No, Jesus Would Not Demand Open Borders

Immigrants are all Gods children - Christian immigration protest

Those who make a Christian case for open borders and uncontrolled mass immigration do not apply the same altruism they demand of society to their own personal lives, and neither would tearing down national borders improve the common good. Those who use their faith (or even more cynically, the faith of others) as a bludgeon to agitate for open borders do so based on a deliberately superficial reading of Christianity, in which Jesus is little more than an easy-going aging hippie, or a benevolent Santa Claus figure

The Windrush scandal – in which British permanent residents and citizens, either naturalised immigrants or descendants of immigrants, were wrongly targeted for deportation because of bureaucratic incompetence and the eagerness of a fawning, rootless government to appear tough on immigration – has pushed the issue of immigration back up the list of top voter priorities in the United Kingdom.

At times like this, it is customary for cynical and opportunistic voices on the Left to exploit developments in order to agitate for their broader goal of open borders (or at least something perilously close to open borders – few left wing politicians are now willing to publicly articulate any restriction on immigration or sanction for immigration law violations which they actually support). And so it was this time, with a parade of Labour and other left-wing politicians effectively making the preposterous case that bureaucratic callousness with regard to the affected Windrush immigrants means that the government has now morally forfeited the right to control the borders at all.

Unfortunately, these voices are often also joined by left-wing Christians who waste no time extrapolating from one appalling example of Big Government callousness to press entirely tangential arguments about a more permissive immigration system. The Church of England’s own Migration policy subsite rather deceptively makes mention only of asylum and refugee issues, utterly ignoring the dominant economic migrant subgroup. One can only assume that this is because the CofE knows as well as the rest of us that pretending that the great migration wave consists entirely of the former type and not the latter is more likely to generate sympathy and lead to pressure for looser immigration policy.

As the depth of the government’s failure and mismanagement with regard to Windrush immigrants became evident, social media was swiftly flooded with tweets and sentiments suggesting that any attempt by politicians or civic leaders to dissuade or expel illegal immigrants – people entirely unconnected with the Windrush scandal – from maintaining unlawful residence in the United Kingdom is prima facie evidence of a missing or defective conscience:

 

Even Martyn Eden, political editor of Premier Christianity magazine, equivocates:

Some will see this affair as reflecting an underlying racism in British culture. Given that the density of population in the UK is 268 people per square kilometre, second only to Holland in the EU, a case can be made for limiting immigration, but the Brexit campaign certainly showed evidence of a xenophobic hostility to foreigners.

Our duty to love our neighbours regardless of their racial and family backgrounds, following Jesus’ teaching and example, will shape how Christians understand and respond to this distressing and shameful episode in our national life.

This mirrors the vague, evasive wooliness and anti Brexit bigotry which swathes of the Church of England (including all the senior hierarchy) displayed so prominently during the 2016 EU referendum campaign and its aftermath (see here, here, here and here).

Recently, Pope Francis has made noises (in the form of an apostolic exhortation) deeply suggestive that he believes open borders to be “pro-life” and the correct starting point for any Christian view of immigration:

102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ”,[85] with a gesture of veneration;[86] the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude”.[87]

We see exactly the same climate in the United States, where the progressive wing of the Church is enthusiastically embracing the concept of “sanctuary cities” and taking an increasingly extreme position against any kind of immigration enforcement. The argument usually goes along the lines of that advanced here by Michael Clark in Sojourners:

I currently live in Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city and most diverse metropolitan area. We’re a city with no racial or ethnic majority, where nearly 1 in 4 people were born outside the U.S. We’re also home to 400,000 undocumented immigrants, earning us the label “sanctuary city” from some.

[..] but Houston’s status as a sanctuary city requires a response from everyday residents, nearly three quarters of whom claim to be Christians. Will Christians make a sanctuary in our city?

Before we put our defenses up (They’re here illegally! They’re taking our jobs! They need to come in the right way!), let us remember that our allegiance is not primarily to this nation. Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), and though we are to respect earthly authority (Romans 13:1), when push comes to shove, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Will we be a sanctuary in the tradition of the early church? Will we heed God’s commandment: “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34)?

Will Christ say to us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison [or an immigration detention center] and you came to visit me”?

Let us remember his words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

This is manipulative schmaltz of the worst kind. All of it. Anybody can harvest quotes from the Bible to build a case that Christian compassion involves rolling over and doing whatever a particular activist wants at that moment in time. But what we lack in this argument (and we see this over and over again in Christian arguments for mass immigration or open borders) is any acknowledgement that the immediate benefit to one new incoming migrant is not the only important consideration at stake.

When Jesus performed miracles there was no tradeoff, with one individual newly afflicted by the disease which Jesus cured in another, or the alleviated suffering of one person displaced onto somebody else. Nobody died because Lazarus was raised from the dead. Those who were healed at Gennesaret by touching Jesus’ cloak were not offset by a similar number who were struck down in their place. Uncontrolled mass immigration does not work like this. While there is a clear personal benefit to each marginal unskilled migrant  (and we are talking economic migrants here, remember, not refugees) allowed into a developed country, there are offsetting costs to be considered, too.

Sometimes these costs are tangible and quantifiable, such as the additional burden on infrastructure, services and the welfare state. Other times these costs are uncertain and appear only in the form of risk (such as risk to public order or national security). But the net effect is that the “good” done by letting in unlimited numbers of unskilled migrants from poor countries is offset by a commensurate cost. And this cost is no less important or worthy of consideration just because it is diffused across society as a whole rather than concentrated on one individual.

Rod Dreher makes a similar point in religious terms, rebutting the idea that Christian hospitality must be open-ended to the point of self-destruction:

This is why St. Benedict’s rule of hospitality is not open-ended. Monks will certainly welcome guests as if they were Christ, but that welcome does not imply that visitors have the right to stay in the monastery for as long as they like. What’s more, monks cannot welcome guests who, whether by their behavior or their sheer numbers, prevent a monastery from fulfilling its purpose. No stranger has a right to expect the monks to abandon their way of life to accommodate his desires. It’s simply dishonest and manipulative for the Pope to invoke St. Benedict’s example in this way. One likes to think that even Pope Francis would not expect a monastery to fling its gates open and house as many migrants as want to set up camp there, indefinitely.

We know that these negative costs of open borders will be incurred, and that they will be borne by society at large. So why is it more Christ-like to prioritise one over the other? Welcoming the stranger is absolutely the right thing to do when there are no offsetting costs to that act of charity, but what if welcoming the stranger causes a completely innocent third party to suffer harm? What we see, though, is many Christians prioritising the needs of the former over the latter. And in a way this is understandable – the benefit to the migrant is obvious, easy to measure and enjoyable to bestow, while the cost to society is diffuse, sometimes intangible and only detectable on the macro level, not at the individual level. Choosing the tangible and immediate over the intangible and time-delayed is a natural human instinct, albeit a harmful one in this instance.

So perhaps the real question we should be asking ourselves is this: does Jesus want us to think purely from with hearts, or does He also want us to engage our brains?

Viewed this way, the emotionally incontinent “Jesus would let in all the migrants” line of argument is becoming increasingly tiresome and threadbare. Maybe He would, and maybe not – perhaps instead He would work miracles to improve the broken and dysfunctional countries which feed mass migration in the first place, rather than feeding an urban leftist’s fetish for infinite diversity. Presuming that Jesus would opt for the immediate solution, the easy answer, the quick fix, grant the superficial human desire rather than the deeper human need, is to fundamentally misunderstand how Jesus’ ministry unfolded. Claiming that Jesus would advocate open borders is to subscribe to an incredibly two-dimensional, aging hippie version of Jesus, one which reduces the Son of God to little more than a genial Santa Claus figure.

If – as the Christian open borders activists insist when it comes to welcoming strangers – we sought to emulate Jesus’ dealings with and instructions to his contemporaries in our geopolitical dealings then the world would be a very different, and likely much darker place. Nazism and Soviet Communism were not defeated through pacifism, after all. And if we were to take Jesus’ instructions to his immediate disciples and contemporaries as granular instruction for twenty-first century life we would forever be forsaking all material goods, leaving our families to pursue nomadic and ascetic lives of service and chasing after muggers offering them the few personal effects they haven’t already stolen from us. I know of very few Christians who meet – or even seek to meet – this standard, not because they are selfish and evil but because it is generally understood by everyone (except the far Left) that a one-time charitable binge or government wealth expropriation exercise is not a sustainable long-term solution to poverty and want. Dropping everything and working for the immediate benefit of the person in front of us is not necessarily in the interest of millions of other deserving people beyond our vision. Sadly, our loaves and fish do not miraculously multiply; ultimately, we can only improve the common good by teaching the five thousand how to bake and fish for themselves.

It is also very telling that the “Jesus would let them all come in” brigade only seem to want to apply His teachings so far as they can be twisted to support open borders. The activists who go to protests chanting “no human being is illegal”, the often-wealthy coastal leftists who support unconditional amnesty for all and the establishment media who make a point of proudly failing to distinguish between legal and immigration, very few of them would open their New York or San Francisco homes to those cities’ many homeless, share their shiny new Tesla car to help a poor family do the school run every day or hand over their iPhone X to whomever demanded it. Yes, some profess a willingness to pay a higher marginal tax rate themselves in order to fund more plentiful public services, but that is about as far as it goes – keeping the needy firmly at arm’s length. Otherwise, their “generosity” actually consists of nothing more than calling for the government to tear down borders and disregard immigration law, and loudly screaming that anyone who expresses doubt about this reckless course of action is a racist.

But the costs of unskilled immigration (for the kind of mass immigration entailed by open borders would inevitably be of the unskilled kind) tend not to impact the wealthy enclaves where the cognitive, financial and social elites live, falling instead on far less privileged groups and communities. Many of those calling for open borders or more immigration in the name of Jesus also conveniently stand to get cheaper maids, gardeners and cleaners as a result, or live in neighbourhoods where the principle consequence of immigration is a wonderful explosion of diversity in art, culture and food. They are not the ones who typically rely on increasingly stretched public services, compete for low wage jobs or live in areas of higher crime or social tension. Nestled within gated communities or exclusive neighbourhoods, many will be insulated from the kind of widespread social unrest which the implementation of open borders would quickly deliver.

