay sex. However, we must not make the mistake of ignoring the role of nature and nurture in making those of homosexual orientation what they are.”

3.2.1 What is the Bible’s teaching? In the beginning God created a human pair who were equally human, but different and complementary. This is God’s pattern for human sexual love – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Nothing is clearer in the Bible’s teaching on sexual love than this stress that it is God’s will that human sexuality should be expressed only in the one-man-one-woman lifelong relationship of marriage. God did not create several Eves for Adam, or several Adams for Eve. Nor did he create another Adam for Adam, or another Eve for Eve.

3.2.2 Homosexual orientation As we have seen, many see nothing wrong with homosexuality. They argue that the true homosexual is only acting in accordance with his or her nature. They are just born that way. Or it is just the way they were brought up. They are homosexual not by choice, but as a result of genetic or environmental factors.

3.2.3 So, does this mean that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality? If that was the way a person was created, should we not just accept that this is God’s will for them? But what do we mean when we say “This is the way God has made me”? We have moved a long way from the original perfect creation. We have to reckon with the Fall as well. The world is not now as it was originally created. The human race has rebelled and fallen into a state of sin and misery. We are born into an already fallen imperfect world and we bring an already corrupted human nature with us. Our personalities are complexes of all kinds of sinful desires. No aspect of our humanity escapes unscathed.

Our sexuality is not immune. We may inherit various tendencies to rebel against God’s order of things and we may respond in a sinful way to various evil influences we experience.

3.2.4 Does this mean that we are absolved of all personal responsibility for any departure from the pattern laid down by God in our sexuality? No, no more than it does in the area of any of the other commandments of God – respect for life, property and our neighbour’s reputation. When we have said all that can be said by way of understanding the causes of homosexuality, we have only explained some of the reasons for homosexual temptation, or orientation. We have done no more than what we could do in the case of heterosexual sin. We have not proved that homosexual acts ought to be excluded from the Biblical category of sin.

3.2.5 However, it is important that the distinction be made between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity. We cannot blame a person for being tempted in a particular direction, otherwise we could blame Jesus, because he was tempted in all points as we are. Yet it is made clear that he was without sin. Normally, the individual is not responsible for his temptation. But he is responsible for his response to it, and to avoid situations in which he may expect to be tempted.

3.2.6 Homosexual activity What has the Bible to say specifically about homosexual activity? In both Old Testament and New Testament homosexual acts are described as sins. Michael Vasey, in his influential book Strangers and Friends, looks at various biblical texts in his attempt to show that the Bible does not condemn homosexual activity as such. We will look at the main texts.

3.2.7 Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Leviticus 18:22). “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Leviticus 20:13). There is little dispute as to what these laws mean. Vasey agrees that ‘these verses prohibit sexual intercourse between men.’19 However, there is no indication in the text that this is limited to anal intercourse, as Vasey suggests. It is simply homosexual sexual activity as such that is indicated – one man acting erotically with another. Where there is more serious divergence of views, however, is concerning the question of whether this prohibition still applies. Vasey argues: ‘Firstly, it can be seen simply as part of an arbitrary purity code abrogated with the coming of Christ… Secondly, it can be viewed as a witness to an unchanging creation pattern for human genital acts. Thirdly, it can be regarded as some sort of combination of the two.’20 Vasey opts for the third, but does not make clear how the two can be reconciled. What is clear is that some aspects of the law are abrogated by Christ. Jesus abrogates the death penalty for sexual sin (not only in John 8:11, but also in his replacement of the death penalty for adultery with divorce, Matthew 19:9). In addition, he shows that the regulations concerning a woman’s ‘uncleanness’ (Leviticus 18:19) are no longer valid, as he does not regard himself as contaminated by the touch of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34). But neither the Lord nor his apostles indicate that homosexual acts are to be excluded from the category of sinful behaviour (any more than child-sacrifice and bestiality, Leviticus 18:21,23, are to be excluded.) Instead, there are clear statements in the New Testament to the contrary – homosexual sex is still regarded as sinful. Any approach which appeals to the New Testament’s abrogation of any Old Testament command must be on the sure ground of being able to show that the command is specifically abrogated or fulfilled, or belongs to a class of commands (such as ceremonial or judicial) which is generally abrogated or fulfilled. This cannot be shown in the instance of the commands against homosexual sin.

3.2.8 Romans 1.25-27 ‘Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with woman and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty of their perversion.’ Vasey attempts to lessen the impact of these verses by arguing that they are the culturally conditioned views of the Roman world by a Jew and that they are not referring to loving homosexual relationships.21 This comes across as very special pleading. Romans 1-3 is a unit. Here Paul is showing that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Paul shows the development of sin from the Fall and included in this development is homosexual behaviour. What is clear is that Paul is clearly describing as sinful, the abandoning by men of sexual intercourse with women, in favour of sexual intercourse with other men. It is this, together with his use of the expressions ‘inflamed with lust’ and ‘committed indecent acts’, that demonstrates that homosexual sexual activity is sinful. This ought not to be considered a culturally conditioned view, any more than the position that greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice and gossip are also regarded as sinful (Romans 1:29).

3.2.9 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 ‘Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’ This passage particularly shows that God declares homosexual acts to be sinful. They are contrary to God’s will and, along with all other sins, exclude the unrepentant sinner from the kingdom of God. It is argued by Vasey and others, however, that this, along with other passages in the Bible that appear to be talking about homosexuality are in fact not talking about stable, loving homosexual relationships, but about homosexual rape, religious male prostitution and pederasty. However, the key passages quoted above are quite clear. They use very plain language. They talk about lying with a man as one lies with a woman. In fact it appears that in 1 Corinthians 6:9 Paul possibly invented a compound Greek word for homosexual (arsenokoites), meaning precisely one who lies sexually with a man or one who beds a man when there were various other Greek words he could have used if he wanted to refer to homosexual rape, male prostitution or pederasty. Paul, or someone else before him, probably derived the term arsenokoites from the Greek Septuagint version of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 where the terms arsen (male) and koite (bed) are used.22 Paul’s use of this word, linked with the clear command in Leviticus, makes it abundantly plain that it is all homoerotic behaviour that is prohibited. It is not just homosexual rape, male prostitution or pederasty that is wrong. It is homosexual sexual activity as such that is wrong. All attempts to avoid the plain meaning of the words appear as very weak special pleading.

3.2.10 So, on the basis of Scripture the Christian cannot accept that homosexuality is natural in the sense of being in line with God’s will for us. The Bible teaches that a man and a woman are designed for each other sexually – they, and they alone, become one flesh. By contrast, both Old Testament and New confirm that homosexual sexual activity is included in the category of sin, along with the heterosexual sins of adultery and fornication. Vasey seems constantly to miss the point. He seems to think that the Bible, for cultural reasons, condemns certain sexual practices, such as anal intercourse, irrespective of the sex of those involved.23 What the Bible makes clear is that homosexual sex of any kind is included in the category of sin, along with the heterosexual sins of adultery and fornication. The Bible recognises only one sexual relationship which has God’s approval – that is, marriage.

3.2.11 One sin among many However, it must always be remembered that homosexual activity is only one sin among many. Yes, homosexual acts are among the sins that, if persisted in, exclude from the kingdom of God, but equally so do promiscuous heterosexual acts, theft, drunkenness and slander (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). There is nothing in the Bible that would single out homosexuals as worse sinners than any other sinners. Even if we accept that homosexual sex was one of the sins of Sodom we must remember what Jesus said to the city of Capernaum that refused to repent – ‘it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you’ (Matthew 11:24).

3.2.12 Homosexual sex is sin, and as sin it brings its own judgement, even in this life. ‘Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion’ (Romans 1:27). Sin brings misery. Whatever a man sows that he shall also reap. But the Lord Jesus helped people with all kinds of diseases and troubles and sins without respect to how these may have been caused, and he resisted the judgemental attitude so prevalent in the society of his time (Luke 13:1-5, John 9:1-3).

3.2.13 The terms “homophobia” and “homophobic” tend to be used of anyone who dares to question the present politically correct views on homosexuality and same sex marriage. Homophobia comes directly from Greek and literally means “fear of the same” (cf. arachnophobia, fear of spiders), but has come to mean hatred of homosexuals. As Christians we are neither to fear nor hate anyone, but follow our Lord in his loving attitude to all kinds of sinners. Of course there is a certain irony in the use of the term homophobia. If it is indeed a condition, perhaps the “homophobe” was born that way, or his environment has caused his homophobia – he has not chosen it!

