THE CONVENIENCE OF SILENCE
Jesus said in Matthew 22:37–40 (NLT) 37 ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.
I met with Stuart Bogle recently and talked about his work as Executive Director of Australians Together (a not for profit organisation passionate about respectful relationships and connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians). Founding the organisation in 2010, Stewart encourages all Australians to understand the shared story of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Placing respectful relationship at the centre of his work, he builds a culture that values the role of listening and learning before taking action. He says that “our history has been all about fixing, mending, and doing”. Rather, he’d have us think relationally. Sounds familiar, like Jesus. Listen. Learn. Live.
NAIDOC Sunday [National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee] is when churches around Australia gather to honour the request of legendary Aboriginal Christian leader and Yorta Yorta man William Cooper (@1860- 1941), who worked alongside other local Aboriginal Christians early last century, in Melbourne.
In his 20s, he seems to have taken a great interest in the message of the Bible. Following a church service in January 1884, Cooper approached someone on the mission and said, “I must give my heart to God….”
William Cooper was a little known Aboriginal Elder and Pastor when later in 1939 he petitioned the German consulate in Melbourne over the Nazi treatment of the Jews. What makes his petition so extraordinary was that his own people at that time were viewed as a non-people – they had no rights at all.
He was honoured in the Victorian State Parliament in 2009 on the 70th Anniversary of the astonishing protest.
Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem said, “William Cooper deserves to be remembered as a hero to the Jewish people and an inspiration to mankind. His message is clear: the convenience of silence is as evil as the greatest crime.”
On 28 April 2009, five trees were planted at the Forest of the Martyrs near Jerusalem at a ceremony in Israel attended by 12 members of William Cooper’s extended family and Jewish leaders.
In his biography, it was said “In his own lifetime, William Cooper achieved almost none of the goals he had set for himself. The one exception was the creation of Aborigines Sunday, which was observed in Churches across Australia from 1940. It is still commemorated today, but as NAIDOC week. He requested that Australian churches preach sermons dealing with Aboriginal people and their need for the gospel concluding with a special prayer focusing on the uplift for Aboriginal Peoples.
As I marched with others on Tuesday I was thinking how NAIDOC week is just one of William Cooper’s legacies. It has its roots in the words of Jesus. Just one week in the year of prayerful awareness of Aboriginal people and their God given place and future in this land. Listen. Learn. Live.