“We hope Christians will reflect on what it means to follow and worship a refugee God, and to stand in the tradition of a people who were sojourners and strangers in a foreign land,” said Matt Anslow, a Uniting Church member who participated in a prayer vigil protesting the detention of asylum seekers, in the electorate office of Scott Morrison.
On March 21, this group of believers from Uniting, Anglican, Catholic, Hillsong and Anabaptist traditions walked into the office and invited the staff to join them praying for an end to mandatory detention.
While they meant no harm, and would cause no obstruction, they were aware that the staff might call the police, and were willing to peacefully submit to arrest if necessary.
In the next two hours, they lit candles for Reza Berati, a refugee recently murdered in the Manus Island detention centre, and prayed in repentance for Australia’s complicity in human rights violations.
Using words from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ “Faith Leader affirmations”, they said, “A core value of my faith is to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the internally displaced, the other.”
Police initially tried to negotiate with Jarrod McKenna, an Anabaptist peace and refugee activist from Perth. McKenna said: “We were staying to pray until we got an answer about when the 1138 children who are detained indefinitely offshore would be released, but instead of getting an answer we were removed by police for trespassing, so we are still waiting for an answer from the minister.”
According to Anslow, the strategy was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr’s insistence that civil disobedience could “dramatise” issues of injustice. “One of the aims of nonviolent direct action is to confront people with the reality, and ask them to make a decision about where they stand”.
Engaging in prayer during the action “brings to the fore that there are Christians who oppose these policies, and that the church might have something to say that is destabilising to the current order”, he said.
“It is not about dehumanising Morrison, but about critiquing his policies, and presenting an invitation for him to return to the practice of his Christian faith regarding compassion for strangers and outsiders."
Before they were released, the police told McKenna that “you’re the nicest group of crims we’ve ever had here, and you’re welcome back any time.”