It seems that in the last couple of days the Australian position on asylum seekers has moved backwards by about 10 years.

What has been most depressing to me (and there is much to be depressed about) is the attitude of those who claim to follow Jesus in regard to these, some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

In my short life I have discovered that many Australian (middle-upper class) Christians seem to hold their commitment to Jesus as second-tier in comparison to their nationalistic or political allegiance. Jesus’ commands to care for the least of these seem to take a back seat to the more ‘realistic’ requirements of limiting who it is that we love.

But Jesus makes an interesting statement in Matthew 25:31-46, to which I have just alluded; that if we fail to care for the least of these, it is as if we fail to care for Jesus himself.

Apparently Jesus’ presence is not most potently embodied in times of worship, or prayer, or Bible reading, but rather in the eyes of the poor and needy.

That Jesus himself was a refugee is a point not missed by those Christians who support more compassion towards asylum seekers. While the reality of Jesus’ refugee-hood is not completely analogous to that of today’s asylum seekers coming to Australia, the analogy is neither invalid.

Going a bit deeper though, we discover an uncomfortable theological reality.

The story in Matthew 2 of the flight to Egypt is not simply a story of stand alone asylum-seeking; it is a clear echo of the story of the Israelites in Egypt. The nation of Israel, as you may remember from the story of the Exodus, suffered horribly under the weight of Egyptian slavery and exploitation until God eventually rescued them.

(More specifically Jesus’ escape to Egypt as a child is an echo of Moses’ escape down the river as a child [the first “boat person”?]).

God’s miraculous rescue of Israel is not without its demands. The Law which is eventually given to Israel is essentially a way of learning how to not be Egypt (the dominant culture). One of the ways the Law demanded Israel’s distinction from societies like Egypt was in its social ethics, that is, how God commanded the Israelites to treat others.

No murdering, no stealing, no dishonest business agreements. Care for the widow, the child, the poor and…

(you guessed it)

… the refugee/asylum seeker (“alien”).

And the story of Jesus echoes this story.

Jesus will eventually grow older, like Moses, to lead a group of people to liberation (“Christians”) whereby they will forego conforming to the dominant culture (Rome/America/whatever) in order to be his unique people of love and mercy. They too will need to demonstrate care for the most needy people (of which Jesus was included as a baby).

Do you see the implication?

The story of the flight to Egypt does more than simply help us remember an earlier story – it is meant to recall the meaning of that story including, I think, the social demands it entails.

More than that, Jesus literally identifies with the poor and marginalised, including the asylum seeker. It is no wonder that he says that the way we treat the poor equates to the way we have treated him.

In this way, claims about the apparent “illegality” of “boat people” should be irrelevant to the Christian; in any case seeking asylum, regardless of mode of transport, is not illegal (no matter what Alan Jones says). Even if it were, Christians are called to challenge dominant structures of injustice (Egypt) with the endless love and compassion of God. We are to challenge systemic injustice, even when it is legislated – this is what Jesus did throughout his ministry, including the apparent breaking of Jewish laws that held the first century Palestinian peasantry in the grip of economic turmoil.

Can a Christian follow Jesus by appealing to national laws, which condemn innocent and desperate people, at the expense of obeying the law of Christ?

Or, perhaps more damning is the question of whether we are willing to forego nationalistic boundary retention (a concern of the first century Pharisees, by the way) for the sake of embracing the presence of Jesus as found in the eyes of the poor, including asylum seekers.

That is to say, don’t bother seeking the presence of Jesus in prayer or worship if you aren’t interested in seeking it in the poor.


Posted on May 10, 2011, in Advocacy, Culture & Art, Current Events, New Testament, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. So what do we do then Matt?
    Of the millions of asylum seeking and poverty stricken brothers and sisters around the world, how many do we give a 1 way ticket to australia for, and how do we pay for all their centerlink payments? Until the Australian economy grows enough jobs to support them all?

  2. The question of what we do is a great one. There are plenty of resources around that show the benefits of community-based ‘detention’ models, both in terms of financial and security factors. Indeed, Mandatory detention is an extremely costly policy, and it seems odd to continue with it as a policy when cheaper and more humane models exist.

    These models are of course being used elsewhere, in places with far more refugees than Australia (e.g. Sweden, France).

    I must contest the second part of the question however. As you will be well aware, though there are millions of refugees worldwide, a minuscule amount actually attempt to come to Australia. It is not millions, but thousands.

    Seeing as we allow asylum seekers to enter by plane unhindered, but seem to want to single out boat arrivals, we must point out that the number of boat arrivals per year in the last couple of years has been between only 5000 and 6000. To put that in perspective, that amounts to a few high schools; not many, certainly not “millions”.

    Moreover asylum seekers by boat have a much higher rate of being judged as genuine refugees than do those coming by plane.

    It is worth noting that people are able to seek asylum according to international law; it is not illegal in any way. in fact the only potential illegality is Australia’s breach of the UN Refugee Convention in its treatment of refugees, including mandatory detention and the recent decision to send them to Malaysia.

    All this, however, is well-traversed material and is tangential to the content of my post. I wanted to deal with one particular thread of theological reflection on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees.

    The issue I see is that most Australians argue the politics and economics without reference to theology. That is to say we do not think theologically about the issues, and thus for many Christians their conclusions could not be said to be Christian in character.

    The asylum seeker debate is a prime example. Perspectives concerning costs, supposed lack of assimilation and limits on compassion may all have their time and palce, though these arguments are nationalistic in nature. That is to say, their foundation is in a particular form of Australian identity, and preference for a particular kind of Australian culture and standard of living.

    Historically speaking this culture and standard is relatively new; it has not always been the reality. There is no historical or logical reason to demand it be propagated. This is especially true considering the near-complete obliteration of Aboriginal culture.

    That aside, the prime issue for me is that not one person has ever engaged me in *theological* debate about this issue; it is always at the core a debate about the Australian way of life and our culture and finances.

    What I’m saying is that many Christians, in arguing at this level, are unwittingly placing their Australian identity as priority over their Christian one.

    When we deny the theological imperative to care for the least of these, no matter what cost or sacrifice or cultural shift results, in favour of a nationalistic perspective we must be honest and admit that we are choosing to be Australian over being followers of Jesus.

  3. Dude, get in the real world.

    Most of these people are not genuine refugees. They are people with money breaking the law for a quick entry into Australia. Why do most of them destroy their documentation? Did u know most people who are genuine refugees cannot afford to get on a boat?

    I live in an area where a large Sudanese population has been settled. They are given everything under the sun for free. They cause trouble, steal constantly from local shops and continue their life as though they were still in their country of origin. Police can’t do anything, because it may be seen as racist!

    The law is the law. Australia has a system, for which to process assulym seekers. People who break this need to go to the end of the que.

    You should get out in the real world, and get a real job. Instead of writing this know it all crap. You cannot force god’s kingdom and values onto a secular society. Your living up to the looney left stereotype. Australia aborts over 100,000 babies a year! Do you think god doesn’t care about this?

    The government is responsible for the security and protection of Australia’s borders.

    As I said before, if you actually get out in the real world instead of this little cave you live I , stop trying to make Jesus sound like he would be like you with your views and opinions.

    • Hi Joe,

      Tanks for commenting, though if you are going to make comments, then please abide by the commenting guidelines set out at

      Judging by your accusations against me in this and other posts I assume you are on the frontline of social issues such as refugees?

      Personally i would appreciate you knowing a little bit more about me before making accusations of non-involvement and otherworldiness. This is not merely in regards to me personally, but should stand for anyone you decide to attack.

      I would also encourage you to research the statistics of boat people who are deemed genuine refugees. You might be surprised by what you find.

      God bless,


  4. I know all about you Matt. Google is great. From your Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Tear and Micah sites.

    I know your a leftist Green Supporter. I know you try and argue a christian theology to back your claims. You spit out so much propoganda on this blog. Your organsiation you work for targets recruiting young teenagers with half truths. And especially the theology paper written on climate change has to be the biggest joke on this planet.

    You constantly ridicule the right or those that don’t agree with your views. And can’t handle being taken to task about it.

    Your entitled to your view. But your blog suggests that if you don’t support assulym seekers then your not a christian.

    Thats not true. And you use the bible as a crutch to support your view.

  5. Hi Joe,

    Feel free to browse my Twitter and Facebook. In fact the links have been made available on this blog, along with links to things I have written for TEAR and Micah (no need for Google 🙂 )

    But can you really know me from that info? I’m not so sure.

    Anyway, I should clear up some misunderstandings. For one, I am not a Greens supporter; I merely voted for them in the last election. I actually have no Party loyalties, and refuse to do so on principle as a swinging voter. At this point in Australian politics, however, the Greens are the Party I would vote for if their was an election today. In a year that may change.

    TEAR Australia currently has no major focus on teenagers, and employs no staff dedicated to the high school aged. I’m not sure where the idea came from that we target teenagers, or that we recruit them (for what?) though I’m sure it was a simple misunderstanding.

    I would be very happy to see evidence that I can’t handle being taken to task when others don’t support my views. I’m almost entirely sure I have reacted inappropriately at one time or another, though I’m sure we are all guilty of that :-). I’m not sure where I have ridiculed others, though I obviously do rebut them in the course of debate.

    My claim regarding asylum seekers is that Christian theology, in my view, gives us an imperative to care for the least of these, which includes those forced from their homes as refugees. While I do believe that to treat asylum seekers inhumanely is contrary to Christian ethics, I do not think that such behaviour necessarily makes one “not a Christian”.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments Joe. I do hope that you continue to be a part of the dialogues, even if you completely disagree with me on things. In fact I would love for you to post a few of your own perspectives on refugees (and other topics on which you have commented) from the Bible, assuming you have the time to do so (I realise we can all get a little busy). The truth is that I don’t really know what you think, except that you disagree with me.

    God bless,


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