At 1pm on June 23 on the Saturday of Refugee Week, Australians are gathering in cities and towns to walk together as a sign that we are a welcoming and hospitable community. Why not go with members from your church community?
Welcoming asylum seekers and refugees is especially important at this point in our history. The heavy politicisation of asylum seeker arrivals by boat in recent years have led to the perception that the Australian community is un-welcoming and treats asylum seekers unduly harshly. In the National Consultation on Human Rights a national poll found that a large number of Australians felt that asylum seekers and refugees had little need of protection of their human rights:
- Less than 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled in any given year. In 2010 of the 30,000 refugee visa applications made to Australia, only 6,000 were granted.
- Since 2005 Australia has accepted about 6,000 refugees, although refugee’s immediate family members also take up this allocation whether or not they are ‘refugees’ in their own right. Currently resettlement accounts for about 3.6% of Australia’s overall annual migration intake.
Since the number of refugees awaiting resettlement dwarfs the available intake, whether in Australia or elsewhere, the majority of refugees in the ‘queue’ face an indefinite, indeterminate waiting period that may last not only their whole lifetime but many generations. Besides this, only one third of the world’s 10.5 million refugees live in emergency camps and official resettlement channels are outside their reach. Thus, the claim that if asylum seekers wish to enter this country they must do so via ‘an orderly queue using the proper channels’ is as practically not feasible for most.
Scripture expresses strong demands over the treatment of foreigners, strangers and sojourners, such as Deuteronomy 27:19,
Cursed be anyone who deprives foreigners, orphans, and widows of their rights. And all the people will answer, Amen!
Jesus reveals himself as the ‘friend of sinners’ and frequently portrays heaven as a place of lavish, gracious, ‘borderless’ hospitality. (the parable of the banquet, Lk 14:15; the prodigal son, Lk 15 (cf. Is 25:6; 55:1-2)). The writer to the Hebrews urges Christians not to “forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Beyond individual texts, Scripture also frames the entire salvation story as one of hospitality, grace and welcome. In biblical terms, salvation is a welcoming home. God’s reception of Israel is a basis for calling the nation to extend hospitality and care to the stranger and the alien:
When a stranger comes to live with you in your land, do not oppress them. Any stranger who resides with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. – Leviticus 19:33-34 (also see Deut 10:17,19, Deut 26:5-9; Lev 19:33-34; Job 19:15,18, 20.)
In other words, grace received implied that grace be given. One might even say that the first instinct of grace is hospitality.