By the Rev Dr Liz Hoare

The Church of England - - SUNDAY - The Im­mi­gra­tion Chal­lenge

Ni­code­mus was a Pharisee, one of the most ed­u­cated peo­ple in his so­ci­ety. As a Pharisee he was looked up to and ex­pected to have an­swers, es­pe­cially an­swers to re­li­gious ques­tions. He is a great con­trast, then with the char­ac­ter fea­tured in the fol­low­ing chap­ter at Ja­cob’s well.

The woman of Sa­maria was not only from the re­li­giously de­spised Sa­mar­i­tans, but be­ing a woman she would not be con­sid­ered wor­thy of an in­tel­lec­tual con­ver­sa­tion, cer­tainly not with a rabbi. We might there­fore imag­ine that chap­ter 3 of John’s Gospel is about the in­tel­lec­tual en­counter with God through Je­sus while chap­ter 4 is about the emo­tional en­counter, via the things of the heart. Ni­code­mus can grap­ple with what it means to be born of the Spirit while the woman is told to go and fetch her hus­band-who-wasn’t-her-hus­band and ex­plain her­self.

Yet it wasn’t like that at all. Je­sus went straight to the heart of the mat­ter with the Pharisee and told him he must be born again. There is noth­ing more in­tel­lec­tu­ally help­less than a new­born baby, but Je­sus was adamant that Ni­code­mus wasn’t go­ing to get into the king­dom of God or un­der­stand who Je­sus was un­less he was pre­pared to be born from above.

Later, when he met the Sa­mar­i­tan woman, he not only chal­lenged her about her domestic ar­range­ments but he talked to her about liv­ing water in all its rich sym­bol­ism and its spe­cial mean­ing for her in her need.

Je­sus is full of sur­prises and yet he gets to the heart of the mat­ter ev­ery time. We might ex­pect Ni­code­mus to be sure of him­self and se­cure in his pow­ers of in­tel­lect and place in so­ci­ety. He an­tic­i­pated that Je­sus would meet him on his own terms and clar­ify who he was. Per­haps he would al­lay the de­bates among the other re­li­gious lead­ers and teach­ers of the law. Je­sus pulled the cer­ti­tude from un­der his feet and told him he must be­come like a new­born child again.

The woman on the other hand had none of Ni­code­mus’ cer­ti­tude. She was a bro­ken per­son, a mem­ber of a hated mi­nor­ity and could ex­pect noth­ing from Je­sus who was her su­pe­rior in ev­ery way. Imag­ine her sur- Over the past two decades, on av­er­age al­most half a mil­lion peo­ple per year have im­mi­grated to this coun­try. In the lat­est Bri­tish So­cial At­ti­tudes sur­vey (No 29), three-quar­ters (75 per cent) of re­spon­dents ad­vo­cated a re­duc­tion in num­bers of im­mi­grants, and half (51 per cent) sug­gested a large re­duc­tion. What is of­ten not re­alised is that a con­sid­er­able num­ber of peo­ple also em­i­grate, that is leave the coun­try – on av­er­age over 300,000 a year. The graph shows the num­bers.

How­ever, that still leaves a net in­crease of 140,000 per an­num, and over 20 years that’s 3 mil­lion peo­ple! Of th­ese 2 mil­lion have come in the last 10 years, which is one rea­son why our gen­eral pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 3.7 mil­lion – over half of them were im­mi­grants! A quar ter of all the non-UK born peo­ple in Eng­land and Wales in 2011 (7½ mil­lion) have ar­rived in the pre­vi­ous 10 years, prise when he even spoke to her, let alone en­gaged her in a con­ver­sa­tion that took her re­sponses se­ri­ously.

Ni­code­mus’ re­ply to Je­sus’ pro­nounce­ment is a ques­tion that could be taken as ridicule or it could also be a sad and weary ‘if only’ re­sponse. If only I could start over again and have that new-birth. Life could be so dif­fer­ent. Re-birth, how­ever, also in­volves be­com­ing vul­ner­a­ble and de­pen­dent to a very great de­gree. For Ni­code­mus as for us, it would sound like a con­tra­dic­tion of ev­ery­thing he had learned as he grew up: au­ton­omy, in­de­pen­dence, sta­tus and con­trol. It would mean let­ting go in or­der to find the an­swer to his orig­i­nal ques­tion of who Je­sus was. It would in­volve a leap of faith rather than an in­tel­lec­tual co­nun­drum to solve. It is not sur­pris­ing that it took him a while to get fully on board. The Rev Dr Liz Hoare (nee Culling) is

tu­tor at Wy­cliffe Hall pop­u­la­tion of the countr y is the num­ber of im­mi­grants and em­i­grants, which is not easy since the num­ber keeps in­creas­ing. In their lat­est forecast they have as­sumed that the net fig­ure will con­tinue at 140,000 for the time be­ing, but put it higher at nearly 170,000 for the 2020s. Those who em­i­grate may well be those who im­mi­grated a few years ear­lier be­cause of em­ploy­ment or study rea­sons, but ob­vi­ously Bri­tish peo­ple also go and live abroad as well, some­times for the same rea­sons.

The con­se­quence of all this is a con­sid­er­able change in the make-up of the pop­u­la­tion and this is seen in var­i­ous ways, such as age and cul­ture, and, as the 2011 Pop­u­la­tion Cen­sus showed, in re­li­gion. Un­like Aus­tralia, which records the re­li­gion of their im­mi­grants, Bri­tain cur rently does not do that, and sam­ple sur­veys among im­mi­grants are there­fore nec­es­sary to de­ter­mine tion, and, as Mus­lims have more chil­dren on av­er­age than Bri­tish peo­ple, some of the other growth was im­mi­grant-re­lated also, as Mus­lim ba­bies count as Mus­lims.

There is also an­other com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor, which is where im­mi­grants re­side. Many come ini­tially to Lon­don and not a few stay in the city. Greater Lon­don’s pop­u­la­tion in­creased by a mil­lion peo­ple be­tween 2001 and 2011, and of this in­crease 400,000 were ex­tra Mus­lims. Many Mus­lims do, how­ever, move to other cities, like Brad­ford, but, even so, of all the Mus­lims in the countr y two-fifths (38 per cent) live in Lon­don.

The same is true for other re­li­gions although to a dif­fer­ent ex­tent. Jews con­cen­trate in cer tain parts of Lon­don, and in fact nearly three-fifths (57 per cent) of all the Jews in Eng­land live in Lon­don, as do half (51 per cent) of all the Hin­dus, a third (34 per cent) of all the Bud­dhists and al­most as many (30 per cent) of all the Sikhs. But Lon­don only has a small pro­por­tion of those with no re­li­gion (13 per cent, the same per­cent­age as it has of Chris­tians, show­ing that Chris­tian­ity and athe­ism are spread more evenly across Bri­tain. Chris­tians are also spread more evenly across Lon­don, un­like the Mus­lims who are con­cen­trated in just a few Bor­oughs, es­pe­cially Tower Ham­lets where they out­num­ber Chris­tians.

Some churches ac­tively help im­mi­grants in their lo­cal­ity. The need for lan­guage help can be very real – in four per cent of Bri­tish house­holds to­day no one speaks English as a main lan­guage, and in one per cent the main English speaker is a child not an adult. What­ever our views on the Government’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, as Chris­tian be­liev­ers we need to seek cre­ative ways to be­friend “the stranger in our midst.”

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