Border protection is a big deal for both sides of politics in Australia. Stop the boats. Turn back the people-smugglers who put lives at risk with their leaky boats. Block the undesirables who don’t share our values. Don’t let the queue-jumpers in.
For more than a decade, we’ve heard these mantras from our rulers. Their polling assures them that the hard-line approach wins votes.
At times we’ve been shocked to see images of the off-shore detention centres. We wonder if we’re justified to lock people up for years as a deterrent. We’re concerned when they’re reduced to self-harm.
Now, don’t get scared about where this is going. I’m not suggesting we all march on Canberra to demand a change of policy. I’m not writing to Canberra. I’m writing to you, a follower of Jesus. I want you to consider how Jesus sees these issues. Surely that’s what defines how we respond.
Jesus’ view of the world is very different from ours. I grew up seeing the world as a big map, with lots of pink spaces that represented the British Empire. Oceans were blue (nobody ruled them), and continents were divided into colours according to the political boundaries. Our history classes taught us all about the wars and conquests that lead to those boundaries.
That’s not how Jesus sees the world. In his view, the whole planet is something called the kingdom of God. Apparently he has all authority over the earth (land and oceans), and he has asked us to pray that his Father’s kingdom comes, so what God wants is done on earth as it is done in heaven.
So what does God want for the people of the earth? Probably not war. How it must grieve God to see people killing each other over the very land he gave us to share! In addition to those who die, millions flee for their lives when people fight for power. Most refugees aren’t combatants; they’re people who fled to stay alive.
Others flee from famine. While drought contributes to famine, many refugees are intentionally starved out of their homelands.
We live in a connected world where people in almost any place can jump on the Internet and discover what life is like in other places. People in poorer countries see the level of wealth that we enjoy. They wonder if it might be worth uprooting their family and making the journey to place where their children can have a better future. Streams of people are flowing from Africa towards Europe, from Central America to the North, and from Asia to Australia. The wealthy label them as “economic refugees.”
So what is Jesus’ attitude towards all these people? First, he cares for them as people who belong under his kingship. Since he has all authority, in heaven and on earth, our king cares for them and wants the best for them.
Jesus described his kingship as bringing a great reversal to the world:
- Those who are crushed by a spirit of poverty will have a place in his kingdom.
- Those who mourn the loss of everything as they flee will be comforted.
- The meek, those who ran rather than fight, are to inherit the land.
- Those who have hungered and thirsted for justice but had to run anyway — it is Jesus’ intention that they be filled.
No, it won’t do to spiritualize the beatitudes, as if all Jesus cared about was spiritual needs. That’s a serious mistake that fails to understand Jesus’ authority as God’s anointed ruler bringing the will of God to earth as it is in heaven.
Once we begin to understand the kingdom of God as the whole earth under Jesus’ kingship, it knocks the shine off the idea of border protection of the island of Australia. Sure, it may be wise for our government to keep track of who’s coming in and why and for how long, for planning purposes. But where is your primary allegiance? We’re citizens of Jesus’ kingdom first; then, to the extent that it doesn’t compromise our primary allegiance, we’re citizens of Australia too.
There’s something wrong with a follower of Jesus who wants to keep others out so we don’t have to share our assets. There’s something wrong with a follower of Jesus who wants to keep refugees out in case a dangerous person comes in. The kingdom of God is not characterized by self-interest.
Can you imagine Jesus saying, “I was unwilling to take up my cross in case they hurt me.” His command is, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Our king genuinely cares for his people, all humanity. He takes it personally when we don’t care for each other. “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. … Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:43-45).
Canberra isn’t the problem. If we all treated refugees as Jesus-at-the-gate, Canberra would fall into line.