This morning, as I stumbled out of bed half awake to get ready for my first ever Sunday School session with the “seekers” at St Luke’s Church, I overheard the tail end of an interview on BBC Radio 4: someone (I think an interviewee from an Eastern European country) was stating that the immigration crisis is a threat to European Christian values.
This view is also echoed by some Christians here in Britain who state that allowing too many Syrian, Afghan or other refugees of Muslim descent into the UK (and Europe generally) poses a threat to Christianity here in the UK.
I have three reactions to this.
Firstly, Christian values are already under threat in European society without any immigrant ever coming near our shores. For starters, not everyone here in the UK nor in Europe follows Jesus; and only a percentage of our population attend church on a Sunday. In addition, there are many “unchristian” ills of our times: those who sit out on the streets sleeping rough, with people walking past them and ignoring them when they ask for money. Why do we not stop and at least exchange a few words? A drug culture–and in that I include alcohol; the brokenness of many homes leading to young people growing up without guidance as society fails to reach out to them; the relentless quest for increasing our financial wealth at all costs…..leading to a banking crisis, the dramas around MP’s expense claims, frivolous living leading to unacceptable damage to our environment…….the list goes on. Surely, if we as Christians want to talk about a threat to Christian values in Europe, we could start addressing these and many other ills without bringing migrants into the equation?
Secondly, when people refer to “Christian values” they are, often, likely to be referring to values which are at the heart of what Christians believe. Many of these values are not unique to the Christian faith…….the calling to care for the poor, the sick and the lonely, to treat others as we would be treated and to be generous and loving are not unique to the Christian faith. As such, it strikes me as wrong–and even arrogant- to automatically assume that our Christian values are under threat just because people from different faiths are entering our country. Jews, Muslims and many others faiths may practise our common values as much or maybe even more than many of us here in Britain.
Thirdly, and for those of us who describe ourselves as Christians because it is Jesus and our wish to follow Him that drives all we are and do: we as Christians are not called to live in a Christian hub and Jesus did not subscribe to this way of living Himself. Our greatest calling–and Jesus said it Himself–is the following:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these”
Perhaps I am naïve in deducing from this that my calling as a Christian is to open my arms to those who need protection and love–without thinking of the cost to me and the wider society. Is that not what taking up our cross for Jesus really means? Did anyone ever say that carrying a cross was comfortable and the equivalent of a five star hotel experience? Did anyone ever say that we would always know where any given experience would leave us? Far from it. On the contrary, when Thomas (John 14:5) expressed concern about the disciples not knowing where Jesus was going and the perceived challenging in following someone whose path they did not yet know, Jesus told him: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. In other words, Thomas, the disciples and all of us are called to follow Jesus’ calling, regardless of whether we know where the path may lead us; regardless of whether we know all the answers or not.
So yes, perhaps the congregations at mosques will swell with immigrants arriving in our country; yes, perhaps it will become even harder to speak openly as a Christian about our faith; yes, maybe there will initially be more extremism growing in our midst and yes, maybe we don’t know at this stage how to house the new arrivals in our midst, how to cover their healthcare or properly educate their children. But if we truly want to be Christians, aren’t we called to show Jesus’ love to those who need us–without ifs and buts? Surely, if we do that, we will be modelling Jesus’ love truly and sincerely, perhaps showing in this way–and in this way alone–that Christians practise what we preach, that God is love and that He waits for all of us with open arms? Through this, perhaps some people may even become interested in wanting to know the Jesus we serve and love?