Rev Belinda Groves reflects on Canberra Baptist Church's annual Blessing of the Animals for St Francis of Assisi Day and Season of Creation.
A friend recently asked me a rhetorical question.
I knew it was rhetorical in nature, loaded and leading because of her experiences as someone who is a Woman of Colour (WoC).
“What,” she asked “are Christianity’s main principles, rules to live by?”.
Mark chapter 12 seemed like a good place to start. After I fumbled my way through what I thought was most accurate, loving God with our everything and our neighbour as ourselves, she did not sound convinced.
“Why then, are we always under attack by Christians?”
This question left me stumped. Why does the church have such an awful relationship with minorities and the marginalised? We’re familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus’ unpacking of who it is that is our neighbour: the weak, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the poor, the overlooked. And why? So that everyone will know that we are his disciples.
The fact that as Christians, we believe that humans were created separate to the rest of creation, a whole day dedicated to the careful design, bespoke details and fine tuning of the first man and woman, made in the image of the Ultimate Creator God himself, should provide us with a worldview that encourages us to nurture, maintain and celebrate all human dignity.
However, somewhere along the tangled lines of history, between the fall of man and the ongoing rise and fall of empires, humans have only sought to step on the shoulders of others to further our own experiences and shout our own truths at the expense of drowning out those whose backs we’ve stood on. The inevitable ensued - some got ahead and others got left behind. 2020 can boldly proclaim that the dominant culture across both the Global North and South is still the white, Judeo-Christo male and the ideas, attitudes and values that he brings to the table.
And as white men rose to power, they brought with them the creation of a whole lot that the world, the church, and myself as an individual, am trying to combat: pornography, plastic and racism. But while there are anti-porn task forces in action at many a local church, KeepCups en mass at your urban cafe-churches, there are yet to be any open, honest and bold conversations on the way in which colonialism and capitalism has impacted and continues to haunt Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.
But your identity should be in Christ, I hear some of you say. Yes, of course; my identity in Christ is first and foremost and at the core of who I am. The shackles and chains of sin and the fear of death and what comes after are no longer there. However, systemic racism is an issue of sin AND skin that Christians like to dance around, fearful that we might suddenly be mistaken for no longer “nice” and accepting and that our multicultural dinners at church are no longer enough to welcome the Other amongst us.
Post-colonial secular and Church history show us how the Very Good News, was not so very good for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Instead of a message of grace and love, forgiveness and reconciliation, renewal and relationship, Colonial Christianity sought to conquer and steal in the name of the Father, the Son and the Crown. Cultural genocide was enacted in the name of Jesus and crude “science” such as craniology as well as Eurocentered and hierarchical worldviews like, the Great Chain of Being were used as justification for violence against Black and Brown bodies.
The irony here is that while White colonisers admonished natives for their “pagan”, cultural beliefs, often ones that were sacred not because of worship itself but because of the way in which Indigenous peoples related to the land in reverence and stewardship, they themselves held on to harmful and divisive constructs of race.
There has been a history and pattern of violence against Black, Indigenous, Women and Girls of Colour that was specific and genocidal: sexual violence, removal from communities, and trafficking from place to place. We only have to look at the statistics today and realise that they are ongoing issues that have been compounded in 2020.
So where do we go from this sinful mess that we are in? There are organisations and movements doing the difficult and important work of truth-telling and reconciliation, where spaces are created, to re-claim, re-write, re-right and re-name our own histories so that there is healing and justice-seeking for people of colour. Too few of these organisations are “Christian” by name, yet the work they do is the work of Christ for he has called us to “loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”
The gruesome history of these lands now called ‘Australia’ is still yet to be acknowledged by many, and without the truth-telling of our past, it is no surprise that racism runs deep in this country. Despite this, there are glimmers of hope that things can change for the better. The appointment of Brooke Prentis, a descendent of the Wakka Wakka peoples, as CEO of Common Grace gives me hope that the voices of First Nations, Black and Women of Colour in the church and by Australia will be heard. There isn’t even an official count for how many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women have been in CEO or senior leadership positions such as this, let alone in the church. For a Christian organisation to lead the way in righting these wrongs is fitting given our call by Jesus to live counter-culturally by loving mercy, doing justice and walking humbly with Him and those around us who we need to pause, break bread with and listen to.
As an educator, mother and a Woman of Colour myself, I am particularly passionate about centering the voices and stories of Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour. So this year as you mark International Womens Day, consider the way in which you benefit from unjust systems, challenge principalities and power structures, listen, really listen to those around you who identify as BIWOC and acknowledge their hurts, lived experiences and continued and varied oppressions, without playing the “identity-in-Christ” card and stand in solidarity with them, by encouraging them to attend events that celebrate and elevate their voices while building community and healing. You may even consider taking it one step further than lip service and contribute financially to groups and organisations that centre their work on Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour. Which women of colour will you be celebrating today?
Priyanka Bromhead is the founder of we are the mainstream, a collective all about centring the voices and stories of Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour. We are the mainstream celebrated its inaugural event on February 29th, to mark IWD (8th March) at Bankstown Arts Centre, a day filled with slam poetry, live music, short films and courageous conversations around the social, cultural and political nature of being a Black, Indigenous and Woman of Colour in2020. For future events and to find out how to get involved follow them on instagram, find out more here, or pay it forward here.
To hear the stories of incredible Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Christian women, view our 2018 NAIDOC Series.