Melbourne, Australia

In John 17 Jesus prays his longest and most heartfelt prayer; it is that His followers would be one as He and His Father are one. Perhaps the greatest scandal of Christian history is that Christians have been so privately disunited, and worse, publicly divided. Disunited on everything from baptism and communion to denominational schisms and doctrine.

Even the movement known by the obscure name 'evangelicals', or 'those proclaiming the Good News', has now become well-known throughout the secular world and its media. Not for the Good News but as a byword for political disunity in Trump's America. Faith has been weaponised for political purposes and this has added a toxicity that would make Jesus weep.

Afghanistan Kabul Hamid Karzai airport checkpoint

US Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit process evacuees as they go through the Evacuation Control Center during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on 28th August. PICTURE: US Marine Corps/Staff Sgt Victor Mancilla/Handout via Reuters.

These last weeks in Australia we and the rest of the world have watched horrified as we watched the chaos, and now even the bloodiness, of the Kabul evacuation. Our hearts have been broken and touched by the fears of so many trying to flee the Taliban victory, certain that if they fail, they face death or imprisonment. We have felt impotent just watching and helpless to act, other than to pray. The anxiety and grief of women and children who will see their hopes, education and future rolled back by the reintroduction of a harsh Sharia law is too much to bear.

But more than just mourn and feel paralysed with this anxiety a remarkable thing has happened. It started in the Bible belt of Sydney known as the Hills district when 50 pastors and 41 churches wrote to their local MP who happens to be the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. They pleaded with him to support a one-off intake of an additional 20,000 Afghan refugees and to give permanency to those Hazara (Shi'ite) Afghans who fled earlier and can never go back. And the churches offered practical support to help resettle them. Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has only offered 3,000 places and that is within the current humanitarian cap of 13,750. Effectively this offer costs nothing more and only displaces many already waiting, such as many Iranian Christians.

 "Something deep in the hearts of Christians was touched by Afghanistan and it connected powerfully with the Bible's teaching that God's heart is particularly touched by the plight of the refugee."

And then this local action spread to the whole of the national Christian church. A website called ‘Christians United for Afghanistan’ was created and a national campaign mobilised with a petition and lobbying activities for our members of parliament. This was so surprising and demonstrated such unprecedented unity across the breadth of the Australian church that the secular media has been reporting it.

Something deep in the hearts of Christians was touched by Afghanistan and it connected powerfully with the Bible's teaching that God's heart is particularly touched by the plight of the refugee. And those churches signing on included our Prime Minister’s Pentecostal denomination, the Australian Christian Church, Hillsong and the Australian Christian Lobby along with Catholics, Anglicans, Uniting, Baptists and many others.

Traditionally there have been major fault lines between these churches as in the last decade Australia has won an international reputation as the toughest Western nation in its attitudes to refugees. We locked them up on Pacific islands, turned back their boats and denied full rights to many living here denying a pathway to permanent citizenship. 

Refugee policy has been weaponised in national elections with the dog whistle that refugees are all potential terrorist threats to our security and border security is our deepest anxiety and national obsession. This is not unlike Trump's wall and the division that has provoked between Bible believing US Christians. The same cracks over how to treat asylum seekers have divided the Australian church. That is until now.

Churches that divided on this issue and so many others such as gay marriage, opening up from lockdowns and just about any other social issue have united and that unity is so surprising that it has become a national story. To see Christians arguing for an intake of Muslims has drawn immense thanks from the Muslim community. 

It reminded me of a moment in my World Vision career. We had responded as a Christian agency to an earthquake in north-west Pakistan that killed 160,000. This was a fundamentalist Muslim area where Osama bin Laden recruited. Sitting with the elders who were thanking us for food, for digging much needed new wells and rebuilding their homes they asked but ‘Is not World Vision a Christian agency and yet you still came whilst many other agencies did not? Why?’ They were grateful but perplexed. I found myself saying because God does not just love Christians, God loves the whole world. The unity of love between Jesus and His Father needs to be mirrored by our unity and action in His love and in His name.

tim costello2

Tim Costello is the executive director of Micah Australia which is coordinating the national Australian 'Christians United for Afghanistan' campaign. Costello is also a member of the Sight Advisory Board.