If your Facebook and Twitter feeds look anything like mine, there is a civil war between Americans on the appropriate response to the refugee crisis.
The boundary lines aren’t necessarily what you would expect.
Some conservatives are appealing to the Biblical mandate to love and care for the sojourners, and some who tend to be liberal are expressing concerns about the inherent risk in bringing potentially dangerous extremists into our country. The dispute isn’t between political ideologies as much as it is internal motivations: a desire for safety versus a commitment to compassion.
Unfortunately, both sides resort to every tool at their disposal to prove their point–such as contorting Scripture. More than likely, if you’re a pastor, you have people in your church on both sides of the issue. There’s a tendency to want to sit this debate out and not comment on it. After all, someone will certainly be offended–and is this issue worth it?
The truth is that pastors and church leaders have a spiritual obligation to lead their congregations to a Biblical perspective of the refugee crisis. The Lord has called those of us in leadership to be faithful to the text— to teach what it says (not what we want it to say) and let it inform our understanding and reactions to the world around us.
In light of this, here are four conclusions from a faithful, Biblical perspective on the refugee crisis:
The Bible teaches us to show hospitality to sojourners.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” –Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)
It’s hard to get around. The Bible, here in Leviticus and countless other places throughout the Scriptures, teaches how we are to treat foreigners and sojourners. The Bible has a very serious theology of hospitality. In fact, one could argue that Lot’s extreme hospitality shown towards the angels in Genesis is the only reason he is spared from destruction along with the city. This is an undeniable Biblical reality: God wants us to show compassion, fairness, and hospitality to foreigners who come into our neighborhood. To deny this fact is to seriously take the scissors to Scripture.
The Bible teaches us to oppose evil regimes militarily.
Behold, I am against you,
declares the Lord of hosts,
and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
and kingdoms at your shame.
I will throw filth at you
and treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,
“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”
Where shall I seek comforters for you? — Nahum 3:5-7
Another uncomfortable truth: the Bible speaks extensively about the destruction of wicked regimes. It just does. Again and again, the Bible is firm that there is a “fullness” of evil that when it is reached, it is destroyed. Militarily. The Bible is not xenophobic or genocidal. The book of Jonah reveals that God has desire to save the wicked Assyrians by sending his own prophet to warn them and call them to repentance. Yet Nahum shows that when Ninevah doesn’t truly repent, there is justice against them. The key is that God is the one who decides. Certainly he uses earthly armies to battle evil, but he also uses the breadth of his sovereignty to accomplish his will. Christians who pray for the annihilation of evil schemes pray for a noble thing; but they should be careful to let God decide who and when to punish. Because of the latent evil and darkness inside all of us, we should be cautious in being too quick to advocate for violence. It’s also worth mentioning a key mistake many Christians make. They quote Jesus in a way that makes him seem like he’s the “nice” God as opposed to the “mean” God of the Old Testament. This is a dangerous heresy and a misunderstanding of Jesus called Marcionism. Don’t forget that the same Jesus who we see healing the lame is the same God who smote Sodom and who returns to earth on a white horse with a sword for judgment.
The Bible teaches us to love our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. — Matthew 5:38-45
We. Must. Love. Our. Enemies. That most certainly includes Islamic extremists. It includes terrorists. It includes people who wish us dead. It includes Syrian refugees who we see as enemies mainly because we fear them and don’t understand them. God’s Word is clear that we must love them, and love is always active. Pray for the refugees. Donate to the refugees. If they come to your city, meet them and care for them. Is there a chance that they could hurt us? Absolutely. But our primary responsibility as a Christians is do what is right, and trust that God will protect us. This isn’t a blind trust; it’s a faithful belief that God is sovereign over our safety. Paris revealed that there are “refugees” with ill intent, and that we cannot truly be safe from an influx of people from a country that is decidedly anti-Western culture. But there is a distinct difference between attempting to be wise about safety and actively engaging in prejudice and oppression of a group of people who by most definitions can be considered “the least of these.” Christians must find that line, and err on the side of loving our enemies, even when it is risky.
The Bible teaches us to protect ourselves against unrighteous foes.
When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. — Nehemiah 4:15-18a
Again, let’s defend ourselves against a tendency to cherry-pick Scripture. The Bible is decidedly pro-self-defense. It is. And articles with headlines like this: “Rejecting Refugees, Rejecting Christ” are shameful. It’s bad Biblical theology to say that God opposes being smart about safety. Of course we trust our safety to the Lord and our outlook has to be fixed on loving our enemies, but God does not expect us to put ourselves in harm’s way foolishly. Even Jesus ran away from crowds that were potentially dangerous until the appointed time when he gave himself up. Christians who oppose a massive influx of refugees because of safety concerns are not “rejecting Christ.” That’s simply untrue. Christians must be passionate about helping the refugees, but can have a sincere desire to have a dialogue around the safest ways to accomplish that goal. Don’t buy-in to the Facebook frenzy; to be made to choose safety or compassion is a false dichotomy. Remember what Jesus said to his own disciples when he sent them out.
In light of this Biblical perspective of the refugee crisis, it’s totally fair to say that neither “side” has a corner on the Bible. The Bible is far more gray than we want it to be, and it requires us to execute discernment on a moment-by-moment, case-by-case basis. We do not serve our churches well by making blanket statements or (mis)applying one verse on a topic that is massively nuanced and that the Bible itself isn’t clear-cut on.
So, pastors, how must you navigate this tension in your church?
1. Legitimize each person’s values that are Biblically faithful.
The Bible values both safety and compassion. Allow that tension to exist. Validate people’s concerns, but don’t allow them to result in inaction.
2. Direct your congregation towards the Word.
Drive your folks away from the Internet (yes, I recognize the irony here) and into the Word of God to discern how they should respond to refugees. Encourage them to resist the urge to cherry-pick Scripture, but to take into account all of what God says on the topic.
3. Find specific ways for your church to do her part.
The Internet is a lot of wasted breath. Again, I recognize the irony. The best way to bring your church together on the issue and heal divides is to put people to work. Find a way to get involved in solving the crisis: raising funds, donations, etc.
4. Spend time in directed prayer.
Pray for Paris. Pray for Syria. Pray for Beirut. Pray for the countless places around the world that are dark, hurting, and in need of Jesus. Take time out of your service to pray specifically for terrorists, victims, and government officials. Focusing on prayer turns us away from focusing on our opinions and turn us towards hearing from the Lord.