When some of us met in Munich less than a year ago, there was still the hope that empathy, wisdom and solidarity would guide European refugee politics. We were not naïve; we knew that there would be difficult struggles and that open borders were not at all an option for the foreseeable future. But we still hoped for European solidarity and respect for fellow humans, not primarily based in common faith or common culture, but in being human, all a part of God the Father’s creation. We hoped that the churches would be leaders, out-spoken and listened to, giving reasons why Human Rights are expressed the way they are and that the commandment to love your neighbour is supposed to be stretched out in time and space. We, church people, know that we are what we are not because of what we have achieved but because of gifts given to us, from birth, through life. And what is given is meant to be handed on.
Now, as it seems, fear has taken over from realism and humanity. What then is our role, as church people?
My home is in a rural area. You drive for sixteen kilometres seeing nothing but trees. The road is excellent, but the woods close in on both sides. Driving home at dusk, night and dawn poses some extra dangers: Deer, wild boar, elks, but also some small animals like foxes, hare and badger. Bear, lynx and wolf usually stay away from the road. One option is to drive slowly, because the speed that matters most is the difference in speed between you and what you hit. Another is to drive quickly, because you know that the road is good and it leads to where you want to go – and if you drive quickly you minimize the time when you are exposed to the possibility of conflict with these animals… The options are not only about speed. It is also where you position yourself on the road. Carefully at the side or right in the middle, where you have a sufficient field of vision? Driving to one side involves a smaller risk of hitting another car, but a greater risk of being surprised by the animals jumping out. Driving far out on the side also means closeness to the deep ditch, with the risk following from that.
When things don’t go our way with the EU and migration, the churches have options, too. Go on at high speed, or slow down? Stay in the middle of matters or follow the curb, in order not to offend or take risks?
My hope is that we stay in the middle of the road. It is a good road and we know where it leads, from personal experience and from history. It is also a road constructed from principles which we know serve our societies best. In the middle of the road we remain visible and we show what we believe in.
There are conflicts with everyday realities. There are risks of reactionary responses. In the long run we don’t serve our people, maybe not any people, if we alienate them or ourselves from realities. We should realize that politics is not only a matter of principles but also pragmatism. We, church leaders, are not primarily in politics. However, in order to remain valid partners in dialogue we must acknowledge limitations – but without hiding our principles and our goals. So let us, perhaps, slow down a bit when in the dark, but let us not become afraid and steer out towards the roadside and the ditch. Then real bad things will happen. They have happened before.
And remember: The best thing we can do is actually to take action when meeting the persons concerned and affected, the refugees, and show how much compassion and commitment there actually is in society. A lot more committed compassion than many politicians dare to see. And if we, the churches, do not uphold the ideals of an international Christian heritage, what will happen to our societies?