Australia’s offshore detention system and the Journal of Medical Ethics

Offshore detentionJulian Burnside has drawn attention to four recently-published articles on Australia’s offshore detention system. They appeared in the Journal of Medical Ethics, and they contribute to a significant and growing body of academic literature on what is a far cry from being a merely academic subject:

ABSTRACT: Australian immigration detention has been identified as perpetuating ongoing human rights violations. Concern has been heightened by the assessment of clinicians involved and by the United Nations that this treatment may in fact constitute torture. We discuss the allegations of torture within immigration detention, and the reasons why healthcare providers have an ethical duty to report them. Finally, we will discuss the protective power of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as a means of providing transparency and ethical guidance.

ABSTRACT: Australian immigration detention centres are in secluded locations, some on offshore islands, and are subject to extreme secrecy, comparable with ‘black sites’ elsewhere. There are parallels between healthcare professionals working in immigration detention centres and healthcare professionals involved with or complicit in torture. In both cases, healthcare professionals are conflicted between a duty of care to improve the health of patients and the interests of the government. While this duality of interests has been recognised previously, the full implications for healthcare professionals working in immigration detention have not been addressed. The Australian Government maintains that immigration detention is needed for security checks, but the average duration of immigration detention has increased from 10 weeks to 14 months, and detainees are not informed of the progress of their application for refugee status. Long-term immigration detention causes major mental health problems, is illegal in international law and arguably fulfils the recognised definition of torture. It is generally accepted that healthcare professionals should not participate in or condone torture. Australian healthcare professionals thus face a major ethical dilemma: patients in immigration detention have pressing mental and physical health needs, but providing healthcare might support or represent complicity in a practice that is unethical. Individual healthcare professionals need to decide whether or not to work in immigration detention centres. If they do so, they need to decide for how long and to what extent restrictive contracts and gagging laws will constrain them from advocating for closing detention centres.

The compromised nature of healthcare has now been well documented along with the pervasive nature of dual agency (or dual loyalty) obligations, between that of patients, the immigration department and other contractors. This has only served to restrict and distort the nature of healthcare and limit clinicians in their roles with healthcare frequently subverted to other policy goals. Accountability is obscured and oversight is limited with arrangements that attempt to divest responsibility from the immigration department. At best clinicians are required to navigate ethically fraught terrain where they frequently have to compromise what may be ideal or even generally accepted treatment, at worst this promotes conduct that is clearly unethical. Along with the detention environment this all serves to curtail what benefits may usually be gained from treatment. These issues have played out in a more acute form in off-shore detention where there has been a number of examples of the immigration department intervening in medical transfers and treatment recommendations.

Sadly and justifiably, regardless of the final results of this past weekend’s federal election, those illegally detained in Australia’s offshore detention centres can expect nothing to change. We are being governed by xenophobic dragons with little regard either for the rule of law or for human decency.

‘Tenebrae’, by Geoffrey Hill

Tenebrae

He was so tired that he was scarcely able to
hear a note of the songs: he felt imprisoned
in a cold region where his brain was numb
and his spirit was isolated.

1

Requite this angel whose
flushed and thirsting face
stoops to the sacrifice
out of which it arose.
This is the lord Eros
of grief who pities
no one; it is
Lazarus with his sores.

2

And you, who with your soft but searching voice
drew me out of the sleep where I was lost,
who held me near your heart that I might rest
confiding in the darkness of your choice:
possessed by you I chose to have no choice,
fulfilled in you I sought no further quest.
You keep me, now, in dread that quenches trust,
in desolation where my sins rejoice.
As I am passionate so you with pain
turn my desire; as you seem passionless
so I recoil from all that I would gain,
wounding myself upon forgetfulness,
false ecstasies, which you in truth sustain
as you sustain each item of your cross.

3

Veni Redemptor, but not in our time.
Christus Resurgens, quite out of this world.
‘Ave’ we cry; the echoes are returned.
Amor Carnalis is our dwelling-place.

