Among Christians, a debate about Nauru rarely gets far before someone invokes Jesus. His parable of the Good Samaritan, His command to love our neighbour, even the notion that He was a refugee (sort of).
Commands such as these, we are often told, are clear evidence of what the government ought to do about refugees.
But here’s the thing…
Jesus wasn’t telling the government what to do.
When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, His whole intent was to tell me that I am personally commanded to be the Good Samaritan.
The Good Samaritan never did his good deeds by the proxy of government. He did not outsource them to bureaucrats. He did not lobby the passing priest and Levite to help the victim on his behalf. He did not set up a committee to resolve the problem of victims by the roadside. He didn’t express his outrage at the governing authorities of the time for allowing such a thing to happen.
He knelt and did it himself.
The point is this: he got his own hands dirty. He got down on his knees in the dust. He took His own risk. He spent his own money. He used his own time. He risked himself. He loved his neighbour.
This is how love – agape – works. It acts, at great cost to oneself, for the ultimate and highest interests of the other. Love is action. Love is costly. Love is for the other. But crucially, love is personal.
It would be brilliantly convenient if Jesus had directed His parables to the institutions of government. I could outsource these obligations at the ballot box and feel magnificently virtuous. So many of the more difficult aspects of my Christian duty could be disposed of in my vote. I could outsource my love of neighbour and leave it there.
But He didn’t. He directed His commandments to me.
Let me make a trite point, but one which is too often lost: the institution of government is not a citizen.
As a citizen, duties flow to me from the commands of Christ. I must fulfil them.
And yes, I should vote in the best interests of my neighbour.
But I should also vote for the government that will best implement the duties which flow specifically to it from the commands of God.
In scripture, those duties and commands are differently expressed and separately articulated compared to my duties.
Why? Because the government is not a citizen. They are different. They exist for different reasons.
This is by God’s design. He intended governing authority to be a feature of life in this world (bad news for anarchists, then). That is why the Apostle Paul said governing authorities are “instituted by God,” “what God has appointed,” and reminded us that there is no authority except from God [Rom 13:1].
The governing authorities, we are told, are called to a ministry for God which exercises God’s governing power to restrain evil and promote good [Rom 13:1-7]; a ministry of righteousness, for it is righteousness that exalts a nation [Prov 14:34].
This is not a simple task. It requires great wisdom.
Principally, it requires great wisdom because the realities of this fallen world are so complicated. Well-intentioned laws can all too often lead to unintended outcomes. A good idea can all too often come joined at the hip with a bad idea. Something that looks good – even “righteous” – can so often be a cover for that which is bad – even “evil.”
We should not pretend that the business of good government is simple. It is a ministry entrusted to some which carries great responsibility, and a massive need for wisdom and insight. I suspect that is why wisdom was such an appropriate gift for Solomon.
But to think these matters through is not unchristian. Wisdom is every bit as much a Christian virtue as compassion. We are called to know both.
If a seemingly compassionate policy undermines national sovereignty, then one must pause for thought. God ordains nations and determines their times and dwelling places [Acts 17:26]. Christians should not simply oppose passports and borders.
If a seemingly compassionate policy carries a real security risk, then more thought is needed. A security risk means a risk of harm to a government’s people. If a government is to restrain evil as God intended, then they would take such a thing very seriously.
If a seemingly compassionate policy is known to cause a worse humanitarian problem, then it makes no sense. It’s not wise. For the present discussion, it is well known that if people smugglers get wind of any sort of hope, they will be back in business. People will drown. Human trafficking will be facilitated.
I could go on, but suffice to say that the challenges of this policy area are very real. Pretending otherwise would be dishonest.
Importantly, however, it is neither unchristian nor unfaithful to the commands of Christ to take all these matters (and the rest I haven’t mentioned) very seriously.
The application of wisdom is crucial.
ACL has long campaigned for strong borders with a generous humanitarian intake for refugees, focusing on the most persecuted minority groups.
We have tried to strike a balance. The government has a job to do which is hard, with many competing challenges.
But when a refugee moves into your street, love them. That’s your job.
Jesus was talking to you.