David Cameron's immigration policies which 'put Britain first' are not Christian
Immigrants: we don't like 'em, don't want 'em. Not unless they're Russian oligarchs with bloated bank accounts and flexible ethics, and even that's getting a bit embarrassing nowadays, what with Ukraine and everything.
Your typical immigrant, according to much of the right-wing press, is a Romanian gypsy who's never done a day's work in his life and comes over here because our ludicrously generous benefits system makes us a soft touch. The answer? Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has announced a set of measures to put them off coming in the first place.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph he says: "We're building an immigration system that puts Britain first."
His proposals are designed to do three things. One is to clamp down on abuses of the immigration system – closing down bogus colleges, tightening up border controls, etc. The second is, in his own words, "to make sure the right people come for the right reasons". In other words, the Government wants to encourage high-worth, high-skills people and discourage people who come without a job to go to – so benefits can't be claimed for three months and then only for three months, not six. Third, "we are making changes to put the British people first"; rules on council housing and job recruitment will be re-jigged to favour native Brits.
Now, let's be clear. It does make sense to close down the 'colleges' which only exist to provide entry points for 'students' who immediately disappear into the black economy without ever attending a lecture; though it should be said that one of the unintended consequences of this policy is a massive financial and administrative penalty for many legitimate Bible colleges which are caught up in the same net. It does make sense to take control of our own borders. Other provisions are, well, arguable; and anyone who thinks that any party has got it completely right on immigration is either living in a parallel universe or is a member of the Government.
What should really concern us, though, is the rhetoric and the mindset behind the everyday discourse around this subject – and whatever the actual policies, all politicians use the same language. It is about "putting Britain first", "what's best for Britain", "acting in our own best interests" and "keeping out undesirables".
Now: if that last sentence is read with a shrug and a "Sounds fair enough to me," maybe we should read it again in the light of the Gospel. For instance: "Our citizenship is in heaven", says Paul in Philippians 3.20. In Malachi 2.10 the prophet says: "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?" The mould-shattering innovation of Christianity was its inclusivity: it was not to be a Jewish renewal sect, but a trans-national, universal faith in which there was to be neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. There is zero support in Scripture for nationalism of any kind.
Here, of course, we are straying onto dangerous ground. What's wrong with love of country? Nothing at all: and I am personally an unfashionable proud English Brit, who has no patience at all with ill-informed hand-wringing about either our past or our present. There's a referendum due next month on Scottish independence in which some Christians will argue passionately for breaking up the Union. Is that wrong? The answer is, not necessarily. If Scots vote that way because they just don't like the English or have watched Braveheart too many times, that's not a particularly worthy motive. But the Churches have wisely sought to shift the terms of the debate, so that instead of it being just about independence, it's about the sort of country Scotland should be – whether independent or not. What will best make Scotland fairer, greener, more equal, more caring?
So the terms on which the Churches want the Scottish referendum to be fought put into sharp relief wider questions of nationalism – and immigration. Because the question is not just, "What's best for Britain?" It's "What's best for all of us?" – and that uncomfortable line from Malachi, which speaks of the universal fatherhood of God, means that that Romanian gypsy is "us" as well.
Is this an argument for entirely open borders? No. We lack the resources – social and economic – to be able to cope with that. It would be nice to think that we could – and metro-centric liberals don't see a problem – but in areas like East Anglia which have seen large influxes of Eastern Europeans, services are struggling.
It is an argument for challenging the rhetoric that sees them as a threat, as hostile aliens who want to take what we have.
The truth is that but most immigrants are driven by poverty, war and fear for their future. The question Britain should be asking is not, "How can we keep these people out?" but "How can we show them kindness, generosity and solidarity, whether they are able to come here or not?"
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?
Rev Mark Woods is a freelance writer and Baptist minister.