Aboriginees_3 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]

9 thoughts on “Saying ‘Sorry’ to the Stolen Generation

  1. I agree Christians can go overboard with the ‘identificational repentance’ thing. I suppose though if it’s never been done before ‘officially’ then what Kevin Rudd is doing is a inspired thing. He seems to have set this first on his agenda almost like he had some sort of divine injuction at the start of his tenure, which I personally think is admirable and bodes well for the future.

  2. Totally on board with you Mark. While I am proud to be a spirit filled Christian, I do recognize a tendency amongst us to seek after the “new & latest” technique or doctrine that will be the magical key to revival. In my younger days, i bought some of them hook, line and sinker only to realize not just their foolishness but also how destructive they can be. However, while I definitely see extremes, there is one scripture I often wonder about and wonder what your opinion would be. I have never heard anybody talk about in this light, but yet it seems like the perfect verse for the doctrine…
    2Sam. 21:1 ¶ There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the LORD about it. And the LORD said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”
    2Sam. 21:2 ¶ So King David summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal, had tried to wipe them out.
    2Sam. 21:3 David asked them, “What can I do for you to make amends? Tell me so that the LORD will bless his people again.”
    2Sam. 21:4 ¶ “Well, money won’t do it,” the Gibeonites replied. “And we don’t want to see the Israelites executed in revenge.” “What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”
    Anybody else have any thoughts?

  3. I think Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comments about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in South Africa are very interesting and relevant.
    “I hope that the work of the commission, by opening wounds to cleanse them, will thereby stop them from festering,” he says.
    He continues…”We cannot be facile and say bygones will be bygones, because they will not be bygones and will return to haunt us. True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness, which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth.”
    Although the situation is different, the principles are the same. It is a brave act for a government to say “sorry” but it gives room for forgiveness, reconciliation and being able to move forward. It also gives hope that government has a conscience.

  4. To save space I will leave out scriptural reasoning but can supply if needed. It is really interesting to hear indigenous and non-ind. people’s comments and expressed pain on this topic in the media and searching for explanations. The indigenous people would like to know why they are in such pain and emotional turmoil even though many are separated by time and generations and may not have been directly involved; the “other side” can’t understand why they should apologise for something their parents did.
    The fact is that God’s laws, like gravity, operate in society and all our lives whether we are believers or not. So also do the consequences, and in many cases the ‘fixes’. For example, if you are living a life of bitterness and hatred you are certainly affected by this in all 3 of your ‘triune nature bits’ and will probably suffer in some way regardless of any belief in God. Similarly If you go through forgiveness, restitution etc without any knowledge of their connection to God, you will still open yourself up to healing and freedom, even if not as much as Jesus could offer.
    The hurts by the ‘whites’ against the ‘blacks’ even though much out of ignorance, were very abusive and created deep lasting hurts because they gave Satan legal rights to have a field day of destruction through not only those affected at the time but, because of the laws of generational sin etc. legal right is gained to continue on in coming generations. This can be amplified even further by subsequent hate etc. This is why the present relatives still are hurt and don’t know why. The reason why the present generation of the perpurtrators must say sorry is explained as an equal but opposite principle. It’s not the words they say so much as the power of the action and willingness to do so on behalf of past generations – this holds an equally powerful spiritual power of healing and restoration as on the bad side in the past.
    But the key point of any healing success this may bring is not just the attitude of the person who apologises, it’s who that person is and represents. This is about the power of authority. Jesus, having the greatest authority of anything in eternal history was, and still is, the greatest healer. If a person in authority abuses you it will have much deeper and powerful effects in your life, (witness for example ruined lives from cleric abuse) that’s because of God’s laws regarding authority etc. It’d be great if Kevin Rudd actually knew this, but if it was the government and its representatives that ordered and carried out these harmful actions then the best person, present-day to apologise on their behalf is the current top man of authority himself, Kevin Rudd! Praise God! The powers of darkness intimately know about and abide by God’s laws. They gained their abusive power through harmful authority, they will lose a lot of it through the reverse happening via this apology – you watch – Aboriginal people will be heard to say how much better they feel.
    Sorry for the length but it’s really hard to explain briefly! In conclusion, what do you do if the Lord brings you to a point where you realise you need and are ready to forgive your father, a man in great Biblical authority in your life, for harm against you, and you want to express that to him, because that would be really helpful BUT he’s dead? Of course you still need to go ahead BUT there is a way we, in prayer ministry, can help you and make it easier and more meaningful. We call it “standing in the gap”. It is where I step in and explain to the person that I am a person in authority right now in their life (as leader of the ministry time, or as a ‘pastor’) and I would like to represent all men, or their father, or whatever is correct at the time. I will then apologise sincerely in first-person language just like their real father would (hopefully!), and deliberately mentioning all the abuses that the person has reported to us. It may sound corny, or to some Christians another of those ‘new methods’ but I have seen it powerfully used by God to bring deep healing and forgiveness. It is just about understanding God’s laws to enhance healing and comfort. That’s why it works and that’s why it’s so effective.
    What Mr Rudd will be doing in parliament, even though he doesn’t realise it, will be “standing in the gap” for the long-gone officials and participants of that terrible practice, who aren’t able to do it themselves – and it will be powerful.
    If ever we should pray for our nation and peoples, especially indigenous, it should be that day.

