In God We Trust: The Refugee Crisis

The despicable attacks in Paris late last week left the world shocked and once again in need of directly confronting Islamic Terrorism around the world.  Note that I do not say “radical” Islamic Terrorism because terrorism and violence are not radical forms of Islam.  Rather, they are specifically what the religion teaches.  It is the Westernized peace-nik version of Islam that is radical.  Not all may be as extreme as ISIS, but it is fair to say that ISIS is much closer to orthodox and honest Islam than the ever elusive “religion of peace” adherants we are always told are the “real muslims”.  The world contains a good deal of Islamists who do not resort to terrorism, but also contains more who are comfortable with terrorism than the West seems ready to admit.  They are not a radical few who wage violent war in the form of jihad, rather they’re a sizable and formidable minority occupying most of the traditionally Islamic world.

It is from that portion of the world where the restraints against this violence have become largely symbolic and meaningless.  In lands such as Syria, ISIS Islam has as much claim to the mainstream as anything; and in places like Iraq they are the unquestionable main stream.  Fortunately, not all in those lands adhere to such rotten theology.  Some are even Christians!  They are the vast minority in those lands, but to them ISIS is clear:  conform or be crushed.  Many are seeking a third option and have become refugees seeking shelter in the foreign lands of the West.  America is quickly becoming one of those lands.

It seems useful to think about how to react to so many requests for asylum and shelter from foreign people in our own country.  Unfortunately, this issue seems to have split Western Christians into two extremes; one against welcoming almost any refugees and one that believes we are called to accept any and all refugees without question.  Surely there are nuances among individuals, but you’d never know it from the polarizing rhetoric.

A number of Biblical concepts come into play in this issue.  First and foremost is compassion.  There can be no mistake that we are called to be compassionate to others.  Often too much is made of the Bible’s call for compassion toward others, but it is unmistakable that we are to be hospitable, kind, loving, and caring for those in need.  We see Jesus set this example for us again and again, and it is an example we must learn to follow.

Another concept we have to understand is wisdom.  Christians are indeed called to be forgiving, compassionate, and concerned for others.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be stupid.  Christians are called to be understanding, quick to listen, and gentle.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be willingly duped.  If a con man knocks on our door asking for a glass of water, it pleases God to give it to him.  If he asks for a sandwich because he is hungry, no one would fault the Christian for providing him with a meal.  There is virtue in such kindness, even to a person who is an unapologetic thief.  But the moment that con man asks for our bank account number, or tries to sell us a bridge in Brooklyn, there ceases to be virtue in capitulating to his requests.  In fact, we look LESS like Christ and bring Him dishonor when we act foolishly and are naive.  No doubt, we’re to be gentle as doves.  Yet, equally without doubt we are to be wise as serpents.

Nonetheless, I think the primary focus here needs to be a fundamental understanding that we are discussing public policy as implemented by government.  We’re not discussing the church, our own families, nor our workplaces.  We’re discussing government.  Government has a few mandates, a particular scope, and is endowed with special powers in Scripture.  In other words, we are not left to “agree to disagree” or to muddle our way through the issue, but instead have a clear picture of what Government is, principally, to do.  Romans 13 tells us:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; {Rom 13:3 NASB}

Government should not be a terror to those who behave well, but instead a terror for those that behave in an evil way.  Therefore, we should submit to rulers.  Consider Peter’s words:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. {1Pe 2:13-14 NASB}

Again, we see Government that is to praise those who “do right” and punish “evildoers”; a clear mandate, scope, and purview for this God given institution.  The institution is not mandated to spread the Gospel (the government is not the church), nor is it charged with defining right and wrong (the government is not God).  Rather the government is supposed to be a support to good and a terror to bad.  It plays an active role; one of a major advocate for good and the primary deterrent to evil.

Brothers and Sisters, I tell you truly that there is a real danger in making Government the rewarder of evil and a terror to good in this refugee crisis.  Is it really so difficult to believe that a hateful violent religion that openly teaches warfare and deception is not using a mass of people seeking refuge as cover?  Is it really hard to believe that a culture and people who largely openly embrace that religion are, in these particular people, not in the least influenced or accepting of said religion?  Can it be said for certain that not one person seeking refuge in any country isn’t doing so in order that he/she may wreck havoc and destruction on a sworn enemy?  Is the danger in allowing even one person bent on destruction not made evident by the recent attacks in Paris (perpetrated by at least two refugees, by the way) or by our own 9/11?

On the other hand, is it so hard to understand that not every person seeking to enter the country is a rabid Muslim with bombs strapped to their vest?  That many are gentle people who are faced with death at home and throwing themselves on the mercy and kindness of a country like ours?  Do we not see that many of these refugees are our brothers and sisters in Christ?  Is the cold and unkind nature of treating all as if they intend us harm lost in our (legitimate) fears?

refugeesThis is no easy issue.  However, I think the key is a balanced viewpoint.  Our government is given to us by God to protect us and to be a terror to bad people.  We should let them be such a terror.  Asking our government to properly vet people seeking to live among us is not asking too much, nor does such a request lack in Christian morality.  This means that refugees may not be able to gain immediate access to the country, and that some will ultimately be denied entry; even many who are in reality innocent.  We must exercise wisdom and wisdom always errs on the side of caution.  Just as we would not allow a con man to have our bank account we should not let ISIS gain a foothold in the United States.  But ISIS does not gain a foothold when people fleeing them have a safe place to start their lives over again.  So to deny all people a chance to find safety (many of whom are in desperate need as fellow enemies of ISIS) in the name of safety is self-centered and contrary to the compassionate values we espouse as Christians.  We do not reflect our God well to others when we seek only good for ourselves.  Therefore a policy that allows refugees only after vigorous security checks and errs on the side of caution seems to be the best middle ground that balances all relevant Christian principles.  Sadly, and predictably, President Obama’s refugee policy falls woefully short.  It is heavy on socialist goodies, light on security, and fundamentally assumes each person is innocent and intends no harm.  Christians should oppose such a policy and call on their government to concentrate on rewarding good and punishing evil.

It must also be said that Christians should avoid extremes in discussing this issue.  Particularly, we must avoid polarizing this issue.  The one who says that all should be allowed because all are victims foolishly lacks wisdom, just as the one who says that none should be allowed because it’s not our problem lacks compassion.  The right place is to see the merit in both sides and to find the middle ground that accounts for both concerns.

Finally, too often we hear that allowing immigrants (often illegally) and refugees makes sharing the Gospel easier.  The Gospel doesn’t need our help.  The Gospel has been faithfully and fully spread in times of refugee crisis’ and in times of border lockdowns.  Nothing will stop it and we ought not advocate bad public policy, usurping the role of government, to make spreading the Gospel seem easier.  Most importantly we must remember to pray.  Pray that our leaders make wise decisions, pray that people in danger find safety, pray for ISIS (for both its destruction and the salvation of its members), and ultimately pray that God would be glorified through these troubling and transformative times.  Take heart, no matter what happens, our God will remain on His throne and has overcome the world.

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