There’s no doubt that members of the Bali Nine were guilty.  Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were both given the death sentence, Renee Lawrence received twenty years and the rest are serving life.  Andrew and Myuran were executed just after midnight on 29 April 2015.

For my wife Christie and I (and many others) it’s still hard to believe that our dear friends are no longer with us.  However, we are encouraged by their legacy that lives on in the continuance of the projects they pioneered, as well as the lives of hundreds of people they helped rehabilitate.  This legacy is beautifully portrayed in a new book, The Pastor and the Painter by Cindy Wockner,[1] and also by the movie, Guilty, which chronicles Myuran’s final 72 hours.[2]

Guilty will be screened in cinemas across Australia on 10 October, The World Day Against the Death Penalty, to raise awareness of the plight of those on death row and the suffering that is inflicted on their families. [3]

Speaking for the Voiceless 

Both Andrew and Myuran were fiercely opposed to the death penalty and asked their family and friends to continue to advocate against it.  That is why Christie and I keep speaking out whenever we have the opportunity to do so.  The 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10 October “aims at raising awareness on the inhumane living conditions of people sentenced to death,” and rightly so.[4]

Death row prisoners experience solitary confinement in the United States and overcrowded conditions in many African and Asian countries.  “Very often, death row prisoners become human beings on which the society does not invest anymore, as if, even before being executed, they were no longer alive, they were no longer considered as human beings.”[5]

By the end of last year, at least 21,919 people were known to be on death row.  Many of these people were sentenced at trials that didn’t meet international “Fair Trial” standards.  This included extraction of confessions through torture and other forms of ill-treatment and so capital punishment isn’t just a matter of being tough on crime as some suggest, it’s an issue of gross abuses of human rights.

China continues to be the world’s worst executioner where thousands of people are thought to be killed every year. Apart from China, 84% of executions last year were carried out in four countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.  “Across Asia Pacific, the death penalty was extensively used for offences that did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes”, going against international law.” [6]

Why I Stand Against It

And so, for these and other reasons I will continue to advocate against the death penalty:

  • It is irreversible: it carries the risk of executing someone who is innocent.
  • It is unfair: it is used disproportionately against the poor, people with intellectual or mental disabilities and minority groups; and denies any possibility of rehabilitation. It also punishes the innocent families of those killed.
  • It is ineffective: it does not act as a deterrent. For example, Indonesia’s drug problem is getting worse in spite of its executions.[7]
  • It is costly: in western countries like the USA, it is cheaper to keep someone in jail for the rest of their life than to have them executed.

I’m so proud of the Australian government’s initiative to abolish the death penalty worldwide.  “Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances for all people.  We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us.” [8]

If you want to make a difference, take some time to read Australia’s Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty, and contact your local Federal Member to thank them for their stand on this issue.  I also encourage you to book into GUILTY on October 10th at either Village Cinema Southland, or Village Cinema Karingal.  At the Southland screening, I’ll be interviewing Julian McMahon and Christie Buckingham before the film starts.






[5] Ibid





It’s hard to believe that this time last year Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had only a few hours left before their execution by firing squad on Nusakambangan Island, Indonesia. Christie was at Chilachap, along with Andrew and Myu’s family and some of their friends, making daily visits to the boys. She was with them to the very end.

Here we are one year later. The busyness of last-minute appeals, media interviews and other efforts to seek clemency for two reformed men has given way to quiet reflection, sadness of friends who are no longer with us and efforts to pick life up and continue with their legacy. Their legacy definitely lives on through the projects they pioneered and developed inside Kerobokan Prison giving help for prisoners to find meaning and purpose in their days behind bars.

Beyond the projects are the people who have been reformed through Andrew and Myuran’s work. Many of these transformed people are now out of prison and leading productive lives that contribute in a positive way to life in Indonesia and other nations. As I wrote at the time, “Indonesia needs help with its drug problem.  What they had in Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two men who were helping to reform drug users, traffickers and other prisoners.” But instead of getting alongside these men and resourcing them in helping reduce the drug problem in Indonesia, they took them out onto a lonely island in the middle of the night and shot them.

Because of this, Indonesia is a little poorer today and is still struggling with a massive drug problem – one that the death penalty is not helping them overcome.

Both Andrew and Myuran were fiercely opposed to the death penalty and asked their family and friends to continue to advocate against it. 2015 saw an alarming increase in the number of executions. China is by far the worst violator, followed by Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. There is much work to be done.

