AS a mover of the original synod proposal in 2011, my thanks to Mark Zirnsak and other committee members for the production of the report on Afghanistan, with its careful suggestions about developing a just peace.
I wish to offer comment about the report and proposals. It is a curious situation that, while there are a variety of reports and comments about Australian military involvement in Afghanistan, there continues largely to be a widespread silence in our community about Australian participation in that war. To keep on raising the question comes across as almost boring.
I also express dismay at the studied caution in the Report concerning the question of Australian troops in Afghanistan. I do not propose to seek to alter the report, but I do want to make comment. I want to recall our memory of this war, and our own participation.
MEMORY: Can we remember that Australian troops are in Afghanistan as a result of invasion? True, in the first instance, there were claims that it was necessary to deal with terrorism and Osama bin Laden. What might have been an act of international policing was initiated as war. Coupled with the war in Iraq, can we be anything but dismayed at the widespread continuing violence in both countries?
Of equal concern is the way the Anzac commemoration and myth is used to endorse Australian military adventures.
When these invasions are admitted, and the deaths of soldiers noted, there seems to be greater acknowledgement of the impact on soldiers’ post traumatic stress and their families. Rarely does one hear that soldiers are trained to kill.
Listening to the Anzac gathering in Canberra, which used Christian prayers, hymns and preaching about self-sacrifice, it is clear that Christian faith and symbols are being employed in the service of militarism.
What can and must Christian voices contribute to the developing militarisation of the Australian community?
Grief of War
WE must voice the grief and pain produced for all in war. For civilians, soldiers and their families, for those invaded and those who perpetrate violence.
Our task is to remember that our God hears the groans and cries of people weighed down and oppressed, is grieved by their pain. And that in Jesus Christ, God enters our warring humanity to make peace.
We must also acknowledge the pain and grief of every human community wracked by violence and slaughter. So we will be sensitive to young soldiers who bear the wounds of war.
We will also cry out for them as we admit the continuing scars and wounds which are handed from one generation to the next.
THE church has a calling to speak and pray for a just peace. In Australia that means taking up directly the developing mythology that Australia’s identity was formed through military violence.
We must address the key element. Their training to kill strips soldiers of their normal human reluctance to kill another person.
As a nation, therefore, we ask young people – men and women – to act in inhumane ways, and cover it with the rhetoric of honour.
The church must be especially sensitive to the way Christian faith and living is being made to serve the practice of training to kill.
Does this sound like the ranting of an old and irrelevant voice?
I certainly speak as one who has been gradually becoming stronger in the view that the church is called to be a radically distinctive community, whose practices lead to love of enemy and building bridges between those who would act violently toward the other.
The Church’s claim on its members regarding Afghanistan
THE report before us speaks well about possible actions that will contribute to reducing violence and building peace in Afghanistan. If we can speak there, why not also regarding soldiers and military activity?
There are two communities the church addresses.
First, there are members of the church involved in military services, including chaplains. Here we must take the risk and ask church people to refuse to engage in warfare.
So, to take what is likely to appear ridiculous – we must ask our Christian brothers and sisters to withdraw from military involvement there.
We, who know the cost of war on all sides and God’s call to repent, will lead us in this way.
As a community, the church must seek to work with our international partners to assist such a process. Remember the Conscientious Objectors of Vietnam, and the protests by church bodies and people against an unjust war filled with suffering.
Second, as member of the Australian nation we may and must speak to our government, calling for an end to military action.
So, again, we would first speak to politicians who are Christian, but also to the government as a whole to press for an admission that our invasion cannot be allowed to remain unchallenged.
An essential component of redress is for Australia to withdraw its troops.
Rev Dr Wes Campbell
University of Melbourne