Launch of Gesher 2015 – Address by Rev. Professor James Haire AC


Dr Philip Bliss OAM, Chair of the Council of Christians and Jews in Victoria, Mr Walter Rapoport, Editor of Gesher 2015, Reverend Graham McAnalley, Past Chair of the CCJ (Victoria), Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour and privilege for me to speak to your august company this evening at the Launch of Gesher 2015, this Bridge between us.

This evening, at this Launch, we think of anniversaries:

* the 25th anniversary of the first edition of Gesher;
* the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Council of Christians and Jews in Victoria;
* the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, as the result of the work of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI;
* the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II;
* the 70th anniversary of the end of HaShoah / the Holocaust;
* the 70th anniversary of the formation of B’nai B’rith in Victoria;
* the centenary anniversary of Gallipoli;
* the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in Australia;
* the 400th anniversary of the formation of the Baptist Church;
* the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; and
* the 50,000th anniversary of the beginning of Aboriginal civilisation, and Aboriginal art, in Australia.

Remembering, zakar in Hebrew, anemn?sis in Greek, reliving, indeed bringing back to life, is a factor which both Christians and Jews share.   “A wandering Aramean was my father…” for Jews.   “Do this in remembrance of me” for Christians.   We relive.   And that reliving is not just selective.   It does not simply remember the good times, the glorious triumphs, or just the bad times, when we were defeated.   It also is brutally honest.   It also remembers failure and betrayal.   It remembers the times when we failed both God and the community, sometimes just our community, and sometimes the wider human family.   It is seen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but it begins in the traditions of Judaism.

My family back in Ireland were caught up in HaShoah, in the Holocaust.   They had been Presbyterian farmers in the North of Ireland since the Reformation, until my grandfather became a Presbyterian minister and a Professor.   His closest friend was John McCaughey, the father of the late Dr Davis McCaughey, a very committed member of this Council and a former Governor of your state.   The families had farmed close by each other until John McCaughey became a very successful businessman and my grandfather, also James Haire, became a professor in the city (in fact, he was James IV, and I am James VI!).   I do not think that he originally had particularly strong links with the Jewish community.   However, three things radically changed him.   First, his Presbyterian background made him very aware of the precarious nature of life.   Irish Presbyterians, the largest Protestant denomination in Ireland, always had a precarious sense of belonging.    On the one hand they were Irish, on the other they had largely intermarried with the incoming Scots.   Were they really part of Ireland or not?   This “precarious belonging”, the title of a book on this very subject by John Dunlop, made them deeply empathetic with Jews, especially those arriving in Ireland.   Second, Presbyterians shared with Jews a deep love of the Hebrew Scriptures.   Third, as a professor of theology he was greatly affronted and alarmed by his observations of the persecution of Jews in Germany in the 1930s, as he travelled to the German universities for his research each northern summer.   He was appalled.   The Irish Presbyterians had a mission church in the port city of Hamburg, and he was the chair of the church’s mission board.   As a result of the beginnings of the persecution, the board back in Ireland, with the support of John McCaughey, used this church in Hamburg as a place of refuge for fleeing European Jews.   They stayed in it, and then were transported in secret on Irish merchant vessels from Hamburg to Dublin and Belfast.   Dublin was safer, because Eire, as it was then called, was neutral.   Both Dublin and Belfast produced significant communities of Jews.   In the scheme of things this was a small, but significant, contribution to the rescue of the Jews.   The experience changed him for ever.

What, then, is the very heart of the existence of those who call themselves Christians or Jews?   It is this.   The inexplicable will of God to be for, and with, humanity implies that their lives cannot begin to be understood in terms of the structures and events of the world by itself.   Equally, God’s inexplicable will to be God with, and for, humanity implies that they should always understand their life as individuals and as a community theologically.   They also need to understand history in general, and individual and communal histories, theologically.

Moreover, in general for Judaism and for Christianity the issues of the primary and the secondary are central to their self-understanding.   The primary both in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament for Christians) and in the New Testament is the worship and service of God.   The secondary are all those arts and skills necessary for human life, both individual and communal, that is, the arts and skills of the doctor, the businessperson, the accountant, the engineer, the builder, the statesman, the artist, and so on.   In and of themselves, these arts and skills are important, indeed essential, for human life, both individual and communal.   However, these secondary abilities can never become primary in human life.   Any attempt to make them so is idolatrous.   This essential distinction underlies the Judaeo-Christian theological tradition, and must constantly be borne in mind.

