For your reflection
…Have you heard the sort of rhetoric that treats First Nations people as lesser humans? As more like children? Or animals? What is a Christian response to the claim one group of humans is lesser than another? Why is it such a persistent idea? Where do you have a tendency (if at all) to draw lines putting some humans outside your sphere of moral concern?
Justification by Faith
Since it is God’s love that is proved in the death of Christ, whatever Paul means by being “saved from the wrath of God” cannot be understood as an angry God needing to be appeased or there will be hell to pay. It just doesn’t follow that a wrathful God initiates the action to be reconciled to us (humanity) while we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were God’s enemies, as if God just needed to kill something in order to spare humanity.
Paul says that the blood of Jesus justifies; but the entire religious world of his day practiced ritual sacrifice as a means of motivating the gods or, in the case of the Jews, atoning for sin. To be sure, there are those who hold to a classic doctrine of atonement where God’s holiness does not allow for mercy without payment due, but that seems to make God subject to our religious systems. Again, if it is God’s love that is proved, surely God is free to forgive with or without the cross.
So, what is the purpose of Jesus death? It is surely for the forgiveness sins, but not to appease a wrathful God but rather to transform us, so that what Paul preaches in today’s text from Romans might be accomplished.
Peace with God means we no longer live as God’s enemies but instead our love for God is proved when we boast not in our strength or our piety but in our hope. That hope is not illusory but tested by suffering, proved by enduring, confirmed in our character. It is the way we live the faith that justifies us and is the only hope of peace for the humanity God loves.
– Phillip Heinze
The Doctrine of Discovery
from A Voice in the Wilderness, available at abmission.org
On 27 May 1967, Australians voted to remove part of the Australian Constitution that treated Indigenous Australians as inferior to non-Indigenous Australians:
“In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted” (Section 127 of the Australian Constitution – removed by the 1967 Referendum.)
“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.” (Statement from the Heart.)
“I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, scarcely settled, great southern land.” (Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Keynote Address to the Australia-Melbourne Institute Conference, 2014.)
In July 2014, a statue of John McDouall Stuart appeared in an Alice Springs park where many First Nations people hang out. He is very bronze and very tall and is carrying a huge rifle. The statue was gifted to the Town Council by local Freemasons. (John Stuart was a Freemason.) It had not gone through Council processes for approving public monuments. However, after a public fight, it ended up displayed anyway. The statue’s inscription reads in part: “John McDouall Stuart and his companions were the first Europeans to pass through this region, going on to discover the centre of Australia in April 1860.”
There were, of course, people already living in the centre of Australia in April 1860. They had been living in the centre of Australia for a long, long time. Chances are their descendants wander past the statue most days. So, what is meant by ‘discover’ here?
The use of the word ‘discover’ makes it very clear who our point of reference is. And who it is not. We don’t ‘discover’ our sort of people, usually. We meet them. And we don’t ‘discover’ their homes or properties. We visit them. This is because we recognise that another human owns them already. This is not a neutral issue for the Christian church. Pope Alexander used the doctrine of discovery in 1493 to justify the Spanish conquest of the New World. He issued a Papal Bull that said that any lands not inhabited by Christians were available to be ‘discovered,’ claimed, and the rulership taken over in order that “barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This doctrine became the basis for Europe’s claims in America, and the US Supreme Court used it to justify American expansion into the West. That is, Protestants also used whether people were ‘Christian’ or not to decide whether they had a right to their lands. In Australia, it appeared in the guise of terra nullius – a Latin expression that means ‘nobody’s land.’ This has been called “a morphed and more extreme version of the doctrine of discovery.”
The Colonisers believed in loving the neighbour as the self. Treating Indigenous people badly jeopardised people’s conception of themselves as good. This sort of cognitive dissonance has long been resolved by putting some humans outside the realm of people whose suffering we have to care about.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’” (Luke 10:25-29). The Parable of the Good Samaritan follows.
The lawyer who questioned Jesus was doing the same thing. ‘You have to love your neighbour as yourself’, but you can hear him thinking, ‘not everyone.’ And, lawyerlike, the issue is: where is the line? This is a reasonable question. We are limited. Day to day we do have to delineate what we can care about. Jesus’ answer smashed the use of race or religion as that line. For much of Australia’s history, however, race was overtly used in this way. Many Colonists believed they were superior to First Nations people, who were such lesser humans that really they were more in the category of animals.
Early last century, Alfred Canning built the Canning Stock Route through deserts in the West. He captured and chained Indigenous people and gave them only salt water to drink until, driven mad by thirst, they led him to their sacred waterholes, which were then taken for cattle. For most of Colonial history, well into last century, the consequences for an Indigenous person who killed a whitefella’s cow were harsher than for a whitefella who killed an Indigenous person. As the Kimberley Land Council recently remarked “the fact that people are more important than cattle is something the gadiya [whitefellas] find very hard to accept.”
Rhetoric that makes one lot of people less human than another lot of people is an alarming precursor to untold woe. It came up again at the start of the Rwandan genocide and it was used recently in Britain about refugees.
For your reflection …
Have you heard the sort of rhetoric that treats First Nations people as lesser humans? As more like children? Or animals? What is a Christian response to the claim one group of humans is lesser than another? Why is it such a persistent idea? Where do you have a tendency (if at all) to draw lines putting some humans outside your sphere of moral concern?