Yesterday Eternity published an article written by Mark Powell who is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church. Mark presents 10 'reasons' why Christians shouldn't engage in Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country ceremonies... and for some reason also throws in an uninformed rant about smoking ceremonies.
So lets look at Mark's 'reasons':
1. It takes away from the worship of God. The Bible declares that “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) and that God says “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). Hence, the practice of things such as smoking ceremonies to ward off evil spirits is completely at odds with Christian theology.
OK... acknowledging and giving respect to people apparently takes away from the worship of God... Let's look at the opening of the acknowledgement of Country used by Bishop Chris McLeod provided in his article on this topic :
We acknowledge that God is sovereign over all land. Everything in heaven and earth belongs to God. We acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region in which this church is located, and we respect the spiritual relationship they have with their country.
I don't know about you, but it seems pretty clear that God is first and foremost here - God is acknowledged as sovereign creator, as the one to whom all belongs. You see doing a welcome or an acknowledgement of country takes nothing away from God - it in fact honours Him first and only acknowledges the fact He entrusted custodianship of this land and waters to certain people groups... where have we seen that concept before I wonder...(c.f. Genesis 12).
As for the smoking ceremonies... it is a completely different topic. But to be clear, smoking ceremonies when done in the context of Christian worship are used as symbol of cleansing and of our prayers rising before the throne of God (Revelation 8:3-4), they have nothing to do with warding off evil spirits.
Lets move to No. 2
2. It leads to syncretism. Following on from this, because Aboriginal cosmology is pantheistic – God and the creation are one – there is a tendency for the traditional religious beliefs to be fused
Where to start. Aboriginal cosmology is pantheistic? Well it is true some parts of Aboriginal spirituality exhibit signs of pantheist ideas to be sure. However In my own people's spirituality there is an 'All Father' Creator Spirit (Called Baiame), from whom all of creation comes. He is not part of creation, He is separate to it...yes there are many other spirtual beings in our Dreaming Stories - but all of these also only exist because of the All Father's creation, and they mould and change the created land and waters - they do not create them themselves - nor are they the same as or part of them. Essentially there is one creator and then there is creation, including humanity, animals, land, sea and spiritual beings. Sound familiar?
However if we move on from Mark's clearly misinformed and also rather insulting take on Aboriginal spirituality, he then makes a remarkable claim -He claims acknowledging that Aboriginal people are traditional custodians of the land and waters of Australia leads to Syncretism...He then promptly demonstrates this alleged syncretism by pointing to an article written by CEO of Common Grace Brooke Prentis which he (mis)quoted completely removed from context - Brooke did not refer to Uluru as'the most sacred and holy place'. She had spent a significant part of her article explaining that all lands and waters are holy and sacred because they all come from God as creator, and in the actual sentence that he pulled this wording from the full sentence is:
'This weekend, I was in a place that I consider one of the most sacred, most holy of places. Uluru.'
You see Brooke at no point equated creation with creator, she at no point even came close to suggesting that creation should be worshipped or idolised. I encourage you to actually read her full article. For Mark to have deliberately misquoted Brooke like this to try and establish some form of 'evidence' to support his syncretism claims is appalling - and sadly I can't think of any way this could have happened accidentally.
3. The parallel to ancestor worship. Official Indigenous protocols insist that words like “Elder” should be capitalised to acknowledge the continuing real presence of those who have died. (This is also why there is a warning on television programs which show images of deceased Aboriginal people). However, acknowledging Aboriginal “Elders”, past and emerging, is not simply honouring the memory of the departed – like many Australians do on Anzac Day – but is more akin to the ancestor worship still practised by many people today.
The more I read of Mark's article the less I believe he actually knows anything about Aboriginal people, our customs and beliefs. Protocol dictates that 'Elder' be capitalised because it is a title! It is capitalised for the same reason that we put a capital at the start of Rev. or Dr. or Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms... etc.
The reason that there is a warning on TV programs which show Aboriginal people who have died is precisely because they are NOT still here and it is considered to be insensitive to show the persons image or speak of them directly because they are no longer here.
Then of course there is the next unsubstantiated claim - that acknowledging those leaders who have come before is different when it is done for Aboriginal people, apparently when we acknowledge past elders we are worshipping them... but when non Aboriginal people acknowledge those who have gone before its totally different... presumably because of... what?