These activists are, in effect, disguising their naked self interest as generosity, benefiting economically and making themselves feel good and progressive while pushing nearly all of the negative externalities of mass immigration onto others. Jesus, let us remember, said nothing about giving away one’s neighbour’s possessions – the whole point is supposed to be one of personal devotion and sacrifice. The Jesus 4 Open Borders crowd, on the other hand, seek largely to give away something which is not theirs, promising to bear a cost which in actual fact they have every intention of palming off onto people further down the social ladder. How very Christian.

Ultimately, if the Jesus 4 Open Borders brigade are to maintain intellectual integrity while holding to their extremist stance they must concede that the policy they want, if retroactively applied decades or centuries ago, would mean that human development would be far less advanced today than is currently the case and that net human suffering might well be significantly higher. They must also concede that if the policy were implemented today, there will be an unknowable but significant opportunity cost in terms of curtailed future human progress and relief of suffering. They must admit that one or other or both of these seismic and overwhelmingly negative changes would be a price worth paying to achieve their particular conception of social justice.

Why? Because the nation state forms the bedrock of our current prosperity and the stability of the world order, and open borders are an all-out assault on the concept of the nation state. Humanity is not homogeneous – some cultures and value systems are objectively superior to others, and even in the case of immigration between broadly similar countries, human nature is such that too fast a rate of immigration creates political resentment and the potential for societal unrest. Implementing open borders in this age, when access to information is so widespread and fast modes of transport so ubiquitous, would immediately trigger a wave of migration from poor and dysfunctional countries that make the present global migration crisis look like a slow trickle.

While immigration activists love to tout the many economic benefits that immigration brings, and rightly so, they generally neglect to point out that there is often a (significant) time lag between the marginal new immigrant arriving and local housing and infrastructure expanding in proportion to service the increased population. In fact, unless deliberate steps are taken by local and national populations, that increase might never happen at all. Even in the best case where the marginal immigrant is a net fiscal contributor, this does not instantly make the freeway a fraction of an inch wider or add a few thousandths of a new bed to the local hospital. This necessary growth in service provision requires political direction and civic planning, and must often be commenced in advance, long before the tax revenue stream from the new immigrant comes online (thus requiring deficit spending in the interim).

Now imagine a situation where developed countries receive greatly inflated numbers of new immigrants who are not in a position to be immediate positive fiscal contributors due to language, cultural or educational barriers which may also hinder quick and easy assimilation into the host country’s culture. Not only do housing and infrastructure continue to lag behind demand, now social tensions are also likely to spike, leading to scenes which make recent anti-immigration protests look like a model of peaceful, reasoned civility. We may well be looking a riots. Martial law. Deepening social division, violence and even deaths.

This kind of environment is not one in which great prosperity is easily created. Unless open borders were implemented everywhere in a coordinated way there would likely be a brain drain of the most educated and productive native citizens (many of whom had likely cheered on open borders while possessing the ability to skip out of town the moment their Utopian fantasy turned into a nightmare) to other more sensible developed countries with functional immigration systems, leading to a self-perpetuating spiral of decline among those advanced Western countries (and it is always Western countries – activists are not demanding that Japan drop its exclusionary immigration practices) which decided to throw open their borders.

In short, one does not have to play the tape forward very far to realise that there are alarmingly few steps between implementing a policy decision which makes woke, “no human being is illegal”, Jesus 4 Open Borders activists feel warm and virtuous on the inside and a situation where everything that makes their country an attractive destination for mass immigration in the first place is utterly snuffed out. Open borders is the kind of rash, ill-considered “Jesus, take the wheel!” policy proposal which its most ardent advocates would never replicate in any other area of their lives.

But of course, none of this matters. Christian immigration activists can adopt the “good-hearted” open borders position at zero cost to themselves, knowing that fully open borders (and the chaos that would be unleashed) will never plausibly be implemented. Campaigning for open borders is an opportunity to appear compassionate without having to either dip one’s hand into one’s pocket or seriously risk the unravelling of one’s present, privileged existence. And rather than wrestling with the far more thorny questions of why so many countries remain so dysfunctional and deeply unattractive to their own citizens, and driving solutions to help those countries help themselves, many Christians can opt instead to abdicate the intellectual work and simply shroud themselves in moral outrage that evil Western governments don’t let anyone and everyone breeze into the country.

As John Zmirak writes in Quadrant Magazine:

When we inflict such radical changes on our society, we should ask ourselves whether we are being faithful stewards of the prosperous, free societies for which our ancestors struggled, fought and sometimes died. Perhaps instead we are squandering our inheritance, for the sake of that happy frisson we experience when we do or say something supporting “openness”, “tolerance”, and “social justice”. We are purchasing approval from our fellow upper-middle-class citizens, with social capital stolen from our children and grandchildren. We are feathering our own cosy nests, while making life even more wretched for our own nations’ native poor—whose ancestors did fight and die, alongside ours, for their descendants’ stakes in the nation. We are stealing the precious gifts of freedom and order from our least-advantaged fellow citizens—the blue-collar workers, the unemployed, the troubled war veterans—in order to salve our confused consciences, and feed our self-esteem.

