While others have already written about recent public statements by Christian leaders such as Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Managing Director Jim Wallace and organisations such as Access Ministries, as a former fundamentalist pastor’s wife – no longer a believer – I’d like to share my perspective.
Until quite recently, I was a supporter of ACL and admired Jim Wallace for ‘standing up for Christian values’ which I, like many of my former friends, felt were under attack in Australia. Precisely what values were in danger of being quashed by godless atheists is now lost to me but I do remember feeling that we Christians were part of a small, embattled subculture, significantly under-represented in the public arena. I heard chaplains speak in church many times and remember that I, like most, if not all, of those in the pews were positive about the work chaplains were doing ‘reaching unchurched kids for Jesus’ in public schools.
So, while the content of Jim Wallace’s racist and anti-gay Anzac Day tweet was evidently deeply shocking to many non-religious people, it was precisely what I would have expected to hear from any serious Christian fundamentalist in a closed meeting with likeminded believers. I was somewhat taken aback that Wallace was so indiscrete as to share his true thoughts on twitter - but not wholly surprised as I will explain.
Church organisations and their private activities have not been of very much interest to anyone but themselves for...well...a long, long time. Christians have become used to this lack of scrutiny and, in my experience, have forgotten how out of step with the rest of the community many of their beliefs and attitudes are. I mentioned this in a church setting on a number of occasions. Once, at the end of a brief course on the how-to’s of discipling new converts, I approached the group leader and asked what she would see as the difference between what she’d just shared with us and, say, the coercive and controlling strategies used by a cult – apart from the obvious fact that our beliefs were right. The leader, I think, experienced a Douglas Adamsesque upside-down-pink-bistro moment and was unable even to imagine a response to such a peculiar query. There was an awkward silence as she looked at me blankly, then smiled kindly, and walked away.
This incapacity to imagine how Christian, in-house communications might appear to those on the outside helps to explain Jim Wallace’s indiscretion. I imagine he just forgot for a moment that non-believers also follow him on twitter and was simply revealing what he really thinks about gay people and Muslims. But instead of either ‘manning up’ and taking the hit for his admission or offering a sincere apology, Wallace immediately went on the attack, blaming those who brought his tweet to the attention of the media, saying that it was they who were causing the trouble, and accepting no responsibility whatsoever for provoking the storm that ensued as a result of his tweet.
There were Christian commentators, Bill Muehlenberg for one, who expressed disappointment that Wallace later offered a half-baked non-apology instead of standing by his bigoted beliefs. I expect there are many Christians who would agree with Muehlenberg on that score. After all, Wallace declares himself not just a Christian but a representative of the majority of Christians in Australia and we know that honesty is a virtue particularly valued in that faith community. Is it then unreasonable to expect a Christian representative should at least be able to take responsibility for his own words and abstain from telling porkies when questioned about them?
I imagine that many Australian Christians would also like to see Access Ministries, the primary supplier of chaplains to Australian public schools and a fundamentally Christian organisation, stand up for what it believes instead of hiding behind a facade of smiling but dishonest niceness as it is currently doing. Recent scrutiny of the contents of teaching materials, websites, newsletters and articles by and about Access Ministries have revealed, among other things, that Access, in breach of their contract with state education departments, and despite protestations to the contrary, their own publications reveal that Access Ministries chaplains have been merrily evangelising our kids in the school yard all along. A flurry of bottom-covering ensued last week as Access Ministries rushed to remove incriminating material from public view.
But I imagine no Christian would have been surprised by these revelations in the slightest. Chaplaincy organisations have never concealed their agenda to fulfil Jesus’s Great Commission of ‘making disciples of all men’, at least, they’ve been frank with other Christians about their aims. Indeed, it’s because that idea has broad Christian support that chaplains are able to attract private donations to subsidise their work. It’s just that, until now, no-one who wasn’t already a fan has apparently bothered to read their websites or newsletters to check whether they were indeed as harmlessly altruistic as they claimed.
But the cat is out of the bag. In the words of Access Ministries CEO, Evonne Paddison “...the greatest mission field we have in Australia [is] our children and our students. We need to go and make disciples”. No-one, I think, is suggesting that this is incompatible with the Christian faith; enthusiastic evangelism is entirely consistent with a belief that, again in Paddison’s words, “without Jesus, our students are lost”. But subsequent to the public outcry caused by Paddison’s address, Access Ministries, instead of coming clean, released an explanation that attempted to perpetuate the lie that chaplains wouldn’tthink of sharing the gospel with our children and that we should stop listening to the lefty, atheist ratbags who say they would. How very like Jim Wallace’s response.
I’m not the only one who finds this level of dishonesty staggering. The only explanation I’ve been able to come up with for the apparent ease with which Access Ministries continues to lie is that they are twisting another injunction of Jesus: to go out into a world of ‘wolves’ and be ‘as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). But I wonder if they bend the truth at their peril. Apart from numerous bible verses that threaten hellfire for liars, it seems to me that this particular sort of dishonesty, claiming they are not wholehearted followers of Christ when in fact they are, skims perilously close to the nastier ‘denying Christ’ kind of lie. And Christians well-understand the eternal consequences of those.
I'd like to see Christian organisations of all sorts fess up to the fact that they are (gasp) followers of Christ and admit that that carries with it certain obligations such as sharing their faith at any reasonable opportunity. I’d like them to honestly explain what they’ve been doing in our schools and state what they intend to do in the future. Then parents, principles and the State can decide if it’s appropriate that they continue to get paid to access our children. And if not, Christian organisations can go back to preaching on street corners or some other non-taxpayer-funded activity in an effort to attract converts.
But, for heaven’s sake, enough of this despicable deception; it really is a humiliating spectacle. Christian or not, no one ought to be telling lies with the ease and frequency that these Christian leaders are. It is a sickening charade. And they’re not fooling anyone anyway.
Jane Douglas is a university student and blogger as well as
the mother of seven children. She writes at All the Way Out and Putting Her Oar In.