A clear bias against Christianity in several present legislation proposals betrays ignorance at best and malice at worst. Proposed federal funding cuts for Christian ministry training, for instance, threaten leadership development that helps drive benevolent works by which churches provide substantial benefit to society. Opponents often shroud this fact with a presumption that churches do little more than offer worship services to faithful adherents, otherwise rendering them as an irrelevance if not denigrating them altogether. The media often amplify negative minority sentiments, which is why churches needs the voice of good news junkies who, in spite of what isn’t perfect or what isn’t comfortable, will positively proclaim Jesus who is still in the business of changing lives for the better. Here’s some key steps.
1. Show people what churches actually offer.
The best form of counter-attack is a confident defence. This needs to be impersonal, for we don’t fight flesh and blood, as Ephesians 6:12 says. Churches, though, need to better sell their many eternal and earthly benefits in the face of extensive misinformation and suspicion. Just because the media and some political leaders presume overt secularism, doesn’t mean everyday people are opposed to faith. It also doesn’t mean that the spiritual fight can’t see God overcoming darkness with light through us!
Growing churches unashamedly celebrate their many positives throughout workplaces, schools, universities and shopping centres in any typical week. Excited Christians who are sensitive and loving, but also unashamedly bold, are the best advertisement for the faith that has changed their own lives.
The local church I lead provides (or has provided): school breakfasts, community meals, food parcel giveaways, heavily subsidised emergency accommodation, youth drop-in and kids’ games/craft activities, backpacks for homeless people, men’s wellbeing programs, marriage and family counselling, counselling for sufferers of addiction and self-harm, seniors’ community activities, a monthly community market, assistance for Tamil refugees, annual community carols, practical community support for Khmer-speaking Cambodians, and education and feeding of many people in multiple developing nations.
With a host of other age-specific activities connected to our weekly operations, too, we end up catering to many hundreds of people from dozens of nationalities. What’s not to get excited about?!
A leading expert in charity law was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald recently saying that, without churches offering such provisions, society would go bankrupt!
Without our many volunteers and the qualified people who lead them, this work would be significantly harder, anyway. On the issue of government-sponsored vocational education and training, the case for continuing it is thoroughly presentable in light of the many great works by which churches enrich society as a practical outworking of Christian values.
Curtailing training programs won’t stop people who are passionate from finding another way to serve, but why would communities create financial impediments to hinder rather than help such work? The more that people know what churches do, the more they encourage their communities to value them.
2. Show people how churches are actually funded.
News reports will seize on the popular ideal that churches are unworthy of tax concessions or other benefits, despite being almost wholly self-funded, anyway, through generous giving by people who want to and are not forced to.
Misrepresentations and thinly-veiled attacks abound, such as one made against our own church’s budget in the local media. Nevertheless, our ministers (trained for four years on average) are paid less than teachers and work well in excess of the time for which they are paid, and with a wide range of skill sets, because they love serving people. Our church’s accounts are audited and transparent, showing modest expenses.
A national television report recently attacked the Hillsong church for giving just ten percent of its income to external local and overseas charitable causes. It presumed that most of the other ninety was lining the pockets of a handful of wealthy pastors. In reality, it largely supports the sort of community projects described above, with Hillsong undoubtedly engaged in such work at a far greater level than most churches. Paying its many staff salaries, bills and other running costs are all part of supporting ministry that is fundamentally about serving people. Hillsong’s own leader has publicly declared his salary to be very modest when compared with the church’s budget and with the salaries of similar executive leaders in the business sector.
It is easy to cast aspersions via sweeping generalisations and isolated misgivings, but to suggest that churches should not receive tax help or grants is to undercut one of the bedrock institutions that has strengthened our society for generations. Occasional harmful excesses and flaws should, of course, be addressed. As awful and abhorrent as some are, though, they do not invalidate Christianity itself.
3. Show people what churches actually believe.
A recent news.com.au article typified the ridiculously ill-informed tendency for armchair critics to cherry-pick New Testament verses and take cheap shots or to abuse the Old Testament by lifting passages from their context and presuming to know how to apply them. Biblically-literate Christians can graciously correct such misrepresentations.
The article in question inanely supposed that people opposed to gay marriage on biblical grounds would be guilty of logical inconsistency if not also killing people for working on the Sabbath! Further, despite Jesus referring to and defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, the author supposes that we should accept that He was silent on homosexuality and therefore presumably accepting of gay marriage.
She then falsely accuses the Australian Christian Lobby of unloving and judgmental conduct merely for upholding a view on marriage that is traditionally held and currently legal. No evidence; no logic; just hateful and scurrilous cynicism.
Further, with insult bordering on insolence, she questions whether the Anglican Church believe divorce began in 1975 merely for suggesting that divorce was encouraged by the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in Australia.
How on earth do such writers get published and then paid for such egregious nonsense?
It is substantially because too few ‘good news junkies’ are engaging in infectious and inspiring discussions with key influencers. Good news won’t guarantee that opposition will stop, but it may bring some sort of corrective against the ill-informed and reckless prejudices of those who seldom countenance another view.
Of course, one would be reluctant to dignify such media reports with too much attention were it not for the fact that people – including some Christians – buy in to them. It becomes so easy to focus on what is not working and to presume rights to overlook the extensive benefits that churches bring, notwithstanding the occasional problems that any organisation with people will sometimes display.
When friendly fire sees self-confessed Christians playing judge, jury and executioner, one has to wonder what the motivation is. Perhaps we should expect persecution against the church as Jesus warned, but positive and proactive Christians need to dampen damaging negativities in our churches by loudly and excitedly showing all and sundry that God is still far from dead and that He still loves the world for whom He gave His Son to bring eternal life.
Given that around one in six Australians still attend church monthly (according to the Christian Research Association) and comfortably more than half claim to be Christian, the misplaced disrespect shown to Christianity and the Bible from outside churches surely needs reconsideration, too. That ultimately comes from Christians loving and living for the God who is still alive and still answering prayer.
With countless stories of freedom from addiction, miraculous physical healing, relationship recovery, community services and charitable support, Christianity remains a fundamentally positive and beneficial component of Australian life today. It is filled with good news and indeed is good news. People need to hear how Jesus and the church He is still building can actually matter to them.
Christianity ultimately invites us to choose to live in the light of an eternal perspective. This is credibly supported by reliable evidence that most people conveniently overlook at their own peril. In the end, so much more ultimately hinges on this decision to choose the Jesus of faith than on one which simplistically rejects the value Christianity also brings to life on this side of the grave.
Of course such decisions need to be inspired by more good news from junkies like you and me who refuse to be negative and depressive naysayers to those who so desperately need to find answers today.