The Uniting Church today called for an end to human rights abuses and publicly committed itself to monitor and advocate for human rights in the face of increasing reports of violations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Uniting Church President, Rev. Gregor Henderson, said a statement endorsed by the 11th National Assembly meeting in Brisbane today, Dignity in Humanity: Recognising Christ in Every Person, offered a comprehensive expression of the churches’ commitment to, and support of, international human rights instruments.
“In 1937 representatives from churches around the world met to ensure that human rights were included in the United Nations Charter and the churches went on to play a significant role in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, members of the Uniting Church are regularly reminded through the relationships we have with partner churches in our region, that human rights violations still occur.
“We are deeply troubled by reports from our partners in areas like the Philippines and West Papua that the most basic human rights we take for granted, are being ignored. Today’s statement commits us to take a very public stand against these situations.”
Rev. Henderson said the statement would provide a framework for other more specific resolutions of the Church, such as the commitment made today to support the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua, at a time when Papuan culture faces marginalisation through transmigration and military action in West Papua.
“Today’s resolutions commit us to continue to speak for those whose voices are silenced. They also call us to monitor and asses Australian Government policy and practice against the international human rights instruments,” Rev. Henderson said.
“We do this as an expression of our long-held commitment to the dignity inherent in every person as a human being made in the image of God.”
The National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, the Rev. Elenie Poulos, said as well as clearly articulating the Church’s motivation for upholding human rights, the resolution also offered encouragement to agencies and other groups within the Church to advocate for social policy and legislative outcomes consistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations.
“This resolution calls on the Australian Government to ensure that it fulfils its responsibilities to uphold human rights. It also calls on the Government to develop and promote human rights education to help foster mutual understanding, healthy and harmonious communities, and justice and peace. It commits the National Assembly to play its part too, by promoting awareness and understanding of human rights through existing and future Church programs and promoting and respecting human rights in our work and mission,” Rev. Poulos said.
“We hope that this statement provides a specific frame of reference for the Church to continue and expand its current work in the area of justice and human rights, both on domestic and international levels. Today’s statements are affirmations of our belief in the dignity of each person as bestowed by God and recognition that human rights are essential for achieving peace with justice.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
Following careful, and prayerful reflection and discernment the Uniting Church’s 250 member National Assembly has been unable to come to one mind on the issue of accepting into leadership positions those living in committed same-gender relationships
Acknowledging that there was a diversity of opinion within its membership, the Assembly today passed a resolution which re-affirms that matters relating to the placement and ordination of those living in committed same-gender relationships will continue to be made by the local Congregation and Presbytery on a case by case basis. This upholds the existing practice of the Church.
Uniting Church President, Rev. Gregor Henderson said Assembly members recognised this was an important issue for many members of the Church but that after lengthy discussions and spiritual discernment they had been unable to reach agreement as to whether the Assembly should further exercise determining responsibility on this issue and adopt a single policy to apply across the entire church.
“I am grateful for the gracious and respectful way that members of the Assembly addressed this issue. We were also deeply moved by the response of the Aboriginal arm of the church which, despite opposing the current practice, committed itself to remain within the fellowship of the Uniting Church. Our discussions over the last few days remind us that we have a range of deeply held convictions in our church on this issue and that we are not of the same mind at this time. Notwithstanding the hopes of many in the church, the Assembly resolved that it was unable to exercise further its determining authority in this matter.
“We have prayerfully sought to discern God’s will on this matter and I believe we have reached a position of integrity at this time that allows us to live in unity with our diversity.
The decision of the Assembly today recognises that there are a range of understandings about this issue.
“This decision re-affirms that congregations and presbyteries will continue to be the place where decisions around the ordination and placement of those living in committed same-gender relationships are made. Congregations who are unable, in all good conscience, to receive such a minister will not be compelled to do so. The resolution also calls the church to respect the decision of a congregation indicating its willingness to consider calling a minister in a committed same-gender relationship.”
The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Gregor Henderson, today issued an invitation to the leadership of EMU and the Reforming Alliance, to meet with him and other church leaders next week to clarify the proposed Assembly of Confessing Congregations.
“On face value this proposal seems to suggest establishing a series of parallel structures within the Uniting Church. The Church’s Basis of Union provides for members of the church to work within the established councils of our Presbyteries, Synods and the Assembly and the proposed Charter appears to be in breach of this.
“The Uniting Church has received no formal communication on this issue. I am concerned the proposed charter lacks clarity and raises many more questions than it answers. With this in mind, I have invited the National Spokesperson of EMU and the Chair of the Reforming Alliance to meet with me next week to seek clarification of what is intended in the proposed charter.
