Faith and Frontiers Today

Submitted by SCM on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 11:11

James Blackhall recaps a thought-provoking day at the recent ‘Faith and Frontiers Today’ event in Coventry, organised by Project Bonhoeffer

On 5 November I attended Project Bonhoeffer’s event, ‘Faith and Frontiers Today’, which left a lot of room for theological thought. Firstly, Esther Reed’s talk on transnationalism and the work of Bonhoeffer was interesting and led me to question key things that I had come to understand about the rights of refugees.

Bonhoeffer’s work was less radical on the subject than I thought it would be, with his emphasis on a secular and church divide on issues relating to the state’s governance, which makes acting harder than in the work of other theologians. However, that did not mean that we should not lobby. If we disagree with a policy of our government, we have to protest. To Bonhoeffer, we are implicit in it by the fact that we are members of that state. As Christians, we have a duty to act upon what we see, otherwise we are condoning immorality.

This challenged me to campaign more on refugee rights issues and other social justice issues more widely. I take inspiration from Deacon Tracey Hulme of the #rethinksanctions campaign that is making huge strides to highlight the injustice of the current benefit sanction system.

We then moved onto an inspiring talk by Ben Bano who discussed the work that he is doing in Calais and how Christians and others have responded to the needs of refugees, including people who live in areas where there are high levels of racism and xenophobia. Churches have led the way in demonstrating a change in attitude through love and hospitality, which in turn has led to a change of attitude within the community in which they were located.

 The break out sessions were also interesting. I participated in two discussions. The first was on whether the church should make concrete statements on refugee issues. Although we disagreed exactly how far the church should go (for example, whether they should lobby the government to allow a certain number of refugees in the country or be more general) and exactly what they should say, we all agreed that to not provide support for refugees would be immoral. It is the church’s duty to be engaged in politics. It must therefore make statements that not only call on the government to act but inspire Christians who belong to those churches to act on behalf of those seeking refuge.

 The second session I attended prompted a lively discussion about applying Bonhoeffer’s notion of costly discipleship to refugees. One question was whether Christians should be willing to be sent to prison in order to provide support to a refugee family, such as hiding illegal immigrants. We also thought about those in positions of authority and whether we would be willing to be ridiculed and risk losing power for speaking out for refugee rights.

All in all it was a very interesting day and I highly recommend you attend Project Bonhoeffer events in the future. It gave me a greater insight into politics and faith, as well as being a highly enjoyable day.

James was a member of SCM Leeds while studying an MA in Theology and Religious Studies. He now works for the Methodist Church in Leicester as a Messy Church, Schools and Community Worker and is studying towards a certificate in Mission and Ministry at Cliff College.

Tags: Faith in ActionBonhoefferRefugeesCampaigns