Jesus wasn’t much taken with biological kith and kin – he said we’re all family
The Guardian, by Giles Fraser
One of my parishioners comes to see me after church. She is a fragile-looking single mum with two children. Her husband left her more than a year ago and she doesn’t know where he is any more. She lives with her children in a single room in a house share, paying £400 a month rent. Now the landlord wants the room back by the end of the month. She has a little ad hoc work in a hairdressing salon, but because of her immigration status she cannot get proper work.
I ask her what the social services have said. But an auntie has told her that if she goes to social services they will take her children away.
I say that I am sure that this is not true and that I am happy to go along there with her as support. I ask her if she can perhaps try and regularise her immigration status. She has got in touch with a lawyer, she says. But she is not sure if he is any good. And she cannot afford a better one. Indeed, she cannot afford the one she has already contacted.
One of the things I have learnt in this job is the number of rubbish immigration lawyers there are out there, charging vulnerable people money for a third-rate service. Her eyes well up with tears. She is lost in a country that treats her like an unwanted dishcloth. She cannot go back to Nigeria, she tells me. She just can’t. And I don’t ask why. That’s not my job. Everywhere she turns, she is unwanted.
I don’t just disagree with Ukip. I despise them. I despise them for their smug Little Englander mentality. I despise them for their total absence of fellow-feeling towards vulnerable people who look and sound different. I despise them for the way they scapegoat immigrants and whip up the resentment of the white working class. But I especially despise them for the way they dress all this up as the protection of something they call Christian England:
“We need a much more muscular defence of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” says Nigel Farage.
OK, Nigel, let me offer one. In fact, let me allow my troubled parishioner to offer you one. As the conversation ends, I ask her about any family she might have in the UK. She doesn’t have any, she says. Now, I am often alert to being conned in these conversations (it’s a function of desperation which I totally understand) and I remember she had spoken about her auntie. So I challenge her about the auntie. She smiles at my ignorance. Then I remember.
One of the things that first confused me about my predominantly west African congregation is that they were all apparently related. Everyone is somebody else’s auntie or uncle. For months, I thought my congregation consisted of one big extended family. Then someone explained to me that this wasn’t meant literally. It was a turn of phrase. And anyway, they argued, aren’t all Christians one big family?
Jesus wasn’t much taken with his biological kith and kin and talked about creating a new sort of family where water is thicker than blood – that water being the water of baptism. For example, in Matthew 12, Jesus is told he is keeping his mother and brothers waiting. His reply is harsh and radical: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” he asked. And pointing to his followers he said: “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
OK, I am being preachy. But uncle Nigel, if you want to defend Christianity, you ought to be defending this. When you suggested that people would rightfully be worried if Romanians moved in next door, you should have reflected a little bit more on Jesus’s answer to the question: “Who is my neighbour” – the story of the good Samaritan. And it’s not some liberal lefty interpretation. It’s basic Christian doctrine. In Christ, nobody has a passport. In Christ there is neither rich nor poor, black nor white, English nor Nigerian. We are all one family.