1 September 2023
Faith leaders and groups hope to counter unhelpful public information about the Voice to Parliament by offering Australians ways to deepen their understanding of the proposal.
It comes after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date for an historic national referendum on a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
On October 14, Australians will be asked to answer the referendum question: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
Elements of the campaign have sparked fiery debate and a flood of questionable information in the public arena, including the referendum question and the manner in which Australians might mark their ballot papers.
Christian leaders and a coalition of Australia’s major religious communities fear many people’s decisions could be shaped by the contentious tenor of some of the debate, and are offering countering initiatives and narratives.
Social justice agencies Common Grace and Tearfund Australia will be co-hosting a training webinar to equip non-Indigenous Christians with good information they could share with their peers.
Common Grace relationships and storytelling coordinator Safina Stewart said they aimed to put the knowledge and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians front and centre, to address inequality.
The Wuthithi and Mabuiag Island woman said the training worked in conjunction with Table Talk Conversations, a resource in which small groups of people gather in safe, private spaces and engage in respectful discussions about various societal issues.
Ms Stewart said Common Grace representatives often received requests from non-Indigenous Christians to explain how the justice campaign for the Voice was related to their belief.
She said many seemed to sense that the nation’s original people had been deeply wounded but that great healing could come through the power and love of Jesus.
They seemed hungry for justice, healing and the right relationship with Indigenous people, but often didn’t know or weren’t connected to Aboriginal Christians, Ms Stewart said.
She said the Table Talk forum and training webinar were platforms to help bring the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders to them.
Tearfund Australia advocacy head Emma Wyndham Chalmers said the resources aimed to help non-Indigenous Christians engage with the very people who would be affected by the referendum.
“They can then think about the bigger questions, the personal stories and have deeper discussions about them with their peers, and pray about them, rather than just being put off by news headlines or short information grabs,” Ms Wyndham Chalmers said.
A multi faith alliance that includes The Anglican Church, the Australian National Imams Council and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry is inviting people across the nation to reflect on the upcoming referendum at a weekend of prayer and contemplation.
National Multifaith Coalition coordinator Jo Dyer said the effort was driven by an enthusiasm for a more spiritual moment within the Voice campaign.
Ms Dyer said the coalition hoped to stoke the positive emotions that seemed to have been lost in some of the rancour of the public debate.
She said the alliance recognised that the Voice debate was not a moment for, or needed to be about, partisanship.
Representatives hoped to give people the chance to think about the opportunity for reconciliation, unity, hope and healing that the referendum afforded the country, Ms Dyer said.
She said the weekend initiative would be held at places of worship in capital cities across Australia, and would begin with the Buddhist community holding a 56-hour meditation marathon from Friday 8 September.
Earlier this week, Baptist minister, and social justice activist the Reverend Tim Costello penned an open letter to Christian leaders urging them to stand up for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Mr Costello took aim at the divisive note that had entered the debate saying the referendum was not a partisan election, but a chance to “transcend the tribalism of day-to-day politics”.
He also drew attention to leaders, including Martin Luther King, and exhorted Christians to not forget history and its lessons.
“How is it that many can joyfully sing the anti-slave anthem Amazing Grace, then go out and oppose the Voice? Why are leaders not challenging the flood of disinformation from White Christian nationalist websites from the USA?,” Mr Costello wrote.
The nation last voted on a referendum about Indigenous people in 1967. It enabled them to be counted in the Australian census, and the government to make laws about them.
To register for the National Multifaith Coalition weekend of prayer from 8 to 9 September, see here.
For more details about the Common Grace and Tearfund Australia forum, and the training webinar on 6 September, see here.