Archbishops, politics, and migration policy

I was invited yesterday to take part in a discussion this morning on ITV’s Good Morning Britain—but they wanted someone in the studio rather than on Zoom. The question to discuss was: does the Christian faith say something about politics, and should church leaders ‘interfere’ in politics. Introducing the item (at 7.20 am), the presenter Adil Ray guffawed ‘It’s extraordinary isn’t it? Only Britain and Iran have religious leaders sitting in their parliaments!’ The idea that Christians should contribute to political policy on the basis of their faith was seen as obviously mistaken.

My response to the request on the phone was:

Of course the Christian faith has an impact on politics! The central Christian prayer is ‘Our Father in heaven, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done.’ It would be very strange to think that God’s will does not include issues around politics.

I also said I thought they would struggle to find someone who thought that Christian leaders should not talk about politics—but I was wrong! David Peterson, who is Team Vicar at Grays Thurrock, was very clear:

We should worry about souls going to hell and not migrants going to Rwanda. We need to think about populating the kingdom of God, not the population of the United Kingdom. Jesus said give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s. The church needs to be more biblical and less political. We are in the world but not of the world. Our role as church leaders is not to change the politics but to change people.

You can watch the discussion here:

I confess that I have some sympathy with this view. Statements that Church of England bishops make on political issues are widely reported, and it is an easy way to get into the headlines. Statements they make about discipleship, faith, and the need to respond to the gospel seem to be few and far between. There is an issue here about how and what the press choose to report—but I think there is an underlying communications issue too.

Yet there is an obvious problem with David’s approach here—the idea that we can just separate the ‘secular’ from the ‘religious’, and his counterpart Rae Duke expressed that well.

But what was it that provoked such a debate on prime-time morning television? It was Justin Welby’s speech in the Lord’s yesterday in opposition to the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill which is intended (amongst other things) to put an end to the small boats crossing the channel. There is a complex of issues at work here, which is why this kind of speech provokes so much reaction. Should we have bishops in the Lords when comparatively few people actually attend church on a Sunday? If so, should we not have other denotations and religious also represented statutorily? What does the Establishment of the Church of England now mean, and is it appropriate? Why have an unelected upper house at all? But if we are concerned at the democratic deficit here, what about the democratic deficit in the House of Commons created by our ‘first past the post’ election system?

On top of that, there are complex issues around the question of migration itself, and the way a Christian perspective addresses these issues. I think there are three sets of issues that church leaders need to consider when speaking about specific political issues and connecting those with faith.

1. Understanding the complexity of the issue itself

Justin’s comments were criticised in some quarters for advocating an ‘open door’ immigration policy as though this is obviously the ‘Christian’ response to the current situation. Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge in Yorkshire, challenges this understanding of Christian compassion:

I am not a theologian, but as an MP who is also a Christian and a supporter of the plans I am uncomfortable with the Archbishop’s language. The implied conclusion is that a completely open border policy would be the most moral policy for the Government, but I disagree. The truth is that Liberals, both inside and outside the Church, often misapply the definition of Christian compassion…

Deterrence is achieved by clear boundaries that are consistently enforced. Only a clear and unambiguous message, such as “if you come here illegally you will not be allowed to stay”, will act as an effective deterrent. Anything else is an invitation for continued exploitation. The best way to show compassion to those being trafficked around the world is to effectively deter the people-smuggling gangs, whose exploitation and criminality is surely the greatest evil within the discussion around illegal migration.

In fact, Justin’s comments (which you can read in full here) combine a suggestion of open-door migration (though rather ambiguously) with a fuller understanding of the difficulties.

Currently, 80% of refugees are still in the global south, protected by the poorest countries in the world.  Of course, we cannot take everyone and nor should we, but this Bill has no sense at all of the long-term and of the global nature of the challenge that the world faces. It ignores the reality that migration must be engaged with at source, as well as in the Channel, as if we, as a country, were unrelated to the rest of the world.

‘Engaging at source’ is surely key to addressing the issued around migration—but that comment was not reported on. On the other hand, establishing ‘safe legal routes’ that Justin and others have commended will not address the issue of the small boats: the boats are mostly used by young, fit men who would not be prioritised by such safe routes which would surely priorities women, children, and the vulnerable. There is no indication that safe routes would end the small boats.

There are other major questions which must surely be addressed. Overall migration to the UK is massive; the last census revealed these astonishing figures:

Out of the 59.6 million usual residents in England and Wales in 2021, 49.6 million (83.2%) were born in the UK and 10.0 million (16.8%) were born outside the UK. This means that about one in six people in England and Wales were born outside the UK.

And controlled migration had continued unabated in the last couple of years; the most recent figures are just mind-boggling when you consider the implications, both short- and long-term:

In the year ending (YE) June 2022, long-term immigration into the UK was estimated at around 1.1 million. This is an estimated increase of 435,000 compared with the YE June 2021 (628,000).

This was primarily driven by the immigration of non-EU nationals, accounting for an estimated 66% of total immigration (704,000), an increase of 379,000 compared with the YE June 2021.