I want this evening to look at the issue of overcoming violence, particularly between Jews, Christians and Muslims, so relevant today following the atrocities in Paris.   The three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam in historical order of appearance, were all born in worlds of violence.   Christianity began as a minority of a minority (Judaism) within the Roman Empire.   Islam also knew struggle and violence, as did Judaism1.   However, within three centuries of being this minority of a minority, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.   This Constantinian settlement had a profound impact on Christianity.   Its immediate source documents (the New Testament) had been produced for a tiny community suffering persecution and violence.   Now that Christianity was in a powerful position, how was it still possible to hear God’s voice so clearly, especially in and through those source documents?   In fact, Christianity found its symbiosis with state power so completely congenial that it found its life, for its future, difficult to contemplate outside this situation.   For Islam, too, the establishment of Islamic Caliphates and Sultanates and other forms of Islamic states provided great comfort after years of struggle.   Equally, for Judaism, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 provided a symbiosis with state power unimagined in previous Jewish history.   Christianity and Islam, along with Judaism, have known persecution, violence and oppression, but also congenial symbioses with state power.

It is clear, of course, that the language of violence is found in many parts of the sacred scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.   In the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament for Christianity, and revered texts for Islam) is found language of violence relating to God’s actions (as in Numbers 11: 33 – 34), relating to outsiders (Deuteronomy 2: 26 – 3: 22), relating to the Israelites themselves (Deuteronomy 28: 15 – 46), relating to conquest (Joshua 6: 20 – 21) and in relation to natural phenomena (Isaiah 13: 6 – 13).   This language continues in the apocalyptic texts (Daniel 7: 11 – 12).   In the New Testament language of this type relates to God (as in Matthew 11: 20 – 24), to Jesus (Matthew 23: 13 – 36) and to future judgment (Acts 17: 30 – 31 and Revelation 6: 1 – 17).   Again, in the Q?r’an, there is the language of violence related to divine action (as in Sura 1: 3 and 2: 104), related to the defence of the community (umma)(Sura 2: 216 – 218), in relation to punishment (Sura 9: 73 – 74) and in relation to those totally outside (Sura 4:84).   Moreover, the historical interrelationship of Christianity and Judaism has only to point to the attacks on Jews through pogroms, the burnings of synagogues, the mass expulsions from England, France and Spain, the confinement to ghettos and the Holocaust.

Judaism has sh?lôm.   Christianity has eir?n?.   Within Islam, parallel dynamics between the primary and the secondary can be observed, particularly in relation to the formation and ongoing life of the umma.2   The primary in Islam is stressed at all times in relation to all individual and communal ethical life being dependent upon one’s submission to Allah.   Submission to the will of God is thus at all times central, and moreover is constantly presented as central.  This is expressed in the repeated declaration of the First Pillar, the shahada ,3 stressing the sovereignty of Allah.   The second Pillar, the salat, is the organisation of the expression of the shahada, and the other three Pillars, the zakat, the saum, and the hajj, the consequences of the expression.   From these the secondary, that is, all individual and communal ethical behaviour, develop for the umma, as seen in the Q?r’an, the Hadith, and the Shar?’ah.   However, it is quite clear where the primary lies, in the expression of the shahada.

I want to give you an example of this from my experience in the reconciliation process in Eastern Indonesia between 1999 and 2005.   At the end of 1999, serious communal violence broke out in the Molucca Islands (in bahasa Indonesia, Maluku) of Eastern Indonesia, that is, the islands to the north and south of Ambon, where the population had been roughly 50: 50 Christian: Muslim.   About 500,000 people lost their homes, and thousands had lost their lives.  The violence had been engineered from outside the area by political factions in Jakarta, and had been made worse by the irresponsible behaviour of the Indonesian military.  It ended up as violence between Muslims and Christians, who had previously lived together in great peace for almost 500 years.  Ironically, six months before the violence broke out, there had been an international conference on religious harmony held by the United Nations in New York, in which the Molucca Islands had been held up as an example of religious harmony.  I was asked by the Indonesian Government authorities to assist in the reconciliation process, for which a commission had been set up, as I had lived in the area for 13 years and had been Principal of a large college, which included a theological college, and had published on the sociology and cultures of the islands.

It was a highly personal event for me, because six of my former students, whom I had also ordained, had been killed by a combination of the Muslim jihad and the Indonesian Army.  At least one student, now a young minister, had been beheaded in is own church, wearing his preaching robes in the sight of Sunday school children.  His head was carried round the village on a pole and his torso dragged around the village.

How do you bring about peace and reconciliation, when there has been such violence?   Nevertheless, now there is now almost complete peace and harmony in the area, and has been for many years.   The evidence for that is that you never see the words Ambon or Moluccas on the TV or in the papers.

I learned a number of things from this experience.

First, you have to be prepared to go completely outside the box to achieve your strategic framework.  The strategic framework had to take precedence over every single traditional method of doing things.  That strategic framework for us was lasting peace, reconciliation, and justice.  However, peace came first.  You therefore had to totally imbue the concepts of peace and reconciliation and make sure that every action taken pointed in that direction.   We introduced a fire-arms amnesty.   We also arranged that, if in a village there was no violence for a year, then no one in that village would pay income tax.

