Church must fight for common good, former Chief Justice says

Speaking at the launch of an ecumenical social justice centre yesterday, former Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan said that churches need to win "hearts and minds" to the idea of a common good based on the dictum that "the money you keep locked away is the money of the poor".

Sir Gerard was launching the Centre for an Ethical Society founded by Christians from the mainstream denominations - Anglican, Catholic, Uniting and others - as an autonomous body to bring care for the poor and oppressed to the forefront of public life in Australia.

The Centre's Chairman, Anglican Bishop George Browning, said: "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".

"The Bible is very clear on this", he added, "with over 2,800 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."

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

He added 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.

Launching the centre yesterday, Sir Gerard Brennan said that while "Christianity is not primarily concerned with politics", it is concerned with "the hearts and minds of men and women".

Describing equal distribution of wealth as unrealistic and as destructive of individual initiative, Sir Gerard said that nevertheless "economic power can be used to oppress others - employees, competitors, creditors - or to operate against the common good".

"Controls on economic action to achieve the common good" are therefore required and churches also need to comment on industrial relations laws, he said.

Sir Gerard also criticised Australian laws and policies for failing to "reflect the Christian value of the good Samaritan".

"The outcasts are, by definition, denied their dignity. When have we troubled about the pressures on our jails, the standover prisoners who assault young offenders or pressure them into the drug trade or the problems of rehabilitation on release?

"And see how we have tolerated, for five years now, the barbarous treatment of the Australian David Hicks in Guatanamo Bay, still waiting to be charged, it seems, with an offence under a law yet to be specified and tried by a process which mocks the civilised sense of justice," he said.

But Sir Gerard told the audience not to blame governments alone.

"This could not have happened if our society were infused with Christian values," he said.

Centre for an Ethical Society (Media Release, 17/11/06)
Sir Gerard Brennan Address (CETS, 21/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sir Gerard Brennan (Wikipedia)
Bishop George Browning (Anglican diocese of Canberra and Goulburn)

Canberra Christian leaders slam Govt over "cowardly" silence on Middle East (CathNews, 1/8/06)
Former chief justice tells Catholic principals of lost tolerance (CathNews, 3/10/02)

22 Nov 2006