MEDIA RELEASE – 28 MAY 2013
New Australian Churches Refugees Taskforce ignites rethinking in Parliament House during Budget Week
After years of many small individual, largely ineffective voices, in the refugee ‘debate’, the Australian church is finally working and speaking together as one voice, operating as one body of Christ, and taking Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan seriously.
The newly formed Australian Churches Refugees Taskforce met with Federal politicians in Canberra recently during Budget Week to advocate for a more compassionate response to asylum seekers.
Rev Rod Benson, ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute at Morling College, and Secretary of the Baptist Social Issues Committee is a member of the Taskforce, which formed in April to bring all faith denominations together to advocate as a single voice of faith.
Taskforce Chair, Rev. Elenie Poulos said Federal politicians had welcomed conversation on the Taskforce’s key areas of concern and encouraged further discussions. The Taskforce representatives spoke about such issues as
- the use of our overseas aid budget to fund the increasing costs of detaining asylum seekers in Australia;
- the continued use of the word ‘illegal’ to describe asylum seekers arriving by boat who are, in fact, exercising their international right to seek protection;
- the need to improve care and guardianship arrangements for children and young people in detention, especially those young people known as ‘unaccompanied minors'; and
- the need to shift our national conversation from such catch phrases as ‘stopping the boats’ to one based on the values of compassion, hospitality and generosity.
Rev. Poulos said churches were concerned that our humanity was slowly being eroded by the continuing harsh public conversation and punitive treatment of asylum seekers. She said that Australian church leaders speaking out against these policies were reflecting the growing concern being expressed by their congregational members.
“The Christian tradition of caring for the stranger in need is strong in Australia,” she said.
We know that most people do not willingly choose to leave their homes and their families to make treacherous journeys to a strange land. It’s only desperation which drives them and our response must recognise this.”
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce comprises 16 church leaders from ten denominations and ecumenical bodies, and a supporter network of clergy, service agencies and church members. It will act as a collective voice offering faith-based moral leadership in the national debate and also provide resources for church members and groups so that they too can raise their voices against injustice.
Churchgoers and people of faith can sometimes struggle to know how to respond in the face of the continued vilification of asylum seekers and the misinformation being spread about them,” Rev. Poulos said.
“But what we know as churches is that as we, as individuals, meet with and engage with refugee families through our congregations and our communities, our hearts are opened and we respond with love and without prejudice.
“Refugees have come from desperate situations and like all of us, regardless of our religious belief, they are trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.
“As Christians we are called to open our doors to the oppressed, the marginalised, the weary.
“The Taskforce aims to equip people of faith not only with a better grasp of the Government’s policies and their effects but importantly, with resources for prayer and study that are grounded in our Christian faith.
“We will bring together resources from across our denominations to help ensure that our responses to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees continue to be informed by Biblical wisdom, gospel imperatives, prayer and the exercise of faithful discipleship.”
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce will offer a fresh and united Christian voice to the mainstream media debate and continue to meet with all political parties in the lead up to the Federal election in September 2013.
People interested in being updated on Taskforce prayer points, discussion papers or advocacy campaigns are welcome to register at www.acrt.com.au