Messages of Hope

Month: November 2021

Revised Religious Discrimination Bill 2021

Published / by Sandy

Media Statement on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021  by the Uniting Church in Australia

The revised (third and final draft) Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and associated legislation was introduced to Parliament on Thursday 25th November by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It aims to ensure Australians are protected from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity – just as they are protected from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, disability and race. It wants to make sure “statements of belief” are not considered discriminatory, as long as they don’t threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or would be considered malicious to a “reasonable person”. It is important to protect religious freedoms without in turn compromising any other forms of discrimination. The Uniting Church is committed to the right of every person to a robust freedom of religion as described in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see below). 

A statement released by the Uniting Church in Australia and UnitingCare expresses concern that the revised Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 does not achieve the balance needed to protect the rights of all people.

The national Assembly of the Uniting Church notes and welcomes improvements made to the proposed laws but, like many other civil society groups, remains concerned by significant elements.

“The Uniting Church is committed to the right of every person to a robust freedom of religion,” said Rev Sharon Hollis, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. “However, we maintain any permission given to individuals or religious organisations that allows them to discriminate on the basis of religious belief must be carefully balanced against the rights of people to be free from discrimination and live with dignity.”

“It is our view that the Religious Discrimination Bill does not achieve that balance.”

“The Uniting Church is concerned for vulnerable people and groups who are most likely to be adversely impacted by the legislation should it be passed into law in its current form.”

“We particularly fear that members of the LGBTIQ+ community, those of minority faiths, women, and people living with disability may be subject to additional discrimination under this legislation.”

Such discrimination could take many forms including in public statements and employment.

“We encourage the government to continue to consult and listen to the concerns of groups expressing their genuine fears about the proposed legislation.”

“In the Uniting Church we believe that all people are created in the image of God and are loved and valued by God. The ministry of Jesus emphasised welcoming all, especially people who were vulnerable and marginalised.”

“Our approach to religious freedom is that such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society,” said Rev Hollis. “Any legislative provisions for religious freedom should be driven by an overriding focus on enabling and maintaining a society which encourages mutual respect and is free from discrimination that demeans and diminishes people’s dignity.”

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said, “As a provider of community services across Australia, including hospitals and aged care services, the Uniting Church is concerned certain provisions within this Bill could undermine our ability to ensure safe and inclusive workplaces and may act as a barrier to vulnerable people accessing essential services or seeking employment.”

“Uniting Church community service providers do not discriminate in the employment of staff or access to services. We do not seek additional powers in this regard and will not use them even if the Parliament passes the Bill,” Ms Little said.

The consistent position of the Uniting Church has been, and continues to be, that legislative provisions for religious freedom would best be made through the mechanism of a comprehensive Human Rights Act, within which the competing claims and values inherent in this discussion may be grounded in a holistic approach to human rights.

After the Bill is voted on in the House of Representatives, the bill will go to a Senate inquiry over summer. It will not be decided in Parliament until early next year, depending on election timing and when the Parliament resumes.

The Assembly will make a full response to any inquiry.

UCA Assembly Media Contact: Rebecca Beisler 0450790218

Article 18

1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

#unitingforclimate

Published / by Sandy

A friend in NSW, and a leader in environmental matters in the UCA and raising the profile of the climate emergency, posted this comment on a Facebook post this morning: “The visiting preacher at our (rural) church this morning expressed climate denial in the sermon. Sigh”. It generated quite a few comments including one person who asserted the right to ‘free speech’.

In a highly individualised society, and the same for the congregations, our sense of shared identity as the UCA and commitment to the ‘common good’ is somewhat fractured. The ACT2 project initiated by the Assembly Standing Committee has identified a need ‘to further develop a cohesive, national character and vision for the UCA’. Not everyone will be ‘au fait‘ with or care much about what the UCA Assembly is doing, but I have to say that the resources prepared and the work being done across many diverse areas to resource the UCA is extraordinary.

The Uniting Church has prepared a theological statement on climate change, and has commitments to reduce impact of climate change. There are various resource online including the Assembly National Climate Action Plan which states “Acting to make this vision a reality, we will work with all parts of the Uniting Church to reduce emissions by 5% per annum and aim to become a net zero emissions church by 2040”. And more online statements and resources here.

I read the comments about and by younger leaders in the UCA (see below) with a glad heart. (Originally published on the UCA Assembly website)

In the final days of the COP26 talks in Glasgow, young UCA members have shared their reflections on why we must act on climate change, urging our world leaders to do more.

Young people have played a leading role in generating momentum and support for climate action, and this is also true within the Uniting Church where many of our young members have been on the frontline of advocacy calling for actions and policies that provide the greatest hope for God’s creation. (See their messages below).

