It is paramount, in all matters of life, that Christians find their primary identity in Christ. If I identify as mother, before disciple of Jesus, I’ll be less faithful in my practice of both. If I identify as wife, before disciple of Jesus, I’ll be less faithful in my practice of both. If I identify as American citizen, before disciple of Jesus, I’ll be less faithful in my practice of both. The various (and important!) roles and identities we carry throughout our lives will only function properly if we first remember our union with Christ and our call to live as imitators of Him.
This is essential to all of life, and informs how we consider the divisive topic of refugee resettlement. But let’s take a step back. This post is not just addressing the recent executive order, but rather the attitudes and views that were revealed because of it. While a blog post is obviously limited in its depth of engagement, I hope to cover some ground in addressing the 3 most common arguments surrounding government involvement, and also offer 5 encouragements for the Christian’s personal response.
Argument #1 Our Government is not held to the same standard as Christians. This is true. A secular government is not called to the same sacrificial service and life-laying-down-love that Christians are called to. Yet while there are some important distinctions to be considered when we compare the calling of believers and the responsibility of government, it must also be recognized that there will be overlaps. God is not neutral about the actions of a nation. Just as He is not neutral about governments that allow the killing of the unborn and celebrate sexual sin, He is not neutral about governments that lack mercy.
Our nation is one of the most powerful entities in the world. Even amidst it’s own challenges, it has a strong infrastructure that can effectively resettle refugees far more easily and securely than many other places. It can also help offer relief to countries like Turkey which carries the heavy weight of hosting 2.9 million Syrian refugees (to put it in perspective, America took in 85,000 refugees total last year, only 12,000 from Syria).
Even if our nation is not bound by Scripture’s specific instruction to the Church, is neglecting to provide refuge for some of the most vulnerable people in the world really a moral response? When our resources are far superior than that of many other countries, is it moral to lift so little of the burden? If such a powerful nation neglects wielding that power for the protection of those seeking refuge from utter desolation, is it morally excusable? There are certainly other ways to tend to the needs of refugees outside of resettlement. But the truth remains that there are millions of people in need of homes and protection right now, something which we, as a nation, are capable of offering.
Additionally, even if it can be argued that America has no moral responsibility to offer refuge to the displaced (I have yet to hear a compelling reason), shouldn’t the Christian citizen’s response still be one of compassion that grieves for the future of those who won’t be let in? Shouldn’t the Christian still want to welcome, protect, and provide for a people so oppressed? Shouldn’t the Christian continue advocating for a generous policy, because while we don’t expect the government to employ Biblical mercy, we at least want it to? We must carefully consider whether we are paying lip service to Christian compassion, while using the excuse “but government isn’t called the same way” as a shield to abdicate ourselves from involvement.
Argument #2 The government is responsible for our national security. This is also true (being pro-refugee doesn’t mean you’re anti-national security)! However, this argument still holds very little weight, because over the past 40 years the threat of resettling refugees has been almost non-existent. According to this research of the Cato Institute, the chance of an American falling victim to an act of terrorism carried out by ANY foreign born person (immigrant, asylee, refugee, international student, etc) is 3.6 million to 1 per year. The chance of an American falling victim to an act of terrorism caused by a refugee is 3.6 billion to 1 per year. Obviously, any unnecessary death is tragic. Some would argue that these statistics are not accurate because of certain administrations hesitancy to label terrorism. However, when we consider that this is a compilation of 40 years of data, wherein multiple administrations were in play, it’s highly unlikely that the numbers are significantly far off. While it’s true that some leaders are responsible for underplaying threat, there are enough leaders exaggerating threat that it surely evens out. The existing vetting process is thorough and has proven extremely effective. Resettling refugees has protected astronomically more lives than it has risked American lives.
Argument #3 If they are not our citizens, they are not our problem. This argument makes me especially sad. Where is the humanity in this line of reasoning? Yes, the government is first responsible to its own citizens. Every government should be! But what happens when people have been forced to flee their homes, because they have no government protecting them (either because its crumbled completely, or is responsible for the oppression). If every country takes that line of thinking, what is the possible recourse for refugees? Stepping in to accept and protect people driven from their homes and fleeing for their lives is not just the “Christian” thing to do, but the moral thing to do. People say “refugees don’t have the right to find protection in America.” Perhaps there is no legal “right” to which they can lay claim, but that doesn’t mean accepting them isn’t the right response.
While there is overlap regarding Christian mercy and justice, and government mercy and justice, there is certainly room for disagreement over the best levels of involvement. I do not pretend to know the ideal number of refugees to resettle. That said, there should be much more clarity regarding our hearts in processing through the matter. American Christians must be infinitely more concerned with faithful application of Scripture over faithful application of the constitution.
