As Christmas approaches, journalists’ minds turn to religion, and not always positively as the Uniting Church has found out.

“JESUS WIPED” was the headline in Friday’s Daily Telegraph with the subhead proclaiming “Top Church Losing its Religion”.

The welfare agency once known as UnitingCare rebranded as “Uniting” about a year ago, dropping the church’s cross/dove/boat logo in favour of the plain word “Uniting”. It turns out that a letter to the Church’s NSW/ACT magazine Insights triggered the story.

“I came across a half page (Uniting) advertisement,” Reverend Meredith Williams (a Uniting Church minister) wrote. “Nowhere in the ad was the Uniting Church mentioned, nor even the word ‘church’ to be found.”

“The accusation on the front page of the newspaper that the Church is removing Christ and religious symbols is totally incorrect.” – Stuart McMillan

Who knew the religious press was so powerful.

Today’s story appears to be a sequel to an earlier story published in the Daily Telegraph about child abuse. “Uniting” and other church agencies fared badly in the story of 14-year-old “Girl X” who was badly let down by the out of home care system and died while in “Uniting” care.

The Daily Telegraph oversteps the mark by linking the rebrand of “Uniting” to an attempt remove itself from allegations of child abuse.

The Telegraph clearly got into the story from the child abuse angle.

“An unholy war has broken out within one of the state’s biggest church denominations after it admitted to steering clear of religious symbols and even the word ‘Christ’ as part of a rebranding and new advertising to avoid criticism over child sex abuse.

“Child abuse survivors have criticised the Uniting Church, which has the third biggest Christian following in Australia, for trying to ‘disown’ the past through a ‘culture of denial’.”

…the church’s large welfare arm – the largest in NSW – has dropped the church’s cross/dove/boat from its logo.

The Church has shot back.

“Today’s Daily Telegraph has run a series of inaccurate and vexatious news items about the Uniting Church and our Uniting community services agency in NSW and the ACT,” said Stuart McMillan, president of the Uniting Church of Australia, in a press release.

“The accusation on the front page of the newspaper that the Church is removing Christ and religious symbols is totally incorrect.”

“Uniting,” however, has dropped the church logo from it’s branding. So while the church has not removed its religious symbols, and McMillan is right to point that out, and the Telegraph is wrong, the church’s large welfare arm – the largest in NSW – has dropped the church’s cross/dove/boat from its logo.

McMillan points out that “The Uniting agency in NSW and the ACT states clearly on its website ‘Christ invites us to serve humanity by creating an inclusive, connected and just world’.” But the same statement is not on the large ads the agency has been running.

“Our formal apologies to survivors predate the Royal Commission by many years.” – Stuart McMillan

It is also fair to point out that other church agencies, from other denominations, have rebranded themselves with bland names, such as “Spiritus” and “Benetas”.

A deeper issue than marketing is the issue of child abuse. The Daily Telegraph ran hard on the story of “Girl X”.

McMillan says “Our formal apologies to survivors predate the Royal Commission by many years. Yet the Daily Telegraph takes survivor group comments out of context to conflate an allegation about a ‘culture of denial’.”

The Daily Telegraph oversteps the mark by linking the rebrand of “Uniting” to an attempt remove itself from allegations of child abuse. But it is more than likely the “apologies to child sexual abuse survivors” predate the “Girl X” case. The Uniting Church did not come forward when this case was first reported, and the name of the centre was suppressed. It is likely that the friction between the Daily Telegraph and the Uniting church has its origins in this case.

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Some prayer points to help

  • Pray for healing for survivors of child abuse.
  • Pray for honest journalism, in an age of spin.

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