Tag Archives: Refugees

God and refugees

At Albury Bible Church, we hosted a meal with discussion – called Serious Eating – on the topic of God and Refugees.

The format included a short talk, about five minutes, as a thought-starter. Then, on each table, there was a menu for further discussion. For a lighter conversation, you would choose the entree. For more depth and difficulty, go for the main course.

I had a request to write up what I said. So here it is, expended from my brief written notes to make some sense on its own.

There’s a refugee problem right now. For example, quoting last week’s news, 10,000 people every day are fleeing Mosul. The stories we hear on the news are heart-breaking.

We care because of our common humanity. Common humanity is a biblical idea, but now so widely accepted we do not think of it as a ‘God idea’. But that’s OK, because there’s more to say about God and refugees.

When he was a child, Jesus became a refugee. In Matthew 2:12-15 we hear about the real risk to Jesus’ life. Herod then murdered of Bethlehem’s boys, and Matthew 2:18 could describe the TV shot of any modern refugee mothers in grief.

Furthermore, the Bible’s confronting message is that we all are refugees – though of another kind. We are refugees from God, running away not because he is bad but because we are. The way people respond to modern refugees does show positive humanity in compassion, but it also demonstrates our dark and evil side. As individuals and as a nation, we are far from perfect.

The real mind flip about God and refugees brings together these two points, about Jesus and about us. Jesus became a refugee to save refugees. We see this on the cross.

Jesus died as a Jewish man executed by the Roman empire – typical political oppression. Jesus’ death was also spiritually oppressive: his own national leaders abandoned him, as did the empire, and his disciples. Even God the Father was silent when Jesus called.

In his death, Jesus became the most excluded man in history. He said this was in order to include us with God. Jesus became the oppressed outsider to welcome outsiders to God. Romans 5:6 fits the idea that Jesus became a refugee to welcome refugees.

So to understand God and refugees, we need to take seriously God’s works to offer us salvation. Do we know and trust Jesus? All refugees have basic needs. Forgiveness is our basic need before God!

Within this huge overarching good news story, it’s clear also that God is all for refugee care. By looking at Jesus’ own cross-shaped love, we see the principles for refugee care – it is service that’s difficult, costly, patient, and not selfish.

What does that mean for you and me? I don’t think there are direct biblical political policies to apply to the world. I don’t see there’s a ‘Christian politics’ – but there should be action. Inaction and apathy just don’t fit what we see of God’s passionate love for the helpless.

Taking refuge

Yesterday Australia and Papua New Guinea announced an agreement for processing refugees who arrive in Australian waters by boat, but have no visa. Yesterday also, my social media streams overflowed with people outraged and embarrassed and who – in so many ways – were able to position themselves in the best possible light.

My social media skills fail me here, because I don’t know how to sum up my thoughts in no more than 140 characters. This post is my effort to think a bit more clearly about the whole refugee issue.

Here are some points about which I am pretty certain.

  1. Refugees need refuge
    This is basic, a foundation. Like most foundations, it’s not always at the centre of comment. Yet it needs the occasional reinforcement. I think Australia is well-placed to provide refuge for people in great need. And what an astonishing thing that the world has refugee conventions, workers dedicated to refugee care, international law, … Even though they don’t work perfectly, I thank God for these.
  2. Boat trips to Australia are unnecessarily dangerous
    SIEV-X is a famous example of tragedy in dangerous seas, but not an isolated one. I write ‘unnecessarily’ because there’s always danger, and I assume many people in flight have already been through much that is unsafe. Yet it would be good to eliminate this risk.
  3. Refugee camps hold people too long
    In my region, Albury-Wodonga, hundreds of Bhutanese refugees have been resettled after up to 20 years in camps. At first, I was incredulous at such a delay. An often-linked article this week says that asylum-seekers in Indonesia may wait 20-30 years for settlement in a third country. Wouldn’t it be good to see substantial change in this figure!
  4. I don’t know
    I don’t know international law. I don’t know how to formulate national policy. I don’t know what it’s like for the navy, customs and quarantine to implement boat policy. I have no insight into the motives of prime minister, opposition leader or others who speak up. I am the definition of ‘all care but no responsibility’ – the perfect place from which to pontificate.

So what?

  • So … I feel unable to form an opinion about the Australia-PNG agreement. It might be good. It might be bad. It could be both good and bad.
  • So … I’m not going to blame ‘the politicians’. We’re all involved: electors, media, politicians, employers, unions – everyone. The problem is not them, the problem is us.
  • So … I suggest we truly talk to those who have influence on refugee policy. Enquire and listen, then communicate. There’s the local federal parliamentarian. No doubt there are others, too. A good topic to keep raising: that Australia continue its humanitarian refugee intake.

Those who read the Bible have plenty of reason to sympathise with refugees. The Israelites, after Passover, we taught to remember that they were once aliens (Exodus 23:9). Jesus’ family fled to Egypt away from Herodian danger (Matthew 2:13-15). And Christians are people named as travellers and exiles who received needed mercy (1 Peter 2:9-12).

None of these verses make resolution of the refugee problem easy. Nor do they give us direct insight into policy. But they all spur Christians to compassion, mercy and the openness of love.