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Migrants and ‘ecology of fear’

20 September 2013

Mary Sutton looks at a study of asylum-seeking and church


Asylum-Seeking, Migration and Church
Susanna Snyder
Ashgate £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18  (Use code CT449 )

THROUGHOUT this book, it is possible to detect Susanna Snyder's desire not only to impart information, but also to inspire transformation: "this study seeks to support those seeking sanctuary in their quest for new life in a new place, and justice and liberation are its underlying goals."

Moreover, her personal engagement with those seeking asylum in the UK underpins and lends much credibility to her book, which explores the encounters of church communities with migrants and, in particular, those seeking asylum. Snyder begins the book with one such personal encounter, and continues to "set the scene" in Part I with a discussion of her use of a "performative and liberatory" theological approach mobilised in conjunction with forced-migration studies and biblical studies to reflect critically on church praxis.

Drawing on her experience and research in the UK, Snyder has devised four categorises that encapsulate the various ways churches engage with migrants: encounters of service, encounters with the powers, encounters in worship, and encounters in theology; and these are revisited in the final chapter, where she seeks to draw lessons from her study.

The wider context in which these encounters are taking place is well explored and analysed in Part II, "Flight and Fright . . .". These chapters provide a good overview of the current global context of forced migration, and would be helpful for anyone wanting to understand these issues, as well as for debunking misinformation that has a way of insidiously creeping into society, the Church included. As a result of her analysis of the causes and consequences of fear in established populations, Snyder introduces the notion of an "ecology of fear". This leads into Part III, where she explores what contribution Christianity can make "concerning how the ecology of fear may be transrupted".

Beginning with a brief overview of the theme of "strangers" in the Bible, Snyder then turns her attention to particular biblical narratives to illustrate "two strands" of responses to strangers identified by her as being either from within an ecology of fear - Ezra and Nehemiah, or from within an ecology of faith - Ruth and the Syro-Phoenician woman. Her biblical reflections and chosen hermeneutical approach are thought provoking, and will, it is hoped, act as a stimulus to further biblical enquiry around the themes of justice and hospitality for the stranger in relation to migrants and refugees today.

Since migration is an important contemporary social issue that is increasingly being politicised, it is vital that the Church knows how to respond. Snyder's book offers a timely contribution to this debate by exploring these issues from a Chris- tian faith perspective, and recognising that encounters with those seeking asylum both enrich the Church and reflect the heart of God. She aptly gives the last word to a refugee: "If there was not a church in this country, many people would die."

Mary Sutton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of East London, researching the interaction of refugees and church communities in London.

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