Wednesday 27 June 2007

William Willberforce (and some cheap John Piper books!)

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As you are all no doubt aware this is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and much has been said of the role of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect in fighting against slavery. If you want to buy a good book about Wilberforce (and two other greats of the faith) then today (0r tomorrow is the day to do it). On the 27th and 28th June the Desiring God online store (John Piper's ministry website) is selling all books for just $US5. The book is titled The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce and is a good buy at $5! The book focuses on how these three extraordinary men were (and are) examples of "deep and joyful maturity in the face of life-long opposition". While I'm at it, I've just received the latest Zadok Perspectives (No. 95, Winter 2007) and it has a paper by Stuart Piggin that looks primarily at Wilberforce's contribution to the foundation of the Australian Christian Church.

Monday 25 June 2007

Dawkins Vs McGrath

As you probably know Alistair McGrath (Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University) has been debating Richard Dawkins (Professor of the Public Understanding of Science,
University of Oxford), particularly in response to Dawkins book "The God Delusion". Dawkins describes himself as "an evolutionist" but has been described (cheekily) by McGrath as a "Fundamentalist Atheist". McGrath's book, "The Dawkins Delusion" has been the catalyst for a series of public debates between the two authors in recent times. One interesting debate at Oxford University recently can be accessed in MP3 format if you're interested. We will also have a short critique of "The God Delusion" in CASE Magazine #12 due out in September, A Skeptic’s view of The God Delusion. This has been written by one of our CASE Associates Kevin Rogers.

Friday 22 June 2007

Justice for Indigenous Australians

I'm not sure how much you've seen of the reporting concerning the recent intervention of the Federal government in the affairs of Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. There have been many variations to the responses - some cautious and some not so cautious. All agree that there has been a problem for many years and that this has not been adequately addressed. There are numerous themes to the debate:

* avoiding paternalism;
* who is to blame;
* the problem of inaction;
* the divisions within the indigenous community on how it sees the solutions;
* how this action will impact on other issues such as land rights;
* the root of the problem;
* what will be the impact on urban indigenous communities if the Commonwealth controls remote communities;
* child abuse as symptomatic of other problems etc etc.

As Christians it seems to me that we need to be careful with our response in the light of the revelations of the most recent damning report about child abuse and community breakdown in remote indigenous communities (of course there are issues across all communities). Our first response should be one of horror (perhaps even righteous anger!) and compassion for the children and communities that are suffering. Many of the media responses seem to be filtered through a variety of lenses and agendas - existing political leanings, ideological concerns with heavy state intervention, individual concerns with elements of the problem or its causes (e.g alcohol abuse or pornography). As the prophet Micah (6:8) reminded the Israelites only one thing is required of us:

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Speaking out is part of acting justly, as is the support of others who are bolder than us and take action. There are many other manifestations of our quest for justice as we walk humbly with our God and as he uses us for his purposes. We have a collective concern for the young lives that are being impacted in remote communities. We also need to remember the impact of community breakdown on all community members. We should avoid almost opportunistically seizing the moment to push one agenda (even if it's an important one and even when driven by right godly motives). For example, I noticed today that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has rightly applauded the Federal Government’s plan to ban X-rated pornography in the Northern Territory and called on the ACT Government and State Governments to also take action in this area. They have commented:

“The child sexual abuse crisis in the Northern Territory has highlighted in the most distressing way the dreadful harm that pornography causes to communities”

“It is time to take action on this issue throughout Australia. We’re calling on the ACT Government to ban the sale of X-rated pornography and for all States to better enforce measures to control access to this material."

I'm with ACL in wanting to see a ban on such pornography but I don't want the Christian response to become one dimensional. The problem is much more complex than this. We need to commend the Federal government for taking action and add our voices to the debate. It's good that the Labor party has been bipartisan on this. We need to address issues of indigenous health, substance abuse, unemployment, school delinquency, deaths in custody etc.

I'm conscious that a number of Christian organizations and many individuals have been working in Indigenous communities for decades. A recent example, is the work of the Parent Controlled Christian Schools organization that has established a established a Christian boarding school for young Indigenous women in remote Arnhem Land. This school has made a difference to the young people who live at this school, and it has had an impact on their families. We need more of these wonderful examples of individual and collective Christian action. But, we also need coordinated action from all levels of government and any interest group seeking justice for Indigenous people.

Thursday 21 June 2007

Church and State - Do leaders have a right to speak out?

Not sure if you read the short opinion piece by Gerard Henderson in the SMH on Tuesday 19th June but it offered welcome support from a secular institute to church leaders who speak out on important issues. George Pell's comments in the recent stem cell debate led to almost hysterical comments from many politicians and community leaders. Henderson makes the point that people can be very selective in whether and when they want church leaders to speak out. He cites Michael Burleigh (2007) who has written that Europe's public culture is dominated by 'sneering secularists' who set the tone for the population. As Henderson also points out, secularists like Richard Dawkins have dominated a great deal of the public space in recent times with their claims. So why shouldn't Christians express their views. Of course this is exactly why CASE exists, to provide opportunities for Christians to express their thoughts on any contemporary issue that they see as important. If you'd like to read more about the relationship between Church and State why not have a look at the 2005 New College Lecture material. In fact you can buy the DVD that includes all the lectures from Andrew Cameron, Kevin Rudd and John Anderson for just $5.

Trevor Cairney's First Entry

This is my first entry as the new director of CASE and is simply an introduction. My name is Trevor Cairney and I have been Master of New College since 2002. I created CASE to replace what had been an Institute for Values Research at the college (that ran for about 15 years). I had the good sense to appoint Greg Clarke as the fulltime director of CASE in 2003. With his departure I'm back as the Director of CASE (and yes, I'm still Master of New College). I'm keen to continue the great work that Greg established, but will no doubt put my own stamp on the centre.

My background is primarily that of an academic who has spent over 30 years researching how children learn language. I also had a 10 year parallel diversion into research on urban development when I established a research centre focussed on regional, urban and industrial development. I had studied urban development and planning and economics in my very first degree in the 1970s and returned to this during the 1990s while I was Pro Vice-chancellor at the University of Western Sydney and attempting to build the institution's research program.

I came to faith in Christ as a 31 year old (as did my wife Carmen) and became involved almost immediately in campus-based Christian work as well as work with youth and young adults in our church. I was an associate staff worker for AFES for many years while working as an academic at several universities and have filled various roles with AFES including a stint as Chair of the National Board (until last year). So, I've always had a passion for young people and a desire to see them explore matters of faith. I'm a tragic husband, father and grandfather and love my family very much. My immediate family consists of my wife Carmen, my children Nicole and Louise, their husbands David and Jon and 4 wonderful grandchildren Jacob, Rebecca, Elsie and Samuel (see for LOTS of photos on my website). As Master of New College I have the opportunity to draw on all the bits of my past in a focussed way. As a Christian academic I'm conscious that people's perspectives on their world are very much shaped by the things they believe or don't believe. CASE provides a wonderful vehicle to engage with others in conversation about a limitless range of topics. I hope that through this Blog you will contribute your thoughts and suggestions that will help us grow in our understanding of God and how he would have us live in his world.

Friday 8 June 2007

Goodbye from Greg

Dear CASE friends

You will most likely know by now that I have left CASE to become Director of Macquarie Christian Studies Institute at Macquarie University here in Sydney, and to co-direct a new centre called Public Christianity Australia based in the Sydney CBD with Dr John Dickson. This will be my last blog entry here, and Trevor Cairney takes over as Director of CASE blogging!
Thanks to everyone who read and responded to the thoughts published here. May God bless you and keep you.

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