Why I got arrested for praying in Tony Abbott’s office

Saturday, May 24, 2014
Christians held a sit-in protest in Tony Abbott’s office on May 19. Photo courtesy: Karl hand

Love Makes A Way is a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and non-violent action. The group organised a sit-in protest in Tony Abbott’s office on May 19, leading to seven arrests. Below, Karl Hand explains why he took part in the protest.

***
 
I have never thought that the Christian religion was a very complicated thing. “Love your neighbour as yourself”, said Jesus in Mark 12:31. The apostle Paul echoes this teaching of Jesus, and adds, “If you do this, you will have done everything that the Bible tells you to do.”
 
So, it’s pretty simple. The hard part is just doing it – because doing it means that you have to love people who are difficult to love: strangers, enemies, the homeless, the poor, the young, and the old, and the sick. It also means you have to love the 1023 refugee children who are being held in detention centres in Australia. 
 
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is also a Christian, but he has a different understanding of the word “love” than I do. In his letter, which his receptionist read to us while we were praying in his office, he said he also cares deeply about children in detention, but believes they have to be kept there for their own good. The only way to get them out of detention, he told us, is to “stop the boats”.
 
Pauline Hanson coined this simple, three word sentence, which imprinted itself on the Australian psyche. It has since demonised many thousands of human beings in the eyes of many. 
 
Loving people is the opposite of demonising them, and the opposite of treating them like political objects. In practice, love means you have to stand beside them while they’re being treated badly, and then you get treated badly too. 

That’s why the four gospels end with a crucifixion: Jesus loved people, and he did it perfectly, which led to him being publicly executed. Real love does not help you win a popularity contest.
 
But I haven’t come close to loving people like Jesus did. And in reality, we weren’t treated badly at all. In fact, I’ve never been so aware of my white, male, middle-class, Christian privilege as I was when the police arrested me like I was a china-doll, and gently escorted me from the building — allowing me to walk out of the door alone so that they wouldn’t get photographed arresting a clergyman.
 
I have friends who are Aboriginal, who are gay, or who are just poor, and who have been brutalised for committing no crime, or for a misdemeanor, or for just being in the wrong place.

During those moments, the police were happy to be filmed. If you search “police brutality” on YouTube, you can spend whole days watching such violence. But this week, my pale skin and a small white square next to my throat protected me from harm like battle armour.
 
The “peaceful” character of these protests cannot be ascribed to some spiritual superiority that we hold as Christian ministers — we were treated with “kid gloves” because the police didn’t want to be seen roughing up a person in a clerical collar.
 
The receptionist at Tony Abbott’s office was pretty clear that we should “go through the normal channels” and book an appointment. In fact, she was absolutely perplexed as to why we felt the need to take the action we did.
 
But if a child you love is being hurt, you don’t “book an appointment”; you do whatever it takes to make them safe, and you do not agree to wait a day or even one hour. I don’t have any children myself. If I did, I cannot imagine “writing a letter” asking for their freedom. I would throw myself at the feet of whoever had the key and beg for their release. I would offer myself in their place.
 
So I, and seven other Christians, decided that Jesus’ teaching demanded we put ourselves at risk to help these children, and we did just that. 

In situations of legalised injustice, the love that Jesus preached and practiced is a criminal offence. We prefer to practice the love of Jesus rather than to obey the law, and that is why we were arrested.

From GLW issue 1010