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The Congregation and THE embodiment of the Church

It’s been interesting to see the recent posts relating to the 45th anniversary of the inauguration of the Uniting Church on 22 June. I saw largely positive commentary, as well as a handful of more negative observations. All in all, it was time to consider and identify some key factors, both positive, and negative.

In the midst of all of this, I am thinking that it must be time for another post about organisation and governance in the Uniting Church in Australia. So this is a blog about the word THE.

Yes, that’s right: THE. Specifically, about the meaning and significance of that little word “the” in one sentence in a church document: the Basis of Union, the founding document for the church that I belong to, the Uniting Church in Australia (formed in 1977).

The particular sentence that I intend to focus on is found in paragraph 15(a) of the Basis. It reads: The Congregation is the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ.

Now, the word “the” actually appears four times in this sentence. However, it is the second of these four occurrences that is in my focus of attention: “the embodiment”.

The, in English grammar, functions as a definitive article; it sits before a noun and gives shape, specificity, definition to the noun that follows. So, “the cat” refers, not just to any old cat, but to that particular cat which I can see before me, sitting on the mat (yes, that particular mat, as opposed to any old mat).

The little word “the” thus has a specifying role, defining a particular thing for our consideration, in distinction from the great mass of other things just like it that we are not considering. “The” can thus place an emphasis on the singularity and particularity of the item that is so qualified.

But “the” can also be a generalising term, placed in front of a noun without any intention to give it concerted specificity. In this instance, the word “the” just has the generalised of kind of smoothing out the sentence. “Cat sat on mat” sounds clunky. “The cat sat on the mat” has a rounder and fuller feel to it, without ever intending to refer to THIS specific cat sitting on THAT particular mat. It’s actually a generic reference to what cats do when they find a mat. ANY cat. ANY mat.

So, when we turn to the section of the Basis of Union that deals with Governance, we first should note that the Congregation is not defined as a council. The Council (that is, the governing body) in a local context is named in the Basis as “the Elders or Leaders Meeting”. In practice, it was often called “the Parish Council”.

Some time after the Basis was written, the Assembly of the UCA determined that this body would be called the Church Council. It consists of “the minister and those who are called to share with the minister in oversight”. That oversight is the governance function of the Church Council, which is clearly identified and defined as being “the council within a congregation or group of congregations”.

There are three other councils which are so identified in paragraph 15 of the Basis: the Presbytery (“the district council”), the Synod (“the regional council”), and the Assembly (“the national council”). Together with the Church Council, these four bodies have responsibility for governance, the oversight of the various matters specified and allocated to each council in turn.

Now, the Congregation is not a Council. But it is an integral part of the Church. The Basis says that it is “the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

Does this means that the Congregation, as “the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, is THE one and only way, THE pre-eminent way, THE most significant way, that the church is made manifest, or embodied, in human society? I have heard and read this claim many times, over the four decades that I have been active within the church. It is a commonly held (mis)belief.

Such a claim places an inordinate amount of emphasis on that little word “the”. It invests it with a priority sense, with an exclusive connotation—this is THE Church, the one and only way that it exists. This is a huge claim.

And it is often spoken in contexts where decisions of the Presbytery, or the Synod, or the Assembly, are in contention. The implication is clear: THEY are not really the Church. THIS, the Congregation, this is the Church!

It is important to note that the Basis does not ever make this claim. It never says only the Congregation is THE church, the Congregation is the WHOLE church, and the Congregation is the NOTHING BUT the Church. Not at all.

Besides, the Basis says that the Congregation is the embodiment IN ONE PLACE of the church. Across the railway line, there is another Congregation that is the embodiment IN ONE PLACE, over there, of the church. And further away, across the river there is another Congregation that is the embodiment IN ONE PLACE, across the river, of the church. They are all embodiments of the church in their own places.

And so, with the other entities mentioned in the Basis. These entities are clearly part of the church, as well. They may well also be understood to embody the church, as each one exercises its responsibilities and carries out its duties in the prescribed areas allocated to it. They give expression to the church as much as the Congregation does.

Indeed, other entities which have developed and evolved since the time that the Basis was written (in the mid-to-late 1960s) are clearly a part of the church as well. We cannot afford to invest that little word “the” with the sum totality of what we understand the church to be. The church is also aged care facilities, preschool centres, meals for the homeless programmes and theological training colleges, chaplains to the Defence Force and chaplains to those ill and in hospital, mental health chaplains and Frontier Service Padres—and much, much more.

And the Basis also notes and defines other elements which are undoubtedly part of the church. Is the Congregation to say to the Synod, you are not part of the Church? Or to the Presbytery, you are not part of the Church? Or to the Assembly? (Yes, I can feel myself channeling Paul via 1 Cor 12!)

So I recoil when I hear or read that the Congregation is THE Church, prioritised, privileged, and exclusively THE Church. It’s not. It is an important, local, expression of what we understand the Church to be.

But the Congregation is governed by a Church Council, which is in relationship with the other Councils of the Church. It’s the Church Council which is the local council of the church, not the Congregation. And we certainly wouldn’t claim that this Council is THE embodiment of the Church, any more than we would say this of a Presbytery, or a Synod, or the Assembly. Nor is the Congregation. Each of these bodies is, in some way, an expression of the Church; and each, by the provisions found in the Constitution, has its own set of responsibilities.

In the end, the Congregation is ONE of the manifestations, or embodiments, if the Church, related to each of the other manifestations and expressions and embodiments of the Church, seen through the various bodies, agencies, gatherings, and councils of the Church.

A personal postscript: I have a clear and firm commitment to the life of the Congregation, having participated actively for over 40 years in the life of seven congregations in Australia (and three more whilst studying in the USA, and in a Methodist Circuit whilst living for a year in the UK). During that time I have been a member of four Church Councils, two times a Treasurer, and once a Church Council chairperson.

Much of the time I have done those roles whilst being engaged in fulltime theological education and presbytery oversight roles. My current position is fully focussed on resourcing, supporting, encouraging, and even challenging Congregations and Church Councils in their life, service, and witness.

I’ve been privileged to have been a member of a Congregation which had a strong Congregational heritage. In fact, it was the home Congregation of the sole Congregationalist lay member of the Joint Commission on Church Union, Maynard Davies. I understand that Mr Davies was the member who pressed for the inclusion of paragraph 11 in the Basis of Union.

That’s the paragraph that affirms that the Uniting Church will remain open to new insights which emerge from scientific thinkers, historical researchers, our encounter with other cultural customs, and our engagement with people from societies different from our own.

This, of course, is a really important element in the theology and practice of the UCA—from this strong Congregational heritage, a progressive and engaged church has developed. The policies and values that have been promulgated by Synods and Assemblies over the decades owe much to this commitment, and to the ongoing work that has been done within “the wider church” in such areas. All from a strong Congregational ethos!

So I think it is entirely possible to value the local expression of church whilst engaging in and supporting broader expressions. All of this is us, as we say.

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Liberal losses: counting the cost

Now that all the results have been finalised in the Australian Federal Election 2022, we can see clearly the extent of Liberal losses. It’s been extensive, cutting right to the heart of the party in the so-called “blue-ribbon Liberal” seats.

From early on it was clear that six House of Representatives seats were lost to “teal independents”, standing on a platform of real action to address climate change, and the introduction of a corruption commission to begin to repair the shocking state of integrity in public life.

Three of these seats were in Sydney: Kylea Tink in North Sydney, the seat of former Treasurer Hockey; Sophie Scamps in Mackellar; and Allegra Spender in Wentworth, the seat of former PM Turnbull amd former Opposition Leader Hewson.

Two more were in Melbourne: Monique Ryan in Kooyong, the seat of former Treasuer Frydenberg, as well as former Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock, and foundation Liberal leader and (twice) Prime Minister Robert Menzies; and Zoe Daniel in Goldstein.

The sixth seat to fall to a “ teal independent” was in WA: Kate Chaney in Curtin, the seat of former Deputy Liberal Leader Bishop.

They join existing members Helen Haines in Indi and Zali Steggal in Warringah, both of which were once blue-Liberal seats; the latter was previously held by the former PM, the Abbott of Inequity.

The Liberals also lost to Labor in Bennelong, the seat of former PM Howard, and Robertson in NSW; in Victoria, they lost to Labor in Higgins, the seat of former Treasurer Peter Costello and former Prime Ministers Harold Holt and John Gorton, and Chisholm. In SA, they lost Boothby to Labor, and the Centre Alliance held on to Mayo, which it had taken from the Liberals in 2016; while in QLD, they lost to the Greens in Ryan.

They lost massively in WA, with four seats going to Labor: Hasluck, Swan, Pearce, and Tangney. The map of electorates in the Perth area tells the story quite dramatically!

Lots of Liberal losses in the House.

See https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/where-the-election-was-won-and-lost-and-who-is-next-on-the-chopping-block-20220524-p5ao13

In the Senate, four Liberal seats were lost: to David Pocock in the ACT, to Labor in WA, to the Jacqui Lambie Network in Tasmania, and to “it’s my kinda party” Untied Australia in Victoria.

The Liberals now have only 23 seats in the Senate—but we add to that 5 from the Liberal National Party in QLD, 3 from the Nationals, and 1 from the Country Liberals in NT, to total 32 Senators as the main opposition body.

Labor now has 26 seats in the Senate, and no doubt they will work co-operatively with the 12 Greens and independent David Pocock on much of their legislative agenda. The 2 Jacqui Lambie Network senators may well also figure in these negotiations.

The conservative rump is now irrelevant in the Senate, except for the predictably useless aggravating grunts that they will surely make as often as they can to gain media attention: Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts in QLD, and newcomer Ralph Babet in Victoria.

See https://www.pollbludger.net/category/federal-politics-2019-2022/federal-election-2022/

Lots of Liberal losses overall. And a clear indication that the Liberals are no longer anything like “liberal” in their policies or their practices.

The true cost of the Howard—Abbott—Morrison conservative hegemony is now evident: years of rhetoric about fiscal conservatism masking disastrous social policies, especially amongst the poor; years of dog whistling promoting xenophobia and overt racism, often in cahoots with various rightwingnutjobs; years of resistance to any significant action on climate, signing off on a bleak future for all humanity whilst profiting from the largesse of always-profitable fossil fuel companies; years of resisting real support for renewables; years of offering leftover scraps to the First Peoples of the country, while ignoring Royal Commission recommendations; and years of blithely ignoring the misogynistic culture that tolerated (and generated) many acts of sexist abuse.

Liberal losses: many reason to celebrate!

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Perverting and confusing, biting and devouring, bewitched and confused (Gal 5; Pentecost 3C)

The lectionary is currently providing a short series of excerpts from one of Paul’s earliest letters—the one he wrote to the Galatians, possibly in the late 40s, more likely (in my view) by the middle of the 50s.

This letter is distinctive in a couple of ways. The audience is not a gathering of believers in one city (as in Thessalonians, or Philippi, or Corinth, or even Rome), but the various communities of believers across the whole region of Galatia, which was one of the Roman provinces in the area we today call Turkey.

A second distinctive feature is that this letter completely omits any of the “friendly overture” elements that are typically found at the start of the letters widely recognised as the authentic letters of Paul. Many of these letters, after the requisite formalities (Paul, to the believers in X, grace and peace to you), contain a prayer of thanksgiving: “we always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly …” (1 Thess 1:2–10); “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus …” (1 Cor 1:4–9), “when I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus …” (Phlmn 4–7); “first, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world …” (Rom 1:8-15); and in the letter known as “the friendly letter”, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you …” (Phil 1:3–11).

The second letter to the Corinthians replaces this prayer of thanksgiving with an extended blessing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction …” (2 Cor 1:3–7); that pattern is followed by the anonymous scribe who wrote decades later, modelling his circular letter on earlier Pauline examples, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places …” (Eph 1:3–14), just as the unknown person who crafted a letter to Colossae likewise followed the model of the earlier prayers of thanksgiving: “in our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints …” (Col 1:3–14).

The letter to the Galatians has no indication, either of a prayer of thanksgiving, or of a blessing. Instead, this letter cuts right to the chase, in direct words which accuse and denounce: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel … there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ … if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” (Gal 1:6–9). The letter continues swiftly, “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10).

*****

This opening accusation is reflected in words that we find in the section offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday (5:1, 13–25) when, five chapters after this direct opening, Paul rounds back on his audience, declaring that “if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (5:15).

In a striking juxtaposition, however, the letter continues on from this warning, to provide a contrast, which has become well-known, between “the desires of the flesh” (5:16–21) and “the fruit of the Spirit” (5:22–26).

I have no doubt that most, if not all, sermons that are preached on this lectionary offering will focus primarily, if not exclusively, on the nine qualities identified as the fruit of the Spirit, namely, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22-23).

Swimming against the tide, I intended to reflect here, not on the fruit of the Spirit, but on those earlier words, about “biting and devouring one another”.

(I have written an earlier reflection on one of those fruits, gentleness, at https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/)

To understand the reason for Paul’s direct words, we need to understand the presumed situation in Galatia which he was addressing. We can glean a number of clues about this from references and statements in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

It is evident from Paul’s opening comments that other teachers had visited the Galatian community, and had taught them things that were at odds with what Paul was teaching. He derogatively labels them as “some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (1:7), and later as those who have “bewitched” the Galatians (3:1) and, by inference, those who “prevented [them] from obeying the truth” (5:7). As a result, he calls the Galatians “foolish” (3:1) and expresses a wish that “those who unsettle you would castrate themselves” (5:12).

These teachers, in Paul’s opinion, proclaim “a gospel contrary to what you received” (1:9)—namely, what Paul himself had taught them, when he had earlier visited the Galatians, a time “when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods” (4:8). The Galatians turned from their gentile faith to adopt faith in Jesus, by which “you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (4:9). It is “for freedom [that] Christ has set us free” (5:1). See https://johntsquires.com/2022/06/15/for-freedom-christ-has-set-us-free-galatians-pentecost-2c-3c-4c/

*****

If we knew precisely who the Galatians were, what group of teachers had been active amongst them, or what specific matters caused Paul to write this letter, we might be better placed to adjudicate on this matter. Unfortunately, we do not have specific information about the identity of the addressees of this letter or their location.

Acts indicates that Paul had preached in a number of locations in Galatia: initially with Barnabas he visited Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14–52), Iconium (14:1–5), Lystra (14:6–20) and Derbe (14:6, 21–23). Subsequently he revisited the area, once passing through swiftly with Timothy, saying nothing (16:6), and later going “from place to place” in the region, “strengthening the disciples” (18:23).

In the first two cities there were Jews who were opposed to the preaching of Paul and Barnabas: they persecuted them in Antioch and attempted to stone them in Iconium. However, such figures are common in Acts, for in almost every place Paul encounters such Jewish opposition. We learn no specifics of the Galatian churches from the Acts accounts.

Paul argues that the gospel he proclaims brings believers into the unity of being “one in Christ” (3:28). This unity overshadows all divisions—as the most famous words in this letter declare, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (3:28). See https://johntsquires.com/2022/06/19/inclusion-welcome-unity-gal-3-pentecost-2c/

The threat against this unity has arisen through the insistence of these teachers, that true faith requires, first, circumcision. This is the group which Paul calls “the circumcision faction” (2:12; compare Acts 15:1, 5). They are the ones whom Paul blames for the destructive behaviour of the believers in Galatia, as they bite and devour one another, because they have been (in Paul’s view) bewitched and confused. (So much for the wonderful days of the “golden era” of the early church … … …)

Paul has much to say about the teaching of these people, identifying circumcision as the central issue, but actually dealing with a whole set of matters regarding the place of the Jewish Torah, the law, in the communities which recognised Jesus as Messiah. Paul comes back to this is his final chapter of the letter, which is what the lectionary offers us on the Sunday after next … so more musings on that, next week.

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Refugee Week 2022: a time to seek Healing

Refugee Week is held each year, providing an opportunity to highlight aspects of the refugee experience and help the broader community to understand what it is like to be a refugee.

This year, Refugee Week runs from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June. Healing is the theme of Refugee Week 2022. This theme builds on a recognition of the importance of human connections, which has been underscored by the current pandemic. 

The website for this year’s Refugee Week says, “Mainstream and refugee communities alike can draw upon shared hardship to heal wounds, to learn from each other and to move forward. Healing can occur through storytelling, through community and also through realisation of our intrinsic interconnectedness as individuals.”

The first Refugee Week events were organised in Sydney in 1986 by Austcare (Australians Caring for Refugees). Austcare’s mission is to assist refugees overseas, displaced people and those affected by landmines to rebuild their lives, through the expert delivery of development programs in partnership with local communitities and other agencies.

In 1987, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) became a co-organiser of the week, and the week became a national event from 1988. RCOA took on responsibility for the national coordination of Refugee Week from 2004.

According to the UNHCR, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, there are now 89.3 million forcibly displaced people, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order in their countries of origin. (A year ago, the figure was 82.4 million forcibly displaced people.)

35 million of these people are children, aged under 18 years. 1 million of these children were born as refugees; in the years 2018 to 2020, an average of between 290,000 and 340,000 children were born into a refugee life per year.

Over half of these people (53.2 million) are classified as “internally displaced”, meaning that they are homeless within their own country. 27.1 million are officially classified as refugees, meaning that they are “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” This is the definition in the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees—an international agreement which Australia signed in 1951, the year it was published.

These statistics, from the UNHCR, illustrate
the significant rise, globally, of displaced people,
refugees, and asylum seekers in the past decade.

A further 4.6 million people are classified as asylum seekers. Under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to seek asylum The 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits states from imposing penalties on those entering ‘illegally’ who come directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened. (Terms such as ‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘boat people’ are both inaccurate and unhelpful—even though they appear in the media with saddening regularity, they are terms that should be avoided.)

See https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/1951-refugee-convention.html

More than two thirds of all refugees currently under the UNHCR’s mandate come from just five countries: the Syrian Arabic Republic (6.7 million), Venezuela (4.0 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.2 million), and Myanmar (1.1 million).

The countries which are currently hosting the most number of refugees are Turkey (3.6 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.4 million), Germany (1.1 million), Sudan (just over 1 million), and the Islamic Republic of Iran (just under 1 million). Developing countries host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, and the Least Developed Countries provide asylum to 27 per cent of the total.

In the last full year (2020–2021), Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program was set at 13,750 places. We willingly accept this amount of incoming refugees, and recognise the value that such people do bring to the Australian society. we have fallen victim to the fear pedalled by unscrupulous elements in society, and in government, over the past decade, about the “hordes” of people seeking the safety of refuge in ur country.

In Australia, the most enduring myth about people seeking asylum is that most arrive by boat. They don’t. The clear fact is that most people seeking asylum arrive by air. It’s time for us to throw overboard the fear of people who come here seeking refuge and asylum on boats, and recognise that the fear fuelled by right-wing agitators over the past decade has not served us well at all.

Adhering to the provisions of the Refugee Convention, as a,country, would be an excellent step,for us to take this year. That would be a significant step towards Healing in our national life.

See stories and additional statistics at https://www.refugeeweek.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/RCOA-Refugee-Myths-and-Facts-2022-WEB.pdf

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Inclusion. Welcome. Unity. (Gal 3; Pentecost 2C)

My sermon for the 45th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia, preached at the Tuggeranong Uniting Church on 19 June 2022

*****

On the Sunday closest to 22 June every year, across this continent, people gather to celebrate the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia. And as it happens, today the lectionary offers us a section of one of Paul’s letters, from our New Testament, which is quite relevant. It’s from the latter part of chapter 3 of his letter to the church in Galatia.

It is good to have this passage as our focus. It speaks to who we want to be, together, as the church. It is a word for our times. In fact, I think that this passage could well express the fundamental calling of the Uniting Church. It taps into many of those key things that are at the heart of our DNA as the UCA. (You might have read what I wrote about this in the newsletter this week, or on our website; see https://tuc.org.au/conversations/the-dna-of-the-uca/)

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written in the midst of an intense and ferocious debate within the early movement that had been started by Jesus. It was a time of great transition. Things were changing. Old practices were being challenged. New practices were being proposed.

In Galatia, a region in the area we today would call Turkey, the communities of new believers were practising Circumcision as a sign of their faith in Jesus. That was how Jewish people had long signalled their faith, by circumcising their infant males. Jesus himself was circumcised. So it made sense to the believers in Galatia to require that any males who professed faith in Jesus would be circumcised.

This practice came under criticism. In Galatia, as in many other places where the good news of the Jesus movement had been proclaimed, baptism was being proposed as a new ritual, to mark the new faith of the growing numbers of the followers of Jesus.

The argument about circumcision has behind it the issue as to how much, or how little, of the Jewish Law should apply to believers within that movement – those whom we now call the early Christians. This was an incredibly contentious issue at the time, which caused much dispute. Galatians is a letter that was written in the heat of this intense debate; so, at many points, it bears more evidence of rash fury than it does of considered reflection on the part of Paul.

Paul’s language in Galatians is ferocious. He accuses the Galatian believers of being fools who have been bewitched by deceivers; he attacks them for biting and devouring one another; he criticises them for urging Gentile converts to be circumcised and to adopt full adherence to the Torah. This is no gentle, reflective spiritual meditation; this is full-on partisan polemics! Nevertheless, it is part of the collection of letters that were included, long ago, in the canon of our scriptures. We are called to hear it, read it, and reflect on it.

So it is wonderful to find, right within the midst of this turbulent flow of argument and disputation, that we come across comments that do provide cause for reflection; ideas that do invite deeper consideration; insights that do offer the opportunity for spiritual growth to those who would read, ponder, and reflect.

In today’s passage, we find these two well-known verses from the third chapter of this letter: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27–28).

Here, Paul sets out a vision for people of faith; a vision for believers within community; we would say, a vision for the church. It could well be our central mission statement, as the Uniting Church in Australia, for we so much value grace-filled inclusiveness, we so strongly reject divisive and judgemental stances, we so yearn to live in accord with this grand vision, where all belong to a welcoming and loving community.

It is a vision that should resonate with us here at Tuggeranong. In this congregation, we work to ensure that people are welcomed and included. The door is open to all who want to walk through it and gather with us. And such people do walk through the door: people of Anglo heritage, of Islander heritage, of Indian and Asian heritage; people of mature age, those “in their prime” (yes, that’s most of us!), those who participate regularly in Girls’ Brigade, and those in the very early years of their lives.

In the fellowship of this congregation, we have people who identify as heterosexual and those who identify as homosexual; those who have transitioned genders, those who are intersex, those who prefer the pronoun “they” to “he” or “she”. Rainbow Christian Alliance offers a safe place for such folks, as well as this morning worship gathering. We have in our midst people for whom life has been a struggle, and those who have been blessed with good health and happy relationships throughout.

