Over the past week, the refugee crisis facing Europe has been a matter of intense discussion here in the UK and around the world. While the facts, figures, and politics have long received attention on the news, pictures of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach pressed the tragic situation of Syrian refugees upon the public consciousness with a visceral intensity. Those images spread on social media, along with hashtags such as #refugeeswelcome, spurring popular outcry against the UK’s asylum policies and a call for us to follow the example of countries such as Germany.Christians have been among the most vocal of those calling for action, the voices of church leaders being buoyed upon a vast swell of moral sentiment, especially online. People have appealed to the teaching of Jesus, expressed in such parables as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In a widely shared piece, the left-wing cleric Giles Fraser castigated politicians who campaign on the basis of Christian morality for their supposed hypocritical response to the crisis, maintaining that only the most radical action would suffice:[W]hy not all of them? Surely that’s the biblical answer to the “how many can we take?” question. Every single last one. Let’s dig up the greenbelt, create new cities, turn our Downton Abbeys into flats and church halls into temporary dormitories, and reclaim all those empty penthouses being used as nothing more than investment vehicles. Yes, it may change the character of this country. Or maybe it won’t require anything like such drastic action – who knows? But let’s do whatever it takes to open the door of welcome.The Church should have a peculiar affinity with displaced persons. Displaced persons and refugees are disproportionately represented in the Scriptures–Abraham, Jacob and his family, Moses, David, and Christ were all displaced or refugees at points in their lives. The early Church spread in part through the diasporic movement of refugees escaping persecution in Jerusalem. The people of God, in Old Testament as in New, are called to think of themselves as ‘aliens and strangers’ (Leviticus 25:23; 1 Chronicles 29:15; 1 Peter 2:11), as those thrown upon the hospitality of the world’s polities, or to emulate the apostle as cosmopolitan selves (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). As Luke Bretherton observes, much as the foetus or the suffering and dying, the refugee is a test of our preparedness ‘to recognize bare life as human life worthy of respect and to be afforded dignity as a potential or existent participant in a particular human community.'
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