The Vatican's Christian-Muslim forum; US election results; Anglicare reports on social inclusion

Transcript

This transcript was typed from a recording of the
program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the
possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying
speakers.

The Vatican’s Christian-Muslim forum
US election results
Anglicare reports on social inclusion

David Rutledge: Hello, and welcome to the Religion Report.

This
week we’re looking at the results of the US Presidential election and
the role of religious groups in bringing Barack Obama to power. We also
take a look at a recent report put out by Anglicare Australia, which
has some sobering points to make about social inclusion, and exclusion,
in Australia as the financial crisis begins to bite.
But first, some high level progress in dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.

Music: SURA MARIAM

David Rutledge:
Sura Mariam, from the section of the Qu’ran that has the Virgin Mary as
its central figure. Well Catholic-Muslim relations have had their ups
and downs over the past couple of years. In September, 2006, Pope
Benedict XVI gave his now-notorious lecture at the University of
Regensburg, in Germany, in which he quoted a 14th century Christian
Emperor who said that Islam spread its faith through violence. The
result of the Pope’s lecture was outrage across the Muslim world, and a
serious setback for interfaith relations.

Twelve months later, in
2007, an international group of Muslim clerics and scholars delivered
an open letter to the leaders of all the world’s churches, entitled ‘A
Common Word’. The letter explored commonalities between Islam and
Christianity, and it sparked off a series of international forums where
Christians and Muslims could meet to further the cause of mutual
understanding and respect. And the first of those forums took place in
July this year at Yale University.

Well the most recent
interfaith forum has just concluded. It took place at the Vatican, and
was hosted by Pope Benedict XVI. Fifty leading Catholic and Muslim
scholars from Europe, the Middle East and the US convened behind closed
doors for two days last week, and talked about the things that divide
and unite their two faiths. And on Friday, they issued a Joint
Declaration, which stressed, among other things, the place of love in
Islamic and Christian theology; the dignity of human life and the need
to extend respect to men and women; the right of individuals and
communities to practice their religion in private and in public; and
the renunciation of violence.

Ali Lakhani is the Editor of
‘Sacred Web’, that’s a journal based in Vancouver devoted to the study
of tradition and modernity in religion. He’s also one of the original
signatories to the open letter ‘A Common Word’ that led to last week’s
Vatican forum.

I asked him if he thought that the Forum
represents a real turning point in Christian-Muslim relations, or if
it’ll turn out to be just another high-level talkfest.

Ali Lakhani:Well
I think success has to be judged firstly according to realistic
timelines. The differences that have existed between the faith
traditions are as old as the faith traditions themselves. So judging
success in this case is really firstly a question of finding and
creating that kind of platform where you can have a dialogue at a high
level; that has certainly been achieved. Secondly, to try to encourage
dialogue on an ongoing basis, and I think that that has been achieved.
Then thirdly, to put out a statement of principles that the different
faith traditions can adhere to, and that has been achieved here. And
fourthly, on a more practical level, to put out some sort of forum or
committee that can constitute a more centrist, moderate voice when
there are emergent situations that arise; the Danish cartoons type of
situation for example. If there is no moderate voice that seizes the
stage, then what happens is that it’s the more extreme groups that end
up getting all the media and the coverage. So I think this is something
that needs to be viewed longer-term and I think significant progress
has been made.

David Rutledge: So when you look at the
joint declaration, when you look at the points that it emphasises, the
love of God, common humanity, respect for human dignity and freedom of
worship, you see this as more than just a checklist of sort of worthy
ideals, it’s something more substantial than that?

Ali Lakhani:
I think so, but Islam for example is not as readily perceived as
Christianity as a religion of love. There are many who do not
understand Islam that well who will more readily perceive it as a
religion of the law. Christianity and Christ’s message for example, was
more emphatic in terms of replacing the formal aspects of the law with
the more spiritualised aspects of love. Well that perspective of Islam
is really not an honest perspective in terms of the theology itself,
and so one of the things that can come about through a dialogue such as
this, is not just to provide a checklist of sort of motherhood and
apple-pie statements, but to get a real engagement occurring through
dialogue. And I saw this. I witnessed this myself, particularly in the
workshops that took place at Yale and the workshops that preceded the
conference. There was a very, very genuine engaged dialogue that was
taking place to try to define exactly what one means by terms that one
uses in a very generic sense otherwise.