4. Biblical peacemaking principles of forgiveness teach that past sins should not be continually re-raised once they have been repented of. However, these prescribed “politically-correct” statements do precisely that. They have the practical effect of perpetuating guilt, while allowing no final resolution or real reconciliation to occur.
Now we start to see Mark's real motivation start to come out. He objects because he sees these ceremonies as 'politically correct'. He also makes a hash of trying to use 'biblical peacemaking principals'. He seems to think that acknowledging that we meet on land that was forcibly removed from others is 'perpetuating guilt' without offering solution, while also leaving the implication that we should all just move on - it's the classic line from racists rehashed - 'why don't you just get over it, it was years ago'.
Well here is the thing - the fact that this appallingly ignorant article has been written by a Christian pastor and published by a Christian organisation demonstrates that people simply do not understand Aboriginal culture, or the history of this nation. That tells me if we want to see genuine peace making, and genuine reconciliation, we need more of these ceremonies and more education on the real history of this nation.
5. The political nature of language. The secular form of language used in Indigenous protocols (such as “Traditional Custodians,” and “Respect to Elders”) is neither politically nor theologically neutral. As such, if we are serious about reconciliation, then we ought to use biblical language to express theological truths of sin, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Mark again betrays his real motivation - which actually has nothing to do with Christianity - he objects because he sees it as 'political', and clearly not on the right side of politics for Mark. The fact that he sees using a term such as 'Respect for Elders' as being anti biblical raises some alarm bells though - the BIble is in fact clear that we are to honour our elders... (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Leviticus 19:3 & 19:32; Job 12:12 & 32:4; Matthew 15:4). Now I assume as a good Christian man Mark seeks to follow the will of God in honouring his elders? So why the opposition to merely showing respect to Aboriginal elders? The more I read and reflect on Mark's words the more I worry about his view toward Aboriginal people in general...
Traditional Custodians is the other term he rejects as being neither 'politically nor theologically neutral'... I'm not sure how to respond to that - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had custody of this land for thousands of years... it is simply a fact that our peoples are the traditional custodians.
6. It implies guilt by association. There is a growing pressure in our country to conform to a progressive social agenda involving identity politics. As such, to what extent are Christian denominations – or their individual members – responsible for historic crimes committed during the colonial period of Australia? Whereas injustices have tragically occurred, we should be careful of condemning our own spiritual forebears or of implicating the church today through guilt by association.
Mark again lays his own political agenda over the top of what is actually being discussed. I am no 'progressive' with a 'social agenda involving identity politics', I am however a Christian who seeks to follow the example of Jesus in showing honour and respect to all.
To what extent are Christian denominations responsible for historic crimes? It depends doesn't it? What did the denomination do? When did it do it? Has it been involved in truth telling? Has it apologised for the previous actions? Has it made any attempt at genuine reconciliation with the people they wronged or their descendants? All of these things matter.
To what extent are individuals within denominations responsible? They aren't. No-one believes that Individuals should be in some way held accountable - however church bodies? You bet. Just as churches are being held responsible for historic child abuse because of the appalling policies they had in place at the time, so to they should be held responsible for the crimes that they committed against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
I would love to know when Mark believes the 'colonial period' ended, and presumably therefore when all the crimes against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ended?*
I could go on... but instead,
7. Theft must involve financial reparation. While many regularly acknowledge their guilt of dispossessing Aboriginals of their land, very few are willing to make financial restitution. But if one truly believes that they are in possession of “stolen property”, then they should give it back and not simply engage in disingenuous displays of virtue signalling. What’s more, this should be done by the individuals most concerned and not merely projected onto their own particular religious institution.
The implication being of course that Mark doesn't believe he is on 'stolen property'. But here's the thing - the High Court has determined that the land we now call Australia was not Terra Nullius (Land belonging to no-one), it has determined that the land and waters did in fact have owners. That is significant. That means unless there is a treaty in place or a deed of sale, the land and waters of Australia were forcibly removed from their rightful custodians by a superior military force - that is called invasion. Given this clear fact of history, Mark is on stolen property.
Now does that mean he should start paying 'rent' as Mark seems to imply as the only solution in this case? No. There is another solution - it is called treaty. The fact is the land and waters of this country were taken by force by government using military and police at their command. Originally the British government, and then that was passed to colonial governments and then at federation to the Australian Federal and State Government(s). It is at government level where action needs to be taken through treaty and voice - A voice is not a third chamber of parliament, it is an advisory body only. Treaty can bring about fair and just outcome, and is the only logical and fair outcome after an invasion.
Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that doesn't have a treaty with it's Indigenous peoples, which is a clear demonstration that the argument of it being unworkable and too hard is just nonsense.
8. It undermines gospel reconciliation. As the gospel goes out to the ends of the earth, the redemptive power of the cross will continue to deliver God’s chosen people from enslaving idolatries and unite us together in Christ. But Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country protocols support a worldview that privileges Aboriginal culture within our society and thereby hinders – rather than promotes – the work of reconciliation.
Ah, the privileges of being Aboriginal... Is Mark seriously suggesting here that having a Welcome or Acknowledgement prevents people being saved? Is he seriously suggesting that being asked to show respect for the history, culture and people of this nation who have been here for over 60 thousand years is something that splits us apart rather than joins us together?
Here are the simple facts - Aboriginal people are the rightful custodians of Australia, the land was taken by force and without consent. Those are incontestable. Now knowing that, and knowing that we can never undo what has been done, a simple way to acknowledge this truth and the hurt it has caused - and continues to cause - is to say a few words at the beginning of a gathering which acknowledge this truth. If possible it is even better to have a member of the local Aboriginal community offer welcome.
Think about that for a moment, a member of the community who had their land, waters, culture and language all stripped away by force, a person who likely has significant trauma in their family due to the effects of stolen generations, a person who almost certainly knows several people who have committed suicide in their community due to the substantially higher rates in Indigenous communities due to inter-generational trauma... this person doesn't stand up and condemn, rather they stand and hold out their hands and their heart in welcome.
If Mark looks at that person and thinks they are being offered privilege... I am lost for words. If he looks at them and believes they are hindering rather than promoting reconciliation, then I fear he doesn't understand what reconciliation is.
9. It harms Christian unity. Our doctrine of the unity of the body of Christ is harmed since it perpetuates an unnecessary distinction between Aboriginal and all other Christians who live in Australia. In short, it rebuilds the dividing wall which previously existed before the cross (Ephesians 2:14-18; Galatians 3:28).
It harms unity to acknowledge and give respect? Again - this just demonstrates more ignorance - there is no barrier being created here! It is about tearing down barriers! You are being welcomed by someone who has every right to reject you.
For me this is clearly analogous to what God does with us through the cross. He has every right to be mad with us, to reject us, to cast us off, and yet he humbles himself, bears the pain and offers forgiveness and welcome. The only ones erecting barriers are those who reject the welcome.
10. Because the current Aboriginals were probably not the original inhabitants. This is a position historically held by many Australian anthropologists, scientists and academics. For example, Professor Manning Clark (1915-1991) originally argued that the modern Aboriginal was a descendant of a racially distinct, third wave of immigrants, who had themselves invaded and conquered those living here before them.
This is so ridiculously out of step with modern anthropological study that it would be laughable if it wasn't the same kind of trope trotted out regularly by racist groups.
So lets put it to bed. Firstly Manning had a reputation for being a great narrative historian - who often ignored the facts in favour of his view of the narrative*.
Secondly the 'three wave' theory of migration to Australia has been soundly refuted and the vast majority of anthropologists now reject it along with the alternate two wave theory. The general consensus is now that there was one wave of immigration to Australia by the ancestors of the Aboriginal people who still inhabit this land.
Senator David Leyonhjelm made a similar claim to Mark back in 2015 arguing that Aboriginal people were not the first inhabitants of Australia, this claim which the senator clarified was based on his understanding research into 'Mungo Man' and also into rock art was subjected to a fact check by independent scholars over at 'The Conversation'. I include the full 'Review' of the fact check for your reference, and also provide links to the full article and other articles which conclusively show that modern scholarship is in agreement that Aboriginal people were indeed the first to settle these lands:
...The evidence from DNA of today’s Aboriginal populations, as well as those from the past recovered through ancient DNA is revealing new insights into the complexity of the First Australians population history. What we see in the DNA is evidence of an unbroken Aboriginal lineage for well over 2,000 generations.
In conclusion to what has turned into a much longer piece than I had envisioned. Mark's piece demonstrates an almost complete ignorance of Aboriginal culture, practice and history. It uses terms of the political right and far right to attack a perceived (though in my view non-existent) political slant to the issue. He uses arguments that are often used by racists and their supporters, to be honest I was waiting for him to use the line 'I'm not a racist... but...' or 'I have friends who are Aboriginal'...
