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Pacem in Terris: A Prophetic Legacy for Our Times

Pacem in Terris: A Prophetic Legacy for Our Times*

Caesar D’Mello

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) was proclaimed by Pope John XXIII sixty years ago against a seriously troubled backdrop, which in essence prevails today, too. WWII had ended eighteen years before the encyclical, but the ensuing years saw a burgeoning Cold War, highlighted by a Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin Wall, and Asia Pacific drawn in. Furthermore, in a fast-changing environment, social ferment was also challenging humanity. Having had a hand in defusing a potential nuclear war over Cuba, John XXIII could as well have written on Bellum in Terris (War on Earth), but constructing peace was his mission.

In our times modern weaponry has increased its destructive variety, productive capacity, sophistication and proliferation, yet global peace remains elusive. The contemporary Cold War is considered more dangerous than the last century’s for the room, small as it was, it allowed for negotiation. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki notwithstanding, a modified version of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) concept remains a canon of military planning.

Prescribing a way forward for an anxious humanity preoccupied with both geopolitical conflict and social divisiveness, a reality we know too well in the 21st century, the encyclical states: “Peace is but an empty word, if it does not rest upon an order… that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom”.

Breaking with tradition, Pacem in Terris is addressed “to all people of goodwill” and presents a blueprint for a just, sustainable, and peaceful future for humanity, with clear applications for us. Issued on 11th April 1963, during the Second Vatican Council, its reception ecumenically and in civil society was enthusiastic for its message to think anew and forge a new path. For Pax Christi, which emerged at the end of WWII, it validated its own foundational commitment to peace and reconciliation.

Human Rights

The world’s nations ratified the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but its implementation was patchy. It is self-evident that every human being is endowed with intellect and free will, from which our inalienable rights flow. However, they went unrecognised, denied, or ignored in parts of the world. Having made them central to the Vatican’s social teaching, the encyclical’s unambiguous reading of the dismal state of human rights triggered an unprecedented awareness and engagement both in the Catholic Church and beyond. This was a time when, inter alia, Nelson Mandela’s stand on apartheid, and Rev Martin Luther King Jr’s own struggles brought world attention to racism.

Pacem in Terris argued that “recognition, respect, safeguard and promotion of Human Rights of all are essential for authentic justice and peace”. It declared human rights as universal and inviolable, and in an interdependent world, linked with concomitant obligations towards fellow human beings. One’s right to

(*Article provided as background material for a Pax Christi Australia Webinar on September 28th, 2023, on Pacem in Terris.More information elsewhere in Disarming Times or contact the author.)  

live as fully human cannot be isolated from the duty of enabling another to live in dignity, too. Sadly, many are denied their human rights today.

The encyclical was particularly pertinent to Asia and the Pacific, with newly independent countries becoming a collective force demanding a rise in living standards.  Foreign aid and private interests were financing frenetic development schemes, but deeper human values were missing in their plans. Children, women, workers, the poor were labour fodder. A segment of churches and other voices in the Third World challenged the status quo, but they were a minority. Alongside the World Council of Churches and other entities, the encyclical stated unequivocally that human rights make for the ‘inherent dignity’ of human beings.

Pacem in Terris’ impetus for human rights has influenced and emboldened the Catholic Church and like-minded groups to speak out through the decades. They forcefully call out, for instance, on the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers today. The right of our indigenous communities to live and act in freedom needs to be upheld, to do which we have an opportunity at the Referendum on the Voice.

The Universal Common Good

Pacem in Terris revisits the deeply Christian thinking on the Universal Common Good in an unequal world, especially apposite given a rich world co-existing with an impoverished one. It stressed that peace is more than the absence of war. It needs to be grounded in justice.

Governments, business, opinion influencers and other voices invoke the rhetoric of ‘shared prosperity and happiness’, when the lived experience and even economic analysis demonstrate that ‘trickledown economics’ favours the privileged. The ‘market’, prescribed by neoliberalism for ‘achieving equilibrium’, whether between nations or within each one, is impotent to realise this. Unequal distribution of income, wealth, opportunities and outcomes continue, as unacceptable poverty drags many down. Exploitation of resources of poor countries, now with acknowledged climate change and ecological impacts, is a sacrosanct element of current business models. As the encyclical implies, appropriating for a minority a greater share of the earth’s resources that belong to all violates natural justice, and the human rights of many to live in dignity. The ‘common good’ that benefits all is not achievable without a fair distribution wherein those better placed, individually or as countries, exercise their moral responsibility to assist those less advantaged. The encyclical called for appropriate and effective social and political structures for achieving justice, which ensures peace.