In the case of mass migration, Christian outrage would be far better directed at the fact that all too often, the West ignores or downplays pressing questions relating to the root cause and does little to help solve the drivers of continued poverty and instability in much of the world, often actively contributing to the problem rather than helping, be it though haphazard military interventions or discriminatory trade policies. This criticism would be absolutely justified, though the solutions are nowhere near as simple as clamouring for open borders.

It may not fit quite so neatly on a protest placard, but I am personally inclined to believe that the more Christian thing is to wrestle with these difficult questions and to make intelligent national and personal self-sacrifice in targeted areas to improve the lot of poor and unstable countries, while pressing for an immigration system which is fair and non-discriminatory to applicants and seeking to find the optimal “sweet spot” where the benefits and costs of immigration, however defined (and it should be an expansive measure) break even.

I’m no theologian, but something tells me that a well-considered policy which diligently aims to deal with the root drivers of mass migration is both superior and more authentically Christian than a rash, emotion-driven and deeply harmful policy whose primary benefit is to make overwhelmingly privileged, first world activists feel better about themselves.

 

Update: A thoughtful and balanced Christian reflection on the proper response to mass migration, written by Luke Bretherton in 2014, can be read here.

Update 2: See also this very thoughtful piece by Stephen Kneale of the Building Jerusalem blog.

Update 3: This is an excellent reflection from Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, published late last year in the Catholic Herald, concluding:

When it comes to welcoming the stranger, the wise must look to the future, and ask what the long term effects will be. What happens to the stranger five, ten, or twenty years down the line? This is the real question. Does the stranger return home? Does the stranger assimilate? Does the stranger live as what the Bible calls a “sojourner”, a resident alien who is not assimilated? Is it a violation of their human rights to ask new arrivals to assimilate?

[..] my impression is not that the Catholic Church has not got a firm teaching on immigration, but rather that the Church has not yet worked out the implications of what welcoming the stranger means. “Welcoming the stranger” sounds like a good principle, but what does it mean in practice? It would be an excellent idea for the Universal Church to hold some sort of synod on this matter. Then the American and European bishops could hear from bishops whose countries have welcomed large numbers of refugees and migrants, such as Kenya, South Africa, and in particular, Jordan and Lebanon. The latter is an important case study, as the huge influx of Palestinians into the country after 1948 and 1967 is generally regarded as one of the contributing factors to the country’s destabilisation and descent into 17 years of savage civil war. Even today Jordan and Lebanon are under huge pressure thanks to the effects of the Syrian conflict.

As for border controls, annoying as they are for first world travellers as well, these have to stay. Every country needs to know who is coming in, who is going out, as this information is useful in the matter of governing the territory. For in immigration matters the greatest of virtues is prudence, which must work hand in hand with justice and charity.

 

Who would Jesus deport - protest placard - Christian immigration debate - open borders

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Not All Muslims

Muslim call to go to Sunday Mass

After the appalling terrorist murder of a Catholic priest committed in the name of Islamic State, a moving gesture of interfaith solidarity by French Muslims should be acknowledged and applauded

It is important, I think, when criticising the fundamentalist element of Islam and the degree to which it is often tolerated or tacitly encouraged by parts of the mainstream, to give credit where it is due and acknowledge work done and gestures made against extremism by the Muslim community.

One way that we have been doing that this week is by celebrating again the life of slain US army capt. Humayun Khan and his gold star parents, who appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week to repudiate the anti-Muslim rhetoric spewed forth by the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

And another way should be to acknowledge the moving gesture of so many French Muslims attending Catholic Mass at their nearest church or cathedral, showing solidarity with a Catholic community still reeling from the murder of a beloved parish priest at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

From the Daily Mail, displaying unusual magnanimity:

Muslims in France and Italy flocked to Mass on Sunday, a gesture of interfaith solidarity following a drumbeat of jihadi attacks that threatens to deepen religious divisions across Europe.

From the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, only a few miles from where 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel was killed Tuesday by two Muslim fanatics, to Paris’ iconic Notre Dame, where the rector of the Mosque of Paris invoked a papal benediction in Latin, many churchgoers were cheered by the Muslims in their midst.

[..] French television broadcast scenes of interfaith solidarity from all around France, with Muslim women in headscarves and Jewish men in kippot crowding the front rows of Catholic cathedrals in Lille, Calais or the Basilica of St. Denis, the traditional resting place of French royalty.

There were similar scenes in Italy, where the head of Italy’s Union of Islamic communities — Izzedin Elzir — called on his colleagues to “take this historic moment to transform tragedy into a moment of dialogue.” The secretary general of the country’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino spoke at the Treasure of St. Gennaro chapel; three imams also attended Mass at the St. Maria Church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, donning their traditional dress as they entered the sanctuary and sat down in the front row.