One of the reasons I’m against capital punishment is because it doesn’t just punish the guilty it punishes the innocent too – their family members and close friends many of whom will live with grief and sadness for the rest of their lives.  In a way Indonesia shot them too. To see the sadness in the eyes of loved ones is devastating. At times you can see their minds still trying to comprehend the horror of what has happened.

I am still angry at the injustice and hypocrisy demonstrated by the Indonesian authorities twelve months ago, but I will continue to channel my anger into energy and continue to advocate against the death penalty; to help those in prison to reform and reform others; to help people out of poverty that often leads them into crime in the first place; and to give pastoral care to those who are affected by drugs.  I will continue to lead our church community at Bayside Church to show justice, mercy and love to a world so desperate for the Good News of Jesus.

If you’d like to read more on this subject, here are some other blogs:

Why the Death Penalty is Wrong

Why Indonesia Just Shot Itself

Why Are You Supporting Drug Traffickers?

That’s just one of the many questions Christie and I have been asked over the last few years since getting to know Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two of the Bali Nine.

It’s been quite a journey – a very difficult one at times – made often harder because we’ve had to answer the same questions several times.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind answering questions if it helps someone gain a better understanding. I’m not looking for everyone to agree with me, but I have been amazed at the amount of hatred poured out even from some quarters of the Christian church – you know, the people who are to “love their neighbour as themselves” – those people!

Firstly, let me make it clear that Christie and I were not looking for something else to do.  We were actually taking a few days in Bali to rest after a particularly busy and stressful time. While we were there we met up with some old friends.  During our time together they told us of the work they were doing inside Kerobokan Prison and would we like to join them for a morning.  Little did we know that meeting Andrew Chan on that morning would lead to all that has taken place since.

So, here are some of the common questions and themes we have been asked along with what I hope will be helpful answers.


They’re just drug traffickers. Why bother with them?

It’s true. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were part of the Bali Nine who attempted to bring over eight kilograms of heroin into Australia.  We “bothered” with them because we got to know them and love them.  We were amazed at their sorrow for what they’d done and for the way they were demonstrating that sorrow – not just by rehabilitating themselves, but also in working hard to help reform others.  We “bothered” with them because Jesus “bothered” with us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God actually did not wait for you and me to get our act together, He didn’t wait for us to reform or rehabilitate – He demonstrated the full extent of His love for us while we were still sinners.

It’s amazing how some having received God’s forgiveness can then be so unforgiving towards others.  Jesus addressed this hypocrisy in the parable of the unmerciful servant (see Matthew 18:21-35).  I’ve had people say to me, “Those guys don’t deserve mercy!”  My response to them has been, “I couldn’t agree with you more!”  No one deserves mercy.  By its very definition it is something we DON’T deserve.  Mercy is “compassionate kindness shown toward an offender or an enemy.”

Someone wrote this comment on Facebook, “What sort of a church are you that think these druggies are heroes. They knew what the law was and they broke it. Not the first time they did it but at least it was their last. Get on with life.” 

The answer to that question is that Bayside Church is a church that is doing its best to show mercy, kindness, compassion and grace to all people – even people who make massive mistakes!


They knew the risks. They deserve what they got.

Yes, there are BIG signs at Bali airport warning travellers of the penalty for drug trafficking.  The Bali Nine probably did know the risks but they were young.  Did you make any mistakes when you were young?  I know I did!

Recent research into the teenage brain shows some very interesting outcomes.  Consider this quote from the online Health Encyclopedia, “It doesn’t matter how smart your teen is … good judgment isn’t something he or she can excel in, at least not yet.  The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until he or she is 25 years old or so.  In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdale. This is the emotional part.  In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing. That’s why when teens are under overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

It’s fairly evident to me that Andrew, Myuran, Matthew Norman and the others weren’t thinking of the consequences.


What about the people who would have been hurt or killed by those drugs?  Aren’t you being soft on justice?

No, we’re not being soft on justice.  I’m glad every member of the Bali Nine were caught.  I wish all drug traffickers are caught and brought to justice.  I wish those who are behind the trafficking of drugs were caught and brought to justice too – not just the drug mules.  I used to use drugs and I know all about their harmful effects.  I lost some of my closest friends to drug overdoses.  As a pastor I have seen the devastating effects of drugs, not just on the users but also on their families and friends.

In regards to Andrew and Myuran, the request was that their death sentences be commuted to life sentences so they could continue their work of rehabilitating other prisoners.  Soft justice was never considered.  A life sentence in Kerobokan Prison is not soft justice.  If one thinks it is they should visit a prisoner there.