Unless the Government has had a policy of increasing housing provision by 20%, investing in the NHS by an additional 20%, building 20% more schools, and so on, then policy on migration is completely out of step with other policy. And the policy of filling skills gaps in the UK workforce by attracting people here from other countries is both inadequate and immoral. 25% of our doctors in the NHS were not trained here; the Government has failed to plan and provide for medical training, and instead is pulling talented and trained people from countries which have far greater need than we do. If a policy deserves the word ‘immoral’, surely it is this.

And what of the impact of change on those areas most affected by migration? There was a wonderful missed irony in a recent edition of Radio 4’s ‘Thinking aloud’ on Gentrification, where Charmaine Brown complained that the gentrification of Peckham and its neighbourhood meant that the black Afro-Caribbean community there was losing its identity—without any apparent awareness that that community was only there in the first place because it had, in turn, displaced the community that preceded it! Does any community have the right to continuity, and if so, how does that affect our approach to migration?

2. Connecting the issue with good theology

A short speech in the Lords is no place for a detailed theological argument—but even the one that Justin hinted at is not very persuasive.

And finally, as one might expect from these benches, in the New Testament, in Matthew Chapter 25, Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger.

The allusion is to the eschatological ‘parable’ of the sheep and the goats:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt 25.34–36, 40).

The problem with Justin’s reading of this text is that this cannot be what Jesus meant. The ‘sheep’ were surprised to learn that, in helping the ‘least of these’, they were helping the King, when that could hardly be true of anyone who is showing compassion in accordance with Jesus’ teaching. And Jesus never calls the poor ‘the least of these my brethren’; that kinship term is consistently used for his own followers (see Matt 12.50). This ‘parable’ is about those who help the poor followers of Jesus (in parallel with Jesus saying about ‘a cup of cold water’ in Matt 10.42), not about the followers of Jesus helping the poor.

In one of the Twitter responses to those who had criticised Justin’s intervention, someone cites Lev 19.33–34:

When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native–born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. 

But what they omit to note is that Leviticus also requires that such foreigners are to conform to the culture and religious laws of Israel; when they come within the borders of the land, they are to receive the blessings of the land but also take on the obligations of citizens. This is hardly a recipe for multicultural pluralist migration.

There is, of course, a specific command to ‘show hospitality to strangers’ (Heb 13.2) which uses the wonderful term φιλοξενία, surely an antidote to xenophobia. But it is a big leap to turn this command into a national policy on migration and national identity.

There are many practical issues to consider around migration—but there are also theological ones. How do we understand the idea of nation? What values hold a nation together? What status do national values have? Do communities have a right to continuity of identity? Those exploring such questions are often scorned, but they are key issues that need understanding. It is striking that, both at Pentecost and in the vision of a multicultural people in Rev 7.9, the identities of those brought together are not eliminated, but remain in all their diversity. National, cultural, and linguistic identity matter.

Statements by church leaders on issues of migration need a better grounding in theological thinking that they are at present.

3. Location within a political spectrum

One of the most vexing things about these kinds of statements from Anglican bishops is not about the individual statements themselves, but in the pattern in which they are made. It feels as if they all come from one part of the political spectrum. (I have not done any objective analysis of this—but this is my strong sense and it appears to be confirmed by wider reaction.)

So bishops find it easy to comment on migration in this way, but when did we last hear a bishop comment about abortion—despite the Church of England having a pretty clear and very ‘conservative’ position on this officially? We hear much comment about poverty and inequality—but when did a bishop advocate for the importance of marriage, and lobby the government to put in place policies that encouraged marriage? The Church does have a well-defined doctrinal position on this question—and research shows that this would benefit children in a whole range of ways.

The bench of bishops appears to be out of step on many of these issues not only with the country at large, but also with their own congregations. I am only aware of one out of more than the 100 current bishops who was pro-Brexit, when Anglicans voted for Brexit more than remain.

This suggests a somewhat lazy approach to social issues and the gospel. A friend passed this comment on to me:

Liberal immigration policy plays a really important role in a certain kind of progressive Christian ethic—it’s the last ethical position out there which is somewhat based on distinctively Christian doctrine/concerns (Galatians 3:28, the recognition that Christianity is in better shape in the Global South), but which also matches liberal opinion. Pretty much everywhere else, it’s hard to draw a line from Christian doctrine (as traditionally held) to liberal opinion (c.f., sexuality, environmental sustainability etc). But with immigration it’s much easier to make this connection. So, if you want to associate Christianity with liberal opinion, you end up playing to your strengths and talking a lot about immigration.

It is hard to see what the basis of this is, though, after the contortions of the sexuality debate. How do we know that one border policy is less godly than another? If Leviticus is irrelevant in the bedroom, it’s irrelevant at the border.

Bishops and other church leaders should be making comments about public policy and politics more generally. And the Church of England is in a particularly strong and privileged position to do this. But our bishops need to be commenting on a wider range of issues, from a wider range of perspectives, and with a better rooting in theology and the doctrine of their own Church.

