home > Pastor’s Desk > 2022 > September 2nd > Relevance intact :  the church’s place


Opinion Piece by Barry Prismal, Sunday August 28, 2022 "The church in Tasmania should pull its head in and gulp down some serious humble pie if it wants to restore its role as a moral compass and social leader.Tasmanian churches play a vital role in our state as a moral compass and social leader. Our moral compass was given to us 2,000 years ago by Christ when He then commissioned the Church to preach, teach, and care in His Name. The Church’s role as a social leader was thus modelled and instigated by Jesus who had embraced the shunned, condemned oppressors of the vulnerable, and upheld the sacredness of every human life and taught His followers to do likewise. Two thousand years later, Tasmanian churches continue to gather weekly and proclaim the good news (“the gospel”) which Jesus taught; to care for the poor and homeless, feed the hungry, welcome refugees, and provide thousands of young Tasmanians with an education. This is why the former Examiner deputy editor in recently described the Tasmanian Church as “the most fundamental pillar in society.” But, then he went on to describe it as being led by “a pious clique of fancy robed hypocrites, with less and less relevance each year to the wider community” (28/8/2022). The basis for his sharp criticism of the Tasmanian church is grounded in his assessment that it has not recalibrated its moral compass to align itself with culture’s progressive values. Here’s why I take issue with the esteemed former deputy editor’s assessment.

¶ “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you,
for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Luke 6:26

Pictured: Ps. Merrilyn  Billing, Ps. Abdul Karim Kamara, Ps. Matt Sharples, Bishop Richard Condie, Rev. Jack Kapinga

Pictured above: Ps. Merrilyn Billing, Ps. Abdul Karim Kamara, Ps. Matt Sharples, Bishop Richard Condie, Rev. Jack Kapinga, praying together for Tasmania

I know many of the pastors who serve across our state. These men and women are my colleagues. They serve tirelessly and gladly for very little recognition—but recognition or acclaim is not their motive. Their week-in-week-out efforts in preaching uplifting messages of hope makes a valuable contribution to the social capital and mental health of our state – let alone their efforts in weekly food and relief distributions, emergency and crisis housing, hospital visitation, marriage and family counselling, and overseeing after-school care programs. These are the areas where the best efforts of the church are mostly expended with nearly all of the necessary funding coming from the voluntary donations of those in their church communities.

And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.’
Matthew 25:33-40

Collaboratively the churches of Tasmania are working together to address some of Tasmania’s social ills such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, and toxic masculinity resulting in violence against women. This involves the UPSTREAM Initiative, the development of the ARK Children’s and Youth Respite Centre in Launceston (for young people traumatised by domestic violence), and several drug rehabilitation centres such as Missiondale. For several years now the Tasmanian church has played an active role in providing and supporting several women’s shelters under the auspices of Anglicare, Catholic Care, Baptcare, to name a few.

Armitage MLC, and the pastors of Launceston attending the opening of the ARK Respite Centre

Launceston Mayor Albert van Zetten, Rosemary Armitage MLC, and the pastors of Launceston attending the opening of the ARK Respite Centre

While the church in Tasmania continues to address Tasmania’s most urgent social issues, as mentioned above — and does so relatively quietly — it is often only heard and seen in the public square when it is responding ethical challenges. That is, when the church is put on the defensive. Mr Prismall begins his conclusion about why the church is no longer relevant in Tasmania by stating, A stronger church should not compromise on its theology. It’s a perennial strength people look to.” Here is where Mr. Prismall and I agree!

But it strikes me from his list of criticisms and his clear unawareness of all that the Tasmanian church continues to do to address the spiritual, social, ethical and cultural malaise of our state, that he reveals that he does not understand that when we speak up on matters of sex, gender, and marriage, we are doing so on the basis of both Christ’s teaching and His foundational commission for us to do so!

Jesus Christ made it very clear that it was He and His Father who created the original human pair (Matt. 19:4; Jn. 1:3), and it was He and His Father who designed and established the boundaries for human sexuality and it was He and His Father who instituted marriage as the lifelong, self-sacrificing, commitment between a husband and his wife (Matt. 19:4-6). Jesus Christ gave grave warnings about sexual immorality and its eternal consequences for a human soul (Matt. 15:19). 

The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, by Prof. Rodney Stark

The landmark book by Prof. Rodney Stark.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20, Christ’s “Great Commission to His Church”

To uphold the teaching of Jesus and to be obedient to His commission for us, is not, as Mr Prismall suggests, the Tasmanian church deviating from its rich theology, it’s upholding its rich theology! In fact, it was the efforts of the early church in proclaiming the sanctity and sex and marriage that revolutionised how men behaved and women were treated, as the late sociologist, Professor Rodney Stark pointed out in his landmark book, The Rise of Christianity.

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I also share Mr. Prismall’s disgust for those who takes their ordination vows ‘cynically’ and instead of serving as protectors of the vulnerable they turn out to be evil predators. During the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse of Children, established in January 11th, 2013, I read each of the reports as they were published. This was a heart-breaking exercise. 

But Mr Prismall has asserted that this level of abuse is continuing within Tasmanian churches. He also asserted that every denomination is equally still culpable. This is factually incorrect on both counts. I consider the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Tasmania a close friend. I also consider the Archbishop of the Catholic Church a close friend. What Mr Prismall may not be aware of is that when Bishop Condie arrived in Tasmania and was installed, he made a very public commitment to make full restitution to any victim of sexual abuse by the predatory behaviour of an Anglican priest or teacher – even if it meant that the Anglican church in Tasmania risked going into bankruptcy! The very thing that Mr Prismall has called the church to return to is the very thing that Bishop Condie has done over the past five years or so! And I can say the same thing about the Catholic Church in Tasmania under the also relatively recent appointed Archbishop Porteous.

