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  • Gosford Anglican Blog

Just Acting: On bearing witness to the radical love of God

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

In the face of current turmoil and just action in relation to black deaths in custody, it helps to recall some history of just action, and to realise, that just action has the long view in mind. Yesterday we remembered and celebrated the Martyrs of Uganda (d.1866) and Archbishop Janani Luwum (d.1977). The Ugandan Martyrs were 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican men who were murdered by the then ruler, Mwanga. Some were young page boys, customarily sexually abused by this leader. It was reported that they sang and prayed as the flames burnt. In the 1970’s it was the murdering tyrant Idi Amin who killed Archbishop Luwum. Luwum’s assertion of Christian love for Amin did not stop his opposition to this murderous tyrant. Archbishop Luwum acted with ‘transgressive love.’ The murder of George Floyd and the following protests and riots remind us about our own shameful history of personal and institutional prejudice and injustice against black first Australians. Did you see the headline this week that read ‘More than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the end of the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991’? We European Australians cannot cast stones at America. Indigenous people have been telling their story for a long time. They invite us, as does the Uluru Statement, to listen to their stories, their world view, and not to respond with white platitudes and white explanations or our interpretations of their experience and reality. And they write about the personal psychic as well as the social cost of not being heard, of having to continually repeat their stories as they continue to face the high incarceration and mortality rates of their people. Black American teacher and theologian, Willie James Jennings, brings understanding to the plight of Indigenous Australians. He writes that in his initial theological training he endeavoured to kept race and theology sealed off from each other. This certainly echoed my own theological formation in the 1980’s! But in Jennings’ later years, his “lifelong endeavour to think of God in and with the life of the creation” and “the life of creation in and with the life of God,” broadened and he became what he called a “transgressive mystic” – “imagining theology as transgressive mysticism that would break open racial identities and break through racial reasoning” that enabled “transgressive love.” This was no easy journey for Jennings, as it is not for Australian Indigenous Christians. I recall speaking at a clergy conference when in the Diocese of Gippsland. Uncle Ray Minniecon was present, a man I hold in great esteem. I was speaking about the church and drawing only from European thinkers. Uncle Ray spoke up and was rightly very disturbed! (see Uncle Ray no doubt felt like Willie Jennings in his effort to reframe theology. He knew that, just as the world in which he walked kept this racial divide clear, so, also, he would easily find “on every corner a church or some place of worship … that held the racial geographical order in place (Jennings).” An Aboriginal colleague once told me that as she prepared for ordination as an Anglican priest, what she was most fearful about was standing before a white Anglo congregation because they would think she was dirty! Willie Jennings’s writes about the way he had to learn a ‘transgressive love’, a love that ignores boundaries (and note the revisioning of ‘dirty’): “I’m trying to understand how to be a Christian in the dirt. Which means I’m trying to think theologically from dirt and trees, sky and water, ocean and animals - not as background to life but as the reality of connection that prepares us for the living of life together … a more expansive and invasive ecological awareness one that magnifies the sinews of our connectivity…” (The Christian Century, June 3, 2020)

We have a lot to learn about ‘transgressive love,’ that love that speaks and acts against boundaries that are racist or unjust, that are dehumanising. In the three years since its submission, the Uluru Statement from the Heart has received little public attention and no government acknowledgment. Our government would do to act justly, to receive and respond to the Uluru Statement with the same generosity in which it was offered: as a gift of reconciliation and healing for the journey ahead together. “We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.”

Fr Don

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