Conservative Evangelicals, Refugees and Social Action

The FIEC have provided a helpful article by Steve Wilmshurst on their website about how Evangelical Christians can engage with the refugee crisis. I want to highlight a couple of important points that the article makes, suggest some additional things that can be helpful and pick up on one point that perhaps need challenging

  1. Three helpful points

Steve helpfully reminds us that whilst we can so easily get caught up in political debate on the rights and wrongs of national and international policy (e.g. Donald Trump’s travel ban), the media do not always help us to see the nuances and complexities of the debate and so it is important to be properly informed about the issues and what is going on.

He also points us away from just virtue signalling by our politics by challenging us about what we can do practically for the refugees in our midst.

Thirdly, he encourages local Christians to be ready to work with others to best help and support refugees.

  1. Additional suggestions

If you are going to engage with refugees, then it is helpful to know three things.

First of all, it’s vital for the asylum seeker to have good quality legal advice and representation. Help them to link up with a good solicitor who will take them and their case seriously. There are some particularly good individuals and firms who are there not for the money but because they have a passionate concern for human rights.  Watch out where there’s an expectation that money should change hands. Legal aid is available.

Secondly, it’s helpful to be aware of the process.  An asylum seeker may have to go through a long process including a Tier 1 Tribunal and appeal to Tier 2. If the case fails, then an appeal may sometimes be possible but usually on a narrow point of law. A fresh case can be started if new evidence comes to light. This brings us to the third thing.

Thirdly, be aware that it may take time for the whole story to come to light.  Indeed, an individual’s story may even change.  This is very similar to what we see in most pastoral cases. They may have been encouraged by others to lie to cover unsavoury aspects of their story or because they believe their actual case will not be heard. They may also have suspicions about whether or not they have been interpreted accurately (many are having their case dealt with in an unfamiliar language). They may be afraid of  telling the whole story because they won’t be believed or they will be judged. This is important because they are often coming from honour/shame cultures and so their experience of abuse brings with it huge shame. They will take time to build up trust in others.  Do gently and lovingly encourage them to tell the whole story.

And to do two things

Tell the truth in love.  They don’t often get both love and truth together. The system can be very harsh whilst others may be very reluctant to talk realistically not wanting to upset or discourage. It’s tempting for Christians to pray and then speak as though this solves everything. Their experience of Christianity may well be along prosperity gospel lines and so they may in effect hear implicit promises and guarantees from us that we simply cannot keep. Be honest. There is a real possibility that their case will fail and that they may have to return.  It’s vital then to have a robust grasp of the Gospel and the promise of God’s presence and the perseverance of the saints.  You will discover a greater love of the book of Revelation!

Be welcoming as a church. Think about what happens in your gatherings.  How will someone who speaks little English be able to meet with you, hear and respond to the Gospel, get involved, belong? Think about the language you use, the Bible translation, the application and tone of your sermons.

  1. Some challenges

Steve encourages evangelicals to be willing to work with others that they disagree with including secular bodies and liberals.  He then goes on to suggest that Evangelicals have been slack in the area of helping refugees and that it has often been left to liberal churches to take a lead.  I’m not too sure what the basis for this is. In my experience, it is very often Evangelicals who are taking the lead. Indeed, Evangelical Christians and churches have often been working hard at providing things like ESOL classes long before the present crisis hit the headlines.

This probably links into a wider discussion about social action, urban church life and mission.  So here are a couple of things to think about.

First of all, what you see as “mission” will affect what is prominent about what you do. If you are from a liberal context and believe the social gospel is primary, then that’s what you will talk about. Evangelical Christians who see mission in broad terms as “blessing the nations” may also give prominence to their mercy mission activities. However, if (as I do) you agree with Gilbert and DeYoung’s analysis that the church’s mission is specifically to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples then you may not give so much prominence to talking about and publicising church initiated social action. This does not however mean that it isn’t happening. Rather, for Christians in this context it is part of their every-day discipleship.  Indeed, it is my view and experience that when the Gospel is put front and central as first priority that more social action happens because Christians are being challenged by God’s Word about how they should live and because in our evangelism we are engaging more and more with a messy world.

Secondly, it is a matter of context. Our church building is located in an ethnically diverse, socially and economically needy, urban area. I expect us to be engaging daily with the challenges that come with this including asylum cases.  Churches in other areas won’t have the same level of engagement and I don’t expect them to feel guilty because of that.

This leads onto two other points. My concern with the FIEC article was that it risks the impression that Evangelicals are doing nothing and therefore need to go and partner up with liberal churches to do things.  This risks missing the amount of work happening under the radar and the opportunity for churches in prosperous suburban areas to partner with churches in urban contexts. I fear that a bigger concern is the potential disconnect between prosperous, prominent conservative Evangelicalism and those churches labouring in hard places.

Which leads me to the final thing. If not enough is happening, then dare I suggest that it’s because we need more churches and believers on the ground where the challenges are.  There’s a desperate need for church planting and church revitalisation on our estates and in our inner cities. This is something that our friends in the FIEC have a strong commitment to.  It’s why we have committed to encouraging and supporting church planting in Sandwell, West Birmingham and the Black Country through our PlantBC initiative and through partnership with 2020 Birmingham and The Church Planting Initiative