Invasion Day. Day of Mourning. Australia Day. As the nation becomes more conscious of our Indigenous heritage, commemorating Australia’s nationhood has become complex.
I write this as wadjela who lives on Whadjuk Noongar land. As a recent arrival to Bentley Baptist, I feel immensely privileged to pastor a church that, for a predominately white and immigrant congregation, includes a number of Noongar people. We are a church that seeks to honour (albeit falteringly) the indigenous Noongar culture as the God-appointed historical custodians of the land on which we live.
Whatever the circumstances of the first British landings, the results were devastating for the indigenous people. A number of massacres are on record in the Whadjuk region alone. Through the centuries the Aboriginal nations across the country were robbed of their land and their culture. Call it systemic racism or whatever you like, many Aboriginal communities face seemingly intractable problems that are a result of British settlement. So, for many, this is a day of mourning. And as Christian’s, we ‘weep with those who weep’ (Rom 12:15). We desire justice for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
Nevertheless, as a Christian Aussie I can’t help but be grateful for this country. To be sure, there’s a lot about it that grieves me, but my family has been here for generations and this is home. We have one of the most advanced economies in the world. Our welfare, health, education, legal and democratic systems, while far from perfect, are mostly among the best in the world. We enjoy immense freedoms. And most of all, we have the freedom to enjoy the gospel — a freedom I know many Aboriginal people cherish. I wish the way we had arrived was different (immigration rather than invasion) and that our recent indigenous history were different. But that we arrived — this I celebrate. I’m glad I’m here. And I’m glad that people from so many other cultures are here, as well.
Romans 12:15 doesn’t just tell us to weep with those who weep. It also says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice.’
As Christians, we live in the tension of both rejoicing and weeping. We rejoice in God’s good creation including humanity made in his image, but we mourn the corruption of that world and that image. We grieve that we killed him on a cross, we rejoice that he has risen again for us. We mourn the injustices done to indigenous people, but we rejoice that, in Christ, we are one, indigenous and immigrant, bound by one Lord, one faith and one baptism. (And, therefore, we stand with them.)
We live in a world that seeks simple responses to complex problems. For many there is nothing good about this day. For many others it is only a day for celebration. As Christians we live with the complexity of both lament and celebration at the same time! Perhaps we can model another way, a way of both weeping and rejoicing.
"Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.For in so doingyou will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good."
(The image of bare feet on Wadjuk land is in acknowledgement of Common Grace's #changetheheart campaign)