God’s 'Yes' to All Peoples

Grief and hope after the October referendum

Bianca Manning

Manna Matters November 2023

No… After a year of saying Yes, typing Yes, advocating for Yes, and finally writing “Yes” on the 14th of October, I am now having to grapple with No.  

Australia has said no. 

Grief is probably the best word to describe what I, and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, have been feeling. I battle with the temptation to lean into deep feelings of rejection, despair, and anger. I also battle with the pressure to totally dismiss those feelings and replace them with hope, positivity, and an urgency to keep moving forward.  

Where I have landed is somewhere between: a place of grace, of lament, of rest, of grief, of community, and bringing all of these things to God.  

In this article, I aim to analyse my post-processing of the referendum result, and see if I can try to place my finger on Australia’s pulse, and the pulse of Australian Christians post-referendum. 

A place for grief, a history of resilience 

The first place I wanted to go after realising the referendum result (after I had sobbed through the initial wave of grief and disappointment) was Musgrave Park.  

For those unfamiliar with the Aboriginal significance of Musgrave Park in Meanjin (Brisbane), it has historically been a gathering place for Aboriginal community, culture, resistance, meetings, and protest. It has been home of ‘The Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy Brisbane’ since 2012, and is the site of frequent community meetings, as well as annual NAIDOC Week and Invasion Day events every year. After moving to Brisbane five years ago, I even found out that my mum used to live at Musgrave Park, camping there with her family and other Aboriginal community members when she was a child. 

The Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy protests in Musgrave Park, 2012.

So, in the midst of my early processing of the “No” result, my partner and I went to Musgrave Park. We walked barefoot across the grass, leaves, and tree roots. We walked past basketball players, displaced folks in tents, and late night romancers whose worlds seemed not to have stopped like mine had. We sat in the middle of the park and prayed.  

As we prayed and cried, I was overwhelmed by images of all that this place had seen through the eyes of the “Brisbane Blacks” here on Jagera and Turrbal Country. The societal rejection, the racism and abuse, the arrests and removal from Country experienced by these people have, tragically, also been experienced by the wider Aboriginal community, including my Gomeroi ancestors. The cries and chants of my people often fell on deaf ears. 

Yet they still gathered. They still chanted. They still stood up and spoke up for justice.  

Many were compelled by their faith in Jesus, including the incredible Pastor Don Brady here in Brisbane (read more about Pastor Don Brady and other Aboriginal Christian leaders of the past at commongrace.org.au/past_aboriginal_christian_leaders).  

Today, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, we gain inspiration from their lives, we lament their sufferings, and we are driven to honour and serve our elders and community leaders today who are leading us on this collective journey.  There at Musgrave Park, God was drawing my attention to the bigger story, the bigger struggle, and was leading me slowly and gently into hope.  

Seeing, hearing, kneeling 

In the months leading up to the referendum, I often had a particular Bible story come to mind. For a long time, I struggled to make sense of what God may have been trying to say to me through it. It was the story of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34), who had courageously faced the crowds with the hope that if she could even just touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak she would be healed.  

A couple of weeks before the referendum, I realised that, at times, I felt that Aboriginal people were unfortunately like the woman in the story. Too often our mob have felt like Jesus is the only one who listens, the only one who will pause, the only one who will give up power to help and heal us. And the crowd of people around us, including the Church, are not even noticing us in our suffering. 

Bianca in Boggabilla, NSW at a Voice community yarning event.

Before reading on, please sit for a moment in this story. Will you be one in the crowd who sees, hears, and kneels before Jesus with us?  

Truth and redemption 

In the week before the referendum, I feared that if our nation voted “No”, these negative feelings would persist. As I wrote at the start of this article, this has certainly been a temptation, but an even stronger feeling has emerged: the feeling of deep gratitude for the millions of non-Indigenous people who voted and advocated for “Yes”. These people included non-Indigenous members of my Common Grace team and the Common Grace movement, Christians across all denominations, Yes campaign volunteers, multicultural and other faith communities, and so many others.  

I have been encouraged by the time, energy and passion so much of the population put in, often placing themselves in uncomfortable situations to have difficult conversations with their friends and families, often grappling with the truth of our shared history and the reality of racism, injustice, and misinformation. Now, these folk are grieving with us. 

At church on the morning after the referendum, I was moved by the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 25:  

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,

of rich food filled with marrow,

of well-matured wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples, 

the sheet that is spread over all nations;

He will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,

and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the Lord has spoken.

This reading reminded me of the ending: the ending which will culminate in God’s “Yes” for people of every tribe, every tongue, every nation. The grief and the tears will be over, the truth will have set us free and the healing will have come. This is what keeps me going—what gives me hope. 

As Christians, we sit in the in-between space. As we actively await the fullness of God’s Kingdom to be made manifest on earth, we are called to imitate Christ, through the Holy Spirit: living in humility, deeply listening to God and each other, and laying down our lives for others. We cling onto the fact that God chooses to weep with us, enters into the pain with us, and promises that one day all things, all relationships, all of creation, will be redeemed. Our biblical call is then to help demonstrate and work for that redemptive vision even now. 

I believe this year has brought to the surface a lot of Australia’s unaddressed issues. I’ve heard people speak about it like a mirror being put up to our country, showing our not so pretty reflection, or like a thermometer revealing the temperature and the long journey ahead. 

So what’s the next step? Firstly, I echo the call of senior Aboriginal Christian leader Aunty Jean Phillips, who I am blessed to sit under, who tells us that unless we deal with the true history of this country, we will never move forward: there will never be revival. Amen. 

Across this referendum campaign, millions of people, many of whom have never engaged in Aboriginal justice before, have been mobilised into action. In my opinion, the biggest hope and challenge now is keeping these people on the long journey of relationship, deep listening, truth-telling, and justice.  

My prayer and hope is that the Church would lead this movement. 

Bianca Manning is a Gomeroi woman and an emerging Aboriginal Christian leader. She currently lives in Logan, South East Queensland, on the lands of the Yuggera and Yugambeh peoples, working closely with senior Aboriginal Christian leader Aunty Jean Phillips. Bianca has a Social Work degree, and works as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Coordinator at Common Grace, a movement of Christians pursuing Jesus and justice together. To find out more and to join, visit www.commongrace.org.au.

Common Grace staff team at the Christians for Voice and Justice training event in Sydney.