In every nation there’s a point where ordinary, everyday people turn from bystanders into activists. It’s naive to think that the citizens of any country, no matter how good it is, would be immune to political involvement.
In fact, that’s democracy. Our Australian democracy is built on the premise that ordinary people should, no in fact must gather and engage in their world – where necessary, look evil in the eye, and refuse it room to remain any longer. Men fought and women lost sons and lovers for that right. Not just to get a sausage sandwich after polling once every four years.
We shouldn’t doubt that people will have to stand up and give voice at times – even if seen at first as unsolicited, unrequested, unwanted opinion. The question is, at what point do you step up and make your voice heard?
The Bible offers a clear mandate for this:
Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
and to defend the needy and the poor.
– Proverbs 31: 8-10
For many Christians in Australia, it’s been a long road that has led now to the formation of the Love Makes A Way Movement, that builds upon the Christian church’s nonviolent direct action (for more info see this amazing online pdf) throughout history, challenging the powers.
Women I’ve prayed beside worked in detention centers for thirty years. Father Claude has decades of experience in this area. He recounted to me how a Sri Lankan refugee slashed himself in their offices after receiving notice he was to be returned to the place he watched his brother and brother-in-law be murdered.
Yes, that’s right, I sat with Christian leaders in Malcolm Turnbull’s office this Monday, and prayed my heart out for our nation’s leaders to turn, and for our government to seize the day to change Australia’s policy on refugees.
You can read SBS’s take on the Love Makes A Way story here. And, ABC’s Compass segment on Love Makes A Way here to hear a little about Jarrod McKenna and Teresa Lee’s First Home Project, which they share with a number of new Australians.
I first engaged with refugee workers in 2006, when I worship led for an International Teams conference, and met missionaries stationed in Australia who engaged refugees. That’s when I realized my church, Hillsong, held weekly services in Villawood Detention Centre. I started to beeline for these friends while they were drinking coffee in the foyer of church. They introduced me to other friends working offshore. It started with curiosity and asking too many questions, but it ended with a deep empathy for them and the people they were serving.
Their eyes often filled with tears. Some told me of terrible, unthinkable things that were going on. That guards raped in the middle of the night, leaving women incontinent. Trauma that, through constant threat of deportation, turned into a deep fear and eventually, a madness. The complete loss of hope.
This contrasted sharply with stories of families who were being supported out in the community.
At that point, there were reportedly one million displaced people. Now, the UN says there are 20 million people seeking asylum.
During this time the media honed in on boat entries on Australia’s northern border. The Australian Labour Party decided it would intern those arriving by boat indefinitely, as deterrence. It was an act of arrogance, and of privilege but it was retained as a policy by the Liberal–National Coalition. Slogans were created. And sadly, elections were won with them.
All this time my friends wept, and tried to provide support for refugees. Denominations such as The Savation Army, Catholics and the Uniting Church have been long involved in endless behind-the-scene negotiations with the government. Eventually many denominations made public statements against the policies, including the Anglican Church, and Australian Baptists.
It is hoped that ALL Christians of Australia will join their hearts and minds, putting aside all other differences, to declare that the Australian government has crossed the moral line.
Australia has in indefinite detention about 2044 people, including 92 children on Nauru. And 112 children in Australia. There has been no change to this number for six months.
Many of us in Love Makes A Way are pentecostals. Any time I feel lonely, I remind myself of the day Jaxon wore his college t-shirt to the action. And got arrested in it.
Because once the line is crossed, we must decide what we will do about it.
It’s clear that we are in the wrong. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has spoken against our policies. Rapporteurs criticize the conditions of Australia’s detention centers as breaching the Torture Convention and constituting ‘calibrated cruelty’. There are warnings that incarceration has an irreparable effect on children. This is consistent with reports of Christian workers that have been going on for almost a decade. Enough is enough.
Some churches have decided to put out media calls for the government to release children before Christmas.
“For some of the children, this will be their third Christmas in detention and we can see no reason why they can’t be released before spending another one in detention”
It’s not only about celebrating Christ together. It’s about the fact that our Senators also believe they should be released. Seven days ago, the Senate managed to pass amendments to a bill that includes significant changes to refugee and asylum seeker debate. It does the following:
a) ends the detainment of children in onshore processing centers.
b) introduces mandatory reporting of abuse.
c) reverses legislation making it a criminal offence for public servants and contractors, including doctors, to disclose knowledge acquired in detention centres.
d) ensures reasonable access to journalists.
The opportunity is now for the Federal government in the House of Representatives to support the recent Senate amendments that would free all kids and their families from Australian detention centers before Christmas.
This would truly be something to celebrate.