It has been election season and the thoughts of politicians have been temporarily, finely focused on what we, their electorate think. Do we trust them with the health service, education, the economy? With budgets tight, what enticements should they offer to which groups and what can they get away with cutting to pay for it. After all no one will vote for more taxes. It’s a tough job trying to gauge the general mood of the populous so as to tickle enough voters to get into power.
One issue that has come to prominence over the last few years is immigration. This, I think, is particularly hard for the parties to call because, apart from the extremist, a lot of us struggle with where to draw the line ourselves. The natural compassion most people share would have us welcome the poor and persecuted to our shores, but in the face an inexhaustible flood, I think a lot of us are wary of being overwhelmed.
So how should anyone with an ounce of moral decency square up to this thorny issue? How should christians address this? Lots has been said by each party, but I feel there are some important truths that have been left unsaid, because they are unlikely to win voters over.
The first thing (that has been said by some leaders) is to say that immigrants are real people like you and me, that have by chance of birth, been born into poorer, more troubled regions of the world. They share our basic human instinct to strive for a life worth living. The 700 souls lost of the coast of Libya are also God’s children. He knew them all personally – ‘Even the hairs on their heads were counted’.
For those of us tempted to see this issue in terms of pure economics, I would invite you to follow the link below and, if you are a parent, imagine he is your child. If not imagine yourself in his position, what would you do? http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/20/lampedusa-refugee-fleeing-libya-boats-italy We who allowed our governments to countenance the withdrawal of the European search and rescue teams will be held accountable before God.
So what would Jesus have us do? There is a strong tradition in old testament teaching of welcoming the stranger into your midst. Abraham welcomed strangers into his tent and received the promise of a son (Genesis 18:2) The Israelites are told to ‘Remember you too were strangers in Egypt’ (Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19 and Leviticus 19:34) In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us to ‘give the coats off our back’, ‘to lend to those who can’t repay us’, ‘to love even our enemies’ (Luke 6:27-36). And such as these are not enemies – they are our neighbours. There is much more in the bible on this theme and I would point you to a post by Matt Darvas if you want to look further: http://mattdarvas.com/2013/07/19/5-biblical-reasons-christians-must-care-for-asylum-seekers/#comment-394
So would he have us throw the doors wide open and welcome one and all to share in our prosperity? I have to admit that the practical prospects of such a policy are scary, but Jesus does give us a parable, that I would like to share with you at the end of this post, to warn us of the danger we the rich are in.
Maybe we should be advocating an open doors policy, I’m really not sure. However, I am sure that what Jesus requires of us is far closer to this extreme than those at the other who would trumpet our island mentality. Trying to pretend we can pull up the drawbridge on Europe and the rest of the world, and leave potential immigrants to drown or starve to protect our prosperity is not ethical, moral or even practical. It is self evidently not ethical or moral and it is not practical because it is not just, and Where there is no justice there is no peace.
This is a global problem and it is a problem ultimately of injustice and poverty leading to war and even greater poverty. In a world of today’s size, under the pressure of billions there are many problems that we can no longer afford to see as ‘their problems’ in countries far removed and insignificant. This is such a problem, let us look at it square on! Perhaps the best way to get to grips with any problem is to look at the root causes. War and poverty drive immigration, but why are they poor and at war?
Taking poverty first; we should remember that the developed world derives much of its wealth from unequal trade agreements with our underdeveloped counterparts. We put up trade barriers, we insist on importing raw materials, from coffee beans to metal ores, to be refined in our own countries. One way or another our multinationals contrive to keep the wealth generated in the fattest pockets. Whilst the west is not responsible for all the economic ills of these countries; these factors do weigh heavily upon weak economic shoulders.
Then there is the environment. If we all used the resources consumed by underdeveloped countries, we would need less than one planet for us all to live on. If we all live as Americans we would need more than four planets. The UK uses about three and a half planets. But the damage we have done falls disproportionately on the poor. Equatorial countries are reaping the damage we have caused. Extreme weather, both floods and droughts are a reality now for African nations. Is it surprising that they want to leave the land that cannot feed their families? We rob and poison the third world and then shut the door on our victims!
But what of war, this is surely not our fault? Scarcity of resources is a major driver towards war, but there are many wars for many reasons and whilst it is true that much is outside our direct control, if you take a look at the origins of the weaponry being used and the source of the funding, it is clear that many developed countries have much at stake in many of the conflicts around the world and that the armament industry does nothing but gain from all this.
No political party will present the problem of immigration in this way because we, the electorate have not faced up these truths. If we can, we must accept at the very least, some degree of responsibility for the numbers of immigrants abroad. And remember this tainted word represents ordinary people that are forced to the conclusion that there is no life for them or their families in their own home countries.
So what should we do about it? The most just solution may well be to throw all the doors wide open. I know this is realistically never going to happen and that the practical upshots would probably be chaotic without addressing the real problem. I do think we should be generous in the number of immigrants we accept but more fundamentally, we should address the root causes.
To start with we should stop giving with one hand and robbing with the other. Fair trade agreements would give emerging nations the chance to build strong economies and raise the standard of living of their peoples. This and the aid we give could boost health and education for their poor. It is an established fact that better educated people, who’s children have a fighting chance of surviving, have smaller families.
But what of war and corruption? In so many places, the west wins wars but not the peace. In Libya, we prevented Gaddafi slaughtering his people then turned our back on the aftermath. In Iraq, we have turned a blind eye to sectarian injustice which helped open the door to the monster that is IS.
There is no country that can be trusted, or is even powerful enough to police the world. Global problems need global solutions. Only when we act in concert against tyrants can we hope to be effective. I would advocate giving the United Nations more resources and more power under carefully monitored international law. Then they would have a chance of fulfilling the peace-keeping role we give them and help rebuild countries that have been ravaged by war.
We cannot afford to be naive. There are many powerful nations and companies with vested interests in the propagation of many wars. Who has funded IS? Who backed Gaddafi? Who tolerated Saddam for so long? How much money has the arms trade raked in? If there are no conflicts in the world, demand for their wares would dwindle. Perhaps again it is only the UN that could be trusted to take on more responsibility of restricting the sales of arms. But we the electorate would have to push hard for this.
Finally, here are a few words of warning. We, the developed world are blessed with unprecedented wealth and privilege. What we do with these gifts will determine the future of our planet. If we are generous with our good fortune, we can build a world order that seeks to foster the development of the rest of the world, to reduce the appalling imbalance of rich and poor and to address the injustices that sustain this imbalance. If we are not we are like the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus spoke of in Luke’s Gospel (16:19-31 NIV);
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Are we the richest nations good to Lazarus? Check out this link to the Commitment to Development Index: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commitment_to_Development_Index