Statement by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, on the current debate regarding security and provision of refuge for the most vulnerable
30 January 2017
The current state of geo-politics and the numerous terrorist attacks around our world in recent months have led to a growing uncertainty and global anxiety with regards to both internal and external security. This concern has prompted debates on the need for vigilance, the safeguarding of national security and the protection of individuals. Those same debates have also uncovered an underlying scepticism over the fluidity of borders and ease of access for those potentially intending harm, while also highlighting a perceived lack of compassion and understanding for those fleeing that same harm.
While it is important to safeguard individuals, communities and entire nations, it is undeniable that there has been widespread instability and conflict that has also led to the inhumane treatment and vast displacement of millions of vulnerable people across the Middle East and elsewhere. In seeking to protect individuals or a particular sector of a community, it is imperative that we do not alienate others, especially when it means denying the basic human rights and freedoms of those most vulnerable. We are already witnessing the generic application of law and policy running the risk of violating the same rights they seek to protect, potentially doubly discriminating against vulnerable families and individuals fleeing war and conflict by denying them the opportunity to seek refuge and safe haven.
As Christians following Biblical teachings and traditions existing for millennia, we believe that God instructs us to provide refuge and hospitality to all humanity indiscriminately. He does not stop there in His instruction, but goes further to urge us to love all, even those who consider us their enemies. We are warned in the Gospel of Saint Matthew about neglecting “…the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” In addressing the balance between maintaining security and providing refuge for those most vulnerable, we must remember the words of our Lord that, “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Love and forgiveness, as I have stated in the past should not amount to a lack of justice or wisdom, but they do safeguard against our human tendencies to seek revenge, or act in ways no different from those who seek to harm us.
While our human brokenness has led to the conflict and vulnerability we see in the world, we must not allow that same brokenness to lead us into dehumanising others, considering them less worthy of God-given rights and freedoms.
At a time when some politicians across the globe are utilising language that potentially promotes division and polarisation, it is imperative for all in positions of influence or authority, whether religious leadership or other, to remind all of the crucial values of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy. Without these values, our world will become a much more hostile place; and in not providing for the other, we deprive ourselves and future generations of those same entitlements fought for and upheld for millennia.
As a Church that frequently finds itself at the receiving end of lethal terrorist attacks, we understand far too well the need to protect communities and individuals. At the same time however, we must not do so in a way that compromises our integrity or goes against the humaneness with which we must address the vast majority of those who do not directly or indirectly advocate for, aspire to, or inflict harm on others.
We pray wisdom for leaders, safe passage and refuge for the vulnerable, and a realisation, by those who seek to inflict harm and terror on others, of the value and sanctity of every life.