4

O light of light, supreme delight;
grace on our lips to our disgrace.
Time roosts on all such golden wrists;
our leanness is our luxury.
Our love is what we love to have;
our faith is in our festivals.

5

Stupefying images of grief-in-dream,
succubae to my natural grief of heart,
cling to me, then; you who will not desert
your love nor lose him in some blank of time.
You come with all the licence of her name
to tell me you are mine. But you are not
and she is not. Can my own breath be hurt
by breathless shadows groaning in their game?
It can. The best societies of hell
acknowledge this, aroused by what they know:
consummate rage recaptured there in full
as faithfulness demands it, blow for blow,
and rectitude that mimics its own fall
reeling with sensual abstinence and woe.

6

This is the ash-pit of the lily-fire,
this is the questioning at the long tables,
this is true marriage of the self-in-self,
this is a raging solitude of desire,
this is the chorus of obscene consent,
this is a single voice of purest praise.

7

He wounds with ecstasy. All
the wounds are his own.
He wears the martyr’s crown.
He is the Lord of Misrule.
He is the Master of the Leaping Figures,
the motley factions.
Revelling in auguries
he is the Weeper of the Valedictions.

8

Music survives, composing her own sphere,
Angel of Tones, Medusa, Queen of the Air,
and when we would accost her with real cries
silver on silver thrills itself to ice.

– Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016)

Should Christians support anti-discrimination legislation? Some very inadequate and provisional scribbles

non discriminationPolitics is messy, as messy as is the human muddle itself. For people of faith, discerning how one ought best participate in that mess – or whether to participate in it at all, an act which itself actually represents a kind of participation – is typically characterised by a similar pattern of ambiguity and oddness that is unavoidable. This is no less so for those who follow Jesus.

Today, I happened across a strange post arguing why Christians in Australia ‘can’t vote Greens’. Its author, Andrew, an Anglican minister, is troubled by the fact that one of the country’s main political parties is championing anti-discrimination legislation. He believes that this equates to the Greens advocating for a kind of totalitarianism that is fundamentally at odds with the practice of following one’s conscience. He proceeds to argue, very strangely indeed, that ‘amongst the first political commitments of Christians, following Jesus’ words, is to a pluralist state’. The words of Jesus to which he refers are those recorded in Matthew 22: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s’.

The argument goes that a Christian cannot support the Greens on the grounds that the Greens have a policy that prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. The facts, it seems, are a little less clear cut than Andrew suggests. The amendment that the former Australian Greens senator and social justice lawyer Penny Wright put before the parliament argued that the ‘religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act strike the wrong balance between freedom of religion and protection from arbitrary discrimination’, an acknowledgement that the weighing up of rights is always a very difficult task indeed. So too Penny Wong, a Christian and Labor Party senator, once noted that the government must seek ‘to balance the existing law and the practice of religious exemptions with the principle of non-discrimination’. I read in these calls a challenge to keep that conversation a live one. Wright’s statement reads, in part:

Freedom of religion is an important human right. However, religious bodies should not have a free pass to discriminate. The Sex Discrimination Act as it stands gives broad exemptions from anti-discrimination law for religious bodies and educational institutions set up for religious purposes. The exemptions fly in the face of the idea that people should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, so that they can have access to opportunities and services such as health, education and housing. As a result of these exemptions, a religious hospital can refuse to employ a gay doctor, a religious school can refuse to enrol a bisexual student or to hire a lesbian administrator, and a faith based homelessness shelter can refuse to accept a transgender resident. (Italics mine)

The proposal from the Greens, as stated elsewhere, is that ‘blanket exemptions for religious organisations do not apply when that organisation is using public money to provide public services like health, education and housing’. That sounds very reasonable to me.

