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Old Sins Cast Long Shadows: (4) A Call to Action

In this final installment of his 4-part series examining the wrongs perpetrated against the first Australians (see part 1part 2, part 3), Peter Adam asks what we should do about the crimes perpetrated by European settlers against the first Australians.

1. We should confess our sins

The Bible not only tells us of our sin, it also tells us what to do about our sin:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9).

While those who took over the land hurt its inhabitants, they also sinned against the God who said, “you shall not covet … you shall not steal …you shall not murder” (Ex 20:13-17).

While those who took over the land hurt its inhabitants, they also sinned against the God who said, ‘you shall not covet … you shall not steal …you shall not murder’

Our greatest sins are not against each other, but against God, for the first fundamental reality about this world is that God made it through and for his Son, the Lord Jesus.

Through that same Son, God has reconciled all things to himself, by making peace through the blood of his cross. This means we can return to God. He invites and welcomes us through his Jesus and his death in our place.

But part of our response to that invitation should be repentance and confession in the matter of our national history. Although none of us was alive at that time, we all benefit from those crimes. We should at least confess the sin of ignoring their sin, of thoughtlessly benefitting from it, and of failing to think how we should act in relation to the descendants of those who suffered.

In his speech at the second reading of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Recognition Bill, 2013, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that “we need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forbears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people.”[1]

Well, Christ has already atoned for us, but we do need to repent.

2. We should make peace

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9). We are called to make peace, that is, to reduce enmity, anger, and breakdown in relationships, and to build communication, mutual respect, forgiveness, and healthy and positive relationships. This needs to happen in Australia, where we naturally prefer to love people we like (and are like) and ignore or suspect the rest.

There is still tension between the original inhabitants of the land and those who have benefitted from their dispossession. It is our duty to make peace. As Paul wrote, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 13:17,18).

Making peace includes being reconciled to those who suffer from our sins. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ told his disciples what they should do if others have something against them.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (Matt 5:23,24).

Non-indigenous Australians need to take this seriously: reconciliation must be a priority, and the indigenous people of this land have a legitimate complaint against us.

3. We should provide appropriate recompense

Payment of recompense was required under the Law of Moses, namely five oxen for one ox, and four sheep for one sheep (Exod. 22:1).  In the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus the tax collector was commended by the Lord Jesus, because when he became a follower of Christ his repentance was evident and public in his offer of recompense to those he had oppressed. He said:

Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount (Luke 19:8).

As we have seen, Paul has clear instructions for those who need to repent of theft.

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need (Ephes. 5:28).

We are a wealthy nation, and our wealth derives in part from our theft. We have also worked for our wealth, and we should be generous with it, and so diminish the long shadows caused by old sins.

Ernest Gribble, a son of John Gribble, and also a worker among indigenous people said:

We have a three-fold debt to pay to the Aborigines. We owe them a debt for the country we have taken from them. We owe the race reparation for the neglect and cruelty… We owe them the best our civilisation has to give, and that is the gospel of our Lord.[2]

It is time to pay our debts. We owe the gospel to those who do not know the Lord Jesus. We owe fellowship to indigenous believers in the Lord Jesus. And as Paul wrote:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Rom 13:8).

We have wronged our neighbours. It is now time to pay our debts, to confess our sins, to give the recompense that we owe.

Love involves duty, as well as generosity. We have wronged our neighbours. It is now time to pay our debts, to confess our sins, to give the recompense that we owe. We who know God’s great love in Christ should be the most active in loving others. May God strengthen us to love the Lord our God, and so to love our neighbours.

4. What practical steps should we take?

i. At least we can say sorry.

We are sorry that we took your land. We are sorry that so many died because we came. We are sorry that your pattern of common life has been broken down in so many ways. We are sorry for the damage that we have done. We want to respect and honour you, learn from you, and ask your forgiveness and grace.We want to say sorry as a nation and acknowledge your prior custodianship of the land.

ii. At least we can amend the Constitution in order to acknowledge the legitimacy of the prior indigenous ownership of the land.

iii. At least we can work to “close the gap” in health, education, employment and welfare.

Most of all, of course, our government should ask the indigenous people of this land what they think would achieve a satisfactory situation of reconciliation, justice, and respect.

And those of us who are Christians should be the first to say sorry, the first to respect and honour you, and first to ask your forgiveness.

The church I belong to in Melbourne held a service of thanksgiving and reconciliation with the indigenous people of Carlton. Our Vicar, Richard Condie, began the service with these words:

Today is an important moment in the life of this church. In 1866 the land on which we now stand was given to the Church of England in Australia as a Crown Grant to establish St Judes Church, without the permission or welcome of the original inhabitants – the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. It has taken us far too long -146 years – to acknowledge this injustice. [3]

Conclusion

Christians should be the first to say sorry, because we know that we are accountable to God, and that all things have been made through Christ and for him, and so we are called to live through him and for him, and we called to be reconciled to God by his Son, by his blood shed on the cross. We say sorry today, and we want to do what we can to build friendship, trust, and respect in our community and in our nation.

May God in his mercy forgive our sins, and help us to learn to love him and to learn to love our neighbours. We pray this prayer through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our reconciliation. Amen.


Image: Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, by E. Phillips FOX, 1902, National Gallery of Victoria

[1] As quoted in Noel Pearson, “A Rightful Place: race Recognition and more complete Commonwealth, Quarterly Essay 55, 2014 p. 51

[2] As quoted in John Harris, “Ernest Gribble”, in Dickey, 1994, pp. 136,137.

[3] http://stjudesnews.org/archives/5685  

 

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