Aussie church leaders respond to Christchurch massacre

But it may be too little, too late, says one Christian activist

Australian Christian leaders joined many thousands across the world who visited mosques over the weekend to express their solidarity with the Muslim community after last Friday’s terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Meanwhile other church leaders expressed their grief by holding special prayer services and publicly expressing their condemnation of the massacre.

But this reaction comes too late, according to Brad Chilcott, founder of Welcome to Australia and pastor of Activate Church in Adelaide. While Chilcott, who attended Preston Mosque in Melbourne with his daughter on the weekend, acknowledges that it was “great to be there with hundreds of other people who wanted to show solidarity with the Muslim community”, he adds that church leaders needed to react well before now.

“I feel like those of us who have tried to stand with our Muslim neighbours throughout these last years of the fear-mongering and vilification have tried to suggest that this is where it ends when we are unwelcoming and teach each other to fear our neighbour,” Chilcott tells Eternity.

“I hope that this results in a new day for all us in Australia.” – Brad Chilcott

“I would hope that this gives pause for reflection from those of us in the Christian Church to consider how we’ve contributed over the last number of years to the tension, the fear and the Islamophobia that has really taken hold in Australia – how we have often been complicit in that and not been showing solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters as they’ve been attacked in the media and by our political leaders.

“I would encourage Christian leaders to reconsider the language that they’ve often used about Islam and its role in our country, and to really think deeply about any way that they’ve added to that climate of distrust and suspicion of our neighbours.”

Chilcott continues: “I hope that this results in a new day for all us in Australia of recognising that our words don’t just happen in isolation in our churches or in our newspapers, or in parliament, but they have real-world consequences for our neighbours and our fellow humans. When we continue to tell the story of people who are different to us – ruining our way of life or being somehow complicit in evil acts overseas, or things like opposing halal certification – all of those things add to a climate where hate and distrust become overt acts of violence.

“I feel like we’ve often been silent when our political leaders and our media have encouraged prejudice and suspicion. We’ve allowed so much subtle racism and relational violence to take place in our country without speaking out. And now that that has spilled over into this terrorist massacre, then we finally find our voice and finally find our compassion. In many ways, it’s far too late. But I guess the silver lining is that potentially some of us will reflect on our role in this and start to change.”

In a tweet today, March 18, Chilcott urged the Australian public to begin this change in the upcoming federal election, saying, “In May, let’s rid ourselves of all those who’ve been peddling this racism, amplifying hatred and turning Australians against their Muslim, African, refugee and asylum seeker neighbour as a political strategy. We’d be so much better off without them. Now – surely – we can see.”

Over the weekend, other Christian leaders responded to the Muslim community and to the Church after the tragedy in Christchurch.

Stu Cameron, lead minister of Newlife Church, Gold Coast

Stu Cameron, lead minister of Newlife Church on the Gold Coast, joined over 1000 people who gathered for prayer services at the Gold Coast Mosque on Saturday, March 16.

“I was horrified when I turned on my TV on Friday afternoon to discover the rolling coverage of the unfolding tragedy in Christchurch. By Saturday morning I was in touch with other pastors in our city who were similarly shocked, all of us wondering what we should do,” Cameron tells Eternity.

“So we reached out to our contacts in the Muslim community and discovered there was to be a community vigil that afternoon at the city’s mosque. It was an easy decision for me to attend, along with, I’m guessing, 1000 or so others – all creeds and cultures. To shake hands with Muslim leaders present and express the shared grief of the Christian churches of our city was a privilege.

“Good neighbours always weep when the other is weeping.” – Stu Cameron

“In recent years I’ve walked with Muslim neighbours at Welcome to Australia events. Our church welcomes Muslim mums and their kids at our playgroup and our childcare centre. We count it a privilege to be neighbours in our city. And good neighbours always weep when the other is weeping, and stand together in solidarity when the other feels threatened. This is gospel ministry. In coming weeks there will be more to do. But for now, weeping with those who weep is the right place to start.”

Mark Coleridge, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane

Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge attended a prayer service at the Islamic College of Brisbane on Sunday, March 17, which he described on his Facebook page as “a hugely heartening gathering”.

Coleridge continued: “Faith communities, political and civic leaders, police and many ordinary citizens of many different backgrounds were united in mourning the victims of the Christchurch atrocity, praying for their families and the wounded, and pledging solidarity beyond the evil of hatred and violence. As the young Muslim woman who was the MC said at the end, ‘Don’t go home with a heavy heart but with a heart full of hope’ … we did.”

Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies took part in a service at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney on Sunday, March 17, which included special prayers for survivors and families of the victims, as well as a minute’s silence.

In a public statement about the attacks, Davies wrote:

“The horror of the massacre of Muslims, praying in a Christchurch Mosque, has resonated with people of all faiths and of none around the world. That anyone, let alone an Australian, could execute such an atrocity and film it for his heinous gratification, is still hard to believe as the extent of this crime became fully known …

“I have conveyed to the leaders of Sydney’s Muslim community our absolute horror and revulsion at these attacks and our determination to stand with them in condemning all acts of violence, especially racially and religiously motivated acts of inhumanity as we have seen …

“Our hearts cry out to the God of all comfort, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom alone will justice and mercy be found, especially when events such as these overwhelm us.”

Murray Campbell, lead pastor, Mentone Baptist Church, Melbourne

Murray Campbell, who heads Melbourne’s Mentone Baptist Church, happened to be preparing a sermon on Jesus’s response to a Canaanite woman (from Matthew 15:21-28) when he heard about the massacre.

In a passionate blog post, he urged Christians to “be more like Jesus” in responding to our Muslim neighbours. Pointing to Jesus’s healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, Campbell writes: “He doesn’t respond bigotry and exclusion, but with compassion and inclusion.

“We can love Muslim neighbours by praying for those injured and for the many who are now mourning incredible losses …

“We can love our Muslim neighbours by showing kindness to them. On the street, offer a smile. Take a few minutes to chat and offer some kinds words of encouragement. If we don’t have any Muslims in our circle of friends, why not? What can we do to change this omission?

“We can love not only by renouncing the hateful speech of those who oppose Christianity on the left, but also publicly repudiate those on the extreme right who support, urge, and carry out malicious attacks on Muslims, on Jews, and others.”

Meanwhile, today, further details about the identities the 50 people killed have been revealed, including the youngest known victim, three-year-old Mucad Ibrahim. The process of releasing victims’ bodies to families has already begun, with the first burials expected to begin today, according to the ABC.

The ABC also reports that many of the other 50 people who were injured in the attack still remain in hospital, with 12 people in a critical condition.

The gunman responsible, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant from Grafton in northern New South Wales, faced Christchurch District Court on Saturday and has been accused of murder. According to TVNZ, Tarrant showed “little emotion”. His trial will begin on April 5, when he will face the High Court.


Some prayer points to help

Sandy Grant, senior minister at St Michael’s Anglican Church in Wollongong, south of Sydney, has written this prayer:

Almighty Father,
you rule the earth and its people in love.
We pray for those torn apart through the ravages of terror in these New Zealand mosques today.
And we ask you to bring comfort and healing to the injured and grieving.
In a world of too much darkness,
give to all who exercise authority
determination to defend freedom and justice for all,
strength to protect and safeguard the innocent,
and vision to guide our world into pathways of peace.
In this time of uncertainty and fear,
help us all to love our enemies
and do good to those who hate us,
noting the example of Jesus Christ.
We look to him as the Prince of peace,
in whose name we pray. Amen.