Statement of the Uniting Church in Australia
When the UCA was formed (1977), the Rev John Jamieson was "Executive Secretary of the Division of Ecumenical Mission in the Synod of Victoria". Translated, this meant nurturing and guiding the UCA"s in "neighhourly" activities, mostly with other Christians.
John Jamieson"s theological education in the 1940s had been under Professor Hector Maclean, a close friend of Rabbi Herman Sanger. Maclean and Sanger were then trying to generate interest in a council of Christians and Jews.
John Jamieson approached the Ecumenical Affairs Committee of the UCA Assembly (the national body) and proposed to include in its agenda Jewish-Christian relations. This was a new idea, and took some by surprise.
Jamieson wrote the first "statement" and submitted it to a group of UCA ministers and lay people in Melbourne. The Revs Robert Anderson and George Grant were among those involved from the start.
By the early 90s the group had a statement they believed worthy of bringing to the Church. It was sent to the Assembly working group on relations with other faiths, and several of the group members went to Sydney to defend it – against solid criticism. However, the issue could not be ignored, and the 1994 Assembly agreed to set up a Task Group charged with preparing a statement for adoption by the 1997 Assembly and initiating a process of education within the UCA.
The first draft of a new statement was sent to consultants around the country. There were six versions before a final draft was submitted to the Assembly Standing Committee in August 1996. Further suggestions were taken into consideration before the final text came before the Assembly in July 1997. The Assembly embraced it with minor modifications, and made several resolutions pertaining to its dissemination and consideration of its theological implications. It must be remembered that the statement is addressed to the membership of the UCA. It is an internal statement; the church talking to itself!
I was proud to be associated with the Task Group, and am pleased with what we were able to accomplish, but must acknowledge that much of the initial stimulus came from John Jamieson, Robert Anderson and George Grant. With such worthies as a cheer squad, one is fortunate indeed to be trusted with carrying the job through to its present stage.
The Rev. Dr. J. Bodycomb
Task Group on Jewish-Christian Relations
Inviting the Uniting Church in Australia
to Ongoing Dialogue with the Jewish Community
In presenting this Statement to the Assembly, the Task Group offers the church an invitation to ongoing dialogue. The Statement is not a pronouncement of the nature, "we believe these things". It is, rather, an indication that "we want to talk with one another, and with Jewish people, about these things". The Uniting Church has adopted a consensus model in place of the process of debate and majority decision. In keeping with this approach, this Statement invites the members of the Uniting Church to engage in discussion, to participate in exploring the issues. The Statement is not intended to be a declaration of belief; it is an attempt to be open to new insights, and to act accordingly. It is offered in the spirit of initiating a process for the Uniting Church.
RESOLUTIONS OF THE EIGHTH ASSEMBLY, JULY 1997
The Assembly resolved to:
- receive the report;
- accept the "Statement Inviting the Uniting Church to Dialogue with the Jewish Community;
- commend this Statement to the members, congregations and councils of the Uniting Church in Australia and distribute it in the following way:
- to synod journals, with a request that they publish the Statement;
- to presbyteries, with a request that they give it consideration and discuss ways in which they might facilitate conversations with Jewish people;
- to theological schools within the Uniting Church in Australia, with a request that they include it in discussions within their ordinand courses;
- distribute the Statement to:
- heads of other Christian denominations in Australia;
- national and state Council of Churches;
- appopriate Jewish bodies in Australia;
- the Council of Christians and Jews in each state where it exists;
- encourage the following specific action in all sectors of the Uniting Church in Australia:
- lay preachers, theological students, youth workers and ordained ministers be encouraged to take into account the theological implications of all expressions of anti-Semitism throughout the history of western culture, culminating in the Holocaust (the Shoah) in their reading and interpretation of Scripture;
- preachers, liturgists, teachers and study leaders be encouraged to be sensitive to the ways they portray Jewish people and Judaism, taking care especially to avoid inaccuracies and distortions, noting particularly the assistance which is given in this task by the Council of Christians and Jews (Victoria) publication "Rightly Explaining the Word of Truth";
- encourage members of the church to join their state Council of Christians and Jews and participate in its activities;
- encourage congregations and parishes to arrange visits to a local synagogue and joint meetings to discuss issues of common concern;
- encourage congregations and parishes to study the commentary material on Section 7 of the Statement, and to use the kit "Understanding Anti-Semitism" and the accompanying video "From the Cross to the Swastika";
- encourage presbyteries to support and develop programs which bring together members or their churches with members of local synagogues for mutual study and dialogue.