Within six days in April, I was fortunate to be at three events in Sydney which promoted dialogue and the exchange of ideas, providing reasons for pride and confidence in the intellectual and social maturity of contemporary Australia.
The first was a meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia / Executive Council of Australian Jewry National Dialogue. Participants earnestly and honestly examined Jewish and Christian teaching rituals and traditions relating to Passover and Easter, with appropriate discussion of the history of anti-Jewish incitement and activity associated with preaching during the Christian Holy Week.
This was the 25th time the dialogue had been convened, which is a remarkable milestone, given the circumstances of its birth.
In 1991, an arm of the Uniting Church issued a brochure which contained obscene and offensive attacks on Israel, and subsequent discussions revealed an enormous gulf in mutual understanding. A formal dialogue convened in Nov. 1992 to assess the potential, if any, for developing a meaningful engagement and a better relationship.
Having been present at that first discussion and also at the 25th, I am happy to report that the relationship is now strong, honest and constructive, with the establishment of trust coming through tackling subjects such as the Jewish relationship to Israel and the UCA’s views on evangelism.
This dialogue, for which we are indebted to the late Leslie Caplan (z.l.) and Rev. D’Arcy Wood, laid the platform for a raft of national and regional dialogues, many of which have spawned their own initiatives and actions.
Two days later, the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims & Jews (ANDCMJ) met for a vigorous theological discussion on personal and community “redemption” and to consider our joint contribution to Australian society and on global concerns.
The ANDCMJ is unique, as a formal national dialogue of umbrella organisations of three faiths which share such a long and complex history.
The ANDCMJ has tackled subjects such as jihad, Zionism, the Trinity and salvation, considered various religious perspectives on treatment of the stranger, just wars and martyrdom and made joint declarations on a series of significant matters of public policy.
It has also been at the heart of a series of Jewish-Christian-Muslim cooperative projects in Australia, and at the centre of a number of initiatives involving additional religious communities.
As in recent meetings, the ANDCMJ included senior high school and university students in discussions on the transmission of values, reconciliation with Indigenous Australians, and a range of other issues of timely importance and ongoing relevance.
A few days later, I joined approximately 50 other members of the Jewish community, the Prime Minister, with a team of ministers, parliamentary secretaries, co-chairs, and administrative support, for the “2020 Symposium for the Jewish Community.”
The symposium was convened due to the scheduling of the 2020 Forum, for 1,000 Australians, on the festival of Pesach (Passover), so the Prime Minister facilitated a means of hearing the views of individuals whose religion precluded them from being part of the larger discussion.
The closed-door symposium had a format designed to give every one the opportunity to speak and to be part of the process of formulating priorities for transmission to the forum.
As part of the group addressing the “Core Challenge” of “Strengthening Communities”, I was able to take advantage of my participation in the dialogues referred to above, and many other experiences of Australian multiculturalism providing the basis for collaboration in the interests of strengthening social cohesion.
Earlier, I had made a written submission to the Forum Group on Security and Foreign Affairs, suggesting that Australia be proactive in promoting interfaith cooperation in our region and beyond.
All three events represented the contemporary Australian spirit of robust debate, thirst for ideas, and respect for beliefs and cultures which can happily coexist with Australian’s democratic ethos – based on rights and responsibilities.
They provide a firm basis for a belief that the Australian variety of multiculturalism is providing the basis for a strong, confident, robust society.