Gospel Implications for Today’s Church

Mark Thompson, in his article, “When to Make a Stand” in the Autumn 2016 Edition of Essentials (Part 2 in the Winter edition) provides an excellent balance to the paper by Brian Rosner, “When Christians Differ” (Essentials Spring 2015). The question of when to make an issue of some aspect of Christian life is often a difficult one and this becomes even more so when our understanding of Scripture seems at odds with that of someone else.
The error that Paul highlights in his encounter with Peter, reported in Gal 2 came about not because the “Judaizers” were disobedient. Rather it occurred because they were strongly Bible believing followers of Yahweh. The “plain reading of the text” in many places was that Jews shouldn’t associate with Gentiles. But Paul points out to Peter and presumably to all those standing around as the encounter takes place, that Jesus coming has changed things. What we used to believe needs to be reconsidered. What’s more, as Mark Thompson points out, because ‘their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’ (v. 14). The tearing down of the ceremonial and fellowship barriers between Jew and Gentile was a consequence of the gospel but one that was so natural and necessary a consequence that to deny it was to be ‘out of step with the truth of the gospel’.
Mark proceeds to show how a necessary consequence of the gospel is that the social barriers have been torn down.
What Mark doesn’t do, no doubt due to a limitation of time, is to consider the conclusion that Paul comes to after the extensive theological discussion of Galatians 3. His conclusion is: “28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Why does Paul throw in these extra two categories of social distinctiveness, yet elsewhere appear to reinforce that distinctiveness? His main concern in the letter is the issue of the status of Jewish identity. Hence the next verse: “29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Yet he includes slave-free and male-female in his list of distinctions that are torn down by the gospel.
It should be noted that his conclusion isn’t that the pairs here are equal. It’s actually that they are equivalent. Equivalent not in terms of value but in terms of social interaction. To put it in Marks Thompson’s words, the tearing down of the ceremonial and fellowship barriers between slave and free, and between male and female is so natural and necessary a consequence that to deny it was to be ‘out of step with the truth of the gospel’.
Yet in the rest of his writing Paul accepts and, in places, reinforces the social and economic reality of slavery, the social and ceremonial distinction of male and female roles. Why is it so?
My conclusion is that to change the behaviour of Christian Jews was within his power as one of the apostles but to overthrow a social order as all pervasive as slavery and patriarchy were, would take a longer time than he had. Instead he chose to sow the seeds of change and wait for the gospel implications to filter through to the wider culture. Just as Matthew includes a subversive element in his genealogy of Jesus by including marginalised women, including a number who were Gentiles, so Paul here and elsewhere prepares the way for these social distinctions to be broken down.
So while Paul tells slaves to obey their masters he also warns masters to treat their slaves with respect. In Eph 6 he goes further: “9And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.” Slave had no rights under Roman law but under God they were fellow servants, with their masters, of God.
In the case of his letter to Philemon he asks that Onesimus be treated “16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” And then he goes further in asking Philemon to welcome him as he would Paul himself.
Sadly it took 1700 years before a small group of evangelical Christians began to argue for emancipation of slaves. Even then there was an equally vocal group of evangelical theologians who argued from God’s word that slavery was a right and proper institution affirmed by God’s word and in fact established by God to be the lot of the descendants of Ham. To give two minor examples, in 1835, the Presbyterian Synod of West Virginia fiercely assailed the case for abolition, calling it “a dogma” contrary “to the clearest authority of the word of God.” In 1845 the Old School Presbyterian Assembly decreed that slavery is based on “some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.” Countless other examples of bible believing evangelical argument could be given.
What was being overlooked by the opponents of abolition was that the gospel intrinsically overthrows the possibility of men and women being held by another as property. Why? Because they are people for whom Christ died.
The same approach is true with the issue of male and female relationships. In Ephesians 5 Paul appears to reinforce the social norm of male headship, but in fact subverts it, first by instructing Christians to submit to one another out of reference to Christ (5:21) (note the gospel imperative similar to that in Gal 2:14), and then by instructing husbands to love their wives in a life-surrendering way, the way Christ loved the church. He also redefines headship in Eph 4 to be something totally different to what would have been the common understanding then and still is today: “15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” According to this definition headship has to do, not with directing and decision making, but with empowering and enabling growth.
Elsewhere we see Paul validating the ministry by women of prophecy and leading the congregation in prayer (1 Cor 11) and interestingly in the same passage he points out the interconnectedness and interdependency of men and women in the purposes of God.
In the second part of Mark’s paper he says: “we should be seeking to understand just how much of a difference [God’s word] makes for our good. God’s benevolence and the goodness of his word are foundational principles when considering when to make a stand. I want to ask, ‘Is this teaching, is this behaviour, drawing people away from the good God’s good word which nourishes and builds his people?’ ‘Does it build confidence in God’s good word as an instrument for good or does it undermine that confidence?’ ‘Does it suggest that the truth expressed in God’s word is incomplete, or out-dated, or ill-informed?’
Paul had a similar approach. “20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9:20-22)
The question that immediately comes to my mind in this context is whether the approach of so many evangelical Christians to the ministry of women in the church is building confidence in God’s word as an instrument for good? Is it drawing people away from the good God’s good word which nourishes and builds his people?’ Are we going to win those who are outside the law by restricting the ministry of women to lesser roles in the church? Equally important, if not more so: is the way we treat gifted women in our churches in step with the truth of the gospel?

