THE leaders of 15 churches are urging “the Mornington Peninsula community” to “carefully listen” to the stories of First Peoples’ leaders in the lead-up to the referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
In a signed “open letter” the church leaders describe the “paradoxical relationship” the Christian church has had with Australia’s First Peoples since the arrival of white settlers in 1788.
Some churches had good intentions while others “shared the values of the emerging colonial society, including paternalism and racism”.
The letter does not advocate a Yes or No vote and its signatories acknowledge that they do not represent all churches on the peninsula and that views may differ within their own congregations.
Headed Church Leaders Voice Statement Mornington Peninsula, the open letter states that churches whose values included paternalism and racism “were [also] complicit in the injustice that resulted in many of the First Peoples being dispossessed from their land, their language, their culture, and their spirituality”.
“As current church leaders on the Mornington Peninsula, we acknowledge this difficult history and we make this statement to encourage our church communities and the wider community to engage in the important community conversation on the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament,” the 15 church leaders state.
“During this time, while so much is said and written, we encourage the Mornington Peninsula community to accept the generous invitation of our local First Peoples to engage with them and their planned activities, to carefully listen to their stories and to the voice of their leaders.”
The church leaders state that the origins of the proposed Voice to Parliament came from Uluru Statement from the Heart rather than “normal political channels”.
They quote the Uluru statement as one that seeks “constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country”.
The church leaders say it is “not our place” to advise people how they should vote in the referendum but “encourage the community not to play into the polarised political world, but to rise above it and to engage with respect and kindness, even when we disagree with each other”.
“Prejudice, violence and discrimination in any form do great harm to the fabric of our community,” the open letter states.
“Jesus Christ, and others throughout history who have called for justice in non-violent ways, provide us with wonderful examples of how we must always seek justice; to speak out against injustice and to care for the oppressed and the marginalised.
“As Christian leaders, we call the church, in particular, to the way of reconciliation between the first and second peoples of our country and to see this as a sign and symbol of that coming reconciliation and renewal, which is the end in view for the whole creation.”
Signatories: Rev Joy Blamires, St Marks Uniting Church Mornington; Ps Jim Catford, Liquid Church Mount Martha; Rev Paul Crothers, New Peninsula Baptist Church; Rev Tanya Cummings, Mount Eliza Anglican Church; Rev John Haig, Southern Mornington Peninsula Uniting Church; Ps Sam Hearn, Baptist Union Victoria (Jigsaw Community); Rev Cameron McAdam, The Village Church, Mount Eliza; Rev Nigel McBrien, Western Port Uniting Church; Peter Orton, coordinator, Mornington Faith Leaders Network; Rev Ross Pearce, Frankston High Street, Uniting Church; Rev Liz Rankin, Mornington and Mount Martha Anglican Church; Ps Louise Sutton, Bayview Church, Rosebud; Ps Debbie Taylor, Mornington Salvation Army; Ps Simon Warrick, Frankston Church of Christ; and Rev Peter Wiltshire, Mount Martha Uniting Church.