It is a tad disappointing that church leaders trot out the same bland comments about illegal immigrants year after year. You might hope that if all they can up with is platitudes, they could at least try to find some new ones.
But no. This year, yet again, we heard that Jesus was a refugee, and that this means we have an obligation to be warm and welcoming to anyone who arrives here, no matter where they come from. We are asked to imagine the fear felt by Jesus’ family as they fled the violence of Herod’s persecution, and to understand that refugee families feel the same fear and desperation.
These are worthwhile thoughts. Or they would be if church leaders had not battered us with them every Christmas for the last twenty years.
Just as cliches in writing are to be avoided like the pox, cliches in preaching are to be avoided like polio, and for the same reason. Cliches become cliches because they express a thought strikingly. They make you think. As soon as they become cliches they cease to express anything very much. They are just boring and predictable and don’t encourage thought at all. It is the same with lazy, cliched preaching.
Church leaders who talk year after year about the need to be compassionate to refugees are not going to convince anyone, because everyone is already convinced. We all know we need to find a compassionate way to deal with refugees, including those who make their way to Australia illegally.
What most Australians understand, but which seems to have escaped the bishops and moderators, is the complexity of going from good feelings and wanting to do the right thing, to formulating and enacting policy which really does do some good.
Under the Howard government, people smuggling and illegal immigration had slowed to a trickle. That left more resources for the Department of Immigration to allocate to refugees who were in greatest need, and to supporting those refugees in their transition to life in Australia. When Labor was elected there were fewer than 400 people in immigration detention. Now there are over 4,000. That number is growing rapidly as new boats arrive every week.
At least 400 people have died in transit since Labor came to office. Yet there has been no acceptance of responsibility, no acknowledgement that the kinder policies demanded by churches and refugee advocate groups have been responsibile for the current cruel and expensive mess. Instead, the same people are serving up the same tripe about the ‘need for compassion.’
A lack of compassion is not the problem. A lack of willingness to think is. If church leaders really want to help, they need to stop the reflexive bagging of conservative politicians and recognise that it is possible for politicians on both sides of parliament, and for ordinary people, to feel the same depth of concern, but to have completely different ideas about the best way forward.
The best way forward, of course, is the one that works. What works is stopping illegal immigration, and concentrating resources on bringing to Australia people who are most in need, and who are most likely to share, or to come to share, Australia’s key values of rule of law, equality for men and women, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, fair work for fair pay, generosity and ‘having a go.’
And by way of contrast, thank God for Queen Elizabeth.