Christ Church Cathedral – A Place of Sanctuary
Sunday 7th February 2016
Last week Christ Church Cathedral was included in a list of Anglican Cathedrals prepared to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers. This ancient custom was invoked to protect those fleeing injustice or oppression. In this case it particularly was invoked to protect young children and their families at risk of being returned to off-shore processing centres. A meeting of parishioners chaired by the Dean of Darwin, the Very Reverend Dr Keith Joseph was held this morning. The Bishop of the Northern Territory, the Right Reverend Dr Greg Anderson, also participated. The meeting confirmed this offer of sanctuary to asylum seekers.
This decision was not taken lightly. Some of our parishioners are concerned that we should not enter into politics, and others are worried that asylum seekers living in the community in Darwin might be subject to retributive measures such as detention. However, it was agreed by all that the detention of children, especially at off-shore centres, was unconscionable and wrong. Detention of innocent children is in itself harmful; even more so where children are subject to abuse, uncertainty and fear. It was noted that both the Commonwealth Government and the Opposition argue that such detention is necessary to ensure a greater good, being that of “stopping the boats”. This is simply a utilitarian argument justifying evil as a means of doing good. But there is no secular moral system or religious ethic that can possibly justify harming children to achieve some nebulous greater good.
There was also some discussion as to the wisdom or otherwise of current policies – clearly attempting to stop boats will in the end be unsuccessful if the factors causing people to risk leaving home are not addressed. Conflict and climate change in particular are likely to cause increasing numbers of refugees in our region, and they may have no home to return to. Obviously government policy designed at stopping boats should be primarily focused on dealing with those factors likely to cause people to flee in the first place. Causing harm to asylum seekers as some form of deterrence (at considerable cost to the tax payer) doesn’t appear to make much sense as in the longer term it will likely fail. However, our concern is not with the wisdom or otherwise of government policy. Our concern is to protect the innocent and to protest against an unconscionable wrong. Thus we offer sanctuary.
The Very Reverend Dr Keith Joseph, Dean