Tag Archives: Al Macrae

Not before time

According to the ABC, “the Federal Government is preparing to announce plans to release of asylum seekers from detention and allow them to live in the community while their applications for asylum are being assessed.” Read the full article here.

Uniting Church President Rev Al Macrae comments:

This is a long overdue common-sense decision, given all that we know about the devastating effects of the detention environment on the mental health of asylum seekers, especially children.

We are pleased and relieved that the Government appears to be re-committing itself to uphold the Immigration Detention Values statement it adopted early on in its first term.

Housing children and young people behind fences, without adequate freedom of movement or opportunities for education and play, while under constant guard, has caused tremendous unrest, misery and depression.

Today’s announcement will provide a great relief for parents who will regain the right to raise their children in a safe and suitable environment. It will also go some way to rebuilding our international reputation as a decent and hospitable country.

The Uniting Church will do all it can to support the Government’s plan to house minors and children with families in the community. We will also continue to work for improvements to the reception and processing systems for people who come to Australia’s shores seeking our protection.



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Al Macrae on our need for prophets

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Al Macrae, has written in the ABC’s Religion and Ethics page that we need prophetic political leadership. He is so right! Read the whole thing, but here is a sampler:

Biblical wisdom tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” If this aspect of leadership is neglected then leaders will inevitably seek lowest common denominator approaches which, in time, diminish any community.

From within the Jewish and Christian traditions there are many examples of courageous visionary leaders – Moses, Esther, King David, St Paul and, of course, Jesus himself. I’m sure we can all remember leaders in national and local political life who called us, often in the face of strong opposition, to the higher values of justice, peace and compassion.

But what seems to be happening in the current election is something different. The candidates seem a little too willing to capitulate to our less generous, more self-centred selves.

Australians like to think of themselves as generous-hearted people, predisposed to giving people a “fair go.” So why would leaders not appeal to these values?

The debate about asylum seekers is a perfect example. The policies of both major parties assume that most of us are fearful and mean-spirited, incapable of empathising with the plight of people seeking sanctuary in this land of abundance.

Jews know the biblical admonition to care for the stranger and the sojourner. Christians likewise will recall that Jesus himself was a refugee. Our leaders could remind us that the vast majority of our forebears arrived here seeking new life and opportunity, fleeing famine or war.

They could remind us that, at both solemn and proud civic occasions, we sing our national anthem which proclaims “we’ve boundless plains to share.”

They could call us to be who and what we claim to be.

While you’re on the site, bookmark it. Brisbane-based theologian Scott Stephens edits this page, and he’s doing a great job.

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Church leaders voice concerns over wellbeing of asylum seekers on Christmas Island

The Uniting Church President, Al Macrae, and the Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, have just returned from a visit to asylum seekers on Christmas Island:

Rev. Macrae described the facilities as “basic but adequate for short-term needs. Accommodation overcrowding was clearly evident.” Rev. Macrae said, “It is disturbing to approach the detention centre, which is surrounded by a high fence topped with electrified wire. It looks like a high security prison.”

“Asylum seekers being processed at a reasonable speed appeared to be happy enough,” said Rev. Macrae, “however there is a high level of anxiety amongst those whose cases have taken longer to process. Those most distressed have been detained on Christmas Island for seven to eight months and more.”

The Uniting Church in Australia is a strong advocate for closing the detention centre on Christmas Island and processing asylum seekers on the mainland. While recognising the Detention Centre is unlikely to be closed in the short term, Rev. Macrae called for families and unaccompanied minors to be immediately transferred to the mainland for processing. “There is no reasonable justification for vulnerable children to be held in such a remote facility,” he said.

Read the full article at UnitingJustice Australia.

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A Christmas message from the President of the Uniting Church in Australia

A Christmas of Contrasts

I wonder how those who favour harsh policies towards desperate people seeking haven and hope in this country will celebrate Christmas this year. For their sake I hope they don’t listen to the story at the heart of the season. They might choke on their turkey and gag on their champagne!

With a worrying sense of déjà vu, I have been aware of a disturbing juxtaposition of images. The Holy Family being turned away from the inn is overlaid with child-bearing mothers in boats confronted with gun-bearing navy vessels.

The image of a mother and child surrounded by animals and shepherds merges with images of a fearful mother with a newborn infant in a detention centre in Indonesia, Christmas Island or the Australian mainland.

The Holy Family fleeing to Egypt seeking asylum from terror, blends with images of hundreds of desperate people being turned away from our abundant shores.

The Christmas storyteller recalls a vulnerable couple seeking refuge in a strange town for the birth of their child. This same little family would later flee to Egypt as refugees to escape tyranny, returning when things were safer. The child of that birth grew up to preach and practice a radical inclusivity and teach about a God whose hospitality knows no limits.

Jesus taught his followers to direct their energies to caring for the lost, the lonely, the little and the least; and that in so doing they would be caring for him. His short life ended, as it had begun, as an outsider. He was crucified ‘outside the city gates’ between two common criminals.

The fear and the ignorance which crucified Christ remains starkly apparent in our world. The fear of the stranger, the other. I recognise it in myself. Would Christ survive this world if he came among us again?

This Christmas, as we welcome Jesus, whom Scripture calls the Prince of Peace, let us recall that he was and remains, a disturber of false peace. That false peace which rests on injustice and indifference to the poor and powerless.