3.2.14 Good news for homosexuals Homosexual sexual activity is sinful. But the Bible’s emphasis on sin is not meant to drive us away from God to destruction and despair, but to show us our desperate need of the redemption accomplished by Christ and to call us to faith in him. After all, the Christian message is one of forgiveness and only a person who has done wrong can be forgiven. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, after listing the lifestyles, including homosexual ones, which exclude one from the kingdom of God, Paul says to the Corinthian Christians, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”.

3.2.15 Corinth was a notorious centre of all kinds of vice in the ancient world and some of the Christians had been converted out of such a vicious background. There were Christians who had been male prostitutes and homosexual offenders, but they had been transformed by the grace of God. They were freed from the vices that had once enslaved them. The gospel is a message of hope and the church is a community of hope. The church of Jesus Christ is made up one hundred per cent of moral failures. But they are moral failures who have been given a new life and a new lifestyle. All Christians, whatever their sexual orientation, are called to live a celibate life while single and to exclusive faithfulness within marriage.

3.3.1 Same Sex Marriage? The sections on marriage from the Universal Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights are often referred to in this discussion. The relevant sections are as follows:

Universal Convention on Human Rights, Article 16

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family…

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

European Convention on Human Rights, Article 12 Right to marry

Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

3.3.2 Professor Hugh McLachlan argues as follows: “What this says is that the rights pertaining to marriage of men and women should be the same. It does not say that men should marry only women or that women should marry only men.” This is really reading back into the text one’s own ideas. If that was really what they meant they would have said human beings (not men and women), and they would have said “without limitation due to race, nationality, religion or sex”.

3.3.3 Right to same sex marriage? There are some things that we all have equal rights to – equality before the law, right to life, right to property etc. But we don’t have rights to everything. You don’t have a right to be a ballerina, or an opera singer, or a brain surgeon. Only those appropriately equipped, physically or mentally, can become one of those. A man does not have the right to bear and give birth to a baby – he is not physically (or psychologically) equipped for it.

3.3.4 Similarly, two people of the same sex have no right to marriage – because marriage is for a man and a woman. It is not just that this is the teaching of the Bible; it is the practice of the human race from time immemorial. Do we think that we can simply overturn the wisdom of the human race over thousands of years, and for there not to be destructive consequences?

3.3.5 It is generally recognised that our human rights are restricted by the rights of others. For instance, I have a right to freedom of speech. But my freedom of speech is restricted by the right of my neighbour not to be slandered.

3.3.6 Similarly with regard to marriage. If it is argued that we have a right to marry, that right may be restricted by the rights of others – for instance the right of a child to have a father and mother. This is something that is hardly ever considered. But a mother and father provide different kinds of love and care to a child, and people of the same sex simply cannot provide this.

3.3.7 However, in relation to single parent families, the question is not what may happen in life – children may be deprived of a parent by death, or by marriage breakdown, or by teenage pregnancy. But that is a different matter altogether from the State actually legitimising and encouraging the existence of fatherless or motherless children.

3.3.8 The pressure from the gay lobby for same sex marriage and adoption of children comes because homosexuality is a biological dead end. Same sex couples are physically incapable of procreation. But they want to bring up children in order that their own values are passed on to a new generation. And of course by getting the right to marry, they get more respectability for bringing up children (they already have the right to foster and adopt). This is a huge social experiment, in which the guinea pigs are children. That is not fair or just to children and does not safeguard their rights.

3.3.9 In addition, the civil rights of homosexuals are already safeguarded through civil partnerships, so there is no real need for same sex marriage. It is really being pushed in a doctrinaire way by the gay lobby, without any consideration of the harm that it will do to marriage.

3.3.10 The whole idea of the State or Government redefining marriage is wrong-headed, if not oppressive. Sir William Scott said that marriage “is the parent, not the child of civil society.”24 Marriage existed long before the idea of the modern State. It does not belong to us as political animals; it belongs to us as human beings made in the image of God. We redefine it at our peril.

END NOTES

14 http://www.ladygaga.com/lyrics/default.aspx?tid=23592566
15 http://pjsaunders.blogspot.com/search/label/Sexuality
16
The Journal of Homosexuality, Vol 28, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 1995, republished under the title Sex, Cells, and Same-Sex Desire: The Biology of Sexual Preference, quoted by Peter Saunders,
http://pjsaunders.blogspot.com/search/label/Sexuality
17 http://pjsaunders.blogspot.com/search/label/Sexuality
18 http://www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=630
19 Michael Vasey,
Strangers and Friends, Hodder, 1995, p.126ff
20 Vasey, p.127
21 Vasey, p.129ff
22 David Wright,
Sexuality and the Church, ed. Tony Higton, ABWON, 1987, p.41, and Homosexuals or Prostitutes?, Vigiliae Christianae, 38 (1984), ps.123-53
23 Vasey, p.139
24 Dalrymple v. Dalrymple, 1811. For the original record from the Consistory Court, 2 Hag Con 54, p.669, see
http://www.uniset.ca/other/ths/161ER665.html

 

The Church of Scientology – An Appraisal

[Originally printed in The Presbyterian Banner, September 2007]

Scientology has attracted some high profile names, and received attention in the press over recent months. It makes extraordinary claims for itself. We need to be aware of its beliefs. We’re grateful to Dr.Ward for providing this summary of its teachings.

Scientology claims to be ‘the only religion that offers mankind a proven and practical path to freedom from the travails of the past and attainment of spiritual freedom beyond imagination. It is the only religion that offers personal immortality – now, in this lifetime. Because Scientology is the only religion that can answer such questions as who we are, why we are here, and what happens when we die, more people than ever are embracing it as their religion.’ [http://www.whatisscientology.org/html/part12/Chp37/pg0680.html]

Unlike Buddhism Scientology affirms belief in a Supreme Being. However, it does not describe the attributes of that Being, and so does not require one to worship such or to address that Being in prayer. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Scientology believes in past lives but explains this differently from reincarnation doctrine. One returns not as another life form but as oneself but in a different body. Like Christian Science it addresses the negative in human experience but proposes to use a scientific technology to deal with it rather than deny its reality. Like Gnosticism it emphasises salvation through knowledge and supposes an essential hostility between the spirit and the material. It fits into the American emphasis on self-development.  On the more esoteric side it employs a story of intergalactic relationships that critics label pure mythology.

Founder
The first Church of Scientology was established in 1954 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Its founder was science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (1911-86). He had previously outlined his philosophy in a best-selling book published in 1950 under the title Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard ultimately wrote over 200 science fiction novels and 31 church related books. It is said that over 20 million copies of Dianetics have been distributed by the church. The imprint is New Era Publications or Bridge Publications.

Core beliefs
Scientology is defined as the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, universes and other life. Through its activities and studies one may find the truth for himself, it is maintained. The term ‘scientology’ is explained as ‘knowing how to know’.

The church asserts that man is an immortal spiritual being or ‘thetan’ who has had many past lives (going back billions of years) in extra-terrestrial civilisations but is now trapped on Earth in a physical body and has lost his true spiritual identity. His capabilities are unlimited, but are at present greatly under-utilised. While it is held that man is basically good, he needs to escape from the impact of experiences in this or past lives that cause him to be unhappy, to act irrationally or with evil intent even though inherently he is good and highly ethical. As these experiences accumulate over time, they cause the thetan to become enmeshed with the material universe. He needs to become ‘clear’.

A Clear is a person who no longer has his own ‘reactive mind’ (that part of the mind which works on a totally stimulus-response basis, is not under a person’s volitional control, and is the source of man’s misery), and therefore suffers none of the ill effects that the reactive mind can cause. The Clear has no ‘engrams’ (false mental pictures) which, when restimulated, throw out false data. When a person becomes Clear, he loses all the fears, anxieties and irrational thoughts that were held down by pain in the reactive mind and, in short, regains himself. It is a stable state not subject to relapse.