“In the meantime, I encourage congregations to take their time before making any decisions and to wait until further information about the exact nature of this proposal is available.
“I also want to assure members that the Uniting Church works firmly within the traditions of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and am distressed to think that any members of our church would believe otherwise.”
The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Gregor Henderson, today expressed surprise and regret that the leaders of EMU and the Reforming Alliance have refused to meet him to discuss the proposed Assembly of Confessing Congregations.
“It is with deep regret that I have learned the leaders of both EMU and the Reforming Alliance have twice declined my invitation to meet me next week to clarify the proposed Assembly of Confessing Congregations. I am still keen to meet with leaders of EMU and the Reforming Alliance and am hopeful that we can find ways whereby Reforming Alliance and EMU members can remain within the structure and fellowship of the Uniting Church.
“On face value, this proposal appears to have major implications for our church and it is entirely appropriate that the proponents make their intentions clear by meeting with me and outlining their vision.
“It is not fair for members of the church to be asked to sign on to such a proposal without further information and I am concerned they may be asked to do this in coming weeks. Congregations are entitled to all the information before they are asked to join a group that accuses the Assembly of apostasy (straying from the faith) and claims to reject the authority of Presbyteries, Synods and the Assembly.
“Members of the Uniting Church have a right to know exactly what is being proposed and how it might impact our existing Uniting Church structures,” Rev. Henderson said.
“I encourage congregations to take their time before making any decisions and to wait until further information about the exact nature of this proposal is available.
“The Uniting Church works firmly within the traditions of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and I am distressed to think that any members of our church would believe otherwise.”
Uniting Church leaders today condemned the Government’s plan to detain more asylum seekers on Nauru as inhumane, and urged Senators to vote against the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 currently before the Parliament.
In a letter sent to members of the Senate today, the Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, urged Senators to oppose the Bill on the grounds that it is counter to Australia’s international human rights obligations and ignores our responsibility to protect people in need.
“It is the sincerely held view of the Uniting Church that, were these changes to be passed, it would constitute an abrogation of our ethical and moral responsibilities to human rights and to the welfare of other human beings.
“This legislation an unreasonable attempt to exclude refugees who have suffered significant human rights abuses from seeking asylum as is their current entitlement under Australian law.
“There is also significant evidence that the amendments would put Australia in breach of our international human rights obligations,” Rev. Poulos stated in the letter.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson expressed deep concern over this new legislation which breaches standards of basic human decency and which will impact heavily on the welfare of asylum seekers.
“The changes do nothing to protect the health and dignity of asylum seekers,” Rev. Henderson said.
“This is a policy which will harm already traumatised people. Indefinite detention on Nauru has had a terrible impact on the physical and mental health of people in the past. Why would the Government seek to foster this destructive policy? Why would it once again be willing to sacrifice the well-being of children?
“Many dedicated Church members and groups are involved in providing support, aid and advocacy to asylum seekers detained in Australia. By detaining asylum seekers in Nauru, the Government is effectively removing this support network from extremely vulnerable people.”
Rev. Henderson urged the Senate to vote down the Bill.
“The Uniting Church in Australia will continue to advocate the just, compassionate treatment of asylum seekers and their families. Our primary concern will continue to be the health and welfare of asylum seekers.
“We pray and hope that the Government decides to abandon this terrible and inhumane policy.”
Rev. Henderson is available for interview on request
The Uniting Church today expressed its condolences to the people of Tonga and to the Queen and the royal family of Tonga following news that the King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died overnight.
King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died in New Zealand on Sunday evening 10th Sept after a long illness. He ruled the Kingdom of Tonga for 41 years.
The Uniting Church has a close affinity with the Royal family and the Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga, with which it has had a long standing partnership. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was a lay preacher in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, said the death of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was a great loss.
“The Uniting Church joins with Tongan Australians in expressing our condolences to the Queen, members of the Royal family and the people of Tonga during this difficult time.
“Through our partnership with the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, members of the Uniting Church have maintained an on-going relationship between the two churches and their leaders. Leaders and members of the Tongan National Conference of the Uniting Church will be meeting for thanksgiving services for the life of the King in locations across the country later this week.
“King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV will be sadly missed. His death is not only a loss for the Tongan community but for the Tongan Church. His reign of 41 years was marked by profound Christian concerns for the Kingdom of Tonga and for Tongans throughout the world.”
The funeral will be held this Saturday with religious services on the Friday prior. With Rev. Henderson currently travelling internationally, the Uniting Church will be represented by the former President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, who visited Tonga four times during his Presidency.
Uniting Church President, the Reverend Gregor Henderson, today issued a challenge to all Australians to take practical steps to encourage peace building on the United Nations International Day of Peace, Thursday 21st September.
