An open letter to Voters in the upcoming Referendum on First Nations Constitutional Recognition and a Voice to Parliament from Andreas Loewe, Dean of Melbourne
In a few weeks’ time, Australians will be headed to the polls. The referendum on Constitutional Recognition of First Peoples and the establishment of a Voice to Parliament is one of the most important decisions we will take in our lifetime. It truly is an historic event. On 14 October, I will be answering ‘yes’ to the question: ‘A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?’ I hope you will join me.
For me as a Christian, reconciliation is at the heart of my faith. By his death on a cross, Jesus broke down the things that fundamentally divide us. On the cross he reconciled us to his heavenly Father, and opened a new and living way to be reconciled with one another (Heb. 10.19-20). As his followers, Christians are called to enter with him into the ministry of reconciliation. St Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians: ‘God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5.19). Christians are called to be Christ’s ambassadors ‘as though God were making his appeal through us’ (5.20).
For me as a Christian, reconciliation is at the heart of my faith. By his death on a cross, Jesus broke down the things that fundamentally divide us. On the cross he reconciled us to his heavenly Father, and opened a new and living way to be reconciled with one another … As his followers, Christians are called to enter with him into the ministry of reconciliation.Dean Andreas Loewe
Not only individuals need reconciling. Enter nations need reconciling. From the time of nation was colonised by European settlers, First Peoples were dispossessed and moved from their ancestral lands. Hundreds of thousands died as a result of this settlement—whether in armed conflict, or through infectious diseases brought by the colonisers. The ripple effects of settlement have a continued effect on our First Peoples: proportionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more disadvantaged than other Australians. Attempts to ‘close the gap’ have failed to deliver the desired outcomes.
In 2017, Aboriginal People from across Australia met at the heart of the nation, Uluru. There they issued an absurdly generous invitation to later arrivals in Australia to journey together with First Peoples, the Statement from the Heart. The Statement is gracious and visionary. It is practical as well as achievable. It is an offer from heart to the heart to be walking together on the ways of justice and reconciliation. And as such, for me it profoundly echoes the Christian message calling on each to work for reconciliation. When I first read the Statement, I opened my heart to its message, and in my heart said ‘yes’ to its invitation.
Aboriginal People have opened their hearts wide to us later arrivals. In the Statement from the Heart they offer our nation a new way to journey together to build a new Australia. Without anger, without seeking revenge, or placing blame, they offer an act of deep forgiveness – from heart to heart. Yet despite this gracious invitation, the current debate on the Referendum has been divisive and vindictive. We are offered an incredible gift. I believe that, if we close our hearts to the Statement from the Heart, and the process of justice for First Nations through Voice, Treaty, Truth and Makarrata (coming together after a dispute) we also close our hearts to our nation’s better future.
For me it profoundly echoes the Christian message calling on each to work for reconciliation. When I first read the Statement, I opened my heart to its message, and in my heart said ‘yes’ to its invitation.Dean Andreas Loewe
History is calling. Our nation stands at a crossroads. Whether we receive or reject the Statement from the Heart will shape our future.
Early in the Christian era, the church in Corinth had found itself at a similar crossroads and Paul wrote them a letter. He felt that the church in Corinth had closed their hearts to the message of the good news of God’s reconciling love. Paul told the Corinthians to reconsider and open their hearts to reconciliation:
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also (2 Corinthians 6.11-13).
Let’s open our hearts to the Statement from the Heart. The Voice is calling from the heart. Please join me in saying yes.
The Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe
Dean of Melbourne