Compassionate Grafton

candles-heart.jpgThese past few days the people of Grafton and the wider Clarence Valley have reeled in shock as we heard about the massacre in two Christchurch mosques and then learned that the assailant was one of our own, a young man who grew up in Grafton.

Over the weekend I was interviewed by numerous national and international media, and one of the most frequent questions concerned our contacts with the local Muslim community as we prepared for the prayer vigil that was held in Grafton Cathedral last night.

When I explained that it was proving very hard to make contact with the local Muslim community, as they meet in secret and do not advertise any community contact persons, the immediate question was: Why?

Why are they afraid of us?

They are afraid of us because of the spread of an insidious virus in the Australian body politic, evidenced in the rise of right-wing parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party.

This ‘virus’ is not limited to the far right, but also infects major political parties who find that fear fuels electoral support. Even parties which are traditionally left-wing creep to the right to minimise the electoral damage.

In the nether regions of Australian political life we find overtly white-supremacist groups and even members of parliament blaming Muslim immigration for the rise of Islamophobia and suggesting that the massacre in Christchurch was the result immigration policies that do not privilege white people.

The dog whistles echo around the media, and especially at a time when we have both state and federal elections.

It seems that my comments on a local radio station yesterday have upset a local candidate for the Shooters Party, Fishers and Farmers.

It is controversial to name the elephant in the room, namely the rise of populist political movements with policies that oppose immigration, call for the protection of our ‘western culture’ and seek to reduce or eliminate controls on gun ownership.

Read their policy documents. I have. [See australia.isidewith.com for a helpful collation of the data]

For the record, the context of my comments was the sad fact that our small Muslim community in Grafton (and indeed throughout the North Coast) meets secretly for their prayers and had proved impossible to contact as we planned the community prayer vigil at Grafton Cathedral.

Now why would they be afraid of us? Could it be the rise of populist political movements and the infection of racist atttiudes within so-called mainstream parties?

More importantly, in my view, how do we make Grafton a compassionate city where everyone feels safe and welcome, including our Muslim neighbours?

This is not party politics, it is compassion as taught by Jesus. “Love your neighbour as yourself …”

My prayer is that we come together as the generous communty that we are and use a project such as the Compassionate Communities program to demonstrate our true character to the world, but especially to our Muslim neighbours.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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6 Responses to Compassionate Grafton

  1. Ian Pearson says:

    G’day Greg,

    I saw you briefly on ABC News last night. And now this email.

    You’re doing a great job mate. A feather in the progressive theology cap.

    Though the recognition and care of Muslims trumps (notice small ‘t’) that.

    Thank you for your great witness.

    I’m trying the get up a motion for Australia to secede from Australia (like Christmas Island?) in order to become the federated states of New Zealand. Keep the impressive Jacinda as PM. Would you be willing to be her deputy?

    I hope all is well with you, Eve, your kids and your Parish.

    See you in July.

    Warm regards, Ian

    Ian Pearson

    >

  2. Jessie TRACEY says:

    Thank you for this post. The intolerance in people we know sometimes comes as a shock and it is difficult to know how to react with love. Jessie Casino Parish

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  3. Jane Lee Wolfe says:

    Blessings on ou, the people of grafton especially the muslims who hide from their neighbors for fear of rejection and voilence. thank you for your leadership in this and many areas, and your courage to speak.

  4. Marie Cameron says:

    Hi Greg,
    Well said! Thankfully in Toowoomba the Muslim community does interact with the broader community despite two arson attacks on their mosque. There was an interfaith prayer service there last Saturday at which the Mayor and the Anglican bishop spoke and there is an impressive array of floral tributes propped against the front fence. I think they know that they have support from the broader community. I pray that in time, your small Muslim community in Grafton may come to know and trust their fellow citizens.
    Warm regards, Marie

  5. Janet Zimmerman says:

    Dear Greg, My heart breaks again when I read this post. In the US it was reported that officials in New Zealand asked Muslems to stay home, to avoid meeting in worship following this murderous rampage. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are afraid, justifiably. Since they feel in danger joining your prayer service, I recommend you join their’s. Here in Massachusetts, thousands of miles away from this horrible tragedy, hundreds of people turned out for Friday prayers at our local mosque. Coming together in prayer is so important in these times, and we need to seek each other out, being particularly available and comforting toward those who are being targeted by white supremacist terrorists in our world. (If I sound angry, I am!) Blessings on your work in Grafton.

    • gregoryjenks says:

      Thanks, Janet: We are indeed reaching out to our local Muslim commnity. It is evry smaller. Perhaps fewer than 50 persons. They are deeply appreciative of our friendship. I expect to meet with them this coming week and we are exploring things we can do together. Such a tragedy in Christchurch, but it has given birth to a new legacy of compassion here in the city of Grafton.

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