Friday, 10 July 2020

We journey together, bound to one another in Covenant

Written by Stuart McMillan

On 10 July 1994, the 7th Assembly of the Uniting Church formally entered into a binding covenant relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

Why was this necessary, given the Church had recognised the UAICC in 1985?

That very year, 1985 the same Assembly meeting that recognised the UAICC reversed a promise of the previous Assembly in 1982 to not support Australia's Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 if there had not been significant advancement in land rights and justice for First Peoples.

On the 26 January 1988 Rev Charles Harris with other First Nations leaders led a Bicentennial protest rally and march calling for Justice for First Nations Peoples.

Forty thousand First and Second Peoples gathered in the Sydney Domain, including many leaders and members of the Uniting Church.

It was this same year the UAICC began a process through the Assembly meeting to establish a binding covenant with the Church.

The 1994 Covenant Statement acknowledges the terrible treatment of First Peoples and apologises for the Church’s part in these wrongs.

The Statement further acknowledges the benefit the Church has gained from the injustices done to First Peoples and commits the Church to make reparation for land taken.

“We seek to journey together in the true spirit of Christ as we discover what it means to be bound to one another in covenant.”

The Church declared it wanted to work together with UAICC to bring discrimination to an end so that: “your people are no longer jailed in disproportionate numbers, and so equal housing, health, education and employment opportunities are available for your people as for ours.”

Sadly in 2007 the Federal Government announced Closing the Gap measures because injustice and inequality in our nation continued.

Last week, 26 years after the Covenant’s enactment and 13 years after the Closing the Gap targets were established, a Uniting Church coalition of the UAICC, Uniting First Peoples Alliance and Uniting Care Australia wrote to the Prime Minister urging the Government to: “Make Closing the Gap in incarceration, housing, health outcomes, and other social disparities a national priority”.

The letter cites recent events in Australia with respect to the Black Lives Matter protests as strong endorsement for the Government to ensure both the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody and the Pathways to Justice recommendations are urgently and fully implemented by the Government, together with new ambitious targets for Closing the Gap.

 Uniting UAICC First Peoples Voice in front of CPH
Uniting First Peoples meeting August last year.

Pastor Bill Hollingsworth on behalf of the UAICC in his response to the President Dr Jill Tabart in the Covenant ceremony at the 7th Assembly said:

“Because it is pleasing to God to love one another, and it is our commitment to do so, we invite you on behalf of Congress members to develop a new relationship by entering into the struggle of those issues that presently are the cause of continuing injustice resulting in broken relationships.”

Friends, we must fully enter into the struggle of First Peoples within the Uniting Church and in the nation.

However, to effectively do this requires that we embrace the relationship the UAICC has invited us into.

This Covenant is fundamental to who we are as the people of God in this ancient land.