The first thing you learn at Liberal Theological College is never say "The Bible says". The Bible is a collection of 80 or so books, by many different authors, in many situations over more than 1,000 years of the history of the people of God. Different authors acting under the Spirit would have been speaking into different political spheres - the world of Moses is not the world of Jeremiah or James. You make no sense if you try to understand the early chapters of Genesis as history, or the Book of Job as a guide to making portable tents. "The Bible says" is the mark of people who haven't really thought about things, don't understand the complexity of the texts.
I saw an example the other day. Unusually, in a Guardian headline. "Christian politicians won’t say it, but the Bible is clear: let the refugees in, every last one" Giles Fraser calls for, if necessary, the removal of the entire greenbelt if need be to let people in.
But the thing about the Bible is, it's not that clear, as we liberals know. Never is. We have to think through these things, work out what to do. There are 60 million displaced persons worldwide. And, through climate change and future warfare, there will be more to come. As Ian Paul notes, what Giles Fraser is doing here is virtue signalling. Making sure everybody knows how good he is prepared to be, at other people's expense, then lamenting that the evil government won't let his plan come to fruition. In times gone by this was also known as Liberal Democrat policy making. It may soon be Labour's.
Ian Paul's article also uses a previous analysis by Robert Peston to explain why actually Germany might be practically better off than the UK in accepting refugees from Syria. There's a fundamental problem with Europe - it's dying. If you think it's unfair that people working in the industries caring for the old get minimum wage, don't worry. In 40 years there's gonna be so many old people to the young ones, the ones doing that job will be able to charge what they like. If that's not to be the case, something has to change.
The British are keeping the birth rate up quite well by European standards. Probably through a mixture of the relatively large immigrant population that already lives here (immigrants are younger than the average, and of late have tended to be Muslim), and the kind of joyous alcohol-fuelled recklessness that still inspires some of the indigenous white youth. Germany, Spain, Italy on the other hand have seen the decline of religion combined with - well, what? If having children is a sign of hope in the future, then it appears the majority of the European continent has none. I blame the EU, really. If the most you've got to hope for is the clarification of the quality regulations for import paperwork - if you like, a regulation rubber stamp, stamping on a harmonised import docket forever - then maybe you can't see much point any more? No worlds to reach, no dreams to dream.
But the other part of that piece from the Telegraph is the disturbing one. With current rates of population growth in Africa, in particular; with pressure on resources; with potential climate change - that number of displaced people, from resource conflict, shortage and disaster - could be in the hundreds of millions. In a world with half a billion people looking to move north even Giles Fraser's generosity might be strained. We need to invest in a sustainable way to deal with these issues before they become unmanageable. Goodness knows how - I'm an Archdruid, not a statesperson.
If "the Bible is clear" on what we do for people, then let's remember that the "battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty" went into their new home in Canaan and committed genocide. The Bible is clear. They had to kill all the " Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites". Kill them all. And yet Giles Fraser at no point in his article advocates screening for the descendants of any of these tribes - and let's face it, there's probably still a lot around. The result of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan must surely have been refugees heading to places round about like, for example, Syria.
Yes, the Bible is in favour of looking after the stranger in your land. Yes, we should be generous to help those in need. Yes we should give till it hurts. Where we can take people in, sensibly and safely and with a combination of a hard head and a warm heart, we should. Where we have refugees in our land, we should respect and protect them. And we follow the One who told us that all are our neighbours. But the Good Samaritan didn't immediately put the assaulted man up in his own house - he put him up in a nearby inn because it was closer. The Bible is always clear if you predetermine what it should say. But I don't think Giles's solution is necessarily the right one. And the Bible's not clear on tactics, whatever it may be on principles.