Honouring the stranger

There is a lot of talk about immigration, and it will be a major factor in next year’s general election. I find the rhetoric, that we hear from the politicians from all sides and most of the media, very disturbing. No doubt the election in Rochester this week will be partly decided with this issue in the forefront.  In the Observer this last Sunday a survey by the thinktank British Future, speaks that there is more openness towards the stranger, “rather than being overwhelmingly hostile to immigration and immigrants. Most people appear to hold far more nuanced views.” If this is true, thank goodness. Yet what we hear often is such a hardened view.

So what should be a Christian view towards the strangers and those who come into our midst? Have we something positive to add to this debate? In the Old Testament we get some commands from God himself who in my understanding should not be messed with! In Leviticus 19 it says that we should treat the foreigner as if they were a native born Israelite, and love them as we love ourselves.  It also says in Deuteronomy, “you shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And in the New Testament St Paul in Romans speaks about extending “hospitality to strangers”. And of course, Jesus, as well as many other Biblical heroes, was a refugee, displaced and living in exile.

I wouldn’t want to be a politician, what a nightmare job, but it does seem clear to me that treating immigration with a hardened heart, indifference and resentment is not the way forward. There does needs to be fairness for all, and understanding that is peppered with a great deal more compassion.

The rhetoric such as ‘let’s get tough…’ and a hardened attitude I feel is motivated out of fear. For when we are fearful, walls go up, our lives shrink in every way and we become less open to those around us. Someone said that “fear is the darkroom where Satan develops our negatives” and the media feeds our fears until there is no room left to welcome the stranger. St John reminds us in his letter it is that perfect love that casts out fear. We live by a different attitude.

So Christians have a prophetic voice, a different message to what we are reading in our newspapers. A message that is based on fairness and compassion but also honours the stranger among us. I wonder what honouring the stranger would look like in our churches and communities?

Not that we have got it sorted here at Scargill, far from it, we are a work in progress. Our Community Promises say, that with the help of God, and with the guidance and encouragement from one another we will try our very best “to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Jesus himself, putting their needs before ours and treating each one as a royal guest.” It is deeply challenging!

St Paul puts it succinctly again in Romans – “Welcome one another, then, just as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God”. Christians are working from a different script from the loud, fearful rhetoric that we often hear around us.

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