Protesting Through Resisting

Dave Andrews

I felt I needed to protest the status quo by resisting serious prejudices in our society.

For example, over the last thirty years, my wife and I have intentionally sought to embrace people who are seeking asylum in Australia from other countries as beloved members of our extended family. Yet most Australians have a primal, historical and often hysterical fear of “boat people” coming to our country and dispossessing us. Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage suggests that this is because our forebears came to this country as boat people and dispossessed the Aboriginal people who lived here before us, and so we fear that the next wave of boat people may do the same to us. He says that Aussies have an underlying fear of retribution for the genocide our ancestors committed, either through decolonization by Aboriginals or recolonization by migrants and refugees.[i]

As a way of resisting this hysterical culture of fear, we organized the West End Migrant and Refugee Support Group in 1989 to help settle refugees in our local area. We also initiated a refugee airfare loan scheme to provide loans for airfares to help reunite over a hundred families. (These loans were eventually repaid without default.) To advocate for vulnerable people seeking asylum and facing deportation orders that would send them back to life-threatening persecution, we formed a torture and trauma support group in our home. Over the last few years, we’ve been involved in a movement of Christians from around the country who are seeking to resist and end Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies.

Yet the primal historical and hysterical fear of boat people in Australia has been deliberately manipulated and exploited by successive governments for their own political purposes. To protect us from this carefully constructed and manifestly exaggerated “danger,” the government stops the boats of refugees who are fleeing war, oppression and persecution to seek asylum on our shores and deports them to Manus Island, where they will be kept in detention in dehumanizing conditions until they are deported, repatriated or settled elsewhere. The government has intentionally and systematically misrepresented asylum seekers as “illegals,” “queue jumpers” and “security threats” so that Aussies would vote them into power to ensure “border security” by “stopping the boats,” regardless of the evils of indefinite detention.

As the psychologist David Benner says, fearful people “may appear deeply loving, but fear always interferes with the impulse to love. Fear blocks responsiveness to others. Energy invested in maintaining safety and comfort always depletes energy available for others.”[ii] Similarly, psychotherapist Wayne Muller says that “when fear arises, we harden our bodies and our hearts, closing inward to protect ourselves. We build walls, call up armies, and pay governments to protect us from danger.”[iii]

In response to the government’s indefinite detention of asylum seekers, the 2014 Australian Churches Refugee Task Force encouraged Aussies to resist the government’s policy because it is basically “State-Sanctioned Child Abuse.”[iv] In spite of ongoing advocacy and resistance from churches over many years, successive governments have refused to change the detention policy[v] and continue to isolate detainees and deny them access to their lawyers and support networks.


To give an example of how I have engaged in protest through resistance, I gave the following keynote address at a Refugee Action Collective protest in 2014, which was held at King George Square outside City Hall in Brisbane.[vi]

I began by saying, “To be human is for our hearts to beat with the desire to love and be loved. If there is a single universal rule of ethical human conduct recognized by the whole of humanity, it is that ‘we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves.’ The greatest threat to our love of our neighbor is our fear of our neighbor.”

I went on to address Aussies’s primal, historical and hysterical fear of asylum seekers, which prevents us from treating them the way we would want to be treated if we were seeking asylum ourselves.

“This should—and this does—make many of us angry,” I continued. “However, while anger is understandable, agro protests are not helpful.” I said that to bring about a change in policy, we needed to change public opinion, and to change public opinion, we needed to create a culture of love rather than a culture of fear. “Anger does not encourage love,” I said. “Anger engenders fear.” I said that the government would exploit our fear “to justify the need for greater security and to rationalize the expansion of the very policies we oppose.” I talked about how we could only win this fight by winning people over, drawing them to our cause by expressing our concern with laughter, tears, reason and strong but gentle pleas.

