Written by Dr Jehan Loza

On  the 21st of January 2015 I posted Part One of “How Can We Promote Reconciliation Between the Australian Church and Aboriginal Australia”?  Today the article will be Part 3 and the final instalment of this series.

Dr Jehan Loza holds a PhD in Sociology (Deakin University),  a Masters of Vocational Practice – Church Practice at Tabor and has nearly 25 years experience undertaking qualitative evaluation and research with a range of stakeholders both in Australia and internationally.

DEC13-Jehan-Loza

Jehan has worked across diverse cultural and geographical contexts including with Indigenous communities.

She has intimate knowledge of community and organisational capacity building processes and has applied this knowledge both practically and theoretically in her work.

 

Vignette Four

The ACC Indigenous Forum is an initiative driven by the President of the ACC, Wayne Alcorn, who in his Inaugural speech at the National Conference in 2009 said,

‘we cannot have revival in this country until we reconcile our relationship with our First People’.

As a starting point ACC churches were encouraged to hold cultural awareness seminars and one service each year called, ‘The Deadly Experience’. Shortly after, our church hosted a Deadly Experience service. The service, aimed at awareness raising and exposing the congregation to Aboriginal Christian life and theology, consisted of Aboriginal dancing, a message by an Aboriginal Pastor and a presentation on Aboriginal art and theology. The night was a success in as much as the congregation enjoyed learning about (but I would argue ‘consuming’) Aboriginal culture. People left the night feeling as if they were open-minded and accepting. I waited to see if anything more would come of this night. I never heard anyone talk of that night since, not from my congregation and not from my pastor. We did not have any more Aboriginal services or events, or any messages on unity, love or reconciliation that included the word Aboriginal!

Doing theology is a process of action and reflection, fashioned out of historical experience in the present as well as the past, of which, claims Perkins (1976:290), too little has happened in Australia. There is a need for a contextual theology to “motivate and undergird new styles of action and relationships with the Aboriginal communities of Australia”. This new style is what is becoming known as a reconciling mission and a mission of reconciliation. The next sections detail how the Australian church can engage in such a ministry and mission.

Reconciling mission and mission of reconciliation: Word and Deed in one

The church is the place for studying and seeking theology, mission, ministry and diaconal service. It is also the place of mission that reflects the engagement between context, theology and practice, while proclaiming, serving and teaching the good news to the whole world. The church is comprised of a sent people, a missional church with a missional praxis, being what God is doing in humanity to bring about healing, reconciliation, wholeness, liberation and salvation. The being-ness (missional) and sent-ness (missionary praxis) of the church are, therefore, inextricably linked (Isaak 2011).

According to Isaak (2011), Christians are currently witnessing an emerging paradigm of ‘reconciling mission and mission as reconciliation’ and this is one of the most compelling ways of expressing the gospel. In the midst of violence, suffering and pain, Isaak claims, it is the church that proclaims and acts to reconcile and heal. Or as Reconciliation Network express it, “The church is called to be a living sign of the one body of Christ, an agent of hope and holistic reconciliation in our broken and fragmented world” (Reconciliation Network 2005:5).

The work of reconciliation is first and foremost God’s work, his ongoing mission in the world, taking place through the Spirit (Schreiter 1998, Kaggwa 2003, Kim 2004, Reconciliation Network 2005). That is:

Reconciliation is at God’s initiative, restoring a broken world to God’s intentions by reconciling ‘to himself all things’, through Christ (Col 1:20): the relationship between people and God, between people, and with God’s created earth. Christians participate with God by being transformed into ambassadors of reconciliation (Reconciliation Network 2005:5).

A missional church understands that its participation in Missio Dei is contextual. It understands this in comprehensive and holistic ways (Isaak 2011) According to Isaak, this understanding means that such a church understands that God invites us to participate in His liberating love, and in His mission as praxis for healing. Furthermore, such a church is active in seeking victories against sin by forming healing communities as signs of God’s reign on earth. In this way, the Christian community demonstrates itself as an expression of God’s intention to bring reconciliation and healing to the earth. Separating faith and works should be avoided since there is no gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxis (Isaak 2011).

Essentially, reconciliation is a spiritual affair that includes theological, cultural, moral or ethical, social, political and economic matters, a transformation of the entire human situation Schreiter 1998, Kim 2004). Where there is reconciliation the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and justice is given to the poor. In the midst of violence, pain, and scars of trauma in people’s memory, the church can be God’s minister of reconciliation by proclaiming that in Jesus Christ and in his community, healing is possible (Isaak 2011).