War, Disarmament and Peace

 John XXIII wrote that “true and lasting peace among nations cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only in mutual trust”. This principle rejected a way of thinking which amounts to a form of idolatry that sustains war and weaponry. Having raised fear over assumed threat levels, adversaries place their trust in weapons and war as an incontestable direction for peace. This holds true even more today when ever more sophisticated and expensive arsenals of killing machines, including the warmly welcomed AI technology, are revered as the answer to hopes and prayers for victory in eventual conflicts, that will, undoubtedly, leave horrendous outcomes for humanity.

The evil of war, under specific conditions, may have been justified in previous wars by the Just War Theory, but the nuclear age makes it morally unjustifiable given the lethality, disproportionality and indiscriminate devastation by nuclear weapons. In our age, non-nuclear weapons, such as the Cluster Bombs used in Ukraine, would be unjustifiable, too. Nuclear weapons and the associated brinkmanship seem to be embraced with untroubled complacency. Protestations of peace are becoming predictable and meaningless, while the arming for war goes on, despite an existing surfeit of firepower with the immensely enriched munitions industry offering even more. Thanks to mainstream media generally and other advocates, war enjoys a veneer of respectability and normality today. However, its unpredictable outcomes as experienced in modern wars, and the tit-for-tat escalation as seen in the Ukraine War are glossed over. A mandarin on geopolitics recently said, ‘the risk of war is real. It is not a theory’. Nevertheless, while an array of peaceful alternatives to conflict resolution can be pursued, it seems to be Peace, which springs from our common human nature and yearning, that needs to be justified. How do AUKUS and its unconscionable opportunity costs vis-à-vis basic needs, health, education and housing advance the common good? How much more destruction and loss of life should there be before it is realised that the Ukraine War is an investment in futility? Pacem in Terris categorically concluded that “it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights which have been violated”. It called for the elimination of war, banning of nuclear weapons, and ending the arms race.

Pax Christi’s stand against violence is seamlessly consonant with the spirit of the encyclical. Its early history, values and inspirational leaders, including the (recently departed) Bishop Luigi Bettazi, a member of the ‘Pact of the Catacombs’, steadfastly advocated nonviolence. Their outlook is subsumed in the contemporary Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. For us in this region, it provides a strong basis for a continuing dialogue with millennia-old cultures. Ahimsa(non-killing, or non-harm to life in any form), a belief of a billion plus adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, opens the door for exploring mutual understanding to reduce militarism and social violence in our vast region.

The Way forward: Reading the Signs of the Times

Pacem in Terris teaches that peace can only come from an order based on truth, justice, charity and freedom, but the two contesting ‘orders’ of today have different outlooks. ‘A global rules-based order’, on the one hand, is rebuffed as ‘another form of racism’ by its opponents who propose another, both sides determined to destroy each other politically, economically and militarily.  This can hardly be a foundation for Just Peace. Pacem in Terris is the fruit of reflection and interaction with his history by one with a pastor’s heart and mind who read the signs of the times portending peril. It sets forth a rational, constructive, humane ‘our common good’-based way forward. We cannot treat present day developments merely as ‘Breaking News’, and must intuit what Ukraine, Myanmar, Afghanistan, drowning refugees, and other events are telling us. Some may consider this approach naïve and unrealistic. But who is more naïve? Those who are alive to signs of death and suffering from prospective war, and respond with ways of nurturing peace? Or those who resolutely put their energies, spirit and belief in preparing for one or more wars as a way to peace, and surely reap what wars always bring?

*Caesar D’Mello ( is a member of the International Board of Pax Christi, and of Pax Christi Australia and Asia Pacific. He was formerly National Director of Christian World Service, the aid, justice and development agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA). He is a consultant on the inter-related sustainable development, climate change, justice and peace issues.

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Rights or wrongs – what can Australia offer humanity?

Rights or wrongs – what can Australia offer humanity?

by Mark Woods (originally published in July 2023 in Anglican Diocese of Gippsland magazine)

In its original version, the Australian National Anthem declared, among other things, that “… we are young and free …”. *

Allowing the librettist the licence to refer to the age of the nation established de jure by the Constitution, can we extend that indulgence to the expression “free”? To the extent that being “free” denotes its citizens as having “freedoms,” Australia can hardly be so described. Why is that?

