The Australian Government currently has a very strong policy to deter people seeking asylum in Australia. This policy has generated huge debate in Australia, both for and against it. Part of this policy is holding asylum seekers in camps in Nauru and Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea). I can only imagine how hot, uncomfortable and basic these camps are.
Over 250 asylum seekers have been brought from Nauru and Manus Islands to Australia for medical treatment. The Australian Government has mandated these asylum seekers be returned to Nauru or Manus Island on completion of their medical treatment. In response to this, there was a challenge put before the High Court, questioning the constitutional validity for the Australian Government to make laws allowing the return of the asylum seekers to Nauru or Manus Island. The High Court affirmed that these laws were constitutionally valid.
In response to this, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT), an initiative of the National Council of Churches in Australia have offered to open up a number of churches and cathedrals as a ‘sanctuary’ for asylum seekers who are facing deportation back to Nauru. A press release from the ACRT asserts that the concept of ‘sanctuary’ is an ancient principle that goes back to the Old Testament.
The concept of a city of refuge (or sanctuary, as the ACRT dubs it) is not a feel-good ancient principle. It is a very important, very significant part of Jewish law (also called the Torah). The Old Testament references to this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:41 and Numbers 35. This important law relates specifically to an individual who has unintentionally killed another. You see, the family of the killed could legally avenge the death, regardless if it was intentional or carelessly unintentional. The killer could go to a city of refuge and plead his case. If the elders or judges of that city find that the death was carelessly unintentional, then that person would be permitted to live in that city. They could only leave the city once the High Priest had died, and during their stay, they were obligated to learn, study and live the Law. There were serious obligations placed on the city of refuge, and serious obligations placed on the person who had sought refuge. For example, the city couldn’t hold the killer to ransom and demand a price from the family of the killed. The killer similarly would fall outside the protection of the city if they stepped outside the walls of the city. The legal principle of cities of refuge has many very significant implications both physically and spiritually for Jews, and Christians.
History is littered with examples of churches and Christians defying unjust and inequitable laws. History is littered with examples of Christians rallying, protesting and petitioning against unjust and inequitable laws. History is littered with Christians speaking out against injustice. One only needs to look at the likes of William Wilberforce, the English MP who was instrumental in ending the slave trade in Britain. There were countless of Christians during WW2 in Europe who literally risked their lives hiding Jews from Hitler’s evil reach. Martin Luther King Junior was a fearless preacher who stood up against segregation and racism in America.
Without a doubt, the ACRT, along with many fellow Australians, are showing kindness and compassion to asylum seekers. I know of a number of churches and Christians who go about their way quietly supporting newly arrived refugees, supporting them practically, helping with English and being welcoming, kind Australians. There’s no doubt in my mind that places like Manus and Nauru are horrible places at best. Can I understand the rational of the Australian government’s policies? Yes, I can. Is the outworking of these policies harsh? Yes, definitely.
What I don’t understand is why the ACRT is taking a very important, very significant Biblical law that offers legal protection (and obligations) to a killer and truncating it to speak out against the policies of the Australian Government. To me, it’s a complete misrepresentation of the intent of that particular law. I don’t understand why the ACRT is wilfully misrepresenting Biblical law, especially when there are other precepts that relate specifically to ‘strangers’ or ‘aliens’ in the land .
The ACRT have acknowledged that their campaign is against Australian law (which it is). Why doesn’t the ACRT simply say that they are choosing to be kind and compassionate (which they are doing) and elect to defy the law because they think the law is unjust? Why water down and trivialise a significant Biblical law and adapt it to a political cause (however good or proper the cause is?), especially when there are many other more appropriate and specific references that could be used?
Groups like the ACRT play an important part in our democratic process. They play an important part in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. I just wonder why an inappropriate Biblical reference is used to justify breaking the law, when they should just simply breaking a law they believe is unjust and inequitable.
Continuing in the theme of me totally stealing ideas from my Grandparents whilst they are in Israel, I’ve been thinking about the importance of ‘affirming life’.
Without a doubt, Middle East politics is a hotbed of debate at the best of times. It’s been like that for the best part of 4000 years and I expect will continue that way for a while longer. The ongoing conflict in Israel is constantly splashed across the media, with both sides going toe-to-toe for their survival.
During their trip, my grandparents went to a conference where both the Israeli Prime Minister and President were in attendance and gave speeches.
What would you expect these much loathed-and-loved men to talk about? How they are going to crush Hamas perhaps? Ridding the world of the Iranian nuclear threat? Israel’s’ response to ISIS perhaps?
They spoke about the importance of affirming life. Of speaking life. Of living life. Of cherishing life.
This tiny nation of Israel looks at death every day – bombings, kidnappings, missiles and the ongoing propaganda war against them. In looking at death (and responding to it in very forceful ways), these leaders continued their commitment to life. Can you imagine that?
Closer to home, we have the important task of choosing life every day.
