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Challenging the Church

Dale Stephenson is Senior Pastor at Crossway Baptist Church in Burwood Victoria. In 2013, Dale delivered a sermon at New Peninsula Baptist Church in which he challenged the church to come to terms with our bloodstained national history as part of the Biblical mandate to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Dale’s Story  

During a trip to the centre of Australia in 2011, Dale was confronted by his ignorance about our national heritage. “I felt quite ashamed actually, as someone who is holding a position of Christian leadership, that I could know so little about our nation, about our heritage,” he confesses. “I just don’t remember covering this in Australian History at Blackburn High School.” For Dale, it was a journey of painful discovery. “The harsh reality is that we have a heritage whereby that which we enjoy today was stolen, and there was the shedding of blood, and rape, and rampage and pillage,” he says frankly. “And that is our bloodied history that until more recently has been infrequently told.”

Senior Pastor Dale Stephenson

Biblical Premise 

Dale believes that coming to terms with our history is part of our Biblical mandate as Christians to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Dale sheds new light on this familiar verse when he explains that ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ are actually derived from the same Greek word in this text. Therefore, “if we expect an ushering in of God’s Kingdom in this nation,” says Dale, “we actually have to square up to some issues that are part of our history, and not pretend that they didn’t happen.”

 

Confronting Our History

Dale doesn’t shy away from confronting our shared history; “It was an invasion,” he states unequivocally. “When the British arrived they couldn’t recognise a legal system or political leaders or a culture that they could relate to that they could make any form of treaty with. The Indigenous culture was so much more complex than what the British were familiar with, so they called the land terra nullius (land belonging to no one),” he explains. “It was the beginning of untold massacre and misery for Aboriginal people.”

Massacre and Misery 

When it comes to the horrific nature of our history, “It would be inappropriate for this environment to go into too much detail,” Dale admits. He uses the example of the Myall Creek Massacre, one of the untold number of such killings, which involved the “extreme and perverse sadistic sexualised torture” of Aboriginal men, women and children. Dale contextualises this violence by quoting a congregational missionary, Lancelot Threlkeld, who wrote in 1853: “It was maintained by many of the colony that the blacks had no language at all but were only a race of the monkey tribe. This was a convenient assumption, for if it could be proved that the Aborigines… were only a species of wild beasts, there could be no guilt attributed to those who shot them off or poisoned them.” (See Frontier Violence and The Early Settlers for more information about this era in our shared history).

Even in our more recent history, Dale speaks of young Indigenous girls forcibly removed from their families and placed into white households as domestic helpers. These girls were at times subject to abuse, and had their wages withheld by the government. Today, many of these women are still alive and have never been paid the wages owed to them by the federal government. The amount due to these women collectively is estimated to be several hundred million dollars.(1)

 

Contemporary Implications 

Dale connects the injustices of the past to the present condition of Indigenous Australians. “For too many years I only saw the current sociological phenomena without ever thinking about the history that brought such a people group to such a point of despair,” he admits. Today, Dale recognises that the poor health, substance abuse, overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, poverty, poor educational outcomes and domestic and sexual abuse are actually the result of our history of Aboriginal genocide and cultural destruction.

 

How Do We Respond? 

Dale acknowledges that the complexity of the current situation means there are no quick fixes. “As white, privileged individuals, it is very challenging for us to even begin to stand in the shoes of our Indigenous brothers and sisters of what has gone down in their history, as they recount what happened to their parents and grandparents,” he says. In light of the complexities, Dale warns against adopting a solution orientation; “If there is solution in this, it’s actually walking alongside in an understanding way,” he explains. According to Dale, this is about being better informed and being open to relationship. “I don’t believe we can anticipate a great movement of the spirit of God across the nation without our being prepared to at least identify and engage with the reality of our history that brings us to our today position,” says Dale. “Let’s begin the journey to understand better,” he urges, “let’s begin from a position of relationship.”


Want to know more?

Watch the Sharing Our Story series to learn more about our shared history. 

The complete Sharing Our Story series is available here.

 


References:

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 2006, Unfinished business: Indigenous stolen wages, Parliament House, Canberra, 

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