I explained how many asylum seekers are Muslim and I had recently gone to the Sunshine Coast with a Muslim friend to engage in a public conversation about how Christians and Muslims could live in peace. “You would have thought we were setting up a Caliphate on the Coast,” I said. “All hell broke loose. Heaps of people turned up, many to protest, carrying signs that said, ‘The Muslims are coming’ and ‘Resist Islam.’” I described how the police turned up and said that an anti-racist, pro-refugee counter-protest would have been totally counterproductive.

I discussed how we needed to acknowledge people’s fears of difference, conflict and change. I said we needed to accept both people and their fears—and to help them explore their fears without making them afraid of us. I said that we need to arrange ways for Aussies to meet refugees face to face so that they could see the “boat people” as people rather than “illegals,” “queue jumpers” or “security threats,” and Aussies could begin to move from fear towards love—perhaps a love that is a bit more “ocker,” as we say in Australia, rather than touchy and feely.

“There are no quick fixes. There are no short cuts,” I said.To create a culture of love over our politics and policies of fear, “we all need to take on the exceedingly important, excruciatingly painstaking work of encouraging one another”so that“our humanity [can] get the better of us and [we can] learn to love our asylum seeker neighbors as ourselves.”

I concluded by saying,“The policies will change only when the people change.”


To give another example of how I have engaged in protest through resistance, I joined Tri Nguyen, a refugee, on the last leg of his thirty-five day walk from Melbourne to Canberra over Easter weekend in 2014. Tri Nguyen had set out, towing a wooden boat through Benalla, Wodonga and Wagga Wagga to meet ordinary Australians, introduce himself as a “boat person” and plea for better treatment for boat people.

When Tri was eight, he remembers his fear of the men with guns who captured his refugee boat as he fled from Vietnam in 1980. With sixty-eight other refugees, he was taken to a Malaysian island and housed in a fenced compound, where everyone was fed one cup of rice a day and strip-searched at night. His uncle later told him that the women refugees were raped. Now a Brunswick Baptist pastor, Tri has “blocked a lot out” from the experience, but he remembers hearing the “screaming.”

Tri also remembers that after he arrived in Australia in 1982, he and his father (Nang) and sister (Trang) were shown kindness at the Midway hostel in Maribyrnong, where there was no barbed wire. Locals taught his family English, gave them clothes and meals and helped Nang find a job with Australia Post. Eight years later, a group from the Moonee Ponds Baptist Church helped bring his mother and two younger brothers to Australia from Vietnam. At 2 AM, sixty strangers came to welcome them at Melbourne Airport. Tri says “We were traumatised and had a really rough journey but were just immersed in love and hospitality.”

Tri said that he had embarked on his long walk because he “wanted to thank Australians for giving him the gift of refuge when he came with his family on a boat from Vietnam thirty-two years ago.” He was also carrying a message to the heart of the nation: he wanted to ask Australians to give the same gift of refuge to others, such as Linda, Daniel and Majid, other asylum seekers who accompanied him on his walk. Tri aimed to arrive in Canberra on Good Friday, donate the little boat to Parliament, then attend an Easter Sunday ecumenical service on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The small boat was made by Nang and was partly inspired by a “profound” Leunig cartoon of a man and a duck towing a trolley.

I felt deeply honored to support such a sincere, strong and gentle campaigner in his walk of resistance. At the Easter Sunday ecumenical service, Tri quietly reminded us, “We are at our best when we show compassion. I hope in thirty years’ time, we have more refugees wanting to say ‘thank you’ rather than us wanting to say ‘sorry.’”[vii]

His small boat found safe harbor in Lake Burley Griffin.


