Open Letter to Christians on Austrralian Asylum Seeker Policy

 This letter was published in the Age Newspaper on Wednesday 30th July.

OPEN LETTER TO CHRISTIANS
ON AUSTRALIAN ASYLUM SEEKER POLICY
July 2014

This letter is an open-hearted appeal for a Christian response to people seeking asylum in Australia. It is a call to church leaders and people to inject a new urgency as Asylum Seeker policies plumb new depths. For two reasons: one, Australian politicians, including the Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, and the Prime Minister, declare they are Christian. They make this claim while acting in increasingly brutal ways toward people seeking asylum. The Immigration Minister now declares that his pronouncements define ‘reality’ with regard to boats approaching Australia. He is engaging in a ‘politics of concealment’. And, secondly, for years church leaders, agencies and congregations have provided and continue to provide, pastoral support for refugees, while also protesting the policies imposed on Asylum Seekers. It appears to suit politicians to have the church’s pastoral practical assistance – and even critical pronouncements, which may be readily ignored. Regrettably both major parties appear to share this approach.

Although this letter addresses Christians in Australia, it does not diminish the role played by many Australians of various convictions, who visit detention centres, provide financial and emotional support and legal advocacy, and rally on the streets of Australian cities and towns, as they seek to humanise an increasingly inhumane environment, and declare their welcome for people seeking asylum. Not least are the widespread and insistent voices calling on the Australian Government to honour its legal and human rights obligations.

Have we moved beyond mere pronouncements? Some church leaders apparently think so, and have moved to direct action. They recently occupied political offices in various states. Their protest presses the question whether widespread non-violent civil disobedience is now required. True, that suggestion is at odds with a longstanding church attitude that insists on obedience to civil authorities. There is, however, another robust and longstanding church tradition which insists (following the Swiss Reformer John Calvin) that Christians have a duty to resist unjust rulers and oppose their unjust laws.

During the past century resistance was played out in the civil rights movement in the United States led by church people such as Rev. Dr Martin Luther King. In 1930s Germany, the German Confessing Church leaders published the Barmen Declaration as a means of declaring opposition to the Nazi Government. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was but one of a significant number of German church leaders who believed they must act in the name of a higher authority, namely Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer’s call to costly discipleship recognises that we can remove ourselves from the church.

We are pressed to ask what is required of Christians in the face of cruel asylum seeker policies in Australia? 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?

No doubt such a step will itself be accused of being unchristian! This is not a dispute about mere ‘practical politics’. It concerns basic church teaching and life (doctrine). Faced with South African Apartheid, the church in South Africa called on the world church to assist it in the struggle. The World Council of Churches declared Apartheid to be a heresy and, in the Program to Combat Racism, promoted practical action including economic boycotts by its member churches. There we see a church response that does not stop at making pronouncements but develops its teaching to intervene in situations of injustice. Similarly, some years ago the World Council of Churches was invited to send a working group to investigate and report on Australian treatment of its Indigenous people.

This open letter is calling for urgent and radical action which will break through the political silence practised by the Immigration Minister. It calls on Christians to speak with a common voice with other Australians – and with Christians around the world – to resist the government’s dangerous and brutal policies.

This is not to understate the pressing and necessary work to be done by the Australian government to respond to people who seek to flee to Australia, and the thousands of displaced people in our region. It makes church action all the more urgent. Will that action come from the National Council of Churches in Australia, or from the councils of particular churches in Australia, or from coalitions of various church agencies and movements or, especially, from congregations? Perhaps all of these. Certainly, it will also come ‘from below’. In cities and towns across Australia Christian people will gather together in coalitions of opposition to the present brutalising and concealing policies.

These coalitions will then be a prompt to politicians who claim the name ‘Christian’ and seek to act in opposition to the current Australian government actions. Let the discussion here prompt church action, reaching out to politicians and community leaders who want a different Australia from the politics we are now experiencing. Let us all as brothers and sisters in Christ become accountable to one another. As our brothers and sisters in need call for our help, let us all examine our hearts. We must proceed here with great caution, yet with utmost seriousness, because we know how fragile all Christian witness is, and how prone we are to compromise. With that confession, is it not urgent, now, to declare that those who craft and implement these brutal and hidden asylum policies are removing themselves from the church and Christ’s gospel of grace?

Drafted by the Revd Dr Wes Campbell (Uniting Church Minister retired. Member of Pax Christi)
in consultation with colleagues

Endorsed by signatories

Olivia Ball
Stephen Balwyn
Revd Gordon Bannon
Romina Beitseen
Victorina Beitseen
Alex Bell
Peter H Bennett
Linda Blyth
Revd Robert Bos
Jennifer Bourke
Prof Mark Brett
David Buller
Joseph A Camilleri
Rita Camilleri
Beverley Campbell
Margaret Carter
Revd Ross Carter
Revd David Connolly
Margaret Croxford
Revd Ron Croxford
Newton Daddow
Karyl Davison
Margaret Eldridge
Patricia Fitzgerald
Lorender Freeman
Andrew Gador-Whyte
Revd John Gardiner
Mary Gardiner
James A Gilmour
Helen Gilmour
Revd Kim Groot
John Hart
Fr John Harte SJ
Bruce Henry
Dale Hess
Ros Hewitt
Kathleen M Holgate
Revd Rodney Horsfield
Heather Huberet
Revd Coralie Jenkin
Fr Pancras Jordon
Revd Harry Kerr
Revd Pam Kerr
Geoffrey Lacey
Revd Michele Lees
Rebecca Lim
Revd Prof Mark Lindsay
Alistair Macrae
Enid Mannion
Revd Alan Marr
Derek McDougall
Revd Monica Melanchthon
Revd Paul SG Moore
Anne Morrison
Fr Claude Mostowik msc
Revd Chris Mulherin
Ailsa I Neil
John V Neil
Marie Therese Nilon
Geoffrey Nutting
Solway Nutting
Ellen O’Gallagher
Peace and Social Justice Network of Victoria Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Bev Polzin
Helen Praetz
Revd Randall Prior
Ken Rookes
Jane Rookes
Bart Seaton
Janet Secomb
Revd Greg Shanahan
Anne Shay
Revd Eric H Smith
Greg Smith
Revd John H Smith
St Margarets Uniting Church Mooroolbark Church Council
Caitlin Street
Damian Sweeney
Jill Tabart
Revd Dr Geoff Thompson
John Tomlinson
Majella Tracey
George E. Tripp
Marie Twyford
Revd David U’Ren
Gwenda Watson
Arnie Wierenga
Jon Watson
Fay White

Additional name, (I am happy to add others to the list on this blog)

Jeff Shrowder
Julienne O’MARA

Email: wesncampbell@gmail.com
Tel: 0431 847 278

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3 thoughts on “Open Letter to Christians on Austrralian Asylum Seeker Policy

  1. Yes I’m opposed to our Governments present cruel policy as regard to Asylum Seekers. Moving them offshore to just wither away Is inhuman and senseless in a country like ours. Majority are seeking refuge from war torn and persecuting lands so we lock them up for ever!!! I strongly endorse the open letter by Dr Wes Campbell so please add my name to the list. Ms Julienne O’MARA a fellow Anglican and a follower of Jesus Christ.

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