The other day Simon asked the question, via Twitter, "Why is the church so silent on current wars?" David, who keeps an internet connection in his back pocket, got the message via his iphone, and since we were in a cafe drinking various hot substances, we got to talking about it.
I came to the conclusion that the church isn't terribly loud about anything, really. The times have changed since the days when journalists would sit on the top balcony overlooking the sanctuary of Collins St Baptist Church, furiously taking notes on the sermon so it could be reported in Monday's paper. In those days, the church really did have a voice, and people actually cared about what was said on a Sunday morning.
These days, nobody cares what is preached from the pulpit - beyond the congregation (if you're lucky). Nor does the media care to consult the church as to what it thinks on certain issues. The most we get, in terms of a public voice from the church, is the voice of particular charismatic leaders from within the church, who are animated and know how to play the media game. Ones that come to mind are Father Bob and Danny Nahlia (controversial pastor from Catch the Fire Ministries) - and, when he was serving in the church, Tim Costello.
Things might be different in Sydney, where you have the likes of George Pell and Peter Jensen who, David tells me, are weighty political players. I don't think we have an equivalent in Melbourne.
What we do have down here, however, are active Christian groups that try to influence public policy. Some are NGO and welfare-type groups, like Urban Seed, Sacred Heart Mission and TEAR Australia, and these groups often have a public voice. The other type is the Christian political pressure groups, like Salt Shakers and Australian Christian Lobby. The former generally speaks for the left; the latter almost always speaks for the right.
The churches themselves don't provide the public voice, but it's these extra-church groups, usually made up of church members, that do the talking, or else, like I said before, the charismatic church leaders that are few and far between.
David says that the churches don't have time to be a public voice, and I tend to agree. They are spending all their time trying to figure out how they can be relevant to our society, how to get people through the doors and how to look after people (or cynical version: stay attractive) so that people stick around.
Talking about the war is the last thing on their list of priorities.
So who's going to talk about the war? Salt Shakers certainly won't, nor will Danny Nahlia (they're concerned about more pressing issues like stopping gay people from getting married). The archbishops of Sydney are way conservative and probably support the war, so they won't do it. Father Bob might, and possibly already has. Tim Costello has joined a Christian NGO and won't because World Vision doesn't want to piss off too many people. In fact the majority of Christian NGOs and welfare groups are in the same boat - they don't want to lose key supporters especially when their mandate isn't protesting against war but conducting international development or serving hot meals to homeless people. When they speak publicly or lobby, they tend to speak within the area in which they work.
Which leaves, you guessed it, just you and me (and maybe Father Bob). But in another sense, we are the church, so perhaps the church isn't so silent after all?