Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

This week in the Australian parliament a newly minted senator called on the government to stop accepting any immigrants who do not reflect “the historic European Christian composition of Australian society and embrace our language, culture and values as a people.”

In particular, he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a return to what was termed the “White Australia Policy”, a discriminatory immigration policy dismantled way back in the 1960s.

Of course, this doesn’t sound too different to the stated desires of Mr Trump regarding US immigration policy, albeit a less sophisticated version (although when you think about it, being less sophisticated in policy to Donald Trump is quite an achievement).

Britain has its own versions in Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

What might surprise some is that Fraser Anning, the Australian senator in question, and the US president, both claim to be committed conservative Christians. Indeed, in the case of the senator from Down Under, he wants a discriminatory immigration policy precisely because he is a Christian.

Farage, who has confessed to only praying “sometimes”, nonetheless wants the UK to stand up for Judeo-Christian culture and values.

So, is it appropriate for Christians in Western countries to call for the banning of Muslim immigration to their shores?

These attutides are usually characterized as xenophobia, a term that comes from the Ancient Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “strange”, “foreigner”, and φόβος (phobos), which means “fear”.

Fearing strangers, especially those of a different religious belief, is becoming more and more in vogue these days.  So it begs the question, how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

Well, not at all!  Both the Old and New Testaments insist on the love of the stranger.

Exodus 22:21 says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” And two verses later, God says ominously, “If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry” (v23).

And Jesus’ teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mt 22:39) seems clear enough. Indeed, Jesus says you can summarize Old Testament teaching this way: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 7:12)

So if the Bible is pretty clear on this point, why are some Christians xenophobic, and proudly so?

Reflecting on the psychology of xenophobia in her book, Strangers to Ourselves, French-Bulgarian philosopher, Julia Kristeva writes this,

“Strangely, the foreigner lives within us, he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which our understanding and affinity founder. By recognizing him within ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself. The foreigner comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises, and he disappears when we acknowledge ourselves as foreigners, unamenable to bonds and communities.”

Did you get that?

We fear foreigners or strangers because they represent something within ourselves we’re too frightened to acknowledge or confront. When we recognize what the stranger represents within ourselves, and come to terms with it, then we can dispense with our fear and loathing.

 

When politicians try to stir up such fear they are unwittingly reacting to the darkest shadows in their own psyches. And when religious politicians, like the Australian senator, demonize Muslim immigrants especially, I suspect they are as much repulsed by their own capacity for fundamentalism (albeit unconsciously) as they are afraid of Islamic versions of it.

As Kristeva reminds us, recognizing the stranger within ourselves is a way to gain a better understanding of ourselves as strangers as well.

Or as Jesus said, loving your neighbour is directly equated with self-love.

But there are further dimensions to the Christian view of the stranger. Not only is the stranger within. And not only is the stranger by definition every other human being. But the stranger must also be God himself.

British scholar Krish Kandiah picks up on this extraordinary implication in his book, God is Stranger. He’s not saying we can’t know God, but that God is other, a foreigner, unrecognized and often scorned. Practising hospitality to God – making room for him in our lives – can be measured to some meaningful degree by our willingness to make room for the foreigner, the outsider.

Picking up on Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, Kandiah draws out three important implications: when it comes to the practice of Christian hospitality there can be no limit to our responsibility, respect, or response.

He says the parable teaches there is no limit to our responsibility because our neighbor is each and every stranger, wherever they are from.

By making the hero of his story a despised Samaritan, Jesus is suggesting there should be no limit to our respect for others.

And furthermore, the costly nature of the Samaritan’s generosity to the assaulted Jew implies there should be no limit to our level of response when it comes to hospitality.

Krish Kandiah says,

“There is no amount of religious knowledge sufficient to replace hospitality. Our knowledge of the Bible, our church attendance, our standing within the christian community are no measure of spirituality, no evidence of relationship with God, and no guarantee of eternal life. Jesus consistently warns us and encourages us: mercy is what is required. Our natural prejudices and inbuilt xenophobia manufacture excuses for us, they procrastinate or seek to limit our duty of care, but Jesus insists on tearing down all boundaries. ‘Do this and you will live,’ as he says in Luke 10:28.”

