For the past ten years or so I have lived in middle England. Our town had an overwhelmingly white British population, most of whom would be very happy if it stayed that way. Despite having travelled reasonably widely and had the pleasure of learning about different cultures, I never particularly faced the issue of discovering those cultures in my birth nation. The demographics were never really in my favour.
Then this year, we move to a small village in south-east Sweden and the issue that has forced me to think the hardest, are issues of asylum and immigration. Firstly, of course due to the fact that our family are now immigrants. We have chosen to come to this country and make it our home. As a result we are eager to learn the language and the culture, we are proactive and we have the advantage of being educated, white and European.
However, not everyone has ‘chosen’ in the same way to be here and just like in the UK, here in Sweden, asylum and immigration are hotly contested issues. What will happen to Swedish culture, where in a population of just 9 million one in ten residents was born abroad? Is the system fair, tough enough, too tough?
Then there are issues that face Christians who seek asylum. What of the church and the gospel in the country they’ve fled from? Those who can escape often have more means than most and so the church in the homeland is deprived of desperately needed leadership and resources as families seek a safer, better life in the West. Fleeing a country and entering a new one almost invariably involves deception and lies to leave one country and stay in a new one. How does a Christian honour their authorities in either country, how does a Christian speak truth in such cases? And if lies have been told, what does it mean to repent? How do you pastor and lead people in such circumstances.
These, to me, were new questions. Ones I’d never needed to think through and I suspect that in Stockholm, this may come across my path and so now is a good time to prepare. All these questions were the reason I purchased Asylum and Immigration: A Christian perspective by Nick Spencer. Nick Spencer has built a reputation for writing careful and balanced perspectives on contemporary issues such as climate change and now here asylum and immigration. Although it deals with the issue primarily from a British perspective, I suspect that in many places you can simply swap UK for another host European nation.
Spencer begins with a survey of the political landscape and the ways in which, depending on which media outlet or newspaper is preferred, the public views the issue. The more interesting section comes in the middle where he outlines the role of the immigrant (or alien) in the Bible and what the Bible teaches about nationhood. A few point stand out, the most obvious being that ancient Israel was commanded to care for the vulnerable alien and that in the Bible, they often take centre stage. Jacob and family became economic migrants to Egypt, from which they later needed rescuing from slavery. The book of Ruth is the story of an economic migrant into Israel. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were asylum seekers back in Egypt. The early church was founded with an incredible diversity on the day of Pentecost and so on.
It’s easy to think, especially in an ancient nation like Britain or Sweden, how temporary nations are. In my lifetime alone we have seen the death and birth of many nations. No more Soviet Union but plenty new nations, some with more historical claims of nationhood than others. No more Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Yugoslavia. East Timor and South Sudan are our newest nations and others aspire to it, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Palestine for example. Who knows in the next decade will we see the end of North Korea? So, nations still come and go and with them and the increasing ease of transport comes the mass movement of people. Invariably this is a movement from poorer less secure nations to safer, richer ones. What responsibilities do these richer nations have and how much of a risk is mass immigration to their prosperity and security?
In the final section, Spencer attempts to take the principles of the second section and make some observations about the government policy. As, Spencer is aware, policies are and asylum policies in particular are subject to the whims of government and are often short term, so he is careful not to venture too far out on that branch and keeps his proposals tentative and guarded.
This reads like a policy report and so doesn’t address the issue from a pastoral perspective, or from a broader church/mission perspective. Yet as an opening read on the issue, the second section will prove to be a valuable resource and basis for further thinking.