Q: What does the Bible tell us about how to respond to asylum seekers in Australia?
This is a huge issue, and I can’t actually cover it in a brief post. So I’m going to be brief in this answer, which you may or may not find disappointing, and let that form the basis for other questions or clarifications.
We first need to separate two major issues here: political and individual. These two are usually mixed up in people’s minds. Some people start with the political response, and get bogged down working towards the individual response. Others start with an individual response, and get bogged down working towards the political.
I’m going to start with the individual response – which is how an in individual deals with the asylum seekers issue in their community.
What does the Bible say about how a Christian should respond to asylum seekers from this start point?
Jesus, summarising the OT Law, tells us to love our neighbour as ourself. And when he explains who our neighbour is, he tells the parable of the good samaritan, which leads us to understand that loving our neighbour as ourself means helping anyone in need, even across religious, cultural, national or ethnic divides (see Luke 10:25-37).
This means that Christians should be personally engaging with and helping asylum seekers in their communities, going out of our way to love and care for them, helping them to settle into a foreign country, culture, language and legal system (among others). Christians and churches should be known for going out of our way to help asylum seekers (all migrants, in fact) in our community – particularly those who are most different from us. This is an individual response, as well as a corporate responsibility for the church.
As a side note – in a small rural community like ours, we generally don’t see migrants or asylum seekers (although there are some that do!). That doesn’t mean that Jesus’ command thus has no application for us. Christians should be going to those who don’t fit into the mainstream of our communities: the poor, unemployed, alcoholic, elderly, drug addicts, aboriginals and others that would be considered ‘undesirable’. Not in a condescending or patronising manner where we want to ‘fix’ their lives. But in a manner that reflects God’s love for them, getting to know them, helping them when they want to be helped, and treating them as individuals Jesus died for, not just a member of a particular demographic we feel sorry for.
Returning now to our individual response as Christians to asylum seekers, we should also be advocating against unfair and harmful treatment of asylum seekers. An example of this for us now are the harmful conditions they are kept in, almost indefinitely, in off-shore processing centres. These centres and conditions are indisputably causing harm to individuals, and Christians should not accept that and should speak out against it.
None of this should be controversial or contentious among Christians.
But when we start to move to the political – the actual government policies regarding how to deal with asylum seekers and the issues they raise – it becomes more complicated.
Because if we are honest, there are a wide range of concerns that are legitimately raised by asylum seekers, particularly as they come on boats to Australia (but not limited to this type of arrival).
A sample of this are:
- who should qualify as a refugee
- the thousands who leave safety in countries like Indonesia and then drown on their way to Australia
- how social cohesion is maintained when there are cultural or religious clashes
- whether accepting asylum seekers requires them to be provided with permanent resident status
- whether there should be limits to family reunions
- security and identity concerns
It should be noted that these are not questions that Christians will all agree on, because they are questions of political policy, not questions of moral right and wrong.
Christians can legitimately have a range of opinions on these, and other, questions.
We live in a sinful world, where it isn’t possible to have perfectly wise and perfectly Christian answers to every problem. The day when that will happen will come, but not until Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, bring an end to sin. Until that day, things will be difficult, and we live in a dangerous world where people are unkind, selfish and willing to take advantage of others, and there will be no perfect political solution to the world’s problems.
In this environment the Christian response must be patience, kindness and gentleness with those who have a different opinion to us (remember the fruits of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22).
Christians must not demonise, or resort to name calling, those who advocate different policies. And that includes not assuming or making assertions about all asylum seekers – whether that is to say the are all dangerous, or that they are all innocent and genuine.
Not being able to go to one of these extremes makes the discussion more difficult, and more nuanced, but it is more honest. And given that Jesus is Truth (John 14:6), this becomes a Christian imperative, done so in a way which is generous towards others who are different, or who disagree with us. (Jesus also said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”).
Finally, Christians must remember that Jesus said our citizenship was not in this world, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). While we live in Australia, and we love it and want it to prosper and be a good place for our children to grow up in, this is actually secondary to building the Kingdom of God.
We can’t make Australia, or any other country, ‘Christian’. or “perfect”. We can’t keep Australia the way it is (and we must remember that Australia is changing and becoming more hostile to Christians not through migration, but through changes within the dominant culture). Christian impact on Australia will not be permanent, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make Australia better. It means we should be reminded to focus on building the Kingdom of God through evangelism, because this impact on people will be permanent.
Christians should give thanks to God that he is bringing people to Australia so we can proclaim the gospel to the nations without having to go to the nations ourselves. We may even feel a rebuke here for our failure to leave the comfort and security of our homes for the sake of the Kingdom of God, the place our eternal citizen ship resides, and the only hope for all people to escape the judgement of God.
This is what I consider to be the Biblical response of Christians to the asylum seeker issue.