There’s something spiritual, something important about what comes out of our mouths. Indeed, the scriptures confirm that ‘death and life is in the power of the tongue’. The Lord commanded the Israelites to affirm his Word to their children every day, as they rise in the morning, as they walk during the day and as they lie down at night.
I think there is two important truths in this – firstly that as parents, we need to talk to our children (and listen!); secondly what we say to our children, and by extension, those around us, needs to be life affirming.
I know as a dad, I’m sometimes guilty of not talking to my children. How strange does that sound? It’s easy to come home from work, get on with the nightly ‘happy hour’ duties, dinner, dishes, read to the children and put them to bed, without too much interaction. For some reason, I think the Lord commands dads to talk to their children – as they wake up, as they travel during the day, as they eat and as they go to sleep. Why? I don’t presume to understand what the Lord intends, however, I suspect that his desire is to see dads and children connect on a real way, to be in constant communication, trust and of course love.
I’m acutely aware of my own failing on not ‘speaking life’ into situations. I enjoy a joke as much as anyone, but sometimes I have to stop and think – does this joke have a sting in its tail? Probably more dramatic is when I get angry and I say things that aren’t life affirming – especially to the ones I love.
As many readers would know, I grew up in and around church and have been blessed to meet many wonderful people. Of those people, I’ve been blessed to spend time with some great ministers – men and women who have taught me much about faith, life and family. Of those, the ones that have impacted me most are the ones that visibly and demonstrably love their family. I was in a Bible-study group once with a minister who I love and revere so deeply – his knowledge and love for the Lord is just amazing. It’s what he does with his family that touches me more. I was at his home one evening, doing a Bible study when one of his children came home from work. He stopped the study, got up off his chair and gave his daughter a warm, loving greeting. He embraced her, told her that he was so happy to see her and asked about her day. She embraced her dad in return, affectionately telling him about her day.
Don’t kid yourself – life isn’t all roses, happy words and good times. To the contrary. I think sometimes it’s easy to get swept away in the tide of negativity. That’s why it’s so important to speak life into those around you.
I’m sure most of you don’t follow a particular faith or believe strongly and I don’t want to sound ‘preachy’. What I do want to impress upon you (and myself) is the importance of speaking life into those around you. Season your conversation with things that will build up. I’m sure we’ve all come across people who have had a lifetime of negative words spoken over them – cruelty from a parent, abuse from a partner and negativity from those around them. Maybe, just maybe, your life affirming word is the only positive thing they’ve heard in a while. How do you think your interactions and relationships would be if you took the first step to affirm life in others?
Speaking life takes practice. Affirming someone isn’t something that comes naturally – certainly not to Aussies, with our culture of ‘taking the piss’. I dare you though to try it –practice giving life. It costs nothing to speak life into someone, but can mean the whole world to the receiver.
Picture from http://realtruth.org/articles/100607-003-family.html
(like father, like son!)
I was fortunate to take my son on a ‘father – son’ day last Sunday. We went to the Workshops Railway Museum while the gals spent a boring morning at the theatre watching something in the theme of pink.
The day out went fantastically – my boy and I had a great time looking at the old steam and diesel engines, going on various tours, playing in the interactive displays and railway sets and generally just enjoying all things trains.
On our return, Sarah asked something quite strange. Do you know what she asked?
‘Did you talk to Eli (our son)?’
And you know what? I didn’t know how to answer her. Now let’s be honest – the level of conversation a three year old boy provides isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating or has any real depth to it. But he talks on his level. I told Sarah that I couldn’t answer her, and I needed to think about it.
Well two days later I was still thinking about it.
The truth is, I have not talked to my son perhaps half as much as I should. I mean, we talked about what train he liked best and if he was ready for lunch – but did we talk? I don’t know.
Such a simple question really hit me for a six.
A recent Pew research article asserts that married fathers spend about 2.2 hours per week playing with their children. That’s about 20-ish minutes a day. Now the benefits of fathers playing with their children can’t be downplayed and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. What I’m talking about is intentional talking with your children. Asking questions. Exploring the world together. Encouraging them to seek answers, seek truth, challenge what they think and feel. One of thing things the Lord commands fathers to do is:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Talking, leading, instructing – the Lord is commanding fathers to teach their children his ways. Building from this, I think it is VERY hard to teach without love or lead without grace. I’ve written before on my thoughts on fathers, but I think this is building on that.
So what am I trying to say? Fathers, talk with your children. Teach them. Challenge them. Lead them. Chat with them. Ask them questions.
I’ve been practicing talking to my son. He comes out with the craziest stuff. I’ve been including him in my ‘morning routine’, talking to him about grooming, deodorant, hair styling, tying a tie and suchlike. I’ve been chatting to him in the evening about his day, about the best bits, about lunch, about what we should do on our next adventure day. You know what? I’ve noticed a change. Maybe an un-locking. He just LOVES to talk – to tell me everything. His sometimes incoherent chattering, I just love it!
Dads, I’m interested. How do you talk to your boys? What successes have you had? What have been your challenges? What do you talk about?