The eight kilograms of heroin didn’t make it into Australia, but many other drugs do.  Those who use drugs need to take responsibility for their habit and seek help to become free of addiction.  Blaming a drug supplier for your habit is like blaming a barman for your drinking problem.


You’re a hypocrite. Why are you just advocating for those two? What about everyone else on death row?

This has got to be my all-time favourite.  Apparently we are hypocrites because we only spoke up for Andrew & Myuran and not ALL the people facing the death penalty around the world.

While I personally advocate against capital punishment in all circumstances (mainly though Amnesty International), Christie and I got to know Andrew and Myuran personally.  It was because of our friendship with them that we advocated so strongly for them.  Having said that, the two guys have asked that their deaths not be in vain and that we would all continue to advocate against the death penalty to eventually see it abolished in every nation.


What about helping…. (Insert other people in need here)?

Why are you helping drug traffickers? What about … the poor, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the drug addicted, the mentally ill, aborted babies you name it.

One person – who doesn’t know me very well – called me a “one-issue guy.”  If they knew Christie, me and Bayside Church they would know that statement is completely untrue.  As a church community we are very engaged in helping the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the orphans and widows.  We can’t solve all the world’s problems but we can make a difference.  Have a read of this article for some very good comments on this question:


How do you know they are really rehabilitated?

Some have suggested they were just pretending to be reformed so as to get a lesser sentence.  Others have said, “They wouldn’t have changed if they weren’t caught.”  Of course no one knows what would have happened if Andrew and Myuran weren’t caught.  The fact is they were caught and during their 10 years in Kerobokan Prison they demonstrated by their words and actions that they were genuinely changed men.  Christie and me and hundreds of other people have witnessed this rehabilitation firsthand over many years.

A great example is the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.  John Newton was a slave trader – a trafficker of people.  He later became a Christian and a pastor.  There’s not a person on this planet that has met John Newton – he died in 1807.  How do we know that this man who was an infidel and engaged in immorality and people trafficking was genuinely reformed?  How do we know he wasn’t pretending?


Are you against the death penalty in all cases?

Yes I am.  I believe I have to be consistent in my belief, which has changed over the years.  I used to be very much for the death penalty but not any more.  There are many reasons for this that I will save for another blog.

Let me give you two reasons here.

Firstly, when Andrew & Myuran and the other guys were executed, a Filipino lady named Mary Jane Veloso was also going to be shot.  The Indonesian government was going to execute an innocent woman – if the guilty person had not come forward at the last minute Mary Jane would be dead now.  The death penalty always risks killing the innocent.

Secondly, the death penalty punishes the innocent family and friends of those executed. Looking into the eyes of Andrew and Myuran’s families was heartbreaking.  Seeing their grief and sadness over the loss of their loved ones was unbearable.  As I said earlier, I am not into soft justice, but I don’t believe that killing a person for their crime is just.


Aren’t you just doing this to promote your own ministry?

I could think of much easier ways of promoting my ministry if I ever got an inclination to do that.  One guy wrote this about us on Facebook, “The applause of man will be their only reward.”  I can honestly say that neither Christie nor I am interested in people’s applause.  This has actually been a very difficult and tiring journey with much opposition.  I do, however, appreciate our church community at Bayside Church, many other Christians (as well as lots of people who don’t share our faith) and the media who have stood strong to help Andrew and Myuran and to advocate for their lives to be spared.


Isn’t it time to move on?

Look into the eyes of the family and say that!


I sit here still in shock at the execution of eight people by the Indonesians.  I had still hoped – against hope – that the authorities would see reason and allow these men to live, in prison, to continue the good work they had been doing since being rehabilitated.  But no, the executions went ahead.

For some people, that’ll be the end of it.  Some people don’t care. Others are glad it’s over because they’re fed up hearing about it in the news, after all, “these guys were hard-core drug traffickers and knew the risks over there.”  “Let’s not forget how many lives they would have ruined if they weren’t caught.”  And that’s true.  I wish all drug traffickers were caught; and I wish they got the people higher up the chain rather than just the drug mules who are often victims themselves.

One guy said, “They would never have come to know Jesus if they were not in this position.”  Really?  So you know the future and what would happen if things were different?

Another person wrote, “I won’t be losing any sleep they were scumbags.” Well those “scumbags” were someone’s son; someone’s brother; someone’s friend.  They were our friends who’d we’d got to know a few years ago and worked alongside to help with the projects that were reforming and rehabilitating 100s – if not 1000s – of other prisoners.  We’ve had the privilege of meeting many of these reformed people over the years – people who are now out of jail, off drugs, holding down good jobs, getting married, having kids and being responsible members of society.

