What do Australians dislike most about the church?
In a recent blog, we looked at the things Aussies love about the church and there’s quite a lot. I wished the story ended there, but it’s only half the picture. There are several things that Australians dislike about Christians and the church. I’m grateful for research such as McCrindle’s Faith and Belief in Australia Report because it helps us to be aware of these things and to avoid unnecessarily offending people.
What Do Aussies Dislike about the Church?
The number one turnoff is “hearing from public figures and celebrities who are examples of that faith.” It’s not that people don’t appreciate a person who has faith; it’s that they don’t welcome that faith being thrust upon them without invitation.
We’ve seen both good and bad examples of this in recent times in Australia. We have a Christian Prime Minister. Scott Morrison’s faith is a well-known fact, but, by his admission, he doesn’t mix his religion with politics. He realises, rightly, that he’s employed to be a politician, not a preacher.
A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes featured an interview with Nic Vujicic and it was evident that the interviewer, Peter Overton, has great respect for Nic and his family, as he was deeply moved during the interview. Peter described Nic as a “Christian evangelical pastor who is spreading a message of hope all around the world.” Nic has endeared himself to millions of people being a man whose faith has helped him rise above incredible adversity. He comes across as authentic, fun-loving, and cheeky, and many people adore him, even if they are not followers of Jesus themselves.
The Other Side of the Coin
Contrast Scott Morrison and Nic Vujicic with some of the other “Christian” voices we’ve heard over the past few years. People (and so-called Christian organisations) that come across as moralising, condemning and condescending. They are invariably bearers of bad news rather than the good news of the gospel, and they irritate and repel people from the Christian faith. Their intentions may be good, but the results of their words and actions cause people to roll their eyes and walk away.
Living in the Shadows of Church Abuse
Right now, Australians (as well as people from other nations) are particularly sensitive to Christians being a self-appointed moral voice, because of the negative influence of church abuse. For years we’ve been hearing awful accounts of child abuse at the hands of church leaders. At the same time, the church’s main message during the same-sex marriage debate was a negative one. Try and see this the way the average Aussie would: Church leaders abuse children, church leaders cover it up and church leaders dictate what two adults of the same gender can or can’t do in the privacy of their relationship. The hypocrisy is deafening.
Christianity’s Biggest Blocker
It’s no surprise then that the biggest blocker to Christianity in Australia is the church’s stance and teaching on homosexuality. Second to this is the question of how a loving God could allow people to go to hell, questions about the reliability and validity of the Bible, and the church’s attitude to women in ministry.
Some quarters of the church continue to handle these topics poorly, cherry-picking verses that exclude people from church or ministry while ignoring other texts that address sins that may be a little too close to home. Sins such as gluttony, greed, and gossip spring to mind. It’s no wonder that 44% of Australians say they don’t value anything about the church.
Let’s Face the Facts
I believe the church in Australia would do well to imitate the example of Abraham, who “without weakening in his faith … faced the fact that his body was as good as dead” (Romans 4:19). Let’s own it, let’s face the fact, the church has made some big mistakes in the past, and we’re sorry.
In the future, we want to serve others and not just preach to them. We want to earn the right to be heard again. We desire to create communities of faith that welcome all people who God loves and for whom Jesus died. We will value the gifts of women to teach and preach the gospel, just like so many women in the New Testament did. We will encourage people to ask questions and express doubts. We will admit that many of us are uncomfortable with the thought of a loving God allowing people to be condemned to hell for time without end.
McCrindle’s research shows that some people feel there’s a disparity between the church and the Jesus that the church claims to represent. I agree.
This was brought home to me recently when I officiated at a wedding for a close friend. He’s an agnostic, and most of his family are atheists. I counted it such a privilege to be asked to perform the wedding, and respected the space I was in. During the day, I discovered there were a small number of Christian family members present. They were easy to spot at the reception. They were the ones sitting along the wall with sour looks on their faces while the rest of us danced, chatted, and had fun. Sadly, that’s often the picture Aussies have of the church, sometimes they’re not wrong!
Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving faith community located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.
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