Wednesday 4 February 2015

Welcoming the Stranger: The relationship of terrorism, immigration & hospitality

A Post by Edwina Hine

It is not surprising as the threat from ISIS (Islamic State) has stepped up over the last few months in the Middle East (particularly in Syria and Iraq), but now we've seen their influence played out in Sydney and Paris. Just before Christmas the Archbishop of Sydney called on our  our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott to increase refugee numbers into Australia. (More details can be found here).

As we see terror threats, it is easy to question immigration. But of course, immigration isn't the issue, the evil acts of individuals and small groups of radicalized people are the problem. As well, the Bible teaches that we are to welcome the stranger and the dispossessed.

In Case #38 we considered the broad theme of 'Home'.  I have found some of the articles in this edition to be useful as I have reflected on the issues surrounding refugees and the humanitarian response of Christians in situations comparable to that which is currently evident in the Middle East. In particular I found Erin Goheen Glanvilles article entitled "Beyond Debt and Economy: Reclaiming prophetic hospitality for Refugees " very interesting. The article examines  'hospitality' in a biblical context, our understanding of the word in view of today's culture, and illustrates the need for a renewed understanding of the practice for Christians today.

The author reminds us a Christian understanding of 'welcoming the stranger' goes beyond our codified responsibilities that are laid out in treaties such as the UN Refugee Convention. The article reminds us of the passage in Hebrews 13.1,2
(1) Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. (2) Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
It reminds us that hospitality was to be the mark of the early Christian Church as well as the modern Church. Hospitality is not just a token optional extra, it is a core identity marker. For members of the church, hospitality should be a way in which they we are contrasted with the surrounding community. Hospitality is not to be shown just to powerful persons and visitors to create beneficial networks, we should be focused on hosting and helping those who do not have the means to show kindness in return.

For today's Church it could become easy to become anxious that the large numbers of refugees may overwhelm our community's resources and interrupt our valued way of life. However, the biblical understanding of hospitality should motivate Christians to be self-sacrificial in their welcome of strangers and be a stark contrast to calls for a nations limits to generosity, or the imposition of strict definitions of 'deserving' refugees.

Iraqi Refugees (Image courtesy of

The Goheen article certainly does not claim that there are easy answers to successfully assisting the many displaced and persecuted persons that result from horrific acts of terrorism and oppression.  However the article does prompt the reader to assess their own notions of hospitality and the role that Christians will play, that might perhaps counter the sense of hopelessness that prevails when considering this most challenging issue.

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