I think this letter, originally sent privately in September, from 84 Church of England bishops to the Prime Minister, is to important not to share. It is the Observer this morning. It may appear to be off topic, but this issue is far too important to ignore if anyone is looking at the economics of the real world, and relates in part to my analysis of a forthcoming financial crisis:
Dear prime minister,
Like you, your government and the people of our nation, we are deeply concerned for the refugee crisis that we have to face together. We are grateful to you and your ministers for the conversations they have already held with the archbishop of Canterbury and others around these issues.
We pray for the millions of people fleeing war and violence in one of the largest refugee crises ever recorded, and we remember those who have tragically died seeking sanctuary on European shores: those like Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy who heartbreakingly died and was washed up on a beach in Turkey.
It is a command in Judaism to “welcome and love the stranger as you would yourself because you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. Followers of Islam are obliged to provide food, shelter and safety to the traveller. Christ himself and his family were refugees at one point.
We are reminded that in the crypt of Canterbury cathedral there is a 17th-century notice which pays tribute to “the large and liberal spirit of the English church and the glorious asylum which England has in all times given to foreigners flying for refuge against oppression and tyranny”.
Such traditions and prayers must be joined with action. A moral crisis of this magnitude calls each and all of us to play our parts. We recognise and applaud the leadership you and your government are showing in this crisis, both as one of the world’s top international donors and in the recent announcement that the government will resettle 20,000 people over the next five years.
We stand ready to play our part as well. We will:
1. Encourage our church members to work alongside the wider community in offering support to all refugees who come.
2. Encourage, where possible and feasible, churches, congregations and individuals to make rental properties and spare housing available for use by resettled refugees.
3. Promote and support foster-caring among churches, congregations and individuals where appropriate to help find the homes needed to care for the increasing number of unaccompanied minors.
4. Pray for, act with and stand alongside your government, to rise to the challenge that this crisis poses to our shared humanity.
From what we see in congregations across the United Kingdom we are confident that the country stands ready and willing to support the government to be even more ambitious as it responds to this historic crisis.
We believe such is this country’s great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five-year period you foresaw in your announcement. Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily.
We believe that should a National Welcome and Resettlement Board be established in response to the crisis, drawing together civic, corporate and government leadership to coordinate efforts and mobilise the nation as in times past, such an effort would not be beyond the British people. A senior bishop would gladly serve on such a board on our behalf and at your pleasure.
This letter is written to you privately at present. The College of Bishops meets in Oxford next week and will spend some time considering our practical response. If you were able to respond to me ahead of that date it would help our discussions.
The letter has now been published because as the Observer says:
An extraordinary row between the Church of England and the prime minister has burst into the open as 84 bishops accuse David Cameron of ignoring their offers to help to provide housing, foster care and other support for up to 50,000 refugees.
I acknowledge my own position regarding this letter: I am still an Anglican although I usually worship as a Quaker. That should make it clear that I will always stand with the refugee, the oppressed, and the outsider and against the use of arms whenever and wherever possible.
And that frames my reaction: whilst politicians line up to argue whether we should or should not bomb Syria (and full marks to Nicola Sturgeon for saying no) we cannot find the resources to stage a meaningful response to this crisis for those who are suffering as a result of it.
In its heart this government could find the funding to bomb Syria, as it previously did Libya, but will not meaningfully help those who suffer. In Libya the bombing apparently cost twelve times the amount spent on reconstruction.
There is a sickness in our body politic here that needs to be named as a love of violence that overshadows the human compassion that should guide us.
I applaud the bishops for drawing attention to this sickness.