Religion is losing its leadership

Published in the Courier Mail 5 Nov 2003

IT COMES as no great surprise that in the past 100 years there has been a growth in the number of Australians who consider themselves as having no religion. In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this now accounts for a quarter of our population. Should we expect anything else, though? After all, many of our churches, which are meant to lead the way, also are losing their religion.

There are a great number and variety of religions in our world, and most of their clergy hold passionately to the central tenets of their particular faith. However, in the past few years, a segment of the traditional Christian church has been suffering a distinct loss of identity. They have come to resemble something more like a non-religious club than a church.

When a recently ordained Anglican bishop told us that his election is God’s will, it seems to show very little, if any, of the beliefs, values and practices based on the teachings of his supposed spiritual leader, Jesus Christ.

I don’t doubt that the bishop, Gene Robinson, is a nice man. He is probably very well intentioned, and I’m sure he cares for people. But these factors don’t make him a true representative of a religion. They just make him a nice man.

If we want to be considered a representative of a religion then we should be saying what its spiritual leader said. And, for conservatives and progressives alike, it’s easy to see what that is. It’s written in the Bible. And it’s pretty clear.

According to the words of Jesus in the Gospels, sexual immorality, including adultery and homosexuality, defile us.

Admittedly, these viewpoints are not fully embraced in our culture, and are at odds with what segments of our society now consider an acceptable lifestyle.

However, when a spiritual representative takes mutually exclusive lifestyle choices and attempts to marry them, they seem at best confused or naive, and at worst hypocritical.

The church certainly has a difficult task. It has to communicate a timeless message of a perfect spiritual leader through very imperfect people. No clergyman, reverend or pastor can ever claim perfection, and very few would try to. However, society should be able to expect a relatively consistent message to come from all facets of the Christian church — at the very least about what is right and what is wrong.

What is emerging, though, is possibly the largest ever division in the church.

The issue of whether the act of homosexuality is right or wrong, and whether to ordain practising homosexuals, has caused controversy rather than concern, and threatens to tear apart some of our largest Christian denominations.

The church should reflect the teachings of Jesus, who loved each person, regardless of their behaviour, without condoning their immorality.

It is time for churches and their clergy to decide what they will be. Will they base their organisation on the teachings of their spiritual leader or will they base their organisation on the relativisms of our society?

If they do the latter perhaps they should change their name to reflect what they have become — a charity, philanthropic organisation, or a social club. Whichever it is, it is no longer based on the teachings of its spiritual leader.