Last issue Jude Long identified important gaps between Indigenous Australians and the rest of
Australian society. Here she suggests some first steps for Christians who are keen to see those gaps closed.
Dr Jude Long is Principal of Nungalinya College, Darwin, NT
In my previous article I outlined the significant gap that exists between Indigenous Christians in remote communities, and mainstream English speaking Christians. This gap includes areas such as health, life expectancy, safety, literacy, and resourcing in Christian faith. Obviously this is a huge issue! This article attempts to explore some concrete things the church in Australia can be doing to help reduce this gap.
Many people within the church are unaware of the reality of life for Indigenous people in remote communities. Few would have an understanding of the significant cultural and linguistic differences that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
This first step may seem obvious, but it is essential for the church to become aware of the diversity of Indigenous languages and cultures, of the history of engagement between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians and of the situation today. I think this is especially significant for our young people. There are a number of great resources available like “Australians Together” a four part DVD series that is suitable for small groups that can really help this.
A significant part of closing the gap is also to start listening to Indigenous voices in our churches. This might be started by using Christian Indigenous songs, prayers, art work, film clips etc in our churches. To be intentionally seeking out the “good” stories coming out of Indigenous communities, and sharing them to provide a balance to the media’s presentation of hopelessness and violence, would go a long way to developing a better awareness of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. For example each year Nungalinya College’s media students produce a film of their own story. They are a wonderful insight into people’s lives and faith journey (search Nungalinya Media on Youtube).
2. Long term relationships
Having developed some awareness, the next important step is building relationships. One of the keys to closing the gap is to recognise that it is a gap between people. It is not a “problem” to be solved (particularly if the Indigenous people are painted as the ones who are the problem!) but rather a relationship to be healed.
As with any relationship this will start with small steps. Not everyone can go and meet Indigenous people in their remote communities. However, there may be ways to start relationships locally with Indigenous people. Attending public Indigenous cultural events is a start. This might be the basis of making friends with some local Indigenous people. I recognise that this is not always possible locally but to be prayerfully seeking opportunities and intentionally participating as a church would be fantastic.
At a corporate level, churches can be building relationships with Indigenous churches and also organisations working with Indigenous Christians. For example, a number of churches partner with Nungalinya College. This may involve a team or individual from the church coming and spending time at the College, and also the opportunity for a representative of the College to visit the church. A real sense of partnership is emerging through these ongoing relationships between the College and some churches.
3. Lobbying Government
Once there is an awareness of the challenges facing Indigenous people, the church can be vocal in lobbying government. There is a trend at present to significantly cut Federal Government funding and programs for Indigenous people. This is causing uncertainty about the future of many long running and successful programs.
Writing letters to government may seem to have little impact, but I can report that we were contacted by the Federal government on the basis of letters that were written when Nungalinya College was facing a significant cut in funding. These letters do actually have to be addressed by government and may have contributed to a new funding offer that was made to the College.
4. Paying the Rent
A more controversial suggestion of how as a church we can be working to close the gap, is to recognise that all our churches are on land that was taken from Aboriginal people. I am aware of a number of churches that intentionally seek to ‘pay the rent’. This doesn’t mean an actual rental paid to the traditional owners, but to intentionally direct an amount into supporting ministry with Indigenous people. This has the value of assisting those ministries, while at the same time raising the awareness of the church itself about the history of the land they are on.
There are many more ways to begin the journey of closing the gap. These are just a few starters. However, the key is an attitude of repentance for past wrongs, a desire to be one in Christ, and a willingness for the non-Indigenous church to be changed by its engagement with Indigenous brothers and sisters. This will be difficult, but is part of the challenge of following our Lord Jesus who brings reconciliation for all people with God and with each other.