Refuge Reimagined, Mark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville, Foreword by Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: A case for welcoming refugees based on the biblical ethic of kinship, and the responsibility of kin to provide a home for those who have none, with applications to the church, the nation, and the international community.
In 2019, 79.5 million people in the world had been forcibly displaced from their homes. Causes range from political and religious persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, and the breakdown of the rule of law. In 2020, the United States admitted just 11,814 of these people, less than the 18,000 places allotted. Similar numerical disparities exist in many countries while poorer neighbors often absorb higher numbers, many in refugee camps.
Faced with these great needs and the reality that sending many people back to their homes is a sentence to a quick or slow death, many countries are closing their borders to refugees, claiming they have more than enough to do caring for their own people. Many church communities support these restrictive policies, citing scriptures supporting the rule of law and even the idea that the passages about welcoming the alien and stranger apply only to “legal” immigrants.
The authors of this work are involved in a community, Kinbrace, in Vancouver providing refugee housing and support. Out of their careful reading of scripture and their experience, they argue that the biblical idea of providing kinship hospitality runs through scripture as God provides a home for Israel as slave-refugees and enjoins this hospitality with others, exemplified beautifully in the story of Ruth. In the New Testament, the story is one of reconciliation both to God and across all human boundaries. The shared table, feasting together as the family of God is a prominent symbol of that reality.
They then build on their biblical study to address three areas where kinship may be practiced. First is the church and they explore a variety of ways churches can practice this ethic in worship and welcome. Then they turn to nations. They consider what it is for nations to practice justice with refugees, and address the objections of maintaining national identity and the argument that scripture only requires care for those who enter the country “legally.” They show that no such biblical warrant exists. Finally, they address the climate of fear that tinges these discussions, reminding us in the words of Marilynne Robinson: “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” Finally they argue for an ethic of kinship in the global community, challenging the approach of political realism.
I found myself in full agreement with the biblical arguments of kinship, and particularly, their relevance to believing people who are called to “…welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7, ESV). I was more troubled by the way in which it seemed they were calling on Christians to advocate with national governments and international bodies to do this. I would have liked to see more of the book devoted to addressing how churches and other organizations can fully prepare to become refugee welcoming communities. Instead of saying to governmental leaders, “we want you to open the borders to more refugees,” with the inference that federal, state, and local governments would bear the weight of this effort, imagine the reaction if church leaders came to government and said, “we have mobilized a network of 10,000 churches and organizations, who are trained and prepared according to best practices to welcome 100,000 refugees and integrate them into our local communities. We’re asking you to work with us to make that possible.”
There’s a lot of heavy lifting with this idea. But I don’t hear the authors discussing the heavy lifting we are asking governments to do, often against the political grain of their populace, to embrace a kinship ethic. I wonder if more hearts may be won by local communities across the country who are becoming known for their generous hospitality, in which others around them see how much fun they are having doing this, and how their communities are enriched by those they welcome, as they fill needed jobs, start businesses, and add the richness of their cultures to our towns and cities.
That said, the appeal to kinship, to expanding our boundaries of “neighbor,” and to trade our fears for the joy of the festive table is compelling. I suspect the beginning in many places are for groups to study and discuss this book, begin learning about groups like Kinbrace, who are involved in refugee work, and pray, dream, and work to mobilize the resources needed in their community. What I hope will arise are supporting structures without bureaucracy to amplify the efforts of these local groups through advocacy, training, and networking. It seems to me, given the magnitude of the crisis, which is likely to grow, that this kind of mobilization is key if we would extend the wings of refuge to more than just a token few.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.