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Five Theses on the Political-Theological Foundation of Church Asylum

by Benedikt Kern
Human rights did not just fall from the sky, but had to and must be fought for by those who are not granted them...This includes the unwritten human right to global freedom of movement. Solidarity is directed primarily at those who are enslaved and/or who, in the struggle for liberation, are working to overcome unjust social conditions.
Five Theses on the Political-Theological Foundation of Church Asylum
by Benedikt Kern

[This 2018 article is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Dr. Benedikt Kern is a member of the Institute for Theology and Politics, Münster

)In our experience, church asylum practice requires a well-founded theological justification in order to be able to provide congregations and religious congregations with a reassurance of their own practice on the one hand, and on the other hand to provide a justification that is not primarily based on a moral perspective. Five central aspects can be named, which are presented here as theses: Church asylum as a church practice of...● Solidarityt● Option for the poor/positioning against global Injustice● of the prophetic, public and emblematic action● of the messianic understanding of the law● of human rights protection. Church asylum is a practice of solidarity instead of isolation, exclusion, deprivation of rights and deportation

Background: The history of the right of asylum has been a history of aggravation and curtailment of basic rights in Germany at the latest since the asylum compromise of 1993. Especially the asylum packages (safe countries of origin, camp accommodation, increased deportation figures, more effective enforcement of the Dublin system, residency requirements and benefits in kind, restricted access to education, medical care and work) from the last three years show this: Migration policy is a measure of the increasingly sophisticated management of immigration into the labor market, and the issue of protection from violence, impoverishment and persecution plays a subordinate role. Solidarity (Greek: agape=love) is a basic theological category from the biblical tradition that defines the relationship between people and creation,

The liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt was and is a promise to be fulfilled.. Solidarity is directed primarily at those who are enslaved and/or who, in the struggle for liberation, are working to overcome unjust social conditions. In this respect, it is a determination of relationships and not merely a feeling of pity. Solidarity cannot be declared alone and remain without consequences, but it interferes. From such solidarity arises the hope for change of the existing and this hope in turn strengthens the practice of solidarity. Pope Francis put it in a nutshell: "In the face of the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from death by war and hunger and setting out for a more hopeful life, the Gospel calls us, indeed demands of us, to be "neighbors" of the least and forsaken. To give them a concrete hope. Not only to say: "Have courage, have patience...”

Christian hope is combative, with the perseverance of one who is heading towards a secure goal. Solidarity understood in this way is therefore not just empty words, but the basis for a real approach to circumstances in the sense of the Magnificat (Lk 1:26-56): so that the hungry may have food, but the rich may go away empty; so that the lowly may be exalted and the powerful may be thrown from their throne. Proposition: In view of the current political situation, the churches are challenged not only to confess solidarity, but also to make it exemplary and practical, e.g. in church asylum - even if this may involve conflicts with state authorities and political actors. However, it is a matter of protecting people who are threatened by inhuman hardship in an exemplary way, as if they were deported into misery.2) Church asylum as a practice of option for the poor and of a clear positioning in the face of global struggles for autonomy and equality instead of reproduction and stabilization of the status quo

Background: Poverty, wars and climate change are the main reasons for flight and migration movements. Many of these causes of flight are caused by global neoliberal capitalism and have their starting point in the economic system of the global North. On the way to those countries that benefit from these conditions, many people on the run encounter insurmountable walls on which countless people have lost their lives in recent years.

The theological basis of the above-mentioned party solidarity is that the social standpoint of the poor and oppressed must be taken as a preliminary understanding of biblical writings. There are three reasons for this. First: According to the Judeo-Christian understanding of God, God himself chose the enslaved and promised them liberation as the promise of life. If man is mocked as the image of God, this is also a mockery of God himself (see also Mt 25). It is said of Jesus that he took sides with the poor. This means that he did not take sides with the rich (cf. the saturation of the many, Mk 6:35-44, and the wailing over the rich, Lk 6:20b.24). Second, the option for the poor (or in other words, option because of the poor) is an analytical option, always based in a social analysis that reveals social conflicts and interests as the reasons for impoverishment and exclusion.

The option for the poor is a party perspective on the economic, political and ideological conditions of society and its conflicts. Thirdly, this option includes the political significance of those who suffer from slavery and who seek to establish equality and autonomy. It therefore takes seriously the subjectivity of those who are the excluded. For this reason, this option contradicts any form of paternalism or assistentialism.thesis: The practice of the churches can remain faithful to its origin and the promise of the Kingdom of God only if it is a partisan practice. A partisan practice makes itself aware of the social contradictions (such as rich and poor, with and without papers, etc.) and tries to overcome them instead of clinging to the status quo (the ever-wider-so). Church asylum supports refugees threatened by deportation with their will for a self-determined life in dignity and equality. In church asylum, people can experience themselves as subjects of their actions.

3) Church asylum as a practice of prophetic, public and symbolic action that opens a perspective for the realization of the good life for all. At the same time, a market-based approach to the migration debate is becoming increasingly prevalent: Those who can be exploited on the labor market in order to strengthen Germany as a business location through cheap labor, but also through high potentials, are allowed to stay here. That is why isolation and integration go hand in hand.