People from this Tuggeranong congregation offer ministry to those at Karralika who are grappling with issues in their life, to those who are finding it hard to make ends meet and value the opportunities to shop at Red Dove, or to collect food parcels, and to those who simply want a weekly time of friendly companionship over a meal. All of these activities, and more, indicate that we are open, welcoming, inclusive. This resonates with the vision of the church that Paul long ago articulated.

And it indicates that we are, as we have prayed earlier, heading towards being a church that “dreams ambitiously, loves with purpose, and dances with danger … that lives the politics of the kingdom and discovers the beauty of humanity, that loves to bless the stranger … and has courage to step out in faith … as God’s companions on this way”. [Prayer by Rocky Hamilton, abbotsford.org.uk]

Paul’s vision of the church is one of harmony, inclusion, unity. Yet some were clinging to the old practices, of circumcision, while others were seeking to move on, through practising baptism. Paul envisages great changes within the community of faith, because of Jesus. If the people in Galatia had failed to achieve this change, nevertheless the vision stood firm; Paul envisaged a community that would bring together strikingly disparate opposites.

In this community, the religious differences of Jew and Gentile would matter no more; the different levels of social status, of people living in freedom and those serving as slaves, would become irrelevant; and the societal roles and expectations associated with the gender of a person—male or female—would no longer function as dominant. These three conditions of difference would melt away, within the community of faith, into a cohesive unity of co-operation and interconnection. This was a huge change to take place all those centuries ago.

Indeed, as we ponder these three key instances of the way in which difference would disappear, we might even push it further: is this vision not simply one for the church, but even one for society as a whole? Might it be that the vision, the hope, which Paul set out in his letter to the Galatians, could be brought about within the patterns of living and relating right across his society? Was Paul passionate, not only about partisan points of religious practice, but also – and more significantly – about visionary ideals for human society as a whole?

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” – this unity within the church might well become a model for harmony within society. Certainly, that is the way that the church has interpreted this statement in the centuries since Paul wrote it.

The church of the late first century continued the battle begun in the time of Paul; over time, Jews and gentiles were equally welcomed within most of the faith communities of the ancient world.

The church of the Enlightenment was at the forefront of the movement to end the slave trade, to enable black Africans to live unhindered by white masters seeking to profit from selling them as slaves.

And the western church from the later part of the 20th century onwards has been active alongside many other community organisations to ensure that the opportunities available to women were not less than those available to men.

In each of these battles, the church at large has understood Paul’s words to the Galatians to be words for both the church, and for the society as a whole. It is a grand vision. Today in our society, we are pursuing this vision particularly in relation to gender and sexual identity, a conversation which has been to the fore in society in recent years, a conversation in which the Uniting Church has played a key role as a faith organisation.

Inclusion. Welcome. Unity. One in Christ Jesus. May this be a reality for us, in this community of faith, and amongst the people of the place where you live, sleep, eat, work, and rest.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27–28).

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See also

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For freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians, Pentecost 2C, 3C, 4C)

As the epistle is the lectionary for this Sunday and the following two Sundays comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, here is an Introduction to Galatians.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins in a dramatic, striking fashion. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a prayer of thanksgiving, designed to strengthen the relationship between Paul and those to whom he writes.

Not so in Galatians: in place of a friendly thanksgiving, Paul launches straight into a devastating criticism of the Galatians (1:6–9). In quick succession, he criticizes their activities, attacks the beliefs they have adopted from their teachers, and invokes a curse on their heads. What do we make of this language used by Paul?

Strong language is not uncommon in Paul’s letters. It was also widespread amongst the educated class of the day, who had been taught how to mount a strong and effective criticism by the careful use of rhetorical techniques. Rhetoric was taught to privileged young (male) members of Graeco-Roman society—which would have included Paul.  

So Paul uses familiar rhetorical techniques to address the situation in Galatia. Other teachers had visited the Galatian community, and had taught the Christians there things that were at odds with what Paul was teaching. Paul uses rhetoric to persuade the Galatians to dissociate themselves from the teachings that apparently had been so effective amongst them.

If we knew precisely who the Galatians were, what group of teachers had been active amongst them, or what specific matters caused Paul to write this letter, we might be better placed to adjudicate on this matter. Unfortunately, we don’t have this kind of information.

The letter is sent to communities of faith in a whole region (Galatians 1:2), not a single city or town. Acts indicates that Paul visited there with Barnabas: he visited Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14–14:23) and later with Timothy (18.23). But we learn no further specifics of the Galatian churches from Acts. (There is a similar vagueness about the date of the letter: “late 40s or early 50s” is most often cited.)

The key themes of this letter relate to the Law, freedom, and unity.

The gospel that Paul proclaims makes believers “one in Christ”. This unity overshadows all divisions: as the most famous words in this letter declare, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (3:28).

The threat against this unity has arisen through the insistence of other teachers that true faith requires, first, circumcision (2:12; see Acts 15:1, 5). Paul asserts that these other teachers want their followers to be circumcised—although surprisingly, he notes, they themselves “do not obey the law” (6:13).

Paul claims that the “circumcision faction” were preaching “another gospel” (1:6) in which they actually “pervert the gospel” (1:7). He calls them “false believers” (2:4) who have “bewitched” the Galatians (3:1). His vehemence at one point is such that he exclaims, “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (5:12).

Paul’s problem, of course, is that he himself is circumcised, as he mentions at Philippans 3:5 (a fact that he omits when he rehearses his past at Galatians 1:13–14). How can he advocate the opening of the faith to those who are not circumcised, when he himself bears this sign of the covenant?

He insists that the Galatians “become as I am” (4:12), and yet threatens that “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2). What applies to Gentile converts must be different from what is the case amongst Jewish converts.

Circumcision was the pre-eminent sign of the Law for Jewish believers. Paul wants to move the Galatians away from their understanding of the Law. He re-interprets the scriptural passage that lies behind this Jewish custom. Galatians 3:1–5:1 thus contains a tightly-argued, complex argument concerning the Law.

Paul uses the story of Abraham, the patriarch to whom the requirement of circumcision was first commanded, as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17). He interprets this story without once mentioning circumcision (3:6–18). It is the faith of Abraham, in believing God’s promise, that secured him righteousness (3:6–7) and opens the promise to Gentiles (3:8–9). It is that promise which is now fulfilled in Christ (3:13–14, 16, 29). This is the pathway to freedom in faith.

This letter demonstrates that freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul offers this freedom anew to the believers in Galatia. The Gospel frees them from the complex web of duties and responsibilities under the Law.

The call to freedom (5:1, 13) becomes a platform for ethical guidance, grounded in love (5:13–14), manifested in living by the spirit (5:22–26), not by the flesh (5:16–21). This ethic requires believers to “bear one another’s burdens” (6:2) and to “work for the good of all” (6:10). In this way, they will become “a new creation” (6:15). The gospel, which brings liberation in community (3:28), will also lead to liberation for the creation (6:15).

Galatians is important because of the central theme of freedom that it articulates. In what ways does your faith provide you with a sense of freedom?

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The Senate, house of review, place of hope

“To fulfil the role the Constitution allows the Senate in relation to the government, the Senate is able to scrutinise and judge the activities, policies and legislation of the government. This is why the Senate is known as a house of review.” So reads a section of the office Parliament of Australia website explaining the nature and function of The Senate. (https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/Senate_Briefs/Brief10)

I have known this principle, and voted in accordance with this principle, for decades. As well as holding as my personal principle to “always vote below the line” (something that has been quite challenging at various times, given the size of the ballot paper!), I have also maintained that the Senate should be a real house of review—not just a rubber stamp, like the House of Lords is in the British Parliament.

The reality is that, at times throughout the past 120 years, the Senate has indeed been simply a “rubber stamp”, acting to endorse the legislation introduced and debated in the lower house. Those times, especially, when the dominant party in the lower house has also had control of the Senate, have been times when the Senate has seemed to have lived up to its most famous description as “unrepresentative swill”. (Take a bow, Paul Keating.)

So in order to ensure that there is at least some measure of review that might occur when a bill is introduced into the Senate, I have held the practice of never voting for the same party in the lower house, as in the Senate. It has been my personal contribution to ensure (vainly, in many instances) that there are at least someone in the Senate who might advocate for a point of view different from what is advocated by the party in Government, and what is (often) blindly expressed as opposition to that point of view by those who, well, are in fact, the Opposition.

So it has been with great pleasure that I have heard the news, today, that in the ACT (the jurisdiction where I currently live), one of the two Senators elected will bring precisely that function of review—not toeing the Government line, not unthinkingly adopting the resistance of the Opposition, but considering each piece of legislation on its merits.

I’m referring, of course, to the election of David Pocock as the second Senator for the ACT. He was elected alongside Katy Gallagher, of the Labor Party—a fine Senator, in my eyes, who has been an excellent representative for the ACT over her term in parliament (as, indeed, is my local member in Bean, David Smith).

Ever since the ACT has elected senators, the second Senate spot has been held by the Liberal Party (John Knight—Margaret Reid—Gary Humphries—Zed Seselja). This year, however, Zed Seselja failed in his bid to return to the Senate. And so it is that Zed has dropped off the end of the alphabet (at least, in the ACT)!

Pocock stood as an Independent, with a platform advocating for real action in relation to climate change; the establishment of a national integrity commission; the adoption of what is advocated by the Statement from the Heart to ensure First Nations people have a voice in shaping our nation;

and measures to improve the safety of women and girls in their homes, schools, and workplaces. (He also had other economic measures and more parochial territory matters in his platform.) All of this augurs well for the next three years in Australia—especially if the Labor Government does act in accordance with its rhetoric about climate, integrity, and First Peoples. See https://www.davidpocock.com.au

Alongside the 12 Green senators (who are committed to similar policies) and the two Jacqui Lambie Network senators (Jacqui Lambie herself has a track record of independent thinking about legislation), the Senate is well-placed to be a real house of review that will consider, debate, and advocate for a range of important matters—holding the Government to account, refining legislation and e surging principles are adopted that are in the best interests of the country.

So I’m pleased that my choice has been elected—and that the Senate has a really good chance, over the next three years, of fulfilling its intended purpose.

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The voice of the Lord in the words of the prophets (the season of Pentecost in Year C)

Each year in the long season that stretches “after Pentecost”, the lectionary offers us selections from the prophetic literature of Hebrew Scripture, as companions to the Gospel readings from the orderly account of Luke. It is Luke’s narrative which most directly depicts Jesus speaking as God’s prophet (Luke 7:16; 24:19; Acts 2:30; 3:22).

Many of the prophets of Israel remind us that they speak forth “the voice of the Lord” (Isa 66:6; Jer 42:5–6; Dan 9:9–10; Mic 6:9; Hag 1:12; Zech 6:15). Jesus stands in this tradition, offering words of guidance, challenge, and judgement. He is the way by which, “in these last days, God … has spoken to us” (Heb 1:1–2).

This year, Sunday by Sunday, we are listening to “the voice of the Lord” mediated through a number of prophetic words. In the coming Sundays, the lectionary offers us stories of prophetic voices speaking to the people of the northern kingdom during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

We begin with sections relating to Elijah and Elisha, two great prophets who figure prominently in the history-like narratives of 1—2 Kings (Pentecost 2–4). Elijah encounters God, not in wind or earthquake or fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence” in a cave, where he gains clarity about his task (1 Kings 19:9– 15). Elisha picks the mantle of Elijah after he is taken up (2 Kings 2:13) and demonstrates this as he heals Naaman (2 Kings 5:8–14).

Next, we turn to Amos (Pentecost 5 and 6). Amos, the shepherd of Tekoa, humbly defers “I am no prophet” (Amos 7:14); nevertheless, he castigates those in Israel who “trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land” (Amos 8:4). His most famous prophetic word is the call for “justice and righteousness” (Amos 5:22).

Hosea (Pentecost 7 and 8) was also active in the northern kingdom. The fractured relationship between Israel and the Lord God is mirrored in the naming of his children: “God sows”, “not pitied”, “not my people” (1:2–9). Yet Hosea sings of the love of the Lord for Israel, who “led them with cords of human kindness”, and assures them that God will not abandon them (Hosea 11:1–11). Nevertheless, soon after his long period as prophet, that kingdom would fall.

Then follows is a brief foray (Pentecost 9 and 10) to hear the words of a major and significant prophet of the southern kingdom, Isaiah, who was active from 742 BCE onwards. Isaiah criticises the sinfulness of the people (Isa 1:10-20) and exhorts the people to “learn to do good, seek justice” (Isa 1:17). The vivid “love-song concerning a vineyard” culminates in a potent condemnation that the Lord “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry” (Isa 5:1–7). This cry is a consistent prophetic message.

Then follows a series of passages from the great prophet Jeremiah (Pentecost 11–18). Jeremiah had the misfortune of being called to prophesy just at the time when Israel was crumbling and would be overrun by the Babylonians and sent into exile (721 BCE). He was called to declare words from the Lord, “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10).

Jeremiah is famous for his series of laments about the fate of Jerusalem (“how lonely sits the city … how like a widow she has become”, Lam 1:1); we hear two excerpts from Lamentations at Pentecost 17. In these words, we are invited into the experience of deep lament through the poetic wails of this prophet, as he first envisages, and then experiences, the devastation of exile.

Yet Jeremiah comes to terms with life in a foreign land, amongst people of different customs, speaking a different language, eating different foods, worshipping different gods. He leaves behind the laments of not being in the land that God gave the people; instead, he encourages his fellow-exiles to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile … build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce; take wives and have sons and daughters” (Jer 29:5–7), for the Lord “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer 29:11).

Nevertheless, Jeremiah also speaks a damning word over the people; God, he says, “is a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you” (Jer 18:11). How are we to hear and receive this striking word of the Lord? Yet the prophet “redeems” himself, perhaps, with the famous declaration about “the new covenant … I will write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:31–34)—a passage that a number of New Testament writers refer to in their portrayal of Jesus instigating a “new covenant”.

After Jeremiah, we visit famous words about “the time to come”, spoken by a number of prophets. Joel (Pentecost 20) describes the terrors of the coming time, yet promises that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32). Habakkuk (Pentecost 21) laments “destruction and violence”, yet declares “a vision for the appointed time—the righteous live by their faith” (Hab 1:3–4; 2:3–4).

Haggai (Pentecost 22), living in a time of drought, “spoke to the people with the Lord’s message: I am with you” (Hag 1:10–11, 13). And a much later voice, active well after the return from exile (collected at the end of the book of Isaiah), affirms that God is “about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; Pentecost 23).

These voices sounded forth long ago; their message resonates still with us today. The call for justice and righteousness undergirds the entire narrative of the people of Israel, from the call attributed to Moses in Deut 16:20, “justice, and only justice, shall you follow”; through the words of Amos and Isaiah, into the declarations of Jeremiah and a number of the “minor prophets”.

In the later scriptures in the New Testament, we hear resonances from many of these selected passages in Hebrew Scripture. Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth, stands in this tradition and speaks “the voice of the Lord”, so the call for justice and righteousness sits at the heart of who we are, as people of faith, heirs of this tradition, in the 21st century. As we read and hear these prophetic passages week after week, we are invited to reflect more deeply on how these ancient words, particular to their original time and place, can yet be for us the word of God to us, in our time, in our place.

See further at https:// johntsquires.com/2021/08/16/justice-and-only-justice-you-shall-follow/

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William and Sarah Stubbs, and the Coromandel: remembering, 220 years later

It is 220 years ago today (13 June) since the East India ship Coromandel arrived in the Colony of New South Wales. The ship was captained by Master Alex Stirling and the welfare of all on board was the responsibility of the Ship’s Surgeon, Charles Throsby. The Coromandel had been built in India in 1793 and was owned by Reeve and Green.

In late 1801, the Coromandel was chartered by the Commissioners of Transport in London for the purpose of transporting male convicts, along with a group of free settlers, to the Colony. Also chartered at the same time, for the same purpose, was the ship Perseus, whose Captain was John Davison, with the Ship’s Surgeon being W.S. Fielding.

A painting of the Coromandel

Both ships set out from Portsmouth on 8 February 1802, but it was a false start; after a delay of some days because of the weather, they sailed through the Spithead and into the English Channel on 12 February.

On board the Coromandel were 138 male convicts; 20 civilians provided by the Commissioner to serve as the guards of the prisoners; and a number of free settlers, with their families. On board the Perseus were 114 male convicts; 16 civilians provided by the Commissioner to serve as the guards of the prisoners; and another group of free settlers.

80 of the convicts that sailed on the Coromandel had been held on convict hulks at Gravesend, near the mouth of the River Thames, in terrible conditions. The remainder of the convicted men from various English prisons had been brought to Portsmouth to join the ship.

Six of the free settlers on the Coromandel were married men and with children: James and Jane Davison, with two sons; George Hall and Mary Smith, with one daughter and three sons; John Howe and Frances Ward, with two daughters; Andrew Johnston and Mary Beard, with five sons; William Stubbs and Sarah Wingate, with a son and two daughters; and John Turnbull and Ann Warr, with two sons and two daughters. Also on board were James Mein and his wife Susannah Skene (but without their two children) and Andrew Mein, unmarried.

*****

During the voyage that they undertook to the Colony, all three Stubbs children, as well as a number of other passengers, contracted scarlet fever. Sadly, both Andrew Mein and the youngest Johnston child, Alexander, died of scarlet fever during the voyage.

These men had decided to accept an offer from the English government, set out in a document of January 1798, which George Hall had acquired while living in London. It reads as follows:

We whose names are undersigned acknowledge that, at our own request, we offered ourselves as settlers to go out to N.S.W. with our families on the following terms:

To have our passage found and our families victualled by the Government during the voyage. On our arrival in the Colony we have a grant of 100 acres of land at Port Jackson, or fifty acres at Norfolk Island.

To be victualled and clothed free from the Public Stores for a term of twelve months after being put in possession of our allotments, and to be allowed the labour of two prisoners maintained by the Government for the same term.

After which term we and our families are to be no further expense to the Crown. Likewise we have the same proportion of stock, such grain and agricultural tools as have been furnished to other settlers, together with such other assistance as the Governor need judge proper to afford us.

Outfit for men: 1 jacket, 1 shirt, pair of trousers, pair of shoes, 1 hat.
ditto for women: 1 Jacket, 1 petticoat, 1 shift, pair shoes, 1 cap, 1 handkerchief, Children as above on stores.

In a character reference for William Stubbs, which he brought with him on the journey, five men who knew him certified that he was “a man of honest deportment, of a quiet and industrious disposition and well affected to the excellent constitution of our country”.

*****

The Coromandel departed Portsmouth on 8th February 1802 and arrived in Port Jackson on 13 June 1802. It is said that this was the fastest time for this voyage between 1788 and 1819; it is also noteworthy that the Coromandel was the first convict ship to sail direct to Port Jackson without landing anywhere en route. The Perseus did not arrive in Port Jackson until 4 August 1802.

On 9 August 1802, Philip Gidley King, the third Governor of the Colony, wrote to the Transport Commissioners to inform them that:

The healthy state in which the Coromandel and Perseus arrived requires my particularly pointing out the masters of those ships to your notice. It appears by the log books, surgeon’s diaries and the unanimous voice of every person on board those ships of the utmost kindness to the convicts.

King continued with his positive appraisal of these ships’ journeys:

This, with the proper application of the comforts Government had so liberally provided for them and the good state of health all the people were in, induced the master of the Coromandel to proceed without stopping at any port. He arrived here in four months and one day, bringing every person in a state of high health, and fit for immediate labour; and although it appears that the Perseus necessarily stopped at Rio and the Cape, yet the convicts were in as good condition as those on board the Coromandel; nor can I omit the great pleasure felt by myself and the other visiting officers at the grateful thanks expressed by the prisoners and passengers for the kind attention and care they had received from the masters and surgeons.

*****

After disembarking, William Stubbs took his family to the Hawkesbury River region, about 45 miles northwest of the small settlement known as Sydney. He took up a grant of 100 acres at Crescent Reach. The other freemen and their families also travelled to this area, where they had each been given grants of land in the region known as Portland Head. The land granted to Stubbs was, unbeknownst to him, liable to flooding.

In time, the men from the Coromandel would join with others settled in the region to erect a chapel where they could gather to worship in accordance with their Reformed faith. That church building (erected in 1809) still exists; it lays claim to being the oldest Christian church still standing in Australia, and the first non-conformist church built in the Colony. The name chosen for the church, Ebenezer, means “God is our help”.

Ebenezer Uniting (formerly Presbyterian) Church

See https://www.ebenezerchurch.org.au

But before this, and after the Stubbs family had arrived at their land grant and William had cleared his land and planting crops, the Stubbs farm and home was raided by people of the the local Aboriginal clan four times in 12 months. It is thought, now, that a cave on a neighbouring property was a sacred site for the local Aboriginal people. At the time, this would not have been known by Stubbs or by those granting the land to him.

Relations between blacks and whites at this time, early in the development of the British colony, were, understandably, very tense; after all, the British families had been given grants to settle the area which had been the country of the Dharug people for millennia.

A local history website notes that “The river, which they [the Dharug] called Derrubbin, was a focal point as a source of food, i.e. fish, eels, water birds, and mussels, and transport, in their bark canoes. Yams, a staple food, grew along the banks of the river. On the sandstone platforms they engraved images of animals and mythological figures and in the rock shelters they displayed their ochre and charcoal art. The Hawkesbury was also a source of stones for axes and pebbles for making barbs, points and scrapers.” See http://westernsydneylibraries.nsw.gov.au/hawkesbury/history.html

In the early years of the Colony, in June 1789, Lieutenant Watkin Tench had sailed up the Hawkesbury River with Captain Arthur Phillip. Tench observed that “Natives were found on the banks in several parts, many of whom were labouring under the smallpox”. Smallpox, introduced by the British settlers, would prove to be a major factor in drastically reducing the Aboriginal population; one estimate is that amongst the Dharug people, up to 70% of the population died in the outbreak of 1789. See https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/smallpox-epidemic

An engraving of British officers visiting an Aboriginal woman in 1789
(from the collection of the National Library of Australia)

Another way of disrupting the Aboriginal population came from the settlers erecting houses and building fences on the land granted to them, and planting crops and running animals on their newly-established farms. In this way, British settlers interfered with the traditional lifestyle of the local people—whether unwittingly, or intentionally. And by fencing off part of the land that was so important to the culture and spirituality and lifestyle of the Dharug people, Stubbs and his fellow settlers had confronted the central element of Aboriginal culture: the land. “Aboriginal people feel a belonging to land rather than ownership of it. They respect it and refer to it as their mother.”

