Letter to Mr Damian Drum, Federal Member for Murray

To Mr Drum,

I am writing to you this evening regarding Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement today that any Asylum Seeker who arrived by boat after mid-2013 would be permanently banned from entering Australia (As reported by ABC News).
I am horrified by this announcement. There are so many things wrong with this it makes it difficult to start.

Continue reading “Letter to Mr Damian Drum, Federal Member for Murray”

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Prayer for Asylum Seekers

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”

E-mail to Brett Whiteley, MP re Humanitarian Intake

Hi Brett,
I write to you in regards to your suggestion to quarantine the increase of humanitarian refugees to Christians (and other persecuted minorities) from Syria and Iraq. While I do commend the increasing of the humanitarian intake, and do recommend that you continue to fight for this, I must question the limiting of it to Christians.
As a former Pastor, I am sure you are aware of Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. It has much to tell us about being hospitable, and being neighbourly. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new in how the Jews and the Samaritans weren’t exactly on the best of terms. You might even suggest that the customs around being separate could breed the fear of the different and unknown that is similarly striking around Australia at the moment. So it is striking that it was the Samaritan, not the Priest or Levite, who helped the Jew who had been attacked by bandits. And in Luke 10:37, in response to Jesus’ question of who acted like a neighbour, even the Lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say that it was the Samaritan, instead saying “The one who showed him mercy.”
This is what being a neighbour is about. This is what being a Christian is about. Even though the Samaritan may not had the same religion as the Jew, or agreed about the same things, when he was in trouble, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was helping those who were not able to help themselves.
So with your announcement, you are suggesting that we protect our own, and not look after those who are different. You are effectively saying that as a nation, we should discriminate based on religion – that those who might be Muslim and fleeing persecution, fleeing a war zone, are less deserving of our protection than a Christian. And that goes right against what Christ taught. Christ teaches us that we are to love all, no matter of their ethnicity or religious identification.
So Brett, I ask you to keep fighting, and being Christ’s light in the parliament. But remember that Christ taught us to love all people, and it doesn’t matter who they are, what they’ve done, where they’ve come from, why they’ve come, or anything else. We are to show love to them, to be hospitable to them, and to be neighbourly to them.
With thanks,
Ben
This e-mail was sent to Brett Whiteley’s office on 7 September, 2015. He must have been waiting for responses, as this came back very quickly:

Thanks Ben for your response.

I hear your concerns and encouragement to consider widening the net so to speak.

As I have said previously the role of an MP is often one of balancing all aspects of the debate.

If we want to carry the community with us on an increased humanitarian intake we need to hear their thoughts and concerns as well.

Over the last few weeks I have held numerous community meetings. It is clear that there is not community support for a blanket intake.

I welcome your input.

Regards

Brett

Happy New Year?

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.

Prince of Peace

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Prince of Peace, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 21 December, 2014, for our Christmas with the Salvos Carols service. The Reading was Isaiah 9:2-7

I chose the passage for today a few weeks ago. The theme for this Sunday was chosen a few weeks earlier than that. And as I sat down on Tuesday morning, in a coffee shop just down the road, only 24 hours after a siege in another coffee shop in Sydney had started, which ended up costing three people their lives, and changed the lives of countless more, I had to wonder how I could possibly preach on peace, when our peaceful existence has been so shockingly changed.

We live in a world characterised by it’s non-peacefulness

The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world that is characterised by it’s non-peacefulness. Wikipedia currently lists 13 Wars and conflicts currently happening around the world. So far, in 2014, that has resulted in at least 113,804 deaths. Over 100,000 deaths in this year alone. That is almost as many as the average number of deaths per year during the Vietnam War. If you add in those classed as minor skirmishes and conflicts, you have 44 Wars, Conflicts and skirmishes, with pushes it up over 118 thousand deaths in this year alone. Some of this conflicts have been going on since 1948 – the cumulative fatalities caused by these active skirmishes tops 6.5 million. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that in 2013, we had 51.2 million forcibly discplaced people. This is the highest on record. During 2013, conflict and persecution forced an average of 32,200 individuals per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – up from 23,400 in 2012 and 14,200 in 2011.

But it’s not just armed conflicts that we have to worry about. Life seems to get busier and busier. That business leads to stress, which means that we can’t perform at our best, and can lead to mental and physical health problems. Elsewhere in our society, people are dealing with poverty, drugs, violence, domestic violence and more. All of these things chip away at that ideal, peacefilled existence. Continue reading “Prince of Peace”

Reforming Society (Vision and Mission Part 5)

This is part five and the final part in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 4:14-30.

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?

Lament for Manus

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.

What now for asylum seekers?

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?”

Who is my neighbour?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...
The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Luke 10, we find the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”, where an expert in the law comes to Jesus and asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking him what is written in the law, to which the expert answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” These two laws are also found in Matthew 22 and Mark 12 in the context of the Two Great Commandments. There’s a general rule in biblical literature. If it’s said once, it’s important. If it’s said twice, it’s really important. If it’s said three times, you better listen, because this is so very important. EG: Holy is the Lord – important. Holy of Holies – really important. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty – so very important. We’ve got these two great commandments repeated in three of the Gospels – there’s something rather important about what is said here.

The expert goes on to ask a really good question: “Who is my neighbour?” which Jesus then launches into this parable.

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Luke 10:30-35 (NIV – Bible Gateway)

As with many bible stories, the modern listener loses a lot of the intricacies that are involved here. It seems like a rather nice story, but instead, it would have provoked his audience, it would have shocked them. Continue reading “Who is my neighbour?”