As we move from Refugee Week to NAIDOC week, it’s fitting that we listen to Academics Mark Brett and Naomi Wolfe as they explore the roles of guest and host in the Australian context. This piece is an edited excerpt from a NAIITS Conference paper. The full paper will be published in the NAIITS Journal later in the year.
Throughout my life I am continually astounded by grace in the face of cruelty. Surprised by sacrifice in response to malice. One of the clearest examples of this was the Sanctuary movement as part of the #LetThemStay campaign in February and March last year.
267 people seeking asylum were on the verge of being deported back to Manus and Nauru when churches around Australia said they would provide sanctuary. As a church across Australia we said we would stand between them and the Border Force officers coming to deport them. We would not be violent, but we would risk our safety and the doors and hinges of our churches to prevent these people from being sent back to the torturous conditions of Manus and Nauru.
We drew a clear line in the sand and the Australian government dared not step over it. The consequence was 267 refugees and people seeking asylum were allowed to stay in the Australian community while their claims were processed. They were provided income support and housing. And while not a perfect solution it was many times better than them being sent back to Manus or Nauru where people have died and harmed by our detention centres.
As a Christian who came to know Jesus when he was thirteen in 2001 I had never seen such a clear, nationwide, sacrificial and defiant stand against cruelty and injustice in my time.
But 18 months later, it would seem that this same response is needed again.
Just last week Peter Dutton announced that support for these remaining people would begin to be withdrawn, starting with 100 single men and women this week. Their income support is being ceased, and within just three weeks they'll be removed from their accommodation and forced to fend for themselves over the next six months, when they're expected to return to Manus or Nauru.
Up until this point our government has not allowed them to work. Now, in a matter of days our government is placing a huge burden on our neighbours who live in our communities and whose children go to our schools to find a means of supporting themselves with two days notice before their income support was stopped and a week's notice before their housing was taken away from them.
This is a cruel and malicious tactic to force them into returning to Manus or Nauru. The very thing we as a church fought to protect them from 18 months ago.
Yet in stark contrast to this move from the government The Hon. Russell Broadbent MP stood in parliament last week and beautifully testified as a Christian that he could not walk past this “bin that stinks”. That in fighting for the people imprisoned on Manus and Nauru, even being willing as a Christian to tear down this government for them, that there could not be a greater testimony to Christ. They were strong words, they were powerful words from a fellow disciple of Christ who was testifying to God’s great love and concern for all people and who was remembering the people on Manus and Nauru when the government would prefer to treat them without concern and any compassion. For this testimony we are extremely grateful to Russell.
But there are 149 other local members of parliament that also represent us, and we need to make sure they hear that we too will not turn a blind eye, that followers of Christ care deeply about the vulnerable who arrived on our shores seeking hope and safety for their family, and that the withdrawn is cruel, unfair and must be reversed.
I was fortunate to be involved in the Sanctuary campaign last time. For me as a Common Grace member and supporter there is no way I will just let that work be undone so easily. We fought not for their safety for 18 months but for their entire lives. I attended rallies with my brother and sister along with my church family. I wrote letters to ministers and even the Prime Minister. I helped with the campaign however I could and implored my brothers and sisters in Christ to be part of the movement. The response was amazing and I have never been so proud of my church. I thought, this is an amazing picture of the Bride of Christ right here.
It seems the moment is upon us again. May we fulfil the identity we have in Jesus and to follow in His steps as we speak out for the vulnerable, and stand with them in this injustice.
Share this post?
Timothy McCloud is a Common Grace supporter from Sydney, and former intern with our Justice for People Seeking Asylum team. The featured image used on this page is from Canberra Baptist Church when their church participated in the previous #LetThemStay campaign in 2016.