Ahmed El Balazi, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in Italy’s Lombard province of Brescia, said he did not fear repercussions for speaking out.

“These people are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists. That is not the case,” El Balazi said. “Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don’t represent us.”

This blog and others often focus, reasonably, on the failings within the Muslim community – failure of integration and assimilation, failure to stand up for British values (though we are often just as much at fault for failing to transmit those values), failure to confront and root out the extremism in the midst of families and communities. These things are important.

But it is also sometimes the case that we fail to acknowledge those times when the Muslim community does come out strongly in condemnation of fundamentalist, Islamist terror. Anti-extremist counter-protests by Muslim groups often do not receive the media coverage extended to telegenic extremists and their “behead those who insult Islam” placards. Hard and difficult work accomplished in communities goes unrecognised.

And so, as an outspoken opponent of fundamentalist Islam and as a practising Catholic, it is important that I choose to be magnanimous and welcome this touching gesture made by so many Muslims in France and Italy.

Archbishop Cranmer is also moved:

Praying before a blasphemous icon of another Jesus, standing in the shadow of a sacrificial cross which they deny, beneath the dome of a cathedral church steeped in idolatry, myths and deception, Muslims throughout France and Italy attended Mass yesterday. From Rouen, Nice and Paris to Milan, Naples and Rome, hundreds flocked to express solidarity and compassion with Europe’s Roman Catholics, many still reeling, weeping and mourning the loss of a much-loved elderly priest, Abbé Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamists as he celebrated Mass last week.

All Muslims are exhorted to the greater jihad, to strive against the flesh and persevere in the purposes of Allah, but not all jihad is holy war. All Muslims are not Islamists, but Muslims are becoming terrorists. It is futile, patronising and dangerous to deny it. Islamists are extremists who kill the innocent; Muslims who are moderate and enlightened seek to worship in peace. Islam is not all about oppressing, torturing, murdering and slaughtering. It just seems like it. And no wonder, when the news dishes up a daily diet of Islamic State videos exhorting the faithful to attack the enemies of Allah; Western Muslims who fight for their country are condemned as apostates; hotels are bombed; ancient shrines blown up; ‘spies’ are beheaded; oil fields blaze; and British imams preach to young boys that it’s okay to have sex slaves. That’s just today’s coverage of degradation and destruction.

Amidst all this global trauma, suffering and strife, it is a cause of great hope that so many Muslims can put aside their theological scruples and multifaith ecumenical aversion to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is profoundly offensive to their beliefs, and utterly repugnant to their teachings: Jesus is not the Son of God; he is not divine; he did not die on a cross; he does not become a wafer; praying with wine is haram.

[..]

There were tears during the sign of the peace. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself‘ (2Cor 5:19). In their shared humanity, Muslims and Christians bore witness to the humanity of Jesus, his sacrifice and death, his reconciling love, his resurrection and glorification. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them‘ (Mt 18:20). The Living God is present in the world, if not in bread and wine. We can meet Him, pray to Him and listen to Him. That is our privilege through Christ. And in that communion we stand with all believers in the world and throughout all history. And we stand with all participant peace-loving Muslims, too. ‘This is my blood…

Wordless interfaith dialogue is the best remembrance.

In a sign of just how bad things have gotten in Europe, this blog was actually surprised when there was no major, high-profile terror attack last Friday, perfectly timed to dominate television coverage leading into the weekend, when previous weekends had seen such attacks.

No matter how routine this destruction and insecurity may become in the short and medium term, we should not allow this “new normal” in Europe to become in any way acceptable or excusable, and we should hold European leaders firmly to account for the whole range of bad decisions they have made – from social policy and a lack of focus on protecting national culture and encouraging assimilation right through to the migration crisis – which have increased the risk of Islamist terror attacks on our soil.

But as we witnessed at Catholic Masses across France this Sunday, it is not all bad news – a fact which those of us who report or comment on human events should be careful to acknowledge.

 

Fr Jacques Hamel - Catholic Priest

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Fr. Jacques Hamel, Martyred By Islamist Thugs Acting In The Name Of ISIS

ISIS hostage - catholic church

The cold blooded murder of a Catholic priest, executed at the altar of his own church by young Islamist thugs, demands a greater response from us than the usual standard, sorrowful Twitter hashtag

Another day, another abhorrent, despicable and unacceptable Islamo-fascist terror attack in France, this time targeting a Catholic church in which an 86 year old priest had his throat slit – while celebrating Mass – by Islamist thugs acting in the name of ISIS.

What happens when the sheer number of small and medium size Islamo-fascist terror attacks (or the aura of politically correct unease at confronting them) becomes so great that the media simply stop reporting them fully?