I was also involved in a specifically Christian nonviolent direct action movement called “Love Makes A Way” which started in 2014 to protest the government’s treatment of asylum seekers. Love Makes A Way is committed to Jesus as “the center of our faith, life and (enemy-loving) activism, willing to suffer for the sake of others.” The movement seeks to join in the struggle alongside brothers and sisters from all Christian traditions through radical prayer, “not merely us asking God to change things, but God changing us that we might better reflect Christ’s love and compassion in the world.” The movement also works through nonviolent action, a pacifist, but not passive, “way of struggling for peace, justice and compassion.” As Daniel Berrigan puts it, it is “a way of living and being and expressing the truth of our soul in the world,” which can “be symbolized by the two hands of nonviolence: one hand pushed outward, as if to say ‘Stop!, we will stand in the way of the evil that is being done,’ and the other hand held out with an open palm, as if to say ‘Come, we invite you to join us in seeking what is right,’” a gesture that includes the perpetrator as well as victim, “even our enemies. . .(we think Jesus meant that bit).”[viii]

In 2014 Love Makes A Way organized twenty-two nonviolent civil disobedience actions to challenge Australia’s inhumane asylum-seeker policies. These actions included a twin sit-pray-in, which was held in the offices of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and a National Day of Action in six cities.

I coordinated the Brisbane chapter of Love Makes A Way and organized a prayer vigil with eleven Christian leaders from various denominations in the office of Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton in Strathpine to raise awareness about our concerns for the plight of children held in immigration detention. Our group included three Anglican priests, a Catholic priest, a nun, ministers from the Uniting and Wesleyan Methodist Churches and lay people from various denominations.[ix]

We sent out a press release at 11 AM that stated our intention to remain in prayer in the minister’s office until he acted quickly and decisively to remove all children under the age of eighteen, who were being held in onshore detention or offshore detention on Christmas Island or Nauru, and to place them into community care. At 5:25 PM, we were detained and then escorted out of the building, but released later without charge.


On 17 June 2015, the tenth anniversary of the day the then Prime Minister, John Howard, promised to release children from immigration detention centers in Australia, I gathered with forty other Christian leaders as part of the Love Makes a Way movement for a prayer vigil in the lobby of Parliament House to express our frustration that nothing has been done politically to respond to our constant community campaigns to call the current government to release all children being held in detention. As BuzzFeed reported, the Australian government “celebrated by booting” us out of the Parliament House. As we “were forcibly removed from Parliament by security guards,” we sang updated lyrics to the tune of an old African American spiritual, “Were you there when the kids were locked away?”[x]


Over the last four years, over two hundred Christian pastors, priests, nuns and laity have been arrested or detained for taking a nonviolent stand for compassion. Sam McLean, former national Director of GetUp!, observed that Love Makes A Way “is the only effort cutting through [the public consciousness] at the moment. They are brave, but more than that, they’re smart, careful, and deliberate. They have consistently generated public attention, but the real art has been to do so in a way that is on their message and their terms. Nonviolent love-in-action cuts through fear, spin and self-interest with a message of hope, empathy and compassion.”[xi]

Love Makes A Way has resisted the Australian government’s inhumane policies through nonviolent protest and persuasion, formal statements, public speeches, petitions and letters, banners, leaflets, and posters, social media, radio and television interviews, lobbying, picketing, sit-ins and pray-ins. Nevertheless, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly insisted that no amount of protest would persuade the government to change its policy.

So many of us in Love Makes A Way decided it was time to call for a national campaign of nonviolent noncooperation. We called for social noncooperation with government ceremonies and economic noncooperation through boycotts by workers, producers, consumers, investors, owners and managers of Transfield and strikes by administrators, professionals and personnel in all detention centers. We also called for political noncooperation through slow obedience, disguised disobedience and open civil disobedience, refusing to cooperate with government agencies, rules and regulations in relation to the implementation of the current asylum seeker policy. Many other Australians also believed the time had come to move beyond protest and persuasion to civil disobedience and social, economic and political noncooperation.


