Theo Hobson

Justin Welby is right to offer only a vague message about refugees

Justin Welby is right to offer only a vague message about refugees
Text settings

We should be more generous to refugees, said Justin Welby in his New Year message. Is he saying that the government should let more of them in? If so, should he be more specific? Does David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, have a point? He wrote on his website:

'How wonderfully saintly it must feel to sleep at night with an easy conscience knowing you have roundly condemned the wicked politicians and bigots who worry about mass migration without actually having to take difficult decisions yourself and live with the consequences.'

But Welby didn’t condemn those worried about mass migration: he just reminded people that hospitality to outsiders is an aspect of Christian morality. He kept it vague. He did not suggest that the door should be opened to all migrants, implying that any more cautious policy is un-Christian (as Giles Fraser did a few months ago).

The Church is right to issue vague moral injunctions. It is right to link them to the story of Jesus on the one hand, and to the Church’s own record of practical involvement (Welby cited a sixteenth-century example of Anglican asylum-welcome). Sometimes there is a need to be specific about politics – for example, a policy that discriminates against a minority should be specifically condemned. But for the most part vagueness is proper to the Church’s task.