To Refuge or not to Refuge? Is That the Question?

November 17, 2015

The recent Paris attacks have thrust into the international spotlight a number of issues that have been boiling under the surface for American evangelicals who long to see a gospel witness extended to the nations and at home. With at least one of the bombers having ties to the recent flood of refugees out of Syria, many evangelicals and other Americans have begun choosing sides on whether or not the United States should continue to receive refugees from this conflict and perhaps any such conflict. However, Christians appear to have taken conflicting positions.

Some Christians contend that we should take refugees because it is the right thing to do. It is, for these Christians, what Jesus would have us do. We have taken refugees before, and we certainly have the capacity to do so again. It is the price of being a super power. After all, there are many ways for potential terrorists to enter the country for harm, such as through our porous southern border. Why should this group of legitimate victims of a conflict be forced to endure one more act of suffering when we could help? Indeed, my friends personally interacting with the refugees in other countries have pleaded most effectively that our country must receive these refugees. They rightly remind us that the overwhelming majority of people who claim to be Muslim are no danger and threat to anyone. Most importantly, these Christians ground the call to accept the refugees in our country as a genuine and necessary part of loving your neighbor and revealing the gospel to those who have never heard it.

Other Christians argue that the idea of helping the refugees is indeed noble but is also fret with complications, problems and danger. The right answer is not so simple. They note, specifically, that a large percentage of the refugees are male. While there may be many reasons for such, it is counter intuitive to the narrative of families fleeing war when mostly men arrive. Sympathetic and empathetic pictures, more precisely, always include the women and children; the less empathetic ones do not. Since the majority of threats from Islamic terrorists come from able-bodied men, these Christians wonder who these men are. This concern spreads also to the nature of the “vetting” program, presumably handled by the United Nations and not the United States. Should American leaders trust the vetting process? For these Christians, these questions have yet to be satisfactorily answered. They find it foolish to invite such harm to our neighbors here until such answers can be provided. Many of those Christians opposed to taking refugees also point out that even though most people who claim to be Muslim are not dangerous, it does not take many dangerous ones to cause a legitimate problem. France has an exceedingly large Muslim population, for example, but it only took a handful of like-minded Islamic radicals to cause a problem. It is, for these Christians, commons sense and wisdom to be cautious. Added to the confusing nature of this situation is the often ignored reality that refugees from a Christian background are typically not included. Why is it mostly Muslim refugees? Why are we not even recognizing the genocide amongst Christians? Most importantly, these Christians ground the call to not accept the refugees in our country on the state’s obligation to provide order and justice, to protect its own people.

With both sides marshalling at least partial biblical defenses of their approaches, what should we think? Is there a biblical answer that binds all Christians to either stand for or against accepting the refugees?

There is no doubt that as you read this blog that a myriad of Facebook rants and Tweets come to mind from both sides. Serious Christians are divided, and they carry a genuine fear that to follow the other approach would hinder the advance of the gospel. It is not surprising, therefore, that such emotional issues leave little room for nuance, subtlety or grace in our very public interactions of social media. It’s the nature of modern America to wear our hearts on our sleeves for better or for worse.

My concern here is not to answer the policy question or even provide a biblical framework for the better of the two approaches. I have my answer, but my answer does not really matter today. Instead, I write today to remind Christians how we must engage this debate with each other and with non-Christians. Our manner of political interaction is the larger issue for the communication of the gospel. When consistent Christians disagree on issues that deal with some of the implications of biblical truth, we must seek to reveal God’s grace in how we wrestle through the issue.

It may be that many people have chosen one side or the other for truly horrible and ungodly reasons. It may also be that many have chosen the opposite position with the best of intentions for God, others and His Kingdom. We must, therefore, engage fellow Christians with a listening ear, a humble heart and eyes open to the data we like and do not like in this debate because no one else other than truly born again Christians will in the long run prove capable of modeling such a debate. The transformative moment that sheds light on God’s love in Christ may not be the political decision but the manner of our internal debate.

Some simple and necessarily incomplete guidelines may help me check my own heart in this fiery issue.

First, I must avoid presuming motive of other faithful Christians. Doing so allows me to focus on the issue itself more clearly. I must be careful to not slander those faithful Christians who wrestle with this question and come to a different answer.

Second, I must also admit that this debate is not as simple in its theological, political and practical dimensions as other issues, such as abortion. Recognizing this lets me highlight what should be the most important aspects of this debate and its execution.

Third, I must take time to listen to the other side’s evidence and argument. The hard part of this aspect is the investment in time. Fortunately, taking such time is so contrary to the way that the world works that it necessarily communicates a lot to the other side and to those who are watching our debate unfold. It is a key ingredient to a gospel witness in this debate.

Fourth, I must at some point consider my own biblical, theological, political and practical perspectives that may be hindering my own analysis, my presuppositions. I may not abandon them, but I need to be aware of where my answer to the question starts.

Fifth, this self examination and search through the Scriptures must be accompanied by prayer. Indeed, praying for each other is the greatest point of unity that we Christians will find if we turn such prayer back to the Scriptures. God calls me to pray for my enemies, for safety and justice for the weak, for wisdom for our leaders, for salvation of those who have yet to receive Christ and for the growing love of God and neighbor amongst His people who live among the nations.

The question, therefore, is not what my answer is, yes or no to the refugees, but why biblically and theologically I will come to my decision and how I will communicate it. Will Jesus be the hero of my testimony in this debate? The Scriptures prove sufficient to teach us to worship God in every situation, but its sufficiency leaves us wrestling with other questions so that we can focus on what He cares most about: Jesus and the glory of His Kingdom. He is, ultimately, the question and the answer.

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