Fourth Quarter, 2004
Protection for refugees and the displaced - whose responsibility?
Neighbours, asylum and xenophilia

Jesus challenged our limited understanding of what it is to be a neighbour, and of protection and asylum. He claimed that we have all made ourselves outsiders to God's kingdom... and that we all need, and have been offered, asylum.

MANY MILLIONS OF MEN, WOMEN AND children are seeking asylum and protection. How should a Christian worldview shape our understanding of issues of protection and asylum? Two brief offerings.

First, the vulnerable clearly need protection and asylum, here and now. Jesus’ refrain “love your neighbour as yourself”, drawn from the Old Testament, is not merely a good humanitarian idea – it’s an expression of the mind and will of God. And Jesus stretched our understanding of “neighbour” to breaking point when he told the New Testament story of the “good Samaritan” who cared for the injured Jew. If Samaritans and Jews were to treat one other as neighbours, then we too should be neighbours sans fronti�res!

Second, Jesus went further still. He challenged our limited understanding of protection and asylum when he claimed, not without controversy, that we are all asylum seekers. By our destructive efforts in trashing God’s good world we have all made ourselves outsiders to God’s kingdom.

Jesus also claimed, again not without controversy, to be our means of entry into this kingdom – the means of access to divine asylum and protection. We see this when Jesus was put to death, and a thief who was put to death on a cross alongside him pleaded for Jesus to grant him such asylum – a plea freely answered.

Where do these twin perspectives leave us? We need to simultaneously hold on to both realities. We are to work for asylum and protection for our neighbour here and now. And we are to remember that we ourselves need, and have been offered, asylum.

If we find ourselves whispering “keep them away from us”, we have missed the greater truth: that we ourselves as outsiders have been invited and welcomed into the kingdom of another. If seduced by the voice of xenophobia, we need to listen afresh to the words of Jesus, who practises xenophilia. And if we are hard-hearted toward the outsider, we would do well to remember our fellow asylum seeker: the thief on that cross.

- Mr Ismo Rama works with World Vision International as a Strategic Initiatives Coordinator.

(The author is indebted to, and for further reading recommends, the following articles by Andrew Cameron and Tracy Gordon of the Social Issues Executive, Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Australia:
“Refuge, Detention and the Failure of Evangelical Identity”, Social Issues Briefing #010, 24 May 2004
<www.anglicanmedia.com.au/index.php/articleview/1437/1/9>; “Detention and Asylum Children”, Social Issues Briefing #008, 27 May 2004 <www.anglicanmedia.com.au/index.php/article/articleview/1419/1/9>; and “Our Place in the International Neighbourhood”, Social Issues Briefing #013, 7 June 2004 <www.anglicanmedia.com.au/index.php/article/articleview/1523/1/9>.)

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