Bikes, banners and fanciful sanctuary

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The current state and influence of Australia’s churches are perhaps at their lowest ebb in our nation’s history. The statistical evidence points to a decline for some churches where recovery is becoming impossible. Anglican’s admit that 6 of their diocese from a total of 23 are currently unviable and all but one or two are in deep financial chaos. Reviews over why this “new reality” has occurred are unable to move beyond superficial laments over the rise of secularism and commercialism, which have distracted believers into a variety of other activities, where it is all too easy to slip away and never return.

Naturally, all organisations have a tendency to attribute decline to outside forces and are reluctant to consider responsibility as resting with their own internal behaviour. Yet, the acute disconnection between Australian churches and “ordinary” Australians is at the heart of this loss of influence and demands a deeper and more honest appraisal.

The decision of St John’s Anglican Church in Brisbane to offer “sanctuary” to refugees affected by a high court ruling that their detention on Nauru was lawful is a case in point. The support for this move from some other denominations and groups is nothing but a deplorable and frivolous chase for a headline. The Australian public deserves better. Where are the refugee centres established by this church? Where is the purchased property that would allow refugees to live in proper facilities befitting their dignity? Where are the “refugee workers” established by these churches to nurture and care for refugee individuals and families? Unfortunately, morality lies in expensive long-term actions not in superficial gestures. When a church has no skin in the game, yet is determined to vigorously criticise others, the central element of church decline is revealed: hypocrisy.

Australian society faces a number of core problems in its short to medium future. Each of our major cities now have neighbourhoods where individuals and families find no jobs and little hope of improving themselves. These suburbs are marked by high rates of unmarried mothers, absent fathers and total dependence on welfare. Nevertheless, some churches continue to call for increases in welfare provisions and constantly fail to understand the central failings of the system. It is government regulation such as minimum wages which make it impossible for low-skilled individuals to find work. How is it reasonable for these churches to continue calls for increased welfare and yet totally fail to call for the abolition of the impediments that are barriers to entry level work.

Australian youth unemployment stands at 13 per cent. This is a blight on all of us, but yet again these churches no have real commitment to this issue. Surely the promotion of employment is the foundation of the whole social justice agenda. Employment is the rock that provides for marriage and family, the ownership of a home and the resources to raise and educate children. Churches that continue to attack free markets and call for restrictions on job creation fail to understand that broader notions of wealth include the physical, physiological and spiritual benefits that stem from the world of work.

This is the kind of initiative that Australian churches should happily embrace. The days of inane interventions such as banners on cathedrals supporting David Hicks or bishops blessing pushbikes in parks, or sanctuary in cathedrals for fancifully oppressed refugees needs to end. The cost of such actions has led to the mainstream abandonment of these churches, who are revealed as organisations not serious about the issues that confront Australia.

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