“The Island of Despair”

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“When a child expresses that want to kill themselves in that environment, we believe them.”  (Gabby Sutherland, Former Specialist teacher on Nauru Island)

If it came to my attention that there were children in my local community who were self-harming, being locked-up, being denied access to clean drinking water and sanitation, would I speak up? Would it not be unethical and iniquitous of me to remain silent?

I don’t know all that is happening in Nauru and Manus Island. We hear conflicting reports, but it is difficult to ignore two recent published reports, one by the United Nations and the other by Amnesty International. It is also difficult to ignore the stories that were shared last night on Four Corners by former teaching staff on Nauru, and by children themselves, whose words had to be recorded in secret.

In today’s The Age, I read,

“Anna Neistat, Amnesty’s senior director of research who travelled to Nauru, said the report provided direct evidence of Australia’s responsibility for day-to-day decision-making, and that Australia should be held accountable for breaching the Convention Against Torture – with a remote possibility that individual government officials could be prosecuted under international law.

“It’s the intentional nature of it,” she told Fairfax Media. “The Australian government is not even hiding the fact that the key purpose of this policy is deterrence. When you set up a system that inflicts deliberate harm as a deterrence, it’s really hard to find another name for it other than torture.”

Dr Neistat, a 15-year veteran of crisis work in Syria, Yemen and Chechnya, said the Nauruan regime was particularly galling because people’s suffering was “absolutely unnecessary” and shrouded in “shocking” secrecy. “I was not prepared for what I saw, and definitely not prepared for what I heard,” she said.

Torture is a loaded word and one not to be used lightly,  sadly the growing mountain of evidence suggests there is warrant for its usage in the case of our nation’s policies towards asylum seekers.

Off shore detention was introduced by the Howard Government in 2001, and has been continued by Labor and Coalition Governments since. According to the report released yesterday by Amnesty International, there are currently there are 1,159 asylum-seekers and refugees on Nauru: 410 people reside in the Refugee Processing Centre; 749 refugees live outside of the centre. Among this number are many children who have been in detention for over 3 years.

I’m not going to pretend that I have a detailed knowledge of what is transpiring in these detention centres, and I’m not going to naively suggest I have the answers. But one thing is clear to me, we have principles given by God as to how we ought to consider the refugee, and we would do well to use these as as a starting point for framing reasonable and humanitarian policies.

I realise most Australians are quick to ditch the Bible, especially the Old Testament for in it they perceive a God who is vindictive and harsh. Yes, there are hard words spoken in the Old Testament, and also in the New Testament. The fact is, some of the most difficult words ever spoken came from the lips of Jesus Christ. Instead of shunning these words, perhaps we Aussies ought to listen to them because clearly our hearts are calloused toward many of the world’s most vulnerable people.

In the Old Testament we read,

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing”. (Deuteronomy 10:18)

In the New Testament we read,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

If God is concerned for the world’s refugees and we are not, what does that say about us?

As Australia’s off-shore policies were developed, were there genuine concerns about people smugglers and the safety of refugees fleeing onboard unseaworthy boats? Yes.

Is there also an inherent selfishness among Australians, not wanting to share our plenty with those who have lost their homeland? Yes.

Is there a stain of racism that makes Australians apathetic towards refugees? Yes.

The first issue cannot be ignored and finding a fair solution is not without complication. But it seems to me as though there is an core problem with the way Australians look at the world. We live and work and care when we find net value for ourselves, but the notion of loving our neighbour as ourselves is being lost, and polluted by rampant individualism and self service. Maybe you may think I’m sounding just a little cynical, but is not the evidence before us?

Perhaps it is pride that’s preventing our Government from changing its policies toward asylum seekers. I don’t know the answer to that, although it seems plausible, and alternative explanations are far less laudable. Political pride is ugly, but we can no more blame our Parliamentary representatives than ourselves, for they are a reflection of Australia, and of the values and ambitions we cherish.

We did not create the conditions that led to so many people seeking refuge in our country, but we can be part of the answer and give these human beings hope and a safe place to live. Are we not the most prosperous and liveable nations on earth? Do we not have more to share than most other countries can even imagine? Are we not able to sacrifice a little for thousands who have lost so much?

Reports of poor conditions, deteriorating mental health among children, and abuses by detention officers are not new, but today we will be damning our consciences if we close eyes and hearts to these latest reports.

Would we ever intentionally put our own children in an unsafe environment, or permit the Government to do so? And should we be made aware that this is so, would we not get them out of there straight away? Is this not common sense, let alone the caring thing to do?

Redeeming social justice from liberals (and conservatives)

Behind this post are two conversations that I’m having with myself today: One, Mike Frost wrote a piece titled, It’s Not a Liberal Agenda, it’s the Gospel!. Second, this Sunday I’m preaching on Matthew 7:15-23, and so I’m spending time grappling with these words from the Lord Jesus.

As you read these ponderings you shouldn’t read them as a critique of Mike Frost, unless I refer to him explicitly. Mike’s meanderings serve as a jumping point for some ideas rather than the framing of what I want to say.

Also, as you read this article I understand that some people may burst a boil as you spot caveats, ‘what ifs’, and buts. In light of these medical emergencies may I offer this prefatory remark: this is a blog post not a 15,000 word essay, and so don’t be disappointed if I don’t fill in every gap or close every alleged theological aperture.

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i. Social selectivism

The Bible is certainly not short of individuals who lived a ‘form of godliness’, but ‘denied its power’, meaning they were bereft of Christ’s Gospel.

In my experience, both cultural conservatives and progressives have a propensity to fail in this way.

First of all, they are almost always selective in the kind of issues they promote. When was the last time you heard social and theological progressives defending the rights of unborn children and fighting to retain a classical view of marriage? Of course, the question could be asked of many issues across the socio-political spectrum.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but we know it needs to be said, Jesus never voted Green, Labor, or Liberal. Trying to squeeze Jesus under under any socio-political umbrella is wrong;  maybe he would prefer to stand out in the rain!

There are historical reasons why evangelicals have dropped the ball on many social concerns. These include the World Council of Churches’, Missio Dei, Second Vatican, and Lausanne 1974, each which have negatively impacted confidence in and need for verbal proclamation of the Gospel. Before this century long trajectory, Evangelicals immersed themselves in caring for the poor and suffering in society; some of the greatest evangelists were also intimately involved in creating orphanages and charities for the poor (John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon, for example).

Perhaps Mike’s critics smell some WCC residue in his social concerns; I don’t know.

But I love the fact that Mike Frost (and others) is seizing these issues from those who think they belong to a ‘leftist agenda.’ Concerns for Refugees and Indigenous people doesn’t belong to theological liberals, any more than other issues belong to the ‘right’. Rather, he’s rightly placing all things in the scope of God’s cosmic rule in Christ. While none of us can be active across all that troubles this fallen world, there is no opting out of loving our neighbour, including further examples that Frost cites,  people caught up in gambling and in the sex industry.

ii. Missing the Evangelical heart.

“Our job, as his followers, is to both announce and demonstrate what the rule of King Jesus is like and invite others to join us, to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial death atoned for the sins of all, and that his resurrection establishes him as the Son whom God has appointed judge of the world and Lord of the coming kingdom.” (Mike Frost)

It’s a great statement, but the question is, in practice what is this looking like? Four questions/concerns come to mind. I don’t know Mike well enough to know what he’d think of these points, but they are certainly true of some of my friends who readily identify with some social justice issues. With the view of loving the poor:

1. Verbal proclamation of the Gospel is often relegated, if not dispensed with altogether.

I remember sitting in a seminar a few years back, addressing the topic of local mission. The presenter spoke of ‘doing mission’ by creating programs to help the poor and marginalised. I asked a question about evangelism, to which he answered, one might explain the Gospel but it is not necessary.

I did find this comment of Mike’s about evangelism a little boorish,

‘Is the gospel really just a set of magic words, like an incantation, I have to blurt out to appear to be true to Jesus?’

I certainly don’t know anyone who thinks this way, and it’s a bit mischievous to portray folk this way. We would do well to remind ourselves of Jesus’ earthly ministry where he prioritised the public preaching of God’s Word, a model adopted by the Apostles and passed on to future generations of pastors. At the same time, they didn’t ignore the very real social needs around them, and Jesus gives us the example par excellence of loving society’s most disadvantaged.

2. Aspects of the atonement such as Christus exemplar and Christus victor take centre stage while penal substitution is squeezed out, often becoming little more than an awkward ‘theory’.

3. The Gospel of ‘forgiveness of sins’ drops from the centre of  the Christian message, and we fall danger of converting people into a Gospel of works.

4. I want to be careful about confusing Gospel fruit with the Gospel, although we want to say the Gospel will inevitably and necessarily produce fruit (cf. Matt 7:15-23).

If any of these points are representative of the bald man of Manly, then there may be warrant for criticism, but fighting for refugees is no indicator of belittling evangelism or compromising the Gospel. And of the social concerns he has written, how can we not want to speak up and to defend and love?

iii. Redeeming social justice.

