A sermon given at the 8am Eucharist and the 10:30am Sung Eucharist on Sunday 22nd January 2023, The Sunday before Australia Day, by The Right Rev’d Chris McLeod, Dean and National Aboriginal Bishop
Some thoughts on Constitutional Recognition of First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament
This year, as I did last year, I am sharing some thoughts on what is known as ‘Aboriginal Sunday’.
From the Common Grace Website.
On January 26, 1938, Aboriginal leaders including William Cooper, met for a Day of Mourning, seeking equality and full citizenship (though it would take another 30 years).
The Australian Churches were then asked to set aside the Sunday before January 26 as Aboriginal Sunday (previously called Aborigines’ Day), a day for Christians to act in solidarity with Aboriginal peoples and the injustices being experienced.
The first Aboriginal Sunday is suggested as occurring in 1941, although was referenced in a letter from William Cooper to the John McEwen, Minister for the Interior written on 19 January 1938 and referenced in the Herald (Melbourne) newspaper on 18 January 1939.
Today, the Common Grace movement encourages individual congregations to reclaim William Cooper’s Aboriginal Sunday on the Sunday directly before January 26.
Several people have asked me what I think of the proposed ‘Constitutional Recognition of First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament (and to State Parliament). So, here goes!
It is very easy for those in the majority to ignore the voices of those in the minority. In our noisy world those with the loudest voices and the greater influence tend be prioritised in the decision making. It is too easy for the majority to make decisions for the minority with little or no consultation on the basis that what is good for the majority must be good for all. First Nations people have been the recipients of just such a situation in Australia. A small voice among much larger, louder, and influential voices. Most decisions in the history of Australia have been made about or for First Nations peoples rather than with us.
There is a text from the Old Testament that has been sitting at the back my mind as I have been praying over ‘Constitutional Recognition of First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament’. The scene follows Elijah’s rash act of bloodlust in the killing of the Baal prophets. Not surprisingly the tables have been turned on Elijah and he is on the run. Amid his self-justification and self-pity for his actions, a voice comes to him; ‘a still small voice’: ‘…and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice’ (1 King 19: 12 RSV). Taking time to listen to the ‘still small voice’ puts Elijah’s life back on track, having been derailed by his own bloodlust, unwise actions, and the revenge of others.
The ability to hear the small voice is something that was at the heart of ministry of Jesus. The ignored and marginalised found someone who listened to them. There are numerous occasions when Jesus stopped to listen. Jesus’ acts of recognition are often set in contrast to those who could neither hear what was being said or see the people who were speaking (E.g., John 4: 27, Mark 10; 56, Luke 7: 44, Luke 18: 41, Mark 9: 4). It is a reminder that ‘poor little talkative Christianity’ as E.M Forster described it, needs to stop, and listen from time to time, as well. What is good for us, I suspect is good for the nation. The wisdom of listening is a forgotten art, lost in the competing sound of many voices.
It is within this context that I support ‘Constitutional Recognition of First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament’. It is an act of putting things right and developing a context where the most ancient voice of the nation can have influence in the decisions that impact First Nations peoples. It constitutionally recognises the place of the ‘small voice’. For too long federal and State parliaments, despite some very good intentions, have not been able to adequately address First Nations issues. Largely, in my view, because as a nation we have not been very good at listening to the small and often silenced voices. A ‘Constitutionally Recognised First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament’ is a good start in what will, no doubt, be an ongoing conversation. It needs to be recognised that what is being proposed is very conservative. Parliament still has the final say in any decision and, as I understand it, it can still ignore what the ‘Voice’ has to say. However, I pray that successive governments will listen to the ‘Voice’ because it will ultimately be good for the nation, help address the issues confronting First Nations peoples, and give further hope to the conversation around reconciliation. +Chris