If Jesus was standing at the boarder trying to get into Britain, would he be let in?
The weekend before last, BBC broadcast the Christian music programme Songs of Praise from a makeshift church in the refugee camp in Calais; more commonly known as ‘The Jungle’. Due to the reports of migrants attempting to make it across the border into the UK, the decision to make a show has apparently sparked a fair degree of criticism.
The refugees managed to assemble St Michael’s church out of corrugated iron, wooden slats and tarpaulin. It was constructed by a combination of volunteers and residents. ‘All of us love this church more than ourselves’, says a resident of the camp. Another said ‘our church is designed for all those who want to thank God for their lives and to pray for the future’.
In a comment, Conservative MP Philip Hollobone stated: ‘What the BBC fails to realise is the people in the camp in Calais are trying to get into our country illegally. It seems to me a completely topsy-turvy sense of priorities. Many people will be absolutely furious’.
During the programme itself, volunteer aid worker Susan Pardo responded to a similar statement. ‘That’s very sad that people feel that way. But that’s not how the church feels. The church is here on earth to give compassion and love to the strangers, the refugees, the widows, the lost children. That’s what the church is there for. To reach the lost, the poor and the hopeless’.
As with any community – however small or large – there will always be people who are both agreeable and disagreeable. God forbid the BBC should actually convey these refugees to be individual human beings who amount to anything more than a ‘swarm’ or ‘mass’ of ‘migrants’ who exist for our inconvenience.
The producers of Songs of Praise are simply acting according to the gospel that is sung about in the programme. Jesus was frequently found walking straight into situations of contention and right to where the people were. He consistently loved people who were socially regarded as completely unlovable, regardless of public opinion.
India Knight rightly pointed out in her article for the Sunday Times that, ‘were He [Jesus] to appear tomorrow, He would be in the jungle’.
Back in April, Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the Church in his Easter speech as a ‘living active force doing great works’ for the poor and homeless which – in a controversial statement – urged Britain to ‘feel proud to say this is a Christian country’. In the same speech Cameron stated: ‘across the Middle East, Christians have been hounded out of their homes, forced to flee from village to village, many of them forced to renounce their faith or be brutally murdered. To all those brave Christians in Iraq and Syria we must say, “We stand with you”‘.
It’s difficult to know what the Prime Minister means when he says he ‘stands’ with them. It was unlikely to be a statement with any actual backing. Statistically, 70 per cent of the migrants currently in Calais are from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia, Eritrea and parts of Nigeria. The large proportion of which are Muslim, but many are also Christian, fleeing from the damage caused by ISIS and other religious terrorist groups.
It appears the Prime Minister respects Christian values at a distance but realises actual compassion is rather costly.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage was outraged by the broadcast, claiming that ‘the vast majority of people will think it’s just plain wrong’. Farage also stated early on in the election campaign this year that ‘we need a much more muscular defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage’. Clearly we don’t need to have a more ‘muscular’ defence of our Christian history, but certainly a better informed one.
When it comes down to it, the message of Christianity came to this country through migrants. Jesus was a first-century Palestinian Jew, not a a white upper-middle class political leader. Party leaders can use all the pseudo-Christian statements that suit them. But if Jesus came to the boarder today – would we really let Him in?