Australia’s modern history has a past filled with struggle, sweat, heartbreak and tears.
It is a history full of hope, admiration and immense pride.
It is also a history of pain, shame and sin.
Australia’s wound is its racist past and the unwillingness of many leaders - be they political, economic, community or Christian leaders - to take the issue seriously and speak out against the attitude of many Australians.
Racism is a sin that needs to be called out through the media and the pulpit. The silence of many church leaders and our Christian politicians particularly has only deepened the division and hurt caused for many years.
Those outside the church in Australia interpret our silence often as our act of complicity and unwillingness to address the past, and our apathetic hesitation to confront the current situations and face the future. Our Australian churches are multicultural and multiracial, yet Christianity still often can be seen as the white man’s religion, closely aligned with the American “brand” associated with the right of politics.
This appears to continue unchallenged despite the ever-increasing numbers attracted to Jesus from other ethnic and racial groups throughout the world.
We cannot be silent about this issue and injustice because Jesus is our example and leader on this.
Eddie Betts: Indigenous AFL footballer
During last year's AFLX experiment Betts was called a "monkey" in a fan comment on an AFL account. In 2018 an innocent photo with a young Fremantle fan made news due to yet another racist "monkey" comment. In 2017 a Port Adelaide fan was banned by the club after calling Betts an "ape" and telling him to "go back to the zoo where him and his family belong". And just seven months earlier a banana was thrown at Betts by a Power member during a game.
The fan was later fined by SA Police and issued an apology to the then Crows star. Betts response was inspiring, and yet, there is a tinge of tension in his words, "She came out and she apologised, I don't hold grudges — I forgive her for what she's done and I think everyone else should as well," he said.
"She's seeking help and you know, it's never too late to learn.”
A month ago Betts said, “What I want to say to Australians is, open your eyes up. Start to listen and learn and educate yourself because I am sick of copping it. It hurts, it deeply hurts.”
Healing the wound
He forgave her. Yet the pain still hurts and cuts deep. He did and said what Jesus wants the Australian church and Christians to do- to seek forgiveness, to heal the racial divide and heal the wound.
The wound in our nation is the injustice towards Indigneous Australians and the statistics relating to them across a range of life indicators. Despite this, many Indigenous people are thriving, surviving and reviving their Indigenous culture and identity.
Australian Christians can be the ones to promote the constructive and stamp out the negative- we should not remain silent. (does this read like the Australian church has done nothing so far? Should you say something like continue to or step up their efforts? Just wondering)
A story from a past student
I taught Jake Neade for 2 years out in Alice Springs. He went on to play with Port Adelaide AFL club. Former teammate, Chad Wingard, recently shared this story through various media forms.
"I'm not at Port (Adelaide) now so I can say it," Wingard said. "We used to have a choccy run, go to the shops the night before a game and get a couple of chocolates. Me, Jakey Neade, Alipate Carlile and Jackson Trengove used to come with us, but this time it was just me and Jake in a supermarket in Perth.
"We got our chocolates and came to the front desk to pay for it and the [shop keeper] got really aggressive and said 'empty your pockets, you guys are stealing'. Neadey was calm and I fired up ... to the point there was this burning desire I could feel inside me.
"Just from that simple thing we were minding our own business paying for our food, we were literally made to open all our pockets and show him we were not stealing, we paid for our food and we left."
What can I do?
I am a Christian. I have been blessed with a message of hope. Jesus is the example I want to follow. I have met Jake’s parents, his brothers, his family. I have met many other indigenous parents and perhaps one way we could come together is to realise that all parents want the same things for our kids- an education, a job, a family. They also want a safe and healthy life.
We live in a country that does not challenge the notion that white lives and children matter more than indigenous ones. This is a perspective Australian Christians must challenge.
As Eddie Betts said, if we genuinely listened and believed the experiences and perspectives of indigenous people living in Australia, had an honest dialogue, we will have a much better chance of changing hearts and minds. Perhaps this will be one of the best ways to change and end the generational pain in indigenous communities and lives.
Reconciliation and repentance for our nation’s sins goes beyond a simple “I’m sorry”. It’s a start though!
We can turn around and create a new path.
If white Christians acted more Christian than white, then our indigenous brothers and sisters will not fear us, but trust us to walk this journey with them.
As a follower of Jesus, what small step or attitude can you take on this journey?
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/russell-modlin.html