None of the above points are inevitable. Serving the hurting, lonely, and unwanted, are beautiful and necessary examples of loving our neighbours. These actions are fruit of the Gospel.

Does not the good news of Jesus Christ change everything? When we have experienced God’s forgiveness, and by grace been brought into his family, this love changes the way we view other people. Therefore, we mustn’t leave these issues to the left or right, for the love of Christ compels us.

In light of the Scripture I think it is fair to say that a Church who promotes social justice but doesn’t practice evangelism has failed to understand the Gospel and is disobeying God. And Christians who believe in evangelism and who think it unChristian to fight for the most oppressed, they too are yet to grasp the Gospel. As Jesus says, a good tree will produce good fruit. And in the Sermon on the Mount, fruit is almost a synonym for righteousness, and righteousness here includes purity, humility, sacrifice, and generosity. Is it not applicable to live out these things for the good of society’s most vulnerable people?

From what I can see, Evangelicals are returning to social justice ministries, and many respected evangelical leaders are increasingly speaking to these issues, including Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Al Mohler, and the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies. Why? The Gospel changes everything.

We don’t have to choose between helping the poor and doing evangelism. We ought to do both for both express love for others, and we commit to both without de-centralising the place of Gospel telling.

Answers to Difficult Questions

This Sunday at Mentone Baptist Church we are beginning a 3 week apologetic series, examining 3 hot topics:

1. Should Christians object to same-sex marriage? (April 3rd)

2. What is a Christian response to refugees? (April 10th)

3. Is the a reason for suffering (April 17)

Everyone is welcome to join us. Following each service there will be a QandA session to explore in further detail questions relating to these topics

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Should Churches offer their buildings as sanctuaries to asylum seekers?

Here are 3 articles that I have found helpful in considering the right/wrong of claiming our buildings to be places of sanctuary for people from the law:

Stephen Mcalpine’s,  ‘no sanctuary from the secular state’

Neil Foster’s (associate professor of law at Newcastle University),   ‘churches offering sanctuary to asylum seekers’

Archbishop Glenn Davies’ statement, ‘Anglican church offers to help’ 

What Does the Bible teach us about Refugees?

We all come to the topic of refugees with different influences and assumptions: our own family background, any personal involvement we’ve had with Refugees or lack thereof, the political party we support, the way we listen to the media and who in the media we listen to. And after all, as everyone agrees, this is a complex issue.

It is important though for Christians to begin with the Bible and let God’s word to shape our views about Refugees, although I’d argue that what the Bible teaches is good not only for Christians but for everyone.

The article isn’t short, and partly so to demonstrate how significant a topic refugees is in the Bible.

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I want to begin by walking through the Bible and pointing out some principles that relate to our issue. Once we’ve done some work with the Bible let’s try and apply these principles to the current debate about refugees.

What does the Old Testament teach us about Refugees?

We begin at the beginning with Genesis chapter 1 and God saying, 

    “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

All human beings are made in the image of God. Every human being from every nation and language, and who has ever lived, bears the image of God and therefore is to be recognized as fully human and given that dignity.

In the Bible we meet all kinds of people: some people are Jewish, many are not. Some are wealthy, others poor. Some are strong, others are weak. On the pages of Scripture we learn about hundreds of men and women by name, and many millions more are mentioned by their tribe or nation, and among this throng are refugees, normally referred to as aliens or strangers, although not always. The noun alien occurs over 100 times in the OT alone. Sometimes we are told their story without the language of alien being used, but it is nonetheless clear from the context that the person on view is a refugee. We may be surprised to learn how many refugees are spoken of in the Bible and how much teaching there is on this subject. The Bible is not deaf toward Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

Let’s turn to Abraham for a minute. Abraham was called by God to leave the land of the Chaldeans and journey to the land he would show him. The land of Canaan was promised to Abraham but he never owned any of the land during his lifetime except one plot, a burial sight for his wife Sarah. Listen to how Abraham describes himself before the Hittites, who the local inhabitants of the land:

     ‘Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”’

    The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

    Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

Abraham defined his status in Canaan as being an alien.  Today we use different words to describe the various peoples moving to Australia – migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and we make distinctions between them. We do so partly out of legal necessity. However, as a far I can tell, the Bible doesn’t make such delineations. Whether a person arrives in a new land because of God’s calling or because they chose to move or because they were forced through persecution or famine, whatever the reason, they are all considered aliens. And all were to be treated the same. Genesis 23 tells us that this is how Abraham saw himself, and we see that the Hittites welcome Abraham, show him respect, and they permit him to buy the burial site (contrary to cases where the Australian Government decided to leave the bodies of refugees in the ocean to rot and be eaten by fish).

