Inside the chapel at St Francis Theological College in Brisbane. Credit: Steven Riggall.
The non-religious or the religiously-indifferent might wonder why anybody would spend their time researching religion.
But to co-founder of Australian Anglican group A Progressive Christian Voice Rev Dr Ray Barraclough, Biblical research continues to offer exciting insights into the way we should live today.
“The last twenty years or so has seen some very stimulating study of the scriptures, particularly women scholars bringing their life experience into the scriptures, so we wanted to say, in the wider arena of Australian public life ‘hey there’s fresh things being found in Christianity, fresh insights and there’s also fresh windows being opened into how the Christian faith can be expressed’,” Rev Dr Barraclough said.
But despite his optimism, Rev Dr Barraclough believes Christians need to “rethink their heritage” and consider the context in which the scriptures were originally written.
He said the attitudes of many Biblical authors towards women and their silence on aspects of life such as work rights, sexual identity and domestic violence can lead to a “very sad underbelly if you just follow literally the heritage that you claim to be defending”.
He believes putting out the message that not all Christians follow this course is important to properly representing the views of all Australians in modern society.
Others take a different approach.
Danny Jarman from the Atheist Foundation of Australia believes in taking his political opponents head-on.
Mr Jarman, a former leader of a fundamentalist Christian church in the Gold Coast before deserting and joining the AFA a few years ago, sees church influence waning in Australia and hopes to hasten it by challenging religious people on the basis of their own theology.
“I find the best way to engage with a lot of the theists is to read them their scriptures. What about, if my daughter is raped rather than punish the rapist, he pays me fifty shekels and she has to marry him and can never be divorced,” Mr Jarman said.
Mr Jarman said he also sees his role as countering the “sales jobs” religious organisations such as the Scripture Union make for things like chaplaincy services in state schools.
Mr Jarman believes Census data from the last decade showing a growth in people identifying as ‘non-religious’ is the result of religious moderates leaving the church.
He said in the next 20 to 30 years those who remain will appear to be more and more extremist to the general public as community standards change and religious values stay the same.
Danny Jarman has a social network of like-minded people to fight against his opponents and an organised management committee that coordinates social media channels and public events.
The same cannot be said for A Progressive Christian Voice.
Rev Dr Barraclough sees having that level of organisation as desirable, but said it can only happen “down the track” and will likely always be limited.
“We haven’t got the big money that the big mega churches have got to pour into this, but we’re making a small contribution that from little things big things might grow. Who knows?” Rev Dr Barraclough said.
His situation is not unusual though; Queensland Director of the Australian Christian Lobby Wendy Francis only has two part-time staff at her disposal.
Having such a small ‘team’ to call on may not present much of a problem for Ms Francis though, unlike some larger activist groups.
Like Rev Dr Barraclough Ms Francis said her organisation has no interest in taking part in mass actions and barring a major attack on human rights in Australia, could not see herself taking part in public demonstrations.
Ms Francis, known publicly for taking controversial stances such as comparing same-sex parenting with the stolen generations, said she prefers working with others and engaging in public discussion, to more coercive forms of political action.
“One-on-one is the way I operate because I think you you hear what somebody else is saying and they can hear you,” Ms Francis said.
“I don’t see that it’s right to impose my own beliefs and opinions on others and think that it’s important in our democracy to have a voice, because I think that the voice that I have is a voice of reason and has a lot of following. Then the legislators can look at the different research documents and decide which is the best path.”
Her view is shared somewhat by Rev Dr Ray Barraclough.
“It’s important, as much as possible, to build bridges and encourage peaceful resolutions of issues that really are very difficult but need to be addressed because people’s lives are at stake. Now that sounds very grand…but given Jesus’ own disposition towards the marginalised and the poor that disposition ought always to be given political expression by Christians, whatever their beliefs.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
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