David Rutledge:
The declaration puts a heavy stress on the importance of religious
freedom, and specifically the right of Christians to build churches in
Muslim countries. Now this is a contentious issue and Saudi Arabia
didn’t have a delegate at the talks, and I wonder if you think that
takes some of the shine off that statement considering that public
non-Muslim worship is not tolerated in Saudi Arabia and you have this
whole question of what do Muslims do if they want to disseminate this
declaration in countries like Saudi Arabia where these sorts of calls
for religious freedom could get them into trouble with the authorities?

Ali Lakhani:
Well it’s a good point that you make and I think what you are really
bringing out is the fact that there are many different shades of
articulation of faith, even within a faith tradition like Islam, and
certainly in the case of the Saudis, the Wahabi, the Salati tradition
has been much more active and proselytizing through the madrassahs and
we all know the kinds of issues that that has raised on the political
front. So religion and politics really are intertwined here.

In
terms of the effectiveness of the declaration without those elements
being included, I think that will be something that emerges over time.
What has to happen is that there has to be a momentum, a critical mass
that builds up over the sort of moderate and centrist views that will
eventually be able to engage the less moderate views. But that’s an
evolution. So I’m quite hopeful.

David Rutledge: But are
we looking here at a group of high-level clerics, tolerant, reasonably
pluralistic in their outlook on one hand, and then at a completely
different level we have Muslims and I would say Christians as well, for
whom the very existence of this kind of forum is an offence to their
religious principles. And I wonder how the message of mutual respect
and tolerance is supposed to trickle down from these sorts of forums to
the community level.

Ali Lakhani: I think it’s already
happening. I mentioned earlier the fact that the summer when I was at
Yale for the conference, at the same time or just shortly before that,
there had been a conference in Madrid that the Saudis had organised.
Now they’re involved in inter-faith dialogue and in ecumenical
initiatives; similarly at the Yale conference there was a huge
representation from Christian evangelicals, people who normally would
not be tolerant of this sort of dialogue. And I think the very fact
that you could get people into a room, – yes many of them were
moderates, but it was not purely moderates that were engaged in
discussion, – the fact that you could get people of different opinions
into a room to talk in a civil and respectful way, really puts the lie
to this whole notion of the clash of civilisations.

David Rutledge: Ali Lakhani, Editor of the journal ‘Sacred Web’, on the line there from Vancouver.

Barack Obama:
I’ve never been ashamed to talk about my Christian faith from when I
began my own walk with God in the 1980s to the campaign trail today.
And from my earliest days organising with churches on the south side of
Chicago to the work we’re doing with the religious community on this
campaign, I’ve been blessed to help lead a conversation on the role of
people of faith in changing the world around us.

That’s a role
we’ve played for a long time. Throughout American history from
Abolition to Women’s Suffrage to Civil Rights, it’s been people of
faith who’ve led the way to transform our nation.

David Rutledge:
The President-elect of the United States of America, Barack Obama,
speaking before the election on a subject that’s become a familiar
topic: the role of religious faith in his own life, and in the life of
the nation.

In the early stages of his election campaign it was
thought that Barack Obama might enable the Democratic Party to reinvent
itself as a ‘faith-friendly’ party, drawing religious voters away from
the Republican fold, and helping to end the hegemony of the so-called
Religious Right.

Whether those longer-term goals are achieved
remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt that the Presidential election
saw a shift in the political allegiances of religious voters,
particularly Catholic voters, 54% of whom voted for Obama, that’s 7%
more than voted for John Kerry in 2004 – and he was a Catholic.

Allen Hertzke is Visiting Senior Fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C.

Allen Hertzke:
First of all it’s a very significant number. For the last two to three
decades the Catholic vote has been the swing vote in American
elections, and it has swung back and forth, basically giving the margin
of victory to the winner, and that happened in this election.

David Rutledge:
There was a last-minute push by a vocal group of Catholic bishops to
swing voters away from Obama; they drew attention to Obama’s support
for abortion rights. In fact one bishop said that Catholics should give
thought to their eternal salvation as they went to vote. Presumably
that would have been an effective call to many Catholics, but not
effective enough, as it turned out.

Allen Hertzke: No,
American Catholics tend to be a rather independent group of voters, and
while certainly they respect their church leaders, they don’t
necessarily vote exactly with their wishes. Certainly the Obama
campaign had prominent Catholic advocates who did outreach to the
Catholic community extensively, and that seems to have paid off.

