Being Christian in the light of the News

Or

Responding to the news in the light of being Christian.

From David Reeve.

On Sunday 4th November 2012, the worship leader read a statement issued by Uniting Justice at Hobart North Uniting Church: “Labor should be Ashamed of Push to Change Migration Zone”. Its strong terms included words like “shameful abdication of moral responsibility”, “race to the bottom”, and “appalling”.

Members of the congregation sat up and listened. Some objected to this instance of “politics from the pulpit”. Others nodded and grunted approval. People chatted afterwards, and it was decided to convene a short-term discussion group to explore further this and related issues.

For several weeks a notice in Connecting Communities, the joint weekly newsletter of the Hobart Central Uniting churches, had canvassed interest from people keen to explore issues that confront us in the news in the light of the Christian gospel. This was one opportunity to take this further, and was advertised to the three Central Hobart congregations. As a result, a small group of 8-12 people met on three Thursday evenings.

We had a number of resources to inform us, including statements and information from the Uniting Justice website, articles from other sites that provided biblical background, statistics etc. We also obtained copies of the new Uniting Justice resource: Justice for Asylum Seekers – a Call to Prayer. That was good value.

 On the first evening, after introductions we identified our questions and concerns – about the refugee situation in general, about the Australian government response and about the Uniting Church response. Some of them were

  • Compassion and concern for refugees worldwide, often brought into focus through on-the ground experience in welcoming and working with humanitarian entrants in Hobart.
  • Concern and anger that the number of refugees accepted offshore by Australia is reduced by the number who are accepted onshore, including arrivals by boat.
  • Confusion about government policy and its changes, and frustration at the complexity of the issues.

We reminded ourselves of some of the principles that inform our response – the welcome to strangers that echoes throughout the scriptures and its centrality in the mission of God. We found Andrew Dutney’s article in response to the Houston Panel Report in August this year, and printed in the centre of Justice for Asylum Seekers, helpful and challenging.

We set ourselves homework: To find our more over the next fortnight and bring our findings back to the group.

Before we met again the government had announced its plan to house many more asylum seekers in detention centres around the Australian mainland in addition to Christmas and Manus Islands and Nauru – including the re-opening of the Centre at Pontville, near Hobart. And Tony Abbott had foreshadowed a reduction of the intake of refugees back to previous levels if the Coalition wins government. Our levels of frustration increased and our discussion seemed to go round in circles. As we agreed to think and pray some more and come back together in a week, we found some of the worship and prayer resources in Justice for Asylum Seekers helpful.

In the last of our three discussions we acknowledged that this is a complex aspect of public life and one that will continue to challenge us as followers of Jesus.

  • We commend the work of Uniting Justice in continuing to bring these issues before members of Uniting congregations. If these increase awareness, provoke different reactions and bring to the surface differing positions for discussion in congregations this is good.
  • We support the practice of bringing Christian perspectives into the public sphere when carefully and prayerfully considered and where it is perceived that statements will contribute helpfully to debate;
  • We will continue to engage in study, debate and discussion of issues related to asylum seekers;
  • We will seek to practise this engagement in a variety of ways, such as
    • Contact with political leaders, personally, through letter writing etc;
    • Joining with other groups engaged with asylum seekers or lobbying on their behalf;
    • Practical support for asylum seekers placed in the community or in the Pontville Detention Centre.
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