Friday, 24 April 2009

The tensions in practical ecumenism: the Ambrose Institute and the proposed Islamic school in Camden

The Sydney Morning Herald of 23 April carried two different stories that highlight some of the real tensions inherent in ecumenism and interreligious alliances. The first story was the continuing appeal hearing relating to a proposed Islamic School in Camden. The second was about the foundation of a new group, led by Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, Islamic and other leaders, to fight against vilification laws and religious intolerance.


Today's installment in this saga is about different perspectives of the various Christian groups in the area. The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in NSW, the Right Reverend Bruce Meller, summarised what seems to me to be the orthodox, catholic position quite well. He said that:

"...the charter of his church opposed "persecuting and intolerant principles" directed at Muslims. "But we are a Christian organisation and we want to see the teachings of Jesus being pre-eminent."

Others however took a view not infrequently heard from Catholic lips:

"The Reverend Glenda Blakefield, the associate general secretary of the Uniting Church's national assembly, said Christians, Muslims and Jews were all "people of the book" who shared a common heritage descended from Abraham."

In fact the Catholic view is that Christianity is not a 'religion of the book' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 108), but of the Word of God, incarnate and living. And while we recognise in other religions the search for God 'among shadows and images', we also have to keep in mind that 'Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator..' (CCC844).

All of which suggests that opposition to such schools is perfectly legitimate given their history elsewhere!

The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty

It is perhaps still possible - though juggling the tension involved in practice can't be easy - to maintain the pre-eminence of Christianity even while finding areas of common cause with other religions, and that's the second news item of interest.

The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty was being launched at NSW Parliament House last night, and brings together a very diverse group of religious leaders indeed, all of whom are worried that religious vilification laws might be introduced nationally. Its 'what we do statement' is very carefully crafted:

"The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty has been established to defend religious freedom as one of the foundations of human rights and a strong, democratic and pluralistic society. It does not believe that every individual, group, cult, sect and organisation is right, or that their beliefs are equally valid or true. But it does believe that we all have a right to our own answers, even if others think they are wrong."

The Board of the Centre includes Cardinal Pell; Archbishop Hickey of Perth; the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen; former Nationals leader and deputy prime minister John Anderson; the senior rabbi of Sydney's Great Synagogue, Jeremy Lawrence; Haset Sali, a Brisbane lawyer and member of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils; the Adelaide academic My-Van Tran, a prominent Buddhist leader; and the Hindu leader Gambhir Watts. It has ties with the US Acton Foundation.

It also has a website, which you can find here, but be warned, a lot of it is still under construction. And its 'latest news' from around the world section isn't going to be of much use unless it includes dates! Still, its emphasis on practical advocacy looks like a much needed service. So do consider signing up to their newsletter and supporting it.

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