I confess to being as seduced as is Andrew when it comes to defending a broad commitment to religious pluralism. But his argument strikes me as very odd, especially for a Christian and particularly upon the grounds of Matthew 22. To my mind, he appears to suggest, albeit tacitly, that it is somehow the role of the state to help Christians to be Christians, to follow Jesus. His argument also appears to confuse or conflate the roles that God has assigned to so-called civil authorities with those given to the church. It is, it seems to me, reasonable to argue, and to hope, that it is precisely the responsibility of the state to ensure that all of its citizens – and especially, perhaps, its most vulnerable; and this sometimes includes religious communities – are granted equal rights and access under the law. (Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney, recently reminded us too that ‘Human rights failures say a lot about our government’.) I remind Andrew that it has been the Greens – and not, sadly, the ALP and the Liberal–National Coalition – who have consistently respected and defended the important role that the Australian Human Rights Commission plays in protecting the rights, including the religious rights, of all those whom our parliament and courts are obligated, by both domestic and international law, to protect.

Conversely, it is the responsibility of the Christian community (I dare not speak for other religious traditions) to challenge and even to break such laws if and whenever its obedience to the rule of Christ demands it do so, that believers might live in the world with a clear conscience and their lives testify that God and not Caesar is sovereign. In a world marked by unbridled greed, abuse of power, and the defence of both by means of state-sponsored violence, God help Christians if they become known for being ‘good citizens’.

Perhaps what this little response to Andrew’s post represents has more to do with our respective ecclesial tribes – that Andrew is an Anglican and that I am of the free church tradition – than it is about whether or not one might, in good conscience, support this or that political party, none of which, it must be said, a Christian can support uncritically. It certainly reminds me, and for this I am grateful to Andrew, that following Jesus is, at core, a profoundly political act; indeed, it is the most political act of all. Might I confess, however, that it is difficult for me to see how Andrew’s critique represents much more than a gasp by a powerful institutional elite to maintain ground that a particular political arrangement – associated with the name of Constantine – once secured, or at least promised. God’s promises – the promises of one whose power is not of this world and which is made perfect precisely in the act of forgoing its own rights – might, I suggest, be quite otherwise. (So John Dickson noted around the time of the last election: ‘a Christian vote is a vote for others, not oneself. It is fundamental to the Christian outlook that life be devoted to the good of others before oneself’.)

Returning to those strange words of Jesus’ – ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s’ – I want to suggest that for too long Christians have stood on the side of Herod here, and have, as a result, sought to take the sting out of the impossibility that Christian discipleship represents. ‘Christian accommodation to play the game dictated by Caesar’s coin insures that the separation between state and church makes Christians faithful servants of states that allegedly give the church freedom’ (Stanley Hauerwas).

Or, as another has said: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’.

Paul Fiddes on being Baptist

This past week, Whitley College has played host to Professor Paul Fiddes who has been our guest speaker at the annual School of Ministry. He has been speaking on the theme of Baptist identity. It really has been a rich time in so many ways. For those who were unable to be there, or who might like a little summary of what it was all about, here is a precis of the various addresses:

Songs that stink

Paddling By the ShoreIt has been my privilege over recent days to have prepared the liturgies for the various worship services held this week at Whitley College’s School of Ministry. I included two songs from Kim Fabricius’s collection of hymns published in Paddling by the Shore. People seemed to really appreciate these songs, a testimony I am pleased to hear. My own enthusiasm for Kim’s book is noted on its back cover:

The songs gathered here stink. They stink of theology cultivated by the best of the Catholic tradition and sensitive to the hazards of congregational worship. They stink of the holy wit of an indecorous soul set loose. And, most wonderfully, they stink of divinity unashamedly immersed in the blunt realities of being human in the world and delighting in life familiar with, but unconstrained by, death. They also should be sung, loudly and lots.

A number of folk asked me for a copy of the words for the two songs we sang from this collection. So, for them and for any others that may be interested, here they are:

‘Out of nothing God created’. Tune: Blaenwern – 87 87

Out of nothing God created
all the somethings that exist;
from a Bang the world inflated,
light-years later earth he kissed.
Starting with the smallest microbe,
moving from the sea to land,
life evolved around the new globe,
gently pushed by God’s good hand.

