Direct action and the power of prayer

rev alex sangster



Throughout that past two months I have taken part in two acts of non-violent direct action that involved prayer.

In July, I was one of eight representatives of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) network that staged a sit-in prayer vigil occupying the entrance area of the office of Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg.

This protest secured a meeting with the minister to express our opposition to the Adani coal mine in Queensland.

In August, I was one of six Love Makes A Way refugee advocate group members who were forcibly removed from federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s Melbourne office. We spent four hours inside as part of a prayer protest against offshore detention of asylum seekers.

For me such actions are in keeping with the heart of our faith as Christians. Many Christians would say that heart is incarnation.

Spirit becomes flesh in Jesus and in us. In our hands, hearts and bodies God is at work in us. Using our bodies in acts of prophetic witness is a work, that as a Christian minister, I feel completely called to do.

This calling is perhaps best embodied by the ministry of Martin Luther King Jr. 

In the words of fellow Christian activist Justin Whelan: “King’s speeches and sermons are well known, but as time passes his role as a dangerous radical activist who was arrested time and time again is at risk of being sidelined.”

“But King’s words would have meant little if they were not written from a jail cell, or spoken at the head of a protest march or preached the day before he was assassinated.

“It was his actions (and those of tens of thousands of others) on the frontlines of protest, facing down water cannons and police dogs, that dramatised the injustices and forced change.

“Moreover, it was the disciplined nonviolent nature of this protest that spoke powerfully of an alternative vision in a way that violence could not.”

In Australia, right now, we are locking people up and keeping them on tiny islands for years.

Mothers and children, brothers and sons.

So we are praying about and protesting the inhumane asylum seeker policies of our government.

And we get told to go back to our churches and we are mocked.

There are lots of responses from the media. One of my favourite comes from the Huffington Post author who dryly wrote: “Well they should have been arrested for their actions. They should have been arrested for thinking that prayer was going to do anything at all.”

American theologian Marcus Borg once said that prayer is simply addressing God and paying attention to God.

It’s about reminding us of the reality and presence of God in this moment. It’s about connecting into something so much bigger than our own tiny selves. It’s about connecting in with each other and with the holy

So you don’t need to believe that God intervenes to answer prayer (in the bolt-from-the-blue stopping-the-bushfire kind of way) to still think that prayer can have powerful effects.

It has the effect of calling to account, the effect of speaking truth to power, the effect of waking us all up.

Layli Long Solider, is a Native American Lakoata woman and poet who has been protesting against the construction of Dakota Access Pipeline formining on Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Dakota in the United States.

Ms Long Solider writes of her friends in Standing Rock and how they have insisted on prayer as being the primary tool for resistance.

Prayer was central to everything they did, it was an energy, and a force.

In the words of another Lakota woman White Bull:“The highest weapon of them all is prayer.”

I, too, am an activist, who believes prayer has power.

I also believe that Jesus was a radical subversive who used everything he had, apart from violence, to try to change the world.

Across the globe, there is a growing awareness that one of the most effective way to fight injustice is through non-violent direct action.

I believe that engaging in such action is the call of Christians to make Jesus incarnate in the world.

Do you think Christians are called to non-violent direct action as well as prayer to fight injustice?

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