In the wake of last Friday’s Paris attacks one of the attackers was quickly identified as someone who had entered Greece back in October with the wave of Syrian refugees before finding his way to Paris. The list of people, including presidential candidates, and states pushing to prevent more Syrian refugees resettling in the United States is growing.
It seems that the actions of one person have suddenly resulted in tens of thousands of others receiving the “UNWANTED” label. Overlooked in the process seems to be the fact that these are mostly Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS related fighters.
It wasn’t that many months ago that social media blew up when the body of a young boy washed up on a Turkish beach. At that time the refugees were seen as suffering people and all of us with children wept for those parents who took such risks to protect their children.
How things have changed.
Although this issue is inherently political, I am more concerned by the attitudes expressed on social media and other forums from Christians. Christians seem to be among the first worry about protecting their families from bombers who will slip into the USA as refugees. This is their number one concern in this conversation.
While I understand these serious concerns, it is sad to see followers of Christ so consumed by fear.
It is sad to see people fearfully fleeing Muslim hatred being met and turned away by Christian fear.
This crisis prompts the church to ask itself some hard questions around the central issue of “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”
God gave his only begotten Son… for his enemies.
When Jesus came to earth there was a 100% certainty that Jesus would be killed by his enemies.
What are the chances that a terrorist will be one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees currently scheduled to be admitted to the USA in 2016? Is that a greater risk than that one of the 320 million people currently living in the United States will commit an act of terror? And what are the chances that your loved one would be the victim of that heinous act?
I’m not meaning to be callous. I detest all people who intentionally cause suffering to others for the sake of making a political or religious statement. I believe ISIS should be stopped, and I accept that it will probably take military force to diminish their power and influence.
However, I am convinced that all the bombs dropped on ISIS heads and all the military blood shed will not have a sliver of the impact for the Gospel that providing for those in need will have. Love will always prove a more effective evangelistic tool than the sword.
So in the meantime, I believe that Christians should provide shelter to the homeless. We should feed the hungry. We should give water to the thirsty. We should invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and provide healing for the sick. (Matthew 25:34-36)
We should proclaim good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. We should bear witness that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
And we shouldn’t let fear that our chance of premature death may increase ever so slightly in the process of following Christ stop us from carrying out his mission.
Each Easter churches around the country celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate that his resurrection gives us hope to live our lives because we believe that death is defeated. Yes, we live in the presence of death, we feel its pain still, but we have confidence in our destination and in Christ’s victory. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
Jesus was a Refugee
I’ve mentioned Easter, but the Christmas story is equally relevant to this conversation. Matthew 2:13-23 tells how as a young child Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. I’m glad that Jesus wasn’t stopped at the Egyptian border and told to wait there for 18 months while the government conducted a background check. I’m not proposing that zero vetting of refugees should take place, let’s just get them to safety first.
This picture of Jesus fleeing violence and persecution influences the way I see refugees today. Matthew 25 (referenced earlier) says we encounter Jesus when we encounter the poor and hurting. The story of his flight to Egypt reminds us that Jesus never was a middle class American or Australian, but he was a refugee… and Egypt welcomed him.
How About Those Samaritans?
As we follow Jesus we’re also challenged by his attitude toward his national enemies, The Samaritans.
Some of the most beloved Christian stories involve Samaritans: The Woman at the Well (John 3); and The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). In both instances Jesus paints his enemies is a good light and treats them well.
This is not to say that Samaritans in general treated Jesus well. In Luke 9, just before telling the story of The Good Samaritan, a Samaritan village refused to let him stay the night there. The first instinct of his disciples was to call down fire from heaven upon that village. Jesus rebuked his disciples and moved on to the next village.
“Yes, but those villagers weren’t trying to kill him!” some will argue.
Correct, but he also didn’t call down fire on those enemies who were trying to kill him!
The Story About Weeds
I believe the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:24-30 is also applicable to this discussion. Jesus warns that if his followers try to uproot all the weeds that find their way into His kingdom, they’ll uproot the good plants also. Instead he tells his disciples to leave the weeds for him to sort out during the harvest.
I know Scripture elsewhere warns of wolves entering the church dressed in sheep’s clothing, but those passages are aimed at false teachers. In Matthew Jesus is willing to take the risk of uncommitted people mixing with his disciples and his disciples mixing with non-disciples.
If Jesus will take this risk in his church, will we take a similar risk in our nation?
Church and State
Lastly, I understand the role of the government is to protect its citizens. But I’ve also seen how Christians lobby that same government when it makes decisions they don’t like on issues like abortion and gay marriage. We don’t step back on those issues and say, “Well, the government has a responsibility to care for all its citizens and that’s what it’s doing.” I understand why people protest those decisions. This country is a democracy and Christians have a right to have a voice.
Christians also have a right to have a voice with how their representative government treats the desperate and the homeless. Let’s make sure the message of the church is one filled with love, not fear.