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Gap between aspiration and action in Indigenous justice and engagement in churches

National Church Life Survey reveals attitudes to Indigenous issues

May 24 2018Most Australian Christians acknowledge that more needs to be done to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians but only a minority are involving themselves in these efforts, says a new report.

Using newly released data from the 2016 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Relations in Churches report found there was a considerable gap between aspiration and action in church goers.

“Results from the NCLS indicate sympathy among the churchgoing population towards the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as widespread support for self-determination and government measures to improve life outcomes,” NCLS researcher Dr Miriam Pepper said.

“While there is clearly an openness in the churches to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the gap between broad aspiration and specific action shows there are further roads to travel when it comes to indigenous justice and engagement.”

According to the data, three-quarters of church attenders agreed that racism towards Indigenous people is still a concern in Australia. There was also strong support for government action to “close the gap”; some 78% agreed that the government should do more to improve health, 66% that governments should provide extra help for Indigenous people to gain employment, and 60% that governments should commit to reducing incarceration rates. Large majorities were in support of constitutional recognition and agreed that Indigenous people should decide their own way of life.

There was also significant support for churches to be more proactive. Some 62% of attenders agreed that churches should more actively promote reconciliation, and 48% agreed that their local church should do more to build relationships with Indigenous people.

In contrast, levels of action on these matters were low. Around four in ten church attenders reported taking some form of action to encourage indigenous reconciliation, awareness or relationship building in the previous 12 months; including 16% who had made an active effort to stay informed on indigenous issues and policies, 13% who had developed friendships with indigenous Australians and 4% who had advocated on indigenous issues (e.g. signed a petition, wrote to a parliamentarian).

At the church level, 39% of local churches had a prayer focus on indigenous ministries and reconciliation and 24% had a direct relationship with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. However just 9% acknowledged country at church services, and in the previous 12 months 14% had undertaken advocacy for reconciliation and justice for indigenous Australians.

Further, only a minority of attenders’ supported contentious issues of justice, such as churches acknowledging that they have received stolen land, whether school textbooks should refer to European colonisation as invasion, and the efficacy of a treaty.