A pre-Clear is a person who is on the way to being a Clear by means of receiving ‘auditing’. Auditing is a central practice of Scientology, and it is delivered by an auditor (‘one who listens’). Auditing is a special form of personal counselling by successive steps which helps an individual look at his own existence and improves his ability to confront what he is and where he is. In this process, auditors employ an electro-psychometer, or E-Meter, which could be thought of as a primitive lie detector. Through its usage, it is claimed, auditors help isolate areas of spiritual trouble or upset that exist below a person’s current awareness. Once brought to light, such areas can then be examined by the individual student. Until an individual is ‘cleared’, no matter how able he has become by virtue of earlier auditing, it is inevitable that he will sooner or later sink back into the re-active mind. That is why clearing is vital. Clear is total eradication of the individual’s own reactive mind.

While one can become free through auditing, this must be augmented by knowledge of how to stay free; knowing the mechanisms by which spiritual freedom can be lost is itself a freedom and places one outside their influence, Scientologists believe. Accordingly, members undertake an on-going study of Scientology principles, with the aim of improving conditions in every area of one’s life.

From this point one proceeds up ‘the Bridge to Total Freedom’ (as it is called) but by successive steps. One aims to be an Operating Thetan (OT). An OT is a person in a state of being above Clear, in which the Clear has become re-familiarized with his native capabilities. Basically one is oneself, and can handle things and exist without physical support and assistance. As man is basically good, a being who is Clear becomes willing to trust himself with greater and greater abilities. At the Operating Thetan III (OT III) level, one is introduced to details of some of the movement’s more esoteric teachings which underpin its philosophy but are withheld from those on lower levels and are commonly downplayed or dismissed by spokespersons. It is taught that 75 million years ago the Earth was known as Teegeeack, part of an interplanetary federation ruled over by the evil overlord Xenu, who was responsible for bringing thetans to Earth, putting then in volcanoes (this is the source of the volcano picture on Dianetics front cover since 1968) and blowing them up with hydrogen bombs. Their essences surround people and cause harm to them today.

Organisation and Finance
There is a bureaucratic structure with different levels. Some courses on the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’ can only be taken at certain centres. Payment is made for courses and these run into many thousands of dollars at higher levels. In Australia the major series of 16 courses to ‘clear’ stage cost almost A$22,000 even ten years ago. Those who pay an annual membership ($500) in the International Association of Scientologists are able to complete the courses for about $16,000, while those who also undertake training over two years to become an auditor are required to make fixed donations of about $11,000. Scientology seems to attract the rich and famous. John Travolta joined in 1972. Media tycoon James Packer, through the influence of his friend Tom Cruise, a scientologist since about 1990, joined in 2002. Kate Ceberano, the singer, is actually a third generation Scientologist, as her grandmother had association with L. Ron Hubbard. Staff are paid a basic allowance plus a percentage from course fees, and in many cases need the supplement provided by extra part-time work in other occupations.

The Board of Religious Technology Center (RTC), was formed in 1982 as a non-profit organization to preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion and holds the trademarks and copyright of Scientology and Dianetics. RTC is not part of the management structure of the Church, nor is it involved in the Church’s day-to-day affairs.  Those who leave the Church of Scientology are generally monitored to prevent them becoming a ‘supressive’ for publicly criticising it.

A number of innocuous sounding groups are arms of Scientology. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) formed in 1969 is an arm of the church that seeks to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights primarily because of what is regarded as its unscientific diagnostic system. Without decrying some useful activities of CCHR, critics suggest that this not only appeals to the deep distrust of psychiatry in parts of the population but also serves to give the impression that the Church of Scientology is not itself engaged in what many would regard as unscientific diagnosis and psychological manipulation.

Various groups, loosely called ‘Free Zone’ groups, practise Scientology outside the Church of Scientology, some claiming to predate the official founding of the Church, and all regarding the Church of Scientology has having deviated from Hubbard’s teachings. FANZA is the Freezone Association of Australia & New Zealand set up for the benefit of Australian and New Zealand’s independent scientologists and students of Hubbard’s philosophy.

Controversy
The church and some of its leaders have faced government prosecutions as well as private lawsuits in some countries on charges of fraud, tax evasion, financial mismanagement, and conspiring to steal government documents. In response to these attacks, the church has insisted that it is a bona-fide religious organisation and that it has been the subject of government persecution and opposition by certain parts of the medical profession. A 1983 ruling of the High Court of Australia, and a 1993 report by the US Internal Revenue Service are pointed to by Scientologists as confirming their status as a genuine religious organisation. It currently has charitable status only in the USA and the UK. Critics think of it as a money-making organization, with reference to the Supreme Being having only a social function not a religious one. On the other hand there are many devotees who certainly regard it as a religion. Time Magazine May 6, 1991 had a highly critical cover story on Scientology.

Statistics
In the mid 1970’s the Church claimed a world-wide following of 3 million, 20% of these in the USA, but a more objective estimate of active membership at that point is 50,000. By 1994, church officials reported that there were 13,000 church staff members ministering Scientology to some 8 million members through 2,318 churches, missions and related organisations in 107 countries. In 2006 the claim is 9 million in over 3,000 churches, missions and related organizations. We doubt the active membership is more than 150,000/200,000 worldwide, perhaps only half that. The number in England appears to be about the same as in Australia and 55-60,000 seems a likely figure for the USA. Considerable expansion is claimed in Eastern Europe and more recently in Africa.

Australia
The Hubbard Association of Scientologists International was established in Australia in 1952. Incorporation as the Church of the New Faith occurred in Adelaide in 1969. In 1972 its ministers were registered as marriage celebrants by the Australian Government and so it was able to operate as a church. In the late 1970s, the church in Australia claimed a national membership of 30,000, a gross over-estimate in my view (possibly a mailing-list figure). It is thought that the committed following was about 2,000 in 1986 and perhaps 4,000 in 1995 allowing for those enrolled in courses but who might not identify as Scientologists. The Census counted 1,490 affiliates in 1996, 2,032 in 2001 and 2,507 in 2006. I suspect the current core following is no more than 2,000 with up to 3,000 more in a
quite interested but looser relationship.

The Australian Scientology headquarters adjoin St George’s PCEA, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. They may be next door geographically but are poles apart theologically. Scientology is all about my essential goodness and saving oneself by knowledge and pseudo-scientific techniques according to the word of L. Ron Hubbard. Christianity is about God saving rebellious sinners by the giving of his Son according to the Holy Scriptures.

Overcoming evil with good – the two Dannys vilification case

Rowland Ward writes on the Melbourne Religious Vilification case
From The Presbyterian Banner [PCEA Magazine] Jan/Feb 2005 pp. 5-8.

 

Background
On March 9, 2002 at Full Gospel Assembly in Surrey Hills, Victoria, Catch the Fire Ministries
Inc. [CTFM] ran a public seminar entitled Insight into Islam with Assemblies of God pastor
Daniel Scot of Queensland as speaker. Between 200-250 people were present, including at
various times during the day and unknown to the organizers, three recent Islamic converts
from the Australian community. The topics addressed by Pastor Scot were:

10:00am to 12:00 noon: What is Jihad, and the affect on the future of Australia?
1:00pm to 3:00pm: The Bible versus The Qur’an;
3:30pm to 5:00pm: How to witness effectively to a Muslim.

Scot was born of a Christian family in Pakistan in 1951 and was a mathematics teacher for 12
years when he became the first person accused under Pakistan’s Blasphemy law in 1986. He
was able to come to Australia in 1987, the year he secured a BTh from Gujranwala Seminary
in Pakistan following 10 years part-time study. A Presbyterian (ARP) in Pakistan, Scot became
an AOG pastor about 1995. He certainly knows the Qur’an.

The Catch the Fire Ministries President is another AOG Pastor, Danny Nalliah, who also edits
the organization’s Newsletter sent to 4000 people. Nalliah was born in Sri Lanka in 1964,
prayed over by the late Frank Houston of Sydney at age 12, and later responded to the call to
Christian service. He married in 1987 and served the underground church in Saudi Arabia from
1995-97. In obedience to ‘an encounter with Jesus’ on 21/7/1997 he came to Australia and set
up Catch the Fire Ministries. He does not appear to have formal theological qualifications.
However, he claims Jesus appeared to him in a dream on 9/4/2002 to assure him that a
proactive church would stop the coming disaster of the Islamisation of Australia.
Seminar
Pastor Scot presented as the authentic interpretation of Islam an interpretation that would be
recognized by the Saudi-based Wahhabists and their sympathizers, but which is not held by
the majority of Muslims. A legal case resulted when three recent Muslim converts who
attended the seminar complained and their cause was taken up by the Islamic Council of
Victoria. The fact that in some respects the complaints were engineered doesn’t alter the fact
that one should not vilify others. On the other hand it might indicate motives for the complaint
are more complex.

