This week I’ve been reminded of the 2 extremes of those coming to our countries from other shores.
On the one hand, I’m so incredibly happy to say that our favourite Canadians – Mitch & Steph – were recently granted their work visa here in Australia after long months of paperwork and angst. Along with the guys doing traineeships at Village, I’m so thankful for having them, and for God’s goodness in bringing people to Village who love Him, have a heart for His people, and long to see others know Him.
The other extreme has been as I’ve been readying for a 2-week holiday where I’m not worried about being persecuted, tortured, running into rebel fighters, or my kids coming into harms way, is the increasingly disturbing stance the Australian government has made towards those seeking asylum and a new life. We have the concern of doctors for children in detention and here, the cutting of finances for those who advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and most recently the bill that seeks to change the parameters by which those fleeing hardship are assessed.
I’ve written a letter to my local member (as a citizen of Australia, not the pastor of Village) you can read if you want. I want to preface the following by saying that I think as Christians we need to approach and engage those in power with respect as opposed to disdain, but if you’ll allow me, before you get a break from me for 2 weeks, to get on my high horse for a minute and mention 3 things I think we ought to be concerned about. My concern are theological, humanitarian and social.
So theologically, this is where I’m driven towards. That I have a God who has been so incredibly generous towards me.
That I’m convinced all people are made in God’s image. That we all need God. That while I was far off, he came and sought me out. And that in being one of God’s people I’m called to show compassion on others, just as God has had compassion on me. The God who saved me in Jesus has no boundaries, does not see race, does not consider my present economic or geographic situation to be what defines me, but calls me to use what I have so that people see Him in how I live.
So for those who are fleeing to this country of privilege from places of hardship and persecution, my first consideration cannot be my economic situation, nor even (& not naively) my own security – but expressing the compassion of God towards them. If I read the Jesus parable in Luke 10:25-37 correctly, what I see is someone loving freely, without constraint and without counting the cost to themselves. This is what it looks like to love my neighbour, and follow in the footsteps of my saviour.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this reasoning. Particularly those who don’t call themselves Christians. But I think the way Christians approach the question of refugees and asylum seekers should be unique, because the love shown to us by the God who has saved us is unique.
Secondly, there’s a humanitarian reason. The issue of mandatory detention, particularly where it affects children.
The Australian government has responsibilities under a number of treaties that indicate how we are to treat those who come to our country, irrespective of the way in which they arrive. Whether they come by plane or boat, we have a responsibility towards them.
But to go one step further, Australia seems to have committed to two options – Mandatory detention & Offshore processing. I don’t want to for a moment put forward that there is a simple solution to a complex problem. But surely there is more we can do than repel those in genuine need from our borders, or incarcerate people in detention centres for indefinite periods of time, sometimes separating children from their parents. As a father of three boys, this is not a theoretical issue. Policies that deliberately separate children from their parents, for reasons other than parental abuse or neglect, are hard to fathom. The damage to their development, mental health and long term growth cannot be under-estimated.
I live in a country that celebrates freedom and fairness. But at the moment this extends only to those privileged enough to be born here. I want to live in a country that extends it not just to our citizens, but to all who desire it.
Thirdly, there is the issue of transparency in the way these issues are reported and discussed.
One of the basic tenets I have of mankind is that while we have the capacity for great go0d, we’re inherently broken & selfish. So when I consider viable forms of government, I want to choose those forms of government that provide the most accountability and the most transparency. Which is why I’m a big fan of democracy. Not because the bible mandates democracy, but because democracy allows the checks and balances to the human nature I think are necessary, given what I know of the human nature.
So when I see a government choosing not to report because of operational security, I appreciate the intent to not give those selling dangerous passage to Australia airtime / momentum, but I can’t help but weigh that up against the damage of a lack of accountability & transparency. If I’m going to weigh up which side of caution the representatives I elect go with, I’m going to go with more accountability & transparency rather than less every time. And living in a democracy, I want to encourage the members I elect towards this goal as well.
Let me finish by saying that the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is a complex issue. And as a Christian, I want to honour those who God has put over me. Belittling them, or their motives, honours neither them or God. But this doesn’t mean that I can’t exercise my democratic right, or that I can’t do that from a distinctly Christian perspective. Which is what I’m doing.
I’d encourage you – not only on this issue – to do the same. You don’t have to agree with me, but it’s worth considering what it looks like to be a Christian, loved by God, an alien & stranger in this world, to love and engage with the issues around us.