‘Go!’ said God, and animated,
species spread by law and chance;
Spirit fashioned and related
each to all in sacred dance.
All that breathes is love’s location,
not just humans in their pride;
by selection and mutation,
ask the beasts how God can guide.

Now creation groans and shudders,
plundered, poisoned, colonized
by a beastly little brother,
self-styled as the one who’s wise.
Will the sparrows finally perish,
though God clothes them and protects?
Time is short, so let us cherish
all that God will resurrect.

‘Migrant Jesus, at the border’. Words modified. Tune: Servant Song/Brother Sister Let Me Serve You.

Migrant Jesus, at the border,
refugee of fear and hate,
you’re a threat to law and order,
nightmare of the nation-state.

Child of Israel, fleeing soldiers,
from the Jordan to the Nile,
were your parents passport-holders,
were you welcomed with a smile?

Home from Egypt, Spirit-breathing,
in the towns of Galilee,
how you had the people seething
when you preached the Jubilee.

At the margins, far from center,
where you met the ostracized,
even friends weren’t keen to enter
conversations that you prized.

Ease our fears, forgive our hatred
of the other and the odd;
help us see the single-sacred:
face of stranger – face of God.

Migrant Jesus, at the border –
Manus Island or Nauru –
Greetings, sister! Welcome, brother!
Make this place your promised land.

How democracy produced a monster

‘[He] came to power in a democracy with a highly liberal constitution, and in part by using democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy itself …

[His party’s] surge in popular support … reflected the anger, frustration and resentment – but also hope – that [he] was able to tap among millions of [his countrymen]. Democracy had failed them, they felt. Their country was divided, impoverished and humiliated. Scapegoats were needed …

Mercifully, what happened [then] … will remain a uniquely [sic] terrible episode in history. What took place then reminds us even so of the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war, facing enormous privations and burning with resentment at national humiliation through perceived foreign interference. It also reminds us of the need for international cooperation to restrain potential “mad dogs” in world politics before they are dangerous enough to bite’.

– Ian Kershaw, How democracy produced a monster (3 February, 2008)

Lear on Brexit

Harding - Study for John Bell as King Lear

Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen’d crawl toward death.

– King Lear (with thanks to André)

[Image: Nicholas Harding, ‘Study for John Bell as King Lear’, 1998–2001]

 

Steve Biddulph on why Eddie McGuire should resign

Eddie McGuire

Meanwhile, over here in the colonies, there’s a much-welcome statement from Australian-based psychologist Steve Biddulph on why Eddie McGuire should resign:

In case you are in any doubt, I think he should resign too.

The pattern is important to understand if we are to end violence against women.

Caroline Wilson is a serious journalist, she made valid and important – but always reasoned – criticisms of Eddie McGuire’s performance as a manager of Collingwood. That’s her job.

A grown up would have two options – to address her arguments and make a case why she was wrong. Or to concede that she was right.

But instead of engaging as an equal and an adult, Mr McGuire seethed, and in a setting where he felt safe, among mates, and in the hearing of several million people, they joked about – essentially – killing her.

When shamed men can’t deal with the anxiety they feel, they choose to resolve it by imagined, or real, violence, and rally support from other men to make that okay.

This also happened with Alan Jones and our first woman PM Julia Gillard, and the infamous “chaff bag” threats. And as we see in the daily news – from Yorkshire to Orlando, there’s always some nutter willing to carry it out.

Token apology that is forced by circumstance isn’t the same as real change. You have to say – this is a character flaw.

Even if the victim wasn’t a woman, it’s still wrong.

Adults deal with conflict or disagreement with words, respectfully, and safely. Only mature adults should be in positions with this much power …

A few commenters, mostly men, are saying “it was just a joke”. Because they are presumably fathers, I want to explain this, as it makes a difference to your parenting. If you go back to my piece at the top, I am saying I don’t believe this was “just” a joke.

There was a context. He was genuinely threatened and angry at her criticism in her articles. It was on his mind.

