Pointers March 2017
Pointers Vol 27 no.1
INSIDE THIS ISSUE:
‘Alternative Facts’ and the Tensions between the Social Sciences and Theology
A war of words has broken out between the Trump administration and the mainstream media in the USA over ‘alternative facts’. The initial issue was the size of the crowds at the inauguration. The mainstream media reported that there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than at Obama’s. Their evidence was that 782,000 people had used the Washington Metro system on the day of Obama’s inauguration compared with 570,557 on the day of Trump’s inauguration. Mr Spicer, Trump’s new press secretary, said that 420,000 had used the Metro system on the day of Trump’s inauguration, compared with 317,000 on the day of Obama’s inauguration. The senior White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway, appeared on ‘Meet the Press’ a day later and asserted that Mr Spicer’s figures were simply ‘alternative facts’ (Fandos 2017).
Practical Theology and Contemporary Social Issues
As people of faith, our theology should be evident in our daily lives and in particular should inform our response to contemporary social issues, including those issues that evoke controversy because of their seemingly political nature. There are some Christians who argue that church leaders should not be intervening in the political arena, strongly asserting that politics is the sole domain of elected officials. While it is safe to assume that church leaders from most denominations respect the legitimate role of government. Nonetheless scripture exhorts Christians and Christian leaders to make the church’s prophetic voice known, particularly in matters of injustice. This includes challenging unjust laws and structures that oppress the poor and marginalised. The words of the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus make clear God’s concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. This paper uses a practical theology lens to examine how the Christian church in general is responding to one of the more critical social issues affecting humanity: how we deal with the mass migration of people and, in particular, refugees who are fleeing persecution and conflict.
In the December 2016 edition of Pointers, Wilma Gallet discussed the role which local churches should play in the building up of community (Gallet, 2016). Within youth ministry, local churches provide an important gathering space for young people to experience community. However, in this ‘digital’ age one must also ask further questions in the world: Do youth ministry programs provide true community or simply just provide a space for young people to gather? Can those who connect using alternative network offerings, such as digital technologies, share in community, or can community only happen when we gather together? What is the role of youth ministry in an age where networks are created in very different ways to previous generations?
In response to the increasing mass migration of people across the globe, Pew Research recently undertook a study of 14 countries focusing on how people view the issue of national identity. The study found that relatively few of those interviewed said that national identity is strongly tied to place of birth. Australia was one of six countries where less than 26 per cent of those surveyed felt that in order to truly claim national identity a person had to be born in that country.
A joint Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project in the UK, involving the Centre for Faiths and Public Policy at the University of Chester, and the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths University of London, should be of interest to Australian researchers inquiring into the role of churches and other religious traditions in public life in Australia. The project
Re-imagining Religion and Belief for Public Policy and Political Regeneration has received substantial funding from the relevant tertiary funding body in the UK, in strong contrast to the lack of interest in funding research in this field in Australia. Given that we can’t get funding here for highly relevant research I would suggest that we should make connections with this project to get what benefit we can from its work. This is something that the Public and Contextual Theology (PACT) program at Charles Sturt University might be well placed to explore.
It is now 12 months since the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) released its final report. Chapter 29 of the Report is entitled Faith Communities and provides an overview of the importance of faith communities in providing support to women who experience violence. While being part of a faith community can be a great strength, there are also instances where an inappropriate or lack of response from faith leaders and other members of the faith community can do much damage and harm. There have been instances where woman have been disbelieved or blamed for the abuse they are experiencing. There have been many times where a woman’s effort to seek help has been turned back on her and the only advice given is ‘to be a better wife’ or to ‘not provoke her husband’. There are countless reports of this occurring in many denominations and church leaders need to examine their doctrines to ensure that these do not present a barrier to women seeking help.