Peter’s Blog

Greg Sheridan’s article in the Weekend Australian 04.06.16, Churches are drifting too far from the marketplace of ideas, states that ‘religion is facing crisis in relevance’. He argues that the overwhelming strength of secularism and the strategic irrelevance of the Christian churches’ response to politics and morals is bringing this about.
Sheridan argues that our secularist Australian society generally supports same-sex marriage and that the Church has little influence to stop that movement and even less the moral right. The point is that marriage has already been undermined by the no-fault divorce laws, and this has turned marriage into a legal contract that one can easily dissolve at one’s will. No longer are the Jewish, Christian or other Religions’ theological views supported by the Marriage Act.  Further to the point the Christian churches are unable to enforce their own understanding of marriage on their members. Neither do the Christian churches represent society’s social conscience. The society has moved on from the Church. Our society essentially believes in the individual’s self-autonomy and self-legislation with no recall to a supreme being. And we Christians must confess that these values of secularism have permeated our communities and leaders. Sheridan argues that the churches response is essentially a rear-guard action based on the past understanding that the Christian Church is the conscience of an essentially Christian society. Our society is no longer Christian, though it is indebted to the Christian Church.
The telling point Sheridan makes is that the Christian Church, through its clinging to the notion that Church is the conscience of the nation, moves further into irrelevancy in the eyes of society that has moved away from the Christian Church.  In resisting changes to the marriage act the Christian Church is missing the key issue of religious freedom. It is religious freedom that most likely will suffer, not marriage by the provision for same-sex marriage.
We should not be confused by Sheridan’s point about the irrelevancy of the Church.  The Lord of the Church does not require us to be relevant but loyal to the law of love. At the centre of the Law in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is the law to love your neighbour. In the Christian Scriptures love is to be manifest sacrificially.  The Christian Church is most relevant when it is most loving. So the Church has been most relevant to society when it has practised its ministry of healing and reconciliation. So the notable movements of the great Medieval monasteries that were bastions of care, provision and education stand out, as do the movements to abolish slavery, racism and bring a message of hope and purpose to people.
It is the law of love that must be practiced.  God’s law of love required the people of God to provide for all in their society and especially those who were unable to provide for themselves. Again and again Scripture mentions three categories of marginalised people – the widow, orphan and alien / stranger. God is saying to the people that they must provide for their widows, orphans and even the person, who has no rights to be there, but finds themselves in their community. They must provide by paying a tax for their well-being [Deut 26:12; Lev 19: 34; 24:22].
There are troubled voices in our society looking for purpose and meaning, restoration and care of nature and a responsible and respectful provision for refugees. This is where the Christian churches should be focusing their energy and faith.    And we should be working to ensure the religious freedom of all as changes are made to such areas as the marriage law.
Rev Peter C Whitaker 
Leighmoor Uniting Church, Moorabbin Victoria.