As the first act of business at the opening of Australian Parliament on February 13th, 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will give a formal apology on behalf of the government to all Indigenous Australians for the so-called ‘stolen generation‘. This is a controversial issue, as the previous Prime Minister, John Howard, refused to offer an official apology on this matter.
The 2002 film Rabbit Proof Fence, based on a true story, vividly portrays some of the pain and hurt thrust upon Indigenous people back in the 1930s here in Australia. However, there are conservatives such as Andrew Bolt who have questioned the very existence of the stolen generation.
Obviously, saying ‘sorry’ is an important thing in all relationships, especially if we have directly caused an offence or done something harmful to another person or group. But what about apologising for things other people have done or for things that previous generations have done?
John Dawson, in his book Healing America’s Wounds, made popular the notion of ‘identificational repentance’, something that does occur in Bible times but which needs to be handled carefully when seeking to bring into our modern world. A variety of people have written some insightful comments on this practice, including Frank Green and Dr Gary S. Greig from Regent University.
Taken to the extreme ,this teaching can cause a lot of damage. I’ll never forget speaking with a young German pastor in Hamburg where I was ministering a number of years ago. He shared with me how many well-intentioned ministers would come to Germany from other nations, and then encourage the church to repent for the atrocities commited by Adolph Hitler. This pastor said to me, almost with tears in his eyes, "How many times do we have to keep repenting for our past? When can we get over this and move on!"
Of course, the other side to an apology is learning to forgive. In fact, God asks us to forgive those who have hurt or offended us, even if they haven’t apologised (Matt.6:12-15). Jesus modeled this personally as he died upon the cross (Luke 23:34). Only as we choose to forgive others, can we avoid a root of bitterness poisoning our own spirit and defiling many others (Heb.12:15).
Back to Australia … I think an apology in this case is a good thing but then we need to get on with treating all fellow-Australians (including Indigenous Australians) with love and respect, building a great community for all people to be a part of – regardless of race, religion, or gender.
What do you think?
[UPDATE: Click here for a copy of the text of Mr Rudd’s speech]