Messages of Hope

Month: August 2015

#LMAW

Published / by Sandy

In May 2014 I participated in a sit-in prayer vigil in the office of the Federal Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, in Melbourne with around 15 other Christian leaders. A simultaneous event was held in the office of the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in Sydney. The sit-in included ministers, priests and nuns, lay leaders, experienced Christian activists and people engaging in non-violent direct action for the first time, from Uniting, Baptist, Catholic and Anglican churches. The aim was to meet with the leaders and ask them to make a bipartisan commitment to get all children out of Australian detention centres. At the time of those actions there were over 1000 children in detention. The groups indicated that they would not leave the premises voluntarily until satisfactory assurances were given. After warnings from police, participants were charged with trespass, some arrested. No assurances were given.

This pattern has been repeated at 24 subsequent actions involving 237 participants. 149 people have been arrested. 66 of them were ministers, priests or rabbis. To my knowledge, nobody has been fined or jailed for these actions. (Update: Rev Sandy Boyce was fined $50!). The events, and many similar subsequent actions, were organised by a loose ecumenical coalition who gather under the banner of #LoveMakesAWay.

Some churches rarely venture into the public sphere to express a view on social issues unless they are matters of ‘personal morality’. And it cannot be assumed that the churches share the same view on various social and political questions in Australian life. An exception to this is the challenge of how to respond to people seeking asylum in this country. Those churches that have addressed this issue appear to be on the same page: they have expressed deep concern about the current policies and their implementation.

For the most part the churches’ critique is in line with mainstream human rights organisations like Amnesty International. The most recent and comprehensive church statement is ‘Shelter from the Storm, a report with recommendations from the Uniting Church, recently endorsed by its national Assembly. Since 2013, St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne has displayed a massive banner, which reads: ‘Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees’.  The Dean of St Paul’s cited the teaching of Jesus Christ:

‘I am convinced that future generations of Australians will judge this policy for what it is: inhumane to those seeking our protection, and demeaning to Australia as a nation. These actions will not only be judged by our children and grandchildren but by God himself. Christ’s judgement will be based on a simple measure: ‘What you have done to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me’ (Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25 verse 40).

Perhaps one of the reasons this issue has particular resonance in the Christian community, in addition to its social justice, human rights and humanitarian dimensions, is the fact that Christ himself was a refugee. As a young child his family fled to neighbouring Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of King Herod. At various Justice for Refugees marches in which I have participated I have noticed many ‘Jesus was a refugee’ t-shirts. The churches’ participation in these events has been significant in terms of organisation, publicity and sheer numbers of marchers.

Nevertheless, many Christian politicians evidently disagree with the churches’ views about asylum seekers and refugees. In 2006 I attended the Bonhoeffer Conference in Melbourne (Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the German theologian executed days before the end of WW2 for his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler). The keynote speaker was Kevin Rudd who argued that Christianity “must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed”. Of course, it was under Rudd’s leadership in 2013 that the government put in place many of the punitive border protection policies to which the churches now object.

While Australian churches have addressed many dimensions of Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, the message of the #LMAW actions is simple: children should not be in detention. The aim is to persuade Australians, including our political leaders, to respond to asylum seekers in ways consistent with our obligations as international citizens and in line with Australia’s commitments. And, more fundamentally, with the basic compassion that flows from the empathy of one human being for the suffering of another. For many Christians, the ongoing detention of children and their families represents a line that has been crossed. Silence and inaction cease to be an option.

The format of each #LMAW protest is simple, modelled on the usual pattern of Christians worshipping together: reading the Bible, singing and praying. In the event in which I participated, for example, we read a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus 19:33-34:

‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God’.

The #LMAW direct action prayer protests take their place in the long tradition modelled by Martin Luther King, the Berrigan brothers, Desmond Tutu and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The finger prints of Ghandi’s non-violent protests are also evident in the methodology of the #LMAW actions. A prerequisite for participating in these actions is training in non-violence. I participated in the Save the Franklin campaign in Tasmania in 1982 and the training for #LMAW is very similar, albeit with an explicit religious framework and methodology.

It has to be said that within the Christian community the #LMAW approach is not uncontested. The main critique has been that #LMAW uses prayer as a weapon, and that these actions are cheap attention-seeking stunts. Perhaps those critics would use the same arguments in relation to Ghandi’s Salt March or Martin Luther King’s Freedom marches. Karl Barth (another German theologian!) described prayer as “the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world,” by which he meant not a will to power, but making our own the purposes and will of another, namely, God.

It is not yet clear how effective the #LMAW actions have been. While the number of children in offshore detention has decreased significantly, it would be fanciful to attribute the decrease to these modest actions. Where politicians have responded to #LMAW it has tended to be in patronising terms: ‘they don’t understand the complexity of the issues’. Judgements will inevitably be made of the validity and efficacy of the actions, and the participants’ commitment to non-violence. The #LMAW activists will have their own accountabilities to God for the justice of their cause and the manner in which they take their stand.

There is no denying that the churches’ influence in shaping public opinion has diminished in recent times.  Australians seem, on the whole, to agree with the current hard-line approach advocated by both major parties. Perhaps the greatest impact of #LMAW then has been on church members themselves, by encouraging them to participate in public protests, to write letters or to visit their local members to express their views. Ultimately, we have been reminded of core Christian social teaching; we have challenged ourselves to take a stand; to advocate for change, and hopefully, to make a difference.

Rev Alistair Macrae is currently Minister at Wesley Uniting Church Melbourne. He is a recent past national President of the Uniting Church and Director of the Centre for Theology and Ministry in Melbourne. 

Pastoral letter on theology of marriage

Published / by Sandy

UCA President Stuart McMillan has issued a pastoral letter on the theology of marriage discussions arising at the National Assembly in Perth, and which will continue over the next three years.

stuart
President Stuart McMillan with General Secretary, Rev Terence Corkin, at the 14th Assembly of the UCA.

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

When we gathered as the body of Christ for the 14th Assembly in Perth this passage of scripture was in my mind: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4: 2,3 NIV).

At the 14th Assembly meeting we received the Report of the Task Group on the Theology of Marriage and Public Covenants for Same-Gender Relationships within the Uniting Church. This work was commenced by the Doctrine Working Group on referral from the 13th Assembly in 2012. A challenging, and at times difficult and emotional, discussion of the report and the proposals arising from the report took place over a number of sessions. The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress exercised its right not to participate in the discussion, but remained in the gathering. The Multicultural and Cross Cultural National Reference Committee urged us through its paper to make ‘space for grace’.

I now write to you as members of the Uniting Church expressing the pastoral concerns of the gathering for the whole church.

Friends, we continue as a community of culturally and linguistically diverse people to have respectful conversations. We will employ culturally sensitive processes, to be determined by the First and Second people groups within our church. We have been encouraged by the Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry National Reference Committee to allow the space for grace. In this space communities will firstly, be able to engage with the concept of marriage and secondly, they may engage with the concept of same-gender relationships.

We seek to be an inclusive church that celebrates diversity and embraces LGBTIQ people as full members of the church community. For the times we have failed to be this loving community of Christ and caused hurt, we apologize, ask forgiveness and pray for healing and reconciliation for us all.

Christian community modelled on Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance is what we strive to attain. We know that the world is watching to see how we treat one another. Paul says in Romans we belong to one another, the commandment is to love, to put the interests of others ahead of our own interests.

In this next three years my prayer for us all is that we might listen deeply to one another, with our heart and to the Spirit who grants us understanding beyond human wisdom.

Shalom.

Stuart McMillan
President

12 August 2015 

The Reports and Proposals from the 14th Assembly can be found online here.

May peace prevail – remembering Hiroshima

Published / by Sandy

70 years ago, at 8.15am on the morning of August 6th, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people by the end of that year. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, which killed about 40,000 people instantly. These two bombs remain the only bombs used in warfare. It is sobering to know that there are estimated to be 16,350 nuclear warheads in the world, with 2 countries holding 94% of global stocks.