“Every Australian hopes for a world without violence, but living as we do in stable country, it has sometimes been difficult to grasp the extent and impact of violent conflict in so many other places. Yet as we witness the horrendous vision of violence in the Middle East, and the instability in our own region, all Australians are confronted with the reality that we live in a broken world.
“Injustice, prejudice and violence are global problems that cannot be ignored. As war continues to destroy communities, families and lives around the world, it is important that we remember that our future depends on each other and that continued war and violence are threats to all humanity.
“Each life destroyed by violence lessens each one of us.”
Rev. Henderson’s call coincides with the International Day of Prayer for Peace, which is held on the UN International Day of Peace each year to encourage all people of faith to join in prayer for peace in areas of conflict.
“I hope the day will encourage all Australians to become peacemakers. Prayer and reflection are important first steps in the peace building process because they focus our energies and increase our desire to work together and take positive steps to build peace.
“On this International Day of Peace we are reminded again of the fragile nature of peace in our world. Yet despite our many differences, we are called to live with our diversity in peace and harmony.
“The Uniting Church is deeply committed to interfaith dialogue within Australia - it fosters understanding and reminds us that strong relationships, not rules, make a lasting difference.
“We must engage in genuine dialogue with each other and work for peace– starting in our own backyard. Every one of us has a part to play in breaking through barriers to understanding and empathy. We must put aside our differences if we are to hope for a world free of violence, war and hatred.
“I encourage all Australians to take the good in our hearts, our homes, our communities and our country, and turn it to the task of learning how to live together in peace, embrace our diversity and celebrate all that we share as human beings knowing that our future depends on each other.”
The Uniting Church has called for an urgent re-think of Aboriginal policy in Australia by all Governments including the recent trend toward mainstreaming services after a church delegation spent three days in Port Augusta this week.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, who led the five person delegation to Port Augusta, said the visit was a stark reminder that on the whole, the policies of various Governments continued to fail Aboriginal people.
The delegation was invited to Port Augusta by the Uniting Aboriginal Islander and Christian Congress (UAICC) to investigate conditions at the State Government run Lakeview Transient Accommodation Centre, where Aboriginal people travelling to the area in summer are offered accommodation in wiltjas (tents).
While in Port Augusta, the delegation met with representatives of the local Davenport Aboriginal Community, representatives of the UAICC, the mayor and senior council staff, the SA Department of Housing, representatives of the SA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, the Federal Government’s Indigenous Coordination Centre and local Aboriginal people.
“Although our site visit to Lakeview allayed some of my concerns, it is still troubling that in this day and age, any Government would respond to the accommodation needs of Australian citizens of any circumstance by erecting tents inside a wire fenced enclosure.
“While there are mixed opinions about the Lakeview facility in the local community it’s difficult to avoid the sense that Lakeview, which is located well out of town, was built as a quick fix which gets the issue of Aboriginal transients out of sight and out of mind.” “What was even more disturbing was the unavoidable sense that this issue is the result of a far larger set of issues that are simply not being adequately addressed. While we saw the excellent work and commitment of many agencies, there is still a lack of funding, resources and suitable policies that address the issues of health care, homelessness, employment and alcohol and drug addiction.”
Rev. Henderson said the delegation was also deeply concerned at recent moves by the State and Federal Governments to bring specialised Aboriginal services within mainstream services and policies.
“We heard first hand about the effects of the closure of the Indigenous Housing Department in South Australia and the imminent withdrawal by the Federal Government of the Community Development Employment Program and the cessation of funding of municipal services in Aboriginal communities like Davenport.
“By mainstreaming services and support for Aboriginal people in this way we run the risk of further marginalising their voices and making it harder for Governments to provide appropriate and effective support on the ground. I urge all Governments to slow down and consult with Aboriginal people to see if these policies are really going to improve services and ensure their voices are heard when decisions are made which affect them. Otherwise, I fear the result will be a further set-back to the possibility of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians."
A report on the trip, including recommendations for both Governments and the Uniting Church will now be prepared.
The Uniting Church has urged the Federal Government to secure the immediate release of David Hicks on the eve of tomorrow’s nation-wide protests marking the fifth anniversary of his incarceration.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, said David Hicks should be returned to Australia immediately and that any charges against him should be dealt with under Australian or International law.
“We strongly support the current efforts for David Hicks to be released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to his family and community here in Australia.
“The Uniting Church in Australia deplores the ongoing incarceration of David Hicks at Guantanamo and the continued acquiescence of the Australian Government in his ongoing detention,” Rev Henderson said.
At its 10th National Assembly held in Melbourne in 2003 the church passed a resolution calling for David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib to be returned to Australia and dealt with under Australian or International Law.
