Liberty... for whom?
written by Rev Gary Heard

Our nation has joined the “war against terrorism” – a fight for freedom and democracy. Yet on the home front, we find that this freedom is severely under threat. Boxer Anthony Mundine dared to express an opinion about the attacks of September 11 which ran contrary to popular perceptions, and was consequently stripped of his world rankings. When Opposition leader Kim Beasley dared to suggest that the death of 350 refugees indicated the need for a rethink on our policy towards asylum seekers, he was castigated for ‘playing politics with innocent lives’ (although no one seems to question the Prime Minister doing the same thing with the September 11 events). It seems that the freedom that we want to defend does not allow the freedom to express different opinions, to offer critical analysis of popular thinking.

Early Baptists fought tooth and nail for religious liberty – even for those who took an atheistic view. They died for the rights of people to reach their own convictions, in the belief that faith must be born of personal conviction. It is not a matter of agreeing with what the other person’s conclusions, but of upholding their right to believe and to speak it. ‘Twas a rare christian then, and perhaps also a rare one today, who defends the rights of those with whom they disagree.

We are living in fragile times, no doubt. It is important that individual christians, and the church, enter the debate raging in Australia at the moment. But we need to be careful that we not speak out of prejudice (which is no more than prejudging a person on the basis of some affiliation), rather than hearing the individual speak. We need to hear the hard words being spoken to us without feigning personal offence. Similarly we need to be able to speak the hard words, but words grounded in love.

Someone once noted that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels’. We need to be able to speak not out of patriotic fervour, but out of the foundations laid in the kingdom of God by the example and teachings of Jesus. In that vein it was interesting to note the Pope’s recent apology to China for the attitude and actions of the Catholic church. One could argue that the human rights violations committed by China far outweighed anything committed by the church, but that does not excuse the church’s acts of injustice. The Pope recognised this, and acted with christian courage. It is an example we ought to contemplate for it is rooted in the words of Jesus from the cross: “Father, forgive them…”

Dare we act with similar courage in this time of heightened tension?

November 4, 2001
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