Melanie McDonagh wonders in The Spectator:

In Michel Houellebecq’s novel, Submission, about a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the French government (liberals and conservatives agreed this would be preferable to a National Front government), the interestingly prescient element was the non-reporting by television and papers of outbreaks of violence prior to the change of government (Twitter didn’t really feature in this novel). And that rings true. We’ve already got self-censorship when it comes to reporting attacks by Muslim refugees (the gun attack by a German-Iranian patently fell into a different category) in Germany and Scandinavia, and an almost comical reluctance anywhere in Europe to identify Islamist attacks as such – until IS takes credit for them, even the work of freelances. Plainly we have to guard against language that would demonise an entire community, but within that reasonable limit, we must require both politicians and public service broadcasters to talk plainly. And when Muslim extremists slit the throat of a priest in his own church, we’re looking at religiously motivated murder, entirely of a piece with the same religiously motivated murder of Christians and others being carried out in the Middle East. Shall we say so?

This is my concern too. While reading Houllebecq’s Soumission last year I was struck by the plausibility of the author’s scenario – a craven political/media class desperate to avoid facing up to the nature of the threat ultimately ceasing to report on the fundamentalist religious violence even as it grew. One scene features a wealthy society event attended by the academic elite of Paris, interrupted by the sounds of distant gunfire in Paris – an Islamist attack or far-right counter-attack which was barely acknowledged by the partygoers let alone mentioned on the later television news bulletins.

Already we have seen the first signs of “terror fatigue” in the mainstream media. When a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the gates of a music festival in Ansbach, Germany late on Sunday night, Britain’s rolling TV news channels briefly mentioned that an incident was underway, but otherwise continued with their normal programming. By the early hours of Monday morning they had bothered to get a couple of eyewitnesses on air via telephone, but it was not until the breakfast news that they gave it the full terror attack treatment which we have come to expect from the news. Evidently these incidents are now coming so thick and fast that the BBC did not consider it worthwhile waking up their A-team presenters or reporters in the middle of the night for “just another” suicide attack on the streets of Europe.

This is the new normal. And as this blog argued yesterday, Europe’s political class and virtue-signalling members of the public must shoulder their share of the responsibility for our increased vulnerability to attack. Whether it is by cheering on the opening of Europe’s gates to millions of improperly-vetted migrants, a small number of whom have deadly intent, or furiously refusing to confront the fundamentalist religious nature behind that evil intent, we have denied ourselves the ideological, spiritual, procedural and technological means to properly defend ourselves and our civilisation.

Father Jacques Hamel died doing what he had done for 58 years of faithful service – proclaiming the Word of the Lord and celebrating the Eucharist. Though his death was unimaginably barbaric and violent, at least the name of Fr. Jacques will live on as somebody who proclaimed his truth and defended his values to his last day. Can the same be said for many of us, especially those of us who seek to reach some kind of appalling and unachievable truce with the Islamo-fascists? How will those of us be remembered in history who seek to excuse Islamist terror, laughably excusing it or explaining it away on the grounds of foreign policy or housing policy or welfare cuts?

On this one grim occasion we can at least be grateful for France’s historically strong secular traditions. The cold-blooded murder of a priest celebrating Mass in a more devout country could well have lit the touchpaper for religious war and serious civil strife. France, being more secular, will likely not see as great an anti-Islamic backlash as if this had happened in more Catholic country like Poland.

But there the good news ends. If they were not already high on the list of potential targets, churches, synagogues and the priests and rabbis who lead worship in them will now be in the crosshairs of every budding wannabe jihadist already in Europe, as well as those who have yet to arrive. Every parishioner going to Mass will now have pause to stop and consider their safety as they fill the pews this Sunday, and every subsequent Sunday. It is physically impossible to protect every church in the country, particularly against assailants armed only with knives and fake explosives.

On the plus side, President Francois Hollande has finally been shamed by events (the weekly accumulation of terrorist atrocities and the growing death toll) into declaring that France is at war with the Islamic State and therefore, by extension, with the extremist fundamentalist ideology behind it. But it is too little, too late.

As Harry de Quetteville puts it in the Telegraph:

So we should remember this: the truly great leaders now, those who can genuinely bring security and are worth voting for, will not be those such as Marine Le Pen who seek to exploit division for power. But neither, crucially, will they come from the ranks of those who fail to address what voters see as blindingly obvious: that terror and immigration are connected. If Angela Merkel persists in doing so, even she will be brought low by it. If the Democrats continue not to talk about terror, it could cost Hillary Clinton the White House.

In Britain we have grown used to talking throughout the Brexit campaign about a disconnect between politicians and the public. “They just don’t get it,” said the ranks of the disaffected, as they deserted Labour for Ukip and voted Leave. Even now, our main parties are struggling to offer even an initial response to the economic impacts of globalisation.

But the consequences of a similar disconnection between public and politicians over terror would be unthinkable – menacing to the liberty and liberal values that define our societies.

The politicians to prize, then, are those who can pull their heads out of the sand without stirring up the mob.

Such prize politicians seem few and far between in France, Germany and Britain. In fact it is hard to remember a time when the quality of leadership was held in such low esteem by a political class who now prize the ability to pander to chosen voting constituencies above all else. With the partial exception of Jeremy Corbyn on the Left, Britain’s major political parties have zero interest in telling hard truths to the British people or proposing anything other than glib, painless (and ultimately unworkable) fixes.

