Are we still throwing Christians into the lion's den?
Are we still throwing Christians into the lion's den? Thinkstock

Still throwing Christians into the lion's den in 2016?

ARE Australia's Christian churches on the brink of 'complete strategic irrelevance', as Greg Sheridan argued in the Australian on the weekend?

I'm not so sure.

One thing I'm convinced about, however, is that they certainly need a new approach in terms of the way they interact with politics and public debate.

Almost 30 years ago, as a university student, I wrote a piece on the failure of the church in the mass media.

I remember interviewing a newspaper editor and asking him whether he considered the church to be newsworthy.

He replied if they were still throwing Christians into the lion's den they might be. 

I think he was joking. But 30 years on, I'm not so sure.

It seems throwing Christians into the lion's den of public opinion has become something of a national sport.

But lets face it, some Christians also provide plenty of fodder for the media.

Too often, the most hate-filled voices dominate, while the huge work the church does on a daily basis is largely overlooked.

Think for a minute of the charities, nursing homes, schools, respite services, and crisis lines that have a Christian foundation.

Yet while Christianity is booming in Africa, Asia and South America, it has fallen out of favour in the west - for some replaced by the gods of materialism and consumerism.

This is clearly demonstrated in the 2011 Census figures where almost 4.8 million Australians professed 'no religion'.

That's one in five Australians - compared to just one in 250 just 100 years earlier.

Yet 13 million of us still identify as Christian.

So is the Christian viewpoint on gay marriage, the rise of Islam, abortion, birth control, sex education in schools, completely irrelevant?

Hardly.

Many of the values that Australia - and indeed many western countries- have been built upon come from Christianity.

And it is the fundamental right of anyone - whether a same-sex marriage proponent or Christian - to fight for what they believe in.

It is the right of the church - and Christians - to champion their view on marriage and other moral issues.

It is the nature of any belief system that you should not be expected to change your view simply because others have.

What is disturbing, however, is the way that Christians are being subjected to increasing attacks and even ridicule for their beliefs.

They are condemned for their intolerance by those who refuse to tolerate a traditional, conservative view.

Beliefs that have been in place for hundreds of years are expected to change overnight.

As Sheridan points out, the increasing danger facing the church and Christian schools is they will be forced to adopt practices that are completely contrary to their beliefs.

Could we see Christian schools, for example, be forced to teach the Safe Schools program, hire non-Christian teachers and make allowances for transgender students or lose their funding?

The Greens, for example, have called for an end to the exemption for religious bodies from the operation of anti-discrimination laws.

It is a direct attack on religious freedom.

Will churches also be denied the right to promote viewpoints, even if they are expressed in a temperate and respectful way, as Catholic bishops did in their pamphlet Don't Mess with Marriage.

The reality for too many Australians is that their experience of 'the church' is limited to what they see in the media.

They have seen the shocking abuses of children by Catholic priests - the sort of stuff that has also sickened many Christians.

They see dreary depictions of dull Easter and Christmas masses.

The church is not seen as a place of vibrancy and excitement - even though there is plenty of evidence of that for those who want to look a little deeper.

The real challenge for the church is demonstrate its relevancy, not just on moral issues, but in mainstream Australian life.

It must be promoted as a place for connection, for community, for friendship and for service to the greater community - something that many churches are, week in, week out.



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