Michael Ramaidama Utoni, a member of Burwood Uniting Church and Christian Students Uniting, who is originally from Fiji, this week reflected on the devastating effects of climate change. His reflection includes a poem he wrote highlighting the impact of rising sea levels for people in the Pacific, dislocating people from their homes and their identity. Here is Michael’s reflection and poem:

The effects of climate change in the Pacific Islands are devastating and life-threatening. The ever-rising sea level has threatened many villages along the coast of our islands to relocate to higher grounds. Still, this is not an option for some island nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands. Relocation and migration challenge and affects our identity. Our Oceania people are crying out for help and for Australia and other developed countries to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of humanity. Please act now to leave us at least, if not liveable, a trace of who we are. The poem ‘I Am’ shares our journey of experiencing the sea-level rise and our continuing cry to have our home, our identity saved. 

I Am

The Tides sweeps in 
To the toes of I Am
To the ankles of I Am –
There is a foreboding presence 
What is that? I Am asks
Wind whispers in the far off trees

I Am feels a change
The foam now reaches the calves of I Am 
A tide mark left on the knees
I Am surfs out for help –
It keeps rising to the thighs and hips 
I Am shouts 

A heavy swell on the chest of I Am
Seawater flows into the heart
Cries remain unheard
Tongue tastes brine
The tears of I Am
Hands of I Am reach for the air

But who will notice?
On a dead zone 
I Am waves goodbye
I Am What Once Was

In the same vein as Michael’s poem, Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, Simon Kofe, delivered his video statement to the COP26 climate conference in a suit and tie and knee deep in seawater.

The Pacific Conference of Churches is also highlighting the voices of young people with a prayer from a Pacific young person each day of the COP26 meeting shared on their Facebook page.

The comments below are from younger leaders in the UCA. 

The UCA: Considering afresh our life together

Published / by Sandy

5 Reflections on the Basis of Union

The Act2 project in the Uniting Church has published Considering Afresh Our Life Together, reflecting on the UCA. Here’s a quick snapshot.

As part of the Act2 project in the Uniting Church, a new series of studies has been launched with 5 reflections on the Uniting Church’s key foundational document, the Basis of Union. Developed for use in a range of settings across the UCA, the studies are designed to foster reflection on the themes and directions of Act2 in light of the foundations shaping Uniting Church theology and identity. As we look to the future, it is important to know what makes us who we are.

The studies were commissioned by the Act2 Task Group and written by Rev Dr Geoff Thompson, a Uniting Church theologian and a member of the Assembly Standing Committee. Rev Dr Thompson has written extensively on the Basis of Union and Uniting Church theology.

Uniting Church President Rev Sharon Hollis introduced the studies as a way of beginning to respond to recommendations of the Act2 paper, that the UCA ‘reconnect with its core identity’ and rearticulate common theological and other frameworks. “The Basis of Union is a key guiding document allowing us to reconnect with our core theological identity as we continue to chart our life together. It is our prayer that these studies will deepen your love of God, encourage you in your service in the world and strengthen your commitment to God’s church.”

Each study includes reflections on a particular section of the Basis of Union, related biblical passages, and questions for discussion. At the end of the studies there are some specific Act2 questions you can use to provide feedback on the Act2 project. The studies can be downloaded from the Uniting Church Assembly website.

It is hoped these studies may be used across the breadth of the Uniting Church as we reflect on Act2 from different perspectives. You might use them in small groups, Church Councils, Presbyteries, and school and agency settings. It is recommended that you have both the Basis of Union and a Bible available as you participate. The Basis of Union is available on the Uniting Church website in English, with a link to translations into other languages.

The Assembly Resourcing Unit will also lead a series of online sessions exploring the studies over five Thursdays. It’s a great opportunity to be part of a national conversation. The studies have already commenced, but you might consider joining the last three on 18th and 25 November, and 2 December. You can choose to attend either morning sessions (9:30-11am AEDT) to be run by Rev Charissa Suli and Rev Lindsay Cullen, or evening sessions (7-8.30 pm AEDT) to be run by Rev Dr Apwee Ting and Rob Floyd. You will need to register online for Thursday morning or Thursday evening.

Thursday morning registration
https://uca-nat.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYpcOGurjssGdcJeMAT2NCwTBtrbY8lstQ5

Thursday evening registration
https://uca-nat.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwud-CqrDMuE9ycIZQolFqBuM9GBrruGFnv

Link to download the Studies
https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Our-Life-Together-Reflections-on-the-BoU.pdf

Basis of Union
https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/basisofunion1992_exported.pdf

Climate justice for all

Published / by Sandy

Rev James Bhagwan, Secretary-General of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and based in Fiji presented this statement to COP26 Climate Summit High Level Plenary in Glasgow this week:

The climate emergency is the result of an ethical, moral and spiritual crisis, manifested in a fixation on profit.