So, moving on from government, let’s consider our more personal Christian response.
Response #1 We should be excited by the Great Commission. If many are coming here from predominantly muslim contexts, we’re being given an opportunity to reach the unreached! Perhaps because the American church has largely failed at going to these nations, God is bringing these nations to us. Perhaps He’s using this situation to reveal how frequently we can talk a big talk about loving our neighbors, but have been so seduced by comfort and prosperity that when dire needs are presented, we shy away from them.
I praise God that there are Christians on the front lines, working in refugee camps to tend to physical and spiritual needs. I am so encouraged by stories of the Gospel being spread amidst such desperate situations. And I want that work continued here! My most frequent petition in prayer is that refugees would come here, come to know Christ, and eventually return to their home country to share the Gospel with their own people.
From a secular viewpoint, it is preferable to resettle refugees in countries whose cultures most mirror their own. It is more comfortable for them to know the language, be familiar with cultural expectations, be closer to home. But as Christians, if we know that the Gospel is the most ultimate need of every human being on earth, we will be more concerned that refugees find comfort in the Gospel more than comfort in their surroundings. This is not to say that America is a beacon of Christ. It’s not, and the Gospel is desperately needed here. But there is a greater chance that refugees will be exposed to the Gospel in a place like America (especially if Christians are faithful to reach out to them), than in countries like Turkey or Jordan.
Response #2 We should value life equally. More than anyone, as Christians we should recognize that American lives don’t matter more than Middle-eastern or Muslim lives. We should recognize that loving our neighbors involves wanting to keep our American neighbors safe (which is why a vetting process is a good thing) and wanting to provide safety for those of other nationalities who’s lives are being threatened. If we only feel allegiance to those who share our heritage, we lack the impartially pursuing love of Christ.
Response #3 We should fight fear. Not only does Scripture repeatedly exhort us to trust God even when we have legitimate reasons to fear, much of our fear surrounding refugees is unfounded! I recently read a well-researched and reasoned post on the irrationality of our fear surrounding this topic. The fear of refugees is far more widespread and exaggerated than the fear of other, and far more likely, scenarios that endanger us. With as much as we hate to admit it, much of our fear seems to stem from our own prejudice. For instance, last year there was outrage when Stanford student Brock Turner only faced 3 months in jail for rape. Yet the outrage, while drawing attention to the pervasive problem of rape, did not seem to incite fear of white, ivy league college men. As a woman, I felt angry that his sentencing was the equivalent to the sentencing of food stamp fraud (yes, you read that right), but I did not feel fearful of men who fit his profile. Yet if a refugee commits a rape all the way in France, it incites fear of refugees here, even though we have had no reports of such incidences. I know it’s hard to admit to having prejudices, but most of us do. I do. And the only way to combat them is to acknowledge and confront them.
Response #4 We should love our enemies. I want to preface by saying that I know most of us do not consider refugees as our enemies (I at least hope this is the case)! However, it does seem that the recoil from refugees is based on fearing enemy radicalists from within them. Even if we do our best to overcome exaggerated and irrational fears, we are aware of the terrors wrought by ISIS. We are aware of the evils of terrorism. We might fear that those who are still yet peaceful will become radicalized. Here we must remember the exhortation to Christians to love our enemies and do good to those who mistreat us. Jesus commanded this to people who were facing abuse. Surely it applies to those who are only fearing its potential. We’re also instructed “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” and “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” There is no guaranteed safety when we love our enemies, and certainty for the Christian (in general) we are told to expect persecution and mistreatment. However, it also seems logical that in doing good to our enemies, some might be won to the Lord. What better way is there to disarm radicalized or would-be-radicalized people than to introduce them to Jesus? The power of the Gospel is far greater than any political strategy or military power.
Response #5 We should remember Christ’s rescue of us. This, more than anything, should confront us when we are tempted to emulate the attitude of the lawyer who, wanting to justify himself before Jesus, challenged “but who is my neighbor?” If our concentration is focused on abdicating ourselves from a merciful response, we have failed to be imitators of Christ. When we were enemies of God, Christ came to pursue reconciliation. When Christ owed us absolutely nothing, He sacrificed His own life for our sake. When we had no right to heavenly citizenship or the inheritance of the Kingdom, Christ secured it for us. When we actually deserved wrath and punishment, He granted us forgiveness and adoption. If we, who were not just helpless, but rebellious and hell-bound, have been recipients of mercy and grace, how much more should we offer it to those who are being oppressed.
A few recommended resources on the topic: