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Monday, 25 February 2008

Why religion, and law and order are a problem - introducing the politics of Easter

Great quote in the readings for Lent:

... Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force if necessary to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God's will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff's office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar. (Barbara Brown Taylor "Truth to Tell" Reading 16 in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, pp.89-90)

The politics of Easter are just as confronting, and nearly as frequently bypassed by "religious" people as are those of Christmas. More to come.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Witnessing a moment of history for more than just Australia

Cross posted from Ekklesia

A festival atmosphere was evident on the lawns outside Parliament House in Canberra yesterday. Thousands of people celebrated outside in the wake of Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations. That much was evident from the television broadcast and the reports from friends and family who made it to Parliament House and its immediate vicinity.

Aboriginal flags flew and Indigenous performers performed for the crowds, many of whom had travelled to the city from right across the country especially for the occasion. Crowds in the Great Hall and on the lawns outside Parliament wept, cheered and clapped after Mr Rudd said "sorry", in scenes that were repeated at gatherings across the country.

People jumped and whooped with the emotion of the occasion in celebrating a moment that many of them, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, believed would not come within their lifetime.

The celebration was only briefly interrupted by a strong negative response to the Opposition leader who in his speech in reply to that of the Prime Minister strayed into an ill-timed and insensitive defense of the previous Government’s intervention in the Northern Territory.

Within the parliamentary chamber, the opening of the business of Parliament with the Lord’s Prayer, while it functions as a remnant of Christendom which some would want want to question, seemed on this occasion to be strangely, if momentarily appropriate. In the light of the first item of business …“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth .. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…” It definitely caught the mood of the moment.

The recital of the words of apology by Mr Rudd took on an almost liturgical force. His speech in support of the motion was by turns emotionally direct in its recital of stories and experiences of people who had lived through the experience of separation from their family and community, and morally clear and intellectually clinical in the justification for the apology.

Kevin Rudd spoke in a register that made clear his personal engagement with his appeal to a shared humanity across a deep cultural and historical divide but also one that gave expression to his role and responsibility as the Prime Minister to speak on behalf of the Australian community and to give moral leadership in clearing the space for future action by speaking the truth about the past.

While it was a speech that drew on a presumed shared moral framework and language, the rhetoric was shaped by moments of almost unconscious biblical resonance and was powered by moral convictions deeply rooted in the Prime Minister’s faith commitments


The text of the apology, given as the first element of business by the new parliament, was tabled ahead of time.

The opening lines acknowledge the wider history of mistreatment that goes well beyond the specific matters that the apology is directed to.

The text, while it is directed specifically at the concerns of the stolen generations, is clear and unequivocal in its acknowledgement of the role of governments and lawmakers.

The challenge faced by the Rudd government will now be to deliver on its commitment to closing the gap in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity between indigenous Australians and the wider Australian community.

The strength of the wording may surprise skeptics. The response of the indigenous community in their passion to be present in Canberra for this event has similarly surprised the media who have dismissed this as a purely symbolic gesture.

The moral and emotional significance of this event for the indigenous community has yet again revealed the gap in understanding between the two communities as to the reality and pain of the history of violence and injustice that has been experienced by the original Australians.

For the full story see Ekklesia.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Iraq as a Humanitarian Crisis

Much of the debate over the future of Iraq seems to be cast within a military frame of reference.

What receives only passing and occasional attention is the huge and ongoing humanitarian crisis. The Mennonite Central Committee reports that the Iraqi refugee population is the fastest growing refugee population and Iraqis are the third largest displaced population.

The United Nations has estimated the total number of displaced Iraqis to be more than 4.4 million people. About half of these are refugees who have fled Iraqi, while the other half is displaced within the borders of Iraq. The International Organization for Migration reports that there were 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq before the February 2006 Samarra mosque bombing. Since then, another 1.2 million have become internally displaced.

Internal displacement in Iraq slowed in 2007, due to improved security in limited areas, but also due to the homogenization of communities, with fewer people forced out. While there are reports of Iraqis now returning to their homes, the situation remains dire. MCC staff on the ground state that it is too early to say whether the alleged improved security represents a sustainable trend but that the human casualty rate is still far too high. Many refugees return to Iraq only to be internally displaced. Conditions in Iraq remain inadequate: there is a lack of access to food, health care, housing and education, which, often times, is stressed by the influx of IDPs.|A+Silent+Crisis:+Internally+Displaced+Iraqis.