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56 thoughts on “Archbishops, politics, and migration policy”

  1. “I confess that I have some sympathy with this view.”
    So do I. A lot of sympathy.
    “There is an issue here about how and what the press choose to report—but I think there is an underlying communications issue too.”
    Ian, what in your view is the “underlying communications issue”?

    Phil Almond

  2. Superb Ian

    I have been concerned that Justin seems to take an issue and say “Christians should love their neighbour, X is how we love our neighbour.” Particularly with complex political issues they look good on memes but we need much greater depth.

    Standout quotes imo
    “The truth is that Liberals, both inside and outside the Church, often misapply the definition of Christian compassion…”

    “If Leviticus is irrelevant in the bedroom, it’s irrelevant at the border.”

    • I don’t disagree with that. If Bishops want to comment on politics and take a Biblical approach then that includes promoting traditional marriage and supporting law and order and reducing abortions as well as showing concern for the poor and pushing for more spending on public services and welfare and welcoming immigration

  3. While disagreeing with Welby here I fully support his freedom to speak on political matters. But his words would carry more weight if he understood the biblical definition of sin, and guided his denomination towards it rather than away from it.

    (No I’m not trying to change the subject. My subject is Welby.)

  4. Thought provoking and complexifying as always – thank you Ian.

    One question – the Rev passage you quote (7:9) – would the “ἐκ” bear the meaning ‘out of’ rather than ‘from’? Wondering if the multitude retain their national/cultural/linguistic identities or whether the highlight is that their identities are now in Christ (hence the same clothes maybe?) and that though they started out different they are now united?? You are the Rev expert, so I thought I’d ask as this reading challenges how I’ve previously understood this verse. For which challenge – thank you again! You always make me think…

    • Jamie –

      My understanding of the future state is that the saints will reign on earth (Rev. 5:10), and God’s Kingdom will really be established on earth, as prayed for in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ (cf. Matt. 6:10). If there is a literal Millennial Kingdom which includes some mortal, unredeemed members of the nations (as well known New Testament scholar, Dr. Douglas Moo believes), then perhaps the previous national identities of the saints may serve some useful purpose in the future, earthly Millennial Kingdom.

      • Dear Pellegrino

        I agree with this take. I’m agnostic over whether the millennium lasts while the earth goes round the sun precisely 1000 times, but there is no reason to suppose that Revelation 20 is a recapitulation of the church era that has gone before. And there is a strong reason why it isn’t: Satan is bound during the millennium according to Rev 20:2 yet he is not bound during our present era, the church era, according to both scripture and observation of the world.

        There is a 3-stage afterlife, for believers at least: disembodied; resurrected to act as Jesus’ empire administrators in our own lands and to our own peoples (which is why the gospel has to be preached to them all before Jesus returns); then the final separation and the New Jerusalem.

        • Thanks, ANTON, for your comments.

          Just some more quick thoughts about the destiny of the saints to rule in an earthly kingdom :

          The very first words that Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel are :

          ” This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

          Here we see that the very first proclamation ‘the Gospel’, doesn’t concern anything about Christ’s death and resurrection, but instead concerns the potential for the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, cf. Daniel 2:44; 7:17-18. This Gospel [Good News] of the earthly Kingdom of God preceded what we now commonly consider to be ‘the Gospel’, i.e., The good news concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

          Exactly the same is true in Luke’s Gospel. There, in 9: 1-6, we read :

          ” The He called His twelve disciples together….And He sent them forth to preach the Kingdom of God, and to cure the sick ….and they went out and went through every town preaching the GOSPEL [of the potentially impending earthly Kingdom of God] and healing everywhere. ”

          This ‘the Gospel’ [concerning a potentially impending earthly Kingdom of God] was proclaimed BEFORE Jesus ever talked to anybody about His death and resurrection ( in Luke 9:20-23).

          I understand that it was Professor George Bradford Caird of Oxford University, who put forward the view that Jesus initially hoped that He could convert the Jews to His message, which would have helped the Jews to fulfil their appointed mission to be a light for the nations (Isa. 42:6). However, Jesus later realized that this was not to be, and the Kingdom of God had to be brought in by His death and His resurrection. I think Tom Wright picks up on some of Caird’s ideas, as Wright was once tutored by Caird.

      • Hence 21:24 with ‘people bringing into’ the new Jerusalem the ‘glory and the honour of the nations’? Interesting…
        Thanks Pellegrino.

    • This arises from John’s reuse of Ex 19.6 and Israel being a kingdom of priests out of every nation. The difference is that, in the new covenant in Jesus, they remain part of every nation, rather than becoming a distinct nation ethnically and geographically. So national and linguistic identity is thus maintained, not erased.