David Rutledge:
But with this particular issue of abortion, Joe Biden, himself a
Catholic but pro-choice on abortion, Obama’s support for abortion
rights has modified slightly recently, but he’s been pro-choice in the
past; do we conclude from this that abortion just isn’t the hot button
issue that it has been for the majority of American Catholics in the
past?

Allen Hertzke: I think it’s premature to say that,
because Catholics didn’t vote on the basis of abortion this year. In
fact the issue was not very prominent, in the actual Presidential
debates, in the campaign ads, in the rallies, and what we have to
remember is that average voters don’t necessarily tune in to all the
news, and so that the messages they were hearing were primarily about
the economy, to a certain extent about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Rutledge:
Well let’s look at white evangelical Christian groups, the base of
George Bush’s campaigns in the past. Traditionally Republican-leaning,
how did they vote this time?

Allen Hertzke: Well white
evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for John McCain, about three-quarters
of them did. But that was still down about 4 points from four years
ago. So McCain did lose a slight number of white evangelicals. The
story here is generational. The white evangelicals who moved to Obama
were young evangelicals, under 30. So about a third of young
evangelicals actually voted for Barack Obama and only one-quarter of
those over 30 voted for Barack Obama. But the salient point is that
white evangelicals still are a very solid Republican constituency.

David Rutledge:
In spite of the fact that John McCain was not in many respects what
you’d call a solid Republican candidate, set in that traditional mould;
I’ve been trawling conservative Christian bulletin boards over the last
year or so and many, many, of them saying that there was no way that
they would vote for McCain, in spite of the fact that they were loyal
Republican supporters. He really seemed to be on the nose among a lot
of white evangelicals and yet, 73 per cent of the vote.

Allen
Hertzke: Yes, and I think that his selection of Sarah Palin may have
made a difference here; we’ll still have to investigate the exit poll
results and other studies to see if that is borne out. But certainly
she was very enthusiastically received in the evangelical community.
And so I think that may have solidified the evangelical allegiance to
John McCain.

David Rutledge: Well earlier in the election
campaign, people were talking about the possibility of a pro-Democratic
evangelical religious left emerging to counter the so-called religious
right. Has such an electoral entity emerged?

Allen Hertzke:
Certainly a cadre of more liberal evangelicals has coalesced and is
very actively involved in politics, and will be very active and
lobbying the Obama Administration, people like Jim Wallace and others
of Sojourners Fellowship. But I think the important point is that at
the mass level, the electoral level, that still remains to be
developed. There is I think a cadre of liberal evangelicals out there,
and more moderate evangelicals who might be conservative or traditional
on abortion and gay marriage but are more interested as well in issues
like global warming and poverty and international development. Obama
can appeal to some of those leaders and some of the lay evangelicals on
certain issues like that.

David Rutledge: And yet it looks
like Obama can expect some stiff evangelical opposition to some of his
more liberal policies. What issues do you think are likely to emerge
over the next few months as battleground issues?

Allen Hertzke:
You know, I would hate to speculate because I think that we are in a
remarkable time with respect to the economy. We’re talking about a
global economic crisis, and that’s going, I think, to dominate the
first few months of an Obama Administration. It’s quite possible if
there’s a Supreme Court appointment or if Congress passes abortion
rights legislation, that that issue will become salient, that’s quite
possible, because certainly there are a number of pro-life voters who
don’t necessarily know Obama’s stand on abortion, and that would come
out if it became a major issue.

Gay marriage may not be as much
of an issue because it’s done, taken care of at the State level, or
it’s been taken care of at the State level, and it’s been handled at
the State level.
Now another issue that may become important is
the extent to which the Federal government partners with faith-based
groups and certainly Obama has said that he wants to continue to do
that sort of thing, but he doesn’t want preferences in hiring. And that
could become an issue: whether religious groups that receive Federal
money can hire exclusively their own religionists, their own believers.
So that might become an issue.

David Rutledge: Well let’s
have a look at the Muslim vote, the highest Muslim voter turnout ever
recorded, 89% voted for Obama. There were moments during the Obama
campaign when relations with Muslims were strained, but presumably this
didn’t count for much on election day.

Allen Hertzke: No,
I think Obama remains very popular among average Muslim voters. Part of
it is that the Muslim electorate has moved very strongly into the
Democratic camp because of their reaction against what they perceive as
excesses in the war on terrorism, and domestic surveillance and
profiling and so forth. So Muslims have become a solidly Democratic
constituency and I think Barack Obama uniquely appealed to them.

