This morning we start a new series of sermons entitled "A Biblical View on Big Issues", and we begin with almost the biggest of today's issues – migration and immigration. These are very serious issues because national values are often at stake, as well as personal lives, as we heard from Claire. So to help our thinking, I have three headings, first, The Biblical Background; secondly, Current Problems; and, thirdly, The Challenge. First, then…
The Biblical Background
The Bible introduces you straight away to migration in the early chapters of Genesis. It refers to three types of migration. First, migration as the blessing of God and essential for human existence. You have that in Genesis 1 verse 28. Verse 27 has just said: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." But then in verse 28 we read: "And God blessed them [the male and female]." Then comes the command:
"And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it'."
So the very first command for human beings is to be 'pro'-creators 'on behalf of' almighty God in populating this planet - "be fruitful and multiply." And it was through migration they "filled the earth" and created "nations". That command was very important. It, therefore, was repeated for Noah after the 'fall' of Adam and Eve and after the destruction of the Flood. So we read in Genesis 9.7:
"Be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it."
As you read on, you read of the establishment of nations. You read in Genesis 9.19 (after a reference to Shem, Ham and Japheth): "These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed [or, as the margin has it, from these the whole earth was populated]." Then chapter 10, verse 32 tells you: "…from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood." So, in the providential working of God, human life was secured and nations were birthed, and this was as people obeyed God's command to "be fruitful and multiply" and as they filled the earth through migration.
Secondly, there is migration not as the blessing of God but as the judgment of God. For we are told in Genesis 11.2-8 about the Tower of Babel:
"…as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there… Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth"… And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city."
So the desire for godless self-aggrandizement led to enforced dispersal or migration through the judgment of God.
Thirdly, there is migration as essential for Salvation history. In the next chapter of Genesis, chapter 12, you read of how God, through the call of Abraham and his migration, birthed a new nation - the nation of Israel - and for universal salvation. Israel was to be a light to all the other nations through its Prophets then supremely through Jesus Christ, God incarnate. He was born into this nation to save the world from the mess it had gotten into, and still gets into, through disobeying God.
So migration can be good and result in God's purpose of establishing human societies that live together, for their wellbeing, in diverse nations. However, it can also be the result of God's judgment on sin. Most important of all, it has been essential for the Salvation of the world. So that brings us secondly, to…
These focus on yet another three classifications of migration.
First, the age-old reality and problem of economic migration. In the UK and developed countries generally this is where there is migration from the country to the towns in search of work but also 'for the (so-called) good-life'. Internationally this is from poorer nations to richer nations.
Then, secondly, and often involving economic migration, is the problem of replacement migration - a new UN category. As the second millennium dawned, on 17 March 2000, the United Nations published a report on the problem of, or need for, what it called replacement migration. The report came from the UN Population Division. Let me quote from its accompanying Press Statement:
"The Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (D-E-S-A) has released a new report titled Replacement Migration: is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations? Replacement migration [it said] refers to the international migration that a country would need to prevent population decline and population ageing resulting from low fertility and mortality rates… United Nations' projections indicate that between 1995 and 2050, the population of Japan and virtually all countries of Europe will most likely decline. In a number of cases, including Estonia, Bulgaria and Italy, countries would lose between one quarter and one third of their population. Population ageing will be pervasive, bringing the median age of population to historically unprecedented high levels. For instance, in Italy, the median age will rise from 41 years in 2000 to 53 years in 2050. The potential support ratio – i.e. the number of persons of working age (15-64) per older person – will often be halved, from 4 or 5 to 2."