  5. A NATION WITHOUT STRONG BORDERS…Is open to anything and everything. It looses its identity….its wealth…its integrity.
    A nation without borders is like a bank with no security….or a home with no doors.
    The nation becomes all things to all men….and stands for everything and nothing….BECOMES NOTHING

  6. By coincidence I was re-reading the late C H Sisson’s collected essays yesterday. From “The Truth Shall Make You Free” (originally published PN Review 16:1, 1989):

    “We all live on a diet of inaccurate news, supplemented by odds and ends from our own sources. To jump from that to an assumption of authority to judge the actions of countries of which we know even less than we do of our own must be a gross presumption. And in our own country, our role is limited to a very little rational action, and almost unlimited expression of ill-informed opinion. For my part, I should be more reassured by a Church which directed our attention to our neighbours, to the daily life we actually lead. The good Samaritan after all was attending to a man awkwardly placed before his own eyes, so he knew what he had to do.”

    Sisson was commenting on the “Report on Christianity and the Social Order” in the Proceedings of the Lambeth Conference 1988.

    And, drawing on his experience as a civil servant (a background I happen to share with Sisson) in the Spectator (10.04.1982) “It is not as if some of these causes are not as deserving of support as political causes are likely to be, but that the miscellaneous spokesmen who claim our adherence to them because we are supposed to be Christians have no special competence to judge of these matters. The largest element of competence required is generally to be well-informed, which in a world buzzing with half-baked rumours it is extremely hard to be.”

  7. “So bishops find it easy to comment on migration in this way, but when did we last hear a bishop comment about abortion—despite the Church of England having a pretty clear and very ‘conservative’ position on this officially? We hear much comment about poverty and inequality—but when did a bishop advocate for the importance of marriage, and lobby the government to put in place policies that encouraged marriage? The Church does have a well-defined doctrinal position on this question—and research shows that this would benefit children in a whole range of ways.”

    This is often said, but if you think about it, is a bit silly. We hear a lot about what bishops in the House of Lords say about migration and poverty because there are 2 of the biggest political issues. Between them they account for four of the current government’s five listed priorities and the vast bulk of its legislative agenda. In the past 10 years there have been 5 major bills concerning migration and dozens of debates and bits of secondary legislation. Poverty likewise; there is a budget and autumn statement each year aside from the many pieces of legislation that touch on welfare and policy. Of course, therefore, if bishops comment on such issues then it will appear more often than most other social issues which receive far less political airtime. The bishops do not set the government’s agenda or the parliamentary calendar, they respond to what happens.

    As for the “when did bishops comment on x, y or z” 2 minutes on google or hansard will show you the answer is that every single time one of those issues arises in parliament you will find Lords Spiritual responding. That the issues are given less political and media attention is neither surprising nor in the power of the bishops. Ditto, every single time there has been government consultation on e.g. abortion the Church responds (inc. through bishops) both publicly and privately, and lobbies and engages setting out the official church position.

    • ‘This is often said, but if you think about it, is a bit silly.’ I don’t think that is true; for example, abortion is often in the headlines, most recently about the ban on silent prayer.

      Where was an episcopal comment made on that?

      And why shouldn’t our leaders set the news agenda rather than simply reacting to it? What about a C of E campaign for marriage?

      • “Where was an episcopal comment made on that?” – err, in the Lords, when it was discussed there.

        To see just 2 right off the bat.

        And setting the news agenda and the political agenda are 2 quite obviously different things. The point being that when the government chooses to legislate on migration every year it is not unsurprising that a bishop will respond and this will be reported on.

        • Very glad to see that this hidden comment is being brought to light. But note what David Walker says here—he specifically avoids making any comment about abortion, as if the C of E had no view, and instead focusses on rights.

          ‘My concerns regarding Clause 9 had nothing to do with the moral merits or otherwise of abortion; they lie in my passion to see upheld the rights of citizens of this land, both to receive healthcare and to protest. Women must be able to access lawful medical interventions without facing distressing confrontations, directed at them personally, when they are identifiable by their proximity to the clinic or hospital. At the same time, anyone who wishes to protest in general about abortion law must be able to do so lawfully, with the least restriction on where and when they may do so.’

          I think you have made my case for me. Can you imagine a Roman Catholic bishop doing this? I cannot.

          • I do like the snide “hidden comment”, as if the bishops were being incredibly secretive about interventions in the Lords.

            At second reading, committee and report stage of the bill in which the debate about silent prayer vigils was held bishops spoke up in defence of prayer and vigils. The Bishop of St Albans backed something like 7 amendments on the topic. The bill was amended in part in response to concerns raised, and if it didn’t go as far as it might, it was a lot further than the Commons had allowed it to go. The specific example you raised as an area without episocpal comment has a series of them. You can get snippy about the way +Manchester addressed it, which is not as I or you would have, but the point is that you’re simply wrong. They did intervene, repeatedly, when that issue was in the Lords.

          • I am not being snippy. I am pointing out that the bishops have defended human rights.

            They have specifically and explicitly avoided any discussion of abortion itself, and have avoided making reference to the Church of England’s own considered position.

            Again, I simply cannot imagine an RC bishop doing this.

