I am writing this in late September while looking forward to a two week break in Spain. The world seems in perpetual turmoil, and I wonder what new calamities will have manifested in my absence. The world on the move. The misery of thousands of refugees trying to find a safe haven for their families to flourish.
I’ve heard all the arguments ‘for and against’ giving these needy, brave people asylum as refugees or otherwise. They say there is nothing new in the world. Its true, people have migrated to more prosperous areas crossing borders, to find food, water, shelter, sometimes by invitation to fill ‘skill gaps’. Moses led the enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt to the promised land where they wandered in the wilderness for years before settling. They knew the hardships of insecurity and uncertainty, as so many other groupings have faced before and after. We like things neat and tidy today, with various economies and cultures enclosed with strict borders. There are many hard questions with no easy answers.
What is our responsibility towards humanity as a whole? What bonds of obligation link us to those with whom we do not share a country, a political structure, a language or a culture? What proportion of our wealth are we duty bound to share? At this level religious concepts can be more helpful than a network of laws and obligations. The three religions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim share the ‘one God’ who is the parent of humanity so we are all members of an extended family. In religious life there is a difference between possession and ownership. God created the world (one way or another) and we are all its trustees. The clearest example states in Leviticus 25 ‘the land must not be sold permanently because, the land is mine. You are mere strangers and temporary residents in relation with me’.
So God ‘says it like it is’ Ancient tribalism denying rights to an outsider. It’s modern counterpart, nationalism, grants rights, only if the outsider converts, conforms, assimilates and therefore ceases to be an outsider. There are no less than 36 commands in the Hebrew Bible not to oppress the ‘stranger’ as they themselves were strangers. Who knows how things will evolve over the next few months. I can only hope that any newcomers to our land will be allowed the dignity of being different from ourselves but valued nonetheless.
(This article by Wendy Cobourne was originally published as part of St David’s Messenger in November 2015)