Nuclear bomb Hiroshima

A liturgy prepared by the World Council of Churches – may it be our prayer also:

Blessed is our God, who grants us peace and is the source of all peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.

Loving God, you create and sustain all that is good and beautiful;
You give life to the earth.

You have called us to wholeness; to the fullness of life
But, as we gather here, we are conscious of our brokenness
Both as persons and as communities.

We have heard the cries for justice and peace
From all the corners of the earth.

We are moved by the tears, the pain and the agonies
of millions around the world.

We sense the dark clouds of war that creep over us;
We sit in the shadow of death.

Silence

Help us to fall on our knees and to cry for that vision of unity
Without which we would perish.

Teach us not to deal with others falsely,
Saying “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

Grant us grace that we may walk
In the paths of righteousness.

Bring us to yourself, that our hearts and minds
May discern the way of peace shown by your son.

For you alone have been our help in ages past,
And you are our shelter in the years ahead.

Amen

Racism. It stops with me.

Published / by Sandy

A statement by the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Uniting Church in Australia and Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress are 2 of the 150 signatories to this statement):

Following the weekend’s events when prominent Aboriginal AFL player and former Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes was booed at every turn during the Swans v West Coast Eagles AFL match.

Today in advance of the weekend round of AFL, 150 organisations join together to call for renewed efforts to stamp out racism in sport and everyday life.

For too long, we have witnessed the poor treatment of Sydney Swans star and dual Brownlow medallist Adam Goodes at the hands of fans during AFL matches. A proud Ambassador of the “Racism. It Stops with Me” Campaign, Goodes is a strong advocate for standing up against racism and for issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The booing, which has snowballed out of control this year since Goodes proudly displayed his culture during the AFL Indigenous Round, appears to be in large part racially motivated.

Adam Goodes is an outstanding Australian and should be commended for displaying a culture all Australians should celebrate and be proud of, and for taking a courageous stance against racism. The behaviour of the crowd that booed him is absolutely unacceptable and must stop.

To dismiss claims of racism as just banter is to use football as a shield for prejudice. Legitimate barracking for one’s team is a tradition that has been alive as long as the game itself but, when such behaviour coincides with cultural displays and Goodes’ efforts to stop racism, it is clear that a line has been crossed to racial abuse.

To suggest that this kind of behaviour does not have an effect is to deny the evidence about the known health impacts of racism. These are not diminished simply because the person being subjected to racial abuse is an elite athlete. It is deeply disturbing that this kind of racism may influence whether a player decides to take the field for one match or is forced out of the game for good.

If this isn’t stamped out, then we must ask what message this sends to future generations of Australians about the forms of behaviour that we find acceptable in this country. And what message does it send to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about their culture, and what they can expect should they want to excel in sport or other fields.

It is a great stain on our nation that the experience of Adam Goodes is the lived experience of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and there is ample evidence that demonstrates the negative impact on mental and physical health, as well as life opportunities.

Racism has no place in Australian sport or our society at large. We commend the actions that have been taken inside and out of the AFL, but call on all sports and sporting clubs to develop coherent and far reaching strategies in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people to stamp out racism in sport.

(Waleed Aly on The Project debunks some of the accusations against Adam Goodes – worth a look! There are also many informed and helpful articles addressing this complex issue of racism).

A statement by the UCA President, Stuart McMillan, can be read here.

Meredith Edwards, a member at Pilgrim UC and Principal at Woodville HS writes:
‘Not all who boo are racist but in the case of Adam Goodes, there are clear racist overtones. He dared to take a stand against racist slurs being called out from the crowd and then did a war dance that he had worked on with young indigenous players during the lead up to the Indigenous round. A part of the Power Cup, which many schools like Woodville High School enter, includes developing a similar kind of dance. As a society we are facing the underbelly of what some call the “soft racism” which underlies Australian society’.

AdamGoodesCSA