Dear Friends,

From Sunday 8 November to Sunday 15 November we celebrate NAIDOC Week. This year the theme is “Always Was, Always Will Be”, which emphasises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have always been the original inhabitants of this land, and will always be here.

This should be an important week, especially in this Diocese. The country of the Torres Strait Islanders is in our Diocese and Torres Strait Islanders form a substantial proportion of those in Anglican Churches in North Queensland every Sunday. This Diocese is responsible for all of the Torres Strait Islander communities in the Anglican Church of Australia. We are also responsible for a large proportion of the Aboriginal Communities in the National Church and some of our most vibrant churches are in Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Communities. I commend to you this video showing the work going on at St Alban’s, Yarrabah:

Yarrabah

There are many great things going on in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministries, but there is much more to be done. We are now moving towards autonomy for our Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Ministries, so that Torres Strait Islander Anglicans and Aboriginal Anglicans can take their proper role in this Diocese and in the broader church. The time is past when non-indigenous Australians should tell our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters how to run their affairs: my hope is that autonomous indigenous ministries can enter into full partnership with the broader church and inspire us with the light of Christ. This is especially so as we move to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Coming of the Light to the Torres Strait on 1st July 2021: we now need the light, and our indigenous brothers and sisters need the strength to bring it to us.

Sadly there are also significant issues facing our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy eight years shorter than non-indigenous Australians, and are fifteen times more likely to be imprisoned. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are less than 2% of our total population but over 30% of those incarcerated: see the Australian Law Reform Commission at

Australian Law Reform Commission

I refuse to believe that indigenous Australians are intrinsically more evil and less healthy than other Australians: the attempt to blame indigenous Australians for these problems is wrong headed. Rather there are systematic injustices which make it far more likely for indigenous Australians to die early and over fifteen times more likely to go to gaol. As Christians we are called repeatedly throughout the Bible to practice justice. This is not to blame any particular individuals, but to point to problems within our society that disadvantage Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Some Christians see “Black Lives Matter” as being merely some form of cultural Marxism (for example the Australian Christian Lobby or Mr David Ould – please contact me if you would like references) but this is entirely to miss the point: what propels “Black Lives Matter” in Australia is not some form of Marxism but a strong and justified sense of injustice.

Bishop Chris McLeod, the National Aboriginal Bishop, and Archbishop Glenn Davies from Sydney have written on this:

Bishop Chris McLeod and Archbishop Glenn Davies

I have also heard some Christians respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”. On one level this is a statement of the obvious: for a Christian all lives do matter. But if one group in our community is subject to injustice such that they die earlier and go to prison far more than anyone else, then it is right to promote the interests and rights of that group. In a context where indigenous Australians die much earlier than non-indigenous Australians, it is right to say “Black Lives Matter” – because clearly at present in practice they do not matter as much as others.

So there are many challenges and it is right to observe and comment on those challenges as we celebrate NAIDOC week. But there is also much to celebrate: a resurgence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and above all the light of Christ entrusted to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. May that light be shared and celebrated by all of us, especially in this Diocese of North Queensland where we truly live in a beautiful country entrusted by God to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders and shared by us all. This coming Sunday I commend to you a celebration of NAIDOC Week, and a celebration of the immeasurable contribution made to our Church by our Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland

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