A problem of the heart
There are times when the Uniting Church’s commitment to being a witness to the inclusive love of Jesus Christ, and standing with the weak, vulnerable and marginalised, takes us into unfamiliar and confronting territory.
Such was my experience when the Love Makes A Way group recently invited me to participate in a prayer vigil in the Manly electoral office of the Prime Minister. A simultaneous event took place in the office of the Leader of the Opposition in Melbourne, which involved ex-President Alistair Macrae. The purpose of this action was to seek a change of heart in our national leadership regarding the 1,023 children in Australian-run immigration detention centres.
The Prime Minister did respond from Brisbane, but only to reassert his determination to solve the problem by “Stopping the Boats.’ This did not address the peril of children currently in detention facilities, which former Australian of the year Prof. Patrick McGorry describes as “factories of mental illness”.
The Group, consisting of leaders from the Uniting, Catholic, Anglican, Metropolitan Community Church and Baptists Churches, refused police instructions to leave and kept praying. We were ultimately arrested for “Breach of the Peace”, then released without charge. The Melbourne group were arrested and charged with “trespass”.
The Uniting Church wrote to the Minister for Immigration offering to take and properly care for thirty children about to be moved from Christmas Island to Nauru. The Baptist Church offered to host the group of asylum seekers being moved from Villawood to West Australia; all to no avail.
Catholic Bishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge says: “What is puzzling and indeed troubling in all of this is that you have politicians who are not themselves cruel people… presiding over a policy which has to be named cruel. And this can only happen if those who are seeking refuge on our shores are dehumanised. And that’s the heart of the problem”.
Or a problem of the heart perhaps? What really perplexes me is that about 60% of Australians agree with Government policy or want even tougher measures. Perhaps, through the successful perpetration of these three myths, the dehumanisation has been effective.
Myth #1: Asylum seekers are ‘illegal immigrants’ (or just ‘illegals’)
Myth #2: Asylum seekers are ‘queue-jumpers’
Myth #3: Asylum seekers receive favourable social security treatment.
Ironically, the truth is there for all to see on the 2013 Parliament of Australia website: “Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts”. For example:
“There is no offence under Australian law that criminalises the act of arriving in Australia or the seeking of asylum without a valid visa”.
“The UNHCR emphasises that a person with a well-founded fear of persecution should be viewed as a refugee and not labelled an ‘illegal immigrant’”.
“The concept of an orderly queue does not accord with the reality of the asylum process.”
“There is no truth to claims that refugees are entitled to higher benefits than other social security recipients”.
On the contrary, many asylum seekers are living in abject poverty, being denied the right to work. I am proud to be part of a group of Christians, from Catholics to Hillsong, who are saying “no” to our bi-partisan cruel and inhuman treatment of highly vulnerable people, and “yes” to Jesus heart for the “little ones”.
Moderator, Rev. Dr Brian Brown
You can follow the Moderator on Twitter @BrianBrownUCA