"For years our politicians have piggy-backed upon Christian morality for electoral advantage. We should “feel proud that this is a Christian country”, said (David) Cameron earlier this year (pre-election, of course), in what some might uncharitably see as a call to maintain a Muslim-free view from his Cotswold village. But there is no respectable Christian argument for fortress Europe, surrounded by a new iron curtain of razor wire to keep poor, dark-skinned people out. Indeed, the moral framework that our prime minister so frequently references – and to which he claims some sort of vague allegiance – is crystal clear about the absolute priority of our obligation to refugees. For the moral imagination of the Hebrew scriptures was determined by a battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty. Time and again, the books of the Hebrew scriptures remind its readers not to forget that they too were once in this situation and their ethics must be structured around practical help driven by fellow-feeling.
The Passover, first celebrated as a last-minute preparation
before leaving Egypt (unleavened bread as there wasn’t time for it to
rise) – and the Christian Eucharist that was built on top of it – is
nothing less than a call to re-live this basic human solidarity in the
face of existential fear and uncertainty. And when the author of
Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus as a child refugee, fleeing his country
from a despotic ruler intent on taking his life – Herod not Assad – he
is deliberately sampling that basic foundational myth of the Exodus. If
our “Christian” politicians have any excuse, it is that the church has
itself been frequently woeful in its response to the current situation.
And the prize for the most outrageous church pronouncement on this issue
surely goes to Péter Erdő, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Budapest, who reportedly declared that Hungarian churches were prohibited from sheltering refugees.
“If we did so, we would be human traffickers,” he said. I hope the Holy
Father has a quiet word with him. But little wonder that the only thing
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, can say about the refugees
fleeing war in the Middle East – as he tries to corral them in camps – is that they threaten the Christian identity of Europe.
The truth is entirely the opposite: it is he that threatens the
Christian identity of Europe. “What is the point of salt if it has lost
its saltiness?” asks Jesus. Saltless salt “is no longer good for
anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”. And that is
what should happen to Orbán’s so-called Christianity."