        • ‘As it happens, I take the view that the present law on abortion strikes a reasonable balance’. That is not what the C of E actually believes, and it would be very hard to find moral support for that position from Scripture.

  8. Regarding Rev David Peterson, given that he previously said ‘I came to the Church for refuge’ it’s surprising he isnt concerned about those seeking refuge in the UK.

    I find it odd that those of an ethnic background can show such little concern for those wanting to come to this country given their own ancestors’ stories. But Ive noticed the same attitude in certain tv news presenters. No doubt they believe their ancestors came here ‘legitimately’.

    But perhaps the good rev is attacking the current Archbishop as he has said in the past he wants to hold that role in due time, I suppose it’s always useful to get your face on tv…

    • PC1 (Peter) –

      Do you personally think that there is theoretical limit to the amount of immigrants and asylum seekers that the U.K. can take, in the short or long term ?

      • I would say there is probably a practical limit to the number of immigrants, as resources and housing are limited. But that limit would be difficult to specify as the numbers of those leaving these shores in relation to those who wish to come to these shores varies from year to year.

        The Archbishop has every right to comment on such issues. Anyone who doubts the influence Christians have had down through the centuries on society should read ‘Dominion’ by Tom Holland. There is no reason why such influence should end now, despite the view of some that ‘religious’ people are irrelevant.


        • Thanks, Peter.

          I thoroughly agree with Tom Hollands thesis. Because Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, then any society that is morally Christian in any respect, is doing itself a favour. However, all societal factors have to truly be taken into consideration, before a country can properly define and implement a ” Christian asylum and immigration policy. ”

          God bless.

  9. If one wants a theological starting point for this, then I cannot think of a better one that Jesus’ summary of the law (Matt 22:36-40). This, in love for both God and neighbour leads to both a concern for the eternal destiny of those around us – c.f. David Patterson – but also concern for how we live together in the here and now – c.f. Welby.

    Politics in general is precisely about how we live together. So, there can be no doubt that Christians have as much right to speak about what should be done in the ordering of our society. I think it is the case that people of other faiths are pleased that there is a Christian voice in our upper chamber.

    However, the reality of actually working out the details of how we live together is very messy. Ian has pointed out some of the complexities of the issue of asylum seekers. The party political environment does not seem to be able to cope with complicated and nuanced circumstances. Particularly these days, it thrives on confrontation and sound-bites, plus a preference for dogma over reason. The quality of debate in the House of Lords does seem better than that in the Commons, and the bishops contribute to this difference.

    • David – I think this misses an important point, which is that Wellby’s position seems to be dysfunctional. I personally think that the UK immigration laws should be much more liberal than they are, but this wasn’t the context in which Wellby placed his speech. Whatever he may (or may not) have said, the context was how the immigration law is policed (whether or not those who break the law should be sent to Rwanda). The context was what to do with people who break the law, not the law itself. It’s not a good look if he steps in over the issue of how immigration policy is policed – saying that people who break the law should get off on grounds of ‘compassion’ (rather than on the grounds that it’s a rubbish law which should be abolished). This is clearly the wrong approach – and I’m left wondering what he thinks of the policing of other laws.

      He could criticise immigration policy itself – I personally can’t see how immigration has actually done the UK any harm. He could also criticise the wars that the evil Anglo-Saxon empire have been involved with, destabilising Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, with devastating effects on these countries. It usually takes quite a lot to shift people and make them think of leaving their own countries; the wars that the USA/UK alliance have been involved with and egged on have done a lot to set the conditions for people desperately wanting to leave their own countries. But stepping in when the issue is how-to-police-the-law rather than the law itself – and the muddle-headed pseudo-Scriptural justification looks odd.

      There are times when church people should speak out against government policy. I’m reminded of one very good example – the minister was working through Genesis and was discussing the creation ordinances of Genesis 2, which include work, the Sabbath rest and marriage. This was back in the 1980’s at time of high unemployment and – without going into detail at all – he simply pointed out that government policy which exacerbated the unemployment situation was in violation of the creation ordinance. Other than that one remark, I never heard politics mentioned at that church. The minister never indicated his political affiliation, although I’d have probably guessed that he was a ‘one nation conservative’ of the Harold MacMillan style.

      But while faith does inform us when it comes to political outlook, that (of course) is not the main job of the church – which is to proclaim the Gospel message so that people come to trust in Christ for their salvation.

      • “But while faith does inform us when it comes to political outlook, that (of course) is not the main job of the church – which is to proclaim the Gospel message so that people come to trust in Christ for their salvation.”

        Yes, absolutely. And that involves telling people that we all need salvation because we all face the wrath and condemnation of God.

        Phil Almond

  10. As a lay person preaching on Ruth 2 this Sunday, this is a highly topical debate. I certainly get the point that Boaz’s commitment is shown to a woman who has shown that she is committed to the Jewish community. Jesus, surely broadens this interpretation with the parable of the Good Samaritan (although this is still not an immigration question as the Samaritan was already living is Israel).

