It’s become quite fashionable with the advent of social media for rank amateur theologians to posture as experts on Christian living, doctrine and to even claim confidence of what the historical Jesus Christ would support or oppose. Ironically many personally reject any authority or validity of Scripture in their personal lives – it’s just something they pretend has authority when they ignorantly assume it supports their position.
The most common example is easily people who quote the first two words of Matthew 7, “Judge not”, without reading the rest of that very chapter or Gospels or Bible which teaches Christians how to judge righteously, looking beneath the surface of every issue, identifying the root by the fruit, discriminating against metaphorical pigs, dogs and wolves in sheep’s clothing, and rebuking oppressors. There’s a lot of good judgement required.
Another one is the old chestnut that, allegedly, Jesus was a refugee. They mean to embarrass anyone critical of their preferred immigration policy as being so callous of heart that even Jesus would be their victim. It’s a false equivalence to compare an angel warning Joseph to flee to neighbouring Egypt with his family in the first century Middle East, with an open border policy in the twenty-first century Western world.
But graciously indulging the clumsy comparison for a while, let’s examine the immigration policy the claim “Jesus was a refugee” demonstrates. Firstly, we’ll establish the facts of the story.
Jesus was born and Kings from the East came to worship Him as King. Being a rather insecure ruler, Herod perceived the infant Jesus as competition for his own power and ordered all male children about the same age killed. Joseph was warned in a dream by an angel to flee to Egypt and returned to Israel when Herod died not much later, which most historians guesstimate made Jesus no more than two years old.
It’s fair to say Joseph didn’t employ an immigration lawyer or a people smuggler because there were open borders in those days, and people freely moved about. This wasn’t a huge issue, because they had no appreciation of agricultural quarantine restrictions, and there was no welfare or subsequent burden to the taxpayers if one or 1,000 people came to town. It was pretty much survival of the fittest. All that aside, he didn’t even leave the Roman Empire!
The extreme positions on the immigration debate are closed borders – no one’s allowed to come here, and open borders – anyone can come here anytime with indiscriminate approval. These are the crazy ones, the outliers, and should go live in open borders Germany or closed borders North Korea, whichever nation best approximates their preferred immigration policy.
The real debate is about how much immigration is sustainable & safe. Both sides are for the large part genuinely motivated by compassion to do as much good for as many people as possible and disagree on the details of what is actually good and how to achieve it.
A constructive debate features logic, evidence, facts and data. It’s not usually persuasive in a post-modern, pluralistic society such as ours to rest entirely on Scripture. Yet it’s often ‘progressive’ liberals who, having exhausted their low logic reserves, resort to flinging “Jesus was a refugee” into the dialogue, smugly persuaded it must silence their conservative opposition. Take for example their ABC’s attempt to satirically argue Christians have Christianity wrong.
They are the low hanging fruit of the leftist tree, attributing only irrational religion and callous hearts to their challengers. They are willfully ignorant of the deep compassion for human suffering and undiminished value of every stranger’s life which motivates most critics of their own harmful immigration policies.
There is only so much money a nation like Australia has to give away before it becomes a nation like Venezuela. Immigration built our nation, but mostly when welfare wasn’t part of the equation. Until the mid-twentieth century, new Australians increased the size of the pie instead of just being given another slice of the pie. Such generosity is wonderful and laudable, but definitively finite. Growing the pie can grow the slices able to be given, but only while the growth keeps pace with the generosity. Most concerns about immigration numbers are concerns about the generosity exceeding the pie available to give away.
Devastating to the position that some bleeding-hearts are trying to argue via the claim that Jesus was a refugee is the goals it actually sets for immigration policy (if we accept the premise):
- Joseph took his family to the nearest safe port.
- He wasn’t compounding any trauma by radically dislocating them from their familiar culture and family support networks.
- He didn’t flee for economic reasons.
- He didn’t pass through safe countries looking for a more desirable nation with better welfare offers.
- He didn’t impose any welfare burden on the government or taxpayers.
- Joseph broke no immigration laws, didn’t ignore or circumvent any border controls and paid no human traffickers. Nor did he jump ahead of other refugees languishing in the queues in refugee camps.
- They returned home when safe – less than two years later.
It’s an irrelevant claim that Jesus was a refugee. It is not in the least bit a well thought through line of argument and suggests their policy position is also not very well thought through. What it reveals in the person desperately hurling it is the old strategy of character assassination: seeking to embarrass their opponent rather than engage their argument. It assumes and is designed to make challengers look callous and unchristian.
If you want to argue from Christianity – for example quoting Scripture or asserting what you assume Jesus would do or support – you need to have more than a casual relationship of convenience with Christianity. It’s actually a rich complexity and complementarity of the 66 sacred books, grounded in history and two millennia of cumulative revelation and intellectual exploration.
In our post-Christian society far fewer people are anywhere near qualified to critique someone else’s Christianity, and doing so is not an argument against their policy position. It’s hypocritical to assert the Bible’s logical authority to support your position while rejecting its personal authority to change your position, and yet unbelievers are often the first to introduce it into an argument. How humiliating to offer erroneous interpretations easily demolished by someone who simply went to Sunday school.
Instead of being personal, let’s give each other the credit of good motives, put our heads together and try to come up with ways of making the limited money we have to go further. Let’s expect those who become Australian to also do their part to grow the pie. This way we can safely and sustainably help as many more refugees as possible.
Dave Pellowe is a writer and speaker and blogs at PelloweTalk.com.
Illustration: Carlo Dolci/private collection.
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