Call for prayer after last week’s violence

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
17th December 2005

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This morning we pray for peace in Sydney. Last Sunday was a sad, even tragic, day in the social history of our city. We certainly want no repeat of such violence.

During the last week our city has tried to understand these events—not the details of what happened but why they occurred. Why was there such a collapse of civic order in our normally safe and peaceful society? What are we going to call these events? Were they ‘race riots’, ‘turf wars’, ‘gang wars’ or is there another term that better describes what happened?

The social commentators have provided a range of ideas as to the underlying cause of the fracas. Racism, tribalism, criminal gangs, economic deprivation, unemployment, alcohol, the media, male chauvinistic culture, multiculturalism, religion, the government, the police, the Nazis and so it goes on.

Most of these attempts to explain the underlying cause have some truth in them. But most of the explanations tell us more about the commentators than the problem. It is the left leaning economists who see that unemployment and poverty are the chief contributing factors. It is the feminists who see that the macho culture of Lebanese men and boozy surfers is the real problem. It is the Labor party who blame Mr Howard and it is the Liberal party who blame the State Government's failure to provide adequate police.

Some explanations are not explanations at all. The ‘racist’ tag, or ‘un-Australian’ accusation, are next to useless pieces of commentary.

Apart from a few ideologues (who may have stirred the pot) there is no stated intention to start a campaign to discriminate against anybody on the basis of race. Using labels such as ‘Lebs’ is no different to the old turf wars labels like ‘surfers’ and ‘westies’. One of the labels in this current round of turf wars has a racist connection which is particularly unpleasant but that does not make it a ‘race riot’.

To say that racism is ‘un-Australian’ is a moral statement of the hope for the future. It is hardly an accurate description of the history of our nation. We, like all mankind have within our hearts the seeds of racism. We have at times enacted laws that made distinctions on the basis of race. Thankfully today in public discourse our leaders continually eschew racism—as they should. Today, in general our community conversation, the word 'racism' is used as a pejorative term.

But if ‘un-Australian’ is not a factual but a moral term, who determines what is ‘Australian’ and what is ‘un-Australian’? And how does being Australian come to be the determiner of moral standards? Remember, the witch-hunts of McCarthyism came in the name of ‘un-American’ activities. Nationalism as a morality easily slides into mere jingoism. The ‘un-Australian’ label is the empty shell of morality caused by secularist thinking. Australia needs some moral standards beyond itself to govern its affairs.

As Christians we know that it is God who appoints governments to rule the affairs of this world. It is therefore to God that Governments are accountable. It is therefore also our duty to obey governments and not to take matters into our own hands.

Yet we also know that Governments are unable stop evil. The problems of our world are to be found in the sinful human heart—the hearts of all people, including governments. The reason we do not express more sinfulness is lack of opportunity or temptation or pressure. No Government can create in this world a ‘temptation free zone’. It is not the world that needs to be changed but us. It is only as we are personally transformed by the Spirit, in response to the word of the cross, that we will find forgiveness and be able to extend forgiveness, thus breaking the cycle of revenge. Christians know that it is only as citizens are changed in their hearts that governments are able to maintain peace and order with a minimum of force.

Furthermore we know that our God will hear our prayers and bring us such peace and stability as may allow people to live godly, quiet lives. He is in control and we do not need to live in fear and anxiety. Rather we are to pray.

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