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Gospel of Reconciliation

“Until the nation resolves its past and begins to deal respectfully in the present,” writes Ross Langmead, “the social, political and spiritual consequences of living in an unreconciled relationship will plague Australia into the future. The gospel of reconciliation is clearly relevant in this context.”

 

Ross Langmead (1949 - 2013) was a professor of mission studies at Whitley College, Victoria. The following article, based on Ross' paper titled “Indigenous Reconciliation: What Can the Church Offer and Receive?”, explores some of his ideas about the role of the church in pursuing reconciliation with Indigenous people.

 

The Gospel and Reconciliation 

The premise of Ross' position is his conviction that we have been given a gospel of reconciliation; “The Good News of Jesus Christ is all about the setting right of relationships at all levels,” he says. “In this sense reconciliation is the mission of God.” According to Ross, the mission of the church is to cooperate with the mission of God. “It is clear, then,” he says, “that if the gospel of reconciliation includes Good News about justice, reconciled relationships and the dignity and worth of all humans, the church is called to engage in the process of Indigenous reconciliation.” (See Isaiah 58, Matthew 25:31-46 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Why Indigenous Reconciliation? 

Ross describes the Australian context as “a case study in injustice and broken relationships.” He delves briefly into the history of colonisation, identifying the multiple injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians in the form of dispossession, genocide, loss of culture, poor health and substance abuse, removal of children, deaths in custody and marginalisation. However, there are countless instances of oppression and injustice throughout the world that churches can focus their attention on. Ross offers several reasons why Indigenous reconciliation should be a priority: 

Dr Ross Langmead
  • Social disadvantage: “In many cases, Indigenous people are both the most socially disadvantaged and the most marginalised people in their own country,” Ross states. “On this basis alone they should claim the urgent attention of the church in its mission of reconciliation.” 
  • Complicity: “In many cases the church has “missionised” these people as part of their being colonised by the West,” Ross explains. “The gospel of reconciliation today often needs to include repentance and reparation on the part of the church before the liberating power of the gospel can be felt.”
  • Enrichment: “It is not a one-way street, in which the church engages in mission from high moral ground and holding all the wisdom,” Ross says. “In fact, given the ambiguous history of Christian mission, particularly in its relation to Indigenous people, there is as much to learn as to give in the process of national Indigenous reconciliation.”

What the church can offer Indigenous reconciliation

Although most of what the church can do overlaps with what all Australians of goodwill can do, Ross identifies a specific role for the church. “The church is more entangled than most other groups, for better or worse, and needs to take the moral and political lead as a key player in the national process,” he urges. He highlights some of the major ways in which the gospel of reconciliation can be played out in the process of Indigenous reconciliation in Australia:

  • Repentance and apology: Since the 1980s, nearly every major church group and denomination has apologised for their complicity in the injustices committed against Indigenous Australians. However, Ross says that the challenge is for churches to realise that this is just the first step. 
  • Solidarity with Indigenous Christians: According to Ross, this includes sharing property and funds, ensuring that Indigenous voices are heard in church councils, training Indigenous leaders, listening to their experiences and responding practically. It also involves public advocacy on Indigenous issues.
  • Expressing respect and honour: Ross believed that the church can contribute to ongoing practices of paying respect to the original inhabitants of Australia and custodians of the land.
  • Working to overcome disadvantage: Whether in delivering services or campaigning for better public policies, the church is a key player in tackling what is often a highly complex set of social issues.
  • Defending Indigenous rights and keeping reconciliation on the national agenda: In a climate where non-Indigenous Australians are fickle in their attention to Indigenous affairs, Ross says the church has a crucial role to be vigilant on behalf of Indigenous people, listening to their cries and magnifying them in the political arena.

What reconciliation can offer the church 

Ross believed that if the church engages with repentance and humility and is open to genuine partnership with Indigenous people, it will be greatly enriched. 

  • Discovering our identity through serving: According to Ross, “In offering public friendship with Indigenous people — the most disadvantaged group in Australia — and pursuing national reconciliation, the church is not only engaging in the mission to which she has been called as an ambassador for God’s justice and reconciliation (Isaiah 58, Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20) but will discover Christ and the church’s true identity.”
  • Being at home: “Our holding has yet to come to terms fully with the manner of its taking: that our possession meant radical and usually bloody dispossession of those here long before us,” Ross quotes. “A subtle alienation will subvert our tenure of this land so long as we do not own this truth and seek, in reconciliation, to remedy its lingering effects.”¹
  • Being enriched by Indigenous spirituality: “In listening to the stories and experiences of the oppressed, as a central part of Indigenous reconciliation, the church is beginning to hear about Indigenous ways of experiencing God, both Christian ways and traditional ways,” explains Ross. “The process has much to offer a church bound to European ways of following Jesus, experiencing God and relating to each other and the land.”
  • Becoming missionally relevant to wider Australian society: “In most societies,” says Ross, “and certainly in Australia, those outside the church judge it according to whether it is focused on heaven or earth, whether it is wealthy or gives itself to the poor, and whether it practises what it preaches.”

Ross' full length paper “Indigenous Reconciliation: What Can the Church Offer and Receive?” explores this topic in much greater depth, providing broader context and offering deeper understanding. 

 

*Based on “Indigenous Reconciliation: What Can the Church Offer and Receive?”, paper presented by Ross Langmead at the International Association for Mission Studies Assembly, Balaton, Hungary 2008


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

  1.  Byrne, B. 1992, “Home-coming: Scriptural Reflections upon a Process of Reconciliation”, in Reconciling Our Differences: A Christian Approach to Recognising Aboriginal Land Rights, Brennan, F. (ed.), Richmond, Aurora, pg. 79
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