So the question isn’t so much whether Christianity is xenophobic, but why do churchgoers keep giving in to xenophobic impulses? Why are they so fearful?  Why aren’t they learning the way of Jesus, the way of hospitality and generosity?

Until churches embrace a form of discipleship that encourages Christians to confess the darkness within, and to embrace the love of God and the corresponding love of self, we will keep throwing up Christians like Senator Fraser Anning who fear the stranger and want to close our doors to everyone who is different.

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

  1. Interesting enough, the Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos, that is, love of the stranger.

    1. Yes, indeed. And to love another one must be able to love oneself and address the shadow side of our own hearts.

  2. Brilliant and so timely. Thank you for this as I am preparing a talk for my Uniting Church friends for Diversity Sunday. It also sits in the context of fresh calls to understand and teach Western Civilisation and yet those voices don’t recognize the prophetic call of one so instrinsically linked to the development of Europe. emancipation and human rights.

  3. Good questions. Thanks Mike.

  4. I find this piece to be obfuscating certain concepts that have always been part of the Judeo-Christian wisdom that has undergirded a just and free society. And for the sake of what? To appease the current dominant culture of our increasingly godless society? Or to virtue signal to the popular critics of Christian theology? For one, to compare appropriate immigration policy to the actions of the Good Samaritan is misleading. The purpose of Immigration policy is to allow groups of people to enter and enjoy the democratic standards and values of of Australian democracy regardless of cultural background. Not to provide compassion to the wounded. And although it is right to take in a reasonable number of refugees, if there are those who, due to their religious belief, WILL not subscribe to the democratic values of Australia, then what are we to do? To restrict entry in this case is not racist or xenophobic, it’s wise. Two, to not mistreat or oppress a foreigner is not the same as prohibiting a foreigner from entering the country as an immigrant (and is different from being a visitor). God himself told the Israelites not to marry those from other nations, which by your standards would be more discriminatory than having a restrictive immigration policy. Even Japan doesn’t prevent their citizens from marrying outside the culture despite their restrictive hemogenous immigration laws. But God is not a racist, so what was the wisdom of this law? To retain the homogeneous nature of the standards of Judaism in the land of Israel. For eg Exodus 12 Strangers in Israel were to get involved in the Jewish way of life, attend feasts and keep the sabbath. They were prohibited from accessing all areas of the land namely the inner temple. Because of xenophobia? To reduce the issue to xenophobia is missing the point. The general infusion of Christian culture in Australia is worth preserving. This has nothing to do with being white or having European descent. Our laws reflect Judeo-Christian values. Unfortunately, Islamic laws do not. Titus 1:12,13 Paul himself confirms that Cretans were liars and gluttons and should be rebuked sharply. Was he being discriminatory? Yes, but not in a racist or fearful way. He was telling the truth. It may not sound very nice but it is true to say that Islam is a perversion of Christian belief and it is a culture that should be discriminated against sharply. Rejecting the ideology without harming the person is precision work but it’s possible. Restricting immigration does not harm a person. It can however give a country enough breathing room to develop a good a right perspective. Even as a Jew, I would hope that in the future you would espouse Christian values according to scripture and not according to the general vibe of leftist ideology.

    1. I’m flabbergasted! To suggest that loving the stranger/foreigner is “leftist ideology” and not a core biblical idea is frankly stunning. I didn’t say the parable of the Good Samaritan was about immigration policy. I said it’s about how to treat the ‘other’, which should inform our attitude to immigrants, especially refugees. As for your Islamophobia, your thoughts on Japan, and your misunderstandings about the Bible’s teaching on the foreigner, they’re too many to address in a comment thread.