On 11 October 2015, “doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital refused to discharge asylum seeker children back into detention. Doctors at the hospital are concerned about the welfare of their dozens of patients and say it would be unethical to discharge them to unsafe conditions that could compromise their health.”[xii]

In early February 2016, one-year-old “Baby Asha” was treated at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital after she was injured in an immigration detention on Nauru. Asha’s injuries healed, but doctors refused official demands to discharge her to be returned to detention on Nauru, saying it was not a safe home for the baby. The child’s fate focused the attention of Australians who were concerned about the government’s treatment of the children of families seeking asylum. The federal president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Brian Owler, used Twitter to garner support for the doctors and nurses at Lady Cilento. On 13 February, a broad coalition of protesters led by the Refugee Action Collective, including Love Makes A Way, rallied outside the hospital to support the doctors and nurses who were refusing to obey the demands of the immigration department officials.[xiii]

On 17 February, a coalition of Christians hosted a candlelight vigil at Lady Cilento Hospital called “Light the Dark” to demonstrate our support for the #LetThemStay campaign for Baby Asha, her parents and the nearly three hundred mums, dads and children who were being threatened with removal to the unsafe conditions on Nauru and also to show our support for the brave doctors, nurses and other staff of the hospital who were risking their careers to defy federal directives in order to protect Baby Asha.[xiv] The Very Rev. Dr. Peter Catt, Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce and Dean of St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane, declared that a group of churches and faith communities across Australia, including St John’s, were committed to offer sanctuary to the families who were seeking asylum and being threatened with a return to Nauru. “This is a hugely significant action for any Australian church to take,” Peter said. “Historically, churches have afforded sanctuary to those seeking refuge from brutal and oppressive forces. We offer this refuge because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances asylum seekers, especially children, would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse. This fundamentally goes against our faith, so our church community is compelled to act, despite the possibility of individual penalty against us.” Peter was prepared to go to prison himself.

On 20 February, “hundreds of protesters surrounded exit points at the hospital amid reports there were plans to move Asha and her family to immigration detention.” Protestors said “they would put their bodies on the line to prevent Asha’s offshore removal.” A representative of the Refugee Action Collective told reporters that protesters “were stationed at hospital exits and using mobile phones to communicate” and said they were “stopping police cars coming out of the hospital on Saturday night to check the child was not inside.” He insisted that the group was “good natured” and “had shown no aggression.”[xv]

Our group was willing to accept moving Baby Asha to community detention in Brisbane, where she could be housed safely with her mother. Finally, on 22 February, Baby Asha was released from Lady Cilento hospital into community detention in Brisbane, a solution that both sides could claim as a victory: the government claimed its policies were unaltered, and those supporting Baby Asha were assured that she was not being moved to Nauru.[xvi]

After the candlelight vigil for Baby Asha, Peter asked Love Makes A Way to run public meetings for those interested in supporting St John’s offer of sanctuary. In my presentation, I said, “We are called to protect the vulnerable against violence. St Paul says, ‘love always protects and always preserves’ (1 Cor. 13:4). Direct nonviolent intervention is the most loving way to do that, as it is least likely to incite further cycles of violence and counter-violence. However, nonviolence should never be used as an excuse for nonintervention. . . . [Because] nonviolent direct action is the most loving proactive response, Love Makes A Way is committed to this practice alone.”


I said that the archetype of NonViolent Direct Action (NVDA) is Jesus Christ and how my friend Rabbi Zalman Kastel says that what he finds most confronting in the teaching of Jesus is his commitment to unflinching nonviolence in the face of violence, based on his commitment to love friend and foe alike. I also talked about how Gandhi said that Christ was the archetype of NonViolent Direct Action for all people, not just for Christians. I quoted from Gandhi, who said, “The gentle figure of Christ—so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retaliate when struck, but to turn the other cheek—was a beautiful example of the perfect person.” Gandhi also said that Christ, the “martyr, was an embodiment of sacrifice, “and the cross is “a great example of suffering.” Though “Jesus lost his life on the cross,” he didn’t lose the battle, but won—“as the world’s history has abundantly shown.” Consequently, Gandhi said that “the example of Christ” is a crucial “factor in the composition of my underlying faith in nonviolence.”


