“The objective of the CES is to promote Christian social justice within Australia’s democratic traditions and to cooperate in the development of a more just and compassionate Australia.”    (CES Constitution – Section 3.1)

New public face for core Christian values

Do we judge people by who they are or what they have?  Do we rate success by the humanity we display or by the wealth we posses?  Do we live in nuclear families, avoiding those who do not belong to our socio-economic group?

Do our answers reveal a Christian mindset?  How does this impact on public policy?

Using the two great commandments - to love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind … and to love your neighbour as yourself – Australia’s former Chief Justice, Sir Gerard Brennan, explained why Australia needs the new Centre for an Ethical Society, which he opened in Sydney, yesterday.

“Why must we love our neighbour as ourself?” he asked.   “Because we are all members of the human family, each with a dignity to be treasured by the individual and respected by others.  The Christian attributes that dignity to the fact that we are all children of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal 4: 6) with an eternal destiny to know, love and be with Him. 

“Before God, each individual is equally precious and is equally loved.  Each person is entitled to the same respect (Mt 6:29-30; Luke 12:7, 25, 28). 

“Those who do not share the Christian faith may attribute individual dignity simply to our common humanity.  But whatever reasoning may underlie the value of human dignity, the implication for public policy is profound. 

“It dictates that we treat all people equally.  Race or colour, class or creed, physical or mental perfection or defect, afford no warrant for attributing varying degrees of worth and dignity to human kind… 

“… I must do what I reasonably can to see that my neighbour, in his or her situation, enjoys in like measure to me those social benefits which are essential to personal dignity.  For my neighbours in this country, those benefits include not only monetary and material benefits but equality under the law, freedom of religious belief and practice, freedom from the exercise of arbitrary power, freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, race or ethnicity, an opportunity to obtain an education and a means of livelihood, an opportunity to found a family and an opportunity to employ gainfully their capacities. 

“If these were the values of our society, social phenomena would change.  Public policy would be directed to achieving the common good – a society in which every person would have an opportunity to develop his or her capacities and to live in dignity – freely, peacefully and with the ability to participate in social life.”

Sir Gerard said that the common good did not demand that policies be designed to redistribute wealth equally among all. 

“That … would destroy individual initiative which is the wellspring of developments that promote the welfare of humankind.  Such a policy would in fact diminish human dignity,” he said.

The Centre for an Ethical Society has been created by mainstream Christian denominations forming an autonomous body to bring care for the poor and oppressed to the forefront of public life in Australia.

“The centre affirms that commitment to social justice is an intrinsic, non-negotiable element of Christianity. It is the application of Christ’s commandment to love your neighbour”, said the centre’s Chairman, Bishop George Browning (Anglican, Canberra).

“The Bible is very clear on this, with over 2800 verses on social justice issues. Caring for the poor and oppressed is at the heart of the Christian social conscience. Yet its importance has been overlooked in recent times, even by Christians.”

The group, predominantly from Anglican, Catholic and Uniting denominations, represents about 80 per cent of Christians in Australia.

Bishop Browning said that despite public activities and statements by the Churches, a narrow range of issues, relating to sex and the beginning and the end of life, have come to be seen as the totality of the Christian view. This was a very incomplete view of Christ’s message.

“The 21st century debate is quite simple.  Can the common good prevail over self interest and the desire for personal gain?”

There were three battle grounds, he said.

“The first is within Australia. Christianity advocates a preferential option for the poor.

“What we see in Australia today is more a preferential option for the rich. Six hundred thousand children live in jobless households. Those living in postcodes of poverty have poorer access to education, health services, housing and transport. Their job security and benefits are poor. They die 10 years younger and Indigenous Australians die 17 years younger. And it is getting worse.

“The second is in the international sphere. Australian aid has declined from 0.45 per cent of GNP to 0.28 per cent.

“Throughout the world six million children die each year from hunger, thirst and preventable diseases. And unfair trading arrangements and international debt help stifle development in poorer countries.

“The third is in the environment, God’s creation, where we have been remiss in our stewardship.

“We have polluted our cities and our waterways. We have squandered our water and our inland rivers face death in the lengthening drought. And growing carbon dioxide emissions add to global warming and aggravate climate change.”

Bishop Browning said that the Centre for an Ethical Society would remind Christians that social justice was a core Christian value in order to create a climate which promoted a just and compassionate society.

Sir Gerard concluded:

“Today is the first step in a long march.  It is a march into the minds and hearts of the Australian people.  It is a patriotic march to build a free and confident nation, for it is a march born of a love of Australia, of a belief that we have a destiny that is more noble, more visionary, more satisfying than the hoarding of wealth or the living of luxury…

“… if it is possible to bring into the market place of ideas the notion that the true purpose of public life is the achievement of the common good – a common good which creates benefits for the rich and poor, the powerful and the underprivileged, the strong and the disabled; a common good which recognizes the equal dignity of all people and presents every person with the opportunity to live a truly human existence, the Centre will have achieved its purpose.  Please God it will.”

Chapters of the Centre for an Ethical Society are planned for all capitals and some larger cities.  A national conference will be held next year.

For the full text of Sir Gerard’s speech and other information about the aims and practical workings of the Centre for an Ethical Society, please click here


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