¶ “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
The words of Jesus warning against anyone who harms a child who follows Christ, Mark 9:42

Closer to home for our church, when we had outgrown our previous church building and were preparing our existing auditorium, we deliberately designed it to be as transparent as possible enabling anyone outside to be able to look through its large windows, or to go online and watch was happening live on our website, YouTube, and/or Facebook. We also installed security cameras throughout our facilities to ensure there were no ‘hidden’ places where a vulnerable child could be at risk. 

The church has ALWAYS had uphill battles to fight

Mr. Prismall makes much of the census figures showing that the number of Christians in Tasmania has declined by 10% since the last census. What the census doesn’t reveal though is that the sector of the church that has suffered the greatest decline are the very churches who have done precisely what Mr Prismall has called for! That is, the very churches who have recalibrated their moral compass and endorsed the euphemistically called “marriage equality” and “non-binary-genderism” and “terminating the unborn” – are the churches that have lost members in “droves”.

When Mr. Prismall says, “I’ve heard so-called believers demonising gays and transgendered people as it they’re social lepers, who should be avoided like the plague” – he may have – and he also may be correct in his assessment that they were not really Christians. But I do wonder if he has interpretted disagreement with hatred? On a side note, his metaphors – social lepers and the plague – are curious terms since it was the early Christians who embraced lepers and established a long tradition of care for lepers, and it was the early Christians who stayed in the midst of the plagues to care for the sick and the dying.

The Christian Church has always had uphill battles to fight. Christ warned His original disciples that the populace would treat them just as the populace was treating Him (Lk. 21:17; Jn. 15:18; 16:2). Ultimately the crowd’s hatred of Jesus (Jn. 8:37; 19:18) led them cry for His death – which the Romans were happy to oblige with (Jn. 7:1, 17; 19:16). Despite the constant uphill battles that the Christian church has had to deal with, by the power of the promised Holy Spirit it has more battles than it has lost – even when it has endured persecution, martyrdom, and banning (as it is currently in fifty countries around the world).  And I’m reasonably confident the Tasmanian church will also win more battles than it will lose as it marches on uphill into the centuries to come.

The recent combined Tasmanian churches "Tasmania Celebration" which was held in Hobart's My State Arena, and Launceston's Silverdome, in May 2022, saw nearly 5,000 people gathered, and 500 people profess conversion to Christianity.

The recent combined Tasmanian churches “Tasmania Celebration” which was held in Hobart’s My State Arena, and Launceston’s Silverdome, in May 2022, saw nearly 5,000 people gathered, and 500 people profess conversion to Christianity.

Your Pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

4 Comments

  1. Tincha Godfrey

    And with recent inter-church collaboration widely acknowledged earlier in the year, further stopgap measures are strengthening across Greater Tasmania to ward off past historical neglect of children and communities in great need. Clearly some sectors of journalism are not aufait with many current spiritual-community efforts to address Tasmania’s many and varied needs being vitally concerned for present and future generations.

    Reply
  2. LYDIA

    Thank you Andrew for this extremely helpful article putting into perspective the rolls the church in general has played in society.

    Throughout our lives we may find ourselves in positions that as a child we do not understand which then have ramifications in adult life, or as an adult we really don’t understand and the instinct to survive becomes the main goal. So this leads me to the ‘depravity of mankind’. This then also leads me to the thought that some people have and act on the desire to leave the ‘church’. The church as an institution is not at fault as the ‘church’ is a group of living members not bricks and mortar holding the building together. Therefore we are dealing with people. Quite obviously these people within those church walls were once totally depraved and thru the grace of God many will have been renewed by the Spirit’s power, having understood and taken to themselves the blood of Christ, His forgiveness and His mercy.

    By experience I know it is easy to blame another, whether that is a parent or people who might have been in our lives, or the church authorities who could and probably should have seen thru the trees in the forest. But, none of this is helpful, if anything its destructive and can certainly have a huge impact on how we live and whether we desire to have the Triune God in our lives as the main source of our admiration and devotion.

    This makes me think of a Reformed lecturer who taught me years ago about the theory of Vertical or Horizontal thinking. In other words if we look up and ignore the many myriads of those who wish to pull at our sleeves and distract us from wanting the ‘one to one’ relationship with our Saviour, all will be well. If we do not do that, then there is no peace of mind and our faith life will suffer. Then, if we will look at people, it is soul destroying and in the end you get left with nothing. Looking to Jesus is the only way. Its the only way to handle abuse of what ever kind, and then to find a church where you feel wanted, cared for and loved just as Jesus acted on those who needed to be wanted, cared for and loved.

    So then your article Andrew makes it ever so clear that the Church here in Tasmania is as active in the social area as it should be. It’s just following in Jesus footsteps. Without that underpinning structure we would indeed have a problem in our society.

    Reply
  3. Dr Shep Chidarikire

    Thank you Dr Corbett for this detailed response. I have nothing to add.

    Reply
  4. Bob McKay

    Prismall’s level of journalism actually matches many of the journalists who write for the Examiner and its affiliates. Accuracy and logic are sorely missed by anyone who buys or reads their work. I am not one of them
    I spent a few months earlier this year living near Hobart. The Mercury offered a $4 a month trial subscription to its on line version. It was for 3 months, but after two I cancelled it and told them I wasn’t prepared to even waste $4 a month. I gave them a list of examples of the poor journalism I had read. They said they were sorry to see me go.
    Newspapers are losing credibility. They have wandered from their foundational principles, and are slowly dying…Oh no I have it wrong…Prismall says that is the church!
    Andrew, I hope Prismall reads your article. Thank you for it.

    Reply

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