One faction of the country in particular – the Guardianista metro left – is not even yet willing to describe these attacks as religiously motivated, ascribing them simply to “troubled individuals”. When half the country is unable (or stubbornly, desperately refuses) to identify the ideology which murdered an octogenarian priest at the altar of his own church, how do we ever confront it?

May God grant eternal rest to His faithful servant Fr. Jacques Hamel.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

And may we finally come up with a response to this sustained Islamist assault on democracy and freedom of speech and religion which amounts to more than a Twitter hashtag and a few bunches of flowers.

 

Fr Jacques Hamel - Catholic Priest

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A Better Way To Approach The Welfare Debate

lordcarey

 

Sometimes it takes the return of the grizzled, world-weary veteran, called out of retirement one last time, to show the flailing stars of today exactly how it should be done, and to save the day.

So it was when George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke out in a newspaper column, castigating his fellow bishops for their naive and fumbled entry into the British welfare reform debate.

The Daily Mail reports:

Last night, Lord Carey of Clifton said that it was too simplistic to blame the recent welfare cuts for the rising use of food banks and bishops are doing the Church no favours by entering the debate.

He said such opposition to reducing the welfare bill was ‘Canute-like’ and reflected an ‘overt left-right politicisation of Church versus government’.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury said Anglicans and Catholics share outrage at the rising levels of hunger among the most disadvantaged and that the welfare state has reached ‘gargantuan’ proportions.

Lord Carey continues:

‘All three political parties acknowledge the need for reductions to welfare spending, wastage and fraud in the system and have all talked about the dangers of welfare dependency and the need to get people into work.

‘They are not agreed on precisely where the axe should fall, but the Churches should beware of the dangers of blithely defending a gargantuan welfare budget that every serious politician would cut as a matter of economic common sense.’

This really hits the nail on the head. Reading or watching the initial intervention in the debate by Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the follow-up letter by the Church of England bishops, one got the overwhelming sense that the key figures had not done their homework. So shallow was the level of understanding, and so absent was any sense of historical context or detailed knowledge of government policy, that the bishops may just as well have been standing at the gates of Number 10 Downing Street waving “Down With This Sort Of Thing” placards.

A strong sense that Lord Carey was embarrassed by the incompetence of his successors’ handling of what is a complex and fraught issue pervades his column.

But most heartening of all is this acknowledgement – albeit from a former rather than a current religious leader – that the problems in our society will continue for just as long as we continue to look exclusively to government to solve our problems and address human suffering rather than looking to ourselves:

Lord Carey said: ‘They are right in describing a serious problem but only partially correct in their analysis.

‘It is much too simplistic to blame these problems on cutbacks to welfare and failures in the benefits system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.

He added that the welfare system is being ‘asked to replace kinship and neighbourliness’ and is ‘never going to pass muster as the ideal vehicle to deliver aid to those in greatest need when they most need it.

This is precisely the problem. Faced with a situation where millions of people are dependent on various kinds of welfare and often kept down through a series of perverse incentives, the bishops did not stop to consider how they as leaders and their church as a community could step in and provide positive solutions. Rather, they wrung their hands and passed the ball to the government, a shameful abdication of responsibility.

It is not the Church’s job to simply take note of suffering and pass it on to the government for review – indeed, while it is clearly not in the interests of the people for whom they supposedly advocate, neither is it in their own, more narrow interests. As I wrote last year:

… perhaps it is directly because the state plays such a large part in everything that we do, from cradle to grave, that the church to which [we belong] is withering and shrinking by the year.

To a great extent, aside from the divine aspect, has the British welfare state not done away with the purpose of church, of knowing your neighbour, of being part of a community, altogether?

Telegraph columnist Cristina Odone, with whom this blog has had precious little to agree on of late, is also full of praise for Lord Carey’s mature intervention in the debate. Her distillation of Carey’s message is worth reading:

Poverty, he argues, is not caused by Coalition cuts but by multiple factors including the fragility of the family, which results in too many relying on the state. Strong kinship, a helpful community: today’s disadvantaged Briton can no longer depend on either. Stop entering the political fray, he tells his colleagues, but look beyond Left and Right to see the real tragedy of a culture that has lost its way.

Odone’s overall assessment of the debate on welfare reform, and what church leaders need to do in order to regain the right to be taken seriously on the issue, is also excellent:

Dr Carey instead is speaking sensibly and calmly from the sidelines: the analysis is more complex than you’ve allowed for, he chides his colleagues; you’re doing yourselves and our Churches a disservice by blaming the status quo on an unpopular government. Until you can offer either a true analysis of the root causes or a real alternative to the government’s proposed reform, keep schtum.

As Odone makes clear, and as this blog has previously acknowledged, the church has a potentially valuable, even critical role to play in shaping the debate. But they can only do this by temporarily stepping back from the limelight and reading up on the subject a little.

More urgent even than enrolling in Civics and Economics 101, though, our church leaders need to think about the best role of religious organisations in solving the problems of poverty, blight and human misery that they have identified. The fact that their first response was simply to flag the problem to the government and move on is deeply discouraging. Is their vision for the church really nothing more than to observe and report social phenomena to the ‘proper authorities’?

