On Friday, the Uniting Church in Australia turned 35 years old. This week, I’ve been re-reading Baptism of Fire, John Harrison’s book about the first decade of the life of our church.
I came across these wonderful quotes, from the year after the church’s formation:
The Premier, Mr Bjelke-Petersen, said today many Christians were deeply disturbed at trends in the Uniting Church in Queensland. He said they were concerned at the way the church was being manipulated into supporting left wing causes. Dwindling congregations showed the church was losing what moral influence it had left. The church was also closely associated with causes being promoted by the Communist Party, atheists and humanists. – Qld Premier’s Department news release 1978.
We who are nourished in the brilliant insight of the Bible, who are the heritors of Calvin, Knox, Cromwell and Wesley, need no political parties, socialist or otherwise, to form our minds on the proper liberties of Christian subjects. – Qld UCA Moderator Rev Rollie Busch, 1978.
The issue under debate at the time, was the handing over of church mission stations to state control. The church wanted the indigenous residents of those communities involved in decisions regarding how their communities would be run – the government simply wanted to take over without reference to anyone. At stake was the continuing access to the natural resources (bauxite, etc) which the government had been selling to mining companies, without returning anything to the communities.
Our origins as a church were embroiled in controversy. Even the inauguration and induction of the first president was met with protest by an anti-ecumenical group.
Throughout the last 35 UCA has throughout the years risked controversy in its struggle to do what faith and theology have told us was right. Through that time, lots of people have echoed Sir Joh Bejlke-Petersen in predicting the decline and end of the church. Comments like “last one out, turn off the lights,” have been made again and again. Yet, we’re still here. And we will still stand up for what faith, informed with sound theology, will tell us is right.
Happy Birthday, to a courageous, faithful, and daring church.
Grace and peace
Reference: HARRISON, John. Baptism of Fire: The First Ten Year of the Uniting Church in Australia. Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1986.