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:
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”. 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. 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, 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. 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).
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
 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.
 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).
 There are also many non-religious reasons but that is not the focus of this article. See https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/bennelong-papers/2021/02/welcome-to-country-bogus-but-preferable/
 For an excellent exploration of the relevant issues see the following paper by Nicholas Aroney from the University of Queensland: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4558339
 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).
 For more on this issue see the talk by Owen Strachan, “The Myth of Generational Guilt: Reparations and the Finished Work of Christ”.