The extractive and, ultimately, unsustainable systems of production and consumption, by those complicit in this crisis, continue to ignore increasing scientific, and moral warnings.

Those who have contributed to this crisis the least, suffer the most, physically, existentially, and ecologically.

This is an injustice that must end.

We affirm the Faith and Science Joint Appeal, calling us to respond, with the knowledge of science, and the wisdom of spirituality: to know more and to care more.

Our interconnectedness to this common home forces us to a radical solidarity, across gender and generation, for climate justice for all.

In this spirit, wealthier countries must lead in reducing their own emissions, and in financing emission reductions of poorer nations.

They must put into action a mechanism for loss and damage, with additional funds.

Love calls us to seek climate justice and restoration. It calls us to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, to protect them, and their ancestral domains, from predatory economic interests, and to learn from their ancient wisdom.

Indigenous spirituality could restore our understanding of interdependence between land, ocean, and life, between generations before us,and the ones to come.

Love calls us to transformation of systems and lifestyles. This transition away from fossil fuel-based economies must be just, securing livelihoods and wellbeing for all and not just some.

We ask our leaders to not only keep the promise of the Paris Agreement alive, but also to keep alive the hope of a flourishing future for humanity.

We have heard many commitments in this place.

Words have power, but only when they are manifested into action.

The fate of the planet depends on it.

(reported online here)

We will remember them

Published / by Sandy

We will remember them.

For those whom we have asked
to bear the horror of our violence
we offer our prayers
of thanks for their willingness
to stand between us and our fears,
for forgiveness for having asked them,
of healing for the damage to their souls
by what they have done and seen,
for mercy for them who don’t know
how to carry the horror back to us,
how to shed the darkness
we have asked them to drink,
how to live among us, who are so willing
to sacrifice our children.
May we give others peace to bear, not fear,
healing to carry, not weapons,
and send them into blessing, not danger.
May we, too, have the courage to serve,
to risk, to give our lives in love
for the sake of our homeland,
which is the Kingdom of God,
the whole human family,
in the spirit of peace. Amen.
(Steve Garnaas-Holmes, www.unfoldinglight.net)
(Photo shows poppies in Sandy’s productive home garden amidst the silver beet, kale, broad beans etc)

SCAMS AWARENESS WEEK

Published / by Sandy

Who knew there was such a thing as SCAMS AWARENESS WEEK, Nov 8th-12th. The theme for the week is Let’s talk scams.

Some of us have caught our breath when we’ve received a very official sounding voice message from the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Federal Police, or Border Force, reporting illegal activity and that an arrest warrant had been issued. Con-artists are phoning people to claim their tax file number (TFN) has been suspended or compromised due to money laundering or other illegal activity or that they owe a debt.

Scamwatch is urging people to be extra vigilant about scams after Australians reported a record $211 million in losses to scams so far this year, an 89% increase compared to the same period last year.

ATO assistant commissioner Tim Loh: “We recently saw one scammer lure a young woman out of lockdown to drop off $30,000 in cash to a person at a local hardware store carpark. The scammer, claiming to be from the Federal Police, threatened arrest and told the victim that her TFN was compromised. The victim also sent photocopies of her driver’s licence and Medicare card to the scammer before reporting to the ATO and the police. Another shocking account came from a Victorian man who paid $50,000 to a representative who collected the cash from their front door. The scammer demanded personal details such as their TFN, address and name over the phone before the home visit. The scammer also ‘guaranteed’ the victim would get their money back if they paid upfront.”

Scammers also pretend to be from companies such as Amazon or eBay, claiming large purchases have been made on the victim’s credit card. When they pretend to help you process a refund, they actually gain remote access to your computer and steal your personal and banking details.

Scammers are always on the hunt for new ways to con Australians out of their hard-earned cash. Many intelligent people have fallen victim to these online scams – not because they had a lapse in judgement but because the scammers are so clever and take advantage of people. And then it feels shameful to admit or report being victim of a scam, but it’s so important to do so.

Why would this topic be a ‘Message of Hope’? Simply because by naming the outrageous activity of the scammers, you know you’re not alone if you fall victim to a scam, and can be forewarned about the way scammers operate.According to the ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard, it is important to talk about scams because staying silent just benefits the scammers. Talking about scams spreads awareness, and that awareness is what empowers us to trust our judgement and avoid scams. Encouraging open, judgement-free conversations about scams is a powerful tool to help people get out of scams sooner, before they lose any more money, or prevent scams altogether.
If you see a scam, report it to Scamwatch – these reports are extremely important as they provide key information about any emerging scams or trends.

It’s been a bumper year for scammers so far. Aussies have lost over $70 million to investment scams in just the first six months of this year alone. Disturbingly, this is more than the total losses reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch division for all of 2020, and projected losses are set to double to $140 million by the end of the year.

Some scams are obvious – like the text message from someone you know saying they’re stuck overseas and need money to return home. COVID seems to have dealt with that one, anyway, since no-one is travelling.

Recently, there has been a spate of annoying text messages about parcel deliveries. Scams again. Quite clever to target online buyers about deliveries. Australia’s scam watchdog has warned that the malicious “Flubot” scam is now presenting as fake text messages warning victims that a parcel is about to be delivered. The text messages pretend to be from a reputable shipping company, and contain a php link for the recipient to “track their parcel”. If a victim were to click the link, they are directed to a second page that asks them download a specific app to track their parcel. The app is part of a malicious form of scam known as the “Flubot”. Flubot is a form of software known as malware that has the potential to immediately access a user’s passwords and financial information. Delete these messages and don’t click on links! If you want to check a delivery, use the confirmation email from the business.

Scamwatch recently warned Australians to be on the lookout for ‘Flubot’ text messages where phone users are often enticed to click on the link by promises of hearing a missed voicemail.

Thousands of Australians have fallen victim to a convincing new phone scam with a recorded message from someone claiming to be an Australian Border Force Officer. The message suggests a parcel addressed to the individual has been intercepted and seized after it was found to have been containing illegal components. As a result, an arrest warrant had been issued. It then asks recipients to dial ‘one’ to speak with an officer. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says individuals should “hang up immediately”. (The scammers) would ask the victim to google their local Australian Federal Police phone number and the scammer had called the reporter from that number through spoofing. Scammers would then get the victim to share bank account details, driving licence, passport, and a photo of reporter holding the licence. With these details, scammers can compromise the victim’s identity, with the photo being useful to pass a variety of institutions’ Know Your Customer checks.” The regulator warned that scammers will also often tell the victim they need to withdraw money from their bank account and deposit it into a ‘government bank account’ so they can check or safeguard the money.

The scam is believed to be a new variation of two others that impersonate officers from the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Federal Police, threatening people with arrest if they do not make payment immediately.

The spokesperson was clear – “law enforcement agencies and government departments will never ask you to pay a fine with cash, cryptocurrencies, or gift cards. They will not call and demand you transfer funds to a bank account. The Australian Border Force will not call, email or contact you via social media and threaten to arrest you. (And) no Australian government agency (law enforcement included) will demand payment for a fine over the phone. When in doubt, residents should verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly. Never provide bank details, passport or copies of photo identification to someone who had called you out of the blue. It is OK to hang up and check the person’s story by contacting the police or government organisation yourself.”

Or those gift cards. If someone calls you and demands that you pay them with gift cards, you can bet that a scammer is behind that call. Once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money. Scammers may tell you many stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:
* The caller says it’s urgent. The scammer says you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen. But you don’t, and it won’t.
* The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. They might send you to a specific store. Sometimes they say to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. And, the caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. These are all signs of a scam.
The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. And the scammer gets it right away.

Scammers pretend to be someone they’re not. They want to scare or pressure you into acting quickly, so you don’t have time to think or talk to someone you trust. Here’s a list of common scams:

The caller says they’re from the government. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine, but it’s a scam.
Someone calls from tech support, maybe saying they’re from Apple or Microsoft, saying there’s something wrong with your computer. But it’s a lie. (Easy to pick up if you have a different ‘brand’ computer!!).
The scammer pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency and asks you to send money right away – but not tell anyone. This is a scam. If you’re worried, hang up and call your friend or relative to check that everything is all right.
Someone says you’ve won a prize but first, you have to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. Remember: no honest business or agency will ever make you pay with a gift card. But also – did you even enter that raffle?
The caller says she’s from your power company, or another utility company. She threatens to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. But utility companies don’t work that way. It’s a scam.
You get a check from someone for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check, then give them the difference on a gift card. But that check will be fake and you’ll be out all that money.

Payment is demanded through ‘cardless cash’ ATM withdrawals and retail gift cards from the likes of JB Hi-Fi, Myer and Woolworths, as well as from courier services who collect the cash payments and cash delivery made in person at a predetermined public location.