See https://www.cumberland.nsw.gov.au/history-and-land

*****

The scene was set for a conflict, between the longstanding traditional custodians of the land, respecting the land as their Mother, and the newly-arrived colonists, eager to replicate the best of life that they had known in the Mother Country. In this place, as in countless places across the continent, as British colonists settled on the land, they were regarded by those long- present as invaders, taking away the close knit connection between people and country.

It is said that 16 white settlers were murdered by the Dharug people during the early period of white settlement on the land around the Hawkesbury river. The number of Dharug people killed in these battles is not known. Certainly, by April 1805, Governor King had warned that “the natives … have in an unprovoked and inexcusable manner lately committed the most brutal murder on some defenceless settlers”. He instructed that if approached by the indigenous inhabitants, “the settlers are required to assist each other in repelling those visitors”. Relations had become antagonistic and brittle.

The Hawkesbury a river, a drawing by William Bradley
(from his journal A Voyage to New South Wales,
c.1802, Mitchell Library)

It is reported that on 28 May 1805, the Stubbs house was plundered of all its contents by Dharug people. The next day, William crossed the river in a canoe; it capsized, he struggled to swim to the bank, but was unable to do so. His eight-year old son, William, witnessed the drowning.

Because all the food in the house had been taken in the raid on the house, William’s wife, Sarah, had travelled to Parramatta to obtain provisions for the family. On her return, she discovered that she was now a widow with four small children to raise—William, Sarah, and Elizabeth, who were each born in England; and Keturah, who had been born in the Colony at Portland Head, just two months earlier, on 31 March 1804.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of Sunday 2 Jun 1805 reported the sequence of events of these two days in great detail (see the extract below).

Sarah Stubbs was initially dependent on the goodwill and support of friends. With a young family to raise, however, it is no surprise that she soon would marry again. Her second husband was James Painter, a carpenter who had travelled to the Colony on the Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet. They had no children.

Each of Sarah’s children married at St Matthew’s Church of England in Windsor. William and Elizabeth were married on the same day in 1819, and Keturah two years later in 1821. On 12 August 1822, Sarah married Thomas Yarwood, a convict from a Cheshire, who had been transported to the Colony on the Indefatigable in 1814. Elizabeth’s husband, Jeremiah Sullivan, was also a convict, transported from Cork City, Ireland, on the Three Bees in 1814. William and Keturah married children of convicts.

All four Stubbs children had children of their own, producing 33 grandchildren for Sarah, although five died in childhood, and six were born after Sarah’s death in December 1838. Son-in-law Thomas Woods (Yarwood) had died the year before her, in August 1837; it is saidthat he died at the hands of the Dharug clan in yet another raid that ended badly for the freed-convict-became-landholder.

The line of descent from William and Sarah continued through Sarah and Thomas Yarwood, who changed his surname to Woods; then through their son, William James Woods (1833–1915), who married Annie Keenan (1837–1913); their daughter, Ada Sarah Woods (1861–1941), who married William Owen Newbury (1850–1915); and on to their daughter, Mabel Newbury (1901–1998), who married Fred Lowe (1889–1971).

*****

Descendants of Sarah Stubbs and Thomas Woods (Yarwood)
at the 2015 Stubbs Family Reunion at Ebenezer Church

Information about the annual Stubbs reunion at Ebenezer Church is at https://freepages.rootsweb.com/~stubbs1802/genealogy/

*****

ACCIDENTAL DEATH.

On Wednesday se’nnight Wm. Stubbs, a settler on the River Hawkesbury, was unfortunately drowned in crossing that river in a canoe ; a second person was accompanying him, and when in about the center the vehicle unexpectedly upset, and the above unfortunate man depending on his ability to swim on shore, advised his companion not to quit the boat, as it would be sure to drift, on the banks. He did so, and saved his life and Mr. Stubbs, after very nearly gaining the shore, unfortunately became entangled among a cluster of reeds, from which unable to extricate himself, it was his fate to perish in the presence of one of his children, who witnessed the melancholy disaster from the bank.

The accident is the more afflicting, as the deceased leaves a widow and large family to deplore his untimely fate ; the circumstances that led to which still heighten the calamity. The house was the day before surrounded by natives, at whose appearance Mrs. Stubbs being excessively alarmed, she fled towards the river side, and would have precipitated herself into the stream, had she not been prevented by assurances from one of the natives that she or her infants should not be harmed.

They afterwards gutted the house of its whole contents, and retreated with the plunder, and as soon as the deceased was made acquainted with what had happened, were closely pursued towards the Mountains, but in vain, as no single article of the property was recovered. As not a requisite to comfort remained to the family, Mrs. Stubbs set out that night for Parramatta, in order to procure a few requisites more immediately wanting ; and during her absence the unfortunate event of her husband’s death took place.

In addition to the lamentable circumstances that tend to multiply embarrassment upon the above unfortunate family, we have feelingly to mention, that within the space of twelve months they have been four times bitterly distressed by hostile natives, who have at either time stripped them of domestic comforts or “swept their fields before them.”

The poor child who sadly witnessed the dying struggles of an unfortunate parent is a fine boy, nearly eight years old; and eldest of four helpless Orphans in the dispensation of the Divine Will left to deplore a father’s loss. For poignant affliction, happy for the unfortunate, Heaven still provides by bestowing its bounties upon some among the many, who by the most delightful application give testimony, that all Mankind are not insensible of what they owe to Providence, and when distress like this presents her claim to sensibility, generously step forward to discharge the debt.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 2 Jun 1805, Page 2.

*****

Sources:

https://www.freesettlerorfelon.com/convict_ship_coromandel_1802.htm

https://www.freesettlerorfelon.com/convict_ship_perseus_1802.htm

https://australianroyalty.net.au/tree/purnellmccord.ged/individual/I52434/William-Stubbs

The Story of William Stubbs and Sarah Wingate, a Coromandel 1802 Family (vol. 1)

The Children of William Stubbs and Sarah Wingate, a Coromandel 1802 Family (vol. 2)

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Rufinus and Sophilla, on the Spirit, Wisdom, and the Trinity (Trinity Sunday Year C)

The following dialogue was written by my wife, the Rev. Elizabeth Raine, and myself, and was presented at the Tuggeranong Uniting Church in the ACT on Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022.

The dialogue does not come from the time of the Bible, when Christians were a tiny minority group; but a little later, in the mature years of the Holy Roman Empire, when Christianity had become the state religion across the western world.

The character who opens the dialogue is Rufinus, who was present at the council of Nicea in the year 325, when the first formal declaration of the doctrine of the trinity was made by a council of bishops. Rufinus was one of the scribes at the council, taking notes for the eminent historian, Eusebius of Caesarea.

Rufinus is full of enthusiasm for what has taken place at Nicea. He is anxious to address you on the topic. But he is quickly joined by a mysterious and rather shadowy character, who questions the whole foundations of the Nicaean decision on this topic. She is a devotee of Sophia, or Lady Wisdom, who is described in Proverbs 8 (the Hebrew Scripture reading for Trinity Sunday) and other texts from the “wisdom literature”. We subsequently learn that this character is named Sophilla.

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JOHN: What do we mean when we speak of the Trinity? This is a good question, and one frequently asked by Christians. 

The first thing to say is that Christianity is unique. We believe that God is One; but we also hold that the one God has three distinct “persons”: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This unique threefold God of Christian belief is referred to as the Trinity (from Latin trinitas, “three”).

It is true that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. However, we believe that some of the texts of the bible point to this doctrine. Yetwhile this concept is rather scarce in the biblical texts, there is no reason we should doubt the words of the early church fathers, where it appears often.

We should consider the early councils of the church—and especially the one held at Nicaea under the patronage of our great emperor, Constantine—to be authoritative. In these councils, doctrine is formally and correctly defined by the doctors and fathers of the church. 

The Nicene Creed declares Jesus to be: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” That is the trinity in essence. It is elegant in its simplicity!

ELIZ: Now just a minute. This is not as beautifully simple as you claim,at all. There are lots of reasons for questioning this doctrine of the Trinity. For example, as you said, the word ‘trinity’ is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. And think about it – it simply doesn’t make philosophical sense. It isn’t taught in the scripture of the Jewish people, the Old Testament. These were the scriptures of Jesus, and he never mentioned such a thing. Whoever heard of such strangeness as this ‘one in three’ business? 

Further, the idea of trinity is not compatible with monotheism. In fact, this is really why it was invented. The church fathers needed to explain away why they were worshipping two gods—God the Father, the supreme God; and Jesus, also regarded as a God. This would be polytheism. Sothey threw in the holy spirit for good measure, and came up with this notion of the “three in one”. 

JOHN: Well, you may be right about the word ‘trinity’ not being biblical, but I have to point out that the concept is found indirectly in various statements in the Bible. The three figures of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are associated in such great New Testament passages as the Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).

It is also found in the benediction of the apostle Paul: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14). So there: it’s in the Bible!

ELIZ: Well, if we are going to claim that the holy spirit is divine, we must acknowledge, then, that the spirit is a female. She is sent by God, to increase human understanding, to bring change and renewal, and to announce the will of God.

JOHN: She???!!!! What do you mean, she? The holy spirit, the blessed third person of the trinity, is male. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Three persons in one being. Of course the spirit is male. How could it be otherwise? All three persons are male. And come to think of it, just who are you anyway, to be putting forth such ridiculous ideas?

ELIZ: I thought you would never ask. I am Sophilla, handmaiden to Wisdom, and one of the keepers of the feminine tradition. Wisdom has been described in many and various ways—as an aspect of God, as a divine entity existing in her own right, even as something approaching a feminine deity. All of these have some truth to them.

Wisdom’s primary function is, of course, to be a mediating force between God and the world. Wisdom is very old; as it says in the book of Proverbs: The Lord created [Wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old (Proverbs 8:22). Wisdom also functions as a vehicle of God’s self-revelation, granting knowledge of God to those who pursue her.

JOHN: I am sorry, this is getting out of hand here. What you are talking about is the function of Jesus. These are the things Jesus does. Let us consider these verses which come early in the letter to the Colossians: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. This makes it very clear.

ELIZ: All that this makes clear is that the New Testament writers usurped Wisdom’s function and gave it to Jesus. The name of Wisdom was used by you men at the early Church gathering at Nicaea to try and explain how a ‘three persons in one’ related to the created world. You just conveniently forgot that Wisdom is female. 

JOHN: My dear Sophilla, the spirit, as part of the trinity, is masculine. The parakletos, the comforter, the spirit, is of masculine gender. This is female bias gone mad!

ELIZ: I would remind you that the holy spirit was alive and active in the Old Testament, and the ruach, which is one of her names, is most definitely feminine gender in the language of Hebrew. The ruach elohim is literally the Spirit of God who descends on kings and prophets alike, anointing them for the role of leadership of the people. And the ruach is female!

Further, we find in the Hebrew scriptures the presence of two other figures: the Shekinah, also known as the glory of God, who always indicates God’s “presence”; and the bat kol, “the Daughter of the Voice,” which is how any proclamation made by God is described. Both of them are female characters. Every action of God in the ancient writings is feminine. What have you to say to that?

JOHN: What are you talking about, with bat kols and Shekinahs? These are not words I have heard; we did not discuss these at Nicea.

ELIZ: Let me spell it out for you then. The Hebrew word ruach means “spirit”, just as the Latin word spiritus means “spirit”; but in Hebrew, ruach is a feminine noun, while in Latin, spiritus is a masculine noun. The Holy Spirit changed its sex somewhere in the last few centuries!

Rabbi Hillel, who was a contemporary of Jesus, understood that the Hebrew understanding of Wisdom and Spirit was the same as the Greek understanding of the Logos, and therefore she was feminine. It was Paul and John who first claimed that the Word or Logos was Christ, and therefore masculine.

In the Eastern Church, the Spirit was always considered to have a feminine nature. She was the life-bearer of the faith. But instead of recognizing this feminine aspect of the divine, you have tried to satisfy women throughout the world by presenting them with models of martyrs and virgins, thereby setting a standard that no normal female can aspire to. You tried to turn Wisdom into the mother of Jesus, rather than seeing her as true divinity.

JOHN: You still haven’t explained what you mean by bat kol.

ELIZ: The bat kol, the ‘daughter of the voice’, was the voice of God that proclaimed God’s will and intention, God’s judgments and his promises, the warnings and commands of God to various people, sometimes even to all of Israel. Jewish tradition always spoke of the bat kol. And every time, she is a woman!

But later Christian writers have taken the bat kol and made her masculine! The ruach, the spirit of God, who descended from the heavens was changed into the pneuma, or spiritus, and made masculine. The qualities of Wisdom and the Shekinah were grafted onto Jesus – again the feminine became masculine. And the bat kol, the voice of God and the means of communication between God and the people, morphed into a male.

So you could say that all three ‘persons’ of this newly invented trinity were in fact, originally female. And did I mention that the bat kol is represented in Jewish tradition by the symbol of the dove?


Returning now to the 21st century: This view of the Trinity that we have presented today is not meant to discredit the traditional doctrine. On the contrary; what we hope to have done is to open up new possibilities for further exploration of the idea of the divine attributes and the different aspects of God. The trinity can be a stimulus for such exploration in our thinking about God, and how we experience God’s presence in our lives.

One important consequence of what we have noted today, is that instead of keeping this feminine aspect of the divine, early Christian male leaders have tried to satisfy women throughout the world by presenting them with models of martyrs and virgins, thereby setting a standard that the vast majority of females cannot aspire to.

Wisdom fast lost her independence and feisty nature, and the meek, obedient woman, characterized by the mother of Jesus, was held up as the model to which all women should strive to be.

It should be no surprise, then, that Christian faith is seen by some as being at odds with women who identify as feminist. Women are looking for new ways to know themselves and to connect with God.

So the Wisdom of scripture, who offers wise counsel, who offers an authentic feminine experience and interpretation of the divine, has grown more relevant to feminist Christian life. She reflects real women’s real experiences of community in the world, and the characteristics of justice, grace and love that can be said to be the preservers of community, a role most often occupied by women.

Unlike the virgin martyrs of early Christianity, Wisdom is a cosmic figure delighting in the dance of creation, a master craftswoman and teacher of justice. She is a leader of her people and accompanies them on their way through history. In a most unladylike way, she raises her voice in public places and calls everyone who would hear her. She transgresses boundaries, celebrates life, and nourishes those who will become her friends. Her cosmic house is without walls and her table is set for all.

Wisdom offers us a radical example, a subversive model, and a disturbing presence. She is not confined to a building, but is out there in the public space, meeting people where they are, and offering a spirituality of roads and journeys, of public places and open borders, of nourishment and celebration, of justice and equality – rather than a spirituality of categories, doctrines, systems and boxes that have come to categorise the Christian church. Instead of an enclosed gathering, she offers a space where social and spiritual change can take place.

It is a spirituality that offers connection and integration, rather than the separation and differentiation that has characterised patriarchal Christianity for centuries. As such, Wisdom spirituality has the potential to transform the church into a life-giving force in our community.

I trust we will continue to encounter Wisdom, and learn from her, again and again in the coming years.

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Curiosity about the identity of Jesus, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the biblical witness (for Trinity Sunday Year C)

This coming Sunday, we will be celebrating Trinity Sunday in worship, and hearing from biblical passages which our ancestors in the faith have assumed to provide some “biblical basis” for the Doctrine of The Trinity.

I’ve blogged before about my views on the Trinity (see “Do you believe in the Triune God?” – An Informed Faith (johntsquires.com) and The missional opportunity of Trinity Sunday – An Informed Faith (johntsquires.com)) … so this is lucky number three post about the three-in-one!!!

This year, I’ve been musing on the words of my colleague, the Rev. Dr Peter Walker (Principal of United Theological College in Sydney). Peter has contributed a fine set of commentaries and questions for the week leading up to this Sunday, for With Love to the World, a daily bible reading resource that I edit. In reflecting on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Peter writes:

“The church has pursued its curiosity about the identity of Jesus, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the biblical witness, for two-thousand years. John’s contribution is critical. With John’s help, the church has come to believe that the relationship of Jesus to the One who sent him is even deeper than what might be named as the sensitivity of a son or daughter to their father or mother. So, too, the relationship of the Spirit is more profoundly entwined to God than is captured by ‘Advocate’.”

I’m accepting of the notion that the way God relates to others—Jesus of Nazareth, the spirit of holiness, the woman of Wisdom (Prov 8, also offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday), and even to each and every human being—can’t be fully contained within one title or one phrase or even a single proposition. So we need multiple terms, multiple ways of envisaging how God relates to us, as well as to Jesus and Spirit, and shouldn’t be limited to just one way (or a small, finite set of ways) to describe that relationship.

Nevertheless, we have biblical passages that have been “used” throughout Christian history to provide the “building blocks” from scripture for the systems and doctrines that human beings have devised, over time, to explain and interpret the nature of God and the ways that God relates to us. So I think that it is incumbent upon us to deal with those scriptural passages in ways that are sensitive to the original intentions of the documents in which they appear, and cogniscent of the dangers of overwhelming these texts by placing upon them layer after layer of later speculative and systematising thoughts. 

I like the turn of phrase that Peter uses—our “curiosity about the identity of Jesus”—and have been thinking about how we might foster that curiosity, as we engage with the biblical texts that are offered—and perhaps, also, as we resist the path into an “easy acceptance” of what those who have gone before us have decided that these passages must mean.

I think Peter exemplifies very well this open attitude towards the biblical text, in dealing with John 16:12-15. He writes, “The phrase of Jesus in v.15a [“all that the Father has is mine”] is unconditional: all things of the Father, whatsoever, are also of the Son. The divine Word, born to flesh, is one with God. And the Spirit, whom Jesus says takes and declares ‘what is mine’ and therefore the Father’s (v.15), is also one with God. ‘Father’ is John’s preferred term for God, ‘son’ his preferred term for Jesus. This gendered, finite language is pushed to its limits, of course, in any attempt to describe the infinite glory of divine life.”

That last sentence identifies one of the critical issues relating to the notion of Trinity in our own times. The strongly-gendered language reflects the hegemony of patriarchal power in society, both at the time that the scriptural texts were being written, and in the centuries when “The Church Fathers” undertook the work of interpreting, collating, systematising, and theorising, in relation to the nature of God—to say nothing, of course, of the way that patriarchal dominance has continued into the 20th century, and has, in so many ways, resisted the challenges brought against it from the 1960s onwards into the 21st century. We need to recognise its limits and be willing to explore beyond those limits.

There is still work to be do to re-gender our language, both about God, and about us as human beings. There is work crying out to be done to deconstruct the patriarchal power structures of our times and, alongside that, to reconstruct an understanding of people, and of God, that is not limited, constrained, and diminished, by slavish adherence to language and concepts that held sway in past eras. If we really are in the post-Christendom era, as many now propose, then we need to be willing to enter into this process and to embrace the unexpected, challenging, and enlivening results that we will experience.

Peter concludes his comments on John 16: “Through Word and Spirit, divine life has and is unfolding among us and throughout the world while still enfolded, all the while, in the Creator. How fortunate we are to have the Spirit of truth as our guide as we seek to bear faithful witness to the wonder and work of God.” That might be the best gift that we have from our focus, this Sunday, on the Trinity: a deep and abiding awareness that our perception of “the divine life” is growing, deepening, expanding, transforming, as we faithfully undertake our witness to God, insofar as we know God, in our lives. 

We don’t have to rest content with the “God as Father” language, nor even with “Jesus as Son” (although his maleness is not in dispute). We don’t have to limit ourselves to the ten, or twelve, or 42, or however-many names of God we can discern within the Bible; nor do we have to limit our understanding of “the person and work of Jesus” to eight key Christological titles and seven main theories of the atonement (or whatever numbers we find to be relevant).

Our explorations can canvass both the various scriptural passages and the ongoing patristic and medieval and reformed and enlightenment and contemporary formulations of God as three-in-one and more … and canvass them in ways that uses them, not as limitations on what is approved or orthodox, but rather, as springboards to wider, creative, exploratory thinking.

So may that be our experience this Sunday, when “Trinity” swims into view in our worship services and bible readings.

*****

See also

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50 Years of NAIDOC WEEK 5 (1998–2006)

John Howard came to power in 1996, after 13 years of Labor dominance under Hawke and Keating. We have already noted that the themes chosen for NAIDOC WEEK in the early Howard years, 1996 and 1997, were both incisive comments about our public life.

See https://johntsquires.com/2022/06/03/50-years-of-naidoc-week-4-1991-1997/

The themes that followed in the Howard years continued this stance of naming key issues from an indigenous perspective.

1998: Bringing Them Home

1999: Respect

2000: Building Pride in Our Communities

2001: Treaty—Let’s Get It Right

2002: Recognition, Rights and Reform

2003: Our Children Our Future

2004: Self-determination—Our Community—Our Future—Our Responsibility

2005: Our Future Begins with Solidarity

2006: Respect the Past—Believe in the Future

In his overview of indigenous affairs during the period of the Howard Government, Dr John Gardiner-Garden notes a cluster of immediate changes made by the incoming Howard government—changing terminology, withdrawing support from established initiatives, applying economic markers to the outcomes desired, amending the Native Title Act, and reducing funding to ATSIC (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission). See https://www.aph.gov.au/about_parliament/parliamentary_departments/parliamentary_library/pubs/bn/1011/indigenousaffairs2#_Toc295218057

Over the ensuing decade, Gardiner-Garden notes that “perceived inactions on reconciliation and in responding to the rhetoric of the new One Nation Party placed a strain on relations with the Indigenous community”, and records a series of decisions and actions which provided ongoing concern within Aboriginal communities: the ultimate demise of ATSIC, the attempt to establish a Special Auditor “to make a determination on whether a prospective grantee was ‘not fit and proper’ to receive public money”, a contentious Ten Point Plan to deal with the Wik decision, alterations to the Native Title Act which were seen as racially discriminatory, a Racial Hatred Act (1996) which fell short of many provisions that had been requested, and finally the Northern Territory Emergency Response, more widely known as The Intervention.

This latter event was applied to 73 Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory, and involved withholding 50% of welfare payments from Indigenous welfare recipients—-bans on alcohol and pornography—-increased police presence in Aboriginal communities—-compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children—-and the power for government to take possession of Aboriginal land and property.

The Intervention was a highly controversial policy, with many Aboriginal leaders speaking out against it.

There was some support within the Australian Indigenous community as well as beyond it. Australians Together report that “two of Australia’s most influential Indigenous academics and leaders, Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton, supported several of the more controversial aspects of the Intervention.”

See https://australianstogether.org.au/discover/the-wound/the-intervention/#Interventionreference1a

The Intervention, however, is viewed by most Aboriginal people as yet another instance of white colonial supremacy over blacks. It is perhaps appropriate, then, for this blog to go live on 10 June, which was the day that the infamous Myall Creek Massacre took place, in 1838. This event has come to be a symbol of all that has been wrong about the way that the invading British colonisers treated the indigenous peoples who had been the continuous inhabitants of the land “since time immemorial”.

