2018 August 5 -Justice and The Abuse of Power

Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26- 12:13a
When people take what they want from others because they can, its called abuse of power.

Last Mondays 4 Corners told the story of Cambodia?s slide into dictatorship under long time leader Hun Sen. It called out the sham elections, where Hun Sen?s main political opponent, Kem Ley, was murdered, and his party banned from competing in the election. Hun Sen actually had the gall, while in Australia recently, to threaten not only anyone who protested his presence, but the wife and children of Kem Ley. The program also described the rapid development of Cambodia using Chinese and Japanese investment, and drew attention to the land-grabs that were taking place in the south coast region. One authority said that the most dangerous place in Cambodia is to be a villager on land that a rich person wants for themselves.

Abuse of power inevitably results in the suffering of the weak and vulnerable.

Not that anyone would readily call the brave and principled Uriah the Hittite "weak and vulnerable?. Yet, in relation to King David, who could basically have anything or anyone he wanted, Uriah was in fact in mortal danger. The story of David and Bathsheba is traditionally understood to be about lust that will not be denied. Lust, however is all too often a disguise for abuse of power, as anyone who understands the dynamics of domestic violence or paedophilia would know. Tradition tends to paint Bathsheba as a seductress, but the text does not validate this prejudice. It is all about the King, and what he wants.

It is for this reason that the prophet Nathan comes to David with another story of power abuse, where a rich man with plentiful flocks of his own steals a poor family?s pet lamb to slaughter at a feast. David is rightly outraged by this disgusting act of cruelty and greed, and wants the rich abuser put to death, or at lest, forced to make reparations on account of his lack of pity. Then Nathan delivers the killer blow, the dagger to the heart of the abuser exposed- "You are the man?.

It is relatively easy, like David, to see the injustice in accounts of power abuse by others. In cases such as Hun Sen?s Cambodia, it?s so clear and obvious; so worthy of punishment, so needy of restorative justice. But like him, we may not be so quick to see the abuse when it is closer to home.

Let me therefore mention a few instances of power abuse that, unlike Cambodia, occur within our own sphere of concern. I have selected three that are most current. There are dozens of others I could have chosen.

One is the story of Australia?s efforts to secure a sizable portion of oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea. During negotiations with the fledgling nation in 2004, Australia bugged the East Timor cabinet rooms. Prior to that, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer withdrew Australia from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the international Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, so the case could not be independently arbitrated. The fuller story is contained in a speech to Parliament by Senator Andrew Wilkie, quoted in Hansard of 28th June. A copy is available on the back table of the church. The latest development is that a former head of ASIS technical operations who complained about the bugging, now known as Whistle-blower K has been charged, along with his lawyer.

When people take what they want from others because they can, we call it abuse of power.

Very briefly, two other stories demonstrate abuse of power close to home. One is in the coroner?s report about the death of Hamid Kehazaei, a Manus Island refugee detainee, whose septicaemia was neglected by Australian authorities to the point that, by the time he was brought to here for proper treatment, it was too late to save him. His was one of the deaths we acknowledged by our 12 empty chairs at the front of the church 2 weeks ago.

Another is about Tasmanian Angela Williamson, who was fired from her position with Cricket Australia because she criticised the Tasmanian government for its decision to not provide pregnancy termination facilities at public hospitals even though the only private provider had closed. Her medical record of her own termination, for which she had to travel to the mainland, was allegedly provided by the State Government. to her employer.

Some of these stories contain shades of gray. There is a lot of information out there, as long as one is prepared to go looking for it. It will not readily be found in proper detail in the main-stream media, who, unlike the prophet Nathan, do not always seem committed to an even-handed speaking of truth to power. I hope that, at least we are paying attention, lest our community become, like King David, ready to condemn the abuses of others, without recognising where it is occurring right within our own midst.

I grew up in a generous and loving home where power was abused simply because we were part of a system where people of colour could be employed to do routine household tasks at a fraction of the cost that we would today consider reasonable. Sometimes we have to look even into our own homes and hearts to see how power abuse is happening. Also, as people of faith, we can pay attention to what the prophets are saying about the imbalances in our society.

These can also be sins against creation, such as logging in Victorian state forests. The plan to decide if sugar gliders are endangered is to clear-fell, or partially clear-fell their habitat of old growth trees, and see how many get killed in the process. So next time we criticise the Japanese for their so-called ?scientific whaling? (as we must), spare a thought for the sugar glider, that must now die in order to be counted!

Or we might be willing to pay attention to the many emerging stories about the abuse of low paid workers in our community, especially those who have little or no negotiating power.

I have spoken recently about how Jesus used his power. One could spend time very profitably reading chunks of the gospels with just that one question in mind. It starts in the wilderness, where he is tempted by the offer of immesurable power, if he will only sell his soul to Satan. But, as Jesus himself says elsewhere, "What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world, and lose their soul?? While we have a fair idea of the consequences of power abuse on the one being abused, this piece of wisdom give us a clue about the consequences to the abuser themselves. Are the profits of power abuse really worth the loss of our souls, or that of our nation?

When David, courtesy of the prophet Nathan, has his eyes opened to his own gross abuse of power, he is mortified, and takes the difficult road of repentance. It is the only way that he can and will find redemption, and redemption is not just a matter of saying sorry, which so often only happens when someone is caught in the act of abuse. True repentance also means being sorry, and where possible, making appropriate reparations for the losses and the hurt that the abuse has caused.

David?s response to Nathan?s story is telling: "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.? His basic instinct is for revenge. We call this retributive justice. But he quickly moves to what he discerns is a just mediation- one lamb for the one that was taken, and three for the pain and suffering caused to the poor family. This is RESTORATIVE justice. It seeks to repair the harm that has been caused. It involves, where possible, mediation, and has the potential to bring about transformation, for example, in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission instituted by Nelson Mandela. We are following in the way of Jesus when we want to get beyond "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?.

As far as I know, exposure of the conflict over resources between Australia and East Timor has led to a more just settlement over allocations of oil and gas revenue. It is now time for justice for Whistle-blower K for his "prophet Nathan? expose, and for his lawyer. Who knows when the Australian government will bring to an end the terrible suffering of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. I was also moved to discover that my sister in the UK, when our nuclear family finally disintegrated, managed to contact the African maidservant who loyally worked for us up to the time of my mother?s death, and personally funded a pension for her.

All I can say is, thank God for the prophets, be they religious or secular, orators or writers, who tell it like it is, sometimes at great risk to themselves, so that we can see ourselves for who we really are.

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