On Monday night, a small number of us gathered in our church gardens to stand in solidarity with the tens of thousands who marched and protested around the country against Donald Trump’s controversial ‘travel ban’ - a ban brought into force by Executive Order over the weekend, and affecting citizens from seven nations.
Why were we protesting? The travel ban has been designed with prejudice and stereotypes in mind. The seven countries cited in the Executive Order had already been removed from the US Visa Waiver programme under the previous administration - meaning that travellers from these nations had to apply for a visa to enter the US prior to traveling. It was still possible to enter the US though - a reality that changed over the weekend.
Travellers wishing to enter the US who hold dual nationality, were also included within the ban - famously affecting Sir Mo Farah, a Somali-born British citizens who trains in the US, who can no longer enter the country. Now it seems that there may be some ground given on this subject, with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, on a case-by-case basis, people from religious minority communities (ie. non-Muslims) may be allowed to enter the US.
However, the vast majority of people affected by the ban are Muslim - and this seems to have been the clear target of Donald Trump’s actions - he did campaign after all on a platform that proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US. He has produced an Executive Order designed to implement that campaign pledge.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect was the suspension of the US Refugee programme - meaning that those who flee conflict and persecution, seeking asylum in the US, are also turned away.
As a Christian, I recognise my duty to offer hospitality and sanctuary to all peoples - regardless of religion, nationality or anything else. The Scriptures are full of injunctions to welcome the alien, stranger and foreigner in your midst.
I recognise that sovereign states have a right and responsibility to set immigration policy for themselves, but I also maintain these should be set following due process, and not by hasty (and probably unlawful) edict. Alongside this, I believe that as a Christian I have a responsibility to speak up for vision and values of our faith - a faith professed by so many in America, and yet which is expressed in policy and action anathema to the faith.
I also protested on Monday night against my own government - which has not spoken clearly or firmly enough in this situation. Theresa May has not condemned the policy, nor reminded Donal Trump of his obligations under international law - including his responsibilities as a signatory to the Geneva Convention. The spate of Executive Orders - which may contravene even US federal law - bear the hallmarks of tyrannical and dictatorial governance. We need our government to speak out against this.
Most of all, we protested on Monday evening to express our common humanity, and to remember the internationalist vision that our Christian faith inspires - in which national, cultural and racial divisions are transcended by the common humanity given to all by God. The kingdom of God is found not in the increase of nationalistic fervour or in divisive, hateful rhetoric, but rather in the coming together of many tribes, many tongues and many nations - for the beating of swords in ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Peace, love, hospitality and ever-increasing unity are the hallmarks of God’s coming kingdom.