The prophetic tradition of the Bible has always been central, though often marginalized. The prophets have uncovered, exposed and publicly criticized social and religious grievances. They have taken the exodic experience as a yardstick for this and interpreted the Torah as the perpetuation of this history of liberation. Accordingly, the different forms of rule and oppression were, in their view, always also breaks with this history and with the promise of a future land where I and honey will flow (cf. Ex 3:8). The prophets usually clearly held the rulers responsible for their actions and called for repentance in order to start anew. This means that the hope of changeability, as a "redeeming change" (Pope Francis), is constitutive for prophetic practice.

Biblically, the legitimation of prophets consists in their speaking position on the part of those who are deprived of their voice. This also means, however, that as a rule they did not speak the truth of suffering for a majority, but for an ignored or excluded minority - even if they had to accept punishment or even death for it. Proposition: Church asylum is always prophetic as well, since it exposes the structural injustice of the deportation regime and admonishes that a humane practice is possible and even more necessary. It does not instrumentalize the individual case, but is an exemplary prophetic objection in public, founded on conscience and the biblical tradition, even though there is no broad consensus on this.

4) Church asylum as a practice of the Messianic understanding of the law instead of consenting to the current deprivation of rights by the bourgeois rule of law: The tightening of asylum law has made the means and scope for action by the authorities increasingly limited. Deportations to Afghanistan, Iraq or of minorities to the Western Balkans, but also Dublin transfers into homelessness and the acceptance of chain deportations make it clear that even the courts can only partially counteract the actions of the BAMF and the foreigners authorities. Insisting on solutions based on the rule of law cannot guarantee humane treatment of refugees under the current asylum laws. However, this cannot be achieved structurally in a state of a prosperous industrialized country either, because there are inherent contradictions and conflicts of interest.4

The practice of Jesus, a messianic understanding of the law, is clearly illustrated in the pericopes on dealing with the Sabbath commandment (cf. Mk 2:27). Pope Francis offers the following understanding of this text: "On one Sabbath, as the Gospel tells us, Jesus did two things that accelerated the plot to kill him. He went with his disciples through a cornfield. The disciples were hungry and ate from the ears of corn. Nothing is said about the "owner" of the field... Behind it is the universal destiny of all goods. It is true: in the face of hunger, the dignity of the children of God has priority for Jesus over a formalistic, adapted and interest-based interpretation of norms.

When the teachers of the law complained in hypocritical indignation, Jesus reminded them that God wants love, not sacrifice, and enlightened them that the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath. He confronted hypocritical, self-sufficient thinking with the humble intelligence of the heart, which always gives priority to man and rejects those logics that undermine man's freedom to live, love and serve others. So here it is neither a question of questioning the extremely positive Sabbath commandment, nor of an anti-Jewish reinterpretation of this tradition, but rather of clarifying his messianic understanding of the law: according to it, the law (which is man-made and therefore changeable) must always be in the service of man, and not subordinate him to the law to such an extent that this is contrary to the life of man. That is, where not man himself becomes the highest norm of the law, the Sabbath is thus no longer there for man, but only the formal fulfillment of the law is in the foreground, man is "subjected to a despotic power" (Franz Hinkelammert).

Every law must therefore be measured by whether it creates new suffering for those who are in greatest need of protective law.thesis: In the face of inhuman asylum legislation, the churches are challenged to give priority to their "humble intelligence of the heart" over simple fulfillment and subordination to the existing order. This means that the state must not be given a free hand when deporting people. Rather, what is needed is a clear critique of this legislation and a practice of civil disobedience, such as church asylum, in order to actively oppose existing injustice.5) Church asylum as a practice of human rights protection instead of a prevention of global freedom of movement.

Background: The principle of human rights can only apply universally to all, without distinction on the basis of origin, skin color, gender, language, etc. However, it is not enough to proclaim human rights; they will only be redeemed when they are implemented and can be demanded by all. Moreover, human rights did not just fall from the sky, but had to and must be fought for by those who are not granted them, not only codified rights, but also those that have not yet been established (but are not less valid because of this). This also includes the unwritten human right to global freedom of movement. This applies to a few. For example, with a German passport, visa-free access to 176 countries is possible. At the same time, most non-European people are denied access to Europe.

Migration is an essential element in the biblical stories and indicates important historical turning points: Abraham and his family's train to the land of Canaan, the arrival of Jacob in Egypt, the exodus, the Babylonian exile and return, the flight into the Jewish Diaspora, etc. The protection of migrants therefore also always plays an important role, as in the Torah: "The stranger who stays with you shall be to you as a native, and you shall love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt" (Lev 19:34). Thus, one's own history of flight is the background for human dealings with migrants; it is not simply a moral obligation, but has to do with one's own origin.

At the same time, based on biblical tradition, the right to freedom of movement can be justified on the basis of universal dignity and an egalitarian view of humanity. Paul makes it clear that there is no longer "Jew, nor Greek, neither servant nor free, neither man nor woman" (Gal 3:28), but that there are common rights and autonomy for all. To grant or deny access to a territory according to nationality thus contradicts the biblical understanding of man as part of a "common house" (Pope Francis).thesis: Every deportation is an encroachment on the legitimate autonomy of people, especially those who are threatened with particular hardships in certain places. For this reason, church asylum is a necessary human rights practice that takes its own exodutical tradition seriously and already anticipates in an exemplary way that people can, for good reasons, independently determine their whereabouts, since this would also affect their humanity.
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