When some of us met in Munich eight months ago there was still hope that empathy, wisdom and solidarity would guide refugee politics. we were not naive. We knew that there would be difficult struggles and that ‘open borders’ was not at all an option for the foreseeable future.
But we still hoped for European solidarity and respect for fellow humans. Not primarily based in common faith or common culture. But in being human. All being God the Father’s creation. We hoped that the churches would be leaders, outspoken and listened to, giving reasons why human rights are expressed the way they are and that the commandment to love your neighbour is supposed to be stretched out in time and in space.
We, church people, know that we are what we are not because of what we have achieved, but because of gifts given to us from birth through life and what is received is supposed to be handed on. Now it seems fear has taken over from realism and humanism. What then is our role as church people?
My home is in a very rural area. You drive for 16 km seeing nothing but trees. The road is excellent but the woods close in on both sides. Driving home at night poses some extra dangers: deer, wild boar, elks but also some small animals like fox, hare and badger.
One option is to drive slowly. Because the speed which matters is the difference in speed between you and what you hit.
Another is to drive quickly because you know the road is good and it leads to where you want to go. And if you drive quickly you minimise the time when you are exposed to the conflicting animals.
The options are not only about speed. It is also about where you position yourself on the road. Carefully at the side? Or right in the middle where you have sufficient view? Driving on the side means small risks of hitting another car – there are very few there, especially at night – but great risks of being surprising by the animals jumping out. Driving far out on the side also means closeness to the deep ditch with the risks that follow from that.
When things didn’t go our way with EU and migration, the churches have options too. Go on with high speed or slow down? Stay in the middle of matters or follow the kerb in order not to offend?
My hope is that we still in the middle of the road. It is a good road and we know where it leads from personal experience and from history. It is also a road constructed on principles which we know serve our societies’ best. In the middle of the road we remain visible and we show what we believe in.
There are conflicts with everyday realities. There are risks of reactionary reactions. In the long run we don’t serve our people – maybe not any people – if we alienate them or ourselves from realities. We have to realise that politics is not only principles but also pragmatism. But we, church people, are not primarily in politics. In order to remain valid speaking partners though we must acknowledge limitations but without hiding our principles and our goals.
So let us perhaps slow down a bit when in the dark. But less us not become afraid and steer out towards the roadside. Then real bad things will happen. They have happened before.
And remember: the best thing we can do is actually act when meeting the people concerned and affected – the refugees – and show how much compassion and commitment there is in churches and society. A lot more than many politicians dare to see.
If we the churches do not uphold the ideals of an international Christian heritage what will happen to our societies?
May this be a blessed conference.