Indigenous Australians & Australian Christians

Development & the Church: Part II is almost ready! In the meantime, some interesting thoughts on Australian Christians & indigenous reconciliation.

Peter AdamEarlier this week, Peter Adam (Principal of Ridley Theological College in Melbourne) presented a paper titled Australia: Whose Land? A Call for Recompense. You can download it here.

The paper was presented as the annual John Saunders Lecture. The event is sponsored by the Baptist Union of NSW Social Issues Committee and seeks to address contemporary social and ethical issues in Australia from a scholarly evangelical perspective. Bear with me as I rather inadequately sum up his argument!

Adam’s approach is provocative, moving and, I suspect, correct. He confronts the issues with boldness and a desire for truth: we European Australians live on stolen land, land which was taken from its owners, who were given this land by the ultimate owner, God himself; land whose inhabitants were murdered in order for the invaders to increase their wealth. Furthermore, his argument is well supported using biblical texts.

The bible teaches that when a wrong has been committed, we are to repent. This holds true even in the present era of grace, in which we have free forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Adam points out, quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer , that to say otherwise is to advocate “cheap grace.” The ethical teaching of the bible, not least that of Jesus himself, teaches that the grace we have recieved ought move us to reconcile with our neighbours.

But does this apply to Australian Christians 200 years after the dislocation and genocide of indegenous Australians began? While 21st century European Australians are not directly responsible for these things, Adam argues that we still bear responsibility for recompense to Australia’s original owners as we continue to benefit from the sins of previous generations:

We may still feel that as we did not commit the great sins of breaking several of the Ten Commandments: ‘You shall not kill,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ that we should not have to repent.

But the Bible warns us that the sign of God’s wrath is not only that people commit gross sins, but also approve of those who commit gross sins:

Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (Romans 1.29-32).

As Christians, Adam continues, Australia’s churches should be the first to make genuine reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters, made in the same image of God, just as we are. The onus of repentance (which includes making what has gone before right, as opposed to simply apologising) lies with us, the recipients of “stolen property.” As such, he calls us to radical repentance:

“We [should] ask the indigenous people if they wanted those of us who have arrived since 1788 to leave, or to provide an equivalent recompense. Leaving would be a drastic and complicated action, but, as I have pointed out, it has happened in India, Africa, and Indonesia in the last sixty years.”

I for one can’t help but feel the weight of Peter Adam’s words. As Australians, and especially as Christians called to love our neighbour, we must wrestle with this issue. Will Australian Christians heed the call?


2 thoughts on “Indigenous Australians & Australian Christians

  1. It was a very moving lecture. We were sitting in front of some Aboriginal Christians who were in tears afterwards.

    Maybe we should gather people together and think through the next steps?

  2. I wish I had been able to be there; frustratingly I wasn’t free. Talking about ‘what next’ would be very worthwhile.

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