Creative Spirits describes the 1838 event as follows: “12 heavily armed colonists rounded up and brutally kill 28 Aboriginal people from a group of 40 or 50 people gathered at Henry Dangar’s Station, at Myall Creek near Inverell (NSW). The massacre was believed to be a payback for the killing of several hut keepers and two shepherds. But most of those killed were women and children and good relations existed between the Aboriginal people and European occupants of the station. Seven stockmen are eventually hanged for murder. This outrages the colonial press and parts of the public who cannot understand why anyone should hang for murdering Aboriginal people.”

See https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australian-aboriginal-history-timeline/massacres

The Myall Creek Massacre Memorial

A pivotal event took place in 1997, when Prime Minister Howard addressed the Australian Reconciliation Convention, a forum for Australians to discuss Indigenous issues. The conference drew widespread participation, but was overshadowed by the controversy that Howard generated in his opening address on 27 May 1997.

Howard said: In facing the realities of the past, […] we must not join those who would portray Australia’s history since 1788 as little more than a disgraceful record of imperialism […] such an approach will be repudiated by the overwhelming majority of Australians who are proud of what this country has achieved although inevitably acknowledging the blemishes in its past history.

The reference to “blemishes” in Australia history was an incendiary remark. Indigenous delegates who were listening to the lecture stood up and turned their backs on the Prime Minister.

Delegates at the 1997 Reconciliation Convention,
upset by the speech of Prime Minister John Howard,
stand and turn their backs to him

It was a shameful moment, a deliberate aggravation by the elected leader of the First Peoples present. The 1997 theme, Gurindji, Mabo, Wik—Three Strikes for Justice—Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, offered a striking rejoinder to the mean-spirited assessment of the Prime Minister (see previous post).

*****

In 1998, the theme for NAIDOC WEEK was equally striking. It was a direct reference to the landmark report on the stolen generations which had been issued in April 1997 by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The report was entitled Bringing Them Home, and that exact phrase was used for the NAIDOC WEEK theme in 1998: Bringing Them Home.

Sir Ronald Wilson, former High Court justice and the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission at that time, had led the National Inquiry along with Mick Dodson, the Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner. They heard testimony directly from 535 people and read a further 600 submissions that had been made. Wilson stated that they encountered “hundreds of stories of personal devastation, pain and loss. It was a life-changing experience.”

The report, entitled Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, estimated that “between 1910 and 1970, up to 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and put in white foster homes”. The commissioners found that this was in breach of international law, and called for a national compensation fund to be established. They also recommended a national “sorry day”; the first one was held in 1998 and this has remained an annual fixture of growing significance to Aboriginal Australians.

Creative Spirits offers an excellent overview of the issues associated with the Aboriginal people who had formed what became known as “the stolen generations”; see https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/stolen-generations/a-guide-to-australias-stolen-generations

They also have a comprehensive cataloguing of the impacts that being removed from your family home as a child can have on such children, running throughout their lives and on into subsequent generations; see https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/stolen-generations/stolen-generations-effects-and-consequences

The response of the Howard Government to this report was jarring: Howard refused to make a public apology to “the stolen generations”. Apologies were made by the governments of South Australia (May 1997), Western Australia (May 1997), the Australian Capital Territory (June 1997), New South Wales (June 1997), Tasmania (August 1997), Victoria (September 1997), Queensland (May 1999), and the Northern Territory (October 2001), as well as a number of local governments and churches across the country.

The texts of the above apologies can be found at https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/bringing-them-home-apologies-state-and-territory-parliaments-2008

The Howard Government did not offer a formal apology; instead, they brought a motion to the Parliament in 1999 which expressed “deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations”, noting “the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices”.

The government described this intentional, systemic, multi-generational mistreatment of Indigenous Australians as the “

“most blemished chapter” in Australian history. The understatement of this language (“regret” rather than “sorry” or “apology”; “blemish” rather than “systemic injustice”, for instance) reflected the conservative white preference for minimising—or perhaps removing from sight—the story of Aboriginal people in recent centuries.

Subsequent NAIDOC WEEK themes would speak back to this inadequate and insulting governmental response.

*****

In 1999, the theme was Respect: Show Some, Earn Some. This was a plea to provide what many Aboriginal people had felt had been missing over the decades: respect.

In 2000, the theme was Building Pride in Our Communities. This connected back with earlier themes in which community had been a motif. It also offered an encouragement to Aboriginal people, to be proud of who they are and what they have to offer.

2000 was the year when hundreds of thousands of people “walked for reconciliation”, a strong statement of the popular support that existed for clear action in the way that Aboriginal and Islander people are treated. The most memorable walk was across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 28 May 2000, when a quarter of a million people (250,000 people) walked across the bridge.

See https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/walk-for-reconciliation

*****

For the centenary of Australia as a nation, the theme for 2001 was Treaty—Let’s Get It Right. This was another strong statement to government and public intransigence in the face of a growing recognition that the situation of Indigenous peoples was damaged by injustice upon injustice.

The history of seeking a treaty reveals stalled attempts, negative responses, and inaction by various governments. In 1979, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank, ‘Nugget’ Coombs, had convened a number of prominent non-Aboriginal Australians, working towards the implementation of a Treaty with Aboriginal peoples.

In 1981, the Fraser Government responded by rejecting the notion that a Treaty was needed. Treaties, it was said, are concluded between separate sovereign nations; the Aboriginal people were not a nation with which a treaty could be concluded.

In 1983, the National Aboriginal Conference proposed that, rather than a single national treaty, each individual Aboriginal nation might negotiate its own treaty or agreement. By 1987, the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, had signalled a willingness to produce some form of agreement for the Bicentenary of 1988. The Barunga Statement was presented to him in June 1988, but no action ensued.

By 1991, a Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation had been formed. In 1996, iconic rock band Yothu Yindi released their single, Treaty, which peaked at number 11 on the Australian charts and number 6 internationally. But no action followed. By the end of the decade, Prime Minister Howard had definitively rejected any notion of a treaty, because “it implies that we are two nations; and we are not, we are one nation”. Thus, the 2001 theme of Treaty—Let’s Get It Right was a clear political statement.

For the history of discussions and proposals relating to a treaty, see https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/selfdetermination/treaty-timeline-events-from-1835-to-today?page=2

On what is involved in such a treaty, see https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/selfdetermination/what-is-a-treaty

*****

In the following years, the NAIDOC WEEK themes referenced familiar motifs.

For 2002, the theme continued the explicit political plea of 2001, with the triple alliteration of Recognition, Rights and Reform. In 2003, the theme of Our Children Our Future looked back to earlier themes.

In 2004, the theme had four parts: Self-determination—Our Community—Our Future—Our Responsibility. The poster had a striking indigenous image set within a pair of cupped brown hands.

The 2005 theme, Our Future Begins with Solidarity, reinforced once more the importance of working together, both within the Aboriginal community as a whole, and also with white allies in the wider Australian society.

*****

Perhaps the theme for 2006, Respect the Past—Believe in the Future, was chosen with an eye to the prevailing “black armband” view of history that had been actively prosecuted in the so-called “history wars” during the Howard years.

The “black armband view of history” had been first suggested by historian Geoffrey Blainey in a public lecture he gave in 1993. A series of polemic interactions from historians and commentators ensued over the next decade, fuelled by comments made by John Howard in a 1996 lecture, soon after he had been elected Prime Minister.

Mr Howard asserted that “the ‘black armband’ view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.”

Howard continued, “I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement and that we have achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud than of which we should be ashamed. In saying that I do not exclude or ignore specific aspects of our past where we are rightly held to account. Injustices were done in Australia and no-one should obscure or minimise them. … But … our priority should … [be] to commit to a practical program of action that will remove the enduring legacies of disadvantage.”

The transcript of the lecture is at https://web.archive.org/web/20110727080235/http://www.menzieslecture.org/1996.html

This Prime-Ministerial advocacy added fuel to the fire raging in the debate. It was countered by the patient work of Henry Reynolds in advocating honesty in the public discourse about “The Frontier Wars”, a term which has come into popular usage to describe the series of aggressive engagements and terrible massacres that took place from early in the years of British colonisation, through into the 20th century.

Respect the Past—Believe in the Future was a fine and suitable theme to highlight in 2006. The theme for the following year built on this with its reference to Looking Forward, Looking Blak.

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The Paraclete as a “replacement Jesus” and the Doctrine of the Trinity (John 16; Trinity Sunday, Year C)

This coming Sunday is designated as Trinity Sunday. It’s an unusual occurrence, for two reasons. First, it’s the only time in the Christian calendar that a Sunday is named for a doctrine, rather than for a biblical story. And second, it is unusual in that it presents problems for the shapers of the lectionary, since (in my view) the Doctrine of the Trinity is not actually proclaimed in the biblical texts.

Yes, there are passages that canvass some aspects of the Doctrine—how the Son relates to the Father, what is the essential character of God, how the Spirit was experienced and understood, and how Son and Spirit might relate. But there is no biblical passage which articulates the full scope of the Doctrine of the Trinity: God is three, God is one, Father, Son, and Spirit, consubstantial, co-eternal, while unending ages run (as it were).

That’s quite understandable, since the full expression of this Doctrine took a number of centuries to develop, after the period in which the texts of the New Testament were written. If the latest NT text comes from the end of the first century, the earliest form of the Doctrine of the Trinity is found in the Apostles’ Creed, adopted by the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, and a more fulsome and complex form is to be found in the Nicene Creed, adopted by the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE.

So we should not expect the lectionary to provide any texts which set out the Doctrine of the Trinity. What we do find, however, is that certain texts are offered, in which some, or all, of the three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—are in view.

In fact, two texts name all three persons in a quasi-formulaic way: the benediction at the close of 2 Corinthians 13, and final words of Jesus in Matthew 28. Indeed, these two passages are set for Trinity Sunday in the first of the three years of the lectionary, Year A. Associated with these two passages is a text that expounds something of the nature of one of these persons, God the Creator, in Genesis 1.

In Year B, two texts are offered which focus somewhat on the third person of the Trinity, the Spirit: Romans 8, where Paul wrestles with the role of the Sprit, and John 3, the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, which includes reference to the Spirit. The Hebrew Scripture offering in Year C draws from the wonderful depiction of Wisdom in Proverbs 8; while the epistle in Year C, from Romans 5, appears to be included because it manages to refer to each of the three person of the Trinity within the space of five verses.

The Gospel offered in Year C (the current year) is just a short section (John 16:12–15) from the last chapter in the lengthy “farewell discourses” of Jesus (chs. 14–16), which John reports as being given to the disciples at the last meal that Jesus shared with his followers (from 13:1 onwards). It contains the fourth of four brief references in these “farewell discourses” to the Spirit, identified as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13), the parakletos (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) and “the Holy Spirit” (14:26).

These passages are considered to provide some biblical material for the Doctrine of the Trinity relating specifically to the third person, the Holy Spirit. In particular, I am interested in how the Spirit is defined in relation to the other two persons of the Trinity.

There are three ways in which the Spirit is defined in relation to Jesus. First, the Spirit is identified as a parakletos—a word with multiple translation options. It could mean one who advocates for, one who provides counsel, one who offers help, or one who gives comfort.

See https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/07/the-paraclete-in-john-15-exploring-the-array-of-translation-options/

Whatever option we take in translating this word, it is striking that Jesus says that the main role of the Spirit (at least as we encounter the explanation in this gospel) is to be “another parakletos” (14:16). The implication is that Jesus himself has been a parakletos—an implication that is confirmed when we read the statement in 1 John, that “we have a parakletos with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2).

This first statement about the Spirit thus places the Spirit in the position that Jesus had whilst living in human form amongst the people of Israel. The Spirit is the present manifestation of the role that Jesus of Nazareth had all those centuries ago. The Spirit is, in effect, a “replacement Jesus”.

Indeed, this is strengthened by the affirmation that this figure will “abide with you … and be in you”, precisely the same terminology used of Jesus in the earlier parable of the vine (“abide in me and I abide in you”, 15:4) and in the final prayer that Jesus prays before his arrest (“may [they] be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one”, 17:22–23]). The reality of the presence of the Spirit is the same as the reality of the presence of Jesus when he was with the disciples.

This idea is confirmed by the second statement about the parakletos, who is the one “whom the Father will send in my name” (14:26), the one “whom I will send to you from the Father” (15:26). Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that “if I do not go away, the parakletos will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (16:7). This seems to suggest that the Spirit is unable to take up the role assigned to it until Jesus has departed from his followers—the Spirit is a “replacement Jesus”.

Indeed, at an earlier point in the narrative, on “the last day of the festival, the great day” (7:37; the festival referred to was Booths, 7:2), Jesus was speaking about the Spirit, and portraying the “rivers of living water” that the Spirit would give, as something still to come. The narrator informs us that he was speaking “about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (7:37–39).

This, of course, is directly contradicted by the many references in Hebrew Scripture to the activity of the Spirit in Israel (Gen 1:1–2; Job 33:4; Ps 104:30; Isa 42:5, 44:3, 48:16, 59:21, 61:1, 63:11–14; Num 11:16–17; Deut 34:9; 1 Sam 10:6, 19:23–24; Ezek 37:1; Joel 2:28–29). Nevertheless, the definitive arrangement of things that is held to quite firmly in the book of signs, is that the Spirit comes only after Jesus has returned to the Father.

The language of sending is used frequently in the fourth Gospel, in describing the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father is regularly described as the one who sent the Son (3:34; 4:34; 5:23, 30; 6:29, 39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28–29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; etc). In the final prayer of Jesus, the Father is “him who sent me” (17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25). Amongst the final words of the risen Jesus, we hear Jesus say again, “as the Father has sent me” (20:21).

So, when Jesus refers to the parakletos as the one “whom the Father will send in my name” (14:26), he is reinforcing the notion that the Spirit is the “replacement Jesus”. This is further strengthened by the affirmation that the parakletos will “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:26). The language of teaching also recalls a key function of Jesus, who “went up into the temple and began to teach” (7:14), who “sat down and began to teach” the people in the temple (8:2), who characterises his ministry as “I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together” (18:20).

Further, Jesus describes the role of the parakletos as “he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:15). Jesus has already declared that “my teaching is not mine but his who sent me” (7:16) and “the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me” (14:24); now he passes that divinely-given material on to the parakletos, clearly stating that “he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:14–15). The teaching function that the parakletos performs is to replicate the teaching role that Jesus has already enacted.

The content of the teaching provided by the parakletos is also evocative of the teaching that Jesus has provided. The parakletos will teach “about sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:8, expanded in 16:9–11). In relation to sin, what Jesus does as “the lamb of God” is to “take away the sin of the world” (1:29); he provides freedom from the slavery of sin (8:34–36), and the final commission that he gives his disciples (who are sent just as he has been sent) is to decree that they have the authority of grant forgiveness of sins (20:23).

Likewise, in relation to judgement, Jesus has stated, “as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (5:30), and again, “even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me” (8:16)—although later, Jesus asserts that “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge” (12:47–48).

Thus, as the parakletos teaches about sin, and about judgement, the teachings of Jesus on these matters are repeated. (On the matter of righteousness—apart from a single reference to God as “righteous Father”, 17:25—this Gospel is silent.) Again, we see that the parakletos is a “replacement Jesus”.

Finally, the distinctive term used in this Gospel to describe the Spirit, “the Spirit of truth”, also reinforces this way of viewing the relationship between the Son and the Spirit. The Johannine Jesus is “the Word became flesh” who “lived among us … full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is through Jesus Christ that “grace and truth came” (1:17). Jesus describes himself to the leaders in Jerusalem as “a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (8:40), and to the Roman Governor, Pilate, he declares, “for this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (18:37).

So Jesus tells his followers that “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (8:31–32), and even affirms unreservedly that “I am the truth” (14:6). Again, the language applied to the Spirit links in with key terminology that describes Jesus and his role. The Spirit of truth now teaches “the truth that will make you free”, that the one who is the truth had taught.

Finally, it is noteworthy that nowhere in the book of signs is there any direct statement about the relationship between Father and Sprit. Although Jesus states that “God is spirit” (4:24), the relationship is always, apparently, mediated through the Son: the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the parakletos; the Son teaches what the Father provides, the parakletos continues the teaching of Jesus; the Father incarnates the Word “in truth”, the Son teaches and is “the truth”, so the Spirit is named as “the Spirit of truth”.

In summary, the relationship between Son and Spirit reads to me as a quite hierarchical style of relationship—not at all a relationship of equals who abide in each other, who are of the same nature and share the same substance with one another, who exist co-eternally and inherit co-equally. Indeed, in the relationship between Father and Spirit/Parakletos, there is no direct link, as there is in the classic Doctrine of the Trinity; all is mediated through the Son, as we have seen. The fourth Gospel offers a different, distinctive—we might even say, unorthodox—theology of Father, Son, and Spirit/Parakletos.

The Trinity is a complex idea, a doctrine with many subsets and dimensions and component parts. Although there are passages in scripture which many say point to this doctrine, nevertheless gaining a full understanding of this doctrine really means entering into the world of metaphysics, philosophy, and linguistics of a later age.

All of this is beyond the capacity of the lectionary to provide, nor can it be done in a relatively brief reflection time within a Sunday worship service—and it runs the risk of charging away from the world of ideas in which the biblical texts were written, and opening up the danger of imposing later ideas, anachronistically, onto those texts.

The little passage from the Gospel of John that we encounter in the lectionary this coming Sunday actually points us in quite another direction!

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50 years of NAIDOC WEEK 4 (1991–1997)

Today, 3 June, we remember the day in 1992 that the legal case brought by Eddie (Koiki) Mabo was decided by the Australian High Court. The court effectively recognised the existence of Native Title rights and rejected the concept of terra nullius, which claimed Australia was a land belonging to no-one prior to British occupation. The judgement opened the way for the passing of the Native Title Act in 1993.

See https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/land/native-title

This decision of the High Court was one of the highlights in the area of indigenous affairs during the period that Paul Keating led the federal government. The Mabo case was decided just six months after Keating had become Prime Minister (in December 1991).

The other highlight was the powerful speech that Keating delivered a year later, in December 1992, which is known as the Redfern Speech. In this speech, Keating acknowledged the role played in destroying the culture of the First Peoples by those who invaded and colonised the continent in the early decades of British settlement.

Paul Keating delivers the Redfern Speech in December 1992

“The problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians”, he declared. “It was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice.”

See https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/paul-keatings-redfern-speech

It was a searing recognition of the multitude of ways in which white Australian society had impacted the long-established cultures of the First Peoples; a recognition of the complicity of white Australia in the devastation of black Australians. It was a clear step beyond anything articulated in public in previous years.

In assessing the period when the Keating Government was in power, Dr John Gardiner-Garden began by referencing Keating’s Redfern speech of December 1992, as well as “his government’s decision to set up a national inquiry into the separation of Indigenous children”. Keating “sought to encourage recognition of past injustices. In his government’s native title and land fund legislation and proposed ‘Social Justice Package’ he sought to advance the process of making amends for the disregard of Indigenous common law rights which the 1992 Mabo judgement had found to have occurred.”

See https://www.aph.gov.au/about_parliament/parliamentary_departments/parliamentary_library/pubs/bn/1011/indigenousaffairs2#_Toc295218057

During the years that the Keating Government was in power, the following themes were chosen for each year of NAIDOC WEEK:

1991: Community is Unity—Our Future Depends On Us

1992: Maintain the Dreaming—Our Culture is Our Heritage

1993: Aboriginal Nations—Owners of the Land Since Time Began—Community is Unity

1994: Families Are the Basis of Our Existence—Maintain the Link

1995: Justice Not Tolerance

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In 1991, the focus on community in the theme, Community is Unity—Our Future Depends On Us, echoed the earlier themes that referred to community: talking together in the 1983 theme, Let’s talk—we have something to say; seeking understanding in the 1985 theme, Understanding: it takes the two of us; and working towards peace in the 1986 theme, Peace, not for you, not for me, but for all of us. The theme also had a future orientation, expressing hope for what might lie ahead for Aboriginal people: Our Future Depends On Us. That “us” clearly included white and black together, working in common in community.

The 1992 theme, Maintain the Dreaming—Our Culture is Our Heritage, looked back just a couple of years, to the 1990 theme, Don’t Destroy, Learn and Enjoy our Cultural Heritage, and to the 1988 theme, Recognise and Share the Survival of the Oldest Culture in the World. It also referenced the 1978 theme, Cultural Revival is Survival. All four years focussed attention on the long-exisiting culture that was maintained and passed on by indigenous peoples around the continent.

In addition, the 1992 theme included a reference to Dreaming; this is a term, somewhat contentious amongst First Nations people, which has nevertheless seen widespread acceptance and adoption in the wider Australian society. It is generally understood to be a way to refer to the collection of stories that form the foundational mythology of Aboriginal peoples.

Reconciliation Australia, on its website shareourpride.org.au, states that “it is impossible to find words that adequately capture this core element of who we are but it’s something you feel when you sit with us on our country and hear our stories with an open mind and heart.”

The website affirms that “Dreaming is more than a mythical past; it prescribes our connection as Aboriginal people with the spiritual essence of everything around us and beyond us. Dreaming stories are not in the past, they are outside of time – always present and giving meaning to all aspects of life.”

See https://www.shareourpride.org.au/sections/our-culture/index.html

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The 1993 theme, Aboriginal Nations—Owners of the Land Since Time Began—Community is Unity, incorporated three distinct phrases. The final phrase looked back by incorporating one phrase of the 1991 theme, Community is Unity. However, the full theme included a clear reference to the struggle that had culminated in the 1992 Mabo decision. It identified Aboriginal people as Owners of the Land Since Time Began. This was the principle underlying the High Court’s Mabo decision, and which then enabled the development of the Native Title Act of that year (1993).

Furthermore, the 1993 theme included a clear declaration that Aboriginal people had not simply been “one nation” before British invasion and settlement commenced in 1788; the reference to the plural, Aboriginal Nations, was highly strategic. It had been the custom in the 19th and 20th centuries for Aboriginal people to be described and treated as a single cultural and historical unit.

By contrast, today, two decades into the 21st century, the claim made by the 1993 theme is widely accepted and commonly spoken. British settlers have dispossessed people from well over 250 different nations right across the continent and its associated islands. The clearest example of this recognition is the map published by the government agency AIATSIS (the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).

On a website explaining this map, AIATSIS explains that it “attempts to represent the language, social or nation groups of Aboriginal Australia. It shows only the general locations of larger groupings of people which may include clans, dialects or individual languages in a group.”

The map presents a clear lesson in a graphic manner: there were many, many nations across the continent prior to 1788.