After all, we have a proud history of public action to stop governments from acting to curtail freedoms capriciously
or without regard to the public will. From participation in the Eureka Stockade, to public rejection of conscription in the Great War, to participation in Vietnam moratorium demonstrations, to tellingBob Hawke to forget the idea of an Australia Card – we, as a people, have rejected any sniff of authoritarianism.

Or have we? Our commitment to being “free” hasn’t prevented State Governments enacting laws giving a wide range of petty public officials, from gas meter inspectors to wildlife officers, the right to enter our properties – with criminal penalties for those who resist. We didn’t stop the enactment of laws that criminalised homosexuality, or suicide, or those assisting it. Nor have we stopped arbitrary detention for protesting, arrests for being drunk or fines for walking outdoors without a mask (even with a few hundred metres between yourself and another human being), if the chief health officer doesn’t like it.

Each of these examples highlights infringements of what are described as human rights. Sadly, in sociopolitical terms, they discriminate against those without power – typically, so many First Nations Australians, immigrants and refugees, and those with less advantage than the writer or most readers of this article.

The Australian Human Rights Commission puts it plainly:

Australia is the only liberal democracy in the world without a Human Rights Act or a Charter of Human Rights. To some extent, this is extraordinary. Australia has been bellicose in its championing of international human rights treaties and covenants. Three- quarters of a century ago, we were one of the proud founders of the United Nations, which adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1972, and ratified it over 40 years ago. We signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1972 and ratified it three years later. Yet in 2023, neither have been comprehensively enacted into law in Australia. The same can be said of manifold other international instruments concerning the rights of women, Indigenous people, migrants, those with disabilities and (if you can believe it) children.

How should Christians react to this? While so much of our law has a solid Judaeo-Christian background (remember the snail in the ginger beer bottle, and the judicial extension of the concept of loving one’s neighbour to doing them no harm), Christianity and human rights have not always peacefully co-existed.

Max Stackhouse in the Cambridge Journal of Law and Religion puts it succinctly:

The historic relationship between Christianity and human rights is an ambiguous one. For hundreds of years the Christian Church actively promoted religious intolerance and persecuted those who failed to accept its moral values and customs. Many of these values and practices are today rejected as contrary to a human rights culture and moral decency.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has proposed an Australian Human Rights Act. Would such legislation make any difference? The Commission,mindful of the suspicion with which such proposals have been greeted in the past, describes its proposed model legislation as an “evolution, not a revolution.” It aspires to build on the experience of human rights legislation currently existing in Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

Under the proposed legislation, government, administrators and public servants would be required to “consider human rights and to act in accordance with human rights when making policy
or decisions which affect individual lives.” Parliament would be required to “place greater priority on the human rights impacts of all new proposed laws.” Federal courts would be required to “interpret legislation, where possible, in a way which is consistent with human rights.”

Individuals (or groups) that have a complaint about human rights would have the option of seeking that the Commission facilitate a conciliated outcome – or to proceed to seek remedies in court. Those would include orders preventing government from taking an action that would breach human rights, or ordering government to pay compensation.

However, a key difference between the Commission-proposed legislation, and many other human rights protection documents around the world, is that Aus- tralian courts would not have the power to strike down laws made by Parliament that were incompatible with human rights. That follows the Commission’s stated aim of “dialogue” between the courts, gov- ernment and the Parliament, to evolve a more effective “human rights culture” in Australia moving forward.

Critics have and will ask the obvious question, “If we want to protect human rights, why stop the courts (whose task is to interpret the law) from striking downlaws inconsistent with human rights?”

After all, that’s one of the principal reasons for having a High Court in the first place. It can and does strike down laws it considers inconsistent with the Constitution. In other words, how are human rights protected from violation by a Parliament that has the unfettered legal power to do just that? What is the point of the proposed new law?

While many human rights can never be absolute (because they infringe on the human rights of others) the interpretation of the reasonableness and proportionality of interference has, in the liberal democratic tradition, always been a matter for the courts armed with the power to strike down. So why not in the Commis- sion’s proposal?

