Protest movements such the people taking to the streets to “sack ScoMo” and advocate for action on climate change should be more like churches, says an opinion writer in the Canberra Times.
“What if we directed the big burst of energy from protests into smaller, more frequent gatherings?” asks Michael Bones, a climate activist based in the ACT.
“What if a life lived in protest involved taking time out every weekend to gather and serve your local community? To join together under a more unified story, young and old, to sing songs, read ancient wisdom literature, mediate, serve the poor, and develop dense networks with people beyond our immediate interest groups? Because that’s what conservative religious organisations – arguably some of the most powerful and protected groups in Australia – are doing.”
They make music, share food, read, pray and play.
He looks at churches, especially conservative ones, and sees resilient self-funded organisations that build real connection between people.
“In spite of dogma, religious communities offer positive mental health benefits. According to social researcher Hugh Mackay, community service, faith in something larger than oneself, and creative expression are all calm balms to anxiety. So, in the wake of the bushfire crisis, while we progressives stoke our anger, vent on social media and get more stressed and depressed, they use ancient practices to care for souls. They make music, share food, read, pray and play, all the while reinforcing their core beliefs.”
Bones sees that small local churches as well as the very large ones raise an extraordinary amount of money to keep going. He over-estimates our generosity somewhat, taking tithing more literally than most Christians do. Christian giving in evangelical and Pentecostal churches runs in the 3 per cent range, according to Eternity‘s analysis of church annual reports. But his point is well made. Churches raise enough money to fund staff in towns and suburbs all across the country. New churches are planted; new building are built. Looking in from outside, Bones makes no bones – he is impressed.
We need to get smarter.
“Progressive change is hard in Australia. But instead of blaming conservative people who think differently to us, let’s look in the mirror. Our only ritual is the protest. We stomp and shout and wave painted slogans on cardboard to grieve horrific national disasters. How strange this is. And then we demand removal of the person who, despite his foibles, has lawfully achieved the highest possible office in our democracy, thus ensuring we repel some large portion of people we would like to persuade, and further eroding trust in our most treasured institutions.
“Don’t blame right-wing religious people for being more organised, generous and active than us. We need to get smarter. Let’s learn from how they build spiritual community, and start doing it. Because it’s good for wellbeing, and it works.”