Giving flowers, living in the opposite spirit

Spiritual principles series

Saying sorry

Dealing with refugees is one of the most intractable problems facing governments across the western world. Not only is it difficult to control the number of people seeking asylum from crossing borders, but there is the fear that among the asylum seekers may be Taliban of DAESH fighters bent on suicide terrorism.

Governments respond in many different ways. Ultimately, public opinion may determine government policy, so what we all think matters. So what should be a christian understanding of all this?

European responses

Many European capitals have been affected by deadly terrorism – London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Ankara. Yet European attitudes, overall, tend to be more peaceful than we might expect.

This is perhaps best exemplified in the response of Germans and asylum seekers after multiple assaults on women in Köln (Cologne) at New Year, allegedly by Arabic or North African young men. It isn’t certain whether many of the assaults were by recent asylum seekers, but a number of refugees decided to make their own feelings clear. Recent arrivals have held demonstrations, made videos, handed out leaflets, all condemning the assaults and asking for the actions of the few not to be seen as the intentions of the many.

One particularly touching sequence of events began when a group of asylum seeking men handed out flowers to women as a way of saying sorry, distancing themselves from the assaults and expressing gratitude for Germany’s willingness to accept so many asylum seekers. This led in turn to many German women joining a ‘Flowers for Humanity in Cologne’ campaign which included almost one hundred visiting a refugee center to present them with roses. One said:

“we Germans are at a crossroads. Will we take the road of division and xenophobia? Or will we choose the road of unity and humanity that will ultimately also keep our country safer? While condemning the despicable acts of New Year’s Eve, today, hundreds of women here and across the country are choosing to build bridges and overcome fear by reaching out in love.”

There have been some similar responses from Belgians following the recently attacks in Brussels. The Belgian ambassador said it was Belgian nationals, not recent arrivals seeking asylum, who were responsible for the recent murders. In a measured response, King Philippe committed to “continue to respond with determination, with calmness and dignity”, and the Belgian people got on with helping each other during the state of emergency which followed the attacks.

Responses in the USA and Australia

US responses have been somewhat predictable. The Republican presidential candidates seemed determined to outdo each other in the violence of their responses to terrorism, Muslims and asylum seekers, and even President Obama undertook to continue the fight against terrorism – all this despite terrorism experts warning that anything but a measured response was playing into the hands of DAESH.

Some Australian political and media responses have been similarly hawkish. Our Prime Minister suggested that terrorist attacks like those in Brussels were the result of a “perfect storm” of failed policies, open borders and dysfunction that has allowed terrorism in Europe to flourish.

But in both countries there have also been shows of support for asylum seekers and Muslims.

Is there a christian response?

I’ve seen two christian responses that encourage me.

The Vatican announced that Pope Francis would be performing the ceremonial pre-Easter “washing of feet” at an asylum seeker centre, as a gesture of good will and acceptance towards those fleeing unimaginable suffering.

And Australian minister Jarrod McKenna gave a short talk on “enemy love”, arguing that any responses christians make to asylum seekers or terrorists must start with Jesus clear command to love our enemies. He gives an example of a south east Asian pastor who respond to violent attacks by helping with the education of terrorist leaders and assisting with rebuilding after a natural disaster.


Are we following Jesus, or what?

We cannot legalistically prescribe how anyone, or any nation, should respond to terrorism or to a huge influx of asylum seekers. Every situation is different and complex.

But as christians, surely Jesus’ command to love our enemies must be the starting point?

Jesus called us to “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23), and we so easily forget that the cross was a sign of execution. Jesus is telling us that if we are following him, our lives are not our own, and if we lose our life for his sake we will indeed gain eternal life. It wouldn’t be an easy teaching to live up to, and I have never been tested to know how I would respond, but I fear that many western christians are placing personal comfort and survival ahead of following Jesus’ teachings.

It is ironic, at best, and humiliating at worst, to see that the people of secular Europe may be responding to asylum seekers in a more Jesus-like way than is the so-called christian country of USA.

Living in the opposite spirit

There is an old spiritual principle. If the world around us is falling into some rampant error, christians should do their best to “live in the opposite spirit”.

If we are surrounded by materialism, we should be more generous.

If we are surrounded by anger, we must strive to be more peaceful.

If we are surrounded by fear, we must live in faith.

If we are surrounded by hatred, let us (like St Francis) sow love.

We may not be able to live up to the high standard that Jesus calls us to, and we may not know exactly what his teachings require in any given situation, but let us not fall short of acknowledging that his way is best, even though its hard. After all, at Easter we recognise that we follow the one who lived up to those teachings of sacrificial love, for our sakes.

Photo: Still taken from BBC video.

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  1. As a Christian American, I wholeheartedly agree with how you state we should respond to the asylum seekers. It is an incredible opportunity to be able to offer the love and salvation of Christ to a desperate people. As Jesus said, if we lose our lives for His sake, there we will find it. We are not to live in fear nor in a state of self-preservation.
    That being said, I truly wish you would not call Christian Americans “so-called” Christians. Please don’t paint every believer with such a broad brush, for though you may see things in the media, such as our current political situation, it in no way depicts an authentic view of the majority of Christians in our country.
    I don’t know of a single church or believer in my area that would not welcome the opportunity to reach out with the love of Christ to the refugees.
    Though there are some Christians that may hold another view, such of those are from a multitude of nations, not just the USA.
    It’s very important that as believers and followers of Jesus, we also don’t say things that may cause division between us.
    On this Good Friday, to God be all glory, honor and praise for what our Lord and Savior has done on behalf of ALL of us, and may more and more be brought into His kingdom as we seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a desperate world.