    There’s plenty of discussion about good and bad theology. But perhaps we also need to address good and bad statistics. I think Tim Harford the Undercover Economist would have a field day with some of the misuse of statistics in the article.

    For starters, the burden on the system is not dictated by total immigration but by net migration (after correcting for emigration). Secondly the % increase in housing etc needs to be applied to the overall increase in households (not as % of immigration).

    Then we need to reflect on immigration statistics which have been subject to a lot of volatility post-Covid (as student – who are included in the stats – returned to the UK).

    I could go on. BUT maybe what you really need to be focused on is the number of people seeking asylum (and where the UK is very much down the league table of European countries).

    I’ll leave it there !

    • Thanks. But I am not sure what your issue is with statistics.

      One in six living in the UK today have migrated here. A growing population puts pressure on all services. Perhaps this might not have added a fifth (17% of 85%) to the demands for houses, if those coming here are younger. But it will in turn have added more than a fifth to the demand for schools, and probably healthcare services.

      My point is: the Government have pursued this policy of immigration without joining it up to other policies. I think that is very hard to contest—and is rather significant.

      • Nevertheless, as I explained below, far fewer than one in six actually migrate here as asylum seekers (that the Illegal Migration Bill is targeting).

  11. Hi Ian,

    You wrote: “there is a complex of issues at work here, which is why this kind of speech provokes so much reaction” and “there are complex issues around the question of migration itself, and the way a Christian perspective addresses these issues”.

    I agree with these statements, and that’s why I’m so disappointed with your summary of UK immigration in relation to the refugee crisis.

    For example, the complexity of immigration issues is not addressed by mentioning a headline 2021 figure for UK immigration of 1.1 million and quoting from the ONS that: “This was primarily driven by the immigration of non-EU nationals, accounting for an estimated 66% of total immigration (704,000), an increase of 379,000 compared with the YE June 2021.”

    In fact, this overall figures include those granted work visas (239,987 in YE June 2021), study visas (281,008 in YE June 2021), British National (Overseas) visas (97,057 from abroad between 31st January and 31st December 2021), and family-related visas (46,250 in YE Sept 2021).

    Furthermore, for YE June 2022, the increases in non-EU migration under the Ukraine Visa Schemes amounted to 132,123.

    So, out of those 704,000 non-EU migrants, there were just 37,235 asylum seekers ( Of that number, the “UK offered protection, in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement, to 10,725 people (including dependants) in the year ending June 2021.”

    Clearly, the UK’s “policy of filling skills gaps in the UK workforce by attracting people here from other countries” (which you decry as “inadequate and immoral”) and various other legal visa schemes have contributed far more to the overall increase in non-EU immigration than those predominantly non-European asylum seekers that the Illegal Migration Bill is targeting. ‘Anti-immigration’ has been reduced to little more than a shibboleth of right-wing virtue-signalling.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury may not have marshalled a great argument, but the ensuing reactionary backlash is no more than woefully ill-informed alarmism.

    • Hi David, I think that you have misconstrued my observations.

      Justin was focussing on the question of illegal migration and asylum seeking, but that is one part of the overall question of migration. Justin himself makes this move; he broadens the question to both migration from disaster *and* migration from poverty ie economic migration. That accounts for the vast majority of the migration we have experienced—and it has been encouraged by Government as a policy to address our skills shortage.

      Paul Butler’s speech on the specifics of asylum seekers is much better, not least because he focuses on the specific issues involved. But Justin has chosen to make broad-brush claims about our obligations to all those across the world who are not as well off as we are—and then cited Matt 25 as an argument that we should welcome all.

      We do need to address the specific issues of asylum seeking, as Paul does—but that needs to be located in a wider discussion about migration overall. I have not met anyone yet who was not stunned to learn that we admitted 1.1 million people in the space of a year. This is not a coherent policy.

      • Hi Ian,

        You wrote: “Justin himself makes this move; he broadens the question to both migration from disaster *and* migration from poverty ie economic migration. ”

        Indeed, he does make this move, but only because he joins the dots together that other are either unable or unwilling to.

        He rightly argues that increased incidence of disaster and poverty are key factors that can result from the effects of climate change and that they can precipitate increased armed conflict. In turn, that conflict can and has resulted in the forced displacement of people, who become refugees, as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention. Yet, the Illegal Migration Bill repudiates our obligations under that convention, which UK was instrumental in shaping and then co-signed (

        Accordingly, Justin isn’t repeatedly referring to 1951 to emphasise our obligation to accommodate economic migration. After all, the U.N. Convention (to which the UK is a party) does not define refugees in those terms.

        Instead, he is decrying the bill’s repudiation of our international obligations to those who become refugees as defined by that convention (through the chain of catastrophe, conflict and forced displacement that I’ve just described).

        Yes, the figure of 1.1 million is startling, but, as I’ve explained, targeting asylum seekers (instead of reducing the demand for work visas by addressing our chronic skills shortages) will do little to reduce that figure.