      1. Respectfully, I’M flabbergasted! You still completely miss the point. Where did I suggest that loving the stranger isn’t a core biblical concept? Rather what you did espouse is open immigration which IS a leftist idea shrouded in the false notion that it constitutes “loving the stranger” when it doesn’t. And then to charge me with islamaphobia for suggesting this is a vile character assassination. But I’ll let that pass. Biblical attitudes to the stranger were irrefutably loving but at the same time conditional. This is my point.

        And, yes, you did compare immigration policy to the actions of the Good Samaritan as if the compassion shown to a wounded individual is the same as allowing anyone who wishes to live in Australia to emigrate even if their espoused views are antithetical to Australia’s constitutional standards. It’s implicit in your article.

        You should understand the difference between refugees and immigrants. As I said, it’s appropriate to help refugees, period. But restrictions on Muslims immigrating does not mean not loving the stranger. The Bible always talks about loving the stranger ‘in your midst’. Which says more about how we should treat our Muslim neighbours who are here. It says little about foreign immigration except to say that it’s dangerous to allow too many opposing ideas into the general Judaic culture. Eg Solomon and his wives. Is this xenophobic?

        However, since you ?lovingly rebuked MY ‘islamaphobic’ ideas which are based on my Jewish understanding of the Bible, I wouldn’t call you anti-Semitic, but since our exchange, I somehow doubt you would enthusiastically allow me over to your house even if I wanted to come. And that would be your perogative.

        1. Where did I espouse “open” immigration? That was your knee jerk reaction to what you assumed was my “leftist” position. That said, I don’t know anyone on the left who proposes open borders. Maybe we could add leftophobia to the list of issues I don’t have time to address.

          1. By providing opposition to the quote laid out in your opening remarks which is to say that you believe that we SHOULD accept any immigrant that does not reflect the historic European Christian composition of Australian society and embrace the language culture AND values as a people”. Which is essentially open immigration. If you dont know anyone on the left who proposes open borders, then you have spent no time trying to understand what left wing ideology is. If you don’t advocate for open border policy then why oppose the sentiment and then bring up only right leaning leaders who also don’t and attack them for it as being xenophobic?

            But you have got me there. I AM afraid of and will discriminate against the crazy leftist ideas that are often in opposition to Judeo-Christian wisdom and culture. However, all people are made in the image of God and deserve love and consideration even when their deplorable ideas present dangers to our shared society under the guise of compassion, so you’re safe.

            PS no need to address if you don’t want to.

        2. You have way more time on your hands than I do, friend.

          1. I apologise Mike. On reflection, I actually don’t think that banning all Muslims is an appropriate immigration strategy whether it’s because of xenophobia or not. In some situation it might be called for but not now or not yet anyway. Really, I shouldn’t have thrown away MY time by ranting my position to its extreme conclusion. If you read it carefully, I think what I was trying to say is that making immigration policies that restrict a group of people should not be considered xenophobic when there are valid reasons for doing so. This is also separate from the idea that to allow immigrants (not refugees) into Australia to settle is an act of compassion which is not true. And further that this stance lines up with biblical wisdom. My comments on Islam (not Muslims) although true in a sense were purposfully baiting and arrogant and for that I apologise too. I think my Muslim friends might have disowned me if they knew what I said. I rest in the hope that they probably don’t read the comment section of your articles.

        3. Richard, it is OK to talk about immigration and even discuss who we let in. It’s HOW we talk about it that is important. In this blog Mike asks the question, “How xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?” and answers it “Not at all”.
          Proof exists in the first chapter of the Bible: God created humans in his own image. There is no place for Christians use arguments that denigrate the value of other human beings. Fraser Annings’ comments about restoring the race-based White Australia Policy and his (unwise or deliberate?) use of the phrase “final solution” signal that he considers some people of lesser value. It’s also so completely embarrassing. A lot of people already think Christianity is dying, irrelevant and living in the 1960s. If conservative Christians want to argue for restrictions on immigration they need to be smarter and more godly than that.

          1. Katie, I agree with this. Was the use of the term “final solution” purposeful or ignorant or just media spin? It was certainly sloppy whatever it was.

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