See https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/map-indigenous-australia

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The NAIDOC WEEK themes of the next two years continued to articulate core beliefs within Aboriginal culture. The 1994 theme, Families Are the Basis of Our Existence—Maintain the Link, alluded to the 1979 theme, What about our kids?, and would provide a prophetic looking-forward to the key findings of the Bringing Them Home report issued just a few years later, in 1997.

The 1995 theme, Justice Not Tolerance, was a plea to move beyond ideas of merely tolerating indigenous people, and adopt the principles of justice that would see them treated equitably, with wrongs righted and reparations made for past errors.

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In March 1996, John Howard’s Liberal Party, in coalition with the National Party, was elected, and formed a government that lasted for the next 11 years. The 1996 and 1997 themes for NAIDOC WEEK continued to provide sharp insights into what was needed in Australian society, even with a more conservative government at the helm. In 1996, the theme was Survive—Revive—Come Alive.

In 1997, the theme was equally pointed, as it,celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1967 referendum,

Dr John Gardiner-Garden notes the many retrograde steps taken by the new Howard Government: they “dropped the terms ‘social justice’ and ‘self-determination’, withdrew support from many of the initiatives and institutions for which these terms were the raison-d’etre and declared its new priorities to be ‘accountability’, ‘improving outcomes in key areas’ and ‘promoting economic independence’.”

He furthered noted that “Government actions such as creating a Special Auditor, reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) funding, amending the Native Title Act and perceived inactions on reconciliation and in responding to the rhetoric of the new One Nation Party placed a strain on relations with the Indigenous community.”

See https://www.aph.gov.au/about_parliament/parliamentary_departments/parliamentary_library/pubs/bn/1011/indigenousaffairs2#_Toc295218057

The three events referenced in the 1997 theme, Gurindji, Mabo, and Wik, were pivotal moments in the advancement of Aboriginal claims in the 20th century.

The Gurindji Strike of 1966 was led by Vincent Lingiari. A protest against the Wave Hill station managers resulted in the return of some traditional lands to the Gurindji people under a lease arrangement in 1975, and later led to the granting of inalienable freehold title to this area in 1984.

In the Mabo decision of the High Court, handed down on 3 June 1992, the court recognised the land rights of the Meriam people. They were the traditional owners of some islands in the Torres Strait. Marked on the map as the Murray Islands, the Torres Strait Islanders called these islands Mer, Dauer and Waier). The case is significant because it rejected the view that at the time of colonisation, Australia was terra nullius, or land belonging to no one.

The case had initially been brought in 1982 by five indigenous people. Because Eddie Koiki Mabo was the first plaintiff in the case, it became known as the Mabo Case. In its judgement, the High Court acknowledged that “Indigenous peoples had lived in Australia for thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land according to their own laws and customs.” See https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/mabo-case

On Eddie Mabo, see https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/eddie-koiki-mabo#toc-the-mabo-case

The Wik judgement of 1996 built on the basis of the Mabo decision. The case related to the right to hold native title in an area where there were pastoral,leases in place. By a majority of 4–3, the High Court agreed that the pastoral leases did not extinguish the native title of the Wik and Tahyorre people of Cape York.

Sadly, the remembering of these three key events during the early years of the retrogressive Howard government, strikes a note of pathos. These advances were not built on by the Howard government. In the ensuing decade, due to the intransigence of the government, things would actually go backwards.

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50 years of NAIDOC WEEK 3 (1984–1990)

Today, 30 May, is Reconciliation Day in the Australian Capital Territory. It is a day to focus on the steps that have been taken—and the steps that still need to be taken—in the relationship between the First Peoples of the hundreds of nations which existed on the continent of Australia, and its associated islands, in the late 18th century, and those who have come to this island continent in the years since.

One way that the First Peoples have articulated how they see things, and what they would like to see happen in terms of such relationships, has been in the annual NAIDOC WEEK. Starting as a national day in 1972, since 1978 a whole week has been designated to remember and honour the First Peoples of Australia.

In continuing my series about NAIDOC WEEK, I turn to the years of the Hawke Government. Bob Hawke led the Labor Party to power in the federal election of March 1983. During the nine years that the Hawke Government was in power, the following themes were chosen for each year of NAIDOC WEEK:

1984: Take a Journey of Discovery—To the Land My Mother

1985: Understanding: It Takes the Two of Us

1986: Peace—not for you, not for me, but for all

1987: White Australia has a Black History

1988: Recognise and Share the Survival of the Oldest Culture in the World

1989: The Party is Over—Let’s Be Together as a Aboriginal Nation

1990: New Decade—Don’t Destroy, Learn and Enjoy Our Cultural Heritage

The themes of the first few years during this period canvassed various motifs. The first in this sequence, in 1984 (Take a Journey of Discovery—To the Land My Mother) is striking in that it referred to the land as “Mother”. In considering the significance of land to indigenous people, the Aboriginal site, Creative Spirits, retells the story of “The Lost Girl”. Separated from her family, separated from the camp, the girl spent the night underneath an overhanging rock, before following a crow which took her back to her people.

“The people laughed and cried at once to see that the girl was safe. They growled at her for her foolishness, and cuddled her, and gave her a place by the fire. Her little brother asked her if she had been afraid; but the girl said – ‘How could I be frightened? I was with my Mother. When I was thirsty, she gave me water; when I was hungry, she fed me; when I was cold, she warmed me. And when I was lost, she showed me the way home.’”

See “Meaning of land to Aboriginal people—Creative Spirits”, retrieved from https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/land/meaning-of-land-to-aboriginal-people

See https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/land/meaning-of-land-to-aboriginal-people

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The next two years saw themes selected to indicate what work was needed, to ensure that black and white could do-exist together in modern Australia. In 1985, the theme was Understanding: It Takes the Two of Us. The poster also referenced the 1985 International Youth Year, with an image of a smiling younger indigenous person.

In 1986, moving beyond understanding, the theme referenced peace: Peace—not for you, not for me, but for all. The poster, highlighting the colours of red, yellow, and black, had an image of Uluṟu (then known as Ayer’s Rock) at its centre.

A key event during the Hawke period was the bicentenary of white settlement of Australia. Along with the public celebrations planned and held on Australia Day in January 1988, the opening of the new Parliament House took place in May 1988.

The location for Canberra was chosen after much debate in the early 20th century. The region is generally understood to have been a meeting place for different Aboriginal clans, suggesting that there was a reliable food and water supply. So placing the building where representatives from around the continent gathered, to debate and decide the laws of the country, sends a powerful symbol.

Michael Nelson Jagamara (born 1945) Luritja/Warlpiri peoples
Possum and Wallaby Dreaming 1985, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra, ACT.
© The artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists’ Agency Ltd.

The name Canberra is believed to have been derived from a local Indigenous word Kamberri, which identifies the location as a meeting place of these many nations, for a gathering focussed around the bogong moth. See https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

Three NAIDOC WEEK themes reflect this watershed year. In the year before the bicentenary, 1987, there was a focus on black history, as a counterpoint to the intense focus that there was on the history of Australia since European colonisation from 1788 onwards. Mandandanji descendant and Queensland based multidisciplinary artist, Laurie Nilsen, designed the poster illustrating this theme.

The design features “a rolled paper scroll against a black background, with a large snake forming a silhouette of Australia and an assemblage of indigenous people and motifs spread throughout the composition, with red and blue printed text below”, according to a description on https://culturalcommons.edu.au/white-australia-has-a-black-history/

The site continues, “Nilsen has used a palette of warm and natural earthy tones of ochre, red and black to represent Indigenous figures and iconography including a stockman riding a horse in front of Uluru; a man wearing a dhari (traditional dancer’s headdress); rock paintings; a mother and son watching a tall ship; a soldier in a trench and a portrait of rugby player Mark Ella, recipient of Young Australian of the Year in 1982.”

The 1987 theme, White Australia has a Black History, can be understood to refer to the lack of meaningful acknowledgment, at that time, of past atrocities committed against First Nations people—an attitude which has been reversed in recent years, as it attested by the University of Newcastle’s project to map all massacre sites across the continent. See https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/map.php

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In 1988, the year of the bicentenary, the theme was clear and direct: Recognise and Share the Survival of the Oldest Culture in the World. The image of an Aboriginal face on the poster is made up of dots, coloured in the schema of the Aboriginal flag (red, yellow, black).

This theme provides a strong recognition of a fact that is now accepted without question; that the culture that is evident in traditional Aboriginal groups today has continued without interruption for millennia—at least 60,000 years, perhaps 75,000 years, maybe even longer.

Luke Pearson writes that “Aboriginal cultures are acknowledged as the first makers of bread, the first astronomers, have the earliest evidence of religious beliefs and practices, were the creators of the oldest still standing man-made structure (the Brewarrina fish traps), and more other firsts.”

Yet, he says, a focus on where a particular item was first developed is an inadequate way to assess a culture. He maintains that Aboriginal culture had long been living in accord with principles that “‘modern societies’ are only now fumbling around the edges of trying to understand and attain.”

He cites those principles as “Environmental sustainability; not being in a state of perpetual war; not needing to exploit others for resources and labour; equitable wealth and resource distribution”; but even then, he declares, “this is not the true lens through which other cultures should be viewed, because the true value of Aboriginal cultures is not simply how its practices and philosophies can assist others with the challenges they now face.”

See https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/12/21/what-continuous-culture-and-are-aboriginal-cultures-oldest

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In 1989, after the year of partying throughout the bicentenary, NAIDOC WEEK turned the focus back to a key claim of indigenous leadership: The Party is Over—Let’s Be Together as a Aboriginal Nation. The theme articulated a plea for a way to move forward as a united nation, with true recognition of the foundational and central place of Aboriginal people in the nation. It signalled that froth and bubble of the public celebrations of 1988 (in which many indigenous people felt unable to participate) needed now to be followed by some hard, sustained work, to develop a unified nation.

The poster showed white fellas and black fellas lined up together, symbolising that plea to work towards unity. It’s a plea that has fallen on deaf ears, sadly—and worse, and the following era under the Howard government saw the development of the “history wars”, a retrograde opposition to recognising black history, and a fanning of the flames of racists xenophobia, turned even into the First People of the continent and its islands.

The theme for 1990 recognised the start of the new decade, it the theme New Decade—Don’t Destroy, Learn and Enjoy Our Cultural Heritage. The theme refers back to the 1988 theme, giving it a forward-looking orientation.

Sadly, vested interests have continued to disregard this plea from First Peoples, as various sacred sites have been reclaimed, destroyed, and concreted over in the interests of “development”. The most tragic instance of this was in the disgusting blasting of the Juukan Gorges by Rio Tinto in 2020. This irresponsible act must surely be seen as a criminal act.

The shelters that were destroyed were the only inland site in Australia showing human occupation continuing through the last Ice Age. Their tragic destruction is a clear sign that we refuse to learn, that we continue to disrespect Aboriginal culture. See https://theconversation.com/rio-tinto-just-blasted-away-an-ancient-aboriginal-site-heres-why-that-was-allowed-139466

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The Season of Creation in ‘With Love to the World’

For the past year, I have been editing a quarterly publication called With Love to the World. It provides short commentaries on the biblical passages offered in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is used by mainstream denominations of the Christian church around the world. There are four passages each week—one each from Hebrew Scriptures, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel.

Every year, during September, there is a focus in the church around the world on the theme of Creation. This year, I’ve expanded that to encompass the full 13 weeks of one issue of With Love to the World, which runs from Pentecost 11 (in mid August) through to Pentecost 23, just before the festival of the Reign of Christ brings the church year to an end in November.

To the four lectionary passages, I’ve added three passages from Hebrew Scripture which offer resources for considering our relationship with the creation, and how we might live responsibly within that creation. I’m really pleased with the quality of what I have received from the contributors for this issue.

If you are looking for a way to focus your thinking on how to live in harmony with the whole creation, and deepen your discipleship practices of sustainability and environmental responsibility, through a daily reflection on a scripture passage—then this issue of With Love to the World will provide that.

The passages relating specifically to creation begin in the first week, Pentecost 11, with the priestly account of creation, a wonderfully crafted narrative shaped during and after the Exile in Babylon. The latter part of this account tells of the creation of all living creatures, culminating in the creation of humanity. This passage (Genesis 1) describes each category of living creature as a nephesh, a concept that signals the inherent interconnectedness of all creation.

Although this is a later (post-exilic) narrative, it is given prime position in the Pentateuch because it so wonderfully articulates so much of the fundamental worldview of the Israelites—a worldview which we have inherited, and which we continue to value. The insight that we are all interrelated and interdependent is central to contemporary understanding of ecosystems on the micro level and the cosmic scope of galaxies and universes alike. It is here in the opening narrative of scripture.

The book of Job contains an important section which makes it clear that the whole of creation was designed to function as a cohesive unity. Human beings have no special and distinctive place in that creation: God cares for all parts of creation equally and uniformly. Accordingly, we have a responsibility neither to claim a special place at “the top of the pyramid” nor to act in disregard of the consequence of our actions on others (Job 38–39).

A part of a wonderful psalm which praises God as creator and provider, Psalm 104, offers a reiteration of the perspective of Genesis 1, that all creatures are nephesh and are created by the inbreathing of God’s spirit (Ps 104:24–30). The Psalm restates in poetic form what the creation narrative that opens the pages of scripture has affirmed about the interconnected nature of all of God’s creation.

The story of Noah concludes with the account of God making a covenant “with every living creature (nephesh)” (Genesis 9), again underling the importance of the interconnected and interrelated creation. That is affirmed also in the first half of Psalm 19, which declares that the creation tells of “the glory of God” and undergirds the covenant with Israel (verses 7 onwards). This covenant is the fundamental agreement that undergirds every moment in the relationship between Israel and the Lord God throughout the centuries.

Three excerpts from the prophet Isaiah extend this theme. Isaiah 11 is usually read as a messianic prophecy during Advent; reading it in this context, with a focus on environmental matters, we can appreciate it as a vision of a fully cooperative creation. This vision, it would seem, undergirds the promise of returning to Zion in a creation which sings in harmony (Isaiah 35 and 40). Crossing the dry desert is enlivened by a lush watery hopefulness.

Then follows a sequence of passages from the Pentateuch. First, some of the Leviticus laws are read: the Jubilee, an important (of perhaps idealised) practice which provides opportunity for the land to recreate (Leviticus 25). We read this alongside one of the closing psalms of praise, in which all creation praises God (Psalm 148)—surely a chapter that provided inspiration for the famous hymn attributed to St Francis.

Next, two passages from Numbers 35 are offered. Here, faithfulness to the covenant establishes the need to respect the creation. The Levitical cities of refuge (Num 35:9–15) indicate the significance of places of sanctuary (oases, perhaps?), places to rest in the presence of God. The chapter ends with clear directions about how to treat the land as a whole (Num 35:33–34), which resonate with what we have learnt from the spirituality of the First Peoples of Australia. Then, the cries of Lamentations 1 and 5 provide further warnings about the dangers of straying from the covenant.

Deuteronomy 19–20 includes a series of laws that also indicate how care and respect are to be shown, even in trying circumstances: through the provision of cities of refuge (only three in this version) and through respect for the land whilst waging war. Then Deuteronomy 22 collates a number of miscellaneous laws, some of which relate directly to care for the land and its creatures, all of which are informed by the priestly view that everything has its own right and correct place in the scheme of things.

In the book of the prophet Ezekiel, we find three complementary passages. Loving care for the people (portrayed as sheep) is undergirded by loving care for the land (Ezek 34). The valley of dry bones (Ezek 37) retells the creation story in a dramatic setting, as God breathes spirit into the people and places them “on [their] own soil”. Then, Ezekiel’s idiosyncratic vision of the restored temple emphasises the importance of its environmental context (Ezek 43)—a nice watery counterpoint to the arid dryness of the valley.

In a well-known section from the prophet Joel, God’s abundance grace is said to be evident in the fruitfulness of creation, culminating in a renewed gifting of spirit (Joel 2:23–32). I have expanded this passage by including the earlier account of the people returning to the Lord, keeping the covenant, offering the first fruits, and being blessed by God in an abundance of care of the land (Joel 2:12–22). As a dramatic counterpoint to this, the prophet Hosea reminds the people of their responsibilities to keep the covenant; when they show no faithfulness, “the land mourns” (Hosea 4:1–10). Hosea 4:3 alludes directly back to the covenant (Gen 9:9–10) and to the creation (Gen 1:20–27).

In Pentecost 21, the prophetic call for justice is emphasised in the lectionary readings provided. The lectionary reading highlights this call in Habakkuk’s call for justice (Hab 1:4) and righteousness (Hab 2:4). The same standard is found in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19) while the psalmist praises God for God’s righteous judgements (Ps 119:137–144). So I have added alongside that the call for justice in the parable of Isaiah 5 (an agricultural parable) and the warning about God’s righteous judgement when that call is ignored (Isaiah 24).

This portrayal of righteous judgement continues into the next week, with the dramatic pictures of Isaiah 24:12–20, warning about a global catastrophe when the environment is abused (Isa 24:13). This picture appears also in the lectionary offering, Haggai 1:15–2:9 (see 2:7). The importance of righteousness is evident also in 2 Thessalonians 2. This week also includes Reformation Day (Romans 4) and All Saints Day (Luke 6); the latter particularly offers opportunities for ecotheological reflection.

The issue comes to a close with Pentecost 23, with two sections from the Lukan account of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse (Luke 21), provided from the lectionary. This discourse links with the claim made in 2 Thessalonians 3 about the faithfulness of God, which undergirds all that is projected and provides hope for the future.

This also resonates with the closing visions of Trito-Isaiah, looking to the new creation (Isa 65) and the promise of new life, a vision which ends with an image of comfort (Isa 66). So we close this long sequence of passages with Job 12, which affirms that when we look carefully at the creation, we will see that “the hand of the Lord has done this, in his hand is the life of every living thing (nephesh)”—taking us right back to the early affirmations about God’s covenant with every nephesh, and God’s intentional creation of every nephesh within the interconnected environment in which we all live.

With Love to the World can be ordered as a printed resource for just $24 for a year’s subscription (see http://www.withlovetotheworld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Ordering-and-paying-for-Website-7.vii_.2020.pdf) or it can be accessed on phones and iPads via an App, for a subscription of $24.49 per year (go to the App Store or Google Play).

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Fifty Years of NAIDOC WEEK 2 (1976–1983)

Today, 27 May, is the anniversary of the day (in 1967) when the people of Australia voted in a referendum to change some clauses in the Constitution — to recognise indigenous people as citizens of the nation. The question put to the electorate was: Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population’?

It was a referendum that actually received bipartisan support from the two major political parties, Labor and Liberal; after the referendum showed very strong popular support for this change, the Parliament unanimously agreed to the change to the Constitution.

Such bipartisan support is rare in Australian politics. It was evident in the approaches to what was called Indigenous Affairs in the wake of the change of government in 1972, with the election of the Whitlam Government, and the subsequent change of government in 1975, when the Fraser Government came to power.

During the years that the Fraser Government was in power, the following themes were chosen for each year of NAIDOC WEEK:

1976: Trucanini Last of her People Born 18?? Died 1876. Buried 1976. Received Her Land Rights at Last

1977: Chains or Change

1978: Cultural Revival is Survival

1979: International Year of the Child. What About Our Kids!

1980: Treat Us to a Treaty on Land Rights

1981: Sacred Sites Aboriginal Rights—Other Australians Have Their Rites

1982: Race for Life for a Race

1983: Let’s Talk—We Have Something to Say

On NAIDOC WEEK in the period of the Whitlam Government, see

In their “Overview of Indigenous Affairs: Part 1: 1901 to 1991”, Dr Coral Dow and Dr John Gardiner-Garden observe that “The Fraser Government followed up on the Whitlam Government’s initiatives and passed significant land rights legislation relevant to the Northern Territory but showed no sign of following up with support for a national system of land rights. The Government dropped ‘self-determination’ from Commonwealth rhetoric. A public campaign got under way for a more basic immutable recognition of Indigenous rights in the form of a treaty (‘makaratta’).”

See https://www.aph.gov.au/about_parliament/parliamentary_departments/parliamentary_library/pubs/bn/1011/indigenousaffairs1#_Toc293318916

One significant change early in the period of the Fraser Government was that the term ‘self-determination’ was dropped from the Government’s vocabulary and replaced by ‘self-management’ and ‘self-sufficiency’.

The themes adopted for National Aborigines Day, and then NAIDOC WEEK, continue the messaging that was sent from 1975 onwards. The themes both relate to events occurring in the wider society and continue to press claims upon the Australian populace. The centenary of the death of Trucanini in 1896, honoured in 1976, the recognition of the International Year of the Child (a United Nations decision) in 1979, and a theme that reflects the 1982 Commonwealth Games, each indicate the way that the themes chosen reflected current events.

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Trucanini was once remembered as “the last Tasmanian Aboriginal”—even though there are many people living today who claim descent from one of the nine Aboriginal nations that lived on country in Tasmania: Oyster Bay (Paredarerme), North East, North, Big River, North Midlands, Ben Lomond, North West, South West Coast, and South East. More than 23,000 Tasmanians claimed this descent in the 2016 Census. Estimates of the population at the time of the British Invasion and colonisation in 1803 vary from 3,000 to 10,000.

Trucanini was a member of the Nuenonne band of the South-East Nation of Tasmania; her homeland included the areas we know as Bruny Island and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. After a life lived in various parts of Tasmania and Victoria, in 1847 Trucanini was part of a group of 47 Aborigines who were moved to an abandoned women’s prison at Oyster Cove. She died in Hobart, in 1876 aged 64. The 1976 theme and poster honour Trucanini.

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery remembers her as “a vibrant knowledgeable young woman, whose life was one of tragedy and betrayal, as a result of the British Invasion … Before her death she pleaded for her body not to be desecrated. However white society committed the greatest betrayal to her, when two years later, the Royal Society of Tasmania had her body exhumed. From 1904-1947 her skeleton was placed on public display in the Tasmanian Museum. It was not until 1976, when her ashes were spread in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, that her spirit was finally set free.” See http://static.tmag.tas.gov.au/tayenebe/makers/Trucanini/index.hamlets

The theme for the 1976 National Aborigines Day was Trucanini Last of her People Born 18?? Died 1876. Buried 1976. Received Her Land Rights at Last

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed 1979 as the International Year of the Child. As a follow-up to the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the year was intended to draw attention to problems that affected children throughout the world, including malnutrition and lack of access to education—both of which were issues for Australian Aboriginal communities in the 1970s.

Internationally, this focus resulted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child being signed in 1989. Nationally, the situation of indigenous children remained perilous, with rates of malnutrition and educational achievement continuing to fall below the average for all Australians (and, sadly, they have continued at a far-too-low level over the ensuing decades).

