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After the Windrush scandal: How public theology can help us to engage with the refugee question

After the Windrush scandal: How public theology can help us to engage with the refugee question

Part two of our blog series to mark Refugee Week 2018, by Fleur Houston 19/06/2018

If you are interested in this series you may be interested in our forthcoming event on migration and the common good and our recent collection of essays on ethics and migration.

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The Windrush scandal raises profound questions about the state of British society.  For those like myself who have been actively engaged in challenging these injustices for several years in the face of apathy and indifference, it feels in some respects like the dawning of a new age. With the harrowing stories that have emerged over the past weeks, few can be left in any doubt that the children of Commonwealth citizens have been treated appallingly.  In response to widespread media revelations and an outraged sense of fairness being compromised, public pressure has led to belated promises of restitution.

What specific contribution has political theology to bring? The base–line will always be a recognition that God is continually present in the public square.   So, typically, political theology will be publicly engaged and prophetic.  It will proclaim disturbing truths to power in the firm belief that oppression, inhumanity, and injustice are not in accord with the will of God.  In respect of immigrants and asylum–seekers, it will call for them to be treated with equity in the courts, and with humanity at all times. It will challenge the calculated use of destitution as a political policy, and the deliberate breaking up of families.  It will oppose the extortionate immigration and nationality fees, the forced detention of those who have committed no crime, the precipitate deportations, the pervasive callousness and bureaucratic ineptitude.

Theology is always political, for every theology embodies a vision of how communities ought to be organised.  Christian political theology models a community of human beings in fellowship with one another and with God, a community where each will be responsible for the other in relations of mutual accountability.   But what has this wider theological view of society to do with the treatment of the hapless Commonwealth citizens?  In some respects, the very designation, Windrush, would seem to imply that these compose a self–contained entity, that the revelations of suffering, cruelty and ineptitude are limited to the treatment of a boundaried segment of society.  There is a perception that these legal if belatedly recognised immigrants  may be opposed to others who are said to be ‘illegal” and who may, it is assumed, justifiably be treated differently.   But this fudges the issue.   It is all too plain that the Windrush scandal is a stock example of a wider malaise which impacts our society as a whole. Policies are shaped to exclude not to include those who claim asylum, decision–making is frequently based on a subjective view of the claimant’s credibility, and civil society is made complicit in immigration enforcement.  A political theology that is Christian lives with a vision of a better world, a world where men and women relate to one another as persons, a more hospitable world.  It affirms the value of all human beings in the eyes of God and challenges governments to make their practices towards asylum–seekers and refugees more humane and compassionate.

The exposure of the Windrush situation does not rule out the possibility that other such situations may occur in the future.  But hope is embedded in Christian political theology; its sights are on the end of time.  The belief that God is active in history is accompanied always by the belief that God is bringing about a new age that is yet to be fully realised. While public opinion is notoriously fickle, and all too easily swayed by media coverage, for good or for ill,  Christian political theology points to the long haul, committed as it is to the vision of a world that is governed by justice and compassion, where all God’s children are treated with dignity and respect.

 Image by David Mbiyu available under a Shutterstock licence,  

Fleur Houston

Fleur Houston

Fleur Houston is a minister of the United Reformed Church with extensive international experience of theological dialogue.  She also engages in advocacy through the Churches Refugee Network, a UK based ecumenical body concerned with refugees and those who seek asylum. She is author of: You Shall Love the Stranger as Yourself.  The Bible, Refugees, and Asylum [Routledge, 2015]

Posted 18 June 2018

Citizenship, Identity, Immigration, Nationhood, Politics, Refugee Crisis

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