Australia: Interview with Tom Slater, Evangelical Alliance Director by Christian Today Australia

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Christian Today Australia recently caught up with Tom Slater, the National Director of the Australian Evangelical Alliance, to give a brief wrap-up of what has been on with the ministry for th
By: Christian Today Australia
Posted: Wednesday, 26 December 2007, 7:41 (EST)
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Christian Today Australia recently caught up with Tom Slater, the National Director of the Australian Evangelical Alliance, to give a brief wrap-up of what has been on with the ministry for the year.

C.T.: What has been a highlight for you over the 10 years since you started working in the Australian Evangelical Alliance?

T.S.: I think it has been the growth of the evangelical contribution in Australia. This is evident in the form of their contribution to the public debate, to public affairs, and to the church as a whole. Without wanting to boast in anyway whatsoever, I think many of the initiatives have been taken and most of the growth area in the church has been under the broad umbrella of evangelical, and that includes Pentecostal as well. So that is the big thing. I think that evangelicalism has ‘come of age’ in a new way here in Australia.

C.T: What is the most significant event that has occurred in the EA over this year?

T.S.: For me, it has been the formation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Alliance (NATSICA) which met in Alice Springs in July. It is not directly an EA thing but it has come about partly as the fruit of the effort of EA, together with TEAR and World Vision, to support and work with Aboriginal Christian leaders.

The fact that NATSICA was able to conduct a meeting to response to the Federal Government intervention in the Northern Territory, and get a terrific group of people working together in a short time, signalled to me that the effort put in has been worthwhile.

C.T.: Why do you believe there has been such a big focus on Indigenous affairs this year from the Federal Government?

T.S.: I think the publication of the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report has been the catalyst for it. Those who are cynical with the Federal Government intervention – and I must say that I am quite sympathetic to this viewpoint - believe it was at least partly political motivated.

The reason I believe this is the case is that the action undertaken by the government was not in accordance with the recommendations made by the report. So, it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the government was trying to score points as far as they could. The fact is the conditions the Indigenous community faces are tremendously stressful. Furthermore, many good Indigenous communities are under-resourced and have been neglected by government.

There is a need for urgent action but at the same time the government must recognise the solutions are not all the same in every community. There are many different ways of tackling the problems faced by Indigenous communities.
A problem is getting the government to listen to the Indigenous people and really consult with them about the solution. You know, the issue of child sex-abuse is quite explosive, especially those emerging in Cape York. These issues are real and terrible and something needs to be done. But, the timing in the lead up to the Federal Election, after years of ignored reports and proposals, suggests a political agenda behind the intervention.

C.T.: What is the EA plan for next year?

T.S.: The ministry will use next year as a period of consolidation because we have expanded rapidly over the last few years. We added two new branches to our work, known as Christian Management Australia and the Public Theology work, and recently we have also launched the ‘Engage’ network.

We really need to consolidate the ministry and fit the different parts to each other so we can maximise the advantage of having all of them under the one umbrella.

The other thing is Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) general-secretary, is visiting Australia to spend three weeks in June so we look forward to welcoming him and introducing him to key church leaders and key people in government.

C.T.: Next year the WEA will be meeting in Thailand. Will the EA participate?

T.S.: There will be a number of people going to the WEA general assembly next year and we are hopeful that one of us will have the opportunity to present a paper on mission. Mission is something that happens at every level. That includes local level, national level, and the overseas cross-cultural mission.

C.T.: Do you have a Christmas message which you wish to send to Australians?

T.S.: My message to Australians is for them to get closer to what Christmas is really about. One practical way of doing that is to purchase from the TEAR gift catalogue. The reason is that it gets people out of the mentality of buying something which they don’t need, and for people who don’t need it. It reminds them of real needs and gives them the thrill of parting with some money to people who really need it.

Another thing for Australians not to forget is that Christmas must be understood in the light of Good Friday. The coming of Jesus Christ pointed to the cosmic clash of good and evil in which God triumphed through the life and death of His own son. In all the joy and good tiding of Christmas, this is confronting the power of darkness and evil and overcoming both of them.