The poster for the 1979 NAIDOC WEEK recalls the International Year of the Child and, with images of a number of Aboriginal children set within the outline of Australia, poses the question in terms of an accusatory exclamation: what about our kids!

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The 1982 poster was also topical. In the poster for this year, a black male athlete clad in the Aboriginal flag colours is set against the background of an unidentified Pintupi acrylic painting. The reference is to the Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane in 1982, when there were a large number of Aboriginal demonstrations. The double meaning in the theme of Race for Life for a Race reflects also the sense that Aborigines were racing against time to ensure their survival.

Other themes during this period press the claims of the First Peoples. We can hear the voices asking key questions in these themes. Will they be kept in chains, or will there be change that brings freedom? (1977)

Will there be encouragement to bring a revival of indigenous culture that will ensure their survival? (1978)

Will the nation of Australia enter into Treaty with the First Peoples, as has been done in many other nations where Europeans invaded and colonised indigenous peoples? (1980)

Will “white Australia” be willing to enter into a serious, sustained conversation with “black Australia” and really hear what the First Peoples have to say? (1983)

Tragically, these are questions that remain for us to address and explore, today.

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Perhaps the most potent theme in the Fraser years is that of 1981: Sacred Sites Aboriginal Rights—Other Australians Have Their Rites. The triple assonance of sites—rights—rites links three ideas which cover identity, spirituality, politics, and the Aboriginal notion of “country”. These matters, too, remain awaiting a substantial addressing by the Australian government and people.

Land rights were granted in the Northern Territory in 1976 nationally in the Native Title Act of 1983, after the High Court judgement in the Mabo case of 1982. However, the processes to be followed were complex, and in many places the granting of land rights to those claiming descent from the earlier inhabitants was doomed to failure, under the provisions of the law. The 1981 theme presses the case for the granting of land rights, with the clear inference that it is not so much a matter of (European-based) law that should be the determinant, but rather, of the spiritual significance of country to Indigenous peoples.

Perhaps the most well-known, and certainly the most iconic, country that has been returned to Aboriginal “ownership” under Australian law, is Uluṟu, the large sandstone formation at the heart of the continent (previously known as Ayer’s Rock). The title for Uluṟu was officially given back to the Aṉangu, the Pitjantjatjara people who were the traditional custodians and caretakers of the area, on 26 October 1985.

Claims for other land areas across Australia under the Native Title Act have been made and are continuing to this date. Redressing the wrongs of the past takes time.

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See also

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Christians relating to Jews

I recently taught a session in a course on Judaism and Early Christianity in which I talked about developments over the past 75 years in the ways that Christians have related to Jews. I went back to some material that I had developed when teaching fulltime, and amongst that, I found the following reflection. I wrote this in 2012, at a time when I was concluding 12 years as a member (and six years as co-convenor) of the Uniting Church’s National Dialogue with the Jewish People. I think it still holds good.

“Love your neighbour…”, Jesus instructs us—drawing on his own personal non-Christian tradition (Judaism, and the Hebrew Scriptures which stand at the heart of this faith). “Who is our neighbour?”, we may well ask. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others, are near to us. They are our near neighbours. We have a commission to relate to them in love.

To take just one example from this list of other faiths: in Australia, we have had Jews beside us and in our midst since the First Fleet itself! Jewish individuals have made significant contributions to Australian society in many spheres. In recent decades, the relationship between Christians and Jews has been nurtured and has developed in positive and constructive ways. It is time for us to ask, what “fresh expression” of our faith might we make, arising out of our relationship with Jewish people?

For almost two decades, the Uniting Church has engaged in a formal Dialogue with representatives of the Jewish Community in Australia. With my wife, Rev. Elizabeth Raine, I have participated in this national Dialogue group. We meet twice each calendar year, to share concerns, discuss issues, read scripture together, and canvass ways in which we might work together for a better society. This group is one of many hundreds of such groups around the world, seeking mutual understanding and common action for justice.

The international movement of Jewish-Christian dialogue has been growing since the late 1940s. Out of that movement, has come an understanding that Christians need to create a renewed understanding of who we are, and what we believe. No longer is it possible to dismiss Jews as people enslaved to a legalistic religion. No longer is it possible to declare that Christ has rendered obsolete the “old covenant” and put in its place a spiritually vigorous “new covenant”.

Instead, we are reminded of the ancient claims of Paul. For one, he wrote, “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Rom 11:1)—that is, the covenant made with Israel needs to be considered as ongoing, valid, continuing, into our own time. For another, Paul declared, “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Rom 9:6)—that is, God’s promises to Israel stand fast in their own right, and will be fulfilled in their own right, not through any adaptation or mediation as imposed by another religious group. And then, there is Paul’s climactic cry: “And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26)—that is, Jews have access in their own right, through their own faith, to the God of Abraham, alongside the access that is granted through Jesus.

If we take seriously the rediscovery of these affirmations, we will seek to make a “fresh expression” of the Gospel which acknowledges these claims. There is important theological work to be undertaken to enable us to declare afresh the Gospel in our immediate context of a multicultural, multi-faith society!

If we are prepared to stand alongside Jews, as fellow children of God with equal insight into God’s ways, then we will start to create a “fresh expression” of what it means to be people of faith within our contemporary Australian society. There are important steps to be taken in shaping communities of faith for our time!

And if we recognise that Jews and Christians each orient our belief towards the same God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, the God of Mary and Jesus, of Peter and Paul, of Priscilla and Phoebe—then we will seek to implement actions based on that faith, in new and fresh ways within our society.  This is the challenge that I see, most immediately, from my involvement in one growing area of the church’s life.  

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Some of my blogs from the last few years that touch on some of these matters include:

Amy Jill Levine has produced a helpful guide to the ways we might deal with these texts, noting what is helpful and what is not helpful in the various approaches; see https://www.abc.net.au/religion/holy-week-and-the-hatred-of-the-jews/

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Father, Son, and Disciples (I): the *real* trinity in John’s Gospel (John 17; Easter 7A,B,C)

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is a familiar phrase within the Christian Church. (“Holy Ghost” is used in more antiquated contexts.) The triune formula is uttered frequently, consistently, in all manner of church contexts (liturgical, catechetical, instructional, devotional), by all manner of church people (ordained and lay, stipended or voluntary, intensely devout or loosely affiliated).

This coming Sunday is the seventh Sunday in the season of Easter. Each year, on this Sunday, the lectionary takes us back to the long prayer attributed Jesus, recorded in John 17, and (by my reckoning) created by the anonymous author of this “book of signs” quite some decades after the lifetime of Jesus. In Year A, we read the first 11 verses. in Year B, we hear verses 6–19. In Year C, we are offered verses 20–26.

It’s a creative and insightful prayer, even if somewhat repetitive (as, indeed, is so much of this Gospel!). However, in my view, it draws together many key ideas that are peppered throughout the narrative of the preceding 16 chapters. And—also in my view—it offers another way for us to conceive of the relationship between Father, Son, and disciples; and because of that, it sets up the groundwork for a new take on “the trinity”.

This section of the book of signs—which we know as the Gospel according to John—that is offered by the lectionary each year, on the Seventh Sunday after Easter, is often called the Great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus (John 17:1–26). It is a prayer reported only in this Gospel, in a style that is distinctive to this Gospel. In this work, it represents the final climactic prayer of Jesus for those who are following him.

This prayer, I contend, sets before us a different trinity. Not the trinity of orthodox doctrine and liturgy. Rather, it is quite another trinity!

Let me explain. My argument has three main parts to it—not surprisingly, because it is, after all, about a three-part entity!

I The Spirit in John’s Gospel

First, let us note that references to the Spirit are few and far between in this Gospel. The Spirit is noted in John’s testimony about the baptism of Jesus (1:32–34) and then is referred to in passing in later statements by Jesus (3:34; 6:63; 7:39; 20:22), but no more expansive exposition of the role or significance of the Spirit is offered in this Gospel.

In three brief discussions during his farewell discourse with the disciples, Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Advocate (parakletos) (14:15–17, 26; 15:26: 16:12–15). In each instance, it is clear that the Advocate steps into the place that will be left empty after the departure of Jesus.

The role of the Advocate is a replacement role, rather than being one of the three personae in interrelationship within the triune Godhead. Other than these brief references, there is no indication of the Spirit as a personal entity in relationship with God or Jesus in this Gospel.

(For more on this figure in this Gospel, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/07/the-paraclete-in-john-15-exploring-the-array-of-translation-options/)

So the third person in the trinity in John’s Gospel: who is it?

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II The relationship between the Father and the Son

To get to that point, first, we need to observe the way that this Gospel sets out the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. There are ten ways by which this relationship is described in this prayer; and indications of these ten ways of connecting can be found scatted throughout the long narrative about Jesus constructed by the author.

The central affirmation about Jesus in this Gospel is claiming the unity of the Son with the Father. “The Father and I are one”, Jesus has dramatically, and provocatively declared (10:30). (These words provoked “the Jews” to pick up stones to stone Jesus, 10:31.)

This affirmation is reiterated as Jesus prays to God: “we are one” (17:22). It is also expressed in the language of intimate and mutual interrelationship: “you, Father, are in me and I am an in you” (17:21; “you in me” is repeated in 17:23).

The intimate relationship of the Father and the Son has been noted already in the chapter where Jesus speaks about the vine and the branches, when he declares that “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:10). The language of abiding recurs in the first letter attributed to John—although most likely from a different author (see 1 John 2:24, 28; 3:6, 24; 4:13–16).

The second way in which the Father and the Son are related is that the Father knows the Son, just as the Son knows the Father. “The world does not know you; but I know you”, Jesus prays (17:25). This mutual knowledge of one another has been affirmed earlier in controversies in Jerusalem (7:29; 8:55). Jesus is perfectly clear: “the Father knows me and I know the Father” (10:15).

Third, the Father loves the Son just as the Son loves the Father. This is expressed three times in this prayer (17:23, 24, 26). This again is a motif that has been expressed earlier, when Jesus affirms that “the Son loves the Father” (14:31) and that “the Son loves the Father” (15:9).

Fourth, there is a persistent theme running through the prayer, that the Father gifts the Son with a number of different gifts. These gifts include “authority over all people” (17:2), work to do (17:4), words to speak (17:8, 14), and glory (17:22, 24). The prayer also twice references “your name that you have given me” (17:11, 12). God’s gifts in the earlier chapters have included, most famously, “his only Son” (3:16), as well as “living water” (4:10), “bread in the wilderness” (6:31), the “true bread from heaven” (6:32), another Helper” (14:16), and “whatever you ask from God” (11:22; 15:16; 16:23)—although these are all directed towards believing humanity, rather than directly to the Son.

Fifth, the Father sends the Son into the world. This is another strong thread running through this prayer (17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25). The motif of sending is equally strong in this Gospel; “him who sent me” is a description of the Father that frequently recurs (1:33; 4:34; 5:23, 30, 36–38; 6:38, 44; 7:16, 28–29; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44–49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5). The famous verse about God sending the Son (3:16–17) is later alluded to in one of the final words of the risen Jesus: “as the Father has sent me” (20:21).

Sixth, the Son makes known the Father to the world (17:7–8). This function of revealing, or making known, is integral to the role that Jesus has throughout the book of signs. This function is introduced in the majestic opening prologue: “the Father’s only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18).

This theme continues in affirmations that Jesus healed the man born blond “so that the works of God might be manifest in him” (9:3); to those who love the Son “I will love him and manifest myself to him” (14:21); and in the affirmation that those formerly called servants are now called friends, “for a servant does not know what the master is doing” (15:15).

The root word underlying the verb “to make known” (gnōridzō) is the noun gnōsis, which in itself does not appear in the book of signs; however, many interpreters regard this book as being heavily influenced by the emerging movement we label as Gnosticism. In this movement, salvation is attainable not by trusting in a sacrificial action, but rather by gaining knowledge (gnosis). The insight and knowledge that is conveyed by Jesus as he teaches (6:59; 7:28, 35; 8:2, 20, 34; 18:20) is the key for those who follow him.

Seventh, the Father indicates to the Son that he has sanctified the Son him by sending him “into the world” (10:36). Whilst he was “in the world” (17:11), the Son prays to the Father that he has “made your name known” to those he has gathered (17:6), by giving to the Word (1:1-3) the words that are from God (17:8,14). Through this process, the Son is sanctified (17:19).

Eighth, the Father glorifies the Son, just as the Son glorifies the Father (17:1, 4, 5). This has been declared earlier by Jesus, that “my Father is glorified by this” (15:8), and prayed for when Jesus cries out “Father, glorify your name”, to which a voice from heaven responds, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify him at once” (12:28).

Still earlier in the Gospel, Jesus notes that “it is my Father who glorifies me” (8:54). This motif has also been signalled very early on, in the poetic prologue, in which the author claims that “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son” (1:14). The signs that Jesus performed “revealed his glory” (2:11; 11:4, 40).

The moment in which the full realisation of the glory of Jesus actually manifests in its fullness in the cluster of events that take place in his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension (12:23–24; see also 13:31–32).

Ninth, the prayer indicates that the Son returns to the Father (17:10, 13). Jesus had foretold this quite directly to his followers (14:18–19, 28). This leads to the tenth, final, line of connection and relationship between the Father and the Son: that the Son is now with the Father (17:5, 11, 14, 16, 22), bringing fulfilment to the words uttered earlier by Jesus (14:10–11, 20).

Each of these lines of connection between the Father and the Son are clearly expressed in the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Each of them is signalled at various points earlier in the narrative. And many of them are found within the prayer, and elsewhere in the Gospel, as characterising the relationship between the Son and the Disciples.

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III The relationship between the Son and the Disciples

I will offer my considerations of this third part in a subsequent blog …

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For other considerations relating to the Trinity, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/10/do-you-believe-in-the-triune-god/

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Father, Son, and Disciples (II): the *real* trinity in John’s Gospel (John 17; Easter 7A,B,C)

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is a familiar phrase within the Christian Church. (“Holy Ghost” is used in more antiquated contexts.) The triune formula is uttered frequently, consistently, in all manner of church contexts (liturgical, catechetical, instructional, devotional), by all manner of church people (ordained and lay, stipended or voluntary, intensely devout or loosely affiliated).

In a previous blog, I began an analysis of the content of a section of the book of signs—which we know as the Gospel according to John—which is offered by the lectionary each time the seventh Sunday of Easter comes around (John 17:6–19). It is often called the Great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus (17:1–26).

This prayer is reported only in this Gospel, in a style that is distinctive to this Gospel. In this work, it represents the final climactic prayer of Jesus for those who are following him. The prayer, I contend, sets before us a different trinity. Not the trinity of orthodox doctrine and liturgy. Rather, it is quite another trinity!

My argument has three main parts to it—not surprisingly, because it is, after all, about a three-part entity! Parts I and II were set forth in that earlier blog.

I The Spirit in John’s Gospel

References to the Spirit are few and far between in this Gospel. When Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Advocate (parakletos) (14:15–17, 26; 15:26: 16:12–15), it is clear that the Advocate steps into the place that will be left empty after the departure of Jesus. The Advocate replaces Jesus, rather than being one of the three personae in interrelationship within the triune Godhead.

II The relationship between the Father and the Son

There are ten ways in which this relationship is described. The central affirmation about Jesus in this Gospel is claiming the unity of the Son with the Father: “we are one” (17:22), “you, Father, are in me and I am an in you” (17:21; “you in me” is repeated in 17:23). Second, the Father knows the Son, just as the Son knows the Father. “The world does not know you; but I know you”, Jesus prays (17:25); “the Father knows me and I know the Father” (10:15).

Third, the Father loves the Son just as the Son loves the Father (17:23, 24, 26). Fourth, the Father gifts the Son with a number of different gifts: “authority over all people” (17:2), work to do (17:4), words to speak (17:8, 14), and glory (17:22, 24). Fifth, the Father sends the Son into the world (17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25).

Sixth, the Son makes known the Father to the world (17:7–8). Seventh, the Father has sanctified the Son; while he was “in the world” (17:11), the Son prays to the Father that he has “made your name known” to those he has gathered (17:6), by giving the words that are from God (17:8,14). Through this process, the Son is sanctified (17:19).

Eighth, the Father glorifies the Son, just as the Son glorifies the Father (17:1, 4, 5). Ninth, the prayer indicates that the Son returns to the Father (17:10, 13), and tenth, it is clear that the Son is now with the Father (17:5, 11, 14, 16, 22).

Each of these lines of connection between the Father and the Son are clearly expressed in the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Each of them is signalled at various points earlier in the narrative. And many of them are found within the prayer, and elsewhere in the Gospel, as characterising the relationship between the Son and the Disciples.

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III The relationship between the Son and the Disciples

So the next step in my argument is to propose that the third element in this Johannine trinity is, not the Spirit, but rather—the Disciples. The Disciples relate to the Son as the Son relates to the Father. Seven of the ten ways by which the Father and the Son relate to one another are mirrored in the way that the Son relates to the Disciples.

The first way is that the Son and the Disciples are unified as one: “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me” (17:22–23). This unity is expressed also in that the Son abides in the Disciples, and the Disciples abide in the Son (17:21). This intimate interrelationship leads Jesus to pray “I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one” (17:23). The unity of Father and Son is exactly paralleled in the perfect unity of Son and Disciples.

The language of “abide” has earlier been used by Jesus to refer to his relationship with his disciples as he expanded the imagery of the vine and the branches (15:6, 7, 10). “I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you”, he has also declared (14:20)—a striking expression of trinitarian interrelationship!

The second connection is that the Disciples know who the Son is (17:21, 23, 25). “If you know me”, Jesus has earlier taught the Disciples, “you will know my Father also” (14:7). The way by which the Disciples then demonstrate what they know about the Son is through their deeds: “if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (13:17).

Third, the unity of Son and Disciples results in knowledge about the Son spreading amongst others: “I in me and you in me … so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them, even as you love me” (17:23). This, then, mirrors what we identified as the sixth way of connecting, as the Son makes known the Father; now, Jesus affirms, the Disciples make known the Son.

The fourth way that there is connection is that the Son loves the Disciples and thus the Disciples can love the Son (17:23). The love of the Son for the Disciples is articulated in a very strong statement that introduces the second half of the gospel (chs. 13–21), namely, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1).

Jesus references his love for the Disciples as well as their love for him again at 13:34; 14:21; 15:9–10. He also affirms that “those who love me will be loved by my Father” (14:21) and “the Father himself loves you because you have loved me” (16:27). The three-way interconnectedness of mutual love strengthens the notion of a trinity of relationship involving Father, Son, and Disciples.

The fifth manner of relationship is that the Son gives gifts to the Disciples. These gifts are identified as words (17:8, 14), glory (17:22), and love (17:26). Earlier narratives in this Gospel have likewise noted that the Son gives the Disciples “power to become children of God” (1:12), “the food of eternal life” (6:12), eternal life (10:28), peace (14:27), and “another Advocate” (as already noted, 14:16). This mirrors the fourth element in the relationship between the Father and the Son.

The sixth way is that the Son sends the disciples into the world (17:18), in the same way that the Father has sent the Son into the world (see the many references cited above). The parallelism is also evident in the word that “whoever receives anyone I send, receives me” (13:20), and in the command of the risen Jesus, “as the Father sent me, so I send you” (20:21). As with the Father sending the Son (the fifth way of connecting), so the Son sends the Disciples.

The seventh way of relating is that the Son is glorified in the Disciples (17:10). This, too, parallels one of the ways by which the Father relates to the Son (listed above as the eighth way). “The glory that you have given me, I have given them”, says Jesus (17:22). And more than this, in the story of the vine and the branches, Jesus affirms that “in this, my Father is glorified; that you bear much fruit and prove to be my disciples” (15:8). Once again, the three elements of the Johannine trinity are drawn into intimate relationship.

The final, eighth, line of connection is that the Son sanctifies the Disciples. Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth” (17:17-19). This mirrors what we identified as the eight way of connection between Father and Son.

These eight lines of connection between the Son and the Disciples directly parallel the way that the Father relates to the Son. Only the final two means of connection between Father and Son are absent from the way the Son relates to the Disciples; and there are clear reasons for this, since they relate to the post-ascension state of Jesus, who has returned to the Father and is now with the Father.

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So, in this wonderful prayer, the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, we have the foundational elements set out for this somewhat distinctive trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Disciples, bound together in intimate unity, inter-relating, distinct and yet overlapping.

The prayer draws together many elements in the way that the relationship between the Father and the Son is expressed in this Gospel. The prayer also incorporates many of the ways by which the Son is connected with the Disciples. In fact, the interconnected nature of this threeway relationships actually appears to be highly developed, well thought through, and clearly articulated in this Gospel.

As Father and Son are one, so Son and Disciples are one. As the Father is glorified in the Son, so the Disciples are glorified in the Son. As the Father sanctifies the Son, so the Son sanctifies the Disciples. As the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends the Disciples. As the Son makes the Father known, so the Disciples make known the Son. As the Father abides in the Son, and the Son in the Father, so the Son abides in the Disciples, and the Disciples abide in the Son.

Father, Son, and Disciples. This is what I call, the real Johannine Trinity.

Now, let the accusations of heresy begin ………

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For other considerations relating to the Trinity, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/10/do-you-believe-in-the-triune-god/

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Looking forward to co-operative leadership in a “collaborative parliament”

I am really glad that we are cracking open the two-party duopoly in federal politics. We already have a good number of Green members in the federal parliament, led by Adam Bandt, with prospects of some more joining them once the results of this election are finalised.

And we have had a good collection of thinking independents in parliament in recent times—Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Cathy McGowan, Rebecca Sharkie, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall—with the prospects of quite a number of new members in this ilk (collectively known as “the Teal Independents”) joining them on the cross benches.

This will most likely produce what the commentators regularly call “a hung parliament”–although one of my colleagues says that we really should call it “a collaborative parliament”. For that is what the members of this next parliament will need to do: collaborate!

This will be in stark contrast to the disastrous shirtfronting, bulldozing approach of our feral federal leadership over the past decade, as both The Abbott of Inequity and The Liar from The Shire have relentlessly driven the COALition further to the right, turning the public discourse into a series of hate-speech episodes, fanning the flames of misogyny, xenophobia, and anti-science attitudes, targeting renewable industries, people below the poverty line, females in the workplace, same-gender attracted people, and transgender people. It has been a shameful period, thriving on the partisan conflict generated by confrontational rhetoric and aggressive actions.

Regardless of how many Greens and Teal Independents are elected to the lower house, the incoming government will still need to work with the range of Senators sitting on the cross benches in the red house, the Senate. There are currently Greens, a number of independents, and members from the Jacqui Lambie Network, the One Nation Party, and the Centre Alliance in the Senate. More Greens and perhaps some RWNJs may well be joining them once the Senate votes are all counted and the preferences distributed.

