I was reminded by the Hebrew Bible reading we had last Sunday (from 2 Samuel 12) that, in the days of old, God would send prophets to speak to the rulers of the people, to remind them that they are answerable to a higher authority than themselves and, inspired by that, I thought I might try broadcasting a message to the Premier of our state, to remind her that, according to our common faith tradition, political leadership is a spiritual issue, and that a failure to be a ‘good shepherd’ can not only lose you the support of the people, but can put you on a collision course with the Almighty!
I hear in particular from my Lebanese friends, from my Muslim friends, and most especially from my Lebanese Muslim friends that they are feeling targeted in the West and inner-west of Sydney -targeted by harsh lockdowns – and I can understand why they feel that. They are suffering economically, as are many of us, but, more than that, they feel that their humanity is being compromised by harsh rules that don’t make much sense to them (and a lot of which, quite frankly, don’t make a lot of sense to any of us).
My understanding is that the word used for ‘skin’ In the Hebrew Bible – basar – it’s that which makes us human because we can touch one another, and I wonder, if we are not allowed to touch one another, can we be fully human? This is only a small example of the larger problem, but I do wonder to what extent these lockdowns, designed to save human lives, actually destroy the ability to live a truly human life, and I really wonder whether anybody should have the right to tell another human being that they can’t embrace those they love, or that they can’t meet together for prayer and worship, or that they can’t be with their loved ones who are dying, or that they can’t grieve together when those loved ones do die!
Some things are sacred, and while we all recognise that individual freedoms do need to be limited at some point for the sake of the well-being of the broader community, we surely need to draw the line at some point too, and when freedoms are mitigated to the point where businesses and families are destroyed and where domestic violence is increasing and depression is on the rise and suicide looks like the only answer, perhaps it’s time to say ‘enough is enough’?
A couple of weeks ago, a lot of us in Sydney went out to protest. It hadn’t even clicked with me at the time that it was illegal to protest, but I realised subsequently that a lot of people there were fully aware of the fact that they were risking arrest and fines that they couldn’t afford in order to have their voices heard, and I must say, Madam Premier, that I was deeply disappointed by your response. You had the opportunity at that point to say, “I hear what you are saying. I sympathise with your grief. I understand your pain.” Instead, you said “I going to get you”, and you went to war with us, and you arrested us and fined us and you even brought in the army!
And now I hear the whir of army helicopters overhead at night, and I see these images of violence and unrest, and I see videos of women screaming and men being wrestled to the ground, and punches being thrown, and …. It didn’t have to be this way!
You know, I think so much of the problem, not just for you, Madam Premier, but with all of our politicians today is that there’s not a lot of skin in the game.
Not many Roman emperors died quietly in their own beds. Indeed, I believe the last recorded sighting of Constantine XI was of him girding up his loins, with his sons by his side and his broadsword in his hand, crying ‘charge’. If those leaders made hard decisions that threatened the livelihood of their people, they were in the front line, sharing the fate of their people. That just doesn’t happen nowadays. We see our political leaders on full salaries, driving in chauffeur-driven cars, living a long way away from the ‘hotspots’ that they are locking down, and sharing in none of the hardships endured by the rest of us.
Madam Premier, the battle is not lost. I believe that your relationship with your people can still be retrieved, but you’ll need to put some skin in the game. You should, at the very least, come down and walk the streets of the areas you are locking down and talk to the people there, as one human being to another, because we need to be taken seriously.
I’ll be happy to introduce you to some of my Lebanese friends and some of my Muslim friends and some of my Lebanese Muslim friends. In fact, I’ll be happy to introduce you to a whole variety of people who are feeling suffocated and destroyed by the decisions that you are making. Please, I pray you, do something before things deteriorate any further.
May God bless you and give you wisdom.