Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Not What Will Happen, But What We Must Do

Immigrants. Migrants. Refugees. Asylum seekers. Day in, day out, morning, noon and night, the news is filled with them; their faces, their shelters, their journeys, their crimes, their corpses; where they’ve come from, where they’re going, what they’re doing, why they’ve come. Simultaneously, we are told about ourselves; how we’ve met them, how we’ve blocked them, how we’ve helped them, how we’ve turned them away. Preachers and politicians and broadcasters have spilled oceans of ink to tell us why we should welcome them, why we should hate them, why we should help them, why we should stop them.

The Christian response has been, at best, mixed.  I was made aware of an article written by someone in America who considers themselves to be Christian. He was writing on why God approves of building walls and turning away refugees. All I can say in response is that his god is not my God. It smacks of using religion to justify what you’ve already decided to do, rather than to instruct you on what you ought to be doing. As the quote goes, if your god hates all the same people as you, they’re probably made up.

The Pope has recently spoken out to urge countries to take in more asylum seekers, and condemned the populist rhetoric and self-centredness of some countries towards those in desperate need of help. Other churches and church leaders have said much the same things.

Other have warned of the consequences of taking in large numbers of asylum seekers from Muslim-majority countries. On top of the supposed economic perils, they warn of the dangers of accepting thousands of people with views and beliefs purportedly inimical to our own. ‘Islamification’, ‘cultural dilution’, ‘racial displacement’, even ‘cultural suicide’. We are told that we are a Christian culture, and that therefore these Muslims are not and should not be welcome.

These concerns are not wholly without justification. I admit that. I would, however, make two points. The first is to ask whether a culture that leaves men, women and children in the camps, on the streets, on the beaches, or at the bottom of the sea is a culture worth saving? It certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of culture I’d have any interest in rescuing or maintaining. The second is to point out, especially to those who’d try and use Christianity, either personal or cultural, as an excuse, that these concerns don’t matter. Not a bit. Even if they’re justified and genuine, they don’t matter.

Others may argue that the example given in the Bible justifies us in excluding or turning away refugees. I would merely remind them that we have been instructed otherwise. God Himself has told us directly, and in no uncertain terms; welcome the stranger, feed the starving, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. Most importantly though, and most pertinently to this situation, is that he told us ‘to love one another as I have loved you’. Do you want an example of God to follow? There it is. Christ loved unto death. You might almost say he committed suicide.

What God really requires of us though, in this case, is not love. We need to love yes, but much, much more importantly, we need to have faith. C. S. Lewis is always a rich source of quotations, and the character Puddleglum from The Silver Chair is one of his finest channels of wisdom. I won’t quote the line, but rather paraphrase; ‘God has given us our instructions.  He hasn’t told us what will happen if we follow them, only what we must do.’ We need to believe that God knows what He’s doing, and I think that might be the hardest kind of belief. It may bear further examination, but for now, we need to believe that He does indeed know what He’s doing, and follow Him accordingly.

If it helps, I don’t believe for a second that it will be anything like cultural suicide. My hope is that it will be a cultural rejuvenation. Just imagine if every person who claimed to be Christian, and every person who carps on about us being a Christian culture, actually went out and welcomed the stranger, fed the starving, sheltered the homeless, loved with a love that glows and shines and can be seen from orbit. If that happened, do you suppose a single one of the people who came here could do anything but respond to it in kind?

It’s a faint hope, and I am a pure hypocrite. I am not anything like the being I describe above, but it gives me something to aim for. In the meantime, I will put my faith in God, try and do what He tells me, and let Him look after the consequences.

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