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The oxygen that breathes life into peacemaking

By Peter Garrett - posted Monday, 6 November 2006

There is a fair amount of fuzziness about where the line of demarcation between church and state lies.

This separation is a principle I firmly believe in, while also believing that someone's personal values should and do inform one's day to day thought processes and decision-making. But there is way too much selective following of the rule nowadays by this government. It invokes the authority and wisdom and so-called legitimate involvement of the church in politics and policy-making when that involvement is pro-government policy.

The Howard Government directly uses various congregations and speeches to promote government policies. But when the church points out the human rights and humanitarian values "shortcomings" and "failures" of the government - for example, in relation to refugee policy - then the church is loudly deemed to have no place in such discussions. It is told, often not so politely, to go away quietly.


What is "Christian" about the treatment of David Hicks? What is "Christian" about the treatment of asylum-seekers? What is "Christian" about believing that sleep deprivation and other harsh treatment of arrestees is not torture?

The spectre of the West being involved in or effecting the use of torture, the forceful removal of suspected terrorists to countries not connected with the war to enable interrogation outside the legal systems of Western countries, and the imprisonment of alleged terrorists without proper legal process are troubling many lawyers, church leaders and members of the public.

So what should our response be in these circumstances?

Other than the formal interaction between nations through the United Nations and the Security Council, the range of approaches includes initiatives both through the UN and its agencies and other international organisations, and at the personal level inter-faith dialogue between religious groups, citizen-to-citizen exchanges to increase understanding.

There is a host of options and actions that can bear fruit. And here the role of non-government organisations (NGOs) who provide the heavy lifting in aid relief and community building in war-torn regions is critical.

It is undeniable that organisations like Caritas, World Vision, the Red Cross and a host of others bring expertise and compassion to bear in troubled parts of the globe. Their work, including their advocacy for the poor and those caught in the crossfire of violence, is of enormous value.


Standing up for peace, reconciliation and healing where peace has been absent, often means working with communities through long days and nights, as for example Australian Catholic nuns did, and still do, for the people of Timor-Leste during their darkest hours and as they continue the difficult task of rebuilding their nation.

At all times the exercise of citizen's voices both here and overseas, and the involvement they have with the political processes of their country, is the oxygen that breathes life into peacemaking.

My reading of Jesus' call to turn the other cheek, is that not only is it a clear rebuttal of the literality of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but it is also a practical insight into how arguments that justify the use of violence on the grounds that violence has already occurred can be countered.

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First published in Eureka Street on October 31, 2006. This is an edited excerpt from a speech delivered on October 18 at the St Thomas More Forum at Campbell in Canberra. The full text is available here (PDF 32KB).

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About the Author

Peter Garrett is the Labor Member for Kingsford Smith in New South Wales. Peter is widely known as a passionate advocate and campaigner on a range of contemporary Australian and global issues. He was the former president Australian Conservation Foundation , an activist, and former member Australian band Midnight Oil.

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