Application and the Listener: a Post Colonial Perspective 

In my second sermon on Judges 11 I wanted to bring a post colonial feminist perspective to the church (listening in particular to Esther Fuchs and her reading of the text). Part of the role of a preacher, particularly a local preacher, is the need to know their congregation, their listeners. Tubbs Tisdale describes preachers as needing to become ‘ethnographers’, paying attention to the ‘subcultural signs and symbols of the congregations they serve’.[1] It might be easy for an evangelical preacher (especially if they are in a privileged position) to miss the effects of colonialism on their community. Travis is one scholar who has begun to think about how a postcolonial perspective will shape a preacher’s thinking in regard to their listeners. She says they will need to ‘acknowledge the variance of colonial/imperial experience and memory among worshippers’.[2] Most of the listeners in my context share my privilege. In my sermon I want them to be a bit uncomfortable and challenged. But I should not assume that all will share my privilege. There will be people with indigenous heritage and people on the margins of our nation like recent migrants and refugees in our community. I tried to address all three possibilities in my sermon.

 

Fuchs is exploring the stories that Israel told in its quest for a national identity. Such an exploration is important for contemporary listeners as well: to consider the stories that Australians tells themselves. We also need to be aware that the stories of the Bible have been employed in contemporary nation building. Boyd describes how Western countries (in his context he is primarily referring to the US) have used the stories of Israel as justification for invading other lands and seeking to establish ‘one nation under God’.[3] Australia, as discussed above, is a postcolonial place. Australians have a complicated relationship and history with our land. Lake traces how in the past these biblical stories were sometimes used to justify British expansion into Australia.[4] The Bible shaped the colonial farmers’ ideas about what farming the land should look like.[5] It was assumed that people needed to bring order into the wilderness, transforming the bush into productive land for the capitalist system. Yet the Bible was also used by a minority of Christians to speak out against some of the violent aspects of colonialism, arguing that the indigenous people of Australia were also made in the image of God.[6] More recently, Adam has argued that though there a few instances of God re-allocating land in the biblical narratives (particularly the Book of Joshua), the overarching theme is that all land and peoples belong to God and theft of land is wrong.[7]  We see this concern in the debate Jephthah has with the Ammonites. He stresses how Israel did not go beyond the limits God had set. Naden uses similar language when explaining the indigenous theological view that God ‘apportioned his creation to his created humanity’ and the land which are now called Australia were given to the indigenous peoples.[8] The nations, including Israel, are held accountable by God: to stay in the land they need to be committed to the covenant of God with its emphasis on justice and love for the alien and poor.[9] If Israel fails to keep the covenant they too will be “vomited” from the land.[10] The Old Testament narratives show the realities of nations and land with all its complications and sin. Naden suggests that one of the responses from the church that is needed is to be ‘made aware of the marginalization and social disadvantage’.[11] Yet it seems it easy for us to forgot. Though it feels like the evangelical church has begun to become aware, for instance, we are hearing the stories of Aboriginal young people dying in custody, we have a long way to go. A sermon doing this type of work is only the beginning: ultimately relationships are needed. Narratives give nuance to these discussions and could lead to some fresh thinking for Australians and our relationship to the land. It matters how we live in this place.

[1] Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 60.

[2] Travis, Decolonizing Preaching : Decolonizing Preaching the Pulpit as Postcolonial Space, chapter 2.

[3] Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation : How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan,, 2005). 148.

[4] Meredith Lake, The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2018), 86.

[5] Ibid., 88.

[6] Ibid., 99.

[7] Peter Adam, “Australia- Whose Land? A Call for Recompense,” in John Saunders Lecture (Morling College2009).

[8] Neville Naden, “Aboriginal Land and Australia’s First Nations Peoples: Calling for Treaty, Recognition, and Engagement,” in Postcolonial Voices from Downunder: Indigenous Matters, Confronting Readings, ed. Jione Havea (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2017).

[9] Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise? : What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians, 110-11.

[10] Leviticus 18:25

[11] Naden, “Aboriginal Land and Australia’s First Nations Peoples: Calling for Treaty, Recognition, and Engagement.”

 

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