ABC NewsRadio Drive host Glen Bartholomew interviewed the Roman Catholic Father Bob Maguire yesterday about his support of the Live Wire for Refugees 24-hour speak out at Federation Square in Melbourne today. Maguire argued that it is a Christian duty to welcome the stranger and compared illegal immigration in Australia to our failure to welcome Jewish refugees after the Holocaust. He also argued that the influx of refugees would be good for Australia.
My goal here is not to campaign for or against a political party or cause. Rather, I want to address the asylum seeker issue in Australia from a Christian perspective.
Responding to Father Maguire
With respect to Father Maguire for his passion to serve and build the community, his argument needs to be challenged. Australia welcomes 20,000 “strangers” in need of humanitarian assistance every year. The issue is not whether we should help the stranger, but how we should handle those who break the rules and come illegally [See correction in comments]. To compare this issue to the survivors of the Holocaust is shocking and outrageous. While I would not question that some—perhaps many—illegal arrivals are genuinely running from persecution, to compare boat arrivals in general to the systematic, ideologically-driven extermination of an entire race that was the Holocaust is unbelievable. Father Maguire should apologise to the Jewish community for the insensitivity of his comments. Regarding the potential benefit to Australia, that’s a good selling point for his position, but has little moral significance.
First, the definition of persecution needs to be clarified. The possibility of persecution is not persecution. Fear of persecution is not persecution. Poverty is not persecution. All of these are excellent reasons to consider emigration, but none of them makes a person a refugee. If it did, the majority of humans could be classified as refugees.
To treat non-refugees as refugees is despicable because it steals resources from genuine refugees. It is thoroughly irresponsible to treat everyone who calls themselves a refugee as a refugee. It is unkind and it is damaging to those who desperately need help.
Second, genuine refugees don’t pick and choose destinations. If someone is genuinely hungry, they eat what you give them. They don’t refuse the sandwich and demand roast beef. People who travel to Indonesia first but do not seek asylum there raise serious questions as to their status as genuine refugees in the first place.
How should a Christian view the boat issue?
First, regardless of our preferred policy and political ideology, Christians should be known for mercy. That does not mean that we should be pushovers. But it does mean that we should be willing to take in the stranger who is in need within the bounds of what we are able to do. And it means that we should take a stand for the proper treatment of even those we may feel are illegitimate asylum seekers.
Second, we must not treat people as political issues. In other words, it’s easy to get worked up about whatever policy we endorse and why everyone who sees it differently is idiotic and probably hates Australia. But in our forceful debates and blunt Facebook posts, we need to remember that real people are caught up in this and are suffering real pain and real fear and real grief. What’s more, they have real souls that will live somewhere forever.
Third, we must not try to make the issue black and white. Because it’s not. We don’t know most of the data we need to know and the circumstances make it almost impossible to know. If we’re going to err, we should err on the side of caution considering that there are very, very real dangers involved. And the fact is, there is no perfect solution. In fact, there may not even be a good solution. Such circumstances abound in a sin-cursed world. And such circumstances are designed to drive us to the cross to remember that we desperately need a Saviour.
That’s not to say some policies aren’t better than others. Nor is it to suggest that we should not learn about the policies of the parties and vote responsibly and wisely. It just means that there should be a humility about our approach to the debate.
Finally, to love God is to love truth, and lovers of truth work conscientiously to keep their minds open to the facts, whether or not the facts support their view. That means we should not toe the line for a party or an ideology at the expense of the truth or at the expense of human suffering and even lives.
Several things need to be kept in mind to keep this discussion balanced. The Australian government has not only the right, but the obligation to protect our borders. We have a right to exercise our sovereignty as a nation in regard to illegal immigrants. We have voluntarily signed certain treaties and should honour our commitments. And the policies that governed while roughly 1,000 boat people died at sea in recent years doesn’t seem to have been a good approach.
It’s not enough for Christians to realise that these asylum seekers might be our neighbours in the coming months/years; we’ve got to remember that they are our neighbours now, and we the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan.
Grace to you.