A group of Christians protesting detention for asylum-seeking children stripped off their clothes on the steps of the magistrate's court in Perth, Australia on Wednesday.
The group, Love Makes a Way, had just pleaded guilty to trespassing in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's electorate office in December, where they had staged an eight-hour peaceful sit-in and several members were reportedly strip-searched.
From the court steps, National Director of Common Grace and Sojourners contributor Jarrod McKenna quoted from the book of Matthew before he and others in the group began stripping off their garments — this time, willingly.
Editor's Note: Jarrod McKenna is an Australian Christian leader behind #LoveMakesAWay, a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia's inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action. Read more about McKenna, #LoveMakesAWay, and the indefinite imprisonment of immigrants in Australia HERE. This article originally appeared at Junkee.
If you care about the cause of asylum seekers in Australia, you know there’s not been much to cheer about lately – the government descends further into cruelty, while much of the populace just shrugs.
So when a group of priests and pastors were arrested for peacefully occupying the Sydney offices of immigration minister Scott Morrison in March, praying and demanding the release of kids in detention, it turned a few heads and went a bit viral. When it happened again and again in the following months, it felt like a movement. To date, more than 100 leaders from many different faiths have been arrested at Love Makes A Way prayer vigils in politician’s offices all over the country (the PM wasn’t spared; his digs were targeted in May).
The charmingly polite stubbornness with which they’ve taken the government to task has earned many supporters of all persuasions, even if the prayer bit is lost on some of them. Along with other “cranky Christian” activists like Gosford Anglican Church’s Father Rod Bower (he of the irrepressible message board) and rogue Catholic priest and Triple J presenter Father Bob, they’ve been a pain in the conservative arse even an atheist could love.
One of the main minds behind Love Makes A Way is Perth-based radical Christian leader Jarrod McKenna. With his blond dreadlocks, casual vibe, and jokes about how Christians are “daggy,” he’s hardly the sanctimonious, Bible-bashing type. But when the subject of human rights and nonviolent resistance comes up, the charismatic McKenna becomes passionate, even evangelical.
Jarrod McKenna is in trouble. It's not that the dreadlocked Christian activist is at risk of being arrested, as he has been at several anti-war and anti-coal protests. Rather, he has let five-year-old Congolese refugee Zephanta Baganizi eat the leftovers of our very late lunch, shortly before dinner time.
"Have you asked your mum if it's OK?" McKenna asks "Zopho," who is gazing at several pieces of bolani, a vegan flat-bread meal from Afghanistan. Transfixed by the food, Zopho doesn't respond.
"Just a small piece, then."
Zopho grabs the biggest piece. He runs off to his family's apartment, mouth overflowing with fried bread and vegetable filling.
"I'm in trouble," McKenna says.
The interaction between Australian, Congolese and Afghan food, people and culture is not uncommon at a large block at the end of Dudley Street in the outer Perth suburb of Midland.
It is the location of First Home Project; a former methamphetamine lab transformed into three apartments that provide medium-term accommodation at below-market rates for refugees transitioning into their new Australian lives.
He’s been arrested more times than he cares to mention, but that’s life when you typify the new generation of Christian leaders who are seeking to not just preach Christ’s gospel, but live it. Young pastor Jarrod McKenna describes it as “rolling up our sleeves and just getting on with the practical work of loving our neighbors.”
A regular at anti-war protests, Jarrod is no stranger to the handcuffs of authority. But he’s also highly sought-after at home and abroad as a social change facilitator and speaker.
“There’s been a real cultural shift in Australia, with many Gen Y-ers wanting to engage issues differently,” says the 31-year-old. “I get to mentor a lot of people from all around Australia who are coming from across the board – from the Hillsong type mega-churches to Sydney Anglican conservatism, from Charismatics to Baptists and Pentecostals. All of them are saying, ‘We don’t want to walk away from faith, we want to share in a faith that’s more authentic than we’ve been offered before’.”