Churches in Europe are being pulled in conflicting directions as they respond to the hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum from war and persecution on the continent, according to The Economist (Sept. 6). The magazine reports that, “On one hand, European churches and religious charities have played a prominent role in supporting migrants and campaigning for them to be treated decently. On the other, politicians on the nationalist right are beating the drum of Christian nativism; they have redoubled their warnings about the threat to Europe’s long-established religious culture.” This has led to conflicts as right-wing politicians and Christian activists and humanitarian agencies have sparred over what Christian ethics and responsibility entails. Pope Francis has taken the lead, calling for parishes and religious communities to accommodate refugees. In Germany, progressive church leaders have taken aim at the anti-Muslim movement Pegida, and churches have formed their own sanctuary movement as they take in Christian and Muslim migrants on their properties.
Nativist and nationalist groups, such as the Northern League in Italy and the Golden Dawn in Greece, argue that they speak for many lay people in the churches. But the magazine notes that “even for churches and charities who have no political agenda, the influx of migrants poses dilemmas.” For instance, some are asking whether they are obligated to take in both Muslims and Christians or do they have a special obligation to those of their own fold, especially since Christians have suffered severe persecution by extremist Muslim groups. Another dilemma is the matter of evangelizing the migrants. A Protestant pastor in Berlin has baptized hundreds of immigrants from Afghanistan and Iran, raising the question of the sincerity of converts who think it might be easier to gain asylum; then again, if these asylum-seekers are turned back to their homelands, they can face charges of apostasy and even execution.