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C.S. Lewis on the radical nature of Repenting—a MUST do.

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves. They could be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for them­selves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God designed the human machine to run on himself. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
Now what was the sort of ‘hole’ man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down our arms, surrendering is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender—this movement full steam astern—is called repentance. Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something that God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen.
Now the whole offer that Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also will be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.
We were considering the Christian idea of ‘putting on Christ’, or first ‘dressing up’ as a son of God in order that you might finally become a real son. What I want to make clear is that this is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.
The Christian way is hard and easy. Christ says ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’ You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Chris­tian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says ‘Take up your cross—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute He says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ He means both.
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and our heart go their own way—centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because we are letting Him work at the right part of us. When He said, ‘Be perfect’, He meant it. He meant that we should go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact it is impossible. May I come back to what I said before? This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.
That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. He meant what He said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect—perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty and immortality. The change will not be complete in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment.
The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Person­ality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Give up yourself, and you will find your true self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
C S Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the literary masters of the 20th Century. He was an atheist who later fell in love with Jesus Christ. One of his most read books is Mere Christianity. And one of the main themes of this book is ‘Repenting’. All the above quotes are from this book and on this theme.
The church generally through many centuries has deliberately ignored the need to repent as being far too difficult for both church leaders and people. It is what Bonhoeffer termed ‘cheap grace’—forgiveness without repenting. It is not possible.

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Marriage Equality: How Then Shall We Be Heard?

A response from Rev. Lynda Johnson, Queensland
I can’t stay quiet any more. Marriage has absolutely nothing to do with slavery!
Marriage is an institution, which stabilises and sustains society. Yes, it is about love between two people, but it is also about much more than that. Marriage is about creating a stable environment where the expression of love between the two marriage partners can bring new life into being, and, in the process, cares for, sustains, prolongs and populates society. And this great institution has an incredible design about it, which comes from a loving and involved Creator. This is what the Biblical narrative affirms.
So how do Christians, who want to preserve marriage as legitimately being a union between a man and a woman, get some real traction in a sensible and dispassionate debate about the nature of marriage and marriage equality? Using the Bible as a basis of authority doesn’t seem to be working. It’s not working in secular society, because your average person in the street doesn’t have the view that the Bible has anything particularly special to say to a modern world. The new atheists are doing a good job of disempowering the Scriptures in the public sphere; they are doing a good job of ridiculing and patronising Christians [in fact anyone with a ‘religious’ belief] even to the point of making this an acceptable practice to be encouraged. Being at the Krauss/Lane debate a few weeks ago showed that very clearly. There are not many minority groups in society that passively take ridicule and patronising as Christians are doing these days.
But another problem for those who want to preserve marriage as legitimately being a union between a man and a woman is also the various interpretations in the Church, all with voices trying to say that theirs is right. There are voices now within the Church who identify as ‘progressive Christians’ [a new level of liberal theology], which has as its starting point the philosophy of the day and from that standpoint critiquing the Bible. What has happened for the last two thousand years is that we have started from the Bible and used that to critique society. For progressive Christians, the Bible has no more authority than any other ‘sacred’ book. This comes with huge associated difficulties for the Church to have a voice in society.
Historically, the Bible has had influence in society and the Church, and sadly, that influence is declining. Historically, also, society has upheld that marriage is between a man and a woman. So what are we to do if we hold the view that the Biblical narrative does, in fact, affirm that?
I want to suggest that we can use basic logic and reason, as I can’t see that this debate can truly be about marriage ‘equality’ in the purest sense of the word.
From a design point of view, marriage between two people of the same gender can never, in practice, be a biologically productive relationship. There will always be the need of a third party, if a choice is made by the couple to have progeny. Therefore, how can it be ‘equal’? What are we saying as a society if we normalise something as being between two people, which will always require a third? I know that at this point, the arguments of exception will rear their heads. What about infertile heterosexual couples? What about those who adopt? My points are ….. 1. generally and genetically, male and female have the potential to reproduce, whether or not some individual cases are unable to do so or choose to not do so. And …… 2. society shouldn’t ‘normalise’ something as being equal, which in practice cannot be so.
There needs to be recognition that at a national/societal/community level we shouldn’t allow the exception to form the norm, or become the norm. If we do, there will be different types of marriage. Therefore ….. not truly equal. I’m actually neutral about society recognising various kinds of relationships other than what has been the historical norm [i.e. civil unions], and this has already happened through legislation anyway. What I do not want is the collateral damage that comes from not valuing children sufficiently, and recognising how we are designed to bring them into being and care for and form them, with both a mother and a father. We cannot escape the biological fact that both an X and a Y chromosome are needed for the race to continue. This is how society flourishes. And it is society’s role [via government] to dispassionately recognise this and affirm it, alongside appropriately recognising those who are at variance.
Rev. Lynda Johnson
Chair of EFAC Queensland.

