Saving Australia’s Day

INTRODUCTION

As a fun time to celebrate national achievements Australia Day is a beloved occasion for most of us. However an increasingly vocal and growing minority, including thoughtful Christians, say the Day needs to be shifted, scrapped or renamed. Aboriginal activists label the 26th January, when the first British settlers landed in 1788, as “Invasion Day”, the beginning of a land grab, massacres, rapes, genocide and so on.

These things really did happen and a “get over it” response hurts rather than heals multi-generational wounds. On the other hand I have no tolerance for the do-gooders who trumpet loudly an anti-racist position designed to impress us with their self-righteousness.

Every time I hear a mention of Yagan Square, celebrated as “Perth’s new beating heart” in the CBD, the tokenism makes me squirm. Yagan was a local Noongar tribal leader executed in 1833. After being killed his head was hacked from his body, smoked, preserved and sent to a museum in England as an “anthropological curiosity”.

Deliberately defacing the image of God cannot be atoned for by renaming a piece of land! There is something deeper in all this than politics and human emotion.  We need “the mind of Christ” about Australia’s Day (1 Cor 2:16).

ATTITUDE

Expounding Christlike thinking Paul exhorts us all, “in humility count others better than yourselves…. Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:3, 5). Returning to Australia from overseas late in 2017 what I found most confronting was the loud, abusive and aggressive street language of the local Indigenous women. With their young males openly going through nearby letterboxes early in the morning it would be easy to be racist, without Jesus.

But racism can be very subtle. The pious attitude, “they can’t help it because they’re victims/we need to help them because we’re more privileged” is just a nice way of putting forward our sense of superiority. This penetrates deeply into the life of the Church; how many Indigenous pastors are leading white congregations?

It’s hard for Westerners not to think we’re better than others, for we brought civilisation and the gospel to this continent. There is however a spiritual path out of the superior/inferior dilemma.

Imagine life today if Japan had won WWII colonised Australia and made everyone use Japanese as a first language! This didn’t happen, but Jesus expected his followers to be dispossessed of family, friends and nationhood in a way which would enable us to empathise with those who have forcibly lost language, land and culture (Mark 10:29).

Dispossession is part of our identity in Christ (1 Pet 2:11). Only through such rejection can we discern our Father’s intentions for Indigenous Australians in his great plan for us all. To possess vision into how our Indigenous brethren are “better” than us (Phil 2:3) all our native myths must die.

MYTH AND MAKE-BELIEVE

Every nation needs a sustaining myth and here are some politically popular ones. The conservative celebration of our “Judeo-Christian heritage” and the progressive chant, “we are one of the most successful multi-cultural nations in world” are equally secular because neither of them dares to publically lift up the name of JESUS. But the dominant myth amongst our fun worshipping population is the myth of a “happy prosperous Australia”. Anything that get’s in the way of this myth, be it race, religion or ideology, better get out of the way. So much for Westernised myths, what about Indigenous mythology?

Aboriginal people love to remind us they are “the world’s oldest living culture (50,000 years).”  This is significant, not because the Indigenous had the smarts to live harmoniously with the land, but because God taught them how to survive in a harsh continent for so long, awaiting the coming of the gospel (Acts 17:26-28).

Leaving God’s grace out of the picture is just humanistic boasting. Nevertheless, something significant in Indigenous culture has survived centuries of Western indoctrination. When Yagan’s head was returned from the UK Noongar elder Richard Wilkes stated: ‘It is very important because …spiritually, once we rebury Yagan’s kaat (head) into the ground…the spirit of Yagan will rise up in and amongst us.’  The Indigenous people have faith that the fighting spirit and stance against injustice of their tribal hero will empower them once again. This is not a novel conviction.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien agreed that the death and resurrection myths of the ancient world and tribal Europe prepared their peoples for the “true myth” of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Aboriginal mythic forms, like the death and return of Yagan’s spirit, are quite capable of conversion by the gospel.  As such our Indigenous people, much like folk in the Third World, remain a spiritually sensitive people.

But as long as mainstream Western culture sustains the myth that we can explain everything by natural-scientific causes our peoples can never comprehend the supernatural gospel.  As long as Australia believes, “‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” (Deut 8:17) we are in spiritually blinded. Having said all this there must be Indigenous Christians who can lead the Church in our land into deeper things in God.

Surely seeing so many of their people excluded from the myth of a “prosperous happy Australia” gives them a prophetic edge over us. Our call is to recognise those with a double portion as more important than our own for the fulfilment of God’s plan for Australia (Isa 61:7). What is holding us all back?

DE-MYTHOLOGISING THE CHURCH

All attempts to sustain the memory of a Christian Australia are a heap of dead men’s bones that will not receive the Spirit of God.

To the contrary, let’s thank the sovereign Lord for progressively dispossessing us of our Christian heritage, for the myth of Christendom must die that the name of Jesus might live.

The power of the cross puts to death all historical reminisces, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, because on the cross God the Son was dispossessed of everything. In “becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13)

Jesus was stripped of his covenantal identity as an Israelite, Messiah, Son of God and of all human dignity (Ps 22:6). As Indigenous and non-Indigenous Christians meet in the One who was utterly dispossessed of everything for all of us a wonderful unity will emerge in Christ.  Once freed from the myths which “cling so closely” God can raise up a unified people, not so much for the re-evangelisation of Australia, but for the true evangelisation of our land (Heb 12:1)

CONCLUSION

Money, ideology and politics can never reconcile the enmity which only the blood of the cross has already atoned for (Col 1:20).

Once a “Christian nation” that embraced the historically inevitable extinction of its original peoples, Australia is now a nation where many are plotting the termination of the Church. Only if the diverse people of God see these older and more recent catastrophes through the lens of the cross is there any hope that the Australia Day written in heaven can come to pass.

God’s wonderful plan for all Aussies, ancient tribes and new (Eph 1:10; Rev 5:9), his plan which we might call “Australia’s Day” of salvation, awaits the emerging of a mature Church that can appreciate others are better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). May the Lord of all mercy grant us this gift. 

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 26th January, 2018 |

Author: Dr. John Yates


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