A “collaborative parliament” is not a disaster. Having a minority government which needs to propose legislation that it negotiates with cross bench members (Greens, Independents) to get through the House and the Senate, is a sensible, mature, responsible process.

In the last “collaborative parliament”, with a minority government led by Julia Gillard (2010–2013), more than 560 pieces of legislation were passed — more than the preceding Rudd government and more than John Howard when he controlled both houses of government between 2005 and 2007.

Some major policy initiatives of the Gillard government included: the Clean Energy Bill 2011; the Mineral Resource Rent Tax; a National Broadband Network; a schools funding formula following the Gonski Review; the National Disability Insurance Scheme; the carbon price package; a means test on the health insurance rebate; paid parental leave; a plan for the Murray Darling Basin; plain packaging for cigarettes; and the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office, which is available to cost policies on request. That is an impressive list.

Michelle Grattan wrote that in a hung parliament, “Parliament has a much more active role, rather than the House being a rubber stamp. The government is kept on its toes. Having the parliament “hung” is another check and balance in the system.” See https://theconversation.com/looking-back-on-the-hung-parliament-16175

She notes that in 2010–2013, about a quarter of House of Representatives time has been used for private members business. 357 private members bills and motions were introduced and debated; 150 were voted on and 113 supported, according to figures supplied by the Leader of the House’s office. By comparison, in 2005 under the Howard government no private members motions were voted on. Democracy works much better in a situation where the parliament has to work collaboratively.

Rob Oakeshott reflected that the great lesson for him out of that parliamentary term was that “bipartisanship is the best and politically the only way to achieve long-standing reform”. Tony Windsor noted that people do not understand what it is. “In some ways they do not fully comprehend what a hung parliament is, and still look at it through the prism of the two party system. It is not that”.

Bob Katter’s assessment was, “a hung parliament … is a multiparty democracy which is experienced everywhere else in the world. The two party system is primitive”. Andrew Wilkie noted that “the parliament itself has proved to be remarkably stable, reformist and productive.”

I am looking forward to the next three years, as collaboration and co-operation become the key markets of our federal leadership.

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Scriptural resonances in Revelation 21–22 (Easter 6C)

The section of Revelation provided by the lectionary for this coming Sunday (21:10, 22–22:5) is the final vision from a long sequences of visions, in which the writer, carried “in the spirit” to “a great, high mountain”, sees “the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (22:10).

The top of a mountain is significant in biblical narratives; we only need to remember Moses atop Mount Sinai, receiving the commandments from God (Exod 19:1–25) and viewing the promised land, which he would not himself enter (Deut 34:1–4); and Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, teaching his disciples (Matt 5:1–7:28), being transfigured in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:1–8), and giving his last instructions to his followers before departing from them (Matt 18:16–20).

Visions in Scripture

There are many accounts of visions being seen by people on earth, as God reveals guidance to them; noteworthy are the visions of Abraham (Gen 18:1–16), Moses (Exod 3:1–6), Balaam and his donkey (Num 22:22–35), Joshua (Josh 5:13–15), Eli (1 Sam 3:2–18), and the visions of various prophets (Isa 6:1–13; Ezek 2:1–10; Ezek 40:1–44:31; Dan 7:1–14; Dan 8:1–14; Amos 7:1–9; Amos 8:1–14; Zech chapters 1–6).

In early chapters of the Gospels, visions experienced by key figures shape the course of the story—Zechariah (Luke 1:8–20), Mary (Luke 1:26–38), shepherds (Luke 2:8–14), and Joseph (Matt 1:19–21; 2:13; 2:19–20). Paul experienced “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor 12:1–7a); according Luke’s account of the journey he took towards Damascus, it was the visions to both Ananias and to Paul himself (Acts 9:10–12) that brought Paul into the community of believers, in a life-transforming moment.

However, the most notable vision is surely that experienced by Peter, in Joppa: “he saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’” (Acts 10:11–13). This vision not only changes Peter’s understanding of things; it sets forth the rationale for the fundamental nature of the movement founded by Jesus, as an inclusive community of Jews and Gentiles.

Visions in Revelation 19–22

The vision that the author of Revelation sees is part of an extended sequence of visions which are introduced by the same phrase that is used in Acts: “then I saw heaven opened” (19:11; cf. Acts 10:11). God’s opening of the heavens is recognised by the psalmist (Ps 78:23) as the means by which manna was provided in the wilderness; and perhaps this resonance is picked up in the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when Jesus “saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10 and parallels). God tears open the heavens to bless and to commission.

More pertinent, however, is the statement by Isaiah, in an oracle describing incredible devastation wrought in divine judgement over Israel, when “the earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled … the earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth [for] the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants” (Isa 24:3–4). The prophet declares that “the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble; the earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken” Isa 24:18–19). This is a fearsome rending apart of the heavens!

So, too, in Revelation, where the opening of the heavens (19:1) reveals a series of seven visions. There is a vision of an intense, violent battle (19:11–21), a vision of the binding of a dragon and “the first resurrection” (20:1–6), and two visions of judgement (20:7–10, 11–15); followed by a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1–8), a vision of “the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9–27), and then the final vision of “the river of the water of life, flowing … through the middle of the street of the city” (22:1–5).

Scriptural resonances in the visions of Revelation 19–22

In the initial vision of a cataclysmic battle, “the beast and the kings of the earth”, along with their armies, are confronted by a fiery, blood-soaked rider on a white horse, with “the armies of heaven” (19:11–16). The description of this particular figure, as is so often the case on this book, draws from biblical imagery (eyes like a flame of fire, sharp sword, rod of iron, treading the winepress). Indeed, each of the visions that follow are themselves thoroughly shaped by biblical language and imagery. As the author looks forward, he draws heavily on the traditions and stories of his own faith, as expressed in the scrolls of Hebrew Scriptures with which he is intimately familiar.

An angel steps forward to issue the call to battle—yet his call is an invitation to “the great supper of God” (19:17). The image of a supper had been utilised by the prophet Isaiah, who saw the final gathering of the nations in terms of a lavish feast (Isa 25:6–10; see also 55:1–5). This time, however, the supper is a feast for cannibals—turning the imagery upside-down, in a manner reminiscent of a grisly oracle uttered by Ezekiel (Ezek 39:17–20).

The beast and his false prophet are thrown alive into a lake of burning sulphur, evoking the punishment visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24–25; Deut 29:23; 3 Macc 2:5; Luke 17:28–30). The armies of the kings of the earth are slain by the sword, and Satan is cast into a locked pit for one thousand years (19:17–20:6). This recalls an oracle delivered by Isaiah, in which he declared that God, in judgement, would imprison “the host of heaven and the kings of the earth” (Isa 24:21–22).

But for a thousand years? The Psalmist says that “a thousand years in [God’s] sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Ps 90:4), and a late New Testament book affirms that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pet 3:8); however, we should note that the period of one thousand years is nowhere associated with divine punishment elsewhere in biblical texts.

After the release of Satan, one further battle takes place, against “the nations … Gog and Magog” (20:8). The account in Revelation 20 is brief, but the distinctive names (Gog and Magog) evoke a reference to an older battle against invaders from the north, described by Ezekiel (Ezek 38:1–39:20). This decisive encounter effected the definitive punishment of God and paved the way for the promised restoration of Israel to the land (Ezek 39:21–29) and the vision of a restored temple (Ezek 40:1–46:24). The same pattern is followed in Revelation 20. After the battle against Gog and Magog, the devil is also cast into the lake of burning sulphur, all the dead are judged, and Death itself is destroyed (20:7–15).

This is followed by the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth, a place devoid of death, bathed in light, sustained by the water of life, a city dazzling with jewels and home to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (21:1–22:5). The vision appears closely related to the final visions reported at the end of the book of Isaiah (Isa 65:17; 66:22–23).

The imagery used in these verses relates particularly to various sections of the book of Isaiah. The bride prepared for her husband (21:2) recalls the scene of Isa 61:10; the wiping away of tears (21:4) evokes the banishing of sorrow (Isa 35:10). The gift of water from the spring of life (21:6) is suggestive of the way that water functions as an image of life (Isa 35:6–7; 41:18), and the prominent place of the river of the water of life in the new Jerusalem (22:1–2) evokes Isaiah’s link between “the new thing” and “rivers in the desert” (Isa 43:18–21).

Likewise, the description of the spectacular beauty of the city and the careful itemizing of its measurements (21:10–21) imitates the section of Ezekiel where the Temple of his vision is carefully described and numerous measurements are provided (Ezek 40–42). What is noteworthy, of course, is the pointed declaration that “I saw no temple in the city” (21:22) and the insistence that the divine presence will provide more than enough light for the whole city (21:23– 25; 22:5).

Despite the author’s lengthy and intricate entwining with scriptural sources, in this final vision he points beyond the past, to a new form of the future. Yet still, he reaches back before the temple, to the times when the shining light signaled the divine presence (Exod 3:2; 13:21–22; Ps 78:14). In similar fashion, perhaps the prominence of the tree of life (22:2) is intended to supplant the many trees beside the river in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 47:12) and provide a reminder of the single tree in the creation story (Gen 2:9).

The closing scenes this provide assurance of God’s providential care of the people of Israel, and perhaps even of the whole earth. Indeed, the familiar patterns of this life, as we know it—night and day, light and dark, even life and death—will be transcended in this new order of reality. Written for a people in the midst of oppressive persecution, this glorious vision and triumphant conclusion provides assurance, reinforcing their faith with hope and certainty.

So it is no wonder, then, that the prayer of those who first heard these visions proclaimed to them, is simply: “Come” (22:17, 20). As we know, that coming was not, as was hoped for, “soon” (22:7, 12, 20). How we now apply these visionary words to our own times is the challenge that rests with us!

See https://johntsquires.com/2022/05/04/with-regard-to-revelation-and-rev-14/

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This blog draws on material in JOURNEYING WITH JOHN: an exploration of the Johannine writings, by Elizabeth Raine and John Squires (self-published 2014)

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What language shall we use?

Lately I have been in some conversations relating to the language we use. We all speak English; a number of us speak or read another language, or languages, in the course of our days. But mostly, in most situations, we use English.

For many years, much of my work was focussed on making sense in the English language of material that was written in another language. The books of the Bible, as we should know, were not first written in English. Our Bibles are translations from Greek, in the case of the New Testament, and Hebrew (and a few chapters of Aramaic) in the case of the Hebrew Scriptures. So choosing the right words to render those foreign language texts into our English language is an important task.

Indeed, when it comes to Bible translations, we have allowed the Enlightenment to drive us into an incessant search for The Right Word/Phrase/Translation. Since translating is a skill that relies on nuance and subtlety, the offer of multiple options is just too good to refuse—and it invites us to explore, to question, to search for ourselves. That can only be good for our own discipleship and faith development.

These days, my work is focussed more on other areas where language matters. Sure, I still am involved in Bible studies where the meaning of a particular word or phrase in a biblical book might be a point of consideration. But more often during the week, I am involved in conversations where I am listening to people speak in the words and the phrases of their own choosing.

My task in such conversations is to listen carefully, to seek to understand what is being said by my conversation partner. Grasping the words that are spoken and sensing the meaning of what is being conveyed are important processes. We all do it when we converse. In ministry, listening carefully, hearing and understanding correctly, are vitally important skills.

Another area where understanding the words used—and making decisions about what words to use—is worship. I have long been of the practice that I will try to choose hymns and songs that don’t include complex, inscrutable, incomprehensible words—theological jargon, in particular. (To be honest, sometimes, if I really want to use such a hymn or song, I will “translate” such terms into more manageable words, and put them into the lyrics on the screen—although nobody seems to notice!)

I also have a personal dislike of hymns that persist in using “thee” and “thou”—fine, common words in Shakespearean English, but not at all in common use in the 21st century! A simple change from “thee” to “you” is easy and clear. The same goes for verbs that end in “-est” and “-eth”, like “thou doest” and “they saieth”. They are strange to people listening with a 21st century ear and not readily understandable in the contemporary context.

The matter becomes a little more complex when thinking about other terms often found in traditional hymns—and even in contemporary choruses. Persistently calling God “he” and referring to human beings as “men” really grates with me—and has for half a century, now. Using inclusive language is the policy of the Uniting Church, and that should carry into our hymns and songs in worship.

Likewise, I avoid hymns or songs that reflect particular theological viewpoints that I don’t personally adhere to (like hymns glorying in the shed blood of the lamb and extolling him as the

substitutionary means of atonement for our terrible sins). We can sing about how we relate to Jesus without adopting medieval theological terminology that has “stuck” in some quarters of the church long beyond its use-by-date.

In the same way, we can seek out those songs, poems, and prayers that move away from the stultify ing predictability of calling God “Father” or “Lord” over and over, never deviating from these so-called “biblical” names for God. Why, there are many names for God that are found in scripture—Holy One, Righteous One, Eternal One—and a proliferation of terms that identify a quality of God—Gracious God, Loving God, God of justice, Compassionate God, Faithful God, and so on.

There are also ways of addressing God that have been developed more recently—Ground of our Being, and the variant threefold pattern of “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” come to mind. And I recently found someone, writing about our care for creation, referring to God as “Gardener God”. I like that! Surely we ought to rejoice in the diversity of divine names that we have at our disposal.

And another pet peeve I have is the way that some grand favourite hymns simply assume that we are in the northern hemisphere; that Easter is taking place when the temperature is warming and the flowers are budding; that Christmas is celebrated at the time of the year when days are shortest and temperatures are coldest, with snow on the ground and warm fires burning.

That’s not my experience, and it feels weird to sing as if it is, when it isn’t! There are Southern Hemisphere alternatives that can be sung—not just “The north wind”, but many others that have been written downunder in recent decades by writers such as Shirley Erena Murray, Colin Gibson, Robin Mann, David MacGregor, Craig Mitchell, Leigh Newton, Heather Price, Malcolm Gordon, and more.

We have, in our midst, some fine wordsmiths who write new songs for us to sing—songs that use contemporary words, that avoid theological jargon, that employ inclusive language, that relate to a contemporary “downunder” context. People have always created new songs, and they still are today. Fostering that creativity by singing these songs and hymns is good to do.

There are also talented folks who are able to revise the words or even craft new verses for existing hymns, maintaining the traditional beloved tunes, but inviting people to sing using words, concepts, phrases, and ideas that more readily reflect the natural way of conversing and speaking in daily life.

I’m thinking of Sue Wickham and Sarah Agnew within the Uniting Church; I am sure there are many more. Sarah writes fine poetry for use in worship; and when it comes to poetry, the work of Jason John is excellent, also—although not always geared for liturgical use. (And there’s often a language warning with Jason’s work!)

That’s a good thing, I believe; articulating the Gospel in ways that make most sense within the context is an important thing to do. It’s perhaps somewhat akin to paraphrases that people make of biblical passages—or, indeed, preaching, where the aim is to communicate the message of scripture in ways that connect into the contemporary context.

Sadly, I know not everyone shares my interest and delight in discovering “new words for old tunes”. Some people think that the ”traditional” words shouldn’t be changed or interfered with in any way. However, if the original is acknowledged as the inspiration for the reworking, then I think that should be acceptable; it indicates that the person reworking the old hymn is finding inspiration to express in refreshing and invigorating ways, the age-old truths of the Gospel.

And really, this is actually doing what many fine hymn writers of the past have done—they reworked their own words, they reshaped verses from other writers, they wrote whole new sets of verses for tunes that were popular in their day (although they weren’t bound by the laws of copyright as we are). It’s part and parcel of the fine tradition of hymnody that we celebrate within our church.

So choosing the right words is a very good thing to be concerned about. What language shall we use? The language that conveys our faith in relevant, understandable, enlivening ways, right here, right now! I’m all for that.

See

Sarah Agnew at https://www.sarahagnew.com.au and https://praythestory.blogspot.com

Jason John at https://ecofaith.org

Sue Wickham at https://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=925

Robin Mann at http://www.robinmann.com.au/Robin-Mann-Songs-pg23732.html

David MacGregor at https://dmacgreg1.wordpress.com and https://togethertocelebrate.com.au/songs-for-free-streaming/

Craig Mitchell at https://craigmitchell.com.au/music/

Leigh Newton at https://leighnewton.com.au/

Heather Price at https://heatherprice.com.au/

Malcolm Gordon at https://malcolmgordon.bandcamp.com

Shirley Erena Murray at https://hymnary.org/person/Murray_SE and https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/posts/a-jolt-of-reality-the-hymns-of-shirley-erena-murray/

Colin Gibson at https://hymnary.org/person/Gibson_C1 and https://songselect.ccli.com/search/results?List=contributor_P130845_Colin%20Gibson&CurrentPage=1&PageSize=100

See also links to all manner of reworked and new material at http://lectionarysong.blogspot.com

UCA Music at https://ucamusic.com.au

the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts at https://www.cmla.org.au/shop/

and original songs at https://www.paddingtonuca.org.au/music

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IDAHoBiT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

May 17 is IDAHoBiT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. IDAHoBiT is a day to draw attention to the discrimination experienced by LGBTQI+ people internationally.

The day is marked worldwide in over 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are still illegal. The first day was held in 2004 to raise awareness of the violence and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including all people who have diverse gender identities or sexual expressions.

The date of 17 May was chosen for IDAHoBiT as this was the date in 1990 when the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Despite this, LGBTQI+ people across the world continue to face hate, discrimination and violence.

The theme for IDAHoBiT 2022, adopted after consultation with LGBTQI+ organisations worldwide, is Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights.

The theme claims the rights of sexually- and gender-diverse people to live their sexual identity and to express their gender freely. It also signals a desire for such people to be free from physical violence, free from conversion practices (mislabelled as “therapies”), able to access transition services for Trans people, and free from the forced sterilisation of Intersex people.

The website for this day (https://may17.org/) states that the theme provides a reminder that “many of us around the world live LGBTQI-phobias in their very flesh every day and that our bodies are being abused, ruining our lives. Our bodies are our lives. And we have a right to live free and in dignity!”

For myself, I do not identify with any of the letters in the LGBTIQA+ acronym. I have lived my life as a male who is heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to me at my birth correlates with my sense of personal identity and gender)—in short, I am what is referred to as heteronormative. And, as a white male in the Western world, my life experience has certainly been privileged and sheltered from internal or external disturbances and challenges related to my sexuality or gender identity.

So I have no personal experience of the gender dysmorphia that others experience in their lives; nor have I had any experience of the prejudice or persecution experienced by people identifying as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. My understanding of what such people have experienced has come through relationships, conversations, readings, and personal thinking through of the issues. It has required empathy and understanding, and I think that it’s clear that I haven’t done this perfectly; but hopefully I have done so at least adequately.

I’m also a person of faith, and thus embedded within a community that, sadly, has demonstrated a collection of failures in the way that sexually and gender diverse people have been seen and treated. The Christian Church has shown a persistent lack of understanding, a continual marginalising (or “othering”), an aggressive assertion about the sinfulness of the particular identity or lifestyle, and undertaking attempts to “change the protestation” or “reverse the gender” of some people. All of these attitudes and actions have been unloving, uncaring, and indeed (in my view) unChristian.

Recent events in a number of churches have indicated that these attitudes and actions remain, tragically, alive and well in churches today. The United Methodist Church has become the Untied Methodist Church, as the so-called Global Methodist Church splits off in schismatic separation from the UMC because of differences of opinion about sexuality issues.

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, this week, has been debating the definition of marriage, and has shown a continuing need by many within its ranks to condemn (once again) all manner of people living outside the narrow norms that are set up, by some, as being “biblical” requirements.

My own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, has struggled with these issues over decades; more intensely, and intentionally, in the last decade, addressing matters relating to gender identity and sexual attraction. Recently the National Assembly agreed to a proposal “that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts (SOGICE) are harmful to people’s mental health and wellbeing”. The proposal cited the Uniting Church Statement, Dignity in Humanity, which states that “every person is precious and entitled to live with dignity because they are God’s children”.

See https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/human-rights/uca-statements/item/484-dignity-in-humanity-a-uniting-church-statement-on-human-rights

How are privileged, cis-gender heterosexual people like myself to respond to a day like IDAHoBiT? I think we need to cultivate empathy and develop understanding. I think we need to seek out and develop respectful relationships in which we can hear stories, learn of experiences, articulate our own inadequacies and sorrow for how we have acted or interacted with people in the past. Most importantly, I believe we need to learn ways by which we can support survivors of gender identity change efforts and help prevent harm from the ideology and practices of such gender identity change efforts.

Underlying this is my own firm commitment to an understanding of human beings as intentionally created by God, exactly as we are, to be exactly who we are, without qualification or change. The “doctrine of sin” that the church has promulgated has impressed on us that we are all “fall short of the glory of God”, that we all do wrong things—and who would argue with that?

But this doctrine has also been used to identify and persecute specific sinfulness on the part of identifiable minority groups—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersex, and transgender people in particular—not recognising the nuances of differences that actually do exist across the spectrum of humanity. That’s a misuse of the doctrine, in my opinion. It should not be used to persecute someone on the basis of differences that are perceived.

What gender a person believes that they are, and what attraction an individual has to other people, is built into the very DNA of them as a person, wanting to force change in either of those matters is, to my mind, one of the greatest sins. I think it’s important for “allies” such as myself to remind others of this truth, and to stand in solidarity with “rainbow people” each and every day.

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, let us ensure that each and every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or otherwise identifying people knows that we accept them, value them, and love them, exactly as they are!

And let us be strong in calling out any sign of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia, when we hear it expressed or see it enacted.

For information about IDAHoBiT in Australia, go to https://www.idahobit.org.au/

I close with a short prayer written by the Rev. Josephine Inkpin, for IDAHoBiT Day

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Fairly produced, fairly traded: for World Fair Trade Day 2022

World Fair Trade Day will be Saturday 14th May this year. Fair Trade helps support small-scale farmers, artisans and producers to cultivate safer, healthier and more sustainable communities around the world.

The theme for World Fair Trade Day this year is Climate Justice. We are all aware that climate change is causing major problems across the world. Climate change is affecting the people in the world unevenly.

It is clear that we are not all suffering from the changes in climate in the same way. Those who are least responsible for the climate crisis are the ones who are most affected by its impacts.

Fairtrade is a way to support those who are most vulnerable, those who are most exposed to the impacts of climate change. There are more than 1.9 million farmers and workers in Fairtrade certified producer organisations, in 71 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa—some of the countries that are most at risk because of rising sea levels, the spread of drier desert climates, the increasing number of catastrophic weather events such as floods or bushfires, and other effects of climate change.

