By Assistant Bishop, Chris Mcleod
2 Corinthians 5: 19 -20
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
John 14: 20; 23
On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with the’.
Matthew 5: 23 -24
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
The concept of reconciliation lies at the heart of the Christian message (2 Cor 5: 20). The relationship between God and humanity which was severed through sin has been restored by God.
Reconciliation within the Australian context has some similarities, involving the division between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This division was brought about by the arrival of non-Aboriginal people to Australia, and the subsequent violence done to Aboriginal people with the resultant dispossession of land and culture. The damage done to Aboriginal people has been immense, and the continuing consequences are still being felt in the present. Reconciliation within the Australian context is a complex issue. Before there can be any actual reconciliation, attention needs to be given to issues such as cultural awareness, racism, dispossession, institutional abuse, the forced removal of Aboriginal children, Aboriginal poverty, high levels of incarceration, high premature death and suicide rates, and the current threat of the forced closure of Aboriginal communities, to name but a few pressing concerns. True reconciliation can only be achieved by acknowledging these issues, their origins, and consequences.
What can the Church bring to this discussion; perhaps, more pointedly, what does God have to do with this issue? For my part, the theological impetus for reconciliation lies in the very nature of God. Christians uniquely profess God as Trinity: … in the unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity… (Article 1 - 39 Articles, 1549); ‘Who art one God, one Lord; not one only Person, but three Persons in one Substance. For that which we believe of the glory of the Father, the same we believe of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference or inequality…’ (Preface – the Feast of Trinity, BCP, 1662). The Trinitarian doctrine of perichoresis tells us that there is mutuality in God with each person in the Trinity making room for the other and indwelling each other (John 14: 18 -20). Bishop Clyde Wood recently gave me the wonderful image of perichoresis as ‘walking gently on another’s territory’. For me, this is at the heart of reconciliation: ‘walking gently on another’s territory’. This brings with it a respectful dialogue between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Christians are uniquely placed to ‘echo’ the heart of the Trinity within this cultural conversation at the centre of our nation’s identity.
The starting place for Christian reconciliation is repentance: a turning back to the Trinitarian God of grace. Repentance is also a good starting place for reconciliation within the Australian context. However, who repents is the uncomfortable question. ‘If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you’ (Matt 5: 23): the uncomfortable starting place for reconciliation begins with the non-Aboriginal people of Australia. Non-Aboriginal Australia has benefitted greatly from the dispossession of land and culture from the original custodians. This is something that needs to be acknowledged. Reconciliation can only be brought about by an honest facing of the story, and by the seeking of forgiveness from Aboriginal people. Only then will there be a possibility of moving to new ‘territory’ together. The national apology to the ‘Stolen Generations’ by the Rudd government was an important first step in this journey. However, as Christians we know repentance is ongoing. The process of reconciliation in Australia is a movement, not a point of arrival. There will always be moments when non-Aboriginal Australia will forget its past and be tempted to repeat its mistakes. Christians, whose lives are shaped by repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, are well placed to lead by example: ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you’ (Rom 15: 7).
So, how do we begin, or continue on the journey if we have already begun? Here are some ideas to move gently on another’s territory: listen to the stories of Aboriginal people, become acquainted with the history of our nation, support and encourage Aboriginal people in the church, workplace, schools, university, sporting clubs, and so on. Say ‘stop’ to racism, and stand up to those who put others down because of race or culture. Attend the ‘Cultural Respect Seminars’ offered by Anglicare and Tauondi College. Take your part in ensuring that government decisions are made with, and not just for, Aboriginal people. Pray!
Lord God, bring us together as one, reconciled with you and reconciled with each other. You have made us in your likeness, you gave us your Son, Jesus Christ. He has given us forgiveness from sin. Lord God, bring us together as one, different in culture, but given new life in Jesus Christ, together as your body, your Church, your people. Lord God, bring us together as one, reconciled, healed, forgiven, sharing you with others as you called us to do. In Jesus Christ, let us be together as one. Amen.
“A prayer for reconciliation” by Bishop Arthur Malcolm, the first Aboriginal Anglican Bishop.