We might well think the experiences of the two pastors coloured their presentation, but that
does not justify the breach of the 9th commandment involved. Or we might think instilling fear
and alarm was good for fund-raising, and appealed to people whose insecurity is such that
they cannot move beyond the self-imposed boundary of fear of those who are different. If so,
this only adds to their culpability. But whatever, Pastor Scot went over the top, and so did
Pastor Nalliah in the CTFM Newsletter. A civil action was not necessary to show that.

Gross misrepresentation of others on religious or racial grounds is not something Christians
should turn a blind eye to. Where were most Christians when Hitler was demonizing the Jews?
Let’s not repeat that failure. Which leads one to ask about accountability in the Christian
community. The ‘Christian Right’ in Australia has generally attacked the judge’s decision, and I
have serious criticisms myself. But if we ask for Muslims to counter extremists should we not
set an example ourselves. [Or is that like asking the Roman Church to excommunicate IRA
terrorists?] The two pastors, however sincere and well-meaning they may be, are not
ornaments to the Assemblies of God, and have brought evangelical religion into disrepute.
One recalls that the town clerk of Ephesus quieted a riotous crowd by reminding them that
Paul had neither robbed the temple nor blasphemed the goddess as he preached Christ (Acts
19:37). I believe that the AOG should counsel the two Dannys and rebuke them appropriately.
Do we want to understand our Muslim fellow-Australians and win a hearing for the claims of
Christ, or not? All the protestations of love for Australian Muslims means little if they are
vilified. By vilification I do not mean that they feel offended (a very subjective thing), but that
the beliefs typical of Australian Muslims are seriously misrepresented.
The legal position
The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 1901, which came into force on 1 January 2002, has
the following objects
‘(a) to promote the full and equal participation of every person in a society that values freedom of
expression and is an open and multicultural democracy;
(b) to maintain the right of all Victorians to engage in robust discussion of any matter of public interest or
to engage in, or comment on, any form of artistic expression, discussion of religious issues or academic
debate where such discussion, expression, debate or comment does not vilify or marginalise any person or
class of persons;
(c) to promote conciliation and resolve tensions between persons who (as a result of their ignorance of the
attributes of others and the effect that their conduct may have on others) vilify others on the ground of
race or religious belief or activity and those who are vilified.’

Section 8 provides that:
‘(1) A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of
persons engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule
of, that other person or class of persons.’

Section 9 provides that the person’s motive in engaging in such conduct is irrelevant, but
Section 11 provides that a person does not contravene Section 8
‘if the person establishes that the person’s conduct was engaged in reasonably and in good faith –
(a) In the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
(b) In the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held, or any other conduct
engaged in, for –

(i) any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose; or
(ii) any purpose that is in the public interest; or

(c) In making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest.’

There is a further exemption (Section 12) for private conduct. This exemption does not apply
in relation to conduct in any circumstances in which the parties to the conduct ought
reasonably to expect that it may be heard or seen by someone else. The Seminar was a public
one.

The Judge considered that ‘there is a balance to be struck between free speech which is the
right of all Victorians to engage in robust discussion, but that such a freedom is not to be
abused’ but was in fact abused. In substance I believe the Judge was right. Scot read and
explained sections of the Qur’an and the Hadith. The vilification was not at that point, as some
Christian commentators seem to imply, but in that he did not qualify his explanations so as to
allow sufficiently for other viewpoints among Muslims. It was like a person explaining the Old
Testament according to a strong theonomist/reconstructionist position, saying that that
viewpoint was characteristic of all true Christians, and that they hid their real views until they
could get into a position to impose them.

But does the legal action help anyone, least of all the ICV?
The legal case
In a hearing brought on behalf of the three Muslim converts by the Islamic Council of Victoria,
the ICV case was initially rejected but was heard on appeal to VCAT in a case which took
months and concluded last March. Shortly before Christmas (17/12) Judge Higgins found for
the complainants. His 140 page extremely poorly proof-read judgment is at
<http://www.vcat.vic.gov.au>. I have also read the 110 page transcript of the lecture by Dr
Mark Durie which all recognized as accurate. Orders for remedies are to be made shortly. An
appeal has been indicated.

The legal representation for CTFM was not of the highest order, and the attempt to introduce
the Rev Dr Mark Durie, an Anglican priest in Melbourne, as an expert witness was bungled,
both because the Judge considered he lacked such a qualification and also had sought to hide
his active involvement in the preparation and management of the CTFM case (para 351). One
wonders, though, how independent and expert some of the witnesses for the ICV were.
Indeed, do you need to be involved in inter-faith discussions to be qualified as the judge
seems to suggest? Surely a religious faith and teaching can be described accurately by those
who are not adherents of it.

The judgment
The Judge summed up the seminar thus:
‘Pastor Scot, throughout the seminar, made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct. It was done, not in the
context of a serious discussion of Muslims’ religious beliefs; it was presented in a way which is essentially
hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their god, Allah, the prophet Mohammed and in
general Muslim religious beliefs and practices. Time and again this occurs and, on any view, produces a
response from the audience at various times in the form of laughter.
Pastor Scot, during the course of the seminar, made statements –
(1) that the Qur’an promotes violence, killing and looting;
(2) that it treats women badly; they are to be treated like a field to plough, “use her as you wish”.
Further, in Hadith Bukhari, women, dog and donkey are of equal value;
(3) that domestic violence in general is encouraged;
(4) that Muslims are liars;
(5) that Allah is not merciful and a thief’s hand is cut off for stealing;
(6) that Muslims are demons;
(7) the practice of abrogation that is cancellation of words from the Qur’an and the Hadith solely to fit
some particular purpose or personal need;
(8) that Muslims operate a silent six jihad, which is the use of business connections; using money to
induce people to convert to Islam, and the training of Muslims in Madrassihs and the statement there are
millions of people right now under training in these schools, implying a threat to Australia;
(9) that Muslims have a plan to overrun western democracy by the use of violence and terror, and to
replace those democracies with oppressive regimes;
(10) that people study for six to seven years and they become true Muslims, and we call them terrorists,
but they are true Muslim; they have read the Qur’an, they have understood it and they are now practising
it, that is the connection between the Qur’an and terrorism;
(11) Muslims intend to take over Australia and declare it as an Islamic nation;
(12) Muslim people have to fight Christians and Jews, humiliate them and fight them until they accept true
religion;
(13) Muslims in Australia are increasing at substantial rates and have influence or control over the
migration of people to Australia. Figures are quoted which are wrong. It is said the figures are produced
by the Bureau, implying the Bureau of Statistics, whereas they came from a different source, and that
they are increasing at a rate which was incorrect.
There are many other references to the Qur’an and Muslims who are said to follow its teachings. The
seminar was not a balanced discussion. It was a process of taking literal translations from the Qur’an and
making no allowance for their applicability to modern day society. The ordinary, reasonable reader would
understand from the public act that he or she was being incited to hatred towards or serious contempt for
or serious ridicule of a person on the ground of race.’ [I assume the last word should actually be ‘religion’
RSW]. [pp. 234-5]

The Pastors did not say that all Muslims are extremists. Obviously they are not. Indeed, the
pastors emphasised that most Muslims are ignorant of the Qur’an. It was certainly painfully
obvious that the converts who complained knew little of it, and even an expert witness for the
ICV, a Catholic priest, had only read parts of it. Scot’s aim was to explain what the Qur’an
really taught, and therefore what true Muslims should believe, and in that respect he did a
sufficiently accurate job for the Judge to state: ‘I find that Pastor Scot failed to differentiate between
Muslims throughout the world, that he preached a literal translation of the Qur’an and of Muslims’ religious
practices which was not mainstream but was more representative of a small group in the Gulf states.’
(Summary of Reasons, #8)

One doubts the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia think their view small and unrepresentative (more
on this below). It was also noteworthy that the mere quotation of certain verses from the
Qur’an by Scot in the hearing was objected to by counsel for ICV, a strange reaction given
Muslim reverence for the text. Of course, one can understand that there are statements in it
that are somewhat embarrassing for moderate Muslims. This embarrassment is not easily
dismissed by reference to the circumstances of the 7th century. Will these verses be omitted
from Australian mosques in future?

