The Christian Case for Accepting Refugees



Since the terrorist attacks is Paris and Lebanon a few days ago, the topic of the Syrian refugee crisis has been dominating the political discourse in America. President Obama has stated that the attacks are not going to deter us from doing what we can to help, but 30 (as of this writing) Governors have stated that they do not want any refugees resettled in their states. It is not clear what legal grounds they would have for refusing, but nonetheless, that is their position.

Paul Ryan, newly minted Speaker of the House, said that we should halt the process of accepting Syrian refugees until we are ‘100%’ sure that none of them are out to harm America. The vast majority of the Republican presidential candidates have taken positions similar to Paul Ryan, with Ted Cruz going so far as to announce he would introduce legislation trying to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees. These are easy moves for these politicians. It gives them an excuse to flex their conservative muscles on an issue where they think they will receive near unanimous support from Republicans. They are trying to outdo each other to show how much they care about protecting America, capitalizing on President Obama’s weakness on the issues related to ISIS and our involvement in the Middle East more generally.

The Christian perspective on the issue, I think, is quite clear. While Kevin DeYoung is right that general platitudes don't necessarily make for helpful policy, and while there's a certain level of absurdity in claiming to know exactly what Jesus would do if he was the leader of a government (itself a possibility that Jesus, you know, very specifically declined), it doesn't follow that the Bible is silent on the fundamental perspective that should guide our thinking.  

Find a verse talking about a foreigner or stranger in the Bible and 9 times out of 10 it will be an instruction to care for their needs. Many of these verses are in the OT when Israel was surrounded by enemies. Leviticus 19 talks about leaving some of your harvest for the poor and the sojourner. Deuteronomy 10 says God ‘executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.’ Some versions (I am using the ESV) translate sojourner as ‘foreigner.’ The meaning is clear, and the ethic is clear. Since you know what it is like to be a stranger and foreigner in another land, treat foreigners with love. It also mentions that God loves the sojourner specifically, putting them in a similar category as the fatherless and the widow. Exodus 23:9 says basically the same thing. Don’t oppress the foreigner, since you know what it was like to be without a land. Malachi 3:5 may be even more applicable. “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Emphasis mine of course)  I could go on and talk about Job mentioning in passing that he always left his door open for the traveler, or Jesus using the parable of the Good Samaritan to show that taking action to help is the way we show love etc.

In light of this, why are a good number of Christian’s, including some of our Governors who are professing Christians, so adamant that we leave 4 million Syrians as a problem for someone else to solve without so much as helping with, say, 1%? That would mean bringing in 40,000 Syrian refugees (someone check my math). Many Christians are saying “Nope, sorry.” Why is that? The easy answer, it seems, is ‘fear.’ Fear in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. For instance, I am afraid of touching a burning stove. Fear isn’t the same thing as cowardice. So let’s look at why people are afraid, and then maybe we can determine whether fear/prudence should win out over the clear biblical principle that we should be first in line to care of the weary traveler and foreigner.

Reason For Fear #1 – The Syrian refugee crisis is actually just a bunch of military aged Muslim men flooding into the west.

This view is being peddled by such places as Breitbart and by people like, well, Donald Trump.
In reality, according to UN and Middle East governments keeping track of the crisis, of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees, 22% percent are men aged 18-60. 78% are women and children, or elderly men.

Reason For Fear #2 – ISIS is using the migration to strategically sneak their fighters into the west.

This fear is more reasonable. Though ISIS primary objective revolves around a specific territory, it is clear they are picking a fight with the West, and the mass migration from Syria makes it easier to for them to get their folks into Europe. What is less clear is whether it would be any easier for them to get their people into the US. The refugee resettlement process, while not as secure as it should be, is still slow and provides some opportunity to check into folks backgrounds. Unlike Europe, we don’t have folks simply arriving by the thousands by foot or on boats. There are holes big enough to slip through, but is it any more effective than recruiting folks already here? Perhaps it is. Let’s count this as a legitimate reason for fear. (Although it should be noted, as an aside, that if the ISIS goal is war with the west, then rejecting the victims of their war simply because they come from a Muslim country plays exactly into their hands, from both a practicable and a recruiting perspective). 

Reason For Fear #3 – This would being too many Muslims into the US, and will contribute to the Islamification of America.

First of all adding 40,000 people into a nation of 300 million will not magically turn America into a Muslim nation. Also, do we believe the Gospel is the power of God or not? Why aren’t we thinking of this as an opportunity to gain proximity to those who probably have never heard the Gospel apart from whatever propaganda they are fed about Christianity?

Reason #4, Unrelated to Fear – The Christian’s responsibility to the stranger/foreigner is in a different category from the government’s responsibility in the matter. We are to be compassionate, the government is supposed to wield the sword to protect.

Not a bad argument. After all, God's commands regarding how to treat the foreigner and sojourner was directed at people, not governments.  That's also, I suppose, why we should give up on the whole marriage debate then, since God's directives against homosexuality was directed at individuals, not at how governments should treat gay marriage. The government isn’t supposed to be a Christian government anyway. It’s got a specific role and it’s different than the Christian’s responsibility. Also I guess it was a good move in Oklahoma to remove the Ten Commandments from the capitol grounds since our government’s role doesn’t intersect with Christian ethics.

I am kidding. We probably can’t say that we want our government to reflect and defend our values in every case except anything having to do with border control. We can argue for security and compassion for millions of women and children who are fleeing a war-ravaged land.

Despite some legitimate reasons to fear I would argue that we need to encourage our leaders to help lead us toward being a nation that welcomes the hopeless refugee. Redeemer Church has specifically rejoiced at the conversion of a refugee family from a Muslim nation in the past few months. They were welcomed in with open arms, which God used to open their hearts to the Gospel. As Christians, that should be what we are after. ISIS wants us to be afraid. They ran 4 million people out of their home country, and now they are making the West afraid to come to their aid. You know what, terrorism isn’t going away whether we help with this crisis or not. ISIS be damned. Bring refugees here, and let’s watch God work.

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