Rethinking Hospitality: Pondering the Sexual Harassment Scandal in Germany

By Mike Kuhn

[1]Germany photo

 

Not that long ago, German Chancellor Merkel made news by flinging the door open to immigrants seeking refuge from the Syrian war and the pandemonium unleashed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  In an ironic twist, the sexual harassment fiasco of Cologne (also Stuttgart and Hamburg) has refocused media attention on this policy and ignited a tinderbox of reaction to immigration in Germany and throughout Europe.[2]   The reaction, by any analysis, is justified—European women accosted by immigrant males shooting fireworks into a public square while surrounding the women, overpowering them, stalking, robbing, groping, raping…  It is difficult to imagine a more repugnant scene—immigrants finding a new home in Europe and returning the favor by unbridled sexual deviance directed toward the citizens of their new homeland!

Surely, in the name of decency, Germany should close the doors of hospitality to these intruders who show no respect for her dignity and civility.  If hospitality to migrants and asylum seekers comes at the price of sexual violation of young women, then better to leave the doors closed!  The open door policy was a tragic mistake and the evidence is Cologne.

As we would expect, demonstrators are asking Germany to revoke the open door policy and embark on a new path of protecting her own from the menace of intrusion.  Time for Germany to rethink hospitality!  Right?

While I am one hundred percent supportive of the just punishment of the perpetrators of this crime and the need to protect innocent victims, my plea is that we must consider the problem more broadly before making a sweeping judgment that impacts all immigrants.

This week I had a conversation with a young man fleeing the war in Syria.  He shared the story of a family member’s odyssey from Syria to Germany, a journey he hopes to embark on soon as well.  It was a perilous and protracted voyage by air, land and sea, crossing through a number of Mediterranean and Eastern European countries before arriving in Germany.  He is there now, sleeping in a room with someone he doesn’t know. The wait will be long for residency papers, housing and employment not to mention the long road to integration into German life, language and culture.  Though he never wished to leave Syria before the outbreak of war, the carnage left him no other option.  He is of age and conscription to the armed forces of Syria was inevitable.  This senseless war had ripped apart his family and devastated his future.  How could he join the fight (on either side) in good conscience?  He fled.

Germany is one of only a few places that would receive a fugitive and offer him temporary help until he gets on his feet.  Indeed, Germany’s open-door policy has been a ray of hope for Syrians and Iraqis in a situation otherwise rife with despair.   I suggest that becoming personally aware of the plight of Syrians seeking a new life may give us pause for thought before closing the doors to immigration.

Another important angle to consider is simply the nature of justice.  I live in Beirut as an American.  No doubt some Americans here have broken the laws of Lebanon and been justly punished, perhaps even deported.   I am glad to report that the Lebanese police have not come knocking on my door because some Americans have broken the law. Nor have the Lebanese felt it necessary to restrict the number of Americans allowed in their country.   Justice must punish criminals but also uphold the rights of those who abide by the law.

First-hand reports suggest that the Cologne assailants were Arabic-speakers, likely of North African origin.  If that proves true, we must resist the tendency to lump all refugees into one category.  While we implicitly recognize the diversity of our own homeland (both good people and bad people come from there), we often fail to extend the same nuanced consideration to refugees and immigrants.  I am not held accountable by Lebanese law for the crimes of other Americans.  Nor should all Syrians be considered guilty because Arabic-speakers committed a gross crime.

Perhaps the sheer magnitude of the numbers of immigrants leads some to reject hospitality as a feasible policy.  The conundrums resulting from the proliferation of displaced peoples in our world are bewildering. It’s not just Syrian refugees…there are Afghans, Sudanese, Iraqis, Somalians, Congolese, Burundians and many others who are seeking sanctuary in Western societies.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that never before in history have so many people been simultaneously displaced due to threats to their personal safety and security.[3]

In view of this defining moment in history, may I digress from Germany to address another nation?  It’s the people Jesus referred to as his “Kingdom”—the Kingdom that overlays all the nations of this world…the one where his rule is sovereign and unquestioned.

As I survey this new challenge of our era—displaced people—I wonder if Christ’s Kingdom will rise to the challenge, demonstrating Christ-like hospitality.  First, such hospitality has preventative value—potentially mitigating incidents like Cologne, assisting immigrants to integrate into Western societies peaceably and harmoniously.   “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  Remember? Are we willing to insert ourselves as agents of reconciliation?  Are we willing to take on the costly work of hospitality?

But why should we welcome them?  Why make space? Why give up our resources and time and run the risk of a debacle like Cologne?  Paul gets to the crux of the motivation of Jesus-followers, asking them to remember that they were at one time alienated from God and his people until Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility.[4]  Paul is speaking of the unity of people groups (Jews and Gentiles) whom Christ redeemed and brought into his body—the church.  Yet it seems that this core motivation is to spill out beyond the church to the surrounding society as Paul later says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph 5:1)   Jesus is more succinct but equally poignant: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Christ states that his servants follow him wherever he goes.[5]  Would he not be at the crossroads of human suffering, walking with the refugee through deprivation and displacement while also offering justice and healing to victims of events like Cologne?  If you agree that Christ would be there, then we really have no option, do we?

In brief, the Kingdom of God is to act like God in the world.  The body of Christ is to act like Christ in the world.  We receive others with self-giving love, not because they deserve it (neither did we) nor because they are nice or like us, but because that’s what our God does.  Receiving refugees hospitably and wisely can be a visible demonstration to the watching world of who God is and how He acts. That’s who He is.  He is love.

