"Then it is at once our duty, and our wisdom to humble ourselves in penitence before God. But repentance supposes reformation, and where injuries have been inflicted it involves recompense….But the next step to reformation is restitution. And do we start at this word? It is one an honest man need never shrink from; it is one a noble mind will never discard; it is one which religious man will cheerfully adopt. It is our duty to recompense the Aborigines to the extent we have injured them." - John Saunders, ‘Claims of the Aborigines,’ a sermon preached at Bathurst Street Baptist Church, Sydney, 14 October 1838.Peter Adam, in Monday night's Second Annual John Saunders lecture (available here) called for Australia (those who have arrived since 1788) to make recompense to Indigenous Australians. Following Richard Baxter, Adam argued that this needs to come through either through restitution (returning what was taken) or satisfaction (returning something of equivalent value where restitution isn’t possible). Adam then offered a practical proposal for recompense:
- We would recognize that recompense is a duty and responsibility, that we owe it to the indigenous peoples of this land, out of respect for them as our brothers and sisters made in God’s image [see Acts 17:26] and out of awareness of the vileness of the crimes which have been committed against them and their ancestors.
- We would recognize that recompense is based on our duty, not the needs of indigenous people. I am not saying that we should not care, but that we must act with integrity and justice [rather than being condescending].
- We would recognize that no recompense could ever be satisfactory, because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating, and so irreparable.
- We would ask the indigenous people if they wanted those of us who have arrived since 1788 to leave (Baxter’s ‘Restitution’), or to provide an equivalent recompense (Baxter’s ‘Satisfaction’). 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.
- If we do not leave, then we would need to ask each of the indigenous peoples of this land what kind of recompense would be appropriate for them. This would be an extremely complicated and extensive task, but must be done.
- We would need to be prepared to give costly recompense, lest it trivialize what has happened.
- We would then need to adopt a national recompense policy, in the form of a Treaty. It would need to be implemented locally, according to the wishes of each indigenous tribe.
- By negotiation, it could be a one-off act of recompense, or it could be a constant and long-term series of acts of recompense.
- We could also implement voluntary recompense by churches in a coordinated way, and should include support of indigenous Christian ministry and training, as negotiated by the leaders of Christ’s indigenous people. Christian churches should lead the way in this, not least in supporting indigenous Christians and their ministries. For churches too have benefited from the land they use, and from income from those who have usurped the land.
Quoting Paul in Romans 13:8-10, Peter Adam finished with these words:
Love involves duty, as well as charity. 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.