Prayer vigil called to mourn passing of Stronger Futures legislation
Members of the Uniting Church’s 13th Assembly will gather publicly in Adelaide on Thursday July 19 for a lunchtime prayer vigil to express extreme concern about the “Stronger Futures” legislation.
In a dramatic response to calls for action to support the Indigenous people of Australia, Assembly changed its order of business so it could make the strongest possible statement about the law.
The Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, the Rev. Rronang Garrawurra, and the new President of the Uniting Church, the Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney, will stand shoulder-to-shoulder at the prayer vigil.
Mr Garrawurra said, “The government has taken away our land and now our humanity has been taken away by this new law.”
“The Uniting Church mourns another lost opportunity for true reconciliation with the First Peoples of Australia,” said Rev. Prof. Dutney, who assumed the presidency of the Uniting Church last Sunday.
“The passage of Stronger Futures legislation without adequate consultation with Indigenous Australians is a lamentable development,” he said.
Professor Dutney announced the protest after a proposal to support Indigenous people in condemning the “Stronger Futures” legislation was passed with consensus.
Action in partnership
The 12-point resolution addressed the imposition and extension of the harmful and discriminatory aspects of the Stronger Futures legislation and elements within it that disempowered local communities and imposed compulsory income management.
The Uniting Church will work in partnership with the First Nations Assemblies living under the “Stronger Futures” legislative regime and assure them that the church stands with them in the name of justice.
Discussion at the Assembly meeting centred on what action should be taken by the Uniting Church to:
- motivate wider church membership and Christians internationally to lend their voice to the push for change, and
- ensure the Government engage in respectful and genuine negotiation with the leadership of First Nations Assemblies about legislative problems identified.
The Rev. Shayne Blackman, National Administrator of the UIACC, referred specifically to the legislation’s provisions for income management and school attendance in condemning the Australian Parliament for “reckless disregard for human rights”.
The Australian Government, he said, had formulated the legislation without consultation or negotiation with the people it affects.
He said empowering Indigenous people regarding the issues was important and that resource and support needed to be generous and ongoing.
The Rev. Alistair Macrae (Immediate Past President of the Uniting Church) said the challenge was to educate Uniting Church member so they could take responsible action.
“The Uniting Church is a sleeping giant” on this issue, he said. However, with accurate information it could mobilise a lot of spiritual and political energy among its ranks to agitate for change.
The Rev. Gregor Henderson (Past President of the Uniting Church), with ecumenical guest Rev. Tara Curlewis of the National Council of Churches in Australia, proposed an amendment calling on the World Council of Churches Central Committee meeting in August/September 2012 to issue a public statement against the legislation and to mobilise the support of churches worldwide for the Uniting Church’s stance.
Kate Fraser (Northern Synod) echoed the thoughts of many speakers who said the church needed to move from words to action in protesting against Stronger Futures legislation. She asked the President directly to test the willingness of Assembly to do so by proposing that members assemble publicly in Adelaide.
Mr Garrawurra added to the calls for resourcing and moving to action and the Rev. Niall Reid from Sydney Presbytery suggested a season of prayer and fasting, which will be presented to Assembly as a separate proposal.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown (Moderator NSW/ACT Synod) said he strongly believed the church should practise what it preached.
During questions and comments from the floor, the Rev. Elenie Poulos, Director of Uniting Justice, gave assurance of that agency’s support.
The Rev. Dr Wes Campbell reminded the room of the church’s tradition of civil disobedience in face of unjust law.
Passion for change
Prior to the Stronger Futures discussion the Assembly had endorsed a statement from young leaders of the Uniting Church. It expressed their passion about the church working in partnership with the Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress to push for changes that would reverse Indigenous disadvantage.
Rhanee-nha Lester (SA Synod) said she was an Adnyamathanha person on her mother’s side, with an Australian born English grandfather and a Malay/Tamil born grandmother on her father’s side.
As a renal transplant recipient whose brother committed suicide at the age of 19, Ms Lester said she had “unfortunately experienced firsthand the disadvantages that our First Peoples face”.
The Suicide: It’s No Secret campaign had shown that the number of deaths from suicide had now overtaken the number of deaths caused through road accidents.
“If that isn’t alarming enough,” Ms Lester said, “the statistics show that the Indigenous rate of suicide is four times higher than that of the general population.”
As a young leader, Ms Lester said she saw the Uniting Church as a church called to action.
“A church that is not afraid to push the boundaries to achieve social equality.
“So I ask you again, ‘What kind of world will you leave for us?’”
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