The slow easy slide into brutality

I went on a political demonstration today. Well, it was called a vigil, and it was quiet, peaceful and non-confrontational, but it was a protest. It was expressing concern about Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers, specifically several hundred man on an island in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s northern neighbour.

Realistically, there is very little prospect, right now anyway, that our government will make a major change to its refugee policy, but we have to try. Down the track, change must surely come.

Because Australia has slipped ever so easily into a casual brutality in its treatment of desperate people, and one day we must surely be shamed into recognising how low we have sunk.

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Colonialism, war and selective memory

Photo: Slaves Waiting to be sold in Richmond, Virginia, painted in 1861 from an 1853 sketch. Wikipedia.

The world has changed enormously in my lifetime.

One thing that I never knew as a child but which seems to characterise the present age, is international terrorism. Terrorism, via car bomb, motor vehicle driven into crowds, gun or knife seems to be almost a daily event somewhere in the world.

The attacks are rightly condemned. Sometimes they target police or military, or some other target against whom the terrorists have a particular grievance. But so often the victims are random, ordinary citizens who may not even support the government actions the terrorists may be protesting. And the fact that too often these are “innocent victims” makes the condemnation stronger and more powerful.

As a christian who takes Jesus’ teachings seriously, I have difficulty justifying any killing of fellow human beings. But I fear we have selective memory about terrorism and innocent victims.

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The Death Penalty on Trial

Guest post by Shane Claiborne (taken from his Facebook page – see note below)

claiborne

Last month, I was arrested, along with 17 other people, as we held a banner on the steps of the Supreme Court that said: “STOP EXECUTIONS.”

We were not blocking doors or disturbing the peace. We were not unruly or disruptive. We were respectful, prayerful, nonviolent. We sang freedom songs. We carried roses in remembrance of those who have been murdered and those who have been executed. It was a solemn, holy procession. We tolled a bell 40 times signifying the forty years of executions in this modern era, and we held 40 posters with the names of the 1443 people killed by our government.

“Parading and Assemblage” – that’s the official charge, an obscure one that until now I didn’t even know existed. I remember hearing someone joke: “I guess The First Amendment ends on the steps of the Supreme Court.”

So that’s our crime: we held a banner outside the Supreme Court… at the very moment the state of Virginia was preparing to kill yet another person, Ricky Gray, execution #1444 since 1977.

We were shackled with chains on our hands, waist, and feet, and held in jail for over 30 hours. While we were in the DC jail, the same government that imprisoned us for holding a banner executed Ricky Gray. It does raise the question of what is right and what is wrong, doesn’t it?

When I got home from jail, I told some of our kids back in Philadelphia: “You can go to jail for doing something wrong. You can also go to jail for doing something right. We went to jail for doing something right. And lots of folks throughout history have gone to jail for doing something right.”

Dr. King once said that initially he was troubled about going to jail, but then he looked at history and found that he was in good company.

This past week the 18 of us had our first appearance in court.

I am proud to stand next to the people I went to jail with, these holy troublemakers who are now my co-defendants. The group includes clergy and faith leaders, an exoneree who was wrongfully-convicted and sentenced to death, and families of both the murdered and of the executed.

Twelve of the 18 of us made a decision to take our case to trial, rather than accepting a plea bargain offered by the government. If found guilty, we could face jail time, fines, and community service… all of which pale in comparison to the twenty years my co-defendant Derrick Jamison spent on death row, staring down 6 execution dates, watching over 50 of his peers killed by the state… before he proved his innocence, and was released with no apology or compensation.

That’s why we went to jail — to expose the system of death. Our prayer is for an end to all killing, both legal and illegal. Our message is that violence is the disease, not the cure. It is time to stop trying to kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong.

We know that we are on the right side of history, and that our grandchildren will look back at the death penalty 50 years from now the same way we look back at slavery — with shame, bewilderment, and remorse.

Someone asked if I had any regrets. I said: “Only one… that I didn’t do this sooner.” I am proud of what we did. Not only would I do it again, but I will do it again. We will not stop protesting until the government stops killing.