If Scot had been more careful, valid points concerning the Qur’an and the Hadith could have
been brought out rather effectively, since much of what Scot said is in line with classical
Muslim teaching. Mind you, the Judge gives the impression he doesn’t always grasp the
context or that he makes mountains out of molehills. Is point 1 above incorrect? One can
affirm it as a fact while fully acknowledging that most Muslims today are peace-loving. Under
point 5, the judge seems to have got it wrong: Allah is merciful only after atonement by
cutting off the hand. At point 6 Scot described how certain demons are called Muslims – he
didn’t say Muslims are demons. The drafting of point 8 is hopelessly unclear (although the
evidence in the case makes things clearer). Under point 11, the claim was not expressly
denied by the ICV (see further below). At point 13, Scot had claimed an increase in Muslims in
Australia from 202,000 to 350,000 between 1996-2001. The real figures are 202,000 to
280,000. However, Scot was doubtless quite right to state that much higher figures are
commonly (but in my view wrongly) claimed in the Islamic community (as in other migrant
communities). Even if the rhetoric of ‘control’ was over the top, was Scot’s carelessness really
vilification? Importantly, the Judge seems quite ignorant of Islam as it exists in Australia,
makes no use of truly independent and objective experts and gave no attention to the stress
on reaching out in love to Muslims which featured in the seminar.
Resolution?
But where will such disputes end? The Age published a piece on 30/12 arguing that belief in a
caring, all-powerful interventionist God sits ill given the apparently wanton destruction
wrought by the tsunami. Its tenor can be gathered by my response printed in the issue of 1/1:

‘If Catch the Fire Ministries and its pastors were justly found to have vilified Muslims because they
attributed to all true Muslims the views of extremists, then perhaps Kenneth Nguyen (Opinion 30/12)
should be charged with vilification for an exposition of Christian views on God’s role in natural disasters,
which is quite unrepresentative of what we actually think. At a time when many are hurting and when
your agnostic columnist has nothing to offer, might we have a little more respect for theists, and
particularly for Christians whose central conviction is that God intervened in our sorrow and pain in the
Cross of Christ?’

The ability to launch a case that can cost mega-bucks to defend, is surely a dangerous tool. It
has the potential to be an inhibiter of freedom of speech. The well-known commentator Terry
Lane, ex Church of Christ pastor turned atheist, thinks ‘two ridiculous systems of religious
superstition and myth went head to head’ in the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal
[VCAT] hearing. He makes the point that ‘Vilification is simply a word, like blasphemy,
obscenity, sedition or contempt, used to lend some sort of mystical weight to censorship of the
powerless by the powerful.’ In part he has a point. Do we need specific religious vilification
laws to control religious slander? I doubt it, especially when motive is irrelevant under such
laws.
The pastors’ credibility
The judge’s assessment of the credibility of the pastors is damning: He found Pastor Scot’s
evidence was ‘evasive, inconsistent and exaggerated.’ He also said of Pastor Nalliah, ‘I found
his evidence with regard to the newsletter of 2001 nothing short of a refusal to accept what he
had written and what he meant by those comments. The document speaks for itself. His
answer to questions in cross-examination and general demeanour were totally
unsatisfactory…(p.120). In my view, he was not subjectively honest and the newsletter, when
viewed objectively, does not satisfy me that it was engaged in ‘good faith’ (p.139).

Islamic credibility
In the hearing the ICV was at pains to reject the Wahhabist line of interpretation as at all
typical of mainstream Islam, and was anxious to stress the need for contextual interpretation
of Qur’anic texts cited by the defendants. As already mentioned, the hearing brought out how
little most Muslims know the Qur’an, and how the Hadith [traditional interpretations] are more
significant although also variable, there being no Pope in Islam to determine all issues.
One finds it very interesting that no Muslim cleric was called to speak on spiritual matters on
behalf of all Muslims. The judge said he thought the only inference he could draw is that such
witness may have been adverse to the ICV’s interests (para 379). I imagine this is correct,
since there are wide differences in the very ethnically and sect divided Islamic community, but
any criticism of the Qur’an would not be acceptable. My guess is the ICV are the more
articulate, liberal and progressive trying to hold a diverse community together, and presenting
the best face. That’s understandable of course.

[In 1991 there were about 70 different countries of birth of Australian Muslims. Although most
Arabic speakers in Australia are Christians, about 40% of the Muslim community was Arabicspeaking
and 25% Turkish. Regular mosque attendance was estimated at about 15% of adult
males.]

The Judge took the view that the interpretation of the Qur’an by Pastor Scot ‘represented the
views of a small group of fundamentalists, namely, Wahabbists [sic], who are located in the
Gulf states and who are a minority group, and their views bear no relationship to mainstream
Muslim beliefs and, in particular, Australian Muslims.’ One wonders just how true this is: as
one instance, Saudi Arabia has a population of some 23 million and Wahhabism is the official
position, and is exported significantly to other countries, financed by petro-dollars. Is there ‘no
relationship’ to mainstream beliefs? On some estimates ‘fundamentalists’ are 25% of Muslims
in some Islamic societies where inequality and poverty breed extremism. [Bin-Laden is merely
the extreme form of Wahhabism unpalatable to the Saudis themselves.]

Back in the October 2001 issue I suggested that Christianity cannot claim endorsement of
violence by its founder but Islam can, and that is one (only one) of the reasons bin-Laden has
appeal to many Muslims. There is a connection, however much many or most Muslims do not
wish to make it today.
Clarity
As a beginning, we need honesty and clarity. In the November 2001 issue of The Presbyterian
Banner
I noted that I had found the Islamic Information Centre to be a cell of Taliban
supporters. They get a brief mention in the trial but are dismissed as of no account. May be
so. But what about the presentation in June 2003 by two very fine Muslims at the Knox
Interfaith Network
(covering the City of Knox) of which I was then Secretary and am currently
Chairperson? After giving a presentation which stressed the peaceful nature of Islam and
belief in the rights of the individual, and emphasized that all the bad things Westerners
perceive are not true Islamic teaching but cultural or other corruptions, we were invited to
avail ourselves of literature on various subjects. It seemed very reassuring at first glance.
Closer inspection of this literature, produced in Saudi Arabia, indicates it is written on the
presupposition that rights are controlled by shari’a, that is Islamic jurisprudence. Thus of
course there is no freedom to criticise or deny the prophet: that merits the death penalty
under all versions of shari’a law, as far as I know. Further, Saudi money has funded schools
and mosques in Australia.

It’s a bit of an enigma really. It seems that the Qur’an is not a closely understood text in
Islam, and, when it is, it needs much reinterpretation to avoid conclusions unpalatable in the
modern world. The Hadith (traditions) are variable, while the actual practice of Islam where it
is dominant generally has many bad elements/corruptions, and non-Muslims have a secondary
status as dhimmis. So what is true Islam? Is it a short creed (the Five Pillars), with allegiance
to a particular leader more significant in practice than the example and teaching of
Muhammed? Is that why Islam even in the Middle East is so faction ridden?

In this light, or lack of light, what are we to make of the Media Release by various Islamic
bodies including the ICV dated 6 November 2002 ‘Message to all the extremists of the world’?
[see www.icv.com.au/extremists.htm] It’s dated shortly after the Bali bombing. I would like to
think it embraces a commitment to freedom of religion but it does not state this. Rather, it
affirms such things as ‘never in our name or in the name of any religion or God, can you ever
be aggressive, unjust or hurt innocent people;’ and ‘there is no political, religious, racial,
ethnic or ideological position that can justify victimizing the innocent and the defenceless.’ It
adds, ‘This statement reflects mainstream Islamic teachings in every way and it is based on
the Quran. There is nothing in it which is open to challenge. This is what Islam clearly teaches
and what the overwhelming majority of Muslims believe.’

