Church and Stereotypes

from Reference 27

The attitude of the churches to the stereotypes is also a part of the pattern. Because the Aborigines are “ promiscuous “ they are inferior to white Christians. Many members of the clergy consider them hopeless from the point of view of organized religion, and few make more than a half-hearted attempt to induce them to participate in church activities. The Church of England, particularly in the large town of D, is loath to encourage them to attend Communion services, as members of the white community would object to drinking from the same Communion cup. This problem does not arise in those churches using individual Communion cups. A Catholic priest in D expressed what nearly all other members of the clergy tacitly accept, that it is futile marrying Aborigines, since “they do not understand that marriage is a rite of the Church“; he married Aboriginal women to coloured servicemen during the war with the greatest reluctance.

At least a partial exception to this rule is the Church of Christ in the town of M, which has tried for some time to induce Aborigines from the B reserve to attend services at their church in the town.

On at least one occasion an Aborigine has been asked to preach in this church, and members of the congregation attended the annual convention on the reserve. Even this apparently wholehearted acceptance of the Aborigines has its discriminatory aspects. These activities are regarded by most members of the congregation who engage in them as “good works”, as something unpleasant undertaken to gain religious credit, analogous to a mediaeval sovereign washing the feet of beggars. The reserve is generally regarded in the town as a “den of vice“ and the fraternization of the Church of Christ is as much a mission activity as an equal participation in religious rites.

Generally, the attitude of the white clergy and their congregations is that Aborigines are specially catered for by various mission bodies, particularly the United Aborigines’ Mission, and that there is therefore no need for them to be absorbed into the white congregations, particularly when most members of these congregations would not welcome them. The presence of the U.A.M. in this area means the segregation into two separate congregations, Aboriginal and European church members. Its presence is one of the most important factors perpetuating the social exclusion of Aborigines from the religious life of the community.

As a missionary body, its presence is unnecessary now that all but about half a dozen of the very old people are nominal Christians. The very fact that Aborigines here are still singled out as a mission field implies that in the view of the missionaries especially they are more “wicked“ and “sinful” more in need of “salvation”. The presence of missionaries in this area implies an acceptance of, and is partly prompted by, the stereotypes.