Stirrings of an Australian Mainline
In Australia, the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Uniting Churches have banded together to establish the Centre for an Ethical Society,which describes itself as a body promoting "mainstream" Christianity. The Centre is to be chaired by The Right Reverend George Browning, the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
The Centre will be an autonomous body supported by the three churches in the model of the National Council of Churches in the USA.
In a period of somewhat heightened religious divisions and debate, the Centre can be a good model of ecumenism for other churches, especially in that part of the world, who may be examining new avenues for cooperation, unity and mission.
Bishop Browning told The Sydney Morning Herald that the Centre's mission is clear. "The question for the 21st century is: 'Can the common good prevail over self-interest and the desire for personal gain?"'
The centre was launched in Sydney, and chapters will be formed in every capital city and in regional centres throughout the country.
The Centre's constitution says its objectives are "to promote Christian social justice within Australia's democratic traditions and to co-operate in the development of a more just and compassionate Australia".
This language parallels that of the National Council of Churches in the United States, which states, "the NCC works for peace and justice in the United States, addressing issues ranging from poverty and racism, to the environment, family ministries, and much more."
The work of the NCC, which includes mainline denominations, has participants drawn not only from the NCC's member churches, but from a total of more than 50 denominations representing a broad spectrum of American Christianity, from Evangelicals to Roman Catholics to Pentecostals.
Terry McCarthy, a former ambassador to Ireland and the Vatican and a driving force in the Centre, said at the groundbreaking: "People say that you don't need all this welfare; you don't need to talk about fairness or Christian love - the market will solve it all. The market didn't do it in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, so it's certainly not going to do it in the 21st century."
The Centre's website, still being established, already contains useful documents outlining the philosophies, theologies and plans for the Centre.
Fr Michael Fallon, MSC, writes that the scriptural imperatives clearly show that for a Christian, the pursuit of social justice is an obligation and not an option.
"Again and again the prophets spoke out against this failure, especially when it was supported by legislation and administration that made it hard, if not impossible, for the poor to find redress. Amos proclaimed: ‘Thus says the Lord: I will not revoke my punishment on Israel, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way’ (Amos 2:6-7). Religious cult, too, is phony when it disregards justice and has no regard for the poor: ‘I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies ... Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream’ " (Amos 5:21-24).