‘You are welcome!’ That was the resounding message from General Synod to refugees who make Australia home.
Submitted by the Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions (CSBQ) and Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS), the proposal on refugees called on the LCA to encourage congregations and individuals work to understand the specific needs of refugees and ‘actively support them in their resettlement’.
Presented by CSBQ member Helen Lockwood, the proposal won strong support from delegates.
As well as charging all church members with providing hospitality and support to new arrivals, the proposal issues a challenge to speak out against injustice.
Mrs Lockwood said the Bible called on everyone to welcome strangers, a concept backed by a 2013 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees statement, which invited all people of faith to consider how they respond to the profound principle of Welcoming the Stranger.
‘Our church, through its members and its agencies, supports those fleeing violence, war and discrimination’, she said.
‘We see it on our news broadcast every evening—people fleeing their homes, escaping violence and chaos, desperately hoping that there is a better life.
‘Our own church in Australia was founded by religious, economic, social and political refugees, with subsequent waves of immigrants.
‘In June 2014, the number of people forced from their homes exceeded 50 million for the first time since the World War II era.
‘Refugees often come to trust the Lutheran church because of the help they have been given.’
Lutheran Community Care (LCC) SA/NT, of which Mrs Lockwood is director, provided settlement support to nearly 2000 people last year, while she said some LCA congregations were already offering practical help to refugees.
‘We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself’, Mrs Lockwood said, quoting German Lutheran theologian and anti-Nazi activist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
‘It is not okay when people are tortured and persecuted and driven from their own country. It is not okay when children are starving and dying. It is not okay when people are discriminated against because of race, religion or gender. The question for us as individuals and as church is: When do we speak up and when do we act?’
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce is an avenue for churches to encourage the support of refugees.
Mrs Lockwood (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the contact person for congregations interested in providing practical assistance to refugees. LCC will work with ALWS to develop a resource to give guidance and help people connect with other denominations and settlement services in their areas already doing this work.