There is much more but let me finish with just one of the report's major findings when referring to Europe: "Population decline is inevitable in the absence of replacement migration." All that was in March 2000. But – and this is a big 'but' – the possibility of replacement migration has come to the rescue for many. A year later, there was 9/11 and Al Quaeda, and then the second Iraq war, Afghanistan, the so called Arab Spring, Syria and now Isis, Boco Haram and Al Shabab. And the result? A third category of migration, namely refugee migration, which can provide replacement population. Of course, refugees (or, asylum seekers as they are called in the UK until their claims are accepted) are the focus of the current issues regarding migration and immigration and the people Claire Keys was wanting to help. And, of course, the fact is Europe is experiencing the biggest refugee movement since World War II. Europe was expected to receive around 1 million asylum applications in 2015 and a similar amount this year, 2016, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. However, and this is what people get so wrong - in economic terms refugee migration should not be a problem. Yes, initially it can be expensive. Refugees all need jobs and places to live in, in their new countries, but economists argue it is a good thing economically long term. Listen to this HSBC report. It is from their analyst Fabio Balboni and his team explaining why the immigration crisis is actually a huge net positive for Europe [I quote]:
"From an economic perspective, Europe needs more workers. It is well known that most parts of Europe have rapidly ageing populations. This results in slower growth and thus tax receipts, whilst simultaneously increasing government spending through pensions and healthcare. The Eurozone, in particular, is about to embark on this demographic challenge with a mountain of debt. The easiest way to support more pensioners is to have more taxpayers – [through, of course, replacement immigration]."
Most of the evidence suggests that migrants will work hard and contribute more in taxes than they consume in social services. So economically, refugee immigration is not the real problem for Europe at national levels. Yes, local economic needs as they affect individuals locally have to be addressed, but for European nations, as a whole, there is an economic advantage at this time through refugee immigration. Just consider the latest UN figures. Europe has the lowest regional fertility rate in the whole world at 1.6 [that is, children per woman, with population replacement being 2.1]. It simply has not been "fruitful and multiplying". So countries like Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain desperately need immigrants to keep their economies going. Germany needs over 500 thousand each year, such is their demographic deficit. The UK now at 1.9 is not so bad, but that is because many new births are from immigrant mothers. But if, economically, refugee immigration is not the problem some suggest, socially its disruption cannot be ignored. And that is the really big issue. Nor is it because of race or ethnicity or anything like that, but because of religion or world-view. Until this is faced there will be no solution to the current problem. And Christians have to help people face this reality. Let me explain. In 2012, Victor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary said this:
"Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily? It's impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in … that could be an economic solution, but it's not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization."
So is the razor-wire around Hungary an adequate solution? No! Because Hungary is one of the really sick men of Europe with the sickness of a fertility rate of 1.34. However, Orbán's analysis cannot be ignored. Nor can you ignore the analysis of Jonathan Last in his study 'What to Expect when no one's expecting'. In that he argues for a liberal approach to immigration, but [I quote], "it should be coupled with a staunchly traditionalist view of integration". He then says this:
"America has been lucky in the way it has assimilated most of its immigrants. Europe – and France in particular [and this was written in 2013, so before Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan attack and Nice] – has not. 'Europe' as we have known it for 15 centuries is almost certain to fade away in the next 50 years, replaced by a semi-hostile Islamic ummah. All that will remain of what we traditionally know as 'Europe' is the name. This change was not inevitable; it is the result of a policy choice made by adherents of a truly radical faith: multiculturalism."
But note, two things: first, "multiculturalism" here is not like the Church or Heaven, where whatever our tribe, race or nation, we are "all one in Christ Jesus", as the Bible and the Keswick Convention motto says. [By the way, you can now see the main Keswick Convention talks live on ClaytonTV as you can see from your notice sheets.] No! "Multiculturalism" in this context refers to where no one faith is nationally privileged except the faith that no one faith should be nationally privileged. And, secondly, all those predictions are, of course if things stay the same. And European leaders are seeing the societal failure of multiculturalism. Hence, in the UK, the new talk about British values. But unless these values are understood in a Christian context they mean little. For example, democracy can mean 51% enslaving 49% (and we pray this is not happening in Turkey). [See the Jesmond Conference 2015 on British Values on the Church Website and also on ClaytonTV explaining that.] But is this writer arguing for intolerance? No! But he is saying [I quote], "Tolerance need not be surrender." However, what he fails to say is that at the heart of a culture is religion.
