When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34, 24:22
Migration lies at the heart of the debate on Brexit. We are told that it is the single greatest reason why people voted to the leave the EU. It is hardly surprising when the political debate in Britain for the last twenty years has been dominated by arguments over immigration figures. But, beyond this headline, it is much harder to get to the real reasons why immigration is such a hot topic.
I used to go door-knocking in central London, canvassing local voters and their opinions. It was always interesting to listen to people’s concerns and migration was a regular topic of conversation. Whilst there was the occasional racist outburst, more often were people concerned with issues of lack of resources and fairness. For those at the bottom of the heap in this country, they felt they were in competition with the poor of the rest of the world for housing, jobs and benefits. Adding those concerns to the fear of those whose culture, faith and language seem strange and inaccessible led to a toxic cocktail of resistance.
The Bible is, on the whole, pretty positive about migration, constantly reminding the readers that they are the descendants of a wandering people. Ancient texts like the Bible point to the reality that migration has been at the heart of the human experience since humanity’s beginnings in Africa, through to the modern movements in our global world. The text quoted from Leviticus shows that the multi-ethnic society is not a modern phenomenon but has been the norm for millenia as peoples of different ethnicities settle and re-settle. And the story of the New Testament is one of missionary travels which allowed the gospel to take root in three continents within a few generations.
The paradigm of the people of God is pilgrimage, movement, being ready to go when God calls. For those of us living on the western edge of Europe, we are thankful that many responded to that call, leaving their homes in order to share the gospel with us. In turn, these islands have produced more than their fair share of Christians ready to travel to the four corners of the earth to share the good news of Jesus.
It is impossible to talk about migration without mention of ‘home’, such a powerful word and aspiration. Migrants often find themselves living in the ‘in-between’, leaving home in search of home. Thankfully, most of us have no experience of the place we call home becoming so unsafe that we are forced to seek refuge somewhere else. Most of us have never experienced the despair of deep poverty, coming to the realisation that our families will not have a future unless we risk moving out.
As a Christian living in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, the responsibility to offer hospitality is immense, especially to strangers (Rom 12:13 ; Heb 13:1-2). I wonder whether we recognise the privileges we have been given in calling this place home? And should this mean that Christians are called to challenge the current economic orthodoxy that seems to treat human beings, especially migrants, as nothing more than economic units? Can and should Christians support a migration policy that only allows in the productive, the healthy and the wealthy?
There is also the challenge of ensuring that all people living in our society are treated equally and justly. What does that mean in the context of migration and of Brexit? Should a Christian support differential access to services depending on nationality or residential status?
Most importantly of all, Christians are called to see every individual person as a beloved child of God, created in God’s image. At a time when migrants are treated as statistics, dehumanised or even demonised as rapacious vultures, preying on the generosity of the West, Christians must resist and rehumanise. We are challenged to evaluate our response to migration and migrants on the basis of each individual’s infinite and sacred worth to God.
As we still face massive uncertainty about the post-Brexit settlement, we must all ready ourselves for the worst as we hope and pray for the best. For Christians, this might well mean providing sanctuary for those from other parts of Europe or the world who face increased hostility or discrimination. We must be ready to entertain angels ....