Common Grace submission to the Joint Select Committee on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice Referendum, 21 April 2023
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, Rev'd Canon Auntie Di Langham invites us to reflect on this year’s focus on equality.
What about equality? I think in our society, especially with Tiddas (sisters), we need to use the word equity.
Equality suggests that we are all starting on equal footings at the same starting point, but equity acknowledges that we are not! There is a really good illustration with children all at a fence looking over. One person can see over the fence, but one needs a box to stand on and another two boxes to stand on! The boxes give us equity. If there was equality and all people would be tall enough to see and their position would be the same. People who can't see over the fence would then miss out because they would be hidden by the fence, trying to jump up to see over it.
I think that being a woman needs a box to stand on. The other boxes can be having a disability, being of another race, having mental health issues, being queer, being old and so it goes on. I need three boxes, I am a woman, I am Aboriginal and I am old. As an Aboriginal woman pre Cook there was not a deficit in power and no need for the term equality as we all had our place. We all fitted into the jigsaw of life. We all had our own identity in our clan, our own place, land or country and equality was not an issue. However, nowadays many of our people are coming from a deficit model through trauma that has occurred in learned behaviour from colonisation. There was never a struggle with equality amongst our own people.
There are places in the churches where, because I am a woman, I am not allowed to speak or lead. In my diocese, in most places this is not the case. It can be a covert discrimination in lots of places and even sadly amongst women who have been conditioned to do this as well.
As an Aboriginal person there is even more suspicion and anxiety, because when I include Aboriginal objects or Aboriginal spiritual thoughts people feel threatened. My picture of churches is like a religious fishbowl - people feel safe in the fishbowl. I try to encourage people in their spirituality to go swim in the ocean! It may not be something you can embrace but give yourselves permission to go for a swim. By doing that you are allowing yourself to explore and grow in your spiritual journey.
Could I encourage you not to try to fit Aboriginal spirituality in the fish bowl? Let our spirituality be an Australian Spirituality. My Christian traditional sacred text is the Bible. But as Richard Rohr says “Just because you use Scripture, even in a God-affirming way, does not mean you are using Scripture for life and love, growth and wisdom—and for the sake of God or others.”
I see Jesus as teaching inclusivity, mercy, and justice and this is clearly the same work as YHWH. I think we need to interpret the Bible “in the light of Jesus” not to prove anything. We need to look through the Jesus lens.
As we recognise, celebrate and stand alongside our Tiddas today, may we seek to be more like Jesus, living out his call for inclusion, mercy and justice in our communities, our families, our workplaces and our country.
Rev'd Canon Auntie Di Langham is secretary to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council and the first Director of Reconciliation with Newcastle Anglican Diocese. Aunty Di is also a contributor to the Australian Women Preach podcast and recently released book “In Her Voice” featuring sermons published by women.