So what is really important is not Britishness, or Frenchness, or Germanness, or Africanness, or Chineseness, or Indianness, or the unique culture of any nation. Yes, there is value in those differences and distinctions that the various nations can bring to human life. But what is vital is having Jesus Christ and his virtues and values at the centre of your culture.
The hard reality for Europe is that, yes, many asylum seekers are Christians escaping persecution in Muslim lands. But many are Islamic and because Mohammed was a warrior, Islam's attitude to political force and violence is different to that of Christianity. It has been well said that while Mohammed rode into Medina to conquer, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die on a Cross. And his victory was not in battle but in his glorious Resurrection from the dead leaving an empty tomb. So once the percentage of Muslims grows significantly, while most will be moderate and peaceful, there is to be expected a significant increase proportionately of Muslim extremists. However, the problems are not all on one side.
For many Muslims the problem is that Europe to where they are migrating is becoming aggressively secular and decadent. And they are seeing decadent secular extremists now in leadership positions. This means Muslims having to assimilate to a godless post-modern secular extremism where all is permitted and nothing barred except, rightly, violence and paedophilia, but often barred wrongly are Christian marital and sexual ethics! And mainstream Muslims cannot be expected to assimilate to such secular extremism. So with those problems, thirdly, we need to face…
The challenge is to have both a warm heart and a cool head as you face these issues of migration and immigration. So first you need to have Christ-like compassion for all those suffering in relation to these issues. For a start, just thinking about infertility and Europe needing replacement migration brings huge pain to many European women. They, too, would just love to be part of the solution and mothers, but for various reasons they can't be. Then remember the thousands, indeed millions, of people who can't migrate and would love to, but are now internally displaced persons (I-D-Ps). There are millions of those in the South Sudan, where we in AID are working. Then, remember the millions of Christians living under persecuting regimes who cannot even escape disaster areas to seek asylum or move around their own country as IDPs.
But what about the immigrant in our midst? The Bible is clear how to treat such an individual. The biblical name for the immigrant is "stranger or sojourner". That was someone permanently living in a country other than his or her birth country. And because of the history of God's own people as migrants to Egypt, sojourners were to be well treated. As we heard in our Old Testament reading from Leviticus 19:33-34:
"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
And there were to be economic benefits for sojourners. Leviticus 19.9-10 says:
"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God."
Also there was to be special protection "for the stranger and the sojourner". They were able to use the cities of refuge (Numbers 35.15). And oppressing "the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow" would especially incur God's judgment (Jeremiah 7.6). However, the sojourner was not free to ignore all Jewish restraints. For example, he or she, had to avoid, for example, work on the Sabbath and immorality, idolatry and blasphemy.
But what about the New Testament? Well, Jesus is clear. He talks about the stranger in his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. He says that you are to welcome himself in the person of a "stranger" when that person is "one of the least of these my brothers" (and in Matthew 25 that is one of Jesus' followers). Otherwise it will incur God's fearful judgment. And the Christian tradition has extended that care for the stranger to "everyone" while especially caring for Christian believers. Paul said: "do good to everyone and especially those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6.10). So as Claire was doing as a nurse in Lesbos, she helped anyone and everyone she could, who was in need. This is all part of fulfilling that great command that Jesus highlighted from Leviticus 19.18:
"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord."
And to be faithful to that command the previous verse 17 is important:
"You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbour, lest you incur sin because of him."
Genuine Christ-like love will involve reasoning with your neighbours and sharing with those who don't trust Christ the fact that he is the only true hope of all nations.
I must conclude. I simply do so with a comment from Canon J. John that I have mentioned elsewhere. He said we need to add to this discussion on migration and immigration, four "I's" - one, be involved (as we are able); two, be intelligent (in our analysis of the problems); three, have integrity (in being honest and facing uncomfortable facts); and, four, be interceding (praying for God to overrule).