The Church has long been a defender of those who we consider to be the most vulnerable members of society. We take from scripture that these are the oppressed and persecuted, the poor and the weak, the widows and the orphans, the prisoners and the foreigners. We are meant to provide for those who fit within these categories so that we may serve God by caring for people, “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).
When we look at the global migration crisis, this call to serve becomes evident in practice. Churches have played a big role in Canada’s refugee resettlement process. They are frequently Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs), thus occupying an integral role in the private sponsorship of refugees and providing an immediate community for newcomers.
The United Nations estimates that there are approximately 25.4 million refugees currently scattered across the globe. These individuals have been displaced due to root causes such as war, gender-based violence and persecution, based on factors like political affiliation, ethnicity, religion and more.
The Bible explicitly demands that we provide specific care to refugees, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Often, it seems we follow through. However, with growing anti-refugee rhetoric persistent across the West, ensuring that we care for the most vulnerable through effective measures is increasingly important. We must recognize that systemic inequities and growing negative public opinion pertaining to refugees in Canada continue to exist. As a result, we ought to commit to extending our vision of servanthood and make public efforts to stand up for the rights of refugees.
The position of Christians in Canada is one of immense privilege and political legitimacy. We must use this privilege as a catalyst for advocacy.
In order to accurately advocate for the needs of others, we must first understand who it is we have been called to serve and how their experiences have been shaped. There must be a recognition that vulnerability is created through systems of power that aim to oppress and marginalize. These systems include the patriarchy, white supremacy, and heteronormativity.
To better understand how these systems affect specific individuals and groups, we can use a concept like intersectional analysis as a tool. Intersectional analysis at its core is the process by which we determine and recognize the different ways people are impacted by systems of power because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic class and other means of identification. By taking an intersectional approach to advocacy, we can also better detect where blind spots exist and work to recognize our own privilege and then adjust our behavior and efforts accordingly.
Particularly for refugees, we need to examine how these societal systems interact with the added marginalization that comes with immigration status. For women and girls, this means understanding that they may flee their country of origin due to persecution in the form of gender-based or sexual violence. From here, we can note that the resulting trauma requires specialized healthcare and that in resettlement countries, including Canada, gender-based violence also exists.
To truly adhere to an intersectional approach, it is imperative to identify where further pieces of an individual’s identity may also impact their experience with discrimination. Race, in particular, plays a distinct role. Being a woman-identifying refugee who is also a person of colour comes with added ostracization. More difficulties can arise if an individual has limited proficiency in English or French. When combined, these aspects of identity illustrate how people can be disproportionately disadvantaged.
This is where well-informed advocacy becomes critical, and Christians have both the opportunity and duty to fight for the rights of refugees.
In April 2017, CPJ released A Half Welcome. This report highlighted some of the top concerns SAHs had regarding private sponsorship. The findings indicated that general wait times, wait times for non-Syrians, allocation limits, and travel loans were some of the most pressing issues in resettlement. Conducting an intersectional analysis of this report illustrates that these findings suggest clear issues of inequity. Concerns raised regarding the differentiating wait times between Syrian applications and other applications demonstrates a hierarchy of prioritization – an issue of inequity based on political circumstances that lead to a seemingly two-tier system of who’s in and who’s out, without necessarily meaning to. Advocacy, in this case, called on the government to commit to providing adequate resources to partner organizations for better management of application processing.
Similarly, in 2018 CPJ’s report Reclaiming Protection also highlighted systemic inequities with the opportunity for members to engage with advocacy. The report called for an end to the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). Included were highlights of specific policy changes made in the United States. One change disqualified gender-based violence as a reason for female-identifying persons to claim asylum. Under an intersectional analysis, this clearly demonstrates that the United States is not a safe place for people seeking refuge based on gender persecution and discrimination. Accompanying this research was a letter template to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, and later to Bill Blair, the Minister of Border Security, calling on each of them to recognize the violation of refugee rights in the United States and rescind the STCA. Advocacy requires continued education and analysis that leads to concrete action. Engaging with government by sending a letter to a Minister to enact change on policy issues is an effective way to demonstrate active care for those we have been called to serve.
Being Better Advocates
So, how do we improve our efforts to advocate for the needs of the most vulnerable? Well, to start, we can be supportive of the work already being done and use it to our advantage. Participating in advocacy initiatives and developing new strategies of engagement are both equally important. The call to serve is not a new notion; it is what is required of us as followers of Christ, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed… For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Matthew 25: 41-43).
In the end, what all of this really means is that Christians are called to be allies. To do so, we need to become better advocates. We must recognize and fight against the inequities that exist daily in the lives of others, especially when it does not directly affect us. It is imperative that we take up our privilege – whether it be our able-bodies, wealth, or another position of power – and use it in the call for justice. Ensuring that we take an intersectional approach to these challenges is critical for us to witness tangible change. As a result, we can better support those whom we have been called to serve.