Yes, hospitality is costly.  It was for God.  It involves risk.   We’d better get the motivation right because perseverance in this life of hospitality will be tough.  We won’t be able to sustain it by the “feel-good” vibes alone.  But it’s important not to exaggerate the cost.  Remember that Cologne was an exception—a gross evil representing a minority of immigrants.  For most of us, hospitality’s cost will be giving up our time or some comforts while the rewards of hospitality will be noteworthy in new friendships and enrichment of our reality.  So, when you think of Cologne, don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Wherever you are as you read these lines, why not take a moment now to thank God for his hospitable welcome of you while you were alienated from him in heart and mind.  Then take a second moment to ask “now Lord, how can I offer your gracious welcome to someone in need?”

Maybe you will be the one to welcome that young Syrian to his new home.

______________________

[1] See original photo here.

[2] See The Telegraph description of the event here.

[3] See a UNHCR report on forced displacement here.

[4] See Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:12 -14

[5] See John’s Gospel 12:26.

6 thoughts on “Rethinking Hospitality: Pondering the Sexual Harassment Scandal in Germany

  1. “It is difficult to imagine a more repugnant scene—immigrants finding a new home in Europe and returning the favor by unbridled sexual deviance directed toward the citizens of their new homeland!” The problem we have is one that comes from assuming that those who have been sounding the alarm were un-Christlike. Rather than understanding the culture where millions of Muslims have been raised for generations under a “religious” cult of manhood – in the words of countless (hard to number but enough to raise flags during the Arab Spring and other public events where some women have been gang-raped in public) women are often no more than slaves. It seems the main deterrent for conduct is cruel punishment toward the victims of such acts, and those who have what they tag as “deviant” behaviour.

    However, listening to witness reports concerning migrants coming from these types of cultures like Pakistan and other Middle-Eastern countries, this is not new, but has been going on for years in Eastern Europe. Men who cannot self-regulate their sexual impulses to that degree, who protect one another and prey on women which they will hunt and isolate, take away and abuse in this fashion, have not suddenly started doing this.

    They come into a culture that is different with a sick sense of entitlement. And it includes how they consider and treat others. Misunderstanding this about Islam, or the Middle-East, is not hospitality – it is opening the door to molesters and criminals. the data is out there – Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, England, Turkey, etc.

    It is a terrible journey migrants embark on, leaving their countries after everything has been taken from them. And we should try to help, and Germany’s Chancellor’s heart was at the right place and I believe it still is. But this isn’t about evangelism. Are we going to display Jesus by opening our doors without discrimination, without having serious and thorough screening of individuals, and without having solid services aiming at introducing – particularly men and boys – to the rules and laws governing our democracies?

    Much has been said about the fear of ISIS infiltration. Much has been said about the rise of lone ranger crimes against westerners gathered is their own culture. Calgary, AB was hit a few weeks back. Men who come here have to know that there will be NO tolerance for this kind of behaviour, but our governments, and all non-profit organizations helping them, have to get to know where they come from. We do the same with homeless people, paroled prisoners, drug addicts, women and children rescued from human trafficking: why the reluctance to do the same in this instance?

    This is new in our countries – we have welcomed refugees for decades, and from various countries. But many in this new wave of migrants bring with them something that changes the very dynamics of our cities and cultures: they impose a treatment of women and an abuse of our legal system that betrays the hardness of their hearts and the resolve of their intents. I hope and pray that Europe, and North America, will develop an approach that will curb this sick, unnatural mentality. We have to think things through as thoroughly as the early Church had to do. We can’t live in a Christian bubble and only be concerned how Christ-like we look, but must seek wisdom and courage from above.

    • Thank-you for this response. You bring up some valid points. Your point that gang-like behavior of young males has been a part of the Arab Spring is well-taken. Also, the need for serious screening of immigrants and awareness of their mindset is essential. I hope that Christ-followers can be involved in that screening process and by no means do I wish to endorse a blanket acceptance of all immigrants in the name of hospitality. I took pains in the blog above to state clearly that no society can tolerate sexual molesters in the name of hospitality.

      However, my concern in the blog lies in a slightly different direction. The reality is that our Western countries are currently being flooded with immigrants of many different origins. In most countries there is strong political rhetoric to reject these newcomers based on a perceived threat to Western society (e.g. Donald Trump’s recent statements or “Le Front National” of France). My concern is that Christians under the influence of media and the barrage of rhetoric related to immigrants blindly embrace this rejection of immigrants viewing it as a threat to their societal security. This, in turn, translates into avoidance or negative sentiments directed toward immigrants who are already present in our societies. This avoidance only exacerbates the problems of immigrant separatism in their new homelands.

      My hope is that Christians, acting in the name of Christ, will break down the walls of separation and establish links of friendship and hospitality with these immigrants. I hope we will have the wisdom and foresight to set aside the political rhetoric in order to act in the name of Christ. I believe this can help immigrants to integrate and understand their new host culture. In fact I have seen this happen.

      Also, I am not speaking primarily of evangelism. It is not a utilitarian approach (i.e. “let’s help them so they come to our church!”), but a way of life that welcomes others even with their differences of faith, culture and language.

      In summary, I hope wise immigration policies and practices can be adopted. Such policies will protect innocent victims and that is essential. I also hope that Christ-followers can interface personally with immigrants creating a space of welcome and integration. Thank-you for your thoughtful comments!

  2. And that is what Jesus is asking us to do , to renew our minds (rom12) and rethink some issues from a wider angel and from a Godly perspective like the subject of hospitality that you have touched Dr. Mike . This article of yours takes us from focusing on the problems that are produced from the Immigration of Arab citizens to western countries To refocusing our minds on discovering ways to help those refugees find what have been stolen from them because of this ugly war . And to help ourselves rise above the feelings of resentment and rejection to having a new heart that pleases our Lord . God bless you

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