  2. The whole world should be thinking of ways of preventing the situation in Syria from occurring in the first place.
    That means de-weaponising the world so that if differences occur between ‘tribes’, violence is less likely to be the answer to solving those differences.
    Even if there is a glut of guns they all need a supply of ammunition to keep them killing. Stop that ammunition supply and the shooting stops.
    When that happens I may believe that there is hope for the human race, otherwise as Private Fraser used to say, “we’re doomed !”.

  3. Hi PVS,
    I’m sorry I caused you some offence. I do agree we need to be careful how we judge other christians.
    But in my defence, I didn’t describe US christians as “so-called”, but your nation. And I think that is fair because the actions of the government, even when the President is clearly a christian, seem so often contrary to what Jesus would do, especially in the matter of violence and warfare. Thank you for raising the matter in a peaceful way.

  4. No offense taken, UNKLEE. I can see why Christians from other countries may view us in the USA this way, I just don’t happen to know any personally. I am blessed to live in the first and second most unevalgelized counties in the country, and yet our churches are rock-solid and band together to reach the world for Christ. Iron truly does sharpen iron. I just want people to know that not all American Christians are of the ilk the media often portrays.
    As for our president being a Christian, we will know them by their fruit.

  5. Hi West, I wish, like you, that it could happen, but I don’t think it will. I don’t tend to emphasise human sin much, but I do think the Bible speaks truth about how many of our actions are tainted and do violence in some form or other to truth, people or the world. I do think God is going to put things right one day, but it doesn’t seem to be yet – I guess when he does, that will be the end of the world as we know it and we will enter the age to come. I’m not sure if you believe any of that, but it gives me more hope than I might otherwise have. Meanwhile, we can agree that limiting arms as much as is possible is a good aim.

  6. Hello again PVS,
    Thanks for your response. I think you are right to point out that not all US christians are as sometimes badly portrayed. But actually I already know this, for I have a relative who lives in the US and we have visited several times. She is a christian and her christian friends, in fact all her friends, are very welcoming people.
    It is the national and political values that I struggle with. The recourse to violence via gun ownership, warfare and covert/drone killings all disturb me. I can’t help feeling that somehow US christians are well meaning and decent but led astray by patriotism, fear, wanting to protect their affluent way of life and insufficient awareness of the wider world. I don’t mean to be rude, and of course I don’t mean everyone, just a generalisation.
    How do you see that?

  7. Generalising about Christians in other countries is fairly risky I think. The loonies get all the media attention thanks to people like Louis Theroux nd election campaigns, but I’ve heard from relatives who have lived in the US that mainly black Christians in poorer areas are some of the nicest people you can find.
    I really had to weep when that fascist nutcase ran amok in a Church in Charleston in 2015. I hope it never happens again.

  8. I do think God is going to put things right one day, but it doesn’t seem to be yet – I guess when he does, that will be the end of the world as we know it and we will enter the age to come. I’m not sure if you believe any of that, but it gives me more hope than I might otherwise have.
    It’s obviously good to have Faith, but I tend to think that God gave us free will so that we can sort out our own problems. I think that there is power in prayer but it has more to do with guiding our own actions rather than pleading for Divine intervention.
    I think that is what parents want, for children to take guidance from the parents, but be responsible for their own actions.

  9. Hi, I find it interesting that in one comment you say “we’re doomed” because of the ready availability of weapons, and in this comment you are saying we have to sort out our own problems. I am sympathetic to both views, but they seem to be at odds a little. Either there is hope for the human race or we need help. You seem to be saying there is little hope but we don’t need help. How do you fit those two views together?

  10. I think you misquoted me a bit, I said we are doomed if we don’t take action over the spread of arms around the world. ie it’s in our hands to come to the realisation that our actions are destroying the human race.
    Now, if we (the world’s governments) suddenly come to this conclusion and stopped the manufacture of arms, then you may say that is an “Act of God”, but maybe it’s just basic logic that an arms race is harmful and detrimental to the survival of the human race.
    Either way it would be a good outcome and I’m not going to quibble about why it happened.

  11. I put in a comment a day ago,but it seems to have got lost so I’ll try again.
    I never said there is “no hope” or we are “doomed”, I said these may apply IF we don’t do anything to reduce the quantity and availability of arms in the world.
    Do I think this will happen ?
    I think the realisation is starting to dawn among the major arms makers that they and their own forces are being threatened by their own weapons and that it is counterproductive to continue the supply of arms to people who would use them against the original manufacturers.Clearly if the current situation continues then the possibility of fanatical states being created is increased and therefore the cost to the rest of the world will be high.
    That alone should convince the arms manufacturers that they are on a road of diminishing returns and therefore they should take action to reduce weapons supply.
    We can all pray that they make the right decision and then claim credit for the power of prayer !

  12. I’m sorry about your comments. Something in your name or email address or something triggers something in WordPress to make it wait for moderation, and then sometimes mI don’t get to it for a day or so. I will do my best (again) to try to track down why and change it.
    I am not optimistic about our ability to stop foolish or selfish people seeking gain at everyone else’s expense. I think my belief in Jesus gives me motivation and power to do better, forgiveness when I fall short, and the hope that one day God will put things right that I cannot.

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