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Challenges Facing the Anglican Church in Australia

Bishop Peter Brain spoke at a meeting of EFAC WA in Perth on 12 March 2012. His talk entitled, Challenges facing the Anglican Church in Australia, is available here. It includes a question time which covers some discussion of the “marriage” debate.

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Have you got any shroves?

Do you know where to get some shroves? It seems they are quite hard to obtain nowadays. Even our customer caring supermarkets don’t have them on sale. Chocolate E**ster eggs, Hot cross (shouldn’t that be crossed?) buns, chocolate festive rabbits have all been there for ages – but no shroves.

I heard a rumour (but didn’t believe it) that some churches have shrove processions. They gather up all the shroves and put them in a paper bag and burn them. Seems a waste.

Actually I have never seen a shrove, but it would be good to get some for Shrove Tuesday. Otherwise all we will have are pancakes. Mind you the pancakes at our church are very good. Or at least the fillings are. Can you fill a pancake? You can cover it, swamp it, drown it, I suppose. Get your fingers, face, shirt all covered with yummy runny… what do you prefer on your pancakes? Sweet sickly treacly honey? Spicy scary chilli mince? Warm watery fishy dishes?

So many yummy things. And all being eaten on Shrove Tuesday as though there was never going to be any more. Maybe the shroves have got something to do with the pancakes. After all Shrove Tuesday is also called Pancake Tuesday. In French it is called Fat Tuesday (or it would be if the French spoke English).

I think perhaps shroves must be the kind of things you use to make pancakes. Fat, butter, eggs, sugar, flour. In the olden days people used up all their shroves so that after Pancake Tuesday there were no shroves left. It’s as though they wanted to clean out their pantry. One reason of course is they weren’t allowed to eat any of this kind of food until Easter.

It was a very serious time. I think they took their Christianity very seriously. Cleaning out their pantry and not eating the yummy food for a while was a kind of pretend game. But there was another non-pretend game being played inside their hearts. What they really wanted to do was have their hearts cleaned out.

Maybe that’s what a shrove is. Maybe it’s the stuff that gets cleaned out of your heart. If so it’s no wonder you can’t buy any at the supermarket (who would want to buy it?). Cleaning out the pantry and making pancakes needs a good cook. Cleaning out the heart needs a Saviour.

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A Christmas Reflection

And so another year fades to an end
but then that fading light is overwhelmed
by radiance of memory once again
an uncommon birth in a common stable
the divine indwells the profane
light enters the darkness
a light that will never be quenched
a helpless child
whose fingers once shaped the universe
God exchanges infinity for humanity
and all our futures are turned around
in this divine exchange
hope for hopelessness
meaning for futility
reconciliation for alienation
and so we turn to face a new year
once again renewed and reassured
that God is with us and knows us
has shared our humanity.

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Christians and Indigenous Politics

More ignorance from a beginner. My reading of the books I have commented on in recent posts is that a significant change in the debate has taken place in the last decade. It is significant that much of the change of opinion has come from anthropologists and others who once held a different view.

The thing that has surprised some on the Left is that the Welfare-Rights paradigm appears to have overseen a significant decline in quality of life for Aborigines in remote communities. The suggestions as to how to reverse this are varied, although there is a kind of consensus that the younger generation is the key, and education and the life they are taught is crucial.

Christians have been involved in Aboriginal affairs from the time of white settlement. They have had a varied report card, but increasingly there is recognition that their role has generally been positive and in some cases crucial to the preservation of Indigenous life and culture.