The answer lies, this writer suspects, in realpolitik. Various human rights advocates have, over the years since Federation, called for a Bill of Rights such as that found in the American constitution, and in the United Kingdom. Indeed, most recently, in 2002, 2017 and 2019, proposed legislation (by way of private members’ bills) to enact a Bill of Rights has beenbrought into the Australian Parliament. None of these bills have been comprehen- sively debated, let alone passed.

Those who oppose a Bill of Rights for Australia invariably argue that it is anti-democratic, because it reposes responsibility for determining the validity of a law in the hands of unelected judges. Parliament should be, so the argument goes, supreme in its ability to make laws. If the people don’t like the laws it makes, then they can replace its members at the next election. Moreover, activist judges with tenure cannot be controlled, and are not accountable to the people.

It is an argument that occupied the drafters of the Australian Constitution. As no less an authority than Sir Anthony Mason has observed:

Because the founders accepted, in confor- mity with prevailing English legal thinking, that the citizen’s rights are best left to the protection of the common law and because they were not concerned to protect the individual from oppression by majority will, the Constitution contains very little in the way of provisions guaranteeing new rights.

The Commission’s offering is, when all is said and done, a compromise it hopes will placate the political opponents of a Bill of Rights by pointing to the absence of any constitutional armageddon in Victoria, Queensland or the ACT since adoption of similar legislation by their parliaments.

It is, however, a poor substitute for enshrining human rights to the extent that laws overriding them can be struck down by independent judiciary. It is that protection, in the view of many human rights advocates, that Australians deserve.

Christians should join the debate.


Mark Woods is a Gippsland lawyer, Chairman of Committees of the Gippsland Diocese and Director of the Diocesan Corporation. He chairs the International Bar Association’s Access to Justice Advisory Board. The opinions expressed here are his own.

* The official wording change to ‘one and free’ was made out of respect for the venerability of First Nations cultures.



The Commission, mindful of the suspicion with

which such proposals have been greeted in the past,

describes its proposed model legislation as

an “evolution, not a revolution.” It aspires to build on the experience of

human rights legislation currently existing in

Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

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VCC Emergencies Ministry – on Bourke St

Following another incident on Bourke St yesterday, there is a possibility of heightened media attention of past events, potentially triggering recollections and causing additional distress for those who were either directly involved or affected by it. This event may have ripple effects on a broader audience. 
VCC Emergencies Ministry will have a team of volunteers on Bourke on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th.
News reports about the coronial findings into the Bourke St tragedy may be very distressing for some people.
If you know someone who was affected, it’s a good idea to check on them to see if they’re ok. Or if you find you are getting upset, take a break from the news, turn off your TV or computer and limit your time on your mobile phone.
If at any time you are worried about your or a loved one’s mental health call:
• Lifeline 13 11 14
• Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
• SuicideLine 1300 651 251
• Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Get more information on the Better Health Channel‘s trauma recovery webpage.
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Australian Christian Book of the Year

(original article by Anne Lim published on Eternity News)

Christopher Watkin’s 600-page book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture, was named the Sparklit Australian Christian Book of the Year at an awards ceremony in Melbourne on August 31st, 2023.

Watkin’s work – which uses the Bible to analyse and interpret contemporary Western culture – received ringing endorsements from the three judges and from theologians such as John Dickson, who called it a “magnificent achievement.”

Biblical Critical Theory was selected from a shortlist of ten nominees, each recognised for making a significant contribution to the church in Australia and beyond.

The judges – Greg Clarke, Meredith Lake and Catherine Place – said despite the daunting ambition of the book, “Watkin’s confidence, curiosity and joy are contagious. No matter where you happen to open the book, the author’s easy style, wide-ranging scholarship and generosity grab your attention and you are off, exploring the unfolding biblical narrative and how it cuts through assumptions and ideologies to speak to our times.

“An enlightening and absorbing read for anyone wanting to deepen their appreciation of how the Bible addresses our world here and now. To reframe debates and culture wars, you will regularly return to this resource.”

“We want to try and speak to the culture in which we live – and that’s also inside us – in ways that people can hear.” – Christopher Watkin

Watkin said he wrote the book to help people like himself – who want to make sense of how to live in the world as a Christian while pressing into the culture – to remain faithful to the Bible.

“I was in a position where a book like this would have helped me … as an undergraduate in a secular university, reading philosophy and literature, trying to make sense of it from a Christian point of view,” he said.

