The Bible is central to our faith, enriching our moral understanding and sense of social justice. It guides us through our lives, providing inspiration and comfort when we need it.
In the hardest of times, Psalm 27:1 says, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?’ In our relationships with others in our daily lives, Matthew 22:39 calls us to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. When dealing with our failures and brokenness, James 5:16 states, ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed’.
As well as providing guidance, the Bible can also speak directly to numerous social justice issues in today’s world and has often been a source of hope to those involved in the struggle. That inspiration has, sadly, sometimes been in contrast to the actions of other Christians.
Hardship and racism
One of the most pressing issues today, both in Australia and overseas, is racial discrimination.
Racial inequality impacts on the lives and opportunities available for First Nations, migrant and minority communities,
Since British settlement began in Australia in 1788, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have suffered monumental hardship and racism.
A particular injustice with far-reaching consequences were the missions that were developed following the 1858 inquiry into the welfare of the Aboriginal population. Set on reserved grounds, the missions existed from 1859 to 1953 and claimed management of all aspects of the lives of Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their traditional lands. The priority of these many church-run missions was to convert Australia’s First Nations peoples to Christianity, and train them for menial jobs. These missions controlled who people could marry, where they could work and travel, and included bans on speaking their languages and practising traditional culture.
The long-term effects have resulted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples losing their family connections, denying their culture, and suffering immense trauma.
The Church as a whole continues to grapple with this legacy. In one such example last year, Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin apologised to the Indigenous Australians who were members of the Garden Point Catholic Mission. Significantly, he said, ‘While I cannot undo the wrongs of the past, I pray for ongoing healing and remain available to provide loving pastoral care to the survivors’.
In spite of this history, many Indigenous people continue to draw inspiration from the Bible in their own search for justice. One way in which they do this is by recognising similarities between their experiences and customs and the stories in the Bible.
Each year, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) produces resources for churches across the country to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. Last year’s resources focused on the theme ‘Heal Country’ and included reflections on the Gospel reading of the day, Mark 6:1-6, where those in Jesus’ home town wondered how he could be the source of such miracles. They used the story to highlight their own experiences of marginalisation in Australia.
‘In Australia, our own First Nations people have suffered a similar reception to Jesus in Nazareth’, the reflection states. ‘Their knowledge and complex cultural systems, created and honed over millennia, are often dismissed as primitive and irrelevant to our fast-paced world of today. This could not be further from the truth, particularly as we become more aware of their continued care, love and respect for “country” grounded in relationship with the creator.’
An ongoing issue
Beyond Australia, other communities have also sought to reclaim the messages of the Bible in support of their yearning for justice.
For many of the millions of Africans forcibly sold into slavery in the Americas, the Bible and its stories and messages motivated and empowered their journey to freedom.
Encouraged to learn Christianity by their slave owners (who used a literal reading of the Bible to justify the enslavement of other humans), the African-American slaves interpreted the Bible’s passages differently. They were motivated by their faith to follow the Scriptures to acquire justice in the lives. The slaves believed that God could provide them with freedom and that the Bible could give them the opportunity to begin a process of healing.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II apologised to African-Americans for the involvement of white Christians in their subjugation. Drawing on the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, he stated, ‘The man who is in need, on the side of the road, is their brother, their neighbour’.
Pope John Paul II said the Gospel, ‘remains a call without equivocation’. His apology is one of many that provided a source of peace and acknowledgement to these communities.
As Catholics, we are given the opportunity to be inspired by the Bible in our response to the need we see around us today. By listening to the Bible’s words and faithfully following its messages, we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, accompanying those who seek justice in our world. By striving together as Catholics to achieve equal justice, we can educate and empower future generations to continue living out the teachings of our Biblical faith.
Image: Bishop Gauci's apology to Indigenous Australians who were members of the Garden Point Catholic Mission.
View reflection questions and activities for this article.