The legal, social and political history of settler and immigrant Australia’s relationship with its First Nations population during the last three decades has included the recognition of native title by the High Court (Mabo, 1990) followed by an admission from the Commonwealth Government that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their parents (Bringing Them Home, 1997).
The latter was acknowledged by a formal apology to Indigenous Australians by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on 13 February 2008. Such moments are remembered during Reconciliation week which concludes today with Mabo Day. The week acknowledges these gestures that acknowledge a shameful past and intention to repair relationships with Indigenous Australians in recent decades.
Our colleague and friend at St Mark’s National Theological Centre, the Rev Dr John Harris, documented a similar mixture of naivety and neglect by the Church, alongside the commitment, care and advocacy by individuals and small groups in his landmark book, One Blood. Harris is clear about the obligations of contemporary Christians with respect to past injustices. In his discussion of the rightful custodians of the land, Harris dismisses political and popular arguments that claims like Mabo’s were motivated by a “guilt industry” and insists that “Christians reflect seriously upon past injustices and accept a responsibility to right them.”
The title of Harris’ second volume – We Wish We’d Done More – captures the continuing disappointment and disillusionment felt by many Christians in 2020. We still need to do more. Reconciliation Week might be ending for 2020, but the long road of repenting and repairing the past has only just begun…