Ridley College’s Peter Adam has found himself at the centre of a nation-wide controversy. Peter Adam was in Sydney on 10 August as a guest of the Baptist Union of NSW/ACT to deliver the second annual John Saunders Lecture at Morling College. His lecture, Australia – Whose Land?, gained national attention with a carefully crafted and well considered analysis of the treatment of Indigenous Australians. It was a fine example of bringing Christian ethics to a significant national issue. For Sydney Anglicans it provides several avenues for thought and action.
It was a lecture that pulled no punches. Adam called for Australian Christians, and the wider Australian community, to repent and make just recompense for past wrongs. The wrongs, or sins, that Adam had in mind were the theft of Aboriginal land since 1788, and the large-scale murder and genocide that has accompanied it. What particularly caught the imagination of the media was Adam’s suggestion that all post-1788 arrivals in Australia should, in order to make recompense through restitution, offer to leave so the land can be returned to the Indigenous people. However, recognising how difficult this would be, Dr Adam’s suggestion was that if we can’t leave, we should make some form of recompense that would appropriately rectify the wrongs committed against indigenous people.
I won’t try to argue the practicality of Adam’s proposal. You should read the lecture, available on the Ridley College website. This is an important issue that requires serious thinking and action, and I’m really glad that Peter Adam has taken a lead on this issue. He has offered a vision for true reconciliation. Here are five steps we can take in response to Peter Adam’s comments:
- We should repent. Repenting is the Christian thing to do. According to Dr Adam, while we may not have been personally involved in the dispossession of Aboriginal land and murder of Aboriginal people, we have all benefited from it. The land on which our homes, schools, workplaces and even our churches are built is land that indigenous Australians have unjustly been dispossessed of since 1788. We are effectively enjoying stolen property. Adam described this as a failure to treat those who are made in the image of God justly; a failure to love our neighbours as ourselves.
- We also need to pray. It would be very easy to start working towards reconciliation. But mere activism is not Christian. We need to pray for wisdom for our church and its leaders to understand the issue at stake, we need to uphold our wronged Indigenous brothers and sisters in prayer, and we need to pray that we will have to strength and faith to respond in a way that gives God all glory.
- We need to be informed and try to understand the gravity of what Indigenous people have suffered. The most moving part of the evening was after the lecture when people were invited to ask questions or make comments. Several Indigenous brothers and sisters spoke up, some in tears, and shared their experiences of being part of the stolen generation. They also expressed relief and excitement that the rest of the church, who they rightly described as “our brothers and sisters”, might finally recognise the issues they face. The Anglican Church must do more to understand the stories of Indigenous people within our churches and the wider Sydney community so that we can truly love and serve them. This will include taking up the pen and writing to our Governments. Advocating on behalf of our Indigenous brothers and sisters is one way that we can serve them.
- Non-Indigenous Australian Christians must continue to minister to Indigenous Australians. This will involve continued support for the training of Aboriginal Christians in ministry and theology. There is an urgent need to develop Indigenous leaders in the church. Non-Indigenous Australian Christians must also take up the challenge of connecting with both Christian and non-Christian Indigenous Australians.
- Perhaps it is time for the Anglican Church to discuss ‘acknowledging country’. This is different to a ‘welcome to country’. Acknowledgment of country is a statement of recognition of the traditional owners of the land. I’ve found one Sydney Anglican church that acknowledges country on their website. Should we have plaques at the entry to our church buildings acknowledging country? Should we do it at the start of major church gatherings, Synod, and the start of our conferences? It’s a difficult discussion to have, but that is by no means a reason not to start the debate.
Can I encourage you to listen to the case that Dr Adam has made and think about the ramifications it has for you, your church and the wider Christian community.
*Having tonight compared what I sent with what has been published, I have noticed that what is posted here and what appears in Southern Cross is slightly different.