The Rainbow Serpent and the Cross

A major Christian denomination has ruled that Welcome to Country and Acknowledgment of Country ceremonies are inappropriate for worship services. While many people are increasingly pushing back against the practice because of its divisive nature, the Presbyterian Church of Australia has done so for religious reasons.

The example below, a transcription of the bi-lingual, hard-to-read welcome above, is a good illustration why Christians in particular see Welcome to Country as problematic:[1]

These are Dharug lands. It is the land of our ancestors. Their spirits still walk amongst us. Spirits that have been here since the dreaming. Dharug language has been passed down from generation to generation. To continue an unbroken culture. That has extended for thousands of years. In the language of the Dharug people, we welcome you to Dharug lands.

The same kind of religious reasoning applies to the acknowledgement of “elders, past, present and emerging”. Unlike remembering European ancestors, such as those historically killed in battle, recognising Indigenous Elders brings a person into the metaphysical worldview of the “dreaming”.[2] This is very similar to the temptation people today from Asian backgrounds face in continuing to acknowledge their ancestors.

What follows is a summary of the theological reasons why the Presbyterian Church resolved that both WtC and AoC are incompatible with the Christian faith.[3] In particular, an overview of the Bible’s teaching incorporating the three essential aspects of creation, fall and redemption.

Creation: Indigenous protocols are predicated on the assumption that the Aboriginal peoples of Australia are the eternal custodians of the Land™. This is expressed in documents such as the Uluru Statement from the Heart (TUSH) as being a “spiritual sovereignty”. Putting aside the problematic legal question of how there can be competing sovereignties in a nation state,[4] it is wrong to claim that spiritual sovereignty has never be ceded. As the Rev Neville Naden, the national indigenous officer of Bush Church Aid, said in a recent speech:

…the other thing that’s underpinning the Voice is the notion of sovereignty. My people go around and they say, ‘Well, we haven’t ceded sovereignty’. My friends, we never had sovereignty. No one has sovereignty. God doesn’t give his sovereignty to anyone… He gives custodianship and stewardship to people.

This means that only God is sovereign over the earth, not a certain group of people within it. For example Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Indeed, both the Old and New Testaments teach that we are entrusted with stewarding of the earth for a limited period and that this privilege is both given and taken away (Ge. 15:16; Exod. 34:1; Lev. 25:23; Deut. 7:1; Acts 17:26).

The Fall: All of this leads on to a second point, that is the nature of our rebellion against God, or what the Bible simply calls ‘sin’. This is manifested in our worship of the creation rather than to the Creator and is sin of idolatry (Rom. 1:18ff). Significantly, both WtC and AoC — in keeping with a traditional indigenous worldview — fall into paradigm of panentheism.

These practices have become so prevalent in wider Australian society as to be commonplace. For instance, the Federal Parliament is now opened each year with an Indigenous Smoking Ceremony, the traditional form of protection from evil spirits. But as many Christian indigenous leaders have rightly warned, this ceremony is not only animistic in nature, but has an “accursed effect” upon those who participate.

However, of even more concern is that this pantheistic worldview is being increasingly adopted by some churches. For example, in regards to WtC, the Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne now has a permanent display which explicitly celebrates indigenous spirituality. According to the ABC:

The panels also include an image of the wedge-tailed eagle Bundjil, the creator spirit for the Kulin people.” Andreas Loewe, the Dean of Melbourne’s Anglican cathedral went on to further emphasise, “It’s [Bundjil] able to speak and talk and interact and exchange.

Redemption: A lot of Christians I speak with see the Voice in particular as an expression of a national act of repentance to atone for the “white guilt” of European colonialism. However, there is no act of atonement which will ever be sufficient within the paradigm of identity politics.[5] Reparations will involve a perpetual paying of “rent” in comparison to the completed work of Christ who said on the cross, “It is Finished!” (John 19:30).[6]

Indigenous protocols as religious syncretism:The issue for confessional denominations such as the Presbyterian Church of Australia is that indigenous protocols such as WtC and AoC promote pantheism alongside Biblical spirituality. The reason why this is a problem is because the Bible proclaims an exclusive message that Jesus is the only way to God (i.e. John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Because the indigenous protocols of WtC and AoC are animistic in nature, they are antithetical to the Christian Gospel. Thus, such pantheistic religious practices should have no place in corporate worship.

Mark Powell is Pastor and Teaching Elder at the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Hobart

[1] Just exactly what this looked like in practice historically though, is seldom defined, but as I have argued elsewhere, more often than not also traditionally involved the ceremonial swapping of wives. See Mark Powell, “Welcome to Country: Bogus but Preferable”, Quadrant, 25 February, 2021.

[2] Djawa Yunupingu, “You will hear us tonight and we will be singing to our ancestors, who are your ancestors too. We will be singing to them to remind them that we are here, maintaining our connection to them, for their appreciation. And we do this not just for us, but for all of us.” 3. Quoted in Finding the Heart of the Nation (Hardie Grant Explore, 2022).

[3] There are also many non-religious reasons but that is not the focus of this article. See

[4] For an excellent exploration of the relevant issues see the following paper by Nicholas Aroney from the University of Queensland:

[5] See Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories (Swift Press, 2021), James Lindsay, Race Marxism: The Truth about Critical Theory and Praxis (New Discourses, 2022), Voddie T. Baucham, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Salem Books, 2021).

