What Do Christians Owe the Migrants?

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has welcomed the migrants fleeing the failed states of the developing world, and now she’s in trouble.   She’s the head of a Christian, conservative party in Germany, and perhaps is motivated by the tenets of that faith to proclaim so expansively that “We can do this!” We can give these poor people a life again! And yet….

Here’s the problem: Christians are told to love their fellow man. However, when the migrants come in enormous waves, what do you do about that? It’s easy enough to love them when they’re in a distant country and you can write a check to a charity that will somehow ameliorate the wretchedness of their lives, but when they show up hungry in your backyard by the dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions!….then loving them becomes a challenge indeed.   And they’re not even Christians! What would Jesus do?

In 1889, some Bostonians got together to found the Society of Christian Socialism, with the purpose of convincing the country that anyone who claims to be a true Christian, must inevitably consider themselves a Socialist. So Merkel’s Christianity and her rival party’s socialism intersect at the border checkpoints.   The union of Christianity and Socialism: now there’s a thought that the current crop of candidates for president might chew on for a while.  Socialism, the bogieman of the right, as the natural political offspring of a Christian theology.    It makes a lot of sense if you read the Sermon on the Mount. We are commanded to help those in need, and that’s what Merkel is doing—sharing out the wealth of Germany to people who have lost everything.

But the devil is in the details.  How much to give? How many to take in? How about keeping enough for my family’s needs, and not just needs, but even luxuries? Why should I work so hard if the government is just going to give away what I have to some strangers?  Back in 1889 the Christian Socialists hastened to assure us that they embraced the individual’s drive to be successful.   Making money is a good thing. But they warned that anyone who placed the desire to get rich over the needs of the community was guilty of Mammonism, the opposite of Brotherhood, and Brotherhood is what Christ was all about.

Christian Socialism didn’t take. Mammon’s grip was too strong, too compelling in the Gilded Age.  But maybe its time has come.  Conditions haven’t changed that much in some ways.   It’s interesting to note how similar our world is to the one described back in 1889. Bernie Sanders, take note! they were up in arms about the 1% just as many are today, and there was just as low an opinion of Congress as there is now. The Society’s manifesto states:

“We hear the Senate called a club of millionaires; the House a collection of statesmen unacquainted with statesmanship, of wire-pullers, and attorneys and retainers of railroads, and trusts, and great corporations….The work of Congress is carried on mainly by committees, unseen by the public eye.   These are too often dark pockets, out of which legislation only issues when it is lined with gold.”

Three cheers for the Christian Socialists!  Maybe their moment has arrived, riding the wave of sympathy for the migrants.   Maybe we’re coming to the point where we recognize that we have to view ourselves as citizens-of-the-world, and not solely of a country.    Or will Mammon win in the end?

If you’re interested in more on this subject try: Migrants and the Roma

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