The tragedy of the Mediterranean migrants became a political character attack in the United Kingdom recently.
It appears that the pursuit of power in this country has become a dirty, corrupting, frantic ego-fest, driven by the greed of vested interests, divisive fear-mongering, and the dissolution of public trust in any of the political parties because that same dissolution is caused by disillusion.
There’s something tragic and morally indefensible about the focus and energy being on blame and finger-pointing for political advantage, when desperate people are fleeing every day from the danger and misery of their home countries and risking a 50 percent chance of death or enforced return by paying traffickers to bring them to Europe.
I am troubled by the varied use of the words to describe this misery.
Are these people migrants or refugees? Are they seeking a change of economic opportunity or refuge? Are they driven by economic aspiration or despair? What drives whole families to risk death on the sea or utter misery if they survive and are returned?
These are questions I ask because my worldview is theological as well as economic, geographic, ethical and social.
There is all the difference in the world in the words we use because human beings are dying of desperation. And a wise Jewish philosopher said that every time a human being dies, a world dies.
Theologically that is intolerable. Every human being is created in the image of God and has inherent worth to be respected, cared for and given the chance for life.
God incarnate in Jesus Christ confers on God’s creation and on human destiny a dignity and hope that is carried into the heart of the creator and redeemer God.
As a follower of the crucified and risen Lord, I am for life, and part of that calls me to welcome the stranger, to show compassion for the suffering, to pursue justice for the oppressed and to offer mercy to those who otherwise have no further hope.
I am haunted by those words of Christ when the nations gather for judgment. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
I am haunted because this parable is about the nations; it is a warning to the international community as well as a caution to every individual person in their ways of treating others.
So I am ashamed of the political leaders in the U.K. Doubly ashamed that in the 21st century our upcoming election campaign has largely ignored foreign policy as a matter for serious political debate. That is, until this nasty piece of rhetorical posturing exploded into toxic personal attack.
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are not the news that matters here. The messes in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Pakistan border and the relentless inhumanity of ISIS are the issues.
Refugees fleeing danger, death and the mayhem of tribal warfare is nothing new, but the scale of it in the modern era is undoubtedly a problem stretching beyond the apparent scope of the national, economic and moral imaginations of the international community.
Do I have practical answers? Yes, a few, but they would be based on my own limited perceptions, ignorance of the intricacies of international law, a passion for human rights being upheld as a universal obligation, and a lack of practical power to make things happen.
What I do have is a high view of the value of each human being and a sense of political responsibility to vote for those who demonstrate a will, capacity and conscience to resist the self-interested economic and political pressures to ignore our responsibilities to those who are refugees with nowhere else to go.
So far I’ve heard very little from any party about such a moral vision for the world beyond these increasingly self-absorbed, reactionary and, in recent years, isolationist shores.
Christians must call their leaders to a better path, reminding them of their moral obligation to set aside partisan politics and respond constructively to aid migrant refugees.
James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.