December 20th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

VICTORIAN STATE ELECTION What Victoria's new Labor government has in store

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can the Abbott government turn it around?

EDITORIAL A Christmas reflection

MARRIAGE The love that brings new life into the world

RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION Beijing fury as Christians outnumber communists in China

RELIGION The G20 Interfaith Summit

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Greens' bid to ban toys that 'reinforce gender stereotypes'

ENERGY The politics of falling oil prices

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS EU economies locked into long-term low growth

CULTURE Investigating the year gone, for the year to come


BOOK REVIEW Biography shows the power of family

BOOK REVIEW British espionage and the German threat

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The G20 Interfaith Summit

by John R. Barich

News Weekly, December 20, 2014

While the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies were meeting in Brisbane for the prestigious G20 summit, other groups were also discussing a number of issues affecting our world. The G20 Interfaith Summit took place on Queensland’s Gold Coast during November 16-18, and focused on economic development and religious freedom.

Brigham Young University and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were major sponsors of the summit, which was also supported by the Queensland government. It was organised by the Griffith University Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue. 

The UAE see themselves as a model society where all religions work together for the good of society.

This was an overarching theme of the interfaith summit. While in some ways it is worthwhile, it runs the risk of syncretism or, at the very least, appearing to make all religions of equal value. 

One key contributor was Dr Rachael Kohn who presents the ABC Radio National program, The Spirit of Things. Her Jewish take on the role of religion in society focused on the need to shift our “preoccupation with rights owed to that of responsibilities accepted”. 

She said, “I am inclined to compare religion and health, and say good religion exists precisely because it is an effective antidote to the many ways in which human beings fall prey and fall victim to vile and violent urges. And although there are bad examples of it, which I have already mentioned, religion nonetheless is the best hope we have for a better world….

“The secular emphasis on ‘rights’ is completely counter to what religion teaches. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it in his book To Heal a Fractured World, the ethics of responsibility found in the Ten Commandments do not comprise a list of rights, but a series of commands. For example, ‘Thou shalt not murder’ produces the right to life; ‘Thou shalt not steal’ produces a right to property; and so on. 

“Religion requires the individual to act righteously and in a self-limiting way, it does not oblige the individual to be a passive recipient of rights.”

Catholic contributors at the interfaith summit included Dominican Sister Trish Madigan; two academics from Notre Dame University (Sydney campus); Dr Bob Dixon from the Pastoral Research Office of the Catholic Bishops Conference; Professor Des Cahill of RMIT University in Melbourne, who is involved with the Parliament of the World’s Religions; and Professor Juan Navarro Floria from the Pontifical Catholic University of Buenos Aires.

A substantial group of lawyers from a number of Australian and overseas universities analysed the doctrine of separation of church and state. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution prohibits the establishment of a state religion, but does not preclude the funding of religious schools, which is not possible in the United States.

Also at the summit were seven Muslim presenters, who were mostly moderates, particularly Dr Aykan Erdemir, a Turkish member of parliament. One Muslim academic, Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp of Charles Stuart University, however, objected strenuously to the current campaign being waged by the Q Society of Australia against halal certification. 

A large contingent of New Zealand and South Pacific Islander representatives argued very strongly for the right to religious freedom. 

Freedom of religion, both in Australia and overseas, was addressed by the Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson and Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the United States Commission on International and Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Mr Wilson said that Australia was not a secular country, but had adherents of many faiths under a secular state.

Dr Swett contended that the punishing of civil celebrants, photographers caterers and civil celebrants who decline to be involved in same-sex marriage ceremonies is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. 

The only Australian politician who attended — apart from the Queensland Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Glen Elmes — was Giulia Jones, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs in the Australian Capital Territory. Someone suggested that Australia should exchange the term multicultural for the more accurate term multiethnic. 

Also public acknowledgements of the traditional custodians of the land should also refer to the migrants and pioneers who struggled to develop Australia.

Interfaith summits similar to the one held on the Gold Coast this year have been held in parallel with previous G20 meetings. The next one will be in Turkey.

At the conclusion of the summit, delegates issued a statement emphasising: 

• the importance of interfaith relations as a source of strength that assist in the development of a framework of sustainable economic gains; 

• the spiritual values which help to build sustainable economic development; and 

• the interconnectedness of spiritual values and economic development in the pursuit of a stable and just society.

The conference supported stronger economic growth and job-creation, building global economic outcomes, and eliminating hunger and poverty. 

The statement reflected the core values of love, cooperation, honesty, respect and self-discipline that deeply resonate within each of the world’s major religious traditions. 

Summit delegates committed themselves to promote these values through education, policy and practice, in particular by promoting respect among all peoples. 

They also committed themselves to enact, support and live out these values while being a voice for the poor, the marginalised and those in society who are vulnerable or at risk.

John R. Barich is Western Australian president of the Australian Family Association and was a delegate to the G20 Interfaith Summit.

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