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Making room for the foreigner

Making room for the foreigner

Making room for the foreigner

10 October 2018

Photo:Deddy Yoga Pratama

By Mike Frost

Recently, in the Australian Parliament, a newly-minted senator called on the Government to stop accepting any immigrants who do not reflect “the historic European Christian composition of Australian society and embrace our language, culture and values as a people”.

In particular, he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a return to what was termed the “White Australia Policy”, a discriminatory immigration policy dismantled way back in the 1960s.

Of course, this doesn’t sound too different to the stated desires of Mr Trump regarding United States immigration policy, albeit a less sophisticated version.

Britain has its own versions in Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

What might surprise some is that Fraser Anning, the Australian senator in question, and the US President, both claim to be committed conservative Christians.

Indeed, in the case of the senator from Down Under, he wants a discriminatory immigration policy precisely because he is a Christian.

Farage, who has confessed to only praying “sometimes”, nonetheless wants the United Kingdom to stand up for Judeo-Christian culture and values.

So, is it appropriate for Christians in Western countries to call for the banning of Muslim immigration to their shores?

These attitudes are usually characterised as xenophobia, a term that comes from the Ancient Greek words xenos, meaning “strange”, “foreigner”, and phobos, which means “fear”.

Fearing strangers, especially those of a different religious belief, is becoming more and more in vogue these days. So it begs the question, how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

Well, not at all! 

Both the Old and New Testaments insist on the love of the stranger. Exodus 22:21 says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt”.

And two verses later, God says ominously, “If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry” (v23). And Jesus’ teaching, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, (Matt 22:39) seems clear enough.

Indeed, Jesus says you can summarise Old Testament teaching this way: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).

So if the Bible is pretty clear on this point, why are some Christians xenophobic, and proudly so?

Reflecting on the psychology of xenophobia in her book, Strangers to Ourselves, French-Bulgarian philosopher Julia Kristeva writes this: “Strangely, the foreigner lives within us, he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which our understanding and affinity founder. By recognising him within ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself. The foreigner comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises, and he disappears when we acknowledge ourselves as foreigners, unamenable to bonds and communities.”

Did you get that? We fear foreigners or strangers because they represent something within ourselves we’re too frightened to acknowledge or confront.

When we recognise what the stranger represents within ourselves, and come to terms with it, then we can dispense with our fear and loathing.

But there are further dimensions to the Christian view of the stranger. Not only is the stranger within, and not only is the stranger by definition every other human being, but the stranger must also be God himself.

British scholar Krish Kandiah picks up on this extraordinary implication in his book, God is Stranger.

He’s not saying we can’t know God, but that God is other, a foreigner, unrecognised and often scorned.

Practising hospitality to God – making room for him in our lives – can be measured to some meaningful degree by our willingness to make room for the foreigner, the outsider.

Picking up on Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, Kandiah draws out three important implications: when it comes to the practice of Christian hospitality there can be no limit to our responsibility, respect, or response.

He says the parable teaches there is no limit to our responsibility because our neighbour is each and every stranger, wherever they are from.

By making the hero of his story a despised Samaritan, Jesus is suggesting there should be no limit to our respect for others.

And furthermore, the costly nature of the Samaritan’s generosity to the assaulted Jew implies there should be no limit to our level of response when it comes to hospitality.

So the question isn’t so much whether Christianity is xenophobic, but why do churchgoers keep giving in to xenophobic impulses? Why are they so fearful? Why aren’t they learning the way of Jesus, the way of hospitality and generosity?

Until churches embrace a form of discipleship that encourages Christians to confess the darkness within, and to embrace the love of God and the corresponding love of self, we will keep throwing up Christians like Senator Fraser Anning who fear the stranger and want to close our doors to everyone who is different. 

Mike Frost is the Head of Missiology at Morling College. He blogs at mikefrost.net

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