I’m glad to see this statement, but the signatories are not affirming rejection of shari’a law in
favour of a pluralistic society with a secular constitution such as in Turkey. They are not saying
that they think the death penalty for apostasy is hurting ‘innocent’ people, and that they are
opposed to it

The ‘Message’ does not identify Islamic terrorism by name but speaks generally of all
extremists and particularly ‘the random killing of unarmed and innocent people whom you
cannot identify and are not fighting you.’ That’s quite a limitation which you can take as you
like. It’s hardly condemning the Palestinians, is it? And maybe it is condemning the Americans
in Iraq. And one notices one signatory is the Sydney-based Mufti Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali, a
man of some note for extreme statements both here and more recently (March 2004) in
Lebanon. So there are credibility issues for the ICV which should have been explored, and
which suggest the judgment is unsafe. It’s an ‘evasive, inconsistent’ perhaps even
‘exaggerated’ statement, is it not? Is it a form of dissimulation, akin to Jesuitical practice,
called taqiyya in Islamic jurisprudence?

Similarly, the answer by Mr Solimon for the ICV to the allegation that Muslims aimed to
establish an Islamic state was quite disingenuous. (para 188) Why don’t they state plainly
that they would love to see Australia an Islamic Republic (as I’m sure they would) in which
there would nevertheless be complete freedom of religion? Is it because an Islamic Republic in
most/all examples does not allow the kind of freedom of religion that this country stands for?
Perhaps the ICV people stand for progressive Islam, but can’t be too open because their
communities are not yet liberal enough?

Self-criticism
Second, Islam appears to have a singular incapacity for public self-criticism. Public criticism of
Muslim by Muslim is rare, since there is a tribal mentality. It has to change if we are to see
progress. The reluctance to make unequivocal commitments hurts the cause of good relations.
There is real diversity in the Muslim community. In private I have heard serious criticism by
Muslims of almost every Islamic regime, yet I do not hear that publicly.

Open debate
Third, while vilification of anyone is objectionable, anti-vilification legislation is hardly the ideal
way to deal with it. The Islamic representatives, at our Knox Interfaith Network meeting in
December 2003, agreed that religious differences are not resolved in this way. Do we need
religious vilification laws? Perhaps, but they need to be clear and limited. There is no ‘true’
race, but there is truth and error in religion, and freedom to debate it is fundamental.
Interestingly, Amir Butler, executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs
Committee, wrote in The Age June 4, 2004 that he had changed his mind on vilification
legislation. Public Islamic lectures now seemed always to include Christians taking notes, he
says. ‘These laws have only served to undermine the very religious freedoms they intended to
protect….Who after all would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can only
exist if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers?’ Elsewhere he writes: ‘If we believe our religion
is true then we are required to believe that others are false.’ Just so.
Conclusion
Christian leaders need to remember: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my
brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). And,
more particularly, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).
The pastors were careless at best, and deserved a rebuke. Still, the judgment does not seem
safe or fair, and thus it is unlikely to further the professed aims of the legislation. Some
modification of the Act is desirable.

 

Postscript

The decision was given on 17 December 2004, there was a hearing concerning remedies on 4 May 2005 and the sentence was given 22 June 2005. It required the publication of a statement essentially the same as that submitted by the ICV in the CTFM Newsletter, on the CTFM website (for 12 months) and in advertisements in The Age and the Herald Sun on a Saturday and a Monday over two consecutive weeks, all by 31 August 2005. Also that within 30 days the respondents make an undertaking to the Tribunal that they will not make, publish or distribute in Victoria any statements or information that have the same or similar effect as those found by the tribunal to have breached the Act.

An application for judicial review had been lodged and a direction hearing was heard on 21 April 2005. The matter came before three justices of the Court of Appeal in August 2006, and was unanimously allowed on 14 December 2006. The Court held that VCAT had wrongly interpreted Section 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, the basic section that sets out the offence of religious vilificationl. The Court gave orders that the Tribunal orders re ‘penalties’ (advertisement, not saying similar things) be set aside, and that the matter be sent back to VCAT to be heard by a different judge with no new evidence. The Court ordered that the costs relating to the previous Tribunal hearing and the next one be decided by the Member who hears it. The Court also ordered that the Islamic Council of Victoria pay half of the costs incurred by Catch the Fire Ministries and the pastors in conducting the appeal.

Back at VCAT, the parties agreed to go to a mediation prior to the re-hearing to see if the case could be resolved. The case was finally resolved at a Mediation at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday 22 June 2007. If mediation had not resolved the complaint it would have gone to a re-hearing at VCAT in December 2007.

The ICV has agreed to withdraw the complaint. A media release was issued as follows:

VCAT Media Release
Human Rights Division – Anti Discrimination List – VCAT Ref: A392/2002
Friday 22nd June 2007

Joint Statement of the Islamic Council of Victoria Inc.,Catch The Fire Ministries Inc., Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scot

The Islamic Council of Victoria (the ICV) has reached an agreement with Catch the Fire Ministries, Pastor Daniel Scot and Pastor Daniel Nalliah about the complaint the ICV brought in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), concerning what it alleged were acts of religious vilification in contravention of s 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic).

Although some of the terms of that agreement are confidential, the parties have agreed to make this joint public statement.

Notwithstanding their differing views about the merits of the complaint made by the ICV, each of the ICV, Catch The Fire Ministries, Pastor Scot and Pastor Nalliah affirm and recognise the following:

1) the dignity and worth of every human being, irrespective of their religious faith, or the absence of religious faith;

2) the rights of each other, their communities, and all persons, to adhere to and express their own religious beliefs and to conduct their lives consistently with those beliefs;

3) the rights of each other, their communities and all persons, within the limits provided for by law, to robustly debate religion, including the right to criticise the religious belief of another, in a free, open and democratic society;

4) the value of friendship, respect and co-operation between Christians, Muslims and all people of other faiths; and

5) the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act forms part of the law of Victoria to which the rights referred to in paragraph 3 above are subject.

Issued by: Clare O’Dwyer, VCAT Media Liaison

Perhaps the only positive out of this unhappy affair is that the variuous other states and jurisdictions recognised the complications in religious vilification area, and in some case declined to legislate. The Victorian Goverment made some minor amendments to the legislation which have the effect of limiting somewhat the scope for frivolous and and expensive to defend complaints such as that in the case of Fletcher v. Salvation Army. VCAT is no longer obliged to hear a matter declared frivolous by the Equal Opportunity Commission.
Dr Rowland S. Ward is minister of
Knox Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia,
Wantirna 3152 Victoria, Australia
Te: +613 9720 4871
email: rsw@pcea.org.au

A is for Anzac – some jottings on commemmorating 25 April 1915

A is for Anzac


Some jottings on commemmorating 25th April 1915
From The Presbyterian Banner, June 2002Rowland S. Ward

 

Note: For overseas readers it should be explained that ANZAC stands for Australian & New Zealand Army Corps, and Anzac Day commemmorates the costly landing at Gallipoli which represents Australia’s coming of age and developing national consciousness.

 

Many are commenting on the increasing numbers attending Anzac Day services despite the dwindling number of ex-servicemen. I confess to rarely attending an Anzac Day service myself, although my father was an original Anzac landing at Gallipoli with the Adelaide Rifles on 25th April, 1915, a few weeks short of his 17th birthday. Recently I was on vacation with my wife in New Zealand. The preacher on the Lord’s Day 28 April church service in Marurangi Presbyterian Church expressed encouragement from attendances at Anzac services and suggested a positive approach by Christians could serve the cause of the Gospel, particularly in the functions afterward. Our own Rev Stewart Ramsay spoke at the Anzac service in Wauchope on 25th April 2002.

Actually the origin of Anzac Day shows unmistakeable Christian influence. Canon D. J. Garland, a Tractarian Anglican priest in Brisbane, was a driving force. He had already successfully campaigned to change the Queensland Education Act in 1910-11 to enable ministers to teach religious education in schools and to have Bible reading included in the curriculum of primary schools. The first Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (ADCC) in Australia was formed in Brisbane in January 1916 with Garland as Secretary and the State Premier as Chairman. With viceregal patronage, 25th April was set aside as a day of remembrance and reflection, but not as a public holiday since the ADCC did not want hotels and sporting events operating to draw away from the significance of the event. Rather, it was expected that exservicemen would be given time off by their employer to attend. Ultimately in October 1921 the Queensland law did give a public holiday on Anzac Day, but no hotels were to open nor sporting events held. However, one could still go to the theatre. Business opposed the holiday but the combination of the ADCC and the RSSILA led in 1930 to a further amendment to close all hotels or entertainment, a change that lasted until the 1960s.

