“What is your response to this, then?” barks BBC journalist Lyse Doucet, in the wake of hundreds of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, with dozens of rescue boats now combing the waters in search of survivors. “This is a huge new crisis,” she insists. “The numbers – thousands of people just getting on boats saying, ‘You can shut your borders but we’re coming anyway. This is how desperate we are’.” And then she gouges into the Archbishop’s soul: “What should be the response of Europe to this?”
Justin Welby sighs deeply. Very deeply. It’s the sort of exhalation which groans infinitely over the weight of its own breeze. It’s a sigh of lamentation, of sorrow, of grief. After what feels like an aeon of contemplation, the Archbishop says: “Europe cannot be uncaring. Europe must exercise love and generosity..” And just before he can expand on his theological ethic of agápē, Ms Doucet stabs another stiletto: “Europe must take people in? This is what the EU foreign policy chief is saying, that all European countries must share the burden and respect human rights and dignity.”
The Archbishop doesn’t demur for a nanosecond. “I think that is absolutely correct. All European countries – no one country can do it by itself. We can’t say this is one country’s responsibility – the one nearest. That’s not right. And this is nothing (unintelligible – ‘to do with’?) the European Union – I’m talking about countries right across the whole region. We need to share the burden. Of course we have to be aware of the impact of immigration on our own communities. But when people are drowning in the Mediterranean, the need, the misery that has driven them out of their own countries, is so extreme, so appalling, that Europe as a whole must rise up and seek to do what is right. It will be demanding, and that’s why the burden must be spread across the continent, and not taken by just one country or one area.”
It is interesting how Katie Hopkins’ dehumanisation of refugees has caused more ire than their actual drowning. “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches,” she sneers. “They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.” Cue much hand-wringing, celebrity disgust, allusions to Nazi Germany and a petition to get her fired. But as Brendan O’Neill observes: “It’s official: we’re now more offended by words than by death. Behold the otherworldliness, even inhumanity, of political correctness, which bristles more at the terms used to describe a horrific event than it does at the event itself.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury sweeps all this chunder aside, and demands action – not, it must be observed, from the European Union, which you’d think might have been founded for such a cross-border mission – but from the continent of Europe as a whole, which is composed of independent nation states, each with a vestigial heritage of Christendom. Their vocation and ours is to love and show generosity to those fleeing misery “so extreme, so appalling” that they pay traffickers thousands of dollars to float them across the sea to a continent flowing with milk and benefits, but end up drowning by the thousand while the soulless traffickers suck their sweet tea and munch indifferently on desert bread and dates.
When Justin Welby calls on Europe to love, he preaches the distinctive ethic of the New Testament. While the nations of Islam are tearing each other apart; while Muslims are murdering, torturing, burning, beheading or hurling Christians into the sea to drown, the nations of Christendom must manifest a ‘more excellent way‘ (1Cor 12:31ff): the new commandment of Jesus (Jn 13:34f); the revelation of the character of the one true God (1Jn 4:7f).
Love, generosity and compassion are fundamental to the moral life, and Christians are commanded to take up their cross and follow the sacrificial way in offering food, shelter and hospitality to all those in need. “It will be demanding,” ++Justin observes. Well, surrounded by the blood of those saints who ‘loved not their lives unto the death‘ (Rev 12:11), a little community generosity and individual charity is a small price to pay.