Between 1 January and 19 September 2021, people aged 65+ have lost the most money – $49.1 million, or 23% of total losses for the year. Indigenous Australians have reported $4.3 million in losses to scams, an increase of 172% on the losses reported in the same period in 2020. People who speak English as a second language made over 10,500 reports with losses of $29.9 million, representing almost 14.4% of total losses for the period.

All very disturbing. But it can be as simple as hanging up on a call. Deleting text messages. And report to the police, and Scamwatch.  People who suspect they may be a victim of identity theft should contact IDCARE on 1800 595 160 or via www.idcare.org – a free government-funded service that works with individuals to develop a specific response plan to their situation and support them throughout the process.

No shame if you’re a victim. Speak up. Take action. Report what has happened. And get support from friends and family.

(Take care everyone!!)

Preachers as Social Poets

Published / by Sandy

by Leo Guardado, Assistant Professor of Theology, Fordham University, New York City

The social poet “creates hope where there appears to be only waste and exclusion,” bears dreams in community, and creatively imagines new ways of organizing together in history.

These are some of the ways that Pope Francis speaks of “social poets” in his 2021 message to Popular/Social Movements, a text delivered Oct. 16, 2021, that effectively commissions as disciples the grassroot global communities whom Francis not only loves, but in whom he sees the possibility for a new humanity.

One cannot help but hear echoes of Oscar Romero’s final homilies in El Salvador, that great preacher who denounced and announced from the altar, and for whom history was the reality in which Christ continued to become incarnate in every struggle for life and against death. In fact, some of Francis’ declarations are reminiscent of Romero’s iconic words on March 23, 1980, when “in the name of God” Romero begged, beseeched, and ultimately ordered the military in El Salvador to stop the repression.

Francis issues a series of nine direct statements to global corporations, governments, and to all who effectively benefit from the life and death of millions, asking them to cease their own violent exploitation of humanity.

He writes:

  • “in the name of God, I ask arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity…,”
  • “in the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries—mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness—to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people,”
  • “in the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.”

Although Francis calls himself a “pedigüeño,” someone who keeps on begging or pestering, his asks bear the spirit of denouncement.

Romero’s ask, and then order to soldiers on that March 23, 1980, homily sealed his fate, and he was assassinated the next day, becoming one more martyr and cadaver that even in death continued to communicate truth.

In Francis’ message, there are moments that read like a goodbye letter. Perhaps it reflects his knowledge and intuition of the dangers that come with the proclamation of truth in a world where lying and post-truth has become a way of living.

Francis ends his heartfelt message with reference to Jesus’ own words to his disciples – “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20) – and similarly, Francis says to his social poets – to all those who regardless of faith tradition or no faith tradition dedicate their lives to eradicating systems of death – “in this moment of my life, I want to tell you also that I will be with you.” He thanks them for allowing him to dream with them what we could call the dreams of God.

If to preach is to proclaim the living Word of God who continues to take flesh in history, then anyone who attempts to preach must first discern where the presence of God is particularly manifest in their time. But this discernment does not take place in isolation, but through community, in the midst of struggles for life. It is there that the creative Spirit of God reveals what is new, what is becoming, and what must be transformed so that any proclamation is in fact of the living Word and not of a dead message that long ago ceased mediating an encounter with life.

It is not a given that preachers are social poets, quite the opposite; preachers have the difficult but holy invitation to become social poets, to bear the dreams of the poor and the dreams of God with the people of God. The social poetry of preachers must arise from the joys and laments of those who have made the streets their home as they protest racism, patriarchy, and all forms of social injustice.

Francis names these resisters of death, such as the Black Lives Matters movement, a “Collective Samaritan,” for their witness gathers the wounded and dead who have been left along the winding road of histories of plunder.

Preachers who become social poets will journey with the movements, letting the Spirit of each movement speak in unexpected tongues, with myriad accents, as it and they become present and manifest in the sacrament of song and dance that births new liturgies into existence.

The preacher as social poet will make the church the site of protest, the place of denunciation, the people of annunciation. The preacher will become a midwife to new movements of the Spirit, serving as a rearguard who makes sure that no one is left vulnerable to the predations of those who seek to buy the Spirit of the church and the life of the movement. Those who capitalize from keeping faith and the church privatized, spiritualized, tranquilized.

In the words of Francis, “let us ask God to pour out His blessings on our dreams,” that we may serve as poets of a new world, preaching the messages inscribed on broken sidewalks, on borders, on walls, and on all those places where there is a confrontation between what is and what ought to be. Then, those who proclaim will have also become disciples who “create, compose, venture, and risk” in community and communion with God.