Andy Wheeler - World Mission Advisor
Psalm 119:66 “Teach me knowledge and good judgement for I believe in your commands.”
As events unfold, it is clear that we are watching a fast moving, fast changing, yet highly significant movement that will have a profound effect on the future shape of Europe and the Middle East. Our children will live with the outcomes. I find myself thinking of the current situation in terms of two distinct discussions that need to be brought together, in the knowledge that it will involve much tension:
Firstly, we are facing an immense humanitarian crisis, driven by the extreme violence of the civil war in Syria and by the aftermath of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the UK had major involvement. These movements are likely to continue for some years, until more just and peaceful structures emerge in the countries concerned. In all refugee scenarios there needs to be a focus on achieving the best interests of both the receiving countries, and the refugees themselves.
"We must acknowledge our special duty to speak up in defence of Christian communities in the Middle East, who are vulnerable and open to violence and harassment."
Humanitarian concern and biblical perspective require of the churches (in our diocese, nationally and across Europe) a generous and welcoming response to the stranger and the refugee, and we should be very clear on this calling. As churches, we must also acknowledge our special duty to speak up in defence of Christian communities in the Middle East, who are vulnerable and open to violence and harassment. The Archbishop has alerted the government to the fact that the unintended result of the decision to take refugees from camps in Lebanon and Jordan will be to exclude Christian refugees who have been forced to leave the camps. In this turmoil the very survival of Christian communities is under threat and we should speak up for them.
With this, it is important for us to collaborate and act together as local churches for effectiveness, synergy, and as a ‘proclamation’ of the Gospel which we all share. We should therefore work towards joined up thinking and action between churches, the local authorities and other civic, social and voluntary groups in the local area, as well as encouraging our government to play a fuller and more active part with fellow European governments in finding ways forward. In addition to current awareness and finance-raising activities, we must recognise the need to receive refugees in our churches and local communities. There are good examples of how this can be done well – I have recently heard of good practice in Melbourne, Australia.
The second discussion centres on the need to consider the changes that this huge people movement will cause in host countries. Consideration of this has to be part of any balanced welcoming response. This includes a recognition that the numbers of people involved who are likely to settle in various parts of Europe will have a significant impact on the social and religious character of Europe. They and their children in time may well develop more critical attitudes to European society. Security services across Europe are mindful of the more radical elements that could be part of the migration.
It is also likely that we will be more closely involved in the unfolding political, military and humanitarian situation in the Middle East for years to come, and that consequently our churches will need to understand Islam, the Middle East, dialogue and mission issues more deeply. Indeed, as nation states become more socially and religiously diverse, churches must also recognise that they exist in a post-Christendom situation that will require a cross-cultural missionary and evangelistic outlook, and a willingness to build a different kind of ‘British’ society.
"We need to live with these tensions, these ambiguities, and the knowledge that no course of action is clearly absolutely ‘right’."
I see churches as a result facing two different but inter-related ‘temptations’ as we seek to respond as Christians. The first is the temptation to naïveté, if we refuse to face the real social and economic challenges posed by this developing situation. The second is temptation towards hardheartedness, driven by fear and a spirit of defensiveness, which is a dangerous place to be, spiritually. We need to live with these tensions, these ambiguities, and the knowledge that no course of action is clearly absolutely ‘right’. We need a generous attitude that welcomes the stranger, and a wise understanding of and provision for the substantial social and communal challenges that lie ahead. May the Lord teach us ‘knowledge and good judgement.’
Revd Andy Wheeler is a minister at St Saviour's Church, Guildford, with oversight of local and international mission partnerships. He is also World Mission Advisor for the Diocese of Guildford. Andy and his wife served with the Church Mission Society in South Sudan, Egypt and Kenya.
Andy is the author of a forthcoming book "Desire of Nations: a Reflection on the Journey of the Magi" available from November online at Biblekiosk.co.uk
and in selected bookshops. The book weaves together Biblical reflection, history, stories – personal and from across the world, contemporary resonance and Missiology.
Andy says of the book, “Surprising and powerful parallels emerged with current news stories about migration and refugees, and about violence towards children. Parts of it were very moving to write.”