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Visionary dreams of inclusion centre


Executive director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture at Charles Sturt University, Professor James Haire.

Executive director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture at Charles Sturt University, Professor James Haire. Photo: Stuart Walmsley

The shores of Lake Burley Griffin will be home to an Australian equivalent of London's Westminster Abbey and Washington's National Cathedral if James Haire gets his way.

Professor Haire, executive director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton, has been made a companion (AC) in the general division of the Order of Australia.

He was recognised for his international leadership in ecumenical dialogues, the promotion of religious reconciliation, inclusion and peace, and as a theologian.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Professor Haire said this week he wanted to transform the Centre for Christianity and Culture into a centre for public theology in inclusive societies, or a "centre for inclusion''.

"What I want [it] to be is a place where every single Australian can come and express their deepest spiritual and ethical issues surrounding our common life,'' Professor Haire said.

"I want it to be a safe place where all views can be expressed. That is, the views of the religions and all the views of people of no religion who in fact are opposed to religion. And I want it to be a place where all views are heard and respected.''

Professor Haire envisages the centre will be a place for research, discussion and debate, but also a site where people can gather for significant celebrations.

"We haven't got in this country an equivalent of the National Cathedral in Washington or Westminister Abbey [in London] and I want it to be an Australian version of that. It will not be simply an indoor building but perhaps something much more Australian … because we tend to like to do things outside.''

Professor Haire is former president of the Uniting Church in Australia and of the National Council of Churches.

He was born in Northern Ireland and served as a minister in Indonesia after being ordained in 1972. Professor Haire was involved in negotiations to end Christian-Muslim conflict in the Moluccas.

"I've stood by as mass graves were opened. I've seen the rough end [and] the rough end needs good dialogue to sort out problems.

"But we've very lucky in this country we can, as it were, do a bit of work ahead of time.''

Professor Haire said he intended to devote the rest of his life to building the centre for inclusion, and had already been offered $10 million in funding by Charles Sturt University.

"They've offered me $10 million to do this. I need about $35 million so I'm looking for what I call a coalition of the committed to see if we can get this thing going,'' he said.

Professor Haire said he truly believed Australia was the "lucky country'' and had the ability to meet major challenges.

"Because we're a lucky country, we can deal with the big-picture stuff … My view is, if it can't be done in Australia, don't expect it to be done anywhere.''

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