Out of the Mouths of Babes

Our discipleship to Jesus Christ calls us to engage with the climate crisis, because we begin where we have always begun – with the God of all creation and all of history.

God’s Word and breath and love shaped the universe, our earth and everything within it, placing humanity at its heart. From that first moment, we have been inextricably bound with the world around us. Our care and responsibility for the creation, the dominion which reflects the gracious likeness of God, remind all of us that from the beginning we have been woven together in the loving act of tending the handiwork of God.

When the woman and man disobey God’s intention and are removed from the garden, their relationship with God is wounded and so is the creation,
“cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life…”
[Genesis 3.17-19]

Our relationship with all that God has made remains, but struggle is now inherent to all we do. Our responsibility to care for the earth has never been removed, and in our fallible, faithful lives, we seek to do what we can.

It is our relationship with God’s creation which is vital to this whole conversation. There is the naïve argument that we should care first for our sisters and brothers – loving God, and our neighbour as ourselves – which misses the reality that caring for the world around us is doing precisely that.

Our neighbours in the Pacific are watching their islands sink beneath the ocean, and their crops being inundated with seawater. Many of us are living in the catastrophe of the latest drought, crippling farmers and rural communities, who are trying to adapt to this new “climate normal”, where rainfall is erratic and drastically different, while the ground is warmer, diminishing any rainfall’s effect.

We know that a rising overall temperature in our climate condemns us, our children and grandchildren to an even more damaged world, with all the implications of climate refugees and changed communities, with more demanded from an earth that will find it harder and harder to produce.

What of the developing world, where climate change already wreaks havoc, and where subsistence farming is integral to existence?

So, what does loving our God, and our neighbour, look like? What do the voices of Micah and Amos, of Jeremiah and Isaiah call us to do and say? When there was injustice for the weakest in their communities, the prophets called the monarchs and the leaders of the community to attention. Look at the first chapter of Isaiah, where God rejects their worship, because those in need are not being cared for.

We cannot claim to care for the widowed and the orphan, to seek justice for those in need, and then ignore the world in which they live. When we speak of our God who saves, can we be silent about the homes and lives of those to whom we offer the gospel?

Jesus always attended to the lives of those around him. People who were healed were often restored to life in their families and communities; they proclaimed their new sight, new ability, new life to any who would listen.

When Jeremiah is called to be God’s prophet, he responds, “…Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” [Jeremiah 1.4-10]

As so often in our discipleship, God has greater imagination (and greater faith in us!) than we have.

We are Jesus’ disciples, and have responded to the call of our neighbours, to the prophetic call of our children, as we amplify their voice to the governments and leaders of the world in which we live.

As our children call us to attention, to the challenge before us of climate change, can we believe that God has chosen the young to challenge us? Can we believe that the God who used a young woman to be the mother of Christ can use school children? Can we accept that the God who used a carpenter’s son to save the world, can also use young people to remind us of our responsibility for the earth and all within it?

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Pray for our children, for the witness of every disciple of Jesus, as we live our lives with and for him.

Market is the Church Place

One of my favourite film series is Band of Brothers, which chronicles the experiences of a particular US paratrooper company in the Second World War. One episode ends with our heroes having survived a massive failed Allied offensive; they are then sent into what will become the Battle of the Bulge, unsure of what they will face.

As they march, in darkness, into the battle, a young officer remarks on the danger into which they are moving, “Looks like you’ll be surrounded.” Their commander responds, “We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant, we’re supposed to be surrounded.”

The question I am asked most about my role is, “What’s a Moderator?” and it is asked by both members of the community and of our Church.

The essential answer is that I stand in the middle of things, moderating the relationships within Synod, congregations and presbyteries; within our relationships with other faith traditions and our own; and between the church and the world within which we worship, witness and serve.

In recent times, we have been engaging in serious conversations within all these relationships. Many of these conversations are difficult because they have painful connexions with people we love, or because considering change is unnerving, or because they ask questions of a lot we take for granted. These conversations can also be tough because our lives and culture are tied to our faith, both helpfully and unhelpfully.