It came out quite inappropriately at a charity dunking. It was a slip up, sure, but it showed his underlying anger, and his inability to deal with it in an adult way.

And it showed him appealing for emotional support to his mates. It was anger and threat leaking out through humour.

And as the Age pointed out today, she wasn’t there, so it can’t be banter. Banter is when people are sharing in put downs for fun, by mutual agreement. Humour is used to mask violence every single day. Rapists and abusers often say “get over it”.

It was window into the man’s heart. And that is a huge thing.

[Source]

Is the ACL the least theologically-literate lobby group in the country?

ACLIs the Australian Christian Lobby the least theologically-literate lobby group in the country?

They may well be, for according to their latest newsletter, ‘A marriage plebiscite is … the only way that, as Christians, we can secure both the future of marriage, and our freedoms to believe and practice our faith’.

This piece of brilliant propaganda might be the least Christian statement on marriage that I’ve ever read. What an embarrassment these people are to the Good News.

They’re certainly right about one thing, however: ‘There’s more at stake this election [sic] than marriage’. But even on that subject, the institution of marriage is far too important to be left to the likes of the ACL to define it.

[Update: Within minutes of this little post going live, the Australian Christian Lobby blocked me from the ability to post comments on, or even to ‘Like’, their Facebook page. (As far as I am aware, this is a first for me.) So much for being about promoting ‘public contributions of the Christian faith reflected in the political life of the nation’.]

Theology and the Arts

In September this year, Richard Kidd, Anne Mallaby, and myself will be teaching an intensive unit on theology and the arts. Some basic details here:

Theology and the Arts flyer - 2

Let Speeches Fall Silent

Adam Tice’s response to the recent shootings in Orlando was to pen some wonderful text for a new hymn:

Let speeches fall silent and platitudes cease
from hawkers of violence they brand as “peace.”
Let people who suffer find places to speak,
and holders of power give way to the weak.

Let teachers of hatred, suspicion, and fear,
and those who would kill for the views they hold dear,
be turned from their ways and disarmed of their wrath
to walk on a new, more compassionate path.

Forgive us the times we neglected to act;
forgive our excuses for courage we lacked.
God, teach us the wisdom that leads us to grace:
your image is found in our enemy’s face.

Let Speeches Fall Silent COLUMCILLELet Speeches Fall Silent FOUNDATION

Imagination, leadership, and the gift of a safe public commons

electionImagine going to an event, as I did last night, where political candidates for the upcoming federal election are asked about what kind of leader they aspire to be, about what kind of leadership might best meet the challenges that are facing our local, regional, and global communities and their moral and physical environments. Imagine imagining that you were expecting to hear names like Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Mary Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi (who today celebrates her 71st birthday), Lowitja O’Donoghue, Desmond Tutu, Dag Hammarskjold, Jonathan Sacks, Rowan Williams, Fred Hollows, Eva Burrows, Muhammad Yunus, or Noel Pearson, and instead being told by one of those political aspirants that the best models of leadership today are those championed by Ronald Regan, David Cameron, and John Key. Tea, anyone?

I’m immensely grateful that there were some other – some more sagacious – voices present, a reminder that our parliament also has some good people serving in it and that many who aspire to serve in such a way are also of outstanding ilk, even if I disagree with them on some matters that we both agree are fundamental for the healthy flourishing of life.

I’m also encouraged that the event itself was hosted by two churches who believe that part of their service to the wider community is to create safe spaces where such conversations might occur. There can be no healthy society without a rigorous and safe public commons. It is, above all, the role of the constitution, the courts, and the parliament (including its organisations such as the Human Rights Commission) and not the church to ensure the existence of such spaces. But that need not preclude religious communities also making such space available.