Now I want to be clear, I am NOT accusing Mark of being a racist, I do not know him, and one article doesn't provide me enough evidence to make such a judgement. What I will say is that this article demonstrates the same tired, disproven arguments based out of ignorance that many racists use. I hope that Mark will take that on board and seek to learn and be better informed going forward.
I encourage All churches to include the use of welcome or acknowledgement of country, because it pretty much does the very opposite of what Mark's article suggests: It shows honour and respect to people and creation without elevating either to divine status. It brings us together for genuine reconciliation through truth telling, and sharing together. It is a way to educate our people on the importance of creation, care for it, and honouring others - even those we don't always fully understand.
NT Intervention Facts:
On the claim Aboriginal people weren't here first:
Recently a footballer in Australia listed a group of people he believes need to repent or face judgement after death - while also assuring them that they are loved and anything can be forgiven - the media and activists become apoplectic and his employer sacked him because it is unacceptable to say something so offensive - the offence being that he included homosexuals in that list of sinners who needed to repent.
Meanwhile our closest neighbours just to the north, regularly drag people into the public square and repeatedly whip them with a cane for 'getting to close to the opposite sex' or sex outside marriage and also for engaging in homosexual behaviour. Homosexuals and fornicators face up to 100 lashes.
What is the response of our media? - simply a matter of fact article that describes what happened (view it here). No outrage, no lengthy commentary about how the religion that endorses this (Islam) is horrible or backward or bigoted, no declaration that people who do this are extremists or fundamentalists. No cries of homophobia, no demands for action. In fact not even one harsh word.
People have told me many times this year that I am basically imaging things when I suggest that the media has an anti-Christian bias. Things like this however demonstrate the hypocrisy in the media when reporting anything to do with religion. To see it in action just wait for the next prominent Christian to say something that can be construed to go even marginally against what is the new social orthodoxy - there will again be outrage, calls for sackings, boycotts, mocking of Christians as 'sky fairy' worshippers - then recall and compare the article about homosexuals facing 100 lashes in Indonesia...
The media seems to become obsessed whenever a Christian makes a comment or suggestion that goes against the grain of society. Meanwhile the Islamic extremists to our North are publicly beating people for holding hands. Meanwhile child marriage is still being practised in this country, meanwhile female genital mutilation is still happening... but there is no outrage, there is no vitriol, no calls for boycotts, sackings and certainly no mocking of believers. To mock our Muslim neighbours for their faith would be Islamophobic!
But the argument still goes that Christians aren't being targeted by the media and by activists. Ironically, the mere fact we raise it as an issue is reason to mock and ridicule us more. The suggestion that we need religious freedom protected not just for us but everyone (because the freedom to believe, practice and manifest what you believe is a recognised human right) is instead made out to be a grab for 'power' or a demanding of 'special treatment' or the 'right to be bigots' because apparently wanting people who are employed by a faith based organisation to uphold the teachings and values of that faith is bigoted - yet no one ever suggests that political parties are bigoted for only wanting to hire people who are wiling to support and uphold their particular ideology.
No-one would bat an eye if the Greens fired someone for publicly advocating that climate change is a hoax, yet if a Christian school wants the power to sack someone who publicly advocates for things that go against their religious teaching and beliefs (say same sex marriage) then they are horrible bigots. Of course Islamic and Jewish schools want exactly the same right protected - to ensure people working in a faith based organisation support and promote that faith - but strangely there is no mocking of those organisations, no declaration of bigotry... hmmm...
So how do we deal with this? How do we as Christians respond to a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to traditional, orthodox Christianity? With love of course! We need to respond by loving the world around us, by loving our neighbour as ourselves - even the ones who mock us and ridicule us. We need to show the world the love of God poured out in our own lives and in how we relate to the world. What does that look like though? Do we withdraw from the public square? Do we cede to the demands to keep our faith to ourselves, caving in to societies mantra that 'faith is private'?
