Had it not been for the underlying prejudices, the scene on New Year’s Day 2014 was almost comical.
A young man found himself “mobbed” in the arrivals section of London’s Heathrow airport.
With a mixture of indifference and bewilderment, he shrugged off the attention of a frenzied media, explaining he had “just come to work.”
It was a reception that befitted an international criminal or celebrity superstar, not an ordinary guy coming to start his new job.
So why, of all the thousands arriving at the airport that day, was he picked out for attention? He was Romanian.
In the preceding weeks, Britain had been told to brace itself for a tidal wave of economic migrants once Bulgaria and Romania became full members of the European Union (EU), putting unprecedented strain on our overstretched welfare system.
One report claimed that 5,000 one-way tickets had been sold; others spoke of entire Romanian villages preparing to uproot and relocate in our green and pleasant land.
The first flight following Romania’s inclusion in the EU was reported to be filled mostly by Romanians who were already living and working in the U.K.
The issue of immigration and the increasing racial diversity of Britain’s population is not a new one.
Yet what struck me about this latest episode was the ease with which the British media was able to so negatively portray the inhabitants of a couple of nations just a few hundred miles away from our shores.
In a society where the racist insults that were sadly commonplace on the streets of my childhood are now deemed a criminal offense, there are some, it seems, who remain “fair game.”
But what has all this to do with Baptist Christians? Romania is home to one of the largest unions of Baptist churches outside of the United States.
Many prayed fervently for the “Soviet saints” in my formative years. Now that the freedom for which we yearned has become a reality, the U.K. is being increasingly encouraged to tear down the welcome signs and buy into caricatures of migrants seeking to scrounge every last penny out of our nation’s struggling economy.
This is a point not lost on Gale Richards, chair of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s (BUGB’s) racial justice committee.
She reminded me that a generation ago droves of Western Christians rushed into Romania, appalled at the discovery of state orphanages whose conditions defied description.
Now that the children we were so keen to rescue have grown up, the narrative fueled by several organizations and an increasingly mainstream contingent of the British press is “don’t come here.”
Sadly, in some instances, it is a narrative with which we have too easily allowed ourselves to join.
“Why would we come?” Emilian Cirtina said, smiling. He is a highly effective and much respected Romanian minister in one of our larger U.K. Baptist churches. “The weather is much nicer in Spain and Italy!”
There is a serious side to his argument. With significant Romanian communities already resident in these two countries, and far greater similarities of language, any mass migration resulting from the relaxation of E.U. border controls is likely to be to these two nations.
As someone born outside the U.K., Cirtina is perhaps better positioned than many to recognize the realities of British culture.
He sees immigration concerns as a symptom of an increasing tendency within the U.K.’s collective psyche to overreact to every issue that is thrown our way. “Everything here results in a panic,” he said.
Our calling as a gospel people is to not be those who simply “go with the flow” or, as the apostle Paul more eloquently expressed it, “conform to the standards of this world” (Romans 12:2).
This was very much the thrust of the recent publication, “The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” produced by the BUGB’s joint public issues team, along with the Methodist and United Reformed churches.
It makes the point that an alarming amount of public opinion is formed around inaccurate and misleading statistics and anecdotes. It highlights how information compiled for government reports and policy statements can be equally misleading and one-sided.
There is evidence within some quarters of the Christian church that the negativities are rubbing off on us.
Even if there is a stream of economic migrants entering our country, we might do well to remember that our biblical bearings should be set by a vision of society in which the “alien and stranger” are welcomed and provided for.
Phil Jump is regional minister team leader of the North Western Baptist Association in the United Kingdom and a member of the Baptists Together editorial board. A version of this article first appeared in the summer 2014 edition of Baptists Together magazine, a publication of The Baptist Times Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is first article of a two-part series. Part two will appear tomorrow. EthicsDaily.com’s documentary, “Gospel Without Borders,” brings more light and less heat to the topic of immigration in the U.S., separating myth from fact and examining what the Bible says about treatment of the “stranger.”