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Are we tokenists, allies or accomplices for Jesus?


“So to be an accomplice with the crucified Christ, I need to uphold the God-given dignity of all others if I am to promote their flourishing above mine,” says The Rev’d Andrew Schmidt from The Parishes of Nerang and Mudgeeraba

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I came across this article by University of Wollongong lecturer Summer May Finlay, titled ‘Where do you fit? Tokenistic, ally – or accomplice?’ In her opinion piece, Summer talks about levels of engagement from people who are neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander. She writes in the context of National Reconciliation Week and distinguishes between three levels of engagement – tokenistic, allyship and accomplice.

She describes “tokenists” as, “those who know, on a superficial level, that they need to be “seen” to be engaged in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and celebrate our cultures.

She explains that, “An ally is more proactive in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander space. Allies promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices above their own.”

And, she uses the term “accomplice” in a way that I have not previously seen used – in a constructive light, as:

“…people who stand and act with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Accomplices are prepared to allow Indigenous people to define the issue and the required action. Unlike allies, who often step away when things get tough, accomplices stay. They are 100 per cent committed to addressing inequities, regardless of the personal or professional cost.”

I have seen this full spectrum of tokenistic, allied and accomplice gestures. I suspect we all have.

Do we only ever passively hear from a First Nations Elder during National Reconciliation Week when they come to us – never bothering to go to them on Country?

Are we comfortable talking about the Uluru Statement From the Heart and the associated forthcoming Referendum on the Indigenous Voice included in the Constitution with fellow allies, but sometimes reluctant to talk about this beyond allied circles? Are we willing to work quietly and hard in the background when we are usually seen as the leader, and like to be seen as such?

Are we cognisant that our First Peoples are experts about their own needs and priorities and willing to stand with them, even if this costs us something, such as a coveted role?

I am sure you can think of your own examples.

I think the spectrum that Summer clearly and cleverly articulates here also has relevance for other spaces, including in the discipleship space.

Returning to tokenism, I have seen it a lot in church spaces since my childhood, such as in: “I go to church every Sunday and that makes me a Christian” congregation members. They want to be seen as being supportive, but are unwilling to personally invest, including in areas of justice and advocacy.

Churched allies are those who engage more deeply and are, therefore, an important part of the Jesus movement. They are among the, “As a churched Christian, I commit to ongoing engagement and am willing to invest time, energy and resources” congregation members.

However, the call of discipleship is the call to accomplice with the crucified Jesus. This must cost us something. To be 100 per cent committed to the message of  Jesus of Nazareth means knowing that his death is as much for me as it is for any other person, and that his resurrection is as much about new life for me as for any other person.

So to be an accomplice with the crucified Jesus, I need to uphold the God-given dignity of all others if I am to promote their flourishing above mine – including the flourishing of our First Peoples.

We all have much to learn from the wisdom, clarity and experience of our First Peoples and I am most grateful for Summer May Finlay’s insights.

Editor’s note: NAIDOC Week will be held between Sunday 3 July and Sunday 10 July 2022. Find out more about this year’s NAIDOC Week events by visiting the anglican focus Events page. For more information and resources for this year’s NAIDOC Week, please visit the NAIDOC Week website and the faithful + effective website. For more information about the Voice to Parliament, please visit the From The Heart website.

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