When we read Scripture, we encounter the people of God engaging with God in the midst of their lives. God is central to their struggles, to their failure, to their renewal and to the hope they hold, because God acts in justice and hope. The prophets are in the marketplace, disputing bad trading practices, speaking for the alien, the widow and the orphan, and challenging politicians and the temple.  

Jesus exercised his ministry in the middle of the community – Jewish, Samaritan and gentile – offering healing and forgiveness, proclaiming a new reign of God for whoever was thirsty.

The inspired apostles speak with priests and councillors, with slaves and textile merchants and gaolers, offering life, facing punishment and death. Paul argues in the temple and the marketplace, with anyone who was there, and he proclaimed the life and faith he had discovered when Christ discovered him on the Damascus road.

The marketplace (the Greek word is agora) is where we are supposed to be, engaging with our God and the world around us. The other day I was invited, with an Anglican Bishop and a Uniting Church Minister, to speak at the Parliamentary Inquiry on Reproductive Health Care. My colleagues and I were asked why we were there, and part of our answer was that this is where we are supposed to be, in conversations about human life and suffering and seeking to discover how God addresses our lives in all their wonder and their messiness.

We are seeking to discern God’s voice in scripture and our worship, and also when we bear witness about those human concerns – our worth, our purpose, our place, our wounds, our relationships, our hope, our healing, our justice – which are also God’s concerns.

We are called to live out our hope, and also justice; we are to call the world to repentance, conscious always of the mercy which has brought us here. Too easily the Church talks only within itself, refining its theology like fine wine that sits valuable and forever untasted. Agoraphobia must never be a mark of our discipleship. 

Our theology is founded on the One who was born, executed and raised; Jesus was involved to the full extent of our human lives. It is shaped and forged when we engage our community the way our great cloud of witnesses engaged – in faith and hope. And courage. It is refined by the fire and breath of God’s Spirit.

We’re disciples of Jesus Christ; we’re supposed to be here.

An open letter to Members of the NSW Parliament, 2nd August 2019

The decision of the Parliament of NSW to table and debate the decriminalisation of abortion is a critical one, affecting people across our community. The Uniting Church notes the support from a wide diversity of members of Parliament, including the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian. The statement below draws from a series of decisions made over the last thirty years in the Uniting Church in Australia.

The Uniting Church affirms that human life is God-given from the beginning. We believe that all human beings are made in the image of God and that we are called to respect the sacredness of life.

We also believe Christians are called to respond to life with compassion and generosity.

When abortion is practised indiscriminately it damages respect for human life. However, we live in a broken world where people face difficult decisions. Respect for the sacredness of life means advocating for the needs of women as well as every unborn child.

We reject two extreme positions: that abortion should never be available; and that abortion should be regarded as simply another medical procedure. It is not possible to hold one position that can be applied in every case because people’s circumstances will always be unique.

It is important that women have the space they need to make this difficult decision after careful consideration and that they should have access to high quality counselling, pastoral care and medical services.

Women must be free to discuss their situation before they make a decision. The Church needs to be a place where such discussion can happen. We can offer spiritual, moral and pastoral support, without judgement, to a woman at this time.

Whilst we encourage our Ministers to remind people of the sacredness of life, the Church’s role should be to offer care and support leading up to and following a decision, not stand in judgement.

Our Church is also committed to support women who continue their pregnancy, and help them within the community.

The Uniting Church is disturbed that recent comments could imply that women make the decision to have an abortion without proper consideration. Most women who have abortions do so only after a great deal of searching and anguish. There are a range of well-informed spiritual, medical and emotional support services available to women and it is offensive to imply that these decisions are made lightly or without access to suitable consultation.

The decision to have an abortion is not just a moral issue but a social one. While some aspects of the current debate attempt to pass moral judgement on the act itself, it ignores the many emotional, physical, financial and social issues that often create a situation where a woman is forced to consider an abortion.

The Uniting Church asserts that abortion is a health and social issue and should not be a criminal issue.

The Uniting Church hopes that those engaged in this debate do not lose sight of the complexity of the issues.

Rev. Simon Hansford
Moderator | Synod of NSW & ACT
Uniting Church in Australia