God calls us to welcome the stranger, says Krish Kandiah

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

"Grace" should be the "operating principle" for how Christians respond to people trying to come to the UK, says Sanctuary Foundation director Dr Krish Kandiah. 

He addressed the issue during a Rapid Response webinar on Wednesday called 'The Illegal Migration Bill, Gary Lineker and the Church.'

Gary Lineker's tweet in response to the Bill triggered a row at the BBC and divided public opinion for comparing the language used in the policy proposals to that of 1930s' Germany.

After stepping back from presenting Match of the Day, fellow commentators and football pundits stood in solidarity with Lineker by taking leave from their posts.

The government says it wants to prevent and deter unlawful migration into the UK, particularly migration by 'unsafe and illegal routes'. People in breach of immigration control will be removed from the UK.

Responding to the row, Dr Kandiah suggested it was "unfair" of the BBC "for singling out Gary ... compared to other presenters".

"As a Christian, I'm interested in how we communicate and live out the Gospel in our current context and that does mean being aware of what celebrities are doing and what's the zeitgeist of the moment," he said. 

"It was interesting to see the public reaction, whether that's people turning up at Leicester City when Chelsea were playing over the weekend, and Gary getting a lot of support there, whether it's the huge solidarity he got from commentators, players and clubs.

"There's something going on that seems to say there's a disconnect with this government's policy and the BBC's social media policy. That's an interesting thing, it's always good to know your context."

Dr Kandiah went on to say that Christians are called to "welcome the stranger" and that current events present opportunities to do this.

"As Christians we are always called to live under the rule of Jesus whatever our political situation," he said.

He continued: "Ultimately we are not governed by a king or a parliament, we are governed by the King of Kings.

"We are called to speak up for those who have no voice. This comes up so often in scripture. God has a concern for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger."

According to data from the Home Office, more than 45,500 asylum seekers crossed the Channel in 2022, while over 4,000 have done so this year.

Dr Kandiah said it was important not to see these numbers as a "statistic" or "problem".

He stressed that irrespective of immigration status, they are "made in the image of God" and that serving them provides opportunities to model God's grace.

"For many of us, we tend to think about the things that are impacting us. A lot of the reaction against immigration is: how is this going to affect me?" he said.

He continued: "If grace is our operating principle, we are more willing to lay down our lives to help other people.

"Jesus' whole mentality was service to others. He was continually criticised for being too hospitable. He kept giving himself away.

"I think if we have got the grace mindset, that God welcomed us into his family, that will help us be more willing to give to others."

He went on to outline actions churches can take to support refugees who currently reside in the UK, highlighting the power that "proximity" has in "humanising" them.

"When people think of 45,500 people coming across the Channel, that becomes a statistic, a 'problem' and we begin to get anxious," he said.

"When you meet people who are asylum seekers, a lot of your prejudice blows up."