Father Rod Bower is an Anglican priest in Gosford who shot to national fame for the way he presents ideas about social justice through the signs he puts on the board outside his church and the messages he sends via social media, writes Julie Houghton.
What led you to the priesthood and what drives you?
God’s call to the priesthood came to me via a search for identity. I was adopted and spent most of my younger years in a search for who I was. During that process I began to find my true self and also discovered a calling to ministry.
Prior to that I spent 12 years in the meat industry, as my family are graziers. The life and teachings of Jesus drive me. I have been studying and praying with the scriptures for more than 30 years and I have never run out of new insights and fresh inspiration.
Why is social justice so important?
Jesus spoke of little else apart from the Kingdom of God, which for him is to be established on Earth. This Kingdom, in his mind, clearly has a component of justice for the poor and marginalised. In fact, this Kingdom cannot come without the establishment of social justice.
How influential are your signs?
The sign is a small cog in a very big wheel. There are many wonderful people doing all kinds of things to make our world a better place. I like to think we are a part of this ‘Kingdom’ movement. I know that copies of the signs are up on noticeboards in many government departments in Canberra, so I hope that they may help people who make decisions on our behalf to have a mind for those most in need.
Do the authorities ever regard you as a ‘troublesome priest’?
I am sure some politicians wish I would go away and there have been attempts to put pressure on the bishop to silence me, but so far he has always been supportive of me remaining part of the national conversation on things that really matter from a Christian perspective.
Are you putting yourself in danger by speaking out?
Yes, I have had death threats.
What kind of emotional impact does speaking out have for you?
The social media trolls can take their toll, so we have to practise a pretty disciplined regimen of self-care. We have people who protect us spiritually through prayer. However. there are some highs, as others are inspired to try to make a difference in their patch of the world. Occasionally we have people reconsider a long abandoned Christian faith or perhaps consider it for the first time.
What approach should we be taking with refugees, as that is often the topic on your board?
We could do much better than we are. The first step must be for the major political parties to stop using refugees as a political football and show some bipartisan leadership that is humane and compassionate. We can and must increase our intake to 30,000 per year.
If we are to continue to turn back boats (against international conventions) we at least have to increase our support to the UNHCR in Indonesia. We absolutely must close Manus and Nauru, bringing those asylum seekers and refugees to Australia. Experts are clear that this will now have no impact on boat arrivals and we must find a way to address the extreme damage we have inflicted on these people.
Are you making a difference and how does your congregation feel about what you are doing?
I don’t feel that I am personally making a difference but I do feel part of something bigger that is making a difference. I know we have made a real difference in the lives of individuals who we have helped.
Our congregation is largely supportive of the work we do. Some have left but many more have joined us because they are inspired by and supportive of our kind of applied theology.
What would you like on your gravestone one day?
Husband, father and priest to the edges.