Tag Archives: boat people

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The indefensible war on asylum seekers

Enough.

refugees on a boat
Image Credit: Joel Van Houdt, New York Times

Dear Australia

According to recent research:

Most Australians think asylum seekers who arrive by boat are not genuine refugees and there is strong support for the Abbott government to treat boat arrivals more harshly.

A nationwide opinion poll by UMR Research shows that 59 per cent of people think most boat arrivals are not genuine refugees…

The poll, based on a nationally representative sample of 1000 online interviews, shows only 30 per cent of Australians believe that most asylum seekers are genuine refugees while 12 per cent are unsure.

A strong majority of Australians, 60 per cent, also want the Abbott government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers… Only 30 per cent of Australians think asylum seekers should not be treated more severely, while 9 per cent are unsure.

That is staggering. We’re not just talking about maintaining the status quo, which most mental health professionals and human rights advocates already believe is too harsh. We’re talking about people who want this treatment to get worse.

Maybe this is purely malice. Maybe it is ignorance. Maybe it’s something else. I hope it is ignorance. Though 9% of people admitted they weren’t sure what they wanted.

If you’re one of these 59-60%  – and statistics suggest there’s a pretty good chance that you are (better than 1 in 2 (without accounting for what lovely people my readers are) – could you please commit to meeting at least three refugees this year and hearing their stories.

Why not make 2014 the year you expand your horizons beyond the lines you’re fed by people with particular “special interests”? I’m not claiming not to be biased. It’s pretty clear I feel strongly about this issue.

But that’s no excuse for you to simply dismiss my opinion without taking steps to make your own opinion better educated, and perhaps, more compassionate. Could I challenge you – even if you stop reading right here – to put human faces on the statistics we’re reading about asylum seekers, and, to avoid hypocrisy – can I offer to help. While I’m asking you, a statistic, to put a face to these statistics, can I ask you to become a face to me as well. Share your story with me. Tell me why I’m wrong. Tell me why we should be treating humans whose crime is not to be born in Australia – something not many of us have much control over for ourselves – as less than less than human (we already treat boat arrivals as less than human, so to make the treatment harsher again would be to dehumanise them further). Convince me.

If you’re one of these 59% of Australians – can you contact me, speak to me, become a face for me – and allow me to introduce you to some refugee friends? I’d be happy to. If you’re not in Brisbane, I’m pretty sure I can put you in touch with someone who lives near you who can help.

More than half of us don’t want to look after people who are so desperate for help they flee their homes, their families, their friends – and get on rickety boats (even if they’re told these boats are going to transfer them to more comfortable ships for the journey) – in the hope that Australia, the country they’re heading to because we have a reputation for promoting freedom and welcoming multiple cultures – will welcome them. More than half of us don’t want to welcome or care for our fellow humans. Not only do we not want to care for them – we want to treat them more harshly. This might be out of ignorance too.

If you want to read a first hand account of the boat journey – just the boat journey, without the underlying personal trauma associated with fleeing your home – two New York Times journalists made the trip, and wrote about it.

Maybe you’re one of the 60%. Maybe you haven’t felt about what it does to a person to be pulled off a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean, ferried into captivity, referred to by number, placed with a bunch of strangers, given no certainty about how long you’ll be held…

Maybe you aren’t aware that a Commonwealth Ombudsman report on suicide and self-harm in migration detention described the conditions, presently, in our detention centres – funded and operated in your name, Australian – as prison-like, featuring: “omnipresent surveillance features, including high wire and razor wire fences, surveillance cameras, body searches, room searches, roll calls, and being constantly watched over by uniformed security personnel.”

Maybe you’re not aware that 62.5% of people held in detention centres have significant mental health issues – exacerbated by detention, and according to that same report: “Australian and international evidence supports the conclusion that immigration detention in a closed environment for a period of longer than six months has a significant, negative impact on a detainee’s mental health.”

Maybe you’re not aware that almost 1 in 5 asylum seekers attempt self harm in detention, and 14% of these self-harm cases involve children.

Maybe you’re not aware that these conditions, and detention itself, scars detainees by causing significant ongoing mental health issues, and not only does it cost about $578,000 per offshore detained Asylum Seeker ($1 billion to keep 1,728 refugees in off-shore detention), the mental health care costs when they are inevitably released into our community are huge – about $25,000 per individual (source: T. Ward, Long-term health costs of extended mandatory detention of asylum seekers, (Melbourne, Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy, 2011).

It feels crass to make an economic case not to keep people in detention – or treat asylum seekers who arrive by boat “more harshly” – but that’s a political reality. It seems. Which is sad.

Politicians do whatever they can to stay in power, and we keep the politicians who serve our self interests in power for longer.

Dear Australian Christians,

Statistically, about 62% of Australians identify as Christians – there has to be some overlap between that 62% and the 59% who want us to be nastier to vulnerable people. Even if the 38% who don’t identify as Christians were hypothetically part of that 59%, there’s another 21% of Australians who are Christians who want us to treat asylum seekers “more harshly” than we already do.

If you are one of these Christians, then let me speak to you for a moment about why your position is fundamentally inconsistent with the Gospel – you know – the foundational truths of Christianity.

Let’s, for a moment, imagine that Christianity is fundamentally the story of people looking for a better future because their ‘present’ is filled with brokenness, and that part of becoming a Christian involves escaping the brokenness. It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine. Because that’s exactly what Christianity involves. But it doesn’t just stop there.

Christianity involves a king, a leader, who doesn’t just show compassion to us, as refugees who are fleeing a future we don’t want, he grants us a future we don’t deserve. He doesn’t just grant us a future we don’t deserve – he dies to buy our ticket to this future, to secure our place.

We don’t get in on merit. We don’t get in on lining up in the right place. We get in by asking for mercy from the king.

If you want to pick a stance on this issue that imitates Jesus and gets you a hearing for the Gospel message, the ability to tell the story of Jesus with consistency – a story that involves self-giving, sacrificial love from a king, not just for strangers from another country, but for his enemies – then I’d urge you to reconsider the stance you are taking on refugees.

Sure. It is possible that by being generous and compassionate people will abuse our generosity. People may come through our gates who we don’t want coming through our gates. There might be “security” risks. But risks come with rewards, and at the moment we are perpetrating a terrible evil by being complicit as our leaders mistreat people in our name, while they give us what we want. It’s time to want something different. To want something better.

We can start by not wanting something worse.

We can start by understanding the plight of the refugee, the complexity of the decision making process involved in fleeing one’s country.

We can start by insisting on treating refugees with dignity, with love, with compassion – even if we feel strongly that they shouldn’t have taken their own lives in their hands on a dangerous journey with some manipulative and unscrupulous people smugglers.

This is an issue that transcends party politics. Don’t read this thinking I’ve got it in for Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party. It’s not about the Liberal Party. It’s not about the Labor Party, and while the Greens are a compassionate voice in this debacle debate, I’m not suggesting we all join the Greens. Politics in our country is far more complex than a neat dichotomy (or trichotomy) allows. There are issues scattered through history where all the obvious and popular positions were wrong, and immoral. And when we see such immorality enshrined in our legislation, or when we realise we’ve vicariously been participating in this sort of immorality, change requires people speaking up in every party, from every ideology.

If we want genuine change the solution to this issue needs to be something that affects every party. We can learn something from how those agitating for changes to the Marriage Act are approaching their advocacy – pushing for conscience votes, and advocating the issue on a person to person basis, through stories, rather than accepting the lock-step conclusions of two party rooms – even if you disagree with their cause, their methods are effective.

Because Australian politics is now, perhaps more than ever, predicated on giving people what they want, not giving people what they need, or what is right (because that’s how you stay in office) – our Prime Minister has amped up the rhetoric on the asylum seeker issue.

“If stopping the boats means being criticised because I’m not giving information that would be of use to people smugglers, so be it. We are in a fierce contest with these people smugglers. If we were at war we would not be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves… Let’s remember that everyone in these centres is there because he or she has come illegally to Australia by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong.”

Disgusting.

Dear Prime Minister Abbott,

Sorry Mr Prime Minister. With all due respect – we must do better as a nation, and your job is to lead us in doing better in promoting selflessness, not to pander to our self interest.

We live in a democracy, where transparency is essential for our votes to be cast in an informed and invested way, as is our right. You are robbing us of that right by promoting secrecy – it is, I feel, better to inform both the smugglers and the Australian public, rather than informing neither group. This isn’t a war. This isn’t an issue of national security. This isn’t about mere “idle curiosity” – this is about letting the Australians who care about our international obligations, and about other people, you know, our fellow humans, keep you accountable as our elected representative and leader.

Perhaps worse than the lack of transparency is the fundamental abuse of the truth in your pandering to the “will of the people.” Your statements to The Guardian are misleading and make criminals out of the victims of crime.

a) it’s not illegal to seek asylum by boat. It’s wrong to people smuggle.
b) none of the asylum seekers I’ve spoken to had any idea the thousands of dollars they spent to get here, or the boats they got on were the “wrong” way to come here. They certainly weren’t paying thousands for a dangerous trip on a non-seaworthy rust bucket. “Ishmael” tells the story better than I can.
c) comparing the circumstances of people fleeing from the tragedy of war, or violence, by conflating the motivation of asylum seekers and the scourge of people smuggling is abhorrent.

Even if it’s true, what you say, about many of these asylum seekers being “economic refugees” – and it doesn’t appear to be, given that the vast majority are found to be genuine refugees – these individuals have the right to test their refugee status by seeking asylum. And, are allowed to seek asylum in whatever way they are able.

I spoke to a friend, an asylum seeker from the Middle East, a Christian, who had fled religious persecution from his home country – and sure, his reason for specifically seeking refuge in Australia was that it offered new opportunity – both for the freedom to practice his faith without fear, and economically – but the very nature of seeking asylum is to seek new opportunity for life, from a situation where there is no opportunity for life. Every refugee is an economic refugee, it’s a meaningless category.

Here’s another story. From another asylum seeker.

Stop the boats. Start the ships

Seriously Australia. We can do better. We need to do better.

Call him Ismael…

We have a bunch of people. Humans. With stories. Stories just like Ishmael’s. Joining us at church every Sunday.

How can we keep turning our backs on stories like this using pejoratives like “queue jumper” – there is no queue. There is relative safety in refugee camps where the Taliban aren’t (as far as I know) driving around shooting people. But how can we say men and women like Ishmael are doing the wrong thing by coming to our shores seeking safety?

This situation is broken. This world is broken. These are people.

We can do better.

,

“How to vote” (or do politics) as a Christian in 2013

I have never been more disillusioned about politics in Australia. There are policies I like from all the parties, but policies I abhor more from each platform. Navigating this election is going to be tough.

Here’s what I’m thinking through, personally, as I try to cast my very valuable vote – let’s not forget that being able to take part in the political process where you’re choosing between least bad options is an incredible privilege, globally and historically speaking.

One of the things I’ve become convinced of as I’ve developed and tried to articulate what I think is a Christian approach to the political world here on this blog is that a Christian approach to politics is an approach to politics that is framed by the gospel and that presents the gospel. How you vote is part of how you live as a Christian – how you vocalise your participation in the democratic process on Facebook or at the water cooler is part of your communication of the gospel (provided people know you are a Christian).

So here’s my snapshot to how to vote as a Christian:

Have your vote shaped by Jesus’ actions at the cross, and use your vote to testify to Jesus as the true king.

Can you do this by voting for any or every Australian political party? On the one hand, no. Sadly, I don’t feel like there’s a party platform that ticks all the boxes, so it really is a matter of picking what your policy priorities are. But can you in good conscience pick any major party in the Australian election, or many of the minor parties, and articulate why you’re voting for that party in a way that demonstrates that you belong to Jesus? I think you can.

I’ll explain a little more.

The Bible Stuff

There are, I think, four passages that shape my approach to thinking about this election.

This passage from Matthew 22 is something of a “purple passage” for Christians when it comes to politics. It’s one I’ve turned to time and time again to push for a strong separation between church and state, it’s led me to be pretty libertarian, pushing for a government that doesn’t intervene in private affairs. And while I think there’s validity to that thinking, I think there’s something even more profound at play that has changed how I think about our participation in the political process as Christians.

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

I think Jesus is making a huge claim here, based on Genesis 1.

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Jesus isn’t just saying obey Caesar – he’s claiming ownership over those who are made in God’s image. If you wanted to speculate a little further you might make a link between “inscription” and the law being written on the hearts of those who have the Holy Spirit. But that’s a pretty interesting jump to attempt.

If you can be bothered reading my thesis you’ll see that I think our capacity as image bearers is functional – it describes how God made people to function. As images that point people to him (there’s a pretty convincing argument that Eden is a temple, images in temples represented and manifested the God who made them – there’s a cool jump from that to Jesus being “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1). So part of this political theology, I’d argue is participating in the church-state relationship in a way that shows that we are images of God. It’s not just the temple thing – coins, with images, functioned as political communication tools – every transaction in Rome, and the value of the coin, was guaranteed by the emperor’s head, and the other images and inscriptions celebrated and communicated the emperor’s achievements.

So how do we function as images of Jesus in the political process in modern Australia? That’s what I reckon is the big question to answer when deciding how to vote.

I’d say, as Christians, we’re not just images of God where that’s an abstract thing and we have to guess at what we were created to be based on the first two chapters of Genesis – as Christians we have something more concrete to shape our lives around. Jesus.

Here’s passage 2… Romans 8:28-30.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

And not just Jesus. But the incarnate and crucified Jesus. The Jesus who became a human – observable and touchable, and who spoke out against the problems with broken political systems by claiming to be God’s promised king. But who was also put to death by the hostile state – a nice combined effort from the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman political machine. I’d suggest that “taking up your cross” or “imitating Paul as he imitates Christ” is part of what it means to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

So the question then, is how do we vote, as Christians, in a way that takes up our cross – where our decision in the voting booth is shaped a desire to bear the image of God through self-sacrifice for the sake of others (and who is the other?).

Here, I think, is Paul’s paradigmatic account of the “image of Jesus”  I think this based on verses 1 and 5 – I think our union with Christ is a big part of our image bearing function. and the Christian life based on the cross, from Philippians 2. This is how you show that you belong to Jesus.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

So I’d say voting as a Christian means putting aside your own interests – maybe your own economic comfortability or security – your own upwards progression in the world, your own interests for the sake of others.

Shaped by the way Jesus did that when he  lowered himself to become human and die on the cross. Humiliated.

Here’s what Cicero, a Roman statesman, said about crucifixion.

“The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed, not only from the Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears… the mere mention of such a thing is shameful to a Roman citizen and a free man.” Cicero, Pro Rabiro

The cross involved giving up a huge amount of status – being humiliated – for the sake of others. How do we vote like that?

I think Paul uses the Philippians 2 framework in Romans 12, and throughout his letters to the Corinthians. I think Romans pivots on chapter 8. Up to chapter 8 Paul establishes what it means to be human in the light of the gospel (I think Romans 7 describes being a sinner made in God’s image with the capacity and desire to do good, but inability to do it). In the following chapters he deals with what it looks like to live a life transformed by the Gospel. He works through the ethical (and political) implications of the cross and the transformed minds that come through being united with Jesus.

Transformed minds must necessarily lead to transformed votes.

In Romans 12 he seems to be echoing Philippians 2 (especially when it comes to life in the church) – but I’d say it also means thinking about how to live visibly, as God’s image bearers shaped by the cross…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this worldbut be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you…

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Christian living – and a Christian approach to politics – then involves sacrificial living. It involves being counter-cultural – deliberately. And it involves using our transformed minds to “test and approve” God’s will. But, we get a pretty good clue for what living according to God’s will looks like in the verse before, and the verses after… the sacrificial love for others.

Just for a little bit more pushing this image of God/death of Jesus thing – check out 2 Corinthians 4…

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Peter has some pretty good stuff to contribute too. Check out 1 Peter 2 and 3.

2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

3:13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Implications for voting (or politicking) as a Christian

Here are some of the implications that I’ve drawn from the above Biblical data (and some other bits) – they’re not the only relevant bits of thinking. We’ve also got to figure out how we participate in the process in a post-Christian world that will be increasingly hostile to the gospel. And part of my thinking is drawn from a commitment to the idea that not only is the way we live (ethos) part of our testimony, but the way we speak about how we live and why (logos), is also part of the narrative we weave while bearing God’s image – so I’m in favour of talking about the political process. I’m also keen not to alienate people who disagree with the particular stance I take, and keen to love and respect those who are willing to enter public office.

Bear Jesus’ image and take up your cross with your vote and in how you talk about it

I want people to know that I’m weighing up the issues involved in this election based on a “transformed mind” – but ultimately based on the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf, even though I was his enemy. And I really want to actually authentically be doing that – not just putting it on. Self sacrifice is paradigmatic for me. I’m keen to not look to my interests, but the interests of others – especially those who can’t vote.

Love others and “do good” with your vote

Love for others is the motivation behind Jesus becoming flesh, and the motivation for Christian living. Loving others and “doing good” is also part of how we bear witness to Jesus, and bear his image.

Be “Incarnate” as foreigners…

Jesus became part of the world. Join a political party. Participate in the process. Meet candidates. Call talk back radio. Blog. Discuss policy on Facebook. Become human. Get a sense for why the people you’ve grown up not voting for prioritise the things they do. Remember that as a Christian you’re a citizen of a different kingdom that transcends national borders and patriotism, but that you live in Australia so loving Australians is a good place to start.

Be wise with your vote (be informed)

Voting is an amazing privilege. And an amazing opportunity to live out the gospel in front of others – but it’s complicated. Life is complicated. It’s going to involve compromise. It’s going to involve self-sacrifice. It’s inevitably going to involve choosing a least bad option – and that will look different for different people. There is no party with a monopoly on the Christian vote or the voice of God. Not even Family First.

The Bible Society has put together a nice (though limited) guide to the election and the ABC’s political compass is worth having a go at to weigh up your priorities and see where that leaves you.

Go beyond doing your duty to Caesar to do good

I think this is part of the tension Jesus articulates with the taxes thing – we are called to be good and dutiful citizens and to obey the law and vote and stuff. But our vote is not where our contribution to public life ends. If refugees are your thing – join a refugee group, get to know some people who have arrived by boat (or even by plane – it’s more likely you’ll come across them). If the environment is your thing then figure out how you can make a positive contribution to the environment that goes beyond the political process. It can be pretty easy to think our government and its policy limits what we can do in particular areas, and to outsource that sort of care. But this relates back to the incarnation thing.

Witness to office bearers (and other people who are interested in politics

I love this bit in Acts 26, where Paul is appearing in front of Roman authorities, on trial – and he tells his story and the Gospel – and gets this response:

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

I hope that in any political discussion be it with office bearers in the capacity of advocacy (I’m on a committee for the Pressy church that does this stuff, but I’m thinking about the letters/emails I send to politicians in my personal capacity as well) that there’s a real chance that the gospel will be clearly seen in the positions I’m advocating. That’s why I think it’s almost untenable for Christians not to be pro welcoming asylum seekers – you can’t tell the story of the gospel while saying we should close the doors to paradise because people might be evil or we might be full, or they might be taking something of ours…

Honour current, future and potential office bearers

Romans 13 is a pretty good place to go on this one – I reckon one of the differences between empire and democracy is that the people you slam today might be your leaders tomorrow, so it pays to respect anyone in office, and anyone running for office. Because they are willing to give their time to governing.

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I suspect real damage has been done for the Christian voice through immoderate speech about those who have been characterised as political opponents – I can’t imagine, for example, the Greens viewing Christian voices with much charity if they hold the balance of power in the senate. But this no doubt works on a local level with your local member, as much as it does on the party level.

There is of course the tension that some rulers are doing things that don’t honour God or carry out his will. But that’s not a new dilemma.

Pray for current, future, and potential office bearers

So I’d say the answer here is 1 Timothy 2. We should pray for those in authority. It seems the prayer is linked to the above.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 

At the end of the day – whatever the outcome in the election – the sky isn’t going to fall in. Christians will still be free to live good lives, freely, among the pagans as a witness to Jesus. God will still be in control, and prayer will still work. Perspective is important.

My reflections on the Australian political landscape and this election

I mentioned above that I’ve never been more disillusioned with the political scene. And it’s true.

If I was voting out of economic self-interest I’d vote for the LNP. I think they tend to produce prosperity better. Or I’d vote for Labor – fast internet for the rest of my life is something that excites me, and the Coalition is just asinine on broadband policy.

But I’m asking what it means to vote for others – what it means to vote for the vulnerable. The voiceless. The future generations. It’s a complicated balancing act – do I prioritise abortion – and lives lost there (probably the Coalition, definitely not Labor)? Do I prioritise Asylum Seekers (the Greens, definitely not the Coalition or Labor)? Do I vote on indigenous issues? Foreign Aid? Economic management or environmental management – for the sake of future Australians?

It’s hard. It takes wisdom. It takes prayer. And it takes speaking out and participating in the public discussion from a renewed mind shaped by the cross.

Or joining a party. The only way for Christians, who are serious about the cross, to become less disenfranchised with the the political process is to speak into the policy making process. Joining a party won’t be for everybody – I’m not sure it’s all that healthy for people who want to speak apolitically to all parties, and lovingly to other Christians who are strongly affiliated to a party to join a party, but it’d be very healthy for the parties to have a Christian voice speaking out during the process.

My vote and articulating why I vote on issues like Asylum Seekers – or abortion – are opportunities to demonstrate the transforming of my mind, and my priorities. I’ve had a go at articulating this in previous posts – but check out David Ould’s attempt to show how the gospel shapes his thinking on Asylum Seekers.

Imagine a country which operates a radical asylum seeker policy. Instead of waiting for people to arrive on airplanes or even on boats as they do in Australia, this imaginary country charters boats and planes at great expense and sends them to countries where they know there is a desperate need for people to be rescued…

But that’s the gospel pure and simple. God the Father sends the Lord Jesus Christ into a world which opposes Him (John 1:103:16). Jesus willingly dies for those who are His enemies (Col. 1:21Rom. 5:8). This is the amazing, and dare I say it, ludicrous nature of the good news of what Jesus came to do.

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Australians all let us rejoice. For we have… strong borders and none shall pass…

For some context – read about our Prime Minister’s joyous proclamation on our new draconian refugee policy here. The TL:DR; version is:

“From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.”


Dear Prime Minister,

Advance Australia Fair.

I loathe people smugglers. My anger grows every time a boat sinks. My blood boils. As boat after boat, child after child, life after life, are lost at sea en route to our shores seeking ‘wealth for toil,’ perhaps, as your Foreign Minister (and mine) Bob Carr would have us believe, or perhaps they are genuinely seeking refuge from persecution, as they are legally entitled to, from their own governments.

Maybe they turned to Australia looking for a better life, as so many settlers have since our nation was so erroneously declared terra nullius. Maybe they are economic refugees. But to steal an axiom from the legal system – better an economic refugee be safely resettled in Australia where they can contribute to our economy than a genuine refugee be locked up in PNG – violating our international obligations.

Maybe these refugees are “jumping the queue” or “illegal immigrants” in the eyes of some of my fellow citizens.

Maybe that’s why you’re acting just a short time before calling an election. But I remember learning that people will judge you by the company you keep.

Maybe you’re glad to be in lock step with people like your Facebook fan Raelene, who writes:

“Lets see them all coming by boat now….won’t be so attractive! A scourge started by the labor party, allowing Captain Emad and co to come here and start a lucrative business… let us not forget this and stop thanking Rudd he created this mess…..the scourge is Rudd!!”

Or like Daniel:

“A true refugee dose not come by boat they dont have the money to pay to come by boat . They sit and wait for years to come here the legal way . The ones that come by boat are just country shopping and wont to come here for the free hand outs . So closing the door is the best news ive heard for a long time .”

Or perhaps Deborah:

“Seriously thank you Mr Rudd. Australia finally has a solution to the boat people crisis. I’ve been to PNG and in all honesty its a hole. (The people are beautiful hearted there though) When the boat people realise they are going from one poor country to another, it should curb the boats. Obviously the ones who complain about being sent to PNG (which will be 99.9% of them) are obviously not true asylum seekers”

Or Adam.

Keep Australia Australian!!!

Or Pauline.

“All of you saying you are ashamed to be Australian, because of this new stand on queue jumpers, do the right thing then and put yourself on the boat and give the refugee your place. Hey, if you are ashamed to be an Australian, leave.”

It is clear you’re on a vote winner. You’re tapping into a real undercurrent of educated and rational anger. And acting strongly and decisively.

You may even scrape together a majority.

Perhaps you will do better at sparking a belief in resurrection than many of today’s churches.

But I’m an idealist.

Political expediency is not something I’m all that into. Securing votes while shirking our international humanitarian responsibilities doesn’t get me out on the hustings talking up a candidate. Nor does being the least bad option. Let’s face it. The Coalition are abominable on this issue.

But it seems like you’re out of ideas beyond “move right. win votes.” And I want to help.

