'True reconciliation is biblical, not secular'

Wisdom from First Nations Christian leaders

This NAIDOC Week, we will hear from several First Nations Christian leaders. 

Today, we listen to Rev. Neville Naden.

Neville is a Wiradjuri man from central west New South Wales and an ordained Anglican minister. He is Bush Church Aid’s Indigenous Ministry Officer, supporting those at the coal face who minister to our First Nations people, many of whom live in rural and remote communities. Neville has also served as a board member of the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship of Australia (AEF) for the past 20 years.

Here’s what Neville shares with Eternity readers.

If you could say anything to Australian Christians right now, what would you say? 

Celebrate Indigenous life and culture where you’re able to, and make an effort to do it. I think it would be good if everyone engaged with Indigenous people, their history and their culture in order to get a better understanding of our First Nations people in this country. That is, not only our history but also the progress that’s been made since colonisation in 1788.

A lot of people will say that we haven’t achieved much in the last 225 years. But as you look around, you’ll see that much has been achieved. We’ve got a lot more [Indigenous] doctors these days, a lot more lawyers and school teachers, etc. So there’s been a lot that has been achieved as a result of Aboriginal people being given and taking opportunities. And so Aussies can get on board and educate themselves in regard to some of these things throughout NAIDOC week.

“There’s a difference between what I deem as secular reconciliation and biblical reconciliation.”

For those in the church, we have a responsibility to be ambassadors for reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that quite clearly.

But there’s a difference between what I deem as secular reconciliation and biblical reconciliation. Secular reconciliation says, if you do something for me and I do something for you, we can have a relationship. Whereas biblical reconciliation says, it’s not what you do for me or what I do for you that brings about a relationship; it’s what Christ has done for both of us.

I quite often say to people, you can pick and choose your friends, but you can’t pick and choose your family. And so, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need our churches to be educated in regard to the First Nations people in this country.

Where possible, encourage [First Nations believers] in their Christian faith and walk, and also engage in some of the festivities and celebrations that take place in their communities.

The other thing about reconciliation is it’s not something that we aspire to. God has already done the work in sending his son to die for our sins. I believe that reconciliation, true reconciliation, will not happen outside the church because reconciliation suggests that there was a conciliatory position to start with. My people say that’s never happened. And so in order to have reconciliation, we need to be working towards unity and not reunification with other people.

However, in the life of the church, God has done that work for us. When God created humanity and placed them in the garden, he had a perfect relationship with them. That relationship was severed as a result of sin. And that’s why I believe that reconciliation can only be achieved within the life of the church. True reconciliation occurs because God has already done the work in Christ. So, we are one because of Christ.

The church has been a double-edged sword for First Nations people – having been a tool of oppression and yet it’s also part of many people’s faith. How do you reconcile that as an Aboriginal Christian?

By having a good, clear understanding of the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over all things and he doesn’t give his sovereignty to anyone. He gives custodianship of his creation to his created humanity, but not sovereignty. My understanding of that from a biblical perspective is what helps me get through as I look back on what happened 230 years ago.

We need to read our Bibles well and get an understanding that God is in control of his creation at every level. It’s this understanding that allows us to be at peace with what’s happened in terms of injustices in this country. Sure, they still have to be addressed and they’ve got to be identified, but God has never removed himself from situations where injustices have existed. And he will continue to reveal himself in times when they do exist.

God walks with people who have been wrongly treated. I believe that he’s doing that with our people, and he has done that ever since creation and since our people came to these shores.

The theme for NAIDOC Week this year is ‘For Our Elders’. What does that mean to you?

I grew up around Christian influence. My grandfather was a worker with the Aboriginal Inland Missions of Australia. And so as I look back on my upbringing and those influences, I am so thankful that my grandparents lived their lives in such a way that they’ve influenced my whole family.

My dad didn’t come to faith until he was about 60. I had the opportunity of leading my dad to the Lord actually, but it came about because of the prayers of his mother. I can remember my dear old grandmother sitting on the veranda when we used to live in Dubbo. In the twilight years of her life, she used to sit there and pray every afternoon – just sit there in quietness, hum a few hymns and pray. No doubt she was praying for her children and her grandchildren. It’s that influence and it’s their witness and testimony that we observed. That’s had so many benefits for the rest of the family.

My own dad and mum raised us to live well and to be contributors to society. So they were a wealth of knowledge and wisdom for us as they prepared us for a life independent of them.

My dad loved Mum. Someone once said the best thing that parents can do for their kids is to show their kids how much they love one another. That is so true. It’s the biblical principle that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church, and women are to support their husbands.

“My dad always used to say to us, ‘You need to be comfortable in your own skin.'”

As well as their wisdom and their knowledge, that’s been passed on from generation to generation, was their understanding of who they are and being comfortable with who they are. My dad always used to say to us, “You need to be comfortable in your own skin.” You don’t have to portray something that you’re not or try to take on someone else’s demeanour or culture. You are who you are.

I remember some time ago, Cecil Grant, an old Aboriginal pastor, gave me the best definition of culture. He said, “Culture is the outward expression of an inward impression.” And so everything that’s been impressed upon your life over the years, that becomes your culture.

I’m thankful that my parents and my grandparents loved Jesus and they brought us up to do the same.

Is there anything else that you would like to say to Australian Christians?

Especially in these political times, I think we need to remain focused on what our core business is. And that is the proclamation of the gospel and promoting biblical reconciliation. We can get easily distracted from what it is that we are called to do if we’re not careful in this space.

Let’s continue to proclaim the gospel. That’s where hope is for my people. So I’d encourage people to continue to do that.

If you would like to take up Neville’s suggestion to engage with First Nations people and culture, then the NSW AEF Camp is the perfect opportunity. The camp will be held on the long weekend, Friday 29 September to Monday 2 October, in Gilgandra. This multidenominational event is open to everyone. The speaker is Rodney Manton on the topic of ‘Unity in the Church’, and there is also a children’s and youth ministry program. For more information, visit the AEF Facebook page.