… in contrast to my nature

Botticelli Primavera

I read some really beautiful words today; the middle bit of Clive James’s poem ‘13: You Saw Nothing in Hiroshima’, from his latest collection Gate of Lilacs: A Verse Commentary on Proust:

Proust’s book gave me the courage to admit –
As did the culture of Japan, as did
The architecture of the Winter Palace,
The glass and plaster of the Amalienburg
And many fine and delicate things throughout
Our heritage – think of the Graces swaying
In Botticelli’s Primavera, think
Of the bronzes that a scuba diver found
Two hundred metres down in the sand floor
Of the sea at Capo Riace in our time,
Those bronzes that had spent two thousand years
Being beautiful down there – think of all that
And too much more that I have no time now
Even to name, now that my death comes close –
To admit that almost all I’ve ever loved
Exists in contrast to my nature. I,
A clumsy man, and thoughtless, with small gifts
Of subtlety or intuition, have
No natural business fondling the fine-drawn
And exquisite. Tanagra figurines,
If given to my keeping, I’d have used
For paperweights. We’re talking a born vandal,
A Goth dyed in the wool. Yet all my life
People and things I’ve loved have always shared
Unnecessary grace.

A little Friday link love

Triduum II - version 5

Haven’t done one of these posts in a while …

[Image: Alfonse Borysewicz]

‘Being, After Martin’

Heidegger at spring Gelassenheit

My remarkable partner, a physiotherapist and mad Western Bulldogs supporter (this latter fact is quite irrelevant here), recently dipped her pretty toes into the ponds of poetry. This is without doubt a much-to-be-celebrated achievement. Hell, it calls for a drink!

Her inaugural offering, see below, was inspired by a twin encounter – with a patient, and with the thought of Martin Heidegger, whose work she has been trying to decipher. The poem represents her attempt to bear witness to, and to contrast, two methods, as she refers to them – ‘that of the raw facts (the “scientific method”, as told from the physiotherapist’s perspective) and the subjective experience of the patient’. This is coupled with an effort to take up Heidegger’s invitation to read and recognise being with the other, and that that being itself is not exhausted by such action.

What’s not to love about all that!

 

Being, After Martin

Michael Jinkins on the future, or otherwise, of theological education

sailing fog‘So what the Dickens is going on? Where are theological schools headed? Do we still have options that will not undercut the quality of education we expect and need for those going into ministry?

This last question is the one that keeps me awake at night.

Dan Aleshire, executive director of ATS and the wisest analyst of theological schools in our time, in his address to participants in the annual Presidential Intensive Leadership Conference quoted something said many years ago by Dutch Leonard, a professor at Harvard Business School. Dr. Leonard famously said: “The central challenge for nonprofit leadership is that mediocrity is survivable.”

To which Dan said: “Maybe no longer is this true.”

Dan is so right about this. Mediocrity is dead, as Tom Friedman said in one of his New York Times columns a couple of years ago (in response to which I wrote an earlier blog). If you want your organization to survive, whatever it does must be excellent. Just “good enough” is no longer good enough.

That is exactly where the rub comes. A mediocre school is not long for this world. Even great schools have failed. And most of the schools that have failed were still delivering a traditionally strong education to their students.

I would hazard to guess that many, if not most, of the schools that have stumbled and fallen in the past several years didn’t fail because they lacked adequate analytics. Like most businesses that fail, they failed because they didn’t do what their analysis told them they needed to do. Some failed because they jumped on what appeared to be a bandwagon headed to success only to discover too late that the solution wasn’t the right one for them. Others have attempted to do “business as usual” in an exceptional era, and they simply ran out of operating capital. Others were unwilling for whatever reason to sacrifice their sacred cows for the sake of their mission.

The seminaries that have flourished have disciplined themselves to make tough choices based on their strategic vision. Furthermore, successful schools in the current environment do not think of adaptation as something they did, but something they do’.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Calvin for today: on living with ‘others’

Hungary

This story made news today here in Australia. It reminded me of John Calvin’s words on James 3.1:

For it is to be observed, that James does not discourage those neighbourly admonitions, which the Spirit so often and so much recommends to us, but that immoderate desire to condemn, which proceeds from ambition and pride, when any one exalts themselves against their neighbour, slanders, carps, bites, and malignantly seeks for what they may turn to a sinister purpose: for this is usually done when impertinent censors of this kind insolently boast themselves in the work of exposing the vices of others.

