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Activists strike back against the Empire

  • 12 December 2014

Another week, another group of Christians arrested. 53 Christian leaders were arrested or removed from the offices of politicians on Wednesday as part of a nationwide prayer vigil to protest the detention of asylum seeker children.

Their crime: staging a 'pray-in' at a politician's office. Under the banner of Love Makes a Way, this loose coalition of believers from a range of mainstream denominations promises to keep protesting until given a timeline for the release of children from immigration detention. 

Respectable citizens singing hymns while being bundled into divvy vans naturally recalls the civil rights movement. Indeed, Love Makes a Way spokespeople have claimed precedents for their actions in Martin Luther King, Jr, and even the Old Testament prophets.

Protest and prophecy have much in common: both seek to draw attention to what is wrong with the status quo, often through the use of symbolic action (think Ezekiel building a clay model of Jerusalem as the stage for his own 'lie-in'). And there is something to be said for seeing the Love Makes a Way activists as part of a welcome resurgence in prophetic Christianity. 

But maybe there is more to be said for seeing them as martyrs.

A martyr is normally one who dies for her or his faith. But the Greek word μ?ρτυς (martus) originally meant 'witness' — one who testifies.

Both prophets and martyrs are motivated by religious convictions to stand against untruth and injustice. Both, as the cliché goes, 'speak truth to power'. But they are characters in what we might call two very different political dramas. To interpret the Love Makes a Way participants as either prophets or martyrs is to call forth two radically contrasting conceptions of contemporary Australian public life and the place of Christianity within it.

The message of the prophets may be summarised in two words: 'Back to!' Prophets urged Israel to repent and return to a previous age when the nation did what God required. Autonomous nationhood and a tradition of justice can be seen as the two principles on which prophecy depends. 

What happens if we try to map this schema onto Australia's immigration policies, the focus of Love Makes a Way's protests?

While immigration has long been placed at the heart of Australian 'nation building', a closer examination suggests that, in the main, it exhibits more of the out-workings of colonial mimicry. Consider the White Australia Policy, which sought to 'protect' our country by making it as