24 Sep 2023
A Personal Message to all CRC Pastors and Churches.
From Pastor Bill Vasilakis, CRC National Chairman
I have been asked by many pastors and people about the upcoming referendum in October.
This is a tough one to comment on as I'm very biased towards all Australians acknowledging, honouring, helping financially and ministering to our Indigenous peoples - our oldest distinct group of Australians who I love and respect.
I have dear friends who are Aboriginal, as no doubt you have. Most Indigenous people are Christians or have a Christian background, and it's their faith in Jesus that has produced such a gracious and forgiving disposition, despite how badly so many have been treated in the past and still are in some quarters.
I'm very aware that this Voice referendum has become a highly emotional issue with passions running very strongly for the Yes and No camps. To be really honest, I'm troubled about the political and social division this is having across our fair land. It's so disappointing both major political parties could not have come together years ago, and along with the recognised leaders of our Indigenous communities, have embraced an accommodating approach.
Instead of each of these three groupings choosing to compromise a little, and with segments of the media expressing shallow and sensational perspectives, we now have entrenched attitudes with locked in thinking, and growing hostility towards each other. This is not good for the unity of our nation whichever way the referendum goes.
This is so unlike the 1967 referendum where around 90% of Australians rightly voted to alter our Constitution in favour of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. History tells us most Aussies refuse to change our constitutional governing document if rancorous political and social division reigns, and it's likely this referendum will fail, and it will cause huge disappointment to our Indigenous peoples.
I encourage all of our Pastors and people in our CRC movement to be really sensitive on this one and not to get caught up in partisan division. The world may go low, but we must go high as Christ followers who are called to love our neighbours.
Politicians unfortunately love a good scrap and division energises them. They tend to go for a Win/Loss result and in normal parliamentary politics and elections this is the nature of the game. Constitutional referendums should be handled with unity and statesmanship by our political class and sadly this has not occurred. It could so easily have been a Win/Win but shamefully, some who should know better are fomenting division and it didn't have to be this way.
I'm not happy with our Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition (the alternative PM) and how they have been conducting themselves. I honour their high office and I do believe they are basically decent men, but some of their attitudes and behaviours over this incredibly sensitive and important issue have not been good. I sincerely pray for them often, to grow wiser and exercise good judgment, and always act for the highest good of the nation and not what's popular at the time.
Additionally, I am more than disappointed at the cost of this referendum, which could have been added to a normal election cycle, with bi-partisan support. The hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private money could have been spent on closing the gap strategies!
To tell you the truth, I don't know whether changing our Constitution, or simply legislating to introduce the Voice like the old ATSIC model is the way to go. I have read the constitutional experts on both sides, and they are quite contradictory in their opinions. Some of them are quite nasty about those espousing an opposite view and are even predicting catastrophic consequences for our social cohesion and how our federal government will be able to function if the referendum gets up, or fails. Unfortunately, in reading the official Electoral Commission document, sent to every home, it simply reinforces the political, divisive partisanship that now exists.
I actually believe our government must really listen to the voices of our small outback communities and larger rural groupings of our Aboriginal peoples throughout this vast land. The huge gap in education, health, domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol addictions, incarceration rates, housing, employment etc, is a national shame. Everyone agrees this unconscionable gap needs to be closed for Indigenous Aussies. I believe the Voices intention is to do this quicker, even if one disagrees with some of its strategies.
A clincher for me was around twelve months ago when our two central Australian Aboriginal women senators from both political parties (Labor & Liberal), appealed to both the Northern Territory and Federal governments not to undo the alcohol restrictions in Alice Springs that were working reasonably well. They and the vast majority of the local women in central Australia were not listened to by both governments and terrible violence soon broke out when the booze bans were lifted. This stopped when the public outcry forced the governments to reverse their foolish decision, but no apologies were made to the two brave Indigenous senators, or the courageous local women in Alice Springs.
I see this as prideful racism by our political leaders and both my wife Cathy, and I have seen racial prejudice up close and personal towards our Indigenous brothers and sisters when in Darwin and Alice Springs to minister in our CFC churches. It is disgraceful to see and it reminds us how serious a sin racism is in our world.
Politicians and bureaucrats based in our capital cities do not know what's best for our remote Indigenous peoples. For example, the vast majority of Indigenous people unlike most Aussie's do not drink alcohol, and they know what's best for their individual communities on this issue and so many other matters.
I never publicly state my voting intentions in elections and neither will I about this referendum. Nor do I ever use the pulpit to encourage my congregation to vote a particular way, or support a political party. I encourage you to do the same. Hopefully my thoughts are helpful as you read, reflect and pray about this important civic duty we must embrace as Christians.
Finally lets not get diverted as churches and Christ followers by political, social and racial divisions which easily get inflamed. Don't get pulled to the left or right of our world's politics, just go deeper in Jesus and His cause.
We are all called and commissioned by Jesus to proclaim His good news about salvation, to lead people to Christ and connect them into existing or new churches. We all know it is an encounter with Jesus that ultimately changes lives, restores the broken, heals relationships, breaks addiction and releases people from guilt, shame and fear. Let's never forget we are Just beggars showing another beggar where to find bread.
Reconciliation and peace between people and social groups naturally flows when we are reconciled to our amazingly loving, forgiving and restoring Heavenly Father. Peace with God through personal faith in Jesus (Romans 5:1) causes the peace of God to heal our souls (Philippians 4:7), and becomes the enduring basis to bring peace between people (Ephesians 2:14-18). This is the priceless Gospel we steward and it's the only lasting Hope for our broken world.
Pastor Bill Vasilakis
CRC Churches National Chairman