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:
The below is a copy of a letter I wrote to my parishioners in our weekly pew sheet for Sunday 11th August 2019.
This week I am writing about a very challenging topic. My letter will deal with the topic of abortion, and may be upsetting or distressing for some. If you believe you may struggle with this topic, I encourage you not to read on, or to read it in the company of someone who can support you. I am always available to talk and provide support for any of you, don’t hesitate to call me.
I have real concerns about the abortion legislation which has been passed by the NSW lower house this week. Now this is an emotive and polarising topic. Let me be absolutely clear, if you or someone you love has had an abortion, you/they will not face any judgement, hate or discrimination from me. You and/or they are welcome here, you are loved here and you are deeply loved by God.
I know having an abortion is an incredibly hard decision, and it has long lasting emotional, psychological and sometimes physical effects. And while the traditional Christian view on abortion is that it is against God’s will, because it amounts to taking another human’s life, it is not something that God will forever hold against you, it is not something that is unforgivable.
When we turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration, we are forgiven everything. I want to make this clear because I know that sometimes in the past (and even today in some parts of the church) people are made to feel unwanted, unloved and unforgivable for having had an abortion—that is simply not true. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (c.f. Romans 8:38-39).
What I do encourage, though is if you or a loved one is struggling with having had an abortion in the past (or any other thing), if you are struggling with doubts, or guilt, if you are not sure of God’s love or forgiveness, please ring me and arrange a time for a private sacramental confession. As always in a confession anything you share is completely confidential, I cannot share it with anyone—not even my wife. Speaking out loud your fears, your brokenness, your heart ache, and hearing those words of absolute forgiveness, hope and restoration in the absolution is a powerful and liberating experience, and I truly wish more Anglicans would avail themselves of it.
I want to tell you also, that if you disagree with my view on this, as always you are welcome to do so, and I would be happy to have a private chat with anyone regarding this or any other issue.
A view compatible with scripture:
So what exactly could be a Christian understanding of this issue? What would be acceptable in legislation for us as we seek to honour God, and value the life of all people? These are my own thoughts on this very difficult topic—I believe them to be honouring of scripture, honouring of life and also honouring of women.
Interestingly, based on this understanding the only thing that needed to be changed in NSW, was removing abortion from the criminal code, as it is already legal for women to acquire abortion where medically necessary. Abortion itself was not illegal in NSW as has been reported in some parts of the media, only abortion without a valid reason, such as protecting the health/life of the mother was illegal, it has been readily available for decades where there is a valid medical reason.
So, if it was already legal, why do I have concerns about the new laws? Primarily because they could allow for the abortion of a baby right up to birth, and do not require that there be a valid medical reason.
That means, that technically under the new law it would be possible for someone to procure an abortion at 36 weeks pregnant, due for example to a relationship breakdown, and no longer wanting the child. Now of course that is a very unlikely scenario, and even if it did happen it would be exceptionally rare… but why would we want to allow it to even be a possibility? Why would we not close that loophole in the interests of protecting life?
My second reservation is around the new provision for those less than 22 weeks which means abortion would be an ’on demand’ service. It will no longer need a doctor to say it is medically necessary to protect health or life—abortion will be done essentially no questions asked, up until 22 weeks. This opens up the possibility of gender selective abortions, where, primarily girls, are aborted by people because they aren’t as valued as a son in certain cultures—there is already evidence that girls are being selectively aborted in Victoria (see article from The Age)
Finally, and incredibly importantly, we as a society, if we want to lower the number of babies being aborted, need to provide proper care and support for mothers—especially young single mums. We need to provide access to medical, psychological and spiritual care for pregnant women, that allows them to know all of their options, including options for adoption where a woman is not in a position to care for the child post birth.
Other situations that lead to abortion include domestic violence and abuse, and again this is a place where we as a society should be demanding our governments provide proper care and support. Women in danger from their spouse should never be forced to face the added trauma of choosing to terminate a child.
I want to conclude this week by again emphasising that if you and/or someone you love has had an abortion—for whatever reason—you will never face judgement from me. I want to also re-enforce that you are deeply loved by God, and that nothing you or anyone has done, can ever separate us from that love, that hope and that forgiveness.
