Call for churches not to lose their nerve in speaking out for the poor
The Christian churches need to work together in public witness if they are to be an effective voice for the Gospel, the Superintendent of Wesley Mission, the Rev. Dr Keith Garner, said on August 16.
Speaking at a Parliamentary Christian Luncheon at NSW Parliament, Dr Garner told more than 50 parliamentary members, political advisers and other church leaders that Christian witness in Sydney had become fragmented diminishing the Gospel message.
“The reality of speaking with one voice is difficult and it certainly doesn’t mean we will agree at all points,” Dr Garner said.
“At a time when secular values seem to predominate, we must not lose our nerve … our values have helped to shape for good many of the major institutions in our community.
“Five people with six different opinions is unhelpful and sadly it is often the case… we need to demonstrate what it means to stand together.
“We are often known more for what we are against than what we stand for.”
Dr Garner warned that a theology of success and triumphalism “did not sit easy with the gospel account of Jesus Christ.”
The strength of some churches left them too busy to help the weaker or less resourced churches.
“I don’t for one minute believe that there is a lack of compassion amongst people, but often a lack of leadership and opportunity to channel such compassionate concern into tangible expressions of care,” Dr Garner said.
“We have many philanthropists whose charities focus on the needs of the wider world, but we need them in our own Australian setting also.”
Dr Garner said homelessness, mental health, financial stress and alcohol dependence remained major social concerns.
He said a worrying trend was the growing number of young people and families who were homeless.
“The latest figures produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tell us that 99,000 people accessed homeless services in the last quarter of 2011,” Dr Garner said.
“One of the most striking factors is the high number of people in the 18 to 34 age bracket.
“The breakdown of families from the impact of financial stress is a major problem.
“We also remind ourselves of that dreadful drug ‘in a bottle’ – alcohol. Our society has a dependence on the bottle.
“We must not be afraid if we are considered ‘dated’ on matters of morality or ‘ill-judged’ in our friendship with the modern-day outcasts. This could be the missing jewel in the contemporary Christian landscape.
“We have never lived in a more ‘religious’ world; one that is not necessarily Christian in our Australian context, but revealing the sense of search which still exists within our people.
“This is the time to name the Name, care for our people and provide a gospel for humanity.”
Dr Garner reminded parliamentary members that compassion and concern were not the preserve of one political ideology. He also called for a whole of government and community approach to addressing social issues like homelessness.
“We need to recover our nerve and speak for those who have little voice,” he said.
“There are still many in our community who have no-one to speak for them and, even in a sophisticated and developed city like Sydney and other towns and cities across our State, they are experiencing poverty and few are willing to advocate for their plight.
“Poverty in absolute terms may well be difficult to identify in Australia, but poverty of opportunity and a decent quality of life is still a concern for far too many people. This remains a Christian issue for those of us who belong to Jesus Christ, whose first night was spent in emergency accommodation and, when he was buried, it was in a borrowed tomb.”