These days my faithfulness to Jesus Christ is embodied – in part – by advocating for justice. This, however, was not always the case. Like too many Christians with a conservative heritage I was deaf to the cries of the poor. The complex issue of justice for refugees and asylum seekers has been one cry for justice that has demanded my faithful attention.
My story begins in 2001 when, for the first time in my adult lifetime, issues around refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat was a public issue (those older than me might remember a time when Australia had offshore welcoming centres instead of offshore processing centres). I was working as the as Assistant Minister at St John’s Darlinghurst/Kings Cross and was deeply involved in ministries of mercy and justice. A group from the congregation asked me to lead Bible studies and prayers around the issue of those seeking asylum. I felt ill-informed and ill-equipped to lead this small group. One member was an ABC journalist, whose radio documentary on the health of asylum seekers in Australian detention had earned her a Human Rights Award and 2001 Walkley Award for excellence in journalism. She was also enrolled in a postgraduate course in international development. Another group member worked for the Department of Health, and was working with the Refugee Health Service in Liverpool. A third was completing the Graduate Medical Program at Sydney University, had surveyed the health impact of mandatory detention and was involved in CHIL-OUT (Children Out of Detention). There was a lawyer and a consultant psychiatrist to round out the group. All of them qualified professionals with expert insights from their vocations but they wanted Christian leadership and theological animation for their advocacy.
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Rev Dr Geoff Broughton is the Rector at Paddington Anglican in Sydney and a theology lecturer at Charles Sturt University. His personal journey has involved thinking about, listening to, advocating for and acting on behalf of children in detention.