I said that Jesus was a prophetic activist who embodied nonviolent revolution: he criticized the authorities for their corruption and oppression (Luke 13:32) and wanted to transform the status quo creating a new society in the midst of the old (Luke 6:19–22). He sought to establish an upside-down system, which would put the first last and the last first (Mark 9:35). He drove the rip-off merchants out of the temple, using a whip on their animals, but not on the people (John 2:15). He said that he came not to bring acquiescence but change, which would cut through other obligations like a sword (Matt. 10:34). Yet he specifically begged his disciples to put aside their weapons, “for all who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Luke 22:36–38). He urged his friends not to take life, but to give their life for others: “For there is no greater love than this—than to lay down your life for your friends” (John 15:13).

I also said famous that many exponents of nonviolence in recent history have included Jews (Abraham Heschel), Hindus (Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave), Muslims (Ghaffar Khan and Mohammad Ashafa), Buddhists (the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh) and Christians (Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, Leymah Gbowee and James Wuye).


I quoted Martin King Jr., who said, NonViolent Direct Action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored. We who engage in Nonviolent Direct Action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.


I said that declaring sanctuary was a classic NonViolent Direct Action, because it seeks to dramatize an issue so that it can no longer be ignored—which is that vulnerable people who are seeking refuge in our country are in danger from the very authorities who have been tasked by our society to protect them from danger. Thus people of faith must take these sacred places and make them safe spaces, where asylum seekers can be protected, as a symbol of resistance against the inhuman treatment of vulnerable people.


I concludedwithasanctuary case study by André Trocmé, a Protestant minister, and Magda Trocmé, a social worker,who moved to Le Chambon, a little village in France,and started a college for refugees who were fleeing from central Europe in 1934. When France was overrun by Germany in 1940 and the Vichy government agreed to handover Jewish refugees to the Nazis, André preached a sermon encouraging all Christians to resist any government demands to hand over refugees.He said, “Tremendous pressure will be put on us to submit passively to a totalitarian ideology. We appeal to all our brothers in Christ to refuse to cooperate with this violence. We shall resist whenever our adversaries demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the gospel. We shall do so without fear, but also without hate.”


I said that Le Chambon became “the safest place in Europe for Jews and should be our role model. I told them how everyone who was asked to hide Jews housed them in homes, on farms, and in public institutions, providing them with a safe haven for as long as they wanted. If asked by the Vichy government about these people living in their homes, the people replied that they were their cousins. People made false identification cards and helped set up an underground railroad that led some 5,000 Jews to safety in Switzerland. Though Le Chambon was eventually raided by the Gestapo, and André’s cousin, Daniel, was arrested, sent to a concentration camp, and killed, not a single villager ever turned a Jew over to the police.


After telling this story, I introduced the Love Makes A Way code of conduct for our nonviolent direct action campaign.


We committed that we would:

NOT bring weapons,

NOT use drugs or alcohol,

NOT hide our identity behind hoods or masks,

NOT resort to physical violence or verbal abuse,

NOT misuse facilities or damage any property,

NOT react if attacked, but respond pro-actively,

NOT embarrass police, resist arrest or go limp.


We also committed that we would:

Dress neatly and tidily,

Act in an exemplary manner,

Be strong but gentle, calm and constructive,

Use good manners and good humour at all times,

Adopt a dignified, friendly approach towards all,

Work cooperatively with the coordinating group,

Render assistance to asylum seekers any way we can,

Support nonviolent resistance of any attempt by the authorities to remove asylum seekers who were seeking the sanctuary of this sacred place,

And, if arrested, treat the authorities politely and respectfully.


Then we formed a team to provided training sessions for all volunteers committed to supporting sanctuary at St John’s so they could deal with their fears of confrontation and develop strategies of physical and nonviolent resistance in order to defend sanctuary against any incursions by the border security force.[xvii]

A crowd of some thousand supporters gathered at St John’s Cathedral to declare sanctuary. I welcomed those present by saying,

“I would like to honour the traditional owners of this land past and present whose representatives have publicly welcomed asylum seekers.”

I invited everyone present to take a stand for sanctuary by rendering asylum seekers any assistance we could and joining the congregation of St John’s cathedral in calmly, resolutely and nonviolently resisting any attempt by the border security force to remove any asylum seeker seeking the sanctuary of this sacred place.

