Intercultural: where our journey begins
September 21, 2022
In our Assembly Strategic Plan we identify four key pillars that drive our work and are a primary focus as we seek to move boldly and confidently into the future. One of these pillars is Intercultural, encapsulating how we seek to live as a community that transcends cultural and other barriers, and in which the rich diversity of God’s created peoples is seen and celebrated.
In this first piece in our series, Joy Han points us to the place where our journey as an intercultural church begins: in affirming the sovereignty of First Peoples in these lands now called Australia, and addressing the enduring legacy of dispossession and inequality so that we might nurture together a nation where all can truly belong.
Written by Joy Han, Second-generation Korean migrant and young UCA leader
During the full moon around September, Koreans celebrate Chuseok. For many cultures in the northern hemisphere, this is a time of thanksgiving for harvests. Festivities include sharing tteok (rice cakes) with neighbours, especially songpyeon, a half-moon shaped tteok reserved for Chuseok.
Australian calendars don’t have an autumn agricultural holiday, but many might still celebrate and give thanks for harvests as this isn’t a distant or foreign idea. A well-known worship song includes the lyrics
This is our nation, this is our land
This land of plenty, this land of hope
The richest harvest is in her peoples …
We find parallels to a harvest of peoples in the Uniting Church statement We are a multicultural Church (1985):
"… The Uniting Church seeks to be open to the changes that the Holy Spirit will bring to the Church because of the creative contributions of people of different racial and cultural groups to its life."
The statement also highlights the need to “provide for full participation of Aboriginal and ethnic people … in decision making …”
But exactly who will do this “providing” for First Nations and CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) people is not spelled out. Throughout the statement, there is a reluctance to give any racial, ethnic or cultural marker (such as “Anglo” or “White”) to the historical majority population of the Uniting Church.
There is also an implicit separation between this unmarked majority who must “seek to be open to changes,” and those “different racial and cultural groups” who will bring the “creative contributions” that will help bring about those changes.
The unmarked majority of the Church is again contrasted with culturally marked people in the statement’s concern to ensure Aboriginal and ethnic groups’ “equitable rights in the use of Uniting Church properties and access to its resources.”
This points to a historical inequality in which property and resources are concentrated among some but not others.
What the statement hides in plain sight is the colonial theft that produced this state of inequality in the first place.
The grouping together of “Aboriginal and ethnic” peoples in relation to their rights to use Church properties mystifies the fact that it is uniquely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were and always will be the First Peoples of these lands and waters now called Australia. Their sovereignty is not akin to the claims of contemporary migrants—or of colonial settlers and their descendants, for that matter.
The statement’s reluctance to name “Anglos” or “Whites” is fundamentally a reluctance to name the dispossession of First Nations, and the Church’s complicity in that ongoing dispossession.
The language of “equitable resourcing” is suggestive of plenty, but this is a colonial “plenty” in which invader-settlers first steal milk and honey from First Nations before rationing it back to them as a matter of “resourcing.”
True plenty must count for everyone, starting with First Peoples. Without telling the truth of how First Nations people have been made to feel like foreigners on their own Country, we cannot expect the newest arrivals—actual foreigners—to feel truly welcome or safe.
If we truly want to talk about cultural and linguistic plenty in Australia, let’s start by telling the truth about the oldest continuous living cultures on earth. About how, for several millennia, some 500 distinct nations sustained systems of cultural exchange, trade and diplomacy not only among themselves but also with other nations in this region of the world.
Like the full-moon shape of Chinese mooncakes or Japanese dango, songpyeon is made with a round piece of dough. But songpyeon finally assumes a half-moon shape once the dough is folded in half to encase a sweet filling. The folkloric reasoning is that, whereas a full moon can only wane, the half-moon shape of songpyeon holds the promise of a future fullness that is glimpsed in the process of its creation.
As Second Peoples, may we listen anew to the witness of First Peoples. May we join their lead in truth-telling, and sing with Aunty Rev. Dr Denise Champion and others who renewed old lyrics with this invitation to true plenty, grounded in the sovereignty and hospitality of First Nations:
This is Your nation, This is Your land,
A land of dreaming, a forgotten past:
A kindred people, willing to share,
This sacred land, This is our home.