Monday, 15 March 2010

Doing theology on Aboriginal land

Here in Australia, the Uniting Church is proposing a new preamble to its Constitution. The preamble attempts to define the church's identity in relation to Australia's indigenous peoples; but the document raises all sorts of theological questions. Here's an excerpt:

When the churches that formed the Uniting Church arrived in Australia as part of the process of colonisation they entered a land that had been created and sustained by the Triune God they knew in Jesus Christ.... The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.
The next issue of Uniting Church Studies is exploring the theology of this document. I'm writing an article entitled “‘In his own strange way’: Confessing Jesus Christ in the Preamble”, focusing on the question, What does it mean for the church to confess? I'll be presenting a draft later this week at a systematic theology seminar in Sydney, and I'll post some excerpts here as well. In the mean time, here's a list of some of the things I've been reading for this paper:

20 Comments:

Anonymous said...

The poor aborigines---'anonymous Christians' millennia before Karl Rahner coined the phrase----if this isn't Christian imperialism (in the very best and impeccable - i.e., Uniting church - sense of course), then I don't know what is....Time to become a Catholic, Ben--- Christians are, and always will be, sojourners in a foreign land.

Jason Goroncy said...

Ben. I'm encouraged to read about this, and very much look forward to seeing a copy of the issue of Uniting Church Studies that you mention. Thanks too for listing some of those other resources; some of which will join my 'To be checked out' list. Also, just wondered if you had read Vincent Donovan's Christianity Rediscovered. Might be of some assistance. Trust that the seminar goes well.

Anonymous said...

Canada has plenty to learn from Australia concerning Aboriginal relations.

Jason Goroncy said...

To Anonymous #2, Australia has plenty to learn from Canada concerning Aboriginal relations.

remylow said...

One of the reasons I joined the Uniting Church was actually because it deals with, discusses and debates this issue. It is refreshing to have theology that sees its interlocutors outside of Europe/North America (i.e. where they are actually historically and spatially located!)

It is always useful to question the 'conditions of possibility' of any theology beyond a neutral business as usual cloaked in transcendent language.

Sean Winter said...

Ben
Have you seen the pro and contra papers in Cross Purposes, an e journal that comes out of the Vic-Tas synod?

http://cp.unitingchurch.org.au/CP_preamble_papers.pdf

I look forward to seeing your paper when it reaches the light of day. If you managed to send it to one or two people before the journal is out, it may be helpful as Synods and Prebyteries do their reflective work on whether or not to affirm the new Preamble.

Just to lay cards on the table - I think that para 3 is an adequate, if not perfect (how could it be) statement within the context of the Preamble overall. In fact, I think that much of the fuss is based on people not recognising it for what it is: namely a contextual confession for the UCA at this moment.

meredith said...

The preamble is very interesting - thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Wonder what Jonathan Edwards would have thought - in 1724 he wrote of 'gospelizing the new and before unknown world, that which is so remote, so unknown, where the devil had reigned quietly from the beginning of the world.'

Interstingly, the new world Edwards had in mind included 'Terra Ausralis Incognita, Hollandia Nova, and all those yet undiscovered tracts of land.'

Joanna said...

Thanks, Ben. Just about to give a lecture on race relations (and gender) in Australia, these issues are much on my mind.

bruce said...

Is this preamble meant to be a confessional statement with the 'we believe' implicit? Or is it meant to be some anonymous historian's declaration?

Matt Stone said...

I appreciate this as an attempt at theological contextualization but it falls short IMO. The New Testament is pretty clear that the vast majority of Hebrews failed to recognize their God when he showed up. Unless I'm mistaken the Aboriginees did not universally convert either. The logos spermatikoa may have been present in Aboriginal tradition to a degree, but are we ready to imply it's equivalence to scripture?

Ben Myers said...

Bruce, your question pretty much sums up my critique as well.

Bob Covolo said...

Ben,

Any theologians come to mind that might say "Nein?"

While my own reading of the sensus divinitas (via Kuyper/Bavinck) allows me to see a possible point of contact via the Spirit's common grace, it is an entirely different thing to sign off on a noetic bridge implicit in such assertion that there was revelation in "law, custom, and ceremony." I like what Amos Yong does in Spirit-Word-Community with his Peircian (via Gulpi) inspired view of fallability regarding claims (in this case) of the Spirit. While we can certainly imagine and hope for all kinds of things, are we really ready to state definitively that we have knowledge of what these people did or did not have by way of the Spirit before people were around? Who has access to that?

Bob Covolo said...

The last sentence should read "we have knowledge of what these people did or did not have by way of the Spirit before WE people were around?"

Anonymous said...

I read Chris Budden's book a few months ago - what a confronting piece of writing it is and one that has changed my complacency on the issues raised. Kudos to the UCA for at least attempting to tackle where indigenous Australians are placed in relation to a religious establishment which has much to be ashamed of in the past (and present).

Nathan Crawford said...

Ben,

This is off track, but did you see that Hendrickson Publishers is putting out an edition of Barth's Church Dogmatics in November of 2010? On cbd.com right now it is only $99US for the whole 14 volume set. I was just wondering if you had heard anything about this or had any inkling as to whether this is worth it for someone who knows he needs to read more Barth.

Ben Myers said...

Nathan, that's very interesting news! I hadn't heard about this — it looks like Continuum must have sold the rights to the old 14-volume edition. $99 for the hardcover set seems almost too good to be true — so if I was in your shoes, I reckon I'd be placing an order before the price changes.

Anonymous said...

Ben that sounds like the preamble of a work of children's fiction and not a clear statement of faith.
Did whoever wrote this actually converse with Aboriginal people before writing it? I know it sounds harsh, but I'd seriously consider this insulting if I was an Aboriginal.

'We the nasty invaders took claim of a land the great triune god made, only to find the inhabitants had a creator we still cringe to identify as the same God. We were totally surprised to discover the Spirit they respected was the same one we had, and still don't believe it but we'll give it a shot - at at least the rest of our kind will think we did something good with this. And not many of them can read and think, so they'll reckon we did our part and be mighty impressed we stepped down out of our superiority. That way, they might accept the real spirit and get saved. And.. I guess we'll get all kinds of kudos so that won't be bad.'

Ben Myers said...

A query for Bruce if you're still following this thread: I loved your term "anonymous historian", and I've used this in the paper — I'd like to acknowledge you for the phrase, so would you mind telling me your full name? Thanks!

J said...

The Archbishop Williams' writing does not lack a certain intellectual force. That sort of rationalist moral approach to Christendom doesn't appear in the US for the most part, however--instead of Williams' gravitas, there are Hagees and Robertsons chanting from the Book of Rev., Paddy Mahoneys giving mass to celebrities, clever schemers studying Lacan in seminary schools, etc.

Anonymous said...

@ Jason: Really? Like what?

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