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Can love make a way to justice?

Brigidine Sister Jane Keogh  |  01 June 2016

The Love Makes A Way movement has seen Christians across the country take part in sit-in protests in the offices of politicians from both major political parties. Their objective is to bring to an end to the offshore detention of people who seek asylum in Australia. The protesters risk arrest and imprisonment to be heard. We asked Brigidine Sister Jane Keogh to share what it was like to be one of them.

'Sunny’s poem'

Can love make a way to justice?

This is not the life we deserve

Torture and death for us

Distress and tears become our daily work now

Because we see nothing but a face of tears

Young and old are a shadow of life

Still Australia government gives us more stress and anxiety

It is your humanity…

 - Sunny, an asylum seeker detained for three years on Manus Island

Sunny’s poem (featured above) highlights two issues, the ongoing suffering of our asylum seekers and the question of Australia’s humanity. These two issues are a serious cause for concern for anyone who takes the Christian Gospel message seriously.

Last year, as I was frustrated about how to make a difference to the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, I came across the Love Makes A Way (LMAW) movement. Someone sent me an email to say a group of Christian leaders was planning to sit in a politician’s office and pray for change in refugee policy. To say I was sceptical would be an understatement, but I was desperate. I joined about 20 others, many quite young – Baptist, Anglican, Uniting, Quaker – for a weekend workshop led by a young pastor, Jarrod McKenna from Perth.

What I found was an uncompromising commitment to the Gospel message of love. This love was to be given not only to the asylum seekers but also to the politicians, those I held responsible for their suffering.

At the workshop we learned of the historical roots of the LMAW movement in the nonviolent resistance of Mahatma Gandhi and of Martin Luther King Jr. We watched film cuttings from sit-ins of the freedom movement in the US and devised our own local action. It would involve trespass and possible arrest. 

We planned how we would act, what we would say, how we would sit so as not to be threatening, how we would care for police and office workers, how we would react if arrested. We took legal advice, role played scenarios. We would be firm and uncompromising in our demands and respectful to all. We hoped for what Martin Luther King Jr called a ‘double victory’, a change in policy and a winning over of others to our message.

My own introduction to LMAW was a conversion experience for me, a pivotal moment in my spiritual journey. I asked myself, ‘Do I really believe in the message of Jesus? What am I prepared to give up for what I believe?’

Pope Francis recently reminded us that to make any change to the ‘sea of indifference’ afflicting today’s world we must first change our own hearts. My recommitment to the heart of Jesus’ message felt like a homecoming.

To the present day there have been over 30 LMAW actions and almost 180 arrests. The decision to break the law is not taken without weighing the consequences. You risk jail, losing friends, making a fool of yourself, fines, and a criminal record with consequences for employment and travel. And it may make no difference at all. 

So why do it?

We do it to bring attention to the situation. In Australia, few people have met asylum seekers. The government has demonised them, hidden them away and made it illegal for anyone who works with them to reveal their situation. It is hard for many to see them as people just like us who need our help. 

Others feel powerless and cannot cope so they ignore what’s happening. When a group breaks the law this creates an uncomfortable tension, highlights the situation and forces people to confront the issue.

Many churches are also creating this tension within the local communities by offering sanctuary to asylum seekers facing removal to offshore detention. Again, these actions have been made at real personal cost.

I have been involved in three LMAW actions, been arrested twice, forcibly removed from Parliament House, travelled in a paddy wagon, and been interviewed and filmed at the police station. Standing up against authority doesn’t come easily to me and I was quite stressed each time, once ending up in casualty in hospital with irregular heart rate. 

As others who protest against current refugee policies realise, any suffering to us is miniscule compared to the suffering of our asylum seekers. Many of us would gladly spend a long time in jail to make a difference.

Like Martin Luther King Jr, I have a dream. I see all the church communities in Australia rising up with one voice and saying, ‘It is wrong to put innocent men, women and children in prison indefinitely to teach others a lesson. It is wrong to turn our backs on people fleeing persecution.’

I have a dream that LMAW and the sanctuary movement will convert Australian Christians to Christianity, that our asylum seekers will be freed and that Australia’s humanity will be restored. That love will indeed make a way.

View the reflection questions and activities for 'Can love make a way to justice?' here


Topic tags: refugees, heroesandrolemodels, volunteeringandtakingaction, buildingpeace

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