        • ‘Yes, the figure of 1.1 million is startling, but, as I’ve explained, targeting asylum seekers (instead of reducing the demand for work visas by addressing our chronic skills shortages) will do little to reduce that figure.’

          I think we are agreed on that.

        • ‘….. increased incidence of disaster and poverty are key factors that can result from the effects of climate change and that they can precipitate increased armed conflict …..’

          David – haven’t you understood yet that huge swathes of the destabilising armed conflicts are instigated by the evil Anglo-Saxon empire (which was initially based in London, but its centre shifted to Washington DC)? The USA/UK foreign policy is invariably governed by self-interest and on a divide-and-conquer basis, the instability has served them well.

          The ‘positive’ side of the immigration policy (welcoming with open arms those people with skills obtained because they had an expensive education from the countries they are leaving) also has a destabilising effect. I remember talking to one of my Polish friends who said that if the Americans had paid in US dollars the cost of an equivalent US education for all the academics who moved to the USA during communist times, then the Polish economy would probably have done rather well during that time.

  12. I remember when ++Justin (quite rightly) supported Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s speaking out on the anti-semitism in the Labour Party under its previous leadership. I couldn’t help thinking that if it had been anti-semitism in the Tory Party, Mirvis would never have needed to say anything because the CofE bishops would have spoken out much more loudly and much earlier.

    • I would be quite content if the bishops were merely useless and no more than a drain on church revenue. But they are worse than that, far worse.

  13. Although I disagree quite strongly with the existence of the House of Lords (and think JW should not be ABC), I also believe strongly that religious leaders have a moral duty to speak out against immoral government policy.

  14. Oh my goodness what worm holes this post could take us down!
    Some have already been explored.
    My first thoughts are: What is the definition of Morality and Syncretism. Who is /are Moral Authorities, How does one attempt to serve two Masters??
    Time to dust off my Karl Barth, who once said that his Socialist/Marxism informed his Theology.
    See He equated the Gospel Kingdom of God with the Socialist vision. I have met church leaders who tried to emulate this view.
    Then consider Daniel and Friends, The early Church to name but two. They were men of intense prayer and fasting and walked in the fear of God.
    Myself I see Welby/ Lords Spiritual making political statement in a surplice of theological language as Barth does. Having a form of godliness which denies the power thereof.
    Considering the parlours state of the CofE and other churches can they lay claim to Moral Authority? Or are they walking in the fear of God?

    Who today is speaking with Prophetic Authority or walking as Jesus walked ie speaking with authority. “Whence came His Authority”?
    One final thought on this issue.
    Who is God looking for?
    When Israel were in dire unsolvable straights.God looked for an Intercessor. But found no man.
    It is quite easy, that is lazy, to shout “Immoral” and not providing any theological solutions to the problem.
    However IF 2 Chr 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
    2 Chr 34:27 Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humblest thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.

    • But 2 Chron 7:14 applies to a covenant people, which Britain isn’t (no matter what the pieties in the Coronation Oath). The analogy in this country would be

      If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their church.

      It’s something that Welby doesn’t understand with his attempt to alter God’s definition of sin.

  15. They all want to come here because our benefits are so generous. At the same time the government is short of money and there is insufficient cheap labour although millions are on the dole.

    The solution is obvious.

    • Im not sure what you mean by ‘cheap labour’. Many are struggling to live day to day on the income they have. Cheap labour sounds like exploitation.

      • I agree, PC1. If immigration were limited then the supply of cheap labour would dry up and wages for the poor would rise.

      • PC (Peter);

        Of course people are struggling – especially those without powerful unions behind them to demand not inconsiderable wage rises. The war in Ukraine represents a massive strategic blunder by NATO over the decades, which has only exacerbated global problems, including mass migrations of peoples.

        ” Maranatha – May the Lord Come soon ! ” (1 Cor. 16:22; CEV).

  16. Hi Anton
    True Britain is not a covenant people but the true church is most definitely a
    Covenant People. We all understand the multitude dilemas that face us but what theological solutions are being suggested by the mainline churches?
    Yes one can be involved in polity but I just point out that just such men in the Bible were very intensely engaged in prayer and fasting.
    When Jesus was faced with a spirit that casts one into the fire He said “How be it, this kind goeth not forth but by much prayer and fasting.” when we are threatened with being consumed or overwhelmed with all manner of spirits of evil. These things are prophesied to get worse and worse in all areas of the world which is depicted as a restless foaming Sea always casting up mire.
    Jesus was thought to be Jeremias. the “weeping prophet” I wonder if this was
    his common demeanour? We know that He wept over Jerusalem, perhaps we need to realize “what belongs to our Peace”
    The syncranistic church and state crucified the Lord Jesus and prefigures
    the”man of sin” who is depicted at the end of time as a political religeous figure. Take care on how you practice your Politics and/ or your Theology.
    This especially to the Church, the Lords Spiritual and Synod.

