The world’s advice for churches

22.04.2004 | Andrew Cameron and Tracy Gordon | Briefing 006  



Are Australian churches too cowardly to suggest it is in the best interest of children to have married parents? ... [W]here are the Australian politicians, the church leaders prepared to take this message and run with it?

—Bettina Arndt, “Being dad is a job for marriage,” SMH April 17 2004

The crisis of the established churches should be a matter of great concern to all of us. ... Without some kind of sustained spiritual input, [community ethics] will ultimately degenerate into a bleak utilitarian shell that debases us all. ... Fighting this new wave of individualism is where the opportunity, and the responsibility, of the churches lies. Although much of the contemporary work of the churches could be seen in this light, it is generally too narrow, too dogmatic and too negative.

—Lindsay Tanner, “The Churches could do much more to promote community engagement,” Online Opinion April 13 2004

Think of Sydney and what springs to mind? A beautiful, cosmopolitan, liberal and laid-back city with a flourishing gay community? You would be only half-right. This wonderful Australian city now also plays host to the most narrow-minded, puritanical and zealous brand of Anglicanism, ... Sydney's militant Anglicanism is as exclusive as its political counterpart. Jensenism sees no role for the Church in society; it is there only for its members. And any straying from scriptural orthodoxy is swiftly stamped upon.

—Mary Ann Sieghart, “Anglicanism's new holy warriors,” The Times April 21, 2004,,,172-1081640,00.html

‘The Apologists’ are a group of thinkers from the early centuries of Christian history. We don't mean by this term that they spent their time ‘apologising’. Rather, they explained and defended the practices of Christians when pagan accusers taunted, mocked and attacked Christianity.

It is not a problem, of course, to have to answer such worries. Indeed when the Apologists did so, they rapidly moved from correcting the misunderstanding, to explaining what made Christians tick. They rapidly found themselves explaining sin, judgment, Jesus, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Not a lot has changed since then. Christianity remains under attack from people who have varying degrees of knowledge about it. The people quoted above all seem to have varying degrees of knowledge about Christianity (and anyone can be an apologist in response).

Each pundit has different advice for our churches.

There is not enough space in this briefing to answer the arguments of each pundit, as any good apologist should. (We will further address some of the matters raised here in future briefings, and in a forthcoming publication on marriage and family.) But these three writers illustrate the way modern liberals deeply appreciate—indeed desperately crave —the relational benefits that Christianity gives, while at the same time commanding us to say nothing about the route Christianity takes to give these benefits.

But there are no shortcuts. The route to good relationships is the same as for the Apologists:

When Arndt, Tanner, and Sieghart tell us what we should do, they call attention to failures that we should have seen more clearly. Christians know they are forgiven sinners. It does not surprise us to hear we've failed again. We need that.

But conversely, the pro-family commentator, the pro-relationships ‘agnostic Anglican’, and the angry anti-fundamentalist cannot, with integrity, stop at this. They need to call us to embrace the whole Christian message, not just the parts they like, if they truly want to see the changes they long for. It follows that they would also need to consider their own personal participation in such change, for Christianity is not merely a useful tool for societal change. Truly fundamental social change occurs when each one of us acknowledges our sin, flees to Jesus for forgiveness by God, and lives to serve God and neighbour, with an eye on eternity.


Related material

Conditions of use:

  1. You may forward this paper to others, as long as you forward it in full.
  2. You may freely publish it (e.g. in a church newspaper) as long as it is published in full, not for profit, and including the ‘Note’ paragraph. (You don’t have to include these ‘conditions’.)
  3. Media and academic publishers should cite this paper according to their professional standards. We would appreciate audiences being directed to
  4. Not-for-profit publishers may use the ideas in this paper without acknowledgement; but if quoting it directly, please cite title, authors, and the web link
  5. Permission may be given for use in publications for profit. Please send details of your proposal to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).