The Uniting Church today welcomed the proposed changes to the Migration Act 1958 and urged the Coalition backbench to support the Private Members Bills when they come before Parliament.
The President of the Uniting Church, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton, expressed the Church’s thanks to Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and Bruce Baird for their ongoing commitment to changing what is an inhumane and unjust policy.
“We know that they are not the only Coalition members to visit immigration detention centres and we call on those who have to remember the faces of the people they met and the hopelessness in their eyes. These are people who have done nothing more than seek our protection and care but we have destroyed their lives with a harsh and unjust policy. We ask Government members to support these Bills so we can have a decent immigration policy,” Rev. Drayton said.
“The proposed changes to the mandatory detention regime recognise that the current policy is unsustainable and damaging to people’s well-being, as well as being contrary to our international human rights obligations.
“They propose a fairer and more accountable system, providing checks and balances such as judicial and independent review. They seek an end to the indiscriminate and indefinite detention of asylum seekers in favour of a system that is a more accurate reflection of Australia’s generous and compassionate heart,” he said.
“These Bills show that what the Uniting Church has long been calling for is possible. It is possible for identity and security checks to be done quickly and for people’s refugee claims to be assessed while they are living in the community. It is possible to institute a more flexible, transparent and accountable system.
“They acknowledge that there is no evidence or reason to believe that people who are seeking our protection would abscond. There is no need to detain or demonise people assuming that they are a threat to Australian society and there is no need to expose them to such damaging environments.
“Last year I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for an act of compassion similar to the one being proposed in the second Bill. We have been seeking permanent protection for refugees and for those who cannot be returned home. We have asked for the release of all children and their families and for compassion to be extended to long-term detainees. These proposals offer some hope of a decent life to those whose lives we have made a misery.
“This year the Uniting Church celebrates its 20th year as a multicultural church. Our church has been formed out of the multicultural diversity of Australia. Most of us began our life in this land as strangers – we are who we are, as a church and as a nation, because those before us welcomed strangers and because we have continued to do the same. We believe that it is time our immigration policies reflected our true identity,” Rev. Drayton said.
“It is time for a policy that welcomes all strangers and treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.”
The Uniting Church today called on the Federal Government to rethink its approach to further deregulation of the Industrial Relations system.
National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, the Reverend Elenie Poulos, called on the Government to protect the wages and conditions of Australia’s lowest paid workers.
“We must remember that the purpose of a strong economy is to help Australians access secure and equitable standards of living. The labour market is not like any other market. People are not commodities in the service of greater profits and should not be exploited.
“The Government’s proposal to strip so many workers of their rights to challenge unfair dismissal is immoral. What avenues will there be for redress for a worker who feels they have been unfairly dismissed? Can we trust employers to put the needs of their workers before their desire for profits?
“The current unfair dismissal laws provide important checks and balances on employment relationships. It is a simple fact that single employees do not have as much power as their employers – the current legislation recognises this,” said Rev. Poulos.
“The Government’s deregulation agenda has already taken its toll on Australians. While the Prime Minister claims responsibility for the current low levels of unemployment, he neglects to mention the cost to the wages and conditions of many low paid employees.
“We are concerned for the well-being of the increasingly high numbers of people in casual employment, especially women. Too many Australians already have no access to very basic needs-based entitlements, such as sick leave, and there is nothing in these proposals which will improve the situation for casual employees,” Rev. Poulos said.
“In addition, we believe the plans to reduce the role of the independent Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and to replace its wage-setting function with a new ‘Fair Pay Commission’ are ill-considered,” she said.
“We are concerned for the 1.5 million Australians who rely on minimum wage determinations – what parameters will the FPC use to determine the wages of these people? Will those parameters be based on need or the need for profit? How fair will the Fair Pay Commission really be?
“We are very concerned that the composition of this new Commission may well include only government and business representatives, with no input from trade unions or community groups. This would be a poor second to the current independent body which operates without fear or favour.”
Rev. Poulos said that the Uniting Church would continue to push for equality and social justice in employment matters.
“We are concerned that in the rush for profit, the basic needs of employees will be forgotten. We appeal to the Government to protect the needs of those most vulnerable from the excesses of the market, while actively working towards a better deal for all Australians at work.”
In 2003 I stood representing the Uniting Church at the first anniversary service of the October 12, 2002 Bali Bombing, watching grieving families throw their sprig of frangipani and wattle into the memorial pool, aghast at the number of people affected by that terrible event.
Yudhoyono, the man who is now President, gave the principal address promising to hunt down those who had betrayed our common humanity. The economy of Bali was still reeling from the effects of that day a year later. Then last Saturday night, the terrible sinking feeling of seeing again the news report on the bottom of the television screen. How could anyone be so callous?
Again this predominantly Hindu island, with Christians principally involved in the tourist business, and a source of valuable tourist dollars for Indonesia, was considered once more to be a ‘strategic target’ for those whose beliefs are able to use human pain and suffering for their own ends. At 3 am that morning Rev. John Barr sent me a text message to say all UIM workers were safe. But for many families the horror was just starting to unfold.
We pray for those killed and maimed by human bombs in Bali. Oh God, the pain, the loss, the people lost, and the slow realisation by the injured of nightmare and disablement. We feel like helpless observers, wanting to know more of what happened, yet aware that we are intruding on the most vulnerable feelings of people and families laid bare through camera and microphone.
Help us to pray for justice to be done, for perpetrators to be stopped, for support and comfort to be given. Thank you for the sensitivity of doctors and nurses who give all they can to help the healing of broken and penetrated bodies. May there be long term support so that wounded and battered spirits will know the balm of your healing presence bringing light again into darkened worlds.
And Eternal God we seek to understand why this destruction keeps on happening, breaking in upon the unsuspecting, wreaking havoc.
Lord we pray not only for victims but for those who walk into the midst of unsuspecting and innocent people, and with a last squeeze of a detonator, give their lives to destroy others.
In the midst of this horror, tragically done in the name of religion, help us to see beyond the blame and the anger to the danger of using your name for our own ends. May we be true to who we know you to be, Emmanuel, God with us, in the midst of this suffering. In the name of the suffering Jesus we pray.
Rev. Dr Dean Drayton
President Uniting Church
“Domestic and sexual violence devastates the lives of women in Australia and in countries around the world. White Ribbon Day provides a unique opportunity for all of us to show that we believe violence against women is unacceptable and that we stand with those women who have suffered physical, sexual and
Uniting Church President, the Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton, has urged Australians to wear a white ribbon this Friday in support of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).
psychological abuse.” Rev. Drayton expressed his deep concern at the devastating social and psychological cost of violence against women and their children. “Violence against women is at epidemic levels in Australia. More than half of all Australian women will experience an incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes and one quarter of Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner.”
“This is a shameful statistic that should be of grave concern to all Australians. The personal cost to women, children and their families is incalculable. Violence against women also inflicts long-term damage on the social fabric of communities and diminishes our common humanity. It is time to say, ‘No more!’” Rev. Drayton said the Uniting Church has made public statements speaking out against violence against women, including the 1991 Assembly resolution opposing sexual violence.
“As Christians, we are called to strive for the reconciliation of humanity and an end to violent and cruel behaviour. The Uniting Church will continue to support the elimination of violence in all its forms. Sexual violence is a sin against God and against humanity and at its root is the practise of inequality between the
sexes. We must ensure that a concerted community effort is made to address this endemic violence against women. Wearing a White Ribbon is a public and practical way for all Australians to make this commitment.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church today expressed its disappointment at the Government’s handling of its counter-terrorism, Welfare to Work and workplace relations changes.
Uniting Church President, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton said the Church was concerned at the haste in which these Bills had been put to Parliament and called on the Federal Government to ensure that the integrity of the democratic process is maintained.
“We acknowledge that Governments must make difficult and often unpopular decisions. However, there has been no justification given for restricting public and parliamentary debate on these major pieces of legislation. The haste with which they have been pushed through the Senate is completely at odds with their significance for the future of all Australians.”
Rev. Drayton also expressed concern at the Government curtailing the length and scope of the Senate inquiries into WorkChoices and Anti-Terrorism legislation. “Decisions of this magnitude must be made with the utmost transparency and a high level of community and specialist consultation and awareness. But the passage of these pieces of legislation has instead been characterised by an unwillingness to provide any substantial justification, an absolute minimum level of community consultation and a marked cynicism towards criticism of any kind.
“The short times allocated for the inquiries – in the case of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, only one day – were entirely inadequate to address the wide range of concerns and the hundreds of submissions.
In both cases, the Government has declined to make necessary valid changes to protect the rights and basic needs of its citizens.
“The Government must fulfil its responsibility to ensure that unintended consequences of new legislation are avoided and that all citizens are dealt with fairly and equitably under legislative change. The fact the Government now has control of both houses of Parliament only increases its responsibility to use that power carefully and wisely.”
Rev. Drayton said that the Church would continue to advocate for open and transparent democratic decision making.
“We are deeply concerned that the Government is so easily prepared to gag debate in the Senate. This is an abuse of power and shows scant regard for the democratic processes that are so fundamental to our national identity,” Rev. Drayton said.
The Uniting Church in Australia today called on the Queensland Government to extend the deadline for Stolen Wage claimants or risk a public backlash.
Uniting Church President, Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton and the National Administrator of the Uniting Church Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) the Reverend Shayne Blackman said they supported the moves by The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation to oppose the imminent reparations offer deadline from the Queensland Government on the 31st December 2005.
“Stolen wages is a serious issue close to the hearts of many Indigenous people and it requires further time and more avenues to be worked through by all Indigenous stakeholders if a satisfactory outcome for all parties is to be achieved,” Rev Blackman said.
“This deadline imposed by the Queensland Government for reparations is suggestive of an administration increasingly becoming misaligned to their responsibilities in improving Indigenous outcomes and I feel saddened by their resolve.”
Dr Drayton said the Church has long called for practical measures and committed leadership on Indigenous issues as a way to help overcome the legacy of our history.
“This attempt by the Queensland Government to enforce a December 31 deadline for reparation applications runs counter to this type of approach. I urge the Queensland Government to reconsider its position on this matter in the interests of equality and justice that Indigenous people yearn for,” Rev. Drayton said.
Uniting Church Contact: Gavin Melvin, 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church has urged the Federal Government to take seriously the claims of the West Papuans who arrived in Cape York yesterday and ensure any allegations of human rights abuses are properly investigated.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said while it was impossible to know the background of specific cases, many West Papuans continue to live in fear and face abuse in Indonesia.
“While we do not know the individual circumstances of these people, as long as there continue to be abuse and violence in West Papua, there is the possibility of groups arriving in Australia who have claims as refugees under the Refugee Convention.
“The Uniting Church’s experience in working in West Papua confirms that regular abuse and violence has occurred in recent years. The Uniting Church and its partner churches in the region have witnessed the effects of these abuses first hand.
“As a country we must take seriously any claims made by these people and ensure our response takes into account the on-going fear and abuse faced by many West Papuans in Indonesia”
Rev. Drayton said it was important that these asylum seekers were processed speedily and humanely, in line with our international obligations.
“The Government’s response to the arrival of these West Papuans will not only send a message about our treatment of asylum seekers – it will send a clear message about how, as a nation, we respond to human rights abuses in our own region.
“Ät the same time, it is critically important that the Australian Government continue express our concerns about the plight of indigenous people in West Papua..
“This is even more vital given that our Government is currently moving to negotiate a far-reaching treaty with Indonesia.
“We hope that the Government’s response to the arrival of these people will reflect Australia’s commitment to uphold the basic human rights of all people and our condemnation of human rights abuses as unacceptable.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church has welcomed the Government’s decision to grant protection visas to 42 West Papuans who arrived in Cape York on January 18.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said the decision to grant protection sends a clear message that the Australian Government is taking seriously the issue of human rights abuses in Papua.
‘By making this decision, the Australian Government has acknowledged there are human rights abuses occurring in Papua. The Uniting Church’s experience in working in Papua confirms that regular abuse and violence has occurred in recent years. The Uniting Church and its partner churches in the region have witnessed the effects of these abuses first hand,” Rev Drayton said.
Rev. Drayton said the recent tensions in Papua were a stark reminder that reform is desperately needed in the province.
“We recognise that the current situation in Papua is very tense. Church and civil leaders have been encouraged by the steps being taken by the Indonesian Government to put in place measures to prevent further human rights violations following the demonstrations last week.
“We are saddened by the recent violent outbreaks and condemn the brutal killing of 5 Indonesian security officers and one civilian. This recent violence highlights the level of anxiety and fear in the community – tensions which can only be addressed through genuine dialogue and reform.
“It’s important to acknowledge the progress which has been made in reforming the democratic and human rights situation in some parts of Indonesia. The recent democratic reforms in the country are encouraging but at this time, they are not sufficiently reflected in Papua. I urge the Indonesian Government to continue the process of reform in Papua through open dialogue and just processes.
“There are still major issues to be resolved in Papua. We hope and pray the decision to grant protection to these 42 Papuans will keep the issue of human rights on the agenda in our region.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
The new President of the Uniting Church has challenged local congregations across the country to find new ways to connect with the 80 per cent of Australians who no longer have regular connections with the church.
The Rev. Gregor Henderson will be installed as the 11th President of the Uniting Church, Australia’s third largest Christian denomination, at a ceremony in Brisbane today.
Currently Minister of the thriving Wesley Church in Forrest and the smaller St Aidan’s Church in Narrabundah, ACT, Gregor was ordained as a Minister of the Word in 1971.
He has been a member of the World Council of Churches Central Committee since 1998, served on committees and assemblies of the Christian Conference of Asia and has been heavily involved in the National Council of Churches in Australia since its establishment in 1994.
As President, Gregor will be responsible for providing pastoral and spiritual leadership to the Uniting Church over the coming triennium.
“It’s a great honour and will be a great challenge,” he said. “The next three years are a crucial time for the Uniting Church as we not only deal with a number of difficult internal issues but as we struggle to find news ways to connect with Australians as fewer people are connecting with the churches.
“Today, 80 per cent of Australians have no regular contact with organised religion, yet we know from recent research that the journey for meaning, purpose and community is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. Many people are interested in pursuing a spiritual quest, they are also interested in the person of Jesus, but they are not always so interested in the institutional trappings. The critical question in our local setting is how to assist people on that journey in ways that are helpful. ”
Gregor said he hoped to draw on his experience in parish ministry and chairing the board of Frontier Services, the church’s rural and remote ministry and community service provider. “My own recent experience is that conversations about faith and life are just as important as ever. Our challenge is to take a risk by re-examining some of the old notions of church and being willing to look at new ways of making connections and new ways of being the church.”
MEDIA ADVISORY: A media accreditation and briefing session will take place 11 am today, July 5, at the University of QLD, St Lucia Campus, Building 39A, Room 209 (corner Blair Drive and Campbell Road). Gregor Henderson will be available for interview at a press conference at 12pm. A copy of his installation sermon is available under embargo ahead of this press conference through the Communications Manager.
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church today used its triennial national Assembly meeting to adopt a new approach to faith and spirituality including guidelines to assist and encourage faith communities and spiritual formation in its schools and community service agencies.
The 250-member National Assembly endorsed the document Being Church Differently, which is designed to help the church find new ways to connect with the increasing number of people who have no regular contact with organised religion.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, said Being Church Differently canvassed a number of important ways Uniting Church schools and community service organisations could be places where people might make more meaningful connections with the church.
“Today, 80 per cent of Australians have no regular contact with organised religion, yet we know from various sources that the journey for meaning, purpose and community is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. While many people are interested in pursuing a spiritual quest and in Jesus, they are not always so interested in the institutional trappings. The critical question in this context is how to help people on that journey.”
“Being Church Differently acknowledges this and suggests ways our schools and community service organisations can be places where people might start to take that journey if they want to,” Mr Henderson said.
Mr Henderson said if the church failed to provide opportunities for faith development outside the inherited formal church structures, people would go elsewhere or miss the opportunity to come to faith altogether.
“Through our congregational outreach and our schools and community service agencies, the Uniting Church connects with people from a range of backgrounds at different times of their life journey — and the spiritual dimension is recognised as being part of that life journey. Life has more than one dimension and our Christian faith calls us to offer more than one response.
“We are not being authentic to our faith if we fail to offer a whole of life response in our congregations, our community service agencies and schools and that includes opportunities for people to explore issues of faith if they want to.”
As well as offering encouragement to congregations, community service agencies and schools, Being Church Differently also canvasses a number of important issues, including the essentials of forming a new congregation or faith community, some cautionary tales and important considerations, examples of places a new congregation or faith community might be formed and a series of questions and answers.
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
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).
I want to thank God and the Uniting Church for three amazing years in which my dependence upon our Lord Jesus Christ has deepened, I have had to grow in my understanding of discipleship nationally and internationally, and I have known the privilege of serving this great Uniting Church.
Recently I had my car serviced. When the consultant at the front desk gave me my service ticket, I turned it over and the number was “84”. Not again! For the first few months of this triennium the one issue of sexuality encapsulated in Proposal 84 dominated all correspondence and thought as we attempted to work through how to responsibly be faithful to the last Assembly and the other Councils of the Church. Slowly it became plain, that this was not only about the presenting issue of sexuality, it was also most definitely about the nature of the Uniting Church. Despite what some wanted, the 10th Assembly overwhelmingly insisted on leaving the responsibility of ordination to the Presbyteries. The Assembly called upon the Church to live by the governance of its Basis of Union. The Basis of Union also calls us to live with the diversity of our partial views of mission and faith as together we work through to the truth Christ has for us to discover as a people. In the last two years I have seen people growing into our Basis of Union, and refusing to accept a Basis of Division. Christ calls us to live towards His future as a reconciling people, the Uniting Church, offering reconciliation and renewal in a fragmented society.
This last triennium has seen the deaths of our first President Rev Dr Davis McCaughey, the Rev Dr Geoff Barnes, and the Rev Dr Ian Gillman, each members of the Joint Commission on Church Union Planning Committee, and as well our fifth President Sir Ronald Wilson. We are losing our founding fathers. How thrilled they would have been to be present at the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre Brazil, and see the World Church following the path emblazoned in the Basis of Union. One of the most significant decisions of the WCC was to call all the Churches of the World to consider the document “Called to be One Church” to give priority to the questions of unity, baptism, catholicity and prayer. In addition the WCC accepted into its Constitution that its meetings be conducted by Consensus meeting procedures, and asked our 7th President Jill Tabbart to guide their implementation. The Spirit of Christ is leading the whole Church into new paths. I was thrilled to see how the UCA is acknowledged by so many Churches throughout the world for the lead we are seen to be taking in this adventure of reconciliation and mission, and proud of the recognition given to the President Gregor Henderson for his service to the International Church.
Such a farewell address as this helps recall so many significant times. Without the call of God to this office I would never have sat in the sand with Aboriginal friends at Millingimbi, stood on the tsunami devastated plains of the city of Banda Aceh, been at a memorial service on Bali, or have seen the human destruction let loose by religious hatred in Ambon. I would never have visited detention centres, spoken to ministers of the crown, pleaded for the release of asylum seekers, or cried as they offered thanks to God for their release. I would never have ventured into the lion’s den of the senate inquiry into Industrial Relations with Rev Dr Anne Wansborough, or stood with Muslim friends alongside the burnt out Church Hall at Auburn. These events and so many more have indelibly impressed the issues of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and human rights upon me in new and fuller ways.
There is one deep bass note that stays with me. In 2004 I attended the World Alliance of Reformed Churches meeting and had the experience of visiting the Elminah slave castle on the coast near Accra Ghana. There from the 16th to the 19th Century 15 million slaves were gathered in the castles along the coast before they were sent on boats to South America, North America, and Dutch East India, half to die before they reached their destination. These castles are like white sepulchers, beautiful on the outside but stained with the awful violence of centuries of horror within. I was partly prepared for this, for we are beginning to own up to the violence our forbears inflicted upon Aboriginal people in this land. What cauterized the soul, one’s very being, was being taken to the Reformed Church meeting room, built right over the heads of the slaves. There the words of Psalm 132 v13 were carved in the Lintel. “For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his habitation:” There the Reformed Church met, not for one decade, but nearly three centuries. How could they have been so blind to the way of Christ? But then came the question that has haunted us since that day. What is it that we are blind to now?
The Christians amongst the poor 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% of the world, and not hear the call of Jesus to care for the poor of the world. Millions live in misery because of debt slavery, with nations paying off enormous loans to the West, and impoverishing their own people. Indonesia pays 9 cents in every dollar to pay off debt, and only 1 cent for health and 1 cent for education. At the least they are saying we should get serious about the millennial goals to halve the number of children in poverty.
I would like to see a copy of the 1977 Statement to the Nation presented at the inauguration of the Uniting Church framed in the entry way of each of our congregations. I want to highlight six affirmations from this prophetic statement even more relevant now than then.
First,“We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and the poor.” What a great nation this is, and what a great society we have here. Yet thirty years on we see how enmeshed and compliant as a church we are with those whose gospel is that if the rich get richer, all the rest will be a little better off. For too many of our politicians the market is God. Budget after budget of this government has had a preferential option for the rich. At least 10% of our population are trapped in poverty, and millions if not billions elsewhere in the world are sacrificed on the altar of this market economy.
Secondly, and pointedly“We affirm that the first allegiance of Christians is God, under whose judgement the policies and actions of all nations must pass. We realize that this allegiance may bring us into conflict with the rulers of our day.” In the last three years I have found that in your name I have had to speak out on issues that have brought us into conflict with some of our nation’s leaders.
Thirdly, in particular,“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.” 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.
Fourthly it emphasizes, “We affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being.”
Some human rights are negotiable in Australia. Aboriginals, asylum seekers, the poor, and now Papuans. Anti-terrorist laws have traded away basic rights before the law. The government has abrogated our international obligations to asylum seekers. It has turned its face from David Hicks. Thank God for those within political parties who refuse to accept the excesses of these decisions.
Fifthly a clarion call for truth and justice. “We affirm …the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice.” There is abroad in Australia a neo conservative 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. Three years ago retiring President James Haire prophetically protested our leaders ‘serial ignorance’ of weapons of mass destruction and children overboard. ‘Truth’ he said, ‘Is the lifeblood of democracy’. Three years on, and the ignorance of Australians left in detention has been the prelude to what seems the most serious case of all, our leaders awareness of the dealings of the Australian Wheat Board. With dreadful irony cereal ignorance shows what happens when serial ignorance takes the place of truth and justice.
Finally a vision for Australia“We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere – the family of One God – the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth the One who gave His life for others.”
John McCain a presidential contender in the last election was imprisoned for 5 and a half years as a POW in Vietnam. He tells of the time he was punished for communicating with the person in the next cell, kept overnight in a punishment cell tied very tightly with ropes. As he cursed and strained against the ropes, the door suddenly opened and a young gun guard he had occasionally seen entered the room, motioned him to be silent, and without looking at him, loosened the ropes that bound him. He left without a word. Just prior to the dawn he returned, quickly tightened the ropes, and was gone.
In the months that followed he saw him occasionally, but the guard never even glanced in McCain’s direction. Then on the Christmas morning he was briefly allowed out of his cell to stand alone in the outdoors, looking up at the clear blue sky. He became aware of the young guard as he walked near, and then for a moment stood very close to McCain. Without speaking or smiling or looking at him, this young man just stared at the ground in front of them, and then, very casually, he used his foot to draw a cross in the dirt. They both stood looking for a minute until he rubbed it out and walked away.
In that moment he said “I forgot my hatred, the war, and lived in the reality that bridges seemingly unbridgeable divisions in humanity.” Two people each imprisoned in different ways found their common humanity before the God who in Christ had made it possible. He saw him pass a few more times but there was never another encounter.
These last few years have taught me, that not only is 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. 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.
But still my first love is for those who are 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.
I want to thank the Assembly officers and staff, they have been a great inspiration. It has been a delight to work with Terence Corkin, and affirm what a gift he is to the Uniting Church. I give profuse thanks to Jenny Bertalan my personal assistant for her help, gratitude for the wisdom of Elenie Poulos in the search for justice, and such tremendous support first from Kim Cain and then from Gavin Melvin, media persons extraordinaire. Shining through all these contributions is the overwhelming thanks I owe to God for my beloved, Sandra, who with such loving and dependable support has stuck with me all the way through this long and amazing marathon.