Remember that we were once strangers in Egypt
Who would be a politician? As Barack Obama observes: “What I'm asking for is hard. It's easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn't possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don't matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.” But it strikes me that so many problems today facing our elected representatives appear intractable. Not least immigration. We’ve witnessed the hard line on illegal immigration taken by President Trump who this week was force to back down on his migrant family separations policy. No more the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Similarly, the shores of the Mediterranean. Last week we witnessed the refusal of Italy's new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to receive the 629 passengers rescued by the NGO rescue ship Aquarius. This is now developing into a full-scale row between him and the French president Emmanuel Macron. When it comes to immigration policy, we see the whole of Europe in disarray. Angela Merkel’s grip on power seems to be loosening as a result of the immigration crisis while the Visegrad states - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – are rejecting any suggestion of mandatory refugee resettlement among EU members. Add to this Brexit. Predictably this morning’s Daily Mail does not like the Government’s proposed scheme for EU citizens living in the UK. “Four million EU migrants - including thousands who do not live here - will be allowed to stay in Britain after Brexit if they can answer just THREE simple questions online (and pay £65).” Large scale immigration, both legal and illegal, is a major problem facing all affluent countries. Australia has taken a very hard line while it is exercising the government in Israel where there are now some 40,000 illegal African migrants. And it’s not going to get any easier as increasingly whole areas of the world become dangerous or dysfunctional. People are going to move. So how do we as Christians respond to this problem? Answer – with great difficulty. But we have a clear starting point, we welcome the stranger: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Matthew 25:35f) The whole Bible tradition is one of welcoming the outcast, the alien. So we read in the Old Testament: “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own.” (Leviticus 19:34). And the reason? “Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt. I am God, your God.” This insight is crucial for the people of Israel. In welcoming the exile, remember too that you were strangers yourselves. “Don’t abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) And of course, Jesus himself was as a young child with his family took refuge in Egypt, to find safety from Herod’s soldiers. That has to be the context of our response to immigrants and not just to those seeking asylum. Remember, our families too may have been economic migrants themselves. In my case, from the Isle of Man to Liverpool in the 19thcentury. It’s where you draw the line which is so very difficult between those immigrants you welcome and those you turn away. Opening your borders to the rest of the world isn’t simply an option. Chancellor Merkel acted with great compassion and courage in welcoming the migrants from Syria but she is now paying the political price for her generosity. It was one of her predecessors, Otto von Bismarck who stated: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.” And that’s the situation we’re in, hugely difficult for our leaders. But as with every intractable problem, we seek God’s help for them, we pray for that they may know his wisdom. I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly. (Proverbs 8:14-16) And as Christians, we don’t give up. Instead we aim to produce a culture of compassion, a readiness to see each immigrant as made in the image of God, one for whom Christ died. Remember that we were once strangers in Egypt.