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.

Two points

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.

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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at


  1. Liz 2 September, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Hi Jason.

    I agree with much of what you have written but I’m wondering about this:

    “The issue is not whether we should help the stranger, but how we should handle those who break the rules and come illegally.”

    My understanding is that it is not illegal to claim asylum in Australia, regardless of how you enter.

    Am I wrong?

    • Jason Harris 2 September, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Hey Liz, Good to hear from you. =)

      According to this, you’re spot on. Thank you for pointing that out.

      This turns the focus from the method of entry to the validity of the claims to asylum.

    • Liz 4 September, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      From the link you provided:

      “The majority of asylum seekers who have reached Australia by boat have been found to be genuine refugees.

      Between 70 and 90 per cent have typically been found to be refugees, compared to around 40 to 45 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive with some form of temporary visa (e.g. tourist, student or temporary work visa). In 2010-11, 89.6 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat were found to be refugees, compared to 43.7 per cent of those who arrived with valid visas.”


      Do you think that the majority of these boat people have the means to apply for a tourist visa (assuming they can even acquire a passport), get on a plane from their country of origin and walk into DIAC instead of get on a leaky boat?

      I often wonder this.

      Either way… the mission field is here.

      I only need to drive 5 mins down the road to be in another country.


    • Jason Harris 4 September, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Considering the cost to get on a leaky boat, I think they are pursuing a better life, not protection which could be found far cheaper and far closer than Australia.

      There are refugee camps all around the world packed full of people who would love to resettle in Australia, but can’t because our refugee quota is being taken up by boat arrivals. I feel that the boats function as a way for those with money to jump the queue and settle in the best refugee placements rather than getting sent somewhere less wealthy or with fewer services. And in the process, causing far more deaths (roughly 1,000 in recent years) than would have occurred had they stayed in the place they were running from.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just take everyone in?! Looking forward to a just kingdom with no refugees.

  2. Liz 5 September, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    You wrote, “I feel that the boats function as a way for those with money to jump the queue and settle in the best refugee placements rather than getting sent somewhere less wealthy or with fewer services.”

    Great point.

    If we were in their position though (which thankfully we’re not), would you want to take a ticket and wait 20 yrs in a refugee camp (which may not exist in the countries these people come from)?

    I wouldn’t want to go to Indonesia for a holiday let alone plead asylum there instead of having a go for Australia.

    TBH… I cannot blame the boat people for trying.

    But I understand that we can’t allow everyone to come into Australia, get on welfare and be supported by taxpaying Australians who are pretty well fed up with our ‘own people’ being let down (ie: disabled and the elderly).

    “Looking forward to a just kingdom with no refugees.”

    – Me too Jason, me too.

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