David Rutledge:
But was the Muslim vote as much pro-Obama as it was anti-Bush? I mean
was this a referendum on the Bush Administration, to some extent?

Allen Hertzke:
Oh, I think for a Muslim this was a referendum on the Bush
Administration. We have never seen such a dramatic turnaround in a
constituency’s vote, because our best evidence is that Muslims in 2000
voted for George Bush, who actively courted them. But the war in Iraq,
the perception that Muslims were singled out in profiling and domestic
surveillance and Guantanamo Bay and all of that constellation of issues
really made the Bush Administration unpopular in the Muslim community.

David Rutledge:
Dr Allen Hertzke, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Forum on
Religion and Public Life on the line there from Washington, D.C.

In
the run-up to last year’s Federal election, the Labor party released
its Social Inclusion Agenda, which looked behind our economic
prosperity at the growing number of people who are shut out from
meaningful participation in Australiam life.

Well twelve months
on, the economic picture doesn’t look so rosy, and last month,
Anglicare Australia released its report on social inclusion, entitled
‘Creative Tension: The State of the Family 2008’. The Report sets out a
number of familiar aspects of Australian life that work against social
inclusion: the way in which housing has come to be regarded as a means
of accumulating wealth, rather than as shelter to which everyone in the
community has a right; the way in which the workforce has come to be
regarded as yet another market commodity, rather than a field of
opportunity for the skilled and the unskilled.

The Anglicare
Report is largely optimistic about the future. But it was released on
the brink of the current share market crash, and since then we’ve been
warned that lean times are coming, and as always, it’s the poor and the
marginalised who stand to fare the worst.

Dr Ray Cleary is the
CEO of Anglicare Victoria, and we thought it’d be interesting to invite
him onto the program and see if he’s still feeling as positive about
social inclusion as he was a month ago.

Ray Cleary: We’re
facing challenges that our community hasn’t faced for some time. There
are whole generations of people who have never really experienced the
sharp downturns that we’re seeing in the sharemarket. The services
across Australia from Darwin to Hobart, from Perth to Brisbane, have
experienced rapid increase in demand, particularly from a new group of
clients that traditionally have not, I think, gone to welfare agencies
like Anglicare. These are what we describe as working families; many of
them are paying mortgages of $1500 to $2000 a month. These are a group
who have always been self sustaining, they’ve always been just outside
the welfare net, security net, they probably receive family assistance
and family allowance, but have never needed to call on emergency food
banks or never called on agencies like ours to support their children
at school to attend excursions and so forth. So this is a new group of
people who have been encouraged to enter the housing market, who have
been lent money by the banks, who have been encouraged to have all the
latest gadgets and so forth by the market, and now find themselves
actually struggling to live up to the expectations that have been
created by the wider community in many ways.

Now, of course,
we’re in an economic crisis and some of these issues are now far more
profound and affecting the life of children and families that I think
we’re now all beginning to see what the cost of high prosperity can be.

David Rutledge:
Well the Rudd government has set out its own social inclusion agenda:
everyone should have a job, access to services, connection with others
and a capacity to deal with personal crises, a sense of having a voice.
It sounds reasonable: how consistent is that with Anglicare’s social
inclusion agenda?

Ray Cleary: Well it’s very consistent.
In fact just a few days before we released our report back in early
October, the Prime Minister addressed a senior business forum in
Sydney. We’d actually thought he’d got a copy of our report, because in
fact he articulated and spoke about the issues which we have raised in
our report, in terms of social inclusion. The challenge at the moment I
think David, is that we could be overwhelmed by the global economic
crisis and some fundamental core principles of the social inclusion
agenda may in fact either be deferred or lost on the way.

David Rutledge:
Tell me about that, because that’s right, isn’t it, as things get
tighter economically, we’re going to see funding priorities just have
to be re-assessed. What tensions can you see emerging perhaps between
economic crisis management on one hand, and social inclusion policies
on the other over the next few months?

Ray Cleary: Well I
think the most topical one at the moment is ABC Childcare. I mean, one
of the key elements of the Rudd Government’s policy for providing
employment opportunities is that good quality childcare is available.
Now it seems to me that one of the issues at the moment is they’re
going to have to address that crisis, because what we’re experiencing
is a market failure which was a policy that was addressed by the
previous government to enable people to enter the workforce. So if
you’re going to encourage people to enter, women in particular, then
you’ve got to have childcare.

