As an Australian-American currently living in Houston—one of the most racially segregated cities in the US—it is disconcerting to see similar racial tensions gain steam in Australia in light of present debates regarding stolen land.
Front and centre in heated discourse is the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a document written by certain indigenous leaders and endorsed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. The statement itself seeks to bring about “structural reform” and “constitutional change” through a voice to parliament, advocating that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the “first sovereign nations” of Australia.
Even so, religious leaders in Australia have come out in support of the Uluru Statement. But is such support good, wise, or biblical?
Caldron Pool colleague Mark Powell has shared legitimate and compelling reasons for Australians to reject the Uluru Statement in his piece Enshrining Victimhood into the Constitution, reasoning that it will perpetuate the failures of the ATSIC, distort Section 116 of the Australian Constitution, diminish the moral agency of Aboriginal people, promote more racial division, etc. In line with his insights, I shall provide more reasons, for pastors and elders, in particular, to do the same.
The Uluru Statement—both in its wording and intent—must not gain a foothold in Australian churches.
First, from a pastoral perspective, we ought to listen to the voices of ethnic minorities, because all of them are our neighbours and God’s image-bearers. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of employing prudence and impartiality when it comes to gauging the indigenous Australian experience. As is evident, indigenous Australians are divided over issues of race. No doubt many agree with the message of the Uluru Statement, but many indigenous Australians also vehemently disagree.
Pastors and elders, therefore, must not assume that an entire demographic shares a singular experience when it comes to race relations, as the Uluru Statement does. Yes, we must unequivocally condemn racism and oppression—but we must also care enough to listen to the indigenous voices on each side and engage our fellow image-bearers endearingly, not in a one-size-fits-all manner, but pastorally, on the merits of their own experience as Australians.
Moreover, the Uluru Statement is dehumanising because it peddles a white guilt narrative that is rooted in a white saviour complex (i.e., the assumption that indigenous Australians need to be acknowledged and saved by whites in order to live their lives). In relation to this, Jacinta Price has stated, “It is suggesting we need this voice because we are in a position of marginalisation; the way I see it, I would like to see us all as equally taking advantage, having these opportunities, and to live our own lives, which would make us equal to everyone else; and we would not then need to be a stand apart voice…”
Last of all, amid ongoing debates in the church, pastors and elders must be diligent to protect their congregations from the Uluru Statement, because it simply does not comport with the message of the gospel wherein Jesus secured reconciliation between ethnic Jews and Gentiles in his atoning death (Matt. 27:51); and despite being a persecuted Jew himself, Jesus’ message was never “Jewish lives matter” but rather “repent” (Matt. 4:17) and “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) because all have “sinned” (Mark 2:17).
As pastors, we are also called to keep the main thing the main thing. If your colleagues or congregants want you to, in a plea for racial unity, express approval for what is in the Uluru Statement, just lovingly explain to them that Jesus has already achieved racial reconciliation on the Cross, which means the unity that people experience within the true body of Christ far transcends any sin allegedly inherited from British ancestors (Eph. 2:11-13).