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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Church members called to act on historic statement

In his retiring address as President of the Uniting Church, the Rev. Dr Dean Drayton today said too many politicians regarded the market as God and that the government had a preferential option for the rich.

Calling members of the church’s national Assembly to act on six affirmations made at the church’s first Assembly 29 years ago, he said at least ten per cent of Australia’s population was trapped in poverty, and millions if not billions elsewhere in the world “were sacrificed on the altar of this market economy”. 

On the second day of the Uniting Church’s 11th triennial Assembly, meeting in Brisbane until July 11, Dr Drayton highlighted affirmations from the 1977 Assembly document, Statement to the Nation, which he described as “a prophetic statement even more relevant now than then”. 

He asked whether Christians living in the wealthy world could hear Jesus’ call to care for the poor. 

“The Christians among the poor,” he said, “are saying it louder and louder to Christians in the West: ‘How can you say yes to Jesus for your own individual Christian lives, live among the wealthy 20 per cent of the world, and not hear the call of Jesus to care for the poor of the world!’” 

The six affirmations of the Uniting Church in 1977 were: 

1. We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others … 

2. We affirm that the first allegiance of Christians is God, under whose judgment the policies and actions of all nations must pass. We realise that this allegiance may bring us into conflict with the rulers of our day. 

3. We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment. 

4. We affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles such as the importance of every human being. 

5. We affirm … the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice. 

6. We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self interest alone … 

Saying he would like to see a copy of the 1977 Statement framed in the entry way of each congregation, he illustrated their contemporary relevance. 

On the third, he said, “There are not enough voices demanding that as a nation we face the big issues which will not go away: sufficient fresh water, a sustainable environment in the city and country, alternative energy sources ready before oil reaches $150 a barrel, food for all. 

“With a concerted effort we could make poverty history, but instead the refrain is consume, consume, consume, with little concern for the tomorrows of our children and grandchildren.” 

On the fourth he said some human rights had now become negotiable in Australia: for Aborigines, asylum seekers, the poor and Papuans. Anti-terrorist laws had traded away basic rights before the law. 

And on the fifth: “There is abroad in Australia a neoconservative ridiculing of what is dismissed as ‘politically correct.’ But what is dismissed is careful and responsible talk about truth and values, identity, diversity and gender. 

“Education and art are relentlessly critiqued. Only the field of economics seems above suspicion. In this discussion too often assertion has taken the place of truth, and serial ignorance the place of responsibility.” 

Dr Drayton said the last few years had taught him that not only was Christ found in “the service, witness and worship of the everyday to which we are called”, but that “the Lord Jesus also invites us into difficult situations where the prisons in which we live our lives become more obvious, even as his power gives us new visions of the way the unbridgeable can be bridged.” 

He said, “We do not need to be afraid of the other, afraid of the divisions, for in Christ we have the reconciling one who gives us a place to be and participate in any situation. The Holy Spirit leads us on in this demanding and joyful discipleship of the mission of God.” 

Still, he said, his first love was for those who were just discovering God’s message for them. “I am always humbled when I see the bright eyes of a person who has just discovered they are loved by Jesus, the tears of joy when forgiveness is received, the delight of a person seeing that there is a new beginning in Christ for them. 

“But once having begun each of us is called on in the mission of God to such amazing situations in our life, and nation, and world.  I thank you Lord, for these last three years.” 

Dr Drayton was succeeded as President of the Uniting Church by the Rev. Gregor Henderson, installed for the next three years in an Assembly ceremony on July 5. 

Media advisory: The Rev. Dr Dean Drayton will be available for interview today.

Contact Stephen Webb, 0423 259 945 or 07 3377 1227 (Assembly Media Room, Brisbane).