I think the other challenge of
course, is unemployment, the potential for a significant rise in
unemployment will in fact work in reverse for the social inclusion
policy that the government is trying to implement, because it assumes
that growth will continue and that there will be increased
opportunities. It also assumes that the education system will be able
to provide the quality, the technical skills and the training necessary
for the new workforce generation. All those at the moment are at risk
as we try to grapple with what are basic core services the government
needs to continue to provide, as well as give incentive to the economy
to sustain employment.

David Rutledge: The report’s really
interesting on workforce issues. It talks about creating non-market
employment opportunities. What does that mean?

Ray Cleary:
Well I think what it’s saying is that there is some work in our
community which will never be profitable in the sense that you can’t
put it out to the market, and assume that the market will create an
opportunity for this work. Some of those examples may be the way in
which we maintain our parks and gardens in our urban cities; the way in
which we provide opportunities for volunteers to participate in the
community and in community organisations, and what value we place on
those, rather than simply saying that everybody who is in the workforce
must be paid a full wage. So we’re looking at ways of perhaps retirees
or even young people who are preparing to work in the workforce to have
opportunities to gain experience, or to provide their wisdom.

David Rutledge:
Housing’s another tricky one, isn’t it? And the report talks about
re-asserting the primacy of housing as shelter, but of course housing
today is regarded as an investment option, a means of making money. How
do you turn that back? Because that’s an idea that’s become really
fundamental to Australian economic life.

Ray Cleary: Well
certainly I agree with you. Housing is not just about shelter, but it’s
also about security, and I think one of the things again we need to
recognise, is that not everyone in our community will earn sufficient
funds to be able to access a mortgage in order to purchase a house. And
so we’re arguing in our report that community housing, public housing,
which has always been a part of the Australian housing industry, needs
to be rekindled. We probably need to spend somewhere between $5 billion
and $10 billion over the next three to five years, to create housing to
enable low income people to access security, affordable housing. Again,
we’ve allowed the market to set the pace, and again the market has
shown that it’s been unable to provide housing for low income people
and simply providing a rent subsidy actually doesn’t address the issue
because it’s really responding to investment policies in housing,
rather than simply assisting low income people to meet their housing
costs.

David Rutledge: Well the report’s calling for a
radical re-think of a lot of these very deeply entrenched political and
social values. Are you saying that at a time like this, at a time of
economic crisis when the whole thing’s collapsed and the blocks are all
sort of lying around on the floor, that this actually presents an
opportunity for these kinds of reforms, because what we’re having to do
is go right back and re-think things from Step 1.

Ray Cleary:
Well I think that’s right. That’s why I think it’s an exciting time
because I think there are opportunities which we will now have to
explore, that we have ignored over the past 10 or 20 years, and that’s
about the role of government in sustaining and supporting communities
in order to reach their potential and I think we have been through a
period where we have placed our trust in the free enterprise, free
market system, which certainly has its strengths and values, and I’m
not wanting to say that the market doesn’t have a place, but I think
governments need to be far more active. They need to be involved in
some of these key issues like health, housing and education, and it’s
not simply a matter of choice, as we’ve expounded over the past few
years. I think governments have- it’s, if you like, a human rights
issue, a justice issue that we’re concerned about, so that everyone in
the Australian community is able to benefit from the bounty that this
country has. And I think we need to recognise David, that despite the
fact that we have a global economic crisis, Australia still has more
wealth than it’s ever had in its history, and it’s the way that wealth
is distributed which I think is one of the key challenges facing
government. And I think it’s a little ironic at times to listen to the
Parliament at the moment, and particularly the Opposition, criticise
government for initiatives, which they’re seeking to undertake, and
issues that they’re seeking to address, when in fact some of the
concerns we have at the present time, really go back to policies of
former governments.

David Rutledge: Ray Cleary, Chief Executive Officer of Anglicare Victoria.

And that’s the program for this week. Thanks to producer Jacinta Patterson and technical producer John Diamond.

Guests

Ali Lakhani
Editor, Sacred Web

Allen D. Hertzke
Visiting Senior Fellow, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Washington DC

Ray Cleary
CEO, Anglicare Victoria

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/religionreport/stories/2008/2416069.htm#anchor1