John Harris laments the complicity of the church in the Stolen Generations.
I think the worst years for missions were when they became agents of government. And this applies particularly in the northern parts of Australia after the 1940s when governments wanted to do something – they were genuinely motivated to do something for Aboriginal people and to put money in it – but the problem was missions accepted that money; they became agents of government policy.
Government wanted little townships of Aboriginal people; missionaries became the managers of these townships and so on. And so, I think that that era was not good. I think, as the Bible says, the missionaries were serving God and mammon – you can’t serve two masters. And in those years I believe they lost sight of what the gospel, lost sight of what missions were about.
I think it could also be said that many mission societies or churches ran some of the children’s homes to which the Stolen Generation children were sent. Very few missionaries ever took children; they received children. They were party to it, they cooperated in it – but so did everybody else in Australia. Everybody in Australia was glad for the government to solve their problems by hiding children away in children’s homes or whatever. But some churches ran that, and of course, as we know today, not just with Aboriginal children but white children, everything else, there were always bad people. There were paedophiles and so on, there were people who were attracted to those kinds of places.
And the tragedy with Aboriginal people is that they were not necessarily genuinely needy at all. They were people who were taken from families who would have raised them decently. And what government should have done was not taken the children but supported the family. And that was where the policy was wrong, and the churches were not prophetic in not seeing that and not critiquing government policy.