  5. Regardless of the what view you hold, or how contentious the issue is, we should be praying for positive outcomes from this initiative.
    CityLife Church expressly supports outreach to Australian indigenous people groups. There can be little argument that they are descended from those who were dispossessed, and that any non-indigenous of us stand as ‘beneficiaries’ of that dispossession. This to me suggests that we need to more deeply consider what response God calls each of us to.

  6. Good dialogue and thoughts everyone. Overall, I think it’s great that the current government has at least done something about this issue. Hopefully, it will be the start of some good steps toward reconciliation and forgiveness taking place.

  7. This is the end of the white blindfold apporach to our post-colonial history, in that it acknowledges that white australia does indeed have a black history.
    It signals the end of the history wars and provides the opportunity for a new beginning in the journey towards reconciliation.
    It demonstrates a shared understanding of our common history. and it requitres from us all a shared hop and vision for a renewal towards our common future.
    White fella jump up!

  8. Hi everyone,
    I am not sure whether we Christians (myself including) really realise the significance of the day we said sorry. I read the famous prayer of Daniel, who confessed the sins of his ancestors. I remember the confession in Nehemiah, where God’s people repented the nation’s sins. I am not saying that everyone of us has personally committed sin against the Indigenous people. And I am not saying that the Indigenous issues today are the same of the issues that Daniel and Nehemiah faced. But 13th February 2008 marked a new beginning for our nation – the beginning of healing and actions to share our lives together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
    Thank you, Stephen Brehaut, to speak of sharing Christ’s love to Indigenous people. I think the government has opened up opportunities for us to do just that. The commitment to improve education, housing and health care means that there are heaps of opportunities to live and work among Indigenous communities. What a great opportunity to share God’s love with them in concrete terms! May the Lord raise up people in the next couple of years to do just that!
    May I suggest the following:
    (1) Write to Mr Rudd to encourage him to keep up the good work
    (2) Write to our MPs (especially those who are Christians) to urge them to “listen” to our Indigenous people so as to implement good policies
    (3) Consistently pray for Indigenous Australians
    (4) Pray for the church to raise up teachers, health workers and others to live and work in Indigenous communities so as to share Christ’ love to them
    (5) Pray for our pastors and leaders that they will keep reminding us about the importance of remembering the Indigenous people and of reaching out to them with Christ’s love
    Here is a good article which covers the Christian and ethical reasoning for the apology. If you are looking for a well-argued article, this is one not to miss.

  9. Yes, this is a significant time for Australia and Mr Rudd is to be admired for the steps he has taken toward addressing this outstanding issue. Thanks for everyone’s comments and suggestions.

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