Retired Uniting Church minister Rev Dr Wes Campbell has drafted a letter calling on members of the church to actively resist the government’s asylum seeker policies.
“The Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, and the Prime Minister, declare they are Christian,” Dr Campbell writes. “They make this claim while acting in increasingly brutal ways toward people seeking asylum.
“Is it thinkable that churches in Australia might be led to declare that in these policies a line has been crossed? That those who participate in such brutality have removed themselves from the Christian faith?”
The open letter cites Christianity’s long-standing tradition of opposing tyranny, from the Swiss reformer John Calvin, to the resistance of leaders such as Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and the civil rights movement in the United States led by Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr Campbell acknowledges the direct action taken by some in the church who have participated in the ‘Love Makes a Way’ protests. Throughout Australia, members of the Uniting Church have joined with those from other denominations and faiths to stage a series of sit-ins in the electoral offices of prominent politicians. In some cases, the protests against Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers have led to church leaders being removed from the premises by police.
Jill Ruzbacky is a social justice officer with the synod’s Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit. She has worked closely with asylum seekers for more than 15 years, for the past six years as an advocate for the rights of refugees.
While Ms Ruzbacky empathises with those who feel the need to ‘do something’, she hopes that such high profile actions continue to happen in a way that complements the thousands of hours of work undertaken by advocates over many years.
Ms Ruzbacky also hopes that future media attention will be focussed on the issues that are being raised.
“Much has been made in the media of people actually ‘being arrested’, but it is the issues behind these very public actions that we are most concerned about,” Ms Ruzbacky said.
“The actions have to be about speaking out through providing a voice to people who currently have no possibility of speaking for themselves, because that has been taken away.
“I totally understand the sheer frustration about kids being in indefinite detention – and I’m ashamed that my country thinks this is even remotely justifiable.
“But if we have any hope of turning the tide, then I think it is by working together through well-planned and well thought-through campaigns and strategies that complement the work being done in the many different parts of the Church that we each collectively represent.
“The respectful, non-violence actions of Love Makes a Way have been good to see, but we also need to continue to resource people in their local communities to build respectful one-on-one relationships with their local politicians.”
Ms Ruzbacky emphasised the need for a strategic and considered approach that worked to enhance existing relationships between faith and NGO groups and elected representatives.
“It’s not a matter of doing it once and standing back, or solely going into an MP’s office and getting arrested. It’s a matter of finding opportunities to do things again and again and again until the current situation is improved.
“True advocacy for change is not a once-off event, it is an ongoing and long-term commitment and – let’s be honest – realistically it is one that is often filled with bitter disappointment. You do have to commit to spend the time continually re-focussing on what the key outcome you want is, and how best you might achieve that.”