No, we don't do those things, instead I think we need to be bold, we need to engage and we need more than ever to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will face opposition, and I suspect that as time goes by it will only get harder, society is on a trajectory which is moving away from faith and towards a militant kind of secularism - and this will affect not just us, as the activists and media seem to think, but also our Muslim, Jewish and Hindu neighbours. It will have a chilling effect on the freedom of faithful people of all religions, and be detrimental to the harmony of our pluralist multicultural society, as religious people withdraw into fear based 'silos' cut off from the hostility outside - indeed there are already mainstream Christians suggesting we do just that.
I don't think that is a viable or worthwhile option. I argue that in the face of ridicule and mocking, we need to respond with care and respect. In the face of threats to employment and reputational consequences, we need to speak the truth of the Gospel, the hope of the Gospel, the love of the Gospel. That means unlike much of the Christian commentary of the last few decades we cannot continue to be 'one issue' people. Issues like abortion, and same sex marriage have tended to dominate Christian commentary on society. While these are important issues and Christians can and should speak on them, we need to move away from speaking judgement - judgement belongs to God not us.
The key is that whenever we speak to the world outside the church, we need to speak not from a place of judgement, not from a place of condescension, but from a place of genuine concern, love and respect. We should only speak into the public debate for the promotion of the Gospel, and to give a Gospel focused voice into public discourse. That means we don't seek to condemn those outside the church, we instead seek to convict them through sharing the good news of God's love, forgiveness and hope.
We don't need to be targeting expectant mothers and homosexuals and warning them about judgement and Hell, we instead need to be walking along side them and sharing the love of God, being open, and supportive. Yes that will mean that when it comes up we will be honest about our view of things like same sex marriage, but our view on something like same sex marriage or abortion should not be the basis on which we establish a relationship with someone. The truth is we will never convince someone of God's love for them by seeking to argue with them, or by condemning them or their loved ones. Telling someone they are going to burn in Hell isn't loving - that footballer I mentioned at the start of this article should take that on board.
If we want to bring people into relationship with God, if we want them to know they are loved, that no matter what they have done they can be forgiven, restored, and made whole, starting with: 'you are a horrible sinner who is going to burn in hell', isn't a good strategy. The core of the Gospel message is found in these words:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus died to save us - all of us. God loves us enough come to earth as one of us, to suffer and die for us, to rise again for us. His desire is to save us, and he does that because of his incredible, all encompassing love for us. If we want people to turn from sin and the desires and brokenness of this world, we need to start from the same place God started - love.
I know some of you are thinking that I am suggesting that we ignore sin, that we never mention it, and provide a watered down version of the Gospel. That is not what I am saying. Yes, we need to explain sin, yes we need to encourage repentance, but we do so first and foremost by explaining that our sin is not what defines us, our sin will not be a barrier to God's love. We start by recognising that while justification comes through faith, sanctification is a process and not instant. We should encourage people to identify and confront their own sin, by guiding them to the scriptures, and walking with them rather than making our own judgements, condemnations and demands for change. When we are asked about sin, we do not pretend it isn't real, but we also re-enforce that through Christ, sin and death have been defeated. That we need not fear Hell or judgement as long as we are genuine in our faith and seeking to follow Christ.
Love. Forgiveness. Hope.
In a hostile, angry, broken world, our response should be living the Gospel out through love, forgiveness and hope.
Yesterday the Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan made the decision to ban Sky News Australia from being broadcast in Victorian train stations. The reasoning she provided was that Sky had last Sunday aired an interview of Neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell. The minister declared that people waiting in train stations should not be forced to watch such offensive content, and so banned Sky News.
There are a couple of problems here. Firstly, the interview in question was NOT broadcast into train stations. The train stations only receive News bulletins and weather reports - they do not get any of the opinion or long form interview programming from Sky News. The minister then defended her decision by declaring that 'dozens' of Sky's advertisers had also broken with the company... this was another lie, with around half a dozen advertisers disassociating themselves. Then she stated that she had received 'hundreds' of complaints about sky news content being broadcast in train stations... yet when asked couldn't provide one example of unacceptable content that had actually been broadcast in the train stations, and later in the day the distributor of Sky News released a statement clarifying that since 2005 they had received only a handful of complaints about Sky News, and none about interviews.
It is clear that the minister has been caught out lying about her reasoning for the Sky News ban. That leaves us with the question - What is the real motivation? Well I would argue this is a retaliatory move from the Victorian government, meant to send a warning to media outlets.
