As a layman who has served on vestries for 45 years, I am most concerned at the pusillanimous approach adopted by the Anglican Church to an issue that strikes at the heart of our Christian culture as well as our material existence.
The terrorists who carried out the Bali massacre on October 12, like the al Qaida assassins who flew the planes into the Pentagon, the World Trade Centre and a Pennsylvania field on September 11 2001, did not do these things because of anything our political leaders did or did not do. They did them because, under their misguided interpretation of the Islamic religion, we are infidels and sinners who have to be destroyed.
Yet after the Bali bombing, Anglican Church of Australia Primate Peter Carnley said "given Australias high profile support of President George Bushs stance in relation to a possible war in Iraq, it was surely only a matter of time before Australian lives were sacrificed in some form of retaliatory action". His statement also left an implication that (mis)behaviour in the Christian world has contributed to terrorist actions.
This reveals a complete misunderstanding of the terrorists hatred of freedom and envy of our success. This hatred is not of freedom in the abstract but of the Christian freedom that has recognized the importance of the individual and , thereby, contributed so much to the improvement in our material existence. It is a freedom that Christians sought, for example, through their militant and aggressive campaign to bring slavery to an end around the world - even in the Muslim world where, unfortunately, it continues today in various forms.
The time has surely come for the Christian church to recognize the centuries of struggle and heroism that created a Christian world with this freedom are being challenged in a way that requires us to defend ourselves with the utmost tenacity. The Osama bin Ladens and Abu Bakar Bashirs of the world are crusaders in the cause of death and destruction, and they have the potential to obtain the weapons that could achieve that.
There is no denying decadence and arrogance exist within the Christian world and there is much undisciplined behaviour. But to acknowledge our sins and the need for improvement is one thing. It should surely not lead us down the mistaken path of in any way accepting that we have brought these destroyers of civilization on ourselves.
That mistake was made by many church and political leaders of the early to mid 1930s in responding to Adolf Hitlers early excursions into conquest and brutality. But today no one questions the justice of the eventual military response to the war that began on Sept 3, 1939, even though it cost millions of lives. In bin Laden we have someone who threatens to be as much a destroyer of the Christian world as Hitler would have been without the military response in 1939.
Revolutionary Islam is on the march and is able to cause great suffering and devastation through the use of random terror. The Christian liberty we have inherited, and upon which our civilisation and our material existence is based, is now under immediate and dire threat. So far our bishops have been silent, or have given aid and comfort to our enemies by admission of guilt.
The lesson of the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, and of the Bolshevik takeover of Czarist Russia in the 1920s, is that we must respond to those who seek to dictate to the world with a vigorous and militant defence of our faith and our civilization and we must do so at the early stages of attack so as to save lives and suffering.
Church leaders should now focus intently on the real evil in the world and on the consequences that would follow from any pretence it can be justified by our sins. They should not hold back because some will see that as an attack on another religion. If they fail in this task, they will become increasingly irrelevant, and the decline of the Anglican Church in Australia will proceed apace.
For too long bishops and archbishops in Australia have been preaching against Western triumphalism and Christian arrogance. Yet today one would be surprised to find triumphalism and arrogance within the church.
Bin Laden and Bashir have thrown down their challenge. We must fight across all fronts religious, cultural, and economic. But, regrettable as it may seem to some in the Church, the exercise of military power is also essential. This battle will not be quickly or easily won. But if we are to win it, the Christian church must join in the militant defence of our common Christian heritage.
Peter Howson was a federal minister in the Menzies, Holt, McEwen and McMahon Coalition governments.