One of the most common news stories in our bulletins and newspapers these days is regarding the mass migration of people searching for a new home. Indeed there’s a lot in the press about the plight of refugees, and the lengths that some will go to, to find a safe haven.

Of course not all the publicity is good—most of it is bad. And that isn’t helped by people who are seen to be “queue jumpers,” by economic migrants pretending to be refugees, and by people keen to make money from the misfortune of others.
Whichever way you read the news, the world is in a sorry state. And the cause … Well there are so many reasons. But at the heart of the matter is usually greed for wealth and power, or intolerance for the unalike—whether in terms of religious beliefs, ethnic background, colour, sex, or whatever.

Now some might suggest that the simple solution is for matters to be resolved in the country of origin. Or, failing that, for other countries to welcome people in with open arms. But are either of these solutions realistic? And is the provision of an environment where people can be physically safe all that is required?

After all, there is more to life than just being physically safe. True sanctuary needs to involve other kinds of security too.

The problem for those with hard held religious beliefs, though, is that there may be no such thing as a safe haven. Because even western countries which may appear to meet the physical safety criterion cannot necessarily provide the spiritual security that religious people need.

Indeed, using the Christian faith as an example, Christians would have to be one of the largest groups who face persecution in the world. So if you were to take a map of the world, and colour in the countries where Christians are persecuted, you would probably include all countries where the predominant religion is Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. You would also colour in many other countries where other religions are dominant. Your map would then show huge blocks where Christians are persecuted and not welcome. But then colour in those countries which at one time or another have claimed to be “Christian”, but where the Christian principles have been eroded, and there wouldn’t be any countries left at all.

Even in the west, a refugee might find an immediate safe haven from the physical abuse they are fleeing, but the constant shift of western societies away from Christian or other religious principles means that their religious beliefs will still remain under attack.

Indeed, the current pressure on western governments to review the definition of marriage, not only undermines the family unit, but attacks the beliefs of practicing Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. The emphasis on the nuclear family over the extended family, the emphasis away from the rights of the unborn baby (through abortion, remedies for infertility, or medical reasons), and even the emphasis on a welfare society—taking the responsibilities away from the extended family—all serve to attack the family unit on which all three religions have a solid base. Indeed the idea that democracy is the superior form of government is in itself an attack on the beliefs of practicing Christians, Jews and Muslims.

As a consequence the west may offer physical sanctuary in the short term, but it cannot solve the longer term issue of providing a sanctuary which is safe from spiritual attack. Indeed, far from solving the problem, accepting religious refugees within the context of a secular society may actually make their situation much much worse.

Of course, one of the problems that Christians face in western societies is the accommodation of new ideas by the secular world. And the adoption of the concept of “positive discrimination,” to help those less fortunate, is one such idea. It is an idea which on the surface can be seen to be very positive. Unfortunately emphasising one group for special treatment is usually at the detriment of another. As a consequence, in order to accommodate some of the beliefs and practices of other religious groups, the beliefs and practices of Christians may be considered fair game.

Now persecution does not necessarily have to be overt. And yet that is where the current focus lies. With the emphasis on solving the immediate problem what is often forgotten or ignored are the more subtle things that eat away at people’s beliefs. And that may create a situation, in the longer term, far more damaging, and have greater impact, than the current problem of the mass exodus from places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In many ways western society tries to be seen to embrace other beliefs and cultures. Indeed it may advocate “freedom of religion” but it doesn’t seem to understand the complications that living in a secular society really brings.

So where do refugees go? Well for those who want to live a secular existence they may well fit in to countries offering them sanctuary—both in the short term and the long. But what about people of faith? Where do they go? Because even if they find physical sanctuary now, what is the long term solution?

Of course from a Christian perspective there is only one solution. That is for everyone in the world to have faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately that is probably not a realistic expectation. And indeed the world seems to be headed in the opposite direction.

For example, in the past the Christian church may have enjoyed a privileged position in many parts of the world, but that is no longer the case. And the situation is not likely to improve. But then that’s not really surprising. After all both Jesus and Paul talked about Christians having to live in two worlds at the same time—this hostile world and the next.

We shouldn’t be surprised then to find that there are no safe havens for anyone with spiritual beliefs anywhere in the world. And that is particularly true for Christians. Indeed the only safe haven for Christians today remains in the context of a faith in Jesus Christ.

Posted: 30th May 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis