Something like two hundred and fifty thousand people marched across the Harbour Bridge on 28 May 2000. They intended to force the Prime Minister to apologise to Aboriginal people for the accumulated misdeeds since the arrival of Europeans in Australia. This would have been a humiliation for John Howard. He was backed into a corner with no way to save face and no incentive to apologise. As a result, an incredible people power moment in Australian history failed to achieve anything constructive.
My wife was overdue with our first child who was born a few days later, so we were not present, but watched on the news. I noticed was the invisibility of the Christian churches. I knew the skywriter scrawling “Sorry” thousands of feet above Sydney was a Christian. I knew there were tens of thousands of Christians participating. But among the hundreds of banners and signs, I saw none saying “Christians for Reconciliation” or “Our denomination says Sorry” or “Our local church cares”.
We Christians were there, in our thousands. But we were there as private citizens. Or as members of some other organisation.
We were invisible.
The Church was silent.
It bothered me. Surely, as Christians we care about our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. As Christians, even if we were opposed to our Prime Minister, we still called him Mr Howard, and saw him as loved by God – a flawed and fallible human being, but deserving of dignity and respect? As Christians, couldn’t we have brokered conversations between warring parties to create an opportunity for something beautiful to happen?
I dream of a church that is a light on a hill. A place that attracts the lost as a place to belong. A place where people worship on Sunday and are then publicly visible during the rest of the week. I dream of a church people join because it helps make their community ‘as it is in heaven’.