Stephen McAlpine: Don’t Let Your Church Be A Hanoi Jane

Stephen McAlpine has some solid warnings on the “two-speed church.” Well worth reading.

Don’t Let Your Church be a Hanoi Jane

Once again The Australian newspaper’s Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan has hit the nail on the head, in an insightful article today, entitledChristian churches drifting too far from the marketplace of ideas.

His opening lines are a cracker:

Australia’s Christian churches are in crisis, on the brink of complete strategic irrelevance. It’s not clear they recognise the mortal depth of their problems.

The churches need a new approach to their interaction with politics and the public debate, and to keeping themselves relevant in a post-Christian Australian society.

I wish I’d said as much myself.  Hey, Ididsay as much myself.  It’s a year ago this week since I wrotemy most read post ever, with dealt with this question exactly. And that post has raised a lot of good conservations in the past twelve months, taking it to a level of debate and push back that I had not envisaged.

Now, as an aside, there was a distinct possibility raised earlier this week that Greg Sheridan was going to ask my opinion on these issues, as he has been reading my articles recently, but I guess he had enough to go on.  But if he had, I guess I would havea)succumbed to hubris and,b)told him what I am about to say now.

And it’s this:

Just as there has been a two-speed-economy here in my home city of Perth during the now, sadly, historical commodities boom, there is a two speed religious economy in Christendom recently, and only one speed will survive our cultural malaise.

The slow speed religious economy is headed for disaster.  And it is made up of two groups; traditionalists and progressives.

The traditionalists have pretty much aligned with the state down the years, and include such behemoths as the Catholic Church. It is this group that Sheridan has in his sights when he memorably states:

The churches cannot recognise and come to grips with their strategic circumstances. They behave as though they still represent a living social consensus.

They remind me of South Vietnam’s government in 1974. It over-estimated its strength and tried to hang on to all of its territory, including the long narrow neck of its north. It did not retreat to its formidable heartland in the south, which would have been vastly more defensible. Had it done so, it might have survived. Instead, the next year, the armoured divisions of North Vietnam invaded and Saigon lost everything.

These lumbering giants are dying the death of a thousand cuts as they fail to realise how much the culture has shifted against them.  As Sheridan points out, less than 10 per cent of Australian Catholics attend Mass on a given week, down from 74 % in 1954.

But for every foolish South Vietnamese general who fails to see the writing on the wall, there is always a treacherous Hanoi Jane on your own side who will dig the knife in a little further, right?

Hollywood pin-up girl Jane Fonda earned the nomenclature “Hanoi Jane” for her support for the communist North Vietnamese as they steamrollered all in their path on the way to victory.

And so the slow-speed-economy church today has the Hanoi Jane of the progressive, post-evangelical churches, along with the pretty-much-moribund Uniting Church and Anglican Church (save for some noble exceptions).

These Hanoi Jane churches are unlike the “vegetable love” of the traditionalists, in that they are onlyminutely slower than the culture.

How much slower? About two seconds slower.  The culture jumps in one direction, be that ethical or whatever, and these Hanoi Janes’ suddenly find voice, scampering around and shouting “Me too! Me too!” to whoever is bored enough to be listening to them.

And all this despite clear evidence that this reactive approach to the cultural zeitgeist has been an abject failure for almost a century!  Hanoi Jane churches would rather die than stand for any gospel convictions. And die they will. History has borne that out.

Read the rest of the article here


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