That’s the sad truth here.  You see Indonesia has the death penalty in place for drug traffickers.  Indonesia also has a massive drug problem (so obviously the whole death penalty thing is not working as a great deterrent to the traffickers or users).  Indonesia needs help with its drug problem.  What they had in Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two men who were helping to reform drug users, traffickers and other prisoners.

So, if you have people helping you achieve your goal of reducing drug crime you get alongside and help them right?  You find out what’s working and develop those projects in other prisons.  You resource them because what they’re doing is helping reduce the drug problem in your country.  That would make sense wouldn’t it?  No, not if you’re the Indonesian President.  You take these men (who were helping you reduce your country’s massive drug problem) out onto a lonely island in the middle of the night and shoot them.  There.  End of problem, right?  Wrong.

Indonesia woke up yesterday morning just a little poorer.  They lost eight people who had reformed under its prison system and because of political pressure and a need to increase political popularity they killed them.

What’s even worse, they were about to kill an innocent woman as well.  Mary Jane Veloso from the Philippines had always claimed an international trafficking gang tricked her into bringing 2.6kg of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia five years ago as she chased a nonexistent job as a domestic worker.  The Indonesian justice system found her guilty and was about to kill her.  At the last minute Cristina Sergio, suspected of recruiting Veloso, turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines.  The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, granted a reprieve to Veloso.  They were about to kill an innocent person.  Right there is a good reason to be anti-death penalty.

And right now there are other innocent people who have been punished by the deaths of eight – their family members and close friends many of whom will live with grief and sadness for the rest of their lives.  In a way Indonesia shot them too.

I am angry at the injustice and hypocrisy demonstrated by the Indonesian authorities, but I will channel by anger into energy to continue to advocate against the death penalty, to help those in prison to reform and reform others, to help people out of poverty that often leads them into crime in the first place, and to give pastoral care to those who are affected by drugs.  I will continue to lead our church community at Bayside Church to show justice, mercy and love to a world so desperate for the genuine love of Jesus.

If you’d like to read more of this subject click on this link:

It is no secret that Christie and I, (and many others), have been advocating for many years against the death penalty that was passed down on Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.  In the light of this, it was no surprise that last week a friend of mine sent me a link to a conservative Christian blog that agreed with the death penalty being carried out on these two men. According to the blog writer to disagree with his viewpoint was to be guilty of “kneejerk reactions, emotional outpourings … fuzzy thinking, unbiblical thinking, and downright anti-biblical thinking.”  He goes on “to state once more a few basic biblical principles which we must not lose sight of as we think about such cases.”  He then proceeded to give a predictable list of “cherry-picked” Bible verses to support his harsh view, starting with Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

This was a command, under the Noahic Covenant, to a fledging community of eight people as they began to repopulate the earth.  Human life is precious and should not be taken by another human. This is a clear authorisation of the death penalty in cases of premeditated murder.  But just because something is permissible does not mean it is beneficial or constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).  Consider the first murder recorded in the Bible – that of Abel by his brother Cain.  God Himself did not see it as beneficial to take Cain’s life (Genesis 4:10-16).  He punished him by banishment from the community (like prison), but also protected him from others who would wish to kill him.

Those who attempt to justify the use of the death penalty by using selected Bible texts need to deal with the plethora of verses that endorse capital punishment for reasons that we find abhorrent.  For example, stubborn and rebellious children who would not receive correction could be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18ff), the man who has sexual relations with his wife during her monthly period also has to die for such a sin, as does the person who breaks the Sabbath (Ex 31:14, Numbers 15:32-36).  If we still enacted such laws most of the human race would have to die!

There is no explicit command in the New Testament scriptures for the use of the death penalty, just a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire used capital punishment in certain cases, and so the Christian would do well to obey the law of the land, But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason” (see Romans 13:1-4; Acts 25:11; 1 Peter 2:13-14; John 19:10-11).  This does not mean we can’t challenge and question the law of the land.

The New Testament views capital punishment in much the same way as it does slavery – it doesn’t endorse it, it merely gives instruction because of its existence.

