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.
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.’
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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