Bretherton and Mellor (2006:95) argue that because the Australia’s history has been one of invasion and conquest, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people do not have a shared moral order that they can return. The challenge of reconciliation lies in constructing a shared framework that encompasses their different views of the past and this will require a difficult, “restless and unceasing negotiation, rather than a simple restoration”.

The activity of reconciliation is a long and ongoing process that combines four key elements: witnessing and telling the truth, exposing the lie, healing memories, justice and forgiveness and there are three means for pursuing reconciliation. First, is to create communities of reconciliation – safe places where victims can come and tell their story. Second, requires engaging in moral reconstruction of broken societies and, third is to articulate and then live a spirituality of reconciliation (Kaggwa 2003).

According to Reconciliation Network (2005) the church must:

  1. Embrace the Biblically holistic notion of reconciliation that is at the centre of the gospel, Christian life and 21st Century mission and as something critical to evangelism and justice (this is long term view that should be embedded in church structures).
  2. Humbly examine oneself by seeking to identify and dismantle escapism ideologies and practices (this is done through biblical study, social and theological analysis, dialogue with communities and prayer).
  3. Cross the difficult division and barriers and talk with and listen to those we are separated from (this involves listening and praying for each other. Pastors and leaders should be at the forefront of this).
  4. Refuse neutrality and silence in the face of destructive conditions (this involves discerning dehumanisation and injustices).
  5. Intentionally shape pastors and congregations to live and work towards shalom (this involves naming conflicts for what they are, serving and bearing witness across divisions and barriers, comforting and binding up the afflicted, seeking and celebrating signs of hope through small and large gestures, supporting peacemaking efforts, bringing former strangers and alienated peoples into common worship, friendship and mission under the lordship of Christ).

Reconciliation begins when we find the courage to take ownership of pain and suffering. Reconciliation begins when we ‘lose ourselves’ in this ownership: no longer do we deny the conditions of trauma but instead we embrace difference through partnering, together, in the search for transformation. In this we encounter the human face of the ‘Other’ (Bretherton and Mellor 2006). A ministry of reconciliation is therefore a theology for living. According to Inkpin (2008:2), this is “a theology  which walks with the other, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting what the other sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes: a spiritual, emotional, cultural, political and practical journeying towards a renewed vision of Land and People”. Right at the centre of reconciliation, therefore, is spirit-led holy relationships that come together in mutual dialogue, sharing and learning, differences and all, to form one body and a new way of life: a new creation. As Schreiter (1998) argues, the experience of reconciliation makes of victim and wrongdoer a new creation! This is God’s reconciling work in Christ.

For me, a reconciled relationship between the Australian church and Aboriginal Australia is based on more than an apology, more than raising awareness. It is more than exposure services/programs such as ‘Deadly Experience’ (and the myriad of other Aboriginal exposure programs where we mostly consume the Other) – though these are all a start.

For me reconciled relationships will be evidenced when we have spirit-led, holy relationships between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal. To do this, the church must unlearn and reconstruct its theological viewpoints that eek of dualistic frameworks and that reinforce difference and separatism. Once it does this, I believe holy relationships will outwork themselves in the following ways:

  • Open homes and sharing of meals
  • Praying together, studying together, reading scripture together
  • Celebrating holy communion
  • Praising and worshiping together, while working towards peace and shalom
  • Forging common missions together
  • Forming safe places for acts of confession and forgiveness, through story telling.

Perhaps the most significant sign of a reconciled church, a church of holy relationships is in the “birth and perseverance of blended congregations where historically separated peoples share a deep, common life” (Reconciliation Network 2005:16).

This type of blending will produce/is a symptom of greater intercultural dialogue and contact between the church and Aboriginal Australia. And it is this type of reconciliation, as a theology and practice of reconciliation – that can bring to fruition by word and deed the unity, oneness and forgiveness of which we are called.

Goheen (2001) asserts that dialogue between churches is for the purpose of understanding the message of Scripture. The church is a historically continuous body yet it is also one that is continually being shaped by God. When we enter into dialogue with those different from Us, those from a radically different context, our ‘cultural blindness’ is corrected and our insights expanded as we allow those that read the scripture with different eyes to give Us new eyes.

Rainbow Spirit Elders (2008) argue that Aboriginal people are currently embracing the positive message of the gospel. While they maintain that the rejection of their culture by white missionaries was destructive, Rainbow Spirit Elders are reformulating the theology and history of the missions view of their own engagement with Scripture and experience as Aboriginal Australians. Rainbow Spirit Elders claim that this new Aboriginal theology, known as Rainbow Spirit Theology, has something to offer all Australia. I look forward to the day when I am sat in my local church and the dialogue between Rainbow Spirit Theology and my Traditional theological context have interacted in such a way as to create a radically new message – one that represents fully, reconciled and holy spirit-led relationships.

Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie, Australia

Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Conclusion

The Australian church must centre itself in the Aboriginal reconciliation process.  Merely apologising or involving itself in awareness raising sermons, exposures and experiences, and thinking this is enough demonstrates a soft rhetoric of reconciliation which is unrealistic and insensitive; and one likely to disguise deep-seated problems and dominant theologies. These must be uncovered. Contextual theology that centres a ministry of reconciliation and reconciliation as ministry offers new methods, new voices and a new intercultural dialogue to the Australian church.  The outworking of such dialogue will be the formation of holy, spirit-led relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Christians. For the Australian church such relationships are based on a dialogue that will permit Aboriginal voices, contexts, experiences and even theologies to inform, mould and shape our own to the point where we no longer recognise each other as slave or master, Jew or Gentile and in its place, we might be surprised to see a new, reconciled creation.

 

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References

Australian Human Rights Commission, (1997), Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra.

_________ (1998), ‘Chapter 3: Church Responses’ Social Justice Report, Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra.

Baum, G., and Wells, H., (1997), The Reconciliation of Peoples: Challenge to the Churches, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.
Bevans, S., (2009), “What has Contextual Theology to offer to the Church of the 21st Century?” Mission in Context Lecture, Oxford, October 15.
_________ (2011), Models of Contextual Theology, Revised and Expanded Edition, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.
Bretherton, D., and Mellor, D., (2006), ‘Reconciliation between Aboriginal and Other Australians: “The Stolen Generations”’, Journal of Social Issues, Volume 62, Number 1.
Goheen, M., (2001), ‘As the Father has Sent me, I am Sending you’: J.E. Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology, Proefschrift Universiteit Utrecht.
Inkpin, J., (2008), ‘Nei Neiwa Yi Yu Gali: Towards a Whole Body Theology of Reconciliation’, A paper given at Christian Mission in the Public Square, a conference of the Australian Association for Mission Studies and the Public and Contextual Theology Centre of Charles Sturt University, held at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture 2-5 October.

Isaak, P., (2011), ‘God’s Mission as Praxis for Healing and Reconciliation’, International Review of Mission, World Council of Churches, Volume 100, Number 2, November.
Kaggwa, R., (2003), ‘Is Reconciliation the New Model for Mission? Reflections on the Rwandan Genocide and Conflicts in the Great Lakes Region of Africa’, Studies in World Christianity, Volume 9, October.
Kim, K., (2004), ‘Reconciliation: Integrity and the Holy Spirit: Ethic and Ethos of Mission’, International Association for Mission Studies Conference.
McLaren, B., (2007), ‘Church Emerging: Or why I Still use the Word Postmodern but with Mixed Feelings’, in Pagitt, D., and Jones, T. Baker (eds.) An Emergent Manifesto, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Mikhailovich, K., and Pavli A., (2011), Freedom of Religion, Belief and Indigenous Spirituality, Practice and Cultural Rights, Prepared for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies by the Centre for Education, Poverty and Social Inclusion, Faculty of Education, University of Canberra, May.
O’Sullivan, D., (2006), ‘Pope John Paul II and Reconciliation as Mission’, Pacifica, Volume 19.
Perkins, H., (1976), ‘Issues of Contextual Theology: An Australian Perspective’, The Ecumenical Review, Volume 28, Issue 3, July.
Rainbow Spirit Elders, (2008), Rainbow Spirit Theology, ATF Publishing, Hindmarsh.

Reconciliation Network, (2005), ‘Reconciliation as the Mission of God: Christian Witness in a World of Destructive Conflicts’, A 2005 Paper from 47 Christian Leaders Across the World, www.reconciliationnetwork.com.
Reddie, A., (2007), ‘A Black Theological Approach to Reconciliation: Responding to the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain’, Black Theology: An International Journal, Volume 5, Number 2.
Schreiter, R., (1998), The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategy Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.
Sultan, P., (2007), ‘Reconciliation as Mission’, Encounters Mission Ezine, Issue 16, February.
Wilcken, J., (1992), ‘A Theological Approach to Reconciliation’, in Frank Brennan (ed.), Reconciling Our Differences: A Christian Approach to Recognising Aboriginal Land Rights, Aurora Books/David Lovell Publishing, Victoria.

Websites

Reconciliation Australia, www.reconciliation.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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