Their parents not approving the game, the young couple moved first to England, where Raffel and one of his two sisters were born, then to Canada, too cold for a family from the tropics. In 1972 they moved to Sydney. Six months after their arrival, her father died of a heart attack. Raffel’s mother was alone in a foreign country with three children.
They lived in Carlingford, in the northwest of the city, where Raffel attended the local high school. “After my sister left, I was the only non-white person in the whole school,” he recalled. On the school’s debate team, he argued against his future wife, Cailey. Children said their Buddhist prayers at night, and when Wat Buddharangsee opened in the western interior in 1975, they attended on special days, such as the anniversary of his father’s death.
He remembers his mother as a woman of deep integrity, compassion, and independence. “[She had] a Buddhist sense of caring for the poor,” he says. She threw parties for children at what was then known as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, an act of charity that would rack up merit for her late husband. “The Buddhist idea is that you can do good deeds and then entrust good karma to that person,” says Raffel. “It was an expression of his faith.”
When Raffel was in his third year of an arts law degree at the University of Sydney, he decided to deepen his understanding of his faith. He bent over the books in the temple library. He meditated. And he was thinking about the metaphysics of rebirth. “I was very committed to the program, so to speak…the form of ethics around wisdom and compassion and the Eightfold Path.”
That summer, he went on vacation with friends. One, medical student Andrew Shead – now head of Old Testament and Hebrew at Moore College – told him that as a Christian he had given up control of his life. to Jesus. The idea “surprised” Raffel. “I had never heard anyone say such a thing. As a Buddhist, I was trying to cultivate some sort of control over my aspirations, ambitions, and motivations, not to mention relationships.
Shead gave him two gospels to read. Raffel read Mark the next day. This is the shortest and most action-packed gospel. The weeks passed. Then, one restless night when the heat kept him awake, he decided to keep his promise to Shead and read the other one.
John’s is the most poetic gospel. It begins with a line – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – which reminded Raffel of a fairy tale. He continued to read. “You get a very strong sense of [Jesus’] personality. You don’t understand this when you read the Buddhist scriptures… [Jesus is] a very endearing character. The message was that Jesus divides. This made Raffel think about which side of the fracture he was on.
That hot summer night, he became a Christian. Believers would say the Holy Spirit was at work. “I just thought, well, that’s what I have to do. I will follow Jesus.
The arrival of goat and chicken curries, aubergine masala, dhal makhani, garlic naan and mango chutney brings us back to the present when, in Sydney, seven Manly players make headlines by refusing to wear a rainbow jersey because of their religion and, On the other side of the world, Anglican bishops attend their conference once a decade in LambethEngland, to discuss challenges facing the church, such as the disagreement over same-sex marriage.
Simply put, the fault line is between progressive Anglicans – most of whom are found in the Northern Hemisphere and parts of Australia – and the socially and theologically conservative communities of the Global South. Unlike Catholics, Anglicans have no central papal authority. It’s more like a family. And like many families, they can disagree and drift apart, to the point that some don’t show up for reunions anymore.
Sydney has not attended Lambeth, and has not since the late 1990s. When it comes to women and same-sex marriage, Sydney Anglicans align themselves firmly with the south. “These are heroic and joyful churches,” says Raffel. The diocese is a member of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), which is dominated by African countries and seeks to protect and proclaim “the unchanging truth in a changing world”. As divisions between Anglicans over same-sex marriage and women grow, some believe the Australian church will be irrevocably divided and formally divided.
Critics argue that the Sydney team takes the Bible too literally. Raffel disagrees. He doesn’t believe it’s magic, and sticking a pin in a random verse will provide an answer to the problem of the day. But he believes that when the Old Testament, Gospels and Epistles are consistent on an issue, like marriage between a man and a woman, then that’s it.
“This teaching…has been vindicated,” he says. “Jesus is kind of a counterculture, and he was in his day. And I think it’s fair to say that the Christians who have had the biggest impact are probably the ones who are willing to stay with Jesus. Even when it was culturally inconvenient, he knows that many Christians find this position hurtful, and he “regrets and laments” their pain.
Most of the time, people’s religious views have little impact – beyond offense – on those who don’t share them. But where church and state collide, tension increases. The issue has erupted in parliament and in sport. It’s simmering in Anglican schools, where — especially in socially progressive parts of the city, like the eastern suburbs — parents’ views are increasingly at odds with those of the diocese.
Raffel says Anglican schools welcome feedback from parents. But “these are not parent-controlled schools,” he says. “We believe that principals of Anglican schools should be able to affirm the Anglican faith. It’s natural, really. The church sees its schools as a way to “share our history,” he says. “We don’t force people to believe it.”
At the most recent national synod, the bishops vetoed what would otherwise have been a successful Sydney motion to affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman. This heightened fears of a formal split. Raffel describes the tensions in the church as painful. “But we talk about what it means to be faithful to Jesus,” he says. “And if it’s true that there’s no agreement on what fidelity looks like, then there’s going to be a very sad kind of distancing. To some extent, there already is.
We have finished eating. I ask Raffel if he likes being an archbishop. He’s laughing. It’s a learning curve, a privilege, a lesson in humility. “There are all kinds of tensions and challenges. As you know, I’m just a man. I feel the weight and the pressure.
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