If this letter has distressed you, and you need to talk, please don’t hesitate to talk to me, or if you would prefer to talk to someone else please call:
Pregnancy Help Australia:
Offer post abortion support and counselling.
24 hour support:
1300 792 798
Lifline: 24 hour counselling support:
13 11 14
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?
There is a big problem with the current discussion about Israel Folau and his comment that gay people would be going to hell unless they repent and turn back to God. That problem is ignorance - complete and unadulterated ignorance.
To be clear - I am not referring to Israel Folau's comment when I speak of ignorance - I am instead speaking of the the complete and utter ignorance of Christian doctrine and the clear biblical illiteracy of the media personalities writing and speaking about it.
I was shocked for example to see an article by Peter Van Onslelen in the Australian, in which he declared that the Bible doesn't in fact even directly mention Hell as a place where people could end up... This despite the fact that Jesus himself repeatedly warns about Hell... See for example Matthew 10:28, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 13:42, Mark 9:43.
The most consistent evidence for complete ignorance of Christian doctrine however is found in the repeated and continual references to Israel's comments as being 'anti gay' or 'homophobic' or 'bigoted'. Of course what this fails to understand is that had Israel Folou been asked 'What is God's plan for adulterers?' rather than gays, his answer would almost certainly have been the same. In fact had the question simply been - what is going to happen to all people when they die? Israel's response again would likely have been identical! Why? Because Christianity teaches that ALL human beings are sinners, and ALL human beings will end up suffering eternal separation from God (commonly called Hell) unless - you guessed it - they repent and turn back to God!
Israel was asked a question about what he believed the eternal destination of people who he understands to be non-repentant sinners would be - he answered in accordance with the basic teachings of his faith. Unless they repent and turn to God they will end up in Hell.
Sounds harsh? It would be but God gave humanity a simple way to be forgiven all of our sins and granted eternal life. How do we do that? First we repent - we do our best to identify the sin in our lives - all sin - and turn away from it (Repent literally means to 'turn around'). But above all we put our faith - our trust - in Jesus, and in what he did for us. You see the truth is all of us will fall short if we simply try to do it on our own. All of us will continue to make poor choices - to sin. It is part of our fallen human nature. However Jesus took the consequences for every sin we can ever commit on the cross - he took the consequence for us. He now holds it out as a gift for us - all we have to do is trust in what he has already done for us, through putting our faith in him.
Israel wasn't targeting gay people - he was asked (read baited) about gay people on an unrelated thread. He answered the question honestly, according to the tenets of his faith. Could Israel have taken more time and explained in more detail that what he was saying didn't only apply to homosexuals, but to ALL people? Yes he absolutely could have - and likely wishes he did. However the fact is he was simply expressing a theological viewpoint that has been integral to the Christian faith since its inception.
What is more troubling and I hope the inquiry into religious freedom is paying close attention, is that Israel, as a result of his answering this question about his faith honestly has now been broadly condemned, sponsors are threatening to withdraw (i.e. his livelihood is under threat because of his faith). and the media continually points to the ARU's inclusion policy and declares that Israel has breached it. Of course no one wants to acknowledge that all he did was express his religious belief when he was asked - and that in the inclusion policy itself it defines discrimination as including treating anyone unfavourably because of their religion.
The way this has been handled is yet more evidence that the warnings that came from the 'No' campaign in the Same Sex Marriage debate were in fact spot on. It seems that religious freedom, and freedom of speech and conscience are truly under direct threat. We have already seen governments begin investigating the removal of religious freedom exemptions, and now when a person of faith simply answers a question about a straightforward part of the Christian faith, we see hysteria in the media, and threats to his job,
I have seen people say in social media comments in the past few days things like - what if it was a Muslim, would you support freedom of speech and religion then? YES! What if it was a racist, would you support freedom of speech then? YES!
As far as I am concerned freedom of speech, freedom of religion... these are inalienable rights. Yes, even for those who I vehemently disagree with! Are there exceptions? Yes - but only in cases where someone is inciting violence or engaging other criminal activity (i.e. slander, libel, purjury etc.). Israel Folou simply answered a question about what he personally believed. He did not incite hatred, or violence, he did not lie, or slander anyone. He simply answered according to his own sincerely held religious beliefs.
The response has been a swathe ignorance, and bigotry from the very people who claim to be bastions of 'inclusion'.
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.