From this outrage and annoyance James recalls us; and he adds a reason, because they who are thus severe towards others shall undergo a heavier judgment: for that person imposes a hard law on themselves, who tries the words and deeds of others according to the rule of extreme rigour; nor do they deserve pardon, who will pardon none. This truth ought to be carefully observed, that they who are too rigid towards others, provoke against themselves the severity of God.

On the American presidency

Vote Mad (1)

Ah, 2007; the good ol’ days:

‘The current politics of popularity, and the reality show atmosphere that surrounds presidential elections, have not held the nation in good stead. We labor under the myth of our own goodness and believe that it doesn’t matter who runs the nation, since the balance of power between the branches of government, and a free activist press will protect us from our own bad choices. Recent history proves that we must pay more attention to the criteria by which individuals are selected, because twenty-first-century high stakes political strategies can neutralize even the best laid plans of the nation’s founders … The next President of the United States should be a twenty-first-century thinker and visionary, a woman or man whose sense of responsibility includes a personal and political identity that is deeply connected to the lives of others in the world. An American presidency is never confined to the political interests of the electing nation; this is an office that influences the world and accordingly requires a leadership model predicated on integrity and vision’.

– Barbara Holmes, ‘The Politics of Vision: Transforming the Presidency’, Political Theology 8, no. 4 (2007), 417, 418.

‘Memo to J.C.’

BBQ, Australia Jesus by Reg Mombassa

When you were down here JC and walked this earth,
You were a pretty decent sort of bloke,
Although you never owned nothing, but the clothes on your back,
And you were always walking round, broke.
But you could talk to people, and you didn’t have to judge,
You didn’t mind helping the down and out
But these fellows preaching now in your Holy name,
Just what are they on about?
Didn’t you tell these fellows to do other things,
Besides all that preaching and praying?
Well, listen, JC, there’s things ought to be said,
And I might as well get on with the saying.
Didn’t you tell them ‘don’t judge your fellow man’
And ‘love ye one another’
And ‘not put your faith in worldly goods’.
Well, you should see the goods that they got, brother!
They got great big buildings and works of art,
And millions of dollars in real estate,
They got no time to care about human beings,
They forgot what you told ‘em, mate;
Things like, ‘Whatever ye do to the least of my brothers,
This ye do also unto me’.
Yeah, well these people who are using your good name,
They’re abusing it, JC,
But there’s people still living the way you lived,
And still copping the hypocrisy, racism and hate,
Getting crucified by the fat cats, too,
But they don’t call us religious, mate.
Tho’ we got the same basic values that you lived by,
Sharin’ and carin’ about each other,
And the bread and the wine that you passed around,
Well, we’re still doing that, brother.
Yeah, we share our food and drink and shelter,
Our grief, our happiness, our hopes and plans,
But they don’t call us ‘Followers of Jesus’,
They call us black fellas, man.
But if you’re still offering your hand in forgiveness
To the one who’s done wrong, and is sorry,
I reckon we’ll meet up later on,
And I got no cause to worry.
Just don’t seem right somehow that all the good you did,
That people preach, not practise, what you said,
I wonder, if it all died with you, that day on the cross,
And if it just never got raised from the dead.

– Maureen Watson, ‘Memo to J.C.’, in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse, ed. Kevin Hart (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994), 223–23.

[Image: Reg Mombassa, ‘BBQ’, from the Australian Jesus series]

On Hitler: ‘We engaged him for our ends’

Hitler‘Hitler didn’t reach the chancellorship by his own efforts, but was put there by supercilious idiots who assumed they could manage this vulgarian. “We engaged him for our ends”, said the despicable Franz von Papen. A year later, in the Night of the Long Knives, von Papen was grovelling to save his own neck’.

– Neal Ascherson, ‘Hopping in His Matchbox’, London Review of Books 38, no. 11 (2016), 23.