The last few weeks have left me feeling deeply saddened. The poverty of leadership, grace and compassion in this nation has been underscored both by events surrounding the stricken asylum seekers rescued off the Australian coast, and by attitudes to Middle-Eastern and Muslim folk given currency through media reports in the wake of the hijack tragedy in the USA. How quickly we have de-humanised whole groups of people. Sadly, many in the church have not been immune from this same attitude.
The refugee ‘crisis’ has been simmering in our country for a few years: growing concerns and fears about alleged ‘masses overrunning the country’ have allowed people to ignore the desperate plight of human beings taking incredible risks: travelling thousands of miles in unseaworthy vessels in the hope of making a new beginning. Echoes of our national heritage have been silenced as these folk have been demonised. There seems to have been little consideration of the gospel call in our response.
It only takes a short journey through the Bible to encounter some significant refugees: those aliens seeking help from a foreign land: Abraham, Moses, David, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, to name just a few. We ought not forget that Jesus himself (in the care of his parents) sought protection and refuge in Egypt from King Herod. Any wonder that the Bible exhorts us to “do no wrong or violence to the alien” (Jer 22:3) and to remember our own heritage as aliens from the purposes of God (Eph 2:13). Amongst the curses of the Deuteronomic law we find “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice” (Deut 27:19). This is a long way from the characterisation of all boat-people as potential terrorists, even as queue-jumpers (were such a queue available to them in their homeland). The Old Testament closes with a sobering warning: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against … those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:5).
God invites us to see these people as created in His image, as desiring the peace and hope we seek. Sadly, our country has turned them away without hearing their stories, investigating their situations – without even bothering to care for them as human beings. We did not allow them to carry a human face, an attitude which has been spread since September 11 – painting all Muslims, and Afghanis as terrorists (or at least sympathisers). The so-called leading christian nation of the world has been less than christian in its response.
These are complex issues. It is my prayer that we will try to view them through the eyes of faith, and the teachings of scripture, and not simply out of political expedience and prejudices.
September 23, 2001