Rooted in Christ
June 27, 2019
One Caribbean Church, one people
June 27, 2019

Inconvenient Charity

Discipleship is hard and may be costly. Living out Christian values often presents us, individually and collectively, with tough choices, and the choices we face sometimes are not clearly between good and evil.

The choices can be between our self-interest and inconvenient charity. Take for example the responses we have seen with respect to the Venezuelan migrants. A range of arguments have been adduced to support the view that we should not accommodate them.

“They will out-compete locals for jobs”; “We are not as welcoming to refugees from Africa, Haiti or other Caribbean territories, so why should we treat the Venezuelans better?”; “They will eventually be registered to vote and could change the electoral balance of power in some constituencies”;  “They are bringing guns and will contribute to worsening gang violence”.

It is not that these views are devoid of merit and certainly, the psychological reaction implied by these views is natural and human. We cannot say that a worker recently laid off at Petrotrin is not justifiably concerned with the prospect of some Venezuelan migrant competing with him/her for jobs which are already hard to come by in a weak economy. Nor can we fail to sympathise with the parent whose child must ‘squeeze up’ more in the classroom to accommodate a Venezuelan migrant’s child.

Unplanned inward migration is costly for any host country, which is why countries protect their borders to stem illegal entry and also formulate a policy on immigration which seeks to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs.

What has set the cat among the pigeons here is that for a long time, our borders with Venezuela have been far too porous to drug, gun and human trafficking, and it was also easy for Venezuelans to come in legally and then overstay their visit.

It is also true that as the crisis in Venezuela unfolded, we were tardy in formulating a migration policy and implementing visas for entry. Now we are where we are and the reality is upon us.

How should we respond? We could compartmentalise our Christian values, bringing them to the fore when it is convenient and they do not cost us anything but that is not what is demanded of us.

Following Christ and living Christian values can cost us our lives, and our lives in the world may well be comfortable and secure. Who wants to give up comfort and security? Who wants to give up the little that one has? None of us do!

Jesus said: “Let the dead bury their dead”, and in another ‘hard saying’: “No one who sets his hand to the plough and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, put the problem even more starkly: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer, a German Protestant minister, preached against the Nazis and was hanged by them in 1945.

Inconvenient charity is hard. Discipleship is very hard. However, that is what, as Christians, we are called to be and become. Let us, by God’s grace, make the Venezuelan migrants welcome, as welcome as we would wish to be welcomed if we were in their shoes.