21 February 2008

March 2008

by Rod Benson

The National Apology by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, on Wednesday 13 February was the most profound display of social justice I have witnessed.

It was symbolic but also practical. It was inspired by particular moral convictions but secured bipartisan political support. It reflected on past mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and looked to the future with courage and optimism.

Above all, the Apology expressed the words that many Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, have needed to hear from the lips of their Prime Minister: “We apologise, we say sorry, we say sorry.” Those words were long overdue.

But while Apology Day is the end of one difficult journey, it marks the beginning of another longer one. Baptists and those of other faith communities all over this great country must now work hard together to ensure that the symbolism in the Apology bears fruit in just public policy, effective implementation, and a continued commitment to reconciliation between partners only now learning to trust each other.

It was a privilege for me to formally represent the President of the Baptist Union of Australia in Canberra on this historic national occasion, and to share in an ecumenical prayer service in the afternoon at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.

I look to the future in the hope that institutionalized injustice based on race and ethnicity never happens again; that within my lifetime Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians come to experience the same life expectancy, and educational and economic opportunities; and that the principles of “mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility” are taken seriously and become evident in all our attitudes and actions.

I am personally committed to this vision of justice for all Australians, and I encourage you to stand with me as we lay claim to a just future that embraces all Australians. Such a vision is undoubtedly God-inspired and will need divine wisdom and power to succeed. Pray that our leaders and policy makers follow the heart-beat of God for our nation.

Rev Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College, Sydney.

February 2008

by Rod Benson

In December 2007 I spent two weeks in Israel and Palestine with Australian church leaders, encouraging Palestinian Christians and observing daily life in the West Bank. We visited Jerusalem, Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and several refugee camps. We met Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, Israeli and Palestinian politicians, and civic and human rights leaders.

We heard of Israeli grief and pain resulting from violent attacks and fear of terrorist activity. We saw and heard evidence of systematic harassment, physical and psychological oppression, and widespread unemployment and poverty resulting from Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.

The imprisonment of political prisoners, the segregated road system, the proliferation of hundreds of checkpoints and road blocks throughout the West Bank, the restrictions on movement of people and goods, and the effective isolation of Palestinian communities from one another all reduce the quality of life for Palestinians, foment active resistance, and stand in the way of a just peace.

The nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. Both Israel and Palestine have a right to political autonomy, security and self-determination. Most ordinary people long for a just and lasting peace in the region. But in my judgment this appears remote.

Yet there are signs of hope. Human rights organisations and local community organisations do courageous work. More Israelis are becoming aware of the financial and human cost of the conflict. Political leaders are seeking to work toward a resolution of the conflict.

Here’s what you and I can do to further peace and harmony in Israel and Palestine:

  • pray for a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine;
  • learn all you can about the region and the conflict, being aware that there are at least two sides to every story;
  • sponsor aid and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza;
  • encourage the Australian Government to take more action to support peace;
  • build stronger relationships with Jewish and Muslim people in Australia to encourage greater understanding.

Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College.