Should it be that we are exercising our rightful freedom of political participation by simply voting for ourselves?
This question I posed in my recent article where I introduced a series I am writing, called Jesus Politics. The plan is to educate myself on the policy points of those currently in Government in New Zealand and reflect on these as we lead up to our General Election later this year. But I want to reflect specifically on how these policy points impact on “the least of these” – those that Jesus calls us to serve and whom He ministered to, and brought freedom for through His life and death. While the party policies are New Zealand focused, I hope that all audiences can relate these to the policies of their own Governments and political parties at home.
As Christians, we know that you cannot simply legislate love. But we can use influential leadership as tool for bringing about Kingdom values and practices that benefit some of our most vulnerable and marginalised in society. Using our freedom to vote is a blessing we have to participate in this process.
In the midst of rapid globalisation, the building of walls, and the stopping of boats, I thought I would start this series off with a very topical policy point: Immigration!
Luke 13:29 reminds us that “people will come from East and West, and from North and South, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God”. When I picture the kingdom of heaven I see diversity. A huge part of why I love my country of birth is for this very reason. But does that mean we should open the floodgates and let everyone else in? As we approach the election here in Aotearoa we need to seriously consider not only how our leaders intend to better our nation but also our ability to demonstrate love beyond borders.
In striking this seemingly impossible balance, there are some questions we may consider:
1. How does immigration impact on the vulnerable?
Immigration has the potential to impact negatively upon vulnerable communities already existing within Aotearoa if their well-being is compromised, while it also has the ability to protect the vulnerable such as refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war.
2. How does immigration affect the economy and resources?
Immigration can greatly strengthen the local economy through the addition of new skills and labour, however it can also take away from resources that impact on the poor such as demand for housing, and competition for jobs.
3. How does immigration affect security? (For the Trump fans ;)
If uncontrolled, immigration can threaten national security, but in the bigger picture, globalisation has resulted in a significant reduction in wars and cross-border conflict.
4. How does diversity impact on our social economy?
Immigration can challenge protected Western values within Aotearoa, but it also gives the opportunity to diversify those values and learn about new cultural traditions.
5. How does immigration fit within God’s Kingdom vision?
What does the Gospel say about immigration and how can we balance the above considerations to reflect Kingdom approach to this?
New Zealand Political Party Policy Positions on Immigration
Below are the announced policies of the 7 parties currently in Parliament. The information has been extracted from the political parties’ own websites.
• Control immigration and trim back overly generous entitlements such as pensions after only ten years’ residency.
• Supported refugee quota increase to 1,000 from 2018, want all immigrants and refugees to sign a “NZ Values Statement.”
• Attracting new migrants, particularly skilled migrants and entrepreneurs.
• Reducing number of over-stayers.
• Increase Refugee quota to 1,000 from 2018 and continue to run resettlement programme.
• Support new immigrants with greater resources and services and make it easier for parents and siblings of permanent residents/citizens to immigrate to NZ.
• Supported refugee quota increase to 1,000 and more investment in resettlement programme.
• Cap immigration and make sure NZ’s interests are always served first, no specific policies on refugees but supported increase to 1,000 from 2018.
• Make sure all immigrants and refugees sign up to “NZ Values.”
• Control immigration flows but not cap it to remain flexible.
• Increase refugee quota to 1,500 and increase resettlement services.
• Manifesto, updated 2014, contains no policy initiative on immigration or refugees
• Cap immigration to 1% of the population and control flows of migration.
• Raise refugee quota to 1,500 immediately and to 2,000 from 2018
• Fund more support of refugees, including for a period of more than 6 months where required and improve family reunification system.
The Kingdom Vision
The first thing you will notice here is that I have specifically highlighted quota refugee policy alongside general immigration. Refugees are those who are fleeing war and persecution, who have lost everything including their homes. Quota refugees have been vetted by both UHCR and NZ Immigration.
It is indisputable that our God of love, justice and mercy, would desire that his/her people tirelessly welcomed in these individuals who are among the most vulnerable in our world today.
Of the party positions, Green comes out on top with their aim to raise the quota to 1,500 immediately and then to 2,000 by 2018. The Labour party has vowed to double the current quota to 1,500. This is an important consideration when examining political party policies and should be weighted heavily alongside general approaches towards immigration.
In the considerations above, the main tension seems to lie in providing for those inside our borders and those outside. A case of nationalism versus globalism. We know that as Christians we are called to love and serve our neighbour, but who are our neighbours? The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-42) is a beautiful explanation of the law of loving our neighbour as ourselves, but it also revolutionises the concept of “neighbour” by extending it beyond borders.
While stopping immigration is often seen as a way of protecting our nations vulnerable it restricts us from Gods calling for us to be globally-minded Kingdom citizens. The Gospel is unambiguous in its message on loving our neighbour and welcoming the stranger, often treating the two as synonymous. According to this message, and being the idealist that I am, I would love to open the doors to all who wished to call Aotearoa their home. Many feel that the National party are heading in this direction, and not for all the right reasons. My realistic counterparts would, however, soon convince me of the apocalypse that will ensue. And right they may be. But rather than ceasing or even capping immigration, strategically controlling migrant flows as promoted by Labour allows us to manipulate both what would be beneficial to our nation, and how our nation can be equally beneficial to others. This is the balance we seek to achieve, rather than the either/or policy position promoted by parties such as NZ First where nationalism takes a front seat.
As is the case with nations such as Australia, Canada, and America (Yes, America!) New Zealander’s can’t talk about immigration without acknowledging that we are, of course, ALL immigrants. I am blessed to live in the country I do simply because it was colonised by my British ancestors less than 200 years ago in the face of resistance from the indigenous Tangata Whenua (People of the Land) Maori. My grandmother travelled across seas, on a boat, to arrive in this land. Remembering our short history of immigration is important in an age of Donald Trumps and walls that attempt to divide and discriminate.
Party Vote on Immigration?
For readers outside of New Zealand you are probably thinking that our political parties are fairly united on this issue. Indeed, our political system currently lacks a great deal of polarity and this can make it hard to bring about significant change. However, there are notable differences between many of the parties if you look closely and read between the lines.
On this policy point alone, I believe that the party which best reflects a Kingdom vision on immigration is the Green party. My reasons for this is their focus on welcoming in more refugees while keeping it at a realistic amount so that we do not strain our resources. While I prefer Labour’s approach to controlling immigration rather than capping it at a certain amount, I do see the merit in restricting general immigration in relation to population size as a way of ensuring that migrants who arrive in New Zealand have the opportunities they are looking for, without it being at the expense of existing communities here. I have gone for the Green party simply because I believe their policy represents a vision for looking after the least of these, the most.
Main photo credit: www.tes.com/lessons/dgDCsc9jqQlPuw/immigration-debate
Bex Rillstone lives in Mangere, New Zealand with her husband Sam. Bex has a Masters in International Development and is now undergoing further training to become a Social Worker. She works as a family worker assisting those facing homelessness. Bex is also passionate about building relationships with former refugees in her community, and advocating for justice through her writing.
See all previous articles by Bex Rillstone