Abraham is not the only Bible hero who was an alien:

i. Joseph’s family, and then the whole people of Israel became refugees. Because of famine they were forced to leave Canaan and move to Egypt where they remained 400 years.

ii. Moses became a refugee, fleeing Egypt and living in Midian for 40 years. In Exodus 2 he refers to himself as an alien and named his son ‘gershom’ which means alien in the land.

iii. The book of Ruth is a story about refugees. Naomi’s family moved to Moab, but after the death of her husband and boys she returns to Israel. Ruth, her daughter-in-law goes with her and enters the land as an alien. The book then gives us a detailed account about how the Levitical law is applied to refugees and does so in the most beautiful and tender-hearted way. Ruth of course, belongs to family-line from which Jesus would come.

iv. The prophet Jeremiah was a war refugee. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem Jeremiah and some others escaped to Egypt and remained there until their deaths.

It’s clear from all these examples that being a refugee is not by definition sinful or unacceptable. It is sometimes the right response of the people of God.

The Bible doesn’t only give us stories of refugees, the Bible also provides teaching on how to respond to this issue. The law stipulated how the people of God were to treat non-believers who sought refuge in the land of Israel:

    “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. ( Exodus 22:21)

    “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

    Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:10)

    When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. (Leviticus 19:33)      

 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:34).

The multitude of verses that speak to this issue should alone communicates to us that this subject is important to God.

To summarise: Israel was not to mistreat or oppress aliens. They were to welcome, to love, to care and provide. There is no sense in which the attitude was, ‘we’ll let you in, but once you’re in you have to fend for yourselves’. There was ongoing relationship and provision.

The constant refrain in Mosaic Law is this, ‘remember you were once aliens’.  How true is this for Australia. 25% of our 22 million Australians were born overseas. That’s 5.5 million of us! I understand that those 5.5 million have migrated to this country under different banners, many were refugees and some came by boat. My point here is that 25% of Australians understand what it is to leave your home country and find a new home.  Not only that, 44% of us were either born overseas or had parents who were born overseas. That’s almost half of the population. And where do we think Aussies with Irish, English or Scottish descend come from? That’s right, from Ireland, England and Scotland, from overseas, and most came by boat!

Back to the Bible, we read that aliens were given similar rights and responsibilities as native born Israelites:

Brian Rosner has written, “strangers were to be treated as native-born Israelites with only a few qualifications. The non-assimilating strangers were not prohibited from eating anything found dead (Deut 14:21; cf. Lev 17:15 which apparently refers to the assimilating stranger). A second difference is more profound: assimilating strangers were not considered Israelites in the full ethnic sense, probably in recognition that their ancestors did not experience the saving events of the Exodus and Passover.”

The aliens had obligations as well, for instance, they were to abide by the law of Israel. ‘You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.’ (Leviticus 24:22). This law is not only just but it’s sensible. You can’t have one law for one group, and another for a different group. That’s not called a country, that’s called countries!

Welcoming the stranger was integral to living as members of the covenant people:

You loved God by loving the refugee.

Brian Rosner makes this poignant observation: “Most remarkably of all, in the same chapter where the famous and often quoted ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ appears, in Leviticus 19 the Israelites are commanded to ‘love the alien’ (v.34). The definition of the neighbour to be loved extends it seems to the foreign immigrant, without the restriction that they be of the less objectionable assimilating kind.”

It was a covenant issue. It was a godliness issue. It was a justice issue. For example Deuteronomy 27:19 and Malachi 3:5:

    “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then  all the people shall say, “Amen!”

    “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers,adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress  the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the  LORD Almighty.

Withholding justice from the alien was sufficient reason for God to judge Israel.

At the same time, we need to keep in mind that the nations were frequently Israel’s and God’s enemies. It’s not as every though Tom, Dick, Harry and Philistine was welcome. If you turned up with a sword in one hand and an idol in the other, there were policies! We mustn’t wrongly conclude that it was free entry into Israel. However, to those who sought refuge, for a variety of reasons, they were permitted stay and live.

What does the New Testament teach us about Refugees?

Come the New Testament we learn that the overall view toward refugees remains the same as in Old Testament. However there is a shift in emphasis.

In the OT the emphasis was Israel being this light that would radiate to the nations and attract people to Israel. That focus changes in the NT; it’s not the nations going to Jerusalem, it’s Jerusalem going to the nations. It’s the people of God moving out into the world, to reach people for Christ.  God’s plan was always to encompass the nations (that’s what the Abrahamic covenant is about), but with Jesus’ coming the command has become, go to the nations.

Having said that, the life and ministry Jesus has things to teach us about treating refugees.

Matthew’s Gospel records the event when Jesus was a young child, and he and his parents were forced to flee not only from Bethlehem, but Judea, and they entered Egypt as Refugees. They fled one country and entered another because of persecution. God’s Son knows what it’s like to be displaced, to face such opposition in your homeland from the Government that the family is forced out, and they traveled, not by a boat, but by foot across a treacherous desert.

Also, in Jesus’ first recorded sermon he says:

    ‘The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

     Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”’ (Luke 4:17-21)

The year of the Lord’s favour is a reference to the Jubilee year. The Jubilee year was a year of reconciliation when were debts paid or released, and when slaves were freed. Jesus is saying that with his coming, this Jubilee has also come. And we see Jesus living this Jubilee year throughout his public ministry: caring for the poor, for the widow, he ministered to people who were outside Israel as a way of showing that God’s plan is for the nations (The Centurion and Samaritan woman for example). Jesus welcomes the stranger and he is even portrayed as the stranger in John 1, ‘he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’

There are two further texts that need mentioning:

    ‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that  they were aliens and strangers on earth’. (Hebrews 11:13)

In the long list of faith heroes from the OT there exhibited a faith in the promises of God, a faith which understood that the promise fulfilled was not a homeland on this earth. These early believers admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

1 Peter says something similar,

    ‘Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

    To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the  Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood’

There is a view in the New Testament that I think Christians in Western countries fail to value, and that is, this land is not our home. In fact both Hebrews and 1 Peter are suggesting something stronger than that this is not our land, they are almost debunking nationhood. The posture they argue for certainly guards us from being overly protective about calling anything on earth ours. We are strangers who are passing through; this is a hotel room for a relatively short period. Do we hold on to our property, or national identity, or borders more rigidly than our theology permits us? That’s a question worth asking. I am not suggesting that nationality is irrelevant or that being Australian doesn’t mean something and not hold any significance; the nations are there present and active in the book of Revelation. But I would ask, are our notions of nationhood helps for Gospel work or inhibitors? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

Suggested ways the Gospel can shape our response to the Refugee Crisis:

1. The Gospel way is to welcome and care for the alien.

God has welcomed us into his kingdom; he gave us the rights of sons and daughters, for which we had no claim or right.

2.The Gospel isn’t ignorant of security issues.

Part of loving the other is making sure that our neighbours are safe. It would be irresponsible for us to rashly let anyone into the country and without proper security checks, and therefore put our neighbours at risk. That wouldn’t be Gospel-minded. I don’t know of anyone suggesting we fling the doors open to everyone without discernment, that’s a straw man argument.

3. The Gospel way is also to obey the Government.

We find this principal clearly taught in Romans 13. Sometimes these two things, Gospel and Government, are at odds with one another, certainly the relationship is often tricky. We need wisdom, prayerful wisdom, so that we learn how can we live out the Gospel of grace in this area of society.

4.The Gospel means sacrifice.

Sacrifice is not something we talk about, it is something to practice. Sacrifice is difficult, not only for the general populace, but for Christians also. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about sacrifice, and it provides us not only with the model for sacrifice but the very freedom to do so.

On the ABC this morning, Tim Costello said that, “On a per capita basis, for Australia to be ‘generous’, we’d increase our intake by 215,000”. We now have a figure, one that surpasses the 10,000 or 20,000 that various political parties have proposed. Will it cost us? Yes, but that is the nature of sacrifice, that is the point of love.

From what I hear in the media it sounds as though much of this debate is being framed by fear. I don’t think it’s primarily about racism, though that’s there. I think it’s more to do with fear. People are fearful of change, fearful of the unknown, fearful of what might happen to our standard of living should we welcome more people. The Gospel is not built on fear, but love, and love expressed through compassion and sacrifice. That can be hard. And the reality is, not everyone who migrates to Australia (whether as a refugee or through other avenues) is deserving. Not every one who comes to Australia is grateful for being here. But isn’t that the cost of love? Isn’t that what Jesus did? He absorbed the sin of the world, he took on his himself all our pain and shame, and the world did not receive him. And yet through this act of grace God has welcomed home those who did not formerly belong.

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Note about the article: This is an updated version of a blog piece that I published 2 years ago, which is based on notes from a sermon on the same topic. Two years on, people continue to read it everyday, making it one one of the most read articles from the Mentone Baptist blog. In other words, the issue of refugees is never far from the minds of many Australians.

One Christian’s Response to Paul Sheehan’s Call for Increasing Australia’s Refugee Intake

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.1441571094171

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.