Love Makes A Way is a group of Christian leaders and believers who’ve captured the public imagination by holding prayerful sit-ins occupying the offices of influential politicians.
The occupations are peaceful but obstinate, with heartfelt prayer and the occasional hymn, ending only when the participants are arrested and removed, and in one case, strip-searched by police. They’ve occupied the offices of Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Richard Marles, Bill Shorten and many more, and they’re not about to stop any time soon. Their demands are simple: a compassionate response to asylum seekers and the release of children from indefinite detention.
I met up with one of the original founders of Love Makes A Way, Matt Anslow, along with the Reverend Simon Moyle and the Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones, to find out more about this group.
Kat Phyn: How did Love Makes A Way come about?
Matt Anslow: The first action came about because three people in a pub in Sydney got together to talk about how they could respond to, what seemed like at the time, really terrible asylum seeker policies under the Gillard government. It wasn’t meant to become a movement, it was just meant to be a one-off thing that we hoped would dramatise the issue a bit and get people talking.
And why did you decide on occupations, what you call “non-violent direct actions”?
Matt Anslow: Non-violent action, part of the logic of it, is to almost be a kind of theatre in public, to make people think about what’s going on.
Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones: I’d been looking for a way for years. I had been so angry and devastated at where the asylum seeker debates were going and I felt as though after years of marching and writing petitions, this was the obvious next step.
Do you feel like you’re starting to have an effect?
Reverend Simon Moyle: The effective question is an interesting one, because I guess primarily the question I ask in terms of these actions is what does it look like to be faithful to the God we see in Jesus. That may or may not be effective, in terms of what it looks like for an action to be effective. The way non-violent action works is that people demonstrate their willingness to suffer for a cause and in being prepared to do that, win people over. Now whether or not that’s effective doesn’t really depend on us, it depends on your opponent’s willingness to change.
Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones: I think what is powerful about the church acting on this issue is that so often the church and Christians are seen as pretty conservative, pretty middle class, so when people see Christians getting arrested, often en masse, around this issue, I think that is part of the story, part of the way they might pay attention.
“If we cared about these children’s lives we would not be locking them up in the way we do.”
What was the first occupation (Scott Morrison’s office in 2014) like?
Matt Anslow: I remember going into that office, and having one of the most profound and poignant experiences probably of my life. It was this weird juxtaposition of praying, and being quiet and silent, and having police officers eventually remove people and all the rest. So it’s kind of a strange experience in a way, but one that I think that, as the actions have gone on, people have found to be powerful, moving, moments.
What makes Love Makes A Way different?
Reverend Simon Moyle: Probably the main difference is the way that this has captured the imagination of the church; Catholics, Quakers, Uniting Church, Church of Christ, like this might be the only thing we agree on! People are prepared to wear costs, perhaps for the first time that I’ve seen, in a kind of major way I suppose.
Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones: I think that’s been the difference for me. I’ve been involved in this issue for a number of years, but this time I had to think about, “was I willing to break the law to show how deep my concern is?” And I decided, yes I was.
Let’s talk about the effect of detention, particularly on children which has been a focus of your protests.
Matt Anslow: Children in detention has been a part of the issue that people have found most outrageous; the fact that we have locked up children, put them in situations where their mental health is at a major risk, where their physical health is in danger. We put children in that situation in order to get a policy win.
Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones: The idea that we can use children who have made it safely to Australia, to save the hypothetical lives of people who would otherwise get on boats and drown, is just appalling. If we cared about these children’s lives we would not be locking them up in the way we do.
Reverend Simon Moyle: I think it’s almost a touchstone that gets people to realise that if it’s despicable and wrong to lock up children why is it okay for women to be there, why is it okay for men to be there? It’s not, none of them are okay.
What do you think of the issues in light of the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment bill?
Matt Anslow: Obviously in light of what’s happened, the narrative needs to be wider. We’ve seen children used as a bargaining chip in order to get this legislation through which allows temporary protection visas among other things. Now we will no longer give permanent protection to people who seek asylum here, which is no less disgusting.
Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones: The removal of references to the Refugee Convention has just absolutely devastated me because that was created after World War II. So many people died unable to find a refuge when they were facing dire persecution. The Refugee Convention said we’ve seen what happened to Jewish people trying to get out of Germany, people do not need to have visas to seek refuge, whatever way they enter a safe country. And that’s the point of the Refugee Convention to make sure something like the Holocaust never happens again. And they have removed reference to that. I just can’t believe they could have done that.
“If Love Makes A Way was the only response I don’t think that would be enough, but in concert with all the other amazing groups out there who are doing different things, I think that’s how we’ll be able to see change.”
What do you say to those people who worry that if we open the borders we’ll be over-run?
Reverend Simon Moyle: We are a long way away from these places. It takes enormous persistence to get here. I think the idea that we’re going to be over-run is unlikely. But also the reality at the moment is – and this is where I think people are quite unaware – the reality is well, we’re being mean. We’re actually not bearing even our responsibility let alone being generous, and we can afford to be generous.
Can you point towards a model of dealing with asylum seekers that we can aspire to?
Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones: How about Australia when the Cambodians and Vietnamese arrived. That was under Malcolm Fraser, a Liberal Prime Minister, and people were accepted as refugees and people were integrated into the community. We used to be able to receive people as refugees, and recognise them as refugees no matter how they entered.
Is community processing the ideal solution?
Reverend Simon Moyle: Yes and part of what we’ve been saying with Love Makes A Way is that churches have been offering to do this, churches have been offering to take children and families, churches have been offering to take people. The option’s there. The government has chosen not to take it.
Where to from here for Love Makes A Way?
Matt Anslow: Our hope cannot simply be that the next government will change the policy. As we’ve seen under the former Labour government, you can change the policy but if people’s hearts aren’t changed in this country it just won’t be sustainable. I have hope that we can change people’s hearts. That we can have a different story in this country that we want to be a part of. And we are only one part. If Love Makes A Way was the only response I don’t think that would be enough, but in concert with all the other amazing groups out there who are doing different things, I think that’s how we’ll be able to see change.