Uniting Through Faiths seeks to develop closer ties between all faiths, increasing participants’ understanding of each other’s faith and cultural practices. Larry Marshall, Uniting Through Faiths project manager, discusses the belief that through knowledge comes understanding. He says that only once there is understandings can there be peace.
Australia, and Melbourne in particular, is often celebrated for its vibrant and successful multiculturalism. Waves of migration have seen people from every corner of the world settle in Australia throughout the past two centuries. The deep multiculturalism we have achieved here in Melbourne is seen as a true celebration of cultural, linguistic and religious difference.
However there are new challenges in the air today. And how we respond may change our reputation and our society.
It is useful to briefly look at what we have achieved before we try to understand the new challenges we face. Our history includes an Aboriginal ‘multicultural’ land of many tribes and many languages that had developed over 40,000 years.
This continent was then taken and settled as a British colony for more than one hundred years. At federation in 1901, the newly independent nation embraced a ‘White Australia’ policy to keep out Asians and people of colour.
After the Second World War and the bombing of Darwin, there was a growing fear that the small white population could not safely hold this vast continent. The call ‘populate or perish’ led to a slow dismantling of White Australia as first European refugees and migrants and later Asian refugees and migrants arrived. However, it was only in 1972 that multiculturalism was officially made a policy of the Australian government.
Today, Australia is a diverse and harmonious place where people from many different cultures, religions and spiritualities have made their home. Together, we live in peace and respect one another.
However, there has always been an undercurrent of the older racism beneath the tolerance and acceptance.
Witness for example the surprising rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party in the late 1990s or the ugly Cronulla riots in 2005.
Many faiths one people
Despite those problems, and even in response to them, there has been determined and successful work done at many levels of our society to build respect and work harmoniously together. Governments of all persuasions, local councils, church and other faith communities, unions, schools, universities and many other civil society groups have helped cement our multicultural reality.
One fine example is from outer Melbourne. Twenty-six years ago in 1989 Dandenong established the first Interfaith Network in Australia. It consists of various traditional and multi-faith groups who meet monthly at the council offices. Their goal is simple – promoting understanding, respect and tolerance for each other’s beliefs by living together in peace and goodwill.
Similar work happens in the UCA.
The work done by the synod is based on our deep acceptance and support for this multicultural/multi-faith journey.
As a Church we recognise that we journey with people of other faiths in the quest for peace and reconciliation. We recognise that we are related to one-another not through our search for a common truth but through our common search for truths.
Violence against Muslim women
Since September 11, 2001, we have all been drawn into the ‘War on Terror’ as a broad and often violent methodology for responding to these non-state acts of violence. Recent events such as the siege in Sydney and the killings in Paris have put enormous pressure on our society’s vision of itself as open, harmonious and respectful.
There are new challenges in our interfaith work and some fault lines are appearing. Overt racism and disrespect for whole groups of Australians of the Islamic faith are more common today. Violence against individuals based on their faith alone occurs in Melbourne and elsewhere.
My colleague in Uniting Through Faiths, April Robinson, constantly hears stories of Muslim women being spat on or physically abused. So, together with two Muslim friends, she has organised two workshops dealing with how we as a society respond to violence against Muslim women in Melbourne.
Discussing the Sydney siege, The Age columnist and Radio National Drive broadcaster, Waleed Aly reminded us that the history we write from here is in our hands.
“It’s the history we glimpsed as the siege unfolded when a single, humble Australian decided to declare #illridewithyou in solidarity with Muslims too scared to ride public transport. It’s a history that commenced with the interfaith vigil held at the Lakemba and Auburn mosques…”
If our multicultural, ethnic and multifaith vision is to survive and blossom, then we in the Church and the wider Australian community have to make these everyday acts of solidarity, compassion and love our individual response to those who would divide us with hate and violence.
For UCA congregations looking for a way to respond:
Celebrate Cultural Diversity Week: it is the biggest event on Victoria’s multicultural calendar and in 2015 will run from 14 – 22 March.
Plan for Interfaith September: organised by CFM’s Uniting Through Faiths interfaith network developer April Robinson.
Contact her at: april.robinson@victas,uca.org.au
Join your local interfaith network: there are 36 of them already – if you need assistance please email April for more details and introductions.
Useful films or speakers: to start a new conversation on Interfaith – contact email@example.com