Christians and refugees 

One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics > Australia and the refugees > Christians and refugees
Posted June 7 2003

 Mate, asking for "the Christian" position on anything exposes a huge range of opinions. Some people who identify themselves as christian positively hate others who call themselves the same. So "the christian position" on refugees does not exist.

Having said that, I think there are some fairly central underlying presuppositions of Christianity which will tend to influence a christian attitude toward refugees. There are some other common features among Christians that will tend to negate these attitudes.

Historically Christianity identifies Judaism as its forbear (even though it has often been strongly anti-Semitic.) For all the hostility towards other nations in the Jewish scriptures there is also a strong " pro refugee" thread although it is not called that.

The guts of this tradition come from the Divine command that Israel will look after "the widow, the orphan, and the stranger" in their midst. The stranger is the person who is not a native of the group. They are the outsiders, including the refugees. Israel was to remember it had once been the stranger and slaves in the land of Egypt, and accordingly act with the same mercy toward others that God had shown them. This theme, and the strong call for justice found in the prophets is strong enough for people to talk about god's "preferential option for the poor." Hence there will be a preferential option for refugees.

The second area of influence comes from where Christianity gets its name. It claims to base itself upon Christ-Jesus. I want to outline what I think he means in fairly formal terms, and then make a more general statement.
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The biblical traditions about this man can be understood as a subordination of Law to Compassion (mercy). The Law of Moses was seen as the key guiding principal in Jesus' time. In an ethical dilemma the answer would be found in arguing out the various points of the law. (This is still necessary. ) What Jesus, and others before him, saw was that you could stick to the letter of the law and yet avoid the spirit and intention of the law; something we all know well. The primacy of Law meant that Mercy came second. Any showing of mercy could only happen after the Law was fulfilled. It was easy to avoid mercy on the claimed basis of the Law.

If you think about it mercy implies that a demand of law is waived in some way. Jesus made this explicit. "Go and learn what this means; 'I desire mercy not sacrifice.'  He is speaking at this point to people who believed that keeping the law was the most important thing.  He quotes them the scriptures we call Old Testament where God implies it is not the keeping of law (doing the sacrifices) but doing compassion (mercy) that God really requires. Doing compassion or being compassionate is at the centre of Christianity.  It means to be with a person in passion... com (with) feeling (passion).  At its root it means to feel where a person is and understand their situation from that perspective. Then if the law must be done, let it be done... but with mercy.  An example of this can be seen in the words of Justice Einfeld in an Amnesty International posting.  (I have no idea if he espouses a Christian view of life.)  

No one has ever argued that anyone and everyone should be allowed to come to Australia whenever they choose. No one has ever suggested that anyone but we Australians should decide who should come here or challenged the need for rules and regulations to govern the entry of people into Australia.

But when people do get here, they should be treated decently and humanely  like every other human being on our soil. What we are seeking is due process  the application to each asylum seeker of traditional Australian standards of justice, law and decency, which are given to everyone else in our country. Even the worst convicted criminals murderers, rapists, drug runners and others are given the chance to apply for bail. Yet asylum seekers, who have committed no offence, including children, are not permitted to apply for conditional release pending the outcome of their applications.

Enfield is compassionate.  Let there be decency and due process.  Our government in Australia is dispassionate at best, but mostly simply  without mercy.  It essentially says to refugees,  "The Law is the rule, and whatever happens to you as a result is too bad."  In fact, we have sought to change the law to make compassion less possible, by saying the outer islands of Australia are not part of Australia, so we do not have to help refugees who arrive on them.  We have sought to define refugees out of existence by calling them illegal immigrants in contradiction to international law and our  international treaty obligations.  This is un-Christian.  The Christian position will face what has happened; i.e. people have arrived, and seek the most humane way to deal with the consequences, rather than establish concentration camps.

I began by saying to you that  I think there are some fairly central underlying presuppositions of Christianity which will tend to influence a christian attitude toward refugees. There are some other common features among Christians that will tend to negate these attitudes.

The christian preoccupation with the nature of Jesus means that many people who do not have any interest with a more formal or structured theology will be essentially merciful and pro refugee.  There are those, however for whom the notion of the Christian God is really a way of keeping the basic fear of existence at bay. And for many of these the government's position provides and neat way of rationalising the xenophobic aspect of the fear of life.  My wife finds in her pastoral work that many people will agree on the ideas of love and compassion until it comes to the point of saying Mr Howard is wrong.  This is something they cannot do. Christianity and the government are all part of an authority structure that makes the world work for them.  They are not really looking at the basis of their faith, only the part that provides a personal crutch in the fearfulness of life.  It is an attitude that I despise.  There is something Jesus is reported to have said about that too, which would scare the shit out of me if I believed in all the hell and judgement stuff:



Deuteronomy 10:19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt
Psalm 94:  3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?

4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.

5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.

6 They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan,

7 and they say, "The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive."

8 Understand, O dullest of the people; fools, when will you be wise?

9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?

10 He who disciplines the nations, he who teaches knowledge to humankind, does he not chastise?


Mathew 11:  10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

13 Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

Hosea 6:4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.

5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.

6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

the saving acts of the LORD."

Micah 6:6 "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Use of Nicholson's cartoons is free in a nonprofit situation.  Please see his website for details.

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