He discovered that Christian books either denounced the culture or affirmed its values, and neither of those approaches rang true for him. For him, the Bible set forth “a much grander, richer, more multidimensional view of how to live in the world.”

“I want to take the Bible seriously and believe God’s promises and not have to take a step back from that. But we want to try and speak to the culture in which we live – and that’s also inside us – in ways that people can hear.”

“When Chris steps onto the field of his main expertise, modern intellectual history, this book really shines.” – John Dickson

Author and historian John Dickson, appearing by videolink from Chicago, hailed the book for doing two very difficult things at the same time.

“First, Chris is providing a thoroughly reliable guide to the complex biblical material from Genesis to Revelation. The book offers a true biblical theology, tracing ideas about God and the world as they emerge from the text of Scripture itself – and for someone who’s not meant to be a biblical scholar, Chris is weirdly solid and insightful into everything that he touches on,” he said, prompting laughter in the audience.

“And then, when Chris steps onto the field of his main expertise, modern intellectual history, this book really shines.”

The second thing the book does, Dickson said, is to raise the philosophical and cultural questions of the best thinkers in the Western tradition and show what the Bible has to say in reply to all of their brilliant questions.

“The extraordinary thing is Chris doesn’t try to dazzle the reader with the fact that he really understands those impenetrable thinkers like Heidegger, Marx, Foucault and Derrida. Instead, what Chris does is he shows why these figures deserve their place among the great thinkers in the Western tradition – how their ideas continue to influence the contemporary conversation.

“And importantly, where those thinkers are wrong, they’re wrong usually because they’ve got a half-truth that the Bible itself completes and is the full representation of.”

Dickson concluded that what he loves about Watkin’s book is that it is not just Bible theology for the believer, nor is it philosophical apologetics for the sceptic. “It rightly lifts up the Bible itself as a public document. And he does this in the best tradition of St Augustine’s City of God, and all that. It is a magnificent achievement.”

Watkin said he would love it if “the sons and daughters of the King … found a deepened love for God’s word in this book.”

Receiving the award, Watkin said he would love it if “the sons and daughters of the King … found a deepened love for God’s word in this book.”

“And to that extent, you can dip into it at any chapter … If there’s a particular part of the Bible you love, read that chapter. Or if there’s a particular part of the Bible you think you don’t know as much about as you might, then dip into that chapter and just revel in the riches and the wisdom of all of God’s word.”

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September 5th – UN International Day of Charity

September 5th. UN International Day of Charity.

The International Day of Charity was established with the objective of sensitizing and mobilizing people, NGOs, and stakeholders all around the world to to help others through volunteer and philanthropic activities.

The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) looked at church attenders charitable actions in the last 12 months. 87% of church attenders completing the survey made a financial donation to a charity that aimed to helped the world’s poor and just under half (44%) contributed $1-$499.

Mother Teresa

The date of 5 September was chosen in order to commemorate the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”

Mother Teresa, the renowned nun and missionary, was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910. In 1928 she went to India, where she devoted herself to helping the destitute. In 1948 she became an Indian citizen and founded the order of Missionaries of Charity in Kolkota (Calcutta) in 1950, which became noted for its work among the poor and the dying in that city.

For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first in India and then in other countries, including hospices and homes for the poorest and homeless. Mother Teresa’s work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died on September 5th 1997, at 87 years of age.

In recognition of the role of charity in alleviating humanitarian crises and human suffering within and among nations, as well as of the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, including the work of Mother Teresa, the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution A/RES/67/105 designated the 5th of September, the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, as the International Day of Charity.

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Season of Creation reflection – Day 1

Season of Creation reflection Day 1

The signs of our time propel the living tradition forward. The biosphere of our blue marble of a planet is under severe duress. The atmosphere is heating up. Populations of song birds, pollinators and amphibians, mammals from bats to moose, and many aquatic species are plummeting. Every year multiple species go extinct at an alarming rate due to human actions.

This raises a new question about the will of God for the world, or more explicitly, abuo the merciful intent of God for all creatures and their ecosystems. Since salvation means making life whole, liberating, healing, forgiving, restoring, cleansing, opening up new possibilities, belief in a God who saves is obviously relevant to the polluted, ravaged, depleted natural world.

