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Publications for the Australian Theological Forum, Canberra, Sunday, 7 June 1998: address on the occasion of the launch.

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Today, o f course, is a doubly auspicious one for the launch o f these two publications. In the Western Christian tradition, it is Trinity Sunday with its commitment to God as One and as a community o f Persons In the Orthodox tradition it is Pentecost Sunday, commemorating the descent o f the Holy Spirit on the disciples and regarded as the birthday o f the Christian Church

These two publications call upon and are deeply relevant to both traditions. The first is the book edited by Reverend Dr Victor Pfitzner and Mr Hilary Regan, The Task o f Theology Today: Doctrines and Dogmas The second is the inaugural ATF Journal, Interface: a Forum fo r Theology in the World which, in this opening edition, edited by

Sister Veronica Brady and M r Regan, is devoted to a topic o f great significance for all Australians, “ Reconciliation and Responsibility”

The book, The Task o f Theology Today: Doctrines and Dogmas, brings together papers from the colloquium o f the same name held in Brisbane last July. The participating systemic and philosophical theologians, some o f whom are with us today, come from a variety o f Christian traditions and from different parts o f the world: from within this country, from New Zealand, Britain and the United States As you know, the task the Forum has set itself is to facilitate the engagement o f Christian theology with other disciplines in addressing areas o f social and cultural concern in the modern world. In doing so, it seeks to bring together not only theologians but also other members o f the church, scientists and a variety o f professional men and women - whether Christian or not - to explore the connections between faith and life

And yet, as the editors o f the book point out in their introduction, if theologians are to engage meaningfully and profitably with people in other disciplines, they must be clear on what they seek to contribute to the dialogue The papers in this book, without exception, satisfy that requirement They are sincere, scholarly and readily understandable contributions to it It gives me great pleasure to launch the Book.

The first edition o f the Journal Interface which we are also launching this afternoon deals with an issue o f concrete concern to all Australians - namely, reconciliation between the indigenous peoples o f Australia and our nation as a whole The authors o f the various

articles bring a variety o f perspectives to the matter Raimond Gaita, for example, approaches the issue as a philosopher Father Frank Brennan is a theologian and lawyer who has been very closely involved in the process o f negotiation The theologians come from different traditions and, as the editors note, “ take different positions on the vexed issue o f the proper relations between the church and social and political issues” .

In this respect, I was interested to read the review by Veronica Brady o f Rainbow Spirit Theology, and in particular the statement by Norman Flabel in the introduction to that book

“ Behind /he tragedy o f many Aboriginal communities (poor health, high infant mortality, low life-expectancy, high unemployment, poor housing, alcoholism, malnutrition, deaths in custody the list goes on) lies a deep spiritual crisis

This is a view that I have shared and spoken about for some time. It is certainly true that those o f us - both indigenous and non-indigenous - who are now joined together in a pilgrimage for true reconciliation all know that we w ill not reach our journey’ s end until our nation has made significant progress towards resolving the current plight o f the Aboriginal peoples in relation to practical things such as health, education, employment and living conditions. And how could it be otherwise in a context where the gap between the average life expectancy o f an Aborigine and that o f a non-Aborigine is almost 20 years and actually widening and where Aborigines are dying from particular diseases at rates up to 12 times or more those o f non-Aborigines9 Clearly, we w ill not achieve reconciliation until we reach the stage where it can be seen that we are at least approaching the position where the life expectancy and future prospects o f an Aboriginal baby are in the same realm o f discourse as those o f a non-Aboriginal one.

But, equally clearly, we have no real prospect o f reaching that stage until we also effectively address the terrible problems o f the spirit as well as those o f the body - the present effects on the spirit and on the self-esteem o f Australia’s indigenous peoples o f all that has happened, all that has been lost and all that has been destroyed during the two centuries and more that have passed since the arrival o f the First Fleet in 1788. Since taking up this office, I ’ ve been privileged to officially open a number o f exhibitions at which these matters o f the spirit have been seriously and movingly addressed. One was the wonderful exhibition o f Aboriginal art telling the story o f the Wagilag Sisters at the National Gallery o f Australia here in Canberra last year Another was the exhibition at the National Library - “ Captive Lives” - which told the tragic story o f Tambo and the other Aborigines - men, women and children - taken from Palm Island and exhibited as freaks at circuses in America and later Europe at the end o f the last century. On a less sad note, there was the opening in Adelaide o f a permanent Gateway and Dreaming Trail recounting the legend o f the Tjirbruki, the ancestral hero o f the Kaurna people

This launch is another such occasion Through it, we help to promote and foster mutual respect and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians generally As Father Brennan writes, “ Dialogue and discernment are essential to the process. Reconciliation is neither a matter o f sitting on the fence nor o f taking sides to the exclusion o f all other viewpoints Above all, it requires trust ”

To the extent that this publication helps us achieve that, it o f itself represents a step along the broader path towards the genuine and lasting national reconciliation which, I am sure, everyone who is here today earnestly seeks.

And now, here in Canberra on the ancestral lands o f the Ngunnawal, I officially launch the other o f the two publications the first issue o f Interface for the Australian Theological Forum