Action Zones 

Responding to the Prodigal Daughter

Rev Peter Timothy
Minister, Park Baptist Church

as published in Park Life

When a British teenager flees to Syria to join ISIS, should she be allowed back? Is there a Christian response? Rev Peter Timothy explores this recent news that draws parallels with an ancient parable
The case of Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old Brit who has requested a return to the UK four years after joining terrorist group ISIS, has garnered much media attention
The overwhelming opinion has been one of disgust, with little sympathy for the mother-of-three, whose first two children have already died. The Home Secretary has already ordered that her citizenship be revoked, in contravention to international law. As I write there has been further controversy as it emerged a shooting range in northwest England had been using Begum’s image as a target, following several requests from customers
A smaller voice has called for her to be returned from the refugee camp where she currently resides, to be tried if appropriate, under the argument that she is “our problem” and therefore our responsibility as a country. This train of thought has even brought together two unlikely political bedfellows, in Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg
As Christians, where should we stand on the matter? It strikes me that there is a biblical precedent that is uncanny in its similarity to this story. The story of the prodigal son told by Jesus in Luke 15 sees a son shame his father by requesting his inheritance so he can go to foreign lands, indulging in parties and fast living
His return as a broken, desperate man and the loving reaction of his gracious father, alongside the shock and disgust from his brother, make it one of the most powerful parables told by Jesus
At its heart is the issue of restorative justice - the act of rehabilitation through reconciliation with the victims and the wider community. We see this by the way the son publicly repents before his father. The throwing of a party would also be an opportunity to hold him to account before the community - the prodigal son would be forced to confront all the family he had neglected and shamed, and to seek forgiveness from them in this public setting. Only then could he be reintegrated into his family and the community
The parallels with Shemima Begum are fairly obvious. How do we rehabilitate a young woman who was still a child when indoctrinated by radical teaching, and married to a man almost twice her age? How do we prevent her newborn son growing up to become another terrorist with a grudge to bear? What precedent does it set when we revoke citizenship because an individual is publicly vilified? (the same measure has not been taken with others who have returned to the UK from Syria, having fought with ISIS)
Justice is a complicated and often misunderstood word. Yet it features at the very heart of the gospel. The sacrificial actions of Jesus upon the cross broke new ground in the relationship between God and humanity. It enabled reconciliation with a God who we have ignored, rebelled against and failed. As followers of Jesus we are not only reconciled but on a life­long journey of rehabilitation as we seek to become more Christ-like
The prodigal son is an example of restorative justice; his sins are not ignored, but he is reconciled. What might this look like in the case of Shamima Begum? How might we, as followers of Christ - the provider and enabler of justice - respond to her case?
May we use this opportunity to witness for Jesus in our conversations around this issue, and as Easter approaches, may God speak to us afresh about justice through the eyes of Christ

The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Yarmouth, and are intended to stimulate constructive and good-natured debate between website users

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