Can’t we do something different? Can’t we change the game? Can’t you think outside the box and tackle the people smugglers head on? Before people get on a boat?

Can’t we do it without relying on Indonesian legal intervention and use the most powerful secular force known to modern man? The market.

Can’t we stop making people smuggling so lucrative?

We’re spending bucket loads on border security, and even more on detention. Why not spend that money on breaking the monopoly the smugglers enjoy.

Like you I’d love to see people smuggling stop.

I know you don’t want to see people dying in the process of pursuing life. And I know you’re an economic conservative. And I know you’re interested in job creation and, until recently, a big Australia. So I want to propose some market driven alternatives.

The best two ways I can think of to force people smugglers out of the market is to undercut them, or take away their boats.

The best way to save lives, if people are determined to get on boats, is to make sure they’re getting on safer boats.

What if we ran the boats? We could process asylum seekers en route. They could purchase a ticket for a fraction of what they’d pay to go with a people smuggler, fully refundable if their claim is legit. It might mean taking more asylum seekers, but if we controlled the process from start to finish there’d be less deaths at sea, less money for the criminals.

It seems that the lack of competition is what is making people smuggling so lucrative. Prices are high. Now, smugglers may make their prices much lower in order to stay competitive. I’ll leave your economists to figure out the details, but it seems to me that people smugglers are going to continue preying on the vulnerable even if we’re going to ship their precious human cargo off to PNG (at great expense). It seems that those people who are desperate enough to keep getting on boats even when we’re putting horrific billboards in their home countries to deter them, and even when boats are sinking with increasing regularity and claiming lives, will be continue to be desperate enough to get on boats even if it means ending up in PNG – so you’re not actually going to stop people smuggling. You know that right? You’re just stopping genuine refugees arriving in Australia.

And that’s a shame.

I know you’re a Christian. And I just want to finish by asking you to consider this issue not just from the Bible’s understanding of how the prosperous should treat those seeking refuge. That’s pretty clear. I want to go to someone who I know is something of an authority or influence for you.

Bonhoeffer.

You like Bonhoeffer.

Can you imagine how he would respond to this act of legislative and moral cowardice? I suspect in the same way that other people of principle are reacting to your decision.

I keep coming back to your article about Bonhoeffer. And how you think your faith should influence your politics. You say:

“Bonhoeffer is, without doubt, the man I admire most in the history of the twentieth century… He was never a nationalist, always an internationalist.”

“For Bonhoeffer, “Obedience to God’s will may be a religious experience but it is not an ethical one until it issues in actions that can be socially valued.”

This led Bonhoeffer to people smuggling.

After the failure of these efforts, in 1940 he joined the German Abwehr (military intelligence) as a double agent, and until his arrest in late 1943 he collaborated with the armed forces’ conspiracy against Hitler – and, at the same time, organised the secret evacuation of a number of German Jews to Switzerland.

Bonhoeffer’s was a muscular Christianity. He became the Thomas More of European Protestantism because he understood the cost of discipleship, and lived it. Both Bonhoeffer and More were truly men for all seasons.

You say…

“We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.” Bonhoeffer’s political theology is therefore one of a dissenting church that speaks truth to the state, and does so by giving voice to the voiceless. Its domain is the village, not the interior life of the chapel. Its core principle is to stand in defence of the defenceless or, in Bonhoeffer’s terms, of those who are “below”.

And then…

“I argue that a core, continuing principle shaping this engagement should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer’s critique in the ’30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed. As noted above, this tradition is very much alive in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. It is also very much alive in the recorded accounts of Jesus of Nazareth: his engagement with women, gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and the poor – all of whom, in the political and social environment of first-century Palestine, were fully paid-up members of the “marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed”. Furthermore, parallel to this identification with those “below” was Jesus’ revulsion at what he described as the hypocrisy of the religious and political elites of his time, that is, those who were “above”.”

Wouldn’t you rather stand with Bonhoeffer than with Raelene, Pauline, Adam, or Deborah?

Who is more marginalised than the refugee who no longer feels safe in their own country? Who gets on a boat, placing their life, and the lives of their families, in the hands of a people smuggler, if they are not oppressed and vulnerable?

“The function of the church in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state: to give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse where otherwise there are no natural advocates.”

And then…

“Here lies the searing intensity of Bonhoeffer’s gaze, cast across the decades into our own less dramatic age: the need for the church to speak truthfully, prophetically and incisively in defiance of the superficiality of formal debate in contemporary Western politics. In other words, beyond the sound-and-light show of day-to-day political “debate”, what are the real underlying fault lines in the polity? Most critically, within those fault lines, who are the “voiceless” ones unable to clamour for attention in an already crowded political space – and who is speaking for them?”

I challenge you to listen to the moral voice of the church now – but I challenge you to think about not just how Bonhoeffer would have approached this issue, but how Jesus approached this issue for you – you who like all people, were alienated from God. Seeking asylum. And you who were brought into his kingdom by his sacrifice.

I want to leave you with your own words. Let this be a letter where the ghost of KRudd past speaks to the ghost of KRudd present.

“Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the ’30s.”

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Infographic: Why Asylum Seekers seek asylum

Did you catch that really uncomfortable interview with Tony Abbott and Leigh Sales last week? The really embarrassing thing, as far as I could tell, wasn’t that he flip flopped on whether or not he’d read the BHP statement about why they’re shelving a massive mining project (I think economics is complex enough that he’s probably right)… no. The embarrassing thing was when the conversation moved to “boat people”… here’s the transcript of that part in full

“LEIGH SALES: Why have you referred repeatedly to illegal asylum boats coming to Australia? Do you accept that that’s illegal and that seeking asylum by any means is legal?

TONY ABBOTT: Most of the people who are coming to Australia by boat have passed through several countries on the way and if they simply wanted asylum they could have claimed that in any of the countries through which they’d passed.

LEIGH SALES: But I don’t believe that it’s actually illegal to pass through countries on your way to somewhere where you want to have asylum.

TONY ABBOTT: You try turning up in America without documents, without a visa, without a passport; you’ll be treated as very, very much illegal, Leigh. The other point I make, from recollection at least, is that the very term that the Government has officially used to describe these vessels is “suspected illegal entry vessel”.

LEIGH SALES: Do you – I’m asking you though, not about the Government. I’m asking: do you accept that it’s legal to come to Australia to seek asylum by any means – boat, plane – that it is actually legal to seek asylum?

TONY ABBOTT: I think that people should come to Australia through the front door, not through the back door. If people want a migration outcome, they should go through the migration channels.

LEIGH SALES: That’s an answer to the question if I asked you: how do you think people should seek asylum?, it’s not an answer to the question: is it legal to seek asylum?

TONY ABBOTT: And Leigh, it’s the answer I’m giving you because these people aren’t so much seeking asylum, they’re seeking permanent residency. If they were happy with temporary protection visas, then they might be able to argue better that they were asylum seekers, but obviously the people who are coming to Australia by boat, they want permanent residency; that’s what they want and this government has given the people smugglers a business model by putting permanent residency on the table. And even though the Government has adopted just one of the Howard Government’s successful policies, it won’t adopt temporary protection visas or the willingness to turn boats around where it’s safe to do so.”

That’s just awful. But there’s no backlash, because there’s no political mileage. No votes are going to change hands here because the Labor Party is every bit as culpable on that front (though they are going to increase the refugee intake).

Season 2 of Go Back To Where You Came From kicks off tonight. The first season was pretty powerful stuff. For all their agitation surrounding gay marriage, which probably annoys a lot of Christians, GetUp is doing some good work on the asylum seeker front. They’ve produced this infographic to coincide with the show. And there’s a petition you can sign ahead of this week’s vote on the new refugee legislation, they’ve also got a form where you can email your member of parliament with a personalised message. If you’re a Christian you might also like to email Jim Wallace at the Australian Christian Lobby (their emails are typically firstname.lastname@acl.org.au), and tell him you’d like the ACL to spend more effort speaking out for those who aren’t providing their organisation with financial support – and maybe ask them to do less than just “welcoming” whatever the government does like they do in this Media Release, and this one).

This shouldn’t be an issue where a response falls along right/left lines. You can read my last two posts on boat people – the first, in response to Tony Abbott’s claim that boat people are “unChristian”, the second, a follow up to that.

UPDATE: Somebody questioned the legitimacy of this infographic in the Facebook comments below. So I did some digging and found what appears to be the source of this data. The following is from pages 17 and 18 of this DIAC report: Submission to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network September 2011 Department of Immigration and Citizenship (http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/pdf/2011/diac-jscaidn-submission-sept11.pdf).

“From 1989 to 30 June 1995 a further 41 boats carrying 1893 people arrived in Australia, most of whom came from Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Vietnam…No Cambodian IMAs arrived after the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) mission was established in 1991. The flow of Vietnamese IMAs effectively stopped in 1995–96, with none arriving in the next three financial years. The last major arrival of IMAs from PRC was in 2000, with 25 arrivals. ”

“The profile and origins of IMAs coming to Australia began to change in 1999. Previously, most IMAs had come from Cambodia, PRC and Vietnam. As the tide of IMAs from east Asia and south-east Asia receded, a new movement of IMAs—predominantly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka—emerged. In total, 12,272 people arrived in this period. ”

“Boats began arriving again in October 2008. Over the course of 2009–10 the number of asylum seekers increased significantly. As with the preceding wave, the majority of IMAs came from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Notably, however, the number of Iranians to arrive since January 2011 has increased significantly.”

UPDATE 2: You can watch episode 1 of season 2 of Go Back To Where You Came From online.

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Australians and “boat people”


Image Credit: SBS Go Back To Where You Came From Refugee Simulation.

A friend gently chided me for the image I used in that last post – suggesting it represents a bit of a caricature of what it is that causes people (average, conservative voting, Australian citizens) angst when it comes to boat arrivals, border security, and the rest.

I find it pretty hard to put myself in the headspace of someone who doesn’t think we should be looking after people displaced by hardship in their home countries – but I’ve spent the few hours since trying to do it.

It could be, as my friend suggested, something more like the fear that if we don’t get our policies right the floodgates will be opened and we’ll suddenly have all sorts of resource problems – there’s certainly an element of that when it comes to protesting about skilled migration and plans to find off shore workers to fill so called “Australian Jobs”… and doubtless some of the refugees who come here will be employed, and others will be on welfare, and thus, some will consider them a tax burden.

Most of the hyperbole surrounding this debate is pretty bizarrely short sighted. Population growth in Australia, rapid expansion at least, has almost always been as a result of migration. Right from white settlement, through the gold rushes, waves of migration in various industrial booms, and the boom when the White Australia Policy was revoked in the 70s, our culture has been enriched and our population has been boosted, by the arrival of people from other nations (arguably not so much in the convict settlement). We wouldn’t have a great coffee scene in Australia if it wasn’t for migration. Almost 1 in 3 people who currently live in Australia were born overseas, almost half of us had one or both parents born overseas (according to the 2011 Census Data).

Another friend on Facebook mentioned that white Australia’s inability to truly come to terms with Australia’s indigenous history makes dealing with new arrivals pretty hard, he said it in a slightly more profound manner (and I’m still trying to figure out if I agree)…

“Until we reconcile our own history of arriving on boats, and mistreating the original people and failing to assimilate (and creating our own segregated communities) we will never appropriately and lovingly approach refugees in the 21st century.”

Most of my disagreement with that line of thinking is because I’m not sure assimilation is the answer – I don’t think assimilation and segregation are the only options, I wonder if integration or something where unique identities are maintained and differences appreciated is more worthwhile and achievable… but I also wonder if there’s a correlation here rather than causation.

Anyway. I reckon most fears are misplaced – though I appreciate that a huge influx of migrants would put a pretty major strain on our infrastructure and economy and would need to be something we strategically planned for rather than an overnight thing.

I realise that comments made on articles online aren’t a great way to represent the population – they’re opt in, they’re usually made by people who are overly passionate, rather than objective, and often they’re made by PR people or their friends who are trying to boost some sort of cause without disclosure.

But here are some comments from two different articles – from the left and the right, dissenting and agreeing with the content of the articles in question…

First we’ve got Clive Palmer who makes what I think is actually a fairly sensible and worthwhile policy suggestion (I wonder what it would look like if we got some big cruise ships and picked up people wanting to come to Australia and processed them en route. But that’s pretty pie in the sky stuff). Here’s the story as reported by the Herald Sun, and here are some of the choice comments:

“Perhaps Clive Palmer should fly out. His suggestion would open the floodgates for anyone who can raise $1,000. Coming here at one tenth of the cost means the numbers will increase tenfold.”

“SINK THEM. Lets face it most Australians don’t want them here and they are que jumpers so, SINK THEM at sea and they will stop coming.”

“At the risk of incurring the wrath of all the do gooder human rights activists, if they try to come here via the back door, put them on the first plane home. That is the only plane we should be supplying them with I refuse to apologize for wanting a country that has a viable economy to support my children’s future.”

“Allow refugees to come here safely? Or queue-hoppers? THAT is the question. If we do that then anyone can come, whoever wants to and the hell with the normal application process that others have to go through. All we’re teaching them is how to be dishonest and move easily into a better, welfare-laden life. I don’t want hundreds of thousands of these people in my beautiful country, I would rather focus my energy on those whom I know to be genuine, those who struggle to eat, let alone buy expensive passages here that I could only dream about (as a fulltime worker i get no breaks from the govt but i constantly struggle on one income including paying private family health insurance). Does mr Palmer then propose that the money these illegals would save on their boat fares will then be used to support themselves instead of centrelink? No? I didn’t think so…”

“How bout they don’t come here at all, I want my tax dollars used for things that benefit me not these free loaders.”

“That s a Great Idea, lets fly them in First Class. Some champagne to celebrate coming to Australia. Free 5 star accommodation for 5yrs. Free Child care, Free Cigs and Food. Centrelink benefits for life. Australia best place in the world Come one come all. Were the bloody hell are ya.? Come off it…”

Interesting reading.

Now here’s the response to refugee advocate Julian Burnside and his excellent piece responding to Abbott’s “unchristian” comment on ABC Unleashed

“It is strange that people seem to justify not accepting the boat arrivals by the fact that not every refugee is able to get on a boat. Hence “queue jumper”.

It is not legitimate to use one unfairness for which you are not responsible to justify another inhumanity for which you are.”

“Well said Mr Burnside but don’t expect Abbott to respond to your question. He knows that a majority of Australians are so anti-refugees that they don’t want to know about the logic of your argument. He is simply waiting to walk into office as PM, that’s all he cares about. And as for the aforementioned Aussies, well they don’t really care what happens to “queue jumpers” so long as it doesn’t concern them. What happens when he is PM (if ever)and the refugees continue to arrive? Will he again resort to christian rhetoric to justify his failure – like washing his hands of the whole affair?”

“What is unchristian is Abbott’s inhumane policy and his refusal to genuinely engage in some plan to prevent the loss of human life at sea”

“Point 1 – When a nation has a set number of assylum seekers or refugees that it will take in per annum, your chances of being accepted are greatly influenced by your circumstances. If you are in a refugee camp anywhere in the world, you are applying through the UN to be resettled. If you came by boat, you are taking up space in one of our numerous detention centres at great cost to the taxpayer – who do you think will be the first one processed simply because they are occupying space in a detention centre?

Point 2 – the moral question. I think that it is immoral to award limited annual intakes of refugees and assylum seekers to those who can afford it over those who can’t. Argue with that.

Point 3 – Dog whistle? This just lives in the minds of activists. We are talking about undocumented illegal arrivals who have paid for transport to Australia. Don’t care what their colour or race is. Its the method of arrival and the associated documentation you require for different types of arrival thats in question here.

Point 4 – You forgot to add that that hypothetical person also has a wad of cash to pay the smugglers. Which others do not. I thought progressives thought that financial position should not lead to advantages. Apparently not in this case however.”

This is a wide spectrum of views being presented in two different forums, featuring two fairly different demographics. It’s interesting that so many of the reasons against accepting boat people, or any refugees, are selfish and oddly nationalistic – especially given the stats about the current make up of Australia’s population. There’s a trend in comments dismissing refugees to see living in Australia and being Australian as something exclusive and worthy of protection – as though the place you’re born is somehow meritorious, deserved, or gives particular human rights. Caring for refugees should be part of being a global citizen – but sadly we live in a globe full of sinful and selfish people – which is why being a Christian citizen, living as a foreigner and caring for outsiders is something radical.

But tying these two posts together – what is there that Australian Christians, or concerned Australians, can do to be better global citizens. I have a few ideas.

  1. Get informed. It would be hypocritical for me to say that “raising awareness” is an activity – but combating ignorance probably counts for something. Direct people to Go Back To Where You Came From, or some facts about asylum seeking and Australia. I haven’t gone much past this point to date, most of this is a knee jerk response to this week’s idiocy.
  2. Get welcoming. This is cool. Welcome To Australia wants to connect Australians with refugees. One of my Facebook friends had a BBQ with some Iranians recently, and inspired me to think about how I can do stuff like that. A guy in Toowoomba drives a busload of Sudanese guys to Bible study and church every week. There’s a football team made up of migrants/refugees in the church league I play in. There are lots of ways I can think of – but if you’ve got other ideas tell me (and I’d be interested in knowing more about how the BBQ came about – that’s for you Matt). Given the stuff I said yesterday about Christians having special motivation to welcome the outsider (because we were all once outsiders) – our welcome of refugees should reflect and present our view of reality. Churches can play a huge role in welcoming refugees – we’ve got all sorts of collective resources and a pre-existing community that should be good at welcoming already.
  3. Get active. My friend Joel is riding for refugees with a team from his church – you can donate to their team – or get involved in other ways. The Refugee Council of Australia has a list of other ways you can volunteer.
  4. Write to a politician. Don’t send a form letter. They suck. Say something you mean. Tell them what you really think. I need to change my enrolment and figure out what electorate I actually live in. In the mean time I’ve sent a link to my last post to the Australian Christian Lobby, hoping they’ll one day change their tone a little.

If you’ve got other ideas I’d love to hear them…

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Boat people and Christianity


Credit: Boat People Infographic from Crikey providing numerical perspective on the current situation (I’m not suggesting that people’s anxiety on the issue is fully captured by this picture.)

Wow. Tony Abbott. Here’s a pearler of a quote from a radio interview yesterday, where admittedly, Abbott was responding to a gibe about his asylum seeker policies being “unChristian”…

“Look I don’t think it is a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door.”

Now. Before we get into the myriad problems with this statement coming from a politician in a heated policy debate, I want to be a little sympathetic to what he’s trying to say… it’s a tragedy that genuine asylum seekers waiting in camps around the world obeying due process are missing out because some people engage in dangerous and expensive people smuggling. In an ideal world there’d be no need for people to seek refuge, but in our fallen world where bad stuff happens this sort of displacement is nothing new – it’s been happening since at least Exodus.

Whoops. I started on the theological problems already.

Every aspect of Abbott’s statement is problematic. He would have been better off copping the gibe on the chin or talking about the people trying to obey due process without even mentioning the people jumping on boats.

UPDATE: Here’s the fuller context of Abbott’s quote, lest you feel I’m misrepresenting the interview…

“And I’m all in favour of Australia having a healthy and compassionate refugee and humanitarian intake program.

“I think that’s a good thing. But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way.

“If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

This makes a complex ethical question into an absolute question of morality – I’m not sure you can argue that genuine asylum seekers have done the wrong thing by seeking asylum, and 97% of people who seek asylum in Australia, after arriving by boat, are found to be genuine refugees… (END UPDATE).

But ignoring the elephant in the room, that most boat people are coming from countries that aren’t exactly known for fostering significant Christian populations (though some refugees are Christians fleeing persecution) – and thus the idea that the boat people should be Christian is perhaps patently ridiculous… let’s consider for a moment that God’s people, since the very beginning, and Jesus himself, have essentially been refugees. Here are some more useful facts about boat people (PDF from the Australian Government).

Abraham left his father’s land and sought asylum in various foreign kingdoms as he headed off to the promised land.

Joseph was a refugee to Egypt.

Moses led Israel out of Egypt as asylum seeing refugees. Israel was called to care for asylum seekers/the aliens in their midst, as God does, as a result of Israel’s experience as refugees. So Deuteronomy 10:

“18 He [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Their failure to care for the foreigner is listed as part of the reason they’re booted out and forced into exile again in Ezekiel 22…

“‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.”

Now, I know Australia isn’t the promised land, and isn’t meaningfully able to be spoken of as a Christian nation, but if the leader of the opposition brings Christianity into the debate, then it should at least be represented fairly… It’s not unChristian to seek asylum – it is the most Christian thing in the world as we’ve had to seek refuge for ourselves in Jesus. It’s arguable, though I don’t think we should really make anything of this, that Jesus’ family sought asylum when Herod was out to get them in Matthew 2.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

And I think a fair case can be made that Jesus replaces the cities of refuge that OT people were to flee to (Joshua 20), and that turning to Jesus, as all Christians have, is the ultimate expression of seeking asylum. It’s certainly the ultimate expression of seeking citizenship somewhere better where we’re not truly entitled to on our own merit (especially for Gentiles). So this big quote from Ephesians 2…

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Now the comparison isn’t exact, and the issues here are referring to something different because Australia isn’t the kingdom of God – but there are two principles here that make it hard to justify the claim that urgently seeking asylum without regard to due process is unchristian. Firstly, Christians are asylum seekers, and secondly, the idea, for Christians, that our earthly citizenship of an earthly nation is something to be protected at the expense of being united with other people in Christ doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Christians in the early church framed their understanding of citizenship, a particularly significant concept when it came to the Roman Empire, around being aliens in the empire – sojourners, who loved other outsiders accordingly – loving foreigners wasn’t exclusive to Israel when they occupied the physical kingdom of Israel with some power. We seem to have lost that vibe a little bit as Christianity became a dominant socio-political force – but now we’re starting to be part of a post-Christian society we need to start being informed by this as a category again, and caring for our fellow aliens.

If we’re taking a “Christian” approach to the chance to show love to the poor and oppressed people who don’t know Jesus then we’re going to want to welcome and love them. That’d be my thinking anyway…

The onus isn’t really on the asylum seekers to act as Christians when they’re approaching a country – unless they’re claiming to be Christians, in which case the decision to jump the queue is something they’ll have to wrestle with personally – the onus is on the country receiving them, if they claim in any sense to be Christian (which Abbott does), to be receiving the refugees in a Christian way. This is where Abbott went really wrong. The question was legitimate. Because caring for refugees, or any oppressed people, or any people, is a definite outworking of following Jesus.

Interestingly, Jesus echoes the Deuteronomic principle that people who are trying to be like God should be caring for the oppressed, he framed his understanding of his mission this way (quoting Isaiah):

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 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. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
So. You might be thinking. It’s all well and good for Jesus to say this and apply it to his own ministry, if he is this refuge for the oppressed – but it doesn’t follow that it is “Christian” to love refugees.

You would be wrong.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Luke 11 on the basis that they care for their religiosity but not for the poor.

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Then, when he’s talking about how people who want to follow him should approach social conventions and the hosting of status building banquets, he makes it clear that his concern is on provision for the poor (Luke 14)…

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Then, when he’s talking about how his followers, Christians, will be distinguished from people not following him (unchristians?), he makes it clear that this is one of the markers of a Christian, someone whose thinking has been truly transformed by the Spirit as they follow Jesus.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

James follows suit.

27 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.”

It’s pretty hard to maintain anything that looks like the policies of either of Australia’s major parties on “boat people” if you’re trying to take a Christian approach – the justification for taking a Christian approach is obviously quesitonable for the same reason that introducing any policy into a secular democracy for solely theological reasons is questionable. But we have every right to speak in the democratic process, and you’d hope such contributions would be framed by our theological reality, more than by political expediency, you’d hope we’d be the most compassionate voice out there, and call for something more than what our major parties are happy to settle for… and yet, when given the opportunity to make a statement following Abbott’s theological faux pas, here’s what Lyle Shelton from the ACL says:

“It is unfortunate that the term ‘Christian’ has been co-opted in the debate… I don’t want to say what is Christian and what is not, but it is important that our policies give people languishing in camps a fair go. We have to stop the people smugglers’ business model. We have to stop people perishing at sea.”

Could this organisation stoop any lower in its bid to represent as broad a church as possible? How bout defining Christian as “somebody who follows Jesus and holds to something representing the historic confessions of the church”? It’s not that hard. And this sort of waftiness is precisely why the ACL can’t claim to speak for anybody in particular. It’s also an issue that needs the  voice of Christians to offer some compassionate clarity.

It’s unfortunate Christianity has been misrepresented in the debate, but it’s more unfortunate we had to be co-opted, and haven’t been on the front line from the beginning (which notable exceptions have been – like Melbourne’s Crossway Church, which offered to care for unaccompanied minors who were at risk of being deported).

People who follow Jesus are refugees. People who follow Jesus are to love the oppressed, including refugees. This has to be the basis of a “Christian” response to the tragedy that leads people to flee their countries, and the tragedy that many of those people are turning to criminals and jumping on dangerous boats.