Australia Day Bible readings 'offensive, confrontational'

Australia Day Bible readings about taking the "promised land" are inappropriate given our history, say Indigenous Anglicans

Anglican clergy should read the biblical texts set down for Australia Day and point out the continuing "whiteness" of the Church's lectionary, says Indigenous priest the Revd Glenn Loughrey.

By Stephen Cauchi

January 24 2020Indigenous Anglican leaders have urged congregations to reflect critically upon this Sunday’s Australia Day lectionary readings, which make mention of both the Israelites and the patriarch Abraham occupying the “promised land”.

The Australian Lectionary 2020 lists optional readings for Australia Day, including Deuteronomy 8.5-14a, which describes God's provision of a “promised land” for Israel. There is also a passage from Hebrews 11.8-16, which talks of Abraham making his home “in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country”.

The people of the “promised land” of Canaan were mostly killed and expelled by the invading Israelites, as documented in the book of Joshua.

The standard 26 January reading, the Third Sunday after Epiphany, does not include these passages and has readings from Isaiah, Psalm 27, 1 Corinthians and Matthew.

“I beg you to read these texts with caution,” said Melbourne priest the Revd Dr Garry Worete Deverell, a Trawloolway man and Vice-Chancellor's Fellow in Indigenous Theologies with the University of Divinity. Dr Deverell is Priest-in-Charge of St Agnes' Black Rock.

“If they are read as legitimising the invasion of this country by Europeans (without treaty), then I believe we will have missed the terror inherent in these texts, and therefore the gospel of God.

“If you use these texts, please read them critically, and in the light of recent post-colonial biblical scholarship.”

National Aboriginal Bishop Chris McLeod, who is based the diocese of Adelaide, said that there were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander congregations in the Anglican Church who found the readings “offensive and confronting”.

Both Dr Deverell and Bishop McLeod suggested churches to use the default readings set out for the Third Sunday after Epiphany rather than the Australia Day options.

In contrast, Indigenous Anglican priest the Revd Glenn Loughrey, who is Vicar at St Oswald’s Glen Iris, has urged that the controversial readings be read and discussed.

“I want to point out controversy and the blindness to some of the things that we read,” he said.

“I would suggest that (Anglican ministers) should do the hard work and have a go at it and point out the continuing 'whiteness' of our lectionary.

“I want people to do the hard work and think through what the Bible says and what we use it for.”

He said, however, that most churches would ignore the optional Australia Day readings and choose the standard Third Sunday after Epiphany readings.

Mr Loughrey said that both the Deuteronomy and Hebrews reading “give credence to colonialism and the invasion and casing of other people’s land”.

“They’re celebrating the story of the settling of Australia without taking any awareness of what was here before.”

The liturgical colour for clergy who choose the Australia Day readings is white, which Mr Loughrey said was a “colour for festivals and celebration”.

Mr Loughrey has produced a special liturgy for 26 January, An Australian Eucharist for Lament and Hope. The service begins with an acknowledgement of country and imagines Australians coming together in a post-colonial society, alert and repentant of historical injustices, and forming a new understanding of what Australia is a nation.   

The Anglican Board of Mission is calling on the Anglican Church of Australia to consult with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council about the ongoing appropriateness of the Australia Day readings.

 “Listening to the perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is critical for our missional work of reconciliation,” says the Board’s reconciliation, advocacy and education missioner, Brad Chapman.

The Board is encouraging all churches to begin Sunday services with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land where they meet.