CULTURE | Mike Wong
Friday 23 October 2015
Forget the big statements and gestures by national Christian leaders, it is the intimate and intriguing production Quiet Faith, by playwright David Williams, which gives voice to Australian Christians and raises important questions simmering beneath the surface. What is the place of the church in public debate? How should individual Christians play a part? How does faith express itself in life?
Quiet Faith is held in the round. We sit on benches laid out in concentric circles, candles dotted sporadically, a halo of neon light suspended above our heads. It has an air of spirituality about it. We gaze at service sheets with the words of Amazing Grace and the Lord’s Prayer. The attendee next to me wonders whether it will be interactive; they seem slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being involved. We notice the soft sounds of church bells and chanting. Two performers stand, Ashton Malcolm and David Williams himself.
For the next 70 minutes, Quiet Faith effortlessly splices together the interview responses from twenty Australian Christians. Williams and Malcolm glide through the concentric circles, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing. Each moment they convey a different voice and a different experience: an eight year-old girl kicked out of church; a woman judged by Christians for getting a divorce; a man who received a vision; a doctor sharing about an Imam and his visa troubles; a couple who baptised a dead baby; a pastor perplexed that reportedly 95% of material from the Australian Christian Lobby addresses gay marriage.
At moments throughout the performance, the audience is allowed to catch their breath by listening to music, or sitting in darkness, or saying a prayer. During one interlude we sing Amazing Grace, but a few people shift uncomfortably. It’s just like being in church. At one point, Williams says The Peace and walks around shaking hands. At another time, Malcolm breaks into Awesome God, arms raised, and one or two people feel compelled to join in while the rest sit awkwardly.
Is Williams trying to simply survey the religious landscape? Is there an agenda? There are at least three ideas that deserve our attention.
First, Quiet Faith shows that we’re confused about the place of faith in the public sphere. Christians don’t agree on a coherent vision for living out our faith. We might want to speak out about the government’s refugee policy, or express our argument against redefining marriage, but how do we do that? Perhaps more importantly, why should we do that?
Second, if Quiet Faith is an accurate reflection of the religious landscape, then Australian Christianity is entangled with postmodern ideology. Each story, each character, seems to represent an equally valid opinion. If there is any sense of authoritative truth, it appears to rest in ourselves. There was some mention of what Jesus thinks, and how Jesus might act, but there was no mention of submitting to the authority of the Bible.
Third, Williams gives voice to Australian Christians in deliberate contrast to those who represent Christianity in the public space. Why? Is there a problem with the voices of our Christian leaders? We trust our leaders to represent us, even if they don’t hold the exact views we hold.
Quiet Faith is a thoroughly thought-provoking experience. Williams raises many important questions that stand behind the current war of words. And he’s right. We do need to rethink the place of faith in the public sphere.
Mike Wong is the pastor of church@nine, a congregation of the Albury Presbyterian Churches.