And yet there is hope. The former Archbishop of Canterbury spoke a powerful truth to today’s ecumenical leaders. They may not like being publicly admonished by their predecessor, but if they strive for wisdom they will listen and adapt.

In this important debate, which is ostensibly about welfare reform but in reality touches on everything that governs how we relate to and care for each other, George Carey – twelve years after leaving office – is offering the church a pathway away from irrelevance.

It’s time to follow the leader one last time.

Stop Building Palaces While The People Suffer

newarkarchdiocese

At a time when the Catholic and Anglican churches on either side of the Atlantic have been parading their advocacy on behalf of the poor and the powerless, they might have bothered to put their own houses in order first. But, once again, through acts of bad timing and breathtaking bad taste, they have shot themselves in the foot.

In the UK, a Conservative MP hit back at the twenty-seven Church of England bishops who signed an open letter condemning the British government’s welfare reforms and labeling them “punitive”. Charlotte Leslie MP rightly pointed out that the church has considerable assets of its own that it could deploy in service of the poor before it becomes necessary to start badgering the government to redistribute more income between private individuals:

They say charity starts at home. Lambeth Palace [the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury] is a rather nice home.

If you are invited to a reception there, you pad up richly carpeted stairs, along corridors of gold-framed paintings, before being treated to quails eggs with a delicate celery salt dip, and freely flowing wine. It’s rather a long way away from the local churches with crumbling roofs, serving damp biscuits and coffee in cracked mugs after the service.

One can’t help but think that this luxurious, and historic Palace might not be put to better use, more in line with the New Testament , if it was rented out to those who would pay dearly for such luxury, and the operation of the Church of England were to decamp to an industrial estate, outside Slough.

Just think of the number of church roofs that could be repaired from the income, and indeed the number of hungry people who could be fed.

The church’s ill-advised foray into campaigning for the Labour Party is encountering much-deserved resistance because the views of twenty-seven relatively coddled bishops with little recent experience of real life are not in tune with the sentiments of the people, and because they displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the government’s own policy and its application.

Not very impressive from a large faith organisation seeking to influence the public debate.

Father Ted's Bishop Brennan - not a role model for the Church leadership
Father Ted’s Bishop Brennan – not a role model for the Church leadership

 

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the attempts by the Archdiocese of Newark to lavish over $500,000 on upgrades to a residence for the bishop – not his primary residence, but his separate vacation home:

John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, comes to this vacation home on many weekends. The 4,500-square-foot home has a handsome amoeba-shaped swimming pool out back. And as he’s 72, and retirement beckons in two years, he has renovations in mind. A small army of workers are framing a 3,000-square-foot addition.

This new wing will have an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator. The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.

The expansion of the bishop’s vacation home will be funded by the sale of other properties owned by the archdiocese, they claim, as though this detail somehow makes the outrage more palatable. It does not. Either the sold buildings served an important purpose for the archdiocese which was suddenly ripped away in order to provide a little more luxury for the bishop, or they were unused and deserved to be sold so that the equity can be released in service of the church’s core mission.

A just reward for a job well done?
A just reward for a job well done?

 

Neither is the lucky beneficiary, Archbishop John J. Myers, a particularly lovable figure whose flock would be particularly thrilled to see treated in so generous a way:

So many leaders of the church have served it so badly for so many decades that it’s hard to keep track of their maledictions. Archbishop Myers provides one-stop shopping. He is known to insist on being addressed as “Your Grace.” And his self-regard is matched by his refusal to apologize for more or less anything.

It was revealed last year that a priest seemed to have broken his legally binding agreement with Bergen County prosecutors to never again work unsupervised with children or to minister to them so long as he remained a priest. When next found, he was involved with a youth ministry in the Newark Archdiocese.

Parishioners in Oradell, N.J., also discovered that the archdiocese had allowed a priest accused of sexual abuse to live in their parish’s rectory. A furor arose, and last summer the archbishop sat down and wrote an open letter to his flock. He conceded not a stumble. Those who claim, he wrote, that he and the church had not protected children were “simply evil, wrong, immoral and seemingly focused on their own self-aggrandizement.”

It is hard to see how frittering away scarce diocesan resources in order to build an MTV Crib-style McMansion for a mediocre bishop on the verge of retirement constitutes good stewardship of the church finances. And it is equally regrettable that given opportunity after opportunity to rehabilitate its battered image and start practicing humility and restraint, the hierarchy of the American Catholic church is unable to do so, and – worse still – feels no need to do so.

The church seeks to add its voice to important political debates on both sides of the Atlantic – concerning freedom of religion and abortion in America, and on welfare reform in Britain. In both countries, church leaders seek to portray themselves as spokespeople for the poor, the voiceless and the powerless.

This message would be slightly more credible if church leaders could somehow find it within themselves to stop building swanky palace extensions for their hedonistic bishops.

 

Image – a palace fit for a mediocre, hypocritical bishop. The new extension being built at the vacation home of Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.