The Compassionate Use Of Words

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“The compassionate use of words”

In the current debate surrounding mass migration allowing the right words to influence our thoughts and prayers is an important part of Christian discernment…

Psalm 146:5-9

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them-- the LORD, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The plight of thousands of people seeking entry into Europe is the focus of much news coverage as I write, varying descriptions of those involved are offered.

"Put simply, these definitions say a migrant chooses to leave, whereas a refugee is forced to leave." This quote is taken from an article in the New York Post – “The difference between an immigrant and a refugee”.

It commented on how the term “immigrant” had been taken by some writers and commentators to be the equivalent of “non-human” (Cockroaches in one case) to such an extent  that others in the profession where refusing to use the term preferring “refugee” for all currently seeking to enter and remain in Europe.

In the same newsfeed was an article quoting the Chief Rabbi and leader of the Roman Catholic church who stated that to profess any faith based opinion in the public forum was an act of courage as such views were regarded as naive at best descending through irrelevance to hostility.

I hope it isn’t considered naïve to point to the immeasurable value God gives every human life, created as it is, in his image. This gives every human being intrinsic value not by what they can do but for who they are, as such we are called to a compassionate concern for all people.

Compassion is an as an attribute of God and his repeated command for those who would follow him to display. Here in the psalm and elsewhere the more fortunate are called to display compassionate concern to those, who but for the grace of God would be, or in Israel’s case had been in the same boat as the poor, the widow, the Alien etc.

How those that would lead us today enact such compassion will in part be shaped by the will of the people they lead, you and me. What shapes us will in turn include the language others and we use when engaging with how the issue of mass movement of people impacts on our crowded island.

This brings responsibility to  all to think carefully about what language we use and accept about those in distress.

It should also hopefully influence our prayers for those in need and for those who need  carefully to balance the aspirations of the immigrant and fears of the refugee.

Careful weighing of the language  used in describing the plight of those who travel can only help us see the human beings behind the headlines and hopefully express the compassionate concern of God for them.


A Prayer

Lord Jesus,

You who were once a refugee

whose life was threatened with violence from the earliest days;

deal mercifully with those who seek sanctuary

Grant courage for those who must cope with the tragedies that unfold

Give wisdom to those who must discern between the status and needs of immigrant and refugee

and overthrow the people of violence and traffickers in human misery.

That in all your compassion may be known




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