By Guy Brandon
The BBC’s decision to film an episode of Songs of Praise at a makeshift church in the Jungle, Calais’ migrant camp, has divided opinion. Thousands of migrants have gathered in the makeshift settlement prior to attempting to cross illegally into Britain, and the recent surge in numbers has prompted heated discussion of how to respond to the ‘migrant crisis’.
Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, commented, ‘This is an insensitive thing to do. We are facing a grave crisis. The BBC should be careful not to start looking as if they are making political points out of this.’ The Daily Express (predictably) criticised the decision to use ‘taxpayers money’ for ‘televising Songs of Praise from the lawless migrant ghetto in Calais’, prompting J. K. Rowling to tweet, ‘Newspaper owned by man who got rich peddling pornography condemns the BBC for filming migrants singing hymns.’
The book of Ruth tells the story of one migrant woman who travels with a family member (Naomi) to Israel. Ruth is from Moab, a land associated with the worst kind of pagan religion. Over the years, Israel had had a turbulent relationship with Moab, and Moabites were excluded from Israelite religious life (Deuteronomy 23:3-4). As Ruth is introduced and settles in Bethlehem, what would have been the reaction of the book’s early audience? Perhaps it would not have been so very different to that of our right-wing press. Would they have seen her as an economic burden and a threat to their culture – both of which she arguably was?
And yet Ruth proves herself to be hard-working, loyal, and an exemplar of godly living - a better Israelite than any native Israelite. Anyone who read the book of Ruth and judged her on her nationality at the beginning would have had to rethink their assumptions by the end.
We tend to view migrants through an economic lens. The discussion is around benefit entitlements, housing, jobs and pressure on underfunded public services. The real danger of the Jungle church’s Songs of Praise is that it starts to humanise migrants, giving them not only faces but a faith, values, kindness – thereby undermining the most basic reaction to immigration: ‘they’re not like us.’
The episode of Songs of Praise is due to be broadcast on Sunday 16th August.
You can also read our booklet, Immigration and Justice, which unpacks the Bible’s teaching on immigration, and explores ways for local churches to help migrants old and new to integrate better in British society.
Image: Flickr, Jey OH photographie