Lieut Ben Clapton has become the second Salvation Army officer to be arrested as a member of the ongoing Loves Makes A Way interchurch protest against the cruelty and neglect experienced by asylum seekers, refugees and their children in offshore detention facilities administered by Australia.
The lieutenant follows in the footsteps of his fellow officer, Captain Craig Farrell, who was arrested for a similar action in 2014.
Post-arrest, the Australia Southern Territory’s media director Dr Bruce Redman affirmed the actions of Lieut Clapton, stating that ‘although the current government has reduced the number of children in detention to a fraction of what it was, The Salvation Army is proud to support our people who put themselves on the line on behalf of these innocent young people.
‘It’s not about party politics, Dr Redman, added, ‘but about justice and compassion.’
Territorial mission resources secretary Major Graham Roberts praised the action and said it was good to see the young corps officer had followed both the approval processes and the dictates of his conscience.
‘The hurting and neglect of children can be described as a stain on the character and heart of Australia. There is no simple answer as to why we close our eyes and pretend it’s not happening.
"Out of sight, out of mind" is at work here. If Australians were allowed to see what was happening a public outcry would demand action.
‘Many Australians have very little contact with people who come to our shores to seek asylum,’ he added. ‘It is easier to ignore the plight of others if they remain unknown to you. We are often eager to believe rhetoric that will demonise the other when we think our “lifestyle” or values are at risk, even when our fears may be unfounded.’
‘I think some people just simply feel overwhelmed and powerless, and so seek to ignore what they feel they can't change,’ added his colleague, Major Sandra Crowden. ‘I’d like to believe that there are actually very few people who are comfortable with the way things are.’
Knowing that there have been 30 claims of abuse and neglect against refugee children to date, and zero prosecutions; Major Crowden said The Salvation Army – as a body that opposes offshore processing – cannot ignore accusations of abuse, especially with no transparency or without justice being seen to be done.
‘The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory clearly states its views on this matter in our Guidelines for Salvationists on Asylum Seekers and Refugees,’ she said, quoting that ‘“The Salvation Army advocates for the development of proactive, compassionate and appropriate human rights focused policies in relation to all asylum seekers”.
‘This would indicate that The Salvation Army is concerned about situations of abuse in Australia’s response to people seeking asylum.’
Instances to date of Salvation Army personnel (two officers and one soldier) being engaged in civil disobedience have been undertaken with the direct knowledge and approval of Salvation Army leadership.
Asked if the Australia Southern Territory anticipated that other officers / soldiers/ employees etc. will participate in Love Makes A Way protests, and if there is perceived need for a formalisation of the approval processes, Major Crowden said that ‘those who have already been involved in acts of civil disobedience around this issue have done so with the knowledge and support of our leaders’.
‘They have not made this decision lightly and they have ensured that they have followed our internal procedures before participating. I see no barrier to other Salvationists following their conscience on this matter.
‘Anyone who participates in a Love Makes A Way action has had to agree to attend training and must be approved before participation,’ she added.
‘Love Makes A Way is committed to changing policies through prayer and nonviolent action. The Salvation Army is kept informed about participation of any Salvationists and is comfortable with the process that is being followed.’
Asked about the incremental nature of the protest against cruelty and neglect concerning refugees and asylum seekers, especially their children, Captain Craig Farrell said that ‘it will take a united effort from all walks of life to recognise that our current polices relating to asylum seekers are ultimately void of human dignity and compassion’.
The captain felt that The Salvation Army and its sister churches have a role to play in helping Australians reach a tipping point, through ‘continued advocacy and care for asylum seekers and refugees; and a commitment to non-violent actions that speak truth to power’.
When interviewed after his Love Makes A Way arrest, on Monday, 13 October, 2014, Captain Farrell was asked if other Salvation Army members or officers would make the same choice and exercise civil disobedience.
‘I am hopeful,’ Craig said at that time. ‘People may consider the issues, consider my actions and choose to engage also. There is no reason it has to be in the same way and manner, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. We need to encourage both education and action.
‘For me, beyond the politics, and public relations and media implications, there are the deeper questions. Where is God leading us? Where is God leading you? What are the voices in this asylum seeker debate, and where are they headed? And what becomes of the men, women and children who are being brutalised?’
Click here for a previous article detailing the arrest of the now-territorial youth secretary Captain Craig Farrell