The Rev. John Thornton (chairperson of Mid North Coast Presbytery and Chairperson of the Placements Committee) made an observation at a recent Presbytery meeting, suggesting that there was a ‘great forgetting’ of the gospel story and the Christian tradition underway. I think John was suggesting that this ‘forgetting’ was not simply a consequence of social and cultural changes in Australia over the last few decades, but also a reflection of a growing amnesia within the church itself. I pondered John’s words as I drove back to Sydney from the meeting in Port Macquarie.
I’m not particularly bothered about changes in the external environment in which the church seeks to be church. Change is an inevitable reality, presenting challenges to which the church is called to respond. I am bothered, very bothered, by the thought that the church might be forgetting the life at its heart.
What might be the symptoms and consequences of such ‘forgetting’?
There are a few things that I’ve noticed and wondered about over the years. There is a version of the faith that takes comfort in certainty, in clearly defining who’s in and who’s out and in spelling out the criteria for being one or the other. It takes many forms and I’ve come to think of it as a form of Christian tribalism.
I suspect that we’re all subject to the temptation to divide and classify from time to time. Many of the painful and complicated conversations that we’ve had in this church about sexuality have had something of this flavour. Over time, these sorts of internal contests have contributed to the erosion of the church’s credibility in the public space.
Thinking of the public space, there are things that have happened over the course of my life (still quite short in the overall scheme of things) that I never, ever thought I would see.
Australia’s new Modern Slavery Act took effect on 1 January 2019. While that’s a good start, how horrifying is it that such legislation is necessary and that the emancipation struggles of the nineteenth century continue in our time? There are statistics that indicate that millions of people, including children, in a variety of circumstances are enslaved and the Global Slavery Index suggests that there are 15,000 slaves in Australia often ‘hidden in plain sight’.
The starting point for the Church’s contribution to this new campaign is the conviction that human beings are created in the image of God. All humans, not just some. What would happen if this conviction was lost in the great forgetting?
It is the church’s particular and peculiar task to be a counter – voice to the dominant story that the world at large is hearing and telling.
- the first will be last;
- turn the other cheek;
- judge not;
- blessed are the mourners;
- woe to the comfortable
And it goes on and on. If, as John suggests, there is a ‘great forgetting’ underway, then we all need to lift our game.
This is a story that’s best remembered in the living of it, in offering ourselves – individually and collectively – in the mission of God. In noticing where the image of God (aka human being) is being disfigured or maimed and actively doing something about it. In raising our voice to offer an alternative to the dominant story and embodying in our communities the Body of Christ alive and joyful.
It’s Easter, the season of resurrection – God’s absolute counter to all the death – dealing ways of the world.
I’ve always thought that resurrection is the only real miracle, a wonderful mystery so far beyond ‘our minds’ grasp’ that it’s just not forgettable. Praise, wonder, gratitude – Christ is risen!
Rev. Jane Fry