47% of all Fairtrade farmers produce coffee, and 41% of all FairTrade workers produce flowers. But many other products are produced in ways that ensure they are fairly produced and fairly traded: tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, rice, honey, nuts, vanilla wine—but also textiles and cotton, used in our clothing. There is even, now, a Fairtrade Carbon Credit scheme operating under the auspices of Fairtrade International.

An easily-recognised symbol on products marks them as Fairtrade. This symbol that designates products certified in accordance with Fairtrade Standards.

These Fairtrade Standards require producers to meet minimum social, economic and environmental requirements. In addition, participating organisations are encouraged to provide an ongoing improvement of farmers’ employment conditions or the situation of estate workers. 

“When you buy Fairtrade certified products, you are part of an effective global movement for change,” says Uniting Church minister and longterm Fair Trade Advocate, John Martin, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Fair Trade Association (ANZ). “You are also contributing, in a small but significant way, to lessening the impact of climate change.”

The Fairtrade organisation began in the UK in 1992, and has now spread around the globe, with strong support in Australia and many other countries with big purchasing power—the USA, Canada, India, Japan, and over 20 European nations.

Springwood Uniting Church is one of a number of UCA congregations which is strongly supportive of Fairtrade, holding an annual Fairtrade Festival to promote the initiative and e courage people to buy Fairtrade. About a decade ago, the Synod of NSW.ACT agreed to use Fairtrade products, and encouraged congregations and organisations in the Synod to do likewise.

That proposal was brought by the Revs. Elizabeth Raine and John Squires, who have a personal commitment to buying all their food and clothing from organic, fairly produced, and fairly traded sources. Elizabeth says, “it can sometimes be a challenge to keep to this regime; but we believe that the time it takes, and the extra cost that is sometimes (not always) involved, is really not much to ask. We don’t want to be supporting any product that exploits, degrades, or oppresses anybody involved in making it”.

In keeping with the Climate Justice theme for World Fair Trade Day 2022, the lectionary for the next Sunday (15 May) includes Psalm 148–a wonderful statement where the whole of creation praises God.

In this Psalm, the whole of creation praises God: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Ps 148:7–10).

The psalm causes us to ask: how can the whole creation praise God when the life is being stifled out of it by ecological damage principally caused by climate change? Perhaps you can refer to World Fair Trade Day and use this psalm in worship this Sunday—and encourage your congregation to adopt Fairtrade products.

For further resources, see this excellent 1 minute 32 sec. video and other resources prepared by the World Fair Trade Organisation:

https://wfto.com/fairtradeday2022/page1.html

To see how Fair Trade enterprises use sustainable methods in the production and packaging of their products:

https://wfto.com/fairtradeday2022/

If your church uses Fairtrade products, you can apply to use this logo at https://fairtradeanz.org/what-is-fairtrade/get-involved

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Voting on 21 May (7): Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The final area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World.

The UCA resource notes that “we are a nation that works in partnership with other nations to dismantle the structural and historical causes of violence, injustice and inequality. Our government upholds human rights everywhere, acting in the best interests of all people and the planet.”

It further notes that we remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with the highest median wealth per adult, and fourth highest average wealth per adult. “Historically, we played a significant part in reducing world poverty and making significant gains in human flourishing. COVID-19 has made the world poorer, less equal and less secure.”

“Climate change and increased geopolitical competition is destabilising democracies and increasing the number of refugees in the world. In 2020, Australia boosted aid to our local region to support pandemic response, however, the current government has capped ongoing aid to pre-COVID levels, the lowest since 1961.”

“Despite our relative wealth, we are ranked an ungenerous 21st on the global list of overseas development aid as a percentage of gross national income. The recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine reminds us again of the urgent need to rid the world of weapons capable of catastrophic, widespread destruction.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• Centering Australia’s foreign policy on a commitment to justice and peace; collaborating internationally to deliver community development and human rights.

• Legislate Australian Aid to reach 0.5% GNI by 2026 and 0.7% GNI by 2030.

• Increase support to fight COVID globally.

• Sign on to the global treaty banning nuclear weapons.

• Increase support to vulnerable nations to help address the impact of climate change.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Splitting a church, maintaining a prejudice: the sad case of the (un)United Methodist Church

A new church was formed this month. The so-called Global Methodist Church (GNC) was launched as a new denomination—in effect, a sectarian schismatic movement, splitting from the United Methodist Church (UMC)—on the basis of, you guessed it, sexuality.

The GMC has placed to the fore a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and clergy must adhere to this in their ministry. This has been a point of persistent debate, dissension, and division in the UMC for decades. Many efforts have been made to hold the different points of view together under the one umbrella of the UMC. That fragile union cracked with a decision last year, and now the moment has been seized by the breakaway group, acting unilaterally, to set up its own structures.

Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the new denomination’s Transitional Leadership Council and until now a United Methodist minister in Virginia, complained that “some bishops are intentionally blocking churches from using certain processes for exiting the denomination”—a reference to the fact that the UMC’s Council of Bishops has twice delayed holding a General Conference that would enable a friendly parting of the church.

The COVID pandemic had been the reason for delaying the General Conference first set for 2020, and then for 2021; this year, the delay has been credited to the delays being experienced in the US of the processing of visa applications. The United Methodist Church currently claims 6.3 million members in the U.S. and 6.5 million overseas, so half the representatives would have been travelling into the US and would have needed visas.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who recently became the President of the UMC Council of Bishops, said that the continuing United Methodist Church was “not interested in continuing sexism, racism, homophobia, irrelevancy and decline … what we are interested in is a discovery of what God has in mind for us on the horizon as the next expression of who we are as United Methodists.”

I have taken this information from an article at https://www.columbian.com/news/2022/apr/30/united-methodist-church-split-official-as-of-today/. It’s important to note that the trigger words used here—sexism, racism, homophobia—are Bishop Bickerton’s words; I am simply quoting him.

Sadly, it seems to me that this is just another instance of people within a Christian church perpetuating actions that will impinge in negative ways on people in society—and, indeed, within the church. The discriminatory actions of the new schismatic denomination will have a negative impact on a small, but significant, minority group within society.

It’s simply a fact that the majority of the population identify as heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to them at birth correlates with their sense of personal identity and gender). LGBTIQA+ people do not identify as either cis-gender, or as heterosexual, or as both. So whilst it is true that they are a minority in society, that should not affect the way that they are treated in society, and by churches.

However, the key plank in the formation of the GMC is a perpetuation of a discriminatory attitude towards same-gender attracted people who are seeking to be married in a service of Christian marriage. The GMC will not allow its ministers to marry such people. There are many denominations around the world who, sadly, share that attitude.

Up until 2018, my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia was one. All of this changed with a decision taken by the National Assembly in 2018, which meant that ministers now do have discretion to marry people of the same gender. That is part of a continuing trajectory within the Uniting Church, affirming and valuing the place of LGBTIQA+ people within the life of the church, and, indeed, within society.

See https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/a-diversity-of-religious-beliefs-and-ethical-understandings/ and the various links included in that blogpost.

For the various affirmations that the Assembly has made that have led the church to this latest decision, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/

It’s my hope that we can continue along that trajectory, continue to marry people regardless of their gender identity, and hopefully in due course issue an Apology to LGBTIQA+ people for how the church has treated such people in past years.

See also

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For an exploration of the forces that worked for so long against this, and earlier, enlightened moves relating to sexuality within the UCA, see my series of posts that are linked below.

For my series of blogs on the failed strategy of conservatives in the Uniting Church over the decades, see

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Voting on 21 May (6): Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote, and Urban

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The sixth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote, and Urban—with particular reference to issues of housing and mental health in rural and remote areas.

We live in communities where we are connected and we care for one another. In communities all over Australia, from our big cities to remote regions, we seek the well-being of each Australian and uplift those who are on the margins.

People in Australia living in rural and remote areas tend to have shorter lives, higher levels of disease and injury and poorer access to and use of health services, including mental health care, compared to people living in metropolitan areas. The housing crisis and mental health crisis are converging in regional Australia as rental vacancy rates in some regions fall below 1%.

Regional towns have experienced a significant reduction in available properties and rental affordability, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. The Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, the state’s peak body for community mental health said the situation was “pushing people experiencing mental distress into homelessness”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about these two major areas:

(1) Improved mental health support for people in rural and remote Australia that is adequately funded, able to be flexibly used and well managed locally.

(2) Governments to do more to provide affordable housing in the regions – to boost housing for vulnerable people and strengthen local economies.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (5): An Inclusive and Equal Society

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The fifth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for An Inclusive and Equal Society, with particular reference to how we age well within contemporary society.

The Uniting Church seeks a fairer Australia where wellbeing in older years is protected and defended, and is also committed to appreciating and recognising the value of care work undertaken in Australia. This vision is based on the dignity of all human beings created in the image of a loving God. “We believe in a world-class aged care system. Older Australians should have access to the appropriate and affordable support and care services that they need, when they need them”, the resource notes.

It further notes that “the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety identified many barriers to providing universal access to high quality aged care. Over the past two years in particular, the aged care crisis has escalated significantly and threatens the continued operations of the sector. A key component of that threat is the capacity to attract and retain enough workers; aged care workers are the lowest paid caring workforce and yet are doing some of the most important work in the nation, supporting our ageing and aged citizens.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about a clear commitment to makes sure all parts of the aged care system have adequate funding, and to fair wages for aged care workers.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (4): An Economy for Life

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The fourth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for An Economy of Life. This was the title of an extensive document on economic policy which the Twelfth Assembly adopted in 2009. See https://ucaassembly.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/17

The resource notes that our “government makes economic decisions that put people first: decisions that are good for creation, that lift people out of poverty and fairly share our country’s wealth. The economy serves the well-being and flourishing of all people. We believe in an Australia where prosperity is shared fairly, embracing all people regardless of their privilege or upbringing.”

The resource makes these observations: “Aspirations for shared prosperity in Australia are unravelling under the sustained, twin trends of weak wage growth and rising asset prices. Over the past 10 years wage growth has limped under 2.5 per cent annually. Over the same period share portfolio and real estate values have grown around 10 per cent annually.”

“These settings deliver economic gains toward those with assets and away from those doing it tough, resulting in a greater and growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Greater inequality strongly tracks with stress, hunger, poor physical health, poor mental health, homelessness and social exclusion, and has a negative impact on economic growth.”

“Older women are more at risk of reduced financial security after a lifelong gender pay-gap, interruptions to employment for care and reduced superannuation. The retirement savings gap between males and females in 2019 was almost one quarter. The result is that 34 percent of single women in Australia live in poverty.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• A clear commitment to undertake a review into the past decade of low-income growth.

• An increase in social security payments, especially Jobseeker.

• Tax reforms to increase the progressive nature of the Australian tax system to address unhealthy inequality.

• A clear commitment to make superannuation contributions on top of the government Parental Leave Pay.

For the full series of seven posts, see

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Voting on 21 May (3): A Welcoming, Compassionate, and Diverse Nation

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

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The third area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for A Welcoming, Compassionate, and Diverse Nation. The election resource acknowledges that we are a nation of diverse cultures, languages, faiths, ethnic groups and experiences, and affirms: “We celebrate and value the strength of this diversity. We see this diversity reflected in our leaders, key decision makers, institutions, industry, sports and media. We are a compassionate nation, where every person who seeks refuge here is treated fairly and made to feel welcome and safe – regardless of their country of origin or mode of arrival.”

Australia’s immigration policies continue to leave some people in indefinite detention. Some refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne’s Park Hotel have been in offshore and onshore detention for up to nine years. Across the country, it is estimated more than 70 people are being held in hotel detention, and, as of 31 December 2021, 105 people remained in PNG and 114 on Nauru. In response to the Afghanistan crisis, the Australian Government has committed to 10,000 humanitarian and 5,000 family reunion places over four years.

However, the 10,000 places will be taken from Australia’s current refugee and humanitarian program, which was cut by 5,000 places a year from 2020. Australia has received applications from more than 145,000 Afghan nationals and very few of those people have any hope of building a life of safety in Australia1. In addition, the recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine will see more people fleeing their homes in fear, seeking refuge in other countries.

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• An end to mandatory and indefinite off-shore and on-shore detention either in Alternative Places of Detention (hotels) or detention centres.

• Community detention of refugees and asylum seekers must allow access to education, work and housing support.

• A target for Afghan and Ukrainian refugee resettlement much higher and appropriate to the magnitude of the problem.

• Permanent protection for Afghan people already in Australia but on temporary visas.

• Enhance safeguards for people on temporary visas including including overseas students andmigrant workers.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (2): the Renewal of the Whole Creation

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

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The second area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for living sustainably and responsibly as an integral part of the global environment. The Renewal of the Whole Creation is a vision and a commitment that was articulated in the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union, adopted in 1977, and which has continued to inform policies and practices over the ensuing decades.

The church seeks the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures, in which “we act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human-induced climate change”. To achieve this, government, churches, businesses and the wider community need to work together for a sustainable future.

The UCA resource acknowledges the current Government commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but notes that “we need to do more, and sooner. Global temperatures are rising as human activity continues to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Australia faces significant climate change impacts: rising sea levels, extreme heat and flooding, longer droughts and bushfire seasons and the loss of coral reef. Our neighbours in the Pacific and elsewhere are suffering the impacts of climate change, to their lands and waters, their livelihoods, their culture and identity.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:


• Setting more ambitious targets for 2030 – committing to a 45-50% carbon reduction as a minimum but working towards a target closer to 70%.
• A strong renewables target – which embraces the potential for Australia as a global leader.
• Just transitions for impacted communities currently dependent on fossil fuels.
• Australia must play a significant role in our region and globally in addressing the causes and
impacts of climate change, responding to the call from Pacific countries, including the Pacific Conference of Churches, for our country to act more decisively to reduce carbon emissions.

For the UCA national climate action plan, see https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Assembly-National-Climate-Action-Plan.pdf

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (1): Putting First Peoples First

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The media, in true form, has dumbed things down, making us think that it’s about voting directly for a Prime Minister, and that it’s all about the mistakes the candidates make and the economic impact of their policies.

Our system, of course, is not simply a two- person contest; the 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

And it’s not just about personalities; it’s actually about policies. We need to think about each party is promising to do, in relation to a wide array of policy areas—not just economics, but a whole array of matters.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from a fine 40-page document that was prepared and published last year, Our Vision for a Just Australia, expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

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The first area featured in this resource reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It acknowledges that these people were nurtured and sustained by God before invasion, and so are to be celebrated at the very heart of what it means to be Australian.

The Uniting Church affirms First Peoples’ sovereignty, and believes that First Peoples have a voice in the decision making of our country and in how they live out their right to self-determination. “As First and Second Peoples”, the resource states, “we walk together, creating socially just and culturally safe relationships, listening and learning from one another”.

The Statement from the Heart developed at Uluru has been given to us by First Peoples as the basis for how we can work together to build a better future, but governments have not followed their lead. First Peoples communities, whether remote, regional or urban, experience heightened levels of disadvantage, including a lower life expectancy and worse health, education and employment outcomes than other people in Australia.

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• Constitutional change to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament.

• Recognising the sovereignty of First Nations People and establish a commission for treaty making, truth telling, justice and reconciliation.

• Sufficient funding to achieve the Closing the Gap targets, prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to deliver services wherever possible.

Subsequent posts are at:

Featured

Moving ahead as an inclusive, respectful community

Last year, the Uniting Church adopted a statement, Our Vision for a Just Australia, which articulates in detail the values that we hold as people of faith, following the way of Jesus.

See https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

This statement includes an affirmation that “we live together in a society where all are equal and free to exercise our rights equally, regardless of faith, cultural background, race, ability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity”. The statement asserts that “we defend those rights for all.”

It also makes the key claim that “A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity does not impact on their ability to live, work and contribute to society.”

On that basis, the Uniting Church has been working consistently towards valuing, accepting, and affirming “rainbow people”—those who identify with one of the letters in the now-familiar shorthand way of referring to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or identify their gender and/or sexuality in other ways.

In the recent pastoral response to the debate surrounding the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill earlier this year, President Sharon Hollis wrote, “We believe every person is entitled to dignity, compassion and respect, and that the community flourishes when all people are included and accorded the dignity and respect they deserve.” That fundamental commitment undergirds all that the Uniting Church seeks to do.

President Hollis continued, “I note with sadness not all LGBTIQA+ people feel fully welcome and safe across the Uniting Church. I encourage members of the Uniting Church and people of faith to offer prayer and support to those around them who are feeling particularly vulnerable because of the political and public debate taking place.”

It is, indeed, a sadness that we do not yet have consistent practices right across the church, in how we accord dignity and respect to LGBTIQA+ people. Within the Uniting Church we are continuing to learn how best to do this, and to avoid what causes distress and anguish to “rainbow people”. Many Congregations have become explicit about their acceptance and welcome of such people, even as some communities of faith double down and refuse to make this gracious openness a marker of their life.

In recent times, governments in Australia have given consideration to banning practices which seek to alter the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of the minority of people who fall into the category of LGBTIQA+. Popularly (but unhelpfully) known as “conversion therapy”, such practices have been conducted by people of faith, in the name of Christ—attempting by persuasion, by prayer, by coercion, even by physical intervention, to “change” the attraction that an individual feels towards people of the same gender. Such “conversion” is valued by these people as a clear marker of “repentance” and “commitment” to the faith that they hold.

It is widely recognised, however, that such practices are harmful; the use of coercion, emotional manipulation, medical intervention, even physical acts, cause damage that has ongoing affects for decades. Survivors of sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts (often referenced as SOGICE) attest to the many ways by which such practices have harmed them.

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Jones, T, Brown, A, Carnie, L, Fletcher, G, & Leonard, W. Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia. Melbourne: GLHV@ARCSHS and the Human Rights Law Centre, 2018.

A 2018 study, entitled “Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice – Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia”, drew on the lived experiences of “15 LGBT people with experiences of conversion therapy, documented through social research”. These participants had engaged with various conversion therapy practices between 1986 and 2016 “as part of their struggle to reconcile their sexuality or transgender identity with the beliefs and practices of their religious communities”.

This study found that “responding to conversion practices in Australia requires a multi-faceted strategy”, and proposed “a number of legislative and regulatory reforms, with a particular focus on young people given their vulnerability”. It is hoped, say the study’s authors, “that this research will raise awareness of the severity of the harms occasioned through conversion therapy, and support the development of more appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people of faith.”

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A study published in 2021, by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society of LaTrobe University, concluded that “many people who experience attempts to change or suppress the LGBTQA+ elements of their selves are severely harmed by those attempts.”

Jones, T.W., Jones, T.M, Power, J., Despott, N., & Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2021). Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University.

The study, Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices, was a joint project involving the Brave Network, the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council (AGMC), the Victorian Government and researchers at La Trobe University and Macquarie University. The project was funded by the Victorian Government and the Australian Research Council.

The study made some significant findings. First, it found that “at least one in ten LGBTQA+ Australians are vulnerable to religion-based pressures and attempts to change or suppress their sexuality”. Second, it noted that such practices “may involve formal conversion programs or ‘counselling’ practices, but more often involve less-formal processes including pastoral care, interactions with religious or community leaders, prayer groups and other spiritual or cultural practices initiated within particular communities.”

Sadly, a third key finding is that “core to both these formal and informal change and suppression practices is the message conveyed to LGBTQA+ people that they are ‘broken’, ‘unacceptable’ to God, and need spiritual or psychological healing.” That is certainly of great concern to people of faith, especially in the Uniting Church, given what our President has articulated regarding the “dignity, compassion and respect” to which every person is entitled.

The study further reports that “psychological research has demonstrated that LGBTQA+ change and suppression efforts do not reorient a person’s sexuality or gender identity and an increasing body of literature has documented the negative impacts that these pressures and attempts have on LGBTQA+ people’s lives.”

The imperative to act in relation to instances of SOGICE, as well as the importance of providing supportive pastoral care to survivors of SOGICE, cannot be underestimated.

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In 2021, whilst advocating to the ACT Government to pass legislation that would outlaw such activities, a group of UCA ministers in the ACT wrote about the biblical understanding of human beings as created by God, infused with the spirit, and perfectly acceptable to God just as exactly as they are—whatever gender identity or sexual orientation each individual possesses.

We quoted from research undertaken by Elizabeth Raine, who has argued that “all creatures are ‘nephesh’, or sentient beings.

We have a soul, a state of being, a life that is fully formed and given by God. All human beings are created with the spirit of God within us (Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:7; Job 12:7-10). There are no exceptions to this in biblical understanding. All human beings exist within this understanding. Our human identity is grounded in the creative work of God’s spirit. Who we are is how God has made us to be—each human being is made in God’s image (Gen 1:27; Sir 17:3).”

See https://johntsquires.com/2020/08/24/sexuality-and-gender-identity-conversion-practices-bill-a-christian-perspective/

It’s my view that this fundamental biblical insight should guide our actions as the church today—accepting people for who they are, placing no value judgements on how they understand themselves or how they express themselves in loving, committed relationships. That is a key way by which we live out our faith in our lives and our relationships.

One organisation with the Uniting Church, Uniting Network, stated that “we call on all religious organisations in Australia to explicitly state their rejection of LGBT conversion therapy, and any statements along the lines that LGBTQ people are disordered, broken or otherwise not whole individuals”. See https://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org/uniting-network-australia-calls-for-action-to-end-formal-and-informal-lgbt-conversion-therapy/

The 16th Assembly of the Uniting Church, meeting this coming weekend, has before it a proposal that is a direct response to this call, and sits firmly in line with the research findings from the studies noted above.

The Assembly is being asked to recognise “that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts (SOGICE) are harmful to people’s mental health and wellbeing”, and to prepare resources which can inform congregations, agencies, and individuals so that they might “help prevent harm from SOGICE ideology and practice”. See https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/40-Preventing-Harm-from-Sexual-Orientation-Gender-Identity-Change-Efforts-SOGICE.pdf

It’s an important proposal which merits careful and prayerful consideration. Its a direction that is well-supported, both by individual stories told by survivors of SOGICE, and by careful academic research in this area. It’s a proposal that should inform our pastoral care practices as well as our public advocacy and our local community engagement.

It’s a matter that people right across the Uniting Church (and beyond) would do well to consider—to ensure that we do not contribute to the (sadly) continuing harm being caused to our “rainbow” brothers and sisters.

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On the various affirmations in the area of sexuality that the Assembly has made, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/

The studies cited above are accessible at:

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580025f66b8f5b2dabbe4291/t/5bd78764eef1a1ba57990efe/1540851637658/LGBT+conversion+therapy+in+Australia+v2.pdf

Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices at https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1201588/Healing-spiritual-harms-Supporting-recovery-from-LGBTQA-change-and-suppression-practices.pdf

See also