Faith / Justice / Politics

Reply from Andrew Paine

As I noted in my previous post, Andrew’s active faith is a challenge to us all. He sent me this very thoughtful reply that is well worth sharing with you all:

Hey Shane, thanks for writing this and I appreciate your views. I think that there should be discussion on these issues, so I love to hear reasoned debate from people even when they disagree with me. Just to clear things up, I actually was involved in the chapel squat in spirit only. I’m squatting in Brisbane though for similar reasons (although that is another issue that could be discussed elsewhere in more detail).

Firstly, while I don’t claim to be a greater theologian than Thomas Aquinas, I disagree with the theory of just war. Well I don’t necessarily like to make absolute statements but I will say that I certainly don’t believe there has been anything just about the wars Australia has been involved in recently. While I’m aware and constantly trying to grapple with the more bloody parts of the Old Testament, I find it hard to justify war from the message of Jesus (after all, he did say we are to love our enemies). Instead, we find in Matthew 5 Jesus advocating forms of non-violent resistance to an oppressive imperial power at the time (there is lots written about this in a lot of detail, especially by Walter Wink, for anybody interested in checking it out).

Your second point though is something I am always conscious of and still trying to work out. I don’t really enjoy confrontation or abuse and I definitely don’t want to alienate people. I have always tried (probably not always successfully) to show as much respect as I can for military personnel and everyone else I have come into contact with while doing these kind of actions. But I think it is worthwhile here to explain why I believe in direct action as a method of protest and have taken the actions that I have.

I think it’s great that groups like Voices For Justice are lobbying the government, and I definitely agree that our politicians need to be faced with these issues more than the troops. But I also think that politely asking politicians to change their minds is not necessarily the best way to bring about social change. Even in theory, in our democracy politicians are in power because they were voted in by a numerical majority. Because a majority of the population believes something, does that make it right? Like if the majority of people in one nation believes it is right to destroy the Earth to perpetuate our lifestyles? Or that it is right to go to war in another country?

But the reality is that our politicians do not represent a true majority. When our policies affect other nations, where is their voice? On trade, on climate justice, on war? Do they even represent a majority in Australia? (It’s worth remembering that the majority of Australians have never been in support of the Afghanistan war.) Large corporations certainly seem to hold a disproportionate amount of power compared to most Australians, either through corporate political donations or just brute economic strength. If I pay a visit to my local MP, they might listen to me (or at least, someone will pass on the message), but will they pay as much heed to my concerns as they will to the company that is funding their party?

Who is actually represented in our parliament? A quick scan of our politicians seems to represent a limited sphere of ethnicities and of socio-economic backgrounds. Both our major parties represent also a pretty limited range of policies. It’s hard to find much difference in their ideology when it comes to issues like military, asylum seekers, aboriginal issues or the environment.

So what is left for the rest of us? Those who represent the minority? Who stand for values that are not held by either major party? And remember the kingdom of God is based on very different values to earthly kingdoms. Do we wait until a majority of people believe the things we do? Do we exercise our power once every four years when we vote, or once a year when we travel to Canberra to meet with politicians? Because those whose values are wealth and power don’t seem to wait around.

Direct action is an ideology that says that we can stand for the things that we believe in now, and try to build a movement that will influence those in power. That we can demand our voice be heard, by acting on the things that we believe. Non-violent direct action was used by Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King in the USA, and countless others over the years, as a way of expressing views that were contrary to those in power, until their voice could no longer be resisted.

Of course, direct action should not be read just as protest marches, or blockading military vehicles. True direct action is about creating the world that we want to live in, making our lives our picket lines. It’s about not accepting that this is just the way it is, but instead searching for creative alternatives. So in my personal relationships and by my personal choices I attempt to create a better world. But my personal lifestyle choices are not enough to stop innocent people dying in Afghanistan, or stop the elite minority destroying the Earth. In these instances we must use whatever means we can to get our message heard. By breaking the law we make it impossible for the state to ignore our dissent. When powerful people around the world put a lot of effort into war and the preparation for war, those of us who believe in peace need to recognise that just believing in peace without action is not going to be enough.

Of course, the other reason that we take actions that may end in us being arrested is that creating controversy is a way of trying to bring attention to this issue, which mainstream media refuses to touch and most Australians would rather not think about. The fact that you have written this post says to me than in a small way we have succeeded. May the conversations continue. Go in peace.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on

1 Comment

  • Josh Dowton
    September 21, 2011 at 10:26 am

    This has been a great couple of posts that should really cause all of us Christians to think deeply about these issues and challenge our thinking about what we really stand for and how that is worked out in our lives.

    Shane, thank you for raising these issues here, and for your always wise and thoughtful reflection. Andrew, thank you for your brilliant response above.

    Personally, I have found the Micah Challenge approach to be a fantastic way of raising these issues directly with politicians. We have become quite well known to many pollies, and I believe our lobbying has been somewhat effective to date. It’s a fantastic way of excercising the freedom we have in this country to be able to meet directly with our representatives and to raise issues like these.

    However, I don’t want to settle there.

    I’m actually a big fan of non-violent direct action, and think that more Christians should get out of their comfort zones and take part in such action. While there does have to be a *lot* of thought that goes into such action, I believe that we are sometimes required to go to these lengths to symbolise the points we are seeking to make and to vocalise the issues in a way that is heard and not drowned out by the interrests of the powerful.

    So, why not a thoughtful “both/and” approach, rather than a simple “either/or”? : )


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