To Mr Drum,
In Australia, Asylum Seekers has been a major, divisive issue for a long time. Just recently, following a High Court appeal, Churches around Australia are offering sancturary to Asylum Seekers living in the community, offering them protection from being deported to the regional processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island (Papua New Guinea). In response, I wrote this prayer, which is able to be used in congregations and in personal prayers, as need be. (For my own congregational use, I add a prayer from The Worship Sourcebook, but can’t reproduce it here. Second edition, pg 146. 4.3.27 if you have the book and wish to use it.)
You might also like to use this song alongside the modern hymn, Beauty for Brokenness (God of the Poor) (998 in the new Salvation Army Songbook). Continue reading Prayer for Asylum Seekers
It’s December 1st, 1955. A sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on a bus in the early evening. Despite having spent all day bent over an ironing board in the basement tailor shop at Montgomery Fair department store, she carries her swollen feet and aching shoulders erectly. She sits in the first row of the Coloured section on the bus, and watches the bus fill with riders. Until, that is, the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger. Her response was just a single word, but that word was filled with so much meaning and started something that would only be realised later. She said, “No.”
The Story goes that Rosa Parks was tired of being pushed around and decided to sit down. For me, this is part of the story that resonates with me. After years of fighting for the rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Australia, Christian leaders are tired. They have worked, and continue to work the political process. They have written letters, signed petitions, visited politicians on all sides of the spectrum, and still our nations treats those in the most need in ever increasingly worse ways. We are tired of fighting and getting nowhere.
So on Tuesday, I joined in with a movement of other tired Christian leaders, and with five others, we sat. We asked for a response, and got none. So we sat. We prayed. And we waited for a response.
We sat, asking the Senator to release a statement saying that it was abhorrent that there were 127 children in immigration detention. We offered for him to be a hero to these children, insisting to the Prime Minister and Immigration minister to release them and their families immediately. But we received no response. So we sat, and we prayed, and having received no response, we were eventually arrested.
So we sat in the Divvy van, knowing that while the police had treated us well, there were many in Manus Island and Nauru who have been treated harshly by security guards and police.
So we sat in the watch house, while the wonderful police officers promptly filled out the paperwork and processed us, knowing that there still has not been one asylum seeker claim that has been processed on Manus Island.
And as we walked free from the Police Station, into the waiting arms of our support crew, we go knowing that there are still 127 children locked away in immigration detention. That there are still over 2000 people locked away in immigration detention, many who have been there for over two years. And that while the boats may have appeared to have stopped, that there are still millions of people seeking protection and asylum all over our world, seeking safety from oppression.
Aside – My Love Makes A Way Action
I feel, at this point, that I need to step aside and clarify a few things that may have been raised in your mind. Firstly, this action has been a long time coming. I have been preparing myself for this action for over a year, and planning for this action started in April. I also sought, and received, approval and support to take part in this from both the Territorial Commander and the Divisional Commander. So I didn’t act on this alone, but with the approval and support of leadership. You may wonder why I hadn’t mentioned that I was intending to take this action. Part of it is that it is kept confidential, so as not to alert the senator and his office prior to the action. Another part is that it helps gain discussion throughout the community and social media, with people surprised that it is happening. This is a vital part to continue the discussion, as we aim to not only change the policy, but also to change the discussion within the community and within the church. And while we weren’t able to change the policy in this action, we are still able to change the discussion in the community and in the church. So feel free to come up and chat with me about anything relating to Asylum Seekers if you have any questions.
There are people in this world who are oppressed
The reality is that in our world today, there are many people who are oppressed. They are oppressed by people who have power. They have their rights taken away from them by people who have power. They could be asylum seekers seeking safety from war-torn countries. They could be the disabled, facing uncertainty about the level of support by a government intent on reducing our welfare bill. They could be Aboriginals, being pushed out of their traditional lands. That’s just a few situations that are happening right here in Australia, but there are thousands more all around the world. And quite often, people in those situations will think that they have no hope. How can they possibly change the world – they are, after all, just one person.
But that’s exactly what Jesus was teaching right here in this passage. Jesus was giving those people who were oppressed the opportunity to be seen as an equal. To give them some power back. How? Let me show you.
First, I need a volunteer. Now, back in Jesus’ day, there were very strict rules as to what you would do with your hands. One of the things is that you would only ever slap someone with your right hand. So, please put your left hand behind your back. Now, there are two ways to slap someone. Open handed, or back-handed. Now, Open handed slaps, they were for men of equal standing. Think of those days of old, or possibly in the movies, where someone would challenge another to a duel by slapping them. But a back-handed slap, that was for someone who was lower than you – a master slapping his slave for example.
So if you were only to use your right hand while slapping, and you were going to slap me on the right cheek, would you have to do it open-handed or back-handed? And this would be known by the crowd – if someone slapped you on the right cheek, it was because someone saw you as less than them. However, if you then turned the other cheek, forcing them to hit you on the left cheek – there was only two options for them. To slap you again, this time with an open hand, signifying you as equal, or to walk away, surrendering their position. In this way, Jesus was able to put power back into the hands of the powerless.
In the same way, if someone was suing you to take your coat – it was only because you had nothing else left to give. For someone to sue you for your coat means that they are so insistent on damaging you that they will take everything that you have. The cloak – that was effectively their last layer of clothing, it was the only thing giving them any dignity. So when Jesus says, give them your cloak, he was effectively saying for them to disrobe, to get naked. Why? Because it gave the powerless a voice. It was allowing the person being sued an opportunity to say to the oppressor, “look at what you are doing to me. You have reduced me to this – that I have no dignity left.” And by doing that, it forces the oppressor to think about what he is doing – to be the person that left someone naked (and lose standing in the community), or to give up his claim on the other person. Again, Jesus was putting power back into the hands of the powerless.
The final example Jesus gives is going the second mile. Now, we know that the Romans were occupying Israel at the time, and a Centurion was able to conscript a Jewish person to carry their pack for them, but only for the distance of one mile, no more. If it was carried further, then the Centurion was able to get in quite serious trouble. So if a Jew was to get to that one mile mark, and to just keep on walking, the Centurion would be running behind them, pleading with them to put the pack down. And with that, the power has once again gone from the powerful to the powerless.
Jesus gives us dignity through our choices
This is what Jesus was hoping to achieve through this. He wanted to give power to the powerless. To give them a dignity in life. And he offers that same dignity to us as well. It’s unlikely that you will be slapped in today’s age, and our understanding of position and customs are different from what they were back then. Taking off your cloak will not have the same effect that it did in Jesus’ day. And there aren’t any Roman Centurions around to force us to carry their packs. But through what Jesus is saying here, we can take his message and apply it to our own lives. In every situation, we have a choice on how we act. We can choose to act and show love to all people. We can choose to treat all people as equals. And we can choose to stand up and be a voice for those whose voices are oppressed by people in power. In Proverbs 31:8-9 it reads “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” This is what God is all about – because we are all God’s creation, and we are all created equally in God’s image.
We can see all people equally, and love all people equally
When we start to see all people equally, we start to see them how God created them. When we start to see them how God created them, we start to understand that they deserve to be treated with the same love and respect that God shows us. The same love and respect that gave us dignity in our choices. The same love and respect that doesn’t force us to worship him, but invites us to come and worship him as we see fit. The same love and respect that sent his son to die for our sins, so that we could enter into a full relationship with him.
Go, love your neighbour, and all others
That same love that God shows us, he calls us to love each other. Because if God shows it to us, and we are all created equal, then we should show it to all others as well. So we need to Go out from our building here, and show love to all people that we meet. We need to give love and dignity to all people that we come in contact with, because that’s what God gives us. And whether we are the powerful or we are the powerless, we need to treat all people as equals.
What’s God telling you today? Maybe he’s asking you to speak out for those who have no voice. Maybe he’s showing you people who you need to treat with love and respect. Maybe he’s showing you a way to stand up and be treated with love and respect.
In our response time today, you’re welcome to come and pray about whatever it is that GOd has told you today. Maybe you just want to come and pray for the 127 children who are still in detention. Or maybe you want to come and pray for the children in our community who go to school without breakfast or lunch. To pray for those around the world suffering in war zones, or to pray for God’s creation, and the way it has been ravaged by humanity’s greed.
As we do that, you are invited to join in this song that says “God of the Poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain. Come, change our love from a spark to a flame.”
As I viewed the multitude of Happy New Year posts, and posts reflecting on our years, I noticed a bit of a trend. A lot of people were commenting on how this year was really tough. And you know what, I hear that. Liesl and I have had a really tough year, a trial by fire if you will into the world of officership. It certainly says something when both your Divisional Secretary and Divisional Commander both say that we’ve experienced more in our first year of officership than many experience in their career. But as I thought on it, I wondered whether I really had a tough year.
I think of those who have it a lot tougher than me, like the Families of the 30,000 children who die every day from starvation.
I think of the Asylum Seekers who have been locked up indefinitely with no idea of when things will change.
I think of Peter Greece and his colleagues, who has been locked up in Egypt, only for doing his job of reporting the news in a fair and balanced way.
I think of those in Australia whose benefits are being stripped away simply for the sake of improving an economy that is already the envy of many others in the world.
I think of the number of people who are forcibly displaced from their home every year (in 2013 it was over 50 million).
Within the posts on Facebook lamenting their tough year, they would always be looking forward to a great 2015, that things were going to change and this year would be a lot better. While I agree with the sentiment, my prayer, my hope is that 2015 might be the year that we treat all people with love and respect, and start changing some of the depressing and oppressive situations mentioned above.
What will you fight for?
This speech is one of the most famous quotes of The Salvation Army, and has served for years as a rallying cry. It speaks of the battle that we as an army face – that while there is still one person in need, that we will fight, we will fight to the very end.
Where that end is, we do not know. But, still, we must fight, and fight as if the end is both tomorrow, and in the next millennium.
This quote fits so incredibly well with the words that Jesus spoke in today’s reading. Quoting from Isaiah, this passage speaks of Jesus’ mission, that would shape his mission and ministry from that point in.
Jesus fights for Justice
Jesus returned to Nazareth, to his home town, and went to the Synagogue to read and teach. He found his way to this quote from Isaiah, and declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
These themes that this passage highlights bare particular emphasis in Luke’s gospel, but it should also be noted that this passage is found in Mark as well. But all through Luke’s gospel, we see the themes of justice, inclusiveness and freedom included as a central part of Jesus’ message. Let’s have a quick overview of Luke, to show these themes.
Luke’s birth narrative focusses in on Mary, and includes what is (I believe) the longest monologue by a female in the bible, in what became known as the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. The first people to see Jesus, besides his parents, were the shepherds, not exactly the most well respected people in the bible, but the ones chosen by God. Following the reading we had today, Jesus begins his ministry, and heals a demoniac, Simon’s mother-in-law (separate people, I’m not saying Simon’s mother-in-law was a demoniac), a leper, a paralytic – the people generally avoided by society. He calls his first disciples, a fisherman and a tax collector, and teaches on the plain giving praise to the poor, hungry and sorrowful, and declares love for all as what is expected. There’s more healings of women in Luke’s gospel than in the others, and it’s in Luke’s gospel that we hear that there were a number of women who followed Jesus in the same way as the 12 apostles did.
More and more, all the way through, these themes are realised in Luke’s gospel, even through to it being the women who first see Jesus after he had risen.
Jesus is here to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, make the blind see, and to free the oppressed, declaring the year of God’s favour. Jesus is fighting for Justice, so that all may live in the kingdom of God.
The Salvation Army fights for Justice
Similarly, The Salvation Army has had a long history of fighting for justice. Now, I just want to first clarify that there are two aspects here: Social Action and Social Advocacy. Let’s put it like this: Social action is applying first aid when we see someone fall over and get injured. Social Advocacy is seeing that multiple people have fallen over in that same place, and campaigning to make changes so that others won’t fall at the same place. Social action is meeting a person’s immediate needs, and social advocacy is ensuring that people won’t need our social action again. Both are important, and both are necessary.
The Salvation Army has had a long history and is well recognised for meeting someone’s immediate needs. But we also have a long history of campaigning for changes in society.
In 1885, The Salvation Army, by way of the Founder’s son, Bramwell Booth, was involved in what would become known as The Maiden Tribute crisis, where W.T. Stead, an English publicist and editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, devised a scheme to purchase a 13-year old girl under the assumption that she would get sold into prostitution, but was instead whisked away to a Salvation Army home in France. The corresponding story written by Stead caused so much hysteria in England that the UK Parliament was forced to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16, as they understood that opposition to the bill meant denying that child prostitution existed, but it was also condoning it.
In the 1890s, William Booth saw that many poor people were developing the fatal disease, “Phossy Jaw”, due to their working in factories producing matches with Yellow Phosphorus. Booth sought to show that matches could be produced safely and at a profit using Red Phosphorus, a process that had been invented back in 1855 by Swedish Chemists. Through providing the workers decent living wages, and campaigning to get grocers and shopkeepers to stock only safety matches, they were able to close their factory in 1901, having forced other factories to improve their working conditions and wages, and use red phosphorus exclusively.
Even today, The Salvation Army is fighting hard for justice in our world, taking a lead with Stop the Traffik, an international campaign to end human trafficking, and also playing a large part in the Fair Trade movement, with many corps moving exclusively to Fair Trade tea and coffee, and the Salvos in PNG producing a coffee that follows fair trade principles of a fair price for the farmers who produce the coffee beans.
We must fight for justice.
In the same way, we as a church, as well as ourselves individually, must fight for justice. Through our Doorways program, we are fighting to stop generational poverty. No longer is giving food enough, but instead we must be looking for ways to help get families out of the poverty cycle. Through our Doorways2Parenting, we are giving skills to parents that will help them to be better parents, which in turn models those parenting skills to their children.
There are many issues of injustice that we can fight for today. Slavery still exists in this world – not just in poor, third world countries, but here in Australia as well. Sexual Slavery is one of the highest forms of slavery in our modern world, and women from all over the world are trafficked and forced to take part in prostitution, pornorgraphy, and other degrading activities. The Stop The Traffik campaign aims to highlight the issue of slavery and human trafficking, with the aim of one day stopping this vile practice.
A lot of our food and clothing is produced in third world countries, where many workers are exploited, and not paid a decent living wage. There are a variety of different certification systems around, such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ certification, that enable us to be sure that the products we are buying have been ethically produced, and the source producers have received a decent wage for their product. Certified Tea, Coffee, and chocolate is becoming more and more widespread – for example, the coffee at McDonald’s is Rainforest Alliance certified, and Nestlé have announced that they are on track to have 100% of their chocolate products being Fair Trade certified by the end of 2015.
Domestic Violence is a major issue in our society, and one that we must stand up to wherever we see it. While most people think of it in terms of Physical Violence, it can occur in many different forms, be it physical, financial, emotional, psychological, or spiritual abuse. Whenever we see something happening, we have to stand up and say, “No, that’s not how we do it here.” We can support initiatives such as White Ribbon Day, which aims to stop violence against women – which is the predominant form of domestic violence – by encouraging men to swear to never commit violence against women, or to stay silent when they witness violence.
Homelessness is still a major issue in our society, with governments seeming to not want to act on the issue. There are many differing programs around, but one of the best things that we can do is to write to our politicians, at a National, State and Local level, and ask them to take this issue seriously. Governments in the US are beginning to realise that by providing houses for the homeless, they can actually reduce the cost of healthcare and other service costs more than what it costs to house them. The sooner our government realises this, and begins to provide affordable accommodation for the homeless, the sooner we will be able to see a noticeable change in our society.
The Australian Government is continuing to push it’s harsh line of border protection, but at the same time trampling on long standing agreements contained within the United Nations Refugee Convetion, as well as Human Rights conventions, and our duty of care for children. There are lots of organisations that are trying to work with the government to present a fairer solution, such as Amnesty International – which you’ve got some of their materials in your sermon notes today – the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, and many more, and we can support their campaigns, as well as writing to politicians, and other actions to encourage our politicians to show the love of the stranger that our faith encourages, and the fair go culture that we believe Australian culture has always had.
At the beginning of my sermon, you heard the words of the founder, in his famous “I’ll Fight” speech, and some modern day responses. As Salvationists, we are called to fight for this world, and whether you identify as a Salvationists or just as a Christian – or even just as a human being – I think we are all called to fight for change in our world. Mahatma Gandhi once said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Or, as it is often simplified to, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We have the opportunity – not only as a church, but as individuals as well, to fight for change, to fight for the Transformation of our society. So what will you fight for?
While women weep, as they do now, will you fight?
While little children go hungry, as they do now, will you fight?
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, will you fight?
WHile there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, will you fight?
While there are people seeking asylum, who are forced to live in harsh conditions, will you fight?
While there are farmers producing food for major corporations with massive profits, but don’t have money to feed their own family, will you fight?
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, will you fight?
Will you fight? Will you fight to the very end?
Our God, Our God,
we have hit a low point in our nation.
In our fear, we have put people in situations
where they have faced the very thing they were fleeing.
In our fear, we have caused people to be hurt, we have caused people to die
and blamed it on the very people who were hurt.
In our fear, we will try to explain it away,
they came here the wrong way, they shouldn’t have protested
they brought it on themselves.
Lord God, shine a light on our misdeeds.
Help us to see that our actions born out of fear
feed only that fear, and do not offer the protection that only you can give.
Father God, protect those who are in need of protection.
Heal their injuries, and keep them safe from further attacks.
Loving God, accept us with all our frailties,
the mistakes that we have made
the mistreatment that we have endorsed
and the times when we stayed silent when we should have had a voice
to speak for those who had no voice.
Blessed are you, O God, who accepts us all
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost
Who is above all, in all, and through all things. Amen.
This prayer of lament was written by Ben Clapton, Salvation Army Officer, musician and activist, in response to the reports of violence at Manus Island. I release this to be used in any manner, as long as the entire text remains in one unit, and a reference to this post is included.
I’ve been feeling a lot of hurt over the reports coming out from Manus Island. Last year, at this time, I was over on Manus Island. While it is my understanding that the families are no longer on the Island, I believe that many of the men that I met are still there. I don’t know if they’re ok, or whether they’re part of those who have been injured – and I’ll probably never know. It pains me that our government put these people here, and have not done enough to fully protect them, in the name of protecting us. I know that I am, at times, guilty of not speaking up, feeling tired and not knowing whether my voice really adds anything. This fight has gone on for far too long. My prayer is that this tragic event, which I wish had never happened, might draw us as a nation into focus, and realise that our actions and the path we headed down was wrong, and that we would repent of our actions as a nation, and set up a process to assess the claims of asylum in a timely and humane manner.
Dear Mr Abbott,
Firstly, congratulations on being elected our latest national leader. You ran a very professional campaign, and defeated an opposition who was trying hard not to implode, whilst trying to destroy themselves at the same time.
So you are now the elected official to lead our country into the next three years. And while I didn’t personally vote for you, and I don’t agree with many of your policies, I thought that I would share some advice from myself, of things I would like to see as the hallmarks of your time as prime minister. Continue reading An open letter to our new Prime Minister
A couple of nights ago, I attended an event that looked at the issue of asylum seekers, and where to now. The event was very well attended – they were expecting about 30 people, but instead had about 100.
One of the big things I took out of this was an understanding of the two main issues in asylum seeker policy – that of fairness, and of standards.
Continue reading What now for asylum seekers?
In the little sung second verse of the Australian National Anthem, we find the words, For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. However, despite this being part of our national anthem, part of the words that we claim to aspire towards, there is significant evidence that as a nation we are not willing to share the boundless plains that we have. Thankfully, there are also significant programs that are helping to share what we have with those that are new to our nation. Today we’re looking at some of the issues that Asylum Seekers and Refugees face in the area of Language.
Language is a major issue that affects how refugees and asylum seekers are able to integrate into a community. One journal article wrote that “English language proficiency has a direct and obvious impact on the ability of women to settle in Australia and on the length of time that process takes.” The authors of this article found that the majority of participants in a study attributed many of their problems as arising due to their language difficulties. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship does fund an Adult Migrant English Program, providing 510 hours of ESL tuition within the first five years of arrival. However, many have found that these programs are filled with cultural problems, such as mixed classes which make it uncomfortable for those who have come from countries where segregation was the norm.
Another difficulty is that the children often pick up English quicker than the parents. This forms more difficulties between children and parents, where the children know words in English, but are unable to explain it to their parents. This puts further strain on their parents, as they are unable to fully communicate with their children.
As indicated in the last post, the Australian Government’s new “no benefit” policy allows for asylum seekers to be placed in community detention, but they are unable to take part in employment, volunteer work, or to take part in ESL classes. As stated above, this means that those in this situation are unlikely to integrate into the community at any stage. It is a very disturbing policy, that makes the life for those in this situation very difficult.
There’s lots of talk at the moment about Asylum Seekers, as both political parties released policies to “stop the boats” of asylum seekers, and how they are treated. Both of the policies include mandatory detention, locking up asylum seekers while their claims are processed.
While I can understand why this is necessary to ensure security, the method in which this is done has drawn criticism. Currently, refugees are sent to Christmas Island, to be held in a detention centre which is, in all senses of the word, a high security prison. The asylum seekers are kept here until their claim is approved, in which they get moved to the main land, or declined, in which case they are deported back to their homeland.
Where this plan is currently failing is that asylum seekers can be held in detention for months on end, in a high security prison, on an island where there is no fresh food available, with no guarantee upon when they will know whether they will get out of the centre – either into Australia or back home. Without that guarantee, they run into mental breakdowns, mental scarring that will affect the rest of their lives.
The craziest aspect of all of this is that the politicians believe this policy change will deter asylum seekers from coming to Australia via boat. However, our policy changes make absolutely no difference on what asylum seekers think, mainly because the news doesn’t get through to them, and conditions in their home country are so bad that anything – even detention in a high security prison are much more preferable.
The solution to this situation is to remove the politics from this issue, for the two major parties to sit down and develop a humane policy for asylum seekers that will treat them like human beings, while still being secure about who enters Australia.
The way I think this will look like is establishing a deadline by which a decision must be made on the status of an asylum seeker. While I would prefer that to be along the lines of 3 months, more likely it will be 6 months. If there are too many claims to be processed, then more workers should be employed to process these claims in the time required. Setting this time period will give asylum seekers the knowledge of when their claim will be processed by, and also ensure that detention centers do not get overcrowded.
Remove the politics. Insert humanity.
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