The aim of the Brisbane ADCC was that Anzac Day not only remember the sacrifice of the fallen, but reflect on the causes of war. It was to be a kind of solemn national requiem. In Professor John Moses’ words, it was “designed to call all men and women to humble repentance and to remind them of the sovereignty of Almighty God over the nations.” Garland had to reckon with the Roman Catholic/Protestant divide, so he thought in terms of denominational services in the morning, a parade in the afternoon, and a public meeting in the evening including a minute’s silence and the Last Post. By the mid 1930s what became the RSL gained control of ANZAC Day in Queensland. Increasingly its original focus was changed somewhat so it has become, to quote Dr Stuart Piggin, “the most prominent festival in the calendar of Australian civic religion,” rather than the national “All Soul’s Day” Garland intended.

Incidentally, a little known fact is that the first memorial to the landing on the 25th April 1915 is located in the South Parklands in Adelaide. It was unveiled by the then Governor General on 7th September 1915, and it mentions the “Australasian” soldiers at the landing on 25 April 1915 at the “Dardanelles”. The words Anzac or Gallipoli are not mentioned although the term Anzac had been used since early 1915. Soon after the evacuation it meant an Aussie or Kiwi who had fought at Gallipoli. These people later wore a gold “A” on their battalion colour patch.

The image of Buddha and the image of God

Destroying both in the Taliban’s Afghanistan

From The Presbyterian Banner, April 2001

Rowland S. Ward

 

An article prompted by the outcry over the destruction of ancient Buddha statues by the Taliban.

It is very easy to forget that last century the conditions for women were often extremely difficult in Western countries. Women had only limited rights to property and to inherit. In New York and many other parts of the United States a century ago a mother had no right to her children borne in marriage. They were in effect the property of the father who could dispose of minor children even against his wife’s wishes. Women had no right to a trial by their peers but only by a panel of 12 men. Higher education for women was in its infancy 150 years ago. The notion that educated women would neglect housework and child-care was very general. When at last Cambridge University in England granted admission to women, women were denied a degree even if they passed the examination!

In this light I’m very pleased to note that Rev James Forbes saw to it that not just heads of families but women communicants had an equal vote with males in the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria he founded in 1846.
Of course, among some feminists there remains a residual hurt/anger that contributes to an exaggerated emphasis on women’s rights which goes well beyond Biblical norms. In rejecting this men need to be sensitive to the way women have often fared at the hands of men – and in the not too distant past.

In other lands there has even been regression in the treatment of women. The Taliban government in Afghanistan is not only destroying a few cultural monuments, they are assaulting half the population. A recent email petition notes that women must be completely covered by the appropriate attire including mesh in front of their eyes. Women are not allowed to work or even go out in public without a male relative. Professional women such as professors, translators, doctors, lawyers, artists and writers have been forced from their jobs and restricted to their homes with very limited exceptions for certain health workers. Women live in fear of their lives for the slightest misbehaviour. Because they cannot work, those without male relatives or husbands are either starving to death or begging in the streets, even if they hold PhDs.

Depression is extremely widespread. At one of the rare hospitals for women, a reporter found still, nearly lifeless bodies lying motionless on top of beds, wrapped in their special garb, unwilling to speak, eat, or do anything, but slowly wasting away. Others have gone mad and were seen crouched in comers, perpetually rocking or crying, most of them in fear.
Women enjoyed relative freedom to work, to dress generally as they wanted, and to drive and appear in public alone until only 1996. The rapidity of this transition is the main reason for the depression and suicide. Women who were once educators or doctors or simply used to basic human freedom are now severely restricted and treated as subhuman in the name of right-wing fundamentalist Islam. It is not their tradition or ‘culture,’ but it is alien to them, and it is extreme even for those cultures where fundamental¬ism is the rule. Everyone has a right to a tolerable human existence, including women in a Muslim country. Such is the gist of the petition.

In India the treatment of women and girls was and remains very degrading in many situations. In this issue we look at the life of a remarkable Indian Christian woman who battled the Hindu attitude [see article on Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) under the Church History category of this website]. And if any are inclined to think she may have taken too much on herself it might be useful to bear in mind that Deborah was used of the Lord precisely it would seem because most of the men of her time were failures. This is not to make a rule out of an exception, but· to remind us that the relationship of men and women is never perfect. Sin has spoiled it and sometimes a forcible reminder is necessary. The divine right of kings was a myth, so is the divine right of men. Men have particular responsibilities but not an essential superiority over those who with them share the divine image, and with whom they should be heirs together of life in Christ.

Review: Fractured Families: The Story of a Melbourne Church Cult

Review:

Fractured Families:  The story of a Melbourne Church Cult

by Morag Zwartz $19.95  ISBN 09587955 1 7
Distributed by Openbook Publishers, Adelaide

 

From The Presbyterian Banner,  March 2005
Rowland S. Ward

Back in June 1991 I reviewed David Millikan’s book Imperfect Company, which primarily referred to the perfectionist cult founded about 1940 by Lindsay Grant in Sydney.

The current work by Morag Zwartz, a competent writer, gives attention to the somewhat similar group associated with Lindsay’s older brother, Ronald, who was based in the large Camberwell Presbyterian Church in Melbourne and who died in 1996. Eighteen years ago I obliquely referred to them in this magazine (2/1987) under the code term ‘doctrineless pietism’. The members are generally well-connected establishment families moving in important business and social circles.

While the Presbyterian Church of Victoria has since sought to deal with this influential group, and published its assessment entitled Fractured Fellowship in 1999, Zwartz’s book is independent of the church, and critical of it, and is based on extensive interviews with about 100 people who had experience of the group, as well as audio and written records. The Camberwell and Clayton churches are centres of the group. Although the Rev. Philip Mercer of Camberwell, an able man, is confessedly not a member, he is more or less an apologist for the group, and suggests around half his 350 strong congregation are members.

The issue is ultimately a theological one, and the strength of the book is its thorough theological assessment. It is worth the price for this alone. There are abiding lessons for all conservative evangelicals, particularly is these days of hazy subjectivism. Indeed the influence of Roy Hessions’ The Calvary Road (p.77) struck me, since this was also influential in Tasmania 50 years ago in some of the aberrations prior to the renewal of Reformed teaching there about 1960. Zwartz summarises: ‘Fellowship teaching is a strange mix of Wesleyan holiness, Keswick experientialism, Andrew Murray intensity, and Derek Prince Pentecostal style authoritarianism’ (p.97), although Allan Harman is quoted as stating quite correctly, ‘There is no formalised or written doctrinal statement – it’s very difficult to pin them down. But they claim to adhere to the Westminster Confession.’ (p.185).

The bad theology produces bad practices such as – intrusive and heavy shepherding (including shunning of dissidents), secrecy creating/reflecting a church within a church approach, and undue emphasis on wifely submission. Many families have been affected and the PCV continues to provide counselling for some of these. The author is critical of the church leadership, and perhaps this has contributed to the College Bookstore declining to stock the title.

The book has its weaknesses. The author deliberately did not seek comment from group members. However, I don’t think this failure would have made a significant difference to the author’s conclusions from her interviews and other sources. Indeed, the testimony of such large numbers to their horrific experiences should impel the church to more effective action. It’s not a debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

There are some errors of fact – for example, Geoff Drummond is not Session Clerk at Clayton (p.129), nor does a majority of the Clayton Session belong to the group.

Some extra information might have been useful. Thus, it could have been mentioned that group monthly meetings apparently ceased at the end of 1996. This, of course, does not mean the group itself does not exist.

Some of the nine respondents in Part IV may be a bit selective in their recollections, or they have been reported in a manner that could give an imbalanced impression. For example, to refer to the group wanting to ‘dump’ a fellow Trinity elder over ‘a misdemeanour’ (p.164) might appear a little differently when it is realised the man in question was also a minister, virtual assistant to the then inducted minister, and had confessed to a longstanding adulterous relationship.

Still, none of these blemishes affect the substance and should not be allowed to detract from it. Brian Bayston’s comments on page 186 are very much to the point, and of weight not only because he is the Law Agent of the church but was formerly a member of the Camberwell Session.

My experience of the Group has been through involvement in St Andrew’s School 20 years ago and in PLC of more recent times. It was interesting. Latterly I had some pastoral interest in one young couple impacted by the group. I was glad to see them make their peace with the PCV. Still, having talked about it to people on different sides, I am not persuaded that all is now rosy. There may have been a drawing-back from the theological extremes of the late 1990s under Rev. Graeme Nicholls, but the cult-like mentality still exists and membership may even be increasing. No church should be content with this kind of teaching/emphasis so destructive of the lives of those enmeshed.
This book is therefore important.

