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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Following an Immigrant God

The British Government’s policy to have some asylum seekers who have arrived in the UK sent to Rwanda for processing strikes at the heart of what many Christians believe the Bible says about migration.

The Home Secretary justifies the plan as a move that will discourage illegal migration and save countless lives. Some politicians and commentators have hailed it as ‘genius’. Many Christian leaders, however, have labelled it inhumane and unjust. The Archbishop of Canterbury condemned it in his Easter sermon, calling it ‘subcontracting our responsibilities to another country’ and highlighting the fact that ‘it privileges the rich and the strong.’

Of course, some politicians immediately responded to Justin Welby by reminding him of the separation between church and state, seemingly unaware of both Christian responsibility and the contradiction between encouraging hospitality towards Ukrainian refugees while sending other asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Christians seeking a clean-cut response to migration, especially in this world of empires, nation-states, and anti-migration nationalism, often find themselves at a loss.

The God of the Bible radically identifies with migrants by being embedded in the story of Israel as a migrant himself who not only pitched a tent in our world but was also forced to flee his homeland to Egypt.

The Bible is clear about both Israel’s identity as a nation born in migration and how they ought to treat the strangers in their midst. They had to recite once every year, ‘my father [Jacob] was a wandering Aramaean’ (Deuteronomy 26:5) and they had to be generously hospitable, following their Father Abraham’s example, who without knowing, entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).

Today, human systems that seek to exclude others, especially for economic reasons, use governmental policies that make it impossible to be as hospitable as God’s word commands. They build walls, guard the gates, create hostile environments, and destroy historical records to make sure migrants feel they are not welcome.

How do we, as followers of an immigrant God, respond to the policies behind this inhumane plan?

First, I believe, we pray to bring the governmental powers and principalities to the knowledge of Christ. Second, we speak up. Our faith demands advocacy. We advocate on behalf of the vulnerable here as well as against the unjust realities that make migration necessary out there. Third, we continue to engage in radical hospitality as the Bible tells us.

Our Saviour was a migrant; how can we justify being inhospitable?


Dr Harvey Kwiyani
CEO, Global Connections



  1. What is humane and just about the current situation when evil men & and women exploit the vulnerable encouraging them to risk their lives crossing the very dangerous channel for exorbitant fees. Perhaps our thoughts and prayers could be best directed towards an alternative solution – it seems we have tried everything else maybe the threat of Rwanda might just act as a deterrent and save lives?

    By Arthur Bates  -  29 Apr 2022
    • Well said! The government’s solution seems to me to be a coherent attempt to deal with what is a very complex and intractable problem of predominantly illegal immigration, against a backdrop of vile criminal exploitation.

      By Heather Phillips  -  18 May 2022
  2. I’m concerned about your use of the term ‘illegal migration’. In international law, people who claim asylum on entering a country have not entered illegally.

    However, the main reason so many risk their lives with people smugglers is because we provide hardly any official channels for applying to settle here when seeking refuge and not already in this country. This reminds me of the days when there was no legal way to stream music. Rather than quickly provide a legal way of paying for this service, the music copyright holders just tried to punish anyone it caught doing it. Surprise, surprise, it was a complete failure.

    Plus our Border service is underfunded and understaffed, so it can’t do a good job. The risk of being caught is always a better deterrent than draconian consequences in the event of being caught, if that’s not likely to happen.

    By Nicola Normandale  -  29 Apr 2022
    • Hi Nicola, thanks for engaging. As I understand it, the scheme plans to send people who have arrived in the UK without authorisation (through ‘dangerous or illegal journeys’, as the Home Office puts it) to Rwanda, where their claim will be considered. As such, the policy has the reported aim of deterring illegal migration. However, from what I can see, the details are a bit unclear, and the international law you refer to seems to be the reason that many say the government will face legal challenges. We’ve amended the wording of the article accordingly.

      Your point about the lack of official channels perhaps reflects the spirit of hospitality which Harvey looks at in the article. As ever, deciding how this should be reflected in policy is difficult, but his suggestions towards the end of the piece are a great start.

      Matt Jolley
      By Matt Jolley Research & Implementation Manager
  3. The issue is not clear cut. The Home Secretary asked the Archbishop of Canterbury and hence the Church to come up with a new solution. We cannot just be critical without being constructive.
    We must be being willing to bear the burden ourselves otherwise we are hypocrites and farming our responsibility out to the Government.
    A further point to consider is that The Good Samaritan did farm out his responsibility by paying someone else to do the caring. That is allowed.

    By Philip Harper  -  29 Apr 2022
    • Hi Philip, I entirely agree that it’s insufficient to criticise what has been proposed without offering new solutions or ways forward. As Paul Woolley, our CEO, wrote in a piece this week, ‘The CofE has in fact presented evidence and ideas for safe and legal routes for migrants, and churches across the country are providing practical help of all kinds to migrants in need.’ Read more in his article here.

      Matt Jolley
      By Matt Jolley Research & Implementation Manager
  4. The Bible’s message on migration is whatever you want it to be. Simply pepper the current viewpoint with a few proof-texts, add a bit of extended allegory and then tell anyone who challenges your idea that they haven’t understood it properly. Perhaps they should wait until (insert list of experiences here, along with a magic age).

    This is also the Bible’s message on just about anything else. That’s how they did it when I was at LBC and that’s how everyone from the vacuous Thought For The Day presenter to whichever celebrity vicar gets on Have I Got News For You does it too.

    By David Young  -  15 Nov 2022

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