There are many reasons why the death penalty is wrong:

  • Capital punishment carries the risk of executing someone who is innocent, and once they are executed nothing can be done to make amends.
  • Some criminals cannot be reformed because they are mentally ill, brain damaged or mentally retarded.  Is it right to take their life because of a handicap?
  • The death penalty does not act as a deterrent – it is incorrect to think that those who commit heinous crimes rationally think through their actions before committing them.  The death penalty is actually a deterrent to rehabilitation. Why should an offender change their life if they’re going to die anyway?
  • Capital punishment is not a more cost-effective option than prison.  In fact in western countries like the USA it is cheaper to keep someone in jail for the rest of their life than to have them executed.
  • The death penalty doesn’t just punish the offender.  It’s been heartbreaking to watch the threat of the death penalty punish the Chan and Sukumaran families and their friends – innocent people!

The blog I refer to above concludes with this statement: Those Christians who bitterly oppose capital punishment must deal with God about this, and not me. This was God’s idea, and we have to deal with what God has revealed to us in his word about such matters. Yet sadly I find so many Christians ignoring God and his word on this, and just making things up as they go along.”

There is so much pride in this assertion, “I’m right and if you disagree with me and my interpretation of the Bible you’ll have to deal with God!”  Jesus constantly came up against this picky, proud, religious attitude and dealt with it head on: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt 23:23-24).

Here was a group of religious people who cherry-picked their brand of truth but neglected the most important themes expressed in Scripture: justice, mercy and faithfulness.  In this context justice means, “being fair and even-handed in judgment.” Mercy refers to “being compassionate and kind in action,” and faithfulness (or trust) means, “being loyal to God and His Word”.  Jesus applied these concepts in confronting the Pharisees because they had reached a tragically wrong conclusion regarding the intent of God’s laws.  The Pharisees had corrupted the intent of God’s Law by making it harsher than it was ever intended to be.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I believe in tough justice for those who break the law.  I believe that Australia needs tougher sentencing including life sentences that mean life without the possibility of parole.  Our judicial system is often far too soft on hard criminals, and the media are guilty of glorifying them as seen on the Underbelly TV series and the more recent media glorification of Carl Williams and other gangland characters.  There are times when it is right to lock someone up and throw away the key, but Jesus made it very clear that “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” was a law that belonged to another era and not to the age of grace.

Regarding Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran what is being requested of the Indonesian Government is that they would use their sovereign power to grant clemency to two reformed and rehabilitated men (and others on death row in Indonesia) and commute their death sentence to life imprisonment. Yes these men did do the wrong thing ten years ago; they trafficked drugs, they were foolish young men; they’ve “done the crime” and would like to “do the time” – they are just asking not to be executed.  Andrew and Myuran are doing an amazing job inside Kerobokan prison of helping to rehabilitate hundreds of prisoners who will one day get out of jail. Why not let them continue this work?  Shouldn’t rehabilitation be the ultimate goal of any good system of justice?


Both men – Andrew and Myuran have had a total life-change since their sentence. Myuran has turned to education and is running art classes in the prison and a few years ago Andrew became a Christian and is running the church services within the prison and is often called upon to help those who are struggling. Both men admit guilt and are deeply sorry for what they did. Andrew expressed to me he isn’t looking for a “get out of jail free” card. He is simply asking that the death penalty be commuted to a life sentence. His desire is to live so that he can continue to help other people in the jail – something that he is currently doing and is making a huge difference to many people.

I know there are those who disagree with the appeal for clemency. Their view is “done the crime, do the time.” I’ve heard people on talkback radio say as much over the past few days. My question is simple: How would you feel if this was your son? Would you want others to demonstrate mercy and lend a hand?

We also need to understand that we live in a country that is opposed to the death penalty, and in fact it has been forever abolished in Australia by the passing of The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill. Even though no Australian State or Territory has the death penalty, this law ensures none can ever reintroduce it.

As a Christian I fully supported this move by the Australian Parliament – even though some parts of the Bible endorse the use of the death penalty especially for first-degree murder (see Genesis 9:6; 6:5-6; Exodus 21:12-29; Romans 13:1-4). But just because something is permissible does not mean it is beneficial or constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).

God did not see it as beneficial to take Cain’s life even though he had murdered his brother (Genesis 4:10-16). Jesus didn’t see it as constructive to allow the Jewish religious leaders to stone the adulterous woman to death – even though the Law permitted such action (John 8:1-11)

In the case of Andrew and Myuran who are repentant and rehabilitated, I don’t believe it would be constructive to end their lives and for that reason I am encouraging as many people as possible to support their plea for clemency. You can support them by signing the petition at and at the Mercy Campaign:

This is YOUR opportunity to do a little good! Do it now before something else grabs your attention – their lives depend on it.

To read more on the death penalty, read my blog “Capital Punishment” at this link: