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Aliens and Exiles in a Strange Land – Living as a Christian in Contemporary Western Culture

Monday, 4 February 2013  | Peter Corney

“How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137) [1]

Our position of being the majority or controlling influence on culture has changed to one of minority or marginalised status. There has been a mocking thread in the arts and in popular media for a long time but we are now also often viewed with suspicion, and as a result of the recent uncovering of large scale sexual abuse in the church even despised. There are regular attacks by aggressive secularists on what they perceive as our undemocratic privileges like Christian Religious Education in State schools and Federal funding for Church schools. Aggressive and militant Atheism of the Richard Dawkins style is also a new development. While this hostility may be the expression of a vocal minority and common among overly influential secular liberal journalists, it nevertheless sets a tone in the general culture which has results like the passing of overly zealous religious vilification laws that can stifle free and open debate.

Because of the curriculum and the way history has been taught in schools in recent years there is a staggering and wide spread ignorance of the Christian foundations of our culture and its values by the media class and the debt that our current liberal values owe to that heritage. This, coupled with the embracing of “cultural relativism” [2] by many of our so called educated commentators and public policy makers, leads to the downplaying and relativising of our heritage.

There is also a trend politically to marginalise Christian morality and religious considerations, to push them into the private space and exclude them from the public discourse. This has been the result of many factors one being the way minority interest groups have successfully organised politically to pressure government for decisions that are out of all proportion to their real size in the national profile[3], these decisions are then imposed on the vast majority. Governments in a media driven culture frequently make knee jerk reactions to remain popular rather than take more difficult but responsible decisions for the long term interest of the nation. Once again the influence of journalists, academics and public commentators, whose views are often not really representative and who are in reality a tiny percentage of the population, have an effect that is out of all proportion to their size.

These trends coupled with the inexorable and radical relaxation of censorship standards in film, television, and popular media, the general coarsening of our culture and the ready availability online of pornography and violence and the most graphic forms of human degradation leave Christians with a feeling of deep alienation from their culture.

Some of these trends may be inevitable as we have developed into a pluralist multicultural society based on secular liberal democratic principles. The question for contemporary Christians in Australian society today is - how we are to live, work, develop family life, recreate and vote in this society, and generally act as agents for the Kingdom of God and its values?  

The following are 12 principles and directions that could constructively guide our actions and attitudes:

  1. Remember the first century Christians. They were a minority in a violent and cruel pagan culture but because of the way they loved, served, taught, argued and lived a set of values and beliefs that were superior ethically and philosophically to the paganism around them; they eventually changed a whole culture. Convictions like their belief in the precious value and equality of every individual human life made in the image of God was revolutionary and in the end culturally transforming.

  2. We must continue to proclaim the Gospel in every way we can, respectfully but confidently so that individuals come to faith in Christ and the Church grows.

  3. We must live out the values and life style of the Kingdom of God in our lives as individuals, families and Christian communities.  

  4. We must develop strong distinctive Christian communities that preserve and pass on our values and beliefs and are models of care, love, compassion, mutual responsibility and commitment to one another, but are also open and engaged with our society.

  5. We must live out Kingdom values in our daily jobs and the voluntary responsibilities we may take up in the general community.

  6. Where we have opportunity to influence public policy we need to argue our case reasonably and persuasively in the public discourse, not imposing our values but arguing for their general applicability and value for the health and general good of the community.

  7. Where legitimate political avenues exist in our liberal democracy we should use those avenues to forward the values of the Kingdom of God, just as others forward theirs.

  8. We should seek office in organisations that influence and set cultural agendas; educational bodies, professional associations, arts councils, political structures at municipal, state and federal levels.

  9. We should be active in producing art, literature, plays, films, music and philosophy that reflects the Christian worldview.

  10. We should be active in pioneering new forms of care, compassion and social justice for the sick, powerless and marginalised in our society.

  11. While being active in State education we should also strengthen and develop new Christian educational institutions.

  12. Attitude is a key. Because of the importance of Christianity in the history of our culture we can come across as people with a ‘majority attitude’ even though we now have a ‘minority status’. This can be perceived as arrogant and presumptuous. While we must not surrender the heritage but continue to educate and explain its foundational nature in our cultures core values, we must do so without arrogance. The ideas must stand on their own feet, their only ally being the quality of our lives.






[1] Psalm 137 “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept…” Composed by the People of God when in exile in Babylon in the 8th Cent. B.C.

[2] See the article on the website <petercorney.com> “Christianity’s Radical Challenge to Cultural Relativism.”

[3] The 2001 Aus. Census showed that 99.53% of Aus. couples identify as heterosexual; 0.26% as Gay; 0.21% as Lesbian (ABS)


David Spitteler
February 5, 2013, 7:13AM
G'day Peter,

A timely, and well written article, which provides a broader view of what can be seen by many as a rather narrow view of the Gospel.

In my work with The Asylum Seekers Centre, I have the opportunity to speak in many different situations e.g.Sunday February 3rd at Holy Trinity Hampton Park, followed by two Rotary Club Meetings at Cranbourne on February 5th and Endeavour Hills on February 7th. This provides many opportunities to "give an account of my Faith", with many positive forms of feedback.

Sadly, it also prompts opposition, or at best, a lukewarm and indifferent response from others within the Church. As I wrote in an article some time ago, "we are more likely to be shot down by someone within our own trenches, than by the opposition".

Thankfully, the balance is very positive, and gives me the encouragement needed to continue "in the front line"

Keep up the good work!!!.
John Yates
February 5, 2013, 10:53AM
There is nothing in this article I disagree with, it is a serious and well studied document. I believe however that it contains a serious and foundational omission. The first Christians lived transformatory lives because they were encountered by the Spirit of Jesus; principles, however true, without the vital indwelling presence of "Jesus", whose name is not mentioned in this article, are abstractions lacking the power to overcome the evil which abounds all around us. The great need of the Church in Australia is to turn back to Christ.
Ian Robinson
February 5, 2013, 2:01PM
Thanks again Peter and ETHOS for succint and strong directions, Just a clarification this time - Your article says 12 principles but I can only enumerate ten? Was it a late revision or did i miss something?
Ian Packer (ETHOS)
February 5, 2013, 3:06PM
Ian, yes, there are 12 though I'm not sure why the numbering is not coming through. A pox on the software!
Vic Lipski
February 5, 2013, 4:05PM
Thank you for this article. Two thoughts came to mind as I read the principles and actions - one almost immediately, both related to internal Christian matters, but both with external consequences. First, practical costly love towards fellow-travellers in the faith will make some people more accepting of Christian faith: in an age of declining central welfare some will notice thoughtfully the welfare Christians offer to other Christians. Second, Christian worship can be a profoundly, almost unnoticed, life-changing practice. When Christians gather to concentrate on God (rather than on each other and ordinary group interests) and to express through Scripture, creed, prayer, and preaching their reliance on and obedience to God the Sovereign Lord, there is the possibility that congregational life will be renewed and strengthened and outward-looking -- precisely because the congregation begins to live out its life of service to God both in worship and in the costly love its members show to one another.
Warren Hodge
February 12, 2013, 2:36PM
In reading this article and the responses to it, I think Peter Corney's concluding paragraph is most important. It is as we hold firmly to our faith in the public arena in a humble (and creatively engaging) way, relying upon the "quality of our lives", that will have the most transforming and redemptive outcomes. Sincere worship gatherings and true Jesus-following behaviour will indeed feed and enlighten such "quality lives".
Nils von Kalm
February 14, 2013, 11:49AM
John Yates, I strongly agree with you. It is by the indwelling Spirit of God empowering us to do right when our human nature tends to drag us the other way, that we are able to affect the societal change we seek.

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