Sky has two very separate sets of programming, it provides news and weather, and it also has a number of opinion programs which predominantly screen after 6pm. The majority of Sky's after dark commentators are conservative leaning, and some are quite a long way to the right. However it is clear that the programs that they host are not News or weather - they are opinion programs. These opinion programs, given that they are hosted by those on the right, tend to be anti Labor and the Greens, and sometimes even Anti Liberal because they perceive Malcolm Turnbull to be too Centrist or Left Leaning.
In all of the comments on social media that I have seen in support of this banning, almost all revert to condemning Sky for its after dark programming. People seem unable to understand that there is a difference between providing a news bulletin, and hosting an opinion program. They seem incapable of understanding that what was shown in the train stations was only News and weather, and that the opinion programs they detest so much were never shown. For those on the left who are supporting this ban, all they seem concerned with is that Sky puts on conservative commentators to host opinion programs, and this it seems demands government intervention and censorship... even of completely unrelated programming.
What is concerning to me is that these people are so happy to see a government intervene to censor political commentary. Make no mistake, this is a move by the Victorian Government to punish Sky for hosting shows which are critical of it. It is a warning - back off or face the consequences. This sort of media censorship is rightly condemned when it happens elsewhere in the world. We decry the Chinese Communist party when it intervenes to ban media that has said anything negative about the Chinese government, and yet somehow people are happy when the Victorian government does the same thing here..
To be clear, I am not defending Sky putting on Blair Cottrell, I detest the man, and everything he stands for. I am not defending the after dark commentators, most of whom I have strong disagreements with. What I am defending is the principle of freedom of the press.
The media must be able to freely report without fear of government intervention, and yes that means that opinion pieces must be allowed too - even the ones we disagree with. If the government disagrees with something that the media reports, or with the opinion of a political commentator, they can and should publicly challenge it, and refute it with sound argument. What they should never do, and shouldn't even have the capacity to do, is simply silence the dissenters through coercion and censorship.
If we allow government to impose bans and censorship on media, we move one step closer to a totalitarian state. If the Government can silence all of its critics, who will be left to hold it to account?
This week the government of Australia decided that it was going to ignore the cries for justice and reconciliation that are coming from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this nation.
Back in May, at the behest of the Government a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from all over the country gathered at Uluru to discuss recognition of Australia's first peoples in the constitution. The reason? Because the Government wanted to get recommendations from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about how best to give meaningful recognition in the constitution through a referendum.
Yes, the government was listening - they weren't going to just be imposing some change that the first peoples of our nation didn't want - they were consulting and would frame any proposed change based on the recommendations of the people. There would be no paternalism on this issue.
The gathering released a powerful statement:
.The key recommendations that were made included that any change should lead to the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution, as well as establishing a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making (treaties) between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
These recommendations were based in the need for real acknowledgement of our history, the self empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this nation's first peoples. These are all matters of truth and of justice for the peoples who have had there land, waterways, culture, language and spirituality either completely destroyed or irreparably damaged since the arrival of Europeans to this land two centuries ago. This was a cry for justice and acknowledgement of truth from people who have suffered the loss of their children through racist policies and to this day suffer the results of colonialism through poor health, life expectancy and education outcomes. A plea for recognition from people who commit suicide at a rate 7 times the national average,
So on hearing this plea for justice and truth - this plea for genuine acknowledgement and reconciliation, how did our government respond?
There will be no referendum.
It seems the government is not interested in the voice of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this country after all. You see, we gave the wrong answer. What they actually wanted was for us to respond by saying we just want some nice words written in the constitution about how our peoples were here first - everyone would be happy with that... anything more we are told is an 'overreach'.
This week the progress of this nation towards genuine reconciliation and a focus on the truth of our history took a giant leap backwards. This week the government of Australia said to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people "don't ask for justice" and "don't ask for genuine reconciliation" this week the Australian government said "we have no respect for you and what you want".
This week, the real motive of the government was finally exposed for all to see - they want to make all the right noises and look like they care - but when it comes to the crunch, when they are asked to support changes that would give genuine self determination, genuine recognition and genuine acknowledgement - they walk away - you see anything that will bring genuine justice and reconciliation is an 'overreach' and we should just know our place and be 'grateful' they want to include us at all...