“At that time the Uniting Church National Assembly affirmed that God’s love for every human being leads Christians to support those whose human rights are disregarded, including those who are imprisoned unjustly, and that it is a fundamental responsibility of a democratic government to seek to safeguard the human rights of all its citizens, including the unpopular and the alleged wrongdoer.”
After adopting a major new statement on human rights this year at its 11th Assembly, the Uniting Church again called on the Australian Government to act urgently to ensure David Hicks is repatriated to Australia and for the Government to withdraw its support for the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.
A letter to this effect has been sent to the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition.
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
Christmas is for all, not just Christians, because the birth of Jesus demonstrated God’s love for the world.
It’s celebrated by people who never go near a church or sing a carol and by people who’ve never even heard the stories of the birth of Jesus. Christmas is for everybody. In the birth of Jesus, in whom we Christians put our trust as the Son of God, God’s love was brought to life for everyone.
The Christmas event speaks to us more than 2000 years later because it is not just a story about divinity. It is a story which is most deeply about what it means to be human – a story of human vulnerability, of hopes, fears and dreams, family and culture, exclusion and acceptance. And because of this, the meaning of Christmas continues to break into our world and challenge us all, but especially Christians, to live lives that reach out in the world without fear or favour.
Because God loves all people, we must care for them too. Generosity towards those in poverty, the homeless and those in trouble anywhere in the world is a Christian responsibility. So part of our Christmas celebration involves giving to appeals like the Christmas Bowl, for people in need across in the world.
Because people of diverse backgrounds welcomed the birth of Jesus – Judean shepherds, Galilean peasants, Persian sages - multiculturalism is to be welcomed and enjoyed – God’s intention for the world was not for people to be integrated into one uniform culture.
Because Jesus came for the whole world, Christians are called to see themselves as world citizens. National boundaries are secondary. National citizenship is secondary. We must carefully examine the values which lie behind Australian policies on border protection, immigration and citizenship tests. Diversity, inclusiveness, and multiculturalism are blessings to be celebrated, not policies that can be shelved.
My hope this year is that Christmas will remind us that so-called “Australian values” are human values and that the birth of Jesus Christ teaches us that they are part of God’s gift to us, for what kind of world would it be without the gifts that lie within us all - compassion, forgiveness, prayerfulness, justice, inclusion, and the celebration of life.
May this Christmas bring you joy and peace, fresh purpose and new life.
Rev. Gregor Henderson
President Uniting Church in Australia
Labor's asylum policy heads in right direction, but a little more courage, please
The Uniting Church in Australia national spokesperson on refugee and asylum issues says she is encouraged by Labor's Refugee Policy released this morning, "although some areas deserve further work."
"In a nutshell, the Labor policy on refugees is heading in the right direction but it is not quite brave enough", said Rev Elenie Poulos, National Director of Social Responsibility and Justice.
"We are encouraged by the more open and transparent approach evidenced in this policy. We are very happy that Labor will commit to a speedy processing system and put in place a monitoring system for failed asylum seekers who are returned. And we are extremely pleased with the promise to boost aid to source countries, countries of first asylum and the UNHCR.
"We congratulate the Labor Party on its recognition that the management of detention centres should rest with the public sector and that high security detention should only be used for short periods of time and never for children. We are particularly happy with the proposals for media access to detention centres and the provision of health services by independent health care professionals who will be allowed to make public comment.
"While we appreciate the proposal for hostel accommodation we are disappointed with the continued use of Christmas Island and the refusal to reverse the excision of areas from our migration zone.
"Although pleased that the Temporary Protection Visa regime will be radically cut back and more assistance will be given to holders of TPVs, the UCA has been calling for an end to TPVs altogether. We would have also preferred the creation of a class of humanitarian visa that can applied for through the same processes available for Protection Visas, although the more open and transparent system for the use of ministerial discretion is an improvement.
"The aspects of the policy that concern us most are those based on the idea that people do not have a right to move through countries of first asylum. The Uniting Church believes asylum seekers have a right to seek refuge in a safe country that can provide for their needs.
"While increased international aid will help in the long-term, in the immediate future people will still need to seek safety in other countries more able to provide for their well-being.
"The UCA in Australia looks forward to the time when the vilification of asylum seekers ends, when the rhetoric around these issues ceases to be based on fear, misunderstanding and misinformation and when Australian immigration policy on these issues reflects the compassionate heart that resides in Australians.
"We are calling for strong moral leadership as an antidote to the harsh and punitive policies of deterrence and the tactics of fear and race that have marked the public discussion on these issues for far too long," Ms Poulos said.
Elenie Poulos is available for comment.
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