Date published: Wednesday 22 March 2017
“I often feel fed up with faith. So much said in the name of God represents a God I do not believe in or want to have anything to do with. The public religious discourse is narrow, bigoted and judgemental. I cringe when I hear these attitudes from my Christian colleagues who believe they are speaking for God. Often I wonder how much these purported followers of Jesus actually know about him.”
This is how social justice advocate, Tim Costello, starts his recent book – Faith. I’ve looked up to Tim for a long time (though I’ve not met him yet), and read his book as I was preparing to leave Sydney and take up my new role of Executive Director of Baptist Care Australia in Canberra. This was just one of many, many passages in the book that mirrored my own thoughts and feelings about faith, power, politics and the current situation in Australia and globally.
Despair over what’s going on in the public discourse and government policy directions were at the forefront of my mind when I was first being considered for this role. These trends are being driven by increasing disconnectedness and self-interest in the Australian culture. Both in Australia and globally we’re seeing an increasing disregard for others, especially those struggling with disadvantage. In developed nations, inequality is growing, and efforts to remedy prejudice and disadvantage are being abandoned. My Christian values tell me that something is going terribly wrong.
Raising the profile and influence of the Baptist Care network in the public policy debate is the specific challenge set for me by the Board of Baptist Care Australia. The network has a consciously Christian approach, and these values need to be visible and active in what we say and how we say it. After a 25-year career in communication, marketing and advocacy roles, I felt a growing conviction throughout the recruitment process that the time was right for me to take up this challenge.
Although my initial enthusiasm for taking on this job was about reacting against the things I think have gone terribly wrong, my arrival in the role was marked by a definite optimism. The media release we circulated in my first weeks sets out the opportunities I see for change. Whether I can influence that sort of positive change remains to be seen, I suppose!
It’s been six weeks since I started as Executive Director of Baptist Care Australia, and a bit longer since I made the move from Sydney to my new home in Canberra. It’s been exciting and daunting and fascinating all at once. And despite missing the people who have been important to me for many years, I haven’t regretted it for a moment.
We in the Baptist Care family work with and for those on the edges, those who are in the ‘least equal’ corner of our society. But to have any influence on politics, policy and the public debate, we must speak clearly to the majority – to the mainstream, the cultural spirit of our times. And in doing that, we absolutely must be true to the foundation and motivation for our words and action, Jesus Christ.
This is the delicate balancing act I’m getting my head and heart around as I work through my new responsibilities. How can we speak to the majority, influence the decision-makers, enliven people’s compassion and generosity, articulate real policy solutions that improve people’s lives, and be a Christian ‘light to the world’ and ‘city on a hill’ (Matt 5:14) while we’re doing all these things?
This is how Tim Costello describes this dilemma in Faith.
“I live the tension between faith and the secular. Secular people generally welcome what I say but suggest I drop the spiritual mush; religious people are disappointed that I have not turned up the volume on faith. The chasm between the two camps seems to be growing. Maybe I am foolish to try to span it.”
Yet he still tries. Over time, I hope I might speak even half as courageously, lovingly and effectively as Tim.
I expect I might look back on this post in the coming year or two when things get tough to help remind me of my purpose in taking on this challenge. What I do know is that whatever happens will be steeped in prayer – my own and those of others. Yours would be appreciated!