raison d’être

My friend Jin asked me to write up something on “politics and faith” for a Christian Ministry Forum. That meant, time to make a site where the interface of the two things can come together. The internet, with the ease of hyperlinks and a whole encyclopaedia of information to link to, is easier for exploring a multidisciplinary topic than an essay is. Essays are too linear and my mind works in zig-zags. So that’s the reason.

I don’t really like to talk about my own particularities, agendas and opinions… at least not on paper. It’s safer to stick to a disinterested approach. But political theologies and the work of liberation don’t allow for a disinterested approach, don’t even believe that such a stance is possible. So I’ll start with a little bit about why politics and faith come together for me.

My own formation:

My name is Alex Holme-Brown. I’m a youth worker involved in political action here in Perth, mostly to do refugee rights, and, as a Christian I bring my faith to the table where it interacts with the needs I see.

I studied theology in this city — where I was introduced to the work of theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann, Gerhard von Rad and Walter Brueggemann, who in their own ways explore the politics in theology — and I feel grateful for my time in seminary but also lament that there is not more focus on how faith and politics interact for those seeking Bible training, particularly in the thinking of Aboriginal and Pacific Islander theologians and ministers who are dealing with the most urgent dilemmas of our region (and/which is) the destruction of their communities, lands and waters. Those voices are almost entirely unheard in the churches where I grew up, leaving us unable to comprehend the experiences and perspectives of the land’s most vulnerable people, among whom Jesus would walk, and does walk, as well as the colonial situation which permits and produces the silencing/unhearing.

My own understanding of Australia is informed by a matrix of personal and historical intersections. I’m white, which means a great deal in a white settler colony built on black land. In understood what this meant for the first time when I saw images at the historic site of the Old York Goal, where Aboriginal men were shackled with heavy irons from neck-to-neck. I was 10 and I cried and I hated my self for any participation I had, somehow. Later I would understand it more, but I still am not able to really understand what it means, except that the white warder’s face looked like mine and the captured men were marked by difference.

I know that the ongoing situation for Aboriginal Australia calls me to responsibility which begins with listening. I can understand if I can learn to listen.

I’m also First Gen Aussie, from migrant stock: English (like most people here) and Italian (like many) and Argentine (like not so many). I always identified more with these places and the stories they hold than with the culture around me. Behind a face that looks like the faces around me are memories and narratives from other places, associated with faces that don’t actually look like mine but are my blood and my ancestors. My family is multiracial, also because of adoption (India), so we don’t really fit the mould, but still receive privilege because we are close enough. We have prospered in this land of opportunity, a reality that is unrealised for Indigenous Australians. For many migrants, the original Australians are invisible because life is directed toward achieving the migrant dreams which are achieved within white Australia.

So are we colonisers, we who have come from other colonial situations? This ambiguity is unsettling for us who have settled here, but can help us understand the complexity of our national life.

These features and others have brought me to an understanding that is evolving. You will have your own … features and stories and ancestors that shape you. A lot of what we’ll be doing on this site is contextual work. Political and liberation theologies are always contextual, always seek to understand and intervene in a particular context, and are inevitably coloured by the situation and the people within it. Contextual bias is admitted and explored. That helps us see that we do theology from a certain standpoint which is relative, because there are other experiences for other people that may challenge the totalising of our own views, and yet real, because our lived experiences have really been lived and are filled with valuable insights and potential for further journeying. To be contextual is to avoid universalising, making ideas from one culture apply to all people in a monolithic way. Yet we will try also to be global, that is, look at ideas from across the globe, particularly from the majority world outside of North Atlantic (European and United States, or “Western”) paradigms. Australians need to understand their role in Australia, but also in the wider neighbourhood in which me make policies and form trade deals and go to war and build orphanages. We cannot understand this world unless we listen to its many voices.

My own privilege:

I want to admit my own bias and I need to confess my privilege. I benefit and can function in a society which favours people like me; I’m male, and white, a wealthy, and cisgender.

The ways that I do not fit into the mould, however, make me uncomfortable, and give me a small glimpse of life for people who are completely locked out and cut off from participating. As a theologian and as a Christian I am indebted to theories from the most marginalised people reflecting on their praxis, theories which have made sense of my own small sufferings and opened my eyes to the world of the poor. I do not wish, by speaking about them, to appropriate their experience and wisdom for myself and other privileged consumers, or to imagine I speak on their behalf. Hopefully I can navigate between these two risks and do something which lets the voices speak for themselves, just making them accessible to people who, otherwise, might not encounter anything similar.

Not my own land:

I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land and waters, especially the Noongar people of Australia’s South-West, their customs and their ancestors.

I am writing, sitting on land that has sustained and been sustained by Noongar people for generations before and after the establishment of the Swan River Colony, called Perth City, built on sacred and stolen land.

I invite any collaboration and correction from Aboriginal sisters and brothers. I acknowledge the Creator has always walked with you. I can learn about the Creator through the traditions you make available to me, and through your hospitality that I have often taken for granted.

Themes:

  • Contextual Theologies
  • Liberation Theologies
  • Indigenous Theologies
  • Feminist/Womanist Theologies
  • Peacemaking & Interfaith Dialogue
  • LGBT Equality and Queer Theories
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Postcolonial Theory
  • Socialism and anti-Capitalism
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