May Christ be born in us again to soften and warm our hearts in the exercise of compassion; to strengthen our will in the pursuit of justice for all; to sharpen our minds to distinguish truth from expediency; and to move our spirits to respond with praise, gratitude and joy to the presence of the Living God, incarnate in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Revd Alistair Macrae

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No sex please, we’re preambling

The recent Assembly hasn’t generated a media frenzy; after all, it wasn’t about sex. But Christopher Pearson has written a critical piece in the Weekend Oz on both the process and the decision to alter the preamble of the Uniting Church Constitution to recognise the place of Indigenous peoples, and to recognise that God was revealing Godself to them prior to European colonisation.

And as Al points out—this isn’t the end. The Church’s processes require consultation with synods and presbyteries. The Assembly doesn’t act unilaterally in questions of the Constitution.

The whole thing is at the 12th Assembly website, but it’s so important I’ve reproduced it here:

The Uniting Church President, Rev. Alistair Macrae, has responded to the opinion piece,  ‘Questions over God’s place in the Dreaming’ that appeared in the Weekend Australian on July 25.

Response to Questions over God’s place in the Dreaming

It is clear from a number of inaccuracies in Christopher Pearson’s piece ‘Questions over God’s place in the Dreaming’ (July 25) that he was not present at the meeting of the Uniting Church 12th Assembly last week. The Assembly considered a recommendation from a special Task Group to include a new Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution, with explicit reference to the mixed legacy bequeathed on Indigenous peoples by Christian mission. 

This Preamble was overwhelmingly supported by members of the Assembly and, according to Uniting Church processes for constitutional change, will now be referred back to the State Synods and Presbyteries for further consideration. 

Pearson asserts that the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress “used its special procedural privileges to stifle debate”. This is not true. In fact the Congress explicitly told the Assembly that the gathering was a safe place for discussion. 

It is true that at one point members of the Congress asked to leave the meeting for discussion because they felt the environment was not safe for them because the integrity of their Christian faith was being challenged. But they left in order that the rest of us could continue to say whatever we wanted to say. At a number of points Congress leaders emphasised that they weren’t interested in guilt or shame. Rather, they were interested in a truthful statement of the mixed legacy Christian mission has left their people. 

Aboriginal Christians are endeavouring to hold together two realities in their experience – the truth of their convictions about and experience of Jesus Christ, and the enduring power and place of their traditional law, traditions and ceremonies. In recent conversation, Rev. Dr Djiniyinni Gondarra, a prominent theologian and tribal Elder from Arnhem Land, told me that “Jesus Christ affirms some parts of our traditional culture and judges other parts just as he does with any culture”. 

From an Indigenous perspective, Christian mission has, with rare exceptions, tended to condemn Indigenous practice and spirituality wholesale but failed to apply a similar critique to the dominant European culture.   

The Preamble states that God was here before European arrival. This would seem obvious. God the Creator is ubiquitous and presumably is self-revealing in many ways. The Christian claim that God is ‘fully and finally’ revealed in Jesus Christ is affirmed in the Preamble and by members of the Congress.  

When the Congress Chairperson, Rev. Ken Sumner, told the Assembly, “Sometimes we struggle to see God in you” it was nothing like a claim of ‘moral superiority’ as Pearson claims. It was a gentle rebuke considering how the Church’s complicity in policies of assimilation, child removal, etc., have had such a destructive impact on Indigenous peoples in this country. 

Pearson quotes Peter Sutton’s new book, indicating that the traditional aboriginal mindset does not include notions of “remorse, conscience or feelings of guilt”. If this is true then this precisely reflects the deep Christian influence on members of Congress! They have absorbed the core Christian teaching about remorse, responsibility, confession and amendment of life for themselves; and are asking the wider Church to practice its own disciplines with regard to the harmful impacts of European colonisation on Indigenous people. 

Pearson’s claim that “Christianity has always taught that its revelation was entire and whole and perfect” cannot go uncontested. Such a grandiose claim goes far beyond Christian orthodoxy. St Paul’s famous words are more apposite: “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face”. 

That is, even though the Christian church claims ultimacy and finality of God’s revelation in and through Christ, human apprehension of truth is always limited. The Uniting Church’s foundational document, the Basis of Union, reflects its Reformation origins, “…since law is received by human beings and framed by them, it is always subject to revision in order that it may better serve the gospel”. 

Throughout history great evil has been perpetrated when the church has failed to distinguish between its limited understanding and the mind and will of God. Good theology brings deep humility to its task. 

If Christopher Pearson had been present at the meeting many misrepresentations in the article could have been avoided; and some important challenges in his piece given more attention. 

For there certainly are significant questions for the church’s Indigenous and non Indigenous members to grapple with: at what points does God’s revelation in Jesus Christ affirm or challenge values and practices in all cultures? Without idealising one culture or demonising another, how can we arrive at a shared account of ‘truth’ (in this case the truth of the mixed impact of Christian mission on Indigenous peoples) in ways that offer a sure foundation upon which to build further reconciliation; and to deepen understanding and partnership? 

Rev. Ken Sumner’s words, that “together we can be a free church,” remain with me. Jesus said: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. The Uniting Church has embarked on a journey of truth-telling in relation to Indigenous peoples which began with a formal apology in 1994 and which still has some way to go. 

Many people, but not all, in this nation breathed a sigh of relief when Kevin Rudd uttered words of apology and truth on behalf of the Federal Government 14 years later. I hope and pray that members of the Uniting Church will continue to work and pray for ways and words to lay a foundation of truth that will set us free, to address more effectively the massive challenges facing Australia’s Indigenous peoples, and to identify and overcome the significant obstacles to meaningful reconciliation in this land.

Rev. Alistair Macrae
National Assembly
Uniting Church in Australia

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