By Ruth Limkin
There’s a very big problem with the Christian church and its public role in Australia. I realised it once again last night when I read the latest report about how the church was interfering in society.
Reports in the Herald Sun said, “The Salvation Army has helped rescue three young women trafficked from Thailand and forced to work in a Sydney brothel. A Sydney brothel owner has been charged with human trafficking offences following raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) last night. They were tipped off by the Salvation Army, that had learned of the women’s situation and contacted them with suspicions they were being held against their will.”
Here we have, once again, the church going down the same old path that it has for generations; even centuries, if the truth be told.
Helping the vulnerable. Speaking out for the oppressed. Caring for the forgotten. Feeding the hungry.
It’s a problem. Particularly for those who hate religion or who remain wholly suspicious of people of the Christian faith.
Yes, the church has made mistakes over the centuries, and some of them are of the highest magnitude. Tragically, there have been times when the church has failed the very people who needed their protection. This shouldn’t be denied and like all organisations or groups of people, the church needs to be honest about failings when they occur.
Yet the problem with the Christian church is that it makes an enormously positive contribution to public life, by serving and caring for those in need, and that makes it difficult to write it off, even if you aren’t a person of faith.
It’s hard to completely quantify the positive contribution of the church in Australia. A soon to be published research report in the US, from a secular research group and University of Pennsylvania professor, suggests the 12 congregations they studied contribute the equivalent of US$50,577,098 in annual economic benefits to their communities. It’s hard to deny that the Australian church makes a broad positive contribution to the community when one considers their direct service programs, charitable and cultural programs, schools and hospitals, and community development or social advocacy programs, many of which are facilitated by volunteers.
That’s a problem for the strident voices that sometimes try to deny a place to the church, or people of faith, in public dialogue. Sadly, there’s often no reason for this attempted exclusion other than the existence of an individual’s faith background.
I suspect that such exclusion is not so much a problem for the church, which will continue to help the poor and oppressed regardless. However, it’s most certainly a problem for the quality of public conversations in Australia.
Full disclosure: Ruth happily acknowledges her involvement with a number of organisations that put their faith in action and provide practical assistance to the community.