[6] For more on this issue see the talk by Owen Strachan, “The Myth of Generational Guilt: Reparations and the Finished Work of Christ”.

14 thoughts on “The Rainbow Serpent and the Cross

  • Ceres says:

    Whether it’s for religious reasons or because of the divisiveness that these ceremonies are being ditched doesn’t matter to me, it’s happening. The tide seems to be turning as it’s becoming “safe” to speak out as more and more Australians are fed up with tolerating these endless rituals.
    It’s obvious that no one alive today has either suffered, or is responsible for the sins of the past. Australians have no need to feel white guilt to atone for the past.

  • DougD says:

    Why the surprise at Anglican priests embracing some pagan beliefs and images? Their Church is truly the broadest of churches. The Bishop of Durham a few years ago had doubts about the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.

  • mgldunn says:

    The hierarchy of the Anglican Church of Australia has rather thoughtlessly embraced the Uluru statement which they seem not to have not read with due care. The statement is explicitly a claim for secular power, not for reconciliation, still less a statement of forgiveness. But do not imagine that the hierarchy’s views reflect those of all the people in the pews.

  • Solo says:

    If this is the view of the Presbyterian church, its very welcome. I have stopped attending my local branch as the minister there is very much “Voting Yes” in the referendum, and while a reasonable preacher, he often gets involved with progressive movements without what appears to be much consideration. Hopefully us protestants can just keep our heads above water and not go the way of the Uniting or Anglican churches. We need a cultural reformation before we have to start paying the Aboriginal industry indulgences – oh, hang on!

  • Garry Donnelly says:

    Just plain ban it. It is ridiculous and makes to sense when you stop and think about it.

  • Garry Donnelly says:

    Just plain ban it. It is ridiculous and makes to sense when you stop and think about it. Is it not just a bit of muscle flexing and trying to reinforce the notion that we are somehow intruders in our own country. I for one am sick and tired of this crap.

  • gilmay97 says:

    For the record: Ernie Dingo invented the ‘welcome to country as an adaption from US Indians Public Relations campaign. It is an insult to everyone having this phoney tradition shoved at us and expecting us to tolerate the bunkum — Boo loudly.
    Indigenous entertainers Ernie Dingo and Richard Whalley, of the Middar Aboriginal Theatre, invented the “welcome to country” in 1976 because two pairs of Maori visitors from NZ and the Cook Islands wanted an equivalent of their own traditional ceremony before they would dance at the Perth International Arts Festival.
    This fact is admitted by Ernie Dingo and supported by a press statement from aboriginal Bess Price, Former NT Minister for Community Services.

  • John M says:

    And they want to teach, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, culture and history in the classroom”.

    “Imjim are malevolent spirits, they lure children away from camps and steal them . . .

    . . . They are called Anurra, spirit figures, who bounced about like kangaroos at night, on their long knobbed penis: they can bounce half a mile in one hop and live like frogs. Female Anurra use their breasts to bounce around in the same way.

    . . . The Timara is an ancestral hero. He does good work. He is the big boss of all people – white man too”.

    (Explanation of rock paintings > Quinkan Split Rock Art Site, Laura, FNQ)

    • mrsfarley2001 says:

      Stark nonsense. Pornographic and infantile – two hallmarks of the demonic. How can “civilised” people accept this stuff? Answer must be, well, they’re not civilised at all, are they? Fast losing it, anyway.

      Civilised values are hard won but easily lost.

      Those who won’t learn their history are destined to repeat it…

  • Rob H says:

    Maybe it is hard to see in the pictures on ABC tv but I could not identify the serpent on the Cross shown at the opening of your story. Where is it?
    The only other comment I have is disbelief that Canon Loughrey was ever identifies as a “black fella” based on the pictures I have seen of him. In any event it is at best an example of a mixed race person believing he is actually only one of his mixed heritage based on his feelings.

  • Davidovich says:

    One only has to look at the low numbers attending Anglican church services to realise that there is a major problem within their system. In order to attract more people they have tried jazz mass and now just about every woke fad going around. That it isn’t working doesn’t seem to faze the hierarchy nor, indeed, their general priesthood.

  • Paul from Sydney says:

    I’m glad someone has pointed out that the entire Aboriginal notion of sovereignty is religious – not that it’s hard to see, it’s everywhere. Apart from Christian considerations, we have to ask whether this religious notion belongs at all in the modern secular state. I am not at all for the ridiculous hard separation of all faith from national political discussion that some secularists espouse, but that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about a religion being at the core of a political claim for ownership, power, money and honour. Moreover a religion that is ethnically exclusive. I know that the romanticism of the modern Left will ignore the argument that it doesn’t belong in our national foundation, but surely it will make some think twice if we start pointing it out a little more often.

    • Stephen Ireland says:

      Yep, Paul from Sydney
      The blatant airbrushing out of the once ‘sacred’ tenet of progressive thought, the separation of church and state, by progressives in recent discussions of the place of Aboriginal people in the Australian polity has been breathtaking in its hypocrisy.

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