The Christian Obligation to the Stranger in the Land

On Sunday, the Ross Lake House Hotel in Rosscahill was burned down. This was an act of callous and brutal savagery. The empty hotel was due to become a refuge to dozens of people who badly needed it. This was not an accident. It was a crime born in craven fear. It is one of a dozen or more such acts of arson in recent years, all of which have gone without a successful prosecution, targeting homes set aside for asylum seekers or Travellers.

“There is no room at the inn,” say some elected representatives, from the comfort of their warm homes. On the surface, this position is astonishing considering that the reason people have set the building ablaze is exactly because there is room at the inn. But the logic of these comments left us in the JCFJ absolutely dumbfounded.

In the familiar story, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem to be counted in a census. We do not quite know what combination of social stigma surrounded this unusual couple but people presume that the scandal around Mary’s pregnancy might be at play in the fact that they find no room at the inn.

In their hour of need, they were refused hospitality.

Who would wish to align themselves with the characters in this tale who turned away the mother of God as she was going into labour? If you consider yourself a Christian, hear me now: These acts of arson are crimes against God’s people and the flames come from hell itself.

Each individual Christian is responsible for seeking justice in their society. And seeking the “peace of the city” means that different Christians will favour different policy proposals. A diversity of political perspectives is entirely legitimate – in fact, should be celebrated – within the church.

But “justice” isn’t a hollow term for the Christian, to be filled with whatever set of issues they personally think are significant. This understanding of justice is woven into the very fabric of the bible – there are literally thousands of references to the obligation to tend to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land. Foreigners – vulnerable foreigners – are repeatedly cited as the people that Christians must attend to, extend hospitality to, seek to include and to treat with dignity. Why? Because we were foreigners to God and He welcomed us.

It is important for Christians to inform themselves about the reality of International Protection policies, why we are bound by the Geneva Convention, how the EU responds collectively to migration. It is possible for one Christian to be convinced that borders are a bad idea that limit economic opportunity while another Christian, just as serious and committed, might conclude that we should move to a quota system. Neither of those policies are implementable today, tomorrow, or next year, but Christians should be capable of patient, careful political engagement so that one could work towards those visions. But what Christians cannot do is harbour any hostility to foreigners.

Whatever we come to call this emerging, callous protest movement, we must recognise that those who are blockading possible places of refuge and burning down people’s homes are scared. They are fear-filled. And the single most common command in the bible is “do not fear”. We reject, out of hand, all politics that give into our potential for paranoid hostility.

The story goes that Mary laid Jesus in a bed made for animals. They then fled their homeland because of the psychopathic, fear-filled violence of Herod, their king. Jesus spent his early years as a refugee in a foreign nation. These stories are not remote references for Christians. The heart of the Gospel is, irreducibly, that God is hospitable to his enemies, he is hospitable to us.

The protestors insist we have to have “a conversation” about migration policy. Let’s start that conversation, in the pub, around the dinner table, from the pulpit, but with the boundaries informed by our most basic beliefs. Does your religion mean anything to you? Is your heart so hardened to the suffering of your brother? This Christmas, every single person on this island who calls Jesus Lord must be clear within their soul and bear witness with their voice that the politics of fear has no place among the people who bear the good news. Stand up to this anti-Christian movement that tries to make you fear your neighbour. Even – especially – if they’re strangers, that God calls you to love them. You may not own an inn but now, this Christmas, is the time to make space for the strangers in your midst.



Featured image: La Sagrada Familia by Kelly Latimore