Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Matthew 11: 28-30 (ESV)
I fully acknowledge that within my world, I am not an expert on international diplomacy. I do not pretend that watching opinion news makes me one either. When it comes to the current refugee crisis I just see two absurd sides of an argument I realize the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The xenophobic argument says that everyone fleeing their war torn countries are jihadists secretly trying to enter our country to blow it up. The simplistic argument on the other side is that no one is like that and we ought to be singing Kumbaya with the world. Suddenly we scour the Internet for every story that takes our side so we can present it as proof that our worldview is right. Silly arguments are proffered like if 10 percent of gumballs were poisoned would you accept a handful. That argument essentially says that if 10% of refugees could have ill motives we should ignore 100% of them. That doesn't sound very humanitarian. It doesn't sound very Christian.
That is what I want us to try and focus on today and moving forward. Because there is validity to each side of the carnal argument in this debate. We cannot pretend that there is no one out there that has ill intent. Events in Paris should be enough to remind us of that. Likewise however we cannot pretend that the solution is to turn our backs on 90% of the people who are fleeing their countries. I will let the secular world argue over these matters. The issue for us is how we are supposed to behave as Christians, who represent Christ. To be honest, I have seen some crazy ideas floated by Christians recently and a full thrashing of the Bible to go along with it. Because you really have to stretch the Gospels beyond the limits of truth to make Jesus xenophobic. He came to save the world, not your country. It seems sometimes as if we think we only have to behave "Christian" with those who respect us and play nice. I think that misses the entire point of the Bible.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. - Luke 23: 33-34 (ESV)
The message from Christ is one of forgiveness, not condemnation. Judgment is coming but it is not here yet. As the Roman soldiers were banging in the nails into His hands and feet, Jesus was forgiving them of what they were doing. Yet Christians see people who are under the deception of other religions and want to call down fire from heaven to consume them. Just think for a moment if God applied the same level of grace and mercy to you that you might hold for these refugees. Seriously. So let us reason with the Bible as our only defining source of truth. The first thing is to properly understand the role of government in our lives:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, - Romans 13: 1-3 (ESV)
Here is the typical sleight of hand used by many well-intended Christians regarding these verses. They think that because the verses do not specify the social responsibilities of a government that there must be none. That is absurd. These verses are not God's prescription for secular government design but rather, how a Christian is supposed to behave in relation to the secular government they are under. The notion that the government is not supposed to take care of the poor and needy is ridiculous but using these verses to make that point is simply wrong. The truth is the bible teaches us that we are supposed to be pilgrims and sojourners through this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, not America. But far too often we are caught idolizing this country. We create these false narratives about how this country was once obedient to God when it never was. Or that God had a covenant with America, which He never has. We do this because we like the excess this country offers. We like the extravagance. We like the sin. So we make excuses.
The arguments for xenophobia usually require using Old Testament verses or scenarios to prop up a New Testament world. Did Israel have walls? Sure but we are not Israel nor are we a theocratic nation. Yet even using the Old Testament requires cherry picking because Israel always welcomed foreigners as God commanded.
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. - Deuteronomy 10: 19 (NIV)
"'When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. - Leviticus 19: 33-34 (NIV)
Here is where we lose sight of things. As Israel were foreigners in the land of Egypt so the church is supposed to be foreigners in this world. Instead we have a church that is ever growing to seek relevance to the world. They seek refuge in the world. Preaching has become centered on this life instead of eternal life. The predictable result is the church does not see itself as apart from the world but rather a part of it. There are entire theologies built around preparing this earth, which the Bible makes clear will pass away, for the second coming of Christ. Theologies that teach taking dominion over this earth instead of passing through it. It is no wonder many Christians make carnal argument after carnal argument to defend what Christ would never support.
Which brings us to the other popular red herring argument. That because there are so many other people in need in this country, we should help them first. I say red herring because most of the people espousing this argument generally do not seem to really care about those in need either. They are using them for their political argument. Should we help our veterans? Of course! Should we be caring towards the homeless? Absolutely! The notion however that these are mutually exclusive to the refugee problem is not based in reality. Further, it seems that when most pretending now to care for the homeless talked about them in the past it was never about helping them. It was about how lazy they were. Or how they just needed to get a job. How he who does not work should not eat (a complete butchering of that verse as well).
This could go on all day beloved. No one is suggesting these matters are easy. We live in a complex world with many people having many needs. The discussions regarding the refugees from a secular perspective should include all voices to come up with the best and most humane solutions. Should we have secure borders? Of course we should but that is despite the current crisis, not because of it. Should we be worried about those who seek to do us harm? Of course we should and we ought to take whatever precautions are necessary without delaying aid to people who clearly are in desperate need. You may oppose these views politically and what makes this country great is you and I are allowed to disagree. You may want a complete isolationist stance and that is your right as an American. You may think that the 10% risk is not worth the 90% need. Again, completely within your rights as an American.
What we do not get to disagree about however is the Bible. It is black and white. There is right and wrong. It does not equivocate. It does not change. It does not respect person nor culture. As pilgrims and sojourners through this world we are supposed to represent Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. That world includes Syria. It includes Iraq. It includes the places we secretly hate and the people we not so secretly loathe. If you read the Gospels and somehow come away thinking Jesus Christ would support turning His back on 500,000 people for any reason, then I suggest you go back and read them again. God does not want any to perish. The key verses have Jesus saying come all, not just those who are nice to us. The life we are to be concerned with is eternal life, not this temporal coil. As the key verse says, come all who are heavy burdened.
So we can make the carnal argument that because some people want to hurt us we cannot help anyone. We can make the secular argument that we have to protect our own first so we have no more room for those suffering elsewhere. We can make the worldly argument after worldly argument. What we cannot do is pretend it is Christian. We cannot pretend that it is remotely biblical because it is not. In the days of Jesus' ministry no group of people were more hated than the Samaritans. The Jewish people considered them half-breeds. Yet when Jesus wanted to convey the point about helping each other He used a Samaritan as the hero of the story. We know this as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Please do not miss the significance of this beloved. Jesus purposefully used a despised figure that showed mercy to not only illustrate Christ-like mercy but to break down the usual stereotypes of hatred that existed in His day. The people who did not care for the man who had been in such desperate need were all of the religious types. The question posed by Jesus at the end was "who proved to be a neighbor?" The answer was not who we relate to. It was not who we agree with. It was not who looked like us, sounded like us, or believed like us. It was he who showed mercy. Jesus was not done there though: