Today I watched with interest as the Australian government announced their response to the Syrian refugee crisis. It seems the confronting image of a young child washed up on a Turkish beach, that shocked the world and evoked an outpouring of compassion, penetrated the tough exterior of the Abbott government's border control policy. Their announcement to increase our refugee intake to accommodate 12,000 Syrians has received conditional praise from all sides of politics and many refugee advocate groups.
As a strong advocate for refugees also, you would think I would be happy with this decision?!
But I'm not! Well, I am, but with concerns. In fact, I am feeling a lot of conflict about today's announcement. Apart from a general mistrust of the politics and motives of our government, my conflict with this expression of 'compassion' runs deeper and wider than the Syrian crisis.
- An appropriate humanitarian response to Syria is accompanied by a questionable military air strike on Syria further contributing to the reason why people seek refuge in the first place.
- Refugees from Syria have attracted justifiable compassion, while refugees on Manus and Nauru continue to attract unjustified condemnation and cruelty.
- 12,000 refugees from Syria will be accommodated in Australia, while there are 34,000 vulnerable Australians on an endless waiting list for affordable housing.
- The same government who has indiscriminately turned back boats of people fleeing persecution said today, "It's those who can never go back that we're focused on."
- Mr Abbott said Australia would "move quickly" to resettle refugees but has left asylum seekers already in Australia waiting indefinitely to be processed.
- The government will also spend $44 million supplying 240,000 refugees with cash, food, water and blankets in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, when they are cutting Australia's welfare budget by $1.6 billion over the next four years.
At this point of my conflict I need to be clear that I equally support Australia's humanitarian role as global citizens and our domestic responsibility to alleviate poverty in our own nation. It is my strong position that the two are not mutually exclusive of each other! Some may argue that 'charity or compassion starts at home' but globalisation disqualifies this argument. Participation in the global market carries with it an obligation to share our national prosperity in the very global context from which it was obtained.
That being said, my conflict is with conditional compassion that seems more politically motivated than genuinely people oriented.
As a follower of Jesus, I see compassion motivated and modelled differently:
- Christ's compassion broke religious rules (Mark 3:1-6)
- Christ's compassion crossed racial boundaries (John 4:1-42)
- Christ's compassion defied social expectations (Luke 7:36-50)
- Christ's compassion transcended economic conditions (Matthew 14:13-21)
The only agenda I see for the compassion demonstrated by Jesus Christ is His unconditional love for a common humanity motivated by God's command to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).
While I welcome any act of compassion, I long to see a time when "we love because [God] first loved us" (1 John 4:19) regardless of popularity, political advantage or personal gain.