We have a great attorney – one of the best — and we have every intention of defending the legality of what we did. But our hope is to take the focus off of us and put the death penalty on the stand. While I believe we are innocent of any crime… I am convinced that our country’s criminal justice system, and our Supreme Court’s validation of the death penalty, is a crime… and a moral failure.

As fate would have it, or as some of us might contend “by Divine appointment”– our trial is the week of June 28. That means our trial will coincide with one of the most important weeks in history when it comes to the death penalty. June 29 is the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, finding its application to be arbitrary and capricious, halting all executions. Four days later, July 2, is the anniversary of the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, which allowed executions to resume. These four days between these two historic anniversaries invite us all to question whether or not the death penalty has a future in America. During the week of our trial, the annual Fast and Vigil to end the death penalty will happen in front of the Supreme Court. I hope you will join us in DC– June 28-July 2, 2017… as we put the death penalty on trial.

Shane Claiborne is an American christian activist, writer and leader who I admire deeply. This text and photo were taken from Shane’s Facebook post, and he says the photo “is thanks to Supreme Court Police and Federal Marshals, who apparently took some of the best images”.

Red letter christians?

red-letter-christians

We are visiting family in the US right now, and the recent Presidential election is on everyone’s minds here.

Reports are coming in that apparent white supremacists have been attacking, verbally or physically, people who belong to minorities such as blacks, Muslims and Latinos. Right wing christians are expressing relief that Hilary Clinton, who they vehemently oppose because she is seen to be pro-abortion, pro gay marriage, pro political correctness, anti freedom of religion, and dishonest, didn’t get elected.

Meanwhile the people I have moved amongst have the opposite reaction. Shocked by Donald Trump’s victory, critical of his many obvious flaws and failures, concerned for the safety and wellbeing of people from minorities, including women, and feeling let down by the right wing christians overwhelmingly voting for Trump.

The nation is divided, and so is the christian church, though Trump appears to have the majority in each case. How should christians who fear the worst react?

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Are you an extremist?

Man carrying political sign

The dictionary defines an extremist as “a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action.”

Search for photos tagged as “extremist” (as I did for this post) and the majority of the photos are of Americans protesting against their government, especially their President. The one I used is one of the milder and least extreme!

But ask Americans what actions they think are “extremist” and you’ll get some interesting, and perhaps surprising, answers.

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We came, we marched, who cares?

So, about 40,000 of us “marched” (I was more like strolling on a warm afternoon!) in Sydney; many, many more around the world.

The march was loosely organised around colour groups – Australia’s first nations peoples at the start, mostly in black, then a large contingent of Pacific Islanders (who are already feeling the effects) in red, many nations and many faiths in purple, youth and future generations in blue, and so on.

It was good fun, colourful, musical, good spirited. Lots of drummers, many colourful and imaginative costumes, an “ecopella” choir, a lone clarinetist, and many more.

So now we’ll see if the Paris talks become global actions, or not.

Reporting the news?

Most news outlets reported the march in Sydney, in Australia, and the world, fairly and as you’d expect – a few colourful photos, a few quotes from marchers and speakers at the pre-march rally, an estimation of the numbers.

But Sydney’s Telegraph, owned by Rupert Murdoch, was predictable (I actually did predict its response beforehand). It rarely provides genuine news these days, but is very selective about what it publishes, always puts a spin on what it does report (often very nasty in its headlines and digitally distorted photos), and has its favourite people and causes to hate. Climate change is one of its big hates, and columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are carefully selected to present the same misinformation. I predicted it would only mention the march briefly, and it would find a way to spin it to attack one of its favourite targets.

And so it proved. Yesterday there was the smallest possible news item, in a little box down the bottom corner of the page, and all it said was that the deputy leader of the opposition had criticised the Prime Minister at a rally in Sydney (the PM is one of the people the Telegraph are trying to undermine). That’s all.

But today there was a report of anarchists in Paris making a protest which resulted in clashes with the police, so of course this received a large spread because it suited the Telegraph‘s ideological purposes.

It is no wonder there is wavering support for the necessary action, when one of only three newspapers in Sydney gets so much misinformation and so little truth.