I am Rohingyan

Last Saturday I found myself again at the steps of WA Parliament. The rally was organised at short notice to give public expression to the grotesque genocide and horrendous ethnic cleansing that is taking place in Myanmar (Burma) for the Rohingyan refugees. 

The media have brought us tragic images of over 400,000 ethic Rohingyan refugees fleeing their homes and burning villages to cross the border over to Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world and almost totally unable to cope with the hungry, traumatised and stateless Rohingyans. 

I attended and spoke at the rally as a leader of a Christian church. Most of those at the rally were Moslems. Yes, Rohingyas are Muslims but when there is suffering and injustice it is not an issue of religion but of humanity. These Muslim Rohingyas have been the target of violence, rape and brutal military oppression by the Burmese military. The news pictures show the squalid conditions that these refugees are forced to live in.

I was at the rally as a Christian and as a fellow human being. Someone in the crowd shouted out, “I am a Rohingyan”. They may have been, but I think that they were reminding us that we are members of the human family, when it comes to being in solidarity with those who are poor and suffer.

My Christian faith invites me to love my neighbour unconditionally, where he or she be Hindu, Buddhist Jew or Moslem.

My Christian faith reminds me that God’s care and compassion as modelled in Jesus cuts across every religious, social and political divide.

Yes, I am a struggling Christ follower, but also I share in God’s universal passion to seek the wellbeing of all people, whether they be in Burma or in Brisbane.

It will take a considerable humanitarian effort from the world community to begin to alleviate the terrible suffering of these people. We continue to demand that our government and all governments who can, to make this an urgent priority. Disease and needless death will grow if there is no immediate action.

As we lift our voices in protest, as we put our hands together in prayer, as we dig deep into our pockets with donations, as we empathise and act for Rohingyan, maybe we too can say  “I am a Rohingyan”.

Rev Steve Francis

A new Strategic Plan and the BIG question: Where do we go from here?

After more than a year in preparation, the Synod endorsed the Strategic Plan 2017-2020 last weekend. Plans however need to be put into practice, so where do we go from here?

It is however, first worth taking another look at the core principles of the Strategic Plan. Our vision is to be a Christian community for everyone by uniting in God’s mission to the world; growing communities of Christ-followers; and being grounded in our worship of God, our witness to God’s grace and our service to others.

That sentence states both our vision and our purpose and these are intricately interconnected. It also reflects, in a practical sense, how we, as the Uniting Church Western Australia can carry out both Jesus’ Great Commission (To go out into the world to make disciples) and the Great Commandment (To love both God and our neighbour).

The Uniting Church is, in my view, quite distinct in its approach to community.

Our core value is inclusivity – deep at the heart of who we are, is the call to a ministry of reconciliation. We are inclusive, we open our doors, we should not discriminate. This too, is at the heart of the gospel. God came among us in Christ, to bring together both Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – for we are all one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28)

Sadly though, the church through the ages has discriminated on various issues of law and Biblical interpretation – are you baptised RIGHT? Do you RIGHTLY interpret Scripture? Do you RIGHTLY honour the Sabbath? The Communion Table? The Second Coming? Leadership in the church? Many of these things are legal interpretations and lead us into the realm of Law. But this is not the Gospel.

The Gospel is open. Yes, there are boundaries but these are not exclusions, simply ways to understand the infinite extent of God’s love.

As the Uniting Church we live in the tension of these things. We seek to understand the Gospel within the tension which exists in the supreme call of Christ and the selfishness of our human frailty. This is our ethos – we don’t always do it well, but our heart is right. Sometimes we become critics ourselves – we stand in judgement of others, but this is not our default position.

Instead, we are “A Christian Community for Everyone” and our desire is to join with God in the mission to reach the world with good news of God’s reconciling action in Christ. We are working WITH GOD to make disciples who are grounded in worship of God, in witness to God’s grace revealed in Christ and service to others for the glory of God.

The development of the Strategic Plan sought to incorporate all these things.

In God’s eyes, this is not an impossible tension. Indeed, it is the way God intended the church to be.

  • We will seek to build community!
  • We will seek to join with God in the mission to the world!
  • We will seek to grow communities of Christ-Followers!
  • We will worship God as our first priority!
  • We will witness to God’s grace revealed in Christ Jesus!
  • We will serve others for the glory of God!

So how does this happen right NOW, in our present context?

We begin by understanding that God, in Christ, has given to all people in the church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal, which is the end view for the whole creation. The church’s call is to serve that end so that, by the Spirit, people may trust God as their Father and acknowledge Jesus as Lord (Basis of Union, Para3).

Beyond this however, is the world which lives apart from God. For many within Western culture today, religion has no place and the number of those seeking to live faith-based lives is in decline. Church is seen as outmoded and out of date, and for some, even a source of hurt and pain.

And yet, Christ’s call to us is unchanged. We may have misinterpreted it, but the call is still there; to share faith, build lives and to care for each other, for others and for creation. This is strong in Africa, Asia and South America, and growing. In our own context we see this in the immigrant communities of our multicultural congregations.

When our worship of God, our witness to God’s grace and our service to others is at the forefront of our lives, we will indeed become a Christian Community for Everyone.

NEXT WEEK: More on Collaborating Communities as the essence of the Strategic Plan 2017-2020.

Rev David de Kock
General Secretary 

In Praise of Friendship

One of most popular and endearing television programs was sitcom series Friends.

It struck a rich cord in our society. Each episode reminded us that friends matter.

To be alone and friendless is the scourge of our a society that is too often individualistic and self-centred. Frequently in movies, there is a scene or two of tragic loneliness; a guy or girl in a bar drinking by themselves and hoping to be picked up.

Friendship is more richer and deeper that any flirtatious affection. Unlike romantic relationships or the bonds between siblings, “friendship is entirely voluntary, uncovered and unencumbered by any send of duty or debt”(Wesley Hill).

Friendship is uniquely precious, mysterious and uniquely rewarding. True friendship often has minimal obligations and maximal liberty. With friends you can be yourself without fear of judgement. Mark Slouka’s novel, Brewster is the story of two school kids who fall into an unlikely friendship. On reflecting on the friendship one of them comments “it was as close to having a brother as I’ll ever get”.  Such can be the strength and warmth of the bond of friendship.

I love the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan, they were great mates who loved each other. They loved being with each and shared life’s deepest struggles and supported one another. How life-giving this is. I think also of the story in the gospels about Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’s cross. Jesus needed a friend, the Roman cross was too hard to bear. Simon stepped in and befriended Jesus.

Even the Son of God needed friends.

Bearing each other’s burdens is part of what friends do. In our Western culture we are in danger of downgrading or dismissing the value of non-sexualised friendship. Ben Myers, an Australian theologian has outlined a series of ways that friendship has be pushed to the margins of our society. He challenges Freud’s suspicion that all relationships , at base involve eroticism.

Close male friendship are not inevitably homosexual. While marriage needs to be highly valued and respected as a relationship of mutual love and deep intimacy, close friendships and singleness can be rich sources of joy, mutuality and strength.

Indeed as retirees, divorced people and the newly married will tell you, marriage does not meet all our relational needs.

We sometimes forget that Jesus never married and was great at making deep friendships. He invited his followers into a divine friendship with him. He called his disciples into a community of equals where friendship is a core value.

As the debate on marriage rages, let us not forget the in-estimate value of friendship.

Rev Steve Francis