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Uniting Church President’s Christmas Message

Uniting Church President Rev Gregor Henderson


Prejudice and bigotry continue to flourish in the world.

Year after year we witness the cycle of violence between tribal groups in Central Africa with mass killings and even more rapes. In Russia several young men have this month been sentenced for the racially-motivated murders of some 20 migrants. In Zimbabwe inter-tribal conflict is a constant factor in their diabolical suffering. Latent racism in Australia underlies many of our attitudes towards Indigenous Australians, migrants and refugees. And across the world Muslims are stereotyped as intolerant of other faiths, discriminating against women and condoning terrorism.

The coming of Jesus, God’s Son born in Bethlehem, challenges all our bigotry, our biases, our chauvinism and our racism.

This month I was privileged to open a new hall at Auburn Uniting Church in Sydney. Three years ago, at the time of the Cronulla race riots, the old hall was destroyed by fire; the arsonists were never found. The fact that the hall is right next door to an Islamic school suggests that the arsonists either made a mistake in their target or that they wanted to attack Christians.

Regardless of the motivation, the result was that the Muslim and Christian communities in Auburn rallied around the Uniting Church, raised funds for rebuilding, and reinforced the fine history of positive relationships between the two faiths in that part of Sydney. At the hall’s opening, the speakers — Muslim leaders, local community leaders, MPs, Uniting Church leaders and other Christians — all sang the same tune of community spirit, holding up the new hall as a witness to the power of people’s commitment to live together in peace and harmony.

The opportunity of opening a new hall like that, at a time when we are preparing again to celebrate the birth of the ‘Prince of Peace’, is a salutary privilege.

In the lead up to Christmas two years ago, the Protestant Church in the Moluccas, Indonesia, arranged a program where their pastors stayed a night in the homes of Muslim families. It was only two or three years since hundreds of Muslims and Christians had been killed in terrible inter-communal violence in Ambon. Many church members thought the program was wrong and dangerous, fearing their pastors would be poisoned in the middle of the night. But it was a resounding success. The old fears and prejudices were displaced by new family friendships. Muslim youths now stay overnight regularly in Christian homes, and interfaith relationships are stronger than ever.

Jesus was born to a couple from the backblocks. Extraordinarily faithful and brave people were Mary and Joseph, but a pair of simple peasant people nonetheless. Jesus’ birth was announced first to a bunch of shepherds, people regarded as scoundrels and criminals. Next came a group of astrologers, highly educated people from a distant land. The coming of Jesus had, and continues to have, an impact on every sort of human being.

Jesus went on to teach and live out a message of God’s will for love, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation; a message the world still sorely needs today. This Christmas, let us consider the ways we may challenge bigotry and racism, as we celebrate the birth of the one we call ‘Prince of Peace’.

Gregor Henderson
President, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

Photo : Uniting Church President Rev Gregor Henderson