A theology of accompaniment sees God’s redeeming action always present and active in service of the flourishing of a world that is currently suffering reversals and death in a horrific way. The living God, gracious and merciful, always was, is and will be accompanying the world with saving grace, including humans in their sinfulness, and humans and all creatures in their unique beauty, evolutionary struggle and inevitable dying…

In Jesus Christ crucified we are gifted with an historical sacrament of encounter with the mercy of God, which points us toward conversion to the suffering earth, sustained by hope for the resurrection of us all.

(Source: Elizabeth A Johnson: from ‘Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril, p.225)

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An Open Letter to the Religious Leaders in Australia

An Open Letter to the religious leaders in Australia.

(by Tim Costello)

This week marks the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech. Those prophetic words for all Americans are now etched in history.

Less well known, but no less important, is King’s prophetic words to white religious leaders written from Birmingham Jail. It was smuggled out written around edges of old newspapers and raggedy bits of paper as he was allowed nothing to write on.

He addresses the white clergy who claimed to support the cause of equality, but called his direct action “unwise and untimely”. While those clergy leaders urged “patience” and delay, he responded that he had “never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was ‘well timed’ according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation… We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights.”

The letter from Birmingham Jail is as heavy-hearted as his Washington speech is uplifting. To ministers saying ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern,” King revealed a disappointment. It is the pain of a brother and not an enemy: “I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the Church. I say this as a Minister of the Gospel who loves the Church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen”.

MLK’s words inspired me years later to become a Baptist minister. I even named one of my sons after him. But there’s something freshly relevant today as he calls out “a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular”. Among so many of Australia’s church leaders, on the profoundly important issues of Indigenous injustice we find caution rather than courage. They say these issues are too divisive for church leaders to address. I encounter this argument every day, as church leaders close their doors to Indigenous leaders and voices like mine seeking to explain why we are voting Yes in the Voice referendum.

We are voting in a referendum, not a partisan election. This referendum was requested by an overwhelming majority of Indigenous leaders. The current PM has answered that request, and he has the support of many prominent past and present Liberals, including half of Australia’s state conservative leaders. It is a chance for Australians to transcend the tribalism of day-to-day politics.

So let me explain why I believe this goes to the heart of my faith.

As a Christian I ask the question what right do we have to oppose what our indigenous brothers and sisters are asking for? In 1937 William Cooper a Yorta Yorta Christian leader secured thousands of indigenous signatures on a petition to ask the King George the VI ‘to prevent the extinction of the aboriginal race: to secure better living conditions for all; and to afford aboriginal representation in Parliament. The King never saw it as the PM and States blocked it even being sent. And where were the Churches then? Sadly over the years we have gone missing or remained deaf to the pleas of our brothers and sisters.

But that is not how our Christian story began.

From its earliest days, the church has navigated conflict and inequality. Jewish Christians insisted they would not eat with Christian Gentiles, until the apostles made it clear that transcending those divisions was at the heart of living out the gospel. They had the courage to overcome resistance, and

the message of freedom in Christ and one family in Christ not two – a Jewish Christian and a Gentile Christian soon carried across the world.

Barely any Australian Christian today imagines they would have opposed William Wilberforce’s fight against slavery had they been alive in his day. But that’s not what history teaches us. Many Christians said Wilberforce’s campaign was political, not spiritual. ‘The Record’, an evangelical newspaper in Wilberforce’s time, labelled his campaign against slavery as divisive and not of the Gospel. They baulked at giving any political expression to the biblical vision of now being “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free” but united in Christ.

When alive, voices like Wilberforce that challenge inequality are always accused of being divisive and political. The irony is that once they have died, we celebrate them. Why don’t we learn from history? How is it that many can joyfully sing the anti-slave anthem Amazing Grace, then go out and oppose the Voice? Why are leaders not challenging the flood of disinformation from White Christian nationalist websites from the USA?

It’s hard to imagine a stronger connection than that between Wilberforce’s evangelical network in the 1830s and cause of justice for Indigenous Australians. They made the bold case that Aborigines had been made in God’s image and had rights as those who occupied this land. They established the Aboriginal Protection Society, which exposed colonial injustices. The evangelical Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Glenelg, and the evangelical civil servant James Stephen, sought to prevent the takeover of unoccupied lands in South Australia, insisting that unoccupied lands belonged to the Aboriginal people and needed their consent or treaty. Those efforts were circumvented by Robert Torrens and other settlers, who wanted to behave like the other Colonies and just take the land.

