I recently attended the live broadcast of a national (Canadian) radio show. The episode that I was present for focused on the worldwide refugee crises, the Syrian experience particularly, and Canada’s response to it. The question being discussed was “has Canada done enough?”
The overall tone of the show was extremely positive. A number of refugees spoke glowingly of the way Canada welcomed them and how appreciative they were to have the opportunity to start a new life in this country. People who work in service agencies spoke of how the Syrian people display such diligence and desire to integrate into Canadian life and find work. Everyone acknowledged the challenges — language learning and finding employment top among them — but there was a deep sense expressed throughout the show that the challenges of Canada receiving more than 25,000 Syrian refugees were outweighed by the benefits.
What was most striking to me was the presence of the church in this public conversation. While many of the refugees are government sponsored, numerous are in Canada due to private sponsorship. That is, they are being supported by families, various organizations, groups of people and most extensively, church groups.
A significant number of refugees, some Christian, some Muslim, noted the outstanding care they had received from the church that sponsored them. Private sponsors, most of whom were affiliated with a church spoke of how being involved with a refugee family was enriching their personal lives and that of their congregation. One person who phoned into the show noted that while her church was waiting for the arrival of their sponsored family they had begun helping a government sponsored family and would continue to help even after their sponsored family arrives. In every instance, it was clear that strangers had now become family.
What does this have to do with Post-Christendom? First, it reminds us that when the church functions as a people of “compassion in action” it can have a significant voice in the broader cultural dialogue and it will have the authority to speak. In a forum hosted by Canada’s national broadcaster, the church was front and center and its message was a positive one of acceptance, commitment to others and hope. Engagement with Post-Christendom culture must begin with the church being the church in practice, then perhaps its voice can be heard in the public sphere.
Second, in many places the work of the church in responding to the refugee crises has been to roll up its sleeves and get to work. The result has been that fears are allayed, friendships are formed and people from a vastly different culture find Canada to be a place that they want to call home. The church can, and in many cases is, leading the way in addressing this crisis and challenging the voices that want to keep desperate people out. This kind of compassion, humbly expressed is the ultimate response to the crises of displaced people we now face. It offers a model to all nations as to what can happen when people face their fears and open their hearts and even their homes to others in need, no matter how different they appear to be at first.
The church in post-Christian culture still has a role to play and the Syrian refugee crises is helping us understand how to play it.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*