Fairfax Media has published an astonishing piece by Paul Sheehan, Operation rescue: the Christians of the Middle East face extinction. It is remarkable because it pushes against the assumed political correctness that often strangles public conversation in Australia today, and it contrasts the mood of our secularist dominated media which is obsessed with denigrating all things Christian.
Sheehan presents two reasons why Australia should increase its refugee intake, and to allow these numbers to consist of displaced Christians from the Middle East:
Firstly, he is right to point out that, ‘For the past 20 years Christians have been ethnically cleansed across much of the Middle East as part of the rise of Muslim militancy’. This is true, although the persecution has existed far longer than 20 years. Christians remain among the most vulnerable and persecuted peoples in the world, and what we are witnessing in the Middle East is but one example.
Christians are not the aggressors in these Middle Eastern conflicts; they are among the most targeted victims. Christians are literally being exterminated. The New York Times published a piece in July revealing the extent of the persecution.
I have already read several responses to Paul Sheehan, where people are blaming the ‘Christian’ West for the situation in Iraq and Syria. But to fuse Christianity with the West is a sloppy an analysis as calling all Arabs, Muslim or all Syrians, Muslim. The fact is, the conflict between Sunni and Shia, and their common dislike for Christians and other minority groups, pre-dates era 9/11, President Bush Senior, and prior to the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1919. That is not to say that Western intervention hasn’t made issues more complex; it has been one hundred years of immoral intrusion, but it is grounded in selfish capitalism, not sacrificial Christianity. Syrian Christians and Iraqi Christians cannot be blamed for the West, and Western transgressions aside, the fact remains that Christians are being targeted, thousands have been slaughtered, and survivors forced out of their homes to flee for their lives.
The international community increasingly recognised that Christians in the Middle East have become a displaced people group, and therefore a humanitarian response is to welcome them into Australia.
Second, Sheehan argues that Christians will better assimilate into Australian society.
He believes that Christians are less of a threat to social cohesion in Australia than some other groups. I am not an expert on Sunni/ Shiate tensions, and so I can’t evaluate his point. Perhaps the concern has warrant and therefore it’s not without consequence, and I am sure that there are experts out there who can make comment. Having said that, there can be no doubt that there are also significant numbers of Sunnis and Shias who are victims of atrocities; where they are fleeing from their homelands we ought to consider welcoming them.
I do not believe that we should exclude refugees on account of their race, culture, or religion. If a neighbour’s house is on fire, you don’t first ask them for their passport, resume, or survey their theology; you help them on account of their humanity.
In other words, I am persuaded by Paul’s Sheehan’s first point, but not his second.
I also support Sheehan’s idea of Churches working in conjunction with the Federal Government. I am certain that Australian Churches will gladly work together with the Government to assist these refugees, whether they are Christian or not. To this end, I am encouraging Mr Abbott, Mr Dutton, Ms Bishop to speak with Christian leaders across the country.
Finally, there is a certain irony in all of this, these Christians are fleeing lands that don’t want them, perhaps only to arrive in a new land that is increasingly expressing malice towards Christians. The methods are different, but the motive is similar. For instance, I read this caustic response to Paul Sheehan, ‘Don’t let Christians in. Let people of reason in. Giving people an advantage because they follow a palatable brand of delusion doesn’t seem fair.’ Sadly, this sentiment is all too common in Australia today. One can only hope that the irrationality of such foolish people is muted by the voice of generosity and welcome.
6 thoughts on “One Christian’s Response to Paul Sheehan’s Call for Increasing Australia’s Refugee Intake”
Good commentary, Murray. And in principle I agree when you say: “I do not believe that we should exclude refugees on account of their race, culture, or religion.”
A couple of things to consider:
Although unpalatable even today to some Western Christians, the early church modeled compassion and care to all peoples, but prioritised the “household of believers” (Gal 6:10). Matthew 25 for instance is referencing, not helping everyone in need, (though there are plenty of other biblical injunctions that do say this), but helping the “least of these brothers,” i.e., followers of Jesus. The calls to “love one another” in John and throughout the NT are commands, again, located within the community of disciples. And the famine in Jerusalem in the first century hit everyone, not just Jews and Christians, but the relief effort was primarily to the church in Jerusalem ( cf. Acts 11:29, Rom 15:28, 2 Cor 8).
It’s not a question of either or; for of course we don’t single out helping desperate people based on ethnicity or religion. But if we can’t help our brothers and sisters in Christ as a matter of priority, not exclusion, is this not a betrayal of what Jesus and the first Christians taught and practiced?
And then there is the thorny issue of the wealthy Islamic nations of the gulf state, many of whom are offering zero places for Syrian refugees. Amnesty International recently reported that “The six Gulf countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain – have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/12/facts-figures-syria-refugee-crisis-international-resettlement/
Can we really say in the West, in Australia, among our Baptist family that we are doing everything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East?
Everyone is equal and every Syrian/Middle Eastern refugee is deserving of help and support. But difficult though it is for us to say, I think the example of Jesus and the early church shows us we as churches should prioritise our sisters and brothers in Christ as a first priority in this crisis.
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If we were only to help Christians in need, then we would never have the time or resources to help people of other religions. Have a look at all the people in Australia, who are at least nominal Christians, and never receive what they are in need of.
Ian, I’m not quite sure what you are suggesting.
Glenn Davies, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has written this great piece on the topic in the Sydney Morning Herald – http://www.smh.com.au/comment/open-the-door-widely-to-syrian-refugees-20150909-gjij0h.html
An updated version of this piece has been published over at Australia Gospel Coalition (TGCA) – http://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/refugee-crisis-should-christians-be-preferenced
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