The Wilberforce evangelicals had more success in NZ. Why was the Treaty of Waitangi struck in 1840? Because of the strengths of that Christian evangelical vision in Westminster. It would be more than 150 years before native title was recognised as law in Australia in the Mabo case in 1992. Once again there was a massive ‘No’ case scare campaign claiming that that Australians would lose our backyards with the Native title Act. But as sensible voices at the time reassured us, not one centimetre was lost.

Like MLK, we can be both proud of our many national achievements, as well as being honest about injustices that date back to our foundations. Captain Cook in 1770 claimed all of the land on the Eastern continent of Australia for the British King on the basis of the legal principle of discovery. In the same year, America’s second President, John Adams, wrote in the Massachusetts Gazette that this principle clearly “could give not title to the English King by common law, or by the law of nature, to the lands, tenements, and hereditaments of the native Indians.”

When Australia’s constitution was being written, the language of natural rights- so familiar to Wilberforce’s network- had sharply declined. The only delegate to raise questions about the fate of Aboriginal Australians was Sir William Russell, the delegate from New Zealand – a country that by then had fifty years’ experience of a treaty with Indigenous inhabitants. Russell warned that the new federal Parliament ”would be a body that cares nothing and knows nothing about native administration.” Cautious voices told him not to worry because Australia’s Aborigines were dying out as if the fate of Indigenous peoples could be attributed to natural causes. And so Aborigines were left out of our Constitution – the injustice that we are now addressing – while special provision was made in our Constitution for the future inclusion of New Zealand.

I fully accept that voting ‘No’ does not mean you are a racist. But I’m sure there’s not too many racists voting ‘Yes’.

Enough of the discredited line that to stand up to injustice is divisive, dangerous and unwise. Four in five Indigenous Australians are asking for a voice, and Christians represent a larger share of the Indigenous population than the population at large. Let’s heed the lessons of history, from Botany Bay to Uluru. Let’s raise our voices for Amazing Grace, but let’s not fail the true test for our generation.

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Housing Crisis and Homelessness

The stereotypical image of a ‘homeless person’ needs dastric revision. In recent years the vast majority of homeless people have been women (and children) escaping domestic and family violence, or relationship breakdowns, leaving them financially vulnerable and facing insecure housing arrangements.

Now, the housing crisis is driving surging demand for homelessness services. Families are living in cars, and emergency accommodation. And more to come, when the fixed interest mortgage rates come to an end and people face further financial crisis.

Article on Homelessness Australia website, August 4, 2023

A new analysis reveals surging demand for homelessness services as record low rental vacancies and soaring prices push thousands of Australian families to the brink.

The Overstretched and overwhelmed: the strain on homelessness services report was prepared to mark the start of Homelessness Week. It cross-references Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data against service costs as outlined in the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services to reveal that an additional $450 million in homelessness support is needed to respond to new people needing homelessness assistance and people currently being turned away.

Between December and March, the number of people seeking homelessness assistance spiked 7.5 per cent, an extra 6,658 clients.

The overwhelming bulk of that need came from people seeking homelessness help because of financial stress and the housing crisis. Of the 95,767 people seeking assistance in March 2023, 83 per cent of them (79,244) needed help due to issues with their housing or financial stress.

Queensland saw the biggest increase in homelessness service use followed by Western Australia and NSW.

People seeking homelessness assistance in Victoria (highest in the country)
December 2022 31,088
March 2023. 32,733 (up 5.3%)
(compared to next highest: NSW December 2022 – 22,432; March 2023 – 24,730. Up 10.2%)

The report also highlights the impact of the housing crisis on women and children, with women and children making up 74% of all people using homelessness services. Of those turned away from homelessness services because they lacked the resources to assist, 80% were women and children and 31% were children under 18.

The report finds that if the current surge in demand continues, it will equate to an annual increase in demand equivalent to an additional 19,974 people. When combined with the 71,962 people currently turned away from homelessness services each year this adds up to 91,936 extra people needing support. The cost of funding this support is approximately $451 million.

The surge in demand was making it harder to assist people confronting homelessness.

A 7.5% increase in demand in just four months is unheard of. It forces homelessness services to make extremely tough decisions about who gets assistance.

Support services are triaging based on people’s vulnerability and need, but the reality is highly vulnerable people are being turned away because services simply have too few staff and other support resources. When you annualise this demand and add it to the existing people turned away we are looking at a funding shortfall of more than $450 million. This is just one terrible side effect of the worst housing crisis in living memory.

The bulk of increased demand comes from women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence. It is beyond comprehension that we have to turn people away, especially in winter.

The Federal Government has recently committed to new resources for social housing which is welcome, but while the housing crisis continues to drive increased homelessness, a significant funding boost is needed to cope with this unprecedented surge in demand. Australia has the means to end homelessness, we just need the will.

Homelessness Australia CEO, Kate Colvin

See also How the face of poverty in Australia is changing amid housing crisis

News Sandy's Comments

Lay Preachers Sunday (UCA)

A celebration of Lay Preachers (usually on the first Sunday in August)

To preach the Gospel, the grace of God in Jesus Christ, is one of the greatest privileges anyone can have – and a pretty significant responsibility as well!

In the Uniting Church that that privilege is extended not just to Pastors and ordained ministers – Ministers of the Word and Deacons – in congregation placement, but to lay people, “ordinary” members of a congregation who respond to a Call from God to bring the Gospel of grace to their people.

The Ministry of Lay Preaching is a Specified Ministry in the Uniting Church, that is, it is of such importance that there are Regulations relating to the training and formal recognition of Lay Preachers. And those who have been through the formation will bear witness to the incredible richness of understanding, and deepening of faith, that accompanies the study involved.

There are also many who faithfully lead their people in worship and with preaching each week and who do not have any formal recognition. The church recognises the reality that without the faithful service of these people, there would be many congregations on any given Sunday with nobody to lead their worship.

So in the celebration of Lay Preachers Sunday, we thank God for the dedication and the gifts of accredited Lay Preachers, but also all people Lay and Ordained who bring the insights of their life experience to their faith and share that with us each week.

We pray the blessing of God on them all.:

There are diverse gifts:
but it is the same Spirit who gives them.
There are different ways of serving God:
but it is the same Lord who is served.
God works through people in different ways:
but it is the same God whose purpose is achieved through us all.
Each one of us is given a gift by the Spirit:
and there is no gift without its corresponding

There is one ministry of Christ:
and in this ministry we all share.
Together we are the body of Christ:
and individually members of it.
(Based on 1 Corinthians 12:4ff)

A reflection by Rev Prof Andrew Dutney on lay preachers

News Sandy's Comments

‘Welcoming and Inclusive’

On Saturday 29th July the Welcoming and Inclusive Conference was held, with a focus on actions for churches in response to people with disabilities and mental health issues. It was organised by the Victorian Council of Churches, the UCA Justice Unit, and the Salvation Army, and held at the Salvation Army complex at Box Hill.

Extraordinarily good speakers including key note speakers Rev Dr Andy Calder (Disability Inclusion Advocate, UCA Synod of Vic/Tas) and Colleen Pearce, Victoria’s Public Advocate who advocates for human rights and the interests of people with a disability and mental illness, as well as significant issues of abuse, neglect and exploitation. There were workshops in the afternoon.

A video of the morning proceedings will be available online.

Here is the opening reflection I offered to begin the day:

This is a significant day. The church has a particular responsibility to be welcoming and inclusive. Everyone is made in God’s image and is precious in God’s sight. All people bear the image of God. And the gift of God’s grace and love and mercy is offered to us all. Jesus crossed borders and boundaries to be with those with psychosocial impairments and physical disability, to bring hope, as much through healing as it was through a willingness to be attentive to their needs and to include them in the family of God in a culture where mental and physical ailments were a cause for exclusion.

And for us today – the message is clear, that our priority is to create a welcoming, supportive environment for all people. If there is any sense that some people are not good enough to be included in the heart of community, you’re preaching a different gospel to the one exemplified in the life of Jesus. Everyone should feel safe and welcome and included in our church life, companions on this wonderful journey of life that has been gifted to us. 

And yes, that may mean things may be a little different. We may need to accept behaviours that are not what we are used to. We need to create safe space for everyone. But more than that, to be able to welcome the gift each person brings to community, to learn from and with each other, to be open to change together. Not everyone’s gifts will look the same but everyone’s gifts are vital for the way we function as the body of Christ. 

Today we will hear many wise voices, share many experiences, learn from the stories others bring, encounter fresh ideas, be challenged, and find encouragement, wisdom and hope. May these experiences be like that parable of the yeast in the flour, and rise up and refresh our Christian communities to reflect what it means to be the body of Christ in all its fullness.