Then I invited everyone present to say to our fellow Australians:

Let us rise up against systemic abuse in our name.

Let us rise up against state sanctioned brutality as policy.

Let us rise up against sovereignty at the expense of humanity.


Let this be a turning point in our history when, as a nation,

we choose no longer to take the road much travelled—

that callous closed-minded road of calculating cruelty

that leads only to despair—

but instead we choose to take the road less travelled—

that kind, open-hearted road of generous hospitality,

which is the only hope for any of us.


I also invited everyone present to say to those seeking asylum in Australia:


We will accept you.

We will respect you.

We will protect you.


In this sacred space,

we will embrace you, open our arms to make space for you,

we will wrap our arms around you, to comfort you and keep you safe.


We know it will hard. But we will do it.

For it is most important to do it when it is most difficult to do.


As the massive crowd cheered each defiant resolve to stand by those seeking asylum, it was a magnificent manifestation of a call and response, where the speaker and listeners are perfectly united in a public demonstration of civil resistance.

The call for sanctuary captured many people’s imaginations. As Rev. Dr. Peter Catt said, “This sanctuary movement has grown so much we’re in the process of turning the whole of Australia into a sanctuary. The whole nation is on board. I think the fact that the movement has become so public and widely supported gives it a resilience that means we can do this and it will make it very hard for border force and the government to make a move on these people.” Our campaign helped in some small measure to ensure that none of the 267 asylum seekers who were facing deportation were deported.[xviii]

[i]           Ghassan Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism (Sydney: Pluto Press, 2003), 48–52.

[ii]          David Benner, Surrender to Love (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 40.

[iii]         Wayne Muller, Legacy of the Heart (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 18.

[iv]         For example, in 2015, there were more than two thousand asylum seekers in Australian detention facilities, including 127 children. Over a previous two-year period, there were more than four thousand reported incidents of actual, threatened or attempted serious self-harm in immigration detention facilities and twelve deaths, six of which were suicides. See James Carlton, “Immigration detention is ‘state sanctioned child abuse:’ church leaders,” interview with Very Rev. Peter Catt (31 July 2014),

[v]          For example, in 2014, the Uniting Church offered to care for the thirty unaccompanied children on Christmas Island who were going to be sent to Nauru, but Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the offer in a press conference. Similarly, the Baptist Union of NSW and ACT offered to temporarily house seventy detainees at Villawood so they would not be moved to the extremely remote Curtin detention centre in West Australia, but the detainees were moved anyway. See “Children in Detention: Advocacy Brief” (November 2014),; Sophie Timothy, “Uniting Church offers to accommodate asylum seeker children” (4 March 2014),

[vi]         This speech was later published as “Letting Our Humanity Get The Better Of Us,” Westender, vol. 14, no. 5 (December): 9.

[vii]        Carolyn Webb, “The Gift Of Refuge,” The Age,


[ix]         Those involved in the vigil were Prof. Charles Ringma (University of Queensland), Rev. Kenn Baker (Wesleyan Methodist), Rev. Nicholas Whereat (Anglican), Rev. Geoff Hoyte (Anglican), Rev. Mary Smith (Anglican), Rev. Jenny Busch (Uniting), Rev. Fr Terry Fitzpatrick (Catholic), Sister Deloris (Sister of Mercy), Dr Jason McLeod (Quaker), Linda Page (Baptist) and myself. See press release at





[xiv]        Led by Love Makes A Way, the coalition included the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support network (BRASS), the Ecumenical Social Justice Group (Western Suburbs), the Edmund Rice Centre and St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane.



[xvii]       This team was supervised by cathedral staff (Peter Catt, Sue Wilton and Jenny Basham), guided by legal advisors (Phil Hall and Julian Nathan, Jason McLeod) and led by Kenn Baker, Penny Barring-ham, Peter Branjerdporn, Mike Campbell, Michelle McDonald and myself.

[xviii]     Melissa Davey, “The whole nation is on board: inside the sanctuary movement to protect asylum seekers,”

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