It is possible that those who live in the southern cities will hear little about all this. And those who have a heart for it will be working away at it somewhere else. Political persuasion was a crucial part of the establishment of Christian work in Northern Australia. No doubt there are Christian politicians with a heart for Indigenous brothers and sisters. But the public debate is wider than politicians.

Two recent books have pointed the way. In the last chapter of “One Land One Saviour”*, John Harris makes a strong plea for urgent action to help Aboriginal churches. In general, whether it is missionaries or Government Interveners, consulting and listening, he says, is the crucial starting point (p 234).

Murray Seiffert’s “Refuge on the Roper”**, also has a final chapter in which he begins to reflect on the issues connected with the Intervention (p139).

But my feeling is that more is needed in the public debate from the point of view of Christians (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) who know about these things.

*Peter Carroll & Steve Etherington (eds), One Land, One Saviour: Seeing Aboriginal lives transformed by Christ. CMS Australia 2008. ISBN 9780947316051

** Murray Seiffert, Refuge on the Roper : The Origins of Roper River Mission, Ngukurr. Acorn Press, 2008. ISBN: 0908284675.

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Up from the Mission

I have to confess that Noel Pearson is one of my favourite writers. This collection of writings* brings together various speeches and articles from roughly the mid 990’s through to 2008.

The first part has some memories of his origins at Hope Vale and some of the characters who were part of that community. The paper, “Anthropology and Tradition”, from 1987 was already highlighting both the alienation many Aboriginal people felt from white society as well the “exploitation and parasitism” that continued within Aboriginal societies. This exploitation depended on myths which have been created and perpetuated by anthropologists and other white ‘experts’ (p23). Myths that have been internalised by Aborigines, especially with regard to alcohol and Aboriginal identity.

The second part, “Fighting Old Enemies”, contains lectures an papers to do with land rights, Native Title, Mabo, and include a strong paper related to the 2002 ‘Yorta Yorta’ High Court decision which in Pearson’s view “misinterpreted the definition of native title under the Native Title Act” (p100). Some valuable historical and legal reflections here.

The third part, “Challenging Old Friends”, contains a variety of papers related to the passive welfare debate. Pearson was one of the first to draw attention to the failure of the welfare system and its contribution to the terrible state of remote communities. These lectures and papers all date from 2000 and later and form a crucial deposit of intellectual and social debate on this vexed question.

The fourth part, “The Quest for a Radical Centre”, includes a paper discussing black rights in the US, Barack Obama and the situation in Australia. It also contains articles about Cape York and more on passive welfare. This from 2007 is typical, “In an article about the Aurukun rape case, academic Marcia Langton wrote, ‘It would be a fair bet that each of the adults who pleaded guilty to raping this child was receiving a government social security or Community Development Employment Program payment. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that dysfunctional Aboriginal behaviour is financially supported by government funding.’ Langton identified the nub of the problem in remote communities: government funds dysfunctional behaviour and there is no connection between what a person or a community does and the income they receive. Money for nothing – passive welfare – is in the long term corrosive.” (p287). Other articles include the Intervention, and Jobs and Homes.

The last part, “Our Place in the Nation”, includes articles about people hood, identity and language. He also take issue with both sides of the political debate and again pleads for an economic development paradigm.

Not included in the collection is the2009 Quarterly Essay, “Radical Hope”**. Pearson’s thesis is that “Our hope is dependent upon education.” (p11). And education depends on good teachers. Not those with good personalities and inspiring pastoral relationships, but those who are effective instructors. This is a big part of Pearson’s thesis. He strongly promotes Direct Instruction, a teaching method that goes back to Ziggy Englelmann.
Controversial as you might expect, but stimulating and challenging and written by someone who has worked hard to try these idea out in his Cape York Institute. This is an essay worth reading – and not only by educators.

*Noel Pearson, Up From the Mission: Selected Writings. Black Inc 2009. ISBN 9781863954280
**Noel Pearson, Radical Hope: Education and Equality in Australia. Quarterly Essay Issue 35, 2009. ISBN 9781863954440

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Ngukurr: a Special Remote Community

A long time ago I had the privilege of visiting Ngukurr a couple of times to do some Bible Studies with the translators who were working on the Kriol Bible. It is an historical place because of how it developed as a place of refuge and also because of its strategic location in relation to nearby Communities, such as Numbulwar, and the Communities on Groote Island.

A couple of recent books have added to the history of this fascinating place.