Our brothers need prayer for conviction about the issues and courage to face them. A fully pure church is not to be aimed at, but office-bearers contradicting the law of love should not be allowed to hide behind legalistic procedures. Those in the group, particularly its leaders, also need to turn right round in repentance. That will mean seeking to rectify the consequences of many broken relationships, walking in future in love and humility according to the grace of God.

Appendix
A complaint against actions very like that of the “Exclusive Brethren” to the Presbytery of Melbourne East by a young man Kingsley Davidson gave rise to the suspension and excommunication of the 15 ruling elders of the Camberwell Church. See http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2006/s1587231.htm

From The Presbyterian Banner, April 2006
In the last issue a brief notice appeared about the action taken against the Session of Trinity Presbyterian Church at Camberwell by the Presbyterian Church of Victoria Presbytery of Melbourne East on 23/2/2006, an action which made headlines throughout Australia. Since writing that report the appeal of the Rev Phil Mercer against the action has been noted in the pages of Australian Presbyterian, March issue, p. 23. Mr Mercer believes the action to be unprescribed and contrary to the laws of the church. He is of the view ‘that procedural fairness and substantial justice have been denied the elders who were dismissed in absentia, without a charge being brought against them, and having been denied all opportunity to appear before Presbytery in order to defend their innocence.’

Three other persons, including Rev Graham Nicholson of Hawthorn – no slouch on procedure – also appealed, but all appeals were declared frivolous, thus they did not stop implementation. Yet surely it is contrary to Scripture and natural justice to condemn a person without giving him the opportunity to state his side of the story, whilst in removing an entire Session not only from office but from church membership, a radical step has been taken indeed. It removes the men from the jurisdiction of the Church, when another procedure might have wrought the repentance the Presbytery should desire.
There have always been lapses from sound judgment by Presbyterian courts. We’re imperfect humans. However, this case seems rather different. Our Presbyterian polity (system of government) is not our invention to enable us to achieve our will. Rather, it s God’s provision to ensure that the grace of God is maximised in the edification of his people. This is often lost sight of, especially if people are not familiar with Presbyterian principles or lack leadership in this area.

As we have seen in the PCEA too, it is very difficult to acknowledge one has acted wrongly. It’s not just Asians who don’t like to lose face! In the present instance I suppose the Presbytery was so fed up with the Fellowship that they wanted rid of them. I’m not a Fellowship fan either, but one must still seek to edify and restore. One thing can lead to another. Following its decision the Presbytery made all the Presbytery members assessors to Camberwell Session, an act which, perhaps unintentionally, eliminated Presbytery as a court of appeal for Camberwell. One supposes ultimately the General Assembly of Australia will have the matter before it in 2007. One hopes some lessons will be learned before then that will preserve the concern for careful deliberation and fairness in Presbyterianism whichm with due respect to our brothers in Melbourne East Presbytery, at least appears to have been lost.

Postscript: A special GAA in 2007 upheld appeal against the Victorian Assembly and established a procedure to deal with the issues. The Victorian Assembly was not happy to agree with the solution proposed. On 30/9/2008 the finding of the Commission of the GAA was reported in The Age.  The  six teachings the Commission rejected are accepting “feelings” as revelation from God equal to the Bible, that contact with non-Fellowship members leads to defilement, that the Fellowship claims higher loyalty than members’ families, that Christians can be controlled by “generational curses” or evil spirits, and that God’s forgiveness depends on confessing to other people or on personal holiness. It is not entirely clear what the decision means, as it seems to have some ambiguity. I assume the Victorian Assembly will endorse this finding, which is to be read in every PCA congregation by 31/10/2008. Action against the elders of Camberwell will depend on provable evidence that such views are held. One doubts that much has been achieved.

Twin Towers and Terrible Tuesday

Twin Towers & Terrible Tuesday

Editorial by Dr Rowland S. Ward in The Presbyterian Banner, September 2001

Over 4000 years ago the people in Lower Mesopotamia resolved, like Enoch earlier, to build a city to consolidate their influence and control over the population. This city would have its own monumental ziggaraut or temple tower which will reach high into the sky. The motive of the builders is pride and defiance of God. The tower will be a giant advertisement for the human ego. As the Bible records it, the story of the tower explains the nature of the civilisation that built it. Their desire is not simply brotherhood and unity but the notion that these can be achieved on earth without God and in opposition to him. In effect they suppose that they can  reach up to God’s throne and access the power and authority of heaven and use it for their own glory. So they called the place Babel, gate of God. However, God laughed at their plans, confused their communication with each other, and the tower was never completed. The builders called the tower Babel, “Gate of God” but, in a mocking play on words, Genesis 11:9 derives it from a word of similar sound meaning “Mixed up, Confused”.  All the impressive efforts of man to defy God are ultimately confusion. The Kingdom of man will be overthrown by the Kingdom of God.
Nearly 2000 years ago a tower collapsed in Jerusalem. It was, it seems, part of the old defence system on the city walls near the pool of Siloam on the south-east part of the city. Eighteen people were killed in the accident. They didn’t realise the dangerous state of the tower; no one warned them, and so they perished. It was not a political incident, a deliberate act, but just an accident, as we would say. Those eighteen people were not singled out for special punishment but their death was a reminder to others not to ignore the Gospel or disaster would come upon them too. As Jesus put it, “I tell you…unless you repent you will all perish too” (Luke 13:4).
A few days ago the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York collapsed in the aftermath of the most horrific act of terrorism perpetrated in the Western world in modern times. The towers had been a symbol of America’s pre-eminence. For two decades they had even been the highest buildings in the world until eclipsed by others. Their destruction was no accident but a coldly calculated and premeditated act of barbarism against ordinary people of many racial and religious backgrounds.  The motivation was presumably a hatred of American foreign policy by people inside or outside the United States.
The many killed, injured, bereaved or otherwise hurt are not greater sinners than others. We can only feel great compassion for them. The sudden ending of life here is a solemn reminder that our lives too will end and an account must be given. Beyond that we cannot answer why God allowed it. We do know that the death of Jesus Christ was both a wicked act of men and part of the salvation plan of God (Acts 2:23). Our confidence in God’s sovereignty does not minimise the evil of what has been done, but assures us God works out his holy purpose so that even evil things will be for the good of those who love him.
New York is not a godly place. Its temple of wealth and power was attacked and it fell quickly. It will be good if there is some humility that flows from the tragedy. No defence shield could have protected against it. To trust in our wisdom or cleverness, our wealth and financial clout, cannot save a city or a civilisation. Unless the Lord guard a city its watchmen watch in vain (Psalm 127:1).
The perpetrators: cool, cunning people, fanatics, prejudiced by hate. The stoning of Catholic children trying to go to school in Belfast the other week is, in its own way, the same kind of thing: wickedness pure and simple. Wickedness that reveals the hollowness of the optimistic view of human nature and the accuracy of the Biblical picture.
Too often respectable Protestants have little resolve to disassociate themselves effectively from the prejudicial and contemptible. They don’t love their neighbour so much as their rights, so called. The same goes for decent Catholics who don’t disown the IRA or  those Muslims who hesitate to condemn the extremists in their camp. We are stunned by the New York Attack because so many so quickly perished in such a starkly shocking way. Our hearts break for relatives who will not see their loved ones again in this life. Yet there have been bombs in Belfast and Beirut for years. Irish and Arab, Christian and Muslim, all cry.
Our political leadership in the West needs reappraisal. What is achieved by sanctions on Iraq but the poverty of its ordinary citizenry? And this is a country which certainly has many great failures but does allow Christianity – unlike Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. Is Western foreign policy dictated by pragmatism rather than principle so that it serves US financial interests rather than basic justice?
I hope they don’t rebuild the World Trade Centre, the symbol of the American way of success. Maybe Ben Franklin was right, a useful and harmless turkey would be a better symbol of the USA than the eagle, racial equality than another twin tower. They sang ‘God Bless America’ on Terrible Tuesday, but it’s  not much good if there is so much of the spirit of ancient Babel in reality. Things will never be the same for the US or for Australia after Terrible Tuesday. They will be better if the tragedy leads to true spiritual renewal.