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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Australia - Whose Land?

Peter Adams, the principal of the Ridley College, an evangelical Anglican theological college in Melbourne, in Australia - whose land? A call for recompense (John Saunders Lecture 2009) takes us beyond saying sorry to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people pushes the consequences of this recognition one step further:
If I have hurt someone, it is not enough to be sorry, not even enough to repent. I must also recompense the person, or else my repentance is shown to be a sham. The idea of recompense is not popular today, but it is essential. (p.10)

What might recompense, Peter Adams asks, require of us who arrived since1788?
i. We would recognize that recompense is a duty and responsibility, that we owe it to the indigenous peoples of this land, out of respect for them as our brothers and sisters made in God’s image, and out of awareness of the vileness of the crimes which have been committed against them and their ancestors.
ii. We would recognize that recompense is based on our duty, not the needs of indigenous people. I am not saying that we should not care, but that we must act with integrity and justice.
iii. We would recognize that no recompense could ever be satisfactory, because what
was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating, and so irreparable.
iv. We would ask the indigenous people if they wanted those of us who have arrived since 1788 to leave [Baxter’s ‘Restitution’], or to provide an equivalent recompense [Baxter’s ‘Satisfaction’]. Leaving would be a drastic  and complicated action, but, as I have pointed out, it has happened in India, Africa, and Indonesia in the last sixty years.
v. If we do not leave, then we would need to ask each of the indigenous peoples of this land what kind of recompense would be appropriate for them. This would be an extremely complicated and extensive task, but must be done.
vi. We would need to be prepared to give costly recompense, lest it trivialize what has happened.
vii. We would then need to adopt a national recompense policy, in the form of a Treaty. It would need to be implemented locally, according to the wishes of each indigenous tribe.
viii. By negotiation, it could be a one-off act of recompense, or it could be a constant and long-term series of acts of recompense.
ix. We could also implement voluntary recompense by churches in a coordinated way, and should include support of indigenous Christian ministry and training, as negotiated by the leaders of Christ’s indigenous people. Christian churches should lead the way in this, not least in supporting indigenous Christians and their ministries. For churches too have benefited from the land they use, and from
income from those who have usurped the land. 

It would be difficult to agree to do this, complicated to negotiate, and costly and demanding to deliver. The alternative is to fail in our moral duty, to admit that, for Australia, in Martin Luther King’s words, ‘the bank of justice is bankrupt.’ We owe the indigenous people of Australia not only their full rights as citizens of our nation, but also recompense for the damage we have done. Recognizing citizenship and recognition of Native Title are just the first steps in a long process of appropriate restitution and recompense.

The idea of recompense is not alien to our society. As one well-known example, James Hardie has had to provide recompense to workers harmed by working with asbestos. There is wide-spread feeling that this is right. If this recompense is right, then it is also right to offer recompense to the indigenous people of Australia.

Ernest Gribble, a son of John Gribble, and also a worker among indigenous people said:
"We have a three-fold debt to pay to the Aborigines. We owe them a debt for the country we have taken from them. We owe the race reparation for the neglect and cruelty... We owe them... the gospel of our Lord."
It is time to pay our debts: for, Paul, writes, " Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."

Love involves duty, as well as charity. We have wronged our neighbours. It is now time to pay our debts, to confess our sins, to give the recompense that we owe. We who know God’s great love in Christ should be the most active in loving others. May God strengthen us to love the Lord our God, and so to love our neighbours. (pp.11-13)

Peter Adams has reached these conclusions with reference to such radical sources as the New Testament, John Calvin and the puritan theologian Richard Baxter.  For the full text contact CACE.

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