Glanville, M. R., & Glanville, L. (2021). Refuge Reimagined: Biblical Kinship in Global Politics. InterVarsity Press.
Relayed in part one of the book, and grounded in both the Old and New Testaments, kinship is a trajectory that encompasses a sense of family, ties of commitment, a belonging to others and of solidarity. Kinship incorporates, as the book articulates, relationships between individuals and small groups, but it also can be applied at a national and global level. Effortlessly, the notion of kinship is a consistent thread throughout the book weaving itself into and grounding the conversations to come. It is this idea that is drawn upon in part two–the Church–which explores how churches today can enact ‘missional theology’ and be a model for advocating justice. Part two is the bridge between more theological foundations and the political realm. In part three–the Nation–the book focuses on a positive conception of welcoming the stranger at the state level. It takes seriously national concerns of security, economics and culture. Continuing in the political realm, part four of the book–the World–envisages ideas of a global kinship with the vulnerable. It is here that the book comes into its own, suggesting a re-imagined global way of compassion for refugees grounded in the theology of kinship and ideas such as ‘collective compassion’ and ‘opportunity-sharing’. This re-imagined way calls us to temporary care for our global kin; to increase the provision of humanitarian assistance; to create development solutions; to enable voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation; to offer resettlement; and to provide asylum.
Structuring the book through these four parts–the Bible, the Church, the Nation, and the World–the book takes the reader on a journey. A journey that is grounded in Christian theology, that is practice-orientated, politically minded, and driven by a desire that we can and should do better individually and collectively in communities locally, nationally and globally to re-imagine a better world for refugees and displaced people.
Three aspects of the book are real strengths.
Re-telling of real stories
It is stated that the human face of migration is often missing in current refugee debates. Whilst the experience of refugees feature in the book, featured more prominently are accounts of individuals or communities who have helped refugees and those displaced, for example the Kinbrace Community Society or the Achenese fisherman. In these examples, it is evident that they show compassion to the displaced, and hospitality to the vulnerable. These accounts portray the re-imagined desire by the authors and the pursuit of kinship. Amongst the synthesis of theology and international relations, such stories keep the book practical and personal.
Tackling current debates
The authors do not shy away from discussing current debates. For example, the language used to describe refugees, the idea of security borders, the idea that states should only care for their own citizens or the idea of a refugee as a threat. The book takes these conversations seriously, and the authors methodically address them offering not a “what-is” scenario, but a “what-it-should-be”, “what-it-could-be” vision in a world with more compassion and love. On the issue of boundaries, for example, the authors challenge the idea that boundaries are always fixed but rather constantly changing and that the regulation of states boundaries’ should exist only in so far as it serves God’s vision of community.
‘Refuge Reimagined’ draws upon the idea of community throughout and in different ways. It is apparent in a local setting such as in the Kinbrace Community or as part of church communities. The idea of joyful feasting–with food being at the centre–is an important opportunity for outsiders to be enfolded as kin. The idea of community extended from local and worshiping communities to political communities too. The book explores the idea of a global community of nations, which according to the authors, challenge ideas of Christian realism which assumes states will behave selfishly in their relations with those beyond their borders.
From an international relations perspective, this book holds a ‘deep’ engagement with Christian theology taken into ‘broad’ discussions of religious action in the discourse on refugees. It is, as Ron E Hassner (2011) classifies it, an example of second avenue ‘thick’ religion which weaves together elements of a religious tradition with a current international concern in world politics. Furthermore, this book is timely not only in the context of a growing global refugee crisis but also within a trend in international relations which is arguably engaging with theology more. Further still, the juxtaposition between the idea of a global community and Christian Realism could be related to English School theoretical discussions. An ‘international society’, also considered a society of states in English School thought, might have something more to add in this domain. Where do ideas of a biblical ethic of kinship manifest in religious actors in ‘international society’? Where do such manifestations fall within pluralist and solidarist conceptions of ‘international society’? As stated in the book, Christian citizens and politicians, church communities and faith-based organisations act as ‘norm entrepreneurs’ from a constructivist lens based upon work by Finnemore and Sikkink. That remaining true–where does theology, scripture, or God fit within a ‘norm life cycle’ model?
‘Refuge Reimagined’ is an inspiring read that presents us with the realities of now but also leaves us with a sense that we can and ought to do better–an opportunity for kinship, for justice and compassion. The book challenges current discourse on refugees which is often framed, as the authors discuss, in negative terms – what will the refugee take from me? Cost me? Threaten me? –into more positive terms –What is to be gained? How is this more compassionate? On an individual level the book asks us to re-evaluate what we are doing personally about this. Are we truly welcoming the stranger? Are we praying for those displaced? At a community level, what are we as members of civic society, of church communities or local groups doing to assist the common good? And at a global level, as a nation and a global community, what are we doing? This book challenges those in the West in particular. Around 85 per cent of refugees are hosted by countries in developing regions beyond the West. Turkey for example hosts 3.6 million refugees, Columbia 1.8 million and Pakistan and Uganda each host 1.4 million.
The book stirs us all into action. What can we do as church communities, as a national community, and as a global community to re-imagine conversations surrounding refugees and displaced people? The idea of a biblical ethic of kinship grounding these re-imagined ways is an excellent step forward.