Today is Australia Day. It is a day that our nation has set aside as a day of celebration of who we are, of our freedoms and our history. However, the date that was chosen for this celebration is one that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is the anniversary of when they began to lose their own sovereignty over the land and sea of our great nation and the beginning of dispossession not only of that land and sea, but also of culture and language. It is a day that marked the beginning of the end for many Aboriginal cultures and languages which have now ceased to exist. It is a day that led to the subjugation and murder of people who before then were sovereign rulers of the land the citizens of our country now call home.
With that in mind many people are now calling for the date of Australia Day to be moved, and for January 26 to be made a day of lament or mourning for the injustices which have taken place against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. As an Aboriginal man, whose grandmother was one of the people of the stolen generations, I have a great deal of sympathy with this view - in fact in the past I have put forward the 27th May as an alternative - the date of the 1967 referendum which resulted finally in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being given equal status as citizens of Australia.
That this country needs to acknowledge our past and the effect that it has had (and continues to have) on the first inhabitants of this land is in my mind beyond questioning. The only way that we will be able to move forward as one, strong and united nation is by being willing to own the entirety of our nations history - not just the good bits.
That means that we need to acknowledge that this nation, while having achieved greatness, while being a beacon of freedom and hope, while having great stories of conquering adversity and of exploration and sacrifice leading to the incredible prosperity we enjoy today also has another history that must be acknowledged, a history of dispossession and murder, a history of subjugation and of genocide.
So does that mean that we should change the date? No. Not from my perspective at least - my mind has been changed as I have thought and prayed long and hard on this. I am of the view that while the 26th of January is the date that saw the beginning of a very dark period for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our nation, it is also the date that marked the beginning of the transformation of Australian into the nation we are now. It is also the date on which the conception took place of Australia as the modern, liberal democracy in which we now live - so while it is a day of mourning - it is also a day of celebration.
For me the solution is in transforming Australia Day into a day of both celebration and lament. A day that acknowledges not only the great history of our nation that began on 26th January 1788, but also the incredible story of our nation that existed here for tens of thousands of years before then. What I long for is that Australia Day would be a day on which we could stand together in the morning to remember the devastating effects that the arrival of Europeans had on Aboriginal an Torres Strait Islander people. To stand together and give thanks that despite 2o0 years of policies that sought to destroy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, culture and history (children were still being forcibly removed for race based reasons into the 1970's) that we are still here. To stand together as a nation and acknowledge and lament the policies of genocide and the effects these have had and continue to have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Then It would be my hope that having stood together in the morning to lament the wrongs of the past, we could stand together in the afternoon to celebrate the great victories and achievements that we have achieved together. It is my hope that we could stand in solidarity and rejoice in our freedom, to give thanks for all the opportunity and incredible wealth (relative to most the world) we enjoy.
For me this is about genuine reconciliation. Genuine reconciliation requires genuine repentance – a genuine desire to turn away from the wrongs of the past and walk a new path. To be able to turn away from the wrongs of the past we need to acknowledge them, we need to acknowledge their ongoing effects. By including both a time of lament for the sins of the past as well as a celebration of what is good in our past – and our future we can make this day a day for all Australians – a day we can truly be proud of.
I want to finish with this prayer. If you would, please join me in praying it:
God of all creation, who formed this great land on which we live. We come before you acknowledging our brokenness, acknowledging that we are all sinners who fall short of your glory. We humbly admit that our nation in its past has been responsible for great crimes against the first peoples of this land. We acknowledge that great harm was done, and the consequences of that are still being felt even now. Gracious Lord, we submit on behalf of our nation the blood of Christ as we turn to you in sorrow and repentance and ask forgiveness for the wrongs done by those who preceded us - bring us to full reconciliation father both with you and with each other.
Loving Lord having acknowledged our sin, we turn to you and give thanks for Australia – we give thanks for our freedom – freedom which is so valued, and yet so rare in this world. We give thanks for those who have built our nation, we give thanks for the incredible wealth and prosperity that we have. We pray your blessing on those who have been called to lead us, that they would do so honourably and justly. We also pray Father that we as a nation would use the incredible wealth and privilege that we have been afforded for the benefit of all – that we would be a nation of generous spirit and open hearts.
Finally Father we pray that you would pour forth your Spirit and bring about renewal and revival in our nation, that we would be a beacon of the hope, justice, love and forgiveness that comes only through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 The definition of genocide in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) is "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1 ; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." (http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/pdf/osapg_analysis_framework.pdf )
Daryl is a priest and chaplain living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.