What question should an Australian Christian who claims to follow Jesus be asking in 2016?
Who is the neighbour that you are commanded to love as yourself? It’s almost the same probing question Jesus put to an expert in the law two millennia ago after telling the Good Samaritan story that boldly challenged ethnic and cultural divides.
The lawyer rightly answered that the neighbour was the one who showed mercy to the man left for dead on the Jericho road; a stranger from a different tribe.
A non-negotiable component of Jesus’ gospel is to reach out to the excluded, the poor and those in despair.
When it comes to the refugee question, who would want to be the hypocrite who steps to the opposite side of the road to avoid caring for someone in real need?
A key non-negotiable component of Jesus’ gospel is to reach out to the excluded, the poor and those in despair. And to protest injustice.
Surely then, it is time for all of us who love our Bibles to raise loud voices about the arbitrary and seemingly indefinite detention of asylum seekers – who have committed no crime – in oppressive and remote offshore prisons in the Pacific.
This year’s release of leaked reports detailing more than 2000 sickening incidents, including sexual abuse, assaults and attempted self-harm in Nauru’s “processing centre” should be the tipping point for Australia to recognise its legal and moral obligations to asylum seekers.
There is still no definite timeline for the closure of Manus Island and no clarity about the future of those detained there. The only promise given is that they will never be allowed to settle in Australia.
We are not suffering a refugee crisis. We are suffering a moral crisis.
The ignoble tactics used to deter asylum seekers and the conditions under which the innocent are punished in offshore prison camps are a stain on our nation. Operation Sovereign Borders is bad policy. We have been told that indefinite detention even for those found to be refugees is the only way to stop the boats and stop people drowning. Neither the former defence chief, Angus Houston nor John Howard believe this to be true. As Prime Minister, Howard quietly resettled refugees from Nauru in New Zealand and Australia without the boats restarting. We now know that it’s the policy of turn-backs and regional cooperation that stops the boats not sending people mad in indefinite detention.
It is time to end the imprisonment of people who have been detained just for trying to reach the safety of Australia and are now being denied hope of a better future.
We are not suffering a refugee crisis. We are suffering a moral crisis. And we must all speak out.
I am proud that some churches and church leaders have been at the forefront of protest and the speaking of truth to power about our awful treatment of our neighbours.
The issue strikes at the heart of our faith. For those who claim the label “Christian” the choice is clear. Like the Good Samaritan, we must see the need and get personally involved.