Second, you had to be convinced at all times that you would succeed.  There had to be total commitment.  Failure was not an option.  During our negotiations, we met on one occasion in a five-star hotel in the city of Makassar, we then decided no longer to meet there, where we were cocooned from the real world, but rather to meet in a village hall in the midst of the effects of the violence, with corpses being discovered around our building while we met.  That concentrated our minds.  The failure of our peace negotiations was not an option.

Third, ultimately you had to be very realistic.  That meant that we had to have all the parties around the table, even the most obnoxious.  The Muslim militias or jihad, the Christian militias, the Army, the public service and all vested interests, legitimate or illegitimate.  Some demands were unacceptable, but had to be confronted.  Other demands seemed unreasonable at first.  But when they were examined in detail, the group found them to be quite reasonable.  Some demands bluntly had to be accepted as the price of peace.  For example, we decided to partition the islands into Muslim areas, Christian areas, and mixed areas.  This had not been done before.  Those areas were then policed as single religion areas.  Now, thankfully, the whole island group are mixed.  People can live any where, but that was because of the success of the initial peace and the segregation system.

Fourth, we got rid of what seemed initially, an unlikely grouping, that is, we got rid of the Army.  Initially, we got rid of battalions of Muslims and battalions of Christians because they would only take sides.  And got thoroughly independent troops in, Hindus from Bali, to provide security.  We did an internal UN peacekeeping mission.  But we went further.  We reduced all military presence as quickly as possible and allowed the local police to control the situation.  In other words, we indigenised the solution and removed military presence from it as far as possible.  That does not go along with any textbook solution.  Normally governments increase troops in violence, not reduce them.   It was a matter of trying to apply local responsibility to the communities and demilitarise the whole atmosphere.  The military had both been part of the problem and were inappropriate for the solution.

Fifth, we monitored the situation to see if these actions that we had taken would produce the results hoped for.  As it turned out, they were highly successful.

Sixth, symbolic actions are important.  One of the largest mosques, and one of the largest churches, both of which had been burned down, were rededicated.  At the rededication of the Mosque, Christians presented the implements used for the call to worship, and promised that inter-religious violence would never again occur.  At the rededication of the Church, Muslims presented the bells for the church tower, again with their promises that violence would never recur.

What can we see from these experiences? A number of factors come out for me.

1. The strategic vision has to be part of your very being.
2. You have to show utter determination and complete confidence that the change will take place.
3. Speed is of the essence of success.  Personal integrity in implementing the strategic vision is of great importance.  Often in our negotiations, the views of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable were taken very seriously.
4. And finally, our own existence depended on the success of implementing the strategic change.
Biographical Note: The Reverend Professor James Haire AC KSJ MAOxon GradDipMissLeiden PhDBirmingham HonDDBelfast HonDLittUlster HonDUnivGriffith & Australian Catholic University is Research Professor of Theology, Charles Sturt University, Canberra, and was Professor of Theology, Executive Director, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, and Director, Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre, all in Charles Sturt University.     Prior to that, he was President of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA), President of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), Professor of Theology in Griffith University, Dean of the Brisbane College of Theology, and Principal of Trinity Theological College, Brisbane.
He read classics and theology at the University of Oxford, and undertook postgraduate study and research in theology at the Hendrik Kraemer Instituut, the University of Leiden, and the University of Birmingham.   He has lectured in theology in Indonesia for over 40 years, including 13 years full-time.During these years he was involved in Christian – Muslim dialogue, both in Australia and in South-East Asia, particularly in Indonesia, including lecturing at State Islamic Universities in Indonesia, engaging in public dialogue with H.E. K.H. Abdurrachman Wahid (Gus Dur), former President of Indonesia, and, at the request of the Indonesian authorities, being involved  in the peace process between Muslims and Christians in  the Molucca Islands  in Indonesia in the 2000s, which thankfully were successful.   He became a Presidential Friend of Indonesia in 2010, has four honorary doctorate degrees, two from the United Kingdom and two from Australia, and is a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), Australia’s highest civilian honour.   He has published widely internationally.

1 On this, see further  A. R. C. Leaney, The Jewish and Christian World 200BC to AD 200 (Cambridge Commentries on Writings of the Jewish and Christian World 200BC to AD200, Volume 7) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965); Sharam Akbarzadeh and Fethi Mansouri, eds., Islam and Political Violence: Muslim Diaspora and Radicalism in the West (Library of International Relations Series 34)(London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2007).
2 See Yahiya Emerick, Muhammad (Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 2002).

3 La ilaha ill’Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah.

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