Peter McNamara. Are all Australians just ‘Bad Samaritans’, or is it just the media?

Sep 9, 2015

I always thought Australians were good Samaritans, welcoming people from all backgrounds, all races, all religions, to their rich and prosperous nation.

It belies belief to see the media reporting that Australian Christians, including Catholic Archbishop Fisher, say that preference should be given to Christian refugees from war-torn Syria. The Australian does not ring true with its leader: “Fleeing Christians should go to front of queue – archbishop” above Archbishop Fisher’s photo (The Australian online, Sept 8 2015, Tess Livingstone)

This reported urging is ignorant of the fundamental principles of refugee resettlement under the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; and it is ignorant of the fundamental principles of the Christian faith.

First, the International Refugee Convention, to which Australia is the first named signatory, (as is the Holy See) and to which Christian and Catholic lay and religious organisations were observers, provides at the very outset in Article 3:

Non-discrimination: The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.

Second, if this were not enough for Christians to pause for thought, for even a minute, before calling for discriminatory refugee selection, then they should consider the principles of their own religion.

How can Australians, and Australian Christians in particular, be such bad neighbours?

Of course, the story is that the Samaritans were a minority, and unwelcome. Today’s Samaritans are the Australian Muslims that seem so hated by a noisy minority of Australians.

Jesus, according to Luke, urged his listeners to follow the law that required Jews like Jesus to love “your neighbour as yourself”. The lawyers asked Jesus to define “neighbour” and Jesus in return asked the lawyers:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 

The expert in the law replied: The one who had mercy on him”. 

Jesus told him: “Go and do likewise”. 

It would be a horrible thing for Australian Christians to be seen as priests and Levites that pass by the injured because they are not Christian.

Of course, one should not take the media on face value. The media has cynically taken Archbishop Fisher’s press release, and given it the emphasis it did not have: Fisher’s press release did not say, as quoted by The Australian “Fleeing Christians should go to front of queue”. To the contrary, Archbishop Fisher pleaded for religious minorities – he urged that “particular preference be given to persecuted Christians from Syria and Iraq and other religious minorities who have nowhere else to go…. We should also keep in mind the minorities within the Muslim community in these countries who are persecuted by Islamists and other Muslims”.

Now the media, of course, would like to exploit divisions between religions. Heaven knows why? Surely not from some bigoted zealotry, that moreover fans the flames of debate, circulation, sales and advertising revenue? Have our editors become the priests and Levites in our own Australian parable of the Good Samaritan?

Christians generally and Catholics in particular should decry this misrepresentation of their religion and ethics. Christian and Catholic organisations stand ready to welcome refugees of all, any and no religion, race or country, to help them resettle in a place safe from war and religious and racial discrimination. 

Peter McNamara is a Sydney lawyer.

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