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What action should Christians take?

Fri 15 August 2014

What action should Christians take?

Earlier this week a group of Christian leaders from various denominations – including several friends of mine – sat down and conducted a prayer vigil in the office of the Treasurer Joe Hockey. Similar vigils have been held over a number of months including one in the office of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in which I participated.

Most choose to stay until escorted by police from the premises. Very few charges have been laid. In Adelaide this week the magistrate not only dismissed the charges of an earlier sit in but remarked ‘anything I can say seems trite after hearing what you’ve had to say. You are a credit to your faith and an inspiration. I’ve no hesitation about letting you go without conviction or penalty’.

Adelaide protesters

Nearly 1000 children remain in detention centres in Australia or off shore processing centres. It is just one of many despairing issues in our world which are overwhelming in their complexity.

Most of us pray, some of us write letters, while others still attend rallies. A growing number of Christians – lay and ordained – are choosing a path of direct action such as the prayer vigils. Another friend and ministry colleague was recently arrested while being chained to a cross in a blockade outside Maules Creek in northern NSW trying to save Leard State forest.

This kind of direct action is usually called ‘civil disobedience’ where Christians decide that, in order to be obedient to God, laws may be broken. Theologians and interpreters wrestle with the implication of Jesus’ words in Mark 12:17 ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’ and Paul’s words in Romans 13 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established”.

I find it curious that less attention is given to Jesus’ own action which led him to be crucified on a Roman cross between two criminals.

Perhaps theologians have been more concerned to preserve Jesus perfect obedience to the Father, or his innocence, that his penalty for civil disobedience has been overlooked.

Of course the Roman Imperialism of the first century is very different from a 21st century democracy. Numerous Christian witnesses became martyrs during the early centuries by refusing the demands of governors and rulers. Great theologians, from the Apostle Paul to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spent significant time in prison. It is the expected outcome when Christian convictions are in opposition to public opinion, government policy and the law of the land.

Slowly the Church is re-awakening to the counter-cultural reality of Christian convictions. Jesus expected no less when he called his followers to ‘take up a cross’. As Bonhoeffer prophetically declared  ‘when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die’. 

The twenty first century will see the continued marginalisation of the Christian church in public life in the West. It is hardly surprising then that more Christians find obedience to God at odds with public opinion, government policy or obeying the law. This morning the Treasurer Joe Hockey remarked that ‘evil always has its way when good people do nothing’. I agree with Mr Hockey. Some Christians enjoy getting in evil’s way because they believe that ‘Love Makes A Way’.

The morning we assembled for the prayer vigil in Tony Abbott's office I was struck immediately by the age (mostly in their twenties) and gender (more women than men) of the gathering. The media has tended to focus on middle-aged-blokes wearing collars. The deeper reality is that a new generation of disciples are willing to take action based on their Christian conviction. Maybe these young activists are the answer to our prayers? Maybe these young activists also need our wisdom and support?



By Geoff Broughton

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