  17. I’m surprised at your confidence that the “welcome the stranger” passage could only mean among believers (linked to an argument that a more general application is a post-1850 “novel” interpretation). Without trawling all the pre-1850 stuff, Calvin commented: “So then, as those, who belong to the household of faith ought to be preferred to strangers, Christ makes special mention of them. And though his design was, to encourage those whose wealth and resources are abundant to relieve the poverty of brethren, yet it affords no ordinary consolation to the poor and distressed, that, though shame and contempt follow them in the eyes of the world, yet the Son of God holds them as dear as his own members. And certainly, by calling them brethren, he confers on them inestimable honor”. And of course, those who do not do the right things (“the reprobate” as Calvin calls them) are not doing them to Christ.

    If you want an example of a bishop in the 1830s interpretating the passage in the general sense, there is Bishop Stanley in Norwich addressing the Chartists and telling them that clothing the naked and feeding the poor are things “only the rich can do” (prefiguring Mrs Thatcher’s blasphemous reinterpretation of the Good Samaritan). Of course Norwich in the middle ages had a population where half were immigrants, and as a Mancunian I cite all the great North West companies founded by immigrants: Beyer in Beyer Peacock, Clayton Aniline, Ferranti, Renold Chains, Brunner-Mond (ICI), and of course Engels’ mill).

    As to more general theological questions about immigration, perhaps a prior theology about nationhood and borders is needed, given our common heritage. E.g. Was Babel’s linguistic confusion a punishment or what God always intended? With enforced borders, how would have gone the Great Commission?

    It is only a little over a century since the first modern UK law to control immigration (to keep out poor Jews), and totally open borders may no longer seem wise, but it really will not do to expect countries nearest the latest source of refugees to bear the burden of hospitality, not when the UK’s policies (colonial, industrial, environmental and military) have caused and are causing displacement of populations. For that we need a theology of responsibility.

    • Steve thanks for those examples. I don’t think, though, that this was a widespread view, as it has become, and it is not clear to me that Calvin is talking of the poor in general, rather than poor Christians.

      Nevertheless, my arguments about the meaning of the passage stand on their own merit.

  18. As stated at the beginning of the article, Christians should certainly be involved in politics. But *bishops*?
    It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding of what the church *is*, as though bishops, or the clergy more generally, *are* the church. As CS Lewis put it 80 years ago, the clergy are the particular people whose business is to care for the bit of us that will live forever. “Christian drama” he wrote, “is written by Christian dramatists, not by the bench of bishops sitting down to write plays in their spare time.”
    If Mr Welby and his colleagues felt their main calling was to speak on immigration, or abortion, they could – I suggest should – have sought election as MPs, as Tim Farron and Alistair Burt have done. Since he became a clergyman instead, it suggests that God thought his talents are elsewhere, and that his main public focus should be on Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

  19. Ian, one of the basic premise of your article might be incorrect; ’In fact, Justin’s comments….combine a suggestion of open-door migration (though rather ambiguously) with a fuller understanding of the difficulties.’ I am not sure that ++Justine does support or advocate open door migration.

    He indicates as much in his speech; “we cannot take everyone and nor should we”
    He did not support Lord Paddick (LibDem), in his proposal to dismiss the bill but offered to amend it. This indicates that he would support an illegal immigration bill but “this is not it”.
    He has previously expressed very strong sympathy with those alarmed about high levels of immigration; ‘Most Revd Justin Welby said people are entitled to fear the impact of uncontrolled migration on their communities.’
    You might simply have intended to use ++Justins speech as a spring board to talk about immigration, but it sound like an attack on him and more than little bit of a put down.
    The Law Society reports that many conservative peers voiced grave objections to the bill just as ++Justin did ;
    After some thought, I don’t think this is an article about Christian involvement in politics, it is about the politicisation of Christianity. An example of the politicisation of Christianity? possibly. The fact that some preach about marriage and some about the duty to care for refugees is all good. The word is doing its work.
    We certainly need a good theological reflection about immigration, but is this is? I fear not.

    • Thanks Mark. I didn’t say that Justin advocated open-door migration; I said that his words suggested it. As often happens, Justin’s comments are actually rather unclear—his advocacy of ‘welcoming the stranger’ as having a bearing on migration policy does indeed suggest that. In fact, Paul Butler’s speech was much better, in that it was more precise. But precision does not grab headlines, where sweeping statements do.

      If you think that the current policy of speaking into political issues is working, then can you provide evidence of bishops talking about the other issues I mention?

      • Ian, thank you so much for taking the time to respond. Writing clearly is challenging, it’s work, or perhaps a labour of love (But so is reading clearly). I am constantly challenged trying to understand others point of view.
        I note today that ++Justine is going to work on an amendment to the bill, something described as un-precedented. So this story may move beyond us and his views may become absolutely clear.
        I was very challenged by your question about Bishops speaking about marriage and the other issues you mention. This was not actually what was in my mind. I was thinking that you champion marriage, which may not count in the context of your article, if we are only thinking about Bishops. I could not think of one, until this morning. I think +Jill has made a major contribution on this issue. Not sure if this is what you had in mind. Many thanks again.


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