Australia's stance on refugees and asylum seekers was a key topic of debate at an Anglican Synod over the weekend.
Some 280 people, including clergy, educators and agency representatives from across the Canberra/Goulburn Diocese gathered for the three-day event, which started at the Goulburn Workers Club on Friday.
Described as the Church's parliament, the forum debates Bills put forward at a national level. It represented the first Synod for new Anglican Bishop, The Right Reverend Dr Mark Short.
Dr Short said one of the motions called on the federal government to immediately remove all asylum seekers and refugees from offshore detention and to accept New Zealand's offer to receive 150 of these people.
Further, it asked the government to reverse changes "that made it difficult for refugees in Australia to obtain employment."
Asked for his personal view on current refugee policy, Dr Short cited the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel.
"It's a parable that reminds us that being a neighbour is not about living alongside those we might have chosen. It's about how we act compassionately in situations we haven't chosen," he said.
"I believe in God's providence. He's placed us in a relatively wealthy country in this part of the world at this time and I'm keen to see us respond with compassion to the circumstances of asylum seekers and refugees, both at a national level and at the level of communities and churches."
Regarding the Biloela Tamil family awaiting deportation on Christmas Island, Dr Short said he hoped Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would consider "how it might be possible to extend grace to a family who was much loved by the community and who had made a huge contribution" to their adopted town.
Another motion called for deeper connection between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians at parish and ministry level and to engage with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This included its call for a constitutionally enshrined indigenous voice to federal parliament.
Dr Short was formerly director of the Bush Church Aid Society, which prioritised ministry in regional and remote Australia, including indigenous communities.
"We're hoping out of that we might be able to facilitate the kinds of local conversations where we hear truth from our indigenous brothers and sisters and in so doing, provide a model for open conversation that we hope to see take place at a national level," Dr Short said.
Christians of all people should be aware of the capacity of ill-spoken words to wound and to harm.Anglican Bishop of Canberra/Goulburn, Dr Mark Short
In his opening address, the Bishop outlined priorities for the Diocese over the next 12 months. He listed the implementation of recommendations from the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse as key.
The Commission recommended the Anglican Church develop mandatory national standards, ensuring that all people in religious and pastoral ministry undertook professional supervision.
"The Reverend Dr Geoff Broughton from Saint Mark's has been engaged by the Anglican Church of Australia's Safe Ministry Commission to consult with the Dioceses on the development of these standards and I expect a significant task for Bishop-in-Council and Synod in the next 12 to 18 months will be to respond to those standards, including allocating the necessary resources for them to be effectively implemented," Dr Short said.
The Bishop didn't sidestep the religious freedom and freedom of expression debate. He said while there was "social good" in allowing a diversity of groups to express their traditions, the flip-side of free speech was "responsible speech."
"Christians of all people should be aware of the capacity of ill-spoken words to wound and to harm," he said.
Next May, a special Synod will be held to pass legislation arising from the Royal Commission. Immediately following this, Synod representatives will consider a response to the same-sex marriage plebiscite.
Dr Short said his views were already known to many.
"I am convinced that marriage is a lifelong partnership uniting a woman and man in heart, mind and body and is a faithful expression of the tradition we have received from Christ in the Scriptures and that any liturgical or pastoral practice should reflect rather than depart from this understanding," he said.
However, he also recognised there was a diversity of views in the Diocese.
Some of the Synod motions will be sent to federal politicians. Asked about its influence, the Bishop said the forum united professional and voluntary organisations, people contributing greatly to their communities and others involved in politics.
"I believe it is not just the resolutions we pass but the ongoing contributions that our churches, schools and Anglicare agencies make in our community that can make a difference," he said.
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