We are Aboriginal. Our 100 years: from Arnhem Land’s first mission to Ngukurr today. Published by St Matthew’s Church Ngukurr 2008. (ISBN 978 1 875126 26 2) and available from Acorn Press. This is a book by the people of Ngukurr. It is their story about their country, their people, their languages and their main modern language, Kriol. It tells their history of how the tribes came together at Ngukurr in the face of the systematic slaughter being carried out by white men. It traces the different eras in the mission times (1908 – 1940; 1940 -1968). Here is eye-witness, source document, history from the people who lived in these places and times. It also deals with the last 40 years and discusses land rights, education and the Kriol Bible. The book also contains a DVD.

It is not just a book that celebrates an anniversary. It can also be read over against the various writings that criticise the work of missions amongst Aboriginal people. This book is not a whitewash, but it does give the view of those who lived and experienced the mission (and the subsequent non-mission) eras from the inside.

By contrast is a report called Ngukurr at the Millennium: A Baseline Profile for Social Impact Planning in South-East Arnhem Land, by J. Taylor, J. Bern, and K.A. Senior, published in 2000 by CAEPR ANU as Research Monograph No. 18 (ISBN 0 7315 5102 8). Available here as a pdf. This is “a largely synchronic social statistical analysis” of the community of Ngukurr. It “comes after a generation of self management and land rights and immediately prior to the possibility of major introduced economic development based on mineral exploitation.” (p iv). It is meant as a baseline study against which later studies would be able to assess the impact of large scale mining on the community.

There are some valuable insights in the report. However it seems generally to correspond with reports of other remote communities and indicates a general level of dysfunction across most categories of social and life well-being. It thus reinforces and is consistent with the kind of discussions found in Sutton and Austin-Broos for example.

If this is too depressing, I am looking forward to reading Murray Seiffert’s book, Refuge on the Roper : The Origins of Roper River Mission, Ngukurr. Acorn Press, 2008 (ISBN: 0908284675).

He has also just published Gumbuli Of Ngukurr: Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land, Acorn Press, 2011 (098713292X). While tracing the story of this remarkable leader, the blurbs indicate that the book also takes up the recent issues of health, education, welfare and so on. Looks like a must read.

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A Different Inequality

Diane Austin-Broos is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at Sydney University. Her book, A Different Inequality* continues the discussion about remote Aboriginal life. The book is about cultural difference and inequality in the context of a debate that has often been ideological and inadequate.

She has two dialogue partners. One is her own group of anthropologists and the associated group she calls “humanistic social sciences’ , history and indigenous studies for example. This group she thinks has left a space in the debate due “to a failure in critical thought among anthropologists”. (p8) The other is the group of opinion writers “whose pronouncements were not always well informed.” (p8), and who have filled the space left empty by the first group.

The inequality that is described in the book “is that which began to unfold once Aboriginal Australians were encapsulated in a European-derived state and became increasingly positioned by a capitalist economy.” (p10) But the nature of that inequality and how it should be described is what is at issue.

The book has helpful chapters (‘background briefings’) on culture and ethnology, the postcolonial critique, the opposition to separate development (“remote communities had become sites of pathology and suffering” p23), and on the issues to do with land rights.

Austin-Broos argues for a new way of describing the tension between cultural difference and inequality. Has the traditional way of describing remote Aboriginal communities become a kind of abstraction, an ideal concept that does not accurately describe the reality? She sees that the remote communities debate was polarised quite early (p138). The pathology of suffering in remote communities brought some out on the side of government welfare and intervention (the ‘rights-pathology axis’). Others such as Noel Pearson maintained that the main actor in development is the individual not the government.

Austin-Broos seeks a way through these complex debates about cultural difference , marginalisation, poverty, and issues within the culture including violence and the circulation of goods through the kinship network (rather than accumulating them).

She sees political debate focussed on two issues: the maintenance of self-sufficient communities and hybrid economies; and human rights and their restoration in the light of the NT intervention. Austin-Broos thinks these politics are limited. She argues against separatism. She says, “…I propose to add a further dimension to a politics that does support land rights, human rights and appropriate development. I refer to widespread, forceful and persistent support for mainstream primary education on remote communities.” (p159)

Austin-Broos has a nuanced approach, consistent with Sutton and Pearson, with a strong emphasis on primary education as well as giving a voice to the people in remote communities. Clearly written for the choir (in the hope that they will sing together), it is accessible to those on the outside and provides a very helpful education for those trying to make sense of the debates.

*Diane Austin-Broos, A Different Inequality: The politics of debate about remote Aboriginal Australia. Allen & Unwin. 2011. ISBN 9781742370491

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